Category Archives: Accessories

Upgrading my Yaesu FT-817 transceiver with the G7UHN rev2 Buddy board

Last August, SWLing Post contributor, Andy (G7UHN), shared his homebrew project with us: a genius companion control display for the venerable Yaesu FT-817 general coverage QRP transceiver.

Andy’s article caused me (yes, I blame him) to wax nostalgic about the popular FT-817 transceiver. You see, I owned one of the first production models of the FT-817 in 2001 when I lived in the UK.

At the time, there was nothing like it on the market: a very portable and efficient HF, VHF, UHF, multi-mode general coverage QRP transceiver…all for $670 US.

In 2001? Yeah, Yaesu knocked it out of the ballpark!

In fact, they knocked it out of the ballpark so hard, the radio is still in production two decades later and in demand under the model FT-818.

I sold my FT-817 in 2008 to raise funds for the purchase of an Elecraft KX1, if memory serves. My reasoning? The one thing I disliked about my FT-817 was its tiny front-facing display. When combined with the embedded menus and lack of controls, it could get frustrating at home and in the field.

I mentioned in a previous post that I purchased a used FT-817ND from my buddy, Don, in October, 2020. I do blame Andy for this purchase. Indeed, I hereby declare him an FT-817 enabler!

FT-817 Buddy board

When I told Andy about my ‘817ND purchase, he asked if I’d like to help him test the FT-817 Buddy board versions. How could I refuse?

Andy sent me a prototype of his Version 2 Buddy board which arrived in late November. I had to source out a few bits (an Arduino board, Nokia display, and multi-conductor CAT cable). Andy kindly pre-populated all of the SMD components so I only needed to solder the Arduino board and configure/solder the cable. I did take a lot of care preparing and soldering the cable, making sure there was no unintentional short between the voltage and ground conductors.

Overall, I found the construction and programming pretty straight-forward. It helped that Andy did a remote session with me during the programming process (thanks, OM!). Andy is doing an amazing job with the documentation.

I do love how the board makes it easier to read the frequency and have direct access to important functions without digging through embedded menus. While there’s nothing stopping you from changing the program to suit you, Andy’s done a brilliant job with this since he’s an experienced FT-817 user.

The Nokia display is very well backlit, high contrast, and easy very to read.

“Resistance is futile”

I mentioned on Twitter that, with the backlight on, the FT-817 Buddy makes my ‘817ND look like it was recently assimilated by The Borg.

Don’t tell any Star Trek captains, but I’m good with that.

Andy has a rev3 board in the works and it sports something that will be a game-changer for me in the field: K1EL’s keyer chip!

For more information about the FT-817 Buddy, check out Andy’s website. At time of posting, it’s not available yet, but as Andy says, “it’s nearly there!”

Of course, we’ll keep you updated here as well. Many thanks to Andy for taking this project to the next level. No doubt a lot of FT-817 users will benefit from this brilliant project!

Spread the radio love

My initial review of the new Mat-Tuner mAT-705Plus on QRPer.com

If you’re an Icom IC-705 owner and have been waiting for Mat-Tuner to address the design shortcomings of their original mAT-705, you might want to check out my initial review of the new mAT-705Plus ATU posted over on QRPer.com. It includes a video of the new ATU in action.

In short, this upgraded model looks very promising. Not only does it address my concerns with the original model, but it also seems to tune very effectively and efficiently.

Click here to read the full review.

Spread the radio love

Bluetooth adapter that also serves as a Belka stand

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Joe Patti (KD2QBK), who writes:

Not sure anyone would be interested, but in using a Bluetooth adapter with my Belka I inadvertently came up with a little stand for it.

I attached the adapter to the back of the radio with a piece of plastic 3M Command picture hanger strip. It props up the little radio at exactly the right angle.

Love the blog!

Thank you, Joe! Looks like this is the Bluetooth adapter you’re using. What a clever way to have your Bluetooth adapter do double duty! Also, I’m so glad you enjoy the Post!  Thanks for sharing your tip!

Spread the radio love

Nooelec LaNA HF Barebones Ultra Low-Noise LF, MF & HF Amplifier

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Chris Rogers, who writes:

[Here’s] an interesting new amplifier that is suitable for SDR’s and antennas like Youloop etc with Bias-Tee provision. Unsure of the specifications.

The ad claims made in North America:
https://www.nooelec.com/store/lana-hf-barebones.html

Thanks for the tip, Chris! Yes, it’s a bit of a surprise it’s made in North America. I must admit that these Nooelec amps all look the same to me, so I’m guessing this model is simply the latest iteration?

Post readers: have you used this particular LNA? Please comment!

Spread the radio love

Bioenno Power Thanksgiving Sale

I find the 4.5 aH 12V Bioenno LiFePo battery to be the perfect portable power source for my 12V radio gear.

Just a heads up that Bioenno Power is having a 2020 Thanksgiving sale and offering a 10% discount with the coupon code “THANKS”.

I’m a huge fan of Bioenno’s batteries and just pulled the trigger on yet another LiFePo battery. This time, a compact 3 aH battery. This will be more than enough battery to play QRP for hours without recharging.

Side note: I’m also working on a project for my parents converting their living room lamp into a DC LED lamp with battery backup. Their power outages seem to be so frequent as of late, I know they’ll appreciate a lamp that will work regardless if the power grid is up or not. I’ve already purchased a 12V LED Edison-style bulb and now will pair it with a 4.5 aH Bioenno battery.

Click here to check out Bioenno’s website.

Spread the radio love

Portable tuner (ATU) options for the new Icom IC-705

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul, who asks:

What are good choices for ATU and 100W amplifier for the IC-705? [Also] will the Icom AH-4 antenna tuner work well with the IC-705?

Great questions, Paul!

100 Watt Amplifiers

I’ve limited experience pairing the IC-705 with external 100 watt amplifiers. I own the Elecraft KXPA100 and it pairs well with the IC-705 via RF sensing. My hope is that SWLing Post readers may be able to chime in here and offer more suggestions as there are a number of inexpensive, basic, amplifiers on the market now but I’ve never personally used or tested them. I can say that the KXPA100 is a beautifully-engineered amplifier.

Antenna tuners

Icom AH-4

First off, regarding the Icom AH-4 ATU, I’m not certain if the IC-705 has the same control commands as the AH-4 (I’m guessing it does, but perhaps someone can confirm–?).

It would not be my first choice as a portable antenna tuner for field work. For one thing, it’s a pricey at $300. That, and I’ve always viewed the AH-4 as more of a remote antenna tuner for those who need a permanent matching box outside the shack near the antenna feed point. For that application, I’m sure it’s amazing.

According to the AH-4 specifications, it requires “10 W (5–15 W)” of tuning power. I’m not quite sure what the “5-15” watts means, but the IC-705’s max output power is 10 watts using an external 12-13.8V battery, and only 5 watts using the BP-272 Li-ion Battery. Not sure if that would be adequate to trigger the AH-4 to find a match without some sort of command cable connection.

For portable ATUs, let’s take a look:

IC-705 Portable ATU Options

The Icom IC-705 actually has a port on the side of the radio that allows one to connect the rig to an ATU for some level automatic ATU control. At time of posting, there are two ATUs in the works that are able to use this port: the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 and the Icom AH-705 (there could be more, but I’m not aware of them).

Mat-Tuner mAT-705 ($220 US)

I reviewed the mAT-705 on QRPer.com (click here to read). In short, it’s absolutely brilliant at matching antennas quickly and efficiently, but it has a few design shortcomings. The main issue is that you must use a mechanical switch to turn it on and off, else you deplete the internal 9V battery within a week. Most similar ATUs either have auto-off functionality, or at least an external power option. Since the mAT-705 can connect directly to the IC-705, it automatically knows when you need to tune to a frequency and will do this anytime you send a carrier, hit PTT, or initiate tuning via the menu option. It can also remember frequencies you’ve already matches to make the process quicker. The mAT-705 is also RF-sensing, thus can work with other radios. Vibroplex is the US distributor of the mAT-705. Note, too, that there are a number of portable Mat-Tuners that will work with the IC-705–the mAT-705 is the only one that uses the IC-705 control cable (which I feel is actually unnecessary).  Check out their full product line before ordering.

Icom AH-705 ($T.B.A.)

The Icom AH-705 is Icom’s own external ATU designed to work with the IC-705 and fit in the LC-192 backpack. Since the AH-705 will be able to connect directly to the IC-705, its functionality will be very similar to the mAT-705. I’m speaking in future tense here because, at time of posting (18 November 2020), the AH-705 is not yet in production and we’ve no retail price. With that said, Icom has a legacy of making fine ATUs, so I’ve no doubt it’ll function well. Like the mAT-705, it has a mechanical on/off button so you may have to be aware of turning it off when not in use to preserve the internal alkaline batteries. Unlike the mAT-705, it has an external 13.8 VDC power connection. Universal Radio will update their site with pricing and shipping information once available.

Elecraft T1 ($160-$190 US)

The Elecraft T1 ATU has been in production for many years now and is a fabulous portable ATU. Not only is it incredibly adept at finding matches, but it’s also efficient in terms of power usage. It will run for months on an internal 9V battery (that’s very easy to replace in the field). The T1 has no special connection for the IC-705, but it does have an optional T1-FT817 adapter for the Yaesu FT-817 series transceivers. In truth though? I find control cables unnecessary because tuning the T1 only requires pressing the tune button on the ATU, then keying the transceiver. Once it finds a match, it shuts down and locks it in. You can purchase the T1 directly from Elecraft ($160 kit/$190 assembled). The Elecraft T1 is my portable ATU of choice.

LDG Z-100A ($180 US)

I’ve owned a number of LDG tuners over the years an absolutely love them. I find that they offer great bang-for-buck, perform amazingly well, and are built well. In fact, I designed an outdoor remote antenna tuning unit around their original Z-11 Pro auto tuner. It’s housed in a sealed waterproof enclosure, but is completely exposed to outdoor humidity and temperature changes (which can be dramatic here on the mountain). I’ve been powering the Z-11 Pro for 10 years off of a discarded sealed lead acid battery that’s being charged by a Micro M+ charge controller and 5 watt BP solar panel. I’ve never needed to maintenance it. One of LDG’s latest portable ATUs is the Z-100A. I’ve never used it, but I imagine it’ll perform well and I may very well reach out to LDG and ask for a loaner to review with the IC-705. It does have a command cable port that works with Icom radios, but I’m checking with LDG to see if it works with the IC-705 (I’ll update this post when I hear back). The LDG Z-100A retails for $180 via LDG’s website.

Emtech ZM-2

Shortwave radio listeners, especially, should take note of the Emtech ZM-2 balanced line tuner! Unlike the ATUs above, the ZM-2 is manual–meaning, you manually adjust the tuner’s L/C controls to achieve a match with your antenna. I’ve owned the ZM-2 for many years and have used it with a number of QRP transceivers. Since it’s not automatic, it might take a minute or so to find a match, but it’s worth the wait. The ZM-2 requires no batteries to operate, which makes it an invaluable and reliable little tool in the field. In addition, since the ZM-2 doesn’t require RF energy in order to find a match, it’s a brilliant choice for SWLs who want to tweak their wire antennas. I find it functions as well as if not better than other manual tuners designed specifically for receivers. The ZM-2 is also the most affordable of the bunch: you can purchase a pre-built unit for $87.50 from Emtech or $62.50 as a kit. I would advise purchasing one even if you also have an automatic antenna tuner–makes for a great back-up!

Other options?

This is by no means a comprehensive list of portable ATUs to pair with the IC-705, just a few suggestions. In fact, companies like MFJ Enterprises make a number of manual tuners that could easily be taken to the field and require no power source (much like the ZM-2 above).

Please comment if you have experience with other types of ATUs and please include links if possible!

Spread the radio love

My Obsession with Muji A6 Mini Logging Notebooks

In many ways, I’m old school. While I love leveraging technology to make the most of my radio world, I also have a sincere appreciation for simple “analog world” solutions to my needs.

I’m a notepad guy.

When I moved to France to do undergraduate studies in the early 90s, I became reliant on small notepads to keep my brain organized and maintain some sense of sanity. I kept one in my pocket, my backpack, and had larger notepads for each one of my classes. It was in France I discovered the amazingly wide variety of notepads that could be found in a Papeterie or stationery store. While I could hardly afford notepads and pens/pencils I found in those stores, I did occasionally splurge.

To this day, I keep notepads in my EDC bag and near my radio desk. I find that the act of writing something down–pen to paper–locks thoughts/memos in my memory much better than taking notes on a digital device.

Paper Logging

If you’ve followed any of my field reports for Parks On The Air (POTA) here on the SWLing Post  or on QRPer.com, you’ve probably seen me employ a wide variety of note pads and logging sheets.

While I often do live logging with my Microsoft Surface Go tablet to speed up log submissions, I always log on paper first. Always.

For one thing, when I’m copying a callsign in Morse Code (CW), I prefer writing down the call as it’s being sent. Regardless if a contact is in CW or phone, I copy the callsign and exchange information on paper first, then immediately transfer it to my logging software on the tablet. I carry the Surface Go tablet with me on about 75% of my field activations, but leave it at home if I’m doing a substantial amount of hiking.

Not only do I find it easier to log on paper first, but by having a full set of logs in notebooks, I know I’ve got a proper archive of the activation if my tablet fails me.

Plus–if I’m being completely honest here–I love seeing my handwritten logs after an activation. It gives me more of a sense of accomplishment for some reason. Don’t ask me why.

Muji A6 Notebooks

A couple months ago, I was searching for a notepad that could easily fit in one of my compact field radio kits.

My wife (an artist) suggested I check out Muji Notepads of Japan because she’s both pleased with the quality and price as compared with other quality notebooks. She measured my field kit pack and suggested the Muji A6 lined notebook. On Amazon, they’re sold in packs of 5 books for $12.00 US. I was skeptical about the size, but placed an order anyway.

Each book has 30 pages which means if I write on the front and back of each sheet, it should last me up to 30 average park activations (assuming roughly 25-40 contacts per activation). Since my activations tend to be short, it’s rare that I exceed 40 contacts.

I purchased a pack of five notebooks and put one notebook in each of my radio field kits. I even dedicate one for my Elecraft AX1 antenna kit.

I love these Muji notepads–they’re compact and thin, but the paper quality is nice and it’s large enough I can use “normal” hand writing. While I tend to prefer spiral-bound notebooks for logging, I like the binding on these notebooks because it doesn’t catch on anything and keeps the profile super thin which is perfect for small packs and cases. The pages lay flat once open, too.

For the record, I also keep a few Rite in the Rain weatherproof notebooks handy if I’m heading to a park or summit after heavy rainfall, if there’s the possibility of rain in the forecast, or if I’m camping. They’re also indispensable. The Muji Noteboooks aren’t designed to handle water, but in truth it’s very rare that I’m playing radio in the rain. I prefer the slim profile of the Muji Notebooks for day-to-day field work.

I just ordered another pack of five this Muji A6 Notebooks this week and plan to put one in my portable SDR kit, and two of my portable receiver kits. In truth, my shortwave radio logs are less organized than my ham radio logs, but I’m constantly jotting down broadcasters, times, frequencies and receiver performance notes.

Click here to check out Muji A6 Notebooks on Amazon (affiliate link supports the SWLing Post). 

Spread the radio love