Category Archives: Kits

The Ham Radio Workbench 12 VDC Power Distribution Strip Kit

I had a number of important plans and goals yesterday which I conveniently set aside to build kits instead. Have you ever had one of those days?

Building kits is a little like therapy for me. I find it relaxing, fun, and it gives me an opportunity to tune out everything else in the world while that soldering iron is hot.

The first kit I built was one I purchased this year at Hamvention: the Ham Radio Workbench 12 VDC Power Distribution Strip.

I’ve been on a search for two types of fused Anderson Powerpole distribution panels: a portable one for the field with at least 4 ports, and a large one for the shack with 12-16 ports and at least two USB 5VDC ports.

Sadly, there is no large one on the market that I would like right now. I checked every vendor at Hamvention and the Huntsville Hamfest this year and while there are large panels available, none of them have USB ports. That and the price for a 12-16 position DC distribution panel can easily exceed $120.

As for the small panels for field use, many of them are a bit too bulky and pricey. The inexpensive ones lack individually fused ports.

My buddy Dave (K4SV) knew I was on the hunt, so at Hamvention he directed me to the Ham Radio Workbench podcast table. There, I found the ideal portable solution in kit form.  And the price?  A whopping $25.

Take my money!

Yesterday, I built the kit in near record time. It went together so fast, I forgot to take progress photos.

What I love about this DC distribution kit is it actually has more features than other products on the market:

  • There’s a green LED to indicate power has been applied to the panel and a red LED to indicate any faults
  • Each position is individually fused with standard blade fuses
  • Each position also has a red LED to indicate if the fuse has blown

I also love the size and configuration.

The kit does not come with an enclosure or base of any sort, so I had planned to simply attach it to a dielectric plate to prevent the bottom of the board from shorting on a conductive surface.

This morning, however, I discovered a 3D-printed enclosure from Rocket City 3D:

This enclosure protects the entire panel on all sides so I’ll be able to throw it in my backpack and not worry about the connectors snagging on other items. The price is a reasonable $12 shipped. Done!

This little DC panel pairs well with the 4.5 aH Bioenno Lithium Iron Phosphate battery I purchased on sale at the Huntsville Hamfest. Together, they’ll power the portable SDR system I’m putting together. More on that in a future post! Stay tuned!

Click here to check out this kit at HamRadio Workbech. It’s currently out-of-stock, but you might contact HRW and see if a future run is in the works. Click here to check out the custom enclosure from Rocket City 3D.


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QRPGuys Active Antenna Splitter Kit

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Eric McFadden (WD8RIF), who shares the following announcement from Ken (WA4MNT) via the QRP-L forum:

QRPGuys is open for orders after this year’s Summer shutdown. We have  added a product that may be of special interest to SWL listeners and some hams. It is an active antenna splitter that will enable connection to three receivers from a single antenna.

Product Deescription:

The KN8TND Active RX Antenna Splitter will allow you to use one antenna with mulitple HF receivers simultaneously. Many hams and SWLers like to monitor several bands and/or frequencies, i.e. 14.300, international nautical emergency freq, 14.100, world HF beacons, etc, etc. Having two or three HF receiving antennas is a luxury some Hams and SWLers can’t afford. With the active receiver antenna splitter you can use one antenna and three receivers at the same time. Keep abreast of what’s going on on the bands, put some of those dust collecting receivers back in action. On a difficulty scale of 1 to 5, this kit is a 2. Build time is about 2 hours, depending on your experience, with the normal kit tools. Bear in mind, this is for receiving only. For HF transceivers you would need a T/R switch to your tuned transmitting antenna.

Come by and see it at:
https://qrpguys.com/k8tnd-active-antenna-splitter

QRPGuys makes amazing QRP kits. Immediately after receiving Eric’s email, I purchased the active antenna splitter kit. Total cost with shipping was $25 US. A true bargain! Although I already have an ELAD Active antenna splitter, this one would be nice to take to the field as it’s much smaller and lighter weight.

Click here to check out the new Active Antenna Splitter at QRPGuys.

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Hamvention Highlights: The QRP Labs QSX 10 watt, general coverage, low-cost HF transceiver kit

Hans (G0UPL) of QRP Labs holding a QSX transceiver prototype at the 2019 Hamvention

Each year at the Dayton Hamvention I enjoy checking out the latest radio products and services. This year (2019) I found an exceptional number of innovations and will share these in Hamvention Highlights posts. If you would like to check out 2019 Hamvention Highlights as I publish them, bookmark this tag: 2019 Hamvention Highlights

The QRP Labs QSX Transceiver

Hans (G0UPL) of QRP Labs was, without a doubt, one of the most popular guys at the 2019 Hamvention — especially within the QRP community. In fact, at the Four Days In May (FDIM) vendors’ night his table was so busy I didn’t bother trying to force my way through the crowd to speak with him.

As luck would have it, our own table for ETOW was directly across from QRP Labs table at the the Greene County Fairgrounds so, in the end, I spent some quality time with Hans over the course of the Hamvention.

I’ll also make prediction: if the 10 band QSX transceiver delivers what it promises, it will be a serious disruptor in the ham radio transceiver world! This is a good thing. Why?

The QSX is a feature-packed, all-mode, high-performance, affordable, QRP transceiver.

The QSX will have a 24-bit Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) and a 24-bit Digital to Analog Converter (DAC). It will be a fully stand-alone unit and, since it’s an SDR and sports robust DSP, when connected to your PC, it will be recognized as a high-performance sound card. This equates to nearly native digital mode integration without the need for an external sound card interface.

The QSX Prototype Back Panel

The QSX Transceiver will be a through-hole kit with the surface-mounted components pre-installed on the circuit boards. This means the kit should be accessible to anyone with soldering skills.

Hans has even managed to include a mini spectrum display on the front backlit LCD panel.

The price? Around $150 US in total for the transceiver kit, 10 band filter module and enclosure. Unbelievable!

If Hans can pull this off — and I feel pretty confident he can — the QSX will set a new bar for QRP transceiver pricing and performance.

If you’d like more details about the QSX transceiver, check out the following resources sent to me by SWLing Post contributor, Pete Eaton:

The 10 band QSX will sport a general coverage receiver and although though the modes supported currently don’t include AM, Hans plans to add AM for at least reception purposes. This could make for a high-performance stand-alone SDR field radio for HF broadcast listening.

Of course, I also see the QSX transceiver as an accessible entry radio for new ham radio operators who are nervous about forking out $800+ for a new HF transceiver.

I will certainly grab the 10 band QSX transceiver kit when it becomes available and review it here on the SWLing Post. Stay tuned!

If you would like to follow other Hamvention Highlights, bookmark the tag: 2019 Hamvention Highlights


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Taking the new Mission RGO One transceiver to the field!

SWLing Post readers might recall that last year at the 2018 Hamvention, I met with radio engineer, Boris Sapundzhiev (LZ2JR), who was debuting the prototype of his 50 watt transceiver kit: the Mission RGO One (click here to read that post).

Since last year, I’ve been in touch with Boris, and we arranged to meet again at the 2019 Hamvention so I could take a closer look at the RGO One, especially since he has started shipping the first limited production run.

The RGO One delivers everything Boris promised last year and Boris is on schedule, having finished all of the hardware design and having implemented frequent firmware updates to add functionality.

Excellent first impressions

I’ll be honest: I think the RGO One was one of the most exciting little radios to come out of Hamvention this year. Why?

First of all, in contrast to some radios I’ve tested and evaluated over the past two years, I can tell immediately that the Mission RGO One was developed by an active ham radio operator and DXer.

Here are some of the RGO One features and highlights as taken from the preliminary product manual (PDF):

    • QRP/QRO output 5 – 50W [can actually be lowered to 0 watts out in 1 watt increments]
    • All mode shortwave operation – coverage of all HAM HF bands (160m/60m optional)
    • High dynamic range receiver design including high IP3 monolithic linear amplifiers in the front end and diode ring RX mixer or H-mode first mixer (option).
    • Low phase noise first LO – SI570 XO/VCXO chip.
    • Full/semi (delay) QSK on CW; PTT/VOX operation on SSB. Strict RX/TX sequencing scheme. No click sounds at all!
    • Down conversion superhet topology with popular 9MHz IF
    • Custom made crystal filters for SSB and CW and variable crystal 4 pole filter – Johnson type 200…2000Hz
    • Fast acting AGC (fast and slow) with 134kHz dedicated IF
    • Compact and lightweight body [only 5 lbs!]
    • Custom made multicolor backlit FSTN LCD
    • Custom molded front panel with ergonomic controls.
    • Silent operation with no clicking relays inside – solid state GaAs PHEMT SPDT switches on RX (BPF and TX to RX switching) and ultrafast rectifying diodes (LPF)
    • Modular construction – Main board serves as a “chassis” also fits all the external connectors, daughter boards, inter-connections and acts as a cable harness.
    • Optional modules – Noise Blanker (NB), Audio Filter (AF), ATU, XVRTER, PC control via CAT protocol; USB UART – FTDI chipset
    • Double CPU circuitry control for front panel and main board – both field programmable via USB interface.
    • Memory morse code keyer (Curtis A, CMOS B); 4 Memory locations 128 bytes each

What really sets the Mission RGO apart from its competitors is the fact that it’s compact, lightweight (only 5 lbs!), and has a power output of up to 50 watts. Most other rigs in this class have a maximum output of 10 to 15 watts and require an external amplifier for anything higher.

The RGO One should also play for a long time on battery power as the receive current drain is a modest 0.65A with receiver preamp on.

The RGO is also designed to encourage a comfortable operating position. The bail lifts the front of the radio so that the faceplate and backlit screen are easily viewed at any angle.

The keypad is intuitive and–hold your applause!–all of the important functions are within one button or knob press!

The front panel design is simple and clean. There are no embedded menus to navigate to change filter width, power level, RF gain, keyer speed, mic gain, pre amp, or audio monitor level. Knob spacing is excellent and I believe I would even be able to operate the RGO while wearing gloves.

Even split-operation is designed so that, with one button press, you can easily monitor a pile-up and position your transmit frequency where the DX station last worked a station. (This is similar to the Icom XFC button). The user-interface is intuitive; it’s obvious to me that Boris built this radio around working DX at home and in the field.

Speaking of the field…

Parks On The Air (POTA) with the Mission RGO One

At my request, Boris has kindly loaned me one of the first production run units to test and review over the next few months. I intend to evaluate this radio at home, in the field, and (especially) on Field Day. By July, I should have a very good idea of how well this Bulgaria-born transceiver performs under demanding radio conditions!

I had planned to begin my RGO One evaluation after returning home from Hamvention, but I couldn’t resist taking it to the field, even though the propagation forecast was dismal.

The first leg of my journey home from Hamvention took me to Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, so I scheduled a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation of Delaware State Park, K-1946.

Delaware State Park (POTA K-1946) in Delaware, Ohio.

My buddy Miles (KD8KNC) and I met our mutual friend Mike (K8RAT) at the park entrance and quickly found a great site with tall trees, a little shade, and a large picnic table.

We set up the RGO One and, for comparison, my Elecraft KX2 for the POTA activation.

I won’t lie: band conditions were horrible. Propagation was incredibly weak, QRN was high, and QSB was deep. Yuck!

Still, this activation gave me a chance to test the RGO One in proper field conditions.

I was limited to SSB since the only CW key I had with me, the paddle specifically designed to attach to the front panel of the Elecraft KX2, wouldn’t work with the RGO One. In addition, I was limited to 25 watts output because the antenna I deployed, the LnR Precision EFT Trail-Friendly end-fed antenna, can only handle power up to 25 watts.

Although I had never operated the radio before, I was able to sort out most of its functions and features quickly.

The receiver audio was excellent and the noise floor seemed quite low to my ears. The internal speaker does a fine job producing audio levels that are more than ample for a field setting.  Still, I prefer operating with a set of earphones in the field–especially important on days like this when propagation equates to a lot of weak signals.

Although I failed to make a total of ten contacts to claim a proper POTA activation, I was pleased with offering up K-1946 to seven lucky POTA hunters/chasers. I simply didn’t have enough time available to work three stations more at such a slow QSO rate.

Of course, my signal reports were averaging “5 by 5” and were never more than “5 by 7” regardless of which rig–the RGO One or the KX2–I was using. The reports on the RGO One transmit audio reports were great.

Stay tuned!

I will publish my first review of the Mission RGO One in The Spectrum Monitor Magazine, most likely in August or September.  In the meantime, I will post updates here as I put the RGO One through its paces. I’m especially excited about using it during Field Day with my buddy Vlado (N3CZ) to see how it holds up in such an RF-dense environment.

And now that the POTA bug has bitten me?  Expect to catch me on the air with the RGO One over the next few weeks!

If you’re interested in following the Mission RGO One, bookmark the tag: RGO ONE.


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Neil’s updated QRP Kits page

The Ozark Patrol regenerative receiver kit is only one of NM0S’ many 4SQRP kit designs.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Neil Goldstein, who writes:

I know a lot of your readers (especially the QRP ones) may be interested in the update I FINALLY made to the radio kit guide. Added, removed, etc. Lots of cool stuff.

http://radiokitguide.com

Thanks for sharing, Neil! What a great curated list of QRP kits!

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The TV-B-Gone: reviewing a fun and (incredibly) useful kit!

The TV-B-Gone kit

Post readers might recall that I attended and presented at  Circle of HOPE (Hackers On Planet Earth 2018 in New York City.

One of the many cool things about HOPE was the Hardware Hacking Village: a space with 40 or so fully-stocked soldering stations that HOPE attendees could use anytime during the conference.

One of the many HOPE Hardware Hacking Village tables

I built two kits at the conference: The Cricket QRP transceiver (read about that here) and a very cool little product called the TV-B-Gone.

What is the TV-B-Gone? As the name implies, it’s a TV remote control with only one function, one button and one mission: to turn off TVs!

The TV-B-Gone is packed with power codes for virtually any TV or monitor on the market. Simply point the remote at a TV, click its one button, and wait as the device cycles through loads of power codes in a few seconds.

At first blush, this might sound like a mischievous little device. I mean, imagine watching the World Cup finals at your favorite pub or bar and someone turns off all of the TVs in the establishment at a crucial moment in the game? I’m sure some purchase the TV-B-Gone for this very purpose.

That’s not me. I’m not into pranks and that’s not why TV-B-Gone designer (and Maker community giant) Mitch Altman designed this product. It was more about creating an “environmental management device”–a way to control the ubiquitous TV messages/media bombarding us in situations where they really don’t belong.

Mitch Altman in his element, teaching a class in the Hardware Hacking Village at HOPE 2018.

I’ll be the first to admit here that I’m a radio guy (big surprise, right–?) and really have no love for TVs. We have one 28″ TV in our home and it only receives one PBS station although we do use this TV it to watch the odd TV program or series via Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. I never consume news via TV unless a news-worthy event is one that must be seen. I prefer consuming news via radio or reading newspapers with objective reporters that I trust.

So when I met Mitch at HOPE and saw that he was selling a kit version of the TV-B-Gone for $20 US, I couldn’t fork out my money fast enough!

I bought the kit and built it at a table not even 10 feet away from him.

I meant to take photos of the TV-B-Gone kit as I built it, but was quite distracted helping a father and his 10 year old son both build their first kits (HumanaLight kits, of all things!) across from me.

Even though my attention was divided, I still completed the kit in well under an hour. I didn’t have two spare AA batteries to power it for testing purposes, but Mitch was nearby and gave me two new AA cells.

The TV-B-Gone kit is powered by two common AA batteries

After pushing the only button on this remote, the small green LED started blinking–“a good sign” said Mitch. Then he had me turn on the front-facing camera of my Android phone to verify the LEDs were blinking (front-facing cameras don’t filter IR light–who knew?). They were blinking/flickering like mad.

Mitch said, “Now you have the power to turn off TVs…and you should!

The TV-B-Gone kit sports four powerful LEDs that are effective up to 150 feet away.

I bought this kit with one specific use in mind: hotel dining rooms.

I travel quite a lot and almost always stay in hotels that provide breakfast in a small dining room area of the lobby. I’m often travelling with family, so I wake up quite early, head to the breakfast area, grab a cup of coffee, and catch up with SWLing Post correspondence, comments and posts. Most of the time, I’m the only person in the dining room, yet the TV is blaring the news (often an outlet I don’t like) and there is no remote to be found.

This is where the TV-B-Gone could bring peace to my morning. But would it work? Time to find out!

On a trip through Connecticut in August, I stayed a few nights at a Hilton Garden Inn. I found an excellent spot to work on a comfy couch in a corner nook of the lobby. The couch faced a fireplace and was perfect for relaxing and catching up on work. One morning, I woke at 5:30 AM, headed down to the lobby and grabbed a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, right above the fireplace in this small nook was perched a monster flat screen TV with the news blaring. At 5:30 AM!?!

There was no remote to be found, so I reached into my bag, pulled out the TV-B-Gone, pressed the button and within 5 seconds, the TV turned off.

I knew then: I’d fallen in love with this $20 kit.

Then again in New York, last week, I was having breakfast at 6:00 AM in a small hotel. The only other people in the dining room were obviously with the military and there together for breakfast and a chat/debriefing before starting their day. None of them were watching the TV which was blaring commercials–in fact, they had all positioned themselves at the farthest point from the TV and facing away. I had a hunch they wouldn’t mind if I turned off the TV, so I pulled out the TV-B-Gone and didn’t even remove it from the poly bag I keep it in. One press of the button and seconds later the TV went silent.

I heard one of the guys at the other table say, “I hope they keep that thing turned off!”

I won’t lie: it felt like I was wielding a super power.

My EDC Pack easily accommodates the TV-B-Gone.

My TV-B-Gone remote now permanently lives in a dedicated pocket at the front of my EDC pack (a Tom Bihn Stowaway, in case you’re interested).

My TV-B-Gone remote now travels with me everywhere.

If you’re like me and would like a little device to manage your environment, I strongly recommend the TV-B-Gone.

I had a lot of fun building the kit version of TV-B-Gone, but if you don’t care to build one, Mitch has pre-built key chain versions of this same remote on his website for a mere $24.95. Note that the kit version comes with all you need to set up the remote for international use (power codes and configuration differ based on region). If you purchase a pre-built keychain, make sure you buy the version for the part of the world where you intend to use it.

TV-B-Gone Retailers:

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QRP Labs Announces The QSX Transceiver

The QSX Transceiver

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Pete Eaton (WB9FLW), who writes:

QRP Labs has just announced the QSX an All-Band All-Mode Transceiver Kit that should be available later this year. The Target price for the 10 Band Model is $150, also available will be a 40 Meter version for $75.00.

Details from QRP Labs:

QSX (QRP Labs SSB Xcvr) is a 40m SSB transceiver with 10-band (160m-10m) and enclosure options. The kit inherits all the functionality of the famous QCX single-band CW transceiver kit but adds SSB, AM, FM, PSK31 and RTTY. This will be the lowest cost all-HF radio available but also high performance and packed with features. These are the planned features of QSX:

  • Software Defined Radio (SDR) technology with standalone Digital Signal Processing (DSP), no PC required
  • Very high performance 24-bit Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) and 24-bit Digital to Analog Converter (DAC)
  • 40m (single band) or 160-10m (10-band, including 60m) versions available
  • Modes: SSB, CW, AM, FM, PSK31, RTTY, WSPR beacon
  • Power output: 10W from 13.8V supply (power output is adjustable by the firmware)
  • Single power supply needed, 12V to 14V
  • USB host interface and connector, for USB keyboard to allow PC-less operation on PSK31 and RTTY
  • USB device interface and connector, for PC CAT Control
  • QSX can appear to a PC as a high performance 24-bit USB sound card and radio – for digital modes from a PC e.g. FT8, either demodulated or as I-Q for PC SDR programs
  • Built-in CW IAMBIC keyer (or straight keying also possible) with raised-cosine key-envelope shaping
  • DSP features (selectable sharp filters, AGC, Speech Compression, Noise Reduction etc.)
  • Dual microphone inputs (mobile phone headset with VOX, or RJ45 connector for Kenwood/Yaesu mics)
  • Dual VFO (A/B/Split), frequency and message memories
  • Through-hole assembly only
  • Built-in test equipment features for alignment, debugging and general purpose use
  • Detailed assembly manual
  • Macro facility for user defined sequences of operations, or redefinition of controls
  • Front panel: 16 x 2 LCD (yellow/green backlight), 2 rotary encoders, 4 buttons, mic/earphones socket
  • Soft-power on/off switch, the radio saves its state automatically on switch off, so that it starts up in the same state next time
  • Free firmware updates for life, very simple firmware update procedure via a USB memory stic

QSX is still in development! The above list is subject to change. The following is a FAQ with information about QSX.

More Info on QRP Labs Web Page:

https://www.qrp-labs.com/qsx.html

Check out the following video from YOTA 2018:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Fantastic! Many thanks for sharing this, Pete! This looks like a brilliant little kit for any skill level of patient kit builder.

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