Tag Archives: Discovery TX-500

Field testing the lab599 Discovery TX-500’s selectivity and ADC overload

So the lab599 Discovery TX-500 I’ve been testing the past week has been sent to Ham Radio Outlet. Over the course of one week, I activated eight parks with this QRP transceiver and if I’m being honest, I miss it already. It’s an awfully fun and incredibly robust  field radio.

On my last outing with the TX-500 (last Wednesday) I did an activation of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Nantahala National Forest. I operated CW and SSB and worked stations from Maine to Ontario, Illinois to Iowa, and Louisiana to Florida running 10 watts into my trusty EFT Trail-Friendly antenna.

While I’m evaluating radios I take lots of notes so I can remember detail when writing my review. In the field, I often take short video notes as well.

While finalizing my TX-500 review for the October 2020 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine, I rediscovered the following video note. I made this with my iPhone and assumed I might include a link in the TSM article. In the end, though, it was really a journal note for my review.

I thought I’d share it here for those who are considering purchasing the TX-500 and are curious how well the receiver handles dense RF environments. I had the CW filter width set to 100 Hz–had I intended to publish this video I would have likely cycled through various filter settings.

I believe one of the strong points about the TX-500 is its receiver. It has a very low noise floor, great sensitivity, and is obviously capable of handling close-in signals. The CW filters must have sharp skirts. I would love to see what Rob Sherwood’s tests would show (although if he’ll be evaluating one). For a field radio, however, it’s right up there with my Elecraft KX3 and KX2 in terms of selectivity–those two are certainly benchmarks in my book.

Click here to read all of our lab599 Discovery TX-500 posts, videos and field reports.


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lab599 Discovery TX-500: Answers to your questions…

Caught in light rain while operating from South Mountains State Game Land.

I shipped the lab599 Discovery TX-500 I’ve been evaluating to HRO yesterday. I’ve had it on the air now for a week with intense use. I’ve activated a total of 8 parks in 7 days–via the Parks On The Air program. I’ve operated CW, SSB, and spent time listening to HF broadcasts.

I’ve gotten a number of questions from readers in comments and via email. What follows are my answers to the most frequently asked questions. Note that this will be a “living” FAQ post for the TX-500–I will update it periodically with new questions/answers:


TX-500 Frequently Asked Questions

Q: The TX-500 looks so thin and flat. Is it durable?

A: The TX-500 chassis is made of CNC-machined aluminum alloy. Without a doubt, it’s the most durable and rugged portable ham radio transceiver I’ve ever tested.

Q: Why did lab599 choose multi-pin connectors for the mic, speaker, and CW ports instead of standard 1/8″ plugs? Are they proprietary connectors?

A: Their goal was to make the TX-500 water-resistant. The TX-500’s connectors help prevent water intrusion. These are not proprietary connectors. While they’re uncommon in the world of amateur radio, they’re often used in aviation, commercial, and military applications.

The connectors are GX12mm in various pin numbers–refer to the port/pin configurations from the diagram above (taken from the TX-500 manual).

Note that W2ENY is selling a number of connector packages and TX-500 accessories.

Q: Is the TX-500 completely waterproof?

A: It’s my understanding that the TX-500 is sealed to the point of being water and weather resistant. Meaning, if it gets caught out in the rain, it should be fine. If you’re operating maritime mobile and it falls in the water? All bets are off. To my knowledge, the TX-500 is the most weather-resistant amateur radio transceiver currently on the market (please comment and correct me if I’m wrong on this point).

Q: Does the TX-500 have a built-in antenna tuner?

A: No. If you’re using the TX-500 you’ll either need a portable external antenna tuner, or operate with resonant antennas. In the field, I actually prefer using resonant antennas to get the most mileage per watt. At home, I employ an external ATU. In the field, I’ve used my ZM-2 ATU (see photo above) to tune my resonant antennas on other bands.

Q: Does the TX-500 have full break-in QSK for CW operators? Does it have pin diode switching?

A: No. The TX-500 uses a relay for transmit/receive switching. In my videos, you’ll hear the T/R switch as I’m keying. I keep the delay set to the shortest amount of time. At this setting, I can’t hear between characters, but I can hear between words. Some may call this “semi break-in.” The relay clicking, for what it’s worth, is the softest I’ve heard in a portable transceiver. I believe this is due to the fact the TX-500 is solid and sealed so thoroughly. You can hear it, though.

I believe this video will give you a good impression of how the relay sounds when set to the shortest delay/recovery time:

Q; How hot does the radio chassis become after continuous use?

A: Not hot at all. In fact, I’ve operated this rig up to two hours calling CQ at POTA sites and it just felt warm–not hot–which is exactly what I would expect. This radio was designed to be operated without any sort of cooling fan and the aluminum alloy chassis seems to do a fine job dissipating heat.

Q: How easily can the screen be read outdoors?

A: Very easily. Indeed, the LCD screen was designed for outdoor visibility. The screen has a sealed reflective covering that does produce some glare, but no more than any other field radio.

Q: How much current does the TX-500 draw on receive?

A: I’ve measured around 110 – 120 millamps with the volume level at a loud setting in the field. In a quiet environment like the shack, it draws 100 milliamps–I’m sure using headphones would be the same. This is very much a benchmark figure for full featured general coverage transceivers. It’s even a tad better than the Elecraft KX2.

Q: Who is lab599 and where do I send this radio if it needs repair?

A: Lab599 is a new radio manufacturer in Rubtsovsk city in the Altai region of Russia. See map:

Rubtsovsk city in the Altai region of Russia

At time of posting, I can confirm that there will be a US-based service center in Nevada. I don’t know yet if other service centers will be established across the globe.

Q: How much does the TX-500 cost and when will it start shipping?

A: According to Ham Radio Outlet and Pileup Communications–at time of posting, the only TX-500 distributors–they expect the TX-500 to start shipping mid-September 2020. The HRO price is $789.95 and Pileup Communications price is 890 EUR.

Q: Does the TX-500 ship with any accessories?

A: Yes. At least, the package Ham Radio Outlet is selling comes with a speaker/mic, and assortment of connectors–everything you need to get on the air. Click here for detail.

Accessory pack included with a Ham Radio Outlet purchase.

Q: Can I operate FT8, PSK31, and other digital modes with the TX-500? Does it have an internal sound card?

A: Yes, you can certainly operate digital modes with the TX-500. I did not have all of the connectors to do this with my pre-production demo unit. It does not have an internal sound card (so I would recommend something like the SignaLink USB), but it does have both CAT control and VOX capabilities in Digital mode. It should be simple to set up and easy to operate.

Q: Is the TX-500 a good radio for SWLing too?

A: Yes it is. I wrote a short post about this which includes a demo video. My full review will go into more detail.

Q: When will your full TX-500 review be published?

A: I will be publishing a comprehensive review of the TX-500 in the October 2020 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. It will be published here on the SWLing Post one month later. Click here to read all of my TX-500 posts.

I’ll update this post with more TX-500 answers as I receive inquiries.


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Listening to shortwave broadcasts with the lab599 Discovery TX-500

The lab599 TX-500 Discovery is a general coverage transceiver with AM mode, which means it can do double-duty as a shortwave receiver.

If you’ve been following previous TX-500 posts, you’ve seen me take this near military-grade portable transceiver to the field. I’ve activated a total of 6 parks in 6 days with it and it’s been a load of fun.

At home, I’ve also been doing a fair amount of SWLing with it in the evenings. I have a pre-production model that doesn’t include all of the accessories that will be provided with the production model. I don’t have a good way to port the audio out of the transceiver for recording at present, but I have been listening to broadcasts in the shack using a simple battery-powered amplified speaker.

I made a short video demonstrating the shortwave listening experience with the TX-500. It’s not a deep-dive by any means, but I thought it might provide a little more context. Keep in mind, I recorded this with my iPad, so the audio is far from ideal.

In general, the TX-500 is a fine radio for shortwave radio listening. It has the sensitivity and selectivity even a demanding DXer would seek. The TX-500 has a very low noise floor and an effective RF gain for mitigating summer QRN (static crashes) here in North America. I wish I had the time to tinker with the audio and see what sort of fidelity is possible. I’m not sure I’ll have time to cobble together a connection to my station monitors before I need to send it on.

Speaking of which, I’ll be sending this TX-500 to Ham Radio Outlet within the next two days. If you have any questions about it, feel free to ask now!

I will write-up a comprehensive review of the TX-500 in the October issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine (my IQ32 overview is in the September issue).


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lab599 TX-500 Discovery accessories and connectors

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Don, who notes that in anticipation of the TX-500 hitting the market, W2ENY has posted a number of accessory cables, spare connectors and even a military-style handset on his eBay store and website.

To be clear, via Ham Radio Outlet, the TX-500 ships with everything you need to get on the air via SSB or CW. Here’s the full accessory set that accompanies the TX-500:

Screen grab from HRO’s TX-500 product page.

If you wish to build your own cables, or you’d like additional break-out cable options, check out W2ENY’s selection.

A note about TX-500 connectors

I’ve received numerous inquiries from readers regarding the “non-standard” multi-pin connectors used on the TX-500 to maintain water resistance. Truth is, the TX-500 connectors are only non-standard in the amateur radio world–they are not proprietary as some have implied.

The TX-500 uses GX12 mm connectors that are widely used in aviation, commercial and military applications. They’re easy to find online, but the price per each with shipping is typically around $7.00-8.00 US.  You get a better deal if you buy in bulk, but often bulk packages of 5 or more are of the same pin count/configuration.

After browsing W2ENY’s site, I see he’s offering a full set of TX-500 connectors for $30 via eBay and his store.  Not a bad price although I wish he’d also offer a package with three in particular: the speaker/mic, CW, and power ports (perhaps if he reads this, he’ll consider!).

If I were to purchase the TX-500, I would grab an extra set of GX12mm connectors to build my own cables.

Any TX-500 questions?

While I’m at it, feel free to comment with any of your questions about the TX-500. I only have this rig in the shack and field for a few more days before I need to return it. I’ve started a frequently asked questions post about the TX-500 that I’ll publish this week.

And if you’re wondering, yes, I’m very tempted to add this rig to my own collection. More on that later–!


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lab599 Discovery TX-500: Hiking into Pisgah National Forest for a little field radio fun

Yesterday, I hit the field again with the lab599 TX-500 Discovery. This time, I wanted to give the radio a proper shake-out by hiking to my location with the entire station in my pack.

This TX-500 transceiver is on loan, so I haven’t built a custom field kit for it like I have with my other radios. To be on the safe side, I packed the rig and all of its accessories in my Red Oxx C-Ruck pack.

The C-Ruck is loaded with three antennas, two LiFePo batteries, DC distribution panels, extra adapters/connectors, and essentially everything I need to handle pretty much any field situation. I take it on every field activation when I can afford the space in my car/truck because it’s so complete and stocked, it’s like a mini shack in a bag complete with tools I might need in the field.

This radio bag was total overkill for a quick day hike into Pisgah National Forest and I did remove a few heavy items like a larger battery, my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical, and other extra accessories. But at the end of the day, my four-legged hiking partner (Hazel) and I both agreed that I would kick myself if I arrived on-site and realized I was short, say, one PL-259 to BNC connector.

Turns out, the C-Ruck was just what the doctor ordered. The TX-500 is so compact, it fit in the C-Ruck’s top flap pocket that holds my logging notepad. I used that top flap to strap down my folding three legged stool for the hike.

The best part was the C-Ruck made for a perfect field table! The front pocket of the pack (which contains supplies like a first aid kit, emergency tarp/sleeping back, protein bars, etc.) propped the TX-500 in place.

After finding a nice spot off-trail, I set up my EFT Trail-Friendly end fed antenna in short order, plugged it into the TX-500, plugged in my 6 aH Bioenno LiFePo battery, the TX-500 Speaker/Mic (which conveniently clipped o the C-Ruck top flap), and finally my homebrew CW key cable.

Since I had no mobile Internet service at this site–no surprise–I started the activation in CW which gave me the best opportunity to be auto-spotted by the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) and for CW hunters to find me on the announced frequency via the POTA site.

I started calling CQ and was instantly rewarded with a string of contacts on 40 meters.

After working that small pile of hunters, I moved up to the 20 meter band, started calling CQ, and made this short video:

Shortly after making this video, I heard thunder nearby and had to pack up. I’d hoped to work a few stations on 20M in CW, then switch over to SSB and work more. I’m willing to tempt fate when it’s just rain, but I don’t play with lightening.

All in all, It was a very pleasant–although short–activation. Hazel and I really enjoyed the hike. Frankly both of us love any excuse to hit the trails or parks.

Hazel was more interested in squirrels than DX.

I’m finding that the TX-500 is a very sturdy and capable field radio with fantastic ergonomics.

This morning, I pulled out the scales and found that the radio, speaker/mic, and power cable all weigh in at 1 pound 9 ounces. That’s a lightweight kit by any standard.

Easy on batteries

Also, the TX-500 only seems to need about 110-120 milliamps of current drain in receive. That’s an impressive number for sure–right there with the benchmark Elecraft KX2. I’m pretty sure I could operate for hours with only my 6 aH LiFePo battery pack.

More to come

I still have the TX-500 for a week and hope to continue taking it to the field. I had planned to go out again today, but the weather forecast is dismal. Instead, I’ll chase some parks here in the shack!


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Let’s hit the field with the new lab599 TX-500 Discovery QRP transceiver!

Yesterday, I took delivery of a lab599 TX-500 Discovery QRP transceiver. Many thanks to Josh at Ham Radio Crash Course for shipping it here and Ham Radio Outlet for trusting me with this fine machine for the next couple of weeks.

I’ve been looking forward to this day for months–indeed, nearly a year.

A few initial impressions…

I won’t lie: the TX-500 is a gorgeous little transceiver and it’s solid.

The form factor is even a little smaller and lighter weight than I had imagined. I thought the multi-pin connectors on the side panels were the same size as, say, an XLR connector. Turns out, they’re much smaller and quite easy to use.

To put the TX-500 on the air, you’ll need to connect a minimum of three things: the power cable (terminated with Anderson Power Poles on the battery side), an antenna (BNC), and the speaker microphone. The TX-500 has no built-in speaker.

That’s all you’ll need if operating SSB. If operating CW, of course you’ll need to connect your key, but you’ll still need the speaker/mic connected for audio. That does make for quite a few things connected to the radio all at once.

The backlit display is high-contrast and easy to read indoors and in full sunlight. (And yes, that’s the Voice of Greece!)

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not a fan of speaker microphone combos, but I’ll readily admit that the one with the TX-500 is about as good as they come. It feels durable and produces serious volume. The audio fidelity is obviously built around voice and CW, so it’s not ideal for HF broadcast listening, although it does have an external mono speaker port on the side of the mic.

If I owned this TX-500, I would order another speaker/mic 6 pin connector and build a headphone cable for broadcast listening and CW use. An easy fix.

For SSB though? The provided speaker/mic works. Indeed, it works quite well in the field because it’s so easy to hear.

There’s so much more to this radio, but I’ll save that for future posts and my full review. Let’s talk code…

Attaching a key

This morning, the first thing I did was fire up my soldering iron and make a CW paddle cable. (I hope HRO doesn’t mind–I didn’t exactly think to ask. Come to think of it, let’s just keep this between us, ok?). I soldered three wires to the supplied 5 pin connector (pins 1, 2, and 5).

To keep things simple, I hooked the TX-500 up to my Vibroplex single lever paddle which sports three terminals, making it easy to connect to the CW cable pigtail. Plus, heck, any excuse to play with the Vibroplex, right!?

CW

I was so eager to see how the TX-500 would perform on CW, that immediately after hooking up the key the first time, I checked POTA spots and worked two stations (WR8F in Ohio and NG5E in Texas) in rapid succession. Here’s a video of the exchange with NG5E:

Note that I used my iPad to make this video and, for some reason, the mic accentuated the clicking/clacking of my Vibroplex key. It’s not normally that pronounced. 🙂

CW memory keying

One of my complaints about the TX-500 when I read the final feature list a couple weeks ago was that it lacked CW memory keying. To me, this was a major negative because many POTA and SOTA activators rely on CW keyer memories to help with their logging workflow in the field. I certainly do.

lab599 must have been listening because I found out last week that they implemented CW memory keying in the most recent beta firmware update. Woo hoo!

I was sent the firmware file and this morning had no issues installing it in the TX-500 with the firmware application/tool.

After I sorted out how to record and play back the CW memories using the top row of function buttons, I was ready to hit the field!

I packed the TX-500, and headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a POTA activation!

CW POTA activation

I only had a brief period of time to fit in an activation today, so I kept it simple by going to the Folk Art Center which has a number of picnic tables. A park ranger once asked that I not hang an antenna in a tree at this particular site, so I used my Wolf River Coils TIA portable vertical antenna.

The Wolf River Coils TIA

Truth is, I feel like I always get more mileage out of a wire antenna than a vertical when running QRP, but I worked with what I had.

I started calling CQ on 7063 kHz and within 10 minutes worked five stations.

The CW memory keyer worked well. There is currently a two second delay before the TX-500 begins transmitting, but I’m guessing that can be fixed in a future firmware update.

Here’s a short video of the TX-500 memory keyer in action:

The TX-500 uses a relay to switch between transmit and receive, so you can hear clicking in the background. I had the recovery time set to the shortest interval which resulted in the maximum amount of clicking. Good news is the TX-500 body is so solid, the clicking is quite soft and muted–about the softest clicking I’ve ever heard in a transceiver. You could, of course, minimize relay clicks by setting the T/R delay to a higher number.

I’m very impressed with the TX-500’s low noise floor and filtering. Signals just seem to pop out of this thing.

I played radio for a while longer but was eventually chased off by a thunderstorm.

I must admit: for the first time, I wasn’t terribly worried if it started raining and the radio got a bit wet. The TX-500 is weather-resistant so can certainly cope with a sprinkle.

More to come!

I’ve set a personal goal to take the TX-500 to the field seven days in a row. I’m not entirely sure that’s realistic as I see the amount of thunderstorm activity in the forecast. Still, one must have goals, right? Plus, any excuse to hit the field and play radio!

Please comment if you have questions about the TX-500. I’ll do my best to answer as many as I can!


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Video: Josh’s Lab599 TX-500 Deep Dive & Review

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Don (W7SSB), who notes that Josh (KI6NAZ) at Ham Radio Crash Course has just posted his final TX-500 video. If you’ve been considering the TX-500, it’s very much worth your time:

Josh is actually sending me this very same TX-500 for review in The Spectrum Monitor magazine and here on the SWLing Post.

Please comment if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them while I have the unit here at SWLing Post HQ.

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