Tag Archives: Elecraft KX2

A preliminary review of the PK Loop C-LOOP-HDSW6-18

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The Elecraft KX3 and the PK Loop C-LOOP-HDSW6-18

Over the past year, a number of SWLing Post readers have asked me to review the PK Loop portable magnetic loop antenna produced by Paul Karlstrand in Australia.

I finally caved in and purchased one.

I ordered the shortwave version of the loop, the  C-LOOP-HDSW6-18 in early November and received it about one week later.

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The Sony SW100 tuned to WBCQ.

I was first introduced to this antenna by SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who brought it to the SWL Fest and our 2015 PARI DXpedition.

Mark has taken his PK Loops (both the shortwave and mediumwave models) on his numerous travels around the world. He finds that they’re relatively effective portable antennas in RFI-dense environments like hotels and guest houses. They’re better at mitigating RFI than, say, portable wire antennas or telescopic whips.

Mark hooks up his portable SDR to the PK Loop and makes spectrum recordings (wideband recordings)–from, say, his hotel room in Kuala Lumpur–then takes the recording back home to listen and tune at his leisure via his laptop or tablet PC.  While I’ve certainly made spectrum recordings while travelling in the past, the appeal of such a portable loop antenna is what finally caused me to pull the trigger.

Overview

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The PK Loop is a small loop antenna–measuring about 12″ in diameter. It’s encased in UV-stabilized PVC conduit and the matching box also seems to be made of PVC. It feels very durable and can, no doubt, even survive the wildest of luggage handling.

The PK Loop has an attached battery 9V battery holder, but can actually be powered by any 9-18 volt DC supply. Current consumption is less than 15 mA. On the matching box, you’ll find a tuning knob, a BNC connector, DC power in port and a HI/LOW gain switch. My loop shipped with a 2 meter BNC-BNC Cable, 3.5mm adapter, and DC Power lead to open ends.

Operation

Operating the loop is very simple:

  1. Power the antenna with a 9V battery or other DC source
  2. Chose either the high or low gain setting
  3. Place it on a stable surface (height from the ground is not a critical issue, but you should avoid placing it next to noisy electronics or mobile phones)
  4. Connect the PK Loop to your receiver’s antenna jack with the supplied cable
  5. Turn on your receiver to the desired meter band, then adjust the loop’s tuning knob until you hear the signal level peak
  6. Start listening, keeping in mind that as you tune around the band you may need to adjust the loop’s tuning knob for maximum gain

Loop antennas, in general, are fairly narrow-band and–unlike a Wellbrook or Pixel Loop–manual adjustments need to be made with the tuning knob to match the PK Loop as you scan across bands.

Still, I see why Mark favors the PK Loop for spectrum recordings: the bandwidth is wide enough that if I tune the loop to the middle of the 31 meter band, for example, it does a fine job covering the entire band.

On the air

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My free time has been very limited since receiving the PK Loop earlier this month, but over Thanksgiving holiday, I took it to my family’s home that has relatively high RFI levels.

The following are a couple of videos I made with my Moto X smartphone. I’ll be the first to admit that these are not the best videos–I had no tripod and the Moto’s microphone leaves much to be desired–but I think you’ll still get the idea of how well the PK Loop works.

With the Sony SW100

Click here to watch on YouTube.

With the Elecraft KX2

Click here to watch on YouTube.

So far, I’m very pleased with the PK Loop. It does seem to mitigate noise better than other portable antennas I’ve used in the past and certainly improves my SW100’s reception. It makes SWLing with the Elecraft KX2 or KX3 easy and convenient.

One word of caution: if you use the PK Loop with a transceiver like the KX2, please turn off the ATU, and set the power level to 0W before using. The PK Loop is receive-only and will not handle any RF power.

Note that with the SW100, I have only used the PK Loop’s low gain setting. I’m a little nervous about overloading the SW100, so do not plan to use the high gain setting. The Elecraft KX2 seems happy to handle either gain setting: I imagine this will be the case with most general coverage transceivers and tabletop receivers.

More to come!

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be staying in a hotel room (likely with inoperable windows and heavy RFI) so I will attempt to put the loop through its paces and compare it with my radio’s built-in antenna.  Stay tuned!

Post readers: have you used the PK Loop or other similar portable/travel antennas? Please comment!

Click here to view PK’s Loop antennas on Paul Karlstrand’s website.

Paul also sells his antennas and ships internationally on eBay–click here to view the selection.

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Holiday Deals: Elecraft’s Black Friday event

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The Elecraft KX3 tuned to Radio Australia.

If you’ve been thinking about pulling the trigger on an Elecraft transceiver, now may be a good time. Elecraft is throwing in free accessories and free shipping on a few of their products.

Here’s their full Black Friday advertisement:

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Even if you aren’t a ham, you might consider an Elecraft KX3 or even the new KX2. Both are excellent HF broadcast receivers.

Click here to read my review of the Elecraft KX3. I’ll be posting a review of the Elecraft KX2 on December 1–if you can’t wait, I’d encourage you to download the latest issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine (my KX2 review aside, the issue is chock-full of brilliant radio articles!).

Click here to view the full Elecraft advertisement.

Recap of Great Smoky Mountains NPOTA activations

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Last week, I attended the W4DXCC convention in Sevierville, Tennessee. The road trip afforded me several opportunities to make NPOTA activations through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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I took my field kit which included the Elecraft KX2, QRP Ranger battery pack (not pictured), and EFT Trail-Friendly antenna.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

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My first stop was the Ocunaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, NC, where I had planned the “two-fer” activation of the Great Smoky Mountains (NP26) and the Blue Ridge Parkway (PK01).

First thing I did was ask the park ranger on duty how I could find the footpath to the point where the two parks overlap. Turns out, I had at least a one mile hike ahead of me.

PK01  and NP26

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I love hiking, so that wasn’t a problem.

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The only problem was I hadn’t accounted for the hike in my plans, so I knew I would be a little late for the scheduled activation time.

When I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway, I ventured down to the river where I found an excellent spot to set up my field kit.

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Thankfully, within thirty minutes, I had logged 15 contacts. I quickly packed up and attempted to catch back up with my schedule.

Thankfully, the Elk were elsewhere today!

I was grateful the Elk were elsewhere Thursday!

Back at the ranger’s station, I learned that the Ocunaluftee Visitor Center is also another National Park entity: the Trail Of Tears (TR12). I had no time to deploy my station once more, but made a mental note to add it to activations on my return trip.

NP26 and TR01

Next, I hopped in my car and drove to the Newfound Gap parking area where the Appalachian Trail (TR01) crosses the Great Smoky Mountains Park (NP26).

The view there was/is amazing:

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The area was packed with tourists, so I decided to hike up the Appalachian Trail (AT) to escape the bulk of the crowd.

img_20160922_150632201I hiked at least one mile up the narrow and steep AT before finding a suitable spot to set up my gear. It was a tight operating spot, but I managed to hang the antenna and position myself in a way that wouldn’t block foot traffic on the AT.

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I logged 18 stations in the span of about 45 minutes.

I also took several breaks to answer questions about ham radio from hikers.  I was particularly happy that one family took sincere interest in what I was doing and their young kids were fascinated that I was making contacts across the globe where there was no cell phone coverage nor Internet.

I packed up at 20:30 UTC, hiked back to my car and  managed to arrive at the conference center in Sevierville in time for dinner with my friends.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My activations on the return trip, Sunday, included the same locations as Thursday.

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TR01 and NP26

Instead of heading north on the Appalachian Trail, I decided to head south. I was running late to activate the site and knew if I headed north I’d have a long hike ahead of me. Once again, there were a lot of visitors at the site–many were there for a Sunday morning hike and were making their way (quite slowly) north. The southern route had no foot traffic at all, so I headed south.

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I found a suitable site to set up radio, but only because the trail was so quiet I could sit in the middle of it. The entire time I operated, I only encountered one hiker who was absolutely amazed I was making contacts across the continent when he hadn’t had cell phone reception in days.

I logged 14 contacts in 45 minutes.

NP26 and PK01

Next, I headed back down the mountain to the Ocunaluftee Visitor Center to the same site where I set up before.

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Unlike my Thursday activation, contacts trickled in very slowly. It took over one hour to log 11 contacts. Propagation was very strange: the only stations I worked on the 20 meter band–a total of four–were located in Idaho and Slovenia.

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You can *almost* see my antenna hanging from its first location.

Once, I even re-deployed my antenna, thinking that may help. I managed to raise the entire 35′ length into an ideal tree on the bank of the river. It was completely vertical with no slope. That did, perhaps, help snag my final two contacts.

TR12

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Despite the fact I was running late and I had struggled to make the minimum ten QSOs required for the NP26/PK01 activation, I decided to also attempt TR12 (Trail of Tears).

I hiked back to the Ocunaluftee Visitor’s Center and found a quiet spot, once again, near the river. I was happy with my operating location and the fact the antenna deployed with no problem.

Sadly, though, this activation was not meant to be. Even with multiple spots on the DX Cluster, I stopped operating after having only worked four stations in 45 minutes. If I hadn’t been on a schedule, perhaps I would have stayed another hour.

I didn’t let this bother me, though. I knew the TR12 activation would be a gamble and I was happy to have provided four NPOTA chasers with another NPOTA catch for the day!

All in all, I worked a total of 64 stations en route to and return from the W4DXCC conference. I call that a success, especially since I was able to enjoy some excellent hiking, scenery, weather and I even had a few opportunities to promote ham radio to the public. Of course, I feel like each time I do one of these activations, it also hones my emergency communication skills.

W4DXCC

Speaking of the W4DXCC, the conference was amazing as always and I’m happy to have been a part of it. For the second year in a row, we hosted a “Ham Radio Bootcamp”–a day-long tutorial on all aspects of ham radio. Once again, it drew a large crowd.

Vlado (N3CZ) demonstrating the IC-7300 functions and features at the Ham Radio Bootcamp.

Vlado (N3CZ) demonstrating the IC-7300 functions and features at the Ham Radio Bootcamp.

Each year, the convention operates as KB4C in a dedicated radio room. This year, we had two IC-7300 transceivers on the air.

Each year, the convention operates as KB4C in a dedicated radio room. This year, we had two IC-7300 transceivers on the air simultaneously.

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We had at least three antennas available including this excellent hex beam.

If you’re into DXing, contesting, or you’d simply like to make some new friends in the community, I would encourage you to put the W4DXCC conference in your calendar for 2017!

NPOTA: Photos from weekend “two-fer” activation

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As seen from the Overmountain Victory Trail: The Revolutionary War encampment at the Museum of North Carolina Minerals.

As I mentioned in a previous post, what I love about the National Parks On The Air program is that it combines two of my favorite things: national parks and ham radio. My family visits national parks regularly, so it’s easy for me to pack a small radio, do a quick NPOTA activation all while incorporating non-radio activities that the family loves.

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On Saturday, I activated both the Blue Ridge Parkway (PK01) and Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (TR10)–a “two-fer” activation.

Normally, I would set up my station somewhere close to the Museum of North Carolina Minerals which is situated at the junction of these two National Park entities. Saturday, however, was a special event at the museum: a Revolutionary War Encampment.

Blue Ridge Natural Heritage describes the annual event:

The Museum is located at Gillespie Gap, an important stop for Revolutionary War fighters on their way to the Battle of Kings Mountain. Each September the Museum hosts an encampment of re-enactors who assume the role of the Overmountain Men, primarily Scots-Irish settlers from Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina who came “over the mountains” and ultimately defeated the left wing of Cornwallis’ army at Kings Mountain, South Carolina. Many historians mark this victory as the turning point in the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War.

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My family loves living history events.

Radio time!

The Park Ranger kindly gave me permission to do the NPOTA activation, but not at the museum itself.  She was trying to keep the site set in the Revolutionary War period–a ham radio operator using a portable transceiver doesn’t exactly fit that description. Instead, around 15:30 UTC, I hiked up the Overmountain Victory Trail in search of an operation site near the Blue Ridge Parkway road.

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The trailhead was a little rough and overgrown. I didn’t have to trail-blaze, but I did have to wade through a lot of weeds with my gear and my canine companion, Hazel, on leash. It’s times like this I truly appreciate such a compact, lightweight, and packable station.

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Can you find the trail in this photo?

Once we entered the woods, though, the trail improved. I found a fantastic spot to operate between the museum and the parkway.

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Hazel the dog is a welcome companion does a wonderful job keeping my site free of black bears. She’s patient, too. I typically tie her leash to a small stake or tree next to me and she promptly takes a nap. Here she is admiring my new REI Camping Stool:

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You can see part of the EFT Trail-Friendly antenna hanging in this photo.

Setup was quick. I managed to raise the EFT Trail-Friendly antenna in record time. I connected the antenna to the Elecraft KX2 and was on the air, calling CQ on 20 meters in a matter of minutes. npota-tr10-pk01-qrp-elecraft-kx2-clipboardIn the space of 15-20 minutes, I only managed to work a few stations on the 20 meter band even though I had been spotted several times on the DX Cluster.npota-tr10-pk01-qrp-elecraft-kx2-logs

I moved to the 40 meter band and logged contacts quickly, however.

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My full station and my ferocious guard dog, Hazel.

Hazel, as I mentioned, is a great companion that’s sweet to everyone she meets. She’s happy to hang with me even if I’m just sitting there operating radio for an hour. She’s quiet and doesn’t bark unless she notices a true disturbance.

Still, Hazel does get bored. After I had logged about 20 stations, I heard her gnawing on something. I turned around and discovered that she found the reel of fishing line I use to hang my antennas.

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Note to self: next time pack Hazel a bone.

She didn’t even look apologetic or guilty! Oh well…fishing line is pretty cheap to replace and I’m sure she assumed it was a chew toy I had placed there for her.

All in all, it was a very successful activation. In less than one hour, I put 22 stations in the log. The weather was perfect and the whole family had a blast.

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A photo I took prior to watching a reenactment of the Battle of King’s Mountain.

What a wonderful day to play radio, take in our national parks and re-live some of our history!

National Parks On The Air: Activating two sites simultaneously today

I'll hike to the point where the Overmountain Victory Trail meets the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I’ll hike to the point where the Overmountain Victory Trail meets the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Today, I plan to activate both the Blue Ridge Parkway (PK01) and Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (TR10) two-fer for the National Parks on the Air (NPOTA).

I should go on the air sometime between 16:00-17:00 UTC (12:00-13:00 EDT), weather permitting.

I’ll plan to start on the 20 meter band (14286 kHz) then move to the 40 meter band (7286 kHz). If I can’t operate on those frequencies, I’ll move to something clear +/- 6 kHz or so.

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I’ll be operating SSB, using the Elecraft KX2 transceiver and EFT Trail friendly antenna combo once again. Since I’m hiking to my operating site, this pair will offer the lightest multi-band option.

The REI Trail Stool

The REI Trail Stool

Side note: yesterday, I picked up an REI Trail Stool to replace my foldable camping chair.

The camping chair is fantastic if you don’t have to lug it very far, but on long hikes it becomes heavy and cumbersome. This stool will get me off the ground and hopefully allow me to operate with the clipboard and transceiver on my lap. The REI Trail Stool weighs next to nothing.

If you’re an SWL and hear me (K4SWL) on the air, please comment! Note that I’ll be transmitting a max of 10 watts–so pretty much “flea power.” Still, in the past, I’ve worked all corners of North America and into Europe with this same transceiver/antenna combo.

Propagation conditions are pretty favorable today as well. I just hope we have no pop-up thunderstorms–I’ll most likely be near a ridge line and can’t take any chances.

If you’re a ham radio operator, I hope to log you for this activation!