Tag Archives: Yaesu

Andy builds a genius companion control display for the Yaesu FT-817 transceiver

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Andy Webster (G7UHN), who kindly shares the following guest post:


Yaesu FT-817 companion display

by Andy Webster (G7UHN)

 

Like so many I love getting out portable with my FT-817 but I do seem to spend so much of my operating time fiddling through the soft-keys because my most used functions (CW narrow filter, power and keyer settings to tune an ATU, A/B, A=B, etc.) are spread across different “pages” of the A,B,C assignments. Compared to the sublime experience of using my Elecraft K2 the FT-817 can be a little frustrating!

Last month, inspiration struck and I thought I could cobble together a small microcontroller and a little OLED display with some buttons to provide some extra soft-keys for the radio using the CAT serial port. Nothing particularly original here (I’ve seen articles of people using PICs for this purpose) but it seemed like a nice sized project for me to play with and build some experience doing PCBs (I’ve only done this once before at home). A little bit of discussion with Michael G0POT (FT-817 and SOTA guru), some Google searching and we were looking over KA7OEI’s excellent reference page (http://www.ka7oei.com/ft817_meow.html) and thinking about our favourite FT-817 commands…

 

As it happened I was lucky to have the right bits (Arduino Nano, small OLED display, buttons, prototype board and an 8-pin mini DIN cable) lying around the house to see “first light” from my FT-817’s serial port that evening. The Arduino Nano is a good place to start because it works at 5V so can work directly with the FT-817 levels on the ACC port. What followed next was some late nights of hacking on Arduino code to send and receive the data for my favourite commands and more experimentation on prototype board.

I tried a couple of cheap OLED displays and they look great indoors but weren’t quite up to the job in full sunlight which is fairly typical in my portable operations.

Daytime readability issues with an OLED display

By this point I had also realised the utility of having an auxiliary display on top of the radio as a much easier thing to view than the 817’s own display on the front panel. I’d also experienced some interference from the unshielded prototype board coming through as clicking sounds on the radio’s receiver so it looked as though some isolation between radio and my circuit might be necessary. Guided by many Internet tutorials, I switched to using a Nokia 5110-style LCD for better daylight readability and lower power consumption. Adding an ADUM1201 digital isolator and a B0505S-1W isolated DC-DC converter to the prototype board (modules acquired very quickly from eBay suppliers) gave me some isolation and lowered the interference which I guessed would disappear when I made the design on PCB with good ground planes around the signal lines.

Screen capture showing the schematic (click to enlarge)

With a (mostly) working prototype it was time to hammer the Internet tutorials again, this time to learn how to use KiCad, a free open-source PCB design tool available on Linux, Windows and Mac. I’ve done one PCB for home projects before using Autodesk EAGLE and I found learning Eagle pretty hard going, it seems like it carries 20 years worth of baggage and dogma in the user interface. In fact I started using EAGLE on this project but spent 3 hours on the first evening just trying to change the labels on the ADUM1201 chip that I couldn’t find in an EAGLE library… so I gave up and thought I’d try KiCad which I’d seen some recent good reports on. I’m happy to say after finding an excellent tutorial on KiCad I had drawn the schematic and my PCB layout in about 15 hours working time spread over a few evenings.

I should add that the 15 hours of KiCad time did include several hours of agonising over the choice of slide switch so a PCB can be done much quicker than that once you’ve got your favourite parts sorted!

That’s pretty impressive for my first go with KiCad as a near-beginner to PCBs, I heartily recommend it, it was so much easier than EAGLE and quite an enjoyable tool. Right, PCB design done and uploaded to JLCPCB for manufacture. 5 PCBs with DHL shipping cost me less than ¬£20 and arrived from China within 5 calendar days. Other PCB fabs are available… ūüôā

Click to enlarge

So that brings us to today, pretty much. The PCB was assembled very quickly (!) and there is no sign of noise from the serial data lines creeping into the 817’s receiver now it’s on PCB. Some lessons have been learned through the construction (e.g. brown 6mm push buttons are less “clicky” than the black ones and that’s a good thing!) and I now have my companion FT-817 display/buttons in field trials. I’ve no plans to sell this, it’s a trivially simple design, but it does make a great home project to polish your skills in microcontrollers, PCBs and construction. I’ll post a write-up on my website in due course.

In use, the device works just as I’d hoped, I can do everything I want to on my FT-817 without having to fiddle through the awkward button presses. The frequency display is also in a much better position for me now (as most FT-817 owners will know as they jealously eye the KX2, KX3, etc…!) and I think I used it for the whole session when I took it to the field on Saturday. If only my CW had been so slick!

Next steps are to work on the Arduino code. My code is pretty rubbish (my coding style involves a lot of Stack Overflow and copy/paste!) and not safe for public consumption. There are also some health warnings to be noted in manipulating the FT-817’s EEPROM (required for some of the functions I wanted), explained on KA7OEI’s page but there have been a few volunteers on Twitter to help with the software which is great. Also I may do a “Rev 2” board with an Arduino Pro Mini to lower the drain on the FT-817 battery before sharing the PCB files. Other than that it’s now time to get back outdoors and enjoy the new improved interface to my smallest radio! ūüėÄ

73
Andy G7UHN


Andy, I absolutely love this project! A wonderful addition to the FT-817/818 and I’d hardly call it a “trivial” design–!

I purchased the original FT-817 shortly after it was introduced. At the time, I was living in the UK and travelled extensively throughout Europe. I loved the ability to simply throw this little rig into my carryon and play radio pretty much anywhere my work travels took me. In the end, I did less ham radio work with the FT-817 and more SWLing.

Still, I eventually sold my FT-817 for the very same reason that motivated you to build a companion display: the front panel is too small and my most used functions require too much menu digging. 

Your companion board is an elegant homebrew solution. I love the Nokia LCD screen–superb readability in the field.¬†

Thank you again and once you do a write-up on for your website, we’ll be sure to link to it on the SWLing Post!


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Kostas’ Yaesu FRG-7 adjustment that improves opposite sideband rejection

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Kostas (SV3ORA), who shares the following video and writes:

In this 7.8Mb video (attached) is my solution for “converting” the Yaesu FRG-7 for single signal reception on SSB:

Not a mod actually, no additional filters, no soldering of any kind. Just tune the BFO on USB and on LSB a bit far away from the 455KHz ceramic filter (using the transformer for LSB and the capacitor for USB, as the manual states). As the video shows, this provides the near to
carrier selectivity to cut off the unwanted sideband.

The price you pay is more high frequencies (but in the wanted sideband) and a bit attenuated low frequencies as the filter is effectively shifted to higher frequencies. Very high frequencies cut-off is helped by the tone control of the receiver to some point.

This is a cost-free mod and requiring even no soldering skills, neither any mod to the receiver. Now as you tune the bands in SSB and CW, you do not hear the same signal twice. On AM mode nothing changes, since the BFO is switched off in this mode.

Many thanks for sharing this, Kostas! This seems like a simple adjustment for one of my all-time favorite receivers!

Post readers: Check out Kostas’ website for more modifications, ideas and radio projects.

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Which would you choose as a first radio–the Icom IC-7300 or Xiegu G90?

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

This came to me from a friend; he is curious about choosing between the Xiegu G90 and the Icom IC-7300 for his first rig. He has money to buy the Icom which is $999 right now after rebates, but wants to know if he is really getting twice the radio for the Icom, vs the Xiegu, or are there other good reasons to get the 2016-introduced Icom, vs the newly introduced Xiegu.

Maybe this can be a posting to ask your readers? Greatly appreciate it.

Thanks very much
Paul

Thank you for passing along the question, Paul.

While I almost consider this to be an “apples to oranges” question, let’s approach this from a couple of different operator perspectives and truly explore the decision.

I like both radios for different reasons, but first, I’ll tell you what my decision would be if I were in in his shoes…

The Icom IC-7300 SDR transceiver

I would choose the Icom IC-7300

While the Icom IC-7300 does cost twice the amount of a Xiegu G90, it’s a much more versatile transceiver. There are almost too many IC-7300 features to list here, so I’ll mention a few that immediately come to mind, focusing on features the G90 lacks.

For one thing, the IC-7300 is a 100 watt radio, thus the max rated power output is five times that of the Xiegu G90.

The IC-7300 doesn’t require an external sound card for digital modes. Simply plug the radio into you PC with a USB cable, and with your favorite application (like WSJT), you can operate any number of digital modes. (I found configuring the G90 for digital modes to be a bit frustrating.)

The IC-7300 also covers the 6 meter band–the G90 tops out at 10 meters.

The IC-7300 has useful features for contests and field operation like:

  • voice and CW memory keyers with beacon mode,
  • native transmit and received audio recording,
  • a large touch screen display to quickly enter frequencies and adjust settings,
  • audio EQ on both transmit and receive,
  • a built-in bail
  • notch filters and Icom’s twin passband tuning

Again, by no means is this a comprehensive list–just some of the features that come to mind.

As a first rig, the IC-7300 can take you into any aspect or mode of the HF band your friend cares to explore. It must be one of the most popular HF radios on the market right now, so there’s also a massive user and knowledge base out there on the web.

The IC-7300 also has better transmitter specs, producing a cleaner signal than the G90, especially in CW (the G90 is known to produce key clicks and not recommended for use with an amplifier). It also can handle close-in signals better than the G90 and has a higher dynamic range. Overall, it has better specs than the G90.

For a more detailed look at the IC-7300, check out my full review.

Why one might choose the Xiegu G90 over the Icom IC-7300

The Xiegu G90 with upgraded encoder

Let’s get an an obvious point out of the way first: the G90 costs half that ($450) of the IC-7300 (generally $900-1,100). This could leave your friend with even more money to invest in an antenna. As I’ve said so many times before, a radio is only as good as its antenna!

If your friend plans to operate primarily in the field, the Xiegu G90 is much more portable option. The G90 is very compact and weighs a fraction of the IC-7300. The G90 also draws less current in receive mode, so is much kinder on a battery. It also has built-in side extensions to protect the front and back panels while being transported.

The Xiegu G90 has a detachable face plate which would come in handy for mobile installations (although, admittedly, there are a number of better mobile transceivers on the market).

My full review of the Xiegu G90 is in this month’s issue (Aug 2020) of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. It’s nearly a 4,000 word review so is one of the longer ones I’ve produced. If your friend wants to make a decision soon, he/she might purchase this issue to fully explore this rig.

Another option: Yaesu FT-891 and LDG Z-11 Pro 2 external antenna tuner combo

If your friend is seriously considering the Xiegu G90, then I have to assume he/she has portable operation in mind.

Making this assumption, I would also suggest they check out the Yaesu FT-891. Like the IC-7300, it has a full 100 watts output and also covers the 6 meter band. Like the G90, the front panel can be separated from the radio body for easy mobile installation.

Although I have never reviewed the FT-891 (although I plan to before the end of the year), the radio has an almost cult-like following among SWLing Post readers. It’s also a favorite rig of Parks On The Air (POTA) activators because of its 100W output, relatively compact footprint, and great audio characteristics. The G90 and IC-7300 both are based on SDR architecture, the FT-891 is a triple conversion superheterodyne general coverage receiver.

Unlike the IC-7300 and G90, however, the FT-891 lacks an internal antenna tuner (ATU) and I’m guessing your friend wants one based on the fact both the G90 and IC-7300 have one.

The LDG Z-11 Pro 2 ATU

No problem! The Yaesu FT-891 is one of the best bang-for-buck transceivers on the market. The price at time of posting is $609 after rebates. That leaves room to purchase a benchmark portable HF+6 meter antenna tuner. I personally love the LDG Z-11 Pro 2 which would only set them back $169. I’ve owned one of the predecessors of this ATU for nearly a decade. It’s located outdoors, in an enclosure and serves as a remote antenna tuner for my multi-band sky loop. It has operated flawlessly through seasonal temperature extremes and powered by a 15 year old¬† 12V gel cell battery that is charged off of a 5 watt PV panel and Micro M+ charge controller.

The FT-891 and Z11 Pro 2 ATU combo would total $778 which is a nice compromise between the $1,000 IC-7300 and $450 G90.

If your friend wanted a more compact option than the IC-7300, and better specs and more power output than the G90, this FT-891/Z-11 Pro 2 combo would be hard to beat.

Don’t Forget Antennas and Power

As I mentioned before, do your friend a favor and remind him/her to set aside a budget for an antenna.

If you build your own wire antenna, you can create an amazing one for $50 or so in quality ladder line and wire–at least, that’s about what I put into my sky loop antenna. Retailers like Universal Radio, HRO, and Gigaparts stock quality pre-made wire antennas that cost a bit more, but are pre-tuned, durable and very easy to deploy. The type of antenna you can install is totally dependent on the environment around your home, access to your radio room, and any local interference you might need to mitigate.

Of course, all of the radios mentioned above need a DC power supply. There are many on the market from lightweight switching power supplies to heavy linear supplies.

I would not choose one of the cheapest ones you can find because switching power supplies especially can inject noise. I’m a big fan of the Powerwerx SS-30DV which will typically cost around $110 at ham radio retailers (although, at present, it’s one of the many items out-of-stock due to the Covid-19 pandemic). It hits the sweet spot for me and is a little workhorse!

What do you think?

As I always say: radios are a personal choice. Specifications and features make for convenient points of comparison, but often choices are made based on a user’s own needs and operating style.

Between the Xiegu G90 and Icom IC-7300, which would you choose as a first rig? Can you think of a better compromise?  Please comment!


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Covid-19: Popular Yaesu and Alinco rigs meet early demise

 

No doubt, the Covid-19 global pandemic has had a mostly negative impact on our daily lives. 

Surprisingly, I found that the impact on the amateur radio world, at first, was quite minimal. Not only did sheltering at home seem to increase the number of operators on the air, but I found that most of the radio items I needed to purchase were largely available.

Since mid-May, however, radio retailers have struggled to maintain inventory on certain items mainly due to shipping issues from manufacturers (especially when international shipping was involved). Covid-19 issues have also delayed the introduction of a number of transceivers and portable shortwave radios we should have seen in production already.

Most recently, however, I learned from a trusted source that Covid-19 has lead to the early demise of at least two popular radio models.

Alinco DX-R8T: Discontinued

The Alinco DX-R8T has enjoyed a long product life. I recall reviewing this fine tabletop receiver back in 2011. It has been a very popular radio because it’s been one of the only “legacy” tabletop receivers still in production.

I recently learned that Alinco will no longer produce the DX-R8T due to “parts issues.” One would have to assume that this will also affect the DX-R8E (EU version) and eventually the DX-SR8T which is the transceiver version of this model.

Retailers may still have some inventory of these models, but once those models have been purchased, there will be no more. I would certainly suggest purchasing the DX-SR8T transceiver as an alternative since the price difference is modest and it’s built on the same receiver as the DX-R8T.

Yaesu FT-450D: Discontinued

Like the Alinco above, Yaesu has announced that they are discontinuing production of the popular Yaesu FT-450D general coverage transceiver due to “parts issues.”

Yaesu FT-DX1200

It’s worth noting the venerable Yaesu FT-DX1200 recently met the same fate.

To be clear: parts obsolescence happens in the best of times.  Covid-19 has simply accelerated the issue.

If you’ve been considering the purchase of one of these models, you might bite the bullet now if you can find a retailer with inventory.

If I learn of any other radios being discontinued, I’ll publish updates here on the SWLing Post.

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Listening to ARISS contacts last week

I get just as excited as my kids when I receive any communications from the International Space Station. This past week, we fit an ARISS contact fit into our hectic schedule during lunch break. I gave both of my kids a handheld radio and we all listened together as the ISS passed overhead.

Right on schedule, we heard NA1SS, but it sounded like they were struggling to make contact with KD2IFR at the Central Islip Union Free School District in Central Islip, NY.

I made a short video about one minute into the scheduled contact. I believe both parties were forced to move to their backup channel because we never heard an exchange–only NA1SS calling KD2IFR:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Still…we heard an astronaut live, so mission accomplished!

SWLing Post contributor, Mark Hirst, had much better luck last week monitoring an ARISS contact with King’s High School in Warwick, UK. Check out his excellent video:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thanks for posting that video, Mark. By the way, I love your FT-817ND setup!

In fact, the King’s High School ARISS contact snagged some excellent publicity via the BBC.¬† Here’s an article via the Southgate ARC:

King’s High School ARISS contact on BBC TV

On April 19 student¬†Eleanor Griffin¬†led the live question and answer session between King’s High School (GB4KHS) and astronaut¬†Ricky Arnold KE5DAU¬†on the International Space Station (OR4ISS)

King’s High School strongly encourage their girls to develop their interests both inside and outside the classroom. This culture of empowerment led one of their girls to apply to ARISS Europe (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) for a highly prestigious link-up to the International Space Station.

Nicola Beckford reporting on the contact for the BBC – credit KHS

When Eleanor Griffin was selected to hold a space conversation with an astronaut, she was inspired to set up the Warwick Mars Project, for students across the Warwick Independent Schools Foundation, to further interest in Space Science. Eleanor says:¬†“The moon landings belong to the generation of our grandparents, and the International Space Station to our parents. What will happen in our generation? Will Mankind travel to another planet?”

When asked what the incredible experience of the ISS contact had taught her Eleanor replied¬†“Just do it! No one is going to stop you, if you just go and pursue your dreams, you really can do anything.”

Watch the BBC TV news item broadcast on Midlands Today @bbcmtd. Fast forward to 18:45 into the recording at
https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09z9tw6/midlands-today-evening-news-19042018

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS)
http://ariss.org/
https://twitter.com/ARISS_status

King’s High School Warwick
https://twitter.com/KHSWarwick

If you missed these ARISS contacts, no worries!¬†Check out the ARISS ‚ÄúUpcoming Contacts‚ÄĚ page where future¬†ARISS QSOs are listed. ARISS contacts are a great opportunity to show kids¬†of all ages¬†what you can hear with even a modest radio!

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Dave launches the WIRES-X SWL Receiver Net: Test run this week!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Zantow (N9EWO), who follows up after his post last week about a possible SWL Net via the Yaesu WIRES-X network. Dave’s making the net a reality–here are the details:

YAESU “WIRES-X” SWL – RX Net : Right now considering once a month on the FIRST Thursday at 7 PM CDT (8 PM EDT or 0000 UTC Friday) but only if enough activity / check-ins happen. (Updated : April 02)

TEST NET : Thursday April 05, 2018 at 7:00 PM CDT (8 PM EDT. 0000 UTC Friday)
NODE : 30778
ROOM : 40778
Marked as “Dave’s Radio Receiver Page”

Many thanks, Dave, for organizing this!

Post Readers: If you’re interested in this SWL net, please follow updates on Dave’s website.

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A Yaesu WIRES-X SWL Net?

The WIRES-X Network (Source: Yaesu)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Zantow (N9EWO), who asks:

How many of you Amateur Radio folks reading this web page have WIRES-X capability (either with a local node on your own or have access to it via a repeater) ?? I ask this as a possibility of a casual net of some kind ? We have WIRES-X (local node) here and would be willing to at least try a test run of a weekly or semi weekly “SWL – Receiver Net” IF we receive enough feedback (even if only a few readers). So I would appreciate an email back with a thumbs up or down to this idea and that you would be at least a check in ? Also please give me ideas when you would think a good day of the week and time would be (USA) ? If I receive zero feed back, of course I will not waste my time (but I think it would be fun to at least give it a try).

I only recently acquires a WIRES-X capable handheld: the Yaesu FT2DR. Now I need to find out if there is a WIRES-X capable repeater I can hit from my home. Of course, for me it’s always finding a reliable time to meet–that’s the real challenge! Great idea, Dave!

Post Readers: Contact Dave if you’re interested–his email can be found at the top of his homepage.

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