This year I decided to learn CW (for the nth time).

I mean to finally learn CW and actually use it going forward. I also wanted to start operating from the field as much as possible.

As such, I started to acquire some mobile rigs – mostly QRP – to push me to make good on my investment and spend the time practicing CW and getting on the air. The good news is that I made my first CW contact on Memorial Day this year. My QTH introduces a lot of RFI so the QSO was quick and dirty, but we exchanged callsigns and actually did a follow up email or two.

I’m hooked.

However I looked around my home office and realized that I’ve got a few rigs now.

Quite a few.

So I’m putting together this comparison chart both for my own reference, but hopefully for yours as well.

Now, which radio to use next…..

RadioModesBandsWattsVoltageNotes
Elecraft KX3All160m-6m0.1-109-15VDCThe Cadillac of my QRP rigs
Xiegu x5105All160m-6m0.1-59-15VDCBuilt in 12v 3800mah battery
LnR Precision MTR4B v2CW40m, 30m 20m, 10m55.5-12VDCDo not use more than 13v supply
Ten-Tec R4020CW40m, 20m59-14VDCCan receive SSB
QRP Labs QCX-miniCWSingle Band (mine is 40m)57-14VDCKit – high quality components, great documentation
Many options, each with its own awesomeness

Random Thoughts

Largest to smallest, which almost corresponds to feature sets as well

Elecraft KX3

I do not know where to begin. I purchased mine used and upon first boot, was blown away by the receive capabilities, filtering, etc. It is a robust, feature-rich, and portable transceiver that checks all the boxes and does so in a first class manner

Xiegu x5105

This is the latest addition to my kit. Radioddity.com had a great 2021 Field Day sale on these that came with the CE-19 adapter and a custom backpack. I took this in the woods all last week in northeast Wisconsin. The built-in battery pack that can be charged while it is in use is amazing. The retracting feet put it at just the right viewing angle. There are some nits such as latent noise when on headphones, but being slightly smaller (and significantly cheaper – less fear of breakage) than the KX3 means that I’m looking to use it more often.

LnR Precision MTR4B v2 (Mountain Topper)

Wow. So on opening the package I was amazed at the build quality here. Sturdy case, compact size, and a lot of built in features make this little rig a favorite of mine. Part of the compactness means that you give up a couple of things that other rigs offer – no volume control (watch those strong signals), no ATU (use a resonant antenna – problem solved), and a lower voltage input before you start to max out the PA FETs. It has built in message memories, beacon mode, and more.

The voltage input is the biggest issue with me for this rig – I have a couple of 3s LiPo batteries that I use just for this radio – but that is a minor nit given the great receive and overall performance that comes with it. Given that you can run this thing off a standard 9v smoke alarm battery, I’m not complaining (too loudly 😉 )

By the way, Amazon has a great and inexpensive case that fits the MTR4B v2 and power cable with adapter for Powerpoles to XT-60. You can find it here.

TEN-TEC R4020

I picked this up the last time I thought I was going to learn CW. It has largely sat unused fora few years, but I do pull it out on occasion. Small, easy to use, and built in AA battery tray (bring a screwdriver to open/replace batteries). Not much to say here other than it is capable and when I bought mine on Ebay, was relatively cheap for the quality.

QRP Labs QCX-mini 40m

This is a kit build and I strongly recommend it as both a great build experience and a great little radio. It is half the size of the LnR Mountain Topper above, has a built in CW decoder, volume control, message memories, and more. With the exception of one toroid that is somewhat more complex to wind than most I’ve done, it goes together easily with some of the most comprehensive and easy to follow instructions that I’ve ever seen in a kit. If you want to dive into kit building, or just want another one to add to your shack, I cannot recommend this one highly enough. For the price (<$100USD with a solid metal case), it is top notch.