First Time CW DX While POTA At K-2484

Its been a couple of weeks since my last POTA attempt, and about 8 months since I last went down to Frontenac State park in southeast Minnesota, so my 2 youngest sons and I joined our friend and his kids for a quick overnight campout at this beautiful park.

About an hour south of my home, this park sits atop a rise that overlooks both Minnesota and Wisconsin.

On our drive in I had to stop the car to get what I think is an Eastern Fox Snake off the road. If you know for sure then please let me know in the comments. It was doing its best to be intimidating by hissing and vibrating its tail, and striking at my shoe.

My son was torn between seeing the snake with his own eyes or looking at the screen to keep the snake in the camera.

Note I only had my shoe there to give it something to focus on or target while I used the stick to gently pick it up.

It was a bit grumpy at having his time warming up in the sun interrupted by us, but we were able to safely relocate him off into the woods.

After setting up camp, and while waiting on our friends to arrive, I quickly put up my Chameleon MPAS Lite which has been a consistently good performer.

Setup is really quick and after running out about 25 feet of counterpoise, I ran some coax over to a tree that I sat against. I hooked up my Elecraft KX2 and my BaMaKey TP-111 paddle and got down to work.

I forgot to bring my knee board (lesson learned)

After spotting myself on https://pota.app, I called CQ on 20 meters for a couple of minutes before I had my first contact.

Now I have no doubt that he was doing all the work – signal report was only a 149, and it took a couple of times for me to be able to get the callsign accurately copied (thanks Alfonso for your patience!) – but I was able to log EC1R in Palencia, Spain!

My first CW DX contact ever – and at only 5 watts. My sons couldn’t figure out why I was so excited.

In only about 20 minutes, with kids circling me asking about dinners, I logged 10 contacts and then signed off to get them taken care of.

Map created at https://www.levinecentral.com/adif2map/

Everything was logged into the HAMRS app on my phone which, if you haven’t used before, is an absolutely phenomenal app for POTA. (pick it up for multiple platforms at https://hamrs.app/)

Our friends arrived shortly thereafter and we focused on sharing food, friendship, and beautiful scenery.

We had to head back early this morning, so a fairly short trip on a July 4th weekend, but a great time for sure!

Breakfast of champions – cinnamon rolls in a dutch oven over coals

POTA Failure and Nature Success

I took some time away from work and family to decompress in nature.

I’ve previously written about Afton State Park (K-2466) near my QTH here in Minnesota. It is a beautiful park located on the shore of the St. Croix river which separates Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The hike into the campsites is not tremendously long at just about 1 mile, but there is both a steep downhill and uphill section that can get the heartrate up a bit, so I chose to go lightweight this trip.

Equipment included:

  • Elecraft KX2 (new to me – more on that in a follow up post)
  • Elecraft AX1 antenna
  • BaMaTech BaMaKey TP-111 (see previous post for a review)

I knew going into this that the AX1 is a severely compromised antenna, however I didn’t want to haul in a throw line to run an EFHW or dipole, nor did I want the weight and mass of one of my larger verticals.

This was going to be, and was a challenge.

In the end, I logged 5 contacts. Signal reports weren’t great – as expected – but I greatly appreciate the effort those old men put forth to pull my signal out of the ether. Given I was on 20 meters, no surprise to see the distances for each contact.

Created at https://www.levinecentral.com/adif2map/

You can see a quick video I did upon returning this morning showing the area, the setup, and some of the flora and fauna I encountered.

Even though I failed the activation, it was a great time and beautiful scenery. Just what the doctor ordered!

(tr)uSDX – Initial Impressions

I’ve had a couple of days to play with the new (tr)uSDX 5-band transceiver and I thought I would do a quick post to show my initial impressions of this kit.

Overview

The (tr)uSDX Radio is a project created by DL2MAN and PE1NNZ, based off of the uSDX project.

It covers 5 amateur bands – 80/60/40/30/20 meters and is multi-mode – CW, SSB (LSB|USB), and AM/FM.

There is an onboard speaker and a mic, though external ones are recommended.

Please keep in mind that this project’s intent was to (through the use of group buys, etc.) allow for a user to acquire the necessary parts for about $50 USD. With the supply chain issues affecting the whole world right now, sourcing parts is increasing that cost quite a bit, so authorized suppliers like those they’ve partnered with are one of the only reliable methods of getting everything in an easy fashion.

Please also keep in mind that this radio is not an IC-705 or a KX2. It is not meant to be, and my comments below will be framed within the context of what this radio is, not what it isn’t.

It’s Here!

Note that I ordered two – one pre-assembled with the case, and one that is the raw kit without the case (I’m 3D printing my own).

This gives me the opportunity to see if there are any advantages to either method other than price. That and I like radios.

It is an addiction.

It arrived safe and sound on Thursday, April 7th. My first impressions when receiving the box was:

“OH NO!”

Those fears were unfounded as the rig was well padded inside with very thick and sturdy bubble wrap.

Packaged in the box is the radio and an unterminated power cable.

The bubble wrap they used is not the standard type that is seen in packaging all over, rather it is of a series of long inflated tubes. The material is quite a bit stronger than typical bubble wrap and takes a lot more effort to puncture.

A+!!!

Part of building the (tr)uSDX is loading the boot loader, then using the serial number to download a personalized firmware image.

The supplier does all that for you, and provides a label on the packaging including the serial number for your reference when doing firmware upgrades.

If you lose it, the only way to see your serial number again is to re-flash the boot loader and erase the existing firmware.

So far so good.

Before getting anything powered up and on the air we needed a power cable. The supplied cable is a 3.5mm to 1.35mm DC plug. It is smaller than the standard 5.5mm to 2.1mm plugs that most radios accept, and so you will need to either attached some connects to the bare ends of the plug, or get an adapter.

I found an adapter on Amazon that lets me avoid using yet another set of Powerpoles and instead use the existing plugs I have to bring the size down to what this radio needs. You can grab a set at on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FJLZGPF?th=1

Or you can attach a set of connectors of course.

The Radio

The supplied case is 3D Printed and feels like it is done out of PETG. The quality of the print is quite good – the details are all there, the seams are solid and it just feels sturdy. The orange feels like the same shade of orange sherbet ice cream – kind of washed out in color.

I think if I had to do it over again I might have chosen the other color which is an olive drab. I say that as a fan of the color orange.

Just nit-picking on my part.

The case design, is in my opinion, superb. Everything was well thought out. There are four individual side pieces, and a top and bottom piece. The sides have internal slots that the PCBs fit into, securing them in place.

There is absolutely no wiggle room in any part of the case. Everything is tight and snug.

The tuning knob is also 3D printed, and fits tightly onto the stem without worry about falling off. There is no set screw, nor is there one needed.

It is all held together by 8 flat headed screws.

The whole case (minus the knobs, screws, and BNC adapter) measures 60.5mm by 90mm by 30mm.

Or in other words, about 2/3s the length and width of my iPhone.

It is tiny.

They must have a dual nozzle printer, or at least one that is capable of pausing to change out filament colors as the raised lettering is black filament printed on the orange base. It isn’t painted.

The power port
USB power and PA
The bottom of the rig – if you look closely you can see that the left side – in the middle – has a slightly darker rectangle. That is a thinner section that can be removed to allow direct access to the AVR programming pins
The working end of the radio – Mic/Key port, Audio port, and the BNC to SMA connector (included)
The RF board in all its glory! Note that all the windings are evenly spaced, and everything is neat and tidy.

Size Comparison with QCX-mini

Size-wise the two radios are extremely close, with the (tr)uSDX only slightly thicker front-to-back.

That makes the capabilities of this little transceiver even that more amazing to me – it is multi-band and multi-mode in a package that is similar to, what I think anyway, is the best portable single-band CW rig available.

There are tradeoffs for that though as we’ll see shortly. (again, not speaking to that as a negative, rather recognizing that this is a jack of all trades type radio and not a master of one, whereas the QCX-mini does one band and CW extremely well)

First Time Powering On

Upon powering up the radio, you are greeted with your callsign on a brightly lit interface. The onboard speaker is quite small, and results in a ringing tone when driven by too high of volume as to be expected given the size.

It automatically shuts off when an audio cable is inserted for an external speaker or headphones.

There are four buttons – Menu, Enter, PTT, and the tuning knob can be depressed for certain menu navigations, and the speaker rounds out the front face of the case.

There are built-in calibration tools, including a meter that shows power output and relative efficiency.

Out of the box I got the following:

BandPower OutputEfficiency
80 meter7.88 Watts76.62%
60 meter6.54 Watts89.86%
40 meter6.87 Watts89.48%
30 meter7.78 Watts88.18%
20 Meter7.06 Watts86.87%

I’m comparing that to what others are seeing and, after watching DL2MAN’s calibration video, I may tweak things just a bit.

Not too much though – its pretty good out of the box.

Next step was to get this on the air and see what RBN could see.

I hooked it up to my 20m Dipole which is suspended about 39-40 feet up in a tree.

Ok – so we know it gets out there ๐Ÿ˜‰

I did call CQ a few times and even tried hunting a POTA activator or two, but given the time of day and the low power, I wasn’t getting through. I don’t think that is the fault of the rig, rather that I had only a bit of time that day to even try.

That and given 20 meter propagation, I generally can only reach the east, south, and west coats of the US that time of day, and the activators were all on the edges of that.

Oh well – more tries I guess are needed.

The audio quality is not as clear as I would have liked, even at this price point. The noise floor of the rig using an external speaker is still quite high. Playing with the noise attenuation settings can help, but there is a persistent static that you have to work through.

The Menus

This is where I need a lot more time with the radio.

DL2MAN has a page on his site that details all the menu options so I’m not going to go through them here. I will just say that it will take me a few times using the radio before I’m used to which button or knob does what.

That is not a negative, just the reality of the radio due to size, etc.

I will also say, however, that it is easier to navigate than my Mountain Topper MTR4B.

The online manual can be found at https://dl2man.de/4-trusdx-manual/

They’ve done a great job in trying to make the various navigation options clear and concise.

Audio

I’ve mentioned the audio already, and I just uploaded a small clip of both SSB and CW audio samples of live QSOs.

I will apologize for the ringing in the audio – I didn’t do a separate audio track overlay and the camera mic isn’t handling the external speak audio very well.

Final Thoughts

I have a lot more time that I need to spend with this little rig before I can fully say, with any degree of authority, how it performs in real use. I haven’t been this excited to get a new radio in a while – there is just something about the type of rig they’ve created here that really gets me going – and so far I am not disappointed.

My initial thoughts on pros/cons (note that the cons are nitpicking on my part – it really is a lot of radio in a small package)

Pros

  • Cost
  • Size
  • Multi-band
  • Multi-mode
  • Built-in mic
  • Built-in speaker
  • Can be bought assembled, as a kit, or you can get the parts together to build yourself
  • Supports Iambic A/B, and Straight Key modes

Cons

  • Different power cable connector than any other radio I own (small radio so other connectors would add bulk)
  • The OLED display can be hard to read in bright light (read outdoors)
  • Needs an SMA to BNC connector (supplied, but another thing to keep track of, though again it is expected given the size of this radio)
  • The speaker isn’t performant at any volume that you might need outdoors (at least not if there is anything making additional noise around you) – also expected given the size

Really, there isn’t a lot of cons at this price point and size.

This radio represents a tremendous advancement in small, portable radios that can be assembled at home and used in the field. Like I said previously, it is a lot of radio in a small package. I wouldn’t use it as a main POTA/SOTA rig full time, but I also haven’t had any field experience with it yet so I might eat those words.

This is a boon to amateur radio operators that people like DL2MAN and PE1NNZ are putting these out there for the public to take and create. Even if you never build or buy one of these radios, I believe they deserve a huge thank you from all of us for their efforts and time.

You can read about the project, including how to source the parts at DL2MAN’s website at http://dl2man.de

You can purchase a kit or completed radio from their Chinese supplier like I did. The link to that information is at https://forum.dl2man.de/viewtopic.php?t=139

As a follow up, I will do an on-air video to showcase the radio and its performance. Look for that shortly.

(tr)uSDX – (im)Patiently waiting?

They say “patience is a virtue”.

Waiting for SpeedPak packages from China is something that builds virtue.

SpeedPak. lol

For everyone’s reference, I’ve ordered a (tr)uSDX kit from a Chinese distributor, one of the few that are authorized by DL2MAN and team per their forum post at https://forum.dl2man.de/viewtopic.php?t=139

You can read more about the project at DL2MAN’s website https://dl2man.de/

Actually I’ve ordered two – one preassembled and one that is a kit. I will 3d print the case and assemble the kit from scratch.

I went this route since sourcing components is very difficult right now – the PCBs are easy enough (you can order directly from a PCB maker or even find local folks on Ebay who have done so for group buys) – but parts like the Atmega328P-AU or 74ACT00 are hit and miss at major suppliers.

Some folks have taken to buying electronics with said parts and desoldering the components to get all the parts together.

I chose to order everything all together. Probably a bit more expensive than I could have done if parts were available, but……

But I’m just sitting here waiting. It is a long wait for things to sit in such a status as shown above. I live roughly 7 hours from Chicago (the assumed hub for such distribution centers), and today is April 6th.

It arrived at that hub on March 28th and cleared customs on the 30th.

Getting a little (im)Patient ๐Ÿ˜‰

I could have driven there last weekend, picked it up, had a nice weekend getaway with my wife………

In all seriousness though, I’m excited to get my hands on this and get it on the air, and I will be sure to post a review of my experience with it afterwards.

How will it compare to other kit radios I have? MCHF? QCX-mini (CW only, but the heritage is there)?

How will it compare to commercial QRP radios like the FT-817 or the MTR-4b?

Now to be patient…..

UPDATE

So after posting this, I sent a quick email to their support address asking if there was any update they could provide.

Exactly one hour later they posted an updated status – in Chinese – that says the same thing the previous status said.

Today, it is out for delivery.

Coincidence?

๐Ÿ˜€

Update Part 2

Received it and have already had it on the air. I am putting together all my findings and will update with a new post soon.

This is a lot of radio for the price….

POTA/SOTA Portable Pico Paddle Procession

Alliteration aside, with my recent review of N6ARA’s TinyPaddle I noticed that I’ve started a collection of small, portable paddles. I thought it might be useful to do a quick comparison post for everyone’s reference.

Each brings something to the table that the others don’t, while sharing many similarities beyond just portability.

I’ll focus on physical characteristics only – how a paddle feels to a user is subjective, I really like each of these for different reasons, and as such your particular tastes may or may not align to mine.

The Paddles

(left to right) N6ARA TinyPaddle, N0SA SOTA Paddle, American Morse Ultra Porta Paddle, and the CW Morse Lightweight Double Paddle. Note that each square grid is 1″ x 1″ (25.4mm x 25.4mm).

I have purchased each of these for portable use and keep 2 of them in my bag each time I pack things up to leave the house. They are all small and light enough that having a backup means that I don’t have to stop playing radio if something breaks (and to date none have – I’m just paranoid).

NOTE: I am using my cheap set of calipers and a kitchen scale, and as such all measurements are close enough but perhaps not precise.

You get what you get…..

N6ARA TinyPaddle

You can read my review of this paddle here.

This thing is TINY!

Measurements

  • Weight = 0.3 ounces or 9 grams (without audio cable)
  • Length = 2.2 inches or 55.8 mm
  • Width = 0.6 inches or 17.7 mm
  • Height = 0.83 inches or 21 mm (with adjustment tool attached)

Material

  • 3D Printed, PCB

Where to Buy

http://n6ara.com/

N0SA SOTA Paddle

Small, light, and expertly constructed

Measurements

  • Weight = 1.6 ounces or 46 grams (w/attached audio cable)
  • Length = 2.09 inches or 53.1 mm
  • Width = 1.04 inches or 26.5 mm
  • Height = 0.94 inches or 23.9 mm

Material

  • Aluminum and Stainless Steel

Where to Buy

There is no website. You can purchase by contacting N0SA directly.

American Morse Ultra Porta Paddle

A work of art, sturdy, small, and reliable

Measurements

  • Weight = 1.9 ounces or 54 grams (w/attached audio cable)
  • Length = 3.14 inches or 79.8 mm
  • Width = 0.98 inches or 25 mm
  • Height = 0.92 inches or 23.4 mm

Material

  • Aluminum

Where to Buy

https://americanmorse.com/ultraportapaddle.htm

CW Morse Lightweight Double Paddle

Lightweight, well constructed, and easy to use

Measurements

  • Weight = 0.7 ounces or 21 grams (without audio cable)
  • Length = 3.87 inches or 98.6 mm
  • Width = 1.39 inches or 35.2 mm
  • Height = 1.06 inches or 27.1 mm

Material

  • 3D Printed

Where to Buy

https://cwmorse.us