Sunday, January 5, 2020

Behringer XM8500 Dynamic Microphone Yaesu Parametric EQ settings

I really like the Yaesu FTDX3000 that I purchased used, last summer. It's a great radio.  I've already added a very popular page on parametric EQ settings for the MH-31b hand mic HERE.  But sometimes people want to add the fuller, richer sound of a dynamic mic to really catch attention.  The Parametric EQ found in radios like the FTDX series gives you a lot to work with.  This can be confusing for some, but it doesn't have to be!  The Parametric EQ really shines when you upgrade to a nicer mic. 

Enter the Behringer Ultravoice XM8500 dynamic microphone.  For under $25, and a little EQ'ing, you can make your radio sound like you purchased an expensive high-end microphone.  In fact, because the internal EQ of the Yaesu is so good, I've had people ask me what kind of outboard equipment I'm using!  My answer -- none!  And they're amazed when they hear how much this microphone costs.

Now, before I continue about the wonderful sound of this mic, I want to opine a bit about adding a dynamic XLR microphone to your Yaesu FTDX3000 (or any newer Yaesu with Parametric EQ).  The XM8500 sounds great, there's no doubt, but in the long run, you might find it a better option to pony-up the approximately $150 cash new, or $100 used, and purchase the Yaesu MD-100 microphone.  Why?  Simple -- when you buy the MD-100, you get a mic combined with a nice switch, internal settings, attractive 2-way cable that works with all newer Yaesu radios, and no need to purchase a patch cable, foot switch, boom/mic stand.  A $25 mic is great, but you have to keep in mind that you're likely buying several other items that will add to the cost.  You're also adding cables and other things that are less attractive.  Here's one more thing people rarely consider -- the back end of the sale.  If/when you go to sell your mic and accessories, you're going to get much of your money back (probably all, if you bought used) if you had purchased the Yaesu MD-100.  When you go with a non-Yaesu mic, you're going to end up with additional things you may or may not sell (patch cable, mic stand or boom, etc).  Think long and hard, because you will get great sound with an MD-100, also.

That said, if you still want to go with an XLR mic, the Behringer is a bargain choice that sounds expensive.

The settings will provide clear mids and highs, along with smooth bass punch.  You may want to tweak the bass up or down a little, per your voice, but I think you will find this to be a great starting point:

1. Set Mic gain about 8 to 10 if using no compression (PROC), or 10 to 20 if PROC is on. Depends on your shack, voice, noise levels, etc., but this is a starting point.
2. Set Processor Level: 5 to 30 per your preference (found on PROC/CAR knob, but can be changed to TX PWR  in Menu 177)
3. Set Menu 104 MODE SSB:  200-2800, 100-2900, 100-3000, or 3000WB.
4. Speak about 2 inches from the mic and adjust levels as needed to account for room noise and compression desired.  Works best to me to be off-angle from the mic 45 degrees, instead of head-on.
  • 159 TX AUDIO: 100    (adjust the low bass freq center point in Hz.  Try 200 or 300 if you want bass cut)
  • 160 TX AUDIO:  8     (adjust how much you add/subtract from low bass setting -- adjust as needed)
  • 161 TX AUDIO: 4        (adjust the bandwidth area covered by low bass frequency peak)
  • 162 TX AUDIO: 1300  (adjust mids frequency center point in Hz)
  • 163 TX AUDIO: 8        (adjust how much you add/subtract from the mid setting)
  • 164 TX AUDIO: 2        (adjust the bandwidth covered by mids frequency peak)
  • 165 TX AUDIO: 2200  (adjust the highs freq center point in Hz)
  • 166 TX AUDIO: 8        (adjust how much you add/subtract from the highs setting)
  • 167 TX AUDIO: 2        (adjust the bandwidth covered by the high freq peak)
  • 168 TX AUDIO P-PRMTRC: 200 (from setting 168 is for COMP ON)
  • 169 TX AUDIO P-PRMTRC: -15
  • 170 TX AUDIO P-PRMTRC: 1
  • 171 TX AUDIO P-PRMTRC: 1500
  • 172 TX AUDIO P-PRMTRC: 1
  • 173 TX AUDIO P-PRMTRC: 1
  • 174 TX AUDIO P-PRMTRC: 2100
  • 175 TX AUDIO P-PRMTRC: 3
  • 176 TX AUDIO P-PRMTRC: 5

End note... you will need a mic stand or boom, and a patch cable to go from the Yaesu 8-pin plug to the XLR input on the mic (or you will need a different patch cable for the FT-891, for example).  HEIL sells them on their website, or you can buy them from E-bay sellers like W7YEN.  You'll also need a momentary foot or hand switch, sold by HEIL, or many E-bay sellers.  This one seems to come wired with the 1/8" plug.

Lastly, I'd like to say that I feel this mic is GREAT for DX, as well as rag chew, with these settings.  If you want a local rag chew, set the bandwidth wider (if you have the space) and turn your PROC off.  Peak your volume, keeping the ALC in the lower 1/3 to 1/2 of the ALC line.  Speak about 1 to 2 inches from the mic.

If you want to DX, set the mic to a bandwidth of 200-2800, and turn the PROC on, and boost your mic gain a bit until you get around 5% to 7% peak compression (Note that thanks to an observation by AB2UE, I am editing this and the previous paragraph. The BAR meter, which I originally used, has an odd ALC reading, so I removed comments about exceeding the ALC. I now use the S-METER view).

I have tested these settings with DX contacts out 4,000 to 5,000+ miles, and they all agree that the compressed punch of this mic is far better in an A/B test, compared to a sharp, high-pitched DX mic with the lows removed. 

Traditionally, people have held that the high-pitched sound of a tight-bandwidthed DX mic will "cut through a pile-up" and "concentrate more power where you need it."  I now believe this is urban folklore.  Perhaps this thinking was started to sell pricey mic elements, and perpetuated itself as high-powered DX stations bought into the idea.  After a lot of A/B testing, however, I no longer buy it.  I didn't form this opinion by myself -- multiple DX contacts told me their preference, and they don't lie.  You want both the clean highs and some low/mid punch.

With these settings, you get both.  I'll take what the DX'ers tell me they can hear better, in an A/B test, over urban legend any day!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Yaesu FTDX 3000 Receive Tips and Tweaks

I purchased the Yaesu FTDX 3000 a few months ago.  When I bought it, I knew that it was a pretty menu-intensive machine.  I'm a button-tweaker, and knob-fiddler.  I'm not as fond of menus, but if they're there, I try to learn whatever I can to help me pull out the weak DX stations.  I'm also an SSB person -- not CW -- but once you learn how many of these tweaks work, you can employ them as you like with CW signals.

I sold my Icom 7300 to get this radio, partly because I was not satisfied with the 40m performance of the 7300.  The 7300 is an excellent high-band radio, but it doesn't handle general city noise well on the low bands, and quickly becomes overloaded if you have a lot.  I'm not talking about the Noise Blocker, which is very good on the 7300 -- I'm talking about the plethora of lights, electronics, and noise-producing items that attack the radio's front-end when you're in a large multi-story urban environment such as Seoul, Korea.  Even with attenuation activated, the 7300 whimpers home and cries to mama, losing faint signals in a dithered mess of hiss.  Despite IP+ activated, I was disappointed on the low bands, couldn't hear 40m stations in California (from Seoul), and was unhappy.

I purchased an FTDX 3000 because a ham friend, HL5ZEE, already had one.  I was wowed specifically by the noise reduction capabilities of his 3000.  I had also owned a Yaesu FT-891, which had impressive Noise Reduction.  I have a review of the FT-891, if you're interested, but it's long gone from my shack.  The Icom 7300 has Noise Reduction, but I didn't find it particularly impressive.  Oddly, I've learned since getting and tweaking with the FTDX 3000, that I rarely need/use the Noise Reduction at all!

Enough background -- let's talk about how to improve signals with the FTDX 3000. 

First off, I should mention that I purchased the 3000 along with a Yaesu MTU-80/40 external RF Tuning Unit.  That external box is worth a whole nother review, which will be upcoming.  To keep it short -- 98% of hams won't benefit from the MTU units, unless they have an older Yaesu series radio that it works with, or if they live near overpowering broadcast towers or large ham stations. If that's not you, then save your money.  I thought it might help me in my large city noise environment.  The answer -- kinda sorta -- but not enough to spend $375 on it used, and certainly not enough to spend $700+ for a new one.  The FTDX 3000 has enough attenuation and tricks that the MTU doesn't do as much as it would for, say, and FT-950 or FT-2000.

Enough said on that.

The RX tips and tweaks ...

The FTDX 3000 is menu-intensive, as mentioned.  That said, many of the settings are set once and forget, unless you want to tweak and play around.  I'm going to give you some settings to help get you going.

Before I go there, as with other Yaesu radios, you should learn how to use the IPO, Amp1, and Amp2 settings under the white IPO button.  Using the Amp (and ATT button) are not tricks, but common good radio practice to learn, and they apply to almost any radio.  If signals are coming in strong, especially on lower bands, using IPO will mean a cleaner signal.  To keep it simple, if you are in IPO, your Amp is off.  Adding amplification can pull out weaker signals, but does add a bit of noise.  On the FTDX 3000, I find I adjust these per how they make my waterfall look, so that signals appear just comfortably viewable, there.  I add amplification on higher bands to pull out a weak signal, or weaker overall signals.

Attenuation is also useful, via the white ATT button.  Attenuating a hot band will help remove some noise, and keep signals at a comfortable level.  Play around with the ATT on a hot band, and see where you like it.  Use it in conjunction with the RF Gain, as outlined in Trick #8, below.

Trick #1:   Menus 099-102

These settings allow you to add a low or high cut to the received audio signal.  They may seem similar to the WIDTH knob function, which can be affected by these, but they're not the same.  Cutting the top or bottom of the 099 SSB LCUT and 101 SSB HCUT are really useful if you want to reduce hiss on a noisy day, or lay the foundation to pop-out a tight little DX signal.  You can also widen them out, if you want to listen to a really beautiful eSSB signal as wide as 4000hz.  Play around with them, but removing unnecessary low rumble and high hiss noise are some of the first tweaks I make on a DX signal, as I try to reel them in. I usually leave them on default, or wider than default, until I start hunting for DX. 

For example, if I hear a DX signal with a thin, compressed voice to punch through the noise, I might end up with settings like this to clear hiss above and below the signal:

You'll also note that there are settings like 100 LCUT SLOPE and 102 SSB HCUT SLOPE, where you get a choice between 6dB/oct and 12dB/oct.  This can control how strong the cut is.  Play with them as you like, but I usually leave these two at default, unless I want to really cut noise out of 40m rag chew, and set 101 to around 1900Hz, and 102 to 18db/oct. Try playing with Slope around Menu 120/121, also, if wanting quieter 40m work. Along with adjusting the RF GAIN knob.

Trick #2:  WIDTH knob

The WIDTH knob is useful, and similar to the frequency adjustments we just made in Trick #1.  Try it out, but you will likely find that adjusting the setting between 1800 to default 2400 is good for helping remove some annoying close-in signals, and a bit of extra hiss.  For general listening of strong signals on 40m, I like listening around 2600 to 2800, or even wider on an eSSB signal.  Most of the time, I keep it parked around 2600, until I encounter a tight DX signal.

Trick #3:  SHIFT knob

The SHIFT knob can be useful to tweak the signal just a smidge, so that you hear it "a little better" than you do at default.  Oddly, I find that it often works best just a little to the left, at around -40Hz to -60Hz, on many signals.  This will vary, however.  Move it around until you find you're hearing the signal pop a little more.  From here, we'll pop it even more with some more tricks.

Trick #4:  CONTOUR menu settings

If we long-press buttons, such as the CONT/APF button, you'll notice that we are sent directly to the proper menu setting, without having to hunt for it.  Menu 108 RX DSP CONTOUR LEVEL is a really great one.  About 80% of the time, you'll find you want the 108 CONTOUR LEVEL set high -- between 8 to 11.  I leave it on 10 or 11, to start.  I might boost the snot out of it even higher, once I've tweaked, depending on the signal, which may require additional adjustment of menu 109.  The 109 RX DSP CONTOUR WIDTH seems to work best at 10, but sometimes lowering to 8 will pleasingly shape and remove rushing noise around the signal, as menu 108 is increased.

There can be times when you actually want to create the opposite of a contour, and making a kind of dip, which is caused by going into negative numbers on the 108 CONTOUR LEVEL.  Try it out, and see if/when that might help your ears.

I tend to leave menu 108 and 109 like this, and only hit the CONT/APF button when I need to pop something weak.  I then tweak and adjust as needed.

Trick #5:  CONTOUR knob

You might notice that we're not following the knobs in order, but that's by design.  I prefer to shift first, then hit the CONT/APF button (which I usually leave set as in the above picture), and adjust the CONTOUR knob, then tweak more, as outlined in Trick #4.  Like with the SHIFT knob, we're looking to find where we can best peak the signal a bit more than we heard before.  More often than not, the CONTOUR knob stays in the middle at default, but not always.

Trick #6:  NOTCH for removing hiss (bonus function, besides carrier removal)

The NOTCH is generally thought of as being used to remove an annoying carrier or noise bothering our signal.  But did you know that a neat trick is that you can also use NOTCH to remove some of the hiss next to a signal, once you've made some strong CONTOUR boosts in menu 108?  The nice thing about this is the NOTCH knob is pretty much set and forgotten for this type of trick.  I find turning the NOTCH knob to around 1200 HZ, while leaving menu setting 111 RX DSP IF NOTCH WIDTH to NARROW seems to clear-out some of that rushing noise we've created with the extreme CONTOUR setting adjustments to menu 108 and 109.  Again, all of these NOTCH settings are mostly going to stay set there, unless you need to fiddle with them to remove a bothersome carrier.  Just know that the numbers outlined here can help remove some rushing sound brought on by extreme CONTOUR.  Just hit the NOTCH button to employ the settings, as needed.

Trick #7:  Menus 105 and 106, LSB and USB RX CARRIER

Remember earlier when I said I owned an Icom 7300?  Many of the Icom rigs have Twin PBT knobs, which are very useful for shifting the passband around to highlight a signal.  I always felt the Yaesu rigs were missing this, or only had half of it, given that they had just a SHIFT knob.  Luckily, I recently found menu items 105 and 106.  Choose the correct one for the side band you are using (USB or LSB) and you've found the other half of the Twin PBT.  Adjusting these can clear up more hiss, and help a signal pop even more!  These are very dependent on signal, so choose the correct side band and set as needed and change per the signal you are on (note that adjusting LSB when receiving USB does nothing, and visa-versa).  This adjustment is very powerful!

Trick #8:  RF/SQL (RF GAIN) Adjustment, and AGC Slope

Not as many hams make use of the RF Gain adjustment these days, and it's a shame, because with some rigs, you can really boost a DX signal this way (as outlined in the 2nd paragraph, below).  First, make sure your menu item 036 GENERAL RF/SQL VR is set to RF,  which is the default.  After that, you are free to use the RF/SQL knob to adjust the RF Gain.  Use this by backing it up right until the signal gets just a little quieter, so that some of the extra hiss is removed from the signal.  

You also have the opportunity to add AMP1 or AMP2 in the IPO, and then unlock the AGC (Auto Gain Control) for maximum signal boost.  An important note is that the AGC can be turned off entirely, by a long-press of the white AGC button.  From there, you can "ride the RF Gain" manually, which may be to your liking.  This can be used to great effect on some older rigs, especially.  It also made for a lot more signal boost on my former Icom 7300 -- not as much of an advantage over the typical SLOW/FAST/MID AGC choices that Yaesu gives you with the FTDX3000, when you press the white AGC button.  You will soon learn, however, that running the AGC OFF makes a pretty nasty noise if you suddenly encounter a strong signal booming-in on DX that you have boosted the gain on, in an attempt to strain and hear it!

004 AGC AGC SLOPE is a menu item that can help you remove a bit of noise around a signal, so play with this and see which one you like.  It can also effect how loud a signal is coming in, so keep that in mind.  I am finding it can be more pleasing to change it to SLOPE on a rag chew, but it can cause a weaker signal to be lost, a bit.  Personally, I find that simply adjusting the RF Gain manually can achieve nearly the same effect, without having to go into the menu to change this item.

Lastly, you also have options to tweak 001 AGC FAST DELAY, AGC 002 MID DELAY, and 003 AGC SLOW DELAY, if you like.  One tweak you might like is to change the AGC SLOW DELAY to about 3000 or 3500, from the long default of 4000.  This will affect how long it takes for the AGC to recover after a quick blip of interference. Sometimes it's annoying to wait a long time for the AGC ramp back up, after that.  I mostly leave the other AGC settings alone, but you might find some happy medium adjustment for your liking.

Trick #9:  Menus 120 and 121, HF SSB SHAPE and SLOPE

I'd like to mention that you can play with the 120 RX DSP HF SSB SHAPE and 121 RX DSP SSB SLOPE menu items, if you wish.  I mostly leave them at default, personally.  They do change the sound of the audio, so they are worth mentioning.  You might find one setting more pleasing than the other.  Menu 121 seems to affect that "rushing sound" we hear, so choose one of the 3 choices that is to your liking, on a particular signal, if you care to tweak.  This item also seems to weaken audio punch response if you choose STEEP, and make for a more forward punch to the sound, if you choose GENTLE.


Trick #11:  Additional notes on NB, NBW (Noise Blocking)

The FTDX3000 has fairly decent Noise Blocking ability.  Consequently, it's one of those settings best left OFF, until you need it.  The use of it is properly outlined in the Yaesu manual that came with your radio, so no need to get into great detail, here.  Long-press the white NB button, then hit SELECT and adjust with your CLAR/VFO-B knob.  First try NB, to see if it clears up noise, then NBW for wider noises that NB might not cover.  See the Yaesu manual for more info.

Trick #12:  Using the Noise Reduction

The DNR (Dynamic Noise Reduction) on the FTDX 3000 is pretty amazing.  That said, after other adjustments, you may find your signal to be cleaner without it.  Again, the Yaesu manual explains it pretty well, but to turn it on, you need to be viewing the bottom screen menu, after pushing SCOPE as many times as needed.  Use the arrow keys to highlight DNR, and SELECT to toggle on or off.  You can change the intensity of the DNR by long-pressing this SELECT button while DNR is highlighted, which will take you to menu item 110 RX DSP DNR LEVEL.  Use your CLAR/VFO-B knob to adjust per your liking.  Experiment on various signals, at various levels, to your liking.  Some of the really high levels might seem overbearing (and usually are) but can sometimes hit just that right profile to pull out a weak signal.

In Conclusion...

I hope these tips and tweaks for the Yaesu FTDX 3000 help you improve your signal reception.  Generally, I set the menus as mentioned above, and find myself adjusting Menu items 99 to 110 the most, for SSB signals.  I'll be the first to admit the the FTDX 3000 is not a very ergonomic machine, but setting it up correctly before use, and familiarizing yourself with its many menu functions makes things a lot easier.  I may be adding a video example below in the coming weeks, so check back and look for it!  In the meantime, you might also be interested in how to tweak the MH-31b hand microphone TX to a pleasing sound. This page is for the FT-891, but the stock mic is the same as the FTDX 3000, and so are the same equalizer settings.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

G0NVT PB213 Straight Key Review

I received my G0NVT PB213 LTSLC straight key, serial 163, today. It was shipped directly by the maker. Here is a review by a CW novice with less than 1 month of experience. I am the type who likes to give a deserving piece of work high marks, then spend great detail nit-picking tiny details people may/may not care about, so keep that in mind.  I highly recommend this key, so please understand that, and I give this key a 4.9 out of 5.


 It is highly adjustable, and can be made a very smooth sender. It has a really wide adjustment range, and if you are a light tapper, you can surely develop a lot of feel. If you want, you can make smooth dits and dahs even at a ridiculously light tolerance. You can also set it up if you like pounding it a bit, making it click with the distance between contacts. The spring tension could be a bit tighter for those who like to pound, as I feel I am setting right on the edge of the max range of tightness, when setting up for that. This isn't bad, as it's quite easy to just tighten to max and just back off a bit, to reach the setting I want. One could probably shorten the spring, if they cared to. It works.

There is one more adjustment than I am used to, for "pressure on the contact." I initially couldn't figure out what this did, but when set really loose, it will add some "bounce" to the key as you send. That's interesting, and really makes it impressive. I'm finding I prefer setting it up for a light touch, as I've seen others do in videos. It makes for really low-effort keying, and I don't find myself making as many mistakes as I would with my old Bunnell key, attempting this setting.

Phil Boyle, G0NVT crafts each key individually
This key is going to change the way I spend much of my time with CW. I plan to indulge the ability of this key to send clear copy with a feather hand. If I try that with my splendid Bunnell Triumph, I start making mistakes. Light tappers can send quite cleanly with the PB213, and send longer much more comfortably.

The weight built into the bottom of the key is excellent. Phil's creation doesn't move around on the desk. A side note -- to keep things stealth, I like to slide under a square of that super-grip non-slip rubbery material purchased for about $2-$3 at a store like Wal-mart (my father uses it to hold objects like tool boxes down in his truck bed). This adds a minute amount of "feel" and keeps my wife/daughter happy after bedtime, even with my Bunnell Triumph, which I prefer to pound on more than tap.

The key was shipped very quickly. It arrived in Korea from the UK in under a week. Phil was great to deal with.

Cons: If I have a dislike, it's the finish. The PB213 just begs to be used, and used a lot. You'll really like pounding this key, but over time, bumps may show. For a device you're going to want as a daily driver, the piano black finish appears somewhat easily scratched or dinged. The shiny base is more like something that wants to sit on a display shelf, rather than bumped by keyboards and other random desk objects. I recognized this immediately, as there were some light metal shavings (dust, really) that shook loose in shipping.  In very carefully wiping/blowing them away, I actually left faint scratches. Some sort of cover would be a good addition to this key. Or better yet -- a more durable finish for those who aren't planning to put it on display outright. Time will tell if this can be noticed by a glance.

My key arrived with a tiny nick in the upper back corner, which was not from shipping (this key was extremely well packed for safe shipment, in two layers of bubble wrap, and a blow-up wrap). It appears to have happened during the making of the key, or before shipping. It's small enough not to be noticed unless looking for it, but I was a bit sad it arrived that way. This nick revealed a scratch down to the white below, but a light touch with a Sharpie pen made that completely disappear. I am not going to care much about that, because it's pretty minor, and not worth the hassle of complaint. Based on what I have read by other reviews, Phil would take care of me if I bothered.  

I plan to use this key a great deal (it will suffer worse wear on my messy desk). The piano finish is also a bit more dull on one side of the top. I'm going to guess it was smudged a bit while cleaning. It's only noticed if you get up and look at it with your eyes 6 inches away from it in bright light. A Ferrari owner could raise a stink, but at about $200 plus shipping, it's easily forgiven on a straight key that performs like something twice the price.

Next, the chrome is also not altogether "perfect." You have to get very close to notice a bit of clouding here and there, so no big deal, but I thought I'd' mention it. Not noticed at more than 6 inches away.

Lastly, I am not used to a tension adjustment being somewhat free-floating on top. I think it's the type of design with this style of key. Not really a con -- probably my inexperience.

At this price, and quality of send -- I'm not going to care about the cons listed here. I could only dream of having the skills and abilities to make a key this nice. Chalk it up to character, and the fact that these keys are hand-crafted one-by-one.

This key will see a lot of use, and I highly recommend it.  I don't know of anyone who sells this nice of a key at a price just under $200, plus shipping.

Maker's site link, with more photos:

Monday, July 9, 2018

Get your wire higher with a Spiderbeam HD12m fiberglass pole

Like many of you, I browse the antenna forums, both here and around the web. Many new hams post the same question over and over again. It usually goes something like this:

"I live in restricted housing, and want to know which portable antenna I should buy. Got any suggestions?"

This question is usually asked along with inquiries about a few ready-made "compromise" antenna ideas that are convenient, expensive, and likely do not radiate as well as full-sized homebrew wire solutions a ham can easily build on their own.

I always ask: Why spend the money to compromise more than you have to?

With a tall fiberglass mast, such as the Spiderbeam HD12m (40 foot) model, hams of all experience levels can have a simple platform on which to build an almost no-compromise antenna that soars to great heights and "gets out" better than others. In fact, they can usually buy the mast, some wire, and a 1:1 current balun cheaper than purchasing one of the ready-made solutions we have all heard of. A tall portable mast allows you to raise your antenna in a small space. In addition, building the antenna brings the satisfaction of creating something yourself that really works!

Height is might, and the Spiderbeam HD12m will get you a full 40 feet of it! Most pre-made portable antennas don't reach half of that height.

In this video, I show how to add a quick-and-dirty monoband 17m vertical dipole to a Spiderbeam HD12m mast, and make a few contacts. This is but one example of a monobander you can build on the Spiderbeam mast. Keep in mind that there are also plans available for building multi-band resonant antennas on such a pole, covering 15m, 20m, and 40m together (with no tuning necessary), as well as 6m and the WARC bands with a tuner. In fact, the HD12m pole is large enough for anything from a 20m monoband vertical dipole, to a full no-compromise 40m quarter wave vertical with raised radials! Here's another idea: build your own double extended zepp. Spiderbeam even sells kits for vertical loop antennas. Add some ladder line, and you've got another multi-band antenna to try.

Raising and lowering a fiberglass mast is easy, and two or three long velcro strips are enough to strap the pole to a post, fence, or a medium tree trunk. With this mast, you can build a no-compromise antenna that you don't have to pull down to tune coils, or turn a capacitor knob to tune. Spend less time tuning, and more time operating!

In this video, I don't go into much detail building the simple vertical dipole. My goal was to simply show the mast, and give new hams ideas of another antenna option, and show that it really works.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Does your Icom 7300 suffer from low average power output? Don't mod -- try this!

I've owned the Icom 7300 for a year now.  For many months, it bugged me that the 7300's average power output was quite a bit less than my Yaesu FT-950, and the Yaesu FT-891 I purchased after it.  I found myself lucky to peak my MFJ's average power needle at half of what my Yaesu rigs were doing.  Oddly, the PEAK power reading was even slightly better on my Icom 7300, than my Yaesu radios, but the AVERAGE power (and sound level, as verified via DX listening on websdr) was clearly lower.

I read all manner of complaints, met by all manner of wild engineering excuses from Icom fanboys  (followed by deflections toward Yaesu shortcomings) who refused to admit that many owners suffer this problem.  Dare to post about the problem, in any ham-related forum, and you'll start a fight -- usually with several Icom fanboys, joined by crusty old hams, who degrade the conversation by making fun of you as being stupid because "the needle doesn't swing enough."  They'll laugh at you if you don't know what peak power vs. average power is.  They'll degrade you for not knowing how to run a 2-tone test.  If you go to the effort of actually learning how to do one, you'll find your Icom 7300 does just fine.  But still... WHY is the average power LOWER?  It'll drive you nuts.

Let's back up a bit...

You've probably read that the slightly older Icom 7100 had this problem too (only verified -- and much worse).  The PEP of the Icom 7100 was indeed much less than 100w.  There are YouTube videos with engineers showing this.  People naturally assumed the 7300 was just following suit.  It made sense.  Some hams began modding the Icom 7300, much like the 7100 was met with mods.  Does this mod work?  Yes, it does.  Does it make the radio, "dirty" on transmit?  I'm not sure I trust it, but I honestly don't know.

Now for the good news:  You DO NOT need to mod your 7300 to enjoy a more "almost normal" average power output. Please, just don't... if you hate the 7300 for this, just sell the thing off. Don't mod it.

If you want to increase your average power output to about 85% of other radios, and still have a clean signal, then all you need to do is rethink a few adjustments. 

The problem is with the 7300 is, in my opinion, ALC being too aggressive. I have read that this is because Icom is so concerned with being able to brag about "how clean" the power output of the 7300 is.  Not sure if true, but with the 7300, I learned that "less is more."

 To increase your average power out, do the following:

1. Turn off your compressor, temporarily
2. Hit Menu button, then METER
3. Speak as you would normally, setting your MIC GAIN level so that you are peaking around 1/4 to 1/2 absolute max on the ALC -- never more. Shoot for maxing to 1/4, with occasional peaks hitting 1/3, and rarely 1/2.
4. Turn your compression back on again, and set it to between 3 and 5.
5.  My mic EQ settings are -2 bass, and +2 treble (settings near the middle work well, for me on the hand mic).

With these settings, I'm getting a much better average power output, and the audio still sounds clean. Also looks very clean, according to nearby contacts checking it over for scope issues.

The key is never to push the ALC too much, or it gets overly-aggressive, and cuts average power. I'm much happier with my 7300's output now, and it's very clean.  If you are someone who believes in "no compression" or next-to-no compression, then I don't think the 7300 is going to perform that well for you.  That, or you can live with having a somewhat quieter signal, compared to other radios.  Have no worries, in any case.  As long as your ALC is set as above, and compression level % is maxing around 10%, with occasional peaks to 15%, you''ll still sound great on the other end.

So set your ALC wisely, and remember -- less is more.

My Icom 7300 now peaks almost as high as my Yaesu radios, and is cleaner than they are, while doing it.  No, it won't "swing the needle" of average power up to 70 or 100 on the MFJ, like Yaesu radios, but the average will be stronger than before, and still be clean.

Friday, January 5, 2018

How to set up the Icom 7300 for Digital Modes with FLDIGI in Windows

I have found my Icom IC-7300 to be an excellent radio for digital modes.  It was about a week-long learning curve for me to figure out how to set it up and use it to make digital QSOs.  It seemed like several ops had partial instructions, but often forgot important information, or assumed I knew it . I was tearing my hair out trying to get a step-by-step guide that had pretty much everything in one place.  Hopefully, this is it.

I wanted to pass along a few things that might help you speed up your learning curve.  I don't consider myself an expert, but I am now making QSO's with no major troubles.

Here are my suggestions:

1.  Before plugging anything in, you will need Icom's driver for your computer.  After installing it, I suggest a restart of your Windows machine.  Here is that driver (and check for the newest, as Windows 10 has caused issues with updates and older drivers):

2.  You'll need a USB cable to go from the Icom 7300 to your computer.  I used an old printer cable, as the Icom end of that cable fit that style.  Don't plug it into your computer until you have completed step 1.

3.  Download and install the FLDIGI software to your computer. It's free, and can be found a few places.  Here is one:

4.  I followed someone else's Youtube video about set-up, and found his settings to be pretty good.  Here is what I changed settings to on the Icom 7300:

a.  Hit MENU
b.  Touch SET
d.  Set all of the menu settings under CONNECTORS to the following:

  1. ACC/USB Output Select:  AF
  2. ACC/USB AF Output Level:  96%
  3. ACC/USB AF SQL:  OFF (Open)
  4. ACC/USB AF BEEP/Speech Output: OFF
  5. ACC/USB IF Output Level: 50%
  6. ACC MOD Level: 50%
  7. USB MOD Level: 85%
  10. EXTERNAL KEYPAD (I didn't change these, but all under that submenu are off)
  11. CIV (touch it once -- these settings are important for Ham Radio Deluxe, but I don't think for FLDIGI -- will add what I have, currently)
    1. CI-V Baud Rate: AUTO
    2. CI-V Address:  94h
    3. CI-V Transceive OFF
    4. CI-V USB REMOTE Trans Addr:  00h
    5. CI-V Output (for ANT): ON
    6. CI-V USB Port:  Link to [Remote]
    7. CI-V USB Baud Rate: 19200 (greyed-out)
    8. CI-V USB Echo Back:  On
  12. USB Serial Function:  OFF
  13. RTTY Decode Baud Rate: 19200 (this is greyed-out)
  14. USB Send:  RTS
  15. USB Keying (CW) DTR
  16. USB Keying (RTTY) DTR
  17. Back out of the menu, then press the MULTI dial, and turn your COMP off.  It must be OFF in digital modes, or you will splatter to high heaven, and anger other hams.
  18. Set your RF POWER level to 50%, or below, for most digital work (you may want your monitor off, or on very low, as well.
  19. Put your Icom 7300 in USB-D mode.  This is the default for most digital modes.  To do this, touch the blue USB (or LSB) icon on your 7300 screen.  Choose DATA.  You might need to toggle from LSB into USB, and then DATA, until you reach USB-D.  
  20. If you haven't done so, plug the USB cable into your radio, and the computer (Icom USB software must be installed first, as noted in step 1).

IN WINDOWS I run Windows 10, and here are the windows sound card settings I use.  It may seem extreme to have a very high output level on the Icom 7300, and a very low input level on the computer sound card, but I have read this is the best way to do it.  It works, in any case.  If anyone has different opinions, I'd love to hear them, so post below.

e.  On your Windows 10 computer, navigate to SOUND (click Windows logo at lower left of screen, then type "sound".  Choose SOUND Control Panel.

f.  Under the Playback tab, double-click Speakers (#) USB Audio CODEC.
g.  Click the "levels" tab, an set Speakers to 5 (yes, just 5)
h.  Click on the "Enhancements" tab, and make sure every checkbox is empty (no enhancements)
i.  Click on the "Advanced" tab, and set for 16 bit, 44100 Hz (CD Quality).  Also add a check to each of the two checkboxes under Exclusive mode.
j.  Click on the "Spatial Sound" tab, and make sure it is set to "None."


Run FLDIGI.  Tom Leung has a nice series of FLDIGI videos on Youtube, which explain it all well, so I will just link you to them, here, beginning with video 2 (video 1 is just download/install):

Follow Tom's videos and settings.  That should get you going!  Also, please note that the Icom settings xml file is here, and will help a lot! Tom mentions where to install this into FLDIGI. Use it:

After Installation start fldigi and go to
Configure -> Rig ->RigCat
Select the downloaded xml file. Under Device select “SLAB_USBtoUART” (driver name).
Set Baud rate to 19200.
Tick CAT command for PTT
Audio Port: Audio USB Audio CODEC
The “sweet spot” for the IC-7300 in data mode is 1500 Hz.
Configure -> Misc -> Sweet Spot PSK et al.: 1500

(thanks from here: )

A few more notes about FLDIGI:

1.  You might, on occasion, find the 7300 and FLDIGI "flake-out" and do some weird things.  For one, on restart, the 7300 may transmit.  I find it best to turn off the 7300 during a restart, and not turn it back on, until Windows has finished its restart process.  Another bug I have noticed is that a hiccup happens somewhere between FLDIGI, the 7300, and Windows, and it won't leave TX.  Often, I have observed this happening when I decide to start a TX, then click around in other windows and do other things (like internet surf).  I'm not sure why, but it's an issue at least one other user mentioned.  Another bug... I will sometimes open FLDIGI, or come back to FLDIGI after it's been running in the background, and find the frequency is way off -- usually showing something like 108702 on the dial.  I usually find that completely closing the program, or a restart of Windows, solves this issue.  Lastly, I find that I catch FLDIGI splattering somewhat around my signal (just partially), and it is visible in the waterfall.  What is normally a straight PSK line will develop wavy blue bulges around it, on my 7300's TX waterfall, which I can see when the waterfall is "centered" on the frequency.  I find restarting FLDIGI, and turning on/off the 7300 fixes this.

FLDIGI is a free program, and although I'm not sure it is to blame, I have found these occasional hiccups to be something I work around.
2.  The #1 mistake that I make is that I forget to turn of the voice compression on my 7300.  This splatters all over the digital frequencies, and I have to remember to turn it off (because I often switch to SSB for voice work).

3.  The #3 mistake I make is that I forget to set the computer into USB-D, and the FLDIGI software to USB-D, for digital work.  For some reason, FLDIGI likes to toggle that pulldown into something else, like LSB-D.  You only want USB-D on that pulldown (at least, from what I know) or most people won't understand your digital signal.

4.  Where you are transmitting on the waterfall DOES make a difference.  I try to stay away from the edges of the waterfall, because those areas seem to distort sound -- probably due to how the Twin PBT filtering works.  I try to stay in the middle 1/3 of the blue waterfall, when transmitting or receiving, for best results.

5.  Make sure the RxID and TxID tabs are highlighted, at upper-right, when you run FLDIGI.  These are important when using Olivia and other modes that are difficult to guess.  They aid other hams in figuring out what you are transmitting, and you will get more contacts.

Watch Tom's videos, above, and good luck!  If you have any suggestions about what I've written here, please tell me.  I'm no expert, but it's working well for me!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Yaesu FT-891 Mic Settings

FT-891 Mic Setting Tips

The Yaesu MH-31 hand mic, which comes with various radios including the FT-891, doesn't impress most people.  I find that some EQ'ing can turn the sound into a very pleasing one.

My reports are excellent, so I'm passing this on. Your adjustments may differ slightly in the mid settings, depending on your voice (I have a mid-trebly voice).  I made these adjustments while listening to myself over another radio, then by listening with a remote station.

First, even before EQ'ing, it's very important that your ALC is set to peak at 1/4 to never much higher than 1/2, for clear audio (the FT-891 gets wacky above 1/2).  You'll want to adjust the ALC after EQ-ing, and watch it between band changes, as my levels change.  I have not installed the most recent Yaesu FT-891 update, per this writing, so I cannot say if this has changed.

Next, I prefer Menu 11-09 TX bandwidth set to the stock setting of 300-2700 for DX, or for rag chew, set to that or 200-2800.  There isn't a lot of difference, but the 2nd choice adds a bit more bass and clarity for those rag chews with better machines on the other end.

As for EQ, notice that Yaesu gives you 2 EQ lists.  One is for compression when on (menu 15-10), and the other when off (15-04).  I roll-off all lows below 300Hz. This is very important Also, I leave Compression (PRC in quick menu, set to my preference, between 25 to 50) on all of the time. I find that for DX, I want the compression around 10 to 15%, max.  For local stuff, around 5-10% (or less) is fine.  These settings ONLY work if you are using compression (PRC highlighted)

Next, we're looking at the longform menu P-EQ1 settings, starting with Menu 15-10 (settings for compression ON):

P-EQ1 FREQ 300  (adjust the low bass freq center point in Hz)
P-EQ1 Level -15    (adjust how much you add/subtract from low bass setting)
P-EQ1 BWTH 8     (adjust the bandwidth area covered by low bass frequency peak)
P-EQ2 FREQ 1300 (adjust mids frequency center point in Hz)
P-EQ2 Level 8        (adjust how much you add/subtract from the mid setting)
P-EQ2 BWTH 8     (adjust the bandwidth covered by mids frequency peak)
P-EQ3 FREQ 2300 (adjust the highs freq center point in Hz)
P-EQ3 LEVEL 10  (adjust how much you add/subtract from the highs setting)
P-EQ3 BWTH 8     (adjust the bandwidth covered by the high freq peak)

I set the switch on the hand mic to 1 for local rag chew, and 2 for DX.

AGAIN:  Please note, if you do not like to use compression, you must make the same settings beginning with menu 15-04 (settings for compression OFF), which is the same EQ list, but only affect when not using compression.  Yaesu gives you 2 EQ lists.  There is a group of setting for both compression on and compression off.  The compression menu items begin with a P (15-10, as noted above).

I hope these settings provide some guidance.  Here is a sample of audio between YB0AJZ using these mic settings, and KL7HRN on another rig (as recorded by myself HL1ZIX, in between in November 2018).  As it happened, I caught YB0AJZ in a QSO and heard he had just used the settings for his FT-891, which I had suggested here.  I had just handed back to him, and recorded his audio with KL7HRN.  The audio was recorded with my Icom 7300, and the filtering was set wide open on RX at 3.4 (although I may have been using the Notch to trim a smidge of noise off of the top).  I believe YB0AJZ was TX'ing with a bandwidth of 200-2800 on the FT-891.  This should give a really good indicator of how the above settings sound on-air.  He was on mic setting 2, at the back of the mic:

Friday, September 22, 2017

Apartment Antenna for the High Bands

Here is a look at a simple multi-band capable antenna design for people in an apartment or HOA that are able to snake a pole out the window for temporary operation:

Click to Expand

Monday, September 4, 2017

Koss SB-45 Headset and Sample Receive Audio

Koss SB-45 Communications Headset (click to expand)

Earlier, I posted a review of the IRIVER IGH-L20 headset for Ham radio use -- a good performing bargain headset.  A number of people expressed their sadness that IRIVER headset is only for sale in Asia, and has to be imported to other countries.  Wouldn't it be better to post a review of a headset that is both inexpensive and easy to find in countries like the USA?

Here's one for your consideration:  The Koss SB-45.

View into the earcup
The Koss SB-45 is sold for about $25 plus shipping on Amazon, and some Wal-Mart stores.  It is said to be a rebranded/slightly modified version of the Yamaha cm500, which gets incredible reviews from users on Eham.  You can read reviews of both headsets, and you'll see comments about how they're considered sounding identical and interchangeable at a contesting station.  I did notice, however, that Koss also sells an SB-40 version which looks more like the Yamaha cm500, but contains a dynamic mic.  The SB-45 reviewed here is the condenser mic version, which works with ICOM radios (the dynamic probably will too, but likely would require high mic gain settings). The Koss SB-40 and SB-45 look different, to me.  This makes me wonder how similar the SB-45 is to the more expensive, and highly-regarded Yamaha cm500.  I don't own the cm500, so I do not know.

I will say that the Koss SB-45 appears to be a good ham value, for the price.

1.  Very comfortable headset, even with long-term use.
2.  Generally very nice build quality (thin cord an exception)
3.  Attractive
4.  Adjustable microphone
5.  Very clear audio for DX sound
6.  Perfect weight
7.  No problems wearing with glasses
8.  Excellent outside noise blocking, but not overly so

1.  Thin cable
2.  Had same earpad material on my Sony headphones, and it began flaking severely within 2 years.  Radiosport material socks can fit over to extend life.
3.  Microphone lacks much bass.  My Icom 7300 settings are Bass +5, Treble 0.
4.  Receive sound is a bit bright, but very clear
5.  Need to remove wind screen and add a few layers of electrical tape to back of mic to remove room noise.  This is a :30 second fix, and highly recommended.

When I first purchased the Koss SB-45, I have to say I was a bit disappointed.  I felt they were far too bright on RX, and accentuated background HISS too much.  I am happy to say that I have since found a sweet-spot for listening, with the SB-45's.  These are some very sensitive headphones!  After a few weeks of use, I learned that I simply needed to adjust my ICOM 7300's bandwidth filtering a little to trim the highs, and to turn the AF GAIN/volume down (not a bad thing, given how headphones often damage hearing over time).  I live at a very noisy QTH, the noise can get to me. Radios tend to attenuate the hiss/highs a bit, with the volume down, and I find these headphones still allow the voices to come through clearly, after that AF Gain is lowered.  In the end, I'm pretty happy with the purchase.

8-Pin MIC/Headset Adapter HS-01C for ICOM 
The electret microphone of the Koss SB-45 is also extremely clear.  It's one negative, in my opinion, is that it lacks in bass, and that you need to remove the foam wind screen and add a few layersvof electrical tape covering the back side hole of the mic (easy).  Without doing that, you pick up more room noise.  What you get in return after this :30 second fix, however, is crystal-clear mid and high-level audio.  I found that some EQ-ing was in order, but reports have been pretty incredible with the ICOM 7300's transmit bandwidth set to my adjustments of WIDE 100-2900, or  MID 300-2900.  I've never been a fan of ICOM's jump to 500hz as the next choice on the bottom end for the NARROW setting, so I rarely use it.

My last article also left some people confused as to how you get headphones like this to work with the ICOM 7300, or other radios.  The trick is to search Ebay for your radio, and look for "headset patch cable" or something similar in the search string.  If you are wanting to buy this headset for the ICOM 7300, and need a patch cable, HEIL makes them.  I suggest you contact Bob Heil through his site, or use his website to determine which patch cable is right for you.  I added a photo of the one I purchased on E-bay, from K6VHF, for about $15 plus shipping, which I found to be cheaper.  It works well, and I have no issues with stray RF.  You can also build your own.  I will provide pin-outs for that in the following graphic, but if you use a dynamic mic, you need a 1uF non-polarized tantalum capacitor in series with mic lead.  This is according to Bob Heil, who also said you can get by with a .68F or a .47uF, but anything less will not pass good speech.  You don't want the blocking cap for an electret mic, however :

Sony earcups after 2 years
Link to Bob Heil's info on the Icom 7300 and mics:

As for the build quality of the Koss SB-45, it is generally excellent.  The only negatives here are the quite thin, and looong cabling, and the material used for the ear cups.  The material is comfortable, but it's that very paper-thin fake leather stuff often found on cheaper headsets.  I know from experience with my $20 Sony headphones, it will flake off within two years, and begin sticking to the sides of your face.  I do not know if replacement ear pads are available from Koss, but Radiosport headphone earpad socks work.

I have added an over-the-air recording of the Koss SB-45's, taken from my friend, HL1ZII's cell phone.  It will give you a good idea of how these headphones sound on-air.  As mentioned in the Pros/Cons, the microphone is very clear, but a bit lacking in bass -- what you hear is NOT with +5 Bass (it was +2).  I have since had to make some EQ adjustments to get it closer to where I prefer it (+5 Bass, and 0 Treble).  I would say this headset lends itself well toward contesting and DX work, if you prefer audio that cuts well, or local chat, if you add the Bass.

Enjoy, and give the Koss SB-45 a good look.

Below is the audio, and please FF to :49 seconds to hear what true live sound with the Koss SB-45's is like (the first 30 seconds are recorded CQ'ing).  I must mention, if you hear me cut out during the contact, and say, "I had a short," the problem was actually that I mistakenly pulled-out my PTT switch attachment -- operator error, not the headset's fault!:

Saturday, September 2, 2017

IRIVER Blank IGH-L20 Headset for Ham

First off, I'm pretty sure you cannot buy this directly in the USA, although I am sure you can ship it in from Korea, using G-market (an E-bay-owned Korean company):

The headset is the IRIVER Blank IGH-L20.

Click to enlarge

I have to admit, I've tried many headsets in the budget range.  I almost dropped over $300 to import a Heil Pro 7 here (very glad I did not, given price).  I did end up with the Koss SB45 instead, and that is generally my most used headset, but this one is better on some signals (I switch between the two headsets).

I ended up heading to Yongsan Sun-in building, where dozens of different computer gaming headsets can be tested.  I used a Youtube recording of myself, recorded over-the-air as DX from Korea to Australia by a friend, and played that through various headsets to determine if they sounded good or not.

It was suggested to me that "cheap headsets work best" by another poster here on QRZ.  One might scoff at this, but I have to say -- it's true.  Why is this?  It's because they often aren't as full-range as better headphones.  In fact, the cheap ones often cut the highs, which is a bonus, if you are using them for ham.  Also, most of the electret mics seem to have one of three sounds... they are either a bit high-pitched and lacking bass, average all-around, or a bit bass-heavy.

The good thing is, I can EQ my Icom 7300's TX audio quite a bit, and have found that as long as the electret mic produces a full-enough range of sound (not just tinny audio), I can make it to sound very good.  In general, I find electret mics aren't really muddy, either, so they work very well.

After trying several headsets, I found the IRIVER Blank IGH-L20.  At first, I couldn't get the thing to work!  Then, I found a tiny volume knob hidden on the side of one of the earcups... duh.  After I got the volume turned up, not only did it sound the best on RX, I found the IRIVER is actually built VERY solid, and is comfortable.  It does  a good job of reducing room noise -- fully enclosed, but not everything in the room is kept out.  On RX, the highs are cut at just the right point to greatly reduce HISS noise, yet not degrade the important audio from stations near or far. They are far more comfortable on my ears, for longterm Ham listening.  I was happy to find that the ear cup material is actually decent, and should last a long time.

On transmit, what I found in the IRIVER Blank IGH-L20 is a microphone that leans quite a bit more toward bass, but can it can be EQ'd to sound good, with settings of -4 bass and +4 treble on my ICOM 7300.  Please note that the headset comes without a pop filter, so I added one from an older headset that I threw out, in these photos.  I later removed it, and found it was not necessary, so long as I positioned the mic properly.  In terms of the mic, you also need to watch where the little hole is, which leads to the electret inside.  I find this can adjust itself, and point the wrong way, over time.  That will muddy the audio.  Also note that to use this headset with an ICOM 7300, you will need to purchase the correct HEIL or Ebay seller dongle attachment.

The cable of the IRIVER, as you can see, is quite thick.  The overall build quality of the headset is surprisingly high, given it's $15 price. It comes standard with a dual analog/USB plug attachment.

The fit is a little on the snug side, but not too terribly snug.  It's also made for a slightly rounder head than my USA watermelon-shaped head, so that the top doesn't quite rest on top of my head perfectly, but it is close enough.  My ears fill the inside of the headphones, touching inside, but not uncomfortably so.  The IRIVER headphones also cover my ears more completely than the Koss SB45's, and cut out a small amount more background noise.  They are comfortable to wear with glasses.  It is also worthy to note that these headphones include a tiny, and rather pointless, volume control that was set to 0 from the factory.  It's located on one side of the headset, so check for that if your volume level is low.

I am quite amazed at how much better these sound to me, than the highly-touted Koss SB45's (internally the same as the Yamaha cm500)-- both on RX and mic TX, once EQ'ed.  The IRIVER is also of a higher build quality.

Excellent ham sound, and quality for the Korea price of 17,000 won, or $15 US.

Highly recommended!