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!