Friday, January 10, 2014

The QRP Diaries #1 - Picking A Radio

I wish I could remember the trigger, the tiny thought that got me started down the road of buying a  QRP radio. If I think back to last year it might have been the release of the Elecraft KX3.

Elecraft KX3 - QRP Transceiver.
The KX3 got a lot of press and was featured in every magazine. It is new and cool, it is small and feature rich. Elecraft is a great brand name. My only problems with the KX3 was the cost. By the time I filled the shopping cart with the radio and the essential accessories it was well over $1000 US and that's a level of investment that requires justifications and approvals within my household. My wife the 'Budget Master' would not be happy. I can't tell you how many time over the last 12 months I surfed to the Elecraft site and filled up the shopping cart and then eventually walked away without clicking the final Confirm Order button. and not becasue I didn't really really want too.

My next inspiration came 4-5 months ago when a local ham posted a Swap & Shop ad for a used MFG 9420 QRP radio. My first thought was maybe the 'Rolls Royce' KX3 was overshooting the mark and I should be looking at Honda's or Ford's instead?  I've only been a licensed Ham since early 2012 so maybe I should broaden my knowledge and do some more research.

MFJ-9420 - QRP Transceiver
That's when I started a more extensive search for QRP radios of all makes, models, and types. I fairly quickly narrowed down to the feature set that would be most practical for me.
  1. Multi-mode - SSB and CW. I don't know code yet, so SSB and Digital are the only modes I currently use. CW is something on my to-do list.
  2. Multi-band - Most or all of the HF bands would be the most useful to be.
  3. Rig Control - Even if it's a tiny netbook, laptop, or tablet. Logging, digital modes, and CAT control are tools I really enjoy having.
Well in QRP there is a lot of variety; from total kits, to assemble yourself, to ready built radios. There were single band radios and radios just for CW. When I applied my entire shopping list not a lot rose to top.

The Yaesu FT817 seems to be the main horse in the race. Priced at $750 CAD it's still pretty pricey for my budget but it covers the wish list very well. Nice 3rd party accessories also exist like autotuners, etc.

Yaesu FT-817 - QRP Transceiver

Somewhere along the way I stumbled onto blogs and webpages talking about the X1M from China. This was originally a kit radio and had an extremely active community of owners and builders. The price was half that of the FT-817 at $349 USD and the word on the web was a next generation (v3) model was due for release soon and it would be ready built and contain a shopping list of improvements over the original two versions. The new model was going to be called the X1M Platinum and it was due for import into North America in Nov/Dec 2013.

 Xiegu Technology X1M Platinum - QRP Transceiver

I started reading owners blogs and posts, and I joined the X1M owners Yahoo Group. I found the Yahoo Group to be incredibly active, with upwards of 30 posts and replies every single day. There were Elmers helping new owners, Engineers designing and sharing upgrades and modifications, and almost every conceivable Question and Answer that you could think of.

Eventually I settled on the X1M based on it's price, features, and the overall excitement from the community. I figure if your gonna stick your toe into the waters of QRP, you might as well know that others are already in the pool.

The timing was great since Christmas was just around the corner and with any luck I might be able to leverage some holiday gift money into a new purchase. I got so excited that this was gonna happen, I ordered the radio on the credit card 2-3 days before Christmas and crossed my fingers...

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice post. I think most of us have gone through similar hurdles as you and come out smiling. QRP is a wonderful aspect to amateur radio, especially if you know code and can build. This adds a whole new dimension to it. I have built most of the kits on the market over the years and find Elecraft to be the best. Hendrick and Small Wonder Labs are great too. I look forward to reading more from you!