Is Kenwood preparing to release a new HT? Signs seem to be getting stronger.
UPDATE: AES says the F6A has been discontinued. See below for more details.
The December 2015 issue of Spectrum Monitor had this to say:
“The word is that Kenwood will be introducing a new tri-band (144/220/440) portable that fits in somewhere between the TH-F6A and TH-72A. (TH-D62A or TH-D80A, perhaps?) One of the promises that have many excited about this radio is that it is supposed to support analog FM, APRS with internal GPS and (wait for it) D-STAR.”
I talked to the Kenwood rep and AA4RC at the Stone Mountain GA hamfest TODAY.
Also announced during the DSTAR Forum. Nothing on the internet as far as I know.
It is a HT, a cross between the TH6 and TH72.
It will do DSTAR, FM and APRS, has a GPS built in like the TH72.
Tri band, 2m, 440 and 220.
Kenwood should release more info around Thanksgiving. Comes out in March 2016.
Since then, there hasn’t been much more information about a new HT. There have been a few more “hints”, however.
The back cover of the January 2016 QST has the following Kenwood ad, which seems to be hinting at new stuff:
The last sentence of the copy reads:
“Constantly keeping up with technology, Kenwood strives to be innovators to ensure ongoing customer satistfaction. You speak, they listen…”
One could easily read between the lines of the ad as “We are refreshing our radios” - they’ve done this with the TS-990 release, and the update/refresh of the TS-590SG. It’s becoming more and more common for HT’s to have some sort of digital AND APRS capability, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Kenwood followed suit.
The F6a came out around 2000/2001 (I think I purchased mine in 2003), and so a 16 year refresh cycle on an HT is probably more than overdue.
To make things more interesting, there’s now a $30 manufacturer discount on the venerable TH-F6a HT. AES says, “Coupon until product is gone”, which seems to imply they aren’t expecting to get any more in stock.
I’d personally like it to be either DMR or System Fusion, but it appears that Kenwood has had a relationship with Icom, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the HT does end up being D-STAR compatible. Whatever digital technolgy they end up choosing (if they even do), it will be interesting.
I received an email from AES confirming that the F6A has been discontinued, but Kenwood hasn’t officially announced its replacement.
I managed to resurrect my Arduino/KX3 interface project from a few months ago. I originally got basic VFO tracking working, as demonstrated in this video:
The next “feature” I wanted to tackle was reading the PSK/CW/RTTY decode buffer off the radio and display it on an LCD. After a few hours of hacking, I managed to get it working somewhat:
I have a couple of different LCDs. The one featured in the video is the Sparkfun SerLCD board. I also have an LCD button shield, but I struggled getting the text to display in a reasonable way. The shield has some quirky behaviors, such as pretending to have 20 columns available, while only having 16 physical columns, so text eventually gets lost.
Both boards have some capability for scrolling text, but they don’t seem to be quite what I need, so I will probably have to end up writing my own simulated text scrolling and writing it to the LCD manually.
My next goal will be to have simultaneous VFO and data decode display, with one on each line, and perhaps some basic rig control through the buttons on the LCD shield.
Over time, you start to understand the unique characteristics of your radio - operating quirks, interface bugs, and other behaviors. A couple of useful parameters to be familiar with in your radio are it’s frequency stability as well as it’s frequency accuracy.
The easiest one to understand is accuracy. Are you tuned to the correct frequency? How do you know? One way you can tell that your radio may not be correctly calibrated (on HF, at least), is needing to consistently tune up or down from a station while listening on SSB, in order to get them to sound “right”.
The complement to accuracy is stability. As electronics warm up, their characteristics change, and thus, your radio’s accuracy could change over the course of a minute, 5 minutes, or even an hour or two!
Often, frequency stability is specified in parts per million (PPM). My TS-590s is specced to be stable within 5ppm. On the 20m band this adds up to as much as 100Hz “error” in your tuning. Kenwood would still consider this within spec! On 50MHz, the errors add up, and the radio could be off as much as 250Hz!
On my radio, I’ve found that I’ve consistently needed to tune up about 40hz on the 20m band, in order to get people to sound natural, once the radio has “warmed up”. Calibration and stability are also important when operating digital modes like PSK and JT65.
Kenwood sells a temperature-controlled crystal oscillator (aka TCXO) as an add-on, which improves the stability to within +- 0.5ppm, a large step up from 5ppm without. Unfortunately, they also charge $120 for what is essentially a 15.6MHz crystal.
Recently, some Chinese clones have surfaced, and thanks to Patrick, TK5EP’s, work, I discovered the $20 alternative.
Checking your calibration
The easiest way to check your rig’s calibration is to use FLDIGI in “analysis” mode:
Tune your rig to the highest WWV frequency you can receive a signal (20/15/10/MHz) - the higher the better.
Set your rig to USB mode, and tune down 1khz exactly.
Set FLDIGI to “analysis mode”. You should see the WWV carrier around +1000 Hz.
Center the crosshair on the carrier, and click. You should see the offset in the lower area displaying the focused frequency.
FLDIGI should now be displaying the frequency it thinks you’re centered on, and it should be rising or falling over time. Over the course of a couple hours, I found my rig was off by 87Hz when tuned to the 20MHz WWV signal. This is 4.35 PPM, a bit high, but safely within the specs Kenwood laid out.
At this point, if I hadn’t bought the TCXO, I would be manually adjusting the internal trimmer to bring the radio into slightly better calibration. I’m not recommending you do this, but it can be an option if the calibration is annoying to you. Keep in mind it’s extremely easy to mess up your rig’s calibration. The trimmer on the TS-590 is pretty tiny, and I’d have had to have the rig opened, upside-down, and turned on and hooked up to do this easily.
My $20 TCXO showed up in the mail today, three weeks ahead of schedule, and it was a very easy drop-in install. Turning on the rig, and watching FLDIGI, I was impressed pretty quickly. After a couple hours being turned on, my radio is now about 2.4Hz high on 10MHz, which works out to 0.24ppm, which is over 18 times more stable than without the TCXO. As a bonus, I’m close enough that I don’t feel like I need to mess with the calibration trimmer built into the TCXO.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I figure I’d rattle off some things that have been rolling around in my head the past few months.
With all the things you can do in the hobby, it’s often easy to quickly get overwhelmed. There’s always a new mode to try, a new antenna to build, or new gear to buy. This makes it easy to dabble in a lot of things, and it’s also equally easy to buy a bunch of random stuff that you end up not needing, or end up with half-finished projects.
So, in the spirit of enjoying the hobby, and also not wanting to spend a lot of money on random stuff, I’ve decided to start setting some goals for myself in the coming year.
One of the “holdovers” from last year is the fan dipole kit I purchased, and ran out of time to get up in the air before winter arrived. The antenna sat, half-assembled, on my garage roof all winter, so once the snow melted away and the weather started to cooperate, I pulled the antenna down, stretched it out in the yard, and finished measuring the segments. I’ve got it up in the air now, not 100% finished, and I still need to tune it. But it’s progressing.
Another one of my goals is to do more portable operating outside. Last year I build a 4:1 un-un, for portable use, and I’ve wanted to make a few changes to it. First off, I wanted to get it into a smaller enclosure, and also reposition the coax connector and wire terminals to better suit being mounted on a telescoping mast. This project has been finished.
Lastly, I’ve found myself super jealous of the venerable Buddipole, but I definitely didn’t feel like I wanted to spend the money on a full kit. I eventually dug up the plans to build a homebrew version of the Buddipole, and I spent the first month or so this spring assembling it. I still need a mast, to get it up in the air to tune (and actually use!), but it was a fun project to work on.
Despite having these goals set, I feel like I’ve managed to spread myself out too thinly, and get a few of these projects maybe 75-80% finished. The lesson seems to be that not is it important to have goals, it’s also useful to be able to focus on one at a time, to completion.
I’m not sure what my next goals will be. Learning CW is always out there, looming :)
The other day, I heard a discussion on a local repeater about the various licensing levels, and someone’s desire to upgrade to Extra. The exchange went something like this:
Person A: “I want to study and upgrade to Extra. Is there anything else you have to do for equipment when going from General to Extra?”
Person B: “Nope, it’s the same bands, so if your radio works on the HF bands, you get access to the Extra portions of the bands. But the upgrade to Extra isn’t really worth it, you only get something like an extra tens of KHz”
Let’s look at the actual difference between the General and Extra portions of the various HF bands, and how much bandwidth you gain on the bands by upgrading:
Edit: updated for CW/data portions of band as well:
15m: 75k phone + 25k cw/data
20m: 75k phone + 25k cw/data
40m: 50k phone + 25k cw/data
80m: 200k phone + 25k cw/data
So, in reality, you gain access to a whopping 500kHz - that’s as much as all of 80 meters! One can argue that upgrading to Extra gives you access to another band’s worth of spectrum. In addition, much of this spectrum covers the coveted “DX windows” on the bands, and if you’re an HF-head, this is where a lot of the fun can be.
Granted, the bump from Technician to General gives one privileges on the HF bands, which is arguably a “larger step” with respect to where one may transmit. For some, the extra effort of studying and learning some pretty complicated concepts may not be worth it for the additional slice of spectrum, due to where one’s interest in the hobby may lie.
By the time I had upgraded to Extra, I was not only hungry for the additional spectrum, but to also actually learn the material in the book and the theory behind why radio works. I’ve also learned more about electronics and radio theory while studying for the Extra exam, than I had with upgrading to General, or originally passing my Technician exam back in 1992.
By introducing incentive licensing in the 1960’s, the FCC and ARRL pushed amateurs to “up their game” to learn more, and sharpen their skills. Upgrading isn’t just about getting access to more spectrum - it’s also about learning new things, and taking your knowledge and interest in the hobby to a new level.
The other day I was tuning around 20m and it dawned on me; those weird signals around 14.230 were SSTV signals. I don’t know why it didn’t click, because I could look it up pretty easily, but I was quickly up and decoding SSTV images.
14.230 seems to be the SSTV frequency, and 14.233 and .236 are SSTV over DRM - essentially lossless digital photo transmission. SSTV quality is at the mercy of static, etc.
I don’t have much interest in actually operating SSTV, but here’s a sample of some of the images I pulled off 20m a couple weekends ago.
The final “official” HF in the Park event of 2014 took place yesterday, the 11th. We had pretty much a perfect autumn day, hardly any clouds in the skies, reasonable wind, and most importantly, no rain!
I’ve had some considerable time with my KX3 by now, and I was pretty comfortable with the operation and setup. I also brought along my homebrew end-fed half-wave vertical antenna that I built prior to my trip to Canada, and I had quite a bit of success (More on that shortly). I also had my hand mic & external speaker in tow as well, which made operating quite a bit easier than messing with a headset and the XMIT button.
First order was getting my antenna up. I had brought along a slingshot and fishing line, but neglected to bring fishing weights. Josh, KD0ZWN offered up his multi-tool for sacrifice, and in short order was attempting to launch the multitool into a tree with the hopes of getting it high enough for my 30-foot radiator wire. After a minor injury to his hand, Josh deemed the placement in the tree a success, and I quickly hoisted my antenna up into the tree. A little bent at the top, but more than serviceable.
After this setup, I quickly decided that using a slingshot for this antenna is a giant pain in the butt, and I’ve been eyeing a 31’ fiberglass telescoping mast that would drastically speed up station set-up.
Chuck, KD0UIH, brought his portable PSK station and was making contact. We had three HF stations in close proximity, and perhaps next time we’ll bring some band-pass filters along. When Chuck’s radio would key up, both mine and Josh’s front ends would get wiped out. Gotta work on that.
There were not one but two QSO parties going on this weekend, Arizona and Pennsylvania. 20m was packed with stations calling either “CQ Arizona QSO party” or “CQ Pennsylvania QSO party.” I tuned around and heard a couple special event stations, but I decided to bump up to 17m to see what was going on. Because it’s a WARC band, there’s no contesting, and quickly made contacts with both W1AW/4 (Virginia) and W100AW/6 (California). I received some positive feedback on my QRP signal as well.
The highlight of the day (and probably my whole weekend), however, was later in the afternoon, when I heard a very raspy signal coming out of my speaker. I copied the call HA3NU (Hungary), and he was working stations stateside. I decided to give it a shot, and bumped my power up to 5 watts.
I very specifically recall uttering the phrase, “There’s no way I’m going to work Hungary on 5 watts.” After listening for a little bit, I gave my call on his next “QRZ”, and to my surprise, he came back: “Station ending in RUA.” My mind was blown, and I think it surprised not only Josh and Chuck, but a few bystanders as well. I came back and gave him a 59, and he came back with a 57 report.
After my contact, I shot a couple quick videos of HA3NU’s signal:
At that point, I was on cloud nine, and I didn’t really care if I made any more contacts that day. I did pick up a French station calling CQ stateside, and gave it a couple tries. Eventually he said something to the effect of, “I’m tired and I need to go QRT, this is the last call, QRZ,” and I gave my call one last time. “VE3 station” he replied. I was a bit disappointed to not get Hungary AND France, but Hungary on 5 watts was more than awesome.
In all, I had a blast, and I’m bummed this was the last “official” HF in the Park event. The days are getting shorter, and the weather is nice, but my weekends are filling up fast. I have a multiband fan dipole kit I need to assemble and get up in the air before the snow flies.
Last week, my wife and I took a vacation up in Manitoba. Specifically, south-eastern Manitoba near Whiteshell Provincial Park.
I brought the KX3 along, and my homebrew end-fed vertical antenna. I had done a couple dry-runs prior to the trip, and I was convinced that I had everything along to operate HF.
Arriving at the cabin, I was excited to see that we had a tall pine tree right next to the cabin, on the northwest side, within reach of our deck. Due to the setup, I was able to toss a rope & wire up into the tree, and sit outside and operate HF.
It was a bit tricky getting the antenna up into the tree. I didn’t get the top quite as high as I wanted to, and I should have just used my slingshot right off the bat to get up and over the top of the tree, rather than throwing the rope off the 2nd floor balcony.
With the placement I got, the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the vertical was below the deck. Since most of the current is radiated from the middle portion of the antenna, I was probably attenuating my signal pointed southwest to southeast, which is unfortunately where most of the US population was relative to my location. At 5 watts, it’s a big hit.
I coordinated with my dad to have a couple QSO’s, and he was able to barely hear me on 40m one evening with my 5W of power, although I was able to copy him fine at 5/7. We were either in the skip zone for 20m (i.e. too close), or 20m had closed by then.
Despite the problems, I did make a couple contacts. Most notably, I worked F5MUX (France), on 12m SSB with 5w! I did a double-take when he came back to me, and I must have completely lucked out since I didn’t hear him long afterwards. I did have a clear shot to the NW and NE, so working France with only 5 watts was a pleasant surprise.
I also managed to work W1AW/4 in North Carolina on 20 meters SSB.
In the fall, the evenings here don’t last long, and it gets cold pretty quickly, which limited my operating time. We did spend most of the daytime going on hikes and exploring, so I didn’t spend as much time on the radio as I had hoped.
Operating QRP (and portable) has opened my eyes to just how important everything in the system is. At home, my antenna is where it is, and it points where it is, so either I work someone, or I don’t. I have the luxury of bumping up to 100w if I need to. Antenna efficiency, and placement, are even more critical when operating QRP, and everything you can do to get your signal out there helps.
Learning CW would also help :)
I’ve come to dislike being at the mercy of whatever random tree happens to be nearby for antenna placement, and I’m eyeing up a fiberglass mast that I could bring along in case the tree situation on trips isn’t optimal. I’d love a Buddipole, but they’re dang expensive.
Another option would be to buy a 18’ mast and tripod, and set up a dipole to get a little better directivity. With fall here, and winter rapidly approaching, my thoughts are starting to turn to non-portable operation :)
Other random thoughts:
Should have brought a grounding strap and small ground rod. On my last day of operating, I was noticing some noise when I touched the case, which probably means I should have been grounded.
Just before I left, I noticed the plans for the end-fed vertical were updated to include a post for a connection to a radial, if desired. I decided not to modify the matching box just before I left, but after I discovered my “compromised” antenna situation on arrival, I found myself wishing I could have rolled out a counterpoise, or at least experimented with one. Like I said, every little bit helps.
Along with the counterpoise addition, I’m going to swap out the circular ring terminal on the radiator for a “fork” style (not sure what it’s actually called). Not having to completely remove the wingnut every time I want to connect or disconnect the wire from the matchbox would be really nice.
About a month ago, I ordered an Elecraft KX3, and patiently waited. A lot has already been said about the KX3, but in a nutshell, it’s an ultra-portable, all-band HF SDR QRP transciever. (How’s that for buzzword bingo?) It’s about the size of a brick, and it’s awesome.
Prior to this spring, I had kind of always discounted the idea of both QRP and portable operation. Taking part in the local HF/Aerials in the Park events really opened my eyes to what options are available for operating portable, and I had a blast. To make sure this wasn’t just an “impulse purchase” (the rig is quite expensive), I outlined a number of goals I had for purchasing the rig, and made sure there wasn’t something else I would rather do with the money. Among some of my goals:
Be able to operate outside, away from my desk. Go to a park, throw a wire in a tree, and get on the air!
Be able to operate HF on trips. Something that wouldn’t involve me sitting on my laptop to pass time.
Be able to participate in HF/AITP
Having a rig with I/Q out for SDR experimentation
Cost & Options
The base cost of a KX3 without features is $1000 USD. I ended up ordering the radio as a kit, which knocked $100 off the price, and it ended up taking me just a couple hours to put the kit together. There’s no soldering, and most of the assembly is dealing with screws, standoffs and knobs. I went with a few more options on top of the bare radio:
KXAT3 automatic tuner - I don’t own an ATU, so this is critical for portable.
KXFL3 roofing filters
MH3 hand mic
I decided to skip the internal battery charger - I figured I could deal with popping the AA batteries out every once in a while to charge. I have some long-term plans for a LiFePO4 battery, but that will probably wait until next spring.
The options above brought the cost up a bit. I had also originally tried to “cheap out” by skipping the hand mic. You can key the KX3 with the “XMIT” button manually, or use VOX. I’m able to plug a Logitech gaming/computer headset directly into the headphone and mic jacks of the KX3, and run the rig that way. Since I already own a Kenwood TS-590, I attempted to build an 8-pin jack to TRRS (tip-ring-ring-sleeve) 1/8” headphone plug adapter, so I could use my Kenwood hand mic with the KX3. Ultimately, I failed due to the leads in the headphone cable I bought being very hard to solder. Last week, I broke down and just bought the Elecraft brand hand mic.
Top-notch customer support
After assembling my KX3, I had a couple questions - the legs didn’t quite sit at the same position, causing the KX3 to wobble. I also noticed that random LCD segments would light up. I ended up emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and had a speedy response within 20 minutes! They had even offered to ship me new support legs, which I haven’t taken them up on quite yet.
There’s also a Yahoo user group as well as a general email list.
I only have a few years of operating HF under my belt, and my experience is a bit limited. Dare I say, it sounds better than my TS-590. I don’t have first-hand numbers to back it up. The KX3 is currently sitting in second place in the Sherwood Engineering rankings, so I’ll trust that they know their numbers :)
I’ve also noticed that the DSP noise reduction sounds subjectively better than my TS-590. I rarely use the NR on my 590, as it sometimes sounds “bubbly”, but maybe I’m using it wrong.
ATU will tune “anything”
As I mentioned above, I didn’t already own an antenna tuner, so I opted to add the internal ATU to the KX3. After using my 590 for a couple years, I grew accustomed to where it would and wouldn’t tune, and therefore, where I couldn’t operate. The 590’s ATU seems to only be able to handle up to a 3:1 mismatch, and gives up with a CW “SWR” sidetone. This meant I couldn’t work 10 or 6m with my antenna, despite it being able to on paper.
The KX3 ATU seems to handle quite a larger range of mismatch, and from what I’ve read it should be able to find a match anywhere up to 20:1! This is a bit ridiculous in practice, but when I hook my KX3 up to my wire antenna in the backyard, I’m able to at least tune on 10 and 6m, as well as 75m.
Other “magic tricks”
There are a couple other cool features that I like, which I’ll eventually probaly write about:
CW/PSK/RTTY decode, on-screen.
IQ out port, something my TS-590 doesn’t have
After all that praise, I do have a few nitpicks.
This radio wasn’t cheap. On top of that, if I want to go QRO with the rig, the matched Elecraft 100W amp with ATU will run you over $1000! Yikes. I’ve seen other amp kits around $300.
VFO encoder noise on higher bands
I mostly notice this on 10 and 6 meters. There are some steps that can be taken to reduce the noise, and it’s definitely not a deal-killer by any means.
Notch filter is “auto” only.
I can’t twiddle a knob to knock a carrier (or LID ;)) out. Oh well! It still seems to work, but it’s more of a “beat cancel” than a “notch filter”
So far, I’m really pleased with the KX3. I’ve had a number of stateside contacts, and I do have yet to get some actual DX. I will be taking it along to a trip to Manitoba, and I’m excited to use the rig for an extended period of time and see how it holds up.