Home brewing a Vertical for DXing

Recently, I’ve been bitten by the 80M DXing bug.  Its not so much that 80M has taken hold, as it is that I have managed 140+ confirmed on both 40M & 20M now so all the ‘easy pickings’ are gone.

My main antenna is a 102ft ladder line fed dipole aka G5RV up ~45 feet at the Apex.  Whilst this antenna takes QRO in its stride, and puts out one heck of a signal, it also features a whole lot of ‘high angle’ radiation on 80M & 40M.

Whilst I’ve managed 30 countries on 80M running some power (which was needed), I always found received signals to have poor SNR.  As such, I decided to once again revisit the Vertical – primarily as an RX Antenna for now – to see if it could help.

Here is the pattern difference, in theory.  Note the huge amount of high angle radiation the G5RV (broadside) picks up compared to the Vertical.  Although the low angle figures look close, remember the G5RV has a ‘peanut’ shape even at 45ft, so when the G5RV is facing ‘narrow side’ the Vertical has over an 8dB advantage below 15 degrees.

Screenshot 2017-05-21 19.46.50

Continue reading for more pictures and information about the project 🙂

Continue reading

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VK3BL Rack… Icom IC-7300 Still Wins!

So, despite my best efforts to date with the DBX equipment pictured below, the stock IC-7300 mic pre-amp and compressor still gets slightly better on air audio reports!

A true testament to how good the Icom IC-7300 sounds out of the box, especially with a Heil Microphone!

I’ve sunk over 30 hours into this setup so far, so my recommendation is to people unless you like fiddling, keep it simple and stick to plugging the microphone into the front!

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Bhutan (A5A), ‘big guns’ and why missing a DXPedition is just fine by me.

I’m pretty sure I’ve got next to no chance of getting Bhutan (A5A) in the log this time round.  Now hopefully for the sake of irony I will be proven wrong, but the facts are as follows:

1) I work full time, and its the start of spring here.  The bands are often closed by the time I get home, leaving only the weekends.  That rules out the ‘bum in seat’ approach aka persistence which is so often all that it takes.

2) ConDX doesn’t seem to be there.  Today (saturday) I had the chance to indulge in my favorite hobby.  WAE SSB was on, and I could hear and work quite a few stations easily.  However, none of those stations were in the region surrounding Bhutan.  Jumping over to JT65, I found I could hear and work quite a few stations on 17M (which A5A has used a lot), but my station wasn’t getting heard around that region once more.  Lastly, I haven’t so much as heard a single beep out of A5A.

3) There is still work to be done on my station.  I have an Icom IC-7300 with a great scope, and an Ameritron AL-572 amplifier capable of well over our legal limit in VK, so it just loafs.  However, because of my current living arrangements I haven’t been able to invest in a tower until recently.  As such, using only basic antennas my reception is often noisy (no nulls), and I can’t push the power in the direction I’d like.

So it seems really likely I’ll miss Bhutan this time.  However, if you stop and think about it, its not the end of the world.

Imagine for a second we could all work DX whenever it showed up.  Here’s what would happen:

A) DXing would be about as exciting as a skype phone call.
B) We wouldn’t be motivated to improve our skills and stations; most importantly we wouldn’t learn and grow.
C) There would be less DXPeditions.

Now point C might seem a bit strange, but think about it in economic terms – supply and demand.  If everyone had every DXPedition in their log, there wouldn’t be any demand for further DXPeditions.  Of course, as new people enter the hobby places will need to be activated sporadically, but not anywhere nearly as frequently.

Just think about how many DXPeditions have aims these days – eg, ‘we’re concentrating on low bands’, ‘we’re CW only’, or even ‘we want to give ATNOs to NA’.  If propagation wasn’t a factor, everyone from every continent would work every band and mode on every DXPedition.

And that’s where the real rub comes in.  Imagine DXing where everyone reaches HR in ~10 years, and there are nowhere near as many DXPeditions – doesn’t sound like a very long lived hobby does it; sounds like a FAD to me.

On the other hand, we currently enjoy a hobby where one can always look to the future and say ‘I need Mongolia on CW’, or at worst ‘I’ve yet to work P5 on digital’.  There is always a bright future to hope for; always something to look forward to and dream of.

And that’s why I’m not going to get too upset when I miss Bhutan this time round… But hey, in the mean time, I’m going to improve my station in any way I can, so that condx willing, I’m one of the deserving when I get the next shot.

The golden days of DXing are ahead of us!  Always be a believer!  And don’t let ANYONE convince you that a ‘big gun’ stole your ATNO! For they are just men, not the gods of condx!

What should a New Ham look for in their first transceiver?

As a new Ham, you should be playing with every radio you can get your hands on before you buy one.

You should ask these questions:
-How easy is it to adjust TX power level (if you have a tuner or amp, you will do this often)
-How easy is the DSP to use, and how well does it work? (NB, NR & IF Shift)
-How many antenna connectors does it have?  (Do you need more than one?)
-Does it have an internal ATU?
-Is it nice to listen to? (You’re going to spend a bit of time doing that!)
-Is the radio big enough for shack use comfortably? (the FT-857D is a pain to use)
-Does it have a built in Equalizer, for transmit and receive?
-Does the radio have a reputation for ‘sounding good’?  (the IC-7300 definitely does)
-Are there any extras?  Eg, real time band scope?
-Does it come with all the filters you need, or are they extras?  Eg, the K3
-Can it be plugged into a computer via USB for Audio & Control? (you won’t need a digital mode interface then)
-How long is the warranty?  Is there a local factory authorized service center? (accidents happen)
-Does it decode RTTY? CW without a pc?
-Can it SEND RTTY? CW without a pc?
-Does it have any recording features?
-Does it have a Voice Keyer (eg, you record ‘CQ 40’ and then just press a button)

Don’t worry about Sherwood lists, or other comparisons that focus on a single aspect of a transceiver.  Those appraisals are targeted to specific audiences (eg, CW Contesters).

Your first radio should be an ‘all rounder’ – if you later on find you’re only interested in CW Contesting, then sure, buy a radio that excels at that at the expense of other features.

IMHO, the current best entry level rigs are the Icom IC-7300 and Kenwood TS-590SG.  The reasons for this are as follows:
-Both have receiver performance beyond their price class
-Both have USB connectors so you can plug them into your computer and use digital modes without other adapters
-Both can do voice keying (with the optional board installed in the kenwood)
-Both have built in Antenna Tuners.
-Both are decent enough in size to use as shack radios, and both offer decent ergonomics
-Both get pretty nice sound quality reports on air
-Both are pretty nice to listen too
-Both have the ‘basics’ like IF DSP (NR & NB), IF Shift
-Both have a built in compressor, and adjustable TX bandwidth & equalization

There are a few significant differences:
The TS-590SG has 2 antenna connectors, and a really handy ‘tune’ button (transmits a low power carrier).
The IC-7300 has an exceptional real time spectrum scope & audio scope.

I’ve used both – I like both very much.  Personally, the real time spectrum scope and the fact the Icom service center is 5 minutes drive from my workplace pushed me towards the IC-7300.

Icom IC-7300 Mini Review

So its a pretty exciting time over here – a new radio has been acquired for my main QTH here in Australia – the Icom IC-7300.

The plan is to setup a remote station in Cambodia so I can work digital modes etc from VK. My previous main radio, the IC-7200, was originally purchased to take to Cambodia on my previous expedition, and when I go back in November I plan to leave it there – hence I needed a new radio for my shack!

So far so good, it is an amazing radio, and I will post a full review soon.  So far, my favorite features are:

  • The Built in ATU.  It will match 3:1 loads at 100 watts, or if the special ’emergency’ mode is activated, it will match 10:1 loads at 50 watts.  This is perfect for digital modes such as JT65, where 50 watts is more than enough, and the 10:1 range is enough to match my 40/20M Fan Dipole on all bands above 40M!  Efficiency suffers, but what a cool feature in a low end radio!
  • The built in band scope.  Whilst a lot has been said about this, being the star feature and all, it is amazing how well it works.  Not only is it incredibly accurate with no noticeable ‘birdies’ (a common problem with RTL-SDR based panadapters), but it also provides a very useful view of bandwidth usage in both transmit and receive. The audio scope is also amazing – you can quickly and easily see what transmit bandwidth the other station is using.
  • The extended transmit bandwidth.  The IC-7300 can transmit from 100Hz to 2.9KHz. Whilst not the widest range, most radios in a similar price bracket only offer 2.3KHz of transmit bandwidth – not 2.8KHz.  Naturally, you can lower the bandwidth if your chasing DX or don’t want to be considered ‘wide’.
  • The ‘Antenna Analyzer’. The IC-7300 comes with a neat little feature that lets you graph your antenna’s SWR performance across a band.  Whilst it isn’t anywhere nearly as fully featured as a standalone Analyzer, its an interesting gimmick.
  • The Receiver.  Whilst not the best receiver available, the IC-7300 is ranked pretty highly up in the Sherwood Engineering transceiver rankings.  With IP+ off, it achieves a Narrow Spaced Dynamic Range (2KHz) of 81dB.  With IP+ on, that figure rises to 94dB.  Rob Sherwood recommends leaving IP+ off, unless needed.  Also worth noting, is that Rob has previously stated that 80dB of dynamic range is more than enough for SSB work in most cases.  In a nutshell, the IC-7300 is good enough for all but the most extreme contest enthusiasts.  See more info here: Sherwood Engineering Transceiver Rankings.

There are many more great features, and I will cover them soon in an expanded / proper review.  Let me know if there are any questions you’d like answered.

73,

Jarrad