CHOOSING THE RIGHT MORSE KEYI always remember when I started to learn how to paint (in watercolours) - many people told me to buy Student Quality paint and brushes and someone told me to buy Artist Quality. I went for the cheaper option and boy, was that a mistake!! I made very little progress and was regularly frustrated. As soon as I switched to more professional materials, I progressed in leaps and bounds.
And so when it came to investing in a morse key, I was going to apply the same logic, but I really needed two keys - one for permanent home use and one that would live in my RuckShack for outdoor activities and for my stays at the caravan holiday home.
Until I knew for sure that I would be sticking with CW, I decided to buy an inexpensive key first. Nothing cheap and nasty, but nothing overboard either - something which is largely 3D Printed. I went for a CWMORSE Dual Paddle and overall I’m quite happy with it, but if you read my review, you’ll soon realise that it’s not from the top shelf.
Later, when I realised that I was fully committed to the Morse Code journey, I considered the purchase of a higher quality key for home-use and it was on VE99K’s Blog that I found a likely candidate in the form of a Begali Key. I was already aware of this Italian manufacturer but had thought them to be out of my league until I read Mike’s blog-post and realised that their most basic iambic paddle key is pretty competitively priced and yet it still benefits from the Begali craftsmanship and quality materials.
In Europe the SIMPLEX BASIC costs around €130 but you can find them second hand for much less and there’s very little to go wrong with them. Of course even this, the cheapest of Begali keys, will be outside many people’s budget and there’s no doubt that you can ‘make do’ with almost any key, but I’m a big believer in investing in the best tools you can afford at the time.
When the Begali arrived and I opened the box, I was a little underwhelmed initially by the condition of the red paddles - only because one of them had some markings, probably from where they remove it from the mould. It was nothing major, but it just set me back a bit considering the manufacturer's reputation.
Anyway, the rest of the construction seems perfect and it all looks to be built to a very high standard. Inside the box you get a drink coaster(!), a QSL Card, a cleaning cloth and a Feeler-Gauge to set the gap in the contact points.
You also get a 3rd party 3.5mm stereo to stereo jack lead - I didn't use this - I fitted a 3.5mm female-socket instead, to enable me to use any lead I want with the key. You can see from the image above that you are required to solder a lead to the key yourself. To be honest, I'd have preferred Begali to have fitted a static 3.5mm socket to the base, but hey-ho.
With that little job done, I adjusted the points with the supplied feeler-gauge and then plugged the key into my little FX-4CR, set at 15wpm (the speed I'm currently learning at) and started tapping out my familiar CQ TEST CQ TEST M7MCQ string. To be 100% honest, I didn't feel that it was a whole lot better than my cheap CWMORSE key! 😮
Maybe my expectations were set too high because of the reputation of Begali. I adjusted the key some more, closing the points gap ever so slightly and that helped for sure, but it still didn't rock my world.
I do have to bear in mind however that I am an out and out beginner at this, and I recognise that I may be able to detect some benefits later when I've spent a lot more time with CW. Perhaps it's like Hi-Fi, where the laws of diminishing returns kicks in - the more you spend, the smaller the improvements get. I'm guessing that there are no night and day differences from one price range to another - it's all about subtle improvements.
I also note that the Begali's pivot point is different to the CWMORSE's. Could that make a difference to the feel of the keys? Maybe so. I increased the speed of the keyer to 20wpm and tried again. And that's when I detected that the Begali is probably easier to operate higher speeds. As daft as it sounds, I seemed to make less mistakes at higher speeds than at slower speeds with this key.I should like to point out that despite the 1.4kg heft of the cast-iron base and rubber feet, the key moved around in my heavy hands, so I stood it on a non-slip mat from the £shop.
Ah well, it is what it is - "time will tell" as they say. I'll stick with the Begali and see how I feel in a few months time. It seems that keys are a very personal thing and what suits one person perfectly, might not suit another person at all.
Again, I hold my hand up and admit to my lack of experience in this area. For those interested, here's what Begali say about their product...
The Simplex Basic may be our least expensive key, but it is a very capable CW instrument that can hold it’s own against many far more expensive keys on the market. It is a iambic key with a heavy (1.4 kg or more than 3 pounds) cast base and gold plated components, using long springs for the return force. Like our other keys it is manufactured using NC machinery for absolute precision. Micro-threaded screws are used for all adjustments.
The arms are held by 4 ball bearings that are imbedded in the base, and they are made of a light-weight alloy that provides very low moving mass - this allows excellent responsiveness at high speeds even when set for a very light touch. The contacts are 925/000 silver.
The key comes with a protective dust cover. The base of this key is made by melting and casting phosphatized iron. As a result, no two bases will be identical, even though the overall shape and dimensions are ensured by the mold. A rough uneven surface with individual patterns is characteristic for this process.
With its uniquely shaped base and finger pieces this key is not only a precision instrument for the CW operator but also a piece of art that you can proudly display!
Thanks for visiting the blog.
73, Tom, M7MCQ.