Tuesday, 26 May 2020

RETAILER P&P PRICES

IT'S JUST TOO MUCH!

If there's one thing that I don't like paying for, it's Post & Packing. I know it can't be considered as an overhead of the business, but neither should it be considered as a means of making additional profit. 

At my own business, we have one charge of £9.50 for anything up to 5Kg in weight which, I know, is not exactly cheap, but (if you order before 2pm) it's guaranteed NEXT DAY delivery!

So how do our (UK) HAM RADIO retailers fare in this respect? Not too well as far as I'm concerned (they're already in my bad books as you can see from this previous post).

Okay, let's put it to the test. Lets go online and find an item from all the big online-resellers and see what the deal is. We'll order something that they all should reasonably have in stock - a small rubber-duck antenna.

ML&S
P&P £9

MOONRAKER
P&P £8

LAMCO
P&P £7

WATERS & STANTON
P&P £6

RADIOWORLD
P&P £2.49

Well congratulations to RadioWorld for being the cheapest. The worst performer here was ML&S at almost £9 to stick a tiny item in a jiffy bag and pop it in the post.

None of the resellers actually explain the level of delivery service you get for the advertised charge except RadioWorld - whos default P&P is openly declared 2nd-Class Royal Mail - so you can only assume from the information provided (or omitted) that the others are all 2nd-class too unless you pay extra for next-day express delivery.

So basically, when you order online, you have no idea when your item is likely to arrive. You don't know when it's going to be picked and you don't know when it's going to be posted. Not even when you pay up to £17(!!!) for Next Day delivery can you guarantee your order will arrive the day after.

Many online resellers don't even bother to inform that the item has been dispatched and provide no pre-delivery tracking details. And if you think I'm talking about service levels during the Covid-19 period, I'm not.

Some resellers may say "Hold on - our product is cheaper than our competitors" and that may sometimes be true, but product prices are a separate issue. And rather annoyingly, some of these websites don't even display the shipping costs until you reach the shopping-cart!

I should point out that I ordered a V2000 antenna last Thursday from ML&S and their standard fee for an antenna is £12  but at least it arrived the next day and I was grateful for that and thanked them

So there you have it - it's a funny old world and it's clear (to me at least) that our suppliers haven't got it right. I've spent a small fortune with some of these online resellers and I don't think they appreciate how important it is to customers that they are provided with clear information regarding P&P.

I am going to start voting with my virtual feet from now on. Unless a website provides me with clear, simple, pre-cart guidance on how much the P&P is and the expected delivery date, I won't use them. The end.


Monday, 25 May 2020

FT-991A PROG/TIPS

I was a bit of a JackAss today! 

I spent ages 'plumbing in' my FT-991A and changing all the screen colours and settings and inputting a load of frequencies into memory by hand - and then decided to check the firmware! Needless to say it was out of date and so I spent another load of time downloading the update files and reading the guide. Once the firmware updates were done (there's FOUR of them), I had to do a full reset and lost all my previous work. Don't make the same mistake 😆

Anyway, I'm writing this so that any newcomers might learn from the mistakes that I made - hopefully it will make things go nice and easy for you.

First job is to download the necessary software from Yaesu's website. At the time of writing, they can be found HERE. Make sure you download the latest files including the VIRTUAL COM PORT!



Oh, and DO NOT connect a USB lead until the Virtual Com Port has been successfully installed!!!

Okay, now that you have your software saved, you can install the Virtual Com Port. Once that's done, do yourself a favour and download FTRESTORE by VK2BYI. It's a cracking little program which lets you save your radio's memory and menu settings to a file on your PC, so after you've done a factory-reset (for whatever reason), you can quickly get your radio back to how you liked it. If your radio is absolutely brand new and there's nothing to backup, skip to the next part.

To find out the current version of your firmware, hold down the [A=B] & [A/B] buttons while pressing the POWER button. It might be worth grabbing hold of your phone camera to take a snapshot of the screen because it quickly disappears...



If your 'MAIN' version number is lower than the one on Yaesu's website, then go ahead and perform an update. Bear in mind that there are actually four update processes involved and each one is totally independent to the other.  If you don't update all four, your radio will likely stop functioning. You should update in the order shown in the screen above, starting with the Main.

The updating process will take about 20 minutes. Carefully read through Yaesu's Firmware Upgrade Manual before starting the process and have it to hand throughout.

Once you've completed all four updates, you'll be told to switch off the radio and then back on. Check your version number to confirm everything has changed to the new version.


PROGRAMMING
As is often the case with Yaesu, the FT-991A doesn't come with any programming software, so you are expected to hand-ball everything into the radio via the front panel. This wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the ridiculous single repeater shift for each band!

In the menus you can alter the setting for repeater-shifts and every time you choose + or - when programming a memory, it will apply the shift which you inputted (say -600 for 2M and +7600 for 70cm).

That's fine most of the time, but what if some of the 70cm repeaters need a 1.6MHz shift and others need a 7.6MHz shift?? You're stuffed!!

I tried to find a way around this and even looked at VK2BYI's software to see if I could edit the file but sadly it's not possible. Apparently, Yaesu don't document how to set a repeater offset for a specific memory channel - only the direction.

I was originally going to try running it SPLIT but it got kinda messy so I looked for other options.

Sorry to whinge, but it really does cheese me off when a manufacturer sells you (an often very expensive) radio with thousands of memories but no way of easily inputting them via computer software. It's just plain ridiculous!

RT SYSTEMS software will allow you to program independent offsets so they have either got a friend at Yaesu or they've figured it out themselves. I'm not a fan of paying for 3rd party programming software and I always espouse the use of a manufacturers (free) software, but in this case, there just doesn't seem to be any!

So for £21 ($25) I decided to bite the bullet and make the purchase. If you do the same, DO NOT buy the ridiculously overpriced "RT42" programming cable which is just a bog-standard USB-A to USB-B lead (as commonly used on printers). 😡

Anyway, I have to admit, the RT Systems software is both comprehensive and easy to use. Just know that it is not something that will work on all your radios - you have to buy a copy for each individual radio. Having said that, I'd wager money on this software working with an FT-DX1200 or FT-DX3000.




PROGRAM A MEMORY

If you only have a handful of frequencies that you wish to store in your radio's memories, then you can do it by hand and here's how...


  1. Tune your desired frequency and mode.
     
  2. Briefly press the [A>M] button.
     
  3. Use the Multi-Dial to scroll to a memory slot.
     
  4. Press & Hold the [A>M] button.
     
  5. Just for the sake of this exercise, repeat this process and add another memory.
The two frequencies and modes you chose are now stored in the memory slots you chose. So how do you get to the memory channels to use them??

You need to take your radio out of VFO mode and put it into MEMORY mode by pressing the [V/M] button so that the screen says MEM##  instead of VFO-A or MT

You can now move between your stored memories using the Multi-Dial BUT before you spin that little dial, you need to make sure the dial isn't still set to change power or meter or whatever you last had it set to. 

To change the Multi-Dial to Memory-Channel-Change, hit the [F M-LIST] button and find the [MCH] button - then select it. Your Multi-Dial will now change Memory Channels.

Please note, that if you are in Memory Mode and accidentally catch the main VFO dial, the MEM## will disappear and be replaced by MT which means Memory Tune. To get back to the original memory, just hit the [V/M] button again.


If this is all too complicated in writing (my fault), then you'll be as well watching this video from Martin Lynch...


-----------------------

Now then, here's a good tip!

The four buttons at the bottom of your screen, can be altered for buttons which you prefer over the default ones. But not only can you change those four buttons, but you can change them according to which band you're on!



For me, the default buttons are pants 😂 but it's easy to change them with the [SWAP#] buttons in the F menu.


Here's how I altered mine to suit the mode I'm in...






Well, I hope that's been of some use to someone 😊

See also > THIS POST

73, Tom, M7MCQ.


Thursday, 21 May 2020

NEW VHF/UHF DIGITAL STATION

YAESU FT-991A


One of the local radio clubs is about to set up a new Fusion Repeater when the lockdown is over, and being just 7 miles away from my QTH I was thinking that this may be my route into C4FM operation using RF instead of my usual access point - an OpenSpot and internet. There's no guarantee of course that I'll be able to reach the repeater, but the fact that I can access other UHF repeaters such as Blackpool, some 26 miles away, gives me hope.

Currently I have an Alinco DR735 2M/70cm radio in the shack and as much as I love this wonderful radio, it does bug me that I can't work sideband. So I figured that now's the time to kill two birds with one stone - get a new radio which does both sideband and Fusion. So I ordered a used Yaesu FT-991A with LAMCO after checking that the parcel would definitely go out that day and arrive the next morning, Thursday, before 12noon. 

Annoyingly(!) the next day I got a call to say that the radio would  not arrive until Friday. I pointed out that I had specifically checked the delivery date before ordering and was told that I must have spoken to a member of staff who wasn't aware of the delivery schedule. And also, the V2000 antenna I'd ordered which was showing as "in stock" was actually out of stock

I don't mind one bit waiting for something that is scheduled for delivery in 3 days time, 3 weeks time or even 3 months time  IF  I am told that date. But when you've been told NEXT DAY delivery and have PAID for next day delivery (£20 in this case), then I do expect next day delivery. Why can online resellers not get this bit right???

Anyway, it's a shame that I have to pay for the HF portion of the 991A because I won't be using it in the shack (the 7610 is my HF rig), but that's by the by. I'll be using the radio's N connector for 2M/70cm and the SO239 for 6M.



When the Diamond V2000 arrives (found one in stock at ML&S) it will give me all three bands on one antenna which (assuming it works well) is a godsend. In the past I've had to either use my EFHW or erect a separate 6M temporary antenna in the garden.

DIAMOND MX-62 DUPLEXER


The FT-991A reminds me very much of the old FT-897D. I love those radios - they just had a great look about them - a military ruggedness almost. And of course they were a 'shack-in-a-box' with all bands and all modes and 100W HF, 50W VHF, 20W UHF.

The 991A is the modern day equivalent, with 100W HF and 50W on both VHF and UHF. It also adds the increasingly popular C4FM Digital mode. Of course other modes include SSB, CW, AM, FM and RTTY.

Instead of the tiny monochrome screen of the 897, the 991 comes with a beautiful TFT colour touch-screen. It's around 3.5" diagonally which is big enough for all but the most ham-fisted operators (pardon the pun).  The main frequency is displayed clearly and boldly at the top of the screen, with a smaller indication of VFO-B frequency below.



Below that is the S-Meter which doubles up as a secondary meter which can be switched between Power, SWR, ALC, etc by the touch of a button. Speaking of buttons, the display always shows four buttons at the bottom and these can be altered to suit your individual requirements.

In the middle sits a real-time Spectrum Scope and Waterfall which looks pretty cool. It looks fairly 'lo-res' compared to the superb IC-7610, but hey, there's a big difference in price LOL.

The radio has a 32bit DSP system which reportedly works very well - hopefully making those weaker SOTA signals more intelligible (and therefore workable).

There's an inbuilt ATU which will be handy for tuning the 6M part of the V2000 (it's annoyingly tuned around the 52-54MHz mark instead of 50-52MHz). The tuner has 100 memories.




Band selection and Mode selection is made by pressing the relevant button to the right of the screen and then choosing your option by pressing one of the virtual buttons onscreen. Very simple and effective.

Band-stacking is also provided by adding your three favourite parts of the band and then cycling through them by repeated presses on the relevant frequency. I like this feature and always make sure that the first frequency in stacks is the QRP frequency of each band.



What I don't particularly like is the TX INDICATOR which is over to the right of the main screen. It's a red LED which to me, is not particularly bright. When I'm operating a radio, I tend to always have my eyes on the main screen and when you press the PTT nothing really alters there. It's just a personal preference, but I would always like a big change during transmit - like the screen going predominantly red or something like that. Ah well, that's just me.


One more nice feature (as far as I'm concerned) is the inclusion of the AirBand. I'm not an avid listener, but I often have it on in the background if I'm doing something in the shack other than amateur radio. 

So that's it for now. I'm really quite pleased with my choice of radio for this part of the shack and I hope it lives up to my expectations. I'll update in a few weeks.



Specifications
Frequency Ranges: RX 30 kHz - 56 MHz, 118 MHz - 164 MHz, 420 MHz - 470 MHz (specified performance, amateur bands only)
TX 1.8 MHz - 54 MHz, 144 MHz - 148 MHz, 430 MHz - 450 MHz (amateur bands only)
Circuit Type: Triple-Conversion Superheterodyne: SSB/CW/AM
Double-Conversion Superheterodyne: FM/C4FM
Modulation Type: A1A(CW), A3E(AM), J3E(LSB, USB), F7W(C4FM), F3E(FM),
F1D(PACKET), F2D(PACKET)
Power Output: SSB/CW/FM AM Carrier
160- 6 Meters: 100 W 25 W
2 Meters/70 Centimeters: 50 W 12.5 W
Case Size(W x H x D): 9.0" x 3.2" x 9.3" (w/o knob and connector)
Weight: 9.5 lb

DOWNLOAD SOFTWARE & DOCS >>HERE<<


Tuesday, 12 May 2020

FT3 vs D74

KENWOOD OR YAESU? 

That is the question I see posted so often in forums and groups. Do you go for the Yaesu FT3D or the Kenwood TH-D74? Well I actually chose the D74 and then later added the FT3, so I'm in the fortunate position to be able to compare both of them side by side AND compare DSTAR with FUSION.

Let me say right from the start that this is no technical test and there'll be no oscilloscopes involved, 😂 - it's just plain old amateur me and my very amateur opinions. You will have your opinions and I will respect them, so please respect mine 😉


I fully appreciate that not many people can afford (or even want) to spend £600 (at launch) on a handheld transceiver, but I was lucky enough to have the funds available and I was obviously happy to spend it, since I am the owner of what is probably the most expensive Amateur HT every made - the Kenwood TH-D74.


The 74 is an awesome bit of kit and it just oozes quality! Kenwood's cutting-edge piece of portable technology is the first to incorporate APRS and DSTAR.


In the US markets, the D74 is a tribander with 144/220/430MHz coverage, but here in Europe we don't get the 220. It has a wideband, multimode receiver covering 0.1 to 524MHz.


Operating modes include CW, LSB, USB, AM, FM, WFM and DSTAR of course. Being able to listen to HF stations on SIDEBAND is a MASSIVE PLUS to me and I now struggle to take a portable HT out with me that doesn't have this facility.





Just a couple of months ago I was sat in the lounge playing with the D74 when I heard a station calling on 20M. I had previously been sat in the shack with an expensive base station and an EFHW complaining that the band was dead, and here I was now, sat on the couch with a little hand held and a ferrite rod, picking up a station (IZ6BXV) some 1800km away! I returned to the shack and got the caller in my log. Don't get me wrong, the HF receiver is no TS-590 lol, but if you're out and about on the hillsides, you're going to have some listening fun that wouldn't be available to you if you took the FT3.


The D74  turns out to be a superb Airband Scanner too and is extremely sensitive. The memory-scan speed is fast enough not to miss any juicy transmissions and the only downside of using the D74 at air shows/ports is that it's an awfully expensive thing to risk dropping/losing when your mind is on so many other things. I suggest you buy a leather case and shoulder-strap! Obviously, the radio allows you to listen to both Civil & Military airband transmissions, AM & HF. How cool is that?


The APRS facility is fully featured - probably the most comprehensive available and the built-in GPS is super fast at locking on to satellites even indoors. The only bug-bear for me is that the GPS icon flashes when it's locked on and is solid when it has not acquired a lock. A bit annoying and counter-intuitive!


The radio has built-in Bluetooth and it works pretty well with a variety of devices for TX/RX, but it goes one (or two) steps further by allowing you to Read/Write memories with the FREE Kenwood software MCP-D74 and even for controlling the radio via the FREE Kenwood software ARFC-D74



HDSDR

ARFC-D74 free software

MCP-D74 free software

In fact, you can even use the popular HDSDR software with the D74 to get yourself a panadapter and waterfall (albeit a narrower bandwidth than you may be used to). Now that is fantastic if you fancy taking a little radio and laptop/tablet away on holiday for some serious SWLing. 


Both the D74 and the FT3D come with a USB lead but the BIG DIFFERENCE is that the one which comes with the FT3D does not allow you to connect to your PC for running any software other than firmware updating.

In fact, in order to do something as simple as editing your radio memories via a PC, you  have to purchase a £70 lead!!!! That is shocking and Yaesu should hang their heads in shame!


At the end of the day, one of the biggest deciding factors for buying one of these radios is going to be whether you are a DSTAR fan or a C4FM fan. 


I was interested in both modes but having experienced them side by side, I find DSTAR much more user-friendly and easier to obtain a connection and maintain it. Also, I find DSTAR audio much more pleasant to listen to and more intelligible.

That's just my personal opinion and there are thousands upon thousands who would swing the opposite way - making the FT3 the clear winner for them.


Kenwood TH-D74  &  Yaesu FT3D

I have no reachable DSTAR/C4FM Repeaters in my area so I am not biased in favour due to accessibility. I actually use an OpenSpot2 for both radios (although I have a DVAP dongle for the Kenwood too).



On the subject of  audio, let me tell you that there's a world of difference between the D74 and the FT3's speaker performance. The 74 wins hands down!! I've read a few stories where people actually sent their FT3 back to the store after hearing the audio output and I understand why. 

And even with both radios plugged into their OEM speaker-mics, the Kenwood wins again - easily! The Kenwood speaker-mic also has a handy rotary volume control where the Yaesu doesn't. Why use a speaker-mic in the first place if the D74's internal speaker is so good? - because it's good to get some separation between the radio and head/body and it feels so much more natural to operate with a fist mic.




The FT3 is wide and stumpy, and although I don't particularly like the D74's shape and size, it feels better in the hand. The negative thing about Kenwood's handheld is that you're always worried about dropping it because of its value.

The battery life on the Yaesu seems to be significantly better than the Kenwood, so I ended up buying a spare battery for the 74 - a negative for the Kenwood.

This is beginning to sound like I'm an FT3D Basher. I'm not. I paid strong money for this radio and I'm not here to slag it. It's a beautiful radio with a gorgeous, colour touch-screen (although the fact that it's recessed makes some menu options awkward to select) and superb VHF/UHF performance. It's Yaesu's flagship HT and is the perfect portable for C4FM users. It's also about two thirds of the price of the D74 which is very significant!


But money aside, the 74 is the clear winner as far as I'm concerned. It just does everything so well and so easily. It has so many features and facilities which suit me and of course, it has that HF SSB/CW receiver.


The 74 feels great in your hand, looks good, has a high resolution screen, richly featured APRS, fast GPS, superb audio (including adjustable TX/RX filters) and much much more. 


I think I may sell my FT3D because I just don't use it enough. And Yaesu's System ConFusion just doesn't float my boat for some reason - we all have our own preferences and biases and I guess mine is DSTAR. I also LOVE how Kenwood provide everything you need from the get-go including fully functioning cables, drivers and software (memory-management and control).


Having said that, one of the Radio Clubs I joined has just been granted permission to build a 70cm Fusion Repeater, so I'll wait to see if I'm in the catchment area before selling. If I can join my pals and others easily and without any problems, then hey, it'll be a keeper!

Kenwood D74 Quick Review

Yaesu FT3D Quick Review



73, Tom, M7MCQ.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

GB0VED - SPECIAL EVENT

VICTORY IN EUROPE

West Manchester Radio Club obtained the special callsign of GB0VED to use over the weekend of 8-10th May 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of VE DAY in 1945.

Many of the Club Members devoted time to working the callsign from their home QTH and (with the generous supervision of a fully licensed member), I was able to work the 30M band on FT8.

I managed to get 150 unique callsigns in the log and I worked 33 different countries! And I'd like to thank each and every one of them for helping me to achieve this.


One thing which bugged me a bit during the course of the FT8 operation was the number of operators who can't be bothered to fill in their Locator Square or even their Name!

This meant that I had to go looking on their QRZ page to retrieve the information and enter it into the WSJT-X log. Well, I guess I didn't have to but I hate leaving bits of information blank in logs.


Apart from that, I enjoyed myself and was pleased to do my bit to raise the profile of the Club - not to mention commemorate a very important date in history.

73, M7MCQ.



Saturday, 2 May 2020

nanoVNA-F

VECTOR NETWORK ANALYSER



Having recently borrowed a friend's antenna analyser, I was interested in buying one for my shack, but the cost of the MFJ's was approaching £400 which seemed a bit excessive considering the amount of use such a device would have, so I looked for something else.

I knew about the nanoVNA because some friends had bought them and they looked great, but the screen seemed a little small, but then I noticed that there was a new "F" model which had a 4.3" screen and it came with a steel case!


Here's a video of the device just as it arrived through the letterbox..


CLICK TO PLAY VIDEO

I was very impressed with the package initially but then realised that the outer case didn't offer that much protection after all - well it certainly wouldn't withstand much pressure and the screen was very close to the flexible plastic case.

Luckily, I had a foam-filled Pelican Case which came with my used LDG-817, so I thought I'd see if it fit inside. It did!!


 

The screen would normally be placed face-down

Thankfully, I could retain the use of the protective foam which came with the nanoVNA and it left me with space to store additional adapters and cables.

With that little job sorted, I ran the Calibration procedure and saved it. I then connected my EFHV to see how it looked across the bands. Here are the results.....










The nanoVNA-F shows that the EFHW from www.wirelessantennas.co.uk is a great bit of kit. It does superbly on Top-Band, something which I've never been able to use before. At the other end of the scale (6M SSB) it fairs less well at an SWR of 2.35 but still well within the reach of my radio's ATU.

Operating the VNA-F is pretty straightforward even for a luddite like myself. Once you're in SWR Mode, you simply enter a Stop and Start frequency range such as 144MHz to 146MHz and it's done!

Rather than do a sweep across a few bands, I preferred to sweep individual bands. A little more work entering the freq-range each time, but a nice way to see any peaks and troughs in detail.

This is day one and so I'll have more play-time with it later. For one, it needs the FirmWare updating but that needs care taking due to the number of people who are making these VNA's and the minor differences between them - you could end up updating with a bin-file meant for a slightly different version.


So how does this compare with the MFJ?? Well I must admit, I do like the clunkiness of the old 259/269 and I like the simplicity of twiddling knobs and reading a simple LCD display.

But the nanoVNA-F is much cheaper and it still comes with a very nice steel case. You can do allsorts of exrta stuff with a VNA and of course it's upgradable with new firmware. 

And then there's all the stuff you can do with the computer software that's available out there!

So yes, it's a big thumbs up from me so far. Let's just hope I don't turn it into a paperweight when I do the FW update :-) 





73, Tom, M7MCQ




UPDATE : 3 |May|2020

I did the update, it was a piece of cake. Now works up to 1.5GHz and has some other features and changes. I also put some small rubber feet on each side of the vna to prevent the surfaces being scratched when laid down.

FirmWare Update 0.1.4


I also ran calibrations on five frequency ranges which are saved to memory....

Mem-0   1~30MHz
Mem-1   45~75MHz
Mem-2   118~148MHz
Mem-3   420~450MHz
Mem-4   450~1.5GHz

In addition to the usual OPEN, SHORT, LOAD and THRU, I did the ISOLN by connecting two 50 Ohm loads. Not sure if it's completely necessary, but hey-ho.