MORSE OR REMORSE?
Please note that this is a review of Eric Anderson's PreppComm MMX and it is written by a lowly UK M7 Licence Holder. There's no oscilliscopes involved and no fancy technical talk. It's just an honest account of what happened when I decided to purchase a QRP CW Decoder/Encoder from a small company in Idaho, USA. This is a "Warts And All" review which may not go down well with PreppComm, but it is what it is and facts are facts. I can assure you though, where credit is due, credit is given. There's no malicious intent here.
The review is written in a kind of Diary Format, where I enter new information as the purchase-order progresses and the story unfolds. Hopefully, as the "diary entries" continue, things will improve and continue to do so, but let me make it clear - my purchase did not get off to a great start.
I bought a Morse Tutor and Key and I tried my heart out for a week or so, but soon realised that it was going to take me many months to reach the point where I could call myself proficient - and that means many months of not doing something else with my leisure time.
Well the answer is to use a CW Decoder and Encoder. But traditionally, they’ve all been pretty rubbish at decoding. Many modern transceivers include a morse decoder and some even allow the transmission of short pre-written CW messages stored in memory and accessed by a bank of 4 or maybe even 8 buttons. That's fine for very basic messages like "CQ TEST M7MCQ" for use on the Reverse Beacon Network, but it's not really much use in a QSO with a human being.
A few companies manufactured Morse Code Readers/Keyers such as MFJ with their 464 model, but reviews of this and other similar devices are not very complimentary at all, so I figured all was lost 😢
And then the April 2022 RSGB RADCOM magazine dropped through my door, with the answer to all my prayers - or so it seems. On the front cover was a PreppComm DMX-40 and inside was a detailed review of it. I didn't realise it at the time, but this this product-review was not an original piece written by RADCOM staff in the UK, but was just a copy of an 8-month old online review from an American blogger "The Tech Examiner" 😦 Does it matter that it wasn't written by a UK reviewer? Well you can decide later when you have read all this review.
The DMX-40 Morse Decoder & Encoder Transceiver (designed and built in Idaho, USA by Eric Anderson) is a portable single band (40M) QRP device which allows users to decode morse signals and it also allows you to transmit morse code by simply typing your message on the supplied keyboard with up to 3W output.
Now, similar claims have been made in the past and some manufacturers have got closer than others in achieving this holy grail, but according to the reviewer in RadCom, the PreppComm actually works - every time!!
That is great news and it will be of considerable interest to many people out there who want to join in the fun of CW and benefit from its long reach. The DMX-40 has a CW receiver which matches some of those on much more expensive radios. Thanks to its high-noise immunity decoder, it has superb sensitivity and selectivity and decodes text even when the band is very noisy and busy with people transmitting very close to one another.
One of the most appealing features of this transceiver is that it's compact and portable and will be a fantastic aid in SOTA & POTA operations. Unfortunately, you have to use the supplied keyboard - you can't just use any old USB keyboard, but thankfully, the supplied unit is light and will fit into your go-bag with ease. I managed to find an alternative on Amazon called the SR Mini Keyboard as a backup.
What I liked about Eric Anderson's approach to this project is his focus on making it fun and easy! The unit not only works out the speed of the incoming CW, but also detects your typing (sending) speed. If you're typing speed fluctuates wildly, then it will use the receive-speed to send your message (it has a keyboard buffer).
There's also options to program macros to save you typing out repetitive information such as Name, QTH, Rig, Antenna, etc. I've never worked CW in Contest Mode, but I'm guessing that these macros will be extremely handy for that.
The 3.5" colour-screen is a Touch Screen, making operation very simple and intuitive. There are 28 menu screens in total, including a built-in Help Section - that's always good to have when you're out in the field and you've forgotten how to use a particular feature.
In addition to being a self-contained CW Transceiver, you can also connect the device to your existing radio and (in theory) use it to decode/transmit CW on any of the bands that your radio has - including VHF/UHF. That would be amazing!
Finally, this device could become your active (and passive) morse tutor. You can attach a key and practice as much as you like and instantly see the results on screen. Currently, you can only use a straight key, but hopefully, there'll be a firmware update in the future which allows paddles.
PreppComm is a tiny company, but the benefit of that is that you feel like you can relate to them and it's both interesting and amusing to read through their Development Blog and learn about the trials and tribulations of getting an idea to a working product. One part of the Blog relates to installing SMD components on PCBs and boy, I think everyone in ham radio can symapthise, LOL.
I ordered my unit direct from America on 17 March 2022 and rather than ordering the single-band DMX, I opted for an upgrade in the form of the Tri-Band MMX which covers 80/40/20.
Shipping to the UK was pretty darned expensive at $50 but there are no UK distributors yet, so there's little choice but to pay that. I'm very excited and can't wait for the unit to arrive.
Much more information is available in this >>>PDF FILE<<< from PreppCom.
More when it arrives 😉
UPDATE 19 MAY 2022
After waiting 😢TWO MONTHS 😢 for the MMX to arrive (PreppComm were having trouble obtaining parts), UPS eventually texted to say they could deliver it once I’d paid a pretty shocking Import Duty Fee of £95 🙄 I was expecting to have to pay something but not that much. Anyway, I clicked on their link and paid the fee and got another text from them confirming the fee had been paid and the item would be delivered the next day - it was!
So, let's get back to the MMX! I connected a 5W Dummy Load and plugged it into a 13.2V LifePO battery and went through the initial setup stage where you input your CallSign, name, etc. Once finished, I switched it off and back on again. NOTHING!
Well actually, the MMX showed a message saying “CPU’s NOT INITIALIZED”. Nothing else worked and the keyboard didn’t work at all 😭😡😭
I contacted Eric Anderson and he confirmed the unit was faulty and asked me to return the faulty MMX for a repair/replacement. Then he realised that I wasn’t in America and offered to send me a replacement PCB if I could install it. I said yes.
So I'm now waiting for the new PCB to arrive. Disappointing, but these things happen I guess.
UPDATE : JUNE 1st 2022
|I'm guessing that the RTS COMMANDER is an earlier product which was being developed for Radio Texting and was abandoned when they realised it could be put to better use as a morse code decoder/encoder.|
I connected it to a 13.2V LifePO battery and had a play with the rig. Everything was working well. I tested the transmission side of things with the Dummy Load still fitted and a QRP RF/WATT Meter to monitor output power.
(3 months after initial order)
Connecting the MMX to another radio such as the Icom-705, is relatively simple. You don’t need to buy any fancy interface kits - it just requires a couple of regular 3.5mm stereo to stereo leads and a splitter. That’s it!!
* Advanced Direct Conversion SDR Receiver: with custom bandpass filter, balanced mixer, and low-noise preamp giving sensitivity ≈ 0.3 µV, -118 dBm or better.
* GUI: 3.5″ color touchscreen LCD, Main Screen plus 27 function screens.
* Included keyboard for control, text input, shortcuts
* Weight: 11 oz with protective lid.
* Size: 3.8″ x 5.2″ x (1.3″ w/o lid, 2.25″ w/lid).
* Power Consumption, receive: 1.4/0.96 watt, LCD backlight ON/OFF
* 80 meter band: 3.5 MHz - 4.0 MHz. SWL receiver range: 2.45 - 5.6 MHz
* 40 meter band: 7.0 MHz - 7.3 MHz. SWL receiver range: 4.9 MHz - 10.22 MHz
* 20 meter band: 14 MHz - 14.35 MHz. SWL receiver range: 9.8 MHz - 20.09 MHz
* 80M Power Output @ 13.8V: approx - 2 W, 350 ma total power drain (key down)
* 40M Power Output @ 13.8V: approx - 3 W, 500 ma total power drain (key down)
* 20M Power Output @ 13.8V: approx - 1.5W, 350 ma total power drain (key down)