Homestyle QRP Field Day

What do you do when you hold a Field Day organization meeting in May and you’re the only one who bothers to show up?IMG_0004

The answer is you hold a one-person Field Day effort from your front porch.

Why the front porch you might ask?

Note in the photo the wet pavement on the right side. Here in southern Ontario we got unrelenting rain, high winds and unseasonably cold weather.

About the only thing that was missing was a plague of frogs. Oh yeah the propagation forecasts predicted rotten conditions with a possibility of solar flares. Lovely.273313314

So with our local club Field Day in disarray, I decided at the last minute (after checking the bands on the Drake 2B and finding some signals) to launch a one-person QRP effort using the Par Mountain Topper tri-band QRP rig and the PAR end-fed QRP 40/20/10 wire antenna.

(Editor’s Note: Got a nice email this morning from the good folks at PAR who remind me they call their antennas PAR Endfedz and said they are coming out with a new 20/30/40 antenna to be called the PAR Endfedz EF-MTR to match their LNR Mountain Topper. Super news!)

Using a throw bag it took 10 seconds to get the Par end-feed antenna up about 30 feet in a front yard pine tree. The end with the feed point was only about eight feet up and I connected a 25-foot section of coax. The SWR on both bands was under 1:1.5 at four watts out of the Mountain Topper.IMG_0012

The Mountain Topper is a fully built QRP rig that runs 2 to 5 watts (or so) depending on the battery. It can operate quite nicely from 6- to 12-volt batteries and can even run for a few hours using a 9-volt battery or small AA battery pack. I used a 12-volt gel-cell which was a bit of overkill.

My YouKits DP-1 QRP watt and SWR meter has a big built-in rechargeable battery which I could have used to power the rig for 24 hours and would have made the simple setup even simpler.

The rig has a built-in memory keyer (although I used the Idiom Press memory keyer as it was easier to just plug into the rig which automatically recognized the mono input and disabled its own keyer) and covers the CW portion of 40, 30 and 20.

I wouldn’t have thought the rig would have enough filtering to run in a contest but the Mountain Topper did just fine in sorting out strong signals. Using its up and down keys to QSY a few kilocycles at a time, running QRP on Field Day was like shooting fish in barrel.

On 40 meters I worked easily out 400 to 500 miles and when 20 was open I was working into Florida and Texas. The rig is stable and simple to use. I can highly recommend it. BTW it can fit in a shirt pocket!IMG_0015

All told I logged 74 Qs and the only reason I quit was I couldn’t get warm or dry enough to continue.

There weren’t too many QSOs where I was asked for a repeat but almost every time I sent “GTA” as my ARRL section there was a long pause and occasionally query. Whoever thought that GTA would make a great section name (the other sections in Ontario are ONN – where there are like two guys, ONS and ONE) should get a visit from the Wouff-Hong. GTA is just awful as a section name. How about ONC? wouff-hong

I’ve advocated a QRP Field Day for a long time but I kept running into opposition so this year’s solo effort shows it can be done.

I’d love to use a KX3 or K3s on CW and maybe the same rig on SSB at 5 watts The Flex 1500 would work as well. Par has a new SSB/CW rig (LD-5) that I’d like to try.

For antennas I’d say a decent all-band dipole or the Par end-feds (They just work!) and an 80-meter dipole for CW plus a two- or three-element beam for the SSB station. The simpler the better when it comes to contesting and I’d bet we’d do very very well but we’d need some folks to show up for the organization meeting in May :)

Maybe next year…

Hams at Farmer’s Market

Ham Radio was at the Farmer’s Market and cultural festivities at Centennial Square at the main library on Navy Street in Oakville.DSCF6354

I ran a NorCal 20 with the AlexLoop and we could easily hear Europe in the morning and I even worked one guy in Rome, GA later in the day.

We had quite few folks stop to ask about Amateur Radio and I had a few handouts about the club which I gave out.

I ran an external speaker from the NorCal so the sound of CW wafted over the market.

I was thinking of showing digital modes but a laptop in bright sunlight isn’t something that’s easy to see so kept the new laptop (Lenovo ThinkPad bought at Dave’s shop on Kerr Street north of Speers on Friday. BTW it runs the Flexradios easily at home!) in the bag.

I would be nice if we had some more guys there to work the equipment and answer questions as we’ve got two more dates when we can setup our display. Also Aug. 1 and 2 we’ve been invited to demonstrate Amateur Radio at the Maker Fair at Toronto’s Reference Library on Yonge Stree.

OPPO PM-3 Headphones

Looking for an exceptional set of audiophile headphones? Consider the OPPO PM-3s which are planar magnetic headphones at $399 which in the audiophile world is considered a bargain basement price. Oppo-pm3

Here’s the review I posted on Head-Fi.org earlier today.

I might give up doing reviews. I keep running into things that change for no good reason. It makes it hard to render a consistent and informed opinion. I end up questioning my own abilities to hear anything let alone report it accurately.

And so we come to the OPPO PM-3 which were sent to me as part of the PM-3 tour now underway. (In the audio world, the equipment goes on tour and the reviewers are responsible for mailing the unit to the next person on the tour list.)

I had just returned from four days at the Dayton Hamvention (with 22,000 of my closest Ham Radio friends) to find the OPPO PM-3s waiting for me. I quickly plugged my Cozoy Astrapi DAC into my IPhone and thought the PM-3s sounded pretty good and maybe a bit darker than what I was used to from my other headphones (Audeze LCD-X, on-ear Sennheiser Momentums, Fostex T-50RPs and a bunch more I didn’t use for this review) but overall pretty nice.HPA8_003

So the next morning I fired up the Fostex HP-A8C DAC and started streaming various artists over Tidal and in comparison… I wasn’t thrilled. In fact, compared to the more modest Momentums I was very unhappy.

The sound from the PM-3s didn’t have the bass punch of the LCD-X or the brightness of the Momentums. The Audeze’s can hit you like a sledgehammer while the PM-3s felt more like getting hit with a plastic bat. The Momentums livelier and more interesting presentation was obvious. What the heck was going on?ak120II

I really thought the PM-3s weren’t going to make it. So, in desperation I plugged them into my Astell and Kern AK-100 II DAP and they sounded wonderful.

So what happened?

I don’t know. Could it have been a better impedance match between the PM-3s and the AK-100? Is it possible I didn’t have a cable plugged in fully (and this after swapping out headphones over and over again I doubt it but I’m searching for answers here)?

I don’t know but everything now seemed to have changed. The PM-3s sounded much, much better. The bass was near perfect and the treble was more focused and the overall clarity was terrific just as I’d expect from planar magnetics. The soundstage isn’t as wide as some headphones but the sound is more compact and intimate. (Play Norah Jones and you’ll immediately understand what I’m trying to say here.) These aren’t toe-tapping headphones but something more serious and worthy of your attention.

Let me explain it this way:Audeze-LCD-X-Leather-SeatedL-01-600x600

If we use the Fostex T-50RPs (at $99 and bought so I could have a low-price reference headphone), the Momentums (at $140 which I had to buy on sale at this price) and the Audeze’s (at $1800 again bought so I could have a top-notch reference headphone. Shown in photo.) as comparison headphones we could place the PM-3s very near the relatively flat sound (with a rather delightful presence midrange) of the T-50RPs the first time and then, after the change, the sound was much closer to the excellent – near perfect – Audeze’s. There was that much of a difference.
I tried adding amplifiers to the AK-100s (Cypher Picollo and Fiio E-11) and they made no appreciable difference to the now excellent sound. With everything going so well, I went back to the Fostex and PM-3s and everything sounded very good. I plugged in the PM-3s directly into my IPhone and again I was very impressed. I have no idea how to explain this anomaly.

So let’s move on.

With our new more enjoyable sound let’s look at the other attributes of the PM-3. They are comfortable as heck and when it comes to planar magnetics which are usually really heavy, these guys are lightweights yet really well built. The ear pads are okay but might get hot outside in the summer heat. But they look pretty good. The PM-3s come with a variety of cords (iPhone, Android and a really long 3m cable) and a carrying case and bag. All in all a nice package.

Sound isolation is very good and important to me as my wife works right behind me in our home office and the PM-3s block out her phone conversations. The closed headphones also don’t leak as much as the Audeze’s which are way too loud for our tiny office space when it comes to keeping family peace.

I am going back to being mystified as to why I had such a poor experience earlier today so I put the PM-3s into my cheap and cheerful Fiio E-10K DAC which is USB out of my MacBook Pro. Again going back to Tidal and I’m listening to Lucinda Williams whose voice I know as well as anyone else’s and Lucinda sounds very very good. It’s not the bright happy sound of the Momentums.

It’s darker, fuller bass that rumbles sometimes like thunder far far away (likely a sub bass sound) and again the magnetic planar sound really enhances vocals when it comes to presence but there is a slight lack of brightness when compared to the Momentums (but if you weren’t comparing you’d never know). I think it safe to say the sound is more rounded, mature and serious compared to the Momentums and some of the other less expensive headphones. Nothing compares to the Audeze’s but I can clearly hear a family resemble coming from the PM-3s. Not bad at a quarter the cost.

So now we’ve gone from a set of headphones I was thinking I was going to pan – badly – to reviewing a set of headphones I am considering buying for myself as I’ve got a big bunch of headphones at under $200 and the Audeze’s at $1800 and nothing in between. I was considering Mad Dogs (especially now they’re at close out prices) but the OPPO PM-3s are more what I’d expect to pay around $600 to $800 for sound this good.

So let’s put this all into perspective: If you’ve wanted the planar magnetic sound (and I do) and the Fostex T-50RPs just don’t cut it as your only headphones, then I can fully recommend you consider the OPPO PM-3s. Aside from a few quick swaps I’ve been wearing and listening to the PM-3s for over 8 hours now and my ears (and neck) are not complaining.

Comfortable, even stylish, great build, with great sound without the need of extra amplification right out of your IPhone I think a lot of people are going to be very happy with their PM-3s.

DAYTON 2015 REPORT

Aside from the fact I won an AlexLoop (woo hoo) at the QRP dinner, the rest of our time at Dayton would have resulted in the same report.

Dayton 2015 was a blast! (That’s a potato canon antenna launcher in photo.)DSCF1602-31-1

Lots of Canadians in the crowd and lots of goodies in the flea market.

The Four Days in May QRP workshop day on Thursday was excellent with top-notch speakers and lots of technical information. The room was sold out and had reached the maximum number the fire depart would allow. QRP is cooking!

As many of you know I enjoy contesting and I’ve attended Contesting U on several occasions and highly recommend you attend if you’re interested in contesting.DSCF1576-5-1

But, contesting is about how to do contests and how to build a contest station. The QRP workshops are a lot more about how to do something with virtually nothing and that’s where my interests lie right now. (That’s just half the room in the photo taken at the Holiday Inn.

After the workshops Thursday night at the Holiday Inn in Fairborn is QRP vendor night and the room was packed with several hundred QRPers and vendors.273313314

I bought one of LNR’s MountainTopper QRP rigs (40/30/20 with 2 to 5 watts out depending on power It will run off a 9-volt battery and has a built-in three-memory keyer and vfo. It’s about the size of a cough-drop tin.) and it’s listed as out of stock following a run on available supplies at Dayton.

On Friday it was day one of the three-day massive flea market and this year’s flea market did not disappoint. Lots of the normal junk but tons of bargains everywhere. I picked up an almost new Ham M rotor controller box for $70 which wasn’t something I thought I’d see. Unfortunately it was at the second or third table in the flea market so I had to carry it around in the backpack for the rest of the day.DSCF1652-81-1

Friday night was QRP club night and Saturday was day two of the flea market and, for us, the Contesting Forum which was excellent and held before an overflow crowd.

I also attended the D-Star forum and there’s lots of new developments coming down the road.

FlexRadio showed off it’s new Maestro control unit for the 6000-series SDRs and Elecraft upgraded its K3 to a K3s with new top-of-the-class performance characteristics.DSCF1587-16-1

And oh did I mention I won an AlexLoop. (That’s Alex PY1AHD on left.) It hears Europe fine on 20 so a review will follow.

I bought a bunch of antenna books, baluns, wire, connectors and other junk.

All in all, a great Dayton this year.

$5.99 QRP Kit

I can’t believe it. My $5.99 QRP kit from China has arrived!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I ordered the kit less than a month ago never expecting this kit to actually arrive as the cost was $5.99 (or so) and that included shipping from China.

Well it’s here :)

And here’s a video of a completed kit in operation on 7023 kHz. This guy has got his rig receiving and while the transmitter is switching he’s not seeing any output on his power meter which may or may not be an issue with the rig.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

BTW the sound of the local AM broadcast station isn’t unusual as really simple circuits like this one hear everything that’s loud. A standard 40-meter dipole is the preferred antenna for simple QRP rigs as the antenna is tuned for one band and therefore tends to reject out-of-band signals.

BTW the price online seems to change all the time. It maybe that the Chinese builder isn’t sure how to price the kit in dollars and is guessing at what it’s worth.$_12

I’m seeing anything from $8.25 Cdn with free shipping to $5.77 again with free shipping.

Now at this price I would want to put the output on a spectrum analyzer but then again we’re talking about a 1/2 watt of power so you’re not likely going to do too much damage to the band.

Listen for me on 7023 in a couple of days :)

When All Else Fails

The devastating earthquake in Nepal is being met by an international relief effort led by Indian, China, Pakistan and the United States. Secondary powers like Canada are doing what they can but it’s always going to be too little too late for too many.APTOPIX Nepal Earthquake

This is the nature of wide-scale disaster relief and it’s not new. We saw all this before in Haiti in 2010 when over 200,000 people perished.

The first thing to fail is the communication’s infrastructure.

Power is cutoff within seconds and sometimes remains off for days and weeks even in urban centres. Cell towers fall and existing surviving equipment is immediately overloaded and fails. )Texting may still work and is the easiest communications to re-establish.)

Old buildings built of brick, mud or other natural materials collapse killing the occupants without mercy.150425204114-21-nepal-quake-0425---restricted-super-169

Governments in these third world countries are less than well organized at the best of times and massive disasters are not the best of times.

Within hours of the initial tragedy aid agencies implement their rapid reaction disaster relief teams. Military teams from many other countries began to assess what they can do. Money gets pledged. People get worked up.

And then the airports in the affected area are crippled by the number of incoming flights and close down until the backlog can be sorted out by controllers who have their own personal problems to deal with after work. This takes days to do.

Meetings between helping agencies, foreign militaries and local governments often are acrimonious at best and poisonous at the worst. I witnessed what happened at the Hagarsville Tire Fire meetings that involved at least three layers of government plus a whole whack of special interest folks.Hagersville-battle-from-the-air

It got sorted but there was some arm wrestling that went on during the weeks it took to put the fire out. There was a danger than poisonous chemicals were leaking out of the fire scene and being washed into the watershed by all the water being poured onto the blaze could cause a widespread evacuation of everyone from Hagersville to Lake Ontario. That’s a lot of people and a lot of civic disruption. The army would have been called in.

Same thing happened in the 2003 Toronto with the SARS outbreak. When early information was suppressed, rumour and panic in the media began to make matters much much worse than they really were (and they weren’t good to begin with).

It wasn’t until the intervention of Dr. Sheela Basrur then Ontario’s Chief Officer of Health whose calm and informative manner reassured an uneasy public and coordinated the official communications that saved the day. She was informally called a hero by many and a grateful province named its new headquarters for the province’s new health agency the Sheela Basrur Centre.

So during big disasters in far away places, foreigners and tourists travelling in these remote areas of the world (and even more remote back country) are on their own for at least 48 hours and even longer.

This is the nature of large scale disasters.TnO1G.So.7

It takes days, even weeks for aid agencies to coordinate the necessary help and cobble together some infrastructure.

That’s the way it is people.

There’s a lot of criticism of the response from Canada and on the ground in Nepal that’s from people who are panicked and uninformed. It is to be expected.

So what has this got to do with Amateur Radio?zillah-radio-al-hershberger-on-ham-radio

These days, not much. In the old days of the 1964 Alaskan earthquake Ham Radio was for some the only form of communications within Alaska and out to the rest of the world.

Oh we still have a role to play. Once organizations such as the Red Cross get established they need communications and Amateur Radio is perfect for communicating across town, across the country or out to the rest of the world. The 1985 Barrie Tornado is a good example where Red Cross shelters kept in touch via Amateur Radio.ontario_twister_sparks_memories_of_1985tornado

Like the military and unlike every other communications group, Amateur Radio can function in the complete absence of infrastructure. We don’t need electricity as our rigs can run on batteries or generators. We don’t need towers or central switching like cell systems.

All we need are volunteers with a smattering of training willing to sit in a relief shelter and pass information as directed by officials on the ground. That’s it.

Now there is a move towards creating MESH networks that can instantly create communications infrastructures based on emergency power and portable antennas to create what is essentially a private Internet and I highly support this effort.

It’s too bad nobody in Amateur Radio in Canada is doing anything about this on a national basis…but I’ve spoken on this lack of foresight and intelligence before.

The Audio Revolution Tour

Back when I was a boy we had vinyl and we didn’t know how good we had it.  While I had a Technica or maybe it was a Teac a buddy of mine had a Thorens turntable which he could tilt while playing The Doors and the record wouldn’t skip a beat. Cost a fortune.teaser-td295mk4

Then we went into the dark years of cassettes and 8-Tracks (we thought we were so cool) and then CDs and then digital lossy music on IPhones and IPods and grappy earbuds.

We were so lost but, to quote Blue Rodeo, “we were lost together“.

And then out of the East (I’m talking Japan and Korea and now China) there came a wave of new digital audio players (DAPs) which could play music at CD quality and above. Our ears had never heard such sounds. Better than vinyl records? Ah, well that’s a different topic for a different day, but better than what we had been listening to for over 40 years.

Now I’m not forgetting Sony’s Walkmans which came in all kinds of shapes, sizes and formats but really amazing music didn’t show up in digital form until quite recently.

And what a revolution it has been.astellnkern-ak100II

A few months back I bought a – brace yourself – $900 Astell and Kern AK-100 II DAP.

This is the old IRiver company out of South Korea and they set the audio world on fire with their AK-240 unit at $2K for a DAP!!!! But oh the sound…if you had the ears to hear (and not everybody does).

The music out of AK-100 II into my supersensitive Shure 535 in-ear headphones is the best sound I’ve ever heard next to my Audeze LCD-X headphones out of my Fostex HP-a8c DAC which are not portable units. (I can’t use the 535s with most other units of lesser quality as they can hear the slight hiss of amplifier.)shure-se535-ipod

Okay so where am I going with all this audio stuff?

Well I’m on an audio tour for the Fiio X3 New Generation DAP.

Here’s how an audio tour works: If you’re on the chat forums for audio equipment you get to hear about manufacturers who will send you a unit for evaluation if you agree to return it and give it a fair evaluation. Each person on the tour pays for the shipping to the next person and within a few weeks there are a bunch of evaluations and comments populating the chat groups.x3_2

This is really cheap and highly effective marketing. Wish I had thought of it.

Anyway I’m typing this post with music coming out of my Shures from the Fiio X3 Next Generation pre-production DAP and I am loving what I am hearing. I am going to post the full evaluation here as well as on the audio group chat forums but I can tell you right now it’s going to be positive.

Why am I so sure it’s going to be positive. For one thing the selling price is likely going to be $199!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay you say but I can listen to my music out of my IPhone using ITunes. Yup you can Sparky and it will sound pretty good…but not this good :) and the X3 stores its music on mico SD cards so you can carry a virtual unlimited library of music in lossless formats that the smartphones can’t handle.

Oh do I regret the $900 AK-100 II purchase? Nope. Not for a second. It does a lot more a lot better than the X3 (including stream music from Tidal…soon) but let me offer this illustration:

I drive a 12-year-old Toyota Celica with 137,000 kms on it. I love that car. It’s always great fun to drive. Would I like a Ferrari? Of course I’d like a Ferrari but I don’t have $200K and I couldn’t afford the insurance. Best of all, if I don’t drive one I won’t ever know the difference!Toyota_Celica_front_20071228

Look for the Fiio X3 Second Generation (BTW I own a bunch of Fiio headphone amps and DACs and you can’t beat any of them for the money) coming in the next few weeks.

I buy most of my stuff from Charles at HeadFoneShop on Yonge Street in Toronto. Highly recommended. He’s sold me stuff I didn’t know I needed until I started to read the audio forums and realized what great decisions he’d made on my behalf.

Insight Into Contesting

The Scandinavian Activity Contest is one of my favourites (especially when there’s propagation which hasn’t been the case on the bands for the last few months).

To work the SAC from North America you do need a beam for 20-15-10 and a reasonably good 40 meter antenna (full size dipole at least 33 feet up in the clear with the broadside oriented towards the north-north east).CCO-1-37

The Russian DX Contest is very much the same and these medium-sized contests offer great opportunities for new contesters to get their feet wet in time-limited, fairly friendly competitive environments.

Best of all this year the SAC committee has put out a rather nice PDF summary of contest results along with stories from participants. There’s a story from a guy in Japan who runs the 50-watt Japanese mobile power limit (Bet you didn’t know that there was a power limit on mobile operation. I sure didn’t.). And another story was about a guy who ran QRP completely exceeding his expectations and then there are stories from guys who ran serious contest stations.

This rather wonderful report is an insight into contesting in all its forms. With contesting season wrapping up in the next few weeks it’s time to use the nice weather to fix antennas and add radials to the vertical and checking he grounding connections.

I’ve already started my list for small parts from my annual trip to Dayton (two runs of coax, some inside station connectors, more crimp-on connectors, maybe another QRP rig….)

Oh The Things You’ll Learn

Here’s a link to one of the most wonderful commercials that features Amateur Radio. Never mind the creative touch. See the message and know the wonder :)

Sam From Earth _DSC0002

Speaking of building a radio…here’s a link from the QRPer blogsite that might get the creative juices going. With warmer weather here in Ontario it’s time for a young man’s (or young woman’s) fancy turn to QRP outdoors. (BTW the rig in the photo is a five-watt 20 meter rig capable of working the world and costing around $50 used.

What are you going to do to celebrate World Amateur Radio Day on April 18?