Mountain Topper MTR-5B

Faced with the choice of having to spend Saturday evening watching Britain’s Got Talent (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one) or push pins into my eyes, I chose the third option and built another radio!

Now this was a little forward as I still haven’t put the finishing touches to my 1Watter but given the circumstances I think I’m allowed a little latitude.

When I was hunting around on the internet for ideas of what was small, portable and a potential project I stumbled across several reviews for the Mountain Topper in its earlier guise the MTR3B

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Rarer than rocking horse droppings on this side of the atlantic these things get great reviews from people who like yomping up mountains for a bit of SOTA action.

Like everything, these radios evolve and the latest offering is the MTR5B and again even rarer!

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When I first saw this I was making noises like the little green aliens out of Toy Story and filed the idea in the back of my brain along with plans for global domination, owning an Aston Martin and having Rihanna’s number on speed dial.

That is until Kanga Products emailed me, offering me the opportunity to own one of these as I’d expressed an interest while perusing their website. It took nano seconds to think that through.

I had to wait a week or two for it to arrive and to be honest there were degrees of reservation as to what was going to be in the box as my original research was on the complete kit which involved a hell of a lot of SMD work.

I like a challenge but there’s a point when you have to admit your limitations and this may have been it. The box yielded this

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That’s a bit more like it! So half an hour later we have this

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It really is that small and all it wants for optimal performance is a 9V battery.

Now the MTR5B is a five band transceiver so there’s lots of potential out there as you’ve got 40-15 meters to play with.

This evening there’s plenty of activity on the air so the smoke test went something like this

https://www.dropbox.com/s/hhbyqutasaxirr5/20160528_204332.mp4?dl=0

The only word for it is “Awesome”

I wanted a portable solution for sitting in the sun with and it doesn’t get any more portable than this!

You watch the Bank Holiday weekend descend into a wash out just to spite me!

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Absolutely pointless blog entry

You can tell when you’re bored when the thought goes through your head “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to put pins in a map to show where all your QRP kit originated from around the globe?”

If you say so!

Screenshot 2016-03-12 08.47.01

https://www.mapcustomizer.com/map/Geography%20of%20Radio%20Equipment?utm_source=share&utm_medium=emai

If anything it shows if you want cheap head east and all the fun is in the west!

Rig CAT problems #2

Ok, so very helpfully my 9 pin D sub CT-62 cable arrived the other day which I sourced from http://www.g4zlp.co.uk/index.shtml

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Not the actual cable, but you get the idea, no USB involved!

After plumbing it in I can state it doesn’t want to do nasty things to my radio which is always a bonus and I then spent the next hour trying to work out why it still didn’t work. This is getting the radio to talk to Fldigi I must stress.

After trying all sorts of diagnostic software available from http://www.g4hfq.co.uk/index.html I was about to give up when I thought about trying a totally different package. I’ve had HamRadio Deluxe sitting waiting to be installed for a few weeks and thought, what the hell!

On starting the package it tries to connect to your radio and very helpfully says “No radio detected. If you’re using a home made cable ensure you have RTS & DTR enabled to provide 12 v power and try again.”

That would have been helpful earlier! Strangely, with those both enabled within the Cat control config of Fldigi, everything works!

Now the next trick is to sort a USB solution for devices without legacy ports! I’ve had one of these laying around for a while.

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This uses an FTDI chipset rather than the Prolific variant which was causing my radio to squeak like a Chinchilla being passed through a mangle. The cunning plan was to use this to give me a USB connection to the radio. Thankfully, these things are plug and play and once Windows 10 wakes up and installs the drivers for you, you have a fully functioning device.

However, on plugging the D sub CT-62 into this and sparking up Fldigi, things still didn’t want to play nice. For some reason the frequency display was hopping around all over the place within the software, taking the radio with it. It was bouncing off frequency by a couple of 100Hz in an uncontrollable fashion and the “Frq” box of the logging pane was showing ridiculous random numbers. No amount of tweaking of settings would get this thing to work and I had to admit defeat.

So at the moment, we have a fully functioning rig but utilising legacy connections. Stay tuned!

Rig CAT problems

Now it wouldn’t be a normal day if there weren’t problems!

My new toys included a Rig CAT cable to allow the radio to talk to a PC running a radio management and logging program such as Ham Radio Deluxe.

In this day and age every PC is bristling with USB ports and unlikely to have a 9 pin serial com port, especially laptops. Yaesu don’t sell USB varients of their CT-62 cable which should have given me a clue as to the chaos which was about to unfold.

ya-ct62_m  31YGnrXOVQL

Rightly or wrongly I’d bought a USB one from a reputable source only to find that when plugged into the pass through connector on the LGE YT-100 the radio booted with a hideously deformed squeak rather than its usual tone and the YT-100’s LED flashed in a manner similar to “Get that fecking thing out of my port now!”

https://www.dropbox.com/s/ggozeof89t0tfyh/YT-857D%20boot%20noise%20problem.m4a?dl=0

The above link is to a recording of the pained noise my radio makes with the cable attached to either it or the ATU!

Hmm! That’s not good. Windows hasn’t complained about anything, everything is installed correctly software wise and configured correctly.

Plugging straight into the radio causes the same issue. Unfortunately no one has posted any solutions online which would give a steer as to how to rectify this problem.

A long chat with the guys in the ML&S workshop reveals why ML&S don’t sell them. There are a load of issues with the Prolific chipsets used in these cables, to the point that ML&S dropped them as they were too problematical to support.

My cable is a Prolific and it appears the issues continue to rumble around.

Thankfully, my nice new ASRock motherboard supports a 9 pin serial port, so I’ve tracked down a 9 pin CT-62 for considerably less than Yaesu’s asking price of 40 quid.

We’ll see if this resolves the problem before embarking on a solution for USB which will be needed for portable operation. Watch this space!

New Toys

Now like all hobbies, things evolve and you upgrade. My aspirations were to build an Elecraft K2 which were replaced with the idea of a KX3 the minute I saw it on the website.

k2100     KX3_1920

After some serious saving of the hard earned I was at the point where I was about to hand it all over when I got cold feet. Why? Mostly because I was about to give 350 quid of it to “The Man” in the form of HMRC by way of VAT and duty. The fact that the jackals take 20% of my salary is bad enough, let alone robbing me blind just because I want to buy something from the USA!

The solution to this daylight robbery was to go for something without the overheads, so a quick spin around the ML&S website resulted in a Yaesu FT-857D along with a few extras.

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The reviews rate the FT-867D very highly and you get a lot for your money in a compact unit which can very easily be made to go portable or mobile. It comes with a collection of fittings and cables to allow this which is a real bonus and a big money saver. Added to that you get a radio which covers the HF bands, 6m, 2m and 70cm straight out the box. The KX3 needs additional upconverters for your desired VHF band and you can only fit one in the case, at additional cost. The more I think about it I’ve made the wise choice.

I invested in an LDG YT-100 ATU, a MyDEL 30W PSU and a SignaLink USB to go with it. Within 3 days my patience was rewarded with a big box of toys!

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I sourced a few other bits from a combination of eBay and RadioWorld.

On opening my big box, I was rewarded by smaller boxes, a huge amount of packing chips and no doubt hours of fun.

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Needless to say everything came with a manual in triplicate. Ironically LDG kit has a line in the index saying “Real Ham’s don’t read manuals! (but at least read this page)”

Not wishing to reduce my purchases to expensive paper weights I went one better and read the lot. Cover to cover.

Suitably enlightened, the hardest part of setting it all up proved to be clearing sufficient shack space to accommodate things.

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The FT-857D is menu driven which is covered by countless pages in the manual and I found that someone on eBay was selling a laminated A4 crib sheet for a fiver. A fiver? In the words of the Cravendale Milk advert “Jog on kitties!”

Here are the same documents, for free.

857 Cheat Sheet small 1 2

I’m sure if you wanted it laminated, 50p in the honesty box at work for the use of the laminator in your lunch break would more than cover it.

Everything was working nicely within a few hours. My first foray through the radio’s menu system means we have a nice blue display now rather than default orange!

The Signalink website usurps the manual in these days of Windows 10, which very helpfully hides away various audio levels and settings which you need to tweak. I would highly recommend a read.

So, with it all plumbed up and ready to, it was time to hit the airwaves. Here’s my results for day number one as a Yaesu owner. I’m more than happy with this given it was midday to early afternoon using new kit that I’m still tweaking.

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I took the time to install a proper earth bus for the rig. I’d read a few articles where people had used lengths of 22mm copper pipe behind their desks to attach kit to. Not having the space to do this was overcome by using an earth block available from electrical wholesaler trade counters. For its size it weighs a ton but does the job well allowing easy connection and disconnection of kit should it need tinkering with, while ensuring everything is grounded.

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When I was looking at the Elecraft KX3 I was going to fit the roofing filters as my main use is digimodes. After a bit of research the FT-857D can be pimped with certain additional Yaesu mods to enhance digimode and SSB use.

At first glance the Yaesu YF-122S Collins SSB Filter 2.3/4.7kHz option at 120 quid plus seem exorbitant for a 1 1/2 inch by 1/4 inch PCB. It was still exorbitant after a second glance, followed by a hard stare!

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By luck someone in Italy was selling one second hand for less than a 3rd of the price for a new one on eBay, so that was one of the quickest “Buy It Now” purchases I’ve ever made!

I picked up a TCXO-9 high stability crystal oscillator to go alongside it. Again another ridiculously priced item if gauged by size!

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So having owned something for a whole day I had it in pieces to fit both. Job done in just over 5 minutes. The radio motherboard is a thing of beauty and idiot proof to avoid filters, crystals etc. being fitted the wrong way around.

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So there we go. All done and dusted. The filters are selected from within the menus, so can be switched in and out very easily.

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So after very little hassle on the scale of things, we’re up and running.

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The full line up from left to right reads –

MyDEL MP-30SWIV power supply, LDG YT-100 ATU sat beneath the Yaesu FT-857D, LDG FTL-Meter and SignaLink USB.

The FTL-Meter was another eBay bargain at less than half price second hand. Although the FT-857D can output all sorts of info on its LCD screen, I like having an analogue needle readily visible so that you can see what’s going on.