QRP has always been my niche in amateur radio. Way back in the day my first rig was a crystal controlled MFJ transmitter. Later I bought a Ten Tec Argonaut. I have built the Vern able HW-8 the Hendricks DC-40. I currently use one of the first run FT-817s. It is a battle worn but reliable radio. I also own a Hendricks PFR-3 field radio and the perfect Segway to my topic. HB-1B as SOTA Field Radio.
Backpacking into the Pecos wilderness with a radio has taught me some lessons about field operation.
- Weight will slow you down and eventually limit your capabilities
- Power consumption x ampere hours = pounds
- Non Milspec radio will fail and Milspec radio will eventually fail
- Simple is better
- Less accessories less Murphy
- Wire is always the best antenna.
- Trees are your friends; a wrist rocket is better than a crappie pole any day.
- Money will not solve any of the above.
When the HB-1 and HB-1b came on the market, my interest was sparked. The initial reports from the field were that it was junk. Apparently someone was building and selling HB-1a m on EBAY. There was little QA and reports were that rigs were arriving DOA in the mail. However when Ten Tec offered to sell them I took a second look. I also noticed that the feedback on various websites became more positive, in fact glowing. I took the plunge knowing that there was a waiting list/back order of about 4 weeks.
I bought the entire package, radio, battery, charger, field antenna and shoulder pack. The radio is so simple it only has a 4 page manual printed on one sheet. It was intuitive to use. And some of the functions mimicked the PFR-3. It was on initial ramp up that I discovered the only serious flaw. The battery will not fit in the case. In fact it causes the rather solid case to bulge on the sides and worse makes contact with the circuit board. When this happens there is a bit of microphoics on the received side of the signal. The LiPo battery is provided with a double back sticky tape and it is up to the operator were it gets stuck on the back of the case. There simply is not enough room for the battery without contact with the circuit board. There is a big discussion in the HB-1b yahoo groups on how to solve this problem.
The second but minor aggravation: the rig does not have a SWR indicator. (Remember when we bought radios without SWR). This means another accessory in the field. Not a problem if you use a Elecraft T-1 or a ZM-2. I personally am building a SOTA tuner from Hendricks kits. I also have a Tayloe SWR indicator that will be my first mod to the radio. Which brings me to mods? There is a bit of slack inside of the radio. Despite the battery, I foresee a time when a Elecraft tuner will find its way inside the HB-1B. That would put everything in one box. The box itself is a handful. It is about half the size and half the weight of a FT-817. It drops into a nice little dry box I found the sporting goods section at Wal-Mart.
Operation is so easy a Cave Man or a cold wet SOTA operator can do it. Just jack in headphones, Key and antenna. Antenna Jack is BNC, which is the QRP standard. Audio is adequate for stereo headset but needs a boost for speaker operation. Display is bright and high contrast blue. All of the buttons/dials have one or two layers of function. The display icons are simple and easy to understand. Main tuning has a de-tent knob which controls MHz, 100hz and Hz. Scanning the dial is smooth and free of processor noise. It is broad banded with receive 3.2 MHz to 16 Mhz. It is a CW rig but has SSB receive only. Out of band TX operation is blocked. It covers 80,40,30, and 20 meters. Like many I would have preferred it came with 15 meters instead of 80.
Physical construction is solid. The circuit board is a mass of Surface mount technology. However it appears to be machine made and solid. It will handle 9 to 14 volts. NM5TW ran his radio on a 9 volt battery and was able to get a watt out of the rig. I keep trying to run the LiPo battery down and so far it has lasted two days and counting with about a hour in TX.
I do not have a test bench, but my ear and AB comparison are nearly objective
- Sensitivity is very good. It compares or is better than the 817
- TX is clean, stable and no sign of drift. 5 watts.
- I have yet to find a birdie, Microphonics is due to the battery
- Variable IF filter is fantastic.
Undoubtedly someone will hack the radio chip and discover what lurks behind. I would like to see a full blown memory keyer. The rig has a auto CQ function but only allows your call to be inputted. Perhaps a variable power output would be useful. However the first mod I will make will be to put the Elecraft KX1 paddle on. Right now I am using the paddles off the PFR-3 with some success.
Conclusion: Buy the radio and battery. I would not buy the entire package. All of the other stuff is nice but in the real world, I needed a good paddle. The battery issue is just one of the challenges of amateur radio. Now looking at the Youkits catalog…………mmmmm.
« Au-delà des montagnes il y a montagnes »: proverbe Haïtien
"Beyond mountains there are mountains" Haitian proverb