Cheapest CW transceiver

I’m very interested in using CW for sota. Does anyone know of a cheap yet affective transceiver? $50 or less?

Casey, there are many available in that price range with the cheapest at around US$5.
Some discussion on the options are in this thread:

Cheers, Gerard - VK2IO

99 u$ for 2 watts

A Cub could do the trick

I ordered a 20m Cub direct from MFJ, as of last week it was still on back order… 3 months later. The ARRL Store has the 40m Cub kit along with The Low Power Operating Handbook for about the cost of the kit alone, this seems like a good deal and I think they would be a bit better at keeping stock on hand.

If you’re looking cheap and effective then I’d be staying clear of the $5 specials noted in the other thread.
They are purely for a bit of fun and amusement.
I’d not consider them as a reliable tool to take out in the hills for solid reliable SOTA activating.
Firstly they’ll be rock bound, so you have no way to avoid QRM if your pre selected frequency is in use.
The receiver will be as wide as a barn door and they’ll probably suffer from broadcast breakthrough as a starter.
You can have fun with them, it just depends on what your idea of fun is :wink:

Even the very basic Rockmite suffers from all the above and it’s $50.

I’d really be erring on something a bit more sophistaicated (costing 4 times as much!)
Everyone knows my rigs of choice are all from KD1JV.
Unless you’re lucky to get a kit (the latest 5 bander is going to be around $165) your only option is a Hendricks kit or picking up a second hand or unbuilt kit.

I’d go for this,

or this

if I was starting from scratch.

I have a EGV40 kit, which I won, still waiting to be built. I hear good things about them but have no experience of operating them (yet!)

Obviously other options are available :smiley:


Hello Casey -

As Pete suggests, spending more will really improve your experience and your chances of a successful activation. Having more than one band can help you make the minimum of four contacts. The MTR available from LNR Precision with three bands is an excellent transceiver and a great value - it’s also popular and currently out of stock.

Since you are in Oregon, I’d like to welcome you to W7O SOTA. There’s information on and newsletters there that you should find interesting.

73, Etienne-K7ATN

Casey and Gerard -
You might note that this “inexpensive” transceiver is provided with a crystal in the Extra Class portion of the 40 metre band. There are similar versions available on eBay. The low parts count may indicate how well they might work!
73, Etienne-K7ATN


Cheap as in less than $50 and effective as in able to operate with stable frequency agility, robust rx and good selectivity and sensitivity are mutually exclusive.

The X1E is probably the cheapest all band all mode 5 W commercial rig. Mine cost around AUD300. I have found this generally keeps up pretty well with the FT817 and the KX3 although there are reasons why these two rigs are so popular.

The MTR is a good example of the low end of acceptability for effective SOTA CW operation. I’ve not tried mine in anger yet. There are other rigs in the same price bracket with comparable capability.

The Rockmite is a fun rig and can give some surprising contacts and is good value but it’s definitely got its limits. The Rx needs suppression of the broadcast band and the audio level is low. Sensitivity is down a bit too. Mine presently refuses to produce rf. However normally the Tx produces enough rf to be useful and the keyer is excellent. Being rockbound always has associated problems, but it’s a great $50 toy.

I would not bother with the cheaper simpler rigs as you mentioned the word “effective”. They don’t have the keyer or a decent mixer.

Of course any rig you have that gets you on air is streets ahead of the rig you might buy one day. If you only have $50 to spend then go for a Rockmite. Otherwise start saving.


Thank you all for the suggestions. Looks like I need to save up some more $ to get something more versatile. For the mean time I am going to build a 2m yagi :smile:

Earlier in the year I took a small 80 M qrp radio on a activation. The radio consists of a simple direct conversion NE602 receiver and a two transistor transmitter, xtal locked with plug in crystals.
Upon setting the radio up found to my horror the receiver was completely blocked by a powerful club station doing a ssb broadcast.
All I could hear in the headphones was a grossly distorted SSB signal.
This station was operating about 60KHz away from my operating frequency and was approx 120kms away.
This was the last time I took this simple radio out on an activation as quite frankly it was useless.
For economical radios the kit KD1JV 3 band transceiver is a very good performer, I have worked some dx with the one I built.

Very economical on batteries as well.

Cheers, Nick

I built a rockmite 20M, built in touch keyer that I ran on a solar panel. I really liked the weight etc, but if someone is on that one frequency, you are out of luck.

Other than that I like using it.

I’ve built several kits and my favorite is the single band NorCal 40A that runs at 3 watts. It’s great for local contacts. For multiband, the KX1 with built in autotuner works well and I only need one length of wire on a EFHW for the 3 bands that I use on it: 40-30-20m where it runs at 4 watts. I also carry a KD1JV tribander 30-20-15m that runs close to 7 watts (more power than my FT-817). These kits are more than $50 but you can get a lot of bang for the buck and the pleasure of working the world from a summit with a rig that you built. It doesn’t get much better than that…

73, Dan NA6MG



With respect, I disagree with your observations. The MTR is definitely not ‘low end’. Yes, the MTR doesn’t have many big rig features, but who wants to be messing with bells and whistles on a summit anyway? The MTR does the task it was designed for very well indeed.

The RockMite is VERY sensitive. The audio is loud, at times, it’s too loud. The RockMite is a very capable rig for SOTA. Yes, you can get broadcast interference, but you learn to live with it! The only real issue with the RockMite is it’s selectivity, it can be tough to work out if that station is calling you or someone 5kHz away!!

It takes skill and planning to activate with simple, very low power rigs but it is possible. A RockMite 20 or RockMite 30 works wonders in the UK.

I wouldn’t suggest for a minute buying a RockMite as a main and only SOTA rig, but the MTR could take that place.

73, Colin M1BUU

The MTR2 is very similar in performance to an Elecraft KX1 and the Youkits HB1B. They all have the same basic design. There are, of course, many differences between them but not the basic performance.

73 Richard G3CWI

Hi Casey
Would this website be of any help to you in making a decission

Hi Colin,

It would be a very boring world if we all agreed. We all enjoy different aspects of the hobby.

I suspect we differ on what constitutes “low end” - I did not define it.

I consider the MTR 3 band rig a minimal transceiver for SOTA here in VK. It works just well enough but requires an effort to learn how to drive it. You have to remember the unique and specific procedures during the activation if you wand to change anything. The frequency changing and readout are basic or low end but of course there is no current hungry LCD display which is a good thing. My FT817 is more intuitive in operation and I appreciate the frequency display, the SWR and battery indications and the memories. I don’t like the weight, size or RX current drain. The MTR is ahead there.

I bought my MTR because of its pocket size and small weight. I consider it the minimum I can happily use. That for me is the low end.

Re the Rockmite, I’m sorry but I am unable to cope with a broadcast station being stronger than the station I want to work. Poor CW skill here probably but I want activations to be fun, not some sort of sadistic trial. There are enough challenges without having to struggle with every signal. I have added a HP filter for RX. I have the model with the XTAL Rx filter and maybe that has affected the sensitivity. I’m yet to hear a signal that is too loud. Being mono-band and Xtal locked also has it’s limits and problems

It’s a fun toy and some amazing contacts have been made. Making mountain goat with one would be super amazing. Some no doubt see it as challenge.

The $10 rigs are good value but they are inferior to the Rockmite especially the RX and have to be used with a straight key.

Cost is a first order guide to capability. Expect to pay $250 for a low end rig, ie one with minimal capabilities that include being able to tune up and down the band and has a super het. rx with crystal filter.


Quite so Dan, the thrill of working dx with a self built radio certainly makes the long trudge to a summit a real pleasure.

The dx contacts I have logged with the KD1JV I will never forget.


I think this may be very relevant Ron. Here in Europe the operating environment is very different with hundreds of skilled CW chasers within our first-skip distance. A while back we did a PP3 Challenge and participants regularly made 10-20 contacts running powers less than 100mW. I cant see that sort of thing working in VK.

The minimum practical station rather depends on where you are.

Incidentally I have never found broadcast interference to be much of a problem with my Rockmites.

73 Richard G3CWI


Fair points, well made, although I really don’t see the MTR as ‘low end’. It’s a highly developed special purpose radio. The rig is not perfect but then again, Steve is a one man operation, doing all his magic by himself.

Operating a RockMite is fun, it’s not painful! I think a large part of the fun comes from the rig having so few parts and the fact the rig has more than likely been built by the operator.

I did qualify my point of view, stating that a RM20 or RM30 works wonders in the UK, I realise that different situations apply in different regions of the world. I’ve found that 40m is very crowded and it’s easy for a 500mW signal to get lost in the QRM. A contest weekend is not very good for RockMite operation!

I’ve had a few 3000 mile plus QSOs with my RockMite20, the band is less crowded than 40m or 30m, especially at 14.058 where the rig operates.

I have suffered BCI a few times with my RM30, especially at dusk. It’s pretty easy to hear CW against voice modulation though. Again, it’s not torture, just part of the experience. The RockMite has very high AF gain and can be very microphonic. Through experience, BCI and artifacts from the high AF gain can be reduced by using a good length of feeder, feeding a balanced resonant antenna. RockMites don’t seem to like endfed antennas or the feed point of the antenna being physically close. An inverted vee dipole fed with coax works a treat.

Richard is probably spot on with his suggestion that there is a high density of good CW ops within RockMite distance of the UK, I don’t doubt that the situation is very different in VK.

In my short time doing CW activations, I’ve found that 5W of CW is ample (from home too!). At 2W, the contacts dry up a little bit (but still works ok)and at 100mW I’m lucky to get 10 contacts per band. Working a 10 station pile up with 100mW from a home built rig certainly gives you a bit of a buzz though!

73, Colin

Hi Colin,
My 3 band Mountain Topper is a marvel of miniaturization and something I could not produce now. Steve, I believe, has some help these days. Not that that detracts from the rig.

5 W of CW is more than enough for most SOTA work in VK where 3,000 km is the nominal max range required and most stations are within 600 km. To get to NA or EU we are talking 12,000 to 18,000 km. 5 W will make it when conditions are good. Half that will do most of my CW activations i think.