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BuddiPole has completely redesigned their line winders for the new BuddiHex. The new ones are more than twice the size of their tradition winders and allow the wire elements and reflectors of the BuddiHex to be wound in a figure 8 pattern. This means better protection for the stranded wire antenna elements and reflectors. It also means no more fighting with annoying twists in the wires.
The larger winders makes for a more efficient use of space in the large BuddiPole carry bag that the BuddiHex ships in. Wires come off the new winders without sharp bends which allows the antenna elements to be more flat when hung under the color coded wire clips on the arms of the BuddiHex. This greatly improves the effectiveness of the antenna on each band.
Each winder holds the wires for 2 bands so we will get 3 winders to cover all 6 bands of the BuddiHex: 6m, 10m, 12m, 15m, 17m, and 20m.
In this picture are pre-production winders, the shipping winders will be the same injection molded material as the BuddiHex hubs. BuddiPole designed these new winders to reduce waste by recycling the cut off material from the BuddiHex arm construction and incorporating that material into these winders. Environmentally friendly and Made in the USA!
When setting up a solar powered field station there are 5 key components you need to make the system work. Here is the station WaveTalkers put together.
Solar Panels: collects light energy from the sun and converts it to DC electrical power. We use PowerFilm Solar 60W foldable panels for this.
Solar Charge Controller: takes the DC Electrical Power from the solar panels and regulates the charging of your battery and also distributes power to your radio. We use the BuddiPole PowerMini + for this.
Battery: stores the energy collected from the sun and delivers that power to your radio either directly or through the solar charge controller. For this we use LiFePO4 batteries from Bioenno Power. For this station we used a 12Ah LiFePO4.
Radio: A portable low power radio allows for efficient power utilization and effective communications. Here we used the Icom IC-705 QRP radio that transmits at 5W using the internal battery, and 10W when connected to the solar power system.
Antenna: Radio communications are all about the effectiveness of the antenna system. Here we used the ultra compact BuddiPole BuddiStick Pro.
The new IC 705 arrived yesterday morning, this is a quick review of my first 24hrs with the radio.
I consider myself a technically savvy new ham, having a solid foundation in technical skills, but having only been licensed for a few years, there is still much about the hobby I’m learning and exploring for the first time. For a little over 2 years I’ve operated an IC 7300 as my primary HF station, both in the shack and in the field. I’ve also had the opportunity, thanks to fellow ham KK6DA, to operate a KX3 that’s been graciously on loan to me. My interest in the 705 has been primarily as a teaching platform for a new series of video training courses I’m building for WaveTalkers.com. So after 24 hrs with this new IC 705 these are my first impressions of the radio.
The Form Factor
The IC 705 is remarkably small and compact. It’s very similar in both size and weight to the KX3. In the shack thus far it’s felt most comfortable to operate when on a small desktop tripod. The bottom of the radio has a chamfer near the back that allows the radio to sit on the desk and tilt up for a better viewing angle. This works well, but it really needs a support foot of some kind to maintain this position. With a small ¼ x 20 threaded foot, the radio would remain in a good operating position, however I found that a small tripod seems to feel more natural for me when operating it in the shack.
The VFO knob and many of the buttons along the bottom edge of the radio sit close to the bottom of the radio so I found operating the radio while sitting flat on the desk to be a little less comfortable than when raised a few inches on a sturdy tripod.
The IC 705 works well in the shack, but this radio is clearly designed for field operation; and the form factor feels completely natural when holding the radio in your hand or sitting it in your lap. Laying the radio on its back and looking straight down at the screen works quite well.
The screen is really nice, and I mean really nice. Out of the box, the screen is set to only 50% brightness and it was easy to see in full sun. I had not used a VHF/UHF radio that had a waterfall besides my RTL-SDR dongle, so I was not prepared for how helpful that waterfall really is for finding an active repeater or operator on simplex. Saying this now feels like a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious), but it was something I simply hadn’t considered before operating the IC 705. I’m very used to using the waterfall of the 7300 and the Pan Adapter of the KX3 to help find stations on HF, but suddenly all of my VHF/UHF radios (HTs and a mobile) feel like blind dinosaurs compared to the IC 705.
My Kenwood D710G is a great radio in my opinion, but after one evening of operating with the IC 705, it makes the D710G feel like operating with bear skins and stone knives in comparison. Even something as simple as having more than 7 characters to name a memory channel makes all of the other radios I have feel like outdated equipment designed and stuck in the 1990s. The UI/UX of the IC 705 is not perfect by any means, but it feels to me like a giant leap forward when compared to other ham radios currently on the market.
VHF / UHF Operating
One of the ARES teams I operate with holds their weekly nets on Monday Night, so I wanted to configure the IC 705 to use for my check-in on that net. I consider myself very comfortable operating my IC 7300, but since I do not have an IC 9700 I had not used the Icom UI/UX to set up tones for talking on a repeater. I didn’t find the process intuitively obvious at first.
After trying to figure the steps out on my own, and skimming through the manual a bit, I watch a couple of YouTube videos on the IC 9700 and that’s when it occurred to me, one of the big differences between the IC 705 and its IC 7300 / 9700 siblings, is that the IC 705 has far fewer one press physical buttons to control the functions you’re looking for and thus you need to access those functions either through the touch screen or a layer or two deep with the physical buttons. Once you realize this, what didn’t seem at first to be intuitively obvious, suddenly becomes pretty simple and straightforward.
The UI/UX of the IC 705 makes a lot of sense for portable operation which is what this radio was designed for. Nearly every physical and onscreen button reacts differently if you short or long press the button. As an IC 7300 user, this took just a little getting used to, but even after a short period of time, the UI/UX of the IC 705 started to feel more natural. It will take a little bit of adapting to this new mode of operating the radio, but when I switched back over to my 7300 last night, I discovered that many of those same button presses work on the 7300 as well, I had just never noticed them before. Therefore, I see this new UI/UX as helping to surface those other additional functions in the other Icom radios that have been sitting there all along.
I configured a few repeaters manually using the IC 705 interface, but then once I had the process down, set out to install the device drivers and Icom programming software on my PC to speed up the process of configuring repeaters in the radio.
Once configured, I was easily able to talk on a repeater about 80 miles away, full quieting and my first contact was with a station in the high desert outside of Los Angeles and they were well over 150 miles away from me.
During the evening ARES LAX NW net, N0ART reported that my signal was 59, loud with crisp and clear audio. During the Simplex net, I often have difficulties contacting stations in the San Fernando Valley from Ventura, even when using my Kenwood D710G running at a full 50W of power. I normally call out requesting a relay, and occasionally hear other stations calling back. Last night was no exception, another station on the Oxnard plain responded back and we had a strong simplex connection between us. I checked in with net control this morning, and my simplex check in was heard by a couple of stations and we were relayed in. Propagation was such that the few stations I did hear were so far down in the noise I couldn’t pick them out on either radio. So it wasn’t a legitimate contact, but a good starting point nonetheless.
Connecting to a PC
There are several options for configuring the IC 705 using a PC. What I found was that the radio does not like being connected through a USB hub, and thus directly connecting a USB Micro cable between the radio and a PC running Windows 10 seemed to work fine. Programming repeaters into the radio was fairly straightforward once I had the data cloning pathways set up and working properly. The Icom programming software can be downloaded here for free, just make sure you install the device driver into your PC first, then it’s a good idea to update the firmware using a micro SD card and following the online instructions.
Once the radio and PC were talking to each other, I downloaded the initial configuration from the radio into the Icom programming software. Then made a few changes and uploaded those data back into the radio. Once I got this round trip of data working, I set out to key in a variety of local repeaters for the various ARES groups and repeater groups I operate on. That process went fairly smoothly and the programming software also has what seems to be a full suite of configuration options for the radio as well. I’m still exploring these but, it seems much faster to run through a whole bunch of settings in the configuration file and then load them all into the radio at once using the software.
Bluetooth in ham radios has always been pretty disappointing to me. I have a Kenwood D74 and while I’ve been able to use the bluetooth to connect to some headphones for monitoring and to my PC for data transfer, the supported version of Bluetooth has always meant more problems than solutions. Most ham radios in my experience that support Bluetooth only support the older protocols and thus many current headsets and wireless speakers will simply not connect reliably to them. Data transfer has also been flaky at best in my experience. That is not the case with the IC 705, both headphones and data transfer paring seemed to work right out of the box without issues.
I was able to easily pair my Sony WH-1000X M3 noise canceling headphones and PC laptop with the IC 705 on the first attempt. Routing the radio audio directly to the noise canceling headphones is simply awesome; it just works. I have not had time to configure the PC to send email via WinLink using a Bluetooth connection to the IC 705 yet, but that will be one of my next projects.
I currently have an 80m dipole rigged for NVIS communication from my home QTH. Connecting the IC 705 to that antenna yielded some surprising results. I spun around on the 80m band last night tuning in stations and getting used to the controls. The antenna is currently cut for the lower portion of the 80m band as I’m still making adjustments to it. I called CQ for a while but didn’t get a response. I then connected my 7300, set to the same frequency, and cranked the power up to 100W to see if I was simply not being heard on the lower power. Still no response, so I’ll do more testing as I get my other antennas back in the air in the coming days.
I know the 80m NVIS antenna is pretty good and receiving signals across multiple bands, however, while swapping antennas at one point I still had the 80m NVIS antenna connected by mistake instead of my 2m/70cm N9TAX roll-up slim jim, and was still able to use it to connect to the repeaters on top of Mt Wilson about 80 miles from me. I didn’t have a tuner connected and clearly the antenna was not optimal but it actually worked just fine. I wouldn’t suggest repeating this experiment as the SWR was quite high, but it’s nice to know that if I had to, it seems like the IC 705 can use just about anything to get a message through.
Listening on Other Bands
I was also able to listen to stations on other HF bands including 20, 40, and 160 using my NVIS antenna. A quick spin through a variety of Short Wave frequencies yielded similar results. I could easily pick up Radio Havana, WWV, a station in North Carolina, and others. I’m not sure exactly where some of these other stations were broadcasting from, but the experience seemed similar to that of my IC 7300 so pretty good for a quick and dirty test. Everything sounded good through both the handheld speaker mic and the speaker built into the IC 705.
The IC 705 has several other bands outside of the amateur bands that you can monitor including Air Band, NOAA Weather Radio, AM/FM commercial broadcasts, and analog commercial frequencies often used by Police, Fire and other agencies. Having the waterfall display on the IC 705 made finding and listening to these signals really easy.
Pressing the Air Band button gave quick access to listening to several local airport towers and planes that were operating in the area. NOAA weather radio can be accessed under the Quick menu button. Being able to pick up local FM broadcasts is nice for following local news and information. Listening in on emergency services dispatch and local command frequencies provides some of the best situational awareness information during an emergency. I tested all of these and all worked great right out of the box.
Overall First Impression
Overall, my first impression of the IC 705 is that this radio is simply awesome. I love technology that is extremely flexible and the IC 705 exceeds that bar. I feel as though I’ve just scratched the surface of what this radio is capable of. I’m looking forward to getting the radio out in the field for some POTA and SOTA operations as well as using it at a platform to build out a new video training series for WaveTalkers. Having such a compact, all modes, all bands rig, with a nice big easy to see waterfall, that can be ready to go at a moments notice is a very welcome addition to my GoKit and Shack.
As a final footnote, I did reach out to Icom America to inquire about getting a loaner unit for review, however with such high demand for these radios none were available. Since I had already paid for an IC 705 I ordered when the radio was first announced earlier this summer, Icom was able to get my order expedited to help me get this review out a little quicker. Therefore, a big thanks to Icom America for helping with the logistics of getting my order to me a little sooner.
Every ham radio station needs power to operate. Power requirements vary from station to station but the vast majority of modern stations run on 12v DC power that is either supplied from an AC/DC Power Supply or a battery. A good quality AC/DC power supply is a great option for the ham shack but if commercial AC power is not available, your ham radio station simply can not operate. Generators (gas, diesel, etc.) can create AC power, but they require fuel, are noisy (to the ear and often produce RF Interference – QRM), and pollute the environment. Batteries need to be recharged but provide a reliable source of power to keep your station running when power is otherwise unavailable. Batteries can be recharged from a variety of power sources including commercial power, generators, vehicles, solar, wind and more.
To help educate hams about the viability of operating a ham radio station for extended periods of time, exclusively on renewable power we reached out to Bioenno Power, who graciously offered to help by providing WaveTalkers with a pair of 30 Ah LiFePO4 (LFP) batteries with AC/DC charger, a set of 60W solar panels, and their solar charge controller to test and use in our instructional materials for hams.
We’ve been testing and operating with this equipment for the past year now to get a good sense of just how well the Bioenno Power products work for Amateur Radio Operators. This review will cover my experiences thus far operating on both HF with an Icom 7300, and on VHF/UHF with my Kenwood D170G. With both rigs, I have operated out of my Shack, on my sailboat, and Portable in the Field for general operations and under deployed EmComm scenarios.
When the batteries arrived I was immediately impressed with how the units were packed and shipped. The batteries ship without a charge and the initial charging took approximately 5.5 hours with each battery taking in about 27.5 Ah as measured by Powerwerx meter I put inline between the charger and the battery. The 30Ah battery comes wired with 2 sets of power leads terminated with a 30 Amp and 50 Amp Anderson Powerpoles connector. The AC/DC charger comes wired with 30 Amp Powerpoles. Since I had already wired my radios in my shack to use Powerpoles, swapping my Alinco AC/DC power supply with the battery was very easy.
The Solar Panels arrived prewired with a 50A Powerpole connecter and an unterminated 50A powerpole adapter so I crimped a pair of 30A Powerpoles to the other end. The panels come packed very well and have their own soft sided padded case. The case doesn’t have handles on it which I found a bit awkward when moving the panels around. However, the panels themselves have a handle on them so if you open the top of the double zippered case a bit, you can carry the panels with ease using the attached handle.
The panes are relatively small and compact for ridgid solar panels, and they easily fit into my Mini Cooper with the rest of my ham gear. The panels have integrated stands for deploying the panels on the ground, but there is no provided options for mounting the panels on a vehicle, tripod or other stand. I am working on plans to fabricate my own solution for mounting the panels in the future and plan to utilize the sturdy aluminum frames of the panels as a key component of the solution.
The Charge controller arrived with two 12V DC barrel connectors that were also unterminated. The documentation for the Bioenno charge controller notes specifically to not run your radio equipment from the load port on the charge controller, instead it advises to connect your fused radio connection directly to the 2nd Powerpole connection on your battery rather than to the load port on the charge controller. I connected 30A Powerpoles to the provided wires to match the rest of my radio equipment. I then made Powerpole pigtails for each of the charge controller terminals and color coded each pigtail with heat shrink to help in identifying the power ports. I then made a 15 foot Powerpole terminated extension cable with 12 gage zip cord to connect the solar panels to the charge controller. Terminating all of the wiring only took about an hour to complete. Initial tests showed everything was working properly.
Before the battery arrived, I inserted my Powerwerx meter inline between my power supply and each of my radios to measure and monitor the current draw of my 7300 and my D710G independently so I could verify that both radios would meet the current requirements of the battery. Both radios were within the technical specs for the radio and showed that they could be powered up to full high power by the 30 Ah battery. To put this to the test, for the past year I have operated exclusively with both radios on power supplied by the Bioenno batteries.
My experience with running my 7300 from the 30Ah Bioenno Power Battery has been outstanding. In my shack I’ve been able to easily operate for 1-2 hours per evening on SSB at an appropriate 20-30% duty cycle for well over a full week on a single charge with no issues. Using digital modes, operating for 1-2 hours per night I’ve had no issues operating for 3-4 nights on a single charge. Running off of the battery also showed a perceived drop in my noise floor as compared to operating with power supplied by my Alinco power supply.
When I took the Bioenno Power Battery into the field to operate on HF my results were similar, no issues running the 7300 at the full 100W of power. I would typically operate in the field for about 2 hours with a more aggressive 40–50% duty cycle on SSB and the field tests would consume less than 6Ah of power from the battery. For Field Day 2019, we operated my station on 6m around the clock using the solar panels to keep one of the batteries at float during the day using full power and operated exclusively from the battery at night using 50% power.
On VHF/UHF the battery has no problem supplying full power to the Kenwood D710G. I would operate the D710G from my Shack, in my vehicle, on my boat, and in the field without issue. The quick connect and disconnect of the Powerpoles makes for an extremely flexible deployment solution when operating under EmComm conditions.
The Bioenno Batteries all have an internal Battery Management System (BMS) that balances the charge between the cells in the battery during charging and protects the battery from over current, undercurrent, etc. by electrically disabling the battery to protect the battery if conditions that are outside of the safe operating ranges for the battery occur; an extremely important safety mechanism for a battery that holds as much energy density as a LiFePO4 battery does. To reset the internal BMS, you simply connect your battery to a proper charging source and the BMS resets automatically, and the battery instantly returns to normal operations.
All in all, I couldn’t be more pleased with the performance of the Bioenno Power LiFePO4 battery, solar panels and solar charge controller. They have proved to be a reliable off grid power source for an amateur radio operator working stations across HF, VHF, and UHF frequencies. For EmComm use, the batteries also performed extremely well even under difficult field deployment conditions where critical communication systems had to rely on the system to provide continuous power for extended periods of time and still have plenty of power to keep going if needed.
Chris Mattia – W6AH ARES LAX NW, CA ARES Ventura, CA
Mastwerks (http://mastwerks.com) is a new portable antenna support system from the folks at Buddipole. In typical Buddipole fashion, Mastwerks is a well thought out, beautifully designed and incredibly flexible system for helping ham radio operators quickly deploy an effective antenna system on virtually any terrain.
The Mastwerks systems consist of 3 primary components: Tripod, Mast, and the Guying System. Each complete system is available in 3 models: 10ft, 23ft, and 33ft. I’ve been testing the 33 ft (10m) system that collapses down to only 5 ft and weighs 13.77 lbs (7.16 lbs mast, 6.61 lbs tripod). This means I can easily transport the entire system in my Mini Cooper along with my other radio gear.
The foundation of the system is the tripod which uses simple Quick Release Lever Locks (QRLL) at each adjustment point to allow you to quickly stabilize the base with a wide stance. The head of the tripod contains an integrated bubble level that helps you make quick work of establishing the level setup for the system. A properly leveled system reduces side loading on the mast segments when raising and lowering the mast. The head of the tripod has an integrated rotator with an open port on one side that will accept the included hand crank or a future motor drive. The rotator allows you to quickly change your antenna direction by rotating the entire mast and antenna system independently of the tripod and guying systems.
The black anodized aluminum Mast uses the same QRLL as the tripod making deployment fast and easy. Each QRLL is labeled on the inside of the locking lever to make referencing specific mast segments easy. The mast has a unique rounded teardrop shape that allows all of the segments and tripod to have a positive locking grip to prevent individual segments from rotating. The top two segments of the mast have laser etched lines indicating a suggested maximum extension of those segments when deployed in high wind situations. The top of the mast has a quick release threaded cap that is compatible with a standard Buddipole VersaTee.
The included unique guying system contains mast attachment plates, guy lines, line winders, and stakes. The plates and lines are color coded to allow for quick deployment and high visibility. On the unit I’m using the lower guying system is blue and the upper is yellow. Each plate consists of 2 identical sub-plates with open slots that slip onto the mast and then the two sub-plates lock together around the mast above QRLL E (Blue lower guy) and above QRLL C (Yellow upper guy). The guy lines are then passed twice through each of integrated plate corner holes and a small plastic toggle locks the line to the assembled plates. The guys are then run out, centered between each of the tripod legs and are ready to be staked down and tensioned to stabilize the mast.
If there is light to no wind, then the Mastwerks system is easy to deploy as a single operator; in a heavier breeze I’ve found having a 2nd person to hold the base of the mast while setting the guy line stakes is helpful but not required. Depending on the breeze, I’ve found that in light air (< 5 kts) its possible to raise segments C through G to the full height in order to set the proper guy line stake positions and apply light tension to the lines without issue. In a fresh breeze raising the mast only to the lower guy position first, setting those lines, then lower the mast and re-raising it to the height of the upper guys, and setting those adds the needed stability for a single operator to manage the system. Once the guys are set, the mast can be easily lowered and raised as needed to set and adjust the antenna without having to reset the guy lines.
Once the mast has been properly guyed, you can lower the mast and prepare the antenna system. I usually begin by threading on the VersaTee to the quick release mast cap, adding the Buddipole counterpoise adapter to the top port on the VersaTee which adds a ¼ 20 thread, to the very top of the mast. I then attach a WeatherHawk myMET Pro handheld weather station which connects via BlueTooth to my mobile phone. The myMET Pro has an integrated wind meter so wind speed aloft can be measured and monitored. Once attached I’ll raise the mast to the full operating height, and use the mast rotator to check the maximum wind speed and direction aloft since the wind speed at the top of the mast will often be significantly greater than the wind speed on the ground. This can greatly affect the wind loading on the antenna so it’s a good idea to know what specific conditions your antenna will experience when elevated.
The top two segments of the mast are the smallest segments and thus have the most flex if wind loading presents itself as an issue. In this case, you can add additional rigidity to the top of the mast by raising the top two segments until the laser etched A Lines on the fat part of those mast segments aligns with the top of the QRLL for those segments. This shortens the overall mast height slightly but it also results in significantly reducing the flex of the top of the mast above the guys.
20m Buddipole Dipole
20m Buddipole Dipole
Finally, remove the quick release masthead cap and assemble the antenna on the ground. Thus far I’ve configured my Buddipole as a straight dipole to operate on 20m and 6m as well as a 6m vertical. I’ve also attached my 2m Arrow Antenna 3 element yagi to the VersaTee, simple cable ties did the trick here. The quick release masthead cap allows you to easily attach the assembled antenna to the top of the mast thus reducing stress on threaded parts during the assembly of a large Buddipole configuration. It also makes measuring your whip lengths easier for more precise tuning. Once the antenna is mounted, the mast can be raised to the target height and the guy lines lock back into place when the full height is reached.
As you raise the mast, if the breeze is over 5 kts, then I’ve found it’s helpful to rotate the dipole so that it is pointing into the wind, thus significantly reducing the wind loading force on the system. Once the mast is at full height and the guys helping to stabilize the mast, the antenna can be easily rotated to the desired operating position. Lowering the mast with the antenna system is best accomplished in the same manner; rotate the antenna until it is pointing into the wind, then lower the mast slowly one segment at a time. If the breeze is over 5 kts, having someone to apply some downward force on the windward leg(s) of the tripod can be helpful since the tension comes off the guys as the mast is lowered.
When operating on HF with my Icom 7300, i’ve found that after tuning the rig, I could set the radio to display the waterfall for the entire band then simply watch the waterfall as I rotate the antenna to identify the direction with the most number of signals was really effective; this has significantly increased my QSO rate.
With the 10m Mastwerks fully extended, and the Buddipole configured with the optional long whips and the 2:1 setting on the Triple Ratio Switch Balun (TRSB), you end up with near full size half wave 20m dipole at a half wavelength off the ground which makes a huge difference in the overall performance of your antenna system. With 100 watts I worked EA3JE in Barcelona Spain from Ventura California and received a signal report of 10 over 9.
Since I operate with both the Ventura ARES and Los Angeles ARES teams, I’ve found that when I’m operating from Eagle Rock in Los Angeles, I can put the Arrow Antenna Yagi on the top of the Mastwerks system and participate in the Ventura County nets where I’m hitting a repeater more than 80 miles away through a narrow gap between the surrounding mountains that otherwise block my view. I can also use this configuration to monitor local Fire and EMS dispatch traffic in Ventura from LA. This has really opened up my ability to be prepared to assist with and provide emergency communication no matter where I’m located.