Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Spring? Does it even exist anymore?

Yes friends, it has been a long and cold winter.  I'm ready for a change!  Luckily there is hope in the forecast and above freezing temperatures are expected next week.  FINALLY!

This weekend is the ARRL DX contest (CW).  As usual we'll be spending most of our waking hours out at N0MA running the big gun station.  This time around we'll be running a different setup though.  Usually I grab the K3 that I built from the shack at work giving us two K3s at the farm, but this time around I'm borrowing a TS-590S from one of the phone guys in the group.  It will be a head to head test of the two radios in difficult contest conditions.  I already know the K3 is my ideal contest radio.  Nothing beats that thing.  BUT a 100w K3 with filters is crazy expensive, and I've heard again and again that the TS-590 is a fair competitor when you consider the huge difference in price - over $4000 for the K3 vs. $1500 for the 590.

Why am I so concerned?  Well, it pains me to say it, but with my recent interest in DX superiority, my QRP signal is not always sufficient for the job.  I just poked my 190th DX entity and I know I'm getting to the point where the countries are rarer and more difficult to work, QRP or otherwise.  My homebrew amp does work but not nearly as nicely as I had hoped.  Couple these with the fact that Steve Weber is going to be introducing a third re-designed MTR that I will likely use portable far more than my KX3, and I can make a pretty good argument for selling everything and getting a 100w radio.  As noted before, a 100w K3 is beyond my means, even if I did sell everything.  Then the obvious choice then remains, but is the TS-590 a candidate at all?

Indeed, I can hardly believe my own ears (eyes?).  A self proclaimed Elecraft fanboy considering selling off his one and only prized KX3 which he complained about waiting for and drove dozens of other hams to buy.  Sounds like a condition, doesn't it?  I did tell my wife it would be the last radio I bought for a long time.  But things changed!  I got the Hex Beam and my DXing life changed!  I was a big player now!  Breaking pileups became possible and working the BIG pileups more likely.  But you know how it goes - once you get a taste of success, failure seems so much more painful.  Still, having the extra power isn't the only benefit to be gained by moving to a 100w radio.

Realistically, when operating portable, I only operate CW.  Why carry a big (comparatively) radio like the KX3 to the field when I can put an MTR in a shirt pocket?  More often than not, I was using the KX3 as a REALLY expensive SWR meter during the summer and operating with the MTR instead.  It is no secret that the KX3 was designed to be operated portable.  The connections and controls are made that way, and it shows when you use the radio in the shack.  That mess of cables coming out of the left side of the radio really does kill the aesthetics of the radio.  If I do not intend to use the KX3 more when portable, there's no reason to keep it unless its performance cannot be reasonably matched by another radio.

So you can see my thought process.  Neglecting all the cool features of the TS-590, its suitability for my operating style and habits is understandable.  Now consider the additional features.  The 590 includes its own built-in soundcard for digital modes, and the best part of that is that it is still only one cable from the computer - a standard USB!  Right now there's 7 cables coming out of the side of my KX3.  I need 4 hooked up to run digital modes.  The 590 needs only one, and I don't have to unplug anything or change any settings to switch between modes!  This would certainly get me back on JT-65 and WSPR and other digital modes.  And since the radio will always have its received audio available to the computer, setting up something to hold a 30 second buffer of on-air audio is super easy, giving me the option to play back the most important moments of QSOs.  (this option is also available as a hardware add on to the radio - something the KX3 does not currently offer)

The 590 has a built in ATU which is no match for an Elecraft tuner, but I'm using matched antennas now, so this is not a big deal.  The nice thing is having 2 antenna connections that are switchable from the front of the radio.  There's an RX antenna jack.  Separate jacks for paddle and straight key.

Make no mistake, the KX3 is made for portable use, and based on size, compromises had to be made.  I stand by the radio - its is the best portable QRP radio there is.  It would really pain me to part with mine, and I am still trying to figure out if it would be possible to not sell it, but unfortunately the numbers just don't work in my favor.

So place your bets and make sure to cut me in - will I be struck by the 590 and fall in love or will I stick to my guns?  Look for the results of this "highly scientific examination" next week!