Pro and Con of Various QRP Rigs as survival radios

Started by swxx, August 25, 2017, 11:23:55 PM

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I'm having a hard time deciding which ways to go between various rigs. Limited finances being a hurdle that prevents me from simply buying them all, let alone one or more. So I'm looking for feedback and hopefully this helps others in the same position of not yet having, or having inadequate, QRP equipment that will be useful at TEOTWAWKI. I have no ability to understand circuits properly nor the likely durability and repair options of the various circuits, so those with good electronics insight please comment on that if you can compare.

PFR-3b: pros: 20/30/40m (fine for tropics, high latitudes may want an 80m set too). Very low power 35mA on RX. 5W (740mA) on TX. Rugged enough. Internal Balanced Line Tuner also for end feds, also coax/unbalanced input. SWR tune. Repairable, many discrete components. Internal keyer. CONS: no wide filter, cannot receive SSB. No general coverage RX. No way to reduce power (I think) from 5W TX. $275 USD.

YouKits EK1C: pros: 20/30/40m (fine for tropics, high latitudes may want an 80m set too). Fairly low RX current 70mA (twice as much as PFR-3b). 5W on TX (900mA). Rugged enough. Internal keyer. Auto scan function. Can turn LCD on/off. Weight 280g. 16 Memories. General coverage RX 5.9-16 MHz. CONS: no built in tuner. No balanced line connector. No SWR indication. Not optimized for 30m. $189 ($239 after adding tuner) USD.

YouKits HB1B: pros: 15/17/20/30/40m (fine for tropics, high latitudes may want an 80m set too). RX current 80-90mA. 4-5W on TX (800mA). IF filter 400Hz-3kHz. General coverage RX 5.9-22 MHz. Forward and reflected power. Built in keyer with auto CQ. Variable filter width can listen SSB and AM. CONS: No balanced line tuner. Ready assembled (could be PRO or CON depending on who you are). $270 ($320 after adding tuner)

LNRprecision MTR3B-5B: pros: 15/17/20/30/40m or 20/30/40  or 80/40/30/20. RX current 20mA, 4W TX (600mA). Very small size could be a pro or a con. Can listen to freq in dark sent as CW, can key in frequency using paddle. CON: no general coverage RX. Non-adjustable narrow filter. Push button tuning, not easy to scan bands. Not more than 12V or damage. $260 ($310 after adding tuner) 3 bands, or $380 for 4 or 5 bands ($430 after adding tuner).

LNRprecision LD-5: pros: 7-22MHz RX AND TX, TX 10.5-15 VDC 3.5-8W (1.5-2A). Voltage on display. Modes: USB, LSB, CW, CW-R, DIGITAL DATA:CAT –USB jack : CW, PSK, RTTY, SSTV. CW offset/tone variable. VOX 0.1-5s. 100 memory storage per band Memorize frequency, mode, VFOs. Built-in speaker 0.2W. 8 Different filters (incl): 4 of 4 for CW/SSB - 1-3 factory presets – No.4 adjustable for CW/50-1000Hz/ and SSB/250-3.6KHz. SWR/PWR. Compressor SSB: 0-20dB. Cons: max 350mA receive (10 times PFR3b, MTR) and 1.5 to 2A typical in transmit. No built-in tuner. 0.54kg. $575.

LNRprecision LD-11: pros: 10.5-15V, 1.8-30MHz+50-54MHz, all bands, all modes incl AM/FM, gen coverage RX (350mA) and TX 5W (11.5V)-8W (14.8V) (1.5-2A), CW offset/tone variable. Effective noise reduction and noise blanker. Sensitivity 0.15uV w/o preamp. 100 memory storage per band Memorize frequency, mode, VFOs. Built-in speaker 8Ohms 0.5W. Vox/bk-in delay 0.1-5s.8 Different filters (incl): 4 of 4 for CW/SSB - 1-3 factory presets – No.4 adjustable for CW/50-1000Hz/ and SSB/250-3.6KHz. SWR/PWR. PAN mode: Easy to Find quiet point +/- 24kHz from main frequencyCons: max 350mA receive, 1.5-2A TX. No built in tuner. 0.54kg. Digital Direct Conversion, SDR type, build-in CPU (SM32a) DSP radio in which RF signals are directly converted to a digital data via differential and balanced A/D converters. This enables direct sampling with extremely low phase and floor noise. $790.

KD1JV Tri-Bander: pros any 3 bands of 80, 60, 40, 30, 20, 17m. TX 5W (600-800mA) at 14V. 2 keyer memories. 600 Hz audio filter. Audio derived AGC. Easy to repair. Built in keyer. Cons: 90mA receive current. No gen coverage TX. No SWR meter, no internal tuner. $225 USD ($275 after adding tuner). Thus don't see advantage over PFR-3B other than if three bands other than 20/30/40 are wanted.

QRPLabs QCX: pros: 17/20/30/40/60/80m (separate units for each band). RX current 150mA. 5W (550mA) on TX at 16V. Double sided through plated silk screen printed PCB. (others above MAY also have this). 200Hz CW filter with no ringing. Keyer, memories and beacon mode. VFO A/B, split. Configurable side tone freq and volume and CW offset. On board micro switch can be used as CW key. Built in sig gen and alignment tools, voltmeter, RF pwr meter, freq counter. Cons: no case included, high current consumption. Single band is not a CON, see below. NO general coverage RX. No wide filter? No balanced line tuner. $150 ($200 after adding tuner) for any three bands (cf to $189/$239 EK1C or $275 PFR3b) or $250 ($300 after adding tuner) for 5 bands (cf to $270/$320 for HB1B).

YouKits TJ5A: pros: 12/15/17/20/30/40/60/80 -- 8 bands. Adjustable power 300mW to 20W. SSB AND CW. Large built-in speaker. 40 memories. Dual VFOs. Low power (10mW) tune up mode. General coverage RX 2-30MHz. LSB/USB/CW/TUNE. Cons: 200mA on RX. Up to 3.5A on TX. Weight 1.5kg. $380

If we factor in that all those above except the PFR3b don't have a BLT Balanced Line Tuner, but we can buy one for $50 or so from or single bands MEF-1 for $15 each then the absence in the other rigs isn't a problem, just an extra cost.

Looking at the above, what would you consider reasons for buying any particular one of the above, instead of discrete QCXs and MEF-1 tuners?

I don't know the cost of a general coverage RX or if available as a kit. But we can assume at very least $50 for such. IN this case if we factor in unit cost(s), tuner ($50), gen coverage RX (assuming $50 minimum) then we arrive at:

PFR-3B $275 (+$50 min): $325 min.
EK-1C $239
HB-1B $320
MTR3 $310 (+$50 min): $360 min.
MTR5 $430 (+$50 min): $480 min
QCX+ $200 (3 bands) (+$50 min): $250 min.
TJ5A (8 bands): $430

The QCX multiple units could be attractive because if one breaks maybe it can be used to repair one of the others. Mutiple bands can be monitored. However, it has very high current drain: 4 times as much as the PFR-3b and double the EK1C.
The PFR-3B looks attractive as an all-in one, but this in itself isn't necessarily an advantage, but its very low current draw is. The LD11 and LD5 are very attractive, but the price may not be easy and current consumption is 350mA RX, 1.5A TX, no way to get it down, cf. to 20-35mA MTR/PFR.

For me it is a hard choice, between pretty much all the above rigs! So it must be a hard choice for most. These radios come close to what is required, but in all cases LACK something. If ONE can fill those gaps, they would capture the market. Prices are ALL fair and proportionate to the rig, except the QCX which gives perhaps the most bang for buck. With increasing features, power consumption becomes an issue. So, the ideal rig:

Ideal rig would be something like the LD-11 with the ability to enter into very low RX current mode (and even lower TX current). Or the PFR-3b with at least 7-22MHz (or alt option 3-17MHz) with general coverage RX *and* TX but with the option to switch various features off to retain the low 35mA RX. Or the QCX with much lower current draw, and selectable wide filter and wider RX/TX coverage. Or the MTR5b with selectable wide filter, ability to get higher power on higher voltage e.g. 8W on 16V, and wider gen-coverage RX/TX 3-15MHz or 7-22MHz. And the ideal rig would be as rugged as possible even if it is a special storage/transport case that is water and shock proof. Ideal peripherals would be matching un/balanced line/end fed tuner, versatile battery holder/adapters, possibly also a power amplifier to 10-20W.


I have an HB1B. It's published current draw is 80-90 ma rx and 800 ma tx. It also has a built in keyer with auto CQ. Mine took a spill from about 4 feet to the concrete. As the paddle was still plugged into it, it impacted the paddle plug and broke the key jack. I opened the rig and superglued the jack back together. It worked fine until I was able to replace it. I bought 10 new jacks on eBay for a couple of bucks and used one to replace the glued jack. Good as new. That was the only damaged it sustained from the spill. Now I have a lot of spare jacks. I like the variable filter width and the fact I can listen to SSB and AM with it.
I also have a MTR-3b. I take that thing everywhere with me. It's so small and light.  The rig, battery, key, headphones, tuner, paracord, and ground stakes all fit into a sandwich sized plastic food container.  However, with the MTR's non-adjustable, narrow filter and push button tuning, I find the HB1B so much easier to scan the bands with. I take the HB1B if I have the room in my bag for it and the MTR-3b if weight and space is tight.


vwflyer thanks for your very helpful post, I have edited the post above accordingly, please check. What bands is the MTR-3? What specs do the MTR-3 and MTR-5 have as the LNR site is working but they have broken internal links to the individual products. Anything you can tell me I can add into the comparison post above, if longer-term editing is allowed.


Yeah, to confirm the band options:
3b - 20, 30, 40
4b - 20, 30, 40, 80
5b - 15, 17, 20, 30, 40

Another thing that makes band scanning hard with the 3b is that the freq display doesn't display the frequency while you tune. You have to stop tuning and then hit the freq button for it to tell you what freq you've arrived at. The 4b and 5b fixed that issue. All three models will let you directly jump to  a freq using the CW paddle though. And you can listen in CW to the freq you are on which is nice if you are operating in the dark.  They also have multiple, fully customizable keyer memories. You can also beacon a memory.


OK that's good info. Do you know the current drain on RX for the 3b and/or the other models?


Active Audio Filter: this is something the Heathkit HW-8 had way back in the day. What about the above rigs now? Don't they have anything that makes a signal at the CW pitch chosen or set, jump right up out of the noise and sound much louder?



Quote from: gil on August 26, 2017, 07:07:34 AM
I would get the MTR4b...

Yes but what's your reasons? I know for you 20/30/40/80 is essential. If you take 80 out of the equation though would you still get the MTR-3 or -5 and if so, why above the others? For me 80m is normally not important as usually I'm near the equator. For me long term durability, and the other factors above mentioned are what's making my choice difficult. The QCX work out actually cheaper and seem to have more features, provided they are durable, than all the others, and you end up with multiple separate small rigs which has advantages over all eggs in one basket?


Updated original post with QCX power consumption values.


Just a side note.  If you want a real cheap tuner, look at this tuner.  It's $11 shipped:
I built one several years ago and had issues, but the last I heard they fixed the issues and it's a good kit.  It's good for at least 10W, has a built in LED SWR indicator (Tayloe bridge) and will tune a wet string.

The kit takes some work.  You have to drill the holes in the case and winding the multi-tap inductor takes time to scrape the insulation at each tap.  I wish it was a little smaller, but it works.

WRT which radio, a lot depends on size and weight.  I have an MTR-3B and an old 2 band version of the HB-1B (Ten-Tec R4020) and love it.  I love the R4020 mainly because of the display, internal battery pack and frequency knob.  Having all the desired info in the display is often a big plus, as is the knob.  If it needs to fit in a backpack I take the MTR-3B.


The MTR-3B draws 35ma on RX and about 550ma on TX.

I think the 4b and 5b have an even lower RX draw.


Thanks feedback, incorporated in original post. WHAT ABOUT TJ5A? Now added to original post. TJ5A is SSB and CW, adjustable 300mW to 20W, large internal speaker, general coverage RX 2-30MHz, and 8 TX bands 80/60/40/30/20/17/15/12m. The only downside I see is weight 1.5kg. 200mA current draw on RX is not great (6 times the PFR3b and MTRs but still better than full size rigs including FT817ND)


You know what, there really IS NOT an ideal QRP rig out there at all!

The PFR-3b and HB-1B do come close to it. The PFR3 advantage is the built in tuner, that's nice having it in the box and the 34mA RX draw. The HB1B already on RX draws more than twice that at 80-90mA, though still much better than many others, even the QCX draws 150mA! Advantage is the general coverage receive and variable bandwidth. I just don't like the look of the HB1B for some reason and it LOOKS like a radio that would attract attention at airports where you are entering without a license and require import bureaucracy even for transit. The PFR3 I don't think looks like a radio but like a bit of test gear or a toy of some sort. "Portable Field Radio" doesn't sound dangerous. So I'm biased to that I think. An IDEAL survival radio would be:

* 50mA or less power consumption at least optional to switch off stuff except RX and have it as low as 30mA.
* Variable bandwidth or filter, so that at least one can listen to AM/SSB
* General coverage RX
* TX on 4 bands: 80/40/30/20 or for tropics a version with 40/30/20/17-15
* TX working even outside those band edges, useful in emergency
* Built in auto-alarm on 4 second dashes, or on callsign being received (if having microprocessor such as QCX) though can do without this feature
* Loudspeaker! Not just ear phones. Even if a small loudspeaker that can be optionally plugged in if it draws more current.

Basically the PFR-3b if it were improved to be able to listen wide to SSB and 2) to have an optional loudspeaker switched in, with no other modifications, would be acceptable, if with an extra band (80m, OR 15-17m), and not blocked from TX just outside the bands, would be IDEAL even without general coverage RX though that would be icing on the cake.

Or the HB1B if it were having lower power consumption on receive, 2) optional loudspeaker switched in, 3) built in BLT as in PFR-3, and not blocked from TX outside of band edges, and without those labels that give away that it is a transceiver, would then also achieve this ideal.

EVERY TiME over the past few years I look at all the QRP rigs, I see that there is NO ideal one that I'd really want. I think PFR-3b may be coming closest to it if only Hendricks could be persuaded to create the PFR-4b with above improvements but still managing the low current on receive.


QuoteYou know what, there really IS NOT an ideal QRP rig out there at all!

I've been saying this for a long time! Hence my recent post on crowd funding one...

The ideal QRP rig for me would be an MTR4b coupled with a DSB transceiver, built into a strong cast aluminum watertight case...



Exactly Gil. That's a very worthwhile effort. Meanwhile I have updated the original post to include LNR LD5 and LD11. Amazing radios. But I guess there is no magic to get below 350mA RX and 1.5A TX. The price reflects of course, those on a normal income can manage this eventually but not those on QRP!