mAT-705 Judged Too Soon?

The post I made about the mAT-705 antenna tuner was a bit rough on the unit in retrospect. I regretted the purchase because the mAT-705+ came out shortly thereafter and answered my issue of having to pull the thing apart in a rather perilous manner to replace the battery by adding in a USB-C rechargeable battery. But what they took away with this design is perhaps the most important piece of my personal puzzle.

They removed the power switch.

Sure, I’ve seen complaints online that people forget to turn it off and then the battery runs out and you have to change it in the field, which again, is perilous. But that power switch is its own kind of superpower. To quote from their product site:

When the frequency does not change, the user can directly turn off the power without affecting the use. In order to save power to the greatest extent, the tuner directly uses switching control power. Does not consume any power when shutting down.

http://www.mat-tuner.com/mAT-705.php

That means that the other day when I was messing around in the yard, that I was right. Once things are tuned, I can turn off the power and, well, it’s good! For digital field operations, this is pretty sweet as anything that reduces power consumption is by it’s very nature a good thing. It’s a little puzzling that they pulled the switch from the design when adding the rechargeable battery, but then again, there’s only so much real estate in that tiny box and the size is part of the attraction. I don’t have the plus model, but I think I might have deeper buyer’s remorse with that one. And this little revelation after reading a post over on OH8STN has me thinking that I might be happy with where I am. After all, the performance of the tuner is great and the size and weight are selling points for me.

This tuner is the essence of ham radio. It’s a compromise. It tunes perfectly and quickly. It works really well with the IC-705. But the compromises are all over the place and are obvious after a little time in the backyard, I think.

More updates as I get more time in the field soon.

IC-705 WLAN with WSJT-X

With the usual tip of the cap to OH8STN I dug in on the v1.24 firmware of the IC-705 to rid my field setup of yet another cable. I think I’m about as close to field nirvana as I’m going to get. So what did I do and what did I learn?

First off, I have to say that I totally gave up on some things. Being in Ham Radio as a hobbiest with limited time means that I had to re-examine the three legged stool principle. What’s that? Well, there are three legs: Time, Money, and Scope. In this case, my scope is QRP operation on primarily digital modes at the park or while I’m camping. My time is, as I’ve mentioned in the past, very valuable to me and is a fixed amount. I do keep a close eye on my hobby budget and I’m not made of money. That said, if I wanted to keep pushing for a Raspberry Pi based solution, I was going to need a lot more time for fiddling with computers and that leads to less time for operating because I don’t have blocks of time for both. So I followed the lead of the mighty OH8STN and got a Surface Go 2. I will say that the world of Ham Radio operators has embraced the Raspberry Pi and GNU/Linux, but at the end of the day, most of the software that works with minimal time investment lives on Windows. Maybe someday…when I have a bit more time?

So what were the ingredients?

  • IC-705 patched to v1.24 firmware
  • Microsoft Surface Go 2
  • ICOM RS-BA1 Version 2 at the latest version
  • WSJT-X

That’s it. Now, what did I do?

First, I turned on the WLAN feature of the IC-705 and set it to Access Point Mode. This broadcasts an SSID of my choice and has a password requirement for joining that network. I spent a lot of time playing with this feature alone as I was hopeful that I could use the IC-705 as an access point for more than one device. After all, it’s just handing out an address and maybe acting as a low-functioning router given that there is no internet capability in this mode. But sadly, only one device can be attached to the IC-705 at a time based on my experiments. This constraint is not anywhere I could find in the documentation and it might be so simple that it’s not worth noting. But I had some ideas…and they’ll have to wait.

With the Access Point mode engaged, I set up the Connections menu to have MOD as WLAN. This means that audio as well as rig control commands will come and go over Wi-Fi. Easy enough.

IC-705 Menu for setting MOD to WLAN

Then we go over to the computer. I connected the computer to the SSID of the IC-705 under the usual Wi-Fi networking panel. I don’t think that the docs for setting up the connection software are particularly cumbersome. Once the software is installed, the connection utililty is launched and the user is left to fill in the blanks on the device that is the server and in that respect it’s not any more difficult than attaching any other device to a basestation. If you leave all of the defaults alone, the connection should Just Work.

When setting up the connection utility, there is the option of selecting a name for the virtual COM port. I chose COM1 because that’s what the software picked for me and I’m not attached to these kinds of things. With that done, one can launch WSJT-X and set the rig to IC-705, the port to COM1 (or whatever you chose), and then set the audio to the ICOM Virtual Audio port. Not really a huge difference here when compared to setting it up for use over a USB connection, though you do need to change the COM port and the audio port depending on your connection.

BUT!

There’s always a “But”…

Deep in the undocumented bowels of the connection utility, there is a button. Actually, it’s right up front and, in my opinion, poorly defined. It says [MOD]. Push that button. In the resulting dialog box, there is an area called [MOD Select]. It defaults to “Mic – Default Device” when what I really needed was “V Audio – ICOM_VAUDIO-1”. Special thanks to SM0TGU on the IC-705 groups.io list for pointing me in the right direction.

Before I was gifted with this configuration information, I was running WSJT-X and receiving just fine but unable to send audio. That is to say, the rig went to TX but had no sound to send. In fact, the whole reason for this post was to highlight this for later when I inevitably have to rebuild my setup from scratch. Now, with that option selected, everything was a GO!

ICOM Remote Utility Dialog for MOD Select

I made a contact not minutes later with W1LEM on 40m using my attic dipole. Not bad!

WSJT-X QSO with W1LEM

This is all great, but isn’t it just chasing a weird little feature for digital modes?

No. This removes the USB cable from the equasion and with it a lot of potential noise. My Surface isn’t awful, but I’ve used laptops that seemed to be purpose built for throwing off RF and noise. It’s also a neater solution. At this point, the only cables I will have in play will be auxillary power to the IC-705 from my battery box, the ATU, and the ATU control cable. All of those things can sit in a pile (for the most part) or in/on my pack while I use any number of digital modes or even a bluetooth headset for phone contacts from almost anywhere at my operating point or campsite. It’s amazing.

I have another post I’m working up on my antenna setup (a wire in a tree vs. the MP1 Super Antenna). I will also be keeping a better log of work in the field (even if that’s just my backyard) with the IC-705 and this setup.

I hope this is helpful! 73!

mAT-705 – Accessory Detour

The mAT-705 next to the IC-705 (on a tripod)

Antenna tuners are a thing to have, right? If you’re going to use a less than adequate antenna or just a random piece of wire, a tuner is going to come in handy. At home, I have an attic dipole that’s strung from one side of the attic to the other. I usually use my LDG tuner for that with my IC-7100. I have the LDG Z-11 Pro II and it’s awesome. It’s got a battery clip inside that eats a pile of AAs, it runs off of rig power, and it’s not too cumbersome, but I was really looking for a more portable option. The mAT-705, made specifically for use with the IC-705, looked like a pretty good idea. These are my initial impressions of that piece of gear.

Pros. The box is small and rugged. It fits in an admin pouch on my backpack or can be dropped into any number of waterproof boxes that I have for use when I’m outdoors. It’s got BNC connectors and a single 1/8″ TRS cable to connect it to the IC-705. It tunes up FAST and works really, really well in my testing so far. That’s using both my attic dipole and the MP1 Super Antenna. It’s definitely the right size and it hits all the right notes when it comes to being a solid tuner.

Cons. Well, the bummer is in changing the battery. I honestly hope that I never have to do this in the field. It takes a 9v battery that is in a most unfortunate position. Take a look:

The guts of the mAT-705 tuner.

To replace the battery, that entire assembly has to come out. In the manual, it mentions removing the rear 4 screws and pulling it out. That’s great if it works. But the battery fits in very tightly. That means taking off the front panel to push a bit to get it out. It doesn’t feel good to do this. It’s not a simple sliding motion. On the one hand, it’s great that it doesn’t slide around in the case, but it does make changing the battery feel treacherous. I’ll also add that for someone who regularly breaks things because he forgets that not everything responds well to torque, I have to really think it through.

Another downer with this is that the panel one is supposed to tug on is attached only by the BNC solder joints. Again, not instilling confidence.

Solder joints connecting the panel to the PCB.

If it turns out that the battery lasts for a long time, this won’t be something that I sweat very often. But if I find myself doing this more than once a year, I might figure out a way to power it externally because snapping that PCB would be a bummer.

There are Pros and Cons. What are the things that just sap the joy out of opening a piece of gear? I don’t know what to call them, but I’ll list the two that hit me.

One of them is a dead battery. Yeah, the battery was dead out of the box. This is how I discovered the pain of opening the case so soon upon receiving it. The other killjoy was finding that the enclosed allen wrench didn’t work. It was slightly too small to turn the screws. That was frustrating. Almost frustrating enough to return it, if I’m completely honest.

What’s the net? It’s a solid tuner. I have confidence that it will be great for my particular purposes. Knowing what I know now, would I suggest it to another new IC-705 owner? Maybe.

My particular requirements are tied to my lifestyle. I’m a dad and husband living through a rather singular pandemic who doesn’t have a ton of time for his hobbies. When I do get a chance to get out and play with my radio, I have to be ready to go. It feels like emergency readiness, but it’s more relaxation readiness. If I have to pull any component out of my desktop chain to get out the door, that comes out of the minutes that I’m not on the air or heading to the field. So I feel like the mAT-705 is going to be very helpful on that front. It’s small, light, and can live in my backpack waiting patiently for me to get out the door.

I will continue to update my thoughts on this piece of gear as I get out more in the coming months. I want to give it a fair shake.

IC-705 – Part 3: GPS

Your IC-705 will NOT look like this when you’re getting GPS data.

I’m slowly stepping my way through all that the IC-705 has to offer. I still consider myself quite a new ham, so there are features that I know little about that I’m starting to have a lot of fun with. But for a moment, I’m going to indulge something that I’m really getting geared up for this winter: field operation.

In my part of the world, it gets quite cold in the winter. I’m not one to shy away from that and I do indeed love hiking and camping all winter long. Especially if it’s quiet and there is some degree of solitude. In these Strange Times, it’s sometimes nice to take a minute and step outside where we can enjoy the absence of certain things. But there’s no reason I can’t take my radio along, right? And there really shouldn’t be any reason that, given my recent acquisition, I shouldn’t take my radio hobby along for the hike.

There are a lot of operators out there who are far better at field operation than I. OH8STN is definitely one of them and I follow his work closely. The sentiment we share is that in 2020 a radio should do everything with one wire – if there has to be a cable at all. There’s no reason that a single USB cable shouldn’t carry with it all the power of the radio. And with the IC-705, it does.

I wrote before about syncing a laptop’s time using my Kenwood TH-D74 so that the clock is as accurate as it can be for modes like FT8. That still works and it can be done over bluetooth. But I’m not using the TH-D74 for FT8 and I’m already plugged into the IC-705 which has a GPS, so why not leverage that?

This whole entry is more of a way for me to remember what I did to get to the point where it worked and less about trying to teach anyone anything. There are many links to places that taught me what I know. But here are the high points.

The IC-705 really only needs one bit of configuration.

SET > Connectors > USB (B) Function -> GPS Out -> ON

Thanks to Ryan on the IC-705 groups.io list for reminding me of that. See also Painful Radio UI/UX.

With the GPS turned on and that setting in play, the unit will push data out via the USB as soon as it has acquired a lock. A trick? In my experience, it will come out as the port that does NOT do rig control. Every operating system does this differently and you can’t necessarily predict which device will show up where (even when you tell the OS to honor your setup) so it’s good to know that there’s a difference and not get frustrated and stare at a screen for an hour like someone I know.

Hmm…

Now on the computer side, it’s a question of finding some software that will listen to a GPS and go from there. I used GPS2Time on Windows and gpsd on my Raspberry Pi. You can get all the instruction you need from VK4ADC’s site for GPS2Time and THIS is a great tutorial on getting things going with the Raspberry Pi. Though I will caution you to double check the device that is configured for chrony. That tutorial names a device and you just need to confirm that the one you need is the one you configure. Or again, you’ll be staring at a screen like our friend.

So far, everything seems to be working exactly as I would like. It also gets me down to a single connection to the computer. In 2020 that is definitely as it should be.

Carrying Things Around

I love bags. I really do. I have different shapes and sizes for a number of applications. I skew toward Kelty for backpacks for camping because they seem to fit me well. I have a Maxpedition sling that I like for grab and go applications. I also have some no-name bags that I take kayaking or when I just need something slightly larger than a pouch but smaller than a sling for something like my phone, first aid kit, flashlight, and knife. I’ve struggled to find a good way to carry my HT in the field. It’s easy enough to clip it on when it’s on, but for transit, I’d like it to have some kind of minimal protection from bouncing against other things or being dropped by a kid.

After looking at what I could do with my IC-705, I stumbled on lens bags for cameras. I picked up a four pack that has four very different sizes. One of them was small enough for me to stuff my Zumspot in for transfer to the field for JOTA. It felt good to have just a bit of insurance there. I have another, larger lens bag that does hold the IC-705. That keeps the screen safe at least and allows me to toss it into the backpack with the Super Antenna without sweating too much. As a bonus, one of them was the perfect size to hold my TH-D74 with it’s hand mic.

TH-D74 and hand mic outside of the lens case.
TH-D74 and hand mic wrapped up.

These bags aren’t perfect. They aren’t going to act like a hard case. They aren’t waterproof. They aren’t crushproof – or even crush-resistant. But again, they keep things from scratching or taking too much abuse as they bump together in the pack. So for a controlled event like JOTA where all I needed to do was get from home to camp to the site for the station, it was great. If I had to really pack the Jeep with other people’s stuff or dogs I don’t think I’d be as happy with the solution.

I’m still really looking at how to take my IC-705 into the field. I’ve seen camera systems that would be great, but I feel like that’s taking things over the top. I do have a soft spot for packs that let me hang things off of them and have many compartments, so who can tell? I’ll come back to this as I kick up my field operations.