What Kit to Build, Part Six


This one is a tough one because there are so many good kits out there, in
fact all of the kits that I mention in this article are good kits, the bad
ones have already gone out of business! I am also sure that you can find a
"champion" that will sing the praises of every one of the kits, and I
understand because different people like different things. But I am going
to recommend what I feel is the best kit to build, both in performance and
in bang for the buck.

Kits have changed a lot in the last 5 years, and we are seeing more and more
sophisticated kits as we go. Guys are integrating features that weren't
even developed 5 years ago. I have received some criticism that I am not
comparing apples to apples, so I am going to go through the various rigs and
compare them by cost first, but the comparison will be done with all of them
having the same equipment. I will give the base price of the kit, and then
I am going to add a frequency readout (either audio or visual), precision
tuning (10 turn pot or optical encoder) and a keyer option. If the company
has these options available, they will be used, if not, I will add a TiCK
keyer kit at $25 + $2.50 shipping and a Freq-mite Audio Frequency Announcer
for $20 (s&h included) from Small Wonder Labs, as they are the lowest priced
kits that add these features that I know of. The precision 10 Turn pot is
$11 from Mouser. Ok, now on to the comparison.

Emtech NW40
Base Price $130
Keyer $27.50
Frequency Readout $20
10 Turn Precision Tuning Pot NA
Total = $177.50

Kanga US Hands GQ40
Base Price $185
Keyer $27.50
Frequency Readout $20
10 Turn Precision Tuning Pot NA
Total = $232.50

Morse Express OHR 100A
Base Price $119.95
Keyer $17.95
Frequency Readout $74.95
10 Turn Precision Tuning Pot $11
Total = $223.85

Red Hot Radio NC20A
Base Price $135
Keyer Included
Frequency Readout Included
10 Turn Precision Tuning Pot Included
Total = $135

S&S Engineering TAC1
Base Price $199.95
Keyer $29.95
Frequency Readout Included
10 Turn Precision Tuning Pot NA
Total = $229.90

S&S Engineering ARK 40
Base Price $269.95
Keyer $29.95
Frequency Readout Included
10 Turn Precision Tuning Pot NA
Total = $299.90

Small Wonder Labs DSW
Base Price $90 + $35 for case, connectors and controls
Keyer Included
Frequency Readout Included
10 Turn Precision Tuning Pot NA
Total = $125*
* Case option included to make it a complete kit to compare with others in

TenTec TT1340
Base Price $95
Keyer $27.50
Frequency Readout $20
10 Turn Precision Tuning Pot $11
Total = $153.50

Wilderness Radio NC40A
Base Price $129
Keyer $48 (KC-1)
Frequency Readout (KC-1)
10 Turn Precision Tuning Pot $11
Total = $188

Now you may ask why do I include the keyer, frequency readout and precision
tuning on all kits? Because it is state of the art, we expect kits to have
them today. Note, if you are a designer, I would strongly advise you to
design in these features to your kit, because it is much cheaper to do so
and it is the standard today. If you look at the above kits, you see that
the two winners are Small Wonder Labs DSW and the Red Hot Radio NC20 at $125
and $135 respectively. The prices go all the way up to $299.90. Price is
not the only consideration though, so we still have to look at the radios

My recommendation for the best all around value for a single band cw
transceiver is the Red Hot Radio NC20 and the soon, (very soon, like 2
weeks) to be announced Red Hot 40 transceiver. Why do I like this kit?
Because it gives the most bang for the buck. Every thing is there, keyer,
rit, agc, frequency readout, precision tuning, beautiful anodized case (no
painting or finishing this one, guys, it is anodized!!) The receiver is
hot! Mds of -137+, and it has an improved agc over the NorCal version. The
front end is a Tuf 1 mixer, not an NE602 design. This one hears, has great
selectivity, is sensitive, and the opposite sideband rejection is excellent.
You can be right next to a strong station and never hear it. The transmitte
puts out a full 5 watts, in fact, most people will get 6 or 7 and have to
turn it down. But you can set it anywhere from milliwatts to the full 5W
QRP limit.

The built in TiCK keyer is a joy to use, and there are NO thumps or whoops
with the commercial version NONE. I love the AFA, and I know right where I
am on the band down to the nearest kHz.

There is a statement or saying that there is no free lunch, and that is true
in this case. This radio is not a beginners kit. There are 12 toroids to
wind, over 350 parts in the kit. The manual is excellent, and if you follow
the instructions and build it right, you will have a radio that is a dream
to operate. Mike Gipe, Gary Surrency, and Jay Bromley all have NC20's that
have been built right. They have set it up right, followed instructions,
and all of them will tell you that this is a radio!! Jay tells me that he
thinks the NC20 is the best single band CW transceiver ever offered. He
didn't feel that way when he first built his, but now that he has it
adjusted and has it tuned and tweaked, he does. The important thing here
guys is that you have to build this one right. It is not hard to do, but
you have to follow instructions. If you have built the VE3DNL, the TiCK
keyer, the ZM-2 and the SWL+, then there is no doubt in my mind that you
too can successfully build the Red Hot Radio.

Now for the exciting news. I talked to Dave Fifield who designed the NC20
and now sells the commercial version through Red Hot Radio. He will finish
the board layout this weekend and should have boards for the Red Hot 40 in
two weeks!!! The Red Hot 40 is gonna be a fox killer for sure. Full 5
Watts, great receiver, RIT, built in keyer, etc. etc. The price is going to
be the same as the Red Hot 20 too!!

The one thing that you do have to realize about the Red Hot Radios is that
they were not designed to be low current rigs. They draw about 100 mA on
receive, considerably more than a NE602 design that use 14 - 30 mA. That
means you need more battery to take it in the field. But a 4 amp gel cell
will easily run it a full weekend. It was designed to be a home station, or
car camping rig.

Yesterday I said that I would have a major and minor recommendation. My
minor recommendation is the SWL DSW Transceiver from Dave Benson. If you
are going to go backpacking, this is the kit to build. It has a DDS VFO,
and you are able to have an RIT with unlimited range. The main advantage of
the DSW is the stability and range. The DSW covers the whole 40 meter
band!! This kit also has the built in keyer and audio frequency counter,
but the reciever is a 602 design, and is not as sensitive as the Red Hot.
My DSW was tested in the ARRL lab by Mike Tracy and had a Mds of -127 dB.
Ed Hare was there also and witnessed it.

The DSW does not put out the full 5 watts, but does do 2-3 watts very
easily. It only has about 100 parts, and is much simpler and easier to
build than the Red Hot, but when you get done, you don't have the radio that
the Red Hot is, but you do have a good radio. The DSW is easier to build
and align than the Red Hot, but that is mainly because it has fewer parts.
In fact, one way to do it would be to build the DSW first, then the Red Hot,
the DSW will give you more experience and confidence to complete the Red Hot

Also, all of the manufacturers give excellent service or they wouldn't be in
business. But I know for a fact that if you contact Dave Fifield or Dave
Benson with problems with their rigs you will get help.
Here are the addresses for ordering the Red Hot Radio and the DWS radios.



Red Hot Radio
1717 Andover Lane
San Jose, CA 95124-4744

Small Wonder Labs
Dave Benson
80 East Robbins Ave.
Newington, CT 06111

In summary, my choice for the best full featured single band CW transceiver
is the Red Hot Radio. Please note that Dave will have the Red Hot 40 out in
2 weeks!! The Red Hot 20 is available now. My choice is based on features,
all around performance, and value for dollar spent.

Tomorrow, Part 7 in the 8 part series, The Super Kits, multi band
transceiver kits.
72, Doug, KI6DS