A Few of My Favorite Things–Part 1

With apologies to Julie Andrews, I thought I’d share a few favorites that I’ve bought at least once on Amazon. Many are ham-related, but certainly not all. I buy stuff on Amazon fairly frequently, to the point where they now have a Prime van parked 24/7 in front of my house. Fairly frequently. I said that. We take food out to the driver occasionally and let her use the bathroom. We’re not uncivilized people.

I’m a fan of noise-cancelling headphones. I bought the very first wired model that Bose produced way back when. They have lots of competition today. Since last year, my new favs have been the wireless Sony WH1000XM3 Bluetooth headphones with built-in mike for Alexa or mobile-phoning. I got the silver model (hey, everybody does black!), and they are wonderful to wear. Excellent sound for all kinds of music, comfortable over-the-ear cushions, and very easy to use.

If you don’t like the over-the-ear style, then quit reading now, because I like them to cover my ears completely so all the conversations and jet-engine whooshing noises can be reduced to near-zero. I hate sticking earbuds directly into my ear canals (I think I ruined them with the wax pellets that they handed out when I flew in the USAF), and the “open” style of noise-cancelling headphones appear to me to be as useful as screen doors on a submarine.

I was going to say that this is not a ham-related item, but I’ve been experimenting with connecting them to my Elecraft K3s transceiver, and I have to say that I think they are a winner for short-wave listening. I use an external Bluetooth transmitter connected to one of the K3’s audio outputs, and I can walk around and listen, still fiddling with other things in my shack. If you buy a Bluetooth transmitter for ham use, make sure to get one that does the new low-latency audio, which the Sony supports very well. Cuts the normal BT audio delay down to less than 40 milliseconds.

The only real downside to them is that they are $350. As my dad might say, “You’ve really got to be madly in love with something to pay that kind of money!” Yeah, tell me about it. But I travel a lot, and these are the best for that activity, hands down. Just don’t ask me what the pilot told us.

But it turns out that I also want something cheaper that I can use in the wood shop, doing something dusty or messy, or just something to knock around without worrying about the cost of replacement. I found this pair of headphones that do just about everything the expensive Sony headphones can do, but at a super-low price!

And the winner is the Anker Soundcore headphones, and they are only $59.95 on Amazon. They are not perfect copies of the Sony, performance-wise, but they have a decent quality feel, and are certainly an excellent deal for the price. I’ve been very happy with them, and recommend them without reservation. Now I’ll list a few good and less-good points. Oh, you might call them reservations, I guess.

Pros:

  • Very good sound with very decent bass (one of my requirements). Capable to doing the official Bluetooth HD mode for hi-res audio, like the Sony.
  • About as comfortable as the Sony and look just about like them, with decent fit and finish
  • Easy-to-use controls
  • They’ve screen printed a big “L” and “R” on the inside of the left and right earcups, respectively. A nice touch for us reading-glasses-for-everything-smallish types.
  • Built-in rechargeable lithium battery like Sony, with long listening time (claim is 40 hours and I have no reason to doubt this). Uses a micro-USB charging jack. The Sony uses a USB3 connector.
  • Has a built-in mike so you can use them with a mobile phone, again just like the Sony model.
  • Can be paired with more than one thing at a time. You can only use one audio stream at a time, of course, but you can have them paired with, say, your computer and your mobile phone. If you have Windows on your computer, be aware that Windows will occasionally try and “steal” the connection back, but this is a stupid, freaking, idiotic, %&@#*!($% Windows shortcoming, not the fault of either pair of headphones. Everyone else on the planet has figured out how to make their operating system work reasonably well with Bluetooth except Microsoft! This from the people who are still trying to destroy your computer with stupid, freaking, idiotic, poorly-tested updates to Windows 10 in 2020! What? Oh, OK, I’ll wipe my brow and sit down again. Sorry, they just really hack me off, as the British like to say.

Cons:

  • The Sony can do a new type of low-latency Bluetooth streaming that I mentioned earlier, which you’ll only care about if you watch TV or play fast-action games with the headphones on. This Anker model is missing that feature. You may never notice it, though.
  • With the ANC (active noise cancelling) turned on, the Anker will occasionally emit a loud “POP” from both earpieces if you are chewing crunchy food (yes, I’m not kidding!), or you sneeze or cough loudly. This is a minor annoyance, but still annoying. Maybe it’s just a quirk in the pair I own, but you’ve been warned.
  • Lacks the Sony fun touch-surface controls that allow you to turn the volume up and down, pause, answer the phone, etc. You can still do all these things, but the Anker uses little discrete buttons or rocker switches rather than the iPhone-like touch surface of the Sony. Not a deal-breaker by any means, and if you remind yourself you’ve got an extra $300 in your pocket, you’ll definitely never miss the feature.

OK, so there you go. I’ve saved you some dough, got to rag on Microsoft again, and I’ll add some more favorites as time permits.

73 and good listening,

Dave – K7DAA

Winter Field Day 2020

Come join us January 25th for the 2020 Winter Field Day. We will be at Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy all that way at the back of the park where we usually set up for the June Field Day. It will be a fairly relaxed day. – No towers, trailers, mostly go-boxes and portable HF antennas. Come as you are. Ask as many questions as you want. Stay as long as you like. Set-up begins around 9AM. Transmission begins at 11 AM PST. We will stay as long as we feel like it. See the link below for details and operating rules.

https://www.winterfieldday.com/

Gilroy Maker Faire 2020

So how cool would this be? An opportunity to highlight our hobby, and its roots in making, in our own back yard! Be prepared to be peppered with suggestions of our local clubs getting a booth together. Maybe we can even do a balloon launch, some on-the-air demos, DMR, some remote control, how repeaters work, and even drum up some folks for a ham-cram.

Polar Explorer

Here is an interesting find from 2019 Dayton Hamvention, the Polar Explorer. It is a 500 watt transmitter that mates with your existing radio. It is not an amplifier. It is a self contained 160-10m transmitter. It is currently still a work in progress, and the developer has been working on the design for the past 6 years. There is no receiver in this design. You use your existing transceiver. There is a short survey you can take on the page, and even sign up to be a beta tester. Check out the deets on www.polex-tech.com

Monthly Electronics Flea Market @ Fry’s

Some of you I’m sure know about the Bay Area Electronics Flea Market. It used to be every month, starting in the spring, through the end of summer, in the De Anza College parking lot.

In 2018 the market moved to the Fry’s in Sunnyvale. A wide assortment of all matter of electronic doo-dads, thingamabobs, and widgets of all shape and size are often present. If you ever want to see a walking history of electronics in Silicon Valley, that alone is worth the visit.

Check it out some time. For times and dates check out their website!

YT-450 Upgrade? Yup!

My first HF radio was a Yaesu FT-450D. Like many radios with an internal tuner, it was limited to 3:1 SWR matching. Since I was using a G5RV Jr for an antenna at the time, this was not quite enough to properly tune across 40 meters. 80 meters was out of the question. A local ham had some gear from an SK that was needing a new home and one of the items was an LDG YT-450 external tuner, made to be paired with the 450D. It was also made to be used with the FT-950 which is how it was being used. It was the right time at the right price, so I purchased it. It worked great with the 450D. But, about a year later I sold the FT-450D and upgraded to the newer FT-991. The YT-450 did work with the 991! For a while…

A Yaesu firmware upgrade put an end to that, and it stopped working. And that is where I was stuck for a while. I had changed to a fan dipole, and later to an OCF dipole. So 3:1 matching was again within my reach, although on 40 or 80 meters I would get weird SWR sometimes.

I was getting ready to move some things around in my go-box and was staring a the YT-450 thinking of just removing it, selling it, and purchasing a YT-1200 which is compatible with the FT-991. It is nice to have the wider range tuner because we sometimes want to use an end-fed, or random wire, and so a good external tuner can really come in handy. So I hit the Interwebs to find a deal and ‘lo and behold…

I came across a chip upgrade on CheapHams.com that replaces the ROM with a new ROM that makes the YT-450 essentially a YT-1200, which restores compatibility with the FT-991! For $20, they send you chip and a sheet of instructions for installing the chip, and the parameters to set on the FT-991. 4 small screws and 10 minutes later and… Done! I have a working tuner again… for $20!

Signal Stick – Get One.

I came across the Signal Stuff, Super-elastic Signal Stick in a recent on-line article. As you can see in the image, it is tied in a knot. And that is exactly how it was shipped to me in a padded envelope. The envelope was about 5″ square. I was surprised when they arrived and immediately was concerned I would have this warped antenna dropping off the top of my HT. Nope. Once the envelope was opened, and the Nitonol, nickel-titanium alloy antenna was “untied”, it returned to its previous, perfectly straight alignment. That alone was impressive. So why these? Well, let’s go down the list…

  1. They are made by hams
  2. Your purchase supports www.hamstudy.org
  3. $20
  4. So far appears to be fairly indestructible.
  5. It actually does what it says it does.

The antenna is 18.25″, is available in a variety of connector types, and comes in basic black. The cowling is 3D printed and set with epoxy. It is crazy strong. There is a growing list of reviews available online and on YouTube with nearly unanimous positive results and glowing recommendations.

My review of the Signal Stick has also been very positive with improved signal quality in my anecdotal testing across radios and local repeaters. I have most of the same antennas the reviews call out in their comparisons, and I would say my testing pretty much aligns with everyone else’s. Did I mention they are only $20?