DRAGON SS-485H is Back

Dragon SS-485H

Dragon SS-485H

The Dragon SS-485H has been around in Australia for many years now and is a well respected little workhorse punching well above it’s weight. It was one of the first full SMD boards and one of the smaller SSB rigs of its day. Easily modified to work on 10m and expandable from 25 to 29mhz. In the 10m mode it also had split and repeater offset capabilities which were not shared in the expanded CB mode. 5 memories and a relatively easy to learn menu system made the original Dragon and “clones” a firm favorite in the car and at home.

But it had a few drawbacks. Remove the DC for more than a day and all your memories were gone and the radios were back to default was probably my pet hate. The steps would only step around 10khz in a circle. Couldn’t slide far in the 1khz step and it was an effort to get into the zeros from the fives. But it worked well and seldom messed up until Magnum started playing with the finals and substituted their 70w PEP final with no forced air cooling.

This new version shares a lot with the old one but it has a lot of new stuff too. I fiddled about with it for a little while, so probably have not found everything yet. It now includes the 12m ham band and I believe you can disconnect the power for a few days and not loose all the memories. Have not had it long enough to confirm this myself. I set it into code 3 which best suits the way I want to operate. Expanded mode just the frequency and no 40ch read out, with all the bells and whistles and 30w PEP or 40ch US with the channel read out and 12w PEP.  One button push to switch between them. It has a lot more in the menu system: Settings for various countries, CB bands, Ham bands only option and several expanded options. The mic gain and RF gain controls are now in the menu but easy to get to from Button 4 when required. Power and squelch controls have been separated and the power rotary control is now down where the mic/RF gain used to be. No more dual pots. The buttons all seem pretty much the same ..Got a memory scan now which is cool. Still only 5 memories. Function still works by pushing in the clarifier knob. Display size is the same, but now features an array of selectable colours ‘ala Anytone’ and the 6th digit that everybody has been asking for but which doesn’t really achieve a lot cos it is not a counter and the clarifier control has no effect on it. But it is there. The font seems to have changed. I don’t like it as much but what the heck. The S meter LED bar graph has more graduations so you can see S7 now instead of S5 or S9. It has a roger beep! In the menu so out of the way, and a TOT timer. Who uses a TOT timer? The mic is nice and big and still has the little pot in the mic to reduce or increase the audio. 6 pin mic plug and electret cartridge.

.Dragon 485H Mic

Dragon 485H Mic

Dragon 485H Mic

On air reports. Have not had long enough to really put it through its paces and to see if it also exhibits similar AGC characteristics as the Anytones. I suspect it might after seeing the display colours, roger beep and TOT timer in the menu! Hope I will be proven wrong! I did note that the volume was not easy to adjust with the external speaker. It was either too loud or too soft..Doesn’t seem very linear. From ‘too soft’ to ‘too loud’ in the first 10% of the rotation. Received audio was good and from all reports both near and far the transmit audio was also clear and punchy. The step control is limited in its coverage except in the default 10khz step when it can go from 24.710 to 29,965 in continuous 10khz steps. Bear in mind we are talking CODE 3 here and things may not be the same in one of the other modes. In CODE 3 you can switch between the expanded mode with all the goodies turned on and the 40ch CB mode. Yes we have another ‘export’ radio that has split ability in 27mhz. Pretty neat, but 12 watts max in the CB mode too! A long press of the ch9/19 button toggles between the modes. The heat sink did get a little warm after some long QSO’s at 30w. Nothing much to worry about..the heatsinks are quite substantial.

How to sum it up?

Dragon 485H purple Dragon 485H yellow Dragon 485 mainboard Dragon 485H Final

…Its pretty nice, easy to use, familiar for many, comfortable for most …..and it isn’t an Anytone!!

But it ain’t no MK3 Optima killer either! Not by a long shot.

It is now a few days on and the memories did stay with the power off. Good. Another thing I did not add was that each mode stores and keeps its own frequencies. In the past we could jump into the expanded mode if we had an expanded mode frequency in memory. Not any more. So the 5 memories programmed in for the CB band stayed, but were replaced by the 5 different memories we saved for the expanded mode. always have a memory saved ending in zeros for the expanded mode so you do not have to rotate the selector thru 10 500hz clicks to shift up 5khz. The lack of step option is a pain. Stepping in 500hz is a pain. No 1khz step is a pain. No 5khz step is a pain. Why don’t they do it right? I guess if they did not have the step in 500hz then it would be useless to have the digit there in the first place, but a better idea would be to have a 100hz step. The clarifier is RX only. It would be nice to have a couple of options re the use of the clarifier. Not a deal breaker but useful. Sounds beautiful in FM and Am but the small heat sink on rear got too hot to hold my hand on in a short period. The regulator or the audio chip I guess. It is nice, leave the rf gain and mic gain wound up full in the menu. I am using a blue screen which is pleasant on the eyes. There are a few choices: None, Red, Deep Blue, Purple, Green, soft Yellow, Soft Cyan, White.   5, 6, and 7 are my preferences,  soft Yellow, Soft Cyan and White. Red and Deep blue too dark and green a bit sickly somehow…The ability to turn the lighting off is probably useful..though I can’t think of any use for it yet and Red is great in the dark if you don’t want to loose your night vision.

Its pretty nice. Nicer receive than the anytones. I wont say they are any more sensitive than the anytones cos the anytones are too sensitive with a yagi antenna.  No issues with AGC so far, but with most CB radios the recived audio gets beat up a little bit by strong signals. But it is not too bad. Still it could have been better…Maybe Magnum will will do it right if they reintroduce the 257 again. But if they try to put a 70w final in a heatsink the size of a matchbox its going to mess up again. Whats wrong with 40W.? Or better still the 357 with the remote PA. And don’t forget the fan this time.! And take out the TOT and give us a little clock instead.

More usage. Receive is a little noisy. Have had to leave the RF gain backed off a little and have had to back off the mic gain 1 point for local QSO’s. Small heatsink for the audio chip heats up in AM and FM modes but not in SSB. I don’t think it sounds as good as the earlier versions on receive but it is no worse than any other CB radio currently available ie Anytones! Its OK but gets fiddly to use unless you keep everything you want in the memories.

Ham Modes. Just like Code 3 except nothing outside the ham bands. No extra goodies so no point in not using code 3 unless you really really do not want to monitor 27mhz to see what is going on. Or if you live in Australia.

Changing the mode involves opening the case and shorting a couple of pins while turning on the radio. Select the code you require and turn the radio off and it will apply the selected code when the radio is turned on again. Select code 3 and you should not have to open the radio again.

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Blame Anytone. (Sunday Rant Time.)

Yup, Blame Anytone.  What have they done now?

They are responsible for flooding the market with cheap boring CB/10m Export radios that do nothing to enhance our hobby in anyway other than make it easy to buy their cheap junk. Nowadays it seems all the majors have had to buy from Qixiang in order to get a product to market at a reasonable price so they can try to make some money from the short lived CB boom this sunspot cycle. The cycle wasn’t very good and has not lasted very long so SSB CB/export radio sales will be heading downhill for the next 8 or 9 years while the sun turns its active sunspot regions away from the earth.  Anytone have made a mark. They came out of nowhere really, with the AT-5555 in all its derivatives, multi coloured display, backlighting, menu features nobody needs or wants, so so performance, 30w PEP, a built in menu system and the ability to program the frequencies with the aid of a computer. No where in the world is this radio legal on a CB band. So tell me please, why did they insist on having banks of 40 channels ala CB with all the missing CB frequencies still missing?. What a waste of space. Why could they not have just programmed it with 1 mhz bands and selectable steps. One would think that would have been a lot easier to achieve than messing about with 40ch bands. But no, they all displayed a lovely big number to indicate the channel you were on as well as frequency. Fat lot of good the channel display does you outside the conventional 40ch CB bands on which these radios are not legal for. So why include it? The user PC  programmable frequencies are only useful for the UK FM frequencies. And that is not all, …yes there is more yet..move the clarifier around then change channel and voila! the original channel now is set with the clarified offset. Ch 38 is now something else! How messed up was that? And we still kept buying them!

Every radio they produced has had receive problems reportedly due to some incorrect component values in the AGC section. All of them have a noisy receiver. Most of them have pretty good transmit audio with the standard mic and the Stryker 995 and lincoln 2’s especially so. Why couldn’t they have spent a few more dollars and cleaned up the receiver and simplified the menu system.

We had the AT5555 in half a dozen versions (version 6 last I heard) and variants, followed by the cree 8900, then stryker got into the act with the 955 that was a step in the right direction but once again flawed by the receiver, a stupid menu system, and insufficient cooling.  The AT-6666’s will all die a natural death due to the fancy but totally useless heatsink they built into the radio to go with the other problems mentioned above. The much heralded Lincoln 2 arrived on the scene but did nothing to enhance presidents reputation. The AGC problem was finally fixed but it was a difficult job involving smd soldering or a trip back to President. Qixiang remained mute on the subject. Version one was followed quickly by version 2 and finally version 3 but once bitten twice shy; I stayed away after the lincoln 1 experience. It still had 40ch and no other enhancements other than 6 memories that one couldn’t scroll off without changing the memory to the frequency you left so in my mind it wasn’t really a memory. Even the magnum 257 memory system worked better than that. The last rattle out of the box from Anytone was the AT5555N. Nice looking radio, but after president getting the AGC sorted in their radios Anytone couldn’t see fit to do the same to their radios so despite the lovely big display it did not do enough as a radio to entice too many buyers once the glamour died down. So now we have a lot of companies offering what is essentially a rebadged AT-5555. Sometimes I wonder if they really have made them or just fishing for a big order so they can get them made. I have had my Anytone experience. I am over it.

Lets hope the new radios from some of the other companies still producing 10m SSB radios can bring out something that works well. I have said it before and I will say it again…If Icom or Yaesu or Kenwood were motivated and brought out a small 10-12m SSB 50w pep radio that didn’t get too hot, had a removable head, all the IF DSP, memories and other features they have to include then there would be no further need for anyone to have to buy another anytone SSB 10 meter radio. Even if it hit the market place at around the 400 USD mark we would still buy it. I saw a Yaesu 857D for sale NIB from a dealer on the net the other day for US$450. They must be making them in China too now! Prices are coming down! Blame Anytone!

Disclaimer: I bear no resentment to Qixiang (Anytone parent company), Anytone or any of their employees. This is purely a rant about the products and is strictly a personal view which may or may not be shared by the reader. The opinions expressed within are personal and not necessarily those of the management.

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A Cute New SSB Radio

Small size SSB Rig

Small size SSB Rig

Another tiny SSB rig is soon to be released.  A standard 12w 40ch Sideband rig but has a lot of programming hidden away. Can be configured for all European bands, yet still hides a full export rig if you know what jumpers to jump and buttons to push. Has the ability to fit another final and a heatsink for 30w PEP in future runs. We all know how small that jopix hand mic is so you can imagine the size of this rig by comparison. It looks real interesting to us and we would like to get our hands on one to try.

In this world of Discotec lighting programmable CB radios it is refreshing to see someone has gone back to basics. No silly echoes, beeps and confusing menus. Don’t see -5khz for the zeros or -10khz for the alphas either.  For those that pine for a compact Cobra 148 this may be the one radio these days that pushes your buttons.

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Maxlog producing M8900 again. (Ver. 9)

It seems now in mid 2016 that version 10 has surfaced.

 

Miracles will never cease!! After a long wait of 7 months the M8900 may once more be available. The early ones were great performers but were let down by software and board problems. Not a lot of space to dissipate the 40watts these things were putting out out of the box. Most twin finals we get are 22w PEP or so from the factory.

These new ones show a bigger heatsink and reportedly better TX and RX audio and improved AGC. All the things we want to hear after suffering through the last few batches of Anytone inspired radios. I must say the last 8900’s had some of the best receive of any radio on 11m so wonder how they have improved that. Did read about the noise from a mobile installation but did not notice anything amiss with any I tried.

The photos below show they are being made but we have yet to see a finished article or any specifications or software. Hopefully the horribly complex and messy programming has been cleaned up and we will have one band with all the frequency steps from 24.5 thru 30mhz. But I doubt it. Too much to wish for!!

More as it comes to hand…

Ready for the lids

Ready for the lids

8900 production1

 

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BLA1000 Amplifier from RM Italy

BLA1000

BLA1000

The BLA1000 has been around for a while now so thought it was about time we took one for a ride. It arrived at the door on a wooden pallet…A bit of overkill I thought for a 1kw solid state amplifier, but I was wrong: this is a big heavy self contained amplifier. I was surprised at both the weight and the size. I don’t know what is inside the case but it is heavy. It is not as heavy as the Acom 2000A it is sitting on but it is slightly wider as the photos show. It seems a lot of amplifier for a solid State 1kw! One thing sets it out from the rest and that is it is also rated at 1kw on 6m. It has a built in PSU and a full suite of filters that can be set by a knob or left in Auto mode. I presume this amp will work Marine and MARS frequencies with no problem!

BLA1000 on top of Acom 2000A

BLA1000 on top of Acom 2000A

BLA1000 front side1 on Acom 2000a

Gripes. Its RM! Biggest gripe so far is the size and weight, but when we are talking amplifiers big weight and size are usually a good point. Don’t think of taking this one on an expedition unless you have carts and barrows! The finish is OK, but it is no Alpha or Acom. It is also not priced like an Acom or Alpha. For the weight the outer casings and front panel seem too thin. The front panel is larger than the sides so you have a lip waiting to cut or graze you if you bump into it. Front panel could do with some more screws and the perspex cover over the gauges had bowed out a little which looked odd. More screws would prevent this. Knobs and switches seem solid and secure.  Have not read the manual yet but the meter seems to read average and not in PEP so was not seeing much movement on the output meter despite the 100w input.  Most of us like to see 1kw on the meter if we have bought a 1kw amplifier! Maybe something in the manual about this. Manual states meter reads the RMS output.

I fired up on 40m on 7130 and was getting good reports from VK and ZL. The Amp did not flinch with the 100w input and 1.5 SWR. The fan comes on strong when the amp first fires up and then drops off. It is about a meter away but the fans did not get intrusive. Temperature rose to 42. from the 33 ambient. All good. It seems stable and solid. Just need to see what the actual output really is!

!BLA1000 front on Acom 2000a

LCD screen gives you the date and time when in power off mode and Antenna, SWR, band and temperature when the power is on. This is a no tune, instant start amp. rms power meter lcd screen

Although it is suggested that PTT be used to control the amplifier it does appear that there are several other options to key the amp…and if my understanding of “VOX” is correct it seems RF keying may also be included in the menu. That makes me smile….That should help sales. No need to buy that expensive PTT cable after all !

In conclusion: It is getting out well. Seems clean. no complaints so far. Did I mention it was big and heavy! Will update if anything else to add but I think it is solid.

Been using it for a couple of weeks now and it has not given any problems. Use the wrong filter bank and it will shut off as it should, over drive it and it will shut off. It runs very cool with the 40w I drive it with. If I could change anything I would reduce the input to 75w for full output and have the meter work like a PEP instead of RMS. I think this will just work and work for years to come. 

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2015 The year of the Huracan MK2?

Huracan MK11

Huracan MK11

prototype

Huracan Mk11

Huracan Mk11

Three prototypes of the Huracan Mk2. Will it finally make it’s debut in 2015?

If it does it may resemble one of the formats above.  Not much room for many more controls unless the VFO is hiding some functions.

But: where are the memories? Where is the split? How much power will it have?

It will probably sell as there is nothing else like it new on the market with an Analog meter!

Maybe we will have some answers after Chinese New Year !!!!

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Some new Aluminium up the Tower

The Tower with Sirio Verticals on the Side

The Tower with Sirio Verticals on the Side

We obtained a shipment of Sirio Vertical antennas the other month so it was time to mount them on the tower and see how they go. Still early days but the seem to be working well. In the next few days we will get them both on the same coax with the main tower switch to make it easier to switch between them. Just above them is the Acom 10-20 12 el Log Periodic and above that is the short boom 6el OWA Yagi for 10-11m. Looking for improved ground wave coverage for local contacts with the Gainmaster and Tornado. All the antennas will be switched by the remote switch in the tower once we complete the instalation.

The verticals  mounted on side stays.

The verticals mounted on side stays.

The Sirio Tornado

The Sirio Tornado

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