Dayton Hamvention 2013 Recap

Another Dayton Hamvention has come and gone.

The weather was pretty nice most of the time, though there was a quick shower on Saturday morning. Attendance seemed on par with last year. Noticed that a large number of people taking the amateur license exams were passing.

There were a number of vendors missing this year. AES, Ham Station, Scanner Master were the vendors I noticed. But some of the indoor display areas had isles completely empty. Not a lot, but very noticeable to those of us who go to Dayton annually.

Again, as last year, there were a large number of empty flea market spaces. Also, as usual, most of the stuff being sold in the flea market is junk that no one would even put on eBay. It seems to be a recurring theme that the good stuff that will bring increasing bids goes to eBay, while the junk that no one really wants is brought to the flea market. Prices for the junk in many cases is too high and unrealistic. Why would I buy a beat-up and scratched radio with questionable history for $100 less than I can buy one new? But people don't seem to mind bringing that same junk back to hamfest after hamfest. Seems to me, you take what you can get quickly and move on.

As far as the big-five at the Hamvention.

Icom's exhibit was packed as usual. DStar is still hot and growing rapidly. At the DStar forum they indicated that world-wide, there are now over 2,000 DStar repeaters and 50,000+ DStar registered users. The reports that you see on dstarinfo are only for U.S. Gateway 2 registrations and do not include the other gateway infrastructures. So clearly, DStar is even bigger than many of us thought. Icom as usual had a separate DStar display that was packed with people all the time. The ID-51A dual-band DStar radio was flying off the shelves with most vendors sold out by Friday night. HRO some how got another 50 for Saturday and they blew out. This radio has all the world-wide DStar repeaters already loaded. It can program the nearest repeater using its built-in GPS. As usual there was much interest in all the Icom HF offerings.

Kenwood's display seemed lightly attended. The only "new" thing they had was a $7,000 HF rig so since that is way out of the budget of most hams, it was not creating much excitement. Fact is, I have never witnessed such a dismal crowd at the Kenwood display. Probably because there was nothing new.

Yaesu was not giving out their traditional hat. They were giving out mouse pads instead. Yawn. Their display was also lightly attended, though not as bad as Kenwood. Hardly any interest in their new digital VHF/UHF handheld which is finally for sale. The woman who was manning the position could not say much about it. Still no repeater offering from Yaesu. Frankly, Yaesu's entrance into the digital voice world has been a disaster. Yaesu, wake up and go with DStar as that is where the momentum is in the worldwide market.

The DMR Mototrbo folks are trying to make everyone think DMR is overtaking DStar, but their booth was no where to be found. Someone told me yesterday it was located in the ARRL area. I was in the ARRL area at least four times, and did not see them at all. Frankly DMR has so many issues that DStar is continuing to rule and outgrow them. The DMR radios are a nightmare to program. Each radio has to be registered and not the more simple method of registering the ham call sign only. TDMA is reported to having problems when the distance is more than 45 miles. It does not seem to do integrated data and voice as some say it is "capable" of doing. It's not the right technology for ham radio. It's a commercial standard for a commercial market. But some people continue to push a square peg into a round hole.

TenTec was fairly busy all the time. They had a new computer controlled CW QRP radio. Boring. Yet another CW QRP rig for the market (I have a picture of it on the Hamvention 2013 Photo page on this website). Does anyone have any ingenuity? Their new QRP radio the Argonaut VI was not creating a lot of excitement. Many hams have shied away since it is a crippled radio missing 6, 12 and 60 meters. In this day and age given the technology, how can you create an HF radio with missing bands?

Elecraft was packed as usual. Their influence in the U.S. ham market is obviously growing. The fact that they continue to create new products and rapidly bring them to market is why they create excitement at the Dayton Hamvention year after year. TenTec needs to take a lesson from them. They created an all-band QRP rig in a smaller package than TenTec that can also include an antenna tuner, battery and 2 meter module. Why TenTec cannot do the same is beyond me. Elecraft was also not offering any discounts because the demand for their products is so high.

As for other vendors.

Flexradio had a lot of visitors to their booths as usual. Still showing the 6000 series of radios and software, but still no deliveries. Mel K0PFX told me that he has had his order into Flex now for a year and still no radio. The Flex1500 and Flex3000 are still the most economical way to get into an SDR transceiver.

Ham Radio Deluxe is doing well and has a growing following since the new owners have taken over. Great full-featured product for rig control, digital modes, logbook and satellite tracking.

LNR Precision was showing a dual-band CW QRP radio - again yawn - BUT the real exciting thing was a quad-band SSB and CW QRP radio that they will be offering around the Q3/Q4 timeframe. 5 watts and very small. This was really neat and supposed to be less than $500 when offered for sale. Watch for an announcement at

Silent System is a tiny Japanese company who is offering a very small QRP PSK transceiver with built-in display. Connect a keyboard, antenna and power supply, and you have a fully-functional PSK station. The only issue I saw was the power output was only 100 milliwatts. The price was under $300 as I recall and you can get more information or order it at

The FreeDV/Codec2 folks had a nice display in the main arena. They even showed a concept of an open source digital voice handheld.

Palstar was showing their new TR-30 5-Band SSB/CW (full QSK) touch screen transceiver. Great idea, but not yet available, but it should be later this year. My only concern is the price as they quoted it would be around $1,600. Maybe a little high if it were all band, but for only 5 bands I think it is a bit overpriced.

GRE America was there and yet not there. They used to have two booths in the past. One for scanners and the other booth showcasing Alinco. This year it was a combined single booth and none of the usual GRE America folks were there as it looked like all Alinco staff manning the booth. GRE made some of the best scanners in the past. But the parent shut down the scanner line and it looks like GRE America is trying to become independent and restart scanner manufacturing. Not sure where they are in that process.

The ARRL had a lot of visitors to their usual large display. Again, there was a great focus on youth in ham radio.

I expected to see more SDR (software defined radios) this year. WinRadio's booth was scaled down. Bonito had their integrated SDR/Control application on display and it looked very interesting, but I expected to see a few more vendors.

Summary - In general the Hamvention is THE hamfest of the year. But clearly the continued poor economy is keeping away vendors and some hams. Another thing that might be keeping away hams is that there just wasn't anything really new to generate the interest in going. Prices on radios and the like were not as good as they have been in the past. Even the cheap Chinese radios were not discounted as much this year. In fact, some of the radios offered could be purchase for less money on Amazon.

I would also suggest that the Hamvention start giving new and smaller ham radio vendors the chance to come for the first year for a very discounted price ($100?) on a first-come-first-served basis for the open slots on the inside. It's a shame to see those precious spaces sitting their empty. I know new upstarts that would love to come to Dayton, but find the cost too much for their budgets. Come on Hamvention committee, let's give them some assistance while growing the Hamvention with new products.


TenTec Argonaut VI vs. Elecraft KX3

Back in July I wrote about TenTec and how I think they are losing their innovation an appeal.

Well I guess their latest product, the Argonaut VI confirms my opinion. The new Argonaut was recently listed on TenTec's website and now available. The price is a whopping $995. One hundred more than my worst guess.

Here are the problems. The radio is not a complete HF radio. Second, the price is very high for what you get. Three, the radio is not competitive.

The Argonaut VI is missing the 12 meter band! It also is missing the 6 meter band. How can a company be taken seriously is you leave off one of the HF bands? It cannot.

I will tell you my suspicions. I'll bet that TecTec originally planned on making this radio 80 through 10 meters. But when QRP folks heard about this, they raised a stink for the 160 meter band to be included. Since they were so far along with the design, they had to give up something so they sacrificed the 12 meter band for the 160 meter band. In my mind, it's a crippled radio and not complete with an almost $1,000 price tag to boot.

Frankly, the radio should have been designed from the beginning to have 160 through 6 meters. The decisions on this radio were poor from the start.

Now let's look at the Elecraft KX3. Assembled the radio retails for $999.00, just $4 more than the new Argonaut VI. Unassembled it sells for $899.

The KX3 comes with 160 through 6 meters. So it is complete. The KX3 also does RTTY and PSK31 which are not features of the Argonaut VI.

Elecraft has also noted that it is supposed to be introducing a 2 Meter module for the KX3. You can also get an optional internal auto-tuner and use a battery pack to go truly mobile. None of these are possibilities with the Argonaut VI.

When I brought up the lack of 12 meters and 6 meters on the Argonaut VI radio to the TenTec folks at Dayton, the response was that there was not enough room. When I asked how it is that Elecraft can build a radio that is smaller and with more features than the TenTec Argonaut VI, they answer was a rather rude, "I don't know, you'll have to ask them."

Really? TenTec wants me to go to a competitor and ask them how they can make a superior, more full featured radio than TenTec and at a better price. I can only guess the answer. It would be something like, "we have superior engineering" or " we build better products" or "we create better designs."

In full disclosure I am or was a TenTec fan and promoter. I have owned a number of TenTec radios over the years and still have an Argonaut V which is very nice.

I do not own any Elecraft radios so I do not believe my opinions are biased. If anything, I would be biased towards TenTec. But with this recent debacle, I am less biased and very disappointed in TenTec's lack of innovation and progress with the new TenTec Argonaut VI. I say avoid it and wait another 5 years or so when they can maybe make a competitive product again at a competitive price.