The microHAM USB micro KEYER
Update 8/16 Update 8/25 Update 8/28
Thanks to Jozef, OM7ZZ, for allowing me to beta-test microHAM's new USB micro KEYER. When researching for USB devices to properly key FSK, Jozef kindly offered to send me the unit to test. I was happy to do so.
The USB micro KEYER arrived from Slovakia in early August 2004. It was nicely packaged and was received undamaged. Inside I found the handsome-looking micro KEYER along with two sets of cables and a CD ROM. One set of cables was for my Kenwood TS-870 and the other was for my Icom IC-775DSP. I would be able to test both radios with the keyer. The keyer is designed to do CW & FSK keying and radio control over a single USB connection to a computer. It also has mic/sound card/radio audio switching capabilities for SSB (and PSK31 too). And it has an abundance of other features as well. Before getting started, it is important to note that the microHAM USB Device Router software must be running at all times when using the keyer.
The first thing I did was go to the microHAM website and read every page concerning the USB micro KEYER (I would later find instructions on the CD ROM). From looking at the cables, I easily determined which cable was for the Kenwood and which was for the Icom. Jozef asked that I check the Kenwood first. By reading the web pages, I was quickly able to get a basic understanding of how everything should be connected and how the keyer should work.
Before connecting the keyer to the radio, I inserted the CD ROM into my old HP Pavilion PC. This PC runs Window 98SE and has only a 200 MHz Pentium processor with 96MB of RAM. This is a slow computer compared to today's standards (I would later test on my Dell 2.66 GHz Pentium 4). But I thought it would be useful to know if the keyer would work on a slow machine. I stumbled at first when I tried to install the Device Router software which controls the keyer. I received an error message that I was missing FTD2XX.DLL. Looking at the contents of the CD a second time, I saw the readme files. Reading the readme.txt file pointed me in the right direction. I had to install the drivers for the keyer first before I could install the software that ran the keyer. This made sense!
The instructions stated I had to plug the keyer into the PC's USB port and have Windows recognize the device. So I plugged the keyer into a USB port and the "Found New Hardware Wizard" screen appeared. Following the instructions in the "urouter quick start.txt" file, located on the CD ROM, I was able to install the driver with no problem. I then installed the Device Router software. The Device Router software controls the keyer. Once the software was installed, I decided to connect the cable to my TS-870.
The USB Keyer requires 12 volts DC for the radio interface. On most radios, 12 volts can be found from an ACC jack and thus the keyer can be powered through its connection to the ACC radio jack. However, Kenwood radios do not offer 12 volts on an ACC jack so the Kenwood cable comes equipped with the 12 volt leads open-ended and needs to be connected to an external 12 volt DC supply. So the first thing I did was to install PowerPole connectors onto the open ends of the DC input wires so I could connect the keyer to my RigRunner DC power distribution panel.
I then connected all the cable end connectors from the keyer to the radio. This was quite easy since all the ends of the cables had the proper connectors. This includes a DB-9 female that goes to the radio's RS-232 port, the RCA plug for the radio's FSK input, a mini-phone connector for the keyer input of the radio, the 13-pin ACC connector and the 12 volt DC connector which I connected to the RigRunner. There is also a connector for the mic jack, but I decided I would leave SSB for later. There was a perfect place to put the keyer too. There was open space above the JPS NIR-12 filter I use on the Kenwood (top black box in photo).
After the radio was connected, I decided I would get radio control working first. I created virtual COM5 in the Device Router program since COM5 was available on my PC. I then ran WriteLog, configured COM5 for Kenwood radio control, but WriteLog was unable to read the radio at first. I played around with some of the settings in WriteLog's Port Setup screen and discovered the keyer would not work with the auto-poll function enabled. So I set the COM port setting in WriteLog for 9600 baud since that is what the radio's RS-232 port was set to and it worked! I now had radio control.
I then decided to test FSK keying for RTTY. Using the Router Device program, I created another virtual serial port for FSK (and CW) keying. I created COM6 this time. I set up a Rttyrite screen in WriteLog using the MMTTY plug-in. When I keyed FSK, the transmission would start but PTT would drop in the middle of the buffer. I had seen this before but couldn't remember where I had seen this behavior and could not figure out what the problem was. An E-mail to Jozef about the problem brought a quick reply from him to remember to enable USB in MMTTY Setup. I felt quite stupid because I just had forgotten to do this easy configuration change in MMTTY Setup. And I remembered that I saw this behavior when testing other USB devices to see if they would run FSK. Once I checked the C option under USB for MMTTY, all worked perfectly for FSK transmission. I was very happy to see FSK work. After years of testing USB devices for FSK, it great to see microHAM appear to get it right! I tested FSK by setting up a CQ message for the upcoming SARTG RTTY contest and enabling auto-CQ in WriteLog. With the TS-870 terminated into a dummy load and the power turned all the way down, I ran continuous CQ's for over 30 minutes. I also tested FSK using ALT-K, live transmission, into the dummy load. FSK keyed perfectly each time.
With the NAQP CW contest only hours away, I figured a great way to test the keyer would be in a real contest. So I set up WriteLog to key CW on COM6, but keying was sluggish, stuttered and unusable. Another E-mail to Jozef (and another quick reply from him) brought the suggestion to enable Router priority in the software. I checked and Router priority was already enabled. But when I disabled Router priority, CW keying started to work properly. In a limited effort, I made 320 QSO's in the NAQP CW contest and the keyer worked well.
This past weekend I finally got around to testing the micro KEYER on my Icom IC-775DSP and Dell 2.66 Mhz Pentium 4 PC running Windows XP Pro. Radio Control & CW keying tested perfectly. CW keying was more "crisp" on the faster machine as expected but there was nothing wrong with CW keying on the slow Win98se machine. However, I did encounter a problem with FSK keying. I sent the information to microHAM on 8/15, they duplicated the problem they had a patch for the FSK problem the very next day. And the patch works. I just worked UK8OAR on FSK through the micro KEYER with one KW. No RFI, perfectly sent FSK.
What's nice about the micro KEYER is that updates can be downloaded with either the Device Router software or the firmware for the keyer (as with other microHAM devices as well if I understand correctly). This makes the device very versatile in my opinion.
The real jewel of the USB micro KEYER will be found by those users with computers that either have limited serial COM ports or no COM ports at all (especially true on newer laptops). From what I can tell at this point, the micro KEYER is the affordable solution. And I've not yet tested SSB or PSK31!
I'll be using the micro KEYER in this weekend's SARTG RTTY contest.
Stay tuned for more testing results and an update after SARTG.
I used the USB micro KEYER in this past weekend's 2004 SARTG contest on my Icom IC-775DSP for radio control and to key FSK. It worked extremely well. I did lose the USB connection to the PC a couple of times. This only happened when I was transmitting on 40 meters and did not happen all the time. I wrapped the USB cable from the keyer to the PC with one turn around a small ferrite toroid (it was too small to wrap more turns) and it got rid of the problem.
While in Auto-CQ mode during the middle-of-the-night session of SARTG, I browsed the Internet and checked E-mail and the FSK transmissions remained perfect. I had lots of programs running in the background including Norton Anti-Virus and DX-Telnet and it did not affect the operation at all. For most of the contest I had router priority turned off. I did turn it on when I had the RFI problem to see if the problem was something other than RFI. But it didn't make a difference. The router still worked correctly. I am convinced I was getting RFI into the USB cable. I will test the unit again, this time high power with a KW, during the SCC RTTY Championship next week.
Before the start of the 2004 SCC RTTY Championship this weekend, I installed a #77 ferrite toroid on the USB cable from the micro KEYER to the PC. I installed in at the input of the PC. I ran a KW and did not have a single problem with the USB connection. The USB micro KEYER worked perfectly for FSK transmission!