Sunday, June 27, 2021

Two Great Little Power Banks

 I keep telling myself that I have enough power banks, but then I buy another. Except when I buy TWO.

I saw a couple of lovely little 10Ah power banks, and the specs intrigued me. One claimed to support BOTH QC 3.0 and PD 3.0. The other claimed to support both as well, but I couldn't get PD to work on it. Maybe I did it wrong. I'll try again.

The Ainope power brick is the one that supported both right out of the box. It's a VERY small power bank, smaller and lighter than my other 10Ah units, with a shell that looks to at least resemble carbon fiber, but probably isn't. It has a very bright LED 3-digit display, to show the percentage of available power. I connected each of the QC USB-A sockets to my IQ32 using a QC "magic cable" I bought pre-made on Amazon. Both powered the radio just fine. I connected my PD Magic Cable Mark II to the USB-C connector, and it also powered up the radio without issues. I haven't done any stress testing yet, but plan to soon.

The other, by Silicon Power, is definitely supports Quick-Charge on the two USB-A sockets. The
documentation is a little vague on the USB-C connector. I saw conflicting information, at one point saying it only accepted input on the USB-C connector, but at other points claimed it was also PD output. I tried to use it with the IQ32 on the USB-C connector, and it did not power up. I strongly suspect it only partially supports PD output, at only 5V and 9V, but not 12V. I will double-check this later. But as with the Ainope power bank, it worked perfectly with a 12V Magic Cable designed for QC, and powered the IQ32 perfectly. It's not as small or light as the Ainope, but it has a different benefit: It is currently on sale for $24.99 with a $10 off coupon -- so it essentially costs only $15 for a 10Ah power supply.

I will be testing these banks to see what their lifespan is, and I'll test the Silicon Power PD socket with my QCX, which will work on 9V. It doesn't really matter to me if it works on PD or not, as I only purchased these two power banks to use with QC. Both can, at a minimum, be charged using a PD charger. 

Ainope 10Ah QC/PD Power Bank: $26.99 w/$2 off coupon.

Silicon Power QC Power Bank: $24.99 w/$10 off coupon

Coupons are only currently available for these items. If you read this some time after I published it, you may miss the coupons.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

More Research on USB Power Bank Use With QRP Transceivers: Qualcomm Quick-Charge

Good news, everybody!

No, this isn't Futurama, but sometimes I think it should be. There are wonderful things happening in the tech world in recent years, wonderful things that stagger the mind.

Even the small stuff is really, really cool!

In my presentation, I mentioned that the PD trigger boards I use for my "magic cables" can't help with non-PD power banks that have "QC", or Qualcomm Quick-Charge protocol instead. I proposed that it be the topic of yet another article, and that someone else interested in it might want to write it. Well, I take that back.

Because this is my article for just that!

I happened to check to see if QC could even be used for this, and found already-extant boards for Quick-Charge that pretty much do the same thing as the PD trigger boards. Moreover, there are pre-made cables in a variety of voltages! QC doesn't provide the high power that PD does, but the top voltage it provides is 12 volts, at 1.5 amps! This is perfectly adequate for all of my 5w QRP radios!

There's only one very small snag...if you even see it that way. The pre-made cables I've found have 5.5x2.5mm barrel connectors on them. Most QRP radios are sold with 5.5x2.1mm sockets, including the Elecraft KX3 and my HobbyPCB IQ32. So I looked for -- and found -- 2.5mm pin to 2.1mm pin adapters. I bought a couple of cables and a couple of adapters. The last piece arrived an hour ago. I plugged a cable into an adapter, plugged that into my IQ32, and checked my power banks for the QC legend on one of the USB-A sockets. Finding one, I plugged it in and flipped the switch on the radio.

It started right up. Turning on the external speaker, the 80m CW segment blasting from it. It works quite nicely! I haven't done any stress testing or timed operations, but it appears to work just fine. There are some very new versions of QC that will provide up to 22V if the source will deliver it, but 12V is a common top voltage for such applications. Some will go from 3v to 22V in .2v increments. I'm concentrating on the ability to supply 12V for the majority of QRP CW transceivers. I haven't seen a battery bank that supplies more than 12V under QC, because most QC power banks use USB-A sockets, and those are not rated for higher voltages.

The cables I bought were by JacobsParts, the same company I got my tiny Power Delivery trigger boards from only a couple of weeks ago. They also had a separate board, to which you can attach your own wire to connect it to your radio. It has a USB-A plug on the end of the board, and, like on the PD board, solder terminals for your wire. These options remove the need for a jumper cable between the power bank and the magic cable; you can connect it directly to the power bank and the other end to the radio. With the separate board, the board would plug into the power bank, and the wire would then run to the radio.

There are a LOT of power banks out there that don't support Power Delivery, but DO support Quick-Charge. These cables and boards will support QC 2.0 through QC 4.0, being forward compatible. As with PD, the power bank has to support the voltage you want, and some do not have 12 volts available, so you won't be able to use that power bank with these cables on 12v radios. If the top voltage it provides is 9v, you CAN get a 9v cable or board, and use it with a radio that will run off 9v, such as my QCX. 

So if you don't want to buy new PD power banks to take advantage of this option, check the ones you have to see if they have Qualcomm Quick-Charge at 12v. You may find that the old 10Ah power bank you bought for your phone supports QC, since it is an older protocol, and you'll be able to use it on your radios with this cable or the separate board and your own wire.

JacobsParts USB-A QC - 12v/1.5A 5.5x2.5mm coaxial plug:

UxCell 5.5x2.5mm female to 5.5x2.1mm male adapter:

JacobsParts USB-A QC - 12v/1.5A fixed voltage trigger board: (other voltages available)

Friday, June 18, 2021

USB-C PD "Magic Cable" version II

Jim Fisher AJ3DI from the Phil-Mont Mobile Radio Club asked me back in May if I'd do a presentation on my USB-C Power Delivery system for QRP radios, since my original article (posted here and published in QRP-ARCI's QRP Quarterly, July, 2020) was published in a recent issue of The Blurb, the PMRC monthly newsletter. How could I say no to the Jedi Master? The presentation went extremely well a week ago on June 9th. 

You can see the slide deck I used here:

And you can watch the Zoom/2m Repeater meeting, complete with the presentation, at:

While preparing for the presentation, found out that the original PD Buddy Sink board by Clara Hobbs I bought from was no longer available, so I did some shopping on Amazon to find some replacements. I'd used some other PD sink boards, that I detailed in another article on this blog about the subject, but didn't really find anything I liked well enough to make a cable using one. 

What I mostly found earlier this year were sink boards that would cycle through a series of configuration settings when you pressed a small tactile button on the PC board, a method I did NOT particularly like. It was far too easy to wind up sending too much power to the radio, since there was no actual feedback to tell you what setting the board was on. You'd have to test it with a DVM every time, which is very impractical. I have a tiny PokitMeter brand micro-DVM/single-channel oscilloscope the size of a keychain fob, that works in tandem with an app on my phone that I could use to easily test the voltage selected, but it really wasn't what I wanted to do. So I waited. My patience would be rewarded.

It was, and a little more so! I found that the PD sink (or trigger) boards had gone through a major evolution during that time, resulting in two major shifts in the boards now available: They're now extremely tiny, and they no longer rely on a button-press or serial terminal programming to select the output. Under most circumstances, you'll want a static voltage/amperage setting, and in my circumstance, that's precisely true. I want to set my sink boards to 12 volts at the maximum current available. So I was very pleased when I discovered that there were now PD sink boards barely larger than the USB-C jack it bore! 

There are two main varieties: 

A) Boards that can be solidly set for a particular voltage by jumpering PCB pads with a solder blob, and... (

B) Boards pre-set for a specific voltage at the factory and sold as an option at purchase. Such as 12 volts... (

I bought some of each type. Some of the jumper-controlled boards provided the whole gamut of supported PD voltages. I got some of the universal boards that can be jumpered for 5,9,12,15, and 20 volts (the red ones, above), a couple that provided 9v and 12v, and I got a 5-pack of the blue board above, that could be ordered for any single voltage desired. I chose 12v, obviously. ALL of the above boards will provide up to 5A of current, even though the maximum current for Power Delivery is 3A. That's fine with me!

I made a "proof of concept" cable using a  5.5 x 2.4 mm coaxial plug with screw terminals, attaching the contacts to a wire pigtail that I soldered to one of the 12v/5A sink boards. It worked, but the quick-connect coaxial plug I used had too large a central pin size, so it would drop out when nudged. 

This was unacceptable, so I attached the pigtail to a longer piece of the same thin zip cord with a proper 5.5 x 2.1mm right-angle DC coaxial plug. I was still experimenting, so I just used solder-seal butt splices to replace the mismatched plug with the screw terminals. It looked awful, with electrical tape still insulating the board and covering the solder seal splice job. But this one worked reliably and solidly, not losing contact if jostled. 

Now it was time to make the actual Magic Cable II. I removed the electrical tape from the sink board, desoldered the wires I'd attached, and cleaned the pads with solder wick. Some isopropyl alcohol made short work of any remaining flux. Then I shortened the wires coming from the good plug to about 10" long, stripped and tinned the ends, and soldered them to the pads on the PD sink board. I gave it a single wrap with electrical tape as a precaution, then I slipped on a piece of marine-grade, glue-lined heat shrink tubing and used my hot air rework pencil to shrink it and seal it around the board and the wire. I tested the result, and it works perfectly.

I also found a short but very heavy-duty USB-C/USB-C jumper cable. This cable is stubby, only about 6" long, but is flat with thick conductors under a reinforced "FlexCore" outer cover. It'll take maximum PD power and data, rated for 100W (20V @ 5A) and 10 GBPS of data transfer. I only intend it for power, so I chose a cable that'll take the 12V for a QRP radio without any question.

The radio I used for the test is my HobbyPCB IQ32, an all-band, all-mode 5W SDR transceiver. I have a small steel plate on the lower left corner of the faceplate, where my tiny Supmotor paddles reside. The base of these paddles is a very strong neodymium magnet. It's the smallest set of paddles I own, the body being only an inch on a side, and the fingerpieces sticking out another inch. The only paddle I have that rivals it would be my NOARC "Te-Ne-Ke" (Teeny Key), that's about the size of a pack of gum. This paddle comes in a little steel can, embedded in foam, including the paddle (with magnet base), a stick-on steel plate, a hex wrench to adjust the tension, and a 3.5mm jumper wire. It's a very comfortable paddle to use, despite the size, and it is easy to adjust for as light or as heavy a touch as you want.

I tested the setup with 3 different PD USB-C power banks: A 10Ah Monoprice "Obsidian" PD power bank and two 20 Ah RavPower "Pioneer" PD power banks, one an older model with a digital readout showing power level, and a newer model with fewer ports that uses LEDs to indicate remaining power. I will be testing with other radios and some other PD power banks later. I've also ordered more of the 12V sink boards and some 5.5 x 2.1mm DC coaxial power pigtails, since I'm lazy and don't like soldering small connectors. This will let me make a few spare Magic Cable II's in case I ruin or lose one, and leave me some sink boards to install in radios I'll build in the future. I'm looking forward to being able to just plug a USB-C cable directly into a QRP rig!

A note on the availability of the power banks I typically use: This month, all of the RavPower power banks are unavailable from Amazon, as Amazon has stopped carrying several brands, of which RavPower is one. Others they stopped carrying were Aukey, TaoTronics, Vava, and Mpow, all subsidiaries of Chinese company Guangdong SACA Precision Manufacturing. The reason cited was that these brands have been allegedly engaging in a practice of giving gifts in exchange for good reviews, which is against Amazon's sellers' agreement. The Monoprice Obsidian bank I used is no longer available, but it was discontinued. (Monoprice is owned by Amazon, in case you didn't know that.) You may still be able to buy the RavPower devices from other sources, including the RavPower website -- though some of them were simply linked to Amazon pages for sale. I expect RavPower, and the other sites removed, will be changing their ordering so they no longer point to Amazon.

For more information on the delisted brands, visit:

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Continued 2021 Field Preparation

In my previous post, I mention the radios and supporting gear I'm setting up to take into the field this summer. I was intending to take my DSW-20, but decided I'd rather go with another radio with wider capabilities. I didn't mention it in the previous post because I hadn't decided if I was going to use it or not.

I'm speaking of my HobbyPCB IQ32 5w SDR. It supports CW and Phone on 80-10m, with a lovely color touch screen interface, and built-in PSK31 support with a PS/2 keyboard. The firmware can be easily upgraded through a USB port using a thumb drive (must be under 4gb storage, though). 

Here are the specs, shamelessly borrowed from the website:


  • Frequency Range: 3-30MHz (performance guaranteed on 80/60/40/30/20/17/15/12/10M ham bands)
  • Sensitivity: MDS < -128 dBm on 80M dropping to < -135 on 10M
  • Noise Figure: < 8 dB
  • TX Power: 5W typical, 4W minimum
  • LO Feed-thru: < -50 dBc @ 5W output
  • Spurious and Harmonics: < -50 dBc typical
  • DC Power: 13.8VDC, 2 amp max
  • Size: 172mm x 105mm X 75mm
  • Weight: < 700 grams
  • Display: 3.2" Color LCD Touchscreen
  • Modes: USB, LSB, CW, PSK 31
  • DSP Processor: STM-32, 32 Bit

I was looking at the QRPVer Minion SDR as a potential field radio, given its coverage and its small size, but it has serious issues in CW mode, which plagues a lot of small phone/CW radios -- it isn't full break-in, and the transmit tail is long and terribly formed. This can cause you to miss part of a transmission because your radio hasn't fully switched back into RX mode after sending CW. It also doesn't appear to have been updated since 2019, or at least its website hasn't changed. I've tried sending requests for info to QRPVer, but I have found reviews that say the radio's creator is basically a one-man shop and he doesn't keep up with his emails. Given that he requires 40 days to build and ship a radio, the lack of communication pretty much makes it a non-starter for me. I want to ask a few questions before I order one, and if the creator can't be bothered to answer them, I'm not going to buy a radio from him. So I decided that I was going to revisit the IQ32.

I hadn't used it much because it, too, suffered from difficulties with the CW mode TX/RX switching. But unlike the Minion SDR, the IQ32 is still being updated. The firmware had at least 3 significant revision levels since I'd last updated my radio's code, and the changes made were significant. I think the CW is a lot better than it was, and it seems to recover from the transmit mode far more gracefully than before. It certainly doesn't have that telltale THUMP sound that all too many SDR devices have when switching mode. Semi-break-in is okay, so long as the envelope of the transmission is clean, and doesn't cause you to lose characters from a reply.

The radio has some significant history for me. I first backed the radio's core components on Kickstarter, when it was just the HobbyPCB RS-HFIQ 5w SDR project. I used it for quite a while when it was released, as an adjunct to my computer/ham radio "shack stack" next to my powered recliner, where I spend most of my time. It was a good radio then, using the typical USB/sound card interface, along with HDSDR and Omni-Rig software. But when they announced an upgrade kit to the RS-HFIQ to turn it into a self-contained SDR rig, I jumped at it. I think I have upgrade kit #0002. My order for it was in less than four hours after it was announced available.

Now that the firmware is fairly mature, the radio is a very viable candidate for a field rig. I had hoped to use a uBitX for this, but my uBitX was an early evolution, and I fried some circuitry when I accidentally tried to tune on 160m, a band it'll let you access, but really isn't designed for...and the antenna was my half-size W3EDP end-fed, which definitely was NOT designed to support that band (though the full-sized model I have up as my main wire is). So, until I can find and bodge-wire the PA 12V+ rail, and possibly replace the IRF510 finals, the uBitX is down for the count.

But the IQ32 will do just fine. Technically, I don't really need to take the QCX along if I use the IQ32, but a) I don't believe in having just one radio, and b) the QCX has built-in CW decoding, so I can double-check my copying of incoming code.

I've checked my wire antenna bag, and the ones I like best are in good shape. That'll be a QRPGuys 40/30/20 end-fed with built-in tuner, my Slinktenna, and my homebrewed 40/30/20 link dipole. I still have to check over the Wolf River Coils "TIA" antenna kit I have in the back of my van, and put the short telescoping whip I bought into the kit, to join the standard-length telescoping whip, and the extra-long 209" telescoping whip I already have.

I keep an MFJ-223 1-60 MHz Color Graphic VNA Analyzer in that field kit, mostly for tuning up the Wolf River Coils antenna, but I also have a NanoVNA that I haven't had a lot of experience using as yet. Most of my antennas are pre-tuned or have built-in tuning, but I have an Emtech Z-2 Z-match and an Elecraft T1 tuner. I just have to FIND the's buried someplace in my gear around my chair and isn't immediately visible. That's a task for the beginning of this week. My goal for this week is to get my field gear down to the crash case, the antenna bag, and the long repurposed fishing rod case for the vertical -- a load that I can reasonably carry without using a wheeled hand cart. The cart does make it easier, though, and will likely still do it that way, I just want to be ABLE to carry the requisite gear by hand if I must.

I still plan to make a smaller, field-expedient radio bag, holding only a 40m QCX-mini and a VN-2002 20m Japanese rig, made by Haru JL1VNQ. Those two radios together bulk and weigh less than an original QCX, but each has full 5w CW capability. Those, along with a new Magic Cable, a PD power bank, paddles, headphones, and a purpose-built lightweight 40/20 link dipole, will go in their own bag, something small that can be grabbed and carried easily. It'll probably be the "hoist the feedpoint into a tree" type inverted-V antenna, because that gives the best coverage for the lowest weight and bulk.

Now, I just need to make sure I have the sundry other items that make field operating fun as well as possible. Clipboard, log, phone, maybe my old Chromebook, set up with ham radio apps under GalliumOS Linux. I need to check the ancillary gear I always keep in the van, such as small gas stove, fuel canisters, mug, 3-in-1 coffee packets, utensils, and even some freeze-dried food. I usually don't use them, but they're nice to have in case things are going well and I don't want to have to tear things down in order to get hot coffee or food from the Wawa convenience store a mile up the road. If I can get away with boiling some water to make instant coffee, that's a better solution.

An eventual project will be a field station specifically for digital mode operation. It'll consist of the aforementioned Chromebook, with external USB sound card dongle, cables, and my Midnight Design Solutions "Phaser" 40m 5w dedicated digimode transceiver, magic cable, power banks, and antenna. I can make a pre-tuned dipole for that, given that the frequencies are fairly fixed. I won't bring a tuner or analyzer for that setup.

The weather is beginning to cooperate, with sunny days around 60F starting to happen, so I hope to soon start going to the parks in my area to play some radio!








Saturday, March 13, 2021

Power Delivery and QRP, Revisited

 Power Delivery and QRP, Revisited

Well, Spring is getting awfully close to springing once more. The Vernal Equinox, aka the First Day of Spring, is on March 20th, Daylight Savings Time jumps forward tonight (March 13), and the weather has been a lot warmer lately. It's beginning to look a lot like operating weather at the parks once more.

This means, it's time for me to get my field kit reassembled for the summer. I've got several radios to build, so if I get bored I can start putting some together. Cycle 25 is starting to ratchet upward notch by notch, and the propagation is starting to be worth something again! As per my usual key-shyness issues, I haven't done a lot of CW operating over the winter, but I have practiced a bit and done a lot of listening. Time to finally beat that key shyness and start using the skills I so laboriously built!

I have chosen two radios for the time being, my 40m QCX and my venerable 20m DSW-20. The latter especially will force me to deeply ingrain the Morse numerals in my head, since it has no display of any sort and will announce the frequency the radio is set to with Morse Code. All of the prompts on the radio are in Morse, including the ones to set Speed, Reversing the paddles, and Tune mode. I need to track down my Elecraft T1 tuner, which is around here...somewhere...but for now, I have an antenna analyzer for my vertical, and a pre-tuned link dipole that'll handle both radios perfectly. That reminds me...I need to take the short telescoping whip for the Wolf River Coils Silver Bullet to the van and put it in the antenna bag with the standard whip and the big whip.

I have two portable speakers to use with my radios, since neither one has a built-in speaker. I also have headphones, the kind where each speaker clips over the earlobe. I prefer those, as actual earbuds hurt like hell for me, no matter how I fiddle with them, and regular over-the-ear "cans" get way too hot when operating outdoors and you can't hear anything outside them. With the clip-on headphones, I can even take one side off, so that ear is unobstructed. I can hear if someone tries to talk to me, such as a curious passer-by, or a park ranger wondering what the heck I'm up to (it has happened before).

But the main thing I got squared away, to go with the headline of this post, is what I call my "Magic Power Cable" -- my Power Delivery sink and the PD USB-C power banks that go with it. I'd had some difficulty getting radios to work properly with it last year, so I decided to go through everything and find out why. Well, I did, and boy is my face red!

Turns out that one of the big power banks I was carrying doesn't have a 12v output mode. It has 9v and 15v, but no 12v for some reason. The cable was set up to support a range of voltage, from 9v to 15v, but I don't really want to put 15v through any radio intended for a nominal 12v. I also had the current set way too high, at 2.5A. None of my PD banks actually support 2.5A at 12v. I found this out by reading the tiny, hard-to-make-out writing on each power bank, instead of the advertising copy on the page where I bought them. Let this be a lesson: Do not take the sales page's word for it! Look at the legend on the device itself!

This made me look at the mode settings I had in the PD Buddy Sink in my Magic Cable. I had it set for, as I said before, a voltage range of 9-15v, and a current of 2.5A. I changed this to a strict 12v, but instead of setting current, I set output power to 18W...which determines the current to be 1.5A. All of my PD power banks support this setting. I double-checked with several radios, and it works reliably on each one. The only radio that requires more than 1.5A at 12v would be my KX3, which needs more as it is not a 5W radio. It will do 10W without the amplifier, which requires more current at full power...but 18W out should handle the KX3. The specs call for 1-2A at 12v, and 1.5A is what I have available at 18W out from the power bank. So the new settings will work fine. Sort of moot, given that I really dislike risking the KX3 in the field, but it's nice to know I can use it in the field if I want to on the power banks I have in the case. I also have a 12Ah 12v LiFePO4 battery that I can use for the KX3 if needs be, and the Talentcell 12v power banks that are NOT USB, much less PD, at 12v. I can revert to those if I need to, and I have my larger one in the field crash-case already just in case.

For keys, I have two I've set up for the field. I can set up the NOARC Te-Ne-Ke if I want, and I still might, given that I can mount it on my clipboard with a small nut and bolt to make it very convenient. But this summer, I'm going to try using an inexpensive Supmotor paddle I got on eBay, a cubical thing about an inch on a side with a strong magnetic base and 3d printed fingerpieces and top cover. It's downright tiny, and is very comfortable to use. I'll probably stick a steel plate it came with on the aforementioned clipboard to keep it firmly in place, since both radios have aluminum cases. I may get some additional stick-on steel plates, so I can put one on each radio, but I haven't done that yet.

This summer promises to be a very good operating period. The solar activity level should be very conducive to good DX, and even good local contacts. When it starts looking like 17m is going to pick up, I have a Kits & Parts 5w 17m rig waiting to be built. I also have a QCX-Mini for 40m, and a Japanese VN-2002 5w 20m kit on the bench. If nothing else, I also have another older QCX kit for 30m I haven't built yet, and a 10W 40m SSB rig from CWKits to put together.

I haven't even started to think about digital modes in the field yet. I have my 40m Phaser and its accompanying Chromebook (re-flashed with GalliumOS Linux) for FT8 and JS8 that I can take to the field with no difficulty.

Heck, I even ordered a new package of nanofilter face masks, in case I need them. I usually have a cloth mask in my back pocket just in case, and a member of the Rooster Club sent me a lovely cloth mask with roosters on it I can use. But these are supposedly excellent at filtering out all sorts of stuff and not interfere with breathing, and are touted as very comfortable. We'll see. Nobody should be able to yell at me to get back in my house THIS summer! Seriously, my neighborhood was downright mean about it.

Well, see you on the air!