In the Western World we are consumers. Advertising drives us to think we'd be a bit happier if we had that new "thing", whatever the thing is. It drives much of our economies and unfortunately keeps many burdened in debt.
That's certainly a pessimistic way to begin this but let's be honest. No one needs a ~$580 morse code key. Most of us are handy enough to make a straight key out of stuff laying around the house for free. I have a number of very fine keys that I've purchased used. I've purchased most of them for well under $70, including my 1970s Standard Vibroplex Bug.
BUT... If we are ham radio operators regularly doing CW, then we spend a lot of time with a morse key under our hand. I've said this previously, but when you are a CW operator you touch your key more than anything else related to the hobby. You are moving it many hundreds to thousands of times as you send code. Your keying becomes part of you and you are intrinsically linked with the ease or difficulty of operating the key for hours at a time.
So... having a key that is easy to operate; a key that disappears under your hand is an enjoyable thing.
Operating a Bug correctly, or more precisely in a manner that is pleasing to the person copying your code is more difficult than operating paddles with an electronic keyer. When the bug was invented it was a tool used by professional telegraphers. There were no electronic keyers, and having a tool that allowed them to send good code for hours on end with less mechanical stress on their bodies than a straight key was important, and they sought the best tool they could afford to allow them to do their work.
But no one reading this is a professional telegrapher, because that ship has sailed.
For those of us that choose to use a Bug, we do so for different reasons. For me, I enjoy the control I have in forming my characters, as well as the extra level of difficulty in sending good code. Why would I want it to be more difficult? Well, why do we do anything that is challenging. Being challenged is fun. It drives me to improve. It takes my mind off of things that might otherwise crowd my thoughts if I were not doing something challenging that is also fun.
I have operated a bunch of different bugs at my club gettogethers, from different makers. They all have a different feel. They all intrigue or annoy their user. I have two Vibroplex Bugs at my station. I've previously written about them. They each have advantages and challenges but they share the same design and they have more in common than they do differences.
A New Design
Fortunately for amateur radio operators there are still new keys being developed, and in this case a new design for a semi-automatic key that has a markedly different design from most of the bugs that came before.
The Begali Intrepid is distinctive in a few ways:
The pendulum hinge is at the rear of the key rather than the middle
The adjustments are all based on magnets rather than springs
The dwell for the dits has a real control, rather than using various pieces of foam, string or clips to change dwell time
The dit contact is a sprung plunger that always remains centered on the contact rather than brushing against it at various angles
The split lever mechanism operates at the center of the key placing the DAH and DIT contacts much closer to one another than a traditional bug
There is less mass in the pendulum itself than a Vibroplex Bug
It has a sprung, nylon wheel damper that doesn't clatter
It weighs a TON (well about 6 lbs) and feels welded to the desk without having to use non-slip material or using spit to semi glue them in place (yech, yes I use spit to hold my keys to my desk)
These differences really add up to make a semi-automatic key that feels markedly different than all other bugs available to amateur operators.
I've not had the chance to try the GHD fully automatic bugs, nor their bugs that use optical contacts. That would be interesting, but they still fundamentally follow the Vibroplex model.
Preparing for Use
The Intrepid ships with a cable but there's nothing to plug it into on the key. It's up to the owner to solder the connections. I understand that some transceivers require different plug wiring but in general they are fairly common. Be prepared to spend some time soldering under the key to wire it up.
I had some spare 1/8" plugs for projects, and with some heat shrink tubing and a couple pieces of wire I created a tidy connector for the male to male cable shipped with the key.
I spent about 2 hours practice sending into the practice oscillator that I built. I had a Vibroplex Deluxe Bug next to it that I alternated with. The range of DIT speeds on the Intrepid is impressive. Other makers like Vizkey have created bugs with a similar range of adjustment, and the Deluxe Bug I use has a Vari-Speed that can match the Intrepids speed range, bu the Intrepid is easier to quickly adjust and more importantly can be done one-handed. It will comfortably go from about 15 wpm up to 35 wpm and with the dwell adjustment makes changing speeds and keeping the DIT dwell correct, is singular. I don't think any bug can match it in that respect.
It did require a change in how I operate. The Vibroplex Bug fingerpieces stick out further and I have the habit of placing my index finger out over the top of the Bug. The Intrepid doesn't allow for that. I have to curl my index finger down to avoid hitting the bracing for the pendulum.
Because there is less mass in the pendulum it operates with a much lighter touch than Vibroplex Bug. The pendulm movement is initated with less force and due to the isolation of the pendulum from the paddles you don't feel the pendulum moving as you do with a Vibroplex. I kinda like the feedback I get from Vibroplex pendulum. The Intrepid feels more like a single paddle key with an electronic keyer than a bug.
Because of the how the lever is split in the middle, the actual DAH contact is almost dead center in the key rather than toward the front. It is far closer to the DIT contact than a bug. I have no way to describe it other than to say it feels as if the DAH and DIT operations are more similar than they are different.
I tend to pivot at my wrist when I operate a Vibroplex bug, to control the timing of DIT to DAH transitions. That doesn't seem to be as necessary with the Intrepid. Again, it feels more like a paddle than a Bug.
The DIT contact is a sprung plunger that is always centered. This is one of the biggest problem areas on a Vibroplex Bug and Begali has masterfully designed the proper contact. Most Bug operators spend more time adjusting the U-spring to try and get proper contact than any other part of the key. I assume this level of precision is just not something that Vibroplex wanted to spend the time on in manufacturing.
You'll notice there are spare holes. I assume they are to allow the frame to be used for left handed operation.
The sprung teflon damper makes for clatter free operation. No more ker-thunk as you transition from DITS to DAHS. They key is markedly quieter in operation than any other Bug I've tried. The only other key that comes close is the right-angle Vizkey.
The weights are easy to adjust but I have found that the set screws don't bite the pendulum as firmly as a Vibroplex bug and I have had them come loose a few times. When they accidently come loose they flop to one side and touch the frame, completing the circuit, resulting in a continous carrier. I'm a bit concerned about leaving the bug connected unattended to my tranceiver and having one flop over into transmit while I'm not at the station.
The laser etching is nicely done. The model name can appear, white, gray or black depending on the angle of light.
The pendulum is hinged at the back of the key, making easy access to the adjustment weights.
This is a very fine piece of engineering. It will take me months to decide if stick with it over a Vibroplex Bug, but for now I'm thinking it was a fine birthday gift.
R&L Electronics sent me a SCU-28 10-pin DIN cable by accident and were nice enough to let me keep it. Consider shopping from those guys. They offer great communication and good prices.
This cable is typically used to wire connections for an external amplifier. I don't have an external amplifier but I wanted to make use of the +12v power and transmit relay for the protection relay I built for my SDR-Play a few years ago.
I had also read that the TX REQ IN pin could be used to switch the radio into a lower power tune mode for use with external tuners. The absence of a TUNE button for external tuners is one of my pet-peeves about the FT-DX10 so I was excited to have one.
Wiring the Break Out Box and TX-REQ-IN
So I used my last spare plastic project box, some female phono jacks and found a push-button that I'd cut off of some other project in my junk box and went to work.
I used some shrink wrap for the momentary switch for the TX-REQ-IN pin.
I wired up 3 phono jacks... One for the TX relay, another for the +12v out, and one for the ALC control in case I ever do get an amp. I safed the other wires for future use inside the project box.
I connected the box and verified that I was getting power for the relay and that the Relay Switch operated
Unfortunately, the TX-REQ-IN does NOT do what it does with other Yaesu transceivers. Pressing the button grounds the TX-REQ-IN - the radio does transmit a carrier in any mode (here I tested with LSB) but rather than transmitted a reduced power carrier as it's supposed to, it just transmits at whatever wattage the mode is currently set to. In this case I had the power set to 50w into a dummy load and it transmitted the full 50w rather than a reduced power 10w or 20w carrier for tuning. See the power out on the radio's display
In my opinion Yaesu screwed the pooch on this one. I don't see any reason why they wouldn't operate like they do with their bigger brethren radios when the TX-REQ-IN is grounded. Some subsequent forum searching turned up posts from others that confirmed that the FT-DX10 does not properly respond to that signal.
My Elecraft KX3 and Ten-Tec Eagle both have a "TUNE" button that sends a low power tuning signal regardless of what the current power setting is at and there's no reason that the FT-DX10 shouldn't do the same. Having to dive into a menu to change the power setting for tuning an external matching unit is just silly in this day and age.
The Yaesu FT-DX10 comes standard with a 500 Hz crystal (xtal) roofing filter, but offers an optional 300 Hz roofing filter. Should you purchase the optional filter?
The 300 Hz roofing filter is twice the size of the 500 Hz filter so it must be twice as good right?
If you casually switch back and forth between the two filters on a noisy band, it sounds like the 300 Hz filter markedly improves selectivity and quiets the noise. But try this: Select the 500 Hz filter and narrow the bandwidth (using the bandwidth control) to 300 Hz, then switch to the 300 Hz filter.
When you digitally narrow the bandwidth of the 500 Hz filter to 300 Hz you will "hear" the same reduction in noise as you have cut out 200 Hz of higher frequency sound. Engaging the 300 Hz filter lowers the volume a bit (3-6 dB) due to insertion loss.
So what you are actually "hearing" when you switch back and forth between the filters without changing the digital bandwidth is the reduction of the higher frequency noise that can be accomplished using the bandwidth control alone with the 500 Hz filter.
So, from a selectivity standpointthe 300Hz filter doesn't gain you anything over using the digital filtering with the 500 Hz filter. The real benefit should come in the form of adjacent signal rejection. So let's look at that.
In the video below I demonstrate the signal rejection of a 40 dB over S9 adjacent signal to a weaker S3 - S5 signal.
From the video you can hear that there is a very small demonstrable difference in strong signal rejection when using the 300 Hz optional filter, but the difference is so small that I doubt many of us would find practical benefit over simply narrowing the DSP bandwidth while using the 500 Hz filter. Even when contesting. The digital filtering built into the FT-DX10 is really, really good when using the included 500 Hz roofing filter alone.
Yes, I spent the $200 for the optional filter thinking it would help, but I wished I had known what I do now. I would have $200 for some other nifty radio gadget to spend instead.