Saturday, February 28, 2015

West Mountain Radio TARGETuner

West Mountain Radio TARGETuner and RigRunner 4004U
Took my first visit to the Orlando HamCation on Saturday 14-Feb and got to check out a few things on my wish list. I also scratched a couple of things off the list: a memory controller for the Tarheel screwdriver, and a PowerPole distribution box for better management of my DC power cabling.

I'd been considering the MFJ controllers ever since I bought the Tarheel. Never pulled the trigger on one, though; my track record with MFJ products has been disappointing and another dice roll wasn't going to happen. The Tarheel's standard rocker switch and the MFJ SWR analyzer (one of their products that actually works well for me) was sufficient despite being a pain to switch from the K3 to the analyzer every time I wanted to QSY to a new band. So I dealt with it for the past six years, but I kept thinking I needed a little more automation in the process of changing bands.

I first heard about the West Mountain Radio TARGETuner a few months ago and it looked like a possibility, so it was one of the first things I sought out at Orlando. After seeing it demonstrated and having my questions asked, I bought one through one of WMR's dealers at the show, Ham World, for $235 -- a fair bit more than a comparable MFJ-1927 controller. The TARGETuner is a two-box deal: a compact controller box and a remote SWR sensor that samples the RF. The two units connect together via Cat 5 ethernet cable. The controller also includes a USB port for connecting to a radio's serial port to read frequency data directly and tune the antenna without transmitting.

Four methods of tuning the antenna are available:
  • Auto SWR Tuning -- Samples transmitted RF and adjusts the antenna for lowest SWR match.
  • Auto Memory -- Samples RF and tunes the antenna to the nearest frequency stored in memory.
  • Manual Memory -- Manually recall and pick a frequency in memory and the antenna is tuned to that frequency.
  • Manual Control -- Up and Down buttons raise or lower the antenna, just like in the old rocker switch days.
Hooking everything up is a fairly simple process. The initial settings require the fully extended and fully collapsed positions to be memorized to establish the range of the antenna. I then used the MFJ-259 SWR analyzer to tune the Tarheel on every band from 12m down to 80m, storing the settings into memories.

Setup complete, I began testing. The initial results were mixed. Returning to a stored memory setting would yield wildly different SWR measurements. It seems as though it loses its count, so I reduced both Auto and User Motor Speed settings to Medium-Slow; Motor Ramping was left on. It seemed to work better for a while but would eventually lose the turn count, requiring me to manually tune the antenna after every QSY.

The tuning weirdness continued for about a week as I recalibrated and tried different settings... and suddenly it just started working with all the motor speed settings to Slowest, and the Motor Ramping turned off; I also have the low and high frequency limits set to just below the 40m band rather and just above 15m. I figured the antenna is pretty much a dummy load on 80m, and when I want to work 12m (or 10m with the amp off and ATU on) I just bring the antenna down to Pos:0101 (as low a turn count as I can get) and get a good SWR match. I suspect the really long coil travel between 12m and 80m might be one of the things messing up the turn count. With the 40m-15m configuration it behaved admirably throughout the ARRL International DX CW contest weekend as I bounced around between bands, and a week later and it's still going strong, it is still accurate when returning to stored memory positions.

I've not tried the serial connection to the K3 yet but it is one of the supported transceivers. The instructions are not clear but it seems that the TARGETuner requires a connection to the serial port,. The shack PC is connected already to the K3's RS-232 port, so this is not an option. A support person I spoke with at WMR didn't think it could read band data from the ACC port. No big deal, selecting a memory manually is easy, and the Auto Memory tuning mode works well enough if I really need hands-off band switching -- just tap the key and wait until the controller signals the all clear. Ideally the controller would be able to connect to a second serial port on the PC and read the frequency from Ham Radio Deluxe, N1MM, or whatever logging program is controlling the rig. Maybe a firmware upgrade will address this. Meanwhile, it's working as advertised and making my life a little bit easier when chasing DX all over creation.

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