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Reviews Categories | QRP Radios (5 watts or less) | Wilderness NorCal40 Help

Reviews Summary for Wilderness NorCal40
Wilderness NorCal40 Reviews: 27 Average rating: 4.9/5 MSRP: $129.00
Description: 40M QRP CW rig covering 40kHz. Superhet w/ Xtal filter & RIT.
Product is in production.
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N1KSN Rating: 5/5 Feb 23, 2005 06:46 Send this review to a friend
Supurb design  Time owned: more than 12 months
This is my second review of this rig. I figure this is OK, because I built a second one!

I purchased my original kit to be built in conjunction with studying the book "The Electronics of Radio" by David Rutledge. This is a textbook which uses the Norcal 40A in all the lab exercises. The author is a ham and a prof at Caltech. I got impatient and built the first rig without studying the book. However, I later got a second kit and used it in conjunction with studying the book.

I learned a lot from this self-imposed course of study (and also ended up spending a good bit of money on used test equipment). One of the things I learned was just what a good design this rig has. Also, although the second kit was without the frequency annunciator and keyer, I liked it almost as much as the first which had these features.

If you are thinking of getting a 40 meter QRP monobander, you should strongly consider this rig. It's design and performance are great.

K1KID Rating: 5/5 Feb 22, 2005 18:48 Send this review to a friend
Big bang for the buck  Time owned: more than 12 months
I built the NorCal40A 2 years ago and use it frequently. Tons of fun for not a lot of money. QRP Bob is a straight shooter and a great guy to do business with. The rig works great as per the previous reviews. Another N6KR success story. I use mine with a ZM-2 antenna tuner and can use just about anything for an antenna. The KC1 keyer/Freq counter is an extremely useful addition.I have also built the Elecraft K1 and K2 as well, both fine radios but still use the Norcal 40A. It is small, simple to operate, easy to build and a real performer.Any CW op would be happy with this rig. It's a keeper.
VE3GNU Rating: 5/5 Feb 22, 2005 17:20 Send this review to a friend
Amazing Radio---  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I am relatively new at QRP kit-building, having built three low-power transceivers of the more 'popular' type---over the past 2 1/2 years---and of all of them the NorCal 40A came together 'without a hitch'---and without the slightest frustration! Why?---you might ask. Well, here's why:
---the instructions were 'first-rate'---
---the alignment was a 'cinch'---and for those that are 'alignment-challenged'---you need NOT BE!---
---the 'screw-down' VFO beats any stand-up/'wax-down' type---
---you'll really appreciate the 'no wiring' feature---
---the case, and cover with 'long-life' plastic latches add a touch of solidity and permanence---
---the receiver is the 'quietest' of any of my other receivers---
Now I realize that optimum performance is best achieved with a discreet antenna cut for 40 meters---I have it hooked up to a G5RV and a tuner---and powered by a gel-cell. And YES---as reported by another poster---signals appear to 'just pop out'---with amazing selectivity!
This QRP radio was a pleasure to build, and a delight to operate and to own!
It's easy to see why it has been considered a 'classic'! BTW---It's a pleasure to do business with QRPBob--
This radio warrants an honest and well-deserved 5!
---usual disclaimers apply---

AF4LQ Rating: 5/5 May 6, 2004 16:10 Send this review to a friend
Excellent radio and kit.  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
Wanted to write a short review here to say how happy I am with the Norcal 40A and KC1 keyer that I recently ordered and completed. I spent about 5 evenings on it, taking my time, and there were no problems of any kind from start to finish. It could easily be built in less time but I was in no hurry.

I'm really happy with this rig, especially with the stability of the VFO. Getting no noticeable drift after a very, very short warmup. Stable as a rock. I'm getting about 43khz coverage, 2.5w at 13.8v, AGC works great, good audio, etc. The receiver and crystal filter is excellent! I ran it in the Spartan Sprint (QRP contest) as a "maiden voyage" and was very pleased with the way it performed while working weak signals with closeby stations and RTTY/SSB QRM.

The KC1 keyer/freq counter also built up with no problems and I'm very happy with that as well. I compared the frequency readout to my Elecraft K2 and also against W1AW and find it to be dead on target. The keyer also performs very well and the memory record/play functions work as good if not better than my CMOS-4.

The service from Wilderness radio and Bob Dyer is excellent. I asked for info about the kits via email and received a response from Bob the same day and received my order within 5 days of mailing. You can't beat that.

If you're looking for a great performing single band radio and a quality kit I strongly suggest the Wilderness Norcal 40A. The keyer is optional but very much worth the additional cost. With or without it though you'll love the radio. 73, AF4LQ
M0CUQ Rating: 5/5 Feb 21, 2004 17:26 Send this review to a friend
Astonishing!  Time owned: more than 12 months
I was looking for a small 40m rig for portable operation, not too expensive and with a very low battery drain. The Norcal 40A has surpassed my requirements admirably. The RX is hot, and the crystal filtering beautifully sharp, no ringing or hollow sounds. Mine develops about 2 watts on 13V. The parts are all readily available and when I blew up the PA I got a replacement transistor from a local distributer and was back running again within the day.

The keyer / counter module is a must.

The rig has sufficient room inside for some mods, mine now has,

-internal batteries, 10 NiMH soldered into a pack
-built in charger
-volume control on rear
-10 turn pot for tuning
-internal swr bridge
(Just about all the spare space is used now otherwise I would have added a small tuner)

When teamed up with a small end fed half wave tuner, whiterook key and earbud headphones this rig forms the basis of a very small and capable set up, my only worry is loosing it. On RX it just sips current, it will run all weekend on a single charge. The RF gain control is very useful and makes operation in the evenings in Europe possible. (it has RF gain as standard and AF is set, but AGC is good). QSK is smooth and as the sidetone is basically the RX listening to the TX it is easy to net onto a signal and you can hear when your batteries finally go!

The kit is VERY easy to make and the manual is comprehensive. It would be difficult to make a bad a job of this one.

Above all this is a real rig, not a toy, looks great, sounds great - love it.

Lastly, if you want 'big' audio from the rig to fill the shack and let others hear how good it is, then simply plug it into a pair of cheap amplified PC speakers - WOW!
AE6DZ Rating: 5/5 Jan 23, 2004 20:53 Send this review to a friend
This is a great kit and radio!  Time owned: more than 12 months
My interest in radio started as an academic project. I just wanted to get a license and learn morse. Then I decided that I needed my General and to actually get on the air. However, I didn't want to shell out the thousands that it looked like I would need to get the rigs that I saw in the store. Surfing the net I found Wilderness.

Here was a kit I could afford, and it would work without a lot of costly extras. I could put up a simple dipole, use batteries at first, and even build my own key if I decided that was necessary. I had never held a soldering iron before, and all I knew about radio I owed to ARRL's General prep course. So, I called up QRPBOB, who lived just across the bay from me. (That had to be a great break. It was near Christmas, he was home, and he spent over an hour and a half on the phone talking to me about the complexity of the kit, what I would realistically need to get it on the air, and some of the fun of QRP.) Santa got the kit for me for Christmas, as well as the KC-1 keyer.

I followed the instructions to the letter, and had a question about the hookup of the keyer and what some of the alignment stuff meant. QRPBOB to the rescue. Patient, friendly, I wish all customer service were this kind to a new guy.

I put the juice to it and have never looked back. (Actually, that is not so. I have looked back fondly.) I got a Kenwood TS520SE from an old Air Force buddy to listen on 80Meters for a friend, but I am all about 40 now.

This radio is clear, quiet, responsive, easy to tune and listen with. Pulls in signals that are oh so far away! I love it! I really enjoyed building it, and am now going to get a better antenna system and put together the Sierra. There is just something about building a radio and putting it on the air that you can't equal by buying it.

I built a little Ramsey QRP amp so that I can hammer out 6 watts when I need to, and was that a real eye opener! The circuit board, switches and enclosure show clearly the difference between cheap and quality. Wilderness has a quality product from the word go.
N1KSN Rating: 5/5 Dec 24, 2002 13:25 Send this review to a friend
Excellent monobander  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I bought this radio with the optional KC-1 keyer and frequency annunciator and matching panel. I also purchased from Mouser a 10-turn tuning pot and a 2.5mm ID power connector (my own personal standard for coax power jacks). The parts list with the kit gives vendor part numbers, so finding the substitute power jack was a snap. With shipping, this all came to about $200.

Construction was straight-forward, especially on the main board. At alignment time I had to add an extra turn to the VFO toroidal coil to get down into the Extra subband, so if you plan on using the radio there, wind it initially with 61 turns rather than 60. The KC-1 was a bit more tricky to solder, as the board is rather small and has small soldering pads. Also, one has to carefully read the instructions to hook it up to the main board. I drilled the rear panel with an extra hole for the paddle jack that came with the KC-1 and elected to keep the straight key connection as is.

Up until recently I've found myself to be "alignment challenged," but this rig presented no problems in that department, at least with a frequency counter and wattmeter at hand. It powered up fine the first time. I adjusted the output power to 2.5 watts.

Using the rig on the air was a pleasure. The receiver is nice and quiet, without static and hiss noise. The KC-1 keyer in Iambic Mode B is as smooth as butter, as good as my CMOS 4. The frequency annuciator was right on.

This rig samples the RF output to provide a pleasing sidetone. With this and the low receiver noise, I know I could work with this rig for hours without getting fatigued.

On the air reports of the signal were all positive. Interestingly, after an afternoon session I received an email from a ham who had been listening to a contact I'd had. He wanted to confirm the name of the rig because he had been so impressed with the crispness and tone of my signal. Now THAT's an unsolicited compliment!

Last, you might wonder why pay so much for a monobander. Well, besides the features that make it such a pleasure to use that I've mentioned above, one should also know that it draws very little current. Thus it is a good candidate for backpacking and other portable use.

This is an excellent QRP transceiver.
WA7CS Rating: 5/5 Apr 21, 2002 22:55 Send this review to a friend
Works First Try - Hot Receiver  Time owned: more than 12 months
If you've ever thought about QRP, but decided against it because the radios seemed like toys, you are not alone. I never could understand what could be so interesting about under powered poor performing QRP radios. In a weak moment, and after reading an article in the December 2000 issue of QST I finally decided to find out. About a week after I sent a check to Wilderness Radio a little tiny box arrived in my mail. Inside was a detailed manual, a top-rate custom enclosure, and a couple of baggies of loose parts. It didn't look like much, and certainly no where near enough parts to make a decent radio.

I was wrong in a big way!

I hadn't put anything in the way of electronics together for a long time, so I took it slow. In about 45 minutes, I had all the parts inventoried and arranged on a couple of sheets of notebook paper. I scotch-taped each part to the paper so I wouldn't loose too many pieces.

The single circuit board was very well made, and the plated-through holes were smaller than I expected. The next thing I did was run down to Radio Shack and buy a 15 watt pencil soldering iron with a fine tip. Believe me, you better do this, the parts are small and very compactly arranged on the board. The instructions recommend using 2% silver solder - do this also. This solder is a joy to use, flows very well and leaves barely any residue at all.

Aside from the solder, nothing else is needed to build and operate this radio (a magnifying glass would have been nice for my feeble eyesight).

For the next two evenings I was squinting at resistor color codes, and minuscule printing on teensy little caps. There are some toroids to wind, but don't let that scare you. I'd never done it before either. I did make one mistake, I tried winding one toroid with the wrong size wire. Don't do this! Luckily, I noticed it in time and re-wound the darned thing with no problems. The instructions in the step-by-step manual are exactly correct.

Look at the pictures, and follow the the instructions. Your radio will work. I know this is true, because mine did.

When I said mine worked, did I mentions that it worked instantly the first time I applied power? Well, to my genuine amazement, it did!

Alignment is a snap, and no special tools or instruments are needed.

The best part is how well, the receiver works. I swear, the receiver in this QRP Transceiver is just as capable of pulling weak signals out of the muck as is my regular rig. I've got an Icom 735, which is a good radio even by today's standards. The Wilderness Radio NorCal 40A is a REAL rig, not a gimmick or a toy. I was on the air before the last solder joint had cooled and made several contacts thousands of miles away using my barely marginal vertical all-band antenna.

Nowadays, the only thing I use the SB-1000 amp for is as a perch for Conan my jumbo sized cat. He hasn't been in the shack much lately. I guess its the searing heat put out by the amp that he really likes. I thought he was copying code all this time.

I've been operating QRP on 40 meters lately, and believe me, with QRP the thrill is back! Every time someone answers my CQ I'm shocked that my measly 2-watt signal can be heard. But they really do hear me, and I can hear them too. I usually use my IC-735 and tuner to get the antenna matched to around 7.025 before I switch the coax to the NorCal 40A. The neat thing about this is that I can flip the coax switch and get the Icom listening through the same antenna as the QRP rig. Usually there isn't any detectable loss of signal from one to the other. I know, I know you don't believe it. Well, I didn't believe it either when I read a similar claim in a Ham magazine. That's why I had to try it myself.

This is a really big radio in a little box.

The coolest feature of this hot little radio is the built-in memory keyer. What's so cool about a memory keyer these days? This keyer will tell you what the operating frequency is at any point in the band, and will also tell you when a desired frequency has been reached! Aside from that, the keyer allows setting of QSK, Iambic mode, key-down function, and a bunch of other stuff. Neat-O to say the least. The KC-1 memory keyer is optional, but I strongly suggest you buy it right away. It comes with a front panel drilled and labeled for a really professional look. I highly recommend this QRP kit. Get in touch with my friend QRP Bob at Wilderness Radio NorCal 40A and have him kit one up for you!

Oh, and by the way . . . I don't work for Wilderness radio, they didn't pay me to say this, and I didn't even get a free radio. I did talk to QRP Bob on the telephone when I was putting the kit together. I was a little worried about one of the steps. He listened to me, assured me that everything was going to be OK, and to just do exactly what it says. "Yes", he said, "the instructions are correct and the radio will work".

Carl WA7CS
NR7F Rating: 5/5 Feb 4, 2002 01:15 Send this review to a friend
Great kit; Great radio  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
This was my first QRP rig, and it had been years since I soldered a component on a PC board. I felt the kit was fine as a first kit, yet challenging enough to be satisfying to build. This kit accomplished one of my main goals; to get hands on experience with a radio, and learn something about radio circuits.

I can't say that things started off real smooth with the radio, but I can say that once I got it running, I was as impressed as just about everyone else is with it. Bob at Wilderness was great about sending me a missing part, helping me trouble shoot, and just sharing his knowledge. The turn-around time on getting the radio, getting parts, and timliness of email responses was excellent. The manual is pretty good, although I felt that a few places could be clarified a bit. Alignment was easy, and required no test equipment (although such equipment certainly is nice to use for alignment). I had a short in the VFO that Bob diagnosed correctly, but for the life of me I could not find without the help of a local ham. Once he found it, the radio worked exactly as it should. With 2 watts out, and a dipole at 50 feet, my CQ's get answered easily, I get great reports from stations on the opposite coast, the receiver is quiet but pulls in signals very well, and that includes QRP sigs. I like having a RIT; something that is only an option on some other QRP radios. T-R switching is very smooth. The radio has a quality feel to it. I will be ordering the electronic keyer, and will probably eventually want to do the 10-turn tuning pot mod.

I think this is a great radio, and I would be tempted to use it as the base for an 80M or 20M rig by doing the mods noted in the manual. In fact, I think a real strength of the radio is that you can play with a lot of mods.

Great experience; and I'm looking forward to the next QRP project!
WA4PQD Rating: 5/5 Jun 10, 2001 02:04 Send this review to a friend
Massive Cool -- Tnx Eric  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
This Wilderness Radio NorCal40A is one nice device. Building it was big fun. All the parts were in the kit -- none missing. QRPBOB is cool. I was looking for a small, low-cost, CW only rig that I could run from a solar panel and/or lightweight battery. A little go-anywhere kinda' thang. Mine draws about 18ma on RX. Also got the KC1 for the keyer but was pleasantly suprised with the frequency counter portion. I highly recommend getting a KC1 along w/ the 40A. It comes in handy for seeing-impaired hams and can be made work w/ other rigs, too. The kit went together in a couple of nights. Installed a 5-turn 10K pot for tuning and added a 100K in series with the KC1 audio out (as "hinted" in the manual) to get a nicer tone. This one is setup to tune 7.030 to 7.070 and the KC1 is right-on (using an HP sig gen as input) across the entire range. The components, fab, and case are excellent. Manual is good. I think this is a great first kit and fine 40M QRP rig. Highly recommended. If a kit is an issue don't let that stop you -- send me email. See you on 40M QRP.
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