Radcom March 1999 SG-2020 Review by Victor Brand, G3JNB
The SGC SG-2020 Transceiver Reprinted with express permission.
WE ASKED TWO ardent QRP operators to review the SGC SG-2020 transceiver and compare it against the Index Labs QRP Plus.
DESCRIPTION (By Richard Constantine, G3UGF)
MY FIRST impressions were delightful -small, different and very ‘cute’. The cast alloy casing sleeve, into which the radio slides, with similar front and rear panels, gave a very substantial, rugged appearance. The main rubberized tuning knob, driving the opto coupler is nicely weighted reminiscent of the old Eddystone receiver flywheel, and there is a dear easy-to-read digital readout, with switchable panel lighting for current saving. Less substantial is the three pins Phoenix style rear power connector, which has no cable grip and a very basic latching arrangement. The DC cable supplied is more suited to 15 amps rating than the 4.5 amps maximum that the 2020 consumes. Intriguingly it is stamped Boat cable’, but would be adequate for house wiring and won’t stay in the terminals on the connector. Presumably this connector was chosen to allow easy mating with the optional battery pack unit (to follow) and for production purposes. However, it’s a bit of a bind and could be seriously improved.
At switch on, the radio is an audio visual experience. It displays its serial number, followed by the maker’s logo, SGC, which is also heard in Morse code. Next it briefly displays the supply voltage, before changing to 6-digit frequency readout. The switchable back lighting is a great feature for portable working or any time that batteries are in use. It’s also available on demand, by holding both the command and CW speed button. Latest production models now leave the voltage showing until you transmit or touch one of several buttons.
RF output can be set up and memorized for SSB or CW, in I watt increments for every memory channel, together with mode, receiver filter bandwidth and passband tuning offset; spectacular, and definitely the unit’s most impressive feature. That is until you realize that the absolute accuracy of the power levels vary across both the frequency and power level ranges. In most cases not by much, but if you are serious about sticking say to the accepted QRP levels of 5 watts maximum you need to double check it.
The makers claim that the RF amplifier has the "Stress power capability of 40 watts". They go on to say, "In other words, it is capable of producing 40 saturated watts in mid band and therefore a rating of 20 watts PEP is very conservative." The only form of band changing is via the 20 memories. You can achieve excellent results by setting the default frequencies of each memory around the recognized QRP frequencies, net frequencies or perhaps the new IARU beacon network spot frequencies. In any memory band it is possible to tune away from the start frequency and skip between the two by a quick press of the Memory button. This creates a short term extra memory channel, wherever the dial has been left. Rotating the main dial whilst holding the MEM button down changes to the next band or memorized channel.
At first sight the relatively few front panel controls makes the rig look deceptively basic, but once you realize that several functions take place by a combination of one or more buttons being pressed and that many function such as CW keyer speed, Rx passband tuning, digital AF filtering and I watt incremental RF power settings rely on turning the main tuning dial to the required setting on the display, and then being punched into the memory, you begin to learn what a complex and compact rig this really is. It also has variable rates of RX tune, 0.1, 0.5, 1.0. and 10kHz.
Other nice facilities include RIT and split frequency working, full break in CW. Unlike the QRP Plus the SC-2020 has a true variable RF gain control - a most worthwhile addition. The bargraph LED indicator is a relatively accurate S meter on receive and displays reasonably accurate forward power on transmit. Hold down the REV button on TX and the LEDs indicate reflected SWR Power. It’s all there! It is possible to select either Memory or Frequency scanning, with dwell time, pause on detection, threshold, audio blanking and frequency step all selectable by the operator.
Breaking with established tradition, both the straight key and Iambic mode B paddle (3.5mm jacks) are on the front panel. I have mixed feeling about this. At first it looks a great idea for easy access, but it makes for cluttered wires on the bench. If, like me, you have the hand microphone and two keys permanently connected, it’s a bit fiddly and cluttered. The key sockets are to the front in order to accommodate the optional battery pack unit, designed to clip onto the rear of the ease and which would otherwise cover them.
Apart from the PSU connector I mentioned earlier and the 50239 antenna socket, the only other rear connector is the 3.5mm stereo headphone/remote speaker’ socket. One must assume that this is also through-routed via the battery pack, as otherwise you would lose headphone capability. Plugging and unplugging Walkman style headphones from the rear is a bit fiddly, but I can live with it.
Audio is also available on pin 6 of the microphone socket, without muting the speaker, for a headset, telephone handset or HF modem, etc. The receiver is a single up conversion design with an IF at 60MHz. Selectivity is provided by a 7 pole ladder filter and variable SCAF digital filters at baseband. It has excellent low pass filtering in the front end, incorporating lightening and static protection circuits. For world-wide operation a high pass broadcast filter precedes the very efficient double balanced ring diode mixer.
Close inspection of the internal layout and design give evidence that there have been several design changes arid that there were some early production model problems. Software upgrades, circuit changes and select on test component values have now given way to what appears to be the final board layout - I know because my current handbook differs from the real thing.
I was a little surprised that the rig, despite its rugged appearance is not sealed against ingress of damp or dust and the top mounted speaker has no grill cover or membrane to protect it.
True to the promises in the SGC literature, their transceiver is rugged in its construction. Mine pours out 25 watts on all bands from an external 12.8 volt. 10 amp supply. The power winds down smoothly to just under one watt of CW or SSB and the book says it is fine for data. The continuously variable bandwidth filter closes in from 2.7kHz to just 100Hz. The QRM just vanishes. It is sheer magic! Pop in the passband tuning and all but the meanest whistler is defeated.
The SG-2020 comes from a 25 year old company that has based its entire communications philosophy on long distance communication by SSB. Co-founder of Stoner-Goral Communications (now SGC) Pierre Goral had built his reputation on an apparently legendary ability to get the maximum out of HF systems. Has he succeeded in his offering to we amateurs?
The high talk power and resultant 5 and 9 plus reports on only 5 watts of SSB, says he has. The audio quality has been reported as very good with only a cheap looking microphone as supplied. I have worked a number of QSOs using my dipole in which I have stepped the power down from 25, through 10 to 5 and, even, down to 2 watts, with very little degradation of signal at the far end... just like Rev George Dobbs keeps telling us.
So how about the CW performance? At first, I must admit I had a thing about its CW operation. Why on earth has SGC used a change-over relay that loudly chatters away on full break-in? It is not so noticeable when wearing headphones, but if you are on the air in a caravan with the XYL relaxing nearby or, dare I suggest, afloat with the rig just the other side of a bulkhead to an off watch and sleeping crew, they are not going to be best pleased!
However, when I tell you that first call to ZS2EO, running five watts output on 18MHz CW, off the null side of my little loop for that band, gave me a nice rag chew at 559 both ways, you will understand that I was rather chuffed. No, he did not have a megawatt to a rhombic at two hundred feet... just 100 watts to a dipole. So the performance is there and other bands reflected more of the same.
The bandwidth control makes QRP CW operating an absolute pleasure.
Power consumption is no problem at home, but in the field it might not be to your liking. Firstly, on receive/standby, the consumption is a smidgen below half an amp at 13 volts, Fine if you have a heavy battery, but not so good with a small set of cells for knapsack portable. The figures for various transmit power settings are:
So, to have a 20m CW QRP QSO on the SGC at, say, 2 watts RF output, the power supply is running at 24 watts. Not so hot if you are an ardent low power operator, accustomed to no more than 5 watts in for 2 watts out. Of course. the SG-2020 is supporting a whole gamut of internal gizmos that you will not have built into your ‘ONER’ special.
The 25 watts output is quite sufficient to drive a small linear if you are thinking of a home based set-up, and SGC do a companion amplifier plus a random wire auto ATU for remote installation.
First, a word of warning... whatever you do, when you switch on. do not touch another button during the ‘overture’, or you may find nasty things happen! Should matters inadvertently go pear shaped, just switch off and give it some time to come to its senses before trying again. Sidetone is factory set at 650Hz and, as far as I can see, not adjustable. You will need to use good communication phones for clean monitoring. The ubiquitous Walkman’ headset, as suggested in the handbook, gave me heavy clicks and thumps from that relay, although by closing down the bandwidth it just about vanished.
You will not need an external SWR meter with you on holiday, but do take an ATU unless you have resonant aerials. Tuning that ATU is going to need three hands! There is no ‘tune’ button and with the left hand holding in the REV SWR button and the right hand working ffie antenna loading knobs, your elbow must hold down the key, unless yours is very posh and has a shorting bar. The question is if you are a fervent SSB only person and do not happen to have a key handy, just how do you put up the carrier for resonating your bit of best bent wire?
The calibration is easily adjustable, although I was a mite surprised to find that the reading was around 2kHz out on my factory fresh set and the best I could tweak it to was about 500Hz off zero. Criticism of 40m night-time performance has bothered a lot of operators contemplating purchasing the SG-2020, but mine does its stuff with no serious problem, hearing in mind we are not talking a two thousand pound rig here.
SGC sells only through the trade (Note: This is incorrect. To contact one of our dealers, go here.), but are certainly making a big effort directly in the amateur market to live up to their professional reputation for efficient service and customer support. They have been sorting out people’s problems with the first batch (as did Index Laboratories, with modifications and replacement chips) and do seem to have been on the ball, monitoring Internet and packet to catch the moans and groans. KJSCI announced to the world on the Web that he had a nasty receive problem and was very impressed when he heard from SGC directly, asking for his rig back, It was returned with no charge and clear of problems.
In turn, I must report that the rig here does have a ‘funny’. Whilst on-air inquiries have produced firm reports of no residual carrier on SSB. I have noticed that in speech mode, but without audio input, there is a small carrier there. Indeed, on my reasonably sensitive SWR meter, a forward indication of some size is shown and I can monitor a nice clean note on another receiver. Put the output directly into a dummy load via short coax and it vanishes, but on the antenna it is there. Feedback? Oscillation in the pre-amp? Carrier alignment? Surely not R3E! I guess the experts will advise me soon enough.
Some of those deeply attached to their QRP Plus have expressed dissatisfaction with the SG2020 early models. But, then, so were the first owners of the QRP Plus. My fellow QRP conspirator here in Norwich, Stuart, G3XYO, brought his much prized QRP Plus Mk2 round for an on-air play off.
The QRP Plus could hear everything the 2020 could hear. The amazing bandwidth filters gave exactly the same performance. The controls were a touch less versatile than the SG-2020 and the back lighting of the display on the SG-2020 was deemed a boon. The 1-25 watts of RF was applauded, and the simple buttons for XCVFI RIT/SPLIT were an advantage, split merely requiring a touch on the button and a twirl of the tuning knob to the offset frequency.
WILL I BUY IT?
The JURY is still out on that one. The rugged construction, versatile facilities, RE capabilities and that magic AF filter are very attractive, but the relay and the current figures bother me. I think I will need some more QSOs before I decide. Meantime, my thanks to Waters and Stanton PLC for the loan of the radio. - Victor Brand, G3JNB
It’s refreshingly different, both in style and content, and certainly great fun to use. It builds upon the standard set by its ancestor, the Index Labs QRP Plus, and is probably as far ahead of its time as the QRP Plus was in its day. Priced at £599, and coming from a well-respected manufacturer like SGC just in time for solar cycle 23, it is bound to have a great future. I liked it enough to keep it. - Richard Constantine, G3UGF
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