While I love the Omni VII that we’ve purchased for use at the museum, I’m very disappointed that the rig’s internal keyer has no memories. That seems almost inexcusable in a $3,000 radio.
Since memories make operating CW so much easier, I started scouting around for an external keyer. What I finally purchased was the K1EL WinKeyer USB. This is looking like it’s a good choice.
The kit costs $64, which seems high when you compare it to the $16 PicoKeyer, but the extra features make it worth it. For one thing, the WinKeyer comes with an enclosure. After you’ve completed the kit, you don’t have to mess with Altoid tins or other makeshift enclosures.
The other cool thing is the USB interface. This makes the keyer controllable from a computer. And not only does the USB interface control the keyer, it also supplies the power.
Another big difference between the WinKeyer and the PicoKeyer are the manual controls. The PicoKeyer has a single pushbutton that an operator must use for all programming and operation. This includes setting the keying speed and sending strings from memories.
The WinKeyer has four buttons and a speed control. The speed control pot makes changing speeds much faster than is possible with the PicoKeyer. The four pushbuttons allow quick access to any of the four memories.
It took me about an hour and a half to build the kit. The instructions aren’t all that detailed—one of the instructions reads, “Mount all 18 resistors on the PC board.”—but they’re sufficient. One thing that made building the kit easier than it might have been is that K1EL supplies the PC board with the surface-mount USB interface IC already installed.
Another minor shortcoming is that the instructions assume that you’ll be using Windows software to test the keyer. Since I only have Macs here, that wasn’t an option for me. After a little initial confusion, I got it to work with KB for Mac OSX by W6EET.
Since completing the kit, I’ve made several QSOs with the keyer. It seems to work well with both my Begali Simplex paddle and an old Bencher that I have. I’m taking this one to the museum, but I think I’ll buy one for myself as well.