Reviewing the SG-2020 - Keynote # 5/6, 1999
Recently I had a chance to use the SGC SG-2020 transceiver for a couple of days. Since one of the most popular questions I get from this column is what do I think of this or that rig, I can at last tell you firsthand about one of them anyway. Thanks to my friend and brand new ham, Curron (Don) Hill, KB3DRW for being gracious enough to let me use the rig while he took care of some business in Pittsburgh. Don lives in Williamsport, PA and has visited here a couple of times this year. He has already joined FISTS and plans to use CW as his main operating mode.
The SG-2020 (hereafter referred to as just the SG) is what I believe a QRP rig should be. That is, a rig that operates all 9 HF bands. My very first impression on seeing it was how solidly it is built and how attractive it looks. I think you could probably drop it on the floor without harming it, although I didn't try that.
The digital frequency readout is very nice, both with and without the backlighting. In the evening from spring to fall, the setting sun shines right in the window on my shack, and the readout was easily visible even with the sunlight shining right on it.
When Don and I first set it up, we used the built in speaker, and the audio quality was very good. Many smaller rigs suffer from speaker cone rattle, but I didn't notice any in this rig except on one extremely strong signal. I later set it up to use my headphones since I am used to operating that way, and the quality was equally as good from the headphones. Just out of curiosity I tried listening to some SW BC stations via USB. Again, the audio quality was excellent, perhaps a little better than my ICOM R-71A, in fact. The AGC is excellent, and I didn't notice any blasting when tuning from weak (or no) signals to very strong ones. The audio output remained very constant.
I didn't notice any splatter from very strong signals. It was possible to tune right up next to them and still copy weaker signals easily.
I made about 10 QSO's in the limited time I had available, and got excellent reports on signal quality. No chirp, drift, etc., and good clean crisp keying was the universal report.
The SG comes with a well written manual. A couple of spots may be a bit confusing to the new ham, such as the description of the passband tuning feature, but overall I can't see anyone having any trouble learning to use the rig from the manual.
As with any piece of miniature electronic equipment that is computer controlled, space limitations mean that many functions must be made to operate by using only a few buttons. Even non-hams understand this when they set their tiny digital clocks or watches. The SG is no exception. For example, you press the CMD and PBT buttons together and release them, then turn the main tuning knob to change power output. However, in the short time I used the rig, I found it easy to learn the various combinations, and it shouldn't take long till all functions become second nature. SGC also provides two small cards listing all button combinations for quick reference in case you forget a particular combination.
If you've read this far, you may get the impression that I think the SG is a perfect rig. Well, it's not, in my opinion, but any faults I can find are of the nit picking kind, and nothing major at all.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the noise blanker. It simply doesn't get rid of any noise and it adds distortion to the desired signal. To give credit to SGC, they mention the NB shortcomings in the manual and say it's there mainly to eliminate very strong ignition type noise.
I found that by setting the selectivity to 100-300 Hz I could get rid of most noise and pull out the CW signal I was trying to copy, so perhaps the NB limitation isn't that big a deal.
The built in power output readout is not accurate. Again this is mentioned in the manual. I found that to get 5 watts output, I had to set the readout to 4 watts. When the readout said 5 watts, I was actually putting out a little over 6 watts. There is no provision for calibrating this in the SG.
Things I'd like to see changed. Different color LED's for XCVE and RIT. Now they are both yellow, and it's hard to tell at a quick glance whether you're in XCVE or RIT mode. The SPLIT LED is RED so that helps distinguish that mode.
I'd like to change the filter bandpass in bigger steps. As it is, you have to go in 100 Hz steps which takes time to go from a narrow 200 Hz to a 1000 Hz BW. How about just going from say, 200 Hz to 500 Hz to 1500 Hz to 2500 Hz or something like that. The in-between steps aren't needed that often anyway. When I'm working a contest for example, I like to operate with about a 1000 Hz bandpass so I can copy a second station slightly off frequency while I'm working another station and I like to be able to quickly switch to a 200 Hz filter to dig out a weak signal if I need to.
The phone jack is on the back of the unit, and the key jacks are on the front. I think it would be better the other way around. The headphones are unplugged more often (whenever you want to use the speaker for example) than the key.
Full break-in is only available with an external keyer. The built in keyer only operates in a VOX type mode. It is said this is done because full break-in is noisy (it is!) with the clacking relays and many ops prefer the relays to clack less often as they do in the VOX style mode. I would think that quieter relays could be used to keep the noise down. Don pointed out to me that the relays they use are heavy duty type for longer life and hence are noisier because of that.
Finally the main tuning knob could maybe use a finger indent for faster spinning. Perhaps a two speed tuning knob would be nice as well. It's convenient on my R71A receiver to spin rapidly across a band by turning the knob a bit faster, then slow down the turning rate to fine tune a station.
My overall assessment of the rig. If you're a serious QRP operator whose ham action consists largely of QRP work, it would be a very fine rig. For the casual operator who operates QRP only from time to time, the 550-600 dollar price of the SG is definitely too much. I think it would be a fine QRP contest rig except for the one or two shortcomings I mentioned above. I wish I had had a chance to try it out in a big contest.
I'm almost out of space. Contact me via Email or regular mail to John Shannon, 478 E. High St., Kittanning, PA 16201-1304 or home.windstream.net/johnshan/. Next month, information on batteries for the QRPer. 73. -30-