A little while ago I purchased a Begali CW Machine. I was fascinated by it. I thought it would be good for POTA/SOTA activations.However, there is not a lot of information available on it. First, let me be clear, this machine DOES NOT decode CW. Let me repeat, this machine DOES NOT decode CW. And that’s a good thing. I have not found a piece of software that can decode as well as the CPU between the ears period. Weak signals, QSB, QRM, QRN, and bug/straight key operators with their own style or fist, often throw the software into fits, throwing out a bunch of T’s and E’s. Learning to hear CW takes practice, it is not impossible.
So what does this thing do? Actually, quite a few things. first it acts like a memory keyer. It will handle paddles, straight keys and bugs and has several different keying modes built in. It is a memory keyer, that can play back recorded messages. But it goes one step further, you can insert text in the middle of a message. Here is an example. I have a message I use in POTA (hunter) That goes like this BK TU UR (pause) GA GA BK. I can do one of two things. I can wait for the pause, insert the RST, hit the decimal (dot) key to have the message continue, or I can type in the RST while the beginning of the message is playing, it will insert the RST, and continue to the end of the message without further action from me. I can also insert silent commands that are not transmitted. In the above example, the CW Machine goes on the air to play the message, however, at the end of the message I have a silent command that takes the machine back off of the air. Your paddles are always ready to send a message with the push of a button.
Why would I do that? Because I want to enter additional information that I do not wish to transmit. I tune in a station and I copy his call sign, KK4Z and hit enter. The call sign is now in a QSO buffer. The machine can now use that call sign as a part of a message; something like their call de my call. Once I have the call sign I can add some additional information. While waiting for the pileup to die down I hear he is from GA. I type GA and I press the + key, for POTA, I hear his park, I type in K-1234 and hit the + key again. I hear a lull and I send my call which is stored in a message memory. He comes back with a RST of 559, I hit the asterisk * and type 559, it is now stored. I send him his RST using a message like in the above paragraph, and it stores it. He sends me a 73 and I send him one, but now, the machine inserts the current time/date, the band (not the frequency), saves it to the logbook which is part of the machine, and clears the buffer for the next QSO. The logbook is stored in non-volatile memory which means it would require physical damage to lose it.
The CW machine is hooked up to your radio via one cable that plugs into your key jack. For it to work correctly, you must set your radio keyer to straight key. To use it with your computer, you need a serial to usb port adapter. Power can come from either the computer or a separate power source. Whatever, you are running your radio with (12v) will work just fine. The CW machine only draws about 20 mAh so it’s perfect for field operations. It could also run off of a 9 volt battery.
Mistakes are fairly easy to correct. lets say I typed in the other stations call sign wrong. I retype it correctly, hit the enter key and the call is updated. You can do this to other fields using different key strokes, but it all works like that until you save it. You can edit after it is saved, but it take a little more effort (slightly more) to get it right.
You can run the CW machine in several different configurations. At the minimum. it needs a paddle/key and a PS2 compatible keypad. Yep, it uses a PS2 port. Basically you enter data with the paddle and commands with the keypad. You can also replace the keypad with a keyboard. This requires a PS2 compatible keyboard (Logitech still makes one the K100). This works well as you can now run the machine like a mill. You type and it sends CW. If you get a keyboard, make sure you get one with a keypad. the machine recognizes individual key strokes, the 1 on the keyboard is not the same as the 1 on the keypad for example. For those whose fingers get stiff in the winter time, this will reduce your errors. Another way to run this is with a computer using the computers keyboard and key pad. And finally you can run it from a Surface Go2 using its keybaord and attach a keypad to the machine.
One feature I really like is the ability to change CW speeds. With a twist of the knob I can go from 10 to 35 wpm (my setting). I sometimes have issues going from one speed to another when using a paddle. I’m just not that good. With the machine you can match the other station, without making a lot of errors. This really works well when you have someone activating at 13 wpm. I often bust a pileup because I am sending at a speed they can comprehend. It’s also fun on the other side. I typically run in the 16-20 wpm realm. Depending on the operator, I can copy up to about 25 wpm. When I hear one of these stations, I can crank it up and we have a quick staccato QSO.
LCD Display. The CW Machine has a one line LCD display should be readable in direct sunlight. It is adjustable. The screen is rather small and basically has one line that can scroll sideways to see what is going on and also to adjust the settings. There are annunciators that surround the one line of text to show you the status of the machine. It’s not a full sized computer screen, but there is sufficient information to run the machine without a computer.
So far I’ve been working it from home as a hunter for POTA. It works quite well in this capacity. I have used all of the configurations I mentioned and the easiest is using the machine with a computer. I have logged about 100 contacts so far and spent a lot of time reading the manuals. I would not call this plug and play, there is a learning curve. I am getting comfortable enough to try and activation with it.
Log files. The machine itself can hold about 12,000 QSO’s. It is easy to export to ADIF and it takes me about two minutes in ADIF Master to get it ready of POTA. basically I delete two columns, rename two columns and its ready.
Things I like to see changed. One is to go from a serial com port (DB9) to a straight usb port. Doing this would not only get rid of the serial/usb adapter, it could also get rid of the external power port. There are so many ways today to power something via usb. The display could be bigger and have more information available on it. There is plenty of real estate on the top of the machine to put a bigger more up to date display. A good example is the one Xeigu uses on its G90. Lastly, this is more of a niggle than anything else, put a better speaker and audio driver in there. Really, all this needs is an update, there are better components available today which could easily take this to a new level.
Caveats. It’s pricey. Right now it’s selling for about 295 Euro. Not for everybody. It takes time to learn. This machine does a lot, but to unlock the magic, there is reading and testing to be done. This is probably not for the techno-challenged. It does not decode so if you do not know CW, you have to jump that hurdle first. Who is it for? Someone doing POTA/SOTA activations who wants to travel light, have something to share the workload, easily maintain a log (especially if you have poor handwriting like me), works well in cold weather (when my fingers do not), and sips battery power. Right now it has become my POTA/SOTA go to logger/keyer. I am only using ACLog now as my master log. It is easy to import the ADIF from CW Machine (after tweaking it) into ACLog. There you have it. I will probably update once I get it out on an activation.