An iPad, PSKer iOS App and KX3 = FUN

As I briefly mentioned in my blog post titled KX3 – The First 24 Hours.  I spent a little bit of time experimenting with the iOS App titled PSKer.  This experimentation included operating it in an over the air method.  Meaning I have no audio cables running between the iPad and the KX3.  I’m simply relying on the iPad built-in microphone to pick up the audio signal from the KX3 speaker for receive and using the iPad speakers and the KX3 microphone for transmit.  The image below is a snapshot from the PSKReporter website.  I’m running 5 watts into a ground mounted Hustler 6BTV.  My transmitted audio IMD is –34 as recorded by my KK7UQ IMD Meter in the shack.


Of course, an optimum setup would include some sort of audio interface to directly connect the KX3 and the iPad.  While I’m still looking into these options, I’m fairly pleased with the performance in the testing.  Also, while I had always envisioned this process to be a bit awkward by having to hold in the PTT mic switch and fumble with typing on the iPad.  The KX3 makes this much easier with an XMIT button.  I can press the XMIT button on the front of the KX3 and the rig will switch into transmit mode until I press it again.  I think this is better than using VOX.  All I need to worry about is making sure the microphone is positioned near the iPad speakers and the iPad is near the KX3 speaker.   More about the KX3 speaker in just a bit.

While I would not opt to use this setup in the ham shack.  I’m thinking this will be perfect for SOTA activations.   Again, I think a direct cable solution is optimum, I’ve not seen any schematics or plans anyone has designed to date.  At a minimum I believe the iPad needs to receive audio from the KX3 via a cable.  During the maiden SOTA activation for the KX3, I realized just how weak the KX3 speaker is in an outdoor environment. 

With a light breeze and the KX3 sitting on a foam pad on the ground, I had difficulty hearing stations on SSB.  I had to use my ear buds and even those proved to lack the quality when connected to the KX3 (as compared to my 817).  Of course, what do you expect with a $2 pair of cheap ear buds.  I will look into other alternatives before the next activation.

Final comment on the KX3 speaker.  I don’t fault Elecraft.  As I mentioned in my blog post titled KX3 – The first 24 hours, Elecraft has stated from the beginning that the quality of the built-in speaker will be compromised due to size and recommended either external speakers or earphones/headphones when using in a noisy environment.  I’ve done a little research on the Chill Pill mobile speakers.  These have been discussed on the Elecraft Yahoo reflector with mostly positive reviews.  Weighing in at a mere 7 ounces, they won’t break my back or take up much room in my pack.  

I did some testing earlier to see if I could feed audio from the KX3 into the iPad and the PSKer app.  The picture below is the setup I used.  The white piece is the iPad Camera Connection kit.  This connects to the bottom port on the iPad and provides a standard USB connection.  Connected to this (via USB) is a Plantronics USB soundcard adapter.  I plugged a short stereo patch cable into the KX3 headphone jack and the other end into the microphone input of the Plantronics USB adapter.  I connected a second stereo cable from the KX3 mic jack and the other end to the headphone jack on the USB adapter.This does work.  But….


The weak link in this is the connection at the iPad.  The iPad Camera Connection kit (the white piece) with the added length (approx. 3 inches) of the Plantronics USB soundcard device makes it hard to keep it all plugged into the iPad.  On a SOTA activation I am sitting on the ground and will have the iPad in my lap.  I can easily see where the connector will get unplugged. But as you can tell it does work.  In the picture below I have my iPad running the PSKer App connected to the Elecraft KX3 via the Apple iPad Camera kit and the Plantronics USB sound card device. 


I recently created a YouTube video where I discussed this setup and the items I used to connect the iPad to the KX3.  I’m going to continue to experiment with other options and will blog about these findings at a later date.   You can watch the video below.

 Until next time…

73 de KD0BIK

Category(s): Experimentation
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9 Responses to An iPad, PSKer iOS App and KX3 = FUN

    Doug Jones says:

    Interesting. I posted on the YouTube video that I have a SoundBlaster X-Fi USB sound card, and I have yet to see if that would work too. I can understand your need to cut down on what you want to pack in for the SOTA activations… and this does look like it will help. I know for me, I’d probably include Apple’s bluetooth keyboard, but that’s only because I find touch-typing on the iPad to be … um. Difficult. I can usually do much better with the keyboard… and I think that may add a pound at most.

    Your experiments with the KX3 is making me really consider getting myself one as well. I own a 703, but I haven’t been on HF in years (long story)… so I’d have a bit extra weight there until I could find (or build) a lighter QRP rig. I need to look into the specs of PSKer app and see how it works with other radios. You have definitely piqued my curiosity.

  1. Hi Doug,

    Yes I saw that comment. I have made a few changes to the setup I used for the video last week and recorded a second video last night. I hope to find time tonight or tomorrow to get it uploaded.

    Basically I found a 3′ USB extension cable and experiemented with the VOX settings on the KX3. After a little trial and error, I found the optimum settings that will kick the KX3 into xmit and back into receive.

    I also tested my iPad in my new Otterbox case which will be used for SOTA activations. With the extra rubber and plastic of the Otterbox Defender case around the iPad, the iPad Camera Connection kit seems to fit more snug and should be OK as long as I don’t move it around.

    Finally, yes…I also have the Apple BT keyboard and I used it in the demo video. The extra weight of the BT KB shouldn’t be that big of an issue. It will also come in handy with HamLog and the new Pigtail I picked up. Video to come for that demo.

    Thanks for watching.

    73 de KD0BIK Jerry

  2. Jerry :

    I have been playing with a similar setup on the iPad (unfortunately I don’t have a KX3 ). I have tried a Telex P-500 USB external soundcard and that seems to work fine with the USB adaptor included in the camera kit. For the heck of it I also tried plugging my SignalLink USB interface into the camera kit USB adaptor but my iPad complained that it was drawing way too much power and it couldn’t handle it.

    I am thinking that I will try connecting my SignalLink SL1+ interface to the
    P-500 and see if I can get Psker on the iPad to key my FT-817. The SL1+ uses an internal VOX circuit to key the rig so this should work. This is a lot of external stuff between the iPad and the rig but it is still a much lighter solution than dragging a Laptop around. It will also be interesting to see what sort of battery life you get running Psker on the iPad. The iPad is pretty miserly but my bet is that PSker needs a lot of CPU cycles so that will likely drain the battery quicker.

    What I would love to see is a basic logging capability built into Psker .. this program has the potential to be “Digipan for the iPad”.


    Michael VE3WMB

    P.S. I am also into SOTA so I will keep an ear open for you !

  3. what about using this instead for both audio and microphone connection. You have only the earphone connector then, and leave the USB connection free for charging the ipad with a battery pack.


  4. Hi Kevin,

    That might work. I’ve sense found I can operate PSK31 and RTTY via the HamLog iOS App and the Pigtail from Pignology. I made a video discussing this process

    While the above does bypass the use of the PSKer App, it does make it easy to log contacts into HamLog since the functionality is all built in. Unfortunately, PSK31 and RTTY are only going to be available in this manner when using the Pigtail, HamLog and the KX3. As the KX3 is what is doing the decoding of the PSK and RTTY signals.

  5. I agree on the Pignology PIGTAIL ($160) as the most eligant solution, which uses the built in PSK decoding of the radios. Send it all via WIFI to the IPAD. But you still need the expensive KX3 transmitter for $900 to $1000. Your solution is costing megabucks. But may be best for HF communication. PIGTAIL does not transmitt audio. Maybe the next version of PIGTAIL will have a bluetooth audio channel?

    My goal is to attach the IPAD ($300 used) to a cheap 144/440 radio for VHF via repeaters, and run PSK31 or RTTY or other packet modes on 2 meters via repeaters. Have a chinese radio on the delivery schedule for less than $100. Cables and antennas should be $100. Hope I can keep the hobby budget below $500 and still have a system that can be used in multiple ways.

    Thanks for the great video documentary. Great discussion.


  6. Not sure if Pigtail would ever have bluetooth. According to Nick (the developer) Apple heavily restricts the use of bluetooth in 3rd party apps. Wi-Fi was a “slam dunk” for Nick to get approved in the App Store and get it pushed out to the users.

    I also agree 100% with you that my solution is expensive. Probably not recommended for the beginner ham. What I’ve documented in trying to get a solution to work for data modes and the iPad is strictly for weight consideration on my SOTA activations.

    I’m not sure if you have looked into the Signalink USB? This small device works well with digital modes from a PC. It is small enough to also work in a portable environment.

    While you may find some packet activity in your area on 2m. I’m not sure how much PSK and RTTY you’ll hear. If memory serves me, I believe the 2m FM PSK freq is 145.550.

    Of course there is no harm in trying and perhaps you can find members in your local club who will want to try running PSK on 2m as well.

    Do you have HF capabilities at all? When 10m is open, you can find some PSK and RTTY activity. As a tech, you can operate data on 10m.
    Again, if you have a PC…with the Signalink USB (as an example) you can also work JT65 on 10m.

    If data modes really interest you (as they do me), start working towards your general ticket and check around your club or local swapfest for good/used HF equipment. It’s a lot of fun.

    Good luck

  7. Look at the KC AUDIO GATEWAY. This can all be done now, with a little circuitry building and some experimenting on the bluetooth audio recieve side of the IPAD. (maybe) Not sure if the author of HAMLOG needs to redo the software on the IPAD to just use the bidirectional BLUETOOTH audio recieved (like a bluetooth headset supplies), or if once the audio is activated and connected via bluetooth to IPAD, that any app on IPAD can just use that audio.
    for $36


    where he decribes how to connect up a radio to bluetooth

    Tracy Brosius says:

    You want to find the Griffin Technology iMic for about $34-$36 for your ipad audio interface.

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