RIGblaster Plug and Play, a hands-on review.
I just purchased a West Mountain Radio RIGblaster Plug and Play.
My principal intent is be provide CW keying from my PC’s keyboard to my Icom IC-718 HF transceiver. I want to set up macros (buttons to click) to automate things like sending my call sign twice, sending RST, my location, etc. If you chase DX, this is incredible time saver. An entire QSO can be automated. Even better for DX contests…
But I also wanted to be able to dabble in the new (to me) digital modes such as PSK31. So killing two birds with one purchase made good economic sense to me.
Here’s what I learned about my new RIGblaster from start to finish, some of which is not necessarily clear from the West Mountain Radio website:
- The audio cables from the RIGblaster are very short. Unless you intend to use extension cables, the RIGblaster must be positioned quite close to your PC.
- There are three LED lights on the front of the RIGblaster. From time to time you may need to see these lights, so position your RIGblaster so the lights are visible.
- The RIGblaster PnP version does NOT come with a CW cable. It’s a $10 optional purchase.
- Connecting the RIGlaster is easy. Two audio cables go to your PC. A data cable to your transceiver and in my case a CW cable from the RIGblaster to my transceiver. Note that your RIGblaster must be ordered for your particular transceiver; i.e. West Mountain will include the appropriate data cable adapter to plug into your particular brand/model of transceiver.
- The RIGblaster Plug and Play can do rig control with the purchase of another cable, but this wasn’t applicable to me since I already do rig control via my Log4OM PC logging software which includes OMNIRig.
- The included RIGblaster DVD is extremely important. My next point may be confusing, but hear me out: Don’t use the driver install from the DVD. When you initially connect the RIGblaster to your PC, Windows will begin to recognize the addition of new hardware and Windows will install the appropriate drivers. Let Windows do this. Don’t insert the DVD into your PC before plugging in the RIGblaster for the first time.
- West Mountain Radio doesn’t really provide its own software for its RIGblasters…the DVD includes a wide collection of free and shareware programs for the various digital modes, CW, etc. For example, the best CW program on the DVD in my opinion is a program called MRP40. I can use it free of charge for 30 days, but after that is will stop working unless I buy it. It currently costs $57. Perhaps West Mountain discloses on its website somewhere that several of its recommended programs must be purchased…but I wasn’t aware of it. I suspect West Mountain gets a kickback for each program purchased. I would have felt better if West Mountain had made this more clear to potential buyers. Again, maybe all this is in a FAQ somewhere, but I never found it.
- On my PC for whatever reason, the DVD would not autorun. If this happens to you, display the files on the DVD and then execute WMRautorun.exe.
While the driver installation was automatic and physical installation was easy, I did run into an initial problem with the MNP40 CW software (and at the time I thought it was a RIGblaster problem):
- I was delighted that the program worked perfectly first time. I was typing away from my PC keyboard to my transceiver. The generated morse was perfect. I couldn’t be happier, but…
- I set up a split frequency scenario on my transceiver to try to work a station that was listening “up 5.” The RIGblaster would key my transceiver but I was not transmitting on VFO B. It would only transmit if I was using VFO A which means I would be transmitting and receiving on the same frequency.
- I was baffled. Spent quite a bit of time looking at settings and Googled, but to no avail.
It was the weekend so I had to wait until Monday morning to call West Mountain tech support. Here’s what happened:
- My phone call was answered almost immediately.
- A cheerful woman transferred me to tech support.
- I was on hold for about two minutes. Then the tech answered.
- I explained my problem to the tech. This problem was new to him. He just happened to have my exact transceiver on his bench. He hooked up a RIGblaster Plug and Play to it and tried to confirm my problem with the MRP40 software. He set up a split. It worked for him!
- He told me to disconnect the data cable from my transceiver. NOW MRP40 worked perfectly for me on both VFOs.
- He then asked me to go into MRP40 Settings and read to him how I had PTT configured. He then told me to disable the PTT settings completely.
- I reconnected the data cable and tried a split again. Everything worked perfectly.
- This entire phone call took approximately five minutes.
- I found West Mountain tech support to be excellent.
- When it comes to digital equipment, I pledge to only buy West Mountain gear.
- By the way, I did buy my RIGblaster from HRO, not directly from West Mountain. But nowhere during the tech support phone call was I asked about how I purchased the unit or how long I had had it, etc. The tech’s only desire was to fix my problem. I was so impressed.
- I couldn’t be happier with my RIGblaster or West Mountain Radio. I have gotten over the fact that I will have to spend another $57 for CW software. I will look for alternatives, but so far other packages I’ve found aren’t as good as *MRP40.
*MRP40 and some of the other packages I’ve looked at also decode CW. But the decoding isn’t very accurate. Weaker signals are worse and if the signal isn’t completely in the clear, you get most gibberish — just wanted to mention this in case you’re looking for decoding as well as transmitting. I’m not. I’m an old CW hound. I decode in my head. LOL. I only need to be able to automate transmitting and MRP40 does a perfect job for me.
Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with West Mountain Radio other than being a
happy* RIGblaster owner.
*Update March, 2015. Sometime after this blog post was written I had a dustup with West Mountain Radio, the company behind RIGblaster. Here are my current thoughts about West Mountain Radio.