The MFJ Morse Keyboard

A perfect fist, right out of the box.

MFJ Enterprises, Inc. P.O. Box 494 Mississippi state MS 39762 Telephone: {601) 323-5869 Orders: {800)647-1800 Fax; (601) 323-6551 Price Class: $89.95

As an avid CW operator who uses this albeit archaic mode more than any other, I was overjoyed to see MFJ introduce their new MFJ-451 Morse Keyboard; finally, an affordable, state-of-the-art product that will fit into nearly anyone's station and budget! Even better, this item is almost totally self-contained and requires no connection to a computer to make it work, allowing die-hard CW ops like me to take it portable. (I say "almost* self-contatned because it does require a source of 12 VDC power and cannot be operated from an enclosed battery—too bad. Its current consumption of about 250 mA DC—3 watts!—would not allow a little 9 volt Duracell or Energizer to fast very long, anyway.)

I don't know about yout but I'm really turned off by new products that take hours of set-up time and pouring through Instructions to operate- This is probably why f oniy use computer software that is so intuitive it requires no more than ioading in a disk to get going. The MFJ-451 is perfect for those of us who like to just "plug and play." Although it is supplied with a well-written, nine-page instruction manual, reading the instructions is not prerequisite to using the keyboard as soon as you take it out of the box. \ had mine on the air within about two minutes after the UPS shipment arrived!

The MFJ Morse Keyboard is actually two items: The keyer, which is enclosed in a tiny 1-1/4" x 3-1/4" x 4-1/4" {HWD} black metat case that also contains the power ON-OFF switch, sidetone monitor volume adjust control and monitor speaker; and the keyboard, which is a standard PC-AT keyboard with a normal five-pin DIN connector (just like any PC keyboard). The keyboard supplied by MFJ is made by Mitsumi Electric Co, in Malaysia and is of very high quality with ,=n excellent "feei," but any AT keyboard wt I work as well. The manufacturer warns thah. use of an XT keyboard, or using an AT keyboard switched to the "X" mode, will not work and may even damage the keyer, so if you don't already have an ¿T-type keyboard, I'd surely recommend using theirs. Although there are other differences, an AT keyboard is most easity recognized by its row of 12 function keys (F1-F12) across the top, above the standard typewriter keys, (XT keyboards ordinarily have just 10 function keys F1-F10, located on the left-hand side of the keyboard.

Mfj 451 Keyer

Photo A. The MFJ-451 Morse Keyboard Keyer is primarily a keyboardf as you can see. The keyer electronics is all inside the tiny black box. The front pane! contains oniy a volume control, status indicator LED, and side tone volume control.

arranged in two vertical columns.)

The keyboard supplied by MFJ with the Model 451 keyer has abbreviated operating instructions describing the 12 function key operations printed on a label placed in the upper-right corner of the keyboard, A key overlay or a long label placed above the 12 function keys might be nicer, but this thing is easy to get used to, and once you've used it for an hour or so, there's no longer any need to refer to the label, anyway.

The keyer unit itself is so small and lightweight that it could probably be Velcro* attached to most rigs an an out-of-the-way location. Vou reaily don't need to access its two controls (ON-OFF and sidetone monitor volume level) at all if your transmitter or transceiver has its own sidetone and you switch power to the keyer along with your radio. Although MFJ doesn't mention this in their instructions, you could also run the keyer off a regulated source of 5 volts DC with a minor rewiring job internally: Just rewire the "output" terminal of the 7805 regulator chip U5 to the "DC input" jack on the rear panel of the keyer, and it will run on 5V; however, if you do this, be sure to never connect that jack to a higher-voltage source, or you'lt risk destroying the 80C32 keyer chip U11

The keyer has just five rear-panel connections: Keyboard In (five-pin DIN), Power En (12 VDC, using a standard 2.1 mm coaxial plug with center positive); Paddle in, which allows use of a conventional three-terminal electronic keyer paddte, should you decide at some times to not use the keyboard (3,5 mm stereo "mini" phone plug); External Speaker Out, to override the internal monitor speaker (standard 3.5 mm monaural "mini" phone plug); and Keyer Out which is the keyed line to your transmitter (RCA phono plug). The keyer output can be arranged to key both positive and negative-polarity transmitters and comes factory-wired to support positive-keyed solid-state transmitters. MFJ calls this "direct" keying (as opposed to "grid-block" negative keying, used in many older, tubetype rigs) and uses a VN10KM power FET as the internal keying switch—a good choice of device for the application.

Like all keyboard key ens I've seen, the keyer uses a buffer between the keyboard and the keyed output line, so you can "type ahead" of your actual sending speed, up to a maximum of 200 characters, Adjusting the keyer sending speed to be precisely the same as your typing speed! will result in "real time* sending, which is very tricky at best and leads to jerky-sounding sending, it is much better to set the sending speed to be somewhat slower than your actual typing speed, and use the "type ahead" buffer to take up the slack. Since I type at 75-80 wpm (375400 characters/minute), and nobody can really copy code that fast, I found it convenient to set the sending speed (accomplished by depressing F3 and then typing a two-digit speed from *05M to "99" wpm) at a normal conversational rate of maybe 20-30 wpm. Then I happily type away at my more comfortable, faster speed. For a real typist, this takes no getting used to at all, but for a "hunt and peck" typist, this might take a bit of self-training.

To let you know that you're running out of buffer memory, the keyer sidetone frequency lowers in pitch when the buffer is filled to 180 characters. When the 200-character buffer is completely filled, the sidetone will sound an error message with all additional keystrokes. Pressing the "escape" key (ESC) on the keyboard while it is sending your type-ahead message will immediately stop the keying and clear the buffer Pressing the "pause* key (upper right-hand comer of the AT keyboard, next to "scroll lock") will stop the message, allow you to insert additional text using a paddle key, and not clear the remaining buffer memory; then, pressing the "escape" (ESC) key will continue playing the buffer memory where it left off before pressing "paused

In addition to the sending speed being adjustable by keyboard command as described earlier, additional adjustments may be made for sidetone frequency (F2); keyer weighting (F4); two 100-character messages which may be preprogrammed (F5 and F7); playing the contents of those two memories (F6 and F8); putting your transmitter into the "tune" mode by sending continuously (similar to closing a hand key) by using another function key (Fl); and even converting the keyboard space bar to a hand key (F12), When youTre entering text into one of the memories, your keying sounds on the local sidetone monitor but the keyer does not key your transmitter, Another way to practice using the keyboard while it is connected to your transmitter, when you want to hear what you're keying in on the sidetone speaker but don't want the keyer to actually send a signal over the air, is accomplished by using the Key Output Disable function (F9). Two other function keys, F10 and F11. are used for serializing messages, such as would be required in the ARRL Sweepstakes and some other contests.

The MFJ Morse Keyboard is set up to send not only regular alphanumeric characters {A-2 and 0-9), but many amateur radio prosigns as welL These include popular prosigns like BT (double dash, used between thoughts instead of a period); HH (eight dits. used to indicate "error"); AS (standby); AR (end of transmission); SK (end of contact); as well as many not-so-popular ones like AL (new paragraph); SX (dollar sign, S); KN (response expected from one station only, directed) and so forth. To use the prosigns effectively, one must pretty much memorize which single key sends them, For example, BT is sent by using the = (equals sign) key; the error message (eight dits) is sent by using the @ key; AS is sent by using the & (ampersand) key, etc. Some of these prosign assignments aren't particularly logical and it takes some getting used to, but the limitation is the AT keyboard, of course. Again, a keyboard overlay provided by MFJ might help users remember these key assignments. Regular punctuation signs like . (period); , (comma); / (slash bar, used to indicate portable operation); and ? (question mark) use the regular keys that are so labeled.

The MFJ-451 aiso includes three f[embed-ded command" functions which are addressed with two keystrokes ¡rather than a single one For the embedded commands, CTRL (the Control key, located at the lower ieft and right of the AT keyboard, beiow the SHIFT keys) is used along with the keys for L, P or 5, depending on which embedded command feature you are using, CTRL-L creates a repeated message, like a beacon identification or a CO, which, after addressed, will play repeatedly until stopped by pressing ESC (escape). CTRL-P allows the insertion of a timed pause within a message. CTRL-S allows the insertion of a sequential serial number within a message, and, to avoid wasting time, sends the letter for nine and a T for zero, just like experienced CW operators do. These functions are all quite handy.

The message memories addressed by F5 and F7 {and played back by F6 and F8) are limited to 100 characters each, which is more than sufficient for anything I could think of. So that you needn't count characters when programming these memories, the sidetone pitch lowers in frequency when you type past 90 characters, letting you know you only nave 10 characters left in memory.

The Morse Keyboard operates as naturally as a typewriter and ooes not require a lot of thinking during operation. If you make a typing mistake, simply press the BACKSPACE key and the keyer will erase the last character typed and allow you to make a correction. The space bar inserts a word break space 3n the text, just like you are used to doing with a typewriter or word processor The SHIFT key enables upper case characters if applicable, {In alpha text, the SHIFT does nothing; but punctuations and prosigns can be addressed and changed with the SHIFT key.)

How does it work on the air? Like a dream, As I sard, this product takes literally zero familiarization period for an experienced typist, and operates intuitively enough for immediate use right out of the box, I didn't get around to reading the instruction manual—which is imprinted with the bold warning "Afways Read All Instructions Before Operating New Equip* menf" on its cover—until after my first couple of dozen QSOs, This is the perfect device for those who, like me, enjoy instant gratification

Photo a The rear panel of the MFJ-451 keyer box contains t/O ports for: 12 VDC in; keying output; externat speaker; paddle input; and keyboard input.

with a new ^oy." Because I hadn't used any kind of keyboard keyer in years. I was just a bit shaky during my first few contacts and sent apologies in advance for any mistakes ) might make: "Bear with me, QMt l1m using a brand*new keyboard keyer, so pardon my sending," No excuses were necessary, though, as I had it ail under control right from the start. Everyone complimented my wonderful "fist." although I wasn't doing anything, just happily typing my thoughts on a keyboard as I've done since I was a kid in grade school.

Dream On Department

When a product is this easy to use and so reasonably priced. \ feel badly about asking for anything more. But nothing is perfect, and we hams are impossible to please, so here goes. The MFJ-451 does not make use ot the numeric keypad on the right-hand side of the AT keyboard, so numbers must be sent using the numeral keys on the main GWEFtTY keyboard (top row). For those of us who are really used to using calculators, this is a tiny handicap: I d rather use the numeric keypad and wish It were enabled by the MFJ 11Tinware. Next, rather than two 100-character mories, I'd rather see four or five smaller memories. I never have anything so brilliant to send thai it would require 100 characters, but 1 iright want to use a bunch of smaller memories in a contest Example: For contesting with a normal memory keyer (and paddle), I often load one memory with •WB2W1K;" another one with "GRZ? DE WB2WIK;" another with a full-length (3 x 3) "CQ;" another with a short (1 x 1 or 2 x 2) *CQ;E another with a brief contest exchange like TU 599 03 DE WB32WIK BK;~ another with a slightly different contest exchange tike

"The MFJ-451 is the cat's meow (am I aging myself?) and definitely the thing for avid CW ops, or even casual operators who enjoy CW but are tired of banging away on a key

'CFM TU J^ 599 03 DE WB2W1K BK;r' another with "CFM (or QSL) TU 73 DE WB2WIK QRZ?* and so forth. Tm used to this format as most CW contesters are. Lastly, I wish the MFJ-451 didn't consume so much DC current and could be operated from a 9V battery so it would be a true stand-alone unit for portable work. (It does work on 12V, so most portable operations can support it, but this means another DC power cable, another set of connec tions, etc.) Note: For home station operation, MFJ does sell a "cube" type power supply, the MFJ-1312B Power Adapter. Many hams will already own such an accessory.

Wrapping Up

The MFJ-451 is the cat's meow (am I aging myself?) and definitely the thing for avid CW ops, or even casual operators who enjoy CW but are tired of banging away on a key. if you're a reasonably good typist, it will give you a perfect "fist" which can be tailored to suit your liking. For the price, J can't believe every ham who ever operated CW won't want ore, The MFJ-451 is available from authorized MFJ dealers (which are everywhere) and its suggested retail price is only 589.95. MFJHs address is P.O. Box 494. Mississippi State, MS 39762. They have two unique customer service programs; (1) If you are interested in any MFJ product, they will send you the owner's manual on request, free of charge: (2} If you buy a product and need technical assistance with it, they have a tollfree hefp line, which )s (800) 647-8324, MFJ has come a long, long way from their start as a little company producing inexpensive ham accessories and f must commend them for growing rapidly and greatly expanding their product tine, manufacturing alt products in the U.S., and still remaining competitive in this very aggressive marketplace,

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