The BITX Transceiver Comes Of Age

There was a time when the idea of building your own single-sideband transceiver was too daunting for all but the most hardcore of amateur radio constructors. After all the process of creating SSB is complex enough in itself without adding the extra complexity of a receiver and the associated switching circuitry.

In 2003 an Indian radio amateur, [Ashhar Farhan], [VU2ESE] changed all that. His BitX SSB transceiver used a bidirectional amplifier design and readily available components such that it could be built by almost anyone using dead bug construction techniques for an extremely reasonable price.

Over the years since [Ashhar] first published his circuit, his design has been taken and enhanced, been presented in kit form, and extended to other bands by multiple other radio amateurs. Until now though it seems as though he himself has taken very little advantage of his work.

It is therefore with great interest that we note a new 40-meter BitX transceiver on the market from a company founded by the man himself. The transceiver itself is an Indian-assembled PCB with an updated circuit using a 12 MHz IF, varicap tuning, and large surface-mount components for easy modification. Just as with the original circuit, there is a full technical run-down of its operation should you wish to build one yourself. For a rather impressive $45 though you might wish to put down the soldering iron, it looks very much worth the wait for international postage.

We don’t often feature commercial product launches here on Hackaday, though we are besieged by people trying to persuade us to do so. So why this one? When the creator of a design that has been as significant as the BitX has been to its community of builders releases a new version it is newsworthy in itself, and if they are commercializing their work then they deserve that reward.

We’ve featured the BitX here in the past, with a rather impressive dead-bug build, and a look at a multiband version. We’re sure that this design thread has more to deliver, and look forward to more.

Thanks [WB9FLW] for the tip.

28 thoughts on “The BITX Transceiver Comes Of Age

      1. It always irked me that I was constantly building radio stuff(often from kits or magazine designs) or hacking features into radios but because of dyslexia couldn’t pass the Morse barrier to the HF bands. The explanation was always that they needed the Morse exam to keep low quality CB people off of the ‘good’ bands. I wasn’t around in the US by the time they dropped the code requirements. In any case I was only really interested in the license to test DIY radio equipment, not so much to chat or beat my record of contacts.

        1. That thing always amused me as a holder of a Class B licence and a G7 callsign. So you set this difficult to pass barrier to keep people off the easy to build for bands and keep them on the difficult to build for bands. I had almost zero interest in learning Morse and not a huge amount has changed, but I found building my own 70cm kit to be fascinating.

          1. I ended up playing with amsat stuff, lots of 70cm and 2m yaggies and waiting for good overpasses. But the neatest sats were non FM linear crossband transponders where SSB, digi, or morse code were the only modes which were narrow enough in bandwidth to fit alongside other users. It gets tricky in the 5min or so to tune the doppler and sweep for a signal as well as hand aim an antenna in addition to making a few CQs and stick with them. But in the US amsat was a no-code tech privilege being above HF. I never got around to building a dedicated uhf/vhf sat rig with a nice doppler adjust whammie bar tuner, I borrowed an IC706mkIIG and had a helper or used an HT to do FM repeater sats and the ISS.

          2. I was a g7 too, I got up to speed for the morse once because I had a g4 friend pushing me and who helped me write a morse sender with a fist on the amiga and the week before the test I fell off a bike and sprained my wrist. I could use a iambic key still but the rsgb requirement was for a pump key…
            I too spent my time on 70cm and 2m, mostly ax25 packet and atv stuff though rather than voice, and with homebrew low power limited channel sets with the odd repurposed pye commercial radio recrystalled onto 2m. Personally the HF stuff didn’t interest me enough to retake when my wrist healed and whenever I went to vist a A class holders shack, sat in the middle of the table was a commercial yaesu or kenwood rig with all the named gear surrounding it. Didnt feel much like they were interested in anything but chatting to their friends…

        2. I got my license after the morse requirement was dropped. I’ve never really been interested in morse for the sake of morse. I’m not dyslexic but I am far more of a visual than an audible learner. I’m finding learning morse code to be a difficult and not so pleasant process. But.. even today CW radios are still so much simpler to build…

          I bought a Hendricks kit BITX a few years back. I managed to get it receiving just fine but I haven’t been able to get it to transmit correctly. I don’t really even know where to begin troubleshooting it. Were I to do it over again I would have skipped the kit and built from scratch. At least then I could have done it in separate modules that are relatively easy to test rather than one big black-box PCB. I’m actually surprised that Farhan’s kit is a single PCB for this reason. Is this him selling out?

          So now… I just keep studying electronics and morse code. What will happen first? Will I become knowledgeable enough to troubleshoot my BITX or good enough at code to start building some of the simpler CW radios? I don’t know but everything I read from the “old timers” says that trying to build SSB first is going about things backwards, you have to crawl before you run. Ok then… dah dah di di di di di di dah dah

        3. Morse code was an international requirement.

          Amateur radio precedes everything. When Marconi spanned the Atlantic in 1901, he was showing a practical use for what had been a lab thing before. People got interested, and were playing with it. The rules came as uses were discovered. Ship to shore, especially emergency, became fairly important. There wasn’t anything but morse code at the time, but I’m sure the code requirement came from a need to be able to tell that important communication was going on, and shutdown. Everyone was jammed into a small range of frequency, the “useful” ones, which meant little room.

          So in some ways the code requirement was a leftover from the early days. But the case can be made that you start with simple things, and a code transmitter can be simple, but useless if you can’t do morse code.

          Amateur radio is a holdover. Every other radio service came later, and I suspect amateur radio would never have been created later if it had come later. But it existed at the beginning, and accommodated as the rules came into being. It’s unlike all the others, since the rules are pretty wide open, and one can build your own equipment. The “cost” is that they want some level of capability before someone starts building. “Restrictions” like a code test allow for less restriction afterwards.

          Canada got a “digital license” in 1978, for people wanting to play with that digital stuff like packet radio. No code test, but a harder written test (with a focus on the unfamiliar to hams stuff about digital electronics),and it allowed operation only above 220MHz. Very few people ever bothered to get that license.


      2. It depends in which countries you are looking for homebrew equipment HAMs. For example this is still done in my country because DIY TRX is cheaper than even cheapest one from factory. License lets one make any transmitter up to 0,5kW. AFAIK Morse code is not required anymore. I considered getting a license, but even though I can make my own TRX, it’s till a bit too expensive a hobby for me, as electronics components are here quite expensive, when compared to income…

        1. Don’t forget the ones among us that simply like to build stuff and to learn new things that way instead of ragchewing using off-the-shelf equipment. If I wanted the later, I could just pick up my cellphone.

          Economics is one reason for homebrewing, but by far not the only one. Before computers and the accessible digital electronics, radios and various amplifiers were pretty much *the* thing to build to get into electronics and to learn how things work.

          1. That’s exactly it. I am not interested in just chewing the fat. I want to *learn* which is why I’m restarting my ham radio hobby with CW and a chinese pixie kit that I’m going to build off of. I figure one of those will be easier to understand and then go from there. We’ll see how it goes!

    1. Sure but self-builders usually started with CW and maybe graduated to AM. Early adopters of SSB may have been likely to adapt a radio that was meant for some other band to use on a ham band but not build one from scratch. Building SSB radios has never been as common a hobbyist thing as it is now.

      1. I don’t think so. SSB had been around as theory, but hams were the real early adopters. Some had rigs in the thirties, and more started in the late forties. SSB wasn’t used in WWII, so the endless surplus that followed didn’t include SSB, though lots of parts like crystals to build filters. When commercial rigs came along, they were for the ham bands. SSB on the ham bands served as an example to the military.

        Eventually there was commercial and military SSB gear, but never that common. I did have an RCA Carfone that was SSB, but those were rare. SSB military surplus was exotic, but not common.

        Early SSB rigs did count on WWII surplus. Many used Command Set transmitters as VFOs or with major modification (the section that generated SSB had to be built). All those surplus crystals were waiting to be turned into SSB filters.


  1. There was a time when SSB transmitters and transceivers were common construction articles in the ham magazines. There were two such projects, at least, in the sixties and early seventies, from Indian hams. Back then, there were high tariffs on imports to India, and ham equipment and even parts were seen as “luxury” items. So they were scroungers, often relying on the gift of some key component sent from the US.

    One difference was technical articles were out front in the magazines. Maybe it set up an illusion that “everyone’ built their equipment, but at least presented amateur radio as a technical hobby. You didn’t have to buy a secondary magazine to learn about parametric amplifiers when they were new, or see developments in SSB, or learn about weak signal reception techniques. It at least meant people might accidentally read something. And there were lots of SSB related construction articles, and the continue to be published, though less obviously.

    There was an article in QST about using phasing at VHF, about 1964, and I’ve seen two different implementations of the article. Some articles got a lot of travel, and presumably that one got built a lot.

    With the Basic license here in Canada, you can’t use a transmitter that you’ve built, you need the advanced. That may reflect reality, but it also sets the status quo. When I got licensed in 1972, I had almost full privilege, I could build, run full power, anything else, except no voice on the HF bands. But then the entry license was considerably more complicated, a reflection of it being a technical hobby.

    This transceiver is hardly an example of homebrew. It’s preassembled, it is cheap entry transceiver for someone who doesn’t want to build.

    I read that the rig is not for export, at least not for now, presumably because the hams in India need it more than the rest of us. Let other people build it themselves. (And bilateral stages are not new, may not simplify things, and given the size and cost of transistors, it may be simpler to add some transistors. A bit more complication may actually make things simpler overall.


    1. I’ve seen a lot of M6 licencees – the most basic of the UK licences with similar no-homebrew – move up to their intermediate callsigns. So it does feed an escalator.

      I get the impression that there are and always have been a lot of radio amateurs who enjoy looking down on those who they consider lesser than themselves, yet barely ever lift a soldering iron. I am determined not to be one of them and not to become one of the old farts who sat on 80M back in the day with their £1000 Icoms talking about the War but looked down on me with my homebrew VHF and UHF equipment because I wasn’t interested in the Morse test.

      As far as I am concerned a radio amateur is a radio amateur. In British terms no matter whether their callsign starts with a G-, an M- or a 2-, and no matter which number follows it. End of.

      This board is pre-assembled, it’s true. I wish there were a kit. I still think it’s got homebrew value, if someone who’s not picked up a soldering iron before even mounts it in a case and solders up all the connectors then it’ll give them a taste and the confidence they can do it. Since it’s designed to be hackable maybe then they’ll then move on to a DDS or other modification.

      You can buy one for export, I’ve ordered one myself. I’ll do a review when I get it. And yes, this isn’t the first commercially available BitX by any means. But it does come from [Ashhar], and I feel he deserves a just reward for what he’s given us.

      1. It is certainly an attractive package and I look forward to your review. What interests me is what you have to add on to it; is it just a pc, box and a battery or would it be more complex than that.
        Way, way back I studied for, and passed, the UK amateur radio technical exam,it was a very good introduction to electronics, but I could never do morse, however hard I tried.

      2. “I get the impression that there are and always have been a lot of radio amateurs who enjoy looking down on those who they consider lesser than themselves, yet barely ever lift a soldering iron. I am determined not to be one of them and not to become one of the old farts who sat on 80M back in the day with their £1000 Icoms talking about the War but looked down on me with my homebrew VHF and UHF equipment because I wasn’t interested in the Morse test.”

        As an outsider looking in, all the clubs around here seem like that. Bunch of well off high end radio consumers, who sneer at constructors, and CB, but really may as well be CBers, all they wanna do is yack and dick swing about how much they spent on the latest toy.

        Myself, I’ve been “around” ham radio years, but not actually in it, couldn’t be bothered with the morse, or operating, last 10 years have been a bit of a dichotomy, on the one hand I’m getting the itch to get actively involved in digital modes, MESH etc, on the other, seem to have less and less in common with the average ham in as much as they fit the definition of the first paragraph.

        Also, whenever I fire up the Yacht Boy or scanner and listen in, I never seem to hear much actual “amateur radio” talk in as much as it’s supposed to be the main purpose of amateur licensing in the first place, furthering the knowledge and the tech. I mean it’s like a few dozen seconds of QSO/signal strength as a formality, and then on to complaining about their wives for half an hour.

    2. The rig is available outside of India as well according to what is on the website. You pay with Paypal.

      I believe it wasn’t available only because Farhan didn’t have everything set up to accept international payments and to be able to ship abroad at the beginning.

    3. “I read that the rig is not for export, at least not for now, presumably because the hams in India need it more than the rest of us.”

      That reasoning seems pretty silly to me. Even if it’s true, the BitX uses parts that are as common as dirt, it isn’t like the suppliers are going to run out. If anything, selling units to richer parts of the world could be a great way to subsidize selling or even giving away more in India if that is the motivation.

      A much more likely reason IMHO is certification. In the US any ham can legally build his or her own radio from scratch but even a kit has to go through the FCC certification process if it is going to be marketed. I would imagine that other countries have similar laws. That certification process is neither easy nor cheap. Perhaps you would like to fund it?

      Or.. maybe it’s just because he is only one person and India is enough to keep him busy for now.

    4. Not only WAS there a time when home-brew articles on sophisticated gear was common in HAM radio magazines, this hasn’t changed until today. Sprat Magazine, QRP Quarterly, UKW-Berichte, just to name three of these publications for English and German speaking amateurs – there are many more. Basically you could build your own state of the art radio station from DC to SHF from scratch just from these magazines.

      What has changed however is the focus of the larger amateur radio clubs. From the mid-90ies on they basically started to give a sh** about home-brew equipment and the engineering and scientific aspect of HAM radio. Read one of their publications today and wait until someone publishes anything with more than one transistor. It will take one or two more issues, and I bet that you’ll find a letter to the editor, complaining that this was completely inappropriate since the modern club member didn’t want to become an engineer and therefore couldn’t understand that article anyway.

      It’s the IARU clubs that have gone too far by trivializing HAM radio. But luckily the “real” amateurs with technical interest and knowledge have never ceased to exist. And they have never stopped to publish – you just have to know where.

  2. Thanks Ashhar for your altruism. I think it is the most popular rig all over the world because my reference is Cuba, a closed country with the highest disinformation level only overrated by North Korea and the people knows it, some Ham radio have been working using a junk component but with a very good performance. We always have considered it is the best option for our third world country where the components’ cost has to be affordable.

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