29 Nov 2012

Small Wonder Lab Kits

Dave Benson K1SWL has produced some wonderful Small Wonder Lab kits over the years including the famous RockMite transceivers, but he has decided to slow down a bit and get back to enjoying the hobby as a hobby. I think we don't realise just how much work is involved in a small ham radio company producing and supporting a range of kits. Dave's point about technical support and repairs rings bells with me: I get around 5-10 questions a week from people interested in my website projects and I am not even selling kits!

This was the notice on his website last week:


I took a ‘leap of faith’ in 1996, leaving the corporate world to undertake ‘Small Wonder Labs’ as a full-time venture.  Since then, it’s been a great experience.  I have to face facts, though: I’m getting older. The shortcomings in vision can be overcome with close-up glasses. More troublesome, though, are the muscular issues from spending hours a day at the computer, or with my head down, sorting parts into bowls.

Over the years, I’ve assisted countless customers with no-questions-asked replacement parts and troubleshooting advice. The issue of repairs has been problematic, though.  While no one really objects to paying $50/hour to have a $1000 rig repaired, that’s not true of a $50-100 kit. I’ve had some good people doing repair work for me, but it’s just not economically viable. Neither can I do the work in a timely manner. Therefore, and effectively immediately, I will not be accepting returns for troubleshooting/repair.

It’s not clear to me at this point if I’ll release any additional product offerings. Although I love the creative process involved in a new design, everything that follows is now just ‘work’.   Along the way, I lost the ‘hobby’ aspect of ham radio. I have not been on the air in almost 5 years. I want my hobby back!

I’ve finished our home here in the woods of New Hampshire, and it’s time for me to move on to other interests.  I’ve still got a garage/barn to build, a garden that grows larger each year, and a wealth of outdoor activities I can’t seem to find the time for. Retirement is clearly not for the faint-of-heart!

I’ll continue to sell RockMites forever, apparently.  Demand is still brisk, with more than 8000 of them out there so far. Ongoing activity for the RockMite as well as support for ‘legacy’ kits occupies me for 2-3 hours each day.  At this stage of my life, that’s ‘enough’.

73- Dave Benson, K1SWL
19 November 2012"


Anonymous said...

While I lament the loss of even one kit supplier - I'm not going to weep a lot over the loss of some of the Small Wonder designs - all of which are highly dependent on the NE602 part with no front end and no RF AGC, which is terrible practice. 73's David

Roger G3XBM said...


I have to disagree. The NE602 is a very versatile IC as long as its dynamic range limitations are understood. My Elecraft K1 uses one in the RX front end and I have never had a problem even on 40m at night. Biggest issue is SMPSU and similar noise on the lower bands here.

73s Roger G3XBM

Anonymous said...

Hi Roger, without mitigating the NE602's dynamic range limitation, which is quite easy to do, I would not produce any HF kit using this part without some form of AGC. Bench experimentation is another matter entirely.

Take a look at the newly released USD $40 "Pig-Rig" 5W 40m transceiver for 40m from the Kits and Parts (Google "Toroid King"). The Pig-Rig uses the NE602 but at first-glance it does seem to make an effort to overcome this NE602 dynamic range limitation in a rather simple way.

Best 73's, David in Jakarta

Roger G3XBM said...

Dave thanks for your email. You mentioned the Flying Pig transceiver from http://www.kitsandparts.com/fpra-7030.7.php . Having looked at that design and its idea for AGC, it looks an interesting way of helping stop overload of the NE602.