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Author Topic: Negatives to using a cheap SDR radio with an amplifier?  (Read 5546 times)
KI7LGC
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Posts: 10




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« on: September 11, 2017, 01:26:38 PM »

I recently passed my General, and have the itch to get into HF. Unfortunately, as many hams know, HF radios are expensive.

I recently came across a couple of software defined radios that are really cheap.

SoftRock RXTX 
Peaberry SDR V2

For $90 to $150 I could get on the HF bands with most modes. The only downside is these radios only put out about 1 watt to 2 watts of power.

Would there be a downside to getting started with one of these, then later getting a linear amplifer to push these to more usable power? Or would it be a better idea to save for a bit and get a nice radio that can do all modes, and be able to put out 100 watts?

I know it's not super easy to say for sure which would be better, but I wanted opinions on what you would do in my situation.
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K0UA
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« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2017, 02:59:16 PM »

I recently passed my General, and have the itch to get into HF. Unfortunately, as many hams know, HF radios are expensive.

I recently came across a couple of software defined radios that are really cheap.

SoftRock RXTX 
Peaberry SDR V2

For $90 to $150 I could get on the HF bands with most modes. The only downside is these radios only put out about 1 watt to 2 watts of power.

Would there be a downside to getting started with one of these, then later getting a linear amplifer to push these to more usable power? Or would it be a better idea to save for a bit and get a nice radio that can do all modes, and be able to put out 100 watts?

I know it's not super easy to say for sure which would be better, but I wanted opinions on what you would do in my situation.

One possible "hangup" is while there are amps to boost your 1 or 2 watt signal up to 45 or 50, they can be a bit pricey.  Most larger amps like most hams would have require anywhere from 30 to 80 watts of drive to get them going..  You can find used traditional superhet  transceivers fairly cheap.  In the $400 range will buy some radios that are/were pretty fair.  In the new area for more economical transceivers, I just bought an Yaesu 891  for $579 after rebate.  It is not bad. It is geared a bit more for mobile/portable, but it has a lot of nice DSP features  while it is still a superhet radio the IF DSP noise reduction is pretty good.  A Yaesu FT450d is a pretty fair radio, geared a bit more to home use, in the $600 price class and it includes a tuner inside.  It is only a 3:1 trim tuner, but it works pretty well.

But all that said, don't let me talk you out of the SDR if that is where you want to go.  I have an SDR rig in a traditional box with knobs, and I love the thing to death.  It is the Icom IC7300.  If you can swing $1249,   then that is where I would go.  It is all up to you and your wallet.  Smiley
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K9IUQ
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« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2017, 04:00:21 PM »


SoftRock RXTX  
Peaberry SDR V2

For $90 to $150 I could get on the HF bands with most modes. The only downside is these radios only put out about 1 watt to 2 watts of power.

Would there be a downside to getting started with one of these, then later getting a linear amplifer to push these to more usable power? Or would it be a better idea to save for a bit and get a nice radio that can do all modes, and be able to put out 100 watts?

I know it's not super easy to say for sure which would be better, but I wanted opinions on what you would do in my situation.

It IS super easy to say for sure that newbie Hams that buy QRP HF Radios get frustrated and leave the hobby. If this is your goal then have at it. QRP HF Radios are for experienced hams that know what they are getting into, especially since HF propagation is headed for the toilet.

OTOH if as a newbie clueless Ham, you WANT to be successful, then get a job,  (or better yet) get a job for your wife and buy a real 100 watt radio with a good or great antenna. You will end up being a ham for life...  Wink

Stan K9IUQ
« Last Edit: September 11, 2017, 04:05:52 PM by K9IUQ » Logged
N0YXB
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Posts: 1122




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« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2017, 04:05:31 PM »

I'd recommend saving your cash for a decent used rig, or a new FT-450 or an IC-718. Both less than $700.00 from Gigaparts. Also, the FT-891 is $579.00 at Gigaparts and DX Engineering.
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N2DTS
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Posts: 736




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« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2017, 05:06:37 PM »

Get an old radio to start with, like a ts440 or Icom 735.
The peabury V2 is a 2 band kit, 1 or 2 watts is not enough for general use.
A used Icom 7300 is down to about $900.00.

You also need a power supply and an antenna tuner plus the antenna, good amps cost more then old radios.
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K9IUQ
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Posts: 2771




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« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2017, 05:22:21 PM »

Get an old radio to start with, like a ts440 or Icom 735.

This is horrible advice. Buy an overpriced outdated lame HF radio from the 1980's that the oldtimers have tried to dump for YEARS. C'mon, I have seen modern competitive used radios like the Kenwood TS-590s in the $700 range. No need to buy junk like a TS-440 that smells like a dirty ashtray and with likely PLL  ..... problems.  Cheesy

Stan K9IUQ

« Last Edit: September 11, 2017, 05:32:52 PM by K9IUQ » Logged
VA3VF
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Posts: 819




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« Reply #6 on: September 11, 2017, 05:45:18 PM »

I recently came across a couple of software defined radios that are really cheap.

SoftRock RXTX 
Peaberry SDR V2

For $90 to $150 I could get on the HF bands with most modes. The only downside is these radios only put out about 1 watt to 2 watts of power.


First, welcome to the hobby!

Linear amps are expensive, and with only 1W drive, you won't get enough power to have reliable communications on phone, for example.

The need for more power, specially during the current propagation conditions, will be a source of frustration.

Buy a used, but current model, transceiver. If you think about the money you will spend with your original plan, and be unhappy in a couple of months, the cost of a used transceiver becomes more palatable.

The worst possible thing for a new ham is to be disappointed early in his/her ham 'career'. We want you around, and not to quit the hobby prematurely.

As for the 2 SDRs you listed, I'm not familiar with the Peaberry, but I had a SoftRock for a couple of years. It's an excellent starter SDR, but not a good option for a new ham and/or a first radio. The SoftRock is not a DDC SDR. It uses the PC soundcard as the ADC, it works, but it's outdated. It also requires more cables, and the more cables you have lying around, the more likely you are to have RFI problems. If you think 1W is not a problem, think again. Grin

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N2DTS
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« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2017, 05:09:49 AM »

Not everyone has $700.00 for a radio plus money for an antenna and power supply and a tuner.
An old radio in good working shape is a good way to go.
Since when did new hams need great equipment?
I started with an HW-8 I built, I made plenty of contacts on that 4 watt direct conversion rig till I got a HW-101, another great performer.

I would think some local ham would lend a new ham some old rig they had in the garage to get started with.
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W1VT
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Posts: 2494




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« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2017, 06:18:01 AM »

There is actually an old FCC rule that limits amplifiers to 15 dB of gain, so you can't legally sell a 50 watt or 100 watt amplifier that needs only 1 watt of drive, even though the technology to do so is readily available.  The FCC opened this topic for discussion but I haven't seen any new rules.  There is a pretty good consensus that the old rule was designed to limit the marketing of illegal CB amplifiers.

Zack W1VT
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VA3VF
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Posts: 819




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« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2017, 07:01:46 AM »

An old radio in good working shape is a good way to go.
Since when did new hams need great equipment?
I started with an HW-8 I built, I made plenty of contacts on that 4 watt direct conversion rig till I got a HW-101, another great performer.

Hams do not need great equipment, provided they know the limitations of what they are getting, and manage their expectations accordingly.
What's old? Is CAT needed? Is dual VFO needed? Is frequency stability needed? Are digital modes an interest? etc etc.
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N2DTS
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« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2017, 11:16:13 AM »

If you need a great radio, or even a good radio to have fun operating, then I have not had fun most of my operating years.
After about 30 years I did manage to get some nice modern radios, and they tend to be the LEAST amount of fun...
I still have and use my old home brew stuff but nothing modern has lasted a year in my shack.
Most does not last 3 months.
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VA3VF
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« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2017, 11:33:34 AM »

...but nothing modern has lasted a year in my shack.
Most does not last 3 months.

We know that already.  Grin Grin Grin Grin
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K9IUQ
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Posts: 2771




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« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2017, 04:05:07 PM »

If you need a great radio, or even a good radio to have fun operating, then I have not had fun most of my operating years.
After about 30 years I did manage to get some nice modern radios, and they tend to be the LEAST amount of fun...
I still have and use my old home brew stuff but nothing modern has lasted a year in my shack.
Most does not last 3 months.


I have and use both Vintage radios AND modern stuff - see my QRZ.com page.

I would NEVER recommend a radio from the 80's to a newbie HF ham. The new technology is just too good on later model radios. Plus the old radios are too limiting when used with a Computer. Plus you recommended a TS-440s, a radio that is known for problems. Problems that a new ham should not have to deal with.

A newbie ham can not have fun in ham radio with a junker Radio that frustrates a new ham. I have seen too many new Hams leave the hobby because of frustration...

I equate Old vintage cars with old radios. They ARE fun to drive once in a while and show off to your buddies. But you want a modern car/radio for everyday driving....  Cheesy Cheesy

FWIW I have been a Ham for 57 years and love the new radios and new technology like SDR, digital modes, Fusion,DMR, FT-8 and the list goes on Never Bored yet.

Stan K9IUQ



« Last Edit: September 15, 2017, 04:18:58 PM by K9IUQ » Logged
K9IUQ
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Posts: 2771




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« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2017, 04:11:16 PM »

Hams do not need great equipment, provided they know the limitations of what they are getting, and manage their expectations accordingly.
What's old? Is CAT needed? Is dual VFO needed? Is frequency stability needed? Are digital modes an interest? etc etc.

Well said and exactly what I think. The problem is a new ham does not realize what the limitations are, until he decides he wants to interface a 1980 radio to a computer..  Wink Then  it is too late.

Stan K9IUQ
« Last Edit: September 15, 2017, 04:19:52 PM by K9IUQ » Logged
ZENKI
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Posts: 1428




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« Reply #14 on: September 15, 2017, 06:00:16 PM »

Its a stupid regulation. It far easier designing clean 0 Dbm transmitters that drive high gain clean amplifiers. Just about every commercial military HF transmitter is designed this way.

Now we have sad state of affairs where QRP radio manufacturers design poor bad IMD  10 PA's that drive  little  crap 50 to 100 watt CB  specifications that causes a lot of splatter.

As you say  its very easy to design a 500 watt to 1kilowatt amplifier that can easily be driven by  a signal generator. The EMC industry has been doing that for decades. Companies like Amplifier Research  etc produce amplifiers from 1 watt to 5kw that can be drive with  less than 1 watt.

Its time that the FCC got rid of this dinosaur law.

It would be nice if the ARRL encouraged  such designs.  Even  tetrode tube amplifiers like a single 4cx1500B or any tetrode for that matter could be driven with 100 milliwatts. Its far easier designing a 100 milliwatt radio to run on batteries that could say drive a 25 to 100 watt amplifier. Power and gain settings could be much easily controlled by microprocessor step attenuators to control gain per band or mode lessening IMD splatter and over drive conditions.

There is actually an old FCC rule that limits amplifiers to 15 dB of gain, so you can't legally sell a 50 watt or 100 watt amplifier that needs only 1 watt of drive, even though the technology to do so is readily available.  The FCC opened this topic for discussion but I haven't seen any new rules.  There is a pretty good consensus that the old rule was designed to limit the marketing of illegal CB amplifiers.

Zack W1VT
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