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Author Topic: MFJ 9420X and like QRP SSB radios  (Read 3606 times)
KC0PNH
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Posts: 30




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« on: August 02, 2003, 09:34:31 AM »

Hello all.  I was looking at buying my first HF rig and I ran into the MFJ Portable SSB rigs.  They seem to be pretty close to what I would want.  Low current draw, portability, ease of use, good recieve.  I had a little email correspondence with an OM in Maine who said he used his to talk to an OM in Japan on only 10 watts and a homebrew diopole.  Thats pretty impressive.  I am curious if any of you have used one of these radios and what you think of them.  Im looking forward to what you have to say.  Thanks and 73 de KC0PNH
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K7VO
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« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2003, 12:27:00 AM »

  Your friend in Maine is quite right.  You can work the workd with 10 watts pretty much any day of the week.  I was able to borrow a couple of MFJ rigs at different times, both the 20 meter version and the 6 meter version.  I personally would not own these rigs.  There are many better QRP rigs, both new and used, in that price range.

My main complaints about the MFJ rigs:  inadequate selectivity, front end overload, and drift.  You could do far better for $250 or so buying a used QRP rig by Ten Tec, Kenwood, Mizuho, NCG, Yaesu, and a host of others.  I would also point out that you get one whole band with the MFJ.  For a little over twice the money (about $600) you could buy a new Yaesu FT-817 and get 160, 80, 60, 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12, 10, 6, and 2 meters plus 70 centimeters.  That's 13 bands, every imaginable mode, plus a general coverage receiver.  Used ones go in the $400-$450 range, or somewhat higher with optional filters and cool accessories.  The difference between 5W and 10W is 3db, or less than one S-unit.  In other words, the station at the other end will almost certainly hear you every bit as well with 5W.  Wouldn't saving your pennies for an FT-817 make a whole lot more sense?

72,
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K7VO
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AA4PB
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« Reply #2 on: August 05, 2003, 09:27:47 AM »

I don't have any direct experience with the MFJ rigs but I have built and used similar QRP rigs over the years. K7VO is correct that the receivers and stability on most of these rigs leaves much to be desired. They are okay for outings and such but I don't know that I'd recommend one for a primary rig - especially as a first rig. There are a number of QRP rigs available these days, especially if you can manage a few more dollars (or look for a used one). I'd recommend a search on the Internet. If you have any interest in bulding a kit, check out Elecraft and Small Wonder Labs.
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KC0PNH
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« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2003, 09:54:16 AM »

The only problem with going to another rig is money, and ssb availability.  The elecraft rigs are nice, however they are cw only not to mention you could buy a brand new rig that covers all the bands, already made for the same price with twice as many features including SSB.  I have a very small budget, 300 is max max, that would be pushing it.  I figure 200 for the rig and the rest for powersupply and antenna(already made one).  Thanks for the replies, I do apperciate it. 73 de KC0PNH
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AD5X
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« Reply #4 on: August 05, 2003, 11:17:22 AM »

Look for a used Yaesu FT-7 or FT-7B.  These can be found for around the $200 price range.  I've had a couple of them (still have one) and they work great and are easy to work on if you need to.

Phil - AD5X
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WB2WIK
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« Reply #5 on: August 05, 2003, 01:13:23 PM »

KC0PNH, the others have good ideas.

Having used the MFJ9420X etc, I would not recommend one for a "newbie" HF operator.  It's a fine second rig for camping/field day/portable etc, and more suited for an experienced operator.  Here's why:

-Lack of reasonable dial calibration (for frequency).  With this little rig, you really cannot tell where you are on the band.  An experienced op would know what to look for to help out with this situation, but a newcomer might get very lost.  If you have a "sked" (scheduled contact) who asks you to "meet me on 14.235," you won't have any idea where to really set your dial -- it's not nearly accurate enough.

-Low power, new operator and poor antenna are not a good combination, and exactly the combination that has turned a lot of potentially great but new hams away from this hobby.  If you had a 5 element 20m beam on a 70 foot tower, any kind of rig would work the world.  But with low power and a homebrew wire antenna which is likely to have substantial "negative gain," making contacts can be quite a challenge, especially on SSB.  On CW, it's far easier, but on "phone," I wouldn't count on great results.

As such, I'd strongly agree to find a used rig that has 100W PEP output (most all do) and good dial calibration, using either a digital frequency display (as most rigs made in the past 20 years have) or fine analog resolution, to get you up to speed.  

WB2WIK/6
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KC0PNH
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« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2003, 01:24:44 PM »

Thanks again for the replies.  Unfortunately through looking for a decent higer powered HF rig, I can not find something for 200.  It might be impossible, but that is the limit.  There has got to be a way to do it. 250 or so is the lowest I can find.  Right now somebody has got to tell me to "save up and wait till you have enough for a better rig" however I didnt upgrade to sit around with a general ticket on 2 meters.  Im sick of borrowing things from people and having that huge responsibility to take care of them, especially when they are expensive rigs (Kenwood ts 940sat)  I just need my own radio!  Thanks agian and 73.
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KT8K
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Posts: 1490




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« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2003, 02:37:14 PM »

I love my TenTec Argonaut 509 (circa 1978). Though I do have a frequency counter to verify where I am, it's all I use, and I work a lot of stations, DX and No. America.
Keep searching and checking out swaps, on-line and in person.  You'll find what you're looking for and have a lot of fun.
Hope to catch you on the air soon.  73 de kt8k - Tim
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HFHAM2
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« Reply #8 on: August 06, 2003, 01:59:09 AM »

The MFJ 9420 (X just means the mic is included) is a great little rig and due to its excellent "on all the time" speech processor, it gets out very well; much better than a stock Yaesu FT-817 (yes, I've owned both in the past). With a half-decent antenna (wire dipole or G5RV will do fine) you will have loads of fun with the MFJ. It's a solid little rig, simple to use and gets out very well for an 8-10 watt radio. Can be upgraded to do CW too ($45 extra for the CW unit).

Read the reviews on this site; everyone loves these little rigs.
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K5LXP
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« Reply #9 on: August 06, 2003, 10:24:51 AM »

I have to agree with HFHAM2, I've owned two of the MFJ QRP rigs (one SSB, one CW) and found them to be decent little radios.  I will also agree that the frequency calibration leaves a lot to be desired, but stability wasn't a problem.  As far as bang for the buck, I would agree with WB2WIK that a solid used rig would be a better value than a new MFJ or other QRP rig, and would we worth the trouble looking around for.  I was at a hamfest just a couple weeks ago and saw numerous rigs I would've lusted for as a new ham going for just a couple C-notes.  Being confined to one band at QRP power levels isn't a great way to start a ham career, I'd be looking for an old TS-520, FT-101 or similar older transceiver which are really getting cheap these days.

Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM
k5lxp@arrl.net
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WB2WIK
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« Reply #10 on: August 06, 2003, 01:06:32 PM »

For $200, you can find many a good used rig with 100W output and good dial calibration, as well as other useful features.  But stay away from eBay!  It's unlikely you'll find it there.

I attend local ham radio Swap Meets when I can (there are a few monthly events around the L.A. area, so never more than a couple of weeks go by until the next one), and find the most amazing deals.  Kenwood TS-520s rarely go for more than $200.  Same goes for Yaesu FT-101s, Yaesu FT-301s, etc.  Even found a Ten-Tec Omni-A, which is a pretty fine rig, for $199 at the Swap Meet -- complete with power supply!

Two months ago, I saw a Heathkit SB-101 with matching power supply and speaker for $200, and was tempted to buy it for "nostalgia's sake," since I built one of these back in about 1968 and loved it.  It doesn't cover the WARC bands (30-17-12 meters), and cannot be modified to cover the new 60m frequencies, but for general utility, it's a very fine radio that's easy to service since it's manual is a zillion pages and includes very complete servicing information.

Keep looking.

WB2WIK/6
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K7VO
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Posts: 1010




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« Reply #11 on: August 06, 2003, 01:24:56 PM »

To KC0PNH:  Thank you for laying out your limitations.  I am going to list radios that I consider to be quite good for $150-$250.  All would have to be purchased used, but even on eBay or here on eHam you should be able to find one in your price class.  All cover 10-80 meters and are fully solid state.  I'll list output power as well, since you are not limiting yourself to QRP rigs.

1. Kenwood TS-120S/TS-120V  (100/10 watts)
2. Yaesu FT-7B/FT-7 (50/10 watts)
3. Ten Tec Argosy (50 watts)
4. Ten Tec Triton IV (540) or Triton IV Digital (544) (both 100 watts)
5. Ten Tec Argonaut 509 (3 watts)
6. Swan 100MBA (100 watts)
7. NCG 7/21/50 (10 watts on 40, 15, and 6 meters)

Of these, the Ten Tec Triton IV, Argonaut 509, Swan 100MBA, and Yaesu FT-7 should all be in the $200 and under price class.

I have deliberately left out the Atlas and Alda rigs because too many just need work nowadays, and I have also left out the very early Ten Tecs (Triton I, Triton II, Argonaut 505) for much the same reason.  However, if you can get one of these rigs from someone you know and trust, or can test them thoroughly before you buy, you could walk away with a decent radio for $150.

All of these rigs will perform at least on par with the MFJ, but they will give you anywhere from 3 to 5 bands to operate on instead of one.  The Ten Tec Argosy (one my my personal favorites) can be dropped down to 5W with one switch for QRP operation.

Good luck!

72/73,
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K7VO
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KD6NXI
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« Reply #12 on: August 09, 2003, 07:20:54 PM »

Nah, I wouldn't recommend a tube type output rig for a newbie.  From personal experience I can say it was very frustrating and overwhelming to have to retune the final for every band.  Nowadays, no big deal but back then...  If you just want ten meters you can get an RCI 2950 pretty cheaply used or an older uniden 2600 etc  Make sure if you get one of these 10 meter only rigs that it WILL NOT TRANSMIT ON CB!! because if it does it's been butchered.
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KB8ASO
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Posts: 71




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« Reply #13 on: December 29, 2003, 04:01:27 PM »

Hello.  I purchased a like new 9420X with the CW adaptor for $135.00 on Ebay working 100%.  They work well for what the are.  Dial calibration is no worse than a Alda or an old Swan.  I placed a calibration graph on top of mine and I know with reasonable certainty the frequency the rig is on.  Now if you take the radio out in very cold or hot weather, the calibration sheet will be next to worthless.  Many people out there like the digital VFO's and the accuracy of a digital display.  It is a good 2nd radio.  Many a person has gotten started on HF with worse rigs than the 9420X.  A nice thing is the radio is built with all off the shelf components.  Not a custom chip in sight!  I would not buy a new one since they are too expensive for what you get.  

Good luck,
Randy AB9GO

p.s. check out my review of the 9420X under KB8ASO.
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KC0SAB
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« Reply #14 on: February 05, 2004, 09:37:45 AM »

I'm a believer in these little radios. In fact, I just setup a group to discuss operating experiences, modifications and troubleshooting.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mfj_radios/join

Come on over and ask and answer questions etc.

I think I could recommend it as a first HF rig. Yup, its only one band, but you won't be disappointed. Your operating skills will develop and you'll never consider whether its 'safe' to take it with you on a camping or business trip.

Scott, KC0SAB
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