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Author Topic: Most "Repairable" Transceiver  (Read 3434 times)
KE7BDI
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« on: October 17, 2010, 09:57:37 PM »

Some of you guys have years of experience repairing all sorts of solid state transceivers. You've learned which ones are headaches; poorly designed, poorly made, or whose components are near impossible to obtain anymore.

What radios would you advise a ham to look for or to keep away from lest he end up with a worst case junker?

Lets assume this ham, while no bench technician with a full compliment of advanced test gear, at least has a working knowledge of his hobby and some basic test equipment.


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W0BTU
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« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2010, 10:21:52 PM »

Some of you guys have years of experience repairing all sorts of solid state transceivers. You've learned which ones are headaches; poorly designed, poorly made, or whose components are near impossible to obtain anymore.

What radios would you advise a ham to look for or to keep away from lest he end up with a worst case junker?

Lets assume this ham, while no bench technician with a full compliment of advanced test gear, at least has a working knowledge of his hobby and some basic test equipment.

That's a tough one to answer. I'm sure others will help you here, but let my start by saying stay away from anything with surface-mount devices on the PC boards.

I've also owned rigs in the past that had multiple stacked PC cards plugged into a mother board. All jammed close to one another, and no way to take a voltage reading, etc. on the cards since there was no room. If I recall, it was a Yaesu FT-221R 2m all-mode. I sold it before something fried.

I have some old rigs without PC boards (Collins S/Line stuff and a Drake R-4C with vacuum tubes), and they're even easier to repair.

Current rigs here are Icom IC-751A and IC-765. Easy stuff to fix, for me at least.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2010, 10:27:44 PM by Mike Waters » Logged

KB4QAA
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« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2010, 10:40:27 PM »

After pondering your question, I would have to say that the most easily repaired 'transceiver' would be the late 60s-early 70s vintage Heathkit  HW101 or SB102. 

They are readily available, fully documented, and use common full size components.   Single box transceivers were rarer much earlier than that.  Going later you start to get into smaller components, with Japanese rigs more common, many of which had some proprietary or discontinued parts. 

I'm not ruling out any other rigs of any sort being too difficult, but you did say most easily repaired.   You can't beat a Heathkit, "We won't let you fail".  Smiley
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W0BTU
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« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2010, 11:04:20 PM »

The Heath is a good answer, but they have their quirks. But I guess they all do. :-)
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G8UBJ
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« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2010, 12:32:25 AM »

I would suggest the FT-101E series.. yes the PA tubes are hard to find but having just restored one I can honestly say that it wasn't just the simplicity of the circuits.
- Plenty of online articles about alignment and online reflector to ask advise
- Yaesu fixed most of the quirks of the 101B series in the E series
- A full workshop manual which focuses on trouble shooting can be downloaded.
- That useful internal marker negating the need for a signal generator
- Can be easily modified for 30 and 12M

If you really can't replace the tubes there is even a mod to replace them with 6146's (But I wouldn't recommend this)

of course there's +700V AC in there so you have to be careful &working splits is difficult without a separate VFO, analogue display, no CAT control, but to me its the VW beetle of the Ham world, basic all in one package (Albeit a heavy package) HF on a budget price... mine cost £50 ($80) and though it needed some TLC was fixed at no financial cost with only junk box parts.

I must get on and add RTTY to mine..

VY 73 to all G8UBJ

BTW as the tubes are becoming scarce a tune up and demo of output on 10M is recommended before purchase. Otherwise knock off $30
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N2EY
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« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2010, 03:49:27 AM »

The most repairable rig is one you designed and built yourself with that idea in mind.

But if you'd rather not go that far, there are two possibilities I can see:

1) The Heathkit SB-101/102 family is probably the most fixable of its time, for reasons mentioned by others. There's also the fact that it was very popular and you can find parts units fairly easily.

But that rig isn't solid-state and lacks many features considered standard now (like RIT).

2) The Elecraft K2 is all solid state, no surface mount, and high performance. You can build it from a kit or look for a used one. A fully loaded K2 costs well over $1000 but you don't have to get all the options if you don't want/need them. You can also add stuff any time.

The K2 uses almost all common parts that are available from Elecraft and other sources. There's a ton of documentation and well over 6000 have been built.

73 de Jim, N2EY



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K1CJS
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« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2010, 04:21:33 AM »

I would go at it from another direction--stay away from rigs that are jam packed into a small chassis with hardly enough room for the wire runs or where you can't see the boards to do testing because of wires or components in the way. 

Even though it's a sturdy radio and seldom needs repair, the Kenwood TS120 and TS130 series of radios are just that way.  Unless you know exactly where the wires are running from and to, trying to trace and test those radios can be quite a chore.  I also found the Yaesu FT101 radio series easier to work on, IF (and that is one big IF) you have the extender boards needed to easily let you get to the individual components for testing.

Newer radios that employ surface mount technology are also in the 'stay away from' class, because you need specialized tools to really work on those.  Magnifier panels, small wattage soldering irons and a lot of patience and skill are needed to even consider working on those!
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NR4C
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« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2010, 08:40:43 AM »

I will lean towards the other end of spectrum.  If I am not technician, and only have basic knowledge and am not equiped with a bench full of exotic test gear, I wouldn't want a radio that was old, used hard to get tubes, or was more likely to need repair.

Instead, I would go for a modern feature filled radio that I could remove the 'bad' card and have it replaced easily.  If you can't repair the old radio, and have to ship it, you'll spend a lot of money in shipping if it needs to go back too often.  A K3 with good Elecaft support and service will make a great rig.  And a bad card will ship very cheaply in a small 'fixed rate' box. They'll likely send you the new card, and then you send back the old one.

...bc
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G3RZP
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« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2010, 10:09:03 AM »

One has to be careful where ICs - and transistors - are concerned. Many of those popular 20 years ago are now expensive if you can get them. Some of them are 'cloned' in the far east but are nothing like the originals in performance - because they don't use the old processes.

Mask programmed processor chips used in a number of rigs  (especially VHF) 20 years ago are not available: when they fail, (and that is beginning to happen frighteningly often), the rig is a write off. I doubt if many of the advanced  mainly IC transceivers we have a today will be repairable in 10 or 15 years time - many of them aren't even repairable today without very specialised equipment.
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AA4PB
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« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2010, 10:33:22 AM »

Unfortunately some mfgs don't even stock all the spare parts for radios that are currently in production.
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W0BTU
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« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2010, 08:00:30 PM »

...

1) The Heathkit SB-101/102 family is probably the most fixable of its time, for reasons mentioned by others. There's also the fact that it was very popular and you can find parts units fairly easily.
...

FWIW, I had an SB-102, and I had to fix it a lot. And the majority of the problems were aggravatingly hard to find.
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WB6BYU
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« Reply #11 on: October 18, 2010, 08:17:39 PM »

I would look at the some of the earlier solid state rigs that didn't try to squeeze everything into
a small space.  For example, the Ten-Tec Argosy, Omni, Corsair, and other ones that used mostly
discrete solid state devices in a relatively large box.  The Drake TR-5 and TR-7 may be in the
same group if you can get the extender card, and I'm sure there are Japanese rigs as well in that
group, but I don't know which ones they are.  The time frame would be something like 1977 to
1990 or so as a rough guess, depending on the manufacturer.

While exact replacements for some of the final transistors may be difficult to get, most of the
parts are still available, and the circuit is relatively simple.  The more ICs in a rig (and especially
custom ones) the more likely that several of them will be obsolete.  But some ICs like the LM386
or LM380 have been around for tens of years, and you might need to crib together a replacement
for a chip that is no longer available.  (That's one reason to have some extra space in the case!)
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KE7BDI
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« Reply #12 on: October 18, 2010, 08:31:37 PM »

What prompted me to ask this question was that I bought a SB-303 thinking it would be a decent receiver for CW operation that I could keep running. Well it is decent, but I did not look close enough at it before hand to see how difficult it is to troubleshoot without the Extender Boards. Sooo, before I lunged at a nice buy on another radio....why not ask those who have had more pain at this stuff than me?

I'm learning stuff here. A TS-120/130 was on my list. Didn't think of the K2. Cramped quarters became reality with the SB-303.

Anymore input?

Thanks guys.

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K5LXP
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« Reply #13 on: October 18, 2010, 08:36:59 PM »

My brother was a fan of VW buses because there was very little you couldn't fix on one at the side of the road.  Problem was, you *had* to.  And when it was running, it wasn't much to get excited about.

The venerable K2, while being fairly basic mechanically, still has one-off and programmable parts that 20 years from now may be just as unobtainium as any other commercially manufactured radio.  I doubt Elecraft would release the PIC source, and it's equally unlikely Microchip will make a compatible PIC.  You'd be bound to buying a parts K2 just as you would an Icom, Kenwood or any other proprietary/sole source design depending on what failed.  Frankly if I had a radio that lasted 20+ years I would consider it a gift.

Choosing a 20 or 30 year old radio is no guarantee of supportability either, and frankly that's not much better than the VW bus in terms of a radio.  Why would you box yourself in on old feature-less gear just so you get the chance to fix it when it fails?

Radios are just things.  Just like cars, TV sets and lawn chairs.  All have a useful life and if one needs repair you fix it if you can, poop can it if you can't and get on with your life.  I would rather spend my time on the operating bench than the repair bench any day.

Bottom line, buy a radio you like, use it and enjoy it.


Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM
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N2EY
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« Reply #14 on: October 19, 2010, 02:27:49 AM »

...

1) The Heathkit SB-101/102 family is probably the most fixable of its time, for reasons mentioned by others. There's also the fact that it was very popular and you can find parts units fairly easily.
...

FWIW, I had an SB-102, and I had to fix it a lot. And the majority of the problems were aggravatingly hard to find.

Did you build it or somebody else?

One problem with kit rigs of any vintage is that you get the build quality of the the builder. Which often isn't apparent right away.

Another factor is the component quality, and how it degrades over time. Some carbon comp resistors change value, electrolytics dry up, wax paper caps become leaky, etc.

The thing about a rig like an SB-102 is that replacement parts are fairly common (resistors, capacitors, tubes). In many newer rigs the custom ICs and house-numbered parts are simply unobtanium except from another unit.

What's really going on is that most electronics is now being made to be replaced, not repaired. The best example is PCs: they're built by combining various modules (motherboard, drives, memory, I/O cards, power supply) and very few tools are needed. If a module goes bad, it is replaced, not repaired.

Wouldn't it be great if ham gear was made that way? Of course it would be bigger and heavier, but that's not really a bad thing. You'd pick the various modules you wanted and put them together the same as assembling a PC. New modules could be added, old ones moved from rig to rig.


73 de Jim, N2EY

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