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Author Topic: Help in choosing first HF rig (along the lines of  (Read 3029 times)

Posts: 1

« on: November 07, 2003, 02:08:09 PM »

Help me out choosing my first ever HF rig!  (Sorry if this is a little long)

Just some background on me any my situation first, followed by the research and initial impressions I've come up with.

I got my Technician license a couple of weeks ago, and I'm pretty confident I'll pass elements 1 and 3 soon.  I haven't used my HT too much, and the HF rig I buy will probably be used pretty casually (no contesting, etc).  I want to use HF for DX contacts and to other states, and I will probably be using a mix of SSB, CW, and other digital (I want to try out PSK31, specifically), so a rig that can do all of these would be nice.

I envision myself using the rig mostly at home.  I currently rent an apartment with a less than ideal situation for antennas, so I'll probably be limited to indoor stealth types or portables.  I don't drive around town all that much, but I occasionally go on long distance trips (3+ hours) where a radio would be nice, and I do like to camp and hike a lot, so I'd like to have a portable/mobile type rig that lets me do these things, something where I can carry my own power sources (I don't want to have to pack around a 12V car battery, for example).  I can see myself on a backpacking trip some remote place, or even at a simple public camping area breaking out the radio.  Also, the hiking/camping trips I go on are usually in pretty remote, empty areas where cell phones don't have reception, so getting the rig is also motivated by safety reasons.

After reading reviews, etc, I've pretty much nailed it down to an FT-817 or FT-897 due to internal battery operation, but I'd like some input here, as well as hear other suggestions.

First, the FT-817.  For this being a first HF rig, I've read a lot of comments saying to avoid QRP until you're experienced (which I'm not), so I may not want to get it.  Size, weight, and portability, however, make this attractive.  I'm sure I could live within the limits of the internal battery (or just buy more).  5W shouldn't be a safety hazard indoors in my apartment (and probably won't affect the neighbors), but I'm afraid this may be the limiting factor, due to the antennas I'll probably wind up using.  Having never experienced DSP on a radio, I'm not sure if the lack of a built in DSP is an issue here (and I could also get a mod for one later).  Also, while using it mobile, I'm not sure how good 5W will do.  My HT puts out 5W too, so I figure I might as well use that if I'm just trying to hit local repeaters (I'd just need to add a mount and external antenna).  It's also well within what I'd want to send.

Now, the FT-897.  Bigger with more power capabilities, but also more expensive (and probably more accessories to buy).  Due to my apartment and potential antenna setup and all, I'm guessing I'd probably need more power than the 5W the 817 can provide (same goes for mobile operation).  I like the fact that it can hold two batteries, and even an internal power supply if I'm at home.  DSP will probably be a plus (but again, I don't know what I'm missing).  It ought to also do much better on local VHF/UHF than my HT (I'm guessing the 817 would be pretty comparable to my HT).  However, I'm not sure if this would be overkill for me (I'd have to save up a bit to buy it and add accessories later), unless I consider it as the best/nicest rig I'll ever buy and treat the purchase as such.

The reason why I have eliminated most other radios is that they don't have internal battery support, and I don't think I want to have to bother wiring my car up and finding other means of power for a rig such as the FT-857 or IC-706MKIIG (though they both sound pretty good, no knock against them).  I don't want to consider something from a kit (I've never built one, though I may try something super simple later), nor a single mode radio.

So, can anyone make a recommendation on one over the other, or something else entirely (like a different rig or getting more than one radio to fulfill different roles)?  Again, I'm looking for something flexible to move around a bit, while at the same time having a good experience.  If, for example, QRP is really impossible for newbies, then I probably don't want to spend a lot of time trying to make things work in a frustrating environment.

Thanks & 73, KD7YQC

Posts: 184

« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2003, 08:03:00 PM »

Out in Provo Utah, there should be a lot of hams, and at least one club.  A lot of them will be on one or more of the repeaters.  Get involved with your local club.  Then go asking your current questions.  There are a lot of solutions to your questions.  For one of the radio's and antenna solutions and camping out, can you carry another 25 lbs of equipment with you on an expedition?  I do not know your age or physical conditioning as you do not list age in any of the listings I have access to.  I carry extra stuff (Ready Bag) in a rollerboard luggage bag.  There is a lot of good info out on the HF Pack Yahoo Group.
Good Luck
Steve W4CNG

Posts: 4

« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2003, 11:25:13 AM »

My suggestion is to start with a basic base station
like the Icom 718 or Yaesu 840. These rigs are good solid rigs that can run off of a power supply or the battery in your car. They are plentiful
and rather inexpensive. Once you start operating HF
you are going to find an area that you are going
to like better. Maybe its SSB or PSK 31, CW, or QRP
Then you can make a well informed decision and trade up
to the type of rig that fits your operating.
  When I got my General I thought all I would do is
PSK31 and SSB, so I bought an Icom 746. Within months
I was bored of both of them. I started CW but was never
happy with the 746 on Cw, so now I operate only CW
but on a TenTec. I wished I had just bought a used 718 at the start and saved some money. The other thing I would do is read every review you can and e-mail or talk to people that have the type of rig you want might want to buy.
 I agree on not starting with QRP. I love QRP but
I would miss out on alot of QSOs if it was my only rig.
  Anyway have fun ,Ham Radio is a great hobby.
 73 Steve AB0XE

Posts: 1014

« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2003, 12:49:51 PM »

I'm going to go against the mainstream here, but I think the FT-817 is a great place to start.  Consider picking up a Tokyo Hy-Power HL-50B amplifier to go with it which will give you 50W when you need it.  That will add about $300 to the cost (including shipping), but you will have a wonderful little QRP rig that can go portable or mobile, as well as a bit more power when you need it.

QRP is a blast.  I started with a QRP rig (a Kenwood TS-660, 10W on 6, 10, 12, and 15) and NOTHING else.  I made many, many DX contacts on 15m and fell in love with 6m.  If you don't need instant gratification all of the time then starting out with QRP isn't all that difficult.  I'm still hooked on QRP almost 20 years after I started.

If you really, really want to get out and can't at 5W the extra 10dB the HL-50B will afford you on HF/6m will cover it nicely.


Posts: 523


« Reply #4 on: November 15, 2003, 02:47:07 AM »

The FT-100D(late serial number) has DSP.
All HF bands plus 6M,2M,and 70cm.
  If you dim the very bright display from 100 to 10,you can operate on a external batt. The power is variable from 2-100W.

  The FT-100D are not easy to find. The FT-897 is not any smaller than the FT-100D. The ability to take COLLINS filters is the only feature lacking in the FT-100D.

  I got mine from GIGAPARTS for $730 shipped.
Full audio DSP,500hz filter, and TCXO included.

  The general coverage from 500khz-980mhz not bad.
Lotsa bells and whistles.
However this is a very menu dependent rig.

  IMHO..If you can buy a new one for $700-$775, you will have it all.

  73 de MIKE  

Posts: 523


« Reply #5 on: November 15, 2003, 02:51:24 AM »

I meant the FT-857 for ultra small. The FT-100D is about the same size as the Icom-706-II.

Posts: 34

« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2003, 12:39:09 PM »

When I bought my FT-817, I was living in a single family home.  Now, I'm temporarily in an apartment.  I have both my FT-817 and an FT-100D in the apartment, and my IC-706IIG in my car.  So I can speak from a bit of experience in trying to use an FT-817 from an apartment (as well as elsewhere).

But first, a comment or two on QRP operation.  QRP is a lot of fun.  I haven't done any real HF Pack operation, but I've done a bunch of QRP operating from campgrounds (with my old TenTec Argonaut 509), and on Field Day.  Getting QRP contacts requires patience and persistance - much more so than typical 100W or higher powered operations.  I believe that is why some folks steer beginners away from QRP.  They don't want frustration to sour you on HF hamming when you are starting out.  If you are prepared to handle some disappointments and frustration, then forge ahead with your QRP plan.  I don't mean to overstate the limitations of QRP, but remember that we're on the downcurve of the Solar cycle, and that makes HF QRP an even bigger challenge.  Why?  Because it is generally easier to work QRP on the higher bands (20-10m), and good propagation on those bands is less common as we slide down the cycle.

A key to good QRP operations is using an effective - not compromise - antenna.  This works against your situation for both apartment and backpacking mobile operations (though not necessarily for backpacking portable ops).  I can't really put up an outside antenna of any sort from my apartment, and I've had little luck with my 817 and indoor antennas here.  Oh, you can make contacts with a small antenna at QRP power levels, but it compounds the challenge.  So put at least as much thought into your antenna options as your rig options.

One antenna option that has intrigued me is the possibility of using a Par Electronic End-Fed Half-Wave Wire Antenna out the window here.  An EF-17 or EF-20 run to a tree from a window might be good for relatively low-profile apartment ops.

Another issue with apartment operations is RFI.  My current apartment has very high noise levels.  That's been another major strike against HF operations from this QTH.  Perhaps you should check out how bad your apartment is for RFI before you choose an HF rig?

My 817 doesn't hear very well, compared to say, the FT-100 or the 706.  It also lacks any DSP or standard filtering selections.  It's stock hand mic is known to lack much audio punch.  Fortunately, there are many accessories and kits to address some of the 817's limitations.  Check out the QRP and 817 web sites for info on the more popular accessories for that rig.

One problem that would be an issue for you is that the '817 is a bit of a power hog. It can drain even 2000mAh NiMH batteries in a few hours at low duty cycle.  I would not dismiss using external batteries for backpacking with this rig.  There are 2Ah gel cells that are not too bulky or heavy to stick in a pack.  They are at least an alternative to packing 3 or more sets of AA batteries.

Having said all that, I do like the FT-817.  It's a fun little rig.  It packs a lot into a small package. Just be aware of its limitations before you decide to buy one. If I were in your situation, I'd take a second look at the FT-857, even though it lacks an internal battery compartment.  I have no experience with the '857, but it looks like it might be much better than the '817 on receive, it runs 100W with a PS, and it can receive the NOAA WX broadcasts, to boot!  I'd trade internal battery capability for those features in a heartbeat.


Posts: 20

« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2003, 07:13:21 PM »

My first new HF radio was a 718.Now its not portable but certainly fine for base or mobile operation.You can buy  them new with the dsp for $500.00.If you really want to do QRP you can turn down the power output and still have 100 watts if needed.Now it doesn't do everything.Certainly some filters will help alot when it's crowded,but for the price you can't beat it.Don't scrimp on the antenna the better you have the more you'll work.

                     73 Joe KG4VBR

Posts: 692

« Reply #8 on: November 18, 2003, 03:19:57 PM »

Both of the Yaesu transceivers are ok. I would much prefer 100 watts for HF. A gain beam antenna on 20-10 meters with 100 watts is excellent power for contacts.

I believe two radios are much more flexible. I would consider the unbeatable price vs performance of the IC-718. The DSP is a bonus and can be installed anytime. I would also pursue a 2M/70cm FM transceiver to complete the 160 to 70cm frequencies.

As for the FT-100D which I own one, this is a higher performance transceiver that outperforms the IC-706 and has SSB & CW crystal filters standard. The DSP is also more functional over the IC-706. A little known fact is 8-pole cyrstal filters outperforms the Collins mechanical filters. I also suspect the SSB filter in the FT-817 & FT-897 are lower performing ceramic. The early FT-100Ds were subject to failures. If you go with this radio, the latest versions are serial numbers starting with 3C (Jan 2003). Austin, Burkhart and a few others still have new FT-100D in stock. Be careful of prices that have risen since last spring. I believe $899 is the lowest price right now. The FT-100D is a great radio that covers 160 to 70cm in one box.

As for QRP, buy a $75 used Heathkit HW-8 and 'test the waters' without much investment.

Posts: 692

« Reply #9 on: November 18, 2003, 04:07:51 PM »

Adder: I can not find a FT-100D under $929. The FT-897 is on sale with a whopping $200 off for $694 (Austin Radio). This is a good price, although the battery options are more extra cost (n/a for a FT-100D anyways). I would be inclined to get the FT-897 over the FT-100D for a difference of $235. $235 can buy a like new used IC-207 dual bander FM.

Posts: 16

« Reply #10 on: November 25, 2003, 01:24:51 AM »

I strongly recommend the Yaesu FT900. You can find the used for approx. $600. They are small, have cw filter and auto-tuner and are IMHO, a best buy. Close second is a used TS570, for around the same price.

Posts: 3

« Reply #11 on: August 08, 2004, 08:01:37 PM »

I like the 817 a lot (I've just bought one but it isn't my only HF radio).  If you are in an apartment with what will probably be very compromise antennas then you won't just have an effective QRP signal you will have a QRPp signal (in terms of ERP).  That will seriously reduce the number of contacts you can make (even on CW).

The 897 is a do everything box and I'd be surprised if you were disapointed with it, but it is lots bigger than the 817 and that may be a factor.

The 857 will do everything the 897 does except for having  internal batteries and is a lot smaller.  The 706MKIIG is similar and it's really personal preference between these two.

The 718 which several people in this thread have mentioned is also a very good first rig (I've had one for a couple of years which I use at home).  Easy to use, bullet proof... but pretty bulky for portable use.
Also it lacks VHF and UHF (which may or may not be a factor).  The Alinco DX-77 is similar in concept to the Icom 718 and basically the same comments apply.

The earlier poster who mentioned considering an 817 and an external amp has pretty much hit the nail on the head if you ask me.  That combination addresses the limitaions of the 817's limited output whist used at home, but still allows one to go easily portable.  I haven't bothered with an amp to go with my 817 because I have a second rig for home use, but if you want one rig then I would consider the amp as strongly desirable.
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