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Author Topic: Where to start?  (Read 5615 times)
MATT6718
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« on: September 27, 2010, 07:05:31 PM »

Hello,

First of all, I apologize if I am posting this in the wrong forum but I am unsure as to where I should post this.  I am looking to get into ham radio, but I am unsure what to buy for a first kit.  I am a young RF\communications engineer just starting out, but most of my work has been in theory.  I'd like to branch out to the application side and really get a feel for the ins and outs of radio communications.  I'm at a loss as to what I should look for in a first kit.  I don't want to simply buy a transceiver and antenna that all I have to do is plug in and start communicating although I'm sure its never that simple Smiley.  I want to really get hands on, put things together, tweak settings, and get a solid understanding about the internal interworkings of radio transmission.  I suppose my main interest would lie in the field of packet radio.  Any suggestions on a good kit would be much appreciated.  I'd like something that I can build upon and that I'm not likely to "outgrow."  I am guessing my first step would be to get a technician license?  Thank you all in advance for your help!

Regards,

Matt
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K3GM
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« Reply #1 on: September 27, 2010, 08:29:37 PM »

If you're an RF engineer, the technical questions on each of the elements thru Extra will be cake, so I don't see you staying a Tech very long.  A fun, yet sophisticated HF radio is the Elecraft K2.  It is a complete kit featuring bare boards, and bags of parts.  You can move up further in features and performance with the Elecraft K3.  This radio features preassembled boards which need only to be plugged together. Either radio can be purchased in stock form or with many options.  Options can also be retrofitted later on as desired.  Elecraft probably makes the best (kit) radios available today with quality construction, great performance, good instructions, and superb customer service.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2010, 08:14:31 AM by Tom Hybiske » Logged
KJ4FUU
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« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2010, 05:40:11 AM »

Be sure to check out the reviews here on the eham.net site. There are some kits that don't come very highly recommended.

For a good transceiver, I would have to second the Elecraft suggestion. In the old days, Heathkit would have been a good option, but they're not in that business anymore. Most of the kits I see are for QRP CW transceivers, with an occasional SSB kit, but Elecraft is probably a good option for a multi-mode transceiver kit.

-- Tom
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AA4PB
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« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2010, 06:32:31 AM »

The Elecraft K2 is certainly a great kit. My only caution would be that you might want to do a smaller project first if your soldering skills are not up to speed. The K3 is called a kit, but it only involves connecting modules together - no building of PC boards. With the K2 you do it all.

Try Google for "qrp kits" to find a bunch of them. Most are CW only, but there are some that do SSB.
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W7ETA
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« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2010, 04:10:09 PM »

Recent issues have schematics for home made transceivers and a home made amp.

If I remember correctly, ARRL ran a contest for the best transceiver built for $50.

73
Bob
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N3OX
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« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2010, 07:29:00 AM »

If you're interested in digital communications and kit building, you might want to look at something like this:

http://smallwonderlabs.com/psk31_new.htm

That would combine digital operation with worldwide ionospheric propagation... something that might be a change of pace from work.  And that kind of kit would give you more insight into the "internal workings" just like a transceiver for voice (single sideband, SSB) or Morse (CW) operation would.

Also, a lot of the radio frequency "practicalities" can be investigated by starting at the antenna and working backward down the coax.  Building antennas can give you a lot of education in analog RF electronics if you make good measurements and have some trustworthy, solid reference material on hand.

As far as packet, I think packet operation as such is a little slow these days in a lot of areas of the country... you might google around for packet in your area.  Also look for "HSMM," which involves use of 802.11 equipment on the ham frequencies with increased power and antennas and firmware modifications, etc.  

The only problem is, if you live somewhere where no one is doing this kind of stuff, you might not have anyone to network with in a very literal sense.  A large cross section of active hams are most interested in HF (high frequency, shortwave) voice and Morse, with HF digital filling out significantly now that all you really need is a SSB radio and a computer.  

You might also be interested in the world of software defined radio:

http://www.wb5rvz.com/sdr/

http://www.genesisradio.com.au/G40/

And if you want to get in to simple software-defined radio you don't even really need a kit:

http://www.sm5bsz.com/linuxdsp/hware/sbl1.htm

http://www.sm5bsz.com/linuxdsp/hware/optiq.htm

I would probably recommend getting your general or higher license, because aside from memorizing some rules, you will probably find it straightforward, and access to the frequencies below 30MHz is useful, especially if you live somewhere where the people on VHF aren't doing anything interesting.  
« Last Edit: September 29, 2010, 07:31:25 AM by Dan » Logged

73,
Dan
http://www.n3ox.net

Monkey/silicon cyborg, beeping at rocks since 1995.
MATT6718
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« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2010, 02:42:48 PM »

Thanks to everyone for the detailed responses, very helpful.  I will have to check out the K2 from Elecraft since its gotten such rave reviews.   

Dan,

Your suggestions piqued my interests as well. From my research it seems that packet radio (especially at HF) isn't that popular?  I have some experience with SDR from my graduate work.  In my current job, most of my work is geared towards communication over satellite at the Ka and Ku bands as well as other traditional line of sight radios; almost all of it is data traffic. 

As far as antenna design goes, is the ARRL manual on antenna design a good place to start?

Thank you again.

-Matt
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AB2T
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« Reply #7 on: September 30, 2010, 07:32:02 PM »

Matt, I'd suggest slam dunking the three license classes.  There's no more code and you'll clean up on the electronics parts.  All you'll have to do is memorize some ham radio law (FCC Part 97, frequency allocations, etc.) and obscure factoids on rare modes.  "Back in the day" (um, 1995) I went through all the code and licenses above Tech in a summer.  Some older hams don't like "instant Extras", but I think it's better to get all of the paperwork out of the way first.

As far as antenna design goes, is the ARRL manual on antenna design a good place to start?

Thank you again.

-Matt

ARRL has specific books on antenna design and construction.  One of my favorites is the "Wire Antenna Classics", vols. 1 and 2.  The ARRL Handbook should also have other projects.  I just like to gather up scraps, solder it all together, and then see if it'll load.  I try to see if I can make something workable for free.  Beam design requires actual antenna radiation pattern analysis and metalworks.  Wire antenna construction is all about seeing what sticks.

73, Jordan
« Last Edit: September 30, 2010, 07:33:43 PM by Jordan » Logged
STAYVERTICAL
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« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2010, 02:45:58 AM »

Hi Matt,

I would echo the comments by Dan (N3OX) about looking into an SSB capable kit which can then be used
with digital modes via a PC soundcard.
With this capability you would not "outgrow" it as you would a CW only kit.
PC based digital modes are numerous and you could even use digital voice using windrm or fdmdv with it as well as
normal keyboard digital modes.
The K2 is a great radio, but CW only may be a bit limiting in the end for you.
Also, if you are like most graduate engineers, your soldering skills may be a bit untried (my son is one),
so perhaps something with less soldering as some of the posters have suggested.

Welcome to the hobby, I am sure you will find it stimulating and engrossing.

73s
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K3GM
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« Reply #9 on: October 02, 2010, 04:56:26 AM »

......The K2 is a great radio, but CW only may be a bit limiting in the end for you......

The K2 is made multi-mode with the SSB option. 
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NA0AA
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« Reply #10 on: October 03, 2010, 09:34:42 AM »

Thanks to everyone for the detailed responses, very helpful.  I will have to check out the K2 from Elecraft since its gotten such rave reviews.   

Dan,

Your suggestions piqued my interests as well. From my research it seems that packet radio (especially at HF) isn't that popular?  I have some experience with SDR from my graduate work.  In my current job, most of my work is geared towards communication over satellite at the Ka and Ku bands as well as other traditional line of sight radios; almost all of it is data traffic. 

As far as antenna design goes, is the ARRL manual on antenna design a good place to start?

Thank you again.

-Matt

Packet lately is experiencing something of a resurgance as APRS - similar ideas, different output.  The use of packet to transmit messages computer to computer, except in emergiences, has mostly moved to the internet due to the near universal access!

The ARRL Antenna book is pretty good, certainly gives you a basic grounding [no pun intended] on antennas and theory and a lot of practical design information.  Somtimes they have omitted certain details due to patent/copywrights but you can usually figure out what they are doing.

It's not hard to find designs for low power radios, mostly CW rigs.  You might be interested in the ARRL magazine QEX which is a bit more technical - a couple of years ago, they had a full length article on a guy who built his own 100 Watt, all mode, all band HF tranciever, it was amazing and the result of some years of effort.

QST just had a couple of articles on homebuilt amplifiers for under $125 and they published at least a couple of the designs so far - they are designed for QRP radios to boost 'em to 50 watts, but are good learning experiences, esp. the guy who's last story used class D amplifiers to work in class AB service.  and got 50 watts for well under $50 in parts!

There's a company out of Ft. Collins Colorado that is making an HF radio in a full on solder kit, more complex than the K2 but maybe not as sophisticated as the K3...I don't remember the name but they have an advert in QST.

Once you join the ARRL you will have access to years of magazine archives which includes article on how to build with vacuum tubes as well.

Have fun and welcome.

With some reading on regulations and band/operating, you aught to breeze thru the tech stuff and go right to extra, which means you will be made fun of, but it's not your fault for knowing the stuff already.
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N3OX
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« Reply #11 on: October 03, 2010, 01:31:40 PM »


There's a company out of Ft. Collins Colorado that is making an HF radio in a full on solder kit, more complex than the K2 but maybe not as sophisticated as the K3...I don't remember the name but they have an advert in QST.


It's DZKit.

http://www.dzkit.com/about_dzkit.htm
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73,
Dan
http://www.n3ox.net

Monkey/silicon cyborg, beeping at rocks since 1995.
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