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Author Topic: Can you recommend a "novice class" vintage receiver?  (Read 5329 times)
KASSY
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Posts: 165




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« on: October 24, 2010, 03:43:16 PM »

The oldest receiver I have ever used is a Drake R-4C that gramps had.  I never found anything wrong with it.  Adjustable bandwidth, good noise blanker, blablabla.  But I don't think it counts as a "novice" receiver because it was one-half of a pretty darned good SSB station.

I was never a novice, but have gotten "the bug" to have the experience of the equipment.  I have been trying to decide on what receiver to search for.  I know of many who rave about the Drake 2B and 2A.  The eham reviews of the Heathkit HR-10B look pretty bad.

What else was there?  What "novice class" receivers might be available for me to hunt around for?  Something that would be quite good, not lead to immense frustrations on the band, that were really intended as stand-alone receivers primarily, and not part of a "pair" of twins?  I"m used to a K2/KPA100, so I'm used to selectable filter widths and pretty good stability.  I guess I could add audio filtering after a receiver that has only one filter, but I would be pretty frustrated with a rx that overloaded easily or had a lot of drift.

Maybe I'm crazy for doing this, but I want the smell of tubes, the nuisance of having to use a manual switch to go from transmit to receive, maybe a little chirp and some keyclicks.  And mabye once it's out of my system, I'll wise up and stick with solid state gear.  Or maybe I'll keep it on hand for vintage and straight key nights.

I already have a lead on a DX60 transmitter and I'm prepared to part with enough money to buy a handful of crystals....

- k
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K7KBN
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Posts: 2756




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« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2010, 04:04:33 PM »

The SX-111 wasn't too bad a receiver.  It's ham bands only and of course doesn't include 12, 17, 30 or 60 meters, nor 160 meters.  I used one of them for quite some time.  The SX-99 is what I started with as a novice.  Full coverage from AMBC through 10 Meters.  So-so on AM, and with a crystal filter that actually was pretty useful on CW.  It has a BFO, so theoretically it will "work" on SSB, but it wasn't very stable.  SX-100/101 were more stable but quite a bit more expensive.

Hallicrafters receivers were the only ones I got familiar with.  Hammarlund and National made some equal radios as well.
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73
Pat K7KBN
CWO4 USNR Ret.
W7ETA
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Posts: 2528




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« Reply #2 on: October 24, 2010, 05:18:37 PM »

My Novice rig was an FT101EX.  One fried had a TS520. Another a Drake TR4w?.  ANother an FT 101b.

We all wanted Collins gear but couldn't afford it; same for a C-line, couldn't afford it.

If you want an antique Novice set up look at the ARRL Handbooks from the 40s and 50s.

I got a 1948 book to see what state of the art was when I was born.  The 1949 one had schematics for an xtal controlled rig using two 6L6, and the power supply.  I had 6L6G types hanging around and found the other parts I needed on eBay. 

Much to my surprise my build from a schematic power supply and transmitter worked.  I've got plans and most of the parts for a regen receiver from the 1948 and 1949 ARRL Handbooks.  I bought some cheap 7N7 to use in place of the 6SN7G in the schematic.  Ever once in a while I hunt for Frankenstein single triode tubes to use in place of the 6SN7G, just cause they would look more retro.

If you scan on "Glow Bugs", you'll find a lot of rigs you can build.

73
Bob
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NO2A
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« Reply #3 on: October 24, 2010, 05:55:18 PM »

I think the Drake 2A/2B would suit you best for what you`re looking for. First of all,all tube receivers/transmitters of that era drifted,some more than others. Drift could be anywhere from a few hundred Hertz to 1 khz typical. Many operaters would let their rigs idle at least an hour before using them to help stabilize the drift. Don`t expect your dial frequency to be accurate either. That`s why many old rigs included a crystal calibrator. Sensitivity is another issue too. 1 microvolt vs. the .2 microvolt of today`s rigs. They`re fun to use,just don`t expect performance to match that of your K2,cause it won`t.
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N5YPJ
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Posts: 642




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« Reply #4 on: October 24, 2010, 06:09:31 PM »

A Henry Tempo One was my first rig. It wasn't spectacular, I'd say middle of the road but it was adequate. You can probably pick one up for under $200.
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K5LXP
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« Reply #5 on: October 24, 2010, 07:42:16 PM »


Just about any rig from the 50's through the 80's counts.  Now if you want to limit yourself to rigs that targeted the novice class operators, that narrows the field.

My first receiver was a Lafayette HA-800B.  It was awful.  Then I had an SX-111 and also borrowed a buddy's 2B, even though being older they were much better.  My first TX was a Heath DX-60 and an HG-10 VFO.  Worked OK.  Upgraded to a Hallicrafters HT-44 (SSB TX) when I upgraded my ticket.

Other "novice" rigs would be the Heath HW-16 and the TenTec Century 21.  The TenTec isn't too bad but the HW-16 leaves a lot to be desired.  Back then though it was a hoot to work CW with a real QSK transceiver.

The Drake 2NT was a novice transmitter that would've been paired with the 2C (or 2B) receiver.

I think once the crystal-only limit of the older novice rules went away, so did the novice-only equipment and everyone pretty much just bought SSB capable  equipment from that point on.
I had a buddy that got his novice ticket the same time I did and his dad bought him a Drake TR-7 setup.  So once you reach a certain point, anything could be called a novice rig.


Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM
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N2EY
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Posts: 3835




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« Reply #6 on: October 24, 2010, 07:46:03 PM »

It depends on what era "Novice" you want to be.

The Novice license was created by FCC in 1951, and soon after there appeared receivers and transmitters aimed specifically at the Novice market. Most were pretty awful, being designed primarily for low cost. Some were OK, but cost more.

The rules limited Novices to 75 watts input and crystal control, which meant almost all Novices had separate receivers and transmitters, and as many crystals as they could afford. (To make the situation even worse, the Novice subbands weren't harmonically related, so a Novice crystal was specific to a band).

Novices who were "in the know" generally avoided Novice receivers. Instead, they:

- bought used receivers, usually general coverage, that were old but still serviceable. This was particularly true after about 1960, when transceivers began to take over and there were lots of good used post-WW2 receivers around. For 80 and 40 CW, which is where most Novices started, receivers like the HQ-129X, NC-173, SX-99, and many more single-conversion, 455 kc. IF, general coverage receivers with crystal filter could be had for about the cost of a new Novice receiver like the HR-10.

- converted surplus, such as the Command sets, BC-348 and BC-342 receivers. Probably the best conversion was to use a crystal-controlled converter in front of a BC-453 Command set, which gave excellent performance at a very low price. Surplus conversion was very common soon after WW2 and into the 1950s, but as other options appeared it became less popular. Still, there was considerable surplus conversion well into the 1970s

- built their own from articles in magazines and handbooks. Most of these were simple superhets and regeneratives. How good they were depended on the design and the builder's skill. Building was popular after WW2 but was mostly crowded out by kits, used receivers and surplus.

The Drake 2-B was probably the best of the breed, but it wasn't really a Novice receiver. It was a relatively low-cost (less than $300) general-purpose ham receiver.

IMHO the best example of a Novice receiver you can find is the Heath HW-16. This is actually a receiver and transmitter in the same box with a control system and common power supply. The '16 was designed specifically for the Novice market and included almost everything a Novice needed - and almost nothing else. It covered only the first 250 kc. of 80, 40 and 15, because those were the Novice bands of the time. CW only, with a sharp filter in the circuit all the time. No S meter, no AGC, no other useless doo-dads. Neon-bulb sidetone and full QSK. 90 watts maximum input, with a line on the plate meter for 75 watts.

When the Novice upgraded, an HG-10 VFO could be added, giving a pretty sweet setup for CW.  

Novice privileges changed somewhat over the years, which is a whole story in itself. But the big change came in the mid-1970s when FCC allowed Novices to use VFO and run more than 100 watts. That eliminated the need for crystals and low-power rigs, and many if not most Novices started out with transceivers instead of separates.

Depending on the era you want to visit, I suggest:

1) Build a one-or-two tube regen, or a simple band-imaging superhet.

2) Fix up a BC-453 and build a simple crystal controlled converter to go in front of it.

3) HQ-129X, NC-173, SX-99 or similar

4) HW-16

All IMHO

73 de Jim, N2EY

Novice 1967-1968
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WB6BYU
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Posts: 13013




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« Reply #7 on: October 24, 2010, 08:36:44 PM »

My novice receiver was a Heathkit AR-3.  I didn't have to go tuning for stations replying to my calls, as I
could hear nearly the whole novice band at one dial setting.  I wouldn't recommend it.

But generally novices (especially the younger ones) used whatever they could scrounge and/or afford.
Sometimes these were general coverage receivers from Hallicrafters, Hammarlund, or National, or cheaper
ones from Heathkit, Lafayette, Allied, etc.  It all depends what they could find available.  The Drake 2B/C
receiver plus 2NT transmitter were marketed to Novices, and the Viking Ranger was also popular for those
who could afford it.  (More common transmitters were the Heathkit DX-20 or DX-35, DX-60.or similar rigs,
or home brew, which isn't difficult for a 1- or 2-tube crystal-controlled CW transmitter.)

The 2B certainly was better than many of the others, but sometimes a novice would end up with an R4B,
SX101, or even a SSB transceiver - I worked one novice using a Swan 400 transceiver.  (Of course, he also
used it on transmit, just as he did on 27 MHz.  But he had to call me on the phone to answer my CW, as he
couldn't get it to work - turns out he was keying his sidetone oscillator but not the rig.)
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NI0C
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Posts: 2383




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« Reply #8 on: October 25, 2010, 12:28:01 PM »

Quote
Maybe I'm crazy for doing this, but I want the smell of tubes, the nuisance of having to use a manual switch to go from transmit to receive, maybe a little chirp and some keyclicks.  And mabye once it's out of my system, I'll wise up and stick with solid state gear. 

I fail to see the fascination and nostalgia for a poor signal with key clicks and chirps.  I recall getting a couple of "OO" notices during the early 60's for having a bad signal, and I worked on my setup to clean it up.  It turned out that my VFO oscillator tube (6C4,as I recall) needed to be replaced every few months.

To respond to your main request for suggestions for a "Novice" receiver, I'd suggest a Hammarlund HQ-110, National NC-109, or Hallicrafters SX-99.  Obtaining one in good operating condition might be your biggest challenge.     

The Drake 2B was a really fine receiver (much better than any that I mentioned above), and was a predecessor of the R4C that you already have.

73,
Chuck  NI0C
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KASSY
Member

Posts: 165




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« Reply #9 on: October 26, 2010, 08:11:45 AM »

Quote
I fail to see the fascination and nostalgia for a poor signal with key clicks and chirps.  I recall getting a couple of "OO" notices during the early 60's for having a bad signal, and I worked on my setup to clean it up.  It turned out that my VFO oscillator tube (6C4,as I recall) needed to be replaced every few months.

To respond to your main request for suggestions for a "Novice" receiver, I'd suggest a Hammarlund HQ-110, National NC-109, or Hallicrafters SX-99.  Obtaining one in good operating condition might be your biggest challenge.     

The Drake 2B was a really fine receiver (much better than any that I mentioned above), and was a predecessor of the R4C that you already have.

73,
Chuck  NI0C

It's like I was telling my niece.  You can't appreciate how fluid the present world-wide web is, unless you had to suffer from IRC.  Or, as a guy at work says, you can't appreciate how superlative radial-ply tires are unless you suffered with bias-ply.

Just a correct, I do not have an R4C.  Gramps had one.  He traded it before I got licensed, so I have never used it in my own station.  I remember it having really nice receive audio, something that the K2 does not.  Maybe I'm remembering through nostalgic lenses. 

I've never had to zero-beat my transmitter and receiver.  I couldn't do it now if I wanted to.  I want to know how that felt.

I figure on starting with a receiver, then building the rest of the station around it.  Local hamfests seem to have vintage receivers, ebay has vintage transmitters, so that seems the easy way to find either.

- k
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NI0C
Member

Posts: 2383




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« Reply #10 on: October 26, 2010, 12:34:59 PM »

It's interesting how we seem to want to experience the technology of previous generations.  I always wanted to try out one of the really old National receivers, such as the NC-101X or HRO-5. 

I guess what I was trying to say in my earlier post is that you can experience the Novice era gear without having a bad signal.  As I recall, key clicks and chirps were not that common, even back then. 

Perhaps the Drake 2B or R-4A, or R-4B would serve you best.  There seem to be plenty of them available in reasonably good condition.   

I still recall how liberated I felt when I upgraded to General Class and added a VFO to my crystal-controlled transmitter. 

Enjoy the project,

73,
Chuck  NI0C
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KA5N
Member

Posts: 4380




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« Reply #11 on: October 26, 2010, 01:39:33 PM »

Sounds like you want to suffer for a while.  If so then get something like a Hallicrafters S-40B which while not the worst receiver used by novices, has about the bare minimum (my first receiver was a
Hallicrafters S-38C a step or two lower than the S-40B and I was in pig heaven when I got an
SX-28 which was about as old as I was).  One novice I knew had a National NC-300 which was a top of the line receiver in the fifties (a National SW-54 was down at the bottom).  The older Collins receivers such as the 75A-2 (which I had after the SX-28) was great, one could actually tell what
frequency he was on with this receiver. 
You will see the dregs of low priced receivers for sale on eBay at outregeous prices and most are a
waste of time and money unless you want to restore them for a collection.  The "good" older receivers
are hard to find except at auction sales for silent keys or when someone is selling off his collection.
Of course you could homebrew a tube type receiver.  It would be a great learning experience.  Good
examples would be any of the HBR series that you can find online in old QSTs (need to be an ARRL member).


Good Luck
Allen
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K7MH
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Posts: 328




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« Reply #12 on: October 26, 2010, 09:57:07 PM »

The Drake 2C is a nice little novice receiver. Put it with the matching transmitter the Drake 2-NT and you are in noviceland again if you have a handful of crystals.
HW-16 is a neat little transceiver
The DX-60B and HR-10B can be troublesome but are also genuine novice stuff.
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AD4U
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Posts: 2152




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« Reply #13 on: October 27, 2010, 05:45:36 AM »

I also have to cast my vote for the Drake 2A, 2B, or 2C.  There is very little difference among them.  Sure there are many other novice receivers out there, but if you want performance stick with the Drakes.

I wanted to re-create my novice station from the 1960's.  About 5 years ago I purchased and restored a Drake 2B and a 2NT.  In five years of casual operation on 40 meter CW and using only a 1/2 wave dipole, I have worked 287 countries with this novice staion.
« Last Edit: October 28, 2010, 11:23:37 AM by DICK WHETSTONE » Logged
KG6YV
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Posts: 504




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« Reply #14 on: October 27, 2010, 05:24:53 PM »

Add my vote to Drake 2A,2B or 2C.  Simple but stable design.  Enough sensitivity to work DX and small footprint.

Greg
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