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Author Topic: Soon to be new HAM. Overwhelmed with choices on hardware.  (Read 6827 times)
BLAZBLU82
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Posts: 10




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« on: June 21, 2012, 12:11:07 PM »

Hello,

First time poster here. I recenty got the HAM bug and have been studying for the June 30th exam. Anyhoot, I have been mulling over all the transcievers and trying to pick one that has the features I want without blowing a wad of money.

First, base stations a beyond my budget and they don't seem to come capable of operating in any band beyond 2m. So, I am left with the mobiles, portables and HT's. I have a few models in mind, but they are mainly low power units that are tri-band or quad-band. I am ok with this, however, I keep reading about over loading the front-end while using bigger antenna's. Some say it is not an issue depending on where the operator lives, others say it can damage the radio.

The radios I have interest in include: FT-817ND, FT-8900R, IC-706MKIIG, IC-92AD, TH-F6A or D72A, and the VX-8DR. My "shack" will be in a basement, so the stock antenna will be useless. I cannot mount a permanent antenna, so a mobile unit would be best. I have looked at Buddisticks, Miracle Wand, and other similar units. Is there an antenna that can be tuned to function from 160m to 23cm w/o needing to buy seperate units? Also, what sort of linear amps do you recommend for base operations. I had seen one used with the FT-817 that took the 5 watts and boosted it to 100+. A prime feature I am looking for is the ability to communicate through internet repeaters for global access. I do not intend to install any of these in a vehicle, in fact, I plan to create a Go-Pack.

I am trying to keep the install as simple as possible and my budget is roughly $1000 for everything. Am I at least heading in the right direction? Thanks for your time.
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WB6BYU
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Posts: 13477




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« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2012, 01:02:36 PM »

Quote from: BLAZBLU82

Is there an antenna that can be tuned to function from 160m to 23cm w/o needing to buy seperate units?



No.  And if there were, it probably wouldn't work very well.

The same goes for radios in most cases.


Ham radio offers a wide range of capabilities and experiences, depending on your interests.
And because everyone's interests are different, there is no "right" answer for anyone.

(Keep this in mind - lots of folks will assume that your interests are the same as theirs,
and will try to convince you that the rig they choose is best for you.  Much of the time
it won't be.)

But that also means that spending some time to think about what aspect of ham radio
appeals most to you will help us to give you some suggestions.


For local communications, most hams start on 2m FM, as there are local repeaters in
most areas that will provide coverage out to 20 - 30 miles or more, often with a
hand-held radio.  This is convenient to chat with other hams.  In some parts of the
country the 440 band is heavily used, but in rural areas there might not be any active
repeaters.  Where you live will determine whether this is a useful addition to your
capability - you will need to see what linked repeaters are available in your area.

To work further on VHF/UHF requires better antennas, and especially more height.
This might be temporary, but even an antenna in the attic, or taped to the inside
of an upstairs window, will work better than one in the basement.  Real long
distances also would use SSB or CW modes instead of FM (which is used for
repeaters), but that is another whole area of interest.

If your primary interest is repeaters, then for most people having 2m and 440 is
quite sufficient.  There are repeaters on 6m and 10m, but propagation is much more
sporadic.  Again, it depends where you live.  Some areas have repeaters on the
higher bands, but they tend to be sparse and equipment is not as easy to find.

While a hand-held is convenient, they have a lot of limitations, including battery
life, cramped controls, displays that can be difficult to read, and a tendency to get
rather warm in the hand after extended operation at high power.  While I have
several, I rarely use them.  Instead I have a mobile 2m/440 rig connected to a
12V power supply under the desk as my base station.  (This also give you the
ability to run it off the car battery for portable operation.)  This is probably the
most common setup - it provides good local communications and I can hit
repeaters up to 100 miles away - but that's because I'm on a hill and have an
outside antenna:  typical ranges are less than that.)

Most mobile FM radios have a low power position - I run mine at 5 watts most
of the time, only switching to high power when needed for a specific situation.
That's pretty rare - but, then again, I have the advantage of height.  I wouldn't
recommend adding an external amplifier to such a rig until you've done everything
possible to improve your antenna.


The HF bands (including 160m, which is actually MF) will cover longer distances,
and require longer antennas.  There are a few repeaters on 10m, some of which
may be lined to local repeaters, but they generally aren't connected to EchoLink
or other systems because signals will fade in and out due to conditions.  I like
having separate rigs for 2m FM and HF so I can listen on one while talking on
the other, but others like the all-in-one-box approach.  It is possible to talk
around the world with an antenna hidden in your attic, or wires strung across
the roof, but the again the higher you can get your antenna, the more effective
it will be.  More commonly such antennas should allow you to make contacts
around much of the country, and occasionally further.  The "standard" 100W
HF rig is a good start:  some of use like to use low power (5 watts), others
run the full 1.5kW output (which I wouldn't recommend with an antenna in
the attic.)  Again, you will discover what bands you like to operate, whether
you prefer to work DX (distant stations) or chat with friends out to a couple
hundred miles, etc.


So my suggestion would be to start with a FM mobile rig, either 2m or 2m/440,
depending on the level of 440 activity in your area and the frequencies of
the linked repeaters near you.  Get up some sort of antenna - not necessarily
a commercial one - that provides enough signal to hit the repeater reliably.
This shouldn't cost a lot - a few hundred dollars perhaps, including a power
supply to provide operating voltage in the house.  If you expect to use it while
you are walking around, then an HT may be better, but the mobile rigs are
much more convenient for operating from a desk.

Then join the local radio club and ask the members what their interests are
in ham radio.  Maybe visit their shacks to see what equipment they use and
ask why they chose that particular model.  See what others use for antennas,
especially in constrained situations.  You may find yourself fascinated by APRS,
working DX on 160m, EME, QRP, building your own equipment, contesting,
emergency service, radio direction-finding, traffic nets, antenna design, or
any of a number of other options.  As you do, you can focus on extending
your equipment to suite those interests.


You don't have to start with everything all at once - it gets overwhelming.


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N4CR
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Posts: 1694




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« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2012, 01:29:25 PM »

This smells like a troll but just in case..

You'll find that being a technician doesn't get you into the parts of the ham bands that allow you to do direct DX on a constant basis like the lower bands do. So if you are wanting to work into internet repeaters you'll need a 2 meter/440 capable radio (which is where 99.9% of the repeaters are) and a good enough antenna to hit them. And the antennas are relatively tiny compared to the antennas you will need for HF work.

For VHF, don't bother getting a low power unit and a linear amplifier. You'll be much better served with a radio like a FT-8800 and a hand held beam. You can turn the 8800 down to low power to conserve battery power and up to 50 watts if you need it.

Most VHF/UHF radio communication is line of sight, meaning you need to get your antenna in a place that doesn't have major obstacles between it and the repeater you want to hit. Most people add height to their antenna to accomplish this, but it's possible that a good antenna in the right spot will work well.

Adding more power when you don't have line of sight will not make a lot of difference and neither will spending a lot of money on fancy antennas.

A working rig, a home made antenna and proper positioning of the antenna are all you need.

The FT-8800 is a great rig that you can eventually put into a car when your hobby advances. I have two FT-8900 radios and I can say it was a total waste of money. I should have bought the FT-8800's instead. 6 and 10 meter FM is spotty at best, requires an antenna up high to do much and really is quite limited. Those bands have most everyone on SSB which the FT-8900 doesn't do.

I'd buy 40 feet (or so) of RG-8X from a reputable source, put on good connectors, build a little tripod with a homemade vertical ground plane antenna and move it around until I found the spot where it works for any particular repeater. For fixed station use, a little power supply so you don't run from battery all the time is needed, but for a backpack you'll need a battery for operation and a way to charge it.

I'd suggest you keep most of the money in your pocket until you have more experience. You may find that going this cheaper route is all you need and if it doesn't, the re-engineering process will not have you wasting a kilobuck.
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73 de N4CR, Phil

Never believe an atom. They make up everything.
K0YHV
Member

Posts: 179




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« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2012, 01:33:57 PM »

Hello,

First, base stations a beyond my budget and they don't seem to come capable of operating in any band beyond 2m.

What does this mean?  Almost every base station rigs operates on many bands beyond 2m.

John AF5CC
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BLAZBLU82
Member

Posts: 10




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« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2012, 01:38:08 PM »

I have spoken to the owner of the rental house about installing an antenna in the attic. He is ok with that. I guess I don't quite know what I want to do. The prospect of making contact in other parts of the world seems to be the most interesting. My head is swimming with all of these different radios, the various antenna setups, and computer software which can be used. I had hoped to find a radio which would work with the HAM Radio Deluxe software, but that'll have to wait for now.

Thanks.

EDIT: I thought something like WIRES, Echolink, or D-Star were needed to access internet repeaters? After reading another post, maybe the FT-8900R would be the better choice for a first radio. As a tech, I will be able to work all the bands it has, plus it does have internet capabilities.

This smells like a troll but just in case..


Is this how you great new prospective HAM's that have questions?
« Last Edit: June 21, 2012, 01:47:22 PM by BLAZBLU82 » Logged
BLAZBLU82
Member

Posts: 10




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« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2012, 01:40:52 PM »

Hello,

First, base stations a beyond my budget and they don't seem to come capable of operating in any band beyond 2m.

What does this mean?  Almost every base station rigs operates on many bands beyond 2m.

John AF5CC

I mean 2m, 70cm and 23cm. I have yet to see any base radio TX in those ranges. IE, the IC-718 TX's 160m to 10m. When I think below 2m, I think of HF, MF, and LF bands. Above 2m are the 1.25m, 70 and 23 cm bands just for clarification. And no I AM NOT A TROLL.
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G4AON
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Posts: 543




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« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2012, 03:04:16 PM »

I mean 2m, 70cm and 23cm. I have yet to see any base radio TX in those ranges. IE, the IC-718 TX's 160m to 10m.
The Icom IC910HX does 2m, 70cms and 23cms, SSB, CW and FM in one box. I have one sitting here in the shack. They are an expensive radio to start with. As per the other suggestions a basic two band (2m and 70cms) FM "mobile", a mains power supply for it and a dual band antenna fairly high will be useful to make contact with local hams and perhaps those a bit further away via a repeater. An off the shelf antenna that I have used for years is a Diamond X50 which is around 5' long and provides a little gain on 70cms and unity gain on 2m (ignore the manufacturers gain figures, it's the length of a dipole on 2m and therefore the same gain as a dipole). Use RG213 or RG8X coax to feed the antenna and away you go.

Many hams have such a radio operating in the shack whenever they are around, so even if you move onto something HF it isn't a waste of money.

73 Dave
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KA5IPF
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Posts: 1032


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« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2012, 03:15:19 PM »

The Kenwood TS2000X covers from 160-23cm. All modes.

Clif
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BLAZBLU82
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Posts: 10




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« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2012, 04:30:53 PM »

I had a feeling i had over looked some base units. Regardless, i simply cannot afford something like that for now, which leafs me to find the most features at a goid price.
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N4CR
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Posts: 1694




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« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2012, 04:49:24 PM »

This smells like a troll but just in case..


Is this how you great new prospective HAM's that have questions?
[/quote]

Your questions are similar to some that have come here and trolled. But I didn't let that stop me. Others didn't let it stop them. Did you let it stop you?

I gave you solid information.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2012, 04:52:06 PM by N4CR » Logged

73 de N4CR, Phil

Never believe an atom. They make up everything.
BLAZBLU82
Member

Posts: 10




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« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2012, 05:29:15 PM »

This smells like a troll but just in case..


Is this how you greet new prospective HAM's that have questions?

Your questions are similar to some that have come here and trolled. But I didn't let that stop me. Others didn't let it stop them. Did you let it stop you?

I gave you solid information.
[/quote]

Ok, great. I appreciate the info; however, I find that kind of greeting to be a bit rude. You don't know me and I don't know you and there is no reason to treat newbies like that. Regardless, I came here to get my head on straight so I don't bow out of the hobby because of hardware overload.

A 2m HAM would be ok, but I want to go farther than a 50 mile radius. I have really been eye-balling the FT-817ND simply because it has a lot of feature the big boys have and all the bands a Tech can use right away. Now, since this unit only has 5 watt output, am I limited on the types of antenna I can use? I have read about overloading the front-end, but clarification on whether or not it damages the unit hasn't been made. I understand 5 watts is what the unit transmits, but the RX doesn't rely on the wattage does it? So, if we presumed I purchased this unit for both base and field ops, what sort of antenna setup will I need for home use? I already have a good idea what to get for field use.

Please don't take my q's as trolling. Yes, I may know some of the lingo, but that is just things I have picked up from researching. I really do appreciate the advice given. Thanks.
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K0IZ
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Posts: 739




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« Reply #11 on: June 21, 2012, 05:41:35 PM »

It's hard to answer  a number of fundamental questions vis a blog.  If there is a club near you, I highly encourage you to seek out members.  Go to ARRL.org and you can find clubs. http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club

Nothing beats a real person that you can talk to.  Most hams will be very willing to help a newbee.
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AD6KA
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Posts: 2238




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« Reply #12 on: June 21, 2012, 07:45:19 PM »

This is always a challenge for the newcomer.
A couple thoughts:
1) Antennas are more important than hardware.(Radios)
    Get a copy of the ARRL Antenna Book, any copy, any year.
2) Good operating skills are underrated. An outstanding
    op with mediocre equipment will run circles around
    a mediocre op with outstanding equipment. Get an Elmer
    to show you how to do things right.

While the FT-817 IS a cool rig, I would not recommend it
for your situation. Yes, Tokyo High Power makes
a 45 watt amplifier for this rig but it costs $450.
Not worth the bang for the buck.

1) When you finally get full General or Extra HF privileges,
you will be very limited by your antenna restrictions.

2) YES, you CAN make QSO's with an indoor attic compromise
antenna. But it can be very frustrating running just the
5 watts. Long periods of listening to static and no one returning your CQ's.
AND you WILL need to learn CW to get the most
out of the FT-817 and 5 watts.


3) Do NOT buy an HT as your first rig.
You'll quickly become bored with it and at this point in your
ham career it's a waste of money. For $1000 and
with careful shopping and planning, you
can get a decent station, w/HF/VHF,UHF.
A used FT-857 comes to mind, among others.
Save up and buy a 100w HF rig, you'll be glad you did.

GUD LUCK ES 73, Ken  AD6KA

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N4CR
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« Reply #13 on: June 21, 2012, 07:55:59 PM »

Ok, great. I appreciate the info; however, I find that kind of greeting to be a bit rude.

You're overreacting. Me thinking it might be a troll isn't any reflection on you. It's a reflection on a society gone mad.

And even then I didn't consider it really was a troll and went ahead and answered your question. If you're going to ask questions on line, you're going to have to toughen up that skin you're wearing.

Quote
You don't know me and I don't know you and there is no reason to treat newbies like that. Regardless, I came here to get my head on straight so I don't bow out of the hobby because of hardware overload.

Just consider it a test that you passed and  now we all know you are actually serious. It's all good.

Look up my call on QRZ.com. That will get you my email address. Send me an email, I'll send you my phone number. We can talk. You'll get vastly better and faster information that way.

That's my offer. All you need to do is learn. Seems like a good trade.
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73 de N4CR, Phil

Never believe an atom. They make up everything.
K1CJS
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Posts: 6055




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« Reply #14 on: June 22, 2012, 03:50:30 AM »

You are not alone!

Quite a few of us faced the same questions and thoughts when we started out.  I can't say that this is what you want to hear, but a lot--and I do mean A LOT--of the choices are personal preference choices, that is what radios, equipment and so on.

Probably the best thing you can do is to find a local club and attend one of their meetings, coffee sessions, rag chews, or whatever they call them.  You will find , in a lot of cases, that there are hams there who would be willing to sit down with you and answer most of your questions.  An Elmer (that's what those people are called) may even take you under their wing and shepherd you along until you're ready to test the waters out on your own--and then they'll still be around if you need more help.

Hope this helps you out somewhat.  73!
« Last Edit: June 22, 2012, 03:52:35 AM by K1CJS » Logged
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