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Author Topic: Newbie looking for HF transceiver advice  (Read 27664 times)
KB1WTY
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« on: September 20, 2013, 07:53:04 AM »

I'm just starting out in ham radio, been doing the VHF/UHF portable thing for a bit but want to get into HF. Realistically, what's the least I can expect to spend for a base station transceiver (and which which model(s) would that be)? Looking around at some of the major brands I've heard of (Yaesu, Kenwood, Alinco) it looks like $700+ is what I should expect to spend (for the transceiver alone), but until I had heard of Baofeng, I thought that $150 was the least I could spend on an HT, and that turned out to be wrong. Are there similar, reasonable "budget" HF radios that might not be as great as the big brands, but still serviceable? Ideally, I'd like it to be able to do 40-meter to 10-meter and support SSB, AM, and CW (not sure, probably all HF radios do this). I don't need to be mobile (though I'm not opposed to using a mobile unit as a base station if that makes sense to do). Digital modes would be nice, but not critical.

Also, do radios generally (or ever) have IQ outputs (weather digital, i.e. USB, or analog through an audio cable) so that I could hook it into the input of an SDR receiver and view the spectrogram? If so, is that a higher-end radio feature, or something that's somewhat standard?
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KB1WTY
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« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2013, 09:18:26 AM »

You know, I shouldn't have posted this. After posting I noticed (right next to it) almost the same question, answered. Sorry to waste peoples' time. Also, I found the Alinco DX-SR8T for $519, which may end up being the radio I go with when I'm ready to buy (pending reading some reviews first).
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K5TED
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« Reply #2 on: September 20, 2013, 07:01:25 PM »

You know, I shouldn't have posted this. After posting I noticed (right next to it) almost the same question, answered. Sorry to waste peoples' time. Also, I found the Alinco DX-SR8T for $519, which may end up being the radio I go with when I'm ready to buy (pending reading some reviews first).

A good used Kenwood TS-690 will run circles around the Alinco in form and functionality for less price.

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KB1WTY
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« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2013, 07:40:13 PM »

I think the one thing I'm sure of is that I don't want to start with a used radio. I'm sure there are good deals for radios in excellent condition, but I'd still prefer to go with something new and with a warranty. I guess that probably rules out trying to find a budget Chinese radio, too. If I were willing to spend a bit more than the $519 the Alinco would have cost (say, $650 or maybe $700), would you suggest anything else (new)? Seems Kenwood is probably out of my price range with their cheapest base radio being about $1K.
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N0IU
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« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2013, 05:09:18 AM »

The most highly recommended "entry level" HF rig would have to be the Icom IC-718. The eHam review is at: http://www.eham.net/reviews/detail/947. Out of 389 reviews (so far), it scores a very respectable 4.6 out of 5. Like all HF rigs, it will do 160 through 10 meters. The one mode it won't do is FM.

Any radio can do the digital modes with a sound card interface. Personally I recommend a SignaLink USB interface. http://www.tigertronics.com/slusbmain.htm. These sell for $100.

I have never used an Alinco product, but they seem to make decent stuff. The DX-SR8 only has 61 reviews and it only scores a 4.2 out of 5. The review is at: http://www.eham.net/reviews/detail/8897. (This is for the DX-SR8, not the DX-SR8T) I haven't read all the reviews, but 4.2 is not a horrible score. This radio does do FM, but you have to be a General in order to use FM.

Keep in mind that with either of these radios you will still need some sort of antenna tuner. For about the same amount of money, you can get a manual tuner or automatic tuner. One of the most popular manual tuners ever made is the MFJ 949E. I have had one for over 20 years and have had no issue with it at all. It has a street price of $170.

As far as automatic tuners, LDG tuners are generally very highly rated. The LDGIT100 which is made specifically for Icom radios (including the IC-718) has a street price of $180. The LDGAL100 which is made specifically for Alinco radios has a street price of only $150.

You will also need a power supply. Try not to skimp here if you can afford it. At the very absolute minimum you will need a 20 amp power supply, but if you afford it, I would suggest a 30-35 amp power supply. This way you will be able to run your radio (which ever one you end up getting) at full power without stressing out the power supply and will even have plenty of reserve for other 12 volt accessories you end up adding to your shack.

Astron is generally considered to be the "gold standard" of power supplies (I have used one for over 20 years). I have a regulated power supply (these are the kind with a big heavy transformers), but they also make switching power supplies which are much smaller and lighter. The SS-30 is a 30 amp switching power supply and costs $130. Samlex also makes a 30 amp power supply (SEC-1235) that is only $120. I have never used a Samlex, but they seem to have decent ratings. Personally, I would go with an Astron. One and done! A good power supply can last you for decades... or longer!

Of course I haven't even mentioned antennas, but that is a whole other subject!

Good luck!
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K5TED
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« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2013, 11:00:11 AM »

The Alinco DX-SR9T is a better rig than the 8, and has all modes. It also has one significant feature. IF Audio out for plugging into your PC soundcard and taking advantage of any number of free SDR receive programs like HDSDR, SDRadio, DReaM, etc. and even Alinco's own free SDR program for that radio, which will add a level of selectivity, noise reduction, and overall functionality not included in any other rigs in the $790 range.

That said, if you are willing to spend almost $800 on a new rig then more on a tuner, then why not $919 and get a FT-450D? It has the tuner built in, plus IF filtering and all modes PLUS 6m.

A good used rig, meaning, one purchased from a reputable dealer or known previous owner, will generally give you more bang for your buck. I've not had any problems with any of my HF rigs that were purchased used.

It's understandable that a beginner might want to protect themselves from equipment failure, and you'll have the rest of your ham radio career to buy used rigs. So, the key is to buy the most in a brand new rig you can possibly afford.

I would vote for the Alinco DX-SR9T or the FT-450D

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KB1WTY
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« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2013, 12:19:59 PM »

Holy cow, N0IU, I had no idea that base station radios don't have internal power supplies; I figured you just plugged them into an AC outlet. Thanks very much for tipping me off to that! Is a switching power supply OK, or does it need to be linear? Can you (or anyone) suggest a brand/product line?

K5TED, thanks for the suggestions, I'll have to give some thought to how much I want to spend. It's not that $1K for a transceiver is out of the question, but I'd be pretty mad at myself if I made that kind of purchase and then didn't end up sticking with the hobby. Maybe I should do what I've seen suggested elsewhere and go to a ham club meeting, arrange a visit to someone's shack, and get a better feel for the hobby before I spend that kind of money. I realize I'd be able to resell what I buy if I end up not staying with it, but other than being a pain in the butt, I'm sure I'd still take a good hit on it.

Also, I just want to say (again) that the quality of help that I've received on this site has been amazing, thanks everyone!
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WX7G
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« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2013, 02:12:55 PM »

If you don't stick with the hobby you can always sell the radio for at least 60% of what you paid new for it. Or just buy a used radio.

For a power supply linear or switcher works. I have an Astron RM-20 and like it just fine.
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KC0KEK
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« Reply #8 on: September 21, 2013, 08:42:15 PM »

Holy cow, N0IU, I had no idea that base station radios don't have internal power supplies; I figured you just plugged them into an AC outlet.

A few do, such as the Icom 7700.
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N0IU
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« Reply #9 on: September 22, 2013, 04:49:55 AM »

Holy cow, N0IU, I had no idea that base station radios don't have internal power supplies; I figured you just plugged them into an AC outlet.
A few do, such as the Icom 7700.

The IC-7700 has a street price of $6,880. I don't think the OP is quite at that point in his amateur radio career yet!

But seriously...

You really can't go wrong with an Astron power supply of either type. I have been licensed over 20 years and while there is almost nothing in my shack that goes back that far, one of them is my Astron power supply. A 20 amp power supply will certainly work, but if you can afford a 30 amp power supply, it may very well be the last one you will ever need to buy!
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KB1WTY
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« Reply #10 on: September 22, 2013, 03:42:41 PM »

Now that I've seen some of the power supplies suggested (and how much they cost), I've definitely calmed down. I have a Mastech (cheap Chinese brand often sold under various names) linear, bench-top, variable voltage & current supply rated for 6A for my electronics workshop, and that cost $200, so I was terrified to think how much a 30A version would cost. But it makes sense that I don't need a variable-voltage supply for the radio.
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K8GU
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« Reply #11 on: September 23, 2013, 06:16:46 AM »

You don't need an antenna tuner to get on the air.  I have one that I rarely use.

Communications power supplies designed for 13.8 volts at 20-30 amps in amateur service are cheap...$100 to $200 for new ones, depending on features and design.  For switchers, I like the MFJ-4125 (it's one of several products that MFJ does well) and the Astron SS-30.  Of course, it's hard to go wrong with an Astron linear supply like the RS-35, if you don't mind the mass and slightly higher price.

I've never been particularly enamored with Alinco's HF offerings.  The IC-718 and FT-450 are good choices.  IQ outputs, and even IF outputs, are generally higher-end features at this time.
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N0IU
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« Reply #12 on: September 23, 2013, 09:16:09 AM »

You don't need an antenna tuner to get on the air. 

Are you going to pay for the repair to his finals if he takes your advice and burns them up?

Unless if you have a well designed and properly installed antenna system that is somewhere close to being resonant in the portions of the bands you intend to use, you need a tuner! Any antenna can look good on paper, but until you get that wire up in the air, you really have no idea whether or not it is resonant on your desired frequencies. There are just too many variables to deal with.

One advantage to getting a manual tuner is that you can get them with real meters that will allow you to see your power output and SWR simultaneously.

GET A TUNER!!!
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K8GU
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« Reply #13 on: September 23, 2013, 10:24:52 AM »

Are you going to pay for the repair to his finals if he takes your advice and burns them up?

I seem to have touched a nerve here. 

Unless if you have a well designed and properly installed antenna system that is somewhere close to being resonant in the portions of the bands you intend to use, you need a tuner! Any antenna can look good on paper, but until you get that wire up in the air, you really have no idea whether or not it is resonant on your desired frequencies. There are just too many variables to deal with.

This is not a fair characterization of simple antennas like a dipole.  Unless things are dreadfully wrong, the 468/f formula should get you close enough to make one cut and hit the desired frequency.  Building HF dipoles isn't brain surgery...in precision or consequence of failure.

One advantage to getting a manual tuner is that you can get them with real meters that will allow you to see your power output and SWR simultaneously.
GET A TUNER!!!

So, what you're recommending is an SWR/wattmeter...  That's a good investment, although the one in the radio is usually "good enough" for most things.  Tuners have their place, but to insist that everyone buy one invites poor station engineering.  That was the point of my earlier statement.


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N3HEE
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« Reply #14 on: September 23, 2013, 12:02:13 PM »

K8GU speaks the truth!  Assuming the OP has some space a simple dipole is nearly foolproof to construct and tune.  Back off on the power (5W) when trimming it to resonance and you will be fine.  Lots of positive things will come out of building a resonant antenna.  Save some money, better performance, learn about antennas and become a better ham!   Grin
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