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Author Topic: Another new ham seeking advice  (Read 7929 times)
KD9AQX
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Posts: 13




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« on: March 30, 2014, 12:30:36 PM »

I just got my technician ticket a few weeks ago, and I intend to upgrade to general soon. I've ordered a Yaesu FT-60R and MFJ-1717S antenna, so that I can hit a couple local repeaters and get on the air.  I've got a lot to learn, and this will allow me to "get my feet wet" and become more comfortable with radio protocol, while researching what I should get for my first capable radio for my home office (I hesitate to call it a "shack" at this point).

My problem is twofold.  On one hand, I'm still getting familiar with all of the various ways the amateur radio can be enjoyed. DX, QRP, CW, APRS...the list goes on and each one seems really interesting.  I haven't settled on which aspects I most want to concentrate on at first. The second part of my dilemma is that I'm still unfamiliar with many of the features packed into radios today and how they might affect my ability to explore the hobby. Things like DSP, notch filters, roofing filters, etc. all make sense as I read up on them, but I have no perspective on just how much they would affect/improve my experience as a new ham.  I've begun attending meetings with a local ham radio club. They seem like nice folks and will likely be my lone source of info locally, as there are no ham radio shops anywhere within 250-miles or so.

If I had $10-grand to drop on a radio, this probably wouldn't be a concern.  All the bases would probably be covered, and I could learn as I go, but I probably still wouldn't have a grasp on how all those modern features were helping me.  I'm sure a lot of the people who have been in the hobby for many years had the "benefit" of experiencing something in their TX or RX that was somehow deficient and then seeing some new bit of technology released in newer radios that addressed it - learning as they went.  I would like to avoid (as much as possible) spending a small mint (to me) on a radio, only to find that I really should have bought a different one that has [insert feature here].

All that said, I fully expect having to make some compromises.  My budget simply dictates that.  As a new ham, I just really don't have much perspective on which compromises I should be willing to make. I've read what sounded like good advice - start slow. I'm perfectly willing to do so. My new HT will hopefully satisfy most of my local VHF/UHF operation for now, and I will likely purchase a mobile VHF/UHF radio as well some time in the future. First though, I would like to save up and get started on building my HF station.

I'm hoping I can get some advice on a good HF radio for a new ham that isn't quite sure what his particular area(s) of interest are going to be.  My budget for the radio, itself, is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000 (give or take).  I know there is more to it than just the radio, and I'll be picking up a power supply and building a beginner-level HF antenna along the way. I'm particularly looking forward to the learning process of the latter.

I would appreciate suggestions on new radios that are affordable options for a new ham in my shoes or reliable and proven used options.  I should be about ready to make a purchase in time for this year's Ham Fest in Dayton, and I would like to have a better idea of which radios I should be hoping to find.

Additionally, I would appreciate suggestions on any additional equipment I should be planning to pick up.  I assume I will find some sort of SWR meter helpful. How about things like antenna tuners, amplifiers (linear?) or other components that can provide additional information about signals being transmitted or received during operation?

For what it's worth my initial interests include making contacts and optimizing the performance of my station (probably a lot of antenna building and tweaking).  After getting my general, voice and CW DX sounds interesting as well as being able to operate in the event of power loss.  However, I am certain my interests will be significantly broadened as I progress in the hobby.

Thanks for taking the time to read. Any advice or insight would be appreciated.

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ONAIR
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« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2014, 02:20:25 PM »

With $1K to spend, you could get quite a few new HF rigs and a host of used ones as well, along with a power supply and tuner.  Just build your own antenna, and you are good to go! Smiley
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AA4PB
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« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2014, 04:48:29 PM »

I suggest you take a look at the Icom IC-7200. It's pretty basic and easy to operate and yet it has an IF-DSP so you don't have to purchase additional filters. LDG makes an Icom specific tuner (the IT100) if the antenna you select requires one.
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KD9AQX
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« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2014, 06:19:40 PM »

With $1K to spend, you could get quite a few new HF rigs and a host of used ones as well, along with a power supply and tuner.  Just build your own antenna, and you are good to go! Smiley

What are a few models you might recommend in the used market that would give me plenty of opportunities to explore the hobby?

One thing I've read about is band scopes or waterfall displays. I think it would be interesting to have the ability to deploy that, through the use of my PC or some sort of panadapter or something. Apologies if I'm mixing up terms here.

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N3HEE
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« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2014, 07:54:11 AM »

Congrats and welcome aboard!  There are plenty of good new and used radios out there.  That's the easy part.  The more difficult part is planning an installing a good antenna.   A good antenna is one of the most important components of any amateur radio station.   Don't spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on gear and then throw up an inferior compromised antenna.  Carefully plan out your antenna.  Don't let it be an afterthought.  There are plenty of simple antennas that you can build yourself that will perform well if built and installed properly.  Of course there will be compromises to make but choose them wisely.  A good antenna will greatly enhance your amateur radio experience and you will learn allot by doing it yourself. There is plenty of good reading material related to antennas and antenna building.  Check some of the ARRL publications.  Have fun with this wonderful hobby !  - Joe n3hee
« Last Edit: March 31, 2014, 07:56:42 AM by KB3KJS » Logged
KD9AQX
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Posts: 13




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« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2014, 12:21:33 PM »

Congrats and welcome aboard!  There are plenty of good new and used radios out there.  That's the easy part.  The more difficult part is planning an installing a good antenna.   A good antenna is one of the most important components of any amateur radio station.   Don't spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on gear and then throw up an inferior compromised antenna.  Carefully plan out your antenna.  Don't let it be an afterthought.  There are plenty of simple antennas that you can build yourself that will perform well if built and installed properly.  Of course there will be compromises to make but choose them wisely.  A good antenna will greatly enhance your amateur radio experience and you will learn allot by doing it yourself. There is plenty of good reading material related to antennas and antenna building.  Check some of the ARRL publications.  Have fun with this wonderful hobby !  - Joe n3hee

Thanks.  If there is one thing I've read and accepted as fact, it is that the antenna is probably the most important piece in getting on the air.  However, and please forgive me if I'm being naive, I see the antenna as a more straightforward affair.  There is plenty of information available on a lot of "simple" and effective antennas that can be built to suit my needs and ways to deploy them under my available conditions.  I am, of course, planning for this all the time.  It is by no means an afterthought for me.  The beauty of it is that what the various antenna options can do well and why is spelled out pretty clearly, so I feel much better equipped to work out various options in that regard.

Radios, on the other hand, involve so many more aspects (again, my own naive perception), that I have more trouble wrapping my head around it all.  There are many features that I don't understand, and when I attempt to research those features, their benefit is often described in further terms with which I am unfamiliar.  It feels a bit like falling down the rabbit hole.

So, here I am, hoping to get some suggestions on a suitable HF radio that I'm probably a couple months away from purchasing.  Hopefully I can get some good advice (so far so good) that will help me avoid making a poor choice or ending up with something that will be too limiting as I further explore the hobby.

Thanks!
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K5UNX
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« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2014, 12:26:01 PM »

Here is what I have done . . . I also bought a FT-60R and a cheap mag mount antenna to get started. It got me on the air like you say, to get my feet wet and be able to use the local repeaters.

For an HF rig, I bought a Yaesu FT-857D. It's HF plus VHF/UHF as well. I wanted the physically smaller rig as I don't have a room for a shack and it's going to be my main radio, portable radio (Field Day etc), do everything radio.  I am going to add a FT-8900 or 8800 (VHF/UHF) soon as well. Both will be mounted in a portable box that will sit on my desk for a home shack, and also be able to be picked up and put in the car to go somewhere, be it Field Day, JOTA, an ARES thing . . whatever, my station is portable.  That was simply my goal, a single station that can be moved around as needed.

Like someone mentioned above, you should think about antennas. Especially for HF. Figure out what different types there are, what space you have available, what restrictions you might have etc. I am planning an 80M Off Center Fed dipole. Don't know if I am going to make it or buy it yet, but I am figuring out how to get the feed line into the house, where is the house I want my radio to be when it's at home, etc., before buying anything. I have made two antennas and I would recommend considering making your own. You will learn a lot and it's not that hard. I will probably make my 80M OCF and balun.

In the mean time, before I get that up, I made a homemade buddipole and a homemade buddistick. They get me on the air for now and I'll use them in the future at Field Day, and other "portable" type events so they are not wasted at all.

Good luck and enjoy!
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N2ADV
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Posts: 70




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« Reply #7 on: April 02, 2014, 07:15:26 AM »

If I were just getting into things with $1k to spend?  I'd spend maybe $400-$500 on a rig, another $100 or so on a power supply, and the rest I'd use on antennas.  Cheaper on the rig if I could possibly swing it. 

What is your living situation?  Do you have tall trees?  Can you put up poles or other supports for antennas?  You can put some wire in the air or you can go all elaborate and put a beam up at a couple hundred feet (which would cost considerably more than a few hundred bucks lol).  Or, do you have restrictions (even XYL restrictions Smiley )?  What type of antennas you can put up will also determine if you need some kind of tuner or not. 

If you can stretch, you can pick up a Kenwood TS480SAT (I've seen them used anywhere from $650-$800... be patient and you can find one that is in your price range).  I found that rig to be very new-user friendly, very versitile, practically plug and play for digital modes, and can be controlled by Ham Radio Deluxe very easily, even the free versions of HRD.  Some will recommend the HX (200 watt) version but the extra 100 watts doesn't gain you much as far as additional signal and you'd need to spend far more $ on being able to supply power to the HX (plus the HX doesn't have a built in "tuner" like the SAT). 
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KB2WIG
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Posts: 121




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« Reply #8 on: April 02, 2014, 10:52:06 AM »

R,

A few thoughts.


No rig?? . Global tuners will allow you to listen even if you don't have a rig. Get on your computor and start listening around

http://www.globaltuners.com/

Field Day is coming up. Its a good way to gain experience in set up and operation of radio equiptment. Use the locator.

http://www.arrl.org/field-day-locator

Here is a short list of "local" clubs. Someone should have a used rig or two for sale. Its usally better to do a face to face sale with someone local.


http://www.w9vcf.org
http://www.hcars.org
http://www.indyradioclub.org
http://www.w9ob.org

(Don't ask any questions about 'grounding'. You'll never get out of here alive  .... ..  )


klc
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AB3UD
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Posts: 15




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« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2014, 10:49:29 AM »

I bought an IC-718 brand new a couple months ago. I like it a lot. It has four modes: SSB, CW, AM, and RTTY. It doesn't have FM, but FM is only used at the higher edge on 10 meters.

Is it perfect? No. Does it work pretty good? Yes. It doesn't have a lot of the features of higher priced radios, but for me, starting out, it fits the bill perfect. It gives me access to CW and SSB (the modes I am most interested in at the moment) and can pick most signals up. Your real limiting factor is your antenna, anyway. I'm using a G5RV, 10-15' in the air. I don't get every weak signal in the air, and I probably don't get out as good as I could, but I also live in the city, so plenty of local interference. I tune the antenna with an LDG Z-100 I picked up from eBay. You can easily get all this for about $900-1000, even including the wire, coax, and connectors for your antenna.

With those four basic modes, you'll be able to try different things. Maybe just voice is your thing. You learn code and find you like CW a lot. Maybe you try to find AM ragchews on 75. Data / packet might turn out to be your thing. The point is, for a relatively low cost of investment, you get a good share of everything out there. You can even try QRP if you want! Just dial back the RF power setting.

Anyway, you'll learn what you like, what you use, and what you wish you could use. Then, you'll be able to sell the rig for $450-500, only losing about $100 on it, and put that towards a new rig with more features you would like to have. Or, you could keep it as a backup radio! I think that's what I'm going to end up doing with mine.
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KD9AQX
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Posts: 13




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« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2014, 09:22:38 AM »

Thanks for all the advice.  I've received my HT, and I've been chatting with fellow hams via local repeaters.  I think I've obtained a bit of focus as well. I'm an IT professional by trade, and since I work at the computer all day every day, I didn't think digital modes or computer-assisted operation would be that big a draw for me. However, the more I learn about all the things that can be done by interfacing with a computer, the more fascinating I find it.

The trouble is, what information I can find on the subject makes me think I need either a $3000+ radio with a wideband IF Out or a mass of cables and intermediate devices to accomplish what I'd like, which is simply a radio that facilitates full(ish) computer control, including an interactive band scope (click on a signal in the band scope to tune the transceiver to that frequency). I'd also like a waterfall display.

My budget for the radio is about $1000. I'm hoping someone here may have some experience with the following radios and can help me understand what would be involved in setting each up the way I'm wanting (or whether it's even possible). My preference would be to use Linux, but I'm open to Windows if necessary (no Mac).  At this point I am primarily interested in CAT control functions.  I better understand now the difference between CAT and digital mode operation now, and while digital modes will likely also be something I will delve into down the road, CAT control is where I'd like to start.

Alinco DX-SR9T - the Alinco software looks great, but I don't know if I'm sold on Alinco as a brand.  Also, it's advertised as an HF SDR, by which I was a bit misled before I read more about the difference between CAT and SDR.  I'm concerned that, being designed as an "SDR", it may compromise too much from a hardware transceiver standpoint.
Icom IC-7200 - "ruggedized", so that might help with field days and such. Not sure if it's as CAT-friendly as the Alinco, but it appears to be the better radio.
Icom IC-715 - as good as the 7200?
Yaesu FT-450D - appears to be a very capable radio and also seems to be designed for some mobility.
Kenwood TS-480 SAT - I don't know much about this radio. I've kind of ignored it up to this point, as I don't think I would like "mushy" design of the buttons.

I'm open to other suggestions as well. I realize I've pretty much listed every viable option in my price range, but I'm hoping to get a better feel on how well each may be equipped for CAT control/apps.

Thanks.
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AA4PB
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« Reply #11 on: April 05, 2014, 10:56:02 AM »

The IC-7200 has a USB connector and a build-in sound card. You can run digital "sound card" modes with only a USB cable between the radio and the computer. The CAT control, which changes radio settings like frequency, mode, etc) also occurs over this same USB cable. No external interface boxes are required.

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W1JKA
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« Reply #12 on: April 05, 2014, 01:57:26 PM »

Two other advantages of the IC-7200, 1) No Internal antenna tuner, this will become obvious to you when experimenting with different homebrew antennas that may require higher tuning ranges or different output networks, these matching units(tuners) can be easily homebrewed. 2) No need to buy optional CW filters if you decide to get into CW seriously.
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KD9AQX
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« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2014, 09:02:59 AM »

So far the IC-7200 is looking pretty good from a features standpoint.  I've also seen very positive reviews of the FT-450D.

Does anyone have any more suggestions on used radios (a generation or two removed) that might show up within my budget, and I should consider keeping an eye out for?
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N2ADV
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Posts: 70




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« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2014, 09:34:26 AM »


The trouble is, what information I can find on the subject makes me think I need either a $3000+ radio with a wideband IF Out or a mass of cables and intermediate devices to accomplish what I'd like, which is simply a radio that facilitates full(ish) computer control, including an interactive band scope (click on a signal in the band scope to tune the transceiver to that frequency). I'd also like a waterfall display.


If you can do without the bandscope, you can use just about any rig for digital modes.  

I made a home-brew interface for a late 80's Kenwood TS440S and worked the world using PSK modes, RTTY, and JT65.  I also worked CW, and Phone modes.  You don't need a $3k rig to do that stuff!  The TS440S can be had for fairly cheap and does quite a  bit for PC control.  There is no IF out but a lot of the digi-modes use programs with their own waterfall displays such as through DM780 in the Ham Radio Deluxe suite (pre-6.0 versions of HRD are free).  I've seen TS440's go for $400-$500 if you jump on them quick.  Some of those rigs have issues (Google "TS440 Dot Problem) so you always need to watch out just like you would with any used rig. 

The TS480 I mentioned earlier was the next rig on my desk and it was practically made for digital modes.  If you are tech savy, you can tap the IF and add a bandscope but it's a bit of the PITA.  There are instructions all over the Internet showing how to do that.  Personally, I would start with a rig that has many of the functions right on the face.  The IC-7200 also mentioned doesn't have a bandscope but is also a good rig to use for digital modes.

Can you go right to the moon and spend a stupid amount of money on a rig?  Sure.  Will you have just as much fun with something far cheaper?  Absolutely.  I have an Elecraft K3 sitting in front of me as we speak but I have just as much fun using my 40+ year old Yaesu FT-101 along with the previously mentioned TS440SAT and TS480SAT.  Figure out what you want in a rig by getting on the air Smiley  
« Last Edit: April 22, 2014, 09:39:57 AM by N2ADV » Logged
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