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Reviews Categories | Receivers: Commercial/Military/Marine adaptable to ham use | Collins designed R-390A Help

Reviews Summary for Collins designed R-390A
Collins designed R-390A Reviews: 25 Average rating: 4.8/5 MSRP: $300-600 used
Description: Military type receiver with .540 to 30 mHz receive. More a AM/CW based receiver which performs well on SSB while reducing RF gain control. Extremely heavy, electron tube based design. Collins designed with different manufacturers.
Product is not in production.
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SWL377 Rating: 5/5 Sep 14, 2017 12:03 Send this review to a friend
Super HF Receiver  Time owned: more than 12 months
I have at various times owned R 390, R 390A, R 391, and R 392. They are all GREAT. I actually have a fondness for the much cheaper R 392s as they are featherweight and compact compared to those back breaking and obese larger cousins. They lack mech filters but still do a fine job using LC filter circuits, but they won't split hairs like the mech filters in the 390A can do. I crank up the plate voltage in R 392s for higher stage gains, but keep the filaments at 24-28VDC. The R 390A is the final rendition of this line and it is a truly remarkable radio. Aftermarket product detectors make it even better for SSB. I run mine through a very pricey Sherwood synch detector box and the sound quality on AM and SSB is just remarkable. hard to believe what an improvement that box makes.
Stability once warmed up is superb and the reliability is good once you have replaced a few radio killer old caps. Prices seem to be falling as all the old timers fill their wish lists. Newbies don't want big tube radios and think that their USB stick SDRs do a fine job with infinitely variable filters etc. They don't understand what a good front end is and most inexpensive SDRs REALLY fall short in that area. I recently saw a meterless but otherwise very nice R 390A languish on Craigslist for $200. I recently bought a second (Motorola mfd) R 390A that was gone through, had all the bad caps replaced and had very light torque tuning, something that is hard to achieve. Price? $320. People still ask crazy prices (eg $600 up for stock radios, not OHd by Mish or Rippel) but I doubt they are getting many buyers. I have seen R390As totally OHd by Rick Mish and they are stunning in every respect including light tuning torque. Museum quality. It costs a lot but he does a lot of work. One day I might send one of my radios in for a makeover.
XE1ZLG Rating: 5/5 May 14, 2016 19:13 Send this review to a friend
Collins gear is out of these world.  Time owned: more than 12 months
Hard to say which is better in performance between Collins R392 and Collins R 390A.... The first ( R 392 ) is more sensitive, has very low noise and has very natural deep sound... It is built like a tank and very compact... The second ( R 390A ) has excellent crossmodulaion resistance, better filter shape factor and many usage options R 392 does not has ( diversity receive ).... Here in my Qth coupled to 40 meter delta loop both performs almost equal... Both radios has been alligned and has new tubes.


NO Other radio even come close... The best of the best. Need to try an R 390 ( not A )

KA5IXE Rating: 5/5 Apr 10, 2014 08:25 Send this review to a friend
Great Boatanchor  Time owned: more than 12 months
I have owned a Collins R-390A for years. Great to have a radio I can fall back on.
That radio was built to last.

AD4U Rating: 5/5 Jan 14, 2014 06:31 Send this review to a friend
Simply The Best  Time owned: 6 to 12 months
I was given a Collins R-390A receiver when a friend went to assisted living. I used it for a couple of months and thought it worked quite well, but I wondered if it would benefit from an alignment. When I removed the covers and looked inside, I knew alignment or restoration was out of my league.

Since it was "free" I decided I could (should) spend some $$$ and get it restored. Off it went to Chuck Rippel in Virginia. Chuck spent two months disassembling, cleaning, lubing, replacing defective parts, re-assembling, then completely aligning and "burning in" my R-390A.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE! I compared it to an ICOM 71A, a Hammarlund HQ-180A, and the receivers in a Kenwood TS-930S, a Kenwood TS-2000, and a Yaesu 9000. NONE of these receivers can come close to the performance of the R-390A. No wonder this receiver was "classified" until the 1980's.

If you even get a chance to acquire one, do not hesitate. If you have the $$$ send it to Chuck Rippel for an electridcal restoration and alignment. You will not be sorry.

Dick AD4U
STEVEQ Rating: 5/5 Feb 6, 2012 05:43 Send this review to a friend
I am back after a year  Time owned: more than 12 months
Wanted to update my review of the Collins R390A. My listening shack has a RACAL mil spec, Collins 75-S1, Icom R71A, several Drakes........ The R390A is simply the best, hands down. Helpful hint, let the old man warm up for an hour or two, yes I did say that long......... this will let this outstanding rig shine like no others

All of the other rigs are sensitive but the R390A tops the list, there is no better rig. Yes it is old design but what a design ..... still waiting for someone to invent a better filter than the ones in the R390A
KX7P Rating: 5/5 Dec 7, 2010 23:30 Send this review to a friend
THE BEST CLASSIC RECEIVER  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I have been a HAM for 25 years. Before that I was a SWL for many years. I have used many receivers over the years. This is the best!!!

This receiver is huge and heavy, but built to the highest standards. Nothing is built like this anymore.

The receiver is exteremly sensitive. I pull out signals I never thought existed before. I often use my R 390A to receive an AM commercial broadcast station Los Angeles, California, whichi over 200 miles away. I can receive the station 24/7, which I can't do on any other receiver I have ever owned before.

The audio from this receiver is very rich and full, unlike most modern solid state receivers.

My R-390A is about 40 years old and still works great. A solid receiver that I'll never part with.

VK3DWZ Rating: 5/5 Apr 26, 2009 23:44 Send this review to a friend
A Classic  Time owned: more than 12 months
Got mine 21 years ago, and it's still going strong!

Smooth, excellent audio (after you perform Mr. Rippell's audio mod.); superb sensitivity when you use the 4kc/s (Mechanical) Filter and excellent sensitivity.

Every night, I tune mine to 9975kHz, Voice of Korea in Pyongyang broadcasting to East Asia, and enjoy their 'excellent' programs. Reception is ofter of 'local' quality -- not bad for a transmission from D.P.R.K.

The word 'classic' is overused these days, but in this case it is a title richly deserved.

I have owned many other receivers in the past, but the 'Collins' R-390A easily surpassed them all.
WL7AWC Rating: 5/5 Jul 26, 2008 22:13 Send this review to a friend
All Time Heavyweight Champ!  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I maintained and repaired thousands of these as a Ground Radio Repairman (AFSC 304x4) in the USAF Electronic Security Command. They can still outperform just about any receiver you care to name -- If they're properly maintained. I never considered the maintenance routine exceptionally difficult - with the possible exception of replacing the 10-step RF switch (which is unscheduled maintenance)... and, the spring loaded two piece gears can give you a fit. But both are doable once you've done it a few times. As far as alignment, follow the 84 and 168-day PMI workcards and you can't go wrong.
It's entirely possible to get ridiculous sensitivity numbers - like MDSs of -143 dBm or so; and I've seen noise figures in the immediate vicinity of 4 dB. The replacement for the R-390A, the R-2174 (Racal 6790GM) has a typical NF of 13 dB and there's not a lot you can do to improve it, so the R-390A comes out on top here too. The VFO was primarily made by a Chicago company called Cosmo Electronics so most R-390s, regardless of contractor (Collins, Stewart-Warner, Capehart, Motorola, Teledyne, and several others) had the same VFO. Since it was built to spec's, there were no major differences in the radios produced by the various manufacturers, although most of us thought the Collins manufactured units were superior - but that could've been snob appeal.
So, what do I think of the R-390A? I'd love to have one! It's one of the best radio designs ever and it wasn't in service intercepting signals for over 30 years for no reason, so that's testament enough as to it's capability. Long Live The King!
KB1OKL Rating: 5/5 Nov 25, 2007 16:15 Send this review to a friend
The best.  Time owned: more than 12 months
I bought my first one several years ago, was advertised as being a "no issues" radio, well it had plenty when I got it including overloading, dead bands, no AGC etc. I had never worked on one before and wasn't going to start with this one. I sent it out to Chuck Rippel who did an excellent job with it, his work is well worth having him do it. The PTO is within 200 cycles from end to end, you can turn the kilocycle change knob with your little finger (no 390A wrist with this one), it's quiet, sensitive, selective and sounds good and I'm a musician (had his audio mods done also) I run it into a big SX-28 speaker. I'm also a BCB DXer and with the mechanical filters you can tune a bit past the split frequency stations and the hets disappear and the station is still intelligible, for example you want to hear 1521 Saudi Arabia which is next to powerhouse WWKB NY and is common here on the East coast, you put the 2 Kc filter on and tune it a bit beyond 1522 and WWKB drops right out of the bandpass and the het is gone. It's also very stable on SSB although I'm an AMer and is a great SWL radio too. it's my main receiver for both hamming and DXing and I own many receivers. They actually have a very logical layout and are probably easier to fix than many other anchors. Mine is a Capeheart who made all those lousy SS console stereos back in the 60's, they did a good job with these though. I now have a Motorola R-390A which I plan on getting to soon along with two Collins 390's which I'm now tangling with.
K9CTB Rating: 5/5 Dec 22, 2006 03:11 Send this review to a friend
Always been great  Time owned: more than 12 months
Ah, I remember these things. I worked on them when I was in the navy. I thought they were great receivers even before the "Yups" got ahold of them. Yes, kids, they were "cool" even before you sent the prices through the roof! Same thing happened to Harleys and VW bugs......"Oh these are SO cool!" Dude, they've always BEEN just GOT here. I have owned two others in the late 1980s and let them go.....I have been sorry every since.....but recently acquired another one with the Motorola plate on it and it will stay right here in the shack.

R-390s are very high-maintenence rigs to be sure, but well worth it. As I remember, fooling with the incredibly complicated gearset was a no-no unless you were a certified "gear-head". We had one such person on the ship, and he was quite a wizard when it came to slipping the gears in order to get the slugs to track properly. Once set however, there really was no need to adjust them ever unless they somehow became jammed. Dropping an R-390 would do would dropping a piece of hardware into the gearset and then expecting an RM to tune it. Guaranteed disaster. Other reviewers mention it, but it really is important to keep the R-390 tubes fresh. If you have no other tube-type gear and are thinking of buying a '390, I highly recommend purchasing a mutual conductance tube tester as well. The cheap, boil-test "tube testers" that you can find in the $100 range will NOT DO. Find something that Hicock made for the military....even a TV-7 is better than the drug-store tester. Really a must. If you're a tube fan already, you know what I mean.

Most of the really good reviews here seem to be from CW ops. Makes sense. Just as CW takes a good dose of self-discipline to master, so too, does the R-390. It's a very stable rig for SWLing, CW work or just general monitoring. Even without the SSB converter, you can copy SSB comfortably using only the BFO and a bit of filtering. That alone ought to tell you volumes about the stability of the R-390. One would never be able to stay sane while trying to copy a SSB signal with a BFO that drifts all about the place. I have actually copied MUSIC using the BFO as a SSB detector.....not too bad, really!

All of this, plus the fact that the radio design, if not the radio you actually have, is over 50 years old......makes this POSITIVELY a "5"!

73 all.
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