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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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WB3HUH Rating: 5/5 Sep 17, 2006 21:33 Send this review to a friend
The best I have ever used  Time owned: more than 12 months
Started life as a SWL and am still at it. I have owned and or operated about 30 receivers in and out of government. There is none better than the R390A. Some have come close but none better.
N4EES Rating: 5/5 Sep 2, 2006 02:22 Send this review to a friend
The Mother of all Radios  Time owned: more than 12 months
It is a doubly unique radio because it is cherished as one of the very greatest receivers of the vacuum tube era, yet, it's fundamental performance specs have remained unsurpassed. I use mine nearly every day. Sometimes I use it with my Ten-Tec Omni-V as a secondary receiver on CW. In the fall I listen to LSU football on MW. For serious DXing it can hear EVERYTHING my Racal 6790GM and Rockwell HF-2050 can hear, and with less noise. With my KIWA MAP synchronous detector, AM performance is phenomenal. There is also an enthusiastic support group and a wealth of technical information available to the R-390a owner on the internet. If you find a nice one, buy it, collect two or three sets of spare tubes, and USE IT!!!
W8ZNX Rating: 5/5 Jun 20, 2006 13:07 Send this review to a friend
one of the greatests receivers ever made  Time owned: more than 12 months
in 50 years as a swl and ham
this is one of the greatest
receivers ive ever owned

use it 90% on cw, 10% am swl

some may not like filter slection

i very much like the filter slection

wonderfull radio
mine will be in the shack
till the estate sale


KG6AOH Rating: 5/5 Jul 6, 2005 22:05 Send this review to a friend
Simply the best  Time owned: 6 to 12 months
Currently own a Stewart Warner built R390A, but have also worked on an EAC model.

What can I say that has not already been said? My R390A hears things loud and clear that my fancy modern radios will not. There is no microprocessor in the R390A, so it does not produce its own internal noise, this is one QUIET receiver! Weak signals are a cinch to copy well. Assuming you are ina quiet area and have a good antenna system, you will be unbeatable on AM BCB DXing with an R390A.

Oh, one more thing... If your R390A has the capacitors with the glass beads on the ends, leave them in! If you have bumblebee caps or paper caps, replace all of them.
KE1MB Rating: 5/5 May 3, 2004 06:50 Send this review to a friend
Coolest radio ever.  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
Ok, Just bought a Steward Warner in really good condition. As far as I am concerned if you could afford to buy a modern day version of this box with these specs you would have enought money to put down on a small house. The specs are unlike anything. The magic in this radio, aside being very high on the boatanchor coolness factor with all it's gears, tubes, moving parts and radioactive pannel meters, has a lot to do with the tracking RF section and the collins filters. That tracking RF section makes this radio what it is. If you don't have that gear work you don't have this preformance. This radio has the abiltiy to pull stations right out from under the most powerful ones. These radios are getting to a age and status that modifing one is a bad idea. You destroy the collectors value if you drill holes. If you really feel you must do it, then grab a spare IF or AF deck and have at it, but keep the original parts untouched. The IF out on this rig is also great and should be used instead of a drill bit. It is much safer to cut and chop on a expermintal box that on a vintage radio. You can hear all the SSB,CW, FM, whatever you want with an external demodulator. If you cannot build your own the there are pleanty of premade boxes that will work. Hands down this is the coolest radio ever with preformace that will keep you hooked long after the newness of the radio fades.
W9LBB Rating: 5/5 Nov 9, 2003 02:22 Send this review to a friend
One of the Best of the Tube Receivers  Time owned: more than 12 months
This past summer, an era ended in my hamshack. I sold the last of my Collins R-390s at a hamfest.

After over 20 years of having the Collins Heavy Metal receiver in my shack and using the rigs on a daily basis, I finally got out of the R-390 / R-390A owners club.

I had a LOT of them; in all of those years I never had less than two of these beasts in the shack at any one time. For me, they were the ULTIMATE communications receiver, ever since I first heard about them back in high school from a fellow ham who'd just finished an Army hitch as an R-390 service tech.

Why did I get out of the R-390 club? Several reasons, really.

First of all, after a long search I finally found something that could match the performance of this magnificent old Cold Warrior, but in a lighter package, namely the high end Racal receivers. I've gotten hooked on high end Racal and Watkins Johnson receivers.

Next, I got tired of trying to constantly replenish my stash of R-390 and R-390A tubes to keep the rigs at maximum performance (the Racal and WJ stuff I have is all solid state).

Just the same tho... I should say that I'm only TECHNICALLY out of the R-390 club; as I think about it, I probably have enough spare subassemblies stashed away in my garage to build ANOTHER R-390A, should I choose to do so! Also, I still own a couple of the cousins of the R-390; an R-389 LF / VLF version of the series, and an R-392, the mobile version of the rig.

Just the same tho, if what I perceive as "better" receivers hadn't come along, I'd still have a bunch of these rigs around. They were the best you could get anywhere in thier day, and if you keep them in good tubes and well aligned and maintained they're STILL outstanding HF receivers.

When Collins first designed and built the R-390 series in the early 1950s they were pushing the envelope of vaccuum tube receiver technology. The design completely rejected 30 years of design tradition and blazed new trails by using permeability tuning instead of multisection variable capacitors for resonating LC circuits. The resulting front end design maintained much better selectivity and rejection of nearby signals than had previously been possible.

Mechanically, the receiver's tuning mechanism is a nightmare of gears, cams, and gadgets to make all of those perm tuned coil racks track properly. The main tuning dial is heavy and stiff because of all the mechanical hardware it has to move. This rig ain't a cruising receiver, it's much better used sitting on one frequency. In my shack that was it's main job, keeping watch on RTTY and ARQ digital circuits, and the rig did it WELL; frequency stability is incredible!

On the air I'm mostly a CW operator, and an R-390 or R-390A is almost perfect for the job.

These rigs will do an OK job on SSB without the external adaptor, but you have to work at it a bit harder; the R-390 series doesn't have a product detector. The name of the game is ride the RF gain.

It's on AM that that R-390 series REALLY shines! I do a lot of that on 160 metres, plus a good bit of DXing on the AM broadcast band, and these rigs are a first class bit of weaponry for the purpose.

I won't really miss my R-390As, but they WILL be fondly remembered. I just hope that their new owners appreciate what they've bought, and keep them going well into this new century.


Tom, W9LBB

W5WLA Rating: 5/5 Nov 23, 2002 14:57 Send this review to a friend
The Best  Time owned: more than 12 months
85 pounds and 27 tubes of American design and manufacturing excellence. Runs neck and neck with my AOR 7030+, mine is a restored unit by Chuck Ripple, the guru of 390's. I have complete tube replacement sets, etc. Keeps the room warm in the winter. Amazes people when I flip the cloth cover back and present the Best.
K7NG Rating: 4/5 Nov 21, 2002 22:32 Send this review to a friend
I'll be honest...  Time owned: more than 12 months
I spent a lot of time inside R-390A's while I was in the Navy - and I managed to get enough time USING them as well as MAINTAINING them to have some learned opinions.

Bulletproof. They were designed first and foremost to be able to work in the vicinity of a lot of high power RF emitters. Thus the wonderful (and tough to work on) tunable RF and IF filtering.
Superb metering. The audio (VU) meter and the IF (Microvolt) metering is accurate and with ideal time constants.
Stable. The VFO isn't synthesized or anything but it is stable enough in the short term to be useful witn any mode. Frequency accuracy isn't perfect though so those of you that are used to the synthesized boxes shouldn't take the readout as 'gospel'...

SSB performance - Please remember that these receivers were designed in the days where 2.6 KHz-wide SSB was rare and the mode of choice for military comms was AM or single-carrier RTTY with wide shift. SSB reception isn't perfect due to (a) filter widths don't match the signal bandwidths; (b) An envelope detector rather than a product detector; (c) IF-derived AGC doesn't react well without a carrier to work with. Add the CV-591A/URR "SSB Demodulator" and THEN you have something!
Oscillator noise - We have been spoiled in the last few years by the extreme low-noise performance of NCO-based, synthesized, radios. The older free-running VFO's, even the superbly stable Collins PTO's, were...noisy. Part of the 'raspy' audio you might hear on a CW or RTTY signal thru an R-390A is oscillator noise, and some of it is the distortion generated out of an envelope detector.
Power consumption - 350W...Need I say more? You can keep a hamshack warm in the winter with one, though.

Don't get me wrong, as one of two generations of military and naval veterans who were hams/SWL's too, who may have had access to R-390's, I really did love the old dog. But in most specs they can no longer stand up to the modern gear. (The Navy started using the R-1051() BECAUSE the R-390 didn't have the stability/selectivity/perfect freq accuracy/product detector they needed). Unless you have a neighbor with a big linear and antenna, in which case, dust off the '390 and go for it.

An addendum to my review -
(Please correct this if it is in error, with your own posts)
The ORIGINAL R-390 (NOT the "A") was indeed made by Collins. These were manufactured to an Army/AirForce contract. All the R-390"A" receivers I ran into (Navy) were made not by Collins but by Stewart-Warner, to a Navy specification. Some but not all the internals were identical. The fabulous PTO (VFO) was still a Collins part. I saw only two R-390 "non-A" receivers while I was in the service, and I did see that the tuning rack components were not identical.
I doubt if there was any significant difference in performance between the two flavors.

Dave K7NG
KC0GVT Rating: 5/5 Jun 18, 2002 11:26 Send this review to a friend
The King of Receivers !  Time owned: more than 12 months
I have this receiver for more than 10 years now, I have never seen ANY sanely priced product perform as well as the R-390A/URR. Looks awesome too ! Has the personality of a "KING".

Unlike the first review where the mechanical wonder of this equipment was criticised, I love working with this radio. I wish and eagerly wait for the time to come to tune and allign it again - which rarely comes ! I have changed almost all capacitors though - just for fun. I have ripped it open (even the vfo) - for tuning and maintenance purpose which it rarely needs and it still works as great as it ever did.

This radio is a pleasure even if its not working -that is if you know how to make it work.

KL7KN Rating: 3/5 Mar 26, 2002 02:21 Send this review to a friend
Military heavy weight  Time owned: more than 12 months
I spent a lot of years in military radio maintenance - not playing (operating) the rig, fixing them. The R390 is a nice rig but has more gears than a Ford tranmission! Tuning the bands is a pain due to the mech "digital" dial.
For monitoring a fixed service, good stuff, for SWL, pretty marginal.
It's granddad, the R388/URR (Collins 51J4) much better choice and much easier to work on. Rebuilt several while in Korea (1976) and they still (last I heard)are chug'n along - very stable and sensitive with great filters.
Yes, I have 3 R390s (in storage) and have had them in daily use - for MARS work. Good rig, much better is out there from a maintenance standpoint.
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