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Reviews Categories | Receivers: Commercial/Military/Marine adaptable to ham use | Watkins Johnson 8718A Help

Reviews Summary for Watkins Johnson 8718A
Watkins Johnson 8718A Reviews: 7 Average rating: 5.0/5 MSRP: $750+
Description: Formerly Govt Surveillance Receiver
Product is not in production.
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VU3MES Rating: 5/5 Jun 1, 2016 02:38 Send this review to a friend
TOP OF THE LINE RADIO  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I had been searching for an 8718A for a long time and at last got one couple of days back from a seller in China, of all places. The rig is in excellent condition but for some knobs which looks slightly worn out. Luckily I could locate a matching 9903E amplified speaker and a set of NOS tuning knob and other two knobs from Turkey, which are getting replaced. Performance is just awesome, exceeding my expectations especially on hf ssb. Great for my HF ssb Air traffic monitoring options, picking up everything from Manila to Mogadishu. Best used in manual gain control and the RF gain pulls in the weak ones clear. AM BC stations on 16kbz filter is just superb. Overall my dream radio is in my shack and I am thrilled.
K3ROJ Rating: 5/5 Feb 22, 2011 14:15 Send this review to a friend
A Grand Receiver  Time owned: more than 12 months
Top of the line this receiver is for sure. The tuning knob is like driving a new Cadilac. The stability is great. Just so happens I saw an ad where a ham radio operator is selling one:
N1KPR Rating: 5/5 May 25, 2009 07:41 Send this review to a friend
Near the Top  Time owned: more than 12 months
The title says it all. It's not the absolute, current best, but very close to it. And considering its vintage, its features, and characteristics, its pretty close to the top of the heap. With the WJ-8711 and (Tentec) RX-340 not withstanding (and for other reasons, the Racal RA6790/GM), it probably is the top receiver, in my self-serving mind.
Over the years. I have restored several Watkins-Johnson 87XX-series radios. The WJ-8716 is the basic unit of that clan, which for all realistic intents and purposes, is the father and work horse of the series. Following that was the WJ-8718 and the “A” and "-9" version. These sons-of-royalty added ISB detection and tuning down into the LF and VLF bands.
The radio I currently use, a WJ-8718A-9, is the mutt of the lot - a real mongrel. It is a mixed parted, soldered, drilled, glued, riveted, painted and re-polished bastard ... and I love it. It originally came to me as a “demilled”
Governmental Security Agency dumpster-filler. But with some midnight surgery, several dozens of hours of rehab, and a lot of motherly TLC, she
was given a second life. The last time I felt like this about an object was when I first laid my eyes upon that basket case 1961 Corvette that badly needed my fiberglass and Chevy engine expertise, but that was more than 45 years ago. I suppose these inner spiritual emotions don’t come along too many times in one’s lifetime.
This puppy is now essentially a WJ-8718A. I added a small 7 watt audio amplifier and speaker jack, along with a 600 to 8 ohm transformer, so that
either output could drive an external speaker or low impedance headphones. I also added an LED meter lighting board that matches the
yellow LED frequency display.
So why do I crow so proudly about this 20+ year-old parts radio? Well, for one thing, it’s a Watkins-Johnson. Is that enough said? Okay, here’s some of the bullet points:
* Dead quiet noise floor. I don’t know the exact MDS (minimum discernible
signal), but it’s got to be somewhere near the -140 (something) dB level. It is quiet!
* The ergonomics couldn’t be better. Usually, commercial receivers don’t offer the niceties found on hobbyist receivers and Ham Radio rigs, like IF Shift, noise blankers, notch filters, variable passband shaping, and tone
controls, and this case is no different. But the necessary controls are located and executed perfectly.
* Along side the Cadillac-feeling tuning knob and encoder control are the (Schadow type) push buttons for tuning step selection; 10Hz, 100Hz, 1kHz, 10kHz, and lock. No matter what you are trying to fine-tune in a particular band, or where in the HF spectrum you need to zoom to, there’s a “step” button for your joy.
* In the middle of the front panel are two rows of the same kind of buttons. One is for mode-six of them-and the other for bandwidth. The W-J offers five superb IF filters at 16kHz, 8kHz, 3.2kHz, 1kHz, and 300Hz. They are tight, have great skirt ratios.
* AGC is selected by another three push buttons, the ISB mode by two more and the meter reads audio or RF level via two more buttons.
* There is a clever BFO 3-digit thumb wheel decoder switch, sometimes referred to as “odometer switch,” to tell you exactly where you have set the oscillator.
Whether listening to the local traffic and weather station before work, or relaxing with a delightful cocktail while surfing 41 meters during the hours of darkness, this sweetheart is always a pleasure to share your life with.
WI0H Rating: 5/5 Aug 11, 2008 10:54 Send this review to a friend
The Ferarri of Comminications Receivers  Time owned: more than 12 months
This rig has been my main receiver for about two years now, and it still amazes me. It's everything a good radio should be: simple to use, highly selective, and very sensitive. Combine it with some fantastic audio and you have a real keeper. I run mine through the headphone jack into an old Acoustic Research amplified speaker and it sounds beautiful.

No, there's no notch filter, IF shift, DSP, synch detector, or any of those other bells and whistles. You won't miss them either. Between it's razor sharp filters and Independent Sideband, you can navigate your way through any crowded band you choose. I can even listen to WTIC on 1080 and barely even notice the flame throwing WBAL on 1090, something my Drakes and Icoms can't even think about doing.

Whether it's DXing the ham bands, tuning in AFRS broadcasts on sideband, or catching the news on Radio Australia, this rig shines everywhere you turn the dial. If it can be heard at your QTH, this radio will deliver the goods.

It seems as though these radios are becoming a lot more common than they were a few years ago, which is making them a real bargain. I recommend you take the plunge and grab one.

Best radio I've ever owned.
W9LBB Rating: 5/5 Sep 20, 2005 12:06 Send this review to a friend
An AN/URR74(V)2 is just a WJ 8718A in a US Navy uniform!  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I wound up buying KA9P's receiver (Hello Scott!), and I have to second most of his comments on it.

This is my first Watkins Johnson, after rather extensive experience with Racal premium receivers.

EXCELLENT stability, ditto sensitivity, with quite good large signal handling / intermod / overloading characteristics (and I've got a directional AM broadcast station practically in my back yard!).

The negatives here are minor ones at most, and many are matters of operator taste.

Be advised that the AN/URR74 version has a different rear panel than the 8718; instead of the 8718's screw terminal strips, the AN/URR74 is fitted with water resistant MIL spec military connectors. FINDING the proper mating connector is possible; they're still a current number, but bought from the usual sources they're VERY expensive! There are a few amateur type sources available, so they CAN be found somewhat more reasonably priced (I found one for $20.00). Best $20.00 I've ever spent; it makes life a WHOLE lot easier.

The external audio amplifier CAN be dispensed with, but it takes a little bit of doing... and that connector, if you're going to do it right.

I assume that Scott was driving the external amp with the "headphone out" pins of the connector. That works OK.

Exploring the manual some, I was a bit shocked to note that the "line level" (600 ohm) audio output is variable by a rear panel potentiometer to a level of almost +23 DBM (almost 2 watts)!

That must be one HELL of a line that they were driving with it!

To dispense with the external amplifier, I made up a rack mounted speaker panel with a 600 / 8 ohm transformer on it, along with an 8 ohm T-pad.

It seems a bit odd and awkward at first to use the external T-pad to vary speaker volume, but it works out quite nicely once you break yourself of the habit of instinctively going for the receiver mounted HEADSET volume control.

The second complaint is a matter of taste, really. Before buying the radio a buddy of mine warned me that I'd find the rig to be a bit "boring"; HE owns the 8718MFP (microprocessor front panel) version of the radio, which has a whole lot more bells & whistles than this rig. After playing with both his rig and mine, I can agree with him to an extent; sometimes it's nice to have things like memories and scanning available, but for me that's not a real biggie. The non-MFP version is clean, simple, and basic, and that's how I like my receiving equipment. Your mileage may vary, of course.

A word of warning to those considering using this rig as the ham station's main receiver. Like MANY premiums, this was designed as a SURVEILLENCE receiver, and was NEVER INTENDED to be used as the receiving side of a communications setup.

That means that there's NO reciever muting terminals on the radio! And as far as putting this low noise, highly sensitive front end in close proximity to a transmitter is concerned, I'd have some distinct trepidation. Caveat Emptor on that one, Y'all!

My final complaint is in the area of VLF performance. The range of 5 - 15 KHz gets a bit difficult due to microprocessor noises, apparently coming from the local control module (i.e., maint tuning dial, which is option in the series) popping up across this range. Bear in mind tho that this is ONLY a problem in the EXTREME bottom end of the VLF range, and won't be a problem for anyone EXCEPT those nuts who prowl around in radio's basement, like me! ;o)

A very SERIOUS recommendation to new 8718 / URR74 owners; as soon as you get your sweaty little paws on your "new" radio, IMMEDIATELY remove the memory battery from the dial controller PC board, replace it by putting in a 12" pigtail lead, and attach that pigtail to a 2.4 VDC cordless telephone battery from your friendly neighborhood Rat Shack. Attach said battery to the rear panel with a hunk of Velcro.

The original DATAGUARD battery has a strong tendency to leak, and it can damage the dial controller board severely.

Scott had removed the battery, and initially I was under the impression that it was still there because there's a capacitor in the memory float circuit that is adequate to "float" the memory (dial setting information) for up to 5 minutes.

The battery replacement is a 15 minute job at the worst that costs under 15 bucks, so JUST DO IT!!! If you don't, you'll be VERY sorry later!

Overall... I'd have to call these rigs very competent and dependable surveillence receivers, as witnessed by the fact that the US Navy allegedly still uses them aboard EP-3 electronic ferret aircraft.

I give the entire WJ 8718 series 5 stars all the way.


Tom, W9LBB
KA9P Rating: 5/5 Apr 26, 2004 22:42 Send this review to a friend
Outstanding  Time owned: more than 12 months
Running a Navy version of this phenomenal radio and it just sounds fantastic.

I don't know what they did with the audio, but with a decent set of headphones SSB sounds better than on just about any radio in the shack, bar none.

I second all the positive comments of the first review (although I've got it in a grey cabinet) and can say that if my HF1000A could sound that good, well, ..... If pigs could fly........

If I had to struggle to find something negative to report, I'd say the run time meter is noisy and better disconnected, and running through an outboard audio amp is a bit of a nuisance, but what a pleasant surprise this radio turned out to be.

DAROBIN Rating: 5/5 Jan 8, 2004 02:41 Send this review to a friend
Fantastic HF Battletank  Time owned: more than 12 months
Those familiar with the line of receivers by Watkins Johnson, which has now been sold about 138 times to other companies, will know about the 8718A.

Manufactured for, and purchased mostly by, government agencies, it's a fantastic receiver -- quiet, with Collins filters. No frills here -- although it has ISB (with LSB/USB options within ISB) and every other mode one would need, it's a straightforward machine.

The huge tuning knob is smooth as silk, and the LED's are just fantastic. This is a quiet radio -- compared to the more recent digital wonders, it just pulls in the DX.

I obtained two of these in a USG auction overseas, and sold one, but kept the other. Put one of these in a custom black cabinet and you have a thing of beauty.

The 8718A also was manufactured with a microprocessor front. These are exceedingly rare, however (see Osterman book for more info).

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