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Reviews Categories | Receivers: Commercial/Military/Marine adaptable to ham use | R.C.A. AR-88 Shortwave Communications Receiver Help


Reviews Summary for R.C.A. AR-88 Shortwave Communications Receiver
R.C.A. AR-88 Shortwave Communications Receiver Reviews: 4 Average rating: 5.0/5 MSRP: $$495.00 (1944, approx.)
Description: Classic WW2-vintage "boat anchor" general coverage shortwave receiver.
Product is not in production.
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K5UJ Rating: 5/5 Jan 3, 2015 04:34 Send this review to a friend
Valued addition to any phone/CW station  Time owned: more than 12 months
It's been a long time since a posted a comment on a piece of equipment here on eHam, but I saw the AR88 reviews and decided to weigh in. Over just about all my time as a ham, I never really cared for general coverage receivers, especially the kind with the separate main tuning and band spread. I won't get into evaluating the AR88s with the competition, because to be fair, comparing the AR88 series to most other receivers of the day isn't quite right because the 88s were a "cost no object" product for government lend-lease and RCA's Radio Marine commercial ship to shore stations. Most of the other sets manufactured at the time, had to meet a price point of some level of affordability for individuals. But once you get a look at the AR88 construction, you'll never look at other sets quite the same way.

Somehow I heard about the RCA AR88 line (more here: http://www.radioblvd.com/ar88.htm) and something told me that if I ever wanted to get a general coverage receiver, an AR88 would be the one to make an exception for. Without ever having heard one, or even seen one in person, I had a hunch. But, at 100 lbs., shipping was not an option except for the back seat of my car. I learned years later that when Ozona Bob bought two, they were shipped to him in crates. I knew that any attempt at sending one in a cardboard box would wind up with me owning a damaged set, so I was prepared to wait. Over time, 88s showed up for sale here and there, but always too far away for me to get to, usually somewhere way out west, or on the East coast. Eventually I gave up the idea of owning one and forgot about them.

One Saturday last year I was at the November Ft. Wayne Indiana hamfest walking around not looking for anything in particular and saving my money. I walked up one aisle and there on a table was a beautiful CR88 with manual. I couldn't believe it. It had the CL meter and I lifted the cabinet lid (the original cabinet with front panel edge covers) and it was clean inside and had the capacitor cover with thumb screws, and all the original RCA mushroom knobs. The owner's price was a tad high though. Meanwhile as I was looking, hams were wandering up and offering $300, $350, which were turned down. One guy said out of the corner of his mouth to me, "It's not worth over $300." I knew that was not true, if it was in good shape. I walked away and a battle started inside me, with one side trying to talk me out of it: "You can't afford it, one more thing to have to deal with at home, you don't need another project, you have receivers already," blah blah. The other side only had this vague worry that if I passed, I might never get another chance an 88 within driving distance of home. You don't see these things at hamfests every day. Over the next four hours or so I wandered about, frequently going back to the CR88 half hoping it would be gone and I'd be relieved of all this stress, but it was always there calling to me. Around noon, the guys I was at the fest with wanted to leave. An amazing thing happened. An ATM in the lobby of the exhibition center magically dispensed $400 and in a trance I went to the CR88 and offered the guy selling it $400. Next thing I knew, the son of one of my friends and I were carrying it out.

The first thing you have to know is that unless you are a NFL football player, or earn a living moving gun safes, you can't move one of these alone. They make just about any other receiver seem lightweight. One exception may be the Super Pro 10, but no one carries both it and its power supply at the same time. As soon as we got back to my friend's QTH in Indianapolis we put an antenna and speaker on the CR88 and fired it up. We couldn't believe how well it worked. Europeans operating AM were coming in on 10 meters. You could use the BFO to tune in SSB stations and the set drifted so little it only needed retuning about every half hour and then only a tiny tweak. Our speaker was a crummy computer speaker but I had an Electrovoice Aristocrat cabinet I had tuned for bass reflex, with a 12 inch RCA full range speaker inside. With that, the CR88's single ended 6K6 was indistinguishable from any push pull output and with the wide passband settings that only involved IF coupled filtering, the audio quality was excellent. Unlike most ham and communications receivers, RCA employed a feedback circuit from the secondary of the audio output transformer back to the driver stage. That single 6K6 provides more than enough distortion free audio to drive a pair of 12 inch speakers in parallel, each in its own cabinet.

What about the rest of the set. How about every tube socket ceramic, and a rotary band switch made with ceramic wafers, and polystyrene coll forms, and a power supply using not one but two filter chokes and oil caps. How about a receiver that is so well built you might get confused and think you are looking at the underside of a transmitter. Unlike some high-end vintage receivers, the 88s have a straightforward design and are pretty easy to work on. Oh, the dial scale is standard 1940s era "where am I" accuracy, but a few notes using the logging scale and you'll have your regular frequencies down pat. If you _have_ to have an accurate frequency display, the 455 kc converter makes it easy to add on a separate little cabinet with a "digital dial" to a tap on the local oscillator via some RG174 snaked out the back. The multi-tap potted power supply transformer has a tap for 125 v. meaning that in the U.S., a buck boost transformer isn't needed and the power supply is loafing, with the chokes and transformer almost cool to the touch. Then there's the gear reduction tuning, which means you'll never have another dial cord to restring.

See how a CR88 compares to other vintage receivers here: http://www.w1vd.com/BAreceivertest.html You will see it makes a fine showing compared to later receivers that are widely seen as boat anchor gold standards, and surpasses some sets having the highly regarded push-pull output, in distortion specifications.

If you are a radiotelephone (commonly known as AM) and CW operator and you see one, especially if it is in decent shape at a hamfest, don't take a pass on it. I have no regrets bringing mine home and you will not either.
 
G6NJJ Rating: 5/5 Dec 26, 2014 15:54 Send this review to a friend
Cant be 70 years old!!  Time owned: more than 12 months
Could,nt resist a comment on the venerable AR88d. I have two ,one that is used on an almost daily basis which is as steady as a rock after a short warm up, that I find is much more quiet than my 51j4 and another which is as new.The audio is incredible through the original speaker and is a joy to use .Resolving sideband is easy as long as you know how to drive it ,built to a standard not a price .73 Merv G6NJJ
 
K7WXK Rating: 5/5 Jun 16, 2011 07:40 Send this review to a friend
Great General Coverage Receiver  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I've joined the ranks of the boat anchor enthusiasts and I am not disappointed. The AR-88F that I acquired is in good working condition and needed only minor repair/cleanup, etc. It is extremely sensitive and dial accuracy is spot-on. It took me a couple days to clean and evaluate the rig, and I determined that a few minor changes had been made. The first RF tube had been changed to a miniature 6SK7, I presume to reduce the noise signature. I don't know if this improved it or not, but the signal to noise ratio is very good. The filter cans are leaking, but so far are fully functional. This will need some attention in the near future. The "F" model has the Diversity IF Gain control added to the front panel, otherwise it is the basic AR-88D. I compared its performance side by side with my FT-990 and the results were amazing. Every signal was equal to or greater than the same signal on the FT-990. SSB is no problem with the usual adjustment of the BFO and RF gain. I completed a calibration of the receiver and the dial is very accurate for such wide coverage. The calibration technique does require some patience and very careful adjustments, but the results were impressive. Of course the rig is built like a tank and very heavy. The "F" model was intended for rack mounting so it does not come with a cabinet. I plan to make a wooden box for it to finish it off. The tuning gear is very smooth with no slop. There is no S-meter since it is designed to work in conjunction with two other receivers through a master monitoring panel containing an S-meter. This is a typically over-built WWII era receiver that is in the same class and quality as the Collins R-388. I happen to have the Collins, too, and I think the Collins still has the slight edge, but it's mighty close. Definitely one of the elite of the boat anchor group.

Marc
 
VE3CUI Rating: 5/5 Mar 6, 2009 11:52 Send this review to a friend
Top Notch, Even By 2009 Standards!  Time owned: more than 12 months
It absolutely AMAZES me that no one has yet bothered to generate a review of this classic, venerable stalwart from WW2, the AR-88 --- and ALL of its derivatives...

I procured my 100-pound behemoth in the early 90's, for the princely sum of $150.00. I'd wanted one ever since I first saw photos of the AR-88 for sale in Montreal, courtesy of then "North American Electronics, Ltd.", in 1969.

This is one WW2-era receiver that can hold its own easily copying SSB on the 10-meter band. That's pretty advanced, considering its vintage. The construction is first-class all the way, too, and oh that glow from the radio dial! Mine has the rare S-meter, too, and is 100% stock --- it even has the factory-installed alignment rods and allen wrenches inside, too!

What a beautiful example of 1940's "...a-place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its-place" practicality & functionality. I just love this thing.

PS: I have PAGES of scanned literature specific to the rig: if anyone reading this would like to expand their personal AR-88 library, please let me know --- I'll be only too happy to share. ~73~ Eddy VE3CUI - VE3XZ (gswynar@durham.net)
 


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