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Foundations of Amateur Radio #160:

from Onno VK6FLAB on June 30, 2018
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How to get the best Amateur Radio gear?

A recurring question for new entrants to our hobby, and truth be told, some experienced ones as well, is: "What's the best hand held to buy?", or the best antenna, or the best base station, the best coax, the best mount, the best software, the best something.

There's a principle in Engineering, Good, Fast and Cheap, pick any two. You can have Good and Fast, but it won't be Cheap. You can have Fast and Cheap, but it won't be Good. You can have Good and Cheap, but it won't be Fast. The concept of Quality is balanced between these limits.

With that in mind, answering the question in search of the best is already a trade-off.

To muddy the waters further, there is an economic principle related to pricing. It goes a little like this.

If you sell an amateur radio gadget for $50, there's a group of people who will buy it. There's a group of people who would have paid more for the same thing and a group of people who can't justify $50. If you make the price higher as a manufacturer, say $75, you'll get more money from some people, but the group of people who can't justify the price will get larger, so you'll sell less gadgets. If you make the price $25, you'll sell more gadgets, but you won't capture the income from those who were prepared to pay $50 or $75.

So, as a manufacturer, you make three gadgets, one for $25, one for $50 and one for $75. They're all essentially the same, but the market will lap it up. Of course, between $25 and $50, there's a group of people who would have been happy to pay more, etc. etc. Ad-infinitum.

That's our amateur radio gadget market place today. The price points might not all be taken up by the same manufacturer, but the market price for say a hand held radio goes from somewhere around $40 to over $1200. You'll find the range completely filled with offers. As an aside, your local telco is doing the same thing, as is your mobile phone manufacturer, your internet service provider and your car manufacturer to name a few.

So, now what?

We're looking for the best gadget.

Since you're going to be the one using it, your definition of best is going to be different to my definition. I care about my hand held being waterproof, but I don't care about having a torch, a compass, a thermometer or a GPS on board. You might want to take it hiking, where I'm more likely to use it on a field-day.

This means that asking another amateur, "What's the best?", is a recipe for discussion. Some will be adamant that their selection is superior to that of another amateur, but you should now already know that this is completely subjective.

If you go down the scientific route, you might use receiver sensitivity as a metric. If that's all you care about, the choice is easy, list them all by sensitivity and pick the one that's the most sensitive, but the battery life might be abysmal, or it might not use the frequency you care about, or it might have some other extra function you are paying for, but don't care about.

We get down to picking from a list. If you're anything like me, and let's face it, we're all amateurs here, you'll get to a point of making a list of the options you have. Selecting the best antenna, the best power supply, the best base station, hand held, mobile, car, service contract, you name it, it always comes to a list.

Here's how to pick.

Is option A better than B? Yes? Remove B. Is option A better than C? No? Remove A. Is option C better than D? No? Remove D. Is C better than E?, etc, etc.

You might be concerned about the ones that you've removed. You already decided that there was a better option than the one you removed, so ignore them, they're just muddying the water.

If you want to ask another amateur what they bought and why, that's a whole field of exploration, but if you ask them what's the best gadget, that's just asking for trouble.

I'm Onno VK6FLAB

To listen to the podcast, visit the website: and scroll to the bottom for the latest episode. You can also use your podcast tool of choice and search for my callsign, VK6FLAB, or you can read the book, look for my callsign on your local Amazon store, or visit my author page:

If you'd like to participate in discussion about the podcast or about amateur radio, you can visit the Facebook group:

Feel free to get in touch directly via email:, or follow on twitter: @vk6flab (

If you'd like to join the weekly net for new and returning amateurs, check out the details at, the net runs every week on Saturday, from 00:00 to 01:00 UTC on Echolink, IRLP, AllStar Link and 2m FM via various repeaters.

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