Foundations of Amateur Radio #160:
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.
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
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