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Author Topic: R390 the best over all receiver?  (Read 43611 times)

Posts: 15

« on: September 23, 2013, 06:41:46 PM »

I worked with the R390 back in 1984 had a great set of ears if it was weak R390 would pull it in.  It was easy to operate and tune.  I'[ve had Icom's Kenwoods Heath kits Sony's and the old reliable R390 beat them hands down.  Anyone else have comments ?

Posts: 234

« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2013, 10:21:37 PM »

I worked with the R390 back in 1984 had a great set of ears if it was weak R390 would pull it in.  It was easy to operate and tune.  I'[ve had Icom's Kenwoods Heath kits Sony's and the old reliable R390 beat them hands down.  Anyone else have comments ?

Old rigs are great on receive audio. However, they simply don't have the selectivity or rejection of a modern IF DSP rig. There is no magic there.

I would put a generic Icom PCR-100 up against any vintage legacy tube rig on AM receive, with an external speaker.

Posts: 0


« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2013, 10:57:05 AM »

I have a R390A and Racal 17L are both great receivers, but to move in different bands and make quick changes of bands prefer the Racal, sensitivity is almost the same, but to tune is much nicer and easier the Racal, also I have a great tube receiver 75s3 and R-75, R-5000, JRC-525, but these great receivers have their charm.
73 de George Grin

Posts: 908

« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2013, 02:23:33 PM »

N9SWA, hi.
I've been a ham for 50 years now. (gosh, I AM an old fart!)
One of the things I collect, are receivers. Got a bunch, most from ePay in various stages of condition. (I always buy with the premise the radio is dead, less disappointments that way).
I don't have a 390, but I do have a '67 EAC 390A, that I was fortunate to stumble onto 10 years ago. I have heard many times that the 390 's filters sound better than the 390A.
However, when the 390A is properly aligned (no small task!!), and the tubes are 'hand selected', it can hear down to the galatic noise level. As you are well aware, atmospheric noise below 15 mhZ is one of the limiting factors in sensitivity. Since I live about 100 miles from the lightning capitol of the USA, it's a moot point. ha ha
I, just recently, had a power line noise issue resolved. It had been almost 10 years.... My noise was greatest on 50 mhZ where my station has the best performance and man made noise is still dominant. A lot of the 'low end' radios are OK below 15 mhZ, but start getting pretty deaf above that.
The 390s are NOT easy to tune. I have a Bendix R-1051B ($24K, new) that is very sensitive and a wonderful SSB receiver, but it's as wide as a barn door and not really 'tunable'. It's more of a fixed channel radio.

So, as probably one of my favorites is....a Collins 51J-3. Fantastic sensitivity. selectable b/w, easy to tune, etc. Yes, it's an old AM / CW radio, but there are several adapters out there, to add a Product Detector that make it a great SSB radio. The one I have has high quality 'dogbone caps' throughout and needed no cap replacement. I also have a Collins 75A-4 that was just the opposite!!!

Osterman had a great guide "Shortwave Receivers Past and Present" that I wore out, reading.

Have fun!!!


If you're not the lead sled dog, the view never changes......

Posts: 38

« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2013, 05:30:35 PM »

I worked with the R390 back in 1984 had a great set of ears if it was weak R390 would pull it in.  It was easy to operate and tune.  I'[ve had Icom's Kenwoods Heath kits Sony's and the old reliable R390 beat them hands down.  Anyone else have comments ?

  The R390 was a very nice and unique receiver.    I spent years behind a pair of them in the late 60's.  However I must disagree with the original poster.   Even in the late 60's  the early solid state ham gear ran rings around the R-390 capabilities.  I know because I did direct comparisons.

Ed   K7AAT

Posts: 744

« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2013, 07:15:44 AM »

Receives are like cars,  --- depends on what you want to use it for.  There is plenty of measurement info on receiver performance comparisons out there, modified R4Cs still hold their own on cw. 

Posts: 2630

« Reply #6 on: October 10, 2013, 01:34:20 PM »

Best is a subjective term and has been mentioned, it really depends upon what you want.

The R-390 is a early 1950's vintage receiver designed and made by Collins. It has LC filters in the IF deck for determining selectivity and does not have built-in SSB. It is a great receiver but also weighs in at around 60 pounds and has a few significant heat-generators for tubes.

The R-390A was a "cost reduced" redesign of the original R-390 designed by Collins and built by one of a dozen manufacturers. It uses Collins mechanical filters for the IF deck and it a bit sharper in selectivity but still, it is pretty wide compared to modern receivers. The audio may be a slight bit harsher sounding than the original R-390 due to the IF filters.

Another good receiver was the Hammarlund SP-600 or even the older SP-400 or SP-200 receivers that go back to right before WWII. You can say that the SP-600's, R-390 and R-390A were probably right up there at the pinnacle of tube-era receivers. If you go through and hand select tubes for an R-390A and really work at the alignment you can get the sensitivity down to -143 dBm. That is where you begin to be able to discern galactic noise (when the Milky Way rises).

I have a really rare variant of the R-390A with factory installed ceramic filters in the IF deck. It sounds "different" than the mechanical filters on the other R-390A or the LC filters on the R-390. None of the R-390(x) radios are fun to tune, you have a band switch that works in 1 MHz increments and then a second knob for tuning across that 1 MHz segment. The tuning dial looks like an old car odometer. There are lots of gears, cams, racks and sliders. When it is moving around in frequency there is this dance that the reluctance tuned inductors do (this uses variable inductors instead of variable capacitors for tuning).

While I love the R-390A for the mechanical magic, sensitivity and state-of-the-art design, the state-of-the-art moved on as tubes were coming to an end. I have Racals, Watkins-Johnson and Cubic receivers that can run circles around the R-390A. They all bring different things to the table and also have some disadvantages (some blindingly apparent).

There is a group of like-minded R-390 weirdos at
« Last Edit: October 10, 2013, 01:41:10 PM by AA4HA » Logged

Ms. Tisha Hayes, AA4HA
Lookout Mountain, Alabama

Posts: 537

« Reply #7 on: October 14, 2013, 08:01:32 PM »

I'll put my smaller, less power hungry, little KX3 up against any R-390 including special space-comms versions or spy versions any day of the week.  And I'll run it for a week on the power it takes just to warm up the R-390, before you even hear anything.

But it sure is fun to turn that dial and envision all the complicated engineering that went into that radio.  Sure, it's a dinosaur and the performance, filtering, and QRM-fighting features are crude by even 1970s standards, but it is still a really neat gadget and I still want one some day!

It's much like a vintage sports car.  Sure it's silly and impractical, and sure, it's slower than a new SUV and corners worse too, but it's just fun in a neat way.

Posts: 3190

« Reply #8 on: October 23, 2013, 08:46:21 PM »

Owned an R390A (EAC) and it was rebuilt according to Chuck Rippels notes, caps replaced including the recommended "death caps", It was fully aligned (stagger tuned) and even polished to a high luster shine in my shack. Smiley  

Perhaps I am going to come across as being verbose, but you asked a question, so I am going to attempt to provide as much detail as possible as I feel this will give you a well rounded answer to your question.

So here, I have done direct comparisons using the R390A with other receivers in my shack. This consisted of switching a coax switch, using the same antenna, with rigs all tuned on the same exact frequency, while flopping the switch on the fly, back and forth between various rigs and receivers in my shack until I practically wore out the coax switch.

It's also important to know that I also constructed an audio switch box I made which enabled me to switch all the receivers in the shack to use the same speaker setup in the shack. I wont go into too much detail about it's design, but it was a somewhat elaborate speaker setup (not car audio / stereo speakers) and it consisted of some large paper cone speakers, installed in large wooden enclosures that could easily discriminate the differences and for the most part and the speakers I used sounded great. I feel if you are going to compare something like this, you should probably ensure you are subjecting the equipment to the same antenna, frequency and speaker during your testing which I felt I was doing.

I compared the R390A to some other SW receivers. It basically blew away the Hammarlund in both sensitivity and sound quality. Same thing with a BC-348Q. But then, a BC 348Q is as wide as a barn door so that isn't really any surprise. The other SW receivers in the shack, both solid state and the heavy metal variety, are not even worthy of comparison, as the R390A was the clear winner in the consumer SW receiver comparison category.

Another receiver it was compared against was a General Dynamics R1051B. This is basically the military radio that eventually replaced the R390A as far as the Navy is concerned anyways. I found the R1051B sounded a little less "wide" on the receiver filter end of things. As far as sensitivity goes they were about the same really. As far as looks go, The R390A looks much more impressive and is actually easier to tune around on the bands than the idea of using all the selective dials to change frequency on the R1051B though. Guess you actually have to change frequencies on an R1051B to understand. Smiley      

Well enough playing around lets get serious.... I fired up the FT1000mp MkV and the R390A and tuned into a weak station on the Mark V.  The R390A struggled on SSB when the signal was fading in and out of the noise floor compared to the Mark V. The Yaesu could discriminate the signal much clearer in weak signal noise floor conditions.  It's not that the signal level was actually any better or that much worse on the R390A, it's just that the audio portion of the weak signal didn't sound  as "sharp" or "modernly processed" as the Mark V demonstrated.  It seemed like the R390A "knew" a signal existed, it just didn't know what to do with it to make it sound intelligible?

However, the R390A seemed quieter on receive on AM. There was less static at the noise floor. I also found "most" typical signals ranging from S3-S9 had a more robust and full sound on the R390A. The rice box, well.. sounded like a

Just for kicks, I also compared it to a Yaesu FT 817 and FT 847. The R390A can't fight adjacent signals as well as the MarkV does, but it holds up in this respect to the FT 817 pretty good. In fact, the R390A could actually hear better than the FT 817 did, especially when using the mechanical filters on the R390A. Keep in mind, the FT-817 I used had no filters, and it isn't known for it's superior receiver specs. anyways though.  

Similar to the Mark V,  the FT 847 actually pulled in signals better than the R390A did when signals were at the bottom of the s-meter, but there's something about the R390A audio that sounds better on normal signals. It has a richer tonal audio quality, but when the signals dipped down into the mud, both the FT847 and the Mark V could pull them out better although, it wasn't by a large margin. It seemed like anything less than 1 s-unit and below on the R390A wasn't going to be heard clear enough to receive. It's just the garbled existence of a voice heard mixed in with noise floor static on the R390A.  

However, the fidelity of AM shortwave signals seems to sound better on the R390A than the rice box rigs did. It has nothing to do with the receiver "specs. /sensitivity" or anything like that though. I think it had more to do with the actual "listening experience" than anything else.

I think people are trying to suggest the R390A is often just as good as many modern day receivers in terms of "specs". I would have to conclude the R390A is very good and even better when compared to many other SW receivers of a similar era,  but there is no way it's as good as a typical contest rig is today. So no, they really don't outperform modern rigs in reality as far as "specs" are concerned, however, if you ever used one, you would clearly understand that's really not the point of using an R390A anyways.

They DO however certainly outperform a modern rig in term of beauty and craftsmanship, when compared to a hunk of manufactured molded plastic sitting on a desk though. Smiley  

I think this is where the vintage car comparisons come into play. Vintage cars don't come equipped with XM radio, Onstar or even get good gas mileage for that matter. So comparing features, specifications and performance really isn't the point of owning a vintage car any differently.

Hope that helps.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2013, 09:45:07 PM by KC8VWM » Logged

Posts: 269

« Reply #9 on: December 04, 2013, 09:01:47 AM »

I have owned 2 R390A's and an R392 and I really miss them now. I don't miss the fact that I could hardly find anyone here that can work on them though.

Posts: 401

« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2013, 05:22:26 AM »

I would be interested in a comparison of the R390a to the Drake R8…  If you have the time, equipment and inclination, please share.


Posts: 3030

« Reply #11 on: December 06, 2013, 08:40:42 AM »

A rather silly thread. The OP disappeared immediately and only has three posts on EHam. He said he loved the [85 pound] R-390 because they worked great when he used one in 1984!. He even liked them better than Sonys!!!

More factual is this lab comparison involving 23 boat anchor classics:  Those tests focus on AM audio quality, one place where R-390s excel. Some venerated Drakes didn't score so well in that area. 

Another lab test of classic radios:

Posts: 2541

« Reply #12 on: December 06, 2013, 09:56:59 AM »

My Collins R-390A is at Chuck Rippel being restored as I write this.  Even though I restore certain boat anchors, I know my limitations.  I will reserve most comments until I get it back around the first of 2014.  Even before I sent it to Chuck, it was quite a receiver on the AM BCB and it could "hear" a 0.1uV CW signal up to 30MHz with no problem.  It "seemed" noticieably better than my ICOM 71A on SW but I did not run any specific teats.  I only imagine how well it worked VS other receivers of the 1950's.

Dick  AD4U
« Last Edit: December 06, 2013, 10:52:56 AM by AD4U » Logged

Posts: 554

« Reply #13 on: December 07, 2013, 04:12:38 AM »

 I have an R-390A and used it as a recreational bedside receiver for awhile (the wife's eyes popped when she first saw it, the receiver does that to people). It came with a metal cabinet and is attractive in it's machine-age way. I use the attic long-wire that came with the house.
 I have never tried an R-390, but have read about them. They are a different and esoteric animal than the 'A'. Mine was built by Imperial Electronics, ser #326.
 Rebuilding the receiver wasn't that difficult with the step-by-step color pictures and tutorial given in the website.
 I set the dial to 7.000 instead of 7.+000, so I indexed it wrong the first time doing the slug rack cam timing alignment until I realized my mistake.
 I had a cracked gear hub clamp that allowed the band-change switch to slip. I replaced the clamp, cleaned and re-lubed the gear-train components and replaced the death-caps at the same time.
 It is a complex operation, but can be done with regular hand tools, bench space and patience. I did make a long-handed bristol key to get down in there by slipping the tool bit into a length of brake tubing and crimping it securely. I used kerosene to wash and 75W-140 synthetic hypoid (differential) fluid as lube. The old lube had turned to a crusty smut.
 I spent 30 years servicing Chryslers and this didn't seem anymore different than rebuilding a 5-speed manual transaxle.
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