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Reviews For: Heathkit SB-102

Category: Transceivers: HF Amateur HF+6M+VHF+UHF models - non QRP <5W

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Review Summary For : Heathkit SB-102
Reviews: 35MSRP: 380.00
10-80 tube classic ham transceiver
Product is not in production
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# last 180 days Avg. Rating last 180 days Total reviews Avg. overall rating
DL9BDM Rating: 2022-06-08
A poor man's Collins, still fully usable today Time Owned: more than 12 months.
I bought this radio used in the 1990s from a HAM, including the matching speaker SP-600 and HP-23 power supply. The build was professionally done, possibly from the factory. Have great fun with it to this day. A timeless and classic transceiver without any bells and wihstles. Or, as Chuck Penson, WA7ZZE, says - a poor man's Collins.

The SB-102 is one of the RIGs, which leaves my shack only after my estate clearing.
W4ABF Rating: 2020-12-30
Great rig for its time - not so bad now either! Time Owned: more than 12 months.
Heathkit is the reason I got into the hobby in 1972. My first station as a Novice was an HR-10, DX-60, a handful of crystals, resonate wire antennas, and a homebrew beam. Those were the days. Fast forward to 2011 when I returned to the hobby. I purchased a SB-102 and after a friend and fellow Ham restored it my love for tube radios was rekindled. It's a blast - still puts out 80-90W and the receiver is better than my Yaesu 857D. Now if I could find a band switch for it I could run 20M fine for 40/80 as is. Yeah - the new radios (I run a Flex 6400M) are light years ahead - but not as much fun. Your mileage may vary.
W6WUH Rating: 2019-03-07
Green Collins Time Owned: more than 12 months.
You can pretty much divide the SB-102 reviews between the guys who bought a used one cheap and didn't really know what to do to clean, overhaul, and align it, and those who did.
You believe in the tooth fairy if you expect to place a 50 year old transceiver that has lived in a dirty garage for the last 20 on the air with no problems, or maintain one without access to a tube tester, new tubes, and have some saavy about capacitors and their evil tricks.
I have had ( and overhauled) most every iteration of the hw-sb 100-101 300/400 radios made. I don't like the 303, and know nada of the 104.. Otherwise,The engineering was generally first rate. Sure, it isn't a Collins, but it didn't cost as much as a new VW when new either. I assertion that they are cheap or crummy, is sadly misinformed. Those who are unhappy expect it to be a solid state Japanese rig..which it is not.
But it is also not built in layers like a Drake, and neither will it drift like a Swan.
What it will do is stay parked where you put it, separate adjacent stations nicely, give you audio as nice as a Collins can, and work every time you turn it on. Once you have gone through it.
Sure, individual radios have problems, I have replaced bad coils, and aged crystals, but I have done that in Yaseus also.
The average guy who isn't lazy or ignorant can service these radios for the next 50 years..and not embarrass himself putting it on the air.
I DID give up on one.. which was essentially destroyed by corrosive tobacco smoke.. nothing I could do would make it right. Hardly Heathkit's fault!
73 Larry W6WUH..
KD8EZU Rating: 2011-10-05
It's why I got into ham radio Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
When I was in high school (which was a Catholic all boys school) our priests hsd been given ( donated ) a really elaborate COMPLETE Heathkit station and a monster Yagi antenna, in order to communicate with missionaries around the world.The SB-102 was the centerpiece of this Heathkit station. I remember salivating on all the components ( transciever, amp, station monitor with oscilloscope, speaker, clock, etc)and then going home to "pretend" that my Lafayette CB radio ( which I loved ) was somehow a scaled down version of the school's setup. Needless to say, thia Heathkit station worked flawlessly and many a phone patch was done by the schools radio amateurs to the delight of many soldiers wives and missionaries families.

I recently acquired two SB-102's that had not been used since the late 1990's and late 80's. Brought up slowly, I made each run for 24 hours continuously to burn in and enable the tube "getters" to remove any gas. No smoke from either at this point. I then tweaked the recieve section , which was s-o-o easy with the manual that luckily came with each radio.Attempted transmit into a dummy load, held my breath and VOILA! 80-100 watts on the bands for the first radio, and 30-60+ watts on the second!. No smoke , no fire.
Replaced PA 6146 tubes and nuetralized and aligned transmitter section and got 80-100 like the other one. So simple and easy to work with the older components and nice to have a manual. Did I mention that I have the electronic skills of an ape?

Both of my SB-102's recieve and transmit well. The recieve audio reminds me much of a K3's penetrating and cleary audio. It's tone is slightly nasally but is immensely intelligible. I had a QSO with my brother in Caribeean and he sent me the recording. My audio was clear with a slight treble nuance on it. Once again , totally intelligible and it cut thru the mustard of a noisy band.

This is a nice radio. I would as a matter of maintenance replace the Power Supply capacitors. Some say replace all resistor's in the tranceiver but other's say that the later model SB-102's had better quality resistors. I would simply replace those that are out of spec. Tuning is not hard at all.READ THE MANUAL IF YOU'VE NEVER TUNED A TUBE RADIO!. The manual is superb and a big plus if included with one that you're buying.

You will take a chance if you buy one off Ebay , unless it's being sold by an honest ham ( most of us hams are honest ).

If you restore this radio, you most definitely WILL learn about circuits and electronics. I got lucky in that neither of mine were by any means "basketcases". THey worked well after so many years being idle. Fully restored, the wil work for longer than most of us in our age group will live to see. I kid you not.

For me it is a dream come true to finally own them
I will be selling one and perhaps keeping one for the sheer nostalgia of having the radio.

Even today,a restored , working SB-102 is a good radio to have in the shack. I can still hear the voices of missionary priests, Vietnam soldiers, and far-away hams in my mind. It was these voices in the ether that got me hooked on ham radio.

These American compiled and designed kit radio's are a part of ham radio that many remember fondly.

May they ( Heathkit SB's and HW's ) long be used, and appreciated.
N4KH Rating: 2011-09-26
Good Radio Time Owned: more than 12 months.
Ok maybe I was a bit harsh giving the 102 a 3 out of 5 in my first review. This rig did work quite well for the first few years I owned it and I should have maintained it better to keep the performance up. However, I still think the dial assembly was overly cheap. And did anyone have a dial that didn't get the hairline crack(s)?? I even ordered a replacement from the Heath parts department and it too was cracked when I recieved it so I gave up. Collins, Drake, and even Swan was better.

From a features standpoint, RIT would be the one thing that was missing to put it in the "great" category.

The rig had good audio with the Heath (EV) desk mic. Maybe I'll pick one of these up one day and give her another try.
NB9M Rating: 2011-09-26
Deserves the "Classic" moniker! Time Owned: more than 12 months.
I saw the low ratings on the SB-102 and wanted to jump in. I have had several since my first one in 1983. I was a novice then, and the SB-102 was lashed up to a Hy-Gain vertical on my mobile home. The Heathkit was probably 10 years old at that time, but worked all 50 states and tons of DX - all on CW! Never had any problems with the LMO drive, excess heat or electrical problems at all.

Being a hopeless collector of vintage gear, I have another in my shack. Pluses: very selective 400Hz CW filter, pleasant receive audio, and the AGC is just right. Like the SB-300/301, if feels like a comfortable old shoe. Always loads up smooth, with good audio reports. The old gal is a looker, too (even after 40 years). Negatives: no RIT. It's a shame; it is otherwise so very nice on CW. Any other negatives aren't fair - technology was changing, and this rig wasn't designed to be seriously compete with the onslaught of the newer Japanese rigs like the FT-101.

Work with me here: I have a shack full of radios, some of which are over 50 years old (like my DX-100). This equipment is STILL ON THE AIR! If it was built right and maintained, it will continue for another 50. Can you say that about a Flex radio?
KE5AKG Rating: 2011-09-08
Fun Transceiver Time Owned: 3 to 6 months.
This was my first boat anchor. By now I have 2 of those and built a complete Heathkit station with all the bells and whistles as my secondary station.
The performance is excellent for the price, both on transmit and receive. Only drawback is that it does not do AM, also the dial occasionally needs attention. My main station centerpiece is a TS-2000, and I could work 90%+ of the DX I worked with it with the SB-102. In fact, occasionally I cheat and use a West Mountain Radio DSP speaker. With that, there is little to no performance difference noticeable to me between the TS-2000 and the SB-101, at least on SSB and CW. For digital I definitely prefer the TS-2000 ;). I just think the Heathkit station with all the large switches and knobs looks better, and all the glowing tubes are just plain cool. Switching between 2 SB-102s I can work split, and the SB-220 busts pileups with ease. I feel this is still a very viable transceiver, it is repairable, I can actually understand what is going on under the hood and it looks way cool. Best value I ever got for my ham radio dollar!
WA2MZE Rating: 2011-01-24
Very good rig for it's time Time Owned: more than 12 months.
I built an SB-102 kit in 1970. I was just starting college at the time. It wasn't my first Heathkit, I built many others including a color TV set so I was a seasoned kit builder at the time. The kit went together quickly and worked very well. The only problem was getting the carrier null perfect as there was a wide null where the meter had dropped to zero. I ended up setting this on the air with the help of a fellow ham a few blocks away over the phone! The only weak spot in the rig was the S meter zero pot on one of the PC boards. When this went bad it was replaced with an el-cheapo from rat shack that lasted as long as I had the rig. The dial did NOT slip, if you took care to assembly it correctly. Some of the early 'SB' dials were prone to cracking, but by the time the '102 came out Heath might have found a better supplier as mine was fine. I remember the first time I had the rig on the air, my first contact told me it was the cleanest SSB signal he had EVER heard.
KA2DDX Rating: 2010-11-29
Very Nice Time Owned: more than 12 months.
In the 70's and 80's I owned 2 used sb102's. They were both built and aligned properly by their previous owners. I worked a great many local and dx stations with them and, in general, had a ball putting them on the air with a piece of wire and a small antenna tuner (space was limited in those days). Most of the time I ran 50 watts or less but was always surprised how good the receiver was. The 102 was great pulling out weak signals. It's not in the class of today's rigs but, so what, it was good in it's day and hard to beat for the money.

The manual that came with it really lent itself to troubleshooting, and, I admit, I had to do very little of that. Nice schematic and circuit description.

RIP Heathkit...........
KD4LGW Rating: 2010-11-29
Great radio better than my Collins Time Owned: more than 12 months.
My trusty SB-102 has always been a great radio. Stability is fantastic, great xmit audio and sensitive receive. As a CW op the cw filter works well and the LMO drifts very little. Im amazed at the negative comments I see. The SB-102 was designed and does exactly what it was supposed to. Perform as well as a KWM2 for a fraction of the price. Ive seen some SB-102s with interesting construction quality and no doubt, they have problems, but a properly built radio is a joy to operate, requires little maintenance andwill last anther 40 years.