Analog vs Digital Rigs

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KD8MZM

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I just got my Tech license and have been looking for my 1st rig. I've been trying to find a used solid-state HF transceiver for $250 including everything (ie. mic, manual, power supply, shipping, etc.). But that's proving to be impossible.

So I started looking at older rigs. Being new, I discussed them with the ham who helped me get my license. He checked around with other hams and gave me a list of reasons why he wouldn't buy an analog (tube final) rig. But I'm not sure I agree and don't mind learning about older technologies. However I would like to find out if these concerns are valid.

1) don't buy an older general receiver. it would mean you can only listen to ham bands.
2) all older rigs have mechanical problems - failing/broken switches, noisy pots, and unreliable solder joints.
3) avoid rigs with tube finals - here's why;
a. very tricky for a new ham to learn how to tune tubes which you must do EVERY time you change frequencies. Takes to 10 minutes each time. (solid-states are automatic)
b. tube finals always go bad (power reduces over time and it will cost you over $100 to replace a matched pair IF you can find them)
c. the driver tube will need to be replaced
4. analog meters are unreliable and must be calibrated (make sure your rig has all digital meters)
5. older rigs cannot be connected to or controlled by computer

The more I think about this list the more I'm wondering if some of these concerns are because he can afford and only runs newer, solid-state equipment.

So if I can get some comments/opinions, I'll be able to decide what to do.

Here they are:
1) if i buy a general rig, what would i be missing?
2) do older rigs have more mechanical problems than newer rigs?
3) how hard is it to tune tube finals when making contacts (ie. what exactly do you do and how long does it take)
4) should I worry about modifications?
5) if output power is lower than specs is this a big problem (ie. new tubes? - how hard are they to find)
6) is service (ie. meter calibration) easy to find if i chicken out on doing it myself?

I'm fairly handy with a soldering iron and don't mind working on my own equipment IF I think it's worth it.

Sorry for the length of this note but I really would like to know the answers and am hoping to find something soon that I can afford.

Thanks for responding.

Larry
KD8MZM
 

SCPD

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Hi Larry,

I don't have any direct experience with the older HF rigs, but I'd bet most of his points are valid. From what I've read in books and seen blogs on the web, the older HF rigs are finicky.

I think it boils down the to the cost and how much you're willing to invest. It may be a great learning experience, but how soon do you want to get on the air?

You can get a used HF rig but it may take a bit of work. The Icom 718 is $600 brand new. The Yaesu FT-450 is $700 new and the FT-817 (qrp) is $600.

If you take time to shop around, then you can probably get a really solid radio for $400-500 used. I know it's not $250 but imho, it's worth the investment.


-Nick, w7dss
 

JnglMassiv

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You just got your Tech license and you're looking for an HF radio?

Anyway, I'm a fairly new HF operator and I wouldn't dream of an older tube radio for my first HF rig. There will be plenty of new things to learn about without worrying about your grid voltages or whatever: propagation, power distro, antenna tuning, band characteristics, etc, on and on...

Do like Nickcarr says: double your budget and get something reliable. If you later wish to get something pre-solidstate or otherwise 'quirky', you'll be making the informed decision.

Check your local craigslist often. Ebay can work too, if you're careful, savvy and willing to take a bit of risk.

Here, too: QTH.COM Ham Radio Classified Ads - Swap amateur radio HF VHF equipment buy sell trade on line
 

fineshot1

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I picked up a really great used icom 735 rig for $350 - there any many for sale on ebay and i have seen them go cheaper, but you definetly will not get all that stuff for $250 that's really pushing it.
 

N0IU

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While "boat anchors" definitely have their place, I also tend to recommend that newcomers consider a "modern" rig for starters unless you are technically proficient. Anything of a "vintage" nature will almost certainly need a little more TLC than a current model, but that doesn't mean you should avoid them like the plague!

What would you be missing? A vintage rig probably won't include the WARC bands: 12, 17 and 30 meters.

Mechanically, this is the weak point of any piece of electronic gear. As far as solder joints, a proper solder joint will last longer than you!

As far as replacing tubes, they are out there but it is impossible to make a blanket statement about how hard they are to find and how much they cost without knowing what kind you are talking about.

Worry about modifications? Again, it all depends on who did and exactly what kind of modification you are talking about.

These are pretty general answers to pretty general questions. If you want to get on the air with something reliable with the least amount of hassle, save your nickels and dimes and get a "modern" rig then keep your eye out for a "classic" as a project!
 

prcguy

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A few of the original concerns are valid but many are BS. Older rigs can be more prone to mechanical problems, dirty pots and such but the goal would be to purchase a known good working radio and hopefully the seller demonstrates it and shows you how it operates.

There are plenty of good old Yaesu FT-101s, Kenwood TS-520s and other mostly solid state rigs that use tubes in the transmitter. It takes all of 10 seconds to tune the transmitter if you change frequency very far and tubes are plentiful and fairly cheap. It might cost $50 to replace a pair of 6146 finals and a 12BY7 driver and if you don't abuse them you may never need to replace them. I'll even give you a pair of 6146s if you get a tube rig and it needs them.

There are no metering problems I know of unless the meter or radio is broken and tubes are simple to replace. You may not have the newer WARC bands, the frequency readout will not be as accurate, these radios are larger and less portable and so on. But for $250 you can have a lot of fun and you will technically be light years ahead of your buddies who are afraid of tube rigs.

Just find someone you can trust to help check out an older rig and show you how to correctly operate it.
prcguy
 

KD8MZM

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Thanks for the feedback. And prcguy, thanks very much for your generous tube offer!

The consensus, here and elsewhere seems to be, if I want to get on the air quickly with the least amount of work is:
a) consider rigs other than HF as a first rig (walk before you run).
b) if you look for a newer rig expect to pay more than $250 (about twice as much).
c) tube rigs (ie. FT-101, FT-301, TS-520, TS-530, TS-830) ARE less expensive, ARE readily available, and ARE NOT hard to use.
d) get on the air with another ham to learn what you like and don't like BEFORE you buy
e) find someone I trust to help me check out rigs.

All of those are great ideas. I actually enjoy older tube technology so regardless of what my first rig will be I'm sure there's a "tube rig" somewhere in my future. FYI - I build all the nixie tube clocks for Nixie Clocks At Tubeclock.com.

So I'll try to be patient, learn more about ham radio, and see if I can schedule some on-air time with other hams either at their shack OR the local club shack. The club shack is designed to support the Red Cross for emergency communications and has both HF and VHF capabilities, including a packet radio station.

Thanks again.

Larry
KD8MZM
 

N8IAA

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Larry, A, D, and E are your best choices. Learn before you leap. There are still a lot of good tube rigs out there, but, with their older technology and parts getting rarer to find make it hit or miss. My first rig was a Swan 350C. It was my novice rig. It was cheap, $100, but parts and people who knew about these radios were abundant. This was in 1985, however:) My suggestion is to get a dualband mobile, or, ht. Most repeaters in Ohio and Michigan are easy to reach on low power. Sitting with someone who is willing to teach you how to operate on HF and VHF/UHF is an outstanding way to learn. I will always be in debt to those that took the time to show me. I gave back by teaching prospective hams good operating techniques and how to use their radios. I have come across many appliance operators in my years as a ham. Even an Extra Class op who didn't understand that ATT stood for attenuator, not antenna;) There are way too many new things to do in ham radio since I was licensed. Try out as many as you can until you find your niche.
73,
Larry
 

Duster40

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I was able to move up from an FT-101EE to an Icom 707 about 10 years ago...it has served
my needs well, & I have no interest in replacing it. The Icom 718 is the current model. A Kenwood
140, or a 430 will also serve you well, along with a Yaesu 747 or 840...all basic models, to help you
get your feet wet in the HF world.
 

SCPD

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Being a ham for 22 years now I can tell you that you are way better off to get something relatively new and leave the old stuff alone. Sure it may be a little cheaper but at least you know that the new stuff will work.

I have had a Kenwood TS-140 and R-71A Icom receiver go bad on me in like a short period of time. So .. what is the moral of the story. Here it comes . . be sure to buy radios that you know the history and buying older gear will just cause you head aches down the road.

So I bought a Yaesu FT-450 and am making contacts all over the world. The Kenwood .. someone bought it for a receiver (as the transmitter was dead on USB). The R-71 has no audio output .. so it is not much good. It was from Ebay .. so once again, lesson learned. Never buy something that you don't know the history of.

You can use your newly purchased HF rig for many many years if it is taken care of .. and will be a solid worthwhile purchase.
 
D

DaveNF2G

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I'm amazed that you actually got your ham license with the quality of "help" you are receiving. The ham you asked, along with the other hams he supposedly consulted, seem not to have much of a clue about radios.
 

N0IU

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Well Dave, aren't you just a little ray of sunshine!

Since I am one of the people who responded to the post, perhaps you would care to elaborate on exactly what was wrong with my response or that of anyone else.

And since none of us know what we are talking about, what advice do you have for the guy other than we do not have a clue what we are talking about? Why don't you offer your own advice instead of just saying the our advice sucks?
 

SCPD

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Scott, I think Dave meant the help/advice the OP'er got in the first place - not from the responses.
 

N0IU

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Well, perhaps you are right. While their advice might have been a little bit extreme in terms of the pitfalls of owning "vintage" gear, I do think it was absolutely correct to advise a newly licensed amateur radio operator who may not be technically inclined (yeah I know, then why do they call them Technicians?) to consider a more modern rig.
 
D

DaveNF2G

Guest
Yes, I was referring to the advice the OP got, not the responses in the thread.

Now I'll be more specific:

1) don't buy an older general receiver. it would mean you can only listen to ham bands.
General coverage has always meant just that.

2) all older rigs have mechanical problems - failing/broken switches, noisy pots, and unreliable solder joints.
Never say always. This statement is also patently false.

3) avoid rigs with tube finals - here's why;
a. very tricky for a new ham to learn how to tune tubes which you must do EVERY time you change frequencies. Takes to 10 minutes each time. (solid-states are automatic)
Funny, new hams dealt with tubes just fine before transistors. Solid state finals also require some tuning with major frequency changes. A modern (or even an ancient) antenna tuner and preamp would help tremendously. Tube finals are much more tolerant of mismatches than solid state finals are.

b. tube finals always go bad (power reduces over time and it will cost you over $100 to replace a matched pair IF you can find them)
c. the driver tube will need to be replaced
These statements are accurate. Tubes can be very difficult to locate nowadays and the rarer/more powerful ones very expensive to obtain.

4. analog meters are unreliable and must be calibrated (make sure your rig has all digital meters)
More incorrect information.

5. older rigs cannot be connected to or controlled by computer
Older rigs don't have built-in computer support, but articles have been published about rolling your own interfaces to do some things with computers.

The more I think about this list the more I'm wondering if some of these concerns are because he can afford and only runs newer, solid-state equipment.
Very likely. It sounds like your advisor might have tried to get an old, broken down tube rig working and has come to the conclusion that all old radios are junk. There are an awful lot of hams and club stations using tube equipment, and many of them will advocate for the superiority of tubes over solid state for some applications.

By the way, my rig is a modern "digital" transceiver. I'm not biased and would happily run tubes or any other technology that works.
 
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knightrider

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Way back when I started the first time around, ALL of the beginner rigs WERE tube type, and we ALL had to learn. Doesn't mean you have to today, but it wouldn't hurt. I can still use a Thomas Half Ring, and a Triangular Bandage for stabilization. Folks today use velcro straps and other devices. (EMS related B.S. if you don't recognize it). The job is still efficient, just more modern... I have a Swan 350 as well as a Tempo One, and Heath Kit DX-60. Oh, and there is the Kenwood TS-130 and TS-670. Kind of what you want and feel comfortable with. Your Elmer might not know how to tune an older rig, and would not be comfortable trying to help you. By all means, get a manual for ANY rig you get, and have FUN!!!!!!!!
73,
Paul N5XMV
 

kb2vxa

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Ask yourself what Novice Class hams did before these solid state appliances (real radios glow in the dark) were invented and you will have the answer to all your questions. Food for thought, "boat anchors" are a whole lot easier when it comes to diagnosing problems and repairing or modifying them and you learn by doing. Take a look inside one of the latest wonder boxes and you'll probably faint, when you come to you'll realize all you can do is ship it back to the factory and pay the price. Keep smelling salts at the ready, you'll faint again when you get the estimate.

There are pros and cons to everything and BTW in a well designed and properly operated piece of equipment some of the tubes can be original many years later, even some from the 1930s. Yup, I've seen some that are simply amazing, if you think a Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking or the electric super bunny just keeps going and going you don't know tubes. If you DO know tubes you know well enough to stay away from GE, the original "made in China" and you know what THAT means.
 

KD8MZM

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Thanks for all the feedback folks. I'm still weighing my options and haven't bought one yet. It's kind of ironic that my two best leads locally are both older radios. And, you guessed it, one analog and one digital. Here they are;

1) an Icom 735 for ~$300 (w/ power Supply issue) - was loaned out to an operator who reported the unit only intermittently powers on but when it does it works fine. Owner suspects a bad switch but hasn't done any troubleshooting yet.

2) a Kenwood TS520SE w/ VFO, Mic, Speaker and DG-5 digital display (w/o cabling) for $225 (seller bought off eBay +3 years ago and had another ham check it out. Unfortunately, they THINK both transmit and receive were checked but aren't 100% sure about that. And, since they never got licensed it's only been used for receiving and and very little at that with an antenna wire laid on a rooftop.

So of course, my temptation is to get the Kenwood since I've read good things and would like to learn how to operate a tube rig. But the Icom is both a general receiver AND digital but comes w/o a microphone.

If I can figure out a way to get both I might just do that and then compare things for myself. But that's over $525 and if I can afford THAT...then why not by a newer digital rig and get right on the air? As has been mentioned by others, there are trade-offs to everything.

Decisions, decisions.....

73
Larry
KD8MZM
 
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