SWR meter question

Marchboom

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I'll be setting up a 2 meter/440 radio soon and want to get a SWR/power meter. But looking at the selection it ranges from very inexpensive to REALLY expensive. I won't be using this meter very much but I do want one that gives accurate readings. Some of the reviews say that a certain meter is good but then states that the readings are not very accurate. What good is that meter?

What would be a good meter without spending a lot of $$$?

Thanks
 

K4EET

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Hi John,

Yes, a SWR/Wattmeter for VHF/UHF can be a little pricey for a good quality one. And yes, a cheap one that gives bad readings is totally useless. So what can I recommend that will not break the bank?

Let me ask, do you plan to upgrade to General Class or even Amateur Extra at some point in time? I ask because then you might also purchase some HF equipment and possibly run QRO (1,000 watts). Do you do any 10 Meter or 6 Meter operating now?

Thinking ahead of what equipment you may be operating can dictate what SWR/Wattmeter you purchase now.

I'll be back with some suggestions later tonight or tomorrow.

73, Dave K4EET
 

K4EET

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Of course, "Old Reliable" is the Bird Model 43 Wattmeter with the appropriate Element(s).



Even used, it is on the somewhat pricey side but it is rock-solid and accurate. To measure SWR, you follow the procedure given HERE.

You can find these at hamfests, on eBay and at various ham radio websites that have For Sale sections. I throw this out there because if you were to invest in one of these now, you simply purchase the Element(s) that you need now and in the future, as your ham station expands to new bands and perhaps higher power, all you need to do is purchase the appropriate Element(s) for your Bird Model 43 Wattmeter. It is truly a very flexible instrument. As the manufacturer says, it is "The Industry Standard".
 

AK9R

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A Diamond SX40C (approx. $83) would work. Cross-Needle design so you don't have to use a two-step process to get the meter ready to take a measurement. Covers 144-470 MHz with 30 or 300 watt ranges. SO-239 on the back.
 

Marchboom

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Hi John,

Let me ask, do you plan to upgrade to General Class or even Amateur Extra at some point in time? I ask because then you might also purchase some HF equipment and possibly run QRO (1,000 watts). Do you do any 10 Meter or 6 Meter operating now?

73, Dave K4EET
At this time I only plan to run the 2 meter/440 rig. That could change but I doubt it. But you're right that ability to upgrade the meter to handle additional radios should be taken into consideration.
 

K4EET

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This webpage at DX Engineering is a nice overview of available SWR/Wattmeters:


There are some meters that are HF (1.8 MHz - 30 MHz) / VHF (144 MHz - 148 MHz) but very few that are HF / VHF / UHF (420 MHz - 450 MHz).

As W9BU stated, a meter with cross-needle design is very nice. What that allows you to do is directly read the wattage output on one of the needles and where the two needles cross each other, you read the SWR. Quick and easy!

I am going to do some more research and I'll report back in later today.

73, Dave K4EET
 

K4EET

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In addition to the Bird Model 43 that I mentioned above, the MFJ-849 Digital SWR/Wattmeter covers 1.5 MHz to 525 MHz. What I don't like about this meter is the power handling capability of only 200 Watts. I would have preferred to see full legal-limit power for ham radio which is 1,500 watts. As a Technician, you are limited to 200 watts which this meter will handle.




I have no experience with this meter but there are probably some reviews on it at eHam.

73, Dave K4EET
 

K4EET

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At this time I only plan to run the 2 meter/440 rig. That could change but I doubt it. But you're right that ability to upgrade the meter to handle additional radios should be taken into consideration.
What you can do in the review process is also price out two meters. One meter would be a cross-needle design for HF with a 1,500 Watt power rating. The second meter would be a cross-needle design for VHF/UHF with a 200 Watt power rating. The price of the two meters may be more than the two I have mentioned thus far that cover HF/VHF/UHF. If that is the case and you think that there may be a chance even as a Technician Class licensee that you may get on 6 Meters (50 MHz - 54 MHz) and/or 10 Meters (28 MHz - 29.7 MHz) with 200 watts maximum power, then you will need a SWR/Wattmeter for the HF range too. I hope that makes sense...

73, Dave K4EET

NOTE: I did not check to see what specific frequencies a Technician can operate on in the 6 Meter and 10 Meter bands...
 

N4KVE

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Buy the Bird watt meter. Yeah, it’s expensive, but it will outlast you. If you need more elements in the future, you can get them. I got mine, then got the factory leather carry case, both mint condition I’ve only used it a few times, but it was on my bucket list for 30 years.
 

K4EET

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Buy the Bird watt meter. <snip> If you need more elements in the future, you can get them. <snip>
This is true. How long has the Bird Model 43 been around? At least a couple of centuries... :ROFLMAO: But seriously, it is going to be around for many years to come. I don't think it is going anywhere anytime soon. At least I hope not...
 

wa8pyr

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This is true. How long has the Bird Model 43 been around? At least a couple of centuries... :ROFLMAO: But seriously, it is going to be around for many years to come. I don't think it is going anywhere anytime soon. At least I hope not...
According to Wikipedia, patented in 1958. I keep mine in a small camera hard case along with the elements and adapters. Got the 43 at a hamfest for $50, cosmetically kind of beat up but it works great. Picked up elements on eBay for decent prices which is kind if a gamble but so far all of them have tested out just fine.

To the OP: take a look for a URM-120 military surplus wattmeter. It's sort of, kind of similar to the Bird 43 but can often be found on eBay complete with slugs and carry case for $200 or less. Typically comes with three slugs: 2-30 MHz up to 1000 watts, 25-250 MHz up to 500 watts, 200-1000 MHz up to 500 watts. There are some variations in power handling capability on the slugs but that's what I have on mine. The URM-120 would cover pretty much anything you'll ever need; only reason I bought a Bird 43 is because 1) it was there and a good deal and 2) it's a bit more portable and I often have to lug stuff in to repeater sites.

With a good commercial or military grade forward/reflected reading wattmeter you can calculate your SWR pretty easily, plus it's more rugged and reliable than a ham-grade SWR bridge.

Tom
 
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mmckenna

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Bird meters are nice if you can get one inexpensively. There really isn't a lot to them, a line section, an interconnecting cable and a meter. Not much that can go wrong. The 'smarts' are in the slugs. I bought a used one about 20 years ago for personal use. I have a Coaxial Dynamics unit at work. The Bird meter looks like it was dragged down the road behind a truck, but still works just fine.

But they are often overkill for many amateur radio operators, and they do not give you a direct SWR reading. They'll show forward power and reflected power, you need to use a conversion chart to provide a standing wave ratio. If you are not running high power/legal limit stuff, the hobby grade meters are fine. You are not running a lab here, just want to check your antennas. There's a lot of good low priced meters on the market that will do what you need.

What hasn't be mentioned is the NanoVNA devices. They run about $60 bucks and give you a lot more useable information. They have a bit of a learning curve, but the provided information will tell you a lot more about your antenna system than an SWR meter will on its own. For a newcomer, there are some good tutorials on line/youtubes. For some, the display gives you a better representation than an SWR meter will. An SWR meter will show you antenna performance at a specific frequency. The antenna analyzers, even the low buck NanoVNA's, will show you a slice of spectrum and how your antenna performs across all of it. Some prefer the visual representation over the simple SWR ratio numbers.
 

wa8pyr

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Bird meters are nice if you can get one inexpensively. There really isn't a lot to them, a line section, an interconnecting cable and a meter. Not much that can go wrong. The 'smarts' are in the slugs. I bought a used one about 20 years ago for personal use. I have a Coaxial Dynamics unit at work. The Bird meter looks like it was dragged down the road behind a truck, but still works just fine.

But they are often overkill for many amateur radio operators, and they do not give you a direct SWR reading. They'll show forward power and reflected power, you need to use a conversion chart to provide a standing wave ratio. If you are not running high power/legal limit stuff, the hobby grade meters are fine. You are not running a lab here, just want to check your antennas. There's a lot of good low priced meters on the market that will do what you need.

What hasn't be mentioned is the NanoVNA devices. They run about $60 bucks and give you a lot more useable information. They have a bit of a learning curve, but the provided information will tell you a lot more about your antenna system than an SWR meter will on its own. For a newcomer, there are some good tutorials on line/youtubes. For some, the display gives you a better representation than an SWR meter will. An SWR meter will show you antenna performance at a specific frequency. The antenna analyzers, even the low buck NanoVNA's, will show you a slice of spectrum and how your antenna performs across all of it. Some prefer the visual representation over the simple SWR ratio numbers.
True, the Bird and others (like the URM-120) are a bit overkill for many hams, but they're far more rugged and if you find one at the right price with slugs you'll get more frequency coverage and reliability for about the same price as a good quality SWR bridge, with the added advantage that it'll last for years.

Concur on the NanoVNA. I bought a NanoVNA-F a few weeks ago and so far I'm pretty impressed; there are a few foibles but once you figure out how to get around them it's a nifty little device.

For now, however, the OP could get by with something like this:


Depending on the product MFJ isn't always the best, but on the relatively simple stuff they generally do OK.
 
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k9wkj

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the real issue with the NanoVna or any analyzer is that they tell your your antenna system might/should work
but they do not tell you that your transmitter works or how well it works
so one is still left with needing a watt/swr meter
 
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