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When Do You Know an Alignment or Tune Is Needed?

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MFG_rrt

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For instance, I have an APX8k that I use for hobby. What indicators am I likely to notice, or should I be on the lookout for, that would indicate a tune or alignment might be needed?
 

Mr_Boh

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The true way would be just regularly bench testing it with the same service monitor you would likely use for tuning anyway. But there's a whole slew of ways you can tell, and I am sure I will miss most of them. Hopefully some other people can add to the list. Some examples are:
  • Reception issues - seemingly on the fringe of reception a lot sooner than expected. Including no reception when you would otherwise expect it.
  • High digital voice error rate
  • Bad voice modulation (all audio settings being as expected, audio sounds rough, particularly in analog FM) when reported by others
99% of the time, I think most radio shops won't even test for the need to tune until they get a report of reception issues (or in the case of a trunked system, a lot of denials compared to other users). Really it's worth checking annually if you have access to the equipment and the time (in my opinion).

The problem is when you align/tune there's a lot of variables you are messing with and they all have different impacts. Typically local oscillator drift would have the biggest impact on most of the items above, but depending on radio brand, you may have different values based on power and operating band that can be messed with - that's why you see most shops quick to drop the 10's of thousands of dollars on devices like an Aeroflex or Freedom that come with software to automatically tune/align. If you have a lot of radios it's a LOT easier than trying to hook up to a service monitor and handle manually following along in the appropriate service manual for your radio.

Definitely worth becoming friends with someone in a radio shop who has access to a way to auto-tune an 8K if you can and visit them regularly - opens doors to other things too :).
 

MFG_rrt

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The true way would be just regularly bench testing it with the same service monitor you would likely use for tuning anyway. But there's a whole slew of ways you can tell, and I am sure I will miss most of them. Hopefully some other people can add to the list. Some examples are:
  • Reception issues - seemingly on the fringe of reception a lot sooner than expected. Including no reception when you would otherwise expect it.
  • High digital voice error rate
  • Bad voice modulation (all audio settings being as expected, audio sounds rough, particularly in analog FM) when reported by others
99% of the time, I think most radio shops won't even test for the need to tune until they get a report of reception issues (or in the case of a trunked system, a lot of denials compared to other users). Really it's worth checking annually if you have access to the equipment and the time (in my opinion).

The problem is when you align/tune there's a lot of variables you are messing with and they all have different impacts. Typically local oscillator drift would have the biggest impact on most of the items above, but depending on radio brand, you may have different values based on power and operating band that can be messed with - that's why you see most shops quick to drop the 10's of thousands of dollars on devices like an Aeroflex or Freedom that come with software to automatically tune/align. If you have a lot of radios it's a LOT easier than trying to hook up to a service monitor and handle manually following along in the appropriate service manual for your radio.

Definitely worth becoming friends with someone in a radio shop who has access to a way to auto-tune an 8K if you can and visit them regularly - opens doors to other things too :).
I guess the bold sums it up for me :ROFLMAO:
 

Mr_Boh

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Yes, very true.

If not, try joining a local amateur radio club. Try being the key word. I get a lot are barely distinguishable from the VFW Hall, Rotary Club, and/or Retirement Community, but there are some doing good things to inject youth. Fortunate enough to be in an urban area where clubs are plentiful and members are diverse, but I get that is atypical, especially in more rural communities.

But even so, any service monitor built within the last, say 30 or so years, can give you a basic idea and teach you about this stuff even if it doesn't look pretty or have all the bells and whistles. So I would hope that any halfway decent club has a service monitor or someone with access to one. If you are really lucky, you might have a bored radio system administrator in the club.

But again, try. As any of the ham YouTubers will tell you, it would not be surprising to walk into a club and be completely turned off by membership and/or activities.

If I could start a non-profit, it would be to help integrate youth into these clubs through various methods. And get their websites out of 1995 and off Geocities/Angelfire while I am at it.
 

MTS2000des

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For instance, I have an APX8k that I use for hobby. What indicators am I likely to notice, or should I be on the lookout for, that would indicate a tune or alignment might be needed?
Poor performance on digital (high BER on RX and TX), poor sensitivity, etc.
Generally, radios should be PM'ed at least once a year on a service monitor. Most of what we use will automatically align the radio. Takes about 15 minutes for single band portables, and 45 minutes to an hour for an all band portable (has to do each RF band at a time). At my agency, we TRY to get everyone in at least once a year, but the onus is on them. We use other tools like a DiagnosTX on our trunking system to identify radios that are out of spec and corral them in for service.
 

N4KVE

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Bought 2 900 XTS2500’s to use on 902/927 from a large commercial seller. I was told there would be a delay of a day, or two so they could align them which they do for all radios they sell. I get the radios, and they don’t always bring up the repeater, but they work perfectly in T/A. I bring them to a friend who throws them on an Aeroflex 3920. Everything was perfect, except for the DEV/BAL at 902 MHz. It was correct at all other freq’s. After the tune, it was perfect. I never called the seller to tell him, but I have to wonder, did they actually align the radio, or was the “we’ll need a day to align it” just an excuse for slow shipping? I don’t use the radios much, and I’ve had them three years now, & they still work great. The auto tune took 5 minutes, & a printout showed the failure at 902 MHz.
 

prcguy

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I also got a 900MHz XTS-2500, a friend was blowing them out for $80 tested and working. I find the dev is ok in the ham bands and its possible your dealer only checked it within the specified commercial band.

As for the OPs original question, I've had a lot of radios over the years and have never found one to need alignment if it was working properly when I got it. Pushing the radio out of its band limits or dropping it onto concrete, etc, might warrant having it tested for spec.

Bought 2 900 XTS2500’s to use on 902/927 from a large commercial seller. I was told there would be a delay of a day, or two so they could align them which they do for all radios they sell. I get the radios, and they don’t always bring up the repeater, but they work perfectly in T/A. I bring them to a friend who throws them on an Aeroflex 3920. Everything was perfect, except for the DEV/BAL at 902 MHz. It was correct at all other freq’s. After the tune, it was perfect. I never called the seller to tell him, but I have to wonder, did they actually align the radio, or was the “we’ll need a day to align it” just an excuse for slow shipping? I don’t use the radios much, and I’ve had them three years now, & they still work great. The auto tune took 5 minutes, & a printout showed the failure at 902 MHz.
 

N4KVE

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I also got a 900MHz XTS-2500, a friend was blowing them out for $80 tested and working. I find the dev is ok in the ham bands and its possible your dealer only checked it within the specified commercial band.

As for the OPs original question, I've had a lot of radios over the years and have never found one to need alignment if it was working properly when I got it. Pushing the radio out of its band limits or dropping it onto concrete, etc, might warrant having it tested for spec.
Except the seller was told the radios were for ham use, & he told me he had an Aeroflex 3920. Everything was spot on, except the DEV/BAL @ 902 MHz. DEV/BAL is not the same thing as transmit deviation. My radios did not have low transmit deviation. It couldn’t bring up the repeater at all in P25, but it did in analog.
 

prcguy

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Sounds like the seller is not living up to what he promised. My 900 XTS seems to work fine at 902 and 927 in P25.

Except the seller was told the radios were for ham use, & he told me he had an Aeroflex 3920. Everything was spot on, except the DEV/BAL @ 902 MHz. DEV/BAL is not the same thing as transmit deviation. My radios did not have low transmit deviation. It couldn’t bring up the repeater at all in P25, but it did in analog.
 

MTS2000des

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The auto tune routines only adjust the softpots in the commercial band. If the radios are used out of band, the softpots in the tuning partitions aren't adjusted for OOB. Remember that auto tune only guarantees the radio to be checked within it's manufacturer specified and rated frequency bandsplits. For $80 a radio, any seller isn't going to put in a half hour to an hour of labor tuning some radio manually when they're selling from a large lot to hams for pocket change. They throw it on their monitor and give it a gas and go.
 

N4KVE

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But, in the case of 900 MHz, the guaranteed spec‘s of transmit into a repeater are 896-902, & the repeater I was trying to get into was on 902.0125, so it should have been in spec, being so close to 902.000 MHz. The Aeroflex got it spot on. Several years ago, I was involved in a project with the final delivery of 900 MHz APX mobiles, & portables. Believe it or not, 10% of the portables could not be tuned with the Aeroflex, & needed to be tuned by hand. They left the factory out of tune.
 

MTS2000des

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that's not the way auto tune and softpots on these radios work. Even that little can be a difference between work and not working. The auto tune won't touch anything outside the rated bandsplit. Radio can be just within spec in band and pass, but a dozen Hz out of band it's off.
 

N4KVE

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But after my friend autotuned both radios, they got a pass, & worked perfectly. So I think the seller never tuned them, although he said he did.
 

Tech21

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Oct 16, 2018
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The true way would be just regularly bench testing it with the same service monitor you would likely use for tuning anyway. But there's a whole slew of ways you can tell, and I am sure I will miss most of them. Hopefully some other people can add to the list. Some examples are:
  • Reception issues - seemingly on the fringe of reception a lot sooner than expected. Including no reception when you would otherwise expect it.
  • High digital voice error rate
  • Bad voice modulation (all audio settings being as expected, audio sounds rough, particularly in analog FM) when reported by others
99% of the time, I think most radio shops won't even test for the need to tune until they get a report of reception issues (or in the case of a trunked system, a lot of denials compared to other users). Really it's worth checking annually if you have access to the equipment and the time (in my opinion).

The problem is when you align/tune there's a lot of variables you are messing with and they all have different impacts. Typically local oscillator drift would have the biggest impact on most of the items above, but depending on radio brand, you may have different values based on power and operating band that can be messed with - that's why you see most shops quick to drop the 10's of thousands of dollars on devices like an Aeroflex or Freedom that come with software to automatically tune/align. If you have a lot of radios it's a LOT easier than trying to hook up to a service monitor and handle manually following along in the appropriate service manual for your radio.

Definitely worth becoming friends with someone in a radio shop who has access to a way to auto-tune an 8K if you can and visit them regularly - opens doors to other things too :).
It's actually standard procedure at where I work. A firmware upgrade and a tuning will resolve most reported issues that aren't hardware errors or environmental factors. If it's a mobile, we will look at the vehicle wiring also because some shops do a screw job when it comes to wiring vehicles.
 
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