Monday 18 November 2019

YOUR FIRST RADIO!

Which Radio Should A New Ham Buy?

I've never been asked this question personally but I've seen it asked over and over on forums and Facebook Groups, so I thought I'd write about my own views on it - after getting it so wrong myself! In this post we'll look at the FT-818, G90, IC-7100, IC-705, KX3 and even the (tr)uSDX. All available new or used.

Before I start though - let's state the obvious - your very first consideration should always be your antenna! Spend the biggest part of your budget there and not on your radio. If you can't have a big multiband yagi because of local restrictions, then consider a wire dipole or an EFHW. If none of those options are possible, perhaps you could install a good quality vertical. Personally, I went for an EFHW and love it.

Some (ill-informed) people will come out with ridiculous statements like "QRP IS NO GOOD FOR A BEGINNER".  I can hardly believe the mentality of those guys - it just shows how little they have actually learned about radio.  As a beginner, your licensing conditions will probably insist that you use low power anyway, but even if they didn't, you will learn FAR MORE about radio using 5W than you will by using 500W!

Another piece of advice that you'll often hear is people telling you to buy an older radio (usually their personal favourite). If you have no other choice (due to a very tight budget), then go for it. But if you can afford to buy something newer, then please do, because that way you will have access to all the operating modes including the very latest digital offerings. There's a world of fun out there on digital and some old-school guys are loathe to even try it because it's "not proper radio" 😂

Anyway, let's move on. I should point out that I am from the UK and over here we have the "FOUNDATION LICENCE" which is the entry-point. Thankfully, it allows you to go on pretty much ALL the bands, giving you HF, VHF and UHF. There are very few restrictions and you can use up to 10W power. Other countries might have much tighter restrictions.

If your licensing conditions don't allow you access to the HF bands, then some of these radio choices may not apply.

When I got my Foundation Licence , I convinced myself that I needed a big HF rig and a great handheld. I actually ended up buying a Kenwood handheld and a Yaesu base-station.  Then I added an RSP1A for a panadapter display.

I tried allsorts over the coming months and wasted some money swapping and changing.

It wasn't until i bought a Yaesu FT-818 that I realised I should have bought a QRP shack-in-a-box right from the get-go!  Originally I had searched for a used FT-817 but soon realised that there's thousands of them out there, but A) they're quite expensive and B) they're quite old!

What's the difference between an FT-817 and FT818? Well they're virtually identical but the newer 818 has 20% more power output, an accurate TCXO and a much better internal battery. Additionally, it has better internal shielding and bonding. Some 817 owners were very disappointed when Yaesu introduced the 818, hoping for a radically new radio, but instead they got an improved version of what was already a fine rig. As a result, you'll hear some foolish claims that the 817 is a better radio, lol, such is their disappointment in not getting something altogether different. The simple fact is, the 817 is a great radio and the 818 is greater.

So in the end I bought an FT-818ND. It's a beautiful little thing and it feels amazingly rugged and reliable. There's nothing flimsy about it and it very quickly feels like your old mate! When it's tucked away in your rucksack waiting for the next outing, you kind of miss it - even though you might have a fancy-schamncy base station in the shack - this lil gal keeps on calling your name.

So, for a newly licenced ham who is on a fixed budget, I would strongly recommend an FT-818 as your first and only radio. Update: Since writing this review, Yaesu announced that the radio was being discontinued. A buying frenzy then ensued and people queued to buy the last remaining stock for £625 each, such is the love for this amazing little rig.

With the FT-818ND, you can operate on HF 1.8 MHz - 54 MHz, VHF 2M, UHF 70cm. You have 6W output power and can easily connect a linear amplifier to increase power when you become licensed to do so.  Although you may think 6W is a bit limiting, believe me, many QRP operators (yes, you are a QRP operator whether you like it or not) reach amazing distances on 6W and less! 

The 817/818 not only allows you to work all the bands, but it also let's you work them in any mode you like too - CW, AM, LSB, USB, FM, PACKET. You can get up on your local hill or maybe get to the beach and make some amazing contacts in your log-book on minimum power. There's no better feeling than breaking through a pile-up with a couple of watts (or even milliwatts).



Just a note here for the newcomers - when calling CQ it's always worth mentioning the fact that you are using low power - QRO operators always seem keen to help out low-power users. My CQ-Call goes like this....

CQ CQ CQ, this is QRP station M7MCQ, I repeat QRP station, Mike Seven Mike Charlie Quebec calling CQ and standing by.

Not only are you identifying yourself as a humble little QRP'er but you're also extending your call that little bit longer to perhaps be spotted on a waterfall. Don't be afraid to extend that call even further. The longer your call (within reason), the more chance you have of someone hearing you or seeing you on the panadpter and applying their filters to pull you out of the noise.


Whilst on holiday in the county of Northumbria, I had a few QSO's on 2.5W using the FT-818 and a SotaBeams Linked dipole. Two of the chats were with American operators KE5EE and WD4NGB. KE5EE gave me a 'genuine' 55 report and he was 7,000km away - that's 2800km/W. 

2.5W into the USA from Boulmer Beach, UK





The radio itself is very straightforward to use and although it's menu-driven, it only takes a week or so to become totally comfortable with it. If you're a bit of a luddite and against menu systems, then don't bother with an 817/818. In my opinion though, you'd have to be pretty dumb not to get along with the radio's way of operating. After all, the most important things like tuning, switching bands, switching modes, etc, are all on the front panel.

The receiver isn't super sensistive, but hopefully, you'll be sat on a high hill or at another great take-off point when using this radio - not using it at your home QTH.

Although the 818 comes with an internal Lion battery, I would recommend that you invest in a nice little LifePO battery around 4800mAh if you want to spend the whole day TXing in the hills. It's a very worthwhile investment!

Another great investment would be an LDG Z-817 or Z-100 PLUS ATU... 

With one of these you can use a random long wire or an End Fed Half Wave which covers multiple bands. The Z-817 is designed specifically for the little Yaesu, whereas the Z-100 PLUS can be used with virtually any radio and it can handles 100W, despite it diminutive size.

There's nothing much that the little 817/818 can't do and as an owner, you are in the company of many others who've gone down this path. Owning an 817/818 at one time or another has almost become part of the hobby, lol. You'll have great fun with it at a variety of locations and events, including your shack. A small amp will permit the use of your full 10W and a bigger amp will give you room for growth if you decide to upgrade your licence.


  


So there you have it. A true shack in a box - in a neat, compact body. Tough as old boots, reliable and functional on almost all the amateur bands. Get a "handbag" case for it and you can take it anywhere with you. 

And bear in mind that if you decide you want a big radio in a few months time, you can always sell your 818 and often get decent money for it! They really do hold their value.

Enjoy!







ALTERNATIVELY....

A lot of folk can't afford to splash out so much on a shack in a box (mortgages, kids, etc) and seek a cheaper alternative. To those operators, I would suggest considering the purchase of a Baofeng UV-9R dual-band HandHeld to cover 2M/70cm and then look at a cheap Xiegu G90 for HF. I have both these radios and there's simply no denying the amazing bang for the buck! Especially the G90 - WOW!


If money isn't an issue, you might want to consider the top shelf ELECRAFT KX3 fully loaded complete with internal tuner and 2M transverter for around £2800. 

Or for half that price, consider the ICOM IC-705. I recently switched to a 705 and I have no regrets at all. In fact, if you have a budget that reaches this level, I'd recommend the IC-705 all day long! The more time I spend with this radio, the more I absolutely LOVE IT but of course £1400 is a lot of money. At the time of writing, this is the most advanced QRP radio in the world.

Then there's the amazing ICOM IC-7100 which is probably the only radio in the world which gives you HF, 6M, 4M, 2M & 70cm. I just love these radios. And you can get hold of a mint one for as little as £650. 

💗 ELECRAFT KX3 💗


💗 ICOM IC-705 💗

💗 ICOM IC-7100 💗


If you're on a very tight budget for HF, you might want to consider the utterly amazing (tr)uSDX QRP transceiver. These can be purchased from as little as £83 as a kit or pay a little more and get it pre-built, ready to use. They include a speaker, a microphone and even a morse decoder!!  I like them so much, I got two!




STEVE NORMAN from the Facebook Group - Amateur Radio UK - suggested an FT-857 or FT-897 as a first radio, saying it's all-band, all-mode, 5-100W and therefore future-proof. That's a good point. I've had the FT-897D and it was a cracking radio but you can't buy them new any more and need to keep an eye on the age of second hand units, for fear of buying an ancient rig. They're not very portable either - well you're certainly not gonna chuck it into your rucksack, lol. The 857 is kind of in-between the 817 and the 897 in size. Again, 100W but more suited to a car. 

NIGEL BROOKS from the Facebook Group - Amateur Radio UK - suggested an FT-840 which obviously suits his interest in HF, but it doesn't operate on VHF or UHF. And it's pretty much limited to home use, being a base station.




SO IN SUMMARY, based on price alone....

  1. (tr)uSDX 💗 with a complimentary Baofeng for VHF/UHF

  2. XIEGU G90 with a complimentary Baofeng for VHF/UHF
     
  3. YAESU FT-818 💗
     
  4. ICOM IC-7100 💗 
     
  5. ICOM IC-705   💗 💗
     
  6. ELECRAFT KX3 with 2M Module

IF YOU'RE NEW TO RADIO, it might be worth your while reading my NEWBIE POST. It's a long post, but it's full of useful info and tips for a beginner.


Thanks for visiting - please take a minute to leave a comment below 

73, Tom, M7MCQ.


2 comments:

Steve Swinton M7HME. said...

A very interesting read Tom. I recon you must be one of the most knowledgeable M7's in the country.
How on earth have you managed to gain so much knowledge in your 2 years of holding your licence, I'll never know.
Thanks.
Steve Swinton M7HME 73.

MadDogMcQ said...

Thanks for visiting the Blog Steve and for the kind words. It's coming up for 4yrs since I got my license and I've been pretty obsessive about it I guess, LOL.

I've loved trying different equipment, different modes of operation and all the experimenting along the way. I've met some really great people (and some grumps) and I can't imagine ever giving up the hobby.

If there's any way that I can help you, please, just give me a shout.

73, Tom, M7MCQ.