Comparing Radios

Apples and Oranges by Fred KI6YN…

I read the letters and complaints about the current crop of transceivers. As an electronics engineer that designs satellite ground stations, I have at least a modicum of understanding of what it takes to make a good rig. Most of the comments I read show complete ignorance about basic economics and electronics. The bottom line is that ‘you get what you pay for’, there are darn few exceptions to that.

I am an amateur astronomer as well as a ham. I’ve found that most amateur astronomers are like most hams; they can cite chapter and verse from advertisements and nonsense they’ve heard from others in the hobby. Instead of investigating and studying, they take the word of others. It seems that this is true in most hobbies. When I first became a ham in 1988, the big push was phase locked loops and phase noise. I was amazed at the nonsense I read and especially the way the specs were quoted in the ads. Only Ten-Tec made sense in that they exclaimed exactly the way they made their measurements and gave realistic baselines. The antenna manufacturers were nothing but con artists with their ads, very little has changed!

I recently bought a Ten Tec Orion; it is a great radio for any price compared to what is on the market. I’ve seen it compared to the K2, another terrific rig…. but they are not even close in design and specifications. Let’s get real, when you get near the top of the performance curves, every little bit cost a lot more than the gain in the middle or bottom of the curve. I wouldn’t want to take the Orion out in the field but wouldn’t hesitate to take a K2. One of the best rigs I’ve ever had was an old Delta 580, and I am still sorry that I sold it. My Icom 761 was a rock solid rig for ten years. It is true that quality control has become an issue in all countries, not just Asia. I had a 756 PRO and was quite disappointed with its performance.

My Omni 6 Plus was a superior rig in all ways but sure didn’t look like much next to the Pro with the pan display and ten thousand knobs, switches and whatever. Of course, the Omni was easier to operate and being direct injection and ham band only, a much quieter rig than the Pro. Remember, the narrower the bandwidth of the front-end, the lower the noise is going to be; general coverage usually implies a large bandwidth for each segment. The tuning knob on the Omni turned like an old pig and the one on the Pro was smooth and well balanced, but the real object was sweet sounding CW both in and out and the Omni won hands down.

So, purchase a big fancy box and impress your friends with your possessions that you purchased and had nothing to do with in the design or stick with the object of the hobby, get a rig that performs both receiving and transmitting well. That is what the hobby is all about. I might mention that I also have a Yaesu FT-847, a great rig for mobile and can do it all. It certainly can’t compete with the Orion at the base station level, but then again, the Orion wouldn’t be very good for mobile and doesn’t have UHF or VHF; the 847 costs about a third of what the Orion costs. See what I mean about Apples and Oranges.
Make a list of those features that are important to you and prioritize it. If the new rigs are too expensive for your budget, the look at some used stuff. There are a lot of classic rigs out there that are quite reasonable. Stop buying based upon advertisements and appearance of the radios and the manufacturers will clean up their own act.

Fred Martin – KI6YN