Sunday, January 15, 2012

Is there a Best Radio and Antenna Combination?

The following are my musings as I consider radios for different purposes:

Most Bang for the Buck, Stealth, Energy Efficiency and Portability:

If TEOTWAWKI happened tomorrow this is the rig/antenna I would like to own. A KX1 80/40/30/20 and a Par End Fed Z half wave dipole. The antenna is purchased as a 40-20-10 multibander - about 40 feet long but can be reconfigured as a monobander dipole for any band for the cost of wire. The radio does cross mode comms, ability to listen to short wave, USB and LSB and transmit CW only. Current draw is 37 mA on receive and less than 700mA on transmit. Will essentially run forever on a 7 Ah SLA battery and a solar charger. Antenna does not require a tuner. The antenna is tuned for minimal SWR by trimming wire lengths. The radio weighs all of 13 ounces - talk about packability. Power output is limited to QRP (4 watts 12V supply) or 2 Watts on internal AA alkaline batteries. You can build a LiPo battery pack to put out 12V for not much more money but one has to be careful as these batteries can explode if charging precautions are not taken.

Cost Breakdown:
KX1 - $384 Elecraft
EFHW Dipole - $75 Par Electronics
KX1 Paddle $65

Most Bang for the Buck, CW Contesting Radio, Portability

Without a doubt a K2. This is ounce for ounce the best ever designed radio to be used for CW contesting while being capable for general HF (SSB, CW) work that one actually solders together from scratch. The base K2 weighs 3.3 lbs without a battery. This also means the 100W amplifier makes it a K2/100 and may be the last radio you ever buy. Since this is a kit radio, it also means that you can fix it since you built it. This is my go to radio for everyday work. Antenna paired up with this radio is a G5RV capable of 80m to 10m operation to 1500 watts. Radio has a signal to noise ratio of 131dB and great dynamic range. This is among the finest in receivers out there and will compete with receivers costing thousands more. Current draw can be as little as 160mA. It draws about 260mA as a K2/100.

Cost Breakdown:
K2/100 approximately $1400 with SSB, Audio Filter, 20W autotuner, battery, and 100w amplifier
G5RV: $99 (base Antenna)
EFHW Dipole Wire: $75 (portable)
Total: $1575

Most Bang for the Buck All Around Radio and Portability

If you do emergency communications work, this is the radio to have. It does everything from 160m HF to 430 MHz UHF, all modes CW, SSB, AM, FM for all bands. It has general receive coverage to listen to shortwave. It has two battery bays that can supply 9 Ah of battery life (batteries not included). The receiver is not that sensitive in terms of S/N ratio as I tested it is at 118 dB but again this is NOT a contesting rig. If I only had to have one radio and the grid stays up, this is the radio. It is small enough to go into a go pack but I would not go backpacking with it, if I had a KX1. It probably weighs 15 pounds with 2 internal batteries. Antennas for this rig depends on how it is applied - whether mobile, base or portable. This radio is so versatile, that I cannot imagine ever selling mine. I actually worked 70 countries with it during a DX contest in 2011 before I had my K2. The SSB digital peaking filter does a great job isolating stations you want to work. Current draw is 450 mA on receive so it is a bit of a power hog compared to a K2. But for all it does and its portability - it is a great radio.

Cost Breakdown:
Yaesu FT897 $800
Internal Batteries: $200 from W4RT
Base Antenna (Home Station) G5RV $99
Mobile Antenna: 2m/440 dual bander $75
Field Antenna: EFHW dipole 40-20-10-2 $50
Total: $1224

2m Mobile Radio
Yaesu FT-2900 - no nonsense 2m radio, puts out 75Watts, very sensitive receiver. If you only have Technician privileges - this is the mobile radio. The heat sink is heavy but the current draw is very decent and will run a long time on a 30Ah SLA or in the car.

Cost Breakdown:
Radio $169
Antenna: 5/8 Wave Magnet Mount for the car $25
Antenna for Emergency Field Use is Twin-lead J-pole (homebrew) - about $5

Ultimate Radio for Contesting Paired With the Best Antennas Money Can Buy

This is the ultimate dream radio if I was independently wealthy. An Elecraft K3 with all the bells and whistles. Base K3/100 with standard filters, P3 Panadapter, KPA500 500 watt integrated amplifier with a beam antenna on a tower for 40m -10m DX work and an antenna farm of dedicated dipoles for 160m and 80m. I have never priced out such a system in detail since I can't afford it it but I can dream.

Cost Breakdown:
Radio/Amp/Tuner: $10K
Rohn Tower and STEPPIR Beam $10K
Dedicated Dipoles and Verticals: $500
Total: $20500
Getting on the ARRL Honor Roll With It: PRICELESS

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