Best HF CW Transceiver for the buck?

Discussion in 'General Technical Questions and Answers' started by AE7F, Feb 16, 2011.

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  1. AE7F

    AE7F Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hello everyone,

    I currently use some old boat anchor gear (see my signature below). Mostly enjoy CW on 80, 40, and 20. My primary rig is a Swan 600 twin and it isn't that great for CW. I've worked all continents and almost WAS so my setup works fine, but what would be a good next step in regards to an upgraded radio for CW?

    I was reading about the Elecraft K3 and have encountered some stations on the air that use the K3. It looks like a fine CW rig. Looks like you get what you pay for because it is pricey, too.

    I don't necessarily want to talk about radios within a budget range as much as I would like to talk about radios that work awesome for HF CW.

    I realize that besides power output, most of the new rigs should be quite an upgrade over a Swan, but you guys tell me, since I don't have any new equipment and haven't really had the chance to use any new gear. By using the Swan 600 instead of newer SS equipment, what am I missing?

    What radios should I take a look at/try/research?
  2. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Focusing only on what's available "new" today, the K3, K2, Orion-II, and Eagle are probably the best CW rigs that are reasonably affordable. The IC-7800, IC-7700, FTDX-9000 family are all very good CW rigs but a notch higher in cost. The OMNI-VII and Jupiter are very good CW rigs, a notch lower in cost. (Although the K2 needn't be very expensive: If you buy just the CW version without a lot of options, it's pretty cheap.) And of course there's lots of stuff on the used market that will run triple rings around the Swan twins on CW.

    What you're missing?

    -Dramatically improved stability.
    -Dramatically improved filtering.
    -Ease of bandchanging without having to tune anything.
    -Ease of operating "split," and then going "reverse" (to listen to the other half of the split) at the push of a button, in half a second.
    -Very good built-in electronic keyer.
    -Receiver refinements including passband tuning, notch filtering, the ability to tune in a CW signal from either side of zero beat (instead of just one side, like with the Swan) at the push of a button...
    -Generally better adjacent signal immunity, not just the result of single IF filtering, but also roofing filters, improvements in active stage dynamic range and AGC -- just everything.
    -Built-in automatic antenna tuners in most cases; very fast, single push button tuning.
    -Full, seamless QSK (break-in) without noise, at any speed.

    You'll be shocked.

    However, for general rag chewing and having fun, old gear is great and maybe all a lot of people will ever need.

    Probably for me the most serious drawback to the Swan stuff is lack of frequency stability.
  3. KE3WD

    KE3WD Ham Member QRZ Page

    Used TenTec Omnis from just about any year can represent not only one of the best performing CW rigs, but often can be found at a very nice pricepoint. Omni C, D, that kinda thing.

    TenTec is very good about help on their old rigs, too.

    TenTec QSK is legendary stuff.

  4. WA4OTD

    WA4OTD XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Someday I need to try these top end rigs or see them side by side on same antenna.

    I haven't tried many different rigs. I grew up on FT101EE and like it except no full break-in or radio interface. Now have IC746 and works great for me. I've used a IC756Pro3 at Field Day and didn't notice anything great above what I have already used. The overall quality of mid range rigs is pretty good these days.
  5. KM3F

    KM3F Ham Member QRZ Page

    Look at the Kenwood TS 480.
    A lot of performance for the cost at 100 watts.
    The HX model has 200 watts in the same small package running from 2 power supplies.
    The dsp and data filter controls provide good copy without ringing at narrow band width setting.
  6. WA3UCR

    WA3UCR Ham Member QRZ Page

    I love my Elecraft K2/100. Over the years, I've owned rigs from every major manufacturer and for CW I find my K2 to be the best of them all. I'd love to get a K3 one of these days, but the K2 does everything I need, and does it so well that I just can't justify the extra expense right now. My second choice for CW would be something from TenTec.
    I have noticed that so many ops are upgrading from the K2 to the K3, that K2 can be found already built at a pretty reasonable price on the used market these days. However, if you're able and willing, the building experience is a lot of fun.
    Good luck with whatever you decide - I've operated the Swan Twins and agree you deserve an upgrade!
  7. K0RGR

    K0RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    A Swan on CW? I don't think I ever met a Swan user who owned a key. I distinctly remember visiting a big DXer with his Swan station, and not being able to get on CW, because a key was the one accessory his station lacked. Are you sure you aren't whistling into a microphone?

    Anyway, the K3 is superb on CW, and I've never met a Ten Tec that didn't do CW really, really well. I think I'd personally give the nod to Ten Tec, because I am in awe of the audio on on those beasts, mostly for SSB. I used a K3 in a Cw Field Day a few years ago, and my impression was that it could hear better than anything else I've used. But, Ten Tec have wowed me that way in the past, too.

    The Yaesu FT-950 has some impressive specs, and I've always liked my IC-746 for CW, so I suspect I'd love the new IC-7410. However, I don't think these rigs are in nearly the same class with the K3 or TT.
  8. KA4DPO

    KA4DPO Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    The Drake TR4-CWRIT can be an excellent CW rig with the addition of a modern filter from International, the C-line also excells on CW with improved filtering. All of the mods are available from Sherwood Eng. Most Ten Tec rigs made after 1980 are great on CW. I'm not a big fan of hype and while the K3 is a very good CW rig I think it is over priced for what you actually get. There are a dozen radios that can perform as well with a couple of modifications for a lot less money.
  9. WA9FZB

    WA9FZB Ham Member QRZ Page

    What -- Nobody has mentioned the newest Kenwood? I have the TS-590S, and after many years with boatanchors and newer mid-range rigs (99% CW, too), I think the TS-590 is a tremendous bang for the bucks.
  10. AE7F

    AE7F Ham Member QRZ Page

    Wow. I leave this thread for a bit and come back and have some replies. Great.

    I promise I'm not whistling in the mike. I got my start with a J-2 straight key and just barely moved up to a Heathkit HD-1410. Yes, it's an upgrade to me... My 1410 is upgraded for higher current handling as well. Been a lot of fun so far.

    Anyway... it seems the K3 could be anywhere from $2-3k. Without having used one and without experiencing what I'm missing, are there any used rigs better than the Swan 600 for around the $500 mark? I know there are deals out there. There may even be a real fine solid state rig deal in that range that would be a significant upgrade... Maybe I should keep the Swan for phone and just get a CW only rig to go with it. I will research all of the rigs listed in this thread.

    My Dad has a Yaesu FT-107. I've never used his rig and he doesn't do CW anymore. I know there is a following for the 107s. How does the FT-107 compare to the Swan twin?
  11. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Well, it's over 20 years old now so could have issues; however when they were new they were very nice rigs. Certainly a lot more stable than the Swan gear, and if you have a CW filter for it that would help a lot. It's all solid state and requires no tuning, which is another plus. Do you have the matching power supply for it?
  12. AE7F

    AE7F Ham Member QRZ Page

    He does have the matching power supply and hasn't come across any problems with it.
  13. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Go for it! It's a nice rig.
  14. AE7F

    AE7F Ham Member QRZ Page

    Not for sale. I'll have to have something until then...
  15. KE3WD

    KE3WD Ham Member QRZ Page

    Take a hard look at used TenTec, like I told ya.
  16. W5QI

    W5QI Guest

    If you like selectivity, Filter shape of 1.06:1 at 90 db down, look no futher than the Flex radio's... I use one on CW and it is unbelievable, I can be working a S-1 guy sitting 15 cycles away from a guy 20 over 9 and never even hear the big loud strong one..... Love it.... Most Rigs have a Filter shape of 2:1 at 60 db down and the K3 is 1.78:1 at 60 db down... The Skirt on a Flex is 140 cycles maximum at -90db. And your filter selection is variable from 25 Cycles to 10Khz.. in 1 cycle increments.... totally variable..

    73 de W5QI sk ese ee
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 18, 2011
  17. WX7G

    WX7G Ham Member QRZ Page

    If you have the money buy a K3. It has a very important feature that most other rigs do not; a dedicated CW speed knob.
  18. AE7F

    AE7F Ham Member QRZ Page

    My Swan has worked so far on CW but there is at least one good reason for that: I have a Heathkit HD-1418. I picked up the 1418 years ago dirt cheap at a swapmeet and am glad I did. It has really made the difference on CW when I have used it with my old radios. So I essentially have an old tank Swan with a barefoot power output advantage and a modern filter. I end up using the filter about 30-60 percent of the time. Of course the Swan still suffers if someone closeby is running 1.5kw and blowing my ears out. I'd guess very poor rejection versus the modern radios!

    I'm checking out the radios in this thread, though.
  19. K0RGR

    K0RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    You can find used IC-746's for $500. The older IC-751/751A are excellent CW and digital radios, too.
    The 751 had a problem with clipping the first dit on transmit, though.

    Used Ten Tec's are out there, and most of them are great, the newer, the better, in general. The Ham Station in Indiana carries used Ten Tec stuff, and I believe they have a warranty on their used gear. I see a nice Corsair and a Paragon in your price class. They also have an IC-735 in your price range.
  20. AE7F

    AE7F Ham Member QRZ Page

    A lot of good radios to look up. What about BAD ones to avoid? What out there is worse than a Swan 600?
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