HBR receivers

Discussion in '"Boat Anchor" & Classic Equipment' started by K5DH, Apr 15, 2018.

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  1. K5DH

    K5DH Ham Member QRZ Page

    OK, ol' timers. . . how many of you remember the famous HBR series receivers? The saga began with an article by W6TC (sk) in the July, 1957, issue of QST magazine where be described his HBR-14 receiver, and a star was born! Over the next few years, there were many variations on the original theme, but the HBR-14 is the one that started it all.

    I found my HBR-14 at the small Irving, Texas, hamfest on March 3, 2018. It caught my eye from about 50 feet away (literally) and I zoomed over to have a look. It was totally complete, surprisingly clean, and it came with a full set of plug-in coils for the 80/40/20/15/10 meter bands. The price? TWENTY DOLLARS. The seller said it powered up without catching on fire and the tube heaters and pilot lamps lit up, but it didn't exhibit any other signs of life. "No worries," said I, "this baby's goin' home with me!" I didn't even have to think about it. I handed him a twenty and ran off with my new treasure.

    Well, he was right. It lit up and it didn't catch on fire. I knew it was come kind of HBR, but I wasn't sure which flavor. Some internet research told me that it was an HBR-14. I went to the ARRL archives and downloaded every QST article that was related in any way to the HBR-14, and then I tore into it. The set is rather poorly built, it's chock full of bad workmanship, and there are numerous deviations from the original design. For example, the power supply section only vaguely resembled the original design, so I traced it out and hand-drew a schematic to compare against W6TC's design. I ended up tearing out the whole power supply section and rebuilding it to be more like the original. Once I had the power supply working right, the set began showing signs of life, and I was really encouraged! Over the last several weeks, I've spent hours and hours reworking things and cleaning up the worst workmanship. I still have more to do, but at least it's back from the dead. On the good side, all of the tubes tested good!

    When I took the cover off that beautiful old National dial to clean it, I marveled at the amount of time the original builder spent carefully hand-lettering the dial scales. And then, something down in the lower right-hand corner caught my eye. The phrase, "J.M. West K5BME," was written there! Could this be the identity of the original builder? The coil set and some miscellaneous loose hardware came with the set in a little cardboard box. I accidentally dumped that box on the floor of my hamshack. When I went to pick it up, I noticed that it had a mailing label on it... it was a box of radio parts that had been sent to a Mr. James West of New Orleans... dated 1961! I checked that call sign on QRZ, but it was reissued at some point to someone in Texas with a different name. I haven't checked with the current holder yet to see if there's any connection, but I intend to. I'm also going to research old Callbooks to see if I can learn more about Mr. West.

    Anyway, here are some photos that I shot of my HBR-14.









    Anyone else out there have an HBR? Please share it with us!
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2018
    KP4SX, K3XR, W7UUU and 1 other person like this.
  2. N2EY

    N2EY Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    There's a website dedicated to the HBR and similar receivers:


    Incredible amount of info there.

    There's also a picture gallery of homebrew receivers. Of particular interest:

    A homebrew CW receiver I built in the 1970s:


    A homebrew 40/20 receiver that I got at a hamfest and sold to N3IBX more than 20 years ago (I think the builder was W3QLV (SK), but not sure):


    Lots more! Even one from @W7UUU

    73 de Jim, N2EY
  3. K5DH

    K5DH Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hi Jim,

    Yes, I've spent hours on on K5BCQ's web site, and I have exchanged emails with Kees. His site was a BIG help to me! Hopefully he will add K5BME's receiver to the site.
    N2EY likes this.
  4. W7UUU

    W7UUU QRZ Lifetime Member #133 Volunteer Moderator Life Member Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I really wish I had kept that! Very well made. I paid very little for it and sold it I believe for $100 a few years later - as I recall, it worked well but the dial never got labeled (easy peasy to do)

    N2EY likes this.
  5. W7UUU

    W7UUU QRZ Lifetime Member #133 Volunteer Moderator Life Member Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Fabulous! Thanks for posting!! TWENTY BUX? :eek:

    N7ANN likes this.
  6. K4CCW

    K4CCW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Dean, I have a similar story regarding my HBR-16, the next in line in that series.

    I acquired mine in a literal carload of other vintage gear and test equipment and only included it in the haul thinking I would one day part it out.

    After it sat on the shelf for a year or so, I grabbed it late one afternoon when I was too tired to do any meaningful troubleshooting and threw it on the bench to scavenge it for parts. Was I in for a surprise!

    Removing it from its cabinet, I first noticed the ceramic tube sockets. Next I saw carefully-wound shop-made plug-in coils and very careful craftsmanship throughout. And 16 tubes!

    Since boatanchor receivers were the reason I got back into this hobby, I knew I wouldn't be tearing this beauty apart, and began researching the net for 16-tube receiver schematics. I quickly found the site linked above and quickly became totally obsessed with the process of learning all about the HBR receivers and their cult following. I even had a great phone chat with the author of the E-book written about Ted's work with these receivers.

    The HBR-16 became my first boatanchor to restore and is a sweet little receiver - small only in size and weight, not performance. The process of completely restoring it was both rewarding and educational. If you get a chance to pick one up, I highly recommend this well-designed receiver and its siblings. I'd love to run across another HBR project to work on.

    73, Chuck
  7. N2EY

    N2EY Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    This may be heresy....but....I was never all that impressed by the HBR receivers.....

    Not that they weren't good, but that they lacked certain things:

    1) The tuning rate is absurdly high, unless you use the Eddystone 898 dial.

    2) The selectivity is way too broad for CW.

    3) Lots of gain stages before the selectivity.

    4) Plug in coils.

    But that's just me.

    IMHO, what made the HBRs so popular was a combination of factors:

    1) You could get all the parts to build one from the catalogs. No surplus, no "I found one of these for cheap". All new standard parts.

    2) The total cost of all the parts was pretty reasonable. IIRC, an HBR-16 could be built for under $250 with all new parts from Allied/Newark etc.

    3) Many of the parts were very common (tubes, sockets, switches, controls, resistors, most capacitors), and if they were on hand, could bring the price down dramatically.

    4) The articles were complete and well written, with more info available from the author for a nominal fee.

    5) Performance was better than what many hams were using.

    6) There wasn't all that much competition. Look at the QSTs, ARRL Handbooks, etc., for receiver articles - when you eliminate the beginner's receivers, there aren't too many left. In fact, the "DCS-500", which was built at ARRL Hq and was in QST and the Handbook, is clearly derived from the HBR concept.

    7) It was a true homebrew receiver - not a mod, not converted surplus, but a complete receiver, at a time when most hams had given up the idea of building a receiver.

    73 de Jim, N2EY
    W7UUU likes this.
  8. K4CCW

    K4CCW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Jim, from what I've read, which is a lot, your seven points pretty much outline everything Ted set out to do. I believe he mostly accomplished his goals and did a great service to the hams of that day.

    Is it a perfect receiver? There isn't one.
    W7UUU likes this.
  9. N2EY

    N2EY Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    There's no perfect receiver.

    But there are better receivers.

    73 de Jim, N2EY
  10. K4CCW

    K4CCW Ham Member QRZ Page

    There are indeed better receivers, Jim, and each of us has interests in different areas of the hobby that make one receiver better than others for our application.

    I would not recommend the HBR to anyone today for a daily driver. However, as a learning tool for anyone who still gets a kick out of tinkering and "knob twisting", they're in a class by themselves with a ton of documentation available for design considerations, circuit operation, modification, and construction.

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