Newbie with equipment questions

Discussion in 'Becoming an Amateur Radio Operator/Upgrading Privi' started by NUMBIE, Jan 17, 2010.

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    NUMBIE QRZ Member

    Hello All:

    I plan on sitting for the exams this year. I am trying to figure out the best system. While I will probably be relegated to an "appliance operator", the sheer number of units and configurations are incredible! I have heard a lot about the Icom IC-7700, but the price surprised me. I don't want to ignorantly spend more money for a unit I will not adequately use; however I want to ensure that my first unit will perform adequately for years to come. I also need help on antenna choices.

    I appreciate your kind attention and patience to my post. I will keep searching as well.

  2. N0IU

    N0IU Ham Member QRZ Page

    Well they say if you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly! The IC-7700 is a lot closer to a top-of-the-line rig than an entry level one. Don't let that scare you off! It certainly does not cost anywhere near that amount to get started in amateur radio. Many hams... a lot of hams... I dare say MOST hams have spent far less and have very fine stations.

    If, however, you can spend $6,500.00, go for it! A lot of newcomers often start with something more along the lines of the IC-718. No, it doesn't have all the "bells & whistles" as the 7700, but it is still a very good starting rig with a much shallower learning curve than the 7700. There are, of course, other manufacturers, but ICOM is certainly one of the "Big 3" Japanese companies.

    In order to really help you, we need to know a couple of things...

    1) Your budget. Please be reasonable about this. There is another post from a guy who wants to get onto the HF bands but only wants to spend $150.00! Sure, it can be done, but that severely limits one's choices.

    In addition to the radio itself, you will also need a power supply (a device to convert 120VAC to 13.8VDC), at least one antenna, sufficient amount of cable to run from the radio to the antenna (something often overlooked, but can run into some serious money for quality cable), an antenna tuner (even if the radio you buy already has a built-in tuner) and that's just for starters.

    2) We also need to know your operating conditions in order to recommend an appropriate antenna. Do you live in your own home or do you rent. How much property do you have? (We're not being nosey, but it will make a difference in what kind of antenna might work best).

    You might also want to get a catalog from these folks:

    or these folks:

    You can download a .pdf version of their catalog or request a printed copy. NOTE: This is NOT and endorsement for either of these dealers, but they are two dealers that offer a very comprehensive catalog of popular brands or radios and accessories.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2010
  3. W6ONV

    W6ONV Ham Member QRZ Page

    Amateur radio is a hobby and in my opinion the license you are granted allows you a lifetime to learn the craft. When it comes to your first rig, as N0IU said, what is your budget. I am sure many would like a high dollar first rig, but many cannot afford it. I started with an Icom IC-718, but outgrew it withing 18 months and upgraded to a more complex, but used rig which I purchased at a great price. When I got my HF privileges I really did not know what I wanted to do. I know I wanted to "work DX" but with my initial setup it was very challenging. I started with PSK31 and worked up from there, learning to use RTTY, then learning Morse code to work CW and finally phone was the last mode I really decided to use. Looking back on my first few years, I would have probably made a different decision on my rig, but I would have concentrated more on the antenna, since that made a bigger impact that what rig I owned. I ran a Hustler 6BTV that was ground mounted with about 48 radials of varying length. In the time I used it I was able to work all states and about 25 DXCC entities on varying modes. Take your time, since you are not licensed you have plenty of time to figure out how you want to attack this problem.

    NUMBIE QRZ Member

    New rig

    Thank-you both for your informative posts! I own my own home and I am located in West Virginia. I was hoping to install a ground based antenna, perhaps 50' with a vertical. I then was hoping to run the coax into my basement to the unit; perhaps a total of 150' of coax. I have 400 amp service to my home, so hopefully I can adapt the system to the power available.

    I really didn't know what to type of budget to devote to the hobby. I thought that a decent system would be in the $3,000.00 range, but I wasn't sure if that would include any digital capabilities. The IC-7700 unit looks so good, but I don't know how long it will take for me to really figure it out! I guess I didn't want to outgrow a system too soon, but purchase a system that would serve me well early, and be capable of expansion.

    Thanks again,

  5. NI3S

    NI3S Ham Member QRZ Page

    If you can tolerate used gear, can use basic hand tools, and understand what basic instrumentation is telling you, you can save a big pile of money.

    There are a ton of good used HF radios that sell for less than $750, real gems, just older. Vhf (or vhf & uhf) rigs sell for a penance, and there are a bunch for sale, all the time.

    Spend good money on a good power supply, and good watt/SWR meters. Crappy power will make the best radio crappy, with few exceptions.

    The SWR meter will enable you to build resonant antennas. Anything from HF to vhf can be built from simple home improvement store materials and a google search for plans.

    Another overlooked purchase is good coax. Spend money on decent stuff.

    A computer has become and integral part of most shacks, owning a dedicated unit might be well spent cash.

    Maybe this isn't your thing, just another point of view.
  6. KC6DXN

    KC6DXN Ham Member QRZ Page

    I am doing the old-school route, for I like a transceiver that I can service myself. I do not need pushbuttons and stuff. I am a tube-aficionado. I am gearing a complete station around my Yaesu FT-101ZD. I like constant tweaking when prosecuting a contact. As someone else stated "I love the smell of warn tubes in the morning".

    However, you sound more solid state than that. I would hang on to your money, and be a grizzly bear when you are ready to roar. The IC-7700 is beautiful, but I feel that is too much bells-knobs and whistles for you. The IC-718 is a fantastic beginner rig, but you may grow out of it pretty quickly if you are a quick-study.

    Ya want a good Icom to get ya going and not outgrow too soon?? Go with the IC-7200. By today's standards, it is built like a tank and great for field work. It definitely upstages the 718 and I feel it will be your buddy for a long time. Cost is around $1100ish, instead of $6500. Shop around on the HAM website classifieds and you'll probably get a better price before someone snatches it up.

    Although my 'boat-anchor' 101ZD will never leave the shack, my back up transceiver and MY #1 choice for multipurpose use is the Icom IC-7200. I will get one down the road.

    Now, if I were you, I would figure out what I want. Then surf the websites and user reviews for price and performance.

    When you are well-versed in the art, then a 7700 would be the pinnacle of your shack. Just beware of these ultra fancy rigs: better keep a slushfund incase a board fries or a display goes bad, because you will likely spend lotsomojo in repairs. GOOD LUCK!!

  7. WS2L

    WS2L Guest

    Do what I did, I sold my Kenwood TS-2000 back last April and now I have the following HF rig's. Kenwood TS-530S and Heathkit HW-101 and boy do I love playing with these rig's. I was licensed in 1978 and these were popular rig's of that time. These two rig's bring back so many memories and I am happy they are a part of my collection.

    Consider buying a rig from the 70's or 80's they have NO menu's to mess you up and are very easy to operate.

    NUMBIE QRZ Member

    New rig

    Thanks again guys for all of your great ideas! I am so glad I found this site! If I had someone close by that could train me on the older rigs, I would love to experiment. I think I might be struggling a bit with an older unit and the parts. But the point regarding buying a bells & whistle unit and then paying a cost to repair makes a lot of sense. I think I am going to explore KJ6DVS idea on the unit. I am in WV, so I am trying to consider the proper antenna. I have the room to mount it on the ground, but I have no idea as which type. I agree with KB3LTS on his idea about good coax. The coax will have to run 100' +, so I need some suggestion as to gauge.

    Thank-you guys so much for patience.

  9. W4PG

    W4PG Super Moderator Lifetime Member 279 Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    Numbie, have you investigated whether there are any ham clubs nearby? Getting some "hands-on" experience is priceless for a newcomer to see what is what.

    I'd be *very* cautious about buying my first rig based on internet responses. You need to see the rigs first hand to get a feel for them.

    Some of the older rigs (and I'm talking 15 to 20 years) make perfect beginner rigs. Something along the lines of a Kenwood TS-430 or 440 would be great - easy to operate and just enough "bells and whistles" to give you a taste without completely confusing you.

    A rig like the HW-100 is easy to work on and you can learn a lot using something like that and tinkering with it.

    NO WAY I'd spend $3000 to start out. You can get your feet wet for a fraction of that and find out whether you really like it or not. Of course, if money is no object . . . . I'd STILL not jump in with a 7700 or the like. Why? You don't learn to fly in a Space Shuttle but a Cessna 150 or 172. You want something simple to learn the ropes first and then use that knowledge to build on.

    You can do digital with something like the '440 and have a blast with it. That rig was my main one for many, many years and it still works well even though I originally got it in 1990 or so. You can get them used for a few hundred dollars, throw up a dipole for pennies and you're off and running.

    For 100 foot runs, you'll want a good-quality RG-8 coax (NOT the smaller RG-58). LMR-400 is good quality but you can get by with less. Belden makes good coax as well. Look for RG-8 size with the minimum loss per 100 feet you can afford. At HF that is not so great a problem, but when you get to VHF, it can be.

  10. K2ER

    K2ER Ham Member QRZ Page

    In my opinion, starting out in nearly any pursuit with the most expensive and sophisticated gear is a mistake, for several reasons. One; you don't know how to operate it. Two; you don't need all that stuff - it was built for experienced users who are reaching for the "best" of everything. Three; it's too bloody expensive as a cost of entry and might become a valuable paperweight, should your interests change.

    In ham radio, you can get 80% of the transceiver value with very modest spend. Easy to do for $500 or $1000 without being cheap about it. Radios from the 1990's are a very good value. They nearly all have computer control, digital and solid state everything, small-but-not-too-small footprint and ergonomics, and are not too old yet. My Kenwood TS-450S served me for 19 years until I just felt like getting a more expensive radio. Didn't need to, just felt like finally doing it.

    Antennas you can spend your whole life in amateur radio obsessing about. There is no such thing as "best" or "right." Since you're new, a multi-band antenna will help you get on various HF bands and learn about them. You could purchase a commercial vertical antenna as long as you have the real estate to put down radials. Or, you could build a classic multi-band wire antenna like a 135' doublet fed with ladder line. Your property's topography and logistics will dictate some of these things. But don't obsess over it thinking that "this choice is permanent and must be perfect." Ha ha! Not.

    Other gear you should own: Antenna tuner. Manual is fine. Can be had for under $200 used. Get one with a built-in wattmeter/SWR meter so you don't need a separate one. Microphone and Morse key (keyer optional depending on what's in the radio you buy). Good quality coax (RG-8X is fairly standard as a low loss, lightweight cable capable of use with full power).

    Welcome to the journey. Don't try to take it all at once.

    73 de K2ER
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