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Discussion in 'Amateur Radio Equipment Reviews' started by N8YV, Jun 5, 2002.

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  1. N8YV

    N8YV Ham Member QRZ Page

    It's VHF contest weekend soon, so to get in on any 6-meter action that will take place, I thought I'd buy a transverter for my HF rig.  In reviewing the Ten-Tec website, I found several transverters in both assembled and kit forms.  After placing a call to Ten-Tec to inquire, I discovered that, unfortunately, the model I wanted---1208A---was no longer available, only the kitted version was offered.

    I am not new to kitbuilding, in fact I have somewhat better facilities and experience available to me than many hams. I needed a rig to get on the air with, I felt up to giving it a go, so I ordered the unit in kit form and set up my assembly table, test equipment and tools in anticipation!

    The kit arrived and was well-packaged.  A quick overview of the parts and materials confirmed the presence of each item.  Then, it was off to the easy chair for a thorough read in preparation for the project.  I started in, after dinner.

    The assembly of the unit, up to the first testing stage, went smoothly and without a hitch. Following the instructions to the letter, I prepared for the first of several "progress checks", this one being a test of the oscillator circuit.  

    With my frequency counter and power supply at the ready, I fired-up the circuit as per the instructions.  Nothing.  I double-checked my connections, made sure the counter was functioning and still---nothing.  I grabbed my multimeter, proceeded to check for voltage and----nothing----.  Wow, did my power supply quit working?  

    Just as I asked myself this question, I placed my hand on the supply to turn it around and noticed the heat sink was VERY hot!  I hit the power switch and disconnected the project from the supply. Tracing my work (which I had already thoroughly inspected) for any solder bridges, mis-installed components, etc., I found that I was getting a complete dead short across the ground and +12v terminals of the transverter board.

    I began unsoldering key components in an effort to isolate the trouble, finally arriving at the point where I was inspecting the circuit board's copper traces, themselves.  Soon, I found the problem---an area of copper which had not been properly etched-away in the manufacturing process!  A dead short, even had no components been installed, existed right out of the box!

    As I stated previously, I have experience and the facilities to handle most contingencies.  As a technician, I am familiar with locating troubles in equipment, but I was not dealing with a working product, here. In fact, this problem rendered the project useless, even before it was begun!

    After engineering a solution to the shorted board (using a drill bit and scraping tools), I was up and running again...or so I thought.  Remember that hot supply?  Well, it functioned no more!  Already delayed over an hour while fiddling with the faulty circuit board, and beginning to question my decision to buy this kit, I pressed another supply into service for the test.  This time, I got results, the circuit was functional, but I could not adjust the device to the desired specifications.

    After another delay period, I determined that I could modify the circuit by removing a component.  I did this, then re-tried the test.  This time, it adjusted perfectly and quickly.  So far, I had lost a large amount of wasted time, found a defect in manufacturing and now a possible design flaw--but at least, I finally had it going forward!

    Anxious to get back on track after these diversions, I proceeded through the next phases, until I AGAIN reached a point where I had to stop. This time, it was for a shortage of material--the material had been included, but in insufficient quantity to complete the required task.  So, off to the garage in a pouring rain to find a substitute (successfully), I lost another 20 minutes or so, for what was now a becoming a five-hour, patience-trying affair.

    After grabbing some sleep, I gave TenTec a call the next morning.  Sorry, I was told, I had to call on their non-800 line, at my expense, to get help. Okay, fine.  The techs were helpful, agreed with my assessments and remedies so far, even apologizing for my difficulties.  In the event, I was told these circuit boards are made elsewhere, as are the instruction manuals, which makes me wonder why Ten-Tec would not be a bit more careful to be sure things are in proper order, before shipping these out to the customers?

    Later that morning, as I was encountering still more problems of serious delay, I received a call from Ten-Tec and learned of yet another fault in this kit.  I appreciated their efforts to warn me, and proceeded to engineer yet another fix, this time thankfully in advance!  

    At that point, I had encountered four major delays, a damaged piece of equipment and discovered that even the instruction manual contains a host of errors, including a critical step that should be placed MUCH earlier in the assembly process (it involves applying a lot of heat using a high-wattage soldering tool, to a large area of the PC board that should be done before any components are added. Instead, it appears at a point nearly 75% toward completion)!

    As this is written, the project is at a standstill, awaiting replenishment of certain parts which were damaged or missing.  I am out a lot of wasted time, phone calls and growing very frustrated.  No matter what is done to help solve the problems by Ten-Tec, this project is already a defective product, with so many delays and shortcomings, it may NEVER be up and running in time for this weekend's contest!

    To be continued....
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