The Heathkit SB-104 and Friends thread

Discussion in '"Boat Anchor" & Classic Equipment' started by N8YX, Dec 13, 2019.

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  1. N8YX

    N8YX Ham Member QRZ Page

    (Which hopefully doesn't roll off the page!)

    A couple years before I became a ham I was an avowed (Heath)kit builder and all around electronics tinkerer. Their catalogs and the assorted news stand issues of Popular Electronics and similar magazines often showcased the SB-104 and matching accessories.

    Those Heathkits are part of what galvanized me into getting a Novice license. By the time I could actually afford such a station, Heath had long since ceased production of them. However, there's always a glut of them on the surplus market awaiting to be restored, modified or simply used.

    I currently own the entire line including a builder's proof SB-230 (which needs its HV supply re-capped), a prototype antenna tuner and synthesized VFO. The latter needs a little work in its divider chain in order to tune the entire frequency range but it does put out a 5MHz signal and can control its host SB-104.

    A couple more 104s may be turned into receivers or used for other experiments.

    Any fans of this line? Post your pictures, stories and mods...
  2. N8FVJ

    N8FVJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    I owned am SB-104A 30 years ago. It was an ok radio, but I avoid now due to too many issues. I own a National NCX-5.
  3. K9STH

    K9STH Platinum Subscriber Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I avoid the SB-104 / SB-104A like the plague! Those transceivers are notorious for problems! I also definitely do not like the SB-303 for quite a few reasons (I did own one for a while). Over the years, a couple of SB-104 / SB-104A units have come across my workbench. Keeping one in operation can be daunting!

    I have worked on a large number of Heath products over the decades and most of them work well. In addition, I grew up 35-miles from the Heath plant in St. Joseph, Michigan (mailing address was Benton Harbor but the actual plant was south of Benton Harbor on Hilltop Road in St. Joseph). After getting my driver's license, I would drive up to the plant to drool over the latest kits. There was a showroom just to the left after you entered the plant where one could purchase any kit, in present production, and take it home.

    Also, if one had any questions on any Heath product ever made, the showroom clerk would call back into the plant and someone, often the head of the design team for the product, would come out and answer questions. Often, that person would take a piece of paper and draw a schematic outlining some improvement that could be made to the unit. Then he, it was always a "he", would go back into the plant and come out, a few minutes later, with a paper bag full of parts to make the modification. No charge!

    Presently, I own a lot of Heath equipment: AK-5, AM-2, AR-2, AR-3, B-1, CA-1, DX-20, DX-35, DX-100, GD-1, 2-each GD-1B, HA-10, HD-15, HD-1416, HM-102, 4-each HM-2102, HN-31, HP-13, HP-20, 2-each HP-23A, HR-20, HW-30, HX-10, HX-20, MR-1, MT-1, PM-1, PM-2, several QF-1, RX-1, SB-10, SB-101, SB-110A, SB-200, SBA-300-3, SBA-300-4, SB-301, SB-310, SB-401, SB-500, 2-each SB-600, SB-630, 4-each TX-1, 2-each VF-1, VHF-1, XC-2, and XC-6. Have owned: DX-40, HG-10B, HR-10B, HW-12A, HW-32, SB-303, SB-610, and SB-620. Have owned, in the past, a number of units that I again own today.

    As such, I definitely like Heath equipment. Unfortunately, definitely not the SB-104 / SB-104A!

    Glen, K9STH
  4. WD4IGX

    WD4IGX Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I have to say this for the SB-104(A) - whatever its problems, I think it's one of the coolest looking rigs ever made. If the engineers maybe didn't quite get it right at least the design team knocked it out of the park.

    The OP's avatar looks like some kind of hybrid of an SB and an HW 104, with the analog dial of an HW-104 and the color of an SB.
  5. W7UUU

    W7UUU Super Moderator Lifetime Member 133 Administrator Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    I have read that "there never was a perfectly working SB-104".... because it had too many flaws and flakinesses.

    VERY pretty rig though I gotta say. And the entire SB-104 lineup was pretty amazing.

  6. WD4IGX

    WD4IGX Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I had a friend who had the 104A and remote VFO and speaker/PS and I used it a few times. It seemed to work fine, but I didn't use it extensively.
  7. W7UUU

    W7UUU Super Moderator Lifetime Member 133 Administrator Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    They were just seriously finicky rigs, prone to lots of niggling problems. Lots of intermittent stuff - just like Glen K9STH points out - similar ills to the SB-303 solid-state HF receiver, with lots of plug-in cards. Pins oxidizing over time was a big problem. I've worked with two SB-104a transceivers over the years - they worked "OK" but I'd NEVER replace a well-sorted SB-301/401 or SB-101 with an SB-104a

    Just my 2/100 of a buck....

    The 104 serious do look fine though, I gotta say

  8. WD4IGX

    WD4IGX Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Ah. Well the one I used had only been built for a couple of years at most at that point (by my friend who owned it.) That would mean not much chance for pin oxidization yet at least.

    I kinda want an SB-101 or, better yet, 301/401 set some day, but not enough to be seriously looking for one yet.
    W7UUU likes this.
  9. W7UUU

    W7UUU Super Moderator Lifetime Member 133 Administrator Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    Both are such fun rigs!! I use the SB-101 mostly for SSB, and the 301/401 for CW, as "separates"

    The 1 KHz Heathkit CW offset standard takes some getting used to - of course, there are easy mods to change it to the more common 700 Hz. But for that reason I leave the SB-101 for sideband. On the 301/401 I can receive at any frequency I like - just so long as I zero-beat the calling station on 1000 first - then I can slide the receiver down 300 no problem. I pair it with an Autek QF1A for even more "warmth" - sounds wonderful.

    I'll probably end up with another SB-104a at some point - it's been a long time since I had one. Just need to keep an eye out for one to come along I guess.

    WD4IGX likes this.
  10. K9STH

    K9STH Platinum Subscriber Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    My most recent Heath acquisition was the SB-310. Got it for $35.00 in an auction, primarily over the Internet, that was conducted by an auction house here in the Dallas, Texas, area. Had to drive about 10-miles to retrieve the item.

    Someone had been trying to work on the LMO and got that assembly really fouled up. However, I have several of the TRW tube-type LMOs in stock. Replaced the LMO and the receiver works fine. It does have the optional kit that replaces the 11-meter band with the 13-meter and 15-meter bands.

    I do have 3-examples of what Chuck Penson, in his Heathkit book, refers to as "very rare" items. One is my AK-5 speaker. It has a groove, 3/4ths inch behind the front, instead of the "normal" completely flat sides. Supposedly, only about 100 of these speakers were made before reducing the cost by not having the groove cut in the sides and top.

    Another is my PM-1 field strength meter. It has a plastic faced meter instead of the "normal" black bakelite type meter.

    Then, my CA-1 CONELRAD monitor is doubly rare. First of all, there were not that many CA-1 units produced. Then, my example has the large diameter red alert light instead of the "normal" small diameter light.

    Some people "bad mouth" Heath equipment. Yes, there are definitely very bad examples of all Heath models because of the skill of the kit builder. However, the vast majority of the equipment does perform up to the original specifications. Also, there were certain models that, for various reasons, did not perform all that well. The SB-104 / SB-104A, the original HW-29 "Sixer", the HW-2026, the SB-110 (NOT the SB-110A), and the SB-303 are prime examples.

    Glen, K9STH

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