Why are hams selling their Heathkit radios?

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by KR2C, Feb 5, 2020.

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  1. KA4DPO

    KA4DPO Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I don't get it either. I'm not a Heathkit collector but I can tell you that I have worked hundreds of Heath rigs over the years on CW and SSB, even AM. I have never heard one that didn't sound good. Sometime in the 80's, when I was living in Florida, I used to work a Catholic priest who was stationed in Ecuador on 20M SSB, I don't remember his call. He ran a HW-101 and it always sounded great, I just don't get the hate, I bet a million hams owe their first contacts to Heathkit, either on their end, or the other.
    KA0HCP, WD4IGX, N2EY and 2 others like this.
  2. KP4SX

    KP4SX Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Mitsubishi rules these days, Boomer. :)
  3. KK6NOH

    KK6NOH Guest

    I hail from that new folk category, and I would grab a heathkit in a nanosecond if offered one and I had the spare cash. Sadly I haven't had a time when both of those are true. Think of me as sort of like an AND gate in that regard.
    WD4IGX, WZ7U and K3XR like this.
  4. N2EY

    N2EY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Let's take a look at some other 1960s HF transceiver designs, to see how the SB-10x family stacks up.

    Some say that a broadband first IF was stupid for good performance.

    The National NCX-5 is an interesting design. It has a broadband first IF - from 3.5 to 4.0 MHz. Its front-end heterodyne scheme is very much like that of the Drake 2A/B/C, the Mosley CM-1, and some homebrew designs: an 80 meter receiver with a crystal-controlled converter in front of it. Where the NCX-5 differs is that the second IF and the crystal filters are at 6.02 MHz and the VFO is at 9.52 to 10.02 MHz.

    So the NCX-5 receiver topology looks like this:

    Tuned circuit at signal frequency/1st RF amplifier/Tuned circuit at signal frequency/2nd RF amplifier/Tuned circuit at signal frequency/First mixer (3rd RF amplifier on 80meters)/LC bandpass filter (2 pole)/Second mixer (first mixer on 80 meters/Crystal filter. Four gain stages ahead of the selectivity and a 2 pole LC resistively loaded bandpass filter in the broadband tunable first IF. If a broadband tunable first IF is "stupid"....why did National use it?

    The manual describes the NCX-5 as "high performance", too....on page 2:

    http://arizona-am.net/PHOENIX/W7CPA/National NCX -5_manual.pdf

    On the bands above 80 meters, the crystal heterodyne oscillator is used and the first mixer converts the incoming amateur band to 3.5 to 4.0 MHz. This explains the need for two RF amplifiers and the associated tuned circuits: to avoid hearing strong 80/75 meter signals on other bands due to feed-through.

    The heterodyne frequencies used are:

    40 meters: 11 MHz
    20 meters: 18 MHz
    15 meters: 25 MHz
    10 meters: 24.5, 25, 25.5 and 26 MHz

    The 25 MHz crystal is used for both 15 meters and the 28.5 to 29 MHz range of 10 meters. The 25 MHz crystal is supplied with the radio; if 10 meter coverage other than 28.5 to 29.0 MHz is desired, additional crystals must be bought and installed.

    This heterodyne scheme results in 80 and 10 meters tuning in one direction and 40, 20 and 15 meters tuning in the reverse direction - "backwards" - which prevents the use of a single dial scale for all bands.

    The use of a second IF at 6.02 MHz seems odd and results in a high VFO frequency. However, the crystal filter used is an 8 pole unit with good SSB selectivity. There is no provision for a sharp CW crystal filter, however.

    Speaking of CW....the NCX-5 does not transmit and receive CW on the same frequency unless the RIT (called "transceive vernier") is used, in a manner similar to that of the Henry Radio Tempo One (aka Yaesu FT-200). This feature is NOT mentioned in the manual - at least, I couldn't find it, but having researched the heterodyne scheme and the tuneup instructions, it's clear that there is no provision to put the CW transmit carrier where it needs to be for same-frequency transceiving.

    There is no CW sidetone provided, and while the manual uses the term "break in", it's just "keyed VOX" like other rigs of the era.

    An interesting feature is that the transmit-receive relay in the NCX-5 is energized in receive, rather than in transmit. This means any sort of failure which results in the relay being deenergized puts the radio into transmit mode.

    The optional VX-501 provides a second VFO.

    The NCX-5 with power supply was almost twice the price of the Heathkit SB-101 with power supply and CW filter.

    By comparison, the Heathkit SB-301/401 combo, with CW filter, CW sidetone, and full 10 meter coverage, cost $567 - more than $100 less than the NCX-5 alone.

    I'm not saying the NCX-5 is a bad rig, or that the Heathkits were state of the art. But the reasons for their relative popularity seem pretty clear.


    Kenwood copied the Heathkit heterodyne scheme in their hugely popular TS-520S family, and some other pre-WARC rigs of theirs. The Yaesu FT-101 family uses a very similar scheme except that the second IF is ~3180 kHz, the first IF is 8700-9200 kHz and the VFO tunes 5520 to 6020 kHz.
    WD4IGX likes this.
  5. N2EY

    N2EY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    They sold enormous amounts of test equipment......and not just to hams.

    If you look at just Amateur Radio stuff sold to hams, I would put them at #1 of American manufacturers. Nobody else even came close.

    I would say THE most successful in terms of volume of Amateur Radio products.

    Here's why:

    Consider the other American amateur radio manufacturers:

    Collins: Great stuff, but expensive. At least some of their "amateur" gear was actually sold to non amateurs.

    Drake: Good gear but a limited product line. Sales did not really take off until the 2-B receiver, and by the time of the TR-7 sales were dropping fast.

    Hammarlund: Big seller from the late 30s to early 60s but they missed the transceiver boom of the 1960s-70s. Much of their output was to nonhams.

    Hallicrafters, National: Similar to Hammarlund but they stayed in the game longer. Sales dropped off in the 1960s even though they made some transceivers.

    Johnson: Only made transmitters and never made the transition to SSB.

    By comparison, Heathkit peaked in the 1960s, with a wide range of radios and accessories made for, bought by and used by amateurs.

    Yes...particularly the maintain part. I gave a link to the NCX-5 manual in a previous post...it gives a list of test gear needed for alignment. Most hams of the time didn't have anywhere close to all that was required.
  6. W1VT

    W1VT Ham Member QRZ Page

    The Heathkit HW-9 measured 99 dB IMD DR on 80M and 88 dB on 20M. I thought that was respectable for a $250 QRP multiband rig in 1985.
    A lot of CW QRP rigs of the time didn't have any way of getting on 10 meters, much less the option of adding 12/17/30 meters.
  7. W1VT

    W1VT Ham Member QRZ Page

    I think that receiver testing by the ARRL was reasonably effective in getting manufacturers to design and sell better radios. I don't recall CQ or 73 publishing stuff that would encourage manufacturers to do so.

    On the other hand, transmit testing results typically resulted in attacks on the messenger, such as arguments on the proper reference level.
    I think this suggested to the casual observer that transmit IMD wasn't as important as receiver dynamic range.
    N2EY likes this.
  8. N2EY

    N2EY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Heathkit made a lot of good stuff for Amateur Radio, but they also made a couple of things that weren't such great designs, and should be avoided.....

    Here's my list:

    - AT-1 transmitter. Ran the final amplifier as a doubler on all bands except 80, resulting in low efficiency. Link output, making some sort of matching network mandatory to get even a few watts output.

    - DX-35/40 transmitters. A decent design except for the power transformer, which was underrated and prone to failure.

    - SB-303 receiver. Not as good as the SB-301 that preceded it....and what happened to the SB-302?

    - HW-2026. First attempt at a synthesized 2 meter FM rig. Only in production for a short time due to spurs.

    Any others?
  9. WA2CWA

    WA2CWA Ham Member QRZ Page

    Heathkit HW-29, 6 meter transceiver, had to use fundamental crystals rather the more common 3rd overtone-types.
    N2EY likes this.
  10. KM1H

    KM1H Ham Member QRZ Page

    Face it Zak, the ARRL method favored the advertisers by 6 dB. It was important to only a small few at first but as more and more "rotten signals" showed up on SSB and more and more hams had the necessary equipment to make measurements the ARRL's duplicity became obvious.

    And so it remains as the ARRL wouldnt have the nerve to admit anything since their bottom line is advertisement driven.
    K1OIK likes this.

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