My Shack
name02

LAST UPDATED: 12th March 2014

Welcome to my shack! This is the room (or rather part of a room) where all the radio gear is located. I have arranged my equipment so that it is easy to use and everything I need to adjust is within reach. Having an efficient layout is very important, there is nothing worse than having to stand up, stretch or reach over to adjust a control, especially when you are in the middle of a contest or chasing that elusive DXCC. My equipment is stacked vertically (as opposed to the more common side-by-side arrangements usually seen), which allows me to arrange my equipment in a very small space whilst retaining usability. The images below detail the various important components of my radio gear. The main radio is an Icom IC-756pro (the original ‘pro’ version) which covers HF and 6m. I have used Icom gear for a good many years now and rate it very highly. To get the most out of my equipment, I use some ancillary equipment such as a Comet CAT10 ATU to match the antennas to somewhere near 50 Ohms. The Datong FL2 is an analogue (not DSP) audio filter that is well respected all over the world. The FL2 gives a real boost to weak signals and pulls them out of the noise. Good headphones are a necessity and for HF work, the Kenwood HS-5’s (see image below) must rate amongst the best. The are not cheap, but boy do they work! They are no good for hi-fi listening as the frequency response has been tailored specifically for communications. The MFJ1026 phaser is used in conjunction with the main antenna (now just a dipole in the attic) and the active loop or a random length dipole (attic,  again) to remove local noise, which it does very well indeed! Latest equipment is another SDR receiver, this time it is the superb FunCube Dongle (FCD) Pro+. A flash drive sized dongle that covers from 150kHz up to 2.1GHz, with low noise and good filtering. Listening on 4m and 2m ssb is a revelation. I recently did comparative tests with the Netsky SDR dongle, the results are on my 6m/VHF FM page.  

Shack with ID 1213
small2
tn_Stack Aug 13
tn_racal 1792 no label
rtl-sdr cans
sm3
tn_WP_000410
sm5

Below are shots of my previous layout, from just over a year ago. The equipment is still arranged in basically the same way as it was but I have made a few tweaks to aid operating comfort and allow me to accommodate expanding interests (VHF for instance) without taking up any further space. I am fortunate enough to be able to have a large desk to house my gear on, but making the best of your available space takes some planning. Look on the internet for shack layouts and you will see all sorts, from the tiniest and simplest,  to the truly magnificent multi operator/room setups.  

sm16

ANTENNAS:

The main antenna now is a wire dipole for 15 and 10m mounted in my attic, due to a move of QTH. My old antenna was a 20m long OCF (Off Centre Fed) Dipole in an inverted Vee/L configuration due to the length restriction of the garden. The apex of the OCF is 10m above ground. I purchased this antenna as a ‘short’ OCF that covered from 20m thru 6m. However after a few weeks of use I decided to extend the antenna so that it would cover 40m (having done some  careful calculations to ensure it would fit in the available space. This antenna was originally 10.5m long but I replaced the shorter, 3.5m, wire with a 13m wire. It has a slightly different element length ratio than the smaller one (which was 3:1). The longer element is now sloping at about 45 degrees instead of a much shallower slope, which could only be achieved by lengthening the support pole at the fence post from 3m to 5m or more, which at this time is impractical. Above are various shots of the OCF/Windom configuration. The drawing gives more detail of the actual installation. The SWR on 40, 20, 17 and 10m are all 2:1 or below, which is acceptable. 30 and 15m are extremely high and 12m is around 3-4:1. Now that I have an ATU, I can tune all bands, and show a good SWR to the radio (and hence keep the PA stresses due to impedance mismatch to a minimum).

tn_ocf1 tn_ocf centre 1
tn_OCF from below IMG_1926_resize
tn_ocf support 1
IMG_1925_resize
choke closeup
tn_ocf other view 3 end 2
OCF Plans1

The other HF antenna used here is a Wellbrook ALA1530s active loop with a diameter of 1m. This is mounted at 3m above ground on my ‘antenna tree’ (a 10m high dead tree with the branches cut off by a previous occupier!) In an ideal world the antenna should be rotatable to take advantage of it’s excellent bi-directional nulls but mine is on a fixed mount and attached to the tree so rotating it would be an issue, but if I do need to move it I can rotate it to some extent by hand (but as this requires a spanner and a step ladder, it doesn’t happen very often!).  As frequency increases the directional properties of the loop become less apparent (except for local noise) and I am able to hear stations from all headings. Yes it is expensive, but having used it for a good while, I can say that the expense is justified. This one antenna covers me from LW right up to 6m (although being so low it does not work nearly as well as it did at my old QTH where it was at 14m and in the clear also this one has a fair bit less gain at 6m than my old one (the ALA330s)). The ALA1530 is mainly used for receiving frequencies up to 7 MHz on the main receiver, as a general purpose and DRM antenna for the Racal and SDR radios and, occasionally, as a ‘noise’ pickup antenna for use with the MFJ noise canceler, a job which it does very well (being closer to the ground it picks up electrical noise from surrounding houses, such as plasma TV’s and PC’s, usually more strongly than the OCF and allowing me to null out or reduce most of the worst noise sources down to an acceptable level.). Other times I use a random wire

tn_loop closeup 3
tn_loop2
tn_loop from below 2

I installed a dedicated 6m antenna in preparation for the Sporadic E season, which has been in progress for a few weeks now. I used my Windom last year and it worked well and allowed me to hear signals from the Caribbean and North America amongst others. I am not in a situation where I can put up a yagi for 6m but a sloping wire dipole is just about acceptable (I hope!). The top is at about 9m and the bottom is about 7m up and it is in the clear. It is facing about East, maybe slightly north of East, and should have some directionality towards that direction (of course it does mean I potentially lose out to the West (i.e. USA) but it shouldn’t be too bad. Reception tests on the local beacons show an increase of about 3 s -points on the nearer one and on the farther one, which is almost due West of here, there is not much between them. I think the dipole is slightly stronger but, and this is a big but, the dipole has a lower noise level so signals at the same strength sound quite a bit clearer/stronger. It will be interesting to compare the two side by side during the Es season. Below is an image of the 6m sloping dipole. The right angled wire above is the HF OCF dipole, detailed above. The air core choke is further down the feeder than I wanted (it should be at the feedpoint, but it is so far down that it is not visible in the image), but I had wound it already and I wanted to test the antenna. When I service/adjust the antennas I will move the choke up to the feedpoint. It is a simple 4 turn choke about 3” in diameter, wound over a plastic drinks beaker (which was then removed after the choke was secured. It is important that the choke is ‘solenoid’ wound (the turns are side-by-side) rather than ‘scramble’ wound where the coax is just coiled up with turns overlapping. The solenoid method of winding, although trickier to do increases the impedance of the choke, which is the whole purpose of the choke in the first place (any signals on the outer braid of the coax are literally choked off and cannot travel any further down the feeder). This method also minimizes inter-turn coupling.

6msloper

Having experimented with an attic dipole, I decided that a better antenna was in order so that I could use my SDR properly. To this end I purchased a 9:1 unun (unbalanced to unbalanced transformer) and ran a 10m (approx) length from about 2m inside the attic to outside and to the far end of the garden (about 8m further). The antenna works reasonably well, particularly on the bands above 14MHz. However being partially indoors, it does pick up a fair bit of noise. Which is when I decided it would be better served as the noise pickup for my main station, thereby leaving teh Wellbrook loop free for use on the SDR-IQ.

If our TV is off though, the noise level is generally acceptable and it is certainly better than the attic dipole. Of course the main antenna is quieter, as the feedpoint is as far from the house as possible.It is important to have as much choice as possible when it comes to antennas - even a ‘make do’ antenna (like my attic dipole) can produce surprises, and just sometimes you might be able to hear something on a second antenna that is not audible on your main antenna (it could have a null in the direction of the station you are trying for or may not pick up an interfering signal as strongly for instance). Also, antennas quite often work on bands they are not designed for, just experiment, it’s fun and you learn an awful lot about what works and what doesn’t!

The VHF antenna has been replaced - I was using a 5 element vertical yagi, which was great, but limited to band 2 frequencies. I decided to purchase a triband vertical white stick. I used to have a dual bander which worked pretty well, so the natural progression was to get one that covered 50, 144 and 430MHz. I mounted this in the attic and removed the yagi, because of space and interactivity issues. Pleased to say the vertical works well on most frequencies and I am able to hear plenty of stations.

I recently updated my main computer from a laptop to a base unit so that it was capable of running the latest SDR sofware packages, that take advantage of increased RAM and CPU power. It is specced as follows: Quad Core i5 processor running at 3GHz with 16GB RAM, 1GB graphics card, SoundBlaster Audigy ZS2 soundcard, and a 1TB hard drive with 23” and 21.5” HD monitors.

So far it is proving to be a very fast and powerful PC and makes using the SDR a pleasure.  

Some Receivers and Transceivers from my Ham Radio ‘Career’

Below are some of the receivers and transceivers I have owned or have been used in my shack over the past 30 or so years. There are some real classics here, examples of which sometimes pop up on eBay. Beware though as the older models may well need some kind of work doing to them to get them back to their former glory, or even to work at all. The older ones may need leaky capacitors changing or need to be operated on a low voltage for a period of time, using a variac. The voltage can be increased over a period of days. It would be best to avoid projects like this unless  you are experienced in restoring old electronic equipment - or you know someone who is and can guide you through the pitfalls (such as the very high voltages that can exist in valve/tube equipment and chassis that carry full mains voltage etc)..

tn_eddy 640

The Eddystone s640 was the first receiver I used. It was my mothers receiver when she was an SWL back in the 60’s and early 70’s. I had it hooked up to a rather poor wire antenna whilst I learned the craft of Shortwave listening. The 640 had been used a lot, my mother had amassed quite a few log books and over 3000 prefixes (that was quite a feat in those days), it was a bit deaf up on 15 and 10m but gave me a good idea of how to tune signals and use the available controls to make the signals as readable as possible.

tn_barlowwadley_xcr30

Ahh the Barlow Wadely XCR30, what an unusual radio that was, but i have to say it was a darned fine receiver. It was a real dx portable. It could resolve SSB and thanks to the Wadely loop system had virtually no drift. This, coupled with good sensitivity made it an excellent radio. I used to sneak it into school in my bag and go into an unused upstairs classroom during my lunch break to listen to 20m dx. I heard lots of places, including Brazil and America. Not difficult really, but to a 12/13 year old boy it was amazing. Some of my teachers were quite impressed, others were not so! Wish I still had this one, they command a high price these days if they come up for sale.

tn_viceroymarkiii

The KW Viceroy, I had quite a few QSO’s with one of these during the first few years of having my full license. I used it with a Grundig Satellit 3000 (see below) as a receiver as the Viceroy either didn’t have one or it didn’t work - I can’t remember which. Switching between tx and rx was done manually with a coax antenna switch - quite often I would forget to switch it back to receive afterwards. As you can imagine, I didn’t do pile ups etc back then!

tn_satellit3000

The venerable Grundig Satellit 3000 graced my shack for many years, until I sold it a couple of years ago - it was starting to show it’s age, well it was over 20 years old and had been used a lot. It was great on broadcast reception as it had 3 bandwidths (the narrow one was just an audio filter though), an antenna matching circuit, and it was the first radio to be equipped with a digital readout. Oh, and the sound quality was excellent, thanks to the large speakers and separate bass and treble controls. The one area it fell down on was SSB. It drifted like the clappers and you would have to chase a signal about. Some of this was due to the rotary drum used to change bands, the contacts would get dirty and make poor contact.

tn_ts120v

I quite like the TS120v (which is the 10 watt non WARC version of the TS130s), even though it was a single conversion superhet, it was still a nice receiver to use. One thing the TS120/130 possessed was IF shift which was really useful in removing QRM. This was my dads radio (we were both SWL’s back then) and it was hooked up to a Mosely 3 ele tribander at 30 feet or a 15m inverted L for the low bands. I remember that at the time Radio Tirana used to be a pain as it broadcast on 7065kHz, right in the middle of the 40m phone band and I leant how to zero beat a signal with this radio.

tn_fr50b

The Yaesu FR50 and it’s accompanying transmitter the FL50 were in my dads shack before the TS120 (above). Being an older radio, I seem to remember it was valved. I can’t remember the quality of the receiver as I was only very young when I used this. They do come up for sale every now and then. Unlike the TS120, this had AM so could be used to listen to the broadcast stations on high end of 40m and of course the AM stuff on top band.

tn_satellit2000

Another Satellit from my collection, this is the 2000. It was a good, solid radio and performed very well. Is was a broadcast radio rather than a dx machine as it lacked SSB - although you could plug in an external BFO, if you had one. The sliders on these used to get very noisy and were not that easy to replace as you needed to remove a good portion of the radio to get to them. As a broadcast radio, it worked very well, and the massive rod antenna no doubt helped with the signals, although you could attach an external wire if necessary. The difficulty with this, and the other Satellits is their size, they are huge and heavy! Put one on your desk and you will find that you have lost most of the space on it. That said, they were built like tanks and were reliable except for the odd nuance, such as the sliders as mentioned earlier.

tn_ft101b

This is the FT101’B’, mine was blue, which was unusual for a ham rig. I had loads of QSO’s on this back in the mid 80’s (even then it was old!) although being a hybrid, quick band changes were not possible as the finals had to be plate and loaded, which took time as there was the preselector to peak, then tuning the plate and load for a dip whilst on low power and then final tuning at high power (if I remember correctly). Bit deaf on 10m - also had 11m as standard for some reason!

tn_ft307

After a break of a few years I got back into radio and this was the first radio I used. This had the 10m crystals changed to 11m by the previous owner (a cb-er I think!) and had an intermittent audio fault on transmit - however CW worked without problem so this is the mode I used and came to love. I worked many, many countries with this radio, and it’s matching ATU. It also had transverters for 6, 2 and 70cms but I was unable to use these as I didn’t have the correct wiring or the 10m crystals.

tn_dx70th

The DX70 was the first radio I purchased new, and it did me proud for quite a time. I did miss some of the features that the larger radio’s had, such as proper narrow CW filters, rather then the audio filters the DX70 had. Still it was good fun and got me onto 6m for the first time.

tn_satellit1400sl

The Satellit 1400 was a radio I had dreamed of owning since my early days as a listener. I remember reading ‘Shortwave magazine’ and ‘Practical Wireless’ back in the late 70’s and early 80’s and they often showed pictures of the reporters and their set up. One picture caught my eye, it was of a guy called Simon Hamer (from Wales I think) and he used a Satellit 1400. I looked and thought that the 1400 was a superb looking radio and he heard a lot of DX - it was then I decided that I would own one one day. Nice receiver, not the best but good, especially for a ‘portable’ - it’s a big radio so portable is a matter of opinion.

tn_satellit600

Unusual receiver the Satellit 600, it has a motor driven preselector. The motor could be switched off to allow manual adjustment which is just as well because the motor drive tends to tune it just off so requires manual peaking. It has a rich deep sound as is typical with the Satellit series. Was a respectable performer on AM and SSB, stable enough to allow digimodes to be decoded on a PC. I had this one for quite a while before parting with it to finance the next radio.

tn_hro5

I had the HRO in the time between getting my class B license and getting my full license (a year) and I used it extensively on 80 and 160m where it worked like a dream. I used a 40m random wire with it, which no doubt helped! The HRO’s were a unique design which required coil packs to be changed when you wanted to change from one band to another. Quite a novel approach and cut down on the complexity of the front end of the receiver, and thereby reduced the cost. I had a full set of coil packs that took the HRO from 50kHz up to 30MHz. The graph on the front of the coil packs was used for determining frequency - you took the number indicated on the big dial and looked that up on the graph - not the easiest frequency display!

tn_ic756

The IC756 came into my shack after the IC746 it came from a friend who had used it mobile and had worked a lot of DX on SSB. As a consequence it had filters for SSB - I was into CW so swapped them for narrow CW filters - the 756 had a drawback that you could only fit a very limited number of filters. The other problem is that the display gets blue lines after a while. Most 756’s now have this problem.

tn_ic746

A shack in a box - transmits from 160m up to 2m at 100w in all modes, also has AF DSP, like the 756. I got the 746 after the DX70 and was impressed by it, however the downside is the bandscope is not real time, the rx is muted when it does a sweep, whereas the 756’s bandscope was free running all the time - great for spotting dx. I liked the 746 and have stuck with Icom ever since - going on to the 756 then the 756 pro that I use now (that has IF DSP - no expensive filters to buy!).

sony2010

The Sony ICF2001D (or 2010 in USA) was a great radio. I owned it for a long time until it stopped working one day, the PLL died and could not be resurrected. This set travelled with me wherever I went and I heard so much on it. 32 memories, good filters, AM sync and switchable USB/LSB made this a real classic. Airband was not that great but better than not having it at all. Responded well to external antennas, wires of about 10m worked well but they were prone to static killing the front end.

sy2002

This was the digital version of the Sony ICF7600, the 7600D. It was a great broadcast radio and a good dxer on MW. However trying to tune SSB was a bit hit and miss as it tuned in 5kHz steps and then had a ‘clarifier’ in the form of a thumbwheel on the side. There was no sideband selector so you had to learn to tune either above and clarify down or below and clarify up depending on which sideband you wanted. Also the clarifier did not change the frequency readout so you could be anything up to nearly 5kHz off the shown frequency. But as I said, for broadcast listening, it was a super radio.

803A-2

The Sangean ATS803A came in many different guises, such as the Radio Shack DX440 and the Matsui MR4099 (I think) etc. All the same radio but with a different badge. Good radio but had some issues, such as ‘chuffing’ - the radio momentarily mutes the audio as you tune so if you are bandscanning it sounds like a train chuffing. Not the best for doing that kind of listening. These can be picked up quite cheaply now and as a bonus there are mods on the web to eliminate the chuffing and improve performance.

ra17l_f

The Racal RA17 is a real classic. Used by the government, BBC  monitoring and many others it was, at the time, probably the best receiver available. It used the Wadley loop drift cancelling system so it was very stable and used a ‘film strip’ which had a length of 30 feet as the bandspread display so tuning was easy. These are commanding a high price these days but beware as some are suffering from old age and will need an overhaul to get them back to their former glory. One other word of advise, they are BIG - your desk will disappear when you put an RA17 on it! I had mine for a year or so but it was just too big for the available space.

cr70apic

The Codar CR70A was a radio I did not get on with, I think mine must have been faulty as I hardly heard anything on it (even with it’s outboard preselector). It’s a pretty basic valved receiver. It would be unfair for me to say it is particularly bad as I am sure my one was faulty, plus I have heard others give good reports on them. If you are thinking of buying one, I would check it on air first, just in case. 

mohican_refurb

Here is the Heathkit ‘Mohican’, another Iconic radio. The Mohican was offered as a kit (Heathkit were the manufacturers and they produced many kits from simple receivers to full blown transceivers and accessories). The thing with buying a radio that is made from a kit is that you have no idea how competent the person who constructed the kit was. A look inside the case should provide some answers - if it is well made, neat solder joints and tidy wiring, the chances are the person was a patient and competent constructor. Of course that may not be the case as I have seen some kits that look really untidy but work very well, and I have seen neat and tidy kits that don’t-  Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware!) with any of these. The Mohican covered 500kHz-30Mhz and was ‘portable’ and had a massive built in whip. Performance was dependent on the skill of the constructor but they could perform quite well, especially given their age.

Trio1

The Trio (later Trio Kenwood and finally just Kenwood) 9R59D was a very common receiver and even now there are many still around despite being nearly 40 years old. As with most of the receivers of this time it covered 500Khz-30MHz and had a seperate bandspread for the amateur bands. These were valve sets and the VFO used to drift as the set changed temperature. This was such a problem that some users modified their 9R59’s to use a screened semiconductor VFO which improved stability considerably. You should be able to pick up a decent one for about 50 or less. The one I owned did not have modifications to it and listening to SSB was dificult as I was constantly tuning to keep the signal readable. On AM broadcast it was better as the signals were not as affected by drift. They tend to lack sensitivity on the highest bands.

s7600aw

The Sony 7600 series were an extremely popular range of radio’s and I believe they are still in production (as the ICF 7600GR). This was about the first version (the 7600A, although the picture is of an 7600AW, they look the same). I used this radio for my first serious go at MW dxing with various loop antennas that I made (up to 1.5m square). I heard the USA and Canada many times with this one. The performance was very good, although tuning on SW was a bit tricky as the dial space was limited so you had to tune very slowly, and being analogue you were never quite sure what frequency you were on (this had to be checked by looking up the station you had heard and seeing what frequency it was on - not as easy as it sounds as there was no internet back then (and home computers were Commodore 64’s and ZX Spectrum’s) so we had to reply on publications like WRTH to give us the information we needed. 

R9914

My Roberts R9914 (AKA Sangean ATS505) - a great little radio! Tunes from 520kHz up to 29999kHz in 1kHz steps (plus LW and FM) and has SSB capability too. There is a clarifier for fine tuning signals that fall between the 1kHz steps. I am amazed by just how sensitive this little radio is, even on it’s own telescopic whip. Just this afternoon I switched it onto the 14MHz ham band and could hear the whole CW band alive with signals from all over the place. On 28MHz (10m) I was hearing the USA as clear as a bell on CW - OK there was a contest on but even so that does not detract that it was hearing relatively low power signals from over 6000km distant, whilst inside my bedroom on nothing more than it’s own built in pull up antenna. This radio is still in production and retails for about 110, which is a bargain. However, they pop up on eBay quite regularly and they tend to go for less than half that amount - I paid 30 for mine recently, which is 1/3rd of the new cost - now that is a REAL bargain. I have been having quite a time with the Roberts radio’s over the past few months - I have my eyes on the daddy of Roberts portables, the R861 (aka ATS909) - this is a class machine but also  holds it’s price well, typically fetching near 100 for a clean example, so I will have to wait a while for one of those. Annoyingly, due to my own stupidity I have missed a handful of these recently, all of which were at a reasonable price, in fact one went for an absolute song, less than I paid for the R9914, which was cheap at 30. I am pretty gutted about that, but will keep my eyes more open in the future in the hope that another one comes along. Update...about a week after I wrote this, I was lucky enough to find an R861 on eBay, in it’s original box, for 50 (I was the only bidder).  

9927

This is my Roberts R9921, a small but decent performing world band radio. The big selling point for me was the RDS display on FM. This will be of use when I travel abroad and wish to identify foreign language stations on the FM band. As well as FM, the R9921 covers MW and from 5.9-22MHz in set broadcast bands (however, it will tune the in between segments too, but the performance is slightly questionable, but useful for way out-of-band signals). This radio is tuned by a combination of up/down keys, preset memories and band selector buttons. There is no conventional tuning knob and only 9 memories on each of MW, FM and SW, giving a total of 27. Adequate, but not brilliant. There is no provision for SSB or external antennas, but it performs surprisingly well on all bands and may even have the edge over the R9914 on FM and is not far behind on SW broadcast signals. 

DR26-5

An old classic, the Panasonic DR26, or RF2600 as it was also known. I was pleased to acquire this  one for a very reasonable sum indeed. The DR26 was produced around 1979-1981 and featured coverage of LW, MW and SW (from 1.7-18.4MHz), plus FM. It was a large ‘portable’ with a good sized speaker which gave a rich, deep sound to music and made listening a pleasure. I even put a video of it on YouTube (my user name is JT65 should you want to look for it). A number of features of the DR26 made this stand out from the lesser sets of this period, such as digital display, a tunable preselector, SW calibrator, wide and narrow bandwidths, SSB, with variable BFO and smooth analogue tuning. The DR26 was a Dual conversion radio and was plenty sensitive enough to hear signals from all over the world with ease, even on it’s own internal whip (which was rather long by portable standards, but was fully pivotable, allowing it to be positioned for best signal pickup or maximum interference rejection). The main downsides of the DR26 are that it was rather unstable on SSB and required frequent ‘tweaking’ of the BFO pitch to maintain copy of an SSB/CW signal and also that SW coverage stopped at just over 18MHz, thereby missing out on the 15, 12 and 10m ham bands, plus some of the important SW broadcast bands.  The DR26 was one of a number of models offered by Panasonic, such as the DR28/29 (RF2900), which was of a similar design to this one, and the DR48/49 (RF48/4900) which was a larger desktop radio, but with similar specifications and features to the DR28/29. The DR29 is a really nice radio, not often seen for sale and when they are, the prices tend to reflect that rarity. If you find one in good physical and working condition at a sensible price, buy it!   

R9968-2

The Roberts R9968, a very small analogue world band radio with a digital display. This is quite a basic set and is aimed at the traveler who just wants to hear occasional news from home and needs an alarm clock in one small package. SW coverage is limited to the major mid frequency range SW broadcast bands, plus MW and FM. Having dual time zone display is quite novel and useful for the traveler as is the integral leather case that attached by press studs to the actual body of the radio. This radio is still in production and retails for around the 50 mark new, and about 1/2 that on the second hand market. Being analogue means there are no preset memory functions available. Performance is OK, not particularly sensitive BUT is a lot better than the very cheap generic SW radios  that are often seen for sale. I found it to be adequate when testing it in Egypt, but I was yearning for more signals. No SSB facility nor external antenna socket are available, but that is to be expected on a set that costs so little. Maybe changing the very short built in whip antenna for a longer one, or clipping on a few metres of wire would give it a shot in the arm. Overall, not bad for the casual traveler, but not for the serious radio listener who is looking for something other than the  strongest stations

r861

The Roberts R861, AKA Sangean ATS-909, Radio Shack DX398 etc. After a fairly long wait I have finally managed to obtain one of these sets. I wanted one because of the glowing reports they have received over the years, and the fact there is a wealth of information on the web, from modifications to alignment procedures. Well, after I had initially tried the radio to make sure it worked and see what I could hear, I immediately referred to a modifications page I had previously investigated. Within about 20 mins of the radio arriving, the back was off and the soldering iron was warming up! I have only performed 2 modifications so far, both of which have proved to be useful. The first one removes the muting/chuffing when the tuning dial (or tuning keys) are pressed. The manufacturers do this to mask any PLL generated noise from the listener, however it makes bandscanning a pain (tuning in an SSB signal is pretty hard when the signal blanks with each turn of the dial!). All that was necessary was to solder two pins together, and the result was that the radio is now ‘chuff free’, and tuning SSB is very much simpler as you can hear the station as you tune towards it. The second mod was to remove, or partially remove the click stop on the tuning dial. Each time the tuning knob was turned, there was a soft mechanical click for each step, which made the tuning a little stiff. The mod for this was more complex and involved removing the tuning control (i.e. the optical encoder) and disassembling it. One apart, the copper coil inside was located and the little notch in the copper was carefully flattened. The whole unit was reassembled and soldered back in place, now the tuning is almost ‘freewheel’, I have left the very slightest notch in the copper ring so there is a little tactile feedback from the tuning control, but it can be operated with one finger now. There are many other mods that can be done, but so far I have not found the need to do any of them. That may change of course!

So on to performance etc. The R861 has been around since the mid/late 90’s and is still popular. Amongst it’s key features are continuous tuning from 150-29999kHz plus 87.5-108MHz FM. Tuning steps are as low as 40Hz on SSB, which is great for fine tuning. On AM, there are two IF bandwidths available along with a continuously variable RF gain control and external antenna input, plus 208 memories, split into ‘pages’, 29 such pages are for SW alone. Each page can have an alpha-numeric name. FM features RDS decoding and auto clock setting via the RDS signal. In use I have found it to be a hot portable, and rate it very highly - in fact it’s up there with the Sony ICF2001D/2010 as the best portable I have used. The Sony had the edge with it’s great Synch AM detector and the large tuning knob with finger recess, but for the rest they are on a par, in fact the Roberts trumps it on memories, with nearly 10 times as many. I guess now though, I will have to sell some of the other Roberts that I have collected as they take up room and do not offer anything that this one does not do as well or better. Below is an image of my current collection - note the two R9914’s (a.k.a. ATS505), one is in GWO, the other works but has a broken speaker.  

roberts

The Degen DE1103 is a recent addition to the receiving set up here, and it has become my bedside DX radio. The DE1103 is an odd mix and gets some pretty diverse reviews, mainly due to it’s unusual ergonomics. Having used it for a while, I have to say that I find it very easy to use and the ergonomics seem to suit my operating style. The DE1103 covers from 100kHz-30MHz, although there are a couple of software hacks that will allow it to tune above 30MHz (it tops out around 33MHz) and also to allow it to tune below 100kHz. However I have not tested the sensitivity down that low. The DE1103 tunes in 1kHz steps and will resolve SSB (this is facilitated by the use of a fine tune wheel). Also, there are two selectable IF bandwidths and these make a big difference, although both are rather wide for SSB. With the 1kHz tuning and the clarifier, SSB reception is actually rather good. I also have the matching Degen DE31MS active loop antenna, which seems to like the 1103 better than the R861. This must be due to differing input impedance at the external antenna socket of the receivers. The DE31MS folds away in a very small package and is easily transported (I took it to Egypt with me, along with the R861 and clipped it onto a handy point on the balcony. Worked a treat on SW, but not on MW (the R861 does not support external antennas for MW/LW unless you short the ring and the ground of the stereo plug together, which I didn’t know at the time!) It does come with a ferrite bar coupler, which is surprisingly effective, although needs a blob of blu-tac to hold it in the desired place (you have to experiment to find the best coupling position but, when you find it, signals really do jump up in strength). My next trip, whether in the UK or abroad, will see me taking the DE1103 and DE31MS combo for certain.

tn_de1103
tn_de31ms tn_de31ms-2
[Home] [My Shack] [DX-ing] [DX Stats] [Digital Modes] [Contesting] [50MHz & Up] [Beacons] [Morse Code] [B'cast Radio] [Clubs] [Articles etc.] [Links] [Family] [Guestbook] [RA1792]