Kendall Amateur Radio Society

KB5TX


A case for the “Shack in a Box” by Don – KI5AIU

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." – Charles Dickens

This is probably the feeling of new hams.  You study, take you test, and get your license.  Congratulations!  Now what?  The new ham is faced with a bewildering array of equipment of amazing capabilities, at prices that seem like a bargain from a few years ago (best of times).  But with so many choices and features; how do you pick wisely (the worst of times).

I faced this situation when I got my Technician license.  I was fortunate, because Field Day was only a month or so away.  I resolved to check out different equipment, and ask people what they liked about and what they’d do differently.  Setups ranged from the little Icom that gets pulled out of the bucket once a year for field day, to Al’s impressive rig(s).

I actually left Field Day more confused than ever.  I recognize that many hams never move beyond the Technician license, and are happy to stay on VHF/UHF frequencies.  It’s not a knock in any sense. 

ARRL Band Chart

With today’s digital VHF/UHF modes, you can have a crystal clear conversation with someone around the world with a $140 handheld (I’m going to stay with the Yaesu products, as those are the ones I know best – other brands, have similar products that perform comparably – the user interface will likely sway your decision.)  In the Yaesu case, that would be the FT-70. (http://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=DisplayProducts&ProdCatID=249&encProdID=

7CDB93B02164B1FB036530FBD7D37F1A&DivisionID=65&isArchived=0)

Connect up to our local KB5TX UHF repeater (444.90) using Wires-X and talk to people around the world.  Propagation be damned!

Of course, your Technician license gives you access to bands beyond 2M and 70cm; but you are very limited.  You find yourself staring at the Amateur Radio Band chart...

If you want to try digital modes (FT8, FT4, RTTY, SSTV, etc) you have available a small segment of 10m.  If you want to try CW, you’ve got a sliver of 15m, 40m, and 80m.   My hope would be that Technicians try these modes, and it serves to wet their appetite for the greater frequency allocations available to General and Amateur Extra.  Now the question is how to wet that appetite?

For me, the answer came in one of the new class of product, known as a “Shack in a Box”.   These radios are wide band receivers, covering 30kHz to 450Mhz, and  transmitting on all amateur bands.  They are also capable of all modes (CW, SSB, AM, FM, Digital, etc).  They are sometimes called All Band/All Mode radios.  I ended up with a Yaesu FT-991A.

http://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=DisplayProducts&ProdCatID=249&encProdID=490C4A71118AD0F4E825E89D821B73BB&DivisionID=65&isArchived=0

FT-991A

It’s a physically small unit that covers HF/VHF/UHF in all modes including System Fusion.  It’s not much bigger than the power supply that drives it!  It even comes with a bracket for mobile mounting.  I immediately built a 2m/70cm J pole and got on the air.  It had more power than a hand held, so I could reach out further, and the external antenna gave a wider coverage than a hand held.   I could listen to aviation traffic.  With a simple End Fed antenna I could listen to broadcast stations around world.  I could listen to CW which started me on another journey (thanks Al!).  I could decode SSTV images (thanks Brad!).  I could decode RTTY.  I could do FT8 on 10m.  Woohoo!  The shack in a box opened my horizons for not a ton of cash (a few pounds; but not a ton!).  Once installed, my shack looked like this at left.

But the frequency chart was always staring me in the face.  I had to be careful to stay in my small sliver of frequencies (when I left the safety and comfort of the VHF/UHF world).  The only option was to upgrade.  So, I got my General and Amateur Extra in short order.  The whole amateur band was now open to me.  Using FT8, the FT-991A, and a simple End Fed antenna; I earned my WAS (Worked All States), and WAC (Worked All Continents).  I also made a big dent in my DX CC (100 countries worked).  As capable as the FT-991A is, I felt I needed something more focused on the HF side.  The small physical size of the FT-991A precludes many features that are found on the larger HF radios.

FT-DX3000

I was familiar with the Yaesu interface, so I opted for an FTdx3000 when they went on sale (Yaesu does many sales!).

http://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=DisplayProducts&ProdCat

ID=102&encProdID=721B3F7D596827E0B37BD528EE1A56F1&DivisionID=65&isArchived=0

It’s a very capable radio.  The best feature, is its size!  Being larger, both VFOs are visible at the same time.  More space up front, allows for dedicated controls rather than having to access them via a menu.  For example when I want to change R.F. power or Digital gain, there are controls on the front panel; compared to a menu selection and a twist of the sub knob.  The ‘3000 will decode CW on the screen which helps me when I’m trying to copy CW.  The larger display lets me see my RF path much more easily; from antenna selection through IPO, Attenuation, and filters.  I also have graphic displays for notch,  contour and bandpass filters.  It’s much easier to use in HF; but it has NO VHF/UHF/System Fusion functionality.

I’ll keep the 991A for its VHF/UHF/System Fusion capabilities, as well as being able to use it for a full function Field Day radio.  The ‘3000 will hold down the fort at home.  The current setup looks like this at left.

FTM-100DR

Wait a sec you say, what’s that between the 991a and the ‘3000?  That’s a FTM-100DR.

http://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=DisplayProducts&ProdCatID=249&encProd

ID=3F8B6B6AF1EC22B82F01E68C1E0F0BA6&DivisionID=65&isArchived=0

I got it because it can be used as a WiresX node and would also serve as a nice mobile unit.

FT-857D

An then there’s the FT-857D (thanks Ben).

http://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=DisplayProducts&ProdCatID=102&encProd

ID=8CBB7C4BDBAF40129AD4253A4987523C&DivisionID=65&isArchived=0

It’s a shack in a box type radio that does all bands/all modes at 100W (no System Fusion though).  It’s about the size of the FTM-100DR.  It’ll make one heck of a mobile rig!

I’ve only covered Yaesu radios here (because that’s what I’m familiar with); but know that similar options exist with other brands.

Like I said, at the start; Best of times, worst of times.   Maybe I should have said “So many radios; so little time”.

73, Don  KI5AIU

 

Now, what about ICOM?  Al – K5NOF

Don wrote about Yaesu because that’s what he knows and uses.  I am going to write about ICOM because that’s what I know and use.  There are other choices. Flex Radio is coming on strong.  Go to their website at https://www.flexradio.com/ and read about their choices.  Elecraft is coming on strong and seemingly the rig of choice for many DXpeditions.  Go to their website https://elecraft.com/and read about the choices.  And if you want to think about Kenwood, then go to their website at https://www.kenwood.com/usa/ and read about their choices.  Now for ICOM http://www.icomamerica.com/en/amateur/. 

IC-7100

The Shack in a Box for ICOM is the IC-7100.  You can read about it at http://www.icomamerica.com/en/products/amateur/hf/7100/default.aspx.  This little rig covers 1.8 to 50 mHz plus the 144 and 430 mHz bands.  The control head is separate and can be located as far away at 16 feet from the main unit.  To me this means you can use this rig as primary until you decide what next and then, as you grow your station, use the 7100 in your shack for primarily VHF and UHF FM, or a mobile rig, or at a secondary location.

IC-9700

But if you want more capability on VHF and UHF, beyond FM, then look at the IC-9700.  You can read about it at http://www.icomamerica.com/en/products/amateur/hf/9700/default.aspx. This little rig covers 144.000–148.000, 430.000–450.000, 1240.000–1300.000 MHz, using SSB, CW, RTTY, AM, FM, DV, DD. 

Built with the VHF/UHF weak signal operator in mind, the IC-9700 is an RF direct sampling receiver for 2m and 70cm. The IF receiver consists of a single, down conversion for 23cm that is between 311 – 371MHz. This design provides a quiet receiver due to ICOM’s DSP technology. The robust PA provides 100W on 2m, 75W on 70cm, and 10W on 23cm.  There is much, much more on the ICOM website.

The IC-9700 has been reviewed in the January, 2020 issue of QST.  Their Bottom Line, “The IC-9700 multimode transceiver brings direct-sampling SDR technology to VHF and UHF operation.  It incorporates many features that operators have come to expect in HF transceivers and performs well on all modes.”  QST, Jan 2020, page 42.

IC-7300

So what are the choices if you decide to move on to HF?  Many consider the IC-7300 good “starter rig.”  You can read about it here.  http://www.icomamerica.com/en/products/amateur/hf/7300/default.aspxNew technology is changing the way receivers are being designed and the IC-7300 is an industry first as an RF, Direct Sampling System is being used in an entry level HF radio. The ability to digitize RF before various receiver stages reduces the inherent noise that is generated in the different IF stages of a radio. We feel the performance of the ‘7300 will far exceed your expectations for a radio considered entry level.  Output Power:  100W (25W AM)  RX Frequencies: 0.030-74.800.  SSB, CW, RTTY, AM, FM modes.  TX  Frequencies:  1.800–1.999, 3.500–3.999, 5.255–5.405, 7.000–7.300, 10.100–10.150, 14.000–14.350, 18.068–18.168, 21.000–21.450, 24.890–24.990, 28.000–29.700, 50.000–54.00.  Physically the IC-7300 is the same size as the new IC-9700, and as you can see, the arrangement of knobs, screen and function buttons look about the same.

IC-7610

But if you think you will want to work DX, and it is almost inevitable you will, you will want dual receive capability to monitor the DX’s send frequency on one receiver and another where the DX is listening, working others on the second “split frequency.”  You can read about it here.  http://www.icomamerica.com/en/products/amateur/hf/7610/default.aspxFaint signals are no longer a challenge for DXers and Contesters around the world, with the new IC-7610. The difference between putting the QSO in the log or trying another time is the capability of your receiver. The high performance RMDR in the IC-7610 has the ability to pick out the faintest of signals even in the presence of stronger, adjacent signals. The IC-7610 introduces dual RF direct sampling receivers. Achieving 100dB RMDR, these receivers rival that of other top-of-the-line transceivers. The IC-7610 also comes with a high-speed, high-resolution, real-time spectrum scope on a 7-inch color display.

Rx:       0.030– 60.000 MHz

TX:       1.800–1.999, 3.500–3.999, 5.255–5.405, 7.000–7.300, 10.100–10.150, 14.000–14.350,18.068–18.168, 21.000–21.450, 24.890–24.990, 28.000–29.700, 50.000–54.000 MHz.

So, here are some of the choices KI5AIU and K5NOF know and use; there are others.  Our objective here is to provide web addresses and brief descriptions to help you with research into how to get started with your station and some choices for you to consider.  Go to the web site for the radio of interest and download the specifications and the user manual.  Read about how the particular choice works and then think about how it fits with what you want to do. As mentioned elsewhere on this site, develop a long-term vision of where you want to go in Amateur Radio and then try as best you can to follow that vision by buying the capabilities which fit now and into the future.

Questions?  Ask either of us at KI5AIU@arrl.net or K5NOF@arrl.net73, Don KI5AIU and Al K5NOF.

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