HF? What to get for the technology illiterate(me)

Submitted: Friday, Jan 26, 2007 at 22:08
ThreadID: 41656 Views:2994 Replies:8 FollowUps:17
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I'm considering buying a HF unit for up coming trip but need to know what brand/model I should be researching.
There seems to be 2 main player's but would appreciate members input on model's that are relatively simple to use and purchase s/hand
I've done a thread search and there was over 1000 archives on the subject HF, and most where old threads.
I am aware that I will need to join VKS737 who also have a wealth of info on
HF,but at the moment I'm at info overload!
I need to find a good all round unit(cheap) I'm not anticipating needing 200 channels

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Reply By: Footloose - Friday, Jan 26, 2007 at 22:38

Friday, Jan 26, 2007 at 22:38
Do you really need HF for your trip ? If so, only you know your budget and needs. Check to see if you're going to need selcall and telcall.
Lets start with the bottom end.
Barrett 250RC
Codan 8525A or B series
Codan X2 (no selcall)
Middle range
Codan 8528
Barrett 550
Barrett 950
Then exe
Codan 9323 and autotune 9350
Barrett 2020 and autotune
Codan NGT
etc etc
Don't forget that an aerial is going to be a huge part of the total cost.
AnswerID: 217972

Follow Up By: Member - Shane D (QLD) - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 22:37

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 22:37
I don't REALLY need HF fot this trip but may come in handy for future trips,not real fussed on selcall, but telcall could be handy, on the basic researh done thus far I think $2k is all I can justify for my needs,so if I see an ad for something i'll have some idea if it's worth it
FollowupID: 478548

Follow Up By: Member - Shane D (QLD) - Sunday, Jan 28, 2007 at 20:13

Sunday, Jan 28, 2007 at 20:13
I have found a 9323 with autotune aerial advertised for $2200,is it worth it?
FollowupID: 478656

Follow Up By: Footloose - Sunday, Jan 28, 2007 at 20:20

Sunday, Jan 28, 2007 at 20:20
IMHO Not unless it's never been used :)) $1800-1900 + post should be top dollar, unless he's willing to reprogram it for nothing and guarantee it for a limited amount of time.
FollowupID: 478660

Follow Up By: Member - Shane D (QLD) - Sunday, Jan 28, 2007 at 20:56

Sunday, Jan 28, 2007 at 20:56
Very big thank you,Ill keep searchin'
FollowupID: 478665

Follow Up By: Footloose - Sunday, Jan 28, 2007 at 21:03

Sunday, Jan 28, 2007 at 21:03
Shane, try and find one from someone you know or feel that you can trust. If you don't know a lot about HF it's not easy for someone to slip something past you.
FollowupID: 478666

Reply By: kimprado - Friday, Jan 26, 2007 at 22:40

Friday, Jan 26, 2007 at 22:40

Have a look at post 41630. We're going through a similar discussion at the moment.


AnswerID: 217973

Follow Up By: Member - Shane D (QLD) - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 23:05

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 23:05
Thanks for the input Kim,
without setting the hounds of arguement loose i've decided that a HF would suit me better.
bigger outlay,maybe not entirely user freindly,last for years,apart from membership cost, no ongoing fee's/plans.
As I indicated, last check there was 1084 threads on HF,lots for ,lots against,just like the nissan/toyota, weaco/engel, ford/holden, its all about research
FollowupID: 478553

Reply By: Member - Andy Q (VIC) - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 00:12

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 00:12
G'day Shane,
Try before you buy, hire?, borrow, beg a mates see what you think? Get familiar with the unit you'd like. Alternatively buy a decent Sat Phone!
Do you need a HF? You are going on a trip? By yourself? or with others= hand helds
If you are going on a holiday with family do you really want to contact others?

AnswerID: 217980

Follow Up By: Member - Shane D (QLD) - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 22:30

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 22:30
Thanks about the satphone tip,I'm travelling alone but not too remote.would rather HF after reading lots of forum threads pros/cons, thanks for the reply
FollowupID: 478546

Reply By: Member - John and Val W (ACT) - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 08:13

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 08:13
Hi Shane,

As you've already found, the obvious manufacturers to consider are Codan and Barret. I agree with Footloose's suggestions and rankings. We have a Codan 8528A which is about the bottom of the range I'd recommend. We find it ideal. It won't (in its basic form) drive an autotune aerial ; so what? manual tune is fine since you'll only ever transmit on 1 or 2 frequencies anyway, and can well do without the extra complexity of an autotune. It's no big deal to change the plug position on a tapped antenna and will save $$$. Selcall is a plus mainly because you can use it to activate other stations which have switched to selcall watch, such as the VKS737 bases when not manned. Think you'll find it on all on Footloose's list. We've never used it.

Older gear may use crystals for frequency selection - very restrictive and expensive. Frequency synthesised transceivers starting at about the 8525 offer lots of channels (very few you will use). If you want to have a telephone facility, you will need to move above the low end of footloose's list (above the 8525A).

I'd encourage you to join up with the Yahoo group at
Site Link
where you will get excellent support and guidance from Codan users. Don't know if there's an equivalent group for Barret. Our radio came from one of the more generous and knowledgeable contributors to that group, who ran (runs?) a small hire operation.

It's worth watching ebay for Codans and Barrets to get a feel for prices.


J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein

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AnswerID: 217996

Follow Up By: Mike Harding - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 09:28

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 09:28
Couldn't agree more about autotune antennas; expensive and complicated. Why would you need an autotune? So that you can Tx on different frequencies whilst driving is about the only reason I can think of - hanging out the window trying to change a tap at 80kph on corrugations _is_ tricky :)

A good manual antenna and base can be purchased for around $250 and will probably last for ever. When I go bush my antenna is two bits of wire and some co-ax put up in the trees (or a squid pole if no trees) it will outperform any vehicle mounted vertical antenna $2000 autotune or not.

Mike Harding
FollowupID: 478428

Follow Up By: Member - John and Val W (ACT) - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 09:47

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 09:47
Mike, would you please elaborate on your "2 bits of wire and some coax". I carry a long wire, length tuned to VKS737 ch2, as an emergency spare, to be slung over a suitable tree if needed. Are you using a tuned dipole? If so, it should be much better than mine. Would you please post details.

Thank you

J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein

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Follow Up By: Mike Harding - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 10:42

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 10:42
Hi John

I use a half wave dipole which I mount as an “inverted vee”. This is the antenna:
“Inverted vee” simply means it uses only one high point for mounting ie. the centre of the antenna where the co-ax meets the arms, like this:

They are very simple to make; you need a length of co-ax, I suggest decent 50 ohm RG58 cable (NOT Jaycar – their RG58 is rubbish!) with a suitable plug for your radio, a piece of strong plastic about 125mm x 50mm (a chopping board from the $2 shop is ideal) and two lengths of any old (strong enough) wire for the arms. The arm length is calculated by the formula “length (in feet) = 468 / frequency in Mhz” so for 8.022MHz the arms would be 58’ 4” long in total or 29’ 2” each arm.

For 5.455MHz each arm would need to be 45’ 10” long so you could make a basic dipole for 8.022MHz at 29’ 2” and add an extra piece of wire 16’ 8” to each arm when you wanted to use 5.455MHz.

In use the higher you can get the antenna the better, I usually try for about 10m at the apex but they will work well even when quite low, iirc I have used mine at about 4m.
The ends of the arms carry a high RF voltage when the antenna is used for transmitting so it is _important_ to ensure they cannot be touched by anyone.

The most expensive part is the co-ax – shops which sell by the meter usually charge about 5 or 10 times their cost price – I can buy a 100m drum of quality RG58 for $60 so it may be better to do that?

Feel free to ask if that’s not clear – I can post pics. if required?

Mike Harding

FollowupID: 478443

Follow Up By: Tony Middleditch - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 10:44

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 10:44
An auto tune antenna is very convenient. Most VKS737 users will not get the most benefit from one however because they are limited to usually operating on 2 or 3 frequencies.
A big advantage of a manual antenna over an auto tune type is that they can be mounted legally on a bullbar as their diameter does not exceed 32mm.

As an Amateur radio operator as well as using VKS737 & an outpost station licence, being able to change bands on the move is a great benefit.
The Codan 9350 antenna is also an active antenna (contains an internal pre-amplifier) and does out perform on receive my Terlin (tapped whip) and previous Codan 8558.
Also, the efficiency of an auto tune antenna may be dramatically improved by extending the top whip section with a length of wire supported by a squid pole, tree or both. The length of wire needs to be less than a quarter wave length for the highest frequency in use. Tuning is done by pressing the tune button in the usual way.
The advantage of this is that it is so simple to put up - less than a minute, takes up little room and as the antenna can be tuned, it will work in nearly all situations.
This can also be done with a manual whip antenna but the extended wire must be cut to the correct length and will only be usable on one channel / frequency.

As far as a tuned dipole is concerned, the tuning will be affected by the height of the antenna above the ground - particulary the ends. The higher the better but there are not too many of them in the Simpson! - No issue in the mountains though as long as they haven't all burnt down!
Cheers, Tony VK3CAT, V5715
FollowupID: 478444

Follow Up By: Member - John and Val W (ACT) - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 16:20

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 16:20
Mike - thank you. Understand. I'll make one up and carry it a) as a spare, and b)for those difficult situations where a tapped whip isn't radiating enough. I'm surprised that we can drive a balanced aerial directly with coax. Will continue reading.

Tony - I hadn't thought of the advantage of extending an autotune, knowing that it will retune itself to optimum for the new extended radiator. Good point. Generally speaking though, I think it's fair to say that we who use 8022 and maybe on rare occassions 5455 khz can't justify more than a minimal tapped whip. I'm interested in your comment that adding the correct length to a tapped whip will increase effectiveness. Not sure if the top cap of my Terlin is electrically connected, but if it is I'd like to try extending it. Can you direct me towards suitable information? Or is it as simple as adding 1/2 wavelength?

Thank you both. We seem to be getting off topic, but most interesting anyway!

J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
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Follow Up By: Mike Harding - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 16:48

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 16:48

The ideal feeder would be ladder line but co-ax works quite well - there may be a little radiation due to return currents on the screen but, in reality, it makes little difference.

As for verticals: my understanding is that unless you can provide one with an infinite ground plane it will _never_ be as efficient as a dipole. And, certainly, at the lower frequencies they suffer badly - I'm having a hell of a game trying to get a whip to work on 80m (3.6MHz) and even the Yaesu ATAS autotune antenna only goes down to 7MHz.

Mike Harding
FollowupID: 478489

Follow Up By: Tony Middleditch - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 21:11

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 21:11
John, the extended wire on the terlin is done by retaining the whip on the spring base and connecting the 1/4 wave length of wire to the spring. The wire can then run into a tree or be supported by a squid pole. The wire does not have to be straight, a sort of inverted L worked quite well. The wire will need to be tuned to length and the height above ground of the end of the wire will affect tuning. As long as people are kept away, the end can be tied off to something like a long handled shovel planted into the ground.
Set up isrelatively simple and the wire can wire having junctions for different frequencies / bands of use.
In the inverted L format, there proved to be a slight gain in performance in the direction of the length of the wire.
Performance was excellent with 59 plus reports both ways on 40 metres and 80 metres (7.0 & 3.6mHz) from around Mt Dare into the Simpson into Melbourne.
I have experimented with ground counterpoise cables but found that they did not offer enough improvement for the effort.

If you are concerned with running a balanced antenna from an unbalanced (coax) feed line, you could employ a balun however the portable dipoles that I have also made worked well without them.
See http://www.qsl.net/vk3cat for further info (I think there is something there?) or drop me an email.
Cheers Tony
FollowupID: 478539

Follow Up By: Member - Shane D (QLD) - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 22:47

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 22:47
Thanks John,
I've looked around at prices but had no Idea what the item it referred to was any good or not ,but with the help of all you good people I now have guidance

Thanks heaps,Shane
FollowupID: 478550

Reply By: Nomad Liney - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 12:04

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 12:04
Has anyone used the QMac HF? They were being developed a few years ago in Perth. Compact and easy to use but still reasonably cheap.
AnswerID: 218021

Follow Up By: Footloose - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 13:08

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 13:08
The Q Mac is a great little radio, but it does have its drawbacks. Maximum power is 50 watts which falls dramatically at higher frequencies. It also has the mute in the external speaker.
Nice to play with, and perhaps as a man pack.
FollowupID: 478458

Reply By: MEMBER - Darian (SA) - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 18:23

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 18:23
Indeed Shane - Barrett and Codan are the two main players - in the new units, Codan always command more $ than Barrett, new or used. I bought a used Barrett 950 with autotune and its been very good. Straight forward to use, after a little practice - any owner could give you a quick demo to get you up and running. There is no such thing as a good all round radio that's cheap. My first radio was a Tracker Scout with a tap antenna - its still going strong and was top shelf performer for voice only comms - sold it for $500 3 years ago - might command $300 now due to the quality of the antenna (they are not cheap). I went with the Barrett when I wanted to get into selcalling - and the autotune is good to have - we swap around the channels in cab quite a bit - often listen to central Oz ABC stations on HF too. If you were to buy a used HF with autotune, all in very good condition and of a vintage that is fully supported with service and parts, you won't go too far wrong. If the following is of any use, IMO a Barrett 950 system in good condition should be gained for about $1600 - $1800. Add 25% for a Codan of the same vintage (9323 or early NGT maybe). Be wary of some quite early units in either brand - they are often un-supported now re service and parts.
As others have said, autotune is not vital - just handy.
AnswerID: 218059

Follow Up By: Member - Shane D (QLD) - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 22:51

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007 at 22:51
Thanks Darian
I don't think i will be a big player in the HF world but the info gained tonight has be most helpfull

FollowupID: 478552

Reply By: Dave & Shelley (NT) - Sunday, Jan 28, 2007 at 13:05

Sunday, Jan 28, 2007 at 13:05
Hi Shane,

I was in the same boat as yourself this time last year. There is so much information, much of which is very specialised and hard to get a finger on. I ended up doing a Kimberly trip with some friends last year and One guy had a Codan 8525 (remote head) from which we listened to the Cricket etc on. That had me and I ended up buying his as he was about to upgrade. I bought it for a song at around the $500 mark and that included the autotune antenna and fitment. When I contacted VKS-737 about membership I also asked some tech questions which they helped with. They were great.

If you go for something around the 8525 vintage (release in 1985) you should be aware that many parts are hard to come by. To minimise damage to my autotune antenna, I only tune when stationary. (It is the first type of autotune antenna's (8558) and are renowned for braking when used hard). They do however (some models like mine)have Selcall, which if you need is great. If you want to spend up around $1000 to 1500 then check e-bay as they are always selling units around that price.

As already said, there is a user group on Yahoo which is very helpful. They are worth joining and asking questions as what they don't know about Codans, well you get the idea. They were helpful in my case several times.

It just depends on your budget and how often you will use it. If like myself you go on one big trip, and heaps of week enders, then the 8525 or above should be great for you needs. If you are looking at living on the road non-stop, then go for the 9350 or NGT, something a little newer. Hopefully this has helped and I haven't rabbited on to much.nn

Happy selecting


P.S don't know much about Barret but apparently v good as well. Cheers
AnswerID: 218169

Reply By: Member - Davoe (Nullagine) - Sunday, Jan 28, 2007 at 19:07

Sunday, Jan 28, 2007 at 19:07
instead of telling you what to buy Ill tell you what I have
Barret 250 with vks multi tap. it has all the channels programmed in and if i match it with an uto tune it will get them all.
Total cost was $600
Why a barret? they used them at a previos workplace that stuffed their tojos but just swappedthe barrets into the new vehicles.
Why a 250 - well it as everything you need and nothing you dont - the more expensive HF work just as well but just come with features alot of peple will not use
AnswerID: 218220

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