Best starter HF transceiver

Best starter HF transceiver

What's a good starter HF transceiver, simple to operate, maybe the earliest model of Icom or Kenwood or any other brand that first came out with the built in antenna tuner, from $250 to $400 price range.

Answer : 
First you need to decide what type of operating and modes you want. Digital requires more stability, CW is a lot simpler, etc. Once you define that, then I think it will be a lot easier to define what you would like.

Answer : 
Although it's older technology, the Kenwood TS-130 is dead simple to operate, and can be found fairly inexpensively (less than $250). A TS-120 is also cool if you don't mind losing the WARC bands.... The Icom IC-718 is also popular, but will run you just a bit more (around $400 used, depending on the installed options).

Neither of these rigs have a built in tuner, but that's okay. You're better off with an outboard tuner. Most on-board tuners have a very limited tuning range (usually only about 3:1). That's enough for trimming a single band dipole, but not much more. An outboard tuner will match 10:1 or better, so you get a lot more tuning solutions.

I own both radios, and their both decent performers. I think the 130 has better ears, although the 718 has better specs. I've gotten good comments on the audio from both rigs, but I performed a simple mod to the Icom mic to make it sound better. The Icom is more feature-rich than the Kenwood, but is still relatively easy to use. Mine has the optional TCXO installed,

and it's rock solid from the time you turn it on. Of the two, I prefer operating the 130, but I've been a Kenwood fan since I got licensed 20+years ago...

If you decide on a 718, be prepared to buy an external speaker. The receive audio on the 718 is exceptional, but the tiny speaker sucks. Plug in an external speaker and you'll be rewarded with some awesome audio.

A Yaesu FT-450 will cost you a bit more, but has even more features than the 718. I can't speak from personal experience, as I never used that particular radio, but it seems to have a lot of fans. You could also look for an older Icom 725 or 735. These go for pretty short money, but like the 130, they're older technology.

I'm sure you'll get a ton more suggestions, and that's part of the fun of buying a new rig. Check out as many as you can, and buy the one that speaks to you.

Answer :
The built-in automatic antenna tuners were first only available in 'big box' transceivers of the late eighties and early nineties and although they're old, these rigs are still fairly expensive and above the stated price point.

They didn't become available in the smaller rigs until much later, so those rigs would be newer and also likely above the stated price point unless something's wrong with them.

Best bang for the buck for a 'home' station -- not a mobile one -- is likely to be a hybrid rig which is all solid state except for three tubes, and will require manual tuning. But a lot of those are quite high performance, very easy to operate, have no 'menu' functions which can be a bit of a bother, and will load into all sorts of antennas without any kind of 'tuner.' A TS-520/FT-101 type rig is often found in the 300 dollar range and these are fine older radios with built-in AC power supplies, so that saves the cost of not only a tuner but also a power supply. You do have to learn how to 'tune up' such a rig, but it's a short learning curve and once you're used to it, changing bands only takes an extra few seconds.

Or...a more modern all solid state 'small box' rig with an external tuner might do well for you. Those rigs all need an external 13.8Vdc regulated power supply, though, and if you don't already have a suitable one the PS alone can cost 100-150 dollars; and the external tuner another 100-150 or that would blow a lot of the budget.

Answer :
If you can find one at a good price, the original IC-746 has an outstanding internal antenna tuner. These were selling in the $500 range a while back, but recently, they seem to have become more popular and the price has gone up. The 746 gives you 100 watts on all the bands up through two meters, which is a fairly unique feature.

In addition to the TS120,130,140 era Kenwoods, you can find older Ten Tec rigs, like the Triton IV in this price class. Be aware that you will need a power supply to run any of these solid state radios, and a good one will require some money. Autotuners are a fairly recent thing. You don't have to go back far to get to an era when nobody used one, and I'd wager that a majority of hams still don't. There are lots of manual tuners kicking around.

Beyond that, Yaesu FT-747/Heathkit SB-1400 are not terrible rigs, either, and can often be found cheap.

Answer :
The TS-120/130/140 is getting iffy in its old age and the subject of its own forum to keep them running. It was also designed as a mobile rig and requires an outboard PS; plus the 12V finals sound like 12V finals, just listen to a MFJitron ALS-500. That said I do have one for emergency use and a rare mobile "experience" and have cranked the internal power control down a bit until the spectrum analyzer display looks acceptable.
Id opt for a TS-120/130/140 contemporary KW hybrid from the TS-520 to 830 series for home use as long as it has been cared for. The rugged 6146B tube final pi network loads into a wide range of coaxial cable fed antenna VSWR's without needing a tuner.

The all solid state Kenwood TS-930 was their flagship model and the first model that was not hamband only in the early 80's and fits the high end of that $$ range. BUT like anything that old they do require some service, have a few faults, so try to find one that has been recently overhauled. Performance is otherwise excellent and both the RX and TX have that fine Kenwood audio. It also has an autotuner which doesnt get down to 160 but is decent if a bit slow on higher bands. I had a pair of them decades ago for contesting and have stayed with KW ever since after a few misbegotten tries at the competitions "junk" IMO; YMMV and a good one of any brand is still a good one.


  1. Anonymous12:09

    Thanks for all the replies, I'm pretty new to all this technology in the workings terminology in ham talk,, and have a lot to learn still, I'm currently running on 2 meter, all I've ever wanted to do after I got my General ticket is transmit nation wide or even world wide DX, and from what I read is 10 meters and a few others meter is the place to be. All your input is very helpful, after the transceiver purchase is settled I'll be askin about antennas

    1. Anonymous12:16

      I have been noticing by reviews the Kenwood ts 130 is a very good simple to operate reasonably priced transceiver. And I think for learning & my budget it would make good sense.

  2. Anonymous12:34

    as others have stated you will not find a rig in that price range
    with a automatic inboard tuner

    lots of good older rigs around 
    radios in that price range i have owned

    my first pick in that price range is the TenTec Omni D series B or C
    still have it keeps on running try to find one with the extra filters and noise blanker
    second pick
    really liked my old TS-130 it was my first 100 watt solid state mobile rig
    loved it wish i had not sold it
    warning some of the TS-130s had cold solder probs on the filter board

    bit above your price range with built in tuner
    FT-920 and TS-570 


Thanks for your comments, Comments may take a day to show up