31 December 2020

The Death Of The Basic HF Rig?

Something happened during the COVID year. It appears the Big Three manufacturers (Icom, Kenwood, Yaesu) have abandoned the basic 100 watt HF rig market. The thought struck me as I was perusing the radio offerings on the Gigaparts website earlier today.

I define a 'basic' HF rig as a tabletop radio that cost less than $800 new and covers 80 thru 10 meters and offers 100 watts of output power. The basic rig doesn't have to have a tuner, or a sound card interface, but it should come with a CAT interface. Right now the only tabletop rig for sale that meets this criteria is the 'venerable' (that's my way of saying 'really old') Icom IC-718. This was my first rig when I got my General ticket back in 2002, and it was a few years old even then!

Icom IC-718. Older than many Amateur Radio operators,
and still in production

In fact, you have to look down into mobile rig territory to find anything else that fits the basic rig definition, and that's the Yaesu FT-891 and the Icom IC-7100. The FT-891 is arguably a much better HF rig than the 718, but it's a radio with its own set of issues

The Icom IC-7100 gets special recognition. Rebates put the street price right around $760 (retail is $860) and the price/performance ratio is very high. In my mind this makes the IC-7100 the single best option for a basic rig. It is a very, very good rig, and in the basic category it sweeps all before it. But it stands alone in a field that used to be fairly crowded.

The IC-7100. The best 'basic' HF rig currently available.
But for how long?

In the past year or two a number of really good basic HF rigs were dropped by their manufacturers and replaced with... nothing:

  • Yaesu FT-450D
  • Yaesu FT-857D
  • Icom IC-7200
  • Alinco DX-SR8, and maybe even the DX-SR9
  • Kenwood TS-480
To be fair, most of these radios (with the possible exception of the IC-7200) were really old designs, and for many of them parts availability started to become an issue. Some radios, like the Yaesu FT-857D, were pushing a 20 year production life and needed a mercy killing. Others. like the Yaesu FT-450D were still very viable and competitive little rigs, and still had a lot of life left in them. The real problem is, the manufacturers didn't introduce anything to backfill the market gaps created when they stopped production on these radios.  

At some point, maybe as soon as 2021, currently manufactured basic rigs like the IC-7100 and the IC-718 will be pulled from production. It's inevitable. Every radio goes out of production at some point. What then? Does the market definition of a basic HF rig move up to the $1,000 price point? Do one or more of the Big Three introduce a new 'affordable' rig? Do the Chinese step in with new categories of low cost 100 watt rigs? Do new players enter the market? For example, why haven't the Koreans played the ham radio market? They certainly have the technical and manufacturing expertise, and market presence (think Samsung, Hitachi or LG). Do boutique manufacturers like Elecraft or FlexRadio step up?

Or... are we truly seeing the end of the basic low cost 100 watt HF radio?

One thing's for sure - 2021 will be a very interesting  year in Amateur Radio.

Happy New Year!

W8BYH out

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