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


  1. China does seem to be replacing that market with its units, in the 450$ range.
    As a fan of the Icom IC-718, it's sad to see its removal from production. It's already discontinued in the European markets. I have 2 and a parts spare, so hopefully it will be the last new radio I'll ever buy, but I'm tempted to grab up one of the last ones Gigaparts or DX Engineering has.

    1. Well, here it is, in April, 2022 and the IC-718 is still selling by the dozens, by several retailers. Great rig for those of us who just want a solid HF rig, without bells and whistles.

  2. Are there really enough Hams worldwide today to keep producing radios ? that's my greatest fear, imagine a world where there were only Xiegu radios ? I had the G90 and X5105. The X5105 was a decent QRP radio and I had a lot of fun with it, I got it because there was no alterative at the price, no question I'd rather have a KX2 or Kx3 but they are too expensive for occasional use and they really could do with an update such as proper Lithium battery and charging.

    The X6100 is a nice radio with good features but there are a lot of Hams today more concerned about having a screen and waterfall than caring about the actual performance or sound quality of the radio. The videos I've seen on the X6100 show it to have harsh noisy audio.

    The X5105 was very compact and would fit in the pouch for my Tecsun PL-660, that and an EFHW was a remarkably compact setup to bring on a plane.

    By the time you add 100 Watt amplifier Xiegu doesn't work out so cheap and the FT-891 has a fantastic receiver and audio ( via headphones )

    The x5105 performed ok with a portable antenna but on a base antenna at night it would fall to pieces and the filters were useless but as a portable radio it was decent.

    The G90, It's not a very nice radio to use, and the audio is poor, typical of many SDRs which seem to have a high noise floor and a harshness to the audio, the screen was too small, the filters were not very good, the FT-891 runs rings around the G90, it has remarkably quiet receiver with super audio quality via headphones even way better than my 7300 which I sold, just didn't like the audio nor the fact Icom decided to cut the lower frequencies which was bad for SWL or listening to MW stations. The 100 Watts of the 891 is also very convenient and it's roughly the same size as the G90 but a bit heavier. The G90 would suit people who mainly use digital modes.

    It seems Yaesu really get audio quality. All the screens in the world are no good if the noise floor is too high or the audio quality is poor, I always listen via headphones and the 891 really is a sweet sounding radio but you need high impedance headphones or you will hear a lot of hiss in the audio.

    It could very well be that Xiegu are taking a lot of business away from the main radio manufacturers and that does worry me, I just couldn't imagine a world where cheap nasty Chinese radios were the only ones left to buy. But the major manufacturers really do need to make cheaper good performing radios without screens and more buttons.

    What really bugs me is that why radio manufacturers can't make a radio with lots of buttons and a video output for those who want the big waterfall ? or traditional superhet that's cheaper with IF out so someone can connect their own SDR if they want like the Kenwood TS-590 SG, this is a really good solution, proper radio that's a joy to use with the option to connect a waterfall but it's still expensive and to be honest I would much rather have the new FTDX-10 ( which I just ordered ) If the Kenwood 590 SG was 500 or 600 Euro's cheaper it would be," in my opinion" a sensible price given it's age.

    One thing for sure is that Kenwood, Yaesu and Icom really should start thinking of hams with a lot less money and the fact that People are getting poorer not richer with high inflation, high energy costs and wages not increasing, house prices soaring along with rent prices, a lot of People just don't have the money to drop 1700 Euros, which is roughly 1700 USD now such has the Euro devalued meaning energy costs us even more. Bad times.

    I can't imagine a world where only Xiegu are the only ones making ham radios, that would be a very sad day.