Using a High Performance Radio – Operating the Hilberling PT-8000A Transceiver
This last week I finally had the opportunity to use the top-notch Hilberling PT-8000A Transceiver with an amp & antenna farm worthy of the radio.
As QST readers may recollect, the ARRL recently tested & reviewed the Hilberling PT-8000A – actually they tested and review exactly this particular PT-8000A as we acquired it from them after their testing.
The Hilberling PT-8000A Transceiver is much like a new high-end AC Cobra sports car – a classic format product fine-tuned to as close to perfection as the manufacturer can engineer, executed with near-jewelry precision & finish. The PT-8000A is absolutely a work of art in a classic style.
How is it in use? I really enjoyed knocking out DX QSOs with the radio behind George’s antennas and amp. There are some quirks, many with have to do with my operator-error failure to read and understand the manual. In terms of the manual and how the radio is designed, this is a very much bespoke radio meeting the design criteria Mr Hilberling set, even if the function strays from typical operations.
Hooking up the amp requires building a cable from the serial port type connector (use the HF PTT pair of pins, which is different from the trigger for a VHF Amp where the VHF PTT and a Ground work) to the Alpha 9500’s RCA connector. The first one I built this winter was too fragile and had failed, so this time I used a breakout board. I also soldered up a cable so George W9EVT would have a backup on hand. Personally at this price point an adaptor like what TenTec provided with the Pegasus Transceiver should have been included where the various functions were brought out to industry standard connectors. Not everyone has a lab grade workspace to build cables like the factory does.
The ARRL benched test this radio and then had it at the W1AW shack for a period. Not certain if they fiddled, but we did spend a fair bit of time chasing down gremlins that were actually extreme user settings. We have an upcoming coaching session with Hilberling-USA to complete the normalization process of returning the trimmer pots, and soft settings to normal ranges.
It is easy to overdrive the Alpha causing all sorts of issues unless the gain is carefully kept down. We added toroids to some of the cables which benefited some issues, as the W9EVT shack is complex enough to induce problems normally never seen in an average ham’s shack.
Once the user gets accustomed to the Main/Sub windows and the summoning of an appropriate Softkey Menu running the radio is a smooth. While I personally prefer every command to always be in exactly the same place, the number of button pushes can vary based on whether the appropriate Softkey Menu needs to be fist called up, or if it is already active. This is nothing unique to the PT-8000A, rather a personal preference that comes from my operating style.
The weighted VFO knob is silky, and while high-end old school the controls are positive. Band changes are quick and I developed a rapid drill to switch bands/antennas, retune and return to QRO operations quickly.
The split operation is easy, though at first I was going about it a complex way that was solidly based on my missing a bit of information that was in the manual if I had only paid more attention when reading the directions. Received numerous complements on the audio, but every now and then someone would complain saying I was distorted. Checking each time I would find I had run the power up enough to cause splatter, and simply backing down a couple hundred watts would do the trick.
Calling into pileups it was awesome to mostly a one call and then picked up by the DX station sort of operation.
Contrasting the PT-8000A with the Icom IC-7800 next to it was interesting. The Icom is a less “edgy” radio, perhaps easier to set up, but hands down the Hilberling was able to distinguish itself by digging DX out from deeper in the noise, and there is no arguing with its TX being a pileup-breaker. Where the Icom appeals is with the native output to a monitor for a Panadapter view and the comfort level of familiarity. Eclipsing both is a well set up Flex-6700, but until the Maestro FlexRadio Systems add-on is fully released the difference between a Faceplate w/Knobs Transceiver and a Computer with Mouse Transceiver favors the Hilberling/Icom ergonomics for many radio amateurs.
I’m comfortable either way, and found the Hilberling a relaxing experience to run DX with – basically using it was a lot of fun, and that is what radio is all about.
Some hams question whether the price tag is too high, and I’m sticking my head out and saying it is not only fine, but appropriate for the build quality. It doesn’t pretend to be an everyman’s radio any more than the AC Cobra we started the article discussing pretends to be everyman’s car.
Just like driving a sports car won’t make sense to someone who values low investment costs, fuel economy, and low running costs as their main auto ownership goals, a radio like this belongs in a shack where raw performance and appreciation of build quality comes before economics.
Interestingly several Hilberling owners as said to own several PT-8000A Transceiver each, presumably in the various faceplate colors.
All in all and excellent radio that was a huge blast to work behind now that I’ve had a chance to do so in a first class station!
Of course YMMV.