Poll: Best used HF rig for the money?

I’m planning on buying a small multi-mode HF rig for a relative who has recently become a ham.  It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve bought a radio (used or otherwise).  I’m polling the readership for opinions of the very best choice.

Ah, what do I mean by “best”?

Here are my criteria:

  • Affordable
    Browsing eBay and the other ham classified sites, there is quite a range of prices for used HF gear.  I don’t really have a price in mind, but I am looking for a good value. As I can buy a new radio for about $600, I would say that the cost would have to be under $500 in the used market.
  • Reliable
    The radio should probably be solid-state.
  • Portable
    Should be able to be taken “backpack portable”

I would love to be in a position to spring for an Icom IC-7000, IC-718 or an Yaesu FT-817. They’re beautiful rigs, but I just don’t have the cash to spring for one.

What do you recommend?  What’s the best value for your money?

Matt Thomas, W1MST, is the managing editor of AmateurRadio.com. Contact him at [email protected].

34 Responses to “Poll: Best used HF rig for the money?”

  • Charlie wx4cb:

    personally, you can’t go wrong with the ts480hx with a auto tuner, I have one and i also have the ts480sat which has a built in 3:1 auto tuner. that works awesome bot bas and also portable.

    I have now relegated the SAT version to the van and i use the HX version at home with a resonant dipole so i dont need the tuner, but th 200 watts of the HX version is great.

    I also have a icom 706mk2 which is great and having the bonus of 2m/70cm is good too.

    like most hams it depends on what you’re going to do. the 897 is great and i have one of those too with the built in battery, but i dont really like the small screen on that.

    again, if you can spring for it and you just want hf + 6 then the ts480 imho cannot be beat for the price, and the receive on it is great. yes it’s not al “all in one” unit like the 7000 or 706, but if you want easy to use it’s extremely hard to beat.

  • WV0H Myron:

    Best performance for price, TS-830. Not portable but worth it for home use.

  • bryan kc0lrp:

    Elecraft k2 all favors.

  • Chris kQ2RP:

    I regularly see 817ND’s going for the low to mid $400 range. I paid a little over $400 for mine. Certainly a great little all band backpackable/portable rig which can also certainly be used mobile or base. Instead of ebay, search QTH, QRZ and eham classifieds. Add a battery pack (cheap), MFJ mini paddle (cheap), Elecraft T1 tuner (not so cheap, but superb) and Norcal Doublet/longwire or make a homebrew Buddistick (all cheap) and off you go!

  • N5TXN:

    You can pick up a used FT-450 for $500 or a FT-450AT (auto-tuner) for a little more. Compact and light. Great receiver. Best deal around.

  • kb2muq:

    Dollar for dollar you will have a hard time beating the Icom-718, it’s only HF but it is a super good radio.

  • Craig Wood w2xad:

    The best bang for the buck would be an FT 450a used. It does offer a tremendous bang for the buck for home use. As for portable, a FT817 or IC 703 would probably be the best bet. For backpacking in can’t see anything but a FT 817 because of low weight.

  • kc9ptd:

    i have 2 kenwood ts440sat’s, can be used mobile also! great audio,and receive,i added a gap hear-it dsp speaker for $150.00, sounds just like any new rig out there, they go for about $400.00. i don’t think you can find a new rig for under $700.00!? and NO MENU’S!! very easy to use!! good luck! gary

  • Ernest Gregoire, AA1IK:

    I have 2 IC 703’s one for CW and one for SSB each with its mode filter. The 703 accepts only one filter. I gave away my FT817, It has a noisy receiver in my opinion, nowhere near as good as the 703. I would not take a FT817 if some one payed me to take it, I dislike it that much, and this after years of use, CW PSK and SSB.

    If you’re talking ‘Bang for the buck’ you’d be hard pressed to beat a IC 706 M2G. It will take both CW and SSB filters too.

    de AA1IK


    Ernest Gregoire

  • Barry Norman KF4WGR:

    I don’t remember the diminsions of the Kenwood TS-140 but if it satisfies the backpack requirement it would be a good value.

  • Byron N6NUL:

    I might suggest waiting until Christmas and get what will surely be the best portable radio on the market by early next year: the Elecraft KX3. At an estimated $800 it’s going to be amazing.

  • Mike VE3WDM:

    I agree with Byron the KX3 seems it’s going to be a great radio. There are some video’s on YouTube of this radio if you want to give it a look.

  • Matt W1MST:

    There seems to be much enthusiasm about the KX3. What factors make it worth waiting for, in your opinion?

  • Byron N6NUL:

    While I happen to be building a K2 right now (and learned CW by building a K1 2 years ago), the KX3 intrigues me because it is an all HF band (with 2m option), all mode, tiny radio that was made for backpacking. Even so, it has a big display, big knobs, and internal batteries. Additional announced options include an internal tuner and an external 100W amplifier. The amp will not be available at release, I’m told.

    The KX3 also a DSP based SDR radio with good filtering. SDR may or may not be a plus, but it does use all the latest components, and projected performance (based on a talk Elecraft gave at my club) should be between the K2 and K3. Also, I use a K3 when visiting other shacks for contests, and the similar control scheme will be familiar.

    Lastly, Elecraft has a good record of updating the software in their radios. So it should continue to improve for several years.

    My 2 cents,

    73, Byron N6NUL

  • k7qnz:

    I have an IC 735 that I have had for many years (like at least 20) that I bot used back then and have had NO problems – I would buy another in a heart beat! I have not checked the going prices but it has to be not too bad!

  • Larry AD7GL:

    I purchased my FT817 (not ND) used two years ago for $350.It is a wonderful radio for portable or base station use. I have had many QSO’s and no trouble with it.
    Good Luck,

  • Frank WB4NWV:

    hI, I have 2 Yaesu FT-857D’S the smallest full featured hf,vhf,uhf,airband etc, easily converted to transmit 1.5 to 30 mhz and extended vhf and uhf coverage,all mode to many features to list, remote control head, power output 5 watts to 100 watts.

    I am in the process of building a back pack rig out of one, i chose it to allow me to operate at 100 watts in case of an emergency for a short period of time, however it will work qrp at the flip of a switch, and is the small and light, I bought a sealed lead acid battery that is light and small 18 amp hours, it worked well even at 100 watts and did not show any signs running out of power, keep in mind i kept the transmissions short at 100 watts.

    I also like the ability to remote the head around to the front to be able to change bands, mode and frequency, without having to stop and take the radio off my back.

    It is not a power miser even on receive compared to the low power Yaesu’s. however I do not mind humping a bigger battery, for the security.

    I am using a SGC 237 auto tuner with it, it also uses some power from the battery, however it will tune a 14 ft whip down to 1.8 mhz and an 8 ft whip down to 3 mhz.

    The radio can be bought new at the larger ham fests for around $678 the tuner is around $ 375, however you may not need the auto tuner, I like it I have the same radio and tuner in my mobile, it works great.

    Remember this is just my opinion.


  • Pete/KE5GGY:

    The Icom 7000 is the best rig for portable use. I have one and love it. Also they are coming down in price too.

    Beyond that, and for less $$, I’d vote for the Yaesu 897-D. The Yaesu menus drive me nuts, however.

    Good luck and best 73 to you.

    Pete – KE5GGY

  • k7zov:

    I always check qth.com first, then qrz.com and lastly eham.com. Prices range from as low as $175 if you look and don’t mind a basic radio. I had a Kenwood TS-130 and you can’t get much simpler and it really worked. To name a specific is hard since we are dealing with price. A mono band MFJ SSB for 40, 20, 10 or 6 meters I have seen for $125-$200. I have had the 20 meter and 6 meter and was very happy with it. You can pick up a RS HTX-100 for less then $200. Had one and again worked great and 10 meters has been HOT! I would say check out the sites. If you see something in your price range do a Google search for reviews. If you like what you see go for it. Hope this helped.

    Harry K7ZOV

  • k7zov:

    I recently got a KX-1 in trade. Need to learn morse code, but it is worth it. Saw a couple for under $500 with internal ATU. Had a HB-1A. Not impressed, however TenTec version might fit the bill. My best radio to date is a K2 since it does CW/SSB and can hear things my 756PROII can’t. Had a 703. Totally great radio. Small, great ATU, hot receiver. FT-857D not impressed. Had one blew finals. Next to the 703 the 817 is great. ND=No real difference as far as I am concern. Better finals, 60 meters. Do the so call MARS mod and you have a open radio that will do 60 meters. T
    Used TS-50 is build like a tiny tank. However keep in mind the TS-50, IC-7000 (not impressed, runs hot and blow UHF final), FT-857D etc all draw a lot of receive current. The 703, 817 draw little and the K2/10 has the hottest RX and the lowest power. Add the internal ATU and battery and you have one of THE best portable radios on the market. The KX-3 is still an unknown. Keep your eye on TenTec. They are making a QRP/QRO version of the 599 Eagle. Coming soon. I love my KX-1 and K2 for home and in the field. If I had a chance to get one of the many I had traded over the years in order it would be the IC-703, FT-817, IC-718, TS-50 and IC-706MKII or MKIIG. Antenna MP-1, Elecraft T1 for .1-20 watts any type of wire will do antenna, Outback Joey and LDG-Z100 plus. Needed to re-write to more fit the question.

    Harry K7ZOV

  • Bruce Steel ZL1AAO:

    Gee you stirred up something with this question. For my 10c I will recommend the Yaesu FT817 so long as it’s straight and not had the tweakers in it’s guts! $250-300 US. There’s many options for a low power Auto ATU and unless focus is to be mono band the a multi band dipole will give hours of portable fun. VHF/UHF mobile antenna will keep the op. in touch with local repeaters etc whilst traveling to and from those remote portable locations. Good Luck

  • One of the things about the FT-817 is that it is a QRP radio. That’s a fine thing and I’m not disparaging that. But, you have to realize that limitation for a new ham going in, especially one who may initially be interested in SSB. I think I would look at the FT-100D or IC-706 series, although they both have some reliabilty problems (with the PA of all things). In the HF-only category, the venerable TS-50S is an option, and, of course the K2, but it’s a lot of money.

  • John W3RC:

    Allow me to weigh in on this. I agree that something like an Icom 706mkIIg, Yaesu FT-100 or 857 would be a goods buy. It has 160 thru 70cm and gives all the bands to you in one box and is very portable. The Kenwood TS-50 is also a great portable HF only rig. It boils down to what is really wanted ti be done with it. If the portability is the real key, the aforementioned rigs would be the best bet giving the user portability, all common amateur bands, and options alplenty. I’d slightly lean toward a 706 as I think the receiver is better than Yaesu’s offering. I have an 857 and I’m not too impressed with it overall. I use it mostly for digimodes and fm and there it shines. SSB is good as well, but cw absolutely needs a mechanical filter. With a 706, it has a hot receiver, especially for weak signal vhf/uhf work, good on all modes, and is a quite popular radio so the used market is good on them. For a good starter all in one box, that’s what I’d go with. But if you can find a good deal on any of the mentioned rigs, I’d buy it. Good luck.

  • Chuck (W2CCW):

    I Started out and still use my Icom IC-725. Great reliable rig. and inexpensive. I had bought mine for $275 and probably the best money spent.

  • Mark W3LZK:

    Let me share mt own thoughts on al this. You said afordable, and portable, and I mean no disrespect when I say this..but a lot of the suggstion have missed the mark..by a long shot. Portable and affordable..for one thing the TS-480HX/SAT are neither, nor are the older Kenwood rigs. I have a TS-480HX..it requires 41 amps to get that 200 watts output. The new Elecraft that is out oe will be out the KX3..from what I read, its gonna be a serious contender, but at $800 is a bit higher than the $500 you have in mind.

    Were it me, and I’ve been there buying for kin or a friend. I would lean towards the Icom 706MKIIG, they are readily available, and with the optional filters a great value. If its camping or backpacking..then the 703 or 703+ with the afore mentioned filters is a good buy, however they re still a much sought after rig..I know, I’m still looking to replace my 703+. Your relative needs to know that the 703 are only good for 10 watts out though.

    Another couple of decent rigs and you can find them out there, the Yaesu FT-857D can be had for around $500 now, decent dc to daylight rig, I would again get ar least one of the optional filters for it if posible. One of my favorites is the FT-817/817ND, I just picked up 2 year old 817ND with an LDG Z100 auto tuner for $500 at a ham fest 2 weeks ago, again, one of the optional filterss will go a long way in fighting the qrm so often found on the bands these days.

    In todays economy, its all about the deal, a lot of guys and gals are selling these rigs at unbelievable prices..why..they need the cash. Shop around, check out eham, qrz, qth, etc. maybe your local club has a for sale section on their web site check that out for deals. Also one rig I forgot..the FT-840..a bit long in the tooth, no 2m/70cm, but has HF, they can be found at decent prices, a bit clunky perhaps, but still a very decent rig. These are just my observations, I’m all about getting the best bang for the buck, if qrp is the way your kin wants to go..and it may make him/her a better op, in the long run, the I would explore that avenue. Best of luck..I do hope you pot your results to the group here, I for one would be interested in which transciever you wind up getting.

    73 de Mark

  • Dennis KC0YNU:

    I like the old ICOM 706’s
    Currently am running a MKII and am able to make good QSO’s, running it out of a g5rv with center about 35 ft up.

    average cost of one around 0 land is in the $400.00 range

  • Ernest Gregoire, AA1IK:

    Additionally, the new Kx3 is going to be priced between $800 and $900,and this WITHOUT options. Do you want an tuner, filters, noise blanker more?
    Each will add cost to the $$$ that you pay for the rig itself. I just got an e-mail from Elecraft, they say they are shooting for December 2011 for a target date.

    de AA1IK

    Ernest Gregoire


  • Tom W5GV:

    Icom 703 is your best bet for HF backpack portable, you can find the special pack Icom makes for it used and some new around. Great receiver, 10 watts of power. Built in antenna tuner. Does not have VHF-UHF. I would get the Wouxon HT for those bands.

  • Tom WH6PH:

    I really love my Yaesu Ft-817ND especially with the Miracle Whip antenna, worked the Hawaiian Islands from Arizona on SSB 10 meters indoors !Also 6 meters, 2 meters, 440 plus HF, great shortwave receive ! What I do dislike about my rig, why didn’t Yeasu prime the metal before painting the cabinet ? My radio peeled paint and exposed bare metal, I repainted myself rather than shipping it back to Yeasu ! And I wish Yeasu had included a carry handle that could be used to prop up the rig when it is being used !A great little fun rig ideal for traveling, camping or survival ! Also check out the Miracle Whip antenna as it is mated for this rig !

  • Jason - W1WOW:

    Over the years I have gone round and round trying many $500 – $1,400 rigs…both from Icom and Yaesu. I keep coming back to the ICOM 706 series time and time again. I currently have an ICOM IC-706MKIIG and an ICOM IC-703+ – awesome radios and my vote for the best bang for the buck!

  • N3WVB:

    Without question the biggest bang for the buck on the market currently is the Kenwood TS2000 no bigger bang for the buck.An all in one rig offering the shack in the box concept started by Icom and followed by Yaesu 🙂
    To pass on this rig new in a box is a mistake in my opinion.

  • Phil, N2MDV:

    There are lots of Kenwood TS-2000’s out there. If you look at the eham reviews, it’s the rig with the most reviews out there. (Over 516, the last I’ve checked.) I agree, it can be the best bang for the buck for HF, 6M, 2M, 432 / 440, and it even receives (But not TX.), the 222MHz band. It’s also a nice AM rig for both RX/TX. (Something I’m having fun with now.) Worst part about the rig? It’s power hungry. It does draw over 2A on RX, and you need at least a 25A supply if you run it the full 100W. However, a bare bones performer that’s still desired out there is the Kenwood TS-50S. Very compact and sounds great in all modes on RX / TX. It still draws some current on RX, just under 2A, and you need at least a 22A supply with it for full 100W. But, for portability, it works on a battery at 0deg F! (So does it’s sister 6M rig the TS-60S.). If you can find a TS-50S for $400.00, or under without problems, certainly worth it!

  • Jim Self KW4PW:

    The FT 450-D is a project that may never work for digital. I have read of so much trouble and NO success. I bought a Signalink. Wasted money. Be careful if you want this for digital. Otherwise it’s a great radio.

  • Jim Self KW4PW:

    For the FT 450 D and digital I found a fix. Take a look at this: http://www.w3yy.com/fsk.htm
    May try it.

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