3 Best Ham Radio Amplifiers In 2024
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Searching for the best ham radio amplifier?
Choosing the right ham radio amplifier is crucial, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. In this article, we cut through the technical talk to spotlight the key features of top amplifiers.
You’ll get clear, simple insights on their performance and value, helping you make a smart choice for your ham radio setup. Let’s get started on finding the amplifier that’s just right for you.
How We Choose the Best Ham Radio Amplifiers
When it comes to selecting the best ham radio amplifiers for our roundup, our approach is meticulous and centered around the real-world needs of amateur radio enthusiasts. We understand that our readers rely on us for honest, insightful, and practical advice. Here’s a peek into our selection process, ensuring every recommendation we make is valuable and trustworthy.
- Performance and Reliability: The primary goal of any amplifier is to boost signal without compromising on clarity. We evaluate each model’s ability to provide consistent, high-quality amplification across various frequencies. Reliability over time is also a key factor; we look for amplifiers that stand the test of intense usage.
- Ease of Use: Ham radios are a hobby for many, so the ease of setting up and operating the amplifier is crucial. We prioritize models that offer a smooth user experience, whether it’s straightforward controls, easy installation, or clear manuals.
- Build Quality: The durability of an amplifier under various conditions is important. We assess the build quality, examining materials used and the overall construction to ensure they can handle regular use and the occasional bump or knock.
- Feature Set: We delve into the additional features each amplifier offers, such as multiple connection options, digital interfaces, or advanced protection circuits. These features can enhance the ham radio experience significantly.
- Price vs. Value: While some may be willing to invest more for top-tier quality, we understand the importance of value for money. Our selections reflect a balance between cost and the features and performance offered.
- User Reviews and Community Feedback: We pay close attention to the experiences of real users. Reviews, forums, and discussions within the ham radio community provide invaluable insights into how these amplifiers perform in real-life scenarios.
- Brand Reputation and Support: A brand’s history and customer support are important, especially when it comes to technical products like amplifiers. We consider the reputation of each manufacturer and the quality of their customer service.
By combining technical analysis with real-world user experiences and a keen eye for value, we bring you a list of amplifiers that truly stand out. Our aim is to help you find an amplifier that not only meets your technical requirements but also fits seamlessly into your ham radio journey.
Why Should You Trust Us?
At WhollyOutdoor, trust is our cornerstone. Founded by Paul Dudley, an avid ham radio enthusiast, we blend personal experience with a commitment to honesty and objectivity. Our approach to reviewing ham radio amplifiers is thorough and grounded in real-world use.
Since 2018, we’ve built a reputation for providing advice that’s not only reliable but also practical. We’re here to guide you through the complexities of ham radio equipment with reviews you can count on, crafted from genuine experience and a passion for the outdoors.
3 Best Ham Radio Amplifiers Reviews
1. ACOM 1000 HF – Our Top Choice
Its controls might give the impression of minimalism, but the Acom 1000 HF amplifier is a well-designed and feature-rich amplifier. This amplifier has the reputation of being tough and reliable, both very desirable qualities in an expensive system.
The amplifier is somewhat compact, with a rather simple interface. A small backlit display shows the output power, but can also show text messages and several other functions. Simple controls are available for tuning, band selection, and load.
The robustness and thoughtful design of this amplifier becomes evident with its protection features that safeguard against faults with tuning, power, and user error. The amplifier can withstand up to 300W reflected power, soft AC line, or drive spikes up to 100 milliseconds.
As for output power, this amplifier can go all the way to 1000W. However, the compact unit needs some assistance in the form of an auxiliary fan if you choose to remain at high power for more than 15 minutes. While somewhat annoying, this part isn’t all that troublesome.
The troubling part for this amplifier is the Svetlana 4CX800A (GU74B) high-performance ceramic tetrode.
This component is made in Russia, and due to the current war and political climate, it is increasingly difficult to get hold of this. So, finding a spare could get problematic, though this isn’t really a rare component.
Acom characterizes this as an HF+6m linear amplifier that can cover the frequency range from 1.8 MHz to 54 MHz.
Setting it up requires some effort, but remains a simple process. You can use the tuning-aid to match antennas precisely. True Resistance Indicator (TRI) is perhaps one of the more impressive features of this amplifier. It makes tuning convenient enough to be handled in a few seconds.
The auto-aid is another helpful feature that can handle several tasks automatically, though users can override this to handle the amplifier manually.
Another notable aspect is that the Acom 1000 happens to be amongst the quietest (if not the quietest) amplifiers in this category. While adding an auxiliary fan might change things slightly, the amplifier still manages to keep noise down.
Overall, ACOM 1000 HF is an excellent linear amplifier that offers excellent performance, good protection against manual and electric faults, convenient tuning with TRI, and low noise. With its price and performance, it adds some weight to Acom’s somewhat ambitious claim of this being “world’s best value” amateur High Frequency amplifier.
To sum up, what I like is the…
- Clean and simple design
- Dependable and robust build quality
- TRI makes it very easy to tune
- Good protection against reflected power (300W) or drive spikes
- 1000W output power.
On the downside…
- Some components might be difficult to source
- Needs auxiliary fan to operate on high power for longer times.
2. Alpha 9500 – Best Premium Ham Radio Amplifier
Alpha 9500 Amplifier really looks every bit as premium as expected, and shows off great features and capabilities to match. The series of buttons and lights on this amplifier give it some of that serious business-like appearance.
Of course, there’s more to the amplifier than just buttons and lights. The 9500 works in the range of 1.8-29.7 MHz and can offer 1500W continuous power output for SSB, CW, FM, and even digital modes. It prefers a 60W input to make it all work flawlessly, but can make do with as low as 45W.
Going beyond appearance, the amplifier impresses even with its build quality. The aluminum chassis is solid and built to withstand the test of time. And the same philosophy goes on towards internal components as well. Alpha has chosen to go with quality and with parts that are easily accessible.
The company puts forward the use of the 3CX1500A7 8877 type tube (triode) as an easy to find replacement solution. Alpha calls it cheap, even though it costs well over a grand. However, in the grand scheme of things and amplifier costs, one might consider it reasonably priced.
Alpha 9500 can be remotely controlled through RS232 or USB. The company also offers Alpha Remote software with the amplifier to make things easier. Users can control the amplifier or view important parameters directly through this software.
Several HF radios allow remote control through software, so the addition of amplifier control through software can be really helpful.
The amplifier can connect to up to four antennas and the user can select their desired antenna through buttons at the front. It can also tune and switch bands automatically, though the user may choose to override these with manual controls.
While everything seems to be going right for this amplifier, the bigger problem lies with its availability. In recent years, Alpha has changed ownership and moved the facility from Colorado to Ohio.
Yet, the company seems to have struggled managing shipments in recent years. Even online orders are sporadic. The company had announced a return to normal by the end of 2023, but it appears that the wait will be longer.
Overall, Alpha 9500 is an excellent amplifier that’s built to last and be easy to repair, if necessary. The amplifier handles its job rather well, though the price might be a downside.
To sum up, what I like is the…
- Tough build and body
- Clean design and construction
- Remote software control
- 1500W output power
- Auto tuning allows manual override
- Parts are easy to repair/replace.
On the downside…
- The manufacturer appears to have business issues.
3. Ameritron ALS-600S – Best Budget Ham Radio Amplifier
The attractive price tag of the Ameritron ALS-600S is a big driver for its popularity. Amplifiers tend to be expensive, so even a small difference in the price percentage can translate to hundreds of dollars in savings. And Ameritron has built a solid reputation with its cost-effective solid state amplifiers!
Ameritron ALS-600S is often compared to another offering by the company, the ALS-600. Effectively, there is no difference between these two models. Both of these use the same amplifiers but different power supplies.
The ALS-600S uses the more modern switching power supply, while the ALS-600 uses the classic linear (or transformer) power supply.
The included power supply with this model is capable of working with 120/220 VAC (say volts alternating current), 50/60 Hz. You can place the amplifier on top of the power supply if so desired, or push the power supply to sit out of the way.
An included illuminated cross needle on the power supply is helpful in checking input voltage and current on the 50VDC line. It also does a fairly good job at voltage regulation.
Ameritron ALS-600S uses four TMOS RF power FETs for dependable solid state performance. It doesn’t quite require tuning and offers continuous coverage from 1.5 MHz to 22 MHz.
This solid state amplifier is practically plug and play, making it very easy to set up and use. While all that works easy for analog, you might have to take a second look when working with digital.
Apparently, the best it can do with digital is 100W and pushing beyond that can cause trouble with the finals. And that’s a real downer, considering how popular digital is. ALS-600S manual says that it can go up to 200W on digital, but that’s not the case, though the company has yet to update its manual.
Speaking of finals blowing out, Ameritron really needs to work with protection here. The amplifier has some protection from SWR and will let you know if the antenna isn’t tuned properly in many cases. However, the finals can still blow out and that happens to be a major complaint about this amplifier.
Overall, Ameritron ALS-600S is an excellent amplifier for the price. It’s easy to use to the point of being almost plug and play, has a robust design, and its power supply handles things really well. It could do better with protection for the finals, but it isn’t entirely out of play.
To sum up, what I like is the…
- Attractive pricing
- Easy to use
- Power supply is dependable
- Simple switch between operate/standby
- Doesn’t need tuning or warm-up.
On the downside…
- Needs better protection for the finals
- Manual could use an update.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What factors determine the quality of a ham radio amplifier? The quality of a ham radio amplifier is primarily determined by its signal clarity, build durability, heat dissipation, and ability to maintain performance over different frequencies. High-quality amplifiers offer clear amplification without distortion, even at high power levels, and are built to withstand regular use and thermal stress.
- How important is the wattage of an amplifier? Wattage is crucial as it directly correlates to the amplifier’s power output capability. A higher wattage amplifier can transmit signals over longer distances. However, it’s essential to balance wattage with your specific needs and adhere to legal power output limits set for amateur radio operators in your region.
- Do all amplifiers work with all types of ham radios? Not all amplifiers are universally compatible with every ham radio. It’s important to check the impedance, power requirements, and connection types of both your ham radio and the amplifier to ensure they are compatible. Some radios might require specific types of amplifiers to function optimally.
- Is it necessary to have an amplifier with multiple connection options? Amplifiers with multiple connection options offer greater versatility. They can accommodate different types of radios and accessories, making them a more flexible choice for operators who might upgrade or change their setup over time.
- What is the difference between a solid-state and a tube amplifier? Solid-state amplifiers use transistors for signal amplification and are typically more compact, durable, and require less maintenance than tube amplifiers. Tube amplifiers, on the other hand, use vacuum tubes and are known for their warm sound quality but may require more regular maintenance and are often larger and heavier.
- How does an amplifier affect the sound quality? A good amplifier should enhance the clarity and strength of the signal without introducing noise or distortion. It should accurately amplify the signal from the radio without altering its tone or quality, ensuring clear communication.
- Are there legal restrictions on the use of ham radio amplifiers? Yes, there are legal restrictions on the power output and frequency bands that can be used by amateur radio operators, which vary by country. It’s important to adhere to these regulations to avoid interference with other communications and legal penalties.
- What is the average lifespan of a ham radio amplifier? The lifespan of a ham radio amplifier can vary widely based on the quality of its construction, usage frequency, and how well it is maintained. A well-built and properly cared-for amplifier can last for 10 years or more, while cheaper or heavily used models might have a shorter lifespan.
- Can I use any amplifier for digital modes like FT8 or DMR? Not all amplifiers are suitable for digital modes. Digital modes like FT8 or DMR may require amplifiers with specific characteristics to avoid signal distortion and interference. It’s important to select an amplifier that is designed to handle these modes effectively.
- Is it worth investing in an amplifier with advanced protection circuits? Investing in an amplifier with advanced protection circuits is highly recommended. These circuits protect the amplifier from damage due to high standing wave ratio (SWR), overloading, excessive temperature, and other electrical issues. This not only prolongs the life of the amplifier but also ensures safer operation.