Antennas – hams can’t stop talking about them. We all have our favorites, and we all seem to feel an urge to defend our choice by wielding flaming swords and by submitting (mostly anecdotal) evidence.
What I learned after more than 50 years on the air is that a given antenna can work great here, but might really suck when used at someone else’s QTH. This convinced me to tell new hams that they have to find out for themselves which antenna works best for them instead of saying ‘This is the one!’
Hand held antennas
The focus of this blog is Chinese equipment, mostly hand held. Antennas are often the closing entry for manufacturers, something Baofeng proves with their short stock antenna. I even suspect Baofeng to promote this inefficient antenna because its deafness masks certain flaws, such as an easily overloading receiver.
During testing hams quickly found out that there are better antennas out there such as Diamond, Nagoya, the longer Baofeng UV-B5 antenna or the brand-less $3.79 one. I tested this by going into the field and check repeaters which should be just in range.
Stay put, change antennas, and make notes of the results. That’s all there’s to it.
The $3.79 (now $2 or so) antenna mystery
I resold two of these antennas to Teun PA0TBS as a replacement for the short antenna found on the Baofeng BF-666S and equivalent radios. A few days later he checked in on our ‘Tech channel’ and reported that the new antenna performed worse than the original one. The difference wasn’t only obvious during field tests, but also when he used a field strength meter.
Going for a train ride
I went for a train ride with my Quansheng TG-UV2 (no Baofeng as I wanted to rule out receiver issues) and took both the short and the $3.79 antenna with me. It didn’t take long to find out that the after market antenna outperformed the BF-666S antenna by a wide margin — the range basically doubled.
We were puzzled. Teun’s results were completely opposite to mine, and we both wanted to know why. Thanks to a QSO with Fred PA4TIM, a guru when it comes to scientific measurements, one of the first things we looked into was the circumstances of our tests. Tests like this, Fred argued, should always be done in the open, with no obstructions anywhere in sight. Teun did his initial test in his shack, and I was in a train. Just too may variables.
A day in the park
Teun and I met in the local park and repeated the test with the field strength meter. When using the Baofeng BF-666S Teun had no trouble replicating his results: the $3.79 antenna was clearly inferior. When we repeated the test with the Quansheng TG-UV2 however, the cheap after market antenna ruled. Interesting, but very confusing. It’s clear that this story ain’t finished yet.
It seems obvious now that an antenna which does great on hand held radio X doesn’t necessarily mean that it will also do great on hand held radio Y or Z. What we will do next is to take the radio out of the equation by constructing a mounting plate for these antennas. We’re still debating whether we should use a simple 50cm by 50cm aluminum plate, or construct something with radials. The latter system (ground plane alike) would enable us to get as close to 50 Ohms as possible. Maybe we’ll do both.