The Yaesu FT-817/FT-818 and narrow filter availability

So I’m a big fan of the Yaesu FT-817/818 series radios. This general coverage QRP radio has had a longer market run than any other transceiver I can think of and for good reason.

While the 817/818 lacks some of the advanced features of more modern field rigs and have no internal tuner, it makes up for it by:

  • sporting multi-mode HF, VHF, and UHF coverage,
  • having two selectable antenna options (a front panel BNC and back panel SP-239),
  • being incredible durable/rugged,
  • featuring excellent QSK (albeit with a bit of relay clicking…which I actually like),
  • and  generally being very affordable (prices typically from $400 used to $650 new).

In addition, they tend to hold up well with time.

For the price? I feel like you get a lot of radio with the FT-817/818.

This is the reason why I often recommend the FT-817ND and FT-818ND if it sounds like a good match for the operator.

One gotcha though…

I’m starting to realize that there is one downside to this rig especially if you’re primarily a CW operator: optional narrow filter availability.

The FT-817/818 only has two filter settings in SSB and CW: the default wide filter and an optional narrow filter. There are some aftermarket mods that open the door to more filter flexibility (see below), but if you’re a CW operator, you’ll likely want a mechanical CW filter to get the most out of your radio.

Turns out, narrow CW filters are becoming very difficult to find.

In the past, you’d simply order a new Collins or Inrad mechanical filter (which also works in some other Yaesu models) and install it. There were a few bandwidth options to choose from.

Today? I don’t think you can find them new. (Please correct me if I’m wrong and include a link in the comments.)

These days, you typically need to search the classifieds to find a used narrow filter.

When I reacquired an FT-817ND a couple years ago, I felt pretty lucky that Steve (WG0AT) was in the process of selling his FT-817ND and was willing to sell me his Collins 500 Hz filter separately (thanks, Steve!).

Lately, I’ve read reports from operators that have been struggling to find a narrow CW filter of any bandwidth even used. Indeed, when you find a used FT-817/818 there’s a really good chance the filters have already been removed.

Do you need a narrow CW filter?

Most of us will want a narrow CW filter option. Without it, CW sounds beautiful, but in a contest setting or if you have a strong station nearby, your brain will have to do all of the work sorting signals.

My buddy Vlado (N3CZ) prefers using wide CW filter settings even during contests so he can hear all of the signals in the neighborhood.  He’s also the sort of CW operator that can work stations in rapid succession on Field Day all while carrying on a side conversation with the operator sitting next to him. I firmly believe that sort of thing causes brain damage, but Vlado seems to manage it. So far.

Me? When activating, I also like keeping the filter on the wide side unless there’s a strong adjacent signal intruding. I find  wide filter helps me separate signals in my head while working a pileup.  The moment a loud station intrudes, though, I reach for a narrow filter setting to eliminate them.

In short: the FT-817/818 is a fabulous CW machine when you have that narrow filter option installed, in my humble opinion.

Laserbeam 817 Audio Filter Board

One option I’ve yet to try, but fully plan on adding to my second Yaesu FT-817ND (yes, I have two) is the SOTAbeams Laserbeam-817.

I’ve heard very good things about this audio filter module and it’s certainly a much more affordable option than a mechanical filter.

I would love comments from those of you who have used both the Laserbeam and a mechanical filter. How do they compare?

Any other advice?

If you know of a good source of narrow filters, please comment and include links when possible!

33 thoughts on “The Yaesu FT-817/FT-818 and narrow filter availability”

  1. I hit this exact problem when I reacquired a FT-817ND a couple of weeks back (sold my first one w/the Collins mechanical filter – mistakes were made), and found that the YF-122c filter is like gold at the end of a rainbow – almost mythical at this point.

    And at $200 when one is available, roughly 3.5-4 times the cost of the LASERBEAMS-817 filter.

    I received mine and did a write up of my experience installing it at https://kd0hbu.com/2022/04/14/sotabeams-laserbeam-817/ just last week.

    It makes a huge difference on CW, but installation is NOT plug-and-play. It requires some confidence in soldering, a willingness to remove components from your FT-817ND mainboard, and patience to take things sloooooow.

  2. I have two with mechanical filters. One 300hz and 500hz. Both work perfectly and I prefer the 300. They were difficult to find but I did get a great price on them. I’ve pondered the Sotobeams and am interested to see how they work.

  3. I just purchased a FT-818, and have been considering filter options. I finally decided to optimize it for phone and keep my KX3 for CW. To this end I ordered an Inrad 2000 kHz filter to try and optimize it for SSB – time will tell if this was the right option. The idea of modifying a brand new radio for the SOTABeams board does not appeal at all.

    1. I’m invoking my right to change my mind. Lol. I found a Collins 500 Hz filter in the FT-847 form factor and ordered a bare board from Inrad.

  4. If you live in Europe, or you are willing to pay for shipping costs, it looks to be in stock, at least the 300Hz one at https://www.wimo.com/en/yf-122cn

    I bought mine years ago and it still works great. It helps a lot, in particular if your CW skills (like mine) are not fantastic 🙂

  5. I fitted the “laserbeam” filter to my 817nd as the narrow mechanical filters are like unicorn poop. In use the laserbeam is ok although I noticed that it does create mirror/ghost images of strong CW stations. These appear when you tune about 1.4 kHz away from the real signal. This can be worked around, to a degree, by using the IF shift function on the radio but it does make operating close to strong signals a bit awkward. I generally leave the narrow mode off while tuning and only engage it once I’ve settled on a frequency that doesn’t have a loud neighbour. The radio’s S-meter becomes unusable with the filter in narrow mode, displaying high values all the time.

    I did email Sotabeams when I initially installed the filter, describing these various issues. They were less than energetic in their response.

    Overall, the filter is okay for a simple device that operates directly in the audio path rather than the IF path, but it’s certainly no competitor for a genuine mechanical filter.

    I’m surprised that Yaesu still sell this radio knowing fine well that the mechanical filters are no longer manufactured.

  6. I was fortunate when I bought my 817 back probably 20 years ago is that W4RT was installing upgrades and I sent mine to him for the full banana. I got everything but the enlarged battery pack. It included the Collins 500 Hz filter, BHIDSB audio processor, and the One Big Punch adapter in the microphone. I have found all of them to be very useful over the years. Even though I have a ton of other rigs I still keep my 817 just to have because it always works.

  7. Thomas, I have the original (non-ND) FT817. When I was using it regularly, I built an external 4-stage op-amp filter for it. The design came from K4ICY: http://www.k4icy.com/cwfilter.htm.

    The circuit can be tuned (by component selection) to your choice of sidetone. I used a quad op-amp chip which made construction fast, simple and cheap.

    The performance is truly incredible. The selected station “pops out” while adjacent stations sound attenuated. This makes it a useful zero beat circuit too.

    1. Thanks for the build info and link John!
      If you don’t mind, what quad op-amp chip did you end up using?
      I was thinking to do the same thing.
      73!

    2. Any one aware if This is Being Built as a Full Kit or Assembled, Would Like to Use With My FT-817 that Has No CW Filter, Building Is Becoming a BIG Chore Since “Retirement” and Not Having the Eyes and Tools Like Before. 73, Steve AB2ET/4

  8. A very timely article Thomas, considering my new found love affair with my FT-817 coupled to the CQHAM TB tuner/battery. Like you, I have two of these little gems; the original FT817 (non ND) I purchased 20 years ago and a brand new in the box FT817ND purchased at a time when it was rumoured that the 817 would be discontinued and not replaced/ upgraded.

    Very timely also because I have recently been trying to muster up the courage to hack into my brand new FT817ND and install one of these Laserbeam filters. After reading Adam’s splendid installation article, I’ve lost all courage to proceed! Lol. I’ve built a K2 and countless other QRP rigs but just don’t have the needed confidence to proceed. Maybe the right course of action, for me, would be to proceed with the purchase of this filter (while they’re still available) and find someone capable to install it at a later date.

    Big shout out to you and to Adam for covering this topic,

    72,
    Brent VA3YG

    1. Hi Brent.

      lol – I hope I’m not scaring people off with my experience.

      Rather I would say that if this idiot can do it and not let any of the magic smoke out of anything important, than most hams with any soldering skills can probably do so as well.

      It does take a steady hand and a willingness to go slow – read and reread instructions (well written by the way) – but the reward it definitely there.

      It helped that I had an old Arduino that was broken laying around and could practice a bit with desoldering SMDs and soldering small gauge wires. I’m not the most proficient tinkerer out there, so I wouldn’t shy away if you’ve built kits before.

      72,
      Adam KD0HBU

  9. I got my FT817non-ND in 2004. Did not use much, stayed in storage most of the time.

    Then I got more into QRP and POTA and the FT817 was a natural, light, easy to carry, required low power power source, a simple battery. It had all the features for POTA and then some. One thing missing was the rig being able to cover the weather 162MHz channels (the rig covers up into 150 MHz, but not 160Mhz). For a rig marketed as a back pack rig as Yaesu did one would think getting the weather reports would be most important. But it did about every thing else except for a tuner.

    I did add a tuner, LDG Z817 and the Collins mechanical 300Hz filter for CW. Was easy to install, just plug in, took more work getting the rig opened. When Collins stopped making the filter it was not long before the stock ran out. I got one a couple years before it did. I am sure can sell it for double what I paid for it and it would be worth it.

    One problem with the rig was the PA. Early ones would self oscillate when supply voltage dropped down to like 7-8V. If stored the rig with rechargeable batteries in the rig they would self discharge and the PA could go crazy and distort itself. This happen to me. Yaesu sold replacement PA unit for about $60, was easy to install. Yaesu kinda never admitted the issue, but along this time they went with a different PA set of transistors, claimed old ones no long available, but I wonder. Later I blew the PA using manual tuner, took way too long to tune. and the main reason for going with the Z817 auto tuner. I am now on my 3rd PA.

    I still have my FT817 with Z817 tuner in a PVC frame with AC supply and battery. But have moved on to the likes of the IC705 and X6100 with tunable IF filters and band scopes. But I still like using the FT817.

    73, ron, n9ee/r

  10. I have mechanical CW filters in my 818nd, 857D and 897D, but like you mention finding them was quite difficult (and expensive).

    On the two radios with DSP (897/857), it’s hard to tell the difference between the mechanical CW filter and a wider filter narrowed by the DSP. Obviously the 817/818 doesn’t have a built-in DSP but my experience suggests that one of the add-on AF DSPs would probably do a fine job.

    As far as the mechanical filters go, inrad still has a supply of bare filter boards, and the characteristics of the filters are pretty well understood. I’ve been playing around with the idea of buying a bare board and building my own filter module for it. Packaging might be a concern but I don’t think the filter design would be all that difficult.

  11. What’s missing is that Collins stopped making mechanical filters some years back. They were the only source. In the sixties some company in Japan made some, but that’s long in the past. And I gather they suffer from deteriorating foam inside.

    Collins dropped them because demand disappeared. SDRs taking over.

  12. Link for circuit board in article doesnt seem to take you to the correct page but I found the correct paghttp://www.inrad.net/product.php?productid=17&cat=16&page=1e myself.

  13. Well, I managed to get one of the 300 hz filters, but I also found something else, a Wolfwave audio processor from Sota Beams works even better. Unfortunately, they are out of stock for now. 73 de KB3JC

  14. This is a great article Thomas.

    I wasn’t prepared to purchase the radio until I had found a filter for it. As luck would have it I was able to purchase a 500hz filter a couple of weeks ago so had better purchase the radio now (since I have been very Lucky possibly a lottery ticket too!?).

  15. I bought my FT-817nd nearly 5 years ago and I recall that obtaining the mechanical filters was becoming a problem even then. For once in my life I acted quickly and bought an Inrad 300Hz filter from Nevada Radio in Portsmouth, really glad I did as it’s excellent.
    73, G0CIQ

  16. As for CW filters, there’s a design dating back to 1949 which, in 1950 was licensed by HRO and sold under the name “select-O-ject”

    http://emmittsfixitshop.com/Projects_HRO_SOJ.html

    now, let’s fast forward to 1983 and here’s a solid state version of (almost) the same filter

    https://www.n5dux.com/ham/files/pdf/The%20Magical%20Audio%20Filter.pdf

    the unit offers both a narrow bandpass and notch adjustable filters with quite steep slopes, by adjusting the two controls it allows to “clean” a given CW signal and reject adjacent ones

    Given its simplicity, it should be quite easy to build, in such a case one may use a single quad op-amp (e.g. a TL074) 3 of the amps will be used for the filter and the remaining 4th one may be used as a preamp stage to drive headphones or an amplifier section; the whole thing could be built inside an external speaker box so that it could easily be connected to whatever rig and offer both an ext speaker AND the (selectable, just a matter of adding a bypass switch) filter

    As a note, willing to adjust the “peak” filter bandwidth, one may replace the 1K resistor inserted by S1 with a potentiometer

  17. If, and that’s a big IF, you can find a filter but not a board to mount it, K6XX did a write-up quite a few years back on how to make a little circuit board. He also has a webpage dedicated to the little 817…https://k6xx.com/ft817/817cwf.pdf – circuit board info.

    73, Todd KH2TJ

  18. Hi all-

    I received one of the SOTABeams CW filters a while back, and finally got around to trying it out. It works as advertised. Since the module doesn’t have mounting holes, I ended up having a carrier-board fabricated for it.
    I do have one comment: this module has fairly high output noise. This isn’t unique to this product- the MAX294/297 8th-order lowpass filter has the same behavior. I’d tried both in a receiver- grafting them in to replace the existing low-level audio filtering. The results were unusable. This has to do with gain distribution in a receiver, and I’d simply picked the wrong point to add the module.
    There is an easy fix: The SOTABeams filter is fine if it’s installed at a high signal-level point in a receiver. The SOTABeams folks supply an optional enclosure, and it’s intended to plug into a 3.5 mm headphone jack on a rig. There’s plenty of audio there, and any noise contribution from the SOTABeams module will be negligible. 73- K1SWL

  19. Good evening,

    I just find some informations concerning a CW filter for FT-817/818ND,

    1- https://www.myqrplife.com/blog-1/2021/6/26/ft-817-and-ft-818-cw-filter

    I searched in Radio World , Toronto, On, the only store in Canada, Yes the only one and can’t find nothing about a cw filte, specifically for the Yaesu FT-817/818ND.

    https://www.radioworld.ca/

    Phone: +1 (416) 667-1000

    Toll Free 1-866-666-8600

    4335 Steeles Ave. W North York ON M3N 1V7
    Radioworld © 2022. All Rights Reserved. Powered by zeckoShop

    Now, about the “LASERBEAM 817 AUDIO FILTER BOARD,”

    Here is a complete 15 pages document with installation and revision history, up to date inclusing the latest one dated 31-03-2021, correct pin number step 26.

    https://www.sotabeams.co.uk/content/LASERBEAM-817.pdf

    Hope it is of help to you Thomas and for the readers as well .

    Here I was very lucky when I bought my FT-818ND, to find the 300 Hz filter, It was ordered by RadioWorld at the time, because they didn’t dot have it in stock .

    All the very best to all

    72/73 Mike VE2TH

    The QRP’er for 58 years,

  20. Thanks for this article, Thomas!

    I have two 897D radios and one 817ND. I have been very fortunate in finding mechanical filters to that I have the Collins or Yaesu SSB filters in each 897D.

    I also have three CW mechanical filters and have just received the SOTABeams 817 Lightning module. I have to decide how to proceed. Do I put my sole 300Hz CW filter in the 817ND along with the digital module or do I put one of the 500Hz filters in there and then have an 897D with a 500Hz and an 897D with a 300Hz.

    I am a CW beginner. I want to do SOTA and POTA and perhaps some simple CW contests but that last part is not essential.

    I need advice. Can anyone give me some?

    Thanks
    Bruce VA7SGY

    1. I have an 897 and an 817 (original non-ND). I find the DSP settings in the 897 adequate for my CW needs, so I would recommend installing the filter in your 817.

      Better yet, trade one of your 897s for an 891. The 891 has far superior IF filtering. My 891 is my main rig for POTA and other outdoor ops.

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