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
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!