AMERITRON AL-800H HF AMPLIFIER
Bob Hutchinson, N5CNN
OK, OK. I acknowledge
that these indirectly heated cathode, metal ceramic jobs have merit even
though they don't light up and don't make good heat for winter time use. I
was taken with this AL-800H because the marketing materials claim legal +
power in a lightweight compact amplifier. Matter-of-fact, it may be the
lightest and most compact amplifier in this class, ever.
Click any picture
I've been buying from Dan at
The Ham Station in Evansville,
IN off and on for lotsa years, so I ordered the AL-800H with QSK. Unlike
the other amplifier makers, Ameritron prefers to sell through dealers.
List price of this Amplifier is $2,545.00 plus $349.00 for the factory
installed internal PIN diode QSK board. It appears that Dan's
discounted price was $2,299.00 for the amplifier plus $325.00 for the QSK
board - $2,625.00 total. It arrived in two weeks.
So, will it live up to claims?
We'll show you the inards, the outards and, best of all, we'll see if
it runs. Then we can come to conclusions.
Open the big box from Brown first, little box later. Ya know, each
amplifier maker develops their own methods for protecting the equipment in
shipment. Strange - - the maker that has developed the reputation for the
economical, lower priced amplifiers has the best shipping and
protection-in-shipment scheme, no contest. The Ameritron inter box for the
amplifier by it self is equal to or superior to most amplifier boxes and
it is totally contain in the outer box. This double box arrangement is
very effective. Other makers take notice
With the amplifier on the
bench and stripped of it's plastic the small size of the amplifier cannot
be overlooked. This is a compact amplifier for the power rating claimed. I
remembered that Ameritron puts the fuses inside the amplifier along with
an extra complete set of cover screws. Other makers take notice. The layout is
standard for most single box amplifiers made today. It's a U shaped pan
with front to back divider/stiffener to separate power supply and circuit
board section from the RF section.
The Ameritron materials say:
1500+ watts CW or PEP, pair of 3CX800A7 Eimac tube$, the necessary grid
protection circuits, three minute warm up, 52 lbs. weight. At the
Ameritron web they don't provide the dimensions of this small amplifier
but it utilizes the same cabinet as the little brothers AL-800 (1 tube),
AL-572, AL80B and perhaps others I overlooked. Actual measurements
by this writer provide a surprise.
- AL-800H 8" Ht.
X 14" W. X 14"D. plus front knobs and the tuned input box on rear.
8" Ht. X 14" W. X 14"D. plus front knobs
8" Ht. X 14" W. X 14"D. plus front knobs
8" Ht. X 15" W. X 14"D (Heathkit) plus front knobs.
This amplifier is
slightly smaller than the SB220.
Without the cover
installed on a modern amplifier the box does not have full structrual
strength and everything can flex a lot during handling and movement. This
box has a high strength stainless steel bottom pan that provides plenty of
stiff. Pressed in PEM nuts throughout.
OK, it's tent duty
So browsers can visit the components inside, it's into the light tent for
the photography session. For this fun I set the amplifier box on a house
plant dolly with casters so I can rotate it for lotsa shots with the
Olympus digital camera. I can lift this amp into the tent even with the
transformer already installed. With some, I can only lift up to the 38
inch light tent floor height before I install the transformer.
A different approach here.
The coils are mounted on a fiberglass circuit board with wide flat traces
to handle the RF. The band switch appears miniature compared with other
amplifiers. It appears to be about the same size as the SB220 switch. The
band switch shaft is extended to the switch in the tuned input section
mounted outside on the rear of the amplifier. The 3CX800A7 tube requires a
tuned input to maintain low input SWR required by today's exciters.
Adjustments are handy, if ever needed. Nice velvet smooth 6:1
vernier drives on the Load and Plate capacitors.
squirrel cage type blower
require it. Glass tubes cool by radiating and conducting heat to the
surrounding, air, socket, case and components. These components are
cooled by convection. These small metal-ceramic tubes can't get by with
that because they cool by radiating and conducting heat directly to the
small heat sink fin area which is cooled by convection by lotsa air
through the concentrated area.
Nice quiet muffin or tube
axial fans can't cut it here because of the static pressure that must be
overcome in the pressurized section of the cooling system. So, the maker has to put enough air through these tubes under
pressure to satisfy the demands of the most demanding. Pressurized air
capacity, according to the specs is 30 CFM. Today, the designs pull air
from outside, through the power supply section, over and around the
components and into the fan. Thence, in this case, into the pressurized
section, through the tubes and out of the box.
Well, wait just a minute,
there. Low power amplifiers have more capacity than 30 CFM with muffin
fans. How can this legal limit + amplifier get by with just 30 CFM? It's
because this type of amplifier design, using metal ceramic tubes,
concentrates the majority of the heat one place, the heat sink fins around
the tubes and takes it right out of the amplifier. The manual indicates
this is enough capacity to cool things adequately when running 1250 watts
CW continuously. Experts say that normal continuous conversation on SSB is
only a 15% duty cycle. Believing this, I believe it would be safe to claim
that 8 CFM or about 25% of maximum would cool this amplifier for SSB
This amp makes about the same noise as other similar I have tested and a
lot less than a couple I have tested or used by Ameritron. A 12 watt
rheostat variable wire wound resistor of 0 to 250 ohms variation in the
fan power circuit could do wonders for the noise.
Big, easy to cool plate choke, huh?
The size of a plate choke gives an indication of the power capacity of an
amplifier. If it is not right in an air stream it must be large to stay
cool and not fry when the demanding are operating or the amp is mis-tuned.
This ONE doesn't appear to have any auxiliary cooling facility such as a
slot in the air pressure chamber, so big is called for.
Pin diode QSK
Full break-in QSK circuit
provides wonderful enhancements for telephone-like
SSB conversations or efficient high speed control for all other modes.
Ameritron has produced this optional factory installed for some years. I
used a AL-572 for a year that had this fine option. Silent and fast.
The Eimac tubes
Most amplifier makers
now install Russian and Chinese tubes in their amplifiers. Ameritron uses
imported tubes in other amplifiers but have stuck with Eimac in this type
and style of tube. This tube has an excellent track record of performance
and longevity. Economics may require that they revisit the 4CX800 type
tube as it is about 20% of the cost of the Eimac.
Amplifier Designer Tom
When I decided on moving this amplifier up in the review schedule I had a nice conversation with Ameritron amplifier designer Tom
Rauch. He has been designing and building the Ameritrons for years.
Obviously, he must be doing it right as Ameritron sells more amplifiers
than all the other U.S. manufacturers combined. Even with the highly popular
and economical Russian 4CX800 tetrode showing up in competitive
brands, Tom says he will continue to utilize the 3CX800A7 Eimac triode
because of its superior specs. and wonderful track record. I suspect he
will stay with the Eimacs until economics force him to seek change.
Complete with diagrams and schematics showing components. The manual is
also available on line.
the power supplies?
It has the time and
performance proven voltage doubler HV rectifier/filter circuit introduced
by Heathkit 40 or so years ago. Without this voltage doubler power supply
design this amplifier would be considerably heavier and cost more to build
and more to buy.
It's not the wind, its the
wind for reducing the weight
Most amps today have one of these two types of HV power supplies:
- Full wave bridge
rectifier/filter utilizing N5408 3 A., 1,000 PIV diodes and computer grade/type electrolytic capacitors.
- Full wave voltage
doubler rectifier/filter utilizing N5408 3 A., 1,000 PIV diodes and
computer grade/type electrolytic capacitors.
Using single phase 220- 240
VAC mains -
Winding ratio for the plate
transformer of a full wave bridge 2940 VDC B+ PS is approximately 9:1. Transformer voltage is 2,100 VAC, no load.
Winding ratio for the plate transformer of a full wave voltage doubler
2940 VDC B+ PS is approximately 4.5:1. Transformer voltage
is 1,050 VAC., no load.
Yes, it's all about money
In transformers it's the turns, not the length of wire that are important.
An outer turn uses more wire for a turn than an inter turn around the iron
core. Diminishing returns come as turns, resistance and weight increase.
The full wave doubler rectifier uses half the diodes of the bridge. It
also has a little more voltage sag under load but this is somewhat offset
by the reduced resistance in the much shorter total wire length
in the windings.
Less wire in the transformer, half the voltage of the bridge type, means less
weight of components and less cost. The performance is still there for
Amateur service or IACS as the engineering community calls it. For legal
limit + amplifiers the transformer weight savings is about 33%. This amp
specs at 52 pounds, the E-I grain oriented lamination
transformer makes up 32 pounds of that 52. Lifting it feels about like
lifting an SB220 Heathkit. I can't wait to light it up.
The circuit board area includes the
full wave rectifier/filter/doubler circuit, meter, 50K bleeder resistors and control circuits and
components. The full wave rectifier circuit utilizes two five diode
strings of the industry standard N5408, 3 A., 1000 PIV type. The picture
shows four diodes standing up and there are six more mounted in a flat
The doubler filter section
is populated with typical computer
grade electrolytic capacitors totaling 63 mfd capacity. The no load B+
voltage is specified at 2600 VDC. Our actual test measurement was 2613
VDC. Pretty close, huh? It sags to 2250 at full load.
Some assembly required
Ha! Guess what?
This amplifier comes with the transformer bolted and soldered in. A wide
range of mains voltages can be used as it is rich in primary windings.
Unlike any other amplifier in this class, input voltage arrangements are
changed with the soldering iron. See pictures.
The only install needed is
the pair of Eimac 3CX800s and two
I was surprised to see the threat of voided or nullified warranty on the
tube boxes. These babies are now in the $500.00 range - each, and the
manufacturer's warranty may go away if you don't return them in THIS box
only? I think, with this attitude of distain for the customer - Eimac, in
the Ham Radio market, may
go away as their warranty may. Their original packing material is just
small bubble wrap. No big deal.
I am always surprised when
I handle a metal ceramic tube because they look light and are actually
heavy because of the ceramic and steel. The outer ring and fins are
aluminum or non ferrous alloy. I removed the chimneys, carefully inserted
the shinny Eimacs, without pin mishap, slipped the chimneys properly over
the tubes and attached the connectors to the anodes. The cover fits great.
The fuses fit OK too.
Will this little box
perform? Does it run?
It lights up!
But, only partially, the grid and plate ampere meter light doesn't light
up. Bummer for a new amplifier. Oh! It came on. This meter lamp double as
the three minute, ready lamp. Comes on after the indirect cathode heaters
have heated indirectly.
Our test bench is equipped with a 2000 watt fan
cooled dummy load, 3,500 watt low pass filter, Bird 43 and Coaxial
Dynamics watt meters cabled in series, each with 2,500 watt slug. The bench has a
superb 7,500 w. antenna switch utilizing Jennings vacuum relays, designed and
built by this writer, for access to 75M & 40M dipoles, 20M, 17M and 15M verticals
and the dummy load. Various putt-putt wattmeters are used between
exciter and amplifier to measure drive power and SWR.
I went through my
systematic load test for the following bands on the dummy load. Drive signal is CW.
Data below is grouped:
Grid Current MA / Plate
Current MA / CW Power Out Watts
QRP Settings Column
Bad Boy Column
Ten meters not enabled on
this amplifier yet.
Over drive column on the
About 60 watts will drive this little powerhouse to legal limit on 80m,
75m and 40m. Only 50 watts need on higher frequencies. This sweet little
box is a little loafer at legal limit. For you bad-boy
wantabees, the AL-800H is just loafing at 1,500 watts CW output. I continued tuning on the dummy
load in short segments and increasing drive until full output of the 100 watt exciter
was reached. As I was working up to maximum drive I raised the drive just a few watts
from 50 and keyed, the nice
grid overload protection circuit would shut the amp down. A flip to
standby and then back to ready resets the protection circuit.
clockwise rotation of the Load capacitor knob a half unit or so would then
allow more drive without tripping the overload protection. The Plate and
Load capacitors have velvet smooth 6:1 vernier drives, nice. Tuning comes
easy with this technique. The plate control setting hardly changed at as I
increased drive and retuned until 100 watts drive was achieved. At no time
was the grid and plate current maximums exceeded. The protection circuit
would trip anyway. I like it like that.
Radio status decisions
Once 100 watt maximum drive Plate and Load settings are recorded they can be
re-set when changing bands and you need only set exciter power level to 50-60 watts and
start talking. From that position one can make or set Ham Radio social or
status decisions such as: "QRP Settings", "Legal Limit" or "Bad Boy",
with the exciter drive control.
Compact legal limit + HF linear
amplifier. Reference the first paragraph of this article, I said,
"Matter-of-fact, it may be the lightest and most compact amplifier in this
class, ever." Well, it IS. In legal limit plus bad boy amplifiers the
AL-800H is smaller, lighter, more compact than any Amateur Radio amplifier
this writer has handled, used or examined, ever. As you can see in test
results table above, this bad boy boomer may be a tiny bit smaller than the old standard and standby
Heathkit SB220, but, -- it has over twice the maximum power of the old SB220.
Halleluiah! I love Ham Radio.
Ameritron does not use
quick disconnects or Molex plugs in this amplifier. Everything is
soldered. This makes repair or board replacement by the owner a not quite
so easy operation. This policy, no doubt, helps keep manufacturing cost
down. This little powerhouse of a legal limit + amplifier cost $700.00 to
$1,100.00 less than other amplifiers in the legal limit + amplifier class.
In the standard configuration, sans the expensive PIN diode QSK board, it
is a great value at a street price of about
$2,300.00. Because of the superb power to weight ratio this may be the all time
champion DXpedition amplifier.
HRM home page.
Ameritron AL-800H page.
Most know that I love the warm, glowing
but ya-know, summer is coming.
NEXT UP FOR REVIEW:
See the schedule back at HRM Review page.
Bob Hutchinson, N5CNN
President and Founder
Wireless Industry Association
If you would like to
publish an article here contact Bob