I've owned a couple Yaesu FT-817's so I thought I'd do a quick write-up that might help someone else interested in buying one. First of all, for a larger variety of reviews for anything ham radio related I would strongly suggest the reviews found on www.eHam.net.
The Yaesu FT-817 is Yaesu's compact, portable, QRP (5w), all mode, all band transceiver. There are quite a few used ones on the market and can be had for ~$400-$600 USD. Now, QRP isn't for everybody. I think a lot of guys buy them, wanting a portable radio for picnic table operation, but when they get frustrated with the low power, they sell them off again. If you use this radio with an understanding of what it is, and within the realm of it's capabilities, it is a grand little piece of equipment. If you are expecting a contest grade radio, with high-end performance, and antenna melting power, you will be sadly disappointed.
I have owned 2 of these radios. One was a stock FT-817ND, and the other was a Yaesu FT-817 with the W4RT OBF (One Board Filter for CW & SSB), and the BHI DSP installed.
Some observations on the FT-817
- Compact & simple: The size of this radio is perfect for the operator who lives in an apartment or just needs to keep a small footprint. I especially liked it because I could leave it set up on a small end table in our dining room and it was discreet enough that it didn't bother my wife :)
- Minimal power supply: You don't need a giant power supply to run the radio. I for one do not like the "old school" convention of having huge power supplies and rigs around my 'ham shack'. I like compact, simple, and practical. I often ran the radio off of a small sealed lead acid battery (SLAB) or a small "wall wart" power supply. You could even run the radio off of a small solar panel if you wanted.
- All mode/All band: With a radio the size of a small hardback book you can jump from 160m all the way up to 70cm with a push of a button. You can play around on HF or talk on repeaters and satellites. You aren't restricted to any one mode either. It will do AM/FM/SSB/CW/RTTY/Digital modes. For the digital modes you'll have to build yourself a radio-to-PC interface or purchase one like the Rigblaster Plug&Play.
- QRP is FUN!: For a wimpy 5w QRP rig you can do quite well on the HF bands. Using a mere 5w or less on SSB, with very casual operating I was able to make hundreds of contacts over the span of about 6 months from Colorado, including 40 U.S. States, and 33 DX stations (Including Italy, Russia, Hungary, Brazil, Japan, Germany, etc.). If you use the FT-817 with WSPR the entire world is within reach.
- Price point: $500-$600 is a lot of money for a radio, but when you compare it to other rigs that can easily sell for $1000+, it's pretty affordable. If you're internet savvy and bide your time I have seen FT-817's sell for as little as $350 on the different ham radio forums.
- The ability to add the W4RT filters and BHI DSP are a nice feature, but they are quite an expensive accessory. However, the BHI DSP does wonders to reduce the "white noise" on the HF bands. If my budget was tight I wouldn't mind putting up with some static noise, but if I had the extra cash laying around I would go for the DSP option. Unless you're an advanced user with a soldering iron I would leave it to W4RT to install any options for you. There are quite a few small surface mount parts and tricky bits to get the BHI DSP and OBF installed inside the case. Better to spend the extra cash to have it done right the first time around.
- Menu driven features: I like menu driven radios. It gives you a great deal of added features without cluttered dials and buttons on the faceplate of the radio. For older hams who grew up on dials and switches the menus might be a little ungainly. Growing up around computers I find the menus are second nature to me, and pretty easy to navigate.
- Internal batteries: I like the idea of using internal batteries to power the FT-817 but in reality it's not very practical. The FT-817 isn't the most power efficient and quickly burns up the eight AA batteries it holds. Even with minimal use, you'd be lucky to get 4-6 hours out of them. I wish Yaesu would either supply the FT-817 with a high capacity rechargeable battery or use the internal battery compartment to house an antenna auto-tuner.
Below are a few video I made when I owned the FT-817's. Excuse the poor quality video!
Operating portable near Trinidad, CO contacting the DXpedition ZL8X to Kermadec Island with 5 watts from the Yaesu FT-817ND with Par End Fedz 10/20/40 antenna with a 22ft. #26 wire element cut for 15m.
Operating with the Yaesu FT-817ND from 11,950ft on Trinchera Peak in the Sangre De Cristo mountains in southern Colorado. Antenna is a Par End Fedz 10/20/40. Listening to a pile-up for UW5ZM in Ukraine.
Here's a short video of my Yaesu FT-817 doing a side by side antenna comparison on recieve. The rear antenna is a MFJ 1899T and the front antenna is a Par End Fedz 10/20/40 via 25' of RG-174 coax, horizontal at about 15ft. The frequency is 7.205 LSB. You can see how strong stations are very close in signal strength while weaker stations drop out quickly with the MFJ antenna. You can also see the effectiveness of the W4RT installed BHI DSP unit.