When the SGC SG-2020 HF QRP rig first came out, it was subject to a lot of criticism on the Internet and elsewhere. Were these criticisms justified? Has it been improved in the last year? Our QRP man Dick Pascoe, G0BPS, prevailed upon your editor to obtain a sample for him to find out the answers to these, and other, searching questions . . .
I have been following the saga of the SGC SG-2020 rig since it first appeared on the scene early last year [the rig was previewed in the April 1998 Ham Radio Today: back issues are available from Ham Radio Today sales - Ed]. On hearing about alleged problems with it, I asked the editor to get hold of a sample for me to find out if the rig really was poor, or if it was just a couple of unhappy amateurs shouting loudly. It took some time to get one, but eventually it arrived. A timely arrival too, as I was just off to the G-QRP Convention at Rochdale.
George Dobbs, G3RJV, kindly let me put it on his station bench and antennas for the five days that I stayed with him. During this time many of the visitors to the Convention played with the rig, both on CW and SSB. Many of them are well known, top class, operators, some ex-professional operators, some members of the First Class CW Operators Club (FOC) and some who just like to ‘ragchew’. Most were from the UK, but members from Sweden, Germany, Holland and the USA also had a ‘play’. Each gave me their views to share with you.
One of the advantages of being at George’s was the availability of a Hewlett Packard HP8591E spectrum analyzer and HP EPM441A RF power meter. Readers familiar with this equipment will recognize the high quality. This gave me the chance to test the output power and harmonic radiation, which had been part of the critics’ complaints.
We first tested the output power settings and, as it is mostly members of the QRP fraternity who are likely to buy this rig, we set it at the ‘5’ level and measured the power output, as shown in Table 1.
The instruction book tells us "adjustment levels are made in increments of 1 watt from 0 - 20 watts". As the maximum power output is 20 watts, we may be forgiven in believing that ‘5’ on the display equates to five watts output. However, SGC do cover themselves by stating in the next sentence, "accurate calibration is not supported".
In fact, on the 20m band we had to drop right down to the ‘3’ setting on the rig to set the power output to less than 5 watts output. Now in itself this is not too much of a problem, but if the operator was not aware of this relatively high power level on every band, they may inadvertently not be working QRP and may be claiming awards that they are not rightly entitled to! No doubt someone will find a way of setting the power level correctly but until then, check your in-line power meter if you intend calling ‘CQ QRP’!
The next test was to check harmonics. In almost every case the harmonics were well down; see Table 2 for the results of our tests. All levels are quoted with respect to carrier. It will be seen that the rig was very clean, with a worst case of -61dB on 10.1MHz and the best cases being that the harmonics were unmeasurable and down in the noise!
Whilst doing the harmonic test we did find some other spurii. These proved to be: on the 14MHz band, -60dB on 3MHz and 62MHz and a rise in the noise floor in the 7 - 12MHz region; on 21MHz spurii were found at -46dB at about 18MHz and another at -52dB at 24MHz; whilst on the 3.5MHz band we found some spurii although they were better than -70dB. There were synthesizer products too that were 35dB down and 600Hz each side of the carrier.
On the Air
So, how did it perform on the air? As mentioned, we were able to get a lot of different amateurs to use it. Comments were polarized in the extreme, from "I would only give it house room to put something decent in the nice case" right up to "I love it, it’s just what I want". This not only shows the differing views of different operators but proves that no one rig will satisfy all.
GM4PMH, who was operating special event station GB2RRC, commented that our 10 watts of SSB provided a signal that was "as good as any other this evening" on 80m.
Without doubt the general opinion was that the rig works well as an SSB transceiver but less so as a CW rig. This is not just a single opinion, but that of all the visitors who used the rig.
Users who didn’t like it tended to be dedicated CW operators who had home stations consisting of rigs costing much, much more than the SG-2020.
During my tests I found that many of the down sides of the rig had been redressed, but that some still hadn’t been. The dreaded ‘chirp’ had indeed vanished. Yes, it did drift on switch on, but it quickly settled down. The 5 watts audio output is ample, even in the noisy environment of the G3RJV household during convention weekend.
The SCAF filter is a joy to use, changing the bandwidth was easy to do and dropped right down with little sign of ringing as low as 250Hz.
Early reports stated that the ‘S’ meter was poor. Not on the one I used! They said the relay was noisy, again not on this latest version: CW speeds from 15 to 35WPM were used and no relay chatter was apparent. On CW the rig lacks full break-in, but the built-in keyer worked fine when we learned how to drive it. The two input jacks for a paddle and also a hand key are a nice addition.
Audio quality was declared good with "comms quality" when working into Harwich. "Sounds fine but thin" was another comment.
Early reports suggested that the rig had poor adjacent signal handling. This was found to be still a problem with the later model, although diligent use of the RF gain control contained much of this problem.
The complex, multi-purpose buttons on the front panel may put some operators off until they learn how to use them. I found it difficult to change some settings, as often two buttons needed to be pressed at the same time and the knob turned. But after a couple of weeks use I found that it fitted much better to my hand. I started to like it, despite its limited faults, which could be overlooked when away from the full-size antennas at home.
The case is almost bullet proof and would, I think, almost survive a car driving over it [don’t try this at home! - Ed].
Value for Money
Without doubt there have been many, many changes to the design of the rig since it first appeared. One user had noted at least three major changes - not to the PCB, but with new, different PCBs. Jeff Stanton of Waters & Stanton PLC confirmed that each batch received was getting better and better. Most, if not all, of the early negative comments have been redressed and providing that the limitations of the rig are recognized great fun can be had with it.
Two things should be noted as my finale. SGC has no business connection with Index Labs other than by employing Bruce Franklin (who owned Index) as an engineer on the ’2020 project. Secondly, that the SGC 2020 is sold as a "voice optimized and data transmission" rig. Current adverts show the rig and state, "for emergency preparedness, search and rescue, border patrol and DXpedition". It is stated to be "a tough new multi-mission transceiver".
It must be remembered, though, that this is a budget rig, designed and built to a price, and I can honestly say that it can compete with those in the same price bracket. It should also be remembered that it is designed primarily as an SSB rig.
Thanks (in no particular order) to: Ian, G3ROO; Peter, G3PDL; George, G3RJV; Dave, G4YJQ; Johnny, SM7UCZ; Pete, PE1MHO; Bill, K5BDZ; Bill, N8ET; Frank, DL4VCG; Bob, G4JFN; David, GM4ZNX; Tony, G4WIF and several others who made comments and observations about the rig.
Thanks also to Waters & Stanton PLC (tel: 01702 206835) who loaned me the review rig. The SGC SG-2020 is available from them for £599 and they are currently ex-stock.
Table 1: SGC SG-2020 measured power output at the nominal ‘5’ setting.
Table 2: SGC SG-2020 harmonic output. Levels quoted with respect to carrier.
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