Guide to the Best HAM Radio Power Supply for 2020
A HAM radio can be a great way to spend your time. In fact, there are currently more than 760,000 HAM radio operators in the US, and about three million worldwide. With a HAM radio, you can chat with strangers, or just listen in on the conversation. You can also use HAM radios for more practical applications. For example, in the event of a major national disaster, the government can call on amateur radio operators for help. Of course, if you want to use a radio, you’re going to need a good power supply. So how do you know which one is the best?
Today, we’re going to look at three different HAM radio power supplies. First up is the TekPower Analog Display TP30SWI. This is a powerful unit with an analog display and a switching interface. Next, we’ll look at the Pyramid PSV300. This is a sleek, modern unit with a digital interface, as well as a built-in USB charger. Finally, we’ll review the TekPower TP350. This is a different animal altogether, designed to power a radio in a car, truck, or RV. Once we’ve gone over all of their features, we’ll wrap things up and render a final verdict. Let’s get started!
HAM Radio Power Supply Basics
If you’re already a HAM radio expert, you can skip this section. But if you’re building your first radio system, you probably need to know a few things about how they work. To begin with, all HAM radio systems operate on 13.8-volt power. However, the amperage varies widely between different systems. The higher the amperage, the more powerful your signal will be. If you’re using a small, handheld receiver, you can just use the built-in battery. And if you don’t want to use the battery, you can buy a small, inexpensive power supply. 3 amps will be more than enough for most handheld receivers.
But if you’re running a larger transceiver, you’re going to need significantly more power. Keep in mind that some transceivers come with a power supply, but most do not. Check the specifications carefully so you know what you’re getting. If there’s a power supply included, great! If not, you’re going to need to buy them. Typically, for a more powerful system, you’ll need a minimum of 20 amps to get peak performance. This is the kind of power supply we’ll be looking at today.
When you’re shopping, keep a close eye on the power supply’s specs. There are two different ways of measuring current. The first is their continuous current. This is the amount of power they can put out on a constant basis, indefinitely. The second is their intermittent (ICS) current. This is the amount of power they can put out for short bursts. Some less scrupulous manufacturers will put the intermittent current in big, bold letters on their advertising. If you’re not paying attention, that “25-amp” power supply might only put out 10 or 15 amps of continuous current.
One thing you don’t need to worry about is having too much current. Electrical current doesn’t get pushed out of a power supply. Instead, it’s drawn by the device. As a result, there’s no way to damage your device by using a power supply that’s over-specced. Now, it might seem silly to spend a lot of money to power a small, handheld transceiver. But if you’re looking to upgrade your kit over time, it can actually make a lot of sense. Otherwise, you’re going to end up spending money over the long term. Take this into consideration when you’re making your purchasing decision.
There are also a couple of different ways you can power your HAM radio. When you picture an amateur radio operator, you probably picture them sitting at a desk in their attic. For a very large rig, this is necessary. But you can also install a radio in your car, truck, or RV. In this case, instead of a 120-volt AC power supply, you’re going to want a 12-volt DC power supply. These will be compatible with your vehicle’s power system.
Finally, there are two different types of power supply. The first is a linear design. This type of power supply uses a built-in transformer to convert 120-volt AC or 12-volt DC power to 13.8-volt DC. These power supplies tend to be heavy and bulky, because the transformer is heavy. Thankfully, there’s another way to convert your power.
A switching-type power supply is your alternative to a linear-type. This type of power supply converts the power to high-voltage DC. This high-voltage current is then routed through an oscillator that switches it on and off rapidly. This pulsating current can be converted to 13.8-volt DC without the need for a heavy transformer.
Not only are switching-type power supplies lighter than linear power supplies, they’re also more affordable. All three of today’s offerings are switching-type devices. Keep in mind, though, that switching-type power supplies can produce radio frequency interference (RFI). When you’re buying, make sure to check the reviews to make sure the power supply is low-RFI.
TekPower Analog Display TP30SWI
The TekPower Analog Display TP30SWI is an old-school analog power supply that looks sharp on your desk. It measures 7.5 inches wide, 7.5 inches deep, and 2.8 inches tall, and tips the scales at six pounds. The case is constructed from a dark brown aluminum, with retro gold text on all the indicators. On the front, there’s an analog gauge that can display either voltage or amperage. To the right of the gauge, you’ll see a small switch that can toggle between volts and amps. To the right of that switch, there’s a noise offset dial. This dial is for reducing RFI. If your power supply starts interfering with your transmission, just play with the dial until it goes away.
Beneath the RFI dial, there’s a four-prong connection for more modern radio transceivers. On the back, there’s a pair of Anderson power poles that support old-school connections. There’s also a power switch and power light on the front to complete the package.
In terms of performance, it works very well. The line and load regulation are excellent, so you won’t see a lot of variation in the current. Moreover, it produces very little RFI. And if you do experience any interference, the dial will virtually eliminate it. Keep in mind that the RFI will depend on what frequency you’re listening on. So it can sound fantastic at one frequency, then develop static when you switch bands. Thankfully, you can just readjust the dial when you switch frequencies.
In addition to the power supply itself, you get an AC cord to plug it into your wall. You also get a TekPower warranty card. Make sure to fill this out and send it in so you can get your warranty coverage. The warranty is valid in the US only, and covers you for 12 months for manufacturing defects.
If you’re already a HAM radio expert, here are the basic features you need to know.
- 30A intermittent current
- 20A continuous current
- 13.8V DC fixed output
- Noise offset
- 120V AC input
The Pyramid PSV300 is a more affordable power supply that provides most of the same features. It’s constructed from black anodized aluminum, and measures 8.5 inches deep, 8.3 inches wide, and 2.6 inches tall. At six pounds, it’s a bit heavy, but rubber feet on the bottom keep it from scratching your desk. On the front left, there’s an orange power switch that lights up when the power supply is active. On the front left, you’ll find a simple two-plug connection for the power output. The terminals are hardwired, and they feature large plastic screws for easy operation.
The power cord is attached to the back of the machine, and there’s also a voltage selection switch. This switch can be used to toggle between a 120-volt and a 230-volt AC input. As a result, you can use the PSV300 just about anywhere in the world. You’ll just need a plug adapter for your region. The circuitry features all the safety features you’d expect from a modern power supply. It provides overload protection and short circuit protection to keep your transceiver safe. Moreover, you’ll also find a USB port on the front of the unit. So even while you’re using old-school radio technology, you can keep your smartphone charged.
One downside of the PSV300 is that it doesn’t have any noise offset. As a result, you might experience some moderate static due to RFI. This will depend entirely on what band you’re listening to. On some bands, the signal is perfectly clear, without any major issues. On other bands, you’re going to hear some static.
So, you’re an expert, and you just want to get to the specs? Here’s what you need to know.
- 30A intermittent/continuous current
- 13.8V DC fixed output
- No noise offset
- Built-in USB charging port
- 120V or 230V AC input
Unlike the last two power supplies on our list, the TekPower TP350 is designed for automotive or RV use. This isn’t to say you can’t use it in your home. It has an AC power input along with a power cord for this purpose. But it also sports a 12-volt DC input for use in your car, truck, or RV. In addition, it includes a pair of mounting brackets that make it easy to install. The unit itself is smaller than the last two, measuring 7.5 inches deep, 7 inches wide, and 2.5 inches thick. It also weighs only four pounds, so it’s easy to install in your vehicle.
The case is constructed from black anodized aluminum, and is sturdy enough to withstand vibration. On the front left, you’ll find the DC power input, which has a black plastic cover. You’ll also find a green, light-up power switch. On the back, you’ll see the AC input to the left, and a pair of screw-down connections to the right. Along with the power supply, you also get a warranty registration card. Fill this card in and mail it, and you’ll get a 12-month manufacturer’s warranty.
The RFI is relatively low. However, you’ll need to install a ground cable to make this happen. Unfortunately, TekPower decided to secure the grounding screw with thread lock. To loosen it, you’ll need to open the case, which involves removing six screws. Then you’ll be able to get the screw loose and attach your ground cable. If RFI is a major concern for you, it’s well worth the effort. On the other hand, if you’re not bothered by static, you might want to just leave it be.
For those of you who are just skimming, here’s the bare minimum.
- 23A intermittent current
- 20A continuous current
- 13.8V DC fixed output
- 12V DC input or 120V AC input
So, how do these HAM radio power supplies compare? It depends what you need, and what you’re willing to spend. To begin with, we looked at the TekPower Analog Display TP30SWI. This is a premium power supply that’s best if you’ve got plenty of dough to spend. It’s easy to set up, it’s sturdy, and the retro design looks beautiful. Moreover, the noise reduction dial makes it easy to get a clear signal.
Next, we looked at the Pyramid PSV300. This more affordable option can create some noise. On the other hand, there are some useful features. First off, it’s more powerful than the TekPower power supplies, providing a full 30 amps. It’s also compatible with 230-volt power systems from around the world. If you live outside North America, it’s a better choice.
Finally, we reviewed the TekPower TP350. This is a great power supply for installing in your vehicle. It also provides the best RFI protection, provided you’re willing to do the work. And it’s reasonably priced, so you won’t have to spend a fortune on your power supply.