Anyone that has seen this blog knows that I spend a fair amount of time on Reddit. It is a love/hate relationship. It is a great place for information but can also contain some of the dumbest people. I have this same love/hate relationship with r/AmateurRadio. Many of the posts are about new licenses, even though there is a sticky at the top for people who got their licenses. It also has some of the best copypasta available. I’m sure this guy actually believes there are knock off Baofengs (pronounced bow-fung), and he wanted the world to know. Also, I’m still looking for the HT that costs a grand or more. I mean a Baofeng could be more than a grand if you buy a bunch of them. Or you could get two Kenwood TH-D74s. Or three Yaesu FT3DRs. Or four Alinco DG-G7Ts.
Anyways, a month ago, someone posted a picture where someone had a stupidly massive antenna on a radio. It was obviously intended to be a shitpost, but someone in the comments asked if rubber ducks from various companies were the similar in performance. I thought this was an amazing question. I was genuinely interested in this question. Rubber ducks are widely used by quite a few operators. Looking at them from the outside, they share common characteristics. Most tend the be short, black, and covered with an outer rubber coating. While the exterior is similar, the interior parts may be different. Are there differences in the manufacturing processes behind rubber duck antennas enough to make a major performance difference? In addition, I replace all of my antennas with a Diamond Antenna. Am I wasting my money? Are the rubber ducks good enough? As a scientist, I wanted to answer these questions using as exact of a science as I could do, given the conditions.
The goal of this experiment was to answer two questions. Do stock rubber duck antennas from different companies have similar performance? Is there increased performance upgrading to an aftermarket high gain antenna?
Materials and Methods
Be aware that this is as close to controlled as I could get it. There is some small variability, but not enough to influence the results of the test. This test was also done in a nature preserve close to my house, so the results may vary based off your terrain and other conditions.
I chose to head out to Eagle Marsh Nature Preserve. I picked this area since it is flat and there are few obstructions. There is a long path that I could use to separate the radios. It is outside of the city so there wouldn’t be much bounce from buildings. There was a slight amount of vegetation in the way, but it was minimal. There are a few building along the side of the trail but didn’t get in the way of line of sight. My wife stood at the trailhead (right side of measure line) while I went to the end of the trail (left side of measure line). The distance between us was 1.33 mi/2.14 km.
For this, we used out Yaesu HTs. She used a Yaesu FT-70DR with a Diamond SHH77CA as her antenna. She ran the radio on high power (5 W). I used my Yaesu FT3DR running at Low1 power (0.5 W). My antenna changed during this test as this was the test variable. We were on the 70 cm National Yaesu System Fusion Calling Frequency (446.175 MHz) using C4FM in DN mode. Digital was used so the only part of the signal report we would have is the S meter. I understand that S numbers can change from brand to brand, but I was able to justify this by using only one radio on each end. I could repeat this test with other brands but would need to use FM. Digital modes are also not as prone to interference as analog FM. DG-ID was set to 00 and no DCS was used.
I used every HT antenna I owned or could borrow, excluding my yagi. Antennas tested included a Nagoya NA-771, a Nagoya NA 810, two Yaesu rubber duck antennas which appear identical (from the FT-70DR and FT3DR), an Alinco rubber duck (from an Alinco DJ-G7T), a Kenwood rubber duck (from a Kenwood TH-D74), a Diamond SRH77CA, a Diamond SRHF10, a Diamond SRH815S, and a Baofeng rubber duck (from a Baofeng GT3TP). The Baofeng rubber duck is a Sainsonic INF-641. Since the FT3DR uses SMA Male antennas and the Baofeng uses SMA Female, an adapter was used for all antennas. This was so all antennas had to pass through an adapter and not just the Nagoya NA 810 and the Sainsonic INF-641. I didn’t have SMA Male to Female adapters and SMA Male to Male adapters, so I got a little creative. I used an SMA Male to PL-259. On the end of that, I used an SO-239 to SMA Male or Female, depending on the antenna. It is pictured below. I think the amateur radio community calls this DIY. I call it janky. All adapters were made by the same company to eliminate variability.
Once I was at my location, I called to my wife. She would confirm we had made contact. We said the same thing each time to ensure the conversation was long enough to see changes in the S meter. The conversations is as follows.
Me: KD9ODP, this is KD9NRT using (Antenna).
Her: KD9NRT, this is KD9ODP. I copy you at an S#.
Me: Copy S#. I have you at an S#.
Her: I copied a S#.
Me: QSL. Changing antennas.
This game enough time for us to see the S meter. She recorded all of the numbers. All SMA Male antennas were measured first before changing adapters to measure the two SMA Female antennas.
|Name||Received Report||Sent Report|
|Yaesu RD 1||S4-S5||S9|
|Yaesu RD 2||S3-S4||S9|
All of the rubber duck antennas had similar performance with the exception of the Yaesu rubber ducks. The Yaesu radios averaged one S unit lower than the Alinco, Kenwood, and Siansonic (Baofeng). The Yaesu rubber ducks had S9 receive while the Siansonic and Kenwood has S8.The two short “ham fest” style antennas had similar send performance at S2, but the Diamond had better receive performance at S5 vs S4 for the Nagoya. The Alinco rubber duck, the Diamond SRH915S, and SRH77CA had the best receive performance at S9+.
I will answer each of the questions proposed at the beginning. Do stock rubber duck antennas from different companies have similar performance? The answer to this is No. Yaesu seems to have the poorest send performance and even some variability among their antennas. I did indicate that both antennas appear similar. This doesn’t mean the interior components, the manufacturing process, or source of the antenna are the same. I’m not entirely sure how Yaesu sources their antennas, so I can’t comment on that. Since they appear identical, I’m not sure which is from the FT3DR and which is from the FT-70DR. The Alinco did surprise me. While it had okay send performance, S9+ for receive is promising. The Kenwood performed middle of the road. S5 send and S8 receive aren’t bad numbers but aren’t anything to be excited about. The stock Baofeng antenna, the Siansonic, performed well. It had identical numbers to the Kenwood, meaning that while Baofengs are not the best radios, their antennas are alright. I wasn’t expecting the results that I got. The Kenwood antenna came off a TH-D74, which is a $500+ radio. At this price point, there is no competition so why not just use a better antenna? They could have just used the Alinco antenna and had it branded as a Kenwood.
I’ll answer the second question. Is there increased performance upgrading to an aftermarket high gain antenna? The answer is maybe. The Diamond SRHF10 and Nagoya NA-810 are not intended or sold as high gain antennas but rather as “ham fest” antennas. They are about the size of your thumb. These are intended for ham fests that have talk in repeaters within the building or short ranged simplex operation. They accomplish two things. They reduce signal strength so you signal isn’t blasted everywhere, and they save size so you aren’t lugging around a large high gain antenna. The performance of these two was lower than the rubber duck antennas in both send and receive. This makes them perfect antennas for hot spots or ham fests.
Continuing the second question, the Nagoya NA-771 performed really well. Nagoya is the most common replacement antenna for Baofengs, except for the tacticool, preppers that use the Abbree foldable whip antenna. Looking at it objectively, you could increase the performance of a Baofeng for $30, which is double the cost of the radio. This starts to put you in range of getting an entry level radio from Bridgecom, Alinco, and Yaesu. It begs another question. Is it better to have a low quality radio with a high quality antenna or a high quality radio with a rubber duck antenna? Maybe a question for a future day.
Continuing on, I replaced all of my Yaesu rubber ducks with a Diamond SRH77CA. This was worth the upgrade. The Diamond SRH77CA was the best performing antenna in send and receive, though we ran out of S units for receive. I also replaced my Alinco DJ-G7T rubber duck with a Diamond SRH815S. This showed no increase in performance. This was really odd to me. I will throw in a future question. The Alinco is tri-band for 2 m/ 70 cm/ 23 cm. Would the antenna perform better than the rubber duck on those other frequencies? Unfortunately, I don’t own another radio with 23 cm compatibility to test this out.
Anyone that has seen this blog knows that I’m not a fan of Baofengs. I don’t dislike them because of their price. I dislike them because of their performance. In amateur radio, we are required to use equipment that complies with FCC regulation. The ARRL wrote an article about this in the January 2020 edition of QST magazine. ARRL members can access it online though this blog post from Walter Underwood has the results table from the article. But lets say you don’t care and want to use a Baofeng anyway. As I’ve stated before, cost is a major factor in the appeal behind Baofengs. As a ham saves up some money, they could improve the quality of their send and receive using a Nagoya.
Yaesu needs to step up their rubber duck game. Their send performance was pretty sad. Getting a better antenna bring a Yaesu radio alive. This is something I’ve written about before. Yaesu radios are great except they always seem to have a caveat. “The Yaesu FT3DR is a great radio but…” There is always the “but” part. Now, add antenna to that list. The Yaesu FT3DR is a great radio, but the antenna is mediocre. Alinco is doing well with their rubber ducks. If I knew about the performance, I probably wouldn’t have changed out the antenna. Just as a side note, to run this test, I actually had to remove the Alinco rubber duck from the plastic wrapping it came in. I have only used with the Diamond antenna.
Another thing is that good send and good receive performance aren’t linked. The Yaesu rubber ducks suck at sending but are good at receive performance. Same with the Alinco rubber duck and the Diamond SRH815S. The Nagoya NA-771 was a bit of an alligator (strong send but weak receive). The receive performance was S9, but I honestly expected S9+.
Diamond makes some high quality antennas. I only own Diamond antennas outside of the rubber ducks. I would love to compare the performance of Diamond to the other antenna titan, Comet. Unfortunately, I don’t own any.
Moving forward, I see ways I could improve this. Ideally, I would have more antennas and more radios using more bands. The downside is that more radios with more bands adds more variability. Maybe a Baofeng with a Nagoya vs a Yaesu with a Nagoya. Or the Alinco rubber duck vs the Diamond of 1.2 GHz. These are future things I may attempt. It was really hot today with no cloud coverage and only a slight breeze. There is only so long I could tolerate being out in the heat. I plan to repeat this in the future once I can borrow more antennas.
I wanted this test to be real world. I could have performed this test using in “lab” conditions my taking precise measurements, but we don’t live in a lab. In addition to having to cover a distance, we have to contend with trees and buildings. This doesn’t change the performance of the antenna but changes how the other station hears you. This is what I was trying to replicate with this experiment. This is a best case scenario for real world, which I understand.
The purpose is to change the methods to improve the quality of the experiment. The original method was going to be to walk away from my wife’s location and see how far I could go before she lost signal with the various antennas. This flaw was quickly seen when the Diamond still had S7 at the distance of the trail. I could have maybe move a few more meters away but not enough to significantly impact the performance of the high gain antennas. It was long enough to impact the performance of the “ham fest” antennas. I think I got the results I wanted.
Thank you for reading. Also, thank you to the guy on Reddit for posing this question. I don’t remember who you are, but your questions lead to an hour of fun. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below or send me an email. If you have an antenna you want tested, contact me and I will try to find one. Thank you again.