Every now and then I receive a questions like; What’s the best antenna? Which one do you prefer? Is this antenna better than that other one? Let’s see if I can add some perspective.
This time the question was related to the Super Antenna MP1, and the Chameleon Antenna MPAS. That was definitely an innocent question, but the answer is not as simple as giving my personal opinion. The truth is, different antennas have unique strengths and weaknesses for what we’re trying to achieve with them. I look at antennas like tools in my toolbox. Some of those tools let me set up in a forest to have a QSO with a station in Japan. That particular random wire antenna is lightweight, easy to carry, but needs to be deployed at reasonable height to achieve good performance. On the flip side, it can’t be deployed in a small-space.
Another antenna is extremely fast to deploy, doesn’t need an antenna tuner, but is quite fiddly to tune. At 65°North, fiddling with something too long Outdoors for band changes, means getting your fingers and hands cold. In contrast, another antenna requires less fiddling, helping to avoid frostbite during winter deployment, but requires a tuner. Do you see where I’m going with this?
It is also important to mention this;
As a utilitarian, I’m not always looking to reach the furthest DX station or win a contest!
I may be operating in an emergency communication scenario, where my goal is to communicate with other stations in the region. I might simply be trying to communicate with a winlink gateway, several hundred miles or kilometres away. In these situations, I will accept reduced antenna efficiency, in exchange for increased deployability, provided I’m able to achieve my communications objectives. That is to say an antenna definitely has to work, but I’m willing to accept some losses, if I’m able to achieve my communications goals, especially if it’s offering some other deployment benefits.
This next part is probably going to be a surprise. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it on the channel, but this is as good a time as any. Whatever antenna I’m carrying, I always have a backup antenna. The Back-up is usually a half wave end fed or random wire end fed. Some people may prefer a dipole, I don’t. The backup is there as the most efficient option, but not necessarily the easiest to deploy. If my rapid deployment antennas aren’t up to the job, or conditions are so horrific I simply can’t make the trip, I can always deploy a more efficient wire antenna. Before you ask, the answer is no! 😉 I have never needed to deploy the backup antenna, because I usually know what my deployment and performance goals are, before I head out to the field. This is about choosing right antenna for the job.
Going back to which antenna is better, and the tools analogy, I’m not going to take a hammer when I need a cordless screwdriver. I’m not going to take a cordless screwdriver, when I need an axe. Still, I always have the Leatherman as a backup. Let’s put this in other terms. If I’m operating qrp, I have no choice but to accept the most efficient antenna I can, even if it’s difficult to deploy. That’s because I don’t have the luxury of increasing output power, to compensate for antenna losses. In this scenario, assuming I’m someplace between 20 and 80 m, my first choice would be a half wave end fed. If I were operating on 20 through 6 M for example, antennas gets smaller and efficiency increases so I have a wider variety to choose from.
So, although the question is a fun one to ask, many YouTubers and bloggers will give us a BS answer, because they’re afraid the manufacturer will be upset with them. The truth and the only truth is “we need to use the right tool for the job”. I’m not going to carry a dipole where there are no trees, if I have limited load-carrying capabilities and need to carry a 10-m telescopic mast to get that dipole in the air. I’m not going to try setting up a horizontal end fed on the balcony of a hotel, knowing I can’t attach the other end to the hotel or tree across the street. In that scenario, a short vertical on the balcony, would absolutely be the best antenna. Do you follow me?
The operator him/herself after researching deployment possibilities, chooses the correct antenna for the environment. It’s only after doing that research, that we know which one is the best tool for the job. A wise operator is not going to carry an axe out into the field, if he or she can’t chop wood with that axe.
I’ll be adding more antennas to the series as I go along. Pay attention to each video. You’ll probably notice each time I deploy an antenna, I have a specific goal in mind. It might be a sked, perhaps I’m going to check my email with winlink, or getting my position to APRS-IS over HF APRS with JS8Call. I don’t always do random ham radio contacts per se. I prefer to solve a problem, choose a scenario or do some actual work with the antenna. Then, show the deployment pros, cons and how I use it. After that, the viewer can decide if that antenna fits the requirements or not. It’s not always about maximum efficiency and performance, and it certainly not my choice to make for you.
Now with all that said there’s only been one crap antenna on the channel, and we probably all know what company that was. The salesman for them kind of reminded me of “Joe Isuzu” from those Isuzu TV commercials back in the 80s. During my testing, I found out there was no continuity from one end of the whip to the other. Other YouTubers claimed that antenna was the best System since sliced bread, but no one ever thought to check the continuity between the radiating elements.
The reason we are here, and the reason many YouTubers get themselves in trouble is the “which one is better” question. So rather than asking which one is better, I like to start off by figuring out if it’s actually working or not first. After that we can take a look at which one is best for:
B. Rapid Deployment
C. Deploying on a hotel balcony
D. Doesn’t require a tuner.
E. Can operate legal limit
We’re not here to please the manufacturers. We are actually here to find out if their product works, and what deployment problems it solves. If we stick to doing it that way, no one will ever have to ask “Which one is better?”.
Easy to Deploy Portable Vertical Antennas: