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R. L. Drake Company, Miamisburg, OH

Drake R - 8 A

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überarbeitet am 19.10.2010

After several year's of absence, Drake returned to the shortwave receiver market in 1991 with it's R - 8 receiver, the set has been upgraded several times in the following years:

  • R - 8: first version:
    You cannot directly select the different recepetion modes or IF bandwidth filters, but You have to circle through the selection by pressing the MODE or BANDWIDTH buttons several times without a "back" option. So You will have to press the button once to change from USB to LSB but it will take five times to press the button to switch back to USB. In addition, the receiver switches the bandwith automatically when changing reception modes to Drake's recommended fitler setting, the selection has not been accepted by all DXers...
  • R - 8A:
    direct switching of all reception modes and filters with 6 pushbuttons for MODE and BANDWIDTH each, 440 alphanumeric programmable frequency memories
  • R - 8B:
    synchroneous detection with selectable sidebands, 1000 memory channels
  • R - 8E : European version of the original R - 8

Drake R-8A - all american Star

The R-8A is double conversion desktop shortwave receiver from American production in the middle / semiprofessional price segment.
Complete remote control via a RS-232C terminal provides not only usual memory and scanning possibilities but also alphanumeric tagging of the frequency memory channels. The R-8A can be controlled from a terminal or special rig control software.
A small monitor speaker is integrated, there are an optional external speaker and converters for 33 - 55 and 108 - 174 MHz as accessories.

Double Conversion, 1st IF 45 MHz, 2nd IF 50 kHz

Digital frequency display, 10 Hz resolution

AM, AM-Sync, USB/LSB, CW/Data, FM-n

Sensitivity 5 MHz
AM <1 uV, SSB <0,25 uV

Selectivity
-6 (-60) dB 0,5/1,5 kHz, 1,8/3,6 kHz, 2,3/4,5 kHz, 4/8 kHz, 6/12 kHz

RF-Gain, Attenuator, AGC 2x, PBT, Noise Blanker, Notc Filter

440 alphanumeric memory channels, RS-232 port.

The front panel of this black coloured receiver has clear structures, I consider the front panel of the predecessor as even a bit more impressive, but it's operation as far more cumbersome.

In the left upper corner of the pront panel, You find the analog signal strength meter and a big green backlit LCD display. When the set is switched off, the set displays local or UTC time. When the receiver is switched on, the display will show You the reception frequency with an accuracy of 10 Hz, the selected IF bandwidth filter and the reception mode. There are also indicators for the settings of all six menue pushbuttons, the A or B VFO channel, preamplifier / attenuator, AGC speed, Noise Blanker, Antenna connector and Notch Filter. At the right hand, You find two blocks of six pushbuttons giving You direct control of one of the five IF bandwidths and an automated bandwidth selection option and of the six reception modes.
In the lower half of the front panel, You find the concentric controls for tone and Notch filter and the number keys for the direct frequency entry keaypad. These keys are arranged like on a telephone keypad. Four light grey buttons let You activate VFO operations, two bigger grey buttons are used for fast tuning through the shortwave bands. The main tuning knob is quite lightweight, it has an electronic flywheel effect switching tuning steps from 1 kHz, 100 Hz and 10 Hz according to the speed, the knob is rotated. There are two menue buttons just above the main tuning knob, so it cannot easily be changed for a bigger diameter model. Another two concentric knobs at the right will give You control over passband shift and squelch functions and RF / AF gain.
The rubber bushbuttons are acting quite smoothly and gave me an unsual soft feeling after having operated JRC receivers for a long time. Of course, I did switch off the annoying confirmation beep when I started using the set. The keys placed quite low in the front panel are as difficult to reach as the keys of the NRD-525/535 located a bit to high. There have been critics about the concentric controls, but it's not too bad, as only the functions on the inner knob are important for operation and regularly used.
The LCD frequency display is not as colourful as the display of the NRD receivers, but it gives very low interfering radiations in the shortwave bands.

At the rear of the set, You find two antenna connectors, Ant 1 is a PL259 connector, Ant2 are terminals for a long wire antenna, You can select the antenna connectors from the front panel using the menue buttons. There are connectors for external 12V DC powering, the mains voltage selector and a detachable mains cable. The R-8A offers You two line out connectors, so can attach a cassette recorder and a radioteletype decoder at the same time. There is also a muting connector and a DIN socket used to control the record function of an external cassette recorder from the R-8A's clock timer. A very useful connector is the integrated serial RS-232 socket, You can connect the set directly to a computer (as long as this comes with a COM1 connector) for software rig control without having to buy a computer interface card.
An integrated monitor speaker gives You the possibility to check the reception functions without using headphones, the MS - 8 external 2,5 Watt sounds acceptable.

Operation concepts: I try to comment on all operation concepts but I do not intend to quote the complete owner's manual:
conservative: Several older communications receivers have been equipped with one VFO (Variable Frequency Oscillator), a few receivers based on the receiver circuitry of an amateur radio transceiver disposed of two VFOs or had connector for an external second VFO.
The Drake R-8A can be operated in this manner: Use the mains switch to turn on the set, use the first menue button to select VFO A or B. You can chose one bandwidth out of five and the appropriate reception mode with one of the six pushbuttons in the BANDWIDTH and MODE controls group. It's a peculiarity of a several Drake receivers, that the "optimal bandwidth" setting is coupled to the reception modes switch - some like this, most DXers prefer to select the optimal filter according to their own choice. With the R-4C, You had to have a receiver modification done, to select the MODES and BANDWIDTH independently - with the R-8A, You can easily override the automatic coupling. When You switch from AM to SSB operation, the receiver is set to 2,3 kHz bandwidth automatically, the tuning steps are changed to 10 Hz; by pressing the AM/SYNC button, You switch to automated ECSS tuning, You hear a short hiss, until the Sync detector locks on to the station's carrier. You can shift the IF filter passband to eliminate interferences from carriers on adjacent channels, You can also eliminate a annoying hiss using the notch filter. You can change the AGC decay time from fast (AM) to slow (CW, SSB), when the AGC is completely switched off, You have to gain manually using the RF gain control, use this carefully for the reception of very faint SSB signals. In VFO operation, You can switch between the two electronic VFO's like between two memory channels, that's the simple way.

contemporary: the listener who is more technically minded will make good use from the 440 memory channels, they are organized in banks of ten, 00-09, 10-19, etc. The memory channel number is displayed underneath the frequency on the display. With two pushbuttons MEM and V>M, You can switch from memory to VFO mode. Using the button V>M, You save the active frequency in the VFO directly into one of the 440 memory channels. Im MEM operation, You can use the main tuning knob or the UP / DOWN buttons to cycle from one stored frequency to the next, so it's useful to compare several stored BBC frequencies, or all frequencies of Brasilian local shortwave stations in the 25 m band. The are several scanning options, You can let the receiver scan several stored frequencies in it's memory or You can let is sweep a range between two stored frequencies. You can advice Your R-8A to stay on a stop frequency in SCAN mode, or to continue it's search after playing the stations for a few seconds.
The scanning options are similar to the ones found in the NRD receivers or the Sony ICF-2001D, but there are far more interesting features of the Drake receiver: All memories can be tagged with 7 letters or digits after activation of the NAME mode. This alphanumeric "Tag" will not only be displayed, when You recall a frequency from a memory channel, but it will also be automatically displayed, when You search a shortwave band and come near a frequency stored in memory (+/- 1 kHz). When I search the 60 m band and I come across 4770 kHz, the set will display KADUNA, near 4777 it will display GABON and near 4783 MALI. If the propagation conditions are favourable, You will hear the news from Radio Nigeria Kaduna Regional station, when KADUNA is displayed. Of course, this "magic" will work only for channels occupied by only one station, the receiver cannot distinguish between several stations broadcasting on the same frequency, You will have to rely on Your DXers ear for this task.
This alphanumeric tagging of the receiver's memories will help You making use of the big number of memory channels of the Drake R-8A: the receiver can bee used as a noticesheet for interesting shortwave frequencies, the booklet, in which I have written down the content of all 200 memories of my NRD-525, is lying around unused.

external memories... During the first six months of use of my R-8A, I have been very contented with all the memory options of the receiver. But it had this promising looking RS-232 connector - after written requests to European Drake importers have not been helpful and didn't turn into a computer programmer (there is a en detail description of all control commands in the user's manual), I found Mark Fine's receiver control software. His Smart R - 8 -Control software can not only control the R-8A, but it provides also logging and database capabilities. As this software is no longer supported, I won't discuss all options in detail, You might still be able to find the Shareware Version in the Internet, or You look around for another rig control software.

Performance on the Shortwave Bands: I have connected my Drake R - 8 A to the same antennas as I did with my NRD - 525 / 535 receivers, a 40 m long wire antenna over a RF Systems Magnetic longwire Balun.
The R-8A seem a little bit less sensitive then the JRC receivers, this will only be of any importance in extremely low signal level situations in an empty band segment without interfering channels. Connected to a long wire antenna, the sensitivity of all high grade communications receivers is sufficient to make poor signals audible. Usually, the readibility of a signal is not limited by a receivers sensitivity but by it's selectivity, the capability of pulling out as much of the modulated signal as possible out of a sum of interfering carriers and background noise. The R-8A came to it's limits tuned to the faint Radio Republic Indonesia signal in the 19 m band, maybe, the next next day the propagation conditions are more favourable and the reception very stable. With poor propagation conditions, when tuning in RAE Buenos Aires, one day the NRD-525 did perform better, the next day the R-8A did the better job. As soon as the signal was a tiny bit stronger, what's coming out of the speaker from the R-8A was easier to understand then the audio from the NRD-525, which has an annoying background noise.
With the extremely poor signal from Radio St. Helena's old transmitter, the R-8A as well as the NRD-525 have been surpassed by the EKD 500 receiver made in East Berlin.

The selectivity is depending on the quality of the IF filters used in the receiver. With the R-8A, Drake relied on the classic technology of using coil filters on a low intermediate frequency. The skirt selectivity of these filters is not as good as the one of crystal or mechanical filters, but the passband of the filter seems to fit the human ear very nicely, the audio reproduction is convincing in DXers ears.
Drake offers a reasonable choice of standard IF bandwidths, for AM reception with little interference, You use the 6 kHz filter, in crowded bands the 4 kHz filter gives sufficient audio, in conjunction with passband shift, I use the 2,3 kHz filter for AM in the tropical bands.
For SSB, I use the 4 kHz filter in no interference situations, the 2,3 and 1,8 kHz filters are well suited for single sideband reception and the 500 Hz filter is very helpful for CW reception.
Even with narrow band filters, the audio reproduction of the R-8A remains acceptable, longtime listening is less tiring with the R-8A then with the NRD-525 with it's high pitch background hiss. I can compare the audio of the Drake R-8 to that of classic American hollow state receivers.
Under difficult reception conditions, the 2,3 kHz filter as well as the Passband tuning offering a wide passband shift range are extremely helpful. As long as there is only one interfering carrier either at the higher or lower side of the reception frequency, You can try to eliminate it with the passband tuning and by selecting the less disturbed sideband. That's the way to cope with a sandwich situation, to copy Radio Korea's Relay on 3970 kHz between RFI and R.Budapest.
In contrast to the excellent Sonychroneous Detector found in Sony's ICF-2001D, You cannot select the sideband in SYNC mode, only the later R-8B will offer this opportunity. The SYNC mode of the R-8A improves readibility in situations of selective fading, in my experience, the situation was not improved significantly over the use of SSB mode and tuning manually to zero beat for ECSS reception. In automatic SYNC mode, You can select sidebands only by use of the Passband tuning control, You hear a howling noise when PBT is adjusted and the receiver is readjusting.

In conclusion I consider the Drake R-8A as well as it's successor R-8B as a fully featured desktop communications receiver well suited for the ambitious shortwave listener and tropical band enthousiast. I can control and adjust all necessary parameters for optimum shortwave performance and I can make use of it's abundant number of memories thanks to the ingenious alphanumeric tagging function. The computer control gives You the possibility to load complete frequency schedules into the receiver.

There is one dark point with this receiver: it's limited availability in Europe makes it a rare set in Switzerland. The importer charged quite a sum, so that the price of around 1000 - 1200 US$ nearly doubled to the price of 2400 DM...

weitere Lektüre:
d: Drake R - 8 A - Software - Steuerung mit Smart R-8 Control
d: Drake R 8 - BlackBox oder neuer Stern? © tth J. Semmler und R. Waldeck, wwh 9 / 91
d: Drake R 8E Testbericht, © kurier 2 / 92
d: Drake R 8A Testbericht, © Uwe Bräutigam, Klaus Butterweck, Jürgen Bast, Michael Schmitz, kurier 6 / 95
d/e: Drake R-8A at www.radiomuseum.org
e: Drake R-8A, © Drake Virtual Museum
e: COMPARING THE DRAKE R-8 AND THE JRC NRD-535D, John Bryant, fine tuning Proceedings 1994-95, R37
e: THE DRAKE R-8 RECEIVER THROUGH DXERS' EYES AND EARS, fine tuning Proceedings 1992-93, R28

© Martin Bösch 25.7.1999 / translated 26.12.2008