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 Post subject: Hallicrafters S-38A: Any good?
PostPosted: May Thu 16, 2019 4:06 am 
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Joined: Jan Wed 30, 2019 3:44 am
Posts: 123
Location: Lake City, SC
I spotted a Halli S38A in an antique mall for less than $50. It's in nice shape & I think it even still has the back on it.

Are these good receivers for AM & Shortwave? I liked the 3 bands SW and the headphone jacks, as well as the styling, but have heard mixed reviews of them online. Just curious--how would a restored one be for DX-ing with a good antenna?

One must ask these questions. If you're a classical music buff like me, and dislike NPR, also like me, then DX suddenly gets very practical. :)


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 Post subject: Re: Hallicrafters S-38A: Any good?
PostPosted: May Thu 16, 2019 5:37 am 
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Joined: Nov Mon 02, 2009 7:01 am
Posts: 3848
Location: Lincoln City, OR 97367
Greetings to VanEpsFan1914 and the Forum:

Back in the early 1960's when I first got my ham ticket, these receivers were ubiquitous. My elmer and other hams did the best we could to discourage any attempt to use the S-38 series of receivers as communications receivers or for SWL-ing. They simply weren't up to the task.

Now granted, in those days the ham bands, especially the novice bands were extremely crowded, and receiver performance, especially selectivity needed to be the best you could afford in order to avoid needless frustration. I don't recall anyone who kept an S-38 longer than he had to, and they were the butt of many disparaging remarks. Definitely a minimalist design for the times.... and they haven't gotten any better with age.

My first receiver was a Hallicrafters S-85, and I had upgraded to a Hammarlund HQ-129X by the time I got my novice license. Even the S-85 was a far better receiver than the S-38.

They are now collector's items as many of them went to the dump as soon as their owners could afford something better. If you are intending to acquire this receiver as a collector's item, then go ahead. If you actually intend to use it to listen on the HF bands, your money would be better spent on a used modern transistor SW portable receiver. Many of these can be had used for about the same amount of money and some of them have good BFO's, product detectors, digital frequency readout and variable selectivity... which would make them run rings around an S-38.

Just my $.02 worth; your mileage may differ.

Regards,

_________________
Jim T.
KB6GM


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 Post subject: Re: Hallicrafters S-38A: Any good?
PostPosted: May Thu 16, 2019 12:56 pm 
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Joined: Jun Sun 19, 2011 2:31 pm
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I fully agree with Jim's assessment. The S-38A is basically an "All American 5" broadcast set with band switching and coils to cover the shortwave range and was designed by Hallicrafters to give them a product at the lowest end of the shortwave "communications" receiver market.

As Jim noted, selectivity was very poor for ham band usage which was a problem then; the problem now is there are far less shortwave broadcasters and other powerhouse stations so simple sets are limited in what they can provide in listening entertainment with many of the more interesting "catches" requiring good sensitivity and selectivity.

I have an original S-38 which is potentially the best of the bunch that is a 6 tube design with a separate tube to provide a BFO function rather than using the IF stage thrown into oscillation. But it is basically a shelf queen that looks nice but you wouldn't want to use it on a regular basis unless it was the only choice. If you are interested in actively listening to amateur, broadcast, "utility", and other stations in the shortwave range there are many FAR better choices both modern and vintage. In the 1950s, a member of the S-38 family might be your first receiver because it fit the price point but today it should be a receiver you acquire AFTER you have experienced using reasonably priced and much better performing receivers. A really good regenerative set (like the military RAL from the 1930s) can give a moderate quality superhet competition as the better choice but almost any well built regen could be very competitive against the S-38 series in terms of performance.

I would choose any of my 1930s era Sargent regen sets over the S-38 family. One of the next step up Hallicrafters (like a S-20R or its later offspring like the very popular S-40 series) is a huge improvement over the S-38 and an entry level Hammarlund (i.e. HQ-100) or one step up from entry level National (i.e. NC-88) would also be a much better choice. Like other AA5 sets, the S-38 was built without a power transformer to keep cost low and these receivers require either care in use or modification (i.e. use of an isolation transformer) to provide the same level of safety as their more expensive competitors.

Rodger WQ9E


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 Post subject: Re: Hallicrafters S-38A: Any good?
PostPosted: May Fri 17, 2019 3:45 am 
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Joined: Jan Wed 30, 2019 3:44 am
Posts: 123
Location: Lake City, SC
Thanks guys for the response. You saved me fifty bucks and a headache though they really are pretty radios.

I take it that also rules out early Echophones and such as well.


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 Post subject: Re: Hallicrafters S-38A: Any good?
PostPosted: May Fri 17, 2019 2:17 pm 
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The Echophone series is generally about a quarter step down from an S-38. They are all interesting receivers that have their place in history (and a collection) but for something being actually used today as a primary receiver I would suggest something far better.

One of my favorite "a step or two above entry level" receivers is the NC-98. It has a good basic design, traditional good National build quality, and is a reasonably sized nice looking set. There are a lot of good and bad choices and some of the preferences are very individual but in general you don't want a receiver that is so frustrating that it deters you from continuing in the hobby and some of the lowest cost receivers could definitely do that. The Hammarlund HQ-100 is another commonly found quite decent receiver. I have a lot of Hallicrafters receivers and really like a lot of them like my favorite SX-88, the very attractive SX-28, the unique for its time SX-42, and several others like the SX-101 and SX-115 BUT at the low/moderate end of the scale Hallicrafters build and component quality tends to be very low while National and Hammarlund in my experience have decent component and build quality across their price range. The cheapest National receivers aren't built quite as well as their moderate and high end receivers but are still better than competing Hallicrafters offerings and Hammarlund provided good quality across their vintage HQ line from lowest to highest price range.

Rodger WQ9E


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