So is bigger better?

28 Apr 2016

Recently I was able to pick up a (genuine) Pryme AL-800 antenna from a clearance sale since they're discontinued. This antenna has been around for a long time (pre-dating Baofengs) and I figure I would pick it up and put it to the test as a comparison to the rest of the antennas I've tested so far. I know there are some fake variations of this antenna around, but I made sure to do a little homework before pressing that "Buy Now!" button. In my case I picked up the standard BNC based model, although they do make an SMA version, those are much more difficult to find. Shortly after they released the SMA variation, they discontinued this line, plus most of the currently available fakes use the SMA.

I may as well mention the elephant in the room, literally. This antenna is LONG! Very long compared to all other handheld antennas that I've seen so far. Also the weight of this thing is actually quite heavy by comparison too. Lets see the differences in a simple chart:

Antenna Length
NA-771 15
15 1.0
NA-701 8 0.6
V85 6.5 0.4
5R 4.5

Yes you read that right, this AL-800 comes in over TWICE the length of the NA771 and fully extended NA-773 antenna.

Click on the images to view a larger version. Click upper right corner or outside of the image to return to the page. Top to bottom we see the 5R, V85, NA-773, NA-771 and the AL-800.

image 1

As we see above, this AL800 is a beast. I thought the NA-771 was too long, but this thing is just massive. In the above pictures I do have the BNC to SMA adapter which adds another 3/4 of an inch (the above table is the antenna itself, with the adapter it is 34.5" extended, and 10.25" collapsed).

In order to be used with my radios, I used a BNC to SMA adapter. I bought a 4 pack off ebay for a few bucks (arrived in 1 week from China), has BNC-M to SMA-M, BNC-M to SMA-F, BNC-F to SMA-M, and BNC-F to SMA-F. For this I needed the BNC-F to SMA-F, since the antenna uses the standard BNC-M end, and the radios themselves have the standard SMA-M. I know to some people the male and female thing is a confusing issue, but it really is very simple, if it has the sticking out part it is male, if it has the inward hole part it is female. Of course there are always the wackos with the reverse male and reverse female but that can be a discussion for another day.

So what I sought to find out was if bigger really is better, or if this is just an oversized waste of money. Lets take a look.

Transmit tests

This is from the AL-800 antenna on the mentioned radios, to the Tram 1185 connected to frequency counter.

Freq. 5R 4W
8R 5W
4.0 6.0 3.5
146.000 2.0 3.0 2.0
147.900 -1.0 -1.0 -1.0
420.100 -6.5 -4.5 -3.5
435.000 1.0 2.5 0.5
449.900 0.5 1.0 -2.0

Due to the sheer length of this thing, I suspect it is tuned for slightly lower frequencies, probably in the 130MHz range. On UHF it did decent, but not spectacular. Overall I am not sure I could recommend this antenna over the less top heavy variations. The NA-771 (with F8HP) saw +3.5dBm in VHF and -6.0dBm in UHF, and the NA-701 (with F8HP) saw +4.0 in VHF and +1.5 in UHF. So with these numbers, I would still recommend the NA-701 for most Baofengs, it is not overly long and consistently gets good numbers.

With a collapsible antenna, what good is it if we don't also test it with another band like 1.25m (220MHz)? Just as I tested it with the NA-773, I recreated the setup and ran it through the batch of testing at 223.500 MHz, testing at full length, as well as collapse it one length and collect the numbers. Tested using UV-82X (with tiger tail) at 1W power transmitting on 223.500MHz with AL800 antenna, and freq. counter 11 feet away with stock Baofeng 144/220 antenna (same setup and distance as I did with the NA-773). This is what I found:

dBm Length notes
-23.0 extnd
-28.0 1
-21.0 2
-14.5 3
-15.5 4 top dn
-16.0 5
-16.5 6
-16.0 7
-24.0 8 collapsed
-21.5 0/4 top up
-21.0 1/4
-18.5 2/4
-15.0 3/4

As this antenna has multiple variations based on collapsed lengths, I ran through a test, first 9 went from fully extended, 1 top length down, 2 top lengths down and so on until fully collapsed. Where I have 0/4, that means top section has 0 down, bottom section has all 4 down. what I found was this antenna was not tuned at all for 220 as expected, but I had to tested it anyways. The best I could get was -14.5 dBm, versus the NA-773 saw as strong as -6.0 dBm.

Next I decided to test the little rubber ducky that comes with it, which replaces the entire section of extendable lengths, which screws loose just above the base loaded coil. Most reviews just say "this extra piece is useless", but I wanted to dig in and find out its true purpose and if it really is useless. This "topper" comes in at 6" length by itself, making the AL800 come in just under 9" when installed. This was tested only with the UV-5R set at 4W through the shorty antenna setup.

Freq. dBm
144.100 -16.0
146.000 -20.0
147.900 -20.5
420.100 -4.5
430.000 1.0
435.000 -0.5
440.000 -2.5
449.900 -1.0

So this comes in at a little bit of a conundrum. It is essentially useless for VHF frequencies coming in at best -16.0 dBm with the radio at 4W, and for UHF it was all over the board, but it seems to have a resonance somewhere around the 430 MHz range. I even tested it with the shorty on my 82X at 223.5 MHz and it never got any better than -5.5dBm with radio at 1W, so I am curious if this is for 220 purposes? -5.5 dBm at 1W isn't too shabby compared to other numbers seen.
So while this AL-800 may do decent, I see this antenna as more of a novelty or something for fun. Yes it will reach the repeaters but because of its weight and length, I can see it would be very easy to pull out a length, to bend/break it, or to have so much weight on the SMA connector that it breaks off in the radio itself. Personally I may bring it along for field day as a gag, but for regular every day use, I prefer and primarily use either the V85 or the NA-701. Once you figure in that you can get a more flexible, less damage prone, and less dangerous NA-701 or 771 for under $20, versus even on clearance these Pryme antennas are still running $25 or more, it just makes sense to stick with the more recent antennas. This Pryme antenna has been put out to pasture and surpassed by newer better antennas.

Thanks for reading, 73 to all. Mike - K4ISR