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Choosing a Ham Radio Rotator: AlfaSpid, ProSisTel BigBoy, M2, HyGain, Yaesu

There are several tough choices to make along the way in putting together a full-scale amateur radio tower project:

  • Antennas
    • bands
    • performance expectations (gain, F/B, etc.)
    • type (quads, yagis, log periods, etc.)
  • Tower decisions:
    • type (guyed or self supporting)
    • height (mast height and type)
    • location
  • Other things that don’t seem as important at first glance, but are actually relatively critical
    • coax
    • rotator (aka Rotor)
    • building permits
    • XYL permissions

To me anyway, choosing a rotor for my ham radio tower feels a lot like choosing insurance for a new car. Yeah, I know I need it, but the major anxiety is in the decisions over the antennas and tower itself. Of course, the other things can certainly be major landmines (like the XYL permission), but it’s human/geek nature to want to focus on the antenna performance and leave everything else for later.

Afterall, a rotator’s performance doesn’t play a role in making QSOs, but a failed rotor in a contest sure does. My antenna rotator selection process lead me to create this a Rotator Bang-for-the-buck chart:

Ham Radio Rotator comparison chart

So, choosing a rotator for a ham radio tower project actually is a critical decision. Afterall, you don’t want a failure in the middle of a contest (or anytime really). So, choosing a rotor is more about making sure you don’t pick the wrong one as much as getting what you need for your application.
Anyway, the time had come to need to put in an order for a rotator. Dan at ANWireless asked me today what I would like to have for a rotator plate hole pattern (or whether I’d rather drill the holes myself). The ANWireless AN-HD70 will come with a rotor plate than can be drilled for a variety of rotors. I had narrowed my choices to worm drive rotors: the ProSisTel BigBoy series (PST61D or PST2051D) and the AlfaRadio AlfaSpid.

AlfaSpid Rotator

In late June (over a month ago), I’d sent a request to AlfaSpid for information on their rotator. I got an automated email from them saying that they would soon contact me. So, after waiting a month without a reply, I decided to call AlfaRadio to ask about their products.

Up until today, I had been giving very serious consideration to the AlfaSpid. The product has a decent following on the ham radio forums, so I was willing to look into it. The biggest pause for concern I had on the product (in terms of negative publicity) was the infamous TowerTalk mail reflector feud between ArraySolutions and AlfaSpid (and supporters).

Positive comments from DXpedition users, users in cold climates, etc. Sounded good. However, the failure to respond (after a month) to my email was warning sign number 1. When I called this morning, the guy on the phone said that he hadn’t heard of ANWireless. That seemed odd (almost unbelievable really) given that they are in the business. Of course, given that Dan at ANWireless carries the competing ProSistel rotators, they could have been simply pulling my chain.

Anyway, when I asked about a pattern for a ANWireless tower, I couldn’t get a clear story on what was required. He said that I’d really be better off to consider a mast that ran the length of the tower to the ground. I know there are folks that do this, but why would that be a better solution? No good answer. He said he needed to know all the specs of the tower (didn’t say why). I asked if he could pull up their website while we were on the phone and he said something about their internet service being down and he’d have to get back to me. He said that I should email the links to him and he’d call me later in the day. The last straw was when the day came and went without a returned call. He knew that I had a tower that was about to ship and I needed to make a decision. He certainly helped me decide.

AlfaRadio has also been pushing a ROTATOR COMPARISON TABLE for several years. In fact, as I write this in July 2006, this comparison table is over three years old. The table contrasts all the major vendors in terms of braking torque, starting torque, price and wind load. Conveniently for AlfaSpid, their product does not list a wind load rating as they claim it would be a based on an unknown formula. Hmmm. I understand the thinking that wind load is a questionable calculation (similar argument that antenna manufacturers and QST makes against gain) – but if that is your claim, don’t show any wind load numbers on your comparison. Further, the chart has prices from 2003 – including their own 2003 price. What value is that? They show their AlfaSpid at $599 USD to be compared to other products in 2003 prices. Finally, the specs are much too dated at this point. For example, they show the ProSisTel PST61 WindLoad rating at 36 sq ft. That doesn’t match what ProSisTel’s published specs show (40 sq ft). Why the discrepancy?

Prosistel PST61D BigBoy RotorDan at ANWireless and Jay at ArraySolutions carry the ProSisTel Big Boy line of rotators – both for commercial and ham radio customers. Local ham, Bill Meeker, KØKT, uses this rotor, so I’m at least somewhat familiar with it.

Emailing Dan Simmonds today at ANWireless about rotor options for my HD-70 tower, was a completely different experience than trying to milk answers out of AlfaRadio. Dan was very responsive and had some great suggestions. Bill also has had nothing but good things to say about working with Dan.

ProSistel has been certified for CE (european approvals), is built like a tank and seems to be making inroads in the US market.

After talking with Dan, I settled in on the PST61D. It boasts nickel chromium-molybdenum steel and bronze alloy gears, the best bang-for-the-buck in terms of torque (braking torque and rotating torque), can easily support my planned antenna stack and more.

Besides that, they (through ANWireless and ArraySolutions) actually respond to questions when asked. What a concept.

What about M2/Orion, HyGain or Yaesu rotators? My choice had really been between the AlfaSpid and the ProSisTel rotators. Yaesu and M2 were also considered, but fell out of the race for various reasons. Some folks have reported issues with the Yaesu rotor design (aluminum components inside that have failed, electrical problems, …) and service (hard to get parts and hard to get them repaired).
M2 OrionThe M2 Orion has very beefy specs (35 sq ft of wind load) and a loyal following. The biggest drawback here was the price ($1600). It is a very expensive rotor. However, I have used this rotor at other ham radio stations and can confirm that it gets the job done.

If I were planning a larger stack that required a 35 sq ft wind load rotor, the M2 would be near the top of the list (if not on top).

-

HyGain HDR300Hy-gain Tailtwisters have been around for many years but seem to have fallen behind the times in terms of technology updates. Plenty of folks out there bashing the MFJ name made me leary of this one. They have the HDR-300 which is supposed to be a beefy rotor, but given the troubles others have with their products, I wanted to steer clear of them. The reputation of the HyGain is just too poor.

-
After thinking things through a bit and reflecting on my recent attempts to work with AlfaRadio, I created my own Rotator comparison chart:

  Buck Bang Specs Service/
Reputation
M2 Orion 1600 72 9 8
AlfaSpid 900 24 6 4
Yaesu G-2800DXA 1100 24 8 3
ProSisTel PST61D 1350 90 10 9
Hy-Gain HDR-300A 1380 18 6 3

Ham Radio Rotator comparison chart

Ham Radio Rotor selection summary
In the end, I selected the BigBoy PST61D based on a combination of service/sales responsiveness, specs, and reputation. Time will tell if that was the right choice. While the rotors I’ve passed up may be quite suitable for the task at hand, in the dead of winter with 1″ of radial ice on my SteppIR, Cushcraft XM240 and whatever else is on the 22′ mast, I’d rather be worrying about contest rates and strategy than whether my rotator was about to fail. Perhaps this is one of those ham radio purchases that is as much emotional as it is rational.

4 Responses to “Choosing a Ham Radio Rotator: AlfaSpid, ProSisTel BigBoy, M2, HyGain, Yaesu”

  1. Hi Pat,
    I’m in trouble with my Yaesu rotator G1000SDX, it has smashed itself to bits!!! The rotor unit has completely demolished itself inside, gears, gear housing, limit switches, etc, all broken. It was turning a KLM KT34-XA antenna at 36ft. I was wondering if you made the right decision with the ProSisTel unit. I have been looking on the web site at these and wondering if they would be a good buy for my tower. Any comments would be appreciated.

    73
    Ken ZL4NR

  2. Hi Ken,

    Sorry to hear about your problems with the Yaesu rotator.

    Unfortunately, my ProSisTel remains boxed in my garage – waiting on my tower construction. I’m disappointed that I’ve not been able to make better progress on the project by now.

    However, a local ham has had great success with his ProSisTel rotor so far with a very heavy load on it.

    73
    Pat

  3. I have been using a Telrex Prop Pitch rotor with my monobander pair (3el 40m and 5el 20m Telrex beams) for several years

    My issue was the controller and more specific lack of reliable indicating system

    The indicator chain drive to the tower mouted slsyn broke over a year ago this also led to in active limit switches
    after one instance of twisting the coax to shreds

    I decided I needed to do something before the 2006 ARRL SS Phone contest

    I choose a new rotator controller from http://www.GreenHeronEngineering.com

    The support of thier product is Bar none (outstanding)
    and the built-in soft limit switch programming was a perfect all around solution

    Any that is fighting indicator problems and in need of an updated controller for their rotor should race on over to the fine folks at Green Heron Engineering

    73
    steve
    KG5VK

  4. I own an Alpha Spid, and I would NEVER get another! I really don’t think it is well made. Mine came new with rusted gears, very noisy motor and gear lash set wrong because the holes were drilled in case wrong. There is places were water can get into the top of the gear box and cracks in bottom of the gearbox were water AND YOUR GREASE can drip out. I am not happy. The Alpa said it would take a 2 inch mast. I hauled a 2 inch OD, 24 foot long “DOM? mast from Dallas to Tucson only to find my Alpha had a bore of ~ 1.980. A 2.000 inch mast would not fit in my Alpha Spid!! They made it too small for 2 inch tubing mast! I was pissed. I had to spend hours boring out the Alpha with a brake hone. And the pinch bolts to mount the base of the rotator id\s a REAL PAIN. It is extremely hard to center the rotator when you have 16 bolts (8 bottom and 8 top) and tightening any one more or less will tilt the mount pipe or the mast. I was able to do this on the ground and put up the top section with a crane, I spent hours working on it to get it all centered. But if it needs replaced in the air my tower guy will never get it right.
    And you must build a mount because the bottom is made to fit on a pipe, not a flat plate like most all others in the free world. And it was priced at $599, but it ended up being a ““surprise?? on my credit card at around $1,000 because of “import tax? and exchange rates and “an old web price? posted by they guys selling the Alpha Spid.
    Now to be fair, these guys wer nice guys to talk to. And when I complained about the rust they sent me a new rotator out the same day. But it had more problems than the first one! So I just tour it all apart and redid it as best I could.
    Nice guys, bad rotator.

    David F. Branson

    Senior Technician
    Action Communications, Inc.
    Tucson, AZ
    520.792.0326
    520.792.2709 fax
    KCØLL@hotmail.com
    http://www.kc0ll.net
    http://www.ActionCommunications.com

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