New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

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Dewey
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New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by Dewey » Thu Sep 07, 2017 5:35 pm

A quick intro - my background is in avionics, with only a little bit of RF experience (most of my 20 year career was spent working with digital circuits and FAA regs). I am now a volunteer technical adviser for a community LPFM. So forgive me if some of what I provide here is simplistic (or even wrong!).

For the past 2 years that we have been on the air, we have had a Nicom 350. However, after several problems with this unit, we have decided to get a new transmitter and use the Nicom as our backup. We need 290W transmitter output in order to achieve 100W ERP at our single bay Shively circular antenna. We currently transmit in mono, so no need for a stereo encoder built in, although it might be nice to have in case we ever wanted to go that route.

I am looking for recommendations for a top notch transmitter with a budget of approx $5000. I have read a lot of great things about the Nautel VS300. Is this the best option? It certainly has some impressive features. Is there anything comparable? Sounds like Nautel is also rock solid reliable? I have heard and read mixed reviews about Crown. Also that Crown's LPFM units are made by another company, so I was wondering if maybe the high power Crowns are good and the LPFM Crowns are not? How about PTEK or BEXT?

About the only must have capability (other than the obvious like protection circuits) would be remote monitoring (preferably via direct TCP/IP) of Fwd and Ref power, modulation, and temperature.

Thanks in advance for any feedback given.

TPT
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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by TPT » Thu Sep 07, 2017 6:14 pm

Easy. Nautel VS300. Recommended Nautel to several stations, costs less than $5K.

1. The FCC requires LPFM transmitters to be type approved, requiring the manufacturer to send a unit to the FCC's lab. As opposed to FM transmitters in other services, which merely need to show their design would meets FCC requirements. The VS300 meets this requirement. Not sure about your NIcom.

2. The VS300 includes a built-in stereo generator. An Orban audio processor is available as a plug-in card as an option. Easy to add-on later. Actually ordered it this way for a community college--the state had an "un-bid" limit of $5K, so we ordered the VS300 (around$4,700) and the Orban-inside card (around $1,100) as separate purchase orders. Popped the top off, set the card into the connectors provided, and on-air we went.

3. Nautel has an excellent service department.

4. The VS-300 is 220 volt, but have one running on a 110 to 220 transformer I got off Amazon. Been running that way for several years. Nautel may be able to supply a 110 volt version now.

5. The Nautel can be monitored over a network connection.

6. The Nautel has a simple RDS generator built in.

BigRed
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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by BigRed » Thu Sep 07, 2017 9:27 pm

I'd give BW Broadcast equipment a look. Their TX300 V2 weighs in at under $3,500, complete with audio processor and stereo generator. I've got a client that has a number of them used as translators and they just work. (Yeah, they're made in the UK so far as I know but nothing is perfect.)

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Dale H. Cook
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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by Dale H. Cook » Fri Sep 08, 2017 4:33 am

I will vote for the VS300. I have worked with a couple of oriental transmitters at LPFM stations and they are not worth the energy that its takes to throw them in the trash can. I have worked with the VS300 at translators, as well as several other Nautel FM and AM transmitters (most of which I installed) over the last twenty years. If you can find a way to buy a Nautel, do it. There is no better transmitter made today.
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Ray
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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by Ray » Fri Sep 08, 2017 6:17 am

I also vote for the VS300. You can get the VS300 with the Orban 5500 audio processor built in. The remote control software is excellent along with the factory support.

Three areas that I don't recommend going cheap are (1) main transmitter, (2)automation software, and (3) EAS.
Most everything else I bought used for a good price. I did buy a used BW transmitter for a standby transmitter.

Ray

awsherrill
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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by awsherrill » Fri Sep 08, 2017 8:59 am

The VS-300 is 220 volt, but have one running on a 110 to 220 transformer I got off Amazon. Been running that way for several years. Nautel may be able to supply a 110 volt version now.
The later model VS-300s have an upgraded power supply that will accept 110VAC on up to about 260VAC.

We have a whole fleet of them in translator service and have had very little trouble with them. I can recommend them without reservation. We have a few of the BW Broadcast transmitters, but I have no direct experience with them.

If your budget allows, I also recommend getting the spares kit(s).

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Dale H. Cook
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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by Dale H. Cook » Fri Sep 08, 2017 1:35 pm

awsherrill wrote:
Fri Sep 08, 2017 8:59 am
If your budget allows, I also recommend getting the spares kit(s).
There are three things I always recommend for anyone buying a Nautel:

1) Read and understand the site preparation instructions, and fulfill them to the best of your ability, especially making the site as resistant to lightning as possible - part of that is:

2) Buy and properly install the Nautel power line surge suppressor. I know from long experience that the primary source of lightning damage at most sites is power-line coupled surges, and solid-state transmitters are very susceptible to them.

3) Buy a spares kit - the one with the basic semiconductor assortment. You can't replace a damaged power MOSFET with something from NTE.
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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by NECRAT » Fri Sep 08, 2017 3:22 pm

BigRed wrote:
Thu Sep 07, 2017 9:27 pm
I'd give BW Broadcast equipment a look. Their TX300 V2 weighs in at under $3,500, complete with audio processor and stereo generator. I've got a client that has a number of them used as translators and they just work. (Yeah, they're made in the UK so far as I know but nothing is perfect.)
I've installed four BW transmitters with 0 issues. One of which runs in a very very harsh environment, and has never once gone off the air due to TX issues. (It's also loaded into a weird Aldena yagi array).

The one experience I have with the Nautel VS300 wasn't (and isn't) good. A friend of mine has had nothing but weird issues with it to this day.

If it were my money, I'd get the BW.
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Dewey
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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by Dewey » Fri Sep 08, 2017 4:42 pm

Thank you all for the great feedback and advice so far. I suspect every transmitter brand (like every car brand or stereo brand or toaster brand) has a bad one leak out of the factory every once in a while. So that is not necessarily an indication that the entire brand is bad. It's more of a big picture kind of thing.... Sounds like there is a lot of support for Nautel here, but I am still open to more suggestions.

Looks like a great forum here - glad I signed up!

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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by BroadcastDoc » Sat Sep 09, 2017 7:25 pm

I too can recommend Nautel.

I've installed a VS300, VS1, and two VS2.5's (in addition to several bigger ones). Nautels are generally problem-free (I've had minor issues here and there, but no show stoppers) and have outstanding support.

They also come with a lot of neat features, like a built-in Shoutcast/Icecast client. A great way to get programming on the air in a pinch!
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W2XJ
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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by W2XJ » Sun Sep 10, 2017 8:31 pm

I would also chime in for Nautel. However, the Crown transmitters are made by Ecreso if they are an 'E' series. Ecreso is quite reputable and close to Nautel in quality and technology. Both are fully digital so you don't have to worry about analog circuits drifting and ultimately failing. Both can be remotely monitored from the factory. Depending on the features required, you can look at both. For my last project, I ran a spreadsheet and Nautel came out the most cost effective.

BigRed
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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by BigRed » Mon Sep 11, 2017 9:56 am

Boy, all the Nautel "cultists" are out in full bloom on this. And that's what Nautel has become for reasons that totally escape me. A cult. (Maybe it's the old "no one ever got fired for buying RCA" mentality?) I've tried hard, REALLY hard, to find reasons to like Nautel but I got . . . nothing. (OK, their Tech Support people are pretty good when they actually understand the equipment you're calling about but that's a rarity unless the gear is current.) Don't misunderstand, when Nautel equipment works it works just fine (just like GatesAir and Continental, if you want to stick to comparing among the big guys). But I find them to make the meanest transmitters to work on that I've ever encountered. They're even more difficult to physically navigate internally than the old Collins gear (pre Rockwell). Engineers would swear by that equipment when it worked and swear at it when it didn't.

Anyhow, back to the low-power FM stuff . . . you probably know this but the transmitter needs to be "certified" to comply with the requisite technical standards as per §73.1660(a)(2) (Type Approval and Type Acceptance went out the window two and a half decades ago.) You can check that by getting the FCC ID # from the manufacturer (or for existing equipment it should be on a sticker somewhere on the transmitter) and searching for the certification on the FCC's OE&T WEB site, https://www.fcc.gov/oet/ea/fccid#block-menu-block-4. You can download a copy of the certificate and it will state that the equipment has been certified for use under Part 73 of the Rules if it's OK for LPFM use. If you're really bored you can usually look at the actual measurement data and schematics if confidentiality hasn't been bought by the entity submitting the certification application. (And if you're running a Part 74 translator that Part 73 certification is actually good there too.) Although not "official", I usually print out that certificate and include it in the station information book at each site if available and applicable. If for a non-LPFM Part 73 license then the certification means nothing; those transmitters have to be "verified" (conduct a full proof on the transmitter) as per §73.1660(a)(1); GatesAir apparently doesn't even bother with the certification process for their non LPFM stuff anymore.

For example it looks to me like you could buy two stereo BW transmitters, each with audio processing, for about the cost of one Nautel with the Orban Oh-My-God audio processor which makes me wonder what you're getting from Nautel for all that extra "jack". Doing so would give you a main and an alternate main for about the same money as buying one Nautel so if one transmitter did fail the second one would put you back on the air immediately while the first one goes in for repairs. And no one could tell the difference, not that I've ever seen a BW transmitter fail, yet. (As I mentioned before I have a client that has about six of these BW rigs.) As a bonus you could recoop some of that money be selling your current Nicom transmitter to someone else so that they have a spare too. And by the way, the last module that I returned to Nautel just this summer (had to send it in as 1/3 of it was burned to charcoal) had a six week turnaround time so having an alternate main transmitter is something to consider.

But do have a look at and compare the specifications and features of each, and some other low power transmitters too (for example, GatesAir has a couple of suitable models, and someone mentioned Crown).

COMMENG
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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by COMMENG » Mon Sep 11, 2017 10:51 am

We have had good luck with the analog FM 250C from BE in a number of stations.

http://www.bdcast.com/information-cente ... ifications

We like to homebrew our own audio chain so we are not interested in internal audio processors.


COMMENG

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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by fm-engineer » Mon Sep 11, 2017 1:08 pm

BigRed wrote:
Mon Sep 11, 2017 9:56 am
Boy, all the Nautel "cultists" are out in full bloom on this. And that's what Nautel has become for reasons that totally escape me. A cult. (Maybe it's the old "no one ever got fired for buying RCA" mentality?) I've tried hard, REALLY hard, to find reasons to like Nautel but I got . . . nothing. (OK, their Tech Support people are pretty good when they actually understand the equipment you're calling about but that's a rarity unless the gear is current.) Don't misunderstand, when Nautel equipment works it works just fine (just like GatesAir and Continental, if you want to stick to comparing among the big guys). But I find them to make the meanest transmitters to work on that I've ever encountered. They're even more difficult to physically navigate internally than the old Collins gear (pre Rockwell). Engineers would swear by that equipment when it worked and swear at it when it didn't.

Anyhow, back to the low-power FM stuff . . . you probably know this but the transmitter needs to be "certified" to comply with the requisite technical standards as per §73.1660(a)(2) (Type Approval and Type Acceptance went out the window two and a half decades ago.) You can check that by getting the FCC ID # from the manufacturer (or for existing equipment it should be on a sticker somewhere on the transmitter) and searching for the certification on the FCC's OE&T WEB site, https://www.fcc.gov/oet/ea/fccid#block-menu-block-4. You can download a copy of the certificate and it will state that the equipment has been certified for use under Part 73 of the Rules if it's OK for LPFM use. If you're really bored you can usually look at the actual measurement data and schematics if confidentiality hasn't been bought by the entity submitting the certification application. (And if you're running a Part 74 translator that Part 73 certification is actually good there too.) Although not "official", I usually print out that certificate and include it in the station information book at each site if available and applicable. If for a non-LPFM Part 73 license then the certification means nothing; those transmitters have to be "verified" (conduct a full proof on the transmitter) as per §73.1660(a)(1); GatesAir apparently doesn't even bother with the certification process for their non LPFM stuff anymore.

For example it looks to me like you could buy two stereo BW transmitters, each with audio processing, for about the cost of one Nautel with the Orban Oh-My-God audio processor which makes me wonder what you're getting from Nautel for all that extra "jack". Doing so would give you a main and an alternate main for about the same money as buying one Nautel so if one transmitter did fail the second one would put you back on the air immediately while the first one goes in for repairs. And no one could tell the difference, not that I've ever seen a BW transmitter fail, yet. (As I mentioned before I have a client that has about six of these BW rigs.) As a bonus you could recoop some of that money be selling your current Nicom transmitter to someone else so that they have a spare too. And by the way, the last module that I returned to Nautel just this summer (had to send it in as 1/3 of it was burned to charcoal) had a six week turnaround time so having an alternate main transmitter is something to consider.

But do have a look at and compare the specifications and features of each, and some other low power transmitters too (for example, GatesAir has a couple of suitable models, and someone mentioned Crown).
A few comments about Nautel: You're right, lately it seems like a cult following, but I would attribute that to maybe a younger generation of engineers. I would say its a combination of marketing and equipment design. If you stand a Nautel GV 10 beside say a GatesAir Fax 10, then a lot of people would assume the Nautel is better because it has a nice touch-screen color display. I have taken care of several larger Nautel transmitters that just seem to run without ever having a problem. I have a ten year old Nautel XR transmitter that has never been off the air unless taken off for maintenance. Just keep the air filter changed and once in a while suck out the dust. The GV series is really built well, and they have embraced LDMOS technology. The GV is really is built like a tank.

The smaller stuff I'm not so sure about. I have a VS300 that has been back to Nautel twice for front panel and network control failure. It was one of the early units from 2012. Nautel eventually changed the design of the main board, but we were told ours was not eligible for an upgrade. I was disappointed since they never made the situation right from a customer service standpoint. The front and network control have recently failed again for a third time. I think the VS was rushed to market. I'm sure the bugs are worked out by now. For small stuff, we've been using GatesAir instead of Nautel. They have LDMOS finals down to the 50 watt range. From what I understand, the LDMOS amp design currently used used in the FAX line was a military spec amp from Harris. I'm not sure if the Nautel VS is using LDMOS amps. Size is another thing. Nautel VS is a deep chassis that needs industry standard rear support. I think at this point I wouldn't purchase any size transmitter that hasn't embraced LDMOS. Its the biggest thing to hit solid state since solid state.

Dewey
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Re: New member - LPFM transmitter recommendations

Post by Dewey » Tue Sep 12, 2017 8:10 am

BigRed wrote:
Mon Sep 11, 2017 9:56 am
They're even more difficult to physically navigate internally than the old Collins gear (pre Rockwell). Engineers would swear by that equipment when it worked and swear at it when it didn't.
Funny you should mention Collins.... that's where I used to work! (Post Rockwell).

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