Since I bought a new 3 kW amplifier on a far away continent in May 2004, the following observations were made. A detailed report follows these observations. It ain't pretty, sorry to say.
Follows a list of the objective observations:
- lengthy, frustrating e-mail and telephone exchanges before the unit I bought,
- already upon arrival, faulty wiring on the control board had to be changed
- after 10 months, the plate RF choke coil burned during 17m operation (at less than 1kW output)
- after one and a half year (Nov. 2005), 30A fuse blew, flashover, faulty tube
- a new tube and control board were received in June 2006 but not installed due to lack of time (the unit kept working when a 5 minute warm-up period was respected, instead of the usual 3 minutes)
- a new (identical) plate RF choke coil was received, this one burned as well (which was to be expected as the resonant frequency was no different)
- the amp was taken to the manufacturer in Friedrichshafen (German Ham Radio Fair) in June 2007, from where it was said to be taken to Slovenia for repair. From Slovenia it was sent to the far away continent, and returned after four months back to Belgium
- 413,48 euro shipping and import tax costs (due to incorrect paperwork on the manufacturer's behalf) had to be paid when the unit returned from the far away continent. The manufacturer promissed to reimburse this amount, it never happened, he did not honor his given word
- upon arrival, a fault on the bandswitch was rectified and a splash of solder on the bandswitch removed
- after only two weeks, the tube went faulty again during CQWW contest
- another four months without amplifier, until a new unit was received (February 2008)
- again due to bad paperwork on the manufacturer's behalf, 138 euro had to be paid and was not reimbursed, contrary to earlier agreement. The manufacturer again did not honor his given word
- this new unit has a GU84B installed, instead of the original GU78B (which the manufacturer in the past used in all his 3 kW amps). Upon request, no technical specifications of the altered amp have been received until today. The GU84B is known to give less plate dissipation than the GU78B
- upon arrival, the blower of this new unit was not functioning. Incorrect blower wirings had to be corrected
- the anchor holes of the old transformer did not line up with the holes in the new amp, new holes had to be drilled
- the manufacturer now (May 2008, go figure) claims the first unit went faulty due to nicotine in the tube socket and hence no warranty is applicable for the new unit. At the last breakdown in October 2007, ON4UN and myself, guided over the telephone by the manufacturer, inspected the tube socket which appeared to have a leaking built-in screen grid bypass capacitor. At that time no trace of nicotine was detected by me or ON4UN, who hates anything related to smoking and who certainly would have noticed it
- the new unit came with a new 4 year warranty, which was part of the deal to accept a new unit rather than my proposal to getting refunded. The manufacturer also on this occasion did not honor his given word. A one year warranty was ultimately given, after lengthy discussions (the nicotine issue was brought up by the manufacturer in November 2007, prior to the agreement of shipping a new unit - it was not an issue for them at that time)
- until today (June 2008) I am still awaiting the photos the manufacturer would send, which (would) show the nicotine in the tube socket
- after a third party mediation, the manufacturer agreed to give a 4 year warranty so I could sell the amp
- e-mails stay unanswered for way too long of time. Follow-up e-mails and reminder e-mails, begging e-mails and in the end telephone calls to beg to answer these e-mails, are common practice when communicating with this manufacturer. A fluent response to general questions or technical problems, cannot be expected unless when using the telephone
- the manufacturer will call you back by telephone (when you first call them) to discuss technical problems. Also e-mails are used for technical support, if a person named xxx is around. My question to whom I can speak if the principal person is not available, stays unanswered until today
Follows the extensive report, the amplifier saga.
The Amplifier saga
For those of you in pursuit of a new or used amplifier, follows a detailed and accurate report on my experiences with a manufacturer on a far away continent. I thought sharing this with the ham community, might be of interest to some of you. I informed the manufacturer about making this report public and requested them to inspect it prior to publication. If they found any incorrect statements, I was willing to correct them. The manufacturer did not provide any corrective comments and told me they didn't give a stuff and I would get nowhere trying to blackmail them. Here goes...
After many happy years with my old trustworthy LK-800 from Amp Supply, I felt the need to switch to a new amp to avoid the small troubles that inevitably come with an amp dating from almost the stone age. I wanted a new, trouble free amp.
Early 2004, my eye fell on a 3 kW amplifier, manufactured on a far away continent. I sent a small inquiry to the amp reflector, to find out what the general feeling about this amp was. After all, there is quite a substantial price tag that comes along with the purchase of such an amp, better be safe than sorry.
Of the eight responses received, three were positive (of which one of an Australian citizen without callsign, one of a US-ham who barely used the amp before having to sell it, and one of a 1 kW amp user of the same manufacturer). Of the five negative responses, one was about the use of old stock tubes, one about bad service response, one of a breakdown just prior to a major contest with impossibility of timely repair, one very negative on a 2 kW amp of that manufacturer, and one very negative from a US ham with ten negative points (see here for that e-mail and reply response from the manufacturer). I checked logs (+300.000 QSOs) for the US ham's call, not once logged, so I supposed this was a straw-man used to make the manufacturer look bad.
The reviews on the different manufacturer's products on eham.net gave an overall
good impression (I later started investigating the callsigns giving very good
reports, many of those were not to be found in my +300.000 Qs database. Of course,
that does not mean a thing. However, some of these callsigns seemed to be linked
somehow and their reviews looked suspiciously over the top. Perhaps they are
I decided to go ahead with the purchase.
The purchase itself went through several e-mails and telephone calls: e-mails,
follow-up e-mails, reminder e-mails (I have to say I got a good deal from the
manufacturer, better than most customers). The shipping details were never received
beforehand, although explicitly asked for several times. Once the amp was received
and put together (transformer comes in a separate box, which is good), tests
were made. Already at startup there was a problem, some wiring on the control
board had to be altered.
If the amp had been thoroughly tested before shipping (and this was the so-called case and one of the reasons called upon to explain why it took such a long time between order and delivery), this problem should have been noted and corrected in the far away continent. It is not the customer who should make changes right from day one.
Ten months passed by, the amp worked fine (although, it is rather noisy when it is positioned on the operating desk. This was one of the reasons I wanted to change the LK-800 for a less noisy amp. On the phone I was told the 3 kW amp is not noisy, so I thought, great!).
Along came the Kerguelen expedition in March 2005. Working in RTTY at less than 1kW on 17m, the plate RF choke coil burned. At that time I also noticed the input SWR on 10/12m was 1.7:1, not really a problem, but out of specs. A new coil was delivered and installed.
November 2005, one and a half year after initial use, one of the amp's two
30A fuses blew at startup. Many e-mails and telephone calls later, a new tube
and control board were hand delivered in Friedrichshafen, half a year later.
This problem was exactly what the US ham described in his first of ten
points of complaint.
I could go around this problem by using a warm-up time of five instead of three minutes. I continued using the amp this way (new job, no time and interest to struggle with this new amp, which I bought to be trouble free) for the next year - I was not very active on the bands during that period. After this year, I took the amp to Friedrichshafen and hand delivered it to the manufacturer for them to fix it (the new choke coil had burned also meanwhile). We are June 2007, I was told the amp would be fixed in Slovenia and sent back to me in July, free of any cost.
In fact, the amp was sent back by the manufacturer from Slovenia to the far away continent for repair. I received it back after many an e-mail and many phone calls, mid-October. That was just prior to the CQWW contest, almost four months after delivery in F'hafen. I had to pay 413,48 euro shipping and import tax costs (due to incorrect paperwork on the manufacturer's behalf). The manufacturer promised to reimburse this amount, and later came back on this promise. I was never reimbursed. This was the first time they came back on a given word, and a small alarm light went off.
The amp was now fitted with a GU84B instead of the original GU78B tube (my
request to receive the altered specifications of the amp, stays unanswered til
today). So-called reason for the change of tube was that the manufacturer had
many quality problems with the GU78B (quote manufacturer: 'We have changed to
this tube for exactly the reason that happened to your amplifier') and also
because these tubes were not available anymore. During a telephone call, I was
told the faulty tube was not under warranty. Strange, as in the manual it is
stated: 'The tube is under a limited warranty, also for FOUR YEARS'.
It would be fair for the manufacturer to state what they mean by 'a limited warranty'. This statement is nowhere to be found. I for sure knew no fault on my behalf was made.
Also strange, because of the above quote 'that we changed to GU84B because of the reason that happened to your amplifier'. The manufacturer herewith admitted that the fault was typical and inherent for the GU78B tube as configured in their 3 kW amp, and that I was in no way to blame for the problems. What happened to the four year tube warranty in this case?
I had a close look at the returned amp, as the bandswitch was more difficult to rotate and it made an unusual sounding click when switching to the 10m position. I had to bend two fixed blades of the switch with a screwdriver, to get back to normal and smooth operation. This was not the case before the amp went in service. There was also a splash of loose solder on one of the blades, which I removed.
During the CQWW contest, only two weeks after the amp came back from a four month repair, the amp died with a small bang, all Ig2 leds flickering. No output, contest over and done with. What a pitty, I was defending my last year's win.
After this new and unexpected unfortunate event, I proposed the manufacturer to take the amp back and refund me. They refused my proposal but instead offered to send me a complete new amp. I told them my offer was firm: reimbursement and I would not further elaborate on all the mishaps. Remember I wanted a trouble free amp, not having to worry about anything?
So the manufacturer turned down my offer and sent a new amp, this time 138 euro had to be paid, again due to bad paperwork by the manufacturer and their shipping agent.
For the second time, I had been four months without an operational amp. I had the flue and 39 degrees of fever when the new amp arrived, and was anxious to get it ready for the Ducie Island expedition (my very last needed DXCC). The blower was not working. Another phone call from the manufacturer and after re-wiring some faulty wiring, the blower was operational. When installing the transformer, I noticed the screw holes to fasten the transformer, did not match. I took the transformer out myself (with a 39 degree fever, very enjoyable), drilled new holes and reinstalled the transformer. The amp works fine now.
I informed the manufacturer about the additional 138 euro, the blower not working,
the incorrect holes. Three months later (May 2008), I was still awaiting a reply
to this e-mail. I phoned the manufacturer some weeks back, the extensive answer
is coming, I was told. But first Dayton had to be handled with. And, oh yes,
you will not receive warranty for the new amp, as we found nicotine in the tube
socket of the old one.
Strange. At the last breakdown in October 2007, ON4UN and myself, guided over the telephone by the manufacturer, inspected the tube socket which appeared to have a leaking built-in screen grid bypass capacitor. At that time no trace of nicotine was detected by me or ON4UN, who hates anything related to smoking and who most certainly would have noticed it.
In November 2007 it was agreed by the manufacturer I would receive a new amp with a four year new warranty. This as a compensation because of all the trouble I experienced these last years, with a totally new product. And all of a sudden there is no warranty any more on this new product.
June 2008. After mediation by a third party, the manufacturer again promissed to give a 4 year warranty (somewhere along the road, they had offered a one year warranty). This would enable me to sell the amp (which I was quite ready for, by this time). I am still waiting for the photographs of the nicotine filled tube socket, which the manufacturer would send to me. I asked for these photographs several times.
To round it up, I would not get warranty for a totally new amp, but in the
end I did. I paid an additional 550 euro which I should not have paid, I spent
additional money on numerous telephone calls. The hours and days I spent on
telephone calls, writing of e-mails, writing of reminder e-mails are quite many.
The frustration of not getting answers to e-mails, is really unnecessary but
is there to take.
The manufacturer said they sold about 700 amps over the years, and I was told most of them are trouble free. In that case, I cannot see how the few service-related e-mails stay unanswered.
No need to tell there is more aggravation due to missing contests, having to borrow an amp twice and lift it out of someone's basement (and getting a hernia thanks to that) in order to be able to work new ones.
The manufacturer in defense will probably tell you I am one of the few unfortunate customers and it is a pitty I am ungrateful after all the effort they put in to keep me happy. Rest assured, what has been described above are bare facts, no more, no less. If you would read the load and content of e-mail exchanges between the manufacturer and myself, I am sure you would frown your eyebrows even more. In the process of trying to sell the amp, I have found more evidence of the manufacturer's despicable way of dealing with customers. It would not surprise me to see more alike reports surfacing, after the publication of this writing.
Over the years, we all experience technical problems with our equipment, be
it our fault or not. Over the years, I have always found a satisfactorily solution
of some kind to those problems. Best ever was in Liberia, when the Ameritron
ALS-600 amp went dead on me. In no time, spare parts were hand delivered through
the US Embassy in Monrovia.
That is what I call service.
Having a new amp and being without it for eight months during a three year time span (imagine this being the case with your car you have to commute to work with), is not what I call service. Not to speak of all time lost with telcons and e-mails, reminder e-mails, begging e-mails. The additional money lost due to the manufacturer's sloppy paperwork. And even worse, not fulfilling promises, but blatantly coming back on a given word.
I am sure this manufacturer has the proper technical expertise to make decent amplifiers. However, the far away continent is a long way off if one needs service. And if dealing with a company comes down to making long distance telephone calls (the manufacturer will call you back when you call first, I give 'em that), not answering e-mails, making promises and afterwards retracting those promises, losing money that one should not lose, having to alter wiring in new amps when they arrive at your home, well, I thought sharing these experiences in extent with the ham community, might give some insight to future amp owners.
73 - Mark - on4ww.