WARNING – Image-heavy post ahead. You might regret it on mobile 😉
A while back I sold my Yaesu FT-817ND.
Yes – I make mistakes.
Recently I saw a listing for a FT-817 that included an Elecraft T1 Automatic Antenna Tuner for a price that I couldn’t say no to (think less than the price of a used FT-817 itself), so I took the chance and I am now the proud owner (again) of this wonderful little rig.
Fortunately both seem to be in good working order, so I am grateful to the seller for offering up this package as I had also been eyeing the T1 for the last few months.
The FT-817 is not the most power efficient portable rig out there, but it is so common that there are a number of accessories and mods that can be done to extend the usefulness of it well beyond its age.
It is sturdy, well built, and gives full coverage for HF/6M/2M/70CM bands. Not many rigs out there can say the same.
My old one had the Yaesu YF-122c mechanical filter installed.
My new one does not.
Finding a new or used YF-122c (note the “c” – the “s” model is widely available) is like finding that ultra rare DX with no pile-up – it doesn’t happen every day and conditions don’t always make the QSO happen.
My search for a filter module ended in vain…or did it?
Enter the Sotabeams LASERBEAM-817.
The following is from Sotabeams’ own documentation on the filter (source: https://www.sotabeams.co.uk/content/LASERBEAM-817.pdf)
"The LASERBEAM-817 Filter Module has been designed specifically for the FT-817. It provides two high quality audio filters (SSB and CW). These audio filters can be used with the optional filters in the FT-817 to greatly improve their performance or as a cost-effective alternative to installing a plug-in CW filter."
Additionally, it provides two filters in a single package: a SSB filter that covers 300-2700Hz and a 500Hz (450-950Hz) CW filter.
Switching between the two is supposed to be automatic.
To me that brings two main advantages; it covers both SSB and CW filtering, and it can be used both with and without the optional YF-122x filters.
Obviously in my case it is the without that is most appealing.
Oh, and it costs roughly 75% less than what I have seen the SSB mechanical filters alone going for online.
The LASERBEAM-817 Filter Module is not “plug and play” – it requires the installation of new capacitors (if you don’t have a mechanical filter installed as well), soldering of wiring to the Main PCB, mounting of the module inside the case, the removal of a SMD capacitor, and the moving of the built-in speaker to make room for the filter module.
But, as they say in the manual, “The installation requires modifications to the FT-817. These should be within the capability of any technically competent radio amateur“ (my emphasis added)
Whelp…time to see if I am competent or not.
Disassembly of the Radio
The instructions are well written and clear, but online there is very little information about both the filter and the installation of it. Sotabeams actually refers to some external services who will perform the installation for buyers, but again it should be within the skillsets of most hams.
I’m hoping that documenting the process I did for install might help someone else who is looking for a CW/SSB filter for their FT-817.
NOTE: This is a modification of your radio. It requires you to do soldering of new wires, components, et al to the internals of your radio. There is in all likelihood no warranty coverage by anyone if you mess things up. Mistakes may mean a bricked or broken radio.
Also, any images I have provided below must be double and triple checked against their instructions AND schematics to ensure that they are correct. I make no promises that this is exact and without fault – it is just what I performed and worked for me.
Please do the right thing and validate EVERY step of the process yourself – do not rely on my words or images.
Proceed at your own risk.
I highly recommend – as with any project – taking photos with your phone as you go. It helps me to remember exactly how things should be put back together.
The first thing was to remove the top cover.
As with anything electronic, proper precautions should be taken to avoid any static discharge potential, and you should carefully inventory every screw, connection, part, etc. to make sure that when you’re done putting things back together, that there are no “extra” parts laying around.
Then you need to first remove the 5 screws that are holding the PCB in place, and then carefully disconnect the small ribbon cable as noted in the image below. (Red Stars = Screws | Purple Star = Ribbon Cable)
After doing that, you need to unplug the two coax connectors (red stars). Don’t forget which one goes where.
Finally, carefully flip the PCB over the front of the radio. Note that the battery cable needs attention as you do so in order to avoid snagging it and having bad things happen.
I chose to use an empty solder spool as a support for the PCB to avoid any unnecessary strain on the remaining ribbon cable.
Installation – Prep Work
Now is where things get real.
Because I do not have the aforementioned YF-122c mechanical filter, I have to install two capacitors on the PCB.
The first one is from the input of the ceramic filter to the optional filter.
The second one is from the output of the ceramic filter to the output of the optional filter.
They include some tubing to use for insulating the contacts to avoid shorts. I chose to loosely cover the capacitors end to end in my own. Note that in this photo the yellow wire is attached – more details on that below.
Now it is time to route power from the top of the board around to the bottom where we’re working. This is well documented with both text and images in the supplied documentation, but I’m showing my outcomes here for your reference.
This is done by soldering supplied red wire to the emitter of Q1082.
And then by soldering the black wire to a ground point.
Then a yellow switching wire is soldered to the collector of Q1083 (red star below and shown in an earlier photo). This is a really small connection so take your time and use a lot of care. There is what looks like a SMD resistor right next to it – a very fine tip on your soldering iron is needed here. That and a magnifying glass (for me at least).
Now we’re going to take a break from adding new things to the PCB and actually remove something.
C1338 is a SMD capacitor that needs to be removed so that we can use the connection points to add more wiring. They recommend quickly alternating with a soldering iron between the two solder points until it can be easily removed.
I have a soldering/desoldering station, so I used that to heat up the contacts until the capacitor would easily slide off and removed it. It is now safely taped to the underside of the top cover so that I can reverse this modification if desired.
We need to take two screened wires and solder the red and white cores to the upper and lower capacitor pads. Because the cap we removed is SMD, the pads are extremely small. Use a fine tip on your iron and move slowly.
The screens of both should then be tinned and and soldered together to ground. Unlike the red and white wires above, the ground you’re soldering too is quite large, so switching to a larger tip on your iron might help get a better connection more quickly.
Now we’re done with the bottom of the PCB. We can carefully turn it back over – watching to make sure any wiring is routed correctly – and we can do some initial checks.
Note that the wires we’ve connected to the bottom of the PCB must be routed around to the front and to the same spot where we’re going to mount the filter module.
Follow the well documented steps in the manual and you’ll get it right.
The documentation states that we should be able to apply power to the radio and verify that we can measure the power via the new red and black wires.
Additionally we can toggle the filter in the menu and validate that the yellow wire voltage toggles between 0.4 and 6.5 volts for narrow and wide respectively.
DISCONNECT THE POWER BEFORE PROCEEDING
Installation – The Module
Now we’re going to wire up the module itself to the new connections that we’ve prepared.
The red and black wires will be soldered directly to the module. Note that you should not solder through the holes as we want the module bottom to be flat for mounting.
The yellow wire needs to be soldered to two resistors, which then are soldered across two pads. Twist and solder the two resistors together, creating a “T” shape where the connection is the vertical part of the “T”, and the two resistors and wires form the horizontal portion.
Solder the junction of the two resistors (the vertical section) to J1 pin 8 (screened as RA2 on the PCB).
Solder the one end to ground which is pin 1 on J1.
Solder the free end to the yellow wire.
Now we’re going to solder the screened wires to the module.
I had a little confusion at this step. The documentation states to “Dress the end of the screened cable. Solder the screens together – but not to anything else.”
It took me a couple of reads to realize that dressing the end of the screened cable means to trim them short enough to not cause any shorts with the other connections, as they are not going to be soldered anywhere.
The white core will then be soldered to J1 pin 7 (AF IN), and the red core to J1 pin 6 (RB15).
Power up the radio again and toggle between wide and narrow in the settings. The PCB has an LED that will be lit when WIDE is selected, and off when NAR is selected.
The instructions state that we should be using the supplied adhesive tape to mount the module to the PCB before testing, but also notes that it might be easier to do so prior to soldering the connections.
NOTE: I repeatedly went through the shipping envelope and pouches looking for that adhesive tape.
It is there – already on the bottom of the module. Doh.
Now to move the speaker.
The stock mount for the speaker does NOT mount it centered in the speaker grill.
The speaker needs to be moved to ensure that it does not sit on top of, and therefore press the button that is on the top of the filter module.
They recommend ensuring that it sits centered in the speaker grill, and making sure that it sits over the top of the processor on the filter module.
Mounting options abound including tape, hot glue, etc.
Noting that the screws used to secure it are inserted into threaded holes in the mounting bracket, I figured I would simply reposition the speaker and drill new mounting holes. That way I’m not relying on a connection that could come loose later on.
It does add another hole to the top of the case, but like my father always said “if you want to keep it new, leave it in the box”.
Except……that doesn’t work. The metal mounting bar will hit other components and not allow you to reattach the top cover.
So don’t be me – follow the directions (have I said that enough?).
I’ll just go back to my corner and contemplate my mistakes.
But my radio now has an extra hole in it.
More aerodynamic? Let’s more RF in for better reception?
Overall the module installation wasn’t bad. On a scale of 1-5, with 5 the most difficult, I’d put it at a 3.5 – 4. The documentation is well done and clearly written. There are several points that requires some precise soldering skills, something that someone with an unsteady hand might struggle with.
I do have some worry about a couple of the really small soldering connections, and may go back and apply some liquid electrical tape or something just to give a little strain relief. The SMD pads are tiny, and there isn’t much surface area to keep things from vibrating loose over time.
Did it work???
With the filter installed, I can now enable it via menu option 39, and a significant difference in the audio quality can be heard on CW (my preferred mode) and slightly less significant difference on SSB (only done spot checks).
Here is a short audio recording of the filter in action on CW.
You can get your own at https://www.sotabeams.co.uk/ft-817-filter-module-ssb-cw/
NOTE: This post is provided for informational purposes only and I do not promise nor do I guarantee that I have written instructions, or created images that are 100% accurate. Please use Sotabeams’ posted instructions if you choose to do this modification.
Alternative Approach (September 5, 2022)
You can see in the comments that I noted in one exchange about having gone a different route with my other Yaesu, the FT-818.
K4SWL has posted a new article how how to build your own filter for the FT-817/818 radios. This is the route I went for my FT-818 and thought I would share. https://qrper.com/2022/09/how-to-assemble-a-narrow-cw-filter-for-your-yaesu-ft-817-ft-818-ft-857-ft-897-an-affordable-yf-122c-equivalent/
I had found one of the last Inrad built PCBs but used the same filter that he bought on eBay. So far, so good. Looks like another source for PCBs exists.
If you have solved for the elusive YF-122c filter in creative or similar ways, let me know in the comments.