Why the high SWR readings with a handheld?

Does no one make a decent 8" handheld antenna? Is everything on the market a counterfeit?

I picked up a digital SWR meter, with the full understanding that it may not be 100% accurate, but at least I can use it to compare antennas back to back on my Wouxun KG-UV899 handheld.

Some antennas are about what I expected. The lowest SWR was the Diamond SRJ77CA handheld and the Tram 1185 mobile, both of which were not much more than 1.03 on both 2 meters and 70 cm bands.

The factory Retevis RT21 stubby and the Retevis RHD701 antenna from my Retevis RT5 radio were both fair performers, at around 2 to 3.

The shocking numbers were the factory Wouxun antenna and the Nagoya NA-701C that I bought to replace the factory antenna.

SWR numbers on the factory antenna were over 12. The highly-rated Nagoya NA-701C antennas (I bought three of them) were over 9 to 10, depending on the frequency.

I have read many tests of the Nagoya NA-701 and no one reports SWR numbers anywhere near there. I bought them from a reputable dealer on Amazon. I understand there is a lot of variability in readings, especially with handhelds, but I tried to hold it consistently and tested all the antennas back-to-back on the same radio in the same location and holding it the same way. Range tests showed the antennas performed pretty much as predicted by the SWR numbers. The best were the Diamond handheld and the Tram mobile. The Retevis RHD701 was not too bad, but noticeably better than the Wouxun factory antenna and the Nagoya NA-701C.

It’s days like this that make me wonder if I would have been better off just NOT knowing SWR numbers. I really like my Wouxun KG-UV899, but those high SWR numbers are a bit scary.

Most people never know about SWR with their it’s simply because they have no way of measuring them. Those it’s still seem to operate as normal though. Hmm, does that mean those high SWRs don’t really make much difference? That sort of depends on how much the transmitter is reliant on a well impedance matched antenna, doesn’t it.
I have a sneaking suspicion SWR isn’t as close as could be with any antenna “shorter” than “normal” it antenna. (Normal short antenna length is typically 1/4 wave. Then you have those “stubbys”.)
If your HT is doing what it’s supposed to do in a “normal” manner, don’t obsess about SWR.

VSWR isn’t very simple to measure with a HT. For one, the chassis of the HT helps to make up the ground plane and as a result, that ground plane(ish) antenna is turned into an elevated feed point antenna when you stick a VSWR meter or Wattmeter in-between the radio and antenna. Two, you’ll find that hand held versus body worn operation can also greatly affect VSWR and radiation pattern.

One way you can test your antenna is to build a dummy HT jig. I did had a old Kenwood TK-380 laying around the office that I decided to cannibalize one day. I ended up drilling a 3/16" hole in the bottom of the case, removing all circuitry except for the keypad and display, making some minor modifications to the backplane and antenna connector, and attaching some scrap RG174 to the underside of the SMA connector. While it isn’t perfect, it does result in more practical return loss readings.

The only other way I know to get accurate tests is through the use of a spectrum analyzer and/or vector network analyzer. An example of this type of development is Motorola and their 37 ohm impedance on HT antennas (they were one of the first radio companies to buy a VNA in the 1960’s).

I’d go so far as saying measuring the VSWR of a plug on antenna on a handhold is impossible! The performance of the radio is determined by the antenna. The portable radios have to rely on the person to form part of the ground plane - so it’s your hand, arm, body, and even how you hold it. A fat person might well be a better human ground plane than a skinny one.

You could take the antenna off and stick it on a large metallic ground plane and measure that, but that could be very different to how they perform on t he radio, and even worse when a huge antenna pokes out of a tiny radio on the windows sill. What happens if the antenna design is based on the less than brilliant ground plane the radio presents? Putting it on a proper ground plane could produce spurious and confusing results. Some of the dual band antennas function by virtue of the ground plane, but stacked ones tend to be more free space designs. Some are sleeve dipole designs and don’t actually need the ground plane, and unless you cut them open, you have no clue. My own tests last year produced very contrary results on actual gain - and sticking them on a ground plane again produced odd results. I made up a right angle adaptor so I could try to measure VSWR on the radios, but the 50mm of additional height in the two adaptors kills the results - moving the antenna further from the radio. Sticking a range of antennas on a ground plane makes measurements possible, and quite accurate ones, but really tells you little about how they work in normal use.

I’m not sure it matters that much - if you have an alternative then you try it and use whichever works best at that location.

On commercial radios, they tend to use one simple antenna that covers a huge band - if they could improve performance significantly, I’m sure there would be an expensive option, and there isn’t!

There actually is…one of the reasons Company A’s radios may cost more than Company B’s even thought they apparently do the exact same thing (add in some have written off the development over 50+ years as industry leaders). It’s also why you should buy Company A’s radio over Company B’s…better general, in-field, performance. It’s a case of making the antenna is no more expensive than making a normal duck antenna…adding the matching circuitry into the radio make it work more efficiently takes the know-how.

You all make very good points. I have now stopped testing aftermarket antennas because so few of them made any difference. I have wasted a lot of money on aftermarket antennas that make little to no difference in field conditions. When I tested SWR, I use a jig that tests every antenna back-to-back with a consistent angle, hand position and body position. I also ignored small differences in SWR numbers, and I learned very early on to ignore “glowing” reviews about the big-name aftermarket antennas.

With HTs, longer is better, and lower SWR performs better than higher SWR, but ultimately, a good factory antenna on a well-designed quality radio, is hard to beat by anything aftermarket - big brand names; custom-made boutique antennas; etc., notwithstanding.

I rarely use my SWR meter anymore.

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