Several years ago in the Dayton Hamvention fleamarket this beast of an amplifier revealed itself. I’d only ever seen one other example of this technical marvels of the 1980’s; and oddly enough, it resides in my own county. Neighboring ham and fellow ARD-230A owner Steve W9RO nicknamed the beast “R2D2” because of it’s unique commercial design features. Alas, the siren song could not be overcome. Hamfest buddy Nick N9SJA and I each pooled our funds and gambled $1000 on this mysterious amp. Click below to see a neat, period advertisement from the February 1988 issue of 73 Magazine.
So here’s a quick rundown on the basic specs of the ARD-230. It’s a remotely operated linear amplifier capable of operation on any band from 160m through 10m. The RF deck is integral to the power supply and contains a pair of Eimec 3CX800 metal ceramic tubes. The power supply provides 2300V DC at around 1.5A max. This combination will make 1500W at full duty cycle continuous operation with around 60W drive from the exciter. It’s operated by the remote control head that can be located up to twenty feet away. You can choose from fully automatic operation, semi automatic operation or manual operation modes. It’s capable of sensing the frequency of operation and changing bands automatically, while adjusting the Tune and Load capacitors for ideal settings. During operation it can also sense various abnormalities such as excessive plate or grid currents, or low air flow, and alert the operator or entirely lock out the amplifier for protection.
Much to our dismay the amp proved to be in ill health. Initial testing rewarded us with many tripped breakers. Further inspection found some damage to the undercarriage. Possibly the result of a drop? After some weeks of gentle coaxing I was able to fire it up without tripping breakers. Perhaps the HV power supply caps were re-forming? Now I could apply some low drive and see if it would truly amplify. Fully and semi auto modes proved unsuccessful. Manual mode was slightly better but more discoveries were to come. Further inspection revealed the proverbial golden screwdriver had been used quite liberally on this device. The motor driven air variable caps where totally out of synch, and didn’t even come close to indexing with the 0-180 degree indicators on the display. The shaft couplers from motor to drive, and drive to cap were a mess. The only redeeming values so far have been the beefy power supply with a massive Peter Dahl transformer at its heart and a very clean RF deck. The 3CX800 triodes were still in good shape, too. This is an instance in which the sum of the parts is actually more valuable than the whole. It’s worth more money in pieces! But what a shame to hack the beast…a very unique and capable amp that seems to be fairly rare and something of an enigma for hams. And so it’s lived for several years now–cast away in a dark corner of the ham shack and awaiting its turn on the workbench.
While I haven’t been working on the amp too much, I have had a pretty good opportunity to research it. It’s not without flaws, but they’re few in number. The components are of high quality and it’s even capable of QSK CW operation due the the vacuum relays, for the so inclined. As I understand it, ARD was supposed to produce this amp and badge it for Icom, as a part of their product lineup. In the end, Icom backed out of the deal. What a difference that might have made!
Google searches have turned up tiny bits of information but a lot of it is dated material from old listserv sites and such. I’d be curious to the know the total number produced by ARD. I’d be even more curious to know how many are still in operation. My goal is to refurbish this amp and enjoy a little unashamed QRO operation. This amp is just plain hamsexy! It’s capable of mondo power output if desired. I don’t think it’ll win a key down contest with a Henry 4K Ultra, but we only get 1500W PEP, right? An ARRL search turned up a couple documents from 1988, ’89. I’ve included them below if you’re interested. The first is a product announcement for the amp and the second is their product review. They found it quite capable and were very impressed. Keep in mind that this was a time when a powerful computer of the day had less performance than my smart phone! A little Z80 processor was the brains of the machine. Only a serious ham would’ve had the cash to own one of these. Suggested list price was anywhere from $3500-5500! I think this blog will become a series as I go through the necessary repairs to return R2D2 back to its former glory. Perhaps I’ll even post some videos on my Youtube channel. Hope you enjoy.