Palstar AT-AUTO vs Palstar HF-AUTO

Please note the Palstar AT-AUTO is the same as the Kessler Engineering AT-AUTO.

Over the last 15 years I have owned four or five Palstar tuners along with antenna analyzer, dummy load, baluns, speakers and other miscellaneous accessories. For the most part I have to say I have been very pleased with everything except Paul’s choice of cross needle meters in most of his products. Call it a personal preference it you wish, but I just don’t like them.

Regarding the tuners, its best to start off with a little history. The Palstar AT-AUTO tuner was originally developed with the assistance of Don Kessler. Not knowing all the details, lets just say that Don had a falling out with Palstar and ended up filing a lawsuit. They settled out of court and Kessler ended up with exclusive rights to the AT-AUTO.

Unfortunately, for those of us that owned the AT-AUTO we instantly had a bastard product with little or no support. I could not get support from Palstar because he was either bitter over the lawsuit or legally prohibited from providing it so.

To compound the problem Kessler was not able to provide full support either or at least initially. He has since been very helpful with sourcing components like the switches that Palstar used and I have read online where others have sent the tuner in for updates and repair.

OK, enough with that 🙂

I recently bought a HF-AUTO to use in the shack along side my AT-AUTO.  I needed the ability to tune two antenna systems at once which are connected to my new Array Solutions 8-pack.

Both tuners are “old school” heavy duty roller inductor/variable capacitor design, controlled by state of the art microprocessor stepper motor front ends.

AT-AUTO – I purchased this unit over 10 years ago and it has worked fantastic with only a couple issues. The micro-switch that acts as a limit switch for the roller inductor failed and the mode switch which gets a lot of use started getting finicky.

The AT-Auto includes a current balun so you can connect a balanced feedline and has one coax output. I am not a fan of tuner baluns as my preference is either a remote balun or a real balanced line tuner.  As I already mentioned the front panel includes a cross needle meter which I find useless and a small LCD display for information and tuner setup.  A lot of users complained about static issues with the cross needle meters and Kessler sells a improved replacement.  More info at their website http://kesslerengineeringllc.com .

The unit tunes perfectly all of my antennas regardless of the mismatch. Once tuned it stores settings in memory for easy recall and stays tuned (more on that in a moment). One function I like in the AT-AUTO which is missing in the HF-AUTO is the ability to clear memories.

HF-AUTO – Although similar in RF design to the AT-AUTO the unit is more refined on the front end with a larger display which shows more information at a glance. Mode, antenna, frequency, inductor and capacitor position, peak power and SWR. Compare that to the AT-AUTO which in my case shows “Automatic Mode Ready COAX” and nothing more.

On the back of the unit you will find no balanced line connection but three connections for coax instead of one.  This is a plus in my opinion because as I already mentioned I am not a fan of internal balun operation.  The tuner memories are specific to antenna port  so when you switch frequencies the memory is specific to the antenna port chosen.

So the only issue with the HF-AUTO (and its a big one) is the tuner often attempts to re-tune after it has a good match and you start transmitting. To make it worse it really doesn’t stop trying to do this so you end up putting the tuner in manual.  This is not specific to my station as I have two local hams I talk to on 160 that have the same issue and a few other operators complain about it as well.

In summary, I prefer the improved interface of the HF-AUTO, the lack of cross needle metering and 2 extra coax ports. But having to put the HF-AUTO in manual after you have found a good match is a big two thumbs down for me. So for now, the AT-AUTO is the better operating tuner in most cases.

Hopefully Palstar will fix this issue as I really like the unit. I also hope that Don Kessler uses his talents to further improve the AT-AUTO and ultimately gets a AT-AUTO version 2 into production.  If he does, I hope its in the $1,500 range and not a super tuner commanding twice that price (as I have heard rumored) because the majority of hams can’t swing something with a price tag that large. I know I can’t.

Regarding the coax outputs Kessler Engineering offers a really nice CX-AUTO add-on for the AT-AUTO. This allows you to extend the number of antennas to eight. It will also work on the input allowing you to select between 8 different radios. I have not really checked it out but there is a fair amount of intelligence involved and it appears the switch has quite a bit of functionality. http://kesslerengineeringllc.com/switches.html

On a final note there is a nice Windows application out called HF AUTO remote control. Terry Glagowski W1TR created the software and its a nice addition for any HF-AUTO user. More info here.