SteppIR BigIR – How does it perform?

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SteppIR mounting location (before radial install)

I have to say I am pretty happy with my SteppIR BigIR installation. Most of this can be contributed to the fact it’s the polar opposite of my other  antenna’s   which are typically supported at low elevations (wavelength speaking) with high angles of radiation. This is great for state side contacts but lacks in performance when it comes to DX.

The SteppIR does much better with 10-40 meter communications at long distances. On the high bands where you can switch between 1/4 and 3/4 wavelength mode you can also play the gain vs angle of radiation game.  The 3/4 mode actually works quite well in MOST situations as the additional gain seems to offset the slight loss in the lower angle radiation areas.

In my case where one antenna seems to have noise any given day, the other one seems to be quiet. On the first night after installing radials we had a storm coming in and during my evening 160 rag chew I used the BigIR as a receiving antenna and it worked quite well.

Executive Summary

I would say that on 10, 15, 17 and 20 meters the SteppIR will beat out my other antennas 85% of the time. The fact I can choose 1/4 or 3/4 mode on two of those bands gives it an additional edge since I can tailor the antenna to the station I am working.  On 40 meters its about 50/50 compared to my 270′ balanced fed dipole. Stateside contacts are stronger on the Dipole and DX on the BigIR is noticeably better.  When first installed I was going to say (and did) my dipole wins on 80 meters hands down but after experiencing changing band conditions, etc. I was pleasantly surprised with the usefulness of the BigIR on 80 at times. Once again its nice to have an antenna that is the polar opposite from your others !

You may have noticed I left out 6 meters. Well to be honest I have not had a chance to play with it and I am confident it will always be a crappy 1/4 wave antenna on 6 meters however it may work a little better in the 3/4 wave mode.  Why do I say this?  Well a 1/4 wave on 6 meters is only a little over 4′ long.  When you install the 80 meter add-on coil it shortens the antenna to the point where its only about 2 feet tall.  How do you think this will work?  I personally don’t have a lot of faith in a 2′ antenna mounted at ground level. Running 3/4 mode the antenna is about 105″ long in my particular installation. Still not great but better than nothing.  My guess is if you are serious about 6 meters, you might want to use something else.

I also have a zero-five antenna and 200 watt SGC remote tuner that I purchased used and decided not to install. I have 4 friends locally that have or have had the zero-five 43′ multi-band vertical using the un-un transformer and/or remote tuners. So my “observations” on the pro’s and cons are based on that, my cost research and the EZNEC modeling I have done for a 43′ vertical.

At first glance the cost difference between the zero-five vertical and SteppIR seems huge. It is significant however by time you consider all the other required cost associated with BOTH antennas it is not as bad as one might think.  For the antenna to be truly omni directional you need 360 degrees of radials.  Depending on what theory you follow the radials need to be a certain length. In my case I felt 60′ was the number for the longest radials.  This means your antenna needs to be the radial distance away from your house.  There is also something to be said about the performance of an antenna shielded on one side by your house. Remember the current point is at ground level on a 1/4″ wave ground mounted antenna and that is where most of your signal comes from. So consider the cost for coax and control cable (which is even higher if you get the bury kind).

The cost of radials is expensive. Copper is not cheap.  If you have not looked lately a 500′ roll of 14 gauge will run you between $40 and $50. In my case I used 7 rolls. So the cost of coax, control cable and radials is going to be a constant no matter which antenna you choose. Add in turf staples and a radial plate (optional) and that is going to run the bill up another $125.00.

The Zero-five works pretty well with an un-un at the base of antenna on 10 to 40 meters and is a legal limit antenna for those bands.  It will “work” on 80 and 160 meters with the un-un however the line loss with coax is so extreme you really can’t get much performance out of it. The only option is to add a remote tuner at the base. If you want something legal limit like the Palstar you need to be prepared to spend a small fortune on a tuner. SGC has a couple nice tuners that work very well but with 100 and 200 watt power limits don’t think about turning on your amp. Not to mention they are $360 and $595 respectively.

I modeled out both antennas with EZNEC and the performance of the SteppIR vs 43′ vertical are similar on average. The SteppIR kills the zero-five on 10 meters for DX angles of radiation and on one of the lower bands the Zero-five beats the SteppIR. One thing to note is the 43′ zero-five has a higher current point on some bands which can help getting your signal away from near bye objects.

So the pro’s and con’s.

SteppIR BigIR

Cons
-Initial cost
-Much more assembly required
-Theoretically more maintenance (it does have a motor in it).
-Requires more conductors in control cable (compared to 43″ if you choose remote tuner)
-Will not do 160 meters.
– Lacking on 6 meters compared to a real antenna

Pro’s
-Legal limit
-It literally will tune any  frequency between 6 meters and 80 meters and not just the ham bands.
-You can play with the 1/4 and 3/4 mode from the comfort of your shack on the higher bands.
-Its is literally resonant where you transmit.
-You have another cool gadget (control box) for shack 🙂
-Green and black and blends with tree’s

43′ Zero-Five Vertical

Cons
– Not resonant on any band.
-Require un-un or remote tuner.
-Higher loss with un-un and some bands unusable loss with un-un.
-Bad DX antenna for 10 meters
– Shiny and screams hello to neighbors. Could be a Pro to some neighbors.
– Requires tuner for 80 and 160 really. Cost from $350 to $1800 depending on what power limits you want.

Pro’s
– Cheaper initial cost
– Will do 10 meters where BigIR wont
– No maintenance really. Its just a stick of aluminum.
– Easier to knock down and move.
– Higher current point on some bands may perform better

Links

General BigIR

BigIR assembly

BigIR installation