Used Alpha 87A / by Brian Lambert

Years ago I owned an Alpha 87A amplifier. When I took a break from Amateur Radio, it wound up in the care of an old friend, N1IW (sadly, now a SK), and then later found its way to another friend, K0TV who is still using it today.

I absolutely loved that amplifier.

When I became active again, I was lucky enough to still be in possession of my IC-PW1 amplifier (after K1IR had cared for it for many years), so I started off using that. The IC-PW1 is a fine amplifier. It mates perfectly with my IC-7800 and produces a KW+ with ease on every band. You can't really go wrong with an IC-PW1.  81 reviewers on eHam.net rate it 4.4/5.0 stars (88%).

But it's no Alpha 87A.

The Alpha 87A has been called "The best auto-tune Amateur Radio amplifier ever built", and I agree with this statement. It's a TANK that just works. 95 reviewers on eHam.net rate it 4.8/5.0 stars (96%).

Here's a great example of the many fine things people on eHam.net have to say about the Alpha:

I spent 45 years as an RF Engineer, and I’ve seen a lot of PA’s, but this one is genius — it just lays there and does it’s job, quietly and competently. The best value for dollar I ever spent.

The unit I bought has a serial number of 91470326. This means that:

91 - It was made in 1991.
47 - It was made in the 47th week of 1991 (November).
0326 - It's the 326th Alpha 87A ever made.

It's 24 years old!

When I looked inside, I was very surprised. It didn't look like an amplifier that was made 24 years ago. It looked like a brand new unit that just rolled off the factory floor. There wasn't even one piece of dust inside the cabinet.

Here's the front view (I has started removing screws at this point, so that's why they're missing).

 Alpha 87A front view.

Alpha 87A front view.

 Alpha 87A cropped front view. The panel, switches, and LEDs are all clean.

Alpha 87A cropped front view. The panel, switches, and LEDs are all clean.

 Alpha 87A with cover removed.

Alpha 87A with cover removed.

 Alpha 87A top shot. It's super clean inside (though it looks like someone dinged up the power transformer a bit on the lower-left edge).

Alpha 87A top shot. It's super clean inside (though it looks like someone dinged up the power transformer a bit on the lower-left edge).

Here's a video!

Using PuTTY, I was able to connect to the Alpha 87A and check it out. The first thing I checked was that the DATE command reports data that matches the serial number printed on the back:

DATE
DATE CODE = 9147
SERIAL NUMBER = 0326

The next thing I checked was the firmware version. I wanted to be sure that the AlphaMax firmware was installed by a previous owner:

VER
VER. = 1.00-AT

Everything looked right with the amp from the command interface.

The original price of the Alpha 87A was $6,500. In 2008 or so, they commanded about $4,000 a piece used. These days the price is considerably lower. About $3,000 seems normal for a late model unit, and less for older ones. I paid quite a bit less than $3,000, so I think I did pretty well, especially when the condition of the amp is taken into account.

I'm excited for this addition to the shack and hopeful that it'll give me years of use. They only think I need to think about now is obtaining a set of 3CX800A7's. I think it makes sense to get them now and keep them for the future.

73 de N1IK