The Hallicrafters SX-88: a rare find and a gem of engineering

Hallicrafters-SX-88

Yesterday while glancing through the QTH.com classifieds ads, I noticed a rare boat anchor for sale: the Hallicrafters SX-88.

The seller, Jeremy, describes this SX-88 as follows:

Hi [t]here, I have one SX88 in minty shape and is one of a handful that came in military green on [the] front panel for evaluation by the military. This is an exceptional radio in amazing condition. I can provide pics for someone who is seriously interested. I am open to a fair offer on radio. Please, no low-ballers. We all know what [it’s] worth…

Halli-SX-88-QTH-Ad“We all know what it’s worth–?

Well, it just so happened that my good friend (and Elmer, or ham radio guru) Mike Hansgen (K8RAT) had recently provided me with a little history lesson on the subject of the SX-88, so I did know what this rig is worth: a great deal of money.

But curiosity got the best of me, so I contacted Jeremy (a nice fellow, by the way) and asked what he was expecting to receive in exchange for his Hallicrafters SX-88? Jeremy’s reply:

“…$5,500 USD will take it. It is a very rare unit; it was… only one of about 6 [painted green]…for presentation to the military for evaluation.

That price is firm. [I] will not negotiate downward, and shipping [from Ontario, Canada] is extra.”

After receiving this response from Jeremy, I happened to think that I have the reference guide to rare/used shortwave receivers: Fred Osterman’s Shortwave Receivers Past and Present 4th edition. (Click here for more info.)

Osterman’s wonderfully comprehensive guide mentions that the SX-88 is a “highly regarded, rare and collectible model.” As for the rarity of the SX-88, he describes it thus: “Extremely Scarce.” The used price range he gives is from $3,500-7,000 US.

I also have Chuck Dachis’ book, Radios By Hallicraftersin it, he states that the SX-88 is, “the most sought-after Hallicrafters model.” Wow.

After thanking Jeremy for his response, he replied:

“It’s a lot of money for a receiver for certain, but it is a fantastic shortwave receiver as the audio that comes out of it is amazing.

It has 10 watts of audio and into a big speaker–it is second to none. The fidelity is amazing and it is the king of its kind. [For those who like] tube rigs, it is the best of its kind.

For ham purposes on AM it is amazing, and on CW I find it incredible to use.

[W]hen they built this thing they intended to pull all [the] stops out and build the best radio they could for the day with the military in mind. It was an engineering marvel for the day.

Anyway, I have played with it for years now and need to thin out the herd.”

Impressive. And while I just don’t have that kind of money to fork out for a receiver, I did ask myself the question: “If I had $5,500 to blow, would I get that Hallicrafters SX-88?”

And my answer? Yes.  In fact, I would personally drive to Jeremy’s home in Ontario and bring it back; no way I’d trust it to a parcel carrier or the post office…

Click to enlarge (Source: AntiqueRadio.org)

Click to enlarge (Source: AntiqueRadio.org)

Come on, you may say. For a guy who rarely pays over $50 for a vintage receiver, how could you possibly justify that kind of financial and time commitment–?

Well, let’s think of it this way.  I remember when when I paid well over two thousand for my first laptop in college. How much is it worth now? Maybe twenty dollars–?

Many people have retirement funds in investments, some of which are in a variety of innovative companies that they actually patronize–for example, Apple or Microsoft.  But how often can you find an investment that you can actually play with? One which you can turn on, tune in, work the controls, and enjoy?

Yes, I’m sure this is just the sort of justification voiced by many a vintage car collector…So, why not for a museum-worthy radio? After all, they’re not making these anymore.

I expect this Halli will not only hold its value, but will probably increase in value over time.

Ah, well; fun to ponder.  My question to you: Would you buy a $5,500 vintage receiver if you had it to spare?

If your answer is yes, and you do have the money, then you might want to contact Jeremy.

I’m very curious if there are any SX-88 owners among our readership? If so, please comment with your thoughts about the ’88!

And for the rest of us, just so we can revel in the vicarious pleasure of ownership, I’ve included some additional information about the Hallicrafters SX-88 below, including two videos.

Resources (courtesy of Jeremy):


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28 thoughts on “The Hallicrafters SX-88: a rare find and a gem of engineering

  1. Clint W.

    I have an SX88, and have owned quite a few Halli receivers. I had a nice SX62 I sold at Dayton about 10 years ago for 250, it also was a nice receiver with plus of the FM broadcast band to take advantage of the push/pull audio out. On investigating the price of SX88’s today, 10/2021, they have not held their value at all. My estimate is maybe $800 for this one, and it is cosmetically very nice. This one has an internal factory defect missed by Q&A, and hard to see how they missed it, one gap between two teeth on one of the drive gears was not cut deep enough, so it has a slight hitch in its get-along. Also, the toothed drive belt is unobtainium, a fellow was planning a custom run of them if he had enough takers years ago, but never heard about if it happened or not. Thankfully, this was free to me in exchange for radio repair work on other gear, but the original owner paid well into 4 figures about 20 years ago for it. Since the advent of the SDR, very few are interested in boat anchor gear unless it is dirt cheap and in working order. The big screen and colorful waterfalls are the draw now. Only the real radio-centric person is interested in the old stuff, and today, the vast majority have limited understanding of radio history and progression, or how a triple conversion receiver works at all, and a desire for this SX88 is more of the desire to possess, than to enjoy its quality. Wait a while longer if you want one, they will be showing up in downsizing ads and estate sales, or headed to the dump by relatives who want dad’s or grandpa’s junk out of the house.

    Reply
  2. Mark

    SX 88 prices are declining. A good looking (great front panel, pitted chassis) working one sold on EBay recently for just under $2500. I am buying an even better looking one for $2500 which works but hasn’t been recapped. Truly like new ones will still command much higher prices but I think $2500 could become the new norm. The unavailability of bandswitch drive belts means that many SX 88s are destined to become single band receivers. I wonder if there is some way to prolong belt life. Lubing the drive train to lower stress should help. What about treating the belt with some chemical to retard oxidation?

    Mark
    AF6IM
    http://www.parachutemobile.com

    Reply
  3. Arthur Smith

    I honestly think this radio is so revered because most people have never heard, or tuned one. It has taken on a mythology all it’s own. There are great Hallicrafters radios available today that can be very enjoyable to tune and listen to, that cost thousands less, and look every bit as nice. Restored SX-28, 42, 62, or 71’s will provide fantastic listening experiences, and can be found and used today.

    Reply
  4. David

    I had one of these radios in much earlier days and it was absolutely first-rate. Interesting to note that the CommRadio Cr-1a can do more and is only about 16 cubic inches, but no significant speaker is included. The only problem with tube radios is finding the tubes. I suppose that are all being made by the Chinese and Russians.

    Reply
    1. DanH

      David, NOS receiving tubes are easy to find on eBay, often at very favorable prices. NOS tubes usually test and work as good as new despite their age. A tube substitution book is a useful tool especially when looking for JAN tubes which are often of better quality than the consumer market counterparts.

      Reply
  5. Liz

    I am interested in the SX-88 that is for sale! Please refraine from putting it on eBay until we have a chance to talk.

    If you have already sold it please let me know.

    My email: ct1@cell-tel.com

    De Liz K4GHT

    Reply
    1. Jeremy

      Manuel
      If I can be of any help drop me a line and I can give you any info I may have on the rig.

      good luck

      Jeremy

      Reply
      1. Manuel

        Thanks. I am thinking to put it in Ebay, but maybe there are webs and places of Ham radio better. I do not about it.

        Reply
          1. Jeremy

            Receiver looks nice manuel. If it works it will bring a good price. What price is in receiver?

          2. Manuel

            Yes, it works fine, and I have the original speaker. I think it will start above 1000 USD,

          3. Manuel

            Ok, I will post here the auction, if it is correct to do here.

            If not, please send me a email.

            Thank you.

  6. 13DKA

    If you can’t afford shelling out 5k for a vintage boatanchor with brilliant mil-spec engineering inside, consider scouring German eBay for Siemens e309 and in particular e311 receivers. Shipping to the US may render the reasonable prices somewhat less compelling tho. A 309 weighs like 100 pounds. (OK, 38kg to be precise, still more than a IKEA couch)

    Finding a well-maintained and well-aligned example with good toobs when you’re located at or beyond the western shore of the big pond appears to be prohibitive of course, but what you get is… German engineerink from a time when this term/slogan/blurb actually meant something. I had an e309 for a while, it set me back by 100 Deutschmarks back then, and it was the most impressive radio I’ve ever seen or used. It’s a (IIRC) 13-toob single conversion receiver with 4 (!) tuned circuits (featuring a variable capacitor with the diameter of a fat man’s upper leg and 4 segments) and continuously variable bandwidth between 0.5 and 10kHz. Despite being a single conversion receiver, it swallows any signal that any wire/antenna/beam/the Eiffel tower can throw at them without a hitch and it picked up yachts in the pacific for me, transmitting with 100w on 20m, while my other receivers, including a FRG-7700 and a ICF-2001D had problems utilizing their sensitivity. Looking inside that rig makes mechanics say “they don’t make anything like this anymore” in tears. They were made in the 50s and served many years with the German army and navy, and on numerous merchant ships for decades, just needing a new toob every now and then.

    The e311 is its 60s successor, with a mechanical digital frequency readout and a much refined double conversion circuitry, I never had one of those but they’re legend over here. They’re typically going on eBay for 600€/$700, the e309 can be anything between $200 and $500 or more. The e311 has some optional spectrum display, RTTY convertors etc. a complete set can be quite expensive, but still much less than that rare SX-88.

    Of course you still have to keep in mind that – while they are truly amazing professional receivers and a statement about mechanical quality, sturdiness and workmanship, they are still old analog boatanchors. Many modern SDR-based rigs are in the same wheelhouse price-wise but they weigh 37 kilograms less and come without the need to replace the old black capacitors, without the supply woes re toobs and with warranty. But you admire giant cog wheel gears made of indestructible steel in your radio, these old Siemens receivers are sure something you should do some Google research on.

    Reply
  7. Moshe Ze'ev Zaharia

    Wow! what A radio!
    I whish I could buy this one. Beside the cost of the set itself and the delivery cost,
    any “sofisticated” radio requiers ham license to be imported here in Israel: ordinary user or SWLer cannot import something that is more than “AM/FM stereo portable” and that includes communication receiver.
    Anyway, this is one amazing radio! I can only wish the new proud ouner many years of fun with this set.

    Best Regards,
    Moshe.

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      Wow, Moshe–I had no idea Israel had those sorts of import requirements. I see where that could make it difficult to bring any high-end receiver into the country.
      -Thomas

      Reply
      1. Moshe Ze'ev Zaharia

        Indeed Thomas:
        Anything more than Sangean ATS909X or the Sony ICF-SW7600GR is “suspected” by the custom and the ministry of comunication.
        Unless ones has A ham license, that allows him to issue permit t import A decent communication receiver.

        Best Regards,
        Moshe.

        Reply
  8. Jeremy Lewis

    Thank you Thomas for the nice notes on the sx88. I am thrilled that we all still have the keen interest in these fine old radios. I wish they were not so expensive so all of us could have one as I know we all would enjoy it! I was fortunate to come across this one and had some spare money at the time and jumped on it and am really glad I did. Anyway I just love the mystique of sitting on an early morning coffee in hand and tuning the bands listening to what is out there. I love to experiment with antennas and enjoy trying different antennas for that little bit of extra signal as we all do I am sure! Anyway good luck with the Blog and I hope everyone here gets that same magical feeling as I do while tuning the bands and trying to capture that one rare location! Good Dx and 73 to all. VA3JL

    Reply
  9. Ken

    If I had the disposable income I would buy the 88 in a heartbeat. After living with a SX-25 Super Defiant through my teens and 20’s I would still to this day like another Halli!!

    Ken

    Reply
  10. buzz

    Chuck Dachis – I bought my first transmitter from Chuck. His house is amazing. From the outside it looks ordinary; the inside is a Hallicrafters museum.

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      WOW! I can only imagine. When I flip through his book, I feel like I’m walking through a candy store! I love Hallicrafters radios.
      -Thomas

      Reply

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