Antenna height is what matters, directivity next and low noise & loss as well. I have a pair of phased horizontal loops, but only use them for close in ragchew work. You probably have a lot more activity in your region than you think. You just can't hear it. As far as radios, I had a few FT-221R. I had some difficulty with the receive on them. I eventually got one with the Mutek board (I still have it) and it was a big improvement. However, once I got my first FT-736R I began to realize what great receive meant for SSB weak signal work, especially on tropo. (I have tried quite a few radios, many of those mentioned here, over the years and still go back to the 736R to this day). I now have a Cushcraft 13el yagi with a really great low-noise mast mounted LNA up at around 65' and the FT-736R is a beast on receive. I can hear stations who can't hear me, even with the Commander 144-VHF kilowatt I run! I also have a Flex 5000 with the 2m board, but I just can't believe the FT-736R is better on receive, yet it is. I use good Times Microwave LMR-600 up to the antennas. I use a mast mounted LNA with a .4dB noise figure and a 15 MHz internal bandpass filter on the input on a sequencer, so I don't amplify the noise on the coaxial or amplify out of band signals from the antenna, which always exist on 2M. Never use a preamp in an amplifier or near the radio end. You're just amplifying all the noise built up on the run down to the radio, which can often bury the weakest more distant SSB signals. Signal to noise ratio is a literal thing on 2m antenna systems used for weak signal SSB. You want as little noise as possible compared to the signal you are receiving. Don't get me started on trying to get good grounding on VHF. It's really difficult and requires very specific engineering to get anything even partially effective, yet it is still very important from a noise perspective. The point is if you do not give the radio a great high-gain, low-noise, very high and directive antenna, any serious 2M SSB work that is DX in nature just isn't going to happen no matter how good the radio is. You will only reap the benefit of a great radio if it has a well engineered antenna system as high up as practical. VHF/UHF SSB DX is much more challenging than HF in actuality. You can string up a wire and work the world on HF. With VHF ... everything has to be engineered well or you're just gonna hear noise, and never hear those tiny signals ping-ponging through those weird and elusive atmospheric waveguides. All that being said ... I do love the FT-736R. Still an awesome SSB radio for VHF/UHF DX. BTW, I do have a nice one (144/440) up for sale in the Swapmeet forum.