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Reviews

TYT MD-2017

First off lets start with a caution: TYT, Radioddity and probably others, supply software that is flagged as a virus by multiple antivirus companies when scanned with VirusTotal.com. If you are not familiar with VirusTotal, it allows you to scan files for viruses using multiple databases which provides better protection than a singe antivirus installed on a PC. Ok more on this later. On to the MD-2017.

It seems that the Chinese are looking to put big name radio suppliers out of business. Not that long ago Baofeng was unknown. At first people were skeptical. Now Baofeng is the ubiquitous radio. It seems everyone has one. Its a great way to get into ham radio. For under $30 its a deal. Sure there are problems with it but what else gets you dual band for $30 bucks!? It seems with the recent offerings from China that the Chinese are serious about taking business away the big manufacturers. There are new offerings that allow hams to get into digital and Dual Band to boot. Today we look at the TYT MD-2017

As of this writing the MD-2017 has been out for almost a half year or so. Its still pretty new and some bugs have been worked out in firmware updates. I would think that more are going to come. I are testing firmware version 3.036.

The MD-2017 offers dual band TRUE tier 2 DMR at a price under $200. Oh and for that price you can have GPS too. The Radio Comes with a programming cable and software (Caution: trojan malware!) and TYT offers updates via their website at TYT888.com

The build quality is good. Actually its quite good. It claims to be IP67. I wouldn’t consider this a rugged radio though. For those used to rugged commercial radios like Motorola’s or Kenwood’s you will notice that it feels a bit cheap. When I compare it to my old Yaesu FT-270 i find the MD-2017 feeling cheap mostly due to its lighter weight. The lighter weight can be a good thing if you want a lighter radio that is waterproof. There is a aluminum frame and gaskets that help keep water out of the battery contacts so expect this to do well overall.

MD-2017 Battery

As far as RF performance goes, I have yet to put it on a service monitor and do some measurements. I can say that the radio sounds good in digital and OK for analog. I have noticed that there is a hissing sound in analog much like the old analog 800mhz phones. this would suggest poor receiver performance. There are also squelch issues with radio in analog. The radio will fail to close squelch in a timely manner on some transmissions. This leads to long awkward static bursts that remind you that this is a Cheap Chinese radio. Reports from users though say that the transmissions from this radio sound good in analog and digital. Perhaps a better antenna would improve things. There are rumors about the antenna and once we test it on a analyzer we will see. I suspect that most of these issues are in part due to the fact that this is marketed for commercial use which means the antenna is probably tuned for frequencies just above the HAM bands where most people are using them here in the US.

Speaking of the antenna, There have been reports of the SMA connector breaking. This is bad news but sounds familiar. In fact My $8000 radio had the same issue. Yes you heard that right $8000 radio! the Motorola APX 8000 had issues that led to FSB11117A. It is the same issue.  So while its a problem, it seems even $8000 worth of radio can have the same issues.

Seeing that Motorola had the same issue it would further support that the Chinese are desperately trying to copy Motorola. Just looking at the New radios like the MD-2017 and its an obvious style knock off of the Motorola radios. The speaker grill has the same rounded bars. The PTT button is lined with a color plastic like the Motorola radios and the side connector is a similar style too.

The side connector brings up another point. The MD-2017 has a nice side connector but its just a ribbon cable with some thick black paint isolating the different connectors. Be sure to keep the easy lose cover on the radio at all times to ensure that this connector stays in good shape. It wouldn’t take much to ruin this connector.

Now one thing that I like about the MD-2017 is that it has programmable buttons. Something many HAM radios are lacking. I hate having a engineer decide how to use my radio. Having the programmable buttons adds to the functionality of the radio. This is something I wish more expensive HAM radio manufacturers would notice and add to newer builds.

There is also the unusual addition of a track ball. This has been a debated subject for many online. While I must admit I would prefer a directional keypad with up, down, left, right, I find that the track ball does its job. I hope it is rugged enough to last. I have much more of a issue with the fact that you cannot program zone up and zone down. One of the big issues I have with HAM radios is the lack of Zones. I work with public safety radios for my job and the idea of Zones is stuck in my head. It allows me to keep all those channels better organized. This is something that I was looking forward too with the MD-2017. The problem is that you can only assign a Zone button. This means that you can cycle zones but if you go past it you must go all the way back around. There is another option to go into the menu and search out your zone and go directly there but who wants to dig through menus?

Menus are another topic with this radio. If you are on a channel that is busy and you are trying to do something in your menu, the radio will keep kicking you out to show you the display of who is talking. This is possibly the biggest failure this radio has to date in my mind. I have to change to a unused channel in order to make changes in my radio without getting interrupted. I hope they can address this in future updates.

The screen has some issues too. While it is a nice color display it only shows up when the back light is on. This means less battery life as you have to keep the back light on in order to see what you are doing. The Radioddity GD-77 doesn’t have a color screen but you can read it better outside and without having the back light on.

The last few points on this radio is that at this time I am unaware of anyway to adjust the radio. There are only two squelch settings: Normal and Tight. While that sounds great, I have no idea what levels they set the squelch at. Also if there were any need to adjust the reference oscillator, I don’t see anywhere to do so in the software. This is a big difference between the cheaper Chinese radios and bigger names. If you buy a Chinese radio, plan on it being disposable rather than an investment you spend money on repairing. The thing is though that at under $200 you can get a whole new radio. That’s cheaper than any flat rate repair cost. In fact I bought this radio at just above the cost of one hour of shop repair time. So if the shop has a one hour minimum it just doesn’t make sense to repair the radio.

Now about that software. It seems that these days anything coming from china (software wise) has some sort of malware on it. China it seems, is trying to get their claws into anything and everything and know that cheap goods are hard to pass up. Its hard to say what the motivation is behind the malware but in any case it makes this radio a NO-GO for recommendations. I was able to install the software on a old PC that had no network connection and no personal information on it nor anything I was worried about loosing. If you are associated with RACES or any other official group I would absolutely stay away from any of the Chinese radios for risk of bringing a computer virus into govt. systems. If the IT security officer finds out that a HAM brought malware into the network you can bet that it will not go well.

My conclusion is that IF you have a dedicated computer that you will never put on the internet nor have any personal or sensitive information on then go ahead and play around with this radio. Its a good but not great radio that gets you into DMR and with some firmware updates could turn into a great radio.

 

 

 

MD-2017 Top view
MD-2017 side
MD-2017 side

 

Surecom SW33 wattmeter review

For those looking to purchase the surecom SW33 power/SWR meter, I have included my findings of the one I purchased.  It can be found on Amazon.com for around $50 at the time of this writing:

I would say that this would be a waste of money overall. I’m sure most of you would agree. At $50 expectations are low. As you can see from the data, the SW33 is somewhat useful in the 2meter band. Unfortunately the device doesn’t perform well when you get to the top end of its range. UHF is sadly un-accurate. I suppose that if you were just looking to see if your radio was in fact doing something that it would show that. As you can see though, Its power reading is half of actual power at the top end if its range. For Ham use, which i would think is the major market for this device, the SW33 doesn’t perform well. I would like to see it cover up to 440Mhz with better results. It tends to perform better just below the 70cm band.

The VSWR function seems to perform better. If I get a chance to compare this to a vector network analyzer I will post that data as well but I suspect that the SW33 will be a better tool as a VSWR meter.

SW33 data

UV-5X3 and Nagoya NA-320A Antenna review.

The Baofeng UV-5X3 is a Tri-band radio offering operation on 2m,1.25m, and 70cm bands. Most popular portable radios are on 2m and 70cm because its easier to manufacture a radio that performs well on these bands. 1.25m however makes things a bit harder to do. Specifically it is difficult to make an antenna that is resonant on all three bands. The UV-5X3 gets around this by giving a dual band antenna for use on 2m and 70cm and an additional antenna for 1.25m. Right now it seems that there is a lot of hype surrounding the Nagoya brand antennas and Nagoya offers a tri-bander, the NA-320A. I decided to order a UV-5X3 and the Nagoya NA-320A to see if I could get a radio that does better on 1.25m than my old Yaesu VX-7R. This

Here (See below) is a screen shot of the Dual band (2m/70cm) antenna that comes with the UV-5X3. As you can see its not too bad. The UHF portion is tuned to a lower frequency and the VHF side is still a little high in VSWR to call great but as far as cheap rubber duckies go I think this is expected results and usable. The UHF is getting rather poor when you start operating in the repeater portion of the band but it looks like the antenna is longer than it should be. A trim might improve this.

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UV-5X3 dual-band antenna (VHF/UHF)

Below you will see a screenshot of the 1.25m antenna. Marker 2 is about where you will be operating for this band. As you can see the antenna is tuned for a little bit lower than this. I was able to trim off about 1.25 inches from this antenna which put 223Mhz right in the sweet spot.

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UV-5X3 1.25m antenna

Here (See below) is a Picture of the Nagoya NA-320A. They managed to get the VSWR lowest in all the right places. At first look its a great trace for a portable antenna. Then you notice that almost the entire trace is above 3:1! what?! I spent some time looking for specs for this antenna but couldn’t find any. My guess is that its for a reason. I would not recommend this antenna based on this and the fact that its a rather large antenna. My guess is that most people will see a gain in receive signal and call it good but the TX will suffer and they have no way of knowing. Tools like this Anristu LMR master don’t come cheap so many Amateur Radio operators have little to go by other than on the air reports.

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Nagoya NA-320A Tri-band antenna

Motorola RLN6554 Bluetooth Mic

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Motorola’s RLN6554 Bluetooth microphone.This could be the best bluetooth mic on the market. Well built when compared to the aftermarket Bluetooth mics that you may be accustom to but it isn’t perfect when paired with Motorola APX radios like the APX 8000. More on that later.

 

The Top of the Microphone has three buttons fulfilling simple functions. on the Left hand side you have the power button. In the Center you will find the volume up and volume down functions, and to the right you will find the familiar Orange emergency button. Simple.

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On the right hand side you will find a Headset jack. A feature many officers will appreciate. This takes the standard 3.5mm plugs.

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On the left you will find the PTT button that is in the same styling as the APX line of portable radios. Just Below the PTT button is a light button (sorry we forgot to get a picture of the LED on the bottom of the mic).

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On the rear of the mic is a rotating clip that allows the mic to mount to clothing at different angles.

As for the performance of the Microphone, Audio is loud and sounds better than most Bluetooth mics. Running the volume at full blast produces a rather impressive level of audio. The PTT button has a crisp break so you can feel if you are keying up. The layout is intuitive and consistent with existing shoulder mics so users will have no problem figuring out how to operate it. Pairing is where Motorola has really made it easy.  With the Portable radio on (Bluetooth turned on as well) simply turn on the microphone and  bring the blue dot on the microphone to the blue dot on the radio and the pairing process will start automatically. No need to scroll through menu’s, search for devices etc. With Motorola’s Accessory Programming Software, users have the ability to customize how the microphone acts. For example users can turn off tones, change the functionality of the light button etc. but what about when used with a APX radio? When we used this mic with a APX 8000 radio we found that the Bluetooth mic had much more gain than the radio mic. This caused audio levels to change depending on what the user was using. We had to tweak with the audio profiles in our radios to get the mic to sound more like the radios mic. I would have expected Motorola to have had this closer right out of the box. A note to technicians setting up APX 8000’s, Pay close attention to the audio settings in CPS. Don’t count on Motorola on this one. Where was I? ahhh yes on with the review…

The Range of the Microphone is quite good. Some of our facilities are in dense concrete buildings. It turns out that a lot of work we do is right were the radio doesn’t have coverage. With the Bluetooth mic, we are able to leave our radio by a window or in a room closer to the exterior where there is coverage. I found it is also nice to leave my radio on my tool bag and just carry the mic with me if i’m up on a ladder. As you start to reach the limit of Bluetooth range, The microphone will beep letting you know you are going to far. The beep is also a good reminder that you might be leaving your radio behind.