Monday, December 7, 2015

Receivers and Other Radios - Part 2

An anonymous comment to Part 1 brought up a question I think I should answer, and as I've said before, the only real privilege to owning a blog like this is getting to write a wall of text to a simple question.  The question was:
Can I ask why you chose the VX-6R and not one of those Baofeng radios from China? Your Yaesu is over $200 while the Baofengs are under $50.
The cheating answer here - in the sense that it doesn't answer the real question but is the truth - is that I hadn't heard of Baofeng when I got the Yaesu, and I don't think Baofeng radios were imported into the US at that time.  Again, that's not the answer Anon wants.

What I said yesterday was that for trying to hear the AM,FM or Shortwave broadcast bands, the $18 Kaito outperformed the Yaesu VX-6R, so if I'm understanding you correctly, you're thinking why not get a Baofeng for transmitting on VHF/UHF and the Kaito for general coverage?  In short, I think that's a fine approach!  I don't have any personal hands-on experience with the Baofeng or other Chinese radios, although friends tell me they're entirely serviceable.  Given that, something like this would serve your 2meter/440 FM needs for $34.  Add the Kaito and you have much of the capability of the VX-6R, but not all of it, for well under half the price.  The Yaesu tunes through other services you might want to listen to, like land mobile (police and fire), weather radio, Family Radio (FRS) and other scanner fare.  Plus, it transmits on the 225 MHz band, which that particular Baofeng doesn't.  Finally, the VX-6R is submersible; waterproof to 3 feet of water for 30 minutes (Japanese Industry Standard JIS7), although there are things the user needs to comply with to keep it from being damaged. 

I've heard that the Baofeng and other Chinese radios can be difficult to use, but I don't think they have anything on the Yaesu.  As Dr. Jim says, if I'm not using it regularly, I can forget how to do most things with it.  That's the problem with these little radios.  A big radio has room for a control panel with lots of buttons.  With these micro radios, to get some function you want, you'll need to press button A for two seconds, then press Button C for one second and it only works if you stand on your left foot with your tongue hanging out... that sort of thing.  I can switch VFO to memory and back, or key in a frequency in VFO mode, but that's about it.

The first really broadband receiver I bought was a now obsolete Icom radio called an R10.  This tuned 0.5 to 1300 MHz, and the version I have has no frequencies blocked.  On any frequency, you could punch up any mode to listen to, broadcast FM, narrow FM, AM, even Single Sideband.  The Yaesu VX-6R and most of the newer radios will decide what mode you want based on the frequency you enter.  That made my R10 usable as a "poor man's spectrum analyzer", and I brought it to work for years.  Sometimes we'd hear something unexpected and it was a sanity check: if I heard it in the R10 and the radio I was working on, it was real.  If not, it was a problem in the radio I was working on.

Like the Yaesu, if you put a signal generator on the antenna connector and measure its sensitivity, it's quite good.  If you hooked it to the meager little, rubber ducky antenna that comes with the radio, that's a disappointment.  A worthwhile experiment would be to try to put different length wires on the broadband radios and see what makes a good antenna.  A lot of shortwave listeners have just put up a random length of wire; 30 feet, 50 feet, whatever, and use it for listening to the entire 3 to 30 MHz spectrum.
Despite the little rambling here, I hope this answered your question


  1. I have a UV-5R that I carry on the Iowa.

    It's certified for use on "commercial" frequencies, as well as Part 97 certified.

    It programs easily using CHiRP, even the alpha tags on the channels.

    Yep, they're very serviceable little radios, built surprisingly well, and IF I should happen to drop it overboard, I'm not out the $250 my Yaesu cost.

  2. Apparently some of them are part certified, but not all. This is a great subject of debate and lots of back and forth online. There have been cases of FCC action against people using them outside ham bands.

    They'd never be legal on FRS due to the detachable antenna, for example.

    The ARRL has tested versions and they are very noisy (spurious emissions.)

    That said,I have good things to say about my UV5R+plus. Great value for money. Not super hard to figure out the basics. And a good "gateway drug" for ham radio. Now that I know I like talking on the radio, I got a Yaesu FT60. It's a toss up which one will go in the bag, as the UV5 seems to get better battery life, but I like the feel of the FT60 better.

    So, I personally know how I'll use mine, and I like the way it performs. I do like the yaesu too....


  3. For what they are a UV5R is an ok radio. But compared to the capabilities of any Yeasu, Icom or Kenwood, they are a POS.
    I liken it to if you were going to go across country (and gas was $1.00 would you rather drive in a big old Cadillac or an old style 4 cylinder VW. Yea you will get to the east coast, but that 60 hp motor and those little 3/4" shock you would be exhausted.
    Same way with Baofang, 30-40% depending on the test don't meet factory standards, when you broadcast the 2nd and 3rd harmonics are all over the place, they are a bitch to program in the field (yes I know about CHIRP), fragile and have more buttons than god and they don't make sense.
    It's my view great radio for the glove compartment, BOB, or Cache, but everyday use no way.

  4. There's an old aphorism from Aldo Gucci: "The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price has faded from memory."

    Not that the Baofengs don't work, they do, and work well, and at a much lower price point than other radios. But, and it's a big "but," as you pointed out the hidden price is time: lots of button pushing in certain sequences to activate particular functions. (I'm ignoring the minor -to-intermediate limitations of the basic design). I learned eons ago that "Function is King" when it comes to technology; if it's hard to use you won't use it, whatever it is, be that a particular function or an entire unit, and sometimes that can be an inconvenience, sometimes much more.

    A simple example: I'm periodically involved in a volunteer activity in which several of us, from 3 to 8, perform parallel functions over a moderately-sized area. We employ FRMS radios to pass information between us. After several instances in which Joe didn't know what Susie passed along, and Cheryl had no clue that Fred had requested something, we traced the problem to the mutlple brands of FRMS radios in use - each brand, and some models within a brand, had entirely different progamming modes for alerts, or VOX versus PTT, no one knew all the programming steps required (including those who owned that particular radio), these batteries didn't work in that radio, Albert's charger won't charge Brian's radio, George neglected his duties while he was trying to program the base channel we use for auto alerts, etc. I term this particular ailment "Option Addiction."

    Our solution was simple: funds were pooled and an identical dozen of the simplest, cheapest radios were procured (extras are spares and replacements for in-service failures). Chargers, batteries and functions are universal across the lot, and while some range and "nifty featurism" were sacrificed, operating instructions in 9-point type could be permanently attached to the back of the radio, and in a pinch, a 1-minute cell call could explain to a new member how to set the thing up.

    Engineers are both anal retentive and OCD, and we lurves some engineering, often at the expense of rationality in use of a device. Despite Einstein's caution about it, simpler is better, and much simpler is much more betterer.

  5. Sparks31, a great radio resource for the prepper or patriot has recently quit blogging and removed most of his good stuff, but he posted a link to a free download of his newsletter.

    It has a couple of articles that are relevant to this discussion.