A new Radio on the Bench : FT-891

I guess I was one of the many that were hanging out for a new HF mobile rig. The Icom 7000’s days appeared to be numbered so had sold that a while back and kept the trusty 706mk2G but she was getting on and showing her age. still worked alright and had the narrow SSB filter and the DSP installed. Still it was not what you would call a quiet receiver..891-front

The new FT-891 seemed to be the cats meow..latest technology, IF DSP, small and looked pretty simple to use. No VHF was not a problem for me. Didn’t want it. With a US$ price of 699 it had to be a bargain so I jumped in and got my feet wet. I figured with the fiasco over the 450 and the recent 991 both needing upgrades shortly after release Yaesu would get it right this time. It arrived the other day and after a couple of frustrating days I decided to hang it up and put the 590 back on the desk. mic-fitting-etc

It has a few good points and I will mention them first! It is Small. It doesn’t get too hot with long winded SSB use at full power. It put out 86w PEP on 20m out of the box. The TX audio was well received using stock parameters and the processor. The received audio was also OK and I don’t think much different to the 590 or the 7300. Not a bad little set. it is said it pulls 2A on receive…It stays pretty cool so I would question that. I saw no increase in amps on the PSU when I switched it on but that is hardly scientific. 891-back

891-bottomBut I don’t like it. It is not easy to use on the desk so will be very frustrating in the car. My biggest bitch is that there are not enough buttons on the radio to perform frequently required actions. There are a lot of customizeable functions in the menus but you need the manual at your side and a lot of clicking thru the menus to get around. It does not have an LSB and USB function in the mode menu. You get SSB and which SSB you get is determined by another setting buried under SSB BFO. When you set this the whole radio works on only that SSB! Most will run it in the auto mode in which the radio decides which SSB determined by the ham band. They put AM FM CW SSB in the mode menu so why not add LSB and USB instead of SSB. Sounds simple enough to fix in firmware? Yes it is a Ham radio so why should one want to go to the other? Who cares? I some times do. It should be my choice not the radios. There are 3 buttons at the bottom of the display between the clarifier and the function. These can be set to perform any task in the first bank of menus. It came with IF Shift, Scope and NB. I kept the IF shift as it does help with SSB signals but the scope is a joke. What a waste of space. I swapped that for the bandwidth function so can alter the rx bandwidth between 1800 and 3000hz. The NB I swapped for the DNR or Digital Noise Reduction. Set that at any more than one and you loose the signal. Default seems to be one and that’s where I left it. Been playing with the DNR a little more and it certainly cleans the noise off a strong signal but doesn’t work as well with signals in the noise. Have it set on 5 now. Max is 15.   Found I seldom use the clarifier on SSB these days so perhaps they could have used that for another function. 891-display

Processor, IF bandwidth, NB are included in the first range of 12 functions under Function 1.press function again for Function 2 and you get 10 more including AGC, DNR and meter functions. Press it again and you have CW settings and press again to get back to function 1. Any of the functions can be accessed by pushing in the multi knob under the volume/SQ/RF knob. To get out of the function modes hit another button or spin the dial and go off frequency as well. How does one change the power or the mic gain?  Press the F button for a second and you access the real menu which has 160 different menu items and you will find them in that! That a lot of turning the multi knob. You can’t jump, you have to scroll up or down till you find what you are after. Keep the manual close by.  It all adds up to a bit of a PITA.891-function

Has anybody got this thing to key an an external amp other than the Yaesu VL1000? I got a cable, set the menu setting to “lamp” as instructed but the amp refused to key. Maybe the cable is wrong. Never had this problem with a Kenwood or Icom. maybe there are some more settings requiring changing. Not a lot in the manual about driving an external amplifier so maybe like having a separate LSB and USB mode option the engineers decided it wasn’t neccessary. 891-fans

It is a nice enough little radio. ( See the two fans? Must be some more heatsink in the radio that we can’t see for the finals) Pleasant on the bank book, eyes and ears, but; it is missing something. It is missing something that makes you want to go out and buy it and use it. It is kind of unfinished. It needs a killer ap. It needs an ap to tie into your smart phone so you can operate the thing properly and easily. Touch screen buttons with all the frequently used functions at your finger tips. If that is too easy and no added value for Yaesu then a dongle full of buttons to control the radio. I don’t think it is worth sticking in the car the way it is. Unless they really change the way this works I don’t believe it is going to sell very well and the stigma will carry over to the FT-891A which I am sure they are working on already!

I am going to sell it. If I want to go mobile I will put the IC7300 in the car …somewhere..

Sorry Yaesu. I really wanted to like this radio. I had my heart set on it. I find it frustrating. It has to go.

More on the SSB issue. There is a workaround..kind of..But in keeping with this radios design philosophy it is fiddly! For example you want to use LSB on 28305mhz in the 10m band. Firstly you need to go into the SSB BFO menu and change the setting from Auto to LSB. Menu 11-07 under Mode SSB. This turns the whole radio to LSB only. Bring up the frequency you want and save it to a memory and it will be saved in the mode the radio is set for which in this case is LSB. Go back to the 11-07 menu and put it back to Auto. So know we have a LSB frequency in memory in a position the radio wants to read as USB. If we hit M to F button the it will bring up the frequency but automatically convert it to USB. Clever little radio. But if you hit the V/M button the frequency will remain in LSB and if you tune off it with the VFO then MT shows upper left and the LSB is retained. The minute you revert to either VFO the radio will revert to the SSB it wants which is LSB for 40m and below and USB for 30m and above. a useful get around none the less.workaround

Another major piss off is changing the bands. press the band switch and get ready to spin the VFO cos you don’t get much time before the display reverts back to the norm. Hold the cursor over the band for one second and it will change and there is nothing you can do to stop it. It is hard enough on the desk..Be murder mobile. Using this radio other than stationary mobile would be akin to drinking and driving..you will probably have or cause an accident.891-bands

To change bands you use the VFO knob. Everything else uses the multi knob. Leave the band darkened for one second and the radio goes there. I feel it is a little quick …891-top-buttons

The buttons on top require downward force. QMB is useful. Fast controls the tuning speed and there are only two options. The vents feed the two little fans sited behind the display and they blow thru the radio and out the back. There are inlet vents on the bottom and side as well. I must say the radio runs cool which I like. I wonder how much dust is going to get sucked into the guts of the radio. There are two circuit boards and the fans blow over under and between them. Going to be a big job to clean the lint out of the middle between the two boards in a years time. Certainly not a radio to use in the rain or spill your coffee on.

Updating the firmware went fine with a standard USB cable. The radio needs to be turned off and a factory reset performed when complete. There are 3 firmwares: the main radio functions, the DSP and the display. So far the main has had an update to V0-04. The DSP is at V02-01 and needs more work, and the LCD is at V0-00. I will be waiting on one for the DSP.

Complaints..I read many complaints about the various settings not remaining when one switched bands. With the latest  firmware the settings like shift and bandwidth do remain when the radio is turned off , but if you change band then they revert to default. I don’t find that a problem as I tend to tweak each rx signal to some degree anyway, and I keep the functions in ABC so they are easy to get to. This radio has more user problems than that in my mind!

An analogy comes to mind..remember that beautiful pet you had that was so cute, but could not be house trained? This radio reminds me of that! Doesn’t take long for the cuteness to wear off.

A few days later and it is still on the desk. Have not sold it yet and I might not for a while. It does have its shortcomings re the interface but as a radio it is quite good. A few more things are coming to light..the RF /SQ control..quite handy for removing some excess noise but you have no indication where it is set! Contrary to the rest of the settings this one seems to retain its setting when the radio is switched off or the band changed. That low setting on 40m means 20m seems a bit deaf when you QSY…and you have no visual notification of the setting either via the knob which can spin around forever or on the display. Probably no more room on the dispaly for Power/Mic Gain/RFG . I like the size. Fits well on the bench. The more I think about it, a remote keypad or an Ap for the smart phone would really set this radio off. would really unleash what it is capable of and I am sure many people would buy it just for the uniqueness. At least it would be different.

And it is still cute.!!!

And now it is June 2017 and it is still on the bench! It keeps up with the big boys surprisingly well.

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The New Magnum One

Well it finally arrived and has been bouncing around the desk for some time on 10m only mode cos I don’t have the skills to do the solder work necessary to convert to it’s proper mode of 24.5 to 30mhz!! It is easier to convert an Icom 718 or a Kenwood 590 than it is to convert these. If I order any more they better be open from the factory !! While I am on the topic there are two expanded modes and they are quite different. Band 3 has 5 bands (A to E) of 40 ch following the normal CB band plan and band F which in Strykerish manner covers from 24.5 through 30mhz using either the Channel Selector or the clarifier with the channel selector following the step chosen by the clarifier.
What a great idea!
Why doesn’t it do that in every band?
Band 2 gives 6 bands of 80 channels per band covering from 24.5 to 30mhz.
I think I prefer band 2 but for those who live mostly on the normal 40 channels seeing 27.385 come up as ch 78 may be a bit confusing. Fortunately the ch number is pretty tiny and out of the way so it doesn’t get in the way too much ala Anytone.
Out of the box it is way better than the AT-5555 ver 6 anytone I was comparing it to. More power, better audio and a quieter receiver. But the transmit audio of the Lincoln 2, AT-6666 and Stryker 955 is a tad richer. Pity the receive on those radios can not compare with the Mag 1 though the new Lincoln ver 3 comes close. The Mag 1 certainly does not exhibit the AGC problems inherent in the other radios.

Does it have problems? Yes it does but they are not deal breakers and I believe can be sorted in software. My biggest bitch is the way the clarifier works; it changes the channel it was used on!! If you use the clarifier for any reason and change the channel, when you return to that channel the clarifier offset is waiting there for you still…if you went for a long walk up the band using the clarifier you can be several megahertz away. That feature needs to be tamed…needs to be selectable. It is of great use if you want to manually program the radio…(use the clarifier instead of a computer), or set up a split…great stuff..but for everyday use it sucks big time. Hope they can get that function into software with the default being that changes to the clarifier will not remain when the channel selector is moved.
The spectacle look and the colours will not appeal to everybody. I don’t mind them but then I am pretty easy to get along with anyway…As long as the radio works great I can live with the facials; and it does work well as a radio.
The S meter also needs some dampening as it jumps about way too much. Backing the RF gain off somewhat helps out some.
It has way too many features nobody in their right mind uses but what the heck. Don’t want them? : then don’t use them.
It is not too much different to the old Max log M8800 we have tested and liked in the past but it does have some changes to the board and is rock solid on frequency.
Best thing about this radio is the receiver and lets face it that’s what counts. It is way sensitive but still quiet enough especially with the Hi Cut engaged. It puts out a nice 40w PEP on SSB and does not get overly hot doing it and the nothing wrong with the TX audio at all even when cranked right up.
It is a fine radio but I don’t know if magnum is going to sell a lot of them in today’s market. They could have sold a bunch of them though…
had they stuck this radio in an S9 case with the round S meter.
Would have looked a little like the stryker 955 perhaps but magnum S9 was there first!

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The Freeband Bashing Continues

Even with the poor sunspot cycle and reduced use of the freeband frequencies between 27.410 mhz and 27.800 mhz there are still those who have the time and inclination to monitor and report such illegal activity.

I think this guy is one of the best though, despite being active on the freeband himself he still sees the need to report others..probably those with stronger signals.

Stand up and take a bow!        *******Ken N8KC*******

ken 1

OO Card

Funny thing is people have singled Ken out before on this website. He is famous! read the comments attached to this section of the blog from 2014  https://dd182003.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/official-observer-program-usa/

Now check this out : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QyLPoDVLnc

I don’t know me!

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Gunung Padang: Time for some History

Most of us don’t get a chance to think too long and hard about history…It all happened a long time ago. How far back to we need to go?
How long have we been here? Really; thinking, organised, civilized, functioning society.
There are many theories but it seems that mankind began to progress sometime shortly after the end of the last ice age. About 9,700 years ago. Since this time we have identified the stages of civilization from stone age to iron age to todays age, the various inventions such as the wheel and the ability to write things down. Numerology and counting.
During the last ice age the ice caps were much bigger and held a lot of the available water as ice. Sea levels were supposed to be about 120m lower than they are today. This enabled migrations of land based species into regions they could not inhabit naturally today. A lot of areas then inhabited are now covered by sea so difficult to explore. The tales of a great flood in the past are probably quite credible given the rising of the sea levels as the icecaps melted. As it was a lot colder people would tend to live at lower warmer altitudes which are well under the sea today.
Where are we going with this? Well we don’t know much about man’s existence on this planet prior to the melting of the last ice age. There are those who believe there was a thriving civilization around 12000 years ago. Some Greek writer wrote about Atlantis in about 400 BC and the story has grown from myth to actuality over the years. Hard to think a story could be passed down for 10,000 years if indeed it pertained to a civilization from pre ice age! But Flood stories do appear all over the place. If stories are not written down immediately to preserve the facts the story will morph into fantasy as the various storytellers subvert the tale to suit their own belief, needs and understanding at the time. Hard to morph stories into legends today because we have written media, photographs and the means to preserve them. But even today myths appear to explain the explainable or just a plain hoax. For example, what if…the world got wiped out and the only record remaining was a book of fiction..any novel…and that was used as the basis to explain the current civilization? Is that what we are doing with our current explanations of history. Was Atlantis real? Shit..I have no idea.
This week I went to visit a site in West Java called Gunung Padang. Too much to explain here but plenty on google about this place. Watch the You Tube clips as well. All the Atlantis lovers, pre pyramid watchers and a bunch of archeologists are beating this site up to be possibly the oldest man made thing found to date. Dates like 20,000 BC are popping up. That’s old in anybody’s language!Hard to imagine what it looked like in the past

Gunung Padang

Gunung Padang

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DRAGON SS-485H is Back

Dragon SS-485H

Dragon SS-485H

The Dragon SS-485H has been around in Australia for many years now and is a well respected little workhorse punching well above it’s weight. It was one of the first full SMD boards and one of the smaller SSB rigs of its day. Easily modified to work on 10m and expandable from 25 to 29mhz. In the 10m mode it also had split and repeater offset capabilities which were not shared in the expanded CB mode. 5 memories and a relatively easy to learn menu system made the original Dragon and “clones” a firm favorite in the car and at home.

But it had a few drawbacks. Remove the DC for more than a day and all your memories were gone and the radios were back to default was probably my pet hate. The steps would only step around 10khz in a circle. Couldn’t slide far in the 1khz step and it was an effort to get into the zeros from the fives. But it worked well and seldom messed up until Magnum started playing with the finals and substituted their 70w PEP final with no forced air cooling.

This new version shares a lot with the old one but it has a lot of new stuff too. I fiddled about with it for a little while, so probably have not found everything yet. It now includes the 12m ham band and I believe you can disconnect the power for a few days and not loose all the memories. Have not had it long enough to confirm this myself. I set it into code 3 which best suits the way I want to operate. Expanded mode just the frequency and no 40ch read out, with all the bells and whistles and 30w PEP or 40ch US with the channel read out and 12w PEP.  One button push to switch between them. It has a lot more in the menu system: Settings for various countries, CB bands, Ham bands only option and several expanded options. The mic gain and RF gain controls are now in the menu but easy to get to from Button 4 when required. Power and squelch controls have been separated and the power rotary control is now down where the mic/RF gain used to be. No more dual pots. The buttons all seem pretty much the same ..Got a memory scan now which is cool. Still only 5 memories. Function still works by pushing in the clarifier knob. Display size is the same, but now features an array of selectable colours ‘ala Anytone’ and the 6th digit that everybody has been asking for but which doesn’t really achieve a lot cos it is not a counter and the clarifier control has no effect on it. But it is there. The font seems to have changed. I don’t like it as much but what the heck. The S meter LED bar graph has more graduations so you can see S7 now instead of S5 or S9. It has a roger beep! In the menu so out of the way, and a TOT timer. Who uses a TOT timer? The mic is nice and big and still has the little pot in the mic to reduce or increase the audio. 6 pin mic plug and electret cartridge.

.Dragon 485H Mic

Dragon 485H Mic

Dragon 485H Mic

On air reports. Have not had long enough to really put it through its paces and to see if it also exhibits similar AGC characteristics as the Anytones. I suspect it might after seeing the display colours, roger beep and TOT timer in the menu! Hope I will be proven wrong! I did note that the volume was not easy to adjust with the external speaker. It was either too loud or too soft..Doesn’t seem very linear. From ‘too soft’ to ‘too loud’ in the first 10% of the rotation. Received audio was good and from all reports both near and far the transmit audio was also clear and punchy. The step control is limited in its coverage except in the default 10khz step when it can go from 24.710 to 29,965 in continuous 10khz steps. Bear in mind we are talking CODE 3 here and things may not be the same in one of the other modes. In CODE 3 you can switch between the expanded mode with all the goodies turned on and the 40ch CB mode. Yes we have another ‘export’ radio that has split ability in 27mhz. Pretty neat, but 12 watts max in the CB mode too! A long press of the ch9/19 button toggles between the modes. The heat sink did get a little warm after some long QSO’s at 30w. Nothing much to worry about..the heatsinks are quite substantial.

How to sum it up?

Dragon 485H purple Dragon 485H yellow Dragon 485 mainboard Dragon 485H Final

…Its pretty nice, easy to use, familiar for many, comfortable for most …..and it isn’t an Anytone!!

But it ain’t no MK3 Optima killer either! Not by a long shot.

It is now a few days on and the memories did stay with the power off. Good. Another thing I did not add was that each mode stores and keeps its own frequencies. In the past we could jump into the expanded mode if we had an expanded mode frequency in memory. Not any more. So the 5 memories programmed in for the CB band stayed, but were replaced by the 5 different memories we saved for the expanded mode. always have a memory saved ending in zeros for the expanded mode so you do not have to rotate the selector thru 10 500hz clicks to shift up 5khz. The lack of step option is a pain. Stepping in 500hz is a pain. No 1khz step is a pain. No 5khz step is a pain. Why don’t they do it right? I guess if they did not have the step in 500hz then it would be useless to have the digit there in the first place, but a better idea would be to have a 100hz step. The clarifier is RX only. It would be nice to have a couple of options re the use of the clarifier. Not a deal breaker but useful. Sounds beautiful in FM and Am but the small heat sink on rear got too hot to hold my hand on in a short period. The regulator or the audio chip I guess. It is nice, leave the rf gain and mic gain wound up full in the menu. I am using a blue screen which is pleasant on the eyes. There are a few choices: None, Red, Deep Blue, Purple, Green, soft Yellow, Soft Cyan, White.   5, 6, and 7 are my preferences,  soft Yellow, Soft Cyan and White. Red and Deep blue too dark and green a bit sickly somehow…The ability to turn the lighting off is probably useful..though I can’t think of any use for it yet and Red is great in the dark if you don’t want to loose your night vision.

Its pretty nice. Nicer receive than the anytones. I wont say they are any more sensitive than the anytones cos the anytones are too sensitive with a yagi antenna.  No issues with AGC so far, but with most CB radios the recived audio gets beat up a little bit by strong signals. But it is not too bad. Still it could have been better…Maybe Magnum will will do it right if they reintroduce the 257 again. But if they try to put a 70w final in a heatsink the size of a matchbox its going to mess up again. Whats wrong with 40W.? Or better still the 357 with the remote PA. And don’t forget the fan this time.! And take out the TOT and give us a little clock instead.

More usage. Receive is a little noisy. Have had to leave the RF gain backed off a little and have had to back off the mic gain 1 point for local QSO’s. Small heatsink for the audio chip heats up in AM and FM modes but not in SSB. I don’t think it sounds as good as the earlier versions on receive but it is no worse than any other CB radio currently available ie Anytones! Its OK but gets fiddly to use unless you keep everything you want in the memories.

Ham Modes. Just like Code 3 except nothing outside the ham bands. No extra goodies so no point in not using code 3 unless you really really do not want to monitor 27mhz to see what is going on. Or if you live in Australia.

Changing the mode involves opening the case and shorting a couple of pins while turning on the radio. Select the code you require and turn the radio off and it will apply the selected code when the radio is turned on again. Select code 3 and you should not have to open the radio again.

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Blame Anytone. (Sunday Rant Time.)

Yup, Blame Anytone.  What have they done now?

They are responsible for flooding the market with cheap boring CB/10m Export radios that do nothing to enhance our hobby in anyway other than make it easy to buy their cheap junk. Nowadays it seems all the majors have had to buy from Qixiang in order to get a product to market at a reasonable price so they can try to make some money from the short lived CB boom this sunspot cycle. The cycle wasn’t very good and has not lasted very long so SSB CB/export radio sales will be heading downhill for the next 8 or 9 years while the sun turns its active sunspot regions away from the earth.  Anytone have made a mark. They came out of nowhere really, with the AT-5555 in all its derivatives, multi coloured display, backlighting, menu features nobody needs or wants, so so performance, 30w PEP, a built in menu system and the ability to program the frequencies with the aid of a computer. No where in the world is this radio legal on a CB band. So tell me please, why did they insist on having banks of 40 channels ala CB with all the missing CB frequencies still missing?. What a waste of space. Why could they not have just programmed it with 1 mhz bands and selectable steps. One would think that would have been a lot easier to achieve than messing about with 40ch bands. But no, they all displayed a lovely big number to indicate the channel you were on as well as frequency. Fat lot of good the channel display does you outside the conventional 40ch CB bands on which these radios are not legal for. So why include it? The user PC  programmable frequencies are only useful for the UK FM frequencies. And that is not all, …yes there is more yet..move the clarifier around then change channel and voila! the original channel now is set with the clarified offset. Ch 38 is now something else! How messed up was that? And we still kept buying them!

Every radio they produced has had receive problems reportedly due to some incorrect component values in the AGC section. All of them have a noisy receiver. Most of them have pretty good transmit audio with the standard mic and the Stryker 995 and lincoln 2’s especially so. Why couldn’t they have spent a few more dollars and cleaned up the receiver and simplified the menu system.

We had the AT5555 in half a dozen versions (version 6 last I heard) and variants, followed by the cree 8900, then stryker got into the act with the 955 that was a step in the right direction but once again flawed by the receiver, a stupid menu system, and insufficient cooling.  The AT-6666’s will all die a natural death due to the fancy but totally useless heatsink they built into the radio to go with the other problems mentioned above. The much heralded Lincoln 2 arrived on the scene but did nothing to enhance presidents reputation. The AGC problem was finally fixed but it was a difficult job involving smd soldering or a trip back to President. Qixiang remained mute on the subject. Version one was followed quickly by version 2 and finally version 3 but once bitten twice shy; I stayed away after the lincoln 1 experience. It still had 40ch and no other enhancements other than 6 memories that one couldn’t scroll off without changing the memory to the frequency you left so in my mind it wasn’t really a memory. Even the magnum 257 memory system worked better than that. The last rattle out of the box from Anytone was the AT5555N. Nice looking radio, but after president getting the AGC sorted in their radios Anytone couldn’t see fit to do the same to their radios so despite the lovely big display it did not do enough as a radio to entice too many buyers once the glamour died down. So now we have a lot of companies offering what is essentially a rebadged AT-5555. Sometimes I wonder if they really have made them or just fishing for a big order so they can get them made. I have had my Anytone experience. I am over it.

Lets hope the new radios from some of the other companies still producing 10m SSB radios can bring out something that works well. I have said it before and I will say it again…If Icom or Yaesu or Kenwood were motivated and brought out a small 10-12m SSB 50w pep radio that didn’t get too hot, had a removable head, all the IF DSP, memories and other features they have to include then there would be no further need for anyone to have to buy another anytone SSB 10 meter radio. Even if it hit the market place at around the 400 USD mark we would still buy it. I saw a Yaesu 857D for sale NIB from a dealer on the net the other day for US$450. They must be making them in China too now! Prices are coming down! Blame Anytone!

Disclaimer: I bear no resentment to Qixiang (Anytone parent company), Anytone or any of their employees. This is purely a rant about the products and is strictly a personal view which may or may not be shared by the reader. The opinions expressed within are personal and not necessarily those of the management.

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A Cute New SSB Radio

Small size SSB Rig

Small size SSB Rig

Another tiny SSB rig is soon to be released.  A standard 12w 40ch Sideband rig but has a lot of programming hidden away. Can be configured for all European bands, yet still hides a full export rig if you know what jumpers to jump and buttons to push. Has the ability to fit another final and a heatsink for 30w PEP in future runs. We all know how small that jopix hand mic is so you can imagine the size of this rig by comparison. It looks real interesting to us and we would like to get our hands on one to try.

In this world of Discotec lighting programmable CB radios it is refreshing to see someone has gone back to basics. No silly echoes, beeps and confusing menus. Don’t see -5khz for the zeros or -10khz for the alphas either.  For those that pine for a compact Cobra 148 this may be the one radio these days that pushes your buttons.

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