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.


About David Donaldson

64 and Live in Jakarta, Indonesia. like to ride my bikes.
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18 Responses to A new Radio on the Bench : FT-891

  1. A good detailed and very user controlled review, I will also give this radio a miss. I’ve had radios that are primarily menu driven radios like the FT-8900,8800,7800 range, although very good radios they can be fiddly if your not fluent on exactly where you need to get to in the menu’s and sub menu’s. 73.

  2. page 14 of manual “a long press of the [MODE] key toggles between “LSB” and “USB” mode.”

  3. dd182003 says:

    press and hold the band button to access the modes and use the VFO to scroll

  4. Glad I bought the 857D they were next to each other and I know the 857 has been around awhile, guess I made the correct decision. Hello Dave

  5. dd182003 says:

    Hi Tom, The 891 is a pretty good radio as far as receiving signals goes.it is the user interface I am not too happy about. Starting to get used to it. I do like the size.

  6. Hey Dave is there any way to do an 11 meter mod. The 857D was pretty easy, not that I use it there much but it leaves me that option

  7. yes that’s the way the 897 is Thanks Buddy

  8. Rod says:

    My old boss bought one of these at Dayton-Xenia 2017, he likes it but it will not tune the Yaesu mobile antenna, the ATAS-120a. I bought the Icom IC7300 and have not looked back! I’ve not modded it for all band transmit but I know it to be great in that mode! 73 Rod

    • dd182003 says:

      you need to sort out the correct menu setting and turn it on. The FT891 kind of grows on you due to its small size and good performance. I also have the 7300 and 590 and not much between any of them.

  9. CodeParc says:

    Whoever wants to design a radio like this should know that a large display and compact size can only be achieved by saving on the controls. This automatically results in a menu system that, as more functions are implemented in it, also turns out to be more complex. The user is therefore in any case forced to memorize the most important parts of this system, whether he likes it or not. Since the last firmware update (September 6, 2017), the menu system and other features such as DSP, etc. have also been improved, so this radio is now my clear favourite!

  10. Kevin says:

    I get so tired of reading comments of people who are too lazy to go into a menu to work a radio like everything’s supposed to be read at your fingertips. I just got the radio not too long ago and I have it sitting on my desk getting used to it until I have time to put it in the vehicle. It’s sitting on the desk with the ftdx 1200 navigate to 991 and so far I like it better than both of those big deal you got a few men use it’s not that complicated you just got to learn which menus you use the most really not that hard at all switch between features in the radio

  11. Nick G7EQM says:

    Having used both FT857 and FT 891 in a mobile environment, I can confirm that the FT891 is absolutely streets ahead in both receiver performance and transmitted audio – the ability of the various settings for DSP, NB, etc to completely eradicate any vehicle electrical noise means that RX signals are completely workable down to S1 and I have had many reports of “fabulous audio” from DX stations when in QSO.
    Agreed that some of the controls are more complex that for the FT857, but since I tend to set up with my ATAS-120A on a particular band at the start of a journey and just work what is there, or switch band mid-journey using the built in antenna controller make it the perfect radio for me.
    Had it 4 weeks and worked 50 countries….. enuf said

    • tucker442 says:

      Thank you for your radio input on both of them I have both of them and was going to put the 857 in the car But I guess now I will put the 891 in the car
      Thank you

  12. Alex says:

    Using FT-891 with Expert 1K amplifier, homemade cable, everthing is done fine

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