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Reviews Categories | Transceivers: VHF/UHF+ Amateur Base/Mobile (non hand-held) | Kenwood TM-281A Help

Reviews Summary for Kenwood TM-281A
Kenwood TM-281A Reviews: 73 Average rating: 4.5/5 MSRP: $174.95
Description: 2 meter FM mobile transceiver providing 65 watts of power
Product is in production.
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N6QN Rating: 1/5 Jun 28, 2016 11:51 Send this review to a friend
Works but short-lived  Time owned: more than 12 months
This is--was--my third Kenwood 2-meter mobile. It lasted just over a year. I had two TM-261's before then: both died just over warranty. When it worked, the 281 did an adequate job: nothing special. I have programming software, which made it a whole lot easier to set up. My replacement will be of another manufacturer.
NW0LF Rating: 5/5 Apr 23, 2016 06:35 Send this review to a friend
Excellent Radio  Time owned: more than 12 months
I have had the radio now for almost 2 years as a base station. I have had to add a fan to mine because the radio will run hot under extended transmission. I wouldn't hesitate to buy another or recommend the purchase. I like that it is simple to program unlike my Baofeng-well the Baofeng is with Chirp. I have had as base stations an Icom IC-2100 and 207H. Good radios but I got the Kenwood for a good price and don't regret a thing.
WA0UAY Rating: 5/5 Apr 22, 2016 13:58 Send this review to a friend
Excellent  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
Just installed the 281 in the SUV. This is the third unit I have had and always impressed with the quality and ease of operation. Programming is simple, front mounted speaker is a real plus. Go ahead and get one. There are no issues with this radio. The only thing I would mention is a slight rattle sound of the speaker at higher volumes, but not objectionable at all.
A proven solid transceiver!
KE0HBS Rating: 5/5 Feb 12, 2016 17:22 Send this review to a friend
Radio Hits the Mark  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
The TM-281 is my first ham rig (although I've been around the hobby and radio equipment for many years). This is a tough little radio -- nothing prissy about it. The front face and display are simple and uncluttered. The display is easy to read in all light conditions. Signal reports have been excellent, and the receiver is sensitive -- even through a quarter wave mounted on the trunk lip. I only have to use the high power occasionally -- and I live in extremely hilly country. Many folks complain that the hi/lo pwr setting is global and not programmable to individual channels, but I find that a plus, because it's easier for me to keep track of whether I'm operating high power or not, and I'm not burning up the radio using 65 watts when I don't need to.

This radio is almost too easy to program. Although Kenwood offers the software for free, since the radio is mounted in the car, I had no way to get my desktop out there to program it. But a quick read through the manual and a couple of moments with the buttons and I programmed everything I need right now with disturbing ease. Since I don't have experience with any other 2 meter radios, I can't make a comparison, but I can say that the radio is not intimidating to field program.

I don't know why everyone gripes about the menu-driven squelch. It's a two-button process, for Pete's sake! And I never need to adjust it. The offsets are automatic unless it's an odd offset, and even then both offset and tone are easily field-programmed. There are 100 channel slots if you use alpha-numeric designations ( also easy to program), 200 if you simply use the frequency designations. The buttons on the face are dual-function. The main function is printed on the button, and the secondary function (accessible by pressing the "function" button) is printed on the face above the button.

The radio is lightweight, small, and fits easily into the under-dash console. The front panel isn't sexy; it looks more like a commercial unit (which I prefer) and utilitarian. The mic is substantial, and the buttons easy to see and use. I programmed one of the four programmable buttons to do direct number input (rather than spinning the tuning dial).

The radio is the right price. I paid $129 for a brand new unit on sale from HRO. I'm thinking of getting a second one to use as a base unit. Always been a fan of Kenwood and this radio does not disappoint. Glad I bought it; would definitely buy it all over again.
KA2AYR Rating: 5/5 Jan 8, 2016 11:50 Send this review to a friend
Closest to Land Mobile Radio ham VHF transceiver I've seen...  Time owned: more than 12 months
I have two of these and I'm buying a third. The user interface on some radios is horrible. Twist this, push that three times, wait for the beep, push another button, just to get to another menu. Other radios only display frequencies rather than mnemonics, or have a cluttered, busy display that would confound people who don't want to diddle with a radio. Not to mention, how do you get back to where you need to be if you push the wrong button or get lost in the menu?

There are times and places for those kinds of radios, but not for my family. They each have valid amateur radio licenses, but are not necessarily into the "ham experience" of dialing in frequencies while driving. I needed a radio with good performance and a simple user interface. Something exactly like a land mobile radio, and that's really what I wanted. Something with just a volume control, an alphanumeric display, and a channel knob. Except those usually have to be modified or cracked in some way to get into the amateur band, and their performance might be degraded. They'd look pretty, and work pretty badly, unless I change chip caps, replace electrolytics, put brass screws in the coils, use a hex editor to get on frequency, dig out one of the old 386 computers in the garage to program it, and completely realign it because the alignment points were all above 150 MHz. Forget that!

That's where this radio comes in. It's inexpensive and it's not complicated. While this radio can be operated from the front panel with key and knob sequences, or mic entry, I can program it with software to make it very simple to use and assign names to channels with nothing else displayed. This way, my wife can meet me on the "SOUTH" repeater, because it's on the display. I can have her switch to direct because I programmed it as a channel and the display says "DIRECT." It also does narrowband FM (RX and TX) and will receive on 7.5 and 12.5 kHz channel centers. The only drawback is that it won't receive aviation. Otherwise, it will receive between 136-174 MHz in carrier, CTCSS, or CDCSS squelch.

It's also pretty small, fits into smaller vehicles without taking up all the space, and has a fairly decent mic - although a full-sized Kenwood KMC-27B microphone will plug directly in and work fine if I want to get rid of the keypad (seditious, I know).

Wish the TM-481A was marketed in the US.
K3TVC Rating: 3/5 Jan 1, 2016 09:30 Send this review to a friend
One Hot (literally) radio  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
"Do not transmit with high output power for extended periods; the transceiver may overheat." This warning is listed on page "i" of the operators manual under "Precautions". I find the radio gets extremely hot to touch when rag chewing with 25 watts. I'm disappointed that they promote the radio as a 65 watt radio. I won't use 65 watts unless it is a short QSO. Again, disappointing if on the road and wanting to talk simplex for an extended QSO.
N1OFJ Rating: 5/5 Dec 11, 2015 12:53 Send this review to a friend
Great radio  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
Easy to use, great audio, commercial grade radio. Glad I purchased this radio. Like the idea of split CTCSS/DPL availability. This radio will not disappoint.
ND4MR Rating: 5/5 Nov 30, 2015 13:41 Send this review to a friend
Tip Top quality rig  Time owned: more than 12 months
I use this as my base station radio and it has performed flawlessly for the 2 1/2 years I have had it (bought new). I use it as much as a scanner (to monitor the local Police & Fire channels) as much as I do as a ham transceiver, but even with a high rooftop antenna I have never experienced any intermod from commercial users. My single complaint is the power-set arrangement. Unlike some radios where you can set the power output level as part of the memory channel's info, the High or Low power setting is applied to all channels once set. I operate the radio at the 25 watt level almost all the time, needing to bump it up to 65 watts to hit just one distant repeater.
KD8UEI Rating: 5/5 Nov 17, 2015 13:05 Send this review to a friend
Wonderful  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I received the Kenwood TM-281A a little over a month ago, and I was going to wait to do this review, but I doubt that my review would change much had I waited unless something went wrong with my particular radio. I don't think that will happen as I take care of my radios. I use this radio as a base station connected to an MFJ power supply and a j-pole antenna.

First I'll start off with what are considered the drawbacks of this radio: it has no power setting below 25 watts, it has a menu-driven squelch, and it has only 100 memories if you use alpha tags. The only one of these that caused me a little hesitation before buying is the fact that there is no 5 or 10 watt power setting. I have the squelch set to 1 and it works great for me. I don't have to worry about twiddling with a knob to get it set just right. It just works as it is. I would have loved it if the radio had more memories with alpha tags, but in all honestly where I live, 100 memories is adequate and then some. But I do wish it had a lower power setting. I knew all about these shortcomings and potential shortcomings before I bought the radio so they do not affect the score I gave the radio.

When I was in the market for a 2 meter radio, it basically came down to the Kenwood TM-281A or the Yaesu FT-2900. I was troubled by the reviews of the FT-2900 that said that it ran hot and would shut down due to overheating. You can look at the measurements in the QST reviews for both the Kenwood and the Yaesu and do the math, and you will find out that the Kenwood TM-281A is more efficient (i.e. less power loss going into heat) than the FT-2900. In fact, this might help to explain why there aren't many reviews talking about how the Kenwood TM-281A shuts down due to overheating. This was the deciding factor for me when I chose the 281A.

Now for the good stuff. The TM-281A has a great receive sensitivity. You can check the measurements in the QST review, but the superior sensitivity is quite noticeable in practice. I can't really speak to the selectivity and adjacent channel rejection as I use this in a very rural area. The scan speed is very good, and the radio can also do narrow band.

The transmit audio is good, and I've never had a reason to increase the power beyond 25 watts. I want to try 65 watts to reach out to some distant repeaters, but I haven't had a chance yet. And my success or failure is going to be highly dependent on my antenna which is not nearly as high as I would like. But 25 watts and my antenna allow me to transmit 20 miles simplex.

The radio is fairly easy to use and to program. The key labels are informative. To be completely honest, I find the keys a little too recessed for my comfort but that is a nit pick since I am able to use them. I use the microphone keypad much more often and that brings me to what I consider to be the biggest drawback in practice of the TM-281A. There are only 4 programmable keys on the microphone which to me is at least one too few. As I said, I use the keypad much more than the buttons on the radio and I'd like to be able to access all the functions I use without having to resort to the radio keys. However, this is a small grip given all the pluses of the radio.

The Kenwood TM-281A is a great monobander, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a 2 meter only rig.
W4SEX Rating: 5/5 Oct 21, 2015 19:06 Send this review to a friend
Great strong audio  Time owned: more than 12 months
After hearing 2 other HAMS with great audio, I asked what they were using and both said,281A. I always get reports of crystal clear audio. It has turned me into a Kenwood fan. I now have Kenwood HT and a TS-2000 HF rig.
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