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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: 76 Average rating: 4.4/5 MSRP: $174.95
Description: 2 meter FM mobile transceiver providing 65 watts of power
Product is in production.
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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.
K7TCE Rating: 4/5 Sep 4, 2015 13:49 Send this review to a friend
Nice radio, but...  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I bought mine used on whim and sold it soon after. It's a nice radio, performs well, and Kenwood gives away the software that Icom and Yaesu don't. That said, why is Kenwood selling a radio in 2015 with only 100 alpha memories? I was told by the seller it had 200 memories, which it does, but it's all or nothing if you want alpha. In my case, I don't like to program in the field. I pre-program my VHF radios with 68 memories for 2 meter simplex channels and repeater splits, and about 46 for Coast Guard channels. A few more for public service and you see the problem. If you don't want to program more than 100 alpha channels (or you can look at 200 numbers and know what they are) this is a good radio.
KD5BVX Rating: 5/5 Sep 4, 2015 07:40 Send this review to a friend
Solid Radio With Solid Results  Time owned: more than 12 months
It's great to see this radio get so many 4 and 5 start reviews -- it truly is a great radio. It's solid, packs a powerful punch, and will withstand some elements that would cause other radios to fail.

To me the radio is more along the lines of a commercial radio design than ham. Many ham radios these days are more about soft keys (i.e. items on the screen with a button below them that you press to perform the function) and while those have their place -- and there are plenty that I like -- this radio fits a niche that is needed. It will "take a lickin' and keep on tickin'" as they say.

While it would be fine in a daily driver vehicle, I see several getting installed in off road vehicles, etc., because they can take the vibrations, dust, etc.

The mic is also something to praise. Kenwood really makes some solid mics for their radios. This seems to be where many manufacturers skimp (looking at you, Yaesu). Icom mics aren't too bad but the Yaesus are just pathetic -- they just feel cheap. This Kenwood mic, however, is solid, commercial feeling, and made to last.

If you're looking for a 2m only radio, give this one a shot. I don't think you'll be disappointed. There are some reviews here that make legitimate points and others that are just being downright picky. Overall it's a great radio.

I've had one for over a year and am planning to purchase another in a few days to go in another vehicle I just bought as a 4-wheel-drive "beater". I know this radio will withstand the elements it may receive in that install.

As I always say, if you want to "test drive" a radio but don't have a place to do so locally, just hit up YouTube and search for the radio make and model you're interested in. More than likely there will be a few dozen videos showing different features. You'll get an idea of how it works so you'll know what to expect if you decide to make that purchase.
W6AKF Rating: 4/5 Aug 7, 2015 13:07 Send this review to a friend
Better power out, and microphone  Time owned: more than 12 months
I purchased my TM-281 from AES in May 2014 and I'm impressed with its front-face look and easy front panel functions. The Menu buttons are large enough to engage without the problem of other rigs that have their smaller buttons to close to one another and accidently pressing two buttons instead of the one button you wanted to press. No use for a external speaker, the rig has a front-fire speaker with great audio. Display is easy to read under any ambient light condition and was easy to read with my old eyes. I has good transmit audio with clear and strong volume. The bottom & back act as a substantial heat sink, the mounting bracket helps with the dispersal of heat, however there's no fan.

The hand microphone fit well in my hand and the PTT is solid. It didn't have the < or > scan buttons like the IC- HM-133V instead it used the UP # DOWN * buttons to control the user to sequence through the Memory channels, up and down. however no scan function. A two second touch added to these buttons to scan up or down would have been a nice touch. Pardon the pun.

I did notice on page 42 it says press [MR] (1s) (second) to start the memory channel scan. Then it says "Press any key other than [F] or Power to stop all channel scan".
However there was no mention in the manual on to how to re-start the scan again.

I wanted to find out which other button on the 281 microphone controls the "scan-start/scan/stop" like the MR button on the front panel and the MR/C button on the microphone. After about few minutes I found that the PF/D on the microphone key does the same thing.
The manual doesn't address this that these keys do that and pressing it for 2 seconds activates the scan.

Kenwood should look in to producing a better microphone that has scan/up/down/resume/scan. Have a Low, Mid and High power buttons on their microphones. Have a four (or three) step power sequence (5, 10, 25, and 65 watts) instead of 25 and 65 watts. If Icom and Yaesu can do it so can Kenwood. Each frequency should be programmed for low to high power according to the user desire.

If Kenwood come out with a TM-291, (a logical sequence from the TM-241 to the TM-281) I would probably purchase one or more if they upped their game re. the power out and a better microphone.

A short comment on TOT's

If you have other rigs like Icom or Yaesu and have a tendency to time out simplex, or on a repeater; check your Time-out Timer (TOT) in the newer Menu fed rigs. They all have their TOT listed in their Menu Function List, for the 281it's number 21; see page 62 for details. This function will shut the TX off after a certain amount of time. Here are the default on the TOT settings. Icom: Off, Alinco: Off, Kenwood: 10 minutes, Yaesu: 3 or 6 minutes.

My FT-2900 got me one time when I was talking on simplex and a ham friend told me about the TOT setting and I changed it from 3 minutes to Off.

Stephen, W6AKF
W2LTD Rating: 4/5 Jul 23, 2015 16:43 Send this review to a friend
Good solid monobander  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
Good solid radio. Great price at major supplier. I had a bit of a time programming in the PL tones. Like some of the other reviewers I wish there were lower transmit power options.
AF5QR Rating: 5/5 Jul 18, 2015 17:11 Send this review to a friend
A nice, clean workhorse  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
If you are looking for lots of bells and whistles, pick a different radio. But if you want a solid workhorse that isnt afraid of shock, vibration and mobile abuse, this is your new best friend.

This radio isnt flashy. In fact, personally I think its just butt-ugly. But it works wonderfully. And at 65 watts, its not exactly a wimp. Its the ugly step-sister you turn to when the prom queen radios are not working.

Audio quality on transmit is very good. Receive is quite decent but not stellar. User interface is a bit clunky at first but it doesnt take long to understand it and make it dance.

This critter gets 5 stars and two thumbs-up. At $130-ish, its a bargain and a lot of fun. Put one in your go-kit. You wont be sorry you did.
KD2CTY Rating: 4/5 Jun 14, 2015 12:43 Send this review to a friend
Great Affordable Solid Radio  Time owned: more than 12 months
I really love this radio. It is small in size and seems solidly built. I have one installed in the car. I might be buying a second one for using at home. The price is great. I just wish the power setting was lower so I would not have to worry about draining the car battery. All of my audio reports have been extremely good with this radio even in the car.
KG5HFO Rating: 5/5 Jun 13, 2015 04:00 Send this review to a friend
Great buy!  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
Show me another radio as simple, effective, powerful, and cheap and I'll make sure you wake up from that dream!

Keep in mind that this review is for this radio as used in a base role, not mobile. I don't hardly spend any time in a vehicle so I have no need for a radio in the vehicle. That's what the FT-60 and Tram mag mount are for.

Bought it $100 used in brand new condition. Hooked it up, spent less than 5 minutes in the manual, cleared the memory, and began programming the radio by hand. Unless you have gobs of repeaters/frequencies to program save your money and do it by hand. Dead simple. The audio is full and loud (when you need it to be). The menus are pretty self explanatory. This radio just works! The receiver hears extremely well. Night and day difference between the receive on this versus my Yaesu FT-60. With the same antenna in the same place I can hear, and now work, many more repeaters. I am currently looking for a TM-481A to go with it. Contemplated the V71A but I don't need X-band repeat ability, as I can hit all of the repeaters in the immediate area with the HT and whip.

This radio combined with the N9TAX dual band antenna allows me to hit a repeater at 65 miles day and night. And I can occasionally hit one at 136.6 miles! Read my review for that awesome antenna as well.

The only, and I mean ONLY, thing I would have liked to have seen implemented is a 2w or 5w low power setting.
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