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of the Yaesu FT-891.
Aug 12, 2017 18:56
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A steal for the price, but some issues you can live with
Time owned: 0 to 3 months
Quick look at Pros:
1. Price! Only Alinco rigs are less expensive, so best portable bang-for-the-buck out there.
2. 32-bit DSP found in FTDX series aids average RX stats to dig out signals better than rigs costing much more.
3. Slightly smaller than even the FT-857
4. Excellent power output, and strong cooling (see cons)
5. Menu items include wide Hz range Low/High cut RX bandwidth filter, like more expensive radios
6. Large display
7. Simple Panadapter (radio silent when scanning)
8. Five memories to save/play your CQ calls.
9. Works with ATAS system, and shares some attachments with FT-857
10. Yaesu misprinted the RX amp draw as 2a. It's only 1a draw.
11. Buttons are lit.
12. THREE year Yaesu warranty!
Quick look at Cons:
1. Hissing sound makes rear mono audio port useless for headphones (front stereo port is better, but still present).
2. Hiss in RX audio can be heard, if RF gain at full, and volume raised above 1/2. If you listen at low levels, and expect silence, avoid this radio. Generally not an issue through on-board speaker. Still unacceptable, and needs to be addressed by Yaesu.
3. Phase noise may/may not bother others above 50w output -- see ARRL test report and radioaficion link at bottom. Even amped, a JA friend nearby said my IMD looked fine on his equipment.
4. Voltage only viewable briefly at start-up.
5. Menus take some getting used to, but are better than FT-857
6. Audio is a bit blah through external speaker, but better than onboard audio.
7. Fan noise gets loud in a 100w rag chew, but stays low enough at 50w output.
8. Not a "shack-in-the-box," because it lacks VHF/UHF.
9. No internal tuner, and Yaesu matching tuner is both expensive, and only matches 3.0 to 1. (Get LDG brand)
10. ALC can get a little wild, if set to average much above half.
11. Some user settings, like signal bandwidth, return to default, when switching between bands.
12. Bug info update, per Facebook 891 forum: "...many people have experienced the clicking [beeping?] when using CAT and a USB cable. It seems to be related to the Monitor function. You can eliminate the clicking by going to MON in the quick menu, and reducing the MON volume to zero. The clicking happens even if MON is not enabled. So, reduce the MON level even if you don't enable the Monitor function. (The 'fix' was discovered by a person on the Yahoo FT-891 group.)"
13. USB port does not handle digital modes, but there is a work-around (see below)
This review will cover every negative of the FT-891 I have noticed, but keep in mind that I feel it's a great value, and the most performance you're going to find at this price-point. Some will want to tear this radio apart, because it's not the second coming of the FT-857, or because some test lab stats aren't absolute perfection, but in my experience, this radio is an absolute steal.
Digital mode and CW operators will want to seek more information elsewhere, as I am almost entirely an HF SSB guy. I will add that I have read this radio is not the best choice for digital modes, so you may want to research it. Otherwise, I hope this exhaustive commentary proves useful.
I'm running under the assumption that Yaesu is just not selling a lot of FT-891's. That is the only reason I can see for the price being so low. At the moment, you can get them for about $630-$680, shipped. That's in the same ballpark as their famous, yet older FT-450D, but the new FT-891 comes with extensive 32-bit digital noise reduction technology improvements found in their higher-end radios. True, the FT-891 has no internal tuner, while the FT-450D does, but with a resonant antenna or a strong external auto-tuner (which many supplement the 450D with, to run a wide-band antenna, anyway), the FT-891 is the more versatile rig. There are lots of little adds in the FT-891, including five record slots to save your CQ audio, so you can call CQ, or say whatever you like, with the press of a button.
Improvements in DSP over the FT-450D are huge. The noise reduction actually works very well, with less tweaking. It is a welcome change. Some may complain that Yaesu's implementation of DNR is a bit watery-sounding, but I find a little DSP SFT (shift), and proper RF/AF gain removes most of the bubbling. I like it.
Better on Rx than ICOM 7300?
I will say this without any bias -- I am shocked that the Yaesu DSP is easier to use, and in my opinion, better than that of my highly-touted Icom 7300. I own one, and am not alone in this.
Before purchase, I watched a video on YouTube, where Jerry Koch said he could pull out signals better with the FT-891, compared to the IC-7300. I rolled my eyes. I am an owner of the ICOM 7300, and ALC aggression issues aside, I love my 7300 for it's ability to pull out signals. I figured Jerry had lost it. I wanted to tell him off. How dare he? There is a $600 difference between these two radios, and the 7300 is the SDR radio that redefined the industry. I nearly posted a nasty comment, in the name of Sherwood, demanding he apologize for such a travesty!
I had viewed Jerry's video before I purchased the FT-891. Once I had the new Yaesu in the shack, I was able to experience the same. I was in a rag chew, and increasingly unable to copy a weak SSB signal fully on my 7300. I reached a point where no amount of Twin PBT, RX bandwidth filter adjustments, attenuation, and EQ'ing could produce better than 50% copy. Remembering Jerry's claim, I switched the antenna over to the FT-891, added a DSP level of 1, a little RF gain, and a slight shift, and -- boom. I understood the other op 100%. Dumbfounded, I switched back and forth between the two radios, and found the FT-891 was consistently better, given my noisy city environment. Although the 7300 tests as the more sensitive rig, it falls flat when overwhelmed by noise.
At my city noise levels, I find myself preferring the FT-891's noise reduction capabilities over the darling 7300, because whatever algorithm Yaesu uses is just far better. A tiny bit of DNR, and a bit of shifting, goes a long way. No to mention, the FT-891 includes a 3k roofing filter, which helps a great deal, in noisy environments. Does this make me want to stop using the 7300 at home, and enjoy the 891, instead? I tried that for a week, and went back to the 7300 due to overall better sound, but for what it is, the 891 does a very good job. What this experience did teach me is that I might dump the 7300 for a higher-end Yaesu rig, like the FTDX3000, or something else Yaesu, next year.
Will the FT-891 best the 7300, in all situations? No. The two radios are not in the same class, and I am only comparing them because I own both. On receive the two rigs are pretty similar, in 95% of situations, with the all-around sound quality edge handily going to the 7300. The FT-891 sounds kind of flat and lifeless. They both pull out the same signal, but the 7300 does sound better doing it, through either on-board, or 3rd-party speaker. That is to be expected, given that the FT-891 is only the size of a thick book. The FT-891, however, hits that sound range where the receive audio is most important to copy the signal. Great, for what it is. The 7300 has some deep-menu items (receive filtering and EQ) that give it an edge, at times (and others not), but this takes a lot of signal-dependent tweaking, and timely adjusting, to get there. Again, these are very different radios, but remember the price -- the FT-891 costs HALF!
A test with an on-air friend confirmed -- even though they are the same wattage, and the ICOM has a much better quality sound from its microphone, the FT-891 has what he described as, "more punch." That can be useful. I tested various levels of compression and mic gain, on both rigs. In short, the 7300 will almost always get "clean audio" reports, because ICOM forces aggressive ALC on you, but the FT-891 is capable of decent audio also, and a louder perceived signal, if you adjust it right. But, there are trade-offs. Don't be naughty. Follow proper adjustment procedures (you can mess your transmit audio up, if you don't follow the manual).
I added a Behringer xm8500 mic, and a homebrew patch cable, and my audio showed dramatic improvement. Please pay attention to the ALC settings, however. Keep it peaking at midpoint. Set it too high, and your signal will appear louder on the meter, but you might splatter.
I have purchased an E-bay seller W7YEN's amp cable for my FT-891 to connect to my Tokyo Hy-Power HL-1.2KFX, and was thrilled to find that it pushes the amp better than my ICOM 7300, also. Why? The 7300 is so strict with the ALC, that even at full 95 watts drive for the amp, the peaks are lower than with the Yaesu. The FT-891 pushes the amp to the max, at 85w drive, if I so desire. I have read that it is best to run an amp that works with 50w drive, because the FT-891 gets a little dirty on transmit. I amped mine to 700w+, and a JA OP nearby (I am 750 miles away, in Seoul) said my IMD distortion was about average, driving my Tokyo Hy-Power 1.2kfx amp excited by the FT-891, at 85w. Any higher, and he saw IMD grow. I can drive the amp just fine with 85w, anyway. I religiously keep the ALC at half, or below. A closer measurement would be an interesting comparison, but I plan this to be a portable rig, so I will rarely be amped.
I am getting better signal reports from people, after tweaking the stock MH-31 mic of the FT-891. I had to enter the menus and roll off the lows down below 300hz, and add a fair bit of emphasis to the mids and highs. I also find setting 1 on the back switch of the MH-31 mic is good for local rag chew, and setting 2 is better for distant DX.
The Backlash: Not an FT-857 Replacement
When the FT-891 came out, people expected it would be the replacement of the FT-857. It's not. The FT-891 has no UHF/VHF (a source of much disappointment, for those who want one radio to do everything). in addition, the FT-891 was found to lack important features expected of mobile, and SOTA-style rigs. Specifically, there is no read-out displaying voltage, other than briefly, at power-up. From that point, IDD amp current drain on the final stage transistors can be accessed via menu, but if there is another way to view voltage or overall current draw in amps, I haven't found it. Portable operators will want an external meter, and will find themselves dreaming that they could have been a fly on the wall when a table full of engineers in Japan decided these omissions would be acceptable. I can only surmise that not adding a real-time voltage display was on purpose. Perhaps they didn't want to take a bite out of more pricey FT-857 sales, or make the FT-817 look less appealing, in the downward sun cycle? I have no idea. If running from a desktop, you won't care, and you can always turn the rig on/off, if you need to see current voltage. It's an odd work-around.
Next, comes a very odd misnomer. The FT-891 is listed as eating 2 amps on receive, in Yaesu specifications. This scared away portable buyers, and was the source of many negative posts by hams who were waiting for an updated FT-857, yet had never actually tried the new radio. I have no idea why Yaesu claims this high number on receive, because they are incorrect (scroll to the bottom of this article, or search Youtube, for actual tested current draw numbers). The FT-891 listens comfortably at 1 amp.
Like it's predecessor it's not very efficient, if you want to transmit. The FT-891 can transmit at 5w, but as you'll see from statistics, you may as well be transmitting at 10w, or 15w, because you're really not saving much by running QRP.
Getting off track here -- I recently purchased an incredible Lifepo4 12.8v, 10Ah battery with massive 20amp current draw, and I'm in portable heaven with this rig. I can transmit at up to 100w, with typical SSB RX/TX usage levels, for more than 3 hours -- no problem. I highly recommend dumping the old/heavy gel cell for a 10Ah Lifepo4. Mine is the size of a large coffee mug, and weighs just 1.1kgs (2.4 pounds).
I sold-off my Elecraft KX2 for this rig (and I loved that radio). I'm still happy doing so, because I have a lot more power available. With the downward sun cycle, having extra power on command is not such a bad thing!
Having up to 100w at my disposal while portable means I don't miss much, unless there is a big pileup, and I can use this rig as a back-up desktop machine, should I have the need. My KX2 could fill those roles somewhat, but at 10w max output, it was a short dog peeing in the tall weeds.
ARRL and High IMD
A more recent source of negative talk about the FT-891 are regarding high IMD in the June 2017 QST test by the ARRL. I have seen online comments about these tests wrongly quoted by operators, who said the ARRL does not recommend the FT-891 as a desktop radio, which is untrue. They had a lot of nice things to say about the FT-891, but here's the worst of it...
To paraphrase, Bob Allison, WB1GCM, mentioned on page 55 of the June 2017 QST review, that the transmit phase is about the highest they've yet seen at the lab. He also said he would be wary of pairing this transceiver with an RF amplifier, and that users of the FT-891 should watch the ALC level when transmitting voice, because transmit IMD levels tend to get high if the ALC indicator reaches the top end of the scale. Likewise, keep the ALC level low, in digital modes.
To review, the suggestion by the ARRL was to keep the ALC set midrange, or below, but no higher, to mitigate the problem. I have also noticed that the FT-891 loses its lunch a bit, and transmits somewhat high peaks, when the ALC has to work in its higher range. Seeing that one of the first things an op should do is to properly set the ALC, for best performance, this doesn't bother me. I'm seeing fine results, keeping this in mind, along with lowering the mic gain from the stock setting of 50, to around 30, and the processing/compression level down to about 30. I have noted ALC changes between bands, and mic may need adjustment on 40m. I end up needing to raise the mic level for 40m, and lowering a bit for 20m, to stay in the first half of the ALC, with the stock mic. I added an external Behringer XM8500, with homebrew patch cable, which is much more consistent.
There are additional tests found in the radioaficion link below. It sounds like, if you are wanting to amplify this radio, you may want an amp that makes its power atl lower drive, for a cleaner signal. I suspect, however, that most buyers of this radio will not be adding an HF amp.
If small-footprint desktop operation is your interest, this is one cheap deal for a rig. What you're getting is the latest 32-bit DSP technology (found in the FTDX series), packed into a tiny box that outputs a strong 100w. I used to own an FT-950 (the larger brother of the FT-450D), and there is no comparison -- the FT-891 absolutely SMOKES the FT-950, in noise reduction, and probably receive. Online comparisons from owners of the 450D say the FT-891 is far better. In short, this is a DSP that truly works as DSP.
As mentioned, the FT-891 is a nice desktop space-saver. Reports are, than when controlled via its USB output, using updated/paid Ham Radio Deluxe (the free version doesn't work with it), the rig becomes as easy as pie to control. There were early complaints about the FT-891 having USB compatibility issues with certain programs, but this is not uncommon, and problems are often fixed through updates. Check with any 3rd party program providers for latest compatibility if your intent is working digital modes.
It was said in a YouTube video, that the smaller rigs receive some of the trickled-down improvements of the flagships in the same series. No doubt, this is what has happened with the FT-891. It's really like getting an FTDX1200 in a small box, at almost half of the price. It also boasts a much larger screen than the older Yaesu FT-857 (and don't forget, the FT-857 has suffered from screen issues, over time).
A Good Mobile Rig? Possibly.
I mentioned a few of the negatives of the FT-891. Let me mention a few more, and let you decide if it's a problem, given your usage. Like the FT-857, the FT-891 is a menu-heavy rig. It has been mentioned that this would be a difficult rig to use in a vehicle, while driving. If you were on the move, and hoping to adjust things like power level, or anything outside of your top 3 programmable quick-button menu choices, then yes -- it is difficult. The truth is, however, that taking the time to make changes on ANY rig, while driving, is dangerous (and may be illegal, in some states). It's much like texting behind the wheel. There isn't a lot of difference between the FT-891, and FT-857, in this regard. Band changes are done in a bit of a quirky way in the FT-891, but the method has grown on me. I find it not as bad as some have reviewed. Perhaps there was a firmware update improvement, but I don't find it "too fast" to jump to a selection, before you are finished, as some have complained.
From a desktop situation, however, given what you give up to enjoy the tiny footprint, I don't find the menus to be as horrible as some make them out to be. Hunting menus is never fun, but a long-press on the F button will take you back into the same area of the long-form menu, where you left off (essentially giving you a pseudo 4th quick button). The menus hide some very nice additions. For example, you can head to menu items 11-01 to 11-04 and find High and Low cut settings to tailor your receive audio -- nice for DX! The back to default of menu items like RX bandwidth between band changes is a downer. It does not keep this setting, which is annoying.
Yaesu's Sad Matching Tuner
Another thing to consider, is the choice of tuners. The FT-891 has NO internal tuner, and Yaesu doesn't give you a good choice for an automatic tuner. The FT-450D does offer a basic antenna matching (tuner) device. The FT-891 is a newer rig, and it will likely take time for companies such as LDG to come out with a dedicated 3rd-party tuner. You CAN use one of LDG's generic-model auto-tuners, however, and these will allow you to use tougher matches to antennas, such as the G5RV. See LDG's link to its list of compatible tuners, which I found in the text on the first page of their site. At the time of this writing, these include the Z-100 Plus, Z-11 Pro II, AT-100 PRO II, and AT-200 Pro II.
Yaesu does sell its own tuner, matched for the radio, but I was left unimpressed. It's about the same size as the FT-891, but it's very pricey (well over $320). It only matches antennas up to 3.0 to 1, or better SWR, or thereabouts. That is NOT good enough for a G5RV on all bands. What is the point of an external tuner so poor that it acts like a cheap internal? Stupid. It also clicks constantly as you tune, and pops up an annoying "WAIT" message on your FT-891, while you spin the dial. Search for YouTube videos showing it, to see what I'm talking about, then order an LDG model. You can buy, or make an LDG cable that will interface, but it's not a requirement.
This is a radio that works best with an external tuner, but you can use a manual, such as an MFJ Versa Tuner (I do). Another ham gave me a great tip: Set the AM power output to something low, like 10 watts, and change over to AM for a tune-up on the band/frequency you want to use. Then switch back over to SSB, or whatever mode you are using. The FT-891's menus have a few different menu numbers to set power output using various modes. This is a bit confusing, but HF SSB PWR (16-01) is the SSB power output. Don't get it confused with HF PWR (16-03) which is actually something completely different (I think it's for digital power output). Don't ask me why -- it's odd.
Not a Great Digital Choice?
Another important mention, for digital ops. Although the FT-891 has a USB port, it does NOT have an internal sound card through USB.
* Update: From AF5CC:
"The FT891 does digital VOX, so you buy the Yaesu CT-39A packet cable for $12, plug it into the DATA jack on the back, hook the other end to your soundcard, turn on the digital VOX, and you are done! When you go into data mode it will switch back and forth between RX and TX when you send and stop sending."
. Note, according to the ARRL, there may be phase noise issues, which mean you'd need to keep this rig below around 20w in digital use, or you (in theory) might mess with other operators in close proximity. By reports I have read, it works great with FLDIGI.
On Panadapters and Earphone Jacks
It should also be noted that the FT-891 also has a panadapter. In truth, it is little more than a novelty, and not real-time unless the rig is silent. It may be useful in some situations, but don't buy the rig thinking you'll be using it much. You can set it to refresh itself every few seconds, but I find that's rather annoying. You can long-press the button and make it scan the band in real-time, but you lose sound while this is going on. Sound comes back when you exit the mode. The original FT-991 (non-A model) was the same way.
Lastly, the FT-891 has a small earphone plug output on its left side, which allows you to hear audio through headphones. It does work through both ears (although my rear speaker jack appears to be mono). There is a small adjustment switch behind the panel, which can change the front jack to either mono or stereo. Leave it on stereo, for best sound. Luckily, this semi-hidden front jack does not suffer from the HISS issues of the rear jack AS MUCH. Hopefully, Yaesu will work the problem out in future models, but it wasn't a deal-breaker for me, because the front jack works well enough. If you listen at low volumes, avoid this rig, until (hopefully) updated.
The Yaesu FT-891 is a steal of a rig, for the price. You're getting the newest technology from Yaesu, packed into a footprint slightly smaller than their dwarf powerhouse, the FT-857. True, you're giving up VHF/UHF, but we're living in a time when capable Chinese radios are $25, and low-end Yaesu VHF/UHF HT's are approaching $100. Sometimes it's actually nice to have a 2nd radio, so you can monitor everything, at the same time, so maybe it's not always best to have everything in one box? That's up to you, and your situation of use.
If you're interested in a new radio, at a bargain price-point, give the FT-891 a hard look.
As per accurate specs on power usage at transmit, and other engineering details, see this linked review:
Advanced FT-891 manual is here:
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