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Reviews For: Kenwood TS-990S

Category: Transceivers: HF Amateur HF+6M+VHF+UHF models - not QRP <5W

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Review Summary For : Kenwood TS-990S
Reviews: 104MSRP: 7999
Kenwood FLAGSHIP TS-990S has arrived. Kenwoods sets a new preformance and operating standard for the ultimate Amateur Transceiver. Advanced KENWOOD technologies deliver a Top-End receive and transmitt experience on Amateur Bands 160 Mtr to 6 Mtrs. Kenwood proudly adds the 990S to its trendsetting TS series!
Product is in production
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# last 180 days Avg. Rating last 180 days Total reviews Avg. overall rating
WD8DAS Rating: 2014-05-08
I love this rig! Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
Yes it is expensive, but given how big a role ham radio has in my life I decided to go for it. And I'm very pleased.

At every turn I am impressed by the performance of this transceiver. I love the big front panel, easy access knobs and switches, and the transmit and receiver performance beats all other rigs I've used over 35 years.

The TS-990S has been clearly been designed by hams - the controls and features "make sense" and are easy to use. Nothing seems "oddball", or left over from military or commercial applications.

Nothing is perfect, of course, so I have made three suggestions to Kenwood for a few improvements to make it even better.

1. Built-in RTTY and PSK modes have direct transmission from an attached USB keyboard - but CW mode can only have memories filled by keyboard entry. The next firmware upgrade should go all the way and offer direct CW transmission from keyboard.

2. In AM mode the RF/IF filter bandwidth is considerably greater than the max audio bandwidth setting. This unnecessarily limits the maximum effective audio response in AM operation.

3. It would be nice to have the ability to transmit audio that has just been recorded from one of the receivers. You can do this by looping back one of the receive audio outputs to one of the transmit inputs (optical or accessory jacks as easiest), and using the voice memories as a "scratchpad" memory. But it would be more elegant to have the ability to route the audio internally, specifically for this purpose.

K7FD Rating: 2014-05-06
Ultimate CW rig Time Owned: more than 12 months.
It's been over a year since I purchased the 990S; as a CW operator, I can only give it the highest of marks...out-doing my old Orion II by leaps and bounds. Listening to CW on the 990S is pure pleasure. The ability to customize ALL phases of the radio surpasses anything I have owned up to today. And the ability to 'see' the changes made to the receiver on the built-in audio scope as you make them is icing on the cake.

Being able to customize all controls...BW shift/width filters, Band Elimination filter, Noise Reduction, AGC, APF, etc. has allowed me to achieve, well...I'd say a luxurious hi-fi sound on CW void of any fatiguing noise floor. With the 990S I have the ability to 'leave some' noise floor in there (so it sounds like actually I'm listening to something, hi)...or with NR, I can completely remove the background noise so only CW signals are heard. The Noise Reduction NR1 on CW is more than excellent.

The QSK is totally transparent. My sending with the built-in keyer sounds just like another signal on the band. No relay clicks, pops, hiccups, burps, or what-have-you. It's the best QSK I have used and I don't know how it could be improved.

So, from a CW operator view, I'd give the 990S a solid five stars! It's no slouch on SSB either, but I'll leave that review to someone who uses phone more than I do...

73 John K7FD

W6KM Rating: 2014-04-27
It really is a Flagship Rig Time Owned: 6 to 12 months.
On May 10th, I will have owned my TS-990S for one year.
I agree with every positive past review,so no need to repeat them again.
I have had no issues and find it the best rig I have ever owned, and I have had my share.
There have been many fine suggestions to further customize some of the operating features and we hope that Kenwood would consider them in future firmware updates,I agree that they would be welcome.
I am so sorry to see, with so many #5 reviews that the system still allows the old negitive ratings to even weight in on the current reports.Almost all the negitive reports are by non-owners that either sat at a friends shack or turned a few knobs at a radio store. Those of us that own and use the TS-990S know the truth.
The old saying that "one size fits all" does not apply to Ham Radio rigs.
I wish I could post a higher then 5 rating because that is how I feel about the TS-990S.

73 es GUD DX.....Dick
OE1TRB Rating: 2014-04-14
1 year great performance Time Owned: more than 12 months.
I run my TS-990 1 year now, it worked and works fine with me. Every firmware update is easy to handle. My wish is to get an analog S-Meter enhancement for the 2nd receiver in one of the next firmware updates which would be a great benefit for me and other operators. I had a lot of nice QSOs (see my around the world.
All in all the TS990 is a strong performer compared to my IC-7700 with its DSP and filter possibilites.
73 de Thomas
AB4D Rating: 2014-04-08
Finally, DSP that works on SSB. Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
There have already been extensive reviews of this exceptional transceiver. I will try not to reiterate others comments, but will add a few initial points that I don't believe have been covered, and share my short period experience so far using a Kenwood TS-990S, Firmware Ver 1.06.
In comparison, I have owned or own the following rigs, Icom IC-7700, Yaesu FT-1000D/MP/MKV,FTdx9000MP, FTdx3000D, Flex 5000a. The TS-990S is a recent addition to my station.

I was on the fence about whether I should purchase a TS-990S or an Icom IC-7800. Both are very fine rigs. The Kenwood won out after carefully researching both, and sitting down in front of the TS-990S at a local retailer. I know I wanted to try something that was more recent in design. I concluded, the IC-7800 was probably very similar to an IC-7700 I had previously owned. I did not see any real technical advantage to purchase a IC-7800 after recently selling my IC-7700.

Let's get the negatives about the TS-990S out of the way. The first I admit is sort of nitpicky. The fan in the TS-990S seems to cycle off and on periodically when the rig is in standby mode. I understand it's purpose, to remove any heat generated during standby by the power supply (not on but plugged into the wall). I just can't say I agree with that design. I suspect that fan is going to wear out sooner than later, and will probably add additional dust migration into the radio.

The second is the amount of heat this rig generates. Wow, I can't believe how hot the rig gets based on the temperature of air coming out of the back of the radio when just receiving. It vaguely reminds me of the heat that blows out of the bulb compartment from the film projectors we all used in high school in the 60's and 70's. I did not measure it, but if you put your hand near the rear vent for a short period of time when the TS-990S is on, your hand will get uncomfortably warm fairly fast. Make sure there is plenty of room behind the TS-990S for ventilation.

The last is more important to me. I tend to work a lot of DX stations that run split. Recently, I was in the process of working VK9MT on SSB/15 meters. He was running split and listening 5-15 up. I noticed that the noise floor on the TS-990S' receiver would raise up a couple of S units whenever the pile up transmitted. Although it did not seem to obscure the DX station in that particular instance, it could be problematic in other situations, such as when the DX station is very weak copy. I do want to add though, multiple stations in the pile up were 40+ over S9 on receive, and that may have been a factor with so many strong stations calling so close.

Now the good, I've read several of the reviews critiquing this rig as nothing new and overpriced. I could not disagree more when it comes to the DSP noise reduction algorithms utilized in the TS-990S. I've used every NB and NR filter that's been provided on the rigs I've listed above, and I have used the popular Timewave 599ZX DSP filter as well. IMO, trying to dig out a weak station on SSB when it's buried in the noise is more challenging to the DSP filter than most other modes. As your not dealing with a single tone, such as in CW.

I can honestly say, the TS-990S NR2 filter has been the most effective for me to date, to assist the operator in digging out a weak stations on SSB. To say I was somewhat astounded by it's ability to allow me to hear a station in the noise is an understatement. I have never experienced anything like that in the past when using the other rigs I have owned!

At the time of this writing, Tonga is active with A35X and A35V on the island. I have worked and confirmed A35X on both 10 and 15 meters. I believe, I could not have worked him without the TS-990S. Let me explain the operating situation.

In the past, the NR circuits in other rigs I have owned did not seem to do very much in the way of assisting me to hear weak SSB stations. Yes they have reduced the noise, but at the same time, they also tended to reduce the signal as well or sometimes just changed the tone of the background noise, but really no better copy.

A35X on SSB has been in the noise for me during most of his operation on SSB around 22:00-23:00Z. On 10 meters, I have been seeing A35X running about S0-peaking less than S1, with some QSB, just about equal with my noise level. I know he was in there, but never could quite make out what he was saying. On the TS-990S, I first tried to copy him by fiddling with the Noise Blankers. They did not seem to make much difference. Next I tried Noise Reduction 1, when fully engage it helped very slightly, but still I could not yet copy him. Next I engaged Noise Reduction 2, that switches off NR1, and is a more aggressive algorithm. As I began to engage NR2 to it's maximum, A35X became more readable to where I could clearly copy him. I switched it off and on several times to just gauge the difference, and again no copy when it was off. I was really amazed, it was the first time I had experienced a NR that actually made a significant difference on SSB. I was able to make the contact and I was in the log. I caught him nearly at the same Zulu time the next day on 15 meters. Same situation, NR2 off no copy, NR2 engage I could clearly hear him, and another contact was secured.

Now let me say, I am not claiming that NR2 in the TS-990S, takes a SSB signal from down in the noise to armchair FM quality copy. Although it did allow me to clearly hear and work a weak DX station that I could not hear without NR2, like all DSP, it does add some weird artifacts to the audio signal. When NR2 is fully engaged there is an aggressive weird watery almost musical artifact sound in the background, but it did get the job done for me, more so than any of the other top end rigs I have used.

I also took that opportunity to A/B test the TS-990S vs. FTdx9000MP vs. FT-1000MP MARK V on the same weak station using a TH-11DX at 83 feet. Clearly, the TS-990S won hands down. I could copy A35X on the TS-990S using NR2, when I could not on the other two rigs using similar circuits provided in those rigs. Based on my previous experience using a IC-7700 for five years. I would say the TS-990S NR circuits are superior. Based on previous testing. A IC-7700 did not receive any better on SSB than a FTdx-9000 for copying weak signal DX stations. I am confident when I say the TS-990S has raised the bar in regard to allowing the operator to hear weak signal SSB DX. I hope Icom and Yaesu follow suit. Although incremental, I believe that Kenwood has advanced the art of DSP one step further.

I've never used the digital modes, other than copy SSTV on HF, but this radio may inspire me to try that out as well, because it does so very simply. The fact that no computer is needed to use RTTY and PSK with the TS-990S, is a great addition to any station. I've tried copying a few stations in both RTTY and PSK and it seems to work fine. I have yet to crack open the operators manual. If you are a hands on person, for basic operation, the basics are simple enough where you can jump right in and start making contacts before reading the manual.

I've also experimented with the CW filters. You can make them unbelievably tight, yet still usable. On some of the other rigs I've used, the really tight CW filters began to have an annoying "howling" artifact to them if you try to make them too tight. On the TS-990S, I did not notice that issue to be a concern when I narrowed it down to 50 Hz. Overall, it's a great rig. I have a 25 inch LCD screen connected to the TS-990S. The display is bright, crisp and clean. There is no pixilation of the display. Additionally, it was easy to interface the rig to my station logging program HRD 6.2.

W2TCB Rating: 2014-03-14
One Year Later Time Owned: more than 12 months.
Bought my TS-900 a year ago and have not had a single issue to date. All firmware updates have been seamless, transmit & receive great and no issues driving an AL-80B amp. In reviewing most of the posts covering the last year I don't see any significant negative trends developing. Would love some tweaks to the panadapter (increase size / speed), and color options for the tft display, but other than that I am most satisfied.
WA6DON Rating: 2014-03-09
Great radio Time Owned: 6 to 12 months.
I've had my ts-990s for about a year now, I'm very happy with it, I'm a guy who likes to use my radio to pull out weak signals in the dx pileups and I think it does a fantastic job of it thanks to the good receiver in it, I like the way the radio is laid out as well as the two screens and all the options available,the menu was very easy for me to figure out, my first radio was a ts-430 then I switch over to icoms such as the ic-765 ic-756 pro 2 which were also great radios so it nice to be back with Kenwood again. I use the pr-40 mic with it and have had really good reports coming back and have found the audio easy to adjust to make it sound the way you want. I think Kenwood has done a fantastic job on this one and I'm glad to have it setting in front of me. as far as the price goes don't look at a Cadillac if you only have money for a ford, plenty of nice radios on the market that will do the same job, this one is just top of the line.
AB4BJ Rating: 2014-03-07
Updated: Still Top of Class! Time Owned: 6 to 12 months.
I originally reviewed the TS-990 when I had it for only a week in May of 2013. I'm pleased to report that my original review still holds true and I continue to love thie radio. While there is room for improvement in any product, I remain very pleased by the performance of the receiver and transmit sections. I agree with some of the firmware improvements suggested by AA7AS, but these are by no means "deal breakers" in my mind. I'm still plesed with my purchase and plan to continue enjoying this radio for many years to come.

Here's my original review from May 8, 2013:

I have had the TS-990 for only a week, and I’m sure this review may be a bit premature; however, I wanted to share my thoughts about this fine transceiver for those who are considering making an investment in one. Although I have had it for a short time, I was able to spend a majority of the first four days I had it delving deeply into its features, so this review comes after quite a bit of operation of the radio.

For frame of reference, I have owned a number of great HF radios over the past 25 years as a ham. I think any reviewer is influenced by what he or she has previously used. While I have never owned or extensively used an IC-7800, IC-7700, FT-5000 or FT-9000, I have owned and used the IC-7600, FT-2000, FTDX-3000, Flex-3000, Flex-5000A (dual receiver version) and many other less expensive HF radios. One of my favorite “radios of the past” if the FT-1000 Mark V Field. I can say with all honesty that the TS-990S is by far the best transceiver I have ever owned and operated. It’s simply a great rig. While this review cannot touch upon all aspects of this radio, I will try to cover my experience operating it as much as possible. Please also keep in mind that the review of any radio will depend on the antenna system to some degree. I used only a SteppIR vertical and a Pixel RF Pro 1B loop (receive only) while learning to use my new radio.

Having gotten the preliminaries out of the way, here are my thoughts (I am not a CW OP, so my comments are limited to my experience with SSB on the TS-990):

Look, Feel and Ergonomics

This radio gets an “A+” in this category. The front panel layout is logical and the two LED screens are clear and show no signs of pixilation. The meter is as responsive as an analog meter. Moving from control to control is easy and intuitive, and gets easier as you learn the layout. I especially like the touch screen aspect of the main 7 inch LED screen and band scope. I really have no complaints about ease of use of this radio. By the way, this radio is BIG and HEAVY, coming in at just under 60 pounds. The menu system is easy to learn and use and is well laid out. Many of the front panel controls take you to settings screens with a press and hold. The scope and waterfall are crisp and clear.


This radio has a great receiver. There are many ways to tweak what you hear. I have had no problem pulling in weak stations. I have also had no problem eliminating interference from those stations that are strong and close by. I could spend pages describing the different ways to tweak the receiver, but here is a list of highlights:
1. Noise Reduction – the two adjustable settings are very effective and work well.
2. Receive EQ – What can I say? An 18 band EQ provides many options for tailoring the received audio. There are numerous presets here, or you can configure one of three user configurations to your liking.
3. Auto and Manual Notch – Very effective and work well.
4. BEF – I have only played with this a little, but it works as the manual states. I hope others will provide more about this feature.
5. RX Filter – The three customizable filers have numerous combinations to allow the user to adjust the filtering to their liking, depending on operating conditions. This allows great customization for user preference. The roofing filters do a very good job. The passband settings are variable and can be saved within the RX Filter settings.

Transmit Audio Settings

Like the receiver, the transmit audio settings can be customized in almost limitless ways. Here are the highlights (By the way, I use a Heil Classic with this radio):

1. TX Filtering – You can use as much or as little bandwidth as you want to start the process of tailoring the audio. The range here is 10 through 4000 Hz, which is very broad, indeed.
2. TX EQ – Just like on the receive side; the rig has an 18 band TX EQ that can be customized in many ways to tailor your TX audio. There are numerous presets and several user customizable settings.
The Mic gain and Processor settings are also widely customizable, such that any user of this radio can configure the transmit audio without the need for any outboard audio equipment. As mentioned above, I use the Heil Classic mic. With the proc on, the TX EQ “conventional” setting and TX filtering set at 200 on the low end and 2900 on the high end, I have received some very good audio reports.

By the way, you can observe receive and transmit audio on the built in audio scope.

Computer Interfacing

With this radio, you have three ways to simultaneously interface with a computer: COM (DB9), USB and LAN (Ethernet). I have all three running – the DB9 with my SteppIR controller, the USB for my logging program and the LAN to control the radio with the ARCP-990 software that is free from Kenwood. This software is particularly nice as it provides a “clickable” band scope feature. The radio has native full remote operation from a distant computer with the Kenwood software.

Other Features

With this radio, you can decode and transmit PSK, RTTY and CW on the internal screen. You can attach a USB keyboard to one of three USB ports for operation of digital modes. You can also plug a USB memory stick into one of the front USB ports to backup all of your radio settings. The radio has digital video output (DVI) that I have used to output to a DVI monitor. The result is a high definition view of the radio’s main screen on the monitor in front of me. This is very nice when using the radio for PSK or RTTY.

This radio also has a complete and independent second receiver, which the documentation says is a TS-590. The second receiver works well and has all of the same customization available as the main receiver.

The radio has four antenna inputs and an input and output for a dedicated receive antenna.

There are many more features, too numerous to list here.

Things I Don’t Like So Far

No radio is perfect. There are a few things I don’t like so far. The manual suffers from poor translation into English and could use improvement. While I love having the separate receive antenna input, it is an “all or nothing” proposition. In other words, if the receive antenna is selected, you must use it on all bands and in the sub receiver. I hope Kenwood will fix this with the next firmware update. I would like to see a few more customizable PF keys on the front panel, but Kenwood does have a schematic in the manual to allow you to build an outboard keypad for the PF keys. For now, these are my main issues.

All in all, this is a great radio – the best I’ve ever owned. From my perspective, Kenwood has raised the bar with their new flagship entry. To me, it has been money well spent.
AA7AS Rating: 2014-02-16
Good, needs attention from Kenwood Time Owned: 6 to 12 months.
The TS-990 is a superb transceiver. In day to day operations, I find the amenities to be well thought out and useful, the receiver to be highly selective, sensitive and capable of significant fidelity or extreme narrowband operations.

Between the noise blanking and reduction, notches, BEF, receive equalization, shift/width or high/low bandpass, RF gain, AGC selection, roofing filters, antenna choices, preamplifier, preselector, splitting, RIT, separate rx/tx antennas, regular memories, quick memories, band stacking and band memories, isolated rx loop and the optical, usb and analog audio outputs, and the unique and very clever shortwave mode, the receiver is truly a joy to use.

The transmitter, at 200 watts and with a relatively high final voltage, runs at reasonable temperatures and produces a good quality signal. I've gone all day rag-chewing, barefoot at full power and never experienced any kind of heat related problem, not even a particularly warm case. The antenna tuner likes all my antennas and is quite fast. There is TX equalization, bandwidth setting, XIT, split operation, and remote operation.

The network command set is reasonably well thought out (with the exception of the selection of UTF-16LE as the character set) and enabled me to quickly write a Python application that allows my SDR software to track the TS-990's tuning and demodulation mode, and vice-versa. The radio's network operations are highly responsive and although the manual warns of possible missed commands under heavy (radio) CPU load, I have never seen this happen.

I've left the radio on for days at a time, and it has never crashed or glitched. Given that I actually use a lot of the radio's features, this speaks highly of the firmware quality.

This radio is large, heavy, and will not operate from 12vdc unless you have a (powerful) inverter. A great desktop rig; not so great for portability unless mounted in a trailer or something like that.

The menu system is extensive, and offers a myriad of useful choices and options. Expect to spend some quality time in there changing things around. I can guarantee it.

It didn't come with a microphone. Had the salesman not warned me, I would have been one disappointed fellow the day I received the rig. I don't understand Kenwood's choice in this regard.

Both the spectrum and the waterfall are low performance in comparison with the typical SDR display. Slower, less resolution, poorer control, less utility. Having said that, there's a lot that could be done to improve both of them in firmware.

Firmware upgrading is basically trivial: You format a memory stick on the transceiver, move it to your computer (any OS), drag and drop the upgrade file onto the stick, plug the stick back into the TS-990S, and start the upgrade. No cables, no OS-specific software, no computer crashes, no multiple file download/install complexities... nice.

The radio is very expensive; in my opinion, it is well worth the price. But it could easily be improved. Specifically...

As of firmware 1.05, I find that the following firmware changes are called for:

o mouse control for the spectrum display
o S-meter recoded to obey 50uv=S9 standards
o Waterfall base color s/b much darker
o Waterfall colors s/b editable
o Waterfall intercept with spectrum display s/b variable
o Front panel REC system should allow for retransmit
o Main knob should have spin rate variable tuning rate
o Needs CW decode added to RTTY and PSK decode
o NB1 should not stop blanking when signal is high level
o NB2 should not stop blanking when signal is high level
o NB2 needs independently adjustable width, threshold
o Notch is too wide at 300 hz
o Needs ID interval timer
o PF keys don't execute deeply enough, pick menu choice
o Slowest AGC isn't even close to slow enough
o Sub-display should be able to show s, other-meter(s)
o Kenwood software should support OSX, Linux too
o Antenna jacks need TX disable switches
o Antenna jacks need TX only within range(s) settings
o Preamp gain should be consistent on all bands
o Matching speaker needs to be completely rethought
IK0OZD Rating: 2014-02-14
TS990 after many time of use Time Owned: 6 to 12 months.

You are right AD4C,
It is not the best receiver in the world.
The best receiver does not exist.
Use the ts990 for almost 1 year, not change ever for a k3 or another radio right now on the market,
for this I must thank Kenwood,
Thank you kenwood because although it is an expensive radio makes you pass the desire to have other radio in the same category,
the TS590 was not the killer of the k3,
the TS990 is the killer of high-end radio