|As noted in an earlier review, I think quite a bit of the Sienna. After owning it for a while, I see there is still very little information out there about it. So I thought I'd provide a little more for people to read, at least with respect to weak signal reception. Others can comment on the ham-friendly menu options, and the transmission capabilities, such as direct access to the CW keyer on the front panel, ESSB, etc.|
Having an Elecraft K3S and a Kenwood TS-590SG sitting on my bench, arguably some of the better radios around these days, I thought I'd try some A/B listening tests. So I set up the Sienna and the other radios to listen to SSB and CW signals using the same antenna, with an A/B antenna switch, and equal lengths of receiving cable. I also used the same headphone set, plugged into one receiver, and then the other, so that the speakers used in each radio would not be part of the equation. The tests were conducted both during the day, and at night, over several days.
Sienna vs. K3S - Selectivity: When comparing the Sienna to the K3S, it was not much of a contest. The filtering in the K3S is mostly done in software, whereas the Sienna uses mainly analog filters. My Sienna is fully loaded with Collins filters, and I rely on the twin-passband tuning to provide clarity. The K3S has a whole raft of digital tricks to process the signal and get rid of noise, but in the end, the output is harsh. There is an edginess to the K3S received signal that is hard on the ears. This is most apparent when using SSB. The Sienna always provided a quieter, more natural sounding voice signal. Very similar to the older Kenwood radios. I can listen to SSB on the Sienna much longer without fatigue than I can with the K3S.
CW reception was similar, but the quiet receiver of the Sienna was even more apparent. I could easily make the CW signal sound like a code-practice oscillator on the Sienna, whereas with the K3S, there was always a higher noise level, and a slight high-frequency edginess to the signal. The Sienna is definitely a better long-term (i.e., rag chewing) CW radio.
Sienna vs. K3S - Sensitivity: At least to my ears, these radios were about the same. I did not come across any situation, over several days and nights of listening, where one radio was able to receive a weak, barely intelligible, signal that the other could not.
Sienna vs. K3S - Miscellaneous: The Sienna is put together in such a fashion, and documentation is provided, so that you can actually troubleshoot it and fix it yourself, if necessary (although I've had no problems). It is also much more intuitive to use, with a nice front panel layout. All of the functions you’d use most often are right there on the panel. There is a menu system to set up less-frequently used functions, but even when those are accessed, the menu is never more than two layers deep. The only drawback to the Sienna is that it uses more desk space than the K3S. The Sienna is about 14" across the front panel, and about 16" deep. The K3S is about 11” across, and 11” deep. On the other hand, some folks might like that, since it makes each control very easy to access. Sadly for me, it means I am going to have to sell the Sienna AND the K3S to make more room on my bench for other projects!
Sienna vs. TS-590SG - Selectivity: Here again, the filtering in the TS-590SG is mostly done in software. And again, the TS-590GS uses digital signal processing to handle noise. While the end result is better than the K3S, the Sienna is still noticeably better than the TS-590SG under most conditions. That is, there is still some harshness in the received signal on the TS-590GS, as compared to the Sienna, noticeable primarily when using SSB. Thus, the Sienna almost always provided the better signal for voice signal listening. However, there were some situations (e.g., nearby storms, with extremely heavy atmospheric noise, and signals fading in and out), where the TS-590GS could render an intelligible conversation, barely, but the Sienna could not. This occurred when the TS-590SG noise reduction signal processing was brought into play. The signal rendered by the TS-590SG was “watery” sounding, but intelligible. However, outside of this limited window, the SSB voice signal from the Sienna was easier to understand.
CW on the Sienna compared to the TS-590GS was simply amazing. Even when the TS-590SG filters were pulled in as much as possible, the quietness of the Sienna dominated. Hands-down, a cleaner CW signal in the headphones.
Sienna vs. TS-590SG- Sensitivity: Here, both radios were about the same. With every combination of preamp available (the Sienna has two preamps, and one attenuator, in addition to the usual RF gain control; the TS-590G has only one preamp), I did not come across any situation, over several days of listening, where one radio was able to receive a signal that the other could not.
Sienna vs. TS-590SG - Miscellaneous: There are a LOT of small buttons on the front panel of the TS-590SG (the Sienna has 15 buttons, the K3S has 29, and the TS-590SG has 54!). It is about the same size as the K3S – a little narrower and a little deeper. So use would be difficult for folks with larger hands. I also note the lack of a graphical filter display for passband tuning. The Sienna provides a very clear indication of where your filters sit with respect to the signal, whereas the TS-590SG does not. The result is that you always know how to move the passbands on the Sienna to get a better result, but on the TS-590GS you don’t – it takes some fiddling to get going in the correct direction. All you get is a number on the display, and you don’t know what that number is until you turn the passband knob – usually in the wrong direction. Kind of annoying when you want to home in on a particular signal. It may also bear mentioning that the Sienna has an IF output for easy use with a panadapter – the TS-590GS does not. While it is possible to make the TS-590GS operate with a panadapter, it is not straightforward, at all. See: http://www.crystalradio.us/projects/ts-590s-panadaptor.htm . You can also set up the equalizer directly from the front panel of the Sienna, whereas to set the equalizer on the TS-590GS, you need to connect it to a computer, and use the Kenwood control software.
CONCLUSION: For rag chewing or other casual SSB use, the Sienna is a better radio than the K3S or the TS-590SG. It is much easier on the ears. For CW, even more so – if you have the proper filters (e.g., 400 Hz) installed on the Sienna, you will have a better tool for receiving the signals. The Sienna front panel controls are easier to access and manipulate than they are on the other radios. But if your primary interest is contesting, or working under near-impossible signal reception conditions, where harshness is not an issue, or if desk space really matters, I’d go with the TS-590SG.
Earlier 5-star review posted by N5KNG on 2015-07-24
To begin, this is a real kit. It’s not just plugging a few boards together and putting some screws in the chassis (a la Elecraft). You will be putting parts on circuit boards. Plenty of parts. So before sitting down to assemble it, you’d better get yourself a temperature controlled iron (you don’t absolutely need one, but it makes the work go much faster) and a good pair of flush-cutting, side-cut pliers. In addition, while the surface mount components are done for you, some of those resistors are pretty small! I found a little extra magnification using clip-on, flip up magnifying glasses to be helpful at times. For tools like these, Amazon has everything you might want at very reasonable prices.
The radio is modular; you build it in sections: power-switching, antenna tuner, receiver and filters, transmitter, and power amplifier. The parts are packaged logically, in separate bags, so you can easily keep track of what you’ve done, and what’s left to do. The assembly instructions are very complete, so those moments where you find yourself asking whether you did something correctly are extremely rare. And on those few occasions, the answer is almost always that you just have to read the instructions again, and find what you might have missed the first time.
Well gee, sometimes it’s hard to keep that enthusiasm under control while you’re building. You just get in a hurry to finish up and start on the next section!
But I digress. I selected this radio because I enjoy putting kits together – making something that you can actually use when you’re done. And I wanted to learn something while doing so. With the Sienna, I found this to be the case several times over.
There are three manuals: assembly, service, and operations. Putting the radio together was challenging in a sense, due to the number of parts, and the sophistication of the design. But it was also very enjoyable, since it was obvious that a LOT of thought had gone into the design and packaging. As others have mentioned, there is plenty of room to work, and troubleshoot when needed. Putting it together was like reading a great novel – each section was an adventure, where you discover something about the mind of the designer. Indeed, just like coming to the end of a good book, you are a little sad when the radio is complete, because you know there is nothing else like it available on the market.
In short, this radio is an excellent challenge for the kit builder, and when you’re done – performance!
I’ve owned a number of middle to higher-end radios from Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu. More recently, I’ve owned the Elecraft K3 and KX3. The Sienna is better. The quality of construction is higher, and the performance is just as good. In fact, since this is a modern analog radio, the audio is better. You can hear the difference, and it’s easier on the ears.
There are also a lot of features that you’d expect in a high-end radio, including switchable dual transmit/receive antennas, and a separate receive-only antenna input. There is a serial remote control port, and even selectable IF outputs, in case you’d like to run some of the more popular panadapter-type programs. But there are also many features that you can’t get on ready-made radios, such as a dizzying array of filter combinations, and menu options to configure hardware and software operations the way you like them. You can even pick out the color of your front panel, and the led lights for the buttons!
Finally, there is the service you receive from Brian Wood at DZ Kits. It is simply incredible. He exceeds your expectations at every turn. It is the best I've received anywhere in the ham radio marketplace.
To put it simply: this is THE RADIO. If you buy one, you won’t be selling it. I'd give it a "10" if I could!