While many of us don’t regard this to be ham radio equipment, they are marketed as such. Wherever you go, you will see that these radios are sold as ‘PC programmable, all-mode, 10 meter transceiver’. In reality these radios are more tailored to CB use, which is emphasized by options such as a roger beep and an adjustable echo. Use on 10 meter seems to have been a secondary thought of the designers, or perhaps a marketing trick to give these radios a more ‘professional’ image.
Yet it would be silly to ignore these radios all together. They are indeed all-mode: FM, AM, SSB and CW. They pump out a generous amount of power too, thanks to a couple of IRF520 MOSFET finals (which, BTW, are dirt cheap). The manufacturer claims the output to be 40 Watts on FM and SSB, and about 12 Watts carrier on AM/CW, all adjustable. That turned out to be quite accurate. So, how good (or bad) are these radios really? I gave the Superstar SS6900N the same treatment as any other ham radio equipment I reviewed here, and ended up with some surprising results.
Names, names, and version numbers
This radio can be found under a myriad of names. The most well-known are Anytone AT-5555, K-PO DX-5000, Superstar SS6900 N, Intek HR-5500, Alpha 10 Max AM-1000, Comtex CS-1000DX, MAAS DX-5000, and Hannover BR-9000. There’s also a CRE variety, the CRE 8900. The PCB of this version is built a bit differently to make it fit into a DIN enclosure.
I’m pretty sure you will find this radio under other names I didn’t mention here. Most of the radios have software version numbers attached to the model, which aren’t necessarily identical to the version number of the PCB. The board of my review sample for example shows V5, but the firmware is V6.
Whatever the brand name, the overall impression is certainly satisfactory. The PCB is very neatly built, there are no last-minute ‘Quick & Dirty’ design changes to be found. If this is really an Anytone, this CB radio is assembled on a different (better!) production line than their 2/70 dual bander…
Keys react promptly, there are no issues with pots nor with rotary encoders. The readability of the bright display (blue, a typical Superstar trade) is excellent, but will hurt your eyes in the evening. There’s no way to dim the LCD, you can only switch it off. At the back we find connectors for the antenna, an external speaker and a CW key. What you won’t find is a micro USB connector to program the radio. This connector is located on the PCB, which means you have to open up the radio in order to program it. Not very user-friendly, a bit silly even. The (much more expensive) CRE 8900 does have a micro USB connector at the back – maybe a sign of things to come.
Switching between CB and 10 meters is easy and involves holding down two keys (FUN + SRF) while switching on the radio, after which you’re presented with two options: 1Band (10 meters) or 2Band (CB, 240 channels). Select one and press FUN again, and switch the radio off and on again. All settings you made in the menu system are reset to default though, which is a pain. In CB mode I understood the usefulness of the +10KHz button – it allows you to work on frequencies which are normally skipped in the CB channel system.
I left CB for what it was, and shifted my attention towards the 10 meter band. I connected the radio to a 5/8λ vertical and made some QSO’s in SSB and FM. I was lucky; band conditions were reasonably good – South America and India proved to be no problem at all, and the signal reports I got were excellent. RX audio is absolutely great, thanks to the generous size of the speaker and cabinet. No hiss, noise or distortion either, which was surprising for something supposedly manufactured by Anytone. Sensitivity and selectivity seemed to be fine too, but it’s easy to get fooled. It was time to connect the radio to the test equipment.
Frequency accuracy and stability
One word: excellent. Interesting. Even on USB and LSB this radio was absolutely spot on. If for any reason it’s not, you can adjust the USB/LSB offsets by entering the factory menu. Turn off the radio, hold the FUN button and turn on the radio. Let go of the FUN key and then press RB, NB and DW one at a time in quick succession. Reading this topic will be helpful.
AM: – 117 dBm
FM: – 118 dBm
SSB: -125 dBm
Good numbers for this type of radio.
Here we ran into some problems. When measuring the harmonic suppression, I immediately noticed some peaks left and right of the carrier. To get a better picture of what was happening there I reduced the frequency span. This is what appeared on the spectrum analyzer screen:
What we see is that phase noise is low, which is a good thing. The peaks left and right are unwanted products from the mixer, and appear in the spectrum exactly 3.5MHz below and above the carrier. PA0TBS, who owns an Anytone AT-5555 V3.1, brought in his radio for comparison. While his radio did a bit better, this problem seems to be common across the board. Needless to say, this is bad news.
Harmonic suppression, while not brilliant on second harmonics, is acceptable. Third harmonics suppression is excellent.
I compared these numbers with the results of a Stabo XM-7040, originally an approved 40-channel FM CB transceiver. Second harmonics were >58 dBm down, while the third harmonics were barely measurable. The Stabo didn’t produce unwanted mixer products either. Stabo – Superstar: 2-0.
The Superstar SS6900N and its identical twins are a funny breed of radios. They can be used for 10 meters, but only if you accept a few cons:
- Only 5 KHz steps; it is quite easy to miss a weak signal on SSB. Using the clarifier is the only way to tune in between the ‘channels’,
- Clarifier offset, roger beep, NB/ANL and other settings are not global, but remembered for one particular channel. You need a very good memory if you want to clean things up afterwards,
- No repeater shift (you need to use the programming software to get that to work),
- Strong unwanted mixer products, forget about approvals of any kind,
- No external USB socket for programming,
- No decent schematics included, no service manual available,
- This type of display really needs a dimmer.
- Offers CW, but lacks better CW filter options.
- Low price for such a powerful all-mode radio,
- Good build quality,
- PC Programmable,
- Good sensitivity,
- Hardly any drift (if any), excellent frequency accuracy,
- Harmonic suppression varies between acceptable and very good
- Excellent TX and RX audio,
- CW capable,
- Menu-driven system, can be tailored to meet personal preferences,
- SWR measurement and protection,
- Scanner (slow, about 3 chan/sec).
- ‘Auto Squelch’, great for mobile use.
Price in NL, including VAT: € 192,39, which included programming cable and software. Dealer: hamradioshop.nl.