I always liked mono-band radios. Not because they can do everything, but because they’re generally exceptionally good at doing that one thing they’re designed for.
The tested Alinco DR-438 is the UHF version, the identical looking DR-138 is Alinco’s VHF version. As we all know by know, the PCB is made by Anytone and identical to the one used in the AT-588.
Look & Feel
Alinco didn’t just simply relabel the Anytone AT-588, but went to great lengths to make current Alinco users feel right at home. While the layout of the Anytone AT-588 isn’t bad, the Alinco is easier to use, probably thanks to its conventional front panel design. What I specifically like is the standard (and very reliable) 8-pin microphone connector instead of the infamous RJ45 connector.
The microphone an EMS-74 and operates in the same way as the EMS-57 supplied with earlier models such as my Alinco DR-635. If the build quality is the same this microphone might outlive you.
Instead of a cooling fan at the back this radio relies on a massive heat sink. if you are one of those long-winded preachers who insist on using maximum power all the time, the passive cooling might not be enough. More about that later.
RX sound quality
As good as it gets. It takes a lot of effort to get the audio to the point of distortion. An external speaker improves the tonal quality of the audio even further. There’s no volume bug to deal with; turn the volume down and there’s not even the slightest hint of audio left.
The power output stated by Alinco proved to be very precise: 10.4 Watts (Low), 25.0 Watts (Mid) and 44.8 Watts (High).
TX Audio quality
Just excellent. The Alinco sounds identical to the clarity we’re used to hear from Yaesu or Kenwood transceivers. The high quality microphone Alinco ships with the radio clearly pays off, no mods required. With the compander switched on TX audio becomes significantly louder, but there’s also a bit of distortion creeping in.
Nice, clean carrier. Second harmonics almost 62 dBm down, third harmonics undetectable.
Sensitivity is fine: -126dBm. If you’d say that some Baofeng HTs do better and that even the Leixen wins, you’re right. In the end this small difference is meaningless though. I can’t repeat it enough: maximum achievable sensitivity looks nice on paper, but it might work against you. Selectivity and filtering is all that matters in our modern, RF-polluted society.
After numerous disappointments when reviewing Chinese radios I got used to encountering lousy front-ends and filtering. To my delight the DR-438 is an exception to the rule. No mixer products, no signal loss when subjected to very strong (out-of-band) signals, no nothing.
In a last attempt to get the receiver on its knees I switched on my Kenwood TMV-71 and pumped 45 Watts into a Diamond X-300 while the Alinco was connected to a separate antenna just a few feet away. I still was able to listen in to myself on the output of PI2NOS, which uses a +1.6 MHz shift. Still no signal loss, still no additional hiss or noise. Now we’re talking!
When operated at full power, the Alinco DR-438 will become very, very hot. Due to the lack of even a small fan on the back this is something you need to be aware of. Make sure the radio is well ventilated, don’t use maximum output power unless really necessary, and/or use an external fan to keep the air around the radio moving.
The Alinco DR-438 covers only one band, but it does so flawlessly. The transmitter section is clean and as good as it gets, the receiver is nothing short of amazing.
Before this test I wondered if the Alinco DR-438 would be worth the extra money over an Anytone AT-588. The answer is ‘Yes’. What Alinco basically did is polishing the underlying Anytone design to perfection. A better front panel, a much better microphone and the more reliable 8-pin connector make a lot of difference.
If there is a flaw, it’s the lack of forced cooling. Make sure that there’s enough airflow, or add your own cooling system. Just a bit of extra airflow proved to be enough; all it took was a low-rpm, 24 Volt fan on top of the radio, connected to the 13.8V power supply.
And while we’re nitpicking anyway: we Europeans really don’t like to use PL-259 for UHF purposes. I also think that the Alinco ERW-7C programming cable (almost € 50 here in NL) is way too expensive. A small cable, costing almost one third of the price of the radio itself? Come on!
In the end I asked K-PO for the bill. This radio is not going back, the Kenwood TMV-71 will be put up for sale. When sold, I’ll likely add the VHF version to my shack too. Far less elegant than a dual-band radio, true, but it will solve the intermod problems I had to endure all those years.