Review Yaesu FTM-400DR

While the use of D-Star appears to be stable or slightly declining, DMR-based radios are becoming increasingly popular. Most DMR Tier 2 radios sold are made by either Hytera or by Motorola. Apart from sending text messages, both brands are largely compatible. The Tier 2 standard offers two time slots.

DMR Tier 1 (no time slots, FDMA) is another system, generally much cheaper, but all radios available to date are mono band. It didn’t come as a surprise that there was a lot of interest in the Yaesu FTM-400DR, the model which replaces the analog FTM-350. Contrary to the Chinese offerings this Yaesu is dual band, and does 50 Watts on both bands. There are four modes available.

V/D mode is Voice and Data communication in the same time frame. Stable and reliable digital voice and data communications are maintained by using extraordinarily strong error correction capabilities. This mode will be the basic mode of C4FM FDMA Digital HAM radio.

Voice FR mode uses the full rate of data capacity for voice. This mode enables you to transfer clear, high quality voice data.

Data FR mode uses the full bandwidth for transferring data. This mode enables you to transfer large amounts of data, text messages, images, and voice memo data with double the speed of V/D mode.

Analog FM mode is effective when weak signals causes audio to drop out in the digital mode, and enables communication up to just above noise level.

Christopher K6OZY picked one up and started playing with the radio. This review is from his hand, talk to him if you have any questions. You can find his e-mail address on his QRZ.COM page.

Yaesu FTM400DR

Yaesu FTM-400DR

I own many FTM-350ARs and have not had any real complaint with them. When Yaesu discontinued it in favor of the 400DR, I was looking forward to it to add the radio into my car with its snazzy touch screen. I figured the $699 premium was going to be everything the FTM-350AR was plus digital, plus a touch screen, plus an SD card input. plus.. plus plus.. etc. Boy was I wrong.

I saw pictures of it last year, and it didn’t make a showing at Dayton this year when I visited, which was very disappointing. I snagged the manual months ago when the FCC certification process kicked off so I could glimpse at it while waiting fro the radio to hit the stores. It looked promising. Finally they landed at HRO and I started to compare it to the 350AR.

Hardware Changes
First off, they made some huge changes to the hardware I do not like. The microphone can’t be attached to the control head. There is also no speaker, mic or ptt on the head like the 350AR. This reduces the cable from an RJ45 to an RJ11. I do not like this change. The only positive is that the control head is about half the weight.

The FTM-400DR is missing the Line In connector also. Uh oh… I didn’t like where this was going.

They did not supply the typical audio L/R splitter like they did with the FTM-350AR & FTM-10R radios. This made me thinking: perhaps they had no plan for it. Sure enough, the menu item that was listed in the FCC manual under [TX/RX -> Audio, choice #1] “Mix / Separate” was missing in the radio and release manual. This is horrible. I like splitting the audio out for VFO separation.

The touch screen is resistive, which isn’t surprising. Its accuracy is pretty low. It’s easy to mistype when trying to enter APRS messages.

Other things MIA

1. There is no FM Broadcast receiver. Really? Every Yaesu radio has had one.. even the $130 VX-3R..

2. X-Band repeat was REMOVED. FCC manual menu [CONFIG Item 19] XBand Repeater listed it. I checked the release manual, and it’s missing indeed. The radio has no option, config settings stop at 18. WTF!?!

Wires is back called “Wires-X” and is easily activated by holding the mode button a bit too long, again pissing everyone off on every repeater.

The Digital Part
Now lets talk about the digital part. A friend bought one too so we were able to compare it to D-Star. In “DN” (Digi Normal) mode, 6.25Khz is used for voice, 6.25Khz is used for GPS data and call sign information. The audio sounds so similar to my D-Star ID-51a, but a bit clearer. I’d say MotoTRBO quality. Simplex tests showed that it was quite good at low signal reception.

The radio in “Auto” mode would try digital as long as it could, then gracefully switch over to analog FM when it ultimately could not get enough signal. Every time someone would PTT, their callsign appears and distance in miles (or km) is shown on the screen. If you had the Navi Screen, it would show their relative location to you, but I couldn’t save the location or even chose to navigate to them. I may not fully know how to do that yet, and that may be an issue on my part.

Digital modes only work on VFO A.

The mode setting is GLOBAL and not per memory channel. This means it is SUPER easy to accidentally blast the local repeater with C4FM Digital if you didn’t check before you key.

You can change the digital mode to “VW” (Voice Wide). This allocates all 12.5Khz to voice. Only the call sign is sent, and no GPS data. The audio quality is VERY good in this setting. I wish we could get this audio out of 6.25khz channels too. Codec2 perhaps?

The FCC manual showed options for not sending GPS data out with your voice while transmitting. This option has been removed from the release manual and radio. If you use digital, you send your location, unless you disable the GPS entirely or override it with a static location.

The “Group Monitor” feature is the “GM” button on the radio face. It is like a digital “hive mind” mode that has all the radios in your area automatically exchange location data while using the same channel for voice. You see your radio chirp out data automatically every now and then and you can request a sync for all stations on demand. This seems neat, but again, if your fat finger hits it by accident while on a local repeater, you then begin blasting it with modem chirps every 5 seconds until you realize what you did.

The SD card only saves config settings for backup and a GPS crumb trail. There is no way to use it to program the radio from your PC and then import it into the radio.

APRS makes a clicking noise out of the speaker every received packet even if volume is fully down on VFO B. You have to enable APRS mute to get rid of the click. BTW, there is no APRS user guide in the box. The main manual keeps referring you to downloading the APRS users guide online, yet Yaesu’s website only lists the sales brochure. Really?

Scanning. Another chronic problem that existed on the FTM-350AR which I was hoping of being fixed was Banks. Neither radio has a memory bank system, and have 500 memories for each side of the radio separated from each other. This means scanning on this radio is completely impossible. You can only mark channels as “Skip” and scan all, or set it to only scan memories marked included. There are no banks or Hyper Memories like the VX-8 or FT-8800/8900 etc radios.

Conclusion
Until (unless) Yaesu can address these issues in the firmware, I am not keeping this radio. This is a significant step down from the FTM-350AR. I’ll call them and give them a chance to explain themselves, but I fully expect no one at USA Yaesu to have any answers or even to have played with the radio yet.

I’m very disappointed.