Review Anytone AT-588UV

After reviewing Wouxun’s mobile transceiver, which still needed some work, all attention shifted towards the Anytone AT-588UV (now changed to AT-5888UV). I’m not the first to express my feelings about this rig, nor will I be the last. I took my time to review this mobile radio, as early reports contradict each other in almost every respect. When opinions vary from ‘Piece of junk’ to ‘Best radio ever’, I tread more carefully than usual.

First impressions
The Anytone AT-588UV is a good looking mobile rig. The front panel is detachable for mobile use. Eight direct access keys are placed just under the LCD. The readability of the typeface used to describe their function is excellent, even from a distance. Display color is highly configurable, thanks to the implemented RGB color system. An insanely loud beep, enough to scare the living daylights out of you, is heard when you switch on the radio. This can’t be changed.

The microphone connector (RJ45) is located at the right, a USB connector at the left. This connector isn’t there to program the Anytone by computer, as you might expect, but only to charge your phone, MP3 player or similar device. Programming is possible with an optional cable which has to plugged into the microphone input. At the back there are two outputs, one marked external speaker and one marked A/V. Because both accept the same 3.5mm plugs, it’s easy to make mistakes. I made a few mistakes on purpose, but not harm is done when you mess up. The antenna connector used is an old fashioned SO-239, not N.

When seen from above, this Anytone looks similar to the Alinco DR-635, up to the position of the internal speaker and cooling fan. The fan of the Anytone only kicks in when needed. Nice.

General
At first glance the supplied multi-functional microphone is one we would like to see standard on every rig, but there’s a catch. Instead of putting the up- and down buttons on top, where they belong, they’re located at the top right – exactly in the place where your thumb rests when holding the microphone. The lack of a ‘lock’ switch adds to the misery. Rumors are that new batches of the AT-588UV will be delivered with another (usable) microphone model.

The external speaker connector is unreliable. The only way to make it work is by inserting the 3.5mm plug firmly and pull it out slightly. One wrong move, one little tremble, and the audio goes dead. Probably easy to fix, but sloppy nonetheless.

Menus
The menus look very similar to the ones we know from Yaesu. Personally I don’t mind; Yaesu menus are relatively easy to work with once you understand the logic behind them. There are some options there you won’t see elsewhere. A two/five tone generator is one of them, AM detection up to 174 MHz is another. AM detection can be set to automatic or manual. The last option will allow you to listen to AM transmissions on 2 meters, not only air traffic.

Receiver
Sensitivity on both bands is fine, between -124dBm on UHF and -127dBm on VHF. I had really low expectations when I started to look at the quality of the front end. VA3ISP reported that he heard pager blasts while listening to the amateur bands, but I couldn’t replicate such problems. On the contrary, the receiver of the AT-588UV performed better than average when it came to handling unwanted and strong out-of-band signals.

Frequency range RX:
118-174 MHz (AM/FM)
220-260 MHz
350-400MHz
400-490 MHz
49-870 MHz (Optional)

RX Audio
RX audio is not very pleasant to listen to. There’s such an amount of distortion that’s is not something which is only measurable, but clearly audible. The audio amplifier also spits out a generous amount of noise, even when the volume is turned down to a minimum. On top of all this there’s an annoying high pitched tone present when the squelch opens. My frequency counter, DSO, nor spectrum analyzer were able to isolate the frequency due to the reported noise and distortion. I eventually managed to pinpoint the frequency by tuning my function generator until both tones were zero beat. I ended up at 4000Hz, give or take a few Hz.

Transmitter
My review sample suffered from a flaw which has the same effect as a broken microphone wire: sometimes your modulation is fine, sometimes it’s gone almost completely. To make sure it really wasn’t a problem with the microphone, I replaced it by another microphone which belongs to my Anytone 70MHz transceiver. The problem didn’t go away. Contrary to other reports there seems to be no relation to the input level – it doesn’t matter whether I whisper or yell. When it works, TX audio quality is great though.

The problem doesn’t impact the cross-band repeater system (which, BTW, works well.)

Power output
The Anytone AT-588UV offers four power output levels: Low, Mid2, Mid1, and High. Measurements done at 145 MHz and 435 MHz respectively are as follows:

145 MHz
Low: 4.8 Watts
Mid2: 9.2 Watts
Mid1: 29 Watts
High:  52 Watts

435 MHz
Low: 2.1 Watts
Mid2: 5.4 Watts
Mid1: 15 Watts
High: 35 Watts

Frequency range TX:
136-174MHz
400-490MHz

Harmonic suppression
Whenever you look at harmonic suppression, VHF seems to be harder to control than UHF. There is some room for improvement on VHF, but overall the Anytone does a good job.

VHF, second harmonic, 53dBm down. Room for improvement.

VHF, third harmonic, 64dBm down. Excellent.

UHF, second harmonic, 58dBm down. Good.

Conclusion
The Anytone AT-588UV is far from perfect. The rig is plagued by design flaws which all have to be sorted out by the manufacturer if they want to have any chance of impressing the ham radio world.

If I may be blunt: many flaws are impossible to live with. If I transmit, I want to be heard. If I listen, I don’t want to be annoyed by noise, distortion and high pitched tones. If this annoys a 57 years old guy who even can’t hear the complete audio spectrum anymore, I wonder how younger operators would think about this.

Then there’s build quality, which is only average. I’ve spotted coils which weren’t soldered properly, causing one end of the coil to hang one micron above PCB ground. There are PCB connectors which aren’t aligned neatly. The external speaker output is unreliable. You can’t get away with this, not even when it’s compensated by a rock bottom price.

Bottom line: good ideas, poor execution. I’m sure the manufacturer can fix the rig, but it will take time. If I would like to own a Chinese mobile radio, I’d rather put my money in an improved version of the Wouxun KG-UV920R.

Review Wouxun KG-UV920R

Note: this model has been replaced by the KG-UV920P.  See here and here.

The long (very long!) awaited KG-UV920R finally hit the stores. I was able to get hold of a review sample, which was kindly supplied by Bamiporto.nl. This is the European version, which means that TX frequency range is limited to EU amateur bands, e.g. 144MHz – 146MHz and 430MHz – 440MHz. After a week of clinical stuff (measurements) and a few days of real life playtime, I decided that it was time to put some things on paper, make a few pictures and dump spectrum analyzer images onto a USB stick.

What’s in a name?
There are ham operators who will only buy one brand and defend it in such a way that Apple fanatics suddenly look reasonable. Personally I don’t care much about brand names; almost every respectable brand has found a place in my shack. I admit, lately I’ve been very, very cynical about this Wouxun. Too cynical probably, but not without reasons. Communication with Wouxun stalled, initial specifications vaporized, and the final price level ended up way higher than any of us expected. Yet every radio deserves an honest review, so here we go.

Organized chaos in the shack while working on the KG-UV920R.

Wouxun KG-UV920R inside. Note the empty spaces next to the stock filters. Room for optional ones? The large empty space is presumably where the optional scrambler goes.

Look & Feel
If looks were the most important factor, I would have fallen in love instantly. This radio looks good! There are hard-to-miss signs that the engineers did some serious thinking here. The front panel is detachable and can be mounted under two different angles: slightly upwards and straight. The latter is what we’re used to and the best option when the radio is mounted under a shelf. When mounted under a car dash, the tilt option will be great. Completely separating the front panel from the actual transceiver is possible too, and a long extension cable (RJ45 on both sides) is part of the package. Front panel on top of the dash, transceiver in the boot.

There are two speakers built in, one for each VFO. Interestingly, they’re not the same size. Two external speakers can be connected at the back, and you might want to give this some thought. Depending on the stations listened to and the volume level, the internal speaker set resonated a bit at times.

When the separation kit is used, both internal and external speakers become either unusable or impractical. That’s why Wouxun added a third speaker, which is located at the back of the microphone. Switching from one speaker system to another can be done from the menu. Keeping them all working simultaneously is possible too.

The antenna connector is SO-239, which is surprising. For obvious reasons I would have preferred to see an N-connector here, but I’m pretty sure some users will love it – quite a few people seem to have eternal troubles when assembling N-connectors and revert to using PL to N adapters. Please don’t, read this instead.

Buttons & Knobs
Wouxun did their best to squeeze as much ‘direct access’ buttons on the front panel as possible. I can’t fault their arrangement, but the buttons are on the small side. This has implications for the readability of the typeface used to describe the various functions. Even with good eyes it’s hard to read what all those buttons do, so memorizing their function is a good idea. Three rotary knobs take care of frequency and audio levels.  Most functions can also be accessed from the microphone, and to prevent accidental changes a ‘lock’ switch is added.

Less bloated, better specs
Wide band receive died during the design process, which saves me a lot of time. Although many potential buyers were specifically interested in this feature, including me, there was a possible downside. Front ends in such ‘I can do it all’ radios tend to be rather poor and can turn a ham’s life into hell. A good example of a poor front end can be found in the Kenwood TMV-71, a radio which (more or less) can’t receive anything under S9 in RF polluted areas. Unfortunately I live in such an area. On the bright side: this QTH is an excellent testing ground for receivers. I could only hope that the Wouxun engineers put some work in designing a good front end. Well, they did.

Receiver
The KG-UV920R is very sensitive, no doubt about that. On 145.000MHz  the radio came to life at -128dBm, which is as good as it gets. On 435.000MHz a signal of -125dBm was needed to replace noise by a signal. Sensitivity is generally better on VHF than UHF on most radios, so no surprises here.

Selectivity is better than most of my other radios – both the Kenwood TMV-71 and Alinco DR-635 had to bow to their new master. In situations were a certain amount of splatter was normal, the Wouxun kept its head cool. Only my Yaesu FT-8900R can match this, as well as the FT-7800/7900 series. All the strong out-of band signals present here were handled surprisingly well, and enabled me to hear a distant 70cm repeater which I haven’t heard in years. Wow.

Transmitter
If you like radios with sufficient power output, the Wouxun KG-UV920R will neither disappoint nor excite you. Measurements done at 145.000 MHz and 435.000 MHz respectively.

VHF Low: 5.3 Watts, Mid: 28.0 Watts, High: 49.5 Watts
UHF Low: 4.1 Watts, Mid: 25.2 Watts, High: 34.1 Watts

TX audio is fine; listeners noted that there’s an emphasis on the higher parts of the audio spectrum. No distortion to report.

Harmonic Suppression
This is the one area where I didn’t expect to encounter problems, but did. Not as dramatic as the Baofeng UV-3R, but Wouxun should really have a look at this. They can do much better.

Second harmonic, VHF, ± 47dB down. Disappointing.

Third harmonic, VHF, ± 54dB down. Not good.

Second harmonic, UHF, ± 58dB down. OK. Third harmonic undetectable.

Other noteworthy features
– Cross-band repeat. Works as advertised, no issues.
– Compander. An interesting system which limits RX noise, and enhances TX audio (compressor) for long distance QSO’s.
– Nice FM radio.
– Scan. Finally a scan system with a sufficient scanning speed.
– Optional scrambler. Illegal for HAM use, but could be interesting in other fields of communication.

Bugs
Changing frequency or volume is done by rotary encoders instead of mechanical switches and pots. In theory this system has a lot of advantages, such as precision and lack of crackling noises caused by wear and tear. Unfortunately the encoders used in the KG-UV920R aren’t always responding properly. Sometimes they go wild when adjusting the volume, sometimes changing the frequency just doesn’t work, or works the other way around. Very annoying. After checking with Ruud from Bamiporto.nl, it seems that it’s not just a problem with my review sample. Ruud will inform Wouxun about my findings.

* Small addition: just before I  wanted to repack the radio, I noticed that there’s another problem when using the rotary encoders. When changing the frequency on one VFO, audio on the other VFO mutes for a while. No other radio I know does this.

The verdict
The good: user friendly design, excellent receiver, good audio on both RX and TX.
The bad: Harmonic suppression disappointing. Rotary encoders are unreliable.

Bottom line: this radio still needs some work. The KG-UV920R isn’t a bad radio, but for €299.00 I expect it to be as good as the competition. That’s not the case – yet. If the described problems are solved, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one.

Some updates

Due to family matters it’s been a bit hectic here, and some plans had to be put on ice for a while. This is what happened in the mean time:

  1. I ordered a Rigol DSA-815TG. ETA is tomorrow, or next Monday. Can’t wait. I started assembling cables and constructing  a 15 – 45dB external attenuator in advance.
  2. Next Monday (September 10) I will get three Wouxun radios for review, including the KG-UV920R. Many thanks to Ruud from Bamiporto.nl, who runs the place.
  3. I’m thinking of destroying my BlackBerry with a hammer and replace it by something Samsung.
  4. I almost finished assembling the receiving part of a remote control for our regional 70cm repeater.

P.S. Some dogs are real losers.

Review Waccom WUV-6R

There’s a lot of interest in the $76 Waccom WUV-6R, mostly because this radio is hard to tell apart from a Wouxun KG-UVD1P. It didn’t take long though to establish that these radios are non-identical twins, only sharing looks and accessories. Electronically they’re totally different beasts.

Waccom and Wouxun – the non-identcal twins

Things they share:
– Overall looks
– FM Radio
– Case
– Weight
– Connections
– Battery
– Charger

Things they do not share:
– Button layout
– Menu operation
– DSP (Waccom only)
– SDR-based (Waccom only)
– DTMF (Wouxun only)
– 1750Hz burst tone (Wouxun only)
– Manual quality
– Price

In the box
– the radio itself
– 1800 mAh battery
– Charger, 110V/60Hz – 230V / 50Hz
– Car charger
– Belt clip
– Hand strap
– Dual-band antenna, SMA-Female
– Manual

First impressions
If I would get this radio in my hand while blindfolded, I would shout ‘Wouxun!’ immediately. Looks, feel and weight are identical, only the antenna is slightly shorter.

After charging the battery, which is supposedly 1800 mAh, I fired up the radio and tried to get into the menu without reading the manual. That didn’t work. Menu operation is quite different from the Wouxun, so a bit of peeking into the manual was in order. For most functions you have to press Menu and Set, after which you can scroll through all the options. After pressing Menu again you can set the parameters. For some options there are shortcuts available, which can be accessed by pressing Menu and one of the keys on the keypad.

Programming the memories is easy, and you don’t need software to add meaningful alphanumeric descriptions to the channels. Some options are great, such as an easy to edit start-up message, the possibility to password protect the HT, and an option to (temporarily) disable the transmitter (TX inhibit).

Apart from the name, you wouldn’t notice the difference.

Manual
The manual isn’t perfect, but not as bad as some other ChinEnglish manuals I’ve encountered.  There are a few errors to report. One menu shortcut, ‘Switch change mode and scan addition’ (Menu + ‘0’) doesn’t exist. I have to clue what it’s supposed to do anyway. One page, showing the layout of the hand-held and all the buttons, is probably copied from the Wouxun KG-UVD1P. The picture shows an ‘Exit’ key, which is replaced by ‘V/M’ on the Waccom. No big deal, but sloppy.

Transmitter
Frequency ranges are 136-174MHz and 400-480Mhz. TX audio is excellent. There are three power levels to choose from: High, Medium and Low. Initial power measurements in the middle of our European bands are as follows:

Power output @ 145.000 MHz:
Low: 2.8 Watts
Medium: 4.8 Watts
High: 5.1 Watts

Power output @ 435.000 MHz:
Low: 3.9 Watts
Medium: 4.6 Watts
High: 4.8 Watts

As you can see, the difference between High and Medium is small. One other thing caught my eye: when set to low power on VHF, the power output jumps to 3.5 Watts momentarily before falling back to a stable 2.8 Watts. Weird.

Waccom claims a capacity of 1800 mAh for their batteries.

Receiver
Although RX audio is loud and free of distortion, the receiver is generally bad news. Sensitivity is fine, but selectivity is not – especially when it comes to handling strong out-of-band signals. In my neighborhood the receiver almost immediately collapsed under the ‘pressure’ of a digital TV transmitter located about 600 meters from my QTH. This is a big disappointment. Actually, in this area the much cheaper Baofeng UV-5R outperforms this Waccom by a wide margin – and that one is far from perfect either. When I get out of the city, the problem disappears.

The DSP works, but shouldn’t be overstated. All it does is killing off noise by muting the higher frequencies in the audio spectrum. The system kicks in when the signal strength drops below a certain level. The DSP reacts rather slow and can be best compared to the one we know from the Baofeng UV-3R.

Conclusion
The Waccom WUV-6R is a bit of a disappointment. In general I don’t care much about the transmitter part – if the power output is OK, the signal is clean and TX audio is fine, I’m happy. When it comes to receivers, I’m way more picky. Unfortunately this is the area where this Waccom fails miserably. Unless you live in an area where no other strong out-of-band signals are present, you will be very disappointed. The lack of DTMF makes the WUV-6R useless for Echolink purposes, and the lack of a 1750Hz burst tone means that Europeans can’t open a large number of repeaters.

In the end I can only conclude that the Waccom WUV-6R is not only outperformed by top-notch HT’s like the Wouxun KG-UVD1P and Quansheng TG-UV2, but also by the (much cheaper) Baofeng UV-5R. However, if you don’t live in the EU, nor in a RF-polluted area, and you want a cheap HT which shares Wouxun accessories, you’ll probably be a happy camper.