THE EAGLE HAS LANDED
And it's a bloody big one! Jeez, compared to my IC-7610, this Yaesu FT-DX101D looks massive!!
My decision to buy another big rig came from something I spotted on FaceBook MarketPlace - a used Kenwood TS-990S for £3000. It looked like a bargain for what was originally £7,000 but then I found out it was seven years old and it kinda put me off.
But now I was in "Buying Mode" so I decided to look around at what was out there in that price range and found myself on an internet browser full of £3k transceivers and the one that stood out the most was the Yaesu FT-DX101D. Everyone knows that radios at this price are all pretty magnificent and even though the Yaesu is rated number one in the Sherwood Tables, it had no bearing on my decision - just as it didn't when I bought my IC-7610.
What matters most to me is how it operates, how it sounds and the aesthetics. In the looks department, the FT-DX101D is a PinUp Girl 😂. She looks absolutely stunning! But then she's also a bit chavvy too, with that awful 3D waterfall feature which I will surely never use.The 101 looks like something from a modern, slick warship with all its bulk and huge VFO knob - in fact, that dial wouldn't look out of place on the front of a Swiss Bank Vault.
I love the fact that the radio has so many buttons on the fascia. One for each band running across the top makes selection so simple and quick. There's also a button for quickly swapping between VFO and MEM which wasn't on the 7610.
Okay, so onto the screen. It's big. It's bold. And it's brash! That's right, I don't like it much. The graphics are quite blocky compared to the lovely IC-7610 and the range of colours available is very limited. I've spent a bit of time playing around with the settings and have got it looking as good as I can, but still, it's nowhere near as refined looking as the Icom.
As I suggested earlier, I can't imagine ever using that dreadful 3D Scope - I just don't like it one bit. It looks like it should be on the front of a cheap kids toy. WHAT IS IT FOR???
|If Carlsberg did tacky!|
I've just noticed another weird quirk - when you lower the RFgain, the scope/waterfall levels remain the same. That is not good as far as I'm concerned! Maybe there's a menu option to change it - I hope so!!
The screen is big though and there's the option to send it to an external monitor. Having said that, the output to the monitor (DVI-D) is at pretty low resolution. If you're using a big external monitor (maybe because your radio is on a shelf off to the side of your preferred sitting position), then it would have been nice to be able to buy an additional VFO similar to Icoms RC-28 so you could operate the radio, change frequency and transmit. Maybe there'll be one further down the line.
Although I've very much got used to Icom's Menu System (through the 7610, 7300, 9700 and 705), I do like the Yaseu offering. I felt pretty comfortable with it straight away, but then it's probably because I used to have a DX3000 (I loved that radio). It seems pretty intuitive to me, but maybe it'll trip me up as I get further into things, lol.
The FT-DX101D has an extra antenna port over the IC-7610. That's not too important to me, since I only have 2 antennas, but it would be massively important to those lucky people who have antenna farms 😂 And someone recently pointed out the benefit of having a RX-ONLY antenna on the 3rd port - something that I'll discuss further with him.
It seems a great pity that the 101 doesn't have a built-in server for remote operation. There are plenty of days (even here in the UK) where it is just too hot to sit in the shack and play radio. It's nice to sit outside in the shade with a cool breeze and a cooler beer, operating remotely from the garden. I could (and did) do that with the 7610 but I won't be able to do it with the 101 unless I spend another £300 on a SCU-LAN10. Now bear in mind that the Yaesu is already £150 more expensive than the Icom.
Another significant omission is a QSO Recorder (Tx & Rx). I really find that facility (on the 7610, 7300 and even the little 705) useful. I just do not understand why Yaesu don't deem it a worthwhile function to have on their flagship radio. Come on Yaesu!
I also find it a little odd that you have independent meters for the Main and Sub but you can't control them independently. For example, on the IC-7610 you can set each meter independently to display SWR/ALC/PWR/ID/COMP, but on the DX101 you have to spread those functions across the two meters. So when you're transmitting on the Main, you have to look across at the Sub meter. I don't care what anyone says, that's weird and counter-intuitive!!
It's sounding like I don't like the FT-DX101D but honestly, I do. It's a beautiful piece of engineering with a low noise-floor. Like the IC-7610, the 101 allows you to adjust the audio of both TX and RX so that you can achieve your own personal preference and to suit your voice and hearing.
During a contest earlier, I was struggling to find a gap on the waterfall and contesters were rubbing shoulders with each other on the panadapter but still, their signals were all totally isolated from one another with none of the bleed-over that I sometimes hear on the 7300 in these conditions. Having said that, the IC-7610 just as selective as the 101. The 7610 didn't have Yaesu's VC Tune though.
To connect the FT-DX101D to an MFJ993B ATU, I needed the correct interface module (MFJ-5124Y) and luckily, I found one in my 'bits-box' which I'd previously purchased for my DX3000. Once connected, it was pretty easy to setup in the Yaesu's menus. The only odd thing about it was that normally, you would press the radio's TUNE button once and the radio would drop power, switch to a constant carrier, transmit and wait for the tuning cycle to complete and then automatically stop transmitting and switch everything back to normal. But on the 101, it keeps on transmitting until you press the TUNE button again. Very strange - I'll have to look into it more.
|MFJ 5124Y ATU INTERFACE|
ATU UPDATE 31/Mar/2021: So I got in touch with a couple of Ham Stores via email here in the UK and basically, neither of them knew what the problem was with the MFJ-5124Y interface so they got in touch with Yaesu and one shop told me to make sure I had the 101D ATU MENU set to 'Internal' and the other shop told me to set it to 'External'.
Both radios are superb. The BIGGEST DIFFERENCE is that the Icom IC-7610 is BY FAR an easier radio to live with in terms of that beautifully clear, contrasty screen and the overall functionality of the radio. On Icom radios, you pretty much TOUCH what you want to change on-screen. So if you wanted to change from LSB to AM or FM, you'd simply press the LSB icon on-screen and up would pop all the available modes.
Touching the LSB icon on the Yaesu screen will result in nothing!! To switch from USB to AM or FM would need you to press and hold down the MODE button until the mode option appear. It's not a big problem, obviously - I guess it's just one of those things that highlight how hard Icom worked on making their operating systems so very intuitive.
When I mentioned that last point on one of the Yaesu Groups, a few fanboys mockingly said "Is it so difficult to press and hold down a button on the front panel"?? Well no it's not, but what would they say if their joiner had installed all the door handles in their house 1ft lower down the door than normal? It's no big deal - but it just would be so much better if they'd installed them at hand-height.
Like I said at the start, some people are very defensive about their chosen radios, whereas I just say it as it is - no matter who made the radio.
The Yaesu FT-DX101D is drop-dead gorgeous, has lots of physical buttons, more antenna connections and may even have a fractionally better receive performance than its rivals (but lets face it, the difference can only be detected in a lab). I loved parts of the FT-101. I loved everything about the IC-7610.
These are just my initial reactions to the radio and I will come back to this page and update it in a few weeks time when I've used it more and learned more about it.
My advice so far - buy both! 😂
Just bear in mind that although the FT-DX101 appears in top place in the SHERWOOD ENGINEERING TABLE, Rob Sherwood doesn't own one. He owns 3 IC-7610's 😂
The excellence of the receiver has been mentioned many times, and I will not repeat this, except to say that even a cursory inspection of the Sherwood Labs tables shows that this is definitely a 'contest grade' transceiver.
Rather, I want to mention some of the things that I find missing or annoying, with the hope that Yaesu reads these posts and may then wish to update the firmware.
1. Real-Time Clock
There is an internal RTC, whose sole function is to time-stamp the files saved to the SD card. Considering that this transceiver is a direct competitor of the Icom IC-7610, would it be too much trouble to display the clock on the screen? It would be very helpful. A point of note - the RTC is backed-up by means of an ML614R-TT31 re-chargeable lithium battery. It is charged via the 3.3V unswitched bus, and thus will be charged as long as the primary power is on. From dead flat it will take approximately 24 hours to completely recharge the battery. The battery capacity is approximately 2.3mA-H, and an average clock chip, S-35190A-T8T1G, consumes about 0.3uA, thus the battery can power the clock for about 320 days. The battery is specified to have a cycle life of 3,000 charge-discharge cycles if only 5% of its capacity is used, which translates to about 15 days without power, but only 300 cycles if it is deeply discharged. Whilst I do not expect Yaesu to change this design, it would have been much better to have used a non-rechargeable lithium coin-cell battery, such as a CR2016, which would have powered the clock for essentially the life of the transceiver.
2. Audio Recording
The only method of recording the receiver's audio is via a rear-panel connector. Since the recently released FTDX10, which is a direct competitor to the Icom IC-7300, has the capability to record the receiver's audio and save it to the SD card, can we now have this feature added? After all, the audio is already in digital form anyway, so it should not be too much trouble to format it as a WAV file and allow it to be saved to the SD card.
With respect to the rear panel audio connector, this is a nuisance to use for audio recording. It is wired so that RX-A audio appears on the tip, RX-B audio on the ring connector. I don't know about you, but I almost never listen to both receivers at the same time, so could we please have the audio routing selectable, as is the case for the headphone output? In other words, as well as the present setting, could we have RX-A routed to both tip and ring, and another selection to have RX-B routed to tip and ring, this would allow for proper mono recording on a stereo recorder. At present I have had to make a special switch box to allow me to connect my digital recorder. I realise that by connecting the radio to a computer I have the audio available, but I do not want to always have to use a computer to do this, which is why I would much prefer to be able to directly save the receiver's audio to a WAV file on the SD card.
3. 2-D Spectrum Display
Please can we have this display trace averaged! At present it is difficult to spot a weak signal amongst the noise, and as other receivers, as well as my spectrum analyser, allow the trace to be averaged, which makes it so much easier to spot a weak signal, please add this feature. My spectrum analyser offers user-settable averaging, and in my case an adjustable setting from 1, no averaging, with up to 5 samples represents the most useful range of settings, at least for viewing an amateur band. While we are on the subject, none of my other transceivers with a panadaptor require much gain setting, but on this transceiver almost any change in band, span, or anything else then requires a corresponding change to the panadaptor gain setting. Equally, why do we have a range of +/- 30dB? In my case the gain is almost always somewhere around +20 to +25dB. When would we ever use -25dB, for example? Anyone got an explanation?
Oh this is so useless. I have played with it but to be honest apart from its 'novelty' value, I can find no use for this at all. OK, for those that like it, fine, but for me this is what I call 'creeping featurism' - just because you can do something does not mean that you should. OK, this was not a major selling point for me anyway, your mileage may vary.
Oh, what were Yaesu thinking of here? It took me a long time to get a reasonable setting for microphone gain, ALC, compression, and AMC, and no thanks to Yaesu's manual. AMC is really a dynamic limiter and AGC system. What was wrong with the previous methods of setting the modulation level? I certainly do not need the audio gain increasing during pauses in speech and transmitting the background noise of the shack, especially when I use my boom microphone headset, and now that AMC cannot be turned off in the latest firmware, AMC is another 'feature' we do not need.
6. Lack Of File Management Facilities
The only things the SD card is used for is to save the transceiver's configuration, memory settings, and screen shots. Whilst I do not expect a full disk operating system, it would be nice to be able to view the list of files in their various folders, and to be able to do some simple file management. At present if I wish to perform any file management operations I have to remove the SD card and plug it into my computer. Surely it would not be too much trouble to allow some basic file management capabilities?
7. Option Packages
The optional extras are apparently only installable at the factory or by a Yaesu dealer. Is it that difficult to instal a filter or the VC Tune unit? Indeed, I was told that if I wanted any of these options then I would have to send the transceiver back to Yaesu, in my case in another country, getting involved in all the customs formalities to do so, as well as the shipping expense both ways. I was also told that if I wanted these options from new, then I would have to get a special order from the factory, and my dealer was unwilling to do this. I can only imagine that Yaesu does not want to sell many optional extras.
One nice thing about the transceiver is the fact that in the OFF state all the antenna connectors are grounded. What is not so nice is the signal leakage from the ANT-3 connector in the transmit state when it is set to receive-only. An examination of the schematics and downloading the specs of the relays used shows that this is cross-talk leakage from the PA, but it is so annoying. In my case I have a Wellbrook active loop antenna feeding a 4-way Stridsberg active splitter. When transmitting there is a certain amount of signal leakage from the ANT-3 connector back into the splitter and this is then routed to the other receivers. My old Icom IC-756 Pro-III receive-only antenna input was completely separate, and did not suffer this. True, it is nothing like as bad as the signal leakage through to the receive-only antenna port of my Icom IC-7700. In that case, with 200W CW, 128mW is coupled out of the receive-only port, and that fried my Stridsberg splitter necessitating some expensive repairs, so be warned - the receive-only port is not well isolated!
9. ATU Tuning Time
The internal ATU takes forever to find a match, even when the SWR is fairly low, 1.4:1. My other transceivers can effect a match within a second or two, but the FTDX101D takes forever, accompanied by lots of relay chattering. Fortunately my antennas are all reasonably low SWR, so what on earth is the Yaesu ATU doing?
The front panel USB 'A' socket is intended for use with a keyboard or mouse. Whilst all my wired mice, including a Raspberry Pi mouse, work, the same cannot be said of my Wireless Mice. Of the 6 wireless mice I have only 1 works with this radio, a Logitech M187, P/N: 810-005254. Mice that do not work: Logitech M505 P/N: 810-001284, Logitech M325 FCC ID: JNZMR0021, Logitech M170 P/N: 810-004907, TnB Model: MM240W, Maplin Model: M69JX. Time for Yaesu to update its mouse driver methinks. Similarly, it is equally picky about wireless keyboards, although a standard USB wired keyboard works fine.
11. S-Meter Calibration
Finally, the S-meter. Back in 1981 or 82, the IARU Technical Committee recommended that all S-meters be calibrated such that S9 corresponded to a voltage at the antenna input of 50uV, or -73dBm if the input impedance was 50 ohms, and that each S-point should be a 6dB change. Not so, both Icom and now Yaesu, who use 3dB/S-Point. Why? In the IARU scale S0 would roughly correspond to the noise floor, whereas S0 on a FTDX101D corresponds to a perfectly readable signal, at least at my QTH. Now I admit, I live in a very radio-quiet area up in the mountains, and on a normal (6dB/S-Point) receiver the daytime noise level on 20m is about S2 to S3, and even after dark 40m is still very quiet. So, please Yaesu, can we choose the scale of our S-meters? I for one would like to use the IARU standard, 6dB/S-point.
Just about all of these points can be 'fixed' with an appropriate firmware update, which would make a great transceiver a superb transceiver. Nevertheless, an excellent transceiver, well up to contest-grade standards.