Tuesday, 13 September 2022

KENWOOD TS-590SG MINI-REVIEW

KENWOOD TS-590SG
Back To Base


14 September 2022 
After getting our new holiday home in the Forest Of Bowland, I decided that I had no need for a Base Station at home, since I'd be going away every single weekend. I hardly spent any time in the shack to begin with, since most of my radio-time is spent outdoors with one of my QRP rigs. So I sold my  beautiful (but expensive) IC-7610 and put the money toward the new caravan.

At the caravan I setup my radio gear and pretty much leave it there. I also setup a telescopic mast for quick installation of a wire, so everything's pretty much sewn up and ready to go within a few short minutes.  But that leaves the shack at home pretty bare. In fact, we recently decided not to have a weekend at the caravan, but instead stay at home - and it was at that point that I realised I was 'HF deficient


At home I still have an FTM300D and an FT-7250 (2M/70cm, C4FM) but no HF other than a tiny (tr)uSDX, so it was time to look for a cheap base station. To be honest, my very first thought was a used Yaesu FT-DX3000 because I think they're one of the most underrated HF rigs out there! I have very fond memories of the one I used to own and before I knew it, I'd found one on HamRadioDeals. The only thing that stopped me from buying it, was that it looked really grubby.

 
Soon after I spotted a MINT, 1yr old Kenwood TS-590SG for £875. These are currently £1500 new, so that represented the sort of bargain I go for. When buying a radio, I do my utmost to buy cheap and hopefully sell high - or at least break even. So with that in mind, I put in a cheeky cash offer but he took too long responding so I bought another minter within minutes!
 
When it arrived, I was really very pleased with the condition of the radio. The radio is surprisingly compact and fitted perfectly into the shack next to my Yaesu speaker (a remnant from my FT-DX101D ownership).
 


I've never had a Kenwood base station before - in fact the only Kenwoods I've ever bought were a TH-F7 and a TH-D74💖(both handhelds).  I'm very aware that Kenwoods are generally considered to be the kings of audio and the TS-590 has been on the periphery of my vision for a long time, but I've just never got around to trying one before.

Before I bought this, I studied the spec and general opinions of existing owners. It seemed that no one had a bad word to say - quite the opposite in fact! The vast majority of owners absolutely loved their 590 and the newer "SG" model just put icing on top of an already excellent cake with...

.... much improved receive performance and TX-spike performance (close to TS-990), CW Decoder, ANT Out, Improved Multi-Knob, 10 LCD Screen Colours and better styling.

The TS-590SG is a good old fashioned SuperHet so there's no fancy scopes or waterfalls, just a very clear and straightforward LCD screen with an option to adjust the background colour. After owning some of the most advanced transceivers on the market, it felt like going back to basics - but in a very good way. 

The TS-590SG hit the UK shelves in 2015 and is still very relevant in 2022 with its 32bit DSP, USB connector, built-in SoundCard and Remote Control capability, but it still has that old school feel about it and it's so nice to have all those buttons, knobs and dials. Kenwood is not a company for changing its product lines every two minutes - they make a radio, they make it well and it keeps on selling.

The "SG" update has turned a great radio into a superb radio thanks to technology borrowed from the mighty flagship TS-990S including some sharp roofing filters (with a first IF of 11.374MHz) and an IF AGC. In addition, Kenwood has improved the reciprocal mixer dynamic range, almost matching it with the SDR competition.  After testing the radio, Rob Sherwood said it offered the best bang for the buck on the market!

Now it's my understanding that the older 590's had a TX overshoot problem, but this has been eliminated in the new SG. As far as I know, there are no other known issues with the radio. It appears to be a rock solid workhorse which is admired by rag-chewers and contesters alike. 

As usual though, there are people who are always looking for problems so that they can be the ones to come up with a solution - an example of this is the all too common belief that a radio is not outputting full power because of an over-aggressive ALC - this is a particularly common myth in the Icom User circles. It appears that there are also some Kenwood Users who see fit to delve into the guts of their 590 to cut a resistor and get "the full 130W" available. Well I certainly shan't be doing any of that nonsense - and not just because I can't operate at more than 10W - but because I don't believe there's anything actually wrong in the first place. And this radio is built to operate at a maximum of 100W anyway.

Having been a big user of SDR radios, I am pretty used to having a panadapter and so I was pleased to see that the TS-590SG has a phono output for an external receiver, which means that you can easily connect a cheap (eg. SDRPLAY RSP1A ) receiver and share whatever antennas you have connected to the 590. 


SDR SOFTWARE



The rear panel of the TS-590SG is well laid out and has decent spacing between connectors. There are two SO-239's for antennas A and B and a phono socket (RCA) for the RX-Only antenna. There's a second RCA connector for DRV (external receiver or transvertor).


Accessory wise, there's a few bits and bobs that can be added to the radio such as a very high-accuracy TCXO and a Voice Recorder, but the latter is of no interest to me personally. The frequency on the other hand drifts off by 7Hz. That’s a tiny amount, I know, but it drives me potty,  so I’ve ordered an SO-3 TCXO. 


There's also a range of microphones but the last three years has taught me that the stock fist-mic is usually one of the best sounding mics you can plug into the connector.  Nevertheless, if I find a bargain MC-60 I'll give it a go.

I'd just like to point out that the Kenwood TS-590SG feels superbly well made! I mean the whole thing feels slick and all the buttons and dials are solidly fitted with very little lateral movement or "slack". This is better than I've found on transceivers costing three times as much!

My home QTH isn't the quietest place (electrically speaking), so it's not really fair to talk about the radio's noise-floor, although it certainly doesn't seem any worse than any of my previous radios. It does, however, have a gorgeous rich sound to the audio and is less tiring to listen to on SSB. Those fabulous roofing filters no doubt contribute to the great sound of the Kenwood, as does the Noise Reduction system.

The radio has a buit-in equaliser for both TX & RX and there's some useful presets plus a custom user-defined setting. The trouble is with these things is that you can get carried away with them and end up with a setting that is excessively biased one way - way too thin or too thick and heavy. I think I'll end up assigning the RX Eq to one of the PF buttons for quick access.

The TX audio is equally impressive according to those who were good enough to help me with tests. I've not bothered altering the TX-Eq and probably won't.

Tuning around with that velvety smooth dial is a pleasure and when you com across a signal, rest assured that you've got the tools to improve it, no matter how poor it is. Using the RF Gain, Noise Reduction and the Filter Shift & Width you will pull out all but the very faintest signals. The Beat Cancel button (1&2) works amazingly well to get rid of annoying  whistles and beeps on your frequency, without degrading the desired signal too much. I really like that feature and use it quite a lot.

The ATU : WOW! Normally I don't even discuss built-in ATU's except on Elecrafts, because they're always pretty "average" but I have to give credit where credit is due. The TS-590SG has a superb ATU and it's super fast too. If you have something like a 40-6M EFHW, you won't need an external atu - simple as that - it'll tune all bands without an issue. Brilliant!!

Unsurprisingly, the Kenwood ATU won't find a match on my EFHW for 80 and 160M, so I might look out for a cheap external ATU like the MAT-TUNER K100.

 
Finally I'd like to mention how very easy it is to work Digital modes - this thing is a breeze to work with on FT8, WSPR, etc. Just follow this super simple guide. It makes you wonder why some other manufacturers make it so damned difficult! 😡



So, there you have it. I managed to find a cheap marvel and I'm super happy with it. Even though I've previously had some high-end radios in the shack, I don't feel I'm losing out massively by using a TS-590SG.  Sure, if I did a lot of work from my shack, I'd have kept the 7610, but I'm an occasional user at home, so I reckon I've done pretty good choosing this rig. 

 

THE COMPETITION...


 

I guess the biggest competition for this radio would be the ICOM IC-7300 and if you 're specifically looking for an SDR, then that would be the natural choice, especially with Icom's super intuitive operating systems - it's certainly the cheapest option! I've had a 7300 myself and for the money it's a fabulous entry point into SDR radio. I could have got a used one for less money than the 590, but I decided I wanted to go back to a more 'traditional' rig and I personally feel that the 590 actually performs better than the 7300 IN THE SHACK! 

Using the radio's built-in DSP functions, the RF Gain, a touch of attenuation and altering the filter width/shape, you can get a low noise floor and a lovely clean signal, as shown in the video below (watch the S-Meter)....

If video doesn't show, click HERE
 
I say 'in the shack' because outdoors (say on a Field Day), the 7300's scope and waterfall could be considered a massive advantage in quickly locating band activity. But back in the shack, that advantage has been lost. Why?? Because back in the shack, you always (or I do anyway) end up connecting the radio to a computer and more often than not, to an SDR Receiver like the SDRPLAY RSPdx...


I've done it on almost every radio I've had - including the heavyweights IC-7610 and the FT-DX101D! 

The TS-590SG's external-receiver connector (DRV) is a great feature! You should bear in mind though, that this is an antenna-splitter and not an IF-Out, so you're not hearing the 590's output - you're simply sharing the 590's antenna and splitting antennas between two receivers has the obvious detrimental effect of a slight signal loss on both pathways (about 1 S-point).

Some people might have hoped for an IF-Out but the advantage of feeding your RSPdx with an antenna is that you get to hear the difference between the two receivers instead of hearing the same. There'll be some circumstances where perhaps the RSPdx processes the signal in a way that makes it more readable than your 590. Certainly, if you're monitoring LW, the RSPdx does a fabulous job!

It's nice to see that you can switch off the sharing by the simple press of a button, if  for example, you wanted to focus on a particularly weak signal momentarily. This built-in splitter is infinitely more convenient say, than using a clunky MFJ-1708B (not to mention cheaper, lol)

It doesn't matter how good your radio's SDR screen is, you can't beat having the flexibility and rich feature-set of software like SDR UNO, SDR CONSOLE or HDSDR and being able to control everything on the computer screen.

SDR UNO (with OminRig installed) can operate your radio flawlessly and provide you with a staggering range of information and options all on one big screen. You can even have multiple receivers open. And if you spin the physical dial on the radio (or press any buttons), it changes on the computer too. UNO is also constantly being modified and updated with an amazing array of features. I believe they're currently writing a completely new multi-platform version called SDR CONNECT which should be released at the back end of 2022.

Kenwood also supply some free software (ARCP-590) which allows you to control the radio but it obviously doesn't provide any panadapter features. It does, however, give you access to all the controls and menus in a nice, easy to access way. Please note from the screenshot below that you must download the correct version for your 590S or 590SG. Installing the wrong one (as I did 😁) will result in an error.



So apart from being cheap, the IC-7300 just doesn't compare to the TS-590SG (in my humble opinion). The 7300 only has one antenna connector, whereas the 590 has 2 TX and 3 RX connectors. The 590 has an output for an external receiver - the 7300 doesn’t. The 7300 ATU is like most other manufacturer's - average. Basically, the 7300 is a low-cost, entry-level SDR transceiver for people who are perhaps new to radio or for those who just want something very simple - it's a fabulous choice. The TS-590SG is more of an ‘experimenter’s’ radio.

I've never had an FT-DX10 so I can't really comment on it, but I have had its bigger brother the 101D (which I dumped in favour of the fabulous IC-7610).

73, Tom, M7MCQ.



Martin Lynch & Son Review

 
UPDATE 10/10/22
Managed to find a very cheap used MC-60 described as "Boxed-Unused, Like New". It turned out to be an absolute bargain at £75! The original box and instructions were included too. 

There have been some reports of this mic being susceptible to RFI but I've certainly not experienced any problems. Then again, a lot of people have lots of RFI in their shack which needs sorting out instead of blaming it on an item that makes them more aware of their problem.



The MC-60 is a very solidly built bit of kit and it won't be moving around the desk. It's simple and functional, with no frills. It could really do with an LED to remind you that it's in transmit mode and I might try to add one. The pre-amp switch is located on the underside of the base which seems a bit daft to me, so I might try relocating that too. There's no real need for either modification - but it's good fun to experiment isn't it? 😂


If you have any comments or questions, then please post in the comment section below or email me directly on m7mcqio82ro@gmail.com and remember, this post is just my own personal ramblings - I'm not an expert, but I have at least bought and tried the equipment that I talk about :-) 

6 comments:

PE4BAS, Bas said...

Hello Tom, tnx for the nice review. One question: does this radio feature a inboard soundcard like the IC-7300 ? 73, Bas

MadDogMcQ said...

Hi Bas, thanks for the visit. Yes, the SG has a built-in soundcard. It's super easy to use FT8, etc with this rig. As you know, I'm a huge Icom fan and when the 7610 had to go, it would seem natural for me to downsize to a 7300, but I do actually prefer the TS-590SG with an RSP1A.

Hope you're keeping well my friend :-)

Regards, Tom, M7MCQ.

VE9KK said...

Good morning Tom and very nice to read your blog again, I hope your summer at the new caravan has been refreshing and restful. Very nice review of the Kenwood and it seems it has filled the void you were looking for.
73,
Mike
VE9KK

MadDogMcQ said...

Hi Mike, thanks for the visit. Yes we've had a fabulous summer at the caravan - spent a solid 16 days here recently, with lots of dog walking in the beautiful Forest of Bowland, painting, radio and a little bit of red wine, LOL.

73, Tom.

Anonymous said...


A fantastic blog and I wish there were more of these of rhis quality. You really tie it all together and I can say that as I've seen most all similar literature and videos on these subjects. You have hit a home run!! de Chris WO8USA

MadDogMcQ said...

Wow Chris, that’s incredibly kind of you to say that. Thank you for your kind comments and I’m pleased that you are enjoying the blog. Take care my friend, 73, Tom, M7MCQ