Right now the Chinese are pumping out two-way radios like never before. And as regular readers will know I picked up two BaoFeng UV-5R’s recently. So impressed by these little handies it wasn’t long before I started short listing my next bit of kit. There is a bewildering choice and manufacturers seem to magically appear on a daily basis! Unfamiliar and exotic sounding names such as Huitong, Puxing, Quansheng, TYT, and Waccom (to name just a few) have all joined the battle for Western cash.
Many are simply rebadged models utilising the same internals and software, but a few really stand out from the crowd. One such example is WouXun (pronounced Wo-Shone as far as I can tell). Reputation is everything and I think its safe to say WouXun is widely accepted as the name to look for when purchasing a Chinese built transceiver.
I don’t just write reviews – I also read them. So I checked out the internet for some background information. It didn’t take long to see that the radio amateur community held WouXun in high regard. Sure there is always a bit of negative press about some aspect, but overall its was positive.
So WouXun it was.
As a licenced commercial user I was looking to exploit the under used Low VHF band (66-88 MHz) here in the UK, but also required Mid to High VHF coverage (160-174 MHz or so). UHF was irrelevant in this quest as the two BaoFeng UV-5’s handle this segment admirably.
When it comes to this part of the electromagnetic spectrum there aren’t a lot of manufacturer options. Sure there are plenty of VHF/UHF dual banders but not so many VHF/VHF, so my decision to try WouXun was double edged.
Four models came to my attention. The KG-818 (a newer version of the KG-816), KG-699E, KG-UVD1 and the KG-UV6D.
Availability of the KG-699E was pretty much confined to Hong Kong and while this unit can be purchased in the UK it is a pricey option considering its a single band type so I discounted that one – much that I like it. The same applies to the KG-818 though it is smaller and cheaper to purchase here (I have just ordered a KG-818 so watch out for that review soon).
That basically left the UVD1 and UV6D. I was hoping for additional memory capacity and the UV6D provided that (199 vs. 128). Not a deal breaker, but good to have. The feature set for both radios is very similar barring the inclusion of 2.5kHz channel step spacing and the fact that the UV6D also has a regular SMA connection, so I plumped for the KG-UV6D-E-V3 66-88/136-174 MHz “International Version” (as opposed the 400 megs variant) – which is perfect for my application. By way of a bonus it also provides full access to 4M and 2M radio amateur bands.
4M is active throughout Europe and other parts of the world, but it is only recently started getting interest from US hams thanks in no small part to Glen Zook, K9STH. Glen filed a petition back in January 2010 with the US Federal Communications Commission to create a new 4M (70 MHz) amateur radio allocation for US amateurs so hopefully more users will get involved in 4M.
Almost all KG-UV6D’s sold in America are 136-174/420-520 MHz models (UHF frequency range varies on some models).
Incidentally, most of the dual band models discussed can be purchased with either VHF/VHF 66-88/136-174 MHz, or VHF/UHF 66-88/400-512 MHz or 136-174/420-520 MHz, subject to availability of course. Single band examples such as the KG-699E and KG-818 are fixed to either VHF or UHF (66-88, 136-174 or 420-470 MHz). Bear in mind firmware updates (increasing some RX and TX ranges) and different country band allocations mean that some vendors offer different ranges to those stated here – this is just a rough guide to the average frequency ranges currently offered.
As with the BaoFeng purchases I decided to buy from NextBigThink (ebay) a subsidiary of Sain Store/Sain Sonic.
A package duly arrived within 3 days and I examined the contents with interest.
What you get in the box is pretty much standard fare. The radio itself, a single 7.4v 1700mAh Li-ion battery, SMA antenna (a 28omm version for Low VHF), drop-in charger (EU plug and UK 3-pin adaptor), a belt clip, wrist lanyard, car charger and comprehensive user manual/registration card.
The WouXun branded belt clip clicks onto the battery itself and doesn’t require a screwdriver unlike the UV-5R. Surprisingly there is no dedicated lanyard attachment area on the radio itself so the opening at the top of the belt clip serves well for this purpose. Once the battery is attached to the radio, simply rotate the right knob in a clockwise direction to turn the unit on. The slightly taller “encoding” knob is for tuning frequencies/channels and changing menu items.
While the unit initialises a message pops up. “WELCOM” (note the missing “E” as this is disappointingly a 6 character LCD thus limiting certain descriptive aspects when it comes to naming channels. In addition a series of Morse-like tones are emitted – something like dot dot SPACE dot dot dash dot. If this is Morse then it spells out “IF”. This is of course subject to speculation. I suppose “IF” could equate to Intermediate Frequency, but we’ll probably never know – it’s more likely just some random beeps that mean absolutely nothing! I think the WouXun engineers missed a trick though – they could have spelled out “UV6D”.
As with most Chinese HT’s the KG-UV6D employs voice prompts/menu confirmation. Unlike the western-ish sounding English voice synthesised on the BaoFeng, WouXun’s is a highly accented Chinese-English (often referred to as China Girl). I must say I prefer the BaoFeng voice prompts so switched off China Girl fairly sharpish! No offence, but she is rather annoying.
Having experience with the BaoFeng UV-5R’s, WouXun operation was fairly intuitive and similar in most respects. The only thing I couldn’t fathom out initially was how to select Channel Mode. I referred to the manual and this was made clear MENU+S/D. Easy when you know how. I have since allocated one of the user defined keys for simpler operation (more on that in Part 2).
Viewed from a frontal perspective the layout is conventional. The speaker grill (and mic aperture) sit neatly above the LCD display with an illuminated keypad below.
Three additional (and colourful) buttons facilitate additional functionality: S/D (single or dual display), A/B (switch between active/standby VFO A or B) and RPT (multifunctional) which is a user defined button (default is reverse frequency). A sturdy press fit cover hides the Kenwood style speaker/mic jacks – these double up as the programming port when used with a suitable USB/serial lead.
Along the left side are the PTT, side key 1 (another multifunctional button) and side key 2 (Monitor/LED lamp – long press/short press style operation).
Returning to the top, there is a bright LED flashlight (not sure why), plus pro-like RX/TX indicators (green for RX left and red for TX right).
Unlike the BaoFeng and its tri-colour display, which changes during standby/RX/TX (purple, blue, orange) these two discreet LED’s provide the only visible acknowledgement that the unit is receiving/transmitting. That said the signal strength/busy indicator also displays a full or half segmented style bar according to power ouput (1W low or 5W high) when the PTT is pressed.
As mentioned this particular model has a standard SMA antenna connection so anyone with a collection of regular SMA whips can easily switch without adaptors.
The build quality, fit and finish is very good and I must say early tests show that it out performs the BaoFeng UV-5R in the VHF reception department quite easily (and that is saying something because the UV-5R is quite a sensitive radio). Side by side the WouXun picks up distant transmissions more readily and the audio is cleaner. Of course the antenna is better suited to VHF, but even still, its a better out of the box package for the frequency range for sure.
In Part 2 I’ll examine the programming characteristics using CHIRP and KG-UV6 Commander, plus look more closely at the functions which include multifunction key allocation, offsets, CTCSS/DCS, DTMF, tone scan and SOS signalling.