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[CQ-Contest] Kenwood TS850 opinions (long)

Subject: [CQ-Contest] Kenwood TS850 opinions (long)
From: ramirezk@emi.com (Ken N4UK)
Date: Tue Jun 3 19:34:07 1997
  Here are the many comments I received from present and ex 
users of the Kenwood TS850s in response to my question about the 
radio's contest suitability.
         73 Ken N4UK
I have owned a TS-850 for 4 years now.  I LOVE IT.
It has one of the cleanest (quietest) receivers available.
It represents THE BEST radio for the money you can buy.
I looked into the FT-990 and ICOM 736. Both were JUNK compared
to the 850.  The IF filtering is flexible and adds performance
the other radios could not match.
I've use the 850 mobile with excellent results.
I find only three short comings
1. WHY IN THE HELL did Kenwood use a POT for RIT/XIT. This is 
1980's technology. An optically coupled control would be FAR 
2. Lack of RIT/XIT zero button
3. Lack of external receive antenna input (Beverages/loops). 
This can be worked around by modifying the radio a bit, which 
should not degrade resale value.
I plan to purchase a second 850 later this summer.
I use the TS850SAT for both casual and contesting. I find it a 
very competent radio. Frequency agility is amazing. Between the 
2 vfos, 99 mems, and 5 quick mems, it is a breeze to set it up 
for rapid S&P. Setting it for split is also a snap.
It has a great receiver. It's fairly quiet, about as quiet as 
you can get with a synthesized rig (phase noise, etc.), 
sensitive and selective.
The 500 Hz CW filter is a must. Apparently, the 1.8KHz SSB 
filter works wonders too, but I've never tried it. Controls are 
very intuitive. Any op whose spent any time on a late-model 
radio can find his way around quite easily. (Programming the 
mems takes some reading, though.)
Transmit audio is Kenwood. (What more needs to be said.)
My only caveats with this radio, vis-a-vis contesting operation, 
is there is only one key jack, switchable from paddle to key 
operation. (A pain if you use a computer for keying, since you 
can't then also use the rig's built-in keyer without some 
surgery to the radio. As a 12v radio, of course, it lacks the 
punch of its 28v bretheren (930, 940, 950) and requires an 
outboard PS. Also, in its price class, you can now get DSP. 
Hope you found that helpful.
Ken--Been using my TS-850 for one entire contest season and I am 
very pleased.I have the IRC filters, and am set up for CW with 
400 Hz filters in both IF's, and a 270 Hz filter in the 1st IF. 
 The 270 really helps maintaina spot for CQ'ing when the band 
gets crowded.It came to me with the IRC tuning mod that provides 
2 tuning rates.  It was disabled when I got the rig.  After a 
week or so I activated the mod again and liked it so much that 
it is still in.The only thing I have done is to do a mod that 
lets the cw sidetone level be adjusted with the MONI control on 
the front panel.  Stock adj is with a pot that is under the 
radio on a ckt board. When I decided to get another rig I called 
Tree (TR) and found out that he uses an 850.  That got me going 
in that direction.I don't think you can beat the price, a lot of 
guys are upgrading and putting their old 850's on the market.
I'm currently looking for another one so that I will have two 
identical radios for 2 radio contesting.
I have had the 850 for 2 years. The only radios I can compare it 
to are my old 930S and TS440S. I like it better than both (I'd 
better!) I am not a big gun contestor, but do try to participate 
as much as I can from my single tower "contest station", i.e., 
Cushcraft R-7 vertical. HI! I have the add-on CW filters from 
International Radio.Overall, I think it is competitive, but I 
have never used the FT1000, or other "big radio".
I have even used my 850 mobile during state QSO party! SSB and 
CW with no problem. It is a rugged guy.
N6TR is a big fan.  You'll be riding Deluxe Class if you're a 
TR-LOG user.  ALL the rig bells & whistles will work 100%.  
A definate plus in my book, even with no TS-850 contest 
experience behind me.  In non-contest experience at a friends 
house, it seemed like a good solid rig to me.  I use an IC-761, 
nearing it's 10th birthday.
Good luck in your search.
   I've had a TS-850SAT since last December and I really like it 
a lot. It handles strong signals very well, a big jump over the 
FT-101E I used before. The auto antenna tuner has been very 
handy, even with bad mismatches (  3:1) It won't match 
everything, and will just give up if it can't. Overall, I
like the feel of the radio; very smooth once you get used to it. 
I have the optional 1.8 kHz and 500 Hz filters, and have rarely 
wanted anything tighter.
    These shortcomings have been well publicized in the press 
and on the internet:
       1. The noise blanker is worst than useless. I end up 
using the notch filter, slope tuning, and RF gain to deal with 
QRN. This is my biggest complaint against it.
       2. Display doesn't tell you which optional filter is 
selected; it specifies a filter socket position. Worst, it 
displays a default bandwidth for that filter socket, which is 
wrong in both cases for the filters I have installed. This is 
really more of an initial annoyance than anything else.
Once you know what it's trying to tell you, it's not a problem.
       3. No separate receiver input. People have come up with 
various mods to add a second recv input. I wimped out and bought 
an ICE Beverage Box. :-)
    Good luck with your hunt for a new rig. I really like the 
I was in the same position, as you currently are, last 
September.  I had an older Icom 751, had used a FT1000 (spoiled 
me too) and was looking to get a decent, resonably priced, rig. 
 I have used the 850S/AT with the DRU-2 in the CQWW and ARRL DX 
(both SSB).  It has performed flawlessly with 38-40 hours per 
test.As far as features go, coming from the 751 there are a lot 
of advances.I really prefer the audio with my Heil Proset and 
have received nothing but excellent reports, including use of 
the DRU unit.  People tell me it's hard to tell "real from 
recorded".  Direct freq entry is easy, high and low slope work 
good, RIT lacks a "clear" key, split VFO operation is easy.  
Tuning has two, but really three settings, 10 kc with the memory
knob, then regular and fine.
All in all, I LOVE IT.
I got mine thru AES in Clearwater , FL. for abt $1,399.00 with 
AT, DRU and narrow filters.I've seen several posted from time to 
time on the rec.radio.swap newsgroup.  Good hunting and hope to 
hear you on the air.
Hi Ken, I have been using a 850 for a few years now, three or 
four.  I'm not sure there is anything I don't like about it.  It 
is a great rig.  I went to it from a 140 and the difference was 
like night and day.  I do mostly cw operating, and with a 500 hz 
filter in it, it is very selective and easy to operate.  Split 
operation is a snap.  Also a nice looking rig too.  If there is 
anything else you'd like to know that I may be able to answer, 
feel free to email me back.  Oh, another thing, the 850 has had 
no mods since day one, which means it left the factory as a 
stable rig with no bugs.  I don't think you could go wrong with 
one of them.  Just my opinion though.  73,
Interesting. I have a ts850 and a ft1000. My xyl, wv7y, bought 
the ft1000 which is indeed a slick radio. But dollar for dollar 
the TS850 plays!I like the 850 a great deal and especially for 
contesting. However, be aware that "early" models had many, 
many, problems. Got with a late model (last 3-4 years).  
I run the 1.8 and the 500 Hz stock Kenwood filters. Good audio 
and works real well on cw also.  I do rtty with it as well and 
its my radio of choice for traveling.  Packs well and runs 100 
watts just dandy all day long. I have used it at HC8J, and P40JT 
in contests and always travel with it.
I've had my TS-850S/AT for about five years, have used it in 
tons of contests and for DX and I think it's great!  I had a 
problem a few years ago where the radio was eating the same FET 
in the RX a few times, but no problems since.  I have the 
following Kenwood filters: 270 Hz @ 455 kHz,2.7 kHz @ 8.83 MHz, 
and 500 Hz @ 8.83 MHz.  I use the Heil HC-4 mic.  I have an 
AL-1500 amp and use an external reed relay to key the amp 
silently, which was written up in Sept. 95 QST, p. 93.  The 
audio sounds good, and I leave the TX High Boost on all the 
time.  I use the Kenwood RS-232 interface with CT and NA.  I 
think the RX dynamic range is FB, and you also have the AIP and 
switchable attenuators to help.  One notable disadvantage
is lack of a second RX antenna input.  I also heard that N6TR 
uses TWO  850's, so Tree may be another good source of 
complaints and/or compliments!
The receiver is excellent. The two 500hz cw filters are perfect.
Don't waste your money on the 1.8ssb filter. It hurts
intelligibility too much.
The transmitter is only 100 watts. You can turn the power up
beyond that, but the distortion on ssb transmit will increase.
It's a little marginal for driving a pair of 3-500Z's to 1500
watts out. I think it would be a better match for 3cx800's, 
8877's, or 4cx800's. There is a mod in NCJ to make the cw 
sidetone level variable from the front panel. There is another 
mod to enable use of a separate antenna on receive. The RIT is a 
cheesy potentiometer, rather than an optical encoder, so there 
is no "rit zero" button. You can live with that. The rig 
interfaces nicely with TR-log logging software. I've also had it 
running nicely with CT at a multi-multi. There was no trouble at 
all with overload at the multi-multi. The DRU-2 is quite good.
I think the 850 is the most bang for the buck right now. They 
are advertised in almost every issue of the Yellow Sheets for 
about $1200 with filters. I have two of them in a single-multi 
Here are my likes and dislikes.  I included info on 
IRCI filters, since you must add filters to make the 
radio adequate for contesting.
  400 hz IRCI cw filters
  2.1 khz IRCI ssb filters
  Computer control - can write swr plot programs,
    even a crude "spectrum analyzer"
  Audio is good - esp with "high boost" on
  Use Heil DX element (#4 I think)
  Slope tuning
  Intermod resistance - I live in CT - lots of signals here

Don't like:
  Can't use all four filters above without mods orswapping one 
  No RIT clear on panel
  No separate rx antenna jack
  No DSP
  Filter switching is round-robin for each set of filters
  Stock ssb filters
  1.8 khz IRCI filter - too sharp, too hard to tune
  Vox controls on rear apron

I did not buy the antenna tuner option, so I can't comment
on that.  The '850 is an excellent contest radio, and you
can get 'em really cheap.  Good luck!
Have used TS850 at Frank's--it's his new standard.
It works real well on ssb, pretty good on CW but not
as good as FT990.  When I had the IC736, FT990 and
TS850 at my house, the 736 was best in dynamic range,
the 850 best (without DSP) in weak signal/no interference,
and the 990 was best on the middle HF bands.  Overall, I liked
the 736 the best (and bought one 3 years ago), but the 
850 is good all around, and so is the 990 (now the 920--
which looks great on paper and is fairly low priced!).  I
think the Kenwood is the hardest to adapt to transverters--
but it's been done before.  One real nice feature is the
filter selection capability--very flexible and easy to use.
Some of the controls aren't very "intuitive" in the heat of
a contest, but that's true of a lot of radios.  The 736 is
best overall on CW, but not so good on SSB.  Terry, ISK
really likes his 990 and so does Gene. The 850 did well
on 17-10 on receive, good for a potential VHF IF.
I think Frank paid about $1100 or so for his $850s,
including filters, but I'm not real sure.
All the tests I ran were empirical, live receiving and without
test lab measurements.  Mostly, I used W3LPL as a strong
signal source and tried to see where the RX would fold.
The 850 couldn't get very close to LPL's signal on 80 or 160
compared to the 990 and 736, but did OK on the higher HF bands.
Good luck in your search.  I'd probably go the extra bux
and buy a Yaesu 920 with built-in DSP and some other
nice features.
        I'm using TS-850 since 1992 with out any problem, I'm 
very active ham I made more than 53000 qso with it, all mode 
(SSB,CW and RTTY) all bands for contesting, also it is heavy 
duty radio, I never took it for maintenance and never changed 
any part of it since I bought it. if you have limited budget go 
for it and you will be happy!! let me tell you some thing will
make you more happy with it I know friend of main was running HF 
mail box and he was using TS-850, he didn't put it off for three 
years!! and after that he gave to some one and it is working 
fine till now!! Thats all I have about it!!
I used a TS850 at the Kiwi Contest group (ZM2K) a year ago and 
didn't like it. Too small and fidley to operate. I use an 
FT1000D and an FT990 at home. I wouldn't swap them for anything 
The receiver sounds good to me.  The dual slope tune is nice on 
CW.You can quickly move either your upper or lower limit in to 
reduce QRM.The receiver seems to handle strong signals very 
well.  I believe I hear fewer beeps on a crowded band than I do 
with my R4-C (in other words, about none).There were a couple of 
things that I didn't like, but have fixed:
1. No CW sidetone adjust from the front panel.
2. No RX antenna input.
There just isn't much of anything wrong with the radio, and you 
can but a used one for $1150 with CW filters!  
I've owned an 850S for about two and a half years. Love it. The 
receiver is one of the best that I've ever used. Right after I 
bought it, I used it at a friend's 160 meter contest station 
(WD9INF, now N8KR) for spotting needed multipliers. Considering 
the fact that the 1.5 kw rig was right down the table and right 
down the band, the 850 did a spectacular job. I bought mine
to upgrade from a 940S. Oh, I have the 1.8 SSB and two 500 cycle 
CW filters in it.
The RIT/XIT is analog so there is no "zero" button. You have to
manually turn the knob back to zero offset.
No separate RX antenna input. But you can kludge one in with
some work. Overall its entirely adequate for contest work.
I used a TS-850 for more than a year before deciding to sell it 
because it just never would work out for (CW) contesting.  
Here's my biggest problems with it:
1.  RIT/XIT control is terrible.  It is an ordinary pot with end
rotation limit stops on it and a direct connection between the
resistance of the pot and the RIT or XIT offset.  There is no 
detent for zero offset, and since it isn't an optically encoded 
control, there's no way to push a button and have it 
automatically reset like the TS-940 and TS-950 do (and no way to 
computer control it, if that's of any interest to you).  Over 
the course of a contest you tend to lose track of where
you've set the RIT and eventually you get very frustrated with 
it.  Over the course of a year, the RIT control starts to get 
flakey -- turning the knob does not always result in a nice, 
smooth predictable change in offset.
2.  Getting the TS-850 to work with BOTH an external key line 
input (such as a bug, or a paddle/keyer combo or CT or ???) AND 
the internal keyer is a real bear.  Unless you're prepared to 
make some internal changes around surface mount devices in the 
rig, you can't use the very nice internal keyer and memories 
while using CT.
3.  I was able to solve the lack of an external receive antenna 
with some simple surgery at the TR relay inside the rig and an 
added phono jack.  This is so I could run QSK with my old 
amplifier (and Johnson vacuum tube TR switch) and/or switch to 
my Beverages for receiving.
If you never use the RIT/XIT control, it's a great rig.  The 
price is right (you can get them for about $1000 now) and the 
receiver is as good as anything I've used to date.  I was quite 
happy with it using standard Kenwood 500Hz CW filters that I 
installed, but others will tell you to get IRCI filters.  On 
160-40, the 850 runs circles around my 940 because the 940's 
diode switching of receiver input networks introduces lots of
intermod and crossmod from international and domestic broadcast 
signals; the 850 is clean (my guess is Kenwood went to PIN 
diodes in the front end).  I have virtually no comments to make 
about it on SSB because I hardly ever use SSB.
I wanted desperately to keep the 850 (because I can't afford 
anythingelse right now) but the RIT control brought me to my 
knees and I sold it this spring.
Hard to go wrong with an 850.  I use mine in virtually every SSB 
and RTTY contest that comes along.  No complaints.  About the 
only useful options it lacks is a second antenna input and IF 
DSP.  Don't know how much I would use those anyway.  The digital 
memory chip option is very nice, and three different voice or CW 
messages can be stored for contest use.  A good contest 
accessory to get is the remote control pad that lays on the 
operating table, whereby one can key the memory or enter new 
messages  without having to reach to the radio  (looks something 
like a computer mouse).  All contest software and other 
accessories (amps, Heil mikes, etc.)interface withno quirks.  
Great bang for the buck.  Does require a separate power
I own a TS-850 and I love it. For the price range on the used
market I don't think it can be beat. My previous radio
was a TS-830 and I've used my friends IC-765, FT1000, and IC775. 
The TS-850 is far superior to the old 830 and I like it better 
than the IC-765. 
I put three filters in mine. The 1.8 khz SSB filter and a pair
of IRC 400 hz cw filters. I don't think much of the 1.8 khz
SSB filter but the IRC CW filters are great. I tried the IRC 
1.8 khz ssb filter but returned it because it wasn't any
better than the Kenwood filter. I also have the
speach storage module in the radio (great for contesting).
Bottom line, I believe they are one of the best buys right 
now on the used market. I've seen some sell for $1100 with 
filters. I'd prefer to have an FT1000 or an IC-775 but like
you I can't spend that kind of money right now on a radio.
Hi Ken - our contest group have used almost every model of
radio in recent years and the TS850s is one of the best for 
strong signal handling - with the Kenwood 1.8kHz filter the 
skirt selectivity is not brilliant (I think the Florida 2.1kHz 
ones are much better shapefactor) but with the AIP on, Slope 
tuning wound in on both sides, and some attenuation, it is hard 
to beat, even with DSP.One disadvantage - the front end of the 
TS850s is easily burnt out by strong local transmissions - we 
burnt out 3 at our Multi/Multi station before I.C.E. filters 
cured the problems.Using a Hy-Gain 205CAS at 80', beaming to 
Europe, is a real test ofa RX front-end - the TS850s passes the 
test !

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