First Impressions of the new Ten-Tec ORION DSP Transceiver
by Alan Davis K2WS
After using the Orion for a week, these are some of my impressions. Finding
dozens of software bugs in a $3300+ radio was quite unsettling to me,
gentlemen. I had a bigger emotional investment in this thing - then I care
I wish to address two design problem areas, VFO control and Mode switching
on the Orion Most of the high end radios today (TS-870/950, IC-746Pro /
756ProII / 781, FT1000 series) all have VFO tuning rates in this range:
MODE kHz/ revolution of VFO knob Step Size
SSB 5 or 10 kHz 1 or 10Hz
CW/FSK 500Hz to 5kHz 1 or 10Hz
AM/FM 25 to 100 kHz 100Hz or 1kHz
With this scheme, the tuning rate is dependent on the mode (eg., SSB,
CW, etc. ) and the step size is high enough to keep the VFO tuning smoothly,
like an analog VFO. Step sizes courser than 10Hz makes tuning too
digital sounding on SSB and impossible to accurately tune in PSK31 and
other data modes!
Now examine what they did on the Orion! The Step size function is accessed
via the Menu. Two keypresses are required each time you want to change the
current VFO step size.
kHz/ revolution of VFO knob Step Size (resolution)
64 Hz 1 Hz
640 Hz 10 Hz
6.4 kHz 100 Hz
64 kHz 1 kHz
320 kHz 5 kHz
640 kHz 10 kHz
6400 kHz 100 kHz
In order to get about 5 kHz / revolution with the Orion (6.4kHz/ rev.) we
must accept 100Hz Step Size, much too coarse. If we use a 10Hz step size,
then the Orion forces a S-L-O-W 640Hz / rev. - much too
slow for SSB work. Then, in order to switch the step size, Orion forces
Furthermore, when switching to larger step sizes, no rounding of the
frequency takes place, which is more than irritating.If for example, the
frequency is 14.177.049 while in 1 Hz step size and we want to go to
14.178.000, switching STEP to 1 KHz yields a frequency of 14.178.049 when
the VFO is tuned higher. All digits smaller then the current step size must
to zeroed manually. Keyboard entry of part of the frequency is not
This problem consistently appears whenever we can change step size from a
finer to a courser resolution eg., the following controls have this problem
- PBT, BW, RIT, XIT, and CUT H/L. There are no numerical limits set
for CUT H/L or PBT. If the control is turned too far, the display
doesn't' stop - sometimes writing over other parts of the display!
The RIT/XIT step size changes with menu>RX> PBT/BW Step = 10/50/100 Hz.
I'd rather see it change with VFO step size.
The VFO shaft encoder needs to produce at least 500 counts per revolution
if we want a 10 Hz step size AND 5kHz per revolution of the VFO knob. It
seems to me the Orion's encoder produces 64 counts per revolution,
eg., 64 Hz per revolution at 1Hz step size.
Instead of changing the VFO step size via the menu as the Orion currently
does, I propose the following changes:
1. non-AM/FM modes would default to 5 kHz / revolution @ 10 Hz step size.
2. AM/FM modes would default to 50 kHz / revolution @ 100 Hz step size. 3.
Menu>other>VFO-A or B Enc Rate = slow/fast would double the VFO default
4. A panel Push button labeled "FINE" would divide the current step size
by 10, thus producing a fine-tuning mode as shown below. Perhaps the
VFOab>M pushbuttons could be used for this job, since the save to memory
function is also in the Memory menu.
(FINE = off) (FINE = ON )
kHz/ revolution | kHz / revolution
MODE of VFO knob STEP | of VFO knob STEP
menu>other slow fast SIZE | slow fast SIZE
SSB/CW/FSK 5kHz 10kHz 10 Hz| 0.5 kHz 1 kHz 1Hz
AM/FM 50kHz 100kHz 100 Hz| 5 kHz 10 kHz 10Hz
5. Larger step sizes (1, 5, 10, 100kHz etc. ) might be controlled with the
"COURSE VFO" knob, much like Kenwood's "VFO CH" knob. The "Sub AF" knob
could be used for this purpose. The "Sub AF" function might be controlled
with the Main AF knob and the Main/Sub Rx push buttons. The new "COURSE
VFO" knob shall have programmable step sizes, making large integer
excursions quick! Menu>STEP would be back in business.
Another problem is mode switching on the Orion. Either have dedicated
pushbuttons for USB/LSB, UCW/LCW, UFSK/LFSK and AM/FM that's four
Buttons OR when the "Mode" button is pressed the mode menu STAYS ON until
"Mode" button is pressed AGAIN. Then, we can switch from upper to lower
while listening and so forth. Mode switching is too important to be hidden
in the menu.
There are glitches in the operation/display of certain controls.
Thecontrol/display interaction is often inconsistent, too fast or slow, some
rotating controls have no minimum or maximum limits. For example,
1. the PBT knob can be turned, turned, turned until the passband window
falls off either end of the display and the "PBT: -nnnnnnn" readout grows
2. The H-CUT knob is identical in function to the BW knob in USB. The
L-CUT knob is identical in function to the BW knob in LSB. The CUT control
Should not allow widening of the original passband, only cutting it. I
think Kenwood's Slope Tuning is a superior alternative. In SSB, one knob
adjusts the low frequency cutoff and the other knob adjusts the high
frequenc cutoff. It's simple, intuitive and it WORKS.
3. The NR function readout is flaky when Multi is turned too far.
4. Monitor level is not loud enough - even when set to 100.
5. Panel legend for headphones, key and ALC are invisible in low light.
There are other software problems too eg.,
1. the slow update rate of the Bandscope, compared to
Icom's 756Pro's bandscope.
2. the chunky, crude display below +/- 18kHz scan
width on the Bandscope
3. The Analog S-meter occasionally pins for no
4. the USER profile load/store function takes more
than 15 seconds to work, should be instantaneous!
5. the USER1 and USER2 buttons should be in the Menu,
if accidentally pressed, the radio locks up for 15
These anomalies are totally unacceptable. I expected MUCH MORE from
Ten-Tec then this. I spent $3300 for what I thought was a world class HF
transceiver. I waited nine months for delivery. I was promised delivery in
October, November, Christmas time, mid-February and early March - each
time I was told the control software wasn't quite right. TenTec would not
release the Orion until it was 100 percent perfect. On March 25th, the
Orion was released and mine was delivered that Saturday, March 29th.
I defended Ten-Tec on the air, supported the Orion project from the
beginning, read everything I could get my hands on, talked with Doug
Smith and Ken Hopper a beta tester during those winter months of waiting. I
wanted to see an American manufacturer back in the fray. I sincerely
believe that the Orion was released prematurely. I had an cordial
conversation with Jack Burchfield, President of TenTec explaining my
impression of the radio. He honored my request to return the Orion for a
full refund, including accessories.
Perhaps, maybe, in a year or so, Orion will mature into a top
performer. However, I do not recommend purchasing an Orion at this time
until the control software and other issues are completely resolved.
73, Alan Davis K2WS
Help STOP SPAM with the new MSN 8 and get 2 months FREE*