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Re: [TenTec] Is Orion really worth it? Given the published problems?

To: "'Discussion of Ten-Tec Equipment'" <tentec@contesting.com>
Subject: Re: [TenTec] Is Orion really worth it? Given the published problems?
From: "Dick Green WC1M" <wc1m@msn.com>
Reply-to: wc1m@msn.com,Discussion of Ten-Tec Equipment <tentec@contesting.com>
Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2006 01:00:17 -0400
List-post: <mailto:tentec@contesting.com>
There's no easy answer to this question. I should probably keep my mouth
shut, but here goes...

1. Pro: I'm a serious SO2R contest operator. I have an Orion I and an
FT-1000D (with the INRAD roofing filter mod.) While the 1000D is one of the
all-time best contest radios out there, I almost never run with it because
the Orion is hands-down superior. The roofing filters are narrower (I use
the INRAD 600Hz filter in the 1000Hz slot), the DSP selectivity is sharper
with less (almost no) ringing, and the sensitivity is better. Bottom line, I
can copy a wider range of signals under conditions ranging from excellent to
horrible. Throw in BinRX for running big pileups, and you have a combination
that's hard to beat.

2. Caveats: I use 1.373b5 because V2 has some problems that preclude my
using it for serious contesting -- primarily slower QSK and BinRX doesn't
work. There are other problems with V2 that were nicely detailed by N6AHA in
a previous post, but I don't use those features when contesting -- no time
to fool around with most of that stuff. Probably the only broken feature
that would really affect me is the speech processor, but only if I happen to
do an SSB contest from home, which is rare. I'd love to use V2 because it's
more stable, it seems quieter, the panel controls work when the rig is
transmitting, and the QSK noise is somewhat reduced (see below.) But I
simply must have BinRX for CW contesting, and while I could live with the
slower QSK, I'd rather not.

3. Another Caveat: I believe what N6AHA refers to as "click-clack" in the CW
sidetone is something I refer to as the "WC1M Lament" because I complained
about it to Ten Tec many times over the last three years. This is a sharp
clicking sound in the left headphone. You can hear a similar click in the
right headphone, but it's not as bad. The problem doesn't exist in the
speaker audio output (obvious if you connect your headphones to the rear
panel speaker output.) Over many beta releases and some official releases,
this sound has sometimes been mixed up with DSP artifacts introduced by bugs
in the firmware, resulting in confusion about the source of the noise.
1.373b5 has a bit of DSP switching noise, while V2 appears to have very
little DSP switching noise. However, that makes the WC1M Lament really stand
out. Unfortunately, the WC1M Lament is caused by a hardware problem.
Recently, I worked with Ten-Tec on an experimental mod to correct the
problem in my Orion. It worked. The mod takes a bit of doing and I wouldn't
recommend it to anyone who is not completely comfortable with working inside
expensive transceivers and working with SMD components. Probably best to
wait for Ten-Tec to release information on the mod.

4. Con: Regardless of whether you get an Orion I or Orion II, and regardless
of whether you use V1 or V2, the Orion is not for everyone. While it can be
used successfully by "appliance operators" (and I mean that with the utmost
respect), many such ops would be frustrated by it. In some respects, the
radio has been over-designed (e.g., the complex and confusing VFO, TX, RX,
ANT, and audio assignment process, which is very powerful but lacks, for
example, a quick and easy way to get in and out of split mode for chasing
DX.) In other respects, the user interface is unintuitive (e.g., it's not
obvious that you have to push the PBT/BW button to switch functions.)

5. Conclusion: I would highly recommend the Orion to serious contesters and
DXers, who are looking for the utmost in performance from their rig. I don't
think there's any other radio on the market that compares. But prospective
owners should be comfortable with tinkering to get the best results. I would
not recommend the Orion to casual operators or people who have difficulty
with complex equipment. At the present time, I wouldn't recommend the Orion
to perfectionists.

6. Post-Script: Despite an incredibly frustrating experience beta testing
firmware and waiting for a version that finally operates to the full
potential of the design, I love my Orion and wouldn't use anything else for
my main contest radio. In fact, I recently ripped my station apart so I
could take the Orion and all my SO2R switching gear to KT1V for this year's
CQ WPX CW contest -- despite the fact that Ted has two fine 1000Ds and a
good switching system there. No, I had to have my Orion. FWIW, I posted the
highest claimed score in the USA for the SOAB HP category (i.e., I won -- I
think.) WPX being a "run contest", I used the Orion for 88% of my contacts.
All that said, I hope Ten Tec gets back on track with Orion development. The
current situation is not good for the customers, not good for the radio, and
not good for the brand.

One more thing... I'm not a TT groupie. My Orion is the only Ten Tec radio
I've ever owned or used.

73, Dick WC1M
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