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Re: [TenTec] Orion Repaired and Back to V1.373b5

To: "'Discussion of Ten-Tec Equipment'" <tentec@contesting.com>
Subject: Re: [TenTec] Orion Repaired and Back to V1.373b5
From: "Dick Green WC1M" <wc1m@msn.com>
Reply-to: wc1m@msn.com,Discussion of Ten-Tec Equipment <tentec@contesting.com>
Date: Sat, 15 Dec 2007 17:17:36 -0500
List-post: <mailto:tentec@contesting.com>
Allow me to elaborate on Barry's answer to that question with my own 

At the end of August, my station took a big lightning hit that "killed" my O1. 
It's a long story I'll eventually post on my website. The short version is that 
I sent the O1 back to Ten-Tec and they declared it not repairable. My insurance 
covered the full cost of replacement. Since the O1 is no longer produced, I had 
 the option of buying a new, fully-loaded O2 (my O1 had the AT and all the 
filters), a used O2, a used O1, or another brand. A friend not far from my 
location had three O1s and two O2s for sale, and he was willing to let me try 
them before buying, so I could be assured of getting "a good one."

After long deliberation, and consultation with several other alumni of the 
now-defunct Orion beta test reflector, I decided to buy a used O1 and apply the 
difference in cost to a new K3. The O1 would see me through the wait for the 
K3, and hedge my bets in case the K3 failed to live up to expectations.

I've used an O1 almost since it was first released, and have used the O2 
several times at a major contest station. I like the O2 color display, and I 
think the receiver might be marginally better, but for my purposes (underlined 
"my") I feel there just isn't enough difference in the radios to spend the 
extra money on either a new or used O2. As Barry says, with prices falling like 
a rock, the O1 is a great bargain. (Barry was one of the people I consulted :-)

I might have been more willing to opt for a good used O2 had the K3 not been 
about to ship. I'm a big fan of the Orion design, and at the time I made my 
decision felt it had the best receiver on the market -- hands down. In my 
opinion, there was no other radio that could come close for what I like to do: 
serious contesting.

That said, I've been very disappointed with certain aspects of the Orion 
implementation. The O1 CPU is underpowered for the demands placed on it. From 
what I can tell, the faster O2 CPU hasn't improved performance significantly. 
Even so, I was quite disappointed Ten-Tec didn't make the O2 CPU/display 
available as an upgrade for O1 owners. That might have kept the resale value of 
our radios from plunging. 

But hardware isn't the real problem. Speaking as a 30-year veteran of the 
software industry, and long-time beta tester of the Orion firmware, V1 and V2 
leave a lot to be desired. I've not seen the source code for either, nor do I 
know all the constraints under which the programmer(s) have labored, but my 
sense is that both versions of the firmware are poorly designed and written. 
Evidence of this is the consistent appearance of new bugs and audio artifacts 
whenever previously-reported problems are fixed. This has been an issue from 
day 1. It seems when they "push it in here, it pops out there." That speaks of 
timing dependencies and possibly pathological connections between different 
sections of code that, in turn, suggest poor design and/or implementation.

Further, it appeared that Ten-Tec did virtually no in-house testing before 
releasing new versions to the beta test group. We weren't doing beta testing, 
we were doing alpha testing. In essence, they used us as an extension of their 
in-house staff. My impression is that the programmer(s) never ran new versions 
through even simple testing -- like turning the radio on and trying all the 
basic features. Every time a new beta came out we found a slew of bugs and 
anomalies that even cursory testing would have revealed.

Finally, Ten-Tec's attitude toward our problem reports and suggestions, and 
those posted on this reflector, was what one beta tester has called a "bunker 
mentality". They almost never acknowledged the existence of a problem and never 
told us whether they planned to address it or not. Consequently, we kept 
sending them reports for the same bugs over and over, from one beta release to 
another. My impression is that only problems the programmer(s) considered 
interesting or worth investigating got fixed, and usually at the expense of 
breaking something else. Ten-Tec's ultimate solution to the steady flow of bug 
reports, suggestions and complaints coming from the beta test group was to 
summarily disband it, without warning or communication. Most of us put in 
dozens, if not hundreds, of hours over several years helping Ten-Tec debug the 
firmware, without compensation. We were never thanked for our efforts, and we 
were treated like dirt at the end. Oh yeah, and we were all customers, too.

Another beef I have about the Orion is that Ten-Tec doesn't provide a service 
and alignment manual for it. Every radio I've ever owned has had a service 
manual available. As parts age, the radio gets out of alignment. It seems a 
shame to ship the radio back to Ten-Tec to get a simple task like that done. 
Hereâs a little story: The used O1 I bought had been back to the factory a 
year ago to fix a bad VFO encoder. At the same time, several hardware updates 
were done and the radio was supposedly checked out. All this was documented on 
a Ten-Tec work order provided to me with the radio. The rig sat in its return 
shipping box after service until I bought it. When I fired it up, there was a 
constant, low-level tone in the passband and the USB/LSB audio didn't sound the 
same. I figured there was an alignment problem. I called Ten-Tec and the 
technician I spoke with hadn't seen that particular symptom before and could 
provide no guidance. I asked if he could send me alignment instructions, and he 
said there were none -- not even for the Ten-Tec service department! He said if 
an Orion needed alignment they had to play it by ear or send it to the 
production people (i.e., the factory) because they were the only ones who knew 
how to do a full alignment. Rather than send the radio back to Ten-Tec, I 
decided to gently tweak a few pots with labels that seemed related to the 
problem. I figured "Carrier Balance" was a good bet and started with that one. 
Sure enough, it was slightly off and it was a simple matter to set it to the 
right position to eliminate the tone. But I sure wish I hadn't had to grope 
around in the dark to make a simple adjustment to the radio. Why should I have 
to spend >$200 in round-trip shipping+insurance and an hour of Ten-Tec's bench 
fee for that?

I should add that this radio also had a bad reed relay which caused 
intermittent transmission dropouts. I replaced it myself. Makes me wonder just 
how thorough the post-service check-out procedure is.

Bottom line, for some time I've felt that Ten-Tec doesn't really stands behind 
the Orion. A few months ago, this put me in an awkward position because I 
needed a replacement and it was still the best contest receiver available. When 
the K3 came out, I studied the specs and have been lurking on the Elecraft 
reflector for quite some time. I agree with those who have said that the K3 
receiver performance will probably not be dramatically better than the Orion. 
After all, they're based on similar designs. I also agree that small knobs are 
going to be a problem for some K3 owners, as will the very limited small, fixed 
LCD display. On the other hand, the Elecraft designers carefully analyzed the 
shortcomings of the Orion and have addressed many of them. Further, the 
Elecraft firmware engineer appears to be far more technically savvy than his 
counterparts at Ten-Tec, and his attitude toward bug reports and suggestions is 
180-degrees opposite to Ten-Tec's. He doesn't get defensive, is very prompt to 
fix problems and post new releases, and if a suggestion is good, and feasible, 
he will commit on the spot to implement it. I'm sure it helps that he's a 
founder of the company and has a stake in its future. 

Time will tell whether Elecraft will follow through on their promises and will 
maintain their excellent, customer-oriented attitude. But for now, I'm very 
impressed. That's why I ordered a K3. I feel there is a better chance of 
Elecraft improving the radio and extending the value of my investment than 
there is of Ten-Tec doing the same for the Orion. At this point, I don't know 
first-hand whether the K3 will compare with the Orion for contesting. Early 
reports are encouraging, but I have to hear it myself. I'll have three radios 
to compare: the K3, the Orion and the FT-1000D (no slouch with the INRAD 
roofing filter mod.) I have no idea which two of the three will ultimately 
become the best pair for contesting. I do, however, feel good about the K3 from 
the service and support perspectives. That means a lot to me.

I know a lot of you are die-hard Ten-Tec fans and will defend the company no 
matter what it does. I'm expecting massive, emotional flames in response to 
this post. So be it. That may be a reason why Ten-Tec let quality slip so badly 
on the Orion: they have a super-loyal customer base that accepts whatever it 
gets and won't challenge Ten-Tec to do better. But the K3 and other SDRs 
working their way into the market may prove the danger of resting on one's 

73, Dick WC1M

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Barry N1EU [mailto:barry.n1eu@gmail.com]
> Sent: Friday, December 14, 2007 2:59 PM
> To: Discussion of Ten-Tec Equipment
> Subject: Re: [TenTec] Orion Repaired and Back to V1.373b5
> Denny, I'm actually quite happy with my 1.373b5 O1.  My only real
> issue with the O1 is the subreceiver and that's identical in the O2.
> So the O1 is the bargain as far as I'm concerned.
> 73,
> Barry N1EU
> On 12/14/07, Dennis OConnor <ad4hk2004@yahoo.com> wrote:
> > Barry, you considering an O2?  If not, reason?

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