Eham Review of the Kenwood TS-990

I’ve had my Kenwood TS-990 for almost a year.  I’m still loving this radio and continue to greatly enjoy all of its unique features.  I’ve used a lot of HF radios over the years, and this has the best receiver I have ever heard, hands down.  When I had only been using the radio for a week I wrote a review on eHam.  The review is still accurate and relevant, so I thought I would post it here.

I have had the TS-990 for only a week, and I’m sure this review may be a bit premature; however, I wanted to share my thoughts about this fine transceiver for those who are considering making an investment in one.  Although I have had it for a short time, I was able to spend a majority of the first four days I had it delving deeply into its features, so this review comes after quite a bit of operation of the radio.

For frame of reference, I have owned a number of great HF radios over the past 25 years as a ham.  I think any reviewer is influenced by what he or she has previously used.  While I have never owned or extensively used an IC-7800, IC-7700, FT-5000 or FT-9000, I have owned and used the IC-7600, FT-2000, FTDX-3000, Flex-3000, Flex-5000A (dual receiver version) and many other less expensive HF radios.  One of my favorite “radios of the past” if the FT-1000 Mark V Field.  I can say with all honesty that the TS-990S is by far the best transceiver I have ever owned and operated.  It’s simply a great rig.  While this review cannot touch upon all aspects of this radio, I will try to cover my experience operating it as much as possible.  Please also keep in mind that the review of any radio will depend on the antenna system to some degree.  I used only a SteppIR vertical and a Pixel RF Pro 1B loop (receive only) while learning to use my new radio.

Having gotten the preliminaries out of the way, here are my thoughts (I am not a CW OP, so my comments are limited to my experience with SSB on the TS-990):

Look, Feel and Ergonomics

This radio gets an “A+” in this category.  The front panel layout is logical and the two LED screens are clear and show no signs of pixilation.  The meter is as responsive as an analog meter.  Moving from control to control is easy and intuitive, and gets easier as you learn the layout.  I especially like the touch screen aspect of the main 7 inch LED screen and band scope.  I really have no complaints about ease of use of this radio.  By the way, this radio is BIG and HEAVY, coming in at just under 60 pounds.  The menu system is easy to learn and use and is well laid out.  Many of the front panel controls take you to settings screens with a press and hold.  The scope and waterfall are crisp and clear.

Receiver

This radio has a great receiver.  There are many ways to tweak what you hear.  I have had no problem pulling in weak stations.  I have also had no problem eliminating interference from those stations that are strong and close by.  I could spend pages describing the different ways to tweak the receiver, but here is a list of highlights:

  1. Noise Reduction – the two adjustable settings are very effective and work well.
  2. Receive EQ – What can I say?  An 18 band EQ provides many options for tailoring the received audio.  There are numerous presets here, or you can configure one of three user configurations to your liking.
  3. Auto and Manual Notch – Very effective and work well.
  4. BEF – I have only played with this a little, but it works as the manual states.  I hope others will provide more about this feature.
  5. RX Filter – The three customizable filers have numerous combinations to allow the user to adjust the filtering to their liking, depending on operating conditions.  This allows great customization for user preference.  The roofing filters do a very good job.  The passband settings are variable and can be saved within the RX Filter settings.

Transmit Audio Settings

Like the receiver, the transmit audio settings can be customized in almost limitless ways.  Here are the highlights (By the way, I use a Heil Classic with this radio):

  1.  TX Filtering – You can use as much or as little bandwidth as you want to start the process of tailoring the audio.  The range here is 10 through 4000 Hz, which is very broad, indeed.
  2. TX EQ – Just like on the receive side; the rig has an 18 band TX EQ that can be customized in many ways to tailor your TX audio.  There are numerous presets and several user customizable settings.

The Mic gain and Processor settings are also widely customizable, such that any user of this radio can configure the transmit audio without the need for any outboard audio equipment.  As mentioned above, I use the Heil Classic mic.  With the proc on, the TX EQ “conventional” setting and TX filtering set at 200 on the low end and 2900 on the high end, I have received some very good audio reports.

By the way, you can observe receive and transmit audio on the built in audio scope.

Computer Interfacing

With this radio, you have three ways to simultaneously interface with a computer:  COM (DB9), USB and LAN (Ethernet).  I have all three running – the DB9 with my SteppIR controller, the USB for my logging program and the LAN to control the radio with the ARCP-990 software that is free from Kenwood.  This software is particularly nice as it provides a “clickable” band scope feature.  The radio has native full remote operation from a distant computer with the Kenwood software.

Other Features

With this radio, you can decode and transmit PSK, RTTY and CW on the internal screen.  You can attach a USB keyboard to one of three USB ports for operation of digital modes.  You can also plug a USB memory stick into one of the front USB ports to backup all of your radio settings.  The radio has digital video output (DVI) that I have used to output to a DVI monitor.  The result is a high definition view of the radio’s main screen on the monitor in front of me.  This is very nice when using the radio for PSK or RTTY.

This radio also has a complete and independent second receiver, which the documentation says is a TS-590.  The second receiver works well and has all of the same customization available as the main receiver.

The radio has four antenna inputs and an input and output for a dedicated receive antenna.

There are many more features, too numerous to list here.

Things I Don’t Like So Far

No radio is perfect.  There are a few things I don’t like so far.  The manual suffers from poor translation into English and could use improvement.  While I love having the separate receive antenna input, it is an “all or nothing” proposition.  In other words, if the receive antenna is selected, you must use it on all bands and in the sub receiver.  I hope Kenwood will fix this with the next firmware update.  I would like to see a few more customizable PF keys on the front panel, but Kenwood does have a schematic in the manual to allow you to build an outboard keypad for the PF keys.  For now, these are my main issues.

All in all, this is a great radio – the best I’ve ever owned.  From my perspective, Kenwood has raised the bar with their new flagship entry.  To me, it has been money well spent.

AB4BJ_TS990_MAY2013

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4 Responses to Eham Review of the Kenwood TS-990

  1. on4sq Bart says:

    Hy Bill,

    how did you do this, (With this radio, you can decode and transmit PSK, RTTY and CW on the internal screen). Decode CW ?

    73′ Bart (on4sq)

  2. Bill says:

    Bart – As currently configured, the TS-990S will not decode CW on the built in screen. I hope Kenwood will add that feature in future firmware updates.

  3. Ruddy says:

    Hello, I have a question.
    I’m also an owner of the TS990S.
    But I have a question, and maybe you can help me.
    When I use the 1.8MC band than I switch to my RX antenna. So I have to push the button RX Ant.
    I do the same for 3.5Mc.
    But when I switch then to another band, as eg. 14Mc or 21Mc the RX antenna stay active, and that is not what I want. I must than manually switch of the RX antenna. .
    Is there possibility that the TS990 put in his memory witch antenna belongs to witch band?
    Tanks for helping

    ON7DR
    Ruddy

  4. Tom Wilson says:

    Why is it rated low on the Sherwood Engineering receiver comparisons ? It has a Flex as first place followed by a KX3,, My old Icom 765 is rated just below it a slot or two. It has good numbers until you get a nearby signal,, then it goes down fast. It is rated just below the Flex 1500

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