Review: Yaesu FTdx10

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Don G3XTT gets to grips with the FTdx10, little brother to the FTdx101.

Introduction

The FTdx10 has been around for several months now and getting good reports so I was anxious to get my hands on one and see how it performed. Finally, I’ve had the opportunity and what follows is my personal take on the rig.

First Impressions

My first outing was to set up the radio for one of the RSGB 80m CC CW contests. This required getting the radio to 'talk' to my computer (for logging purposes) and configuring the filters, CW settings, and so on, for my requirements. The process was fairly straightforward, although I was surprised to find that the manual (there is no additional manual on CD, as with the IC-7300 for example) does not actually deal with connecting to a PC.

Given that most operators will want to do that nowadays, particularly for WSJT operations, I found that rather odd. Anyway, it was quickly clear from an internet search that I should download the correct drivers from the Yaesu website; once that was done I was able to get the FTdx10 communication with my logging program. 

I made 165 contacts that evening in the contest and quickly realised that this was an excellent receiver – with the 500Hz roofing filter selected and the bandwidth wound down to 300Hz there was no noticeable spill-over from adjacent signals (the CW bandwidth can actually be reduced as low as 50Hz with no ringing). After the contest, I also got an unsolicited email from a friend remarking on the crisp and clean sounding CW, so the transmit side was also working well.

The size of the FTdx10 is 266 x 91 x 263mm (10.5 x 3.6 x 10.4in) and it weighs in at 5.9kg (13.0lbs). The photo, Fig. 1, shows it between my IC-7300 and IC-7610.

SDR vs. Conventional

This takes me nicely to looking at the design philosophy behind the FTdx10. It is, like its big brother, the FTdx101, a hybrid of SDR and traditional superhet technology. While the panoramic display looks across a wide range of frequencies (the display bandwidth is selectable), there are roofing filters (12, 3 and 500Hz) at the 9MHz first IF before the main receive chain goes digital (and there is a slot to add an additional 300Hz filter for CW).

The direct sampling software works on the signal after down-conversion to 24kHz. SDR purists will not be happy with this. They expect the whole of the receiver’s coverage to be digitised as it comes into the receiver and processed digitally thereafter. This would, indeed, be ideal if analogue-to-digital converters could deal effectively with, maybe, 50MHz or so of signals of widely differing strengths. In practice, they are inevitably going to suffer from potential overload from strong signals, perhaps from loud broadcast stations.

Therefore, Yaesu has chosen to go down the 'hybrid' route, hopefully enjoying the best of both SDR and ‘conventional’ technologies. The results seem to bear them out. On the widely-recognised Sherwood Engineering test data (see URL below), the FTdx10 comes third after the FTdx101 and the Flex 6700, and above much more expensive radios, including the Elecraft K3S and the Icom IC-7851.
http://sherweng.com/table.html 

FTdx10 vs. IC-7300

A look at the FTdx10’s specification rather suggests that the Yaesu designers have taken a hard look at the supremely successful IC-7300 from Icom and copied most of its features, along with adding a few of their own. After all, the IC-7300 has been around for a few years now, but still holds its own at its particular price point.

I do not plan to compare the features side by side. I have already said that the FTdx10 incorporates roofing filters, which appear to give it an edge over the IC-7300 and many other radios in signal handling. But the FTdx10 adds CW, RTTY and PSK decoding and a 3D display (as with its big brother, although personally, I don’t find it useful.

That said, by reducing the waterfall gain, until the signal peaks are shown without the background noise, the display looks much better). You can also select how much of the spectrum is shown at any one time – there are several display options available here. Also, it can drive an external display, showing what is on the FTdx10’s display but on a much larger screen.

So, while the price is slightly above that of the IC-7300, the FTdx10 does boast better performance and additional features.
Incidentally, it is interesting that Icom started with the IC-7300 before launching its bigger brother, the IC-7610. In contrast, Yaesu launched the FTdx101 and only later has introduced the FTdx10 (which presumably will sell in much greater numbers, just as the IC-7300 has undoubtedly outsold the IC-7610).

User Interface

Most radios nowadays have sufficiently good performance for everyday use, and marginal differences will probably only be noticed in extreme contesting or DXing environments. More to the point is what they are like to use. And here, to an extent, it may come down to user familiarity.

While I was a Yaesu user for many years (FT-1000D, FT-1000MP MkV, FT-950, and so on), I have, in recent years, become much more familiar with the Icom range (IC-7300 and IC-7610) and, in the meantime, the Yaesu interface has changed drastically to accommodate the use of a touchscreen and associated menus.

So, I confess to finding the FTdx10 system confusing at first and I have heard from users of the FTdx101 that it has taken them some time to become familiar with the user interface, even if they were already hardened Yaesu owners. That said, there is nothing inherently wrong with the FTdx10, it just requires patience in learning how to drive it. Unusually, perhaps, most of the menu options come up on a single screen (Fig. 2). You are then taken into sub-menus to adjust the particular parameter that you have selected.

And where those sub-menus bring up an adjustment, the window (Fig. 3) pops up on the screen for a very short time – if you don’t do the adjustment quickly enough, the window disappears! However, many of these adjustments, to be fair, are ones that you will do once and leave alone – setting the monitor level, for example, for comfortable listening to your transmit audio. 

I did have one issue with the external interfaces: Connecting a linear amplifier works via a multi-pin connector on the rear panel, unlike either of my Icom radios or, indeed, the FTdx101, all of which have both TX-ground and ALC connections via phono sockets – easy to use. I can only think that the reason for adopting a different system with the FTdx10 is because of a shortage of space on the back panel. In fairness, this issue is solved with the SCU-28 cable, available separately for £29.95.

What you do get on the back panel (Fig. 4) are two USB A-type connectors for keyboard, mouse, and so on, ne USB B-type connector to interface to the PC, a single antenna connector (as with the IC-7300 – no simple facility for a separate receive antenna, for example, and no low-level transverter output). Curiously, there is also an RS232 connector. I say ‘curiously’ because most manufacturers have dropped this now that they incorporate a USB interface for the PC, but Yaesu obviously feel that it is still needed by some users.

Yaesu points out that this, in effect, gives two CAT (computer-aided transceiver) ports, one on the RS232 port and one on the USB port. This allows the user to connect, for example, to the PC via USB for CAT control while using the RS232 to connect to a linear amplifier, ATU or antenna controller. Having said that, the interface software creates two virtual COM ports in any case, via the USB interface. 

There is also a DVI output for driving an external monitor, again a feature missing from the IC-7300. I routinely run an external monitor with my IC-7610 and although I would not, in any way, regard it as 'essential', it is a nice feature to have. 

One handy feature is the MPVD (Multi-Purpose VFO Outer Dial), a ring around the main VFO knob that can be used for a number of functions, including clarifier, band change, mode change or, indeed, any one of a number of other operator-assigned functions. When not being used for one of these functions, it serves as a fast-tuning control to get quickly around the bands.

I should also mention the microphone, which includes, as well as the PTT switch, an UP/DOWN button for frequency-changing, a MUTE key and four function keys relating to Quick Memory, swapping of VFOs and dial lock. Another neat touch is the adjustment for the dial tension, easy to do with a lever under the front of the set.

I also have to commend the build quality of the FTdx10, which is superb. The screening is first-rate, with, for example, a metal plate inside the metal cover, both top and bottom, with just a hole in the bottom one to allow installation of the optional 300Hz CW filter (although, frankly, the performance without the filter is, in my view, perfectly adequate even for the most discerning CW operator).

Fig. 5 shows the metal screen below the top panel, with just the speaker in view.

Fig. 6 shows the underside with the metal screen removed so you can see the build quality.

Incidentally, the manual, to my mind, is a bit sparse. As I said, it does not, for example, describe how to set up the connection to a PC. That said, as you would expect nowadays, there is plenty of documentation available for download from the Yaesu website. The good thing is that, unlike some other sets, this one does not come with a pile of manuals in different languages!

Frequency Coverage

I should here mention that the UK version of the FTdx10 covers not only the 70MHz band but also has our 60m channels pre-programmed, which is a nice touch. Receive coverage is from 30kHz to 75MHz.

In Use

Having (as mentioned earlier) started by using the FTdx10 on CW in one of the RSGB 80m CC events, my next effort was in the SSB leg of the same contest. The radio performed well, as I would have expected. I did not make any effort to tailor the SSB signal although, for SSB aficionados, there is plenty of scope for adjusting the audio.

And I mean plenty of scope. The radio incorporates a three-band parametric microphone equaliser that allows considerable tailoring of your transmitted audio, separately for speech processor off and speech processor on.

On receive, it was sharp; this is helpful, given that the band gets crowded in such events. I reduced the bandwidth as much as was reasonable for listening to SSB signals and was able to keep most of the adjacent channel interference at bay.

Next up was the data modes leg of the same contest and, again, it performed well, using the USB-D mode setting and the MMVARI software working in conjunction with the N1MM+ contest logging program.

Which left just WSJT to try. Interestingly, my version of WSJT had no menu option for interfacing to the FTdx10 (I am not sure whether the rig has now been added) but I selected the FTdx101 and the software immediately connected to the rig, and I was able to start making FT8 QSOs (I gather the FT-991 setting will also do the trick).

I should say, in the context of RTTY and PSK operation, that while the FTdx10 has a built-in decoder, sent messages have to be pre-programmed. You can use an external USB keyboard for this so it’s a pity you can’t actually use the USB keyboard for typing in real-time during a QSO.

But I do like the ability to connect a USB mouse, click on a signal on the panoramic display and go straight to it. This a feature I use constantly on my IC-7610. 

There is a slot for an SD or SDHC memory card, which not only allows updating of the firmware as and when needed but, in day-to-day use, allows recording of, for example, CQ calls, and also incoming audio. 

The internal ATU can flatten out VSWRs of up to 3:1. Beyond this requires an external ATU, and there is a socket on the back panel for driving a suitable unit.

I should also mention that the Yaesu FH2 external keypad, which has been around for many years, can be used to control various features such as sending stored messages. I no longer have mine but I remember it being useful when I had my FT-1000.

Remote Operation

Remote operation of the FTdx10 is possible using Yaesu’s separate SCU-LAN10 interface box. This designed to work with several of the Yaesu rigs and costs around £280, similar to the cost of the RC28 unit and BAS-1 software required to remote the Icom rigs. The unit incorporates an RJ45 Ethernet port to connect to your router and a USB and DATA connector to interface to the FTdx10. Disappointingly though - although this unit supports phone operation - it only supports CW operation in the receive direction.

The Display

The FTdx10 display is larger than that of the IC-7300. This is just as well because - rather than choosing between separate menus - you get everything at once. This is quite a lot to take in at first although, of course, once you have adjusted the various parameters to your liking, there will only be a few that you need to change subsequently.

When you click on many of these, a smaller window pops up, as I described earlier, to adjust that particular parameter. For reasons best known to Yaesu (and commented on by a number of users), this sub-menu closes automatically after just a few seconds so you have to be quick off the mark to make the adjustment. Maybe the time will be lengthened in a future firmware release.

One of the unique features of the FTdx10 (as on the FTdx101) is the 3D panoramic display, which some find useful. In contrast, one of the features I particularly like in the Icom rigs is the ability to select a multi-feature bar graph display instead of the panoramic display (which, in any case, is unnecessary when, for example, operating FT8), so that all the main readings can be seen simultaneously (while the FTdx10 allows the user to select what is shown on the meter, it can only show one parameter at a time). The contrast between the two can be seen in Fig. 7, albeit with the multi-display shown on my IC-7610 but the IC-7300 is similar.

Summary

Yaesu has now dropped the FT-1200 and FT-3000 (which sold for £2000+ when it was first launched). While I thought at the time that the FT-3000 (reviewed PW, April 2014) was a good radio, I would venture to suggest that the FTdx10 knocks spots off it and fits nicely into the mid-range between the FT-991A and the FTdx101.

To my mind the FTdx10 offers amazing value for money, selling for around £1550, and I am happy to give it a 4.8-star rating. Indeed, it is hard to know why anyone other than a hardened DXer or contester would want to spend twice that for its big brother, just for a second receiver and VC-tune filtering (though some operators with a noisy RF environment find this feature very effective)!