Why I Chose The Kenwood TH-D74

When it comes to DStar radios, ICom is king. It makes sense considering until recently ICom was the only one to make DStar radios. That changed when Kenwood came out with the TH-D74. So why would I go with the DStar newcomer as opposed to the DStar veteran? I didn’t do it just to be different, did I?

So I recently picked up a Kenwood TH-D74. I made this decision when I got a ZUMSpot and figured it might be a neat time to get a DSTar radio as well. I had a Fusion radio, but I wasn’t overall happy with the whole Fusion thing. Indeed, after a few days of waiting for my DStar registration to complete; I found the Fusion side of at least hotspot operation wasn’t anything to write home about.

Not only is the Kenwood the first non ICom DStar radio…it also tops the scales as the most expensive HT in the amateur market. I’m sure there are some commercial ham-compatible HT’s that cost more…but for the “general” amateur market…the TH-D74A tops the price scale. In fact, it’s something most people won’t justify. I heard a lot of people say “if you want DSTar, get the ICom”. But I still chose my Kenwood.

Like my FT2D, it has APRS built in. APRS was a deciding factor when I bought my 2D. At the time it was one of the few radios that had built-in GPS and APRS capability. Other Yaesu radios required external GPS and since I was looking to get a digital HT at the time, didn’t consider the TH-D72A. I really didn’t want to give APRS up…so this put the Kenwood at the top of the list of considerations. But it was when I started really looking at the radio that I saw it was a serious piece of equipment for $500.

Let’s start with that it’s actually a tri-band radio. 1.25m isn’t very popular, but it’s still out there. Not having a 1.25m radio it seemed like a handy feature to add. How much will I use it? I don’t know. It’s something I’ll play around with.

Its general coverage receive was also a nice push. While my FT2D has a general coverage receive..it’s FM only (or AM in air band). The TH-D74’s general coverage supports all the modes. AM, FM, SSB, and I believe even CW. Now I can tell you that I haven’t used the general coverage receive much on my FT2D….so this is really just a nice bonus.

In addition to APRS, it also features a legitimate KISS TNC. Yes, I’m serious. It has a full-fledged KISS TNC built in that you can access over usb or Bluetooth! How many HT’s feature a built-in KISS TNC? How many radios include a built-in KISS TNC? How many of those are usable over Bluetooth? Typically if you want a Bluetooth TNC…you have to buy it. Prices have come down…the Mobilinkd TNC2 is around $64…and it constantly advertises itself as an APRS TNC. I hadn’t really thought about wanting a Bluetooth TNC…since most of its use was for APRS. Well, now I have one…and it’s probably more featured than the external ones I’ve looked at.

Programming doesn’t require a special cable. Sure, I can do the FT2D with a SDCard…and I believe the Kenwood will do it with an SDCard as well. But you can also plug a standard microUSB up to it and program away. After having an FT2D with a mostly useless USB port and looking at all the other radios that want a cable…this is a pretty big deal. I have tons of microUSB cables lying around….even more so since my new phone uses USB-C.

The radio does have its shortcomings. Battery life is pretty poor and there are some DStar users that say it doesn’t do things the way it should…I think this is mostly related to the digital positioning packets. The person complaining about this was EComm…so it didn’t seem like anything I would be worried about.

The audio is pretty crisp both over its internal stuff and the SMC-34 hand-mic. Using the echo module on my DStar hotspot has let me hear this and most people I talk to on DStar comment it sounds good. Most of them sound pretty good too. I know DStar is using the older AMBE…maybe it’s equipment, maybe it’s operators, or maybe it’s unknown transcoding going on when I’m on YSFReflectors….but the people I listen to sound pretty good. A lot of guys on Fusion sound “muddy”…slightly muffled and like the compression can’t get a good fix on their voice. Again….many variables there…I do remember having a few Fusion QSOs with some Fusion guys and they sounded absolutely great. This is probably the operator more than the radio/system.

Ok…..and maybe I just wanted to get the “most expensive handheld” just to get it over with. The sting of paying close to $400 for the FT2D is long gone and after stacking up everything the Kenwood did; it seemed like the device for me even if it was $150 more than the ICom ID-51A+ (or 2+ or whatever is out). It packed a lot of features I wanted, a lot I didn’t realize I wanted, and it’s the non ICom D-Star.

Maybe I did want to be different and buck the trend. Maybe I just wanted to give modern Kenwood some representation in my shack. Afterall, I have a Yaesu HT, an ICom HF rig….getting a Kenwood HT just seemed like the thing to do. Hey…I don’t play brand loyalty. My favorite radio is the one that works and the one I own; not what brand badge it carries.

It’s not a radio for everyone…many can’t swallow the price. But for those that can…it’s a fine radio that packs as many features as a mobile/base rig in a package you can carry around. In fact, it makes me want to go find a packet node just to play with the TNC inside.

When this radio came out a couple of years ago…I know the price was at least $600 and everyone just went nuts. “A $600 HT? Is Kenwood crazy?” Even I thought so, but I still secretly lusted after it. That color screen, that DStar, that APRS…I knew I wanted it, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to get one.

Then I did.


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