Communication is a hobby and a challenge. Radio Art is in play when you contact people far away without a wire or network. When all else fails, ham radio communications will get through.
NF6P is my Federal Communications Commission (FCC) assigned callsign for amateur radio use.
Now that I've owned this amateur radio for over eight months, it's time to review its performance and use it under my circumstances. We live full-time and travel the US in our 32' Motorhome. We selected the FT-891 because of its size. I own an FTDX-101MP, but it's too large for the coach, and we did not want to lug it along on our adventures. Ham radio can go small.
To date, we made 2,355 contacts with the FT-891. That includes WAS, WAC, DXCC Mixed, and 31 Zones in casual operating from multiple locations. Our antenna is the Chameleon MPAS 2.0. Most of the time, in a vertical configuration. We've also run end-fed with the MAPS when a tree is available. Operation is in all modes, but we favor CW and digital because of the power and simple antenna. We've added an LDG Z-11Pro 2 tuner in our mobile configuration, an Alinco DM-30T power supply, and a SignaLink USB for digital modes. I'm also using a K1EL WKMini. Those devices require 3 USB ports, so I added a small USB dongle to plug into my laptop. We're using N3FJP software for logging. All the USB cables have ferrites to keep RF out of the computer and CAT port on the FT-891.
I've listed all that information because I think the results speak for themselves. For a small portable radio, it performs very well. Any ham is going to have fun with this radio. It will do whatever you want it to, from portable POTA operation and mobile ops driving down the road to a simple base station setup. Some compromises must be made for the size of the radio, but Yaesu packed many features into it. You can customize buttons to assist you in your kind of operation. No, you won't have all the features on the front. But the display will provide the vital information you need.
SSB operation allows for customizing EQ on the mic, and I have received excellent audio reports using the stock handheld. In addition, the WDH (width) filter improves selectivity. During last week's CQWW SSB, I only occasionally felt a crush of multiple close-in stations. Understandably, a simple vertical will only capture so much, but the CQWW is the worst-case scenario for a receiver any day of the year. The built-in speaker is OK, but I use simple earphones most of the time, and the audio is excellent.
CW operation is smooth with break-in. Using the WDH control gets bandwidth down to about 500 Hz, which is about all the selectivity I need. The APF (audio peak filer) sometimes helps with really weak stations. Since I use the Win Keyer, I don't know how the internal keyer works, but the sidetone is fine.
Digital operation has been primarily FT8 and FT4 at 35 watts. The digital (DU) mode on the FT-891 is only 3k wide but allows WSJT-X to move the VFO around in operation. Yaesu does not provide an internal sound card for the 891. My SignaLink is the interface for audio and CAT connection to the radio's single USB port. It works perfectly with my software configuration.
An excellent noise blanker and DSP (digital signal processing) can help with various noise situations. I miss the solid crystal filters on my FTDX-101MP, but how would you fit them in a portable HF radio of this size? The front end of the FT-891 is pretty broad. I purchased an AM broadcast band filter to eliminate strong AM stations mixing into every band. You may never notice the issue, but we sometimes found RV parks close to AM stations.
The FT-891 is a full-featured radio. For its size, you give up full-size rig control and display. In actual operation, it's like going old school when I was first a ham. The Kenwood 520, Heath Kits, and other radios of the day lacked all of today's features, but we made loads of contacts. The FT-891 is a better all-around radio; you must remember what it was designed for, and I'm happy.
As the owner of this amateur radio for more than a year, it's time to give a complete review. We have seen enough different conditions in the 13 months of operation in casual DXing, contesting, and listening. That includes most bands utilizing SSB, CW, and several digital modes using different pieces of software.
I've read the Yaesu manual multiple times and purchased a copy of Andrew Barron's excellent "The Radio Today guide to the Yaesu FTDX-101". To understand this radio and its features, you must study it and become familiar with the intended operation from the manufacturer's point of view. You must also be willing to go beyond the initial "out of the box" experience for ham radio.
What you have here is a complicated electronic device with advanced radio art. I forced myself to think differently when approaching the interface and capabilities. I've owned an FT-1000D, FT-990, and FT-950. I've used a K3S and 7610 extensively as well. You need to use more critical thinking to approach the FTDX-101 the same way as these other radios. I'm a broadcast engineer and long ago realized that Japanese engineering in broadcast equipment required me to think more like a Japanese engineer. Yaesu falls into this innovative universe and has met my expectations of excellence.
We purchased the "MP" version for the boost in power and additional filters and sub-band VC-Tune. The included power supply and speaker helped in my decision. The extra power out is a psychological boost, but it sure does support my ability to work stations when DXing. But more than likely, it's the excellent receiver on this radio. It hears better than any radio I've ever operated. The advanced features make tuning DX, finding their operating frequency, and fighting off QRM a game-changer. The VC-tune, when appropriately used, is a huge help. The Contour control, DSP, and other features aid as well. One unexpected experience was a lack of fatigue when listening for long periods. It took me a while to identify this, but it's noticeable. At first, I thought it was noise reduction, but this experience goes beyond that.
The radio is a delight during contests with close-in loud stations up and down the dial. CW selectivity has allowed me to improve my CW skills as it hears so well. Stations pop out of the noise. APF and ZIN aid in CW operations. The memory keyer is spot on, especially for voice. I experienced the same feature in the FT-950 and retained the remote control memory keyer buttons. Since most of us use software for contests and DX operations, interface to CW and voice keying is easy. The radio does decode CW very well, but I rarely use that function. CAT operation is flawless and has worked with all the software I have tried.
Over time I've found that the controls are in the right places. After some time, my fingers press buttons effortlessly, and the silky smooth central VFO knob is butter. I elevated the position of the radio in my shack to aid in the operation. We added some LED lighting to the console to flood my operating position. As a result, I can see all knops and controls as needed.
The display is clean, with a waterfall that gets the job done. Much has been written about the 3DSS spectrum display. Frankly, I was not impressed at first. However, over time, I've discovered that it aids in finding stations while searching and pouncing in a contest. In addition, the history characteristics work better and aid in tuning quickly. As I've adjusted colors and contrast, we've fined tuned the visual aspects of the 3DSS. Some quirks include a lack of averaging and auto-level, but I don't seem to fuss over time, as you can assign LEVEL to the multi-knob if you want. We hope Yaesu will address these minor things in firmware at a future date.
Digital operation is flawless once you understand that the built-in soundcard and USB interface are sensitive to RFI. So always use appropriate chokes on USB cables. I have extensively used RTTY, PSK, and JT8, and this radio hears them very well. In particular, RTTY reception is terrific with this receiver.
SSB audio reports are always excellent. I've chatted with many operators on the air who have needed help understanding how to set up the ALC and Compression on the FTDX101. Don't approach this as old radios have. The Yaesu manual could be more precise in this area and counterintuitive. But the magic is how it sounds and busts pileups if you do your job. The parametric EQ must also be set up for your microphone. Lots of information has been published about this.
Everyone has different needs and priorities when enjoying a hobby. For my needs, this is the radio. Nothing bugs me. Fans are quiet, and relays don't make much noise. It interfaces with everything in my shack. The FTDX-101MP has elevated my enjoyment of the hobby.
Recently, QST reviewed the Chameleon HF Modular Portable Antenna System (MPAS) version 2.0. I have owned this antenna since February 2022. All of my amateur radio use has been from our RV. My wife and I live, work, and travel full-time in our 32-foot Newmar Bay Star Sport motorhome, and I regularly do ham radio from the coach. The QST article explained that the MPAS 2.0 is a flexible system configured as a vertical or in several wire configurations, most all end fed. I have set up and used the antenna in configurations that vary from the RV sites we stay at.
Since the QST review included the details of this antenna system, I’ll focus on how it performs. The following numbers are from my logbook since using the MPAS exclusively. The log shows 148 DXCC countries, 33 zones, WAS, and six continents. Not to mention 1190 counties. That is 6,172 mostly casual QSOs since February 2022 from FL, OK, GA, TN, and AL. That demonstrates one heck of an antenna for portable operations. All of that at 100 watts or less with my Yaesu FT-891 radio in the RV and spread about on CW, SSB, and digital modes. It included DXCC CW and WAS CW, SSB, and digital. DXCC mixed was achieved on both 20 and 15 meters.
Because I have embraced Parks on the Air operations this year, my POTA contacts as an activator are 3251 QSOs, with me hunting 660 POTA operations. The MPAS is a performer for POTA, and the flexibility to set it up in so many ways is needed because each campsite is unique.
The MPAS is expensive, but I needed a quality setup to put up with many deployments at the more than 150 RV stops we’ve made. When I have no trees, we deploy the system in the vertical configuration. I will utilize six radials when we’re staying someplace longer than a few nights, and I believe the bulk of my DX has been in the vertical configuration. I use the capacitance hat with the vertical and the guying kit when staying in a location for a while. Otherwise, I’ll get the wire part of the MPAS kit up 40 feet plus when trees are available. Using an arborist throw and rope bag makes it a quick install, and I often have an inverted “L” when finished. This configuration of the MAPS works well on 30-40-80 meters. The vertical is just not as efficient on 40 and 80 meters.
The antenna does need a tuner to match the impedance to the radio. We’re using the LDG Z-11Pro 2 without issues, matching the MPAS wire on all bands. RF issues on USB cables in the setup were tamed with ferrite chokes. I use a 30-amp PS in the RV, but my 120-volt system is supplemented by solar, an inverter, and a generator if needed. We can also hook up the radio system to use 12 volts from our six 6-volt house batteries wired in series parallel.
Some discussion has been in the various forums and groups on the internet about antenna impedance matching to 50 ohms with end-fed transformers. The MPAS uses a 5:1 ratio transformer. It’s a compromise but allows this antenna to work on every band with an external trans match. The point is that even with losses, we have worked our share of stations, and the DX performance is proven. We don’t always break a pileup, but using proven operating techniques, we make the QSO.
I have the MPAS with the Chameleon Micro Hybrid transformer. I run between 75 and 100 watts SSB, 100 watts CW (usually 25+ WPM), and 35 watts in digital modes. The Micro does get warm to the touch after extended operating. This causes the SWR to increase rapidly at times. This mostly happens during POTA pileups I’ve observed. I’ve considered updating to the Hybrid Mini to handle the power, but it’s pretty expensive for an update. I’ve tried QRP in the past and frankly get frustrated with it. So 100 watts is my sweet spot.
You can build antennas like this yourself. But you’ll need quality parts. Chameleon uses real-quality wire and parts for this system. It packs nicely into the included bag with plenty of space for the extra items I’ve included. This antenna has been satisfying as an operator and our lifestyle as full-time RVers.