New Radio

Well, I finally broke down and bought a new rig this week.  You may recall I was debating between a Yaesu 950, Kenwood TS-590, Elecraft K3, and Ten Tec Eagle.  I ended up buying a Kenwood TS-590.  What led to my decision, you ask?

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The simplicity of the Ten Tec Eagle is nice and refreshing, but I just couldn’t bear spending over $1,800 for such a simple rig.  It bugged me that the MARS mod wasn’t readily available.  This is one of my idiosyncrasies; any rig that I have must be able to transmit on whatever bands its capable of transmitting on, and I abhor hardware limited by software.  And for over a kilobuck, can’t Ten Tec spring for a second antenna connector?

Volumes have been written about the Elecraft K3, and any review below a 5 out of 5 gets dirty looks from the studio audience.  Yes, it’s a great rig, and initially it looks like a great deal until you start adding on the add-ons you really need to operate this rig.  Right off the bat it’s $2,100 for a 100 watt rig.  If you’re like me you’ll want a CW filter, a tighter phone filter, perhaps one to listen to and operate AM, and the general coverage filter band pass unit, and you’re looking at another $580.  Also, the chassis of the K3 is below what I would consider for a rig in this price class.  It’s not badly designed, but it’s really time Elecraft puts the big boy pants on and makes a die cast chassis.  I know someone will quip that the Yaesu 950 and Kenwood TS-590 receivers aren’t as good as the K3.  You’re absolutely correct.  Is that extra few dB of IMD performance or receiver sensitivity really worth an extra $500 – $1K?

I was torn between the Yaesu 950 and Kenwood TS-590.  Two things tipped the scales in Kenwood’s favor.  A read several reviews about the Yaesu’s multiple roofing filters being not that useful, however they made it a major part of the user interface on the front panel.  The other mention was Yaesu’s menuing system.  Having three Yaesu products currently I’m quite familiar with Yaesu’s menus, however I can’t say I really like them.

A few reviews of the Kenwood TS-590 indicated better performance on CW than the 950.  Admittedly I wanted to give Kenwood another try after their HF “design drought” of eight years, my fond memories of Kenwood back in the 80s and 90s, and the 850 I have has given me lots of great service for 14 years.  I was a bit nervous about the TS-590 having operated a TS-570 years ago at Field Day and being disappointed in the receiver, however Kenwood literature, which was quite extensive, indicated that the 590 was designed anew from the ground up.

The TS-590 so far hasn’t disappointed me.  I was able to figure out nearly all of the functions in the first 15 minutes without cracking open the manual.  Power, mic gain, and VOX settings are easily accessed with single keystrokes and don’t require menu navigation.  The menu is accessed via a button aptly labeled MENU.  The knobs have a quality feel to them and the front interface is consistent and well laid out.  What don’t I like?  Two items: the number keypad on the left side has the bands (1.8, 3.5, 7, 10, etc.) as the primary marking on the buttons and the number (1, 2, 3, 4…) are secondary, which gets confusing when doing direct frequency entry.  The second item is the CW QSK.  Much like my TS-850, it makes more relay noise than I would like, however it sounds good in the headphones.

The manual is very well laid out, and doesn’t have the Japanglish commonly found in older Kenwood manuals.  The rig achieves a nice balance between simplicity and complexity, not being overly flashy and offering a straightforward and useful display.  The free software controls every aspect of the rig, down to the AF and RF gain and power, and it’s a rather well designed and intuitive application.  New firmware can be uploaded to the rig as it becomes available.  I especially like the filter controls which are on one knob.  In CW mode it acts in shift and width mode, and in phone it changes to lo cut / high cut, which makes a lot of sense.

Overall, I’m pleased with my decision, and hats off to Kenwood for a nice little rig.  Sorry Yaesu, but let me know when you have an FT-817 replacement out and we’ll talk.  :-)


Anthony, K3NG, is a regular contributor to

9 Responses to “New Radio”

  • Ernest Gregoire, AA1IK:

    Good review, Well thought out!

    de AA1IK

    Ernest Gregoire


  • k8gu:

    This is a wonderful review—almost makes me want to go out and buy a TS-590S!

    It was a strong contender when I bought the K3 (and it is still a contender for the eventual replacement of my last TS-930S), but I think we may have had slightly different goals when choosing.

    I, too, anticipate the FT-817 follow-on…

    Enjoy the new radio!

  • Don N4KC:

    Anthony, I went through almost the exact same process as you did a few years ago. And I made the same decision as you. There really is little difference in rigs in this price class and it comes down to ergonomics, personal preferences, and small irritants. Many of those you don’t know for sure until you use a radio for a while.

    I love my TS-590. My only irritant was how long it took to get the transmit audio just like I wanted it, yet with enough talk power to compete in the pile-ups, even though I am probably 75% CW. That capability is there and I think I found it. I’ve used a K-3 extensively and I’m not sure I’d swap, even for the same money.


    Don N4KC

  • ac7af:

    The kenwood or ten-tec huhh

  • Jim N2EXH:

    Thanks for the great overview. We who never buy new, appreciate it.

  • Harry K7ZOV:

    Traded my last K2/10/100 for a T-T Eagle. Had it for almost a year. A/B antenna comparison with my IC-756proII was no competition. The Eagle just flat blew the proII away. Super easy controls, very quiet RX..very…, Had the 300hz, 600hz and 2.5khz standard SSB. The DSP filtering just plane cut out the station you wanted. CW down to 100 hz. And a S9+ signal less then 500 hz away was gone. As far as I was concern the T-T Eagle was a keeper…

    However I have a trading disease and a friend of a friend who has parkenson’s disease wanted a radio on par with his K3, but much easier to use. He tried the Eagle, was blown away by the performance and we traded. I am now a Elecraft Kool-aid drinker. K3 fairly configured, but not totally. Used P3/SVGA and sold a bunch and have a KPA500 amp.

    The Kenwood was on my wish list to try. Have heard so good things about it. Had a FT-950 in one of my trades and not impressed. Had the FT-450D, even less impressed.

    My feeling is the K3 is the benchmark. The Eagle is basically a Orion VII without fluff. The TS-590 for the money is a great value radio. And like any and all radios if it get the job done that’s what counts. I did really enjoy your review. Glad you shared. Hope I am not out line with my comments.


    Hope to hear you on someday and work you.

    Harry K7ZOV

  • Thanks for all the comments, guys. I should say that I didn’t intend on putting down the other three rigs, though it may have sounded that way. I really _wanted_ to buy the Eagle and tried several times to justify it in my mind. I know Ten Tec performance is legendary and I have yet to own a Ten Tec. (It’s on my bucket list.) The simplicity of the Eagle is really appealing. But I just couldn’t justify that much money for so little ancillary functionality. But I probably didn’t give it a fair shake in the article above.

  • KK4ITN:

    I am still a cave man, love my TS-140s. With a straight key, intelli-tuner and 128 foot dipole I can work 10 thru 80. Wish I had a cw filter but that will come this summer at the ham fest in N. Carolina.
    Maybe one day I will have the k-bucks to upgrade, but not today.
    Good luck and good dx thanks for the info.

  • K4TOJ - Tom:

    I found myself burdened with the same decision. I was using a TS-930 I bought used and wanted something to interface with my PC. Really glad I went with the TS-590S – nice rig. You’ll enjoy it!

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