The ARS Lab Reviews the Yaesu FT-817 Transceiver

By Russ Carpenter, AA7QU
For the ARS Lab
By now, you probably know that the FT-817 is a miracle in packaging. No one can believe how many bands and features have been stuffed into such a tiny box. We were amazed too.

But once we got over the gee whiz phase, we focussed on our usual issues. In our testing, we recognize that RF design is the art of making smart tradeoffs. For each radio we examine, we try to determine if the compromises made by the designer were the right ones, in light of the radio's mission. No radio is perfect, but some designers manage the tradeoffs more successfully than others.

That is the standard to which we held the FT-817. Because most of our readers prefer the world of HF, we confined our testing to the HF bands.

Please remember that Yaesu will probably refine the FT-817 over time. Also, keep in mind that no Ft-817 will be exactly like any other, and our experience with the FT-817 will be different from yours. Finally, we occasionally make mistakes (which we promptly correct).

The Executive Summary

As the full report will show, the FT-817 is not a great performer. That might be appropriate if performance were being traded for some other worthwhile virtues.

One such virtue is low cost. In this realm, Yaesu may have made sensible tradeoffs. The radio's performance is only ho hum, but many people may be willing to accept that level of performance in light of the FT-817's low price. Of course, there are other cheap, modestly performing transceivers on the market, and we don't know how the FT-817 would fare in a head to head comparison.

Another such virtue might be a tiny package. Is the radio's minuscule size a virtue for which good performance has been rationally traded? In this case, we have our doubts.

Apparently, Yaesu believes that the FT-817's small size qualifies it as "the utlimate backpacker." (See the full page ad in the March, 2001 issue of QST.) But according to Yaesu's own specs, this radio draws 450 mA on receive and 2.0 amps on transmit. This remarkably high current drain means that the FT-817's internal batteries expire in a short time. It is necessary to lug around supplementary batteries to get reasonable use from this radio.

Would any real backpacker put up with such a current hog? We don't think so.

Maybe microscopic size would be handy for business travelers, boaters, or other people who don't have a lot of space, but can still handle the weight of extra batteries. However, there is a problem. Thanks to their relentless determination to shrink this radio, Yaesu's designers hid a lot of important functions in menus. Furthermore, they used the tiniest knobs and switches on earth. If you are larger than Tinkerbell, this radio will irritate you.

For the handful of magnificent people who climb to the top of mountains and operate in VHF and UHF contests, the FT-817 might be the only existing radio that could meet their needs. For most other folks, once they have stopped admiring the cute little box, it's hard to see how the FT-817 will deliver the goods.

The Crud Table

When you boil it down, most amateur radio transmitters do what they are supposed to. The problems lie with receivers. To be concrete, many receivers—ranging from appliances to kits—suffer from a severe case of crud.

They are ruined by insipid filters, phase noise, spurs, distortion from close-in strong signals (third order), distortion from widely spaced strong signals (2nd order), birdies, leakage on the image and IF frequencies, and nasty pops and thumps from AGC.

Even among store-bought appliances, the state of the art is so lacking that many radio amateurs have never heard a clean receiver. They think that crud comes from "band conditions"—not the receiver itself. For a long time now, gimmicks and "gee whiz" bells and whistles have been replacing design competence and solid fundamental technical principles.

The crud table shows, at a glance, how the FT-817 receiver stacks up. Our scores are based on a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being the lowest and 4 being the highest.

The scores are opinions, not data. You may disagree with our thinking. First, look at the actual test results. Then, send us your comments, screeches, and corrections, and we will publish them.

The Crud Table for the FT-817

Criterion
Score
Comment
Filters
2
Wide filter-poor; narrow filter-good
Phase noise
2
Fair
Third order distortion
2
Adequate without preamp, poor with preamp
Second order distortion
4
Excellent performance
In-band distortion
1
Troublesome IMD from 2 S9 signals in the passband
Birdies
1
29 birdies in the HF bands
Image rejection
3
Good performance
IF rejection
3
Good performance
Spurs
2
Six spurs in 60 kHz span
Receiver factor
2
In a large pack of insipid performers

Please follow this link for the Full Review.