This past Saturday I drove up to Richmond, VA, for FrostFest, which is their local hamfest. I had a short shopping list - connectors, premade jumpers (I hate making up cables), and I wanted to look at a couple of items firsthand. I wanted to check out the Palstar AT1KP antenna tuner, and I also wanted to talk to the folks at Yaesu, which was the only bigtime radio vendor with a presence.
For the past few months I've been contemplating the purchase of a true mobile HF rig. I travel a good bit for work and spend a lot of time in hotel rooms, why not enjoy a little hamming while I'm away? I had a list of rigs that I'd looked into: Icom IC-706, Elecraft K2 (and the K1 as well), and the Yaesu FT-817 and FT-857D. I knew the reputation of the Elecraft rigs. I've been eyeballing a K2 for several months and I nearly start to drool when I see the new K3. But I wasn't so keen on the notion of dragging either of those around, not only from a potential damage standpoint, but what if the thing was stolen? Plus, I felt that either of those rigs would be possible base HF rigs, replacing (or retiring) my Kenwood TS-940SAT, which is a monster of a radio. I didn't really want to be carting my main rig around.
I'm sure the Icom is a nice radio, but they weren't at Richmond and the Yaesu folks were. It took awhile to speak with a representative (there were 2 on-hand), plus it seemed that most visitors wanted to talk about the beautiful FT-2000 they had on display (or score a nice free hat). But finally I was able to corner one guy and more or less steer him over to the 817 and 857. He was a nice fellow, and took the time to point out the features and usefulness of each radio. I had a few questions, mostly about interfacing to a computer. I took a quick look at the FT-450, since Austin Amateur Radio Supply had a demo for around $500.
When I left the Yaesu booth, I walked around for about 5 minutes, made a quick call to the XYL to get the official permission, and took my place in line. I was halfway debating about buying the FT-450 and was actually leaning in that direction when I noticed that it was missing from the table! A quick scan revealed a gentleman at the end of the booth taking it out of its box and checking it out. I begged the fellow behind me to save my place and I rushed over to ask him if he was checking it out or buying it. For whatever reason he didn't take kindly to my question and rudely informed me that he'd already bought it, to "find my own radio". Boy, that's the spirit of ham radio, huh?
I figured that I could stand there and give this guy a piece of my mind, or get back in line - I chose the later. So now it was settled, I was going to buy the 857. Or was I? The guy in front of me bought one! Oh Lord, was there another? Fortunately, yes. When you get all worked up and ready to buy a radio, you don't want Murphy to interfere. That would have made for a long ride home.
So I've had it on the air for roughly 2 days now. What do I think? In a word, "Wow!". It has exceeded my expectations. In order to force myself to learn how to use a menu-driven radio, I rearranged my shack's table and even removed the TS-940 from the room, leaving me no choice but to use the 857. Let me tell you, I don't even miss the 940. I'm serious. Yes, I fumbled a bit early on, trying to remember what button did what, which menu led me where, but after a couple of hours I felt at ease. What about contacts? Well, remember, I'm no expert, but I worked 13 different countries in about 4 hours of airtime on Sunday, mostly on 17 and 30 meters. Not to mention several stateside QSO's for getting signal reports. The DSP is fantastic and I've already ordered a CW filter. It took me a bit to figure out how to get full QSK, and I ended up opting for a bit of delay, rather than hear the relay chatter. That would be nice to have, but...oh well.
Thus far, I'm satisfied and quite happy - and it makes me feel much better about that antenna I bought too ;) My XYL keeps asking me if "that little radio is going to replace the big Kenwood"...at this point, I'd have to say I'm considering it. If anything, if I force myself to use this rig for a bit, perhaps when I spring for an Elecraft I won't miss the 940 at all.