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Yaesu FT-891 Review: A Sleeper of a Deal

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by KE0EYJ, Jul 6, 2017.

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  1. KE0EYJ

    KE0EYJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    FT-891_001_hr.jpg


    Yaesu FT-891 Review: A Sleeper of a Deal

    In this article, I write about what I believe to be an incredible sleeper deal on a truly great rig, for the price. Although not without its quirks, depending on how you want to use it, the Yaesu FT-891 is actually a very impressive small desktop rig for those with limited space. It can also function as a strong portable option, provided you bring enough battery, and maybe a voltage meter.



    This review will cover every negative of the FT-891 I have noticed, but keep in mind that I feel it's a great value, and the most performance you're going to find at this price-point. Digital mode and CW operators will want to seek more information elsewhere, as I am almost entirely an HF SSB guy. I hope this exhaustive commentary proves useful.

    I'm running under the assumption that Yaesu is just not selling a lot of FT-891's. That is the only reason I can see for the price being so low. At the moment, you can get them for about $630-$680, shipped. That's in the same ballpark as their famous, yet older FT-450D, but the new FT-891 comes with extensive 32-bit digital noise reduction technology improvements found in their higher-end radios. True, the FT-891 has no internal tuner, while the FT-450D does, but with a resonant antenna or a strong external auto-tuner (which many supplement the 450D with, to run a wide-band antenna, anyway), the FT-891 is the more versatile rig.

    Improvements in DSP over the FT-450D are huge. The noise reduction actually works very well, with less tweaking. It is a welcome change. Some may complain that Yaesu's implementation of DNR is a bit watery-sounding, but I find a little DSP SFT (shift) removes most of the bubbling. I like it.

    I will say this without any bias -- I am shocked that the Yaesu DSP is easier to use, and in my opinion, better than that of my highly-touted Icom 7300. I own one, and am not alone in this.

    Before purchase, I watched a video on YouTube, where Jerry Koch said he could pull out signals better with the FT-891, compared to the IC-7300. I rolled my eyes. I am an owner of the ICOM 7300, and ALC aggression issues aside, I love my 7300 for it's ability to pull out signals. I figured Jerry had lost it. I wanted to tell him off. How dare he? There is a $600 difference between these two radios, and the 7300 is the SDR radio that redefined the industry. I nearly posted a nasty comment, in the name of Sherwood, demanding he apologize for such a travesty!

    Full stop.

    I had viewed Jerry's video before I purchased the FT-891. Once I had the new Yaesu in the shack, I was able to experience the same. I was in a rag chew, and increasingly unable to copy a weak SSB signal fully on my 7300. I reached a point where no amount of Twin PBT, RX bandwidth filter adjustments, attenuation, and EQ'ing could produce better than 50% copy. Remembering Jerry's claim, I switched the antenna over to the FT-891, added a DSP level of 1, a little RF gain, and a slight shift, and -- boom. I understood the other op 100%. Dumbfounded, I switched back and forth between the two radios, and found the FT-891 was consistently better, given my noisy city environment. Although the 7300 tests as the more sensitive rig, at my city noise levels, I find myself preferring the FT-891's noise reduction capabilities over the darling 7300. A tiny bit of DNR, and a bit of shifting, goes a long way. Good job, Yaesu!

    Will the FT-891 best the 7300, in all situations? No. The two radios are not in the same class, and I am only comparing them because I own both. On receive the two rigs are pretty similar, in 95% of situations, with the all-around sound quality edge handily going to the 7300. They both pull out the same signal, but the 7300 does sound better doing it, through either on-board, or 3rd-party speaker. That is to be expected, given that the FT-891 is only the size of a thick book. The FT-891, however, hits that sound range where the receive audio is most important to copy the signal. Great, for what it is. The 7300 has some deep-menu items (receive filtering and EQ) that give it an edge, at times (and others not), but this takes a lot of signal-dependent tweaking, and timely adjusting, to get there. Again, these are very different radios, but remember the price -- the FT-891 costs HALF! I will mention, it takes less DSP tweaking for me to dig most signals out, and fully exploit FT-891.

    A test with an on-air friend confirmed -- even though they are the same wattage, and the ICOM has a much better quality sound from its microphone, the FT-891 has what he described as, "more punch." That can be useful. I tested various levels of compression and mic gain, on both rigs. In short, the 7300 will almost always get "clean audio" reports, because ICOM forces aggressive ALC on you, but the FT-891 is capable of decent audio also, and a louder perceived signal, if you adjust it right. But, there are trade-offs. Don't be naughty. Follow proper adjustment procedures (you can mess your transmit audio up, if you don't follow the manual). I look forward to purchasing a better mic than the stock MH-31, and receiving some reports. Please pay attention to the ALC settings, however. Keep it peaking at midpoint -- no higher!. Set it too high, and your signal will appear louder on the meter, but quality will degrade.

    When the FT-891 came out, people expected it would be the replacement of the FT-857. It's not. The FT-891 has no UHF/VHF (a source of much disappointment, for those who want one radio to do everything). in addition, the FT-891 was found to lack important features expected of mobile, and SOTA-style rigs. Specifically, there is no read-out displaying voltage, other than briefly, at power-up. From that point, IDD amp current drain on the final stage transistors can be accessed via menu, but if there is another way to view voltage or overall current draw in amps, I haven't found it. Portable operators will want an external meter, and will find themselves dreaming that they could have been a fly on the wall when a table full of engineers in Japan decided these omissions would be acceptable. I can only surmise that not adding a real-time voltage display was on purpose. Perhaps they didn't want to take a bite out of more pricey FT-857 sales, or make the FT-817 look less appealing, in the downward sun cycle? I have no idea. If running from a desktop, you won't care, and you can always turn the rig on/off, if you need to see current voltage. It's an odd work-around.

    Next, comes a very odd misnomer. The FT-891 is listed as eating 2 amps on receive, in Yaesu specifications. This scared away portable buyers, and was the source of many negative posts by hams who were waiting for an updated FT-857, yet had never actually tried the new radio. I have no idea why Yaesu claims this high number on receive, because they are incorrect (scroll to the bottom of this article, or search Youtube, for actual tested current draw numbers). The FT-891 listens comfortably at 1 amp.

    Like it's predecessor it's not very efficient, if you want to transmit. The FT-891 can transmit at 5w, but as you'll see from statistics, you may as well be transmitting at 10w, or 15w, because you're really not saving much by running QRP. I run a battery pack comprised of 3 Samsung Lipo batteries, capable for 8A draw, for under a minute. I can run 15w transmit with this, and have no problems, provided I'm not yapping too long. Another positive side of this is you'll have a lot more power available to you, so long as your battery is up to snuff. With the downward sun cycle, having extra power on command is not such a bad thing!

    A more recent source of negative talk about the FT-891 are regarding high IMD in the June 2017 QST test by the ARRL. I have seen online comments about these tests wrongly quoted by operators, who said the ARRL does not recommend the FT-891 as a desktop radio, which is untrue. They had a lot of nice things to say about the FT-891, but here's the worst of it...

    To paraphrase, Bob Allison, WB1GCM, mentioned on page 55 of the June 2017 QST review, that the transmit phase is about the highest they've yet seen at the lab. He also said he would be wary of pairing this transceiver with an RF amplifier, and that users of the FT-891 should watch the ALC level when transmitting voice, because transmit IMD levels tend to get high if the ALC indicator reaches the top end of the scale. Likewise, keep the ALC level low, in digital modes.

    To review, the suggestion by the ARRL was to keep the ALC set midrange, or below, but no higher, to mitigate the problem. I have also noticed that the FT-891 loses its lunch a bit, and transmits somewhat high peaks, when the ALC has to work in its higher range. Seeing that one of the first things an op should do is to properly set the ALC, for best performance, this doesn't bother me. I'm seeing fine results, keeping this in mind, along with lowering the mic gain from the stock setting of 50, to around 30, and the processing/compression level down to about 25.

    There are additional tests found in the radioaficion link below. It sounds like, if you are wanting to amplify this radio, you will want an amp that makes its power at 50w, or less drive, for a cleaner signal. I suspect, however, that most buyers of this radio will not be adding an HF amp.

    If small-footprint desktop operation is your interest, this is one heck of a deal for a rig. What you're getting is the latest 32-bit DSP technology (found in the FTDX series), packed into a tiny box that outputs a strong 100w. I used to own an FT-950 (the larger brother of the FT-450D), and there is no comparison -- the FT-891 absolutely SMOKES the FT-950, in noise reduction, and probably receive. Online comparisons from owners of the 450D say the FT-891 is far better. In short, this is a DSP that truly works as DSP.

    As mentioned, the FT-891 is an awesome desktop space-saver. Reports are, than when controlled via its USB output, using updated/paid Ham Radio Deluxe (the free version doesn't work with it), the rig becomes as easy as pie to control. There were early complaints about the FT-891 having USB compatibility issues with certain programs, but this is not uncommon, and problems are often fixed through updates. Check with any 3rd party program providers for latest compatibility if your intent is working digital modes.

    It was said in a YouTube video, that the smaller rigs receive some of the trickled-down improvements of the flagships in the same series. No doubt, this is what has happened with the FT-891. It's really like getting an FTDX1200 in a small box, at almost half of the price. It also boasts a much larger screen than the older Yaesu FT-857 (and don't forget, the FT-857 has suffered from screen issues, over time).

    I mentioned a few of the negatives of the FT-891. Let me mention a few more, and let you decide if it's a problem, given your usage. Like the FT-857, the FT-891 is a menu-heavy rig. It has been mentioned that this would be a difficult rig to use in a vehicle, while driving. If you were on the move, and hoping to adjust things like power level, or anything outside of your top 3 programmable quick-button menu choices, then yes -- it is difficult. The truth is, however, that taking the time to make changes on ANY rig, while driving, is dangerous (and may be illegal, in some states). It's much like texting behind the wheel. There isn't a lot of difference between the FT-891, and FT-857, in this regard. Band changes are done in a bit of a quirky way in the FT-891, but the method has grown on me. I find it not as bad as some have reviewed. Perhaps there was a firmware update improvement, but I don't find it "too fast" to jump to a selection, before you are finished, as some have complained.

    From a desktop situation, however, given what you give up to enjoy the tiny footprint, I don't find the menus to be as horrible as some make them out to be. Hunting menus is never fun, but a long-press on the F button will take you back into the same area of the long-form menu, where you left off (essentially giving you a pseudo 4th quick button).

    Another negative to consider, is the choice of tuners. The FT-891 has NO internal tuner, and also doesn't give you much choice for an automatic tuner (yet). This is something to consider, given that the FT-450D does offer a basic antenna matching (tuner) device. The FT-891 is a newer rig, and it will likely take time for companies such as LDG to come out with a dedicated 3rd-party tuner. You CAN use one of LDG's generic-model auto-tuners, however, and these will allow you to use tougher matches to antennas, such as the G5RV. Contact LDG for more details on this, as website information is a bit sparse.

    Yaesu does sell its own tuner, matched for the radio, but I was left unimpressed. It's about the same size as the FT-891, but it's very pricey (well over $320). It also clicks constantly as you tune, and pops up an annoying "WAITING" message on your FT-891, while you spin the dial. Search for YouTube videos showing it, to see what I'm talking about.

    This is NOT a radio that plays well with a manual tuner. You can do it, but it's not fun. The reason is because the power level control is buried in the menus, and is not programmable as a quick button (only certain functions are allowed for quick buttons, which is a very annoying quirk of this radio). You can leave it as the item you visited last, in the F button menu, and access it that way. A long-press of the F button will take you to where you left off, in the long form menu.

    Another important mention, for digital ops. Although the FT-891 has a USB port, it does NOT have an internal sound card. This means, you'll still need a Signalink-type device to work digital modes. This has been a source of great confusion, and frustration, given that re-sellers are implying that the radio does have internal digital-capable features. Let's be clear -- it does not have an internal sound card.

    It should also be noted that the FT-891 also has a band scope. It does, but the FT-891's scope is little more than a novelty, and not real-time unless the rig is silent. It may be useful in some situations, but don't buy the rig thinking you'll be using it much.

    Lastly, the FT-891 has a small earphone plug output on its left side, which allows you to hear audio through headphones. It does work through both ears (although my rear speaker jack appears to be mono). There is a small adjustment switch behind the panel, which control audio level output to either both, or one of these -- I haven't played with it.

    The Yaesu FT-891 is a steal of a rig, for the price. You're getting the newest technology from Yaesu, packed into a footprint slightly smaller than their dwarf powerhouse, the FT-857. True, you're giving up VHF/UHF, but we're living in a time when capable Chinese radios are $25, and low-end Yaesu VHF/UHF HT's are approaching $100. Sometimes it's actually nice to have a 2nd radio, so you can monitor everything, at the same time, so maybe it's not always best to have everything in one box? That's up to you, and your situation of use.

    If you're interested in a new radio, give the FT-891 a hard look.

    As per accurate specs on power usage at transmit, and other engineering details, see this linked review:

    http://radioaficion.com/news/yaesu-ft-891-review/
     
    K7LZR, WD0FIA, N2BMM and 8 others like this.
  2. AK3Q

    AK3Q Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Excellent review - I like your approach. I have recently purchased one of these and find your assessment spot-on: it is a steal for the price. I actually sold an 817nd and tuner for the same price as this new, simply because I wanted the extra power when needed. The larger display helps too, as my eyes get older <grin>. I have found it very sensitive and works well with the MFJ-939 tuner - it does indeed power the tuner from the radio port, so no separate cable needed. I had considered the Yaesu tuner, but too limited and too expensive. The comparable LDG tuner was more expensive, and if running digital modes, one needs to remember the continuous power ratings of the tuner. You need to get a tuner at least capable of 150 watts or more if you ever need to go higher than 30 watts on a digital mode. Very pleased with the radio so far!!
    'Thanks again for the info and review. Cheers! Robert
     
    WD0FIA and KE0EYJ like this.
  3. KE0EYJ

    KE0EYJ Ham Member QRZ Page


    Kudos, Robert.

    It might be worth noting that Bob Allison also said it's very good on 6m, and plays well near other rigs when portable. I mentioned that I'm not a CW op, but I tuned a few signals in, and it's very easy to use with CW -- easy to auto-tune on a signal and sounds pleasant to my ears!

    This menu system is truly growing on me. I like it much better, compared to my limited experience with the FT-857.

    This is a cute little rig to have on the desk.

    Lastly, BIG omission, on my part.... 3-YEAR WARRANTY from Yaesu!
     
    WD0FIA likes this.
  4. N3RSJ

    N3RSJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Good review .
    The good with this radio HF +6m no need worry about UHF failures on TX or Vhf then your stuck without 2m 70cm till it gets back from shop.
    More concentration on HF here.
    The bad things you pointed out but also it should of had a separate 6 meter antenna output.
    Mono-band antenna is on 6m is best..
     
    WD0FIA likes this.
  5. KA2CZU

    KA2CZU XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    "the FT-857. True, you're giving up VHF/UHF, but we're living in a time when capable Chinese radios are $25, and low-end Yaesu VHF/UHF HT's are approaching $100"

    what you give up from the 857 is VHF/UHF all-mode capabilities, no $25 Chinese or low-end Yaesu provides that.
     
    WD0FIA, NH7RO, KA8UGB and 3 others like this.
  6. W1SRD

    W1SRD XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Thanks for the write up Robert.

    I purchased one in May (for $699 before the 10% price drop!) and agree this radio is a great value for the price - especially now.

    ...but I use head phones almost exclusively and the audio hiss is beyond belief for a modern design. It's audible to me over the band noise!

    I sent one unit back and the second sample has the same issue. Gigaparts was great, but with shipping prices at all time highs it was $50 just to send it back. I've opened a support ticket with Yaesu and will see what they say. I'm not willing to spend $50 more to ship it to Yaesu only to be told it is "normal".

    I've had both 817ND and 857D and neither of these exhibited such poor audio.

    If you only use the external speaker in a mobile environment, you'd probably never notice.

    I opened a thread on the FT-891 audio if you have an 891 and want to weigh in on the audio performance. https://forums.qrz.com/index.php?threads/ft-891-audio-hiss.571980/

    This could be a great all round and versatile rig for HF/portable use save this issue, but I can't recommend it for anything but mobile use.

    73,
    Steve
    W1SRD
     
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  7. N8DAH

    N8DAH Ham Member QRZ Page

    Bought one when I made general at dayton this year. LOVE it i have used icom/kenwood my whole life...and I have to say I really like this rig. Small and 100w, with no uhf/vhf I have about 4-5 other options (all mode aside). On CW this rig just pulls the sig right out and I mean right out, digi was a bit of a mixed bag for setup but once you figure it out it rocks. I ran this rig through everything I could think of at FD17 ssb, digi, cw close prox to other rigs everything. Only issues I have had is usb data handshake can cause unwanted speaker chirp and that close ssb will get in no matter what, but we did notice this year that the digi station (me) did not wipe out anyone when I sent cq psk31.

    All in all I will more than likely keep this rig for a long time, I picked up all the kit for solar this year and really look forward to some park ops. I did opt for a 55Ah bat but I am still young so the weight is not to bad yet hihi.


    73
    David
     
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  8. AF5CC

    AF5CC Ham Member QRZ Page

    A couple of points to cover from your review:

    1. To use with a manual tuner, just switch to AM mode. That puts out a lower power carrier and your don't need to go into the menus to change power level. I do this all of the time with my Yaesu FT100D.

    2. Yes, the radio doesn't have a built in soundcard, so you can't do the digital modes through the USB jack, but NO, you do not need a Signalink like interface. The FT891 has built in digital VOX, like the FT450 and FT857 do. Just get the CT39A packet cable for $12 from Yaesu, connect one end to the acc jack on the radio, connect the other end to your soundcard, and turn on the digital VOX. It will switch into transmit each time you transmit a digital signal. No interface needed.

    3. The rig does do well on CW and the zero beat indicator is nice also, to let you know when you are precisely on the other station's frequency.

    73 John AF5CC
     
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  9. WD0BCT

    WD0BCT Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Excellent report! I purchased the 891 strictly as a portable HF SSB/CW unit. My past years experience with the 817, although fun, made it clear that I would like more power on my visits to the great outdoors. Even if it means carrying a larger battery. I had recently upgraded my home rig from a 450D to a 3000 and toyed with the idea of keeping the 450D for a portable rig. I'm glad I decided to trade the 450D in for the 3000 instead and then study portable options for an additional radio.
    After closely comparing the 857 and 891 I decided UHF/VHF was not important to me in a single rig and the much improved display on the 891 would work much better for me. Controls are on the 891 are also more ergonomic for me compared to the 857.

    Only two remaining bummers for me are that my headphone is limited to left side only...regardless of the SP/PH switch position (fixed with a stereo/mono adapter) and a continuous voltage display. I'm currently looking for a compact VM which can be permanently mounted on my battery when connected to the radio. Switching the radio off and on is not an option when some menu items are affected when doing so.

    This rig was fun to use on FD and I spent a two night camping trip in the mountains with it also since FD. Sure was nice to have a 100W rig compared to the anemic 817. Not that I will cease QRP operation...but with propagation as poor as it has been the 891 outperforms the 817 reliably. Given the proper conditions I am sure the QRP rig will perform. I have successful QSOs on QRP...but some days its nada. At least the 891 keeps things interesting.
     
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  10. F4HPX

    F4HPX XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Hello

    I have one for some time now and I am using it now for portable use and for SOTA-like activities.
    Yes I was a bit disappointed after reading ARRL QST review as I was expecting better performance "on the paper" as the rig is recent and modern, but well it's difficult to ask a better performance than the rigs priced several times more.
    Now for the daily use as portable I really like it for the tiny size and low weight having still 100W out whenever necessary.
    I am using endfed antennas working on 40, 20, 15 and 10m without tuner thus package is getting light.
    Yes, the power consumption was overstated. On receive it's more in 0.8 to 1.0 Amp range and on transmit around 16Amp on 20m with 100W out. When coupled with LiPoFe battery from golf cart (22 AH and around 3KG) I played with during a local open air event for 5 or 6 hours @80W calling and calling on 40m making over 100QSO on a single charge.

    I brought it with me on SOTA activation in FR/ land together with KX2 but finally did not use as KX2 + small portable amp @30W was sufficient but I carried it also on my back during 6 hours trip to the summit and come back... in case of I needed it.

    When having access to car battery and on higher points wherever car had access to, I was using FT-891 @80W making quite lot of QSOs mostly close to 10.000 kms using both earphones and internal speaker and reception was good. Bands were quiet in the middle of ocean which helped for sure. But I was perfectly hearing ZL station at S1 to not say at S0 level with simple wire antenna when bigger ZS station was struggling to copy it.

    When I am using external tuner with other antennas I set different power levels to different modes like AM and for tuning I am switching to AM to have a carrier at 10W then I am coming back to SSB once tuned.
    I did not test digital modes yet because messed with USB driven CAT... and issues with drivers on my Surface Pro under Windows 10, but shall be similar to work as with my old FT-897D. I am not using it on CW as my CW is still very basic (low) level. Maybe in the future, I wish that.
    On noisy bands DSP helps a lot but, well, I am used to my SDR rig so can't really compare it with well fine tuned Flexradio 6000 series... and 891 will still be "noisy" receiver - that counts certainly at home in the shack, but less outside, where I can't bring my SDR with a big PC and two 24" LCD screens :).

    So for time being no any real issues and happy to have one and especially for this price tag it's probably difficult to have more/better knowing it's easy to carry on holidays as I said mainly for portable use.

    73, Thomas de F4HPX
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2017
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