BLUF: The Kenwood TH-D74A is a D-STAR-based super heterodyne tri-band transceiver that has an effective front-end filter to eliminate desensitization and cross-modulation from other frequencies when in close proximity of other HAM operators. It is a functional transceiver for social HAM operations as well as mission-critical ICS-based emergency communications (comms). It is durable and reliable, and it provides crisp and clear modulation over analog and digital networks. The color TFT screen is functional in direct sunlight and 100% darkness. The front panel provides easy navigation for direct programming into the transceiver without use of a laptop or desktop. The speaker is powerful to overcome any competing background noises. You will be happy with this transceiver for your social and emergency-based HAM communications needs.
/s/ Alfonso Faustino (K6ASF)
I was asked to check out D-STAR by my good friend, Ben, KC2RXV; and, he recommended either the iCOM ID-51A-Plus 2 or the Kenwood TH-D74A. I went with the Kenwood TH-D74A, hereinafter, D74. The initial reason for this purchase was the color TFT screen — perrrrty!
Initially, I strictly thought of the D74 for my social HAM activities and operations — I did not consider it for my mission-critical ICS-based emergency comms operations; because, I have my Motorola XPR 7550e and 7550 (hereinafter, Motorola(s)) for those types of comms operations.
Guess what? The D74 is triple Super Heterodyne with an effective front-end filter to minimize and eliminate cross-modulation from different frequencies and desensitization. This was a wonderful surprise; because, I always prefer my transceivers to be primary mission-critical and ICS-based ready while their secondary use would be for social HAM communications.
The most distinguishing feature that I really dig is the Nearby Repeater search for D-STAR. DSTARInfo.com provides D-STAR information, and one of the pieces of information the website provides is a current list of D-STAR repeaters located all over the world. When imported into the D74, the D74 records the GPS location of all the D-STAR repeaters in that list — it then correlates the repeaters’ GPS location to the location of the D74, and enable the user to access that repeater for D-STAR access with just one click of the button on the front-panel.
Very cool feature — non of my Motorolas have this feature…the closest thing my Motorolas have to the D74’s Nearby Repeaters list is the Roaming feature; but, in order for that to work, I have to locate the repeaters in the states and cities I will be visiting; then, I have to program that in the the Motorola code-plug and write it to the Motorola transceiver. The risk is I have no idea if that repeater is current — I have to presume that the repeater is current and operable.
The D74 is already programmed for all repeaters throughout the work — all I need to do is import it (write it) to the D74, and I’m done. I can travel anywhere in the world; and, if my GPS location matches the GPS location located in the repeater list, I’m all set and ready to access the D-STAR repeater for communications.
So, these are the features I look for in a non Motorola transceiver…yeah, I know what you’re thinking…this guy always makes comparisons to Motorolas…well, that’s true; because, I’m from the opinion, based upon my mission-critical ICS-based emergency communications (comms) experiences, that Motorola is the best — my Motorolas have not failed me after being submerged in a river, dropped, and in high RF environments; hence, I expect that type of performance from non Motorola transceivers.
So, here are the features that MUST be present in my non Motorola transceivers:
- Clear & Crisp Modulation: D74 has clear and crisp modulation on both analog and digital transmissions. In addition, the D74 has a voice equalizer to further enhance the modulation qualities.
- GPS & APRS: The D74’s GPS is faster than my Motorolas; however, the GPS accuracy is not as accurate as my Motorolas. My Motorolas will get an exact fix on me once the GPS signal is picked up, whereas the D74, although it picks up signals faster than my Motorolas, will have my location off by ~ 1 mile. After the second GPS pick-up, the D74 will peg my exact location. I am still testing this anomaly to verify I am not getting a false negative or an isolated incident.
- Reception: The D74, like my Motorolas, pick up frequencies quickly in both analog and digital mediums.
- Super Heterodyne & Front-end Filters: The D74, like my Motorolas, is Super Heterodyne (triple) and has an effective front-end filter to prevent desensitization and cross-modulation from different frequencies while in close-quarters with other HAM operators. Today, 28-July-2019, I provided ambulatory support for the 2019 San Francisco Marathon. While in the same room and areas as other HAM operators, I was able to communicate with other field operators and net-control without any desensitization nor cross-modulation — this feature is VERY important for me for the type of volunteer work I do for the USCG, SFFD, ACSD, and other agencies in the Bay Area.
- FPP: The D74 is fully FPP — in other words, you don’t need a laptop or desktop computer to program frequencies or features in the D74. Moreover, it is easy-peasy to use despite its complicated-looking keypad. My Yaesu FT1 has a miserable FPP navigation system — I don’t even attempt to program my Yaesu FT1 via the FPP; because, like other Yaesu products, the FPP is just too damn complicated to consistently use with any real results.
- 24/7 Operations: So far, my D74 has not crashed nor has froze up — I have it on 24/7, and it continues to function without any problems; hence, it passed my reliability criteria like my Motorolas.
- Visibility: Excellent front-screen visibility in direct sunlight and pure darkness. In sunlight, the content on the screen is easily visible. In pure darkness, the lighting is crisp and sharp without burning out the retinas in your eyes.
- Speaker: Excellent! Clear and loud — no vibrations nor distortions. It can overcome any competing background noises.
- Durability: Kenwood touts the D74 to be splash resistant, though not submersible like my Motorolas, and drop resistant, though I don’t know the impact parameters of the D74. My Motorolas have impact and drop/shock impact criteria that are stated, shown, and proven to meet.
- Global Nearby Repeater List: This is an awesome feature I wish my Motorola had. The D74 matches my GPS location with repeaters that are close to my location based upon their GPS location; and, I just click on that nearby repeater, and I have access to the D-STAR digital network — very cool!
So, what are the cons?
- Battery: I get about 10 hours or so of stand-by time if the GPS and APRS are off. If I TX in analog mode and have the GPS and APRS on, I get about six hours or less — that sucks! I had to purchase a spare battery to compensate for this poor performance.
- Warmth: Unlike my Motorola XPRs, the D74 gets really warm after heavy TX use, on High TX mode, with the GPS on, and with APRS on. My Motorolas remain cool on high TX mode, GPS mode, and consistent TX.
- Stock Antenna: Ehh…it’s okay…I switched it out to the Diamond SRH320A; hence, it’s perfect now.
The following items are not cons; rather, they are JUST my personal quirks of my observation of the D74:
- Casing: Ehh…it’s okay — not built like my Motorolas, but Kenwood touts the D74 as being water resistant and drop resistant — I don’t really see it that way…the case isn’t as hefty as my Motorolas, and it doesn’t look like it can resist splashed of water from a rainstorm nor submersion like my Motorolas; but, hey, Kenwood says the D74 can endure these two environments, so there you go.
- Frequency Band: Kenwood marketed the D74 as a HAM transceiver; so, it is restricted to HAM frequencies. My Motorolas as commercial professional non HAM transceivers; hence, the frequency bands, UHF and VHF, are higher and lower than the D74. I can’t really list this as a con, since Kenwood marketed the D74 as a HAM amateur transceiver.
- No Desktop Charger: My Motorola XPR 7550e cost ~$700 brand new, and desktop chargers are part of the package. I paid $535 for my D74, and it does not have a desktop charger — Kenwood is a cheapskate! Come on Kenwood…I dropped $535 for your transceiver, and you can’t even throw in a desktop charger — what’s the matter with you? Even my $200 Ailunce HD1 GPS came with a desktop charger!
Will the D74 replace my Motorolas for mission-critical and ICS-based emergency comms?
Nope, but my D74 will be my back-up to my Motorolas in this capacity.
Why won’t the D74 be my primary transceiver for mission-critical ICS-based emergency comms?
Because my Motorolas look and feel durable — I feel confident I can drop them or submerge them in water, and they will work without any problems. Also, they have the extended TX and RX frequencies I need to use for my comms operations with various agencies with whom I volunteer.
Notwithstanding the small list of Cons of the D74, if you are looking for D-STAR-based transceiver, which can be used for both social and mission-critical ICS-based emergency comms (within the specified HAM frequencies), the D74 is your transceiver. It is solid, reliable, and sounds great!
I am very happy with the D74, and I am glad I purchased it.
/s/ Alfonso Faustino (K6ASF)