Thursday, November 18, 2010

Traveling light with the Yaesu VX-6 HT

When I travel I have a backpack dedicated just to gadgets -- camera, iPod, Nintendo DS Lite, scanner, shortwave receiver, and dual-band HT. Carrying it is back-breaking, and getting through airport security usually raises TSA eyebrows. So when I found the Yaesu VX-6 tri-band transceiver I bravely imagined throwing away my backpack for something more discrete like, say, a fanny pack.

The VX-6 is not perfect, but it's got a pretty good mix of features: 3 FM bands (144, 220, and 440) plus wide band coverage from .5 mHz all the way through 999.990 mHz (cellular blocked), and supports AM, FM and WFM modes. Output is 5 watts on 144 and 440, and 1.5 watts on 220 with selectable intermediate power levels on all three bands.

So how well does it work? Let's talk about the transceiver first. I live in central PA where we have a fair number of hills. Nonetheless I have talked through repeaters up to 25 miles away with perfect copy using the stock rubber duckie antenna. I'm told the audio is crisp (the VX-6 has an adjustable mic gain setting) and the volume from the small speaker is adequate in all but the noisiest environment.

When it comes to scanning above 30 mHz, the VX-6 is a reasonable performer. With 900 channels you can program any combination of public service, aircraft and repeater frequencies needed. Again, the stock antenna does a pretty good job at picking up most stations.

What about shortwave? Well, no one's perfect. I must say that the VX-6 does better than the Icom R-5 wide band receiver below 30 mHz, but that's not saying much. In truth, you can pick up strong shortwave signals even with the squelch on, but to really listen to shortwave you'll need to replace the rubber duckie with something more robust. Be careful, though. Too much antenna and you'll simply overdrive the receiver, giving a whole new meaning to the term 'wide band.' That said, I can receive without difficulty stations like Radio Havana, China Radio International, plus the usual Eastern European stations and plethora of religious programming.

The VX-6 comes pre-programmed with 89 shortwave frequencies, 280 marine channels, and 10 weather channels. In addition, the 900 programmable memories can be distributed across 24 memory banks.

But if you're considering the VX-6, I have a few recommendations. First, get the software to program it. Programming this radio without the software is cruel and unusual punishment. With the software it's a snap.

Second, get an external mic. I use the earpiece/microphone combo, a nifty little ensemble that has a remote keyer and a collar clip to keep everything neatly in place.

The 7.4 volt lithium ion battery supplies about 7 hours of normal duty cycle usage, or 15 hours of receive only. There's a raft load of other features, but the bottom line is that the VX-6 is a capable tri-band FM transceiver with the added advantage of a wide band receiver. I would buy it again.

It might even be the only gadget I take with me on my next trip!

-Steve KB3IHX

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