Kenwood TS2000 vs TS590S

I would like to share my appreciation and experience of two Kenwood HF transceivers. First, the Kenwood TS2000, which is probably the only radio that offers a little bit of everything without breaking the bank. The first TS2000 I purchased had a receiver problem. Its replacement worked flawlessly. These random defects do not appear to be isolated as several accounts of owners of TS2000 reported “out of the box” issues over the long history of this product. Once satisfied of the “quality” of my replacement unit, I experimented with many of its key features.

Sky Command : This feature lets you control and operate your HF station from a Kenwood compatible mobile or portable device. I had high expectations for this feature and was somewhat disappointed by the results I observed. Here’s why: the control is sluggish, sometimes unresponsive and too slow for my tastes. The operation range is only limited by your antenna installation at both ends, but has somewhat of a understated limit to is; Think “line of sight”. Using Sky Command, I managed several DX contacts on different bands, which I admit, was a bit exciting at first. Needless to say, the practicality of this feature was a far cry from what I expected. Using Sky Command after an hour overtaxed the TS2000 as it became extreme hot and its cooling fans were revving at their limit. I would be worried about leaving unattended the transceiver in Sky Command mode and for an extended period of time. I can see some specific applications to this remote operation feature, but it’s certainly not designed for most operators. I would categorize it as a hobbyist gadget and very few Amateur Radio operations who tried Sky Command, became regular users of it. It’s simply light years away from offering the true “look and feel” of operating your TS2000 directly.

Cross band repeat: I had the opportunity to experiment with Kenwood’s TM-D710 VHF/UHF mobile prior to testing the TS2000 and what a disappointment I experienced when I tried the TS2000′s cross band capabilities. It’s somewhat sluggish to operate, limited and for some reason I can’t explain, arbitrarily unresponsive. The TM-D710 spoiled my expectations. This Kenwood mobile dual-band radio was such a charm to operate on 2 meters and 70 centimetres and offered much better cross band functionalities and operability than the TS2000. On the other hand, the TS2000 lets you operate in cross band with HF bands. The problem is that on HF, stations aren’t transmitting squelch tones, making a bit awkward to operate in half-duplex. Many tried, few kept on using it. Bottom line, it’s usable, but I would use it for monitoring purposes, nothing more.

After using the TS2000 for an extended period of time, I discovered that it did not meet my expectations at many levels. Don’t get me wrong, its not a bad transceiver, its just not at the level of usability I expected and I quickly outgrown this all mode transceiver. Let me explain. First, it’s HF options controls are inter-mixed with VHF/UHF control buttons, having multiple functions for each buttons. The numeric keypad hides most of its features and an oddly positioned function button completes this mixture. Some key HF featured are on buttons so small that I literally had to use the tip of my fingernail to operate them. You cannot jump from band to band without having to cycle thru all the bands using the main receiver’s (+ or -) buttons. Operation of the HF receiver’s features is just not quite at your finger tip nor was it designed to be. The TS2000 is an hybrid, a compromise between a HF transceiver and a VHF/UHF mobile radio and serves that purpose very well.

The TS2000 as often been referred to as a “Swiss Knife” transceiver, unfortunately, a “Swiss Knife” just isn’t the kind of tool I wan’t in my toolbox. There is something annoying about wanting to operating on HF with a TS2000 and Kenwood had to cope with delivering a little bit of everything bit not enough to satisfy a HF enthusiast. I’m quite a critic and fan of well designed user interfaces and this transceiver lacks delivering a solid user interface experience.

The principal motivation behind wanting a replacement this HF rig was its perplexing cooling system, constantly turning on and off at one of two riveting speeds (loud and louder) making the “listening” experience quite unpleasant. Looking inside the TS2000′s, I can see why it had a cool problem. Its layout is cluttered with components, blocking the flow of air, making it susceptible to overheating, therefor needing constant cooling from a single large front panel fan. I understand the level of complexity in trying to integrate so many features in such a little box, but they could of done a better job with the cooling design. Maybe they didn’t have all the technology you’ll find today, maybe this transceiver was ahead of its time, maybe Kenwood could simply redesign this rig with today’s knowledge and technology. I’m certain if they fixed all the little things they’ve missed and simply redesign it’s control panel, it would be another huge success. A significant portion of the Amateur Radio operator demographic want a “swiss knife” transceiver. Why not build a better one?

This collection of “small compromises in a box”, my growing interest in HF, my equally growing disinterest in 2 meters and 70 centimetres bands and its “awfully loud cooling fans” were all the arguments I needed to consider an alternate transceiver. Having immediately eliminated the expensive “Dream machines” from my lists, I resolved myself to acquire what appeared to be the new “trend” in terms of modern HF transceivers, the Kenwood TS590S. This fairly recent HF transceiver had been redesigned in many ways. With smaller and more modern components, efficient filters and HF oriented features, the TS590S received high scores rave reviews from many of its owners and not to be overlooked, just received high marks from Sherwood Engineering’s. If the TS590S is being compared to rigs several times its asking price, it was worth considering. I researched the internet for comments about its cooling systems and/or fan noise but found none. It’s was the next candidate.

First impression: The TS590S, out of the box, is slightly heavier than the TS2000 and approximately 10% smaller in size (width and depth). Its exterior is a bit more polished and symetric. This transceivers appeared to be a notch above the TS2000 quality wise. After opening its guts to install a voice processor and a TCXO chipset, I noticed that its interior components were slightly smaller, a bit more spaced out and its heavier frame gave it better heat sink capabilities. It also have two variable speed cooling fans which helped it be a much quieter radio. The quietness of the device alone was enough to win brownie points, lots and lots of brownie points in my book.

Turning this radio “on” immediately advertised its differences with the TS2000 . Its large front LCD display offers two colors “Green and Amber” which is nice to have when you get bored of staring at a mono colour display, its frequency counter characters are 20% larger and its backlight display is much more uniform and brighter than the TS2000. They definitely made some improvements on all visual aspects of this transceiver and improved on the quality of the parts.

First of all, using 2 meters and 70 centimetres is thing of the past with the TS590S. It only operates 160m thru 6m. Price wise, the TS590s and the TS2000 are both in the sub $2k category, but that’s where their similarity ends. Kenwood took time and efforts to design and make the very best HF transceiver for that price range and it really shows in the “look and feel” of the product. I have been using this rig for over eight months now and still haven’t found hidden compromises. Of course it lacks some features when compared to larger more expensive transceivers, but the point is that you really get the best “bang-for-your-buck” with a TS590S.

Operating this radio in HF is a breeze, its main features are at your finger tip (Not fingernail tip!). I’ve heard of Amateur Radio Operators who disliked, even got rid of their TS590S because they found it too small, not worthy of the “HF Rig” rig, event heard comments such as “It doesn’t have enough buttons” or “The buttons are too small”! That’s like judging the quality of a product by the size of the container it comes in. But who am I to judge people who want door knobs size audio potentiometers?

On the TS590S, band selection is easy, as it should, and I truly like the TS590S capability to retain in its memory your last three frequency selection on every band selector. Each buttons is well laid out, symmetrical and just the right size for a transceiver this size, unlike the TS2000 which had oddly shaped buttons to accommodate it’s somewhat “90′s modern” design. Functionality is so much more important than look.

How does the TS590S compared to the TS2000 reception wise? My first observation was a +6 dB increase in signals on the S-Meter over the TS-2000. Its probably just a question of meter calibration, I will admit, not all S-Meters are created or calibrated alike. But after performing some initial tests on weak, very weak signals, using the same coax and antennas, I had a some doubts about meter calibration being the only reason. On occasions, the TS590S revealed qualities not found on the TS2000, on near or below noise level signals. Some weak signals were simply invisible to the TS2000. This only makes me believe that in signal to noise ratio and the sheer sensitivity of the TS590S were better.

Showing my video samples to a few Amateurs resulted in a wide range of reactions. I figured that since I was using somewhat inefficient antennas, maybe they were the cause of this signal result discrimination. However, there are noticeable, hearable and measurable differences between the TS590S and the TS2000 on HF, and the majority are in favour of the TS590S. Also, these differences are significant enough to fill the satisfaction void created by the TS2000.

Operating QPR or weaker stations is slowly becoming a point of interest in this hobby of mine. The range of filters found on the TS590 are complete and efficient, permitting to pull out a weak station out of the noise or simply isolate signals from nearby interfering stations, adding positively to the listening experience. The only efficient tool against nearby stations are bandpass filters (LowCut and HighCut filters) and the TS590S is very efficient when these circumstances presents themselves, and often they do.

Equally useful, the notch filter can become a real friend when stations unwillingly or willingly tune their radio or transmit in CW a few kHz away from your frequency. Manual or automatic notch filters can dramatically or completely eliminate interference without affecting the audio quality of your signal of interest.

Next, the (NB) noise blanker and (NR) noise reducing filters. Fortunately, I have acceptable levels of noise in my surroundings and only occasionally do I need to use these filters. A neighbour’s pool filter motor, and air conditioning unit or a plasma screen might occasionally create unwanted interference, and in most case, these interference can be eliminated with the help of these filters. Power lines and their transformers (isolators) are the usual culprits and power companies can help you eliminate these problems by contacting and reporting the issues to them. I have heard accounts of TS590S owners who were infested with radio frequency parasites and claim to have cleared them more efficiently using their TS590S’ noise filter than using an external MFJ-1025 noise suppression device.

Finally but not least, the USB port found on the TS590S is probably at the top of my list in useful features. Contrary to the TS2000 which lets you control it via ancient communication ports like a DB9 serial port or one of its accessory ports, the TS590S offers a built-in USB port which lets you do everything in a very convivial way. Plug and Play is what USB technology was designed for and that’s exactly how its being delivered on the Kenwood TS590S. Using either Kenwood’s ARCP, ARHP or ARUA suite of free software, or the popular Ham Radio Deluxe suite of software, it requires little other investment, besides a USB cable and a computer, to let you remote control the gear, capture or transmit audio and event operate one of the many digital modes available. I even managed to operate this radio remotely, with VOX control, thru the internet using nothing more than a $20 USB headset on my laptop. The setup was quick, clean and efficient.

Another feature found in the TS590S that you won’t find in a TS2000, is an 18 band audio equalizer. On the TS2000, there are some selectable presets, like Bass boost or High boost, but these are not adjustable. The TS590S lets you control each audio parameters making the use of an external audio equalizer, like the W2IHY’s $350 EQplus, obsolete. With the help of the built-in equalizer, you can achieve “near” broadcast audio quality with a $14 dynamic microphone, (IE: Berhinger’s SM1800S). That’s what I use and often received flattering comments on my audio. I also used to capture audio on my TS2000 and quickly discovered that the USB-to-Serial converter generated interference on the audio signal, something I no longer have using the USB port on the TS590S. Is just shows you that there are so many little improvements here and there, and the sum of them all make the Kenwood TS590S an Amateur’s best friend.

In conclusion, the TS2000 is a great “swiss knife” transceiver and has not been challenged much by other manufacturers over more than a decade. I have a feeling Kenwood had to cut too many corners to pull this “tour-de-force” and that convinced me to consider an alternative. If you want a more serious approach to HF (DX, CW, Digital modes), are more than the occasionally hobbies and don’t want to break the bank, the TS590S should be on your consideration list. What was not spent trying to squeeze a 2 meters / 70 centimetres receiver in the box is well spent on making this product a better one.

As I said before, the simple fact that the cooling fans are dramatically quieter on the TS590S compared to the TS2000, was enough for me to make the switch. Ironically, I talked to a few TS2000 owners who had the same opinion about its cooling fan, but developed a “compromising” tolerance to it. If they are happy living with compromises, I respect that decision. I recommend you read the following Webpage, which really give an in-depth tour of the TS590S.

Hope you enjoyed my point of view.


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