Kenwood TS-990S – Unboxing

For almost a year now the Amateur Radio community has been held in suspense by Kenwood and rumours of a new high-end HF radio. Our first question was what will it look like , then how much would it cost. We now have the answers to those questions. Earlier this month, Kenwood made its new price list available to its resellers, and the TS-990S came in at a whopping $8249.95 list price (MSRP). Immediately, most resellers set the street price below $8000, more precisely, $7999.95 US. No doubt that at that price, resellers enjoy a sizeable profit margin. It’s new, it’s cool, it has everything and it’s expensive.

But is it worth spending over $8000 for a HF transceiver? Short answer; if you have more money than you need, then yes, it’s a dream machine, it has all the newest technologies integrated into it and will make you the envy of many other amateur radio operators. But if you need to break the bank or take up a loan to acquire this monster HF radio, don’t bother, you can do as well with much less expensive rigs and a little creativity. Simply put, it’s a prestige box full of visual candy and technology “bling bling”. It’s not for everyone.

I have no doubt this new radio will have excellent receptivity and selectivity, the most important sought features in high-end rigs. Most Amateur operators can’t make or enjoy the difference between the selectivity of a rig versus another. But when your main hobby is DXing, sensitivity and selectivity matters! If your hobby is to rag-chew with the locals on 80m, this machine is obviously not for you.

What about reliability? That really depends on Kenwood’s ability to keep up to date with software updates and its ability to stand behind its flag ship HF radio. After buying the rig, getting a few accessories (Microphone, Speakers) and paying the sales taxes on all of this, you will have spent upwards to $10,000 for a Kenwood TS-990S. So what is the warranty situation? 1 year, return where you bought it? Not enough Kenwood !! For this prestige rig, Kenwood should offer pre-paid, return to place of purchase for the first year, then return to factory for the 2nd year and extended warranties. People who buy this kind of high-end products expect such level of service. Anything less than that would make me second guess purchasing a TS-990S.

Another worry is the reliability of the TFT displays. Typical modern TFT displays have between 70,000 and 110,000 hours between failure (10-20 years of use), so we’ll see about its longevity when in the field. I suspect premature burnt out displays (Dead pixels) or display components will be the primary critics made by TS-990S owners. That or software bugs after software bugs (A la Microsoft!).  I just can’t wait to see the early adopter’s reports and videos on the internet.

Would I buy a TS-990S? In good conscience, no I wouldn’t. I prefer to experiment with antennas and use to the full extent the capabilities of a TS-590S, which is a fraction of the TS-990′s price, and has as good sensitivity, selectivity and filtering. The TS-590S lacks the ‘bling bling’ candy, but is one of the best bang for the buck HF rig available today. (Update: Almost one year after its release, prices of the TS-990s have started to come down very slowly.)

Whether its a $400 Feitong FT-808 HF radio or a $19400 Hilberling PT-8000, when HF propagation is present, you’ll have as much fun with the cheaper rig than the more expensive ones. If spending $10k on an HF radio makes you happy, why not, indulge yourself with the newest gadget on the market. But in my opinion, the price of the TS-990S is $2500-3000 over the top of a potential volume market.

Kenwood TS-990S assembly in Japan

Un-Boxing a Kenwood TS-990S

Click Here for official PDF documentation, specs and images.


Key Features

HF/50MHz Flagship Base Station
200 watts output from 50V FET Push-pull PA stage
+40dBm Intercept Point RX
Main RX – Down Conversion on all bands
270Hz/500Hz/2.7kHz/6kHz/15kHz Roofing Filters
Sub RX – Down Conversion on 15/20/40/80/160M bands (as TS-590S RX)
500Hz/2.7kHz Roofing Filters
2 x TFT Colour Display screens
3 x DSP Processors
Built-in RTTY/FSK/PSK31 Decoder/Encoder. QPSK update to follow
4 x SO-239 Antenna sockets plus RCA jacks for RX-only antenna input and external RX out. “Antenna Name” display function for the 4 SO-239 ports
10MHz Ref Oscillator I/O (BNC)
External ATU port
Keyboard In
COM Port (Female 9-pin)
Straight Key
Paddle/external Keyer
2 x USB-A & 1 x USB-B ports
“ACC-2″ Data/audio connector
“Remote” linear connector
Analogue Meter Jack 3.5 mm
“DRV” low-level LF drive
Optical SPDIF I/O
2 x external speaker sockets
DVI-I Dual-link video port
LAN port

Supplied With

AC Mains Cable Yes
Fuse Yes, 1 x 4A
Instruction Manual Yes, Includes Circuit Diagram
Plugs Yes, 1 x 7-pin DIN
1 x 13-pin DIN

Amateur Radio General Features

10 MHz Reference I/O Port Yes
“Band Elimination Filter” Yes
Band-scope Display Yes
Built-in CW Keyer with Message Memories Yes
Built-in Power Supply Switched Mode PSU
Built-in Voice Guide and Recorder Yes
Clock Yes
COM Port – D-sub 9-pin Yes
Connectivity 10MHz Ref Oscillator I/O (BNC)
External ATU port
Keypad (3.5 mm jack)
COM Port (Female 9-pin)
Straight/Paddle Key/External Keyer (6.3mm jack)
2 x USB-A & 1 x USB-B ports
“ACC-2″ Data/audio connector
“Remote” linear connector
Analogue Meter (3.5mm jack)
“DRV” low-level LF drive (RCA)
Optical I/O
2 x external speaker sockets (3.5mm jacks)
DVI-I Dual-link video port
LAN port
Connector for External ATU Yes
Connector for Remote/Linear Amp Yes
Digital Optical Ports Yes, I/O
Dimmer Key Yes – for displays and LEDs. 4 dimmer levels
Direct-access Band Buttons Yes, 10 buttons for Amateur bands 1.8 – 50 MHz plus 2 buttons for General Coverage. Up to 5 band-memories per button
Direct Frequency Entry Yes
“DRV” Low Level Drive Output Terminal Yes, RCA jack – 1 mW output covers 1.8 to 50 MHz bands plus the 135.80-137.70 kHz LF band.
Dual Receive Yes
DSP Devices 3 x Analog Devices Inc SHARC 32-bit DSP chips
for Main IF, Sub IF and Bandscope functions
DSP Functions RX Equaliser with 3 user settings
Firmware Upgradable via USB Port Yes
Front Panel KeyPad Yes
Headphone Socket with Dual RX Output Yes, Main and sub-Band RX audio can heard either mixed, or separated to the left/right channels
Key Lock Yes
LAN Port Yes
Loudspeaker Socket Two external loudspeakers can be connected via 2 x 3.5mm mono sockets. Impedance range 4 – 8 ohms
Memory Channels with Alpha-tagging 120 Memory Channels
Microphone Socket 8-pin “Chrome” type
Mute Function Yes
PC Radio Control Program (Option) Yes
Pre-amplifier Yes, Configurable per band
Pre-selector Yes, Configurable
Programmable Function Keys Yes, 9 PF Keys
PSK31 Compatible Yes
Remote Operation via the Internet ARHP-990 Software allows remote operation
Roofing Filter Equipped with 270Hz, 500Hz, 2.7kHz, 6kHz and 15kHz as standard
Sky Command 2 Yes
Speech Processor Yes
Sub Receiver Yes, Equivalent to TS-590S main receiver
TFT Colour Display Yes, 2 TFT displays. 7″ main display with Bandscope, Waterfall and touch-screen tuning function plus 3.5″ sub display with audio scope, PSK tuning meter etc. Selectable background colours. 4 different styles of S-meter presentation. Sub-display includes X-Y function (FSK) or Vector function (PSK)
USB Port Yes, 3 USB ports. 2 x USB-A for flash drives/keyboard. 1 x USB-B for PC connectivity

Amateur HF Specifications

HF Output Power 200 W SSB/FM/CW/FSK, 50 W AM
50 MHz RF Output Power 200 W SSB/FM/CW/FSK, 50 W AM
A.C. Supply Voltage 220 – 240 V (50/60 Hz)
Antenna Impedance – 50 Ohm Yes
Antenna Tunable Range (160 – 6 m Bands) – 16.7 Ohm to 150 Ohm Yes
Audio Output Impedance – 8 Ohm Yes
Audio Output Power More than 1.5 W (8 Ohm, 10% distortion)
Continuous RX: 30 kHz – 60 MHz Yes, Within spec – 0.13 – 30 MHz & 50 – 54 MHz
Current Drain (approx.) TX – 840 VA Power Consumption
RX – 200 VA Power Consumption
Frequency Stability ± 0.1 ppm 0 °C to +50 °C
Microphone Impedance – 600 Ohm Yes
Modes A1A (CW), A3E (AM), J3E (SSB), F3E (FM), F1B (FSK) & G1B (PSK)
Notch Filter Attenuation Auto Mode – More than 60 dB
Manual Mode – More than 70 dB
Operating Temperature Range -0 °C to + 50 °C
Receiver Beat Elimination More than 40 dB
Receiver Circuitry Main RX – Double superheterodyne
Sub RX1 Down Conversion – Double superheterodyne
Sub RX2 Up Conversion – Triple superheterodyne
Receiver Frequency Range VFO Coverage = 30kHz – 60MHz
Main Band spec guaranteed = 0.13 – 30MHz/50-54MHz
Receiver IF Rejection Ratio Less than 70dB
Receiver Image Rejection Ratio HF – Less than 70dB
50MHz – Less than 60dB
Receiver Intermediate Frequencies Main RX – 1st IF 8.248 MHz/2nd IF 24 kHz (FM – 455 kHz)
Sub RX1 Down Conversion – 1st IF 11.374 MHz/2nd IF 24 kHz
Sub RX2 Up Conversion – 1st IF 73.095 MHz/2nd IF 10.695 MHz/3rd IF 24 kHz (FM – 455 kHz)
Receiver Selectivity SSB (LO:200/HI:2800 Hz) – More than 2.4 kHz @ -6 dB/Less than 4.4 kHz @ -60dB
CW/FSK/PSK (Width: 500 Hz): More than 500 Hz @ -6 dB/Less than 1.2 kHz @ – 60 dB
AM (LO:100/HI:3000 Hz) – More than 6 kHz @ -6 dB/Less than 12 kHz @ -60dB
FM – More than 12 kHz @ -6 dB/Less than 25 kHz @ -50dB
Receiver Sensitivity – 0.13 – 0.522 MHz SSB/CW/FSK/PSK = less than 0.5µV
AM = less than 6.3µV
Receiver Sensitivity – 0.522 – 1.705 MHz SSB/CW/FSK/PSK = less than 4µV
AM = less than 32µV
Receiver Sensitivity – 1.705 – 24.5 MHz SSB/CW/FSK/PSK = less than 0.2µV
AM = less than 2µV
Receiver Sensitivity – 24.5 – 30 MHz SSB/CW/FSK/PSK = less than 0.13µV
AM = less than 1.3µV
Receiver Sensitivity – 28 – 30 MHz (FM) Less than 0.22µV
Receiver Sensitivity – 50 – 54 MHz SSB/CW/FSK/PSK = less than 0.13µV
AM = less than 1.3µV
FM = less than 0.22µV
RIT Frequency Range ± 9.999 kHz
Transmitter Carrier Supression Less than -60 dB
Transmitter Frequency Response 300 Hz – 2700 Hz (within -6 dB)
Transmitter Modulation SSB/FM/AM = Balanced/Reactance/Low Power
Transmitter Spurious Radiation Less than -60dB
Transmitter Spurious Radiation – 50 MHz Less than – 66 dB
Transmitter Unwanted Sideband Supression Less than -60dB
XIT Frequency Range ± 9.999 kHz
Dimensions W x H x D = 460 x 165 x 400 mm without projections
Weight 24.5 kg

CW Features

Terminal for CW paddle key Yes
Terminal for straight key/external electronic keyer Yes

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