An Informal Review

Yaesu's FT817
Super Antennas MP-1

George Heron, N2APB
(See images indicated in the text by the underlined hyperlinks)

I've got to agree in a big way with people saying the FT-817 is a *fabulous* QRP radio.

I've had an FT-817 loaned to me for the past month or so and I've been evaluating it from a personal usage standpoint to see if this rig would be a good and worthy Grand Prize for Atlanticon this year.  Well, in my opinion, the answer is an unequivocal YES!

My evaluation was purely from a portable, and transportable perspective while using it at work and while traveling on business during January.  

I have a thin little leather carrying case (about 12" x 12" x 2") that used to hold a 3-ring notebook (sorta like the like the DayTimer things that everyone has seen).  See the OPEN CASE and the CLOSED CASE.  It nicely holds:

1) FT-817 radio wrapped in a small hand towel.  (My wife didn't appreciate that part, but I didn't want any scratches on my prized loaner rig);

2) "Mr. Super Antenna" Vern Wright's very, very cool MP-1 HF antenna -- DISASSEMBLES *so* very nicely and fits perfectly in this little case, along with its mounting accessories (clamp and universal bracket);

3) a thin 12V gel cell (borrowed from my K2) to use if/when the internal batteries are depleted;

4) a coil of RG-58 and the microphone; and

5) a special version of the NJQRP Rainbow Tuner -- the absorptive SWR bridge only (not the tuner part), mounted in a small box that provides great inline LED indication of SWR, super useful for setting the adjustable antennas like the MP-1 and the screwdriver antenna on the truck.  (Don't need or want a big SWR meter or ATU when doing portable like this!) This was suggested to me by my good friend and antenna guru Joe Everhart, N2CX during our almost-weekly coffee sessions in DE, halfway between MD and NJ.  This obvious-but-very-useful accessory will be described in the next issue of QRP Homebrewer.

Okay now, as mentioned, I take this to case to work each day and set the radio up ON MY DESK and drape the coax around the corner to a nearby emergency door of our small building.  I can CLAMP THE MP-1 TO A RAILING on the outside porch, uncoil the ground radials, and voila, I'm in business.  I can see the MP-1 FROM OFFICE WINDOW, and FROM OUTSIDE.  I have the engineers in my group constantly coming by to tune around and listen for some exotic DXer to be heard, and it's quite the commotion when one is found.  

I've got to say a few words here about the Super Antenna "MP-1".  This is indeed a super antenna and I've been taking it with me everywhere since I was lucky enough to win it at Pacificon last October.  I also took it with me on my December biz trip to Switzerland where I took a day trip up into the Alps and set up station at 2800 meters elevation.  (I have some real nice photos and a short recap of my mini-expedition hopefully to be accepted as an article by World Radio.)  The MP-1 is HERE against a cloud-spec'd sky of pointed, snowcapped Alps ... Vern, you'll love it!  And I do love the antenna.

N2CX also suggested a simple wire clip-on to the MP-1 that makes it applicable also for the VHF bands offered in the '817.  This too is described in a review Joe did of the MP-1 in the upcoming QRP Homebrewer.

More on the "usage" aspects of the FT-817 ... it's a dream to have all-band transceiver in such a small package at a great price.  Nothing beats it! Hard to believe that we can get something this professional, full coverage, all mode, all band, super small, built-up and tuned and ready to operate for under $750.

Some others in their reports here on QRP-L have bemoaned the small front panel, the depth of menus, the noise of the semi-breaking CW, and the short lifespan of the batteries.  Well, IMHO life itself is a tradeoff (as I often tell my engineers!) and once you get in a usage "groove" the radio is very low maintenance - just turn it on and start using it.  I'm mostly a CW guy, but SSB contacts are pretty easy even at 5W on the higher bands during the  daytime, and it's so much more fun to demonstrate using a voice mode.  (CW is awe inspiring to the casual public observer, but its attention-garnering duration is quite short.)

My little leather case used to store all pieces of my station easily goes into my luggage during business travel, or even into my sports bag for the same-day trips to our Boston development office.  Ultimate, all-band portability.

Battery life hasn't been a big problem for me.  Perhaps my listening time is longer than transmit time, I don't know.  But when the internal AA cells do run low, I plug in the external gel cell and I'm in action for even longer.

I use one of the Little Red Keys from our buddy Gil Kost of American QRP Manufacturing Company, but I have a homebrew paddle in progress based on the cool little design of Dave Gauding NF0R and the St Louis QRP Society, as described in the latest issue of NorCal's QRPp. That little paddle-in-a-plug will fit even more neatly into the leather carrying case, and Dave assures me that it operates just as smooth as can be.  Can;t wait until that one gets done!

Well, that's the simple report from this "man on the streets".  The FT-817 operates *more* than well enough for my usage while portable in the field, and at work. The price/performance out-does anything else I've seen and is a joy to use once you get into the groove of its features and controls. Keeping in mind that nothing is totally perfect, the '817 comes as close to being so in its marketing "sweet spot" of portability, low power, all-mode, all-band communications.

Yaesu has really worked with us QRPers this one -- it is really nice to see a manufacturer appreciate its customers and provide a product in direct response to the voice of the crowd.

Yes, I will be returning the FT-817 back to its rightful owner this week ... but I will be ordering two right afterwards:  one for me personally, and one by the NJQRP Club.

Folks, it is a such great thrill for the NJQRP to be able to give away the ABSOLUTELY HOTTEST selling QRP radio in the world as the grand prize at the Atlanticon QRP Forum next month.  A world class prize for what we think is a world class event.

72/73, George N2APB

PS:  If anyone is interested, I'll put some photos on the NJQRP website of the '817 and MP-1 all tucked inside the case, as well as the MP-1 mounted on the railing at work, and of the MP-1 flying high in the Swiss Alps.

Last Modified:  February 7, 2001