Wouxun KG-UV6D Amateur Radio Receiver Review

February 2013

WORK IN PROGRESS - COME BACK SHORTLY!!!
(almost done; must insert one more sound clip)
UPDATED DEC 2013 AND FEB 2014 RE BATTERY DRAIN

First, a good word about Cheapham.com.  I ordered my radio several nights after I passed my tests for the General license (yippee!) and it arrived in a startlingly fast 38-1/2 hours, still two days before the FCC got around to granting my call-sign.  I ordered the Wouxun KG-UV6D Value Package - an exclusive to Cheapham.com - and the following are my first (read: substantially non-technical) impressions of this package as a relative newcomer to ham radio.

The Value Package was $185, shipped free (and at the risk of being repetitious, fast!) from NJ, no sales tax collected to a NY destination.  Its main attraction is a KG-UV6D V2 Limited Edition dual-band transceiver capable of TX and RX at 136-174 MHz  (up to 5 Watts) and 405-512 MHz (up to 4 Watts).  The unit is allegedly RoHS and ISO 9001 compliant, looks OK, feels substantial enough, and is advertised as being water resistant to an IP55 rating [explanation], so it should tolerate some rain and splashing and occasional beach use, but I'm not sure how much I would want to push my luck.

This package was not just a casually thrown-together bunch of goodies packed into some shipping peanuts.  It is a custom box right from the Wouxun factory with a thin gold-anodized aluminum card tucked inside that says "2012 X-mas Limited Edition", and neatly packs over $110 worth (at discount prices) of additional accessories including:

 *  One extra 1700mAh Li-Ion battery pack
 *  Dual-slot drop-in desk charger instead of a single-slot unit
 *  AA battery case
 *  USB programming cable and software
 *  External speaker/mic (economy version)
 *  High-gain 15" antenna (in addition to an 8" antenna)
 *  Voice tube -type earphone
 *  Battery eliminator cable (car lighter plug for the drop-in charger)
 *  Leather case (cheap leather laminate actually)
 *  Two additional belt clips (not extras; one for the additional Li-Ion battery and one for the AA battery case)

Beware, the 15" high-gain antenna is stashed under the bottom half of the molded plastic packaging material and is easily missed.  Don't throw out the packaging until you've taken it all completely apart!

I feel that even if all I end up using is the spare battery, AA case and programming cable, I've still received a good value.  And while most hams are buying the less expensive KG-UV3D or KG-UV2D models, this particular radio sports a 199 channel memory capacity.  I don't know how much use I will make of the extra channels but I do enjoy listening to public service (police, fire, etc.) transmissions so I think the additional channels will come in handy for wandering among NYC's myriad listening sources, as well as for managing GMRS frequencies, etc.

Let me say right up front that my reviews tend to be a bit critical.  And so it goes that in this article you will find me carping about lots of little things but frankly I still think this radio is a terrific value and offers immense performance, perhaps only at the expense of some people's misplaced patriotism.

Wouxun is not bashful about telling you this is a special package.  Limited Edition reminders are prominent on the radio and the carton.  There is printing on the back of the radio that says "Merry Chiristmas" (the spelling perhaps a reminder of the radio's Chinese roots - see for yourself), and when you turn on the radio the display says:
X-MAS
WELCOM

When I saw "WELCOM", that was right about the time I decided that maybe that LCD display should have been seven characters long instead of six.  I still would not be able to replace "X-MAS" with "CHANUKAH", but at least it's a start.

The second thing I noticed was that the batteries emitted a high-pitched squeal during charging.  I whipped out my iPhone and recorded the sound and opened the downloaded file in Adobe Audition.  One battery was found to emit a sound at 9300 Hz and the other at 9900 Hz.  I do not know the reason for the squeal.  It stopped when charging was complete.  The frequency seems to change with the choice of slot rather than battery, and the amplitude is only about 56 dB-A at 1".  On second thought it's hard to tell for certain if the sound is coming from the batteries or the charging base.  Either way you're not going to want to operate the chargers on your night table.

The dual-slot charger has two LEDs which turn green when charging is complete.  It does not indicate which LED is front or back.  FYI, the right LED is for the rear slot and left, front.  Both batteries had some charge from the factory and topped up in about two hours.  Charging a fully depleted, dead-as-a-door-nail battery takes just over four hours including a battery-friendly trickle-rate start that lasts around twenty minutes.  The charger uses a lightweight switching wall-wart capable of utilizing international AC voltages and frequencies.  Getting a battery or the radio into the charger is a touch fidgety.  Unlike many commercial HTs which can practically be lobbed into their chargers from across the room, you have to get the angle just right on these to slide 'em in.

The USB adapter cable for the Wouxun radio is a USB to serial affair which uses the radio's external ear/mic connectors to talk RS-232 to the radio.  The cable's circuitry appears to utilize the popular Prolific PL2303 chipset or one which is directly compatible.  That happens to use the same driver software that is used by a majority of general purpose USB-serial adapters.  So the good news is that if you already loaded the driver for another USB to serial adapter cable, you probably won't need to bother with the included driver CD.  You can also download the latest driver freely from the Prolific web site.

Programming the radio by hand is a somewhat annoying task.  It's not too bad once you get used to it, and to the rather short time-out in the menus, but most folks will probably prefer to use their PCs to do any substantial amount of channel programming or fiddling with the radio's settings or its 199 channels.  A CD is included but you can download the latest software from Wouxun's web site as well.  PCs only - Mac and Linux owners need not apply unless you run Windows virtualization software.  Actually let me re-state that...  The very brave might want to try Open Wouxun.  But heed the warnings and don't cry to me if by chance it bricks your radio.  Again, Wouxun's software offers reminders of the radio's Chinese roots by showing messages such as "ReadSuccessed" and "WriteSuccessed" when transferring programming data from and to the radio.  Amusing to native English speakers but not show-stoppers by any means.  To be fair, their English is far superior to my Mandarin.  The software works well enough and for those who seek more functionality, there are several other, possibly better options for PC users.

Forgive me for seemingly scrooge-like intentions, but the first thing I did when I loaded the programming software was to change the radio's power-up message to read something more useful and less religious, like the battery voltage.  In spite of my efforts the radio continued to display "X-MAS" on the unused display lines during [single-channel] use and that took a little more doing to change.  More on that later...

While fiddling with the radio I of course immediately found the flashlight feature.  In this day and age of ridiculously bright LEDs, this one is simply anemic.  Handy for finding where you car key landed between the seat and the console but not much else.  Don't go leaving your tactical flashlight home just yet.

Speaker quality seems good to me.  It suffers a bit above 85% or so of maximum volume but not terribly, and that setting should be sufficient in fairly noisy, urban environments.  As for transmission, if I stand in the right place in my apartment with the little stock antenna I can hit an urban 2-meter repeater 8 miles away with full quieting and reportedly excellent, base station voice quality.  Shortly I'll use EchoLink to record an example and link it here.

[insert sound file]

I understand from some of my research that Wouxun seems to be a little unpredictable about what kind of antenna connectors it features on its various radios   For the record, this KG-UV6D V2 uses an SMA male connector on the radio.  That is, it requires antennas (or antenna cables) which feature "reverse-SMA" connectors.  I personally don't have any feelings about this either way and don't have enough experience to pontificate about the relative merits.  But when carrying around the radio I find the antenna's screw collar coming loose after a short while.  Tightening it down like an ape helps somewhat.

The green receive and red transmit LEDs are blinding at one particular angle, about 30 degrees from horizontal.  Their illumination also tends to bleed into the other indicator LED lenses and the keypad.  Perhaps this 30 bright spot is handy for daytime use but I don't care for it, especially in the cabin of an automobile at night-time.  The picture here illustrates the light beam characteristics. 

The radio's display has + and - indicators which portray the transmit frequency offset or split direction.  They work as expected in VFO mode but when you save/program a frequency into a channel, whether by software or manually, channels with repeater offsets show up with "+-" instead of their actual offset direction.  This may have something to do with the fact that channels are stored as frequency pairs instead of as a receive frequency and a transmit offset, but I don't see why that can't be addressed at readout time with just a few additional lines of software code.  Really, is "if transmit_freq > receive_freq then write plus_sign" really that challenging to pull off?

The sound quality of the voice assist is mediocre.  Between its inexplicably low recorded A/D bit-rate and the accent, I could hardly distinguish the M in "frequency mode".  I initially thought it was saying "frequency load", or perhaps "lewd".  Although I suppose I would not mind lewd frequencies on occasion...  ;-)  The voice assist is useful no doubt for cautiously fiddling with the radio while keeping eyes glued to the roadway, or for people with vision impairments.  Not all the voice prompts were as muddy as the opening salvo.  Click HERE to open and hear the example discussed (MP3 format, 74 KB).

The belt clip is not nearly as secure as the clips on my Vertex radios.  Part of it involves spring strength but the problem is also the clip design.  If you drop the radio from a couple of feet, it will sometimes re-set.  I tried not to test this too much!  I imagine the battery contacts could be better, or perhaps the radio's tolerance for contact interruption.  Minor drops and even some not so minor drops leave the case un-marred.  The battery never popped loose.  It clicks in just a little bit softly, but securely.

One shortcoming that I find incredibly unfortunate is that the display features two lines but the second line goes to waste when the radio is not used in A/B mode.  For example, why not be allowed to show a channel's name in addition to its frequency instead of leaving that line completely blank?  Somewhat less annoying is that when in A/B mode, it is not clear at a quick or distant glance whether or not reception you hear is occurring on the secondary channel.  The indicator is very small on the LCD and usually won't be lit.

Also about dual channel mode, I find it a bit annoying that if you employ dual channel mode in VFO mode then it forces channel mode into dual as well when you switch.  Likewise the other way around.  And likewise, whatever channel (A or B) you are set to in one mode is the channel you'll land on when switching modes, whatever that happens to be set to.  Not the end of the world but an unnecessary distraction.

I have no complaints about battery life but I can confirm reports of an unexpectedly rapid drop to unusable charge levels after you see a low battery indicator.  One second you're talking and the next, the radio has turned off.  The radio does get quite warm to the touch after a few minutes of transmission on high power, but that should be little surprise.  One must take care not to place spare batteries front-down on conductive surfaces due to the exposed configuration of the electrical contacts.  Beware, during extended transmission times in high power mode the contacts on the back of the rechargeable battery can become burning hot.

As for getting rid of the X-MAS reminder on the display, when I tried KC8UNJ's KG-UV6 Communicator software, it revealed access to some options that Wouxun's own programming software (version 2.22, copyright date 2015,  gotta' love the Chinese) failed to expose.  The magic field was called "Single Receive Msg".  Happy happy joy joy.  In an historic moment, I resisted the temptation to set it to something profane like "EAT ME".  "X-MAS" has been replaced by my call-sign - or I could have just left it blank - but I really wish I could somehow convince the radio to display channel names there instead.  I tried the latest daily build of CHIRP as well but it did not reveal anything encouraging in that respect either.  Regardless, it's nice to know there are plenty of options for programming the Wouxun.  Among some of the benefits of the alternative software is the ability to import and export CSV (text) files of the channels.  Handy for copying programming between radios, even dissimilar brands and models.

The HT can also be used as a scanner.  It won't have quite the mastery of the task that you would get with a dedicated scanner but it works well enough.  It helps to begin by setting the side function key to active the scanner instead of the FM radio or the weak flashlight.  You enter the frequencies you would like to scan and  - the documentation is cryptic if you're not looking in the right place - there are three scan settings: "TO", "CO" and "SE".  These seemingly meaningless abbreviations translate to "stop for five seconds on a busy channel then continue scanning", "stop on a busy channel and resume scanning 3 seconds after transmissions stop", or "stop on a received signal and stay there."  You cannot adjust the timing and changing these settings is just as fiddly as changing anything else on this radio.  Setting or resetting the busy channel lockout for one channel takes seven key presses for example.  And hopefully I don't have to remind everyone to be careful not to press the transmit key while on a public service frequency unless you are authorized or otherwise permitted by law.

I almost forgot to mention that this HT has a broadcast FM receiver built-in.  It can only be accessed by one of the radio's programmable buttons and it won't make you rush out to get rid of any of your audiophile stereo equipment, but it works well enough and is handy to have.  It can be tuned over a huge frequency range (76-108 MHz) to satisfy the international market.  It manages to pick up the weak college stations clearly, the sound "is what it is" from the HT's small speaker, monaural of course, and if you just can't stand silence it does a fine job of filling it in with your favorite FM radio station.  It will play until a signal comes in on whatever frequency you're tuned into on channel A.  When you activate it, it scans to the first signal it can find.

Saving FM channels is documented by Wouxun but somewhat vaguely.  I found a good write-up here.  Just in case that forum or that post disappears, or your panty-waist politics dissuade you from taking ham -related advice from firearms enthusiasts, the gist is that it saves radio stations sort of like how a typical car radio would.  It has two banks of memory, 9 stations in each, entirely separate from HT's the 199 main channels.  They cannot be seen by or programmed in the PC software that comes with the radio but some 3rd party software such as KG-UV6 Communicator can work with them.  The banks are called "Team 1" and "Team 2", for reasons I cannot possibly fathom.  Pressing the # key will switch teams.  Don't worry - it won't make you "switch teams!"  When you are tuned to an FM radio station you wish to save, select the desired team, press the Menu button and then the desired station number [1-9].  Easy!

Unless you program a function key to access the scanner function or the FM radio, you cannot access those features.  Only a slightly minor frustration.

Now it is time for me to go shopping for some good antennas.  And gear.  And more radios.  And more gear!

March 2013 Update:  The white LED lamp has pretty much given up the ghost, for reasons unknown.

May 2013 Update:  The owner of a KG-UV3D, AE6SF, wrote me about my complaint that a channel's frequency and name cannot be displayed simultaneously.  He provides a clever but admittedly kludgy workaround:  "I set the A channel to display frequency using function 21 CHpMDF and select CHFREQ. This displays frequency and channel number on the 1st line. Then I change to B channel, and go to function 21 to select NAME. Then I tune the same memory channel to both A and B, and use TDR to display both A and B. The top line shows frequency and channel number, the bottom line shows name. Of course, you no longer are monitoring two separate channels, just monitoring the same channel twice."

December 2013 Update:  I have been noticing for some while that after leaving the radio on the shelf for a week or two, the reported battery voltage when turning on the radio dropped.  Given the normal shelf life of these types of batteries, that seemed perplexing so out came the Fluke.  I measured a 1.47mA battery drain when the radio is turned off.  Since this radio doesn't employ a "soft" power button and has no internal clock that I know of, I see no reason for there to be any standby power drain.  A quick search on Google reveals that I am hardly the first to notice this on various Wouxun radios.

I emailed Wouxun for their opinion on the battery drain and they replied within a day or so.  They explained that the CPU is still working when the radio is off, and advised that I remove the battery when the radio is not being used.  Strange engineering, that!  I then asked them what was the supposed advantage of keeping the CPU powered in a design that suffers no ill effects from removing the battery altogether.  I never received a reply on that.

February 2014 Update:  I bought a Baofeng UV-5R dual-band HT several weeks ago for under $30.  I just could not resist at that price, even if all I end up using it for is a fox hunt DF.  It has many basic similarities to the Wouxun radio.  The Baofeng also exhibits some parasitic battery drain when turned off, but only about 14.7 uA.  That is 1/100th the amount being drawn by the Wouxun.

'73, W2ZZZ  (formerly KD2DIF)