Ten-Tec Jupiter

Ten-Tec Jupiter TenTec Jupiter

Features, functions, a howto and opinions by Jason Buchanan - N1SU


Ok, I admit it: i'm in love with this radio.

I started a quest about six months ago to find a new radio to replace my existing rigs (Drake R4B/T4XB and ICOM 707) and had two main requirements:

So I spent a lot of time reading specs, talking to people, checking out the reviews on eHam and carefully analyzing what i'd found and narrowed my search to three radios from three different manufacturers: Yaesu FT-920 (or 1000 Field), Kenwood TS-2000 and the ICOM IC-746 Pro. Each was roughly in my ballpark price range with the features I was looking for. But as I dug deeper into the abilities (and inabilities) of each radio I found where each one had a tradeoff that I didn't like - didn't like so much so that I became frustrated because it seemed like there were NO radios sold on the market under $2000 that met my requirements!

Sadly, I couldn't find any mention of Ten-Tec by the companies that I looked at online: Universal Radio, AES, WB0W, HamRadio Outlet and Texas Towers. I think Ten-Tec could boost sales a great deal by putting a few ads on some of the online ham sites like Contesting.com and QRZ.com. I discovered the Jupiter by reading an online review about the Kenwood TS-2000 with specific mention of how much better the Ten-Tec Jupiter was. The recent big splash by the Orion has put Ten-Tec all over the map so I think they've managed to get a lot of attention - it's refreshing to hear hams talking about a radio other than the "Big Three".

I visited the Ten-Tec site and started reading the specs and getting advice from Duffy Beischel WB8NUT. A day later I got a Ten-Tec Jupiter TT-538! I could not be happier. It would take a hundred pages to write up my appreciation for this radio. It greatly exceeded my expectations.


So what do I think about the Jupiter?

I know i'm in the honeymoon phase given that i've only had the radio for a short time but my initial impression is that it's the best thing i've ever used. I have been a Drake T4B/R4XB and ICOM 707 user for a very long time The Drake B-line rigs, specifically the R4B, were the most user friendly pieces of equipment i've ever used. The R4B receiver really spoiled me because the width, passband and notch filters made it very easy to work any station regardless of another adjacent station (AM, SSB or CW) - all I had to do was select the appropriate passband, adjust the width and possibly the notch and I was done. But the new rigs I was looking at were severely lacking in their ability to filter out noise before it made it to the audio amplifier, which to me is extremely poor design. I remember after checking out the new rigs thinking "How nice these 40-year-old Drake rigs are" - so I was just about to give up and get the TS-2000 when I came across the Ten-Tec Jupiter.

The Jupiter is definitely a keeper based on its features and functionality. It's the best money i've spent on anything (radios, computers, cameras, food, etc.) in the last few years. It's the only thing i've bought that exceeded my expectations.


SDR - Software Defined Radio

The Ten-Tec Jupiter is a real SDR, or Software Defined Radio. All the hubbub going on about the GNU Radio or SDR-1000 from FlexRadio does not excite me as much as it did before I saw the Jupiter and Ten-Tec Pegasus. Granted, there may be more flexibility in the other systems but Ten-Tec's radios are a complete solution.


Here's why I am a Jupiter owner...

On CW, the full QSK keying totally floored me. I've always lived in the land of clicking relays and the ability to send 25WPM CW and receive between words at that speed with NO relays is the other thing that totally impressed me. I guess that's relatively a standard feature these days but for me it was amazing. My uncle, Mel Whitten, K0PFX, strongly urged me to check into a full break-in QSK rig and I understand why now. The Ten-Tec solid state QSK is flawless - never a chopped dit.

The only mistake I think i've made so far was not getting the internal tuner. I'm going to get the kit and install it in a few months after I get more acquainted with the radio. I don't do a lot of phone work (mostly CW/digital on the lower ends of the bands) so I opted not to get the tuner at the time I bought the radio. However for the $1300 spent so far I'm totally satisfied. I'll deal with not having the tuner for all the other wonderful things that it provides.

You do not have to purchase anything else other than the radio to use it forever. No TCXOs, no additional filters, no special cable adapters, etc. You get all you need (plus a spare mic jack, mono-to-stereo phone jack, spare power connector and RCA phono plug) - just give it power and turn it on.


Why didn't I go for one of "The Big Three?"

Yaesu

Yaesu makes great stuff - everyone i've known has had great things to say about Yaesu equipment. Some units have more strengths than weaknesses, etc., you know the routine. The first radio I was really ready to buy was the Yaesu FT-920. It had good CW capabilities, a DSP, decent phone performance and it was fairly affordable. Unfortunately, Yaesu likes to nickle and dime you to death with additional pieces that drive the price up another $400-500 dollars. Then I find out that the DSP is post-IF stage and processes audio as it comes out of the audio amp! Argh - this is so stupid - the DSP has to cope with everything flying at it from the receiver's front end instead of processing only what I want it to process! Even the fancy FT-1000 Field had audio-stage DSP. So that was the end of Yaesu for me.

ICOM

ICOM hasn't been known for its stellar QSK performance and I was a bit leary from the get-go. Worse, the IC-746 Pro is known for dying after about 18 months of use requiring a $150 trip back to the factory for repair. So I ditched any ICOM prospects as well.

Kenwood

Kenwood is a brand name that some guys would lose their jobs over trying to defend Kenwood's honor and prestige. I'd say on a whole they probably have a better average product than any other manufacturer, although this seems to be slipping given the stuff they've been putting on the market in the last five years. So Kenwood finally figured out that IF-stage DSP is the way to do things, but they built a radio that has a horribly-rated receiver and has a bad reputation for suceptibility to adjacent frequency interference. Some guys who lived near cellphone or paging company towers reported serious problems with noise and interference from the pager company broadcasts. Others complained about the raspy sound that the DSP pushed out when trying to wade through the sludge when the band was noisy or during a big pileup.

I live in the sticks for the most part so I wasn't too concerned about the intermod problems but I wasn't real thrilled about the reports of the DSP not being up to par, plus I don't like the "melted-looking" front end of the radio - it looks like a candle that has been stored in the attic over a summer. So I wasn't convinced that this was the right road to go either. Hey, you've got to have some class in the shack!


Final words...

Perhaps i'm being a little harsh against the other manufacturers but I only had one chance to get a new radio - there was no going back to the well to swap or trade one rig for another. I had to make one choice and it had to be the right choice - because there was no going back.

I have no regrets being a Ten-Tec owner. There is no better customer service or support. If you have a problem, you can speak directly to one of the people who designed the radio instead of wading through a labyrinth of voicemail options as I dealt with from one of "The Big Three" listed above. Ten-Tec provides full disclosure how to work on your radio and will maintain your warranty as long as you follow their recommendations.

I'm also happy to own something made in the US.


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Ten-Tec Jupiter TT-538 Radio - 8-Oct-03
(C) 2003 jsb@digistar.com

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