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Railfan Technology > Radio review: Three inexpensive radios

Date: 05/19/24 09:02
Radio review: Three inexpensive radios
Author: WW

Today, I am reviewing three inexpensive Chinese dual-band analog portable radios.  They are the Quansheng UV-K5 (with egzumer aftermarket firmware installed), the Tidradio TD-H8, and the Tidradio TD-H3.  All three of these are sub-$60 radios.  All three have 199 memory channels and system-on-chip (SOC) circuitry.  All three can be programmed from the keypad, via computer software, or using Bluetooth (I have not used Bluetooth on any of these radios, so I can’t comment on that).  All three can be computer programmed using proprietary software or using the free CHIRP program.  Though not identical, all three radios share some usage features common to most all inexpensive Chinese radios.  I consider the performance of all three to be superior to most of the inexpensive offerings by Baofeng—Baofeng being the most well-known inexpensive Chinese radio seller.  I tested all three radios with an aftermarket, excellent performing Powerwerx AT-54 antenna, which I reviewed in an earlier thread.

To set the stage here.  When testing radios, I evaluate their performance relative to three commercial model “benchmark” portable radios that I own, the VHF Kenwood NX-200, the VHF Icom IC-F3161DT, and the Wouxun dual-band KG-UV6X.   A key parameter for me is the performance of radios in receiving weak radio signals.  None of these three radios tested equal the performance of my “benchmark” radios in receiving weak signals, but they come close.  All three are better at receiving weak analog signals than the new Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner, a disappointing performance by the BCD160DN that costs 4 to 7 times as much as these radios.  These three radios perform near or a bit better at weak signal reception than the Uniden BC125AT portable scanner that is the darling of many railfans.  To be fair, the Uniden scanners do have some convenient and user-friendly features that these three radios lack—e.g. fast scan speeds, ease of use, service searches, etc.  For the user, which radio to buy must be made on a performance vs. features vs. ease of use vs. cost basis.

So, with that, here we go:
Tidradio TD-H8.  I wanted to love this radio.  It is the most physically rugged of the three, feeling much like a commercial radio in the hand.  The radio is the physically largest of the three, about the size of a small commercial portable radio.  Unfortunately, I can’t recommend it.  Among the TD-H8’s shortcomings is its only mediocre weak signal reception.  Its reception is a little better than the BDC160DN, but slightly at or below that of the BC125AT.  The TD-H8 is the worst weak signal performer of these three radios tested here.  Another failing grade is its very long (up to 6-8 hours) battery recharge time.  Often, the radio is sold in a package with two batteries—there is a reason.  One may have to use the spare battery while the other battery languishes for hours being recharged.  This radio is also the most expensive of the three radios tested here, at around $60.  Battery life between recharges is around 8-14 hours of use, sometimes more.  Audio output volume is decent, with the TD-H8 having the best quality audio at full volume of the three.
Quansheng UV-K5 with egzumer firmware.  The UV-K5 is an unusual radio.  Unlike most radios, the firmware of the UV-K5 is somewhat “open source" that can be modified.  There are several different aftermarket (and free) firmware packages that add features and better performance to the UV-K5, including the egzumer firmware that I installed on my radio.  So modified, the UV-K5 is a darned good-performing radio.  It has very good weak signal performance, better than the Unidens, and not far below that of my benchmark radios.  It is easy to use, has acceptable scan speeds, and is very customizable.  Its battery life between recharges is about 8-12 hours, but it is the fastest recharger of the three—usually taking less than 2 hours maximum to fully recharge.  The audio output volume of the radio is decent, and can be boosted via the programming software if the egzumer firmware is installed. Audio quality is good, but not outstanding.   On the downside, it is not as physically tough as the TD-H8.  Of the three radios, the UV-K5 is the overall winner, but, shockingly, it got beat out as the best radio for receiving weak signals by our third contender. The UV-K5 is priced around $30-$35.
Tidradio TD-H3.  The TD-H3 is the newest of the Tidradio offerings.  It is the physically smallest of the three radios and will easily fit in a shirt pocket.  The display and functions of the TD-H3 are nearly identical to the TD-H8, though the front panel button functions are laid out a bit differently.  Where this radio hits a home run is its reception of weak signals.  It is right up there with my best radios in that regard, beating the two other contenders in this review.  Sadly, the TD-H3 still suffers from a couple of the vexing issues of the TD-H8.  The TD-H3 takes considerable time to recharge and its battery life is less than that of the TD-H8.  The radio is good for about 6-10 hours between recharges.  Audio volume output for the radio is acceptable, but audio quality is not the best because of the small size of the radio.  The TD-H3’s case is the physically least robust of the three tested here.  Finally, the keypad of the TD-H3 is, well, tiny.  Those with big fingers or not the best eyesight may find it hard to use.  All of this said, if one can live with the TD-H3’s battery life, recharge times, and less robust case, it can be a very good railfanning radio.  It is priced at around $35.
A note about Tidradio:  their offerings tend to be continually evolving.  I would not be surprised to see a “revised” model combining the physical features of the TD-H8 with the better circuitry of the TD-H3.  The biggest thing that Tidradio needs to “fix” in both the TD-H8 and TD-H3 is the battery recharge time.  If Tidradio did those two things, such a revised radio would be a top contender for a very good and affordable railfan radio.  Until then, despite it being a bit less capable at receiving weak signals than the TD-H3, my nod for the best of these three radios for railfan use is the Quansheng UV-K5.
I’ll try to answer any questions.   

Date: 05/20/24 08:21
Re: Radio review: Three inexpensive radios
Author: JUTower

Good review, much appreciated. I monkeyed with the Baofengs a few years ago and haven't revisited this topic in some time. This gives me a good starting point.

Date: 05/20/24 15:19
Re: Radio review: Three inexpensive radios
Author: TheNavigator

Excellent detailed and comprehensive reviews. Thank you for posting.

Date: 05/29/24 19:24
Re: Radio review: Three inexpensive radios
Author: pt199

Will these Chinese radios take AA alkyline batteries, dispense with the rechargeables?

Date: 05/30/24 11:09
Re: Radio review: Three inexpensive radios
Author: WW

pt199 Wrote:
> Will these Chinese radios take AA alkyline
> batteries, dispense with the rechargeables?


Date: 07/13/24 08:15
Re: Radio review: Three inexpensive radios
Author: WW

I wanted to bump this thread up with a couple of comments about the Tidradio TD-H3 after using it for several weeks.  It is still on my "not recommended" list for a couple of reasons, but there is one situation where railfans could find it pretty useful.  The TD-H3's pretty abysmal battery recharge time is still a big downer.  Becuase the radio is so small, the battery also does not have huge capacity--in railfan use, it is good for about 8-12 hours, but then will take hours and hours to recharge.  For general raifan use, the TD-H3's slow scan speed is another disadvantage, save for one specific railfan purpose which is what I'm posting to talk about.

The absolute shining star of the TD-H3 is its reception of UHF train telemetry signals.  It will pick up those signals from miles farther away than the Quansheng UV-K5(8) that I like so well will, as well as besting most scanners in this regard.  In this realm, the TD-H3's slow scanning speed--if one is only scanning those 6 train telemetry channels--works to advantage because it will "dwell" longer on each channel and  may do better catching what are just momentary data packet transmissions.  So, here is the limited application where the TD-H3 can work pretty well:  If you have a VHF-only radio that you are using to monitor railroad voice communications on VHF (as I do with my commercial VHF portable radios), the physically pretty tiny little TD-H3 can be pretty easily carried to monitor the UHF telemetry channels and it will do that pretty well.

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