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Monday, 17 August 2015

Is the TYT MD-380 worth buying?

In the last few years, DMR has become a very popular digital voice mode on the UHF and VHF bands and this radio is the latest cheap DMR radio to come out of China. The question is, is it any good?
The answer depends on your requirements and what you expect of the radio. If you just want a radio that works (mostly) and can put up with it sometimes glitching or crashing or just doing things wrong, in return for a cheap price and a nice screen, then this radio is for you.  If you need a radio to work consistently and well, and be able to put up with outdoor weather, then this radio is not for you. That is the short and simple answer.

The longer answer is slightly more complicated, and involves discussing the difference in price between this radio and other more expensive, but higher quality, radios.

Let's say we are comparing this radio with the Motorola DP4800, which seems to be the radio the MD-380 is based on. The DP4800 can vary greatly in cost. Assume you could buy a DP4800 for £460 for the radio body with battery and antenna. The TYT MD-380 currently costs $167 which is around £110 with currency conversion fees. This includes a charger. The programming cable for this radio costs $10.50 which is around £7.50 with currency conversion fees.  The programming software for the TYT is available freely online, as are firmware updates.

(These costs are for the UK market, but the US market is similar)

Compare that to the DP4800 which costs £460 for the radio and then £60 for the programming cable if you want to buy an official Motorola cable from a reputable dealer. I bought a cheaper cable on eBay for around £40. You also have to buy a charger, because the radio doesn't include one in the box. They cost around £40. The programming software varies in cost, but according to one website, it costs $265 in the US for a 3 year subscription which includes all software and firmware updates. In the UK, you can get a 1 year subscription for £120 from radio dealers. That makes the total cost for the Motorola radio and everything necessary to program it £680, whereas the TYT's total cost for the radio with everything necessary to use and program it is £117.50.

However, it is possible to cut costs with the Motorola. I personally would never pay £460 for this radio. I found one on eBay for £290, new and delivered (Which shows how much mark up is on these radios) and bought the programming cable off eBay too for £40 (also new) instead of £60. I already had a charger from other Motorola DMR radios that I own, so didn't need to buy an additional charger, but you can buy these second hand and they work perfectly fine.

So why does the Motorola cost so much more? There are a few reasons:
TYT MD-380 and Motorola DP4800
  • It is a better made radio. It is much more rugged, fully waterproof. You can throw this radio about and it won't break.
  • It can work on Motorola's proprietary trunking systems (the MD-380 only does basic tier 2, which is conventional repeaters and simplex). 
  • It has transmit interrupt, which the TYT cannot do. This feature allows you to stop another radio that is transmitting and talk instead. Useful if someone is accidentally holding the PTT, or in emergency situations.
  • Motorola actually spent some time testing the radio before they released it. As a result of this, it has very few bugs now and works reliably almost all the time. The TYT still has a lot of bugs. It sometimes crashes, and some functions don't always work properly.
  • The radio's ergonomics are better. For example, the PTT button is indented into the radio so it can't be pressed accidentally very easily.
  • Motorola is a (very greedy) business and tries to get money from the user at every opportunity, whereas TYT seems to focus on low cost. You even have to pay extra to unlock features in the Motorola radio that the hardware is already capable of.
 Now, anyone who doesn't have a massive interest in DMR, and who just wants to try it out, is going to go for the TYT MD-380, unless they have just won the lottery. However you can see why businesses might buy the Motorola radio, because they need something that works well from the beginning and won't break when their employees are careless with it. Businesses who purchase the radio will usually go through a radio dealer and therefore not need to buy a programming cable or the software. They can also get discounts for buying in bulk.

The TYT MD-380 is the radio I would recommend to people who want to try DMR without making too much of an investment. But you should be warned that you get what you pay for, and for a cheap price, you should expect a radio with many bugs and only decent RF performance. You may wish to buy a more expensive radio later on, if you decide that you like using DMR, for its better performance, ruggedness and lack of bugs. You can get older Motorola and Hytera radios on auction websites for usually around half the price of a new radio.

You may also wish to see my post showing all the bugs I have discovered so far in this radio, and this post which is about the text messaging working with Motorola radios.

If you have already bought this radio and are looking to program it, I have made a YouTube video showing this.



  1. I must say that I disagree with your post about the TYT MD-380 not being a tough and rugged radio. Well I might can't speak for the MD-380 but will speak on the MD-380 G which is the GPS version to the basic 380 and the radio that I have is very rugged and tough. I've dropped it hard once in the street and also once in the store and it doesn't have a single mark on it including the screen's face. Since I have had this radio that I bought brand new, I've only had one issue with it and that was the screen going out but has since came back up and has been working every since this far. The radio that I have feels and look very rugged. It's done been out in the cold and light rain and isn't skipping a single beat. Great post by the way and I'm not trying to discredit your work in any kind of way. I just wanted to add my own insights to your blog being as though I own one of these radios. Peace and many blessings to you and yours.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Yes I agree, the TYT is a pretty rugged radio especially for a chinese manufacturer. It does feel good in the hand. I think that the Motorola is a bit more rugged though. I have dunked my MotoTRBO radios in water, dropped them and they still work well. I just think they feel a little bit tougher. It's definitely not enough of a difference to justify the price difference though.


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