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Saturday, 7 July 2018

Ailunce HD1 full detailed review

Note: This review was originally made in video format (click here to watch) however I have posted it in text format as well for those who prefer to read it, or to allow readers to use automatic translation. If you want to watch the video version in your language, it has full subtitles so you can use automatic translation on YouTube.
Body of the HD1, a dual band DMR radio


Intro

If you hadn't heard of it already, the Ailunce HD1 is a dual band DMR radio that covers 136 to 174 and 400 to 480 MHz. It does both FM and DMR, as most DMR radios do. But the thing that makes this radio stand out from the other DMR radios is that it was specifically made for amateurs and has a number of features that commercial DMR radios don’t have.

Features

The first one I’m going to mention is that this radio has a proper frequency mode where you can spin the channel selector or type in a frequency and start using it straight away. And this mode isn't hidden away in a menu somewhere. It's one of the primary functions of the radio. To access it, all you have to do is hit the red exit button.

You're also able to program this radio fully from the front panel. It would be entirely possible to set the radio up and start using DMR without ever connecting this radio to a computer, although you would have to go without any firmware updates, or updates to the user database.

The user database stores the DMR IDs of up to 100,000 amateur radio operators and then looks them up and displays their name and callsign on screen whenever they're talking. Speaking of the user database, that's another feature this radio has because it was designed for hams. Commercial radios like those made by Motorola and Hytera don't have this feature at all, except in the case of the TYT MD-380 which had unofficial firmware made that does support this. There are a few other radios on the market now with this feature though, so don't think that the HD1 is the only radio that has it.

Another interesting and very useful feature this radio has is promiscuous mode. This allows you to hear any talkgroup without needing to program it in first. Since DMR is a commercial standard, normally DMR radios would only hear the talkgroups they have been programmed to listen for. But on radios like the HD1 with promiscuous mode, you can hear any talkgroup. This is useful in amateur radio because you should always check that nobody is already using the timeslot you want to use on the repeater before transmitting.

One question I got asked about this radio is whether it can receive on both bands at the same time. The answer to that question, is no. The radio only monitors both channels and receives from whichever is active first.

Hardware

Build quality is one of the things Ailunce got absolutely right with this radio. The HD1 feels very well built, and I’m confident that it would survive being dropped just fine.

The radio is rated as water and dust proof to IP67, which means you should be able to submerse it in water and it'll still work fine. I haven't dared to try this because Ailunce sent me this radio for free to test and review, and I'd hate to have to go back to them and tell them I broke it. But there is a video of someone else testing this and it worked absolutely fine.

The radio uses the SMA female connector for antennas, which is the standard connector you see on most Chinese radios including the UV-5R.

The speaker mic and programming connector on this radio is one that you may have seen before if you’re familiar with Motorola’s radios. The radio will work with speaker mics and other accessories made for Motorola radios with this connector, but you do have to be careful because these were probably all made for analog radios. DMR radios pulse on and off when transmitting, which can manifest as a helicopter noise on transmissions if you’re using an audio accessory with inadequate shielding.

The connector is the same one used on many radios, including the GP328 Plus, GP344, GP388, EX500, and HT750. This connector would have been chosen over the normal Kenwood 2 pin connector that most Chinese radios use because it remains waterproof even when the cover is not in place.

Unfortunately, the radio connects to your computer using a com port interface. Although the COM port adaptor is included within the USB programming cable, it still makes things more difficult for the user than the alternative method, which most other new radios use these days. As it is, you have to make sure to select the correct COM port for the radio, to be able to read and write to it, and it takes a very long time because of the slow speed of this ancient technology.

The battery in this radio claims to be a huge 3200mAh at 7.4V which gives a Wh rating of 23.68. I don't know if the battery actually has that much capacity, but the radio does seem to have excellent battery life, especially if you turn the power down to medium instead of using high power all the time.
The display of the radio is too dark in direct sunlight

The colour display looks good and works well, and I especially like the fact that it shows the battery percentage on screen all the time. A common complaint is that the display is very difficult to see in bright sunlight. I have confirmed that this is the case, and you have to shield it from the sunlight to be able to read the display at all. To me this is a fairly minor issue, since you're not looking at the screen most of the time, but it’s one that does seem to annoy a lot of people.

RF performance

The HD1 features higher transmit power than most handheld radios. It's claimed that it does 10W on VHF and 8W on UHF. I haven't tested this myself, but the difference in transmit power is not as significant in operation as you might think. A better antenna would help you a lot more. Fortunately, the HD1 does have a longer antenna available to buy.

The high transmit power of this radio has caused problems for some users. Apparently, the impedance of the radio is not 50 Ohms, so if you try to use it with any other aftermarket or external antennas then there will be an impedance mismatch, which could cause a lot of power to be reflected back into the radio. This would cause damage to the radio, so it's recommended that you use the radio on low or medium power only, if you're planning to connect it to a non-stock antenna. This issue has been reported to Ailunce, but they haven't given any official response which I think means it's a hardware problem that they're not planning to fix.

Another thing you have to watch out for is that the HD1 uses a direct conversion receiver that is very easily desensitised. If someone else happens to be transmitting nearby, or there's a high power transmitter nearby then your radio will either suffer from much worse reception, or it will completely drop out. As of the time of writing this review, all of the other *dual band* DMR radios available have this same type of receiver, so would probably suffer from the same problem. To me, this is important because it's a potential safety issue if you ever need to use the radio in an emergency, and an annoyance if you ever want to use the radio around other people who are transmitting on theirs, or anywhere near a radio mast. But since most amateur radio traffic is not mission critical, this is not a deal breaker for many hams. If this is important to you then buy a radio with a superheterodyne receiver instead. There's a comparison of DMR radios on my blog, which shows which radios have which type of receiver.

The sensitivity of the radio is good. I don’t have test equipment to give accurate results on this, but the sensitivity of the HD1 definitely is comparable to all my other DMR radios including the TYT MD-380 and Motorola DP4800.

Audio

The microphone of the HD1. Good on DMR, quiet on FM.
The speaker on this radio produces really good sounding audio on both FM and DMR. It’s very pleasant to listen to. I did an audio test video with a comparison between the HD1 and MD-380, if you want to hear what it sounds like in action. There’s also a demo of the radio working on both DMR and FM in my HD1 front panel programming video. Both of these videos can be found in the HD1 series playlist.

The transmitted audio is a little bit quiet on FM. It could do with being a bit louder, but it works well enough.

On DMR the transmitted audio is absolutely fine. The radio doesn’t seem to have any automatic gain control, so you do have to speak fairly close to the microphone, but once you get used to talking at the right distance from the microphone it sounds just as good as any other DMR radio.

Issues

A lot of users complained that the audio on the HD1 would go very tinny sounding after a few minutes of use in certain conditions. That was a hardware issue in the early radios, which has now been fixed in all new radios by the addition of a small ventilation hole in the back of the radio. This is not something you need to worry about if you're considering buying the radio today, but it shows that my rule of always waiting a few months before buying any new Chinese made radio is worth following.

When the HD1 first came out, it had quite a few bugs, as most Chinese radios do. Thankfully, Ailunce continued to work on this radio and most of the bugs have been fixed now, and the radio works reliably enough. They are still working to fix any remaining bugs and add new features to this radio, albeit painfully slowly.

DTMF is not available in this radio. This is a problem for some users, particularly those who use analog internet linking systems like echolink or IRLP.

There is one feature that this radio could really do with, and that is ad hoc talkgroup switching. On the TYT MD-380 with TyMD380Tools firmware, you can very quickly and easily type in any talkgroup and start transmitting within a few seconds. On the HD1 you have to go into the menus and scroll through until you find the right contact and then save it. And that’s assuming you already have the group you want to use in your contacts. If not, then you have to program it in first. The lack of any easy and quick way to switch talkgroup means that you either have to program the radio with a channel for every talkgroup on each repeater, or you just have to put up with it taking a long time to switch talkgroups.

Another issue with this radio is scanning. If there is interference with a different or no CTCSS on any of the analog channels, then the radio often gets stuck on that channel when scanning. This is very annoying and seems to be caused by the radio still detecting a signal on the channel even though it’s supposed to ignore it if the CTCSS doesn’t match what you have set.

Other questions

Encryption is something that’s not really relevant for amateur radio, but a few people have asked me about it so I thought I’d include it here anyway. The HD1 does have encryption, but it doesn’t work with any other DMR radios out there, so you have to have two HD1s to use encryption.

Another question people asked me about this radio is whether it’s a proper real DMR radio, and not a cheap Chinese knock off like the DM-5R. I have personally used the HD1 many times on DMR repeaters and a few times on simplex, and I can tell you it definitely works as a proper DMR radio and talks to other DMR radios exactly as it should.

A few people asked me about programming this radio, from the front panel and on the computer software. I’ve made detailed videos on both of these topics, which you’ll find in my series playlist for the HD1.

I also want to add in a quick comment here about the legality of this radio. This radio is not something you can just buy and use. You need to be appropriately licensed to use this radio, and it’s not legal to use it on licence free channels such as PMR446, FRS, GMRS, or MURS. It’s also not appropriate to use this radio as a marine radio. There are proper marine radios available that are built for that purpose and have the correct channels already setup for you. Please, don’t try to use this or any of the other cheap Chinese radios aimed at amateur radio operators for anything mission critical.


Ailunce HD1 showing some of the
front panel programming (FPP) settings
Summary

The Ailunce HD1 is a decent radio for any amateur radio operator who wants dual band DMR capability in a single handheld. It does have a number of issues which I have detailed in this review, so whether this radio is suitable for you really depends on whether the combination of problems it has would affect you too much. The competitors to this radio also suffer from their own problems, so you have to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each one, and decide on what fits you best.

Personally, if I’m going out and just want to take a single radio, then I tend to pick up the HD1. The reason I choose it over my other radios is because, even though it has its issues, it’s the most versatile radio I own, by a large margin.

If you want to buy an HD1, please use this link and I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. The colour options actually select whether you want the GPS or non-GPS version.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I am just starting getting into HAM Radio and learning for getting my Licence. As I am completely blind, I'm interested in Radios that offer some amount of speech Output. The Ailunce Website and Manual of the HD1 say something About voice prompt. Could you tell me more About that feature? I didn't find much About it on the Internet, nor did Ailunce/Retewis Reply to me.

    Thanks
    Stefan

    ReplyDelete

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