Another month goes by and another PMR-446 handheld is released. One dull and boring afternoon Adam from 121radio.co.uk popped up on MSN Messenger to ask if I was interested in reviewing a new professional line 446 radio called the TTi TX-1446 . Of course I was interested! After seeing a hyperlink to the product information page I could understand why this new radio was so highly anticipated by those who had already seen it!
In the already crowded PMR-446 market the TTi TX-1446 makes a refreshing change for those who have been put off by cheap toy type 446 handhelds offered by the likes of Argos in the UK. The point being that PMR-446 is a viable alternative to expensive licensed radio equipment that could easily cost you hundreds of pounds per year to run and still have restrictive conditions attached to them. The main problem with the 446 band has been the lack of quality equipment for the so called “business class” usage. Sure many of today’s radios work well, even the cheapest models but the build quality is not really up to the day-to-day rigors of life on a building site or on the shop floor. Enter the TX-1446 ; this one looks different and exhibits the looks and behaviour of a radio costing £300 or more but comes in at a price tag of only £111.63 including VAT.
So what makes this one so special? Well for starters you get a whole host of accessories including a desktop charger with auto shutoff, a belt mountable carry case and a nice huge capacity (1000 mAh) lithium ion battery and this is a big plus as the radio doesn’t suffer from the dreaded memory effect that ni-cad batteries and other variants suffer from. The radio can be recharged and topped up at any point of use just the same as your modern day mobile phones. Opening the compact packaging box you will find all the aforementioned goodies plus a very nice looking radio. The set feels extremely well made thanks to it’s die-cast chassis and according the specification it conforms to IP54 environmental and MIL-810 construction so you know it’s not going to fall to bits in your hand and it will certainly survive some modest drops should you happen to have an accident. Not that I’m suggesting you should try dropping it but I read an article the other day about how many mobile phones are written off each year by people dropping them down the toilet! I think we will leave that side of testing to TTi (I wonder if that’s what TTi stands for? Toilet Tested ?!) Anyway, I’m digressing a bit here but the fact is that the TX-1446 is an amazingly well constructed radio.
Measuring only 11cm high (excluding the fixed antenna) and 6.5cm wide with a depth of 3 cm including battery you get the idea that this is very much a pocket sided radio. A quick glance at the front of the radio gives a very minimal number of controls but underneath the 3 buttons is a very configurable radio system. On the side of the set you will find a well positioned PTT button, a “Mon” button for releasing the squelch and scan button which we will talk about a little later.
Switching on the set by a proper rotary volume control knob reveals a really high intensity green backlight on the LCD display. Also the 3 primary control keys are lit with bright green illumination. This is one of the best implementations I have ever seen on a portable radio and can even be seen in bright daylight. The LCD display is very clear and shows all the usual status symbols including a three segment battery indicator, Hi and Lo power settings, Channel Number, Tone Number and various other optional symbols.
At the front of the radio near the antenna is an LED status indicator. This is a tri-colour LED that can change green, red and orange. Naturally green is for received signals (also illuminates when a signal is received to show channel busy if not on your tone code), Orange – when a signal is received with your correct CTCSS or DCS code and Red for TX. Very useful and again a feature taken from much more expensive Motorola and Kenwood radios.
As mentioned previously this radio is aimed at the professional market so it is important that the non-technical type user can get on with the radio without fear of messing the settings up or going into configuration menus that they are not supposed to. Fortunately TTi have already thought of this and provided two modes of operation that can be set through the advanced configuration processes. There is a standard user mode and an advanced user mode. The differences are that the standard user mode hides the complex functions and only allows a limited number of configuration changes to be made. To enter the advanced programming mode you simply hold down a combination of keys and switch the power on.
Before I go any further I will mention the main 3 set of buttons on the front of the radio. These control virtually everything. The arrow keys simply move through the 8 PMR channels and the MODE button allows many changes to be made to the settings.
The TTi TX-1446 provides a range of powerful features. CTCSS is well catered for with a choice of no less than 50 tones! Most PMR radios only have 38 tones available but this is really handy to ensure that in your group of users you only hear the wanted traffic on your chosen channel. By using a CTCSS tone above number 38 you can be pretty sure that your radio will stay silent should someone with as standard radio wander onto your channel. Of course CTCSS doesn’t provide you with any real privacy and people can still listen to your conversations but it means that if they try and talk back you won’t hear them unless their code matches yours or your group of radios.
If that wasn’t enough then the TX-1446 also offers DCS, Digital Coded Squelch is a more advanced version of the analogue CTCSS system. It works in a similar way to ensure that the squelch only opens on your radio when it receives the right DCS code from another unit. The TX-1446 offers 104 DCS codes so you should never be short of privacy codes on here! To access CTCSS or DCS you simply press the MODE key on the front of the radio once for CTCSS and twice for DCS and use the up and down arrow keys to select the code number. Note that if you have already set a CTCSS code and then select DCS, the DCS option overrides the CTCSS setting as you can’t run both at the same time.
Other options available from the standard user menu include a VOX facility for hands free usage the sensitivity can be easily adjusted on a scale of 1 to 5 using the arrow keys in the same way that all menu items can be adjusted on the TX-1446 , A Dual Watch feature is provided for keeping an eye on radio traffic on two channels at the same time – very useful if you communicate with two different groups of users. A switchable roger beep – thank goodness it’s optional as they can get a little irritating at times. A switchable keypad beep and finally a set of 5 call tones.
The call tone feature was interesting. At this point I hadn’t read the manual in full and I looked around the radio for a call button but couldn’t find it anywhere but yet the option was on the menu! I finally discovered how it works! You simply press the PTT bar twice quickly and the unit sends the tone! How easy once you know how!
So what other features could you possibly need on a radio with the advanced menu? Well, there’s options to set a TOT (time out timer) so if the PTT button is accidentally depressed against items in a jacket pocket etc the radio will stop transmitting after a given period, this is user selectable from 60 seconds up to 5 minutes. This option stops inadvertent jamming of a channel. The ability to determine to decide on a scan method is provided too so that if using the SCAN facility you can let the unit pause for so many seconds when it finds traffic on a channel and the resume scanning or you can turn it off altogether etc.
Speaking of the scan function the unit has a very comprehensive scan facility. The most basic kind of scan is initiated by simply pressing the side mounted scan button underneath the PTT button, this scans all 8 PMR channels and stops according to your settings in the advanced menu. I found the scan rate to be just right for picking up all activity in my area but what if you need to know the CTCSS or DCS code that another using has set up on their radio? Easy, with TX-1446 you simply press the mode button once until CTCSS is flashing on the LCD display and then press the SCAN button. The CTCSS code of the other user is then decoded in practically real time and displayed on the screen! Additionally if you want to use that CTCSS or DCS code you simply hit PTT and the radio stores the setting so you can then talk back to that user. This is great for a little PMR-446 DX’ing! Just remember that all users of the 446 band might not be as enthusiastic as you are about discovering their “private” channel!
Additional features on the radio include a priority channel feature. This is initiated by pressing the small red button on the top of the radio near the volume control knob. Once you set a priority channel of your choice the radio will keep checking the channel frequently even if you are on another channel and will switch to the priority setting if activity is detected. The red button also doubles up as a lock facility to ensure that keys cannot be pressed whilst in a pocket. Simply hold down the red button until the lock symbol appears on the display, to unlock the radio simply do the same again. The PTT and volume control can still be used whilst the lock is in place.
Another unusual feature for a PMR radio is a power level control, you can chose from High or Low Power in the advanced options. This is useful for conserving battery life if you only need to communicate over short distances. Also on the advanced options there is a radio cloning option to transfer all settings to another similar TTi unit. Imagine how much time it would take to program up 20 radios. This is a real time saver for the work environment, set up one radio, clone another 19. You will need an appropriate cloning cable for this task and they are available as an optional accessory.
The only other thing we haven’t really talked about yet is the desktop charger supplied with the unit. This is an extremely well made charger with separate mains power supplied. You simply drop the radio into the charger and the LED in the centre of the unit changes to red and when the battery is fully charger it changes to green. What could be easier?
So how did the radio work in real life situations? To give it a really good test I took the TX-1446 into Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire. Anyone that has ever visited the forest will appreciate that it is a full 9 mile drive through dense woodland and hills. The weather was good that day so we decided to go climbing on Bridestones Moor. My wife did not come walking with us and stayed in the car to keep my one year old Son amused so this was an ideal opportunity to give her a PMR radio and take the TX-1446 with us.
The TX-1446 audio quality was excellent on transmit and receive, a most impressive clarity and volume for such a small radio. It had that “big radio” sound with it so that was a really good first impression. I was a bit sceptical about the range we would achieve as my wife was sat inside the car with only the built in antenna of the radio at the bottom of the hill down in the car park. Surrounded by tress and large structures I figured we would only get about half a mile at the most. I began climbing the hill and we chatted for a while on channel 5. As I began to reach the top some quarter of a mile away from the car I could hear others using Channel 5 in the distance. Naturally my wife could not hear them so we moved to another channel. I was on top of the world, literally and nearly every channel was in use at some point as I could have been picking up stations from far and wide as I could see miles over the horizon. Despite this we managed to find a quiet corner of the band and I had purposely disabled CTCSS so I could have a good scan around. As I began to walk away further inland from the car park the signal from my wife’s radio started to drop down but she could still hear me crystal clear. After about 1½ miles we lost each other until I came to a new high point stood on top of one of the huge stones! The signal was then again really strong and I was amazed considering the low power of the 446 radios, especially under really harsh conditions.
I would like to add that the TX-1446 had very good receive sensitivity compared to some other 446 sets, I put the radio in scan mode and found a number of very distant users, including one or two that could hear me loud and clear some 10 miles away. Needless to say that the lithium battery supplied with the set performed fantastic and I have not yet managed to flatten it completely even though it was in extensive use for most of the day. I think that the average professional user would find that the battery lasts even longer as we tended to just have a long conversation on the radios whereas business users tend to keep conversation short.
Would I recommend the TX-1446? You bet, it’s one of the best PMR-446 radios that money can currently buy at any price. Feature wise it puts some of the bigger names to shame for both its looks and performance. You certainly won’t feel embarrassed using this model in public, it looks the part and I can imagine many professional users including the military using similar looking communications equipment. It’s such a breath of fresh air amongst today’s bargain basement specials and the proliferation of illegal FRS radios you can find on Ebay. Sure it costs £111.63 per radio but if you are serious about communications or need something that last longer than a few weeks then the TTi TX-1446 is the radio for the job.
I would just like to thank Adam at 121radio for the loan of the review set and sharing his enthusiasm for decent communication equipment with Transmission1. You can certainly buy as many of these as you like from 121radio – just tell them who sent you along to the shop, I’m sure they will be pleased to help you out with any enquiries you may have.