This review was made possible by Sharman MultiCOM Ltd, with thanks to Murli for the loan of the equipment.
It’s hard to believe that over ten years have passed since PMR-446 was introduced across Europe as a licence free short range radio service. The simplicity of the service combined with low cost radios has been a key point that ensured the popularity of the concept from day one and proved to be a credible alternative to expensive licensing and contracts for small to medium sized businesses alike. PMR-446 isn’t without its problems in heavy use areas due to the limited number of available channels but in most cases CTCSS and DCS can help minimise the issue of busy channels.
The range of radios on offer these days is bewildering with pricing ranging from less than £20 per radio right up to £200+ on top range handhelds. With this in mind, the new TTi TXL-446 firmly comes in at a mid-range price point, available around the £60-70 per unit mark. The model falls into the category semi-professional/professional radio. Indeed, when you look at the TTi TXL-446 you could be forgiven for thinking that it costs more than it actually does. The first impression of the TXL-446 is that this is a serious radio for business or pro-amateur use. The serious PMR hobbyist will be attracted to the rugged looks of the radio and the large control including a real volume control knob which is seldom found on lower cost consumer radios.
The TXL-446 arrived from Sharmans Multicom extremely well packaged. The retail package is indeed beautifully presented and it is very true that this will attract the eye of the buyer when placed alongside other radios on the shelves of the radio dealer. Included in the retail package is the radio itself, a large chunky intelligent desktop charger, a package of TTi branded rechargeable batteries (most impressive!), a high efficiency switch mode power supply, instruction manual and belt clip. Basically everything you need to get started. After dropping the three AA batteries into the unit and charging up, it was time to get started. The literature about the TXL-446 mentions that the battery charge is “intelligent” as it can deliver and optimised battery life and performance so this is much better than some low end chargers that can over cook the batteries if the user forgets to unplug the charger after the required period. The charger has an LED light to indicate charge status, when charging it glows red and when completed it glows green to show the batteries are fully charged. This typically takes around 4 hours if the batteries are completely flat.
Switching the unit on via the chunky volume control knob, the radio emits a series of “power on” beeps and the display springs to life. One of the first things that impressed me was the high intensity green LED backlighting behind the display and the keys. This was a real plus point in my book; the illumination was one of the strongest types I had seen in a mid-range radio, even bright enough to be seen in strong sunlight. Every keypress made on the radio illuminated the keypad and display automatically for 5 seconds.
In the hand the radio feels quite rugged; particularly once the batteries have been inserted into unit they add a little extra weight to complete the package. The radio weighs in at 180g which is just about right for a compact little radio such as this. The actual dimensions of the unit are 93mm x 57mm x 33mm so it easily fits into the average sized pocket. The antenna on the unit is extremely flexible, in fact far more flexible than other PMR radios I have reviewed in the past. I’m not sure if this would be cause for concern in long term use in terms of durability. In the PMR-446 specification it is stated that antennas are non-removable to meet the licence free requirements. A number of radios can be modified to add a BNC type connection but I am unsure of this as I didn’t open the review model and it would also be illegal to modify from the original specification and invalidate the type approval.
Looking around the radio on the left-hand side we have the traditional style PTT button and underneath this control is a smaller circular button that can be pressed to release the squelch on the unit to monitor distant stations or very weak signals that would otherwise be silenced by the squelch level (which is incidentally set via the menu – more on this later). On the right hand side of the radio there is a rubberised flap covering the external speaker mic socket. This is a pretty much standard two pin connector so accessories shouldn’t be too much of a problem and other speaker mics from the TTi range should fit without issues.
As the TXL-446 is menu driven the radio is devoid of a large array of confusing buttons, the front panel is very clear and this adds to its professional looks. Any settings that are used regularly are on the primary functions of the buttons, in other words the designers have given some thought to this process. When in normal mode the up and down arrow keys simply change through the eight available channels but when used with the “M” key this provides the mechanism to change the more advanced features on the radio such as CTCSS code, DCS code and squelch levels etc. Each time “M” is pressed the radio advances through the menu options and the option can be selected by using the arrow keys and the PTT bar to confirm the selection and return to the main operation screen.
A surprising number of options can selected on the TXL-446 including the keypad beep on/off, an end of transmission roger beep, dual watch, call tone and VOX (voice operated transmit) and even a speech compander that is supposed to eliminate background noise and generate clearer sound by cutting off high and low frequencies (according to the manual). An automatic battery save function is also provided so when the radio is idle and not receiving a signal the audio output is turned off and the receiver goes into semi-sleep mode that checks to see if a signal is present every half second or so, thus saving power – obviously this function is disabled if you leave the radio on scan as the receiver section needs to stay open. Needless to say that scanning will decrease battery life quicker than monitoring one channel.
Setting up the TXL-446 to transmit to other brands of PMR radio was an easy task as it uses the same sub-channel (CTCSS and DCS) codes as all the other major brand names. I tested the radio alongside the Motorola TLKR T7 and selected the same channel details and I was able to transmit to the other unit without any issues and vice-versa. 38 CTCSS codes are provided and 120 DCS codes as detailed in the comprehensive and well written multi language manual.
One thing that was puzzling me was the lack of a call tone button. I had read in the literature that the radio can send a call tone signal like most other PMR-446 radios but I just couldn’t see the button anywhere even though I found the options on the menu. In the end I had to give in a read the manual! It turns out that the PTT button is a dual function item and the way to initiate a call tone is to press the PTT button twice rapidly, this then triggers the tone.
At the top of the TXL-446 there is a single LED indicator that can change a variety of colours to show operational status. When transmitting the light illuminates red, when receiving a signal (on a busy channel for example) it glows green and when receiving a signal and decoding the CTCSS or DCS codes it glows yellow. Likewise if a channel is busy but not on your code the light illuminates to show that other users are transmitting on the channel so you do not accidentally “step on” someone. This could be useful where a channel is shared with more than one group of users on different codes or in highly built up areas where there is a large concentration of 446 users.
Incidentally the radio does offer a CTCSS/DCS code scan option via the menu so you can determine the code of other radios if you are unsure of what code a different unit is using or a different group of radio users. This solution isn’t as elegant as the earlier Motorola units that were able to decode sub-channels on the fly without scanning around for any length of time but nevertheless it’s still a useful feature to have if you are stuck with working out a sub-channel code from an unidentified or obscure brand of radio with different sub-channel numbering.
So how did the radio actually perform on the air? Well, the first test I always like to try is to simply put the radio on scan and see what it can find. I live in a coastal area with busy tourist industry and fishing port so there is usually some signals around to scan. Not long after I put the radio on scan did I hear activity on a number of different channels. Channel 1 always seems to have someone and is heavily used because some people buy radios and never channel the settings straight out of the box! The result is a bit of a mess and some locals refer to channel 1 as the “children’s channel” due to the amount of kids messing about with cheap radios. Luckily it’s possible to programme the TXL-446 to avoid certain channels when scanning if you should find yourself stuck listening to music players or bad language (yes, even on 446, just like CB!). Channel 3 is also used by someone on most evenings as a baby monitor! Unfortunately some uses of 446 are a little too diverse for my liking, especially a continual transmission such as this that can be heard over most of the town area.
The signals I heard came through very clear on the TXL’s speaker, the tone quality was good and the audio crystal clear, however I did find that when outside near busy roads or general background noise the TXL wasn’t as loud as I’d hoped it would be. I’m guessing this is a limitation with the size of the radio so it might be advisable to buy a headset or speaker mic if you are going to use predominately outdoors in noisy environments. This is a problem with many small PMR radios in that the audio output cannot possibly be as loud as bigger units and is not a real criticism of the TXL-446 just something to be aware of as the radio will distort on the highest volume setting rather than getting any louder.
A keypad lock is also provided on the TXL-446 to prevent any inadvertent changes to settings whilst in your pocket, this is invoked by holding down the “M” key for a couple of seconds, the only setting that can then be changed is the volume level. To release the lock it is the same procedure again. Whilst a lock is in place a lock symbol appears on the LCD display and a beep is heard each time you lock or unlock the radio.
Another interesting feature on the TXL-446 is dual watch facility. This enables you to monitor two important channels with one radio. This is achieved by setting a primary and secondary channel via the usual “M” key route. Simply choose your main (primary) channel then go into the menu and set the second channel you wish to monitor under the “DW” option. When the radio is in standby and not receiving a signal on either channel it will rapidly flick between the two designated channels and when a signal is received the squelch will then open. If you wish to transmit on the active channel you can simply press PTT and the radio will then stay on that channel whilst activity is present. This feature may be useful to you if you need to monitor a secondary company channel in addition to your own private group channel. To disable to dual watch feature you have to press the “S” key and at this point the radio goes back to its original primary channel.
Voice operated transmit is yet another feature offered by the TXL-446 and can be use with or without an external microphone or speaker mic. Simply enable VOX via the menu and choose the sensitivity level from three options and every time you speak the radio will automatically transmit without pressing the PTT button. This is a really useful feature for anyone who needs to operate hands free, particularly bike riders or motorcycle instructions who often use the hands-free helmet kits that are available for many PMR radios. The feature seems to work really well and wasn’t too easily triggered by additional background noise.
Battery life quoted by TTi is around 15 hours on a single charge. This seemed to be pretty much agreeable depending on how you use the radio – in most cases it is assumed that this is on a 5:5:90 ratio meaning 5% TX (Transmit), 5% RX (Receive) and 90% Standby time.
I made a number of tests with the TXL-446 over a period of two months to get some idea of how the radio would work in real life situations and I am pleased to say that it passed the tests under real conditions and worked equal as good as other competitors in the same price bracket. One radio I did test the TXL-446 against was the fairly recent Motorola TLKR T7 with a similar feature set and pricing point. Having spoke a number of stations in the test they couldn’t generally tell the difference between the audio quality of the Motorola against the TTi, especially when I turned off the roger beep on both units that really confused them as they couldn’t tell which radio I was using! The receive performance also seemed on par with other units including the Motorola TLKR T7, and an old Cobra Microtalk 200.
We took the radio out to Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire for a test under demanding conditions alongside the Motorola’s and the results were very good indeed. We managed around 2 miles even in woodland and hills, obviously the signal fluctuated as we descended into valleys but we never lost contact at any point of the walking adventure. I actually left the TXL-446 with another member of our walking party so I could hear what the radio sounded like for myself and I was really surprised by the crystal clear audio quality and I had no complaints whatsoever with this. I did prefer the more robust antenna on the Moto unit, it just felt a little more professional but apart from this everything was equal in terms of quality and range.
I showed the TTi TXL-446 to a number of other non-technical/non PMR users and they commented on how the TXL looked professional and I asked them to guess how much the radio cost, they were surprised to learn of the relatively low cost of this unit and the features it had to offer. As it stands this is quite an attractive package of price vs. performance and really then only model above this radio in TTi’s 446 range is the upmarket TX-1446 and this costs around an additional £40+ on top of the cost of this unit. For that money you can a slightly more robust radio with an even more “pro” feel but whether it is worth the extra asking price is a decision you would have to make on your budget.
In a market that is jam-packed full of PMR-446 radios, the TXL-446 stands out from most as it puts a professional looking radio into an affordable category and should be on the shortlist for any business or serious hobby user looking for that “bit extra” for their money. My thanks go out to Murli at Sharman Multicom Ltd for the loan of the review radio and being patient whilst I gave it a thorough test out and did my research. To see the range of products that Sharman MultiCOM imports into the UK please visit their website at http://www.sharman-multicom.co.uk/
Check out the YouTube Video Below for a quick run through the features and another look at the product in real life…