Two from Kenwood — TS-480SAT and TS-480HX HF + 50 MHz Transceivers
By Rick Lindquist, N1RL ARRL Senior News Editor
A competent HF + 50 MHz performer in two flavors—200 W or 100 W with automatic antenna tuner—the TS-480's flexible two-piece design and manifold features make it appropriate virtually anywhere.
Decisions, decisions. Automatic antenna tuner or 200 W output? That's the choice facing prospective Kenwood TS-480 buyers. The SAT version offers 100 W plus a competent internal auto tuner, while the HX model trades off the tuner for 200 W output, making it the smallest radio on the market at that power level. In all other respects, the units are identical. Supersize me? Or auto tune me? Whichever way you go, you are likely to think you made the right choice.
In a very literal sense, Kenwood strayed outside the box in designing the TS-480. While it appears to have drawn upon a heritage that includes not only the TS-50 but the TS-570 and the more recent TS-2000, you've never seen a transceiver quite like the TS-480. It's the first to arrive in two pieces (at least intentionally). There's a "remote control panel" and what Kenwood calls the "TX/RX unit"—the radio body.
The advantages for mobile and portable installations are obvious. Nonetheless, more, uhh, traditional hams may not readily buy into this two-piece transceiver concept. Judging from scattered early-buyer comments on the Internet, a few hams still prefer their radios to come as one box, preferably a substantial one with a flashy display and scores of knobs, buttons, dials and meters to confer swagger rights. Interestingly, the manual describes a "portable bracket" that holds the two pieces together, but it is offered only in the European market. Perhaps Kenwood will offer it in the US for those who see a need to put the pieces together.
Maybe this is why otherwise impressive computer-controlled radios with "virtual" front panels (the short-lived but capable Kachina 505DSP comes quickly to mind) never made a big dent in the ham radio market.
Where's Your Radio, Dude?
Welcome to a piece of Amateur Radio's future, where your entire station need no longer occupy an entire room or corner of the basement. The TS-480 could finally kick off an era of mini ham shacks containing little more than a control head, a mike and/or a keyer paddle, a few accessories and maybe a PC. Indeed, in the case of the TS-480, your "station" can be somewhere else entirely, since you can control the transceiver remotely via the Internet.
Not Just Another Mobile
Kenwood's excellent Instruction Manual describes mobile installation first, suggesting the manufacturer primarily intended the TS-480 for that application. Could the TS-480 really be the long-awaited follow-on to the now-venerable TS-50/TS-60—putting HF and 6 meters into a single box? Given that the TS-480
is light years ahead of the TS-50 and a very decent performer, this carries more than just a ring of logic. Perhaps it's true, but Kenwood's not saying.
This is a great little home station rig too, especially for amateurs who value a minimalist, attractive, contemporary space-saving installation or whose spouses don't want "all that dirty old junk" in plain view. While using any of the current crop of small radios with detachable front panels as fixed station transceivers often means compromising features (remember, the TS-50 included neither VOX nor CW keyer, much less an antenna tuner) and performance for size, that's not the case with the TS-480.
The more I played with these radios the better I came to appreciate them and what they can do. These are not the perfect radios for everyone, nor are they small-box superstations, but I came away much more impressed than I'd initially expected—and, in the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I already own three Kenwood transceivers between us.......