Why I ordered and then walked away from the FTdx-101d

The day my  101D arrived via UPS, I declined to accept it and called HRO .  Why?  It all started with the 101 user group site. IO.Groups.  First what was my motivation to buy this radio? — New rig, good press, innovative scope- Narrow SDR Concept, widely praised receive audio—-  and I’m a fan of the uniquely different Yaesu operational design profile.   The positive high end Sherwood numbers meant nothing in my decision—I long ago ignored that data — We reached relative technical parity between rigs sometime in the 1990’s in my view. Most of us cannot hear the minor spec differences between radios.   In my pre-purchase research I read the multi-page Yaesu brochure— with it’s illustrations and photos and exuberant rhetoric. —  I watched a few poorly produced videos by 101 owners — who gushed at how “amazing” the rig is. And I was enamored with the suite of scope displays and it’s distinctly different look from other rigs. ( I have a TS-990 and a 7300 with similar scope set ups).  I had some doubts about a few claims and the operational presentation of the rig— but hey  there’s no perfect rig (though the 7300 is close in its class)  besides, what’s more fun for an old man than spending a few weeks digging into a new radio??  Hey, “let’s try this rig out!”.   DX engineering “out of stock” was not shipping before mid Feb at that time, Gigaparts ditto.  HRO had one left in Denver— with back orders waiting — Well hell, everyone else wants the rig!  Send me that Colorado radio now I said to my fav sales guy at HRO Woodbridge! —-  That 3 days to get to Virginia— began the slide of my enthusiasm for the FTdx-101d

Order placed, I continued my information quest. I dropped in on the Groups.IO FTdx-101d  site to cruise.  There are the usual kind of comments- much like other radio specific user groups. Some minor rig issues here and there. Some radio love-crazed rhetoric from a few users. I don’t believe in these starry eyed claims of “best radio I’ve ever had” etc.  It’s a current technology consumer radio that has some incremental changes and improvements over recent rigs in the Yaesu line. No great leap forward. Lastly there were some thoughtful observations posted on the IO.Group.  

One comment stood out:

I am an engineer. The manual doesn’t say a thing about how either works, other than a few sentences fit for a first grader. Would be nice if they supplied an input/output diagram (transfer function) comparing no processing, AMC, and speech processing. Explain how each works and what thresholds and time constants are in play for each method. Peak clipping is not worst thing in world if only a small amount is clipped, compared to a radical nonlinear algorithm that messes with gain all along the way.

It is a completely closed book because they shared absolutely nothing with users. 

Yes!!! Of course. What had been gnawing at me, was the information void about the rig.  Not the spec’s but the explanations! A Radio is more than Specs— indeed most specs from radio to radio matter little in 2021.  ( Yes, yes I know some hams will “swear” by Sherwood data)

Now. To be fair—- I always read the manual of any electronic device I buy BEFORE purchasing.  But I had not  read the 101 full manual. (I was being egged on by Hams on the air— “Oh yeah Mike— Get the 101!! It’s awesome!!). And over decades of buying ham gear and cameras almost all made in Japan, I’ve put up with poorly written product manuals. It’s gotten better over the years.   Still there are too many inadequate manuals.

So I downloaded the full 101D operational manual and put it up on a 32 inch screen and zoomed in so it was easily readable and I began to scroll.  That slow careful read, affirmed the observation above. It was painful in many places. Then I looked at a couple dozen more poorly produced videos on the 101 Scopes.  The 101d came into clearer focus for me.

The absence of a comprehensive manual that drilled down into the substance and process is frustrating. Manufacturers love to spout specs as if that’s all that is needed —- rather than a detailed, understandable explanation  as to what this means to me as an operator. (Why is that so hard?  Ask anyone who has taught technical subject matter to a group of neophytes.  Teaching is Hard!)

I worked in broadcasting  and in the late 90’s and into the 2000’s as the industry moved from analog infrastructure to digital and Standard Definition to High Definition— Vendors would come in pitching their products— and we’d sit in a conference room for hours sometimes being briefed on this encoder or that server, this COFDM xmitter, that router or a new fiber DA, and still more– new generation digital cameras!   Technology vendors  were no longer in sales— they became educators. They spent more time teaching us than they did selling their gadget. White papers, tutorials, books all accompanied these sessions. It was a stimulating time to be in the business. A massive technology shift accompanied by  enormous new work-flow challenges.   I looked forward to these seminars— and  most days I walked out exhausted from the sheer magnitude of the information dump— I took notes constantly like a graduate student throughout these meetings.

No the poor manual wasn’t the sole reason for my taking a pass on the FT-101d. A closer look at the scope imagery — 3DSS specifically. I admire Yaesu’s  introduction of 3-D but like many first generation apps–Version 2 and 3 will be much better. No scope averaging was also a big negative to me. HF transceiver scopes brought radio out of the analog era. Scope averaging functionality is an important readability feature. Lastly, the rig layout– is not fluid in my opinion.  The multi knob is simply in the worst ergonomic location in my view. Further, after watching even more poorly produced 101 videos it became obvious to me that the overall operational configuration of the rig is not / was not as carefully considered as Icom and Kenwood’s current offerings.  Maybe the ease of use of  Icom/Kenwood have weakened my resolve. Maybe I’m not being open to a new approach. Maybe it’s just because I’m a 70 year old man.  No matter– it just didn’t feel as “fun” as my current radios.

The 101 manual’s absence of explanatory and clearly presented  information— was the pea under the mattresses I slept those 3 days. And when I woke up, I walked away.

Mike WA4D

Charlottesville, Va