The Best Classic Radio I Ever Owned
In the Mid 1990s, I had the opportunity to obtain and work with a number pieces of older amateur radio equipment. I worked at W4RT Electronics at the time, and because my good friend Bob Koerber (N4BK) and I enjoyed fixing things, we sought out some interesting older radios to fix up and put to use. There was the TS-930 that had been struck by lightning – a very major project, which resulted in a beautiful working transceiver. There were the Kenwood Twins, a T-599 and R-599 pair that were beautiful, and worked when I sold them, but amazingly primitive in some ways. Many radios came through the shop, and we fixed up and played with them all. But my absolute favorite was the Kenwood TS-830S.
The first commercial transceiver I ever owned was a used Swan 350. I traded for it while I was in college, and then carried it through my travels while in the U. S. Navy. After the Navy hitch, I moved to Pomona, California to attend California State Polytechnic University, and while there I sold the Swan and traded for a used Kenwood TS-520. At the time, it was a very slick radio. It was obvious to me that Kenwood had applied what they knew about building high-end stereo equipment to the design of ham radio gear, and the result was a radio system which not only worked well, but looked good enough to live in the family room. I eventually bought or traded for all of the accessories, and had the external speaker, remote VFO, Antenna Tuner, and matching MC-50 microphone. For me, this was a ham radio dream come true. I sold that setup in about 1981, and replaced it with something else, something which had the new WARC bands on it. But for years, I missed that TS-520 setup, because it all worked together so well.
In 1996, I bought the used TS-830S you see here from Associated Radio, in Overland Park, Kansas. My experience with them has always been positive, and I was extremely pleased with what I bought in this case. Cosmetically she was perfect, and electrically I could find nothing that didn't work. The only filter installed was the 2nd IF SSB filter, but there were places for three more filters. Since the TS-830S is out of production, the filters are also, and so the filters could have been scarce. Well, it turns out that International Radio sells splendid after market filters, so I bought the full kit of three filters, the 1st IF SSB filter, and both 1st and 2nd IF CW filters, and installed them all. As great as the radio was without them, it was ever so much better with them. The selectivity was just awesome.
It took a few months to find what I needed, but I soon bought the external speaker, remote VFO, and matching MC-50 microphone. I now had the full kit, and it made a very impressive base station setup. You can see it on my current QSL card. I used this Kenwood TS-830S system as my main station until August 2002, when I replaced it with the Yaesu FT-1000MP Mk. V Field setup, which is what I use today. The Kenwood TS-830S was as fine a golden oldie ham radio setup as one could ever use. It was introduced in 1977 (nearly thirty years ago now), and yet it continues to be a fine choice for anyone who is looking for an affordable ham radio base station, and one which works extremely well.
Excellent Transmit Audio – The Kenwood TS-830S was unique, in that it sounded so good on the air, that it is the only radio I have ever owned which got unsolicited complements regarding how good the audio sounded. I matched the radio with the matching MC-50 microphone, and that combination really did sound good. Because the radio had two SSB IF filters, Kenwood had included the facilities for RF speech processing, which could be used to significantly increase the average power level on transmit, without making the signal any wider. Used judiciously, the RF speech processing could make the difference between getting through and not being heard during difficult conditions. The transmitted signal was also very clean, with low 3rd and 5th order IMD products, in part because Kenwood had included negative feedback in the RF amplifiers. All in all, the transmitted signals from the TS-830S are top-notch.
Excellent SSB Receive – The Kenwood TS-830S has better sounding receive audio than the majority of ham radio receivers I have heard. I do not know why this is so, but the audio is very listenable, and makes the human voice sound quite real. Furthermore, the SSB receive bandwidth could be easily narrowed and tailored to band conditions by use of the VBT (Variable Bandwidth Tuning) and shift controls, essentially allowing a continuously variable bandwidth and arbitrary carrier offset, which allows the operator to more easily reject adjacent-channel interference. With the added International Radio filters, the skirts are very narrow, with a high enough ultimate rejection to make the band seem quieter than it is. For being designed in the mid-1970s, the Kenwood TS-830S is a remarkable piece of engineering, and one which is hard to beat even today.
Excellent CW Receive – The Kenwood TS-830S, when equipped with both 1st and 2nd IF 400 Hz filters from International Radio, works wonderfully for CW receive. The filter combination, when adjusted with the VBT and Shift controls, provides a continuously adjustable receive bandwidth from a nominal 400 Hz maximum down to less that 50 Hz. For selecting a single signal out of a crowded band, this is just about optimal. Furthermore, the feature is easy to use, involving mostly just the turning of the VBT knob. Even at the narrowest bandwidths, there is little “ringing” to deal with. All of this is achieved without any Digital Signal Processing (DSP). The CW receive facilities are as good as or better than any other ham radio receiver I have ever used.
Understandable Controls – the design of the front panel of the Kenwood TS-830S is intuitive to use. For those of us who have used any of the other hybrid (solid-state except for vacuum tube driver final amplifier) transceivers, no manual is required to use it. Everything is clearly marked with labels which make sense.
Hybrid radio with Vacuum Tube Driver and Finals – This was Kenwood's last transceiver to be of the Hybrid type. It was all sold state, with the exception of the 12BY7 driver and two 6146B final amplifier tubes. This design saved the buyer some money at the time, because in the 1970s the solid state amplifiers in the 100 watt output category, combined with the large 12-volt power supplies, cost more than the vacuum tube designs. Furthermore, the design which Kenwood chose was a very mature one, and produced very clean output signals. The disadvantages of the vacuum tubes were primarliy that they required a substantial amount of filament power all the time, and that the high voltages required guaranteed that it would not be possible to power the vacuum tubes directly from a battery. Kenwood chose to make the TS-830S work only with AC mains power (unlike the older TS-520 which had an inverter built in to provide the ability to power it from 12 Volt batteries). For a base station, this was no problem, and that is exactly how I used it. For use from a battery, I also owned an Icom IC-735 which ran directly from 12 volt power.
Built-In AC Power Supply – I have had radios which required an external power supply in order to operate from AC mains, and I have preferred to have a built-in power supply for base station equipment. It reduces the number of cables running around, and it reduces the number of things which can be forgotten when taking the station portable. The Kenwood TS-830S has a built in power supply for running from AC mains, and can be set up to operate from any 50-60 Hz source of from 100-250 VAC. None of the Kenwood radios I have had with internal power supplies gave any problem, and this one is no exception. It just worked.
Extremely Well Built – the Kenwood TS-830S has a very well fitted steel case, with a die cast front panel. It is ruggedly built and well suited to portable operation, or transport. It even has a stout carrying handle on one side to make it easier to carry. All of the knobs are made from appropriate materials, and are both well shaped for their use, and also tough enough to not show marks after extensive use.
Ham-Band Only – The Kenwood TS-830S can only operate on ham bands, and has no provision for general reception or transmission. Furthermore, it is not particularly easy to make it work on any band not already designed into the radio. This allowed Kenwood to optimize some signal characteristics without adding to the costs. On the other hand, this implies that if there are more ham bands made available, or if the operator needs to use it for some other purpose (as the IF for a transverter arrangement, for instance) it will not necessarily be easy to do so. It works very well on all of the current HF ham bands, with the exception of the new 5 MHz allocations, for which it cannot be used at all.
Accessories for a Real System – Kenwood designed to TS-830S to be part of a series of very well matched accessories, which can be used as the basis of a very functional and good-looking base station system. In my case, I purchased (and fixed up - it was broken when I got it) a VFO-240 remote VFO, and an SP-230 external speaker with built-in audio filters. The VFO-240 allowed split-frequency operation, where the receiver and transmitter are operating on different frequencies within a ham band, such as would be required for some DX situations. All of the accessories worked together properly, and everything looked and felt like it was an integral part of the system. The entire system was well-thought-out, and well executed.
In my opinion, the Kenwood TS-830S is one of the finest pieces of ham radio equipment ever built, and deserves a special place in the hall of fame of great golden oldies. Thirty years after its design, it can still hold its own against much more modern and much more expensive radios. Three cheers!