Youkits has made a name for themselves in the inexpensive QRP market with small transceivers that originally were imported in kit configuration and presented fun projects for the amateur operator looking to build something and get on the air. Not breaking the bank, these sets offered a lot in the cost-to-ratio department, and as such, caught the eye of the Prepper/Survivalist radio market. But being from China and having little to no information and no big name backing them, many frugal-minded folks have been understandably cautious to spend hard-earned money on something possibly of dubious quality. Henry Bowman, a frequent commenter, contributor, and friend, had the testicular fortitude to pick one up, and dropped it off with me for an eval. This is nothing but objective and there’s no personal benefit involved, other than spreading the word on how to spend/save your money on field gear options, because people are buying this radio and more needs to be said about it whether good or bad. He owns the radio and wanted to know what I think of it. So here goes.
The TJ2B model offered a form factor not seen in the states for a long while- a QRP HT. That alone attracted the attention of a few, desiring a simple form factor and ease of use in the field. I’ll state up front that the thing looks like an PRC-148 MBITR- and is similar in size and weight. It comes stock with a 1600mAh internal battery, charger, external battery hookup, external mic, and Henry’s came with a 40M BNC whip antenna which reminds me of something from an old 80s bag phone. The radio itself is a tri-band, covering 40/20/17m and working in USB/LSB and CW. There’s no AM for those hoping for SWL in this set, and no coverage in between the bands. It is exactly as it appears- a bare bones, no frills, uber-simple HF set that pushes 5W.
The TJ2B uses around 350mAh on receive and just over an Amp on transmit, so for a short activation such as SOTA or NPOTA, a small battery will work just fine coupled with the internal battery, and for pre-arranged Commo Windows (or a RaDAR activation) it’s well suited. As previously stated, this radio’s sole purpose is transmitting and receiving- no SWL or scanning the spectrum, just working the allocated bands this set covers in a minimalist fashion.
For this evaluation, the TJ2B was rigged up to an Endfedz Trail Friendly End-fed wire antenna around 5ft off the ground (for NVIS testing), which is the perfect mate for QRP and low-profile operations. Fed with 25ft of RG8X, the setup was very quick to raise and tune. Total time rigging was around 5 minutes. My 817 was used as a control for this experiment, as I know it works, have made lots of contacts with it, and it sets a benchmark to be measured against. For this test SSB was used, as it’s the hardest mode to make contact with at QRP power levels on a good day, much less days with little to no propagation as we’re seeing currently. I rigged both radios to the LDG tuner during operation to protect the radios. First, the 817 was tuned to 40M and the first person I heard calling CQ I answered- and got a response, to my surprise, as band conditions are abysmal right now. My rig works, the antenna works, life is Happy, Happy, Happy.
On to the TJ2B. I connected the LDG, switched it to CW, transmitted the carrier and re-tuned the antenna, then went back to LSB to make another contact. No high power, no problem. Made several contacts in TN relatively easy, despite the noise on 40M and overall tough HF conditions. But that makes for the best testing environment, right? ‘Severest school’ and all that jazz? The radio works, and pushes the advertised 5w, so yes, QRP is definitely possible even in the Maunder Minimum.
This is, hands down, the simplest HF rig I’ve ever used. There’s two knobs up top, for volume and tuning, with the tuning knob being able to change the tuning step as well. The whole process is very simple. There’s two VFOs, three modes, and three bands, topped with a BNC connector for the antenna. It’s all very, very straightforward, with nothing to confuse a user unfamiliar with this radio. Along the side is a switch for external power, internal power, and cutting it off, along with the mic jack and a small PTT button, which leads me to my next point.
The PTT is a tiny little piece of plastic, almost like an after-thought. The appeal of an internal mic (which it has, but I experienced little modulation gain, meaning little power was going out, so I went to the external mic and had no more problems) is neat for the whole HT thing, but seriously, it just gets caught on stuff and feels like it could break really easily. It’s the only thing that feels like it can break, as everything else is pretty solid, more so than the knobs on my Yaesu rigs. They could either do away with switch like this or make it an actual PTT button like on real HTs, flush with the body and shielded. But with the non-existent mic gain, it could be done away with and save production cost and lower the retail price.
There’s no SWR or voltage meter, but there is a power meter that reflects the gain on SSB. A SWR meter is far more important, especially considering that some other Chinese HF rigs suffer from blown finals on even small degrees of mismatch (the Xiegu X1M, another QRP set, reportedly blows finals on 2:1 SWR) and I doubt this rig implements any sort of fold-back protection for poor antenna matches. I STRONGLY urge you to use a tuner, even with resonant antennas, as a blown final is not a field expedient fix. Keep all of this in mind when running not just this rig, but any radio.
On the internal speaker, I’ll be blunt, it flat out sucks. Strong stations come in OK, but something down in the noise won’t be heard without sticking your ear right up to the speaker. Like the PTT, I feel ‘why bother?’, when YouKits could shave a few dollars off and just not include these features. Plain ol’ earbuds from the gas station work much better.
Finally, this rig, while solidly built, has a lot of holes in the case, so it’s not remotely weatherproof if in case you were wondering. I’d strongly recommend using a small Pelican or Hardig case for weatherproofing. This is obviously the same with the 817 and every other commercial oriented rig on the market, but it needs to be said should anyone buy under falsely conceived pretenses.
Versus The 817
So by this point I’m sure the question on everyone’s mind is “well, how does this compare to the more expensive 817 you’ve got sitting there?”
That’s a complicated answer. As an HF rig, it seems by my ear to be just as sensitive and matches the capability on the three bands they both share. The 817 is a vastly more versatile rig- offering all bands(except 220) and modes(SSB, CW, CW-R, AM, and FM) versus the TJ2B’s three, the ability to listen to Shortwave, and have a large company that stands behind it’s product when something goes wrong and a recognized name to protect. That being said, and all valid points, the TJ2B offers a few things the 817 does not. It is, by far, the simplest radio I’ve ever operated. At $329 or so, it’s around half the price of the 817. In addition, being that it’s half the price, one might in theory be more prone to using this in the field and not being heartbroken when it inevitably gets beat up, as, try though we might, happens often.
The TJ2B consumes less power, has less moving parts, and offers simplicity that can be appreciated when one is cold, tired, wet, and unable to process simple functions. Those that know this feeling and have driven on through it appreciate simple stuff- I certainly do, as does Henry Bowman, which enticed him to purchase this rig. The 817 can be a complicated animal, with several menus controlling functions that may be needed at zero-dark-thirty and cannot be readily be recalled because you’ve frozen or sweated your ass off in a hide site for three days. The TJ2B on the other hand, is more simple than a Baofeng to get up and running, provided you’re well versed on rigging an HF antenna.
From a utilitarian perspective, or rather, the ‘one rig to rule them all’ paradigm, the TJ2B loses out by a fairly wide margin to the numerous shack in the box rigs that have been on the market since the original Icom 706 hit the scene many, many moons ago. It’s not built for that segment of the market, and if you buy this thinking that it’s your one-and-done rig you’re in for a big disappointment. In addition, the radios are offered from a Chinese company with little presence in the US aside from a website and a smile- which leads one to gamble with money, not an attractive prospect for those on tight budgets and unsure of how to maximize every penny. This rig is somewhere in between an LNR mountain topper CW-only set and an far more sophisticated (and expensive!) 817 or KX3, with an attractive price point to boot. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of data out there on this rig, aside from a few reviews on Eham, and the obligatory ‘prepper’ review which contains little if any substance other than taking said item out of a box, it remains largely an unknown quantity. But it’s not bad by any means.
You’re not going to win any contests with this rig- it’s bare bones, no frills, and not built for those new to HF operation. No QRP rig is, for that matter, but it is a small form, efficient, and packable little rig that definitely has it’s place in the tactical HF realm. While I cannot attest to its long-term durability, it is indeed well built and when coupled with a necessary tuner and the proper weathering precautions are taken, should give little issue for years of use. I’m impressed with its performance, and when paired with the tiny 9v battery powered Elecraft T1 tuner and a good wire antenna, can become a fairly tough, very compact, dead simple little patrol HF rig for use in the field. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick one up for myself, and just may do so in the near future.