The Ailunce HD1

My prior DMR history

First, a quick story so you can get a feel for my DMR experience and know how much salt to take with my review below.

When I lived in Rochester MN, I briefly owned a TYT MD-380. It was a great radio, but it had a couple of downsides (not really the radio’s fault.) First, it was UHF only. This wasn’t a problem when I lived in Rochester. I could access any repeater in town from my living room with any HT and stock antenna. When I moved to Lewiston, my current QTH, I was a few miles out of the Rochester DMR repeater’s range. I work in a metal building, so that limited my usage of the MD-380 to use in the truck for about half of my commute. Most FM activity in Winona–the closest repeaters to my new QTH–is on the 2M band, and the Winona Amateur Radio Club is pretty invested in Yaesu System Fusion on UHF, so I didn’t even bother to program the Winona repeaters in to the MD-380. I just used a different HT. I wasn’t doing much with DMR except for the occasional local ragchew.

The Rochester repeater is on the private MN-DMR CBridge and doesn’t support dynamic talk groups. Don’t get me wrong, Galen and the other MN-DMR guys are great, but since I only really met them once in person we quickly ran out of stuff to talk about. I could have used a hotspot to solve both of the above problems but this was prior to the release of the inexpensive MMDVM hotspots and, with the purchase of a new house, I couldn’t justify spending money on any hobby stuff for a while. Anyway, a couple of months after moving, the MD-380 wasn’t getting used anymore and it found it’s way on to eBay.

A TYT MD-380. My first DMR Handheld.

Getting back into DMR

This summer, my interest in DMR was renewed by a few things. First, the #Redditnet DMR net seems to have been resurrected. This is not something I have participated in previously (due to above repeater problem and lack of a hotspot) but it seems I’m more active on /r/Amateurradio than ever so it might be fun to participate. The second change is the Ask Noah Show is going to be supporting DMR as a method to call in to the show in the future. This seems like it would be fun and I want to be ready to go when this goes live. The third thing is the availability of some new and interesting radios. In the past couple of years, TYT released the waterproof MD-2017 and Retevis released the same radio as the RT-82. This radio, it seems, wasn’t generally well received due to a fragile antenna connector and an annoying trackball. Radioddity released the GD-77 which seems to be well loved. To try to get things back on track TYT released the MD-UV380 and MD-UV390 (waterproof version) dualbanders to replace the ill-fated MD-2017. Retevis also came out with the Ailunce HD1.

Why the HD1?

After a few weeks of thinking about getting back in to DMR, I came to the realization that I wanted a relatively inexpensive, waterproof, dual-band, general-purpose HT that also does DMR.

I am taking a trip this August to the Boundary Waters with my dad and two brothers. Originally my plan was to take a Baofeng and if it got wet, oh well. Seeing these waterproof dualbanders got me thinking that something waterproof might be a much better idea, especially if there is an injury or accident that gets the radio wet and we would need to call for help. My first thought was the MD-390 since it’s a waterproof MD-380, but the repeaters covering the Boundary Waters are 2 meters so that’s not of any use at all. I looked really hard at the GD-77 but since it’s not waterproof I may as well take a Baofeng on the trip and get an MD-380 for DMR. Especially since there are MD-380 codeplug editors for Linux now. I started a thread on Reddit and reviews of the MD-2017/RT-82 were mixed. It seems that the UV390 hasn’t been on the market long enough to have any reviews online at all.

This map shows repeater coverage in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We will traveling in the area primarily covered by the Gunflint repeater.

Then, I stumbled upon the Ailunce HD1. When I fist saw it, there was one review on Youtube that many people misinterpreted as saying the selectivity was worse than the other dual-banders on the market (selectivity is apparently problem with all these dual-banders since they are direct conversion. That’s the real point the youtube reviewer was making.), and it was more expensive, so I dismissed it. Looking at radios on Amazon one day, I found the HD1 was on a flash sale for $160 and I had another $10 off coupon, so that brought the price down to MD-2017 or MD-UV390 levels. After a little more research I discovered that you can actually program it from the front panel, meaning that if the CPS software sucked or wasn’t usable without Windows, I could still use the radio. It’s also possible to add local repeaters while traveling without having to plan ahead. As an extra bonus, the HD1 has 10W of output on the 2M band (and 8w on 70cm) which could solve another problem I have been having.

Skywarn Repeater Access problems with other HTs

I have been getting a little more in to Skywarn these days. In July I was part of 5 different activations. The trouble is, I live 10ish miles from the repeater used for Skywarn. In good weather, this is no big deal. I use the 25W mobile in my shack connected to the dual-band vertical antenna on the roof of the house to use the repeater. Obviously, it’s pretty difficult to do spotting from a basement with no real windows. I was able to, with a bit of difficulty, check in to 3 of the nets — before going mobile in the truck — with my Yaesu FT-70D and a Signal Stick but for two of then nets, I had to plug in the outdoor antenna to the radio in the shack and hope for the best in order to get checked in. Now that I have the HD1 with a little more TX power, I am hoping to be able to reliably check in to the net from the HT with another Signal Stick, or failing that a roll-up J-Pole temporarily hung in a window from the safety of my living room. I’m still waiting for the Signal Stick to arrive, and there hasn’t been a net to try the J-Pole, so I can’t be sure how well this works yet. I did test with the stock antenna from my front yard and got okay audio reports, so I think the SignalStick or the J-Pole in the window may be the ticket. Going from 5 watts up to 10 sure made a difference in readability.

Final Thoughts on the HD1

The HD1 feels very sturdy in the hand. It’s huge, but still comfortable to hold. Battery life seems very good. I accidentlly left it on for 24 hours while working on my hotspot, and it still had plenty of battery. I haven’t found any bugs in the latest firmware — a common complaint about older firmware versions. The first thing I did after getting the radio was to upgrade it so I can’t speak to the accuracy of those complaints. Controls and menus are fairly intuitive — much more than my FT-70D which requires frequent use or the manual to get anything done. I’m especially happy that the encoder at the top turns continuously unlike the MD-380. Receive audio quality doesn’t sound as good as my FT-70DR, or my old MD-380 for that matter, but it’s also waterproof so I wasn’t really expecting hi-fi audio. It’s good enough. Buttons on the front panel are also a little wiggly and squishy but they are perfectly responsive when pressed so I suspect this is another waterproofing thing. I think I’m just picking nits at this point.

Another plus is that the CPS software runs in Wine!