Unboxing: The Kenwood TM-281A 2 meter transceiver

Kenwood TM-281 2 meter transceiver KB9BVBR j-pole antennaI recently received a Kenwood TM-281A two meter amateur radio transceiver as a door prize at last month’s state ARES/RACES conference. Well, last week I finally got the radio hooked up and put a few frequencies into it. General impressions: this is a very nice rig with clear audio, easy to use functions, and sensitive receive.

I’ve owned quite a few 2 meter and 2/440 rigs over the years from all three of the major manufacturers: Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu. Each has their peculiarities and differences, but with everyone putting out quality products, it really all boils down to features and capabilities. With that being said, the Kenwood TM-281 delivers and easy to use, quality product. The radio is ruggedly constructed with a large heat sink along the back and bottom. I like the fact that the heat sink isn’t on the top of the rig. My Icom 2100 has a top mounted heat sink and that think filled up with dust and gunk after a couple of years of mobile use. Buttons on the rig are lit and big enough to push while on the road. The radio also has a very nice volume control and channel selector with detent clicks. Pushing the channel knob also access the setup menus.

Setting it up in my basement shack, I had it connected, programmed with one frequency and on the air in less than 10 minutes. The instructions are well laid out and the index quickly brought me to the section on where to program memories. But you can just as easy us it in the VFO mode as it has automatic repeater offset shift and enabling tone control was straightforward. The only thing I found a little cumbersome was using the direct entry keypad on the microphone, but it seems like this is a downfall on all the radios these days.

Kenwood Tm-281 TM-V7a j-pole antenna kb9vbr reviewAudio on the Kenwood TM-281 is excellent, although compared to the audio on my primary base rig, the Kenwood TM-V7A, it seems a little tinny. The TM-V7a has a larger, top mounted speaker that give a fuller, richer sound. The TM-281’s speaker is smaller and front mounted, which is an advantage when the radio is mounted in a vehicle. Since I didn’t mount it in my car, I don’t know how the smaller speaker fares when up against the vehicle noise while on the road.

Out of the box, the Kenwood Tm-281 puts out 65 watts of power on high and 25 watts on low. This is great for mobile use as we usually run our mobiles on high power anyways. I’d love to see a more energy conserving 10 watt mode for low power base station use. I hooked the radio up to my 2 meter J-Pole antenna that I use for my secondary VHF and digital station. This antenna is mounted on a mast at about 10 feet. I had no problem picking out other mobile signals within at 10 mile radius on the repeater’s reverse frequency. The radio also has a built in weather alert function, and I scanned the weather band, picking up about 4 transmitters in a 60 mile radius. This rig definitely has a very sensitive receive. It also wasn’t bothered by my other rig while transmitting on a second 2 meter frequency.

The radio has up to 200 memories, but if you use the 6 character alpha tags for your memories, you will be limited to only 100 memory channels. 100 memory channels seems a little small for a radio in this day and age, especially if you travel a lot. My first 2 meter rig, an Icom 2100a, offered that many channels 10 years ago and I had it filled pretty quick.

All in all, I’m impressed with the Kenwood TM-281. It’s a highly capable, affordable amateur radio rig, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a starter radio or second rig for the shack or vehicle. I have  a feeling this one will eventually wind up in the wife’s car.