TYT MD 2017 review and usage

25 June 2017

I have spent a little time with the new TYT MD 2017 dual band, dual mode radio. Today I am reviewing it, as well as going over some of the details and info of this radio, coming in as a brand new user of DMR. The first major difference of this radio over most DMR radios to date is this one is dual band, making use of both 2m and 70cm bands, but also able to make use of DMR on both bands. Since the Part 90 certification was approved (FCC ID POD-DMR2), it can also be programmed to other frequency ranges as well for commercial use. As seen in the TYT programming software, they show access to 136-174MHz, 350-400MHz, 400-480MHz, and 450-520MHz. This means for amateur use, we would use the 136-174MHz and 400-480MHz settings since the amateur frequencies are within this range. For a commercial company that has VHF and/or UHf frequencies, they may use other settings (such as 400-480 and 450-520). These (and most settings) can only be changed via programming software thus it is legal under Part 90.

Coming in as a "new to DMR" user, this was definitely a learning experience. For those not familiar with DMR, the simplest explanation I have is take your usual analog usage, and unnecessarily complicate it by a factor of 100. There are always those people complaining that "manually programming a Baofeng" is excessively complicated, but this DMR process makes that seem like a walk in the park. Now I do understand that for security purposes and private commercial usage, the complications help to provide for much better security of their transmitted signals over any regular analog signal. Of course these days with the cheaper DMR radios coming along, it is just a matter of someone finding the codes needed to listen in.

Getting started in DMR

So here is a crash course for people new to DMR.

  1. Before you can use any linked DMR system or repeater, you need your own DMR ID, sometimes called radio ID. You will need to enter some information at the DMR-MARC website, at the bottom select "user registration". For unlinked standalone local only DMR repeaters, you most likely will not need to register, although some may require the ID anyways (and as you will likely be using other linked repeaters, may as well get it and use it). As stated on their website, "Registration process takes AT LEAST 24 HOURS, re-applying will not speed up your request", and further up the page it says "PLEASE ALLOW 72 HOURS FOR ALL REQUESTS TO BE PROCESSED. If you do not receive a reply within 3 days, email us again. THANKS!"
  2. Programming for most settings requires use of the TYT software. Programming (analog or DMR) can be done manually, but only after the manual programming option has been unlocked within the TYT CPS software and written to the radio. All radios have manual programming disabled from the factory and need to be enabled within the software (and the setting is buried so it is not easy to find). Sadly this software is also excessively difficult to use so you need a lot of patience to do so.
  3. Because of the custom DMR specific items, the team behind Chirp has stated "they have no current plans to support any DMR radios".
  4. Setting up these radios is nothing like using a regular analog or other mode radio. Just to be able to use any frequency (beyond a simplex frequency in VFO mode), it requires setting the TX frequency, setting the RX frequency, setting any CTCSS tones needed, and the key to accessing it: adding it to the current/local/specific Zone. Once it is added to the Zone, it is accessible.
  5. These radios do have a single large bank of memories, allowing for 3000 channels, which can be programmed to be used with one or both displays. Personally I use DMR channels on A and analog on B. Of course as you will soon learn, a single linked DMR repeater will likely have access to multiple "groups", each requiring their own channel.
  6. As I said above, DMR groups each require their own channel. For example my local repeater is linked to 9 groups (the lines with the TS/TG items):
    • Callsign: KB4LSL
    • Frequency: 443.00000
    • Offset: +5.000
    • ColorCode: 1
    • K4USD Net
    • CRESTVIEW, Florida
    • TS 1 TG 13 WW Eng
    • TS 1 TG 3 North Amer
    • TS 2 TG 3174 SE Regional
    • TS 2 TG 3112 Florida State wide
    • TS 2 TG 2 Local Network
    • TS 2 TG 9 Local Rptr
    • TS 2 TG 310 (PTT)
    • TS 2 TG 311 (PTT)
    • TS 2 TG 3182 Fusion Link

So as we see above, my local repeater shows 9 "TG" aka "talk groups", I will go over each one for the people new to DMR. For the DMR veterans, this is nothing new and you can scroll down if you choose. Almost every DMR repeater should have 2 Time Slots, and one person could be talking on slot 1, and other people could be talking on slot 2 at the same time without interference between them. When programming the channels, missing one of the technical items means it will not work at all. Your local repeaters should be able to be found on the DMR-MARC Repeater map page, with the last known details for that repeater.

  1. The repeater callsign, frequency, and offset aspect is all the same we all use for analog repeaters. It is the rest of the info that is DMR unique.
  2. Color Code: 1 - This is an important piece of information as it is required to be used when programming the repeater.
  3. K4USD Net - this repeater is part of the K4USD network of linked repeaters.
  4. TS 1 TG 13 WW Eng - This one is TimeSlot 1, Talk Group 13, WorldWide English. The "13" is the talk group "code", this one is typically used with other linked repeaters, which could potentially be worldwide with other repeaters also connected to the TG 13, and as it states, English is the expected language to be used.
  5. TS 1 TG 3 North Amer - This one is TG 3, which covers other linked repeaters across North America (US and Canada, possibly Mexico).
  6. TS 2 TG 3174 SE Regional - This one and the rest below it on the list use TimeSlot 2, and this one is talk group 3174 South Eastern US Regional linked repeaters.
  7. TS 2 TG 3112 Florida State wide - I used this one several times when I was in Orlando last week, and talked with a few other people in other locations in the state.
  8. The TG 2 is typically this repeater only, or this repeater and possibly another in the local area if a few local repeaters are linked. TG 9 is typically that repeater only, it will only repeat to the local area.
  9. The TG 310 and 311 is usually a link to other systems, may be for remote DTMF programming/disable/unlink, may be a link to a controller or whatever other purposes the repeater owner has it setup for. Unless you are the repeater owner, you will not need to program in these talk groups. Other repeaters may have numbers in the 310-316 range.
  10. TG 3182 - In my area there are quite a few Fusion repeaters, so this repeater is using some crossover setup that allows it to be linked to Fusion. I am not sure if this is a Fusion link to a local repeater, or a Fusion linked network, I do not have the details at this time.
  11. For a list of the most common talk group codes, see the DMR-MARC talk group FAQ.

Now as you see it has all these different talk groups, and the way DMR is setup, you would need to program each one individually depending on that specific repeater. Some can be ignored like the TG 310, 311, and depending on your preference and local repeater TG entries, you may choose to not program others. In my case, I programmed in 6 of these, which means 6 channels for just this one repeater. If you live in an area with a lot of DMR repeaters, and each need 5-10 channels for each, plus whatever analog repeaters you choose to program in, you can see where the need for 3000 channels really comes into play. Luckily there are check boxes you can check or uncheck in the General Settings section of the software, so if you prefer, you can uncheck "group call match" which should allow you to hear an incoming signal on the same repeater even if the group number does not match the current group programmed to the currently displayed channel. Most people are kind enough to say something like "K4ISR DMR Florida statewide" so you know which group they are coming in on, and allow you to switch to that channel.

I will not go over every single detail of the TYT CPS software as there are already tutorials online about this, but I shared at least the basics needed to get a new user started. I used much of the information from the adafruit.com MD-380 page to help get me started.



I decided to add this small little bit as a review of DMR itself as a mode, separate from the radio review. Simply put, I really do not like or care for DMR, but I do not let things like that to impact my review of the radios themselves. It is a commercial mode for commercial use designed for safety and security, which means for amateur use it is unnecessarily complicated. With analog, even with some weaker signals you can still have an audible signal and able to converse without too many difficulties, so long as you're within range of each other or the repeater. With digital modes, there is a much more severe drop off once the signal degradation gets to a certain point, resulting in choppy inaudible gibberish. With analog, you could still likely have a conversation at or below an S3 signal, but with digital (especially DMR), once you're at the S5 or weaker level, there is no way to have a proper conversation. Granted a single time slot is essentially the equivalent of 12.5kHz narrowband UHF signal which allows for some head room and slightly better distance over wide band 25kHz signals, the way DMR is setup means it needs a majority of the digital packets (which carries your voice digitally) just to be able to understand them or be understood vocally. At least under Yaesu Fusion with its alternating packet C4FM 25kHz or 12.5kHz packets, if a few "voice packets" are dropped, the system compensates allowing for weaker signals to still continue to be passed along without much loss of what you or they hear.

There will always be these ignorant die hard DMR fanboys that try to use falsified talking points to somehow claim DMR is superior in every way to every other digital system out there but it is best to ignore them. Fusion is definitely superior on paper and in actual real world usage for amateur radio, and no opinion can override this. The only real benefit DMR has over Fusion is their gateway and linking setups, which the Fusion-X is lagging behind, although this may still be a benefit of Fusion to keep the "14.313" unruly jerks from taking over an entire network of repeaters.
Then there is illegal aspect where a single person/repeater owner banning a person from their linked repeater (blocking their ID) also removes access to the linked network, removing that banned persons access from the entire network of linked repeaters from this gateway, allowing one person who does not have permission on the other repeaters to block someone from accessing the linked network of repeaters. 97.205(e) was designed for standalone unlinked repeaters, thus the wording "Limiting the use of a repeater to only certain user stations is permissible.", A REPEATER, as in a SINGLE repeater under the control of an individual, trustee and/or club. The moment it is linked to any other repeater or group of repeaters not under the control of the initial repeater owner, limiting the use of your repeater that also inhibits another persons use to the linked network is illegal. Then if the limitation/ban placed is the result of the repeater owners purposely doing so as willful or malicious interference to the blocked/banned person, then doing so would be illegal under 97.101(d). Malicious blocking of a person is claiming ownership of that frequency within that regional area as it is interfering with the ability of that person to use that frequency.
Lets use this analogy:
Person A doesn't like person B, but B typically goes to visit person C. So person A illegally blocks access to their neighborhood at the road nearest their house, allowing everyone in except person C. This means if person C wants to visit person B, they have to go out of their way, far from home just to be able to get into the same neighborhood to visit person C. Person A commonly hides behind a law that says "limiting the use of a road to only certain people is permissible", but ignores the law that says "no road user shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any road usage". Person A not liking B is not grounds for limiting usage as the limitation to roads under their control is based on willful and malicious intent on interference.

MD-2017 radio

My first initial impression is that this is a bigger heavy duty radio, but as we all know that does not always mean it would be able to survive bumps and drops and water, so I will reserve that judgment until I have had it longer and it is dropped or soaked at some point. Once programmed, it seems to work real well, especially once you learn how it works. It is not like an analog radio where you program the frequency, tone, offset, etc. With these radios and DMR, you have to set those same entries, plus the color code (for DMR), plus the zones, plus the other details needed just to program in a single channel. Add in that the TYT CPS software is somewhat difficult to use, it has a higher learning curve, especially for newer people.

Just to be able to use it, you first program in the channels. Analog is the basic info we already use, DMR has the extra information, but then there is the Zones. The channel must be added to a Zone, and that zone set to active (within the radio menu) before it will be accessible and usable. This is needed for both analog and digital frequencies, so you must add the channel to a zone, then write that info to the radio before it will be usable. Another downside is that the CPS software does not have the ability to import (or export) a CSV file for the channels. I believe there is an option to do this for the contacts but I have not seen or tried it yet.

One of the major benefits is this radio does have "dual VFO" aka dual receivers inside (but it still cannot do cross band repeat, which would further complicate the circuitry due to the DMR+analog capabilities). This allows both displayed frequencies to come in at the same time. With my testing, the included antenna seems to work real well for UHF, but for VHF it is pretty bad. When I did a test at one of my "antenna testing" locations which is essentially an open field with good line to repeaters up to 30 miles away. I had a Baofeng UV-5R (made in 2014) with NA-771 antenna, BTECH made Baofeng BF-F8HP with stock V85 antenna, and this TYT MD-2017. I was able to get full quieting to the analog VHF repeater 12 miles away with the UV-5R on high power (4W), the BF-F8HP on medium power (4-5W), but was not able to get a clear signal to or from that same repeater with the MD 2017 on high power. I had a weak signal coming into the much closer VHF repeater 4 miles away. I also tested it to an analog UHF repeater on the same building 12 miles away, and all 3 radios had good clear full quieting signals, with the UV-5R having the weakest signal and a little noise.
When I was down in Orlando last week, I would stand on the balcony of the condo I was staying at 10 stories up, and spoke with several people via DMR Florida statewide through the KJ4OVA UHF DMR repeater, which was 13 miles away (if the DMR-MARC map location is close). There was a DMR repeater (supposedly) closer to where I was staying (N4GUS) but I never was able to bring that repeater up despite it being much closer. I also used the Orlando UHF analog SARnet repeater without any problems, but anytime I attempted to use VHF repeaters, I had to be within several miles, even from 10 stories up or else it was "bad signal" or "weak audio". I am not sure if this is a widespread issue with these radios or if I got a bum antenna/radio. I plan to use my antenna testing setup at home to see if it is reduced power from the radio, or antenna is not good for VHF.

Overall after you get past the difficult programming process, the learning curve for both DMR and the software, and the other little details, this does seem to be a decent solid radio that should work well for most people. It is just not the greatest for those who like to always change things around, test various options, or experimwnt. The VHF issues is a big bummer, and my only other major complaint is the itsy bitsy tiny little white center 5 function "knob" below the display. It is so easy to accidentally press it in when you're trying to slide it up, down, left, or right. It is just a funky design to have such a large radio (compared to most Baofengs and other handhelds), yet such a tiny multi-function button in the middle. This button is 5mm (1/4 inch) wide and does not protrude out much for much grip.

I appreciate you looking over this information, and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to join me in the Facebook Baofeng "BARN" group and let me know, or send me an email at km4fmk -at- gmail -dot- com.
Thank you and 73!