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Wondering how far does the Ten-Tec responsiveness to its customers go?

My and others attempts to point out some weaknesses and suggest improvements in Orion design and some discussions on TenTec reflector (http://lists.contesting.com/_tentec/) lead to this response from Scott Robbins, W4PA:

 (Response by Scott, W4PA to posting by >Doug, KR2Q)

Whew!

We take four days off down here and the reflector just erupts....

As I know Doug KR2Q, perhaps some commentary might be in order for the below.

At 09:13 AM 12/27/03 -0500, you wrote:
>Hi all:
>I really hate to be "un-positive" on my first post here, but I am rather
>surprised and saddened at what I have been reading.
>
>I am an HF DX contester...have been for nearly 35 years.  That means I
>primarily work DX contests.  When I saw the specs for the Orion, I was very
>intrigued, so I looked for sources to find more info and I deemed this
>reflector to be one such source.  I have also been in regular contact with
>other "well-known" and highly successful contesters who own an Orion.  Those
>who are my peers (or better) in contesting are those whom I respect and
>whose opinions I take seriously.

And peer opinion is the most important factor of all.  More important
than specs, facts, data or anything else about a given transceiver.

>I must say that I am very disheartened to read some of the comments here.
>Those interested in DX contesting have made some genuine criticisms - not to
>disparage the Orion but to announce what IN THEIR OPINION (based on their
>intended usage) are current issues.
>
>I find it incredulous that those who do not participate as serious
>contesters attempt to refute or deny what is being stated.  Pointing to
>Scott (4PA) as an example that "this is a great contest radio" simply is not
>a logical argument.

It's not logical unless you consider that the engineering staff at Ten-Tec
got to pick my brain for two years during the design phase of the radio.
This was extended out to me asking other contesters, in the year period
between the time the Orion was announced and delivered, what they
thought.  Because I'm a contester, too, I know contesters think and
what questions to ask.  The radio wasn't developed in a vacuum -
and continues not to be.

>First and foremost, the operator wins the contest.  A
>great op (such as Scott or any of dozens of others) can win a contest with a
>very mediocre radio.  A "non-contester" can never win a contest by using an
>Orion simply because they have chosen that rig.

Granted - but I have to interject here that I spent quite a few years beating
my head against the wall, so to speak, as a die-hard adherent of another
brand of HF radio prior to coming to work for Ten-Tec in 1995.   Using
better equipment has made all the difference - and my frustrations with
using non-Ten-Tec radios have been documented by those QTH's where I
have been a guest op and had to do fun things like constantly shifting an
Omni-VI to the run band while using the "other" radio for S&P all the time -
that gets very fatiguing, and frustrating, quickly.

>To me, as a serious contester of some repute, it is clear that Orions are
>not filling up the shacks of other serious contesters.  A major reason for
>this, is that the few (and there are indeed VERY few) serious contesters who
>do own them are not erupting with pure ecstasy; certainly NOT the opposite
>either.  Is it is a very good radio?  Definitely.  Is it a contesters dream?
>Based on the feeback I have been getting, no (or perhaps, not yet).  I will
>not rehash the many reasons why the Orion is currently falling short of the
>mark for serious contesters; most have been mentioned on this reflector.

We're going to have to agree to disagree on this one.  Ten-Tec just
processed a group order for 20 Orion's for Yankee Clipper Contest
Club - I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they have confidence
in the radio's capability and are not basing their decision to order them
on anything Ten-Tec has said or done or the review data that has
appeared.  The most important factor is peer acceptance of the radio;
there has been plenty of that from contesters.

>But I will say that the PTT on CW is probably the first issue mentioned by
>many serious contesters I have been in contact with, including one who just
>took receipt a few days ago (meaning, while he is still learning the radio
>and can't possibly know all there is yet, this was ALREADY identified as a
>shortfall).

We don't agree that it's a shortfall - and it's not something that will be
changed with the Orion.  We've done this on purpose, just as we have with
each Ten-Tec transceiver that's come before it.  There is a built-in delay
between the time the EXT T/R closes and RF appears at the output of the
transceiver specifically to alleviate any concern over hot switching amplifiers
that are not equipped with QSK loops - like Alpha, Acom, et al.   Having
to PTT the radio prior to sending CW is counter-intuitive for CW operation.
You want to transmit, transmit.  Send the CW signal to the radio.  That's
what full break-in CW operation is all about - instantaneous switching
between transmit and receive.  If you're using a non-QSK amplifier, there
is nothing in the transceiver that is going to harm an externally switched
device; we thought of all of this during the design stage and this decision
was made by design - not accident.  We solicited a lot of outside feedback
from beta testers outside of Ten-Tec to make sure the switching times
were "just exactly perfect" (apologies to Bob Weir for stealing that line).

Plug in any Ten-Tec radio from the last 25 years and it is the same.
Just because the Japanese manufacturers have done it differently for their
radios is not indicative that it was the correct engineering decision to
make in the first place.
 

>Contesters want the absolute best all the time.  BEST means operationally,
>not just specs.  You cannot have a BEST radio with poor specs.  Equally, you
>cannot have a BEST radio that has multiple and serious (for the specified
>application) shortfalls.
>
>Please accept the criticisms posted here (and elsewhere) as genuine and
>serious concerns submitted by OWNERS who want things to improve so that
>their radio will indeed be the BEST for their application.  Also remember
>that one cannot be all things to all people.
>
>The world's "best" basketball sneakers may be a poor choice for
>rock-climbers, and vice-versa.
>
>de Doug KR2Q

We listen to everything that appears here regarding the Orion - the best
I can do is explain the philosophy behind the decisions we have made,
let the testers do their testing, and the operators operate.  The market
will decide what the 'best' radio out there is.

I take the criticism of the Orion in the spirit intended, but nothing is
going to dissuade me that this is the best radio ever created for serious
radio contesting.

Scott Robbins W4PA
Amateur Radio Product Manager

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Thread about PTT on CW implementation by Yuri, K3BU in response to >Scott's, W4PA posting/response to comments made by > >Yuri, K3BU:

Scott, W4PA sales@tentec.com writes:
> 
>  >Elecraft $800 radio is awfully close in important specs and
>  >can hear weak signals that Orion could not.
>  
>  Nothing against Elecraft - but I don't agree with that conclusion,
>  much of the feedback that has appeared on the Internet
>  doesn't support it and neither would measured specs from ARRL
>  Product Reviews.   We'll leave the "human interface for contesting"
>  aspect vis a vis Elecraft alone as I don't think Eric and Wayne
>  were targeting HF contesting specifically when they designed their
>  radio; it wouldn't be a fair comparison.
>  
 
I said "in important specs" and nothing about K2 for contesting. (I was) implying 
that radio doesn't have to cost $3.6k in order to have good RF characteristics, 
ARRL reviews place Orion and K2 neck and neck in important RX specs, above some 
of the other rigs.
 
>  There is much more to the Orion than merely the #1 receiver
>  performance, Yuri - you know that.  The points of Orion versus other
>  HF transceivers have been made in numerous places on the Internet
>  and in the amateur magazines.  I don't need to repeat them.
>  
 
Yes, I know that, you are aiming Orion at contesters, there were some reviews 
highlighting the benefits of Orion, but now as contesters are getting their 
hands on the radio, trying to point out some areas for improvement, we are 
getting labeled as trollers, nitpickers, etc. on this reflector. You either want 
it to become preferred contest rig, or you want to preach to TT cult followers 
with "everything is perfect" sermon.
 
> >Just to underline:
> >Advantages of having and using PTT control line on CW:
> >1. Smoother, not chopped up CW characters.
> >2. Positive control over timing, control of linears, and other gizmos in 
> > SO2R setups.
> >3. Saves relays.
> >4. Eliminates QSK chatter, noise between characters when not wanted.
> >5. Maintains wiring, continuity, functionality between SSB and CW modes.
>  
>  All of this is do-able with the Orion as-is.   MOX CW operation defeats
>  the purpose of full break-in CW operation.  There is not going to be a
>  change made - if you feel that this is a "must have" versus the other
>  amazing aspects of the rig - then the Orion is not the transceiver you
>  need to meet your needs for serious HF contesting.
>  
 
It is not do-able as-is! One other obvious reason for PTT use during CW is 
the muting and silencing the receiver. MOX, or rather COX (computer OX) should 
be LEFT on CW as it is on SSB. Don't tell me that it is impossible to have QSK 
and PTT modes on CW to coexist. It is done on all other radios since spark. 
Just that TenTec "knows" that we do not need it? I find it very strange that 
Amateur Radio Product Manager of TenTec is telling me that Orion is not the 
transceiver to meet my needs for serious contesting.  
 
>  If you have external devices that need to be MOX CW PTT operated
>  because you need proper sequencing, all the tools are available in the
>  radio.  Enable the QSK keying loop but don't hook anything to it.
>  Run the CW output of your contest software to pin 3 for PTT on
>  the AUX I/O jack of the rear of the Orion.  Take the PTT line from
>  the computer keying and run it to the TX EN jack on the back of the
>  Orion.  The TX EN jack will now act as a TX inhibitor and will not
>  allow the radio to transmit in the absence of the PTT signal.   You may
>  now determine when RF comes out of the radio by whether or not
>  there is a PTT signal present from the computer - just like you need.
>  
>  Go into the menu, turn up the QSK delay to whatever value suits your
>  ear to defeat the QSK keying.
>  
>  Set the EXT T/R DELAY control in the menu for whatever value you
>  need to assure the proper un-key value so ancillary equipment releases
>  after RF output has stopped from the transceiver.  The key-up value is
>  already present to prevent initial hot switching.
>  
>  Sequence of events:  PTT command is sent from the computer to the
>  TX EN jack enabling the radio to transmit.  (In its absence, nothing
>  will happen).   CW is then sent from the computer to the CW input.
>  AMP KEY 1 interjects a 20 mS delay to key the linear and whatever
>  devices you have after the linear.  On un-key, the selected (which,
>  you, the operator, have determined) EXT T/R DELAY time hangs
>  an amount between 0 and 1 seconds after the disappearance
>  of RF output power from the radio.   If you want to cut the RF
>  drive from the radio off *by your control via PTT* - then tell the
>  PTT output from the computer how fast you need to have it removed.
>  When that PTT signal disappears from the TX EN jack on the keying
>  loop, the radio will stop transmitting.
>  
>  You have now achieved 1 through 4 on your above needs list.  #5 is
>  going to have to be up to you.
>  
 
NOT!
I have wired the Orion as you suggest. But it does not perform as it should 
with "normal" PTT control and as it is required by this and other contesters 
pushing the envelope. TX EN does not work as PTT. TX EN will allow or block 
transmitting, but does nothing to switch Orion from RX to TX mode, it is not 
silencing the receiver (and allowing CW monitor to be heard if TX keyed). QSK 
delay does it and overrides that. If I adjust QSK delay to eliminate the relay 
chatter and defeat QSK, I am adding "word delay" at the end of each keying. 
This has to change with speed in order to be kept at minimum (pain in the neck). 
The reason for using PTT control is to allow more precise control of transmission 
timing by computer controlling the PTT line and keying line. Orion doesn't 
know that I have finished transmission and want to switch to RX immediately, my 
computer knows it and lifts the PTT line in the shortest (programmed) time. 
Orion adds the same amount of delay after each dit or dash, which at high speed 
can cover part of the callsign of station replying to me (up to 1 sec. 
delay?). Again, important factor is also to silence the RX with PTT line if I 
need to.  
 
 >>Reasons so far given for not implementing it by TenTec?
 >>"We know better that you don't need it!"
>  
>  We do things differently than the Japanese - and if you interpret this
>  as arrogance or "we know better" that is entirely your spin on it,
>  not mine.  If you're not willing to listen to an explanation of why our
>  method is *in our opinion* superior, than really there isn't a whole lot
>  more than I can say.  We developed the radio (and previous ones)
>  with full break-in CW in mind.  If your chief aim is to defeat the CW
>  capabilities of the Orion, this may not be the radio for you.
>  
 
I do not think, you demonstrate your arrogance. You telling me, the consumer, 
top race car driver, that I am not willing to listen to your explanation why 
your method is superior? I, the CW contester am trying to defeat CW 
capabilities of Orion? Think!
So much for "we listen to our users," you just blew it off. 
 
The reality is this: I and bunch of other contesters do not care for 
"superior" QSK for contest operation. It is fine for other modes and ways of 
using the radios, I some times use it, but for serious contesting I prefer PTT 
controlled CW. It does positive control of radios, amplifiers, gadgets and 
switching, especially for two (or more) radio setups. It does precise control by 
computer logging systems, knows when the transmission is finished and switches 
immediately to receive after last dit, no delays. It mutes receiver so I can 
concentrate on the other radio. If I need to mute the receiver (and switch 
other gizmos configured) without transmitting I can do that by activating PTT line. I 
eliminate relay chatter and wear on relays. All we are asking, leave the PTT 
line going to the mike connector as PTT line on CW, as it is on SSB. Keep your 
fancy QSK anyway you want it, it doesn't bother me being there and available if 
needed. I want to keep the cabling hooked the same way for SSB as for CW (PTT 
line from computer going to PTT line on mike connector). With the "solution" 
you described above, I have to replug the cables, which is an unnecessary no-no 
and it doesn't work the way is needed anyway. 
Can you give me one reason why the PTT line on mike connector cannot be left 
alone? 
 
>  Never has so much been written about something that the radio is already
>  capable of - and capable of without needing anything other than a good
>  read of the operator's manual.
>  
 
We are just starting to see the comments, criticism and suggestion by 
contesters as they bravely go for the "amazing" radio based on the praise by 
marketing, advertising and some magazine reviews. I looked into the manual and 
found some good descriptions and some errors (mike connector wiring), implying that I 
haven't figured obvious with PTT keying and it is all in there is a bit too 
much. My "contester's" review, part 1 should be out soon. Maybe you will find 
some food for improvement, maybe the Orion will be amazing enough as it is. You 
will be the king of the hill until competition strikes.
 
>  Yuri, tell me.  When you owned an Omni-VI, it didn't act any different
>  from the Orion regarding CW keying.  Why is this an issue for you now?
>  
 
OK, I'll tell you. I still own Omni D, Omni VI+ and three Titans (one has 
fried vacuum relay by previous QSK owner). I use Titans in contests, they have PTT 
option switchable, I never used them in QSK mode in the contests. Thank you for 
that (behind :-) sight, leaving the PTT "feature".
Omni VI I tried to use, but the PTT thing, spurs, drifting PB and overall 
features and feel did not impress me enough to replace the other (modified) 
rigs that I have in my arsenal. So it is sitting here as an example of great QSK 
rig with decent front end, but that's about it. So "that" issue was then as it 
is now. Now I care because I spend $3.6k for "amazing" radio and I can't even 
use fricken CW PTT, because you decided that it is not needed (lousy piece of 
wire to mike connector).
Have you surveyed other contesters and found out why Omni wasn't so wide 
spread among contesters? Have you learned any lessons and applied them to 
Orion? 
You are not gaining more customers with that kind of attitude, if I had 
manager like that, I would give him some lessons about listening to customers 
and how to treat them. 
 
Happy and Prosperous New Year to you and rest of the TenTec employees, users 
and worshipers. May your sales go through the roof, because you make your 
customers happy!
 
>  73
>  Scott Robbins, W4PA
>  Amateur Radio Product Manager, Ten-Tec, Inc.
>  
>  
 73 + HNY
Yuri Blanarovich, K3BU, VE3BMV, VE1BY
besides anything else, just customer that is trying to make your radios 
better for more people and increase your sales for no compensation.
 
Sorry if I may seem too harsh, but I have this "desease" of reacting in kind.
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 Just a note on skills and cooperation in design. I have worked at IBM, designed test, manufacturing equipment, robotics systems, participated and lectured on the subject of design and packaging for ease of manufacturing as well as ergonomics of equipment designs. My advantage was that I acquired and posses skills of mechanical and electrical engineer, computer control hardware and software designer and saw how advantageous it is is to have this rare combination of skills in one person - I did not have to argue with the "other" designers, I could sort things out in my own head, come out with best compromise to satisfy the requirements and solve the problems for least cost and effort. Scott is fine contest operator, I do not know about his electronic design skills, but the demonstration of Orion's ergonomics design and hardware packaging does not even match examples out there that competition has and is not demonstrating leading edge in producing top race horse for contesters. Some improvements in circuitry might not be enough to make major dent in the targeted (contesters) market if the rig has rough edges (and no PTT on CW).

I offered my skills to some manufacturers directly or over the net. They "know better" and keep producing "nice" rigs that we have to keep modifying to make them more contest and DX user friendly. Looks like there is plenty of room for really super radio at a decent price, something to consider, competition can do miracles, your money speaks.

How would you like ..... (enough of free advice :-)

Yuri, K3BU