Review of the Connect Systems CS580 DMR portable radio

Connect Systems, CS580, UHF, DMR, BFDX, radio
The Connect Systems CS580 UHF DMR portable radio that is manufactured for Connect Systems by the Chinese radio manufacturer, BFDX.

The Connect Systems CS580 is the latest DMR radio from Connect Systems – one of the early pioneers of value priced DMR radios targeting the ham radio market. This ultra-portable unit is manufactured for Connect Systems by the Chinese manufacturer BFDX and packs many features, including, superb audio, a multicoloured LCD display, front panel programmability, rugged IP54 compliant construction, plus much more. The CS580 is especially a great unit for anyone looking for a value priced DMR radio that is durable and well suited for travelling, as it does not require PC programming out of the box to function. At the time of this review, the selling price for a new the Connect Systems CS580 was $130 USD.

Author's Rating

Price

$130 USD

The Good

  • Audio Quality: The audio from this radio is full and pleasing to listen to, even with its low profile speaker;
  • Rugged Construction: This radio is supposed to be IP54 compliant and thus dustproof and water-resistant;
  • Multicolored LCD Display: Having a multicolored LCD display on the radio allows for easy use and programming while on the move;
  • Advanced Scanning Function: For hams that travel, this radio will scan for active DMR repeaters and will allow the user to lock onto that repeater and instantly join the conversation;
  • Front Panel Programming: This radio is capable of being programmed via the keypad, allowing users to make any changes without the need for the PC.
  • Antenna Connector: The antenna connector for this radio uses a male SMA connection, allowing it to easily be connected to an external antenna;
  • Voice Announce: For anyone that is visually impaired, this radio is sure to please with its voice announcements when changing channels;
  • Price: At $130 USD, this radio is a very attractive option for anyone looking for a value priced rugged DMR radio.

The Bad

  • Bluetooth Capability: This radio is not Bluetooth capable, so the use of wireless audio accessories is not possible;
  • Limited Contacts: The radio can only store 250 contacts, which may be limiting for some users;
  • Software Defects: There are some known software defects with this unit, however they should be addressed by Connect Systems in the coming firmware updates (UPDATE: Connect Systems released firmware v1.0.6 a few days after this review, which addresses the bugs that we encountered).

The Full Review

The Package

The Connect Systems CS580 radio comes standard with the following items out of the box:

  • CS580 radio operating on the 400 – 480 MHz band (only UHF available at this time);
  • Whip antenna;
  • Desktop charger cradle;
  • 120/240V desktop charger power supply;
  • 7.4V, 2,100 mAH Li-ion battery;
  • Belt clip;
  • Hand strap.

Form Factor

The first thing that users will notice about this radio is that it is very small – even smaller than the popular TYT/Tytera MD-380 by about 1cm (0.39ic) and it fist very nicely in the palm of the hand. Secondly, the radio seems very well-built and feels very solid with both the battery and antenna fitting snug to the radio. Also, the keypad on the radio has a very intuitive layout, similar to the Hyera PD782 and uses rubberized buttons, which provide a nice tactile feel to them, preventing fingers from slipping when trying to press them.

Users will also notice that unlike most DMR radios, the CS580 conceals the speak beneath the keypad, allowing for more usable real estate on the front of the radio, again similarly the Hytera PD782. But don’t be fooled – the audio from this radio is crisp and clear with this speaker arrangement, just not as loud as other commercial radios such as the Motorola XPR7550. The specifications for the radio list the rated speaker audio output at 1.5W, however I suspect that this is not fully accurate – especially since the Motorola XPR7550 is only rated for 500mW and it will wake the dead at full volume, unlike the CS580, however it is good and loud and will suffice for most ham users.

 

Motorola, XPR7550IS, MOTOTRBO, Connect Systems, CS580, UHF, BFDX, TYT, Tytera, MD-380
From the left, the Motorola MOTOTRBO XPR7550IS, the Connect Systems CS580 and the TYT/ Tytera MD-380 DMR radios.

Another feature that users will love about the CS580 is its efficient use of space on the multicoloured LCD display. Connect Systems & BFDX have done a great job in terms of ensuring that the information on the display fits properly and is readable, which was definitely not the case for the TYT/Tytera MD-380. Users can easily see all of the pertinent channel information, including the zone, full channel name and both the TX and RX frequencies. When a call is received, the radio also shows the DMR ID of the transmitting station – all without scrolling information on the screen. One area that the radio could be improved upon though, is with its use of the backlight. The user can either have the backlight on all the time or have it automatically turn off. When it turns off, it does not go fully dark and thus when using it in a dark environment, the screen still glows slightly, even though it is blank.

Connect Systems, DMR, CS580, UHF, display, colour, color
The multicoloured LCD display of the Connect Systems CS580 DMR portable radio.

For those users that need a radio that is durable and water-resistant, this radio is sure to please, being IP54 compliant for dust, vibration, shock and humidity, making it largely dustproof and able to tolerate being splashed with water or wet due to the rain. The CS580 is very well constructed and all of the detachable components, including the antenna and the battery, fit very tights to the radio, giving it a very solid feel that is indicative of quality manufacturing.

Finally, the CS580 comes standard with voice announce functionality, which announces the channel number when changed. This can be especially useful to change the channel without the need to physically look at the radio or for those users that are visually impaired.

Antenna

The Connect Systems CS580 comes standard with a wideband UHF whip antenna, which connects to the radio using a standard SMA male connector, making it easy and inexpensive to connect it with an external antenna with the purchase of a SMA female adapter.

Programming

One of the nicest features about the Connect Systems CS580 is that it does not require a PC to program it, making it perfect for first time DMR users or those who travel a lot. Out of the box, the users will have three options to program the CS580.

First, they can enter the needed information directly via the keypad in what seems like a VFO mode, including the colour code, TX & RX frequencies, timelsolt, talkgroup, plus TX group and RX groups. This way, no codeplug is required to get started, however the user will need to know these parameters for their local DMR repeater. Before trasmitting with the radio, the user can enter the DMR ID number into the radio via Settings section of the main menu.

The other option, which will be of great interest to users that travel a lot, is that the radio can scan for DMR repeater activity between 442 – 450 MHz (configurable) and when it finds DMR activity, whether it a repeater or simplex transmission, it will automatically load all of the parameters into the radio, including the proper colour code, talkgroup, RX & TX groups, offset frequency, allowing the user to lock onto that transmission and respond back. Yes, no configuration required. One limitation of this is that as of this time, the radio does not allow users to save these details to the radios memory, however Connect Systems has said that this is a feature that it will likely introduce in a future firmware update.

Finally, as with most DMR radios, users can simply connect the radio to a PC using the optional $10 USD programming cable & the free programming software and load a preconfigured codeplug into it or create a new one from scratch. Please note that this is the only way to fully access all of the radio’s functions and zone/channel information. Those channel configurations that are entered via the programming software are not at this editable via the keypad of the radio.

One item to note about programming the radio via the programming cable is that if you connect the cable while the radio is turned on and try to program it, it will not work. For this unit, it appears that you need to restart the radio by turning it off/on and then the programming software will recognize the radio and allow it to be programmed.

Accessories

The Connect Systems CS580 comes standard with a 7.4V 2,100 mAh Li-ion battery, a 120/240V desktop charger, a belt clip, a whip antenna (UHF). Additional batteries can be purchased directly from Connect Systems for $25 USD each and soon, surveillance microphones will be available for $15 USD each.

Conclusion

The Connect Systems CS580 is a great low-cost option for anyone looking for a ultra-portable, rugged and affordable DMR radio. Also, with its flexible programming options, this radio is sure to be a real winner for newcomers to DMR or those that travel often and need a radio that will get them on the air quickly without the need for a PC to program it.

Overall, we are very happy with the Connect Systems CS580 and believe that it is a great value priced DMR radio that is likely to please most users, making it a winner within the ham radio community.

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About Don Trynor, VA3XFT

Don Trynor, VA3XFT

Don Trynor is a 16-year veteran of the telecommunications industry and a licensed Canadian ham radio operator since 1988. He is passionate about VHF/UHF repeater communications, especially using digital modes and he has owned and operated a number of ham radio repeater installations over the years, including ones in both the provinces of Ontario (VE3/VA3) and New Brunswick (VE9). Currently, he maintains three UHF DMR repeaters – two in Toronto, ON (VA3XPR-1 & VE3YYZ DMR) and one in Niagara Falls, ON (VA3XPR-2), plus one Yaesu System Fusion repeater in Toronto, ON (VA3XPS) that operates in digital-only mode. In addition to ham radio, Don enjoys traveling, hiking, kayaking, biking and astronomy.