TYT MD-2017 Review

Tyera TYT dual band VHF UHF DMR portable radio
The TYT MD-2017 dual band VHF & UHF DMR portable radio

 

The TYT MD-2017 is one of the latest DMR radios from TYT and the first dual band (VHF and UHF) DMR portable radio from this Chinese manufacturer. This unit packs many features, including, dual band VHF (136 – 174 MHz) and UHF (400 – 480 MHz) operation, superb audio, a multi-coloured LCD display, front panel programmability, rugged construction that is IP67 compliant, plus much more. This is a great radio for anyone living or travel to areas where both VHF and UHF DMR repeaters are in operation and at the time of this review, the selling price for a new the TYT MD-2017 without GPS capability was $159 USD.

Author's Rating

Price

$159 USD

The Good

  • Dual Band Operation: Having the ability to operate simultaneously on both VHF (136 – 174 MHz) and UHF (400 – 480 MHz) DMR systems offers great flexibility;
  • Audio Volume and Quality: The audio from this radio is full, with a good response to low frequencies, making it pleasing to listen to and it will get heard, even in the noisiest environments;
  • Rugged Construction: This radio feels well-built and is supposed to be IP67 compliant and thus waterproof for 30 min. when submerged in up to 1 metre of water;
  • Multi-coloured LCD Display: Having a bright multicolored LCD display on the radio allows for easy use and programming while on the move;
  • Front Panel Programming: This radio is capable of being programmed via the keypad, allowing users to make changes without the need a PC;
  • Antenna Connector: The antenna connector for this radio uses a female SMA connection, allowing it to easily be connected to an external antenna;
  • Multiple DMR IDs: This radio supports multiple DMR radio IDs, allowing a great deal of flexibility for hams that need the ability to use multiple DMR IDs;
  • 100,000 Contacts: With firmware version 4.05, users can store up to 100,000 DMR contacts in their radios;
  • 3,000 Channels: Having the capacity to store 3,000 channels, users will have the capacity to store channels for use at home and while travelling;
  • Price: At $159 USD, this radio is a very attractive option for anyone looking for a dual band DMR portable radio.

The Bad

  • Programming Software: The programming software (version 1.22) is unstable and novices to DMR will likely find it somewhat complicated to use;
  • User Experience: The user experience within the radio’s menu could be improved to make it more user-friendly;
  • User Manual: The included user manual is poorly written, and does not clearly address how to accomplish functions related to using the radio and with configuring the programming software;
  • Bluetooth Capability: This radio is not Bluetooth capable, so the use of wireless audio accessories is not possible;
  • Desktop Charger: The desktop charger takes hours to charge the radio, plus the bright green “finished” LED indicator does not turn off, even when the radio is removed from the charger.

The Full Review

The Package

The TYT MD-2017 radio comes standard with the following items out of the box:

  • Dual band antenna
  • USB programming cable
  • Desktop charging cradle
  • 120/240V desktop charger power supply
  • 7.4V, 2,200 mAh Li-ion battery
  • Belt clip
  • User manual

Form Factor

The most notable difference between the MD-2017 and the MD-380 is that the MD-2017 is slightly taller and wider than the MD-380. In addition, the keyboard uses larger buttons and the knob on the top is larger, making it easier to adjust. Also, the MD-2017 only has a volume control knob on the top of the radio, with channel changes done using the trackball on the front of the radio. In addition to its design, the radio appears to be well-built with a solid feel and the accessories fit well, including the battery, antenna and the accessory port dust protector. One feature that hams will appreciate is that the radio is supposed to be IP67 complaint, making it waterproof for up to 30 minutes when submerged in up to 1m of water. While most of us take good care of our radios, there are times when having a waterproof radio sure comes in handy and saves us from having to buy a new one when it gets wet.

TYT MD-380 MD-2017 dual band VHF UHF portable radio DMR
From the left, the TYT MD-380 and TYT MD-2017.

With regard to the buttons, the MD-2017 comes equipped with three programmable side buttons and a programmable top button. The function of each of these buttons can be assigned in the programming software to perform the desired task. Also, the MD-2017 comes equipped with a 14-button keypad and a trackball button to navigate the radio’s menu and settings. It should be noted that the MD-2017 does not include the DTMF keys “A”, “B”, “C” and “D”, which are sometimes used with ham radio applications, however the standard DTMF keys work as expected. Also, the keypad buttons are backlit, which helps a great deal when using the radio at night or in dark environments. Finally, the trackball is quite sensitive and users may find they end-up selecting the wrong menu item when they press the trackball to select the desired menu item. We found that after a little practice, navigating the menus using the trackball will be snap.

With regard to the side buttons, they are constructed of high grip material, making them easy to push without having the fingers slip accidentally. The Push to Talk (PTT) button on the other hand does not use high grip material like with the MD-380. It is important to note that the PTT button is slightly raised above the radio’s body, which could likely result in the accidental keying of the radio, so users should consider this when picking up the radio or carrying it in tight-fitting carry cases.

Antenna

With the MD-2017 being a dual band radio, it includes a dual band antenna that is supposed to cover the full VHF (136 – 174 MHz) and UHF (400 – 480 MHz) bands. If top performance is important, then users might want to consider finding another antenna specifically cut for the 2m and 70cm bands. One of the most striking features of the MD-2017 is the shape of the antenna, which appears to have a GPS antenna integrated into it. Again, some users may not need GPS functionality and so if they prefer the appearance of simpler dual band antenna designs, then they want to find another that better suits their performance and visual preferences. Further, having a large surface area at the base of the antenna may cause a great deal of stress on the antenna connector, so users should keep this in mind when using or carrying the radio. Finally, the antenna connector used with the MD-2017 is a standard SMA female connector, making it easy and inexpensive to connect it with an external antenna with the purchase of an SMA male adapter.

TYT MD-2017 dual band DMR portable radio ham
The TYT MD-2017 dual band DMR portable radio.

Audio

One of the best features of this radio is its audio quality, which is impressive for such a small form factor. Not only does the radio have loud, clear audio, but it also has a wide audio frequency response, providing good response to low audio frequencies. The rated speaker output from the vendor is 1,000mW, which may be overstated, since the radio volume seems to be on par with other DMR radios that have a 500mW speaker. Nonetheless, this radio will be heard in noisy environments where many typical ham radio portables will be inaudible. The fullness of the audio is one of the best features of the radio, making it a very pleasing unit to listen to. With regard to microphone audio, the audio appeared to be fine, right out of the box. Should users need to adjust it, the microphone audio level is adjustable in the radio settings.

One feature that the MD-2017 does not support, which is becoming more commonplace with DMR radios is Bluetooth capability, which enables the use of wireless audio accessories. With the advent of distracted driving laws in North America, this feature is being used more and more by hams during their mobile operation. For users who require this functionality, they will likely need to look for a higher tier DMR radio, which usually includes this capability.

Display & Indicators

Similar to the MD-380 and the subsequent MD-390, the MD-2017 employs a multi-coloured LCD display, however the one used with the MD-2017 appears brighter than the one used with MD-380. Further, TYT has finally removed the useless Contact and Channel icons from the screen that were displayed on the MD-380 and now makes better use of the space available to display the zone, VHF channel, UHF channel, active channel, time, date, and the usual icons at the top for signal strength, battery power and TX power.

TYT MD-2017 dual band DMR portable radio display
The LCD display for the TYT MD-2017 dual band DMR radio.

Also, like with the MD-380 and MD-390, the MD-2017 backlight brightness is not adjustable by the user and cannot be assigned as a programmable button in the programming software – both of which could be considered as potential radio improvements with a future firmware update.

There is a single LED indicator on the top front of the radio that is used to indicate the radio’s status as follows:

  • Green: Received signal present
  • Orange: Radio is scanning
  • Red: Radio transmitting

The menu structure of the MD-2017 is quite similar to that of the MD-380 & MD-390, however with the addition of new functionality, such as the front panel programming and dual band operation, the menu becomes a bit more complex to navigate. Additionally, the user manual that is included with the radio lacks significant explanation of radio functionality and how to use it, so users will simply need to spend time with the radio in order to master its many functions.

Some other usability improvements for the MD-2017 that TYT could employ with future firmware updates would be:

  • Day/Night modes: By creating a day mode, which employs a white background with black text and a night mode, which similarly employs a blue background with white text, TYT could make it easier for users to view information on the MD-2017’s LCD display;
  • Backlight brightness: By making the backlight brightness user adjustable, TYT could allow users to extend their battery life and also, make the radio more pleasing to view in bright or dark environments;
  • Menu language: Simple item like “Confirm” in the radio’s menu could be simple to terms such as “OK”.
  • Zones: Allow more than 16 channels per zone, as many DMR repeaters now use more than 16 talkgroups, requiring multiple zones per DMR repeater.
  • Radio ID per Channel: By having a default DMR radio ID per channel, users would not need to manually configure this on a per channel or zone basis.

Modes of Operation

With the MD-2017 being a dual band, dual-mode radio, users can use either DMR or analog FM modes on either the 2m or 70cm bands. When in analog FM mode, the radio will support either 12.5, 20 or 25 kHz channel operation. This will allow users to easily make the switch to DMR while continuing to allow them to operate using traditional 25 kHz FM repeaters or simplex operation.

RF Performance

The RF performance of the MD-2017 compares specification-wise pretty much on par with most other DMR radios available on the market today. The transmit power of the radio can be set to either low power (1W) or high power (5W VHF and 4W UHF), but it is not adjustable in terms of the wattage values associated with each of these settings.

Accessories

The MD-2017 comes standard with a 7.4V 2,200 mAh Li-ion battery, a 120/240V desktop charger, a belt clip, a dual band antenna and a user manual. Additional batteries and accessories, such as a speaker microphone and programming cable, can be purchased directly from one of the TYT authorized dealers. Since the MD-2017 employs its own unique accessory connector, which is used for programming and audio accessories, users will not be able to use MD-380 or MD-390 accessories with this radio and will need to use those specifically made for the MD-2017.

TYT MD-2017 charger programming cable battery dual band DMR ham radio
The TYT MD-2017 accessories, including the USB programming cable, the 7.4V 2200mAh Li-ion battery and the desktop charger.

With regard to the desktop charger that is included with the MD-2017, there is one annoyance with this desktop charger is that once the radio is fully charged and removed from the charger, the bright green LED does not turn off, thus illuminating their shack or hotel room with an annoying bright green glow at night. This issue also existed for the MD-380 and TYT has not addressed it going forward.

Programming

CPS Programming Software

The MD-2017 is programmed using the free programming software (otherwise known as CPS) and a USB programming cable, which is included with the radio. The programming software is intuitively structured for the most part, however, when it comes to adding both UHF and VHF channels to zones, it becomes a bit more complicated as compared to the mono band MD-380 and MD-390. It should be noted that it took about two hours to set-up and program the radio for this review. The primary reason for the slow time in setting up the radio was that it has no user manual for the programming software, nor any help menus within it to assist the user, so it will likely take users some time to figure it out if they are programming it for the first time.

The version of programming software used for this review was version 1.22, which was prone to crashing occasionally, forcing reconfiguration of the settings when they were lost. This occurred with Windows 10, so hopefully TYT can identify and address the source of this instability and correct it in a future release. In addition, there were times when the radio could not be read or written to, however a simple reboot of the radio tended to fix this issue.

Some features that TYT has included for use with the MD-2017 that will make it appealing to many users is that face that it supports 3,000 channels, 250 zones, plus 100,000 contacts, plus it supports the use of multiple DMR radio IDs and will record transmissions for playback. Also, for users that purchase the MD-2017 for commercial use, the radio supports both basic and enhanced encryption, thereby helping them to communicate securely. One feature that some ham users are going to appreciate is its ability to support multiple DMR radio IDs – especially if they want to use the radio for both ham and commercial use. With regard to the ability for the user to upgrade the firmware of the MD-2017, TYT provides a firmware update program with new firmware versions, making firmware updates very straightforward for users to complete.

Front Panel Programming

The MD-2017 comes standard with the ability to be programmed via the keypad, including for both DMR and analog FM operation. While it technically supports this functionality, it is somewhat complicated to use versus programming it using the provided programming software with a PC. Given this, many users will likely find that programming it without a PC is really only good for fixing errors in programming or accomplishing simple changes, as adding new DMR repeaters, talkgroups, zones and contacts is a very slow and painstaking task. As a result, it is recommended that users will want to keep their laptops nearby, as it will save a great deal of time when it comes time to load their favourite DMR repeaters into the radio.

Conclusion

The MD-2017 is a great low-cost option for anyone looking for a rugged dual band DMR radio. It is sure to come in very handy for users that live in or travel to areas where there are both VHF and UHF DMR repeaters. At a $159 USD price point for the non-GPS version, users really cannot go wrong with this radio, as it is feature packed, durable, and performs well. While the radio has some usability issues, they are unlikely to adversely impact the functionality of the radio for most users.

Overall, we feel that the MD-2017 is a great value priced dual band DMR radio that is likely to please the most demanding ham radio or light commercial user who needs a dual band DMR radio that can withstand the elements.

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About VA3XFT

VA3XFT
Don 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). In addition to ham radio, Don enjoys traveling, hiking, kayaking, biking and astronomy.