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  #1  
Old 05-21-2010, 04:17 AM
Chickenhawk Chickenhawk is offline
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Default Motorola DTR410, DTR550, DTR650 detailed review

I review the Motorola DTR550 radio, and compare it to the similar Motorola DTR410 and DTR650.

Transmissions with the DTR radios are very clear and they have about the best range possible with any VHF/UHF portable radio. (Like any VHF or UHF portable, they are basically line-of-sight, so distance evaluations are always subjective.)

To test the range, I turned one on, left it in the kitchen and then walked down the street with a second one in my pocket while I went to the nearest pub for a cold draft. (It has been almost 30 degrees C this past week!) When both are on, pushing the PTT causes a short 'handshake' to take place to make sure at least one other unit is in range. This is indicated by the "Nextel-like" tone. Once the tone ends about 1/2 second later, you can start talking. If the other radio is not in range, you will instead hear a loud beep.

Basically, I was able to walk 2 long blocks down and 4 short blocks over, and still stay in range. I would estimate this was about 1 to 2 kilometers in a dense residential area. When I walked inside the pub, I lost the signal but walking out the front door regained it again. (Don't forget the other radio was INSIDE my house.)

This was quite impressive, and exceeded any FRS/GMRS radio I have used in the same area by at least 1 city block. (Our GMRS radios in Canada don't need a licence but they are restricted to 2 watts of power; not that that power matters all that much to range anyway.)

The DTR-series radios are pure digital radios, which means there is about a 1 second delay in the transmission. It also means that there is no fuzzy transmission from the far edge of their working range; they are either 100% clear or they don't transmit at all. When tested side-by-side with the nice Motorola Walkabout T6220s that held my previous record for range and clarity, the DTRs were much clearer.

The clarity is the same or better than any high-end business radio, and the mil-spec build quality and weatherproof design makes them expensive but easily worth it in my opinion if you are seeking this level of quality, reliability and readability.

Because they are a FHSS radio, there is no licencing required in either Canada or the U.S. They transmit on the 900 MHz band, which is shared with millions of cordless phones and other electronic devices but the Motorola only stays on one frequency for 90 milliseconds, and would not cause noticeable interference with anything else. One cannot eavesdrop on a conversation with consumer-level scanners either.

All Motorola accessories designed for the radios fit well. It is important to note that not all third-party accessories fit properly. There is very little clearance in the socket for mic/headset accessories, and one MUST use the two-prong Motorola plug that fits these tight sockets. There are two versions of two-prong plugs designed for Motorolas, so I would highly suggest that before you use a non-Motorola product, you test them first.

The reason is actually quite simple. The one version has SLIGHTLY shorter prongs than the other style. One CAN make them fit by some judicious trimming under the prongs with a razor knife, but it is better to get the proper plug on your accessories in the first place.

Accessories such as speaker mics and two-wire surveillance kits work fine and the clarity is great. It is important to note that one can adjust both the volume and microphone sensitivity of the internal mic and speaker AND external accessories attached to the radio separately.

If you are using them in windy conditions, it is a good idea to lower the mic sensitivity or you will pick up wind noise that sounds much like static, but isn't. (This is easy to change ... once I found out what setting to use. More on that in a moment.)

So, everything is great about these radios? Well ... not quite.

The radios are fine; the support from Motorola, the user manuals and the advertising need work.

Motorola did a poor job translating the user manual and their advertising is misleading. The manuals have contradictory and missing information and it took DAYS of working with the radios in one hand and the manuals in the other to try to figure out how to program them.

Here are some examples. On page 2-17, it explains how one can change the volume of the ringer, speaker, keypad, alarm and talk-permit tone ("Nextel-like" beep to confirm another radio is in range.) The only problem is that there is NO SUCH ABILITY TO CHANGE THE VOLUME OF THIS ANNOYING BEEP on the DTR550. It simply gets louder as the speaker volume is turned up, and contrary to the user manual, there is no way to turn it down independent of the speaker.

On page 2-18, it explains how to adjust the microphone sensitivity to the ambient noise of the environment. In the first paragraph, it states that a LOW setting means low ambient noise and the sensitivity of the microphone is set high for good clarity of sound. (On low, even a soft whisper comes across clear and understandable.)

In the very next paragraph, it contradicts itself, and says that setting the ambient noise setting to LOW is designed for HIGH ambient noise environments and DECREASES the sensitivity of the microphone. (I tested it in very windy conditions, and the first paragraph is correct; the second paragraph is wrong.)

If you are using them in a HIGH noise environment, set the ambient noise setting to HIGH, and vice versa.

Motorola has free programming software for all three models, although for many years, the software was only available for the 410. It now works on all three: 410, 550, and 650.

(This lack of programming software created MUCH confusion - even with Motorola customer support - because Motorola advertising said it was available for all three years before the software was rewritten to work on all three.)

One problem with the programming software is that you need a special programming cable that plugs into a serial port on your Windows computer. (Not all computers have serial ports these days.)

One can program the radios manually without the programming software of course, but this takes a very careful reading of the manual and a long and laborious process. On my private "net" of DTR radios, I wanted them to have unique names so I purchased the mini-keypad to help program them with unique names. I didn't want the screen to read "public group1" and the user to be listed on my contact list as "12345678910" so I used the mini-keypad to change the names and add some more text messages. (I don't have a Windows computer or a serial port, so the downloadable programming software was not an option for me.)

With the mini-keypad, I erased the default messages, added some new ones, changed the name of each radio into something that actually made sense, moved from the default channel 1 into a less-likely to be used channel (especially when people find out how daunting a task it is to program these things, there may be a LOT of DTR radios always transmitting on channel 1!) and then added each of the other radios as a private group. Once you do all this programming on one, you then do it for all the rest. Once that is done, you then have to go into the programming menu (which takes holding down the "home" button while pushing the PTT 3 times, then pressing right bar button, down button, left bar button, holding down the "home" button and pressing the PTT 3 times again, to get into the programming menu) on one radio, selecting the name of the other radio and then when programming the ID, you select "read" and press the "home" button of the other radio 3 times and then the PTT, and this adds the other radio to the first one.

You then do this in turn with each radio you have so that every radio will recognize every other radio.

Simple.

It actually works great, but you can begin to see why this takes hours to do all this. (And why I spent so much time down the street in the pub drinking cold beer!)

That being said, one can simply unpack them, turn them on and use them without any fancy programming needed. They default to channel 1 and unit ID 1, and Motorola DTR radio will work with any other DTR radio right out of the box.

Currently, I am now working with the various "public group" and "private group" options, plus trying to calculate how many possible channel combinations there are. (The DTR radios don't really use fixed "channels," they are Motorola's proprietary channel hopping algorithm.) There are 10 "channels" one can set their radio on, and 100 possible unit ID numbers. Each radio must be set to the same channel plus the same unit ID number to be heard by each other, but each unit ID number can be used only once. By my math, this means there are 955 unique combinations one can use.

So what's the bottom line? Great radios; complicated user interface, and a confusing manual. But once programmed, the battery life (lithium batteries) is incredible, the range is about the best you can get in any UHF radio and the clarity of the transmissions is as good as any other business radio on the market. If you listen to the comparison sound files on the Buytwowayradios.com website, you may notice a slight "digital" robotic sound to some of the words, but in actual use, I don't notice anything like that. Every word is clear, and there are times I wish my cell phone had this same readability.

Last edited by Chickenhawk; 08-11-2012 at 03:24 AM. Reason: New updates on programming software; now available for all 3 models
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  #2  
Old 06-10-2010, 03:01 AM
Chickenhawk Chickenhawk is offline
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Default Re: Motorola DTR550 detailed review

So what are the downsides?

#1 - The manual is confusing and contradictory.

Trying to work my way through the manual, I finally opened a trouble file with Motorola business radio support and got a call from a Motorola rep the next day. He clarified that the free customer programming software (CPS) was only available for the DTR410, not the much more expensive DTR550/650. He did find CPS for the DTR550/650 but it cost $300 and could only be used with the optional (extra cost) programming cable with the outdated serial port connection.

UPDATE: This has now been corrected. (Maybe based on my criticisms?) As of 2012, the downloadable free software has been rewritten to work on all three models.

#2 - It will take some time to figure out all the private group and public group programming that one can do on these radios.

Once you get them figured out and programmed, the advantage of the digital radio is that you can call any individual radio or even a smaller private group of individual radios, and still leave the "channel" free for conversation among all the other radios in your public group.

After two days of working with these radios, I now have my own private "net" of radios, all programmed to a unique channel and ID number. Each radio now has its own unique identifier, such as "Chickenhawk One" and "Chickenhawk Two" etc. instead of the factory identifier such as "123456789." They all broadcast on a public group that also has a unique name ("Chickenhawk's Group") and I divided up the public group into three private groups, so I can call all the radios on one subset or call any radio individually instead of broadcasting to all the radios at once. (I rarely use this ability however.)

#3 - Like any pure digital radio, there is a bit of a time delay in the transmission (about 1/2 second) and users need some basic training to learn to push the PTT button down and hold it until they get the confirmation beep, and THEN start talking. Until they get used to it, you will receive a lot of truncated radio calls!

#4 - Like any other digital radio, once they are out of range, they are out of range. There will be no transmission at all if the radios cannot send a clear signal. This means that when you are on the outer edge of the transmission range, you will NOT receive a fuzzy, almost unreadable signal. They either transmit with 100% clarity or they don't transmit at all.

But the bottom line is that they are very good radios - albeit very expensive - and if one is looking for an industrial-class radio that operates on an unlicenced spectrum and wants better quality than bubble-pack GMRS radios, they should seriously consider these.

Last edited by Chickenhawk; 08-11-2012 at 03:26 AM. Reason: UPDATES
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  #3  
Old 06-11-2010, 03:39 PM
jwilkers jwilkers is offline
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Default Re: Motorola DTR550 detailed review

Good review.. I made it "sticky". It wil be there on top.
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  #4  
Old 09-14-2010, 05:11 AM
webvan webvan is offline
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Default Re: Motorola DTR550 detailed review

Sorry if this sounds silly but these would be better overall performers than the TriStar TSX300R would they?
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  #5  
Old 09-14-2010, 11:59 PM
Chickenhawk Chickenhawk is offline
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Default Re: Motorola DTR550 detailed review

I can't speak to that issue because I don't own the TriSquare radios.

TriSquare advertises their range as at least as good as any UHF/FRS/GMRS radio, and that make perfect sense. The Motorola DTR radios don't have an advertised range but advertise they should work throughout 35 floors of a building. (UHF is better for penetrating glass and concrete of urban areas, while VHF is better able to punch through vegetation of rural areas.)

They are also totally different radios. The TriSquare radios are consumer-grade radios, with their own unique frequency-hopping algorithm.

The Motorola DTR radios are business-class radios, made to industrial-grade (and mil-spec) standards. They use their own frequency-hopping algorithm which is much faster than the TriSquares. (At 90 milliseconds frequency hopping, there has been no documented case of a consumer-level scanner being able to eavesdrop on a DTR conversation.)

They are also six times the price.

Now whether these industrial-grade radios are worth six times the price to YOU is entirely your decision.

I think it is great that there is an option for a high-end business class radio on the unlicenced spectrum, and they were certainly worth six times the price for me. I use business-class two way radios every day. I wanted some personal radios that I could legally use for business use and that had industrial-grade construction. I chose these ones.

Yes, there will always be a market for people who want the best radio they can afford at the lowest price, but I wanted the best radio, period.

Last edited by Chickenhawk; 09-17-2011 at 08:53 PM.
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  #6  
Old 09-15-2010, 02:32 AM
webvan webvan is offline
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Default Re: Motorola DTR550 detailed review

Thanks for the insight, yes for my "amateur" use I don't need that type of equipment, but it's always fascinating to read discover new technologies thanks to in depth reviews and posts in forums ;-)

Still using my FRS Motorolas, might go with the Cobra CXR925 for the recording mode and at some point try the TriSquare (thanks for gently pointing out my mistake). Not directly related to the topic at hand but when I looked up the FCC ID of my old and more or less defunct Uniden radios from 2001 I noticed that TriSquare was their maker, not entirely to the radio business as I think I read somewhere ;-)
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  #7  
Old 09-15-2010, 03:24 PM
Chickenhawk Chickenhawk is offline
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Default Re: Motorola DTR550 detailed review

For me, readability of the transmission was my number one priority. My Motorola Talkabout T6220 radios have always been my ultimate FRS radio for range and readability and they may be ten years old, but they still work fine, but I wanted the larger speakers, industrial-grade components, water resistant design and the high audio output power of these mil-spec DTR radios.

Last edited by Chickenhawk; 09-17-2011 at 08:57 PM.
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  #8  
Old 09-23-2010, 02:36 AM
Chickenhawk Chickenhawk is offline
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Default Re: Motorola DTR550 detailed review

I would like to detail the differences between the Motorola DTR410, the DTR550 and the DTR650 models. (All the radios I tested were the latest generation II versions of each model.)

While the DTR410 is considered to be more of the "consumer" version of the DTR series, ALL Motorola DTR series radios are expensive, industrial-grade mil-spec business radios.

The DTR410, DTR550 and DTR650 are basically the same radio. The differences are in the firmware programming and the antenna. (Okay ... the faceplate on the 410 is grey while the faceplate on the 550 and 650 is black.)

The DTR410 comes with a 1" moulded-in fixed antenna, while the generation II DTR550 and DTR650 both come with removable (and replaceable) 3" rubber ducky antenna. (Motorola also makes a 6" rubber ducky antenna, Motorola stock number 8505241U04 - Motorola 1/2 Wave Whip Antenna, 806-941 MHz - that fits the 550 and 650.)

For further informal range tests, I tested a 410 with the fixed stub antenna, a 550 with the 3" rubber ducky, a 550 with a 6" rubber ducky and a 650 with the 6" rubber ducky along the same walking route as I detailed previously. The results were pretty conclusive. I got a LOT of strange looks. (Try walking through YOUR neighborhood with four radios dangling from your belt in the pouring rain.)

The differences were less than I would have predicted. The 6" rubber ducky antenna radios had about half a block longer range than the 3" antenna radio, and the 410 with the stubby antenna had about 1/4 block less range than the 3" ducky antenna radio.

Don't forget, I was walking through a very dense urban area with a lot of old houses and streets lined with mature elms. Therefore, range-wise there was not a lot of difference between the three antennas.

Differences in firmware were more significant. Interestingly enough, the "generation II" version of the 410 has updated firmware that gives it nearly the same ability as the 650 radio. For example, one feature that the 410 has that the 550 doesn't have is the 650's "manager mode." When this is turned on, a 410 can remotely send a time synchronization signal or remotely disable any 410, 550 or 650 radio, provided the other unit is programmed in to the 410's contact list.

Another interesting new feature is the remote monitoring, where a 410 or 650 can send a signal to any 410, 550 or 650 on its contact list to open its mic and start transmitting. This would be a great way for a manager to be able to monitor if a distant worker is injured and cannot call for help.

Basically, the newest generation II DTR410 has most of the programming of the DTR650, but without the 650's removable antenna or larger battery.

So the bottom line is that these are expensive but high-quality radios that should last for many years. They don't need any programming to get them to work right out of the box, but if you spend some time with the user manual, you can program them directly through the keyboard for most simple tasks such as changing the factory default channel settings and adjusting the user interface settings.

If you buy the optional mini-keyboard, you can even do additional programming such as using unique names for each radio plus your private and public groups, and programming in some additional text messages. (Yes, you can actually text message the other radios, using built-in text messages.)

Last edited by Chickenhawk; 09-17-2011 at 09:13 PM.
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  #9  
Old 10-04-2010, 09:06 PM
Chickenhawk Chickenhawk is offline
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Default Re: Motorola DTR550 detailed review

By the way, digital radios have about a one second delay in the transmission, so if you ever want to freak out digital radios and open a hole in the time/space continuum, have one DTR radio close to you while you talk very briefly into another one and hold down the PTT button.

Because of the delay in the digital transmission, when I say "walkie check" into the first radio, the second one transmits the phrase about a second later; the first radio hears the second radio and retransmits the phrase and so on and so on.

I must have heard my voice echoing back and forth about a hundred times.

Very freaky!

(Yeah, I know ... I need to get out more.)

Last edited by Chickenhawk; 11-21-2010 at 01:38 AM.
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  #10  
Old 10-05-2010, 12:15 AM
webvan webvan is offline
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Default Re: Motorola DTR550 detailed review

hehe...a bit like looking from a mirror in a mirror!
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