Kenwood TM-281A Review

If you’re looking for a no-nonsense 2-meter band FM radio with plenty of power, the Kenwood TM-281A is a great choice. Sure, it may not have the frills or the bells and whistles of some more modern ham radios, but its time-tested design offers a great price-to-performance ratio.

Good

  • Amazing value – It’s pretty hard to find another radio in this class for such a low price. Sure, it’s basic, but the TM-281A still offers excellent transmit and receive performance, and all of the most essential features most ham operators want.
  • Great sound quality – The speakers in this unit are front-firing, which means that it will still sound great no matter where you mount it – unlike some competing units with top or bottom-firing speakers which are muffled after mounting.
  • Simple user interface (UI) – The lack of advanced features means that it’s really easy to use this mobile transceiver. This makes it particularly good for mobile operation in a vehicle, where you may not want to fiddle with complex menus and buttons.
  • High-quality mic – Combine with its clear FM transmission, the high-quality Kenwood mic included with this unit means you’ll sound great on the airwaves.
  • Great build quality – Like all Kenwood radios, the TM-281A is built to be used and abused. It’s solidly-built, shock-resistant, and is truly designed to last.

Bad

  • Bare-bones features – This may be a good thing to some. But the Kenwood TM-281A only has a few standard features like VFO, memory, weather alerts, and DCS. That’s about it. You won’t get WIRES or any other special features that are quite common on newer mobile transceivers.
  • Heat management – The Kenwood TM-281A is known for having some heat issues, especially when transmitting at its full 65 watts of power. For prolonged use, you’ll need to have adequate ventilation in your ham shack or vehicle.

Bottom line

If you want a fancy, multi-band radio with tons of modern features, this isn’t the radio for you. But if you need a rock-solid, durable, and reliable mobile transceiver for the 2-meter band – and you have a tight budget – it’s hard to do better than the TM-281A.

Product Specs

Product Specs

Frequency RangeTX
144 – 148 MHz

RX
136 – 174 MHz
ModeF3E (FM)
Power Requirement13.8 V DC ±15 %, negative ground
Curent DrainTransmit
Less than 14 A (High), less than 8 A (Low)

Receive
Less than 1 A
Operating temperature range-20 °C ~ +60 °C
Antenna Impedance50 Ω
Microphone Impedance600 Ω
Frequency Tolerance±2.5 ppm (-20 °C ~ +60 °C)
Dimensions (W x H x D),
(Projections included)
160 x 43 x 126 mm
161 x 43 x 170.5 mm
Weight1.13 kg
RF Output Power65 W / 25 W
ModulationVariable reactance modulation
Maximum Frequency DeviationWide: ±5 kHz, Narrow: ±2.5 kHz
Modulation DistortionLess than 3 % (300 Hz – 3 kHz)
CircuitryDouble Super Heterodyne
Intermediate Frequency1st IF
49.95 MHz

2nd IF
450 kHz
Sensitivity (12 dB SINAD)Less than 0.18 μV
(Narrow: less than 0.22 μV)
Squelch SensitivityLess than 0.1 μV
Selectivity-6dB
More than 12 kHz (Narrow: more than 10 kHz)

-60dB
Less than 30 kHz (Narrow: less than 24 kHz)
Audio Output PowerMore than 2 W (5 % distortion)

Expert reviews

  • A preview from ARRLHQ noted the simple design of the TM-281A, and praised its ability to save up to 200 memory positions and to program the unit with a programming cable. He also had good things to say about the light weight of the unit – 2.5 lbs – and its fanless design, which leads to more quiet operation.
  • Everything Ham Radio did an overview of the TM-281A, and had many positive things to say about the radio. He noted its rugged design and great audio, and said it was a “great choice” for anyone looking for a basic, no-frills 2-meter radio. He did mention being a bit disappointed in only being able to save up to 200 memory channels, though.

User reviews

  • On GigaParts, the TM-281A has an average rating of 5 stars over 5 reviews. Users noted that it was a “superb 2 meter rig” and that it’s “reliable, dependable, and works really well.” However, several did criticize the lack of a low power mode – the unit can only broadcast at 65 watts and 25 watts.
  • eHam.net users have given this Kenwood mobile transceiver a rating of 4.4 stars across 83 total reviews. Users who liked the radio said it was “well made,” that it “packs a lot of punch,” and that it “sounds nicer than radios… such as the ICOM V8000, ICOM IC-2200H, and Yaesu FT-8000.” On the negative side, some users mentioned quality control issues, heat dissipation problems, and the inability to transmit on low power.
  • On DXEngineering, reviewers have given the Kenwood TM-281A an average rating of 4.78 stars across 49 reviews. They noted that it’s a “good sounding radio,” and is “easy to program.” Several users noted the basic, simple, and effective design of the radio as their favorite aspect. Those who were a bit more critical of this unit noted that the display is fairly small, and that programming channel numbers is a bit more complex than it needs to be.

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