Alinco: First Look at the Alinco DR-638

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N9JIG

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After the recent death of my trusty old Alinco DR-635 I had planned on getting another one. I liked the size of the remote head and how sensitive the radio is. It also had a great sounding TX audio according to those I communicated with.

While scouting prices on Universal’s website I came across the new Alinco DR-638. This is very similar to the DR-635 but was reported as Part 90 accepted. Thus it was listed as full TX from 400-480 and 136-174 MHz. Receive range is wider, with AM Aircraft and 220 covered.


I know a lot of people would mod their dual band ham rigs so they could get full TX in these bands and that the 635 was popular in some areas since it would work on part of the T-Band when most rigs stopped at 470. The problem is that it was not legal and the radios did not always work well out of band.

Now here comes the Alinco 638, which is legal on these bands but still retains the ham functionality of a VFO and direct frequency entry. Alas, GMRS users, it is not Part 95 approved, so while it works just fine on GMRS it is not technically legal there.

Since the radio is so new there is not a lot to read about it. Google searches showed 2 of the first 3 links as my various inquiries recently. I wanted to know if the 638 would work with my old 635 remote kit (it won’t I found out later) and if it would support full access to frequency programming, at least in the ham bands and receive (it does, and then some…).

So, after approval from the head office (AKA wife) I ordered the radio, the remote kit and programming cable from Universal. All in it was under $450, the radio itself is only $360. The radio was ordered on Wednesday and arrived at my office on Friday. The programming cable and remote kit were back-ordered, they should arrive pretty quickly.

When I first took it out of the box I checked how the head was connected to the radio, turns out it uses standard RJ45 8-pin Ethernet style connections. The 635 had used a 6 pin phone style modular connecter. This should make life easier for those wanting to do some custom installs.

I also noticed that the mic was larger and heavier. Later I discovered that there is a speaker in the mic to hear the radio traffic (very cool). This will come in handy when driving with the windows down or other high noise situations, just hold the mic up to your ear and voila!.

I brought the radio home and connected it to a power supply and antenna. The radio came to life and I started playing. I popped in a local 2M repeater and it worked fine. I then popped in a few from further distances and realized that, like the 635, the 638 was very sensitive. I then tuned into the 162 MHz. weather channels and received stations on all 7. I realized that the sensitivity of this radio was better than the R8500 I borrowed the antenna from. I then tried things on the AM aircraft band and was similarly impressed.

Without the programming cable and software I can see that programming anything other than a few standard offset repeaters and simplex channels is going to be a challenge. I imagine it can be done without a computer but I haven’t really tried yet except for a few channels. With over 700 various memory channels one wouldn’t want to rely solely on panel programming anyway.

According to the pictures it looks like programming is done via the mic jack instead of the speaker jack as the 635. This could account for the extra pins needed for the remote head. This also makes it simpler to connect to for installations in which the back of the radio is in a cabinet or otherwise difficult to access.

Some of the features that the radio has according to the brochure and manual include DTMF, 2-Tone and 5-Tone signaling, Ignition Sense wiring, 4 power levels (5-10-25-50 watts, 40 on UHF), VV and UU modes, Crossband repeat and a color-selectable display.

I am anxiously awaiting the programming cable and software for this radio, it will make a huge difference. For me this radio will replace 3 in my car, and since I am now in a much smaller one, that will really help. I had VHF and UHF LMR radios as well as the 635, and on UHF I need to be able to use 470-476 T-Band. Now I can do all of this in one radio. While it may not have the selectivity one comes to expect from a Motorola, nor MDC ANI it seems to be a worthy replacement for me.

If you need a low cost, analog only radio for VHF, UHF or both and want to be able to do LMR and ham in the same radio the DR-635 might well be an option for you. I would hesitate to recommend it to a city dweller do to the lack of selectivity, but in suburban and rural locales it works great.

I had bought my old DR-635 because the head was pretty small and would fit well in my wife's car, the 638 is the same size and will work well in the CR-V I now drive after downsizing from a van. With this I can still access my work channels as needed and still play on 2M and 440. The VV/UU function allows me to customize my listening. I like to use my dual bander while railfanning to listen to 2M and the local road channel, this will work great for that.

With the oodles of memory I can program in a ton of channels and set it up for various uses.

I bought mine from: Alinco DR-638T, Alinco DR638 Transceiver. I am very happy with the service and pricing from Universal and have bought from them several times before and will again many times in the future.

I have no business interest in Universal or Alinco and paid catalog price for this radio.
 

AK9R

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Thanks for the report, Rich.

Does the mic cable attach to the control head or to the body of the radio?

What is the FCC ID of the radio?
 

N9JIG

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Well, I wouldn't go quite that far but it is probably the best you can get for under $400. I haven't played with any of the Wouxun, Baefong type mobiles yet however but I don't think there is anything else in the price range that can match the Alinco.
 

Kirk

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A few questions:

1. How's the scan speed? Does it have priority scan?
2. How's the selectivity?
3. Is the software free? If so, where can I download it? (I find I can learn a lot about a radio by looking at it's CPS)

Seems like an interesting radio.
 

N9JIG

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A few questions:

1. How's the scan speed? Does it have priority scan?
2. How's the selectivity?
3. Is the software free? If so, where can I download it? (I find I can learn a lot about a radio by looking at it's CPS)

Seems like an interesting radio.
1) Don't know, I rarely scan with these and have not yet done so with this one.

2) Comparable to other Alinco/Icom/Yaseu types, in other words not really selective but very sensitive.

3) Again, don't know yet, I haven't received the cable or software yet.
 

rapidcharger

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Another reason I ask about the origin is because some of us now believe the radio is actually manufactured by Anytone (Qixiang Electron Science & Technology Co., Ltd) because of its striking similarity to the Powerwerx DB-750 which is a rebadged Anytone. And I'm not talking about how it looks, I'm talking about the specs being identical.
 

N9JIG

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Yes, it does look very similar. The mic connector is different and in different locations and the button layouts differ. In addition, the PowerWerx/Anytone shows specs up to 490 MHz. instead of 480 for the Alinco.

I suspect that are a lot of shared parts and engineering between them at least.
 

MTS2000des

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I don't see a problem if the Alinco is just a re-badged/re-engineered Anytone clone (like the Powerwerx/Blackbox radios). The heritage of this model has good performance, at least according to this review:

Review Polmar DB-50M / Powerwerx DB-750X | Ham Radio Blog PD0AC

The biggest advantage to buying the Alinco would be Alinco supporting it from their USA manufacturers rep. $300-350 is a lot of money and while the same radio can be bought off Amazon, Fraudbay, etc...if it does get hosed, who has your back?

I never will forget talking to a local ham who bought one of the first Wouxun mobiles off Fraudbay from a Chinese seller. Literally while on the repeater, the magic smoke poured out of his new Wouxun. When he contacted the Fraudbay seller, they were unresponsive and when he escalated it, he was told to "send it back to China" which would have cost almost 2/3 the price of the radio. Who knows if he would even have gotten it repaired or replaced.

He thought he was saving $75 off the price of a Kenwood TM-V71A buying it from an overseas seller. You get the service and support you don't pay for.
 

rapidcharger

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I was a witness to that ^^^^ QSO as it happened although one minor correction.
That guy didn't save $75 off the price of a v71a, He actually paid $10 more than he would have if he bought a v71a instead of the wouxun.

But anyway, back to the alinco, it doesn't necessarily mean its a bad radio if it all came from the same factory in China but for the difference in price....
Anytone brand $286
Powerwerx brand $299
Alinco brand $350....
assuming they are all the same radio, from the same factory, just with a different control head, it boils down to who's got the best price and who's got your back if smoke starts billowing out of it.

The consensus over here (offline discussion about the radios) is that we would go to a local dealer that stocks the powerwerx. It's cheaper and it looks cooler.

We could probably get to the bottom of this real fast if someone with the Alinco downloaded a copy of the programming software for the anytone or the powerwerx and tried to read the radio with it once they got their cable.
 

N9JIG

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I have installed the DR-638 in my vehicle and have had the opportunity to use it a bit recently. SInce I didn't have the remote kit until it arrived today I used a standard Cat 5 cable from the cargo area to the head and that worked fine. I will likely leave that in place and just use the bracket from the kit to more properly mount the head.

I am sharing my wife's car until we move so for a year or so I am restricted to 1 scanner and the 638 and no holes allowed. (I may be the king of my castle but the queen is the boss...) 2 of those thin rare-earth mag mounts on the roof are all I am allowed.

The radio is very sensitive mobile, even with a mag mount antenna. I have noticed however that there is considerable hum on some local channels that use a 192.8 or higher PL, I wonder if that might be caused by the remote speaker, so I will swap that and see.

I programmed a couple dozen channels and it is a little tedious. I also have not been able to figure out how to copy the memory channel to the VFO.

The radio will allow you to alter parameters of a memory channel (such as PL, wide/narrow status etc.) but you cannot write the new parameters to the memory channel from here, you have to go into the VFO and make the settings changes there then write the VFO contents to the memory.

I have also taken delivery of the programming cable. I do not however have any software to program the radio yet. Anyone been able to find that yet?
 

methusaleh

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Bump...Has anyone had a chance to use the software for this radio yet?

Any more feedback from those who own one?

I am seriously considering one of these for my new car.
 

N9JIG

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I haven't found software yet so had to program by hand, which is a bit tedious.

SO far it seems to work pretty well and as expected; great receive sensitivity, with fair selectivity. I do seem to get some steady hum on UHF receive but that might be due to the location I tapped power from, I hadn't had it when I had it hooked up at home.
 

varadero129

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Memory Banks operation

Hello, and welcome everyone!

I'm a proud owner of the DR-638, it is the H or HE version, as I live in Europe, and ordered it from Germany. I asked the retailer to open the freq. range, so I can listen RX and TX on the full freq. range of the radio.

I use it as a base radio, and like it very much, works perfectly. I haven't found the software on the internet yet, and buying it with the cable is too expensive, so I started to program it manually. After the first few channels the practice helps and it's not a big pain.

What I don't understand and curious about your opinion is how the memory banks operation works. The manual says on page 5 that there is the normal memory with channels 1-200, then bank A, B, C, D, E, F up to CH758. That's fine, I programmed my channels according to this. But, when I use menu 55 (memory banks enquiry, BAK on the display) and set it to ON, then menu 57-63 becomes available with selecting bank A-F and 'Bank CH' which I don't know what it is, maybe the channels 1-200, and I can set them ON or OFF.

What is strange, maybe this is a firmware bug, not sure, that I need to be in banks mode (Func key then Moni key, asterisk sign is displayed) to work or not, but I tried every combination and it's not clear. Sometimes the channel dial is restricted into e.g. bank A when it is set ON or OFF, but scanning in memory mode extends to other channels in other banks, sometimes it's the opposite. So I cannot give an exact description but I don't have success in using this function?

Can anyone help me with this?
 
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