Vertex Standard VX-1210 Manpack Radio Review

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I have just purchased a VX-1210 in (fantastic) used condition. The VX-1210 is a military/Part 90-esque HF manpack transceiver with extended RX down to 500 KHz and TX from 1.6-30 MHz continuous. It has options for a built in SelCall unit, internal automatic antenna tuner, and an encryption unit. I’m going to share my impressions of the hardware, software, accessories, and functionality of this fine piece of equipment.

Hardware

Very solid rig. Perhaps not QUITE as solid as I’d want for the (large amounts of) money (IE I expect a military style invincible cinder block of titanium doom akin to my TA-312), but sometimes everything is not ideal in our world. Very minimal control interfaces, which is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand you’ll never have to bother learning how to navigate menus (because there are none) but on the other if you want to change a feature that’s not mapped to a switch or hard coded to a push button, you’re SOL without the programming kit and a serial port. It will, however, make you realize that you do not need a whiz-bang hung-dimmer of a radio to communicate with other people in the woods.

Only three switches is limiting, especially given that two of them are only momentary switches. You have ONE toggle switch, which you can map to H/L Power, Speaker select, Noise Blanker, or Squelch On/Off (I’ve left out features that you can easily change without mapping to a switch, such as ATU enable. You could theoretically save power by channel and double your quantity of channels.) Regardless, this is limiting to your operation. I have simply set Noise Blanker On, Squelch on (threshold adjustable down to 0), speaker set to internal, and H/L Power mapped to the switch. We’ll see how this goes.

The entirety of the controls on the VX-1210.
The entirety of the controls on the VX-1210.

The radio has an internal speaker (contrary to what I’ve heard) of pretty reasonable quality. You will understand what the person is saying, but if you try to enjoy a symphony on 1050 KHz AM you won’t be writing home about the fidelity. The radio also has a speaker in the speaker microphone of slightly worse quality, but still acceptable. I find this weird because I’m used to base stations, so I have locked the speaker to Internal only. You could also theoretically set it to “auto” which means it’s internal only when there’s no speaker-mic attached or “external” which is speaker-mic only. You can furthermore map the speaker toggle to your ONLY two position switch.

It has the “find a bigger idiot” mentality of a screwed-in speaker mic connector and fairly straight forward controls beyond that.

Software

Vertex Standard has the obnoxious tendency to say things like “the radio can do X and Y depending on programming by your Vertex Standard Dealer. Talk to them about everything.” Unfortunately, on the used market, not everybody has a Vertex Standard authorized dealer in their pocket. Luckily, people figured out that by appending a command line option to the executable and entering a password, you can gain the same level of programming “authority” as the dealer can. While this sort of behavior is typical of Part 90 stuff, Vertex Standard happens to be ESPECIALLY ridiculous about this. You cannot, for example, change the function of the toggle switch without first “consulting your dealer and mailing your radio off for reprogramming.”

After downloading and setting up the software, you can load in the official “HF Manpack” code plug. This has recommended button configurations and channel labeling for US and international HAM operators. Please note that often in order to adjust the “button” configuration, you have to go into the “alignment menu” and change them there. Why? Because Vertex said so. Be sure to tweak everything to your liking. I chose to leave the original tuning parameters in my radio (though I have NO idea whose they are). I did crank the RX gain up a bit. Experiment to your liking.

Performance

Seems legit. I’ve yet to do any serious or A/B testing. Probably mostly depends on your antenna.

My main concern when purchasing this radio was that it be entirely self contained. While the MFJ SSB rigs have pretty nifty self-containedness and nice analog nostalgia, they do not have either an internal ATU or an internal battery. This is literally a radio in a bag

Accessories

The VX-1210 flexible whip splayed across the entirety of a queen-sized bed.
The VX-1210 flexible whip splayed across the entirety of a queen-sized bed.

The included whip antenna is just about the most useless thing imaginable. First, it is nearly 6ft tall. That means it’s not tall enough to work well and too tall to be convenient to carry in any way shape or form.

The ridiculous VX-1210 charger
The ridiculous VX-1210 charger

The included battery charger looks like a centipede on crack, with a separate wall wart and charge controller (at least the wall wart handles 100-240 V).

The ATU-1210 is very nice. Simple auto antenna tuner which memorizes tune settings for various channels. I think the simplest/best antenna is to simply attach a long wire to a banana plug and stick it in the center of the UHF connector, then run a counterpoise off the grounding pin. Simple, effective, and very easy to set up. Just run it haphazardly throughout the house.

My Random Wire antenna, left, and counterpoise, right
My Random Wire antenna, left, and counterpoise, right

Finals

After keying this transceiver up into my service monitor, I received very low RF power (1/1000th of a watt) which is clearly not in-spec. This indicates issues with the Final gain stage in the transceiver (or a VX-1210 with Blown Finals). Consulting the VX-1210 Service Manual I have identified the transistors in question. Basically:

  1. 1x 2SC2166
  2. 2x 2SC2166
  3. 2x 2SC3133 (10 watts each for 20 watts total)

The 2SC3133 finals are supposed to be able to withstand infinite VSWR, so I’m not entirely sure what the cause of the blown finals was (whether it be some tampering or simply accidental, bad BJTs…). Regardless, should nothing else be broken, a simple swap of transistors should be fairly trivial as long as the proper heat sinks and thermistors are installed appropriately. (BJTs unfortunately are susceptible to thermal runaway, as higher temperatures allow higher current.)

It’s important to obtain the exact model of transistor for replacement. These are specifically designed for HF final use. One same final transistors (2SC3133) is also used in the MFJ-9420 transceiver, which puts out about 8 watts on SSB.

Summary

Overall, a very interesting transceiver. I’ll update this as I use it more.

PS: I’m writing this because I was interested in purchasing one of these, but nobody else had written this. I spent a long time looking for this, and it didn’t exist. So here goes. Another “first on Google if you search for the keywords” article.

9 thoughts on “Vertex Standard VX-1210 Manpack Radio Review”

  1. So am I!
    This is the first and one review I’ve found in net/
    Thanks a lot/
    I’m starting to save money for purchasing Vertex 1210/
    Rz3abl

  2. I have a VX120 and antenna tuner and with programing software. I have blown out transistors using supposedly with resonant antenna. I thought the ant tuner would yield a field display – saying not ready.

  3. Let us for any updates. Specifically how is the finals repair is coming around.

    Thanks for this review. I’m definitely looking at this radio and weighing in between this and other options. The VX-1210 has that MIL/Commercial quality which I like.

    I take it you didn’t get the “alignment” programming software.

    1. Rick,

      I checked the relevant transistors in place which were, to the best of my ability to measure them, cooked. The RF board is entirely separate and easy to repair.

      Given the cost of the rig, I opted to return it rather than re-solder the transistors. The repair costs a modest sum from Vertex ($150) or you can order transistors on eBay for <$20 and re-solder them yourself. They're all through hole mounted but are soldered into heat sinks. Easy, but when I had the option to recoup my investment, I took it rather than take any risk of doing further damage. I had the full version which would open up with some Windows command line option and password. Is there one that's by default unlocked? --Nick

  4. I have several of these superb VX-1210 units (I also had an early serial number of its predecessor, the VX-1200). I provide fill files, mods, and other “feature expansion” methods for the VX-12xx series on the yahoo group: “VX12”. They stopped manufacturing these fine manpacks… now the used ones are fetching higher prices than the new ones were when they first came out. Bonnie KQ6XA

    1. I have almost 20 nos of VX -1210, neverer used. Only sets are available, in 100% working condition. But they came from factory with company programmed 2 channels and built in antenna tuner. Moderately priced. But battery pack is costly. I also need the dealer programming kit.
      Deep,VU2CSB
      India

  5. Have my VX-1210 now for over 5 years and won´t give it away except someone would exchange it for a Codan 2110 😉 Andy DC3AFA

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