November 2017

DMR vs D-Star My take on the battle for digital supremacy

Here’s what I know or what I hear,
Digital FM is growing fast and I hear a lot of guys blaming the solar cycle for driving them off HF. DMR is growing fast mainly because the radios are fairly cheap. Anywhere from $80 to $300 USD. Hams being hams, many DMR users swear by DMR and say they’ll never go back to D-Star because of the sound quality. Most of those guys havn’t heard a D-star radio for 7-10 years and just don’t realize the new D-Star radios sound just as good as any DMR radio out there.

I’ve been using D-Star radios for about 8 years now. I’ve seen the progression from clunky kludge style programming of the ID-880H and 92-AD radios of 10 years ago with very warbly sound to the new Kenwood radio with every bell and whistle you can stuff into an HT that sounds awesome. I just started playing with DMR radios a few months back mainly to do reviews on the radios. Main differences I see in the two platforms are:
D-Star Radios were designed and built to be ham radios. They are easily programmed from the keypad including PL tones, offsets and VFO tuning. DMR radios are designed and built for business and government use. Channels are grouped together in “zones” of 16 channels and then need to be changed to load another group of 16 channels. The radios must be programmed on a computer and there is no real way to program them on the fly in VFO mode. This is done by design because the main buyer of these radio systems are enterprise companies who don’t want users to be able to reprogram the radio. Most of those users have no radio knowledge.

Features: D-Star users enjoy things like VFO tuning, scanning frequenies, wide band receive and my favorite, having the other guy’s name and call sign pop up on your screen right out of the box. DMR users can download hacking tools and preload the entire DMR userbase into their radios but that eats up most of the radios memories. Like I said before DMR radios must be preprogrammed by computer by building and loading a Codeplug. Listening around most of the DMR users rely on others to build the codeplugs for them. I learned how to do it and have built several for different radios.

Construction: While the current crop of D-star radios are well constructed, I love the heavy duty look and feel of the DMR radios. They are small, built like a brick shithouse, equipped with color screens and keypads and for the most part are very durable. I equate walking around with my DMR radio like carrying a very well constructed Baofeng. I’m not afraid to take it anywhere and for the money, I wouldn’t cry if it got destroyed during an adventure. I’m almost scared to take the $500.00 Kenwood out of the house even though it my favorite HT of all time.

Cost: As of today, only Icom and Kenwood make D-Star radios. Icom also make D-star Mobiles and two HF/D-star base stations (IC-7100 & IC-9100). Kenwood is rumored to be building a D-Star Mobile. To get into D-star you can expect to spend a minimum of $300.00 for the Icom ID-51a Plus. $500.00 for the Kenwood D74. Baofeng makes a UV5DR for around $70, Most other DMR radios come from China also and average about $120.00

Repeaters: We currently have two D-Star repeaters that are useable here in the foothills. KS6HRP in Folsom and W6CX on Mt. Diablo. There are no DMR repeaters in our area. According to Richard, The D-Star repeaters are able to do analog or D-star depending on the signal. DMR repeaters are DMR only.

Hope this helps the group