Kenwood TS-520 – what a great rig!

Last weekend at our local club tailgate (W4RYZ) I picked up a Kenwood TS-520 at a bargain price. It took me a while to decide if I wanted to buy it or not. It was big and scary looking with only analog dials and it had tubes! I am sure at this point some more seasoned Hams are probably laughing at me, but for a Solid State guy this was pretty daunting! The seller was kind enough to print off the manual and several FAQ’s for the rig prior to the tailgate so I had a great starting point.

I shouldn’t have even turned it on until I read the manual through at least once because I thought it was broke when I first powered it up. The meter swung all the way to the right and I had no audio. I turned it off, checked a few things and turned it back on,  same thing! I wasn’t sure what was wrong so I went to the manual. They had a nice list of dial settings for initial receive and transmit. After reviewing the list I had one of those “duh!” moments. The RF gain was all the way DOWN, instead of up. A rookie mistake I know, we all have those at some point. I turned it back on with the RF gain up and there was the beautiful sound of a slightly off SSB signal. The WAWWA WAWAA WAA voice was quickly tuned in to a very legible SSB conversation. Off I went to fire up the SDR receiver to see what frequency they were on and could see that the dial was off by 32Khz or so and I had to calibrate both main and sub dials. I also noticed right away the TS-520 was receiving much better than the SDR but they were on two different antennas so I thought it was the antenna that made the difference.

I soon figured out how the 25Khz cal signal worked,  I also  figured out how to tune the rig for transmit. Since I didn’t have a microphone for the the rig I  built an audio breakout box for the High impedance MIC I had on hand and the PTT switch. After a few attempts at tuning and listening for a station to contact on 20M I heard ZW7MGY, a special event station in remembrance of the radio operators of the Titanic. I jumped in and gave my call. He picked out another stronger station, when he finished that QSO I called again. This time he clearly called back my entire callsign, I was like YES! That was Brazil station over 4200 miles away. That old rig still had it! I tuned in 40M and started calling CQ more confident that the rig was working and pickup up an Arkansas station, K5RPD. I was impressed. All I really did was calibrate some dials, set the RF Bias and followed the directions  and I was on the air.

Lessons Learned

  1. Don’t be afraid to try other types of radio gear, just read the manual first. 🙂
  2. Old equipment is still a great way to enjoy the hobby. Even with all the fancy screens, filters, buttons, computer interfaces, and software it is still just about getting on the air, making new contacts and enjoying yourself.
  3. Go out to tailgates, Hamfests and other gatherings, you never know who you are going to meet and what equipment you will come across.

Final remarks

The TS-520 is a great transceiver with a sensitive receiver, I tuned in a station listened for a few minutes switched the antenna to the SDR and compared signals and the TS-520 was by far more sensitive to weak signals. It seemed to beat my IC-756 but only by a small margin. Those were subjective comparisons without any “real” measurements but I trust my ear. The tuning process was quite simple when you break it down. There were several resources on the web that I used to help me understand how to accomplish it without hurting the rig. It is a classic rig and I can see why so many people hold it in high regard, it is a venerable piece of equipment that I am proud to now own. It sure makes my Ham shack look more authentic!


  • Tuning Video
My "New" Kenwood TS-520

My “New” Kenwood TS-520


Posted on April 27, 2012, in Equipment, Special Events. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. In my humble opinion the TS-520 is the best rig I ever worked with and I worked with most rigs available. The 520 is my standard rig although I have a TS-590S right next to it and hooked up to antennas too. I also worked with/owned some other (Kenwood) hybrids but this one I like the most, it will only leave my shack after my death. Its the oldest/cheapest rig with the least amount of options so there not a lot that can break but the good reports on my audio are received almost every day and the easy listening/tuning is a dream not found on any other rig, not even the expensive ones. You might consider this a cheap little experimental box but actually you bough the best rig you will ever have in your lifetime and probably the lifetime of your kids and their kids. 73 and hope to meet you on air with our TS-520 rigs. PC1MH

  2. I also have a 756 Pro iii and the TS-520 is just way more fun. 73s W8BUX

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