The TCB-881 is TTi’s update on the popular TCB-880 CB radio that has now been discontinued. This new radio is similar in style to its older brother but features TTi’s DSS (Dynamic Squelch System) that can be found in all the new 2011 range radios from TTi. Another improvement is the DC input power handling of this radio. It can now be directly installed into vehicles with a 24V supply without the use of a voltage dropper.
Murli at Sharman Multicom was kind enough to send us a TCB-881 for evaluation here at TM1 so we decided to take a closer look at the features available on this radio and put together a small video of the radio working mobile which you can see at the end of this review. Having looked through the features that the TCB-881 offers, it is fair to say that this radio is packed with options and should offer almost all the controls a legal CB radio operator could wish for. The older 880 model proved very popular with CB fans as it offered the best of both worlds, digital controls alongside traditional analog volume and squelch pots, not forgetting RF gain and Mic gain controls. Nothing has changed on the new TCB-881, it still offers the same set of controls and buttons and the “cool blue” LED lighting that made the other radios in the TTi series distinctive.
The radio reminds me of the old Midland Alan 48 radios in terms of its styling, I am pretty sure that the designers did take some inspiration from this radio and the end result was a transceiver of a similar size and function. My first impressions of the TCB-881 when I pulled the radio from the box was that it is quite a well made piece of kit. The metal casing seems substantial and the microphone had a nice feel in the hand. Naturally the radio offers the full legal range of EU frequencies and band switching for the country of your choice is performed by simply holding down the AM/FM and SCAN keys whilst powering on the radio. Where permitted the TCB-881 can operate on AM and FM and it is up to the user to select the appropriate band plan for their country. At the present time there is much talk about the legal EU wide block of frequencies that should become available to nearly all EU member states over the next few months (years?), this block of frequencies will be the 40 “mid block/CEPT/EU” channels in all modes. When this happens the “E” band position should satisfy those requirements offering AM/FM with the 40 channels at 4 watts but until that time, at least here in the UK, you can select the “UE” block of channels giving 40 EU and 40 UK 27/81 channels in one go. Getting around the channels is easy with the 881, there is a control marked “Q Up/Q Down” and these allow the user to rotate the control and move through channels at the rate of 10 per click meaning it only takes 8 clicks to get through the entire range of 80 channels, very handy compared to rotating the channel change around and around. When in “UE” mode the two blocks of frequencies available are seamless in the fact that you can be on channel 40 UK FM, turn the channel change one position clockwise and you can be down on EU/CEPT channel 1 etc.
The TCB-881 features a front mounted 6 pin microphone socket. This is the subject of much debate on Internet forums as some operators prefer side mounted sockets and others front mounted ones. It all depends how you are going to install and use a particular radio as to whether this is a good option or not. The reason for the front mounted socket here is because the radio can be installed into a single DIN slot in a vehicle with an optional fitting kit and for this type of mount a front mount socket is required. I can understand the reasons for people not liking the front mic socket, mainly because it can get in the way of the channel change, particularly if you have fat fingers! However it does mean that the radio is compact enough to mount in some tricky places in both cars and vans. This particular radio has some “old school” controls and functions up its sleeve too – one of them being the PA function which is seldom seen these days on most new radios. If you have the need to shout at people through a loud speaker mounted on top of your vehicle then this might be the radio for you too. A range of “flick” switches on the top right side of the front panel give the radio an almost “retro” feel as they provide access to the public address function, a noise limiter (mostly used for AM mode) and a Local/DX attenuator. That’s right, no menu driven access required to these functions, it’s good old instant access to them!
After the above comments I would say that this radio blends old with new quite well. Some of the lesser used functions are hidden away on the microprocessor menu system such as the band change, back-lighting options and scan settings. TTi should be applauded for taking this logical step of placing the frequently used items on the front panel and the other items tucked away on the menu. Incidentally the instruction manual provided with the radio contains very clear instructions on all the features of this transceiver. It is well written in good quality English. It is in fact, a multi language manual with 20 pages in each popular European language and it also contains a channel/frequency chart showing all configurations possible.
Upon measuring the radio output power into a dummy load and a Sharman SWR-006 meter I was pleased to see the radio developing a health 4 watts across all bands and channels. I also tried to monitor the transmitted audio output from the radio by listening via headphones on another rig. I was happy to hear the audio in both FM and AM modes sounding very punchy and crisp even with the microphone at arm’s length. With the Microphone gain turned fully clockwise it was easy to speak far from the mic and still hear crisp clean audio, as good as any other radio on the market at present. The supplied microphone is an electret condenser design and this explains why the microphone picked up so well. On top of the microphone you have the usual up/down channel change keys and also the ability to lock the radios’ operating mode/channel which is very handy when driving.
The TCB-881 has been designed with the mobile operator in mind, as we explained earlier the radio is easy to operate without too much attention. The main controls are all back-lit by high intensity blue LED illumination. If this all gets a bit too much the brightness can be turned down via the “hidden” menu settings. This is a case of simply holding down the lock button on top of the microphone whilst powering on the radio and then rotating the channel change to select the correct option that appears on the LCD display. One of the most important features I found hiding away on the menu is the “button beep” on/off control. When you first power up the radio the beep setting is enabled so every time you change channel, press a key etc you get a very loud an annoying beep. Fortunately this can be turned off permanently via this control. Some people like the beeps but I’m not a big fan, especially when they are so loud!
Speaking of the big LCD display, this shows everything you need to know about the radio status in a glance. It shows channel number, modulation mode (eg. AM or FM), the band you are currently using, lock status and of course, a bar type LCD signal/RF meter. Not everyone likes the LCD bar signal meters but again, TTi give the option of plugging in a real s-meter via a 2.5mm jack socket on the rear of the radio. This is an optional extra but you can then have a nice large analog style signal meter for those who prefer it.
The TTI TCB-881 also has some memories available to store your favourite channels. Maybe you would like to store the breaking channel 19 on UK FM for example but you might have a regular net channel where you meet on channel 37 on the CEPT band. This is where the memories come in real handy as you do not have to keep rotating the channel changer around or flicking between channels. Four push button memories labelled M1 to M4 are provided and these work in the same way as most car stereo memories in that you store a channel by selecting the correct channel/mode and then hold down the button to store the information into it. It’s as simple as that and to recall the channel you stored just one quick press. Marvellous and a simple little feature. The only complaint I can see for some is that four memories might not be enough but I’m sure it helps.
I’ve talked about the DSS system in some previous reviews of TTi equipment so I won’t go into too much detail here but basically this is like an auto-adjusting squelch system that constantly monitors background noise on the band and keeps the radio silent until a real signal is received. This is very similar to the President range of radios featuring something called ASC. Naturally you can choose to turn this on or off by rotating the squelch control fully counter-clockwise until it clicks and “DSS” appears on the LCD display. If you don’t like the DSS function you can simply revert back to normal squelch by adjusting the knob as you would with any other radio. DSS is a very handy feature for those not wanting to reach for the squelch every few minutes as interference or propagation triggers the threshold levels but if you are looking for DX and long distance “local” stations then you’ll probably want to use the traditional squelch as it is more sensitive to low signals levels.
The TCB-881 can do some clever scanning tricks. If you want to locate activity on the bands you can simply set the squelch high enough, press the scan key and away the transceiver will go running around the band (or in the case of the UE mode, 2 x bands of 40 channels). The radio will stop when it locates an active channel and the resume after a preset number of seconds. Of course this option can also be tweaked to stay on a channel from 1 to 99 seconds or if you prefer you can use “CO” mode (carrier operated) which will stay on a channel until the signal has gone. In addition to this option there is also the “scan delay timer” which sets the scan “resume” after the signal has gone. By default it is set to 3 seconds but this can also be adjusted up to 99 seconds. This function is similar to how scan and resume works on scanning radio receivers and is quite a surprise to find such a comprehensive feature set in a CB radio of this class. The only slight downside to the scan option is that if you press PTT you’d probably expect that the radio would come out of scanning mode and stay on the last channel received but in fact it doesn’t – it resumes scanning after the delay time you have set in the options. It would appear that TTi missed a trick here in that most people would want scan to stop or cancel once they had transmitted on a given channel. The only way to cancel scan, is to literally press the “scan” button again to do this. One other option available from the menu is a TO function, this allows the user to set a time-out value for the radio when in transmit mode – so should the microphone get stuck down in TX mode for some reason the radio will automatically unkey after a given time period of up to 99 seconds. The function can be disabled but it’s another feature built in as standard.
On air the radio was tested out mobile in a car. I simply popped the radio onto the passenger seat and connected up to a Sirio Megawatt 4000 antenna and went for a little drive. The radio performed well, the receive audio quality through the built in speaker was more than adequate and the tone quality was great on the incoming signals as you will hear in the YouTube video below. I monitored some propagation coming in on the EU and UK bands in both FM and AM mode and also picked up a few local stations on the 19 calling channel. The radio performed as expected and good reports were returned with the standard microphone with one station commenting that the audio was “crystal clear” and “sounded like a ham radio” so this can’t be too bad. I cannot really speak about bleed over as there wasn’t enough high power local stations around to test out this theory but the radio should be ok on receive as you have the ability to turn on the “local/dx” attenuator and also have a proper RF gain control available too.
Input power wise the radio was measured to be drawing about 2.1 amps in TX mode which is on a par with most other similar radios. The only criticism of this radio is the power lead being rather short. It does have a quick release block connector in line with the cord but the length of the cable supplied is only about 3ft long – I can see why this is done as many people will choose a permanent mounting in a vehicle or maybe go for the DIN mount option but it would be nice to see radios with the “3 pin uniden” style block connector again rather than the hard-wired type arrangement supplied with so many rigs these days.
All in all the TCB-881 provides a welcome update to the TCB-880 and keeps on improving the TTi range of radios. I was impressed with the features and the blend of old vs new functions. The radio looks quite smart, is compact and the front mounted mic socket allows installation in tight spaces. I liked the audio quality from this radio both on TX and RX and if you are on the look out for a small, EU legal radio at a reasonable price then this one should be on your short list. My thanks go to Murli at Sharmans for loaning the radio to me and trusting that I will write an honest opinion about the set. The TCB-881 is available at all good UK and EU CB dealers and with the enhanced propagation on the 11m bands at the moment there has never been a better time to get involved with CB radio again particularly as FM DX can be fun even at the legal power levels available from radios such as these. TM1.