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Cignus S80 Dualband and S80 Pro UHF Review

A pair of lightweight portable radios with good selectivity receivers

When anyone asks me for my recommendations on portable radio use, I would usually suggest radios with good receivers as one of the primary considerations.

Many inexpensive radios today use direct conversion receivers and poor front-end filtering — such as the Baofeng UV5R and most other similar designs. These are prone to desense and intermod. Sure, if you’re using it in rural areas or in the mountain trails, you would not have any problem with hearing distant or weak stations. However, in the city, your receive performance will suffer significantly, especially in locations with high RF congestion. You cannot install an external antenna (mobile or aerial) without experiencing “desense” or “deafness” or at least crackling and popping common to direct conversion SDR receivers.

Some sellers market radios that have high power output (10 watts, for example). But my opinion is that receiver performance is equally important to transmit capability, or even moreso. What use will additional output power be if you cannot hear the other stations, right?

The Cignus S80 series

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So now on to our topic. I wrote the above intro with this in mind, because according to Cignus, the two models are built with “traditional components.” The S80 Pro even lists double conversion superheterodyne as part of its receiver specs. Looks promosing.

I recently acquired a pair of Cignus radios for review: the S80 Dualband and the S80 Pro UHF. Cignus is a brand local to the Philippines. They provide both device supply and after-sales service. They also offer services like licensing assistance for businesses.

For radio amateurs, what I like about Cignus is how they provide a 1-year parts and lifetime service warranty on their radios. I know of some hams who attest to the quality of Cignus’ service. This goes as far as outright unit replacement for major issues. Some have brought their radios to Cignus for free repair or maintenance. This includes free repair of broken LCD screens or free replacement of yellowed-out keypads, for example.

Cignus usually rebadges radios from ODMs (e.g., Baofeng, Kydera, Anytone) which is a good thing for compatibility in accessories and firmware.

Cignus has also designed some of its own products, and the two models in this review are among those own-brand designs. According to the company, the S80 Dualband and S80 Pro were designed by them from ground-up.

The S80 Pro comes in three variants:

  • UHF low (350–390 MHz)
  • UHF mid (400–470 MHz) — the review unit
  • VHF (136–174 MHz)

Check here for the specs and descriptions:

Physical design

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According to Cignus, the S80 Dualband and S80 Pro have physical designs based on Kenwood portable radios: the TH-K20A and the TK-3000 portables, respectively. If you are familiar with those models, you can see the striking similarity.

I have owned those radios, and I was even able to buy replacement batteries from Cignus. They fit perfectly.

This supposedly provides users of those radios an upgrade or expansion path should they choose to do so. I notice how the “Pro” variant, being channelized, is aimed at the commercial market. I’m also aware that Kenwood’s TK-3000 is popular in commercial and security use. This must be one reason.

The main difference between the S80 Dualband and S80 Pro, as earlier mentioned, are the front-panel. The Dualband variant comes with keypad and LCD screen. The monoband variant have neither — it uses one of the top dials as channel selector.

Similar to the Kenwood models they are patterned after, the S80 series is very slim and lightweight. Clip it to your belt, and you can barely feel it’s there.

One complaint, though, is the low placement of the battery clip. It attaches to the battery, and not the top-portion of the radio’s body.

This means the radio has a high center of gravity when clipped, which can make it prone to tipping when the antenna is hit or pulled. I don’t blame Cignus for that. It’s due to the Kenwood-inspired design, so it shares that drawback with the Kenwood TH-K20A and TK-3000.

Other than that, I can say that the radio has good ergonomics, and you won’t have operator fatigue due to its light weight.

What’s in the box

Cignus S80 Dualband

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  • Radio
  • 1,500 mAh Li-Ion battery
  • Belt clip
  • Dualband SMA-F antenna
  • Charging cradle and adaptor
  • Lanyard
  • Manual

Cignus S80 Pro UHF

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  • Radio
  • 1,500 mAh Li-Ion battery
  • Belt clip
  • Dualband SMA-F antenna
  • Stubby dualband SMA-F antenna
  • Charging cradle and adaptor
  • Lanyard
  • Earpiece
  • Manual

Programming and user interface

S80 Dualband

The main advantage of the S80 dualband model is its keypad and screen. Much like the TH-K20A, its top dials provide access to power+volume and channel/option selector.

It does not have the same screen, though. Instead, the S80 has a dot-matrix display reminiscent of a Baofeng UV-5R’s or a Radioddity GD-77’s. This screen seems to be common in portable radios.

In terms of interface, the radio is easy to program straight from VFO mode, with shortcuts to common functions on the keypad, which actually point to their menu location.

The firmware seems to have been designed by Cignus from ground-up. It’s not the usual Baofeng-type interface found on many portable radios, but it is a bit similar.

Programming repeater offsets is made easy through independent saving of the transmit and receive settings. CTCSS can be programmed independently (RX and TX).

The radio has three power options: High (5W), Mid (2.5W) and Low (1W). It displays battery voltage upon startup.

The radio also has dual-watch capability, with an upper and lower channel on-screen. It also has a priority channel. When you do a scan, the priority channel is scanned in between the other scanned channels.

Channels can be programmed with alphanumeric names straight from the keypad.

The S80 is compatible with the Baofeng or Kenwood type two-pin programming cable. You will need to download the free software from the Cignus website. Sorry, Windows only. I tried installing on MacOS using emulation, but it crashes upon startup.

Scanning is a bit slow for me. It’s slower than scanning on Yaesu FT-60R and Icom IC-T70A understandably. But it’s significantly faster than scanning on a Baofeng UV-5R.

S80 Pro UHF

The radio supports 16 channels and has a programmable side-key for options like monitor, scan, or VOX, among others.

Programming the radio is done through cable and software. Each channel can be programmed with:

  • Receive frequency
  • Transmit frequency
  • Receive tone (CTCSS) or DCS code
  • Transmit tone or DCS code
  • Power (selectable between high or low)
  • Channel width (25 KHz or 12.5 KHz)
  • Scan exclude

The S80 Pro gives you an option for voice prompts. The voice is a male low-pitched voice — not annoyingly loud like most Baofeng radios that scream out the channel or frequency number.

Performance

Here’s where the Cignus S80 series shines, in my opinion — at least the Cignus S80 Pro, which clearly specifies its double-conversion superhet receiver design in the specs.

The use of double conversion superheterodyne receiver means better receive performance, whether using a rubber duck antenna or an upgrade.

The received audio does not pop or crackle when using a better whip, such as the Diamond 771, or when I connected my Comet GP-1 antenna to either radio.

I received good audio reports, too. Maximum transmit power is measured at 5 Watts.

The speaker audio on both radios are a bit on the trebley side, however.

In terms of battery life, I got over a day of standby plus 5% transmit and 5% receive on the S80 Dualband. I got at least two days on the S80 Pro. The S80 Pro does not have any visual indication of battery charge, due to the lack of screen, but it will give audible alerts when you need to charge the battery already.

Conclusion

The Cignus S80 and S80 Pro are lightweight and straightforward portable radios with good receiver performance. They are light enough to pack into your go-bag or EDC bag, with enough juice to last a day or two in normal circumstances.

The receiver performance is the best feature, in my opinion. Not many inexpensive portable radios boast double-conversion superhet design for improved receiver tuning and filtering.

The S80 Dualband is certainly convenient to use with its front-end panel programming, as well as frequency mode for tuning into frequencies not saved in memory.

However, the monoband channelized variant has better receive performance, in my opinion. Its simplicity makes it ideal for use by appliance operators or commercial users who do not really care for features but just want a radio that’s straightforward to use. This is the case with security agencies, construction crews, businesses, and the like. Note that you will need to have it programmed first with your licensed or preferred frequencies before use.

Pros

  • Lightweight design
  • Compatibility with Kenwood TH-K20A and TK-3000 accessories like antenna, battery, earpiece, and programming cable
  • Good selectivity especially on the S80 Pro UHF models
  • Easy front-panel programming on the S80 Dualband
  • NTC type approval means it is type-approved for commercial licensed use or for registration with your existing amateur radio station license (with the appropriate paperwork, of course).
  • Lifetime service warranty and 1 year parts warranty

Cons

  • Belt clip location
  • Relatively lower battery capacity at 1,500 mAh. In fairness, the original Kenwood batteries were rated at 1,150 mAh. Most modern portable radios use at least 1,800 mAH.
  • Speaker audio
  • Cost, compared with other inexpensive portables.

Pricing

  • Cignus S80 Dualband PhP 2,500 SRP
  • Cignus S80 Pro UHF, UHF-Low or VHF PhP 3,200 SRP.
  • This translates to around $51 and $66, respectively.

If you are interested in buying these Cignus models or other Cignus radios and accessories, I can refer you for a big discount over the SRP.

Photo galllery

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All images (c) N2RAC/4I1RAC. Pardon the quality of the photos. As I did the photos and review, we had tropical storm Vamco/Ulyesses, and we lost power and other utilities for around 72 hours.

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