Updated review of the Midland 79-290.

This is basically a comparison of the 79-290 to the Albrecht 485 units.
The new material is in the form of responses to the old material, is in bold print, and is placed in between the points made in the old material (like a response to a letter on a bulletin board forum). The only difference is that I wrote both the original and the response.

I do CB tech work but I don't sell radios, so I don't know what other radios are in the same price/size class.

That has changed since I wrote the review.
I sell radios and know of a number of radios that
I believe are superior to the 79-290. They are
the Albrecht 485 units (Magnum 257, Titan Road
Pro RSPY-485, Pro Star 400, Radio Shack
TRC-485, etc.).

In a nutshell, the 79-290 is what the Uniden PC-122 had the potential to be but wasn't due to a lack of present day technology.

The same applies to the 485 series units mentioned

Those looking for a small radio with the TX punch of a Galaxy DX88 or 99 and a much smaller pricetag would do well to consider a 79-290.

Today I would go with one of the 485 series units instead.

The extra channel mod is easy and the display will show the channel or the frequency.

The same goes for the 485s.

The tuning and NPC mods are easy.

The same goes for the 485s.

The clarifier mod is tricky and the result is not very impressive. The stock varactor diode is pretty narrow. It'll swing about 8 kHz total from ground to 8 volts. The good news is that it can be replaced with a wider range unit if need be. Coarse and fine controls are supplied to handle a lot of slide if necessary.

The clarifier is one area where the 485s clearly
show their superiority. The 485s that are intended
for 10 meter use have unlocked clarifiers from the
factory. The clarifier is not coarse (touchy) because
the range only has to be plus or minus 1 kHz to either
side of center. The reason is that the 1000 Hz digit
(for example the "5" in 27.205 MHz) can be changed
as needed. It's a simple yet elegant solution for what
can be a problem with other radios including the 79-290.

The entire front of the radio is very easy to remove.

The added security of the detachable face is a plus
for the 79-290 (when it's taken advantage of).

That makes doing the mods alot easier. The reliability seems to be good. I've never had one in for repair, all I've ever done is modify them. The only repair work I've done is on my own unit that I bought used. I replaced the display backlights because a couple of them were out when I got it. I also replaced the right-hand set of three buttons (they come as one part) because there was some wear that had smeared the lettering. Dealing with Midland Parts was far from a pleasant experience, but that may not be the norm. From what I gathered, the guy that I originally dealt with (in the end I had dealt with several people and waited a number of months to receive the buttons) had a history of poor job performance and was let go. The Midland Parts supplied service manual sucks too.

The 485s have proven to be very reliable too.
I've put a number of Titan RSPY-485s in the
field with high-end transmitter mods and
electrically they have all performed admirably.
One problem that I've seen twice was mechanical.
There is a set of six buttons under the display.
The set of buttons is a plastic assembly. The
buttons are actually a connection between the
outside world and micro switches that are part
of the display and CPU (central processing unit)
board. On two different units the number 2 button
has broken away from the assembly. I believe
this is caused by the way the radio is packed.
The microphone is packed up against the buttons.
If during shipping the radio were to sustain an
impact on the end of the box where the mic is
packed, it's possible that the button could be
broken. I don't believe the button assmbly is
inherently flawed, the problem is just one of those
things that can happen due to "efficient" packing
and rough handling.

Other complaints that I've heard about include the noisy receiver and the loss of memory if you cut power to the unit without first turning it off. My personal view is that the vehicle noise immunity could be better, but the receiver itself isn't inherently noisy.

In my opinion, the 485s have a quieter receiver
than the 79-290. However, I've heard complaints
that the receiver was noisier than other higher
level radios. My own testing (use in a typical
gasoline engine vehicle with an alternator)
showed the 485 to be quieter than most. It
was noticably quieter than the 79-290 and the
early 2950s. Like the 79-290 and the early
2950s, the noise blanker isn't very effective.
That could be the source of the complaints.
In vehicles that are electrically noisy, radios
with more effective noise blankers will be seen
as having quieter receivers.

The 485s designed for 10 meter use also have
a quirk that is similar to the loss of memory that
plagues the 79-290. When ever they are shut
off they revert back to the 10 meter mode. There
is a mod for that, however.

I've also heard complaints about the 5 digit display
Some people would like it more if it was a 6 digit
display. The CPU controls the display rather than the
VCO (voltage controlled oscillator--the master oscillator).
That means the sixth digit, if there was one, would not
respond to clarifier adjustments and would be meaningless.

As for the memory loss thing, I believe that the unit was designed that way in an effort to prevent cumulative CPU damage. Radios with CPUs (central processing units) can be damaged by voltage spikes. Cutting/supplying power to the radio with the radio on can generate voltage spikes. Turning the radio off switches the CPU over to the backup battery and away from the main supply thus isolating it from possible spike damage.

When appropriately modified, the 10 meter 485s
will remember where they were before they were
shut off.

That's about all I can think of as far as the 79-290 is concerned. One note is that it seems as though the newer units (they say version 1.1 on them) have microphone wiring that is the same as the 4-pin Uniden/Cobra instead of the classic Midland wiring. Maybe that change was in response to customer request. 4-pin Uniden/Cobra wiring is the most common arrangement and allows the 79-290 to be used with a much wider variety of pre-wired aftermarket microphones.

All in all, I believe the 79-290 to be a good entry level and/or small space SSB radio.

However, now I feel that the 485s are a better choice.

If anyone reading this has other questions about these radios, feel free to e-mail me or post them to the Yahoo Groups CB Tricks forum (that's where I'm most active). Also, keep in mind that what I've written here is based only on my personal experiences or are simply my opinions. Also, by the time you read this the information could be outdated (for example, I don't know when they released the version 1.1 units or what changes they made other than the mic wiring change).

I hope this made sense and was of use.

Bill Eitner (4-16-03)