The FrSky Taranis X9D Plus is a staple among FPV pilots. Over the years, it’s gone through quite a few different iterations with new features being implemented while still maintaining it’s time proven form. This 2019 Special Edition version is no different…. or is it?
- Dimension: 200*194*110mm (L*W*H)
- Weight: 700g (without battery)
- Operating system: OpenTX
- Number of channels: 24 channels
- Internal RF module: ISRM-S-X9
- Operating voltage range: 6.5 – 8.4V
- Operating current: 130mA@8.2V (Typ)
- Backlit LCD resolution: 212*64
- Smart Port, Micro SD card slot and DSC Port
- Mini USB interface: supports 2S Li-battery balancing charge
- Model memories: 60 models (expandable by Micro SD card)
- Compatibility: ACCST D16 and ACCESS receivers
- Operating Temperature: -10°C ~ 60°C (14°F ~ 140°F)
- Classic Taranis form factor design
- Easy launch momentary button
- Program navigation button
- High-speed module digital interface
- Installed with ACCESS protocol
- Supports spectrum analyzer function
- Supports SWR indicator warning
- Haptic vibration alerts and voice speech outputs
- Supports wired training function
- Supports PARA wireless training function
- Compatible with FrSky Free Link App and AirLink S via mobile devices
- M9 hall sensor gimbal and upgraded switches
FrSky Taranis X9D Plus SE Initial Impressions
This isn’t the first FrSky Taranis X9D Plus Special Edition, but it is the first to kind of change both the external appearance and the functions on the inside of the radio. Some of the new changes have been developed on some of the latest generation of newer FrSky transmitters, and have culminated into the Taranis X9D Plus Special Edition 2019.
On the outside of the radio, there are a few changes to take note of. The first is the all important power button. On all older versions of the Taranis, this is a slide switch, but taking a page from the Taranis QX7 and X-Lite, this has been switched to a button. To power on the unit, simply hold down the power button, and the LCD screen will cycle showing you it’s powering up. Once the screen changes, you can release the button. To power the unit down, again, simply hold down the power button. If you let it go while it’s cycling, the power will not turn off. This prevents any accidental shut down of the radio while you have a model in the air, which we all know would be just slightly inconvenient….
Also a change to note is the scroll wheel on the right side of the controller. Gone are the extra three buttons to navigate the menu system in OpenTX. The scroll wheels allows you to FLY through the menus (and I really do mean that, it’s super sensitive). A push down on the scroll wheel acts as your “enter” button. As sensitive as it is, it does speed up navigation on OpenTX, though several times I found myself overshooting what I was trying to get at.
If your eyes are keen, you have already noticed the wart on the left shoulder of the FrSky Taranis X9D Plus. But a wart it is not! It is, however, a momentary button that can be used for just about anything you can think of. For me, I use it to reset my flight timer. (Yes, I still use a flight timer, even with OSD, I’m old school like that). Also, the switches and pots all around the transmitter have been upgraded, with a noticeable feel over the original FrSky Taranis X9D Plus.
Last, but certainly not least, the gimbal sticks come perfectly embellished with the FrSky Lotus stick ends. These are a definite upgrade to the standard stick ends on the old X9D Plus, and a little less stabby (yes, it’s a word… it’s my word) than the ones that were stock on the original FrSky Taranis X9D Plus Special Edition. Granted, the lotus style stick ends work better for thumb users, but they do give some positive reinforcement for pinch and hybrid users as well.
Gone is the barrel plug on the side of the FrSky Taranis X9D Plus SE. Instead, it supports internal charging of Li-Ion and Li-Po batteries via USB. Note that no battery comes with the transmitter, you will need to source one yourself. I’m am of two minds on this to be honest. First, I’m really not too sure on the safety of charging a Li-Po inside of the radio… call me paranoid. Second, FrSky has made it difficult to source a battery for this radio, as there’s not many 2S options for Li-Po that deliver enough longevity. The older Taranis models could accept up to 3S power, but that’s no longer the case. While you could use the NiMH battery that the old Taranis models shipped with, the USB charging system will not charge it, so you will need to find an alternative means.
What Hasn’t Changed?
With all these changes, you might ask the question “What hasn’t changed?”. Well, the overall form factor of the FrSky Taranis X9D Plus is almost exactly the same. With the exception of the cutouts for the scroll wheel and the momentary switch, it’s all the same. There are still all the switches that were there before, all in the same places. It fits in the hands exactly like every other Taranis X9D does, so if you’re used to the older editions, you won’t find any surprises here.
There’s still the JR style module bay in the back for adding in additional modules for your models that may not be compatible with the FrSky protocols or if you want to move to TBS Crossfire or similar. It still supports wired trainer modes, accessible via the port in the back of the transmitter. Inside the battery bay, the MicroSD card slot is accessible, for adding in those extra features like upgraded voice files or extra model storage. There even still a SmartPort interface for upgrading the firmware on your receivers (more on that in a moment).
The antenna is also still removable, and can be replaced with a higher dB gain antenna. My SMA was a little loose upon receiving the radio, however a simple tightening of the nut down in the antenna well fixed this really quick, didn’t even have to open the radio up for it.
Misses in External Design
There are two features here that I feel FrSky missed out on to bring the new FrSky Taranis X9D Plus SE to the current generation. Firstly, they still have a mini USB port for computer interface on the back of the unit. This style of USB port does not have any positive engagement to keep the plug in place. When pilots go to use the transmitter with a simulator, the extra security of a USB-C would be much better, as well as changing the location of the port to perhaps the top, just below the antenna for better ergonomics.
Secondly is the screen. While most pilots are not looking down at the screen of the transmitter while flying, (if you are, we need to talk) I think in 2019 we can move beyond the monochrome screen into something more colorful and pleasant to look at while navigating the menu. This also brings a point of pride to pilots to be able to totally customize their transmitter. At a $247.00 price point, I think we’re worth it!
Much of the FrSky Taranis X9D Plus SE remains the same on the inside, at least from the surface level. What is nice is the excellent cable management and cleanliness of the internals. This allows us to dig a little deeper through the guts of this thing and see if we can coax out any changes!
Here, there has been some overall clean-up of the primary board, but the biggest noticeable change is the upgraded processor. This is an upgrad to a STM32 F407 chip, bringing more processing power. Hopefully this grants an ability to run more complex LUA scripts without running into compute errors. The overall design of all the PCB seems to be high quality, with nothing jumping out at me as an inherent flaw.
The secondary board on the back does have some noticeable changes to it. Before, the RF module was independent of the secondary board, making replacement in case of a failure less costly. Now it is integrated into the main board which also includes power management and the communication with the module bay. There is however a small PCB assembly piggy backed on the the secondary board with an antenna coming off it. This is the Bluetooth module for the wireless trainer function and paring with the FrSky app.
If you currently have the previous FrSky Taranis X9D Plus SE or have modded your Taranis with the M9 hall gimbals, this won’t be anything new. If not, prepare to have much better resolution and longevity out of the hall gimbals. The transmitter ships ready for Mode 2, but through manipulation of the screws on the gimbals, this can be quickly configured into any mode you may need.
For more information on transmitter modes, check out this article: Choosing the Right Transmitter Mode
The screws adjust the tension on the springs, allowing you to customize stick feel. Also,the FrSky Taranis X9D Plus SE ships with a small amount of ratcheting on the throttle axis of the left gimbal. If you don’t prefer this, simply loosen up the tension on the outer bottom screw. (see image above).
I know I am being picky here, but the speaker. It’s the same, low fidelity, unshielded speaker that has plagued the Taranis X9D line since inception. It has a tendency to buzz from the interference present in the transmitter, and the sound quality is just poor. Mods have been done to this particular part for year, and it would have been nice to roll out this community DIY in the new FrSky Taranis X9D Plus SE.
Differences between Special Edition and Standard
The FrSky Taranis X9D Plus 2019 Standard Edition is missing some key features that we talked about above on the Special Edition. These are the differences:
- Hall sensor gimbals have been swapped for standard potentiometer gimbals
- Wireless Trainer function not supported but standard wired trainer is supported
- Lotus stick ends are swapped stock FrSky Taranis X9D stick ends.
- No removable antenna
- No upgraded switches (new momentary switch is still present)
- Standard edition does not come with travel case.
Overall, coming from the orginal FrSky Taranis X9D Plus, there’s not much difference functionality wise. And in a way that’s a good thing, not having to adjust to too many changes. It fits in the hands the same way, switches in the same location, and OpenTX behaves as expected.
There is a new feature here though, a spectrum analyzer for the 2.4GHz range that shows you what your noise floor is in the area where you are flying. This gives you insight into what possible interference you may have. To access it, from the main screen hold down the menu button. Then press the page button twice, and you will see a program called “Spectrum (INT)” in the tools menu. Press down on the scroll wheel to enter the spectrum analyzer. You can adjust the setting here to fine tune the signal.
Note: In the image below, I was in my garage where my WiFi router has sway, so the spectrum analyzer reflects this.
Feel of the FrSky Taranis X9D Plus SE
The overall quality and feel of the transmitter is great. It’s a known, durable design, and my original FrSky Taranis X9D Plus has withstood many years of use with little signs of slowing down. The upgraded switches have a sturdy feel. The momentary switch on the back right shoulder does not have that same “click” when pulled forward, but is much softer. The M9 gimbals are smooth and reactive, making stick movements nice. The gimbal stick ends grip your thumbs, and give good upper reinforcement when pinching.
The scroll wheel makes navigation easy and quick, though may take some time to acclimate to. The balance bar (or aftermarket equivalent) is still necessary if you want your transmitter to hang flat from the provided lanyard. The Special Edition also comes with a carrying case for toting your nice new transmitter to the field.
Overall, in terms of an upgrade from the orginal FrSky Taranis X9D Plus, you can’t go wrong here. There’s enough new features to keep you in the game for many years to come.
The FrSky Taranis X9D Plus SE 2019 comes fully equipped with FrSky Access. This is the new protocol that many of the new transmitters and receivers from FrSky are switching to. Access supports up to 24 channels, and brings with it some quality of life improvements. Over the Air (OTA) updates are new here which negates the need to plug the receiver into the radio in order to update the firmware.
Automatic binding is also new here through Smart Match. This allows a registered receiver to bind wirelessly without having to press the bind button the receiver. For you fixed wing pilots, you can remap your channels on your receiver if you discover you have plugged in servos to the wrong ports. The encryption protocol has also been enhanced, allowing from more secure communications without fear of tampering.
Access also brings with it improved latency for quicker response from transmitter to model aircraft.
Absence of D8 Mode
The elephant in the room here though is the omission of D8. The transmitter comes ready from Access, ACCST D16, and ACCST LR12. Many of the microquads on the market today utilize the D-Series recievers in order to save space and weight, but right out of the box you won’t be able to use the FrSky Taranis X9D Plus with these quads. There are a few solutions to this, one of which is to get the external XJT Lite RF Module. The other is to attempt to change the receiver mode in Betaflight to FrSky_X. This has worked for some, but not others, and is known to be a little unreliable.
There is talk of FrSky bringing back the D8 mode for the Access line of transmitters, but nothing so far.
TBS Crossfire Compatibility
Yes, the FrSky Taranis X9D Plus SE 2019 is compatible with TBS Crossfire, but you will need to update the OpenTX firmware to support it. No, you do not have to do a DIY mod to use Crossfire. All is well here.
Overall, this is a good successor to the previous generations of the FrSky Taranis X9D Plus. It has several quality of life improvements that make it a great choice for those looking to get into the hobby and purchase a quality radio. There’s some room for improvement here thought as well, especially at the price point that the Special Edition comes in at.
Pros and Cons
- Faster processor future proofs the transmitter for years to come.
- Power button alleviates accidental power downs during flight (Yikes!)
- Upgraded switches feel nice and sturdy.
- Hall sensor gimbals are a must, they’re so smooth.
- Scroll wheel makes what was tedious menu navigation much easier to tolerate.
- External Module compatibility (Crossfire Included).
- Removable antenna allows for options.
- I really like the blue color…. just sayin.
- Missing support for D8 Recievers, making this a challenging transmitter for pilots focused on microquads.
- Battery choice is a little lacking. If it came with a battery, I could understand the shift in dynamic, but having to source one that is compatible with the internal charging could prove difficult initially.
- Internal charging of a Li-Po is iffy at best. From a safety aspect, I’m not personally for this shift.
- Lack of a full color screen – at the price point we’re at, lets see some color!
- Internal boards are no longer modular. This creates a higher repair expense in case of failure.
- Let’s move on to USB-C already. Not just here, but throughout the hobby.