The Taranis X9D Plus Special Edition is functionally equivalent to the regular X9D+ but features a few key upgrades I’ll discuss in this review. You can buy it on most of the usual sites like GetFPV, Banggood, etc for $249.99 USD. I had to search high and low to find the carbon fiber finish and I stumbled across Aloft Hobbies. I paid a little bit more than $249.99 but I can’t recommend their customer service enough – they’re an authorized FrSky repair center and they offer full warranties on most products.
So is this radio worth it? Let’s take a look at what you get for the extra $60.
M9 Hall Sensor Gimbals
The Taranis X9D Plus Special Edition comes with the M9 hall effect sensor gimbals installed by default. The M9 gimbal upgrade is one of the most popular and effective upgrades for the ordinary X9D. To be honest, as an intermediate pilot, I’m not sure I can tell the difference in feel between these and the gimbals on another transmitter of mine (not an X9D Plus). Perhaps more advanced pilots can tell the difference in stick feel more obviously. Either way, the use of magnets and lack of physical electrical connections is a huge bonus for durability. Ordinary gimbals use wire brushes on metal to sense position. The brushes wear down with use over time and the gimbals become less responsive or sensitive. The M9 gimbals don’t have a physical contact like this, so they will maintain quality for quite a while longer than the standard gimbals.
Finally, it comes with some special stick ends that look great for pilots who fly thumb-style, but for those like me who fly with pinch or hybrid grips, consider swapping out the sticks. Aloft Hobbies has some nice choices.
The Taranis X9D Plus Special Edition has a detachable antenna (SMA connector). This is another very popular modification, usually referred to as “the 5dB mod”. The idea is to replace the stock antenna with an SMA, and then attach a 5dB antenna (instead of the 2dB stock antenna) to get some extra range. This has proven to be a dangerous and controversial modification. It’s somewhat complicated to perform properly, and there are many reports of range/failsafe issues cropping up some time later.
The fact that the mod is already completed on this radio is both good and bad: First, the actual work is done professionally at the factory, so it’s been done correctly. And, if anything goes wrong, you’ve got a case to make with the manufacturer or distributor. If you did the mod yourself, all bets of warranty-level support would be off. I have read reports of range loss on the Taranis X9D Plus Special Edition. In many of these cases, it seems replacing the antenna solves the problem. In the cases I read about where the antenna did not solve the problem, it seemed like FrSky/Banggood were willing to send out replacement parts at no charge.
Connectors are all rated for a maximum number of mating cycles. As this number is approached and exceeded, the connector is likely experiencing deformation and not connecting properly. SMA connectors are rated for 500 cycles, but at a very specific torque. Overtightening will reduce the lifecycle. Be careful not to overtighten the antenna, and I recommend leaving it connected as much as possible.
This brings me to a complaint I have with the product: The radio doesn’t actually fit in the carrying case with the antenna attached. This seems like an odd oversight to me. I’m sure it’s because FrSky is just re-using the same X9D+ carrying case, but still: I’d have hoped a premium product that includes a carrying case would come with a carrying case actually designed for the product. I haven’t decided what to do about this yet – I might have to cut some foam down to fit my radio in the box, so that I don’t have to remove and re-attach my antenna frequentlyLastly, the Taranis X9D Plus Special Edition doesn’t actually ship with a 5dB antenna, so to take full advantage of this mod you’ll still need to get your own antenna.
The product listing for this product boasts upgraded toggle switches. I don’t have an original X9D Plus to compare against, but the switches are much smoother and require a bit less force to move when compared to a couple of my other radios. It’s a nice touch but as far as I can tell there’s no extra functionality, and I’m not sure I’d miss them.
Hydro Dip Finish
The Taranis X9D Plus Special Edition comes in one of four designs. I’ve been showing you the carbon fiber version.
I’ve had mixed experiences with the hydro finish. The carbon fiber version I’ve been showing you in these photos looks fantastic. You can tell it’s not real carbon, but it still looks really cool. It’s also a matte finish (the other three are glossy). This is actually my second Taranis X9D Plus Special Edition, though; I originally ordered the camo version.
The camo finish highlighted some flaws with the hydro dip process. First off: It’s a highly randomized process as far as where the pattern ends up laying on the plastic. The pattern in the product photos will likely be oriented much differently on each radio. Secondly, the quality on the camo was quite poor. There were many air bubbles, cracks, and general defects. I ended up RMA’ing that radio in exchange for the carbon finish, which shows no signs of defects.
I could go either way on this. The radio is really nice, but it has its flaws. The switches are a nice touch but not something you’ll miss. The hydro dip finish quality might be suspect. The 5dB antenna mod is a bit of an unknown (we’ll have to wait and see how these radios hold up over time, and whether it’s always due to a worn out antenna). If you really like one of the hydro dipped finishes, or want the 5dB mod, I strongly recommend this product. Otherwise, I’d say go for the regular Taranis X9D Plus and DIY the M9 gimbal upgrade for about $40.