The SWLing Post

Alan Roe’s updated B18 season guide to music on shortwave

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Alan Roe, who notes:

I have now compiled my Music on Shortwave listing for the B-18 broadcast
period.

Alan, thanks so much for keeping this brilliant guide updated each broadcast season and for sharing it here with the community!

Click here to download a PDF copy of Alan Roe’s Music on Shortwave B-18.


Alan Roe’s updated B18 season guide to music on shortwave 2018/12/10 11:14
Winter radio life and preparing for power outages

Listening to a local station with the BC-348-Q until we lose power.

Here at SWLing Post HQ we’ve been under a Winter Storm Warning since yesterday–it’s not set to expire until sometime tomorrow. This storm hasn’t been all snow–it’s a mixture of snow and ice. If this continues, I fully expect to lose power at some point today.

In general, we’re prepared to handle this sort of thing: our refrigerator and freezer are powered by solar and completely off-grid, we have a super efficient RAIS woodstove to keep us warm and of course, we have a generator at the ready if needed.

Playing radio off-grid

As I write this post, I’m listening to the Signal Corps BC-348-Q (photo above) which is tuned to a local AM broadcaster. It’ll fill my shack with local news/tunes and its vintage valves will do a fine job warming this small room until the power eventually goes out.

When it does go out, I’ll switch to my blackout buddy, the CommRadio CR-1A.

I find that the CR-1A is nearly ideal for off-grid and field listening, as long as you have a good external antenna. The internal Li-Ion battery powers the thing for ages and it has an incredibly capable receiver.

Of course, I also have an Elecraft KX3 and KX2 which can be powered by battery, but I tend to use the CR-1A for broadcast listening and save the KX2/KX3 for off-grid ham radio QRP fun.

In addition, I have the new battery-powered CommRadio CTX-10 transceiver in the shack.

I’ve been receiving numerous emails about this particular field rig because there are so few CTX-10 reviews out there even though it’s been on the market since late July.

Please note that I’ve been giving the CTX-10 a thorough evaluation over the past few weeks and plan to publish my initial review in the next few days.

Bye-bye noise!

Even though I live in a very rural and remote area with little-to-no RFI, when the power is cut, my noise floor still drops . We’re not immune–like most homes, we have power supplies and devices that emit radio interference.

It’s funny: most urban radio enthusiasts I know don’t fear power outages, they prepare for and embrace them! When all of those RFI-spewing devices go silent, it’s simply amazing what you can hear from home on frequencies below 30 MHz with pretty much any receiver.

Personally, as long as I have a means of 1.) powering my radios, and 2.) making coffee (extremely important), I consider myself properly prepared.

I’ve always got those two points covered.

Bring it, old man winter!  I’m ready to play radio!


Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!


Winter radio life and preparing for power outages 2018/12/09 13:38
Mike’s impressive collection of early production transistor radios

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mike Thomas, who shares the following reply to our recently post highlighting a number of novelty radios. Mike writes:

That is a nice collection of novelty radios. I have a few of them but tend to focus on early production transistors.

[Here is a] picture of my collection:

This is a large photo–click to open and zoom in.

Wow! What a remarkable collection, Mike! Thank you for sharing!


Mike’s impressive collection of early production transistor radios 2018/12/09 12:03
Radio Deal: SDRplay RSPduo SDR $229.95 at HRO

I just discovered that Ham Radio Outlet has cut the price of the excellent SDRplay RSPduo by $50 as a holiday special. If you’ve been considering the RSPduo, I would encourage you to jump on this deal.  Click here to check out our review of the RSPduo.

Click here to view this deal at HRO.


Radio Deal: SDRplay RSPduo SDR $229.95 at HRO 2018/12/09 10:59
More info about Eneloops and avoiding counterfeits

Following our post yesterday regarding Eneloop rechargeable cells, SWLing Post contribtors Guy Atkins and Ivan Cholakov both warned of numerous fake and counterfeit batteries available from sellers on eBay and elsewhere. Ivan notes:

Please be aware Eneloop batteries are widely copied and there are many many fakes out there. You should only buy them from a reputable source.

Thank you for that warning, Ivan!

Guy also comments:

I use Eneloop Pro AA batteries in small portables. The newest version of the “Pro” comes in a 2500 maH size and retains 85% of the charge for one year. The downsize is that this model is “only” good for 500 recharges. A useful comparison chart is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eneloop

[…]Here is a FAR more comprehensive page of Eneloop model & version comparisons, charts, FAQs, tips, warnings, etc.: https://eneloop101.com/batteries/complete-lineup/. This web site also contains warnings about Ebay fake Eneloops, and other useful details…probably more than most people want to know but if you want to make the most informed choice, check it out!

Many thanks to both of you for sharing. I agree that purchasing Eneloops from a reputable seller is incredibly important. For one thing, if you plan to invest in Eneloops, there is no rationale to buy something sub-standard. Additionally, I do worry about counterfeit cells having an unstable chemistry which could result in overheating or fire.

Click here to read our original Eneloop article with links to reputable sellers.


More info about Eneloops and avoiding counterfeits 2018/12/07 12:10
Marcus recommends Panasonic Eneloop rechargeable cells

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Marcus Keulertz, who writes:

I use these special rechargeable batteries [Panasonic Eneloop cells] for almost everything especially in household appliances and think what else?

In my energy hungry portable radios and active Loop Antennas. They are reliable power sources, especially in the cold weather period right now. They are quite expensive but worth to have them with you, when travelling.

Thanks for sharing, Marcus!  Like you, I almost exclusively use Eneloop cells in my portable shortwave radios (save when I’m doing an evaluation and use fresh alkalines for comparison consistency).  I even use Eneloops in my Elecraft KX3 transceiver. They’re brilliant! For daily use, Eneloops are simply invaluable as they hold a charge much longer than standard AA cells.

We’ve purchased three of the Eneloop starter packs in the past–two via Amazon.com (affiliate link) and one via Costco (who no longer sells them). I’ve also purchased these multi-packs of AA cells since they’re the most widely used battery in our household. The great thing about the starter packs is that they include AAA cells and D and C cell adapters.

True: Eneloops aren’t cheap, but I think they’re worth the price. Once I invested in them, I gave my other rechargeable cells away.

Thanks for your comments, Marcus.

Click here to shop Eneloops at Amazon.com (affiliate link). Also shop Walmart and B&H Photo.


Marcus recommends Panasonic Eneloop rechargeable cells 2018/12/06 12:58
FTIOM & UBMP, December 9-15

From the Isle of Music, December 9-15
This week, our special guest is Producer and Musicologist Gretel Garlobo, with whom we will present music from La Trovuntivitis, which was awarded a Special Prize in Cubadisco 2018. We will also listen to music from another Cubadisco Special Prize winner, Privilegio de Origen
The broadcasts take place:
1. For Eastern Europe but audible well beyond the target area in most of the Eastern Hemisphere (including parts of East Asia and Oceania) with 100Kw, Sunday 1500-1600 UTC on SpaceLine, 9400 KHz, from Kostinbrod, Bulgaria (1800-1900 MSK)
2. For the Americas and parts of Europe, Tuesday 0100-0200 UTC (New UTC) on WBCQ, 7490 KHz from Monticello, ME, USA (Monday 8-9PM EST in the US). This has been audible in parts of NW, Central and Southern Europe with an excellent skip to Italy recently.
3 & 4. For Europe and sometimes beyond, Tuesday 1900-2000 UTC and Saturday 1200-1300 UTC (New CETs) on Channel 292, 6070 KHz from Rohrbach, Germany.

Uncle Bill’s Melting Pot, December 9 & 11, 2018
Episode 91 takes us to the Republic of Korea (aka South Korea), including a Korean Ska band, Kingston Rudieska, that I first encountered during a visit to Havana, Cuba.
The transmissions take place:
1. Sunday 2300-2330 UTC (NEW UTC) (6:00PM -6:30PM Eastern US) on WBCQ The Planet 7490 KHz from the US to the Americas and parts of Europe
2. Tuesday 2000-2030 UTC (NEW CET) on Channel 292, 6070 KHz from Rohrbach, Germany for Europe. If current propagation conditions hold, the broadcast should reach Iceland AND Western Russia due to a long skip.
Also recommended:
Marion’s Attic, a unique program produced and hosted by Marion Webster featuring early 20th Century records, Edison cylinders etc played on the original equipment, comes on immediately before UBMP on Sundays from 2200-2300 UTC on WBCQ 7490 Khz.


FTIOM & UBMP, December 9-15 2018/12/05 04:05
SWLing Post Contest Question #4: A chance to win a piece of broadcasting history!

RCA Window from MI-7330

Three weeks ago, we announced a new contest to celebrate the SWLing Post‘s 10th Anniversary.

The prize is an amazing piece of broadcast history: a 75 year old round plate glass window that was fitted in the central main door of the RCA senders at the Woofferton, UK, transmitting site in 1943. This prize was generously donated by SWLing Post contributor and friend, Dave Porter (G4OYX).

Please read our original contest post (click here) which describes how you can enter to win.

The original post also contains the first of five contest questions which count as individual entries in the contest.  The second question can be found here and the third question by clicking here.

And now for our fourth question and fourth possible contest entry…

Please note: If you read the SWLing Post email digest, you will need to view our prize questions on the web to see the embedded form. If the form below does not display, click here to open it in a new window.

Our fourth question:

Loading…

We will post question #5 (the final) next week!

Click here to answer question #1.

Click here to answer question #2.

Click here to answer question #3.


SWLing Post Contest Question #4: A chance to win a piece of broadcasting history! 2018/12/04 16:12
Radio Deal: Digitech AR-1780 NZ$99 and AU$89 at Jaycar

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, David Anderson, who writes:

Just to let you and and your readers know that the AR1780 has had a price drop – NZ$99 and AU$89 at Jaycar.

https://www.jaycar.co.nz/compact-world-band-radio-with-ssb/p/AR1780

https://www.jaycar.com.au/compact-world-band-radio-with-ssb/p/AR1780

That is a great price for the AR-1780!  Thanks for sharing, David!

FYI: if you live in the US and want to purchase directly from Jaycar, check out this post. Click here to read our review.


Radio Deal: Digitech AR-1780 NZ$99 and AU$89 at Jaycar 2018/12/04 11:01
Photo shows that late President Bush kept a bedside shortwave portable

Photo by White House photographer David Valdez (Click to enlarge image)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Robert Sillett, who shares the following regarding late US President George H. W. Bush:

Firstly, thank you so much for providing such a great service to the shortwave community. Thanks so much!

I am dropping you a line because of something I noticed in the following article from the Washington Post concerning our late President Bush. If you look in the photo of President Bush (then Vice-President at the time) with his grandchildren, you can see a Sony ICF-2001 (update: Sony ICF-7600D) in the bookshelf behind him. Given its position, one can assume that he used it regularly.

[…]Here’s where I found the photo:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/amp-stories/photos-of-george-hw-bush-white-house/?tid=a_inl_manual

I agree, Robert. You can tell by the radio’s position that it wasn’t staged for the photo. I understand that President Bush was an avid reader and had a desire to be well-informed about the world around him.  No doubt, shortwave radio played a role in that.

Thank you for sharing.


Photo shows that late President Bush kept a bedside shortwave portable 2018/12/03 21:32
WAIF interview and Madtone’s amazing shortwave-infused music

Earlier this month, I had the honor of being interviewed by both the Radio Survivor podcast and WAIF’s radio show Trash Flow Radio, hosted by Justin Moore.

It was great fun to spend time with the Radio Survivor crew who are massive supporters of community radio and then the very next day be interviewed on a dynamic community radio station like WAIF.

The first hour of Trash Flow Radio featured recordings from the Shortwave Radio Audio ArchiveMadtone’s amazing shortwave inspired music (more on that below) and other radio-inspired selections. A fantastic sonic journey.

I spent the second hour of the show talking shortwave with Justin and our mutual friend Robert Gulley. No doubt you might recognize both host names as Robert is a regular Post contributor and Justin is the author of recently-posted items exploring the intersection of radio and music here on the SWLing Post.

In other words, I was in the company of true kindred spirits and friends.

Justin has posted an article about the show on his blog and includes a link to stream or download a recording of the full two hour show.

Do yourself a favor and at least listen to the first hour of the show which showcases some amazing shortwave sounds and Pete Madtone’s excellent compositions. You won’t regret it.

Justin introduces Pete on his blog:

Madtone, “One Deck” Pete Polanyk (Source: Justin Moore)

Also in this episode I was pleased to present the North American radio premiere of Madtone’s “Interval Signal Jazz”, from his Shortwave Radio Shorts EP. For over a decade “One Deck” Pete Polanyk has been making music as Madtone combining a love of electronica and dub withrecordings of noises and interval signals culled off shortwave radio (he’s had a fascination with radio since childhood).

Just as Thomas said during the show, his Shortwave Listening Post has really built up a community around the SWLing & Amateur Radio hobbies. Madtone got into contact with me about an article of mine Thomas had posted on the blog there, and since then Pete and I have become fast friends. It’s truly a testament to the way radio can sprout the shoots of friendship around the globe. Pete is also a brilliant plant man and gardener, and writes a wonderful blog on music, gardening and life at Weeds up to my knees! Check it out. From our conversations it turns out that Pete also used to play in a band back in the day with none other than Karl Blake.  I’d be real curious to hear any recordings of that group he was in if any cassettes or such exist! Now, if I can only get him to get his amateur radio license over there in England…

It pleases me to no end to know that Justin and Pete formed a friendship via the SWLing Post. It’s the community here that makes the Post a true labor of love for me.

Many of you know I’ve had an incredibly hectic schedule the past few months and am quite far behind on planned posts and correspondence. I’ve been meaning to plug Pete’s work for some time.

I encourage you to check out his music on Bandcamp and, again, listen to some of his Interval Signal Jazz via the WAIF recording.

Click here to listen to samples of Pete’s work on the Madtone Bandcamp page!

Thanks again, Justin and Robert (and Dan KE8AWT who helped sort out some technical problems) for such a fun on-air conversation about the world of shortwave!

Click here to read Justin’s post about the show.


WAIF interview and Madtone’s amazing shortwave-infused music 2018/12/03 12:53
Crosley is bringing back the radio cassette portable

The Crosley CT100A

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Mike Hangen and Kim Elliott who share the following item from The Verge:

Crosley, the company best known for making those junky $100 turntables you can find at Target or Best Buy, is expanding into a different era of musical nostalgia: cassette decks, via TechCrunch.

The company is selling two tape decks. Both have the same basic specs for cheap hardware: there’s a single mono speaker, an AM/FM radio, an integrated mic, and a single-direction deck (so you’ll have to flip the tape yourself, just like the good old days). Odds are that you won’t get the best-sounding speaker, but that’s not really the point.

The $60 CT100 model can also get shortwave radio, and it adds some rather anachronistic support for playing music off SD cards and USB drives. The $70 CT200 skips those features but adds treble and bass dials and a VU meter, which looks cooler and thus commands a higher price.

Again, neither of these players are likely going to give you an audiophile-level experience. But if you’re looking for somewhere to play your retro Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack cassette, they should work just fine.

Click here to read the full article at The Verge.

Amazon has both the Crosley CT100A and the CT200A–both are $52.77 shipped. I also see that Target has them online for $49.00 shipped. I find it interesting that Target doesn’t mention the shortwave bands in the basic item description–they simply list it as an AM/FM radio.

While I imagine these Crosley sets will have only mediocre shortwave reception, I bet they’ll sell a lot of them. Being so widely distributed, they’ll make for a unique gift or impulse buy.

What’s really ironic is that those of us familiar with a little radio history know that Crosley was a giant in the radio business and produced some amazing sets (including this masterpiece).


Crosley is bringing back the radio cassette portable 2018/12/03 11:40
Interesting collection of novelty radios

Image source: Dangerousminds.net

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mike Addy, who shares a link to this large collection of novelty radios:

Click here to view on Dangerous Minds.

I recognize a couple of those radios, but there are so many promotional sets I had never seen before. Who would have thought of a canned Pineapple radio?  Love it!

Post readers: Do you have any interesting novelty radios?  Please comment!


Interesting collection of novelty radios 2018/12/03 11:20
Ongoing HAARP HF experiments

Tomorrow is the final day in this latest HAARP campaign–still time to tune in:

(Source: Chris Fallen)

Funding Agencies: National Science Foundation, Fourth State Communications

Experimenters/Instrumentation Support: Cornell University, UAF, Naval Research Lab, Eastern Michigan University, HAM amateur radio operators

Research: Experiments are carried out by scientists from Cornell University, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Fourth State Communications, LLC. Additional instrumentation and other support will be provided by scientists from the Naval Research Lab and Eastern Michigan University, and by ham amateur radio operators located in Alaska and British Columbia. During the campaign, scientists will investigate radio-enhanced airglow (i.e. “artificial aurora”) including its relation to the natural aurora and use for measuring high-altitude winds in the thermosphere, the ionospheric generation of very low frequency (VLF) radio waves, and testing new communications applications of artificial ionosphere plasma structures. HAARP operations can be monitored throughout Alaska using shortwave radio receivers tuned to frequencies between 2.7 and 10 MHz. Conditions permitting, the artificial aurora may be photographed as a faint “spot” above Gakona between approximately 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Alaska Standard Time on each day of the campaign.

Follow Chris Fallen’s Twitter feed for up-to-date times and frequencies.


Ongoing HAARP HF experiments 2018/12/03 02:27
Best of the best: Reviews of some of my favorite portable shortwave radios

The following article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


Shortwave Portables: Some of my favorites

Being a radio writer and blogger, I’m often asked, “Isn’t radio dying?” or “How long are you going to keep listening to radio when there are so many other options out there?”

My answer? It’s simple:

Radio is about the journey.  And radios are the vehicles with which I explore our planet, albeit sonically.  I’ll stop listening to radio when it stops transporting me to far-flung, fascinating places across our planet.

I’ll stop listening to radio when when it can no longer provide the kind of direct information and understated entertainment that is, for me (and a few others like me), a welcome relief from the overwhelming demands and distractions of the Internet.

And I’m perhaps a bit anachronistic in that I prefer radio’s subtler theatre of the mind over the mindless image consumption that television demands; thus, I’ll stop listening to radio when it too, tells me what I must think, what I must imagine, and what I must feel.

In short, radio is my tool for exploration, and I continue to enjoy tuning, listening, logging and learning from it.  Very fortunately, I have the great pleasure of being in the middle of the world of radio technology in my reviews, evaluations, and alpha/beta testing.

This is why, over the years, I’ve made an effort to share some of my picks of the litter with others.  So when TSM editor Ken Rietz asked if I would be interested in writing a feature about this, how could I resist?

What follows is a series of mini-reviews which focus primarily on the portable radio market. This is, by definition, a curated list, but I’ve done my best to include a variety of receivers I regularly recommend. The radios are listed roughly from least expensive ($25) to most expensive ($270), and I’ve only included models that are in production at the time of this publication.

Ever-popular portables

Portables are truly the most popular category of radio among shortwave radio enthusiasts, and it’s no wonder why! Among their other virtues, modern portables can pack a lot of performance into an affordable package, they’re great for travelling, and their all-in-one nature makes shortwave listening accessible to virtually everyone.

Since I’m in the constant stream of correspondence and comments from radio enthusiasts, I know another reason some listeners consider portables simply invaluable: portables give us refuge from noise. Since many of us live in, and/or travel to, busy urban areas filled with radio interference, portables give us a means to head to the park, beach, or the countryside to escape the noise and increase our odds of working DX.

Fortunately for us, modern portables pack features of which, in former radio-listening days, we could have only dreamed.

What follows is a list of my favorite portables, listed by price in US dollars, with the least expensive first. Please note that retailer links include Amazon and eBay affiliate links that support the SWLing Post with your purchase.

Best Portable Shortwave Radios

$25 – $50 Range

Tivdio V-115 / Retekess V115 / Audiomax SRW-710S

Listening to the BBC Midwinter Broadcast on June 21, 2017 in Québec.

Pros: Affordability, sensitivity, built-in recording and audio playback features, compact size, impressive audio from internal speaker

Cons: Mutes between frequencies, front panel buttons feel rather cheap, no SSB mode, sluggish response from controls, small telescoping whip

Summary: For about $25, it’s hard to complain about the V-115. Its performance and list of features exceeds expectations for radios in this price range, which are generally a disappointment. As for myself, I mainly use the V-115 as receiver to make off-air recordings and as an occasional backup radio. Unless your budget is very tight, don’t buy the V-115 as your main receiver; rather, buy it to keep in the glove compartment of your car or in your go-bag. Note that this radio carries a number of brand names and has been rebadged many times. Click here to read more reviews of the V-115 on the SWLing Post.

Retailers:

Grundig Mini

Pros: Compact, simple, adequate sensitivity and selectivity, clear backlight display, surprisingly decent audio from internal speaker

Cons: No direct frequency entry, no SSB mode, limited features compared with pricier receivers

Summary: The Grundig/Eton Mini is the latest in the lineage of the Mini series from Eton.  The Mini has remained a popular radio because it delivers decent performance, with above average audio and makes for a nice broadcast listening companion. I recommend the Mini as a gift for those who want a simple pocket radio to operate with an easy-to-read display––great for the traveler or for elderly parents or grandparents who don’t like too many fussy buttons. Certainly a great value for the money.

Retailers:

Tecsun PL-380

Pros: Excellent sensitivity and selectivity, excellent audio via headphones, multiple AM bandwidths, ETM auto-tuning, excellent ergonomics, responsive controls, direct frequency entry, excellent bang-for-buck

Cons: No SSB mode, slight muting between frequency changes

Summary: The venerable PL-380 was my first ultralight Tecsun radio. It’s been on the market for many years, no doubt due to its solid performance. The PL-380 has an excellent receiver with impressive sensitivity and selectivity. The ETM auto-tuning feature is ideal for those of us who like to travel. The PL-380 is durable, affordable, and in terms of performance, is very similar to the PL-310ET (below). The PL-310ET might have a slight edge in terms of sensitivity. But for just $45, you simply can’t go wrong with the PL-380.

Retailers:

Tecsun PL-310ET

Pros: Excellent sensitivity and selectivity (perhaps slightly more sensitive than similarly-priced PL-380), excellent audio via headphones, multiple AM bandwidths, ETM auto-tuning, excellent ergonomics, responsive controls, direct frequency entry, excellent bang-for-buck

Cons: No SSB mode, slight muting between frequency changes

Summary: The PL-310ET, like its cousin the PL-380, is a classic ultralight radio and performs brilliantly for the price. The PL-310ET has long been the backup radio I’ve taken along on mini DXpeditions and field-listening sessions. The ETM auto-tuning feature is ideal for those of us who like to travel. The PL-310ET is reliable, and you’re hard-pressed to find a better performer under $50––indeed, it rivals some receivers twice its price. A solid choice for the budget-minded radio enthusiast and Ultralight DXer.

Retailers:

$50 – $100 Range

XHDATA D-808

Pros: Impressive overall performance, SSB mode, multiple AM and SSB filter widths, above-average audio from internal speaker, RDS, dedicated fine-tuning control, decent battery life from four standard AA cells, includes AIR band

Cons: Mutes between frequency changes, sluggish response from controls

Summary: The XHDATA D-808 was, no doubt, the most surprising receiver to hit the market in 2017. It’s an impressively sensitive radio across the bands, and can be snagged for an affordable price (generally $75-80 US). I was very skeptical of the D-808, but when I put it on the air, I discovered it gave some of my full-featured portables a run for their money. It is, indeed, a budget workhorse. If you live in New Zealand or Australia, you might find the very similar Digitech AR-1780 a more accessible option. Internally, the D-808 and Digitech AR-1780 (see below) are very similar. Click here to read more D-808 reviews on the SWLing Post.

Retailers:

Eton Field BT

The Grundig Field BT

Pros: Impressive sensitivity, excellent audio fidelity, can be used as a Bluetooth speaker, intuitive display, dedicated RF gain, simple tactile controls, overall quality feel

Cons: Clunky/quirky tuning is painfully slow, no direct frequency keying, no SSB mode

Summary: Last year, my friend Troy Riedel and I met at Mount Mitchell State Park to compare the Eton Field BT with the benchmark ($270) Tecsun S-8800. We were impressed that the Field BT did an admirable job competing with the S-8800 (see below). Indeed, due to the Field BT’s excellent audio, some broadcasts were slightly more intelligible than on the S-8800 (noting the S-8800 also has excellent audio). The only negative that was quite obvious at the time was how cumbersome it was to tune the Field BT compared with the S-8800. One year ago, the Field BT was widely available for $129––lately I’ve seen the price as low as $80 shipped. If you’re looking for a lunchbox radio that packs serious performance, room-filling robust audio, and you don’t mind slow tuning, the Eton Field BT is an excellent choice.

Retailers:

CountyComm GP5-SSB (a.k.a. Tecsun PL-365)

Pros: Excellent sensitivity, audio fidelity quite good via headphones, effective SSB mode, multiple AM and SSB bandwidths, very good medium-wave reception with supplied external bar antenna, unique form factor for one-handed operation, uses three standard AA batteries

Cons: No direct frequency entry, audio tinny via internal speaker, AGC doesn’t cope with fading as well as other comparable portables, no back stand nor rotatable whip antenna; thus this radio is not ideal for tabletop listening, supplied belt clip feels flimsy––if you plan to use this in the field, consider purchasing the excellent CountyComm GP5 series rugged case.

Summary: The GP5-SSB was one of the first sub-$100 DSP portables with SSB mode. Since its release others have entered the market (see XHDATA D-808 above for example). The GP5-SSB has a unique form factor tailored for handheld operation, much like a handie talkie. I keep a GP5-SSB in my backpack to use while on hikes, and am always very pleased with its performance. If you’re looking for a bedside or tabletop portable, I would recommend other similarly-priced receivers like the XHDATA D-808 or Digitech AR-1780. Note that if you live outside North America, you might find it easier to purchase the Tecsun PL-365 which is identical to the GP5-SSB. Click here to read our full review of the CountyComm GP5-SSB.

Retailers:

C. Crane CC Skywave

Listening to the 2016 BBC Midwinter Broadcast to Antarctica while traveling in Canada with the CC Skywave.

Pros: Overall great sensitivity and selectivity for a portable in this price class, considerate design, well-tailored for the traveler, AIR band is truly functional, NOAA Weather radio reception excellent, includes soft silicone earphones (in-ear type) actually worthy of AM/SW listening, auto scanning with the up/down buttons is very rapid, uses common micro USB port for power/charging

Cons: No SSB mode, internal speaker audio is somewhat tinny (use of the voice audio filter helps), no external antenna jack, mutes between frequency changes

Summary: I think the original CC Skywave is a brilliant little radio. Although it lacks SSB mode, it’s a fine broadcast receiver and one of the most sensitive travel portables on the market. For those of us living and traveling in North America, the CC Skywave is a veritable “Swiss Army Knife” receiver, as it not only covers AM, FM and shortwave, but is a capable AIR band and incredibly adept NOAA/Environment Canada weather radio receiver. At $90, I believe it’s the best radio value in the C. Crane product line. If the lack of SSB mode is a deal-breaker for you, consider the Skywave’s pricier brother, the CC Skywave SSB (below), also an excellent performer. Click here to read our full review of the CC Skywave.

Retailers:

$100 – 200 Range

Digitech AR-1780

Pros: Impressive overall performance, SSB mode, multiple AM and SSB filter widths, above-average audio from internal speaker, RDS, dedicated fine-tuning control, decent on-air battery life from four standard AA cells, includes AIR band

Cons: Mutes between frequency changes, sluggish response from controls. Note that at least one user has reported quick battery discharge when the radio is turned off. This has not been the case with my unit–in fact, it’s often turned off for a couple months at a time and maintains a steady, healthy charge.

Summary: Digitech is not a brand known for delivering enthusiast-grade receivers to the Australian/New Zealand markets through retailer Jaycar.. While they’ve a number of portables on the market, so many are plagued with internal noise and quirky controls. The AR-1780 is an exception. For $129.00 AUD (roughly $103 USD), you’re getting a full-featured radio that is, by and large, a pleasure to operate. The AR-1780 has its quirks, but so do so many ultra-compact portables in this price bracket. As mentioned in the cons above, there have been reports of some units draining batteries rather quickly when turned off (essentially in standby)––I have not experienced this, but this issue has been reported by a number of AR-1780 owners. The AR-1780 is certainly worth considering if you live in Australia or New Zealand. Note that the Digitech AR1780 and previously mentioned XHDATA D-808 share a nearly identical receiver design although their outer dimensions are slightly different. Click here to read our full review of the Digitech AR-1780.

Retailers:

Tecsun PL-660

Pros: Smooth digital tuning with no muting between frequencies, excellent synchronous detector, functional SSB mode, direct frequency entry via keypad, brilliant ergonomics, excellent sensitivity and selectivity (a best-in-class!), excellent price point and value for benchmark portable performance

Cons: BFO knob instead instead of push-button SSB, only two filters (wide/narrow), lacks a line-out jack

Summary: I’ve owned a PL-660 since 2011 and still take it on DXpeditions and to use as a benchmark when evaluating new receivers. It has rock-solid performance all around with pleasant audio from the built-in speaker, and one of the best synchronous detectors on the portables market. The PL-660 is the radio I’ve recommended more than any other for newcomers to the hobby: it’s a very capable DX machine with an ergonomic, intuitive interface. Click here to read other SWLing Post reviews that include the PL-660.

Retailers:

Tecsun PL-680

The Tecsun PL-680

Pros: Excellent sensitivity and selectivity on the shortwave bands, improved weak signal stability over the PL-660, stable sync lock, proven form factor with good overall ergonomics, great internal speaker––an improvement over the PL-660, but not as good as the PL-880––in short, other than medium-wave performance (see con), a worthy replacement for the PL-660; also sports excellent audio from the PL-680 internal speaker: improved over the PL-660, but not matching the fidelity of the PL-880

Cons: Medium-wave performance is lackluster, marginal noise floor increase on the shortwave bands (compared with the PL-660), lacks a line-out jack, SSB frequency display on my unit is + 1 kHz, so slight BFO adjustment is needed

Summary: If you’re a shortwave radio listener, you’ll be pleased with the Tecsun PL-680. In all of my comparison tests between the Tecsun PL-660 and Tecsun PL-680, the PL-680 tends to edge out the PL-660 performance-wise. This coincides with blind user surveys I conducted on the SWLing Post. If you’re a medium-wave DXer, you might skip over the PL-680; the PL-660 is likely a better choice for you. If you’re a casual medium-wave listener on the other hand, you’ll probably be pleased with the PL-680. Click here to read our full review of the PL-680.

Retailers:

CC Skywave SSB

Pros: Considerate design and ergonomics, well-tailored for the traveler, excellent sensitivity and selectivity for a compact radio, faster AIR scanning compared with the original CC Skywave, better HF frequency coverage than the original Skywave (1.711-29.999 MHz, compared to 2.300-26.100 MHz), pleasant SSB audio, multiple bandwidths in both AM and SSB modes, no overloading noted, well-written operation manual, excellent weather band reception, nice red LED indication lamps for SSB and Fine Tune engagement, NOAA Weather radio reception excellent, includes soft silicone earphones (in-ear type) actually worthy of AM/SW listening, uses common micro USB port for power/charging, excellent battery life from two AA cells

Cons: At $169, US the CC Skywave SSB is certainly the priciest compact portable on the market, yet mutes between frequencies, engaging SSB mode requires 2-3 seconds of delay (common for this DSP chip), no RDS, no audio-out jack, no sync detector (a “con” in this price class), no long-wave reception, first production run had some quirks which have now been addressed by C. Crane (in case you shop for a used unit).

Summary: I love the CC Skywave SSB. Sure, I wish it had RDS, an audio-out jack, didn’t mute between frequencies, and was less expensive (the current price of $169 seems excessive). But overall, it’s a fantastic package. I’m impressed with the amount of performance the Skywave SSB provides with such a short telescoping antenna. Since first being introduced to the Skywave SSB last year, it has become my choice travel portable. Check out our initial review of the CC Skywave SSB and the important updated second production run review.

Retailers:

Tecsun PL-880

Pros: Excellent ergonomics, excellent sensitivity and selectivity, superb audio from internal speaker, wide array of filter options in both AM/SSB more than on any sub-$200 portable on the market!), absolutely no muting between frequencies even while using a .5 kHz filter in SSB, sturdy carrying case has dedicated pocket for English operation manual, single supplied rechargeable battery delivers a very long life

Cons: Two-second delay when changing modes (AM/SSB/AM sync), some audio splatter on peaks in weak signal DX, sync detector (hidden feature) delivers mediocre performance and substantially reduced audio fidelity, AM (medium wave) prone to imaging if strong AM broadcasters are nearby, supplied rechargeable battery is not as common as AA batteries

Summary: I’ve owned the Tecsun PL-880 for five years and it continues to impress. Tecsun has made iterative changes to the firmware over time, and now this radio is one of the best performers in the sub-$200 price bracket. The audio from the PL-880 internal speaker is simply unsurpassed in this size of radio. The PL-880 isn’t perfect, but it does an amazing job, pleasing DXers from every angle and even ham radio operators who appreciate the narrow filter settings in SSB mode. All in all, you can’t go wrong with the PL-880––it’s certainly a quality piece of radio kit! Click here to read our full review of the PL-880. Click here to read our list of PL-880 hidden features.

Retailers:

Eton (Grundig Edition) Executive Satellit

Pros: Excellent sensitivity, excellent audio from built-in speaker, ergonomic and intuitive interface, uses common AA batteries, multi-joint swivel antenna is best in class, excellent build quality, display is easy to read, effective station memory management

Cons: Mutes between frequencies, executive Satellit model typically costs more than previous non-executive model

Summary: The Satellit has a dedicated following among hard-core DXers, both the audio and superb sensitivity placing it well within the realm of benchmark receivers. It’s a fantastic field radio and feels like one that should serve you over the long haul. It’s not a perfect radio; I especially wish it didn’t mute between frequency changes, although Eton seem to have minimized this in the latest production runs. If you’re seeking a super-sensitive portable to sniff out weak DX, then the Satellit is worth serious consideration. Check out some of Oxford Shortwave’s previous posts which include the Executive Satellit.

Retailers:

$200+ Range

Tecsun S-8800

Pros: Brilliant audio fidelity from built-in speaker, dedicated AM bandwidth and fine tuning controls, excellent bespoke IR remote control, capable SSB mode, excellent shortwave sensitivity, excellent shortwave selectivity, excellent FM performance, easy-to-read backlit LCD digital display, remote control beautifully equipped for full radio functionality, included 18650 rechargeable lithium batteries power this radio for hours, BNC connection for external antennas, does not overload even when connected to large external antennas

Cons: Lackluster mediumwave performance, no synchronous detector, no direct keypad entry (pro: remote control, however, has excellent keypad entry), can’t charge and listen at the same time as is not designed for AC operation, no backstand, when in narrowest SSB filters AGC can’t reliably handle audio/signal changes, slight “warbling” sound while using fine-tuning control in SSB mode, no RDS display on the FM band

Summary: If your primary use of the S-8800 is for medium-wave or long-wave DXing, you should look elsewhere. While the S-8800 will serve you well with local AM stations, it will not dig signals out of the noise like other better-equipped AM receivers. But: if you’re primarily a shortwave radio listener, you’ll certainly be pleased with the S-8800! The S-8800 consistently outperforms my beloved Sony ICF-SW7600GR and my Tecsun PL-880. Indeed, it is the most sensitive and selective shortwave portable I own. On the flip side, it’s also the most expensive: $268 at time of publication. If you want top-class HF performance from a portable radio and you expect superb audio, I think you’ll find the S-8800 well worth your investment. Click the following links to read our full review of the S-8800, 13dka’s review which compares the S-8800 with the PL-660 and D-808 and Dan Robinson’s most recent S-8800 comparative review.

Retailers:

There’s a portable for everyone

You might have noticed that there’s a portable receiver on this list for everyone:

  • The listener who wants turn-on-and-play functionality
  • The casual listener
  • The hiker
  • The traveler
  • The DXer
  • The ham radio operator

Keep in mind that this is a curated list of some of my favorites that are widely available on the market new. There are a number of receivers on the market––the Degen DE1103 comes to mind––which would have made it to this list had they not been “updated” with a DSP chip. Manufacturers add DSP to reliable models in order to increase profit margin, since DSP chips cost a fraction of traditional receiver design. DSP chips have revolutionized the portable market in many positive ways, but if they’re not properly implemented in a set, they can produce higher noise floors, audio anomalies, shaky AGC, and other undesirable traits.  The DSP receivers in the list above have properly implemented DSP technology and, save the cheapest models, are all what I would consider “enthusiast grade” radios.

What about other types of radios?

Of course, if you’ve become addicted to radio, you shouldn’t stop at portables! I would encourage you to check out the three-part Software Defined Radio Primer published in September (Part 1), October (Part 2), and November (Part 3). The SDRs I mention in the primer are essentially what I consider the best of the best.

Of course, there are still a handful of tabletop shortwave receivers like the Alinco DX-R8T HF receiver, the Elad FDM-DUOr SDR receiver, and the Icom IC-R8600 wideband receiver. All are top-notch performers and, when paired with an effective antenna, can pull out weak signals much better than a portable radio ever could.

If you’re a ham radio operator, take advantage of modern general-coverage transceivers. Only a couple decades ago, most transceivers were “ham band only” and the ones that were not compromised performance if they included the broadcast bands.  This is no longer the case. Modern general coverage HF transceivers can rival dedicated tabletop receivers in many cases. I’m particularly fond of the Icom IC-7300, IC-7200, and Kenwood TS-590SG as home stations, and the Yaesu FT-818, Elecraft KX3, and the Elecraft KX2. This is a mere sampling of some of the excellent general-coverage transceivers on the market. Before you purchase a general-coverage transceiver, simply make sure it has AM mode and that the bandwidth is wide enough for pleasant audio. Ask current owners how their transceiver sounds on the broadcast bands.

In summary

As you select your next radio, take into consideration how and where you plan to use it, as well as what you’re willing to spend. The good news is, we live in an era with an extraordinary number of options covering all price ranges and uses. So, be assured: there’s a radio out there just waiting to sonically transport you to far-flung and fascinating regions, too.

Vive la radio! Long live radio!

Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!


Best of the best: Reviews of some of my favorite portable shortwave radios 2018/12/02 13:14

1 / 2  >  >>