A review of the ShouYu SY-X5 DSP shortwave radio

The Shouyu SY-X5 mechanically-tuned, DSP portable radio. (Click to enlarge)

The Shouyu SY-X5 mechanically-tuned, DSP portable radio. (Click to enlarge)

The ShouYu SY-X5 shortwave radio came to my attention only a few weeks ago. It is yet one more mechanically-tuned, DSP based, portable shortwave/AM/FM radio. I have reviewed several other models based on the same DSP chipset: the Silicon Labs SI4844–see my reviews of the Degen DE321, Degen DE32, and the Kichbo KK-9803. I also recently reviewed the Tecsun R-2010D, though it is based on a slightly newer, though similar, SiLabs DSP chipset.

What makes the ShouYu SY-X5 stand out is the fact that it can be powered by either a rechargeable slim battery pack (found in the DE32) or three standard AA batteries.  It also has a built-in MP3 player that uses a standard microSD card for media storage. Why are these features of particular note for me?  I have been searching for a shortwave radio/mp3 player for use by my charitable non-profit, Ears To Our World. ETOW works in parts of the world where people lack mains power as well as access to the Internet (or else simply can’t afford Internet service). In such settings, radio allows teachers and school children to hear up-to-date international news via shortwave, and through pre-recorded educational material, they can play (and replay) MP3 content as needed.

Therefore, I immediately ordered an SY-X5 for review here, hoping to donate it for use in the field care of Ears To Our World.

First impressions

Degen DE321 (left) Shouyu SY-X5 (right)

Degen DE321 (left) Shouyu SY-X5 (right)

The ShouYu SY-X5 is a small radio, almost exactly the same size as the very portable Grundig G6 and only slightly larger than the Degen DE321 (see left). It feels sturdy and even slightly heavy in your hand (no doubt, due to the number of batteries it holds). The antenna is rotatable and feels more robust than other radios in its price class.

The SY-X5 has a back stand that likewise feels sturdy enough. Note: to open the battery compartment, you must lift up the back stand.

The overall quality is better than one might expect for $27 (US), with one notable exception: the printed frequency display behind the analog dial on my unit is positioned slightly off-center and not level, making needle position on the dial, well, frankly ambiguous.

Audio

Without a doubt, the greatest aspect of the SY-X5 is the audio delivered from the built-in speaker. It is exceptional for this size radio, full and with impressive bass characteristics. It very much reminds me of the Melson M7 (not yet reviewed here) and the Degen DE1129.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Performance

I’ve reviewed enough of these mechanically-tuned DSP-based radios now that I’m beginning to note performance commonalities that can only be attributed to the design of the DSP chipset itself (regardless of how they are implemented in each model of radio).

At risk of sounding like a broken record, this radio’s sensitivity, selectivity and AGC performance is nearly identical to the Degen DE321 on every band; here’s a summary:

  • Shortwave
    • sensitivity is mediocre–expect to hear all strong stations
    • AGC circuit has difficulty coping with weak station and fading
    • selectivity is mediocre
  • Medium Wave (AM)
    • strong daytime stations sound great
    • the SY-X5’s AGC circuit struggles with night time conditions, even with some strong stations
    • selectivity is mediocre
  • FM
    • FM performance is quite good
    • Both selectivity and sensitivity are great for the price–in this case, $27 US
(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Between the two FM bands, the SY-X5 should easily accommodate world-wide FM broadcasts (even Russia). The two AM (medium wave) bands are almost identical in frequency allocation, but have been set up so that one is on 9 kHz spacing and the other on the 10 kHz spacing typically used here in North America (nice touch).

Tuning

While the “feel” of the tuning wheel on the right side of the radio seems smooth, in reality it is not. The tension or actual mechanics behind the analog tuner are problematic; I find that upon tuning in even a strong station, when I let go of the tuning wheel, it immediately moves off-frequency. It’s most annoying. Over the course of several days of use, it doesn’t seem that the mechanism has broken in at all as I had hoped. This is perhaps the biggest negative of the ShouYu SY-X5; it is just not easy to accurately tune it.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

MP3 Player

While I haven’t spent hours using the MP3 player, I find that it’s simple, yet quite effective. Most notably, it lacks fast-forward and reverse controls, though it does have buttons for ten-second skips both in the forward and reverse directions. Of course, you can pause, stop and skip to next/previous MP3 files.

The SY-X5 has a dedicated MP3 player red LED display; it is very bright–almost too bright, in fact, for low light conditions–and quite simple, offering only basic functions (no alpha-numeric tags, for example). Unfortunately, I find that the LED display does inject a little noise into the audio, but it’s nothing that would deter me from using it with the built-in speaker.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Summary

Every radio has positive and negative attributes; below are the pros and cons I noted from the moment I unpacked the SY-X5:

Pros:

  • Audio from internal speaker excellent for size
  • Integrated digital audio player
    • Uses standard Micro SD card for storage
    • Very bright red LED display (see con)
    • Dedicated, tactile buttons for basic MP3 functions
  • Multiple power sources
    • Internal rechargeable slim battery pack
    • Standard AA batteries
    • Charged/powered via standard mini USB cable
  • Relatively sturdy construction
  • Good FM sensitivity
  • Tuning indicator light
  • Inexpensive
(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Cons:

  • “Sticky” tuning wheel/dial results in immediate and annoying digital “drift” off-frequency
  • Sloppy selectivity (typical of this class of mechanically-tuned DSP radios)
  • MP3 player’s LED display almost too bright for low light settings; the LED does inject some slight noise into the headphone amp chain
  • Shortwave and medium wave sensitivity is mediocre, typical of other SiLabs SI484X radios
  • MP3 capabilities are only as a player, the SY-X5 cannot record in any capacity
  • Analog dial is small enough to make tuning accurately quite difficult
  • The dial’s printed frequency display in my unit is positioned off-center and tilted, resulting in ambiguous needle alignment

Conclusion

The ShouYu SU-X5 is very similar, performance-wise, to the Degen DE321. Out of all of the mechanically-tuned DSP portables reviewed thus far, the SY-X5 may have the best audio fidelity via its built-in speaker (save the Tecsun R-2010D). Also, like other similarly sized and priced models in this family, the SY-X5 has tuning issues; in its case, a tuning wheel that will not stay on frequency without practice.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

I’ve decided to take my SY-X5, on behalf of Ears To Our World, to inner Belize City in the near future. I’m going to offer this radio–together with a microSD card packed with VOA Special English programming (and a host of other English language educational materials, music and stories)–to a visually-impaired, economically-disadvantaged school child who will hopefully give this basic little radio lots of use, and perhaps even maximize its potential. While the SY-X5 has shortcomings, for this particular use–serving an individual who will not rely primarily on sight, but on tactile response, to operate it–I think it may serve its purpose. Perhaps this will be the best litmus test for the SY-X5’s utility and longevity:  I may post an update when I receive feedback in approximately one year, as to whether this radio has required repair, replacement, or has offered (as I sincerely hope!) some measure of benefit to the child-owner.

For the radio hobbyist, I would encourage you to skip the ShouYu S-X5 and, instead, invest in a Tecsun PL-380, PL-390, PL-398BT, Degen DE1102, DE1103, or the Tecsun PL-600. Though all are pricier, each is under $100 US, and will actually provide a lot of performance for the price. The SY-X5 and other mechanically-tuned DSP radios seem only to offer mediocre performance and a low price.
Click here to search for the Shouyu SY-X5 on eBay.

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22 Responses to A review of the ShouYu SY-X5 DSP shortwave radio

  1. Pingback: New product: the ShouYu SY-X5 shortwave radio | The SWLing Post

  2. saji chacko says:

    am in dubai please send me the details of availability in india or UAE

  3. AsitPaul says:

    Very good review.
    You saved my US $25.
    I am confused what to buy under a tight budget! I narrowed my search to Tecsun R-909 for US $21 and Tecsun DR-920 priced US $26 !
    I need your advice to choose the better one between them.

    • Thomas says:

      If you can deal with the ambiguous tuning of an analog radio, I would suggest the R-909. It will probably deliver better overall performance. In all of my experience with radios under $40, I find that analog radios deliver the best performance for the price. The only negative is the lack of precise (digital) tuning.

      Of course, if you’re only planning to listen to powerhouse stations, I would side with the DR-920. Just make sure the frequencies you wish to target are included in its band selections.

      Good luck! Let us know what you choose!

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  4. Chuck E says:

    I’m pleased overall with my SY-DP100 labeled version of this radio. I like the heaviness; it makes the set feel more substantial. The tuning scale on mine is well-positioned and overall the radio has a professional look. Shortwave reception improves greatly when I use the included wire antenna (nice to have the external antenna jack feature!), along with a few feet of counterpoise wire connected to the earphone jack and hung to the floor. Yes, tuning the radio takes a bit of practice on all bands, but the dial on mine turns easily with no apparent “play” or tension. MW reception is mainly limited to locals and the stronger distant nighttime stations. I do get enough MW stations to make this a useful receiver. FM is great, but again tuning can be tricky. I got my set for US$27.50 from DealXtreme (they are now temporarily sold out). For me this radio is a keeper – I especially like the external antenna jack!

  5. Erin says:

    I’m looking for a radio for my Grandfather, he likes to listen to old time radio programs, I have a number of them I would like to put on an SD card for him, do you know how large of a card this will take? This seems like the perfect radio for his needs, but do you have any recommendations for a SD.MP3 player/radio?

    • Thomas says:

      Hi, Erin,

      This is probably the best pick for a shortwave radio with MP3 player. It’s very simple to operate and he should have no problems reading the display.

      With an internal microSD card, you should be able to put 16 GB or even more in the radio for your grandfather to play. The only negative is that the player is super simple–you cycle through each program by pressing the forward button. There’s no way (I know of) to skip ahead quickly. I only had mine for 2 weeks before taking it to Belize and giving it to a visually impaired child. So far, the feedback is most positive.

      Good thing is, at this price, it’s not going to be a huge risk. If he didn’t care for the radio portion, you could get him an iPod shuffle or another mp3 only device. Let us know what you choose & good luck! Sounds like your grandfather is in for a treat.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  6. Erin says:

    sorry, just posting another comment just so i can get an email notification. thank you for your service, once i found this radio it looked perfect, yours was the only review i could find. it’s not stellar, but it’s still very promising. cheers

  7. Prabhu says:

    Nice review !
    I am confused considering the options of Shouyu SY-X5, Tecson R909 and Degen DE321. My requirement is a decent shortwave radio which picks up at least the strong stations (I am not expecting weak station dx-ing at this price range). I think that Tecson R909 is good enough for this purpose. However the mp3 player provided by Shouyu is tempting me as an added feature. My doubts are as follows :-
    1. Is the background noise while playing mp3 in Shouyu so bad that you will not recommend it?
    2. Between truly analog radio (Tecson R909) and analog tuned digital radio (Shouyu and Degen DE321) which one would be better for ease of shortwave tuning?
    Thanks,

    • Thomas says:

      Hi, Prabhu,

      Personally, I would stick with the Tecsun R909; especially is shortwave listening is your goal.

      Tuning a DSP-based mechanically tuned radio like the DE321 or the SY-X5 is frustrating. An analog radio gives you a better opportunity to band scan as you hear stations come and go as you tune past them. A DSP radio has frequency steps locked in at 5kHz increments. Quite often, you can pass by a station and not even hear it, if you tune too quickly. The best of the DSP (mechanically-tuned) bunch is the R-2010D–mainly, because it has a large analog dial (but terrible selectivity):
      http://swling.com/blog/2013/06/a-review-of-the-tecsun-r-2010d-shortwave-radio/

      So, Prabhu, I would recommend the R909 in this price range. That would be my choice, at least.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

      • Prabhu says:

        Hello Thomas,
        As per your advice and after lot of reading from swling, I took the plunge and bought my first shortwave radio : R-909.
        :-)
        I am overall pleased with the quality of audio from the speaker. The FM and MW tuning were good. I could hear many shortwave stations, even inside my room with windows closed, with the extended antenna. I plan to go through broadcast schedules and listen specific stations; I am feeling excited to do swling.
        Hope the radio I received is not defective and will last.

  8. Pingback: SWLing.com’s 2013 Holiday Shortwave and Radio Gift Guide | The SWLing Post

  9. Pingback: The ShouYu SY-DP-330: a retro, x-bass shortwave radio | The SWLing Post

  10. Jerry says:

    Have you reviewed the compact Tecsun PL 360? It is a very small radio for approx $38.00 with a portable plug in antenna and has the same Dsp chip as the Tecsun PL 380.

  11. locke says:

    Thank you for a good review.

    And I think you’re not only a good reviewer but also a good person as well for making donations to poor people worldwide. People like you inspire me and widen my thought in a sense. While I just stick to hobbies, you’re finding a way to make better world, even in your own hobby.

    I’m from Republic of Korea(S. Korea, as you know), and there isn’t sufficient imformation about such a minor items for radio mania, which means people like you abroad give very helpful materials that make it easier and safer for me to choose what to buy.

    I considered buying KK-9803, KK-939B(labeled elsewhere Bigsos DH 919) or other cheaper radios as a beginners’ item. And I think I will buy Tecsun’s PL 660 some day, though I’m not sure. ;-) You helpled me a lot in making good choice. Thank you so much.

    • Thomas says:

      You are most welcome and thank you for the kind comments! You might also consider the Tecsun PL-380 or Tecsun PL-310ET–not to make the decision even more difficult. :)

      Let us know what you decide!
      Best,
      Thomas

      • locke says:

        Yes, I’ll sure let you know. ;-) Thank you.
        I’ve seen all of them on ebay already, but PL-660 caught my sight the most because it has very intersting functions such as SSB and airband, which would enable me to intercept the truckers’ and pilots’ talk. ;-) though I’m not sure what use it is for. haha…

  12. locke says:

    I just paid for “PL-310ET” Last night. ;-)
    They said it’s virtually the best DSP receiver ever issued on that price level, and especially the best in FM receiving too. I’m just a beginner in shortwave radio hobby so I wanted to avoid the hazard of having another thing I cannot fully make use of. So, even if I use it just as a conventional FM radio, it would be good choice.
    PL-660 was thought to be too much for me in price and its multi function. I was not sure if I could use all the function it offers. ;-)
    Thank you for giving information for me to make better choice.
    I wish I would have chance to tell you how lovely it works in a reply to this posting. I’d appreciate if you check it out and give your comments.

    • Thomas says:

      Yes, Locke, let us know how well it works for you! So far, I’ve been very pleased.

      Best,
      Thomas

      • locke says:

        I got it on May. 12 (Mon), but I haven’t tested it outdoors yet.
        The radio felt much smaller acutally than was seen online shop photo.
        I mistook the off for on when I first turned it on, I spent a long time trying to find out how to get it tuned, until I finally found that it was left off. ;-)
        The backlight was on when it was off, too…how stupid…

        I have no external antennas, so the test was with its own telescopic antenna only,

        The FM was just plain, and the AM plain, shortwave received 5 or more Chinese or Japanese broadcasts.
        I have another radio with 2 bands only, Sony ICF-F10. which has good reception, I think. Compared with that, my PL-310ET seem to have equal or a bit inferior reception. Perhaps, it’s just because of the difference of the bigger speaker which sounds more soft and clear. Anyway, the noise sounds bigger on PL-310ET.

        The shortwave…I have no other radios for a comparison or reference. So it was impossible for me to check how greatly it receives.the shortwave. And I have no idea about the local receiving rate of the city where I live now. Doesn’t it matter in that scale? Shortwaves are affected by the radio’s location in the room? More than the city scale? I don’t know exactly.
        The sound of shorwave was a bit harsh…I’ve heared that you should not expect the FM sound in shortwave. It sounded barely distinguishable to a native speaker of the language, prehaps, but not me. ;-)

        In overall…I think it has good performance as a normal 2 band radio and good shortwave reception too. (though I have no reference for short wave reception.)
        I would have thought that’s not enough for this little radio through realtively-long-time overseas shipping from china, had it not been for the convenient functions such as ETM, big LCD, number keypads, and smart design.

        Someday I would acquire an external antenna unit enabling more precise shortwave reception. But before then, I would enjoy the covenience of the user interface and smart and neat design of this black little portable radio mainly for 2 bands. ;-) Just as the fate of any other shortwave radio in wrong hands, wrong place. ;-)

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