The New Degen DE1103 DSP: First impressions & review

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When I discovered that Degen had recently refreshed the receiver design of the DE1103, I was intrigued, to say the least. The original DE1103 sported some serious performance for a sub-$100 receiver.

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The 2015 model of the Degen DE1103 implements a DSP chip (the Silicon Labs Si4735-D60).

Yet I was on the fence about purchasing the new DE1103. Why? In truth, I never fell in love with the original DE1103. While I appreciated the 1103’s unique analog-style digital display, I never got used to its quirky ergonomics. Degen had quality control issues, too: I had to return two faulty units before getting one that worked as advertised (incidentally, I had a similar problem with the Kaito KA1102).

Then last week, SWLing Post reader, Ron, contacted me. He had purchased the new DE1103 from Hong Kong-based eBay vendor Bigbargainonline.

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Ron kindly provided the SWLing Post with his impressions of the DE1103, as follows:

Performance is roughly on a par with the earlier dual conversion version. This one is just as hot, but no hotter.

If you were thinking a GP5 on a bigger ferrite bar, yes…and no.

There is one major gripe…[this unit] will not remember frequencies set with the BFO on, like the earlier dual-conversion version did. Instead you have to turn the BFO on for each memory frequency [for which you] need it.

One thing [I] noticed right off was the almost complete lack of AGC “pumping” on CW and SSB that all earlier versions had (yay!) but this plus comes at the cost of having the BFO “remembered” in memory.

Zero-beating (or centering) the BFO to null on WWV and local AM stations to check alignment was…strange. At null beat the BFO seems to quit for a second. It is fine
either side of zero beat, however.

This is doubtless due to Tecsun’s adapting the Silicon Labs IC to a full range BFO like this. Recall the same IC in the GP5 features Upper and Lower selection on CW/SSB.

This 1103 DSP version also has the GP5’s slight tuning mute, not a problem.

But for ease of operation in CW/SSB mode, the GP5 is [much] better IMO.

Ron also notes that he wasn’t pleased with the DE1103’s longwave performance and didn’t feel the mediumwave and shortwave reception was an improvement on the original DE1103.

He decided that he would sell this DE1103 and gave me first dibs, so I bit the bullet. I was eager to compare the new DE1103 with some of the other DSP-based portables in my collection. Ron dispatched the DE1103 immediately–it arrived a few days ago, but I didn’t have a chance to test it until yesterday.

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I took the Degen DE1103 outside, sat it on the tailgate of my truck and put it on the air…

I tuned around the mediumwave band and picked up all of the local benchmark stations. Same with FM. So far, this tuning confirmed Ron’s assessment of the DE1103: it didn’t surpass the original.

But the shortwave bands were a different story.

As I tuned around the HF bands, the DE1103 seemed to receive quite a lot signals.  But in most instances, I could hear local AM broadcasters bleeding in, as well. Indeed, imaging was prevalent across the shortwave bands–the receiver was obviously being overwhelmed by a local broadcaster.  Unfortunate.

Could strong interference account for this? While there are local AM broadcasters around, they’re not exactly “blow-torch” stations. Indeed, I’ve never had overloading issues with other shortwave portables I’ve used in the same location–not even with my Kaito WRX911!

Imaging was prevalent on the DE1103 when it was tuned to pretty much any audible shortwave broadcaster.

Here’s a video of the Degen DE1103 tuned to the Voice of Greece on 9,420 kHz:

What you’re hearing in the audio is a local broadcaster bleeding in. Note that when I tune off-frequency, no imaging is heard.

Wondering if something had changed locally–and just to be fair–I pulled out my Sony ICF-SW100 and sat it next to the DE1103. The Sony had no issues.

This time, I tuned to WWV on the 19 meter band and compared the two receivers:

As Dan Robinson expresses it, the ICF-SW100 “wipes the floor” with the DE1103. There’s no hint of overloading in the SW100.

My buddy, Ron, is clearly a keen radio reviewer; obviously he didn’t hear overloading on the shortwave bands where he tested the rig, else he would certainly have mentioned it. The location where I tested the DE1103 does have some local broadcasters in the area, but no clear channel or high-power stations; in short, there’s no likely interference within a ten-mile radius to account for this debilitating performance problem.

Too bad…!

Obviously, the new DSP version of the Degen DE1103 is especially prone to imaging on the shortwave bands. In fact, it’s the only receiver I’ve ever tested that has overloading issues at this testing location (where I tested the original Degen DE1103, by the way).

My assessment? Avoid the new Degen DE1103.

A much better receiver with SSB for roughly the same price would be the venerable Tecsun PL-600 ($89.99 at Amazon and $89.95 at Universal Radio). If SSB reception isn’t necessary, you might also consider the CC Skywave or the very affordable Tecsun PL-310ET.

27 thoughts on “The New Degen DE1103 DSP: First impressions & review

  1. rtc

    As of this morning Universal is out of Old Model 1103’s no matter
    what their website shows (asked them).

    I did not experience the HF overload issue during my tests that Thomas did.
    That location must be a “hot” one or perhaps band conditions,etc.

    Further tests showed the tuning mute (very short on the GP5) is so long
    on the 1103dsp it acts like a squelch on LW and is “there” on MW/HF.

    When tuning through the BFO null it seems to actually stop on null
    and reboot…the impression is the dsp is veeery slow (digital-to-analog
    conversion?).

    Could Tecsun fix it?
    Sure…they already have:the PL-600,660,880,etc.

    The GP5 remains the best application of the Silicon Labs i.c. at this
    price.

    You just can’t take a PLL analog rig,throw in a dsp i.c. and call
    it digital.

    Reply
    1. Paul

      Thanks For the review. Geez, I was hoping for a better review of the new DE 1103 DSP. I was hoping this would be at least the same as the Duel Conversion 1103.
      As the crow flies I live about 10 miles away from WBBM, WGN, WMAQ. These stations are blow touches (50KW) stations here in Chicago. My GP5/SSB has no inter-mod issues at all from these or any other stations no ware on the bands. In addition, the selectivity is very good on the GP5. The adjacent channels for BBM and MAQ have the IBOC digital hash on both side-bands. Oh well, I guess I will drop the extra bucks and buy the PL880.
      Again, Thank you for the review. I really appreciate it. Best regards, Paul

      Reply
    2. Paulo

      Hi guys, the GP5 may be a great buy for the price, but you will need to have your glasses on when operating this radio, buttons are micro size. Other than that excellent radio.

      Reply
  2. Michael McShan

    Thanks for the review, Thomas. I’m glad that I didn’t give in to my impulse to buy one when they first came out.

    Reply
  3. Emily Taylor

    I agree I just bought the PL600 off amazon. Love it so so much. I just put some eneloop pros in them and charge them in my NiteCore i4 charger instead of in the radio. Great radio, replaced my old beat to hell grundig G8 that just fell apart.

    Reply
  4. Harald Kuhl

    Overloading may also be caused by local FM stations. I had this experience a while ago when testing a cheap portable shortwave receiver bought at a local super market: Signals from local FM stations caused heavy interferences on shortwave.

    A pity the new DE1103 DSP behaves like this. I still like my old (original) DE1103, because it provides quite good results on mediumwave and FM. Even when comparing to newer radios, like the PL880 or the CC Skywave.

    Reply
  5. Rui Delgado

    Hi,

    I’m looking for a bed side table radio for shortwave listening. After the news about this DSP version of the DE1103, I’ve sent an email to ANON-CO, since the radio was not listed either on their website or ebay shop.
    Anna replied to me buy saying that “the manufacturer has only started some pilot productions of this model, we prefer to wait until it has been fully developed”.

    Can it explain your experience or should I forget about this DEGEN?

    Although more expensive, the DE1103 has some advantages against the lower priced Tecsun PL-380 which is another option for me at the moment. The external antenna and earphone are on the “right” side of the radio if I take into account where I want to put it. Should I wait for an improved DE1103? Or should I go for the PL-380, or even the PL-310AT, this last two with no SSB and shorter frequency range. Should I stay in between and go for a PL-600?

    So many radios to choose from. Really dont know what to do.

    Cheers!
    Rui Delgado

    Reply
    1. Paul Juarez

      Hi Rui,
      You can still buy the Kaito KA1103 (the same as the older Degen DE1103) at Amazon. I recieved mine 3 days ago. It is the Dual Conversion KA1103 radio and not a DSP version.
      The KA1103 is one hot receiver, with great receive capabilities. In my opinion there’s no other portable in this price-point that can even touch it for receive sensitivity and selectivity. I own both the Sony 2010 and CountyComm GP5/SSB radios. I must say the KA1103 is “almost” as sensitive on MW out of the box and without an external loop as the my Sony 2010 and better then the AM receive GP5/SSB. The AM antenna on the KA1103 is much longer then the approximate 3 inch AM antenna on the GP5/SSB.
      SW on this receiver is excellent on and very and also has stable Single Side Band (SSB) reception used on most of the ham bands. The GP5 has upper and lower Side Band selection. This make tuning in SSB a little easier. The KA1103 does not and relies on the BFO circuittry to clarify the SSB transmission. However, the KA1103 does a fine job clarifying SSB broadcasts.
      The narrow AM bandwith filter does an excellent job at reducing adjacent channel interference. However, I would have liked to have one more narrow filter at about 1KHZ for SSB. But, the frequency accuracy of the KA1103 is dead on and well calibrated, even the BFO is well balanced and centered.
      FM reception is very good. Better then the Sony 2010 but not as good as the GP5. The GP5 is a DSP radio. DSP chip radios are known for there hot FM receive capabilities. However, the KA1103 is not far behind the FM receive capability of the GP5. The GP5 seems to be more selective but the KA1103 FM is very good to say the least.
      The only negitive is that the tuning knob doubles as the volume knob. I have gotten use to this feature. It’s really not that bad once you get use to it. I would still recommend buying this radio if you want one great receiver at a great price. IMO this radio receive capabilities rival other portable radios costing twice as much. I think this is a great purchase and a keeper if you are looking for a great reciever in a small package. Perfect for travel. Perfect if you are looking for a bedside radio. This is One Great Little Radio!!!!
      Best regards,
      Paul

      Reply
    1. Paul Juarez

      Hi,
      I have read in the 1103 radio forum that it still an issue. But we have come to expect muting with the DSP sets. However, some manufacturers are starting to realize it, and trying to rectify the problem.

      Reply
  6. Julio Cesar Pereira

    I’ve had the old DE1103 mode for more than two years now and I enjoy it very much. Despite its “quirky ergonomics” and glitches. Actually, I prefer the DE1103 over the PL-660. The reason is that its AGC is much better, it has lower floor noise, its sound is more natural, less processed and has the great FM reception.

    The PL-660 could’ve been my companion radio, if it weren’t for that filter that engages everytime the signal drops to less than S2 (on its own S-Meter), and volume drops down drastically and gets so muffled it becomes unintelligible. And it is so frustrating, for I like to listen to very weak signal stations, not to mention very distant ham stations that overcome QRM.

    I may buy a PL-680, but right now I’m happy with the DE1103, and for air-band I use an Icom IC-R20 scanner. Don’t get me wrong, I consider the PL-660 the best of my portable receivers, but this filter really annoys me.

    Another radio I like a lot is the PL-360 because of its DSP feature, provided you use an active antenna so that DSP engages.

    Reply
  7. Ben

    I got my Degen 1103 DSP. I find the DSP a little “laggy“, which means it, does not respond fast. Also some issues with the volume.
    I don’t observe issues with overloading.
    But unfortunate the VLF Hack does not work with the DSP Version of 1103.
    But for the price of 70US$ it is still a good receiver.

    Reply
  8. PERRY COULOUFACOS

    On the kaito ka 1103 I also heard am stations bleeding in SW listening. I have the tecsun pl660 & the Eton satillit radios and have had any am bleeding in problems.I think if I go to local instead of DX mode I will not have am bleeding in sw mode
    I would appreciate your response

    Reply
    1. Julio Cesar Pereira

      I’ve got a DE1103 and haven’t noticed any AM bleeding on SWL so far. I sometimes stay at one of my family’s properties located at the center of a city with lots of stations. There I use the balcony on the 9th floor and I get a lot of spurious interference from FM stations, which is normal once you’re surrounded by buildings. However, I already tuned some images on SW. I used an old SW7600G to check it out and it didn’t get any.

      I kind of started to dislike DSP, for it can be annoying to hear it engage and disengage when a signal contantly drops down and recovers. It is fantastic when a signal is strong and constant for it improves audio quality whether it is MW, SW or FM. At one time, I even thought it would be perfect for the DE1103 to have this feature, but you know what? I’m very happy with the way myine is right now. I find this receiver to have the best FM reception compared to the others of my little collection of tabletop and portable receivers, which includes scanners ICOM IC-R20 and R5, receivers PL-660, SW7600GR, ICF-2010, etc. The DE1103 is by far the most sensitive and selective one, it even beats my old Realistic DX-440.

      As for SW, I like the combination of its very good AGC and very low floor, which allows me to do DXing with the RF attenuator on and does not have any annoying filter like the PL-660. I also enjoy its audio quality, specially on the headphones, for it is more natural, not processed like the PL-660’s or overprocessed like the SW7600GR’s.

      You can tell I’m a big fan of this little radio. It has its flaws, but I can live with them.

      Reply
      1. Thomas Post author

        Julio,

        Thank you for sharing your review of the DE1103. I turned your comment into a post and just published it. I’m very curious if your DE1103 is the “2.0 Version” mentioned by some sellers on eBay. Do you know?

        Thanks,
        Thomas

        Reply
        1. Julio Cesar Pereira

          Nope. I understand the 2.0 has DSP and mine doesn’t. And I’m happy about it. I’ve only used two radios with this feature so far, the Tecsun PL_380 and PL-360. It works fine when the signal is steady and above the threshold that engages it. But for weak stations specially those whose signal is not steady, it is annoying. Coincidentily, both PL-380 and PL-360 suffer greatly from intermodal interference and so does the DE1103 DSP (2.0) according to your findings.
          I know, it’s off topic, but I listened to The BEEB and also did some dxing with my 28 year old SONY ICF-SW20 and it is so rewarding, specially its audio quality on headphones. It is my only dual conversion analog receiver. 73

          Reply
          1. Thomas Post author

            Hi, Julio,

            I understand now–I thought you had a DSP version and that you liked it even though you initially had reservations. I’ve corrected the post and noted the changes.

            I once owned an original DE1103 and thought it was a pretty good performer. I disliked its ergonomics, but it was quite an effective radio for the price.

            Cheers,
            Thomas

          2. Julio Cesar Pereira

            Oh, thanks for correcting it. I guess I was not very clear whether about the right DE1103 version on my post. You’re right about its weird ergonomics. Last weekend, I compared the DE1103 with my SONY ICF-2010. I tried to tune VOA on 4930KHz at around 03:00 utc. This winter has been very hard for us in the South Hemisphere to tune in SW stations. The longer bands have been particularly hard to listen to due to very high QRM despite using loop antennas which are know for being quiet.
            The DE1103 was not outperformed, unless you made use of the 2010’s combination of features such as Synch Detect, wide-narrow and news audio.
            Now, for FM, I haven’t seen any portable or tabletop radio outperform the DE1103 on sensitivity and selectivity.

  9. Pingback: Version 2.0? Julio’s positive review of the Degen DE1103 | The SWLing Post

  10. Chris Halls

    I bought a Degen 1103 about 2 years ago. I am very impressed by its performance although it is a bit awkward to operate, switching between tuning and volume with the jog wheel. I got used to that and then the wheel packed up working. It would occasionally work if you gave it a sharp tap. But now tuning and volume are not possible with the jog wheel.

    Does anyone no how the jog wheel actually works. Does it produce connect/disconnect or magnetic impulses counted by circuits which then step the vco and gain of AF stages ? I dismantled the jog wheel tuning of a sony radio but could see no mechanism in side it. I am loathe to take the Degen apart before i no what I am looking for. ie how does the tuning/volume mechanism work.

    Radio works perfectly otherwise and can be tuned by direct frequency entry. Volume adjustment is also not possible.

    Reply
  11. Mark

    I just got the Degen DE 1103 and I also have a Tecsun Pl-660 and 310ET.

    The DE 1103 beats the crap out of the Tecsun’s on AM without a doubt. I can pick up Am stations on the Degen that the Tecsun’s don’t even register, it’s as if they’re completely deaf on AM , it’s unbelievable. The Degen is an excellent performer on AM and SW.

    SW performance is excellent and a lot better with the supplied long wire, it’s as simple as attach to a tree and run in through the window and it greatly improves performance.

    Obviously the Degen isn’t perfect and adding stations to memory is a bit of a chore and the volume control is a bit of a pain but these are minor complaints. I love the way it lights all buttons. Over all I am quiet pleased with this radio and it badly shames the Tecsun’s on AM, Am on the Tecsun’s is so bad that it should simply be removed as it’s of no use !

    I’ve also no issues with images or SSB.

    Reply
    1. PERRY COULOUFACOS

      I own the kaito ka1103 and I agree with you about the performance. Post he volume is much louder than my tecsun pl 660 and my Eton satillit radios
      Ipurchased 2 kaito ka 1103 radios
      I love them that much.

      Reply
      1. Mark

        Hi Perry, yes, the De-1103 is a great radio I am very happy with it. It’s amazing that this radio and the Pl-660 side by side reveals the weakness of the Pl-660 on Am, stations completely inaudible on the 660 “and” the 310ET are clear as a bell on the DE-1103 !

        I do find the muting when scanning through the bands a bit of a pain but it’s not as bad as the 310-ET. The Pl-660 is a pleasure in this regard.

        Reply
        1. PERRY COULOUFACOS

          I agree with your comments 100 per cent. I look forward to the swl postings all the time.keep them coming.

          Reply
  12. Pingback: eBay: Bagain basement prices on the Degen DE1103 DSP version | The SWLing Post

  13. Mark

    I really appreciate reviews like this. I have the non-DSP version with which I have a love – hate relationship. Generally good performance, squirrelly ergonomics. I would have jumped on this deal had I not seen this review.

    Reply

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