A review of the new Avion receiver and a few thoughts about DRM

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Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Mike Barraclough, for sharing a link to this review of the new Avion DRM receiver by DRM Radio Forum user PhilipOneL. I’ve pasted his evaluation of the Avion below–you can read this, along with the full discussion thread, on the DRM Radio Forum:

I received my Avion AV-DR-1401 this afternoon and have had it up and running for a couple of hours. There is no instruction booklet with it so I am puzzling over the 41-button remote. It is not as user-friendly as I hoped.

First impression: somewhat cheap feel to it. I have put a small bend already in the thin but long aerial. But that is just the outside (handle, volume control, master power switch, and aerial); I hope it works well anyway. But that cheapness hurts when the price of the radio was fairly high to begin with and I paid more than I wanted for a private company to ship it (Fedex).

The radio arrived with its battery fully charged: nice. (But I need to get an adaptor for the AC adaptor’s mains plug which has tubular prongs rather than the North American blade prongs.) I like a lot the fact that it runs normally with its internal battery rather than plugged into mains. This means I can carry it away from noise sources. And it is very carryable — it reminds me of a small 1965-era beach radio in size.

Turned on, it scanned the local FM spectrum well and registered all the local stations. But I cannot get the Scan function to operate on MW and SW, nor in DRM mode. With an outside antenna (8 metre wire) attached, it was able to get the AIR DRM broadcast on 7550 kHz and decode it. It didn’t seem to be able to get enough signal with just the extending aerial.

I have not figured out yet how to make it register a medium-wave, shortwave, or DRM station in its memory; it does not happen when the button labelled “Delete / Store” is pushed. Among the 41 buttons, there is no other likely candidate for that function.

Shortwave sensitivity in AM mode seems to be poor. I was listening, for instance, to ERT Greece on 9420 on the three receivers now on my desk: Satellit 750, MorphyRichards 27024, and the Avion DR-1401, each in turn connected to the same outdoor antenna. The MR27024 produces the best sound and greatest s/n ratio. It seems far more sensitive than the Avion. But who knows? I may discover I am doing something wrong with the set.

Tuning can be done by inputting a frequency on the remote. Alternatively, the volume wheel can be pushed (this takes two hands) to convert it to a tuning knob. Two problems are apparent. One is that the signal is muted as you tune until you wait on a frequency for four or five seconds. Thus it is a slow and aggravating experience to try to tune across a band looking for signals. Secondly, as soon as a station is tuned and producing audio, the knob goes back to being a volume control. Grrrr. (I think there is a professor at all the design schools who seems to be telling all her/his students to be visually minimalist in design and to give every knob multiple functions. That professor should be publicly shamed until she/he recants and causes all the students to go back to multiple knobs each of which does one thing well.) When the radio gets itself ready to produce audio it seems to ramp itself up to full audio in a series of four steps, each a half-second or so after the last — it is an odd-sounding process. It is like a faulty AGC circuit; perhaps it is.

Sound quality is mediocre at best on AM (both mw and sw). I didn’t listen long enough to the DRM signal from AIR before it signed off to get a good idea of DRM audio quality; I was busy cooking supper. FM audio is mediocre too on the internal speakers but, piped out through the headphone jack to external speakers, it is quite good. When I piped the AM audio out it still seemed mediocre.

Why the AM sound is mediocre seems to be related to two things: the tiny speakers (about 8 cm or 3.3 inches) and the bandwidth at the radio stage. Even comparatively strong (and clean) signals like RHC on 6000 kHz have what may be adjacent signals mixing in — perhaps even internal mixing products? I heard a splash of a local FM station at one point while listening to a shortwave band.

I have written my contact at Avion (Ankit) asking for an instruction booklet, or a pdf of one. I hope I’ll get that early next week (if indeed they have one).

I hope over the next week I will get some chances to check out more DRM signals. I am also hoping that my gradual love affair with the MorphyRichards radio will be replicated here. When I first got the MR27024 I was very cranky about its weird ways of doing things. But once I got a good antenna on it, and got used to its ways, I prefer it to all my other radios as a table-top radio (that is, one useful for listening to specific regular stations). The MR’s radio-stage DSP is quite lovely and makes for good sound. I doubt the Avion will seduce me to quite the same extent, but it may grow on me in other ways.

I understand the problems with DRM but I am still a fan of of the system. I bought this Avion set partly in hopes that I would encourage the manufacturer in some small way. I will use it but I suspect that the minimalist design features (which were also a part of the MorphyRichards design) will turn off users of the Avion.

I’m not terribly surprised by this reviewer’s assessment. Just looking at some of the preliminary info on the Avion receiver last year made me think of previous DRM portables like the Newstar DR111 and the Uniwave Di-Wave 100.

The UniWave Di-Wave/Di-Wave 100.

The UniWave Di-Wave/Di-Wave 100.

I have a hunch all of these designs were fleshed out by engineers and entrepreneurs who had not gotten customer input in advance.

It’s sad, too. While I know DRM (via the shortwaves) was a “cart before the horse” innovation–meaning, broadcasters adopted the technology well before consumer receivers were on the market.

I really wish the medium would’ve gained traction.

While I prefer the rich sonic texture of amplitude modulation, I love listening to DRM broadcasts well. Last year, during my presentation at PARI, I played a recording of a piano concerto I heard on one of Radio New Zealand International’s DRM broadcasts. If memory serves, the audio clip was taken from this recording I made on June 21, 2104:

Through the presentation room’s hi-fi system, the music sounded absolutely brilliant.

To put what this audience was hearing in perspective, I told them:

“We’re listening to a radio station some 8,300 miles away without the use of the Internet, mobile phones, satellites, or any sort of subscription service. We’re hearing FM-quality audio, streamed wirelessly and originating from the other side of our planet.”

I then received a number of questions like: “How is this technology possible?” and “Do they make car radios that can receive these broadcasts?”

There’s magic in DRM. Sadly, I feel its deployment was awkward and its window of opportunity may have already passed. An affordable, effective, and simple DRM receiver (combined with serious, viral publicity) could turn the tide somewhat–but it doesn’t seem like this will happen anytime soon. Each new DRM portable is only a slightly improved iteration of its predecessor and the price tag continues to be too high for effective market penetration.

I want to be proven wrong, though.

20 thoughts on “A review of the new Avion receiver and a few thoughts about DRM

  1. pjmm

    “That professor should be publicly shamed until she/he recants and causes all the students to go back to multiple knobs each of which does one thing well.)”

    Fully agree.

    Reply
  2. Mighty Mik

    FORTY ONE button remote?!?!?!?! Seriously … quit trying to make this a portable, and make it more like a tabletop. Also, quit pointing speakers at my eyes. I use my ears to hear with. Speakers take up too much valuable front panel space. You could fire the sound out the bottom. How much longer till this is just a tablet/pad anyway? You can hang a RTL dongle off the back of a Kindle Fire like I did (hey … it’s FireSDR!) using SDR Touch, but there’s no DRM decode option *at this time*. It’s only a matter of time before that changes. That said, there’s something about having a nice big knob to turn for frequency. Screen needs a waterfall option. Look at Elecraft KX3 for design clues.

    Reply
  3. Edward

    I am beginning to think DRM is shortwave’s Betamax format. There are so many different shortwave receivers around that DRM cannot obsolete and corner the market like digital television did (by government edict). Not much thought about how SWLs use their radios. I would NEVER buy a radio without a nice tuning knob. I want to find signals I want to listen to not have big brother say what I can (and cannot) listen to. Also, why a handheld remote for a radio that is by itself portable and can the radio be usable if the remote fails or gets lost? I can understand a remote for a large flatscreen TV you have to sit 10 feet away to view . Chalk this up to “what were they thinking when they designed this” department.

    Reply
  4. Ken Hansen n2vip

    Are DRM broadcasts something I could decode using an SDRplay and a PC? Is it supported by popular SDR software that also supports SDRplay?

    Reply
    1. DL4NO

      Hello Ken,

      no problem, I have done it for quite some time:

      SDRplay -> SDR# -> VB Audio Virtual Cable -> Dream Software -> PC speakers

      Set the SDR to 11 kHz bandwidth / USB.

      vy 73,
      Alexander, DL4NO

      Reply
  5. Dan Srebnick

    @Edward, if only DRM was the Betamax of shortwave. It was always technically superior to VHS in terms of picture but they made a strategic mistake in the beginning by limiting recordings to 1 hour rather than VHS’ two.

    I just don’t understand why no one can do a job in 2015 of implementing a 1990s reception system. Would be nice to see what Eton, Sangean or Tecsun could do with it. But obviously they do not see the financial return.

    In the meantime, I do sometimes listen to DRM on my Perseus using the Dream software. But this is hardly a portable option!

    73

    Reply
    1. Edward

      I think the big block in developing these DRM schemes is MONEY. A radio provider has to figure a way of subscription services to listeners. like cable or phone/internet service. The piece of hardware is useless/worthless/non functional without payment. I was given so many old cell phones. all I save is the ac chargers and sometimes batteries. the rest gets chucked- all monolithic smt construction no useful salvageable parts in them can’t convert cell phone to a UHF radio for swl use.

      Reply
  6. David

    I want DRM to make it, and it’s a better system than HDRadio. But we’re stuck in a loop: Radios are terrible and expensive, so no one has any. No one is listening, so no one transmits. No one transmits, so no major radio companies are trying it out. On and on.

    Meanwhile I’d love to see the FCC finally crack on their outdated rules and let a few experimental DRM stations run in the US – keep them 500watts to 1kW if needed. This should have happened 10 years ago, but better late than never. Give people a chance to experience what DRM can be.

    Reply
    1. DL4NO

      I cannot comment on the FCC. But I do not understand why noone developed a radio from from available parts with these characteristics:

      * Size of my trusty Sony ICF7600D so I can put it in a coat pocket or so.

      * 10 h of battery life.

      * Reasonable reception.

      * AM/FM/SSB/DRM/DAB+

      AS long as I have UMTS cellphone or WLAN service I can listen to my favorite stations. But only larger tablets have enough battery capacity for my 10 h request. And all this is without the fun of shortwave reception 🙂

      Reply
    2. Roy Sandgren

      DRM on mediumwave make no sense with low power. The radius is half compared with AM modulation. 10 – 50 kW is needed if you want to reach listners. But in facto, SW is the best with 10 – 50 kW. The radius will be great. A couple of 100 km radius.

      Reply
  7. TP Reitzel

    Thomas,

    As with FM, I suspect you will be proven wrong eventually. Newer technologies, especially in light of the nearly ubiquitous spyphone and spynet will take longer to gain traction, but ignorance and generally poor configurations by broadcasters also play a significant role in DRM’s slow adoption. We all wish that new receivers performed flawlessly upon release, but they don’t even from major manufacturers. As long as CSI continues to address initial problems and improve their receiver, the market for their DRM radio will grow. Lastly, the cost is relatively cheap for a new limited production DRM receiver and its price will drop with increasing volume IF CSI continues to improve it.

    Reply
    1. DL4NO

      > We all wish that new receivers performed flawlessly upon release

      This is only part of the problem, not only at All India Radio: They do DRM but with terrible program feeds. 3 kHz audio bandwidth and lots of distortions as if they use a 2.000 km analog phone line.

      Recently I exchanged mails with a former DRM representative of Deutsche Welle. He asked several DRM broadcasters about their unsatisfactory audio quality and got no responses. From his active time he knew the respective people personally.

      I know of only one international broadcaster with an even worse audio quality than AIR: Radio Kairo or how they are called. Haven’t heard them for quite some time…

      Reply
  8. Keith Perron

    I’ve had mine since October and the radio is already starting to have problems. Many of the buttons have become faulty.

    The reality is . It it very unlikely that a decent, good quality DRM receiver will come on the market. DRM missed the boat 15 years ago. It’s a radio version of a BETAMAX or MINI disc.

    Everyone knows DRM as a technology works, but yet they keep doing DRM tests and keep testing it. But the bureaucrat at the Digital Radio Mondiale Consortium don’t seem to realize DRM really stands for Doesn’t Really Matter.

    Many companies that joined the consortium at the beginning have pulled out. Sangean did have a DRM project, but they pulled the plug on it. As their head of sales for Asia/Pacific told me “Why produce a radio for a format where there is almost no content”.

    DRM could have if they had better people at the helm. But over the last 15 years plus. New methods of delivering content have taken off.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love the technology. But radios like the Avion are not going to do anything to help DRM. Even in India they are now making the switch to FM. Yes All India Radio did spend million to upgrade it’s HF network. But All India Radio is known for being one of the most corrupt broadcasting organizations in the world.

    Reply
  9. Pingback: Alexander reviews the Avion AV-DR-1410 DRM receiver | The SWLing Post

  10. Harald Kuhl

    In a personal e-mail just received a spokesperson of Avion now announced a new firmware for their AV-DR-1401 soon to be published on their website for free download. They will need at least another week for this.

    Reply

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