Amazon deal: Grundig S450DLX $17.13 US (!!!) with free shipping

Fullscreen capture 242016 112023 PM

UPDATE: Ooops! Appears this was a pricing error on the part of the seller.  They have cancelled orders that were placed.

I just discovered this excellent deal for a new Grundig S450DLX on Amazon.com from the Japan-based seller, SayakaDOU7.

Go to this page on Amazon.com, under the “Other Sellers on Amazon” click on the 4 new from $17.13.  There you can select the offer for $17.13 if it’s still available.

If you’re interested, you’d better grab this deal quickly–I have no idea how many the seller has available! Please comment if you snagged one!

Live365 is no more

Live365_logo

As of February 1, 2016, the Internet radio pioneer Live365 has closed shop.

I imagine many SWLing Post readers are familiar with Live365, especially if you have a WiFi radio with the Live365 app.

While I’ve never been an avid listener of Live365, I have certainly enjoyed a wide variety of independent Internet radio stations via the platform.

Why did Live365 close shop? Here’s what Forbes.com suggests:

“It is rumored that the service is being forced into early retirement because of new royalty rates that digital radio producers now need to adhere to. Late in 2015, the Copyright Royalty Board handed down its decision about what internet radio services will need to pay per stream, and it apparently hurt Live365 so much that it can no longer afford for the rights to play music. Companies like Pandora lobbied hard for the court to lower royalty rates for the next five years, and while certain kinds of streams will cost internet radio stations and services less, it will cost platforms more overall to continue to play music. This may not be the only reason why Live365 is going out of business, but it appears to have been a factor.”

I’m sure the new royalty rates had had a major influence on the decision to close down. Here’s a screen capture of the parting message from Live365’s web site:

Live365-Message

That is the conundrum of Internet streaming services: the more listeners, the more it costs to broadcast due to both bandwidth and royalties. Your success–especially when the music industry moves toward higher costs and more restrictions–might very well lead to your demise.

Perhaps this is where traditional over-the-air radio still has a small advantage–though the barrier of entry is much higher than Internet broadcasting.

The Xiegu X5105: a new QRP portable transceiver in development

Xiegu-X5105

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Mike, who writes:

I thought your readers might like to know about the new Xiegu X5105 [HF] transceiver which is being developed by the Wouxun group out of China (the same company who produces an inexpensive line of amateur HTs).

According to YaesuFT817.com, the X5105’s receiver is a double-conversion superheterodyne design and is made portable by way of 3 rechargeable lithium batteries of 1.8 mAh each. Native output of 5 watts.

I’ve read that the price will be around $500 US.

The X-108 forum also has the following message, I assume, from a company representative…

“Xiegu Tech will launch new products. I’m very pleased to share relevant information with you:-)

I. X5105 short wave transceiver

  • X5105 is a highly portable transceiver working at HF+6m band, with a built-in power output of 5W.
  • Technical features: double-conversion superheterodyne, fitted with up to 3 lithium batteries of 18,650mph each.
  • Expandability
  • A standard main unit (embedded with one 8-pole 2.7k-SSB crystal filter)
  • An optional high stability, high precision TCXO module
  • An optional 500Hz narrow band crystal filter
  • An optional plug-in 5W antenna tuner module

II. XPA125 integrated amplifier and antenna tuner

  • XPA125, with a built-in antenna tuner, amplifies the output up to 125W.

Technical features:

  • 125W linear power amplifier + combined LC antenna tuner.

Expandability: 

  • A standard 125W amplifier, An optional 125W automatic antenna tuner.”

Thanks for all of the info, Mike!

That’s an interesting portable design. I like the display–reminds me of the Icom IC-746.

I’ll be very curious how well it performs as a general coverage receiver. I don’t see any specs regarding AM mode or the maximum bandwidth. The price is certainly competitive; nearly half that of the Elecraft KX3. I seriously doubt it could give the KX3 a run for its money, performance-wise, but who knows? Looks like we’ll have more info by the end of the year when the X5105 hits production. Thanks again for the tip!

Brilliant Article on RTL-SDR Dongle Uses

sdr-Mario2Frequent contributor Mario Filippi N2HUN has written a brilliant piece for the latest edition of The Spectrum Monitor entitled RTL-SDR: Your Eye To The Wireless World, February 2016. Here is a brief synopsis:

RTL-SDR Dongle: Your Eye to the Wireless World

By Mario Filippi N2HUN

The RTL-SDR dongle has garnered much popularity over the last several years as an inexpensive and effective broadband receiver for the radio enthusiast. Now Mario shows us how the RTL-SDR can be pressed into serving in other ways: as a rudimentary piece of test equipment to explore those countless wireless devices that power our world and make life convenient. You can use it when restoring vintage radios, doing frequency analysis, antenna analysis and a host of troubleshooting activities you may never have thought of.

I highly recommend buying at least the current issue ($3.00 / PDF Download – what a steal!) or better yet, subscribing for a whole year. Every issue gives far more value than the cost ($2.00/issue at the current subscription rate).

Mario’s article explores things I never would have thought of, and he explains how he uses these inexpensive dongles in place of much more expensive equipment. It is truly amazing what these little wonders can do, and Mario just keeps pushing back the envelope of what is possible.

Thanks Mario for a truly inspiring article – yet again you have given us even more rabbit trails to explore!

Robert Gulley, AK3Q, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.

Review of the Kaito KA108

Kaito-KA108-Front-2

Recently, I learned about a new portable by Kaito Electronics: the Kaito KA108. While there are a number of compact portables on the market, the KA108 really caught my attention because it features a built-in digital recorder. Which is to say, you can listen to a station on shortwave, press a button, and the KA108 will record it to a MicroSD card. Pretty cool, right? It’s also the first shortwave portable I’ve ever known that offers a scheduling feature for recordings.

In the past there have been a few shortwave portables with digital recording capabilities, but most of these have been plagued with poor performance. So this time, I had my fingers crossed that Kaito might have produced a winner.

Having used the KA108 for several days now, my initial review follows, with a focus on shortwave as well as mediumwave performance.

User’s Manual

The KA108 actually ships with two manuals: a quick start reference guide and a proper highly-detailed user’s manual.

Kaito-KA108-Unboxing-3

The manual is written in English and is quite descriptive, despite a number of spelling and grammar errors that should have been caught before going to print. It’s obvious that Kaito didn’t hire a native English speaker/professional editor to check their copy.  (I don’t understand why a company would go to the expense to produce a manual without having it professionally edited…Kaito, please take note!)  Fortunately, these spelling and grammar errors, while annoying, can be overlooked and/or deciphered by most English-speaking readers.

Tuning

Kaito-KA108-Side3

On the plus side, the KA108 sports a full number keypad for direct frequency entry. This makes tuning to a known frequency a very simple process––with one exception (see below). There’s also a tuning wheel on the right side of the radio.

Kaito-KA108-Keypad

Note where the “0” is placed on the keypad: why the change?

Using the keypad requires some getting used to, however. Most of us––myself included––are familiar with traditional numeric keypads, but the KA108 inexplicably changes the game plan: as you can see above, the “0” button is located on the lower right side of the main keypad. So it took me a few hours of use before I could reliably key in a frequency without looking at the radio.

In my humble opinion, Kaito should have moved the number pad up one row, positioned the “ATS” button to the lowest row on the left, the “0” button to its immediate right, and completed the bottom row with the “Rewind/Play/Fast-Forward” buttons.

Another annoyance––and this is a big one for me–-is that the KA108 has extended muting between frequency changes. It makes band-scanning a frustrating experience. I made a short video demonstrating this:

Audio

DSC_3495The KA108 is designed around a very innovative small speaker with an acoustic chamber that significantly boosts bass response. This is the same speaker used in the Melson S8 that I reviewed some time ago.

The audio fidelity is excellent on FM, and when playing back a full-fidelity digital recording. Unfortunately, when tuned to the AM broadcast (mediumwave) band or to the shortwave bands, the KA108 falls short; the bass response actually becomes an impediment to listening.

In a nutshell: the KA108 audio has issues. A further explanation of the KA108’s audio is described in the performance notes that follow.

FM Performance

On a positive note, the Kaito KA108 has respectable FM reception. I was able to receive all my benchmark FM stations with little trouble, and the KA108 maintained a strong lock on all signals.

And as mentioned above, KA108 audio via the built-in speaker is much better on FM than on any other band. Indeed, on FM, the KA108 produces rich, full-fidelity audio that can easily fill a room. Audio is similar to that of the Melson M7 and the Melson S8.

If you’re seeking a nice FM portable with robust audio, you’ll enjoy the KA108.

Shortwave Performance

Kaito-KA-108

I’m quite disappointed with the KA108’s shortwave performance.

Almost immediately after unboxing the KA108, I inserted a battery, walked outdoors, and tuned through the 31 meter band.

Other than a couple of blow-torch North American private broadcasters, I heard…nothing. It was during this first band scan that I realized how annoying the tuning mute could be. And the audio, meanwhile, sounded muffled and garbled: I assumed that there was some local interference, and simply turned the radio off, hoping the following day would produce a change for the better.

The following day, I spent a great deal of time with the KA108 on the air, and compared it with the Eton Traveller III and the Tecsun PL-310ET––both capable, similarly-priced compact DSP radios.

Sure enough, when compared with other portables, the KA108’s reception is, sadly, rather poor.

At first I thought it might be an issue with receiver sensitivity, but the KA108 could receive almost every station the Traveller III and the PL-310ET could receive. But the audio was so muffled on the KA108, even with  the use of headphones, that spoken word was hard to interpret. Additionally, the over-active AGC (Automatic Gain Control) meant that audio levels were all over the place. That combination makes for fatiguing listening.

Volume level indicator.

Volume level indicator.

Over the next few days with the KA108 on shortwave, I drew a few conclusions.

After recognizing that the audio fidelity did not improve significantly when using headphones, I realized that at least three factors are having a negative impact on shortwave audio, as follows:

  1. The default AM bandwidth is too narrow for broadcasts, and cannot be adjusted
  2. The AGC setting is over-active and causes audio pumping; it, too, cannot be adjusted
  3.  Portions of the shortwave bands are polluted by internally-generated noise/interference

This combination makes for sloppy shortwave performance.

To save time in making the KA108’s comparison information readily available, as well as to indicate actual speaker performance, I decided to take a few quick comparison videos not with the KA108 or an external mic but simply with my smartphone. While my phone’s microphone is somewhat limited, I believe you’ll be able to observe the  inherent problems with the KA108.

I compared the KA108 with the Traveller III in each video.

In the first comparison, I tuned to Radio Exterior De España on 9690 kHz, as you’ll see. The signal was marginal or relatively weak at the time:

(Click here to view the video on YouTube.)

Next, I tuned in a very strong shortwave signal from Radio Havana Cuba on 11,670 kHz:

(Click here to view on YouTube.)

Finally, later in the afternoon, I tuned to All India Radio on 9,445 kHz––again, a marginal signal:

(Click here to view this video on YouTube.)

Mediumwave Performance

Mediumwave (a.k.a., AM broadcast band) performance is very similar to shortwave performance.

In this video, I’ve tuned to an AM station located twenty-five miles away on 1600 kHz.  The KA108 can receive the station, but audio is not pleasant and the AGC is, yet again, overactive. I’ve noticed that the mediumwave band is plagued by more internally-generated noise than are the shortwave bands.

(Click here to view this video on YouTube.)

Note that YouTube’s copyright checking system flagged my video because it recognized the song being played in the background on WTZQ. I believe this easily qualifies as fair use since the clips are short and it’s an off-air recording with dialog on top. I’ve disputed this, but YouTube may choose to delete this video.  In anticipation, I’ve saved the audio from this video–you can listen to it by clicking here.

In a nutshell, AM performance on the Kaito KA108 is frankly poor. Even when I tuned to strong local stations, the audio sounded muffled and distorted, much as in the Radio Havana Cuba example above.

So you can forget about using the KA108 for mediumwave DXing.

MP3/WAV Playback and recording

There are some redeeming virtues with the KA108, however.  Here’s a positive: digital playback with the KA108 is fantastic. I’ve played a wide variety of audio files on the KA108, and am very impressed with its on-board MP3/WAV player. While audio characteristics unfortunately cannot be adjusted––i.e., there’s no equalization––I find the default audio settings well-balanced for both music and voice.

The KA108 has a dedicated MicroSD slot and a covered USB slot on top of the unit.

The KA108 has a dedicated MicroSD slot and a covered USB slot on top of the unit.

Recording directly from shortwave and mediumwave is also quite good. I believe its on-board recorder is perhaps the best I’ve tried in recent portables; it’s a marked improvement over that of the Kaito KA29, for example. It seems to capture the receiver’s produced audio well, with only a slight, high-pitched “hiss” injected in the audio, though this is not a major distraction.

Sadly the main distraction is that the recorder is recording audio, as I’ve outlined above, from a sub-par receiver.

Still, as an MP3/WAV player, it’s brilliant, and boasts excellent audio.

Summary

Invariably, all radios have strengths and weaknesses; here’s a list of my notes from the moment I put the KA108 on the air:

Pros:

  • Great portable size
  • Clear back-lit display
  • Numerous recording and playback features
  • Audio via MP3 or headphones is strong, considering the small speaker with acoustic chamber provides more bass response and volume than comparable portables (see con)
  • Excellent FM reception
  • Excellent MP3/WAV playback with well-balanced audio fidelity
  • Recorder schedule function
  • Alarms and sleep timers easy to use
  • Dedicated MicroSD and USB slots on top of chassis

Cons:

  • Mediocre sensitivity on SW and MW
  • Internally-generated noise on MW and SW
  • Audio (via built-in speaker) is:
    • too bass-heavy, lacks treble on MW/SW
    • garbled and mushy on MW/SW
    • “hot” and often splatters/distorts when signals are strong
  • Tuning
    • extended mute between frequency changes
    • no “scan to next station” function (only ATS)
  • Odd numeric keypad layout
  • Any local RFI garbles reception even further on SW/MW
  • No SSB (in fairness, few radios in this price class have SSB)
  • Antenna swivel to the front somewhat blocked by the radio’s chassis
  • No backstand

Conclusion

I really wanted the Kaito KA108 to be a strong––or even average––performer. Why? Because, like many of you, I would love to have a capable shortwave/mediumwave radio with built-in digital recording and playback.

Kaito-KA108-AM

Sadly, the KA108 falls short on multiple levels.

Concerned that I might have simply received a defective unit––as I did when I reviewed the Sangean ATS-405––I contacted Kaito Electronics USA. I mentioned my disappointment with the radio’s performance, and detailed the negatives mentioned in this review.

I asked Kaito’s technician if I might have received a defective unit? He responded that my experience seems to be the norm with this particular production run. He, too, had noted muffled/garbled audio on shortwave and mediumwave. Per his request, I sent a detailed list of the KA108’s shortcomings with suggested fixes. He is planning to send this to Kaito’s current manufacturer in China.

The KA108’s poor performance issues would likely be mitigated to a great extent, if the manufacturer would simply make the following adjustments:

  1. Widen the AM bandwidth
  2. Tweak the AGC for greater stability
  3. Adjust the audio settings for the AM mode
  4. Minimize/shorten muting between frequency changes
  5. Improve internal shielding and grounding
  6. And while they’re at it, have the radio manual edited by a native English speaker

Since this is a DSP-based radio, I imagine the first four adjustments can be made via firmware upgrades.

Time will tell if the second production run of the Kaito KA108 improves on the first.  Fingers crossed…!  Kaito, we’d like you to succeed on this score.

Again, many thanks to Universal Radio for supplying me with a KA108 for this review.

Morse Code: A staple in the Navy Information Warfare toolkit

SX-99-Dial-NarMany thanks to SWLing Post reader, John George, who shares the following story from DVIDShub.net:

PENSACOLA, Fla. – The cryptologic technician (collection) (CTR) student cohort in the first revised Basic Manual Morse Trainer (BMMT) course wrapped up, Jan. 28, at the Center for Information Dominance (CID) Unit Corry Station.

The update included the latest Manual Morse software used by the Department of Defense and was tested out in a nine-week pilot course that concluded in September. The self-paced course provides basic instruction and practical application in the interception of Morse-type communications.

“Morse code continues to be an inexpensive and efficient means of communication for many states throughout the globe,” said Senior Chief Cryptologic Technician (Collection) (IDW/NAC/SW/AW) Tony Gonzales, CTR rate training manager for CID headquarters. “Manual Morse operators here at Corry Station are learning a skill set that has stood the test of time. Many of our most senior CTRs began their careers as Manual Morse operators.”

[…]“There is something special about learning a skill that Sailors have been performing since World War II,” said Gonzales. “The connection between the past, present and future cryptologic technician (collection) is rarely seen in our line of work as technologies are forever changing.”

Continue reading at DVIDShub.net…

Terry recommends the Public Radio Fan portal

PublicRadioFan

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Terry (VE7TEB) who writes:

You may have already posted this, but if not here is an excellent Public Radio resource, perhaps worthy of another mention: http://www.publicradiofan.com/

Indeed, Terry! Public Radio Fan is a fantastic resource–especially for SWLs who enjoy listening to public broadcasters who are no longer on shortwave. The site makes it easy to search for broadcasters; it has a very simple and responsive user interface.

Public Radio Fan was created in 2001 and is maintained by its creator, Kevin Kelly. I don’t know where he finds the time to curate this database, but I’m glad he does!

Definitely worth the mention. Thank you, Terry!

Click here to go to Public Radio Fan.