Category Archives: Portable Radio

DXpedition antenna testing: the Bonito Boni whip and a 240 metre barbed wire fence

 

Hi there, a few days ago I posted some reception videos comparing the performance of the Boni whip with a 30 metre longwire antenna at home, with a further check against the performance of the H field Wellbrook ALA1530 active loop. The conclusion of those tests was essentially confirmation that E field antennas don’t usually perform very well under a blanket of ‘electrosmog’ and that only on Longwave, did the Boni whip prevailed over the longwire; otherwise there was no usable difference in performance between the two.

                         Sony ICF-SW55 receiver                                     ‘Quiet’ location for Boni whip test

This prompted a number of my subscribers to ask when I would be taking the Boni whip on a DXpedition for an outdoor test against the Wellbrook and either a substantial longwire, or the 200 metre Beverage. Time is limited right now for a full test, however, I managed to throw together a kit of parts necessary to run a quick set of comparison tests with the whip, against the barbed wire fence I use for ad hoc DXing when out walking the dog! Over a period of an hour or so, I managed to copy a few stations on 31 and 49 metres and thus recorded signals using the Sony ICF-SW55 receiver with the Boni whip and barbed wire fence. Now previously, I have used that fence as an antenna for the excellent little Tecsun PL-310ET, with some nice results. However, after this series of tests, my views on the fence have changed a little. Obviously it might be somewhat directional and earthed along it’s length, neither of which I’ve checked, however, notwithstanding these performance-related factors, the performance of the whip which at home had been terrible, surprised me greatly. Text links to a set-up video and the reception videos on my Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel follow directly below, with embedded videos at the end of the post. 

Finally, if you’re looking for a well performing, compact and portable active antenna for outdoor use in quiet environments and of course, DXpeditions, I would definitely recommend the Boni whip. Just bear in mind that the SNR it delivers at home might not be usable for anything more than casual listening.

Thanks for watching/listening/reading and I wish you all great DX!



Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

Oxford Shortwave Log: Sony ICF-SW77 vs ICF-SW55 vs Tecsun PL-310ET

Hi there, I recently posted an article regarding a couple of recent DX catches with the Sony ICF-SW77 receiver and went on to explain the background to a multi-receiver test I had started conducting, comparing it with its stablemate of the time the ICF-SW55 and, just for the hell of it, a more modern, yet modest portable in the shape of the brilliant little Tecsun PL-310ET.                                                Sony ICF-SW77

The initial results confirmed the performance of the Sony receivers to be very similar and thus the justification for the original price delta of £100 in the UK to remain in question. The first target signals chosen and in the original post were ABC Northern Territories on 4835 kHz and Radio Mali on 9635 kHz.

Sony ICF-SW55                                                        Tecsun PL-310ET

The initial results reinforced my view that the PL-310ET is a great portable for relatively small money; it managed to copy both signals, something you might not expect from what is essentially a budget receiver.

Below are links to the next 6 reception videos on the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel and once again, featuring all three radios. I have used two different antennas during the testing – a 75 metre longwire and the Wellbrook ALA1530 active loop, running on batteries. The accompanying text description to the videos indicates which antenna was used.

Although the PL-310ET clearly struggled with the more ‘hard-core’ DX signals amongst those detailed below, the fact is, for less than £40 in the UK (and I’m certain even less elsewhere), Tecsun have delivered us a portable radio that really is capable of real DX. With DSP, a number of audio bandwidth filter options and great sensitivity, it’s a winner for beginners to DXing and to ‘old hands’ who want a radio in their pocket when they take the dog for a walk for example (something I do all the time – you never know when you’re going to come across the next barbed wire fence!). As for the Sonys, well I’m still not convinced one way or the other that the £100 price delta on the original price of the ICF-SW77 was worth the money – the ICF-SW55 is pretty close to it in terms of delivering discernible audio across all of the below reception videos. I’d be interested in your views and note there will be a final posting on this 3-way receiver comparison to wrap things up. In the meantime, thanks for reading/watching/listening and I wish you good DX!

Enbedded videos follow below.

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

Sony ICF-SW77: recent DX & comparing performance with the ICF-SW55 & Tecsun PL-310ET

Some of you might remember the extensive tests I conducted last August, comparing this great portable receiver against the model it was introduced to replace – and arguably one of the best-ever portables – the Sony ICF-2001D/ICF-2010. I conducted a back-to-back series of comparison tests at the very quiet wood in Oxfordshire I use for my DX’peditions, using the same antenna for both recievers – the excellent Wellbrook ALA1530 active loop. In total, I made fourteen reception videos comparing the ICF-2001D and ICF-SW77 and posted them to my Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel. Both receivers performed very well, delivering excellent reception on the Tropical Band and elsewhere on the shortwave spectrum, however, the ICF-2001D proved to be the clear winner, with what proved to be far superior synchronous detection.

But that wasn’t the end of the road for my ICF-SW77. It remains a very capable receiver (one of my all-time favourite portables) and one which I continue to use regularly. However, every now and then, it surprises me with something exceptional. Since conducting the tests against the ICF-2001D, the SW77 has brought in my best-ever indoor reception of Radio Verdad, Guatemala on 4054.8 kHz….and when I say best-ever, I really do mean it; the audio was significantly clearer than anything I had copied previously at home with the Elad. More recently, I copied Zambia NBC Radio 1 on 5915 kHz on a DX’pedition with a far superior signal to anything I’d previously heard, with any other reciever, including the ICF-2001D and the Elad FDM DUO. Some of this of course is down to short-term conditions of propagation, however, the SW77 continues to prove why it has such a loyal following and continues to command premium prices on eBay. Text links and embedded videos to both reception videos on Oxford Shortwave Log follow below:


Further to these recent catches, I promised some of my YouTube subscribers that I would conduct another, similar test with the ICF-SW77, but against it’s cheaper ‘sibling’ the ICF-SW55. A review at the time of the ICF-SW55’s introduction concluded that the price premium of the ICF-SW77 may not be justified since the performance of the two receivers was very similar, despite the SW55 lacking synchronous detection. As someone who has extensive experience with the SW55 out in the field – it was my mainstay DXpedition receiver for more than a year – I was just as interested as my subscribers in how these two vintage Sonys would measure up against each other. The lineage is all very obvious from their respective industrial designs, but the lack of Synchronous detection on the SW55 might have been the one element of functionality resulting in poorer performance, particularly in challenging band conditions and in the presence of adjacent channel QRM etc. To mix things up a little, I have also thrown the brilliant Tecsun PL-310ET into this test. Such a sensitive and selective receiver for less than £40, it has provided more surprises with regard to it’s performance than just about any other radio I’ve owned. How would the Tecsun compare to these two vintage, but high-end Sony portables? Stay tuned to find out! Two reception videos follow, using signals from ABC Northern Territories (4835 kHz) and Radio Mali (9350 kHz), with more to follow on Oxford Shortwave Log and a further posting on swling.com/blog. Thanks for watching/reading/listening.

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

Updated version of the Sangean ATS-909X?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Avo Ohanian, who writes:

I had read with interest a review on Amazon about a purchaser receiving a Sangean ATS-909X in black with the firmware listed as “P-01”. I can confirm that this is indeed the case and that I am curious as to whether there is more than just a simple firmware revision.

Brief history with my unit: I originally purchased one new (only available in white in Australia factory backed ) in August. The packaging was as I remembered from years ago and the firmware was 1.29. After a few happy months of use sans batteries I decided to slot in some Eneloops . First charge nearly cooked the batteries then the unit refused to charge at all. Back to the retailer.

A few days before Christmas I got a call that a replacement was sent from the distributor and promptly trained it over to pick it up.

First impression is the box is now all white with the new look Sangean logo. This unit is also set for extended FM (76-108 MHz) whereas the old unit started at 87.5MHz. Upon switching on, firmware check showed “P-01”.

Now, differences…

The biggest disappointment for me is the backlight. The old unit backlight had a beautiful even light blue colour across the LCD panel. The new one has a distinctly darker browny tinge on the left and bright bluish rings of light where the LEDs are on the right. I think whatever was behind the LCD display that gave it the uniform light has been removed or moved. I know I used to be able to see some sort of ribbon cable just behind the Page and mode region on the LCD which the new unit does not have. That or quality is an issue….

My partner can’t see any issue with the display but then she is well aware that I am picky.

Mediumwave reception appears to be much better on the new unit, however I do note one static hash frequency at 885 kHz. Seems very narrow and doesn’t affect reception for me. I note the bandwidth is very wide. Even 8/10 stations have a distinct hiss. Nothing major and music clarity is very good because of this but DXing in wide mode can get tiring.

[After] listening to MW for about an hour, the unit drifts about 1kHz down (in 30 deg C heat). During normal operation, you don’t notice it–however, when trying ECSS using SSB it will vary from cold at nearly dead on frequency to dropping to the top cusp of the next lowest kHz when hot. It may be that the old unit was the same but was calibrated slightly higher hence it never dropped a kHz on the display when hot.

LW is of no use in Australia however the new unit does have weak MW images, something I did not note on the old unit. Aircraft NDBs are all there.

SSB. Hmmm. There is a problem as others have noted. First there is quite prominent drift due to heat. The old unit was rock solid and had very, very good ECSS capabilities. The new does appear to be very picky but it is still usable. I think the techs forgot to set the DSP bandwidth to narrow in SSB mode. It seems extremely wide. There is no tune muting though (in any mode) when using the wheel but a careful–finger is needed to get close to zero beat.

Shortwave is hash for me as I live in units where people seem to buy cheap LED RF spewing globes. Ugh. It seems the same as the old unit. It needs AC to get maximum sensitivity. Go battery and there is a definite deafness.

FM is superb. Only difference to the old unit is the stereo decode threshold. The old unit would decode stereo well before RDS. This new unit requires at least 7/10 before decoding stereo. Some fringe stations will get RDS info without ever getting stereo decode. No biggie, [especially since] unit only has one speaker.

I am thinking that the DSP chip has changed on P-01 units as the slight differences in operation and look behind the LCD panel makes me think some re-engineering has been done to the circuit board perhaps to accommodate chip changes.

Happy New Year,
Avo

Thank you for your evaluation of the “P-01” version of the venerable Sangean ATS-909X, Avo.

Post readers: have you also noticed performance differences between legacy and current production ATS-909X models?

Guest Post: Backpack-Shack radio listening

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor TomL, who shares the following guest post:


Illustration 1: Main contents

Backpack-Shack radio listening

by TomL

So, the Car Shack idea was good, but I felt constrained by lack of access to better locations to listen to shortwave radio. I took most of the original equipment and stuffed it into a photo backpack I was not using and now I have a portable listening station. Now I can listen in my car or in the field fairly easily.

LowePro350AW – The backpack has three main compartments, integrated carry handles, nice padded waist belt, and a couple of ways to stick a 3/4-inch PVC pipe into external tripod or water bottle pouches. My homemade 14-inch loop antenna with Wellbrook amplifier is light enough to be attached to a 3-foot PVC pipe attached to the backpack. The Palstar preselector (active antenna) and KIWA BCB filter are still part of the portable setup. I added a Daiwa two-position switch to cut out the KIWA BCB filter so I can listen to mediumwave. Power for all these devices are Powerex AA’s for the Sony 2010 and two 12V power packs made from three sets of XTAR 14500 lithium batteries + one dummy AA. I have mounted the electronics and wires using large cable tie-wraps to a 14×10 inch polypropylene kitchen cutting board (sturdy and easy to drill through).

Illustration 2: The electronics board fits neatly into the laptop section of the backpack

Illustration 3: Backpack Shack in operation

Here are some recordings from two test outings around 2100-2200 hours UTC. A local county park (“Forest Preserve”) purposely has few man-made structures (just a trail, picnic shelter made of wood and an outhouse). It is about 15 minutes drive from where I live; the reception is notably clear of local noise. There is an occasional wide-band noise that comes and goes but nothing else I can identify as detrimental noise and it is mostly just a nuisance.

Cuban Numbers station on 11635 kHz:

Click here to download.

VOA from Santa Maria di Galeria, Italy in French on 12075 kHz:

Click here to download.

All India Radio on 11670 kHz:

Click here to download.

BBC Ascension I. on 11810 kHz:

Click here to download.

R. Guinea with music and announcer on 9650 kHz:

Click here to download.

A big downside of the Forest Preserve, like most parks now, is that it is ONLY open from sunrise to sunset and strictly enforced. So, my personal quest for nighttime access to an RF-quiet location continues (I guess I will have to buy/build my own)! It begs for an even more portable setup than this one. That means buying an SDR (with control via a tablet), miniaturizing the antenna, and modifying the lithium power packs to fit in a very small backpack or fanny pack.

If I can miniaturize it enough, I will be able to use common parts of this setup at home, in the car, and at field locations for either mediumwave or shortwave listening. I could then pre-install the unique parts in those situations and just plug-and-play, so-to-speak!

It could be that the continuing tech wave of small, powerful, wide-band equipment is causing a revolution in general. A type of radio revival may be at hand where regional radio starts to take a foothold, catering to a multi-state area and not just to one local metro area – with its one-city mindset and control (Do I really care that the Big City is installing a downtown-only, 12 million dollar bike and jogging connection + hearing endless whining about how bankrupt pensions are putting that County at risk when I never go there and don’t care to?). Portable wide-band radios allow for hours of listening to various types of broadcasts!

An example could be to use digital broadcasts over longwave (somewhere from 150 kHz-500 kHz) which allows ground wave signals to travel hundreds of miles reliably during the day or night without depending on variable skywave propagation. Digital would enhance the listener experience in stereo. It would probably need a narrower type of digital modulation since the current “HD Radio” standard is really too wide and splatters everything at adjacent frequencies. Pure wishful thinking but the technology is available to make something NEW happen!!

Cheers from NoiZey Illinoiz,
TomL


Thank you, Tom! You certainly have the right idea: taking your radio to the field! Keep us informed about your progress and updates. No doubt, over time you will discover a year-round spot to play radio in the field!