Category Archives: Reviews

A review of the Como Audio Solo


Regular SWLing Post readers might remember that this past summer, I made an impulse purchase–and in doing so, backed a Kickstarter campaign for the new Como Audio Solo.

But exactly why did I buy this small, self-contained digital music device–? Having just completed an in-depth review of several WiFi radios, I certainly didn’t need another.  But the good-looking Solo, with its clean design and walnut casing really caught my attention…I couldn’t resist checking it out.  Plus, in backing the radio via Kickstarter, I was able to purchase it for $100 less than the predicted future retail of $299 US.

The Kickstarter campaign funding Como Audio was prompt in communicating updates with backers and providing even more product options during the wait for production and delivery. Although several other snazzy finishes for the Solo were brandished before me, I stuck firmly by the walnut veneer I’d originally chosen.

Fast forward to the present. I finally received my Como Audio Solo a few weeks ago, and have had time to play with it. While I haven’t had time to explore every nuance of this radio, of course, I have had an opportunity to form some opinions.


I don’t often comment on the design of radios I review, but in this case it’s worth noting.

The Como Audio Solo, in wood, is elegant and simple. Love it:


The only element of the design I’m not typically keen on?  I’m not the biggest fan of devices that sport colored backlit displays; to me they appear a bit flash and faddish, undermining a radio’s overall aesthetic.

But I must say, the Solo pulls it off.  The color display in this case is somehow not too distracting–it’s soft yet crisp, and easy to read even at a distance.

In short, the Solo is a stunning piece of kit, especially with that warm walnut casing, and looks right at home in any setting–office, living area, kitchen, or at the bedside.

I’ve only one gripe with the Solo’s ergonomics: the front control knobs are a little too close to the bottom of the recessed controls area. When I try to turn a knob–for example, attempt to tune the FM band–I find my fingertips won’t fit between the knob and lower edge of the recessed panel, making the knobs a little hard to turn in one fluid motion. (Of course,this is also due to the fact that I have big fingers; my wife doesn’t seem to have this problem).

But this isn’t a dealbreaker as I’m finding I don’t often need to reach for the front controls, anyway.  Why? Because the rig’s IR remote–or better yet, its smartphone app–control the radio effectively at any convenient distance from the radio.  Sweet.



I’m a sucker for quality audio fidelity, and I must admit that this was one of the biggest deciding factors in purchasing the Solo: it touted extraordinary audio in a modest package, being designed around an acoustic chamber/chassis containing a 3″ woofer and 3/4″ dome tweeter fueled by a 2 X 30 watt RMS amplifier. I was very curious whether it could live up to its initial claim.

After turning on the Solo for the first time, I immediately wanted to hear audio, so I put it in Bluetooth mode and played a few songs, ranging from Jazz to Electronica.

In a nutshell:  Wow.

The audio is strikingly reminiscent of my Tivoli Audio Model One…which is to say, it’s excellent. It packs more audio punch than any of the radios I reviewed in my WiFi radio comparison.

Out of the box, the audio is fairly well-balanced, too. But you can tweak the equalizer, and I did, drawing in a little more bass and treble.  My wife (also a bit of an audiophile) was impressed. And yes, the sound is all the more remarkable considering the radio’s relatively small form-factor:  little box, big voice.

FM Reception


The Como Audio Solo is one of the few Wifi radios on the market that has a built-in analog FM and DAB receiver (save the $120 Sangean WFR-28, which has analog FM reviewed here).

Since I live in the US, I can’t comment on DAB reception.  I have, however, had an opportunity to test the FM analog reception.  Keep in mind, I live in a rural area and require a decent FM receiver with telescopic antenna fully extended just to listen to my favorite regional programming.

When I tune the Solo to my benchmark FM stations, it can receive them–but not as effectively as many of my other radios, including the WFR-28. Even when forced to use the Mono setting only, the stations it receives carry too much static for good listening.  So obviously the Solo isn’t as sensitive as some of my other radios, at least in this setting. Indeed, few stations it receives in this area are able to lock in to the point that there’s no static in the received audio. For out-of-towners, this is a bit of a disappointment.

With this said, I imagine if you live in an urban area, the FM receiver should more than please you. I’ve no doubt it can faithfully reproduce beautiful audio from local FM outlets.

I should add that, while FM reception isn’t stellar for distant stations, the RDS information does convey even when the audio isn’t full fidelity.

WiFi radio


Of course, the main reason I purchased the Como Audio Solo was to use and review it as a WiFi radio…nothing at all to do with that sharp walnut chassis, or audio power.

As I outlined in my WiFi Radio primer, WiFi radios rely on station aggregators–extensive curated databases of radio stations–to surf and serve up the tens of thousands of streaming stations around the globe.

Based on feedback from Como Audio shortly after the Kickstarter launch, I was under the impression that the station aggregator of choice was vTuner. This concerned me, as vTuner’s reputation as an aggregator is somewhat maligned due to a series of documented faults and weaknesses.  Fortunately, this turned out not to be the case: after the initial confusion, I soon discovered Como had adopted the more robust Frontier Silicon aggregator, instead–a better choice.

Click here to read our primer on setting up your Como Audio product on the Frontier Silicon radio portal.

Since I’m a pretty big fan of Frontier Silicon and since I’ve already been using their service with my Sangean WFR-28, once I connected my radio to my user account, the WiFi portion of the radio felt identical to that of my WFR-28. Simply brilliant, as the Frontier Silicon radio portal gives the user flexibility to create station lists and folders with ease–all of which readily convey to the radio itself.

The Solo also features six dedicated memory buttons on the front panel for quick access to favorites.

Turns out, there’s also a comprehensive manual available online for download (click here).




And am I please with the Solo so far?

I’ll reply with a resounding “Yes!”

I love the Solo’s design–this certainly is a handsome product. Moreover, I love the audio, and am pleased that it delivers the fidelity promised by its Kickstarter campaign. The Solo and Duet are loaded with features, connections, Aux In and Aux Out audio and digital ports–more, in fact, than any similar device with which I’m familiar. I regret that the rig’s FM isn’t suited for country life, but the audio coupled with its stylish exterior do make up for this somewhat.


I do wish the Solo had an internal rechargeable battery option. Being able to move the receiver to different locations within a home or building could be a major plus for rural FM reception. As my friend John pointed out, however, the audio amplifier is robust enough, it might have been a challenge to implement an affordable-but-effective internal battery without compromising the audio amplifier’s needs.

In truth, I favor audio fidelity over portability for a tabletop radio.


In conclusion…do I have any backer’s remorse?  Absolutely not–!

In short, the Como Audio Solo is a keeper.  I’m still marvelling at this classy and dynamic radio that fills our home with rich beautiful audio. A few weeks in, the Solo has already become a permanent feature in our abode. It’s one of the few radios I have that meets my artist wife’s approval in terms of both design and audio.comoaudiosolo-fm

Great job, Como Audio!  If the Solo is any indication of radios to come, I’ll certainly be looking for your future innovations.

Click here to order the Como Audio Solo and Como Audio Duetto.


Tecsun PL-680 Beats Expectations


I have been procrastinating over investing in another portable shortwave radio to replace my ageing (but still going strong) Sangean ATS909. Also known in the U.S. as the rebadged Radio Shack DX–398, the Sangean has been a most reliable rig for in-the-field DXpeditions. My unit is one of the early first generation versions that I purchased on the second-hand market, so I’m guessing it has to be at least 16 years old now. It continues to provide a full rich tone quality on AM/FM and is very sensitive on shortwave providing you use an external antenna of 5 metres (16 feet) or more. The radio received some bad press because of its poor SW reception using just the telescopic rod antenna, which frankly was justified. The in-built whip is useless! But all of my work has been with an external antenna, and the results have been most successful over the years.

But the old ATS909 has lived a hard life, having been bounced around in the car on rough dirt tracks, dropped a few times, and thanks to a recent home renovation project it now has paint splattered all over it. On one occasion, I’d even left it outside on the ground after a spot of gardening, subjecting it to half an hour of heavy rain, before realising my forgetfulness. The radio was soaked but still going strong when I picked it up. However, the digital readout was all messed up. After 24 hours of drying, and it fired up beautifully again, and has been fine ever since! That’s some impressive build quality there! Thanks Sangean!

Anyway, a few months ago I decided to “pull the trigger” and purchased a new Tecsun PL-680 AM/FM/SSB/Air Band radio. This rig has been on the market since around February 2015. So far, it has performed very well for me.

Interestingly, on the built-in telescopic antenna reception is only marginally better than the Sangean, but the Tecsun is really quite sensitive with an external long wire antenna. In fact, I’ve had it hooked up to my three double bazooka (coax) dipoles for 80, 40 and 20 meters, and the performance has been excellent. The tone quality is not quite a good as the Sangean, lacking richness and depth on MW, FM and SW. But for DXing, the audio appears just right for digging out clear audio from the noisy shortwave bands.


Recently, I hooked up both portables for a side-by-side comparison using four different external antennas outside the shack with switches between the two radios. I was eager to check how they measured up in terms of sensitivity and selectivity. The results for the Tecsun were impressive, picking up all of the weaker signals that the Sangean could hear.

Indeed, on several shortwave broadcast bands, the Tecsun appeared to be just a touch more sensitive at digging out some of the weakest signals. The audio also appeared a little clearer for those weak signals, perhaps because it has a narrower audio response than the Sangean. And selectivity for the PL-680 was about the same as the ATS909, generally very good.

On the ham bands, however, the SSB audio quality of the ATS909 sounds more pleasant to my ears than the PL680. But the Sangean’s tuning process in SSB is somewhat more cumbersome than for the Tecsun.

The PL-680’s synchronous detector effectively reduces adjacent signal interference. It’s easy to use and is a strong feature in its favor. However, occasionally it can fail to lock on to a weaker signal or when the signal is subject to deep fading. One other characteristic of the Tecsun is that it has a rather overly generous S-meter, hitting S4 or 5 for all but the weakest signals. This is a meter not to be taken too seriously!

But the PL-680 is not without its faults!

Click here to continue reading the full story.

Rob Wagner, VK3BVW, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. He also blogs at the Mount Evelyn DX Report.

Matt’s review of the BST-1

BST-1-Receiver-Label-AltMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Matt, who shared this review of the BST-1 car shortwave receiver:

Overall: a good sensitive receiver, with a very inventive interface. I am looking forward to my long commutes for a change.

Using the FM RDS info on the car radio is a stroke of genius.BSTFM2

Performance: Miles ahead of my old MFJ 3 band heterodyne converter. I could hear 2 or 3 stations in the day, maybe 6 or 8 at night. With this new receiver during my morning and evening commutes in the NE US, I can hear dozens of stations day or night. Performance is roughly on par with a decent shortwave portable using the built in whip. I get 6070 Canada listenable 2 out of 3 days, 9580 Australia one out of 4 days in the morning, Radio Romania is an S5-8 beacon in the evenings.

Quirks: when the receiver is powered down, it does not save the music/speech bandwidth setting. It always comes up in the speech mode.

Also, when you are in tune mode and wrap around from 0 kHz to 33 MHz or vice versa, there is a glitch. Instead of scanning on the even 5 kHz intervals, it changes to scanning on the 3 and 8 kHz or 2 and 7kHz intervals: 32.003, 32.008, 32.013, 32.018, etc. instead of 32.000, 32.005, 32.010, etc. If you go back to preset frequencies, scan, and then go back to tune mode, it is back to normal.

I have only seen spurious signals around 2 MHz or so. I think it is some 15 MHz broadcasters bleeding through – only one or two usually. No other spurious signals apart from this seen yet.

Suggestions: restrict the tune mode to the shortwave bands to save time slogging through all that dead space between broadcasting segments (toggle all or band only tune?)

Make it so you can switch the AM broadcast filter in and out, maybe with an attenuator. I live over 50 miles from the nearest high powered AM station, and it would be nice to be able to BC/LW DX. The receiver is quite sensitive down there. On 1700khz where the filter doesn’t have much of an effect I can hear an AM station 80 miles away. Instructions on putting in a manual switch to do the same would be good as an alternative to this.

Thanks for sharing your review, Matt! I agree that the BST-1 is surprisingly sensitive, especially for a mobile receiver.

Click here to view the BST-1 order/information page.

Click here to view our review of the BST-1.

Labor Day Fun: A hamfest, an NPOTA activation–and a new Elecraft KX2 QRP kit


My station location on the trail near the Sandburg farm is indicated with the small grey marker (lower left quadrant).

I’ve enjoyed an especially “radio-active” Labor Day weekend.  Here’s hoping you did, too.

On Saturday I headed out the door at 4:15 AM to meet my buddy Vlado (N3CZ), the inimitable radio doctor; we aimed our headlights through the morning mist to the Shelby Hamfest. Though it took quite a bit more coffee to keep me going, the hamfest was a load of fun. Check out the photos I posted yesterday.

ARRL-NPOTAOn Sunday, I enjoyed some family time. Conveniently, our weekend travel took us near the Carl Sandburg Home in East Flat Rock, NC.  I managed to carve out a little time for a quick–very quick– NPOTA activation of the site.

I realized I would only have about an hour, though, to find a suitable site, setup my radio kit, make at least the minimum of ten contacts, then pack up and clear out.  Not an optimal amount of time, but certainly a fun challenge.

This was also a good excuse to try out my new Elecraft KX2 portable transceiver kit in the field. I haven’t even had the KX2 for a full week, but I quickly put together a field kit with the Elecraft as a centerpiece.  If you’re curious, the kit consists of the following:

  • The Elecraft KX2, with internal battery and ATU options
  • An LnR Precision EFT Trail-Friendly antenna (purchased at the Dayton Hamvention)
  • An assortment of connectors and adapters
  • A six-foot coax cable
  • An Elecraft hand mic, borrowed from my KX3
  • A CW paddle (the KXPD2)
  • A clipboard, log sheets, and mechanical pencil
  • Fishing line and a weight (to hang the antenna)

All of this, save the fishing line and weight, was protected by the compact and perfectly portable LowePro ViewPoint CS 60 padded case, and fit it like a glove.

LowePro CS 60 Closed

Let’s talk packs…

Those of you who know me, know that I’m a bit of a pack junkie.  So I’m kind of picky about what I choose to hold my gear. There are a few manufacturers whose packs pass the test, and that make gear here in the States, like Spec-Ops Brand, Red Oxx, and Tom Bihn. Their packs are sometimes pricey, but they’re nearly bullet-proof and guaranteed for life.  Timbuk2, based in San Francisco, is a more economical company with good gear, as well.

After purchasing my KX2, I searched but couldn’t find a suitable pack from my prefered manufacturers. I had remembered that at the Dayton Hamvention, Elecraft was actually selling two models of a LowePro pack that fit the KX2 exactly: the ViewPoint CS 40 and CS 60.

While I like to go as compact as possible, the CS 40 is just  a bit too small to hold everything I like to carry to the field (antenna, paddle, and mic). The CS 60, on the other hand, could hold everything and has a fold out panel organizer to hold connectors.

I knew the CS 60 would fit the KX2, and I knew the CS 60 was padded to protect its contents.  I also could see that the pack has excellent (and apparently genuine) ratings on Amazon, so I ordered one.

I’m pleased to report that the CS 60 is very well built indeed, and what’s more, accommodates everything I need. In fact, the only thing the CS 60 won’t hold is my reel of fishing line and 6′ coax cable (and yes, I daresay you could adapt both items to make them fit with a little effort).

I carried the CS 60 and reel in my trusty 20-year-old Dana Design lumbar pack:


There was room to spare inside for water bottle and snacks, and the whole package was very lightweight.

The Carl Sandburg Home


The Carl Sandburg site was fairly teeming with visitors, also enjoying the warm weather of the Labor Day weekend. After arriving and (fortunately) finding a parking spot, I hiked 20 minutes to one of the trails, where I was given permission to hang an antenna and operate.

Knowing that I needed to rejoin my family soon, I wasn’t too choosy about my site this time. I just needed to get on the air and work the minimum of ten contacts. In truth, I wasn’t sure if all of this was possible in the one hour I had available.

I setup on the right side of this trail, near one of the park benches.

I setup on the right side of this sunlit trail, near one of the park benches. It turned out to be a pretty good spot.

It took me perhaps ten minutes to set up, with a few brief asides to explain what I was doing to passing hikers.

Since I configured my little Elecraft KX2 with an internal battery and antenna tuner, I had no need for extra power cables, connectors, ATU and coax.


Yep, my entire station easily fit on the clipboard I was using to hold my log sheets. On my lap, the clipboard became my operating table.

As soon as I sat down in my folding chair, I turned on the KX2, set the frequency to 14,286 kHz, and pressed the ATU button which gave me a 1:1 match (since the EFT is resonant).

Thank you, voice keyer!

Next, I recorded my CQ call into the KX2’s built-in voice keyer by:

  1. pressing and holding the MSG button,
  2. assigning the voice message to “memory allocation 1” by pressing the PRE (1) button,
  3. pressing XMIT to start the recording,
  4. reading off my CQ call “CQ, CQ, CQ, this is K4SWL calling CQ for National Parks on the Air…”, and
  5. pressing XMIT again to stop the recording.

Then I started calling CQ by simply pressing the MSG button and selecting my message stored in memory allocation 1 by pressing and holding the PRE (1) button.

By pressing and holding the PRE (1) button, I initiated a loop-playback of my CQ call where my KX2 would transmit my call from memory.  Then I waited a few seconds to listen for any replies, and played it again. (In loop-playback mode, the KX2 will repeat my CQ call until I interrupt it by pressing a button or keying my mic.)

It’s a brilliant and easy function which saves my voice! By automatically calling CQ, it  gives me an opportunity to answer questions from curious passersby,  naturally fascinated by a guy sitting on the side of a trail, talking into a little box connected to a tree-branch suspended wire.

In the end, I didn’t even need to use the voice keyer that much. I was spotted on the DX cluster and within moments had a small pile-up of stations. Remarkably, I worked my minimum of ten stations within six minutes! Of course, I continued to call CQ until I worked everyone in the pile-up (including stations from California, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas and Mexico). Though I was running out of time quickly, I did switch to the less-active 40 meter band and called CQ. In a period of a few minutes, I worked two stations on forty: one from Alabama and one from Florida. Not bad for 10 watts of power!

Elecraft Kx2 ON Clipboard

Packing up

Normally I would have stayed on the air for at least an hour to give chasers an opportunity to work my station, but I was pleased that I’d managed to fit this activation into a very busy schedule. I was glad to have racked up so many stations, so quickly!

Taking down the antenna and packing up my portable station took all of eight minutes.

Without a doubt–once I had hiked to my operating site–this was my fastest deployment, activation, and pack-up to date. It was all possible because:

  1. the KX2 has a built-in battery pack and ATU, and is so small it fits on my clipboard,
  2. the EFT Trail-Friendly antenna is a breeze to install, take down and pack, and
  3. the CS 60 pack organizes the radio and accessories so handily.


In short: I’m totally pumped by my new QRP field kit!

More radio adventures await…To the field!

Ivan’s preliminary review of the new RTL-SDR dongle on shortwave/mediumwave

RTL-SDR-RTL2832U-e1471375714199Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ivan Cholakov (NO2CW), who shares the following video review of the new RTL-SDR dongle on the shortwave and mediumwave bands.

Ivan notes:

This is daytime reception comparison. Nighttime could be a different picture. [The RTL-SDR dongle] tunes and frequency is 100% on spot.

Using SDR Sharp you have several AGC settings to play with and find the best combination. The best setting seems to vary with band and signal strength.

The [SDR receiver] comes with a short (20 cm) and long (120cm) telescopic antennas. Neither one is usable for HF or Medium wave.

When ordering the radio you have to get a USB extension cord for the dongle. When plugged in directly into a laptop and then antenna coax it can become bulky. You also will most likely need an SMA adapter to BNC and SO 238.

I hope this helps.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Many thanks for sharing your video, Ivan! For a $25 SDR, I’m pretty impressed so far! I’m also very curious how it will hold up to stronger nighttime signals and, especially, adjacent signal interference. I imagine it may be prone to overloading as well. Please keep us posted!

Have any other Post readers tested the new RTL-SDR dongle on HF? If so, please comment!