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.

Ron approves of the high-gain ferrite bar antenna

Ferrite-Bar-PL-365In response to our post about the high-gain ferrite bar antenna for the Tecsun PL-360/PL-365 and CountyComm GP5/DSP and GP5/SSB, SWLing Post contributor, Ron, writes:

…and it’s worth it.

On MW there is a marked difference on both the low and high ends
of the band, just as the builder said, compared to the stock plugin antenna.

On longwave my local NDB BH went from being barely audible on the stock
plugin to being quite readable–well above the noise.

The seller replied to a question about it being shipped very quickly
since it never did track on USPS.

Good seller, reliable email, good antenna that works as claimed–no problem here.

Click here to view the antenna on eBay.

Thank you so much for the report, Ron!

The Worldwide Listening Guide: the content DXer’s handbook

WWLG-7th-EditionI’m very pleased to have just received the 7th edition of John Figliozzi’s Worldwide Listening Guide (WWLG), the latest, most updated version of the excellent guide I’ve often reviewed.

As I’ve said, you may want a copy of the WWLG in your shack, especially alongside your computer or Wi-Fi radio.

SWLing Post readers know that I’m a huge fan of the Word Radio TV Handbook (WRTH); it’s my go-to guide for radio frequencies and schedules. Well, Figliozzi’s Worldwide Listening Guide is my go-to for programming and content, not only helpful on the shortwaves, but also handy when tracking online content.

WWLG: The Content DXers Guide

Like many SWLs, I’m something of a “Content DXer:” I love chasing obscure programming––news, documentaries, music, and variety shows, anything the broadcasting world has to offer.  For this, I often turn to Wi-Fi radio.  Wi-Fi radio offers the discerning listener the ability to track down fascinating regional content from every corner of the globe––content never actually intended for an international audience.

But the fact is, there’s so much content out there, it’s hard to know where to start. This is where the WWLG comes in: Figliozzi exhaustively curates more than 4,000 programs (!), indexing their airing times, stations, days of broadcast, program types, frequencies, and web addresses. Additionally, he sorts the programs by genre:  arts, culture, history, music, sports, and more. And Figliozzi also includes a well-thought-out directory of at least forty genres.   In short, this directory has helped me not just locate, but identify, programming I would never have known about otherwise.

Frankly, I’m not sure how Figliozzi manages to curate such a vast assortment of programming.  But I’m happy that he does, and especially, that he offers it for the SWL’s benefit––!

Thus the WWLG  has become a permanent reference book in my shack, alongside my trusty WRTH. There’s a surprising amount of information packed into this slim, spiral-bound book…enough to keep even a seasoned DXer contented for years.

The 7th edition of Worldwide Listening Guide can be purchased here:

With a retail price under $25, I feel like the WWLG is an excellent bargain.

Alexander reviews the Avion AV-DR-1410 DRM receiver

81-58a+inIL._SL1500_

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Alexander (DL4NO), for the following review of the new Avion DRM receiver:

A review of the Avion DRM receiver

by Alexander von Obert (DL4NO)

The Avion AV-DR-1401 DRM receiver has appeared on the SWLing Post before in a previous review.

Amazon India does not sell the Avion outside of India. As it happens, I found someone who was willing to buy it for me and bring it with him from India to Germany.

The first impressions were quite disappointing. This feels more like a prototype, not a polished product:

  • The power supply produces lots of interference and runs quite hot. Unless I find another power supply, I can either charge the battery or listen to the radio.
  • The handle rattles. Such things often are symptoms for the whole product.
  • The firmware fails in many ways: update errors of the display, very confusing user interface.
  • No acceptable field strength indicator, especially in DRM until a signal is decoded. If you have a selective antenna you need to switch to AM to tune it. And then you tune it by ear or by numbers. No bar of any kind.
Avion AV-DR-1410 DRM

Radio Romania

Radio Romania produced very good signals this evening in southern Germany on 41m. But with the built-in antenna, DRM reception was impossible even in my shack directly under the roof. A Degen 31MS selective active antenna indoors enabled sketchy reception of Radio Romania and All India Radio on 41m. Reasonable reception was only possible with my external antenna.

All India Radio

All India Radio

Just imagine why I took the trouble to get the receiver! It is a far cry from what I really wanted: a modern replacement of my trusty Sony ICF7600D from the 1980s. I had to retire it for mechanical reasons after it travelled with me for 20 years.

In India, they might not have the industrial infrastructure they have in China or Japan, but an intensive firmware update is urgently needed. Software is something they are good at in India. Many problems could be solved that way:

  • The volume knob has no stop and must be pressed for a few seconds to turn the radio on or off. A short press could be used to switch it between volume and tuning.
  • A reasonable field strength indicator should be introduced.
  • The remote control does not work reliably.
  • With the “mode” switch I can select AM, FM, or DRM. But I have not found anything that the “band” switch could be doing.
  • The “scan” switch works on FM and puts all transmitters found into the favorites. But neither is that the function I would expect it to do nor does it work on other bands.

From my preliminary tests I fear the unit has massive large-signal problems. For example, I heard distorted signals of Radio Romania on bands where they were not transmitting at all. I use an active antenna but this is the same I use for the DX Patrol or SDRplay RSP, therefore I know that my antenna is not to blame. I also see this as an indicator about the DRM signal of Radio Romania.

I could not help but open the Avion receiver: [the internal antenna worked so poorly, I wanted to investigate].

I must say that the rattling handle was an accurate indicator of production quality.

Inside the Avion

Inside the Avion

See “Inside the Avion” image above (click to enlarge). The back side on the left was originally covered by an aluminum shield. I had to remove it as the wires are quite short–one cannot put the two parts flat on the bench otherwise. You see that they tried to improve the shielding on the right.

AVION internal antenna preamp

Avion internal antenna preamp

See “Avion internal antenna preamp” above (click to enlarge). The circuit board at the lower left corner of the first picture is the preamp for the internal antennas. In the lower left corner is the telescopic antenna connection. The wire here was extremely short–either it broke before and made contact by chance or I broke it when I dismounted the circuit board. At least I did not force it (still a bad manufacturing practice).

If you examine the circuitry, you see very bad practices: C2 directly connects the antenna to the base of Q2. It must be a bipolar transistor considering R3/R4. At least there is DN1 which seems to be protection diodes. On the whole board I can find no inductivities at all. There is absolutely no band limiting.

AVION broken shilding wire

Avion broken shilding wire

See “Avion broken shielding wire” above. The shielding wire had broken from the soldering. That was definitely not my fault. At the yellow isolation, a second wire is connected. That is the wire routed around the backside without any connection. This doesn’t make sense to me.

Avion crushed battery holder

Avion crushed battery holder

See “Avion crushed battery holder” above. The battery holder is fixed together with the aluminum shielding. The worker crushed the lug of the battery holder while mounting the shield. A few other threads were torn, too. A typical case of too much strength.

Avion seems to know about the inherent RFI problems of this receiver, but could not solve them. No wonder I have to use an external antenna.

Perhaps I will replace the antenna preamp with something reasonable.

Otherwise this radio will gather dust here.

Thank you for your report, Alexander–I’m sorry to hear about your experiences with the Avion, especially after the trouble you went to obtaining it.

So far, I’ve heard no truly positive reviews of the Avion AV-DR-1410. Sadly, it sounds like a radio to avoid.

James reviews the Heathkit Explorer Jr. GR-150 TRF AM radio receiver kit

HeathkitExplorerJrMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, James Surprenant (AB1DQ), who shares this review and photos of the new Heathkit Explorer Jr. TRF AM radio receiver kit:


 Heathkit Explorer Jr. Review

I received this Heathkit kit for Xmas from dear old Dad.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Manual

The Explorer Jr. manual is very nicely done, spiral-bound, and very reminiscent of the old Heathkit manuals in terms of lay-out and detail.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Retro envelope packaging

The packaging of the parts is also reminiscent of the old Heathkits with parts grouped into envelopes by phase, ie. “Active Components,” “Passive Components,” “Small Parts,” “Knobs,” etc.

The first night, I worked through completion of the circuit board attaching all electronic components and stopped at the step for winding the coil. I thought it would make sense to start fresh on that step since winding coils is generally a pain.

Even on the first night, I had a few criticisms:

  • A couple of the envelopes were ripped open when I unpacked the kit. There were nuts, bolts, spacers and an Allen wrench loose in the outer box. That said, no parts were missing.
  • I found two errors in the manual:
    1. The color code for one of the resistors was incorrect in the manual. With my aging eyes, and the miniaturization of components today, I always use an ohm meter to test all resistors before attaching them to the PCB when I build a kit.

      Incorrect color code in manual.

      Incorrect color code in manual.

    2. The circuit contains 10 resistors and all 10 were included in the kit. But one was completely missing from the step-by-step instructions. After I finished attaching all active and passive components, I had one resistor left over and fortunately there was a matching empty space on the circuit board for the same value resistor. I double and triple checked the instruction manual and I can not find where it calls for this resistor to be attached.
  • My biggest criticism so far is the fact that this kit is “solder-less.” All components are attached to the PCB with screws, lock washers and a nut. You insert the leads for each component through the over-size pass-through holes on the PCB, and bend the leads tight against the edge. Then you insert a screw in from the topside, place a lock washer on the bottom side and fasten with a bolt.
Bottom of the PCB board

Bottom of the PCB board

On the upside, the fact I didn’t need to work with a hot solder iron meant I felt comfortable building the kit at the kitchen table. (My XYL would not be pleased if she found burn marks on the table!) So I had a nicer environment to work in than the basement work bench.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. sheered off resistor leadsOn the downside, I managed to sheer off the leads on TWO resistors when tightening the screws. Fortunately I was able to replace the busted resistors from my on-hand stock.

The other odd thing about this method of attaching components is that Heathkit included a nifty screwdriver in the kit, but leaves it up to the kit builder to provide a small socket wrench or pliers to hold the nut in place while tightening the screw.

Finally, the instructions call for the kit builder to ‘bend the excess leads back and forth’ until they snap off, rather than instructing the kit builder to snip off the excess leads with nippers. That seemed really strange to me.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Completed coil

I completed my build of the GR-150 Explorer TRF radio this past weekend. I had no difficulty winding the coil, which involved 56 turns of magnet wire around a ferite core and securing it with transparent tape.

Heathkit provided the black ties, which were too large.

Heathkit provided the black ties, which were too large.

The next problem I encountered was attaching the wound coil to the PCB. The kit came with two zip cords to use as fasteners, but the zip cords were much much too large to fit through the holes drilled in the PCB. So this required a trip to the hardware store.

You can clearly see that the holes are too small for the black cable ties.

You can clearly see that the holes are too small for the black cable ties.

Once I had the coil mounted, I encountered the problem again with the bolts and nuts shearing off the leads – this time, it took me about 4 tries to attach the thin fragile coil wires to the PCB. It’s a very fragile process that again had me wishing this was a solder kit.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Top of PCB front

The rest of the assembly went well. The only other glitch I encountered was in assembling the cabinet, the kit came with six locking star washers for the cabinet, in fact the parts list indicates that six should have been included in the kit. But then the actual assembly called for 10 star washers.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Top of PCB

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Nearly finished frontHeathkit Explorer Jr. Completed PCB mounted

So, how did the radio perform? About as expected. It is a single stage TRF receiver without a proper audio amplifier. The instructions say you should use earbuds to listen to the radio, but I found that my standard stereo earbuds to be off too low an impedance for while the radio worked, all stations heard were very faint – about as strong as you’d hear from a typical crystal radio kit.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. 1st run sticker

I hooked the radio up to a set of PC speakers which helped – a lot. Once I could hear the audio output, I was very pleased with the radio’s performance. The tuning cap is geared and it takes a good five turns of the tuning knob to cover the entire broadcast band. The radio was fairly sensitive and not too selective – again, as you’d expect.

So, was it worth it? For me, sure… but it depends on what you are looking for.

It’s a bit pricey for what you get, but if you want to support Heathkit as it attempts to rise from the ashes, and if you have the $$$ to ‘donate’ towards the cause, it may be worth it.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Completed w. screwdriver

Here is my take:

The good

  • Very nice quality materials….the PCB, tuning cap, and cabinet were of a quality you don’t often see in kits.
  • Nostalgia factor–from the packing to the manuals, the kit really does capture some of the Heath nostalgia.
  • Level of detail in the step-by-step instructions.
  • Documentation. The manual ends with a very nice feature on radio theory and theory of the different stages of the TRF and how to read a schematic. It’s clearly written for a youngster as it’s complete with drawings of smiley-faced electrons moving through the components and circuits.
  • The radio does work and is a joy to tune across the dial.

The bad

  • Quality control is lacking. It’s hard to imagine a kit ever leaving Benton Harbor back in the day with such glaring errors in the manual (wrong color code, missing steps), or with the wrong size zip ties, etc.
  • Price. Even though the materials are high-end, the retail price seems a bit high.

The ugly

  • I really wish Heathkit had included either a built in audio amp circuit (there is plenty of room in the cabinet to add a simple IC-based amp), or would have marketed a separate audio amp kit. Having an amplified speaker would add a lot in terms of pleasure from the completed kit. Another kit vendor, Peebles Originals, peeblesoriginals.com, sells a nice little audio amplifier kit for use with their regen radio kits. I’ve built it, and it’s a simple straight forward kit. Heathkit could have done this and it would have made a big difference. (I think I’ll try my Peebles amp with the Explorer!)

Overall, I really enjoyed the build and I like the radio. I’m looking forward to see what the ‘new” Heathkit does next.

I applaud Heathkit for making a go at a come-back and will continue to support their efforts by buying and building their pricey stuff – yeah, I’m that guy.

73 de AB1DQ
James


James, thank you for not only sharing your experience–along with errors and omissions–but providing excellent, detailed photos. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been confused by kit instructions and turned to Google to help me find photos and notes from other builders. Your details will help others attempting to build the Heathkit GR-150.

I hope you enjoy your new Heathkit! You’ll have to let us know how that Peebles powered speaker works with the G-150!

Phil’s review of the Digitech AR1946

digitech-AR1946-frontMany thanks to SWLing Post reader, Phil Ireland, who shares his review of the Digitech AR1946:

I’ve now purchased the AR1946 and I have to say, I’m very impressed! No noise problems at all with mine, although if you listen very carefully under certain conditions, you can discern a slight digital hash. Not in anyway imposing though.

This radio is super sensitive, AM comes very close to the CCRadio-EP in performance and FM is outstanding. SW is very impressive but there are a few quirks in tuning:

  • below 10MHz, you hit the Frequency button, key in the value and hit the Frequency button again to tune [to the desired station]
  • above 10MHz, you hit the Frequency button, type in the value and it jumps straight to the frequency [without pressing the Frequency button again].

Not a great issue but worth knowing.

This radio has 7 bandwidths in AM both accessible on MW and SW and rudimentary fine tuning with a separate wheel control. Unfortunately FM only has 1 bandwidth but seems well chosen. DAB+ is not available in Regional NSW so that cannot be commented on.

The telescopic antenna is ridiculously small but seems to pull in the signals with no problems. There are external antenna connections for improved performance.
Audio is very pleasant and you can control both treble and bass with the push of a button. The display is bright, well lit and easy to read with a useful tuning indicator.
There are a number of useful features and with 700 memories, there are more that needed. The radio is very reminiscent of the Grundig Satellit 700 in some respects. Build quality seems very good, time will tell if reliability becomes an issue.

What I don’t like is the radio partially mutes when tuning, this is annoying when bandscanning with the rotary tuning control. I have noticed what appears to be synchronous detection being used as occasionally when tuning onto a frequency, you will hear the detector lock on frequency. If so, there is no control over this feature. That may explain the display showing synch but the final model has automatic synch lock..

The AR1946 dispenses with Airband that was good on the AR1945 and SSB. Its a pity that SSB is omitted but along with the Tecsun PL310ET with DSP, they don’t have SSB capabilities as well. I suspect the same DSP chip is being used in this radio.

Can I recommend the radio? A resounding yes! As mentioned I’m very impressed. Try before you buy, though, as it may be that QC is variable along with many Chinese radios of late.

Digitech-AR1946-Front-HandleMany thanks for your review, Phil!

When Phil notes a lack of noise in his receiver–he’s referring to a previous review we posted from Avo, who complained of internally-generated noise in his AR1946.

It seems, like with many other DSP portables (including the Sangean ATS-405) internally-generated noise may vary from unit to unit. I’m guessing this could have to do with slight variations in the board assembly (variations in soldering, grounding, shielding connections).

As Phil advises, please check your radio immediately after purchase and compare it to another shortwave portable if you have one available. This way, if you detect a noisy receiver, you can get a refund or exchange within the time limits of the return policy.

WRTH 2016: A look inside

WRTH-2016

I received my copy of the 2016 World Radio and TV Handbook (WRTH) directly from the publisher on Christmas Eve 2105. As many SWLing Post readers know, I always look forward to receiving this staple radio reference guide each year. This is a special year for the publication, too: it’s their 70th edition!

I should note that it was a special edition of the WRTH for me as well: upon request, I contributed two receiver reviews and a feature article. It was an honor working with the WRTH publication staff and being included in the 70th edition.

WRTH’s team of noted DXers from around the world curate frequencies and broadcaster information by region; while I’m not sure how they orchestrate all of this, the end result is truly a symphony of radio information. In addition to broadcaster listings, WRTH’s radio reviews, feature articles, and annual HF report make for excellent reading.

But the WRTH isn’t just a frequency guide: the publication always devotes the first sixty or so pages to articles relating to various aspects of the radio hobby. Following, I offer a quick overview of these.

The first article always features a WRTH contributor (indeed, it’s this very network of contributors that make WRTH and its listings such a success):  this year, Dave Kenny tells us how he got interested in the hobby and what being a contributor means to him. It’s fascinating to read about how his SWLing hobby turned into a career as he worked for BBC Monitoring for many years.

The second set of articles is always my favorite: WRTH receiver reviews.

AOR-AR-DV1

This year, WRTH reviewed the C.Crane CC Skywave (an update to one of my reviews on the Post).  They also review the new AOR AR-DV-1 (above), the Etón Satellit Grundig Edition (which impressed them favorably), the Tecsun PL-680 (again, an update of one of my Post reviews), and the Nti ML200 Megaloop.

The following article is “A Brief History of World Radio TV Handbook” which traces the publication’s history back to the Nazi occupation of Denmark in World War II. It’s a fascinating read and puts the publication into context as technology, international broadcasting and the WRTH team have evolved over the course of 70 years.

In the next article, UK MW & LW Broadcasting: the first 95 years, WRTH contributor Dave Porter (G4OYX), outlines the history and current use of MW & LW broadcasting. A fascinating history written by a former BBC senior transmitter engineer!

Next is the added feature 70 Years of Reception which looks at receiver technology and innovations that have had an impact over the course of WRTH’s long history. They highlight a few select receivers over the decades like the RCA AR-88, Eddystone 840-A, Eddstone EC-10, Barlow Wadley XCR-30, Kenwood R-1000, Drake R8 and the WinRadio Excalibur Ultra.

Timore-Leste-Map

Following this, WRTH contributor, David Foster, features an article on Radio in Timore-Leste.  Foster has been involved in Timore-Leste for many years–his article gives excellent insight into this part of Southeast Asia. Indeed, I always look forward to David Foster’s articles in WRTH!

This year, WRTH also features an updated and revised article I wrote for them on The Future of Shortwave. Again, I’m honored to have contributed to the 70th edition of WRTH.

WRTH International Editor, Sean Gilbert, also wrote an excellent Guide to SDRs–a brilliant little summary of what SDRs are, how they work, and some common terminology used in reviews.

The final article–a tradition–is the WRTH  HF propagation report/forecast by Ulf-Peter Hoppe. Always an informative read (even if the prediction isn’t positive for DXers).

As expected, the 70th is another great edition of the World Radio TV Handbook.

As I’ve said many times, though I use online frequency databases fairly regularly, there is just no replacement for a good printed frequency guide–especially for all of my off-grid DXing.

For DXers who collect QSL cards, you’ll find that broadcaster contact information in WRTH is often more up-to-date than a broadcaster’s own website. When readers ask me for station contact information, it is the current WRTH I reference.

Not only does WRTH contain more in-depth information on broadcasters and schedules, but it makes for quick reference, and doesn’t require a computer or Internet connection–much like, well, your shortwave radio.

Purchase your copy of WRTH 2015 directly from WRTH’s publishers, or from a distributor like Universal Radio (US) and Amazon.com (US), or Radio HF (Canada).

SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley (Canada), also noted that  BookDepository.com, a U.K.-based seller, is offering WRTH at a discount and with free worldwide shipping. Thanks for the tip, Richard!