Category Archives: Reviews

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! 

Francis loves the Sony ICF-SW11

Sony_ICF-SW11_4

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Francis, who left the following reply on our Battery Endurance Contest Results post:

Dear Thomas,

I have been using a Sony ICF-11 for 5-6 years now, still sold new at 50-70 euro. It’s analog and rather well featured: FM (stereo on earbuds), LW, AM, and 9 SW bands. It runs on 2 cheap AA batteries I get in low-cost supermarket, for sure not the best ones.

Sony_ICF-SW11_3

Using it at least one hour a day on the speaker, I have to change the batteries after 9-12 months. I am convinced a set of good Duracell or Energizer batteries would last some more months.

Sony_ICF-SW11
I am not a radio expert, but I am quite pleased with its audio performances, specially on LW (used most of the time ) and AM, where it is vastly superior to my Tecsun PL-660. SW looks OK for what I can say from listening quite occasionally these bands. I would be curious to see a serious review of this Sony to know how it compares with others, but I didn’t find any on the web so far (hint?). [Yes, Francis, hint taken!]

Sony_ICF-SW11_2
I am so pleased with this small radio that I recently bought a second one as a spare.
Thanks for your very interesting blog and reviews.
Francis

Thank you, Francis, for sharing your thoughts on the Sony ICF-SW11 and your photos as well!

It appears Amazon.com (US) has a few options for ordering a Sony ICF-SW11–click here to show search results. Prices vary between $50-$55; Amazon even has replacement telescopic whips available.

Of course, an eBay search will also uncover a number of SW11’s.

I searched the web, but couldn’t find many other retailers selling new ICF-SW11’s. It appears many of the ones on Amazon are imports from Japan.

At $50 shipped, it seems like a bargain to me, so I just pulled the trigger on one.

Battery Endurance Contest Results: Sangean DT-160CL vs Sony SRF-39FP

Sangean_DT-160CL_17

On August 4, 2016, the same day I received my new Sangean DT-160CL, I popped a fresh set of CVS Max Alkaline batteries into the DT-160CL as well as into my trusted Sony SRF-39FP. The mission? To see which radio could perform longest on a set of batteries.

I set my stopwatch as I turned on both radios, tuned to the same frequency, set the volume to the same levels…and waited.

And waited.  And waited.  And as I waited, I posted updates.

But at last, the waiting is at an end:  here are the contest’s final results.

Sangean DT-160CL: Impressive Performance

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On August 9, I reported that the Sangean DT-160CL finally threw in the towel, logging an impressive 116 hours 30 minutes of operating time–!

Without a doubt, this is one of the longest run times I’ve ever experienced from an AM/FM radio with digital display.

Interestingly, the day after the DT-160CL shut down, I turned it back on, and it operated for an additional 45 minutes or so, obviously absorbing a little more voltage from rested cells. During that 45 minutes period of time, the audio and overall performance was respectable. No doubt the DT-160 shuts down before audio is terribly compromised.

Sony SRF-39FP: The Endurance King!

Sony-SRF-39FP

Amazingly, the Sony SRF-39FP kept running well beyond 116 hours. Well beyond…

By Wednesday morning–one full week from the time I began the endurance contest–the Sony SRF-39FP finally began showing signs of low-voltage: the audio had a small amount of splatter and sensitivity began to be compromised.

Unlike the Sangean DT-160CL, which clearly has a cut-off voltage, the SRF-39FP kept milking the battery for its last vestiges of power.

I decided that I would call a “time of death” for this AA battery when the Sony struggled to receive local AM stations, as well as transmission from my in-house SStran AM transmitter.

This happened approximately 163 hours and 54 minutes into its marathon run.

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This stopwatch app tracked the full endurance test. I pressed “stop” when the Sony SRF-39FP finally gave up.

Wow, wow, wow.  I simply had no idea any portable could operate almost one full week on one AA cell–! 

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In truth, I’m sort of relieved the ’39FP finally gave up the ghost. I was beginning to think the thing was powered by some supernatural force…

When I started this test, I thought the Sony SRF-39FP was rated for about 40-80 hours of run time on a single battery.  I couldn’t remember where I got that number until I recently re-read this article from The New Yorker, which highlighted the 39FP’s role in correctional facilities:

“The SRF-39FP is the gold standard among prison radios in part because it runs on a single AA battery, and offers forty hours of listening time…”

Wait, just forty hours? Perhaps from the cheapest AA battery made…

With an advanced chemistry cell like the Duracell Quantum or Energizer Advanced Lithium series, you’ll clearly get three to four times that performance.

DX mode

And here’s the thing: I’m convinced I could’ve gotten much more time out of the SRF-39FP.

Like similar Sony portables, the SRF-39FP has a “DX/Local” switch. When set to DX, the receiver is made to deliver maximum performance.

If you’re listening to a local station, however, “Local” mode is a better choice. You’ll still be able to receive your target station, yet draw much less from the battery.

I left the Sony SRF-39FP in “DX” mode for the entire battery endurance test. Had it been in “Local” mode, I believe I’d be reporting an even longer run time. How much longer, I don’t know, but you can bet that my curiosity will soon get the best of me…I plan to do a separate endurance test to find out.

Clear choices for battery longevity

Sangean-DT160CL and Sony SRF-39FPNo doubt, our little test has proven that radios marketed to the prison system do offer excellent battery performance.

Now I’m very curious whether the standard Sangean DT-160 will offer the same battery performance as its clear-cased counterpart, the DT-160CL. The only difference in the two appears to be that one offers a clock, while the other doesn’t. I wonder if that would have any significant difference on battery life.

Additionally, the Sony SRF-39FP has shown us that analog receivers can be much more efficient than their digital counterparts. We’ve known this a long time at Ears To Our World, and which is why almost all of the radios we supply to schools in remote, rural locations are analog.

Sadly, analog radios are getting much more difficult to find these days as DSP-based receivers have become more affordable to produce.

The Sangean DT-160 is available at Amazon.com and Universal Radio. The Sangean DT-160CL (the version tested) is available through Amazon.

Click here to search eBay for the Sony SRF-39FP.

Readers: Know of any other battery-miser radios? Please comment!

Bruce believes the CC Skywave is an ideal travel radio

The C.Crane CC Skywave

The C.Crane CC Skywave

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Bruce Atchison, who recently shared his positive comments about the CC Skywave. Bruce writes::

This is a lot of radio for such a small size. The CC Skywave is a great travel companion because of its portability and price.

Moreover, it’s rich with features. The receiver tunes in AM and FM as well as all the shortwave bands, NOAA weather channels, and the aircraft band. The latter comes in handy while you’re waiting for flights so you can find out immediately and directly what is delaying them.

It also has a built-in alarm clock so you needn’t miss the next morning’s activities.

The Skywave runs on 2 AA cells and can be set to charge NiMH rechargeable batteries. Its mini-USB port lets you use the AC adaptor or 12 volt cigarette lighter adapter. You can even use one of those cell phone solar panels to power the set.

This radio’s reception is excellent and its filters allow for eliminating adjacent channel interference. Apart from its rather high noise floor on AM, the receiver pulls in stations at night very well.

The Skywave can also add local stations to its memory pages automatically. This comes in handy in foreign cities when you don’t have time to manually scan the AM and FM dial.

This is truly a globe trotter’s accessory. You can set it to European AM channel spacing and the Japanese FM band. The radio even has a fine tuning setting for oddly-spaced stations.

The three amber LEDs light up the dial nicely and they turn off automatically after about ten seconds to conserve battery life. In fact, the Skywave is amazingly energy efficient.

Whenever I travel, this radio is one thing I’ll be sure to pack. It’s all I need when I travel away from home.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bruce.  Yes, I believe the Skywave is a great little travel radio, too. One of the Skywave features I used extensively while off-grid in Canada this summer, was the weather radio function (Environment Canada and NOAA frequencies are the same). Without Internet, it was an excellent, handy source of weather information.

Update 4: Sangean DT-160CL v Sony SRF-39FP

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If you’ve been following the Sangean DT-160CL versus Sony SRF-39FP battery endurance test, I have some news to report: one of our competitors has finally thrown in the towel…!

Yesterday, while I was on the road for about 1.5 hours, the Sangean DT-160CL at last gave up the contest.

Since I was traveling at the time, I can’t say with absolute certainty what o’clock the DT-160 cried uncle––but roughly, we’re looking at 116 hours, 30 minutes of run time, give or take 30 minutes.

Sangean claims the DT-160 series will operate for 100 hours with two AA batteries. That claim is obviously pretty conservative.

Sangean_DT-160CL_14

Though I used CVS Max Alkaline batteries (a generic version of Duracell’s Quantum batteries)–an improvement on the standard alkaline battery–I set the volume higher than I believe Sangean or Sony would have set it for testing purposes. This should have drained the batteries faster. The radios were also tuned to a variety of stations: weak AM, strong AM, weak FM and strong FM.

In short: I’m very impressed with the DT-160.

A 116 hour play time from two AA cells on a digitally-tuned receiver is, well, pretty incredible.

Now that the endurance test is over for the DT-160CL, I’ll replace the batteries with a fresh set of CVS Max Alkaline cells and start testing the AM/FM receiver performance.

…And how about the Sony SRF-39FP?

Sony-SRF-39FP

My iPhone's stopwatch has been tracking progress since last Wednesday.

My iPhone’s stopwatch has been tracking progress since last Wednesday.

Even more amazingly, the Sony SRF-39FP is still going strong––!

I actually fell asleep last night listening to the SRF-39FP and woke up this morning with music still in my ears. What a champ!

So, how long has the Sony SRF-39FP now been operating on one AA battery?

At time of posting, this little Sony’s clocked one hundred thirty nine hours.

Though I’ve always known that the  SRF-39FP was a true battery miser–one of the reasons it’s been a choice radio in the prison system–I had no idea it could operate this long on one battery.

Of course, I’ll continue tracking the Sony SRF-39FP.

How much longer will the SRF-39FP last? Stay tuned to find out!

Follow this review thread by bookmarking the following tag: Sangean DT-160CL v Sony SRF-39FP.