Category Archives: Reviews

Update 3: Sangean DT-160CL v Sony SRF-39FP

Sangean-DT-160CL-Sony-SRF-39FP

My iPhone's stopwatch has been tracking the endurance test.

My iPhone’s stopwatch has been tracking the endurance test.

It’s been one hundred nine hours since I started the Sangean DT-160CL versus Sony SRF-39FP battery endurance test and both radio are still hanging in there!

Not knowing which radio will check out first, I’ve been taking them with me everywhere and have been careful to keep their settings identical the whole time.

Last night, I even prepared my Zoom H2N digital recorder to monitor both radios simultaneously. Having passed 100 hours of operating on the same set of batteries, I was certain one would call it quits last night.

Not so.

There was one noticeable change this morning: the Sangean DT-160CL’s battery indicator now shows a depleted cell.

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It’s still operating, though–no noticeable difference in volume and reception.

The end must certainly be near! Indeed, it’s hard to believe I started this endurance test last Wednesday!

I’m very interested to see which pocket radio will go first.

Field time

Sangean-DT-160CL and Sony SRF-39FP Mount Mitchell

Yesterday, I spent the better part of the afternoon at Mt. Mitchell State Park. Of course, I brought the DT-160CL and SRF-39FP along.

Mt. Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi river. It’s a great place to play radio.

At one point, I tuned both radios to WAIZ 630 kHz: a 1,000 watt AM station about 95 miles east of the park. It’s one of my benchmark daytime stations from Mt. Mitchell.

Though most DT-160 reviewers have given the receiver low marks for AM performance, I found that the DT-160CL did a better job locking onto WAIZ than the venerable SRF-39FP.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that both radios, at that point, were operating on low voltage? Or perhaps the CL version of the DT-160 series has better AGC characteristics and sensitivity?

I doubt the latter assumption, but once the endurance test is complete, I’ll put the 160CL through the paces.

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

Tom Servo reviews the Sangean DT-160

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Tom Servo, for sharing the following review of the Sangean DT-160. His review was originally posted on the radio discussions forum:


Sangean-DT-160

Got my Sangean DT-160 today. Thanks, Santa Claus!

Initial impressions are positive, both in the build quality and performance.

It’s a lot bigger than I thought it’d be, though.

I was picturing in my mind something closer to the SRF-M37 but it’s bigger than a pack of cigarettes — taller and wider.

Some of the performance issues others have noted, I’ve noticed as well. The FM reception is superb and outperforms the Insignia HD portable that’s my benchmark FM radio. It can hold its own with the Grundig G8 in that regard.

The sound quality is weird, though. It sounds “crunchy” or watery. Like everything is being played via a low bit rate mp3. Granted, most my local stations ARE playing low bit rate mp3s and sound terrible (which is why I don’t listen to local radio much anymore) but the few stations that aren’t still sound “weird”. Crispy. It could be the DSP or just some odd EQ’ing on Sangean’s part. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch but when side-by-side with a different radio the audio differences were stark. The Insignia sounds truly “flat” while the Sangean sounds treble boosted. And crispy. Did I mention that?

[At first] the wide-narrow setting [seemed to make little] difference on FM. The only station that narrow mode improved was while listening to WTGF out of Milton, FL. It’s a mono station and I’m on the fringe, and the narrow cleared up a bit of static. It makes a much more noticeable different on AM, though. Not as much as a well calibrated “wide/narrow” filter might but enough to help some talk radio stand out from the noise.

[I did eventually] figured out where the wide-narrow setting makes the most difference on FM. It’s when you have two signals on adjacent channels, the narrow really does help cut out adjacent channel splatter. Not that there’s much of a problem to begin with, but it is a little extra added oomph.

With the narrow activated, I was able to pull in 93.1 WGDQ and 94.3 WKZW from the Hattiesburg, MS market. Two stations I haven’t heard in probably a year or better, and both are first-adjacent to local 100 kW sticks that are less than 15 miles from me.

Selectivity even in wide mode is fine. Definitely better than the Insignia and on par with the Grundig. We have a crowded dial here on the Gulf coast and sometimes you need a selective radio to pull out all the stations side by side. Here’s an example of what is possible to hear on a decent night:

98.1 – WHWY – Fort Walton Beach
98.3 – WLVM – Mobile
98.5 – WYLD – New Orleans
98.7 – WYCT – Pensacola

Sangean-DT-160I was surprised to hear WYLD coming in this afternoon. In fact, at first I thought it was an image of local 99.9 WMXC, because it was the same song/DJ. But the IDs were different. That’s a good pull and something neither the Grundig nor Insignia could pull off.

The dynamic bass boost is a horrible sounding gimmick, though. It makes everything sound muddy on my “real” headphones. I didn’t try the ones that came with it. I hate it that it lacks RDS, since so many Sangean radios have that and it makes DXing more interesting. The AM has a weird squelch like damping when it’s on an empty channel. If there’s a weak signal there (like my semi-local but hard to hear WABF out of Fairhope) it just sits there, perfectly quiet. It’s not until I used the Tecsun loop with it that reasonably clear audio came out of nowhere. I strongly suspect it’s “muting” weak signals on purpose on AM.

WWL is a moderate but noisy target here; the signal strength is usually good enough for even basic radios to pick it up… Not this Sangean. It took careful alignment before I heard anything. The slightest bit of movement and it went almost completely deaf again. Very odd.

It’s a shame that conditions for FM DX have been so poor on the coast this year, I think this would be a killer DX machine on FM. My friend in Florence has heard Mexico and Wyoming this year. I’ve barely made anything further west than New Orleans, which is pitiful.

Another plus is it drives my large Sennheiser headphones louder than any other “pocket” radio in my collection.


Thanks for sharing your review, Tom! 

I sounds like the DT-160’s AGC or soft mute on the AM broadcast band is causing otherwise intelligible signals to drop out.

At time of posting, I’m still running the battery endurance test of the Sangean DT-160CL vs. Sony SRF-39FP, so I haven’t really given the DT-160CL (the correctional version of the DT-160) a proper receiver performance test. I will soon enough, though!

 

Update 2: Sangean DT-160CL v Sony SRF-39FP

Sangean-DT160CL and Sony SRF-39FP

It’s been eighty seven (!!!) hours since I started the Sangean DT-160CL versus Sony SRF-39FP endurance test and both radio are still going strong.

My iPhone stopwatch has been tracking the test.

My iPhone stopwatch has been tracking the test.

I’ve tuned both radios to my SSTran AMT3000 AM transmitter which is currently re-broadcasting the UK 1940s Radio Station on 1570 kHz.

The Sangean DT-160CL still shows two of three segments on the battery indicator (see above).

The Sony SRF-39FP seems to have no indication of quitting anytime soon–it’s still sensitive and audio sounds great.

I believe the Sony SRF-39FP is rated for 80 hours of playtime, and I’m sure if I had turned it on and off numerous times during the test, it might have had an impact on battery performance. It’s still going strong, though.

I am using advanced alkaline (CVS Brand) batteries in both radios. These should give each radio better battery life than standard alkaline or rechargeables.

Regardless which radio wins this test: both have already proved themselves “Holy Grail” battery misers!

I’ll be monitoring the radios very closely today as we pass the 90 and 100 hour mark!

Sangean-DT160CL-BatteryIndicator

UPDATE: Shortly after making this post–at almost exactly 88 hours and 30 minutes into the test–the Sangean DT160CL’s battery indicator lost a battery indicator segment. It’s now only showing one of three battery segments. Could the end be near for our DT-160CL? Stay tuned!

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

Wi-Fi Radio Primer Part 2: Review of the CC WiFi and Sangean WFR-28

I originally wrote this three-part WiFi radio primer and review series for the April, May and June issues of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.  Each part of this series will be posted with the tag: WiFi Radio Primer. You can read Part 1 by clicking here–I hope you enjoy Part 2 below:


CCWifi-Front-2

As I mentioned last week in the first of this three-part primer on WiFi radios, I never thought a WiFi radio was something I’d ever acquire.  By “WiFi radios,” of course, I mean Internet radio devices that have the sole purpose and dedicated function of streaming radio audio, and so, as a die-hard ham with a penchant for a well-balanced tuning knob, I just couldn’t see the need for what I thought of as an overly-simple, perhaps even redundant, device.

Indeed, until I began the as a search for the perfect radio for my family and XYL (“ex-young lady,” old ham radio speak for wife), I had used only an app on my smartphone (with headphones), and on tablet PCs connected to amplified speakers, in place of a dedicated WiFi radio. And I was fine with that. Or so I thought…

Fast-forward several months. Now that the XYL and kids have been using WiFi radios for a while, I don’t think they’ll go back. And as for myself? Yes, I’ve crossed that no-return boundary, too. Our whole family’s now joined the WiFi radio club, and the truth is, we’re all enjoying the WiFi’s simplicity and unique benefits.

In Part 1 of our WiFi Radio Primer, we discussed what makes WiFi radios tick––their ability to find radio stations via radio station aggregators. We also discussed the comparative merits of the most dominant aggregators on the market, and took a look at one easy alternative to the WiFi radio, namely, streaming from your smartphone or tablet.

Now we’ll investigate some of my picks from the current market.

WiFi radios: an overview

WiFi radios, by and large, look like traditional radios; they typically have backlit digital displays, front panel buttons to recall memories, and an internal speaker. They function like them, too, in that they play radio stations––but there’s where the resemblance stops. Streaming lnternet audio, and their dependence upon an aggregator to do this, sets them entirely apart.

The market for WiFi radios is actually not as broad and diverse as the shortwave radio market. If you’re seeking a quality device that uses a well-known, properly-curated station aggregator (again, see Part 1 for more on this), you’ll be looking at about a dozen (or so) radios currently on the market.

Here’s a short list of the current market’s most popular WiFi radios. Note that this is by no means a comprehensive list––it’s a curated list of WiFi radios that are in wide use, are relatively simple to operate, have built-in speakers, and that use reliable aggregators. I’ve noted the aggregator in parentheses as well as the average US purchase price.

The Pure Evoke F4 (untested)

The Pure Evoke F4 (untested)

Amazon:

CCrane Company:

Grace Digital

Pure

Sangean

And now, let’s meet our real contenders

After much research and head-scratching, I chose four WiFi radios from the above list: the C.Crane CC WiFi, the Sangean WFR-28, the Grace Digital Mondo and the Amazon Echo.

FYI––and in full disclosure––here’s how I obtain my review radios. To keep my review budget within reason, I contact a supplier and request a loaner unit for review that I may return or purchase afterward; otherwise, I purchase the unit(s) outright. In this case, I purchased the Amazon Echo ($179), Grace Digital Mondo ($150), and rechargeable “D” cells for the WFR-28 ($30), while both C.Crane and Sangean kindly opted to send sample review radios, this being a less expensive route for these retailers. When I receive samples, my policy is to give away those I don’t wish to keep; for those I do decide to keep, I donate the full retail price to Ears To Our World, a 501(c)(3) non-profit which sends self-powered shortwave radios to teachers in off-grid developing world communities.

The decision process, this time, was a particularly difficult one. Every model has its advantages and disadvantages; and there are no “perfect” WiFi radios––at least, none that satisfied all of my stringent requirements:

  • Handy size
  • Intuitive display
  • Dedicated memory buttons on front panel
  • Clear, robust audio
  • External connections
  • An internal rechargeable battery option (for portability)
  • Easy setup
  • Remote control
  • Traditional FM and/or AM radio tuner

Several friends urged me consider the Pure EVOKE F4, which reportedly has excellent audio, a simple interface, and superb customer support. Plus, it’s a sleek little device, and…well, frankly, cute. Many have also touted Pure’s own proprietary aggregator, as well. But I just couldn’t justify purchasing and reviewing a WiFi radio with such a hefty price tag ($225), especially knowing that I would also need to purchase the optional battery pack ($50) for a total performance picture.

Reviews

Following are summary reviews of each radio I tested. These are not comprehensive reviews covering every feature; rather, in these summaries, I focus my analysis on their ability to tune stations, on audio quality, on portability, and simply on general usability.

The C.Crane CC WiFi

CCWifi-Front-Angle-2

I’ve had many C.Crane radios in the past. I love C.Crane products because they’re typically well-designed, effective, and because C.Crane offers excellent customer support.

The CC WiFi radio has been on the market longer than any other WiFi radio reviewed here. When I first unboxed the CC WiFi, I was a little surprised by its diminutive size: it is, perhaps, 30% smaller than I expected (based solely on web images and from the catalog). It comes with a small remote control with blister/membrane style buttons. The front panel on the CC WiFi is very simple: one large knob, six buttons, and a monochrome backlit two-line alpha-numeric display.

The front panel of the CC Wifi is simple and intuitive. The main knob acts as both a selection dial and volume control.

The front panel of the CC Wifi is simple and intuitive. The main knob acts as both a selection dial and volume control.

Setup is fairly easy; the accompanying owner’s manual walks you through the process (another C.Crane strength is their production of good-quality manuals). Once I had set up the radio and registered it with the Reciva aggregator, I was tuning in the world.

The CC WiFi’s plastic chassis feels rather thin––at least, thinner than I would have expected. But the radio is surprisingly lightweight, perhaps as a result of this. Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised by the audio from the internal speaker. It provides a full sound and is more than adequate for medium-sized rooms. Bass tones are present, though not especially deep. It’s wonderfully balanced for the spoken word.

All of the external ports are on the rear panel of the CC Wifi and include an ethernet connection, headphone jack, line out jack and power port (7.5 VDC).

All of the external ports are on the rear panel of the CC Wifi and include an ethernet connection, headphone jack, line-out jack and power port (7.5 VDC).

The CC WiFi only has three buttons on the front panel of the radio that act as dedicated memory presets. I wish this number were, at the very least, doubled. With the provided remote control, of course, memory presets are expanded to 99 allocations. Fortunately, you can pretty much operate the CC WiFi’s functions without the remote control (a bonus for those of us who tend to misplace tiny remote controls).

There are a few updates that I think would make the CC WiFi shine:

To help with portability, it would make sense to add a carry handle and capacity for internal rechargeable batteries. The CC WiFi requires a DC power supply to operate; this is a shame because I suspect other listeners, like me, often enjoy radio away from home where there are no main power outlets. The unit is small enough, and lightweight enough, that it would lend itself very well to portability.

CCWifi-Display

Though I’m sure the two-line backlit display was among the best in its class when the CC WiFi was introduced, I now find myself wishing this display could be a bit wider, taller, and (ideally) in color. The display is small enough that if you’re browsing stations with the accompanying remote control, you need to be within a few feet of the radio. If it’s across the room, however, it’s very difficult to navigate.

Additionally, the display width is not sufficient for longer Reciva station names/labels. As an example, I have a folder with local CBC stations from across Canada. Stations are labeled with the town or city name following, for example, “CBC Radio One – Toronto” or “CBC Radio One – Charlottetown.” When I’m browsing the folder of CBC stations, the display merely shows me a long list of “CBC Radio One” stations––which is to say, the truncated display cuts off the city’s name. Of course, I can press the right arrow on the remote to have the station name slowly scroll into view, but this is a cumbersome process when browsing the list. There are, of course, work-arounds for this––I could, for example, create folders for each city, or assign the station to a dedicated memory position––but the then I would have to drill down another level to find my station. “Work” around is the operative term, in either case, .

Pros:

  • Small size
  • Ethernet connection
  • Line-out audio
  • Headphone jack (on back)
  • Included IR remote control
  • Affordable
  • Audio quite good for size of unit (bass, see con)
  • Extras include:
    • Pandora connect
    • Live365 (now defunct)

Cons:

  • No battery-power option
  • Thin, “plasticky” feel to chassis, seems less durable
  • Occasional slow connection time to WiFi
  • Internal speaker generates (comparatively) weak bass
  • No EQ for audio
  • Only three memory buttons on front panel
  • No smartphone/tablet app

Overall, I think the CC WiFi is a good value and is currently one of the least expensive WiFi radios using the excellent Reciva aggregator. The CC WiFi has a surprising number of features for its price class. None of the criticisms above are necessarily deal-breakers, but some strategic upgrades to this radio would keep it competitive for many years to come.

The CC Wifi can be purchased from the following retailers:

The Sangean WFR-28

Sangean-WFR-28-Front

When I first unboxed the Sangean WFR-28, I immediately noticed its design, which bore a striking similarity to other Sangean AM/FM portables like the Sangean PR-D7. The WFR-28 has a glossy hard plastic body that feels robust and durable. The buttons are spaced well across the front panel and have a tactile responsiveness and weight that speaks of quality. There is a dedicated volume rocker button, five memory preset buttons, as well as a dedicated tuning knob and five function buttons.

Sangean-WFR-28-Front-Panel

The WFR-28 also has an easy-to-read square color screen that provides about five lines of text and can display any broadcaster artwork/logos provided. You can access all of the WFR-28’s functions by using the front panel buttons and tuning controls. As with most WiFi radios, doing so is not as enjoyable an experience as with most traditional radios, since you’re using a tuning control to move up or down through selections on a small display.

The Sangean remote control app allows full control of the WFR-28's functions.

The Sangean remote control app allows full control of the WFR-28’s functions.

The Sangean WFR-28 does not ship with a remote; however, if you have an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, you can download a free “remote control” app to control your radio.

I find that this is actually more convenient than with a traditional IR remote, because you can control the radio functions from anywhere within your WiFi network. Not to mention, it’s great to be able to turn the volume up from another room in the house!

What I really appreciate is the ability to browse the full Frontier Silicon database from the app-––so much easier than browsing through the radio’s front panel. I do wish there was a way, however, to add stations to memory allocations via the smartphone app (take note of this for a future app update, Sangean!)

The Sangean remote app even allows you to control the various player modes: Internet Radio, USB, AUX in, and the traditional FM tuner.

If you have a USB memory stick with audio content, you can play it through the WFR-28 via this handy, dedicated USB port on the top of the unit.

If you have a USB memory stick with audio content, you can play it through the WFR-28 via this handy, dedicated USB port on the top of the unit.

Speaking of which, yes, the WFR-28 has a very good FM tuner. I can easily receive one of my benchmark distant-FM stations, and even successfully decode the RDS data––both the remote app, and the radio display FM station information. Nice touch, Sangean!

Sangean-WFR-28-Battery-Compartment

The WFR-28 doesn’t ship with a battery pack: rather, it takes traditional D cells in either Alkaline or NiMH form. I purchased a four-pack of high-quality, high-capacity NiMH D cells––they’ll set you back $25-30, but are well worth the investment. The WFR-28 will internally recharge the cells when plugged into an outlet. Once fully charged, you’ll have hours upon hours of playtime. I haven’t measured the total playtime after a full charge, but I imagine it to be in excess of 24 hours.

Sangean-WFR-28-Back

What is the WFR-28 missing? One obvious thing is a carry handle or strap, always useful. Other than that, it really packs a lot for a $122 radio.

Pros:

  • Good audio fidelity from internal speaker
    • Preset EQ settings
    • Customizable EQ
    • Crisp with noticeable bass tones
  • Affordable
  • One-touch preset buttons (see con)
  • iOS/Android app/remote control
  • Accepts and charges standard NiMH D cells
  • Very good FM receiver/displays RDS information
  • Superb playtime from 4 D cells/batteries
  • USB MP3 playback (MP3 and WMA compatible)
  • Stream Spotify music channels and selections

Cons:

  • Only five preset buttons
  • No carry handle
  • If unplugged to go portable, radio shuts down and restarts on battery power, rather than remaining on
  • No battery indicator on display
  • On a few occasions the audio has failed after being woken up from standby (turning the radio off, then on again, is the fix for this)
All of the external ports are on the left side (facing) of the radio. The WFR-28 has an auxiliary in, line out, headphone jack and power port (7.5 VDC).

All of the external ports are on the left side (facing) of the radio. The WFR-28 has an auxiliary in, line out, headphone jack and power port (7.5 VDC).

Overall, I believe the Sangean WFR-28 is an excellent WiFi radio; when combined with rechargeable D cells, you have a portable multi-function audio entertainment system that’s simple to use. I should note that I’ve also been pleased with the Frontier Silicon station aggregator, as well; although more simple than other aggregators, FS just happens to provide all of my favorite stations and networks (do check for your faves before you buy).

Sangean-WFR-28-Front-Angle

The Sangean WFR-28 can be purchased from the following retailers:

Stay tuned! In Part 3 of our WiFi Radio Primer, we’ll take a look at two more WiFi radios: the Grace Digital Mondo and the Amazon Echo.

Patrick comments on his newly-restored Sony CRF-320

Sony-CRF-320

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Patrick Mason, who writes from Juneau, Alaska:

I am the owner of the radio that Paul Carlson restored in the video. The serial number is 31358.

I wanted to comment about a statement regarding the receiver’s sensitivity.

After Paul concluded his final tune-up of the radio I can confirm on the shortwave bands, particularly 80 and 40 meters, the sensitivity on AM was better than 0.2 uV/m. That’s outrageous! The VFO is rock solid with no detectable drift whatsoever.

Also, Paul replaced all nylon gears with custom metal gears… they will never fail again.

Anyone considering acquiring this radio, buyer beware! There are many on the WEB who will claim it to be in some ‘totally restored’ condition…when mine arrived from the seller it ‘seemed’ to be ok…..until the counter went fruit loops shortly after unpacking. When Paul got inside the radio it had been ‘tweaked and peeked’….all wrong.

I have a CONSIDERABLE sum invested in this SONY. If I could have known it’s ACTUAL condition BEFORE my purchase, I may have passed….however, I now own what I consider to be the quintessential example of SONY’s best engineering. All I can say, it’s an absolute joy to use

Patrick, you no doubt have a benchmark Sony in that CRF-320.

It’s funny: I was just attending a local hamfest here in North Carolina and a vintage radio vendor pointed out Carlson’s repair video for your CRF-320! He said (and I agree), that your CFR-320 was restored to a level that’s almost in a league of its own. I know you invested a lot in this radio, but you certainly have a fine example now–that is fully-functional–and will most likely outlast us all! Enjoy!