Jay Allen reviews the Tecsun PL-365

Tecsun-PL-365Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ron, who notes that Jay Allen has posted a review of the Tecsun PL-365.

Click here to read the full review.

I believe the PL-365 is essentially the same radio as the CountComm GP5-SSB we reviewed in 2014. For some reason, the PL-365 has not been as widely distributed as previous Tecsun models. On eBay, prices have ranged from $80 – $200+ (!) during 2015. If you purchase from eBay, understand that the PL-365 should cost well under $100. Of course, the CountyComm GP5/SSB is available for $75 via CountyComm. Anon-Co also retailed the PL-365 for a while, but I haven’t seen one lately on their website.

A review of the AOR AR-3000A Wideband Receiver

ar3000Alrg

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi (N2HUN) for the following review:


The AOR AR-3000A Wideband Receiver

by Mario Filippi, N2HUN

(All photos below by author)

The AOR AR-3000A is a wideband communications receiver, made in Japan, covering 100KHz – 2.036 GHz with all popular modes including AM, NFM, WFM, CW, USB and LSB. The AR-3000A was produced in the early ‘90’s at the price of $1063 and came with a telescoping back-of-set antenna, wall-wart power supply, and well written 57 page manual.

AOR is a long time reputable manufacturer of radios and electronic equipment that continues on today producing high quality equipment. While the AR-3000A can be considered a tabletop unit, it is quite small, measuring only 8” x 5” x 3.5”. The AR-3000A has a total of 400 memory channels, with four “Banks” (Banks A- D) each holding up to 100 channels. Each stored channel holds all the necessary parameters such as frequency, mode, attenuator, and step size. An optional mounting bracket for mobile operation was available along with an optional DC cord for those wanting to use it as a scanner for public safety monitoring. It does not run on internal batteries though.

What I like about this radio is it’s wide coverage and it functions as my main longwave/shortwave receiver in addition to a scanner for monitoring local VHF/UHF public safety bands.

AOR 3000

As desktops go, this one has an unusual shape. While the unit is horizontally shaped for the most part, the front panel is angled slightly upward to make the controls easier to read. However, it took a while to get used to the small print on the panel and LCD so if you wear glasses, definitely don them because you’ll need ‘em. As a matter of fact I’m contemplating purchasing a pair of those magnifying eyeglasses to see (pun intended) if they’ll help (hi hi!).

AOR-3000-side view

These units come up for auction on Ebay and on ham classifieds at a much reduced price, most in remarkably good shape for a quarter-century old receiver.

A recent survey of Ebay auctions show they run from about $183 – $350; over several hundred dollars less than the original price. I chose to purchase one from a ham classified website at a higher price but it was well worth it. When it comes to high price tag items I tend to scout out the ham ads first. The seller was a friendly, honest ham who was a great communicator so the deal went smoothly. He included the computer control cable and even replaced the backup memory CR2032 battery, something every buyer should consider when purchasing vintage units.

For advertisements of vintage AOR products check back issues of Monitoring Times at: www.americanradiohistory.com . This site is an excellent resource for old time radio, TV, broadcasting and miscellaneous electronics publications and contains a mind boggling array of books and periodicals from the past.

The front panel is laid out quite well, with soft touch pads in the center allowing easy parameter entry, a tuning knob on lower right, and my favorite, a manual squelch knob. Most of the touch pads have a secondary function which appears in white lettering while primary functions are in yellow.   If you’d rather not spin the VFO dial, which is quite small (0.75” diameter) there are up/down arrow keys to accomplish that function. The knob spins smoothly with no obvious détente.

Front panel (sorry about the camera shutter ghost!)

Front panel (sorry about the camera shutter ghost!)

The rear of the unit has several connections: BNC antenna, 12V input, DIN socket for a recorder, external speaker, RS232C for computer remote control, and On/Off switch for computer/manual control. Back in the day you could purchase ScanCat Gold software for about $95.00 that would allow computer control of the unit. I am in the process of finding any existing software that will allow that and it’s not easy to come by, but that is not a priority.

Oh and where is the speaker you might ask? On the underside of the unit.

Plenty of rear connections.

Plenty of rear connections.

This unit was purchased to save space at my desk as it’s quite small and serves as my main source of longwave, medium wave, shortwave, and VHF/UHF reception. For HF it’s hooked to an S9 43 foot vertical antenna with many (50+) radials. S9 Antennas unfortunately is no longer in business, but when the company had just started up I purchased the 43 footer for ham use. It’s lightweight, made completely of fiberglass, and has been up several years with no problems.

S9 antennas was eventually sold and the antennas were available from LDG Electronics last time I looked. If you check out their pictures at http://www.ldgelectronics.com/c/252/products/12/62/3 you’ll see my house on the left sporting the S9v43 footer. By the way, when I bought the AR-3000A, the seller stated that ”it’s a great radio as long as you don’t connect too big of an antenna to it”(hi hi!). Yes, I found it tends to suffer from overload with my large antenna, but the 3000A has a useful built-in attenuator

As a wideband receiver the AR-3000A fits my needs perfectly. For LW it receives aeronautical beacons as far away as Quebec and New Brunswick, Canada. NAVTEX transmissions on 518 KHz are easily decoded using a SignaLinkUSB and YAND software.

As for HF, I’m mainly a utility listener and have a bank of memory channels for WWV (2.5, 5, 10, 15,20 MHz), WLO (8.471MHz), CB channels, Volmet stations, USCG facsimile frequencies, W1AW on 3.581 for code practice, a slew of RTTY station frequencies, the 10m FM band repeater frequencies, Radio Habana Cuba, 4XZ (great for code practice), WLO maritime weather broadcasts, and several channels for different ham band frequencies of interest.

Radio Shack discone offset –mounted on TV antenna mast.

Radio Shack discone offset –mounted on TV antenna mast.

For scanning, obviously the 3000A can’t compete with modern scanners. It was a different era back then. So, no trunking, no CTCSS tones, and the scanning speed slow compared to today’s standards, but it does have the usual features like channel lockout, scan delay, priority channel, step adjustment, search mode and does cover the military aeronautical band.

As a basic scanner for monitoring local state/local first responders, aeronautical (ATIS, ACARS) channels, NOAA satellites, NOAA weather channels, my local repeater, GMRS, FRS, taxis, railroads, etc., it is a very satisfactory performer. I can even hear the NY City Transit police from my location in W. New Jersey which is a pretty good distance, ATIS from LaGuardia and Philadelphia airports, and taxis in the Philly area, all while using a Radio Shack discone on the chimney.

For a more in-depth review of the AR-3000A by Bob Parnass, check the November 2000 issue of Monitoring Times magazine. Universal Radio has a great archive of discontinued radios so check them also at www.universal-radio.com. User reviews can be found on www.eham.net, that’s one of my favorite feedback sites. There’s also an AR-3000A Yahoo users group that’s a great resource. If you want to see videos of the rig in action then search on YouTube as there’s a good number available. In conclusion, I’m very satisfied with the AR-3000A, it’s exactly what I was looking for and is an integral part of radio receiver history.

If any other AR-3000A owners are out there, let’s hear from you. Thanks and 73’s!


Many thanks for this excellent review, Mario. I always thought the AOR AR-3000A was a cool little receiver. When it was being produced, the price was way beyond my means as a college student. At the time, though, it had to be the most compact, best performing, wideband receiver on the market! 

If any Post readers can help Mario find a solution for computer control of the AR-3000A, please comment!

Thanks again, Mario–we look forward to your next contribution!

Avo’s review of the Digitech AR1946 shortwave portable

digitech-AR1946-front

The Digitech AR1946

Digitech has released their latest shortwave portable: the Digitech AR1946.

If you live in Australia or New Zealand, you’re probably familiar with the Digitech brand which is sold at JayCar Electronics. If you live in other parts of the world, you may never run across a Digitech (branded) portable.

Digitech-AR1946-box

SWLing Post reader, Avo, purchased the new AR1946. He commented with the following brief review (I inserted a few product photos from JayCar):

[The] AR1946 is now out. Had one for a day but ended returning it as shortwave was full of garbage. Fully DSP based according to the box.

Digitech-AR1946-Front-Handle

I do have to say that FM performance is superb. Sensitivity and selectivity is better than any previous radio I have used and RDS is very usable even on weak signals. 10 kHz steps with a very smooth non muting dial make it a pure DX machine in my books for FM.

Digitech-AR1946-R-sdie

Digital [DAB+] is ok but kept cutting out even with good signal strengths. AM modes have 7 bandwidths that work very well. MW is a bit dull but no images.

Digitech-AR1946-Left-s

If only SW was good I would recommend it as a good all rounder but at $219 for just a great FM tuner I think it’s expensive.

Digitech-AR1946-Back-S

Saying all this, the unit feels good quality wise and in my opinion is a better attempt than the [Digitech] AR1945.

Digitech-AR1946-Front-1

I think a revision can sort out SW and if so, I am definitely repurchasing….

Many thanks for your assessment, Avo!

It sounds like your unit suffers from the same problems many recent DSP portables have experienced: a high noise floor. This was the issue affecting the recently released Degen DE1103 DSP.  I’m not sure why this is happening more in some of the most recently released receivers, but I assume it has to do with poor engineering and internal shielding.

I bet that the noise level may vary unit to unit. Avo, you might ask for another to test before getting the full refund (if Jaycar’s return policy allows).

Have any other readers put the Digitech AR1946 on the air? Please comment!  Click here to view the AR1946 at JayCar Electronics.

Phil’s initial impressions of the Degen DE27

Degen-DE27

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Phil Ireland, who comments:

I’ve just received my Degen DE27 from China. Interesting little radio, I haven’t had a good chance to put it through its paces yet but my initial impressions are the radio seems well built and fairly intuitive to turn it on.

However, all the instructions are in Chinese so luckily there was someone in my office who could set the language to english otherwise, setting up the radio is a nightmare! I will have to take the radio outside to test its performance as the office environment is useless to listen in.

The box says the radio tunes from 3.2 mhz to 21.850 mhz however, I havent been able to work out how to make it tune out of the standard SW Broadcast Bands yet. Toggling between 10 khz and 9 khz steps for AM is easy as it setting the FM band coverage but I’m yet to determine the SW settings. It appears tuning is only in 5 khz as well on SW.

As for venturing into MP3 settings and recording, I’ll leave that, it seems too much of a challenge! The clock and calendar, sleep timer, alarms are all fairly straight forward but there is an “E-Book” setting which defies description! It has a USB flash disc function and inputs for a micro SD card. Charging the supplied Lithium battery is via a supplied USB cable.

The display is easy to read and attractive with excellent backlighting. I’m not expecting stellar performance on any band, after all, it was a cheap radio (about 40 AUD with free postage) but it is built around DSP architecture. Only a single bandwidth is available and there is no SSB capabilities. The radio hopefully will be ideal to throw onto a backpack or pocket as a travel portable.

If DEGEN read these comments, perhaps an English manual put online would be extremely helpful to allow users to get the most out of the DE27.

I’ll comment more on the performance later but for now, the radio shows promise.

Thanks so much for sharing your initial impressions, Phil! Please keep us informed as you discover more about this little radio!

This reminds me that I have yet to put my Degen DE221 through the paces. Stay tuned!

Which one: The Tecsun PL-660 or the PL-600?

The Tecsun PL-600.

The Tecsun PL-600.

This morning, I received a question I’m often asked. It usually goes something like this:

“Should I purchase the Tecsun PL-600, or invest a little more and purchase the Tecsun PL-660? Is it worth the price difference?”

I decided it best to post this question, along with my response, below.

SWLing Post reader, Warren, writes:

“I have been on your web site for a couple of hours now. I especially appreciated your super review. From that I decided I liked the Tecsun PL-660 best. As I was looking for one on ebay, I saw an ad for a Tecsun PL-600. Although I did find specs on your web site, I did not find a review by you. I did find links to other reviews.

One person said a PL-600 was a PL-660 minus the AIR band.

Another said the SSB didn’t work until he took it apart and replaced a capacitor.

Another said the filters didn’t work as well on the 600, or didn’t exist.

Many said the quality was excellent – buy it! Many said it was terrible.

Can you tell me, in your opinion, which, if any, of the above you agree with? And give me your own rating of the 600?

The 600 is much less expensive than the 660. If it is missing filters and sound quality I’m not interested. If it is only missing the airline band I am very interested.”

Here’s my reply to Warren:

“It is confusing and, you’re right, for some reason I don’t think I’ve ever done my own review of the PL-600–though it’s been included in comparisons.

Here’s my answer to your question:

If you want the best overall performance, go for the Tecsun PL-660. I think it’s well worth the price.

The Tecsun PL-660.

The Tecsun PL-660.

The PL-660 has a great synchronous detector–something the PL-600 lacks–which helps with selective fading and pulling weak signals out of the murk. Since you can select the sideband for the sync lock, you can also use this function to help mitigate adjacent signal interference.

Don’t get me wrong: the Tecsun PL-600 is a great radio in its own right. Of the sub-$100 portables [currently $96 shipped via Amazon, $89.95 plus shipping via Universal Radio], it’s one of my favorites.

The ‘600 is one of the few portables on the market in this price range that has a BFO for single sideband listening (along with the CountyComm GP5/SSB and the Degen DE1103 DSP). When newcomers to the hobby want a full-featured sub-$100 radio that’s simple to operate, I often suggest the PL-600. I’ve never had any issues with my PL-600, by the way–it performed as specified right out of the box and continues to do so today.

But again, if one’s budget allows I always recommend the Tecsun PL-660. In my opinion, the ‘660 offers the best performance and features for the price [currently $109.95 plus shipping at Universal Radio, $119.99 shipped via Amazon].

At home, I believe I actually reach for the PL-660 more often than I do my pricier PL-880.

In a nutshell? Your hunch is right. Get the Tecsun PL-660.”

Readers: Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to comment!

A review of the new Avion receiver and a few thoughts about DRM

81-58a+inIL._SL1500_

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Mike Barraclough, for sharing a link to this review of the new Avion DRM receiver by DRM Radio Forum user PhilipOneL. I’ve pasted his evaluation of the Avion below–you can read this, along with the full discussion thread, on the DRM Radio Forum:

I received my Avion AV-DR-1401 this afternoon and have had it up and running for a couple of hours. There is no instruction booklet with it so I am puzzling over the 41-button remote. It is not as user-friendly as I hoped.

First impression: somewhat cheap feel to it. I have put a small bend already in the thin but long aerial. But that is just the outside (handle, volume control, master power switch, and aerial); I hope it works well anyway. But that cheapness hurts when the price of the radio was fairly high to begin with and I paid more than I wanted for a private company to ship it (Fedex).

The radio arrived with its battery fully charged: nice. (But I need to get an adaptor for the AC adaptor’s mains plug which has tubular prongs rather than the North American blade prongs.) I like a lot the fact that it runs normally with its internal battery rather than plugged into mains. This means I can carry it away from noise sources. And it is very carryable — it reminds me of a small 1965-era beach radio in size.

Turned on, it scanned the local FM spectrum well and registered all the local stations. But I cannot get the Scan function to operate on MW and SW, nor in DRM mode. With an outside antenna (8 metre wire) attached, it was able to get the AIR DRM broadcast on 7550 kHz and decode it. It didn’t seem to be able to get enough signal with just the extending aerial.

I have not figured out yet how to make it register a medium-wave, shortwave, or DRM station in its memory; it does not happen when the button labelled “Delete / Store” is pushed. Among the 41 buttons, there is no other likely candidate for that function.

Shortwave sensitivity in AM mode seems to be poor. I was listening, for instance, to ERT Greece on 9420 on the three receivers now on my desk: Satellit 750, MorphyRichards 27024, and the Avion DR-1401, each in turn connected to the same outdoor antenna. The MR27024 produces the best sound and greatest s/n ratio. It seems far more sensitive than the Avion. But who knows? I may discover I am doing something wrong with the set.

Tuning can be done by inputting a frequency on the remote. Alternatively, the volume wheel can be pushed (this takes two hands) to convert it to a tuning knob. Two problems are apparent. One is that the signal is muted as you tune until you wait on a frequency for four or five seconds. Thus it is a slow and aggravating experience to try to tune across a band looking for signals. Secondly, as soon as a station is tuned and producing audio, the knob goes back to being a volume control. Grrrr. (I think there is a professor at all the design schools who seems to be telling all her/his students to be visually minimalist in design and to give every knob multiple functions. That professor should be publicly shamed until she/he recants and causes all the students to go back to multiple knobs each of which does one thing well.) When the radio gets itself ready to produce audio it seems to ramp itself up to full audio in a series of four steps, each a half-second or so after the last — it is an odd-sounding process. It is like a faulty AGC circuit; perhaps it is.

Sound quality is mediocre at best on AM (both mw and sw). I didn’t listen long enough to the DRM signal from AIR before it signed off to get a good idea of DRM audio quality; I was busy cooking supper. FM audio is mediocre too on the internal speakers but, piped out through the headphone jack to external speakers, it is quite good. When I piped the AM audio out it still seemed mediocre.

Why the AM sound is mediocre seems to be related to two things: the tiny speakers (about 8 cm or 3.3 inches) and the bandwidth at the radio stage. Even comparatively strong (and clean) signals like RHC on 6000 kHz have what may be adjacent signals mixing in — perhaps even internal mixing products? I heard a splash of a local FM station at one point while listening to a shortwave band.

I have written my contact at Avion (Ankit) asking for an instruction booklet, or a pdf of one. I hope I’ll get that early next week (if indeed they have one).

I hope over the next week I will get some chances to check out more DRM signals. I am also hoping that my gradual love affair with the MorphyRichards radio will be replicated here. When I first got the MR27024 I was very cranky about its weird ways of doing things. But once I got a good antenna on it, and got used to its ways, I prefer it to all my other radios as a table-top radio (that is, one useful for listening to specific regular stations). The MR’s radio-stage DSP is quite lovely and makes for good sound. I doubt the Avion will seduce me to quite the same extent, but it may grow on me in other ways.

I understand the problems with DRM but I am still a fan of of the system. I bought this Avion set partly in hopes that I would encourage the manufacturer in some small way. I will use it but I suspect that the minimalist design features (which were also a part of the MorphyRichards design) will turn off users of the Avion.

I’m not terribly surprised by this reviewer’s assessment. Just looking at some of the preliminary info on the Avion receiver last year made me think of previous DRM portables like the Newstar DR111 and the Uniwave Di-Wave 100.

The UniWave Di-Wave/Di-Wave 100.

The UniWave Di-Wave/Di-Wave 100.

I have a hunch all of these designs were fleshed out by engineers and entrepreneurs who had not gotten customer input in advance.

It’s sad, too. While I know DRM (via the shortwaves) was a “cart before the horse” innovation–meaning, broadcasters adopted the technology well before consumer receivers were on the market.

I really wish the medium would’ve gained traction.

While I prefer the rich sonic texture of amplitude modulation, I love listening to DRM broadcasts well. Last year, during my presentation at PARI, I played a recording of a piano concerto I heard on one of Radio New Zealand International’s DRM broadcasts. If memory serves, the audio clip was taken from this recording I made on June 21, 2104:

Through the presentation room’s hi-fi system, the music sounded absolutely brilliant.

To put what this audience was hearing in perspective, I told them:

“We’re listening to a radio station some 8,300 miles away without the use of the Internet, mobile phones, satellites, or any sort of subscription service. We’re hearing FM-quality audio, streamed wirelessly and originating from the other side of our planet.”

I then received a number of questions like: “How is this technology possible?” and “Do they make car radios that can receive these broadcasts?”

There’s magic in DRM. Sadly, I feel its deployment was awkward and its window of opportunity may have already passed. An affordable, effective, and simple DRM receiver (combined with serious, viral publicity) could turn the tide somewhat–but it doesn’t seem like this will happen anytime soon. Each new DRM portable is only a slightly improved iteration of its predecessor and the price tag continues to be too high for effective market penetration.

I want to be proven wrong, though.

The SWLing Post 2015-2016 Shortwave Radio Buyer’s Guide

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


FourRadiosAbstract2

Despite the often-expressed view that shortwave may be on the decline, if one were to look at this year’s shortwave technology alone, the truth would seem to be anything but. Remarkably, 2015 has been a great year for the shortwave radio listener, as several models of portables, tabletops, and SDRs have been either introduced or improved.

The following is a basic, easy-to-follow buyer’s guide to some of the best receivers on the market currently. This guide is, by no means, comprehensive; rather, it’s a selection of rigs I have tested, some of which I now own. It builds on the guide I published in the November 2014 issue of TSM, and highlights innovations since that issue, while still acknowledging the contributions of previous models.

Compact/Travel portables

If your budget is tight, or if you’re looking for a radio that could easily slip into your glove compartment, backpack, carry-on, or even jacket pocket, you need to consider a compact shortwave radio.

Typically, there is a performance compromise with compact radios: they don’t always have the sensitivity of their more expensive cousins; they have a more limited frequency range; and they don’t detect single-sideband signals. Nonetheless, the ones listed here are fine performers for their size and price. Entries are listed in alphabetical order.

The Eton Traveller III

The Eton Traveller III

Eton Traveller III

Eton has once again refreshed the design of its popular “Traveller” series of compact receivers: their latest is the third edition, the Eton Traveller III. I’ve owned the past two versions of the Traveller, and having learned to appreciate these, was eager to get my hands on the newest Traveller III. As the name implies, this is a great little radio for the international traveler; it not only has shortwave, AM and FM bands, but it also has a world clock that can easily be switched from the front panel, a useful alarm function, and great built-in speaker. New to the Traveller III is FM RDS: a great way to capture FM station identification when visiting a new city. The key lock is prominent on the front panel and the included padded nylon case is one of the most rugged I’ve seen in years. Performance is what I’ve come to expect from the Traveller series: superb AM (mediumwave) reception, great FM reception, and capable shortwave reception. It lacks the multiple bandwidths found in other similar DSP radios, but my impression is that the default bandwidths are adequate for multi-band listening.

The Eton Traveller III is available from Universal Radio, Amazon.com and more outlets via Eton. Pricing ranges from is $55-60 US.

The C.Crane CC Skywave

The C.Crane CC Skywave

CC Skywave

Only a couple of weeks before the Christmas holiday of 2014, C. Crane introduced a compact portable that truly impressed me: the CC Skywave. The Skywave is as compact as any other ultralight radio, but adds a host of features that has made it an invaluable radio for my one-bag air travels. The CC Skywave covers the following bands: Shortwave, AM, FM, Weather, and Aviation. It’s a comprehensive toolbox of frequency bands and listening modes which only lacks, sadly, SSB.

Ergonomics are excellent for such a small portable. It’s easy to use, as well: I only needed to reference the well-written manual for a few functions. I find the CC Skywave to be very sensitive on shortwave and mediumwave, rivaling radios that cost much more.

One negative I’ve learned through readers of the SWLing Post is that the first production run of the CC Skywave was prone to overload in the presence of strong local broadcast stations. C.Crane have confirmed that this has been addressed in the latest CC Skywave production run and is no longer an issue. To insure you’re receiving a unit from the latest production run, consider purchasing directly through CCrane.

The CC Skywave is sold by Universal Radio, Amazon.com and directly by C.Crane. Price is $89 US.

The CountyComm GP5/SSB

The CountyComm GP5/SSB

CountyComm GP5/SSB (Tecsun PL-365)

CountyComm––a retail distributor of products created primarily for use by the US government––introduced a new shortwave portable late in 2014: the GP5/SSB. The GP5/SSB came about as a result of a large order CountyComm received from a US government department for an “inexpensive, small portable, AM/FM/SW radio with SSB” for emergency supply caches and diplomatic posts. Like its predecessor, the GP5/DSP, the GP5/SSB has a vertical form factor, much like a handy-talky, and a detachable/rotatable ferrite bar antenna that greatly improves AM/mediumwave reception. The GP5 series is limited by a small internal speaker that sounds somewhat tinny; it also lacks a direct entry keypad. Still, with a pair of headphones and some careful memory allocation, the GP5 is a pleasure to use.

If you’re looking for an ultra-portable radio with SSB, then the GP5/SSB is a very good choice. (It may, in fact, be the only ultra-portable SSB choice currently on the market). While the SSB performance can’t compare with larger, pricier receivers, or ham radio transceivers, it’s very good for $80 US. If you’re looking for an emergency communications receiver––something to stash in your vehicle, emergency kit, or bug-out bag––the CountyComm GP5/SSB is a great choice and value. Indeed, that’s who the GP5/SSB was designed for, and why this rig has excellent frequency coverage in all modes, with good sensitivity/selectivity and designed for portable, one-handed operation. In fact, CountyComm has even designed and manufactured (and in the USA!) a robust, protective 1000-Denier case for the GP5/SSB. This case makes it very easy to strap the GP5/SSB to your belt or backpack securely.

The CountyComm GP5/SSB is available from Universal Radio and directly from CountyComm.

The Sangean ATS-405

The Sangean ATS-405

Sangean ATS-405

I was surprised this year when Sangean introduced its latest compact/travel receiver, the ATS-405. I had heard rumors that Sangean may have been leaving the shortwave radio scene, so was pleased to learn that Sangean was not only still invested in the hobby, but innovating. Indeed, the ATS-405 has features that have not yet been included on small DSP-powered portables: specifically, the ability to control squelch, tuning mute, and soft mute.

The ‘405 is a decent little radio with a great deal of functionality and features for a rig in its price class. But overall, its performance seems rather mediocre. If you primarily listen to FM, you’ll be pleased. If you’re a mediumwave listener, you’ll be pleased only if you don’t mind the 800/1600 kHz DSP birdies which plagued both of my review units. If you’re primarily a shortwave listener, you’ll need to carry a clip-on wire antenna to bring the sensitivity up to the level of similarly-priced receivers. I also found performance variations between my two review units; an indication that quality control is somewhat inconsistent at the factory.

The Sangean ATS-405 is available via Universal Radio and Amazon.com. Price is $89 US.

Other compact/travel radios

In the 2014 Buyer’s Guide we included several other compact travel radios worth considering: The [original] Kaito KA1103/Degen DE1103, Tecsun PL-310ET, and the Tecsun PL-380 to name a few.

Full-Featured Portables

In the portables market, I believe you get the most value and quality in the $90-250 price class. Most beginners and seasoned SWLs prefer a radio that includes everything necessary to get on the air immediately; all of these radios provide just that. Straight out of the box, you’ll have everything you need to listen to shortwave bands. All of these recommended radios are designed to pick up major shortwave broadcasters with ease, and offer the following features: good frequency coverage; circuitry that helps in the detection of weaker stations; and with a few notable exceptions, the ability to receive single-sideband.

The Tecsun PL-680

The Tecsun PL-680

Tecsun PL-680

The latest Tecsun full-featured portable––the PL-680––appeared on the market in February this year. Cosmetically, the receiver is nearly identical to the Tecsun PL-600, but with the added features of the Tecsun PL-660. Indeed, in terms of features and comparing them with that of the venerable PL-660, there are no obvious additions on the PL-680. The PL-680 has been improved, however, in its shortwave reception. The PL-680 is both slightly more sensitive and has a more stable AGC (Automatic Gain Control) than the PL-660. If you are primarily a shortwave radio listener and wish to have one of the best sub-$200 receivers currently on the market, the PL-680 may be the rig for you.

On the other hand, if you are primarily a mediumwave DXer and already own the PL-660, you will likely want to pass on the PL-680. The PL-680’s mediumwave reception is simply not as good as that of the PL-660. The PL-660 is both more sensitive and has a lower noise floor on mediumwave.

Note that since its introduction, inventory of the PL-680 has fluctuated; the primary retailer is Anon-Co in Hong Kong and on eBay. Price is $95 US (plus shipping from China).

The Eton Satellit

The Eton Satellit

Eton Satellit

Last year, Eton released the Satellit: a new full-featured portable, essentially replacing the venerable Grundig G3, but carrying the name of the flagship Grundig Satellit series.

The Satellit has many of the same functions as the Grundig G3, and has a near-identical form-factor, but sports a new amber backlit display, multiple bandwidths, and a double-jointed telescopic antenna. The Satellit performs admirably on the AM/mediumwave bands, quite well on the shortwave band but, most notably, performs brilliantly on FM. The audio fidelity from the built-in speaker is quite robust; indeed, it’s among the best in its class. The key layout and ergonomics are similar to the Grundig G3 and G5; meaning, the radio is quite simple to use. One negative is that the Satellit mutes between frequencies while tuning, however, this is minimal in the most recently-updated production runs. I’m very pleased that all of the new Eton radios lack the tactile rubber coating found on some previous models, for while the coating works excellently to improve one’s grip on the radio, over time it can become sticky to the touch (if you find this to be a problem, here are several techniques to clean the sticky residue: http://bit.ly/1KQN8TX).

At time of print, the Satellit is generally available for about $180-190 from a variety of retailers, including Universal Radio and Amazon.com.

Other full-featured portables

In the 2014 Buyer’s Guide, we included several other full-featured radios that are still certainly worth considering: The C. Crane CCRadio-SW, Sangean ATS-909X, Sony ICF-SW7600GR, Tecsun PL-600, Tecsun PL-660, and the Tecsun PL-880.

Hybrid Stand-Alone SDR/Tabletops

While tabletop receivers have started to decline with the advent of SDRs, there are many listeners who still prefer a simple, dedicated, stand-alone high-performance receiver with a good tuning knob and clear display, which is to say, a tabletop receiver. Tabletops are designed to perform best with a resonant external antenna.

The Elad FDM-DUOr

The Elad FDM-DUOr

Elad FDM-DUOr

If you’ve been thinking of purchasing an SDR, but really want a traditional front-panel tabletop receiver, the Elad FDM-DUOr may be for you. I’ve included the FDM-DUOr under the tabletop heading because it is, in fact, a tabletop receiver, with the features of a tabletop such as a front panel, knobs, display, and capability to operate independent of a PC. However, if you choose to hook it to a PC, you unleash a full-fledged SDR and a wide array of features. The FDM-DUOr is built on the same receiver and software as the FDM-S2, one of my favorite sub $1000 SDRs. The FDM-DUOr also sports 10 selectable and customizable filter preselectors and an internal switch box for use with an external transceiver.

At time of print, Elad is seeking FCC approval for the FDM-DUOr in order to distribute these units in the USA. The FDM-DUOr is currently available in Europe via the Elad online store: Price is 899.00 €.

The CommRadio CR-1a

The CommRadio CR-1a

CommRadio CR1-a

US-based manufacturer CommRadio introduced the CR-1 in 2013––an amazingly rugged, portable receiver, and essentially a small tabletop SDR. I’ve used mine in travels and at home; the built-in rechargeable battery will power it for hours, it’s built to a mil-spec standard, and it performs like a champ.

In 2014, CommRadio increased the SDR potential of the CR-1 by updating with a new model: the CR-1a. In 2015, CommRadio continued to add features to the CR-1a through firmware and software upgrades, such as a new Spectrum Viewer SDR application, and 3D-Waterfall for Windows PCs.

CommRadio CR-1a owners only need to update their firmware and download software to use the new feature. The CR-1a is priced at $599.95 US, shipped, and includes a battery through Universal Radio––good value for a quality piece of kit. CommRadio also sells the CR-1a directly through their website.

Other tabletops

In the 2014 Buyer’s Guide, we included several other tabletop radios, including the Alinco DX-R8T and the Icom IC-R75.

SDRs/IF Receivers

If you’re searching for maximum performance for the price, software-defined radios (SDRs) and IF receivers are hard to beat. These small “black box” radios require a computer to unlock performance, none are stand-alone. But while I was never a fan of combining my PC with radio listening, once I starting using an SDR, I never turned back. Now, 90% of the time that I’m on the air, it’s with an SDR. The ease of doing so is incomparable, and the functionality simply incredible.

The Elad FDM-S2

The Elad FDM-S2

Elad FDM-S2 and the new SPF-08 preselector

If you read the Elad FDM-S2 review in the November 2014 issue of TSM you’ll know that this little SDR packs a powerful punch for the price. FDM-S2 performance is uncompromising, comparing favorably to receivers $300-400 more in price. The S2 also provides native DRM decoding; it’s a fine DRM receiver.

Users who live in the vicinity of high-powered AM stations will be pleased to know that Elad has developed an outboard preselector box that pairs with the FDM-S2––the new SPF-08, which covers the amateur radio bands. Elad already has a broadcast band version of the SPF-8 in development. The SPF-08 enclosure is the same size as that of the FDM-S2 and couples with it directly via a port on the back of both units.

Both the Elad FDM-S2 and SPF-08 are available via Elad’s online store: http://ecom.eladit.com/

The SDRplay RSP

The SDRplay RSP

SDRplay RSP

The SDRplay RSP was one of the most pleasant surprises I encountered in the world of software defined receivers this year. I published a review of the RSP in the May 2015 issue of TSM; in short, I was amazed at the performance of this $149 SDR. While it doesn’t have its own proprietary SDR application, it is compatible with some of the most popular free applications on the market: SDR Console, SDR Sharp, and HDSDR to name a few. SDRplay developers are even testing a Raspberry Pi application for the RSP.

Since the time of my review, SDRplay has updated the RSP to include gapless coverage from 100 kHz to 2 GHz––talk about wideband coverage!

If you have been hesitant to invest in a benchmark SDR, or simply want to explore the world of SDRs on a small budget, the SDRplay RSP is a no-brainer. Without a doubt, it packs a lot of performance in a tiny, affordable package. The SDRplay user community is also very active and routinely pushes the boundaries of this little receiver.

The SDRplay RSP is available at SDRplay.com and, in the US, at Ham Radio Outlet.

The RFspace Cloud-IQ

The RFspace Cloud-IQ

RFSpace CloudIQ

The Cloud-IQ is the latest software-defined receiver from the US-based company RFSPACE. The Cloud-IQ offers two modes of operation:

  • the “IQ mode,” which provides 24-bit IQ streaming to your PC over an ethernet cable (much like the RFSpace NetSDR).
  • the stand-alone “cloud mode,” which includes a built-in internet server. In cloud mode, according to RFSpace, “the receiver performs the tuning and demodulation of signals and transmits the demodulated information back to a PC, OS-X, Linux, or Android client anywhere in the world.”

RFSpace is essentially one of the first SDR manufacturers to include built-in SDR streaming functionality, something that has been somewhat complicated to implement in other SDRs.

The price point is also favorable at $629.95 through Ham Radio OutletAmazon, Astroradio and ML&S. Availability has been quite limited this year, but more production runs are planned for the near future. I plan to review the RFSpace CloudIQ in late 2015 or early 2016, as soon as a unit becomes available.

Other SDR/IF receivers

In the 2014 Buyer’s Guide we included several other SDRs and IF receivers worth considering, including the Bonito RadioJet IF-Receiver 1102S, Microtelecom Perseus, and the WinRadio Excalibur. Additionally, note that the affordable Airspy SDR will soon have a new converter to cover HF down to 1kHz–look for a review in 2016.

The Shortwave Radio Index

If you would like to view a comprehensive list of all shortwave radios currently on the market, check out the Shortwave Radio Index (http://swling.com/db).