Steven is impressed with the CountyComm GP5/SSB and high-gain bar antenna

GP5SSB-Front

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Steven Crawford, who sent the following message to me (several weeks ago) and has kindly allowed me to share it here. Steven writes:

I hope this finds you and yours well. I just wanted to take a few moments and express my sincere thanks to you for your posts of 12/20/2014 and 1/6/2016, and for sharing Larry Thompson’s post of 2/28/2016, and Ron’s post of 1/16/2016. If you are in regular contact with the other individuals please feel free to pass along my thanks as each of you and the respective post convinced me to purchase a CountyComm GP5/SSB and Ebay seller playloudfm’s high-gain ferrite bar antenna. I am so glad I did, so a hearty Thank You to each of you.

The afternoon of March 19th local was the first chance I had to use my GP-5/SSB. After popping in three fresh AA’s on AM using the internal ferrite bar antenna Beaumont, Texas’ own powerhouse 5,000 watt KLVI 560 was there as was 1,000 watt Orange’s KOGT 1600, 23 miles away and my AM daytime benchmark 50 kW KTRH 740 Houston 70 or so miles away on the back side of their pattern. KTRH surprisingly can be a little difficult during the day due to noise. The surprise was 50 kW WWL New Orleans 240 miles away was intelligible above the background noise. Extending the whip a quickie SW test showed WWV Fort Collins time signal was present at 15 MHz.

On the AM side the real money lay after dark once the sun had set in Beaumont and San Antonio. Using only the internal ferrite bar antenna all of the aforementioned AM stations were present. Continuing the internal antenna’s test 50 kW WBAP 820 Dallas 244 miles away and 50kW WOAI 1200 San Antonio 266 miles away were present. I started grinning when 50 kW WLAC 1510 Nashville 598 miles away and 50kW KMOX 1120 St. Louis 632 miles away were just intelligible above the background noise. Keep in mind these stations were received using only the internal antenna.

GP5SSB-MW-Antenna-1

I popped the CountyComm included factory external ferrite bar on and used it 9 -10 PM Saturday local, 0200 – 0300 March 20 UTC. Using the external antenna rotated for best reception WLAC and KMOX improved to the point they were easily listenable. 50 kW WSB 750 Atlanta 625 miles away was listenable above the noise and most surprising 50kW WBBM 780 Chicago 892 miles away(!!!) was just intelligible above the background noise. Another quickie SW test was performed at 10 PM local, 0300 March 20 Sunday UTC by extending the built in whip and the WWV Fort Collins time signals were present at 5 and 10 MHz with 10MHz being particularly well received.

Ferrite-Bar-Antenna-PL-365-GP5SSB

Photo source: eBay

A real treat lay in store after receiving Ebay seller playloudfm’s aftermarket high-gain ferrite bar antenna, the subject of your 1/6/2016 and Ron’s 1/16/2016 post, yesterday. I am not experienced enough to judge what the space weather or propagation conditions were like from 0300 to 0400 March 27th UTC but I was extremely surprised and pleased with the reception results the new antenna afforded.

As I sat relaxing in my easy chair before bed I decided to try the combo out using the included earphones so as to not wake my wife. With the lights off and my iPad open to www.oldradio.com/archives/stations/ccs.htm to help identify clear channel stations I took the handheld combo for a spin. All of the stations found with the factory supplied external ferrite bar antenna were present. There was just so much more signal present using the aftermarket antenna each became easily listenable. For WOAI, WWL, WLAC and KMOX the effect was as if I was located within their local night coverage area. 50 kW WHAS Louisville Kentucky 740 miles away was newly found present. Chicago’s WBBM was there as before and I was surprised to find 50 kW WGN 720 Chicago as well. The reception quality was such that one could enjoy listening to a Cub’s game or breaking local news story should one be so inclined on WBBM or WGN. The listening experience was similar for newly found 50 kW XEROK 800 Ciudad Juarez 738 miles away.

The most surprising and gratifying, to me anyway, find of the night using playloudfm’s antenna was receiving 5,000 watt (nights!) KCMO 710 Kansas City Missouri 624 miles away. The ability to rotate the antenna to take advantage of it’s directional and nulling ability really aided in this reception. It really is a great benefit to be able to rotate the GP-5/SSB’s external AM antennas for peak signal strength while nulling interfering signals and noise. Indeed KCMO was missing in one antenna orientation but rotating the antenna 90 degrees and the station popped in. I really should have jotted signal strength to noise ratios down but I was just enjoying tuning through the spectrum too much. I have not fully tested SSB Exalted Carrier tuning on the GP5/SSB of difficult stations but have tried it 3 or 4 times and it does appear to work as does tuning 1 kHZ either side of the nominal frequency. The later technique did help clean up some signals by further reducing background noise without greatly affecting listenability.

As best I can tell I ordered and received either the last or next to last of playloudfm’s current batch of high-gain ferrite bar antennas as the Ebay add showed two available when I ordered and the ad was almost immediately replaced with an “accepting pre-orders” ad. Currently there are no ads by seller playloudfm.[Note: it appears more inventory has been added to eBay.] My transaction and shipping was quick and smooth. The bulk of the two week wait occurred after the package was received at the Athens airport where tracking stopped. It should be noted by buyers should more antennas become available the tracking number supplied does not work on the USPS tracking service but it will track the package to Athens through Greece’s Hellenic Post tracking service at http://www.elta.gr/en-us/personal/tracktrace.aspx

Note: all distances listed above are “as the crow flies”, straight line city center to city center and are not necessarily correct for the transmission tower location.

This little radio is fast becoming a hand holdable favorite with easy to learn button placement for use in the dark. I am all ready beginning to prefer it to my Sony SW7600GR / AN200 loop combo for MW broadcast AM reception but I really must do more work with SW before calling the CountyComm my favorite of the two.

Steven followed up a week or so later with this addendum to his review:

I finally got the opportunity to test the FM performance of the radio using only the extended whip on the afternoon of April 1st, April 1st 19:30 – 21:00 UTC. Using www.radio-locator.com and my zip code I found 51 FM stations listed as local, distant and possible fringe reception. I was very surprised and pleased when I was able to log all of the most distant fringe stations, KUHF, KKBQ, KTBZ, KKHH, KHMX, KBXX, KODA, KILT, KLOL, KMJQ, KRBE, KOVE, and KGLK, with ERP’s listed as 90 to 100 kW and distances in the given in the 80 to 90 mile range. In short I was able to log all 51 listed stations. The FM broadcast band is crowded indeed with this little rocket radio. It should be noted my little corner of Southeast Texas is dead flat with nothing between me and these stations broadcast towers but Houston skyscrapers, the typical urban / suburban sprawl, timber and marsh. Ground elevations range from 16 ft to 80 ft above sea level between me and many of the broadcast towers.

[…]My Sony SW7600GR / AN200 loop / Sony AN-LP1 loop combination sits in it’s go bag rapidly falling into disfavor, replaced by the easily used in the dark one handed CountyComm GP-5/SSB. Again thank you for your kind response and thanks again to all who motivated me to purchase this rig.

Steven, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with the GP5-SSB and the high-gain ferrite bar antenna.

I also have the high-gain ferrite bar antenna and have been meaning to post videos showing how it performs compared with the supplied GP5 antenna. I must say, it does do a pretty amazing job. I’ll get some videos posted in the coming weeks!

Mike’s overview and review of the $40 Soft66RTL3 SDR by Kazunori Miura (JA7TDO)

RTL3

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mike Ladd, for the following guest post and overview of setting up and using the Soft66RTL3 SDR:


Soft66RTL3 SDR: A low cost…Good performer direct from Japan

by Mike Ladd

Much has changed in the last 8 years in the world of SDR radios. Fast forward to 2016 and just about everyone in the hobby has heard the buzz word “SDR radio”. When SDRs first came out to the market they were all aimed at HF listening and you had two types to pick from. The first being soundcard based and the second being direct sampling. The price gap between the two were several hundred dollars. The more expensive being direct sampling. As the hobby progressed, so did the technology and the prices started to shift dramatically.

You can now purchase a TV dongle for $10.00 and turn it into a SDR. The Soft66RTL3 is basically a TV dongle but with a lot more features.

The Soft66RTL3 comes from an engineer who is no stranger to the world of SDRS. Kazunori Miura (JA7TDO) has been designing and selling many models of SDRS over the internet and shipping them direct from Japan for about 7 years. The Soft66RTL3 is his latest of model hot off his bench. This SDR is a dual input RTL-SDR with a built in 50 MHz upconverter along with 4 user selectable band pass filters that greatly increase your signal to noise ratio in the HF bands.

Soft66RTL3-board-001 Soft66RTL3-Board 2 Soft66RTL3-board

The frequency range of the RTL3 is from DC to Daylight (0.4 kHz to 1.7 GHz). Miura also addressed a heat issue with the previous version (RTL2) by adding a thermal pad and heatsink. RTL dongles are notoriously unstable due to overheating. In theory, the thermal pad should add frequency stability and keep drift to a minimal.

RTL3-TrimmerPot

The last feature of the RTL3 is the input gain trimmer pot (see image above). The trimmer pot is for the HF side of the SDR and is already set before it’s shipped from Japan. If you would like to reduce or increase it the trimmer pot is easily accessible. I would suggest leaving it as is.

The RTL3 is broken down into two sections: the HF input side and the VHF/UHF input side.

Soft66RTL3-encoder

The HF side of the SDR (above) has a red rotary encoder and trimmer pot port. The VHF/UHF side (below) has the USB Mini-B connection.

Soft66RTL3-back

Both sides of the RTL3 terminate to a SMA-Male connection and Power comes from a single USB Mini-B cable.

Soft66RTL3-BandPassFilter

Band pass filter selection

If you look at the rotary encoder (red cap cover) you will see a small notch window. The 12 o’clock position is #5 on the encoder dial. One click clockwise will take you to switch position #6 and one click counterclockwise will take you to #4. You should pull the red cap cover off to have a look and get your bearings.

The band pass filter selection is as follows:

  • #4 enables BPF 0.4 to 1.2MHz
  • #5 enables BPF 1.2MHz to 5MHz
  • #6 enables BPF 5MHz to 15MHz
  • #7 enables BPF 15MHz to 30MHz
  • #8 or #9 enables the VHF UHF side of the SDR

All other positions will bypass the filtering section on the HF side of the SDR.

Installation

If you already have a RTL-SDR on your system then all you need to do is swap it out with the RTL3 and change the offset of -50,000,000 in HDSDR or SDR# to listen to the HF side of the RTL3–but if this is your first SDR we will need to install 2 items: the front end app and the driver.

I will assume your system is Win-7 or better and we will be using SDR# as our program of choice to drive the RTL3. The RTL3 runs just fine in HDSDR and SDR-Console, but by choosing SDR# it will reduce our setup time considerably.

ScreenShot-SDR

  1. Plug in the RTL3
  2. Make a folder on your desktop and name it SDR#
  3. Download the latest version SDR# from www.airspy.com and copy the contents of the zip file to your newly created SDR# folder
  4. Inside of your SDR# folder, double click on install-rtlsdr
  5. After the batch completes, double click on the “zadig.exe” inside your SDR# folder

screengrab

When you run the “zadig.exe” make sure you select “list all devices” as shown above.

ScreenGrab-Window

The next 3 steps are:

  1. Select “Bulk-In Interface” (Interface 0)
  2. Make sure the proper USB device is selected (2838)
  3. Click “install driver”

The RTL3 is now ready to be used and no further setup is required.

For a more detailed installation I would visit RTL-SDR.COM for a complete setup instructions: http://www.rtl-sdr.com/rtl-sdr-quick-start-guide

I will assume you did not have any issues setting up the ZADIG driver and now move on to using the RTL3 inside of SDR#. I will show you real world conditions that are not from any scientific standpoint.

Antenna wise, for the HF side I will be using a G5RV mini and for the VHF/UHF side I will be using a Scanntenna ST-2.

You can now launch SDR# and check the following settings (see image below).

SDRSharp-Settings

For the VHF/UHF side of the RTL3 you will want the rotary encoder on position #9. You want the cutout in the encoder cap showing the 5 o’clock position.

Summary

I have been using this SDR for a little over 3 months. Out of all the low cost SDR’S on the market, this one gives you the most bang-for-your-buck and it is a great entry level SDR with some “Pro” features.

Pros:

  • Low Price
  • HF VHF/UHF in one package
  • Works with any app that supports the RTL-SDR front end
  • 4 user selectable band pass filters for HF
  • Highly sensitive user controlled input RF amp
  • Small & very compact metal case
  • Dual input SMA jacks
  • ESD protection diode

Cons

  • Some intermod in the 460-470 MHz range
  • Inputs are on opposite sides of the SDR body

The Soft66RTL3 price is $40.00 US shipped–click here to order.


Mike, thank you so much for this excellent overview of the Soft66RTL3!  I’m especially appreciative of the time you’ve taken to explain the installation process–for many, this is one of the more difficult RTL-SDR learning curves.

I’m very tempted to check this out for myself–I love the fact that this little SDR has bandpass filters.

Post Readers: I suspect Mike will monitor the comments in this post, so feel free to ask questions. Make sure to check out Mike’s website, where you’ll find more articles about software defined radios.

The CountyComm GP5/SSB: my go-to shortwave radio for hiking

CountyComm GP5/SSB while hiking

My two hiking companions: the CountyComm GP5/SSB and Hazel the dog.

Posting the Blinq deal a few moments ago reminded me that my favorite shortwave radio to use while hiking/walking is the CountyComm GP5/SSB.

I have CountyComm’s custom GP5 case which I clip to my belt or backpack. While hiking, I find it handy to open the case from the top, pull the radio out and operate/tune it with only one hand. Indeed, the vertical form factor of the GP5/SSB is ergonomically-ideal; I can control almost all of the radio functions without having to use two hands. A huge bonus while hiking on uneven terrain!

Typically, when I start a hike, I enable an EMT scan and within a minute or so, the GP5/SSB populates temporary memory positions with all of the signals it can easily receive. When you’re in the middle of the woods–far from sources of radio interference–you’ll be amazed by what you can hear.

GP5SSB-Top

Of course, with the antenna fully extended, one does have to watch out for low-hanging branches, etc.

CountyComm GP5/SSB while hiking

Since the telescoping antenna doesn’t swivel, it’s much easier to hold the radio in a way that the antenna points forward while you hike (bonus: it’ll catch all of the spider webs across the trail before your face does!).

GP5SSB-MW-Antenna

So far, I’ve never used the external mediumwave ferrite bar antenna while hiking–I worry that I could drop the radio and damage either the antenna or the 1/8″ antenna jack.

I typically listen to the GP5 with headphones unless I’m walking a trail during the time of year when black bears are active (in which case the speaker helps alert bears that I’m in the neighborhood).

GP5SSB-Front

Of course, there are a few other radio models with an identical vertical form-factor–most notably, the:

If you’re not familiar with the CountyComm GP5/SSB, click here to read previous posts. I also featured the CountyComm GP5/DSP (Tecsun PL-360) in an ultra portable shoot out in 2014–click here to read.

Do you have a favorite shortwave portable for hiking, biking or cycling? Please comment!

Larry’s review of the CountyComm GP5/SSB

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Larry Thompson, who shares his review of the CountyComm GP5/SSB:


GP5SSB-Front

Been having a ton of fun with my new toy, the tiny survivalist radio, the CountyComm GP5/SSB receiver. $74.95 with free heavy duty cordura case with metal belt clip (normally $17.95). Also purchased 2 spare whip antennas @ $6.00 ea. The unit arrived promptly
in just 5 days from CA.

The radio is manufactured by Tecsun and is similar to the Tecsun PL-365, but re-engineer end to military standards for use in embassies and military installations around the world. The case is a heavy plastic that feels like anodized aluminum.

It’s about the size of a small TV remote control, taller than a cell phone, and about 1/2 the width of an iPhone.

Very, east intuitive menus. Incredibly sensitive to dx, relatively good selectivity. A great radio to throw in your travel bag or briefcase. So small that no one, especially customs, TSA, etc would even suspect it is a shortwave receiver with SSB capabilities.
I live in a very highly QRM and RFI interference zone.

I’m in the central city, in an old 1920’s hi-rise, with high power tension lines right next to the building.

Lots of QRM from the elevator motors, etc. Having a good antenna option is a challenge.
I’ve resorted to a stealth longwire antenna, strung out my 5th floor window. It’s 50′ of #16 black insulated copper stranded wire, weighted by a medium size galvanized carriage nut. It seems to work well.

I also use a Magic Wand shortwave antenna, a type of broomstick antenna with 23′ of lead-in, available from Lowbander on eBay.

My main receivers have been a Sony ICF-SW7600GR dual conversion receiver and the SRDPlay. In the past, I have listened to dx with some really outstanding receivers, including a Nordmende Globetrotter, a National NC-183D, a Japan Radio JRC-525′ and a Yaesu FT900AT transceiver. The later two were computer-controlled using TRX-Manager software.

In just 4 days, I can’t get over the sensitivity of the CountyComm GP-5/SSB and it’s ability to pull in stations. So far, it’s far superior to the Sony or SDRPlay.

Digging into the specs, it is a direct conversion receiver, using a DSP si47XX microchip from Silicon Labs to digitize the analog AM/FM broadcasting signal base on modern software technology and radio principles. The direct conversion circuitry can highly improve a radio’s sensitivity, selectivity, S/N ratio and anti-interference capabilities. Direct conversion using software is far superior to a double or triple conversion traditional IF circuitry. This must explain why the unit is so amazingly sensitive!

I can hear things on this unit that I can’t even begin to hear on the Sony or the SDRPlay. The FM reception and sound with earphones is amazing and LW and AM reception is equally sensitive. I can easily get WLW Cincinnati 700 kHz in the daytime here in St. Louis!

There are 550 preset memories: 100 for AM, 100 for FM, 100 for SSB, and 250 for SW. You can scan the memories or scan the bands in various ways. You can also use the Auto Tune Storage function to store memories.

Something I really enjoy is the Easy Tuning Mode function. The ETM function allows you to tune into stations easily and temporarily store them into the ETM storage. 100 stations for FM/MW and 250 for SW. Scanned stations will not be stored in the regular 550 memories, but will remain in the ETM temporary storage until the next time you do an ETM scan.

This is a great feature for travel. When you are in a different city, you can perform the ETS function and this will not delete any of the stations already in the memory.


Thanks for sharing your review, Larry. I use the GP5/SSB all of the time–it stays in one of my vehicles and I often use it for walks, picnics, camping and even a little parking lot DXing.

I suspect if your SDRplay RSP was hooked up to an antenna that could better mitigate your local QRM, you’d find it outperforms the GP5/SSB. The great thing about portables, though, is that you can simply take them to areas with low noise levels. It’s just a matter of finding the right location!

The CountyComm GP5/SSB is a very handy portable. Thanks again! 

The CountyComm GP5/SSB can be purchased from:

The Tecsun version, the PL-365, can be purchased on eBay (though be aware that some sellers have BuyItNow prices almost two times the price of CountyComm).

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.

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.

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.