The New Degen DE1103 DSP: First impressions & review

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When I discovered that Degen had recently refreshed the receiver design of the DE1103, I was intrigued, to say the least. The original DE1103 sported some serious performance for a sub-$100 receiver.

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The 2015 model of the Degen DE1103 implements a DSP chip (the Silicon Labs Si4735-D60).

Yet I was on the fence about purchasing the new DE1103. Why? In truth, I never fell in love with the original DE1103. While I appreciated the 1103’s unique analog-style digital display, I never got used to its quirky ergonomics. Degen had quality control issues, too: I had to return two faulty units before getting one that worked as advertised (incidentally, I had a similar problem with the Kaito KA1102).

Then last week, SWLing Post reader, Ron, contacted me. He had purchased the new DE1103 from Hong Kong-based eBay vendor Bigbargainonline.

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Ron kindly provided the SWLing Post with his impressions of the DE1103, as follows:

Performance is roughly on a par with the earlier dual conversion version. This one is just as hot, but no hotter.

If you were thinking a GP5 on a bigger ferrite bar, yes…and no.

There is one major gripe…[this unit] will not remember frequencies set with the BFO on, like the earlier dual-conversion version did. Instead you have to turn the BFO on for each memory frequency [for which you] need it.

One thing [I] noticed right off was the almost complete lack of AGC “pumping” on CW and SSB that all earlier versions had (yay!) but this plus comes at the cost of having the BFO “remembered” in memory.

Zero-beating (or centering) the BFO to null on WWV and local AM stations to check alignment was…strange. At null beat the BFO seems to quit for a second. It is fine
either side of zero beat, however.

This is doubtless due to Tecsun’s adapting the Silicon Labs IC to a full range BFO like this. Recall the same IC in the GP5 features Upper and Lower selection on CW/SSB.

This 1103 DSP version also has the GP5’s slight tuning mute, not a problem.

But for ease of operation in CW/SSB mode, the GP5 is [much] better IMO.

Ron also notes that he wasn’t pleased with the DE1103’s longwave performance and didn’t feel the mediumwave and shortwave reception was an improvement on the original DE1103.

He decided that he would sell this DE1103 and gave me first dibs, so I bit the bullet. I was eager to compare the new DE1103 with some of the other DSP-based portables in my collection. Ron dispatched the DE1103 immediately–it arrived a few days ago, but I didn’t have a chance to test it until yesterday.

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I took the Degen DE1103 outside, sat it on the tailgate of my truck and put it on the air…

I tuned around the mediumwave band and picked up all of the local benchmark stations. Same with FM. So far, this tuning confirmed Ron’s assessment of the DE1103: it didn’t surpass the original.

But the shortwave bands were a different story.

As I tuned around the HF bands, the DE1103 seemed to receive quite a lot signals.  But in most instances, I could hear local AM broadcasters bleeding in, as well. Indeed, imaging was prevalent across the shortwave bands–the receiver was obviously being overwhelmed by a local broadcaster.  Unfortunate.

Could strong interference account for this? While there are local AM broadcasters around, they’re not exactly “blow-torch” stations. Indeed, I’ve never had overloading issues with other shortwave portables I’ve used in the same location–not even with my Kaito WRX911!

Imaging was prevalent on the DE1103 when it was tuned to pretty much any audible shortwave broadcaster.

Here’s a video of the Degen DE1103 tuned to the Voice of Greece on 9,420 kHz:

What you’re hearing in the audio is a local broadcaster bleeding in. Note that when I tune off-frequency, no imaging is heard.

Wondering if something had changed locally–and just to be fair–I pulled out my Sony ICF-SW100 and sat it next to the DE1103. The Sony had no issues.

This time, I tuned to WWV on the 19 meter band and compared the two receivers:

As Dan Robinson expresses it, the ICF-SW100 “wipes the floor” with the DE1103. There’s no hint of overloading in the SW100.

My buddy, Ron, is clearly a keen radio reviewer; obviously he didn’t hear overloading on the shortwave bands where he tested the rig, else he would certainly have mentioned it. The location where I tested the DE1103 does have some local broadcasters in the area, but no clear channel or high-power stations; in short, there’s no likely interference within a ten-mile radius to account for this debilitating performance problem.

Too bad…!

Obviously, the new DSP version of the Degen DE1103 is especially prone to imaging on the shortwave bands. In fact, it’s the only receiver I’ve ever tested that has overloading issues at this testing location (where I tested the original Degen DE1103, by the way).

My assessment? Avoid the new Degen DE1103.

A much better receiver with SSB for roughly the same price would be the venerable Tecsun PL-600 ($89.99 at Amazon and $89.95 at Universal Radio). If SSB reception isn’t necessary, you might also consider the CC Skywave or the very affordable Tecsun PL-310ET.

Andi provides detailed info and photos of the new Degen DE1103 DSP

de1103-dsp

Regarding the new DSP version of the Degen DE1103, SWLing Post contributor, Andi_84, writes:

I’ve opened [my Degen DE1103] and checked the semiconductors inside.

It’s definitely based on a Silicon Labs chip (Si4735-D60).

1) Display PCB
Valence Tech AP651 “LCD AND KEYBOARD CONTROLLER”: http://www.valencetech.com/products.php?prodID=ap651&type=ics
Datasheet: http://www.valencetech.com/doc/AP651/DS_AP651-Rev0.1.02.pdf

2) Main PCB

a) Silicon Labs Si4735-D60 “AM/FM/SW/LW Radio Receiver IC”: http://www.silabs.com/products/audio/fm-am-receiver/Pages/si473435.aspx
-> Chip is even capable of RDS, but it’s unfortunately not implemented in the DE1103
And, FM range covers down to 64MHz, while the DE1103 goes only down to 76MHz
Datasheet: https://www.silabs.com/Support%20Documents/TechnicalDocs/Si4730-31-34-35-D60.pdf

b) ST Micro STM8L152C6T6 “Ultra-low-power 8-bit MCU with 32 Kbytes Flash, 16 MHz CPU, integrated EEPROM”
Datasheet: http://www.st.com/st-web-ui/static/active/en/resource/technical/document/datasheet/CD00240181.pdf

c) China Hua Jing Electronics CD1622CB “110mw X 2 Dual-channel audio power amplifier”
-> Looks like a “chinese version” of the Sony CXA1622M
Datasheet: http://www.datasheet.hk/view_download.php?id=1039877&file=0024%5Ccd1622cb_203207.pdf

d) LM358 “Low-Power, Dual-Operational Amplifiers”
Datasheet: http://www.ti.com/lit/ds/symlink/lm158-n.pdf

Photos

The following photos are courtesy of Andi_84. Please click the image to enlarge.

External and unboxing

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Internal and circuit board

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Many thanks, Andi!  These photos are excellent and certainly give us more insight into the new Degen DE1103 design.

I’m very curious how this new DE1103 compares with other DSP portables on the market.

Not all Degen DE1103 eBay listings are the new DSP vesion

de1103-dsp

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Eric Weatherall, who writes:

I’ve been interested by news of the updated DSP version of the Degen DE1103.

I just saw an eBay auction for a used DE1103 which listed “DSP” in the title. But I looked at a photo of the product and it showed the labeling of the original product. If you look at the bottom left of the unit, the older radios have two lines of product description printed in black, and the newer radios have one line.

Based on photos I found online, here is the old product’s description (which applies to both the Degen and Kaito versions)

“PLL FM STEREO/SW MW LW DUAL CONVERSION SYNTHESIZED WORLD RECEIVER”

And here is the new product’s description.

“FM STEREO/SW MW LW DIGITAL WORLD RECEIVER”

I thought this would be useful for anyone wishing to buy the new DSP version of this radio where a photo of the actual unit is shown.

Eric has a good point–many times on eBay, sellers simply copy descriptions from previous or existing listings. You my find a used DE1103 listed as a unit with DSP. It’s best to confirm the version with the seller before purchasing. To my knowledge, only the 2015 version of the Degen DE1103 has DSP.

Tudor confirms: a new version of the Degen DE1103

de1103-dspAfter publishing our previous post about a potentially redesigned Degen DE1103 with DSP, SWLing Post reader, Tudor, comments:

Yes, the DE1103 looks like it’s been redesigned. You can see it dissected here:
http://bbs.tecsun.com.cn/0002.asp?open=724665

Degen-DE1103-OpenBack

Photo source: http://bbs.tecsun.com.cn/ via Tudor. Click to enlarge.

And, if I’m not mistaken, the SiLabs DSP chip can be seen in this picture:
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/5417175/2015102316185240911.jpg

Photo source: http://bbs.tecsun.com.cn/ via Tudor

Photo source: http://bbs.tecsun.com.cn/ via Tudor. Click to enlarge.

Wow–thanks so much for confirming this, Tudor! This is obviously a redesigned Degen DE1103. I also noticed “NEW-DE1103-MAIN-1.2” silk-screened on the board:

Degen-DE1103-PCboard

Photo source: http://bbs.tecsun.com.cn/ via Tudor. Click to enlarge.

The Hong Kong-based eBay vendor Bigbargainonline is selling the new Degen DE1103 for $79.00 US shipped. I’ve purchased from them several times before and was pleased with the experience.

There are other vendors selling the new Degen DE1103 as well (click here to search eBay) but make sure you’re purchasing the 2015 version of the Degen DE1103 since you can still find the cosmetically-identical legacy DE1103 new in box.

Tudor, thanks again for sharing a link to the discussion on tecsun.com.cn–while I can’t read Chinese (and the Google translation leaves something to be desired!) the photos certainly tell the story.

A DSP version of the Degen DE1103?

de1103-dsp

[Click here to read our update to this post.]

SWLing Post reader, Dan, recently sent me this link to the Degen DE1103 on AliBexxpress: http://m.aliexpress.com/item/32521065066.html

The vendor notes a “USA DSP chip” in this unit.

The Degen DE1103 has been around for many years; a testament to its popularity. I’m pretty sure it never had DSP receiver components, though.

I told Dan that this was most likely an error of de1103-dspthe Aliexpress web marketing person.

Today, Dan sent me another link, this time to an eBay listing with the title:

“DEGEN DE1103 DSP FM/LW/SW/MW Stereo Dual Conversion Digital World Band Radio”

I took a close look at the photos and noticed that “DSP” is featured on one of the front panel stickers.

Could it be that the DE1103 has been re-designed with a DSP chip? Can anyone confirm?

The SWLing Post 2014-2015 Shortwave Radio Buyer’s Guide

RadiosShootOut-SonyTecsunSangean

The following article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.


Although many large government shortwave broadcasters are departing the shortwave radio scene, there’s no shortage of great products being introduced to it. Indeed, growth in the portable and SDR (software defined radio) markets is reasonably rapid.  This suggests, perhaps, a new kind of future for shortwave.

The following is a basic, easy-to-follow buyer’s guide to some of the best receivers on the market. This guide is, by no means, comprehensive; rather it’s a selection of rigs I know or own, thus have tested.

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 look at an compact shortwave radio. Typically, there is a performance compromise with compact radios: they don’t typically have the sensitivity, like 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.

ccradio-swpCrane CCRadio-SWP

The CC Radio SWP has been on the market for many years and has become a classic portable. The layout and design are very simple, the display clear, with easily-read icons and intuitive controls. The tuning knob on the right side is for fine tuning–no muting or chugging between frequencies, either. Shortwave and MW sensitivity are better than one might expect for a radio this size; I often find myself comparing it to much pricier portables. But most significantly, this radio offers the longest battery life of any radio I own: almost 70 hours on 2 AA cells!

The CC Radio SWP is available from C.Crane for $55.00 US. You can also purchase the CC Radio SWP from Universal Radio ($44.95) and Amazon.com.

Note: The CC Radio SWP may soon be replaced by the new CC Skywave which has just started shipping at time of posting.

KA1103Kaito KA1103 or Degen DE1103

The Kaito KA1103 packs a lot of bang-for-your-buck if you’re looking for an inexpensive, ultra-portable entry into SWLing. Like the CC Radio SWP, the KA1103 (a.k.a. Degen DE1103) has enjoyed a long market life. The KA1103 is full-featured and one of the only sub-$100 radios with SSB mode. One interesting design feature of the KA1103 is its large Digital/Analog frequency display: the LCD screen features the frequency display in digits, but also sports a working digital representation of an analog frequency dial. As you tune up and down the band–with, yes, a tuning knob–the LCD needle moves along the display as it would on an analog radio dial. While I believe radio ergonomics could be improved, the KA1103 is still a great bargain.

The KA1103 is available at Universal Radio for $79.98 and Amazon.com for $79.99. Click here to search eBay for the Degen DE1103.

Tecsun PL-310ETTecsun PL-310ET

The Tecsun PL-310ET is an updated version of the acclaimed PL-310, a mini-legend in the world of portable radio, offering exceptional value and high-performance in a small package. The PL-310ET is fueled by a SiLabs DSP (Digital Signal Processing) chip that gives this ultra-portable excellent sensitivity and selectivity. The PL-310 has been a favorite amongst ultra-light Dxers, as sensitivity and selectivity are  exceptional for the price. The new “ET” version of the PL-310 sports ETM tuning; a feature which allows you to scan the entire band and automatically store all strong stations to temporary memory locations. I believe the updated PL-310ET also has better AGC for weak signal DXing than its predecessor. Another bonus is that the PL-310ET sports an external antenna jack for shortwave and FM reception.

The Tecsun PL-310ET is largely available from Hong Kong-based sellers on eBay (http://ebay.to/1seZP3h) as well as on Amazon.com.

Tecsun-PL-380Tecsun PL-380

The Tecsun PL-380 is my favorite radio under $60. Much like its cousin, the PL-310ET (above), the PL-380 has a DSP (Digital Signal Processing) chip that gives this ultra-portable excellent sensitivity and selectivity. For three years, I have traveled extensively with the PL-380 in tow, and I’m constantly amazed by this radio’s excellent audio and reception across the bands.

The Tecsun PL-380 is available from Universal Radio for $59.95 and from Amazon.com for $54.99. Click here to search eBay for the PL-380.

Tecsun offers a number of compact portables, based on a similar DSP chip as the PL-380, but with built-in stereo speakers. Check out the Tecsun PL-390, PL-398BT, and PL-398MP, too.

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 the ability to receive single-sideband (with the exception of the CCRadio-SW, see below).

ccradio-swCrane CCRadio-SW

If you’re not as concerned about portability, the C.Crane CCRadio-SW is an excellent broadcast receiver. Think of the CCRadio-SW as a larger portable or tabletop radio (11.25″ x 7.25″ x 3.5″). What makes this radio stand out from its peers? Exceptional audio fidelity. The large built-in speaker has separate treble and bass controls and reminds me how important audio quality is while listening to a faint signal. This radio’s audio will fill a large room. Shortwave sensitivity is very good. Medium wave (AM broadcast) reception is excellent. Negatives? No direct keypad for frequency entry, and the SW also lacks a native SSB mode (a rare missing feature in this price class). With that said, it does have impressive array of external connections, including an IF-Out connection, which (with an IF converter and some free software) will allow you to interpret SSB and an array of digital signals, including DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale). What really strikes me about the CCRadio-SW is its sheer ease of use.  Its design is simple, ergonomic, and highly effective. I’ve often recommended the CCRadio-SW to listeners who want simplicity of use and robust audio.

The CCRadio-SW is available for $149.95 at C.Cranes’ website, $129.95 from Universal Radio and is also available on Amazon.com. Click here to check eBay for used models.

Radios with a similar form-factor include the Grundig S450DLX and the new Eton Field.

ATS-909XSangean ATS-909X

At $249.95, the Sangean ATS-909X is one of the priciest full-featured portables on the market. The 909X sports a large alpha-numeric display, tactile buttons, and a solid build quality. I also believe the 909X has a one of the better internal speakers and audio fidelity amongst portables. Negatives? Surprisingly, the 909X lacks synchronous detection, a tool most other portables have in this price range. Additionally, in my recent shortwave portable shoot-out, I gave the Sangean low marks for sensitivity; this review was based upon use of the built-in telescopic antenna. With an external antenna, on the other hand, the 909X performs admirably. If you’re looking for a quality portable with a front-end robust enough to be attached to a larger external antenna, the 909X may very well be your radio.

The Sangean ATS-909X is available at Universal Radio for $249.95 and Amazon.com for $219.99. Click here to search for used ATS-909Xs on eBay.

Sangean still has several models of portables available.  Check out the Sangean ATS-404 and ATS-505P.

Sony7600GRSony ICF-SW7600GR

For performance, you’ll find that the Sony ICF-SW7600GR is top of its class among full-featured portables. Two of its outstanding features is a solid synchronous selectable sideband (a feature which helps to reduce fading distortion and adjacent-channel interference) and stable AGC circuit. In fact, the ICF-7600GR was chosen as a favorite in a blind audio test on the SWLing Post. Indeed, my only criticism of the ‘7600GR is that it lacks a tuning wheel; instead, you’re forced to use tuning buttons on the front face of the radio.

The Sony ICF-SW7600GR is available at Universal Radio for about $150.00 and at Amazon.com for $130-150.00. Click here to search eBay for a used ICF-SW7600GR.

KX3-Helper-Tecsun-PL-600Tecsun PL-600

The Tecsun PL-600 is the value leader among the full-featured portables in this list. It can be found at a wide array of retailers, such as Universal Radio, Amazon and eBay. Price ranges from about $65 to $90. I’ve often recommended the PL-600 as a first full-featured radio for the budding SWL, and for good reason: the PL-600 has great sensitivity, selectivity, and even has capable single-sideband reception. The PL-600 does a surprisingly good job of holding its own against the other contenders in this list. Negatives? Like all sub-$100 portables, the PL-600 lacks synchronous detection (and if this is a deal-killer for you, check out the PL-660). Additionally, the PL-600 is not well suited for large external antennas; but it does work quite well with its own antenna. In a nutshell: if you’re not willing to spend over the $100 mark, the PL-600 is a safe bet.

The Tecsun PL-600 is available at Universal Radio for $89.95. Click here to search eBay for new and used PL-600s.

PL-660Tecsun PL-660

The Tecsun PL-660 is one of the best selling portable shortwave radios currently on the market–and for good reason. This rig has a full compliment of features and is quite easy to operate. The sync detector (selectable USB/LSB) is currently one of the best in the sub $150 US price range. Sensitivity and selectivity are both excellent; indeed, I consider it to have the most sensitive receiver among the portables listed here (and so. With the introduction of the Tecsun PL-880 on the market, the PL-660 has also become more affordable and can be found at or near the $100-120 price point with shipping. What a bargain!

The Tecsun PL-660 is available at Universal Radio for $109.95 and on Amazon.com (prices vary). Click here to search fro a new or used PL-660 on eBay.

Tecsun PL-880PL-880 (1)

The Tecsun PL-880 was introduced to the market one year ago (November 2013), and while the introduction was a bit bumpy (feature variation based on differing firmware versions), it has recovered and found quite a good following. While the PL-880 does not rank as highly as the PL-660 or ICF-SW7600GR in terms of sensitivity (see review TSM June 2013) it does have compensating factors.  For one thing, the PL-880 has the best audio fidelity from its internal speaker among the radios listed here. It’s also the most feature rich, boasting the most filter selections and a growing number of “hidden” features (http://wp.me/pn3uc-2tl). I also love the build quality, ergonomics, and tuning options; indeed, the PL-880 even has a dedicated fine tuning control. Negatives? Though the PL-880 has an undocumented sync detection among its “hidden” features, I find its sync lock quite feeble, compromising audio fidelity a bit too much. If you’re looking for a small portable that will fill a room with rich audio–whether you’re listening to the BBC, a classical concert, or just two ham radio operators chatting on 40 meters– look no further than the PL-880.

The Tecsun PL-880 is available at Universal Radio for $159.95 and on Amazon for $159.99. The Tecsun PL-880 is also available from Hong Kong-based sellers on eBay.

New Eton portables now shipping

Eton-SatellitAt time of publishing, Eton Corp–the North American distributor of Grundig–has four updated models of shortwave portables new to the market. All are updated versions of recently retired Grundig models:

If history is a guide, I expect all of these radios to prove worthy of the 2016 Shortwave Radio Buyer’s Guide. Indeed, preliminary reviews of the Field have been most favorable. Barring schedule changes, all models should be available in time for the 2014 holiday season…Stay tuned.

Tabletop receivers

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.

AlincoDXR8TFrontFaceAlinco DX-R8T

I reviewed the Alinco DX-R8T in 2011 a few months after it was introduced. I was favorably impressed with the DX-R8T. So much so, I purchased one after the review. It has excellent selectivity and sensitivity, a large display and tuning knob, a detachable faceplate (if your desktop space is limited), and a decent built-in speaker. What’s more, the DX-R8T has an SDR mode that allows you to hook up the receiver to your PC to see a spectrum display, and with an optional accessory cable, control its rig functions and tuning. The DX-R8T requires a regulated 12-volt power supply (not included). Cons? The DX-R8T lacks a selectable synchronous detector–a feature I enjoy using to combat adjacent signal interference.

The Alinco DX-R8T is available at Universal Radio for $449.95. Click here to search eBay for the Alinco DX-R8T.

Icom-R-75Icom R-75

Various versions of the Icom R75 have been on the market for well over a decade.  This receiver stands the test of time because it’s a full-featured tabletop with attributes like twin passband controls, a two-level pre amp, separate AF/RF gain, adjustable AGC, an alpha numeric display, a direct frequency entry keypad, not to mention a logical, ergonomic layout for all controls.  Amateur Radio operators, pirate radio listeners, as well as utility broadcast listeners will all appreciate the R75’s performance in SSB mode. Cons? The current base version of the R75 lacks synchronous detection, though some models in the past have had this option.

The Icom R75 is available at Universal Radio for $669.95. Click here to search eBay for the 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 their performance; none of these are stand-alone. But while I’ve never been 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. They’re simply incredible.

The following selection of SDRs–and IF receivers–are all available for $1,000 or less.

BonitoRadioJetDaytonBonito RadioJet IF-Receiver 1102S

The Bonito RadioJet is included in this group because it is very similar to an SDR, but strictly speaking, it’s an IF receiver. Like an SDR, it requires a PC for operation. But while the RadioJet’s spectrum bandwidth is more limited than the SDRs that follow, it has advantages over the others.  For one, the RadioJet is more akin to a PC-controlled radio–most of the hard work is done in the receiver itself, not your computer–-so even older model Windows PCs, tablets and netbooks can run the  RadioJet application with ease. The RadioJet is great for travelers since it requires no external power supply: it derives its power from your computer, from the same USB cable used for data. The RadioJet is an excellent receiver and has a very low noise floor. If you like listening to DRM, you’ll be impressed with its native ability to decode the mode. Click here to read my comprehensive review of the RadioJet.

The Bonito RadioJet 1102S is available at Universal Radio for $649.95. The RadioJet can also be purchased directly from Bonito in Germany.

Elad-FDM-S2-CoffeeElad FDM-S2

If you’ve read my Elad FDM-S2 review (coming soon!) you’ll know that this little SDR packs a powerful punch for the price. Indeed, I would venture to say that the FDM-S2 offers the best value among the SDRs listed here. Its performance is uncompromising, comparing favorably to receivers $300-400 more in price. The S2 also provides native DRM decoding.  In short, the S2 makes for a fine DRM receiver.

Any negatives with this rig? Some users have reported diminished receiver performance in the presence of high-powered AM stations (fortunately, not an issue in the rural area where I live). Additionally, the Elad application has a greater learning curve than, say, the Perseus or the Excalibur (below). Still, I like the S2 so much that even though I already own a benchmark SDR, I’m planning to purchase the S2 after review.

The Elad FDM-S2 is available at Elad USA for $580.00.

PerseusMicrotelecom Perseus

If you’re looking for a benchmark SDR, it’s hard to overlook the venerable Microtelecom Perseus. Though it’s been on the market for many years now, the receiver architecture holds its own and is as robust as they come. Selectivity and sensitivity are absolutely superb: no matter the mode or band. Another benefit of the Perseus is that users can network their receivers with relative ease, sharing them with other Perseus users. Negatives? The Perseus price point still tops the charts at $1000. And while the supplied application works quite well, it lacks features found in other SDR apps, and the window cannot be resized (though numerous customer requests have been made). Still, the Perseus is likely to remain a DXer’s receiver of choice for years to come.

The Microtelecom Perseus is available at Universal Radio for $999.95. Click here to search eBay for a used Perseus.

WinRadio Excalibur

I have owned the WinRadio Excalibur since 2012, and it has become my primary home receiver. I have directly compared the Excalibur to the Microtelecom Perseus and the Elad FDM-S2 (above); any receiver performance differences are minor. As a radio broadcast archivist, I find the Excalibur to be the best receiver suited to capturing broadcasts, as it’s the only one in this group that can record up to 2 MHz of radio spectrum (and allow you to play back this recording later); up to three broadcasts can be captured simultaneously within that 2 MHz window. Negatives? The Excalibur application only works on Windows PCs. Additionally, it requires a dedicated 12V power supply, thus is less convenient than the RadioJet or FDM-S2 for travel and outdoor listening. Read my full review of the Excalibur by clicking here.

The WinRadio Excalibur is available directly from WinRadio for $945.95. Click here to search eBay for a used Excalibur.

Hybrid Stand-Alone SDR/Tabletops

The CommRadio CR-1

CommRadio CR-1a

The CommRadio CR-1a could be classed as either an SDR or a stand-alone tabletop receiver, as it fits both profiles. Furthermore, the CR-1a is as portable as nearly any of the portable radios mentioned above. In short, I really dig this radio! It’s beautifully engineered and mil-spec rugged; performance-wise, it’s hard to beat. Receiver sensitivity and selectivity are superb. The best part? The CR-1a has an optional internal battery that will power it for hours on a single charge. With antenna and fully-charged CR-1a, you will enjoy hours of outdoor listening while traveling [check out my recent travel review]. If you’re on the fence about getting an SDR or tabletop radio, grab the CR-1a; at $599.95, it’s a lot of kit for your investment. Click here to read my comprehensive review of the CR-1.

The CommRadio CR-1a is available from Universal Radio for $599.95 and directly from CommRadio for $599.99. Click here to search eBay for a used Comm Radio CR-1 or CR-1a.

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).

A review of the ShouYu SY-X5 DSP shortwave radio

The Shouyu SY-X5 mechanically-tuned, DSP portable radio. (Click to enlarge)

The Shouyu SY-X5 mechanically-tuned, DSP portable radio. (Click to enlarge)

The ShouYu SY-X5 shortwave radio came to my attention only a few weeks ago. It is yet one more mechanically-tuned, DSP based, portable shortwave/AM/FM radio. I have reviewed several other models based on the same DSP chipset: the Silicon Labs SI4844–see my reviews of the Degen DE321, Degen DE32, and the Kichbo KK-9803. I also recently reviewed the Tecsun R-2010D, though it is based on a slightly newer, though similar, SiLabs DSP chipset.

What makes the ShouYu SY-X5 stand out is the fact that it can be powered by either a rechargeable slim battery pack (found in the DE32) or three standard AA batteries.  It also has a built-in MP3 player that uses a standard microSD card for media storage. Why are these features of particular note for me?  I have been searching for a shortwave radio/mp3 player for use by my charitable non-profit, Ears To Our World. ETOW works in parts of the world where people lack mains power as well as access to the Internet (or else simply can’t afford Internet service). In such settings, radio allows teachers and school children to hear up-to-date international news via shortwave, and through pre-recorded educational material, they can play (and replay) MP3 content as needed.

Therefore, I immediately ordered an SY-X5 for review here, hoping to donate it for use in the field care of Ears To Our World.

First impressions

Degen DE321 (left) Shouyu SY-X5 (right)

Degen DE321 (left) Shouyu SY-X5 (right)

The ShouYu SY-X5 is a small radio, almost exactly the same size as the very portable Grundig G6 and only slightly larger than the Degen DE321 (see left). It feels sturdy and even slightly heavy in your hand (no doubt, due to the number of batteries it holds). The antenna is rotatable and feels more robust than other radios in its price class.

The SY-X5 has a back stand that likewise feels sturdy enough. Note: to open the battery compartment, you must lift up the back stand.

The overall quality is better than one might expect for $27 (US), with one notable exception: the printed frequency display behind the analog dial on my unit is positioned slightly off-center and not level, making needle position on the dial, well, frankly ambiguous.

Audio

Without a doubt, the greatest aspect of the SY-X5 is the audio delivered from the built-in speaker. It is exceptional for this size radio, full and with impressive bass characteristics. It very much reminds me of the Melson M7 (not yet reviewed here) and the Degen DE1129.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Performance

I’ve reviewed enough of these mechanically-tuned DSP-based radios now that I’m beginning to note performance commonalities that can only be attributed to the design of the DSP chipset itself (regardless of how they are implemented in each model of radio).

At risk of sounding like a broken record, this radio’s sensitivity, selectivity and AGC performance is nearly identical to the Degen DE321 on every band; here’s a summary:

  • Shortwave
    • sensitivity is mediocre–expect to hear all strong stations
    • AGC circuit has difficulty coping with weak station and fading
    • selectivity is mediocre
  • Medium Wave (AM)
    • strong daytime stations sound great
    • the SY-X5’s AGC circuit struggles with night time conditions, even with some strong stations
    • selectivity is mediocre
  • FM
    • FM performance is quite good
    • Both selectivity and sensitivity are great for the price–in this case, $27 US
(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Between the two FM bands, the SY-X5 should easily accommodate world-wide FM broadcasts (even Russia). The two AM (medium wave) bands are almost identical in frequency allocation, but have been set up so that one is on 9 kHz spacing and the other on the 10 kHz spacing typically used here in North America (nice touch).

Tuning

While the “feel” of the tuning wheel on the right side of the radio seems smooth, in reality it is not. The tension or actual mechanics behind the analog tuner are problematic; I find that upon tuning in even a strong station, when I let go of the tuning wheel, it immediately moves off-frequency. It’s most annoying. Over the course of several days of use, it doesn’t seem that the mechanism has broken in at all as I had hoped. This is perhaps the biggest negative of the ShouYu SY-X5; it is just not easy to accurately tune it.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

MP3 Player

While I haven’t spent hours using the MP3 player, I find that it’s simple, yet quite effective. Most notably, it lacks fast-forward and reverse controls, though it does have buttons for ten-second skips both in the forward and reverse directions. Of course, you can pause, stop and skip to next/previous MP3 files.

The SY-X5 has a dedicated MP3 player red LED display; it is very bright–almost too bright, in fact, for low light conditions–and quite simple, offering only basic functions (no alpha-numeric tags, for example). Unfortunately, I find that the LED display does inject a little noise into the audio, but it’s nothing that would deter me from using it with the built-in speaker.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Summary

Every radio has positive and negative attributes; below are the pros and cons I noted from the moment I unpacked the SY-X5:

Pros:

  • Audio from internal speaker excellent for size
  • Integrated digital audio player
    • Uses standard Micro SD card for storage
    • Very bright red LED display (see con)
    • Dedicated, tactile buttons for basic MP3 functions
  • Multiple power sources
    • Internal rechargeable slim battery pack
    • Standard AA batteries
    • Charged/powered via standard mini USB cable
  • Relatively sturdy construction
  • Good FM sensitivity
  • Tuning indicator light
  • Inexpensive
(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Cons:

  • “Sticky” tuning wheel/dial results in immediate and annoying digital “drift” off-frequency
  • Sloppy selectivity (typical of this class of mechanically-tuned DSP radios)
  • MP3 player’s LED display almost too bright for low light settings; the LED does inject some slight noise into the headphone amp chain
  • Shortwave and medium wave sensitivity is mediocre, typical of other SiLabs SI484X radios
  • MP3 capabilities are only as a player, the SY-X5 cannot record in any capacity
  • Analog dial is small enough to make tuning accurately quite difficult
  • The dial’s printed frequency display in my unit is positioned off-center and tilted, resulting in ambiguous needle alignment

Conclusion

The ShouYu SU-X5 is very similar, performance-wise, to the Degen DE321. Out of all of the mechanically-tuned DSP portables reviewed thus far, the SY-X5 may have the best audio fidelity via its built-in speaker (save the Tecsun R-2010D). Also, like other similarly sized and priced models in this family, the SY-X5 has tuning issues; in its case, a tuning wheel that will not stay on frequency without practice.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

I’ve decided to take my SY-X5, on behalf of Ears To Our World, to inner Belize City in the near future. I’m going to offer this radio–together with a microSD card packed with VOA Special English programming (and a host of other English language educational materials, music and stories)–to a visually-impaired, economically-disadvantaged school child who will hopefully give this basic little radio lots of use, and perhaps even maximize its potential. While the SY-X5 has shortcomings, for this particular use–serving an individual who will not rely primarily on sight, but on tactile response, to operate it–I think it may serve its purpose. Perhaps this will be the best litmus test for the SY-X5’s utility and longevity:  I may post an update when I receive feedback in approximately one year, as to whether this radio has required repair, replacement, or has offered (as I sincerely hope!) some measure of benefit to the child-owner.

For the radio hobbyist, I would encourage you to skip the ShouYu S-X5 and, instead, invest in a Tecsun PL-380, PL-390, PL-398BT, Degen DE1102, DE1103, or the Tecsun PL-600. Though all are pricier, each is under $100 US, and will actually provide a lot of performance for the price. The SY-X5 and other mechanically-tuned DSP radios seem only to offer mediocre performance and a low price.
Click here to search for the Shouyu SY-X5 on eBay.