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!

A review of the Kaito KA29 / Degen DE29

Kaito-KA29

While doing a somewhat random search on Amazon a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a radio with a model number that I didn’t recognize–the Kaito KA29.

The form factor of the KA29 is very reminiscent of the Degen DE1129 I reviewed two years ago, but it’s smaller and sports a number pad on the front. On a whim, and with possible use of this radio in my charitable work at ETOW, I purchased one. At ETOW we have used similar radios with 16-32 GB Micro SD cards, chock-full of educational audio content. At $35, the KA29 is an affordable MP3 player and radio.

 

Kaito-KA29-Top

On a side note, I suppose I should mention that I was pretty disappointed with the DE1129 because I had hopes it would make for a great all-in-one portable radio recorder for ETOW. While the DE1129 could record FM/AM and SW radio directly, it had serious problems: it auto-adjusted the volume level during recording (one could not turn off the internal speaker), it degraded audio quality in recording, and medium wave was plagued with a “ticking” sound every 10 seconds. It produced digital hash on various meter bands. My summary of the DE1129:  fine concept, poor engineering. Read my full review of the first version of the DE1129 here.

The Kaito KA29: First impressions

The Kaito KA29 is a cute little portable. Mine has a black body with orange band encircling the diameter. That orange band is actually a nice addition–it helps the radio show up a bit better and makes the ports a little easier to see when lighting is low.

Kaito-KA29-Side

The overall quality of the radio feels fine: the hard plastic body has a smooth matte quality and the buttons have a very tactile response. The telescopic whip antenna is long for the overall radio size, but is still a little on the short side for good HF gain. Oddly, unlike most radios, the antenna cannot swivel at its point of attachment to the chassis; it can only be extended and tipped side-to-side–but not front to back, or back to front. Like the DE1129, the KA29 lacks a back stand–a big negative in my book–but admittedly a back stand would be of little use while SWLing with this rig because the antenna can’t be swiveled or tipped into a useful vertical position. Hm.  Also like the DE1129, the KA29 uses a slim rechargeable battery pack.Kaito-KA29-Back

When I first turned on the KA29, I thought I had received a faulty unit: I pressed and held the power button for a second, the display lit up a bright green, I released the power button…and the unit turned off. After a little trouble-shooting, I realized that the KA29 requires holding the power button a full two seconds, until the “Kaito” brand name appears on the display.

Unfortunately, the KA29 antenna does not swivel.

Unfortunately, the KA29 antenna does not swivel.

 

This sluggish power-up response is truly an indicator of most functions on the KA29. It’s as if every function is controlled by a slow processor–which I’ve no doubt is the case.

As far as I can tell, all the menu functions are the same on the Degen DE1129; obviously, they’re built on the same firmware. Indeed, Kaito is the North American brand for the Chinese manufacturer, Degen; the Degen model number for this radio is DE29. In this sense, most functions are familiar to me.

Tuning

The one added feature of the KA29 that my version of the DE1129 didn’t have is a number pad, useful for direct entry of radio frequencies. I should note here that I (typically) toss the owner’s manual aside when I first get a radio, in order to test how intuitive its functions are. I spent quality time with the KA29 while traveling a few weeks ago, and as I didn’t bring the manual, I had to learn its functions via trial and error. It wasn’t until I returned that I learned how to use direct frequency entry; the is answer clearly stated in the manual: just key in the frequency, then press the appropriate band (AM/FM/SW) to go to that frequency. Pretty simple, actually. The response time for the radio to start playing the frequency you enter is only about one second.

 

Use of the tuning knob (located on the right side of the radio) is easy and straightforward–tuning up and down will move the needle 5 kHz steps between frequencies. Unfortunately, as on the DE1129, 5 kHz is the smallest tuning step available.  The KA29 briefly mutes between frequency changes, so when tuning slowly it’s very noticeable.  If you tune quickly, the KA29 will produce snippets of audio as you pass signals, but I find it often skips over even very strong signals.  In short? Though I suppose it could be worse, I do not like tuning the KA29.

I should also mention that the KA29 has no adjustable bandwidth; I’m guessing the AM bandwidth is stuck at around 6 or 7 kHz.

Performance

While I no longer have the DE1129 in hand for side-by-side comparison, my impression is that performance between the two radios is very similar.

Audio fidelity

Herein lies the strength of the KA29. It obviously uses the same speaker technology (with an acoustic chamber) that the DE1129 uses. You will be favorably impressed with the audio from this wee radio–it is quite robust for a pocket radio of this size, and in a small room, almost room-filling. It sounds fantastic on FM and AM alike–you can even hear a hint of bass. One day, I tuned the KA29 to a local AM station and listened quite comfortably in another room. Impressive.

But what about receiver performance?

FM

FM performance is quite good. I’ve used the KA29 in two different cities, and found that it could detect most of the same FM stations my other portables picked up.

AM/Medium Wave

I was pleasantly surprised to note the absence of the annoying ticking sound I heard in the DE1129; it appears Degen engineers have succeeded in eliminating this distraction. In general, I believe the KA29 performs acceptably on medium wave for basic local and nighttime clear channel broadcast listening. The AGC circuit is not ideal, though, for any sort of medium wave DXing; don’t consider the KA29 for MW DX.

Shortwave

If the KA29 is better than the DE1129 on the shortwave bands, the improvement is negligible. You’ll be fairly happy with the KA29 while listening to strong shortwave broadcasts. During my review, I listened to the new Global 24 a few hours on 9,395 kHz–an easy catch on the east coast of North America–and the KA29 was fairly stable, producing rich audio.

Here are the cons on shortwave:

Automatic Gain Control

While listening to weak stations, you’ll discover the KA29 to be somewhat sensitive, but again, the AGC circuit is just too active to listen comfortably for very long.

Noise floor

The noise floor is more obvious while listening to weak signals: I believe much of the noise is coming from the internal electronics of the KA29. It produces an audible digital hash sound that makes weak-signal listening a bit of a chore.

Images

Quite often as I tuned around the shortwave bands, I noticed that FM stations bleed through the audio. Check out this audio sample as I attempted to listen to Radio Ryhad:

Indeed, even if the shortwave station has a relatively strong signal (like this recording of Global 24) you can often hear noise:

For comparison, listen to the other radios I recorded at the same time for the ultra portable shoot-out.

Onboard Recording

Fortunately, several of the recording problems I noted with the DE1129 are no longer an issue with the KA29.

Fixed volume

The DE1129, when recording radio, had the exceedingly annoying habit of automatically setting the internal speaker’s volume to a high level. While recording, this could not be changed.

Fortunately, this problem has mostly been addressed in the KA29, which does not increase the volume while making a recording, but still fixes the volume at the level set at the recording’s start. I didn’t find this to be much of a problem.

Audio quality

The recording performance is better than that of the DE1129, which produced noisy, muffled recordings.  The KA29 will produce fair audio recordings on AM, on FM, and on shortwave.  One drawback: you will note a low-volume, high-pitched static noise–a hiss, to be specific–inherent in every radio recording, regardless of band. While it’s not too offensive, nor enough to deter me from making direct radio recordings (at least of strong stations), there is still much room for improvement.  Obviously, I can use the headphone jack and an external digital recorder to make better radio recordings.  But the convenience of an all-in-one recording device plus radio outweighs the slight hiss in the internal recordings it produces.

All in all?  I’m reasonably pleased with the radio recording capabilities of the KA29, and the improvements it’s made over its predecessor. If the Degen engineers could lower the KA29’s noise floor and fix the imaging problems, and add 1 kHz tuning increments, this could be a good value all-in-one radio, a real contender.

Summary

Ever radio has its pros and cons.  The following is a list I made while reviewing the KA29:

Pros:

  • Keypad entry
  • Great audio for a tiny radio
  • FM reception quite good
  • MP3 playback audio is good
  • Onboard radio recording acceptable (see con)
  • 9/10 kHz select-able medium wave steps

Cons:

  • Sluggish response to most actions; if (for example) volume control has been used, you must wait nearly 4 seconds before using another function
  • Awkward menu to navigate
  • No bandwidth selections
  • Imaging on SW bands
  • Fixed 5 kHz steps on shortwave
  • No adjustable bandwidth
  • Digital noise on portions of MW and SW bands
  • Low audio hiss present in all internal radio recordings (see pro)
  • No back stand
  • Antenna does not swivel 360 degrees for optimal placement

Conclusion?

Kaito-KA29-Front

If you’re looking for a pocket radio to make local radio recordings on-the-go, and the quality of your recordings is not a major concern, you might give the KA29 a try; chances are you’ll be fairly pleased with the affordable KA29.

If you’re a shortwave radio hobbyist or DXer of any stripe, however, don’t waste your time or money on the DE1129. Instead, pitch in $10 more and buy a Tecsun PL-310ET–it has no MP3 recording or playback, but it will receive circles around the KA29.

A review of the Degen DE32 shortwave radio: compared with the DE321 and Tecsun PL-380

The Degen DE32 (Click to enlarge)

The Degen DE32 (Click to enlarge)

The Degen DE32 is one of the latest DSP-based analog radios to hit the market. In the past, I have reviewed two others: the Degen DE321 and the Kchibo KK-9803. Tecsun had announced a version of their own–the Tecsun R-2010–which I had eagerly anticipated, but I now believe it’s been dropped from their future offerings. [Update: Not true–the Tecsun has been released as the R-2010D, see review].

I purchased my Degen DE32 from this China-based seller on eBay. To my knowledge, eBay is the only place the DE32 can be purchased, at time of posting. As with the other radios mentioned above, my expectations were quite low for this little radio.  After all, at $27 US (shipped), you can’t expect top-notch performance characteristics.

IMG_5886

The DE32 un-boxed (Click to enlarge)

The DE32 comes with a carry strap, USB cable, a carry pouch, slim rechargeable battery, and operating instructions in Chinese. It does not come with a USB wall adapter (you’ll have to plug it into a USB port on your PC or other USB wall charger) and it does not come with a Micro SD card (for digital audio playback).

Audio

The DE32 has a small built-in speaker. The sound is a bit tinny, but is actually better than I expected from a speaker of this size. It makes for comfortable listening at close range–especially of spoken-word broadcasts. Happily, plugging in a good set of earphones helps audio fidelity tremendously.  This is the only way I would listen to music on the DE32 for an extended period of time. On FM, in fact, audio via earphones is surprisingly good (again, for a $27 radio–check out the audio sample below).

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Performance

The DE32 covers three radio bands: medium wave (AM), FM and shortwave (5.6-22 MHz). Performance between bands varies greatly. The best band, by far, is FM. Again, no surprise here, as the DE321 and KK-9803 performed quite well on FM.

Here’s a 20+ minute audio sample of a local classic rock radio station I recorded, 95.7FM The Ride:

From my home, I can pick up my benchmark distant NPR station quite easily if I hold the radio in my hand. If I place the radio in a window sill, its performance degrades somewhat and contains more static as the extra grounding (from holding the radio) made a positive difference. The audio, though, is still perfectly intelligible. Local FM stations come in quite clear and fidelity (through headphones) is excellent.

The Degen DE321 (left) and DE32 (right)

The Degen DE321 (left) and DE32 (right)

I found that strong local medium wave (AM) stations sound quite good on the DE32–better than its cousin, the DE321, by a small margin.

While traveling over the holidays in December, I recorded extended samples of local station (630AM WAIZ) with both the DE32 and the DE321. You can listen to audio samples below, but first it’s important to note that I recorded these (and the FM sample above) with my Zoom H2N digital audio recorder, with radios at a comparable volume and via an audio patch cord.

Note that these recordings represent what each radio sounds like via headphones, not their internal speakers.

This is WAIZ on the Degen DE32:

Compared with WAIZ on the Degen DE321:

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

You’ll note that the DE32 sounds a little fuller than the DE321, but reception is nearly identical on this local strong medium wave (AM) station. I also found that the DE32 was quite effective at nulling out local RFI (electrical noises) on medium wave. At the beginning of the recordings, above, you’ll hear the static increase and fade as I null out the noise by turning the body of the radio. The DE321 couldn’t null out the local noise quite as effectively as the DE32.

For medium wave DXing, though, you’re better off finding a different ultralight radio. The AGC simply can’t handle marginal signals. Indeed, the same AGC problems plague the shortwave bands as well. DXing would be very unpleasant as the AGC circuit simply can’t cope with weak signals or fading.  All in all, as with medium wave, shortwave radio reception is fine for most strong signals.

Tecsun PL-380: What a difference an extra $23 makes

On shortwave, I decided to also compare the DE32 ($27) to the Tecsun PL-380 ($50). I tuned to a Radio Australia broadcast on 11,945 kHz. The comparison between these three portables is interesting:

First, the Degen DE32:

Now, the DE321:

Both the DE32 and DE321 struggled to receive the Radio Australia signal. In fact, if you really wanted to hear those broadcasts and had to listen on either radio for 30+ minutes  it would be frustrating and fatiguing. Notice, however, the difference when listening to the same broadcast with the Tecsun PL-380:

The Tecsun PL-380 receives circles around the DE32 and DE321 on shortwave and medium wave

The Tecsun PL-380 receives circles around the DE32 and DE321 on shortwave and medium wave (Click to enlarge)

There’s no comparison, really. In other words, you can hear it. The PL-380 has a lower noise floor, a fuller sound and no AGC problems as with the DE32 and DE321.  Hence the reason I always take the PL-380 while travelling–and as a back-up if I plan to record a broadcast on-the-go.

On the shortwaves, as with medium wave, the DE32 is respectable when tuned to a strong signal. For comparison to the weaker signals above, here is a short recording of the DE32 tuned to Radio Havana Cuba:

Not too bad, really. Keep in mind, though, that in my part of North America, Radio Havana broadcasts are so strong that I can pick them up without even extending the whip antenna on most portables.

Conclusion:

The DE32 has a built-in LED flashlight (Click to enlarge)

The DE32 has a built-in LED flashlight (Click to enlarge)

I haven’t tested the digital audio playback on the DE32 yet, although I expect the audio to be pleasant enough.  Of course, it lacks a display to show any information about the audio you’re playing, but it would be great to load a few podcasts or audio books on.

In summary, I’ve tabulated the pros and cons below from the moment I took the DE32 out of the box, below. Note that these pros and cons take into account the $27 price level of this radio:

Pros:

  • Very portable and lightweight
  • With micro SD card, storage for hours of pre-recorded content (though not tested in this review)
  • Adequate shortwave coverage (5.6 to 22 MHz) (see con)
  • Good audio fidelity, via headphones, on strong stations, slightly better than the DE321
  • Above average FM reception
  • Great nulling ability on medium wave (AM)
  • Features a built-in LED light (see con)
  • Overall build quality seems to be acceptable
  • Standard analog volume control (not digitally incremented levels)
  • Red LED tune light (see con)

Cons:

  • Shortwave sensitivity and selectivity are poor
  • Shortwave coverage lacks the lower tropic bands
  • Bandwidth is not adjustable and too broad for crowded conditions
  • AGC (as with many DSP portables in this class) cannot deal with weaker DX stations
  • Medium wave (AM) imaging on the shortwave bands if strong local station present
  • Antenna slightly loose in antenna hole when fully extended
  • No battery level indicator
  • No back stand
  • Tinny sound from tiny built-in speaker
  • To operate LED flashlight, you must press a button continuously to keep illuminated and LED  bulb orientation does not help with reading display in dark (see pro)
  • No option for standard AA or AA batteries–only included li-ion rechargeable pack
  • LED tuning light only works with very strong stations (see pro)
Conclusion? Though slim, lightweight and inexpensive,  I wouldn't find the DE32 DSP radio/digital audio player a useful radio in my collection.

Conclusion? Though slim, lightweight and inexpensive, I wouldn’t find the DE32 DSP radio/digital audio player a useful radio in my collection.

If I were you, would I buy it?

If you’re looking for a very inexpensive MP3/Digital Audio player with AM/FM and shortwave, and your expectations are fairly low, the Degen DE32 is a reasonable $27 piece of kit. Especially if you only plan to use the FM band.

If the digital audio playback abilities are not important to you, I would go with the cheaper ($18 US) Degen DE321.

But if you really want performance on medium wave and shortwave, and you could care less about digital audio playback, spend the extra $23 ($50 total) and buy the Tecsun PL-380, instead.  As you can hear above, it’s a much, much better receiver.

The new Degen DE1129A sports RDS, but is there really a version with keypad?

Thanks to a tip from the Herculodge, I discovered the DE1129A: a version of the recently reviewed Degen DE1129 with RDS. RDS is a very useful feature–especially for instant FM station ID on the go.

The DE1129A is available from Anon, a trusted Degen distributor from Hong Kong, on eBay. I have purchased from them before and have been very pleased with their service. Click here to view their listings.

If you’ve been sitting on the fence about purchasing the DE1129, perhaps RDS will sway you toward purchasing this portable radio with integrated digital recording and playback.

Frankly, I was unimpressed by the DE1129. Though the radio has very good FM reception and an impressive little speaker with bass response,  I believe the majority of shortwave and medium wave radio listeners would be upset with its overall performance.  I can’t imagine that Degen’s updates would bring dramatically improved performance on the shortwave and mediumwave bands. If nothing else, the lack of a number pad to directly input frequencies, would put me off. Cruising through the shortwave bands at slow 5kHz steps with noted muting between frequencies make band-scanning a chore on the DE1129.

According to TecsunRadio.com, this image was altered by Degen to show what the DE1129 would look like with a number pad. It’s obvious that the image has been altered by Photoshop or another graphics application.

DE1129 Number Keypad?

Speaking of a number pad…earlier this year, TecsunRadio.com told me that there would soon be a version of the DE1129 with a number keypad.  They published a prototype image (see right). When I first saw this image, I could instantly see that it had been Photoshopped; obvious use of cloning tools and the fact that the number pad characters are not in alignment with the buttons really stand out. Still, for a prototype image, it gives you a good sense of what the final product will look like.

Within weeks, I started noticing the keypad version of the DE1129 appearing in search results on eBay and had assumed it was in production.

This eBay seller shows a version of the DE1129 with number pad, but the image is the Photoshopped image (see above) released from Degen earlier this year.

This morning, I opened an eBay listing of the DE1129 keypad version (see image on right) from pbuying.usa. Their listing clearly shows the same Photoshopped image from above. I then noticed that neither the product description nor any other image they feature indicates a number pad on the DE1129. I wrote a message to them this morning asking for clarification and will update this post with their response.

UPDATEpbuying.usa confirmed that his radio does not have a number pad and was apologetic and thankful that it was pointed out. The image has been removed.

I mention this as a note of caution: On eBay, you should always confirm any discrepencies before purchasing.  Though you could rightfully return the radio and get a refund, return shipping to Hong Kong/China (which you would pay for) could be in excess of $20-25 US.

By the way, though the addition of a number keypad on the DE1129 would make this radio at least 50% more usable, it would not sway me to recommend it because receiver performance is so mediocre. Check out my other review notes here.

I’m very curious if any SWLing Post readers have actually received a keypad version of the DE1129–please comment!

The Degen DE32 combines analog styling with MP3 features

The Degen DE32

I just ordered the Degen DE32–a new addition to the Degen shortwave product line. The DE32 is unique in that it has a (nearly retro) analog radio dial for tuning across the FM/AM/Shortwave bands, yet features MP3 playback.

Details are a bit scarce, but I have to assume that this is an analog radio as I see no mention of DSP in the description. (Though building on the DE321’s DSP chip could make sense.) It appears that MP3 recordings can be played back from an SD card and/or potentially from internal memory. Since there’s no digital display, sorting through recordings will be similar to using the iPod shuffle.

At $27 US shipped from Hong Kong, it’s certainly affordable, and my expectations will be adjusted accordingly. Still, I’m eager to see what this little radio has to offer. Check back as I will publish a review soon–simply follow the tag: DE32.

Thanks, Michael, for bringing this little radio to my attention!

Degen DE1129 with English buttons, now on eBay

(Photo: eBay)

An English labeled version of the Degen DE1129, which I recently reviewed, is now available from a Hong Kong Seller on eBay. It appears that pricing is $69 US with shipping.

Click here to search eBay for the Degen DE1129

Thanks to the Herculodge for the tip!

Click here to read our full review of this radio.

A review of the Degen DE1129 portable shortwave radio

My Degen DE1129 as tested (Click to enlarge)

The Degen DE1129 is the latest compact, full-featured, DSP-based, AM/FM shortwave radio from Chinese manufacturer, Degen.  It’s available from TecsunRadio.com at $100 US, shipped. I received my sample radio last week, and published my initial impressionsof the unit. Since then, I’ve had time to put this tiny radio through its paces and learn the functions of the various buttons labeled in Chinese, which I don’t read. In the following review, we’ll study the positive characteristics–and the drawbacks–of this little radio.

Getting started:  the unit

I’ll begin by discussing some of the positive attributes of this radio. First, it should be noted that the DE1129 I have reviewed is one of the first to be produced, and as such, it currently has 18 buttons screen-printed in Chinese. Last week, Degen announced that they will be producing an English version, and (importantly) adding a number pad for keying in frequencies directly (see photo above). I have confirmed this via the manufacturer’s retailer. It will require squeezing a lot of buttons into a very small area, but I imagine this alteration will be easy enough, and probably remain functional even for those with larger fingers.

Degen has confirmed that they intend to produce a DE1129 with a number pad and English print in the future (Click to enlarge, Photo: Degen)

On the topic of buttons, those on the DE1129 are easy to push and have a very tactile response–very much like those on the Tecsun PL-380 and PL-390. I don’t expect these buttons are likely to be compressed accidentally if the radio is in your pocket, but just in case, there is a number lock button (with a key icon) that will further protect the radio.

The body of the radio is made of a hard, smooth plastic–without a rubberized coating–and seems durable enough. The speaker is not exactly flush-mounted. Instead, it protrudes from the rest of the body by about 1/4  inch. At first, I thought this quite odd, but I’m fairly sure this was in order to accommodate a larger speaker than it otherwise would have had.

For more on the DE1129 unit itself, be sure to read my initial impressions, which go into greater detail.

This little speaker packs a punch!

Audio

The audio from the built-in speaker is impressive–in fact, this is possibly the best feature of this little radio.  Just the other day, I was able to listen to an NPR FM station, with the volume turned up, as I cooked a meal; typically, I wouldn’t be able to hear a radio this small while doing other things–the output would be tinny with too much emphasis on the treble end of the audio, and the sound lost in all but a quiet room. However, the DE1129 speaker offers just enough bass to keep the audio (especially on FM, or from a quality digital audio file) comparatively rich and full. In essence, it sounds like a larger radio. Though the speaker lacks a bit of mid-range, the overall experience of listening to AM is quite pleasant, while FM is exceptional.

Digital Audio Player/Recorder

The “Music” mode will allow you to play pre-recorded MP3 files

With several of their latest DSP radios, Degen has added digital audio recording and playback features.  The DE1129 is no exception, and offers the following capabilities:

  • Records from a built-in microphone
  • Records directly from the radio while playing
  • Plays any MP3 formatted audio files
  • Offers many standard music playback options, like repeat, shuffle, etc.
  • Provides expandable memory via the insertion of a micro SD card into the radio, has 4GB of storage built-in

Perhaps the handiest feature is the fact that you can connect the Degen DE1129 to a PC, via supplied (standard) USB to miniUSB, for file transfer and maintenance. In my case, no additional software was needed for recognition of the DE1129 by my Windows 7 PC, which simply interpreted the radio as a storage device.

The “Voice” mode must be used to playback any recordings you make with the DE1129

NOTE: The DE1129 divides recordings into two different categories: “Music” or “Voice.”  “Music” is basically any MP3 file that is stored in the root directory of the radio (when viewed on your PC). “Voice,” on the other hand, is stored in the “Voice” folder on the radio and is accessible only via the radio’s “Voice” mode. I could not find a way, for example, to record music on the FM radio and save it in the “Music” category–I believe anything that is recorded on the radio itself will be filed under “Voice.” Of course, you can connect the radio to your PC, then manually drag the files from the “Voice” folder into the root directory to have access within the “Music” mode. If you actually used the built-in microphone to make a live recording, it will also be saved under “Voice.”

My DE1129 came with two preloaded MP3s–a Kenny G song and a Chinese pop song. I added a few of my own choices and, again, was favorably impressed with audio fidelity from its tiny speaker.

Recording from the radio, however, was a different story…

First of all, a note of caution: I know that some of the DE1129’s predecessors had  quality issues, when users tried recording from the radio without setting the volume to a very precise level.  I assume that’s the reason why, when you record from the radio, the DE1129 auto-adjusts the volume level to a rather specific setting. Therefore, while the radio is recording, you cannot adjust the volume. This wouldn’t be a problem, save the fact that the volume level it sets is rather loud. The first time I tried recording from the radio, I was using in-ear, noise-cancelling headphones; the radio rapidly shot the volume level up to such a level that I had to jerk the phones out of my ears to protect them. In many situations, I find the volume level via the built-in speaker a little loud, as well. You will not be able to discreetly record your favorite show during church or while eating dinner with the in-laws! During recording, I believe this radio adjusts the volume to 20.

Oddly, while recording, the DE1129 will allow you to engage the mute function–it even shows you the audio muted icon–but it has no effect on the audio level, whatsoever.

The “Record” mode is only used to record via the tiny built-in microphone–quality is quite good for voice

There are two levels of quality when recording: 129K or 96Kbps. Regardless of the setting, I find that there is a loss of quality when recording via the built-in recorder, though perhaps slightly less than with previous Degen models. When I recorded a stong FM station at 129K, I notice at least a 20% degradation in audio quality. The recorded audio sounds slightly muffled and garbled, more like an MP3 recording made at 48 Kbps. There was a noticeable lack of the higher and lower tones which make the DE1129’s internal speaker otherwise sound quite crisp.

There is a less noticable difference in audio quality while recording AM radio (whether shortwave or medium wave/AM). No doubt, this is due to the fact that AM radio lacks the higher and lower audio characteristics and general fidelity of FM radio.  While AM recording quality is acceptable and content is intelligible, for playing back a recorded program, it certainly leaves a lot of room for improvement. As with FM recordings, AM recording sounds muffled.

I would not recommend purchasing the Degen DE1129 if you’re seeking an all-in-one unit to record quality radio on-the-go. If you can settle for a mediocre recording, and you don’t mind the fact that while you’re recording, the radio will be playing at fairly high volume, then this may be a useful feature.

Radio performance

The “FM Radio” mode is actually the mode for all radio bands, including shortwave and medium wave

While I spent the bulk of my time testing the DE1129 on the shortwave and AM/MW bands, I will cover all three bands in order of performance, starting with the best.

FM

The Degen DE1129 is an excellent FM radio. In my tests, it received both strong and weak stations with relative ease and compared very favorably to my Eton S350DL, which I routinely use for receiving weaker FM stations in my area. Again, FM sounds great via the DE1129’s built-in speaker, providing nearly room-filling sound from a very tiny package.

The DE1129 (lower right), with its competitors, the Grundig G3 (top) and Tecsun PL-380 (lower left)

Shortwave

I always spend the bulk of my radio review time on the shortwave bands, of course, and to test the DE1129, I pitted it against my trusty Tecsun PL-380 and Grundig G3. Note, however, that neither the G3 nor the PL-380 have recording capabilities.

Sensitivity

First, the good news. Shortwave sensitivity, in general, is fairly good on the Degen DE1129. With it, I was able to hear most of the weaker stations that were received by the PL-380 and G3. I believe adding a length of wire to the antenna with an alligator clip–as there is no external antenna jack–could slightly improve performance. I may test this further. Again, since the radio lacks a fold-out stand and the telescopic antenna cannot rotate, attaching a wire to the antenna will be less than practical, as this will tip the radio over.

But unfortunately, the DE1129 suffers from several shortcomings that make it the clear loser against its two similarly-priced competitors. Note that I mentioned a few of these problems in my initial impressions post. Here is more detail, by function:

This image, with English translations for the keys on my DE1129, helped me identify each button’s function. Since there aren’t many buttons, I found that only after a few minutes of using the radio, I no longer needed to reference it. Click to enlarge

AGC (Automatic Gain Control)

The pre-defined AGC level is simply inadequate for comfortable shortwave radio listening of weaker signals. As mentioned above, though the radio has the sensitivity to detect the weak signals that its competitors can readily detect, the AGC gets in the way of comfortable listening. It creates a sort of pumping effect on weak stations, and truly seems to be “all or nothing:” at times, the radio’s signal will pop into clarity, then back into obscurity–obviously, it does not handle fading very well. The G3, in contrast, even without the sync detector engaged, did a much better job.

Bandwidth

The bandwidth is fixed–non-adjustable–on the DE1129. It is adequate for general shortwave broadcast listening, but a little too wide when you have two strong stations crowded together. Several times, adjacent broadcasts would bleed into the broadcast I was monitoring. I would expect even some rudimentary bandwidth control on a radio in the $100 US price category; the G3 (at $99) has wide/narrow, and the PL-380 (at $60 US) actually can be adjusted in 1 kHz increments from 6 kHz down to 1 kHz.

Single-Side Band

The DE1129 does NOT have SSB, thus would be useless for monitoring ham radio traffic, or listening to pirate radio stations in SSB, for example. The similarly-priced Grundig G3 does, of course, have SSB.

Shortwave can only be tuned in 5 kHz steps

Frequency steps

Unfortunately, the DE1129 has fixed frequency steps at 5 kHz; you cannot adjust it to be more or less.  In comparison, both the PL-380 and G3 can be adjusted down to 1 kHz steps.

Since the DE1129 mutes between frequency changes, it creates a “chuffing” sound while band scanning or tuning much like the PL-380. The Grundig G3, in contrast, tunes with smooth, continuous sound–much like an analog radio.

Tuning Speed

I normally don’t bother commenting on tuning speed, but I find that band scanning on the DE1129 leaves something to be desired. It’s rather arduous.

The DE1129’s hard plastic band covering the tuning wheel may protect it if dropped, but it’s also in the way of your thumb for easy tuning on the side

The tuning speed is not adaptive. Meaning, if I turn the tuning dial faster, it doesn’t increase the speed of tuning. This is very frustrating, especially since the model I reviewed does not have direct frequency entry via a number keypad. If I want to move from 5800 kHz to 6100 kHz, it takes a lot of tuning to get me there!

If I were stuck with the DE1129 as my only shortwave radio, I would be forced to fill its memory bank with all of my favorite frequencies, just to make tuning easier.

The DE1129 does have two different ways to navigate the shortwave spectrum:

  • By pressing the “Shortwave” button repeatedly, the DE1129 will move you from one SW meter band to the next highest. This is the only practical way of tuning.
  • The other way, (practical only if you want to listen to something outside of the normal broadcast meter bands) is to manually tune the entire SW spectrum (2.3 – 23 MHz) in 5kHz increments. Since the tuning rate is rather slow, this is a cumbersome process to say the least. To make it go a little faster, you could allocate memory locations, say at 3, 4, 5, 6 MHz etc. to make points (or bookmarks) from which you could tune.

Noise

My observation is that the radio’s internal processor and/or display seem to inject noise into the DE1129. This is especially noticeable on medium wave (see below).

While testing the radio against the G3 and PL-380, I even noticed that I could hear the (tuning) encoder noise of the DE1129, emanating from it, and even from other radios operating within two feet of it. Each tuning increment (via the tuning wheel) would produce a clicking sound in the audio of not only the DE1129, but even more noticably in that of other radios. The DE1129 is obviously generating a little RF noise of its own.

SW Summary

At $100 US, the DE1129 is simply not a good value for those interested in shortwave radio performance. Perhaps if it were in the $40-50 category, my expectations would be lower, and it might meet them at this price point. At the very least, a wide/narrow bandwidth control and the ability to speed up/slow down tuning speed would make this a more pleasant  and functional radio.  The sloppy AGC alone, though, would still keep me from recommending the DE1129 as a good shortwave radio.

AM/Medium Wave

On the positive side, the DE1129 can be used in any ITU region as the user can specify either 9kHz or 10 kHz spacing, although there is no option for choosing frequency steps less than 9 kHz.

How well does the DE1129 perform on medium wave? Not so well, I’m afraid–it’s mediocre at best. Medium wave suffers from many of the same problems as shortwave (described above), including the fact that the DE1129’s AGC (Auto Gain Control) simply cannot handle the up-and-down nature of weak AM stations.

Ticks like a clock?

Perhaps worst of all, though, is a “ticking” sound that plagues this Degen’s audio on the medium wave band. Spaced almost at second intervals, this “ticking” sound is present most anytime I listened to an AM broadcast. It was less noticeable in robust local broadcasts, but was still there, nonetheless. Recording a broadcast only seemed to make it more noticeable.

Unfortunately, if you purchase the DE1129 to listen to medium wave, you are likely to be disappointed.

The DE1129’s thin rechargeable pack fits neatly into the battery compartment on the back of the unit

Battery

As mentioned in my initial impressions, the DE1129 operates on a slim 3.7V 850 mAh Li Ion battery pack. Unlike most other shortwave portables on the market (but similar to the Grundig G2 and Degen DE1128), it does not operate on AA batteries.

No doubt, the slender battery pack allows for the compact form factor of the DE1129. In my testing, I found that the battery life is very good. Indeed, I have not needed to re-charge the battery even though I’ve played the radio for many hours in testing. I cannot speak to the overall longevity of the battery pack, however.

While I’m sure these battery packs are convenient, I still prefer the traditional AA battery.  If this battery pack wears out, I will have to order a replacement, whereas most portable radios only require the ubiquitous AA cell.

Stacking up the pros and cons

The rechargeable battery pack is very slim

Every radio has positive and negative attributes, and the DE1129 is no exception. Alas, in this case–especially since I’m reviewing this with a focus on shortwave and radio performance–the negatives outnumber the positives.

Pros:

  • Audio from built in speaker is superb for size (see con)
  • Sturdy, smooth plastic body (see con)
  • Perfect small size for travel
  • Strong FM radio performance
  • Ability to record either via built-in microphone or directly from radio (see cons)
  • One-button recording from any radio band
  • Crisp, easy to read backlit display
  • MP3 playback and functionality
  • Simple interface via supplied USB cable to both charge the radio and add/maintain recordings and MP3s
  • MW frequency steps can be adjusted between 9/10 kHz
  • Up to 32 GB of additional storage via micro SD card
  • Built-in microphone recordings of voice notes are excellent

Cons:

  • DE1129 plastic body lacks a back-stand and telescopic antenna cannot rotate
  • Shortwave performance is mediocre, AGC can’t handle weak signals and QSB
  • Mediumwave performance is poor, AGC flounders on weak signals, and most of the MW band is plagued with a ticking noise
  • Bandwidth cannot be changed and is too wide for crowded SW broadcast conditions
  • No direct frequency entry (though Degen plans to add this very soon!)
  • No complete (stand-alone) charging adapter; USB cable only, to plug into PC or wall-mounted USB charger
  • Tuning rate is fixed on SW at 5 kHz and not adaptive if you turn the dial faster
  • 4 or 5 second delay when turning radio on
  • Additional delays in response when changing frequency, mode, band and starting/ending a recording
  • Protective tuning knob strap prevents thumb tuning
  • While recording from radio, the volume level will spike loudly and cannot be changed or muted regardless if using built-in speaker or headphones
  • Recorded radio audio suffers from compression and is significantly degraded from the original broadcast–less noticeable on SW and MW/AM
  • No external antenna jack
  • No English manual (at time of this review, though I imagine this will be forthcoming)
  • In the current firmware version, the radio mode is displayed as “FM Radio” in the menu selection, though this mode covers all radio bands
  • There are no backlight options or modes that I could find–if you touch a control or move the frequency, the display will remain backlit for only about 10 seconds (please comment if you know how to change this)

Summary

I really should have started this review with the following disclaimer: it is possible that there is functionality to this radio, and adjustments that can be made to it, that I have yet to discover.  To my knowledge, I have toured and tried every menu option and explored every possibility with the radio’s settings.  However, since this is an early production unit and all of the instructions are in Chinese, I could easily have missed something. Future firmware updates and the forthcoming numeric keypad could also change my opinion of the DE1129.

With that said, I can freely comment on my experience:

If you are looking for a very compact radio with good FM reception, with MP3 recording and playback, with a compact form factor and a wonderful built-in speaker, you may want to consider the Degen DE1129 in your search.

If you are seeking a good shortwave or mediumwave radio, however, I would look elsewhere.

Overall, I feel like the DE1129 has much room for improvement, and I hope Degen is listening and will make firmware upgrades to quickly address some of my criticisms above. It’s as if  the DE1129 was built around the MP3/FM functionality and shortwave/mediumwave was simply an add-on, a bonus feature. I would never use the DE1129 for shortwave DXing, and certainly not for mediumwave DXing. The fact that the radio receives noise from its CPU–especially the ticking sound on MW–makes me believe that it was not thoroughly tested before production.

The Degen DE1129 & box (Click to enlarge)

For the price point (currently $100 US, shipped from the manufacturer), I simply expect better performance. In my tests, the Grundig G3 and Tecsun PL-380 outperformed the DE1129 in every respect on shortwave and mediumwave.

TecsunRadio.com provided a sample unit for this review and I paid for DHL shipping.  I can say that I’ve been very pleased with customer service at TecsunRadio.com. Since they are in a different time zone, and English is their second language, communication was slow, but they answered my many questions.

To my knowledge, the Degen DE1129 is only available from TecsunRadio.com and can be purchased for $80 US plus $20 shipping internationally.