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A review of the AOR AR-3000A Wideband Receiver

ar3000Alrg

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


The AOR AR-3000A Wideband Receiver

by Mario Filippi, N2HUN

(All photos below by author)

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

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

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

AOR 3000

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

AOR-3000-side view

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

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

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

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

Front panel (sorry about the camera shutter ghost!)

Front panel (sorry about the camera shutter ghost!)

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

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

Plenty of rear connections.

Plenty of rear connections.

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

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

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

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

Radio Shack discone offset –mounted on TV antenna mast.

Radio Shack discone offset –mounted on TV antenna mast.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Update: Sangean ATS-405 review

Sangean-ATS-405After publishing my initial review of the Sangean ATS-405 on July 25, I contacted Sangean and requested a sample radio for comparison purposes. Back story:  there were some receiver performance issues that I suspected may have been tied to my particular ATS-405 unit. Sangean kindly dispatched another ATS-405 which I received last week. The following is an update to my initial ATS-405 review.

In truth, there were two main reasons I wanted another unit to compare to my initial review radio:

  1. I wanted to see if the new unit showed improved performance–sensitivity, selectivity, and, specifically, noise floor–in comparison with the first review unit tested
  2. I noted strong DSP “birdies” (noises) on 800 and 1600 kHz on the test model, while several of our readers commented that their ‘405s did not feature birdies

Shortwave sensitivity/selectivity and noise

I noted in my initial review that the initial ATS-405 had an ever-present noise, a sort of low-volume static hiss. The noise floor, while not high, certainly seemed to be higher than other comparable shortwave portables, and was most noticeable when tuned to marginal/weak stations. I suspect many listeners may not notice it unless they compare it with other portables.

ATS-405-9580kHz

Fortunately, my new review unit’s noise floor seems to be slightly lower than that of my initial review unit. [Perhaps this unit’s board is better soldered–?] The noise is still there, but can be better mitigated by judiciously using narrow filters and the three-position audio tone control.

I suspect this is a noise somewhere in the audio amplification chain, because I find it less noticeable with headphones, and more pronounced via the ATS-405’s internal speaker.

In terms of sensitivity and selectivity on the shortwave bands, I believe my new unit is identical to that of the initial review unit. That is to say, the ATS-405 is not an especially  sensitive shortwave receiver, but fairly average, and thus will fit the bill for most but not for the discriminating weak-signal hunter.  Frankly, even my $46 Tecsun PL-310ET does a better job of pulling in weak stations.

I’ve tried tinkering with the AGC settings and soft mute–very cool features!–in an attempt to improve sensitivity, but alas, these only help the quality and stability of the received signal.

Birdies

Immediately after opening the box of the new ATS-405 sample, I popped in a fresh set of AA batteries and tuned the Sangean to 1600 kHz AM. [If you read my initial review, I noted a strong DSP birdie on 1600 and (to a lesser degree) on 800 kHz].

At first listen, I was happy to note that the new unit lacks the wild DSP noise that overwhelmed my favorite local station on 1600 kHz.

As I listened more carefully, though, I did note a metronomic “chick” sound that was also present but partially buried in the noise on my initial ATS-405.

ATS-405-1600kHz

Below, I’ve embedded audio comparing the two receivers:

Initial review unit:

New review unit:

Listening to these samples, I realize I may have had the filter set to the middle position on the first sample and the wide setting on the second (hence, the brighter tone).

To further demonstrate the difference between the two, I made this short video; I start with my initial review unit, then switch to the new review unit provided by Sangean:

Note that this was recorded at least 100 feet from my house on the tailgate of my pickup truck. DSP birdies on 800 kHz sounded very much like the 1600 kHz sample, save the noise level on the latter is slightly lower and there are no broadcast stations in the background.

None of my other portables have digital noises or birdies on 800 and 1600 kHz.

So, the bad news:  I do still hear a noticeable (and slightly annoying) internally-generated noise on the new review unit. The good news: it isn’t as objectionable as that on my initial review unit.

Summary

In short: I stand by my initial review of the Sangean ATS-405.

While the new ‘405 review sample seems to perform better than the initial ‘405 sample, I find the discrepancy somewhat marginal, especially since I spend the bulk of my time on the shortwave and mediumwave bands.

I’m not a fan of production runs where units vary so greatly from one to another, making accurate testing difficult. Therefore it’s quite possible you might receive a unit that performs better than those I tested…but unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

So, if you’re a Sangean fan, if you don’t mind the birdies on mediumwave, and if you mostly listen to strong shortwave stations, you may entertain purchasing an ATS-405. The keypad layout is almost identical to previous Sangean models.

To be clear, of course, this radio’s negatives above have been viewed under a microscope; the ATS-405 is not a “bad” receiver, it’s just not that exceptional. Other than the added mute/AGC/squelch features, when compared to its predecessors, it’s really not a better iteration.

In conclusion?  For the $90 US price, I believe there are better receivers out there–such as the Tecsun PL-600 (which, as a bonus, has USB/LSB reception–and saves you $10, to boot).

Initial review of the Sangean ATS-405

Sangean-ATS-405-Box

Just last week, I received the new Sangean ATS-405 on loan from Universal Radio. Though I’ve only had the radio for a week, I thought I’d share a few un-boxing photos (by request) and my initial impressions/review of this radio.

Unboxing

Sangean-ATS-405-OpenBoxThe ATS-405 comes with a thick owner’s manual (in five languages), a 7.5 volt AC adapter, and a soft radio case. The package does not contain rechargeable batteries nor a clip-on wire antenna (like many Tecsun products do, for example).

Sangean-ATS-405-OpenBox-2

Overall, the packaging accommodates the radio and accessories efficiently and would probably ship safely even if the carrier doesn’t handle it with particular care.

Sangean-ATS-405-OpenBox-3The first thing I noticed about the ATS-405 is the near-identical design and layout Sangean has used in their design of past shortwave radios. If you’re a Sangean fan, you’ll find all of the functions, buttons, and labels pretty much in the same place; virtually no learning curve.

Performance: first impressions

Sangean-ATS-405

After unboxing the ATS-405, I installed a fresh set of AA batteries in it and turned on the radio…

Display

Like most Sangeans, the display is crisp, clear and can easily be read straight-on or at low angles, like when the radio is resting on its back stand, for example. If you look at the display from a higher angle, however, you’ll find that the LCD digits nearly disappear.

Sangean-ATS-405-Display

Back-lighting is perfect: it’s soft and consistent across the display, very much like the ATS-909X.

Audio

Audio from the internal speaker is good. It’s in the same league with most similarly-priced competitors.

Receiver performance

Keeping in mind that I’ve only logged a few days of listening time on the ATS-405, I do have some initial impressions about receiver performance across the bands:

Sangean-ATS-405-RightSide

Right side view (click to enlarge)

FM

On a positive note, I believe FM performance is quite good. Perhaps not in the same league with my PL-660 or PL-680, but still the Sangean offers above-average sensitivity. I was able to pick up my distant benchmark FM stations with ease, though to help with the signal lock, I had to switch from stereo to mono reception.

AM/Mediumwave

AM reception is a bit of a mixed bag. I find that the ‘405’s overall sensitivity and selectivity are quite good for broadcast band listening.

When I first tuned around on the AM broadcast band, however, I found the noise floor a little too high. Regardless of whether I was tuned in to a station or not, there was an ever-present high-pitched hiss, like static. It was quite disappointing, especially since I read a review by Jay Allen that really complimented the AM performance on the ATS-405.

I trust Jay’s reviews, however, so I promptly contacted him. Jay pointed out that the problem may be that I was listening in the default “wide” filter setting on AM. And indeed, he was right–though I had changed filter settings a few times while tuned to local stations, I had moved it back to wide and didn’t make note of this. (The ATS-405, by the way, has three filter settings: wide, medium and narrow.)

Sangean-ATS-405-LeftSide

Left side view (click to enlarge)

But the wide setting is really too wide, and was certainly the source for the bulk of the high-pitched hiss I heard. The best filter setting for most broadcast band listening is the middle position, which sounds like a 5-6 kHz filter. In the middle position, noise is decreased significantly. I also believe selecting the “music” audio tone setting helps dissipate some of the noise.

Regarding the noise floor: to be clear, I still feel like the noise level is slightly more noticeable, to my ear, on the ATS-405 than on the PL-660, PL-600, and PL-310ET when band-scanning or weak signal listening. This is most likely some internally-generated noise that somehow still meets Sangean’s engineering spec.

Local AM stations sound fantastic, and the ATS-405 can detect all of my benchmarks. AM audio fidelity is better than that of my PL-660 and, even, PL-310ET. When locked on a local station, the noise floor also seems to disappear. For some reason, I even find that the ATS-405 does a better job receiving local AM stations from indoors–even near noisy electronics–than other sub-$100 portables with which I’m familiar.

Uh-oh, birdies

The most disappointing discovery I made on the Sangean’s AM broadcast band is that it has DSP birdies. Birdies are internally-generated noises resulting from the outputs of the oscillators that form part of the DSP receiver circuit. While almost all receivers do have birdies somewhere in the receiver’s reception range, radio engineers try to keep them out of the way of the important parts of the band.

Unfortunately, my ATS-405 has strong DSP birdies on 800 and 1600 kHz. This is a big negative for me, since my favorite regional AM broadcast station is located on 1600 kHz (WTZQ). Rather than attempting to describe what the birdies sound like, here are a few audio clips that will give you an idea–I start with 1350 AM, which has no birdies and is representative of good AM reception:

WZGM 1350 kHz (broadcast sample with no birdie):

800 kHz (birdie on frequency with no broadcast signal):

WTZQ 1600 kHz (birdie on broadcast signal):

The ATS-405’s birdies almost sound like a jamming signal on 1600 kHz.  Indeed, if this station were only located on a different frequency, I’m sure it would be quite audible on this radio…too bad.

Birdies on 800 and 1600 kHz may very well be deal-breakers for many of us. Again, since one of my favorite regional independent broadcasters is on 1600 kHz, it’s a deal-breaker for me.

Jay specifically mentioned a lack of birdies on the AM broadcast band in his review. It could very well be that he doesn’t hear them on his particular receiver–variations in quality control on a radio production line are certainly a real phenomena (the Grundig G3 is a case in point). This could indicate that some units may have pronounced birdies while others don’t. If you purchase an ATS-405, I would check to see if your unit has birdies after powering it up.

When I contacted an engineer for Sangean North America, and described my listening experience, he confirmed that he believed these are, indeed, DSP birdies. I may ask Sangean if they can send another ATS-405 for comparison.

On a more positive note, I checked harmonics in the HF/shortwave bands and heard no DSP birdies there.

Country of origin?

Sangean-ATS-405--BottomView

Bottom view with charge and keylock mechanical switches (click to enlarge)

One additional question I posed to Sangean: where is the ATS-405 made? One reader told me the radios are produced in both Taiwan and China. Thinking variations in quality control may be accounted for by two different production lines, I checked my radio to see where it was made. Unfortunately, my unit has no mention of country of origin; not on the radio, the box, the manual, behind the battery cover, nor on the back stand. It’s possible it could be marked internally, but I didn’t want to take apart a receiver I’ve been loaned.

Sangean came back with a firm answer:

“I can confirm that the ATS-405, along with all our radios, are manufactured in China. We have an office in Taipei for engineering, sales, marketing and customer support.”

Not a big surprise here; I expected China was the country of origin.

To sum up AM performance: if you aren’t bothered by the birdies on 800 and 1600 kHz, or if your unit isn’t producing them, you’ll find the ATS-405 a capable little AM broadcast band receiver.

Shortwave

Our HF propagation conditions since last Friday (when I first turned on the ATS-405) have been poor. Other than a few short band openings, I’ve struggled to hear anything other than the normal blow-torch broadcasters we hear in North America. Still, bad propagation conditions are actually good for reviewing some aspects of a shortwave receiver, so I used the opportunity.

In terms of sensitivity on the shortwave bands, I think the ATS-405 is mediocre. It lags behind my Tecsun PL-660, PL-600, PL-310ET, and CC Skywave. Adding a clip-on wire antenna to the telescoping whip (there is no aux antenna port) does help in terms of sensitivity.

Since I do most of my listening on the shortwave bands, this, too, is a deal-breaker for me. If you primarily listen to stronger shortwave stations, or spend most of your time on the FM/AM bands, then you might still consider the ATS-405.

The ATS-405’s selectivity seems to be on par with my other DSP-based portables. In truth, though, band conditions have been so unfavorable, I don’t feel like I’ve had ample opportunity to test selectivity. I’ll likely follow up this initial review with an update.

And as on medium wave, the noise floor on the shortwave bands seems a little high to me–especially with the filter set to the “wide” position.

Cool, innovative features

While I clearly haven’t been wowed by the ATS-405’s shortwave performance, I have been more favorably impressed with some of its innovative features: specifically, the ability to control squelch, tuning mute, and soft mute.

Sangean-ATS-405-KeypadUsing the menu button (see image above), you can engage or disengage the tuning mute and soft mute by pressing the “2” or “3” buttons on the keypad, then using the tuning up/down buttons to toggle these features on and off. Squelch works the same way, using the “1” button and volume control to set the threshold.

This menu control works regardless whether the radio is turned on or off.

Of course, by using the menu button and the keypad, you can also control the ‘405’s tuning steps, AGC, clock, and backlighting functionality; each of these are marked in green next to the appropriate button on the keypad (see image above), a very useful feature.

I wish other radio manufacturers would give users the ability to control some of the DSP chip’s built-in functionality, as the ‘405 does with the muting–especially since over-active soft muting has been the downfall of several DSP-based radios. Thanks for trail-blazing, Sangean!

Summary

Invariably, all radios have strengths and weaknesses; here is a list of my notes from the moment I put the ATS-405 on the air:

Pros:

  • Improved features and controls:
    • Soft Mute
    • Tuning Mute
    • Squelch
    • AGC
  • Crisp, clear display
  • Good travel size, similar to the Grundig YB400
  • Good AM/mediumwave sensitivity
  • Three audio/tone settings: Music, Norm, and News
  • Good FM sensitivity
  • Dedicated mechanical switches for keylock, audio tone, FM stereo/mono, and charging.

Cons:

  • Lackluster shortwave sensitivity
  • DSP Birdies on 800 and 1600 kHz
  • Higher SW/AM noise floor (especially in wide filter setting)
  • No tuning wheel
  • No AUX antenna port
  • No shortwave SSB reception (AM only)
  • No audio line-out port

I’m going to hold onto the Sangean ATS-405 for a few more weeks, as I’d like to give it a more thorough test on the shortwave bands. I hope to follow up with a post offering a few representative recordings.

Sangean-ATS-405

My nutshell opinion of the ATS-405 so far is that it’s a decent little radio with a lot of functionality and features for a rig in its price class. But overall, its performance seems to me rather mediocre. If you primarily listen to FM, you’ll be pleased. If you’re a mediumwave listener, you’ll be pleased only if you don’t mind the 800/1600 kHz DSP birdies. If you’re primarily a shortwave listener, you’ll need to carry a clip-on wire antenna to bring the sensitivity up to the level of similarly-priced receivers.

In short, I do want to like this radio unreservedly. But it appears that Sangean may need to pull up its socks on their quality control.  Readers: please comment if you’ve purchased the ATS-405–I’m very curious to learn whether there are QC discrepancies in performance from one unit to the next.

PLEASE NOTE: After publishing this following review, Sangean kindly agreed to dispatch a second unit for comparison. 

Click here to read my update to this ATS-405 review.

Follow the tag ATS-405 for updates.

Sangean ATS-405 Retailers:

Many thanks to Universal Radio for supplying this radio, on loan, for review!

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.

Dave reviews the Tecsun PL-880, PL660 and Sangean ATS-909X

ATS-909XDave Zantow (N9EWO) has posted reviews of the Tecsun PL-660, PL-880 and Sangean ATS-909X on his website. Dave even includes a review of the Radiolabs “ClearMod” version of the Sangean ATS-909X.  Click here to read the reviews (scroll down to view all).

Many thanks, Dave; I always value your reviews!