Tag Archives: Reviews

Guest Post: Revisiting the Realistic DX-440

RadioShack ad for the Realistic DX-440

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, ShortwaveGuy, who shares the following guest post originally published on his blog, Shortwave.me:


Tried And True. . .Revisiting Older Receivers – Realistic DX-440

by ShortwaveGuy

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a fan of the “latest and greatest” when it comes to shortwave receivers. Like most of us involved in the hobby, I am always on the lookout for what newer technology has to offer me in order to pursue my quest of either capturing that elusive DX signal, or whatever will bring my favorites in the clearest. As a result, over the past few years, I have collected an assortment of receivers, each one serving a different purpose. My wife can not only attest to this, but can also relate to this phenomenon, as someone who has far more shoes than she will ever have time or fortune to wear! That’s how I am with my radios!

The other day, however, while listening to some of my favorite stations on what is arguably my best current portable receiver, the Tecsun PL-660, I got to thinking about some of my other receivers, in particular, my Realistic DX-440. I have had this receiver for as long as I can remember and I can remember back a long time! Around the time it came out, the radio most of us had our eyes on was the venerable Sony ICF-2010. Like a lot of people, however, I had no means of purchasing a receiver as expensive as it was at the time. I hoped that somehow, I would be able to afford one and one day, I did buy one, but that’s a story for another time, however.

In the mean time, I can remember perusing the latest Radio Shack catalog, something I did as often as they came out when I saw it. . .a radio with all kinds of wonderful buttons and knobs! The top of the page screamed out at me: “CATCH THE ACTION ON MULTIBAND PORTABLES”. It was the Realistic DX-440! Here is a picture of the ad as it appeared:

 

Once I saw it, I knew I must have it! While the MSRP on the Sony ICF-2010 was $449, this gem could be had for less than $200! All my previous radios had analog tuning so the prospect of getting a radio with a digital display was quite appealing to me! Try as I may to convince my parents to get me just this one Christmas gift instead of several, it didn’t happen. . . .at that time. But fast forward several years later. . .

I finally got my digital receiver in the form of the Realistic DX-380 from my parents one Christmas. I worked that thing for years, and was mostly happy with it. It didn’t have SSB, which I had begun to understand by that time. I had pulled in a lot of great stations such as HCJB, BBC, VOA, Radio Havana Cuba and many others. However, because it didn’t have SSB, there were several occasions where I would happen upon ham radio operators who were talking back and forth, utility stations or even pirate stations. I could never be for sure, though, because my unit was not equipped to decode those signals. I knew that it was time to finally remedy that.

I purchased a few other radios that would do SSB and most of them worked reasonably well. At one point, I had even managed to procure the much-celebrated ICF-2010, which I loved dearly until it died a slow and unfortunate death that those with the know-how told me was beyond repair. But always, in the back of my mind, I wondered about that near-mystical Realistic DX-440. . .dreaming about what might have been.

I contented myself with the radios I had, still enjoying this wonderful hobby that I have participated in for so many years. I was, with the exception of the now-departed 2010, generally happy with the receivers that I had. I wasn’t looking for a new radio, but one night, mostly out of boredom, I wandered on to eBay and did a search for shortwave radios. I looked at tabletops and ultralights, primarily as I really had neither and had plenty or portables. About two pages in, I saw the Realistic DX-440. It only took about 10 minutes before I decided that this one must be mine. I placed my bid and waited patiently. . .only to lose the auction. “Oh, well”, I thought. If I saw another one, I might try again. . .or maybe not.

Well, the next day, I did a search and found one. This one looked in fantastic shape and had no bids. There was a “Buy It Now” price, but I wanted to get this for as inexpensively as I possibly could. The auction ended in 5 hours. I chose not to bid, not wanting to draw attention to it. I set an alarm on my watch and came back in an hour. . .still no bids. I set another alarm. With only 3 hours left, I began to get excited. Another hour went by and another alarm had been set. 2 hours to go. Any bidders, yet? No! Could this really happen? Maybe!

When I got down to the final hour of the auction, I didn’t bother to set an alarm. Like a watched pot that never boils, I stared at the web page, refreshing it every couple of minutes. With every refresh, it began to seem as if this might come to a happy conclusion. 10 minutes left. . .no bids. 5 minutes left. . .still no bids. I waited until 30 seconds before the end of the auction and placed the minimum bid.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Auction over.

I HAD WON!

A dream over 20+ years in the making had finally happened! I quickly paid for the radio and then purchased the appropriate “wall-wart” adapter to make sure I had it ready for when the radio arrived. It said it would be 7-10 days for delivery, but it was at my house in 3!

I opened the box and carefully wrapped in old newspaper, was the radio that I had been pining for since my early teens. I quickly checked it out to make sure it was in good condition and was pleased to find it was. My heart sank a little bit when I opened the battery compartment to find 2 AA cells left in for the last 5 years that were supposed to power the clock and the memory functions. Fortunately, they had not exploded and I quickly removed them and replaced the unit with a fresh round of batteries. The only flaw I was able to find was that it seemed that the previous owner had lost the screw on tip of the internal whip antenna and had placed a plastic cap on the end in its place. It didn’t look out of place and was very secure, so I shrugged it off. Now for the moment of truth: I powered the radio on and it worked! I checked all the bands and was able to receive quite well on all of them except LW (which is to be expected, given my geographic location and the lack of stations on the longwave band, in general). All the knobs were there and in place and there were no dirty switches or tuning pots to deal with. I had snagged myself a honey of a bargain!

Now it was time to use this thing for what I bought it for: to listen to shortwave radio! I usually use a 100 foot longwire antenna when I listen to shortwave, and this time would be no exception. However, I was anxious to pair the DX-440 with the Realistic 20-280 amplified antenna that I had picked up years ago at an auction. I had used it with other radios, but never in conjunction with a longwire antenna. I was ready to change that. I wanted to use the preselector function of the amplified antenna as well as the actual amplifier in order to maximize my ability to pull in distant stations. When the radio was first manufactured, there were a lot more stations on the air to listen to and less of a need to do much more than throw 20 feet of wire up in a tree. Obviously, with many of the powerhouse shortwave stations having gone the way of the internet, I knew that my plan to couple the longwire with the amplified antenna had the potential to pay big dividends. I took a look at the back of the radio, where the external antenna jack was and I was surprised to find not the 1/8? jack I was accustomed to, but in its place was an RCA phono plug. The amplified antenna had an RCA plug on its side, as well, but it wasn’t to connect to a radio, it was for connecting to an antenna. The amplified antenna had the 1/8? plug and accompanying cable that was used to connect to the external antenna jack of nearly every modern portable radio. To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure how I was going to go about handling this issue. I thought about using alligator clips, but wasn’t sure how to integrate this into my coupling scheme. I pondered over this for all of about 3 minutes and than quickly got into my car and headed to my local Radio Shack. I told them I was looking for a 1/8-inch phone plug-to-phono jack and they were quick to accommodate me. They gave me the adapter you see pictured here (Catalog #: 2740871). It would handle either stereo or mono input of a 1/8-inch plug and as a bonus, it says “MOM” on the end, if you are willing to use the input hole as the letter “O”.

I got it home and quickly got it hooked up. As I expected, the “MOM” adapter was a perfect fit. I made sure I had fresh batteries in the amplified antenna, though it would accept an AC adapter if I wanted. I chose to run it on battery, so as to reduce any possible introduction of noise to the signal. And then, I powered on both the amplified antenna and the DX-440. . .the moment of truth had arrived! I tuned to WWV on 15 mHz, which I use as a baseline for most test I conduct on my radios during the time of day I was listening. I must tell you, I was NOT disappointed in what I heard. It was a rather cloudy day weather-wise and I was concerned about a middling solar flux. I needn’t have been worried at all. The signal was robust and clear as the familiar sound came booming in from Fort Collins, Colorado! Not only was the signal strong, but using the separate bass and treble controls and the wide selection on filters, it was actually rather pleasant listening, not fatiguing at all. I pulled up my trusty shortwave schedules app on my phone and began searching for things to listen to.
I heard domestic broadcasters like WRMI and WBCQ with no issues and managed to catch BBC to West Africa, as well! I listened to quite a bit that night and into the morning hours, checking out not only broadcast shortwave, but utilizing the BFO to listen to ham bands, particularly my favorite, the Freewheelers Net on 3.916 mHz, LSB. The BFO was easy to operate and the addition of the Realistic amplified antenna helped to bring in signals with great gusto. As with any amplified antenna that is not a loop, this one amplified not only the signal, but the noise as well. That said, the propagation deities were kind to me and I enjoyed a long night of listening.

I have since given my DX-440 a place next to my bedside and have enjoyed listening to whatever I could find to listen to most nights. While a radio like the Tecsun PL-660 offers newer technology and the addition of an excellent synchronous detector, the DX-440 holds its own against the newer technology. At the end of the day, it’s still a portable and while most portables pale in comparison to tabletop rigs, this one is rather excellent with what it has offer versus its price point. The build quality is solid and ergonomically it is a pleasure to operate. If I had any critiques at all, I would have made the BFO and the RF Gain knobs a bit bigger, but now I am truly splitting hairs. I can see why contemporaneous editions of the Passport To Worldband Radio listed this as an Editors’ Choice radio back in the day.

I wanted one from the day I saw it those many years ago, and I can say unequivocally, that it was worth the wait!

–ShortwaveGuy


Thank so much for writing about the DX-440–that radio has a special place in my heart. The ‘440 was my first digital shortwave receiver–it revolutionized my shortwave listening.  

As I’ve mentioned before, I also travelled with the Radio Shack DX-440 while studying French and living in Grenoble, France. The DX-440 delivered my daily dose of the Voice of America (the only English language news I allowed myself to listen to at the time). Since the VOA broadcast often coincided with meal time at the Université Stendhal cafeteria, I left my voice-activated Micro Cassette recorder in front of the DX-440 which was, in turn, set to turn on one minute prior to the VOA broadcast. It was an amazingly reliable arrangement.

I’d better not wax too nostalgic, though, else I’ll start searching eBay for a 440 just like you did!  Hang onto that DX-440–I wish I would have never given mine away!

Visit ShortwaveGuy’s blog by clicking here.

Guest Post: Patrick compares four receivers

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Patrick Canler who writes to us from France and shares the following guest post which he translated into English:


4 rec

The number of receivers on the market is quite large, and all are sold to be the “best”. I have thought it useful to compare materials using them in the shack as a neophyte SWL; going beyond the features in the brochures to talk about everyday utility. This article does not pretend to do “scientific” testing of the four receivers–skills and special equipment are needed and some specialized laboratories already do it.

The four receivers cover thirty years of electronics manufacturing; four different brands with their own technology and specifications. Over such period, technologies and innovations have evolved. One of the questions I had was: “Does efficiency give any receiver an advantage?”.

The Contenders:

NRD-535 from Japan Radio Company.

nrd535

A reference of the 90s! It received 5 stars from WRTH (which publishes annually the almanac “World Radio and TV Handook”). The NRD-535 has conventional construction with an electronic card per function and discrete and analog filters.

This is a home station receiver, weighing in at 10 kg. The NRD-535 ceased to be produced in 1996, and its value second hand is growing due to its reputation.

AR7030 from AOR

ar7030

Designed by the engineer who developed the LOWE receiver line, the AR7030 is also famous for its reception. It uses special ergonomics and a hybrid of software menus and conventional controls. Quite small, it is easily transportable, due its design that already uses SMC but keeps the analog filters.

IC-R75 ICOM

ICR75

Modern device, classical format and renowned–the R75 is the only receiver tested that is still in production [Note: it was recently removed from production]. It uses CMS, combines analog and DSP filtering (the DSP option is present on the device under test). Its ergonomic design is intuitive and so too are controls and menus.

1102S RADIOJET Bonito,

SDR windows

The 1102S RADIOJET is the only unit in this comparison that is produced in Europe!
The Radiojet includes the latest developments in technology, its performance is simply stunning on the data/spec sheet. The application includes many tools (spectrograph, digital filters, IF and AF recorders, decoder, list of broadcast stations, etc.). It brings together all the SMC receiving electronics in a small box that can fit in a pocket.

SSDR box

The commands and tools are assigned to a software (highly evolved) that runs on the PC which is connected the SDR. The power of the PC also brings graphics, memory, recordings etc.

Why these four rigs?

In the beginning, and it was it which led me to be SWL, I acquired the RADIOJET based on its announced characteristics: sensitivity of “secret services”, adaptable to all cases with filters, graphics tools–“Star Wars equipment” is not it! Later I learned about 50 MHz and at the same time I was struggling to exploit the Radiojet SDR.

A good opportunity to purchase an ICOM R75 brought me back to conventional radio ergonomics. As time passed, I felt my listening skills improved with these 2 receivers and the receiver syndrome grew! A Kenwood R5000 joined the others for its VHF potential and HF reputation.

Then I discovered an NRD-525 on Ebay at a fair price point (rare)–it joined the group of receivers. The latter two were sold and replaced respectively by an AOR 7030 and by NRD-535. I really enjoyed the 525, but the 535 is even better.

In use, the RADIOJET and R75 have always posed problems with settings and sound quality. Kenwood reassured me about the fact that we could get some nice reception without fighting against the controls. validated by the AOR, the NRD 525 & 535. Perhaps I did not understand the manipulation of digital filters???

Now to the shack!

The four receivers are placed side by side, but arranged so as not to disturb each other (eg. the display of the ND535 disrupted the RADIOJET).

The antenna is a 25m random wire oriented East/West with 9:1 balun and its own ground. The passage from a receiver to the other is done by a conventional antenna switch.

All the tests were performed in one evening for constant conditions, there was a fairly present QRM which, was not too bad for comparison purposes. The tests were made in SSB or AM. Preliminary tests had shown that the results in digital modes (PSK31, JT65, ..) relied more on the decoder performance of the PC rather than the receiver. The tests increased from the lowest frequency detected this evening (Europe 1-163 kHZ) to the highest (Foreign Broadcast =15,545 MHz).

The highest frequencies, up to 30 MHz, were deserted in phone, at least for my installation.
The procedure was:

  1. Signal is detected from the spectrograph SDR: it typically “sees” almost inaudible signals.
  2. The candidate frequency is tuned on all four receivers
  3. I listening to all of the signals on all receivers, seeking to get the maximum performance, using all possibilities (notch, passband, IF Shift, integrated amplifiers, attenuator, etc.)
  4. Results are reported in the table below.

One can notice rather quickly:

  • that age is not a handicap
  • the number of functions is not always an advantage
  • 1102S RADIOJET
    Performance and capabilities above the rest (on paper) and requires being connected to a PC. At the present time, on an old Celeron 2Gb ram, the RadioJet’s application never saturated the CPU. The band spectrum display allows one to find the QSO, to filter theoretically perfectly, but it does not always equate to the understandability of the signal or give a pleasant audio. And the number of software features and functions complicates the signal manipulation. The sound is still a little metallic, perhaps due to the signal processing software. Its small size makes it a unbeatable mobile receiver for travel, functions are incredibly useful for those who master the RadioJet application.
  • AOR AR7030
    Inherently simpler at face value–the AR7030 is ultra easy to use. It makes it easy for the user to find and tweak a candidate signal. It’s intuitive and has essential functions only. It has well-designed electronics. The AR7030 is also best receiver tested for handling strong signals without overloading (broadcasts stations or nearby hyper-kilowatted amateur radio operators) which seems to prove that it is designed for these stations. Its limit is the lack of adaptive notch filter types to clean the noise, which is still quite present when the QRM is there. (The newer version 7030+ has added features to help). Finally, it is the smallest stand-alone, portable and with 3 options of antennas connections.
  • ICOM R75
    The R75 climbs up the frequency band all the way to 50 MHz, the only receiver tested with this frequency range. It enjoys an excellent reputation, and can be equipped with a DSP (digital signal processing) on audio. The DSP provides adaptive noise reduction and automatic notch, but has a relative effectiveness which is not always successful in clarifying the signal. Sometimes it adds an unpleasant “rattling”. In use, the interface is pretty intuitive–mixing commands by buttons and menus. Twin pass band tuning (PBT) is effective and allows for IF Shift and/or notch. The speaker is (very) small and gives an aggressive/harsh sound. This receiver is relatively small in size and lightweight. It has a mobile stand and is designed for a 12-14V power supply.
  • JRC NRD-535
    The NRD-535 is the oldest tested–indeed, it was already discontinued before the other receivers were in production. A solid and reliable construction, good ergonomic with conventional front panel controls, good sensitivity, and a decent sized speaker have earned it status as a benchmark in its time. Very sensitive, it extracts the signals and, once found the right filter, gives it pleasant audio. Some signals are not completely cleaned but it does rarely less than others. The NRD-535 is designed for home use: it is heavy, almost 10 kg, and is contains several circuit boards which should not be too exposed to excessive shocks, especially considering they’re over 20 years old.

Summary

My ranking is as follows:

  1. JRC NRD-535 for its ease of use and ability to dig out a usable signal from the QRM.
  2. AOR AR7030 for its simplicity, portability and the fact that it extract good sound/audio quickly, even if a little noisy at times.
  3. Bonito RADIOJET for its small size and its extensive feature set. It is ultra-mobile with a laptop.
  4. ICOM R75 does the job and covers a wide frequency range. But lags in performance relative to the other receiver tested, with a “nasal” sound and a DSP that does not keep its intended promises.

About digital filters: the SDR and ICOM have them, the possibilities are extensive and allow adaptive filtering that others do not with analog filters. By cons they give a dry sound and sometimes add “snap” under whistles. Listening is overall less pleasant in comparison.

Receivers Advantages + / Disadvantages –

Bonito RADIOJET
+ Top technology, visual and many new features over the others on this point
– Complicated, metallic sound, emphasizing the sometimes painful receiver interaction with a computer mouse

Icom R75
+ Great value at the present time
– Audio and imperfect signal cleaning

AOR AR7030
+ Simple and effective
– Ideal companion if it had a notch filter: noise is present

JRC NRD-535
+ Effective sensitivity and clean audio
– Older technology, less portable

Note that this is a personal opinion: a computer geek will certainly get the most of performance and possibilities from an SDR like the Bonito RadioJet.

The NRD-535 shows its age, will one day reach the end of its useful life despite its robust construction. ICOM can cover up to 6m remaining mobile and has a good filter possibilities (DSP). The AOR is easy, fast and gives a correct listening, general purpose. It is the only one to pass the VLF.

The ideal then?
* RADIOJET for sensitivity,
* The RADIOJET for tools/features and functions
* AR7030 for the lower bands
* Icom for the higher bands
* NRD-535 for ergonomics
* AOR for portability

Personally, I use the NRD-535 for DXing (due to superior audio), the AR7030 for digital modes,
the RADIOJET to visually search for signals, and to sometimes clarify the signal even better and because it’s ultra-mobile and always in my PC case.

73,
Patrick F61112


Thank you, Patrick!

I should mention that I think you did a fine job translating your article into English for us! I would not be as successful writing an article in French!  

I’ve never owned a JRC of any sort. If I ever found an NRD-535 for a good price, I would purchase one without hesitation. I’ve never spent much time on the AR7030 either. It’s simple “Lowe-like” front panel is quite appealing for field use. I found that the RadioJet audio is quite nice when paired with a good set of headphones. 

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!