Larry’s review of the CountyComm GP5/SSB

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


GP5SSB-Front

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The CountyComm GP5/SSB can be purchased from:

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

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!

Dan compares the Sangean ATS-909X with two classic portables

Sangean-ATS-909X-Sony-SW07-Panasonic-RF-B65

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares a radio comparison he initially posted in the excellent Extreme Shortwave Listening Facebook group. Dan writes:

When the Sangean ATS-909X was first released a few years ago, I decided that I would hold off obtaining one to let whatever bugs there might be in production get worked out.

I have always been impressed by the design of the 909X, but was cautious when it came to the question of overall sensitivity. I once owned the 909, had it modified by Radio Labs, but that seemed not to do much — the 909, in my view, suffered too much from the well-known deafness issue when using the whip antenna.

Over the years, I used and still own many of the classic portables. This includes the SONY 7600GR, Grundig SAT 500/700, 2010, E-1, SONY SW100/SW07, SONY SW-55, and the radio I consider to be at or near the top of the small portable heap, the Pan RF-B65. But a couple of weeks ago, I broke down and bid for a new in box Sangean 909X. It’s the black version, and arrived a couple of days ago.

I remain impressed by the 909X’s design — beautiful radio, wonderful large LCD and backlight, excellent filtering, along with a feature we used to see in the SONY’s — adjustable/variable attenuation. But I wondered how the 909X would stack up against two of my favorites, the SW-07 and RF-B65. I was crossing my fingers — but alas, initial results are not encouraging.

While the radio initially on its own seems to be quite sensitive, I lined it up next to the SW-07 and RF-B65 and did a comparison. Now, first I must note that propagation continues to be in the dumpster and I conducted this test in late afternoon.

All three receivers were tuned to Cuba on 11,760 khz — they were located next to one another on a table in the top level of my home here in Maryland. The results are seen in the video below.

You can hear how much more clearly the SW-07 and especially the RF-B65 handle a signal. With the Panasonic, stations just pop. Same with the SW-07.

Disappointingly, as you can hear, stations on the 909X appear to be buried in noise. It’s quite extraordinary — I was very surprised by this comparison and intend to perform additional side-by-side tests in different areas of my home, which does suffer from high noise levels likely produced by electric lines and a transformer outside (which is why a run a Wellbrook on my main radio stack downstairs). But it is notable that the 909X appears to struggle so, while the old classic portables SW-07 and B65 excel. Interested in the views of others . . .

Dan, this is very similar to my experience with the Sangean ATS-909X.

Like you, I absolutely love the design of the 909X–the large display, tuning wheel, front-facing speaker, ergonomics–but was pretty disappointed when I pitted it against three other (less expensive) portables on the shortwave bands.

I know the 909X performs much better when connected to an external antenna. I’ve also learned that fresh batteries are a must as the 909X’s sensitivity is directly related to supplying optimal voltage. I know, though, that you had fresh batteries in your 909X, Dan.

Again, many thanks for sharing your comparison.

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 CountyComm GP5/SSB portable radio: a great preparedness radio

GP5SSB-FrontOn Tuesday I received the new CountyComm GP5/SSB portable shortwave radio, a sample sent me from CountyComm. If you’re familiar with the current shortwave portable landscape, then you’ll quickly note that the GP5/SSB shares a striking resemblance to both the GP5/DSP and the Tecsun PL-360.  While I hadn’t anticipated writing yet another radio article before the end of the year, having just published a lengthy review of the CC Skywave, my curiosity got the best of me…and before I knew it, I’d spent a few hours listening to and making notes about the CountyComm GP5/SSB as I put it through its paces. In the end, I found I had the makings of a review.

Who is CountyComm?

Unlike most other brands I review, CountyComm has only one or two shortwave radio offerings. I wanted to know a little of the back story and motivation behind creating the GP5/SSB, so I contacted CountyComm directly and spoke with their representative, Nick.

Nick explained that CountyComm is a retail distributor of products created primarily for US government use. In a sense, CountyComm is the consumer spill-over from the thousands of products intended, for example, for state and federal agencies.

According to CountyComm, the GP5/SSB is a case in point. The company received a large order from a US government department for an “inexpensive, small portable, AM/FM/SW radio with SSB” for emergency supply caches and diplomatic posts. The GP5/DSP (a.k.a., Tecsun PL-360) fit the bill, but lacked SSB. The request was large enough that CountyComm approached SiLabs–manufacturer of the DSP chip in many of the portables on the market–and asked for help. SiLabs made some design changes and worked directly with the factory in China to produce the GP5/SSB.

The GP5/SSB comes with a medium wave bar antenna, carry pouch, stereo ear buds, wire antenna and manual.

The GP5/SSB comes with a medium wave bar antenna, carry pouch, stereo ear buds, wire antenna and manual.

Besides SSB, another interesting design CountyComm implemented was extending the upper frequency range of the GP5/SSB to 29,999 kHz; previous and similar Tecsun models only had an upper limit of 21,950 kHz.

You may note that as of today, there are no similar Tecsun portables on the market–this is because the first batch of units were designed for (and all purchased by) CountyComm. However, I have already heard rumblings that there will soon be a Tecsun PL-365 on the market–if so, no doubt it will turn out to be the GP5/SSB.

First impressions

GP5SSB-SideAppearance-wise, the GP5/SSB is nearly identical to its predecessor, the GP5/DSP or Tecsun PL-360. The vertical form factor is rather unique in the ultra-portable world, this radio is designed for one-handed operation, much like a handy-talky. The volume and tuning controls are on the right side of the radio and are designed to be operated by thumb (for right-handed operators, at any rate). All of the buttons on the front face are easily operated by your thumb–they’re small, but have a firm response. The GP5/DSP (like its predecessor) lacks a back stand, but does have a belt clip.

The small internal speaker produces clear audio, but sounds a little tinny; there is not even a hint of bass. Via headphones, the audio quality is far better.

Besides a slight modification to the keypad layout to accommodate the new addition of SSB and a bright green antenna tip, the radio is identical to the GP5/DSP and Tecsun PL-360.

FM Performance

The CountyComm GP5/SSB, like many other SiLabs-based receivers we review, has excellent FM sensitivity.

Medium Wave (AM broadcast band) Performance

The MW bar antenna increases performance--if using headphones, you will need a connector with a right angle to allow the MW antenna to rotate 360 degrees

The MW bar antenna increases performance–if using headphones, you will need a right angle connector to allow the MW antenna to rotate 360 degrees

While I have not yet had the opportunity to do a proper comp recording session with the CountyComm GP5/SSB versus comparable radios, I plan to do so in the near future…stay tuned for that, right here! I’ll create a post to give you a heads-up when I’ve added medium wave samples to this review.

With that said, I expect the GP5/SSB performance on medium wave will be very similar to that of the GP5/DSP and Tecsun PL-360. I like the included rotatable ferrite bar antenna that plugs into an external antenna port on top of the radio. It certainly helps with both overall sensitivity as well as nullifying unwanted signals.

Shortwave performance

I’ve had a couple of opportunities to compare the GP5/SSB with other portables on the shortwave bands; embedded audio samples follow of a strong station, a weaker station, and even an SSB sample. Note that all of the sample recordings were taken during poor band conditions–QSB (fading) is pronounced.

Single-sideband

Of course, when I received the GP5/SSB, the first thing I did was tune the ham radio bands in SSB mode.

Nick, the CountyComm rep in charge of the GP5/SSB design, is an amateur radio operator, and I’m pleased that he represented the importance of a truly functional SSB mode on this radio.

GP5SSB-TopThe GP5/DSP only has 1 kHz tuning steps: more than adequate for broadcast listening, but too coarse for SSB. Amateur radio operators do not necessarily transmit right on a frequency; they’re often slightly off-frequency, either accidentally or intentionally. And older ham radios are also prone to drifting until the rigs have properly warmed up. Radios with SSB need finer-tuning controls to hone in on SSB signals. But the GP5/SSB has a work-around for this.

The GP5/SSB accommodates SSB by allowing the listener to select either the upper or lower sideband, then use the BFO function to help fine tune and zero-beat a signal.

Specifically, here’s how to tune to an SSB (phone) amateur radio signal with the GP5/SSB:

  1. Turn on either the upper or lower sideband, depending on the meter band (generally, 40 meters and below are lower; all else, upper).
  2. When you hear a signal, use the 1 kHz tuning increments to find where it’s strongest.
  3. Now, press the BFO button once to activate BFO tuning; the U or L (indicating upper or lower) will begin to blink.
  4. While the sideband indicator is blinking, use the tuning wheel to adjust the BFO. Adjust tuning until the voices in the signal sound natural.

Once you’ve done this a couple of times, the process becomes second nature.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the SSB functionality and performance. While I prefer either very fine tuning increments, or a separate BFO knob (no room for that on this tiny radio), I appreciate that CountyComm has used the BFO function to eliminate the need for a separate tuning wheel.

Audio samples

While there are a number of portable radios with SSB on the market, there are very few in this $80 price range with SSB. Indeed, to my knowledge there are no other SSB-capable portables currently on the market that are as compact as the CountyComm GP5/SSB.

I decided the best comparison radio would be one with a similar price, thus I used the Tecsun PL-600, which (at time of posting) is readily available from Amazon for the same $80 price tag as the GP5/SSB.

GP5SSB-PL-600

Below, you can hear two representative audio samples of how each radio receives an SSB conversation between two ham radio operators on the 20 meter band. I like this sample because one of the operators has a very strong signal, while the other is much weaker:

Tecsun PL-600 SSB sample

CountyComm GP5/SSB sample

You may notice that the GP5/SSB has a slightly higher noise floor and DSP artifacts while listening to the weaker signal. The PL-600 sounds a little muffled in comparison.

I listened to many SSB signals that afternoon on the 20 and 40 meter ham radio bands.  At length I concluded that I prefer the PL-600 for weak-signal listening. The PL-600’s AGC could cope with the QSB better than the GP5/SSB.

With the majority of the SSB signals, however, I found that the GP5/SSB’s audio was clearer and voices seemed to “pop” out better than on the PL-600.

GP5SSB-PL-600-G6

I should note that I also attempted to include the Grundig G6 in this comparison, but the G6 somehow picked up noise from my digital recorder, thus making the recorded audio sound worse than it actually was. To my ear, the Grundig G6’s SSB reception was very similar to that of the CountyComm GP5/SSB–the G6 perhaps has a very slight edge in terms of weak-signal reception.

Shortwave broadcast listening (AM)

Wednesday afternoon, I had the good fortune to tune in a relatively loud broadcast on 9620 kHz–turns out, it was Radio Nacional de España–! (This is a new shortwave relay service intended to replace the Radio Exterior de España (REE) service that ended in October 2014).

I still had the PL-600 hooked up to my digital recorder at that time; here’s the comparison:

Tecsun PL-600 on 9620 kHz

CountyComm GP5/SSB on 9620 kHz

This morning I also had an opportunity to record Radio Australia on 12,065 kHz. This time, I had the Tecsun PL-310ET handy, so I used it for comparison:

Tecsun PL-310ET on 12,065 kHz

CountyComm GP5/SSB on 12,065 kHz

As you probably hear in these examples, the GP5/SSB has fine sensitivity, though not quite as good as the PL-310ET.

I’ve also noted good selectivity during casual broadcast listening with the GP5/SSB.

However, I do not like the GP5/SSB’s AGC (auto gain control) as well as that of the other portables in this comparison–it’s a little too reactive to fading on the broadcast bands. To be fair, these audio samples really accentuated the AGC on the GP5/SSB since all were made during poor reception conditions and pronounced fading.

Under normal conditions, I believe I would be quite pleased with the GP5/SSB; it’s otherwise on par with most of the other ultra-portables on the market.

Summary

Every radio has pros and cons, and I jot down my reactions as I evaluate a new radio so as not to forget any details. The following is my list:

Pros:

  • Audio well-tailored for AM broadcast listening–fidelity quite good via headphones
  • Adequate sensitivity and selectivity
  • Clear, simple LCD back-lit display
  • SSB mode is quite functional
    • BFO feature allows for zero-beat tuning
    • Includes both upper and lower sideband selection
    • Much like the PL-880, when in SSB mode, the GP5/SSB will select ham bands when changing meter bands
  • Extended frequency range (up to 29,999 kHz)
  • Very good medium wave reception with supplied external bar antenna
  • Uses three standard AA batteries
  • Can be charged with common mini USB adapter
  • Displays temperature in Fahrenheit (if MW set to 10kHz steps) or Celcius (if set to 9 kHz steps)
  • Great radio for an emergency kit or bug-out bag
  • Designed for one-hand operation/included belt clip (see con)
  • US Warranty

Cons:

  • AGC doesn’t cope with fading as well as other comparable portables
  • Audio from internal speaker rather tinny (without headphones)
  • No back stand, nor rotatable whip antenna; thus this radio is not ideal for tabletop listening (see pro)
  • Supplied belt clip feels flimsy, if you plan to use this in the field, consider purchasing the excellent CountyComm GP5 series rugged case.

Who should purchase the GP5/SSB?

GP5SSB-BackIf you’re looking for an ultra-portable radio for travel and general broadcast listening, I would encourage you to consider the new C. Crane CC Skywave, the Tecsun PL-310ET or the Tecsun PL-380.  Overall, the performance and form factor of these radios are a better fit for broadcast listening. If you’re looking for armchair SSB listening, a larger portable with a larger internal speaker such as the Tecsun PL-600 is a good choice for the same price as the GP5/SSB.

If you’re looking for an ultra-portable radio with SSB, then the GP5/SSB is a very good choice (if not the only ultra-portable SSB choice currently on the market). While the SSB performance can’t compare with larger, pricier receivers and ham radio transceivers, it’s very good for $80 US.

If you’re looking for an emergency communications receiver–something to stash in your vehicle, emergency kit or bug-out bag–the CountyComm GP5/SSB is a great choice and value. Indeed, that’s who the GP5/SSB was designed for; that’s why this rig has excellent frequency coverage in all modes, with good sensitivity/selectivity and designed for portable, one-hand operation. In fact, CountyComm has even designed and manufactured (in the USA!) a robust, protective 1000-Denier case for the GP5/SSB. This case makes it very easy to strap the GP5/SSB to your belt or backpack securely.

GP5SSB-FrontIn conclusion, the CountyComm GP5/SSB was designed for a specific purpose: to be an emergency communications receiver. It does this job quite well, despite any shortcomings in comparison to other popular shortwave portables, and for this purpose, I can recommend it.

Purchase the CountyComm GP5/SSB from Universal Radio.

Review of the C. Crane CC Skywave portable radio

CC-Skywave-1While electronics manufacturer C. Crane offers a number of unique AM/FM radios, including some of the best portable medium wave receivers on the market, they’ve traditionally only had two models of shortwave radio––namely, the CCRadio-SW, and the CCRadio-SWP. Earlier this year, however, C.Crane announced a new portable that would join their product line: the CC Skywave.

Admittedly, I was eager to give this little radio a go: C. Crane touts the Skywave as an exceptional travel radio, for which I’m always on the hunt.  Last week, I had my opportunity when C. Crane sent me the new CC Skywave sample for review.  I instantly got to work scrutinizing their newest offering…and here’s what I’ve discovered.

First impressions

CC-Skywave-FrontThe form factor of the Skywave is very similar to C.Crane’s CCRadio-SWP pocket radio; in fact, its smooth plastic body even feels the same. While this radio doesn’t have the rubberized coating that have become popular on radio exteriors in recent years, supposedly to provide an easy-to-grip surface, I’m pleased that C.Crane does not use this, as these coatings can eventually deteriorate over time and with heat exposure, becoming somewhat tacky or sticky to the touch.

CC-Skywave-DisplayThe Skywave’s backlit LCD display is small, but readily viewable from several angles.  All of the buttons on the front of the Skywave have a tactile response, again, similar to the CCRadio-SWP. The buttons require slightly more pressure to activate than Tecsun and Degen models; I prefer this, especially for a travel radio: should I forget to activate the key lock, it’s much less likely that the radio will accidentally turn on during transit.

As always, I attempted first to see how many radio features and functions I could uncover without first consulting the owner’s manual.  In the past, C.Crane products have been some of the most intuitive on the market.  Fortunately, the Skywave did not disappoint: first, I was able to set both the clock and alarm within moments; both essential in a travel radio.

Once the radio is on, it will display either the time or frequency on the main display. While the Skywave defaults to a time display, I discovered that the lock button toggles the display between time and frequency for ten seconds. (Note: After reading through the manual later, I learned that you can actually change the default display mode to either time or frequency–very nice touch!)

CC-Skywave-Keypad

I then turned on the radio and found the memory allocation to be very straightforward: tune to the desired station, then press and hold a number button two seconds to save. Press a button quickly to recall. Memory remembers bandwidth, stereo, or mono (if FM), and any voice or music audio filters utilized–very handy!

Speaking of bandwidth, the Skywave has five on shortwave, medium wave, and air bands: 6, 4, 3, 2, and 1 kHz. By pressing the bandwidth button, you can cycle through these from widest to narrowest. The bandwidth defaults to 3 kHz, but the default can be changed by holding down the bandwidth button for five seconds (with radio powered off).

To enter a frequency in AM/FM/SW, you simply press the FREQ button, then key in frequency. To scan through the band, simply press and hold one of the up/down arrow buttons. Worth noting: the Skywave’s scan function is one of the fastest I’ve seen in a portable.

On the topic of scanning, and since this is a travel radio, I would have liked C.Crane to include an ETM function like that found in the Tecsun PL-310ET and PL-380. It’s quite a handy function for auto-populating temporary memories from a simple band scan. I assume this is not an option on the DSP chip powering the Skywave.

Owner’s manual

Once I had my fun trying to discover as many functions on the Skywave without the manual’s aid, I finally opened it and discovered a few more functions.

One feature I’ve already come to love in the Skywave: the ability to change the tuning speed, and thus frequency step-spacing on the tuning knob (option of 5 or 1 kHz steps), just by pressing the knob itself. I much prefer this to using a front-panel tuning step button because it’s so easy to operate in low-light settings (lounging in bed, for example).

CC-Skywave-Tuning-KnobAnother unique feature of the Skywave is a switchable audio filter for voice or music. With the filter set to “voice,” the audio is enhanced for human voice intelligibility. When set to “music,” it widens the audio filter, thus optimizing audio fidelity. Toggling the audio filter settings between voice and music is very easy, but not intuitive; indeed, it’s almost a hidden feature you can discover via the owner’s manual. Simply press the “1” and “2” simultaneously while listening to a broadcast to toggle the filter.

I should note that the C.Crane owner’s manual is one of the most straightforward and simple I’ve seen in ages. You can tell that, at least in the English version that came with mine, this manual was written by a native English speaker. It made for simple, clear instruction without head-scratching over obscure terms. Even the least technically-inclined user will understand these instructions, no problem.

AM – Medium Wave

After asking SWLing Post readers what they would like me to include in this review, a number of you responded that you wanted me to give the AM broadcast band reception a proper review.

Zoomer_RadioMy foray into medium wave listening with the Skywave started off on the right foot.  The very first night with the Skywave, I tuned it to 740 kHz, my favorite, albeit challenging to reach, AM station here in the North America–CFZM “Zoomer Radio”  While those living in the midwestern and northeastern US can receive Zoomer radio easily enough at night, it is often a tough catch here in the southeast in the evening hours. After nightfall it competes with clear channel stations that also occupy 740 kHz. With a portable radio, the lock on Zoomer is never terribly strong and is very prone to fading.

But after tuning the Skywave to Zoomer, I received CFZM so well it sounded like a local station–in fact, I couldn’t believe it until a station ID confirmed that I was receiving it. Even more surprising was that I received it away from home, in an area plagued with RFI noise where I typically have to carefully turn a radio to null out the noise in an effort to enhance the desired broadcast. But the Skywave somehow mitigated this noise better than my other portables. Even when I turned the radio in the direction of the offending electrical noise, it wasn’t as bad as on other portables.  Truly, the reception was remarkable.

With Zoomer firmly locked in, I hopped into bed, turned the volume to a comfortable level, and listened for at least half an hour before falling asleep. I was pleasantly surprised the following morning, some eight hours later, when I woke to the Skywave playing CFZM at the same level. Phenomenal! Perhaps conditions were exceptionally favorable that night; nonetheless, the Skywave couldn’t have impressed me more.

A side note–on the previous day, I’d inserted two generic alkaline AA batteries in the Skywave; after a total of ten hours playing at medium volume, the battery indicator still showed full capacity.

CC-Skywave-RightMedium wave audio samples

While time won’t allow a full audio sampling of the medium wave band for comparison, I did record the following comparison between the Skywave and the Tecsun PL-310ET (which I regard as one of the more capable sub-$100 ultra-compact portables on the market).CC-Skywave-And-Tecsun-PL-310ET

Since SWLing Post readers specifically asked to hear how the Skywave handles choppy nighttime medium wave DX conditions, I tuned to two frequencies with overlapping broadcasts, one of which was slightly dominant: 950 kHz and 990 kHz. I set the AM bandwidth to 3 kHz on both radios and made the recordings within one minute of each other. The CC Skywave’s audio filter was set to “voice.”

In the following recordings, listen for Radio Reloj  (Cuba)–it’s buried deep in the noise. You might detect the ticking and “R” “R” in Morse code. These recordings were taken within one minute of each other.

The Tecsun PL-310ET on 950 kHz:

The CC Skywave on 950 kHz:

Note that the Skywave pulled out the dominant broadcaster–one I could barely hear on the PL-310ET.

I then made a recording on 990 kHz AM which had a stronger dominant station.

The Tecsun PL-310ET on 990 kHz:

The CC Skywave on 990 kHz:

To my ear, the Skywave was clearer and the commentator’s voice seemed to pop out of the noise better.

I’ve spent a great deal of time listening to the Skywave on the medium wave band this week and I feel comfortable recommending it for the medium wave DXer.

FM

While I’ve spent comparatively less time (thus far) evaluating the Skywave’s FM band, I can say that the Skywave receives my “benchmark” FM stations with ease. Sensitivity also seems to be on par with my other DSP based portables (meaning, excellent sensitivity).CC-Skywave-Left

Shortwave

Of course, being a shortwave enthusiast, I’ve spent the bulk of my listening time since receiving the Skywave on the shortwave bands. And during this time, alas, shortwave radio band conditions have been challenging for any radio. Yet I’m happy to note that this little radio does not disappoint: it has excellent sensitivity and selectivity for a radio of its size. When I compared the Skywave with the Tecsun PL-310ET, in almost every situation, they are nearly equal in performance.

Shortwave audio samples

Below I’ve included audio samples of the Skywave on 9580 kHz (Radio Australia). Under normal conditions, Radio Australia would be a blowtorch signal here in North America, but this particular morning, propagation was quite poor. In the audio, you’ll hear both radios attempting to cope with pronounced fading, with their AGC circuits reacting to the quick rise and fall of signal strength. Both radios were set to a 3kHz bandwidth and the Skywave’s audio filter set to “voice” to help mitigate noise.

CC-Skywave-And-Tecsun-PL-310ET-Side

Tecsun PL-310ET on 9580 kHz:

CC Skywave on 9580 kHz:

Note that Radio Australia was broadcasting music, which can be more difficult to evaluate, but the vocals were prominent enough I felt it made for a good comparison.

This morning, I also recorded WWV on 15 MHz. Again, propagation conditions were poor across the bands, so even WWV (normally very stable) was affected by quick fading (QSB). For kicks, I decided to add the benchmark Tecsun PL-660 to this comparison. If you recall, it received some of the highest marks for sensitivity in our weak signal shoot out. The Tecsun PL-310ET and CC Skywave were set to 3 kHz bandwidth and the Tecsun PL-660 to it’s narrow bandwidth (which I felt was most equivalent).

CC-Skywave-PL310ET-PL660

Tecsun PL-310ET on 15 MHz:

Tecsun PL-660 on 15 MHz:

CC Skywave on 15 MHz:

The good news is that the Skywave is certainly a sensitive and selective portable. While evaluating shortwave performance over the past week, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well this little radio receives.

NOAA Weather radio

NOAA-Weather-RadioThose of us living or traveling in North America will appreciate the Skywave’s built-in NOAA weather radio functionality.  Since I have at least a dozen self-powered radios and desktops that have built-in NOAA weather reception, I typically don’t give the band much thought. I figured NOAA reception would be a mediocre add-on with the Skyview. I was wrong.

Not only does the Skywave have NOAA weather radio, but it also has SAME weather alerts. What’s so great about that? Imagine that you’re travelling to a rural area and weather is looking ominous; in this case, you can simply set the Skywave to the strongest NOAA channel and activate the weather alert (choose options for 4, 8, or 16 hours). If severe weather is reported for your geographic area, the Skywave will alert you.

I’m very pleased with the NOAA weather radio reception, as well.  The Skywave receives NOAA stations even better than one of my dedicated weather radios.

AIR band

AirTrafficControllerC.Crane included the Air band for travelers, as a means to listen to air traffic control while in an airport or awaiting a flight’s arrival. I have several portables with the AIR band, but most lack an autoscan ability (Grundig G3, G6), and performance on these tends to be mediocre at best.

I’ve traveled to three different cities over the past week and used the Skywave to tune to the local air-traffic control tower. After a bit of scanning, it eventually found the frequency, and reception was quite good. I have not yet used the AIR band in an airport (notorious for RFI) nor in a large metro area, so I can’t comment about performance under those conditions.

What really separates the Skywave apart from my other shortwave portable with the AIR band is that it actually has an adjustable squelch mode. Nice touch!

CC Buds Earphones

HDP-AUDIO-CC-EAR-BUDSUnlike Tecsun portables which typically ship with batteries, an external antenna wire, chargers, travel cases, and the like, the CC Skywave comes with very few included accessories––just a carry case, an owner’s manual, and earphones.

Most of the headphones/earphones that accompany a shortwave radio package are of the cheapest quality. I’m happy to note that the Skywave’s included earphones are the best I’ve ever received as an included accessory with a shortwave radio.

The CC Buds Earphones are in-ear style (which I prefer, for sound isolation) with soft silicone earpieces. They are tuned to a frequency response which favors voice, an enhanced mid-range. For SWLing and MW DXing, I believe they’re nearly ideal. Indeed, I’m planning to use these with my Elecraft KX3 next time I’m operating QRP––I’m sure that SSB will sound great.

Since these are tuned for the spoken word, however, I wouldn’t necessarily favor the CC Buds Earphones over my Sony in-ear buds for music listening.

CC-Skywave-Top

Summary

Every radio has pros and cons, and I jot down my reactions as I evaluate a new radio so as not to forget any details. The following is my list:

Pros:

  • Overall great sensitivity and selectivity for a portable in this price class
  • Considerate design, well-tailored for the traveler:
    • Compact size
    • Air band
    • NOAA weather radio
    • Easy to set clock and alarm
    • Simple controls
    • Lightweight
    • Operates on 2 AA batteries
    • Charges from Mini USB (see con)
  • Wide HF frequency range (2.3 up to 26.1 MHz) compared to the PL-380/PL-310 (2.3 up to 21.95 MHz)
  • AIR band is truly functional: includes both scanning and squelch
  • NOAA Weather radio reception excellent
  • Includes soft silicone earphones (in-ear type) actually worthy of AM/SW listening
  • Auto scanning with the up/down buttons is very rapid
  • Integrated charging circuit
  • Uses common micro USB port for power/charging
  • Tuning speed easily changed by pressing tuning knob
  • Volume control is fully variable (free wheel, analog style), not in pre-determined digital steps
  • Selectable audio filters for music and voice

Cons:

  • Internal speaker audio is somewhat tinny (use of the voice audio filter helps)
  • No external antenna jack
  • No SSB mode (in this price class of $90 US, SSB is an included mode on some models)
  • Only one clock; no provision for dual local/UTC time
  • Mutes between frequency changes
  • Whip antenna is short––only 16” fully extended. While the Skywave seems to perform brilliantly with this short antenna (see pro), I can’t help but wonder if more length might boost some bands.
  • While no inconvenience to me, the Skywave does not come with an adaptor or USB cord for powering/charging. (Should you need it, C.Crane sells a proper noise-free regulated power supply separately ($15 US); however, most buyers will already have these cords and any USB port on your PC or USB-based phone charger will suffice. Also note that listening to virtually any radio while charging will inject noise into the receiver, resulting in sub-par reception.)
  • Can overload on shortwave and AIR bands if located near a strong radio station (see this comment)

Conclusion

The CC Skywave is nearly identical in size to the late and great Grundig G6.

The CC Skywave is nearly identical in size to the late and great Grundig G6.

C. Crane has few shortwave radios in their product line, and all perform rather well for their price point; I know, as I have owned all of them and even purchased as gifts in the past.

But I was concerned a few months ago when I noted the similarity between the CC Skywave and the poorly-reviewed Digitech AR1733, sold in Australia/New Zealand by Jaycar.

Fortunately, it’s clear that C. Crane noticed the shortcomings of the AR1733 and has modified the Skywave’s design and firmware accordingly, which may account for the delayed roll-out of the CC Skywave. Obviously, the Skywave’s ACG circuit has been tweaked to cope with medium wave and shortwave listening, since a poor ACG circuit is one of the shortcomings of the AR1733. But, if so, wow…what a tweak.

Because all in all, the CC Skywave is a excellent little radio. Indeed, in terms of the ultra-compact portable market (models like I included in a recent shoot-out), I think it’s one of the best surprise performers I’ve seen in the past couple of years.

CC-Skywave-1After just one week with it, I’ve already decided to take the CC Skywave along on my travels to see how it performs over time. It will replace my PL-310ET and PL-380 for my one bag domestic and international travelling. The CC Skywave is also especially well-suited for the “go”-bags and “bug-out” bags used in evacuations and other emergencies. Indeed, with AM/FM/SW/AIR plus functional NOAA radio, this little radio packs a lot––in short, the Skywave packs enough to get packed in my bag.

The CC Skywave can be purchased directly from C. Crane. It is also available at (soon) Universal Radio and Amazon.com.