Tag Archives: Shortwave Radio Reviews

Charlie reviews the Tecsun PL-365

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Charlie Wardale, who shares the following guest post:


Tecsun PL-365 Review

by Charlie Wardale

I have had this receiver for over 6 months now, and whilst not using it every day, I have used it enough to have an informed opinion of it’s pro’s and con’s.

Overview

A quick description of the receiver for those who have not heard of it.

The receiver is of an unusual design, more like a hand-held transceiver, measuring 53(W) X 159(H) X 26(D) mm. It naturally fits in the hand, with the thumb resting easily on the thumb-wheel tuning. The buttons on the front are for a number of alarm and display functions, SSB selection, and ETM, along with band selection and up/down keys. The inclusion of SSB makes this quite a unique radio, and certainly interesting to use when out and about.

It is supplied with ear buds, faux leather carrying case, the plug-in MW bar, and instruction booklet. A manual is also available to download.

As can be seen from the picture, the receiver sports a telescopic antenna for FM/SW, and a unique plug-in MW ferrite rod antenna, which is rotatable in its socket.

Band coverage is as follows:

  • FM 87~108 MHz
  • MW 522~1620
  • SW 1711~29999 kHz

Long Wave is also available and on mine was factory set to be included, but if not, it can be made available by the menu options.

Like many of Tecsun’s latest receivers, the PL-365 includes the ETM function, which stands for Easy Tuning Mode. With this, you select the band (MW,FM,SW), press ETM, and it loads into a local memory, all the stations that it detects. These do not over-ride any of the main memory that may have been already used to store stations. It is specific ‘ETM’ memory. Once the detection process is completed, the tuning wheel is then used to select each of the stations detected. This is an extremely useful feature on this receiver, as it doesn’t have keypad entry for frequencies. And band scanning using the thumb wheel in 5 Khz steps can get tedious! Of course, ETM will have to be repeated a number of times during an extended listening period as stations come and go.

Initial Listening Tests

My first port of call on starting the listening tests was FM, to judge how it received the local and national broadcasters, and to see how stereo broadcasts are received. Incidentally, I changed the supplied ear buds for some in-ear types which I find stay in place better. All national broadcasters (BBC) and local radio stations (BBC and independent) were detected well. Received audio on the built in speaker is pleasant, but as can imagined from such a small speaker, not of great range. However, stereo broadcasts from BBC Radio 3 (classical music) and Classic FM, sounded excellent using the ear buds. At night time, some further afield stations are detected, so the FM sensitivity is good.

When I conducted these initial tests, it was evening so I decided to give the MW band a whirl as well. I fitted the MW bar antenna into it’s socket atop the receiver, selected MW and hit the ETM button. After a couple of minutes, the detection process stopped and a great number of stations had been detected. Going through them, not only were there the local (and not so local) UK MW stations, but some from much further afield such as Bretagne 5, SBC in Riyadh, and RNE Radio 5 in Madrid. By turning the ferrite antenna, it was possible to peak these stations nicely.

So now to SW. As can be seen, SW coverage is full range from 1711 – 29999, excellent for a receiver of this price range. For this initial test, listening was carried out in the early evening, in the garden, during the summer, so the higher bands were where most of the action was. Following a similar pattern to the FM and MW test, the telescopic whip was extended and the ETM button pressed. On stopping detection, a total of 65 stations were noted. One or two of these, it later proved, were images, but for the most part they were all receivable signals. The treshold for detection is quite low, so some stations are barely audible under the noise, a testament to the sensitivity of the 365. All the major stations were received well, such as VOA on 15580, Saudia Arabia on a number of frequencies, CRI of course, over numerous frequencies. And in between, stations such as CNR1 (China National Radio), the regional Chinese service, and R Australia on 12065, BBC from Singapore.

After this, I did some listening on the 20 and 40m ham bands. To do this is slightly tricky, as it entails coming out of ETM mode by pressing the VF/VM button. This puts the radio into frequency mode and the thumb wheel is then used to get to the correct frequency. The USB/LSB button is then pressed and once a station is found, press the BFO button. The tuning thumb then becomes a BFO fine tune, and the amateur radio station can be tuned in accurately. It is tricky to start with but you do get used to it and amateur stations can be tuned in well. I received a number of European stations on 40m and European/Asian ones on 20m. So again, sensitivity is good, even though this is just using the whip antenna.

Long Term Listening Impressions

Over the months between those initial tests and now, I have done a number of hours listening using this radio, on both the MW and SW bands. I especially like it if I am out for a walk in the country near us as its handy to carry in the pocket. One Sunday I listened to the whole hour of a VOA broadcast on 15580, whilst wandering along the Lincolnshire foot paths. And it is also a nice radio to do a bit of casual listening from the armchair of an evening, when the TV is on but of no interest. This way I have enjoyed many a broadcast from VOA, RRI and the BBC using the ear buds. It’s also nice to tune into the Celtic music of Bretagne 5 during the evening on MW as a change from the fair on BBC Radio 2 or 3.

Conclusion

Would I recommend this radio? Yes I would, whole heartedly. For what it is designed to do, it does very well. Could it be better? Of course. A keypad would be nice, an external antenna port would be great and so on. But it was designed to be a general coverage receiver, in a small, hand-held package, and for that it receives top marks.


Many thanks for your review, Charlie! I agree with you that the PL-365 is ideal, in terms of form factor, for radio listening while on long walks and hikes! It is certainly an excellent portable.

The Tecsun PL-365 can be purchased from Tecsun Radios Australia and occasionally on eBay (click here to search).

Dan compares the Tecsun PL-365 and CountyComm GP5-SSB

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following review:


Comparing the CountyComm GP5-SSB and Tecsun PL-365

County Comm GP-5/SSB and Tecsun PL-365: a couple of years ago, I obtained a GP-5/SSB from Universal and have enjoyed using the radio. It’s extremely sensitive, often bringing in signals in the middle of my house here in Maryland, and is fun to use, provided the auto-tune is done to insert frequencies so you don’t have to use the thumb wheel too much.

I have often thought that the next logical upgrade for this radio would be to add a small keypad to allow direct frequency selection, but perhaps that is not in the cards. The County Comm is basically the Tecsun PL-365, but the actual Tecsun version has not been available for the most part from major sellers, even from Anon-Co in Hong Kong, or Universal. You can still find some PL-365’s from certain Ebay sellers. Last year I obtained two from a Hong Kong seller. Both were NIB, and arrived within about a week or so of purchase.

What I noticed immediately is that the PL-365 has a different kind of exterior surface, more rubberized than the County Comm. I was curious about any differences in performance that might be obvious. Recently, I took both outside for a very basic comparison — not scientific by any means, but I think it shows something that I have noticed.

Both share the characteristics of extreme directionality, and sensitivity to touch — sensitivity increases markedly when they are hand-held, decreases noticeably when they are left standing on their own, or angled. I have noticed this when using them at the beach. If I am recording a station, and leave the radio alone for a few minutes, I return to find reception degraded quite a bit, because they were not being held.

In my very basic comparison, I had both receivers next to each other on a backyard table, both antennas fully extended, full batteries on both. While on some frequencies, at least initially, it seems little difference can be heard, on others there is what seems to be greater clarity and signal separation on the PL-365.

I noticed this from the start on 13.710 where the County Comm appears to be noisier than the PL-365, and on the portions later in the video when both are tuned to 11.820 (de-tuned to 11,818) Saudi Arabia, and to 11.945 khz.

Apologies for the length of the video. It’s hard to draw any conclusions based on this comparison, and I intend to do some additional tests with both my PL-365s and will report back on any findings, but I thought this would be of interest to those of you out there with these fine little radios.

Click here to view on YouTube.


Thank you for this review and comparison, Dan. I’m often asked if there is any difference in performance to justify the extra costs typically associated with the PL-365. I can now share this video and your review–potential owners to draw their own conclusions. 

The Tecsun PL-365 can occasionally be purchased through sellers on eBay. The CountyComm GP5-SSB can be purchased from Universal Radio or CountyComm.

The diminutive but brilliant Sony ICF-SW100: a few autumn/winter DX catches

Hi there, I posted an article on this brilliant little radio a few months ago because it had demonstrated a level of performance way beyond my expectations. Notwithstanding it’s incredibly small size the DX results I obtained with it were beyond my ICF-SW55 and up there with the iconic ICF-2001D. Armed with synchronous detection, selectable side bands, SSB, CW and sensitivity seemingly boyond it’s tiny form factor I can’t recommend this radio highly enough.

 

Originally introduced into the market in 1993 and discontinued in 2005, the ICF-SW100 won’t ever be repeated – a point I made in my original post, but of course they are available on eBay and prices remain robust for what is now essentially a vintage receiver. Unfortunately, I don’t get to use my ICF-SW100 very much as I have various other receivers and have been involved in antenna building/testing and MW DX for the past few months. However, on the couple of occasions when I have taken the Sony on a mini DXpedition, it’s resulted in some fine DX. As demonstrated in the examples below, Mali, Guinea, Alaska and Japan are amongst the more difficult signals to copy in Europe and yet the ICF-SW100 delivered them! Text links to reception videos on the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel follow below and futher down you will find embedded videos. Thanks for reading/watching/listening and I wish you all great DX!



Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

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.

An SWL’s review of the Icom IC-R6 Sport 16 wideband handheld receiver

The following review originally appeared in the SEptember 2016 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.


icom-ic-r6-angle

Over the past year, I’ve received a number of inquiries from readers who are considering purchasing a handheld wideband receiver. This is a market I’ve never truly explored because, to be honest, I’m partial to the HF part of the spectrum, and wideband receivers have always seemed more akin scanners than to shortwave receivers.

But lately, readers have specifically asked about the Icom IC-R6, a compact handheld receiver that covers from 100 kHz to 1309.995 MHz. What makes the IC-R6 appealing is that––at just $175 US––it is one of the least expensive wideband handhelds/scanners on the market that not only covers the shortwave bands, but also the AM broadcast, Longwave, FM broadcast, & NOAA weather frequencies.

Over the years I’ve read numerous reviews of the IC-R6 and other wideband receivers. Reviewers of this handheld receivers typically gloss over shortwave and mediumwave reception, and for good reason––it’s generally known that you just can’t have the best of both worlds in the sub-$300 price range. This makes sense, as there are invariably performance compromises when you pack wideband reception into such a tiny package: manufacturers usually put a performance emphasis on the VHF/UHF bands rather than on HF or mediumwave.

Still, I was curious enough about the IC-R6 to want to put it through its paces on shortwave and mediumwave, so I contacted Icom, who generously sent me an IC-R6 on extended loan for the purpose of this review

Usability/Ergonomics

Here I need to throw out a disclaimer: I’m not a fan of handheld radio (Handy Talky) ergonomics.

The IC-R6, like most other tiny handhelds, has a spartan array of buttons, all of which have multiple functions. Like its compact competitors, it also lacks a direct entry keypad-––after all, there’s simply no room for a keypad, and if there was one, it would obviously be too small to use.

icom-ic-r6-frequency

That being said, however, I must say that Icom has done a surprisingly good job of making the IC-R6 usable in the field.

If, like me, you’re the type of person who typically ignores the owner’s manual when you first receive a new radio, the IC-R6 may prove frustrating. Fortunately, the Icom user manual is superb, and well worth the read. It’s very well written, and takes you through each function step by step. The 80-page manual is entirely in English (the US version, at least) and even has a cut-out pocket guide in the end. Brilliant!

Once I spent a few minutes reading through the IC-R6 manual’s outline of its basic functions, I found most operations are simple and relatively easy to remember.

icom-ic-r6-leftside

What makes each operation handy is that the Function key––which helps toggle the four multi-function buttons––is located where the PTT (push to talk) button would be on an amateur handheld transceiver. It’s actually a great location for the button because it allows one hand to hold the radio and push the function button, permitting the other hand to push a front panel button. Though I initially felt I was keying up to “transmit” on an HT, it soon became apparent that this is a very logical key placement.

Tuning

Tuning with the IC-R6 is relatively easy and straightforward.

Simply select a band with the BAND button. Next, adjust the volume with the UP/DOWN arrow buttons, and the squelch (if needed) by holding the squelch button and turning the tuning knob. Then you may use the tuning knob to tune up and down the band.

icom-ic-r6-top

If you want to quickly skip to another part of the bands, hold down the function key while turning the tuning knob, and the R6 will tune in 1 MHz steps. I’ve found that this helps to move across the spectrum quite quickly and compensates for the lack of a direct entry keypad.

You can also easily change the tuning steps by pressing the TS button and using the tuning knob to cycle through selections (a total of fourteen possible step selections are available between 5 kHz and 100 kHz).

Over the course of a few months of using the IC-R6, I’ve learned a couple of methods to adapt to its lack of a direct-frequency entry keypad:

  • using the 1 MHz tuning steps, as mentioned above
  • loading the memory channels with band edges and your favorite frequencies (with 1300+ memory slots, there are many ways to manage your tuning)

Mediumwave/AM Broadcast Band Performance

Surprisingly, the IC-R6 has a tiny internal ferrite bar antenna for mediumwave/AM broadcast band reception. This is a welcome feature because there’s no need to remove the supplied rubber-duck antenna to connect an external antenna for broadcast listening.

icom-ic-r6-back

In terms of AM performance, I was happy with the IC-R6. I’m able to receive all of my local AM broadcasters with decent signal strength. I’m even able to reliably receive one 25-mile-distant daytime broadcaster; this truly surprised me, especially since the internal antenna must be minuscule.

Is the IC-R6 a good choice for a mediumwave DXer? Unfortunately, no. The AGC struggles with weak nighttime conditions, and frankly, with such a small ferrite bar antenna, nulling capabilities are minimal. If you’re a MW DXer, I would suggest carrying a small ultralight portable along with the IC-R6.

The IC-R6 also covers the longwave bands, but I would never use it even for casual longwave listening as the tuning steps are limited to 5 kHz increments.

Still: to have a respectable little AM receiver in a handheld scanner––? It’s great!

Shortwave Performance: Sensitivity

As I said, most reviewers gloss over shortwave reception on handhelds. I thought I’d put the IC-R6 through a more thorough test.

icom-ic-r6-in-hand

Note that, being fully aware of its limitations, I never used the stock rubber-duck antenna to test shortwave reception; instead, I used a long piece of thin co-ax attached to five- and ten-foot sections of wire. I tried longer and shorter pieces of wire, as well, but found that 5-10’ seemed to hit the sweet spot in terms of sensitivity.

To be honest, I had fairly low expectations of the IC-R6. I knew that the shortwave/HF bands are truly just an added feature on this rig, and realized that the R6 is more akin to a scanner rather than a shortwave radio. But in terms of sensitivity, I found I was rather impressed with the IC-R6.

The first morning I tested shortwave reception, propagation was, at best, mediocre. Yet I was able to copy WWV on 10 and 15 MHz without much trouble. I could receive all of the strong North American private broadcasters, like WTWW, WRMI and, of course, most frequencies occupied by Radio Havana Cuba and China Radio International––all of these are broadcasters that my shortwave portables can readily receive here in my region. Moreover, in the mornings, I’ve also been able to receive one of my staple shortwave broadcasters on the R6: Radio Australia. It’s nice to imagine that if I were camping, the little R6 could serve up my morning dose of news from Down Under.

All in all, I’m fairly pleased––and surprised!––by the IC-R6’s sensitivity.

Here’s an example of reception when tuned to WRMI, a strong station in my region. [Fun side note: I had no idea that, as I was recording, I would hear my buddies Mark Fahey and Jeff White on the air!]

Shortwave Performance: Selectivity

On the flip side, the IC-R6’s selectivity is unfortunately quite poor. I anticipated this.

Almost any of the strong signals I receive can be heard with equal fidelity when tuned off-frequency 5 kHz to either side of the carrier. You can pretty much forget discerning between two adjacent signals that are only spaced 5-10 kHz apart.

And yet while this would be a deal-breaker for me on a dedicated shortwave portable, this wouldn’t stop me from purchasing the IC-R6. Since we don’t have the crowded shortwave landscape we used to, selectivity is much less of an issue these days.

So, for some casual SWLing while say, backpacking? The IC-R6 does the trick!

The IC-R6 runs efficiently on a set of two standard AA cells.

The IC-R6 runs efficiently on a set of two standard AA cells.

I should note here that I never connected the IC-R6 to any of my large outdoor antennas. First of all, I didn’t want to risk damaging the front end of the receiver (especially since this is a loaner), and secondly, I knew the IC-R6’s poor selectivity would only be exacerbated if gain were significantly increased. I also want to caution readers from doing this, as I suspect the IC-R6’s front end will seriously overload on a large antenna.

Auto-Memory Write Function

The IC-R6 has a very cool scanning function similar to the ETM auto-scan on Tecsun portables, known as the “auto-memory write function.” Here’s how it works:

  1. Simply select the band you wish to scan.
  2. Set squelch level.
  3. Select the scanning range. There are several options here:
  4. Full scan, which scans the entire frequency range of the IC-R6 (you’ll want to grab a cuppa coffee, as this will take a while)
  5. Selected Band Scan, which only scans all of the frequencies with the band’s edges
  6. Programmed Scan, which scans between two user-programmed frequencies
  7. Finally, press the SCAN/MODE button to start the scan and the V/M button to engage the auto-memory write function..

The radio will then scan according to your selected scan mode, pausing for an interval of about five seconds on each signal it finds, and writing it to one of the auto-memory write channel groups (000-999) for your convenient access.

icom-ic-r6-display

 

To recall the auto-memories once scanning ends, simply press the V/M button to enter the memory mode, select the band with the BAND button, then use the tuning knob to scan through the signal catches.

Once you’ve experimented with this process a couple of times, it becomes second nature, and is very handy.

One negative: since the IC-R6’s HF selectivity is lacking, you could possibly get double or triple auto-memory writes for really strong broadcasters.

Programming software and cable

I’ll be frank here: if you plan to purchase an IC-R6 and load it with memory channels, you’ll be well-served to purchase programming software and a cable as well. Entering frequencies by hand is tedious, especially if you want alpha-numeric labels.

wcsr6-usb-2tI’m very partial to the cables and software offered by RT Systems. Besides having the most user-friendly programming software I’ve personally used, RT Systems also offers consistency in terms of set-up and application user-interface across their whole product line. For example, I own a Yaesu VX-3R which I’ve programmed with the RT Systems software; when I want to import all of my VX-3R frequencies into the IC-R6, it’s a simple process with the aid of RT Systems software.

RT Systems supports almost all programmable amateur radio transceivers and receivers on the market, which means that it makes for a great cross-manufacturer link between all of your gear.

Summary

Invariably, all radios have strengths and weaknesses; here’s a list of my notes from the moment I put the Icom IC-R6 on the air:

Pros:

  • Very compact, handy size with respectable ergonomics
  • Scanning
    • Frequency/Memory scanning very fast
    • Quickly scans AM/SW/FM/VHF/UHF bands
  • Acceptable shortwave sensitivity for most regionally-strong broadcasters (see selectivity con)
  • Great Auto Squelch function that seems to be effective even on the HF bands
  • Attenuation setting which helps the front end from overloading
  • Wide array of scanning options
  • Long operating time with AA batteries

Cons:

  • User interface
    • Very difficult programming without external software/programming cable
    • No keypad for frequency direct entry
  • Audio, via built-in speaker, is tinny; headphones help, but audio output is mono
  • Almost non-existent shortwave selectivity (see sensitivity pro)
  • Tuning steps are limited to 5 kHz increments, which may be insufficient on SW/MW and LW
  • No SSB mode (though no other wideband receiver in the under-$300 price range offers SSB)

Conclusion

icom-ic-r6-full

The Icom IC-R6 is one little powerhouse receiver with many, many listening possibilities. With this one radio, you can listen to everything from local VHF/UHF repeaters, to local law enforcement and emergency services, aviation frequencies, NOAA weather radio, the FM broadcast band, AM broadcast band––and, yes, even shortwave.

If you’re looking for an all-in-one receiver to take on hikes, to put in your 72-hour emergency (BOB) bag, to carry in your briefcase, or even to simply carry in your pocket, the IC-R6 is a great choice. Remember, if you do invest in one, you should also invest in programming cable and software to help you along.

This review focuses on broadcast listening with the IC-R6. While I didn’t cover traditional scanner functionality, I should note that the IC-R6 is not a trunking scanner. If you live in one of the many cities, counties or even even entire states/provinces in the U.S. and Canada that employ “trunking” radio systems for public safety communications, you’ll need a different receiver for this purpose.

Additionally, if you’re looking for a top-notch shortwave portable, you’ll want to buy a dedicated shortwave receiver, instead: they’re built with only HF reception in mind and will cost you much less, for better overall performance and more modes (SSB).

Of course, the IC-R6 is so modestly-sized that you could always carry it plus an inexpensive compact shortwave receiver (like the Tecsun PL-310ET, or the PL-380), and then…well, you’ll suddenly have the best of both worlds!

The Icom IC-R6 is available via Universal Radio $174.95 US with rebate through 12/31/16.