The truth about portable amplified shortwave antennas

In the past week, I have had no less than 3 email inquiries from readers regarding which amplified antenna to purchase for their portable shortwave radio.  My short answer? None.

In my opinion, there’s one fatal flaw with amplified antennas: they amplify noise just as much as they do the signal you wish to hear.

The Sony AN-LP1 is the best amplified antenna I've ever used, but that's not saying a lot.The only portable amplified antenna I’ve had any results with is the Sony AN-LP1 (now only available in Japan), and I attribute this success mainly to the fact that a suction cup, mounted at the top of the loop, allows it to be mounted on a window. Even then, results are often only marginally better than with the telescopic whip.

There may have been a time when portable amplified antennas made sense–a time prior to noisy AC adapters, flat screen TVs, and other consumer electronics which spew RFI (Radio Frequency Interference), polluting our shortwave bands. Today, however, you’ll be disappointed with the results of one of these, particularly if you travel–turning on the amplified antenna in a hotel room will increase the noise you hear two-fold, while weak broadcasters will remain lost in the static.


The Sangean ANT-60 is inexpensive and vesatile

So what can you do to improve the performance of your portable while traveling or at home? I’m still a fan of the roll-up antenna; like the Sangean ANT-60.  They’re inexpensive ($12 US), packable, and versatile–the clip on the end of the reel allows the antenna wire to be clipped to curtains and blinds. Place it near a window, or even hang it outside. Antennas love being outside–just take it down when not in use.

In lieu of buying a roll-up antenna, you could simply attach an alligator clip to the end of a 20′ (6 meters) length of wire.  The alligator clip can then attach to the end of your telescopic antenna, and you now have the same properties of a roll-up antenna for pennies. This is possibly the most cost-effective way to improve the performance of your portable shortwave radio. One note of caution: don’t get too generous with the length of your antenna wire. Some portable radios lack a robust front-end and a wire that’s too long could actually overload the receiver. Some Grundig G5’s were even sensitive to static discharges over a wire antenna. If uncertain, I would not exceed 20 feet in length (6 meters).

An alligator clip offers serious bang-for buck--especially if you already have the parts lying around

An alligator clip offers serious bang-for buck–especially if you already have the parts lying around!

I’ll never forget:  one of the first email questions I received on was from a fellow listener in Washington state who wanted to hear stations better on his Sony portable. I suggested the alligator clip/antenna wire. He wrote back enthusiastically, “This is the most cost-effective improvement I have ever made to anything!” He was so encouraged with the performance improvement, he invested in a tabletop and a proper outdoor antenna with grounding.

So, I urge you to try a roll-up antenna or the alligator clip antenna before you waste money on a portable amplified antenna.  Just my two cents.

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36 thoughts on “The truth about portable amplified shortwave antennas

  1. Chris Sarno

    I run a Sony AN-2 active antenna, it was okay with the back in the day portables but it literally sat unused for twenty-years. Then one day I got an itch to run it with a Tecsun PL-990X and was stunned at its awesome performance, ditto on both the PL-880 and PL-330! The reason is the DSP I think, they are better suited for suppressing the noise vs the transmission! At any rate the AN-2 rigged to any of those Tecsuns is now far and away the best performing portable active I have ever used!

    1. Ed Gerhardt

      Hello Sunny,

      I own both of these antennas.

      The loops are identical. The difference is that the LP-1 controller has a manual preselector and the LP-2 has an automatic preselector which can only be used with the Sony ICF-SW07.

      The LP-1 can be used with most portable receivers. I use both regularly.


  2. Philip Neidlinger

    I work in a building with a Faraday Cage in the walls. Naturally, SW reception is very poor. I can pick up some strong stations.

  3. Zarafa

    First of all, I Know Nothing. I want to pick up weather fax on my yacht. Following directions from a youtuber, he suggest the Sangean Ant 60, theses seem to be finished and/or unavailable in my location. The idea is to run the antenna up the mast when using it. So a 20ft/6m piece of cable attached to whip ant on a TECSUN 600, there are a few other bits, but does the sound plausible?

    1. Mike C.

      I know it’s been some time since you asked, and I hope you’ve found your answers by now, but just in case — any gauge of wire that is strong enough to not break when rolling it up or tossing it around is fine. I have outdoor antennas in more permanent installations with insulated 14g and 16g wire, but I have made many roll-up portable antennas from 16g to 20g to 28g and even 30g. Speaker wire is just fine and in fact, speaker wire has a long, proud tradition of antenna usage. Even now, as I type, I am listening to a vintage mid-’70s Kenwood FM receiver using a simple homemade dipole antenna I made from speaker wire that’s been up for over ten years.

  4. Frank Lucas

    There may have been a time when portable amplified antennas made sense–a time prior to noisy AC adapters, flat screen TVs, and other consumer electronics which spew RFI (Radio Frequency Interference), polluting our shortwave bands.

  5. Danny Hollis

    I’ve had shortwave radios for a lot of years. I gave away my Kenwood R1000 when I got Married and moved to my current location…I thought I wouldn’t have the time or facilities to bother with it. My wife gave me a Grundig Satalite 750 for Christmas along with a Uniden BCD536HP scanner. Guess you could say Santa was good to me this year. I’m having no problems with the scanner. However, I need some kind of indoor shortwave antenna. I’m 90 percent blind and I’m 73 years old so there’ll be no climbing on the roof. I’ve tried a couple of those roll up antennas with no success. Please give me your best suggestion. Reply via email would be good. I’m old and I’ll forget where I found this page.
    Thanks in advance.
    Danny Hollis

    1. Bharat Shetty

      Wellbrook magnetic loop antenna is great indoors as well, eliminates 90% of the static noise.
      Covers 50KHz to 30MHz efficiently.

  6. Pedrazza

    Hi, I’ve tried every kind of antenna , even Blasting wire in hundreds of hundreds of feet in which my dad would bring to me from Blasting in Mine in Santa Rita NM.. and I’ve even used and tried every type of string up and 3 different types of antenna amplifiers like mfj-1022, ramsey , radio shacks and Vectronics models… had luck at different times… but what’s common is that make sure there is no appliances or modems , computer on otherwise will be noisy…
    They all work well in window

  7. Jim

    I’ve combined bike touring with SW and MW DXing. My latest radio is the CCrane Skywave. Starting with a recommended length of 36′ of 22 gauge wire (based on the best fit for meter length), I’ve been able to receive about 35 SW stations (half listenable) at night in remote campsites. The front end does seem to be overdriven by that length, so I am going to try 20′. Really happy with this radio, as it is one of the lightest and runs hours and hours on just two AA batteries. Last night at the campsite I picked up Russia, China and Australia among 30 others with the wire. I even get many distant stations during the day.

    1. Adam M Heckathorn

      I have done a little bike touring way back in the day. A few years ago I bought a touring bike but I haven’t used it for touring yet. I have been doing canoe trips in wilderness areas and it is amazing what you can receive when you’re away from the noise. I had a sail boat and that was good reception also using a kaito loop. I have never bothered to bring a separate antenna on the canoe trips but I got the Sangean ant 60 with my recent purchase of a sangean 909X2 and plan to try it in the boonies. It works pretty good even in the house. I really need to do some bike touring.

  8. billy ross

    please, does anybody have a copy of an user manual of an radio shack amplified shorwave antenna Mod. 20-280?
    what’s the rca connector for?
    Thanks a lot.

  9. mark abraham

    try AOR LA 400 loop antenna, a must when it comes to top loop antennas. the rest like mentioned in this article is rubbish. sony sw radios are 3nd categories when compared to grunding and tecsun.

    1. Kelvin

      Yes I have used the pa0rdt mini whip it works well on the lower bands under 10mhz but its not an indoor antenna, you have to put it outside away from the house and RFI, I use it with a softrock for NAVTXT on 518khz.

      If you put it inside the house and it will pick up tons of RFI, so as a portable antenna its not so great, very simple to build and does not cost much. Another antenna which I use is a amplified loop the schematics are at, I ended up using a hula hoop as the loop frame, I use it inside the house and it really works pretty well. With my AFEDRI sdr it makes a good match.


  10. T. Riedel

    I read the blog and I am reading these posts with great interest. Antenna discussions are like politics – people are diametrically opposed and even the groups that have common ground seldom reach universal agreement. The following is my experience with shortwave listening.

    I have a G6 Aviator, a G5 Globe Traveler and a Yacht Boy 400. And I own a plethora of different antennas: TG34 (KA33/W31MS), KA35, a Slinky-type antenna, a Radio Shack 20-280, Sony AN-1/AN-12, and a Grundig Wire Reel antenna w/ 22.5’ of wire. Nearly each antenna has its niche. But as others have clearly stated: before an antenna is used – even before one powers-on a radio – the radio must physically be in the right place (away from sources of interference). I have found that if step one is successful, then my antennas will enhance my listening experience.

    The Sony AN-1/AN-12 does a great job – arguably the best overall performer having both a long whip (that can be mounted outdoors) and an amplifier/attenuator. But you’re not taking this on the road!

    In my experience the slinky is only good if it is “tuned” by the Radio Shack 20-280; neither one alone seems to work very well.

    The KA35 sits on my windowsill with the cable connected to my radio on my nightstand. Without the KA35 I would be unable to listen to many radio stations (with the antenna off, I often cannot even decipher an audible signal that a station might even exist on a frequency).

    And as another poster (VAXXI) stated, the TG34 (KA33/W31MS) performs extremely well [for me], also attaches to the window (like the Sony AN-LP1), costs less than $30 and has such a small footprint when packed that it travels extremely well.

    The one antenna that I personally haven’t had any success with is the 22.5’ wire reel-type antenna (maybe that’s because I take steps to reduce interference?).

    No antenna will improve radio reception if you have excess interference. In my house, I can minimize external interference with everything except the dishwasher! When that’s running, I can forget any SWL.

    Your experience may – and obviously will – vary as evidenced by the divergent opinions everyone seems to have re: antennas. But nonetheless, these discussions are always quite interesting. I thank everyone for sharing their thoughts & experiences.

    1. Thomas Post author

      Vaxxi and Troy–Thanks so much for the input. Very, very good points. With precautions, and under the right conditions, amplified antennas can fill a niche.

      I think the intention of my post was to make people aware that amplified antennas aren’t an instant salvation and that under heavy RFI, can disappoint. Frankly, even a passive wire antenna will effectively receive RFI.

      I actually had some good success with the AN-LP1 while on vacation in an off-grid cabin last year. No RFI to be heard and the little loop and tuned amp certainly pulled in weak signals better than the whip.

      I wish someone would develop a mini wellbrook antenna. One that amplifies the magnetic portion of EM, thus eliminating RFI. Something small enough for travel.

      Hey, at least one can dream!


      1. Bruce Fisher

        Hi Thomas,
        I wanted to purchase a Wellbrook Loop but didn’t have the space. After some research I found the AOR LA-390 Magnetic Loop Antenna, which is a foot in diameter, so it could be used in travelling. I don’t know how well it compares to the Wellbrooks (except that it costs about the same!). It does work well and is much less noisy than an indoor wire. I just checked the Universal Radio’s website and they now offer an improved version, the AOR LA-400:

        – Bruce

        1. Thomas Post author

          Hi, Bruce,

          The Wellbrook and AOR are certainly a worthwhile investment if you live in an RFI area. I have never heard a comparison of the two. I would also add some budget for a motor to rotate any loop (especially if outside). Loops like the Wellbrook have great nulling abilities–I imagine the AOR as well. Very curious if anyone has experience with the AOR loops–I bet some Brits do.


  11. VAXXi

    Well, I’ve read the opinions on amplified SW antennas, but decided to bite the bullet and get one. I have a Kestrel W31MS from eBay (also found under the names Degen DE31MS, Kaito KA33, TG34). I didn’t bother to put on video too many tests of the antenna, but here’s the most relevant sample:

    It’s a loop of wire which can be unfolded into a square loop, with a curtain clip at the top of the loop (end of cable). The other end has a 3.5″ jack which plugs into a cigarette-sized amplifier, running on 2 AAA batteries (which last forever). With the amplifier off, it seems to act like a simple wire which is perfectly fine for me. Scotch tape to stick the loop high up on the room window and that’s it.

    Considering the whole thing fits in a cigarette pack, it’s not much of a bother to take it in luggage. For me, it’s worth having; sometimes it can amplify the signal just enough to make it understandable (noise and all), which is what you want anyway.

  12. Tudor

    AN-LP1 it’s a loop antenna which allows you to null out the noise coming from nearby sources. An amplified whip antenna is omnidirectional and totally useless in noisy environments.
    I live in an apartment with lots of RFI. I use an AN-LP1 antenna placed at the window and I rotate it until the RFI is the lowest. Works better than the telescopic whip.

    1. Thomas Post author

      Good point, Tudor! You’re right–that the power of loops. I hope, in the future, to review the Wellbrook HF loop. Not exactly portable–and not exactly cheap–but an incredibly effective antenna at nulling and eliminating RFI.

      1. Julio Cesar Pereira

        I have a hula loop antenna. It is so much better than any wire or telescopic antena that it does not need amplification. Thus is because of very low QRM. It is not very portable but I could listen to stations from as far as Sri Lanka, The Philipines, Bangkok, Zambia, Zanzibar, etc. I have a DE31s active loop antenna which I only recommend for MW and an old Sony AN-101 active antenna (telescopic) which can also be very good, but noisy in comparison.

  13. Heinz H

    Yes, yes – after many years in hotel rooms:
    the alligator clip and 6m copper wire hanging out o a window is still thebest solution.

    thx Heinz

  14. Jonathan Marks

    agree entirely. Have one of the old AN-LP1 which you could fold into a bag. It would spring out again as if by magic. Tried it a bit on African trips – until a customs guy asked if it was an elephant’s condom.


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