Dan seeks a comprehensive travel radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Srebnick, who writes:

Here’s a question to put to your blog readers. I’m looking for a compact portable receiver for travel purposes.

It must have AM, FM and shortwave coverage. It should support SSB and RDS. Synchronous AM is a plus, as is FM band coverage starting at 76 MHz (trip to Japan in the near future). Accurate digital readout is a must. But most importantly, MP3 and or wav recording at 48k should be supported. This last point seems to be a showstopper.

But, I’ll be in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina soon and hope to capture some hard to hear signals. So, any ideas would be most appreciated.

Digitech AR-1780 (left) and XHDATA D-808 (right)

The XHDATA D-808 should fit the bill with two exceptions: synchronous detection and audio recording. The very similar Digitech AR-1780 should as well, although I’m not certain you can switch it to Japan FM frequencies (I bet there’s a hack to do it, although I’ve never tried).

As you suspect, built-in recording is certainly the feature that’s most difficult to find in a portable shortwave radio. The only shortwave receiver I’ve tested recently that has decent built-in recording is the Audiomax SRW-710S (a.k.a. Tivdio V-115). However, it lacks many of the other features you noted and isn’t on par with the D-808 in terms of receiver (it is quite cheap though). I’m not sure I’d rely on it for extended travels.

In your shoes, I might combine the XHDATA D-808 and the Zoom H1n to achieve all of your goals. True, it’s not all-in-one, but it should perform well and the H1n would allow you to do other types of field recording.

Update: One more thought… Although this isn’t a traditional portable radio, you might also consider grabbing the new AirSpy HF+ Discovery SDR and pairing it with a tablet or laptop. It’s a phenomenal receiver and ticks all of the boxes above.

Post Readers: Can you think of other options for Dan? Has another recording shortwave radio hit the market?  What radio or kit do you use for travel and field recordings?  Please comment!

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17 thoughts on “Dan seeks a comprehensive travel radio

  1. Brent Levit

    I think for right now that you will need to buy an outboard recorder.
    I like the tecsun pl-880 and icr-100 combo. But the sync is not good on the 880. So you could get the Eton elite executive.

    If you are already travelling with a laptop, the SDR suggestion could be a good option. Best of luck!

    Reply
  2. Val

    Many MP3 players can work as digital recorders as well.
    IMO the best result could be achieved with a combo of a radio such as Tecsun PL-880 + MP3 player which can do recording + cable to connect them. The radio can be replaced with a cheaper one which still works for you, but PL-880 will probably work very well with the MP3 player just as a quality speaker.

    Reply
  3. Andrew

    I believe that either the D-808 or the AR-1780 mau fit quite well, although for recording you’d probably want a receiver which offers a line-out connector so that you may connect the receiver to a solid state recorder; the alternative would be buying or building a splitter cable (or box); in such a case you’ll have to use earplugs or headphones to listen

    I also suggest getting a nooelec 9:1 balun and a run of thin coax with the needed connectors; just modify the balun to break the antenna side ground connection (the 0k resistor in the schematic) and replace it with a jumper

    That way you’ll be anle to use the tiny balun with both random wire antennas (keep the jumper in place, one end of the balun to wire the other to ground) or with a wire loop (remove the jumper and connect the loop to the balun … ok transformer :D) the wire could be obtained locally, all in all it should’t be difficult finding some lenght of wire

    Such a setup would allow you to use quite a number of wire antennas; dipoles, random wires, loops and loops on ground; so you’ll have plenty of options in case the built in antenna won’t serve you well

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      “I also suggest getting a nooelec 9:1 balun and a run of thin coax with the needed connectors; just modify the balun to break the antenna side ground connection (the 0k resistor in the schematic) and replace it with a jumper”

      just in case, referring to the balun schematic found here

      https://www.nooelec.com/store/downloads/dl/file/id/40/product/192/balun_one_nine_schematic.jpg

      you’ll have to cut the “R1” track (on the bottom of the board) and replace it with a jumper so that you’ll be able to either use it as an “isolation transformer” (w/o the jumper the antenna side isn’t connected to ground) or as a regular “balun”

      Reply
  4. Bernard, K6KBL

    I went to Japan with my AR-1780 this past August. To switch FM ranges, turn radio off. Hold the FM button until you can select between 64-108, 76-108, 87-108 or 87.5-108 MHz. I also used it to listen to aircraft while waiting for my flight at Narita Tokyo Airport. You will also need to switch AM to 9 KHz steps.

    Reply
  5. TomL

    I use an Airspy HF+ with small laptop. If you still want a real radio, a C.Crane Skywave SSB or the Eton Satellit, and an external digital recorder might be your best bet. You may not need Sync if the signals are more Regional and not Intercontinental DX.

    One thing you do not mention is how you will be listening: walking or sitting down or indoors? A very nice setup can be put together if you will be stationary and outdoors. The antenna should not be overlooked and can make a small portable behave well above its usual performance. I have always been disappointed when trying to use a small portable whip antenna and now listen sitting at a picnic table or using my vehicle as part of the antenna system with an amplified preselector (aka, active antenna) and external telescopic antenna, and been happier. All of it fits in a Small backpack.

    Here is a Ground Spike used by amateur radio operators and is overkill for what you need (it is meant for transmitting), but it can give you an idea of what could be done outdoors (he should have used a small rubber hammer instead of a rock!):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6ze21cZGcE

    Just match that with a screw-in telescopic whip and you could have really nice reception (the taller the BETTER):
    https://www.amazon.com/MFJ-1976-Telescopic-Antenna-Whip-10/dp/B00E4Q7FRW

    Or just use a wire in a tree!

    Other people swear by a Mini-Whip but I had one and it died on me after only using it a few times. Better to get the much more durable amplified Boni-Whip if you can afford it and you will need a way to mount it on a pole or tree. Reviews of the Boni-Whip:
    https://swling.com/blog/tag/boni-whip/

    Others have documented that a small loop antenna is good for condo/hotel outdoor porches/decks to minimize noise.

    Location also helps, too. The best reception seems to be near lakes and oceans where the Large body of water acts as a ground plane or the top of a hill (especially for VHF/FM bands).

    Keeping the total package small and easy to use (including batteries!) may be the final decision point that influences your decision. If it is too complex, you may not want to use it. Just some thoughts, let us know what you come up with but try not to overlook the antenna system! Recordings will come out better.
    🙂

    Reply
  6. Egil - LA2PJ

    I had the same requirements for a portable setup. After trying several setups, i ended with Tecsun PL-880 connected to PL-880 via a short cable with 3.5mm stereo plugs each end. Plus an external antenna made of 20m thin wire with a 3.5mm audio plug soldered to one end.

    On travel I wrap the Tecsun units in bubble wrap, and put it all in a small toiletry bag. This bag also has room for extra batteries and a small logbook and pencils.
    This setup has served me well for three years now. Not the cheapest setup, but then I plan to use it for years to come.

    Should cover all Dan’s requirements, except for RDS.

    Reply
    1. David D

      I use a Tecsun PL-880 as well and have taken it on several trips. The carrying case it comes with works well for travel. I take an external antenna and it seems to make quite a difference (go figure). I have been very happy with my PL-880, and having sideband to listen to the Ham bands is a bonus. Several times over the past few years I have thought about selling it since I most use my SDR Play or ICOM 7300, but every time I take a trip, I’m glad I’ve kept it.

      Reply
    2. Egil - LA2PJ

      A little correction: The PL.880 line-out is connected to the line-in on the small ICR-100 digital recorder.
      Sorry for messing up.

      Reply
  7. Anders

    My Sangean DT-120 is my faithful companion on all my travels. It does not have short wave but AM and FM. The model I have can handle a frequency range between 65-108 MHz on the FM band.

    Reply
  8. Mangosman

    Don’t go to Europe where DAB+ is common and is broadcast between 174 – 230 MHz. None of these radios will receive these signal.
    In Brazil they are also experimenting with DRM on the HF band.

    Reply
    1. Mike S

      Unfortunately multi-band radios that also cover DAB+ are extremely rare and, when they exist, are far too large to be realistically useable for travel. The Digitech AR1946 is one some example.

      Reply
  9. Larry Thompson, St. Louis, Missouri

    I would recommend the CountyComm GP-5/SSB as the best solution for a travel radio. Extremely sensitive, has SSB, easy to operate, and tiny. In it’s cover, it could easily pass through customs undetected. Customs officials in Third World countries often try to confiscate portable shortwave radios. The scanning features on the radio are really fast, efficient, and fun to use.

    Reply
  10. RonF

    > “But most importantly, MP3 and or wav recording at 48k should be supported. This last point seems to be a showstopper”

    I’ll say. Can’t think of a single consumer radio – let alone a portable – that records at 48kbps (from analogue sources at least; there’s several that’ll save digital streams in their original format, including 48kbps sample rate). Uncompressed wave format is probably as rare, though I have a vague idea there is one or 2 that escape me at the moment.

    If those are must-haves, I’d say you’re looking at a SDR – with the proviso that bit-depth there may not match what you’re expecting either, depending on your exact need/reason (e.g. most will be 8~12 bit, not 16-bit, or use sub-16 bit AD converters & oversampling/decimation to achieve 16-bit equivalence). But I’d query those needs/reasons before committing to that, especially for analogue signals – it’s not like the SNR/dynamic range/frequency response of any signal is going to be close to that sort of quality. You’d probably be better off capturing at whatever the receiver’s native rate/depth is, and doing any necessary conversion post-facto.

    Reply
  11. Royce N5XKG

    I have the Eton Executive Satellit as well- everything but recording and expanded FM (that I know of). The recording part may be easy if you can find a recording MP3 player and use a splitter- one to the recorder one to the external speaker.

    Didn’t Kaito make a recording radio?

    Reply
    1. Sudipta Ghose

      Degen had one rx with recording facility. But the main performance of the equipment – receiver was no where near that of the XH-data D 808.

      Reply

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