Inbound: A Drake SW8 HF/VHF receiver

I’m often accused of being a radio “enabler.” Truth be told, I wear that badge quite proudly. I’m passionate about communications equipment and I suppose it shows especially here on the Post.

But radio “enabling” is a two-way street. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve made impulse purchases based on feedback and tips from SWLing Post readers. Yesterday was one of those days.

The tip

Last week, SWLing Post contributor, Rand (KS4L), sent me a link to an ad for a Drake SW8 on’s classifieds site.  Here’s the description and original photo:

Nice Drake SW8 Communications Receiver

Nice physical and working condition Drake SW8 portable communication receiver covering 100 to 30,000 kHz in AM, USB and LSB modes with backlit LCD panels. The VHF aeronautical band is also featured (118 – 137 MHz). For portable or field use, can be powered from 6 D cells and use the internal pivot point 41 inch telescopic whip. Comes with original manual, CD and 120VAC power pack with cable. Has an eHam review rating of 4.7 out of 5. From a non smoking environment.

Asking 250 shipped.

Randy sent this tip mid-week and I tried to ignore it. I knew it might not be a stellar deal, but it certainly wasn’t over-priced either.

The SW8

I don’t think Randy knew this, but I’ve always wanted an SW8. My buddy, David Goren, recommended this receiver ages ago, Each time I’ve stayed at his home he magically made an SW8 available as my bedside radio in the guest room. (That’s some serious radio hospitality!)

Once, many years ago, I actually agreed to purchase an SW8 from a seller in British Columbia, but the deal fell through for some reason. If memory serves, he damaged the radio in the process of packing it. I believe I agreed to pay $450 for it, but that was probably 10 years ago.

I kept Randy’s tip and link in my action items list and decided that, if still available, I’d post it as a radio deal here on the SWLing Post.

Yesterday morning, the SW8 was still showing as available so I started a post. Being the radio enabler I am, I started writing about how much I’ve always wanted to own an SW8…how I love the simple front face plate, the display, the fact it can be powered by batteries, and how I think it’s quite a capable little receiver.

Then I stopped writing, mid-sentence and asked myself… “Will I regret not grabbing this SW8?”

My “radio bux” fund is incredibly low at the moment, mainly due to recent travels and budgeting for no less than three radio conventions next year. Also, this is the time of year when several annual fees/subscriptions are auto-deducted from my account–including hefty hosting fees for the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive.

Still, I had *just* enough money to at least make an offer and knew if I “thinned the radio herd” here at SWLing Post HQ, I could probably replenish the amount in a month or so.

Since this was a classifieds ad, my next step was to go through an extensive checklist to make sure the seller was who they claimed to be and that there were no signs of this being a scam. Everything checked out. (I’ll make a note to publish a post about my process in the near future).

I contacted the seller and we agreed on a price of $220 shipped. I put his check in the mail, and he even shipped the radio same day and provided a verified FedEx tracking number.

I’ll admit it: I’m stoked!

I look forward to putting this Drake SW8 through the paces and especially loading it with batteries and taking it to the field. I know–in terms of performance–it won’t be my best receiver, but I know it’ll provide hours upon hours of radio fun, and that’s what it’s all about!

Post readers: What do you think?  Have I made a mistake, or did I get a good deal? I’d love to hear from those of you who’ve been owners of the venerable Drake SW8!

Please comment!

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30 thoughts on “Inbound: A Drake SW8 HF/VHF receiver

  1. Daniel Robinson

    UPDATE: See my earlier comment re the master oscillator adjustment — it is indeed found inside the silver can, closest to the center of the main PC board on the bottom of the receiver. Removing the solder glob on the side of the can pops the can top open, giving access to the very easily adjusted potentiometer which can bring the receiver closer if not right on zero beat. Have to wonder what Drake was thinking by making this adjustment so hard to get to, but there you have it.

  2. Mark M.

    I have one (SW8) that I have only used every few years and might sell it if anyone is interested and offers enough. I got it in the summer of 2000 when Drake announced they were going out of business. Got it from Universal radio and it was one of the very last ones off the assembly line, so it has all the improvements and updates they made. I just ordered a new antenna for it since the old one got loose where it was stamped onto the swivel base lug and so it rotates, not supposed to do that! But the new one will fix this issue. Very good condition but not perfect. I’d call it moderately used. Maybe I messed with it about 100 to 200 times and at the most for couple hours. Still has a very nice cabinet and keyboard and the display are nearly perfect. The knob has a very slight wobble as if it’s not centered or is very slightly sitting sideways. I used the know for tuning way more than the keypad. Make me an offer, I’ll bookmark this page and check back for a long time. Buyer will be responsible for mounting the new antenna. But it’s easy to remove the cabinet for such work.

  3. Dave Stucky

    You did very well! I just paid more than twice that for one…..granted it’s collector quality and a 98 serial number, but the radio is outstanding and so far I think it’s the best “portable” I own……outside of the KX3. 🙂

  4. Laurin Cavender

    Like you I am a Radio Enabler to a fault according to my wife. I have fixed radios for myself and others all my life. I am not sure if I enjoy the fixing, the playing with, or the helping others that I get the most out of. I simply cannot stand to see a radio laying dead in a heap. It must be fixed and in a good home! If necessary I’ll foster it myself no matter whether it be a lil Sangen, an ancient Transoceanic, a Collins, an old Bearcat 1000, BC348, or a lowly ARC5 I’ve gotta make it work and find it a purpose and a home. Many live at my house, others find good homes elsewhere no matter they have to live again. Laurin WB4IVG

  5. David Shannon

    I had one a few years back. Easy to use, no nested menus (if you discount the function key and what that did). Mine did have a bit of keypad bounce but I’m sure you’ll give yours a thorough shakedown when you get it. Have got a JRC NRD 345 at present but am trying to find an ICOM IC R-75 at a reasonable price.The SWL/DX community does seem to be ill-served when it comes to desktop standalone receivers in the vein of the SW8, R8, these days imho.

  6. Les Polt

    Drake, a great name in US production, made quality equipment, and the deal appears good on both sides. At one time I owned an R8A, which I would still have were it not for an LCD display that started to lose elements. Replacing it was difficult due to the dated technology of electrical contact points and circuitry. Be certain all elements function. Also, the tuning knob of these radios were not weighted and did not have the “flywheel” feel. This was a high quality “consumer grade” receiver. Congratulations!

  7. Bob m3DPQ

    Hi, Had this reciver for many years,it still a very good radio, the only thing it dose when realy cold the orange light dims.vhf air band is second ti none.

  8. Jon Van Allen

    I’ve had two late model SW8s. The synch is excellent. I lugged it around the world with me when I worked at sea. Regularly logged many W Coast stations west of the dateline approaching Japan and tons of down under MW stations. Not too many other portable receivers then could do that in the midst of Asian QRM because of the sideband selectable synch. Enjoy!

  9. Blues Dude

    You made the right choice. A Drake in good condition is well worth that price. But if you still feel guilty, sell a few Baofengs on eBay.

  10. RonF

    Co-incidentally, on Saturday I was offered a late serial number one in good knick for AU$250. I passed, mostly because you’re right about the performance – its later derivatives, the Grundig Satellite 800 and Tecsun HAM-8000, are better radios, and I’ve already got one of those – but I was tempted…

      1. RonF

        Hi Mark, there were a few of us interested (it was at a party on the weekend), but I’ll ask in the morning & let you know.

  11. John Figliozzi

    I think you’ll find it’s performance comparable to the Eton E1. That’s pretty good. It’s been reported that the E1’s internal architecture resembles that of the SW8, which was one reason Drake agreed to perform repairs and refurbishing for the E1. Waiting to hear your experience and impressions. This is one I’ve never owned nor had the opportunity to play with.

  12. Mike Agner

    Hi there Tom – check out these links for SW8 info. Surprisingly the White Paper on the SW8 is still on the Universal web site…I;m envious of your find…
    (search for Drake SW8)

    As always, a caution when dealing with the White Papers; they are not an easy read. They are often quite technical in nature.
    I would expect a well structured Google search will come up with more…

    CUL Mike

  13. Bill

    I had an SW8 for a while back around the turn of the century. You are certainly correct in your thinking that it would make an excellent bedside radio. You can reach over, actually read & operate the controls and read the display without squinting. Also good for car/RV/truck camping. It performs quite similar to the Grundig Satellite 800 at a much smaller size (but by no means tiny.) It’s straight forward form factor without an excess of bells and whistles makes it welcoming to use. I have several nice performing portables that are becoming more difficult to use easily, so the larger displays are becoming more appealing for tired old eyes, but I doubt there are many who have a bedside nightstand that a Grundig 800 will fit on.

    It is a good performer although you probably have a few that will out perform it in a smaller form factor., But the SW8 is certainly no slouch, particularly with an outside antenna. I’d be willing to bet that there is a RedOxx bag that would fit it nicely.

    IMO it’s kind of a “niche” radio, and if you have that niche in your radio stable, it’ll fit nicely.

    Good on ‘ya.


  14. Craig

    Good for you. Only issue with my SW8s was the encoder skipping. Drake shipped a new encoder for $14 when I sent my new E1 under Drake/Eton’s service program, (awesome service, testing and communication). Still haven’t replaced encoder ages later as lazy and ways around tuning. Might only require cleaning.
    I set a biannual timer on my phone to inspect and test batteries as came to me with leakage that cleaned up nicely as a sturdy chassis. Like the 6 rather than 7 wide filter compared to the E1 but wish it had E1’s passband tuning.
    That would be a dream radio to reintroduce to market.
    Have fun!

  15. Daniel Robinson

    No mistake — the SW8, provided it is a later serial number with the changes made to the SYNC etc is one hell of a receiver. There are two here among the Robinson collection. The issues with the SW8 of course are well known — the LCD can become dimmer with time. Also, some SW8s are not exactly on frequency relative to USB/LSB. The adjustment, it is my understanding, is in one of the silver boxes — either top or bottom of the receiver I can’t recall. But to get to the adjustment pot, one has to desolder the correct silver box because most have the cover soldered. I greatly regret selling a SW8 that I had some years ago, which had exact LSB/USB frequency readout, but that was one of those periods in which I was trying to lighten the receiver load. I am lucky to have re-acquired one of the original Drake blue carrying bags for one of my SW8s. Please do keep us updated as you run your radio through the paces…

  16. Leo

    A classic! I don’t remember seeing many of these on eBay over a decade ago when I was searching for SW radios.

    Good luck. I hope it receives SSB, since hams are fun to listen to very frequently!


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