What’s your favorite general coverage transceiver for shortwave listening?

The Elecraft KX2 doing a little coastal SWLing.

Yesterday, at the (Virtual) 2021 Winter SWL Fest, I gave a presentation about QRP general coverage transceivers that I regularly use for shortwave broadcast listening (SWLing).

My discussion was limited to QRP–or low-power–transceivers designed for portable use, but they only represent a small fraction of the new and used transceivers on the market.

So what is “general coverage”––?

A ham transceiver with “general coverage” means that the receiver portion of the radio is not limited to the ham bands only; these receivers typically receive between 100 kHz and 30 MHz (i.e., the full medium and shortwave radio spectrum). Many transceivers, starting in the 1980s, employed a general coverage design as a feature of the radio. Some radios implemented general coverage receiving better than others. In most cases, there was a compromise to performance when the receiver was opened to general coverage reception, so many manufactures held to a ham-band-only platform to optimize performance where hams sought it most. Today, receiver architecture can better accommodate general coverage without compromising sensitivity and selectivity on the ham bands. This is especially true with new SDR-based transceivers that employ direct conversion or a hybrid architecture.

My favorite?

My current favorite is the new Icom IC-705. I purchased this rig last year and have done a tremendous amount of SWLing and MW DXing with it. I love its overall performance, portability and recording/playback features.

What’s your favorite?

 

I’m betting a lot of us use transceivers for shortwave broadcast listening.

What’s your favorite general coverage rig and why? I’m also curious how many of you almost exclusively use a transceiver for SWLing. Please comment!

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41 thoughts on “What’s your favorite general coverage transceiver for shortwave listening?

  1. Satyan

    My 8718a is dead, unable to get parts in India. 15 years of service at my shack, have the matching speaker also.

    Reply
  2. Zacharias

    I used the R75 Icom for 15 years till I started with the SDR Uni and then with the Airspy+D
    Oherwise iused a few degen texun mpdels

    Reply
    1. Bob Comeau

      Agreed! I have one here (currently for sale though) sitting next to my Icom IC-7300. The FT1oooMP has better sound in my opinion too. However, next to these, I have a good collection of older receivers for SWL’ing like I did in my younger days.

      Reply
  3. Jerry V.Di Trolio

    I Personally Like The Grinding Satellite 750 General Coverage Receiver, It’s A Great Table Top Reciever,The Sensitivty Is Topps !!!!,I Personally Have Two Of Them,They Are Relabel Radios,And I Use Stock Antenna,On The Radio,And I Also Use A Wire Antenna With My Grinding Satellite 750,With Very Positive Results,I Am To Pull A Lot Of Radio Stations,From Around The World !!!!,Ok,This CB Call Sign,KHW-6006,CB Handel,”Uncle Sam”,We Are “73’s”.

    Reply
  4. M7DSW

    For listening with a transceiver I tend to use my Xiegu G90 but that’s more because it’s what I have.

    The rest of the listening I tend to use a Nooelec RTL SDR with upconverter connected to my Loop On Ground antenna (which is super wide band)

    Reply
  5. Mario

    Great question and great responses. Mine’s a Yaesu FRG-100. I bought it used several years ago, realigned it, installed new memory batteries and am very pleased. It also has the FM board. It’s especially good for longwave.

    The only problem with my FRG-100 is that the clock slowly loses time and the fix is to replace a capacitor, which I haven’t done yet. Others have also reported this problem.

    But I still love my Panasonic RF-2200 portable.

    Reply
  6. Les Locklear

    A fully restored Hammarlund HQ-180 that still continues to pull in the weak ones. Next to it is an Icom 756 Pro 3 which has had the modification so it isn’t attenuated below 2.0 MHz. The Icom has much better noise filtering, but it isn’t as much fun as the HQ-180.

    Reply
  7. Jamie Patterson

    I still like my Sony I F-2010. Living in California somewhat limits station availability. Everything is just a long ways away. The Sony’s synchronous detector is good to have here on the west coast. What stations still receivable tend to fade and the sync helps. I haven’t looked into replacing it for short wave. I wonder if a more modern radio would provide a remarkable improvement?

    Reply
    1. Mike S

      It might be a matter of controversy. DSP receivers certainly have some advantages. But I have owned several of what might be considered comparable to the 2010 among modern portables, and the 2010 holds its own. For more discriminating listening it’s the one I consistently turn to. It’s not the best considering all receivers you could get, but for what it is and considering its age, it’s still a remarkable radio.,

      Reply
    2. Mr. Thompson

      Nothing against the 2010, I’ve had mine for 38 years. Step into the present. A Belka DX or an Airspy Discovery with YouLoop if you’re up to adding a computer to the equation. I suggest both. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Paul Mitchell

    My favourite radio for SWL is the Palstar R30A with the Palstar SP30A communications speaker. Lovely audio. There is in the wind a Palstar R30B on its way and I am looking forward to reviews and what features it may have. Am AM Sync?

    I am not a Dx’er though more of a Broadcast Program listener. I have all my favourite AM stations and ham nets programmed into the radio. I do not have to remember the 100 memory locations as I use iCal on my iMac to remind me of the Station, time, frequency and memory channel in my Palstar for me to dial into at the appropriate time.

    I do own a secondhand Yaesu FTdx101D with all the optional filters and secondary VC-Tune unit plus other ham rigs for portable use. Though at the end of the I enjoy the pure simplicity of the Palstar R30A. If I do try some DX on medium or shortwave. There is a lovely pair of Kenwood HS-5 mono headphones to fall back on.

    Warm regards,

    Mitch.

    Reply
  9. N3BE

    Shortwave Broadcast and Utility listening, is done on an IC756ProII, Longwave and BCB DX’ing on the formidable IC735, BCB listening on my Kenwood TS2000. But I must admit switching in this last year to my Airspy HF+ which does everything each of these do at least as well and sometimes times better.
    73 es DX to all, N3BE

    Reply
  10. Janes

    I use a Yaesu FT-891 for shortwave broadcast, ham and utility monitoring. It has great sensitivity and selectivity plus a fantastic 32-bit IF DSP for noise reduction. The compact size and portability of this transceiver makes it ideal for mobile listening.

    Reply
  11. Steve Allen, KZ4TN

    Thomas:
    Great question that we all love to respond to.
    Having four Yaesu transceivers here in the shack I have to say that the FT-817ND paired with an outboard SOTABeams DSP audio filter has been my go to SWL receiver for the last few months. Before the arrival of the FT-817ND it was the FT-897D. As the shortwave bands are not as crowded as the Amateur Radio bands, the audio output of the receiver (for me) is more important that the selectivity of the receiver. I feed the audio from the DSP filter into a mid-range 3.5 speaker that matches the frequency range of broadcast radio.

    Reply
  12. David

    No big surprise here, I really like my Icom 7300 for weak signal SWLing. A friend tells me it’s better than his venerable Drake R8A. The advanced filtering options make it a real pleasure to dig out weak signals.

    Reply
  13. Harry Dougherty

    First general coverage transceiver used was the IC-735, since 1986 , that has now developed problems. Mostly use an FT-817 out of convenience. Starting to use the IC-9100 as a potential replacement for the IC-735 if the repair is more extensive than appears. Favorite is the IC-735, most used is the FT-817. Jury is out on the IC-9100. Current receivers most used are the RSP 1 and Radio Shack Science Fair Globe Patrol.

    Reply
  14. Mark

    My ICOM IC-7200 has been my favourite for while, and was purchased on the strength of an article on this very web site.

    Everything I need is available directly from the front panel without having to use menus, with the pass band filter control right there if I need it. The VFO dial is fast and fluid, and makes exploratory tuning up and down the dial a pleasure. Noise reduction and noise blanker do a pretty good, considering how dire local interference has become in recent years along with the current solar cycle conditions.

    Not necessarily important, but with its add-on carry handles, it looks pretty neat too. Definitely a keeper.

    Reply
  15. Tom

    I use a IC-706, KX3 and R8600 for SW receive. Do like the waterfall of the R8600 for visualizing the bands. The best receiver is the KX3. Need the PX3 for visualization, or maybe hold out for a K4.

    Reply
  16. Kim Andrew Elliott

    I have owned only one HF transceiver, the Yaesu FT-897D.

    When I bought it ten years ago — my first HF transceiver after being a ham for (then) 44 years — I was pleasantly surprised by how well it performed as a general coverage receiver. It’s even good on medium wave. (FM broadcast reception is mediocre, however.)

    The most serious deficiency of the FT-897D is the lack of a synchronous detector — such as the one that works well in my Drake SW8 receiver. Are there any HF transceivers with a synchronous detector?

    Unlike many newer transceivers, the FT-897D also does not have a USB port. Nowadays, many transceivers (and even some receivers) , through their USB ports, are recognized as “sound cards” by digital software such a Fldigi and WSJT-X. No need for an interface such as the SignaLink. This opens up a new world of digital mode reception and decoding (for example, Shortwave Radiogram).

    (One can always connect an audio output of a transceiver to the audio input of a PC. But this is less convenient than the USB port. For one thing, most transceivers do not have an easily accessible audio-out port, so the headphone or speaker jacks, which mute audio, must be used. And, of course, most newer laptops do not have a separate microphone jack.)

    Such a USB port would be an important addition to future (if there are any) general coverage receivers, including mid- to high-end portables.

    Reply
  17. Brian

    Have a few HF rigs, but I’m liking my IC-7100 with Win4Icom’s SW database. Even my 817 is great for SWL, and my 7300 w/PTRX board+RSP1 is also fun to use. I’m a waterfall junkie, so mainly SWL on SDRs.

    Reply
  18. Jaime

    I was gifted a Icom IC-7300. I usually listen to SW frequencies using an old Realistic radio, not a transceiver. I struggle with it cause it’s not that good. I guess the person who gifted me the Icom felt sorry for me and decided to get me the fanciest radio she could find. I’ve been reading articles on using such a radio, but I still find it ridiculously complicated to use . Most articles I’ve read don’t mention the basics for a novice like me. I just want to listen to SW, Air and Ham frequencies. Maybe later I would like to transmit as a Ham. I was a able to buy a power supply for it. I now need an antenna. I have extremely limited space. So, I’m looking for a small whip antenna, if possible. Any suggestions would be extremely appreciated. I feel bad watching this great looking radio gather dust. Thanks.

    JB

    Reply
  19. Joe Domaleski

    Great presentation yesterday Thomas. Like you I find the IC-705 is a great radio with fine SWL capabilities. The Kenwood TH-D74 is a feature rich VHF/UHF HT with APRS & D-Star. It also has a great receive capability including SSB, which is rare in an HT. Great HT for SWL. 73 from Atlanta KI4ASK

    Reply
  20. Ernie Pridemore

    TS-2000 favorite as modern rig along with a heavily filtered Icom IC-718. I refurbish a lot of old receivers I have a like new and the RME-45 and RME-69 that sound fantastic on AM but I have like new Hammarlund HQ-129X that really rocks for general coverage. It has an external Q unit…external digital readout and external DSP. It will put some modern receivers to shame!

    Reply
  21. John Green

    I mostly use my Yaesu FRG-7000 receiver which has the wide/narrow filter mod.
    On some occasions the Kenwood TS450sat
    works better.

    Reply
    1. Lou

      Gustavo,

      We could only hope BUT Icom has NEVER been known for “diluting” their product lineup.

      Incremental upgrades or slight variations, sure.

      IC-7300 to IC-705 wasn’t a huge step. All of the framework was in place already. Icom knew there was a unfulfilled demand for a QRP HF/VHF/UHF rig that had (nearly) everything a modern amateur could want. They were right.

      Just can’t see Icom going back to entry level tabletop receivers again. Unless they refresh the IC-718, we’re not going to see a corresponding receiver only model like the R75 was.

      The economics don’t make sense given where that segment has gone. Mostly to SDRs and cheaper Chinese HF models with general coverage receivers.

      If someone has under $600, I’m always going to recommend an SDR and a quality antenna. Might not cover all the bases but it’ll just definitely get their feet in the water to see if they’re going to stick with it.

      Reply
  22. Robert Gulley

    Interestingly enough two of the transceivers shown in the article, the Kenwood 590s and the Yaesu 891, have been two of my favorite shortwave receivers. The kenwoods receive capabilities are excellent in its price range, unusually so for signals below 160 m and the am broadcast band. Likewise the 891 has roofing filters built in, unusual at this price point. Both radios have now been replaced buy a new transceiver, but I cannot comment on its quality yet until I’ve spent more time with the radio.
    Regardless of how good the new radio is, I will still use my frg-7 and will likely buy the new Sangean 909 x2 because of how well I like my original 909x. It’s a great time to be in the hobby!

    Reply

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