Dan revisits the venerable XHDATA D-808 portable radio

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


XHDATA D-808Revisiting the XHDATA: What Sangean Should Have Learned from the D-808

by Dan Robinson

Recent additions to the shortwave portable receiver market have been quite impressive, especially considering the continuing decline in the use of shortwave as a transmission method by broadcasters.

In what could be the final models from Tecsun, we saw the PL-330, PL-990x and H-501x all of which bring impressive features and capabilities to the game.  Sangean finally introduced its upgraded ATS-909×2 including an early firmware upgrade that was supposed to correct some issues with this receiver.

As I have observed in some recent reviews, the very fact that the listening community still sees any new receivers is reason for gratitude, though we also have opportunities to acquire numerous classic receivers and can still do an excellent job in today’s listening environment.

One receiver that emerged a few years ago and which took the listening hobby by storm was the XHDATA D-808.  Numerous reviews are online, including ones here on the SWLing Post, and excellent reviews by Gilles Letourneau here and here.

The 808 was and still is compared to the CCrane Skywave SSB, a much smaller and compact receiver.  Unfortunately, in my experience both suffer from soft muting.

I obtained a D-808 shortly after it appeared based on early positive reviews.  I used it once, at the beach in Florida where reception conditions were superior – comparing it to some older portables in my collection such as the SONY ICF-SW07, ICF-SW55, and the Panasonic RF-B65.

I was impressed with the sensitivity of the 808, large speaker, and inclusion of AIR band, though I noticed some digital artifacts and agree with negatives such as slight soft muting and chuffing, and slowness of the processor.

I boxed the D-808 up and stored it away where it sat until recently when I took it back out after my experience using Sangean’s ATS-909×2 – thus the title of this brief commentary.

Sangean made some basic decisions with the 909×2.  Many of them are quite positive over the old 909x.  For many users the 909×2 has more than enough features to justify the higher price of the receiver.

I came to a different conclusion after returning my ATS-909×2, and I started thinking about how the D-808 could have informed engineers at Sangean as they considered which features to put in the 909×2.  To what extent Sangean designers looked at various other portables, including the D-808, we will probably never know.

D-808 DEMONSTRATES IMPORTANCE AND IMPACT OF BANDWIDTH FILTER CAPABILITY IN SSB

AM bandwidth control on the ATS-909×2 is quite nice.  However, what leaps out is the absence of multi-bandwidth capability in SSB mode.  It’s baffling that Sangean seems not to have recognized this as a must-have feature.

Tecsun started providing this on small receivers years ago, and in the PL-880, the excellent though flawed portable that also took the listening world by storm, and in the recent 330, 990x and 501x.

Using the D-808 again after a few years reminded me that this little China-made receiver offers no less than SEVEN bandwidths, in AM mode.  Let me say that again:  SEVEN (7) bandwidths.

You don’t find that kind of selectivity capability even in a Drake R8B.  After that, you’re getting into continuously variable bandwidth control found in premium DSP receivers.

So, in AM mode you have:  6 kHz, 4 kHz, 3 kHz, 2.5 kHz, 2.0 kHz, 1.8 kHz, and 1.00 kHz

The D-808 also has fine tuning capability.  This is not the same as the Tecsuns which actually enable you to re-calibrate, and with adjustment that remains set for both USB and LSB.  On the D-808 you fine tune to zero beat, but have to repeat the correction  for LSB and USB on the frequency you’re on – it’s a bit more twiddly, but on my 808 the fine tuning is nonetheless very smooth.

Nevertheless, combined with SIX bandwidth options when in SSB, the fine tuning option on the 808 is a superb feature, not to mention that on my particular D-808 there is little to no “warbling” when carrying out the fine tune operation.

So, in SSB on on the D-808 you have:  4.0 kHz, 3.0 kHz, 2.2 kHz, 1.2 kHz, 1.0 kHz, and an amazing .5 kHz !  Imagine that:   .5 kHz

I usually remember stuff like this, but when I first tried the D-808 in Florida back in 2018 I was more focused on assessing sensitivity, audio, and issues such as its pretty slow DSP response when changing modes.

Video Demonstration of D-808 bandwidth capability in AM and SSB modes:

So, now you have to pick me up off the floor as I re-visit the D-808 and realize what an amazingly capable little radio it really is – again, see the excellent reviews by Gilles in which he pays a lot of attention to this fact.

Additional years ago, I used receivers such as SONY SW-55s and Panasonic RF-B65s in ocean side DXing.  These are fine receivers, but the 55 is limited to two bandwidths, NARROW and WIDE – similar to the SONY 2010 and SW-77, both of which also had effective synchronous detection.

One of my best DX catches at that time was Radio Rwanda on 6,055 kHz just before it’s sign off in the late afternoon eastern timed.  Using a Panasonic RF-B65 which had NO bandwidth options, I was able to hear and record a full sign off and ID.

However, had a D-808 existed at that time this would have been much easier because of the multiple bandwidths in both AM and SSB.  I imagine a SONY ICF-SW7600GR would have done a good job as well, but it too does not have the multiple bandwidth options that a D-808 has.

These days, with the number of stations on the air reduced even further, examples like this may be fewer and farther between.  But one has to observe that for AMATEUR radio listening, the amazing bandwidth capability of a D-808 really sets it apart from the pack.

Am I glad I re-discovered the D-808?  You bet.  It was on my list of TO SELL receivers.  Now, it has a reprieve and is firmly back on my keeper list.

I have to think that it is highly unlikely that there will be a new version of the D-808, unless someone out there has heard something in the receiver rumor mill that I have not.  Perhaps the folks at XHDATA/RadioWOW will take this hint.

If XHDATA were to re-design the 808, the most improvements one would hope for are obvious:  a newer and faster DSP chip to speed up mode changes, a jack for external recording.  A real long shot would be to hope for the same sort of  calibration adjustment seen in the Tecsun receivers.

When I really get to dreaming, I think of XHDATA or some other maker designing a portable like the 808 – why not call it the 1000 Super DSP – that actually has continuously adjustable bandwidth control.  This will never happen.

It’s doubtful that XHDATA or some other manufacturer will consider competing directly with Tecsun and Sangean.  But the D-808 carved out a place for itself in the small portable category, at an extremely competitive price point.

As this was not an exhaustive retro review of the D-808, I have not gone into the various negatives that every D-808 owner knows to exist.

Lack of a RECORD OUT jack is one.  A D-808x might implement Bluetooth capability as Tecsun has, and MicroSD recording capability (though that gets into issues that appear to have prevented Tecsun from doing the same).  And surely, get rid of the soft muting.

In conclusion, I go back to a question that occurred to me as I used the Sangean ATS-909×2:  what Sangean could or should have learned from the D-808.

Here was a small, well-designed DSP radio that burst upon the scene with outstanding capabilities and which even today is prized among those who own it.  Need I repeat?  SEVEN bandwidths in AM mode, and MW, and SIX in SSB and LW.

Every company that’s still manufacturing receivers makes its own decisions. It’s as important that we voice our gratitude to Sangean for its latest (possibly last) effort to revise the 909xxxx series as it is to Tecsun for offering no fewer than THREE superb world band receivers.

Sangean has received feedback from me and other reviewers about the x2.  All of that is aimed at helping the company possibly correct shortcomings in the new receiver.  I hope that this commentary is another step in that direction.

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21 thoughts on “Dan revisits the venerable XHDATA D-808 portable radio

  1. Jeff Welty

    I have a XHDATA D-808 that I listen to almost every night with earplugs so I don’t disturb my wife. My favorite stations are all in memory and I’ve covered the display with a bit of cardboard so the light doesn’t disturb her either. Disabled the beep, and it works great. I keep thinking I need to put a small glue dot on the number “5” button to help run it by feel but keep forgetting so I guess it’s not that bit of a deal 😉

    After a year, the volume got scratchy, so I opened it up and squirted a little deoxit on what appears to be the volume pot contact (it’s very small, but pretty obvious when you look at it). Super easy fix and works perfectly again.

    You can see the volume pot contact in the last image from this post by Gary Debock:

    https://swling.com/blog/2018/05/gary-pulls-apart-and-examines-the-xhdata-d-808/

    The contact is the bit of metal right above the center post of the volume pot.

    Reply
  2. Marty

    There are definitely some quality control issues with the D-808. Some are mentioned in the comments already posted. I do find this a great little receiver that punches way above it’s weight. The first one I bought has a hight pitched ringing sound that makes listening for just a few minutes pretty painful. It’s almost as if the calibration or the filtering is off. This is audible through the speaker, not sure about using it with headphones.

    I purchased a second receiver because I did believe that the receiver was highly sensitive and highly capable and would be worth the money if I got one that didn’t have the high pitched squeal. I am happy with the second unit with the exception of two things. Soft muting while tuning and interference when pressing the buttons. The button issue is actually present on both of my units.

    I agree that there is room for an update to this radio. Clean up a few of the items that have been mentioned and this would likely be amongst the top portable receivers on the market today.

    Reply
    1. KPC

      ” interference when pressing the buttons”

      When saving a station to a preset whilst holding down a button yes this interference is noticeable on weaker AM stations (its not an issue at all on FM).
      I however don’t mind it – just a low-level buzz (and what is being said on the station can still be heard).
      It would of course be preferable if this effect was not there, however it would be a bigger evil though if the radio was made go completely mute to mask this low buzz (if it is not otherwise surmountable).

      Reply
  3. Edward

    I had a bug develop. The fine tune plain stopped working no matter how long I kept the battery out. Other than that , A new feature would be to mold dimples on top of the keys so you can use the sense of feel in the dark to press the correct key.

    Reply
  4. Lou

    Very good article, Dan.

    You hit on some points that made me box up my X2 and send it back to Amazon today.

    While I really, really loved the look and feel of the radio along with the outstanding FM performance, I kept thinking that the X2 really didn’t live up to being a radio worthy of its current pricing in 2021.

    Portable SW radios might be a highly niche product now but given the technology available and how long Sangean has been making radios, there’s no excuse for some of their choices or the missing “wow” factor I got as I scanned through the SW bands.

    Even after all of these years, my Sony 7600GR continues to hang tough and when connected to an external antenna, was performing almost as well as the X2 despite what should have been a run away in terms of all the benefits that come with a DSP based receiver.

    I guess I’ll keep tossing my 7600 in my bags when I head overseas. Was really hoping that Sangean had a radio that would allow me to retire my Sony.

    Sangean, I’m not done. Maybe firmware can fix some issues. I saw enough with the X2 that my decision was a tough one. I’d love to repurchase a X2 down the road if there’s a dramatic improvement.

    Reply
    1. Dan Robinson

      Yes, difficult choice but then not so much — if some other company can put SEVEN bandwidths and SIX and have them usable in AM and SSB mode, what’s the deal Sangean?

      I too hope Sangean will address some issues and I have not ruled out re-obtaining an x2 at some point in the future, but not now.

      Reply
  5. Tudor Vedeanu

    I tried to like the D-808 but …meh. The muting while tuning is especially annoying on this radio. More so than on other radios.

    Reply
  6. adi

    I also have the D808, my issue with it is that one can’t scroll memories.
    A clever fix would be that once the tuning knob is on STOP you will scroll memories with up/down keys.

    *Another thing is that on SSB, S/N is higher than AM on the QRG.

    Reply
  7. Mike

    It’s a very nice receiver. I just wish that it didn’t emit a very loud “pop” every time you changed modes. When listening on headphones it was so loud as to be painful and was the reason why I sold the receiver.

    Reply
    1. kevin

      Oh the loud “pop”…it really is literally painful with headphones. Who thought this was OK? Someone who played in thrash metal bands and had no hearing left?

      That and the #$@&%!! muting while tuning. Other than that, great radio.

      Reply
      1. Mike

        I’m very much not sure. I had the same problem with the Eton Satellit as well. It wasn’t as loud as with XHDATA but it was still very much present and accounted for. It seems like it is an issue with leakage or improper shielding/bypassing from the digital switching circuits.

        Reply
  8. Dan

    Yes, apologies I forgot to mention the 1780, which was essentially the same as the 808. Not sure I agree that the construction was that much better — it appears to be an exact copy but I prefer the appearance of the D808 to the 1780.

    Reply
    1. Prasad Assoldekar

      I have no issues with the quirks in D-808, muting or chuffing. But my biggest problem is the battery consumption. The original battery which is 2000 mAh, goes flat in 4 days even if the radio is not used. I purchased a couple of batteries which are supposed to be 3000 mAh, that go just a day longer. If used for half an hour a day, the battery dies in flat 3 days. Also the metal speaker cover has started rusting perhaps due humid climate here in Goa, India. The 1780 is a full plastic case which looks sturdier and has no chances of rusting.

      Reply
      1. Brent

        Something is wrong. I have used that same 2000mAh battery for a month in my 808, and that’s while using the radio at least some everyday. And it takes forever to run down the 3000mAh batteries I bought as extras. Your unit must have a constant draw somewhere that is draining the batteries even when off.

        But, it is luck of the draw these days on the modern crop of portables. While my 808 has been perfect, I just received a new Tescun PL-860 this week and right out of the box the tuning knob would not change the frequency, so it is on its way back to Hong Kong… quality control is indeed lacking on today’s units.

        Reply
  9. LukeAM

    “I have to think that it is highly unlikely that there will be a new version of the D-808, unless someone out there has heard something in the receiver rumor mill that I have not. Perhaps the folks at XHDATA/RadioWOW will take this hint.“

    Appeared Sihuadon D808 as XHDATA and Sihuadon R108 as RadioWOW. They are black in color and have orange illumination.
    https://www.radiwow.com/collections/xhdata-radio-361

    Maybe someone will know. Does Tecsun still produce: PL 310, 600,660,680? Does Kaito still produce: KA 1103, KA29?

    Perhaps it is worth writing an article about the currently manufactured portable global receivers, as it was in this article.
    https://swling.com/blog/2021/04/are-there-any-tabletop-shortwave-receivers-currently-on-the-market/

    You could create such a list of receivers and, if necessary, update (add new receivers and delete those that no longer produce).

    Reply
    1. Dan Robinson

      What is interesting about the Sihuadon and D-808 advertising is that none of it mentions the tremendous flexibility of the bandwidths in AM and SSB.

      Reply
  10. Mark

    I liked my D-808, it was neat little radio.

    Unfortunately it developed a fault where even when it was turned off, would emit a hiss from the speaker and then kept draining its batteries. No amount of resets or removing the battery would fix it.

    Reply
  11. Gustavo Pinto

    I would suggest to take a look at Digitech AR-1780. Predecessor of famous XHDATA, with exactly same functions and muting, but with even better sound, better construction quality, sturdier, smaller and powered with AA batteries. Digitech AR-1780 was left behind…

    Reply

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