Category Archives: DX

Preparing for Your Next DXpedition – New Videos

Regular readers of the SWLing.com blog will be aware that I am passionate about going portable/mobile with my radio listening hobby. There’s just nothing like communing with both nature and a bunch of electrons whizzing along the wire!

As a follow-up to an article I wrote several years ago, I have now prepared two new YouTube videos entitled Preparing for Your Next DXpedition – Parts 1 and 2.  

Part 1 covers:

– why we should even think about bothering to go portable with the radio

– the goals to consider when undertaking a DXpedition

– planning your listening depending on the time of day and time of year

– the all important decisions regarding location


Part 2 discusses:

– choosing the right radio for portable operations

– your options for powering the radio

– the antennas you could consider including on the trip

– handy auxiliary equipment

– references and notes to take along with you

– the importance of operator comforts while away

– developing a checklist…..so that you don’t forget to take something important!

These videos will be of interest to shortwave radio listeners and new amateur radio operators. Hopefully, they may be able to assist you in further enjoying our great hobby. They are embedded in this blog post below. You can also view these and other videos on my YouTube channel at Rob Wagner’s YouTube Channel

 

As always, thanks for watching and your comments are always welcome. 73 and good DX to you all,

Rob VK3BVW

Rob Wagner, VK3BVW, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. He also blogs at the Mount Evelyn DX Report.

DXing in a large suburban garden with the Eton Satellit & Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna

Hi there, the garden at my house is pretty small and as a consequence, I am very limited in terms of what antennas I can usefully employ. You can’t position anything further than about 10 metres from the brickwork and to compound this, we are surrounded on all sides by neighbours in close proximity. All very nice people, but all very noisy – electrically speaking lol. I simply can’t get far enough away from these sources of electrical noise to achieve excellent SNR.

The solution to my problem was ultimately a Wellbrook ALA1530 magnetic loop, but prior to that I used an end-fed random wire, the performance of which deteriorated as the months went by as the ubiquitous blanked of local QRM continued to increase. Eventually, I was forced outdoors, well away from my town – effectively catalysing my forays into the Oxfordshire countryside on DXpeditions. That first experience of listening to the radio on shortwave, in the absence of any QRM was enlightening to say the least and of course, subsequently, DXpeditions have become a mainstay of my listening activities. However, despite enjoying some great DX successes out in the woods, one has to be realistic about how often it’s possible to leave the house just to listen to the radio. This led me to the purchase of the Wellbrook ALA1530 magnetic loop. It proved to be a triumph of electrical noise mitigation and an absolute necessity in copying transatlantic medium wave signals in such a noisy and compact space. A total game-changer. The brilliant performance of the Wellbrook eventually led to me purchase a second, cheaper active antenna; the E-field Bonito Boni Whip and in turn, that purchase led me to the MegActive MA305, kindly supplied by Bonito themselves for objective testing.

Have DXing kit, will travel…everything you need in a small flight case…

You might remember my initial tests at home confirmed, as expected, that E-field antennas don’t work well in electrically noisy environments (except at LW frequencies in my experience) but outdoors, away from noise, they are superb. I have a number of reception videos on my YouTube channel – Oxford Shortwave Log which clearly demonstrate identical performance of the Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna and Wellbrook ALA1530 magnetic loop out in the woods. So, what if you’ve got a large garden in a suburban area that allows you to be just far enough from sources of electrical noise…how much of a difference does it make to the noise floor of your receiving equipment? Can E-field antennas such at the Bonito MegActive MA305 do the job? Furthermore, how well does a random wire work in a larger garden?

 My MegActive MA305 antenna system for mobile DXing…and another use for a washing line…

I was fortunate enough to know someone who owns a house with a large garden, quite close to my QTH (a 10 minute walk) and who was more than willing to let me set up my DXing equipment and sit around until the early hours of the morning, listening to and recording various signals on my Eton Satellit. In preparation, I set up the Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna and hung the radiating element on the washing line – sounds ridiculous but actually worked very well, placing it about 2.5 metres above the ground. I also set up a 40 metre longwire, which at its closest point, was still approximately 25 metres from the house, and 30 metres from the neighbours. This post will focus on the performance of the MA305; a subsequent post will detail the performance of the longwire.

The large garden I ‘borrowed’ for my DXing session with the Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna

Suffice to say, the MegActive MA305 performed admirably during my first listening session. In the middle of the afternoon I copied a very strong signal from The Voice of Korea around 15:44 hrs UTC on the 25 metre broadcast band, followed at 17:10 hrs UTC with a superb signal from The Voice of the Broad Masses 2, Eritrea, on the 40 metre ham band. Later on in the evening I copied Radio Mail with excellent modulation, CHU Canada with voice announcements (almost impossible at home), Myanmar Radio with an untypically strong signal and XEPPM Radio Educación from Mexico City with a signal I would normally expect on a DXpedition-proper with a large antenna.

My conclusions to this experiment are simply that E-field antennas can work in a suburban environment, if you are able to site them far enough away from adjacent sources of electrical noise. I don’t have empirical data on this, however, I can confirm that 10 metres proximity is too close at my QTH and 30 metres is sufficiently far away at this test location. One has to assume the houses nearby are similarly equipped to mine with electrical appliances that generate electrical noise. Thus, if you’re interested in a very well-priced, compact antenna and you live in an urban or suburban environment with access to a large garden/ outdoor space, an E-field Boni Whip or MegActive MA305 might well be suitable – and you’ll have a superb portable antenna for those listening sessions away from home!

Finally, I should mention the Eton Satellit. Much-maligned in certain quarters when it was first introduced into the market, it continues to demonstrate superb DXing credentials. I won’t forget some words of wisdom from a friend of mine and fellow DXer, with more than 3 decades of experience in listening to the bands on HF. He told me that Judging from his own experience with some of the original Grundig Satellit models of the 1980s and early 90s (namely the 400, 500 and 700) he was quite sure that the Eton Satellit is a considerably better DX performer than those vintage sets, that offered great sound for casual listening to international broadcasters, but didn’t perform too convincingly on weak DX signals. The Eton Satellit has been a revelation and I’m pleased to have played a small part in turning around the rather widely held view that it was less than worthy of the Satellit branding.

Fresh out of the box, the Eton Satellit has surpassed all my expectations…

Please find embedded reception videos below and text links to the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel. My next post on this subject will cover the performance of a 40 metre longwire in this large garden environment. Thank you for reading/watching/listening and I wish you all great DX!


Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log


Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

A review of the Tecsun S-8800 shortwave/LW/AM-MW/FM portable receiver

Earlier this year, Tecsun released its long-awaited newest large portable: the Tecsun S-8800 portable shortwave/LW/AM-MW/FM receiver.

Though I fully intended to buy a Tecsun S-8800 for review, our friendly Hong Kong-based Tecsun retailer, Anon-Co, sent an S-8800 to me before I could. I’ve worked with Anna at Anon-Co for at least a decade and have purchased numerous radios for review, not to mention as gifts for family and friends.  When she insisted to send it as a gift, I decided I would (gratefully) accept the unit.

I received the S-8800 on February 1 and promptly posted unboxing photos here on the SWLing Post.

My new Tecsun S-8800 had a serious problem, though––one that two early S-8800e adopters noticed as well––internally generated noises, also known as birdies. And while most receivers will have a few minor birdies scattered across the bands, this S-8800 hosted a whole chorus of them, overwhelming the bands and making use of the radio difficult.  Read through this post thread for details.

I contacted Anna at Anon-Co and she immediately notified Tecsun; as a result, they halted distribution of the S-8800.

Tecsun took the S-8800 to their engineering team, and I’m happy to report they’ve now eliminated the horrible warbling DSP birdies of the initial unit I received.

On the S-8800s since released, while there are still a few minor birdies across the bands (more on that later), they’re merely what one might expect to find on any receiver. In short, the S-8800 now in production is a functional receiver, and a contender in its class.

I’ve had the S-8800 for a few weeks now and have had time to put it through its paces. What I present now is a review of the re-engineered Tecsun S-8800.

First impressions

Tecsun S-8800 Front Ang

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must note that I’m not as avid a user of large portables like the S-8800. Personally, my preference is for smaller, full-featured travel-friendly portables, or else larger tabletop models.  I travel often and like to pack lightly, so I rarely reach for anything bigger than my trusty Sony ICF-SW7600GR, or Tecsun PL-880, and more often than not, I grab the ultra-compact Sony ICF-SW100 or C. Crane CC Skywave.

But to say that I never reach for large portables would be inaccurate. In fact, I use a Grundig GS350DL daily; it’s my analog kitchen radio. I rarely move the tuning dial (a good thing, since it unfortunately drifts) because it’s locked onto my in-house SSTran AM transmitter on 1570 kHz.

What large format portables like the GS350DL and S-8800 can provide that a small portable cannot is broad, rich, room-filling audio. In my world, good audio is an important factor in overall signal intelligibility.

The S-8800 chassis resembles several other receivers: the Grundig GS350DL, S450DLX, and more recently, the Field BT, just to name a few.

The body is made of a hard plastic (not rubberized) and feels rugged enough. The knobs and buttons also feel tactile and of comparable quality to the previous similar models noted above.  With the rechargeable batteries inserted, it weighs about 3 pounds 4 ounces (1.5 KG).

The backlit display is large and viewable from almost any angle––even at a distance.

The main encoder (tuning knob) has appropriate amount of brake for most listeners. It wobbles very slightly, but functions amazingly well. I prefer it over its large portable predecessors, especially the 350GL. There is no soft mute while tuning, so band-scanning is a fluid, almost analog, process.

Both the “Band Select” and “AM BW” knobs have soft detents that mark steps in selection. In the field, I noticed that these can occasionally skip an increment when the detent only moves one position or the knob is turned very slowly. This doesn’t really affect functionality in any way, but I thought it worth noting nonetheless.

Like previous similar models, the S-8800 lacks a built-in keypad for direct frequency entry. That would be a major negative for a radio in this price class if the S-8800 didn’t come with one invaluable accessory:  an infrared remote control.

Infrared (IR) Remote Control

The Tecsun S-8800 ships with a IR remote control, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s great.

The remote feels durable, fits well in the hand, and the back has a place for it to balance on your index finger when holding…

But more importantly, the remote works quite well.  The controls are intuitive and the labeled buttons are quite easy to read. They’re also tactile and have a muted “click” response when pressed. Indeed, I wish my television’s remote was this well designed.

And the remote is quite useful, especially if you like listening from bed, from a porch, from the kitchen or dining room or den––or, in fact, from any space where you might wish to control the receiver at a distance. I believe its possible that every function of the S-8800 can be controlled with the remote––even the sleep timer!

Perhaps my dream remote for such a purpose would be backlit, but the S-8800’s remote is so simple to use, I’ve already nearly memorized where the buttons are located for nighttime use.

Operation Manual

The S-8800 ships with an informative operational manual, although this radio is intuitive enough that a seasoned radio listener will not need to reference it, save for advanced settings. Still, it’s written in clear language––with comparatively few English grammar errors––and the diagrams for both the radio and the remote are exceptional.

I referenced the manual several times to sort out ATS operation, saving/erasing memories, and to hunt down function shortcuts.

Features

The S-8800 is a feature-packed triple conversion receiver.  Here’s an abridged list of its features, focusing on those most radio enthusiasts seek:

  • Frequency coverage:
    • LW: 100 – 519 kHz (1 kHz & 9 kHz steps)
    • MW: 520 – 1710 kHz (1 kHz, 9 kHz and 10 kHz steps)
    • SW: 1711 – 29,999 kHz (1 kHz & 5 kHz steps)
    • Note in SSB mode on LW, MW and SW, tuning steps are 10 Hz and 1 kHz.
    • FM: 64 – 108 MHz (selectable for various markets: Russia, The Caucasus, Caspian/Black Sea regions, Japan, China/Europe, and North America)
  • Modes: AM, FM, SSB
  • Variable filter widths
    • AM: 6, 4, 3, and 2.3 kHz
    • SSB: 4, 3, 2.3, 1.2, and 0.5 kHz
  • Digital Signal Processing (DSP)
  • Antenna gain selection: DX/Local
  • External antenna connections: both BNC (SW and FM) and a high-impedance port (LW, MW and SW)
  • Both 9 and 10 kHz spacing on mediumwave
  • Dedicated fine-tuning control
  • Auto Tuning Storage (ATS)
  • 650 station memories
  • FM stereo/mono
  • Backlit LCD display
  • Treble and bass tone controls
  • RCA line-out audio
  • Full-featured clock, alarm and sleep timer
  • IR remote control
  • Two 18650 lithium cells (included) that can be safely charged internally via USB

Wishlist? The S-8800 feature set is pretty comprehensive, but my dream large portable would also have synchronous detection and an RF gain control, though the latter is not common in the world of portable radios.  Fortunately, the S-8800 does have a local/DX gain toggle.

I’m sure some enthusiasts would also like to see Bluetooth connectivity as on the Eton Field BT, but I personally don’t miss it. I like to keep my HF portables free from anything that could potentially raise the noise floor.

With the exception of synchronous detection, the S-8800 has a solid, comprehensive tool set.

Performance

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the S-8800 on the air almost every day. I’ve compared it with a number of receivers, but mainly its smaller sibling, the popular Tecsun PL-880. Below, I break down my notes by band.

FM

As is typical with my shortwave portable reviews, I spent less time evaluating FM performance on the S-8800.

With that said, I did compare the S-8800 with the PL-880, PL-680 and CountyComm GP5-SSB and a few other portables. The S-8800 found my benchmark weaker broadcasters with ease.

Here’s a short video demonstrating FM performance with a broadcaster over 100 miles distant:

Click here to view on YouTube.

AM/Medium Wave

I’ve had more inquiries about S-8800 mediumwave performance than I’ve had about any other radio I’ve recently reviewed. Why?  Well, for one thing, some radios in this particular portable format perform quite well on mediumwave––the C.Crane CCRadio-SW, for example, comes to mind.  Also, the S-8800’s large front-facing speaker lends itself to superb AM audio.

Unfortunately, mediumwave is not the Tecsun S-8800’s strong suit.

I did extensive testing, comparing it with much smaller portables: the Tecsun PL-880, the Sony ICF-SW7600GR, the Digitech AR-1780, the CC Skywave, and even a pre-production CC Skywave SSB. All of these portables had better sensitivity on mediumwave.

I posted the following representative video a couple weeks ago in a post:

To reiterate from my previous post, comparing any modern radio with the Panasonic RF-2200 on mediumwave is hardly fair.  For one, the RF-2200 has been out of production for a few decades.  For another, the RF-2200 has a large rotatable ferrite bar antenna that provides excellent gain. The RF-2200 simply wipes the floor with all of my modern portables, as their ferrite bar antennas are but a fraction of the size.

To my ear, the S-8800’s  mediumwave band seems noisier than its competitors. Perhaps this is why it struggles with marginally weak stations.

Here’s another comparison with the PL-880––this time at a totally different location:

Click here to view on YouTube.

With that said, when tuned to a local AM broadcaster, the S-8800 really shines. It produces rich audio which can be customized with bass/treble tone controls and by changing the AM filter width.

I also hooked up the S-8800 to my large horizontal loop antenna. This certainly did improve MW reception, but not as dramatically as I hoped.  Additionally, it seemed to be very sensitive to RFI in my shack even when hooked up to the external antenna.

If you took the S-8800 to the field, added a decent inductively-coupled magnetic loop antenna, no doubt it would improve mediumwave reception, but I still doubt it would come close to the RF-2200 in performance.  As long as I own the latter, I wouldn’t be motivated to do so.

Due to my schedule over the past few weeks, I’ve had precious little time to test the S-8800 on mediumwave at night, but some quick air checks proved performance was consistent with daytime testing.

I am pleased to report that no receiver overloading was observable during testing.

In short: if you’re only considering the S-8800 for mediumwave DXing, you should look elsewhere. I would suggest a dedicated AM broadcast receiver like the excellent CCradio 2E,  a vintage Panasonic RF-2200, or perhaps a used GE Superadio.

LW – Longwave

I’ve spent less time on longwave than I have on mediumwave and shortwave.

With that said, the S-8800 was able to receive our local airport beacons at night with relative ease. I was not able to catch any transatlantic longwave broadcasters, but that’s no surprise as it’s almost impossible on even my commercial-grade receivers during the summer months here in North America.

As I said regarding the mediumwave band, I suspect there are much better radios out there for the longwave enthusiast.

SW – Shortwave

At the end of the day, I believe the Tecsun S-8800 was designed with the shortwave and amateur HF radio enthusiast in mind.

The S-8800 has gapless HF coverage from 1,711 kHz to 29,999 kHz, can be used both in AM or Single Sideband (selectable LSB/USB), and has adjustable bandwidth filters tailored to AM broadcast and SSB/CW (ham radio/utility/pirate) reception. The filter widths are well-chosen for each mode: 6, 4, 3, and 2.3 kHz on AM; 4, 3, 2.3, 1.2, and 0.5 kHz on SSB.

It also has a dedicated fine-tuning control that adjusts steps based on the mode.

All of these are desired features for the HF radio enthusiast.

I’m happy to report that the S-8800 is a very capable shortwave receiver, perhaps even one of the best portables currently on the market.

In every comparison test I made on shortwave, the S-8800 outperformed each of its competitors.

Check out the videos below and judge for yourself:

Weak signal on the 31 meter band:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Very weak signal and deep fading on 15,200 kHz

Click here to view on YouTube.

SSB: Ham Radio QSO on the 40 meter band

Click here to view on YouTube.

CW on the 20 meter band

Click here to view on YouTube.

I was pleasantly surprised by the audio in SSB mode and by how well the filters seem to work. Note in the video the warbling sound as I adjust the fine-tuning control on the S-8800.  But it’s actually only present as I adjust the fine-tuning control; I noticed no stability issue once on frequency.

External antenna

Since the S-8800 has a handy standard BNC connector and high impedance AM antenna socket on the back, I hooked it up to my large horizontal loop. In my testing, it handled that antenna’s gain very well and I was most impressed with the performance.

The front end seems to be robust, and selectivity––which is excellent––was not compromised by my antenna. I was able to pull apart two broadcasts with only 5 kHz of separation that were both quite strong. The S-8800 locked onto the stronger of the two stations with ease. When tuned to the weaker station, I used SSB reception on the upper sideband to ignore the noisier lower sideband which was buried in the adjacent signal. Once I zero-beated the signal, it sounded quite good.

Final thoughts about shortwave performance

Perhaps what the S-8800 has going for it on shortwave is a combination of very good sensitivity, excellent selectivity, and a feature all too often overlooked: good audio fidelity (via the internal two-watt speaker).

The AGC (auto gain control) is actually fairly stable on the HF bands (less so on mediumwave). Like the Tecsun PL-880, the AGC has a soft hiss response when the signal fades below the AGC threshold. While I’m not crazy about this, I must confess that it is pretty easy on the ears when fading is pervasive.

I did note one quirk that could annoy those wishing to copy narrow SSB or CW. If the filter bandwidth is set to .5 kHz and you’re listening to a marginal CW signal, the AGC sometimes mutes the receiver during CW dead space. It equates to very unstable audio with audio levels jumping around wildly. This happened more often when I was copying moderate to weak CW signals. I’ve even noticed it when listening to SSB ham radio conversations, but mostly in the narrow bandwidths. I usually keep the filter set to 2.3 kHz or higher and it hasn’t been a problem at these settings. It’s worth noting that I have observed the same AGC behavior in my PL-880 at times.

The S-8800 ships with two rechargeable lithium cells which provide hours of listening time from a full charge.

I never encountered overloading from local AM broadcasters on the shortwave bands, with the caveat that I never tested the S-8800 in an RF-rich urban market.

One thing I have noticed in general about the S-8800 is that it seems pretty sensitive to RFI indoors (electrical noise in the home, office, etc)––more so than my Sony ICF-SW7600GR, for example. If you live in a noisy environment and never plan to use an external antenna or take the radio outdoors, you might think twice about the S-8800.

Birdies

I’m pleased to report that Tecsun did properly address the “birdie” issue I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Still, like most receivers, the S-8800 does have some birdies across the bands. These birdies are well within the norm for such rigs:  a relatively stable heterodyne sound. I made a short video to illustrate what I mean when I talk about a birdie:

Click here to view on YouTube.

I spent one afternoon carefully mapping out all of the birdies I could find across the longwave, mediumwave and shortwave bands.

Here’s what I mapped:

As you can see, there are no birdies in the middle of sensitive areas like broadcast bands, amateur radio bands, etc. A good report, in my book.

Note that while tuning through the shortwave bands, I used 5 kHz steps. I suppose there’s a possibility I might have missed very weak birdies doing this, but any strong birdies would have been received and noted within the 5 kHz window. On LW and MW, I tuned in 1 kHz increments.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons, of course. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions. Following is the list I formed over the time I’ve been evaluating the Tecsun S-8800:

Pros:

  • Brilliant audio fidelity from built-in speaker
  • Dedicated AM bandwidth and fine tuning controls
  • Excellent, bespoke IR remote control
  • Capable SSB mode
  • Excellent shortwave sensitivity (see con: mediumwave)
  • Excellent shortwave selectivity
  • Excellent FM performance
  • Easy-to-read backlit LCD digital display
  • Remote control beautifully equipped for full radio functionality
  • Included 18650 rechargeable lithium batteries power radio for hours

Cons:

  • Lackluster mediumwave performance (see pro: shortwave)
  • No synchronous detector
  • No direct keypad entry (Pro: Remote control has excellent keypad entry)
  • Can’t charge and listen at the same time–not designed for AC operation
  • No backstand
  • Line-out audio level is a little high (hot)
  • When in narrowest SSB filters, AGC can’t reliably handle audio/signal changes
  • Slight “warbling” sound while using fine tune control in SSB mode
  • No RDS display on the FM band

Conclusion:

As I’ve already mentioned, if your primary use of the S-8800 is for mediumwave or longwave DXing, you should look elsewhere. While the S-8800 will serve you well with local AM stations, it will not dig signals out of the noise like other better-equipped AM receivers.  The GE Super Radio, Panasonic RF-2200, or CCRadio 2E are much better options.

But if you’re primarily a shortwave radio listener––? I think you’ll be pleased with the S-8800.

To my surprise, the S-8800 consistently out-performed my beloved Sony ICF-SW7600GR and my PL-880. I fully intend to compare it with other portables in the coming weeks and post the videos here on the SWLing Post. [I will update this review with any other findings.]

I did not mention this in previous posts, but the first S-8800 I received in January––the one with the birdie-chorus problem––also outperformed my other modern portables on shortwave. In part, I feared that when the Tecsun engineers addressed the birdie issue, it could have a negative impact on overall sensitivity. I’m happy to report that it did not.

What’s more, I realize that larger portables do have a place in my life.  You might have noted that I did all of my review testing and preparation outdoors, mostly in a nearby national park. I do this, in part, to insure I’m far away from any RFI, but also I simply love playing radio outdoors.

And the S-8800 was a pleasure to tune and use in the field. I really like the large encoder and find that the multi-function knobs, tone controls, volume, and other buttons are well-spaced–I believe I could operate most of this receiver’s functions with gloves on in the winter. And again, there’s that excellent remote control…

Is the S-8800 a good value? Let’s talk price

Only yesterday, Anon-Co announced the price of the Tecun S-8800: $268 US with free shipping to the US.

This review was in final draft form two days before I learned the price from Anon-Co. I had assumed the price would not be released for another week or two at least, thus I made a few predictive statements that I’ll now quote here:

I understand that the S-8800e is being sold in Europe for 339 Euro, roughly $400 USD, plus shipping. There is no way I’d pay that price; it’s simply too much.

If the price exceeds $300 US, I’d suggest careful consideration, as the S-8800 price would be venturing into the realm of used Sony and Panasonic benchmark portables.

But.  If this radio should be sold for less than $250, or even $200…?  Being primarily a shortwave radio listener, I would certainly buy this radio for that price.

In the end, the price is $18 higher than the $250 I mentioned in my review draft, but I assumed shipping would be tacked on to that price. So $268 ended up being pretty close to the mark.

So I believe the Tecsun S-8800 hovers at the top price threshold of what most radio enthusiasts would be willing to pay for a portable.  At $268, it’s over $100 more than the excellent PL-880 and only $20 less than the Tecsun S-2000. And for radio enthusiasts outside the US, it sounds like shipping will be added to the $268 price. I expect European consumers will pay a premium due to embedded (and required) sales tax and customs handling fees.

Click here to view at Anon-Co.

Nonetheless, I would still consider purchasing at the $268 US mark because of its shortwave performance, ability to connect external antennas, audio fidelity, and the included IR remote control.

I would like to see the price lower than $268. If the price were nearer the $200 mark, it would be a no-brainer––this radio would likely fly off the shelves, and I’d strongly suggest purchasing.

Perhaps, with time, the S-8800 price will decrease. In the meantime, if you have the budget, I believe the S-8800 would make for a nice field companion, pulling weak DX out of the noise with excellent audio fidelity to boot. It’s already been a great field companion for me…and, I’m sure, will accompany me into the field again.

Brilliant hard-core DX with the USB-powered Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna

 

Hi there, you might remember my post from last month focussing on the Bonito MegActive MA305 E-field antenna, kindly supplied to me for testing, by Bonito themselves. That post was essentially a report on my experiences travelling to Crete with the MA305, navigating through security at London Gatwick and Heraklion airports (mostly with relative ease), but more importantly, how well it worked with the equally excellent Eton Satellit portable receiver. Whilst in Crete I managed to copy a number of personal firsts, including CRI on 7295 kHz, via their relay in Bamako, Mali, The Voice of Beibu Radio on 5050 kHz, Nanning, XSL ‘Slot Machine’ on 6251 kHz USB, Ichihara, Japan, S32 ‘The Squeaky Wheel’ on 3828 kHz and NHK World Radio Japan, 11910 kHz. I also copied RTM Wai/Limbang FM on 11665 kHz from Kajang, Myanmar Radio on 5985 kHz and AIR Bhopal on 4810 kHz, amongst others – all of which I would certainly consider to be difficult catches in Europe.

 The USB-powered MegActive MA305 is perfect for DXing on the move…

Despite excellent all-round results from the ultra-portable USB powered MA305, there was one signal I copied, which more than any other, demonstrated the DXing credentials of this antenna; Radio Tarma from Peru on 4775 kHz. With a TX power of 1 kW, this is a very difficult station to hear in Western Europe, even with a longwire. To catch this station in Crete, with a 22 cm antenna was incredible and it was at that point during my trip that I realised E-field antennas really can work superbly well for hard-core DXers on the move.

Upon my return to Oxford, I immediately started thinking about a DXpedition to the local woods I use for what I consider serious DXing. For obvious reasons, E-field antennas require an electrically quiet environment to ensure maximum SNR performance. In noisy environments, these types of antennas amplify the signal of interest and the background ‘electro-smog’, thus increasing signal levels but critically, not signal-to-noise. Fortunately, the Oxfordshire wood I have been using for a couple of years is only a 10 minute drive from my QTH as I sort of live in the countryside anyway and the QRM levels there are just about zero. Now, given that this was essentially an experiment to determine the best possible performance from the MA305, I decided to use my best portable radio. It was quite tempting to pack up the Elad FDM DUO which running on a home-brew battery pack has proven itself to be my best (pseudo) portable radio. However, this is supposed to be a real-world test and in this type of scenario, DXpeditions with the Bonito antenna are much more likely to be undertaken with a portable radio. For these reasons I decided to conduct the test with the venerable Sony ICF-2001D. Having proven to be a superb receiver over many, many dxpeditions (check out the evidence on my YouTube Channel Oxford Shortwave Log) and still regarded by DXers as one of the best ever portable radios – possibly the best – it was the obvious choice.

 My portable DXing kit comprising the Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna and the Sony ICF-2001D…a bit of a legend in DXing circles…

I ventured out in early June around 23:00 hrs BST (22:00 hrs UTC), parked the car on the edge of the wood and proceeded to set up my cheap camera tripod, slightly modified to accept a 2 metre-long stainless steel tube, into which a slightly thinner 1 metre tube was mounted, topped off with my partially disassembled ‘Selfie Stick’ – which made it back from Crete lol. The antenna was set up in less than 5 minutes and approximately 4 metres above the ground – much quicker and easier than de-spooling 100 metres of wire! With fresh batteries in the Sony and the MA305 powered up using the USB power brick supplied by Bonito, I was ready to start listening. Almost immediately I heard and recorded a personal first; Lao National Radio, Laos, signing on 6130 kHz, with an excellent signal. Hearing them in the UK was only made possible by the annual two week shut down of the PBS Xizang transmitter in Lhasa, Tibet, but hey, I’ll take it. A brilliant start to my listening session.

Over the next two hours I was amazed at what could be heard using this 22 cm amplified antenna. Bearing in mind I have spent many hours at the woods previously, listening via various 100 metre longwires and a 200 metre Beverage, my expectations were, I thought, realistic in that the MA305 coupled to the Sony would catch some very good DX. However, I did believe there might be an absence of at least some of the more exotic low power stations on the Tropical Band – afterall the MA305 is a very short antenna. Clearly I was wrong, because what transpired during the session surpassed anything I thought possible with this set-up. A list of reception videos follows below and further below, a selection of embedded videos. Some of the entries on this list simply stunned me at the time. Rádio Educação Rural for starters is such an incredibly difficult signal to hear in Europe, even with a very large antenna. Thus, to hear them on an ultra-compact set-up felt very special. Radio Mali is another station that is very difficult to catch with any modulation, except on a large antenna and yet there they were – at the first time of trying. Similarly, Rádio Nacional de Angola and Alcaravan Radio are exotics that at best deliver very weak audio – and most of the time no audio. Furthermore, the signals from Emisoras Pio XIIMyanmar Radio and Rádio Clube do Pará were verging on what I would call superb…I’d never heard anything like it previously except via 100 (or more) metres of wire.

 The ICF-2001D and MegActive MA305              Rádio Educação Rural transmitter site in Tefé, Brazil

So what’s next? Well it would certainly be an interesting experiment to compare the performance of the MegActive antenna with the Wellbrook ALA1530 active loop in a similar environment. I have used the Wellbrook on DXpeditions several times, with often excellent results, however, it’s not designed to be portable and if SNR performance could be demonstrated as similar between these two products, given a very favourable price delta, the Bonito antenna would add up to be a very compelling purchase decision. More on that to come. In the meantime, thank you very much for reading/watching/listening and I wish you all excellent DX.

Please click on the links below for the reception videos on the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel.


Selected embedded reception videos from the list above:

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

Travelling and DXing with the Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna

 

Ok, so officially it wasn’t a DXpedition; it was a well needed vacation in the sun after several hectic months of work, some of which involved travel to slightly more exotic locations. However, these days, I view any travel, whether it be for business or pleasure as a ‘DXpedition’ opportunity! Some of you might remember that I purchased a Bonito Boni Whip at the beginning of 2017 because (a) I needed another antenna and (b) a second Wellbrook loop felt like too much of an extravagance. They’re excellent antennas for sure, but at around £300, I couldn’t justify buying another. Thus, for about a third of the price I bought the Boni Whip. It proved to be an excellent choice – very compact and so perfect for my regular DXpeditions, quick to set up and capable of really excellent DX. There are many videos on the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel that are testament to this. I wrote a couple of articles, published here on the SWLing Post which were seen by Dennis Walter of Bonito, who subsequently contacted me and offered to send over their MegActive MA305 E-field antenna for testing. Dennis made it crystal-clear that I was to ‘do my own thing’…test the antenna in any way I saw fit and publish my findings so DXers/radio enthusiasts could learn more about the capabilities of the antenna – from another DXer. I was happy to agree to this arrangement and the MegActive MA305 duly arrived, complete with two lengths of (bayonet BNC terminated) high quality H-155 coaxial cable.

 My portable Dxing kit with MA305 antenna                 The MA305 power inserter and USB power ‘brick’

The specifications of the MegActive MA305 are very similar to the Boni Whip; they both offer a Gain of +3 dBs, second and third order intercept points of greater than +30 and +50 dB respectively and both tune to 300 MHz. The MA305 is supplied with a longer radiating element and tunes down to 9 KHz (versus the 20 kHz lower limit for the Boni Whip). Obviously this isn’t a specification that is going to concern most radio enthusiasts; both offer fantastically wide operating bandwidths. The way in which these antennas do differ quite significantly however, is in how they are powered. The Boni Whip operates from 12 to 15 V, whilst the MA305 operates from 5 to 15 V. Bonito’s design philosophy regarding this feature is based on the increasing difficulty in procuring reasonably priced analogue external plug-in power supplies (they are no longer allowed to be produced due to power consumption restrictions).

Interestingly, when the power supply for my Wellbrook ALA1530 packed up, I called them to purchase a replacement and was told they only have limited stocks remaining. Thus, a solution for powering active antennas with a suitable low-noise supply is an issue that needs resolving. The guys at Bonito figured a USB power source was suitably quiet and with USB ‘power bricks’ almost ubiquitous these days for charging mobile phones and other portable electronic devices on-the-go, the idea could be applied to their active antennas. The result is the MegActive MA305, designed to operate at 5 Volts with no loss of performance. As a DXer who probably spends more time listening on DXpeditions than I do in my shack at home, the USB power solution was perfect. I myself often carry a cheap Chromebook laptop to use as an additional power source for my camera phone when I’m DXing, so Bonito’s design approach resonated with me completely.

 

Travelling with the MegActive MA305

Ok, so the MA305 is very compact and very light indeed – perfect for a trip to Crete! However, I know from many conversations with my YouTube friends and followers that some of us feel a slight sense of trepidation carrying shortwave radios and antenna systems on board flights, be they national or international. I myself wasn’t really concerned other than if my bag got pulled from the X-ray machine, there’s often quite a long wait whilst the security staff work through the queue of luggage requiring er…human intervention! Predictably, my rucksack did get pulled and I waited patiently until it was my turn to explain the contents! Looking back on this retrospectively, it’s hardly surprising. Other than the usual holiday paraphernalia, my rucksack contained:

  • A 10.0 metre length of H-155 coaxial cable
  • A 1.0 metre length of H-155 coaxial cable
  • Eton Satellit receiver
  • MA305 Coaxial Power Inserter
  • MA305 Antenna Amplifier
  • Bonito USB ‘Power Brick’
  • Bonito USB Power Cable
  • NooElec RTL-SDR dongle
  • NooElect ‘Ham It Up’ upconverter
  • Various screened cables and connectors
  • 10 metres of equipment wire

I explained to the (friendly) security chap that I was a shortwave radio hobbyist and identified the various pieces of equipment for him, as he removed them from my rucksack. He confirmed my X-ray had ‘lit up’ (in blue as it happens) with metallic/electronic items and was even kind enough to swivel his monitor to show me the mess of items strewn across the screen – just as I had thrown them all into my rucksack! However, after quickly swabbing some of the items, he said all was fine and hoped that I enjoyed my holiday and listening. Service with a smile at Gatwick Airport – and I was on my way. My outbound experience got me thinking whether it would be possible to pack my DXing kit in such a way that it wouldn’t alarm airport security. Thus, for the trip home, I packed all of my cables into my (checked-in) suitcase. I figured it would be obvious there was no security risk associated with cables alone. I then packed my RTL-SDR, upconverter and all of the MS305 components very neatly into a single box and put that in my carry-on rucksack. Now, some might argue that security measures at Heraklion International Airport in Crete differ a little from London Gatwick, but I observed staff at the X-ray machine very carefully monitoring every piece of luggage passing through it – including my own and I passed straight through without a problem. All I did was take my laptop out as usual, and put it in a separate tray. Job done.

DXing with the MegActive MA305

                                      My listening post in Crete, with the brilliant Eton Satellit receiver

My apartment in Crete was on the second floor and a large balcony provided a decent outdoor location for DXing. As regards electrical noise, the location was much quieter than my shack at home, but it certainly wasn’t perfect, thus a good test of the MA305 in a real-world pseudo-urban environment. in an attempt to improve SNR, I bought a cheap ‘Selfie Stick’ and some tape and managed to construct a mount for the amplifier, increasing the overall height above ground by about 1.5 metres and displacing the radiating element an additional 2 metres thereabouts from the building. I’m not sure whether it made much difference, but it seemed like the sensible thing to do for less than 10 Euros.

During my week-long stay, I managed to fit in several listening sessions and copied some really excellent DX from this ultra-compact, USB-powered set up. In fact, the MA305 coupled to the Eton Satellit performed so well, I managed to copy a number of personal firsts, including CRI on 7295 kHz, via their relay in Bamako, Mali, The Voice of Beibu Radio on 5050 kHz, Nanning, XSL ‘Slot Machine’ on 6251 kHz USB, Ichihara, Japan, S32 ‘The Squeaky Wheel’ on 3828 kHz and NHK World Radio Japan, 11910 kHz. I also copied RTM Wai/Limbang FM on 11665 kHz from Kajang, Myanmar Radio on 5985 kHz and AIR Bhopal on 4810 kHz, amongst others – all of which I would certainly consider to be difficult catches in Europe. To hear them with an 18 cm antenna felt pretty special. African shortwave stations were also very well represented and I managed to copy a number of them including Radio Hargeysa on 7120 kHz, Voice of Tigray Revolution on 59150 kHz, Radio Oromiya on 6030 kHz, Radio Fana on 6110 kHz, Radio Ethiopia on 7235 kHz, Radio Sonder Grense on 3320 kHz and Radio Guinée on 9650 kHz. I expected to hear all of these stations, except for Radio Guinée, which is farther away from Crete than the UK. So, all-in-all an excellent result.

Despite hearing a lot of excellent DX whilst in Crete, there is one signal I copied, which more than any other, demonstrates the DXing credentials of the MA305 – and Eton Satellit for that matter. In the early hours of the morning (00:59 hrs UTC) I copied and recorded Radio Tarma from Peru on 4775 kHz. With a TX power of 1 kW, this is a very difficult station to hear in Western Europe, even with a longwire. To catch this station in Crete, at all, was incredible on an ultra-compact set-up. It was at this point during the trip that I realised E-field antennas really do work superbly well for hard-core DXers on the move. It inspired me to conduct further tests back home in the Oxfordshire countryside, where electrical noise is absent. This I did a few days ago, with some quite amazing results on the Tropical Band. More on that to come in my next post. In the meantime, please find text links and embedded videos for selected reception recordings, below. Many more recordings are available on the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you require further information on the MA305 or the Eton Satellit. Thanks for reading/watching/listening and I wish you all excellent DX.


Personal firsts

Click here to view on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here to view on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here to view on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here to view on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here to view on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Radio Tarma, Peru, 4775 kHz

Click here to view on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Other notable catches

Click here to watch on Oxford Shortwave Log

Click here to watch on Oxford Shortwave Log

Click here to watch on Oxford Shortwave Log

Click here to watch on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.