Category Archives: Guest Posts

Jack reviews the Digitech AR-1780

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jack Kratoville, who shares the following guest post:


A review of the Digitech AR-1780

by Jack Kratoville

As a previous post noted, the quest for the perfect radio drives us far and wide; in this case, as far as Australia. Since it’s rare these days to be able to walk into brick and mortar to touch, play and even bring home a radio to test; I’m grateful for online communities like the SWLing Post to research new and existing product. The caveat being “another must-have for my collection.”

I truly thought I had found happiness with my traveling Grundig tandem of the G5 and G6 – that is until the DSP chip was introduced. For the past 2 years, I’ve been satisfied packing the CCrane Skywave, Tecsun PL-360 and one wild card for domestic travel. My bottom line is when I’m listening to a certain radio in a given location, did I ever regret not bringing something else? The Skywave has satisfied over 95% of the time.

When the AR1780 popped up on this site, something about it piqued my interest. I had heard the Digitech name and it was always associated with a less than favorable opinion. This radio, however, was drawing unexpected praise. It was the video reviews that put me over the top with rich audio coming through even cheap condenser mics. I called Jaycar and had one shipped. Now you can add me to the list of those who are quite pleased with this addition to my radio family.

I’ll start with the primary reason to consider this radio – the sound emanating from the on board speaker. The AR1780 sounds better or as good as any unit this size. And this isn’t just a benefit for FM listening, but for AM/SW/AIR as well. I’ve never seen such tonal balance across all bands.

If you’re looking for a smaller portable with above par performance and excellent audio, you can stop here and place your order. Otherwise, on to my observations:

FM

I enjoy FM DXing and the fidelity of this band. Even though I’ve become accustomed to the sound of the Skywave (it does mellow with age), the AR1780 blows me away. Crisp highs and lows with rich bass that highlights both music and vocals. There is no tonal adjustment on this radio and, frankly to my ears, it doesn’t need one.

Performance is on par with the Skywave and other DSP units. While the Skywave has slightly better selectivity, the 1780 pulls in a tad more signal with its longer whip. The RDS feature works great and is a plus when skips and trop bring in distant signals.

Mediumwave / AM

As sensitive as the Skywave and G5. I’ve gone up and down the dial and my unit doesn’t produce birdies or hets anywhere. Very happy about that. For local signals, once again the sound is wonderful with choices of wide bandwidth. And even with distant music stations, rare as they may be, the AR1780 produces more fidelity than noise. When Zoomer 740 comes in full strength, this radio sounds as good as it gets. Where the Skywave has a tonal advantage is when filtering is at its narrowest. I can still hear signals clearly, whereas the Digitech can get a bit muddy. Depends on signal.

I’ll mention here that the advantage of CCrane’s products is upgraded filtering. The AR1780 burps and clicks when you enter anything on the keypad – even from the Skywave’s keypad if the radios are close to each other! Otherwise, they are very similar in response to outside RF and other noise producing electronics.

Shortwave

I receive everything on this radio as I do on the Skywave & G5.

Where I find weakness with the AR1780 is the soft muting and the scan feature is far, far slower than the Skywave. I’ve scanned for signals on other radios and loaded the presets on the Digitech.

I haven’t found any birdies yet, but it will whistle while starting up on Radio Miami, then calm down completely once fully captured. But that’s only when 9395 is the start up frequency. If I switch to SW and it starts elsewhere and I hit the preset for 9395 – nothing! Strange, but an acceptable artifact. I have to admit, it sounds great listening to music on WRMI!

SSB

I don’t have the Skywave SSB, but the Digitech is slightly less sensitive than the G5. Not sure if it’s due to filtering, antenna length, the DSP chip or all of the above. It’s there, but sometimes not worth straining to listen to. I haven’t tried an external antenna as of yet. The G5 doesn’t feature the USB / LSB option, so the Digitech is easier to tune. Full disclosure, SSB was never a deal breaker for me and I’m satisfied with what I can hear.

AIR Band

A touch more sensitive than the Skywave here. As all my testing is done strictly from the whip – that might be the advantage.

General

I have to say the build of this radio is very impressive. Buttons are very firm and responsive. The tuning knob is superb. As the weakest physical part of the Skywave, the AR1780’s knob, and its fine tuning counterpart, are spot on perfect. Nothing sloppy here.

Battery consumption (4 AA) seems above average, although not super-impressive. It’s hard for me to analyze at the moment as I’ve been playing with this radio constantly. I probably take more notice when I’m replacing 4 instead of 2 and may eventually jump over to rechargeable AAs. Interestingly, I took the 4 batteries I had worn down just one notch in the AR1780 and stuck them in a Sangean PDR-18. The meter on the PDR-18 showed only one bar or less.

The Skywave gives you 10 pages of 10 memories, the AR1780 gives you 50 pages! Even without explanation in the manual, setting these up are very intuitive.

The dial provides plenty of information. Curiously, if tilted while off, there are indicators for Music, Voice, Snyc, DAB & WB. While none are employed by the AR1780, perhaps there’s something else in the works!

What I find annoying

The display defaults to the temperature or the alarm. If you use signal strength or time during operation, it defaults to temp when you turn it off. Both of my Tecsuns will let you set display for both radio on and off. It bugs me most because holding the radio always sends the thermometer up by 10-12 degrees!

It takes a good 3 seconds to power up or switch bands. I’ve heard of other radios having this trait, but this is my first experience. And this action does use a bit of power because switching bands, not the dial light, will show the first signs of battery wear. (Again, I’ve had no issues with severe battery draw and compare 4 alkaline usage with my G5.)

The Skywave has spoiled me with its super-fast scanning. The Digitech is similar to most Tecsuns. I’ve noticed them all skipping segments on the SW band.

I hear a difference between FM stereo and monaural from the onboard speaker. This is the result of a right or left channel only feed to the speaker when the radio is in stereo. The Grundig Mini 100 did this and without a mono setting, it drove me crazy. I like to see the stereo indicator, but it looks like the AR1780 needs to be set in Mono when listening to FM through the speaker.

There are a number of general traits that the AR1780 shares with the Skywave that I would have preferred to be more like the CC Pocket:

  • I prefer a lock switch over a long-press lock button.
  • When you switch to a different page on the Pocket, it only changes that band and stays on the current frequency. Both the Digitech and Skywave switch over all bands to that page number.
  • One last minor annoyance (getting very picky here), the dial light seems to flash when you turn the radio off. The Pocket doesn’t.

OK, the bad

As a portable / travel radio, I can’t image why there is no pouch!

Add $5 and provide something to protect this in the go bag. At least this problem can be remedied. A pouch from the Sangean ATS-606 fits perfectly.

But the biggest flaw I found (and this may answer the power consumption others have noted) is the light continues to function in the locked position! All buttons are disabled, but press anything and the light comes on. I can imagine packing this radio and as it gets pressed against something else, the light remains on until the batteries are drained. A major design error here.

Conclusion

I’m more than impressed and extremely happy I made this purchase. I have no doubt this radio will be a primary travel companion. Since I always take a few on the road, surprisingly this won’t displace the Skywave. (I really enjoy that radio), but rather the veteran Grundig G5. While still considered one of my favorites, the Digitech provides as much performance and a few more features in a smaller package.

If I were choosing between the Digitech AR1780 and the Skywave SSB – that would be a touch choice. As I mentioned before, SSB has never been a deal breaker during travel and I love the original Skywave as is. Portable means smaller and the Skywave is the perfect size. I use the weather band more than LW, but the fidelity on the AR1780 is absolutely superb.

And while I’ve read the Skywave SSB is going through initial run growing pains, CCrane has been stellar when it comes to customer service and final product. They’re radio geeks like us – Digitech is simply a badge on a product manufactured by another company. (Jaycar seems like decent people.) Bottom line – let’s see how the Digitech is holding up after 2-3 years of usage.

I treat my radios like babies, but I’ve seen most wear down with unresponsive buttons, scratchy volume or fading displays. In fact, the only two grizzled veterans still operating at 100% are my Grundig G6 and Tecsun PL-360. Even my 7600GR’s volume is failing.

Worth it so far? Absolutely – without a doubt. Any future quirks, discoveries and disappointments will be shared.


Jack, thank you for sharing this excellent review!

I couldn’t agree with you more–the AR-1780 must have the best on-board audio of any compact shortwave portable I’ve tested. As you state, what makes it stand out is the fact that audio is wonderfully balanced across the bands. And what better way to check mediumwave audio? Why Zoomer Radio (CFZM) of course! One of my favorite night time catches. 

Thanks for the note about switching FM to mono while listening via the built-in speaker. I don’t believe I had tried that yet.

And, like you, I find the active backlight during keylock such an odd behavior. I actually opened one of my travel bags during the holidays to find that the backlight was somehow fixed in the “on” position…with keylock engaged! I supposed the LED backlight has little effect on battery consumption because I imagine this the backlight was engaged for as much as three days, yet the battery still showed full bars. 

The AR-1780 is a quirky radio, but by golly it’s a good one and a great value! Thanks again for the excellent review, Jack.

C. Crane’s latest deal: Free Shipping on the CC Pocket Radio

Though not a shortwave radio (the SWLing Post loves ALL radios!), C. Crane’s latest special involves free Priority Mail shipping to U.S. customers for their CC Pocket Radio.  Just use the Promo Code: CCPKTSHIP.  This special ends at midnight PST on 17 December.  The CC Pocket Radio comes standard with the CC Buds earphones – a quality set of earbuds.

Crane’s Amazon Canada store offers free shipping with a number of C. Crane products through Amazon Canada Prime.

Post author: Troy Riedel

 

Review: LE Rechargeable Book Light as a shortwave radio listening accessory

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Daniel Hawkins, who shares the following guest post:


LE Book Light as an SWL Accessory

by DanH

The LE Book Light (Lighting Ever, LTD.) is a handy portable LED lamp that provides light for reading, music stands, or even use with portable radios. I have run into very bad luck in the past with cheap LED reading lights that run directly from USB power. The LEDs always burned out after a couple of days or weeks making me very nervous about putting my computer power supplies at risk by using these things. This LE light is very different. The LE lamp runs from a rechargeable built-in Li-ion battery. This battery may be charged by plugging the included USB cable to USB or the included AC power adapter.

LE makes a few different models of book lights. This model features two lighting pods on sturdy goosenecks. These pods look like classic cobra head street lights to me, which I kind of like. Each pod includes four bright white LEDs and an OFF/LOW/HIGH switch. The lamp will stand unaided on a flat surface and features a clip for temporary mounting. The end of the clip is jointed and padded for improved grip. I purchased a pair of these LE lights early in 2017 and have used them often for eleven months. Each lamp has been charged at least a half dozen times since then. I get about ten hours of light if one pod is lit at low power. Charging time from dead battery (no light) is about two and a half hours. I keep one LE light in use and another charged and ready to go when needed.

My Sangean ATS-909X has a very nice display for use in the dark but the front panel controls are not lit, just like every other multi-band portable I know of. Just try to use keyboard frequency entry or enter a station into memory in the dark! The LE Book Light comes in handy for using portables at home or on field trips in low to no light. Likewise, the meter light on my vintage Hammarlund SP-600 is unlit. I simply clip the LE lamp onto the side panel of the SP-600 for that. There is no way that I’m going to drill into that Marion Electric meter to hack in an indicator light. I can also read the WRTH from the LE Book Light.

This is a nice accessory for portable radio listening at night and many other jobs. I paid $10.88 plus shipping for one of these on eBay in January. I think that was a good deal. Here is $9.99 with free shipping from the Walmart online store. Sold directly by LE from Walmart. The LE Book Light is a very nicely made little light and small enough to make a nice stocking stuffer.

LE Book Light at Walmart

DanH


No doubt a great accessory for the SWL! Thanks for the review, Dan!

Good Times Bad Times: Luke’s nighttime listening rewarded

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Luke Perry, who writes:

Hi Thomas,

Just [wanted to share] a little bit of shortwave good luck that I had when tuned to 3925 kHz. That is the frequency for Radio Nikkei 1 if I am not mistaken. They have a similar frequency that I can usually get at about the same time in 3945, but from my location in the Pacific Northwest the former usually comes in better until about 13:00 UTC or so.

To any SWL listeners on the west coast can tell you, there are not a whole lot of choices anymore for the listeners who like the exotic DX catches, whereas 20 years ago you had many choices like Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Radio Vladivostok on 5015 kHz that was a special station for Russian boats at sea, etc. These stations all played exotic and sometimes even current music, not to mention lots of ‘oldies’ and classics.

So I am left with the few that are left and I usually tune in late at night as the static lulls me to sleep.

Last night, I was listening to 3925 kHz at about 12:00 UTC or so and I got quite the surprise. Usually when I tune in at about 2:30 AM my time they are playing classical music or some other relaxing music. I think their sister station on 3945 kHz plays more of the current music and I believe that they even have a special hour or more that they play newish music. When I first tuned in it was their typical show where they start with about an hour or so of relaxing music and then the announcers come in with news, talk, or whatever? Truthfully, I don’t speak Japanese so I really can’t say! I do remember reading somewhere though that they broadcast horse races on that channel and sometimes it does sound like that.

But last night I still hadn’t fallen asleep for whatever reason so I kept hitting the ‘Sleep’ button on my trusty Panasonic RF-9000. After the announcers talked for a bit they played a few hard rock songs back to back. Quite a few of them but a couple that I remember off of the top of my head were “Smoke On the Water” and “I Remember You” by Skid Row. That kind of stuff and this went on for a good half hour or so uninterrupted so my ears were perked up at this point. What came next really blew me away and really made my staying up worthwhile.

They first started off with Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times”, and then proceeded to play the whole first Led Zeppelin album straight through! No interruptions and they went straight from Side A to Side B with only a moment pause. After that, they started in on Led Zeppelin III but after “Immigrant Song” the signal was really fading bad but I could still make out that it was the might Zeppelin. It kind of reminded me of old pirate radio stations on shortwave or even FM radio in the 70’s when they would play whole album sides.

So anyway, just a quick update on that station and for people who have given up on finding good programming on shortwave radio…it is still out there, but it takes a bit more time to find nowadays.

Thank you for sharing your listening experience, Luke! Yes, shortwave is still a medium for this sort of serendipity–a space where you can listen to broadcasts that are free of commercial breaks. I image Led Zeppelin must have sounded pretty amazing on that Panny RF-9000!

Heil Sound and Last Man Standing

last-man-standing-charity

The following was posted through an email from Heil Sound:

When the producers of the popular TV show, “Last Man Standing,” needed an authentic ham radio set-up to use in the show, they turned to Heil Sound’s Amateur Radio Division, helmed by Bob Heil. Now, thanks to the generosity of the show’s star, Tim Allen, props from the show – including some autographed by Mr. Allen – are being offered for sale with all proceeds going to the Red Cross.

The full article may be found here:

Last Man Standing Charity Items

Robert Gulley, AK3Q, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.