Category Archives: Guest Posts

Tecsun PL-368: An Everyman Review

Guest Post

The Tecsun PL-368: An Everyman Review

By Robert Gulley

I entitled this review an “Everyman” review because, while I am far from “normal” (just ask any of my friends!), I am not a hard-core SWL. I am a hard-core amateur radio operator perhaps, but only for the last decade(+). I have been casually listening to shortwave radio for about 50 yrs. So, my perspective on this radio comes from someone who cut his teeth on a Realistic DX-160 (still love those radios!), progressing through various desktop and portable radios, to three of my current favorites, the FRG-7, the Sangean 909X2, and the Sony 7600GR. Of course, this doesn’t count some vintage WWII-era radios and earlier, but they are favorites for other reasons.

Now, the purpose of this little reflection on equipment is to say all radios have their place in the pantheon of shortwave radios, and no one radio “does it all.” The Tecsun radio, I believe, fills a very specific niche in the radio world, and it is excellent for those purposes. It does not, however, rival other radios whose goals are different, such as ones designed around sound fidelity, digital signal processing, SDR capability etc.

What this radio does do is present a very capable radio in an ultra-small package, designed to fit easily for travel and for survival/emergency situations, or for armchair operation. That middle one may surprise you, so allow me to explain.

I have a previous model of this radio (GP-5/SSB still available) sold by CountyComm, which was modified from Tecsun’s stock production PL-365, to have features suitable for government use. This has become a rather popular radio for preppers because of those modifications. The idea behind this radio as a compact piece of kit for government embassy people was to have something which could be easily concealable, operated with one hand, and have a wide range of reception capabilities. Of course, good reception of shortwave, AM, and FM bands was considered a must. You can look at the CountryComm website to find out specific features of the modified units if interested, as that radio, or the PL-365, are not the subject of this review.

While not a real “prepper” myself, I was intrigued by the AM broadcast reception capabilities due to the plug-in ferrite antenna, and also liked the idea of the small footprint. In actual use I found the radio to be quite versatile, a good performer, but rather awkward to use as there was no quick way to get to specific frequencies, unless already programmed into a memory location. With no direct keyboard entry on the GP-5, going to random locations to channel surf was, for me, frankly a bit annoying.

Enter the PL-368 which boasts a direct keyboard entry! Yes!! This one feature has taken the radio to a new level of performance which makes it a joy to use in this reviewer’s humble opinion. (Full disclosure, the unit I received for this review was provided by ANON-CO, and is the latest model after the recent firmware update incorporated by Tecsun. However, I have no other connection to ANON-CO or Tecsun, and my willingness to do the review is purely based on my previous purchase and experience with the CountyComm model.)

Despite having an unusual number of stormy days and nights here in the Midwestern U.S. recently, I have managed to enjoy some very productive listening opportunities with this little radio. For example, being an amateur radio operator, I appreciate the ability to listen in on the amateur frequencies now an again, and the recent ARRL Field Day afforded me the opportunity to really test out the radio’s USB/LSB reception capabilities, and its ability to dig out signals on a really crowded band. I was quite impressed both with its DSP and bandwidth capabilities and the reasonable clarity of the audio when tuning in various signals. Does it have the richness of audio that my Sangean 909X2 has? No, of course not. The speaker is much smaller in the PL-368, but it was quite listenable. Likewise, listening to various nets on 80 meters was quite acceptable with the built-in antenna, where noise and local interference are common gremlins on any radio.

For shortwave stations I found the radio to be quite sensitive just using the built-in antenna, which is key to portable listening. If I have to attach an external antenna, my mobility becomes limited, and I might as well just listen to one of my desktop radios. Some reception examples include: NHK World Radio 9560, Helliniki Radiophonia Voice of Greece 9420, WRMI relay of KSKO 89.5’s Paul Walker from McGrath Alaska on 7780 (beamed to east coast U.S., as well as on 7730 beamed to west coast, Hawaii, and South Pacific).

Of course, reception of CRI, Radio Havana Cuba, and numerous religious broadcasts were heard on all the usual places. I also listened to WWV signals at various locations, my go-to initial band reception check, as well as listening to HF aircraft broadcasts, military planes training on 11175 (USB), and maritime weather broadcasts. While I did not try digital mode reception such as FT8 with WSJT-X from the headphone jack, I have no doubt I would have been able to monitor these stations on various bands easily as the signals were immediately recognizable. The same holds true for CW reception.

Operational Notes

For a thoughtful, in-depth review of many technical aspects of this radio Dan Robinson has written an excellent piece on the PL-368, along with an updated review of the latest firmware’s effect on the radio. One aspect worth mentioning in my experience with this radio is that, unlike Dan, I did not find an issue with changing sensitivity when touching/holding the radio versus the radio standing on its own. Your mileage may vary, of course, so this goes in the “for what it’s worth” category. Maybe this issue has been resolved in later production runs? Or maybe my capacitance is running low and I need more electrolytes<grin>!

Like Dan, I found the SYNC detection of USB/LSB to be marginal at best, mostly making the signals harder to hear. On the upside, standard reception was quite good, and I did not experience significant fading most of the time.

Below are some of the hidden keyboard functions as listed, provided by Anna of ANON-CO, but I wanted to mention a feature I have either forgotten when using my GP5 CountyComm model, or which has been added (sorry, I don’t have access to the GP5 right now as it is packed away due to a recent move in progress). When “speed tuning” as I call it (turning the tuning dial quickly) with the “step” selected to the smallest increment on SW, what starts as increments of 10Hz will jump to 50Hz at a time after a few moments. This helps in trying to quickly latch on to a signal when increments of 10 are not necessary. The tuning will revert to 10Hz units when stopped for a few seconds.

Now for some undocumented features:

Switch between internal ferrite rod and whip on AM (MW & LW)

  1. Select the MW or LW band.
  2. Press and hold key ‘3’ for about 2 seconds.

When the display briefly shows “CH-5” this means that the device is set to MW/LW reception using the telescopic antenna. The display shows MW (or LW) and SW on the left side of the screen.

When the display briefly shows “CH-A” this means that the device is set to MW/LW reception using the internal ferrite antenna. The display shows only MW (or LW) on the left side of the screen.

Adjusting the maximum volume level

Select the frequency band, then press and hold key ‘7’ for 2 seconds until a number is displayed. At this moment, rotate the [ TUNING ] knob to adjust and press the key ‘7’ again to save and exit.

Firmware Version

In power-off mode, press and hold [ VF/VM ] for 0.5 seconds until all characters on the display are shown, then wait a few seconds until the firmware version is briefly displayed in the middle of the display.

Extend SW-range for European setting (1621-29999 kHz)

  1. In power-off mode, press and hold the [ 3 ] key to set the MW tuning steps to 9kHz.
  2. Select the SW band, and then press and hold the [ 5 ] key for 10 seconds to enable/disable the SW frequency extension. The starting point of the SW frequency range will become 1621 or 1711 kHz.

Some Nitpicks (There had to be some, right?!)

I wish the batteries were still standard AA units instead of the flat rechargeable unit. This is merely a personal preference, but as a radio designed for carry-anywhere usage, I like a radio to use batteries I can pick up anywhere if needed. I tend to use rechargeable AA and AAA batteries anyway, but I like knowing I can use ubiquitous alkaline batteries available at almost any store in a pinch.

I suspect the change was made to allow for more space for the direct keypad entry, and that is definitely a tradeoff I am willing to make!

On a related note, the recharging port uses the USB micro-b connector which I have found in cell phones, tablets, etc. to be a weak point as cables often seem to go bad, or the connector itself gets damaged. The larger mini-b would be my preference, but hey, again, that’s a nitpick.

Finally, the case does appear to be a little thin which makes me wonder how it might survive if dropped or knocked off a table. This is not a deal-breaker by any means, but something to consider when carrying it around or when packing it for a trip. It may survive quite well, but that’s a test I don’t want to try out just to see what happens.

Final Thoughts

For me, as a casual shortwave listener, I look for several things in a portable radio. I want true portability – if a so-called portable radio must be tethered to an external antenna to work decently, chances are I am not going to use it often – my various desktop models attached to outdoor antennas will always out-perform a portable. I also want a simplified layout of controls. I do not want to dig through menus, have be a contortionist to work the buttons/controls, or carry a manual with me to find out how to use the radio each time because the controls are confusing. I also want reasonable audio and clarity, or the ability to fine-tune a signal to minimize adjacent signals.

I find the PL-368 does for me what I want a portable to do and does it reasonably well. Is it the best portable out there? No. Is it a benchmark radio? No. But it is extremely portable, easily handled with just one hand, and its reception capabilities put it far above some other portables I have used. If you are looking for something which can easily fit into a pocket, bag, or purse, this radio is great. If you want a radio which performs well over a wide range of signals using the built-in antenna, this radio fills the bill. And if you want true USB/LSB, along with good bandwidth options in your portable, this is a great choice. Cheers!

(edit, July 23, 2021: an additional “hidden” feature to be included in the shipping version not included in this reviewed unit is an SSB calibration capability – definitely a plus! — Robert)

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Guest Post: Recording Music on Shortwave Part 2 – Weak signal recovery

An example of an AirSpy SDR# software screen.

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


Recording Music on Shortwave Part 2 – Weak signal recovery

by TomL

The QRM noise cloud surrounding my condominium motivated my first foray into noise reduction software to find a little relief (Please refer to Part 1 posted here) using SDR recordings.  I was able to use the freeware software Audacity to reduce some of that type of noise to tolerable levels on strong broadcasts.  But what about non-condo noise, like out in the field??

NHK Japan

I took my trusty Loop On Ground antenna to the usual county park Forest Preserve which is relatively low in RF noise.  I did some usual recording on 25 meters and poked around for something being captured by SDR Console.  On 11910 kHz is NHK broadcasting daily from Koga, Japan.  It is hearable at this location but is always an S7 or weaker signal despite its 300 KW of power no doubt due to being beamed away from the Midwest USA.

I recorded it using the SDR Console 10kHz bandwidth filter and created a separate noise recording from a nearby empty frequency.  Here is the 2 minute portion of a Japanese music teacher. No noise reduction was applied:

I opened the noise and broadcast recordings in Audacity to see what I could do.  Part 1 of my previously mentioned post details how I apply the Noise file.  A big downside of using any kind of noise reduction software is that it is ridiculously easy to destroy the desirable characteristics of the original recording.  Applying too much noise reduction, especially in the presence of constant, spiky lightning noises, will create both digital artifacts as well as very dull sounding results.  So I used the Effect – Noise Reduction (NR) feature very carefully.

In this example, I used the Effect – Amplify feature on the one minute noise file.  I applied just +1dB of Amplify to the whole file.  Then I highlighted a 10 second section I thought was representative of the general background noise and chose Edit – Copy.  Then, I opened the broadcast file, Pasted the 10 seconds of noise to the END of the file and highlighted just the 10 seconds of noise. Then I chose Effect – Noise Reduction – Get Noise Profile button.  Amplifying the noise file by +1db does not sound like much but it seems to help according to my tests.  Anymore than this and the Noise Profile would not recognize the noise without destroying the music.

I used the NR feature three times in succession using the following (NoiseReduction/Sensitivity/FrequencySmoothing) settings:  Pass1 (3dB/0.79/1), Pass2 (2dB/1.28/1), Pass3 (1dB/2.05/0).  Part of what I listened for was choosing the Residue circle and Preview button for any music or dialog that was being filtered out.  If I heard something that came from the desired part of the recording in Residue, I knew that I hit the limit concerning the combination of Noise reduction and Sensitivity settings to engage.  I used those Residue & Preview buttons over and over again with different settings to make sure I wasn’t getting rid of anything wanted.  I also used the higher Noise reduction with lower Sensitivity to try to get rid of any momentary spiky type noise that is often associated with SWLing.

I messed around with a lot of test outputs of differing dB and Sensitivities and a lot seemed to depend on the strength of the broadcast signal compared to the noise.  If the broadcast was weak, I could push the dB and Sensitivities a little harder.  I also noted that with strong signal broadcasts, I could NOT use more than 1 dB of Noise reduction beyond a Sensitivity of about 0.85 without causing damage to the musical fidelity.  This was a pretty low level of nuanced manipulation.  Because of these minor level Audacity software settings, it dawned on me that it is very helpful to already be using a low-noise antenna design.

If the Sensitivity numbers look familiar, that is because I tried basing the series of Sensitivity on Fibonacci numbers 0.618 and 0.786.  Don’t ask me why these type of numbers, they just ended up sounding better to me.  I also needed a structured approach compared to just using random numbers!  Probably any other similarly spaced Sensitivity numbers would work just fine, too.

Now if you really want to go crazy with this, add Pseudo Stereo to your favorite version of this file (also detailed in Part 1) and playback the file using VLC Media Player.  That software has a couple of interesting features such as an Equalizer and a Stereo Widener.  You may or may not like using these features but sometimes it helps with intelligibility of the voice and/or music [VLC will also let you right-click a folder of music and choose to play all it finds there without having to import each MP3 file into a special “Library” of music tracks where they bombard you with advertisements].

You can also turn on Windows Sonic for Headphones if you are using the Windows operating system.  However, this can sometimes be too much audio manipulation for my tastes!

Here is the resulting NHK noise-reduced file with 9ms of delay with High & Low Filters:

Radio Thailand

Five days later I was out in the field again.  This time I found Radio Thailand on 11920 kHz finishing up a Thai broadcast.  It was a weaker S5 signal than the NHK example, so it would be a good test.

When I got home, I recorded the broadcast file at a Bandwidth filter of 8 kHz and using Slow AGC and the extra Noise file at 12kHz using Fast AGC.  In a previous test I had noticed a very slight improvement in sound quality in the way noise seems to get out of the way quicker compared to Slow AGC (which is usually how I listen to shortwave broadcasters).  I now try to remember to record the Noise file with Fast AGC.

Here is the original without any noise reduction:

This time the Noise file using Amplify +1dB did not help and I used it as-is for the 10 second Noise Profile.  I then tried multiple passes of NR at higher and higher Sensitivities and ended up with these settings the best: Pass1 (1dB/0.79/0), Pass2 (1dB/1.27/0), Pass3 (1dB/2.05/0), Pass4 (1dB/3.33/0).

As a comparison, I tried recording only with SDR Console’s noise reduction NR1 set to 3dB and got this.  I hear more noise and less of the music coming through:

Now for more crazy Pseudo Stereo to finish up the Audacity 4Pass version (nice Interval Signal of Buddhist bells ringing and station ID at the very end):

Summary

I do not understand why applying 3 or 4 separate 1dB Sensitivities of noise reduction is superior to just one Pass at 3dB Sensitivity (in Audacity) or the one 3dB noise reduction (in SDR Console).  My guess is that doing 1 dB at different Sensitivities shaves off some spiky noise a little at a time, somehow allowing for more of the musical notes to poke through the noise cloud.  Who knows but I can hear a difference in subtle musical notes and sharpness of voice and instruments.  Probably the Fast AGC helps too.

Music is a Universal Language that we can share even when we don’t understand a word they are saying. And there is more music on the air than I thought.  Some of these recordings sound surprisingly pleasing after noise reduction. The fake stereo is pumped through a CCrane FM Transmitter to a few radios in the home, or I can use the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro headphones.

Enjoying the Music!

TomL

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Dan Notes: Vintage JRC Receivers Set Price Records in Japan

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


Vintage JRC Receivers in Japan Set Price Records

by Dan Robinson

While used market prices for older vintage communications receivers have been dropping significantly in recent years, prices for some classic “premium” receivers — particularly rare marine radios made by Japan Radio Company — have remained in the stratosphere.

The past year has seen a number of examples of this observable on the Japan Yahoo auction site Buyee, and in May and June of 2021 two JRC sets sold for more than $5,000 dollars each after intense bidding.

Both of these involved what appeared from photos to be mostly pristine NRD-240 receivers which came complete with original manuals and cables.

Photos

With Serial Numbers of 66149 and 50337, manufactured in 1996 and 1997, these receivers are examples of what I call “time capsules.” Their condition indicates that they were both in the hands of collectors in Japan, and probably were not in regular extended service as shipboard receivers.

The first sold for $5,776.06 after 164 bids on the Buyee site, while the second went for $5,166.72 after 77 bids.

As described here in an old Universal Radio ad, the JRC NRD-240 was built for marine operations and complied with GMDSS requirements. With coverage from 90.000 to 29999.999 kHz it has 1 Hz display in LSB, USB, AM, CW, and FSK (RTTY) modes. Like many JRC marine receivers it had a front panel selectable 2182 kHz emergency channel. Bandwidths include: 6, 3, 1 and 0.3 kHz with 100 channels, scan/sweep, along with a switchable AF Filter, NB, Lock, Keypad entry, built in speaker, Squelch, BITE, Dimmer and AGC selection.

In the lineup of the most sought after JRC marine receivers, the NRD-240 is listed in the famous guide book by Fred Osterman “Shortwave Receivers Past & Present” on Page 222, as well as on the cover of the book. The price tag is $8000. The receiver was also the subject of a review by in the former Passport to World Band Radio in 1991.

Historically, the NRD-240 was replaced by the JRC NRD-301A, which itself was later replaced by the super-rare NRD-302A, and still later the NRD-630. In terms of rarity, at this point based on my following of the premium receiver used market, the most rare of the JRC marine sets are the NRD-95, followed by the NRD-630 and 301 series.

When bidding gets furious for radios like this, it can take one’s breath away and that was certainly the case with these two NRD-240s. How many more like these, in this condition, may remain in the hands of collectors is, of course, not known.

The rarity of certain receivers can be measured also by the number of user videos showing up on You Tube. There are many of the NRD-92/93 receivers, even some of the NRD-630, and a few showing much older JRC sets such as the NRD-73. I have yet to find a video showing a NRD-240 in operation.

The Japan Buyee site (which sometimes also has receivers that are not physically located in Japan) has a seemingly constant flow of these amazing vintage JRC sets, along with other premium rigs. Photos of the two NRD-240s that sold in May and June are posted with this article (above).

Click here to check out listings on Buyee.

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Giuseppe’s improved read-to-go case for the Tecsun S-8800

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Giuseppe Morlè (IZ0GZW), who writes:

Dear Thomas,

I want to share my latest version of my case / antenna for Tecsun S-8800 to make it immediately operational: simply open and listen.

In addition to the loop inside the case with a 3-meter wire at one of the ends that join two telescoping style whips of one meter each short-circuited to take advantage of the entire length. At the other end of the loop, a cable that goes to the ground of the variable capacitor.

I can tune the whole range from 3 to 16 MHz with truly amazing results.

You can see the video from my Youtube channel at the link:

Thanks to you and all the friends of SWLing Post.
Regards.
73. Giuseppe Morlè iz0gzw.

This is incredibly clever, Giuseppe! AS I mentioned before, I love how self-contained this makes the entire listening station and I especially love the built-in antenna options! This is truly a shack-in-a-case!

Thank you for sharing this.

Click here to read Giuseppe’s other contributions here on the SWLing Post!

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Jock designs a Horizontal Room Loop to cope with reception issues

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


There’s a 50-foot antenna in this room. Can you spot it?

Got reception issues? An idea worth considering: the “Horizontal Room Loop.”

by Jock Elliott (KB2GOM)

When my radio room was in the front of the house (on the east side), it was easy to run a feedline to a large RF-hungry SWL dipole with various stubs and feeders.

Now, however, with my “shack” moved to the SW corner of the house, any attempt to mount an outdoor antenna of any significant length raised potential safety issues because of nearby electrical lines.

Monitoring VHF/UHF is no big deal because of high-performance scanner antennas. HF, however, presents challenges.

My main SWL receiver is a Satellit 800, which has the guts of a Drake R8 and also has a large telescoping vertical antenna. It works okay, but I wanted more signal. I had been looking at small loops and got some great recommendations on Radio Reference, but then I had a thought: what if I turned the 8′ x 12′ room into a giant horizontal passive loop?

Here’s a hint.

So I called a ham friend and ran the idea by him. “Sure,” he said, “give it a try.” He gave me 25 feet of 4-conductor phone wire. Before I could use it, I had to strip off the outer insulation so I could get at the four separate insulated wires inside. The better half helped. Once I had the four wires, I connected two of them together and ran the resultant 50-foot strand around the perimeter of the room by taping the wire to the top of window frames and hiding the wire on the top shelves of book cases. As a result, the horizontal room loop is near the ceiling, about 7 feet in the air, and the room itself is on the first floor.

With the loop in place, I hooked the ends to the clip-in terminals on the back of the Satellit 800.

There’s a switch on the back of the 800 that allows me to quickly compare the loop with the radio’s built-in vertical antenna. And . . . it works! It pulls in more signal than the vertical (as measured on the signal strength meter), but I have not noticed a dramatic reduction in noise. On some stations, the horizontal room loop brings the signal up to full scale, and then the sound is very agreeable indeed.

In all, I am pleased with the results.

For anyone who wants squeeze more performance out of their shortwave receiver, I can recommend giving the horizontal room loop a try. It’s not expensive; it’s relatively easy to do (and undo if you don’t like the results), and just might improve your shortwave reception.

If you are not blessed with a bunch of window frames on which you could tape the wire for your room loop, you’ll have to get creative, but with lightweight wire, you don’t need a massive support structure. Tape, map tacks, or even self-adhesive Velcro segments might work for putting your room loop in place.

I don’t claim that this is the “ultimate” SWL DX antenna, but it certainly improved my situation. Perhaps others have suggestions for improving it.

— Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

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Guest Post: Dikeside Icom IC-705 RX action

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, 13dka, who shares the following guest post:


The IC-705 in action at the dike

by 13dka

When I got the IC-705 in late October 2020, I didn’t get that much chance to enjoy it at the dike: After a couple of initial tests and 2 nightly “FYBO” MW DX sessions in November, a way too long and wet winter struck the German North Sea coast, with nighttime temperatures recovering to 2-digit Celsius figures only in the past few weeks. I took the opportunity to do more experiments with loops, preamps and a phasing unit to improve the RFI-stricken reception at home, so I could at least listen to European hams on 80 and 40m raving about their new 705s and start to write my own musings about that lovely little radio, recently posted here.

SSB DX

June 1st, 202

Finally, acceptable temperatures at night! But they come with a downside: When I connected the vertical around 8:00pm (local time), it was still almost 2 hours before sunset and a lot of thunderstorms in Europe made even 14 MHz very noisy, my hopes for some nice catches were immediately taking a dive. A short scan of the bands brought up nothing special, the only notable thing being the CB and 10m bands being moderately open. I should’ve known better: As soon as the sun splashed into the ocean, grayline propagation worked its magic!

Grayline while receiving Japan, June 1st

As the image probably hints, a couple of Japanese “big guns” produced some nice, comfy signals on the monopole, in addition to the South American and Carribbean stations usually booming in here!

Video: A short collection of ham stations heard around midnight

After midnight I noticed a residue signal of WWV on 20 MHz and still a few EU beacons on 10m. Both incredibly weak with QSB making them disappear but that’s where the 705 really shines – it’s not only picking up these grassroots signals just fine, it shows me that they’re there, or that they were there – a waterfall display keeps on proving that a perceived lack of activity on a band is often pure bad luck – you can tune across an entire band without hearing anything because on each frequency with some activity there’s the other (inaudible to you) station speaking right now, QSB is dipping the signal just when you tune past it…

June 5/6, 2021

That evening the Japanese stations were missing on 20m, I thought I picked one up on 17m, and like so often, the one odd Australian station came in on 20m. After midnight I noticed the 10m beacons again, there were even a few more of them. This time I brought my Belka DSP to the dike so I could compare it with the IC-705, after all the Belka proved to be my most sensitive portable before! The devastating result is likely owed to the fact that the Belka is pretty picky about passive antennas not being matched very well to its input (which is much optimized for the whip) but it picked up diddly squat. If it isn’t a testimony for the sensitivity of the IC-705, it might be one for its aptitude to cope with all sorts of antennas.

Then I tuned into the 10m SSB range and I was veeeery surprised to hear VO1FOG from St. Johns, Canada! This is the first time I heard a transatlantic signal on 10m in a solar minimum ever, but it was with condx only elevated enough for some daytime DX within the EU…and literally in the middle of the night! The signal was very unstable though, he later switched to the 12m band which worked better. Back to what I said about the waterfall display above: Without it, I could’ve missed this station with a pretty high probability simply because I didn’t expect any activity up there, so I wouldn’t have tuned across that band for very long, and without seeing the signal while the VFO is already somewhere else…

I also heard another new country (Ecuador) in SSB, the usual collection of Carribbean islands and some participants of the “Museum Ships Weekend Event” including NI6IW, which is the vanity call of the history-charged USS Midway in San Diego. The “Japanese” station JW4GUA turned out to be on Svalbard island, with the main town Longyearbyen being the northernmost town in the world, only 650 miles from the north pole, and I don’t hear stations from there very often!

Video: June 5th

June 10/11

The past days saw the SFI passing 80 and 11/10m becoming quite busy. By the time I parked the car at the dike, SFI had dropped to 73. That evening the grayline confined itself to colorizing the horizon. 10m and 11m were still full of signals, I could still hear 2 British chaps chatting on 27 MHz at 3:00 in the morning, but nothing really “extraordinary” was coming in – the one odd VK, more Carribbean islands, one Argentinian but not much from other parts of South America, it never gets boring how this all defies predictability. But as always I heard most of the North American continent, not booming in much that night but I followed 2 POTA activations for a while, which are usually at most 100W stations working a lot of other “barefoot” stations and I heard almost all of them. In the morning grayline window for the west coast I finally got one solid signal from Oregon. All my radio life, the US west coast has been a tough target for some reason.

The signal had that typical “over the pole” sound, a relatively quick phasing imprinted into the signal by the charged particles converging over the pole, causing northern lights in the region and that exiting feeling when observing really big, planetary scale physics in realtime, over here at my listening post. The magic of shortwave. 🙂

Broadcast bands

After the post touting the IC-705 as a SWL/BCL receiver, demonstrating it on the broadcast bands seems mandatory to me. However, capturing cool BC DX is a very different business than waiting on the ham bands for interesting stations coming and going and collecting spectacular (-ish) results in a single night this way. Broadcast schedules have to be studied, current “hardcore” DX targets identified… and I have to admit that I’m out of that loop currently. Just turning the knob and recording whatever is populating the bands, and doing that between 21-22:00 UTC, when all programs are directed towards anywhere except Europe turned out to yield pretty boring results. Here it goes anyway:

Video: Browsing the most important BC bands

CONDX and antenna:

The antenna I was using in these videos was a simple wire running up a 10m/33′ fiberglass pole, forming a very archetypical “monopole” or “Marconi” antenna, just a vertical wire, no counterpoise, no matching network, no un-un, transformer or flux capacitor. I planned on using this to make some experiments about the practical benefits (for reception) of all the components it’s now lacking, but it already demonstrates that the beauty of receive-only antennas is that they often don’t require crazy efforts: On the conductive soil at the dike it works pretty well (good signals all over the bands and sufficiently low takeoff angle) as it is.

The evening and the 2 full nights at the dike once again had condx that nobody would phone home about:

SFI, A and 3-hourly K-indices while I was at the dike.

It’s not that these numbers always fully explain actual and current condx but decreasing SFI and rising A/K-indices mean low expectations. Despite the condx still characterized by the solar minimum that way, the location is always delivering proper DX for my radios. Unless stormy or severely unsettled geomagnetic conditions give DX a day off, there’s almost always something to take home, be it a new country, a rare island, unexpectedly loud signals from the other end of the planet at unusual times and/or on unusual bands or other ionospheric mysteries.

Speaking of location: These videos demonstrate the properties of that listening post as much as the capability of the IC-705 to harvest them, and they don’t put that into relation to other radios, so you have to rely on my word on this: Compared to what I brought to that place so far it’s jaw-droppingly good, but a big contributor to that is that only few of my other radios can really cope with the antennas I like to use out there in first place. A radio like the IC-705 is sure making the most out of location and antenna, but it’s not the key component because a low-noise location is everything, it always was and it is today more than ever. Without it, radios and antennas can’t really play their jokers.

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The Icom IC-705: Is this really a new holy grail SWL/BCL receiver?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, 13dka, who shares the following guest post:


The Icom IC-705: Is this really a new holy grail SWL/BCL receiver?

by 13dka

When Thomas got wind of its development in 2019 he immediately asked “could the Icom IC-705 be a shortwave listeners holy grail receiver?”. I usually wince a little when I hear “holy grail” because it means very different things to different people, it’s also a moving target with many people aiming at the spot where it was decades ago. But Thomas certainly had a very level-headed assembly of technical performance, quality and practicality requirements in mind when he used that term, and I thought he might be onto something!

There are some excellent, trustworthy reviews of the IC-705 out there. The following is not one of them, I just want to share an opinionated breakdown on why I think this is an interesting radio for SWLs/BCLs indeed, also deliberately ignoring that it’s actually a transceiver.

Jumping shop

While the era of superhet/DSP-supported tabletop holy grails ended with the discontinuation and sell-off of the last survivors more than a decade ago, powerful PC-based SDR black boxes were taking over the mid-range segment and it became very slim pickings for standalone SWL receivers: Thomas just recently summed up the remaining options here.

Between the steady supply of inexpensive yet serviceable Chinese portables, upgraded with a least-cost version of DSP technology, and the remnants of the high end sector there’s very little left to put on the wish list for Santa – that doesn’t need to be paired with a computer that is.

No surprise that SWLs/BCLs in search of new quality toys with tangible controls are taking a squint over the fence to the ham transceiver market: Hams are still being served the best and the latest in radio technology in all shapes and sizes, and even entry-level rigs usually come with feature-rich general coverage receivers. But transceivers never had SWLs much in their focus in the past decades, and particularly not BCLs: Frontend adaptation, additional AM filters, switches and functions would’ve meant increasing costs and so transceivers were never perfected for that purpose. DSP and SDR technology allowed for improvements on that without actually adding (much) hardware and so some interesting alternatives surfaced in the past years, but most of them still come with little downers, at least for BCLs.

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