Category Archives: New Products

Guest Post: Review of the TYT SF-401 Plus Frequency Counter/Tone Meter

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi (N2HUN), for sharing the following guest post:


TYT Frequency Counter/Tone Meter Review

by Mario Filippi (N2HUN)
All photos courtesy of author

Most hobbyists own some type of transceiver whether it is a handheld, mobile, or base station. Some examples are amateur radio HF/VHF/UHF transceivers, Citizen’s Band radios, FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) handhelds.

A useful tool for the shack or the field is a frequency counter/tone meter since it can measure frequencies and analog/digital tones from transmitters/transceivers. At times ascertaining that a UUT (Unit Under Test) such as a 2 meter handheld is transmitting accurately may be indicated due to problems communicating with other stations. In addition, if the UUT transmits a sub-audible tone (either analog or digital) to access a repeater, a frequency counter/tone meter can detect the presence and verify accuracy of the CTCSS/digital tone.

Author’s TYT SF-401Plus, includes instructions, antenna, rechargeable battery and charger/cable. Covers 27 MHz – 3 GHz

Frequency/tone meters can be purchased for less than twenty US dollars but normally do not include a rechargeable battery and BNC connector for attaching an external antenna. Having had experience with these types, the time finally came for an upgrade.

After shopping around a decision was made to purchase the Tytera TYT SF-401 Plus. This model includes an instruction sheet, antenna, internal rechargeable battery, USB charger and cable. It represents a significant improvement over my previous, inexpensive meter, as the TYT has a BNC connector to attach a larger antenna and has four control buttons on the front panel. It also has, via a system menu, options to adjust the frequency/tone offset, dimmer levels, three or four decimal display and auto power off. All these valuable features warrant a higher cost, which was about $50, but well worth it. This price fits the budget of most hobbyists. However, higher end frequency/tone meters are available and cost several hundred dollars for those requiring that level of quality.

Out of the box the TYT SF-401 Plus, when checked against an IFR FM/AM-500A communications service monitor, was right on the money as far as accuracy. Note that the IFR-500A was calibrated against a high precision internal 10 MHz crystal in an “oven” and this is my gold standard reference for frequency accuracy in my shack.

TYT accuracy checked against an IFR FM/AM-500A communications service monitor transmitting a 146.52 MHz/131.8 Hz tone. Note frequency readout to four decimal places.

Now, it was time to check typical radios around the shack using the TYT. The first radio tested for frequency accuracy was a BTECH GMRS-V1 HT which I use to communicate with the home QTH while running errands around town. See photo for results. The BTECH and TYT agreed perfectly. Note that the TYT’s display includes a battery status indicator on top left and a timer use indicator, which resets every time the TYT is turned on. If you are going to measure digital signals (not included in this review) there is an option in the Setup Menu for that. With the BTECH handheld running 2 watts the TYT could detect its’ frequency at roughly four feet away.

Confirming BTECH transmit frequency against the TYT. Output is 2 watts. TYT multicolor display is super.

For VHF/UHF operating, especially when afield with other hams or groups such as CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams), problems can ensue if one does not have the correct frequency or tone programmed, so having the TYT in your shirt pocket to confirm these parameters when trouble occurs can be a quick way to get to the problem. See photo of an Icom IC-2300H 2 meter transceiver checked against the TYT for proper offset and tone. The Icom was putting out 65 watts and a repeater with an offset of -1.3 MHz and 88.5 Hz tone was checked.

TYT confirming unusual offset (-1.3 MHz) and tone for a repeater. Icom IC-2300H was at high (65W) setting and connected to an outdoor discone antenna.

According to the instructions included with the TYT SF-401 Plus, the operating range is from 27 MHz – 3000 MHz with a note stating “27 MHz – 100 MHz it can not be guaranteed and the corresponding normal emission appliance” which I interpret as accuracy is not guaranteed in this frequency range. Well, I checked the TYT against the IFR FM/AM-500A service monitor transmitting an AM signal on CB Channel 19, 27.185 MHz, and the TYT measured it exactly. One other important note is that according to the instructions, the tone decoder operates in the 136 MHz – 174 MHz and 400 MHz – 520 MHz frequency range. So that may limit its use in certain areas of the spectrum. One other item if interest is that the TYT has a 10 dB attenuator when dealing with high power signals.

All in all, I’m very happy with this purchase, and find the TYT SF-401 Plus useful for “first pass” troubleshooting and helpful when aligning older rigs which due to age are off frequency /tone. It definitely has a use in this shack.


Wow–what a bargain tool for the radio shack! Thank you for sharing your review, Mario.  Once again, however, you have tempted me with a purchase!  I remember when frequency counters would set you back a couple hundred bucks–it’s insane to think that you can grab one for $40-50 US shipped.

SF-401 Plus Retailers:

Note that the TYT SF 401 Plus is also marketed as the Surecom SF401 Plus:

A full review of the C. Crane CCRadio-EP Pro AM/FM portable radio

Without a doubt, C. Crane Company has become an established name in our radio community as a retailer and manufacturer that focuses on the world of broadcast listening. The company’s ads, website, and blog all promote broadcast listening as a viable and important part of our evolving media landscape. Their radio products are all designed with broadcast listening in mind.

The C. Crane CCRadio 2E

Currently the company manufactures one of the most capable AM broadcast receivers on the market: the CCRadio-2E.

The CCRadio-2E, however, is a pricey portable at $170 US, perhaps overkill for the casual broadcast listener.

So, for those seeking a simpler broadcast receiver, C. Crane later developed the original CCRadio-EP, a bare-bones, fully analog AM/FM radio with a large backlit slide rule dial, designed for the listener who wants to “go old school” in their receiving.

The original CCRadio-EP also attracted mediumwave/AM broadcast radio listeners because it had fairly impressive performance characteristics supported by C. Crane’s patented Twin Coil Ferrite AM antenna. In many ways, the original CCRadio-EP was somewhat reminiscent of the GE Superadio.

Yet while the original CCRadio-EP has––according to C. Crane––been a popular product, because certain vital EP components are now becoming obsolete, the company has been forced to redesign it;  hence the new CCRadio-EP Pro.

The CCRadio-EP Pro: A different animal

Let’s be clear, though: unlike its predecessor, the CCRadio-EP Pro is no longer a true analog set.

Despite external similarities, internally this radio and its predecessor are very different receivers. Inside, the EP Pro is based on the Silicon Labs SI4734 DSP chip. Perhaps it goes without saying, but I consider the move to a chip a significant design change.

In other words, much like the Degen DE321, the Degen DE32, the Tecsun R-2010D, the Kchibo KK9803 and the ShouYu SY-X5 (which I review in a shoot-out here), the CC-Radio EP Pro is a mechanically-tuned DSP receiver.

Crane kindly sent me a review sample of the new CCRadio-EP Pro. It’s important to note that the review unit came from a strictly limited first production run; the actual consumer rig’s first major production run is still a few weeks away.  Thus this radio is not yet shipping.

I’ve had the CCRadio-EP Pro for a few weeks now, during which time I’ve given it a thorough evaluation. So, let’s take a close look at the CCRadio-EP Pro––first, in terms of performance.

AM Performance

Let’s face it:  if you’re a radio enthusiast and reading this review, you’re likely mainly concerned with the EP Pro’s performance on the AM broadcast band. Personally speaking, that’s true for me, too.

The CCRadio-EP Pro (left) and Tecsun PL-660 (right).

Over the years of reviewing portable receivers of all stripes, I’ve learned that nothing beats a radio specifically designed for AM broadcast band performance. Without a doubt, C. Crane intends that the CCRadio-EP Pro be one of these radios. Indeed, in many ways, it’s an ideal set for broadcast listening, because it sports:

  • C. Crane’s Twin Coil Ferrite AM antenna
  • A large speaker
  • Wide/Narrow bandwidth switch
  • Dedicated external antenna connections

Although beefy internal AM antennas, large speakers, and external antenna connections were relatively common in the 1970s and 80s, these are rare features among modern AM/FM portable radios. The fact is, radios with superb AM broadcast performance are becoming a rather rare breed.

External antenna connections

In other words, the CCRadio-EP Pro has many design features that position it to be a formidable AM broadcast band receiver.

So, then, how does it perform? Well…that’s complicated to explain. The CCRadio-EP Pro has some positives, but also a notable amount of negatives.

Let’s start with the good news.

Positive: AM Sensitivity

Comparing the CCRadio-EP Pro (left) with the Sony ICF-5500W (right) and the Tecsun PL-660 (middle) at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute.

The CCRadio-EP Pro is quite sensitive on the AM broadcast band. When I’ve compared it with a number of shortwave portables I own, it almost always outperforms them on frequency. When my Tecsun PL-660––one of the most sensitive mediumwave receivers among my shortwave portables––is tuned to a marginal signal, it sounds about half as sensitive as the CCRadio-EP Pro.

Check out the following comparison videos:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Click here to view on YouTube.

The noise floor is fairly low while the audio is robust and room-filling via the EP Pro’s front-facing speaker.

Positive: No drifting

As I’ve said above, unlike the original (analog) CCRadio-EP, the EP Pro is a mechanically-tuned DSP radio. In all of my testing, I never noted a time that the radio drifted off frequency.

Positive: Nulling

Crane’s internal Twin Coil Ferrite AM antenna affords the listener excellent gain and nulling capabilities. In fact, I find the nulling quite sharp, a major positive for this listener.

Positive: Fine tuning control

On the right side of the CCRadio-EP Pro you’ll find a large tuning knob (top), the antenna trimmer (middle), and large volume knob (bottom)

Like the original EP, the EP Pro has a Twin Coil Antenna Fine Tuning adjustment.

This feature can help make small adjustments to received station to peak reception. This fine tune control is actually trimming the twin coil ferrite bar.

Positive: Wide/Narrow filter

The EP Pro does have a Wide/Narrow filter selection which essentially helps widen or narrow received audio. Note that this has no meaningful impact on the imaging mentioned below.

Altogether, this about sums up the CCR-EP’s positive performance capabilities on the AM broadcast band.


Now let’s look at the CCR-EP’s negatives, some of which are, unfortunately, significant.

Negative: Muting between frequencies

The original CCRadio-EP revives the joy of a purely analog radio set.  When you tune up/down the bands, there’s a fluidity to the whole process. While the interface is simple, analog tuning allows your ears to pick up on the nuances––the rise and fall of stations both strong and weak as you travel across the dial.

As we mentioned earlier, mechanically-tuned DSP radios, like the new CCRadio-EP Pro, may look like analog sets, but inside, they’re entirely digital. And one drawback to all of the mechanically-tuned DSP radios I’ve tested so far is a tendency to mute between frequencies. With each 10 kHz frequency step, you’ll hear a short audio mute. If you tune across the dial quickly, audio mutes until you land on a frequency. Here’s a video demonstrating the effect:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Needless to say, muting makes band scanning a more fatiguing process. It’s really a shame this affects the AM band. I hope that C. Crane engineers can minimize this issue in future production runs, but I understand much of this is a characteristic/limitation of this particular DSP chip.

Negative: Images

Crane actually includes a note about weak images which you might find below and/or above your target signal. Weak images are an unfortunate reality of the CCRadio-EP Pro; they’re prevalent on both AM and FM.

Here’s how you’ll experience the images by way of example: let’s say you’re tuning to a strong local AM station on 630 kHz, noting that the EP Pro has 10 kHz tuning increments. As you tune to 630 kHz, you’ll hear the station on 620 kHz, though it won’t be as strong as it is on 630 kHz. Then if you tune to 640 kHz, you’ll likely hear a weaker image of the station there, as well. In my experience, images are present on both sides of the target station if the station is strong. If it’s a weak station, you might only hear it, say, 10 kHz lower but not above (or vise versa).

The CCRadio-EP Pro is powered by four D Cells.

As you might imagine, this poses a problem for the weak signal AM broadcast band DXer. Let’s say you’re trying to snag an elusive DX station on 640 kHz; although the EP Pro might have the sensitivity required to grab that station, it’s simply not selective enough (if selective is indeed the right word) to reject the local station on 630 kHz, thus your weak DX will have local competition.

This, more than any other negative, takes the EP Pro out of the realm of the mediumwave DXer.

Negative: Inaccurate dial

I’ve also discovered that, on my unit, the top half of the AM dial is inaccurate. I estimate that the slide rule dial is off by about 40-50 kHz at the top end of the band. It’s much more accurate below 1,200 kHz, however.

Here is a few photo of the CCRadio-EP Pro tuned to 1600 kHz:

I hope C. Crane can address this in future iterations of the EP Pro. While I don’t expect slide rule dials to be extremely accurate, there nonetheless needs to be some reliability.

Note: C. Crane engineering is aware of this problem and even attempting to implement a fix on the first production run units. I will follow up when I learn more.

Negative Audio “pop” with power on

As you might have heard in the band scanning video above, any time you turn on the CCRadio-EP Pro, you’ll hear an audio “pop.” This is happening when power is applied to the audio amplifier. The pop is not soft, but fairly audible, and is present even if you turn the volume down all the way. The audio pop is prevalent via both the internal speaker and when using headphones. Fortunately, it’s much less pronounced via headphones.  While not a major negative, I find it a bit annoying, and don’t doubt that other listeners will, too.

Note: C. Crane engineering tell me that they’ve minimized the audio pop since making the limited first production run, thus the first full production run should be improved.

Negative: AM frequency steps currently limited to 10 kHz

My initial production run EP Pro is limited to 10 kHz frequency steps. This radio is primarily marketed to North America where 10 kHz increments are standard. Of course, if you’re trying to use the EP Pro to snag Transatlantic or Transpacific DX, you’ll miss the ability to tune between those broad 10 kHz steps. But, again, due to the imaging mention above, I think the CCRadio-EP Pro is simply not suited for DXing.

Note: C. Crane engineering has informed me that future production runs of the CCRadio-EP Pro may have a 10/9 kHz switch, thus eliminating this negative. If you’re reading this review a few months after time of posting––crossed fingers––this may already be resolved.

FM Performance

If you’re looking for a simple AM/FM radio, and plan to spend most of your time on the FM band, you’ll like the CCRadio-EP Pro.

Positive: Audio

FM audio is very good on the CCRadio-EP Pro. I think it would be safe to say that it’s superior to most other receivers currently on the market in its $85 price range. Audio is room-filling and has good characteristics with dedicated adjustments for Bass and Treble. FM audio is reminiscent of 1970s-era solid-state receivers like the GE Superadio (a big positive, in my book). The bass is not very deep and resonant, nor the treble super-crisp, but the sound overall is very pleasant to the ear.

Positive: Sensitivity

The EP Pro is a sensitive FM receiver. It received all of my benchmark local and distant FM stations.

Positive: No drifting

As with AM, the EP Pro does not drift off frequency (again, this is actually a DSP radio).

The FM band is less affected by some of the negatives that impact AM broadcast band listening:

Negative: Inaccurate dial

As with the AM dial, FM frequency markings are slightly off. I measured the entire FM band and found that the upper half of the dial (above 102 MHz) seemed to deviate the most. See images below comparing the Tecsun PL-660 and CCRadio-EP Pro tuned to the same FM frequencies:

Here are a few examples of the CCRadio-EP Pro and Tecsun PL-660 tuned to the same frequencies:

Note: As mentioned above, C. Crane is trying to implement a fix for this in future production runs.

Negative: Imaging

As with the AM band, you will find imaging on the FM band. This bothers me less on the FM band, but I live in an area where the FM dial isn’t incredibly crowded. If you live in an urban market with stations packed into the dial, then the imaging concern will probably make the experience of listening to a weak station adjacent to a strong station quite unpleasant.

What about muting between frequencies? While you can hear frequency steps on the FM band, there is little to no muting between frequencies. It almost feels more like an analog radio.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Funny, but the weak signal images around a strong FM frequency actually help contribute to an analog-like experience during band scanning, as stations seem to rise and fall as you tune.

There is another factor that I don’t really consider a positive, but is worth noting.  The EP Pro is one of the best mechanically-tuned DSP receivers to use on the FM band because the slide rule dial is wide––there’s a larger space for the needle to travel. FM band scanning would be a pretty pleasant experience if only the dial markings were more accurate.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget some of my initial impressions. Here is the list I formed over the time I’ve spent evaluating the C. Crane CCRadio-EP Pro.

Pros:

  • Excellent AM sensitivity
  • Good audio via internal speaker
  • Internal Twin Coil Ferrite AM antenna provides excellent gain and nulling
  • Excellent dial backlighting
  • External AM/FM antenna connections
  • Quiet (included) power supply
  • Low noise floor
  • Dial backlighting

Cons:

  • Imagining on both AM and FM
  • Muting between frequencies on AM
  • Pop in audio when unit is turned on, regardless of default volume level
  • Dial markings inaccurate
  • AM frequency steps currently fixed too broadly at 10 kHz (though future units may have a 9/10 kHz toggle)

Conclusion

My conclusion is that the CCradio-EP Pro is simply not an enthusiasts’ radio.

If you read the list of negatives in the AM performance section of this review, you’ll know why I simply can’t recommend it…at least not yet. If C. Crane could minimize AM muting, improve imaging and fix the frequency accuracy, this radio may prove more promising. But at this point, the limited production run CCRadio-EP Pro lacks the level of refinement that I’ve come to expect from a C. Crane radio.

For what it’s worth, I have been in close contact with C. Crane regarding these issues; the company is taking them to heart and even looking to implement some fixes/adjustments prior to their full production run. As these issues are resolved, I’ll amend this review.

The lack of refinements is somewhat disheartening. Otherwise, the CCR-EP Pro would be a great mediumwave DXing machine. When on frequency, it’s quite sensitive and stable! Perhaps some mediumwave DXers could overlook the negatives above to take advantage of this.  I would not, however. I’d soon find the problems frustrating and turn to other receivers in my arsenal. Sensitivity is important, but personally I would sacrifice sensitivity to have an overall better tuning and listening experience.

On the other hand––as C.Crane makes a point of stating––the CC-Radio EP Pro was designed around the needs of Bob Crane’s mother: so is essentially an effective radio for casual listening that’s utterly simple to use.  In this respect, at least, the EP Pro is a success.

The EP Pro has no multi-function buttons, no menus, and no memories. The knobs and buttons are tactile and obvious. The backlit dial is also a nice touch; I love it. The EP Pro is old school design around a modern DSP chip and, in terms of audio, a hat tip to classic solid state analog radios from the 1970s and 80s.

The casual listener––especially those who use radio to primarily listen to their one favorite station––will enjoy the EP Pro. For example, I have an older friend who’s in the process of replacing his bedside radio of 30+ years.  He wants a set he can tune to his staple AM broadcast station (which is not a super-easy catch) and leave it on frequency––essentially, he wants a “set it and forget it” radio. I think the EP Pro will work well for this application.

But for radio enthusiasts––like most of you wonderful people who read the SWLing Post––I would pass on the EP Pro and consider a more capable mediumwave radio instead like the original CCRadio-EP, the CC-Radio 2E, or a vintage solid state set like the GE Superadio, Sony-5500W, or the venerable Panasonic RF-2200.

Click here to view the CCRadio-EP Pro at C. Crane Company.

Blackloud SounDot AF1 earphones offer FM reception for iPhones

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley, who shares this article from Radio World. Here’s an excerpt:

Headsets Deliver FM to Mobile Devices, No Chip or Internet Required

[The BLACKLOUD SOUNDOT AF1] headsets are nothing like the ones you might remember from your first Sony Walkman. According to information provided by Blackloud, SounDots feature patented psychoacoustic technology, a six-band customizable graphic equalizer, 3D stereo effect, dual dynamic driver design, inline microphone, and a control box with a volume up (+), volume down (–) and multifunction (pause/play) button. This multifunction button enables many actions depending on the app that is running, including: answer/hang up a phone/video call, start/stop recording or playback using most any audio/video/camera app, enable/disable/seek up/down the FM tuner, and lastly, activate Siri or Google Assistant.[…]

Click here to read the full article at Radio World.

Richard notes that we’ve posted articles in the past focusing on the fact that iPhones (and a number of Android phone models) do not have or allow user access to a built-in FM reception chip.

Richard sees the new Blackloud SounDot AF1 earphones as an elegant work-around and has pre-ordered a set. If these earphones live up to their specs, they should sound fantastic.

Richard, I hope you’ll post a review after you put them into service! Thanks for the tip!

Click here to view the SOUNDOT AF1 ordering page.

The Professor reviews the XHDATA D-328

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, The Professor, who shares the following review of the XHDTA D-328:

First off, this is the best radio I’ve ever operated… that cost me less than ten dollars new. When I saw the promotion on the SWLing Post for free or half price radios, I had to bite, especially because the deal was that the first ten to respond would get a free XHDATA D-328. They told me I was the 15th caller, so I was allowed one for half price. And since they were going for just under fourteen bucks on Amazon, it felt like it was almost free.

Of course, I didn’t expect much. But as they wanted the people who received these free or very inexpensive little radios to leave reviews, I figured the Chinese manufacturers knew there were some good features radio folk might notice. And there are. And I’m not sure if I’ll post part of this brief review on Amazon, but I’ll do so here in this comment.

If you want a radio that will reliably pick up local AM and FM stations and play some MP3 files, this will work, and work pretty well. And it doesn’t sound bad at all for the size. I personally don’t have much love for these new analog-style tuning DSP radios, but I suppose people who aren’t as radio wise as readers of the SWL Listening Post won’t notice the less than poetic effects of moving between stations on these sets. Most probably tune in their desired stations and just listen to it, and this radio does this well enough.

I don’t really listen to FM much, but the XHDATA D-328 seems adequate enough. And with headphones on it sounds quite rich on FM. AM isn’t bad either, but it’s far from selective. I was able to dig out clear channel regional biggies like Zoomer Radio at 740kHz and WHAS at 840kHz in Louisville from here in Brooklyn at night, but in between often easy to find fifty-thousand watt stations like WBBM or CKLW weren’t there. The DSP tuning just defaulted to the next local station like WNYC or WABC when I turned the dial.

Shortwave was worse. Beyond the U.S. powerhouses like WWCR this radio doesn’t seem a very worthy shortwave set for those of us in North America. But I can imagine in that in third world countries where international and local broadcasters still target broadcasts that this radio might be an inexpensive way to access that programming.

I must admit that listening to MP3 music files was kind of pleasing. Again, the audio is really good for a radio at this price point. However you are listening blind, there’s no screen to tell you what you’re hearing, and no shuffle function to make a folder full of MP3s into unique sequences of songs each time. What you get are the songs in the alphabetical order of the file titles, although you do have the option to jump ahead 10 files before or after the one you are playing. So the best use of an MP3 player like this would be to listen to podcasts or whole radio programs with it. What I would do is copy the files onto the SD card and then perhaps number the filenames in the order I would like to hear the shows.

So, for the price there’s not a lot to complain about. People have already mentioned the off-center small kickstand, and that’s a little cheesy. But the tuning thumb wheel moves smoothly thru the imperfect DSP tuning function, and the volume thumb wheel is actually analog which make it much easier to get the exact volume you want out of this radio. But the sliding band selection switch under the tuning scale is a bit worrisome, as I’ve had a few cheap Chinese radios with a switch like this and just normal use eventually rendered them unable to switch bands adequately. This one feels a little bit more stable then they did, but time will tell.

All that said, there are radios that are not too much more expensive than this radio that offer much more in a number of ways. The small and inexpensive analog Tecsun radios from a few years ago are a case in point. Selling for twenty to thirty dollars, those multi-band radios are a little challenging to tune (a stiff thumb wheel on some), and the tuning scale may be a little off and they may drift a little, but the analog tuning is a much better experience. And you can DX with them. I remember listing to All India Radio with a decent signal one afternoon on my Tecsun R-9710.

There’s a lot of similar analog radios which I believe are probably just about the same radio – the Tecsun R-9012, the Tecsun R-911, the Tecsun R-909 and the Kaito WRX-911, among others. Once you get a look at these you’ll recognize other similar radios in this family. I’d say they’re the best really cheap receivers I know of. They generally run between twenty to just over thirty bucks. I believe these radios appeared on the scene in the early 2000s.

I have this fear that they’ll start turning these radios into DSP sets. That would be a real shame, but I’ve heard no mention of that. However I did notice that the marketers of the XHDATA D-328 didn’t even mention that it was based on a DSP chip. And Chinese manufacturers are notoriously not very open about how they are altering radios that they’re putting out, so be aware of that.

As far as MP3 playback, the one radio I would really recommend is the Meloson (or Tesslor) M8 (or the Meloson M7 or S8 if you can find one). It’s simply the best audio you’ll hear in a really small radio, AND you can shuffle the MP3 files in a folder with these. While it only give you the sequential number of the song in the display, it will generate a unique sequence of songs each time you shuffle. Fill a folder on a card full of songs and let it rip. It’s the perfect micro music player if you make a good folder of music. And the DSP radio in these is not bad either. It’s digital, not fake analog tuning, and most AM clear channel targets you can usually find at night in your region will show up on these. They used to go for less than thirty bucks, but right now I see they cost close to fifty dollars.

Two other radios I have that I can recommend for MP3 playback, are the Tecsun ICR-110 and the Tivdio V-115. Neither one offers playback shuffle, but they will play the files in alphanumeric order just fine. But they both have a cool feature in that you can press a button and record the broadcast you’re hearing as an MP3 file. And they both also sound great. The Tivdio has incredible sound for a tiny radio, but the ICR-110 is even more impressive. I believe it has the same speaker setup as the much more expensive Tecsun PL-880 and it also has similar warm and clear audio.

The reception with the V-115 is OK, nothing stellar, but the ICR-110 is kind of a monster on medium wave. I’ve been impressed. The ICR-110 is rather big compared to the other radios I’ve mentioned, closer to the PL-880 in size, but quite a bit lighter. The ICR-110 used to be cheaper, but can be found for around forty bucks. The Tivdio V-115 still goes for just under twenty if you look around. A bargain. Tecsun, Tivdio, Degen and other Chinese manufacturers have all sorts of inexpensive radios for sale out there, and others I haven’t used or mentioned might be quite good as well. If one appeals to you, do a little online research.

Of course, since I’m talking about small and inexpensive radios I should mention that the Tecsun digital DSP sets like the PL-310ET, the PL-360, PL-380, PL-390 and other variations are all amazing inexpensive radios that will run you around 35 to 50 bucks. The ultralight DX community loves these things, and for good reason. And there’s a version of the PL-390 that plays MP3 files from an SD card and another that offers bluetooth playback. No, none are perfect, but they’re solid sets, and all would have been dream radios thirty years ago.

So, that’s my evaluation of the XHDATA D-328, well worth fourteen dollars, but for a few dollars more you can get radios with similar features that do much more. It’s small, it doesn’t sound bad, and it’s fairly well-built. It will pick up all your favorite local stations and play all your MP3 podcasts effortlessly. Not bad. Like I said, it’s the best super cheap radio I’ve ever used.

Excellent review!  I’m impressed that the D-328 has enough AM performance to grab some  night time clear channel stations. It’s disappointing, however, that it lacks performance on the shortwave bands.

Thanks for posting your review–always great to hear from The Professor!

The XHDATA D-328 is available on Amazon.com (affiliate link).

Click here to read other XHDATA D-328 posts.

Guest Post: A review of the XHDATA D-328 portable radio

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


XHDATA D-328 Radio Review

by Aaron Kuhn

Disclosure: This radio was supplied at a 99% discount by the manufacturer, costing me only $0.15.

About Me

I live in the Philadelphia Suburbs, where there’s ample FM Stations, good AM Coverage, and also a lot of noise when it comes to Shortwave. I’m mostly an AM/FM listener, who occasionally likes to dabble in Shortwave. My idea of a good radio is something I can turn on, put up the antenna, and it just works.

Initial Impressions

The Radio is boxed simply enough in a cardboard box, with a small amount of bubble wrap inside, manual, Mini-USB Cable. The Lithium-Ion Battery comes pre-installed.

Operation of the radio is mostly straight-forward, and I doubt you’ll need the manual for anything. The manual itself contains your normal badly-translated English phrases and doesn’t make sense in a lot of places (did you know this radio uses high quality PU edge big size?)

Two curious notes about the manual:

  1. It mentions you should remove the “18650 Lithium Ion Battery”, but this radio doesn’t use an 18650 battery. Instead, this radio uses a “BL-5C” Battery, which based on my research looks like it was pretty common on Nokia phones around 2004.
  2. Someone took white-out to the manual where it says “Set the function switch to the “MP3” position and insert the USB Stick or TF Card, with “USB stick” covered in white out.

The radio itself is made of a slippery, glossy plastic that doesn’t inspire confidence, but also seems to have enough structural stability it doesn’t worry me. I’d guess this radio could take a moderate drop and bounce and be OK, but it’d probably crack if dropped from above waist level.

I ran into a somewhat funny problem trying to insert the included wrist strap into the hole in the back of the radio. Unlike most radios with a wrist strap hole that’s closed off, the wrist strap instead continued down into the radio. That is, the wrist strap “loop” molded in the plastic is actually a hole into the radio. This doesn’t bode well for dirt or other junk getting pushed into the radio accidentally. I was able to eventually get the wrist strap on the loop, but it was far harder than it should have been.

Design

The Lithium Ion battery comes pre-installed in the radio, and the battery door it’s behind seems sturdy enough. Fortunately, there’s really no reason you should ever have to pull the battery out of this radio unless you need to replace it. Running the Battery model # across Google and other sites shows this should be a very cheap battery for you to replace at between $1 and $3.

Battery Door

Kickstand deployed with battery door open

Li-Ion “BL-5C” Battery

I very quickly noticed a big glaring design flaw on this radio with the poorly designed, super small kickstand located next to the battery compartment. This small, off to the left  kickstand works fine if the radio is on a perfectly level surface like a nightstand, but causes the radio to tilt over if you try to place it on a soft surface like a bed or a pillow. I would have liked to see just one large combination battery door/kickstand if possible across the back of the entire radio.

Design problem number two with the radio became very apparent when trying to extend the telescoping antenna. The antenna butts up against the plastic molding on the back of the radio, meaning you cannot prop the antenna up “Straight” when using the kickstand. This results in the antenna having to angle off at around 45 degrees, which is a bit annoying. My Tecsun PL-310ET doesn’t have this problem due to having a cut-out notch to allow the antenna to be in a more upright position.

“Upright” Antenna trouble

Tecsun PL-310ET for Comparison

The tuning knob has a satisfying amount of resistance to it, and doesn’t spin too quickly or too slow. The volume knob, while smaller, spins freely and also feels solid.

The band selector selects between FM1-2, AM, and SW 1 through 9. The switch to move between these bands has a satisfying amount of click and feedback to it, and isn’t mushy and you likely won’t pick the wrong band. The small window displayed below each band number fills with a small, mechanical, plastic bar attached to the switch. The window and bar were slightly misaligned, making it difficult to tell at a glance which band I had selected.

The tuning bar itself moves smoothly across the band, but the metal extension piece running down the shortwave part of the spectrum tuning was not vertically straight and had a noticeable bend to the lower right.

Weight – this radio is INCREDIBLY light! The choice of a Li-Ion rechargeable battery pays off here, and when I weighed the radio it came in at exactly 160 Grams / 5.7 Ounces. The compact size of this radio and the weight would cause it to easily disappear into a coat pocket and I’d forget I was carrying it. This definitely qualifies as super-portable in my book.

The choice to use Mini-USB instead of Micro-USB on the charging is a questionable one. Micro-USB is the much more common connector you’ll recognize if you’ve bought a Smartphone in the last 3 years, or any other consumer device with a USB  connector. Based on my short research, Micro-USB despite being smaller than Mini-USB, offers a number of benefits including increased cycle-count on the number of plugs/unplugs before the connector wears out. I don’t know why XHDATA went with Mini-USB on this, and I’d suggest they move to Micro-USB for future revisions. The Mini-USB, other than being slightly easier to plug in, seems to offer no benefit and is obsolete compared to Micro-USB.

Audio Quality

Wow! While I may have had some hesitations about the radio’s design, I was incredibly surprised by both the loudness and fidelity of the speaker on this radio. The volume was incredibly loud, and the audio did not distort even when I turned this to the highest setting. While a mono speaker, voices on AM were quite clear and nice to listen to, and music on FM Sounded way better than it deserved to sound coming out of a $14 radio.

Plugging in a pair of earbuds (not included) also produced crisp, loud audio, with no noticeable whine or hiss. Volume levels should be more than adequate. Audio came in through both Left and Right earbuds, but I was unable to tell if the output was actually Stereo when listening on FM. The word “stereo” is not mentioned anywhere in documentation, so I would not be surprised to learn this radio is mono-only.

Tuning

I don’t normally use analog radios, so tuning the D-328 was a bit of a challenge. The cramped display provided little feedback, and the crooked tuning bar didn’t help either. FM Stations seemed to be needed to be tuned “high” About 1MHz from where I thought they should be, and AM Stations about 50 KH above where I thought they should land. Tuning Shortwave seemed like a total crapshoot, being fairly imprecise.

I’m mostly an FM/AM Radio listener, and all the usual local suspects popped right in and tuned easily for me. Static between stations is kept very low, and when a station locks in on FM it pops in very clearly. Selectivity between close adjacent stations can be challenging due to the small tuning dial and skewed visual feedback, but I was able to tune in every FM Station I tried.

I am located in the Philadelphia Suburbs, so my usual station for tuning in a weak signal is WPRB 103.9 out of Princeton. I’m happy to report it came in just as clear as it did on my Tecsun PL-310ET, with no trouble finding it.

AM was more of a mixed bag with tuning. Stations I did not expect to come in clearly seemed to pop in with strong signal strength, while the “go-to” AM Test station of KYW 1060 proved surprisingly difficult to locate on the dial. Audio levels on AM were noticeably wider in variance of signal, with some stations proving almost too quiet to listen to.

I’m honestly not much of a Shortwave listener most of the time, so I’m sure some other reviewers will go into much more detail on the Shortwave performance of this radio then I will. My experience tuning around on Shortwave with the D-328 was similar to AM, in that I had a lot of unexpected surprises in strong signals between 6900KHz and 9300KHz. My shortwave listening usually takes place on digital tuning with the Tecsun PL-310ET, so it’s hard to compare analog listening for something I don’t do that often. Tuning was surprisingly easy on the shortwave bands, but seemed frustratingly random where stations would show up.

MP3

Let’s get this out of the way immediately – this radio does not record MP3 files. Instead, sliding the mode selector to “MP3” will let you play files off a “TransFlash” (MicroSD) Card.

I’ll be up front here – this radio is a functional, but not fun to use MP3 player.  I tested the MP3 player by loading up a 2GB MicroSD Card I had laying around with some files in a structure similar to the following:

* Root

** File1

** File2

** Folder1

*** Subfolder 1

*** File 3

*** File 4

** Folder2

** File 5

** File 6

** File 7

The first thing you’ll notice when playing MP3s is the “MP3” Light that is Red. And blinks. And blinks. Yes, the red light blinks continuously while playing an MP3 file and you can’t turn it off. This right here would annoy me to no end if I wanted to use this feature

My second problem with using MP3 functionality is that playback without a screen is a throwback to the days of the iPod Shuffle. And if this radio had “shuffle mode”, I’d be OK with that, heck that would even be fun – but there’s no shuffle here, only sequential play.

This radio does seem to follow the expected order of my files in playing them sequentially 1 through 7 across subfolders, but the lack of visual feedback makes it very easy to forget where you’re at and what you’re playing.  Pressing and holding the fast forward button does work to fast forward, and rewind through individual mp3 files.

If you want to load up a MicroSD card with some old time radio episodes and play them back – this might be great. But I’d probably ask you why you’d ever want to play MP3 files on this thing. I mean, the feature is there…. But why? There’s much better devices and experiences out there for MP3 Playback rather than loading files onto a MicroSD card to play on a device with no screen. I imagine this might have some utility usages for playing MP3’s when you don’t want to sacrifice more expensive hardware, but I personally can’t see myself getting much usage out of the feature.

Conclusion

At the end of the day I have to ask myself – who exactly is this radio for? The price point and feature set seems to pit this against the very low-end of the AM/FM/SW Market such as the Analog Tecsun R-9012 at $22, and Tivdio Digital tuning units around $18. The inclusion of Shortwave, Mp3 Playback, and USB rechargeable battery gives this a leg up over budget AM/FM units, as well as the competitors mentioned.

Is the DX/radio hobbyist the target market for this radio? I don’t think so. While cheap (and we Shortwave/HAMs are a cheap bunch!), this radio lacks the sophistication or features a DX’er would want.

Is this a good “throw-away” radio for when you don’t want to risk your “Good” Radio? Absolutely. I would not hesitate to toss this in a coat pocket, keep it out in the garage / workshop, or give it away to a friend. My personal use case for this radio will probably end up being I’ll take it to Baseball games to listen to the game on AM / FM while watching the game. If it breaks, I wouldn’t be too sad and would likely shell out another $14 without hesitation for a replacement.

Is this radio for kids? I don’t think so. Given the poor build quality of this, I can’t imagine this lasting very long in a youngsters hands and surviving more than a drop or two. Analog tuning is likely to prove incredibly frustrating to a youngster, and I can’t see anyone but the geekiest of little geeks making use of the MP3 player function.

Would I use this as an emergency radio, shoved in “go-bag” or kept around for winter storms / hurricanes? Probably not. The build quality and lack of standardized AA-Batteries would give me concerns over my ability to power it (though it did work great from a USB PowerBank when I tested) More concerning is I don’t know if I would trust this to still be working when I need it in a stressful situation.

So who is this for? This radio seems more destined / designed for the low-income international market. The price point on this radio is certainly attractive to North American buyers, but I just don’t think the average American radio buyer really wants or needs MP3 MicroSD Playback or Shortwave functionality.

For $14 XHDATA has made good, but not great, little radio. My future suggestions would be:

  • Ditch the MP3 functionality – it’s of marginal usefulness
  • Seal off the wrist-strap loop hole better
  • Fix the case design so the antenna can sit more “upright”, and swing more freely.
  • Re-design the kickstand to run the entire length of the radio, possibly doubling up as the battery door if somehow possible
  • Switch from Mini-USB, to Micro-USB connector
  • The BL-5C Battery is an …. Interesting choice. It sure seems to help with weight, but I think I’d rather see a single 18650 Cell as hinted by the manual or AA’s.

Many thanks, Aaron, for sharing your fine evaluation of the XHDATA D-328! I couldn’t agree with you more regarding your “future suggestions”–sounds like the MP3 functionality has marginal utility and the chassis design could use some tweaks. I’m very surprised a radio made in 2018 still uses a Mini-USB port. And that kickstand? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one more off-center!

But as you conclude, for $13.80 US (Amazon affiliate link), it is a very inexpensive unit. Not one for the radio enthusiast, but one that could please the casual radio listener. It sounds like the audio is surprisingly robust.

Thanks again for your fine review, Aaron!

Follow Aaron Kuhn via Twitter.