Category Archives: Portable Radio

A Compact RSPdx & Wellbrook Loop Kit for the Beach — My Approach

I have enjoyed three to four medium wave and shortwave DXpeditions per year since 1988, to sites on the Washington and Oregon coasts. I love the chance they give to experiment with antennas in a (hopefully!) noise-free location, and concentrate on catching stations that might not be heard from home.

All of my DX trips have been via car–until now! I’ve just returned from nine vacation days in Hawaii (Waikoloa Beach, on the Big Island), and I thought others might like to see the radio related items I chose to take along for air travel. I’m pleased to report that everything worked as planned, and I have five days of SDR IQ WAV files of the MW band for review, all recorded in the time frame surrounding local dawn.

My goal was not the smallest, most compact portable setup, but one with high performance and modest size. Fitting everything into a day pack was another requirement. A simple wire antenna and an even smaller Windows tablet or laptop than the one I’ve used (and a smaller SDR like the HF+ Discovery, for that matter) would make a much smaller package. However, the items I’ve assembled worked excellently for me during my enjoyable Hawaii vacation. The directional loop antenna provided nulls on medium wave of 30 dB during preliminary tests indoors, a less-than-ideal test situation.

Waikoloa Beach–just one of a zillion picturesque scenes in Hawaii.

Here is a list of what I’ve put together for my DXing “kit”:

    • SDRPlay RSPdx receiver
    • Short USB cable for receiver<>PC connection, with two RFI chokes installed
    • Lenovo X1 tablet— a Windows 10 device with magnetically attached keyboard; this model is a competitor to Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet
    • Wellbrook Communications’ ALA1530 head amp module, modified for female SO239 connectors enabling use of large diameter LMR-600 coaxial cable as a 2-turn loop element. My antenna setup is similar to Wellbrook’s commercial flexible loop
    • Wooden base for the antenna (ALA1530 is bolted to the base)
    • 20 feet of lightweight RG-174 coax
    • Wellbrook DC interface module for the ALA1530
    • 3.0 Ah LiFePO4 rechargeable battery for the Wellbrook antenna
    • 15 foot long section of high grade “Times Mfg.” LMR-600 coax cable with PL259 connectors (bought from Ebay already assembled/soldered)
    • Fold-up beach mat
    • Small day pack to hold everything

All the contents of this DXing setup fit a standard size day pack.

You’ll note the absence of headphones in the list. This is because my intent from the start was to record all the DX (MW band) as SDR WAV files for DXing post-vacation. That said, I did have headphones in my travel luggage for later spot checks of a few frequencies. That’s how I found 576 kHz Yangon, Myanmar lurking at their 1700 sign-off with national anthem and English announcement. The remainder of the DX to be uncovered will have to wait until I’m back home near Seattle!

The LMR-600 is a very thick and stiff coax cable, whose diameter approaches that used in the standard aluminum tubing ALA1530 series from Wellbrook. It has the benefit of being self-supporting in a 2-turn configuration and will also coil up into an approx. 12-inch package for transport. It just barely fits within the day pack I’m using. As I understand it, magnetic loops with tubing or large coax as the active element, versus simple wire, are more efficient in operation. Whether or not this holds true in practice remains to be seen.

I fashioned a wooden disc 3/4″ thick to attach the ALA1530 head amplifier, as I didn’t want to bring along a tripod or other support stand. The Wellbrook antennas all work well near or at ground level, so I was able to get great reception with the antenna right on the beach. The diameter at two turns of the coax is only a few inches smaller diameter than Wellbrook’s aluminum tubing loops. Three strips of strategically placed Velcro straps help keep the turns together when deployed as well as during storage.

In theory a two-turn loop should give 5 dB less gain than a single turn version; however, my older ALA1530 module has 5 dB more gain than the newer “LN” type, according to Andrew Ikin of Wellbrook Communications. The net result is that my two-turn antenna should have equal gain to the larger one-turn variety. Future experimentation with this DIY coax loop antenna is in order!

The Wellbrook loop antenna, RSPdx receiver, and Windows 10 tablet on the beach in Waikoloa, Hawaii.

Another view of the DXing position. Being this close to the water with my radio gear was unnerving at first, but the wave action on a calm Hawaii beach is totally different from the Oregon/Washington beaches with waves that can move in and out by a hundred feet or more.

The Wellbrook “DIY FlexLoop” works fine at beach level, and is less conspicuous this way, too.

The ALA1530 module is bolted to the 11-inch wooden disc for support. I’ve modified the module’s sockets to securely hold SO239 female connectors.

The commercial Wellbrook FLX1530LN is a fine product, and worthy of your consideration as a compact and high performance travel antenna. Full details can be found at this link.

SDR WAV Files for Download

One of my goals from the start for my Hawaii trip was to bring back SDR “IQ” WAV files for sharing with others. These approx. 900 Mb files cover the entire medium wave band as heard from my beach location in Waikoloa.

The overall page is: https://archive.org/details/@4nradio   Clicking on any of the entries will bring you to a details page. From there just right click on the “WAVE” link, and choose “Save as…” to download. For a few of the recordings I also posted the file that precedes the one that goes across the top-of-the-hour, because things seemed a bit more lively prior to 1700 (which  was at local sunrise, give or take a couple of minutes).

The IQ WAV files are only playable with suitable SDR radio software: SDRuno is first choice (but you need a RSP receiver connected). The files are also is compatible with HDSDR and SDR-Console V3. It may also play on Studio 1 software.

I hope other DXers enjoy the chance to tune through the MW band, as heard from the Big Island of Hawaii.

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

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The Sony ICF-7600A continues to impress

I mentioned in a previous post that SWLing Post contributor, Ed Earps, recently gifted me his Sony ICF-7600A.

I’ve been having a field day with this radio!

Well, many field days, in fact. Early on, I packed the ‘7600A in my Red Oxx Hound EDC pack–it fits in the Hound’s interior pocket perfectly and is well-protected on all sides. The radio has pretty much lived in my car and truck since then, thus has gotten a lot of air time when I take short breaks throughout the day.

In November, I took the ‘7600A to Mount Mitchell (6,684 feet/2,037 meters above sea level) and to coastal South Carolina (sea level). It’s been a great radio companion and has given me an excuse to go “old school” and do a little analog band-scanning.

The ICF-7600A certainly has some strengths.

For one thing, although I’ve let this radio on for extended listening sessions, I’ve yet to deplete the eneloop rechargeable batteries (Amazon affiliate link) I originally installed in October. Obviously, this radio will run for days on batteries–a serious plus if DXing off-grid.

The ‘7600A is a fantastic portable for mediumwave DXing. Although it’s also a very sensitive and selective shortwave receiver–especially in this class and era of analog portable–I think mediumwave may be its strong suit.

On the negative side, some of the shortwave band selections are truncated and for some reason, it doesn’t have a back stand (quite an odd omission). Still, these are pretty minor cons.

Obviously, the pros outweigh the cons on this brilliant vintage portable that seems to have held up very well over the years.

To ensure its longevity–and as a precaution–I do think I’ll take it to Dr. Vlado to have all of the caps replaced soon.

My thoughts? If you ever stumble across an ICF-7600A at a hamfest or on eBay, I say grab it!

Post readers: Anyone else love the ICF-7600A? Did I miss any major pros or cons? Please comment!


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Amazon Price Drop: Eton Elite Executive Portable Now $129.99

The relatively new Eton Elite Executive, formerly Eton Executive Satellit, has dropped $50 USD on its Amazon page to $129.99:

This rather major price drop lowers the cost to just $20 more than Amazon’s price for the older, silver-cased Eton Executive Satellit. According to Jay Allen’s review the new radio has identical performance to the older model; only the color is updated.

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

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C. Crane CCRadio3 now shipping

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Steve Lebkuecher, who notes that C. Crane is now shipping the CCRadio3:

Click here to read our review of the CCRadio3—a unit we consider to be one of the best full-sized AM radios currently on the market.

Click here to check out the CCRadio3 at C. Crane.

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The new Icom IC-705 QRP portable, backpackable transceiver

This weekend at Tokyo’s Ham Fair 2019, Icom announced an innovative transceiver to their line-up: the Icom IC-705 QRP transceiver.

The IC-705 introduces several industry firsts for a backpack portable radio:

  • It uses the same BP-272 Li-ion Battery pack as the ID-51 and ID-31 series D-Star handy talkies. To my knowledge, this is the only HF transceiver that uses battery packs that can be swapped so easily in the field–like one would swap an HT battery pack
  • It has a general coverage receiver that spans a whopping 0.5 to 148 MHz
  • It sports a full color, touch screen with spectrum and waterfall displays
  • It includes the D-Star digital voice mode
  • A GPS receiver
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • A MicroSD card slot for memory storage, screen captures and recordings

All of this appears to be included, not add-on options.

The only IC-705 omission, in my opinion, is an internal ATU (antenna tuner). Something I would have expected, but not a deal-breaker for those of us who could really benefit from the amount of features this radio offers.

Side and back panel view noting ports and connections.

There is no word yet on pricing or availability, but you can count on us to post these details once they’re available. If you would like to follow updates, bookmark the tag: IC-705

We will also review on the Icom IC-705 as soon as it’s available.

Video from Amateur Logic/Ham College

Ray Novak (N9JA) with Icom America did a live video interview with Amateur Logic/Ham College TV yesterday. The video includes a full announcement in English from the Icom Booth:

Click here to view on YouTube.

IC-705 Pre-Release brochure

Many thanks to Ray Novak for snapping a few photos of the pre-release brochure:

Update: click here to download the full IC-705 brochure. Hat tip to Dave Zantow!

A surprise from one of the “Big Three”

The “Big Three” transceiver manufactures–Icom, Yaesu and Kenwood–have not shown a lot of interest in backpackable QRP radios over the past two decades.

By “backpackable” I mean QRP transceivers specifically designed for portable use in the field–radios that typically have built-in battery options, internal ATUs, and designed to be lightweight shack-in-a-box units.

Yaesu introduced the FT-817 almost twenty years ago and it lives on today (with modest upgrades) as the FT-818. Kenwood has no portable/backpackable HF QRP radio at this point.

I bet the IC-705 is being introduced today because Icom sees a strong market among field-portable operators who enjoy travel and outdoor radio activities like SOTA (Summits On The Air) and POTA (Parks On The Air).  In addition, many ham radio operators live in neighborhoods that are either plagued with radio interference (RFI) or don’t allow antennas to be installed outdoors. Portable radios liberate ham radio ops from their shacks and allow them to set up a station far away from noise or home owner’s associations.

Looking forward…

Again, I’ll be in touch with Icom about the IC-705 and will share updates here when they’re available. I’m looking forward to evaluation this rig when it hits the market!


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A review of the Sangean PR-D17 portable AM/FM radio for the visually impaired

Photo of the Sangean PR-D17 AM FM Radio while tuned to 96.1 FM and showing RDS backlit display

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor and producer, Peter Atkinson, who shares the following review of the new Sangean PR-D17 AM/FM radio:


Sangean PR-D17 review

by Peter Atkinson

I’ve been visually impaired all my life and a radio enthusiast for over 40 years.  I was intrigued when I learned that Sangean was offering a radio for the visually impaired.  I purchased one, and wanted to share my thoughts about the Sangean PR-D17 from the perspective of a visually impaired listener.

Photo of the PR-D17 box

For those readers who are mainly interested in the performance of this radio, please stay tuned, while I talk a moment about the features geared to the visually impaired.

Photo of the radio manual.

First of all: the manual, [see photo above] while it is comprehensive (as most from Sangean are), it is odd that it’s printed in the smallest type I’ve seen from this manufacturer.

Image of the PR-D17 tactile preset keys with Braille.

The yellow controls on a black radio are easily seen.  I like that the preset buttons on the bottom row of the front panel, are in Braille.  The raised symbols, however, on the upper row, may be too complicated to be easily discerned by touch alone.  The yellow-on-black motif, is reminiscent of my Sangean HDR-16.

When the 6 C batteries are first inserted, or AC power is connected, the radio announces that it has entered the setup menu.  The voice prompt menus (whose volume can be adjusted independently of the radios’ main volume but cannot be disabled) make setting up this radio somewhat straightforward.  The setup might have been easier, if the clock setting function was available as part of the menu system. The voice prompts are surprisingly comprehensive. The voice not only speaks the frequency, time & menu options, but will also tell you when something is connected to (or disconnected from) the AC input, headphone or AUX-IN jacks.

When the radio is turned on, it announces that the radio is on, the battery level & the frequency to which it is tuned.

When tuning, the voice gives the frequency at each change. It’s especially helpful when using the seek function, knowing where the next station was found.

Click here to download audio clip of tuning voice prompt.

When storing a station into a preset, the voice says exactly what frequency has been stored & at which present position.

Click here to download audio clip of tuning voice prompt.

The same information is given when recalling a preset. One quirk of the voice prompt, is that when announcing the time, it speaks full numbers (e.g. “twelve thirty-seven’), but when giving the frequency, each digit is spoken (e.g. “one two three zero” or “nine six point one”).

Click here to download audio clip of time voice prompt.

Finally:  Tuning time.  

Image showing that the HDR-16 and PR-D17 are identical in size.

Comparing the Sangean HDR-16 with the PR-D17

This radio is the same cabinet as the HDR-16.  Aside from the voice prompts, it operates similar to the PR-D5.  Therefore, I’m comparing its performance to that model. Like the PR-D5, the AM tuning steps can be set for 9 or 10KHz, but the FM tuning steps are fixed at 100KHz (0.1MHz).

Image showing right side of radio.

There are 5 presets per band. The display also shows RDS information for any FM station that transmits RDS. The clock can be set from the RDS signal, as well.  I’ve found several stations, in my area, that are sending the wrong time.

Audio

The sound from the twin 2-1/2” speakers is very balanced.  The bass is substantial, but not overpowering. The highs are good for definition, without being too brassy.  There are no provisions for customization, though.

Image showing left side of radio.

There is a 3.5mm AUX-IN jack for connecting an external sound source, such as an MP3 player or smartphone.

AM

While the AM sound is a bit muffled for my taste (the bandwidth cannot be changed) it makes for excellent selectivity.  There was no hint of my nearby 50KW 620, on 610 or 630. Like many Sangean radios, the noise floor is very quiet. The long 200mm internal ferrite bar antenna does a superb job at snagging those weak stations.  I was able to get a noisy, but readable signal on a 50KW station on 700, at 350 miles, during the day. That one is my benchmark for a great DX machine. The top end of the band is no slouch, either. Another benchmark station (10KW 1690 at 75 miles) came in loud and clear.  The long ferrite antenna also helps to better null unwanted signals. This is a greater benefit for nighttime DXing.

FM

The PR-D17’s performance on FM is stellar.  It has shown to be very sensitive, pulling in stations as well as my PR-D5 & PR-D9W.  I easily hear FMs at 60 miles. The selectivity is also amazing. I can listen to stations on 95.9 & 96.3, with a 6KW station on 96.1 less than 10 blocks from my window.  Even though the PR-D17 pulls in those weak stations with ease, it requires a stronger signal to receive stereo.

Close up of RDS display

The RDS is quick to display station information. It starts off by showing the 8-character PS information of the RDS signal, then switches to the scrolling display of the RT segment.

Summary

Overall, I am very happy with the Sangean PR-D17.  It is a superior radio, now with the added benefit of voice prompts.  Hopefully, this will alleviate some of the annoyances visually impaired listeners may have with operating a digitally-tuned radio.


Thank you so much for sharing your review, Peter and thank you for being an SWLing Post producer!

It looks like the Sangean PR-D17 is an excellent choice for those radio listeners who would appreciate voice prompts, high contrast controls and tactile keys. I’m also happy to hear you rate AM selectivity as excellent. When radios only have one chosen bandwidth, I’d rather give priority to selectivity than audio fidelity for the purposes of nighttime AM DXing. 

Sangean PR-D17 retailers:

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The Sangean PR-D17: An AM/FM stereo radio designed for those who are visually impaired

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Doug Hunsinger, who notes that Universal Radio is now shipping the Sangean PR-D17.

The PR-D17 has a unique design to make operation easier for those who are visually impaired. Per Universal Radio:

It has high-contrast, large yellow rotary tuning and volume control knobs, preset buttons with raised symbols to aid in identification and thoughtful voice prompts of all controls that announce all functions in English or Spanish.

It has a large and easy-to-read backlit LCD display that highlights RDS information, frequency, signal strength, battery status and alarm symbols. It has a 200 mm ferrite AM antenna for the best possible AM reception. The controls are very easy to use and you get 5 presets for AM and 5 for FM. And you can auto scan stations. The RDS technology can display station name, call sign, song title or other transmitted information, plus it can set the clock automatically. There is a stereo mono switch. There is a built in clock timer with sleep function and humane wake up system to buzzer or radio. The left side of the radio has an auxiliary input and a stereo earphone jack. The perfect solution for the radio enthusiast who is visually impaired.

Click here to check out the Sangean PR-D17 at Universal Radio.

Doug notes that he may purchase the PR-D17 and share a review here on the SWLing Post. He is especially interested in how it might compare with similar voice prompt radio models.

Post readers: If you’re visually impaired, what radio models do you prefer? PLease share your thoughts and comments by clicking here.

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