Category Archives: Radios

Making a good thing better: The C.Crane CC Skywave SSB 2

Last month, C.Crane sent me (and the infamous Jock Elliott–read his review here) a pre-production CC Skywave SSB 2 portable shortwave radio.

In full disclosure and to be clear: these pre-production units were sent to us free of charge by C.Crane who is a long-time sponsor of the SWLing Post.

Back in October, I was very pleased to see that C.Crane had updated the CC Skywave SSB to version 2 in their latest product catalog.

If you’ve read the SWLing Post for long, you’ll know that the CC Skywave SSB is my choice travel and EDC radio. I prefer it over any other portable I own (and I do have quite a lot) because it’s so insanely useful, efficient, lightweight, compact, and durable.

I’ve taken the CC Skywave SSB and the original CC Skywave on more travels that I could possibly remember.

What’s so great about the Skywave series?

I’m a one-bag traveler.

Me, at Charlotte-Douglas International waiting for a flight to the Winter SWL Fest in 2019.

When I fly, I take only one carry on bag that’s so compact it can fit under the seat in front of me in any type of commercial aircraft.

I firmly believe there is no freedom like one-bag travel. While others are stressing over where to stow luggage, how to carry it all, or why their checked-in luggage didn’t arrive at the destination, I’m cruising through the airport and to my destination unhindered.

The key to successful one-bag travel is only carrying what you need, and focusing on items that are multi-function.

Me? I need a good multi-band radio.

The CC Skywave SSB is the most comprehensive compact portable I own. It’s truly a “Swiss Army Knife” of a receiver. Here are the bands/features I appreciate:

  • AM/Mediumwave (9/10 kHz steps selectable)
  • FM broadcast (with expanded FM range when in 9 kHz step mode)
  • Shortwave
  • AIR band (to listen to Air Traffic Control and Air comms)
  • Weather Radio with alert (this functions brilliantly in the US and Canada)
  • A proper clock and alarm (that can display in 24 hour time!)
  • It uses two common AA batteries that can even be internally-recharged if NiMH
  • It even has a squelch feature for scanning, say, the AIR band

All of this and it’s also one of the best-performing compact radios on the market. It’s a capable radio for portable DXing right out of the box (or you can hot-rod it like Gary DeBock does!).

Side note: the CC Skywave’s weather radio reception is better that any other radio I’ve tested including dedicated weather radios. Continue reading

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A review of the Tecsun H-501x portable shortwave radio receiver

I was recently searching for my review of the Tecsun H-501x on the SWLing Post to send to a reader when I realized I had not yet published it here! Let’s fix that…

The following review of the Tecsun H-501x was originally published in the November 2021 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Enjoy:


A review of the Tecsun H-501x

by Thomas (K4SWL)

Last year [2020], we were treated to a group of new shortwave portables from Tecsun:  the PL-990, PL-330, and the H-501.

Although all of these models garnered attention from shortwave listeners, one model in particular seemed to draw the most interest, the Tecsun H-501.

No doubt, much had to do with the H-501’s size––a large format portable––and especially the twin stereo speakers, that no doubt sparked the interest of those of us who owned (or wished we owned) the venerable Grundig Satellit 500 or 700 with its reputation for robust audio.

Tecsun was also very clear during their product announcement in 2019 that the H-501x is the flagship portable for the Tecsun line.

H-501 versus H-501x

Note that the product being evaluated in this review is the H-501x; the latest “export” version of the H-501.

The differences between these two models is fairly modest. The “x” model gives the user a slightly lower frequency floor in longwave and shortwave, and finer FM tuning (50 kHz as opposed to 100 kHz) when the AM tuning steps are set to 9 kHz as opposed to 10 kHz.

The differences are so modest between the H-501 and H-501x, I wouldn’t be worried if you already have the H-501. I would simply encourage you to only purchase from a reputable Tecsun distributor so you can be confident you’re not receiving one of the very early production runs of the H-501 that was only distributed domestically within China. Some of these early domestic models didn’t have all the refinements of the latest H-501 versions. I would encourage you to only purchase the H-501 or H-501x from a reputable distributors like Anon-Co, Waters and Stanton, Tecsun Radios Australia, and Bonito.

Unique features

Besides the large dual speakers of the H-501x, there are a number of other unique features and design choices that truly set the H-501 series apart from other Tecsun models.

 

Firstly, the H-501x uses two 18650 Lithium Ion batteries housed in two separate battery compartments. Both batteries can be internally charged, but here’s the interesting part: each battery seems to be somewhat independent of the other. When you engage battery charging, you must select, via a mechanical switch on the back of the radio, “Battery A” or “Battery B.” Only one battery can be charged at a time, and thus only one will power the radio at a time.

More than once, I’ve been listening to the H-501x and the battery indicator started flashing, signifying a low battery. I simply switched the battery switch to Battery B, and, voliá:  I have a full battery again! This reminds me of a college friend’s VW Beetle that had a spare fuel tank…with this unique feature, when you were running low on fuel, you’d kick in the spare fuel tank and then make plans to refuel the main tank soon. Of course, with the H-501x, both these “fuel tanks” are also generous ones, in that the batteries last for a good while.

I find that the play time of each battery impressive given the size and audio amplification used in the H-501x. I had worries that the unit’s need for two batteries could suggest a short battery life, but fortunately this hasn’t been the case, no matter what mode I’ve used (FM, AM, shortwave, or Bluetooth).

However I will note here that the supplied switching power supply will inject noise if you try listening to AM or shortwave while charging. This hasn’t affected FM reception, though.

The fold-out metal bail on the H-501x is very large. This shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. The H-501x is tall and wide, but not very deep––only marginally deeper than, say, the PL-880. The bail needed to be low-profile, but also support this mini “wall” of the radio while in use. The metal wire bail is handy and certainly does the trick, although there’s only one tilt position, and when it’s deployed, the radio effectively has a large footprint. This might limit where you can set it if the surface––say, a bedside table––is small. Not a problem for me, but worth noting. Continue reading

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Do you use a general coverage transceiver as your primary shortwave radio?

If you’ve been reading the SWLing Post for long, you’ll know that I think the Icom IC-705 is a brilliant radio for shortwave, mediumwave and even FM DXing. I mention this in my IC-705 review.

Indeed, I realize that I may even use the IC-705 as much as I use some of my excellent computer-connected SDRSs (Software Defined Radios). The IC-705 is actually an SDR, too, just one that is self-contained, stand-alone, and powered by a rechargeable battery. It’s just so convenient and easy to use–plus it has very useful built-in recording/playback functions.

I also use my Elecraft KX2 for SWLing–although not designed for broadcast band listening, it does a pretty amazing job especially if your primary goal is weak-signal work. Elecraft attenuated the mediumwave band on purpose, thus MW DXing with the KX2 is not feasible.

Do you use general coverage transceivers for SWLing?

Truth is, modern general coverage transceivers tend to be based on SDR architecture these days, thus incredibly capable and versatile as a broadcast band receivers.

I’m curious: do you primarily use a general coverage transceiver for SWLing? If so, why and which make/model? Please comment! If you prefer a dedicated receiver over a general coverage transceiver, please consider sharing your thoughts as well!

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Which radio? How to avoid analysis paralysis…

I’ve been running the SWLing Post for fourteen years (!!!) and during that time I’d say that one of the top three questions I receive is a variation of “Which radio is better?” followed by a list of radio makes and models.

Sometimes that question is easy to answer because the reader is new to the world of shortwave, they only have two choices, and one is an obvious winner.

In truth, though, that’s very rare.

Most of the time–and I’m speaking from having received hundreds of these questions–I’m asked to choose between a list of radios that the reader has thoroughly researched, uncovering radios DXers and enthusiasts consider to be the best in price class.

They’ve already read numerous reviews, created spreadsheets comparing features/specifications, and they’ve weighed all of the pros and cons by price class.

But they can’t decide.

Analysis paralysis

We’ve all been there, right?

We’re ready to invest a bit of money in a new radio and there are many good options, but there’s no one stand-out…no “perfect” radio with everything we seek.

It’s a slippery slope.  We start our research with some obvious choices. We can’t decide which is best, so we broaden our research, we take deeper and deeper dives, but the more we research, the more confused we become.

Sound familiar? (Trust me: you’re not alone.)

I remember receiving an email once from someone with a list of two dozen sub $150 radios on a multi-tab spreadsheet.They had every feature and specification listed for comparison. They wanted to know which of these radios was “the best.”

I can’t answer this questions for a very good reason.

It’s all about personal preference

My favorite radio from a list of twenty four will likely not be your favorite radio.

Enjoyment of a radio has everything to do with you as the radio’s operator.

Ask yourself, “What’s my main goal–?”:

  • DXing?
  • Weak signal work?
  • Band-scanning?
  • Pirate Radio hunting?
  • Travel?
  • Emergency communications?
  • Casual broadcast listening?
  • Digital mode decoding?
  • Scanning?
  • Mediumwave DXing?

Look at your options with this goal being given the priority.

A rather simple way to avoid analysis paralysis

If you’ve thoroughly researched multiple options, the likelihood is that overall performance between the models is comparable. Sure, some models might have better AGC, better sync, finer tuning, a better encoder, or better sensitivity, etc. but the overall performance package is similar else there’d be no difficult decision to make.

My advice is to pick the radio that you believe you’d enjoy the most.

  • Do you like the display and large encoder on one? Does it look like the sort of radio you could cuddle up to late into a cold winter evening? Go for it!
  • Do you like the compact size and features of one? Does it look like a radio you could pack away for an international flight then use on a mini DXpedition in a foreign country? Grab it!
  • Do you like the comments you’ve read about the robust audio and speaker of a particular model? Pull the trigger!

I’ve been communicating with a reader over the past few days that is stuck in analysis paralysis. No doubt, this is what prompted this post.

Here’s what I told him this morning:

All of the models we’ve discussed are good ones and have overall excellent performance. I would simply pick the one you think you would enjoy using the most.

[Keep in mind that] DXing is a skill.

A skilled DXer can accomplish a lot with almost any radio! It’s easy to fall in the trap of options overload. Just find a good deal on a radio you think you would enjoy and go for it! 

I suppose another way of stating it would be if you believe you’re stuck in analysis paralysis, follow your heart instead of your head.

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Teaching an old dog old tricks

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

It was Don Moore’s excellent article — An Introduction to DXing the MF Marine Bands — that inspired me. If you haven’t read it, do so now; it’s terrific. But be warned: my guess is that it will inspire you too.

Bottom line, ever since I read it, I have very much wanted to hear at least some of those MF marine stations that Don writes about. One of Don’s recommendations is “Hang Out on 2182 kHz.” So sometimes when I am messing around in the radio shack, I will park one of my shortwave receivers on 2182 USB in the hopes of hearing some marine communications. 2182 is the frequency that the US Coast Guard once monitored as a distress frequency, but no more.

According to Don: “Today 2182 kHz still gets some use as a calling frequency, where a ship and a shore station quickly arrange to have a conversation on another frequency. But the more common use now is for shore-based marine broadcasters to pre-announce marine information broadcasts they are about to transmit on other frequencies.”

Just the other day, I brought up 2182 on my Satellit 800, but the atmospheric noise was pretty bad. I fooled around with a couple of different indoor wire antenna configurations but wasn’t able to achieve any substantial improvement. But in the midst of that messing around, I “rediscovered” my Icom IC-706 MkIIG on a shelf. It receives from 30 kHz to 199 MHz and from 400 to 470 MHz, and I used mine for over a decade to run the Commuter Assistance Network on two meters. I still keep the 706 as a back-up in case my main rig for running the net goes down.

But I had never used the 706 extensively on HF (weird, I know, but that’s the truth). Nevertheless, a little voice in the back of my head (probably one of the brain dudes) kept saying “Why don’t you give the 706 a try as an HF receiver?”

So I did. I hooked up the 706 up to my horizontal room loop through some coax and an LDG 9:1 unun (the same antenna setup I had been using on the Satellit 800). And – shazam – the 706 is substantially quieter on 2182 with that antenna than the Satellit 800.

That’s good, I thought, but what if the 706 appears to be quieter because it is less sensitive? So I did some comparative tests with the 706 and the Satellit 800 on the 80 and 40 meter ham bands and satisfied myself that the 706 is both quieter and more sensitive than the Satellit 800. I could just plain hear the signals better (and more pleasantly) with the 706.

The only substantial weirdness with the Icom 706 MkIIG is that, as a small unit, it has relatively few buttons on its face. As a result, it has no keypad for direct frequency access. There are buttons for jumping from one ham band to another and another button for changing tuning steps, so with judicious use of those buttons and the tuning knob, it’s fairly easy to get from one frequency to another, but it is not as fast as direct entry.

And, of course, the 706 does not have all the cool seek-and-store functions and the like that are available on today’s really slick shortwave portables.

Here’s the upshot: if you’ve been on the hunt for a better HF receiver with single sideband capabilities, an old dog, like an old ham transceiver, might be just what you need. And if you are already enjoying an old ham transceiver as a shortwave receiver, I’d like to hear about it.

So, have I heard any of those cool MW maritime stations? Not yet, but I’m sure I’ll have fun trying!

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The two-pocket listening post . . . for when “they” are after you

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Man on the run thrillers, like The 39 Steps by John Buchan* and Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household hold a special fascination for me. Give me a yarn about someone being pursued by the bad guys, and I am enthralled. (Incidentally, there are a couple of good lists of these thrillers. Here and here).

Sometimes I like to play the mental game of: if I were that guy trying to stay ahead those who wished me evil intent, what radio(s) might I want with me?

The other day I realized I had the perfect combo, a pair of radios that cover a huge swath of spectrum, will fit in a couple of pockets (or one big pocket) and weigh just 14 ounces combined. Further, both will run off ordinary AA batteries, which are widely available.

Candidate number one is the C Crane Skywave SSB, which measures 3 inches by 4.75 inches by 1.1 inches. It receives AM, FM, shortwave (1711-29999 kHz), VHF aviation and NOAA weather radio with alerts. Because it receives single sideband (SSB) on HF frequencies, it can tune in aeronautical, marine and amateur radio stations that transmit in the SSB.

The Skywave SSB comes with a pair of ear buds that fit my ears well and offer pleasing audio. In addition, the SSB comes standard with an auxiliary wire antenna that can be deployed and clipped to the SSB’s whip antenna to boost signal-to-noise. Perhaps most useful for the man on the run, the SSB has excellent “signal seek” functions that can be used on any band. In fact, if you put the radio in SSB mode and activate the signal scan, it will search the ham bands and automatically switch from upper sideband to lower sideband as appropriate.

For the man on the run who can “hole up” for a while, I’ve tried clipping a 50-foot long wire to the SSB’s whip and antenna, and I was amazed at how well it can pull in faint ham signals. It’s the “little radio that could.” About the only thing that I wish I could change on the Skywave SSB is that it mutes between tuning steps when using the tuning knob.

But suppose our man on the run needs to monitor signals above the coverage of the Skywave SSB?  Candidate number two is the Icom R6. Measuring just 2.3 inches by 3.4 inches by 1.2 inches, the diminutive R6 covers from 100 kHz to 1309.995 MHz (less cellular and gaps) in AM, FM Narrow and FM wide modes (no SSB). It has 1300 alphanumeric memories, search-and-store capabilities, and rapid scanning of memory channels.

For high stealth, there is a setting that allows the R6 to use the wire that connects headphones or ear buds to the R6 as the antenna instead of the usual antenna. For a non-stealth application, using an aftermarket antenna like the Comet W100RX 25MHz-1300MHz Handheld Scanner Antenna, the R6T does a surprisingly good job of receiving shortwave stations. This antenna has markings on the side so that it can be set to the right length for various frequencies.

As you can see from the photo, the R6 has only a few buttons on its face and two on the side. Every button has multiple functions, and I found trying to program memory channels using the buttons to be a trial. As a result, I can highly recommend the RT Systems cable and programming software for setting up memory channels. In addition, some very useful notes for setting up and using the R6 can be found here: https://forums.radioreference.com/threads/icom-ic-r6-notes.442112/

Finally, I know that there are several tiny ham transceivers that might fill the bill, including the Yaesu VX-6R, although I am not aware of any that can receive single sideband. Besides, if you had the ability to transmit, “they” might be able to direction-find you . . . and we wouldn’t want that, would we?

*For sharp-eyed readers: yes, I know that The 39 Steps is set in a time before radio was widespread, but it is still one of my favorites.

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Eton Elite Satellit HD Receivers – Now Shipping

Eton Elite Satellit HD

Thanks to commenter Keith on my “Consistently Inconsistent” article, we learn that the Eton Elite Satellit HD receiver is now shipping. Keith purchased the receiver from Amazon.com and is expecting delivery on August 18.

Note that over the half-hour it took me to write this update article, Amazon’s stock of the Elite Satellit HD dropped from 19 to 10!

There are also updates on availability found on three other web sites:

  • Eton Corporation: No longer does their page say “Arriving this month – reserve yours today!”. Instead, the radio is shown as “available today!”
  • Hammacher Schlemmer: their web page indicates “In stock – available for immediate shipment”.   EDIT: Wow, that was quick! Just after I posted this article, HS changed their web page to “We regret that this item is no longer available”.
  • Universal Radio: Gone is the “available late August” statement, and the radio is available for adding to your shopping cart and checkout.

This is great news for those who have awaited the receiver since its announcement in 2019, and especially for those getting the radio at the original pre-order price (myself included :^)

Keith, thanks again for the heads-up on your Elite Satellit HD order. Please leave some first impression comments when you receive it!


A regular contributor to the SWLing Post, Guy Atkins lives in the beautiful Puget Sound country of Washington State.

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