Category Archives: Radios

Troy compares the Tecsun S-8800 with the Grundig Edition Field BT

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Troy Riedel, for producing this excellent comparison of the Tecsun S-8800 and Grundig Field BT “lunchbox” radios:


The Lunchbox Showdown

by Troy Riedel

I have been watching with interest all of the information & reviews of the new Tecsun S-8800. Frankly, I was especially interested in how it would compare with the other “lunchbox” SW radio – the Eton Grundig Edition Field BT (the Digitech AR-1748 lunchbox radio is also available in AUS for approximately $207US shipped). As I contemplated which lunchbox to purchase, I put together the following Excel comparison table of the S-8800 vs. the Eton Field BT to assist me in making my decision:

Tescun S-8800

Eton Field BT

Price:

$268.00

$129.99

Tuning Methods: FM / LW / MW / SW FM / MW / SW
Q.Tune Q.Tune
Digital tuner, Jog dial manual tuning Digital tuner, Jog dial manual tuning (Fast, Slow and Hold)
Auto scan tuning with 5 second stop (w/ storage) Auto scan tuning (no tuning storage)
Direct frequency entry using the remote control
Fine Tuning Knob: SW Meter Band
No soft muting when tuning Subtle Soft Muting when tuning
Station Storage Methods: Manual storage: tune into stations manually and store them Manual storage: tune into stations manually and store them
Semi-auto storage: storing stations during auto scan
Auto Tuning Storage (ATS): automatically tune into and store stations
FM / MW / LW / SW FM / MW / LW / SW
AM Bandwidth: Bandwidth selection (2.3, 3.0, 4.0, 6.0) Narrow & Wide Settings (3.0*, 6.0*) *Reported
SSB: SSB (USB/LSB)

N/A

SSB tuning steps at 10 Hz / 1 kHz
SSB Bandwidth selection (0.5, 1.2, 2.3, 3.0, 4.0)

N/A

FM with RDS

N/A

Bluetooth
Adjustable shoulder or hand carrying belt Hand carrying strap
Remote control operation

N/A

SYNC:

N/A

N/A

Gain: Local / DX antenna gain switch Local / DX antenna gain switch
SW RF Gain Control
Memories: 650 station memories 50 station memories
Stored stations memory browsing
Auto Sorting Memory
LCD: Standard Backlight Orange Backlight
5-seconds or continuous settings 10-seconds or continuous settings
Clock/Alarm Time: Clock/Alarm time (24H-format) Clock/Alarm time (12 & 24H-format)
Alarm: (1) Alarm (2) Alarms
By radio only By radio (60-mins) or buzzer (2-mins)
Digital Display: Frequency & SW meter band Frequency & Band (e.g. FM, LW, SW1)
Signal strength indicator Signal strength indicator
Stored station location Stored station location
Clock & Alarm time Clock
Volume Level (while using remote)
Battery indicator & charging time Battery Indicator
Sleep Timer A & B (Selectable)
RDS Info

* No Lock Feature

Display Lock “On”
Tuning Speed (Slow, Fast, Stop)
Sound Tuning: Bass & Treble Bass & Treble
Line In:

N/A

3.5mm Stereo Input for mp3 Player
Line Out: (2) RCA Left & Right Stereo Channel Line Out (1) 3.5mm Line Out for tape recorder or audio amplifier
Ant Selector: Int. or Ext. Switch for FM/SW Int. or Ext. Switch for FM/SW
FM/SW Antenna: BNC: Low-impedance (50?) FM/SW Coax: Low-impedance (50-75?)
MW Antenna: High-impedance (500?) wire clamp terminals High-impedance (500?) wire clamp terminals
Battery: 2 x 18650 Li-ion Cell 4 x “D” Cell
AC Adapter: No AC included – does include a USB mini-B charging cable 7v 1200mA DC Neg Center included

Yes, the S-8800 without a doubt has more features than the Field BT.  However, the S-8800 is slightly more than twice the price of the Field BT ($268 vs. $130)!  Does the performance of the S-8800 equate proportional to the price difference?

Shortly after I made my Excel comparison table, Thomas published video comparisons of the S-8800.  I very much appreciated the review and video comparisons that pitted the S-8800 against several popular portables.  It gave me a baseline to set my expectations.  However, those videos didn’t answer my question: “should I purchase the S-8800 or the Field BT”?

I contacted Thomas and I told him “we need an S-8800 vs. Eton Field BT” video comparison so SWL’ers have a true lunchbox vs. lunchbox comparison!  I volunteered to purchase an Eton Field BT and have it delivered to Thomas for him to compare the two (after which he would forward the Field BT to me).  After he hesitated, I replied: “what if I buy the Eton and we meet in North Carolina to compare them together”?  Fortunately Thomas readily agreed and I made the 6.5-hour journey from Southeast VA to Mount Mitchell State Park for the Lunchbox Showdown (864-miles roundtrip on my odometer)!

Thomas and I had a limited amount of time.  I arrived at noon.  Thomas and I had 8-hours … and that included time for Thomas’ Parks On The Air (POTA) Activation, our S-8800 vs. Field BT comparison, we had to eat (it was a long drive for me!), and Thomas brought many other toys so we had to carve out time to “play radio” (and I can’t drive 400+ miles to Mount Mitchell and not walk to the summit of the highest point east of the Mississippi River!).

Luckily conditions were as ideal as I have ever seen them (evidenced by the fact Thomas made contacts from TX to the Azores with his Elecraft KX2).  So please keep in mind, what follows is in no way a complete comparison.  And to be clear, it was never my intention to review either receiver (there are many people more competent than I am that have already done this – Thomas among them!).

My interest re: these two models is primarily limited to each’s shortwave performance (I use a Sangean PR-D15 and a Grundig YB400 for AM DX, I prefer my Sangean PR-D15 for FM and I own 12 shortwave receivers).  Thus our goals were to find and compare multiple representative SW signals.  Thomas is obviously familiar with local AM stations in the area that he uses in his comparisons, thus we sought out a few AM signals (I recorded one to illustrate one huge difference that we both perceived in the two radios).  Due to time, hunger, and eventually darkness we had to call it a day at 8 P.M.

I used my iPhone 6S to record the following comparisons.  This was the first time I recorded shortwave signals.  In retrospect, I wish I had made the recordings longer but at the time I was unsure of how much memory each recording would used, how much time it would take to upload, etc., so I kept everything at 1-2 minutes.  As you will see, I recorded nearly all of the signals with the backlight off.  You’ll see me reaching in, on Shootout 5, to tune off frequency – then back on – simply to show how the backlight would/or would not affect the weak signal on the Field BT (you’ll also see that it’s harder, outdoors, to read the Eton display without the backlight vs. the clearer Tecsun S-8880).

The Eton Field BT has its own SW RF Gain (a huge bonus) and you will see me reach into the field of view once or twice to fine tune the Field BT on weaker signals.  And if you’ve studied my comparison table, you’ll see that the S-8800 has multiple bandwidth choices whereas the Field BT only has Wide & Narrow settings.

You will see me occasionally change the BW on both.  I preferred not to speak during the videos as not to mask the audio of the signal thus I will set-up the specifics of each video with each individual link to my new YouTube Channel, SW Hobbyist, that I set-up to host these (and hopefully many future SW-related videos to include radio recordings & antenna comparisons).

All videos

Date: Friday, 06 October 2017

Location: Mount Mitchell State Park, NC USA

Shootout #1

Frequency: 15580 kHz

Broadcaster: Voice of America (VOA)

From: Botswana

Target: East Africa

https://youtu.be/nZO_yTRjykM


Shootout #2

Frequency: 15610 kHz

Broadcaster: WEWN

From: Vandiver, AL

Target: Europe

https://youtu.be/CEzKA1116ow


Shootout #3

Frequency: 15000 kHz

Broadcaster: WWV

From: Fort Collins, CO

* Wow, that’s a strong signal – is this FM?!

https://youtu.be/LJ2YykJ7Wz0


** Shootout #4

Frequency: 15130 & 15140 kHz

Broadcaster: NHK Radio Japan via Issoudun, France & Radio Habana Cuba via Bauta, Cuba

Target: Africa & Western North America

https://youtu.be/aBW0imojl94

** I wish I hadn’t prematurely ended this recording – the Eton Field BT signal on 15130 improved after the recording ended


Shootout #5

Frequency: 15245 kHz

Broadcaster: Voice of Korea

From: Kujang, North Korea

Target: Europe

https://youtu.be/D5cjlseVNfE


Shootout #6

Frequency:  11810 kHz

Broadcaster: BBC

From: Ascension Island

Target: Central Africa

https://youtu.be/oXbxeLFl2-0


Shootout #7

Frequency:  630 AM

Broadcaster: WAIZ Hickory, NC

*** This is where I believe you will see a difference in the sound/speaker

https://youtu.be/kXNGNFgnDB4

General Conclusions

Thomas and I both felt that the AGC of the Tecsun S-8800 was very slightly better (more stable – absolutely no “chug”) than the Eton Field BT (again, a very subtle difference). We both liked the sound of the Eton Field BT much better – it was crisp, full and just seemed to “pop” through its grill (see Shootout #7). The huge thing we both disliked with the Eton Field BT is its tuning dial. Yes, it has Q-Tune so one can jump from 5000, 6000, 7000, etc., with the push of a button but the tuning dial (even in “Fast” mode) is painfully slow and deliberate (dare I say horrible in comparison to the S-8880?). We both love the fact the S-8800 has a remote. But even without the remote, the S-8800 was much more pleasurable to manually tune.

Not to speak for Thomas, but I believe we generally felt [overall] that the SW signals were essentially close enough to call even … the edge to the Tecsun on a couple and the edge to the Field BT on a couple of others (I specifically remember us both commenting on an Arabic language broadcast from Radio Saudi Arabia where we both felt the Field BT was a very clear winner – that was one of the signals that I did not record). The better “sound” of the Field BT’s speaker may have influenced our opinions – a sound that was markedly better on FM, better on AM, but a sound that was much closer on SW.

My final thoughts and conclusion: Radios are like vehicles. No one vehicle is best for everyone. Each vehicle has a specific purpose and each has a subset of features. I own a large travel trailer. I need and thus own a heavy-duty diesel truck to tow it. But I surely wouldn’t recommend my vehicle to somebody who only needs a commuter vehicle. That’s why we have everything from SmartCars, to sedans, to SUVs, to dually diesel trucks. The same goes for radios. Some people will absolutely need SSB, others may demand SYNC (neither of these units has this feature!) while others may choose a radio based on size (compact for travel or larger models with a large, easy-to-read display for desk or tabletop use). Until now, I felt the video comparisons we had for the S-8880 were comparing a truck to an SUV to a sedan. At least now we have a few videos of two lunchbox radios compared side-by-side. True, one (the S-8800) is fully loaded (in vehicle terms: a 4×4 with a touchscreen GPS and DVD entertainment system). But not everyone who requires a truck needs a 4×4 with GPS and DVD entertainment system. Some truck owners prefer the smoother ride from a 4×2 truck. I think that’s the best way to describe these lunchbox receivers.

Am I glad that I bought the Eton Field BT? For me – despite the cumbersome tuning of the Field BT – I feel the S-8800 is not worth 2x the price of the Eton (I got an even sweeter deal for my new, sealed box Field BT off eBay that was well under the $129.99 street price). But you can make your own decision, you can decide which features are must-have, and you can listen to these videos as well as the other videos that Thomas has already posted and determine if one of these lunchbox models are in your future. And because I learned so much regarding the video recording of shortwave signals (I suffered from tunnel vision while recording – not fully aware of what I caught and what I missed), I hope I can meet-up with Thomas again so I can do a better, more thorough job with a “Lunchbox Comparison, Deuxième Partie” (that French was for Thomas – I hope I got that correct!).


Thanks for putting together this comparison, Troy! It was great hanging with you last week on Mt. Mitchell!

If you’re shopping for either of these radios, you have a few options:

The Tecsun S-8800 is only available worldwide via Anon-Co at time of posting. Eventually, they will begin appearing on eBay. There are retailers in Australia and Europe also selling the model (Important: make sure you’re ordering a model from the latest production run which solves the DSP birdie problem in early units).

The Grundig Edition Field BT is available from a variety of retailers including Universal Radio, Amazon.comCrutchfield, Adorama and others.  Occasionally, like Troy, you can find excellent prices on the Grundig Edition Field BT via eBay.

Radio Deal: Digitech AR-1780 $99 AUD/$119 NZD via Jaycar

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Wesley, who notes:

For those in Australia, the Jaycar in Bondi Junction is currently selling the Digitech AR-1780 for AUD$99. I suspect the other locations are offering the same price.

I picked one up – pretty happy with it so far! Really excited that it contains several filter bandwidths, which should help with receiving weather fax and SITOR signals.

UPDATE: SWLing Post reader, Davo notes:

It’s on special in NZ too: NZ$119 saving of $30

https://www.jaycar.co.nz/pocket-world-radio-with-ssb/p/AR1780

Thank you for the tips!  Yes, indeed, I would purchase the AR-1780 for $99 AUD in a heartbeat. It’s certainly a great value at that price (roughly $77 US). I don’t think Jaycar ships internationally, so this sale may only apply to those living in Australia and New Zealand.

I can’t tell via the Jaycar site how long this sale may last. If you live in Australia or NZ and have been considering the AR-1780, I would jump on this deal. It’s a decent little portable. Besides visiting a Jaycar location, you can also place your order online.

Click here to view this deal at Jaycar Australia and here for Jaycar New Zealand.

Those of us outside of Australia/NZ can always purchase via the eBay seller I used–though the total price with shipping will set you back about $134 US.

Click here to read some of our Digitech AR-1780 posts. Also, note that on November 1 2017, I will publish a full review of the AR-1780 here on the SWLing Post.

Jack Berg Sales: You too can own a brand new vintage radio!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ron, who shares a link to Jack Berg Sales–a company specializing in New In Box (NIB) vintage electronics.

Ron points to one radio example in the Berg inventory, the Americana 10 Transistor AM Portable Pocket Radio:

 

The price is a very reasonable at $35.00 US plus $8.00 shipping and handling. Click here to view.

Jack Berg has dozens of other radios and electronics, though. It’s like walking through a vintage vault.

As Ron points out, Berg would probably make much more profit posting these vintage gems on eBay, but fortunately for us they do not.

It doesn’t appear Jack Berg does online ordering, which could make purchasing from outside the US quite complicated. In fact, they request a money order or cashier’s check sent to their office in El Paso, Texas.

(Side note: I honestly can’t think of the last time I purchased something from a company by sending in a money order or cashiers check.)

I suppose it would make sense to contact Jack Berg via email or phone (915-532-4519) to make sure your order can be fulfilled.

Additionally, there is no warranty of any sort.

These are NIB units and are untested. There’s a decent chance some radios may not function without replacing a capacitor or two and using a little DeOxit on switches and pots. For me, it’s worth the risk.

Click here to browse Jack Berg Sales full radio inventory. 

Post readers: please comment if you’ve ever purchased from Jack Berg.  How was your experience? See any particularly amazing models in the inventory? I bet many of the AM radios have decent ferrite bars inside!

CC Skywave SSB: C. Crane publishes pre-order page with pricing, availability and features

C. Crane has published a full pre-order page for their latest travel portable: the CC Skywave SSB.

The price is $169.99 US–they’ve noted an expected ship date of sometime after November 3, 2017.

We’ve been testing a pilot run CC Skywave SSB and recently posted photos. Once we have an production unit, we’ll post comparison videos and review notes.

Click here to view the CC Skywave SSB product page at C. Crane.

Guest Post: Hans reviews the Freeplay Lifeline and Unity self-powered radios

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


Irma-induced Radio Reviews

by Hans Johnson

The primary disaster we face here in Naples, Florida, is hurricanes.  Naples had been spared for over a decade until Irma.  So while I had prepared, I had not needed my supplies or equipment for quite some time.  This included the radios.

I went into Irma with two Freeplay solar and windup radios, a Unity and a Lifeline.  I got these radios probably over a decade ago.  As part of some work I was doing with VT Communications (now Babcock), I was involved with a radio project called Sudan Radio Service.

Both of these radios were being given to listeners as part of this project.  I wanted to have a better understanding of what they faced.  I had some conversations with Freeplay in London, explaining who I was and why I wanted these radios.  During a visit, I was able to purchase both sets with the proviso that I not sell them.

I checked them both out at that time with my focus being on shortwave as that is how Sudan Radio Service was then transmitted.  They were ok at picking out the strongest stations but that’s about it.  I never really needed or wanted to use the radios day to day.  And then Irma struck.

We left Naples on Saturday when we received a mandatory evacuation notice.  The storm struck on Sunday and we returned on Monday.

We were spared.  Many lost everything.  Some lost their lives.  We had a lot of trees down and some roof damage, but nothing substantial.  But we had no power.  Water had to be boiled.  Sewage was backing up in places because the lift stations had no power.  The stop lights were out (this was a real danger, many did not treat them as four-way stops and just blew through them.  But you never knew who it would be.)  A curfew was in place.  The cell phone system was in really bad shape.  I could not call or text my brother across town, let alone get access to the Internet via cell.

This link will give you an idea of what we came back to.  I am the guy sawing wood at 1:47.  (Lesson learned, have two chainsaws in case yours blows a gas line):

http://abc7ny.com/weather/watch-josh-einiger-reports-from-naples-florida/2391120/.

I had blown up some air mattresses before the storm so we slept on them on the screened porch.  I saw the Milky Way from Naples for the first time.

We wanted information and also a bit of entertainment.  Television was out of the question.  The HDTV stations are hard to receive with a great antenna and set in the best of times where we live.  So a battery-operated TV would have been a waste.  Radio was the only game in town, so it was time to put the emergency radios in service.

Sudanese Listeners Receive Unity Radios (Source: Lifeline Energy)

Both of these analogue dial sets cover AM, FM, and shortwave.  The Unity covers 3-22 MHz, the Lifeline just goes up to 18.  The former covers the old American AM band and the latter the new one.   The Unity uses a whip antenna and has a fine tuning knob.  The Lifeline has a bendable wire that fits into the carrying handle and came with an alligator clip and a length of wire.

Ideally, one would be listening a set that has been charged via the solar cell or listening with the set in the sun.  The last place I wanted to be was in or near the sun.  Trying to charge the set and then listen to it is difficult in practice.  It seems that the ratio was about one to one.  15 minutes in the sun would get you about 15 minutes of immediate listening.  It doesn’t seem that the batteries will hold a charge for long periods of time.  I could not charge them during the day and expect to turn them on the next morning, which was the peak time of day for radio to be transmitting local information.  The ratio for using the hand-crank was better, but I grew tired of cranking quite quickly.

I was interested in local stations, so shortwave was not a factor.  We only have a few local AM stations in Naples and I could not receive them (Irma knocked off or damaged a number of stations.)  I tried FM.  Even with the antennas retracted, both sets were overwhelmed by the local stations with certain stations bleeding through over much of the dial.  I could receive some strong, local stations.  With the outlet at Marco Island off and the other apparently on reduced power, receiving NPR was out of the question.

Given how many sources of information I was cut off from, my flow was greatly reduced.  My ignorance increased and learning vital information was hit or miss.  A neighbor told me about the boil order.  Passing on information was difficult.  When we got power I wanted to tell my brother, but the only way to inform him was to drive to his house.

One result was that I put these sets away and broke out my old Sony

ICF-7600GR and used it instead.  I guess I could have used it until I ran out of AA batteries.  I had plenty on hand and can easily afford them.  But that is hardly the case in Southern Sudan and many other places.

The Lifeline came with a few stickers on it that I could not read when I got the set.  Now that Goggle translate is so good I can read them.  They say in part:  “Everyone has the right to receive information,”  “Everyone one has the right to search for, receive, and deliver information.”

The real result of the test was a greater appreciation for how good I have it in many ways.  With regards to information, I have many sources and can readily receive it and pass it on.  It increased my respect for services like Sudan Radio Service and how important they are.  But most especially, I have a much greater admiration for listeners using these sets and what is surely their perseverance, patience, and determination to get information.


Many thanks for your field report of the Freeplay Lifeline and Unity, Hans!

I’m happy to hear you had no serious damage post-Irma. So many in the SWLing Post community have been affected by hurricanes this season.

I have never, personally, reviewed either of these Freeplay units–both are now discontinued and have been replaced with other models at Lifeline, I believe. As you state in your post, these radios are only available to humanitarian organizations. Through Ears To Our World, I have considered acquiring Lineline Energy (Freeplay) radios in the past. However, their radios tend to be rather large in size–we tend to go with smaller receivers that can easily fit in suitcases. In the past we’ve been very happy with the Grundig FR200 (Tecsun GR-88). 

The Lifeplayer MP3

Last year, we did purchase a Freeplay Lifeplayer to test. The hand crank charging mechanism is very robust, though quite noisy. The radio is digital, but performance is mediocre and tuning couldn’t be more cumbersome (5 kHz steps, no memories, only a couple of band steps.  Tuning to your favorite station could literally take a couple of minutes, depending on where it is on the band. When you turn off the radio (or it runs out of power) you’ll have to re-tune to the station again. That’s a lot of extra mechanical wear on the encoder. The real utility of the Lifeplayer is the built-in MP3 player and recorder–a brilliant tool for rural schools. Also, it’s robust and can take abuse from kids much better than other consumer radios.

Your main point, though, is spot-on: these radios serve their purpose, but we radio enthusiasts are incredibly fortunate to have much better grade equipment to take us through information backouts.

Thanks again for your review, Hans!