Category Archives: Reviews

The thrill of the hunt even knowing there is no “perfect” radio

Though I own a number of portables that have better performance specs and ergonomics, I still gravitate to my ICF-SW7600GR.

Most recently, I received correspondence from Golan Klinger who has been bitten by the radio bug (he calls it “radioitis”). He has been acquiring portables and comparing them, seeking his favorite overall.

Golan had an epiphany he recently shared with me:

Thomas, in your “Mega Review” [summarizing your radio preferences] you wrote:

But this is my personal choice; you might have a completely different answer. I guess that’s the point I made earlier–it all depends on the listener.”

Of all the valuable advice I’ve gleaned from your website, that might be the most important.

Every radio seems to have its own personality and one can read and watch all the reviews in the world but there’s no substitute for sitting down and actually listening to a radio.

I just had an epiphany — there can be no perfect radio and even if there were, finding it wouldn’t be half as much fun as the search for it.

That’s why everyone has multiple radios and when asked which is their favourite they lean back and say, “Well…”

What a wonderful hobby this is turning out to be!

You nailed it, Golan.

Indeed, with most every review I post I receive both praise and criticism later from readers. To some, sensitivity is everything–to others, it’s audio fidelity. Some listeners seek optimal reception on particular bands: longwave, mediumwave, the 31 meter band, FM, etc. There are even some who place a great deal of importance on the design and aesthetics of the radio. When I write a review, I do my best to walk in the shoes of all of these folks. It’s not an easy task.

When I’m not writing a review and am only concerned with what I value in a radio, it’s a balance of performance, flexibility and ergonomics I seek.

But as you say, there is no “perfect radio” out there that could satisfy everyone. I doubt there ever will be.  Each listener has their own set of preferences–the checklist that matters to them most.

I’ll admit that part of what drives me to do radio reviews is my curiosity and the hope that each upcoming model might be a step closer to the elusive “Holy Grail” radio; for me and for you. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt!

Thanks for sharing, Golan!

A review of the Red Oxx Micro Manager EDC and radio gear bag

Besides being a radio enthusiast, regular SWLing Post readers know that I’m also an avid traveler and, as a result, something of a pack geek.

In September, I posted a review of the Red Oxx “Lil Roy”–a small, relatively inexpensive multi-purpose bag that I love to haul my radio gear in.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a huge fan of Red Oxx gear. I’m fairly choosy about the quality of packs that I buy and am willing to pay a premium for packs that offer exceptional durability and are guaranteed for life. Red Oxx gear is designed and made in Montana, USA, and is nearly bullet-proof.

I love the design of Red Oxx bags; they can’t always be accurately described as tactical, low-profile, or urban, however.  Red Oxx leader Jim Markel describes the bags’ strengths this way: “Tactical strength without looking like you’re going to war.”  That’s fair.

Their designs are unique to the company and, I would argue, in Red Oxx bags, form definitely follows function.

After posting my review of the Red Oxx “Lil Roy,” I received a message from a representative at Red Oxx. They kindly noted that they were impressed by the detail my review provided, but also recalled that last year, I’d made a suggestion that they design an EDC (Everyday Carry) bag especially suited to those of us who like to carry radio gear (or any electronic gear, for that matter) out to the field. I specifically requested if they would consider designing a medium-sized bag with padded sides and floor, and the option for an over-the-shoulder carry strap––?

My hopes were not unfounded.  Red Oxx replied, saying that they’d actually designed just such a bag and wanted to know if I would test it prior to release, and offer any input.

Well…How could I resist?

The “Micro-Manager,” as their new product is aptly and amusingly named, arrived the day I left on a weekend trip. As I drove down the road with the unopened box next to me, I simply couldn’t wait to see what the design looked like. Since I didn’t know the dimensions, configuration, compartment size, nor the coloring, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

Introducing…the Micro Manager

Upon reaching my destination, I opened the box and removed the Micro Manager––and by golly, I was very impressed with the bag’s size:  modest, handy, but not dinky.  Just about right.

I say this because portable radio gear is a funny thing.  Quite often I find a great pack in terms of material and features, but it’s either too small or too shallow for portable gear––or, at the other extreme, swallows my equipment, so that I have to fish around in its yawning depths to find my rig and add extra padding. Rarely is a bag appropriately sized in terms of height, width, and depth for radio carry.  The Micro Manager appeared to be just about the size I’d have made it, if I designed it myself.  But I had still to test it with the actual equipment, so I tried not to get my hopes up too soon.

Construction

I unzipped the pack, noting that the Red Oxx-standard extra-beefy #10 YKK VISLON zippers actually extend to within an inch of the bag’s base. In terms of main compartment access, structure, and configuration flexibility, I find this nearly ideal. The zippers also have attached “monkey fist” knots made from nylon cording that permit easy zipper operation.  These look rather cool, too.  In addition, the Micro Manager is designed with the Red Oxx Claw Shoulder Strap in mind, having two D-rings on opposite sides of the zipper––this means balance on the shoulder. And the Micro Manager includes the Claw Shoulder Strap, which is sturdy and solid.

Like all Red Oxx packs, the Micro Manager’s exterior sports 1000 weight CORDURA nylon material that is available in twelve solid color combos; mine is “Olive.”  Which is, well, olive––olive green––just as you’d expect.  No weird color names to throw you off.

Inside the Micro Manager, Red Oxx opted for a red 400 denier CORDURA Brand nylon lining which makes the interior resilient to nearly any kind of damage, and easy to wash up.  The vivid red color of the lining also means that any items in the bottom of the pack stand out, making it a cinch to find whatever you’re looking for in there.

 

But I wanted to check the pack even more closely, from the inside out.  And so I did just that:  I turned the pack inside out, examined it up close, looked at the stitches and the basic construction:  this is clearly one rugged bag.

Durability is not in question here.  Tom Bihn is another excellent US pack company; I’d say Red Oxx’s products and Tom Bihn’s run neck-and-neck, though Red Oxx has more of a tactical leaning and beefier hardware than the urban sleek, neat packs Tom Bihn produces.

In short, the Micro Manager is one tough pack. I would argue the toughest I’ve ever used for field equipment.

This little pack is built like a tank.

Padding

Of course, what really makes this pack ideal for radio gear is the fact the floor of the pack as well as the side panels are lined with Volara 4-pound closed-cell foam padding. This isn’t super-thick padding, but it’s dense, and in my view effective for radio gear. Nor would I want thick, bulky padding in this pack. It’s simply enough to absorb the shock of setting the pack down, even a hard or hasty set-down, and would likely help protect the contents if the pack were dropped.

To be clear: I’m not talking about stashing upwards of $1300 worth of radio gear in this pack and flinging it out an upstairs window to test the padding.  I’m not planning to check this bag at the airport, since I like my gear handy, and I’ll treat the pack and its contents with reasonable care.  The padding in this case just makes the contents more secure and resilient to the odd drop, bash, or tumble. I think it will do just fine.

Right Size…confirmed

But I still had to see how everything fit in the pack.  Being the radio geek I am, the first thing I did upon my arrival at home was to throw my Elecraft KX2 Transceiver pack and antenna supplies bag in the Micro Manager to see if my gear fit as well as I thought it might.  It all fit like a glove, and still had room for log book, pens, multi-tool, sunscreen, and (of course) bug repellent!

Next, I removed these items, and tried my larger Elecraft KX3 for size in the Micro Manager––again, ample interior room with just enough space left to include a battery pack and antenna supplies. Brilliant!

I tried various combos of gear and kit to find that the Micro Manager is quite a flexible field bag.  Finally!  A pack up to the task.

Configuration

But what really makes this pack shine? The large, open compartment is ideal for us “modular pack” folks.

Tom Bihn Pilot (left) Red Oxx Micro Manager (right)

In my experience, frequent travel means modular packing. In my main EDC pack (a Tom Bihn Pilot) all my gear is organized in cubes and pouches. If I’m heading out the door to catch a flight and want to take a backpack, rucksack, or duffel bag, I can whip the stuff out of my EDC bag, and in a matter of seconds, populate the other pack. Not only does it make transitioning from one pack to another a speedy process, but I’ll know exactly what’s in the pack, and exactly where.

When I opened the Micro Manager the first time, I instantly saw that it lends itself to modular packing, since there’s no internal organization walls and pockets are on the interior sides.

So, aside from packing radio gear, tablets, headphones, a DSLR camera, recording gear, or any other accessories, a packing cube could be used in the Micro Manager to carry clothing on a weekend or on a quick one-to-two night jaunt.

Packed for an overnight trip.

All essentials inside: iPad Air in sleeve, Tom Bihn Snake Charmer (I use as toiletries kit), and an old Eagle Creek packing cube.

Fully unpacked. Click to enlarge.

I’ll take a close look at the Micro Manager’s internal dimensions and see if one of the Red Oxx packing cubes might fit the bill.  Maybe, if I’ve been extra good this year, Santa will drop one in my stocking.

Packing in a cube and other modular packs would take full advantage of the Micro Manager’s modest-outside, spacious-inside capacity. A full-size internal cube packed with clothing would be easy to stash in a hotel room to reduce bulk while you’re in meetings at your location, thus leaving more room for files/reports, magazines, a paperback (for those of us who still like paper), and the like; then you could simply replace your clothing module in your MM for your flight home.

A great EDC pack, too

I have even pulled all of the packs from my Tom Bihn Pilot EDC bag and cheerfully used the Micro Manager for the day.

The Micro Manager works wonderfully as an EDC pack if I don’t need a laptop (my 13” MacBook Air is a little too large). It packs my iPad Air with ease and the padded interior pocket gives me peace of mind, encapsulating the tablet in padding all around. On the outside of the padded tablet sleeve, Red Oxx has added four pencil holders and two larger pouches which are large enough for most smartphones, business cards, field notes, and other small accessories.

Of course, there’s another interior pouch with an embedded pocket on the opposite side of the padded sleeve. I’ve used this sleeve for note pads, coiled antenna line, a paperback book, and a portable radio over the past few months. I’ve used the embedded zipper pocket for charging cables, wire cutters, adapters, USB memory sticks, you name it. It’s not a deep zipper pocket, so I wouldn’t put anything thick inside simply because I don’t like bulking out pockets, but it’s very useful.

On the outside panels of the Micro Manager, you’ll also find two double-zippered pockets. These are shallow in depth, but are ideally suited for cords, wire, and antenna line. Of course, they’ll easily hold notepads and other supplies.

The Micro Manager is large enough to hold 8.5 x 11” paper in a folder or even low-profile notebook. For someone who carries a tablet to work, this could easily replace a briefcase.

The genius behind the Micro Manager’s flexibility, in my view,  is the open design: the ability to open the main compartment zippers either partially or all the way to within an inch of the bottom of the bag. This allows you to fully open the pack without compromising its ability to be self-supporting. Since Red Oxx’s #10 YKK zippers won’t slip backwards, you can even simply open the top of the bag and not worry about the contents spilling out.  I like that.

Summary

Everything I review has its pros and cons, of course. When I begin a review or evaluation, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions. Following is the list I’ve formed over the time I’ve been evaluating the Red Oxx Micro Manager:

Pros:

  • Durable construction, solidly stitched
  • Made with rugged cordura
  • Lengthy, robust zippers track down to near the base of bag and don’t slide back, making for versatile loading/unloading of the bag––half open or fully open
  • Padded interior pocket for tablets or (for our use) a full-sized portable radio
  • Interior pocket for cables, pencils/pens, smartphones, and/or field notes
  • Ample padding is not too bulky but dense enough to take impact
  • Carry handles plus a strong claw strap for portability
  • Well-balanced on the shoulder
  • Lifetime, no-questions-asked, transferrable warranty

Cons:

If the Micro Manager were marketed primarily for outdoor use, then perhaps some rain protection around the zippers might be beneficial. Though I wouldn’t suggest doing this, I did leave the bag out in a surprise shower once and saw no signs of water penetration. The only point of water penetration could potentially be the zipper line. But from my observation, you’ve nothing to fear if you get caught in a downpour; I just wouldn’t leave it out in heavy rain or overnight.

The Micro Manager’s solid build means the bag is not featherweight.  It weighs in at about two pounds.

The Red Oxx D-Ring attachment points for the Claw shoulder strap are beefy and nearly indestructible. I’m 100% okay with any added weight.

If you prefer bags with entirely built-in storage, like elastic holding straps, instead of the sort of open construction that permits the carrying of modular cubes or kits for your gear, this bag may not be your thing.  But you might want to give it a look just the same; I was glad I experimented with modular kits and have learned to really appreciate their benefits.

And some readers will consider the $130 US price a “con” because similar bag configurations can be found on Amazon, eBay, or elsewhere for anywhere from $20-40. Somewhat better “camping grade” packs might be available at a further premium, perhaps $60-80. So yes, there are many cheaper bags out there.

But here’s the thing about Red Oxx gear: with that price comes rugged and superior quality and durability, in-the-US manufacture, and an incomparable warranty.  You’re buying from a company that designs and manufactures all of the their packs in Billings, Montana, USA. Their customer service, in my experience, is without compromise. They guarantee their products with a “no bull,” no-questions-asked, lifetime warranty.

Red Oxx routinely posts photos from their shop where employees are repairing customer bags bags that have been so severely battered that no (sane) company would consider it a warranty repair. But there’s integrity in Red Oxx’s insanity. That’s their customer base––folks who actually use their gear, who travel, who camp, who adventure.  Those who get out there, get going, get dirty.  These bags really take a beating, and thing is, it appears they can take it.

Remarkably, Red Oxx even honors their warranty without receipt of purchase, even knowing you might have purchased it used. Don’t believe me? Search eBay for Red Oxx bags–look at the completed sales pricing, and you’ll find even used bags selling for within a few dollars of their brand new pricing. Red Oxx doesn’t care how you came to be with their bag––you’re their customer, and that’s all that seems to matter to them.

So it’s clear:  Red Oxx packs not only hold your gear, they hold up––and they hold their value––over time. In my opinion, too, this bag is for the long haul.

Conclusion

Those of you who follow my blog know that I typically review radio gear. When I start testing new equipment, I never really know what I’m going to run into, especially if the equipment is mass-produced and the manufacturer has a questionable legacy when it comes to quality control.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened the Micro Manager, having only seen a preview ad photo which showed little to no detail.  But I knew prior to evaluating this bag that its quality would be nothing less than benchmark. Red Oxx doesn’t allow anything out of their shop that doesn’t obviously meet some of the strictest quality standards in the business. As I mentioned above, I only know of one other pack company in their league, and that’s Tom Bihn. You simply can’t find better quality than these two US companies design into all of their US-made gear.

My only concerns when checking out the Micro Manager for the first time was about configuration and flexibility. Would it effectively hold my field gear without bulging or straining? Would internal organization get in the way of the main compartment’s capacity? Could this pack be used as an EDC bag, or personal carry-on item?

For my use, all of these questions were answered with a resounding Yes!  

So…do I recommend the Micro Manager? Heck, yes! Without reservation. As long as your portable kit fits inside, and you like the configuration as I do, you’ll be pleased with the Micro Manager as well as with the company that produces it.  This bag will stick around, staying faithfully by your side for many years to come.

Click here to check out the Red Oxx Micro Manager.

On a side note: Shhh…I’ll be purchasing another Micro Manager shortly. While I’ve been testing this bag, my wife has repeatedly tried to steal it to carry her art supplies. For once, I know what to get her for Christmas! And, thankfully, though she edits my reviews, she never reads my live blog. Mum’s the word! 

Review of the Digitech AR-1780 portable shortwave radio

The following review first appeared in the October 2017 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.


Earlier this year one of my readers in Australia noted the addition of the Digitech AR-1780 to the product offerings of the Australia and New Zealand-based retailer Jaycar.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there are few in-country sources of shortwave radios in both Australia and (especially) New Zealand. Jaycar, in a sense, represents what RadioShack and The Source have offered in the US and Canada––a more accessible electronics retailer with some shortwave radio selection.

Jaycar sells radios badged with the name Digitech. Unfortunately, none of Jaycar’s recent additions––and there have been a few––have been enormous hits among serious radio enthusiasts. The company currently offers five Digitech models: the AR1736 ($18.95 AUD), AR1721 ($25.95 AUD), AR1748 ($129.00 AUD), AR1945 ($159.00 AUD), and now the AR1780 ($129.00 AUD).

The Jaycar models are either very cheap sub-$30AUD digital portables, or pricier large portables with a form factor similar to the Grundig S350DL and S450DLX, or the C.Crane CCRadio-SW. The new AR1780 fits somewhere between––a compact portable that promises a compliment of features tailored for the radio enthusiast.

In this review, we’ll take a close look at the AR1780, starting with its feature set.

Features

What appeals to me about the Digitech AR1780 is the amount of features provided by such a compact, traveller-friendly form factor.

Here’s a comprehensive list of the AR1780’s features and specs:

Frequency coverage:

  • FM 87.5 – 108 MHz
  • MW 522 – 1620 kHz or 520 – 1710 kHz
  • SW 1711 – 29,999 kHz
  • LW 150 – 450 kHz
  • AIR 118 – 137 MHz

Modes:

  • FM (including RDS)
  • AM
  • Single Sideband

Selectable Bandwidths:

  • AM mode: 6, 4, 3, 2.5, 2, & 1.81 kHz)
  • SSB mode: (4, 3, 2.2, 1.2, 1 & 0.5 kHz)

Convenient features:

  • Sleep timer
  • Clock/Alarm
  • Thermometer
  • Signal strength meter
  • Squelch control
  • Voice/Music selectable audio filter
  • Dedicated fine tune control
  • Headphone jack (3.5 mm)
  • Key lock button
  • Key beep on/off
  • Tuning knob and tuning step up/down buttons
  • Display button cycles through alarm, time, temperature, and signal strength
  • FM mono/stereo selection
  • Backlight button
  • Selectable 9/10 kHz regional MW tuning steps
  • Flip-out backstand

Power source: 7 VDC or 4 x AA cells (not included, can be internally charged if NiMH cells)

Antenna: Built-in telescopic and 3.5mm socket for external antenna

Weight: 253g/0.56 lbs (excluding batteries)

Dimensions: 150(W) x 95(H) x 30(D)mm

Operation Manual

The Digitech AR1780 ships with a small user manual. In fact, other than the hand strap, the user manual is the only additional item in the box besides the radio itself.

The manual is quite thin––slightly smaller in height and width than the AR1780––and only contains about eight front-and-back mini pages.  Although readable, it’s littered with grammatical and punctuation errors.  While a manual is certainly a welcome reference item with this feature-packed radio, this manual comes up short, lacking detailed explanations of features and even leaving some out altogether:  it does not, for example, offer any explanation on the use of the excellent squelch control, nor does it fully explain the station memory set on multiple memory pages––!  Rather unfortunate, as these features deserve a clear explanation.

First impressions

The Digitech AR-1780, like many DSP-based portables, includes a handy temperature display which can be toggled for Celsius or Fahrenheit.

I really appreciate the modest, portable form factor of the AR1780, so it had that going for it before I even opened the box. I travel with portable radios a lot, so the compact body of the AR1780 is very appealing. It’s not as compact as the C. Crane CC Skywave series, or the Grundig G6, but is much smaller than my Tecsun PL-660 and PL-880, or my Sony ICF-SW7600GR.

Comparing size: The Tecsun PL-680 (top), Digitech AR1780 (middle), and the C. Crane CC Skywave (bottom)

Unlike the radios mentioned above, the AR1780 does not include some sort of protective case or bag. I believe this is an omission for a radio aimed squarely at the traveler.

Fortunately, the plastic chassis of the AR1780 feels substantial enough. With the key lock engaged, the only likely problem that could arise from having no protective case is damage to the display, such as scratching.

The buttons all have a tactile feedback and seem to respond quickly enough, save powering up the radio, engaging the SSB mode, or changing bands, each of which takes a couple of seconds to engage.

I especially like the fact the AR1780 has, on the right, a dedicated multi-function tuning knob. One can turn the tuning knob to scan frequencies or press it to cycle through fast or slow tuning steps (or to turn off this knob’s function entirely).

The AR1780 also has a dedicated fine tune control––a tuning wheel just beneath the main tuning knob also on the right side of the radio (see image above).  The only odd quirk about this is that this is where most radios have a volume control. Being a creature of habit, many times I’ve inadvertently shifted frequencies when I simply wanted to turn up or down the volume! The volume control, meanwhile, is in the same position on the left side panel of the radio between the antenna and earphone jack.

Speaking of volume, the AR1780 can provide plenty of it-––almost room-filling audio––via the internal speaker. Best yet, I like its balanced fidelity: mellow, with notes of bass, but ample treble when listening at moderate volume. The audio response curve is almost ideal for such a small package.

Something else worth noting: the AR1780 fits nicely in the hand. In general, it’s a great size for portable listening.

Major bonus for a travel radio: the AR-1780 is powered by standard, accessible AA cells. Note that the frequency range information silk-screened on the back stand is incorrect–shortwave coverage extends up to 29,999 kHz.

On the downside, however, one negative I noted shortly after beginning use: muting between frequency steps. In AM mode, this is not as distracting as in SSB mode. Muting makes band scanning a more tedious and fatiguing experience. Unfortunately, in this era of DSP-chip-based receivers, it seems muting has resurfaced.

Also, as with many other DSP portables, you can often hear “input” noise when pressing buttons. In other words, if while listening to one frequency I decide to key in another, I’ll hear a little clicking or buzz in the audio as each button is pressed. This is a very minor annoyance since it only happens when buttons are pressed, nonetheless, I thought it worth mentioning. I often wonder if it’s a result of poor shielding, something from which similar models suffer.

Performance

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the AR1780 on the air almost every day. I’ve compared it with a number of receivers, but mainly The C. Crane CC Skywave, The CountyComm GP5-SSB, and even the Grundig G6. Below, I break down my notes by band.

AIR band

Let’s start with the “bonus” band: the VHF aviation band.

I’m sure there a number of readers who’ll never use this band, but I am not one of them. Personally, I really enjoy listening to aviation traffic, especially when I travel by air. Since the advent of the AIR band on ultra-compact radios, I no longer feel like I have to lug an additional scanner or receiver just to listen to the local air traffic control; that’s a plus.

Performance-wise, the AR1780 seems to be equal with the CC Skywave on the AIR band. Like the CC Skywave, the AR1780 has a squelch control––a fantastic feature, indeed. Simply tune the radio to your favorite aviation frequency, press and hold in the tuning knob on the side, and then use the tuning knob to adjust the squelch level. I find level 3 or 4 works well.

Note that unlike the squelch on the CC Skywave, the squelch control on the AR1780 actually carries over to the shortwave band. If you have squelch set on the AIR band, then switch to another band where squelch isn’t needed, you will need to turn it off. I never use squelch on the shortwave or mediumwave/AM broadcast bands; normal fading (QSB) can trick the squelch to open and close while tuned to a frequency.

Another convenient feature: press and hold the AIR button to start an automatic scan of the entire band. It’ll run through the AIR band once, saving any active frequencies. This is an ATS feature, so only makes one pass.  I wish you could set it to continuously scan the aviation band in a loop, much as a traditional scanner would.

FM

The AR1780 does a fine job on the FM band. It easily received my benchmark FM stations and even decoded the RDS from one broadcaster about 110 miles from my home base.

When listening to marginal FM signals, the AR1780 can be set to mono mode instead of default stereo mode.

What’s more, the internal speaker is exceptional at handling music––reasonably full fidelity given the limitations of the speaker size.

Longwave/Mediumwave

I’ll be the first to admit that longwave is not an easy band for me to evaluate. Here in North America, there are so few opportunities in the summer to log trans-Atlantic longwave stations. Indeed, unless I’m travelling to New England or the Canadian Maritime provinces, I never try to do so on a portable. I leave TA longwave DXing to my SDRs and tabletops back home where I can listen with the assistance of a large antenna.

But when I travel to Europe, longwave is a must, so my travel radio needs this capability. Based on my ability to receive benchmark LW airport beacons, I’m going to assume the AR1780 will do a fine job receiving European longwave stations while in Europe.

Likewise, the AR1780 should serve you well for both daytime and nighttime reception on mediumwave. Fortunately, switching between 10 and 9 kHz steps is simple: with the radio powered off, simply press and hold the “0” button to toggle between these steps.

On longwave and mediumwave, you can also use SSB mode (both upper and lower sideband). This could come in handy to reject adjacent signal interference on MW.

Likely an oversight on the part of the manufacturer, you can even engage the squelch feature, though why you would on LW and MW, I’m not sure.

Of course, with the fine-tuning control, you can navigate both bands in 1 kHz steps should you desire.

In short: the AR1780 is adequately sensitive on mediumwave and likely on longwave, as well. I wouldn’t rely on it for any serious DXing, but for a travel radio, it will serve you well.

Shortwave

Being first and foremost an avid shortwave listener, I spent the bulk of my AR1780 evaluation time on the shortwave bands and I’m overall very pleased with its performance.

In almost all of my comparisons on the shortwave bands, the AR1780 had a slight edge over its competition, namely, the CountyComm GP5-SSB, the Grundig G6, and the C. Crane CC Skywave.

To be clear, though, it was a very slight performance edge which I think may be attributed to the fact the AR1780’s telescopic antenna is longer, giving it a bit of gain over its competitors. For example, the AR1780’s antenna is about 17.7 cm (7 inches) longer than that of the smaller CC Skywave.

Still, placed on a table and not held in the hand, the AR1780 was able to pull in weak signals better than its competitors. I also compared it with the the Tecsun PL-680––one of my most sensitive shortwave portables––and, not surprisingly, the PL-680 outperformed the AR1780.

Again, I should stress that the sound from the AR1780’s internal speaker is more pleasant to listen to for extended periods than that of its smaller competitors.

SSB

Single sideband reception on the AR1780 is pretty impressive for a radio in this price class. On my particular unit, I found that the fine-tuning control was almost always needed to budge the frequency a few tenths of a kilohertz, even when I knew a particular signal was exactly on frequency. My Grundig G6 always had the same problem––indeed, sometimes in SSB mode, I had to listen “up” as much as 2 kHz on the G6.

The fine-tuning control works very effectively in SSB mode, nonetheless. Audio is quite pleasant, although the noise floor is not quite as low as it is on my larger portables like the Tecsun PL-680, PL-880, and the new S-8800. In my comparison tests, the AR1780 was slightly more sensitive than the CountyComm GP5-SSB, and about equal to that of the Grundig G6.

Click here to watch a short video of the AR-1780 in SSB mode.

In short? SSB is a welcome, capable addition on this compact portable.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons, of course. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions. Following is the list I’ve formed over the time I’ve been evaluating the Digitech AR1780:

Pros:

  • Display is clear and easy to read
    • Time is always present via display button
    • RDS info scrolls on lower line
    • Backlit display easy to read
    • Viewing angle good, save from top
  • Dedicated fine-tuning control (even on FM)
  • External antenna jack
  • 9/10 kHz selectable MW steps
  • Time set is simple
  • Adjustable bandwidth in AM and SSB
  • Decent battery life from four standard AA cells
  • Audio from the built-in speaker has better fidelity than other radios in this size

Cons:

  • No bag or carry case
  • DC input voltage is an odd 7V
  • Muting between frequency changes, especially annoying in SSB
  • Sometimes keylock activates backlit display permanently
  • Scan function on AIR band doesn’t loop, it’s an ATS pass only
  • My AR1780 had incorrect information silk-screened on the back regarding frequency coverage
  • Minor: sluggish response when switching bands or modes

Conclusion

Is the Digitech AR1780 worth the price?  I think so. For $129.00 AUD (roughly $103 USD), you’re getting a full-featured radio that is, by and large, a pleasure to operate. It has its quirks, but so do so many ultra-compact portables in this price bracket. It’s certainly worth considering if you live in Australia or New Zealand.

I’d like the AR1780 to be a little more refined:

  • No muting while band scanning in AM or SSB modes
  • A proper scan function to accompany squelch on the AIR band
  • Squelch that doesn’t carry over when bands are switched

What I do think is impressive for this price:

  • Overall smooth audio from the internal speaker
  • Dedicated external antenna port
  • Dedicated tuning and fine-tuning controls
  • Useful screen which displays time and even RDS information
  • Sturdy, relatively long telescoping whip antenna

These are features that make the AR1780 stand out among radios in its price class.

Is it a benchmark performer?  No. But it does the job rather well for the price, and frankly, I think I’ll use this during travel occasionally, even though I have several other smaller portables.

Why?  Well, for one thing, this radio has better audio fidelity from the internal speaker than most of my ultra-compact portables. When I’m in a hotel and listening to a local radio station or even a shortwave broadcaster that’s punching through typical hotel RFI, I’ll appreciate the richer, mellower audio. Many of my smaller portables are lacking in this respect, thus I usually end up listening through headphones.

In fact, the only thing this little receiver lacks for us here in North America is NOAA weather/Environment Canada radio frequencies––but it’s no wonder it’s not included, as it was never intended for this market. But I’m glad the step size on the AM broadcast band can be switched to our 10 kHz spacing, which makes it useful here in North America.

In short, the AR1780 has exceeded my expectations––though admittedly, it may be because it was my first experience with a Digitech radio and I had heard so many lukewarm reviews of previous models.

Regardless, I’m happy I paid a small premium to order this little rig from Down Under.

If you’re a radio enthusiast in Australia or New Zealand who wants the best performance in a portable, and doesn’t mind a larger radio, then do splurge for the Tecsun PL-660, PL-880, or Grundig Satellite. There is a dedicated Tecsun distributor in New South Wales and there are always, of course, retailers on eBay and one of my favorites, Anon-Co in Hong Kong.

And if you’d like to order a Digitech AR1780 outside of Australia or New Zealand, you can purchase from this eBay seller, as I did.

Weather Radio Review: Steve recommends the Sangean CL-100

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Steve Lebkuecher, who comments on our recent post about weather radios:

I have the Sangean CL-100 and highly recommend the radio for several reasons and in fact I bought several for family members as gifts. The Sangean CL-100 looks like an alarm clock and is what I use as an alarm clock but the CL-100 is a full featured weather radio as well.

The audio quality for general broadcast is excellent for a radio this size and the build quality is very good. I bought mine several years ago and have not had any issues. (About $60.00 from Amazon)

Some of the features I like and why:

S.A.M,E (Specific Area Message Encoding) Alerts only for your county. If a thunderstorm passes through a county next to you at 4:00 AM you will not be woken up. This has happened to me several times with my previous non S.A.M.E radio and I just ended up turning the radio completely off which obviously left me vulnerable to the next event.

Selectable Alerts – disable alerts that you may not care about such as wind advisory. Again I have been woken up with my previous weather radio that didn’t have this feature for a wind advisory early in the morning. Very irritating.

End-of-message (EOM) Radio turns off after alert is given so you don’t have to get out of bed just to turn the alert off.

RBDS (Radio Broadcast Data System) You can set the radios clock as well as the radio will display station ID and song name.

Display is excellent and has a wide viewing angle plus you can adjust the brightness. I do wish the display was a little bigger and mounted on the front of the radio VS the top so it would be easier to see the time if you wake up during the night.

Two separate alarms and can be programed for different days of the week.

Human Wake-up System – Alarm starts at a very low level and gradually builds up in volume. You can set the alarm to buzzer or radio broadcast. I hate being jolted out of bed by a nasty sounding alarm.

The jacks include DC power in, stereo earphone, AM external antenna, FM/weather external antenna, aux-in, external alert and grounding terminal.

Thank you for your review of the CL-100, Steve! I had forgotten about this particular weather radio and didn’t realize it was still on the market. I now recall an earlier post where Jeff McMahon touted the CL-100.

I love the CL-100 display and the fact that it doubles so well as a proper alarm clock. At time of posting, I notice one on eBay for $44 shipped–I hope someone buys it before I do. (Seriously–I’m very tempted.)

Shop for the Sangean CL-100 at:

NOAA Weather Radio Review: three excellent choices under $90

The Midland WR120 weather radio.

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Jim T, who writes with the following inquiry:

Wondering if you can give me some guidance re: NOAA weather radios.

We’re looking to be better prepared for disasters, bad weather etc. and have narrowed our radio candidates to CC Crane, Sangean and Kaito.

AM/FM would be nice, hand cranking and solar as well, but just want to get NOAA alerts should we have an earthquake here in the NW. Willing to spend $50-100 for something quality with relevant features to it. Your thoughts would be appreciated!

Thanks for your message, Jim. There are dozens of inexpensive weather radio models on the market, but I know a few good options based on my personal experience.

Note that all of these radios work in both the US (via NOAA) and Canada (via Environment Canada)–both countries have been using the S.A.M.E. (Specific Area Message Encoding) weather alert system since 2004.

The Midland WR120: A dedicated weather radio

If you’re looking for a weather radio to plug in and continuously monitor weather alerts through the S.A.M.E. system, I recommend a dedicated weather radio like theMidland WR120. These radios don’t typically have AM/FM functions, but are entirely devoted to the seven weather radio frequencies in the US and Canada (162.400, 162.425, 162.450, 162.475, 162.500, 162.525, and 162.550 MHz). They plug into mains power and the better ones have battery backup in case of power outages.

I have family that own the Midland WR120. They’ve used it for years and it’s worked flawlessly. Once you set up the radio with your preferred NOAA frequency and SAME alert regions, it will alarm and automatically play NOAA weather radio alerts when they’re issued for your area.  My family use this for tornado and storm alerts.

The Midland WR120 uses three AA alkaline cells for emergency power back-up. It’s very much a “set it and forget it” radio and, in my opinion, a bargain at $29.99.

As with any SAME alert radio, be aware that sometimes the alarm can be annoying. Depending on where you live and how the alert system is set up, you might get notifications for isolated weather events on the other side of your county–the S.A.M.E. system cannot pinpoint your neighborhood.

Still, I believe S.A.M.E. notifications are worth any extra inconvenience, especially if you live in an area prone to sudden storms and earthquakes.

Purchase options:

C. Crane CC Skywave: A portable shortwave radio with excellent NOAA weather reception

The C.Crane CC Skywave

If you’re looking for a battery powered radio to use during emergencies that has much more than NOAA weather radio, I’d recommend the C.Crane CC Skywave. Not only is it a full-fledged AM/FM/Shortwave and Air band radio, but it has exceptional NOAA weather radio reception with a weather alert function. The CC Skywave is a great radio to take on travels or keep in the home in case of an emergency. It’ll operate for ages on a set of two AA batteries, though I always keep a pack of four on standby just in case.

You can read a thorough review of the CC Skywave by clicking here. Note that C. Crane is also taking orders for their new CC Skywave SSB which is an upgraded version of the original CC Skywave and includes SSB mode, but costs $80 more than the original.

Purchase options:

C. Crane CC Solar Observer: A self-powered AM/FM NOAA weather radio

There are a number of self-powered NOAA weather radios out there, but frankly, many are very cheap and the mechanical action of the hand crank are prone to fail early.

I believe one of the best is the CC Solar Observer by C. Crane. It’s durable, and can also run on three AA cells, and is an overall great radio in terms of sensitivity on AM/FM as well. Unique in the world of self-powered radios, it also has a backlit display (which can be turned off or on)–a fantastic feature if the power is out.

Like other self-powered analog radios, the CC Solar Observer has no S.A.M.E. alert functionality.

Purchase options:

One more option: Eton self-powered weather radios

The Eton FRX5 sport weather alert, a digital display and futuristic design.

I would also encourage you to check out the wide selection of self-powered weather radios through Eton Corporation.

Many are digital and even have S.A.M.E. weather alerts. I haven’t commented on performance since I haven’t personally tested the 2016 and later models.

Eton typically packs a lot of features in their self-powered radios–having manufactured them for well over a decade, they’ve implemented iterative improvements along the way.

I have tested previous models extensively.

I particularly like the Eton FRX5 although being a digital radio, you get less play time per hand-powered crank–that’s why I prefer analog self-powered radios. The CC Solar Observer, for example, will yield roughly 40 minutes of listening time (at moderate volume levels) on 2-4 minutes of cranking.

Still, if charged fully in advance, I’m sure the FRX5 will play for hours. Note that using S.A.M.E. functionality in standby mode will deplete batteries more quickly.

Click here to view Eton’s full Red Cross radio line on the Eton Corporation website.

Any other recommendations?

Post readers, if I’ve omitted a worthy receiver, please comment with your recommendation.

I hope this helps with your decision, Jim! Thanks for the question!