Category Archives: Reviews

A follow-up review of the PK Loop C-LOOP-HDSW6-18 antenna

In 2016, I purchased portable shortwave magnetic loop antenna designed and built by Paul Karlstrand in Australia. I posted a “preliminary” review of this antenna in 2016 and since then have taken this loop on many travels.

SWling Post contributor, Ron, recently noted that Jay Allen reviewed one of Paul’s inductively-coupled mediumwave magnetic loop antennas. Jay gave it good marks on performance as it compares favorably with the Grundig AN-200, Select-A-Tenna M, and Terk Advantage AM–even having a performance edge due to it’s larger loop diameter. (Note that Paul makes a number of loop sizes–click here to download PDF of catalog.)

In Canada last summer, I used the PK Loop on a number of field radio listening sessions.

But what really sets the PK Loop apart from its competitors is its durability. PK’s Loops are built to be incredibly rugged. I routinely throw my PK Loop antenna in bags/packs and–unlike most of my other radio components–never worry about how it’s padded or protected. There’s little to damage unless you’re intentionally abusive to this antenna. My Grundig AN-200 antenna, on the other extreme, has exposed coated wires around its loop that I’m constantly concerned about harming in transit.

Following up…

Ron’s message reminded me that I never followed up after posting a preliminary review of the PK Loop C-LOOP-HDSW6-18 in 2016.

Shortly after publishing the review, I had a fantastic opportunity to evaluate how well the PK Loop would perform in a typical hotel room. My buddies Eric (WD8RIF), Miles (KD8KNC) and I stayed overnight in a hotel on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base during our mini National Parks On The Air DXpedition.

My Elecraft KX2 connected to an external random wire antenna.

The hotel room was indeed dense with RFI.

We hooked my Electraft KX2 to both the PK Loop and to a simple random wire antenna.

Without a doubt, the PK Loop was much better at mitigating radio noise than the wire antenna we hung on the inside of the hotel window.

Unlike most modern hotels, however, this one actually had operable windows, so we tossed the random wire out the window and made another comparison. In this case, the external wire antenna consistently outperformed the PK Loop, no doubt because it had the advantage of being outside the radio noise cloud within the hotel’s walls. It goes to show that outdoor antennas–even if simply hanging from a room window–will almost always outperform comparable indoor antennas.

A late evening listening session on the condo balcony.

Last summer, I also spent two months in a condo near Québec City. The condo was dense with RFI–the PK Loop made the experience much more bearable.  The loop couldn’t completely eliminate all of the persistent wideband noise, of course, but it did reduce noise to a level that I could enjoy some of my favorites like RRI, VOG, VOT, REE, WRMI, RNZI and even weaker stations in North America like the BBC and DW.

Even the shortwave version of the PK Loop can null out QRM to some degree by rotating the loop perpendicular to noise. I became quite adept at this by the end of our stay.

Summary

Since I purchased the PK Loop, it’s been a constant travel companion and I highly recommend it. I don’t believe you’ll find a more durable or effective portable mag loop antenna on the market.

PK Loops are built by Paul Karlstrand in Australia who has a stellar reputation with his customers. For those of us living outside Australia, there will be additional shipping costs, but they’re negligible and Paul has been exporting these loops for many, many years. I believe I received my loop within a couple of weeks of ordering it.

Click here to view a PDF catalog of Paul’s loops and products.

As an added convenience, Paul also has an eBay store where he sells the following antennas:

This year, I plan to purchase PK’s largest mediumwave loop, the model HDXLTAM that boasts a 20″ diameter. Please comment if you have experience with this loop or any of Paul’s loops!

XHDATA D-808: A Shortwave Comparison Against Four Other Portables

When the clouds part and the sun shines during the winter in the Seattle, Washington area, it’s time for a celebration! I decided to take advantage of the mild weather and compare the XDATA D-808 (a real upstart in the marketplace, and a value leader in portables) against a few other radios on a nice daytime signal from Radio New Zealand International, 15720 kHz.

Besides the D-808, receivers compared to each other were: the C. Crane Skywave SSB (complete with stray cat’s whisker on the LCD :^) , the Eton Executive Satellit, the Grundig G3, and a beautiful example of the rare Sony ICF-SW1000T (sometimes called the Sony Shortwave Walkman due to the built-in cassette recorder). My apologies for the lower audio setting on the G3.

The antenna used with each radio was a PK Loops “Ham Loop” antenna, which is advertised as covering 3.5 – 14.5 MHz, but my loop actually tunes approximately 3.2 MHz to 15.8 MHz. I also briefly received RNZI on each radio’s own whip antenna.

I used the 3.0 kHz bandwidth on all the SiLabs DSP radios, and the narrow filter on the G3. The ICF-SW1000T has a single filter, so it cannot be adjusted.

Since the G3 and the ICF-SW1000T have the option of synchronous-AM detection, in the video I cycle through those modes on these receivers.

RNZI on their 15720 kHz frequency is often at a good, program listening level in my local afternoons. Next week I plan to seek out and share videos of the D-808 with weak DX signals from an RF-quiet location on the Oregon coast.

Which receiver sounds the best to you with the external antenna, and which one shines with its own whip aerial? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


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

A review of the Sangean HDR-16 AM/FM HD Radio

It’s funny that, while I’ve written dozens and dozens of radio reviews over the years, I’ve never written even a single review that included an HD radio.

Well, the time to begin is now: HD radio, here we come.

Those readers living outside North America may be scratching their heads, asking, “What exactly is ‘HD radio?’” To answer in clear terms, I’ll turn the question over to Wikipedia:

HD Radio is a trademarked term for iBiquity’s in-band on-channel (IBOC) digital radio technology used by AM and FM radio stations to transmit audio and data by using a digital signal embedded “on-frequency” immediately above and below a station’s standard analog signal, providing the means to listen to the same program in either HD (digital radio with less noise) or as a standard broadcast (analog radio with standard sound quality). The HD format also provides the means for a single radio station to simultaneously broadcast one or more different programs in addition to the program being transmitted on the radio station’s analog channel.

Got that?  In brief, HD radio is digital radio broadcasts that occupy the same FM/AM spectrum currently allocated for analog broadcasts.  Wikipedia adds:

[HD radio] was selected by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2002 as a digital audio broadcasting method for the United States, and is the only digital system approved by the FCC for digital AM/FM broadcasts in the United States.

For my own part I had mostly ignored HD radio, assuming there would be few stations to listen to from my rural home location. That is, until recently, when I purchased a car that has built-in HD radio reception. I was impressed by the number of commercial stations I found that I can receive via HD radio. In truth, only a handful of the mainstream HD station offerings had any appeal for me, but I really took notice when I received a commercial-free jazz station via the HD2 channel of my favorite NPR member station, WFAE.  Having been a jazz fan since I studied music in college, I was intrigued: could a portable HD radio receive this distant HD station reliably?  I had my doubts; moreover, I really didn’t want to purchase a radio, then be obligated to send it back if it didn’t receive anything.

Instead, I contacted Sangean.  The company was more than happy to send me a loaner radio for review. I requested the HDR-16––at the time it was Sangean’s most affordable HD portable, one about which a number of SWLing Post readers had expressed their curiosity.

Overview

The Sangean HDR-16 is a simple radio with a modern design. The chassis is a glossy black hard plastic and feels substantial. It has a useful fold-out carry handle and substantial telescoping whip antenna. The front face features a 16-character two-line backlit display, five function buttons, five dedicated preset buttons, and a dedicated power button. On the right side of the radio you’ll find a dedicated (two function) tuning knob and smaller volume/tone knob. The left side of the radio features an “aux-in” port, a “rec-out” port, an earphone jack, and a 7.5 volt “DC-in” port.

Features

  • HD Radio digital and analog AM / FM-Stereo reception
  • 10 Memory Presets (5 FM, 5 AM)
  • PAD (Program-Associated Data) Service
  • Support for Emergency Alerts Function
  • Automatic Multicast Re-Configuration
  • Automatic Simulcast Re-Configuration
  • Auto Ensemble Seek
  • Real Time Clock and Date with Alarm and Sleep Function
  • 2 Alarm Timer by Radio, Buzzer
  • HWS (Humane Wake System) Buzzer and Radio
  • Snooze Function
  • Tone & Bass Control
  • Information Display for Channel Frequency, Call Sign, Radio Text, Audio Mode, Service Mode,   Signal Quality and Clock Time
  • Easy to Read LCD Display with Backlight
  • “Battery Low” LED Indication
  • Auxiliary Input for Additional Audio Sources
  • Record Output for Connecting to Hi-Fi System or Recording from Audio Program
  • I/O Jacks: DC In, Line-Out (Rec-Out), Aux-In, Headphone and HD / FM Rod Antenna

Audio

The HDR-16 sports two 2.5” front-facing speakers that deliver crisp audio that can be customized with simple treble/bass EQ settings. I found increasing the treble just a bit and the bass quite a lot produced the best audio for music broadcasts.  Even the default audio settings are pretty good, however. The HDR-16 doesn’t have the rich fidelity of the Eton Field BT or the Tecsun S-8800, but it does offer stereo sound that is room filling and pleasant. Sangean obviously took audio fidelity seriously when designing the HDR-16.

The left side features AUX in, Record Out, Earphone and a DC power port.

Note that the the HDR-16 sounds especially good in spoken word/news broadcasts.

Operation and Ergonomics

The Sangean HDR-16 is a very simple and intuitive radio to operate. I sorted out all of its functions simply by following button and knob labels, but even the most tech-challenged person in your family could give the owner’s manual a single read-through and operate the HDR-16 with ease.

But let’s get one gripe out of the way…perhaps a case of simplicity gone too far:  the HDR-16 only has five station preset buttons. Five! Actually, it offers a total of 10 memory allocations: five for AM, five for FM. Still…even in my rural market, I can easily program ten station memories on an FM radio, especially since HD Radio channels offer that many more new options. But the HDR-16 forces me to curate my presets down to a mere five stations per band. In my view, this strict limitation is an unfortunate design oversight.

Performance

The HDR-16 is an AM/FM radio that receives both legacy analog broadcasts and HD/digital broadcasts on both bands.  I’ll break down performance by mode and band below.

HD performance

Digital FM

Of course, what I was most eager to explore was FM HD reception from my home. After unpacking the HDR-16, I placed the radio on my kitchen countertop and initiated an HD Seek scan via the dedicated button on the front panel. Couldn’t have been easier.

The HDR-16’s scan/seek functionality is impressively quick.

I quickly found there were a number of commercial radio stations––about four, to be exact––that I could instantly receive with little to no effort. Mind you, I live in a relatively rural market in a mountainous area. No doubt, if I initiated an HD radio search in LA or New York City, the dial would be chock-full of terrific stations.

All of the HD radio stations I received were either local, or powerhouses from neighboring markets. I was disappointed to find that I could not receive my most desired station, WFAE HD2.

I then moved the HDR-16 to a south-facing window and tuned to WFAE’s FM frequency of 90.7. I found I could easily receive the analog station and its RDS information, but still had no option to listen to HD2. After tinkering with antenna position and placement in our kitchen window, a sweet spot for reception was found, and voila! WFAE HD2 came in fully decoded, without any drops.

Recalling the days when I used to tinker with the rabbit ears on a TV, once I found that sweet spot, I carefully left the HDR-16 alone and didn’t move it further. As a result, over the course of the afternoon, I had nearly 100% copy from WFAE HD2.

I knew WFAE was a fringe station and checked their propagation map for HD radio. My location was actually outside of the fringe reception area.  I looked up GPS coordinates of the WFAE 90.7 MHz transmitting site and found it is exactly 101 miles/162 km from my home.

Obviously, the HDR-16 is a sensitive HD radio on FM!

Via the 1/8″ stereo AUX in jack, you can use the HDR-16 as amplified stereo speakers for your favorite portable music device.

Turns out, FM HD reception is pretty flaky when dealing with fringe stations, though.

Over the course of the next weeks, I tried the HDR-16 in different positions and locations.  There was only one spot in my house where the HDR-16 could get reliable reception of WFAE HD2. When I started the evaluation, it was August; our trees were still had a canopy full of green leaves. Sangean kindly allowed me to hang onto the HDR-16 to see if reception improved in late fall when all of the leaves were off the trees. As I write this review, we’re in winter, and the tree branches are bare. But curiously, reception of WFAE’s fringe signal is about the same as before. Nor have I noticed any difference in the reception of other commercial stations.

The HDR-16 accepts four C cells.

My conclusion is that the HDR-16 is a true performer on the FM band in HD mode. I have no other HD radios with which to compare it, but based on what I know about HD radio, this rig certainly exceeded my expectations.

Digital AM

The HDR-16 can also receive AM HD signals. There are far fewer AM HD broadcasters on the air, however. In fact, one of the first in our region dropped their HD coverage last year due to a lack of listeners.

With that said, I’ve read that a number of HDR-16 owners who live in the vicinity of AM HD broadcasters love the fact they get a digital audio quality signal on the AM band. One SWLing Post reader recently told me he even gets the occasional night-time AM HD DX signal with an HDR-16.

There are no local AM HD stations near me, and despite my best efforts, I never decoded an AM HD broadcaster in the evening. Perhaps if I did a little research and planning, then inductively coupled the HDR-16 to a MW mag-loop antenna, it would increase my chances.

Analog performance

FM

I’ve done almost as much analog FM listening on the HDR-16 as I have HD listening.

The HDR-16 can hold its own with most of my portable radios, in that it can receive all of my benchmark FM stations, and even some fringe analog stations.

RDS decoding also seems to be quite effective, even with fringe stations.

AM

AM (mediumwave) performance is surprisingly good. Perhaps my expectations were low, but I expected analog AM reception to be an afterthought. Or perhaps to have acceptable AM HD reception, Sangean had to put some extra effort into overall AM performance. Honestly, I don’t know, but what I do know is I’ve been pleased with the HDR-16 on the AM band. The AGC is pretty stable, noise relatively low, and sensitivity better than on other similar digital radios.

Many of my shortwave portables, like the PL-660, PL-310ET, and PL-880, could outperform the HDR-16 on the AM band, but frankly performance is on a level that it’s going to please most radio listeners. I’ve even had luck getting solid copy from one of my favorite AM DX stations, CFZM (740 kHz) with the HDR-16.

Should you purchase the HDR-16 for AM/MW DXing? No; there are better radios for this exclusive function. But for what I would consider a “bonus” band on a digital radio, I’m very pleased.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget some of my initial impressions. Here’s the list I’ve developed over the time I’ve spent evaluating the HDR-16.

Pros:

  • Excellent FM HD radio reception
  • Excellent FM analog reception
  • Very good AM broadcast band reception for a modern digital portable
  • Good audio from internal stereo speakers
  • Nice carry handle that tucks away
  • Both auxiliary-in and -out jacks for audio
  • Dedicated earphone jack
  • Design is compact, sleek, yet sturdy
  • One of the more affordable HD radio options currently on the market
  • Easy access to bass/treble tone controls through volume multi-function
  • HD seek functions work on all but the most fringe stations

Cons:

  • No ability to internally recharge C batteries
  • No external antenna jack to improve FM HD reception with directional antenna
  • Limited to just 10 memory presets (five for AM, five for FM)
  • Fringe HD stations may continuously flip between digital and analog, annoying when HD station content and analog broadcast content are quite different Update: I recently tried to have the receiver replicate this behavior but it did not, so I’m striking it from the cons list!

Conclusion

Can I recommend the HDR-16? Absolutely.

If you’re looking for an AM/FM HD radio that’s well-rounded, simple to operate, and provides quality audio, I don’t believe you could go wrong with the HDR-16. The HDR-16 has proven to me that it’s a worthy FM HD receiver as it’s sensitive enough to snag fringe HD stations with some reliability. I’m certain I could design a small FM antenna and get 100% copy from my favorite HD station 101 miles from my home.

I think the HDR-16 would be a safe purchase for anyone, as it’s easy to operate, relatively compact, and makes the process of seeking HD stations a breeze.

I’m especially pleased with the HDR-16’s AM analog reception. It pleasantly surpassed my expectations and makes it easy to recommend the HDR-16. The HDR-16 is one of the few HD portables that also includes AM HD reception.

If you’re looking for a well-rounded HD and analog portable, grab the HDR-16. If you’re looking for a mediumwave DX machine, go for a benchmark mediumwave radio instead, like a GE Super Radio, C.Crane CC Radio 2E, CC Radio EP Pro or even a “Holy Grail” vintage Panasonic RF-2200.

I like Sangean’s high gloss finish (though it does show fingerprints rather well!).

I’m very tempted to purchase the HDR-16; I’ve found it difficult to justify, though. Living in a rural location, I have fewer HD stations to choose from––all but one are commercial, chock-full of advertising, and lack any real variety and diversity. I am very pleased with WFAE’s jazz station on HD2, but it’s hard to justify a $100 purchase just to receive one station over the air. Especially since I can easily stream WFAE HD2 from my Sangean WFR-28, Como Audio Solo, or Amazon Echo.

But if I lived in an urban area, with the accompanying diverse radio market, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the HDR-16.

Here are some retail options for the HDR-16––at the time of this writing, almost all retailers price it at $100–Amazon, New Egg and some eBay vendors offer free shipping:

In closing…I should add that there’s another tempting Sangean HD radio coming just around the corner: the HDR-14. It’ll be priced lower than the HDR-16, and is even more compact, suggesting that it might make an excellent portable for the traveler. I will certainly review the HDR-14 when it’s available, as I’ll be very curious if its equally effective at snagging fringe HD FM stations.  Note that the HDR-14, unlike the HDR-16, has only one speaker, so I doubt audio fidelity will match that of the HDR-16, which should be a better choice for home and local use.

Ivan compares the AirSpy HF+ to the KiwiSDR

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ivan (NO2CW), who writes:

I have been running a public Kiwisdr server for a while and yesterday decided to plug in the new Airspy HF + into the same antenna for a side to side comparison. The antenna is an 80m dipole and the test was done during local afternoon, around 3 PM. I did not use any of the many new noise reduction features that are incorporated into both SDR Console 3 and the SDR web server. The 11 minute video is located here:

Click here to view on YouTube.

When I have the time I will run a similar test in nighttime conditions and also test the Airspy HF+ against a few other radios sitting on my desk.

Thank you for sharing this, Ivan!

Georges’ review of the XHDATA D-808

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Georges (F6DFZ), who writes:

After the first information from your wonderful website, I immediately ordered the XHDATA D-808 receiver from Aliexpress for €62 including shipment to France.

I got it very quickly, shipped from Amazon UK!

I did a few tests on SSB. MDS is outstanding, the minimum signal from my HP generator at -127 dBm (0,1uV), is strong even on 28 MHz. Selectivity is also good, and the opposite sideband rejection is audibly also good. However I was unable to measure it because the S meter give the same indication over a few kHz around the signal of the generator. I suspect the opposite sideband rejection to be done by the DSP chip at AF, but I cannot confirm this.

Reception is very good on FM, and the AF from the loudspeaker is reasonable. On headphones, it’s very good. RDS works as it should and sets the clock of the receiver.

I did only a few minutes test on LW and MW, and it seemed OK, even if I don’t have a lot of experience on these bands.

SW AM listening was very good; good audio, great selectivity. I suspect that the bandwidths given are AF bandwidths as even the most selective were not too much muffled. If it was IF selectivity, the AF bandwidths would have been half the values and much muffled.

SSB and CW reception are also very good even if the DSP chip has a long attack time and hence gives distortion during the beginning of each message.

About SSB: I think that this receiver is better than the [Tecsun] PL-880 and comparable to the PL-660.

Reception is good on the short but sturdy telescopic antenna.

If you connect the receiver to a large external antenna, you will encounter many IMD signals. As there is no built-in attenuator, you will need an external one.

The manual is correct, but very short about the memories.

ATS logs its findings into the first pages, so if you want to keep some memories, log them a few pages away.

The available pages are different with bands, FM has its pages, SW its pages etc…

Unfortunately, memories don’t keep the mode on SW–only the frequency and selectivity. After calling a memory, you will have to choose between AM, USB and LSB.

I was totally unable to light the “Preset” label on the display ?!?

Display and backlighting are very nice.

Somewhat odd, but the squelch seems to work sometimes on other bands than Air band !

Ergonomics are reasonable, quality of construction is good for the price.

Overall, for the price, this receiver is quite outstanding.

Best regards from France .

Georges F6DFZ

Thank you, Georges! Excellent thoughts on the D-808.  Your note about squelch control working outside the AIR band reflects what the Digitech AR-1780 does as well–hinting that firmware is very similar.

I fully suspect the D-808 is on the path to being one of the best radio values under $100 US.

Merci bien, Georges!