Category Archives: Reviews

A review of the Tecsun R-9012 shortwave radio

 

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Laurence Neils, who shares the following guest post:


A review of the Tecsun R-9012

by Laurence Neils

I have cheap radios. I can’t really justify buying more expensive ones given how much time (not all that much) I spend listening to the short wave broadcasters. The consequence of this is that, when I do listen to shortwave stations, I have the rather standard ultraportables to listen on.

My go-to radio is the Tivdio V-115, which has pulled out quite nice reception for me, and offers several functions I like a lot. However, it was missing one that interested me the most: analog or analog-like tuning. If I want to listen to something, I either have to know its frequency and try it, or I have to let the radio do an automatic scan. While it’s quite good at pulling out stations and letting me hear them, it can take a few minutes to do a full scan, and canceling it doesn’t result in the part scanned so far to be stored. Very few stations I am interested in hearing are convenient to jump into several minutes after they start (my interest is in spoken content rather than music, and neither news nor stories make a ton of sense if the introductory information was not heard).

From a recommendation here on the SWLing Post, I chose to purchase a Tecsun R-9012 radio to help me do a convenient scan, which is useful because it allows me to find stations without knowing their frequency, and leaves me to not remember all seventy frequencies a certain broadcaster is using this year.

Physical Description

When I bought my Tecsun R9012, it arrived quite quickly from Amazon. It included a short manual, whose contents could be loosely paraphrased as “insert batteries and turn on”. Other than that, the radio is all that’s there.

The R9012 is relatively small, but not as thin or compact as the Tivdio, which will be my main comparison unit for this review. It is your basic rectangle form factor, and about the size of the small tape recorders that were the last to be phased out for portable recorders. It would be easy enough to put this in a backpack, jacket pocket, or glove compartment, but you have no chance comfortably fitting it into a standard pocket. On the back, there is a flip-out kickstand that can hold the radio at about thirty degrees from horizontal and the battery compartment. This radio is powered from two AA batteries.

The right side of the R9012 contains the analog tuning knob, which I will discuss quite a bit later, and the power switch, which is not connected to anything else (not integrated into the volume knob or mode selector).

The left side gives you a 3.5mm audio out jack. This supports all the headphone types I’ve tried. One benefit of this radio is that headphones with integrated microphones, such as the ones that come with the iPhone as well as various sets that are intended for phone use, will work with it. Some other radios won’t work well with that type of headset. The Tivdio, for example, will play through the headphones but forgets to turn off the speaker if there is a microphone on them, making the headphones pretty much pointless.

Next to that jack is a power port, supposedly to recharge the batteries. A connector for this is not included, nor do they seem to sell one. I suppose the theory is that you might already have a suitable one in that box of old cables we all have, but I can’t see this as a particularly useful feature given the RFI you’ll get if you connect a radio directly to the mains to recharge. Above the ports is the volume knob, which is a very basic analog one, and then the wrist strap, which is integrated into the case. There doesn’t seem to be a way to remove or change it, should you desire that.

On the front of the radio, the speaker takes up the left half. This is fine for standard listening, but don’t expect wonders of audio fidelity. On the right half, there is the twelve-position mode switch (from left to right, FM, MW, SW from low to high frequency) and the tuning display.

FM performance

The Tecsun has a standard FM function, with stated coverage from 76 to 108 MHz. This is the leftmost position on the mode selector. The band is not divided into multiple switch positions, meaning that stations will be relatively packed into dialing space when compared to shortwave, which is spread across ten bands.

I didn’t buy this radio to use it for FM. I have very little interest tuning for FM stations. Some people may enjoy the experience of manual tuning for a station they can locate quickly, but I’m not one. I can easily type the frequency I want on my Tivdio, and I intend to keep doing that for FM. I mostly intended to test FM performance on the R9012 because I was curious to see whether there would be anything audible in the 76-87 MHz section. I know that our TV standards have switched off using analog audio, so I assumed there would be nothing, but I’d never formally put that to the test.

FM on the R9012 has problems. In fact, it has a lot of problems. Among other things, the FM process on this radio doesn’t seem to have a very good idea where things are. I’d be tuning through looking for some station and I’d find it…only to see that I was in a completely foreign part of the spectrum where that station had no business being. It seems that, unless you’re very focused in on a station, the R9012 is liable to pick up some other broadcast and layer them on top of each other. Never mind that the broadcasts have nothing to do with each other and aren’t anywhere near each other on the band. If you have a specific station you want, you can tune to it and have no problems. If you want to see what’s there, you’ll have a very fun time listening to stations that you might want to listen to, only to find that that was an image, you’ve lost it now, and you can’t find it again.

Sometimes, I managed to find a part of the spectrum that gave me three different images simultaneously. Ironically, the broadcast I intended to use as my landmark, the local classical music broadcast, which is located very close to the middle of the FM spectrum, was strong enough or at a coincidental frequency that I identified images of it at six different places on the scan, in addition to where it should be. So I got my answer about 76-87 MHZ. According to the R9012, there’s a lot of signal there. It’s just coincidence that it sounds exactly the same as standard FM broadcasts with extra static.

FM performance gets worse: this radio is extremely sensitive to location.

In order to get nice reception, you have to have the radio in a good position. This seems to be completely random. Standing up so the antenna lies flat on the top, but is not extended produces almost silence. Lying down so the antenna is touching the table (not a metal table) or chair (not a metal chair) causes most signals and images to come through quite clearly. Extending the antenna to medium length helps reception. Extending it all the way introduces a lot of interference. On FM, volume also changes a lot. We may reasonably expect for the signal to change if we connect something conductive to the antenna by, say, touching it with our conductive fingers. Maybe reception will get more static, or maybe it will in fact improve. What we don’t expect is for the broadcast to switch from comfortable volume to let’s see if we can get you some tinnitus volume. Unfortunately, that’s sometimes what happens on FM if you touch the R9012’s antenna. Or tilt it a bit in the wrong direction. This doesn’t seem to happen much if it is tuned onto a station, but if it is anywhere in the middle or if there’s some static, the volume change is very noticeable, in that it makes you want to get the radio off as soon as possible.

In summary, this radio just can’t really do FM. If your other radios are broken, you’ll be fine by using this, but don’t buy it if you intend to do FM things.

Mediumwave performance

The MW frequencies are mostly there, with stated specs including from 525 to 1610 kHz. While there are broadcasts between 1610 and 1710 KHZ, that’s not a ton of the spectrum. I don’t have much interest in MW. I tested the radio’s performance, and it seems fine. Strong stations come in loud and clear. Stations that have low broadcast powers are easy to tune in. I was able to get some skywave MW in here as well, but I really don’t have any interest in that. I was able to verify, however, that the terrible effects that plague FM performance don’t appear on MW. I got no images of distant stations, no rapid volume switches, and the position of the radio doesn’t seem to affect MW reception all that much. Perhaps this is due to the different antenna that most radios employ in tuning MW. However, the manual doesn’t say whether this radio has such an alternative antenna and I haven’t gone to the effort of disassembling it to find out.

Shortwave performance

Once again, the crazy stuff seen on the FM band doesn’t appear during shortwave listening. I was able to tune in quite a few stations, although this probably isn’t a DX-capable device unless you’re willing to go out into RFI-free areas. That sounds enjoyable, but it’s not really my thing. When I got signal, it came in quite clearly. I got very little interference from the device itself, although it does seem quite susceptible to RFI from power lines. Of course, so is everything else, but if you put its antenna closer to a line, you’d know it.

Frequency coverage

Shortwave is covered in ten bands that allow access to the more populated areas of the spectrum, but have many gaps. Certain descriptions claim that the radio has coverage from 3.90 to 21.85 MHz. This is so misleading I’d be willing to call it a lie. The actual ranges are as follows:

  • SW1: 3.9 – 4.00Mhz
  • SW2: 4.75 – 5.06Mhz
  • SW3: 5.95 – 6.20Mhz
  • SW4: 7.10 – 7.30Mhz
  • SW5: 9.50 – 9.90Mhz
  • SW6: 11.65 – 12.05Mhz
  • SW7: 13.60 – 13.80Mhz
  • SW8: 15.10 – 15.60Mhz
  • SW9: 17.55 – 17.90Mhz
  • SW10: 21.45 – 21.85Mhz

So what if most signals are in there somewhere? Those gaps are very large. For example, the only broadcast frequency for WWV that would be covered on this set is the 5MHZ one. 10, 15, and 20MHZ are all located in various gaps on the bands.

This turned out to be quite annoying. I know that these are standard areas of the spectrum, in which people place a preponderance of broadcasts, but the fact remains that a lot of broadcasts occur between the bands on this set. I checked the A18 shortwave schedule to identify how crazy I was. Of the 5530 broadcasts that were listed between the limits of 3.90 to 21.85 MHZ, 1870 of them or 33.8% of the total, are outside the range of this set.

It strikes me that the largest band on this radio covers only 500 kHz of space, whereas the smallest gap between bands covers 750 kHz. In many cases, bands cover only 100 kHz of bandwidth. While I guess it’s better that they’re there rather than their being completely absent, perhaps some effort could have been done to open that up a bit more. I quickly analyzed where missing signals were, and if Tecsun could extend the 5.95-6.20 MHz band down to 5.8 MHz, 7.10-7.30 up to 7.60 MHz, expand the 9.5-9.9 band, and give an extra 50 kHz to the 11.65-12.05 band, most of the missing spectrum, nearly a thousand broadcasts, would be brought back into coverage. This could be done and still keep the maximum band width at 500 kHz. Therefore, as they didn’t seem to feel this an important issue, it falls to me to consider it so.

Manual tuning

So I bought this to tune manually. It stands to reason that I should review how well it does that.

The analog dial is on the right, and protrudes outward. Once again, the knob does its job, but not all that well. It was very easy to use this to pan through the spectrum and pick up stations, but the wheel doesn’t make it all that easy to do so quickly. You have to turn it by grasping, as the wheel has a fair bit of resistance. I don’t doubt that this feature helps to keep from knocking it off frequency, but you have to use two fingers to rotate freely, and that slows the process down. Meanwhile, the wheel has a rather disconcerting way of stopping, where the wheel seems to have hit an obstruction. However, this essentially increases the resistance, rather than feeling like a barrier. It’s noticeable, but it feels like something’s blocking the turning mechanism, rather than that the mechanism has reached its limit. Actually, it is possible to keep turning the dial, which I assume will eventually damage something, but if you’re not used to how it feels, you may do so without realizing that you’re not actually going anywhere.

The wheel has quite a bit of travel. On my set, it will rotate about three full turns. I believe this is necessary because all of FM, including the standard and Japanese bands, is in one section. Therefore, the wheel needs to be able to turn a lot in order to separate those stations. However, this means that panning over a shortwave band that covers at most 500 kHz of spectrum includes a great deal of panning over static. This works to scan quickly, but there are undoubtedly even faster ways to do so.

Conclusions

It’s a radio. It will pick up stations and make noise. In that, it works. However, this isn’t exactly a great set. The $22 price tag may forgive some of its flaws but not all of them.

Radios like the Tivdio models cost similar amounts and cover the spectrum more fully with some extra features. When I purchased this model, I expected the lack of features to be made up by convenient scanning over shortwave, relatively good sound, and relative disposability. I got enough for me to keep the set, but nothing more.

Pros:

  • Mediumwave is rather sensitive for those who enjoy listening to those signals.
  • Radio has a kickstand and the antenna can be rotated freely.
  • Radio supports headphones with inline microphone.

Cons:

  • FM is plagued by images of other stations that should not be there. This is rather bad.
  • FM is far too sensitive to antenna position.
  • Shortwave coverage, while it includes most of the spectrum in use, has big gaps that are actually being used by a lot of broadcasters.
  • Analog tuning works, but not really well. The knob can turn but does so with effort.

Would I recommend people to purchase this? Probably not.

Those who have higher-priced devices will get nothing from this. Those getting into the hobby aren’t going to get a ton of benefit from this, because tuning on shortwave requires enough familiarity with dial position that they may spend too long figuring it out. It would be useful on FM only if most other radios have been broken. It’s not even that good as an emergency set because of the FM sensitivity problem.

If all you want is analog tuning over the bands that are provided, the radio will do it for you. If you want more, buy something else.


Thanks for sharing your evaluation Laurence. Thanks for focusing on one of the points that is often overlooked with analog radios: the frequency coverage on various shortwave bands. The R-9012 does seem particularly segmented. 

Tecsun R-9012 retailers:

Post readers: Do you own the R-9012? What are your thoughts? Please comment!

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Mike’s review of the Sangean HDR-14 AM/FM HD Radio

Sangean HDR-14 (left) and the C. Crane CC Skywave SSB (right) (Photo: Thomas)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mike S, who comments with his short review of the Sangean HDR-14. Mike writes:

Well, I did something I said i would not do, triggered by Amazon’s tendency to introduce impossibly low prices on things for a couple of days, I sprang for the HDR-14. I have used it side by side with its direct competitor (the Nicetex “SPARC” SHD-TX2) for a few nights and a couple of days. Interesting little device.

As has been pointed out by those that read the specs, it is barely larger than the CC Skywave overall. It is made of the same soft, shiny black plastic as the larger Sangean portables (it is alternately a fingerprint magnet or a scuff magnet) but has a much less solid feel. The swivel-out foot on the bottom is a welcome addition and works well.

I have not yet played with other features (memories, etc) except to note that somebody has finally gotten it right in that memory locations store the chosen FM multicast channel instead of just the frequency.

The Sangean HDR-14 RDS display (Photo: Thomas)

Performance is a mixed bag. This is NOT an HDR-16 crammed into a smaller cabinet; not surprising, really, considering the amount of real estate available for circuitry. Analog FM and HD capture are right up there with the the larger sets and similar to the SPARC. I am unable to reproduce the spurious FM image problem noted by a lone Amazon reviewer. Audio is “just OK” out of the speaker with a harsh emphasis on treble – the SPARC portable is MUCH better with its passive radiator – but just fine for headphones or an external speaker.

However, for AM, that reviewer was spot on. The noise floor on AM is a tad too high and the native sensitivity a tad too low; resulting in “just OK” useable sensitivity on the band especially compared to the SPARC. I had no trouble with AM-HD on the only two stations in NYC metro (WCBS and WINS); however, it was unable to even detect the HD carrier from known stations in nearby cities that I was able to get >50% on the HDR-16 and HDR-18. The selectivity is better than the SPARC due to the DSP active for bandwidth adjustment; witness that I was able to clearly separate stations in Connecticut (600) and Philadelphia (610) from the splatter of local powerhouses at 570 and 620. Unfortunately too, analog AM reception is plagued with DSP artifacts reminiscent of earlier Tecsun sets which can even manifest in odd distortion in adjacent-channel splatter that bleeds into the tuned signal. The fact that the audio circuit/speaker accentuate the treble, make this even more annoying – the “ticks” from adjacent channel splatter are so harsh that you might think the speaker cone is damaged and vibrating.

I’m still waffling on whether to keep this one. It’s a nice little set which is sure to become a collector’s item, and its FM performance really is exemplary. But I kinda view the inclusion of the AM band as its raison d’être and in that regard it could certainly do better.

Thanks for your review, Mark!

It’s interesting that you couldn’t reproduce FM overloading or imaging. I have noted images on the FM band and it hasn’t been in a market as congested as that of NYC. It’s only noticeable when listening to stations adjacent to strong signals, however. It’s almost as if the FM filter is a little too wide.

I also agree about analog AM reception.

My HDR-14 review has been delayed due to a very hectic schedule, but I plan to complete it in the next couple of weeks! Thanks again, Mike!

Chris’ review of the Sangean WR-7 FM radio and Bluetooth speaker

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Chris Freitas, who writes:

I recently came across a post on the SWLing Post after I saw Sangean released the WR-7. It recently became available on Amazon and decided to purchase one after seeing your review and Radio Jay Allan’s review.

As I am writing this, I am pleased with the overall quality of this radio. The dark walnut wood is a nice solid build and the light-up dial is a nice touch.

The sound quality is fantastic and beats the pants of my larger iHome “Orb” Bluetooth speaker and sounds a bit better than the Jambox Mini.

I have not done a lot of FM listening yet, but this little radio is pretty sensitive without the wire antenna. It picks up all of the Memphis FM stations with little or no static. With the included wire antenna, I can receive WMAV 90.3 FM in Oxford, MS…about 80 miles away with ease.
The WR-7 is definitely a keeper and will be using it on trips and between rooms in my apartment or outside while sipping on some coffee.

Anywho, I wanted to tell you about my experience with the radio and I have included some pictures of it too.

Thank you for sharing your report, Chris!  You’re right: the Sangean WR-7 is a fine little FM radio and Bluetooth speaker. I’m happy to hear how well it’s serving you and even snagging distant FM stations. Later this year, I’m going on an extended trip and will take the WR-7 with me to provide a nice source of local FM music and WiFi radio while paired with my iPad running TuneIn.

Click here to view the Sangean WR-7 on Amazon.com (affiliate link).

Click here to read our full review of the Sangean WR-7.

In the pipeline: a review of the Sangean HDR-14 portable AM/FM HD radio

Based on readers correspondence, the most anticipated non-shortwave radio to hit the market this year might be the Sangean HDR-14 AM/FM HD radio.

Sangean sent me a sample evaluation unit and I’ve had it on the air since taking delivery last week. I’m starting to put the elements of my HDR-14 review together while also writing Part 2 of my SDR primer for The Spectrum Monitor magazine (Part 1 was published last week). Indeed, I’ve a total of five reviews and evaluations on my desk right now–!

So far, I’m impressed with the little HDR-14. If you recall my review of the Sangean HDR-16, I mentioned that one of my benchmark distant HD FM stations is WFAE 2–its transmitter is a full 101 miles from my home and I’m well outside even the the fringe reception area.

The HDR-14 has a unique back stand: a small foot that swivels out of the base of the chassis.

I’m pleased to note that on more than one occasion, I’ve gotten a reliable HD lock of WFAE from my porch. A most positive sign!

Over the next three weeks, the HDR-14 will be travelling with me and I hope to even snag an AM HD station if all goes well.

I can tell you already that I’m as pleased as punch Sangean gave the HDR-14 a total of 20 AM and 20 FM memory presets. The larger HDR-16, in contrast, only has 5 AM and 5 FM presets.

Look for my review of the HDR-14 on the SWLing Post in the coming weeks. If interested, follow the tag: HDR-14

I’ve noted that both Universal Radio and Amazon.com (affiliate link) have the HDR-14 in stock and shipping. Universal’s price is $79.99 plus shipping and Amazon’s price is $88.67 including shipping.