Category Archives: Reviews

A happy accident, and some experiments

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

When you live in an antenna-challenged situation as I do (stringing long wire antennas outside is problematic for me), the result is a never-ending search for an improved signal.

Toward that end, I’ve experimented with a horizontal room loop, an indoor end-fed, and a short dipole.

Along the way, I decided to test the MFJ 1020C active antenna/preselector, and I liked it pretty well. My conclusion was: Bearing in mind that it won’t improve every signal you want to hear, if you live in an antenna-challenged situation, the MFJ 1020C – particularly if you can get 20-50 feet of wire outdoors or run around the perimeter of a room – may be just what the doctor ordered.

After my test of the 1020C, I had an online conversation with Andrew (grayhat), and he suggested that I might want to have a look at the MFJ 956 passive selector.  Its major claim to fame is: “Boost your favorite stations while rejecting images, intermod, and phantom signals!  The MFJ-956 Pre-Selector/Antenna Tuner greatly improves reception from .15 to 30 MHz — especially below 2MHz.  It has tuner bypass/ground receiver positions.  The MFJ-956 measures a compact 2 x 3 x 4 inches.

MFJ was kind enough to send a 956 to me, and while I did not test it below 2 MHz, I found that it proved very helpful in tuning in the BBC mid-winter broadcast to Antarctica. I started out with the MFJ 1020C. Lots of noise and fades. Reception was somewhat better using the 1020C (compared to bypass), but then I switched to MFJ 956. I found I could copy better with the 956, even though it provides no amplification. Tuning slightly off-peak offered the best copy, better than bypass. I was listening in USB. In all, it is a useful piece of gear.

While poking around the MFJ website I discovered the MFJ 1046 Receiver Preselector, 1.6-33 MHz. Among other claims, MFJ has this to say about the 1046: MFJs new Passive Preselector has extremely high dynamic range! It improves the performance of nearly any HF or shortwave receiver/transceiver. It vastly improves the most expensive receivers. Especially helpful to those with broadband front-ends that are prone to overload.

Sounds promising, I thought, so I emailed Thomas, SWLing’s Maximum Leader, to see if maybe MFJ would like me to have a look at one.

A happy accident

A few days later, package arrived.

I was unpacking it when the Brain Dudes interrupted.

Brain Dudes:  Hey!!

Me: What?!!

Brain Dudes: That thing look a little weird to you?

Me: Whaddya mean?

Brain Dudes: Look at the front . . . what do you see?

Me: Well, on left, a knob labeled GAIN; next to that, and ON/OFF button; moving to the right, a BAND selector switch, and finally a TUNE knob.

Brain Dudes: And what is the MFJ 1046 supposed to have?

Me: A big tuning knob, an ON/OFF switch, and a BAND selector switch . . . maybe this is an improved model . . .

Brain Dudes: How ‘bout you look on the back panel . . . what do you see?

Me: The usual connections for antenna and receiver . . . and a plug-in socket for an external power supply.

Brain Dudes:  Is a passive preselector supposed to have a power socket?

Me: No . . .

Brain Dudes: OK, final clue, Sherlock: suppose you read the label on the front panel.

Me: MFJ 1045C. Holy smokes! They sent me the wrong unit!

(I hear the Brain Dude yelling at someone in the background: “Finally, the light comes on! I told you switching to decaf was a bad idea!)

Brain dudes: So they sent you the wrong unit; suppose you test it anyway since it’s here.

So I did. And it turns out that MFJ sending the 1045C instead of the 1046 was a happy accident because the 1045C, which is an active preselector, delivers excellent performance across the board.

This is what MFJ says about the 1045C: “Lets you copy weak signals. Rejects out-of-band signals, images. 1.8 to 54 MHz. Up to 20 dB gain. Gain control. Dual gate MOSFET, bipolar transistors for low noise, high gain. Connect 2 antennas, 2 receivers. Coax and phone jacks. 9-18 VDC or MFJ-1312D.

Once the antenna, receiver, and power supply are connected (I used the power supply that MFJ sent me with the 1020C), I operate the 1045C in much the same way as the 1020C:

  1. With the unit in BYPASS mode (the ON/OFF button out), tune the receiver to the frequency you want to hear.
  2. Set the GAIN knob to around 3 or 4.
  3. Set the BAND knob to the band with the MHz that you are tuned to.
  4. Press the ON/OFF/BYPASS button in. This turns on the active preselector and amplification circuits and a red light comes on to let you know the unit is activated.
  5. Slowly turn the TUNE knob back & forth. At some point in its tuning range, you will hear the signal and/or noise peak.
  6. Finally, adjust the GAIN knob for maximum intelligibility of the signal. Sometimes tuning slightly to the side of the peak works best.

I tested the MFJ 1045C with my end-fed indoor antenna (see link above) and with the short dipole (also, see link above). I also did head-to-head comparisons with the MFJ 1020C and those two antennas.

The results

Here’s what I found:

  1. The indoor end-fed antenna (which is 45 long) out-performs the short dipole (which is 6 feet total length) in all cases. That’s no surprise, but bear in mind that not everyone has a situation in which they can deploy the longer antenna. The 6-foot dipole definitely out-performs the whip antenna on my Satellit 800.
  2. The 1045C has a broader range of amplification than the 1020C. It appears to reject adjacent channel interference as well or better than the 1020C, and, to my ear, the 1045C has a lower noise floor. If you turn the GAIN knob fully to the left, it gets to a position where it appears to actually attenuate the signal. And I never found a situation in which, if properly tuned, the signal delivered by the 1045C was at least equal to the bypass signal, and many times it was significantly better. In short, in the HF range the 1045C appears do to everything that the 1020C does (with the exception of the 1020C’s screw-in whip antenna) and do it better.
  3. When using the 1045C with a portable (my Tecsun 880), I found that I could hear the noise peaks better than with the 1020C, which is a great help in tuning for best performance.

So why would you chose the 1020C or the 956 over the 1045C? Short answer: if you are a MW or LW enthusiast. According to MFJ, the 1045C covers 1.8 to 54 MHz; the 1020C covers .3 to 40 MHz, and the 956 covers 150 kHz to 35 MHz.

However, if you are an HF weenie like I am who enjoys teasing out faint signals, and particularly if you are faced with a sub-optimal antenna situation, the MFJ 1045C, in my opinion, is definitely worth a try.

Click here to check out the MFJ-1045C.

Shameless plug: check out the SWLing Post Message Board there are often interesting discussions going on there.

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Jack’s “Perfect Radio Trifecta”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jack Kratoville, for the following guest post:


My Perfect Radio Trifecta

by Jack Kratoville

Last Fall, I asked SWLing readers to assist me in my decision as to what portable radio I should take on a two-week trip to Germany. While I came up with an initial list of portables I already own, there were some excellent suggestions on what I might pack. (Sidenote to Thomas – yes, my wife and I packed everything we needed into two carry-on pieces, including my 3 radios. Your expertise continues to serve us well!) To all else, thank you again for your thoughts, suggestions and comments.

The Tecsun PL-310ET was a top choice of many, yet one I had previously never taken into the field. It seemed a logical choice for this trip. The second is the Sangean PL-210 and it just fits in any pocket. The third is a DAB receiver someone had given me, tossed in a drawer, and forgotten about until I realized Germany implemented DAB to replace the MW and LW bands. The only name I can find online is the DAB-8. Being quite small, it made the cut and I shoved it in between a couple of tee shirts.

At our destination, I quickly realized I could not have chosen a better trinity for myself. Here’s why.

Tecsun PL-310ET

If this had been the only radio I brought, I would have been more than satisfied. SW signals abound (the war just two countries away was certainly a factor.) A quick hit of the ETM feature at the top of the hour brought in 40-50 listenable signals, with only a scant few broadcasts religious in nature. Even during the day, I could capture 25 easily. With the bandwidth set at 3 kHz, sound was most impressive. While some were the same broadcast on different frequencies, my only real disappointment was the lack of English-speaking broadcasts – but that was to be expected. The PL-310ET scans relatively fast and holds on to strong signals quite nicely.

We stayed with relatives who lived high on a hill not far from Kiel, in the north of Germany. One push of the ETM feature on FM filled the dial with German voices playing mostly English pop music (the eighties apparently a favorite decade there too.) Simply put, the selectivity on this radio is phenomenal. Odd / even frequencies happily sharing adjacent homes on the dial. And with the pre-emphasis on European FM at 50, the sound from this portable was absolute perfection. As a matter of fact, my first complaint about this radio was a bit of harshness on our over-processed FM commercial stations. In Europe, the audio characteristics of classical, pop, rock and talk stations was simply sweet.

My first night on the AM band was a disappointment. One, maybe two signals that didn’t come in very well. Thankfully, I quickly remembered to flip it to 9kHz and – wow! The BBC, Spanish, Italian, and signals that sounded very much like eastern Europe came booming in. I did not expect all of this and can easily say this was the most fun I’ve had band scanning and DXing in a long, long time! Traveling domestically, I’m more apt to load a memory page, but in this situation, the ETM feature was incredibly useful.

For all DXing, I only used the whip and internal antennas. The battery indicator dropped one notch on the second to the last day we were there. The PL-310ET is an absolute true travel performer.

The Tecsun PL-310ET now sits proudly alongside my CCrane Skywave, Digitech AR1780, Eton Executive Satellit (Grundig edition) and the semi-retired Grundig G5. When we travel to London next year, there’s no question this gets packed again.

Sangean PL-210

A radio that became my constant walking companion during Covid. Hand-sized with a really nice on-board speaker for its size. The sensitivity is impressive and considering its PLL circuitry, has excellent selectivity on FM. AM was also impressive for an antenna no more than a half-inch – if that. It went with me to Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfort and Denmark; always just a quick pull from the pocket for a quick scan. To say I like this radio, well, I own three.

DAB-8

My curiosity in DAB was basically zero. One reader actually PM’d me and offered their own DAB receiver, saying I should check it out. (Thank you, Mike, for that generous offer.) This radio sounds great, but has very poor FM reception. (No MW). It does have inputs for mp3 and Bluetooth, so I figured just in case there was nothing to listen to, I could stream something on it. Its small size was the biggest factor in making the trip. Once settled, a quick daytime scan grabbed nine signals easily on DAB and they sounded great. It was the only band that featured more traditional (even country!) music. It’s back in the drawer at home, but I am very glad it made the trip.

Summary

I truly had a blast listening to the various captures on these three radios, the Tecsun being the most impressive and fun. I’m sure many newer models would be excellent choices, but not once did I wish to have something bigger or better. That doesn’t happen on trips very often, so perfection indeed.

My apologies to those looking / hoping for recordings. I stopped recording from the radio back when I opted to purchase 45rpm records rather than record them, complete with DJ patter on my father’s Webcor reel-to-reel. Once I got into the biz, I recorded enough DJ patter to last a lifetime! Again, thanks to everyone for their input.

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Matt’s Rooftop Receiver Shootout: Round Two!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Matt Blaze, for the following guest post:


Matt’s Rooftop Receiver Shootout, Round Two.

by Matt Blaze

You may recall that back in April, I dragged eight of my favorite receivers up to the roof, hooked them up to a portable antenna, and compared their abilities to demodulate various signals at the same time. For the most part, the similarities between radios were more striking than their differences. I hinted that there’d be a second installment to come, including more receivers and more challenging signals, to further expose and highlight the practical real-world performance differences between the radios we use.

So, as promised, here we are with Round Two of my Rooftop Receiver Shootout.

This time around, I used approximately the same setup, but with a total of fifteen different radios. And once again, I took advantage of nice weather and brought a multitude of receivers, recording gear, cables, and an antenna up to my roof to listen to and record shortwave signals under the open sky.

Our fifteen receivers included everything from “dream radios” from the 1980’s to current-production desktop models to less expensive modern portables to high-performance bench-top lab measurement gear. I tried to curate samples of a wide range of radios you may be familiar with as well as some you probably aren’t.

The lineup consisted of:

  • Icom R-8600, a current production “DC to Daylight” (or up to 3 GHz, at least) general coverage communications receiver, with highly regarded shortwave performance.
  • AOR AR-ONE, another DC to 3 GHz general coverage radio, less well known due to the high price and limited US availability. Excellent performer, but a counterintuitive and awkward (menu-driven) user interface is less than ideal for shortwave, in my opinion.
  • Reuter RDR Pocket, a very cute, if virtually impossible to get in the US, small production, high performance SDR-based shortwave portable receiver. It’s got an excellent spectrum display and packs near desktop performance into a surprisingly small package.
  • AOR 7030Plus, an extremely well regarded mobile/desktop HF receiver from the late 90’s. Digital but retaining some important analog-era features like mechanical filters. Designed and (mostly) built in the UK, it’s got a quirky menu-driven user interface but is a lot of fun once you get used to it.
  • Drake R8B, the last of the much-beloved Drake receivers. Probably the chief competitor to the 7030+.
  • Drake R7A, an excellent analog communications receiver (but with a digital VFO) from the early 80’s. It still outperforms even many current radios.
  • Sony ICF-6800W, a top of the line “boom box”-style consumer receiver from the early 80’s. Great radio, but hard to use on SSB, as we saw in Round One.
  • Panasonic RF-4900, the main competition for the Sony. Boat-anchor form factor, but (improbably) can run on internal D-cell batteries. Generally impressive performer on AM, but, like the Sony 6800, difficult to tune on SSB.

You may remember the above radios from Round One back in April. The new radios this time were:

  • Tecsun 501x, a larger-format LW/MW/HF/FM portable released last year. As noted below, it’s a generally good performer, but regrettably susceptible to intermod when connected to a wideband external antenna (as we’ll see in Part One).
  • Tecsun PL-990x, a small-format portable (updating the PL880), with many of the same features as the 501x. Like the H501x, good performance as a stand-alone radio, but disappointing susceptibility to intermod when fed with an external antenna.
  • Sangean ATS-909x, a recent LW/MW/HF/FM portable with a good reputation as well as a few quirks, such as only relatively narrow IF bandwidth choices on HF. Excellent performance on an external antenna.
  • Sangean ATS-909×2, an updated, current production version of the ATS-909x that adds air band and a few performance improvements. Overall excellent, though I would prefer an addition wider IF bandwidth choice. My go-to travel receiver if I don’t want to take the Reuter Pocket.
  • Sony ICF-7600GR, a small-format digital LW/MW/SW/FM portable introduced in 2001 and the last of the Sony shortwave receivers. Showing its age, but still competitive in performance.
  • Belka DX, the smallest radio in our lineup, made in Belarus. You’ll either love or hate the minimalist interface (one knob and four buttons). If you’re going to secretly copy numbers stations in your covert spy lair, this is a good radio to use. Can be difficult to obtain right now due to sanctions.
  • Finally, a bit of a ringer: the Narda Signal Shark 3310, a high performance SDR-based 8.5 GHz RF spectrum and signal analyzer. As with most test equipment like this, demodulation (especially of HF modes) is a bit of an afterthought. But it has an excellent front end and dynamic range, intended for identifying, extracting, and analyzing weak signals even in the presence of strong interference. Not cheap, but it’s intended as measurement-grade lab equipment, not consumer gear. Demodulated audio is noticeably delayed (several hundred ms) compared with other receivers due to the multi-stage DSP signal path.


The antenna was my portable “signal sweeper” Wellbrook FLX-1530 on a rotatable tripod, using a power splitter and a pair of Stridsberg Engineering 8-port HF distribution amplifiers to feed the fifteen radios. So every radio was getting pretty close to exactly the same signal at its RF input. Continue reading

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Frans compares the BH5HDE QRP, GRAHN SE3, and his home made loop antenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Frans Goddijn, who shares the following article and video originally posted on his blog:

I got the little BH5HDE QRP portable QRP loop, assembled it and could not wait to try it out even though it was during that day and signals were sparse and weak.

This new loop performs well, in part thanks to the tuning & impedance knobs. I compare it with the GRAHN SE3 and a big home made loop that I bought second hand. The latter has no tuning but is as directionally sensitive as the others and it delivers an amplified signal to the receiver.

Click here to view on YouTube.

I found a manual for the QRP, not included in the package:

Instructions for use of BH5HDE QRP portable small loop antenna

Welcome to use the BH5HDE QRP portable small loop antenna. This product can easily and quickly set up a short-wave transceiver antenna, allowing you to enjoy the joy of multi-band reception and communication indoors, windows, balconies and outdoors.

Installation:
(BNC mount equipment needs to bring a pair of photography tripods)
Use the right-angle adapter and double male docking to connect the antenna to the m seat at the rear of the radio station or erect the ring body to the connector on both sides of the controller and tighten, then install the tripod to the fastening seat on the back of the tuner Open the tripod, place the antenna body firmly on the tripod, and finally connect the feeder (the feeder is attached with a choke, one end of the choke is placed near the small loop antenna).

use:
Now that the small loop antenna has been connected to your radio station, you can now tune in.
First introduce the function of the tuner panel. The toggle switch on the left is the band selection switch (up: 7MHz, down: 14-30MHz).
The main control knob, the upper knob is the frequency tuning knob, the frequency tuning value does not change due to environmental changes; the lower knob is the impedance matching knob, the impedance matching value will change due to environmental changes. (The tuning range of the two knobs is 180 degrees, and the panel value is 0-60).
When you start using the radio, select the desired frequency, and then turn the band switch to the desired band position, then adjust the impedance matching value of the lower knob to 30, and then adjust the upper knob to tune. At this time, pay attention to listening to the noise floor of the radio station. The more resonance, the louder the noise floor of the radio station (in the environment with extremely low noise floor, the antenna resonance noise floor is almost inaudible. It is recommended to let the radio station observe the standing wave). At this time, let the radio transmit (cw, fm, and am modes are available), pay attention to the standing wave indication, and fine-tune the frequency tuning knob while transmitting. Since the knob of the portable version does not have a deceleration function, the method of fine adjustment must be more delicate, and the smaller the rotation angle, the better.

At this time, you can observe a significant change in the standing wave, but generally the minimum standing wave ratio will not be below 1.5. At this time, you need to adjust the impedance matching knob. It is recommended to adjust the positive and negative 5 scale values randomly, and then repeat the frequency tuning steps and observe The standing wave ratio. Due to the change in the matching value, there are two possibilities before the comparison: 1: the minimum value of the standing wave ratio decreases; 2 the minimum value of the standing wave ratio becomes larger. If the minimum value of the standing wave ratio becomes lower, it means that the impedance matching adjustment approaches the correct value and can be further adjusted. If the minimum value of the standing wave ratio becomes larger, it means that the impedance matching is far from the correct value and must be adjusted in the opposite direction.

Repeat the above steps to adjust the VSWR of the antenna to 1.0.

The VHF and UHF bands are fixed with the upper knob hitting 60 to the end, and the lower knob can adjust the impedance to resonate.

Note: The best effect for outdoor use is to use antennas indoors as close as possible to windows, fully enclosed reinforced concrete, against walls and other environments where the standing wave ratio is not ideal.

Advanced technique: when the signal is weak, you can rotate the antenna direction to improve the signal-to-noise ratio, which is conducive to reception. The unique gain lobe of the loop antenna makes the horizontal gain directivity when it is erected, and its characteristics can be used to select multiple signals in the horizontal direction. It can also reduce the co-frequency interference in the horizontal direction. Of course, If the interference signal is extremely strong, much larger than the useful signal that needs to be accepted, the attenuation effect will not be too significant, compared to the whip antenna can still have the attenuation effect.

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The Icom IC-705: Giuseppe’s pairs his new radio with his homebrew crossloop antenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Giuseppe Morlè (IZ0GZW), who shares the following:

Dear Thomas,

I wanted to share my new purchase with all SWLing Post friends: the Icom IC-705.

It is truly a great portable QRP transceiver and a great receiver for broadcast listening.

In this video, shot on my balcony at home, is the first listening test on short waves. Crystal clear audio with cathedral effect. My portable cross loop antenna pairs very well with the IC-705.

It’s a simple video but it brings out all the listening potential of this 705.

Greetings to you and all the friends of our community.

73,

Giuseppe Morlè (IZ0GZW)

Click here to watch on YouTube.

Thank you for sharing this, Giuseppe! I’ve found that the IC-705 has become one of my favorite portable receivers. It’s truly an amazing radio and, I believe, worth the hefty price tag. 

I published a very favorable review of this radio and 13DKA has as well. Also, check out Giuseppe Fisoni’s comparison of the IC-705 and IC-R8600. The IC-705 is a proper enthusiast-grade radio–I would purchase it just for the receiver functionality. Being a ham radio operator, I also take the IC-705 to the field very regularly–I post many of my field reports on QRPer.com. Recently, we’ve posted a number of articles about protecting the IC-705 during travels and in the field.

Thank you again for sharing this, Giuseppe!

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The Satellit 800, the Tecsun PL-880, and two indoor antennas – an afternoon of experimentation

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


The Satellit 800, the Tecsun PL-880, and two indoor antennas – an afternoon of experimentation

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

A search for “shortwave listening antennas” on the internet landed me on the page for the Par EndFedz® EF-SWL receive antenna, which is a 45-foot end-fed wire antenna connected to a wideband 9:1 transformer wound on a “binocular core” inside a UV-resistant box. A link on the page invited me to check out the eHam reviews of this antenna, which are here. What struck me is that there are just page after page of 5 star reviews of this antenna. Hams and SWLs apparently just love it. (If you want to buy of these antennas, they are now sold by Vibroplex and can be found here.)

As I reached for my credit card, I remember that I had an LDG 9:1 unun transformer lying around and some wire left over from the Horizontal Room Loop project. Maybe I could create my own end-fed SWL antenna by wrapping the wire around the perimeter of the room, attaching it to the 9:1 unun and then by coax to the back of my Grundig Satellit 800.

So I did exactly that. The wire for new end-fed antenna travels the same route around the perimeter of the room as the horizontal room loop. The main differences between the two antennas are that the end-fed is not a loop, and it terminates in the 9:1 transformer, which, in turn, feeds the Satellit though a coax cable. But in essence, we’re talking about two indoor wire antennas that are the same length and laid out along the same path about 7 feet in the air around the interior of the 8-foot by 12-foot room that serves as a library and radio shack: the horizontal room loop and the indoor end-fed.

 

The Satellit 800 has three possible antenna inputs: the very tall built-in whip antenna, two clips on the back of the 800 where the horizontal room loop attaches, and a pl-239 coax connector where the new end-fed antenna attaches. In addition, there is a three-position switch that allows me to quickly switch from one antenna to another.

Tuning up on the WWV time stations on 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz and sliding the switch on the back of the Satellit 800 among the three different positions, I quickly found that the whip antenna was the noisiest of the three choices and offered the poorest signal-to-noise ratio. The comparison between the horizontal room loop and the indoor end-fed antenna was very, very close. While the horizontal room loop was quieter, it seemed to me that the signal offered by the indoor end-fed antenna was the tiniest bit easier to hear, so I decided to leave the Satellit 800 hooked up to the indoor end-fed antenna.

The 100-foot indoor end-fed antenna

Then I did something I had wanted to do for quite a while: I disconnected the horizontal room loop from the back of the Satellit 800 and attached one end of the wire to the indoor end-fed. So now, I had a roughly 100-foot end-fed antenna wrapped twice around the room.

Before we proceed any further, you need to understand this: my comprehension of antenna theory is essentially nil. As the old-timers would have it: you could take the entirety of what I understand about antenna theory, put it in a thimble, and it would rattle like a BB in a boxcar.

Ever since the successful creation of the horizontal room loop, I had wondered: if 50 feet of wire wrapped around a room improves the signal, would 100-feet of wire improve the signal even more? Inquiries to several knowledgeable people produced the same result: they didn’t think so.

Guess what? They were right . . . entirely and completely right. Tuning to the time stations and attaching and detaching the extra 50 feet of wire from the indoor end-fed, I saw (on the signal strength meter) and heard no difference in signal strength or signal-to-noise ratio.

The PL-880 and Satellit 800 comparison

So now, the Satellit 800 is attached to the indoor end-fed antenna, and there is an extra 50 feet wire wrapped around the room on the same path as the end-fed. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could find a way to hook that extra wire up to my Tecsun PL-880?

An old auxiliary wind-up wire antenna from a FreePlay radio came to the rescue. It was an annoying piece of gear; the wire was difficult to deploy and even more difficult to wind up again, and it had languished in a drawer for more than a decade. But it had a really nifty clip on the end that was designed to easily snap on and off a whip antenna.

Pulling an arm-spread of wire out of the reel, I cut it off, stripped the wire, attached it to the end of what had been the horizontal room loop, and clipped it to the whip on the PL-880. Tah-dah . . . instant improvement to the signal coming into the PL-880.

Some time ago, a reader had asked whether I found the Satellit 800 a little deaf in comparison to the Tecsun PL-880. Now, with two indoor antennas of approximately the same length and routed along the same path, I could do the comparison on shortwave frequencies. Starting with the time stations and later with hams in single-sideband on the 20-meter band, I alternated between the two radios. Although the PL-880 has more bandwidth choices, and the two radios have a slightly different sound to them (probably, I’m guessing, due to differences in their circuitry), the bottom line is this: anything I could hear with the Satellit 800 I could also hear with the PL-800 . . . and vice versa. (Note: I did not do any comparison between the two on medium wave or FM.)

In my not-so-humble opinion, both offer worthy performance that is improved with the addition of a 50-foot wire antenna, even if it is indoors.

And that brings us to the final point.

A word of caution

If you decide to add a bit of wire to improve the signal coming into your shortwave portable or desktop receiver, do NOT, under any circumstances, EVER deploy the wire where it could come into contact with a powerline or fall onto a power line or where a power line could fall on it.

As Frank P. Hughes, VE3DQB, neatly put it in his wonderful little book Limited Space Shortwave Antenna Solutions: “Make sure no part of any antenna, its support or guy wires can touch a power line before, after, or during construction. This is a matter of life and death!

And when thunder and lightning threaten, make sure your outdoor antenna is disconnected and grounded.

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Matt’s 2022 Rooftop Receiver Shootout!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Matt Blaze, for the following guest post:


2022 rooftop receiver shootout

by Matt Blaze

I realized it’s been long past time for me to do another head-to-head receiver comparison “shootout”, where you can compare the audio from multiple radios receiving the same signal at the same time. Long time readers of Thomas’ blog may remember I’ve posted a few of these before.

So I took advantage of the nice weather and brought a bunch of radios, recording gear, and an antenna up to the roof to listen and record signals under an open sky. My neighbors, no doubt, wondered what I must have been up to. (Don’t tell them I’m just a harmless radio nerd.)

This year, our focus is on eight “dream receivers” from the 1980’s to the present. Each radio is at or near the top of the line in its class at the time of its release. Our radios include, in roughly reverse chronological order:

  • Icom R-8600, a current production “DC to Daylight” (or up to 3 GHz, at least) general coverage communications receiver, with highly regarded shortwave performance.
  • AOR AR-ONE, another DC to Daylight general coverage radio, less well known due to the high price and limited US availability. Excellent performer, but a terrible (menu-driven) user interface for shortwave, in my opinion.
  • Reuter RDR Pocket, a very cute, if virtually impossible to get in the US, small production, high performance SDR-based shortwave portable receiver. It’s got an excellent spectrum display and packs a lot of performance into a surprisingly small package.
  • AOR 7030Plus, an extremely well regarded shortwave receiver from the late 90’s; designed in the UK. It’s got a quirky menu-driven user interface but is a lot of fun to use.
  • Drake R8B, the last of the much-beloved Drake receivers. Probably the chief competitor to the 7030.
  • Drake R7A, an excellent analog communications receiver (but with a digital VFO) from the early 80’s. It still outperforms even many current radios.
  • Sony ICF-6800W, a top of the line “boom box” style consumer receiver from the early 80’s. Great radio, but hard to use on SSB.
  • Panasonic RF-4900, the main competition for the Sony. Boat-anchor form factor, but runs on batteries. Excellent performer, but also hard to use on SSB.

The radios were fed from my portable Wellbrook FLX-1530 antenna, using a Stridsberg Engineering HF distribution amplifier. So every radio was getting pretty close to exactly the same signal at its RF input.

Recordings were taken from the line output, if one was available, or the external speaker/headphone output otherwise. In either case, the audio was then isolated and converted to a balanced signal for recording.

For each signal, I recorded monaural “solo” tracks for each radio, as well as a narrated stereo track in which I compared the audio from each radio (one after the other) against the Icom R8600, with the audio from the R8600 on the left channel and the audio from the other radios on the right channel. This gives you a quick overview of what all the radios sound like.

The stereo recording requires some explanation. For it to make any sense, you MUST listen in stereo, using decent headphones if at all possible. You can switch earpieces back and forth (with your finger on pause and rewind) to get a quick idea of what each radio sounds like compared with a modern receiver, and how they handle things like fades and static.

The solo tracks, on the other hand, consist entirely of the continuous audio from a single radio, with no narration or interruption.

I recorded three different signals, for a three part comparison. (Parts four and up will come, hopefully, soon). I think both the differences and similarities will surprise you.

Part One

Our first signal was the BBC on 9915 KHz, broadcasting from Madagascar to western Africa. This signal was extremely marginal here, intended to show how each receiver can or can’t handle signals down in the noise. It’s definitely not “armchair copy”.

The stereo overview is at:

The individual receiver solo tracks can be found here:

Icom R-8600:

AOR AR-ONE:

Reuter RDR Pocket:

AOR 7030Plus:

Drake R8B:

Drake R7A:

Sony ICF-6800W:

Panasonic RF-4900:

Part Two

Our next signal was the Shannon (Ireland) aviation VOLMET broadcast on 5505 KHz USB. This synthesized voice gives the latest meteorological conditions at airports around Europe. The signal was not strong, but entirely readable. It shows how the radios handle a weak SSB signal. Note that the Sony and Panasonic consumer radios, though equipped with a BFO, were VERY hard to tune properly.

The stereo overview is at:

Receiver solo tracks can be found here:

Icom R-8600:

AOR AR-ONE:

Reuter RDR Pocket:

AOR 7030Plus:

Drake R8B:

Drake R7A:

Sony ICF-6800W:

Panasonic RF-4900:

 

Part Three

Our final signal was a stronger, though occasionally fading, shortwave broadcaster, Radio Romania International on 13650 KHz AM. This gives you a sense of how the receivers performed on a typical “average” signal that you might actually want to enjoy listening to. Because the radios have different filters and other capabilities, I tuned each radio to whatever sounded best; I did not attempt to use comparable settings (since no common settings existed).

The stereo overview can be found at:

And the individual solo tracks are here:

Icom R-8600:

AOR AR-ONE:

Reuter RDR Pocket:

AOR 7030Plus:

Drake R8B:

Drake R7A:

Sony ICF-6800W:

Panasonic RF-4900:

Subsequent comparisons, hopefully soon, will focus on receiver performance on signals in crowded bands and under various kinds of interference and noise.

A quick note on production: The recordings were made with a 12 channel Sound Devices 833 recorder with a Sound Devices SL-16 mixing console. The audio was isolated and converted to balanced output with Switchcraft 318 direct interface boxes (highly recommended for recording radios with pro audio gear).

The stereo track narration was done by me in real time, as the signals were being recorded. I made some comments about which receivers I thought sounded best that were not always the same as what I would later conclude after carefully listening to the solo tracks once back inside. But judge for yourself. I used a Coles “lip” microphone, an amazing ribbon mic designed decades ago for the BBC for use in highly noisy environments. It was very effective in reducing the sometimes considerable street noise and other ambient outdoor sounds.

Thanks for listening and 73!

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