Category Archives: Reviews

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

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


Irma-induced Radio Reviews

by Hans Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sudanese Listeners Receive Unity Radios (Source: Lifeline Energy)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Lifeplayer MP3

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

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

Thanks again for your review, Hans!

A review of the W4OP portable magnetic loop antenna

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


The W4OP Magnetic Loop Antenna (Photo Credit: LnR Precision)

What can one say about portable antennas? They’re up, they’re down, they’re basic in design:  they either work for an intended purpose or they don’t.  But, I wondered, could they provide their service easily and conveniently, even in the field?

Last year, I decided to purchase a portable field antenna, and at the Dayton Hamvention I became the owner of the three-band (40/20/10) EFT Trail-Friendly antenna from LnR Precision.

Then, I caught a bug: the National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) bug. And, wow, I caught it in a bad way…! Having activated seven sites during the 2016 Dayton Hamvention with my buddy Eric McFadden (WD8RIF), I found NPOTA the perfect excuse to play radio outdoors. Last year, from August to December, I activated all but that initial seven of my ninety-one NPOTA park activations. All of these activations were QRP and all of them were “field” activations; meaning, I set up my field antenna each time; no activations were made with a mobile (vehicle) HF installation.  And I made 85% of all of my activations using LNR’s EFT Trail-Friendly antenna.

The EFT Trail-Friendly antenna is incredibly compact and quite easy to deploy.

The EFT Trail-Friendly antenna is end-fed and requires some sort of support system to raise the end of the 33’ radiator. Most of the time, I simply hung the lightweight EFT from a sturdy tree branch. On a few occasions, I hung the end on a 31’ or 22’ fiberglass telescoping pole. I was altogether pleased with its performance; indeed, I can’t recommend it enough for someone who wishes to have a simple, roll-up, resonant antenna for QRP field work. But it does have one limitation: it requires that source of external support, which I worried could undermine some NPOTA activations.

In December 2016, my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) and I organized a mini NPOTA DXpedition in Ohio.  I decided that en route to Ohio, I’d make a run through West Virginia and activate some relatively rare parks along West Virginia’s mighty river gorges.

Eric had made the same activation run earlier that year, and had advised me that when I seek permission to activate these parks, I would be asked to apply for and pay at least one, sometimes more, “special use permit” fees merely to drape the lightweight EFT antenna over a tree branch or to stake a fiberglass support pole in the ground. Even if my equipment is less invasive in the great outdoors than the poles and stakes of a basic pup tent, I understood US park trees and shrubs can be delicate, rare, or endangered, and even park soil can be, for example, geologically or archaeologically sensitive, so of course I didn’t want a mere antenna to bring about any harm––however minor––to the parks I was enjoying.

Eric had simplified this step by strapping a fiberglass pole antenna to his vehicle, thus avoiding either penetrating the ground or using park vegetation as a support.  So as not to potentially harm sensitive park environs, nor be obliged to hop through time-consuming (and expensive) administrative hoops, I decided I would adopt an option similar to Eric: I would use a portable antenna that could stand on its own, thus not requiring external support from park property.

Enter the W4OP magnetic loop antenna

LnR precision had only a few weeks before announced their new portable, self-supporting, magnetic loop antenna: the W4OP loop ($329.99 US).

I contacted LnR in November to tell them about my upcoming December NPOTA DXpedition, and inquired whether they thought the W4OP loop would be a good fit? They responded by sending me a loaner unit to both use and review. After all, what better way to evaluate an antenna than by using it in the field?  I said I’d be happy to give it a test drive.

The W4OP loop arrived in early December, about one week before my trip.

Contents of the loop package are straightforward:

  • The main loop assembly and support
  • The coupling loop assembly and clamp
  • The tuning box
  • The support feet assembly
  • An owner’s manual

The main radiator is a sturdy, flexible-yet-rigid shielded cable. The tuning box is a heavy PVC box, and the tuning knob has an appropriate amount of brake and drives a 6:1 reduction drive on the tuning capacitor.  

The overall package feels well-built and of very decent quality. The only piece of the equipment package I didn’t like are the four support feet: these feet attach to the bottom of the tuning box with red thumb screws, a very basic way of supporting the unit, since the red screws are challenging to tighten and almost any movement from the feet loosens the screws.  Since my review, however, LnR has designed a tripod mount for the W4OP loop which promises to make it much, much easier to deploy this antenna in the field. With the tripod mount, one would only need to pack a sturdy (camera) tripod, and then toss out the included stabilizing feet.

The manual is fairly simple and concise, but certainly provides enough information to get you on the air in short order.

On the air with NPOTA

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I was something of a newbie when it comes to passive mag loop antennas. I’ve used a number of wideband mag loops over the years––receive-only versions, to be precise––but had never used one specifically designed for amateur radio transmitting.

My first proper NPOTA activation using the loop was on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Folk Art Center in the mountains of western North Carolina. The loop operates best when raised off the ground and sitting on a dielectric base.

Having no tripod mount at that point, I simply sat the antenna on a plastic storage bin which sat on top of a picnic table where I operated. It’s not ideal to be so close to the antenna, of course, but I thought I’d give it a go.

And go I did.  What truly surprised me was how many contacts I racked up in relatively short order on the twenty and forty meter bands using SSB at QRP levels. I’ve always been a wire antenna guy in the field who believed in getting antennas up as high as possible; it still blows my mind that an antenna so compact, in such a compromised position, could rack up the contacts thousands of miles away.

This first activation was the only chance I had to properly learn the dos and don’ts of this antenna before I had to deploy it in the field on my river run through West Virginia. There, I simply didn’t have the time to worry about the process. I did take a few notes, however:

  • The W4OP loop is high gain and very narrow band; if you move off frequency even a few kHz, you’ll certainly need to re-tune;
  • The bandwidth is so narrow that, if you’re turning the capacitor too quickly in the field–especially in windy conditions– you’ll miss hearing the audio level increase when you make the loop resonant;
  • Sometimes being near the loop while tuning the capacitor can affect the results;
  • Loop antennas are not terribly practical for hunting and scanning for DX across the bands due to frequent re-tuning;
  • For NPOTA or SOTA type activations where you operate on one frequency, the loop performance is downright amazing!

Mini DXpedition

My excursion into the three river gorges of West Virginia––the Bluestone, New River and Gauley––took an amazing amount of planning for such a short trip. Firstly, I only had a limited amount of time to activate each site, yet these were rare sites and I wanted to log as many stations as possible at each site. Secondly, I had to announce my activation times and frequencies well in advance so chasers could find and spot me. Also, I knew a number of west coast chasers who really needed one or more of these sites, so had to plot on-air times to maximize 20 meter propagation. Finally, an actual valid activation site has a lot of requirements and is not easy to find on a map!

Surprise snow started falling well before I even entered West Virginia that morning.

And––oh, yes––the weather was really dodgy.

As soon as I hit the West Virginia state line on I-77, the snow started in earnest. Despite being from the southeast, I’ve no fear of driving in snow, but this was a bit unexpected and no roads had been prepared in advance. Also, I was driving into some pretty remote areas with my least snow-capable vehicle: a minivan. The snow was bad enough that I knew I would not attempt to activate the New River Gorge at the site I originally planned, which required negotiating a very long, steep, and winding road deep into the gorge. Instead, Eric advised me of another New River site option that was more easily accessed. I readily took him up on his suggestion.

And it was at the alternate New River site where the loop antenna truly saved the activation.

The activation site was essentially a one-car off-pavement parking spot next to a river access for small boats. Space was tight, but plenty big for the loop antenna.

It was about 20F with sharp wind, and spitting snow; wind gusts were high. I set up two plastic storage bins with the W4OP antenna on top, only about four feet off the ground; fortunately it did not blow over. I tuned the loop quickly to my pre-announced frequency of 14.312 MHz. I made a couple of calls, was answered by a chaser who spotted me…and whoosh! In less than an hour, as I sat there in the freezing wind, I worked 70+ chasers with 15 watts SSB with my Elecraft KX3. It was exhilarating.

As I packed up my station to move to the next site, I quickly scanned over my log sheet: I found I had worked much of the east coast of North America, almost all of the west coast states, several Canadian provinces, Italy, Slovakia and Croatia.  All with this incredibly modest antenna.

Weather was much better in the New River gorge.

Signal reports were averaging about S7.

Of course, I was a DX target, which, as any ham will tell you, gives you an automatic 30 dB of gain! Still, people could hear me clearly even though I was at a fairly low elevation in a gorge.

Impressive.  I was really beginning to appreciate this antenna.

Problems at Gauley River

My next destination, the Gauley River, was about a seventy-minute drive from the New River and at a much higher altitude. The light rain turned into snow again accompanied by more very strong winds. I was really feeling chuffed about the easy loop setup ahead of me at the site.

 

After arriving on site, I set up the loop quickly, my Elecraft KX3 quickly followed, and started the tuning process. Unfortunately, I could not get the antenna to find a match on the 20 meter band. No doubt, the cold, the wind, my frozen hands, and a desire to stay on the tight schedule all influenced my ability to tune the antenna.

After ten minutes of trying to tune the loop, I initiated Plan B, pulling out the trusty EFT Trail-Friendly antenna and launching it into a nearby tree. The EFT didn’t fail me: once I was on the air, I worked almost 100 stations in a little over one hour.

I felt a little badly about hanging an antenna in a tree limb since I did not seek permission from the NPS in advance. Still, I was the only person at the park that day. No one in their right mind would have been hanging out by the roadside, save your author. I took comfort in the fact that the mature tree that aided me was entirely unharmed, and by the fact that not only do I strictly adhere to the Leave No Trace philosophy, I also clean up other visitors’  trash in the vicinity of all of my activation areas, as a means of honoring the park. I don’t think even the CSI would be able to find evidence of my activation.

Back to the loop.  When I finally arrived at the QTH of my buddy, Eric, we took the loop out and he hooked his antenna analyser up to it. Again, we were not able to get the excellent match I had on 20 meters earlier that day at the New River. Eric and I both assumed (incorrectly, it turns out) that something had happened to the capacitor inside the tuning box.

Once I returned home, I called Larry with LnR and described what was happening. He quickly identified the problem: the coupling loop wasn’t positioned and clamped correctly. Whoops…I should have considered that.  Once I adjusted the coupling loop an inch or so, it worked fine again.

Summary

Every radio, accessory, and antenna has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a product, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget some of my initial impressions. Here is the list I formed over the time I’ve spent evaluating the W4OP.

Note that, since this was my first proper experience with a loop antenna for QRP operations, many of these items are indicative of loops in general, not just the W4OP.

Pros:

  • Excellent build quality and overall value
  • Excellent gain when tuned to a frequency (see bandwidth con)
  • Overall impressive performance in the field and super fast and simple setup
  • Excellent choice for those living in high-density neighborhoods with antenna restrictions
  • LnR telephone customer support is excellent

Cons:

  • Bandwidth is very narrow and the loop requires re-tuning on frequency changes (see gain pro)
  • Supplied support feet are very basic; splurge for the new tripod mount
  • Not always convenient and accessible to tune the antenna on the antenna base (though LnR will soon produce a remote tuning W4OP loop)

LnR Precision has recently released a remote tuning W4OP loop ($354.99) and a 6m kit for the current loop.

The W4OP Remote Loop Antenna (Photo: LnR Precision)

I think a remotely-tuned W4OP loop would make this an excellent antenna for amateur operators who wish to set up the antenna as a semi-permanent home installation; certainly a bonus for those living in restricted neighborhoods. Without a remote tuner, you would need to go to the antenna to make frequency adjustments. Note that LnR even has an upgrade program if you wish to turn your W4OP loop into a remote loop.

Of course, this first version of the W4OP loop isn’t designed as a permanent home antenna; it’s designed for field use.

And am I impressed with the W4OP loop? Absolutely.

Like me, if you’ve never used a mag loop antenna for field operations, spend a little time at home learning how to deploy it and tune it in advance.

Most of the criticisms of the W4OP loop I mention in this review are simply indicative of passive mag loops in general: narrow bandwidth, sensitivity to nearby metal objects, and the need for frequent re-tuning.

I understand that the W4OP may have even narrower bandwidth than other similar field-portable antennas. While some may consider this a disadvantage, I think I prefer it; in fact, I would rather be inconvenienced by re-tuning in exchange for higher overall gain.  After all, even broader bandwidth loops require re-tuning if you move frequency more than a few kHz.

The W4OP antenna meant that my mini NPOTA DXpedition was a success, especially at the super-restrictive New River access point. Though I’ve used it in the field on a number of occasions now, I’m still in awe when such a compact antenna performs so well on such little power.  I unhesitatingly recommend it.  Great job, LnR Precision!

The W4OP is made in the USA by North Carolina manufacturer LnR Precision. The loop, and its accessories, can be ordered directly from LnR:

http://www.lnrprecision.com/loop-antennas/

More positive reviews of the Tivdio V-115 & Audiomax SRW-710S

This morning, I received yet another positive comment about the Tivdio V-115 (a.k.a. Audiomax SRW-710S).

This little radio is widely available on Amazon and eBay for around $19.00 – 25.00 US including shipping.  About as inexpensive as a radio gets. Both Troy Riedel and Tom Stiles gave it an overall positive review.

Check out some of these recent comments from Post readers:

Andrew H:

“I purchased the V-115 about a week ago, and was surprised at how much radio I received for $15 plus free shipping. The FM band is quite sensitive. AM is good for locals, but not exactly a DX machine. Shortwave was iffy, but improved once I tightened the antenna mount screw (I’m used to loose screws!). Depending on location, shortwave is better, but does get some bleed from strong AM’s in the area. The audio is amazing for something of this price. I have yet to try the recording, but, this has become my go-everywhere radio as of late.”

Egil – LA2PJ:

“The TVDIO V-115 is an amazing receiver. It was bought because I needed a small recording device for my portable SWL activities. I put a 32 GB into the slot, and found that the recordings all were of excellent quality. It also doubles as an external speaker for my FDM-DUO qrp transceiver.

I’ve only tried the radio part on 25m shortwave, and to my surprice the first station heard was from Brazil.

Not bad for a device costing less than USD 20 including p&p from China to Norway!”

JR:

“I recently purchased this TIVDIO radio. I am in Australia and it is a little beast of a machine.
I live in rural country area and seem to have no luck with the short wave radio. Everything else is great!

I have a 64gb micro SD card in it and can fit thousands of songs in it.

The screen is awesome, seems to detail everything going on even has a little spectrum analyzer at the bottom of screen.

The speaker along with the bass is outstanding considering the size and price of the unit.”

J D Bulow-Osborne:

“I bought two of the TIVDIO version radios several months ago. A 16GB TF card completed each one. They are, of course, re-chargeable, the sound, for the size, is excellent, the case finish is worthy of a more expensive item. Button lock, mp3 recording, auxiliary input, delete function, (including unwanted channels that the auto-tune has found), makes them a real bargain. They impress everyone who sees – and hears – them. OK, so there’s no clock or DAB, but for just over £12, including shipping from China(?), it would be really churlish to complain. One battery charge seems to last a very long time.”

Roger Waters:

“I own the Audiomax version of this radio. I have recorded classical music from an FM station using the Audiomax. When playing the recording on an iphone with $100 Audio Technica headpbones, the recording sounded quite good. Using the Audiomax to play recorded music off its storage card also sounds pretty good if the equalizer setting is Jazz and the headphones are expensive. While the Audiomax does not have a timer, its Auto On or Sleep function will save any recording when it turns off the radio automatically. When playing music off the storage card, the music can be listed according to artist. But the artist listing is not completely alphabetical. Radio reception for AM, FM, and SW is solid but not DX quality. When entering a frequency you have to wait about 4 seconds before the frequency changes. Also you cannot scroll to any desired frequency. The scrolling keys will skip over any frequency which does not have a significant signal. Where the Audiomax shines is that with a press of a button you can go from a boring commercial on the radio to some nice prerecorded music or podcast. For the radio alone, the Audiomax is worth its selling price.”

I agree with these assessments of the Tivdio/Audiomax. I’ve had this little radio for about a year now, but only really started using it around May of this year (this is the same radio I had forgotten that I’d purchased last year).  Of course, the best feature is the function that allows you to make off-air recordings and save them to a MicroSD card–it actually works quite well.  While in Canada this summer, I recorded a number of FM, MW and SW broadcasts on the Tivdio–so much easier than carrying an external recorder.

Listening to the BBC Midwinter Broadcast on June 21, 2017 in Québec.

Now if I put on my radio reviewer cap for a moment, I would have to note two issues, in particular:

  • Though receiver sensitivity is quite good, the AGC circuit is a little too over-active when receiving a weak signal. Last summer, for example, while listening to the BBC Midwinter broadcast in Québec (see photo above), the AGC was so unstable I simply didn’t bother making a recording. Admittedly, I was very impressed a $20 radio could even detect this signal. I found that nighttime mediumwave reception is also problematic, save for the strongest of stations.
  • The V-115 also seems to be quite prone to RFI indoors–more so than, say, a Tecsun PL-310ET. I suspect this is because it’s not shielded very well internally. Not an issue, if you’re listening outdoors, of course.

In truth, it’s hard to be critical of this little radio. As so many of you have echoed, for $19.00-25.00 US–? You simply can’t beat it. A great value indeed.

Click here to search for the Tivdio V-115 on eBay and click here to search Amazon.

Chris reviews the Eton Field BT and an important note about the discontinued Grundig S350DL

The Eton Field BT

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Chris Freitas, who notes that’s he’s published a favorable review of the Eton Field BT on his blog: Chris Freitas on Radio

The Field BT shares the same basic chassis as the Tecsun S-8800 (check out the review published yesterday) and several other receivers including the Grundig S350DLS450DLX, and the C.Crane CCRadio-SW.

Chris and I both agree that one benefit to this type of large portable is the excellent audio fidelity they can provide.

Read Chris’ full review here.

Not all large portables are created equally

The S350DL may look like a digital radio, but it’s actually analog inside and tuning is prone to drift.

Important clarification: The Field BT–just like the S-8800 and S450DLX–does not have the flaky analog tuning of the discontinued Grundig S350DL series.

Since I started publishing videos of the Tecsun S-8800 in action, I’ve received feedback indicating that many assume the S-8800 will drift off frequency like the 2008 era GS350DL.

It’s true that both radios share a common form factor, but that’s where the similarities end.

The S350DL is actually an analog single conversion receiver with a digital frequency display. The S350DL tuning knob has an inner ring for fine tuning and an outer ring for speedy tuning. The big disadvantage of the S350DL is that it drifts off frequency every time the wind blows. At least, that’s how it seems. It’s a little frustrating, and that’s why mine pretty much stays tuned to one station on my kitchen shelf. Even then, it manages to drift off frequency every few days.

The Eton Field BT, Eton Field, Grundig S450DLX, C. Crane CCRadio-SW and Tecsun S-8800, on the other hand, all have a pure digital tuning experience with no drift at all. Most of these are at least double conversion and the S-8800 is even triple conversion.

Chris, thanks again for sharing your review of the Field BT! It sounds like a major improvement over its predecessor, the S450DLX. I understand you’re also evaluating the excellent Grundig Traveller III–we look forward to that review when published!

A review of the Red Oxx “Lil Roy”: an excellent radio kit bag

Yesterday, I posted some photos of the yet-to-be-released CC Skywave SSB and a number of readers had the same reaction as Frank (K4FMH):

“Who makes and sells your canvas bag? Inquiring minds want to know!”

Frank was referring to the bag in the background on many of the radio shots–and he wasn’t alone in his inquiry. I received a few email messages and inquiries on Facebook about this bag.

Be warned: I’m an avid bag and pack geek. If you find the topic boring, you should run away now!

The Red Oxx “Lil Roy”

The Lil Roy might look like a typical canvas bag.  But the Lil Roy isn’t made by the typical pack manufacturer–it’s made by Red Oxx Manufacturing in Billings, Montana, USA. Red Oxx gear isn’t just designed in Montana, it’s made in Montana. The two leaders,  Jim Markel and President Perry Jones, are military veterans and bring mil-spec quality to all of their products.

I love the design of Red Oxx bags–they’re not tactical, but they’re not really low-profile or urban either. Markel describes the design as:

“Tactical strength without looking like you’re going to war.”

I was first introduced to Red Oxx gear in 2012 when I traveled to a meeting in Denver with my good friend Ed Harris (who is an SWLing Post reader).

Even though Ed and I had traveled together in Belize and had known each other for quite a while, I never realized he was a one-bag traveler like me. Once the topic came up, we proceeded to talk about our main travel bags. Ed showed me his Air Boss by Red Oxx.

The Red Oxx Air Boss.

I instantly fell in love with the overall quality and the bold Red Oxx design.

All Red Oxx bags are manufactured to the company’s high standards, including the Lil Roy

Four portable radios, an antenna reel and earphones all easily fit into the Lil Roy with room to spare.

Though it looks like a canvas bag, the Lil Roy is made of 1000 weight CORDURA nylon. Red Oxx uses super strong UV resistant threads in the stitching and into every seam. Each stress point is box stitched.

Red Oxx uses large, pricey #10 YKK VISLON zippers on all of their bags. They slide beautifully and if you don’t zip up the bag completely, the zippers won’t slide back open–they essentially lock into place. They’re even field-repairable.

Inside the Lil Roy you’ll find two “stiff mesh” pockets on each inside wall with Red Oxx Mil-Spec snaps to keep things contained.

FYI: If you ever want to check the quality of a bag or pack, flip it inside out and look for frays, bad stitching and incomplete seams. Cheap bags are loaded with them–you won’t find one thread out of place on a Red Oxx bag.

While the Lil Roy is a small bag, I’ve found that it holds a lot of stuff. This month, I’ve had no less than four radios to beta test and review. I found that the Lil Roy can hold all of my portables and accessories, making it easy to grab the whole lot and take them to the field for testing.

While in Canada this summer, I had to do all of my radio listening and testing in the field. I was able to pack my portable radio and my recording gear into the Lil Roy with room to spare.

Listening to the 2017 BBC Antarctic Midwinter Broadcast from the back of my vehicle in Saint-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec, Canada.

I’ve also packed my CommRadio CR-1a, NASA PA-30 antenna and all assorted cables for a little weekend travel and radio fun. The Lil Roy easily accommodated everything. In the photo below, I simply placed the CR-1a inside (on top of the CC Skywave and CC Skywave SSB) to show how much room there is to spare:

So are there any negatives? Perhaps one: the Lil Roy was never designed to carry radio equipment, so there’s no padding inside.

Indeed, I believe Red Oxx initially designed Lil Roy for someone who wanted a bag to hold their car chains. Of course, most customers use the Lil Roy as an electronics organizer–something to hold tablets, Kindles, cables, etc. Some even use it as a packing cube.

Since there’s no padding in the bag, I’m selective about what I put inside and how I pack it. Most of my portables have soft cases that protect them anyway. When I put something like the CommRadio CR-1a inside, I enclose the radio in a soft padded sack. Even though the sack makes the CR-1a bulkier, the Lil Roy can still easily accommodate it.

In general, Red Oxx gear is considered pricey by most standards. After all, you’re purchasing products wholly designed and made in the United States, so US wages are baked into that price. On top of that, Red Oxx backs all of their stuff with what they call a “No Bull” no question’s asked Lifetime Warranty. Because of this warranty, Red Oxx gear holds its value amazingly well. The warranty still holds even if you purchase the bag used.

I also believe when you’re purchasing from Red Oxx, you’re supporting a good local company that does one thing and does it very well.

The Lil Roy retails for $35 US. I think it’s a fantastic value for a simple, rugged bag that can be used in a variety of applications. The longer I’ve had it, the more uses I’ve found.

I’m considering purchasing the Red Oxx Mini Boss or possibly Skytrain in the next few months to replace my Timbuk2 Small Wingman.

Told you…I’m a pack geek! Don’t say I didn’t warn you! 🙂

Click here to check out the Lil Roy at Red Oxx Manufacturing.

Post readers: Red Oxx is one of three quality pack manufacturers I support–Tom Bihn and Spec Ops Brand are two others. Do you have any favorites?  Please comment!