Category Archives: Shortwave Radio Reviews

Ivan compares the AirSpy HF+ to the KiwiSDR

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

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

Click here to view on YouTube.

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

Thank you for sharing this, Ivan!

Georges’ review of the XHDATA D-808

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

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

I got it very quickly, shipped from Amazon UK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reception is good on the short but sturdy telescopic antenna.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Display and backlighting are very nice.

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

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

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

Best regards from France .

Georges F6DFZ

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

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

Merci bien, Georges!

Short Videos: the XHDATA D-808 Portable SSB Receiver on MW and SW

I recently received a new XHDATA D-808 SSB portable receiver, after AliExpress had a $69 USD introductory sale. I’m intrigued by this new model, as it uses the SiLabs Si4735 DSP chip, the same “brains” that powers the Eton Satellit (and Executive version), and C. Crane Skywave SSB. I believe the same Si4735 is found in Tecsun’s PL-880 and the CountyComm GP-5/SSB. A key feature found in all of these radios is USB/LSB modes and 10-Hz tuning step in SSB.


It would be a mistake to assume that all portable DSP receivers with the same SiLabs chip will perform equally; quite the opposite! They all have reception differences that owners will notice. I certainly noticed differences in sensitivity, AGC action, audio quality, and (to some extent) variations in adjacent channel (splatter) rejection between receivers using the same bandwidth. I made these observations when I owned the PL-880 and GP-5/SSB radios. Differences in the circuitry surrounding the SiLabs chip, as well the sizes of MW ferrite loopstick antennas and SW/FM whip antennas contribute to each receiver’s personality.

Below are four videos showing the D-808’s reception of three weaker daytime medium wave stations from indoors at my suburban Seattle-Tacoma (WA) home, plus one video of a shortwave reception in the 41 meter band. The XHDATA D-808 is compared to C. Crane’s newest Skywave radio, the SSB model, and the Eton Executive Satellit. Although brief, these tests show how the new XHDATA portable is a welcome competitor to the field of modern, compact SSB-capable radios:

What about single sideband? These four videos show reception in AM mode only, but rest assured the D-808 is very capable on the SSB modes of LSB and USB! A separate fine tuning rotary wheel on the right side of the radio’s case offers adjustment in 10 Hertz increments. The effect feels very similar to tuning CountyComm’s GP-5/SSB “walkie-talkie” style receiver. The plus or minus (+/-) offset is displayed in multiples of 10 Hz steps as “-1”, “-2”, “-3”, and so on.

I hope to post some future videos showing SSB usage of the D-808.

Soft mute. The dreaded soft mute is present in AM and SSB mode to some degree, but I do not feel it is excessive. Like most radio hobbyists I’m not a fan of soft muting and prefer uninterrupted tuning with no sign of “chuffing” or lowering of noise or audio.  The amount of soft mute on this radio seems the same as the Eton Executive Satellit in my opinion.

What else to like? My take–

Audio. I find the D-808’s audio quality to be slightly more mellow or warmer…I like that, especially on FM! Audio on the MW and SW bands still has a crispness that aids in DXing on those bands, however.

18650 Li-Ion battery. Not all may agree, but I like this style of battery. The D-808’s internal circuit shuts off when the battery is fully charged, or after 10 hours of charging. The radio comes with a 18650 battery and a USB cable; the owner supplies a common 5V USB charger.

RDS on FM. This is a feature lacking on the Skywave SSB, but it is present and performs as expected with the D-808. The XHDATA radio lacks the Skywave SSB’s NOAA weather presets, however.

AM filter bandwidths. Interestingly, this receiver supplies two additional narrow AM mode bandwidths lacking in the Executive Satellit: 1.8 kHz and 1.0 kHz. It’s good to have options, although such narrow filters in AM mode sound a little muffled (offset tuning helps). The Skywave SSB does offer 1.0 kHz in AM mode, but has a 2.0 bandwidth in place of 1.8 kHz.

Backlighting. If desired, the D-808’s easy-on-the-eyes white backlight for the display can remain illuminated continually. Bravo, XHDATA! Now, if we could persuade more manufacturers to add backlighting to the keys themselves (a la the Degen DE1103/Kaito KA1103/Eton E5), we’d have more choices use in low light conditions like camping or bedside use.

Handy size. Probably a third larger than the diminutive Skywave SSB, the D-808 is still a very handy size that will fit most coat pockets, and is a smaller receiver than the Eton Executive Satellit. As you can tell from my videos, reception doesn’t suffer due to the smaller size.

Design. OK, this one’s very personal! As a graphic designer I have a real soft spot for any receiver that looks as good as it sounds, no matter what the technology or vintage. The D-808’s look really appeals to me and adds to my enjoyment while operating it. There are no unnecessary protrusions, ridges, or visual do-dads on this XHDATA model. In fact, I seem some design clues from the stylish Tecsun PL-880 in the D-808. The radio also has a quality feel to the plastic case and buttons, giving it a more “upper class” impression during use.

Antenna jack. The D-808 has the standard 3.5mm antenna port on the left side of the receiver. This is an addition I appreciate, and wish that C. Crane had included one on their Skywave SSB model. I tried this external antenna jack with an amplified PK Loops’ shortwave antenna and the combination performs excellently.

Minor annoyances

So far, the list is short! As a sacrifice to style, the manufacturer has kept all front panel buttons almost flush with the case. The effect looks great, but they are almost too low and close to the front panel. Those with larger fingers may find operation awkward or frustrating. Also, entering a shortwave frequency with less than five digits (i.e., below 10,000 kHz) requires a trailing push of the Frequency (FREQ) button.

I encourage other new owners of XHDATA’s D-808 to leave their comments below. Where does this portable rate among other radios you may own?

 

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

Jack reviews the Digitech AR-1780

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


A review of the Digitech AR-1780

by Jack Kratoville

As a previous post noted, the quest for the perfect radio drives us far and wide; in this case, as far as Australia. Since it’s rare these days to be able to walk into brick and mortar to touch, play and even bring home a radio to test; I’m grateful for online communities like the SWLing Post to research new and existing product. The caveat being “another must-have for my collection.”

I truly thought I had found happiness with my traveling Grundig tandem of the G5 and G6 – that is until the DSP chip was introduced. For the past 2 years, I’ve been satisfied packing the CCrane Skywave, Tecsun PL-360 and one wild card for domestic travel. My bottom line is when I’m listening to a certain radio in a given location, did I ever regret not bringing something else? The Skywave has satisfied over 95% of the time.

When the AR1780 popped up on this site, something about it piqued my interest. I had heard the Digitech name and it was always associated with a less than favorable opinion. This radio, however, was drawing unexpected praise. It was the video reviews that put me over the top with rich audio coming through even cheap condenser mics. I called Jaycar and had one shipped. Now you can add me to the list of those who are quite pleased with this addition to my radio family.

I’ll start with the primary reason to consider this radio – the sound emanating from the on board speaker. The AR1780 sounds better or as good as any unit this size. And this isn’t just a benefit for FM listening, but for AM/SW/AIR as well. I’ve never seen such tonal balance across all bands.

If you’re looking for a smaller portable with above par performance and excellent audio, you can stop here and place your order. Otherwise, on to my observations:

FM

I enjoy FM DXing and the fidelity of this band. Even though I’ve become accustomed to the sound of the Skywave (it does mellow with age), the AR1780 blows me away. Crisp highs and lows with rich bass that highlights both music and vocals. There is no tonal adjustment on this radio and, frankly to my ears, it doesn’t need one.

Performance is on par with the Skywave and other DSP units. While the Skywave has slightly better selectivity, the 1780 pulls in a tad more signal with its longer whip. The RDS feature works great and is a plus when skips and trop bring in distant signals.

Mediumwave / AM

As sensitive as the Skywave and G5. I’ve gone up and down the dial and my unit doesn’t produce birdies or hets anywhere. Very happy about that. For local signals, once again the sound is wonderful with choices of wide bandwidth. And even with distant music stations, rare as they may be, the AR1780 produces more fidelity than noise. When Zoomer 740 comes in full strength, this radio sounds as good as it gets. Where the Skywave has a tonal advantage is when filtering is at its narrowest. I can still hear signals clearly, whereas the Digitech can get a bit muddy. Depends on signal.

I’ll mention here that the advantage of CCrane’s products is upgraded filtering. The AR1780 burps and clicks when you enter anything on the keypad – even from the Skywave’s keypad if the radios are close to each other! Otherwise, they are very similar in response to outside RF and other noise producing electronics.

Shortwave

I receive everything on this radio as I do on the Skywave & G5.

Where I find weakness with the AR1780 is the soft muting and the scan feature is far, far slower than the Skywave. I’ve scanned for signals on other radios and loaded the presets on the Digitech.

I haven’t found any birdies yet, but it will whistle while starting up on Radio Miami, then calm down completely once fully captured. But that’s only when 9395 is the start up frequency. If I switch to SW and it starts elsewhere and I hit the preset for 9395 – nothing! Strange, but an acceptable artifact. I have to admit, it sounds great listening to music on WRMI!

SSB

I don’t have the Skywave SSB, but the Digitech is slightly less sensitive than the G5. Not sure if it’s due to filtering, antenna length, the DSP chip or all of the above. It’s there, but sometimes not worth straining to listen to. I haven’t tried an external antenna as of yet. The G5 doesn’t feature the USB / LSB option, so the Digitech is easier to tune. Full disclosure, SSB was never a deal breaker for me and I’m satisfied with what I can hear.

AIR Band

A touch more sensitive than the Skywave here. As all my testing is done strictly from the whip – that might be the advantage.

General

I have to say the build of this radio is very impressive. Buttons are very firm and responsive. The tuning knob is superb. As the weakest physical part of the Skywave, the AR1780’s knob, and its fine tuning counterpart, are spot on perfect. Nothing sloppy here.

Battery consumption (4 AA) seems above average, although not super-impressive. It’s hard for me to analyze at the moment as I’ve been playing with this radio constantly. I probably take more notice when I’m replacing 4 instead of 2 and may eventually jump over to rechargeable AAs. Interestingly, I took the 4 batteries I had worn down just one notch in the AR1780 and stuck them in a Sangean PDR-18. The meter on the PDR-18 showed only one bar or less.

The Skywave gives you 10 pages of 10 memories, the AR1780 gives you 50 pages! Even without explanation in the manual, setting these up are very intuitive.

The dial provides plenty of information. Curiously, if tilted while off, there are indicators for Music, Voice, Snyc, DAB & WB. While none are employed by the AR1780, perhaps there’s something else in the works!

What I find annoying

The display defaults to the temperature or the alarm. If you use signal strength or time during operation, it defaults to temp when you turn it off. Both of my Tecsuns will let you set display for both radio on and off. It bugs me most because holding the radio always sends the thermometer up by 10-12 degrees!

It takes a good 3 seconds to power up or switch bands. I’ve heard of other radios having this trait, but this is my first experience. And this action does use a bit of power because switching bands, not the dial light, will show the first signs of battery wear. (Again, I’ve had no issues with severe battery draw and compare 4 alkaline usage with my G5.)

The Skywave has spoiled me with its super-fast scanning. The Digitech is similar to most Tecsuns. I’ve noticed them all skipping segments on the SW band.

I hear a difference between FM stereo and monaural from the onboard speaker. This is the result of a right or left channel only feed to the speaker when the radio is in stereo. The Grundig Mini 100 did this and without a mono setting, it drove me crazy. I like to see the stereo indicator, but it looks like the AR1780 needs to be set in Mono when listening to FM through the speaker.

There are a number of general traits that the AR1780 shares with the Skywave that I would have preferred to be more like the CC Pocket:

  • I prefer a lock switch over a long-press lock button.
  • When you switch to a different page on the Pocket, it only changes that band and stays on the current frequency. Both the Digitech and Skywave switch over all bands to that page number.
  • One last minor annoyance (getting very picky here), the dial light seems to flash when you turn the radio off. The Pocket doesn’t.

OK, the bad

As a portable / travel radio, I can’t image why there is no pouch!

Add $5 and provide something to protect this in the go bag. At least this problem can be remedied. A pouch from the Sangean ATS-606 fits perfectly.

But the biggest flaw I found (and this may answer the power consumption others have noted) is the light continues to function in the locked position! All buttons are disabled, but press anything and the light comes on. I can imagine packing this radio and as it gets pressed against something else, the light remains on until the batteries are drained. A major design error here.

Conclusion

I’m more than impressed and extremely happy I made this purchase. I have no doubt this radio will be a primary travel companion. Since I always take a few on the road, surprisingly this won’t displace the Skywave. (I really enjoy that radio), but rather the veteran Grundig G5. While still considered one of my favorites, the Digitech provides as much performance and a few more features in a smaller package.

If I were choosing between the Digitech AR1780 and the Skywave SSB – that would be a touch choice. As I mentioned before, SSB has never been a deal breaker during travel and I love the original Skywave as is. Portable means smaller and the Skywave is the perfect size. I use the weather band more than LW, but the fidelity on the AR1780 is absolutely superb.

And while I’ve read the Skywave SSB is going through initial run growing pains, CCrane has been stellar when it comes to customer service and final product. They’re radio geeks like us – Digitech is simply a badge on a product manufactured by another company. (Jaycar seems like decent people.) Bottom line – let’s see how the Digitech is holding up after 2-3 years of usage.

I treat my radios like babies, but I’ve seen most wear down with unresponsive buttons, scratchy volume or fading displays. In fact, the only two grizzled veterans still operating at 100% are my Grundig G6 and Tecsun PL-360. Even my 7600GR’s volume is failing.

Worth it so far? Absolutely – without a doubt. Any future quirks, discoveries and disappointments will be shared.


Jack, thank you for sharing this excellent review!

I couldn’t agree with you more–the AR-1780 must have the best on-board audio of any compact shortwave portable I’ve tested. As you state, what makes it stand out is the fact that audio is wonderfully balanced across the bands. And what better way to check mediumwave audio? Why Zoomer Radio (CFZM) of course! One of my favorite night time catches. 

Thanks for the note about switching FM to mono while listening via the built-in speaker. I don’t believe I had tried that yet.

And, like you, I find the active backlight during keylock such an odd behavior. I actually opened one of my travel bags during the holidays to find that the backlight was somehow fixed in the “on” position…with keylock engaged! I supposed the LED backlight has little effect on battery consumption because I imagine this the backlight was engaged for as much as three days, yet the battery still showed full bars. 

The AR-1780 is a quirky radio, but by golly it’s a good one and a great value! Thanks again for the excellent review, Jack.

Michael is favorably impressed with the C. Crane CC Skywave SSB

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Michael (N9YZM), who writes:

Hi Thomas,

I took the plunge and purchased the Skywave SSB. It was under the tree on Christmas morning.

It was with some trepidation that I unwrapped it and installed a pair of AA batteries. I had read all the reviews regarding whistles and whines and had decided to give it a go anyway, particularly with the knowledge of the manufacturer’s excellent reputation for product support.

I am pleased to report no whistles or whines so far!

This morning I was listening to the breakfast club net on 3973 kHz. Reception, with just the whip, was not quite as good as my Commradio CR1-a with the W6LVP loop, but still very readable, and good enough to put a smile on my face and remove any thoughts of returning the radio to the manufacturer.

Air band, Weather Channel, FM, AM all seem to work great. I bought the radio primarily to throw in the bag when travelling, and can’t wait for the next business trip! I will still take the PL-880, and do some comparisons.

If I could change anything on the Skywave SSB, It would be to soften up (or remove) the detent on the tuning knob.

Holy Grail definitely comes to mind !!

Excellent, Michael! It sounds like your Skywave SSB is one that received a proper calibration and quality control run! I think you’ll find it makes for a superb compact travel radio.

Thanks for sharing your review!

As a side note, my full (4,300 word–!) review of the Skywave SSB has been published in the January 2018 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.  You can purchase and download the issue for $3, or (better) purchase a one year subscription for only $24. As I’ve said before, TSM is one of the best values in our radio hobby!