Category Archives: Shortwave Radio Reviews

Download the ARRL review of the Icom IC-R8600

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Zantow (N9EWO), who notes that the recent ARRL review of the Icom IC-R8600 is available as a free download via Icom America.

Click here to download (PDF).

Note that Dave continuously updates his own review of the IC-R8600 as well.

Thanks for the tip, Dave!

Troy compares the Tecsun S-8800 with the Grundig Edition Field BT

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Troy Riedel, for producing this excellent comparison of the Tecsun S-8800 and Grundig Field BT “lunchbox” radios:


The Lunchbox Showdown

by Troy Riedel

I have been watching with interest all of the information & reviews of the new Tecsun S-8800. Frankly, I was especially interested in how it would compare with the other “lunchbox” SW radio – the Eton Grundig Edition Field BT (the Digitech AR-1748 lunchbox radio is also available in AUS for approximately $207US shipped). As I contemplated which lunchbox to purchase, I put together the following Excel comparison table of the S-8800 vs. the Eton Field BT to assist me in making my decision:

Tescun S-8800

Eton Field BT

Price:

$268.00

$129.99

Tuning Methods: FM / LW / MW / SW FM / MW / SW
Q.Tune Q.Tune
Digital tuner, Jog dial manual tuning Digital tuner, Jog dial manual tuning (Fast, Slow and Hold)
Auto scan tuning with 5 second stop (w/ storage) Auto scan tuning (no tuning storage)
Direct frequency entry using the remote control
Fine Tuning Knob: SW Meter Band
No soft muting when tuning Subtle Soft Muting when tuning
Station Storage Methods: Manual storage: tune into stations manually and store them Manual storage: tune into stations manually and store them
Semi-auto storage: storing stations during auto scan
Auto Tuning Storage (ATS): automatically tune into and store stations
FM / MW / LW / SW FM / MW / LW / SW
AM Bandwidth: Bandwidth selection (2.3, 3.0, 4.0, 6.0) Narrow & Wide Settings (3.0*, 6.0*) *Reported
SSB: SSB (USB/LSB)

N/A

SSB tuning steps at 10 Hz / 1 kHz
SSB Bandwidth selection (0.5, 1.2, 2.3, 3.0, 4.0)

N/A

FM with RDS

N/A

Bluetooth
Adjustable shoulder or hand carrying belt Hand carrying strap
Remote control operation

N/A

SYNC:

N/A

N/A

Gain: Local / DX antenna gain switch Local / DX antenna gain switch
SW RF Gain Control
Memories: 650 station memories 50 station memories
Stored stations memory browsing
Auto Sorting Memory
LCD: Standard Backlight Orange Backlight
5-seconds or continuous settings 10-seconds or continuous settings
Clock/Alarm Time: Clock/Alarm time (24H-format) Clock/Alarm time (12 & 24H-format)
Alarm: (1) Alarm (2) Alarms
By radio only By radio (60-mins) or buzzer (2-mins)
Digital Display: Frequency & SW meter band Frequency & Band (e.g. FM, LW, SW1)
Signal strength indicator Signal strength indicator
Stored station location Stored station location
Clock & Alarm time Clock
Volume Level (while using remote)
Battery indicator & charging time Battery Indicator
Sleep Timer A & B (Selectable)
RDS Info

* No Lock Feature

Display Lock “On”
Tuning Speed (Slow, Fast, Stop)
Sound Tuning: Bass & Treble Bass & Treble
Line In:

N/A

3.5mm Stereo Input for mp3 Player
Line Out: (2) RCA Left & Right Stereo Channel Line Out (1) 3.5mm Line Out for tape recorder or audio amplifier
Ant Selector: Int. or Ext. Switch for FM/SW Int. or Ext. Switch for FM/SW
FM/SW Antenna: BNC: Low-impedance (50?) FM/SW Coax: Low-impedance (50-75?)
MW Antenna: High-impedance (500?) wire clamp terminals High-impedance (500?) wire clamp terminals
Battery: 2 x 18650 Li-ion Cell 4 x “D” Cell
AC Adapter: No AC included – does include a USB mini-B charging cable 7v 1200mA DC Neg Center included

Yes, the S-8800 without a doubt has more features than the Field BT.  However, the S-8800 is slightly more than twice the price of the Field BT ($268 vs. $130)!  Does the performance of the S-8800 equate proportional to the price difference?

Shortly after I made my Excel comparison table, Thomas published video comparisons of the S-8800.  I very much appreciated the review and video comparisons that pitted the S-8800 against several popular portables.  It gave me a baseline to set my expectations.  However, those videos didn’t answer my question: “should I purchase the S-8800 or the Field BT”?

I contacted Thomas and I told him “we need an S-8800 vs. Eton Field BT” video comparison so SWL’ers have a true lunchbox vs. lunchbox comparison!  I volunteered to purchase an Eton Field BT and have it delivered to Thomas for him to compare the two (after which he would forward the Field BT to me).  After he hesitated, I replied: “what if I buy the Eton and we meet in North Carolina to compare them together”?  Fortunately Thomas readily agreed and I made the 6.5-hour journey from Southeast VA to Mount Mitchell State Park for the Lunchbox Showdown (864-miles roundtrip on my odometer)!

Thomas and I had a limited amount of time.  I arrived at noon.  Thomas and I had 8-hours … and that included time for Thomas’ Parks On The Air (POTA) Activation, our S-8800 vs. Field BT comparison, we had to eat (it was a long drive for me!), and Thomas brought many other toys so we had to carve out time to “play radio” (and I can’t drive 400+ miles to Mount Mitchell and not walk to the summit of the highest point east of the Mississippi River!).

Luckily conditions were as ideal as I have ever seen them (evidenced by the fact Thomas made contacts from TX to the Azores with his Elecraft KX2).  So please keep in mind, what follows is in no way a complete comparison.  And to be clear, it was never my intention to review either receiver (there are many people more competent than I am that have already done this – Thomas among them!).

My interest re: these two models is primarily limited to each’s shortwave performance (I use a Sangean PR-D15 and a Grundig YB400 for AM DX, I prefer my Sangean PR-D15 for FM and I own 12 shortwave receivers).  Thus our goals were to find and compare multiple representative SW signals.  Thomas is obviously familiar with local AM stations in the area that he uses in his comparisons, thus we sought out a few AM signals (I recorded one to illustrate one huge difference that we both perceived in the two radios).  Due to time, hunger, and eventually darkness we had to call it a day at 8 P.M.

I used my iPhone 6S to record the following comparisons.  This was the first time I recorded shortwave signals.  In retrospect, I wish I had made the recordings longer but at the time I was unsure of how much memory each recording would used, how much time it would take to upload, etc., so I kept everything at 1-2 minutes.  As you will see, I recorded nearly all of the signals with the backlight off.  You’ll see me reaching in, on Shootout 5, to tune off frequency – then back on – simply to show how the backlight would/or would not affect the weak signal on the Field BT (you’ll also see that it’s harder, outdoors, to read the Eton display without the backlight vs. the clearer Tecsun S-8880).

The Eton Field BT has its own SW RF Gain (a huge bonus) and you will see me reach into the field of view once or twice to fine tune the Field BT on weaker signals.  And if you’ve studied my comparison table, you’ll see that the S-8800 has multiple bandwidth choices whereas the Field BT only has Wide & Narrow settings.

You will see me occasionally change the BW on both.  I preferred not to speak during the videos as not to mask the audio of the signal thus I will set-up the specifics of each video with each individual link to my new YouTube Channel, SW Hobbyist, that I set-up to host these (and hopefully many future SW-related videos to include radio recordings & antenna comparisons).

All videos

Date: Friday, 06 October 2017

Location: Mount Mitchell State Park, NC USA

Shootout #1

Frequency: 15580 kHz

Broadcaster: Voice of America (VOA)

From: Botswana

Target: East Africa

https://youtu.be/nZO_yTRjykM


Shootout #2

Frequency: 15610 kHz

Broadcaster: WEWN

From: Vandiver, AL

Target: Europe

https://youtu.be/CEzKA1116ow


Shootout #3

Frequency: 15000 kHz

Broadcaster: WWV

From: Fort Collins, CO

* Wow, that’s a strong signal – is this FM?!

https://youtu.be/LJ2YykJ7Wz0


** Shootout #4

Frequency: 15130 & 15140 kHz

Broadcaster: NHK Radio Japan via Issoudun, France & Radio Habana Cuba via Bauta, Cuba

Target: Africa & Western North America

https://youtu.be/aBW0imojl94

** I wish I hadn’t prematurely ended this recording – the Eton Field BT signal on 15130 improved after the recording ended


Shootout #5

Frequency: 15245 kHz

Broadcaster: Voice of Korea

From: Kujang, North Korea

Target: Europe

https://youtu.be/D5cjlseVNfE


Shootout #6

Frequency:  11810 kHz

Broadcaster: BBC

From: Ascension Island

Target: Central Africa

https://youtu.be/oXbxeLFl2-0


Shootout #7

Frequency:  630 AM

Broadcaster: WAIZ Hickory, NC

*** This is where I believe you will see a difference in the sound/speaker

https://youtu.be/kXNGNFgnDB4

General Conclusions

Thomas and I both felt that the AGC of the Tecsun S-8800 was very slightly better (more stable – absolutely no “chug”) than the Eton Field BT (again, a very subtle difference). We both liked the sound of the Eton Field BT much better – it was crisp, full and just seemed to “pop” through its grill (see Shootout #7). The huge thing we both disliked with the Eton Field BT is its tuning dial. Yes, it has Q-Tune so one can jump from 5000, 6000, 7000, etc., with the push of a button but the tuning dial (even in “Fast” mode) is painfully slow and deliberate (dare I say horrible in comparison to the S-8880?). We both love the fact the S-8800 has a remote. But even without the remote, the S-8800 was much more pleasurable to manually tune.

Not to speak for Thomas, but I believe we generally felt [overall] that the SW signals were essentially close enough to call even … the edge to the Tecsun on a couple and the edge to the Field BT on a couple of others (I specifically remember us both commenting on an Arabic language broadcast from Radio Saudi Arabia where we both felt the Field BT was a very clear winner – that was one of the signals that I did not record). The better “sound” of the Field BT’s speaker may have influenced our opinions – a sound that was markedly better on FM, better on AM, but a sound that was much closer on SW.

My final thoughts and conclusion: Radios are like vehicles. No one vehicle is best for everyone. Each vehicle has a specific purpose and each has a subset of features. I own a large travel trailer. I need and thus own a heavy-duty diesel truck to tow it. But I surely wouldn’t recommend my vehicle to somebody who only needs a commuter vehicle. That’s why we have everything from SmartCars, to sedans, to SUVs, to dually diesel trucks. The same goes for radios. Some people will absolutely need SSB, others may demand SYNC (neither of these units has this feature!) while others may choose a radio based on size (compact for travel or larger models with a large, easy-to-read display for desk or tabletop use). Until now, I felt the video comparisons we had for the S-8880 were comparing a truck to an SUV to a sedan. At least now we have a few videos of two lunchbox radios compared side-by-side. True, one (the S-8800) is fully loaded (in vehicle terms: a 4×4 with a touchscreen GPS and DVD entertainment system). But not everyone who requires a truck needs a 4×4 with GPS and DVD entertainment system. Some truck owners prefer the smoother ride from a 4×2 truck. I think that’s the best way to describe these lunchbox receivers.

Am I glad that I bought the Eton Field BT? For me – despite the cumbersome tuning of the Field BT – I feel the S-8800 is not worth 2x the price of the Eton (I got an even sweeter deal for my new, sealed box Field BT off eBay that was well under the $129.99 street price). But you can make your own decision, you can decide which features are must-have, and you can listen to these videos as well as the other videos that Thomas has already posted and determine if one of these lunchbox models are in your future. And because I learned so much regarding the video recording of shortwave signals (I suffered from tunnel vision while recording – not fully aware of what I caught and what I missed), I hope I can meet-up with Thomas again so I can do a better, more thorough job with a “Lunchbox Comparison, Deuxième Partie” (that French was for Thomas – I hope I got that correct!).


Thanks for putting together this comparison, Troy! It was great hanging with you last week on Mt. Mitchell!

If you’re shopping for either of these radios, you have a few options:

The Tecsun S-8800 is only available worldwide via Anon-Co at time of posting. Eventually, they will begin appearing on eBay. There are retailers in Australia and Europe also selling the model (Important: make sure you’re ordering a model from the latest production run which solves the DSP birdie problem in early units).

The Grundig Edition Field BT is available from a variety of retailers including Universal Radio, Amazon.comCrutchfield, Adorama and others.  Occasionally, like Troy, you can find excellent prices on the Grundig Edition Field BT via eBay.

DXing in a large suburban garden with the Eton Satellit & Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna

Hi there, the garden at my house is pretty small and as a consequence, I am very limited in terms of what antennas I can usefully employ. You can’t position anything further than about 10 metres from the brickwork and to compound this, we are surrounded on all sides by neighbours in close proximity. All very nice people, but all very noisy – electrically speaking lol. I simply can’t get far enough away from these sources of electrical noise to achieve excellent SNR.

The solution to my problem was ultimately a Wellbrook ALA1530 magnetic loop, but prior to that I used an end-fed random wire, the performance of which deteriorated as the months went by as the ubiquitous blanked of local QRM continued to increase. Eventually, I was forced outdoors, well away from my town – effectively catalysing my forays into the Oxfordshire countryside on DXpeditions. That first experience of listening to the radio on shortwave, in the absence of any QRM was enlightening to say the least and of course, subsequently, DXpeditions have become a mainstay of my listening activities. However, despite enjoying some great DX successes out in the woods, one has to be realistic about how often it’s possible to leave the house just to listen to the radio. This led me to the purchase of the Wellbrook ALA1530 magnetic loop. It proved to be a triumph of electrical noise mitigation and an absolute necessity in copying transatlantic medium wave signals in such a noisy and compact space. A total game-changer. The brilliant performance of the Wellbrook eventually led to me purchase a second, cheaper active antenna; the E-field Bonito Boni Whip and in turn, that purchase led me to the MegActive MA305, kindly supplied by Bonito themselves for objective testing.

Have DXing kit, will travel…everything you need in a small flight case…

You might remember my initial tests at home confirmed, as expected, that E-field antennas don’t work well in electrically noisy environments (except at LW frequencies in my experience) but outdoors, away from noise, they are superb. I have a number of reception videos on my YouTube channel – Oxford Shortwave Log which clearly demonstrate identical performance of the Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna and Wellbrook ALA1530 magnetic loop out in the woods. So, what if you’ve got a large garden in a suburban area that allows you to be just far enough from sources of electrical noise…how much of a difference does it make to the noise floor of your receiving equipment? Can E-field antennas such at the Bonito MegActive MA305 do the job? Furthermore, how well does a random wire work in a larger garden?

 My MegActive MA305 antenna system for mobile DXing…and another use for a washing line…

I was fortunate enough to know someone who owns a house with a large garden, quite close to my QTH (a 10 minute walk) and who was more than willing to let me set up my DXing equipment and sit around until the early hours of the morning, listening to and recording various signals on my Eton Satellit. In preparation, I set up the Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna and hung the radiating element on the washing line – sounds ridiculous but actually worked very well, placing it about 2.5 metres above the ground. I also set up a 40 metre longwire, which at its closest point, was still approximately 25 metres from the house, and 30 metres from the neighbours. This post will focus on the performance of the MA305; a subsequent post will detail the performance of the longwire.

The large garden I ‘borrowed’ for my DXing session with the Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna

Suffice to say, the MegActive MA305 performed admirably during my first listening session. In the middle of the afternoon I copied a very strong signal from The Voice of Korea around 15:44 hrs UTC on the 25 metre broadcast band, followed at 17:10 hrs UTC with a superb signal from The Voice of the Broad Masses 2, Eritrea, on the 40 metre ham band. Later on in the evening I copied Radio Mail with excellent modulation, CHU Canada with voice announcements (almost impossible at home), Myanmar Radio with an untypically strong signal and XEPPM Radio Educación from Mexico City with a signal I would normally expect on a DXpedition-proper with a large antenna.

My conclusions to this experiment are simply that E-field antennas can work in a suburban environment, if you are able to site them far enough away from adjacent sources of electrical noise. I don’t have empirical data on this, however, I can confirm that 10 metres proximity is too close at my QTH and 30 metres is sufficiently far away at this test location. One has to assume the houses nearby are similarly equipped to mine with electrical appliances that generate electrical noise. Thus, if you’re interested in a very well-priced, compact antenna and you live in an urban or suburban environment with access to a large garden/ outdoor space, an E-field Boni Whip or MegActive MA305 might well be suitable – and you’ll have a superb portable antenna for those listening sessions away from home!

Finally, I should mention the Eton Satellit. Much-maligned in certain quarters when it was first introduced into the market, it continues to demonstrate superb DXing credentials. I won’t forget some words of wisdom from a friend of mine and fellow DXer, with more than 3 decades of experience in listening to the bands on HF. He told me that Judging from his own experience with some of the original Grundig Satellit models of the 1980s and early 90s (namely the 400, 500 and 700) he was quite sure that the Eton Satellit is a considerably better DX performer than those vintage sets, that offered great sound for casual listening to international broadcasters, but didn’t perform too convincingly on weak DX signals. The Eton Satellit has been a revelation and I’m pleased to have played a small part in turning around the rather widely held view that it was less than worthy of the Satellit branding.

Fresh out of the box, the Eton Satellit has surpassed all my expectations…

Please find embedded reception videos below and text links to the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel. My next post on this subject will cover the performance of a 40 metre longwire in this large garden environment. Thank you for reading/watching/listening and I wish you all great DX!


Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here for video on Oxford Shortwave Log


Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

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.

A review of the Tecsun S-8800 shortwave/LW/AM-MW/FM portable receiver

Earlier this year, Tecsun released its long-awaited newest large portable: the Tecsun S-8800 portable shortwave/LW/AM-MW/FM receiver.

Though I fully intended to buy a Tecsun S-8800 for review, our friendly Hong Kong-based Tecsun retailer, Anon-Co, sent an S-8800 to me before I could. I’ve worked with Anna at Anon-Co for at least a decade and have purchased numerous radios for review, not to mention as gifts for family and friends.  When she insisted to send it as a gift, I decided I would (gratefully) accept the unit.

I received the S-8800 on February 1 and promptly posted unboxing photos here on the SWLing Post.

My new Tecsun S-8800 had a serious problem, though––one that two early S-8800e adopters noticed as well––internally generated noises, also known as birdies. And while most receivers will have a few minor birdies scattered across the bands, this S-8800 hosted a whole chorus of them, overwhelming the bands and making use of the radio difficult.  Read through this post thread for details.

I contacted Anna at Anon-Co and she immediately notified Tecsun; as a result, they halted distribution of the S-8800.

Tecsun took the S-8800 to their engineering team, and I’m happy to report they’ve now eliminated the horrible warbling DSP birdies of the initial unit I received.

On the S-8800s since released, while there are still a few minor birdies across the bands (more on that later), they’re merely what one might expect to find on any receiver. In short, the S-8800 now in production is a functional receiver, and a contender in its class.

I’ve had the S-8800 for a few weeks now and have had time to put it through its paces. What I present now is a review of the re-engineered Tecsun S-8800.

First impressions

Tecsun S-8800 Front Ang

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must note that I’m not as avid a user of large portables like the S-8800. Personally, my preference is for smaller, full-featured travel-friendly portables, or else larger tabletop models.  I travel often and like to pack lightly, so I rarely reach for anything bigger than my trusty Sony ICF-SW7600GR, or Tecsun PL-880, and more often than not, I grab the ultra-compact Sony ICF-SW100 or C. Crane CC Skywave.

But to say that I never reach for large portables would be inaccurate. In fact, I use a Grundig GS350DL daily; it’s my analog kitchen radio. I rarely move the tuning dial (a good thing, since it unfortunately drifts) because it’s locked onto my in-house SSTran AM transmitter on 1570 kHz.

What large format portables like the GS350DL and S-8800 can provide that a small portable cannot is broad, rich, room-filling audio. In my world, good audio is an important factor in overall signal intelligibility.

The S-8800 chassis resembles several other receivers: the Grundig GS350DL, S450DLX, and more recently, the Field BT, just to name a few.

The body is made of a hard plastic (not rubberized) and feels rugged enough. The knobs and buttons also feel tactile and of comparable quality to the previous similar models noted above.  With the rechargeable batteries inserted, it weighs about 3 pounds 4 ounces (1.5 KG).

The backlit display is large and viewable from almost any angle––even at a distance.

The main encoder (tuning knob) has appropriate amount of brake for most listeners. It wobbles very slightly, but functions amazingly well. I prefer it over its large portable predecessors, especially the 350GL. There is no soft mute while tuning, so band-scanning is a fluid, almost analog, process.

Both the “Band Select” and “AM BW” knobs have soft detents that mark steps in selection. In the field, I noticed that these can occasionally skip an increment when the detent only moves one position or the knob is turned very slowly. This doesn’t really affect functionality in any way, but I thought it worth noting nonetheless.

Like previous similar models, the S-8800 lacks a built-in keypad for direct frequency entry. That would be a major negative for a radio in this price class if the S-8800 didn’t come with one invaluable accessory:  an infrared remote control.

Infrared (IR) Remote Control

The Tecsun S-8800 ships with a IR remote control, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s great.

The remote feels durable, fits well in the hand, and the back has a place for it to balance on your index finger when holding…

But more importantly, the remote works quite well.  The controls are intuitive and the labeled buttons are quite easy to read. They’re also tactile and have a muted “click” response when pressed. Indeed, I wish my television’s remote was this well designed.

And the remote is quite useful, especially if you like listening from bed, from a porch, from the kitchen or dining room or den––or, in fact, from any space where you might wish to control the receiver at a distance. I believe its possible that every function of the S-8800 can be controlled with the remote––even the sleep timer!

Perhaps my dream remote for such a purpose would be backlit, but the S-8800’s remote is so simple to use, I’ve already nearly memorized where the buttons are located for nighttime use.

Operation Manual

The S-8800 ships with an informative operational manual, although this radio is intuitive enough that a seasoned radio listener will not need to reference it, save for advanced settings. Still, it’s written in clear language––with comparatively few English grammar errors––and the diagrams for both the radio and the remote are exceptional.

I referenced the manual several times to sort out ATS operation, saving/erasing memories, and to hunt down function shortcuts.

Features

The S-8800 is a feature-packed triple conversion receiver.  Here’s an abridged list of its features, focusing on those most radio enthusiasts seek:

  • Frequency coverage:
    • LW: 100 – 519 kHz (1 kHz & 9 kHz steps)
    • MW: 520 – 1710 kHz (1 kHz, 9 kHz and 10 kHz steps)
    • SW: 1711 – 29,999 kHz (1 kHz & 5 kHz steps)
    • Note in SSB mode on LW, MW and SW, tuning steps are 10 Hz and 1 kHz.
    • FM: 64 – 108 MHz (selectable for various markets: Russia, The Caucasus, Caspian/Black Sea regions, Japan, China/Europe, and North America)
  • Modes: AM, FM, SSB
  • Variable filter widths
    • AM: 6, 4, 3, and 2.3 kHz
    • SSB: 4, 3, 2.3, 1.2, and 0.5 kHz
  • Digital Signal Processing (DSP)
  • Antenna gain selection: DX/Local
  • External antenna connections: both BNC (SW and FM) and a high-impedance port (LW, MW and SW)
  • Both 9 and 10 kHz spacing on mediumwave
  • Dedicated fine-tuning control
  • Auto Tuning Storage (ATS)
  • 650 station memories
  • FM stereo/mono
  • Backlit LCD display
  • Treble and bass tone controls
  • RCA line-out audio
  • Full-featured clock, alarm and sleep timer
  • IR remote control
  • Two 18650 lithium cells (included) that can be safely charged internally via USB

Wishlist? The S-8800 feature set is pretty comprehensive, but my dream large portable would also have synchronous detection and an RF gain control, though the latter is not common in the world of portable radios.  Fortunately, the S-8800 does have a local/DX gain toggle.

I’m sure some enthusiasts would also like to see Bluetooth connectivity as on the Eton Field BT, but I personally don’t miss it. I like to keep my HF portables free from anything that could potentially raise the noise floor.

With the exception of synchronous detection, the S-8800 has a solid, comprehensive tool set.

Performance

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the S-8800 on the air almost every day. I’ve compared it with a number of receivers, but mainly its smaller sibling, the popular Tecsun PL-880. Below, I break down my notes by band.

FM

As is typical with my shortwave portable reviews, I spent less time evaluating FM performance on the S-8800.

With that said, I did compare the S-8800 with the PL-880, PL-680 and CountyComm GP5-SSB and a few other portables. The S-8800 found my benchmark weaker broadcasters with ease.

Here’s a short video demonstrating FM performance with a broadcaster over 100 miles distant:

Click here to view on YouTube.

AM/Medium Wave

I’ve had more inquiries about S-8800 mediumwave performance than I’ve had about any other radio I’ve recently reviewed. Why?  Well, for one thing, some radios in this particular portable format perform quite well on mediumwave––the C.Crane CCRadio-SW, for example, comes to mind.  Also, the S-8800’s large front-facing speaker lends itself to superb AM audio.

Unfortunately, mediumwave is not the Tecsun S-8800’s strong suit.

I did extensive testing, comparing it with much smaller portables: the Tecsun PL-880, the Sony ICF-SW7600GR, the Digitech AR-1780, the CC Skywave, and even a pre-production CC Skywave SSB. All of these portables had better sensitivity on mediumwave.

I posted the following representative video a couple weeks ago in a post:

To reiterate from my previous post, comparing any modern radio with the Panasonic RF-2200 on mediumwave is hardly fair.  For one, the RF-2200 has been out of production for a few decades.  For another, the RF-2200 has a large rotatable ferrite bar antenna that provides excellent gain. The RF-2200 simply wipes the floor with all of my modern portables, as their ferrite bar antennas are but a fraction of the size.

To my ear, the S-8800’s  mediumwave band seems noisier than its competitors. Perhaps this is why it struggles with marginally weak stations.

Here’s another comparison with the PL-880––this time at a totally different location:

Click here to view on YouTube.

With that said, when tuned to a local AM broadcaster, the S-8800 really shines. It produces rich audio which can be customized with bass/treble tone controls and by changing the AM filter width.

I also hooked up the S-8800 to my large horizontal loop antenna. This certainly did improve MW reception, but not as dramatically as I hoped.  Additionally, it seemed to be very sensitive to RFI in my shack even when hooked up to the external antenna.

If you took the S-8800 to the field, added a decent inductively-coupled magnetic loop antenna, no doubt it would improve mediumwave reception, but I still doubt it would come close to the RF-2200 in performance.  As long as I own the latter, I wouldn’t be motivated to do so.

Due to my schedule over the past few weeks, I’ve had precious little time to test the S-8800 on mediumwave at night, but some quick air checks proved performance was consistent with daytime testing.

I am pleased to report that no receiver overloading was observable during testing.

In short: if you’re only considering the S-8800 for mediumwave DXing, you should look elsewhere. I would suggest a dedicated AM broadcast receiver like the excellent CCradio 2E,  a vintage Panasonic RF-2200, or perhaps a used GE Superadio.

LW – Longwave

I’ve spent less time on longwave than I have on mediumwave and shortwave.

With that said, the S-8800 was able to receive our local airport beacons at night with relative ease. I was not able to catch any transatlantic longwave broadcasters, but that’s no surprise as it’s almost impossible on even my commercial-grade receivers during the summer months here in North America.

As I said regarding the mediumwave band, I suspect there are much better radios out there for the longwave enthusiast.

SW – Shortwave

At the end of the day, I believe the Tecsun S-8800 was designed with the shortwave and amateur HF radio enthusiast in mind.

The S-8800 has gapless HF coverage from 1,711 kHz to 29,999 kHz, can be used both in AM or Single Sideband (selectable LSB/USB), and has adjustable bandwidth filters tailored to AM broadcast and SSB/CW (ham radio/utility/pirate) reception. The filter widths are well-chosen for each mode: 6, 4, 3, and 2.3 kHz on AM; 4, 3, 2.3, 1.2, and 0.5 kHz on SSB.

It also has a dedicated fine-tuning control that adjusts steps based on the mode.

All of these are desired features for the HF radio enthusiast.

I’m happy to report that the S-8800 is a very capable shortwave receiver, perhaps even one of the best portables currently on the market.

In every comparison test I made on shortwave, the S-8800 outperformed each of its competitors.

Check out the videos below and judge for yourself:

Weak signal on the 31 meter band:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Very weak signal and deep fading on 15,200 kHz

Click here to view on YouTube.

SSB: Ham Radio QSO on the 40 meter band

Click here to view on YouTube.

CW on the 20 meter band

Click here to view on YouTube.

I was pleasantly surprised by the audio in SSB mode and by how well the filters seem to work. Note in the video the warbling sound as I adjust the fine-tuning control on the S-8800.  But it’s actually only present as I adjust the fine-tuning control; I noticed no stability issue once on frequency.

External antenna

Since the S-8800 has a handy standard BNC connector and high impedance AM antenna socket on the back, I hooked it up to my large horizontal loop. In my testing, it handled that antenna’s gain very well and I was most impressed with the performance.

The front end seems to be robust, and selectivity––which is excellent––was not compromised by my antenna. I was able to pull apart two broadcasts with only 5 kHz of separation that were both quite strong. The S-8800 locked onto the stronger of the two stations with ease. When tuned to the weaker station, I used SSB reception on the upper sideband to ignore the noisier lower sideband which was buried in the adjacent signal. Once I zero-beated the signal, it sounded quite good.

Final thoughts about shortwave performance

Perhaps what the S-8800 has going for it on shortwave is a combination of very good sensitivity, excellent selectivity, and a feature all too often overlooked: good audio fidelity (via the internal two-watt speaker).

The AGC (auto gain control) is actually fairly stable on the HF bands (less so on mediumwave). Like the Tecsun PL-880, the AGC has a soft hiss response when the signal fades below the AGC threshold. While I’m not crazy about this, I must confess that it is pretty easy on the ears when fading is pervasive.

I did note one quirk that could annoy those wishing to copy narrow SSB or CW. If the filter bandwidth is set to .5 kHz and you’re listening to a marginal CW signal, the AGC sometimes mutes the receiver during CW dead space. It equates to very unstable audio with audio levels jumping around wildly. This happened more often when I was copying moderate to weak CW signals. I’ve even noticed it when listening to SSB ham radio conversations, but mostly in the narrow bandwidths. I usually keep the filter set to 2.3 kHz or higher and it hasn’t been a problem at these settings. It’s worth noting that I have observed the same AGC behavior in my PL-880 at times.

The S-8800 ships with two rechargeable lithium cells which provide hours of listening time from a full charge.

I never encountered overloading from local AM broadcasters on the shortwave bands, with the caveat that I never tested the S-8800 in an RF-rich urban market.

One thing I have noticed in general about the S-8800 is that it seems pretty sensitive to RFI indoors (electrical noise in the home, office, etc)––more so than my Sony ICF-SW7600GR, for example. If you live in a noisy environment and never plan to use an external antenna or take the radio outdoors, you might think twice about the S-8800.

Birdies

I’m pleased to report that Tecsun did properly address the “birdie” issue I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Still, like most receivers, the S-8800 does have some birdies across the bands. These birdies are well within the norm for such rigs:  a relatively stable heterodyne sound. I made a short video to illustrate what I mean when I talk about a birdie:

Click here to view on YouTube.

I spent one afternoon carefully mapping out all of the birdies I could find across the longwave, mediumwave and shortwave bands.

Here’s what I mapped:

As you can see, there are no birdies in the middle of sensitive areas like broadcast bands, amateur radio bands, etc. A good report, in my book.

Note that while tuning through the shortwave bands, I used 5 kHz steps. I suppose there’s a possibility I might have missed very weak birdies doing this, but any strong birdies would have been received and noted within the 5 kHz window. On LW and MW, I tuned in 1 kHz increments.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons, of course. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions. Following is the list I formed over the time I’ve been evaluating the Tecsun S-8800:

Pros:

  • Brilliant audio fidelity from built-in speaker
  • Dedicated AM bandwidth and fine tuning controls
  • Excellent, bespoke IR remote control
  • Capable SSB mode
  • Excellent shortwave sensitivity (see con: mediumwave)
  • Excellent shortwave selectivity
  • Excellent FM performance
  • Easy-to-read backlit LCD digital display
  • Remote control beautifully equipped for full radio functionality
  • Included 18650 rechargeable lithium batteries power radio for hours

Cons:

  • Lackluster mediumwave performance (see pro: shortwave)
  • No synchronous detector
  • No direct keypad entry (Pro: Remote control has excellent keypad entry)
  • Can’t charge and listen at the same time–not designed for AC operation
  • No backstand
  • Line-out audio level is a little high (hot)
  • When in narrowest SSB filters, AGC can’t reliably handle audio/signal changes
  • Slight “warbling” sound while using fine tune control in SSB mode
  • No RDS display on the FM band

Conclusion:

As I’ve already mentioned, if your primary use of the S-8800 is for mediumwave or longwave DXing, you should look elsewhere. While the S-8800 will serve you well with local AM stations, it will not dig signals out of the noise like other better-equipped AM receivers.  The GE Super Radio, Panasonic RF-2200, or CCRadio 2E are much better options.

But if you’re primarily a shortwave radio listener––? I think you’ll be pleased with the S-8800.

To my surprise, the S-8800 consistently out-performed my beloved Sony ICF-SW7600GR and my PL-880. I fully intend to compare it with other portables in the coming weeks and post the videos here on the SWLing Post. [I will update this review with any other findings.]

I did not mention this in previous posts, but the first S-8800 I received in January––the one with the birdie-chorus problem––also outperformed my other modern portables on shortwave. In part, I feared that when the Tecsun engineers addressed the birdie issue, it could have a negative impact on overall sensitivity. I’m happy to report that it did not.

What’s more, I realize that larger portables do have a place in my life.  You might have noted that I did all of my review testing and preparation outdoors, mostly in a nearby national park. I do this, in part, to insure I’m far away from any RFI, but also I simply love playing radio outdoors.

And the S-8800 was a pleasure to tune and use in the field. I really like the large encoder and find that the multi-function knobs, tone controls, volume, and other buttons are well-spaced–I believe I could operate most of this receiver’s functions with gloves on in the winter. And again, there’s that excellent remote control…

Is the S-8800 a good value? Let’s talk price

Only yesterday, Anon-Co announced the price of the Tecun S-8800: $268 US with free shipping to the US.

This review was in final draft form two days before I learned the price from Anon-Co. I had assumed the price would not be released for another week or two at least, thus I made a few predictive statements that I’ll now quote here:

I understand that the S-8800e is being sold in Europe for 339 Euro, roughly $400 USD, plus shipping. There is no way I’d pay that price; it’s simply too much.

If the price exceeds $300 US, I’d suggest careful consideration, as the S-8800 price would be venturing into the realm of used Sony and Panasonic benchmark portables.

But.  If this radio should be sold for less than $250, or even $200…?  Being primarily a shortwave radio listener, I would certainly buy this radio for that price.

In the end, the price is $18 higher than the $250 I mentioned in my review draft, but I assumed shipping would be tacked on to that price. So $268 ended up being pretty close to the mark.

So I believe the Tecsun S-8800 hovers at the top price threshold of what most radio enthusiasts would be willing to pay for a portable.  At $268, it’s over $100 more than the excellent PL-880 and only $20 less than the Tecsun S-2000. And for radio enthusiasts outside the US, it sounds like shipping will be added to the $268 price. I expect European consumers will pay a premium due to embedded (and required) sales tax and customs handling fees.

Click here to view at Anon-Co.

Nonetheless, I would still consider purchasing at the $268 US mark because of its shortwave performance, ability to connect external antennas, audio fidelity, and the included IR remote control.

I would like to see the price lower than $268. If the price were nearer the $200 mark, it would be a no-brainer––this radio would likely fly off the shelves, and I’d strongly suggest purchasing.

Perhaps, with time, the S-8800 price will decrease. In the meantime, if you have the budget, I believe the S-8800 would make for a nice field companion, pulling weak DX out of the noise with excellent audio fidelity to boot. It’s already been a great field companion for me…and, I’m sure, will accompany me into the field again.