It’s been a while since I posted a video on my YouTube Channel (but I’ve gotten the urge to make several more videos as I’ve been recently comparing my equipment – 16 portable receivers & many antennas).
I try to tune in to Radio Prague via WRMI on many weekday East Coast USA mornings from 1300-1325 UTC. Yesterday I encountered bad propagation but today was much better. The video linked to this post is from today – 30JAN2019 recorded around 1310 UTC.
Without repeating the debate, just take a look at this one example. As stated, reception was pretty good today off the little whip – but – there is an improvement using an amplified antenna. My question: is there a difference between the two amplified antennas? And if so, is the difference worth the price?
My TG34 is a clone of the DE31MS – purchased from Tquchina Radio & Component (ebay user: Tao Qu … they used to have an eBay store “Sino Radios” if I recall, but they stopped selling on eBay when the Post started cracking down on shipment of batteries – I actually exchanged an email with a frustrated Tao Qu when they closed the store).
I paid about $21 if I recall for my TG34 (the DE31MS is available today on eBay for as little as $17.28). I paid over $100 for the Sony AN-LP1 (out of production now and can be listed for as high as $300 on eBay). So … $21 versus “over $100”. Is there a difference – and if so – is it 5x the difference – 5x better?!
You be the judge.
P.S. Just a quick slightly over 1-minute video recorded inside my house (sitting in my breakfast nook) … typically “okay” reception but not my usual Listening Post.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Luke Perry, who writes:
I am experiencing a issue with my shortwave reception at my part-time home. I have been helping out my mother so I have brought over my Sony portable, along with the Sony active antenna. I have a constant ‘clicking’ sound starting at about 5 kHz or thereabouts that make listening unbearable. As the video shows the problem is non-existent below 4 kHz. I tried moving the radio throughout the house thinking it could be something in the room and still get the same interference.
I was hoping that the filter on the active antenna would help but it does little to remedy the problem. I have no issues with MW or FM reception at all.
I have made a short YouTube video to document the problem in the hopes that one of the blog readers can identify it. I looked online at other instances of RFI and I could not find one that is similar. Hope that someone can help me!
After listening to the first few seconds of your recording, I thought it sounded a bit like an electric fence controller. However the interval between pops is nearly random, which suggests a different source. I suppose it’s possible a faulty fence controller could do this. I believe the only way you could defeat this noise (without shutting it down at the source) would be to use a radio with a durable noise blanker. Of course, I know of no portable radios with an NB function (though most SDRs and tabletop receivers include an NB).
Post readers: Can help Luke ID the source of this noise? Does it sound familiar to you? Please comment!
[IMPORTANT UPDATE (October 21, 2018): I’m pleased to report that C. Crane have addressed issues that I found in the first production run of the CC Skywave SSB. Click here to read the update.]
Those who know me know I’m all about travel, and all the things that make the travel experience enjoyable. I like to pack light, taking only the essentials, and if I’m traveling by air, I can easily fit two weeks of fun into one small carry-on. To me, the idea of lugging a huge suitcase, being subject to lost check-in luggage, and fretting over finding room in an overhead bin to squeeze in a huge bag simply has no appeal. Even though I often opt for the budget ticket, which means loading later, I know I can literally be the last one on board without fear because my travel bag is so compact that, if nothing else, it will fit underneath the seat in front of me.
Yet even though I travel light, I never ever travel without a radio. That’s a given in my bag. Since packable real estate in my carry-on is at a premium, I opt for the most bang-for-buck I can manage in a portable radio.
My radio travel partners
To date, I have a few favorite full-featured travel radios and know quite well both their strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a list with some notable pros and cons:
Pros: A 1990s era marvel of compact technology, it sports SSB mode, sync detection, headphone and audio out jacks, external antenna jack, and long life on two AA batteries. It has excellent sensitivity and selectivity. No muting between frequencies spoils listening pleasure.
Cons: Speaker audio is poor, no FM RDS, no weather radio, no AIR band, the battery cover may be easily broken, ribbon cable can break (in early models) and the clamshell design, while a cool feature, isn’t always practical and makes the unit feel prone to damage. Plus, the SW100 series is no longer manufactured and, due to desirability, typically have a price point well above the competition.
Pros: A compact, ergonomic full-featured radio which sports SSB mode, AIR band, external antenna jack, reasonable audio from internal speaker, very good shortwave and mediumwave performance for the size. No muting between frequencies.
Cons: Rubberized coating becomes sticky as it deteriorates, no weather radio, no audio-out jack, no RDS, and it’s no longer manufactured.
Pros: Very affordable (typically $40-50 shipped), excellent shortwave, mediumwave and FM reception, external antenna jack, average audio fidelity from built-in speaker, internal battery charging, common 5V mini USB plug, reasonably durable.
Cons: No SSB mode, no weather radio, no AIR band, no RDS, no dedicated audio-out jack, limited shortwave coverage compared with other portables 2.3 – 21.95 MHz
Pros: SSB mode, great shortwave, mediumwave, fm reception, vertical form factor great for handheld listening while walking/hiking, external ferrite bar antenna enables excellent AM/mediumwave reception.
Cons: Vertical form factor means it’s prone to fall over if placed on a bedside table, no direct entry keypad for frequencies, tinny audio from built-in speaker, no RDS, no AIR band, detachable external ferrite bar antenna is an extra piece to keep up with while traveling.
Pros: Overall excellent performance on shortwave, mediumwave, and FM. AIR band, North America weather radio (excellent sensitivity) with alerts, squelch control, common 5 VDC USB mini power port with charging capability, a great value at $89
Cons: No SSB mode, no external antenna jack, no RDS,
What radio I decide to pack really depends on the type of trip I’m taking.
If I really want SSB mode to listen to HF pirates, ham radio, or utility stations, I tend to grab the Sony ICF-SW100, the Grundig G6, or more recently, the Digitech AR-1780 [and now the XHDATA D-808].
If I plan to do extended hiking or walking during my trip, I might grab the CountyComm GP5-SSB.
If I only plan to listen to AM/FM/SW broadcasts, and it’s a short trip––or one during which the radio might receive rough treatment––then I might grab the Tecsun PL-310ET. If I leave the PL-310ET in a hotel or drop it, I’m only out about $40. I’ve even been known to simply give one of these to someone, like a kid for example, who shows a fascination in shortwave radio.
If I plan to do off-air audio recordings during my travels, then the Sony ICF-SW100 because it’s the only radio with a dedicated audio-out port. Plus, it’s a great performer.
If I’m travelling by air, however, I almost always choose the CC Skywave: its unique combination of AM/FM/SW coverage, NOAA weather, and AIR band are simply hard to beat. It’s compact, durable, and gets the job done. Plus, the Skywave seems to operate for ages on a set of AA batteries. C. Crane really knocked it out of the ballpark with the CC Skywave.
But there was one glaring omission on the original CC Skywave: Single-sideband (SSB) mode.
Enter the CC Skywave SSB
Earlier this year, I learned about a new radio in development at C. Crane: the CC Skywave SSB. I saw a Beta unit very early on and a few weeks later, knowing how much I appreciate the original Skywave, C. Crane asked me to help test the new Skywave SSB. I was happy to do my bit.
I actually do quite a bit of alpha- and beta-testing for manufacturers. While it’s time-consuming volunteer work, and requires meticulous attention to detail––even seemingly minor details––it gives me an opportunity to have meaningful positive impact on an upcoming product. Manufacturers that actively involve enthusiasts in their testing phase tend to produce better quality. I wish all manufacturers did this (yes, Tecsun, I’m looking squarely at you!).
After the Skywave SSB arrived, I started putting it through its paces. Typically, pilot run units have quirks and glitches buried in non-standard operating procedures. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any on the Skywave SSB. I’ve since learned that C. Crane invests heavily in pre-production testing; I saw their full list of iterative notes, and they were incredibly detailed. Result? No obvious problems. I’ve always believed that while C. Crane doesn’t always produce the most affordable products––nor do they stuff every bell-and-whistle into them––what they do produce is well thought out, user friendly, well documented, and performs at or near the top of its class.
The CC Skywave SSB comes with a surprising amount of features for such a compact radio. Many of these features are also found on the original CC Skywave.
I’ve placed upgraded features in bold:
AM, FM, NOAA Weather band plus Alert, Shortwave (1711-29.999MHz) with SSB mode, and Airband
Frequency direct entry, plus auto scan and store
Lighted LCD display
Selectable fast or fine tuning (on all bands except weather)
Dedicated fine tuning control, selectable on front panel
400 memory presets
Runs on 2 AA Alkaline batteries (not included)
(Optional) CC Skywave AC power adapter w/ mini USB plug required for charging NiMH batteries.
Stereo headphone jack and fold-out back stand
Clock with 12/24 hour format and alarm
Rotary volume knob
High quality CC Buds Earphones and radio carry case included
Run Time (on batteries––approximate):
± 70 hours (earbuds)
± 60 Hours (built-in speaker)
10 Aviation Memories can be scanned for activity
You’ll notice there are actually very few obvious upgrades from the original Skywave to the Skywave SSB: just SSB mode, expanded HF coverage (from 1,711 to 29,999 kHz), and dedicated fine tune button/control. I’ve also learned that aviation band scanning is much faster on the newer model than on the original Skywave.
Other than those items, in terms of features, it’s very similar to the original CC Skywave.
CC Skywave SSB (left) and the original CC Skywave (right)
The original Skywave and Skywave SSB are nearly identical in terms of form factor; overall dimensions are identical (4.8″ W x 3″ H x 1″ D), although the Skywave SSB weighs 1.2 oz more than the original––a difference that’s scarcely detectable.
The tuning knob, volume control, power port, and headphones jack are in the same places on the SSB. The chassis color is different, however; the original Skywave is black, whereas the new Skywave SSB is grey––a dark warm or “dim” grey,” to be accurate.
Original CC Skywave (left) and CC Skywave SSB (right)
Where one finds the true difference between the new Skywave SSB and its predecessor is on the front panel. The Skywave SSB has dedicated buttons to enable both SSB mode, select upper or lower sideband, and a fine-tune control. The Skywave also has a dedicated backlight button. This accounts for a total of four additional buttons compared with the original Skywave.
In a rather nice touch, both the SSB and fine tune buttons have tiny red LED indicators to let the user know when they’re engaged.
The CC Skywave SSB also has a redesigned speaker grill which more closely resembles the grill on their CC Pocket radio. Much to my surprise, once I shared detailed photos of the CC Skywave SSB, many of my readers expressed their disappointment with the speaker design. Many claimed it looked “cheap” as compared with the original Skywave and thus felt the chassis might be more subject to breakage. Some even got the impression that the speaker grill was raised in a way that it would lend itself to harm.
Actually, this is not accurate. Though it may appear that the speaker grill is elevated in photos, it’s actually in a recessed portion of the chassis and surrounded by an absorbent rubber ring, rising only ? 1 mm above the chassis, if that. And the hard plastic case feels as solid and robust as any portable I’ve tested. I wouldn’t hesitate to toss it in my pack.
Personally, I think the Skywave SSB is a handsome little radio! Perhaps I’m not as sensitive as others about chassis design, but I’m actually happy it’s not a clone of the original Skywave, making it much easier for owners of both models to distinguish them when packing!
From Pilot/Beta to production
While C. Crane allowed me to post a number of photos once the product announcement had been made, I would not publicly comment on performance. Indeed, I never post performance comments about pre-production units since I wouldn’t be evaluating the same product that hits the store shelves.
So once C. Crane posted an ordering page for the Skywave SSB, I placed an order, just like everyone else.
In truth, I was told there were only minor differences between the pilot unit and the production unit: some silk screening and other very minor changes.
[IMPORTANT UPDATE: Again, please note that the following production quirks have been addressed in the second production run of the CC Skywave SSB. Click here to review the update.]
I was eager to get started on the review of the Skywave SSB, so as soon as I received it, I did what I always do: compared it with other radios!
I make my comparisons, by the way, at least fifty yards from my house to separate the radios from any inadvertent sources of local noise.
Production Radio #1
My first comparison was with the Digitech AR-1780 and the original CC Skywave. I quickly noted that the Skywave SSB was very slightly less sensitive than the other radios. I had tested the pre-production unit enough to know that the Skywave SSB’s performance should at least be on par with, if not a little better than, the original Skywave.
Upon careful listening, I discovered the production unit had a faint, internally-generated whine on some of the shortwave bands; when tuned to marginal signals, this whine manifested in the form of variable background noise. Between signals it was audible as a faint background whine, hardly noticeable. With that said, the whine was most notable while tuning––since the Skywave SSB mutes between frequency changes, the whine was most conspicuous during audio recovery between steps.
The pre-production unit had no trace of an internally-generated whine. Audio was very clean in comparison.
Here’s a sample of the first production radio being tuned down from 10,000 kHz in 5 kHz tuning steps:
I contacted C. Crane promptly, and to their credit, they immediately dispatched another unit from inventory, via UPS Next Day, along with a return label to send my faulty unit back to their engineering team.
Production Radio #2
The second unit arrived while I was on Thanksgiving vacation, but was sent to me directly at my hotel. The day I received the replacement Skywave SSB, I put it on the air. The first listening session with it, alone, revealed that this unit did not have the internally-generated whine, however, this unit had issues with sensitivity. All of my comparison receivers were outperforming this Skywave SSB on the shortwave broadcast bands. When I compared it with the pre-production Skywave SSB unit and the first production unit, the second production unit was about four to five S-units less sensitive…Odd.
I sent both production radios back to C. Crane with detailed notes and sample recordings. Their engineering team confirmed my findings and started looking into the variations in QC and double-checking their inventory to make sure none shipped with these problems.
Production Radio #3
A few days later, I was sent a third production unit. After putting it on the air, I immediately noticed the same faint noise characteristics of my first full production unit, which is to say, the notorious whine.
Once again, I contacted C. Crane. This time, I requested that no less than three radios be sent to me, and that they kindly expedite the request.
Production Radios #4, #5, and #6
I tested all three radios from this final batch of production units. What follows is an assessment of those radios.
First production run noises
I spent two full hours searching for birdies (internally generated noises) and other anomalies on the three CC Skywave SSB production units I received that Monday. Each radio’s noise location varied slightly (within 20-40 kHz).
Birdies are a fairly common occurrence among sensitive receivers, and the CC Skywave SSB has about an average number. Fortunately, the birdies I noted are outside the space where I do my broadcast listening:
Background audio whine/tone
All of the production units (save Radio #2) had a very slight audio whine present––either via the internal speaker or headphones––on certain portions of the spectrum.
In the first full production unit I received, I believe this whine may have slightly affected the unit’s overall sensitivity. On the last three production units I received, the whine didn’t seem to have as much of an impact on overall sensitivity.
The whine is still there, however. And occasionally when the unit is tuned to a weak signal within one of these zones, other faint sweeping noises can be detected in the background.
Sometimes it’s even more noticeable when the broadcaster is weak and is located within one of the “whine zones.” Here’s an example of 10 MHz WWV time station comparing the original Skywave with the Skywave SSB. Note that at the time this was recorded we had terrible propagation due to a geo storm, so WWV was very weak, indeed.
I noted no birdies or noises on the mediumwave band.
I’ve no doubt, C. Crane will tackle these issues and solve them by the time the second production run ships.
In the meantime, I’ve become somewhat of an expert on the CC Skywave SSB, having evaluated a total of seven models and spending more time evaluating them than I have any other portable.
Let’s take a look at what we can expect from the CC Skywave SSB with these first production quirks aside.
Like its predecessor and many other travel radios (the Digitech AR-1780 and XHDATA D-808 being notable exceptions) the Skywave SSB’s audio from the internal speaker is adequate. It’s just shy of what I would call “tinny” because it does cover the mid-range . For spoken word content in AM and SSB, it does the job quite well. With music, you simply can’t expect any bass notes or room-filling audio. But then again, in a compact radio, my expectations are simply lower. The Digitech AR-1780 and XHDATA D-808 have the best audio of my compact travel radios, but they’re also the largest, so have a slightly bigger speaker.
I did note a minor amount of background hiss present somewhere in the audio amplification chain on the first production run units–most noticeable via headphones.
With the supplied CC Buds, you’ll be a happy camper.
Audio sounds rich via the headphones jack.
Of course, what we all want to know is how well the CC Skywave SSB performs. In a nutshell (spoiler alert!) it’s very similar to the original Skywave.
I break this down band-by-band below, starting with my favorite band.
Keeping in mind the frustrating experience with quality control, when I received the final three production units, I was very pleased with performance on the shortwave bands. The AGC characteristics are relatively stable, making weak signal listening a pleasant experience. Even though the Skywave SSB lacks a synchronous detector, I found that stability––even with periods of notable selective fading––is impressive.
In the realm of compact travel radios, both my pre-production and (better functioning) production models are strong performers. The Skywave SSB is slightly less sensitive than my larger, full-featured portables like the Tecsun PL-660, PL-680, PL-880, and Grundig Satellit. All of these radios, however, have longer telescoping whip antennas. If I add the gain from the included CC Reel antenna, the Skywave SSB can even hold its own with many of these.
I’ve been very pleased with the original Skywave for broadcast SWLing for a few years now. I’m happy to report that the Skywave SSB offers an incremental improvement over the original Skywave.
Much like other modern DSP portables, FM performance is stellar for such a compact radio. The Skywave SSB was able to receive all of my benchmark FM stations. While audio fidelity from the Skywave SSB’s internal speaker is not a strong point, via headphones you’ll be quite pleased.
I’ve found the Skywave SSB to be capable mediumwave receiver. Performance characteristics are very similar to the original Skywave and the AGC settings even make MW DXing a pleasant experience. Since the internal ferrite bar isn’t terribly large, better performance can be achieved by coupling the Skywave SSB to an inexpensive loop antenna, like the Grundig AN200 AM Antenna.
Like the original Skywave, the Skywave SSB is an impressively capable weather radio receiver. From my home, I’m able to pick up a marginal NOAA weather radio frequency that most of my other weather radios cannot. The Skywave SSB also includes a handy weather alert feature that will monitor your chosen NOAA/Environment Canada frequency and wake up the receiver if an alert is issued.
Note that the weather alert feature works on a timer and, most importantly, if operating from battery, drains batteries as quickly as if you were monitoring a live station with the squelch open.
While I didn’t compare performance with a triple conversion scanner, I’m favorably impressed with AIR band performance. During my tests, I noted no imaging or overloading on the AIR band, a very good thing. Additionally, the Skywave SSB offers improved scanning features for the AIR band, making it easier to monitor ground, tower, and even approach/departure frequencies at larger airports. When employing the squelch feature, you almost get the impression you’re holding a scanner, rather than a shortwave portable, in your hands.
Like the original CC Skywave, the SSB does not cover the longwave band. In North America, there is very little to listen to on longwave, so many consumers will never take notice. I’m sure longwave DXers will wish it was a part of the package, however. Admittedly, when I’m traveling in Europe and other parts of the world where there are still stations on longwave, I’ll certainly miss the band.
Comparing to other compact travel radios
Trying to decide if the CC Skywave SSB will have the performance characteristics to displace my other travel portables, I compared it with the radios I mention at the beginning of this article.
In terms of overall sensitivity and selectivity, the CC Skywave SSB essentially runs neck-and-neck with, or in some respects slightly edges out, the Tecsun PL-310ET, Grundig G6, and CountyComm GP5-SSB.
However, both the Sony ICF-SW100 and the Digitech AR-1780 are more sensitive than the Skywave SSB. The Digitech AR-1780 has the best audio characteristics of the competitors, but is also slightly larger and heavier than the others.
Note, too, that the Sony ICF-SW100 and Grundig G6 are the only radios in this comparison that don’t mute between frequency changes. They’re the best band-scanning receivers.
And how does the Skywave SSB compare with the original CC Skywave? I find that the Skywave SSB has a slightly lower noise floor which is perhaps helped even further by better audio/tone characteristics. Sensitivity is about the same, but signals pop out of the background static better on the Skywave SSB.
In terms of features, the Skywave SSB likely offers the most for the traveler.
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’ve formed over the time I’ve been evaluating the CC Skywave SSB:
Overall well thought out, considerate design
Excellent form factor for travel
Very good sensitivity and selectivity for a compact radio
Faster AIR scanning compared with the original Skywave
Better HF frequency coverage than the original Skywave (1.711-29.999 MHz, compared to 2.300-26.100 MHz)
Pleasant SSB audio
Multiple bandwidths in both AM and SSB modes
No overloading noted
Well-written operation manual
Excellent weather band reception
Nice red LED indication lamps for SSB and Fine Tune engagement
a quality external reel antenna
CC Buds earphones
Soft case with Velcro closure
Excellent battery life from two AA cells (AA cells are a plus for travelers as they’re so ubiquitous)
Engaging SSB mode requires 2-3 seconds of delay (common for this DSP chip)
Some ticking noise in audio when pressing buttons (identical to the Digitech AR-1780)
No audio-out jack
No longwave reception
ATS Scanning in 1st production run stops at 26,100 kHz
No synchronous detection (though not expected in this class of compact portable)
Shortwave ATS tuning time about half as fast as the original Skywave (original is quite speedy!)
$149 $169 price is at the top of its class
I love the CC Skywave SSB. Sure, I wish it had RDS, an audio-out jack, didn’t mute between frequencies, and was a little less expensive. But overall, it’s a fantastic package. I’m impressed with the amount of performance the Skywave SSB provides with such a short telescoping antenna.
Most reading this review will be scratching their heads wondering if: a) having SSB mode is worth the $60 premium over the original Skywave ($89 vs. $149)? and b) is any compact radio, for that matter, really worth $149––?
Because of how I travel, I would say that I easily use ultra-compact portables like the Skywave SSB about 70% of the time I’m found listening to portables.
When the Skywave SSB was first placed on the C. Crane website, they posted a price of $169––when the units started shipping, they reduced the cost to $149, and reimbursed those who had placed an order with the higher price. [UPDATE: Early 2018, they once again increased the price to $169.]
Though the initial $169 price made me wince a bit, I still ordered one. Why? Because to me being a traveler who loves an ultra compact, having an ergonomic, full-featured, durable, compact travel radio with SSB, AIR and NOAA weather radio is worth it!
Therefore, the CC Skywave SSB will be my travel radio of choice going forward––it’s essentially a Swiss Army Knife of a travel radio.
There’s another factor, too: I trust C. Crane. Despite the frustrating quirks I experienced reviewing my first production run units, I know C. Crane takes care of their customers in the long run, and will replace any faulty units without hesitation. They’ve taken every item of feedback I’ve provided directly to their engineers and quality-control specialists, and the work continues to resolve this radio’s concerns. If you have a Skywave SSB with noise, don’t hesitate to contact C. Crane about it.
Overall, I am optimistic about this radio. I expect the second production run will produce radios performing as they should––like the final production units I tested, but without the internally-generated noises. [Click here to read second production run update.] And if this occurs as I expect, you can expect good performers.
At any rate, I know this: I’ll be one of the first to test units of their second production run…and to let you know just what I find. (Bookmark the tag CC Skywave SSB for updates.)
I do not believe it was ever reviewed in Passport to World Band Radio. The first appearance of it was an advertisement in the 1992 Passport. It also appeared in an ad in the 1993 Passport, but by 1994 it was gone. This radio was released to compete with the Sony ICF-SW100 and was apparently very short-lived.
There isn’t a lot of online information about it, just a forum posting asking members to list “the most over-rated SW radio ever” and this one received a vote. The posting states this radio was known to have capacitor issues (just like every other radio of the era) & “poorly designed battery contacts” that would fail.
There is at least 1 video of the radio on YouTube pitting it against the ICF-SW100, and the Sony is very clearly better.
This appears to be a radio [only] for collectors &/or uber radio enthusiasts, but I feel this price point is a bit steep.
A Sony SW100, a PK Loop, and a pint of L’Écurieux brown ale. Lovely trio!
If you’re a regular Post reader, you’re probably aware that I enjoy a relatively RFI-free environment at my rural mountain home. RFI-free living is something of a luxury, even though our rural location also equates to appallingly slow Internet service.
But unfortunately, when I travel, I usually find that I’ve traded my RFI-free atmosphere for the chaos of noise-ridden bands. If you’ve ever stayed at a modern hotel and tried to tune to anything on mediumwave or shortwave, you’ll know just what I mean.
We’ve spent this summer, like last, near Québec City, Canada. Near this fairly large city, I’ve been greeted by more than enough RFI to make up for the lack of RFI most of the year.
I attribute the atrocious RFI to the number of light dimmers the developers put in this condo complex and the proximity to a field of noisy electrical poles. Of course, all of the unregulated power supplies in the area don’t help, either. It’s a jungle of noise.
While the PK Loop seems to pair well with my Sony SW100, I also love using it with my Elecraft KX2 for SWLing.
Sadly, the PK Loop doesn’t provide the noise mitigation of a large wideband mag loop antenna–like a Wellbrook or Pixel Loop–but it does lend itself to excellent portability and takes the edge off the noise.
While it’s easy to do my radio listening in the condo from a comfy chair, in reality, it limits what I can receive in a serious way. The 31 meter band, for example, is so heavily submerged in RFI that only the strongest stations can punch through (for example, Voice of Greece, Radio Romania International, WRMI, WBCQ, Radio Havana Cuba, China Radio International).
So, what can I do?
Hit the field, of course!
That’s right. Taking a page from the books of SWLing Post contributors London Shortwave and Clint Gouveia, I realize I can simply leave the RFI behind and seek a sound, radio quiet spot for SWLing/DXing!
My listening post last year–during the BBC Midwinter broadcast–in the parking lot of St-Anne-de-Beaupré basilica.
Over the past two months, I’ve taken time to escape the RFI and do a few live listening sessions and spectrum recordings in the field. I’ve always got my SDRplay RSP, Elecraft KX2, and Sony ICG-SW100 at the ready. In terms of wire antennas, I’ve deployed my NASA PA30 and even my QRP Trail-Friendly EFT, with good results.
Listening to the 2017 BBC Antarctic Midwinter Broadcast from the back of my vehicle in Saint-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec, Canada.
Just a friendly reminder that if you live in an RFI-dense environment, you can certainly design a system to help mitigate RFI at home. After all, home is where you likely spend the bulk of your free time.
View of the Saint Lawrence River from my back-of-the-minivan listening post.
But, again, the easiest way to substantially increase your chances of snagging DX stations is to simply hit the field.
Join me in giving it a try. Find an RFI-free location with access to a couple of trees to hang a simple wire antenna–say, in a park, at the side of a rural road, on a friend’s farm…and if you find the listening good, make it your radio get-away. You’ll likely find that your portable shortwave radio can outperform your at-home tabletop receiver simply by removing yourself and your radio from the noisy environ of indoors.
When you first start doing radio in the field, it might feel a bit awkward–especially if you’re taking more than a portable shortwave along for the ride–but you’ll soon enjoy the fresh air ambiance and maybe even prefer it to indoors. Even if you’re in a public setting where curious passers-by may want to know what you’re doing, as they undoubtedly will…When questions arise, take a (brief!) moment to educate your questioner(s) about the fascinating and nearly-forgotten world of shortwave radio––maybe you’ll inspire others to listen in, too.
And trust me: once you’ve been to the field a few times, you’ll start to look forward to playing radio in the great–and noise-free–outdoors!
I’m traveling in Canada again and staying in an RFI-dense condo. There was no way I’d hear the broadcast through the noise, so I searched for a field location.
I discovered a quiet spot to park on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec, Canada.
The location was almost ideal: it was RFI quiet compared to other spots I checked and I had access to a tree where I could hang the NASA PA 30 wire antenna.
View of the Saint Lawrence River from my back-of-the-minivan listening post.
Once I arrived, with little time to spare, I deployed the NASA PA 30 and connected it to my Elecraft KX2 transceiver. I then connected the Sony ICF-SW100 to the PK Loop antenna.
Since the KX2 is the most sensitive receiver in my travel arsenal–and even has built-in noise blanking, variable DSP noise reduction, and variable filter width–I used it as the source for my recording.
I checked audio levels by tuning the KX2 to the Voice of Greece on 9420–VOG was blowtorch strength.
None of the frequencies used for the Midwinter broadcast were ideal for my location and time of day (after all, these broadcasts target Antarctica!) but last year I did successfully receive the 41 meter band broadcast.
My fingers were crossed as the broadcast time approached (17:30 local/21:30 UTC).
A few seconds before the half hour, I heard the AM carrier light up on 7,360 kHz (ASCENSION). Very good sign! The broadcast audio followed a few seconds later and was weak, but intelligible. I would give the signal an overall SINPO of 35343.
I couldn’t receive a thing on the 6035 kHz (DHABAYYA) and only an extremely faint signal on 5985 kHz (WOOFFERTON).
The Elecraft KX2/NASA PA 30 combo did prove to be the most effective receiver/antenna pair.
I forgot to do two things in advance, however: to turn off the KX2’s key beeps (which would have been audible in the recording had I adjusted receiver settings) and to set my Zoom H2N to record in WAV format. Oh well…
I was very pleased with the results, all things considered.
The Sony ICF-SW100/PK Loop combo was also quite effective. The signal was a little weaker and less stable than the KX2, but I was still very pleased overall. Here’s a short video–note that I have the sync lock engaged:
The PK Loop was positioned on a folding trail seat close to the ground. After experimenting, I found that loop height had little impact on overall reception, so I opted to keep it closer for accessibility.
The PK Loop antenna.
Very impressive reception of weak DX for such a small portable a compact loop antenna. In the end, the SW100 is a phenomenal little DX machine!
I brought the Audiomax SRW-710S along as well. Since it has a built-in digital recording feature, I had hoped it might provide an additional recording of the broadcast.
Sadly, it fell short.
No matter how I positioned the receiver, nor what antenna it was connected to, the SRW-710S simply couldn’t cope with the weak signal, QRN and overall band conditions. The noise floor was high and the signal (when audible) very unstable. It was like listening to a battle between the receiver’s internal noise and the target signal.
The $20 Audiomax simply can’t compare to benchmark receivers like the ICF-SW100 and Elecraft KX2. Still, it’s an acceptable little radio for recording stronger shortwave, mediumwave and FM signals. I completely agree with Troy Riedel’s assessment.
Another Midwinter broadcast for the books!
It’s always a treat to enjoy the BBC Antarctic Midwinter Broadcast live, knowing that the BAS crew, wintering over in Antarctica, are enjoying it at the same time!
That, in a nutshell, is the magic of shortwave radio.
Please share your recordings!
I’ve already received a healthy number of recordings from SWLing Post readers! Thank you so much!
If you have a recording of the 2017 Midwinter Broadcast that you’d like to submit, please do so by Sunday. I’m participating in Field Day and attending an airshow this weekend, but plan to publish a post with all of the recordings and your photos early next week.
Please send your recordings with any notes and photos to my email address which can be found on the Contact page. If you submit a video, please upload it to YouTube or Vimeo and simply send me the link. Thank you!
Every year, the BBC broadcasts a special program to the scientists and support staff in the British Antarctic Survey Team. The BBC plays music requests and sends special messages to the small team of 40+ located at various Antarctic research stations. Each year, the thirty minute show is guaranteed to be quirky, nostalgic, and certainly a DX-worthy catch!
After successful listener events from years past, I’m calling on all SWLing Post readers and shortwave radio listeners to make a short recording (say, 30-60 seconds) of the BBC Antarctic Midwinter Broadcast today and share it here at the Post (frequencies and time below).
The recording can be audio-only, or even a video taken from any recording device or smart phone. It would be helpful to have a description and/or photo of your listening environment and location, if possible.
If you submit your recording to me, I will post it here on the SWLing Post–and insure that the British Antarctic Survey receives the post, too. The recordings will be arranged by geographic location.
Please note that the broadcast begins at 2130 UTC on June 21, 2017. The following frequencies are based on the test transmissions last week and info published by Martin Goulding and Mauno Ritola (thank you, guys!):
7360 kHz250 kW / 207 deg to Antarctica
6035 kHz250 kW / 203 deg to Antarctica
5985 kHz300 kW / 184 deg to Antarctica
I’m sure there will be live reports in the SWLing Post chat room during the broadcast. Please sign in and share your report as well!
I hope I’ll be able to receive the broadcast this year–I’m traveling again in Québec, but will have my trusty Sony ICF-SW100 and Elecraft KX2 in tow.
Listening for the Midwinter test transmissions last week with the Elecraft KX2.
The Midwinter broadcast is one of my favorite programs of the year. I suppose, in part, this is because it happens on June 21–the Summer/Winter solstice–which also happens to be my birthday! Woo hoo!
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