Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, DanH, who shares the following guest post:
How two Sangean ATS-909Xs led me to news of an ATS-909X2
I decided to buy a second Sangean ATS-909X this summer. I operate shortwave portables on batteries and wanted the ability to switch radios if one ran low on power during a listening session. I received the new radio and used it for about a week before noticing slight differences between the two 909Xs. Then I noticed big differences with the power supplies and began to ask questions. The answers led me to the new Sangean ATS-909X2 mostly by accident. Rumors have circulated for years that the 909X would be the last shortwave portable made by Sangean. It now appears that the rumors are not accurate. Thanks to an anonymous source the true story begins to appear.
I purchased my first 909X in 2015. It was built in 2014 and has been used almost every day since it arrived. The firmware is v. 1.29, the color is black. My 909X is featured in SWL and DX videos I shoot for the YouTube channel Willow Slough DX.
The new 909X was purchased early in August. This radio was made late in 2019 and has firmware v. P01. Minor changes include the color of the magnetic metal piece on the radio’s kickstand and tightness of the volume control knob which has been loosened a little. Another small change affects the beeper that sounds with certain keyboard commands. The beeper is now relatively soft-spoken.
The newer 909X features major changes made to the power supply including the AC/AC wall wart adapter. I use the 2014 909X with battery power for shortwave listening because AC operation introduces noise at different frequencies across the shortwave bands. Incidentally, internally generated noise like this happens with all of my shortwave portables when operated from AC power. The 909X is no exception. Portable SW radios made during the last 30 years just seem to do this regardless of make or brand.
The 2020 909X generates significantly less interference than my five-year old 909X. These radios have different model wall warts. The older radio is a 120 VAC / 60 Hz unit as opposed to 100 – 240 VAC / 50 – 60 Hz. The new adapter sports a ferrite core RF choke on the power line which is now shielded wire instead of small gauge zip line. So far, subtle traces of signal mixing from the new adapter are heard only when using my Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones. The power connection for the newer 909X is now center pin positive instead of center pin negative. Not surprisingly, the newer adapter does not work with the 2015 909X.
The search for a technical explanation for the mysterious (to me) and incompatible AC adapters required talking to several contacts. I found someone who earnestly wanted to discuss the 909X including the new AC adapter. That person floored me by saying “It’s the same adapter that will be on the 909X2.” That was last week…
Introducing the Sangean ATS-909X2
My unnamed source was happy to answer questions about the 909X2 and sent me leaked documents. The first is a sheet issued last spring listing some changes for the new radio. The second is a treasure trove: a 40+ page draft copy of the English language operating instructions for the 909X2 including line drawings. I hit gold and wasn’t even looking for it. This draft was issued earlier in the summer. I did some fascinating reading that evening.
At this point I want to caution readers that the 909X2 is very much a radio in development. The prototypes have yet to be distributed for evaluation although that is expected to happen soon. None of the features or component choices are set in stone at this point. Indeed, the very name of this radio may not be a done deal. I have heard the new model called either ATS-909X2 or ATS-909X Mk. II. Still, the draft copy of a manual that lists and explains operation of all of the many new features confirms that development is well underway. Production is rumored to begin in 2021. That date makes perfect sense as the 909X will be ten years old next year and Sangean likes to celebrate company anniversaries.
What will Sangean’s new multi-band shortwave flagship look like? The 909X2 shown in the draft booklet retains the size and form factor of the 909X to an amazing degree. The number and placement of buttons, switches, knobs and jacks remain the same. The functions of some controls may change and the location of some buttons on the radio may be switched around. A display menu will be added to operate many of the new features. Without taking a close look at how the outboard controls are labeled the 909X and 909X2 will look like siblings. A larger and much busier LCD for the 909X2 will be the most visible difference.
Here are some of the main features of the 909X2. Again, there may be changes before the final version is decided upon.
VHF AIR band in addition to LW / MW / SW / FM
Automatic Tuning System (ATS) for FM / LW / MW / SW bands
Total of 1674 radio station presets
Three memory banks for preset stations: store presets for different users and/or different areas or categories
Local/World Time with two customizable city names
FM RDS with PS, PTY, RT and CT features
Potentiometer-type RF Gain Control retained
Six-digit frequency display
SSB (Single Side Band): USB / LSB, 10/20 Hz tuning steps selectable
Three alarm timers with snooze
Larger display screen with more functions and improved backlight controls
New NiMH charge controller charges each 4xAA cell individually
Station presets/memory lock
Auto or manual bandwidth control
Selectable and band-specific bandwidth filtering for LW-MW / SW / FM / AIR
Tuning dial detents removed
12-segment bar-graph S-meter plus signal strength and signal-to-noise displayed in dB
The new ATS-909X2 benefits from innovations that Sangean developed after the 909X was introduced in 2011. I’m looking forward to firing up this new radio as soon as I can get my hands on one.
Wow! Thank you for sharing your discovery, Dan! I, for one, welcome the new 909X version 2! Sangean is a solid radio manufacturer, so I would expect the new radio to perform at least as well as its predecessors. We’ll post updates as they become available.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who left the following comment on our PL-880 review:
I’m reading this old post as I am a new user of the PL-880. I have it as my bedside and coffee table receiver in my house up in the Indonesian jungle.
I love it! Wished I purchased it months ago.
Until the PL-880 arrived I was using an ATS-909X up here – and seeing Thomas mention it here I thought I would ask about it.
I have owned 3 x ATS-909X over the years, two white and my most recent (about 2 years ago) is the black model. Every single one of them has the most frustrating key not functioning as you would expect bug. It like the keys are “sticking”, it’s not a mechanical problem, but something with the keyboard electronics. The 1st one I brought when the ATS-909X was basically unusable due the keyboard. The later purchases somewhat better, and the last Black one the best of the bunch with a software version that was supposed to fix the problem. All that said even the Black one is pretty crappy with unresponsive keys (unless you press hard and slowly – ie not rapid and fast sequences of key pressing).
Am I just suffering the effects of bad karma, or is everyone’s experience of the ATS-909X the same.
I’m so pleased I’m now using the PL-880. No problems, no crappy keyboard, just a great experience!
I’m glad you’re enjoying the PL-880, Mark. You’re right: it’s a brilliant portable.
Post readers: Have other ATS-909X owners experienced this problem with unresponsive keys? Please comment!
I’m generally not a fan of slip-cover cases (or pouches) that are included with many portable radios. I like to have a little extra padding around radios, but I don’t like bulky cases either. My preference is to carry accessories separately and keep the case as small as possible while still offering some protection.
With that in mind, others may be interested in my choice of non-original cases for the Sangean ATS-909X and XHDATA D-808 receivers.
The Evecase sleeve leaves NO room for anything else, except perhaps a pair of earbuds loosely coiled on top of the radio before zipping the case shut. Protection of the ATS-909X is very good though, better than the stock Sangean slip case.
For the XHDATA D-808, I discovered that a model of the popular “Pelican” line of hard cases is an absolutely perfect fit. Model 1040 (Micro Case series) is the one to get, especially if you want the extreme protection this padded, hard-sided case provides. It’ll be right at home among your camping gear for instance, and if it happens to take a tumble from your backpack or car’s trunk, no problem!
It’s important to note that the solid color 1040 cases like mine have a sheet of thin protective foam in the lid, in addition to the molded padding in the bottom half. The clear lid versions of the 1040 case do not have this extra padding.
Let the description and photos of these two case solutions inspire you to consider other ideas for protecting your radio gear! A lot of possibilities exist, considering the wide array of protection available for tablets, laptops, GPS, hard drives, and so on. Many of these can be repurposed for portable receivers.
Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington. He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.
I’m a few years after Steve’s comments but I will have a go at it, at least anecdotally speaking. I’ve owned a half dozen Sangean ATS-909’s, which includes two of the 909X’s, and one super-909 from radiolabs. The 909X is the finest looking portable I have ever seen or lain hands upon, and that includes several Sony’s that I still think of as neat looking, I had the white cabinet 909X first and then the much more striking (to my eyes) black cabinet 909X after returning the first one due to rock hard buttons.
They are both extremely attractive, and exceptionally well made, especially by today’s cheap Chinese standards. I must confess that I also still find the original 909’s almost equally neat looking, though not quite sporting the same robustness of build.
The 909x’s sound wonderful on MW & FM, and its a decent performer reaching out to fairly distant FM stations. Unfortunately that is largely the best of the radio, its performance on MW & SW is best described as pathetic, and not just due to being deaf, it has a lot of noise, even when attached to the superb RF systems tuned EMF antenna. The older 909 is also to my experience substantially better then the 909X when matched up to a serious outboard antenna, such as the above EMF, I found this difference especially surprising, its not even close.
The PL-880 from Tecsun blows it away on SW and MW sensitivity, while also offering the superb advantage of genuinely ECSS tuning anything on MW & SW, you cannot decently receive any MW or SW signal via ECSS with the 909X as its SSB can only be fine tuned to 40 Hz, which is terribly disappointing, you can zero beat the little Tecsun easily. serious ECSS capability is to my mind a much more attractive option then a sync circuit, and unfortunately with the beautiful little Sangean 909X you get neither.
I do hope anyone who happens upon this pays attention, because for the money the PL-880 is far and away the better performer, in fact my little 1103 from Degen/Kaito out performs the 909X, as does my Grundig Yacht Boy-400, and my Sangean ATS-803A. Its my great hope that Sangean seriously upgrades these deficiencies in the otherwise gorgeous 909X, its circuitry is noisier than the old 909 and its not nearly not as sterling a performer hooked up to household current and a decent outboard antenna as the old 909, its 40 hz tuning SSB once a great reason to buy a 909, is no longer competitive, especially against the superb PL-880 which again is capable of excellent ECSS even by Icom R75 standards, Sangean would do well to drastically improve the SSB performance of the 909X.
I hope this helps, I liked the original review up top, but again its several years old, and the ATS-909X is now known to be clearly outclassed by the more affordable Tecsun, actually by the PL-660 to boot, I really hope Sangean addresses the issues, its such a beautiful receiver, you just want it to be as good as it looks, unfortunately it’s not!
Thank you for sharing your evaluation and comments!
The Sangean ATS-909X is an interesting radio indeed. Almost everyone loves the design, audio and overall quality of the 909X. Yet performance reviews are somewhat polarizing: some 909X owners claim the 909X has strong performance characteristics on shortwave, while others believe it’s almost deaf. Your findings coincide with mine from the Mega Review where I pitted the ATS-909X against the Tecsun PL-880, PL-660 and Sony ICF-SW7600GR. In that review, where I relied on a whip antenna, the 909X was noticeably less sensitive than the other three competitors. Based on the premium one pays for the 909X, I was surprised.
I have learned over the years, however, that the 909X can handle larger outdoor antennas and doesn’t easily overload. Additionally, the 909X requires a fresh set of batteries for optimal performance/sensitivity. Some users have even modified the radio with a 4:1 impedance transformer–click here to read a post/comments about this mod.
I would love to see Sangean produce an updated/upgraded version of the 909X, but at this point I’m not exactly holding my breath. I’ve heard that they’re slowly pulling out of the market. Hope I’m proven wrong because I’d love to see a new shortwave set from Sangean.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gregg Freeby, who writes:
I recently purchased a Sangean ATS-909X and while I really like the radio, I wasn’t too impressed with the envelope pouch/case it came with for protecting the radio. I really like the leather case of the Tecsun PL-880 but it appears to have one major flaw, it only holds the radio and no accessories. I like to have everything all in one neat kit. So, I set out to see what I could find that would fit my 909X.
By removing the CD envelope inserts (they’re just sewn in) there’s just enough room for the radio, power transformer, earbuds and reel antenna. I’ve attached a couple photos to show the case and what fits inside. I added a little strip of soft green foam I had around the house to take up some of the extra space around the radio while also providing a little more protection.
While the case is only faux leather it is very sharp looking, black with white stitching, and is a big improvement over the supplied case, particularly since everything I need is in one complete package.
By the way, I read on the SWLing Post a tip from you regarding the need to use fresh batteries to boost the sensitivity of this radio and you could not be more correct. In fact, using the AC adapter is almost a must for pulling in weak signals. And as others have said, an external antenna really helps but for me I’ve found that running on AC power makes the biggest improvement in performance.
Many thanks for sharing your tip, Gregg! That’s a stylish case! I imagine there are many readers out there who even have CD/DVD cases they no longer use for storage and could be put into service as a radio case.