Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Stephan, who shares a follow-up report after receiving a replacement Sangean AT-909X2 from Sangean Europe. Click here to read Stephan’s initial report along with Sangean America’s comments.
Stephan shares the following update:
Below are some of my observations on my recently arrived ATS-909×2. I spent two week-ends to carefully test this radio. Unfortunately, the radio that I received is not much improved, and it’s even worse in some aspects. This device has the latest firmware, VER. 073.
The bug related to sensitivity loss after switching bands is fixed, but the receiving performance is too bad to keep this radio in my collection.
This unit has better sensitivity on medium wave and long wave, but also it has lots of birdies on these bands. On long wave there are 14 strong birdies and dead carriers, on medium wave there are over 20 tones. The meowing sound while tuning is also still present. If somebody is interested, I can record audio demonstrations.
For these unpardonable issues, I consider this device a very expensive toy, but not a radio, at least not for listening to medium wave stations. It’s unbelievable that my 5 times cheaper Tecsun PL-398 is so much better on medium wave than this expensive receiver.
Another interesting issue which I discovered is a loud popping sound that occurs if I turn the tuning wheel a bit faster than usual. That pop gives you the impression that you just passed over a strong signal.
Sometimes, pushing the bandwith button puts the radio in SSB mode. It happened at least 5 times. I know that I am blind, but the keys are easily discernable.
Very low volume on SSB mode, but this is a known issue.
That’s all for now. This device goes back to Sangean Europe and I’ll not try again soon.
I really hope that only my particular unit is affected by these issues, but this is the second problematic device here. Might be I should buy from Sangean America… I simply can’t understand why a radio is not verified before shipping. I prefer to get a tested device with the original box opened, instead of exchanging multiple products. Such an expensive radio should be tested before shipping, because sometimes there are significant unit to unit variations. Or, even better, devices should be checked at the factory location with professional tools. Testing is needed, because there are many situations when a birdie is audible only if it’s mixed with another signal.
Thanks for reading!
Thank you for sharing this, Stephan. It sounds like the unit you received does have some quality control issues. Other than the low SSB volume level, my ATS-909X2 unit (from Sangean America) hasn’t had these issues.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post and review:
Sangean v Tecsun in the Battle of Late Shortwave Era Portables: The ATS909x2
by Dan Robinson
Some years ago – actually more than a decade – I decided to give Sangean a shot at winning me over in the shortwave portable category.
I had and still do use numerous portables with a bias toward the classic SONY, Panasonic, and Grundig sets. The ones that made an impression stayed, often in multiples, as anyone can see if they visit the radio shack here in Maryland.
These include, for those interested: the Panasonic RF-B65, SONY ICF-SW77, ICF-2010, ICF-PRO80, ICF-7600D, ICF-7700, ICF-SW1000T, ICF-SW55, ICF-SW100s, ICF-SW07, Grundig Satellit 500, to which were added in more recent times the Toshiba RP-F11, XHDATA D-808, and Tecsun portables ranging from the PL-365 and new PL-368 to the PL-880, PL-990x, H-501x, and S-8800.
Sangean has generally not been on that list. There’s a good reason – I just never considered Sangean to be competitive when it comes to portables, though they did have some excellent larger sets such as the ATS-803A that made the first forays into multiple bandwidth options.
My last experience with Sangean was with the ATS-909. I liked the looks and capabilities of that receiver, and even went to the point of having mine modified by Radio Labs. But those mods were underwhelming, in my view, and the original 909 always seemed to me to be deaf when using the whip antenna.
That issue continued unfortunately with the 909x. Some of you may have seen a video I did a few years ago in which I set a 909x against a SONY SW-07 and Panasonic RF-B65. This was done barefoot with only the whip antennas, but near a window. In short, the other two radios wiped the floor with the 909x.
It took a surprisingly long time for Sangean to update the 909x with the 909×2, during which companies asked valid questions about the need for further development of world band portables.
Eton turned the market on its head when it introduced the still superb E1/XM which competed with the very end of SONY portable production, and co-designed with R.L. Drake added such superb features as Passband Tuning and three selectivity positions.
Meanwhile, Tecsun plugged away, introducing an impressive array of portables including the PL-600 series, then the 880 and now the 990x and H-501 portables.
So, now the 909×2 is here and with its 073 firmware upgrade has become a bit of a holy grail for portable receiver users. There have been a number of excellent reviews, including Dave Zantow’s deep dive, and some others here on SWLing Post.
I’m going to give you my impressions, using the really detailed Zantow review as a base. I received my 909×2 from Amazon just today – it is a 073 firmware which confirms that new supplies have the upgrade.
SENSITIVITY ON WHIP
First, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Although I have not undertaken detailed technical testing of the 909×2 – nor do I have the equipment to carry this out – it does seem that Sangean may have finally tackled this crippling flaw that rendered the old 909x nearly useless when using it only on the whip. I’ll undertake further testing and comparisons with some of my other portables to confirm this. The whip antenna itself is robust – solid and long, something that Tecsun could take note of.
Inclusion of air band on this radio is a major selling point for those interested in this type of monitoring. My initial tests showed the 909×2 to be quite sensitive and useful – I managed to pick up no fewer than five airport comms frequencies in my area here in Maryland.
SELECTIVITY / AUTO-BANDWIDTH
The 909×2 really shines with FIVE available selectivity options that are easily selectable in shortwave mode. It would have been nice to be able to actually see the values of each filter as one scrolls through, but that’s a minor point. Think about it – in shortwave AM mode, this is the number of selectivity positions that one finds on such power house communication receivers as a Drake R8. Amazing that we now have that in a portable. On the negative side, I find the auto-bandwidth feature on the 909×2 to be nearly useless, as useless as the similar feature found on Tecsun receivers. The automatic switching is distracting and annoying. My advice to users: forget this, and stick with manual bandwidth control. My advice to Sangean – I wish they had left this feature out but given us multiple bandwidths in SSB.
LCD AND BRIGHTNESS
Sangean hits it out of the park with this multi-stage lighting for the display. Simply superb and the kind of quality we could only hope for from other manufacturers.
MAIN TUNING / DETENT CONTROL
I found the detents on the old 909x to be annoying – indeed, modifications have been available that could remove this feature. But Sangean being Sangean, the detent wheel remains in the 909×2 and it is not a deal killer.
The radio retains the excellent audio of the 909x – I am not sure the 909×2 exceeds what one hears from a Tecsun 990x or H-501x but it’s right up there and competitive.
As others have noted, thanks to Sangean for sticking with AA cells. Together with internal charging when using Ni-Mh cells this is a major selling point. On the other hand – competitor Tecsun went a step farther with its H-501x which though it uses 18650 lithium batteries, has dual batteries, one of which can be held in standby, and switchable charging. That’s a design feature that you really have to respect.
VARIABLE RF GAIN
Again, as noted by others Sangean retained the extremely useful thumb wheel RF gain control. This is an excellent feature.
Another home run for Sangean when it comes to the keypads on the 909×2, which can be compared in this respect to the Tecsun H-501x which itself improves upon the 990x when it comes to front panel control. Time will tell, however, and we shall see if the keys on these radios hold up in heavy use.
These controls which sit outside the circular main tuning knob are excellent, and reminds one of the slewing buttons on the SONY 7600GR, SW1000T and SW100.
S-METER / DISPLAY
RSSI and SN Digital Signal Strength Information are provided on the beautiful 909×2 display. This is an improvement over the Tecsun signal strength/SNR meters that I wish would be redesigned, if in fact Tecsun has any intention of future modifications to their portables.
NO SOFT MUTING
Thank goodness we don’t have to deal with the annoying soft muting issue that is still seen in some other portables (the XHDATA D808 comes to mind along with the Eton Executive). Soft muting quite simply ruins a listening session and it’s baffling that any manufacturer still puts it in.
NEGATIVES (I AM IN TEARS)
OK, close all airtight doors and prepare to dive! Here are the negatives I see with the 909×2. I held off obtaining one of these radios because I knew there would be issues. And I was disappointed enough in the past with the 909x and 909 before it that I had almost decided not to go for it.
SIGNS OF LONGWAVE RECEPTION PLAGUED BY CROSS-MOD FROM MEDIUMWAVE
On my particular unit – it remains to be seen whether this is true for others – long wave seems to be near useless. The band is filled with mediumwave stations bleeding through. Turning down the RF obviously helps but I still hear AM stations here in the DC area, when I am in LW mode.
ALERT FOR SANGEAN AND ALMOST A DEAL BREAKER – as mentioned in the Zantow review, and in other comments I have seen on the 909×2, the drop in level from AM to LSB is a killer negative.
This is less noticeable in MW. But if you are in shortwave and have turned your volume up on any particular station, say a strong one such as Greece on 9,420 kHz or Spain, or an AM station, and you then switch to LSB it is like you have almost lost the signal. This simply needs to be fixed. Level on USB seems fine and acceptable, but LSB on shortwave requires immediate upwards adjustment of volume, only to have to reverse the process when returning to AM mode. I find this problem to be sufficiently serious that I would recommend against obtaining a 909×2 until Sangean finds a way to fix it. This issue is on the same level of BAD as the still unsatisfactory SYNC mode in all three of Tecsun’s shortwave portables. In fact, I may return the 909×2 I obtained and wait until a fix for this emerges.
In this video, I demonstrate the extent of the problem as seen on this particular unit of the 909×2, which carries a serial number dk201043181.
Dave Zantow says his unit does not have this issue, so there is a possibility this is due to unit to unit variation. As you can see, with a strong signal such as 12,160 kHz — switching from AM to LSB instantly reduces listenable level, and signal as measured on the 909×2 drops to zero bars or near zero. In USB, the reduction is less severe. Regardless, having to perform adjustments with main volume just to struggle to hear any signal in SSB is a bit ridiculous. This kind of thing is not seen on the Tecsun H-501x or 990x though as Dave correctly points out, Tecsun receivers are not exactly great performers in SSB. On Tecsun receivers, there is a slight processor pause while the receiver makes the switch into LSB or USB, without the sharp reduction in listenable level.
CALIBRATION ISSUES WITH NO WAY TO ADJUST
Imagine my joy when I first began using the x2. Initially, it seemed to be smack on frequency – I tried this on WMAL, the powerhouse local AM station here in the DC area, and then again with stronger stations on shortwave, such as 12,160 kHz. Ah, I said to myself, Sangean has some decent QC and paid attention. About 30 minutes later, however, what I found matches the Zantow review. Stations are consistently low of the tuned/displayed frequency by as much as 300 Hz. The reason this is so disappointing is that I feel Sangean could have taken a clue from Tecsun and provided a re-calibration function (unless it exists and we aren’t being told about it). On Tecsun radios, the re-calibration capability is the major counter-punch to poor synchronous mode – in my view, one can live with flawed SYNC on a 990x or H-501 or PL-330 as long as you can adjust and at least have zero beat or close to it across frequencies. At the same time, as Zantow points out, no one should be expecting TCXO level performance from portables such as these. However, it is a bit disappointing that after all these years and redesign of the 909x to add some really nice features, they’re still landing up to 300 Hz from a tuned frequency. On the other hand, is this really any worse than one would see from an off-tuned SONY ICF-2010? No, and adjusting those older receivers required surgery.
I really like the 909×2. There simply is something about this design that Sangean knew was a winner when it first arrived on the market years ago, so it’s not surprising that Sangean stuck with it. It’s clear that some hard thinking went into the step up from the old 909x, notably the larger LCD, addition of finer step tuning to make SSB easier, the robust antenna and the still pretty darn good audio through the wonderful speaker. The 909×2 is a radio that you can imagine guests would comment on if it were sitting on your coffee table – it just looks THAT GOOD.
But then here in 2021, so does a Tecsun H-501x LOOK THAT GOOD. As I noted above, where the Tecsuns fall down – with their still challenged synchronous mode – they make up for with the ability to re-calibrate.
That is a huge feature and one that Sangean struck out on, though surely Sangean designers had to know the 909×2 would appeal both to listeners and to hobbyists with obsessions about frequency accuracy.
To repeat, I really (really) like the 909×2. But another area where the receiver strikes out is the problem with sharp reduction in LSB mode. Seriously – you have to crank the volume control up to at least 50 percent to hear ANYTHING when you’re in LSB, whereas USB requires going only up to about 30 percent. Then when you’re completing your carousel back to AM, you have to be sure not to still have the audio up at 50 percent or more to avoid blowing your speaker.
Again, as I said above, the calibration/drift issue on the 909×2 can be lived with. The problem with LSB, in my opinion, cannot or should not be tolerated. So, the question is, do you want to purchase a 909×2 now that still has that LSB audio issue, or wait a while until Sangean gets its act together?
These and other earthshaking questions are before us here in 2021. We have some of the best portables ever made by anyone in a time of sharply declining shortwave use, but they each have their flaws.
I don’t usually do a star rating or RECOMMEND / NOT RECOMMEND for radios. This time, I am going to make an exception and it links directly to the issue of the LSB problem on the 909×2. These radios simply should not have been allowed to enter the market with this being as serious a problem as I think it is. For that reason, I honestly cannot recommend a Sangean 909×2 until this is corrected.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, DanH, who provides his final evaluation of the new Sangean ATS-909X2:
This should be the last update for my multi-part introduction to the new Sangean ATS-909X2. I am not expecting major new factory revisions or modifications for this fine radio. I received the 909X2 from Amazon on Sunday, February 21, 2021. This radio had VER 070 firmware installed. About a month later Sangean America offered a free upgrade to VER 073. I packed up my 909X2 and sent it away on March 29. My original radio with the original serial number was returned to me on Friday, April 9 following the firmware upgrade.
The 909X2 was away from home for eleven days but I had the 909X to keep me busy on shortwave. Time after time I reached for the new bandwidth controls on the older radio which were, of course, not there. This told me a good deal about how quickly I had become dependent upon some of the new 909X2 features.
As of this writing I have listened to the 909X2 VER 073 for several days. Let me tell you that in spite of my best efforts I could not find many differences between the two firmware versions. The later version was reported to correct some bugs encountered while using memory features. I can’t confirm this. I deliberately avoided making memory entries with my 909X2 VER 070 before I returned it as I understood that those presets would be lost with the firmware update. I gave the 909X2 memory a real workout last weekend but experienced no bugs during this mostly repetitive inputting session. More about that later.
One of the oddities of VER 070 firmware was a nice feature, actually. Cycling the INFO button would bring both radio signal strength (RSSI) and signal to noise ratio (SNR) up on the display at the same time. This feature was not described in the instruction book. With VER 073 you can toggle between one or the other but can’t see both at the same time. You can see this deleted feature below and watch it on my video:
I have tried to bring this feature up on VER 073 without success.
I found one small gremlin that seems to thrive on both 909X2 firmware versions. 909X2 indicates selection of fast or slow tuning rates by showing delta symbols on the display. Switching shortwave bands with the SW button followed by selecting a BAND button will result in a band change and disappearance of the delta symbols. Using the tuning STEP button will make the delta symbols return. Switching shortwave bands by using the “F” frequency button followed by number key entries and the ENTER button is slower for changing bands but does not cause the tuning step indicators to disappear.
909X2 charging and power supply design was much improved for the 909X2. 4xAA NiMH cells are individually charged and monitored. Charge times are faster, as well. The radio will identify cells that are defective, aging or wearing out. Each cell now has a separate slot in the battery bay. This contributes to longer battery life cycles, less waste heat production and improved rechargeable battery safety. This is a worthwhile but not very obvious upgrade from the 909X. The most noticeable outward change is the wider battery bay door.
Early production 909X wall wart power adapters are AC/AC center pin negative. Late 909X and 909X2 adapters are AC/DC center pin positive and feature in-line RF chokes. Both of my 909Xs contributed more RFI to shortwave reception when operated with AC power than the new 909X2. The upshot was that when I listened to shortwave at the desk with a 909X I would run it off batteries even if a wall outlet was handy for running AC power, much like any other multiband portable with shortwave. The 909X2 on AC power is so quiet that I usually have it on AC power when I have it at the desk. I can hear a little hum when using 909X2 under AC power when an external antenna and headphones (Sennheiser HD 280 Pro) are in use. I don’t hear this hum at all when using 909X2 speaker audio probably owing to the better bass response of my ‘phones. 909X2 will not initiate battery charging after every use. It charges only when needed. I now disconnect the 909X2 from AC power only when listening to shortwave with headphones or when using it as a cordless portable.
I have written earlier about the 909X2 MANUAL/AUTO bandwidth features. I normally use manual bandwidth filter selection for shortwave but with rough voice signals I sometimes find that 909X2 auto bandwidth plus the correct audio filter choice can do a better job than ECSS… and the 909X2 does ECSS and SSB very well. Auto bandwidth is excellent for less demanding conditions too, like keeping a radio tuned to a local MW or FM station that may fade lightly over the course of a day.
For FM the combination of great audio quality, RDS and now auto bandwidth makes the 909X2 hard to beat by any other multiband portable with shortwave.
The 909X2 is not my first radio with bandwidth filters provided by Silicon Labs DSP. I have long suspected that these filters are actually much wider than described by most manufacturers of portable multiband radios. The widest filter available for shortwave on 909X2 is identified as a 4 kHz bandwidth filter. This surprises me because the filter actually seems to accomplish attenuation somewhere between 3 and 4 kHz away from the carrier. This means the widest filter for shortwave is actually 6 to 8 kHz wide. This makes complete sense to me as to my ears this filter sounds closer to an 8 kHz bandwidth, which isn’t a bad choice for strong SW stations without interference.
I am an enthusiastic user of shortwave station memories. The 909X memory capacity is nearly too small for my current usage. The 909X2 has many more memory presets available and divides those into three memory banks. Something that many people did not understand about the ATS-909X is that when released in 2011 it never featured ATS for shortwave because it lacked the memory to do the job. Now, 909X2 memory banks may be reserved for favorite station pages or set aside for ATS scans.
Manual entry of shortwave pages and presets is relatively easy and fast on the 909X2 and is substantially unchanged from 909X. You may title pages alphanumerically any way you wish. 909X2 adds an additional feature: you may now change the position of a memory preset to another position on the same page or another page.
Setting up the new memory for the 909X2 took me the better part of an evening but good memory function is a huge advantage for anyone wanting to do shortwave station searches. There are many sample shortwave memory presets provided with the stock 909X2. If you enter your own pages and presets into 909X2 memory I suggest deleting all of the sample entries first (page names and presets) before starting your inputting. This will save you a great deal of time.
Each of my custom memory pages has a shortwave broadcaster name followed by a letter if I use more than one page for a single broadcaster. The 909X2 can scan preset frequencies on each page individually and land on the frequency with the strongest signal. If the location of saved station entries in specific memory banks isn’t sufficient deterrent for accidental erasure (like running an ATS scan on top of preset stations) the new 909X2 MEMORY LOCK feature will allow you to lock presets individually.
This may be the last update that I will post for the new Sangean ATS-909X2 but I will check the box at SWLing Post that allows me to see notifications of comment activity for this post for the foreseeable future. I’ll be happy to answer any questions regarding the Sangean ATS-909X2 addressed to me in the comments, if I can. For more 909X2 videos, see my YouTube channel at: Willow Slough DX
I will be adding to these as the new shortwave season advances. Happy listening!
Thank you so much for sharing your final evaluation, Dan!
If you would like to read all of DanH’s notes and reviews of the Sangean ATS-909X2, click here.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who notes that Dave (N9EWO) has posted his review of the Sangean ATS-909X2. Click here to view.
I must admit: as I put the Sangean ATS-909X2 through the paces, I’m impressed with this fine machine. While no radio is perfect, the ‘909X2 has enthusiast-grade characteristics.
The ATS-909X2 truly smacks of a shortwave portable from the 1990s–the halcyon days of digital portables, in my opinion. I personally love the ergonomics, display, audio, tactile front panel, numerous connections, and the quality chassis. It’s a pleasure to operate.
I took delivery of the Tecsun H-501x yesterday morning and the Sangean ATS-909X2 last week.
I’ve been waiting for these portable receivers for what seems like ages, and both arrive within one week of each other.
My initial impressions are positive for both radios, but I know it’s time to start some proper comparisons.
These portables are arguably the flagships of both manufacturers, so I decided to pit them against a “legacy” portable that has a reputation for eating other receivers for lunch: the Panasonic RF-B65.
“Nom nom nom…”
I fully expect the RF-B65 to emerge as the leader of this pack on shortwave in AM mode. No kidding. That’s why it’s a benchmark. If you can out-perform the RF-B65, you’re a five-star, Holy Grail portable and that’s the end of the story.
Where both the H-501 and ATS-909X2 will have an advantage is in audio fidelity. Both have excellent built-in speakers.
In addition, while the Panny RF-B65 is a great AM mode radio, it has very basic BFO controls and fine tuning for SSB. No doubt, I’ll likely pull out a different receiver for SSB comparisons.
DanH expects his ATS-909X2 back from firmware update soon and I look forward to his evaluation.
I plan to write a review of the Sangean ATS-909X2 for the June 2021 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. My Tecsun H-501x review may appear in TSM as well.
I will post updates here on the SWLing Post and possibly some comparison audio/reception examples.
Tecsun H-501x availability
SWLing Post contributor, Troy Riedel, received word from Anna at Anon-Co that they hope to have their first batch of H-501x units available to ship by the end of April 2021. Pricing has not yet been firmed up.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, DanH, who provides the following update and news as he evaluates the new Sangean ATS-909X2:
I have a few items to report after hitting the six weeks mark with the new Sangean ATS-909X2.
My radio was equipped with firmware VER 070. I have been on the lookout for gremlins that could be attributed to this firmware version. I found only one. There are delta symbols on the display that indicate whether FAST or SLOW tuning speeds have been selected. These symbols disappeared after I switched shortwave bands by using the SW button + SW meter band button command. The symbols returned if the STEP button was used.
The Sangean auto bandwidth feature seems to be a first in multiband portable radios. This feature is very promising. It is most effective for shortwave and MW reception when listening to spoken word programming and when an optimal tone control setting has been chosen. The audio filter for NEWS highlights the conversational voice range. If you are having difficulty copying words from a demanding signal the auto bandwidth and audio filter combination may provide just the extra punch that you are looking for.
I am currently without a 909X2 and have gone back to using my 909Xs. I returned the 909X2 to Sangean America at Santa Fe Springs in California this week for an upgrade to firmware VER 073. I received an email from Sangean’s service technician this afternoon saying that my 909X2 accepted the firmware update! He included a photo of my radio on the bench next to the purpose-built jig provided for this upgrade by Sangean headquarters in Taiwan.
Owners of a Sangean ATS-909X2 that was distributed by Sangean America may contact them regrading an update to firmware VER 073.
This offer applies only to the 909X2 model that has software VER 070 installed (not VER 073). Sangean America will provide you with a product recall form including return instructions and a prepaid mailing label.