This morning, I took delivery of an ATS-909X2 that Sangean dispatched for me to evaluate. I’ll be writing a review of this radio for an upcoming issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.
I won’t lie: this is a handsome radio.
I know some SWLs dislike the front panel tuning dial, but I like it. It reminds me of one of my all-time favorite radios: the Sony ICF-SW55:
I also love the ‘909X2’s large display and intelligent backlighting.
I’ve just started setting up the ‘909X2: inputting local time, setting DST, changing the format to 24 hours, and learning my way around manual and direct-entry tuning.
The manual appears to be very comprehensive and I plan to go through it page by page because this radio actually has quite a lot of settings/configurations.
SWLing Post contributor, DanH has had his ATS-909X2 for quite a while and I expect he’ll be updating us on his findings when he has time. Also, I understand Dave Zantow has been evaluating this radio and should also be sharing his thoughts soon. We’ll provide updates when available.
Sangean USA will offer a free software update to customers who have purchased the first USA mass production version of Sangean ATS-909X2. These radios are equipped with software VER-070. This is the same 909X2 version that I purchased last week and used for my “First Impressions” article. The software update to VER-073 will feature various bug fixes. Software VER-073 will be included with the ATS-909X2 shipment arriving at Sangean USA in March, 2021. These bug fixes are of a technical nature and beyond my ability to describe at this writing.
Sangean USA will offer 909X2 VER-070 owners a software update to VER-073 if they want it and as soon as Sangean USA receives the necessary update device from Sangean Headquarters.
So far, I have noticed no software bugs in 909X2 operation but like everyone else I am still new at using this radio. I hope to start entering saved shortwave station entries from my 909Xs into the 909X2 this week. In other notes, AIR band is working very well with my local international airport some 20 miles away. I also did a test on the 909X2 external antenna jack and confirmed that plugging an external antenna into this jack will disconnect the built-in ferrite bar antenna for MW and the telescopic whip for SW.
To display the 909X2 software version:
1. power up the radio
2. press and hold the INFO button for two seconds
3. turn the tuning dial until VER XXX appears on the display
4. to clear this information wait 10 seconds or hit the C button
Further details will follow as they develop.
May your shortwave listening be good and the geomagnetic field quiet.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, DanH, who shares the following guest post:
Sangean ATS-909X2 First Impressions
A few hours spent tuning a new radio are enough to make me feel confident that I know most of the new features and how to use them. Then several days, weeks or months later I discover overlooked features and I figure out new ways to operate the radio. Sometimes I actually read the operating instructions again. Understand that I received my new Sangean ATS-909X2 only three days ago so this early report is hardly a comprehensive review nor was it intended as such. At this point I’m looking mostly at shortwave and medium wave performance.
My first experience with the new Sangean ATS-909X2 was online at the Amazon shopping site. On December 16, 2020 I pre-ordered the radio for US $459.99 (list price). The radio didn’t ship and the prices dropped a couple of times. Each time I cancelled the order before it shipped and ordered it again at the lower price. In the end I ordered my 909X2 for $297.95 and paid for it with credit card bonus points and a little more that I had on my Amazon gift card.
The 909X2 arrived on Friday afternoon, February 19. I devoted the first 24 hours to tuning around on SW and a little MW only. I deliberately made no videos at this time and devoted my radio time to exploring the bands. The latest addition to the ATS-909 series is a well thought out evolution of the radio and much more than a 909X with a cosmetic facelift. The 909X2 retains the excellent speaker sound of its predecessor, the tuning knob is unchanged from late production 909X, the solid build quality remains the same as does the general layout, performance, size and weight. SSB audio for the 909X2 remains at a lower level than for AM, like 909X. I don’t like having to turn the radio volume up for ECSS or SSB. Like 909X, the new radio excels with external antennas and is not easily overloaded by a lot of wire antenna.
Like 909X, 909X2 occupies an interesting niche in the portable multiband world. It is a little too large and heavy for a travel radio but over the years I have packed it many times in my carry-on bag. Sometimes I am willing to sacrifice extra clothes if it means bringing the best radio. These radios excel on a desk or radio room work station. The radio is big and powerful enough to provide top notch sound for all modes. Late at night I run mine with Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones. With 909X2 you get top performance in a small package. It is an over-used metaphor but think of a 1950 – 60’s communications receiver in a small package, plus VHF air band and FM. The speaker audio sounds better for broadcasts than many Amateur rigs.
There are many new features with the 909X2. Instead of charging NiMH batteries like Eneloop in series the 909X2 monitors each cell individually and identifies failing cells for you. SSB resolution is now selectable 10 – 20 Hz, auto-bandwidth control may be used on all bands except SSB on HF. There are many more memory slots available in three separate banks. The LCD has dimmer settings, soft muting is switchable for FM and the keyboard beeper may be shut off! Instead of hidden features the 909X2 has an INFO/MENU button for customizing your operating options.
The new bandwidth choices make a real improvement in LW, MW, SW, FM and VHF airband signal quality especially when adjusted in tandem with the audio tone control. Automatic bandwidth control selects the bandwidth that offers the best signal-to-noise ratio. Now I understand why the 9090X2 shortwave bandwidths are relatively closely-spaced: auto control shifts quickly between multiple bandwidths. Too much space between bandwidths would sound jarring. The auto bandwidth control is most useful during heavy fading and has improved my ability to copy words on poor AM broadcast signals. This feature does add an odd effect to fading signals: the audio tone quality will shift as different bandwidths are selected. This feature is not something that I would leave ON as a default for shortwave listening but it is definitely a welcome tool when needed.
MW performance is as good as the 909X but with improvements made possible with more bandwidth and memory slot availability. I found that 909X2 LW is generally better than 909X with fewer MW images. I am hearing substantially more LW beacons on 909X2. LW activity is very limited here on the US West Coast.
10 Hz SSB resolution means that ECSS is excellent on the 909X. I can tune a shortwave music broadcast on the 909X2 without warble. This was impossible with the 909X 40 Hz resolution.
The 909X sold near US $220 for most of the last five years with a few rare Amazon holiday sales at the $190 level. Then the prices jumped another $30 post-Covid 19, as did prices for other radios in this range.
Is 909X2 worth the additional money right now? I say yes! Mine is a keeper.
I do not believe that there will be significant improvements coming along any time soon. Sangean is a private Taiwanese company with its own factory located in PRC. 20 pre-production units delivered to Europe in January are not the same batch as the retail production units released by Sangean USA this month. Sangean USA has two of the pre-production units. They did not offer these for sale. The first retail production units arrived at Sangean USA in mid-February before the Lunar New Year. If there are significant changes for 909X2 we won’t see those radios for at least another 6 – 8 weeks. I can’t see much need for significant changes anyway.
Believe it or not I have been very busy with the Sangean ATS-909X2 and haven’t tried FM or VHF air band on it yet!
This video is a companion to my first impressions written here. Hearing and seeing video is hard to beat. SW and MW features are shown in real-life reception conditions. I test for the dreaded LCD/hand capacitance internal noise and have a look, listen and comparison for telescopic whip performance. And you will hear DX too, not just Brother Stair. You need to see and watch auto bandwidth control to believe it.
Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this, Dan. Very encouraging. We look forward to publishing your updates as you get to know the 909X2 even better!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, DanH, who writes:
My Sangean ATS-909X2 arrived in excellent condition late this Friday afternoon. I will enjoy a shortwave session with the radio this evening and early next morning. Other than setting the clock to UTC and tuning in XEPPM Radio Educacion in Mexico City I haven’t spent much time with it yet. This 909X2 was purchased from Amazon in the USA and is a retail production model distributed by Sangean USA. I will check-in on Sunday night to share some early impressions.
Many thanks, Dan! We look forward to your impressions and evaluation!
Update: Please read this comment from Sangean America. It seems the receiver Stephan received was actually a pre-production model that shouldn’t have been sold to him. Sangean has replaced his radio with one from the first production run.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Stefan, who recently shared two descriptive comments about issues his new Sangean ATS-909X2 is exhibiting. I’ve edited both comments together below:
I purchased [my Sangean ATS-909X2] from Sangean Europe and I am totally disappointed. I know that my radio is from the first production batch and I really hope that Sangean will address the following issues:
1. When I switch from FM to MW/LW/SW, I lose reception completely on these bands. However, FM works as expected, regardless from which band I switch back to it. To restore reception on the affected bands, I have to turn off the radio for a few seconds.
[Stefan then provided the following update:] Note [in this audio clip example the] first time I had to restart the radio two times to restore reception.
2. Lots of tones across all the bands, except FM. In fact, every receivable station has at least a minor tone. I can’t judge if these tones are interferences coming from internal components, such as the display, or there are oscillators related. If you are interested I can record some audio samples. Video is not possible because I’m visually impaired.
[Stefan shared the following update:] I am pretty confident to say that most tones across the bands are not generated by internal components. There are some birdies here and there, especially when I touch the screen, but these are acceptable. I suspect that it is something wrong with signal demodulation. I can get that tone even on strong local stations, while the sensitivity is set to minimum.
[…]The environment where I made these recordings is very noisy, but I tried the radio outside and, even if reception is much better, that tone on the affected bands is always present.
Below [is an audio sample] demonstrating that annoying tone on MW (LW, SW and air band are also affected):
3. The following one is not so important: The upper part of the LW is totally deaf. I can’t receive anything above 300 kHz. Tried some non-directional beacons from the nearest airport, but no luck. I also tried to induce some interference from my mobile phone, but I can’t generate any noise. Very interesting…
4. Frequency calibration is off by 2 kHz. For example a station on 540 kHz sounds centered at 542.
5. I noticed a huge sensitivity drop on MW/LW (SW not tested yet) when the batteries reach the half of their capacity. I suspected that it was bad propagation, but tested this with another radio I have and turns out I was wrong. When batteries are full, the sensitivity is ok. When the batteries are a bit discharged, sensitivity on MW/LW begins to drop. I can admit that the sensitivity is correlated with battery voltage, but on this radio the dropping curve is unusually aggressive.
That’s all for now. This is not a review. These are my first personal observations on the new ATS 909×2. I think I should return the radio for a product exchange and try another unit after a few months or maybe even for a refund, I still have not decided yet.
Thanks so much, Stefan, for taking the time to share these notes with us.
I’ll admit that this is discouraging if these issues are present in all of the ATS-909X2 units from this production run. Your points 1 and 2 are big ones. I would not enjoy hearing those het-like tones in my received audio. It sounds like it’s ever-present in AM mode regardless of frequency. The drop-off in sensitivity when toggling FM? That’s also unacceptable. These bugs should have been discovered and addressed during Alpha/Beta testing which leads me to believe it could very well be an issue with the first production run (and lack of QC check before shipping).
Sangean Europe has announced the price as €329.00 with two color options of “white” and “black.” The “black” model almost appears steel or light charcoal in color based on the product images.
They are taking pre-orders with an expected delivery of December 15, 2020.
They also posted the following product description and list of features::
The Discover 909X is the perfect world band radio to roam the globe with. The world is brought together via radio since a long time; enjoy it with the Discover 909X. Never forget your favorite radio stations because of the alpha-numeric memory system. The built-in 3″ speaker lets you conveniently listen anywhere. You can also listen to the Discover 909X using the 3.5mm headphone jack and the included earbuds. It provides performance and features generally found in the more expensive table top communication receivers into a very compact and stylish package. For the monitoring professional who’s on the go, the Discover 909X is the ideal choice! Featuring wide-band AM/FM coverage from long wave, medium wave, short wave. The DSP comes as standard (Digital Signal Processing) with the unit and includes a number of features which can significantly enhance reception through improved interference rejection. For everyday portable operation, use four “AA” batteries (not included). For operation from your home, choose the supplied AC-AC power adapter.
** 10 New Improved Features **
1. Air band
2. FM Soft mute
3. RDS PTY and RT
4. MENU and INFO setting
5. Auto Bandwidth Control
6. Bigger LCD
7. 3 times the preset quantity
8. Dimmer LCD back light and fade IN/OUT
9. 10Hz tuning step of SSB
10. Smart charger (single battery detection)
Thank you again for the tip, Armin! We’ll continue to post updates as they become available.