Tag Archives: C.Crane CC Skywave Review

The SWLing Post 2015-2016 Shortwave Radio Buyer’s Guide

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


FourRadiosAbstract2

Despite the often-expressed view that shortwave may be on the decline, if one were to look at this year’s shortwave technology alone, the truth would seem to be anything but. Remarkably, 2015 has been a great year for the shortwave radio listener, as several models of portables, tabletops, and SDRs have been either introduced or improved.

The following is a basic, easy-to-follow buyer’s guide to some of the best receivers on the market currently. This guide is, by no means, comprehensive; rather, it’s a selection of rigs I have tested, some of which I now own. It builds on the guide I published in the November 2014 issue of TSM, and highlights innovations since that issue, while still acknowledging the contributions of previous models.

Compact/Travel portables

If your budget is tight, or if you’re looking for a radio that could easily slip into your glove compartment, backpack, carry-on, or even jacket pocket, you need to consider a compact shortwave radio.

Typically, there is a performance compromise with compact radios: they don’t always have the sensitivity of their more expensive cousins; they have a more limited frequency range; and they don’t detect single-sideband signals. Nonetheless, the ones listed here are fine performers for their size and price. Entries are listed in alphabetical order.

The Eton Traveller III

The Eton Traveller III

Eton Traveller III

Eton has once again refreshed the design of its popular “Traveller” series of compact receivers: their latest is the third edition, the Eton Traveller III. I’ve owned the past two versions of the Traveller, and having learned to appreciate these, was eager to get my hands on the newest Traveller III. As the name implies, this is a great little radio for the international traveler; it not only has shortwave, AM and FM bands, but it also has a world clock that can easily be switched from the front panel, a useful alarm function, and great built-in speaker. New to the Traveller III is FM RDS: a great way to capture FM station identification when visiting a new city. The key lock is prominent on the front panel and the included padded nylon case is one of the most rugged I’ve seen in years. Performance is what I’ve come to expect from the Traveller series: superb AM (mediumwave) reception, great FM reception, and capable shortwave reception. It lacks the multiple bandwidths found in other similar DSP radios, but my impression is that the default bandwidths are adequate for multi-band listening.

The Eton Traveller III is available from Universal Radio, Amazon.com and more outlets via Eton. Pricing ranges from is $55-60 US.

The C.Crane CC Skywave

The C.Crane CC Skywave

CC Skywave

Only a couple of weeks before the Christmas holiday of 2014, C. Crane introduced a compact portable that truly impressed me: the CC Skywave. The Skywave is as compact as any other ultralight radio, but adds a host of features that has made it an invaluable radio for my one-bag air travels. The CC Skywave covers the following bands: Shortwave, AM, FM, Weather, and Aviation. It’s a comprehensive toolbox of frequency bands and listening modes which only lacks, sadly, SSB.

Ergonomics are excellent for such a small portable. It’s easy to use, as well: I only needed to reference the well-written manual for a few functions. I find the CC Skywave to be very sensitive on shortwave and mediumwave, rivaling radios that cost much more.

One negative I’ve learned through readers of the SWLing Post is that the first production run of the CC Skywave was prone to overload in the presence of strong local broadcast stations. C.Crane have confirmed that this has been addressed in the latest CC Skywave production run and is no longer an issue. To insure you’re receiving a unit from the latest production run, consider purchasing directly through CCrane.

The CC Skywave is sold by Universal Radio, Amazon.com and directly by C.Crane. Price is $89 US.

The CountyComm GP5/SSB

The CountyComm GP5/SSB

CountyComm GP5/SSB (Tecsun PL-365)

CountyComm––a retail distributor of products created primarily for use by the US government––introduced a new shortwave portable late in 2014: the GP5/SSB. The GP5/SSB came about as a result of a large order CountyComm received from a US government department for an “inexpensive, small portable, AM/FM/SW radio with SSB” for emergency supply caches and diplomatic posts. Like its predecessor, the GP5/DSP, the GP5/SSB has a vertical form factor, much like a handy-talky, and a detachable/rotatable ferrite bar antenna that greatly improves AM/mediumwave reception. The GP5 series is limited by a small internal speaker that sounds somewhat tinny; it also lacks a direct entry keypad. Still, with a pair of headphones and some careful memory allocation, the GP5 is a pleasure to use.

If you’re looking for an ultra-portable radio with SSB, then the GP5/SSB is a very good choice. (It may, in fact, be the only ultra-portable SSB choice currently on the market). While the SSB performance can’t compare with larger, pricier receivers, or ham radio transceivers, it’s very good for $80 US. If you’re looking for an emergency communications receiver––something to stash in your vehicle, emergency kit, or bug-out bag––the CountyComm GP5/SSB is a great choice and value. Indeed, that’s who the GP5/SSB was designed for, and why this rig has excellent frequency coverage in all modes, with good sensitivity/selectivity and designed for portable, one-handed operation. In fact, CountyComm has even designed and manufactured (and in the USA!) a robust, protective 1000-Denier case for the GP5/SSB. This case makes it very easy to strap the GP5/SSB to your belt or backpack securely.

The CountyComm GP5/SSB is available from Universal Radio and directly from CountyComm.

The Sangean ATS-405

The Sangean ATS-405

Sangean ATS-405

I was surprised this year when Sangean introduced its latest compact/travel receiver, the ATS-405. I had heard rumors that Sangean may have been leaving the shortwave radio scene, so was pleased to learn that Sangean was not only still invested in the hobby, but innovating. Indeed, the ATS-405 has features that have not yet been included on small DSP-powered portables: specifically, the ability to control squelch, tuning mute, and soft mute.

The ‘405 is a decent little radio with a great deal of functionality and features for a rig in its price class. But overall, its performance seems rather mediocre. If you primarily listen to FM, you’ll be pleased. If you’re a mediumwave listener, you’ll be pleased only if you don’t mind the 800/1600 kHz DSP birdies which plagued both of my review units. If you’re primarily a shortwave listener, you’ll need to carry a clip-on wire antenna to bring the sensitivity up to the level of similarly-priced receivers. I also found performance variations between my two review units; an indication that quality control is somewhat inconsistent at the factory.

The Sangean ATS-405 is available via Universal Radio and Amazon.com. Price is $89 US.

Other compact/travel radios

In the 2014 Buyer’s Guide we included several other compact travel radios worth considering: The [original] Kaito KA1103/Degen DE1103, Tecsun PL-310ET, and the Tecsun PL-380 to name a few.

Full-Featured Portables

In the portables market, I believe you get the most value and quality in the $90-250 price class. Most beginners and seasoned SWLs prefer a radio that includes everything necessary to get on the air immediately; all of these radios provide just that. Straight out of the box, you’ll have everything you need to listen to shortwave bands. All of these recommended radios are designed to pick up major shortwave broadcasters with ease, and offer the following features: good frequency coverage; circuitry that helps in the detection of weaker stations; and with a few notable exceptions, the ability to receive single-sideband.

The Tecsun PL-680

The Tecsun PL-680

Tecsun PL-680

The latest Tecsun full-featured portable––the PL-680––appeared on the market in February this year. Cosmetically, the receiver is nearly identical to the Tecsun PL-600, but with the added features of the Tecsun PL-660. Indeed, in terms of features and comparing them with that of the venerable PL-660, there are no obvious additions on the PL-680. The PL-680 has been improved, however, in its shortwave reception. The PL-680 is both slightly more sensitive and has a more stable AGC (Automatic Gain Control) than the PL-660. If you are primarily a shortwave radio listener and wish to have one of the best sub-$200 receivers currently on the market, the PL-680 may be the rig for you.

On the other hand, if you are primarily a mediumwave DXer and already own the PL-660, you will likely want to pass on the PL-680. The PL-680’s mediumwave reception is simply not as good as that of the PL-660. The PL-660 is both more sensitive and has a lower noise floor on mediumwave.

Note that since its introduction, inventory of the PL-680 has fluctuated; the primary retailer is Anon-Co in Hong Kong and on eBay. Price is $95 US (plus shipping from China).

The Eton Satellit

The Eton Satellit

Eton Satellit

Last year, Eton released the Satellit: a new full-featured portable, essentially replacing the venerable Grundig G3, but carrying the name of the flagship Grundig Satellit series.

The Satellit has many of the same functions as the Grundig G3, and has a near-identical form-factor, but sports a new amber backlit display, multiple bandwidths, and a double-jointed telescopic antenna. The Satellit performs admirably on the AM/mediumwave bands, quite well on the shortwave band but, most notably, performs brilliantly on FM. The audio fidelity from the built-in speaker is quite robust; indeed, it’s among the best in its class. The key layout and ergonomics are similar to the Grundig G3 and G5; meaning, the radio is quite simple to use. One negative is that the Satellit mutes between frequencies while tuning, however, this is minimal in the most recently-updated production runs. I’m very pleased that all of the new Eton radios lack the tactile rubber coating found on some previous models, for while the coating works excellently to improve one’s grip on the radio, over time it can become sticky to the touch (if you find this to be a problem, here are several techniques to clean the sticky residue: http://bit.ly/1KQN8TX).

At time of print, the Satellit is generally available for about $180-190 from a variety of retailers, including Universal Radio and Amazon.com.

Other full-featured portables

In the 2014 Buyer’s Guide, we included several other full-featured radios that are still certainly worth considering: The C. Crane CCRadio-SW, Sangean ATS-909X, Sony ICF-SW7600GR, Tecsun PL-600, Tecsun PL-660, and the Tecsun PL-880.

Hybrid Stand-Alone SDR/Tabletops

While tabletop receivers have started to decline with the advent of SDRs, there are many listeners who still prefer a simple, dedicated, stand-alone high-performance receiver with a good tuning knob and clear display, which is to say, a tabletop receiver. Tabletops are designed to perform best with a resonant external antenna.

The Elad FDM-DUOr

The Elad FDM-DUOr

Elad FDM-DUOr

If you’ve been thinking of purchasing an SDR, but really want a traditional front-panel tabletop receiver, the Elad FDM-DUOr may be for you. I’ve included the FDM-DUOr under the tabletop heading because it is, in fact, a tabletop receiver, with the features of a tabletop such as a front panel, knobs, display, and capability to operate independent of a PC. However, if you choose to hook it to a PC, you unleash a full-fledged SDR and a wide array of features. The FDM-DUOr is built on the same receiver and software as the FDM-S2, one of my favorite sub $1000 SDRs. The FDM-DUOr also sports 10 selectable and customizable filter preselectors and an internal switch box for use with an external transceiver.

At time of print, Elad is seeking FCC approval for the FDM-DUOr in order to distribute these units in the USA. The FDM-DUOr is currently available in Europe via the Elad online store: Price is 899.00 €.

The CommRadio CR-1a

The CommRadio CR-1a

CommRadio CR1-a

US-based manufacturer CommRadio introduced the CR-1 in 2013––an amazingly rugged, portable receiver, and essentially a small tabletop SDR. I’ve used mine in travels and at home; the built-in rechargeable battery will power it for hours, it’s built to a mil-spec standard, and it performs like a champ.

In 2014, CommRadio increased the SDR potential of the CR-1 by updating with a new model: the CR-1a. In 2015, CommRadio continued to add features to the CR-1a through firmware and software upgrades, such as a new Spectrum Viewer SDR application, and 3D-Waterfall for Windows PCs.

CommRadio CR-1a owners only need to update their firmware and download software to use the new feature. The CR-1a is priced at $599.95 US, shipped, and includes a battery through Universal Radio––good value for a quality piece of kit. CommRadio also sells the CR-1a directly through their website.

Other tabletops

In the 2014 Buyer’s Guide, we included several other tabletop radios, including the Alinco DX-R8T and the Icom IC-R75.

SDRs/IF Receivers

If you’re searching for maximum performance for the price, software-defined radios (SDRs) and IF receivers are hard to beat. These small “black box” radios require a computer to unlock performance, none are stand-alone. But while I was never a fan of combining my PC with radio listening, once I starting using an SDR, I never turned back. Now, 90% of the time that I’m on the air, it’s with an SDR. The ease of doing so is incomparable, and the functionality simply incredible.

The Elad FDM-S2

The Elad FDM-S2

Elad FDM-S2 and the new SPF-08 preselector

If you read the Elad FDM-S2 review in the November 2014 issue of TSM you’ll know that this little SDR packs a powerful punch for the price. FDM-S2 performance is uncompromising, comparing favorably to receivers $300-400 more in price. The S2 also provides native DRM decoding; it’s a fine DRM receiver.

Users who live in the vicinity of high-powered AM stations will be pleased to know that Elad has developed an outboard preselector box that pairs with the FDM-S2––the new SPF-08, which covers the amateur radio bands. Elad already has a broadcast band version of the SPF-8 in development. The SPF-08 enclosure is the same size as that of the FDM-S2 and couples with it directly via a port on the back of both units.

Both the Elad FDM-S2 and SPF-08 are available via Elad’s online store: http://ecom.eladit.com/

The SDRplay RSP

The SDRplay RSP

SDRplay RSP

The SDRplay RSP was one of the most pleasant surprises I encountered in the world of software defined receivers this year. I published a review of the RSP in the May 2015 issue of TSM; in short, I was amazed at the performance of this $149 SDR. While it doesn’t have its own proprietary SDR application, it is compatible with some of the most popular free applications on the market: SDR Console, SDR Sharp, and HDSDR to name a few. SDRplay developers are even testing a Raspberry Pi application for the RSP.

Since the time of my review, SDRplay has updated the RSP to include gapless coverage from 100 kHz to 2 GHz––talk about wideband coverage!

If you have been hesitant to invest in a benchmark SDR, or simply want to explore the world of SDRs on a small budget, the SDRplay RSP is a no-brainer. Without a doubt, it packs a lot of performance in a tiny, affordable package. The SDRplay user community is also very active and routinely pushes the boundaries of this little receiver.

The SDRplay RSP is available at SDRplay.com and, in the US, at Ham Radio Outlet.

The RFspace Cloud-IQ

The RFspace Cloud-IQ

RFSpace CloudIQ

The Cloud-IQ is the latest software-defined receiver from the US-based company RFSPACE. The Cloud-IQ offers two modes of operation:

  • the “IQ mode,” which provides 24-bit IQ streaming to your PC over an ethernet cable (much like the RFSpace NetSDR).
  • the stand-alone “cloud mode,” which includes a built-in internet server. In cloud mode, according to RFSpace, “the receiver performs the tuning and demodulation of signals and transmits the demodulated information back to a PC, OS-X, Linux, or Android client anywhere in the world.”

RFSpace is essentially one of the first SDR manufacturers to include built-in SDR streaming functionality, something that has been somewhat complicated to implement in other SDRs.

The price point is also favorable at $629.95 through Ham Radio OutletAmazon, Astroradio and ML&S. Availability has been quite limited this year, but more production runs are planned for the near future. I plan to review the RFSpace CloudIQ in late 2015 or early 2016, as soon as a unit becomes available.

Other SDR/IF receivers

In the 2014 Buyer’s Guide we included several other SDRs and IF receivers worth considering, including the Bonito RadioJet IF-Receiver 1102S, Microtelecom Perseus, and the WinRadio Excalibur. Additionally, note that the affordable Airspy SDR will soon have a new converter to cover HF down to 1kHz–look for a review in 2016.

The Shortwave Radio Index

If you would like to view a comprehensive list of all shortwave radios currently on the market, check out the Shortwave Radio Index (http://swling.com/db).

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William’s review of the C.Crane CC Skywave

CCrane-CC-Skywave

Regarding the C.Crane CC Skywave, SWLing Post reader, William Pietschman (W8LV) comments:

I find that the Skywave is so stable on the air band, I can use it to decode ACARS with the Android App!

Listened to WBCQ, and Arnie Coro’s show last night from Havana along with some Jazz music.

It pulled FM stations out of the air like nothing else, meaning the weaker ones here in my rural Ohio location. And I could pick up three NOAA broadcasts, two very strong, one scratchy…. Since the NOAA system is of course designed to let you pick up one station in whatever particular area of the county you live in, I consider this excellent!

With the AM I pulled in Canadians, Boston , stations in IOWA and KFI. I also note it’s very directional on AM… I could null out WTVN and pick up Texas with no problem. I have owned and do own lots of shortwave radios, and I MUST say, this is one hell of a good set!

It’s going into my Winter zip-up jacket pocket so it will always be handy for the DX Season, and I also notice that the headphones are VERY good, and have a long enough cord so it’s not pulling at my ears like some sort of damned harness… I HATE short earphone cords!

(And while I am on the subject of ear phones, and while I haven’t been zapped in the ear with static this year yet by dry air causing that annoying problem, I wonder how these earphones are going to do in that regard… the Sony’s are unbearable in Winter! Ouch! I wonder if anyone else out there has this problem besides me, and has found a solution?)

First of all, thank you for making me aware of the ACARS app and that you can successfully use it with the CC Skywave. I will add the ACARS app to my growing list of HamRadio/SWL applications and also try it myself!

Your experience with the CC Skywave is very similar to mine. It is a fabulous portable receiver. If it only had SSB and sync detection, it would be the ultimate compact portable. The CC Skywave is an everyday carry (EDC) radio for me–either it, or the Sony ICF-SW100, accompany me everywhere in my Timbuk2 messenger bag.

Regarding static discharge from headphones, I don’t think I’ve ever had this happen to me; sounds annoying, though! I suppose walking in dry winter conditions with a thick winter jacket could increase chances of discharge. Perhaps the in-ear design of the included CC earbuds–with silicon earpieces–will minimize and insulate you from this problem? Let us know!

Thank you for your assessment of the CC Skywave, William!

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Bob’s review of the C.Crane CC Skywave

CCrane-CC-Skywave

SWLing Post reader, Bob C., recently shared his review of the C.Crane CC Skywave portable radio:

Well, I just received my new CC Skywave radio and it’s terrific! I own a lot of portable radios (including several Tecsun DSP sets), and the Skywave is a new favorite and will likely become my standard radio for travel.

Good fit and finish, great ergonomics, and easy to use. I was pleased to find that, despite what’s written in the ads and on the back of the radio, you can set the radio to receive FM down to 76 MHz by selecting the a 9 kHz MW spacing.

Great for international travel. The following is my brief review (by band):

Mediumwave

The Skywave is far better than any of the Tecsuns and is almost as good as the C Crane 2E (my best MW receiver). At my location (40 miles N of Chicago), the distant groundwave fringe includes WLW, WJR, and KTRS (St. Louis) – in descending order of reception potential. Most radios can get a whisper of WLW (though not discernible), while the other two are rare. The C Crane 2E gets WLW and WJR well enough that you can listen; KTRS is detectable. The Skywave gets WLW and WJR and you can tell that KTRS is there. That indicates that the Skywave is among the best. And there are no birdies nor whistles on the band. Nice.

FM

Just as sensitive and about 99% as selective as any of the Tecsun DSPs. The shorter antenna doesn’t seem to hamper reception at all. And, with no soft muting and a more logical tuning setup, it’s a pleasure to work with. Lastly, the stereo reception threshold on the C Crane DSP chip is significantly lower than that on any of the Tecsun rigs, so most signals decode stereo and simply sound better. Where I live, I have tons of signals that are 0.2 MHz apart (i.e. 101.9 Chicago, 102.1 Milwaukee, 102.3 Waukegan – and local) – the Skywave has no trouble separating these and providing a usable signal for all three.

Shortwave

Seems to do just fine. I have not had any overload issues with my unit and can pull in all as many SW signals and most of my other small portables. The lack of SSB is an inconvenience, I suppose, but I guess you can’t have it all!

NOAA/Weather radio

This band is great to have and is perfectly functional. I will say that this isn’t my most sensitive WB radio, but it’s not deaf by any definition. It’s just a little less sensitive to distant fringe WB stations than some of my other sets. But it does dependably pull in anything within 60 miles, so we’re only talking about ability to pull in distant fringe signals (which can be fun).

Air

I’ve played around with this a little and it definitely works better than expected. O’Hare tower is about 25 miles away and I get it clearly, along with aircraft that are (from what I can tell) basically anywhere within about 60 miles. The ability to scan is very helpful; however, catching a signal when someone is broadcasting is tricky. A little online research into local ATC frequencies goes a long way toward having fun on this band. The Skywave seems to work the Air Band better than the G6 and G3, my only other radios with this band.

So, overall, this radio has been a very pleasant surprise. No disappointments whatsoever. Kudos to C Crane Company for doing such a fine job with yet another radio.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on the CC Skywave, Bob! Like you, I really love this little radio for travel and gave it a favorable review several months ago.

That’s an excellent tip about widening the FM frequency range down to 76 MHz by selecting 9 kHz steps on mediumwave. Brilliant!

Readers should be aware that some Skywave owners have noted a vulnerability to overloading and imaging in urban markets or where blowtorch stations are nearby. If your listening post fits this description, you may want to hold off until C.Crane has addressed the issue.

The CC Skywave can be purchased directly from C. Crane. It is also available at Universal Radio and Amazon.com.

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Review of the C. Crane CC Skywave portable radio

CC-Skywave-1While electronics manufacturer C. Crane offers a number of unique AM/FM radios, including some of the best portable medium wave receivers on the market, they’ve traditionally only had two models of shortwave radio––namely, the CCRadio-SW, and the CCRadio-SWP. Earlier this year, however, C.Crane announced a new portable that would join their product line: the CC Skywave.

Admittedly, I was eager to give this little radio a go: C. Crane touts the Skywave as an exceptional travel radio, for which I’m always on the hunt.  Last week, I had my opportunity when C. Crane sent me the new CC Skywave sample for review.  I instantly got to work scrutinizing their newest offering…and here’s what I’ve discovered.

First impressions

CC-Skywave-FrontThe form factor of the Skywave is very similar to C.Crane’s CCRadio-SWP pocket radio; in fact, its smooth plastic body even feels the same. While this radio doesn’t have the rubberized coating that have become popular on radio exteriors in recent years, supposedly to provide an easy-to-grip surface, I’m pleased that C.Crane does not use this, as these coatings can eventually deteriorate over time and with heat exposure, becoming somewhat tacky or sticky to the touch.

CC-Skywave-DisplayThe Skywave’s backlit LCD display is small, but readily viewable from several angles.  All of the buttons on the front of the Skywave have a tactile response, again, similar to the CCRadio-SWP. The buttons require slightly more pressure to activate than Tecsun and Degen models; I prefer this, especially for a travel radio: should I forget to activate the key lock, it’s much less likely that the radio will accidentally turn on during transit.

As always, I attempted first to see how many radio features and functions I could uncover without first consulting the owner’s manual.  In the past, C.Crane products have been some of the most intuitive on the market.  Fortunately, the Skywave did not disappoint: first, I was able to set both the clock and alarm within moments; both essential in a travel radio.

Once the radio is on, it will display either the time or frequency on the main display. While the Skywave defaults to a time display, I discovered that the lock button toggles the display between time and frequency for ten seconds. (Note: After reading through the manual later, I learned that you can actually change the default display mode to either time or frequency–very nice touch!)

CC-Skywave-Keypad

I then turned on the radio and found the memory allocation to be very straightforward: tune to the desired station, then press and hold a number button two seconds to save. Press a button quickly to recall. Memory remembers bandwidth, stereo, or mono (if FM), and any voice or music audio filters utilized–very handy!

Speaking of bandwidth, the Skywave has five on shortwave, medium wave, and air bands: 6, 4, 3, 2, and 1 kHz. By pressing the bandwidth button, you can cycle through these from widest to narrowest. The bandwidth defaults to 3 kHz, but the default can be changed by holding down the bandwidth button for five seconds (with radio powered off).

To enter a frequency in AM/FM/SW, you simply press the FREQ button, then key in frequency. To scan through the band, simply press and hold one of the up/down arrow buttons. Worth noting: the Skywave’s scan function is one of the fastest I’ve seen in a portable.

On the topic of scanning, and since this is a travel radio, I would have liked C.Crane to include an ETM function like that found in the Tecsun PL-310ET and PL-380. It’s quite a handy function for auto-populating temporary memories from a simple band scan. I assume this is not an option on the DSP chip powering the Skywave.

Owner’s manual

Once I had my fun trying to discover as many functions on the Skywave without the manual’s aid, I finally opened it and discovered a few more functions.

One feature I’ve already come to love in the Skywave: the ability to change the tuning speed, and thus frequency step-spacing on the tuning knob (option of 5 or 1 kHz steps), just by pressing the knob itself. I much prefer this to using a front-panel tuning step button because it’s so easy to operate in low-light settings (lounging in bed, for example).

CC-Skywave-Tuning-KnobAnother unique feature of the Skywave is a switchable audio filter for voice or music. With the filter set to “voice,” the audio is enhanced for human voice intelligibility. When set to “music,” it widens the audio filter, thus optimizing audio fidelity. Toggling the audio filter settings between voice and music is very easy, but not intuitive; indeed, it’s almost a hidden feature you can discover via the owner’s manual. Simply press the “1” and “2” simultaneously while listening to a broadcast to toggle the filter.

I should note that the C.Crane owner’s manual is one of the most straightforward and simple I’ve seen in ages. You can tell that, at least in the English version that came with mine, this manual was written by a native English speaker. It made for simple, clear instruction without head-scratching over obscure terms. Even the least technically-inclined user will understand these instructions, no problem.

AM – Medium Wave

After asking SWLing Post readers what they would like me to include in this review, a number of you responded that you wanted me to give the AM broadcast band reception a proper review.

Zoomer_RadioMy foray into medium wave listening with the Skywave started off on the right foot.  The very first night with the Skywave, I tuned it to 740 kHz, my favorite, albeit challenging to reach, AM station here in the North America–CFZM “Zoomer Radio”  While those living in the midwestern and northeastern US can receive Zoomer radio easily enough at night, it is often a tough catch here in the southeast in the evening hours. After nightfall it competes with clear channel stations that also occupy 740 kHz. With a portable radio, the lock on Zoomer is never terribly strong and is very prone to fading.

But after tuning the Skywave to Zoomer, I received CFZM so well it sounded like a local station–in fact, I couldn’t believe it until a station ID confirmed that I was receiving it. Even more surprising was that I received it away from home, in an area plagued with RFI noise where I typically have to carefully turn a radio to null out the noise in an effort to enhance the desired broadcast. But the Skywave somehow mitigated this noise better than my other portables. Even when I turned the radio in the direction of the offending electrical noise, it wasn’t as bad as on other portables.  Truly, the reception was remarkable.

With Zoomer firmly locked in, I hopped into bed, turned the volume to a comfortable level, and listened for at least half an hour before falling asleep. I was pleasantly surprised the following morning, some eight hours later, when I woke to the Skywave playing CFZM at the same level. Phenomenal! Perhaps conditions were exceptionally favorable that night; nonetheless, the Skywave couldn’t have impressed me more.

A side note–on the previous day, I’d inserted two generic alkaline AA batteries in the Skywave; after a total of ten hours playing at medium volume, the battery indicator still showed full capacity.

CC-Skywave-RightMedium wave audio samples

While time won’t allow a full audio sampling of the medium wave band for comparison, I did record the following comparison between the Skywave and the Tecsun PL-310ET (which I regard as one of the more capable sub-$100 ultra-compact portables on the market).CC-Skywave-And-Tecsun-PL-310ET

Since SWLing Post readers specifically asked to hear how the Skywave handles choppy nighttime medium wave DX conditions, I tuned to two frequencies with overlapping broadcasts, one of which was slightly dominant: 950 kHz and 990 kHz. I set the AM bandwidth to 3 kHz on both radios and made the recordings within one minute of each other. The CC Skywave’s audio filter was set to “voice.”

In the following recordings, listen for Radio Reloj  (Cuba)–it’s buried deep in the noise. You might detect the ticking and “R” “R” in Morse code. These recordings were taken within one minute of each other.

The Tecsun PL-310ET on 950 kHz:

The CC Skywave on 950 kHz:

Note that the Skywave pulled out the dominant broadcaster–one I could barely hear on the PL-310ET.

I then made a recording on 990 kHz AM which had a stronger dominant station.

The Tecsun PL-310ET on 990 kHz:

The CC Skywave on 990 kHz:

To my ear, the Skywave was clearer and the commentator’s voice seemed to pop out of the noise better.

I’ve spent a great deal of time listening to the Skywave on the medium wave band this week and I feel comfortable recommending it for the medium wave DXer.

FM

While I’ve spent comparatively less time (thus far) evaluating the Skywave’s FM band, I can say that the Skywave receives my “benchmark” FM stations with ease. Sensitivity also seems to be on par with my other DSP based portables (meaning, excellent sensitivity).CC-Skywave-Left

Shortwave

Of course, being a shortwave enthusiast, I’ve spent the bulk of my listening time since receiving the Skywave on the shortwave bands. And during this time, alas, shortwave radio band conditions have been challenging for any radio. Yet I’m happy to note that this little radio does not disappoint: it has excellent sensitivity and selectivity for a radio of its size. When I compared the Skywave with the Tecsun PL-310ET, in almost every situation, they are nearly equal in performance.

Shortwave audio samples

Below I’ve included audio samples of the Skywave on 9580 kHz (Radio Australia). Under normal conditions, Radio Australia would be a blowtorch signal here in North America, but this particular morning, propagation was quite poor. In the audio, you’ll hear both radios attempting to cope with pronounced fading, with their AGC circuits reacting to the quick rise and fall of signal strength. Both radios were set to a 3kHz bandwidth and the Skywave’s audio filter set to “voice” to help mitigate noise.

CC-Skywave-And-Tecsun-PL-310ET-Side

Tecsun PL-310ET on 9580 kHz:

CC Skywave on 9580 kHz:

Note that Radio Australia was broadcasting music, which can be more difficult to evaluate, but the vocals were prominent enough I felt it made for a good comparison.

This morning, I also recorded WWV on 15 MHz. Again, propagation conditions were poor across the bands, so even WWV (normally very stable) was affected by quick fading (QSB). For kicks, I decided to add the benchmark Tecsun PL-660 to this comparison. If you recall, it received some of the highest marks for sensitivity in our weak signal shoot out. The Tecsun PL-310ET and CC Skywave were set to 3 kHz bandwidth and the Tecsun PL-660 to it’s narrow bandwidth (which I felt was most equivalent).

CC-Skywave-PL310ET-PL660

Tecsun PL-310ET on 15 MHz:

Tecsun PL-660 on 15 MHz:

CC Skywave on 15 MHz:

The good news is that the Skywave is certainly a sensitive and selective portable. While evaluating shortwave performance over the past week, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well this little radio receives.

NOAA Weather radio

NOAA-Weather-RadioThose of us living or traveling in North America will appreciate the Skywave’s built-in NOAA weather radio functionality.  Since I have at least a dozen self-powered radios and desktops that have built-in NOAA weather reception, I typically don’t give the band much thought. I figured NOAA reception would be a mediocre add-on with the Skyview. I was wrong.

Not only does the Skywave have NOAA weather radio, but it also has SAME weather alerts. What’s so great about that? Imagine that you’re travelling to a rural area and weather is looking ominous; in this case, you can simply set the Skywave to the strongest NOAA channel and activate the weather alert (choose options for 4, 8, or 16 hours). If severe weather is reported for your geographic area, the Skywave will alert you.

I’m very pleased with the NOAA weather radio reception, as well.  The Skywave receives NOAA stations even better than one of my dedicated weather radios.

AIR band

AirTrafficControllerC.Crane included the Air band for travelers, as a means to listen to air traffic control while in an airport or awaiting a flight’s arrival. I have several portables with the AIR band, but most lack an autoscan ability (Grundig G3, G6), and performance on these tends to be mediocre at best.

I’ve traveled to three different cities over the past week and used the Skywave to tune to the local air-traffic control tower. After a bit of scanning, it eventually found the frequency, and reception was quite good. I have not yet used the AIR band in an airport (notorious for RFI) nor in a large metro area, so I can’t comment about performance under those conditions.

What really separates the Skywave apart from my other shortwave portable with the AIR band is that it actually has an adjustable squelch mode. Nice touch!

CC Buds Earphones

HDP-AUDIO-CC-EAR-BUDSUnlike Tecsun portables which typically ship with batteries, an external antenna wire, chargers, travel cases, and the like, the CC Skywave comes with very few included accessories––just a carry case, an owner’s manual, and earphones.

Most of the headphones/earphones that accompany a shortwave radio package are of the cheapest quality. I’m happy to note that the Skywave’s included earphones are the best I’ve ever received as an included accessory with a shortwave radio.

The CC Buds Earphones are in-ear style (which I prefer, for sound isolation) with soft silicone earpieces. They are tuned to a frequency response which favors voice, an enhanced mid-range. For SWLing and MW DXing, I believe they’re nearly ideal. Indeed, I’m planning to use these with my Elecraft KX3 next time I’m operating QRP––I’m sure that SSB will sound great.

Since these are tuned for the spoken word, however, I wouldn’t necessarily favor the CC Buds Earphones over my Sony in-ear buds for music listening.

CC-Skywave-Top

Summary

Every radio has pros and cons, and I jot down my reactions as I evaluate a new radio so as not to forget any details. The following is my list:

Pros:

  • Overall great sensitivity and selectivity for a portable in this price class
  • Considerate design, well-tailored for the traveler:
    • Compact size
    • Air band
    • NOAA weather radio
    • Easy to set clock and alarm
    • Simple controls
    • Lightweight
    • Operates on 2 AA batteries
    • Charges from Mini USB (see con)
  • Wide HF frequency range (2.3 up to 26.1 MHz) compared to the PL-380/PL-310 (2.3 up to 21.95 MHz)
  • AIR band is truly functional: includes both scanning and squelch
  • NOAA Weather radio reception excellent
  • Includes soft silicone earphones (in-ear type) actually worthy of AM/SW listening
  • Auto scanning with the up/down buttons is very rapid
  • Integrated charging circuit
  • Uses common micro USB port for power/charging
  • Tuning speed easily changed by pressing tuning knob
  • Volume control is fully variable (free wheel, analog style), not in pre-determined digital steps
  • Selectable audio filters for music and voice

Cons:

  • Internal speaker audio is somewhat tinny (use of the voice audio filter helps)
  • No external antenna jack
  • No SSB mode (in this price class of $90 US, SSB is an included mode on some models)
  • Only one clock; no provision for dual local/UTC time
  • Mutes between frequency changes
  • Whip antenna is short––only 16” fully extended. While the Skywave seems to perform brilliantly with this short antenna (see pro), I can’t help but wonder if more length might boost some bands.
  • While no inconvenience to me, the Skywave does not come with an adaptor or USB cord for powering/charging. (Should you need it, C.Crane sells a proper noise-free regulated power supply separately ($15 US); however, most buyers will already have these cords and any USB port on your PC or USB-based phone charger will suffice. Also note that listening to virtually any radio while charging will inject noise into the receiver, resulting in sub-par reception.)
  • Can overload on shortwave and AIR bands if located near a strong radio station (see this comment)

Conclusion

The CC Skywave is nearly identical in size to the late and great Grundig G6.

The CC Skywave is nearly identical in size to the late and great Grundig G6.

C. Crane has few shortwave radios in their product line, and all perform rather well for their price point; I know, as I have owned all of them and even purchased as gifts in the past.

But I was concerned a few months ago when I noted the similarity between the CC Skywave and the poorly-reviewed Digitech AR1733, sold in Australia/New Zealand by Jaycar.

Fortunately, it’s clear that C. Crane noticed the shortcomings of the AR1733 and has modified the Skywave’s design and firmware accordingly, which may account for the delayed roll-out of the CC Skywave. Obviously, the Skywave’s ACG circuit has been tweaked to cope with medium wave and shortwave listening, since a poor ACG circuit is one of the shortcomings of the AR1733. But, if so, wow…what a tweak.

Because all in all, the CC Skywave is a excellent little radio. Indeed, in terms of the ultra-compact portable market (models like I included in a recent shoot-out), I think it’s one of the best surprise performers I’ve seen in the past couple of years.

CC-Skywave-1After just one week with it, I’ve already decided to take the CC Skywave along on my travels to see how it performs over time. It will replace my PL-310ET and PL-380 for my one bag domestic and international travelling. The CC Skywave is also especially well-suited for the “go”-bags and “bug-out” bags used in evacuations and other emergencies. Indeed, with AM/FM/SW/AIR plus functional NOAA radio, this little radio packs a lot––in short, the Skywave packs enough to get packed in my bag.

The CC Skywave can be purchased directly from C. Crane. It is also available at (soon) Universal Radio and Amazon.com.

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