Tag Archives: CC Skywave SSB

The C. Crane CC Skywave SSB: first production run review

Just last month, the little radio that I found most exciting this year hit the market: the C. Crane CC Skywave SSB.

Why the appeal for me?  Frankly, since I do most of my portable radio listening while traveling, and since I typically travel out of one bag, having a compact radio with performance and features is an absolute must in my world.  Up to this point, the original CC Skywave is the radio I often choose when traveling, as it packs so many useful features: AM, FM, Shortwave, AIR band, Weather Radio, and like any good travel radio, clock, alarm, and sleep functions, lacking only SSB mode.  So it goes without saying that I was excited to see its newest edition.

The CC Skywave SSB

What follows is an account of my experience evaluating CC Skywave SSB production units, and a brief summary of their performance.

My hope is that this summary review will help readers with purchase decisions. Note that this is merely preliminary to an extensive, unabridged review that will appear in a future issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine, then in the SWLing Post the following month.

Pre-production Skywave SSB

As many readers know, I was sent a pre-production model of the Skywave SSB for evaluation this summer.

As I mentioned in my sneak peek and reiterated to a number of inquisitive readers: I never base a product review or comment upon pre-production radios. I don’t comment about the performance of the pre-production model for an obvious reason: pre-production radios are quite simply not the versions that ship to customers upon the product release.

Now that the production model has been in the wild for a few weeks, I feel more at liberty to talk about my experience with the pre-production Skywave SSB.

In short: I have been very pleased, indeed, with the pre-production model’s performance. In terms of features, it is a nice incremental upgrade from the original Skywave. In terms of performance, it’s also tweaked in the right direction. As an early adopter of the original Skywave, I’ve been truly enthusiastic about this evaluation pre-production model.

All the notes I took while evaluating the pre-production Skywave SSB were made for C. Crane so they could hopefully implement any changes or address concerns prior to starting the first production run. But the truth is, I found the pre-production model in my possession to be quite solid, so my suggestions were minor.

Putting my pre-production model aside, I ordered an actual production unit on C. Crane’s website just like everyone else.

C. Crane kindly dispatched my unit as soon as they received the first production batch from the factory so I could get to work on the full review.

Quirks with the first production units

I was eager to get started on the review of the Skywave SSB, so as soon as I received it, I did what I always do: compared it with other radios.

I make my comparisons, by the way,  at least fifty yards from my house to separate the radios from any inadvertent sources of local noise.

Production Radio #1

My first comparison was with the Digitech AR-1780 and the original CC Skywave. I quickly noted that the Skywave SSB was very slightly less sensitive than the other radios. I had tested the pre-production unit enough to know that the Skywave SSB’s performance should at least be on par with the original Skywave.

Upon careful listening, I discovered the production unit had a very faint, internally-generated whine on some of the shortwave bands; when tuned to marginal signals, this whine manifested itself as variable background noise. Between signals it was audible as a faint background whine, hardly noticeable. With that said, the whine was most notable while tuning––since the Skywave SSB mutes between frequency changes, the whine was most conspicuous during audio recovery.

The pre-production unit had no trace of an internally-generated whine. Audio was very clean in comparison.

Here’s a sample of the first production radio being tuned down from 10,000 kHz in 5 kHz tuning steps:

Here’s a sample from the pre-production unit:

Hear the whine in the first sample? Yes, so do I.

I contacted C. Crane promptly, and to their credit, they immediately dispatched another unit from inventory, via UPS Next Day,  along with a return label to send my faulty unit back to their engineering team.

Production Radio #2

The second unit arrived while I was on Thanksgiving vacation, but was sent to me directly at my hotel.  The day I received the replacement Skywave SSB, I put it on the air. The first listening session with it, alone, revealed that this unit did not have the internally-generated whine, however, this unit had issues with sensitivity. All of my comparison receivers were outperforming this Skywave SSB on the shortwave broadcast bands. When I compared it with the pre-production Skywave SSB unit and the first production unit, the second production unit was about four to five S-units less sensitive. Odd.

I sent both production radios back to C. Crane with detailed notes and sample recordings. Their engineering team confirmed my findings and started looking into the variations in QC and double-checking their inventory to make sure none shipped with these problems.

Production Radio #3

A few days later, I was sent a third production unit. After putting it on the air, I immediately noticed the same faint noise characteristics of my first full production unit, which is to say, the notorious whine.

Once again, I contacted C. Crane.  This time, I requested that no less than three radios be sent to me, and they kindly expedite the request.

Production Radios #4, #5, and #6

Yesterday, I tested all three radios. What follows is a quick assessment of those radios:

Performance

In a nutshell, the three production units I tested yesterday performed better than my second and third production radios on all bands. Strictly in terms of sensitivity, these were on par with the pre-production unit.  Very good.

But with that said, even the last three production units I received had internally-generated noises that I couldn’t help but notice. Disappointing.

At this point, I must assume these noises are prevalent throughout the first production run since all but one of the six CC Skywave SSB production units I tested have it. Meanwhile, the only one that didn’t have the noise had serious sensitivity issues.

Noises

Yesterday,, I spent two full hours searching for birdies (internally generated noises) and other anomalies on the three CC Skywave SSB production units I received Monday. Each radio’s noise location varied slightly (within 20-40 kHz). The following locations are roughly the average of frequencies:

Birdies

Birdies are a fairly common occurrence among sensitive receivers, and the CC Skywave SSB has about an average number. The birdies I noted are outside the space where I do my broadcast listening:

  • 2,305 kHz
  • 9,220 kHz
  • 11,520 kHz

Background audio whine/tone

All of the production units (save Radio #2) have a very slight audio whine present––either via the internal speaker or headphones––on certain portions of the spectrum.

In my first full production unit, I believe this whine may have slightly affected the unit’s overall sensitivity. On the last three production units, it didn’t seem to have as much of an impact on overall sensitivity.

The whine is still there, however, and occasionally when tuned to a weak signal within one of these zones, other faint sweeping noises could be detected in the background.

Sometimes it’s even more noticeable when the broadcaster is weak and is located within one of the whine zones. Here’s an example of 10 MHz WWV time station comparing the original Skywave with the Skywave SSB. Note that yesterday we had terrible propagation due to a geo storm, so WWV was very weak indeed.

Listen for the sweeping tones:

Here are the frequency ranges where I noted the background whine:

  • 7,830 – 8335 kHz
  • 8,610 – 8,690 kHz (note: very faint)
  • 9,770 – 10,415 kHz
  • 11,585 – 11810 kHz

Another oddity is a noise I found prevalent on CHU Canada’s 7,850 kHz frequency. I’m guessing it may be due to the combination of a DSP birdie on top of a relatively strong broadcaster.

Here’s a video comparing the original Skywave with one of the production models:

I noted no birdies or noises on the mediumwave band. The FM, AIR band, and Weather frequencies perform beautifully.

Summary:  The bad news––and the good

At the moment, it appears the first production run of the CC Skywave SSB has some challenging QC issues. Therefore, unfortunately, I can only recommend it at present if you’re willing to check your unit very carefully for any of the internally-generated noises I noted above.

If, however, you’ve already purchased a Skywave SSB and have noticed the noises, then please contact C. Crane. I’ve been a C. Crane customer for many years and I’m confident they will take care of your issue.

This being said, the truth is, I sympathize with C. Crane. It must be challenging to get things right and truly consistent on the first production run of a radio––especially on a tiny compact radio like the Skywave SSB.  It must be especially hard to keep noises out of the audio chain when so much is crammed into such a tiny package.

I fully suspect these issues will be sorted out in the second production run which, of course, I will test and review.

But the good news, and it’s sincerely good news, is this:  if C. Crane can produce a CC Skywave SSB as good as the pre-production unit, they’ll truly have a winner.  So let’s keep our fingers crossed that C. Crane can do it again…and again.

Rocky is pleased with the CC Skywave SSB

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor,Rocky Robello (KA7EII), who writes:

Just got my new C. Crane Skywave SSB radio. Same size as my wife’s C. Crane Skywave. AM, FM, WX and Airband all work just as well on the Skywave SSB as the regular Skywave.

So far, I am very satisfied with the SSB reception on the new Skywave SSB. It has one strange quirk – when you press the SSB button, it takes about 3 to 4 seconds to go into SSB mode. Five dashes appear on the display during this wait. After that, it is great.

I enjoy aeronautical communications and I get good reception of San Francisco radio and aircraft flying between the west coast and Hawaii. This is on the built in whip antenna.

Also been tuning through the ham bands and it does a nice job. There is an extra 0.5 KHz bandwidth on SSB mode so it is possible to do some casual CW listening. I like how the “Band” button works on shortwave.

When in AM mode, it cycles through the shortwave broadcasting bands. In the SSB mode, it cycles through the ham radio bands. It even selects LSB on 160-30 meters and USB on 20 through 10.

The only other receiver I have to compare it with (other than my wife’s Skywave) is my 18-year old Sangean ATS-909. The ‘909 is a bit more sensitive on MW AM broadcast band but selectivity is as good or better on the Skywave SSB.

FM sensitivity is great and the FM selectivity of the Skywave SSB beats the ‘909 hands down. Using the built in whip antennas, the Skywave SSB is more sensitive than the ‘909 on shortwave. Haven’t tried the included roll-up antenna on the Skywave SSB yet.

Having a squelch is really nice for monitoring the VHF Airband. One thing the Skywave SSB does that the regular Skywave does not do – you can scan 10 VHF Airband frequencies on the Skywave SSB.

So far, I am very satisfied with this new, tiny shortwave receiver.

Many thanks for sharing your mini review, Rocky!

I’ll also post a CC Skywave SSB review here hopefully by the end of next week–after Thanksgiving travel. My review has been delayed a as my CC Skywave SSB production units have had some QC issues: a very slight internally-generated noise in one and subpar sensitivity in the other.

My pre-production CC Skywave SSB is as Rocky describes: a gem of a compact receiver with sensitivity equal to that of its predecessor and relatively good noise characteristics.

C. Crane engineering is looking into the issues with my early production units and dispatching a replacement. I’ll post an update and review when I receive the replacement.

C. Crane lowers price of CC Skywave SSB

C. Crane has lowered the price of their new CC Skywave SSB from $169.99 to $149.99. I’ve confirmed with C. Crane that anyone who ordered the Skywave SSB at the $169 price level will be reimbursed $20 on their invoice.

I ordered a radio from the first production run and just received it.

While $149.99 is still topping the price range of compact portables, the radio package does include a nice protective soft case, a pair of CC Buds and (best yet) a CC Reel Antenna. I did not realize the production unit would also include the external antenna–very happy to report this as the CC Reel Antenna is my favorite on the market.

I’ll be testing my CC Skywave SSB over the next week and reporting back here!  While I’ve had the pre-production unit on the air for a few months, I’ve yet to check out the final! Looking forward to it!

Click here to check out the CC Skywave SSB at C. Crane.

NOAA Weather Radio Review: three excellent choices under $90

The Midland WR120 weather radio.

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Jim T, who writes with the following inquiry:

Wondering if you can give me some guidance re: NOAA weather radios.

We’re looking to be better prepared for disasters, bad weather etc. and have narrowed our radio candidates to CC Crane, Sangean and Kaito.

AM/FM would be nice, hand cranking and solar as well, but just want to get NOAA alerts should we have an earthquake here in the NW. Willing to spend $50-100 for something quality with relevant features to it. Your thoughts would be appreciated!

Thanks for your message, Jim. There are dozens of inexpensive weather radio models on the market, but I know a few good options based on my personal experience.

Note that all of these radios work in both the US (via NOAA) and Canada (via Environment Canada)–both countries have been using the S.A.M.E. (Specific Area Message Encoding) weather alert system since 2004.

The Midland WR120: A dedicated weather radio

If you’re looking for a weather radio to plug in and continuously monitor weather alerts through the S.A.M.E. system, I recommend a dedicated weather radio like theMidland WR120. These radios don’t typically have AM/FM functions, but are entirely devoted to the seven weather radio frequencies in the US and Canada (162.400, 162.425, 162.450, 162.475, 162.500, 162.525, and 162.550 MHz). They plug into mains power and the better ones have battery backup in case of power outages.

I have family that own the Midland WR120. They’ve used it for years and it’s worked flawlessly. Once you set up the radio with your preferred NOAA frequency and SAME alert regions, it will alarm and automatically play NOAA weather radio alerts when they’re issued for your area.  My family use this for tornado and storm alerts.

The Midland WR120 uses three AA alkaline cells for emergency power back-up. It’s very much a “set it and forget it” radio and, in my opinion, a bargain at $29.99.

As with any SAME alert radio, be aware that sometimes the alarm can be annoying. Depending on where you live and how the alert system is set up, you might get notifications for isolated weather events on the other side of your county–the S.A.M.E. system cannot pinpoint your neighborhood.

Still, I believe S.A.M.E. notifications are worth any extra inconvenience, especially if you live in an area prone to sudden storms and earthquakes.

Purchase options:

C. Crane CC Skywave: A portable shortwave radio with excellent NOAA weather reception

The C.Crane CC Skywave

If you’re looking for a battery powered radio to use during emergencies that has much more than NOAA weather radio, I’d recommend the C.Crane CC Skywave. Not only is it a full-fledged AM/FM/Shortwave and Air band radio, but it has exceptional NOAA weather radio reception with a weather alert function. The CC Skywave is a great radio to take on travels or keep in the home in case of an emergency. It’ll operate for ages on a set of two AA batteries, though I always keep a pack of four on standby just in case.

You can read a thorough review of the CC Skywave by clicking here. Note that C. Crane is also taking orders for their new CC Skywave SSB which is an upgraded version of the original CC Skywave and includes SSB mode, but costs $80 more than the original.

Purchase options:

C. Crane CC Solar Observer: A self-powered AM/FM NOAA weather radio

There are a number of self-powered NOAA weather radios out there, but frankly, many are very cheap and the mechanical action of the hand crank are prone to fail early.

I believe one of the best is the CC Solar Observer by C. Crane. It’s durable, and can also run on three AA cells, and is an overall great radio in terms of sensitivity on AM/FM as well. Unique in the world of self-powered radios, it also has a backlit display (which can be turned off or on)–a fantastic feature if the power is out.

Like other self-powered analog radios, the CC Solar Observer has no S.A.M.E. alert functionality.

Purchase options:

One more option: Eton self-powered weather radios

The Eton FRX5 sport weather alert, a digital display and futuristic design.

I would also encourage you to check out the wide selection of self-powered weather radios through Eton Corporation.

Many are digital and even have S.A.M.E. weather alerts. I haven’t commented on performance since I haven’t personally tested the 2016 and later models.

Eton typically packs a lot of features in their self-powered radios–having manufactured them for well over a decade, they’ve implemented iterative improvements along the way.

I have tested previous models extensively.

I particularly like the Eton FRX5 although being a digital radio, you get less play time per hand-powered crank–that’s why I prefer analog self-powered radios. The CC Solar Observer, for example, will yield roughly 40 minutes of listening time (at moderate volume levels) on 2-4 minutes of cranking.

Still, if charged fully in advance, I’m sure the FRX5 will play for hours. Note that using S.A.M.E. functionality in standby mode will deplete batteries more quickly.

Click here to view Eton’s full Red Cross radio line on the Eton Corporation website.

Any other recommendations?

Post readers, if I’ve omitted a worthy receiver, please comment with your recommendation.

I hope this helps with your decision, Jim! Thanks for the question!

CC Skywave SSB: C. Crane publishes pre-order page with pricing, availability and features

C. Crane has published a full pre-order page for their latest travel portable: the CC Skywave SSB.

The price is $169.99 US–they’ve noted an expected ship date of sometime after November 3, 2017.

We’ve been testing a pilot run CC Skywave SSB and recently posted photos. Once we have an production unit, we’ll post comparison videos and review notes.

Click here to view the CC Skywave SSB product page at C. Crane.