There may be even more 2015 Degen models than those I listed here and, in fact, they could’ve been on the market for a while.
I’ve already purchased the Degen DE221 for review since its predecessor, the DE321, was an acceptable radio for the $20 price tag. The DE321’s analog dial made for very vague tuning, however, so I’m curious if the DE221’s new digital display will be a worthy improvement. At this point, I don’t plan to review any of the other models above.
Your goal was to assemble the best shortwave listening set-up possible for your virtual budget of $200 US. You were tasked to track down a radio kit that would keep you in touch with the world, and potentially afford you some very unique DX. [If you haven’t read the full virtual radio challenge, including all of the limitations you might face, I encourage you to check out this post before continuing.]
Your Reader Responses
And, wow, what great responses–! First, I want to thank all who participated in this challenge. No two responses were identical. Some truly surprised me…I must say, I sincerely hope you enjoyed this exercise as much as I enjoyed reading what you’ve sent to the SWLing Post!
Below you will find ten responses from readers, representing remarkable diversity in radio set-ups. Note that my comments follow; they are italicized and in bold.
Now, with no further ado…I welcome you to radio DX on Tristan de Cunha!
from Frank Holden
First up, Frank Holden, who submitted his entry at 3:00 AM–prior to leaving on a 6:40 AM flight. Obviously, travel was on this Post reader’s mind.
Based on both my own experience and recent swling.com research I would choose a:
Duct tape (for securing joints on Squidpole and taping top of ant to top of Squidpole) $2
20 metres of wire for antenna with fitted plug. $10
Cable ties for securing Squidpole to stake. $1
Coil 3mm diam polyester line for stays $10
One dozen big tent pegs. $12
Big hammer [Available locally!]
Squidpole Antenna (Photo courtesy of http://www.perite.com/)
Total is $210 Australian, so you will get change out of $200 US.
Feed antenna up inside the Squidpole and tape at the top…. The rubber ‘bobble’ is removeable.
Maybe run a short length of coax from radio to base of Squidpole.
Make sure the Squidpole is well stayed. My experience in VP8land and Tierra del Fuego is that the constant flexing in high winds will lead to squid pole failure. Mine were secured to the taffrail on my boat… i.e. at the base and 50cm up from base…. Failed at the 50 cm point. I have also had a 5 metre high quality (marine grade) alloy whip fail in the same manner.
Utilise rest of baggage allowance with warm clothes, rum (power outages… for use during), etc.
Thanks, Frank! I love the idea of the Squidpole as it can give you a little height when trees are absent. I have used a similar telescoping pole for Ham Radio QRP operations: a Jackite pole. I’ve broken the tip section twice already due to my own clumsiness–fortunately, the tip can be purchased separately. As you suggest, I bet the winds on Tristan Da Cunha would give the Squidpole a run for its money!
The Ham It Up v1.2 – NooElec RF Upconverter converts your RTL-SDR dongle into an HF receiver.
I propose using my current setup, since a laptop is a freebie here. I use the following in my setup:
That’s $157. That leaves $43 for a 25? length of coax and two MCX adapters. Coax run is $15 (at $0.39/ft for RG-8X.) I forgot how much the adapters were, but less than the $28 left over after buying the coax run.
Downside? I have no pole to support this, and houses on the island are only one story structures. I’ll have to attach the high end of the sloper to the peak of the home where I’m staying, and I’m sure that height is less than the 25? recommended by AlphaDelta. In addition, I’ll have to plant a stake at the lower end of the sloper to keep that end the recommended 8? above ground. I also made no provision for extra power if a power outage exceeded the amount of juice in my laptop battery.
If push came to shove, I would drop the MFJ 1020B for an extra $50 to buy supports or an extra battery.
Thanks, AB3RU! I’m willing to bet that you might find something on the island to support one end of your sloping antenna. It might be a challenge to meet the 25′ recommended height, as you stated. Still, this is an innovative and quite portable option!
Here are my choices:
A 50-100m wire to be used as an antenna for SW and MW. I imagine I’ll be able to catch a few MW stations from South America or Africa. As for choosing a radio…
I’ll need a good radio which allows using an external antenna not only for SW (all of them do) but also for MW (few of them do). I think there is only one radio which fits this requirement within the budget: the Sony ICF-SW7600GR, available on Amazon.com at prices around $140. My other choice would be a Sangean ATS-909X which works very well with external antennas, but it’s more expensive.
I’ll also need two packs of 4 AA rechargeable batteries and a charger.
Thanks, Tudor! I believe your choice of the Sony ICF-SW7600GR is a very good one, as the Sony is a solid performer. It would be a challenge to find a new Sangean ATS-909X within your $200 budget–you would need to track down a used one, most likely. With the PL-660 in tow, you would then have a full $60 to purchase batteries, charger, and your antenna wire. Very workable!
It is through hole soldered so replacing parts is easy. Bring a bag of spare parts and a couple batteries. Get two headphones so that you and a friend can listen at the same time.
Thanks, KK6AYC! At $110 US, you would certainly have enough budget for spare parts, batteries, and antenna wire. While a regen receiver may not be for everyone, these do provide excellent sensitivity once you pass this rig’s learning curve for tuning. If the winds blow your external antenna around, you might have to ride that regen control! Great alternative to the typical portable–!
from John Treager
Next, John Treager, who writes:
Neat thought experiment! I’ve recently got back into SW listening after years away. I’ve been hitting your sites for two or three months and your weak station comparison really grabbed my attention but this one has lit the fire again.
[…]I’m a contract engineer who lives away from my primary residence most of the time so this challenge kind of strikes a chord. And, as I’m getting back into SWL, you’ve given me a reason to research (something engineers love to do!).
If I’m renting a room with a family on the island, headphones are a must. I’m cheap and traveling light so let’s go with Sony MDRZX100 headphones. I’ve used them for quite a while and like them. I find them comfortable for at least a couple of hours. Currently $15.09 on Amazon.
I enjoy the challenge of simplicity so, as far as an antenna goes, I would choose a simple long wire. Either a reel or one I build, $10-15. I get as much enjoyment from fussing with antennas as I do from turning knobs and dials. If my simple wire antenna doesn’t work when I get on location, then investigating and tinkering with antenna design and construction will fill the hours!
By the rules of the challenge, power is available but somewhat unreliable it sounds like. To meet that, I’m going with rechargeable batteries and enough to last for a while. AmazonBasics AA NiMH Rechargeable batteries (16 pack, 2000 mAh). Not the newest version, but should suffice for one year and 16 batteries should be enough for extended periods of no power. And, this may be a bit of a cheat, but I use AA batteries for everything, so I already have a charger!
Next, some sort of reference. I usually use either my laptop or a phone/tablet for frequencies/times from various sources, but given that there is no internet access in the residence and power may be occasionally spotty, let’s go with the World Radio/TV Handbook as a backup (I do miss Passport to World Band Radio!). I found WRTH on eBay (new, 2014 edition) for $27.24.
I assume I will have notebooks and pens for other reasons, so not included in the total.
Thanks, John! That should be enough AA batteries to keep you going well over a week with no power. Packing a WRTH makes a lot of sense. Via the island’s library Internet–however variable–you could download WRTH updates, as well.
from London Shortwave
The Global AT-2000 (Photo: RadioPics.com)
London Shortwave sent his suggestion in by tweet–a simple, proven combo:
If a laptop was coming along, I would have to use an SDR.
I would get the Afedri SDR USB-only model [see AFEDRI SDR-USB-HS above] for $159 (board only, I’d have to mount it in a sardine can). I would then use the remaining $41 for a cheap used antenna tuner and a random wire for an antenna. I think this kit would make for an excellent listening post.
Backup power would be a concern with the outages, so I am contemplating a 6-volt battery backup power system to power my Phillips 4-port USB hub (6 volt DC in requirement). From there the USB-hub will power/charge a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet (the laptop), the Afedri SDR and maybe a USB-powered speaker? Would have to test out this backup power scheme before boarding the boat!
I think I could do all of the above for $250 including the backup power system. Although it would likely push $300 when wires, cables etc are all in (does not include the tablet/laptop).
Thanks, Princehifi! So you’re a little over the $200 budget with all of the accessories, but if you already have a laptop and tablet, I think you could tweak your set-up to meet the budget goal. I did not realize that there was a USB only version of the Afedri SDR–I might have to get one of those myself!
Here’s my list. Where can’t get it locally and I don’t have a firm shipping cost, I’ve estimated it as an additional 20%. Stuff I can get locally (Radio Shack, etc.) I haven’t added any shipping or sales tax.
(That’s right, a spare radio. Because middle of nowhere.)
Grand total: $192
Now if I’m allowed to scrounge in the parts bin for stuff like 22 gauge antenna wire, RG58, and earbuds, there might be enough left over for a SECOND spare radio and 4 more Eneloops!
Thanks, Rob–you have a plan, indeed! Well thought through! I, too, would be very curious what sort of medium wave DX I could hear in the South Atlantic, especially since you know there would be no local blow-torch stations around. I have the Grundig version of the Tecsun AN200 and find it an essential antenna for portable MW DXing.
Grand total: $156.89 (all qualify for free shipping)
I’d guess I would save the rest for repair costs in case the radio acts up. Of course, I’d take the one I already have as a spare. When in remote locations, backups are essential so I probably bought more than most people think I need. And as far as the battery charger, rapid chargers are bad for most NiMH batteries so I went with a slower charger. And don’t forget that the Tecsun can charge the batteries in the radio when not in use.
Thanks, Michael! You are erring on the side of having extra batteries and more than enough wire for antennas; there’s no way you’ll run out in your one-year stay. On Tristan, I know that locals often trade supplies: those extra batteries may turn into an antenna support!
from Kenny B
Kenny B writes:
I love your site, I’m there everyday and almost forgot to enter so here it is:
1. Kaito 1102, I have had good luck with it and it has ssb, second choice would be a Tecsun PL-380, I really love this radio and it’s a great little dxing machine but no ssb. The Kaito is 64.95 on Amazon, free shipping.
8. Radio Shack 1/8th inch miniplug for end of coax, $4.00
Wow! Thanks, Kenny B! Other than the KA1102, your complete kit is DIY–I like it! You could build the battery charger and antenna prior to leaving.
1. Receiver: Wandel & Goltermann FE-8 Spy Radio Receiver (US$ 120 at a Hamfest)
Wandel & Goltermann FE-8 Spy Radio Receiver from the cold war (mine was manufactured in 1963. I bought it at a Hamfest in Sweden a month ago for the equivalent of US$ 120.[…]
For ruggedness there is nothing else like it. It is completely sealed and constructed from a single piece of die-cast machined aluminium and stainless steel. Just the thing for wet and rainy Atlantic islands! Covers 2.5 – 24 MHz and only needs 6 Volts at 8mA. A pack of twelve AAs will fit in my pocket and last at least a year with about three hours of listening every day. No adapter, no charger. The razor sharp 3.1 kHz Collins Mechanical Filter is not ideal for music but hard to beat for general news and SSB utility listening. Like the famous Collins R390 it uses a mechanical “digital” dial accurate to 1 kHz which also glows in the dark. […]It is smaller that a Tecsun 660 though it weighs a lot more. More about this radio here http://www.cryptomuseum.com/spy/sp15/fe8.htm
2. Antenna & Earth (US$ 15 in any electrical store)
Random length PVC insulated wires with a banana plugs- total 50 meters. The radio has a hi-impedance input and is sensitive enough to do a great job with just 20 m of wire. The rest is spare.
I’m all set for the trip now with $10 to spend on a supply of chewing gum. I know that this radio setup can easily deal with whatever is thrown at it… the question is if I can!
Thanks, Anil! Wow…I never saw that spy radio coming! It does look like an ideal radio for prolonged use and for pretty much any environmental conditions. I hope you realize that I will be bugging you (okay, pun intended!) to provide us with a few broadcast recordings from the FE-8. It’s certainly got my interest piqued!
Now, that was fun! Thank you all…
I know this sort of challenge may not appeal to everyone, but I really enjoy it. This sort of exercise forces you (though safely) outside the comfort-zone of a home radio set-up. Your responses are truly innovative. I only wish the Post could actually send our participants to Tristan de Cunha to try their set-ups out first-hand! I, for one, would love to come along…
Thanks, again, for your participation! If your response wasn’t included above, or I didn’t respond to you directly, please let me know: it’s possible I skipped over yours by mistake as there were quite a few responses to collate, and my email is managed by a rather discriminating SPAM filter.
Meanwhile, if you think of an alternative set-up–or would like to add your own to this post–please comment below!
Three of the five contenders: The Degen DE32, Degen DE321 and Tecsun R-2010D (Click to enlarge)
Following is my premiere shortwave radio column for the January 2014 issue of The Spectrum Monitor digital magazine. It takes the form of a review–or “shoot-out,” if you will–of a few select mechanically-tuned DSP radios I’ve tested over the years.
While I’m a big fan of print publications, digital publications like TSM offer me flexibility that I can’t get in traditional print: namely, shorter time to publication (thus more up-to-date information) and especially, the ability to embed links and audio as I do here on The SWLing Post. In this case, I’m able to include audio clips which the reader can utilize to compare the radios firsthand (embedded here, as well).
Note: This being my first contribution to a brand new magazine, I thought it would be fitting to begin by explaining why I still believe in shortwave radio…I mean, how could I resist? I guess I’ll always be a shortwave evangelist at heart.
Hope you enjoy.
First: why I still believe in shortwave
While I’ve been blogging about shortwave for several years now, I simply can’t tell you how many times I’ve received an email asking doubtfully, “This seems like a fun hobby, but isn’t shortwave radio dead?”
My response? No way! Here’s why.
I once had the truly good fortune to be interviewed by Gareth Mitchell, host of the BBC World Service technology program Click. For once, I made a point of listening to this interview that featured me––always a bit embarrassing––but after all, this was the BBC World Service!
But Gareth’s lead-in to our segment about my shortwave radio-based charity, Ears To Our World (ETOW), truly surprised me: our non-profit, he said, “distributes portable battery powered devices that can stream audio in real time, all via an intuitive touch interface.”
Wow…how true. And since that interview, this is exactly how I see shortwave radio, too: not as a forgotten relic of the past century, but as a medium at home in the future with a unique, highly accessible, and yet global reach. Shortwave radio, after all, requires no apps, no subscriptions, and no mobile phone or Internet connection to deliver information worldwide at the speed of light.
All you need––in short––is a radio.
This column exists to prove to the doubtful that shortwave radio––indeed, radio in general––is not only alive and well, but loud and clear in urban as well as rural settings the world over. Here, you’ll find in-depth articles that reflect the changing state of shortwave radio: the technologies, the techniques, and the vast array of content currently available across the shortwave radio spectrum. Best yet, because SWLing (shortwave listening) is what you make of it, you can be part of it: share your input, so that I can cover (and uncover) shortwave topics you wish to discuss.
So I begin this first column with a little comparison––a shootout––between five newly-popular analog DSP radios. Let’s find out who’s left standing.
We’ll be pitting five models against each other here: the Degen DE321, the Degen DE32, the Tecsun R-2010D, the Kchibo KK9803 and the ShouYu SY-X5. With the exception of the ShouYu SY-X5, all of these manufacturers have in the past produced at least one portable with truly notable performance (the Degen DE1102, 1103, Kchibo D96L and an array of Tecsuns, including the PL 310, 380, 390, 600 and 660).
Moreover––so that you can hear the difference for yourself!––I’ve included linked audio clips for each model. They were all tuned to the same frequency, same broadcast and within seconds of one another.
But first, what is a DSP radio? And why do we need them?
The Silicon Labs DSP chip found in many of these radios.
Radio is no longer just your granddad’s medium. Several years ago, the digital signal processing chip manufacturer, Silicon Labs (SiLabs), altered the entire radio landscape with one little chip. Indeed, most new digital shortwave/AM/FM radios on the market use a SiLabs (or other manufacturer’s) DSP chip as the centerpiece of their receiver architecture.
Using a DSP chip in a fully digital radio makes sense: after all, you have a digital display, digital buttons, and digital encoder. But using a digital chip with a traditional analog display––a mechanically-tuned DSP radio––does that make sense?
SiLabs and a growing number of radio manufacturers and retailers believe the answer is a resounding “yes.” In truth, there are concrete benefits to making this addition; among them:
Decreasing production cost of radios by as much as 80%
Decreasing R&D costs of new radios dramatically
Digital signal processing with the simplicity of analog radio design
Reduced power consumption when compared with digital display radios
An avenue to make radios more affordable––especially to listeners living in poverty, such as those in developing world settings, who make up a large subgroup of listeners
When I first learned about the implementation of a DSP chip with a mechanically-tuned radio in 2010, I felt like it might be “the” way to make quality receiver performance available and accessible to many. Now, four years later, several manufacturers have produced mechanically-tuned DSP shortwave radios. All are available from sellers at a price of under $40 USD. Not bad…
Common review points for mechanically-tuned DSP radios
I’ve now reviewed enough mechanically-tuned DSP-based radios that I’m beginning to note performance commonalities that can only be attributed to the design of the DSP chipset itself, regardless of how these are implemented in each model. So, before the shooting starts, let’s take a quick look at some common review points of the contenders.
Tuning: not quite an analog radio…
I’ve got to begin with the most obvious common review point: namely, tuning.
For those of us accustomed to analog tuning, the DSP/analog combination is, well, completely different and a little quirky. Tuning a traditional analog radio is a fluid process which allows for a certain amount of play; you need not be precisely on a frequency to hear a station, and often you hear a station fade as another pops into the band pass. But when tuning analog DSP, you hear stations and static pass by in comparatively coarse 5 kHz chunks. Especially in radios with tiny analog frequency dials, it makes tuning feel somewhat “sticky” or finicky, and ironically, rather imprecise. You feel like you’re skipping over stations while band-scanning. And for those accustomed to digital tuning, instead of using buttons to tune in these 5 kHz increments, you’re using a tuning wheel, with no customary “step” response. Not what you would expect from either digital or analog radio.
But of course, you can locate your station with this method. It takes a little practice––and a measure of patience––but you’ll adjust to this different method of tuning. Note that much of this awkwardness may disappear if SiLabs produces a chip with more precise tuning increments, such as 1 kHz steps with decreased muting.
Automatic Gain Control
In all the models I’ve tested so far, the Auto Gain Control (AGC) is a little too overactive when listening to weak AM/SW stations. This results in a “pumping” sound and serious listening fatigue when set on weaker stations. However, on strong stations, all models perform quite well.
Since all of these radios are based on the same chip family from SiLabs, you can expect eight shortwave bands: two FM bands, one AM (medium wave) band, and eight shortwave bands. The frequency ranges available to the manufacturer in all bands are identical.
FM performance on each of these radios is above average, and the coverage quite wide––from 64 MHz to 108 MHZ in two FM bands. If you like listening to FM radio, you’ll be pleased with any of these inexpensive models.
And now for some action!
Now, we’ll pit these five radios against each other in an listener’s challenge that will leave the losers in the dust…and the winners clear.
The Degen DE321 – Current retail: $21.00 USD
The DE321 was the first analog DSP shortwave radio on the market. The DE321 is small, slim, über-simple, and fits nicely in the hand. The analog tuning dial takes up more than half of the front face of the radio––a good thing, as the larger the dial, the easier the tuning. Performance-wise, the DE321 holds its own in this crowd; it’s quite reasonable in both sensitivity and selectivity. The DE321 is the most bare-bones radio among the five described here.
The Degen DE32 – Current retail: $27.00 USD
The DE32 is the smallest radio of the five. Unlike the DE321, the DE32 is not “just” a radio; it also sports a simple MP3 audio player and a small white LED flashlight. The DE32 has a small built-in speaker which delivers tinny and rather cheap audio, but is okay for a single listener, and fine for spoken-word broadcasts. Audio fidelity is greatly improved with headphones. Performance-wise, the DE321 is slightly better than the DE32 on shortwave.
The Tecsun R-2010D – Current retail: $39.00 USD
When I first held the R-2010D, I initially assumed I had found the holy grail among analog/DSP radios: while the R-2010D is the largest of the five radios, measuring nearly equivalent to my Sony ICF-SW7600GR (not a pocket-sized portable like the others) it nonetheless has a beautiful large analog display (a major plus!), an amply-sized speaker for great portable audio, and a fluid tuning mechanism. To top it off, the R-2010D has a small digital frequency display so that you can verify your frequency. The R-2010D’s AGC circuit handles strong stations well, but clips on weak stations. But the promising R-2010D has one major flaw: terrible selectivity. Indeed, the selectivity is so sloppy, that you will not be able to delineate two strong signals spaced 10 kHz apart from each other.
The ShouYu SY-X5 – Current retail: $27.00 USD
The SY-X5 surprised me: what makes this model stand out is the fact that it can be powered by either a rechargeable slim battery pack (found in the DE32) or three standard AA batteries. It also has a built-in MP3 player that, like the Degen DE32, uses a standard microSD card for media storage. Unlike the DE32, the SY-X5 has a bright red LED display that helps in navigating MP3 files. The SY-X5 also has surprisingly good audio from its built-in speaker, rivaling the much larger Tecsun R-2010D. The negative here? Though the SY-X5 has a fluid tuning mechanism, it is prone to drifting when trying to adjust the analog tuning needle to frequency.
The Kchibo KK9803 – Current retail: $16.00 USD
When I first wrote this review, I didn’t even include the KK9803. Why? Because, frankly, it’s one of the worst performing radios I’ve ever owned, and I would strongly discourage you from even considering it. My primary criticism of this radio is that the tuning is barely functional: the shortwave band segments are far too close to one another on the dial, hence the digital tuning steps are too narrowly-spaced to offer any sort of tuning accuracy whatsoever. Barely moving the tuning wheel, one may pass over even a strong station…undetectably. The only hint of the station’s existence may be an occasional quick blip or audio buzz. I must confess that the experience of band-scanning (tuning) this radio offers is the worst I’ve ever known in any radio. Don’t buy it. In our shootout, it’s bitten the dust before it even aims, because let’s face it: this radio just can’t.
Click on each radio model to hear a short comparison audio clips. Note that I added an audio sample of the Tecsun PL-660 to the weak signal DX examples as a benchmark.
The Tecsun R-2010D (left) produces excellent audio from its large internal speaker. The Degen DE32 (right) produces “tinny” audio via its tiny built in speaker.
All of these radios share similar qualities. After all, they’re brothers of a sort, built around the same family of DSP chips. If you’ve read the summaries above, then you won’t be disappointed by any of these that follow–especially at this modest price point. Still, I reach for different radios based on their strengths, and to help you choose, here’s a “best of” list:
Most versatile: ShouYu SY-X5
Best Audio: Tecsun R-2010D and ShouYu SY-X5
Best sensitivity: Tecsun R-2010D
Best value: Degen DE321
The ShouYu SY-X5
If I had to choose just one of these radios, it might just be the ShouYu SY-X5. It offers the most value and versatility for the performance. I think its audio is brilliant for a pocket radio, and I love the fact it has an LED display to help me navigate through the MP3 files loaded on my microSD card. However, as with any of these low-cost contenders, don’t expect to try any weak-signal DXing with the SY-X5.
By the way, if the Tecsun R-2010D simply had better selectivity and weak signal gain control, it would win this contest, hands down. In fact, I actually sent feedback to Tecsun engineering regarding the R-2010D selectivity shortcoming in the hope that they’ll fix this problem in future production runs. You might do the same.
In conclusion, mechanically-tuned DSP portables may not pack DXer-grade performance, but they are priced so that everyone can afford to experiment. And for your buck, that’s pretty good radio bang!
The Degen DE32 is one of the latest DSP-based analog radios to hit the market. In the past, I have reviewed two others: the Degen DE321 and the Kchibo KK-9803. Tecsun had announced a version of their own–the Tecsun R-2010–which I had eagerly anticipated, but I now believe it’s been dropped from their future offerings. [Update: Not true–the Tecsun has been released as the R-2010D, see review].
I purchased my Degen DE32 from this China-based seller on eBay. To my knowledge, eBay is the only place the DE32 can be purchased, at time of posting. As with the other radios mentioned above, my expectations were quite low for this little radio. After all, at $27 US (shipped), you can’t expect top-notch performance characteristics.
The DE32 un-boxed (Click to enlarge)
The DE32 comes with a carry strap, USB cable, a carry pouch, slim rechargeable battery, and operating instructions in Chinese. It does not come with a USB wall adapter (you’ll have to plug it into a USB port on your PC or other USB wall charger) and it does not come with a Micro SD card (for digital audio playback).
The DE32 has a small built-in speaker. The sound is a bit tinny, but is actually better than I expected from a speaker of this size. It makes for comfortable listening at close range–especially of spoken-word broadcasts. Happily, plugging in a good set of earphones helps audio fidelity tremendously. This is the only way I would listen to music on the DE32 for an extended period of time. On FM, in fact, audio via earphones is surprisingly good (again, for a $27 radio–check out the audio sample below).
(Click to enlarge)
The DE32 covers three radio bands: medium wave (AM), FM and shortwave (5.6-22 MHz). Performance between bands varies greatly. The best band, by far, is FM. Again, no surprise here, as the DE321 and KK-9803 performed quite well on FM.
Here’s a 20+ minute audio sample of a local classic rock radio station I recorded, 95.7FM The Ride:
From my home, I can pick up my benchmark distant NPR station quite easily if I hold the radio in my hand. If I place the radio in a window sill, its performance degrades somewhat and contains more static as the extra grounding (from holding the radio) made a positive difference. The audio, though, is still perfectly intelligible. Local FM stations come in quite clear and fidelity (through headphones) is excellent.
The Degen DE321 (left) and DE32 (right)
I found that strong local medium wave (AM) stations sound quite good on the DE32–better than its cousin, the DE321, by a small margin.
While traveling over the holidays in December, I recorded extended samples of local station (630AM WAIZ) with both the DE32 and the DE321. You can listen to audio samples below, but first it’s important to note that I recorded these (and the FM sample above) with my Zoom H2N digital audio recorder, with radios at a comparable volume and via an audio patch cord.
Note that these recordings represent what each radio sounds like via headphones, not their internal speakers.
You’ll note that the DE32 sounds a little fuller than the DE321, but reception is nearly identical on this local strong medium wave (AM) station. I also found that the DE32 was quite effective at nulling out local RFI (electrical noises) on medium wave. At the beginning of the recordings, above, you’ll hear the static increase and fade as I null out the noise by turning the body of the radio. The DE321 couldn’t null out the local noise quite as effectively as the DE32.
For medium wave DXing, though, you’re better off finding a different ultralight radio. The AGC simply can’t handle marginal signals. Indeed, the same AGC problems plague the shortwave bands as well. DXing would be very unpleasant as the AGC circuit simply can’t cope with weak signals or fading. All in all, as with medium wave, shortwave radio reception is fine for most strong signals.
Tecsun PL-380: What a difference an extra $23 makes
On shortwave, I decided to also compare the DE32 ($27) to the Tecsun PL-380 ($50). I tuned to a Radio Australia broadcast on 11,945 kHz. The comparison between these three portables is interesting:
Both the DE32 and DE321 struggled to receive the Radio Australia signal. In fact, if you really wanted to hear those broadcasts and had to listen on either radio for 30+ minutes it would be frustrating and fatiguing. Notice, however, the difference when listening to the same broadcast with the Tecsun PL-380:
The Tecsun PL-380 receives circles around the DE32 and DE321 on shortwave and medium wave (Click to enlarge)
There’s no comparison, really. In other words, you can hear it. The PL-380 has a lower noise floor, a fuller sound and no AGC problems as with the DE32 and DE321. Hence the reason I always take the PL-380 while travelling–and as a back-up if I plan to record a broadcast on-the-go.
On the shortwaves, as with medium wave, the DE32 is respectable when tuned to a strong signal. For comparison to the weaker signals above, here is a short recording of the DE32 tuned to Radio Havana Cuba:
Not too bad, really. Keep in mind, though, that in my part of North America, Radio Havana broadcasts are so strong that I can pick them up without even extending the whip antenna on most portables.
The DE32 has a built-in LED flashlight (Click to enlarge)
I haven’t tested the digital audio playback on the DE32 yet, although I expect the audio to be pleasant enough. Of course, it lacks a display to show any information about the audio you’re playing, but it would be great to load a few podcasts or audio books on.
In summary, I’ve tabulated the pros and cons below from the moment I took the DE32 out of the box, below. Note that these pros and cons take into account the $27 price level of this radio:
Very portable and lightweight
With micro SD card, storage for hours of pre-recorded content (though not tested in this review)
Adequate shortwave coverage (5.6 to 22 MHz) (see con)
Good audio fidelity, via headphones, on strong stations, slightly better than the DE321
Above average FM reception
Great nulling ability on medium wave (AM)
Features a built-in LED light (see con)
Overall build quality seems to be acceptable
Standard analog volume control (not digitally incremented levels)
Red LED tune light (see con)
Shortwave sensitivity and selectivity are poor
Shortwave coverage lacks the lower tropic bands
Bandwidth is not adjustable and too broad for crowded conditions
AGC (as with many DSP portables in this class) cannot deal with weaker DX stations
Medium wave (AM) imaging on the shortwave bands if strong local station present
Antenna slightly loose in antenna hole when fully extended
No battery level indicator
No back stand
Tinny sound from tiny built-in speaker
To operate LED flashlight, you must press a button continuously to keep illuminated and LED bulb orientation does not help with reading display in dark (see pro)
No option for standard AA or AA batteries–only included li-ion rechargeable pack
LED tuning light only works with very strong stations (see pro)
Conclusion? Though slim, lightweight and inexpensive, I wouldn’t find the DE32 DSP radio/digital audio player a useful radio in my collection.
If I were you, would I buy it?
If you’re looking for a very inexpensive MP3/Digital Audio player with AM/FM and shortwave, and your expectations are fairly low, the Degen DE32 is a reasonable $27 piece of kit. Especially if you only plan to use the FM band.
If the digital audio playback abilities are not important to you, I would go with the cheaper ($18 US) Degen DE321.
But if you really want performance on medium wave and shortwave, and you could care less about digital audio playback, spend the extra $23 ($50 total) and buy the Tecsun PL-380, instead. As you can hear above, it’s a much, much better receiver.
Don’t be fooled by looks: the Degen DE321 is not your dad’s portable shortwave radio. Behind the analog face hides cutting-edge DSP (digital signal processing) technology that makes this slim cell-phone-sized radio a quirky yet pleasing portable. The impact upon your wallet will be slim, as well: this radio will set you back only $21 bucks. One additional note to tuck away–don’t hesitate to order the DE321 if you want to put it in your sweetheart’s Christmas stocking. There’s an approximate two week delivery time, as this radio can only be ordered from vendors in Hong Kong, and airmail doesn’t come with a confirmation date. [Read our recent full review of the DE321 if you want more details about this little radio.]
When I flew cross-country to visit a friend on the coast of British Columbia earlier this year, I had very limited space in my carry-on bag. I required a radio companion of a modest size, one that performs well on all bands–not just the shortwaves–for I intended to listen to local and distant AM (medium wave) stations, too. My choice was simple: the Tecsun PL-380. This little radio is affordable, compact, and has (especially with the aid of headphones) excellent audio. It’s powered by a pretty innovative DSP chip that helps pull stations out of the static, as well.
Keep in mind, if you’re planning to purchase any Tecsun product, to allow at least a two week delivery time, especially if ordering from eBay. Occasionally, Kaito (the US distributor of the PL-380) will sell some stock on eBay; in this case, delivery is quicker and the unit carries a US warranty.
Simply put, the Tecsun PL-600 offers the best bang for your buck in 2011. The PL-600 is not the newest offering from Tecsun; in fact, it’s a model that has been on the market for several years. (Tecsun’s PL-660 is basically the updated version of the PL-600.) For $60, though, you get a very capable, sensitive and selective portable shortwave radio with SSB capabilities and nifty auto-tune features. I liken its performance to the legendary and highly-regarded Grundig G5 (which is no longer in production).
The PL-600 is easy to use, has reasonable audio fidelity from the built-in speaker, and sports a display with all of the essential elements for casual shortwave listening or hard-core DXing. I have found the quality of Tecsun radios to be superb. The PL-600 is a great size/weight for portability–it will easily fit into a suitcase or carry-on–it is not, however, a pocket radio.
Okay, so forget everything I said about the PL-600 if you’re able and willing to invest another $50-60 into your radio gift. The beefier Tecsun PL-660 is new to the market in 2011 and has quickly gained the respect of the shortwave community. It is, in essence, an updated version of the PL-600, with improved performance, sync detection, a band for listening to aircraft, and RDS for displaying FM radio station info. As with other Tecsuns, eBay sellers provide better pricing, but Kaito does sell these radios on Amazon.com as well. If you purchase from Ebay, do so at least two weeks in advance of gift-giving time–again, these radios make a trip from Hong Kong via airmail.
This large portable (along with the C.Crane SW) is still my first pick for someone who wants excellent radio performance, but also wants a radio that is simple and straight-foward, with ease of use in mind (i.e., grandparents, children, your uncle who gets muddled by the TV’s remote control). It comes with an owner’s manual, but you most likely won’t need it. The S450DLX has robust, room-filling sound. Ergonomics are excellent, and it sports a large, comfortable tuning knob. Audio performance is very good and enhanced by its large front-facing speaker. This is not a pocket or travel portable, rather a tabletop portable. The S450DLX will please both the beginner and seasoned radio listener.
This Sony shortwave radio is a classic, with solid, time-tested performance, and features to please both the beginner and the seasoned radio enthusiast. I like to include different radios each year in the gift guide, but the Sony ICF-SW7600GR is on the list again this year. It’s probably the only radio on this list that isn’t made in China–it’s made in Japan!–and is built, as one of my ham buddies says, “like a brick toilet.” (Ahem, just meaning that it’s sturdy and reliable). The ‘7600 will deliver some of the best performance that you’ll find in a portable on this page. At $120-150 US, it’s not the cheapest on the market, but certainly one of the best. I regret that its days are limited as Sony pulls out of the shortwave market; but mark my words, this one will become a classic.
The Alinco DX-R8T is new to the market in 2011. We reviewed it, in detail, only recently; in short, it impressed us. It’s full-featured, performs well, and comes at a very affordable price. If you’re buying this for a ham radio operator, they’ll understand the reason why the Alinco DX-R8T needs a 12 volt power supply and an external antenna. It’s a receiver version of a ham radio transceiver–as such, it does a fine job on SSB modes.
Let’s face it, these are tough economic times. So, you may be wondering why I would put a radio in this list that’s priced the same as two Tata Nano passenger cars. Why? Because, if you have the money, I promise the performance of the RX-340 is not likely to disappoint even the most discerning of radio listeners. It is a textbook-perfect, 12.5 lb. example of form following function. Heavy, man. But it is very, very good. Sure, you could buy two hundred (and eleven) lightweight Degen DE321s for that kind of money, but who wants that many portables cluttering up the den when you could lounge by the fire and tune in an RX-340 instead? Close your eyes, sip your favorite scotch, and just…listen to the world.
While waiting for the Tecsun R-2010 to hit the market, Degen just introduced their DE321–a very affordable DSP-based portable analog shortwave radio.
We have one on order and will review it soon. (UPDATE: Click here for our review.) At $21 US shipped, this could be a real bargain (see eBay search link below). The Tecsun R-2010 is also rumored to be available in December. We will compare the Degen DE321 to the Tecsun R-2010. I suspect that they both implement the SiLabs Si4831 DSP chipset. Thanks to the Herculodge for the tip!
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