Tag Archives: General Coverage Transceivers

Teaching an old dog old tricks

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

It was Don Moore’s excellent article — An Introduction to DXing the MF Marine Bands — that inspired me. If you haven’t read it, do so now; it’s terrific. But be warned: my guess is that it will inspire you too.

Bottom line, ever since I read it, I have very much wanted to hear at least some of those MF marine stations that Don writes about. One of Don’s recommendations is “Hang Out on 2182 kHz.” So sometimes when I am messing around in the radio shack, I will park one of my shortwave receivers on 2182 USB in the hopes of hearing some marine communications. 2182 is the frequency that the US Coast Guard once monitored as a distress frequency, but no more.

According to Don: “Today 2182 kHz still gets some use as a calling frequency, where a ship and a shore station quickly arrange to have a conversation on another frequency. But the more common use now is for shore-based marine broadcasters to pre-announce marine information broadcasts they are about to transmit on other frequencies.”

Just the other day, I brought up 2182 on my Satellit 800, but the atmospheric noise was pretty bad. I fooled around with a couple of different indoor wire antenna configurations but wasn’t able to achieve any substantial improvement. But in the midst of that messing around, I “rediscovered” my Icom IC-706 MkIIG on a shelf. It receives from 30 kHz to 199 MHz and from 400 to 470 MHz, and I used mine for over a decade to run the Commuter Assistance Network on two meters. I still keep the 706 as a back-up in case my main rig for running the net goes down.

But I had never used the 706 extensively on HF (weird, I know, but that’s the truth). Nevertheless, a little voice in the back of my head (probably one of the brain dudes) kept saying “Why don’t you give the 706 a try as an HF receiver?”

So I did. I hooked up the 706 up to my horizontal room loop through some coax and an LDG 9:1 unun (the same antenna setup I had been using on the Satellit 800). And – shazam – the 706 is substantially quieter on 2182 with that antenna than the Satellit 800.

That’s good, I thought, but what if the 706 appears to be quieter because it is less sensitive? So I did some comparative tests with the 706 and the Satellit 800 on the 80 and 40 meter ham bands and satisfied myself that the 706 is both quieter and more sensitive than the Satellit 800. I could just plain hear the signals better (and more pleasantly) with the 706.

The only substantial weirdness with the Icom 706 MkIIG is that, as a small unit, it has relatively few buttons on its face. As a result, it has no keypad for direct frequency access. There are buttons for jumping from one ham band to another and another button for changing tuning steps, so with judicious use of those buttons and the tuning knob, it’s fairly easy to get from one frequency to another, but it is not as fast as direct entry.

And, of course, the 706 does not have all the cool seek-and-store functions and the like that are available on today’s really slick shortwave portables.

Here’s the upshot: if you’ve been on the hunt for a better HF receiver with single sideband capabilities, an old dog, like an old ham transceiver, might be just what you need. And if you are already enjoying an old ham transceiver as a shortwave receiver, I’d like to hear about it.

So, have I heard any of those cool MW maritime stations? Not yet, but I’m sure I’ll have fun trying!

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The new Xiegu X6100: Is it a good SW/MW broadcast band receiver?

Late last year, Xiegu started shipping their latest portable rig: the Xiegu X6100.

The X6100 is an all-in-one QRP SDR field transceiver. It sports an internal antenna tuner, internal Li-Ion rechargeable battery pack, and even an internal mic for hams who don’t want to carry the supplied mic to the field. For field operators, it’s in the very desirable “shack in a box” category. Just hook up an antenna and you’re on the air.

The X6100 got a lot of attention in the ham radio market because in many ways it resembles the Icom IC-705.

The X6100 sports top-mounted controls, a beautiful high resolution color display, and front-facing speaker. At $630 US, it’s less than half the cost of a new IC-705.

As with pretty much all modern SDR transceivers, the X6100 has variable filters and a general coverage receiver. The X6100’s receiver has gapless coverage from 0.5 MHz to 30MHz and 50MHz to 54MHz, thus covering the mediumwave and shortwave broadcast bands.

Radioddity sent me a loaner X6100 that I took delivery of on December 23, 2021.

Literally, the first thing I did was tune it to the 31 meter broadcast band.

While I’ve spent the bulk of my time with the X6100 in the field testing it as a QRP transceiver, in the shack I’ve done a fair amount of SWLing both in AM mode and (pirate radio stations) in SSB mode.

My assessment

I’ve received a number of inquiries from SWLing Post readers about the X6100 asking how it stacks up to the IC-705 from an SWL’s perspective, so I thought I’d share my impressions so far to help guide any potential purchase decisions. I’ll provide much more detail in my upcoming review in The Spectrum Monitor magazine (likely in March or April 2022).

In short: I would not buy the Xiegu X6100 specifically for shortwave broadcast listening.

While the frequency coverage is ideal, the variable filters are useful, and the color spectrum display and waterfall (in terms of the interface) are benchmark, the radio has a few cons from an SWL perspective:

  1. I have noticed imaging on the spectrum display as I tune through the broadcast bands (shortwave and mediumwave). I seriously doubt this is something that can be addressed in firmware.
  2. The X6100 does not have a robust front-end. A number of my readers on QRPer.com who live near strong broadcast stations have noted that it’s almost unusable from home.
  3. The audio is typical of Xiegu radios, meaning it’s unrefined and a bit harsh. I find it a bit fatiguing over extended listening sessions both using the internal speaker and headphones.

In fairness, the X6100 wasn’t designed with the SWL in mind.

With the negatives out of the way, the X6100 is very much a usable radio for casual broadcast listening. You might even be able to push it into a little DX action as well. If you plan to purchase the X6100 for ham radio activities anyway, consider broadcast listening as a bit of “icing on the cake.”

X6100 vs. IC-705 from an SWL’s perspective

I’ve been asked specifically about how the X6100 compares with the IC-705 in terms of shortwave and mediumwave listening.

There’s really no competition: the IC-705 is better than the X6100 by orders of magnitude in this regard.

The IC-705 is a high-performance radio with receiver qualities that would please most serious DXers. (Check out some of 13DKA’s reports!). That level of RX performance and filtering comes with a $1,300 US price tag.

The X6100 was designed to be price-competitive and to have ample performance and a tool set to please the low-power ham radio field operator. I feel like it’s a success in this regard. When I’m in the field performing a park or summit activation, I’m typically far removed from urban RFI and blowtorch broadcasters. The field operations I’ve performed so far with the X6100 (mostly in CW/Morse Code) have been quite successful and enjoyable.

I hopes this helps! Again, I’ll have more detail about the Xiegu X6100 in my upcoming detailed review in The Spectrum Monitor magazine. If you’re interested in how the X6100 performs as a QRP transceiver in the field, check out my reports on QRPer.com.

Thank you!

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New Reuter Elektronik RDR52 QRP general coverage transceiver

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Zantow, who notes that Reuter Elektronik recently introduced their latest radio: the RDR52 QRP Transceiver.

Here’s the announcement from the Reuter Elektronik website:

RDR52 in standard “black” and special “metal”

The RDR52 can basically be seen as a desktop version of the popular Reuter Pocket mobile device. Astonishingly, the Pocket is often used as a full-fledged desktop receiver. Many operators report that they have sold their “large” devices and now only use the Pocket because it pairs good reception properties with simple operation and offers a very effective spectrum display while keeping the power consumption to a minimum.

However, the battery-powered Pocket was never designed for that purpose. First, it needs a stand-up aid to be easy to operate on your desktop (display almost vertical). Second, the playback volume of the loudspeakers is low and turning the scroll wheel feels finicky. Third, operation on a constant charging current supply is suboptimal for the built-in batteries: Constant full charging shortens their service life.

The RDR52 avoids these disadvantages. It essentially contains the circuit and thus the display and reception properties as well as the operating options of the Pocket. Due to the larger housing (heat dissipation) and a slightly higher possible current consumption (no batteries as power supply), improvements in the IM behavior (more powerful preamplifiers and AD converters) could be achieved. Other differences to the Pocket include:

    • Aluminum profile housing 190 x 90 x 100 mm³ with 5 mm thick front and 2 mm thick rear panel, powder-coated / anodized.
    • BNC sockets for antenna connection, separate for 0 – 71 MHz, FM / 2m / DAB and exciter / QRP transmitter.
    • Large rotary knob with solid optical rotary encoder.
    • Additional rotary knob for volume adjustment of headphones and loudspeakers.
    • Two 32 mm loudspeakers with good bass reproduction.
    • External power supply DC voltage 9 – 15 V (common hollow pin socket with 2.5 mm pin).

All the Pocket’s enhancements are also available for the RDR52 (broadband spectrum with up to 52.6 MHz display width, 8 different FM filters for extreme DX to high-end stereo, up to 16 GBit flash memory for audio or I/Q recordings, screen dump of the display to the recorder, WiFi, Bluetooth, power supply and control of the RLA4 / RFA1 directly from the antenna input, …). Two basic hardware versions will be available: Standard black with simple loudspeakers and plastic knobs, or a special version with metal knobs and aluminum loudspeaker membranes.

The equipment of different transmitter modules and frequency ranges has been a bit expanded in contrast to the Pocket. Two modules can be installed in the RDR52 at the same time (Pocket: only 1 module). This means, for example, that the FM module and the SW QRP transmitter can be installed at the same time, or the broadband exciter can be installed without the need for an FM module. However, equipping both transmitter modules (exciter and QRP transmitter at the same time) is not possible.

The RDR52 is in production and is expected to be available from the end of December 2021. Prices according to the current price list.

Based on the price list, it appears the RDR52 will start at € 999 with a number of optional upgrades/configurations.

Click here for more information.

Thank you for the tip, Dave!

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My new-to-me TEN-TEC Argonaut V

While browsing the QTH.com classifieds last weekend, I found an ad for a Ten-Tec Argonaut V (Model 516).

The Argo V was a general coverage HF transceiver produced by TEN-TEC starting around 2003 or so. When it was introduced to market, I wanted one because I thought not only would it be a great QRP transceiver, but TEN-TEC rigs tended to have brilliant audio and were capable broadcast band receivers.

The seller described it as being in “pristine condition and operating to factory specs on all bands.”

The seller seemed to be a nice fellow and sent me a number of photos with his QSL card in the image and his email address matched what was on file with QRZ.com. The seller checked out on many levels confirming this wasn’t a scam (always assume a classifieds listing could be a scam!).

I purchased it last week and it was delivered today.

The first thing I did after connecting it to a power supply was tune to the 31 meter band, switch the mode to AM, and widen the variable filter to 6 kHz (the Argo’s max AM bandwidth).

So far, I’m impressed!

For a ham radio transceiver, I can tell that the Argo V is going to be a competent rig for casual shortwave radio listening.

I also tuned to the mediumwave band (not having even checked in advance its lower RX limit) and am happy to report that it covers the whole AM BC band as well.

If I’m being honest, though, the real reason I’ve always wanted an Argonaut V, specifically, is because I absolutely love the front panel design of this radio.

The large LED digit frequency display is fabulous and has–as my buddy Eric put it–a certain “Apollo era” aesthetic. The large frequency display was one of my favorite things about my beloved OMNI VI+ as well.

I’ll admit that I also love a good analog meter!

The Argonaut V also has a very simple, very Ten-Tec, front panel with good field ergonomics. In fact, the Argo V is a very simple radio: there are no modern features like message memory keying, built-in batteries, nor does it have an internal ATU.

Although spec-wise, I’ve much better receivers at SWLing Post HQ, I’m looking forward traveling the shortwaves with the Argo V!

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Are there any tabletop shortwave receivers currently on the market?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Peter, who asks:

Two of the tabletop shortwave receivers recommended in the past are listed as discontinued by retailers. Do you have any current recommendations?

Great question, Peter. I’m guessing that you’re looking for a new tabletop communications receiver and I also assume you may be referring to the CommRadio CR-1a and the Alinco DX-R8T. Both of these have been discontinued by the manufacturer.

Fewer options than in the past

To my knowledge, there are very few dedicated, stand-alone tabletop shortwave receivers currently on the market.

The ELAD FDM-DUOr

One notable exception is the ELAD FDM-DUOr which is essentially a tabletop, stand-alone SDR. It is an excellent performer and I believe still available from ELAD for about $900 US. The FDM-DUOr is currently the best option I know of under $1,000 US.

There are still a handful of dedicated communications receivers on the market, but they tend to be wideband receivers and carry a heavier price tag than legacy HF-only receivers.

The new Icom IC-8600 at the 2017 Hamvention

One example is the Icom IC-R8600. It’s a great HF radio–click here to read the review–but it retails for around $2,200 US.

In addition, AOR still offers a variety of wideband analog and digital communications receivers, but again, the prices are all well over the $1,000 mark.

What happened to tabletop receivers?

Icom IC-705

In my opinion, two innovations pushed dedicated tabletop receivers off the market:

  1. The proliferation of high-performance, affordable software defined radios like the AirSpy HF+ Discovery and SDRplay RSPdx. Both of these models retail for less than $200 US new and offer superb performance when coupled with even a modest PC, laptop, or tablet. In addition, those seeking benchmark SDR receiver hardware and performance will invest in higher-priced models like the new ELAD FDM-S3. Click here to read Part 1 of our SDR primer.
  2. General coverage ham radio transceivers now provide performance that’s on par or even better than legacy tabletop receivers. Many shortwave listeners now purchase transceivers and simply disable the transmit function so that they don’t accidentally inject RF power into the antenna. Transceivers lack some broadcast listener features like synchronous detection, but their single sideband performance often compensates for this, in my opinion. Some current (sub $1,000 US) favorites among SWLs include the Icom IC-7300, and the Yaesu FT-891. I’m also a huge fan of the new Icom IC-705 portable transceiver, although its price point is closer to $1,300 US. Click here to read more about general coverage transceivers.

If SDRs and general coverage transceiver lack appeal, keep in mind that there are a multitude of legacy communications receivers on the used market.

I should add here that one Ohio-based manufacturer, Palstar, has mentioned that they plan to produce the Palstar R30B tabletop shortwave receiver which would be the latest iteration of their R30 series. This announcement has been out there for some time, though, and I’m not sure when or if the R30B will ever come to fruition.

More options?

To keep the scope of the original question in check, I’m leaving out a number of other viable options like larger portable radios (the Sangean ATS-909X2 and/or the Tecsun H-501 for example) and other inexpensive DSP receivers on eBay like those based on the  Si4732 chipset.

Have I missed something? Please comment if you know of other tabletop communications receivers currently on the market. Also, if you use a general coverage transceiver for SWLing, please share which make/model you like in the comments section! Click here to comment.

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Giuseppe compares the Icom IC-R8600 with the IC-705

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Giuseppe Fisoni, who reached out a few weeks ago noting that he was very impressed with the Icom IC-705‘s receiver performance even compared with his Icom IC-R8600 wideband receiver.

I asked Giuseppe if he would perhaps write up a short informal report to share here on the SWLing Post. He just sent me the following notes:


Hi Thomas,

[…]Consider this more of a qualitative comparison – just S meter readings with a few brief notes.

My overall impression is that the IC-705 is a fantastic SW receiver, as you’ve already made clear on all your posts. In most cases, it holds up well against the IC-R8600, and even performs better in some cases. I have some notes below, which you are welcome to share with your readers if you’d like. For a while I also had two IC-705s in my hands, so I even got to test “replicas” with the 705 (there was no major difference but it was still fun to do).

A few things about my comparisons:
1. All tests were done using a 50’ long wire antenna (house to tree) with an un-un.
2. The IC-R8600 was operated using an ICOM AC adaptor (creating a disadvantage), while the IC-705 was run on battery. However, I tried to only compare stations where the noise floors were comparable and the 8600 didn’t have any RFI.
3. I tried my best to normalize the RF gains on each radio, but this became somewhat difficult. I’m not sure if they are on the same scale (i.e. does 80% RF gain mean the same thing on both radios?). Also, I very quickly noticed that turning up the RF gain on the 8600 only increased the S meter reading and apparent noise floor on the waterfall spectrum, but it did not actually make the audible signal or noise audibly stronger. This was especially true from 50% and up on the RF gain. In contrast, the RF gain on the 705 operated as you’d expect – the more you turned it up, the higher the gain on the signal (and noise), evenly across 0-100%.

Test #1

2021.02.08
0211 UTC
3,330 kHz CHU

IC-705: weak signal but audible, S6
IC-R8600: no signal!

Winner: clearly 705. Shocked the 8600 couldn’t pick up CHU!

Test #2

2021.02.08
0219 UTC
3,215 kHz WWCR Nashville

IC-705: S9+20
IC-R8600: S9+20 to S9+40.

Winner: Tie – although the 8600 had a stronger signal on the S meter, it didn’t really sound any better than the S9+20 on the 705.

Test #3

2021.02.18
1958 UTC
9,690 kHz Radio Espana Exterior

IC-705: S9 to S9+10
IC-R8600: S9+20

Winner: Another tie – the stronger signal didn’t make much of a difference. The 8600 only sounded slightly better because of its speaker, not the receiver, so I’m calling it a tie.

Test #4

2021.02.18
2001 UTC
10,000 kHZ WWV

IC-705: S3, very weak
IC-R8600: S7 to S9 but high atmospheric noise

Winner: 8600

Test #5

2021.02.18
2006 UTC
11,820 kHz Radio Riyadh

IC-705: S1, barely detectable
IC-R8600: S5 to S7, intelligibility unstable

Winner: 8600

Test #6

2021.02.18
2012 UTC
15,000 kHz WWV

IC-705: S3 to S5
IC-R8600: S9, slightly clearer and crisper tones

Winner: 8600, but not by much

Test #7

2021.02.18
2015 UTC
15,580 kHz VOA Selebi-Phikwe, Botswana

IC-705: S1 to S3, in and out with fading
IC-R8600: S9, much more stable signal

Winner: 8600

Test #8

2021.02.19
00016 UTC
7,780 kHz WRMI Slovakia International

IC-705: S9 solid, stable signal
IC-R8600: S9, same

Winner: Tie

Test #8

2021.02.18
0022 UTC
6,604 kHz USB Gander VOLMET

IC-705: S5 to S7
IC-R8600: S9

Winner: Tie, no real difference

Test #9

2021.04.09
2335 UTC
11,940 kHz Radio Exterior Espana

IC-705: S5 to S9 solid signal with some fading
IC-R8600: S9

Winner: Tie – no obvious difference

Test #10

2344 UTC
9,420 kHz Helliniki Radiophonia, Greece

IC-705: S9 +20. Excellent signal
IC-R8600: S9+ 20-30. Excellent signal

Winner: Again, a tie. But the wonderful Greek music reminds you again how much better the speaker is on the 8600.

Overall

Here’s the important thing: even though in most cases the IC-R8600 pulled in a much higher S meter reading, it often didn’t matter unless the difference between the two radios was a lot. In cases where it mattered, I could have turned up the RF gain or preamp on the 705 to match the signal on the 8600 (unless it was really weak on the 705), but I was trying to avoid that for the sake of having some baseline for comparison. How comparable are RF gain levels across ICOM radios?

IC-705 pros/cons take aways for me:

    • High level of portability and ability to operate on battery
    • Has desktop-like features and controls
    • Ability to use tripod or custom stand offers custom ergonomics (I found it easier to look at and interact with than the 8600, which has a lower angle of display)
    • All-in-one package: SWR + HF/VHF/UHF transceiver
    • Built-in audio speaker leaves a lot to be desired, definitely not desktop receiver audio quality
    • No stereo headphone jack

My verdict

I am quite impressed with the IC-705! I am looking to downsize my radios and these comparisons have convinced me that the 705 can really check a lot of boxes for what I am looking for in a radio. I think it really offers a lot in a small footprint, which I find very impressive. So, since I have no use in monitoring anything above UHF, I will be looking to sell the IC-R8600, even though it is also a very great radio.

All the best,
Giuseppe


Fascinating report, Giuseppe! Thank you so much for taking the time to perform these comparisons and sharing them with us.

Like you, I believe the IC-705 could replace a number of my other radios. I originally purchased it for my review and planned to sell it after, but quickly realized there’s no way I’m selling it. In fact, it could convince me to sell other radios it effectively makes redundant.

For SWLs who have limited space for a listening post in their home and who like to take their radio to the field, the IC-705 is a no-brainer. It’s an investment at $1,300 US, but I believe it’s a quality rig and certainly an outstanding, feature-packed unit.

I’ve found that the IC-705’s performance on HF and Mediumwave is truly DX-grade. I imagine its FM performance is as well.

It’s funny that you mention the IC-705 front-facing speaker as a con, because I often tout it as a pro. Thing is, I’m most often comparing the IC-705 with other field-portable QRP transceivers. Compared with them, the IC-705 speaker is amazing.  But compared to the IC-R8600 or, say, a Drake R8B or SW8? Yeah, I agree with you 100%–it’s just not in the same league with those tabletop receivers. Of course, you can port out the audio to a better speaker if needed. (Indeed, the IC-705 even has built-in Bluetooth!)

Thanks again for sharing your notes with us, Giuseppe!

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Guest Post: Mark’s review of the Yaesu FT-891 as shortwave broadcast receiver

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Hirst, who shares the following guest post:


Using the Yaesu FT-891 for SWLing

by Mark Hirst

Woodland Operation in North Hampshire

Introduction

While I have a small collection of portable shortwave radios for outdoor listening, I’ve been looking to fill a gap in my amateur radio lineup for a while. Outdoor operation has become important in recent years as solar cycle conditions deteriorated along with rising levels of QRM in urban neighbourhoods. The ICOM IC–7200 with Wellbrook loop stays at home fighting a losing battle with PLA noise, while the very portable FT–817ND does occasional data modes contacts and outdoor listening. Somewhere in the middle, the FT–891 promised to provide a modern and more powerful data modes station, a radio to take on holidays, needing external batteries, but portable enough for walks into the country side. Earlier this year, I bought one new from my local ham radio store, and what follows are my findings and observations so far on shortwave listening.

Audio Characteristics

I’ve accumulated hundreds of recordings of VOA Radiogram and Shortwave Radiogram since 2013, so a recent woodland expedition with the FT–891 was an opportunity to compare a recording made with it against those of other radios I’ve used.

The most striking difference is the lack of frequencies in the lower part of the audio spectrum along with a distinct cut off at around 5kHz.

This is easily visualised in the following comparison between the FT–891 and the Tecsun PL–680. Note the conspicuous pillar associated with MFSK32 from these Shortwave Radiogram broadcasts, and interfering RTTY on the FT–891 recording:

Audio Frequency Analysis

While this audio profile may not be to everyone’s taste, the extra sparkle yields voice audio that is clear and distinct. I find those low frequencies make the audio muddy and tiring to listen over long periods, so I’m quite happy with this.

When listening to speech based broadcasts through the top mounted speaker, the audio is also precise and intelligible, and provides more than enough volume.

You can judge for yourself from this 2 minute video I made recently:

Headphones, External Speakers and Recording

You also have the option of connecting an external speaker or headphones to a socket on the side of the radio. Be aware that the audio level is different for headphones, and is controlled by a small switch hidden behind the front panel. I expect people may go for one option such as headphones and then stick with it, rather than continually detaching the front of the radio and moving the delicate switch back and forth.

If you turn the volume right down you will hear a hiss, although its really only noticeable if you face the speaker directly and get close. Listening outdoors with the sounds of nature around you? It’ll be fine. There’s no way to avoid it with headphones of course, with forums suggesting inline resistors or high impedance headphones as solutions.

Audio recordings can of course be taken from the headphone socket, but you will get better results from the data port on the back. I use a UD04YA cable which provides 3.5mm audio in and audio out jacks, plus a USB cable to provide PTT functionality. It’s meant for data modes operation with the FT–817, but I have used it successfully with the FT–891 for PSK contacts using fldigi, eliminating the need for CAT control through a second cable to the radio’s USB port.

Customising for SWL

The advanced manual for the FT–891 helpfully provides a section called ‘Tools for Comfortable and Effective Reception’, so I began configuring the radio using the guidance there.

First up was re-configuring the front panel RF/Squelch knob to only control RF gain (Menu 05–05). I use the same configuration on my FT–817ND to dial back RF gain, allowing the AGC to pick up the slack.

Next was enabling the awkwardly named Insertion Point Optimisation (IPO) which switches out the pre-amplifier. It’s interesting to note that this setting can be associated with a stored memory channel, which became relevant later when I used CAT control to program some favourite frequencies.

The radio has an attenuator, although I’ve not found a need for it so far.

The AGC can be configured as Auto, Fast, Mid, and Slow. Since it is not a ‘set and forget’ setting like the RF control or IPO options, it might be a good candidate for assigning to one of the three user definable buttons below the LCD screen.

Audio can be fine tuned using four menu options (06–01 to 06–04) to control high and low frequency cutoff, but after some experimentation I have turned these options off.

As an aside, I found the LCD backlight, button illumination and TX/Busy lights too bright for indoor use, so dialed them back to their minimum values.

Listening Tools

The radio provides some additional tools as part of its IF DSP. The features of particular interest are Digital Noise Reduction (DNR), Noise Blanker, IF Notch Filter, Digital Notch Filter, and Narrow IF filter. Contour, IF Bandwidth, and IF Shift are not available in AM mode, and you must resort to SSB to get them. More about SSB in a moment.

Out of this wide array of options, I’ve only explored Digital Noise Reduction and the Narrow IF filter so far, as they offer fairly immediate gains without too much configuration.

Narrow filter simply reduces the total IF bandwidth from 9kHz to 6kHz, which gives some immediate relief to higher frequency noise. In tougher conditions at home tackling QRM, the harsher sound it causes has sometimes been counter productive.

At the outset, it’s obvious that the DNR capability of the FT–891 is a powerful feature. Rather than providing a level of processing that varies from a little to a lot, the radio provides 15 different ‘algorithms’ which can be selected for best results. This means you will tweak the DNR setting to address signals on a case by case basis.

Comparing it with the IF noise reduction of my ICOM IC–7200, the ICOM has a scale of diminishing returns as the DSP level is turned up, whereas the FT–891 seems to start strong and it’s more about picking the algorithm that sounds best.

After testing the DNR on AM broadcast stations away from the noise at home, voice audio sounds distant and words can be clipped, which is fine for SSB amateur radio contacts, but makes me think it’s not a feature of first resort when trying to improve broadcast reception. In those circumstances, the narrow filter might be a better option.

The Trials of Single Side Band

On the matter of SSB and using it to combat adjacent or co-channel signals, the radio offers a single SSB option in the mode menu, picking USB or LSB for you automatically based on the current band. When tackling broadcast band interference however, you want the option to go in either direction. The radio also changes the current frequency by 700Hz when SSB is selected, which then has to be corrected with the main dial.

You would begin by switching to SSB mode by pressing and holding the band button. If you’re lucky, the default setting is the one you want.

If it isn’t, activate the settings menu with a long press of the F key, go to the menu option SSB BFO (11–07), select it and use the multi-function knob to change the mode away from Auto to LSB or USB.

As you are doing this, the VFO will change to LSB or USB too. Leave the setting on the option that suits your needs.

If you exit the menu option without saving (pressing F), the mode will remain changed, but the override is not saved. This can be a useful quirk because next time you turn the radio on, it will be back in auto mode.

If you commit the override by pushing the multi-function knob instead, the radio will stay in manual mode until you remember to return to the menu and restore automatic behaviour again.

It’s a needlessly complicated system, as I discovered recently while recording another Shortwave Radiogram broadcast. Even after testing the procedure previously for this article, the radio was determined to stay in LSB no matter what.

Memory Programming

Since the radio has no keyboard for direct frequency input, an early priority for shortwave listening was to program some of the 99 memories available. My plan was to have some favourite broadcast stations, along with WX, Volmet, GMDSS, and some data mode frequencies. To handle ad-hoc stations however, I wanted a way of moving quickly across the main shortwave bands without excessive use of the main tuning dial or multi-function knob.

Taking the official definitions of the broadcast bands between 60m and 16m, and combining those with frequency schedules, I came up with a series of frequencies 150kHz apart across each of those bands, guaranteeing that no broadcast was more than 150kHz away.

The combined list of favourites and the 150kHz stepping stone frequencies resulted in 70 memory channels in total. As I wanted to apply alphanumeric tags to those channels, and didn’t relish the prospect of entering them manually, my next port of call was the CAT control manual to see how those memories could be set programmatically.

While there is commercial software available for the FT–891, I only needed to set up the memory channels, so decided to adapt some PowerShell I’d written for another radio, sending the necessary serial port commands to configure my list.

Now that is done, I can fast travel using the stepping stone memories to the closest point in a band, then use the fast mode of the main tuning dial to move quickly to my final destination.

The following table lists my current stepping stone channels in kHz:

60m 49m 41m 31m 25m 22m 19m 16m
4750 5900 7200 9400 11600 13570 15100 17480
4900 6050 7350 9550 11750 13720 15250 17630
5050 6200 7500 9700 11900 13870 15400 17780
7650 9850 12050 15550 17930
7800 15700

Memory Access

An obvious way to access the memories is to toggle memory channel mode with the V/M button, then cycle through the memories using the multi-function knob. Depending on your memory choices, you will hear relays clicking as the radio jumps back and forth between widely spaced frequencies and bands. You will also need a good memory of your memories, so you know which way to turn the multi-function knob.

An alternative and perhaps faster method is to press the M>V button. This brings up a multi-line listing of memories that can be scrolled through using the multi-function knob. Pressing the M>V button again copies the selected memory to the VFO and leaves you in VFO mode. This avoids the radio flipping across bands and the associated relay activity.

Although it is not documented, if you push the multi-function knob on a selected memory channel in the multi-line listing rather than using the M>V button, the selected memory is activated and the radio is left in memory channel mode displaying the memory tag.

Disabling Transmit

At the time of writing, I haven’t discovered a way of formally disabling transmit, and the minimum transmit power goes no lower than 5W. Since my main interests are around shortwave listening, utility stations and an occasional data mode QSO, I have not fitted the microphone to the radio. In that configuration at least, there is no danger of me manually transmitting into a receive antenna by accident.

Outdoor Power

Reports vary on the power consumption of the FT–891. It certainly isn’t as high as the 2.0A documented in the user guide.

While some sources claim values in the region of 1.0A, my power supply shows around 0.4A at 13.8V when receiving a typical HF broadcast. You will notice where some of that power goes quite quickly, as part of the radio gets warmer.

To save weight, my preferred power supply in the field is usually a lithium battery designed to jump start smaller engined cars. This versatile 12V battery also supplies 5V USB power to phones and tablets, and can even charge laptops.

In Conclusion

Control ergonomics and screen size are factors that can detract from shortwave listening on these kinds of radios, with smaller speakers and menu options for features normally at your fingertips.

Despite this, I’m happy with the audio, and I like the emphasis on mid-range frequencies in its audio spectrum. The digital noise reduction is impressive and can tackle significant QRM environments, but for outdoor listening may not be your first port of call.

Memory presets can make tuning less laborious, while assigning key listening tools to the customisable front panel buttons should reduce the need to access menus. I may consider defining some stations with known co-channel issues to memory with preset LSB and USB variations, to allow rapid responses to interference in future.

In good conditions, I suspect there is little difference between the FT–891 and FT–817ND for general listening. The FT–817ND has produced some of my best recordings of Shortwave Radiogram. The newer radio however brings many advanced tools to bear on more difficult signals, while its band scope and full sized VFO tuning dial enable desktop style shortwave exploration.

The ICOM IC–7200 is constrained by interference at home, biding its time for when the solar cycle swings back. When it’s been out on field days, it has always been a strong performer for broadcast listening. All the important controls are upfront, but is not a trivial thing to transport on foot. While the FT–891 has impressive DNR chops, I think I prefer the ability of the IC–7200 to apply noise reduction in incremental steps. Perhaps the algorithm approach will grow on me in time.

Any amateur radio operator using the FT–891 should have no trouble using it for shortwave listening. It attracts a lot of positive reviews for its ham radio capabilities, and it looks like those features carry across for listening to the world too.


An excellent review, Mark! Thank you for sharing. 

The Yaesu FT-891 must be the most popular HF transceivers Yaesu sells today. So many of its users rave about its performance and audio characteristics. Mark, thank you for sharing your experience with the FT-891 as an SWL!

Click here to check out the affordable IP67 rated case Mark uses to house his FT-891.

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