The Grundig G3, one of my favorite full-featured portables, is now on sale at Universal Radio for $89.77.
Not sure how long this sale will last.
The Grundig G3, one of my favorite full-featured portables, is now on sale at Universal Radio for $89.77.
Not sure how long this sale will last.
One of the most popular posts on the SWLing Post each year is the annual Holiday Radio Gift Guide. I started this annual post in 2010 when I realized that it would be easier than answering an in-box full of individual emails from people seeking the perfect shortwave radio for their friend or loved one.
In the following, you’ll find a handful of select radios I recommend for this gift-giving season. I’ve arranged this selection by price, starting with the most affordable. I’ve included a few promising new radios that have recently been introduced to the market, along with models that have proven their reliability and are on their way to becoming classics.
For the benefit of those with less radio experience, this quick guide is basic, non-technical, and to the point. For more comprehensive reviews, please consult our Radio Reviews page.
Updated for the 2012-13 holiday season on 22 November 2012.
Kaito WRX911 or Tecsun R-911 ($33)
I’ve owned this little radio for years. It has been on the market a long time and I know exactly why: it’s affordable and very simple to operate. While it has no tone control, bandwidth control or digital display, the WRX911 performs better than other radios in its stocking-stuffer price range. I find its medium wave (AM band) reception above par–especially its ability to null out interfering broadcasts by simply turning the radio body. The WRX911 is also a great radio to keep in the glove compartment of your car. (Another similarly-priced radio to consider is the DE321, which we recommended last year–also check out our review.)
Eton FR160 ($34 US)
A good friend recently sent me a message: she had been without power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy for two full weeks. She also added that her little FR160 kept her family informed and provided comfort in the dark days following the hurricane.
The Eton FR160 is a sturdy and useful little radio. This radio features AM/FM and the NOAA weather radio bands (at least, the North American versions do; international versions may have shortwave instead of weather frequencies). The FR160 also features a very bright white LED flashlight and even sports a small solar panel that can effectively charge the internal battery pack. The FR160 also features a USB port that you can plug your mobile phone, iPod or other USB device into for charging. (Note that it takes a lot of cranking to charge a typical cell phone, but I can confirm that it does work in a pinch.)
Over the past few years, these radios have become ubiquitous. I’ve seen them in sporting goods stores, RadioShack (Tandy in some countries), BestBuy, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond–indeed, they’re in practically every North American big-box store and in many mail order catalogs besides. Of course, Universal Radio sells them, too.
CC Solar Observer ($50 US)
Like the FR160, the CC Solar Observer is a wind-up/solar emergency radio with AM/FM and Weather Band, and an LED flashlight built into the side of the radio. It’s perhaps a nicer option for those who want bigger audio out of their emergency radio. The Solar Observer is rugged and well-designed, like many C.Crane products.
The Tecsun PL-398BT ($100)
The Tecsun PL-398BT is a very unique shortwave radio. In fact, it may be the perfect gift for a radio enthusiast who is also very tied to their computer or smart phone. Besides being a very capable shortwave/AM/FM receiver in its own right, when put into Bluetooth mode and connected to a smart phone, PC, or other device, the PL-398BT’s speakers act as its wireless stereo speakers. I believe this may be an ideal way to listen to internet radio from your iPhone, for example. Of course, the PL-398BT comes from a legacy of great receivers, so the AM/FM and shortwave performance will not disappoint. It’s a little on the pricey side for a shortwave radio that lacks the SSB mode (for listening to utility and ham radio transmissions), but the Bluetooth function more than makes up for it, in my opinion. Some people may definitely prefer this function.
The Grundig G3 ($100 US)
Simply put, the Grundig G3 offers the best bang for your buck in 2012. I have a lot of portable radios, but the one I probably reach for the most–for recreational shortwave radio listening–is the Grundig G3. I wrote this review three years ago and even recently posted this update. Read them and you’ll see why I like the G3. At $100, the G3 will please both the shortwave radio newbie and the seasoned listener.
The RFSpace SDR-IQ ($500 US)
If $500 is within your budget, and you’re buying for someone who would love combining their radio hobby with computer technology, a software defined receiver (SDR), like the RFSpace SDR-IQ, will certainly exceed their expectations. There are many SDRs on the market, but the SDR-IQ offers the most bang-for-the-buck in the SDR line (though the WinRadio Excalibur ($900 US)–which we recently reviewed–and the Microtelecom Perseus ($1,000 US) are certainly pricier benchmarks worth considering).
The RFSpace SDR-IQ is available from Universal Radio and is manufactured in the USA.
The Bonito RadioJet ($700 US)
The Bonito RadioJet is new to the North American market in 2012. I reviewed the RadioJet this summer and even traveled with it extensively. I was thoroughly impressed with its portability, performance, and it did not task my PC as much as SDRs do. Like the SDR-IQ, it’s a small black metal box that hooks up to your PC to unlock its impressive features. The RadioJet, though, represents cutting-edge IF receiver design, and comes with an amazingly versatile software package. If you’re buying for someone who likes versatility and raw performance–and likes being an early adopter–the Bonito RadioJet may well be the perfect fit.
The Bonito RadioJet can be purchased from Universal Radio and is manufactured in Germany.
The Alinco DX-R8T ($450 US)
We featured the Alinco DX-R8T in last year’s holiday gift guide. We also gave it a full review–in short, this radio thoroughly 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, and as such, does a fine job on SSB modes.
It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been over three years since I published my first review of the Grundig G3 shortwave radio. My initial impressions were mostly positive, and since then, the G3 has become a staple in North America and a fixture in my radio collection. I bought one of the very first G3s in production in the summer of 2009, and about a year ago, I replaced it with a current model.
So, what do I think of it now? After having two different production-run models and traveling with my G3s for over three years?
The G3 now
I have to admit, I continue to love this radio. In fact, if you write me an email inquiring about a good portable shortwave radio in the $100 price range, you can bet that I will still recommend the G3.
The G3’s biggest competitors (roughly in the same price range) are the Sony ICF-SW7600GR and the Tecsun PL-660. I may very well review them all side-by-side in a portable showdown in the near future–but until then, it’s worth noting that the G3 is the least expensive in this crowd, and is simply an excellent performer for the price. So I just can’t hesitate to recommend it.
Why do I like the G3?
Quite simply, the G3 features the following:
Simply put, the G3 functions as a portable shortwave radio should. It’s easy to tune, great to listen to, it functions well, has SSB and line out, has an external antenna jack, has two well-apportioned filters (wide/narrow), and still manages to be relatively inexpensive.
Perfect? Well…almost. Though I never use the Air band, and I rarely use the MW (medium wave) band (mainly for DXing), many reviewers and critics of the G3 point to less-than-stellar performance in these areas.
I’ll admit, the Air band is a nice add-on, but is certainly no reason to buy the G3. I find MW listening quite pleasant and I’ve certainly heard a little DX on it, but it probably doesn’t compare to some of the well-known ultralight radios which handle the MW amazingly well.
And a couple of years ago, some reviewers complained of quality problems; I assume these were associated with specific production runs. As I’ve had two radios from two different production runs and have never experienced a quality-control issue, I must have been luckier in obtaining solidly-produced units.
Perhaps it was my recent review of the Degen DE1129 that made me realize that many of the newer, smaller portables add features, but toss out many of the basics I expect from a shortwave radio. In other words, the things that make a radio pleasant to use, like ergonomics, performance, and an intuitive design. The G3 has these in trumps.
So, if you’re sitting on the fence about a $100 shortwave radio, I would snag the G3. I did–and haven’t looked back.
NOTE: At time of this posting, Universal Radio is selling the G3 with a Grundig Mini400 for $99.95 US. I have no idea how long this promotion will last, but I certainly believe it’s a good deal. Check it out…
(Update: Check out our new 2011 Radio Gift Buying Guide)
Would you like to buy a shortwave radio as a gift for someone, but you don’t know a thing about radios? Or, are you thinking about buying a radio for yourself (cashing in a gift card, for example) but aren’t sure how much you need to spend to be satisfied with function and performance? Want a little help leaving a hint for Santa or Ms. Santa? If so, no worries: you’ve found the right place in this vast world wide web to answer your questions, or help you with that hint–just leave a link to this article somewhere that Santa can find it!
Following you’ll find a few select radios I recommend based on best performance, lowest price, and ease of use. I’ve also included current pricing and made suggestions where these radios may best be purchased. Of course, radios are available at large internet retailers–occasionally for better prices–but I highly recommend you purchase from the manufacturer and/or authorized retailer. Most radio retailers offer much better customer support in case you have a problem or question, or just need a little help getting started.
This quick guide is basic, non-technical, and to the point. For more comprehensive reviews, please consult SWLing.com’s Radio Reviews page. Also, take a look at our new Radio Marketplace page where we have pre-filtered shortwave radio eBay search results.
How current is this information? This guide was last updated on: 6 December 2010
I start with this category because I believe that if you’re going to the trouble of finding the right radio as a gift, you at least want one that will perform and give years of listening pleasure. All of the following radios are sure to please those who are new to shortwave radio, and seasoned radio listeners as well. Most of these radios fall between the $100-150 price range.
The Grundig G4000A ($99.95 US)
The G4000A is a great portable radio and I include it here first because it is a part of a special promotion continuing through the end of March 2010. The receiver performance is very good, and it has all of the major features one might expect in a radio in its price class. I owned a version of this portable for over ten years and traveled with it extensively–it’s the perfect little travel companion, and it even has an alarm clock. But what’s really amazing about the G4000A is that it’s currently part of an exceptional package promotion by Universal Radio. If you buy the G4000A for $99.99, you also receive a free Grundig FR350 self-powered (emergency) shortwave radio, and a Grundig AN200 indoor antenna. I wrote about this special in a previous post if you want more info. Suffice to say, this is the best advertised deal for a portable shortwave radio I’ve ever encountered. You could, of course, buy the G4000A for someone and give the two extras as gifts to others on your holiday shopping list–or, better yet, keep one for yourself!
The Sony ICF-SW7600GR ($150)
This Sony shortwave radio is a classic, with solid, time-tested performance, and features to please both the beginner and the seasoned radio enthusiast. The instruction manual is comprehensive and easy to read. Read the full review here.
The Grundig G3 ($150 US)
The Grundig G3 was introduced in August 2009. It’s the latest portable receiver from Grundig and is an upgrade of the popular Grundig G5. I reviewed this radio right after it hit the market and found it to be excellent, save that its sync detection (a new feature for this model) did not perform up to spec, so I simply never use it–but this is no problem, as the receiver has many other outstanding features. The latest models of the Grundig G3 all have good sync detection. Overall, the G3’s performance is on par with–or in some respects, better than–the Sony (above). Read full review here.
The C. Crane CCRadio-SW ($150 US)
This large portable would be my first pick for someone who wants excellent radio performance, but also wants a radio that is very simple to use (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 will not need it. The CCRadio-SW has robust, room-filling sound, and is a joy to operate. Ergonomics are excellent, and it sports a large tuning knob. Performance is top-notch on all shortwave bands and it’s top of it’s class on Medium Wave (or the AM broadcast band). It’s a little bigger than the previous radios (not really for flight bags), but still fine for car, camper, and fishing trips. The CCRadio-SW will please both the beginner and seasoned radio listener; speaking for myself, I find I use mine all the time. Read the review here.
The Ten-Tec RX-320D ($369 US)
This radio is more expensive than the others listed here, and is not a portable, however, I couldn’t help but include it because I recently reviewed this radio and found that it offers high-end performance for a fraction of the cost of a tabletop receiver. The little RX-320 is PC-controlled, meaning, you need to hook it up to a computer to bring it to life. It’s the perfect gift for your favorite ham radio operator or a computer enthusiast who also likes radio. Read the full review here —or, if you prefer, a short review here.
Let’s face it, these are tough economic times, and it may very well affect your gift budget this year. Below, I’ve put together a small list of radios for $100 or less that would make excellent gifts for a radio enthusiast or for someone who has never used a shortwave radio. Keep in mind, of course, that you pay for what you get; thus these radios do not perform quite as well as the portables above.
Grundig G6 ($100 US)
The G6 has many of the features of the portables above and comes at a much better price and in a smaller package. This radio could easily fit in a glove compartment or coat pocket. Its shortwave radio reception is very respectable for such a small radio. Read the full review here.
Kaito KA1103/Degen 1003 ($80 US)
The Kaito KA1103 (a.k.a. Degen DE1003) offers the best performance I’ve tested under $100. But keep in mind, the ergonomics of this radio (pretty much any Kaito/Degen radio) leave something to be desired: for example, to turn up the volume, you have to press the volume button and use the tuning knob to adjust. Still, it’s fairly easy to operate, and comes with a one-of-a-kind digital display that imitates an older analog style dial. Another Kaito/Degen Product to consider is the KA1102/DE1102–read a review of this $60 portable here. In general, I’ve found that Kaito offers great performance for price, but their quality control is sometimes sub-par. I have had to return two of their products in the past, and each time was relieved I had purchased from an authorized dealer (see below). Read the KA1103 full review here.
C. Crane CCRadio-SWP ($50 US)
The CCRadio-SWP has a great receiver, especially in such a tiny package. C.Crane ergonomics are always very good, and you’ll probably never read the manual, it’s so simple to operate. I keep one of these in my car to listen to shortwave radio when I have few minutes to spare. A few “AA” batteries will run this little radio for 70 hours! Now, the CCRadio-SWP has some limitations, as does any little radio in this price bracket, so read the full review here before purchasing. But this cute radio can make a great stocking stuffer–and will fit in that stocking’s toe just fine!
The Grundig G8 is a nice pocket radio and the perfect traveling companion. I’m quite impressed with this radio. Shortwave reception is good and FM reception exceptional. The AM broadcast band does suffer from some images, though still quite respectable. The G8’s audio is a little tinny, though quite good for a radio this compact. The customary price for the G8 is $49.95, but occasionally retailers place them on sale for nearly half this price. It’s a grab at $50, it’s a steal at $25!
The M400 is a fun, ultra-portable, ultra-thin shortwave radio. Though its performance isn’t as good as other portables on this page, it is a super simple radio and is quite capable of picking up strong SW broadcasters–at $30, it’s also super affordable. I wouldn’t purchase this radio for someone who is just discovering shortwave radio since they will want a better performer with more features (like the portables at the top of this page). I do think the M400 makes for a nice stocking-stuffer or small gift for the radio enthusiast in your life. I take mine with me on morning walks and overnight travels.
The Grundig G3 arrived this week and I’ve had a few moments to gather some first impressions.
I’ve received a lot of inquiries regarding the G3, so I thought I’d post a preliminary review.
There are a handful of G3 reviews on the net (not many, as of the date of this post) and I find that my experience with the G3 is quite different than that of other reviewers.
A quick disclaimer: This review is limited, as I have not had enough time to complete my tests of the G3. All tests thus far were performed with built-in whip antennas and a fresh set of internal batteries. I used the Sony ICF-SW7600GR and the Grundig G5 for benchmarking.
The well-known predecessor to the G3 is Grundig’s G5 (Eton E5). The G5 has been out for several years and is an excellent portable. Along with Sony’s ICF-SW7600GR, it has been one of the radios I have recommended most to newcomers and SWLers who seek a powerful yet portable radio. I happen to have one handy for review, so naturally I tested the G3 against its older sibling.
The G5 and G3 are very similar in appearance. Right out of the box, I could see that the G3 shares the same body and keyboard configuration. To my surprise, there are no additional keys on the G3, but the key functions have been shuffled a bit. For example, the former SSB button now switches between upper side-band (USB) and lower side-band (LSB) and toggles RDS. The EDIT button now turns on the sync detector and toggles USB and LSB sync modes. The functions of the four vertically aligned buttons on the left side of the keyboard have all been shuffled as well.
Though I had been familiar with the keyboard functions of the G5, I easily found my way around the G3. Grundig (and Eton) products tend to be ergonomic and easy to use. The G3 is no exception: for example, to change frequency to 10,000 kHz, you simply type 10000 on the keypad and then press the AM button. To go to 89.7 MHZ, simply type 897 and press the FM button. This is a formula that Grundig has used since at least the days of the YB400, and I wished more portable radios would adopt this as a standard for direct frequency entry.
Perhaps the most noticeable change, though, is the G3’s display. The clock on the G5 has been moved to the lower part of the display screen and the panel which contains the signal strength meter, battery indicator, etc. has been shrunk to make room for the new RDS alpha numeric display at the top of the screen.
I have done some initial testing of the G3 against the Sony ICF-SW7600GR and the Grundig G5 on all bands and modes (except FM aircraft, which the Sony and both G5 lack). I feel that people who are looking for a portable in this price range will naturally have to decide between the G3 and the Sony 7600GR as they both have many of the same features. Here are my notes:
One of the biggest features that separates the G3 from the G5 is synchronous detection. For those of you unfamiliar with this feature, it basically addresses the issue of selective fading and co-channel interference on shortwave. Too technical? Well, in a sense, it locks onto and “evens out” a signal. Essentially, it helps to separate a signal you want to hear from those you don’t. For a good primer on sync detection and how it works, read this ARRL document (PDF).
It’s still early days, but it doesn’t seem that the G3’s sync detection function is as good as Sony’s. The G3 has difficulty locking onto a weak signal with sync detection enabled. This is a bit disappointing since sync detection should help with weak signals. The Sony, on the other hand, locks onto signals whether they are strong or weak. Mind you, I think Sony has the best sync detection available under $300-400. The Eton E1’s sync detector surpasses the Sony’s, but is a much bigger, more expensive radio.
With that said–and here is where I depart from other reviewers who have been upset with the G3’s sync detection–I find that the G3 still performs better than the Sony on the shortwave bands. Especially while listening to broadcasts in AM mode, that is–I have not yet thoroughly compared them side-by-side in SSB.
I have tested both radios with weak and strong signals and have found that if I had to chose a radio for any of those broadcasts, the G3 would have won each time. For example, the morning of this post, I compared both radios side-by-side while listening to the relatively strong signal out of WRMI, Miami, Florida. The G3’s audio was clear–punchy, even–without sync detection turned on. The Sony, on the other hand, also received the signal clearly, but the noise floor was higher (background static was higher–some of which could have been local). When I turned on the Sony’s sync detection, it didn’t help bring the audio and signal to the level the G3 had achieved without sync detection. It would have been nice if the G3’s sync detection worked on the WRMI signal, though–but it did not.
I look at the Grundig G3 as a G5 with more bells and whistles. It performs as well as the G5 in every respect (possibly better; time will tell) and comes with RDS, FM Aircraft band, and synchronous detection. RDS alone makes this a great portable for travel as you can quickly identify FM stations on the G3’s alpha numeric display. Also, the Grundigs have tuning knobs that work very well for cruising the bands–the Sony lacks this feature, herein lies my main gripe about the Sony.
I’ve always loved the Sony ICF-SW7600GR–it’s a great radio, performs very well and is built like a tank. I also loved the Grundig G5–it has a similar price point and similar features, lacking only sync detection. Both, in my mind, have been competitive with each other for these very reasons. I suspect the Grundig G3 will be even more competitive than its predecessor. I do sincerely wish the sync detection was better–I may actually replace this radio just to make sure it’s not a flaw with this particular unit.
Overall, I’m impressed with the G3 and it looks like it’ll be a keeper. I assumed when I bought the G3 that I would either sell my Sony, or sell the G3–now I’m not so sure I can part with either.
Keep in mind that my tests so far have not been in depth; I will come to more concrete conclusions in due time. Eventually, I will post a full update review–but in the meantime, I will add comments to this post as I discover more about the G3. Please subscribe for updates.
Universal Radio has announced, on their product page, that the Grundig G3 is now shipping. I’ve already ordered one to review.
Pricing is $149.95–a price point similar to the Grundig G5 (which no longer appears in Grundig’s product line). Through Universal, you actually get a Grundig AN200 indoor antenna as a bonus–currently the best deal I could find amongst retailers. See our previous post regarding the Grundig G3 for additional information, and check out Universal’s product page. We will post new info on the G3 as it becomes available.
UPDATE: Universal is now offering a free Grundig AN200 antenna with the G3 purchase ($149.99).