Tag Archives: Reviews

A review of the outdoor Planespotter antenna prototype

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Zach R., who shares the following guest post:

A review of the outdoor Planespotter antenna prototype

When it comes to airband monitoring, the stock whip antennas that ship with desktop and portable scanners are not the greatest. They’re fine if you’re at an airport and only interested in communications specific to your immediate area, but if you are someone like me who lives well out from any major airport, quality listening in can be impossible without some help in the antenna department.

Ideally, you want something like a discone or similar for omnidirectional listening, mounted as high as possible. This is not always possible or practical, however. SWLing Post contributor Ron recently reviewed the indoor Planespotter antenna, and I have one as well that works better than any rubber ducky, and can be easily hidden away when company comes.

Recently, the creator has come out with a prototype outdoor model. It’s the same design as the indoor unit, but with a longer run (25 feet) of coax, terminating in a BNC connector.

Besides the longer cable, the only other obvious change is the antenna is house in a skinnier PVC tube from the indoor model. It’s also sealed at the bottom so moisture won’t get in.

It has the same small metal hook on top, suitable from hanging from various mounts. I’d like more mounting options, but the hook does make for quick installation and removal. The half-wave length isn’t ungainly to handle and if painted it could easily be mounted on the side of a home without many people noticing.

The indoor version definitely works best on the VHF air band and seems to roll off aggressively above and below that band. The outdoor version, in side-by-side tests, seemed to perform the same on the air band but notably better on the VHF public safety band. It also pulled in more UHF air band traffic than the indoor model, despite being basically the same design.

The new outdoor version is a good choice for someone looking for a simple, already assembled antenna that’s suitable for temporary use or stealth mounting.

Disclosure: The outdoor prototype was supplied to me for free in exchange for a review. While taking more photos of the antenna I noticed the weatherproofing had come undone from the bottom. Hopefully this issue can be addressed before the antenna goes into production.

[Zach R. is the owner and editor of the Alabama Broadcast Media Page.]

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Comparing the Watkins-Johnson WJ-8711 & WJ-8712 with TEN-TEC RX-340 & RX-331 receivers

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paolo Viappiani, who shares the following guest post:

The WJ-8711 & WJ-8712 vs. Ten-Tec RX-340 & RX-331 Receivers

by Paolo Viappiani, Carrara, Italy

In recent years, a renewed interest has grown in regards to the best HF receivers using “first generation” DSPs, typically the HF-1000/HF-1000A, WJ-8711/WJ-8711A and WJ-8712 models by Watkins-Johnson and the RX-340 and RX-331 models by Ten-Tec. Even today, the aforementioned receivers are considered among the best performers of all times; this is a well-deserved fame in the case of the W-Js, a bit less with regard to the units manufactured by Ten-Tec, a firm that once had a good reputation but that has been recently acquired by a new owner (who sold the old facilities by transferring the company and distorting the sales, support and assistance policies of the previous company [2]). I therefore believe that this article serves as a dutiful information for the readers who are potentially interested in these receivers.

A Bit of History

In the years between the last and the present century, two receivers very similar to each other in terms of design and structure were released almost simultaneously by Watkins-Johnson of Gaithersburg, Maryland [1] and by Ten-Tec of Sevierville, Tennessee [2]: the WJ-8711 (later upgraded to the A and A-3 versions and followed for a short period by the HF1000 and the  HF1000A  “civilian” versions [3]) and the Ten-Tec RX-340; both of them are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The WJ-8711A (above) and Ten-Tec RX-340 (below). Notice the similarity of the front panels of the two radios.

The WJ-8712/WJ-8712A and the Ten-Tec RX-331 receivers were released by their respective manufacturers in that period also (the latter one was preceded by the RX-320 and RX-330 models). All these types were nothing more than “black-box” units, that in all respects corresponded to the WJ-8711A and to the Ten-Tec RX-340 receivers but that had not been provided with true front panels, as they were controlled by special hardware interfaces or from a PC, look at Figures 2 and 3.

Looking at the appearance of the WJ-8711/HF1000 receiver series and of the Ten-Tec RX-340 units, a relative similarity to each other is evident, and it has led to various speculations regarding the design of both devices.

One of the theories was revealed by James (Jim) C. Garland W8ZR of Santa Fe, New Mexico [4], about which he claims to have obtained information from a Ten-Tec employee directly. James claims that in 1991 the US Government Agency NSA (National Security Agency), which used to purchase numerous HF receivers for surveillance and interception, decided that the current cost of the receivers were too high and formed a special group in order to study how to obtain a possible price reduction.

At that time the high-end HF receiver market was dominated by a few manufacturers: Watkins-Johnson, Racal, Cubic, Rockwell-Collins and a few others, and Ten-Tec applied for joining the group.

Figure 2: The WJ-8712A (above) and Ten-Tec RX-331 (below). While the Watkins-Johnson model is two rack units high and half wide, the Ten-Tec develops less in height (only one rack unit) and more in width (standard 19” rack). However, both receivers are quite deep (more than 20”-50 cm.).

Figure 3: The Tmate unit of the WoodBoxRadio is shown here; it is one of the possible accessories which, together with a PC monitor, allow using the “black-box” receivers via an RS-232 interface.

According to the information provided by Jim Garland, the Watkins-Johnson and the Ten-Tec designers worked together for about one year in order to agree on the technical characteristics and guidelines of the “radio of the future” which must meet all the requirements that the NSA requested.

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A “knobs and switches” oldster investigates the SDRplay RSPdx . . . Wow!

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

It is hard to imagine a less spectacular looking piece of radio gear than the SDRplay RSPdx. It is literally a black box. Aside from the printing on top of the box, the most exciting thing about the RSPdx are the two red plastic covers on the antenna connectors on the side. There are no switches, no knobs . . . you can’t do anything to it except connect an antenna (or antennas) on one side and a USB cable on the opposite.

But once you connect the USB cable to your laptop and fire up the SDRuno software (that you have previously downloaded and installed), you are now in command of a listening post that covers from 1 kHz to 2 GHz.

We’ll get to the important stuff in just a minute, but first a little background.

For an oldster retrocrank like me, a proper radio has knobs and switches . . . preferably a knob or switch for every job. Lately, however, I have noticed that a lot of DXers and ordinary listeners are reporting good success with SDRs – software-defined radios. So I started to wonder about them.

There are three elements to a software-defined radio like the SDRplay RSPdx:  the SDR box itself, which is the part of the system that actually receives the radio signals; a Windows computer (laptop or desktop), which provides the command and control for the SDR; and whatever antennas are required to receive the signals that the listener would like to hear. And, just to be absolutely clear, you need all three elements for the SDR system to work at all.

With my curiosity about SDRs rising, I inquired of Thomas, SWLing’s Maximum Leader, whether SDRplay – one of SWLing Post’s sponsors – might like me to take a look at one of their SDRs. Their answer was an emphatic Yes, and I had an RSPdx in my hands just a couple of days later at no cost to me or the SWLing Post.

I have to admit I had some trepidation about the process of bringing the RSPdx online because any time you have three different elements from three different sources that must work together for a system to function properly, there is always the possibility that some of the elements might not “play well together.”

Installation is easy and fast. Connect the RSPdx to the computer using a USB A-male to B-male cable (which the user must supply; often called a printer cable), then connect the antennas using the appropriate cable. In my case, I connected an MFJ 1886 Receive Loop to the Antenna C connector and an off-center fed dipole to the Antenna A connector.

To SDRplay’s great credit, they have produced an excellent video for first-timers and folks not familiar with SDRs — https://youtu.be/Oj_-dOLVzH8 . I recommend watching it, perhaps a couple of times, before you get started.

When you first fire up the SDRuno software, you will see the main panel:

Click on the “RX” button, and the Receive panel will be displayed. After you slide it over, it will look something like this:

Click on SP1 or SP2 in the main panel, and one of the peak displays will appear:

Finally, click on the PLAY button in the main panel, and whatever frequency you have selected will begin to play. Continue reading

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Paolo’s review of the Eton Elite Satellit

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paolo Viappiani, who shares the following guest post:

ETON Elite Satellit: an expensive flop 

by Paolo Viappiani, Italy 


After various and sometimes conflicting announcements that have created strong expectations in radio listening enthusiasts, ETON has recently launched on the extra-European market (basically in the United States) what should have been its “top of the range” portable, the Elite Satellit model . Aesthetically (and also functionally) inspired by the previous E1 model, the new portable radio should have been free from the defects of its predecessor, in particular as regards the “sticky” coating of the plastic case but also with respect to other technical drawbacks repeatedly reported by users (display contrast and shading, etc.).

The new Elite Satellit was announced to look practically identical to the E1 model and to use the same cabinet, but with various additions and improvements: RDS, FM-HD reception, Air Band, etc. A frequency resolution of 10 Hz in the shortwave bands, a PBT (Pass-Band Tuning) facility, a large LCD display with the possibility of changing its background color were also provided.

It is therefore obvious that its release was highly anticipated, and the resulting expectation gave rise to numerous pre-orders of the radio in the United States, where the main distributor was (and still is) the well-known Universal Radio company owned by Fred Osterman [1].

Unfortunately, the initial boom in sales of the ETON Elite Satellit was followed by many return requests due to the poor performances of the radio and the numerous defects encountered by users, also reported in a lot of videos and negative reviews on the Internet [2].

Fred Osterman himself, disappointed by the performance of a radio that he should have sold as an excellent portable, began to test the individual devices in his own laboratory and to return to ETON all the units that did not meet the declared specs (basically the vast majority of those received for sale) [3]. All this caused great confusion at ETON, which was forced to somehow remedy its errors (mainly due both to a very approximate alignment of the circuits and to an almost non-existent final quality control).

Unfortunately, despite the precautions adopted “hastily” by ETON, most of the “overhauled” devices that were returned to Universal Radio continued not to comply with the specifications, so that Fred Osterman, who is a good technician and a very honest dealer, decided to cancel most of the orders received and to sell the very few radios found to be in good working order within the United States only, (see again note [3]). I myself placed an order from Universal Radio for an ETON Elite Satellit on August 8, 2022 (Order ID: #8992932, retail price $599.99 plus shipping and import customs duties), but Fred was forced to “drastically cut” the orders received and to cancel mine too, due to the impossibility of satisfying the many customers on this side of the pond. However, my desire to have an example of the ETON Elite Satellit in my hands, in order to be able to see, test and judge the new radio it was really great, and great was also the wish to realize if the many negative impressions circulating on the web were or were not justified and true.

So I decided to look for other ways to buy the “latest cry” of ETON. The opportunity presented itself to me, almost unexpectedly, by visiting the American site of Amazon [4].

The purchase and the arrival of the radio; my first impressions 

I therefore ordered an ETON Elite Satellit portable radio on the Amazon.com website on January 17, 2023 at the price of $698.16 (including shipping and customs duties). I report in Figure 1 the screenshot concerning my order #113-3575479-2262609 which, as it appears, was delivered to me on January 23, 2023, after only five days; this demonstrates the truthfulness of my statements.

Figure 1: A Screenshot of my Amazon.com order dated January 17, 2023.

The shipment was delivered to me by UPS courier in the usual Amazon packaging in a plastic bag (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The UPS label and the Amazon plastic bag.

Inside the envelope was a cardboard box containing the radio, in understandably less than perfect conditions (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The cardboard box of the ETON Elite Satellit.

Figure 4: The contents of the radio box.

Once the package was opened, the contents of the box looked like in Figure 4: two shock-absorbing spacers held the device in position (inserted in a plastic bag) and its AC power supply (into a white box, and obviously with a 117V input voltage). There was also the “User Guide” in a paper version and a “mini-guide” to listening to short waves; completely absent was the CD that used to be enclosed in the box of the previous E1 version of the radio.

Continuing with the operations, I came across a sort of brown plastic cover intended for the protection of three sides of the radio (front, top and back) which can be held in position by some magnets and is provided with two circular holes in correspondence with the tuning knobs and volume of the radio (Figure 5).

Figure 5: The ETON Elite Satellit radio and its “case” (?)

I omit to make comments on this “protection”; I only say that in my opinion it is useless (and ugly too) and I believe that the gentlemen of ETON could have wasted their energies otherwise; but maybe someone likes it too…

Figures 6 and 7 show the front and back of the portable radio as soon as it has been removed from the protective plastic bag. Note the almost identical appearance of the cases of the Elite Satellit and of the previous E1 model.

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Frank reports on the Deshibo RD1860BT portable shortwave receiver

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Frank, in Germany, who shares the following guest post and review of the Deshibo RD1860BT:

Deshibo RD1860BT report

Hello Thomas,

Today I would like to report on a new portable world receiver. Unfortunately, new devices have not been found on the shelves of electronics retailers for a long time, but now in the depths of the world wide web. And that’s how I came across the Deshibo RD1860BT.

Deshibo is certainly known to many from their GA450 loop antenna. But Deshibo has also produced several radios, including the RD1780L, which is probably a little better known. New to the segment is the RD1860BT, which initially seemed like an old friend to me. An Eton Elite Executive? Yes, there are external similarities, but also differences.

Many months ago I had an Eton Elite Executive for a short time. I had heard of its excellent reception properties, which I can confirm, but the design is reminiscent of older receivers from the 80s, is relatively heavy, operation is sometimes a bit cumbersome, the protective cover does not protect properly. I find the device to be portable overall difficult. We didn’t become friends, so I sold it on to a Swede, who in turn became a friend.

I still missed the Eton. RDS on VHF is not found in any Tecsun , nor are there memory banks that can be written on.

Then I discovered the RD1860BT and couldn’t resist. First of all: the Deshibo is only labeled in Chinese for important function keys. But the friendly dealer on eBay provided me with an English manual before I bought it. That was the deciding factor, because I was sure that after a little use , the Deshibo could be operated blindly.

However, some questions have arisen in the user manual. Some things didn’t seem quite right, others were completely missing from the description. That’s why I decided to write my own manual on a journey of discovery of the new Deshibo. And so that it might also help others who might be interested in radio, I wrote it in English and attach it here.

Click here to download Frank’s version of the RD1860BT manual (PDF).

The Eton’s somewhat unsorted manual was very helpful, but I also added my own drawings. For example, I added an English-labeled keyboard as a back cover, so that the keys can be assigned without a long search.

Here you can already find the first differences to the Eton: the keyboard layout is a bit more orderly. Also, the Deshibo doesn’t have a metallic speaker grille (which frankly I don’t like about the Eton). The display, not the writing, is backlit in orange on the Deshibo . Most importantly, the Deshibo is a lot lighter than the Eton ( around 500g if I researched correctly). And that means: the structure of the Deshibo must be different. Continue reading

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Which radio? How to avoid analysis paralysis…

I’ve been running the SWLing Post for fourteen years (!!!) and during that time I’d say that one of the top three questions I receive is a variation of “Which radio is better?” followed by a list of radio makes and models.

Sometimes that question is easy to answer because the reader is new to the world of shortwave, they only have two choices, and one is an obvious winner.

In truth, though, that’s very rare.

Most of the time–and I’m speaking from having received hundreds of these questions–I’m asked to choose between a list of radios that the reader has thoroughly researched, uncovering radios DXers and enthusiasts consider to be the best in price class.

They’ve already read numerous reviews, created spreadsheets comparing features/specifications, and they’ve weighed all of the pros and cons by price class.

But they can’t decide.

Analysis paralysis

We’ve all been there, right?

We’re ready to invest a bit of money in a new radio and there are many good options, but there’s no one stand-out…no “perfect” radio with everything we seek.

It’s a slippery slope.  We start our research with some obvious choices. We can’t decide which is best, so we broaden our research, we take deeper and deeper dives, but the more we research, the more confused we become.

Sound familiar? (Trust me: you’re not alone.)

I remember receiving an email once from someone with a list of two dozen sub $150 radios on a multi-tab spreadsheet.They had every feature and specification listed for comparison. They wanted to know which of these radios was “the best.”

I can’t answer this questions for a very good reason.

It’s all about personal preference

My favorite radio from a list of twenty four will likely not be your favorite radio.

Enjoyment of a radio has everything to do with you as the radio’s operator.

Ask yourself, “What’s my main goal–?”:

  • DXing?
  • Weak signal work?
  • Band-scanning?
  • Pirate Radio hunting?
  • Travel?
  • Emergency communications?
  • Casual broadcast listening?
  • Digital mode decoding?
  • Scanning?
  • Mediumwave DXing?

Look at your options with this goal being given the priority.

A rather simple way to avoid analysis paralysis

If you’ve thoroughly researched multiple options, the likelihood is that overall performance between the models is comparable. Sure, some models might have better AGC, better sync, finer tuning, a better encoder, or better sensitivity, etc. but the overall performance package is similar else there’d be no difficult decision to make.

My advice is to pick the radio that you believe you’d enjoy the most.

  • Do you like the display and large encoder on one? Does it look like the sort of radio you could cuddle up to late into a cold winter evening? Go for it!
  • Do you like the compact size and features of one? Does it look like a radio you could pack away for an international flight then use on a mini DXpedition in a foreign country? Grab it!
  • Do you like the comments you’ve read about the robust audio and speaker of a particular model? Pull the trigger!

I’ve been communicating with a reader over the past few days that is stuck in analysis paralysis. No doubt, this is what prompted this post.

Here’s what I told him this morning:

All of the models we’ve discussed are good ones and have overall excellent performance. I would simply pick the one you think you would enjoy using the most.

[Keep in mind that] DXing is a skill.

A skilled DXer can accomplish a lot with almost any radio! It’s easy to fall in the trap of options overload. Just find a good deal on a radio you think you would enjoy and go for it! 

I suppose another way of stating it would be if you believe you’re stuck in analysis paralysis, follow your heart instead of your head.

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Julian reviews the Panasonic RF-B45 and shares comments regarding shortwave broadcasting and portable radios

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Julian S, who shares the following guest post and review:

Panasonic RF-B45 – A Comparative Review

by Julian S

18 and 19 October, 2022

I was raised on valve / tube radios. From my pre-teens in the 1960s, I enjoyed tuning through the frequencies as a form of exploration. In the 1970s I experimented with antennae to improve reception. And later, starting in the 1980s, I began to use travel radios, always looking for that perfect radio.

Today the perfect radio for us SWL’ers might need to include a time machine to take us back to the halcyon days of SW, say in the 1980s or 1990s, before so many Western broadcasters axed their Short Wave services.

Looking at the BBC World Service’s latest round of cuts, I am filled with horror. Is whoever decided those cuts deeply cynical or deeply ignorant?

Switching BBC World Service content from radio to the internet for countries that block or restrict internet access is not the way to reach people living there. In places where every person’s internet access is monitored, where access to websites and web-content is censored or blocked, BBC news internet content will not be widely available. Today and for the foreseeable future the way to reach perhaps half or more of the world’s population is radio, especially Short Wave radio broadcasts.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and other like-minded countries, eg the DPRK (North Korea) fully understand the importance of radio, especially Short Wave and they vigorously maintain multiple Short Wave broadcast programmes as a way to project soft power and influence people.

In this context, it’s no surprise that when the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2017 suddenly, unexpectedly and against a back-drop of protests from Pacific Island Nations and rural Australians ditched its Short Wave broadcasts, the PRC’s China Radio International grabbed Australia’s SW frequencies.

I heard that in an earlier round of cuts China acquired frequencies dropped by the BBC World Service.

By the time the West wakes up again to the importance of Short Wave radio broadcasting as a means to communicate to the world, they will find the SW airwaves are full of PRC, North Korean, Vietnamese, Cuban and other broadcasters who never forgot how important SW broadcasts to the world are. I’m reminded of a line from the Sean Connery film, Rising Sun, “If you don’t want us to buy it, don’t sell it.”

Aside from the broadcasters mentioned above, there are still many others broadcasting on SW and there are plenty of Hams too. Short Wave radio listening and Ham radio are widespread and popular in Asia and Africa and are a major source of news. In some countries SW is also used as a means of business and social communication. So much so that there are home-grown radio and transceiver manufacturers in a number of African and Asian nations.

SW listening is big in China. So it’s no surprise that probably the best manufacturer of consumer grade short wave radio receivers is a China based company, Tecsun, who need no introduction. Tecsun seems to have taken over the role that was once held by Grundig, Sony, Panasonic and others. Indeed many of the later Grundig models are made by Tecsun.

If you’ve guessed that I like short wave radio, you’ve guessed right. And I suppose like many other fans, I usually have my eye open for something special.

Since hearing of the Panasonic RF B65 some years ago, I’ve been on the look-out for one at a reasonable price… this search led me to the RF B45…. But I’m a man of modest means so I need them to be priced accordingly.

Usually these two 30+ year old radios are priced on North American eBay like holy grail radios. More expensive than a 2nd hand Sony ICF 2010 / 2001D. Go figure. But the other day I found a Panasonic RF B45 for what I considered a reasonable price. It arrived yesterday, well packed, clean and in good condition. After dinner and this morning before breakfast I put it through some of its paces

What follows are some initial impressions of the Panasonic RF B45:

I’ve read a few reviews of it on eham, shortwave.ch etc. The controls are pretty easy to figure out. It has a similar form factor to the Sony ICF7600 series and is probably comparable in performance to the digital iterations of the Sony 7600 series… though the only 7600 series radio I have at present is the analogue 7601 which is comparable to the Tecsun R9700DX, except in price. New the Tecsun R9700DX is likely to be cheaper than a used Sony 7601 on eBay, and the Tecsun has a wider range of features, eg external antenna socket, comes with a long wire antenna, has better audio… but I digress…

…back to the Panasonic RF B45. This is a fine compact travel radio about the size of a paperback book or two DVD stacked boxes. Continue reading

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