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Dan compares and reviews the Tecsun S-8800 portable AM/FM/shortwave receiver

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post and review:


Tecsun’s S-8800:  Is This All The Radio You Will Ever Need?

These days, we who still derive enjoyment from listening to shortwave broadcasts, be they larger international broadcasters or smaller stations that remain on the air against all odds in the Internet age, also enjoy using the many types of radio receivers that enable this activity.

One of the cruel ironies is that today’s technological advances have made possible the kind of worldband radios (the term that first came into wide use way back in the 1980’s) that years ago we could only dream of, be they full communications receivers or portable receivers.

Having begun my own DXing/SWL career in the late 1960’s, and pretty much maintained my hobby activities over the decades, I have used pretty much every receiver that ever existed, from tube radios to today’s latest DSP wonders.

I have a soft spot for classics from SONY — my list of portables today includes the fantastic SONY ICF-SW77, SW-07, SW-55s and SW-100.  Panasonic is represented in my portable collection by the wonderful RF-B65.

Only in recent years did I decide to test the main higher end portable offerings from Tecsun:  the PL-660/680, and PL-880. What I discovered, as have most people who own the Tecsuns, and similar receivers such as the XHDATA D-808, are the wonders of DSP chips and the great flexibility they provide, such as multiple selectivity options, along with excellent sensitivity.

Though it’s been on the market for going on three years now, one of the receivers I had not been able to test was the Tecsun S-8800.  There are quite a few reviews already online. Some go into extensive detail in describing the plus and minus points of the radio.

With so many people having already assessed the radio — and most of them in fairly glowing terms — I won’t repeat a long list of technical specs, as you can find those in other reviews, and on the site of Hong Kong-based Anon-co, which is probably the main seller of the S-8800.

Headline

The S-8800 is arguably the best multi band radio portable among portable category offerings on the market today.  It combines superior audio delivered from its superb front-firing speaker, with equally superb sensitivity (triple conversion), and multiple selectivity options, with an amazingly professionally-executed remote control.

I used the S-8800 in a number of physical locations, from public parks where I hoped to avoid high noise levels, to my back yard where noise levels are, unfortunately, quite high.  I have compared the S-8800 to a number of portables in my collection, including: SONY ICF-2010, SW-77, SW-55, along with Tecsun’s 660 and 880, Grundig SAT-500.

Audio

Hands down, the S-8800 wins the audio competition when compared to pretty much every other radio.  Where the competition gets tight is with receivers such as the classic Grundig Satellit 500, and Tecsun’s PL-880.

Sensitivity

This is a TRIPLE conversion radio.  As everyone knows by now, Tecsun did not merely adopt the cabinet of the old Eton S350 but basically stuffed a hot rod racer into the cabinet of what was previously a mediocre radio at best.

Selectivity

Widely used in a number of radios these days, the S-8800 uses a DSP chip that is seen in a number of other receivers.  The best description I have seen so far is in the review by Jay Allen who notes that Tecsun “decided to utilize a combination of DSP (Digital Signal Processing) circuits along with traditional analog circuits . . .most of the AM/SW circuitry is PLL/analog along with the 1st and 2nd IF’s, while the 3rd IF is DSP.”  It appears that after a bit of a rocky period in the beginning when initial units suffered from images and birdies, Tecsun got it right.

Ergonomics

Much has been said about the fact that Tecsun decided not to include a keypad on the radio itself.  I too was skeptical. We have all become accustomed to keypads as standard equipment on portables.

Personally, I do a lot of my listening on the beach during vacations, and am used to being able to hold and operate the radio in such situations, so the thought of having to carry a remote control seemed uncomfortable at best.

However, the reality is that it’s still possible to navigate the shortwave, AM, and FM bands easily even without the remote — call me old fashioned, but I am from a group of older listeners who have most frequencies memorized anyway, so I know where I want to go to hear certain stations.

Tecsun hit it out the ballpark with the remote supplied with the S-8800.  It looks like something you would find with high end stereo equipment and clearly much thought went into making sure it can control every aspect of the receiver, from SW band slewing to selectivity, volume, readout — everything except BASS and TREBLE control, Timer/Alarm, and master volume (i.e. as other reviewers note, you have to set the on-radio master volume to a high enough level first, then use the remote to vary).

Power

The radio requires two 18650 lithium (Li-ion) rechargeable batteries, with individual indicator LEDS inside the battery compartment.  This choice is perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of the 8800. Among other things, 18650s usually receive more attention from airport security personnel if one is taking the radio on a trip — this is something everyone should keep in mind.  Any radio being transported on a flight these days is going to be subjected to added scrutiny, simply because almost no one uses radios anymore.

As for the power needs of the receiver, the 18650s seem to do a good job and last quite a long time, even days.  Included in the box is one of those white USB charger blocks — quite small and convenient. I usually travel with separate 18650 chargers, the kind used with high end flashlights, so having spare sets of charged batteries is not a problem.  But if both 18650’s in the Tecsun are drained, the radio definitely needs to re-charge to a minimum level required for operation.

As I write this, I plugged the S-8800 into a wall outlet (a blue LED indicator on front indicates charging mode) and I was unable to use the radio as the battery level had completely zeroed out.  Also keep in mind that the USB charging brick throws off EMI to other radios in the vicinity, and makes it impossible to use the S-8800 itself — there is just too much interference from the charging process to the radio’s receiving circuitry.

Comparisons

As mentioned, I compared the S-8800 with a number of other portables in my collection.  Each of these other radios, including the classics from SONY such as the SW-55 or SW77 have their strengths.  For example, the SW77 has the best implemented synchronous reception of any portable since the ICF-2010 along with superb sensitivity.  However, even the large speaker on the SW-77 was unable to compete with the S-8800. Only radios such as the older Grundig SAT 500/700 had the advantage when compared to the S-8800’s speaker, with the Tecsun PL-8800 close behind.

Receiving Comparisons

I decided to take the S-8800 out to my back yard for a receiving comparison with the receiver I consider to be among the top five best in what I call the small portable category (which is above the mini-portable category in which we find the SONY SW-100 and SW-07 and similar size radios).

In intensive use over the years, I have concluded that the Panasonic RF-B65 is probably among the hottest small portables.  With its famous amplified whip antenna, the 65 time after time succeeds in allowing me to hear stations that other portables struggle with (see this 3 radio comparison I posted a few years ago in which the B65 outguns the Sangean 909X and SONY SW-07).

Rather than produce several separate videos, I have combined one listening session comparing the S-8800 with the RF-B65.  It’s a bit long, so my apologies, but gives you an idea of how these two fine portables did going head to head.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Leaving aside the obvious superiority of the Tecsun where audio is concerned, the S-8800 competes well with the Pan RF-B65, often superior to the smaller radio, but sometimes inferior in one respect.

While there was nothing the S-8800 could hear that the Panasonic could not, signals seem to jump out of the S-8800 in a way that they did not with the smaller radio. However, there appeared to be an interesting difference when it came to the ability of each radio to deal with interfering stations 5 kHz above or below.

As shown in the video, the Panasonic was able to distinguish more clearly between a station on 9,650 kHz (Guinea) and a station 5 kHz above (in this case, Algeria via France, using 9,655 kHz) than the Tecsun, which seemed to struggle.  Indeed, at one point I was forced to attempt ECSS (Exalted Carrier SSB) mode to separate the two stations, whereas on the Panasonic, being the older and simpler radio design was an advantage in that the RF-B65 was actually able to more clearly separate the two stations by “de-tuning” from the center frequency.

One huge advantage of the S-8800 by the way is that there is a hidden software change that enables one to adjust SSB zero beat to zero or near zero.  This means that in theory using LSB/USB to improve reception is possible, though keep in mind that there may be some variation from unit to unit. So far, after performing the so-called ‘secret’ fix (among a list of tweaks discovered so far) my particular S-8800 appears to be able to zero beat LSB/USB with little or no variation between the side bands, pretty much up and down the SW bands.

Conclusions

For me, the S-8800 has turned out to be the biggest surprise of the last several years.  Coming seemingly out of nowhere, packaged in the cabinet of a receiver that was seen as mediocre at best, we have a triple conversion beauty (it seems to weigh almost nothing by the way) that provides pretty much every tool required these days to tackle what is left of shortwave broadcast reception.  It has superior audio, unless one compares to older Grundig and similar sets.

Drawbacks are quite few to be honest.  A case can definitely be made that using 18650 batteries was a poor choice by Tecsun.  This means, for example, that if you’re out on the beach or elsewhere for many hours, the only way to charge up the radio would be to use a separate phone battery charger rather than simply be able to slip in regular alkalines.  But then, I carry separate battery charge units already for my phone.

The big criticism that synchronous reception could have been included is also valid.  The same was said about the SONY ICF-SW55 — with synchronous reception, and a bit more careful design of the tuning circuit, that radio could have been a heavier hitter, a mini-ICF 2010, something the much more expensive SW-77 was designed to improve upon.

However, so far radios utilizing DSP chips have struggled when it comes to synchronous reception capability.  Indeed, the feature has ended up being discovered only as one of a number of ‘secret’ features. Only the PL-660 has a decent synchronous feature, but that radio is hobbled by limited selectivity options, while sync on the PL-880 is pretty much useless.

Finally, I have to say thank you to Tecsun for doing everything possible to avoid the dreaded ‘MUTING’ problem that has been seen on so many small portables.

As I found to my disappointment when using even the much-praised Eton Grundig Satellit, and even the C Crane Skywave SSB, this problem can be a killer for those of us who consider it absolutely critical to be able to hear EVERYTHING on and between frequencies.

So, the big question — would I recommend the S-8800?  As with almost everything, the answer to that is, it depends on what kind of a listener you are, and expectations.

From a performance perspective, if you are like me, a die-hard DX’er at heart who gets a kick out of searching for the last Peruvians on the air, the S-8800 should be more than sufficient.  If you’re both a die-hard DX’er and enjoy FM and AM, the 8800 should also be a perfect selection, since it’s been reviewed quite well in terms of medium wave and FM capability.

A personal note — for me, part of the fun of shortwave portables has been their ‘cool factor’.  I’m just one of those who likes to carry around complicated looking radios with lots of buttons. The SONY 2010, SW-55, SW-77s, older Grundigs all fit the bill.

I never thought the S-8800 or radios similar to it in appearance would.  So, for me it’s going to require a bit of a change, since the S-8800 looks like, well . . . it looks like a ‘toy radio’!

But it’s one hell of a toy-looking radio.  It’s a triple conversion monster packed in the frame of something that, at one point in the past, you might have considered getting for your kids (if they even knew or know what a radio is!).

As many of us are at this point in our lives, I am also thinking ahead — to the day when my numerous premium Watkins Johnson and JRC radios, and a few boatanchors hanging around, will have to go because of downsizing.

When I’m 65, as the Beatles song goes — or more likely 85 or 90 — what will I be able to fit on a bedside dresser and use easily to tune in whatever is left on shortwave (if anything)?

The answer to that question is a radio that’s small enough and enough of a performer, preferably with a well-designed remote, to bring in anything that’s still on HF, MW, and FM.  With those needs in mind, the answer is already here, in the Tecsun S-8800.

[I want to express sincere thanks to Anna at Anon-co who responded quickly when I proposed a review of the S-8800 and supplied the receiver on which this article is based.  Anna was patient as my original plan to have a review in by September was delayed by unavoidable personal matters. Thanks also to Tom Witherspoon for getting the review up so quickly].

Click here to check out the Tecsun S-8800 at Anon-Co’s website and here via the Anon-Co eBay store.


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The CommRadio CTX-10 has landed

Yesterday, UPS delivered a much-anticipated package: the CTX-10 QRP transceiver from CommRadio.

CommRadio dispatched this loaner CTX-10 for evaluation and I’m excited to get my hands on it since it’s not everyday I get to evaluate a transceiver designed around field portability (my favorite category of gear).

Yesterday, I took a few shots of the CTX-10 as I unpacked it:

I’ll need to build a fused power cable with the supplied pigtail and also sort out an 8 conductor (Yaesu compatible) modular plug microphone. Of course, I’ll give this radio a thorough review testing it on SSB, CW and digital modes (especially FT8).

Since the CTX-10 is built on the CommRadio CR-1 and CR-1A I anticipate a capable receiver section (in other words, expectations are high). Of course, I’ll test the CTX-10’s ability as a broadcast receiver as well.

Follow my progress by following the tag: CTX-10

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The TV-B-Gone: reviewing a fun and (incredibly) useful kit!

The TV-B-Gone kit

Post readers might recall that I attended and presented at  Circle of HOPE (Hackers On Planet Earth 2018 in New York City.

One of the many cool things about HOPE was the Hardware Hacking Village: a space with 40 or so fully-stocked soldering stations that HOPE attendees could use anytime during the conference.

One of the many HOPE Hardware Hacking Village tables

I built two kits at the conference: The Cricket QRP transceiver (read about that here) and a very cool little product called the TV-B-Gone.

What is the TV-B-Gone? As the name implies, it’s a TV remote control with only one function, one button and one mission: to turn off TVs!

The TV-B-Gone is packed with power codes for virtually any TV or monitor on the market. Simply point the remote at a TV, click its one button, and wait as the device cycles through loads of power codes in a few seconds.

At first blush, this might sound like a mischievous little device. I mean, imagine watching the World Cup finals at your favorite pub or bar and someone turns off all of the TVs in the establishment at a crucial moment in the game? I’m sure some purchase the TV-B-Gone for this very purpose.

That’s not me. I’m not into pranks and that’s not why TV-B-Gone designer (and Maker community giant) Mitch Altman designed this product. It was more about creating an “environmental management device”–a way to control the ubiquitous TV messages/media bombarding us in situations where they really don’t belong.

Mitch Altman in his element, teaching a class in the Hardware Hacking Village at HOPE 2018.

I’ll be the first to admit here that I’m a radio guy (big surprise, right–?) and really have no love for TVs. We have one 28″ TV in our home and it only receives one PBS station although we do use this TV it to watch the odd TV program or series via Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. I never consume news via TV unless a news-worthy event is one that must be seen. I prefer consuming news via radio or reading newspapers with objective reporters that I trust.

So when I met Mitch at HOPE and saw that he was selling a kit version of the TV-B-Gone for $20 US, I couldn’t fork out my money fast enough!

I bought the kit and built it at a table not even 10 feet away from him.

I meant to take photos of the TV-B-Gone kit as I built it, but was quite distracted helping a father and his 10 year old son both build their first kits (HumanaLight kits, of all things!) across from me.

Even though my attention was divided, I still completed the kit in well under an hour. I didn’t have two spare AA batteries to power it for testing purposes, but Mitch was nearby and gave me two new AA cells.

The TV-B-Gone kit is powered by two common AA batteries

After pushing the only button on this remote, the small green LED started blinking–“a good sign” said Mitch. Then he had me turn on the front-facing camera of my Android phone to verify the LEDs were blinking (front-facing cameras don’t filter IR light–who knew?). They were blinking/flickering like mad.

Mitch said, “Now you have the power to turn off TVs…and you should!

The TV-B-Gone kit sports four powerful LEDs that are effective up to 150 feet away.

I bought this kit with one specific use in mind: hotel dining rooms.

I travel quite a lot and almost always stay in hotels that provide breakfast in a small dining room area of the lobby. I’m often travelling with family, so I wake up quite early, head to the breakfast area, grab a cup of coffee, and catch up with SWLing Post correspondence, comments and posts. Most of the time, I’m the only person in the dining room, yet the TV is blaring the news (often an outlet I don’t like) and there is no remote to be found.

This is where the TV-B-Gone could bring peace to my morning. But would it work? Time to find out!

On a trip through Connecticut in August, I stayed a few nights at a Hilton Garden Inn. I found an excellent spot to work on a comfy couch in a corner nook of the lobby. The couch faced a fireplace and was perfect for relaxing and catching up on work. One morning, I woke at 5:30 AM, headed down to the lobby and grabbed a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, right above the fireplace in this small nook was perched a monster flat screen TV with the news blaring. At 5:30 AM!?!

There was no remote to be found, so I reached into my bag, pulled out the TV-B-Gone, pressed the button and within 5 seconds, the TV turned off.

I knew then: I’d fallen in love with this $20 kit.

Then again in New York, last week, I was having breakfast at 6:00 AM in a small hotel. The only other people in the dining room were obviously with the military and there together for breakfast and a chat/debriefing before starting their day. None of them were watching the TV which was blaring commercials–in fact, they had all positioned themselves at the farthest point from the TV and facing away. I had a hunch they wouldn’t mind if I turned off the TV, so I pulled out the TV-B-Gone and didn’t even remove it from the poly bag I keep it in. One press of the button and seconds later the TV went silent.

I heard one of the guys at the other table say, “I hope they keep that thing turned off!”

I won’t lie: it felt like I was wielding a super power.

My EDC Pack easily accommodates the TV-B-Gone.

My TV-B-Gone remote now permanently lives in a dedicated pocket at the front of my EDC pack (a Tom Bihn Stowaway, in case you’re interested).

My TV-B-Gone remote now travels with me everywhere.

If you’re like me and would like a little device to manage your environment, I strongly recommend the TV-B-Gone.

I had a lot of fun building the kit version of TV-B-Gone, but if you don’t care to build one, Mitch has pre-built key chain versions of this same remote on his website for a mere $24.95. Note that the kit version comes with all you need to set up the remote for international use (power codes and configuration differ based on region). If you purchase a pre-built keychain, make sure you buy the version for the part of the world where you intend to use it.

TV-B-Gone Retailers:

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A review of the Tivdio HR-11S self-powered shortwave radio

A few months ago, the radio manufacturer Tivdio contacted me to see if I would be interested in evaluating their new Tivdio HR-11S self-powered emergency radio. I receive requests like this frequently, and often pass on the opportunity since I generally don’t have the time to evaluate the overwhelming number of inexpensive DSP radios that have hit the market in the past few years.

But this time, I seriously considered it.  There were two reasons I was interested in the HR-11S:

  1. I purchased a Tivdio V-117 last year, and have been pretty pleased with it; indeed, I’m overdue a review on this unit. We’ve also posted several positive reviews of the Tivdio V-115.
  2. At our non-profit ETOW, we’re always looking for reliable self-powered radios with shortwave for use in areas of the world where radio remains the primary news source.

Thus this radio is a rather rare breed.  Tivdio dispatched the radio very quickly, but my work with the Radio Spectrum Archive and several other reviews already in the pipeline took priority.

I’ve had the HR-11S in service for several months, and have now explored every feature to some degree. What follows is my summary and review notes.

Green and Red radios are different models

First things first: note that I’m reviewing the Green HR-11S. Tivdio also makes a Red version which is actually a different model number: the HR-11W.

The main difference between these models, as I understand it, is the green HR-11S is a shortwave version, and the red HR-11W is a NOAA weather radio version.

Both are useful; why not combine the two roles in one unit?  I’m not surprised this radio can’t include both shortwave and NOAA weather radio. Through Ears To Our World, I’ve worked with self-powered DSP radios for many years, and know that a limitation of the DSP chip is that it can be set to feature either shortwave or weather radio, but not both, simultaneously, if both AM and FM are included.

Form factor

The HR-11S has a built-in solar panel.

The HR-11S adopts the standard “flashlight” form factor found in so many other self-powered radios. I think the flashlight functionality is a useful feature and results in a handy form factor.  It’s compact, lightweight, and seems relatively sturdy, so is suitable for camping, travel, and off-grid utility.

Flashlight/Siren switch

A small switch on top toggles between four positions. The first two positions are off/on for the main white LED. Though the flashlight aperture is relatively small, the white LED provides enough luminosity to light your immediate path at night, and certainly more than enough to read by.

The third switch position engages a flashing red LED. The red LED is not terribly bright and I’m not sure how helpful this would be in an emergency situation.

The red LED is rather dim and can only flash.

I would much rather have the red LED maintain a steady beam which would be great for amateur astronomers, campers, or anyone else wishing to preserve their night vision.

The fourth position engages a LOUD siren. More than once when attempting to turn on the flashlight in the dark, I’ve accidentally engaged this pain-inducing feature. The switch is small, thus it’s very easy to engage the siren. In a quiet campground, this might annoy your neighbors––not to mention you, yourself.  Of course, in an emergency situation, a loud siren could come in handy. I just wish its switch wasn’t combined with the flashlight switch.

The display HR-11S display is backlit and easy to read.

The HR-11S sports a keypad that allows direct frequency input––a very good thing, considering there is no tuning knob.

To band scan, you must use the #7 and #8 key on the keypad to increase and decrease frequency in predetermined steps. And, yes, the radio mutes between frequency changes.

You can also press and hold the #7 or #8 buttons to engage an auto-tune feature that finds the next strong signal.

The HR-11S’ rechargeable battery pack.

To input a frequency directly, simply press the enter button, key in the frequency, then press the enter button once more to engage that frequency. Very simple.

The volume up/down buttons are #1 and #2 on the keypad.

The keypad is not backlit and the layout for volume control, tuning, mode switching, etc., is a bit confusing; it doesn’t match any other radio I’ve ever used.  Of course, with time you’ll master the keypad functions, but the design could be made more user-friendly.

Performance: setting expectations

SWLing Post community members know that I tend to review what I call “enthusiast grade” radios: receivers that perform well enough to attract the attention of DXers and dedicated listeners.

Self-powered radios, with few exceptions, rarely impress me in terms of performance. Indeed, some of the best that have been on the market have been analog units (I’m particularly fond of the Grundig FR200).

The Tivdio HR-11S is no exception––don’t expect to snag elusive DX with this unit. It’s not going to happen.

FM

The HR-11S is a capable FM receiver. Performance is on par with most average FM radios: you’ll easily receive all of your local broadcasters, but distant stations may require holding the unit in your hand, careful positioning, or adding an extra bit of wire to the antenna.

The FM audio is quite good via the HR-11S’s built-in speaker.

AM

The mediumwave, or AM broadcast band, is the HR-11S’ weakest suit. AM is plagued with internally-generated noises–especially in the lower part of the band–thus you’ll only be able to clearly receive local AM broadcasters that rise well above the noise floor. Thus I cannot recommend this radio for AM reception.

Shortwave

Shortwave reception is on par with other DSP self-powered radios I’ve tested. As I write this section of the review, I’m listening to China Radio International on 9,570 kHz in my office without even having the telescopic whip antenna extended. (CRI is a blowtorch station, however).

I find that the HR-11S can receive most strong broadcasters and even weaker stations, though the AGC is not ideal when fading is present.

If you’re seeking a self-powered radio with shortwave, the HR-11S is somewhat useful in this regard and is worth consideration.

Keep in mind, though, that an inexpensive dedicated ultralight shortwave radio like the Tecsun PL-310ET will perform circles around this unit.

Bluetooth

One feature I’ve found incredibly useful is the Bluetooth functionality.  With Bluetooth mode engaged, you can connect the HR-11S to pretty much any mobile device and use it as a wireless portable external speaker. Since the speaker has decent audio fidelity for the size, and can be powered by battery, it’s a brilliant feature and will make watching videos on your smartphone, for example, that much better.

One negative? At least in my unit, I can hear some internally-generated noises in Bluetooth mode. This is especially noticeable at lower volume levels.

Recording

In full disclosure, I haven’t tested the recording functionality extensively. Built-in radio recording is an interesting feature, but one I would rarely use in a self-powered radio. I did make a handful of test recordings, however, and like many other DSP radios with a recording function, the HR-11S injects noise in the recordings.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions and observations. Here’s the Tivdio HR-11S pro/con list, from the first moments I turned it on to the present:

Pros:

  • Keypad entry
  • Great audio for size
  • Replaceable battery (Note: after unboxing unit, you must place battery in battery compartment; it’s packed in the side box)
  • Siren  (see con)
  • Micro SD card for digital storage
  • USB can port audio from PC
  • Bluetooth––use as a portable wireless speaker for mobile devices (see con)
  • ATS (auto tune) function
  • Multiple power sources:
    • 850mAh rechargeable lithium battery
    • hand-crank dynamo generator
    • Mini solar panel
    • DC 5V input (standard micro USB)
  • Backlit informative display
  • Customer service: Tivdio representatives seem to respond quickly to customer emails and comments on Amazon.com.

Cons:

  • Tuning is cumbersome (no tuning knob)
  • Mutes between frequencies
  • Siren too easy to activate, resulting in accidental activation
  • AM broadcast band (MW) is plagued with internally-generated noises
  • Keypad configuration is not intuitive and difficult to memorize for use at night or low light settings
  • Hand strap is very difficult to insert (hint: use a thin loop of wire to help thread it)
  • At low volume, noises can be heard in Bluetooth mode
  • Noises heard in recording function

Conclusion

Running an ATS scan on shortwave.

As I mentioned early in this review, I must set realistic expectations when reviewing self-powered radios. When most consumers consider a self-powered radio, they’re seeking a simple, basic radio that will provide information during times of need: power outages, natural disasters, or while hiking, camping, boating, or simply in an off-grid setting.

Internally-generated noises––especially on the AM band––will disappoint radio enthusiasts. If Tivdio could address this in future iterations of the HR-11S, it would substantially improve this unit.

My overall impression is that the HR-11S is chock-full of features, but none of them are terribly refined. There are even some internally-generated noises in Bluetooth mode, which really surprised me as it seems like an oversight by engineering.

I see the Tivdio HR-11S is a bit of a “Swiss Army Knife” of a self-powered radio. It has more functionality and connectivity than any other self-powered radio I’ve tested to date. Its features will, no doubt, appeal to the average consumer––and a quick look at Amazon reviews seem to support this theory. As a radio enthusiast, however, I would pass on the HR-11S until the internally-generated noises have been addressed.

Click here to view to the Tivdio HR-11S on Amazon.com (affiliate link supports this site).

See coupon codes below.

For those who are interested, Tivdio passed along several coupon codes that SWLing Post readers can use to save money, should they decide to purchase the HR-11S:

For a 5% discount, use code:

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Jack reviews the Digitech AR-1780

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jack Kratoville, who shares the following guest post:


A review of the Digitech AR-1780

by Jack Kratoville

As a previous post noted, the quest for the perfect radio drives us far and wide; in this case, as far as Australia. Since it’s rare these days to be able to walk into brick and mortar to touch, play and even bring home a radio to test; I’m grateful for online communities like the SWLing Post to research new and existing product. The caveat being “another must-have for my collection.”

I truly thought I had found happiness with my traveling Grundig tandem of the G5 and G6 – that is until the DSP chip was introduced. For the past 2 years, I’ve been satisfied packing the CCrane Skywave, Tecsun PL-360 and one wild card for domestic travel. My bottom line is when I’m listening to a certain radio in a given location, did I ever regret not bringing something else? The Skywave has satisfied over 95% of the time.

When the AR1780 popped up on this site, something about it piqued my interest. I had heard the Digitech name and it was always associated with a less than favorable opinion. This radio, however, was drawing unexpected praise. It was the video reviews that put me over the top with rich audio coming through even cheap condenser mics. I called Jaycar and had one shipped. Now you can add me to the list of those who are quite pleased with this addition to my radio family.

I’ll start with the primary reason to consider this radio – the sound emanating from the on board speaker. The AR1780 sounds better or as good as any unit this size. And this isn’t just a benefit for FM listening, but for AM/SW/AIR as well. I’ve never seen such tonal balance across all bands.

If you’re looking for a smaller portable with above par performance and excellent audio, you can stop here and place your order. Otherwise, on to my observations:

FM

I enjoy FM DXing and the fidelity of this band. Even though I’ve become accustomed to the sound of the Skywave (it does mellow with age), the AR1780 blows me away. Crisp highs and lows with rich bass that highlights both music and vocals. There is no tonal adjustment on this radio and, frankly to my ears, it doesn’t need one.

Performance is on par with the Skywave and other DSP units. While the Skywave has slightly better selectivity, the 1780 pulls in a tad more signal with its longer whip. The RDS feature works great and is a plus when skips and trop bring in distant signals.

Mediumwave / AM

As sensitive as the Skywave and G5. I’ve gone up and down the dial and my unit doesn’t produce birdies or hets anywhere. Very happy about that. For local signals, once again the sound is wonderful with choices of wide bandwidth. And even with distant music stations, rare as they may be, the AR1780 produces more fidelity than noise. When Zoomer 740 comes in full strength, this radio sounds as good as it gets. Where the Skywave has a tonal advantage is when filtering is at its narrowest. I can still hear signals clearly, whereas the Digitech can get a bit muddy. Depends on signal.

I’ll mention here that the advantage of CCrane’s products is upgraded filtering. The AR1780 burps and clicks when you enter anything on the keypad – even from the Skywave’s keypad if the radios are close to each other! Otherwise, they are very similar in response to outside RF and other noise producing electronics.

Shortwave

I receive everything on this radio as I do on the Skywave & G5.

Where I find weakness with the AR1780 is the soft muting and the scan feature is far, far slower than the Skywave. I’ve scanned for signals on other radios and loaded the presets on the Digitech.

I haven’t found any birdies yet, but it will whistle while starting up on Radio Miami, then calm down completely once fully captured. But that’s only when 9395 is the start up frequency. If I switch to SW and it starts elsewhere and I hit the preset for 9395 – nothing! Strange, but an acceptable artifact. I have to admit, it sounds great listening to music on WRMI!

SSB

I don’t have the Skywave SSB, but the Digitech is slightly less sensitive than the G5. Not sure if it’s due to filtering, antenna length, the DSP chip or all of the above. It’s there, but sometimes not worth straining to listen to. I haven’t tried an external antenna as of yet. The G5 doesn’t feature the USB / LSB option, so the Digitech is easier to tune. Full disclosure, SSB was never a deal breaker for me and I’m satisfied with what I can hear.

AIR Band

A touch more sensitive than the Skywave here. As all my testing is done strictly from the whip – that might be the advantage.

General

I have to say the build of this radio is very impressive. Buttons are very firm and responsive. The tuning knob is superb. As the weakest physical part of the Skywave, the AR1780’s knob, and its fine tuning counterpart, are spot on perfect. Nothing sloppy here.

Battery consumption (4 AA) seems above average, although not super-impressive. It’s hard for me to analyze at the moment as I’ve been playing with this radio constantly. I probably take more notice when I’m replacing 4 instead of 2 and may eventually jump over to rechargeable AAs. Interestingly, I took the 4 batteries I had worn down just one notch in the AR1780 and stuck them in a Sangean PDR-18. The meter on the PDR-18 showed only one bar or less.

The Skywave gives you 10 pages of 10 memories, the AR1780 gives you 50 pages! Even without explanation in the manual, setting these up are very intuitive.

The dial provides plenty of information. Curiously, if tilted while off, there are indicators for Music, Voice, Snyc, DAB & WB. While none are employed by the AR1780, perhaps there’s something else in the works!

What I find annoying

The display defaults to the temperature or the alarm. If you use signal strength or time during operation, it defaults to temp when you turn it off. Both of my Tecsuns will let you set display for both radio on and off. It bugs me most because holding the radio always sends the thermometer up by 10-12 degrees!

It takes a good 3 seconds to power up or switch bands. I’ve heard of other radios having this trait, but this is my first experience. And this action does use a bit of power because switching bands, not the dial light, will show the first signs of battery wear. (Again, I’ve had no issues with severe battery draw and compare 4 alkaline usage with my G5.)

The Skywave has spoiled me with its super-fast scanning. The Digitech is similar to most Tecsuns. I’ve noticed them all skipping segments on the SW band.

I hear a difference between FM stereo and monaural from the onboard speaker. This is the result of a right or left channel only feed to the speaker when the radio is in stereo. The Grundig Mini 100 did this and without a mono setting, it drove me crazy. I like to see the stereo indicator, but it looks like the AR1780 needs to be set in Mono when listening to FM through the speaker.

There are a number of general traits that the AR1780 shares with the Skywave that I would have preferred to be more like the CC Pocket:

  • I prefer a lock switch over a long-press lock button.
  • When you switch to a different page on the Pocket, it only changes that band and stays on the current frequency. Both the Digitech and Skywave switch over all bands to that page number.
  • One last minor annoyance (getting very picky here), the dial light seems to flash when you turn the radio off. The Pocket doesn’t.

OK, the bad

As a portable / travel radio, I can’t image why there is no pouch!

Add $5 and provide something to protect this in the go bag. At least this problem can be remedied. A pouch from the Sangean ATS-606 fits perfectly.

But the biggest flaw I found (and this may answer the power consumption others have noted) is the light continues to function in the locked position! All buttons are disabled, but press anything and the light comes on. I can imagine packing this radio and as it gets pressed against something else, the light remains on until the batteries are drained. A major design error here.

Conclusion

I’m more than impressed and extremely happy I made this purchase. I have no doubt this radio will be a primary travel companion. Since I always take a few on the road, surprisingly this won’t displace the Skywave. (I really enjoy that radio), but rather the veteran Grundig G5. While still considered one of my favorites, the Digitech provides as much performance and a few more features in a smaller package.

If I were choosing between the Digitech AR1780 and the Skywave SSB – that would be a touch choice. As I mentioned before, SSB has never been a deal breaker during travel and I love the original Skywave as is. Portable means smaller and the Skywave is the perfect size. I use the weather band more than LW, but the fidelity on the AR1780 is absolutely superb.

And while I’ve read the Skywave SSB is going through initial run growing pains, CCrane has been stellar when it comes to customer service and final product. They’re radio geeks like us – Digitech is simply a badge on a product manufactured by another company. (Jaycar seems like decent people.) Bottom line – let’s see how the Digitech is holding up after 2-3 years of usage.

I treat my radios like babies, but I’ve seen most wear down with unresponsive buttons, scratchy volume or fading displays. In fact, the only two grizzled veterans still operating at 100% are my Grundig G6 and Tecsun PL-360. Even my 7600GR’s volume is failing.

Worth it so far? Absolutely – without a doubt. Any future quirks, discoveries and disappointments will be shared.


Jack, thank you for sharing this excellent review!

I couldn’t agree with you more–the AR-1780 must have the best on-board audio of any compact shortwave portable I’ve tested. As you state, what makes it stand out is the fact that audio is wonderfully balanced across the bands. And what better way to check mediumwave audio? Why Zoomer Radio (CFZM) of course! One of my favorite night time catches. 

Thanks for the note about switching FM to mono while listening via the built-in speaker. I don’t believe I had tried that yet.

And, like you, I find the active backlight during keylock such an odd behavior. I actually opened one of my travel bags during the holidays to find that the backlight was somehow fixed in the “on” position…with keylock engaged! I supposed the LED backlight has little effect on battery consumption because I imagine this the backlight was engaged for as much as three days, yet the battery still showed full bars. 

The AR-1780 is a quirky radio, but by golly it’s a good one and a great value! Thanks again for the excellent review, Jack.

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