Tag Archives: Sangean ATS-405

The SWLing Post 2015-2016 Shortwave Radio Buyer’s Guide

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


FourRadiosAbstract2

Despite the often-expressed view that shortwave may be on the decline, if one were to look at this year’s shortwave technology alone, the truth would seem to be anything but. Remarkably, 2015 has been a great year for the shortwave radio listener, as several models of portables, tabletops, and SDRs have been either introduced or improved.

The following is a basic, easy-to-follow buyer’s guide to some of the best receivers on the market currently. This guide is, by no means, comprehensive; rather, it’s a selection of rigs I have tested, some of which I now own. It builds on the guide I published in the November 2014 issue of TSM, and highlights innovations since that issue, while still acknowledging the contributions of previous models.

Compact/Travel portables

If your budget is tight, or if you’re looking for a radio that could easily slip into your glove compartment, backpack, carry-on, or even jacket pocket, you need to consider a compact shortwave radio.

Typically, there is a performance compromise with compact radios: they don’t always have the sensitivity of their more expensive cousins; they have a more limited frequency range; and they don’t detect single-sideband signals. Nonetheless, the ones listed here are fine performers for their size and price. Entries are listed in alphabetical order.

The Eton Traveller III

The Eton Traveller III

Eton Traveller III

Eton has once again refreshed the design of its popular “Traveller” series of compact receivers: their latest is the third edition, the Eton Traveller III. I’ve owned the past two versions of the Traveller, and having learned to appreciate these, was eager to get my hands on the newest Traveller III. As the name implies, this is a great little radio for the international traveler; it not only has shortwave, AM and FM bands, but it also has a world clock that can easily be switched from the front panel, a useful alarm function, and great built-in speaker. New to the Traveller III is FM RDS: a great way to capture FM station identification when visiting a new city. The key lock is prominent on the front panel and the included padded nylon case is one of the most rugged I’ve seen in years. Performance is what I’ve come to expect from the Traveller series: superb AM (mediumwave) reception, great FM reception, and capable shortwave reception. It lacks the multiple bandwidths found in other similar DSP radios, but my impression is that the default bandwidths are adequate for multi-band listening.

The Eton Traveller III is available from Universal Radio, Amazon.com and more outlets via Eton. Pricing ranges from is $55-60 US.

The C.Crane CC Skywave

The C.Crane CC Skywave

CC Skywave

Only a couple of weeks before the Christmas holiday of 2014, C. Crane introduced a compact portable that truly impressed me: the CC Skywave. The Skywave is as compact as any other ultralight radio, but adds a host of features that has made it an invaluable radio for my one-bag air travels. The CC Skywave covers the following bands: Shortwave, AM, FM, Weather, and Aviation. It’s a comprehensive toolbox of frequency bands and listening modes which only lacks, sadly, SSB.

Ergonomics are excellent for such a small portable. It’s easy to use, as well: I only needed to reference the well-written manual for a few functions. I find the CC Skywave to be very sensitive on shortwave and mediumwave, rivaling radios that cost much more.

One negative I’ve learned through readers of the SWLing Post is that the first production run of the CC Skywave was prone to overload in the presence of strong local broadcast stations. C.Crane have confirmed that this has been addressed in the latest CC Skywave production run and is no longer an issue. To insure you’re receiving a unit from the latest production run, consider purchasing directly through CCrane.

The CC Skywave is sold by Universal Radio, Amazon.com and directly by C.Crane. Price is $89 US.

The CountyComm GP5/SSB

The CountyComm GP5/SSB

CountyComm GP5/SSB (Tecsun PL-365)

CountyComm––a retail distributor of products created primarily for use by the US government––introduced a new shortwave portable late in 2014: the GP5/SSB. The GP5/SSB came about as a result of a large order CountyComm received from a US government department for an “inexpensive, small portable, AM/FM/SW radio with SSB” for emergency supply caches and diplomatic posts. Like its predecessor, the GP5/DSP, the GP5/SSB has a vertical form factor, much like a handy-talky, and a detachable/rotatable ferrite bar antenna that greatly improves AM/mediumwave reception. The GP5 series is limited by a small internal speaker that sounds somewhat tinny; it also lacks a direct entry keypad. Still, with a pair of headphones and some careful memory allocation, the GP5 is a pleasure to use.

If you’re looking for an ultra-portable radio with SSB, then the GP5/SSB is a very good choice. (It may, in fact, be the only ultra-portable SSB choice currently on the market). While the SSB performance can’t compare with larger, pricier receivers, or ham radio transceivers, it’s very good for $80 US. If you’re looking for an emergency communications receiver––something to stash in your vehicle, emergency kit, or bug-out bag––the CountyComm GP5/SSB is a great choice and value. Indeed, that’s who the GP5/SSB was designed for, and why this rig has excellent frequency coverage in all modes, with good sensitivity/selectivity and designed for portable, one-handed operation. In fact, CountyComm has even designed and manufactured (and in the USA!) a robust, protective 1000-Denier case for the GP5/SSB. This case makes it very easy to strap the GP5/SSB to your belt or backpack securely.

The CountyComm GP5/SSB is available from Universal Radio and directly from CountyComm.

The Sangean ATS-405

The Sangean ATS-405

Sangean ATS-405

I was surprised this year when Sangean introduced its latest compact/travel receiver, the ATS-405. I had heard rumors that Sangean may have been leaving the shortwave radio scene, so was pleased to learn that Sangean was not only still invested in the hobby, but innovating. Indeed, the ATS-405 has features that have not yet been included on small DSP-powered portables: specifically, the ability to control squelch, tuning mute, and soft mute.

The ‘405 is a decent little radio with a great deal of functionality and features for a rig in its price class. But overall, its performance seems rather mediocre. If you primarily listen to FM, you’ll be pleased. If you’re a mediumwave listener, you’ll be pleased only if you don’t mind the 800/1600 kHz DSP birdies which plagued both of my review units. If you’re primarily a shortwave listener, you’ll need to carry a clip-on wire antenna to bring the sensitivity up to the level of similarly-priced receivers. I also found performance variations between my two review units; an indication that quality control is somewhat inconsistent at the factory.

The Sangean ATS-405 is available via Universal Radio and Amazon.com. Price is $89 US.

Other compact/travel radios

In the 2014 Buyer’s Guide we included several other compact travel radios worth considering: The [original] Kaito KA1103/Degen DE1103, Tecsun PL-310ET, and the Tecsun PL-380 to name a few.

Full-Featured Portables

In the portables market, I believe you get the most value and quality in the $90-250 price class. Most beginners and seasoned SWLs prefer a radio that includes everything necessary to get on the air immediately; all of these radios provide just that. Straight out of the box, you’ll have everything you need to listen to shortwave bands. All of these recommended radios are designed to pick up major shortwave broadcasters with ease, and offer the following features: good frequency coverage; circuitry that helps in the detection of weaker stations; and with a few notable exceptions, the ability to receive single-sideband.

The Tecsun PL-680

The Tecsun PL-680

Tecsun PL-680

The latest Tecsun full-featured portable––the PL-680––appeared on the market in February this year. Cosmetically, the receiver is nearly identical to the Tecsun PL-600, but with the added features of the Tecsun PL-660. Indeed, in terms of features and comparing them with that of the venerable PL-660, there are no obvious additions on the PL-680. The PL-680 has been improved, however, in its shortwave reception. The PL-680 is both slightly more sensitive and has a more stable AGC (Automatic Gain Control) than the PL-660. If you are primarily a shortwave radio listener and wish to have one of the best sub-$200 receivers currently on the market, the PL-680 may be the rig for you.

On the other hand, if you are primarily a mediumwave DXer and already own the PL-660, you will likely want to pass on the PL-680. The PL-680’s mediumwave reception is simply not as good as that of the PL-660. The PL-660 is both more sensitive and has a lower noise floor on mediumwave.

Note that since its introduction, inventory of the PL-680 has fluctuated; the primary retailer is Anon-Co in Hong Kong and on eBay. Price is $95 US (plus shipping from China).

The Eton Satellit

The Eton Satellit

Eton Satellit

Last year, Eton released the Satellit: a new full-featured portable, essentially replacing the venerable Grundig G3, but carrying the name of the flagship Grundig Satellit series.

The Satellit has many of the same functions as the Grundig G3, and has a near-identical form-factor, but sports a new amber backlit display, multiple bandwidths, and a double-jointed telescopic antenna. The Satellit performs admirably on the AM/mediumwave bands, quite well on the shortwave band but, most notably, performs brilliantly on FM. The audio fidelity from the built-in speaker is quite robust; indeed, it’s among the best in its class. The key layout and ergonomics are similar to the Grundig G3 and G5; meaning, the radio is quite simple to use. One negative is that the Satellit mutes between frequencies while tuning, however, this is minimal in the most recently-updated production runs. I’m very pleased that all of the new Eton radios lack the tactile rubber coating found on some previous models, for while the coating works excellently to improve one’s grip on the radio, over time it can become sticky to the touch (if you find this to be a problem, here are several techniques to clean the sticky residue: http://bit.ly/1KQN8TX).

At time of print, the Satellit is generally available for about $180-190 from a variety of retailers, including Universal Radio and Amazon.com.

Other full-featured portables

In the 2014 Buyer’s Guide, we included several other full-featured radios that are still certainly worth considering: The C. Crane CCRadio-SW, Sangean ATS-909X, Sony ICF-SW7600GR, Tecsun PL-600, Tecsun PL-660, and the Tecsun PL-880.

Hybrid Stand-Alone SDR/Tabletops

While tabletop receivers have started to decline with the advent of SDRs, there are many listeners who still prefer a simple, dedicated, stand-alone high-performance receiver with a good tuning knob and clear display, which is to say, a tabletop receiver. Tabletops are designed to perform best with a resonant external antenna.

The Elad FDM-DUOr

The Elad FDM-DUOr

Elad FDM-DUOr

If you’ve been thinking of purchasing an SDR, but really want a traditional front-panel tabletop receiver, the Elad FDM-DUOr may be for you. I’ve included the FDM-DUOr under the tabletop heading because it is, in fact, a tabletop receiver, with the features of a tabletop such as a front panel, knobs, display, and capability to operate independent of a PC. However, if you choose to hook it to a PC, you unleash a full-fledged SDR and a wide array of features. The FDM-DUOr is built on the same receiver and software as the FDM-S2, one of my favorite sub $1000 SDRs. The FDM-DUOr also sports 10 selectable and customizable filter preselectors and an internal switch box for use with an external transceiver.

At time of print, Elad is seeking FCC approval for the FDM-DUOr in order to distribute these units in the USA. The FDM-DUOr is currently available in Europe via the Elad online store: Price is 899.00 €.

The CommRadio CR-1a

The CommRadio CR-1a

CommRadio CR1-a

US-based manufacturer CommRadio introduced the CR-1 in 2013––an amazingly rugged, portable receiver, and essentially a small tabletop SDR. I’ve used mine in travels and at home; the built-in rechargeable battery will power it for hours, it’s built to a mil-spec standard, and it performs like a champ.

In 2014, CommRadio increased the SDR potential of the CR-1 by updating with a new model: the CR-1a. In 2015, CommRadio continued to add features to the CR-1a through firmware and software upgrades, such as a new Spectrum Viewer SDR application, and 3D-Waterfall for Windows PCs.

CommRadio CR-1a owners only need to update their firmware and download software to use the new feature. The CR-1a is priced at $599.95 US, shipped, and includes a battery through Universal Radio––good value for a quality piece of kit. CommRadio also sells the CR-1a directly through their website.

Other tabletops

In the 2014 Buyer’s Guide, we included several other tabletop radios, including the Alinco DX-R8T and the Icom IC-R75.

SDRs/IF Receivers

If you’re searching for maximum performance for the price, software-defined radios (SDRs) and IF receivers are hard to beat. These small “black box” radios require a computer to unlock performance, none are stand-alone. But while I was never a fan of combining my PC with radio listening, once I starting using an SDR, I never turned back. Now, 90% of the time that I’m on the air, it’s with an SDR. The ease of doing so is incomparable, and the functionality simply incredible.

The Elad FDM-S2

The Elad FDM-S2

Elad FDM-S2 and the new SPF-08 preselector

If you read the Elad FDM-S2 review in the November 2014 issue of TSM you’ll know that this little SDR packs a powerful punch for the price. FDM-S2 performance is uncompromising, comparing favorably to receivers $300-400 more in price. The S2 also provides native DRM decoding; it’s a fine DRM receiver.

Users who live in the vicinity of high-powered AM stations will be pleased to know that Elad has developed an outboard preselector box that pairs with the FDM-S2––the new SPF-08, which covers the amateur radio bands. Elad already has a broadcast band version of the SPF-8 in development. The SPF-08 enclosure is the same size as that of the FDM-S2 and couples with it directly via a port on the back of both units.

Both the Elad FDM-S2 and SPF-08 are available via Elad’s online store: http://ecom.eladit.com/

The SDRplay RSP

The SDRplay RSP

SDRplay RSP

The SDRplay RSP was one of the most pleasant surprises I encountered in the world of software defined receivers this year. I published a review of the RSP in the May 2015 issue of TSM; in short, I was amazed at the performance of this $149 SDR. While it doesn’t have its own proprietary SDR application, it is compatible with some of the most popular free applications on the market: SDR Console, SDR Sharp, and HDSDR to name a few. SDRplay developers are even testing a Raspberry Pi application for the RSP.

Since the time of my review, SDRplay has updated the RSP to include gapless coverage from 100 kHz to 2 GHz––talk about wideband coverage!

If you have been hesitant to invest in a benchmark SDR, or simply want to explore the world of SDRs on a small budget, the SDRplay RSP is a no-brainer. Without a doubt, it packs a lot of performance in a tiny, affordable package. The SDRplay user community is also very active and routinely pushes the boundaries of this little receiver.

The SDRplay RSP is available at SDRplay.com and, in the US, at Ham Radio Outlet.

The RFspace Cloud-IQ

The RFspace Cloud-IQ

RFSpace CloudIQ

The Cloud-IQ is the latest software-defined receiver from the US-based company RFSPACE. The Cloud-IQ offers two modes of operation:

  • the “IQ mode,” which provides 24-bit IQ streaming to your PC over an ethernet cable (much like the RFSpace NetSDR).
  • the stand-alone “cloud mode,” which includes a built-in internet server. In cloud mode, according to RFSpace, “the receiver performs the tuning and demodulation of signals and transmits the demodulated information back to a PC, OS-X, Linux, or Android client anywhere in the world.”

RFSpace is essentially one of the first SDR manufacturers to include built-in SDR streaming functionality, something that has been somewhat complicated to implement in other SDRs.

The price point is also favorable at $629.95 through Ham Radio OutletAmazon, Astroradio and ML&S. Availability has been quite limited this year, but more production runs are planned for the near future. I plan to review the RFSpace CloudIQ in late 2015 or early 2016, as soon as a unit becomes available.

Other SDR/IF receivers

In the 2014 Buyer’s Guide we included several other SDRs and IF receivers worth considering, including the Bonito RadioJet IF-Receiver 1102S, Microtelecom Perseus, and the WinRadio Excalibur. Additionally, note that the affordable Airspy SDR will soon have a new converter to cover HF down to 1kHz–look for a review in 2016.

The Shortwave Radio Index

If you would like to view a comprehensive list of all shortwave radios currently on the market, check out the Shortwave Radio Index (http://swling.com/db).

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DSP noise may come from clock and data line harmonics

ATS-405-9580kHz

In response to our review of the Sangean ATS-405–which noted DSP noises on 800 and 1600 kHz–SWLing Post reader, Steve Yothment, comments:

“Yes, modern radios usually have a micro communicating with the DSP IC through I2C communications.

The inter-IC communications includes a clock and data line. The clock for I2C is typically 400 kHz nowadays. Harmonics from this clock line are probably the source of the interference.

The manufacturer should have designed the product to ensure that this interference does not occur. It may be that they resolved it at one time but with limited manufacturing quality and component substitutions that often occur in mass production, the problem is occurring now even though it may have looked OK earlier in development. At least, that is my experience with such things. (I used to design car radios for the Panasonic Company.)

You can learn more about the I2C bus at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%C2%B2C.

Many thanks for your comments, Steve! I recall a similar metronomic sound on another DSP-based radio, but can’t remember which model. I need to dig through my reviews as I’m sure I noted this. I believe checking 400, 800 and 1600 kHz will become a standard checklist item when I review DSP-based radios.

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Update: Sangean ATS-405 review

Sangean-ATS-405After publishing my initial review of the Sangean ATS-405 on July 25, I contacted Sangean and requested a sample radio for comparison purposes. Back story:  there were some receiver performance issues that I suspected may have been tied to my particular ATS-405 unit. Sangean kindly dispatched another ATS-405 which I received last week. The following is an update to my initial ATS-405 review.

In truth, there were two main reasons I wanted another unit to compare to my initial review radio:

  1. I wanted to see if the new unit showed improved performance–sensitivity, selectivity, and, specifically, noise floor–in comparison with the first review unit tested
  2. I noted strong DSP “birdies” (noises) on 800 and 1600 kHz on the test model, while several of our readers commented that their ‘405s did not feature birdies

Shortwave sensitivity/selectivity and noise

I noted in my initial review that the initial ATS-405 had an ever-present noise, a sort of low-volume static hiss. The noise floor, while not high, certainly seemed to be higher than other comparable shortwave portables, and was most noticeable when tuned to marginal/weak stations. I suspect many listeners may not notice it unless they compare it with other portables.

ATS-405-9580kHz

Fortunately, my new review unit’s noise floor seems to be slightly lower than that of my initial review unit. [Perhaps this unit’s board is better soldered–?] The noise is still there, but can be better mitigated by judiciously using narrow filters and the three-position audio tone control.

I suspect this is a noise somewhere in the audio amplification chain, because I find it less noticeable with headphones, and more pronounced via the ATS-405’s internal speaker.

In terms of sensitivity and selectivity on the shortwave bands, I believe my new unit is identical to that of the initial review unit. That is to say, the ATS-405 is not an especially  sensitive shortwave receiver, but fairly average, and thus will fit the bill for most but not for the discriminating weak-signal hunter.  Frankly, even my $46 Tecsun PL-310ET does a better job of pulling in weak stations.

I’ve tried tinkering with the AGC settings and soft mute–very cool features!–in an attempt to improve sensitivity, but alas, these only help the quality and stability of the received signal.

Birdies

Immediately after opening the box of the new ATS-405 sample, I popped in a fresh set of AA batteries and tuned the Sangean to 1600 kHz AM. [If you read my initial review, I noted a strong DSP birdie on 1600 and (to a lesser degree) on 800 kHz].

At first listen, I was happy to note that the new unit lacks the wild DSP noise that overwhelmed my favorite local station on 1600 kHz.

As I listened more carefully, though, I did note a metronomic “chick” sound that was also present but partially buried in the noise on my initial ATS-405.

ATS-405-1600kHz

Below, I’ve embedded audio comparing the two receivers:

Initial review unit:

New review unit:

Listening to these samples, I realize I may have had the filter set to the middle position on the first sample and the wide setting on the second (hence, the brighter tone).

To further demonstrate the difference between the two, I made this short video; I start with my initial review unit, then switch to the new review unit provided by Sangean:

Note that this was recorded at least 100 feet from my house on the tailgate of my pickup truck. DSP birdies on 800 kHz sounded very much like the 1600 kHz sample, save the noise level on the latter is slightly lower and there are no broadcast stations in the background.

None of my other portables have digital noises or birdies on 800 and 1600 kHz.

So, the bad news:  I do still hear a noticeable (and slightly annoying) internally-generated noise on the new review unit. The good news: it isn’t as objectionable as that on my initial review unit.

Summary

In short: I stand by my initial review of the Sangean ATS-405.

While the new ‘405 review sample seems to perform better than the initial ‘405 sample, I find the discrepancy somewhat marginal, especially since I spend the bulk of my time on the shortwave and mediumwave bands.

I’m not a fan of production runs where units vary so greatly from one to another, making accurate testing difficult. Therefore it’s quite possible you might receive a unit that performs better than those I tested…but unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

So, if you’re a Sangean fan, if you don’t mind the birdies on mediumwave, and if you mostly listen to strong shortwave stations, you may entertain purchasing an ATS-405. The keypad layout is almost identical to previous Sangean models.

To be clear, of course, this radio’s negatives above have been viewed under a microscope; the ATS-405 is not a “bad” receiver, it’s just not that exceptional. Other than the added mute/AGC/squelch features, when compared to its predecessors, it’s really not a better iteration.

In conclusion?  For the $90 US price, I believe there are better receivers out there–such as the Tecsun PL-600 (which, as a bonus, has USB/LSB reception–and saves you $10, to boot).

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Update: Sangean ATS-405 initial review

Sangean-ATS-405After publishing my initial review of the Sangean ATS-405, I received feedback from several ATS-405 owners (via comments and email–thank you!) who do not have the internally-generated DSP “birdies” that plague my receiver on 800 and 1600 kHz AM. I strongly suspect my ATS-405 has a manufacturing defect of some sort.

Sangean is kindly sending me another ATS-405 review sample for comparison purposes. I will post an update to the initial review as soon as I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate the new sample.

Follow the tag ATS-405 for updates.

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Initial review of the Sangean ATS-405

Sangean-ATS-405-Box

Just last week, I received the new Sangean ATS-405 on loan from Universal Radio. Though I’ve only had the radio for a week, I thought I’d share a few un-boxing photos (by request) and my initial impressions/review of this radio.

Unboxing

Sangean-ATS-405-OpenBoxThe ATS-405 comes with a thick owner’s manual (in five languages), a 7.5 volt AC adapter, and a soft radio case. The package does not contain rechargeable batteries nor a clip-on wire antenna (like many Tecsun products do, for example).

Sangean-ATS-405-OpenBox-2

Overall, the packaging accommodates the radio and accessories efficiently and would probably ship safely even if the carrier doesn’t handle it with particular care.

Sangean-ATS-405-OpenBox-3The first thing I noticed about the ATS-405 is the near-identical design and layout Sangean has used in their design of past shortwave radios. If you’re a Sangean fan, you’ll find all of the functions, buttons, and labels pretty much in the same place; virtually no learning curve.

Performance: first impressions

Sangean-ATS-405

After unboxing the ATS-405, I installed a fresh set of AA batteries in it and turned on the radio…

Display

Like most Sangeans, the display is crisp, clear and can easily be read straight-on or at low angles, like when the radio is resting on its back stand, for example. If you look at the display from a higher angle, however, you’ll find that the LCD digits nearly disappear.

Sangean-ATS-405-Display

Back-lighting is perfect: it’s soft and consistent across the display, very much like the ATS-909X.

Audio

Audio from the internal speaker is good. It’s in the same league with most similarly-priced competitors.

Receiver performance

Keeping in mind that I’ve only logged a few days of listening time on the ATS-405, I do have some initial impressions about receiver performance across the bands:

Sangean-ATS-405-RightSide

Right side view (click to enlarge)

FM

On a positive note, I believe FM performance is quite good. Perhaps not in the same league with my PL-660 or PL-680, but still the Sangean offers above-average sensitivity. I was able to pick up my distant benchmark FM stations with ease, though to help with the signal lock, I had to switch from stereo to mono reception.

AM/Mediumwave

AM reception is a bit of a mixed bag. I find that the ‘405’s overall sensitivity and selectivity are quite good for broadcast band listening.

When I first tuned around on the AM broadcast band, however, I found the noise floor a little too high. Regardless of whether I was tuned in to a station or not, there was an ever-present high-pitched hiss, like static. It was quite disappointing, especially since I read a review by Jay Allen that really complimented the AM performance on the ATS-405.

I trust Jay’s reviews, however, so I promptly contacted him. Jay pointed out that the problem may be that I was listening in the default “wide” filter setting on AM. And indeed, he was right–though I had changed filter settings a few times while tuned to local stations, I had moved it back to wide and didn’t make note of this. (The ATS-405, by the way, has three filter settings: wide, medium and narrow.)

Sangean-ATS-405-LeftSide

Left side view (click to enlarge)

But the wide setting is really too wide, and was certainly the source for the bulk of the high-pitched hiss I heard. The best filter setting for most broadcast band listening is the middle position, which sounds like a 5-6 kHz filter. In the middle position, noise is decreased significantly. I also believe selecting the “music” audio tone setting helps dissipate some of the noise.

Regarding the noise floor: to be clear, I still feel like the noise level is slightly more noticeable, to my ear, on the ATS-405 than on the PL-660, PL-600, and PL-310ET when band-scanning or weak signal listening. This is most likely some internally-generated noise that somehow still meets Sangean’s engineering spec.

Local AM stations sound fantastic, and the ATS-405 can detect all of my benchmarks. AM audio fidelity is better than that of my PL-660 and, even, PL-310ET. When locked on a local station, the noise floor also seems to disappear. For some reason, I even find that the ATS-405 does a better job receiving local AM stations from indoors–even near noisy electronics–than other sub-$100 portables with which I’m familiar.

Uh-oh, birdies

The most disappointing discovery I made on the Sangean’s AM broadcast band is that it has DSP birdies. Birdies are internally-generated noises resulting from the outputs of the oscillators that form part of the DSP receiver circuit. While almost all receivers do have birdies somewhere in the receiver’s reception range, radio engineers try to keep them out of the way of the important parts of the band.

Unfortunately, my ATS-405 has strong DSP birdies on 800 and 1600 kHz. This is a big negative for me, since my favorite regional AM broadcast station is located on 1600 kHz (WTZQ). Rather than attempting to describe what the birdies sound like, here are a few audio clips that will give you an idea–I start with 1350 AM, which has no birdies and is representative of good AM reception:

WZGM 1350 kHz (broadcast sample with no birdie):

800 kHz (birdie on frequency with no broadcast signal):

WTZQ 1600 kHz (birdie on broadcast signal):

The ATS-405’s birdies almost sound like a jamming signal on 1600 kHz.  Indeed, if this station were only located on a different frequency, I’m sure it would be quite audible on this radio…too bad.

Birdies on 800 and 1600 kHz may very well be deal-breakers for many of us. Again, since one of my favorite regional independent broadcasters is on 1600 kHz, it’s a deal-breaker for me.

Jay specifically mentioned a lack of birdies on the AM broadcast band in his review. It could very well be that he doesn’t hear them on his particular receiver–variations in quality control on a radio production line are certainly a real phenomena (the Grundig G3 is a case in point). This could indicate that some units may have pronounced birdies while others don’t. If you purchase an ATS-405, I would check to see if your unit has birdies after powering it up.

When I contacted an engineer for Sangean North America, and described my listening experience, he confirmed that he believed these are, indeed, DSP birdies. I may ask Sangean if they can send another ATS-405 for comparison.

On a more positive note, I checked harmonics in the HF/shortwave bands and heard no DSP birdies there.

Country of origin?

Sangean-ATS-405--BottomView

Bottom view with charge and keylock mechanical switches (click to enlarge)

One additional question I posed to Sangean: where is the ATS-405 made? One reader told me the radios are produced in both Taiwan and China. Thinking variations in quality control may be accounted for by two different production lines, I checked my radio to see where it was made. Unfortunately, my unit has no mention of country of origin; not on the radio, the box, the manual, behind the battery cover, nor on the back stand. It’s possible it could be marked internally, but I didn’t want to take apart a receiver I’ve been loaned.

Sangean came back with a firm answer:

“I can confirm that the ATS-405, along with all our radios, are manufactured in China. We have an office in Taipei for engineering, sales, marketing and customer support.”

Not a big surprise here; I expected China was the country of origin.

To sum up AM performance: if you aren’t bothered by the birdies on 800 and 1600 kHz, or if your unit isn’t producing them, you’ll find the ATS-405 a capable little AM broadcast band receiver.

Shortwave

Our HF propagation conditions since last Friday (when I first turned on the ATS-405) have been poor. Other than a few short band openings, I’ve struggled to hear anything other than the normal blow-torch broadcasters we hear in North America. Still, bad propagation conditions are actually good for reviewing some aspects of a shortwave receiver, so I used the opportunity.

In terms of sensitivity on the shortwave bands, I think the ATS-405 is mediocre. It lags behind my Tecsun PL-660, PL-600, PL-310ET, and CC Skywave. Adding a clip-on wire antenna to the telescoping whip (there is no aux antenna port) does help in terms of sensitivity.

Since I do most of my listening on the shortwave bands, this, too, is a deal-breaker for me. If you primarily listen to stronger shortwave stations, or spend most of your time on the FM/AM bands, then you might still consider the ATS-405.

The ATS-405’s selectivity seems to be on par with my other DSP-based portables. In truth, though, band conditions have been so unfavorable, I don’t feel like I’ve had ample opportunity to test selectivity. I’ll likely follow up this initial review with an update.

And as on medium wave, the noise floor on the shortwave bands seems a little high to me–especially with the filter set to the “wide” position.

Cool, innovative features

While I clearly haven’t been wowed by the ATS-405’s shortwave performance, I have been more favorably impressed with some of its innovative features: specifically, the ability to control squelch, tuning mute, and soft mute.

Sangean-ATS-405-KeypadUsing the menu button (see image above), you can engage or disengage the tuning mute and soft mute by pressing the “2” or “3” buttons on the keypad, then using the tuning up/down buttons to toggle these features on and off. Squelch works the same way, using the “1” button and volume control to set the threshold.

This menu control works regardless whether the radio is turned on or off.

Of course, by using the menu button and the keypad, you can also control the ‘405’s tuning steps, AGC, clock, and backlighting functionality; each of these are marked in green next to the appropriate button on the keypad (see image above), a very useful feature.

I wish other radio manufacturers would give users the ability to control some of the DSP chip’s built-in functionality, as the ‘405 does with the muting–especially since over-active soft muting has been the downfall of several DSP-based radios. Thanks for trail-blazing, Sangean!

Summary

Invariably, all radios have strengths and weaknesses; here is a list of my notes from the moment I put the ATS-405 on the air:

Pros:

  • Improved features and controls:
    • Soft Mute
    • Tuning Mute
    • Squelch
    • AGC
  • Crisp, clear display
  • Good travel size, similar to the Grundig YB400
  • Good AM/mediumwave sensitivity
  • Three audio/tone settings: Music, Norm, and News
  • Good FM sensitivity
  • Dedicated mechanical switches for keylock, audio tone, FM stereo/mono, and charging.

Cons:

  • Lackluster shortwave sensitivity
  • DSP Birdies on 800 and 1600 kHz
  • Higher SW/AM noise floor (especially in wide filter setting)
  • No tuning wheel
  • No AUX antenna port
  • No shortwave SSB reception (AM only)
  • No audio line-out port

I’m going to hold onto the Sangean ATS-405 for a few more weeks, as I’d like to give it a more thorough test on the shortwave bands. I hope to follow up with a post offering a few representative recordings.

Sangean-ATS-405

My nutshell opinion of the ATS-405 so far is that it’s a decent little radio with a lot of functionality and features for a rig in its price class. But overall, its performance seems to me rather mediocre. If you primarily listen to FM, you’ll be pleased. If you’re a mediumwave listener, you’ll be pleased only if you don’t mind the 800/1600 kHz DSP birdies. If you’re primarily a shortwave listener, you’ll need to carry a clip-on wire antenna to bring the sensitivity up to the level of similarly-priced receivers.

In short, I do want to like this radio unreservedly. But it appears that Sangean may need to pull up its socks on their quality control.  Readers: please comment if you’ve purchased the ATS-405–I’m very curious to learn whether there are QC discrepancies in performance from one unit to the next.

PLEASE NOTE: After publishing this following review, Sangean kindly agreed to dispatch a second unit for comparison. 

Click here to read my update to this ATS-405 review.

Follow the tag ATS-405 for updates.

Sangean ATS-405 Retailers:

Many thanks to Universal Radio for supplying this radio, on loan, for review!

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