Tag Archives: Sangean ATS-909X Review

Recommending the Tecsun PL-880 over the Sangean ATS-909X

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Direwolf131, who recently commented on one of the Sangean ATS-909X reviews in the Post archives.

Direwolf131 writes:

I’m a few years after Steve’s comments but I will have a go at it, at least anecdotally speaking. I’ve owned a half dozen Sangean ATS-909’s, which includes two of the 909X’s, and one super-909 from radiolabs. The 909X is the finest looking portable I have ever seen or lain hands upon, and that includes several Sony’s that I still think of as neat looking, I had the white cabinet 909X first and then the much more striking (to my eyes) black cabinet 909X after returning the first one due to rock hard buttons.

They are both extremely attractive, and exceptionally well made, especially by today’s cheap Chinese standards. I must confess that I also still find the original 909’s almost equally neat looking, though not quite sporting the same robustness of build.

The 909x’s sound wonderful on MW & FM, and its a decent performer reaching out to fairly distant FM stations. Unfortunately that is largely the best of the radio, its performance on MW & SW is best described as pathetic, and not just due to being deaf, it has a lot of noise, even when attached to the superb RF systems tuned EMF antenna. The older 909 is also to my experience substantially better then the 909X when matched up to a serious outboard antenna, such as the above EMF, I found this difference especially surprising, its not even close.

The PL-880 from Tecsun blows it away on SW and MW sensitivity, while also offering the superb advantage of genuinely ECSS tuning anything on MW & SW, you cannot decently receive any MW or SW signal via ECSS with the 909X as its SSB can only be fine tuned to 40 Hz, which is terribly disappointing, you can zero beat the little Tecsun easily. serious ECSS capability is to my mind a much more attractive option then a sync circuit, and unfortunately with the beautiful little Sangean 909X you get neither.

I do hope anyone who happens upon this pays attention, because for the money the PL-880 is far and away the better performer, in fact my little 1103 from Degen/Kaito out performs the 909X, as does my Grundig Yacht Boy-400, and my Sangean ATS-803A. Its my great hope that Sangean seriously upgrades these deficiencies in the otherwise gorgeous 909X, its circuitry is noisier than the old 909 and its not nearly not as sterling a performer hooked up to household current and a decent outboard antenna as the old 909, its 40 hz tuning SSB once a great reason to buy a 909, is no longer competitive, especially against the superb PL-880 which again is capable of excellent ECSS even by Icom R75 standards, Sangean would do well to drastically improve the SSB performance of the 909X.

I hope this helps, I liked the original review up top, but again its several years old, and the ATS-909X is now known to be clearly outclassed by the more affordable Tecsun, actually by the PL-660 to boot, I really hope Sangean addresses the issues, its such a beautiful receiver, you just want it to be as good as it looks, unfortunately it’s not!

Thank you for sharing your evaluation and comments!

The Sangean ATS-909X is an interesting radio indeed. Almost everyone loves the design, audio and overall quality of the 909X.  Yet performance reviews are somewhat polarizing: some 909X owners claim the 909X has strong performance characteristics on shortwave, while others believe it’s almost deaf. Your findings coincide with mine from the Mega Review where I pitted the ATS-909X against the Tecsun PL-880, PL-660 and Sony ICF-SW7600GR. In that review, where I relied on a whip antenna, the 909X was noticeably less sensitive than the other three competitors. Based on the premium one pays for the 909X, I was surprised.

I have learned over the years, however, that the 909X can handle larger outdoor antennas and doesn’t easily overload. Additionally, the 909X requires a fresh set of batteries for optimal performance/sensitivity. Some users have even modified the radio with a 4:1 impedance transformer–click here to read a post/comments about this mod.

I would love to see Sangean produce an updated/upgraded version of the 909X, but at this point I’m not exactly holding my breath. I’ve heard that they’re slowly pulling out of the market. Hope I’m proven wrong because I’d love to see a new shortwave set from Sangean.

Updated version of the Sangean ATS-909X?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Avo Ohanian, who writes:

I had read with interest a review on Amazon about a purchaser receiving a Sangean ATS-909X in black with the firmware listed as “P-01”. I can confirm that this is indeed the case and that I am curious as to whether there is more than just a simple firmware revision.

Brief history with my unit: I originally purchased one new (only available in white in Australia factory backed ) in August. The packaging was as I remembered from years ago and the firmware was 1.29. After a few happy months of use sans batteries I decided to slot in some Eneloops . First charge nearly cooked the batteries then the unit refused to charge at all. Back to the retailer.

A few days before Christmas I got a call that a replacement was sent from the distributor and promptly trained it over to pick it up.

First impression is the box is now all white with the new look Sangean logo. This unit is also set for extended FM (76-108 MHz) whereas the old unit started at 87.5MHz. Upon switching on, firmware check showed “P-01”.

Now, differences…

The biggest disappointment for me is the backlight. The old unit backlight had a beautiful even light blue colour across the LCD panel. The new one has a distinctly darker browny tinge on the left and bright bluish rings of light where the LEDs are on the right. I think whatever was behind the LCD display that gave it the uniform light has been removed or moved. I know I used to be able to see some sort of ribbon cable just behind the Page and mode region on the LCD which the new unit does not have. That or quality is an issue….

My partner can’t see any issue with the display but then she is well aware that I am picky.

Mediumwave reception appears to be much better on the new unit, however I do note one static hash frequency at 885 kHz. Seems very narrow and doesn’t affect reception for me. I note the bandwidth is very wide. Even 8/10 stations have a distinct hiss. Nothing major and music clarity is very good because of this but DXing in wide mode can get tiring.

[After] listening to MW for about an hour, the unit drifts about 1kHz down (in 30 deg C heat). During normal operation, you don’t notice it–however, when trying ECSS using SSB it will vary from cold at nearly dead on frequency to dropping to the top cusp of the next lowest kHz when hot. It may be that the old unit was the same but was calibrated slightly higher hence it never dropped a kHz on the display when hot.

LW is of no use in Australia however the new unit does have weak MW images, something I did not note on the old unit. Aircraft NDBs are all there.

SSB. Hmmm. There is a problem as others have noted. First there is quite prominent drift due to heat. The old unit was rock solid and had very, very good ECSS capabilities. The new does appear to be very picky but it is still usable. I think the techs forgot to set the DSP bandwidth to narrow in SSB mode. It seems extremely wide. There is no tune muting though (in any mode) when using the wheel but a careful–finger is needed to get close to zero beat.

Shortwave is hash for me as I live in units where people seem to buy cheap LED RF spewing globes. Ugh. It seems the same as the old unit. It needs AC to get maximum sensitivity. Go battery and there is a definite deafness.

FM is superb. Only difference to the old unit is the stereo decode threshold. The old unit would decode stereo well before RDS. This new unit requires at least 7/10 before decoding stereo. Some fringe stations will get RDS info without ever getting stereo decode. No biggie, [especially since] unit only has one speaker.

I am thinking that the DSP chip has changed on P-01 units as the slight differences in operation and look behind the LCD panel makes me think some re-engineering has been done to the circuit board perhaps to accommodate chip changes.

Happy New Year,
Avo

Thank you for your evaluation of the “P-01” version of the venerable Sangean ATS-909X, Avo.

Post readers: have you also noticed performance differences between legacy and current production ATS-909X models?

Dan compares the Sangean ATS-909X with two classic portables

Sangean-ATS-909X-Sony-SW07-Panasonic-RF-B65

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares a radio comparison he initially posted in the excellent Extreme Shortwave Listening Facebook group. Dan writes:

When the Sangean ATS-909X was first released a few years ago, I decided that I would hold off obtaining one to let whatever bugs there might be in production get worked out.

I have always been impressed by the design of the 909X, but was cautious when it came to the question of overall sensitivity. I once owned the 909, had it modified by Radio Labs, but that seemed not to do much — the 909, in my view, suffered too much from the well-known deafness issue when using the whip antenna.

Over the years, I used and still own many of the classic portables. This includes the SONY 7600GR, Grundig SAT 500/700, 2010, E-1, SONY SW100/SW07, SONY SW-55, and the radio I consider to be at or near the top of the small portable heap, the Pan RF-B65. But a couple of weeks ago, I broke down and bid for a new in box Sangean 909X. It’s the black version, and arrived a couple of days ago.

I remain impressed by the 909X’s design — beautiful radio, wonderful large LCD and backlight, excellent filtering, along with a feature we used to see in the SONY’s — adjustable/variable attenuation. But I wondered how the 909X would stack up against two of my favorites, the SW-07 and RF-B65. I was crossing my fingers — but alas, initial results are not encouraging.

While the radio initially on its own seems to be quite sensitive, I lined it up next to the SW-07 and RF-B65 and did a comparison. Now, first I must note that propagation continues to be in the dumpster and I conducted this test in late afternoon.

All three receivers were tuned to Cuba on 11,760 khz — they were located next to one another on a table in the top level of my home here in Maryland. The results are seen in the video below.

You can hear how much more clearly the SW-07 and especially the RF-B65 handle a signal. With the Panasonic, stations just pop. Same with the SW-07.

Disappointingly, as you can hear, stations on the 909X appear to be buried in noise. It’s quite extraordinary — I was very surprised by this comparison and intend to perform additional side-by-side tests in different areas of my home, which does suffer from high noise levels likely produced by electric lines and a transformer outside (which is why a run a Wellbrook on my main radio stack downstairs). But it is notable that the 909X appears to struggle so, while the old classic portables SW-07 and B65 excel. Interested in the views of others . . .

Dan, this is very similar to my experience with the Sangean ATS-909X.

Like you, I absolutely love the design of the 909X–the large display, tuning wheel, front-facing speaker, ergonomics–but was pretty disappointed when I pitted it against three other (less expensive) portables on the shortwave bands.

I know the 909X performs much better when connected to an external antenna. I’ve also learned that fresh batteries are a must as the 909X’s sensitivity is directly related to supplying optimal voltage. I know, though, that you had fresh batteries in your 909X, Dan.

Again, many thanks for sharing your comparison.

The Sangean ATS-909X: Marty’s bedside radio review

Sangean-ATS-909X-Marty

SWLing Post reader, Marty (W5MRM), comments:

I recently picked up a Sangean ATS-909X to use as a bedside radio.

This blog post inspired me to put together a video review of the ATS-909X as a bedside radio. The video review can be found on my youtube page [or via the embedded player below]:

Great video, Marty, and thanks for the thorough review!

You can follow all of Marty’s videos on YouTube by visiting this page.