Tag Archives: Self-Powered Radios

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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Guest Post: Hans reviews the Freeplay Lifeline and Unity self-powered radios

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Hans Johnson, who shares the following guest post:


Irma-induced Radio Reviews

by Hans Johnson

The primary disaster we face here in Naples, Florida, is hurricanes.  Naples had been spared for over a decade until Irma.  So while I had prepared, I had not needed my supplies or equipment for quite some time.  This included the radios.

I went into Irma with two Freeplay solar and windup radios, a Unity and a Lifeline.  I got these radios probably over a decade ago.  As part of some work I was doing with VT Communications (now Babcock), I was involved with a radio project called Sudan Radio Service.

Both of these radios were being given to listeners as part of this project.  I wanted to have a better understanding of what they faced.  I had some conversations with Freeplay in London, explaining who I was and why I wanted these radios.  During a visit, I was able to purchase both sets with the proviso that I not sell them.

I checked them both out at that time with my focus being on shortwave as that is how Sudan Radio Service was then transmitted.  They were ok at picking out the strongest stations but that’s about it.  I never really needed or wanted to use the radios day to day.  And then Irma struck.

We left Naples on Saturday when we received a mandatory evacuation notice.  The storm struck on Sunday and we returned on Monday.

We were spared.  Many lost everything.  Some lost their lives.  We had a lot of trees down and some roof damage, but nothing substantial.  But we had no power.  Water had to be boiled.  Sewage was backing up in places because the lift stations had no power.  The stop lights were out (this was a real danger, many did not treat them as four-way stops and just blew through them.  But you never knew who it would be.)  A curfew was in place.  The cell phone system was in really bad shape.  I could not call or text my brother across town, let alone get access to the Internet via cell.

This link will give you an idea of what we came back to.  I am the guy sawing wood at 1:47.  (Lesson learned, have two chainsaws in case yours blows a gas line):

http://abc7ny.com/weather/watch-josh-einiger-reports-from-naples-florida/2391120/.

I had blown up some air mattresses before the storm so we slept on them on the screened porch.  I saw the Milky Way from Naples for the first time.

We wanted information and also a bit of entertainment.  Television was out of the question.  The HDTV stations are hard to receive with a great antenna and set in the best of times where we live.  So a battery-operated TV would have been a waste.  Radio was the only game in town, so it was time to put the emergency radios in service.

Sudanese Listeners Receive Unity Radios (Source: Lifeline Energy)

Both of these analogue dial sets cover AM, FM, and shortwave.  The Unity covers 3-22 MHz, the Lifeline just goes up to 18.  The former covers the old American AM band and the latter the new one.   The Unity uses a whip antenna and has a fine tuning knob.  The Lifeline has a bendable wire that fits into the carrying handle and came with an alligator clip and a length of wire.

Ideally, one would be listening a set that has been charged via the solar cell or listening with the set in the sun.  The last place I wanted to be was in or near the sun.  Trying to charge the set and then listen to it is difficult in practice.  It seems that the ratio was about one to one.  15 minutes in the sun would get you about 15 minutes of immediate listening.  It doesn’t seem that the batteries will hold a charge for long periods of time.  I could not charge them during the day and expect to turn them on the next morning, which was the peak time of day for radio to be transmitting local information.  The ratio for using the hand-crank was better, but I grew tired of cranking quite quickly.

I was interested in local stations, so shortwave was not a factor.  We only have a few local AM stations in Naples and I could not receive them (Irma knocked off or damaged a number of stations.)  I tried FM.  Even with the antennas retracted, both sets were overwhelmed by the local stations with certain stations bleeding through over much of the dial.  I could receive some strong, local stations.  With the outlet at Marco Island off and the other apparently on reduced power, receiving NPR was out of the question.

Given how many sources of information I was cut off from, my flow was greatly reduced.  My ignorance increased and learning vital information was hit or miss.  A neighbor told me about the boil order.  Passing on information was difficult.  When we got power I wanted to tell my brother, but the only way to inform him was to drive to his house.

One result was that I put these sets away and broke out my old Sony

ICF-7600GR and used it instead.  I guess I could have used it until I ran out of AA batteries.  I had plenty on hand and can easily afford them.  But that is hardly the case in Southern Sudan and many other places.

The Lifeline came with a few stickers on it that I could not read when I got the set.  Now that Goggle translate is so good I can read them.  They say in part:  “Everyone has the right to receive information,”  “Everyone one has the right to search for, receive, and deliver information.”

The real result of the test was a greater appreciation for how good I have it in many ways.  With regards to information, I have many sources and can readily receive it and pass it on.  It increased my respect for services like Sudan Radio Service and how important they are.  But most especially, I have a much greater admiration for listeners using these sets and what is surely their perseverance, patience, and determination to get information.


Many thanks for your field report of the Freeplay Lifeline and Unity, Hans!

I’m happy to hear you had no serious damage post-Irma. So many in the SWLing Post community have been affected by hurricanes this season.

I have never, personally, reviewed either of these Freeplay units–both are now discontinued and have been replaced with other models at Lifeline, I believe. As you state in your post, these radios are only available to humanitarian organizations. Through Ears To Our World, I have considered acquiring Lineline Energy (Freeplay) radios in the past. However, their radios tend to be rather large in size–we tend to go with smaller receivers that can easily fit in suitcases. In the past we’ve been very happy with the Grundig FR200 (Tecsun GR-88). 

The Lifeplayer MP3

Last year, we did purchase a Freeplay Lifeplayer to test. The hand crank charging mechanism is very robust, though quite noisy. The radio is digital, but performance is mediocre and tuning couldn’t be more cumbersome (5 kHz steps, no memories, only a couple of band steps.  Tuning to your favorite station could literally take a couple of minutes, depending on where it is on the band. When you turn off the radio (or it runs out of power) you’ll have to re-tune to the station again. That’s a lot of extra mechanical wear on the encoder. The real utility of the Lifeplayer is the built-in MP3 player and recorder–a brilliant tool for rural schools. Also, it’s robust and can take abuse from kids much better than other consumer radios.

Your main point, though, is spot-on: these radios serve their purpose, but we radio enthusiasts are incredibly fortunate to have much better grade equipment to take us through information backouts.

Thanks again for your review, Hans!

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Mehmet Burk reviews the Kaito KA550 self-powered radio

kaito-ka550

Many thanks to Mehmet Burk of ReliefAnalysis.com for sharing his most positive review of the Kaito KA550 self-powered shortwave radio.

[Note: I’ve updated this post to link to the Kaito KA550. I initially linked to the older KA500 by mistake. Apologies!]

Click here to read his full review:
http://www.reliefanalysis.com/2014/03/review-katio-ka550-terrific.html

The Kaito KA550 currently retails for about $59.00 US shipped.

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Etón Corp Donates preparedness products and percentage of web sales to Typhoon Haiyan Relief

EtonCorpLogoIf you’ve been thinking about buying a self-powered emergency radio, flashlight or cell phone charger, now is the time!

Etón Corporation, who manufactures some of the best self-powered products on the market, is now donating 25% of their web sales to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

In addition, they’re working with Project PEARLS to donate $140,000 worth of their preparedness products to help Haiyan survivors.

Read the full press release below, or check it out on the Etón Blog for more details:

ARCFR170WXR_05Hero(Source: Eton Corp Blog)

“Typhoon Haiyan is one of the biggest storms to occur on planet Earth and has left manymillions in the Philippines without access to electricity, food, and clean water.

According to CNN: “In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, nights are often the hardest. It’s dark. It’s wet. It can be scary. There’s little to do, and, for many, even less to eat.”

For our part, Etón Corp is donating 25% of all sales through EtonCorp.com to Typhoon Haiyan relief.

We are also working with San Jose-based non-profit Project PEARLS to donate $140,000 worth of our preparedness products to help survivors in the Philippines gain access to invaluable information, light, and power.

“The San Francisco Bay Area is home to one of the largest Filipino populations in the United States and as a company based here, we feel personally touched as we have neighbors, co-workers and friends that are personally affected by this tragedy – our thoughts go out to everyone affected by the storm,” said Esmail Hozour of Etón Corporation. “We hope that through these donations, we can do our part to help in the relief efforts for those in the hardest hit areas.”

For the past 30 years, Etón has worked to create and distribute products that help people recover from tragedy caused by severe weather near and far. From the Moore, Oklahoma tornado earlier this year to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, we hope to equip victims of natural disaster with the tools and peace of mind to move forward and persevere.”

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Emergency Preparedness Part 2: All the basics for emergencies

In Emergency Preparedness Part 1: Choosing the right radios, we focused on various types of radios you should consider having on hand in times of disaster. This section focuses on other aspects of emergency preparedness.

Beyond radios

Of course, there’s more to the art of being prepared than simply purchasing a few radios. Being prepared is about having enough supplies, making a plan, and knowing how to get in touch with family/friends, where to meet and what to do should you lose contact. Fortunately, a great percentage of the time, being prepared is about dealing with a few days–not months–of difficult conditions.

What I’m trying to say is, don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money stock-piling months of food, or buy several bricks of gold to bury at your house (hate to burst your bubble, but gold is, unfortunately, a rotten investment).

Don’t feel like there’s a financial barrier to being prepared, either. It’s easy, and you can gather everything you need in one day.

 

I find that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a well thought-through list of items you should have in your preparedness “kit.” I have listed them below (courtesy of FEMA) and included my own comments under some of the suggestions.

FEMA Recommended Items To Include In A Basic Emergency Supply Kit:

    • Distilled water is inexpensive and very easy to store.

      Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation

      • I suggest purchasing inexpensive gallons of distilled water from your local store. When you bring them home, mark them with the date purchased. Over time, you can use and replace them with new ones.
    • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
      • Include a lot of shelf-stable foods ready to be eaten without preparation–trail mix, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, etc.
      • FoodSafety.gov has an excellent guide to preserving, preparing and storing food
    • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
    • Flashlight and extra batteries
      • Also consider purchasing at least one flashlight that can be hand-cranked
  • A first aid kit is a must–make sure to include any specific medications family members may need

    First aid kit

  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air, and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
    • At least have a Gerber or Leatherman tool with a built-in pair of pliers.
  • Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
    • Very important–have you ever tried opening a can of food without a can opener? They’re cheap–buy one specifically for your kit
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
    • Many of the radios above can charge a USB-based cell phone. If you are looking for a durable solar panel, consider the Goal Zero foldable panel or any roll-up/foldable panel by Power Film Solar.

Additional Items To Consider Adding To An Emergency Supply Kit:

  • Prescription medications and glasses
    • This is extremely important–you should certainly stock up on medical supplies if you’re in the path of a natural disaster like a hurricane. Pharmacies may be closed for several days and you certainly want your prescription heart medication on hand!
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
    • Don’t forget Rover or Whiskers–!
  • Cash or traveler’s checks and change
  • Important family documents, such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container. You can use the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK) – PDF, 277Kb) developed by Operation Hope, FEMA and Citizen Corps to help you organize your information.
  • Emergency reference material, such as a first aid book or information from www.ready.gov.
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Complete change of clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Please do not use scented or color safe bleach, or bleaches with added cleaners.
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
    • Often overlooked, but quite important–you may be without power, television and internet for days. You should have a back-up plan for your children. Board games are fun, burn a little time, and require absolutely no batteries!

Other recommendations I would add

  • Fill up your vehicles with fuel.  Indeed, it’s not a bad idea to top-off your fuel on a regular basis.
  • Listen to local radio stations and follow any directions from local officials who are coordinating recovery.
  • Know potential evacuation routes and emergency contact information. This is especially important if you live in an area prone to hurricanes or typhoons

Making a plan and being informed

Being prepared, as I said earlier, is more than just having supplies. It’s about being prepared mentally and having your close family and friends on the same page should disaster strike. Also, you should be well aware of how things are handled locally.
Ready.gov has an excellent guide to making a plan (including downloadable forms) and general information about being informed.
SWLing.com has a lot of guests (almost half of our guests!) who visit us from outside of the USA. The information I have posted above may not be relevant to the place you live (for example, NOAA weather radio).  Still, keep in mind the following:
  • Check to see if your national weather service has specific frequencies with weather or emergency information. If so, make sure you have a radio that can receive these broadcasts.
  • Check with your local emergency management office. If you have any specific needs (medical or otherwise), make sure your local authorities know.

Summary: Preparedness is crucial!

This is, perhaps, one of the longest posts I’ve ever written on the SWLing Post; you can probably tell that I’m an advocate of preparedness.  I hope I’ve shown you that there’s a lot to think about prior to a disaster, whether natural or man-made. It’s not expensive to prepare, but does take a bit of dedicated time and energy.  Once you you do it, though, I promise that you will feel better prepared and more secure than before.  And one more thing:  once you’ve taken care of your own or your family’s needs, please be prepared to help others however you can–sharing and caring is part of any disaster recovery process.

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