Tag Archives: Shortwave Radio Reviews

A review of the Tecsun S-8800 shortwave/LW/AM-MW/FM portable receiver

Earlier this year, Tecsun released its long-awaited newest large portable: the Tecsun S-8800 portable shortwave/LW/AM-MW/FM receiver.

Though I fully intended to buy a Tecsun S-8800 for review, our friendly Hong Kong-based Tecsun retailer, Anon-Co, sent an S-8800 to me before I could. I’ve worked with Anna at Anon-Co for at least a decade and have purchased numerous radios for review, not to mention as gifts for family and friends.  When she insisted to send it as a gift, I decided I would (gratefully) accept the unit.

I received the S-8800 on February 1 and promptly posted unboxing photos here on the SWLing Post.

My new Tecsun S-8800 had a serious problem, though––one that two early S-8800e adopters noticed as well––internally generated noises, also known as birdies. And while most receivers will have a few minor birdies scattered across the bands, this S-8800 hosted a whole chorus of them, overwhelming the bands and making use of the radio difficult.  Read through this post thread for details.

I contacted Anna at Anon-Co and she immediately notified Tecsun; as a result, they halted distribution of the S-8800.

Tecsun took the S-8800 to their engineering team, and I’m happy to report they’ve now eliminated the horrible warbling DSP birdies of the initial unit I received.

On the S-8800s since released, while there are still a few minor birdies across the bands (more on that later), they’re merely what one might expect to find on any receiver. In short, the S-8800 now in production is a functional receiver, and a contender in its class.

I’ve had the S-8800 for a few weeks now and have had time to put it through its paces. What I present now is a review of the re-engineered Tecsun S-8800.

First impressions

Tecsun S-8800 Front Ang

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must note that I’m not as avid a user of large portables like the S-8800. Personally, my preference is for smaller, full-featured travel-friendly portables, or else larger tabletop models.  I travel often and like to pack lightly, so I rarely reach for anything bigger than my trusty Sony ICF-SW7600GR, or Tecsun PL-880, and more often than not, I grab the ultra-compact Sony ICF-SW100 or C. Crane CC Skywave.

But to say that I never reach for large portables would be inaccurate. In fact, I use a Grundig GS350DL daily; it’s my analog kitchen radio. I rarely move the tuning dial (a good thing, since it unfortunately drifts) because it’s locked onto my in-house SSTran AM transmitter on 1570 kHz.

What large format portables like the GS350DL and S-8800 can provide that a small portable cannot is broad, rich, room-filling audio. In my world, good audio is an important factor in overall signal intelligibility.

The S-8800 chassis resembles several other receivers: the Grundig GS350DL, S450DLX, and more recently, the Field BT, just to name a few.

The body is made of a hard plastic (not rubberized) and feels rugged enough. The knobs and buttons also feel tactile and of comparable quality to the previous similar models noted above.  With the rechargeable batteries inserted, it weighs about 3 pounds 4 ounces (1.5 KG).

The backlit display is large and viewable from almost any angle––even at a distance.

The main encoder (tuning knob) has appropriate amount of brake for most listeners. It wobbles very slightly, but functions amazingly well. I prefer it over its large portable predecessors, especially the 350GL. There is no soft mute while tuning, so band-scanning is a fluid, almost analog, process.

Both the “Band Select” and “AM BW” knobs have soft detents that mark steps in selection. In the field, I noticed that these can occasionally skip an increment when the detent only moves one position or the knob is turned very slowly. This doesn’t really affect functionality in any way, but I thought it worth noting nonetheless.

Like previous similar models, the S-8800 lacks a built-in keypad for direct frequency entry. That would be a major negative for a radio in this price class if the S-8800 didn’t come with one invaluable accessory:  an infrared remote control.

Infrared (IR) Remote Control

The Tecsun S-8800 ships with a IR remote control, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s great.

The remote feels durable, fits well in the hand, and the back has a place for it to balance on your index finger when holding…

But more importantly, the remote works quite well.  The controls are intuitive and the labeled buttons are quite easy to read. They’re also tactile and have a muted “click” response when pressed. Indeed, I wish my television’s remote was this well designed.

And the remote is quite useful, especially if you like listening from bed, from a porch, from the kitchen or dining room or den––or, in fact, from any space where you might wish to control the receiver at a distance. I believe its possible that every function of the S-8800 can be controlled with the remote––even the sleep timer!

Perhaps my dream remote for such a purpose would be backlit, but the S-8800’s remote is so simple to use, I’ve already nearly memorized where the buttons are located for nighttime use.

Operation Manual

The S-8800 ships with an informative operational manual, although this radio is intuitive enough that a seasoned radio listener will not need to reference it, save for advanced settings. Still, it’s written in clear language––with comparatively few English grammar errors––and the diagrams for both the radio and the remote are exceptional.

I referenced the manual several times to sort out ATS operation, saving/erasing memories, and to hunt down function shortcuts.

Features

The S-8800 is a feature-packed triple conversion receiver.  Here’s an abridged list of its features, focusing on those most radio enthusiasts seek:

  • Frequency coverage:
    • LW: 100 – 519 kHz (1 kHz & 9 kHz steps)
    • MW: 520 – 1710 kHz (1 kHz, 9 kHz and 10 kHz steps)
    • SW: 1711 – 29,999 kHz (1 kHz & 5 kHz steps)
    • Note in SSB mode on LW, MW and SW, tuning steps are 10 Hz and 1 kHz.
    • FM: 64 – 108 MHz (selectable for various markets: Russia, The Caucasus, Caspian/Black Sea regions, Japan, China/Europe, and North America)
  • Modes: AM, FM, SSB
  • Variable filter widths
    • AM: 6, 4, 3, and 2.3 kHz
    • SSB: 4, 3, 2.3, 1.2, and 0.5 kHz
  • Digital Signal Processing (DSP)
  • Antenna gain selection: DX/Local
  • External antenna connections: both BNC (SW and FM) and a high-impedance port (LW, MW and SW)
  • Both 9 and 10 kHz spacing on mediumwave
  • Dedicated fine-tuning control
  • Auto Tuning Storage (ATS)
  • 650 station memories
  • FM stereo/mono
  • Backlit LCD display
  • Treble and bass tone controls
  • RCA line-out audio
  • Full-featured clock, alarm and sleep timer
  • IR remote control
  • Two 18650 lithium cells (included) that can be safely charged internally via USB

Wishlist? The S-8800 feature set is pretty comprehensive, but my dream large portable would also have synchronous detection and an RF gain control, though the latter is not common in the world of portable radios.  Fortunately, the S-8800 does have a local/DX gain toggle.

I’m sure some enthusiasts would also like to see Bluetooth connectivity as on the Eton Field BT, but I personally don’t miss it. I like to keep my HF portables free from anything that could potentially raise the noise floor.

With the exception of synchronous detection, the S-8800 has a solid, comprehensive tool set.

Performance

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the S-8800 on the air almost every day. I’ve compared it with a number of receivers, but mainly its smaller sibling, the popular Tecsun PL-880. Below, I break down my notes by band.

FM

As is typical with my shortwave portable reviews, I spent less time evaluating FM performance on the S-8800.

With that said, I did compare the S-8800 with the PL-880, PL-680 and CountyComm GP5-SSB and a few other portables. The S-8800 found my benchmark weaker broadcasters with ease.

Here’s a short video demonstrating FM performance with a broadcaster over 100 miles distant:

Click here to view on YouTube.

AM/Medium Wave

I’ve had more inquiries about S-8800 mediumwave performance than I’ve had about any other radio I’ve recently reviewed. Why?  Well, for one thing, some radios in this particular portable format perform quite well on mediumwave––the C.Crane CCRadio-SW, for example, comes to mind.  Also, the S-8800’s large front-facing speaker lends itself to superb AM audio.

Unfortunately, mediumwave is not the Tecsun S-8800’s strong suit.

I did extensive testing, comparing it with much smaller portables: the Tecsun PL-880, the Sony ICF-SW7600GR, the Digitech AR-1780, the CC Skywave, and even a pre-production CC Skywave SSB. All of these portables had better sensitivity on mediumwave.

I posted the following representative video a couple weeks ago in a post:

To reiterate from my previous post, comparing any modern radio with the Panasonic RF-2200 on mediumwave is hardly fair.  For one, the RF-2200 has been out of production for a few decades.  For another, the RF-2200 has a large rotatable ferrite bar antenna that provides excellent gain. The RF-2200 simply wipes the floor with all of my modern portables, as their ferrite bar antennas are but a fraction of the size.

To my ear, the S-8800’s  mediumwave band seems noisier than its competitors. Perhaps this is why it struggles with marginally weak stations.

Here’s another comparison with the PL-880––this time at a totally different location:

Click here to view on YouTube.

With that said, when tuned to a local AM broadcaster, the S-8800 really shines. It produces rich audio which can be customized with bass/treble tone controls and by changing the AM filter width.

I also hooked up the S-8800 to my large horizontal loop antenna. This certainly did improve MW reception, but not as dramatically as I hoped.  Additionally, it seemed to be very sensitive to RFI in my shack even when hooked up to the external antenna.

If you took the S-8800 to the field, added a decent inductively-coupled magnetic loop antenna, no doubt it would improve mediumwave reception, but I still doubt it would come close to the RF-2200 in performance.  As long as I own the latter, I wouldn’t be motivated to do so.

Due to my schedule over the past few weeks, I’ve had precious little time to test the S-8800 on mediumwave at night, but some quick air checks proved performance was consistent with daytime testing.

I am pleased to report that no receiver overloading was observable during testing.

In short: if you’re only considering the S-8800 for mediumwave DXing, you should look elsewhere. I would suggest a dedicated AM broadcast receiver like the excellent CCradio 2E,  a vintage Panasonic RF-2200, or perhaps a used GE Superadio.

LW – Longwave

I’ve spent less time on longwave than I have on mediumwave and shortwave.

With that said, the S-8800 was able to receive our local airport beacons at night with relative ease. I was not able to catch any transatlantic longwave broadcasters, but that’s no surprise as it’s almost impossible on even my commercial-grade receivers during the summer months here in North America.

As I said regarding the mediumwave band, I suspect there are much better radios out there for the longwave enthusiast.

SW – Shortwave

At the end of the day, I believe the Tecsun S-8800 was designed with the shortwave and amateur HF radio enthusiast in mind.

The S-8800 has gapless HF coverage from 1,711 kHz to 29,999 kHz, can be used both in AM or Single Sideband (selectable LSB/USB), and has adjustable bandwidth filters tailored to AM broadcast and SSB/CW (ham radio/utility/pirate) reception. The filter widths are well-chosen for each mode: 6, 4, 3, and 2.3 kHz on AM; 4, 3, 2.3, 1.2, and 0.5 kHz on SSB.

It also has a dedicated fine-tuning control that adjusts steps based on the mode.

All of these are desired features for the HF radio enthusiast.

I’m happy to report that the S-8800 is a very capable shortwave receiver, perhaps even one of the best portables currently on the market.

In every comparison test I made on shortwave, the S-8800 outperformed each of its competitors.

Check out the videos below and judge for yourself:

Weak signal on the 31 meter band:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Very weak signal and deep fading on 15,200 kHz

Click here to view on YouTube.

SSB: Ham Radio QSO on the 40 meter band

Click here to view on YouTube.

CW on the 20 meter band

Click here to view on YouTube.

I was pleasantly surprised by the audio in SSB mode and by how well the filters seem to work. Note in the video the warbling sound as I adjust the fine-tuning control on the S-8800.  But it’s actually only present as I adjust the fine-tuning control; I noticed no stability issue once on frequency.

External antenna

Since the S-8800 has a handy standard BNC connector and high impedance AM antenna socket on the back, I hooked it up to my large horizontal loop. In my testing, it handled that antenna’s gain very well and I was most impressed with the performance.

The front end seems to be robust, and selectivity––which is excellent––was not compromised by my antenna. I was able to pull apart two broadcasts with only 5 kHz of separation that were both quite strong. The S-8800 locked onto the stronger of the two stations with ease. When tuned to the weaker station, I used SSB reception on the upper sideband to ignore the noisier lower sideband which was buried in the adjacent signal. Once I zero-beated the signal, it sounded quite good.

Final thoughts about shortwave performance

Perhaps what the S-8800 has going for it on shortwave is a combination of very good sensitivity, excellent selectivity, and a feature all too often overlooked: good audio fidelity (via the internal two-watt speaker).

The AGC (auto gain control) is actually fairly stable on the HF bands (less so on mediumwave). Like the Tecsun PL-880, the AGC has a soft hiss response when the signal fades below the AGC threshold. While I’m not crazy about this, I must confess that it is pretty easy on the ears when fading is pervasive.

I did note one quirk that could annoy those wishing to copy narrow SSB or CW. If the filter bandwidth is set to .5 kHz and you’re listening to a marginal CW signal, the AGC sometimes mutes the receiver during CW dead space. It equates to very unstable audio with audio levels jumping around wildly. This happened more often when I was copying moderate to weak CW signals. I’ve even noticed it when listening to SSB ham radio conversations, but mostly in the narrow bandwidths. I usually keep the filter set to 2.3 kHz or higher and it hasn’t been a problem at these settings. It’s worth noting that I have observed the same AGC behavior in my PL-880 at times.

The S-8800 ships with two rechargeable lithium cells which provide hours of listening time from a full charge.

I never encountered overloading from local AM broadcasters on the shortwave bands, with the caveat that I never tested the S-8800 in an RF-rich urban market.

One thing I have noticed in general about the S-8800 is that it seems pretty sensitive to RFI indoors (electrical noise in the home, office, etc)––more so than my Sony ICF-SW7600GR, for example. If you live in a noisy environment and never plan to use an external antenna or take the radio outdoors, you might think twice about the S-8800.

Birdies

I’m pleased to report that Tecsun did properly address the “birdie” issue I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Still, like most receivers, the S-8800 does have some birdies across the bands. These birdies are well within the norm for such rigs:  a relatively stable heterodyne sound. I made a short video to illustrate what I mean when I talk about a birdie:

Click here to view on YouTube.

I spent one afternoon carefully mapping out all of the birdies I could find across the longwave, mediumwave and shortwave bands.

Here’s what I mapped:

As you can see, there are no birdies in the middle of sensitive areas like broadcast bands, amateur radio bands, etc. A good report, in my book.

Note that while tuning through the shortwave bands, I used 5 kHz steps. I suppose there’s a possibility I might have missed very weak birdies doing this, but any strong birdies would have been received and noted within the 5 kHz window. On LW and MW, I tuned in 1 kHz increments.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons, of course. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions. Following is the list I formed over the time I’ve been evaluating the Tecsun S-8800:

Pros:

  • Brilliant audio fidelity from built-in speaker
  • Dedicated AM bandwidth and fine tuning controls
  • Excellent, bespoke IR remote control
  • Capable SSB mode
  • Excellent shortwave sensitivity (see con: mediumwave)
  • Excellent shortwave selectivity
  • Excellent FM performance
  • Easy-to-read backlit LCD digital display
  • Remote control beautifully equipped for full radio functionality
  • Included 18650 rechargeable lithium batteries power radio for hours

Cons:

  • Lackluster mediumwave performance (see pro: shortwave)
  • No synchronous detector
  • No direct keypad entry (Pro: Remote control has excellent keypad entry)
  • Can’t charge and listen at the same time–not designed for AC operation
  • No backstand
  • Line-out audio level is a little high (hot)
  • When in narrowest SSB filters, AGC can’t reliably handle audio/signal changes
  • Slight “warbling” sound while using fine tune control in SSB mode
  • No RDS display on the FM band

Conclusion:

As I’ve already mentioned, if your primary use of the S-8800 is for mediumwave or longwave DXing, you should look elsewhere. While the S-8800 will serve you well with local AM stations, it will not dig signals out of the noise like other better-equipped AM receivers.  The GE Super Radio, Panasonic RF-2200, or CCRadio 2E are much better options.

But if you’re primarily a shortwave radio listener––? I think you’ll be pleased with the S-8800.

To my surprise, the S-8800 consistently out-performed my beloved Sony ICF-SW7600GR and my PL-880. I fully intend to compare it with other portables in the coming weeks and post the videos here on the SWLing Post. [I will update this review with any other findings.]

I did not mention this in previous posts, but the first S-8800 I received in January––the one with the birdie-chorus problem––also outperformed my other modern portables on shortwave. In part, I feared that when the Tecsun engineers addressed the birdie issue, it could have a negative impact on overall sensitivity. I’m happy to report that it did not.

What’s more, I realize that larger portables do have a place in my life.  You might have noted that I did all of my review testing and preparation outdoors, mostly in a nearby national park. I do this, in part, to insure I’m far away from any RFI, but also I simply love playing radio outdoors.

And the S-8800 was a pleasure to tune and use in the field. I really like the large encoder and find that the multi-function knobs, tone controls, volume, and other buttons are well-spaced–I believe I could operate most of this receiver’s functions with gloves on in the winter. And again, there’s that excellent remote control…

Is the S-8800 a good value? Let’s talk price

Only yesterday, Anon-Co announced the price of the Tecun S-8800: $268 US with free shipping to the US.

This review was in final draft form two days before I learned the price from Anon-Co. I had assumed the price would not be released for another week or two at least, thus I made a few predictive statements that I’ll now quote here:

I understand that the S-8800e is being sold in Europe for 339 Euro, roughly $400 USD, plus shipping. There is no way I’d pay that price; it’s simply too much.

If the price exceeds $300 US, I’d suggest careful consideration, as the S-8800 price would be venturing into the realm of used Sony and Panasonic benchmark portables.

But.  If this radio should be sold for less than $250, or even $200…?  Being primarily a shortwave radio listener, I would certainly buy this radio for that price.

In the end, the price is $18 higher than the $250 I mentioned in my review draft, but I assumed shipping would be tacked on to that price. So $268 ended up being pretty close to the mark.

So I believe the Tecsun S-8800 hovers at the top price threshold of what most radio enthusiasts would be willing to pay for a portable.  At $268, it’s over $100 more than the excellent PL-880 and only $20 less than the Tecsun S-2000. And for radio enthusiasts outside the US, it sounds like shipping will be added to the $268 price. I expect European consumers will pay a premium due to embedded (and required) sales tax and customs handling fees.

Click here to view at Anon-Co.

Nonetheless, I would still consider purchasing at the $268 US mark because of its shortwave performance, ability to connect external antennas, audio fidelity, and the included IR remote control.

I would like to see the price lower than $268. If the price were nearer the $200 mark, it would be a no-brainer––this radio would likely fly off the shelves, and I’d strongly suggest purchasing.

Perhaps, with time, the S-8800 price will decrease. In the meantime, if you have the budget, I believe the S-8800 would make for a nice field companion, pulling weak DX out of the noise with excellent audio fidelity to boot. It’s already been a great field companion for me…and, I’m sure, will accompany me into the field again.

Video: The Digitech AR-1780 on single sideband

With travels, solar eclipse events and family activities this week, I’ve had very little time to play radio.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day though, so I took the family to the Blue Ridge Parkway and (of course) packed a couple portable radios.

While we all enjoyed a picnic, I pulled out the AR-1780 with the intention of exploring its SSB performance and audio fidelity. I found an Islands On The Air (IOTA) activation with a decent pileup on 14,250 kHz.

I shot this short video with my smart phone:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the AR-1780 on SSB. The noise floor is pretty low, the filter selections are handy and the overall audio is comparable to slightly larger portable radios.

The dedicated fine tune control is quite handy, even though it’s oddly located on the right side of the radio (where one typically finds a volume control).

I’m putting together a short review of the AR-1780, but will need more air and comp time before I form any firm opinions.

For readers that have made it this far down the post, you might recognize a yet-to-be-released portable next to the AR-1780. Of course, I’m comparing it with the AR-1780 and its predecessor, but it’s not a production run unit (yet!), so I can’t comment on performance. Stay tuned, though, as I will be posting more in the coming days!

Steven is pleased with the Tecsun PL-360 and Anon-Co


Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Steven Crawford, who shares the following:

I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for posting my inquiry on the Sony 7600GR. The post comments answered my question.

I also wanted to let you know your confidence in Ebay seller Anna and Anon-co continue to be well founded. Remembering your recommendation and wishing to pick up a Tecsun PL-360 as a spare to my CountyComm GP-5 SSB (Tecsun PL-365), I placed the order for it and a couple of other bits of Tecsun kit with Anon-co.

The order arrived in 6 working days to my Gulf coast Texas home, taking longer to travel from Chicago to my home than it took to move from Anon-co in Hong Kong to Chicago and clear customs.

I then had a question about the connecting cable included with the Tecsun badged, Tecsun / Kato / Grundig / Eaton, AN200 Loop Antenna. Posed through Ebay Anna promptly answered the question and added a photo of the cable to Anon-co’s Ebay listing for the AN200. It just doesn’t get better than that. You can continue to recommend Anon-co with full confidence from my perspective.

I picked up the PL-360 as a lower cost AM/FM/SW backup to the GP-5 SSB that would allow me to accept the risk of using the larger and heavier extended ferrite rod loop stick aftermarket antenna that garnered so much interest on your blog a year ago, before CountyComm warned of accelerated wear on the antenna jack. Happily the antenna works just as well on the PL-360 as it did on the GP-5 SSB.

Overall I am pleased with the PL-360.

The performance on AM and SW appears to match that of the GP-5 SSB (Tecsun PL-365) albeit with a slightly higher noise floor. Whether this is due to something akin to sample to sample variation or a direct result of inherent design differences between the PL-360’s Silicon Labs Si4734 DSP chipset versus the GP-5 SSB’s Silicon Labs Si4735 DSP chipset I can’t say. I can say the PL-360 with the included High Gain loop stick external tee antenna received my list of news gathering AM clear channel stations out to 900 miles during the night hours matching the GP-5 SSB. This list includes WGN, WBBM, WLS and KOA at the furtherest extreme. It also includes Mexico City’s XEEP 20kW at night at 800 or so miles. Switching to SW broadcast using the whip antenna and Tecsun’s / CountyCom EZTune system day or night the PL-360 and GP-5 SSB select and load the same stations within the PL-360’s slightly shorter SW tuning range.

Dittio on FM on the whip. Both radios snag my list of FM stations out to 60 miles.

For my purposes both are extremely close in performance to my Sony SW7600GR when using their supplied external loop stick. On AM if you combine one with the larger and heaver aftermarket loopsticks they will slightly outperform the 7600GR combined with a Tecsun / Kato / Grundig / Eaton, AN200 Loop Antenna. The Sony’s speaker gives it the edge in listening pleasure, but on earphones or plugs all three are close.

None of forgoing addresses the SSB performance as the PL-360’s chipset doesn’t offer that option.

I am pleased with the PL-360, Anna and Anon-co and I do thank you for posting my 7600GR inquiry.

I look forward to your blog.

Steve

Thank you, Steve! I’m happy to hear the 7600GR posting helped you–that’s what this community is all about…helping each other. Thanks to everyone who commented on that post.

And, yes, I think what surprises so many SWLs is the fact that Anna at Anon-Co actually knows Tecsun radios as well, if not better, than the manufacturer. I’ve only had good experiences working with Anon-Co and that’s why I recommend them so readily. Anna provides excellent customer service. (Click here to check out Anon-Co on eBay.)

I’m also happy to hear you’re enjoying the PL-360 and that you understand the risk of using the large ferrite bar on this radio series (PL-360, 365 and GP5 DSP and SSB). I use my antenna as well, though like you, very carefully.

I only use the large ferrite bar when I’m stationary and I’m careful not to put a strain on the antenna in any way; keeping it balanced and steady. In other words, you must handle it with kid gloves. If you take these precautions, I think your radio will enjoy expected longevity.

Thanks, again, Steven for sharing your review! I’m very pleased to hear you’re enjoying the SWLing Post!

Troy reports on the Sony ICF-EX5MK2 analog receiver

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Troy Riedel, for sharing the following report of his Sony ICF-EX5MK2 analog receiver:


A report on the Sony ICF-EX5MK2

by Troy Riedel

The consensus, ultimate, all-time AM DX radio is the Panasonic RF-2200. I do not nor have I ever owned this radio [yet!]. As such, I do not have that radio as a baseline and I cannot approach my review with that reference radio in mind. I own 10 or 11 portable Shortwave radios. Until now when I would AM DX, I would generally reach for my Grundig Yacht Boy 400 (~5.9” internal ferrite bar antenna). In my experience, the YB400’s Sensitivity is [overall] better than my Sony 7600GR, the Eton E5, and the Grundig G3 (just a few of the SW receivers that I own).

In this Sony review I also mention Tenergy batteries. I have no stake or financial interest in either Sony or Tenergy. I’m just a guy who enjoys SWLing as a secondary hobby – and let’s call AM DXing a tertiary hobby.

Part I: Description & Overall Impressions Prior to Use

History:

The Sony ICF-EX5MK2 is what I would call a legendary AM DX Radio. The radio is manufactured in Japan. It replaced the highly rated Sony ICF-55W (discontinued early-1980s and can command high prices on eBay). The EX5 was originally introduced in 1985 and it has been in continuous production since that year.

I’m not a radio expert, but I am not aware of any other AM receiver that has gone mostly unchanged for 32-years. The EX5MK2 has quite a loyal following among AM DXers. Its following and longevity is what I feel makes this receiver legendary.

The EX5 is smaller, but resembles the iconic Sony ICF-2010 shortwave radio. I do not own the ICF-2010, but it is my understanding that the EX5 shared similar internal circuitry with the 2010 until Sony ran out of component parts in the early 2000s (later versions of the EX5 and the EX5MK2 thus have more differences, under the hood, as compared to the ICF-2010).

The current version of this receiver being sold NEW is a “version II” that carries the model designation EX5MK2. The EX5MK2 was introduced in June 2009. So what are the differences between the EX5 and EX5MK2?

The original EX5 had analog TV Bands. Since Japan (like the USA) migrated to digital TV, the “version II” or EX5MK2 eliminated the TV Band and replaced it with limited shortwave. The shortwave on the current model has 6 crystal-controlled frequencies for the Japanese domestic service of radio Nikkei. As such, unless you live in Japan … or are in an area that might be able to coincidentally receive another SW station on one of those 6 crystal oscillator frequencies, you won’t be able to receive shortwave transmissions on this receiver (radio Nikkei 1: 3.925 MHz, 6.055 MHz, 9.595 MHz; radio Nikkei 2: 3.945 MHz, 6.115 MHz, 9.760 MHz). To be perfectly clear, all six frequencies are accessed via a switch setting to a 1, 2 or 3. There is no SW tuning, thus no other shortwave frequencies other than the six that are programmed into this radio can be accessed! Do not purchase this radio if you desire a shortwave radio!

Additionally, the EX5 & EX5MK2 both have SYNCHRONOUS DETECTION. However it is my understanding that the EX5MK2 has updated or improved this feature (I do not own the former thus I cannot say for sure).

Before Purchase Research:

In my research before purchasing the unit, I relied on an EX5 review by Gary De Bock as well as a review by “RadioJayAllen”.

Before a purchase I will typically download and read a receiver’s user manual. However since this is a radio manufactured for and sold on the Japanese market, the radio’s documentation is only published in Japanese. But this didn’t stop me!

Because my Japanese is not at a level to translate, I relied heavily on online language translation and I painstakingly translated the entire manual in MS Word and then converted it to a PDF (click here to download as a PDF).

Frankly, I found nothing earth-shattering in the manual. The EX5MK2 is an analog receiver with bare-bones features (other than the SYNC – more later). Unless you are unfamiliar with using SYNC and/or you do not know what it means to separate the USB or the LSB of a carrier signal, there is really no need for the manual.

Until recent times, this receiver was only available from Japanese sellers on their retail web sites, and via Japanese sellers on eBay & Amazon. However, Amazon now stocks the EX5MK2 in their US Warehouses and offers free, 2-day Prime Shipping. Amazon Prime is where I purchased my receiver. If one is interested in this receiver, my advice is to shop. I have never seen a receiver in which prices varied so wildly – and I do mean wildly – from approximately $119 to $249 USD! That’s crazy.

Reading reviews on Amazon were also very helpful in my purchasing decision. But I recommend you read individual reviews and not rely solely on the numerical overview. Why? You can tell by the review if the reviewer has knowledge of radios … there are several reviews of people complaining that the “shortwave feature is useless” – and yes, that’s correct (outside of Japan) but one should not buy the EX5MK2 as a general coverage shortwave receiver as it has AM DXing DNA in its core!

Specifications:

The radio is packaged inside a fairly non-descript cardboard box with no accessories other than an old-school carry strap for the radio and a complimentary set of four Sony C/R14 [disposable] batteries. Once these Sony batteries are expended, I will switch to Tenergy Centura “C” Low Self Discharge (LSD) NiMH Rechargeable Batteries. I am an occasional AM DXer and the Tenergy Low Self Discharge batteries keep 85% of their charge after one-year. I keep Tenergy LSD AAs in my infrequently used shortwave radios and I always know they will have a charge no matter how long they sit idle. Tenergy Centura LSDs are very reasonably priced, too.

The radio is 10” long/wide (10 3/8” to include the tuning knob on the right-side of the cabinet), 5 9/16” tall, and 2 ¼” deep. With batteries installed, it weighs slightly less than 2.5 lbs.

The optional AC Adapter is the Sony AC-D4L. The adapter, new, is only available in Japan and possibly via a pricey purchase through eBay. There are many listings on eBay and Amazon, of Chinese-made “For Sony AC-D4L” adapters but these are not the recommended Sony-made adapter. The Sony AC-D4L is highly rated and said to be a quiet adapter that does not produce RFI that could be introduced into the radio I do not know how well the aftermarket Chinese adapters function. Also, the EX5MK2 requires a negative center tip. For those of you that own a Sony ICF-7600GR, that radio requires a positive center tip. The AC Adapters for those two radios are – unfortunately – not interchangeable! I note this because at least one vendor that I encountered tried to tell me otherwise (he tried to sell me a positive tip 7600GR adapter and said it was the same adapter used for the EX5MK2 – not so).

Note: During the Field Test I found this receiver to be extremely RFI sensitive. I would only operate this receiver on batteries – but if I had to use an AC Adapter, I would only trust the recommended Sony-branded AC.

The EX5MK2’s analog slide tuning dial is linear, or rather the frequencies are evenly spaced across the dial (a nice feature that makes tuning a bit easier; admittedly I’ve become spoiled by digital tuning and I had to re-develop some patience with analog tuning). An additional, unique feature of this radio is the size of the analog slide dial window. It covers approximately 60% of the radio! The dial is filled with the precise locations of 48 domestic Japanese AM stations (in Japanese characters, of course). Obviously this won’t help anyone outside of Japan (but remember, this is a Japanese radio for the Japanese market thus I’m sure this feature is appreciated in Japan).

The EX5MK2 does not have a lighted dial. That is quite disappointing. The only lighted feature on the receiver is a red LED on the very top of the slide dial that illuminates on strong signals – but not all signals. At this price point, I feel a non-illuminated dial is a huge omission.

I have not opened-up the cabinet of my EX5MK2, but my research indicates this receiver has a 180mm (7.1”) internal ferrite bar antenna (there are photos on multiple Japanese language blogs where owners have opened the case and show the internal ferrite bar antenna next to a tape measure or ruler – you can find these sites via a Google Image search). The FM/limited shortwave whip antenna is 36 ¾”.

Since this is a Japanese market radio, it has FM Coverage from 76 – 108 MHz and AM/MW Coverage from 530 – 1600 kHz. My sample of the EX5MK2 has coverage up to 1650 kHz to the very top end of the tuning slide beyond “1600”. For those who need extended AM beyond 1600, this may not be the receiver for you.

As mentioned earlier, the most important feature of this radio is SYNCHRONOUS DETECTION with SSB that not only SYNCS or “locks on” to a signal, but also has two additional switch settings that allow one to separate the carrier signal in either the Upper Sideband/USB or Lower Sideband/LSB. This means there are three settings: NORMAL SYNC where the signal locks on to the entire signal, as well as a second LSB and a third USB setting that allows you to isolate a Sideband and listen to only the lower or upper parts of the carrier signal. This should help the receiver’s SELECTIVITY – hopefully I’ll find out when I Field Test this unit.

Summary of Part I: Initial Impressions

First, a little disclaimerI am not a radio expert – not a “radiohead”. I am not an amateur radio operator. I know what I like and I know what works for me.

The radio appears to be well made. It has girth and weight like some receivers I’ve owned in yesteryear – it just feels like one is holding quality. The receiver is analog, not digital, and the tuning is tight and smooth (no slack in the tuning knob like some lesser quality analog receivers and turning the tuning knob results in a proportional movement in the tuning dial). The linear dial – which I found to be extremely accurate on my sample – makes tuning to a precise frequency a bit easier than I had expected. Despite this, I still found myself longing for a digital readout and I frequently used a digital receiver to verify a frequency if I didn’t hear a station I.D. after a reasonable amount of time.

At this price point, it is disappointing there is no illumination of the dial. But I have to remind myself that this receiver is essentially a 1985 model with minimal changes over the past 32-years.

But the big question remains: how does it perform and is it worth its price? Reported excellent AM DX performance – enhanced through the SYNC DETECTION WITH SSB feature – is the reason I chose this model. Was it a wise purchase? I’ll field test it in Part II to answer those questions.

Part II: Field Testing

Field Test Conditions:

Power: Battery, with no external antenna (only the internal ferrite bar antenna) though I did try enhancement through inductive coupling via a Terk Advantage and a Tecsun AN-200 – two very similar AM Loop antennas.

Audio:

I measured the speaker to be 3 ¼” in diameter. Too bad the analog slide tuning dial takes up 60% of the front of the radio because the cabinet size could support much larger speakers (“speakers” plural instead of singular) to produce much better sound. With AM DXing, I’m not interested in high fidelity. However, I found the audio to be good enough to fill the room with a pleasing sound.

There is a TONE switch. I suspect this is really a bandwidth setting as the translated owner’s manual states to leave it on “High” unless there is adjacent station interference (then toggle the switch to “Low”). To me the switch appears to be a wide(r) versus narrow(er) bandwidth – wider for fuller sound and narrower to help eliminate adjacent channel interference. It seems to function as intended.

FM:

The EX5MK2 is not renowned as an FM receiver. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It very easily pulled-in my favorite station about 40-45 miles away. During bandscanning across the dial, the receiver proved itself a decent if not worthy FM radio – not a DX machine, but of a quality where I wouldn’t feel I needed to reach for another receiver that possesses high fidelity audio. For general usage, I was pleased.

AM:

To me, AM performance is the meat and potatoes … AM is the reason this receiver is so popular with a huge following. Unfortunately, mine did not measure up.

To reiterate, I’m not a reviewer. I am not loaned complimentary radios to review. And as a retiree, I am not able to buy multiple samples. I can only evaluate the sample I received and thus I can only assume I have received a representative sample.

I quickly discovered the Sony EX5MK2 is the most RFI sensitive receiver I have ever encountered!

My Listening Post is a sitting room off the 2nd floor master bedroom. It extends outward from the main profile of my house with our breakfast nook underneath. This room has served me well for shortwave listening and AM DXing (AM DXing via several of my shortwave receivers).

However, the EX5MK2 proved to be quite fickle in this location. I was never able to completely eliminate the RFI issue I encountered with this radio. Even a FitBit in its charger created RFI so bad that the only thing heard between booming AM stations was a high-pitched RFI squeal. And this charger is plugged-in for perpetuity and has never cause any hint of an issue with any other radio (while sitting at my Listening Post, I routinely recharge my FitBit while listening to my radios – plural – and until now I had never, ever encountered any such RFI issue with my FitBit on any of my other SW radios). Frankly, I was dumbfounded to discover this.

I can only speak for my sample, but prospective buyers should keep RFI sensitivity in mind. Since I have never read any other report of RFI problems, maybe my unit is not properly shielded? Since I’m not a technically savvy “radiohead”, opening up the receiver to look inside would do me no good to evaluate its shielding.

Sensitivity:

I can see why people like the EX5MK2’s sensitivity (or the ability to receive distant AM broadcasts). During its first daytime test, I immediately and easily captured a signal from WWJZ 640AM in Mount Holly, NJ (Metro Philly). That station is approximately 300-miles to my northeast. It operates at 50,000 watts, however it’s not the easiest 50,000 watt station to receive from my location.

But complications from RFI interfered with my Field Testing.

After reasonably eliminating nearby RFI to include unplugging my FitBit, AM bandscanning revealed a horrible RFI hum (more like a shout and not a hum) – the worst of which is below approximately 850 kHz. It seemed the only stations that I was able to receive within this RFI Zone was the WWJZ 50,000 watt station and a couple of local stations. The true “DX Test” type of stations seemed to be buried in the RFI with zero chance of anything being audible. This was quite disappointing to say the least.

I continued with daytime as well as nighttime bandscanning over multiple days, however I found myself frustrated with interference issues. Yes, I easily received WSB AM750 in Atlanta at night (565 miles to my southwest), but again it seemed only the big boomers were receivable below 850 kHz and even some of the more local stations disappeared.

Comparing the EX5MK2 to my Yacht Boy 400 … yes, the YB400 received the same stations the EX5MK2 did, but the EX5MK2 definitely received them louder and more clearly (possibly attributed to the superior SYNC DETECTION of the EX5MK2). But most importantly to me the same interference issues that the EX5MK2 displayed did not plague the YB400.

I must admit, at this point frustration & disappointment out-weighed my planned Field Testing and I lost my desire to continue with rigorous testing.

Some people reading this might be disappointed and may be thinking, “why didn’t you take this outside, or into the countryside away from possible RFI sources?” to finish the testing. That’s not how I use my radios. Nearly all of my listening is from my house. Yes, I may have been able to isolate and better diagnose the interference problems I encountered by going outside my house. But I had already made the decision that this radio was going back to Amazon. In the end, my 1994 Yacht Boy 400 better met my needs than the EX5MK2.

Note:

The SYNC DETECTION feature on the EX5MK2 appeared to justify its hype. Unfortunately due to my RFI issue, I never truly put the USB/LSB feature to a test. Yes, isolating the USB/LSB did help to separate several distant stations on the upper two-thirds of the AM band, but in my opinion a true SELECTIVITY test would be to separate and receive a distant, weak station from the adjacent channel interference of a much stronger station. I never encountered this opportunity, but I must also admit that I essentially abandoned the Field Testing once I decided to return my EX5MK2.

Also, and I don’t know why, inductive coupling with a Tecsun AN-200 enhanced the EX5MK2’s AM reception but the Terk Advantage didn’t yield the same results. They are similar antennas and why the AN-200 was exponentially superior to the Terk Advantage is not something I can answer.

Summary:

Given its reputation, I am sure the EX5MK2 is a good, if not great, receiver. But my sample, for whatever reason, did not measure up.

And please, if you soon see an “open box” EX5MK2 listed on Amazon – it quite possibly will be the one I returned! My recommendation is to pass on that one and purchase a new, sealed box unit.


Many thanks, Troy, for sharing your detailed review/report of the Sony EX5MK2. Thank you, especially, for taking the time to translate the EX5MK2 manual.  

As Troy mentions, perhaps he simply received a lemon unit–one that had quality control issues such as possible shielding and/or grounding problems. 

I can tell you as a reviewer that there are few things as frustrating as throwing yourself into a highly-anticipated review only to be disappointed by your particular unit’s performance. It’s like buying a new car only to find out it rattles as you drive–!

I am very curious if anyone else has purchased the EX5MK2 from Amazon recently and experienced similar issues? Or, have you found that this analog receiver lives up to its stellar reputation?  Please comment!

Edward reviews this unmarked thrift store radio find

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Edward Ganshirt, who writes:

I spotted this “keychain” radio [pictured above] at a Savers thrift shop. Savers is a chain of thrift stores in the Northeast that is an outlet for Goodwill and possibly others. What caught my eye is (in addition to price) an 11 band radio: AM, FM and 4.75 to 21.85 Mhz in 9 short-wave bands. It has no brand markings (or FCC id) and of course made in China. I purchased it for less than a latte at Starbucks and brought it home.

It uses 2 AA penlight batteries and has a 14″ telescoping antenna. Turning it on demonstrates its low performance.

It has ample sensitivity on FM but difficult to tune clearly. AM band is better. Shortwave is a different story.

At night I get several shortwave stations, difficult to tune in. Connecting an external antenna demonstrated its weakness. I picked up the entire AM band and every other station below 30 MHz no matter what setting the tuning knob was set to, with varying signal strength , depending what short-wave band setting selected. I live less than 4 miles from a powerhouse radio station on 680 KHz that bleeds through the IF filter. Deconstructing the radio reveals its design shortcomings

It contains 2 chips: A CSC2822 stereo audio 8 pin dip and a 16 pin CSC2003P “jungle” chip. Comparing app notes to the receiver reveals short cuts in the design. Just absolute minimalist component count–only one 455KHz IF filter.

Fortunately, it has a ferrite loopstick antenna. (That explains why it works on AM. There is less IF bleed-through on AM).

Using a signal generator, on shortwave reveals non existent image rejection, beat notes on harmonics of the local oscillator (yes it is a superheterodyne).

This is a radio to take to the beach. If the tide grabs it and washes it into the ocean or a sea gull snatches it, you would not be disappointed.

In my opinion it was a bit steeply priced. You don’t win them all but I will still go to Savers in the future for other buys as they present themselves.

Thank you for your report, Edward. I think what is highlighted here are the shortcomings of inexpensive–truly “cheap”–radios. They have only the most basic components, regardless if they resemble a quality radio aesthetically. Edward listed the hallmarks of a cheap analog receivers: overloading, stiff inaccurate tuning controls, mediocre sensitivity/selectivity, poor audio, and poor shielding.

Thanks for pulling this one apart and taking a look inside, Edward.

Taking it to the beach, Ed? Let us know if it floats or–better yet–if a seagull decides to grab it–! Who knows, they may tune through the FM and find one of their favorite 1980s songs:

(Sorry, couldn’t help the reference–it is Friday after all.)