Tag Archives: Shortwave Radio Reviews

Taking a look at the XHDATA D109-WB . . . a sweet spot on the price/performance curve

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

The XHDATA D109-WB is a small radio that hits a sweet spot on the price/performance curve, delivering a lot of performance for not a lot of money (probably less than $60 US, depending on the source).

The D109-WB measures 5.9″L x 1.45″W x 3.07″H and weighs just over 10 ounces. It covers FM 64-108MHz, AM (medium wave) 520-1710KHz, LW 153-513KHz(9K), SW 1711-29999KHz, and seven NOAA Weather Radio channels 162.40-162.55MHz with alert function. It does not receive single-sideband signals. It offers 100 FM memories, 100 LW memories, 100 MW memories, and 300 SW memories. Further, it offers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 kHz bandwidths on MW and SW bands.

On the left side of the front panel is a plastic grill that fronts an inch-and-a-half speaker. On the right side is a small LCD screen with backlight that functions as information central for the D109-WB. Below it are 15 buttons (3 rows of 5 buttons each) that control various functions, including an “SOS Emergency Distress Sound and Light Alarm,” manual tuning and various auto scanning and auto memory storage schemes, band selection, DX/local receive mode selection, 9/10 kH MW spacing, clock alarms, bandwidth selection, a key lock/display switch, and a manual tune/memory mode switch, among others. Below those 15 buttons is a 3 x 4 numerical key pad for memory and direct frequency entry functions. To the right of the keypad are 5 buttons set in a circular pattern for controlling Bluetooth use and connectivity and MP3  playback (I did not test these last two functions).

On the right side of the case, you will find a type-C socket for plugging in a cable to charge the 18650 battery, a wheel for volume control, and a tuning knob.

On the left side of the case are 3.5 mm headphone and external antenna jacks.

On the back panel is a flip-out support and a hatch for accessing the battery. On the top, there is a fold-over 21-inch telescoping antenna and, on the bottom, two anti-skid rubber feet.

In all, I found the D109-WB to be solidly constructed with fit and finish appropriate to a radio in its price class. The only serious deficit I found in the D109-WB was the extremely small type in the owner’s manual. Consult the photograph below to see what I mean.

The D109-WB was straightforward to operate, and I enjoyed it. One cute trick was variable-speed tuning: on MW, turn the knob slowly, and it will change frequency in 1 kHz increments. Turn the knob fast, and the tuning rate jumps to 10 kHz increments (or 9 kHz, if you have selected that tuning option). Variable-speed tuning works the same way on the shortwave bands, and on the FM band, the slow tuning rate is .01 MHz, and it jumps to .1 MHz when the knob is turned quickly. I had not experienced variable-speed tuning in any other radio, and I like it . . . a lot.

But what I was really wanted to know was how well did the D109-WB perform?

Now here’s the rub: I don’t have any test equipment . . . but I do own a CCrane Skywave 2. So I sat down on a bright sunny afternoon with the D109-WB and the Skywave 2 side-by-side and compared them. I found that both would receive two weather channels loud and clear and one more weather channel marginally. Then I tuned firm the medium wave band, then the FM band, running the two radios in parallel and found that there was nothing that I could hear on Skywave 2 that I could not also hear on the D109-WB, and vice versa. In other words, I found the electrical performance of the two radios to be very similar . . . except, of course, that the Skywave receives the AIR band, and the D109-WB does not.

One of the things that I enjoy doing is to grab a radio, select a band, punch the SCAN button, and see what’s out there. Since I also own a Tecsun PL-880, I decided to run a scan on each band on each radio (D109-WB, Skywave 2, and PL-880) with its native whip antenna and see how many detectable signals I could find on each. By “signal,” I mean any place where the scan stopped where I could hear music, voices, or anything that sounded like a transmitted signal, as opposed to pure noise.

So here are the results of two different testing sessions on two different nights:

D109-WB vs. CCrane Skywave

D109-WB vs. Tecsun PL-880

A caution: before you start drawing conclusions from the results above about which radio is more sensitive than another, it is important to consider that those results may be heavily skewed by whatever “SCAN” algorithm is programmed into each radio. Further, the parameters of the SCAN algorithm for a particular radio are a black box to those who use the radio. What I can conclude from those results is that, if you want to be a lazy DXer like me and use the SCAN button for cruising the bands, the D109-WB will deliver pleasing results.

Since the D109-WB has a socket for plugging in an external antenna, I plugged in a 45-foot loop antenna. The D109-WB overloaded, but when I set the DX/local switch to local, the overloading went away but there was still a boost in signal-to-noise from the external antenna.

So, the bottom line: the XHDATA D109-WB delivers a whole lot of fun and performance at a very reasonable price, and I can easily recommend it for both newbies and old-timers alike.

In fact, if you want to turn a kid onto radio, here’s an idea: give the child a D109-WB and a paper atlas, explain how both work, then set that kid to work logging as many stations as possible and looking up where they are located. Heck, that sounds like fun to me.

Click here to check out the XHDATA D109-WB on Amazon.com

(note: this affiliate link supports the SWLing Post at no cost to you)

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Jack examines the C.Crane CC Skywave SSB 2

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


CC Skywave SSB 2: Thoughts and impressions

by Jack Kratoville

I had no intention of purchasing this radio. I already own two of the original Skywaves and, not big into Ham communications, saw little need for the upgrade. But as I was looking at the new SSB 2, my wife walked by and said, “Don’t you already have that one?” I told her it was the updated model and it’s on sale. “You should get it,” she replied. Sometimes it is best to listen to your wife.

My curiosity in the SSB 2 was the “slightly improved” audio and other updated features. It was shipped to my home for $149 complete and I eagerly opened the box. Putting it through the initial paces, I was highly disappointed. Some buttons didn’t work, and the “slightly improved” audio was harsher than the original. It was going back. In a final desperation, I stuck a paper clip in the reset hole and all functions came to life. While I still wasn’t impressed with the overall audio, I would spend more time with it. I’ll address the audio later, but let’s look at what this radio was intended for and how it stacks up to that challenge. This is a communication device, designed specifically for people looking for interesting and far away signals. As far as I can tell, it’s the only radio with “SSB” in its name – so let’s start there.

I have the Digitech AR1780 and the Eton Executive Satellit with SSB capability. I’ve explored both upper and lower sidebands on both. It always seems like too much work; pressing multiple buttons multiple times adding that the Digitech is a notoriously slow scanner. I enjoy them both, but SSB seems like an afterthought. The Skywave SSB 2 is far easier to track down and tune in signals. CCrane includes some tips in the booklet, and I find myself hunting for Ham conversations almost nightly. I haven’t had to attach an external antenna as of yet as I find something without them. If the primary purpose of this radio is to bring a capable SSB portable to your pocket on any adventure, CCrane has scored big. I’m still not a hard core listener, but this radio is very satisfying and I tend to check out the side bands much more frequently.

Next up is the SW band. The SSB2 has a longer antenna and I think it serves well pulling in more distant signals. First thing I noticed is that the SSB2 scans slower than the original Skywave. Perhaps this is due to the ability to detect single side band signals, but I’m not so sure. The original is quite speedy, the SSB 2 seems more normal. The best features are the external antenna options and the hardware provided in the box. Wherever you travel, you can easily hook up an antenna directly into the radio, simply using wire that attaches to the accessories in the box. There is a provided reel antenna, so your options are plentiful. I don’t get any overload, but I’m also not on top of any local signals. I have to say, as a communications device, this radio is designed to please.

Aircraft also benefits from a longer whip and external options. I can just get the feed from my local airport (about 5 miles away). The SSB2 gets the airport weather service clearly. There’s an updated scanner that is perfect for monitoring 2-3 signals at a time. This is a big improvement.

The weather band is one of my favorites and have always enjoyed it on the Pocket and Skywave. Here we have one step forward and one back. I understood why the original Skywave didn’t employ the tone switch on WX. There’s not a lot of dynamic audio here. But the SSB2 does which makes it a bit clearer and certainly louder. Very happy with that update, however when I push the presets on the SSB2, nothing! On the original, pushing 1 through 7 moved you to that WX channel. Now you have to slew through signals using the knob or buttons. Why would they omit this? At my home location, I receive 1, 4 & 7 and would simply press the preset I wanted to hear. Losing this capability makes no sense at all.

AM/MX. This band is always a CCrane strength and the SSB2 will not disappoint. Excellent sensitivity, filtering and scanning options makes this a top tier pocket portable.

FM. Better antenna, better reception. I think it’s a hair more sensitive and selective than the original Skywave, but listening to the FM band leads me into my biggest gripe, the audio.

“Slightly Improved” is a way of saying “don’t expect too much.” At first, I was highly disappointed. Even on “Voice,” the FM band sounded shrill and fatiguing. I almost returned it that first day. I decided that it was better to give time and put it through various paces and locations. Here’s my personal assessment. While audio dynamics is as personal as one’s favorite color, I must start by saying they did make a sizeable effort to improve this radio’s sound – to a degree. Excluding FM, the audio is louder and fuller. I would go as far to say it’s a bigger improvement than they give themselves credit for, especially with SW, SSB and WX. But with FM, they could have trimmed that high end 1-2db and it would have been so much better. U.S. FM signals are overprocessed to begin with and this radio highlights that flaw immensely. (The PL-310et does as well, but with slightly better low end to balance the sound). I’ve brought the radio outside, listened to the non-commercial locals and various low key programming – when the high frequencies are more muted, this model sounds much better than the original. OK, admittedly people are not laying out $160 for this radio to listen to the Zombies, U2 or even Doja Cat, but I don’t think it would have taken much to make this radio audibly more pleasant on all bands.

Where the audio does suffer is at low, low levels. This is not for listening in bed late at night. The improved amplifier has to send more energy to the speaker and that creates a low-level hiss – even when the volume is at zero. This is not a Skywave SSB2 issue, it is an issue with most audio devices trying to pump more into a smaller speaker. Most radios suffer from this to a degree (the original Skywave does not), but some are better than others. The SSB2 is very noticeable.

I honestly feel CCrane put in a big effort trying to please their core base with multiple adjustments to this radio. The screen light is better dispersed. When you shut the unit off, it gives you the time before the light extinguishes. Switching on and off or between bands, the audio fades up and down – better than unexpected loudness. The tuning knob is vastly improved with satisfying clicks and no jumping over frequencies. The volume knob is stiffer with less play. The buttons are better, and the adjusted layout is extremely intuitive. I’m not a huge fan of the current style, but it makes sense. CCrane designed this radio to be more in line with the CC Pocket, giving their portable lineup familiarity between models. I’d prefer the page and memory numbers to remain on screen, but it’s extraneous information. I don’t listen through the earbuds, but they are working on whatever clicking problems occur when switching between bands.

No radio will ever be perfect nor please everyone, but I remain a fan of CCrane. For Ham and SW enthusiasts on the go, this radio is worth your consideration. You can buy cheaper, but you will only get what you pay for. My original Skywave, purchased in 2015, continues working like it did brand new and remains my #1 travel companion. Well, number two behind my wife.

Click here to check out the Skywave line at C.Crane.

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Comparing the Watkins-Johnson WJ-8711 & WJ-8712 with TEN-TEC RX-340 & RX-331 receivers

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paolo Viappiani, who shares the following guest post:


The WJ-8711 & WJ-8712 vs. Ten-Tec RX-340 & RX-331 Receivers

by Paolo Viappiani, Carrara, Italy

In recent years, a renewed interest has grown in regards to the best HF receivers using “first generation” DSPs, typically the HF-1000/HF-1000A, WJ-8711/WJ-8711A and WJ-8712 models by Watkins-Johnson and the RX-340 and RX-331 models by Ten-Tec. Even today, the aforementioned receivers are considered among the best performers of all times; this is a well-deserved fame in the case of the W-Js, a bit less with regard to the units manufactured by Ten-Tec, a firm that once had a good reputation but that has been recently acquired by a new owner (who sold the old facilities by transferring the company and distorting the sales, support and assistance policies of the previous company [2]). I therefore believe that this article serves as a dutiful information for the readers who are potentially interested in these receivers.

A Bit of History

In the years between the last and the present century, two receivers very similar to each other in terms of design and structure were released almost simultaneously by Watkins-Johnson of Gaithersburg, Maryland [1] and by Ten-Tec of Sevierville, Tennessee [2]: the WJ-8711 (later upgraded to the A and A-3 versions and followed for a short period by the HF1000 and the  HF1000A  “civilian” versions [3]) and the Ten-Tec RX-340; both of them are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The WJ-8711A (above) and Ten-Tec RX-340 (below). Notice the similarity of the front panels of the two radios.

The WJ-8712/WJ-8712A and the Ten-Tec RX-331 receivers were released by their respective manufacturers in that period also (the latter one was preceded by the RX-320 and RX-330 models). All these types were nothing more than “black-box” units, that in all respects corresponded to the WJ-8711A and to the Ten-Tec RX-340 receivers but that had not been provided with true front panels, as they were controlled by special hardware interfaces or from a PC, look at Figures 2 and 3.

Looking at the appearance of the WJ-8711/HF1000 receiver series and of the Ten-Tec RX-340 units, a relative similarity to each other is evident, and it has led to various speculations regarding the design of both devices.

One of the theories was revealed by James (Jim) C. Garland W8ZR of Santa Fe, New Mexico [4], about which he claims to have obtained information from a Ten-Tec employee directly. James claims that in 1991 the US Government Agency NSA (National Security Agency), which used to purchase numerous HF receivers for surveillance and interception, decided that the current cost of the receivers were too high and formed a special group in order to study how to obtain a possible price reduction.

At that time the high-end HF receiver market was dominated by a few manufacturers: Watkins-Johnson, Racal, Cubic, Rockwell-Collins and a few others, and Ten-Tec applied for joining the group.

Figure 2: The WJ-8712A (above) and Ten-Tec RX-331 (below). While the Watkins-Johnson model is two rack units high and half wide, the Ten-Tec develops less in height (only one rack unit) and more in width (standard 19” rack). However, both receivers are quite deep (more than 20”-50 cm.).

Figure 3: The Tmate unit of the WoodBoxRadio is shown here; it is one of the possible accessories which, together with a PC monitor, allow using the “black-box” receivers via an RS-232 interface.

According to the information provided by Jim Garland, the Watkins-Johnson and the Ten-Tec designers worked together for about one year in order to agree on the technical characteristics and guidelines of the “radio of the future” which must meet all the requirements that the NSA requested.

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Paolo’s review of the Eton Elite Satellit

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paolo Viappiani, who shares the following guest post:


ETON Elite Satellit: an expensive flop 

by Paolo Viappiani, Italy 

Introduction 

After various and sometimes conflicting announcements that have created strong expectations in radio listening enthusiasts, ETON has recently launched on the extra-European market (basically in the United States) what should have been its “top of the range” portable, the Elite Satellit model . Aesthetically (and also functionally) inspired by the previous E1 model, the new portable radio should have been free from the defects of its predecessor, in particular as regards the “sticky” coating of the plastic case but also with respect to other technical drawbacks repeatedly reported by users (display contrast and shading, etc.).

The new Elite Satellit was announced to look practically identical to the E1 model and to use the same cabinet, but with various additions and improvements: RDS, FM-HD reception, Air Band, etc. A frequency resolution of 10 Hz in the shortwave bands, a PBT (Pass-Band Tuning) facility, a large LCD display with the possibility of changing its background color were also provided.

It is therefore obvious that its release was highly anticipated, and the resulting expectation gave rise to numerous pre-orders of the radio in the United States, where the main distributor was (and still is) the well-known Universal Radio company owned by Fred Osterman [1].

Unfortunately, the initial boom in sales of the ETON Elite Satellit was followed by many return requests due to the poor performances of the radio and the numerous defects encountered by users, also reported in a lot of videos and negative reviews on the Internet [2].

Fred Osterman himself, disappointed by the performance of a radio that he should have sold as an excellent portable, began to test the individual devices in his own laboratory and to return to ETON all the units that did not meet the declared specs (basically the vast majority of those received for sale) [3]. All this caused great confusion at ETON, which was forced to somehow remedy its errors (mainly due both to a very approximate alignment of the circuits and to an almost non-existent final quality control).

Unfortunately, despite the precautions adopted “hastily” by ETON, most of the “overhauled” devices that were returned to Universal Radio continued not to comply with the specifications, so that Fred Osterman, who is a good technician and a very honest dealer, decided to cancel most of the orders received and to sell the very few radios found to be in good working order within the United States only, (see again note [3]). I myself placed an order from Universal Radio for an ETON Elite Satellit on August 8, 2022 (Order ID: #8992932, retail price $599.99 plus shipping and import customs duties), but Fred was forced to “drastically cut” the orders received and to cancel mine too, due to the impossibility of satisfying the many customers on this side of the pond. However, my desire to have an example of the ETON Elite Satellit in my hands, in order to be able to see, test and judge the new radio it was really great, and great was also the wish to realize if the many negative impressions circulating on the web were or were not justified and true.

So I decided to look for other ways to buy the “latest cry” of ETON. The opportunity presented itself to me, almost unexpectedly, by visiting the American site of Amazon [4].

The purchase and the arrival of the radio; my first impressions 

I therefore ordered an ETON Elite Satellit portable radio on the Amazon.com website on January 17, 2023 at the price of $698.16 (including shipping and customs duties). I report in Figure 1 the screenshot concerning my order #113-3575479-2262609 which, as it appears, was delivered to me on January 23, 2023, after only five days; this demonstrates the truthfulness of my statements.

Figure 1: A Screenshot of my Amazon.com order dated January 17, 2023.

The shipment was delivered to me by UPS courier in the usual Amazon packaging in a plastic bag (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The UPS label and the Amazon plastic bag.

Inside the envelope was a cardboard box containing the radio, in understandably less than perfect conditions (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The cardboard box of the ETON Elite Satellit.

Figure 4: The contents of the radio box.

Once the package was opened, the contents of the box looked like in Figure 4: two shock-absorbing spacers held the device in position (inserted in a plastic bag) and its AC power supply (into a white box, and obviously with a 117V input voltage). There was also the “User Guide” in a paper version and a “mini-guide” to listening to short waves; completely absent was the CD that used to be enclosed in the box of the previous E1 version of the radio.

Continuing with the operations, I came across a sort of brown plastic cover intended for the protection of three sides of the radio (front, top and back) which can be held in position by some magnets and is provided with two circular holes in correspondence with the tuning knobs and volume of the radio (Figure 5).

Figure 5: The ETON Elite Satellit radio and its “case” (?)

I omit to make comments on this “protection”; I only say that in my opinion it is useless (and ugly too) and I believe that the gentlemen of ETON could have wasted their energies otherwise; but maybe someone likes it too…

Figures 6 and 7 show the front and back of the portable radio as soon as it has been removed from the protective plastic bag. Note the almost identical appearance of the cases of the Elite Satellit and of the previous E1 model.

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13dka Reviews: The new 2022 “Belka” (generation 3) general coverage receiver

The new 2022 “Belka” (generation 3) general coverage receiver

by 13dka

Since its introduction in 2019, the super-tiny Belka (back then called “Belka DSP”) shortwave receiver sure gained an enthusiastic followership among SWLs and hams. The main reason for this is certainly the way how the Belka is incredibly small yet playing in a different league than the various consumer grade, Chinese mass-production radios, particularly the DSP-based ultraportables: The Belka is an all-mode shortwave communications receiver with a completely different (direct conversion SDR) architecture, developed and produced by a radio enthusiast (Alex, EU1ME) in a small mom&pop shop in Belarus.

In case you’ve never heard about it amidst all the buzz about more popular brands, here’s the skinny:

The Belka offers true allmode (including NFM and CW) reception with a proper 400 Hz CW filter and individual settings for the low and high filter slopes for AM, FM and SSB. It has an AM sync detector and comes with a 0.5ppm TCXO-controlled local oscillator for absolutely spot-on, calibration-free frequency precision and stability, which makes SSB or ECSS reception of broadcast stations a pure joy. The second iteration “Belka DX” brought a slightly extended coverage down to 1.5 MHz and an I/Q output for panadapter display and/or processing via your favorite SDR software.

All Belkas are quiet and very sensitive radios with a surprisingly robust front end, the filters are better and its AGC works like you’d expect it from a communications receiver, without the artifacts and distortion the DSP radios are infamous for, and of course smooth, non-“muting” tuning in variable steps down to 10Hz.

The Belkas have no built-in speaker (available as option tho) but really excellent audio on headphones and external speakers and they actually give my Icom IC-705 a run for its money in terms of reception quality, and they do that for up to 24 hours on a single charge of the internal Li-Ion battery. This stunning feature set is crowned by the best performance on a telescopic whip antenna ever – the Belkas have a high-impedance (>10 kOhm) antenna input optimized for this whip and taking it on a walk is (really!) like having a big rig with a big antenna in tow…

Despite all this goodness setting the Belka(s) quite fundamentally apart from most (if not all) current and former, even much higher priced portables and simultaneously putting it solidly into pricey tabletop territory, it hasn’t put Tecsun et al out of business for a couple of reasons: One reason is that it can only be obtained from Alex in Belarus, which is now often assumed to be impossible (it isn’t, more on that later). Another reason is that it doesn’t try to compete with aforementioned multiband radios from China, so there is no FM broadcast band and – until now – no AM BC band, but most owners and potential buyers particularly in the US really wished it had at least the latter. Well, Alex obviously heard us! After the Belka DSP and the Belka DX, the new Belka is just called “Belka”, so in order to avoid any ambiguity I’m going to refer to this model as “Belka 2022”.

What’s new?

The most prominent addition to the Belka 2022 is the extended 0.1-31 MHz coverage, the previous version only started receiving at 1.5 MHz. With LW and MW included, its “pseudosynchronous” detector (as featured in venerable radios from Harris, Racal or Drake), the great filtering and the great frequency precision for hassle-free ECSS reception are promising that the “squirrel” is now an ultra-ultraportable companion for MW DXers as well.

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Matt’s Rooftop Receiver Shootout: Round Two!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Matt Blaze, for the following guest post:


Matt’s Rooftop Receiver Shootout, Round Two.

by Matt Blaze

You may recall that back in April, I dragged eight of my favorite receivers up to the roof, hooked them up to a portable antenna, and compared their abilities to demodulate various signals at the same time. For the most part, the similarities between radios were more striking than their differences. I hinted that there’d be a second installment to come, including more receivers and more challenging signals, to further expose and highlight the practical real-world performance differences between the radios we use.

So, as promised, here we are with Round Two of my Rooftop Receiver Shootout.

This time around, I used approximately the same setup, but with a total of fifteen different radios. And once again, I took advantage of nice weather and brought a multitude of receivers, recording gear, cables, and an antenna up to my roof to listen to and record shortwave signals under the open sky.

Our fifteen receivers included everything from “dream radios” from the 1980’s to current-production desktop models to less expensive modern portables to high-performance bench-top lab measurement gear. I tried to curate samples of a wide range of radios you may be familiar with as well as some you probably aren’t.

The lineup consisted of:

  • Icom R-8600, a current production “DC to Daylight” (or up to 3 GHz, at least) general coverage communications receiver, with highly regarded shortwave performance.
  • AOR AR-ONE, another DC to 3 GHz general coverage radio, less well known due to the high price and limited US availability. Excellent performer, but a counterintuitive and awkward (menu-driven) user interface is less than ideal for shortwave, in my opinion.
  • Reuter RDR Pocket, a very cute, if virtually impossible to get in the US, small production, high performance SDR-based shortwave portable receiver. It’s got an excellent spectrum display and packs near desktop performance into a surprisingly small package.
  • AOR 7030Plus, an extremely well regarded mobile/desktop HF receiver from the late 90’s. Digital but retaining some important analog-era features like mechanical filters. Designed and (mostly) built in the UK, it’s got a quirky menu-driven user interface but is a lot of fun once you get used to it.
  • Drake R8B, the last of the much-beloved Drake receivers. Probably the chief competitor to the 7030+.
  • Drake R7A, an excellent analog communications receiver (but with a digital VFO) from the early 80’s. It still outperforms even many current radios.
  • Sony ICF-6800W, a top of the line “boom box”-style consumer receiver from the early 80’s. Great radio, but hard to use on SSB, as we saw in Round One.
  • Panasonic RF-4900, the main competition for the Sony. Boat-anchor form factor, but (improbably) can run on internal D-cell batteries. Generally impressive performer on AM, but, like the Sony 6800, difficult to tune on SSB.

You may remember the above radios from Round One back in April. The new radios this time were:

  • Tecsun 501x, a larger-format LW/MW/HF/FM portable released last year. As noted below, it’s a generally good performer, but regrettably susceptible to intermod when connected to a wideband external antenna (as we’ll see in Part One).
  • Tecsun PL-990x, a small-format portable (updating the PL880), with many of the same features as the 501x. Like the H501x, good performance as a stand-alone radio, but disappointing susceptibility to intermod when fed with an external antenna.
  • Sangean ATS-909x, a recent LW/MW/HF/FM portable with a good reputation as well as a few quirks, such as only relatively narrow IF bandwidth choices on HF. Excellent performance on an external antenna.
  • Sangean ATS-909×2, an updated, current production version of the ATS-909x that adds air band and a few performance improvements. Overall excellent, though I would prefer an addition wider IF bandwidth choice. My go-to travel receiver if I don’t want to take the Reuter Pocket.
  • Sony ICF-7600GR, a small-format digital LW/MW/SW/FM portable introduced in 2001 and the last of the Sony shortwave receivers. Showing its age, but still competitive in performance.
  • Belka DX, the smallest radio in our lineup, made in Belarus. You’ll either love or hate the minimalist interface (one knob and four buttons). If you’re going to secretly copy numbers stations in your covert spy lair, this is a good radio to use. Can be difficult to obtain right now due to sanctions.
  • Finally, a bit of a ringer: the Narda Signal Shark 3310, a high performance SDR-based 8.5 GHz RF spectrum and signal analyzer. As with most test equipment like this, demodulation (especially of HF modes) is a bit of an afterthought. But it has an excellent front end and dynamic range, intended for identifying, extracting, and analyzing weak signals even in the presence of strong interference. Not cheap, but it’s intended as measurement-grade lab equipment, not consumer gear. Demodulated audio is noticeably delayed (several hundred ms) compared with other receivers due to the multi-stage DSP signal path.


The antenna was my portable “signal sweeper” Wellbrook FLX-1530 on a rotatable tripod, using a power splitter and a pair of Stridsberg Engineering 8-port HF distribution amplifiers to feed the fifteen radios. So every radio was getting pretty close to exactly the same signal at its RF input. Continue reading

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Dan reviews the CountyComm GP7/SSB (Gen 4)

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


CountyComm GP7 / Tecsun PL-368:  Is It All You Need?

by Dan Robinson

It’s been a long wait, but CountyComm, that supplier of all kinds of neat and useful stuff, finally released the GP7 SSB (Gen 4).

As the name states this is the 4th generation of the series of radios adapted by the company from the Tecsun PL-36xxx series of receivers (there was at one point a GP6 that was a never-released special project).

All photos by CountyComm

This walkie-talkie style, though receive-only, portable has undoubtedly been a big seller for CountyComm since the first model came out.  It’s popular not only with SWLs and amateur operators but also with preppers.

When OEM Tecsun finally did what everyone was clamoring for – redesign the radio with a keypad and including features associated with the PL-880/330/990x/501x receivers – the ground shook. Continue reading

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