Ever had one of those days where you should be catching up on work, correspondence, and projects, but instead you find yourself outside, in front of a radio and just enjoying a long listening session?
Yeah, that’s me and that’s today.
How did it all happen?
Well, this morning I dropped an RF adapter behind a shelf and, in the process, picked up my Sony ICF-5500W that was standing in the way. It felt a little light because it had no batteries inside.
Next thing I know, I’m loading the ‘5500W with C cells and heading outside.
It’s a gorgeous day, so I thought it might not be a bad idea to energize the caps in this benchmark solid-state radio and check reception outdoors. Besides, it’s a perfect way to do my bit for Social DXing, right?
The ‘5500W was performing flawlessly, so the next thing I know I’ve passed a good hour band-scanning and doing a little daytime DXing.
The ‘500W is truly a remarkable mediumwave receiver and I love the fluid “tuning experience” of the analog dial. The audio, of course, is brilliant and perhaps that’s why I can’t let go of it (nor the Panny RF-2200).
So am I the only one playing radio today instead of doing work–? Tell me it ain’t so! Please comment!
UPDATE (05 November 2018): Please note that we have posted a second production run update to this initial review. In short, C. Crane addressed all of the major issues I noted in the review below. Click here to read the CCRadio-EP Pro update.
Without a doubt, C. Crane Company has become an established name in our radio community as a retailer and manufacturer that focuses on the world of broadcast listening. The company’s ads, website, and blog all promote broadcast listening as a viable and important part of our evolving media landscape. Their radio products are all designed with broadcast listening in mind.
The C. Crane CCRadio 2E
Currently the company manufactures one of the most capable AM broadcast receivers on the market: the CCRadio-2E.
The CCRadio-2E, however, is a pricey portable at $170 US, perhaps overkill for the casual broadcast listener.
So, for those seeking a simpler broadcast receiver, C. Crane later developed the original CCRadio-EP, a bare-bones, fully analog AM/FM radio with a large backlit slide rule dial, designed for the listener who wants to “go old school” in their receiving.
The original CCRadio-EP also attracted mediumwave/AM broadcast radio listeners because it had fairly impressive performance characteristics supported by C. Crane’s patented Twin Coil Ferrite AM antenna. In many ways, the original CCRadio-EP was somewhat reminiscent of the GE Superadio.
Yet while the original CCRadio-EP has––according to C. Crane––been a popular product, because certain vital EP components are now becoming obsolete, the company has been forced to redesign it; hence the new CCRadio-EP Pro.
The CCRadio-EP Pro: A different animal
Let’s be clear, though: unlike its predecessor, the CCRadio-EP Pro is no longer a true analog set.
Despite external similarities, internally this radio and its predecessor are very different receivers. Inside, the EP Pro is based on the Silicon Labs SI4734 DSP chip. Perhaps it goes without saying, but I consider the move to a chip a significant design change.
Crane kindly sent me a review sample of the new CCRadio-EP Pro. It’s important to note that the review unit came from a strictly limited first production run; the actual consumer rig’s first major production run is still a few weeks away. Thus this radio is not yet shipping.
I’ve had the CCRadio-EP Pro for a few weeks now, during which time I’ve given it a thorough evaluation. So, let’s take a close look at the CCRadio-EP Pro––first, in terms of performance.
Let’s face it: if you’re a radio enthusiast and reading this review, you’re likely mainly concerned with the EP Pro’s performance on the AM broadcast band. Personally speaking, that’s true for me, too.
The CCRadio-EP Pro (left) and Tecsun PL-660 (right).
Over the years of reviewing portable receivers of all stripes, I’ve learned that nothing beats a radio specifically designed for AM broadcast band performance. Without a doubt, C. Crane intends that the CCRadio-EP Pro be one of these radios. Indeed, in many ways, it’s an ideal set for broadcast listening, because it sports:
C. Crane’s Twin Coil Ferrite AM antenna
A large speaker
Wide/Narrow bandwidth switch
Dedicated external antenna connections
Although beefy internal AM antennas, large speakers, and external antenna connections were relatively common in the 1970s and 80s, these are rare features among modern AM/FM portable radios. The fact is, radios with superb AM broadcast performance are becoming a rather rare breed.
External antenna connections
In other words, the CCRadio-EP Pro has many design features that position it to be a formidable AM broadcast band receiver.
So, then, how does it perform? Well…that’s complicated to explain. The CCRadio-EP Pro has some positives, but also a notable amount of negatives.
Let’s start with the good news.
Positive: AM Sensitivity
Comparing the CCRadio-EP Pro (left) with the Sony ICF-5500W (right) and the Tecsun PL-660 (middle) at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute.
The CCRadio-EP Pro is quite sensitive on the AM broadcast band. When I’ve compared it with a number of shortwave portables I own, it almost always outperforms them on frequency. When my Tecsun PL-660––one of the most sensitive mediumwave receivers among my shortwave portables––is tuned to a marginal signal, it sounds about half as sensitive as the CCRadio-EP Pro.
The original CCRadio-EP revives the joy of a purely analog radio set. When you tune up/down the bands, there’s a fluidity to the whole process. While the interface is simple, analog tuning allows your ears to pick up on the nuances––the rise and fall of stations both strong and weak as you travel across the dial.
As we mentioned earlier, mechanically-tuned DSP radios, like the new CCRadio-EP Pro, may look like analog sets, but inside, they’re entirely digital. And one drawback to all of the mechanically-tuned DSP radios I’ve tested so far is a tendency to mute between frequencies. With each 10 kHz frequency step, you’ll hear a short audio mute. If you tune across the dial quickly, audio mutes until you land on a frequency. Here’s a video demonstrating the effect:
Needless to say, muting makes band scanning a more fatiguing process. It’s really a shame this affects the AM band. I hope that C. Crane engineers can minimize this issue in future production runs, but I understand much of this is a characteristic/limitation of this particular DSP chip.
Crane actually includes a note about weak images which you might find below and/or above your target signal. Weak images are an unfortunate reality of the CCRadio-EP Pro; they’re prevalent on both AM and FM.
Here’s how you’ll experience the images by way of example: let’s say you’re tuning to a strong local AM station on 630 kHz, noting that the EP Pro has 10 kHz tuning increments. As you tune to 630 kHz, you’ll hear the station on 620 kHz, though it won’t be as strong as it is on 630 kHz. Then if you tune to 640 kHz, you’ll likely hear a weaker image of the station there, as well. In my experience, images are present on both sides of the target station if the station is strong. If it’s a weak station, you might only hear it, say, 10 kHz lower but not above (or vise versa).
The CCRadio-EP Pro is powered by four D Cells.
As you might imagine, this poses a problem for the weak signal AM broadcast band DXer. Let’s say you’re trying to snag an elusive DX station on 640 kHz; although the EP Pro might have the sensitivity required to grab that station, it’s simply not selective enough (if selective is indeed the right word) to reject the local station on 630 kHz, thus your weak DX will have local competition.
This, more than any other negative, takes the EP Pro out of the realm of the mediumwave DXer.
I’ve also discovered that, on my unit, the top half of the AM dial is inaccurate. I estimate that the slide rule dial is off by about 40-50 kHz at the top end of the band. It’s much more accurate below 1,200 kHz, however.
Here is a few photo of the CCRadio-EP Pro tuned to 1600 kHz:
I hope C. Crane can address this in future iterations of the EP Pro. While I don’t expect slide rule dials to be extremely accurate, there nonetheless needs to be some reliability.
Note: C. Crane engineering is aware of this problem and even attempting to implement a fix on the first production run units. I will follow up when I learn more.
Negative Audio “pop” with power on
As you might have heard in the band scanning video above, any time you turn on the CCRadio-EP Pro, you’ll hear an audio “pop.” This is happening when power is applied to the audio amplifier. The pop is not soft, but fairly audible, and is present even if you turn the volume down all the way. The audio pop is prevalent via both the internal speaker and when using headphones. Fortunately, it’s much less pronounced via headphones. While not a major negative, I find it a bit annoying, and don’t doubt that other listeners will, too.
Note: C. Crane engineering tell me that they’ve minimized the audio pop since making the limited first production run, thus the first full production run should be improved.
Negative: AM frequency steps currently limited to 10 kHz
My initial production run EP Pro is limited to 10 kHz frequency steps. This radio is primarily marketed to North America where 10 kHz increments are standard. Of course, if you’re trying to use the EP Pro to snag Transatlantic or Transpacific DX, you’ll miss the ability to tune between those broad 10 kHz steps. But, again, due to the imaging mention above, I think the CCRadio-EP Pro is simply not suited for DXing.
Note: C. Crane engineering has informed me that future production runs of the CCRadio-EP Pro may have a 10/9 kHz switch, thus eliminating this negative. If you’re reading this review a few months after time of posting––crossed fingers––this may already be resolved.
If you’re looking for a simple AM/FM radio, and plan to spend most of your time on the FM band, you’ll like the CCRadio-EP Pro.
FM audio is very good on the CCRadio-EP Pro. I think it would be safe to say that it’s superior to most other receivers currently on the market in its $85 price range. Audio is room-filling and has good characteristics with dedicated adjustments for Bass and Treble. FM audio is reminiscent of 1970s-era solid-state receivers like the GE Superadio (a big positive, in my book). The bass is not very deep and resonant, nor the treble super-crisp, but the sound overall is very pleasant to the ear.
The EP Pro is a sensitive FM receiver. It received all of my benchmark local and distant FM stations.
Positive: No drifting
As with AM, the EP Pro does not drift off frequency (again, this is actually a DSP radio).
The FM band is less affected by some of the negatives that impact AM broadcast band listening:
Negative: Inaccurate dial
As with the AM dial, FM frequency markings are slightly off. I measured the entire FM band and found that the upper half of the dial (above 102 MHz) seemed to deviate the most. See images below comparing the Tecsun PL-660 and CCRadio-EP Pro tuned to the same FM frequencies:
Here are a few examples of the CCRadio-EP Pro and Tecsun PL-660 tuned to the same frequencies:
Note: As mentioned above, C. Crane is trying to implement a fix for this in future production runs.
As with the AM band, you will find imaging on the FM band. This bothers me less on the FM band, but I live in an area where the FM dial isn’t incredibly crowded. If you live in an urban market with stations packed into the dial, then the imaging concern will probably make the experience of listening to a weak station adjacent to a strong station quite unpleasant.
What about muting between frequencies? While you can hear frequency steps on the FM band, there is little to no muting between frequencies. It almost feels more like an analog radio.
Funny, but the weak signal images around a strong FM frequency actually help contribute to an analog-like experience during band scanning, as stations seem to rise and fall as you tune.
There is another factor that I don’t really consider a positive, but is worth noting. The EP Pro is one of the best mechanically-tuned DSP receivers to use on the FM band because the slide rule dial is wide––there’s a larger space for the needle to travel. FM band scanning would be a pretty pleasant experience if only the dial markings were more accurate.
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 some of my initial impressions. Here is the list I formed over the time I’ve spent evaluating the C. Crane CCRadio-EP Pro.
Excellent AM sensitivity
Good audio via internal speaker
Internal Twin Coil Ferrite AM antenna provides excellent gain and nulling
My conclusion is that the first production run of the CCradio-EP Pro is simply not an enthusiasts’ radio.
If you read the list of negatives in the AM performance section of this review, you’ll know why I simply can’t recommend it…at least not yet. If C. Crane could minimize AM muting, improve imaging and fix the frequency accuracy, this radio may prove more promising. But at this point, the limited production run CCRadio-EP Pro lacks the level of refinement that I’ve come to expect from a C. Crane radio.
For what it’s worth, I have been in close contact with C. Crane regarding these issues; the company is taking them to heart and even looking to implement some fixes/adjustments prior to their full production run. As these issues are resolved, I’ll amend this review. Click here to read the second production run review.
The lack of refinements is somewhat disheartening. Otherwise, the CCR-EP Pro would be a great mediumwave DXing machine. When on frequency, it’s quite sensitive and stable! Perhaps some mediumwave DXers could overlook the negatives above to take advantage of this. I would not, however. I’d soon find the problems frustrating and turn to other receivers in my arsenal. Sensitivity is important, but personally I would sacrifice sensitivity to have an overall better tuning and listening experience.
On the other hand––as C.Crane makes a point of stating––the CC-Radio EP Pro was designed around the needs of Bob Crane’s mother: so is essentially an effective radio for casual listening that’s utterly simple to use. In this respect, at least, the EP Pro is a success.
The EP Pro has no multi-function buttons, no menus, and no memories. The knobs and buttons are tactile and obvious. The backlit dial is also a nice touch; I love it. The EP Pro is old school design around a modern DSP chip and, in terms of audio, a hat tip to classic solid state analog radios from the 1970s and 80s.
The casual listener––especially those who use radio to primarily listen to their one favorite station––will enjoy the EP Pro. For example, I have an older friend who’s in the process of replacing his bedside radio of 30+ years. He wants a set he can tune to his staple AM broadcast station (which is not a super-easy catch) and leave it on frequency––essentially, he wants a “set it and forget it” radio. I think the EP Pro will work well for this application.
But for radio enthusiasts––like most of you wonderful people who read the SWLing Post––I would pass on the EP Pro and consider a more capable mediumwave radio instead like the original CCRadio-EP, the CC-Radio 2E, or a vintage solid state set like the GE Superadio, Sony-5500W, or the venerable Panasonic RF-2200.
You can purchase the CCRadio-EP Pro from the following retailers:
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Neil Goldstein, who shares the following guest post which originally appeared on his blog, Fofio:
Radios I Have Known #2 The old, the new, and the Select-A-Tenna
by Neil Goldstein
L-R: Select-A-Tenna, Tivdio V-115, Sony ICF-5500W
After promising this series a year and a half ago, I finally have started digging through the collection, and will start posting about once a week. The radios, and accessories may not have anything in common (as seen in this post), but were all acquired because they were in some way interesting, or sentimental to me. Here’s the first three:
One of the original air-core tunable AM antennas. You just put this near the radio and peak it for reception. I was watching for one of these in good shape, and not overpriced, and they have been in and out of production over the years. This one is from a later production run as can be seen by the extended AM range (1700). Jay Allen reviewed the S.A.T by comparing the the TERK Air Core antenna not long ago here: https://radiojayallen.com/select-a-tenna-vs-terk-am-advantage/ The TERK reviewed well, and looks more modern, but I wanted the classic cheesy art-deco looking S.A.T.
I won’t post a long, boring review here. Many have already reviewed this radio. All I can say is that if you like small, decent-sounding transistor radios, you will not be disappointed. If you are expecting top-shelf performance, and perfect ergonomics, then you you may not be happy, but for around $19 you really should be happy with this little gem. A great little radio at a great price and the most impressive thing here is the sound. The radio has a small passive radiator like the Meloson M8, and M7, and really surprises me. It can also be used as an amplified speaker, and has a micro SD slot for using it as a standalone MP3 player. Grab one!
Most transistor radio collectors know this radio. It’s a classic for sure, but I have to give a little background on why I wanted one. When I was about 12 years old, I had a few analog SW portables, but nothing with direct frequency readout. Panasonic had introduced it’s series of direct-readout radios, the RF-2200, 2800, and 4800, and Sony was competing with the ICF-5900W. Dad acknowledged the quality and technology of these radios, and told me that if I saved most of the money by working for him, he may help me get one. The 2800, and 4800 were way out of reach, but one Sunday in the local paper, a department store in Kingston (Britt’s, which was Newberry’s answer to Macy’s) had the 2200 advertised for $138.88. I had been flip-flopping between the Sony and the Panasonic for weeks, but that was the clincher.
The radio is still in use. My sister in law has it. I had given it to my late brother Paul at some point and she still uses it as her main radio.
Why this Sony though? I still want a 5900W. When I saw this one come up at an auction, I recognized the shape it was in. The ICF-5500W was the companion radio to the 5900W. AM/FM and VHF Hi (with a basic, but functional squelch control). The 5500 and 5900 are a monument to Sony design at the time. The pop-up antenna (which still works flawlessly), The separate Bass, Treble, and Loudness controls, The overall quality of sound and function, all of this is an example of what Sony was producing at the time. I think their modern small electronics are a shadow of what they were capable of years ago. This thing still sounds great and performs well next to my modern DSP radios. I still would love to get a pristine 5900W but they usually fetch premium dollars. Maybe someday.
Bravo Sony, but where did you go?
More to come!!
Thanks for sharing, Neil! I, too, have the Tivdio V-115 and the Sony ICF-5900W.
The ‘5900W is a gem of a solid state receiver. It has brilliant AM broadcast band reception and rich audio. I need to open my ‘5900W and clean all of the contacts since some of the sliders are scratchy. It’ll make for a nice rainy day project!
We look forward to your next installment! Post Readers: be sure to check out Neil’s blog, Fofio!
I spent this morning doing a lot of work around our property. When it was time for a break, I turned on my trust Sony ICF-5500W and tuned to WTZQ: one of my favorite regional AM braodcasters. Though WTZQ is over 30 miles from my home, any good AM radio, like the ICF-5500W, can receive their 1,000 watt signal with ease.
As luck would have it, when I turned on my 5500W, WTZQ started playing Love Me Do by The Beatles. It sounded absolutely amazing via the 5500W’s internal speaker: full-on, rich AM audio fidelity! Absolutely brilliant!
I cranked up the volume so our local black bears could enjoy.
I relaxed a good half hour, and caught up on reading the latest two issues of RadCom with my ICF-5500W playing WTZQ in the background.
Sometimes it’s the simple stuff that starts one’s morning off the right way.
Friday, I brought home an untested, slightly grimy, Sony ICF-5500W. I purchased it through Goodwill for $20.
I crossed my fingers as I put three C cells in the radio and turned it on. Fortunately, I was rewarded with brilliant audio. I tuned the ‘5500W on AM/mediumwave and heard CFZM, 500 miles to my north, and Radio Reloj, 860 miles to my south. A quick scan on the FM dial revealed that I could also hear all of my local benchmarks. Whew!
Other than the dial needing a little calibration, and DeOxit on a few pots, it’s in excellent mechanical shape.
I started cleaning the radio last night using Q-tip cotton swabs and a vinegar/water solution.
I’d like to restore the hard plastic chassis’ original shine, though.
I was tempted to reach for some Armor All, but stopped myself short. I know it would give the ICF-5500W a nice shine, but would it cause any long-term damage to the black plastic or clear dial cover?
I know there are vintage radio restorers among the SWLing Post readership. Can someone offer advice on what’s the best product to use (or not use!) on my ICF-5500W?
If you have experience, please comment!
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