Tag Archives: Weather Radio

Sangean DT-800 Review: AM/FM/Weather ultra-compact radio

Two months ago, SWLing Post reader Paul Adler wrote to ask:

“Any reviews and comparisons of the Sangean DT-800?”

The Sangean DT-800? This caught my attention, as I wasn’t, at the time, familiar with this recent addition to the Sangean product family.  So I promptly began investigating the new product, and checked out the manual; I found it has a few features that really intrigue me, namely:

  • The ability to turn off soft muting
  • The ability to internally recharge NiMH AA batteries
  • Multiple bandwidth on AM and FM
  • Weather band with weather alerts
  • FM RDS
  • No telescoping antenna––rather, an included wire antenna

In my mind, these features seemed to set it apart from other similar portables.  And with the ability to defeat the soft mute, I wondered if it could make for a formidable Ultralight DX radio?

I contacted Sangean, and they kindly sent me a review sample of the DT-800. It comes in two chassis colors: standard black and and a bright fire yellow. I chose yellow, which makes it easier to spot should this handheld be lost or dropped in an outdoor setting.

Thanks for the suggestion, Paul!

Giveaway!  By the way: since this is a product sample and was sent to me free of charge, I’m going to give it away to a lucky SWLing Post Coffee Fund or Patreon supporter next week, just to say thanks!

Now, let’s get on with the review…

Initial impressions

As with almost all Sangean products, the DT-800 arrives as a complete package, with all accessories. Inside, you’ll find the radio, a full-length multi-language owner’s manual, a warranty card, an AC adapter (with in-line RF chokes, nice touch), in-ear headphones, an external wire antenna, and a belt clip.

The DT-800 fits nicely in the hand, and the matte finish on the sides and bottom of the radio make gripping it quite easy, lessening the chance of dropping or losing the unit.

The front panel is simple: five multi-function preset buttons and a Page/Menu button. All of the buttons are tactile and have a matte finish, as well; they feel of good quality and have a great response.

The right side of the radio (see side view, above) has a tuning/select up/down jog switch, a mechanical keylock button and a MicroUSB DC in port.

On the left side of the radio (see left side view, above) you’ll find the volume up/down buttons and a stereo/mono/speaker mechanical switch which you can use to switch between the internal speaker and headphones.

On top of the radio (above) you’ll find the power button, band selection button and the headphones port, which doubles as the external antenna port.

On the back of the radio you’ll find the DBB bass-boost slider switch, the battery compartment, and a belt clip.

One thing you’ll quickly notice is a lack of any telescoping whip antenna. Instead, the DT-800 ships with a wire antenna that’s almost three feet long. I suspect that this is the same type of FM antenna that shipped with the Sangean WR-7 (click here to read review).

Design/Ergonomics

All in all, I’m very pleased with the DT-800’s design: it fits well in the hand, the buttons and controls are easy to use, and it’s small enough––and flat enough––to easily slip in a pocket, go-bag, or carry-on. A great portable for one-hand operation. It’s also lightweight, even with the batteries inserted. Truly, this appears to be a quality little radio.

Tuning the DT-800 is a simple process: simply utilize the up/down rocker switch on the right side of the radio to increase by specified frequency steps (selectable 50/100 kHz FM or 1/9/10 kHz AM), or push and hold it in one direction to skip across the band. While the DT-800 does mute between frequencies, it’s not annoying––in fact, muting is brief and audio recovery is rapid so you can actually carry out meaningful band-scanning, actually hearing stations between the steps. If you press the rocker switch, it will initiate an auto-scan in the direction you’re tuning.

While the DT-800 lacks a keypad for frequency input (in truth, I would not expect such a thing on a walkman-style receiver)  it does make tuning to your favorite stations quite easy with 20 FM, 20 AM, and 5 WX presets. Saving a station to memory is truly a breeze: simply select the page you’d like to save it to, then press and hold the preset button to save it to one of the numbered presets. Really, it couldn’t be easier.

To change the volume on this radio, you use rocker buttons on the left side of the radio to increase or decrease volume up to 25 levels. I particularly like the fact that level 1 is very quiet and 25 is as loud as you would ever want from a small radio. I mention this because, in the past, I have reviewed radios that had coarse volume steps, and the lowest setting is louder than I prefer: not so with this little rig.

Entering menu items on the DT-800 is quite easy, too.  Some are accessed by pressing and holding the Page/Menu button and then cycling through and selecting items with the tuning up/down switch. Others are accessed by pressing and holding the Page/Menu button, then selecting one of the five buttons on the front panel (note that each menu function is listed below the numbered button).

The DT-800’s display is backlit and large, thus very easy to read at any viewing angle.

AC Adapter

I can’t think of the last time I gave an included AC adapter its own subheading in a review, but the DT-800 power supply deserves one.

Not only does the DT-800 ship with a power supply (AC adapter), but it’s a quality one: the cord jacketing is thick and feels exceptionally durable––and though I’m not going to cut it apart to find out, I expect the wiring within it is a heavier gauge, as well. This adapter also has no less than two in-line RF chokes.

In a day and age when included “wall wart” power supplies are often of the cheapest quality and spew so much radio interference that they render attached receivers useless, the DT-800 adapter is a very welcome addition to this radio’s kit.

Well played, Sangean! I hope other radio manufacturers follow your lead.

Batteries

Lately, it seems most new radios are being designed to accommodate slim Lithium Ion battery packs. So, another welcome sight was opening the DT-800’s battery compartment to find slots for two AA batteries.

While Li-ion batteries have advantages in terms of weight and size, I prefer AA batteries for pocket and travel radios, as AA batteries are so ubiquitous on this planet and are available in all but the most remote regions of the world.

And better yet? You can internally recharge NiMH batteries with the DT-800. The DT-800 ships with a default setting for alkaline batteries. But to internally recharge NiMH batteries, simply open the battery compartment and change the battery type switch from “Alkaline” to “NiMH.”

This is an amazing and useful feature, but just be sure if you ever use the NiMH internal recharging function and then switch to alkaline cells, that you change the battery selection switch back to the alkaline setting. You certainly wouldn’t want the DT-800 to attempt recharging your alkaline cells!

As you can see in this photo, I’ve been using Panasonic Eneloop NiMH batteries in the DT-800. I use a special charger for Eneloops, so have kept the battery selection switch set to alkaline so the DT-800 doesn’t attempt to charge them. I might even put a small piece of colored tape on the switch to keep it in place for now.

Audio

The audio via headphones? It sounds great on the DT-800!

Indeed, the DT-800’s included in-ear style stereo earphones are a cut above most other included-with-a-product earphones, and as a result, produce more pleasant audio.

With the headphones engaged, FM offers selectable mono or stereo; mono, of course, makes marginal stations more stable since the stereo lock isn’t struggling.

Like the Walkman radios of days gone by, the DT-800 uses the headphone cord as an antenna when it’s attached. If you’re using the internal speaker, you’ll need to attach the included external wire antenna for FM and WX bands.

The DT-800 internal speaker produces decent audio for the size of the radio. The speaker is tiny, so the audio is somewhat tinny (narrow in range) when listening to music. But the DT-800 also has a DBB (Dynamic Bass Boost) switch––engaging this will increase the bass response a bit, most noticeable when using headphones.

Performance

The DT-800 has three bands: FM, AM (mediumwave), and WX (weather). Let’s take a look at each.

FM Band

The DT-800 sports a unique feature on the FM band: the ability to select between a wide or a narrow filter. Since the dawn of the DSP chip, many a portable radio has enjoyed selectable bandwidth filters, but it’s a rare portable that has FM filters. I do pretty much all of my FM listening with the wide filter engaged, but if you live in an urban area with a crowded FM band, choosing the narrow filter, even if it compromises audio fidelity a bit, will give you better selectivity. Nice touch, Sangean!

In terms of sensitivity, with the external antenna inserted, I’ve been very pleased with the DT-800. It receives all of my benchmark FM stations. With headphones inserted (used as an antenna) and stereo engaged, it has ever-so-slightly less sensitivity than several of my other DSP portables. With the headphones inserted and FM in mono, I find that it’s on par with––or surpasses––my other reference DSP portables.

Here’s a little wrinkle, though: when listening with the internal speaker, you must insert the external wire antenna to use this receiver on FM. Without the external antenna, sensitivity decreases by a good 70-80%, as you essentially have no antenna. If you live in an area with strong FM stations, you’ve nothing to fear, but if you live in a rural area, you’ll certainly want to keep that wire antenna handy.

On one hand, the wire antenna is easier and more flexible to deploy than attached telescopic antennas, which can be bent or broken. But on the other, an external wire antenna is just another item you’ll need to pack and take along with the radio if you plan to listen via the internal speaker.

If you plan to listen with headphones, however, no worries! I find the sensitivity with headphones inserted to be just as effective. In fact, instead of taking along the wire antenna you could bring the included headphones, and they’ll double as an external antenna while listening via the internal speaker. In my tests, the headphones performed about as well as the external wire antenna.

My advice? If you purchase the DT-800, either keep the small wire antenna or a pair of headphones nearby to insure you’re getting the best FM reception.

Weather Band

The same notes above about the necessity of an external wire antenna apply on the weather band as well as the FM band.

With the wire antenna or a set of headphones connected, weather radio reception is good. I was able to receive both of my local NOAA weather reference frequencies.

To be clear, the DT-800 is not as sensitive as my C. Crane CC Skywave or CC Skywave SSB––which are truly WX band benchmarks––but it will likely receive your local NOAA or Environment Canada broadcasts as well as most other weather radios.

The DT-800 also includes a Weather Alert feature, but as Sangean notes, you should only use this feature while the radio is plugged into mains power, as it will drain batteries about as effectively as if you were listening to an FM radio station.

AM/Mediumwave Band

If there’s a weak point on the DT-800, I would say it’s the AM band.

Don’t get me wrong: at first blush, the DT-800 looks like a little Ultralight DXing dream, as it’s loaded with great features, such as:

  • multiple bandwidths (wide/narrow),
  • 9/10 kHz spacing,
  • well-balanced AGC (auto gain control),
  • as well as the ability to turn off soft muting.

Yes, the DT-800 has the ability to disable soft mute. Thank you, Sangean! So far, Sangean seems to be one of the only radio manufacturers that enables this DSP chip option in their product line. Another receiver with the ability to disable soft mute was the Sangean ATS-405 (check out our ATS-405 review). I wish other radio manufacturers would do the same because soft mute is what often makes listening to weak mediumwave signals so fatiguing. With soft mute disengaged, weak signals enjoy better audio stability as they’re not fighting to stay above the muting threshold.

But, I’m sorry, DXers: unfortunately, the DT-800’s weakness on AM is the same as the ATS-405 on AM (and shortwave): a higher-than-average noise floor. Somehow, internal noise is being generated and not being contained by shielding and grounding.

I made a short comparison video to demonstrate the noises heard via the DT-800. Before you ask: yes, these noises are present regardless of radio location, or whether or not there are other radios nearby. In addition, I made this video on a folding table far away from my house or any other potential sources of noise (with the exception of my iPhone which was used to make the video). This is the same low-noise spot I use to do comparison tests of all my portable receivers:

Click here to view this video on YouTube.

As I note in the video, the noise floor isn’t consistent across the band––some parts are lower, other parts higher. One of the noise peaks is around 1600 kHz which, unfortunately for me, is where my favorite local AM station resides.

So is this a deal-breaker?  No…not necessarily.  For the casual AM radio listener––a listener primarily focused on listening to local AM stations––I think the DT-800 will please. In fact, I might not have noticed the elevated noise floor had I not: 1) listened to weaker AM stations, and 2) compared the DT-800 with other radios.

Since I’ve been using and listening to this radio for the better part of a month, I can state with confidence that most of my other portables outperform the DT-800 on mediumwave. I compared it with these rigs:

  • Sony ICF-S10MK2
  • Tecsun PL-310ET
  • CC Skywave
  • CC Skywave SSB
  • Radiwow R-108

To be clear, I believe the DT-800 has average MW sensitivity for a radio this size, but the noise floor sort of spoils any hopes of doing marginal or weak signal work, thus also making that awesome soft mute toggle less effective.

If you pair the DT-800 with a loop antenna like the AN200, which I highly recommend doing, it will help those weak signals rise above the noise. Otherwise, if your primary goal in purchasing the DT-800 is to listen to mediumwave, I regret to say, you might want to take a pass on this one.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons. Each time I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions and observations. Here’s the DT-800’s list, from the first moments I turned it on, to the time of writing this review:

Pros:

  • Great overall performance on FM
  • Quality construction and thoughtful ergonomics
  • Both clock and alarm for the traveler
  • Ability to switch between FM stereo/mono with headphones in use
  • Wide/narrow AM and FM filters
  • NiMH AA batteries can be recharged internally [make sure switch inside battery compartment is set to “NiMH”]
  • FM RDS (one mode)
  • Mechanical keylock switch
  • Ability to disable soft mute (other radio manufacturers take note!)
  • Small internal speaker providing quite decent audio
  • Comprehensive gear package includes radio, manuals, quality earphones, quality AC adapter, wire antenna
  • DC port is standard MicroUSB
  • Belt clip
  • Built-in speaker
  • Dynamic Bass Boost

Cons:

  • While listening via the DT-800’s internal speaker without antenna wire or headphones inserted: FM performance is lacking, while weather radio performance is very much lacking
  • AM band: Noise floor is higher than on comparable radios

Conclusion

The Sangean DT-800 is a solid little radio: it’s simple to operate and feels like a quality piece of kit. It’s perfect for hiking, or any sport or task where you’d like one-hand operation.

The DT-800 also has a surprising amount of features and customization through the menu settings––much more than one would expect––which puts it firmly into what I would call the “enthusiast-grade” radio category.

It’s for this reason that it’s a bit disappointing AM reception on this Sangean isn’t better.

The DT-800 has a lot of icing on the cake, otherwise: FM RDS, the ability to internally recharge AA batteries, built-in speaker, Dynamic Bass Boost, multiple bandwidths on AM and FM, the ability to disable soft mute–all of these are essentially pro features.

So, if you’re looking for a quality portable radio primarily for FM and WX band listening and perhaps catching the odd local AM broadcast, the DT-800 is a great choice.

Sangean DT-800 retailers:

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Midland WR120 Review: Aaron says weather radios, like smoke detectors, are something we all need

Storm with lighteningMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Aaron Kuhn, who writes:

“Weather radio? I’ll just use my cellphone for alerts.”

If you’ve ever uttered or thought the above words – take heed.

Late last week I awoke at around 12:30 AM to the sound of some incredibly strong winds outdoors. Glancing down at my completely muted phone, I opened up my text messages to reveal a Tornado Warning. In a panic, I threw on some clothes, gathered a dog harness and leash and made my way the pantry closest for shelter.

Then I checked my phone again – and realized that tornado warning was from 30 minutes ago and already expired. Crap. That was too close for comfort. I promptly went on to Amazon and ordered the Midland WR120.

I unboxed and set the radio up yesterday and I’m quite happy with it.

The first thing I suggest doing after initial setup is turning off the button beeps which are incredibly annoying. Past that, I’ve found the radio perfect for my needs of setting it on a window sill and (hopefully) forgetting about it until it alerts me to any nearby danger.

Since SAME Alerts work on a county basis, I was very happy to discover this radio allows you to disable certain kinds of alerts that may not be relevant to you.

One thing that I think Midland should include in the box printed (instead of ads for weather apps they don’t publish anymore!) is the “Editable Events list:
http://midlandusa.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Editable-Events.pdf

By default, the radio doesn’t allow you to turn off 30 some events, including Tornado Warnings among them – this is a good thing in my opinion! However, it is a bit concerning when you first go to setup the radio and realized Tornado Warning is missing in the alert list. The reason for this is because this is one of the 30 some alerts you can’t disable.

Overall I’m happy with the radio, and hoping it’ll never fire off in the middle of the night on me any time soon – but I know it’ll be a lot more reliable than my cellphone prone to being muted.

I view weather radios like smoke alarms now, it’s stupid for you to not have one. I wasn’t expecting Tornadoes in November in Southeastern Pennsylvania, but apparently nature is one to surprise us continuously.

Thank you so much for sharing your story and your WR120 review, Aaron.

I love this quote: “I view weather radios like smoke alarms now, it’s stupid for you to not have one.” I agree completely!

A few weeks ago, there was an alert sent to every phone in the US all at the same time. I received my alert nearly 30 minutes late. Mobile phones and their networks are pretty amazing technology, but they’re not flawless.

We are so lucky to have a robust weather radio broadcasting infrastructure here in the US and Canada. An inexpensive radio like the WR120 will deliver weather alerts reliably and give you a preparedness edge.

And thank you for mentioning the number of events you can edit out of the alert system. No sense in receiving alerts you don’t need.

In addition, some weather alert radios default to receive alerts from counties and regions surrounding your own. I would suggest turning those off–limiting the alert area to your own county–else you could get a lot of alerts that don’t pertain to your location. Using the smoke detector analogy, receiving alerts from surrounding counties is much like putting a smoke detector directly over your stove! You’re just asking for false alarms. 🙂

Thanks again, Aaron, for the important PSA!

Keep in mind as the holiday season approaches: weather radios make for life-saving, affordable gifts.

Click here check out the Midland WR120 ($26.56 shipped) on Amazon.com (affiliate link).

Post readers: Do you have any other weather alert radio suggestions?  Please comment with your suggestions and experience.

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Tamil Nadu State Disaster Management Authority plans shortwave weather broadcasts

(Source: The Hundu via Mike Hansgen)

After facing criticism for its failure to warn fishermen at sea during Cyclone Ockhi, the State government plans to use shortwave radio broadcasts to provide vital information.

The Tamil Nadu State Disaster Management Authority (TNSDMA) will soon hold a meeting with the Regional Meteorological Centre and All India Radio to discuss the possibility of starting a dedicated radio station to disseminate weather forecasts to fishermen at deep sea. Shortwave radio, which has a frequency band extending up to 30 Mhz, can be used for long-distance communication, officials said.[…]

Click here to read the full article at The Hundu online.

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Weather Radio Review: Grant recommends the Reecom R-1650

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Grant, who comments on our recent post about weather radios:

I’ve been pretty happy with the Reecom R-1650.

I’ve had it over 10 years and it’s been a solid performer. It has a long battery backup on 4 AA’s. It also does AM/FM, has alarm out, antenna in, audio out etc.

It’s fairly smart and doesn’t alert me when the Wednesday tests are happening but does light up during the test so it’s easy to see that it’s working and receiving alerts as it should. Getting through the programming menu is a little weird (as it is with most weather radios) but I can usually figure it out with having to hunt down the manual even though I haven’t been in the menu in years.

With the advent of the cell phone, where no one thinks they need a radio anymore for anything, the best deal in weather radios is often found at Goodwill or your local thrift shop. You can often find models with S.A.M.E for $2-3.

Thank you for the recommendation, Grant! I was not familiar with Reecom weather products. I’m especially impressed with the 185 hour backup time from a set of four AA cells! Impressive. I doubt other models can claim that amount of backup power time–a full week.

Even eHam has positive reviews of Reecom dating back to 2006.

It appears Reecom only distributes their products through Amazon.com, but I discovered a load of Reecom radios on eBay, many at prices well below $30 shipped. 

Grant, you also make a great point about checking out thrift stores. Many people don’t know what a weather radio is, so thrift stores sell them for $2.00 or $3.00 in their electronics pile. Just make sure you find the matching power supply.

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Weather Radio Review: Steve recommends the Sangean CL-100

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Steve Lebkuecher, who comments on our recent post about weather radios:

I have the Sangean CL-100 and highly recommend the radio for several reasons and in fact I bought several for family members as gifts. The Sangean CL-100 looks like an alarm clock and is what I use as an alarm clock but the CL-100 is a full featured weather radio as well.

The audio quality for general broadcast is excellent for a radio this size and the build quality is very good. I bought mine several years ago and have not had any issues. (About $60.00 from Amazon)

Some of the features I like and why:

S.A.M,E (Specific Area Message Encoding) Alerts only for your county. If a thunderstorm passes through a county next to you at 4:00 AM you will not be woken up. This has happened to me several times with my previous non S.A.M.E radio and I just ended up turning the radio completely off which obviously left me vulnerable to the next event.

Selectable Alerts – disable alerts that you may not care about such as wind advisory. Again I have been woken up with my previous weather radio that didn’t have this feature for a wind advisory early in the morning. Very irritating.

End-of-message (EOM) Radio turns off after alert is given so you don’t have to get out of bed just to turn the alert off.

RBDS (Radio Broadcast Data System) You can set the radios clock as well as the radio will display station ID and song name.

Display is excellent and has a wide viewing angle plus you can adjust the brightness. I do wish the display was a little bigger and mounted on the front of the radio VS the top so it would be easier to see the time if you wake up during the night.

Two separate alarms and can be programed for different days of the week.

Human Wake-up System – Alarm starts at a very low level and gradually builds up in volume. You can set the alarm to buzzer or radio broadcast. I hate being jolted out of bed by a nasty sounding alarm.

The jacks include DC power in, stereo earphone, AM external antenna, FM/weather external antenna, aux-in, external alert and grounding terminal.

Thank you for your review of the CL-100, Steve! I had forgotten about this particular weather radio and didn’t realize it was still on the market. I now recall an earlier post where Jeff McMahon touted the CL-100.

I love the CL-100 display and the fact that it doubles so well as a proper alarm clock. At time of posting, I notice one on eBay for $44 shipped–I hope someone buys it before I do. (Seriously–I’m very tempted.)

Shop for the Sangean CL-100 at:

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NOAA Weather Radio Review: three excellent choices under $90

The Midland WR120 weather radio.

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Jim T, who writes with the following inquiry:

Wondering if you can give me some guidance re: NOAA weather radios.

We’re looking to be better prepared for disasters, bad weather etc. and have narrowed our radio candidates to CC Crane, Sangean and Kaito.

AM/FM would be nice, hand cranking and solar as well, but just want to get NOAA alerts should we have an earthquake here in the NW. Willing to spend $50-100 for something quality with relevant features to it. Your thoughts would be appreciated!

Thanks for your message, Jim. There are dozens of inexpensive weather radio models on the market, but I know a few good options based on my personal experience.

Note that all of these radios work in both the US (via NOAA) and Canada (via Environment Canada)–both countries have been using the S.A.M.E. (Specific Area Message Encoding) weather alert system since 2004.

The Midland WR120: A dedicated weather radio

If you’re looking for a weather radio to plug in and continuously monitor weather alerts through the S.A.M.E. system, I recommend a dedicated weather radio like theMidland WR120. These radios don’t typically have AM/FM functions, but are entirely devoted to the seven weather radio frequencies in the US and Canada (162.400, 162.425, 162.450, 162.475, 162.500, 162.525, and 162.550 MHz). They plug into mains power and the better ones have battery backup in case of power outages.

I have family that own the Midland WR120. They’ve used it for years and it’s worked flawlessly. Once you set up the radio with your preferred NOAA frequency and SAME alert regions, it will alarm and automatically play NOAA weather radio alerts when they’re issued for your area.  My family use this for tornado and storm alerts.

The Midland WR120 uses three AA alkaline cells for emergency power back-up. It’s very much a “set it and forget it” radio and, in my opinion, a bargain at $29.99.

As with any SAME alert radio, be aware that sometimes the alarm can be annoying. Depending on where you live and how the alert system is set up, you might get notifications for isolated weather events on the other side of your county–the S.A.M.E. system cannot pinpoint your neighborhood.

Still, I believe S.A.M.E. notifications are worth any extra inconvenience, especially if you live in an area prone to sudden storms and earthquakes.

Purchase options:

C. Crane CC Skywave: A portable shortwave radio with excellent NOAA weather reception

The C.Crane CC Skywave

If you’re looking for a battery powered radio to use during emergencies that has much more than NOAA weather radio, I’d recommend the C.Crane CC Skywave. Not only is it a full-fledged AM/FM/Shortwave and Air band radio, but it has exceptional NOAA weather radio reception with a weather alert function. The CC Skywave is a great radio to take on travels or keep in the home in case of an emergency. It’ll operate for ages on a set of two AA batteries, though I always keep a pack of four on standby just in case.

You can read a thorough review of the CC Skywave by clicking here. Note that C. Crane is also taking orders for their new CC Skywave SSB which is an upgraded version of the original CC Skywave and includes SSB mode, but costs $80 more than the original.

Purchase options:

C. Crane CC Solar Observer: A self-powered AM/FM NOAA weather radio

There are a number of self-powered NOAA weather radios out there, but frankly, many are very cheap and the mechanical action of the hand crank are prone to fail early.

I believe one of the best is the CC Solar Observer by C. Crane. It’s durable, and can also run on three AA cells, and is an overall great radio in terms of sensitivity on AM/FM as well. Unique in the world of self-powered radios, it also has a backlit display (which can be turned off or on)–a fantastic feature if the power is out.

Like other self-powered analog radios, the CC Solar Observer has no S.A.M.E. alert functionality.

Purchase options:

One more option: Eton self-powered weather radios

The Eton FRX5 sport weather alert, a digital display and futuristic design.

I would also encourage you to check out the wide selection of self-powered weather radios through Eton Corporation.

Many are digital and even have S.A.M.E. weather alerts. I haven’t commented on performance since I haven’t personally tested the 2016 and later models.

Eton typically packs a lot of features in their self-powered radios–having manufactured them for well over a decade, they’ve implemented iterative improvements along the way.

I have tested previous models extensively.

I particularly like the Eton FRX5 although being a digital radio, you get less play time per hand-powered crank–that’s why I prefer analog self-powered radios. The CC Solar Observer, for example, will yield roughly 40 minutes of listening time (at moderate volume levels) on 2-4 minutes of cranking.

Still, if charged fully in advance, I’m sure the FRX5 will play for hours. Note that using S.A.M.E. functionality in standby mode will deplete batteries more quickly.

Click here to view Eton’s full Red Cross radio line on the Eton Corporation website.

Any other recommendations?

Post readers, if I’ve omitted a worthy receiver, please comment with your recommendation.

I hope this helps with your decision, Jim! Thanks for the question!

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Review of the C. Crane CC Skywave portable radio

CC-Skywave-1While electronics manufacturer C. Crane offers a number of unique AM/FM radios, including some of the best portable medium wave receivers on the market, they’ve traditionally only had two models of shortwave radio––namely, the CCRadio-SW, and the CCRadio-SWP. Earlier this year, however, C.Crane announced a new portable that would join their product line: the CC Skywave.

Admittedly, I was eager to give this little radio a go: C. Crane touts the Skywave as an exceptional travel radio, for which I’m always on the hunt.  Last week, I had my opportunity when C. Crane sent me the new CC Skywave sample for review.  I instantly got to work scrutinizing their newest offering…and here’s what I’ve discovered.

First impressions

CC-Skywave-FrontThe form factor of the Skywave is very similar to C.Crane’s CCRadio-SWP pocket radio; in fact, its smooth plastic body even feels the same. While this radio doesn’t have the rubberized coating that have become popular on radio exteriors in recent years, supposedly to provide an easy-to-grip surface, I’m pleased that C.Crane does not use this, as these coatings can eventually deteriorate over time and with heat exposure, becoming somewhat tacky or sticky to the touch.

CC-Skywave-DisplayThe Skywave’s backlit LCD display is small, but readily viewable from several angles.  All of the buttons on the front of the Skywave have a tactile response, again, similar to the CCRadio-SWP. The buttons require slightly more pressure to activate than Tecsun and Degen models; I prefer this, especially for a travel radio: should I forget to activate the key lock, it’s much less likely that the radio will accidentally turn on during transit.

As always, I attempted first to see how many radio features and functions I could uncover without first consulting the owner’s manual.  In the past, C.Crane products have been some of the most intuitive on the market.  Fortunately, the Skywave did not disappoint: first, I was able to set both the clock and alarm within moments; both essential in a travel radio.

Once the radio is on, it will display either the time or frequency on the main display. While the Skywave defaults to a time display, I discovered that the lock button toggles the display between time and frequency for ten seconds. (Note: After reading through the manual later, I learned that you can actually change the default display mode to either time or frequency–very nice touch!)

CC-Skywave-Keypad

I then turned on the radio and found the memory allocation to be very straightforward: tune to the desired station, then press and hold a number button two seconds to save. Press a button quickly to recall. Memory remembers bandwidth, stereo, or mono (if FM), and any voice or music audio filters utilized–very handy!

Speaking of bandwidth, the Skywave has five on shortwave, medium wave, and air bands: 6, 4, 3, 2, and 1 kHz. By pressing the bandwidth button, you can cycle through these from widest to narrowest. The bandwidth defaults to 3 kHz, but the default can be changed by holding down the bandwidth button for five seconds (with radio powered off).

To enter a frequency in AM/FM/SW, you simply press the FREQ button, then key in frequency. To scan through the band, simply press and hold one of the up/down arrow buttons. Worth noting: the Skywave’s scan function is one of the fastest I’ve seen in a portable.

On the topic of scanning, and since this is a travel radio, I would have liked C.Crane to include an ETM function like that found in the Tecsun PL-310ET and PL-380. It’s quite a handy function for auto-populating temporary memories from a simple band scan. I assume this is not an option on the DSP chip powering the Skywave.

Owner’s manual

Once I had my fun trying to discover as many functions on the Skywave without the manual’s aid, I finally opened it and discovered a few more functions.

One feature I’ve already come to love in the Skywave: the ability to change the tuning speed, and thus frequency step-spacing on the tuning knob (option of 5 or 1 kHz steps), just by pressing the knob itself. I much prefer this to using a front-panel tuning step button because it’s so easy to operate in low-light settings (lounging in bed, for example).

CC-Skywave-Tuning-KnobAnother unique feature of the Skywave is a switchable audio filter for voice or music. With the filter set to “voice,” the audio is enhanced for human voice intelligibility. When set to “music,” it widens the audio filter, thus optimizing audio fidelity. Toggling the audio filter settings between voice and music is very easy, but not intuitive; indeed, it’s almost a hidden feature you can discover via the owner’s manual. Simply press the “1” and “2” simultaneously while listening to a broadcast to toggle the filter.

I should note that the C.Crane owner’s manual is one of the most straightforward and simple I’ve seen in ages. You can tell that, at least in the English version that came with mine, this manual was written by a native English speaker. It made for simple, clear instruction without head-scratching over obscure terms. Even the least technically-inclined user will understand these instructions, no problem.

AM – Medium Wave

After asking SWLing Post readers what they would like me to include in this review, a number of you responded that you wanted me to give the AM broadcast band reception a proper review.

Zoomer_RadioMy foray into medium wave listening with the Skywave started off on the right foot.  The very first night with the Skywave, I tuned it to 740 kHz, my favorite, albeit challenging to reach, AM station here in the North America–CFZM “Zoomer Radio”  While those living in the midwestern and northeastern US can receive Zoomer radio easily enough at night, it is often a tough catch here in the southeast in the evening hours. After nightfall it competes with clear channel stations that also occupy 740 kHz. With a portable radio, the lock on Zoomer is never terribly strong and is very prone to fading.

But after tuning the Skywave to Zoomer, I received CFZM so well it sounded like a local station–in fact, I couldn’t believe it until a station ID confirmed that I was receiving it. Even more surprising was that I received it away from home, in an area plagued with RFI noise where I typically have to carefully turn a radio to null out the noise in an effort to enhance the desired broadcast. But the Skywave somehow mitigated this noise better than my other portables. Even when I turned the radio in the direction of the offending electrical noise, it wasn’t as bad as on other portables.  Truly, the reception was remarkable.

With Zoomer firmly locked in, I hopped into bed, turned the volume to a comfortable level, and listened for at least half an hour before falling asleep. I was pleasantly surprised the following morning, some eight hours later, when I woke to the Skywave playing CFZM at the same level. Phenomenal! Perhaps conditions were exceptionally favorable that night; nonetheless, the Skywave couldn’t have impressed me more.

A side note–on the previous day, I’d inserted two generic alkaline AA batteries in the Skywave; after a total of ten hours playing at medium volume, the battery indicator still showed full capacity.

CC-Skywave-RightMedium wave audio samples

While time won’t allow a full audio sampling of the medium wave band for comparison, I did record the following comparison between the Skywave and the Tecsun PL-310ET (which I regard as one of the more capable sub-$100 ultra-compact portables on the market).CC-Skywave-And-Tecsun-PL-310ET

Since SWLing Post readers specifically asked to hear how the Skywave handles choppy nighttime medium wave DX conditions, I tuned to two frequencies with overlapping broadcasts, one of which was slightly dominant: 950 kHz and 990 kHz. I set the AM bandwidth to 3 kHz on both radios and made the recordings within one minute of each other. The CC Skywave’s audio filter was set to “voice.”

In the following recordings, listen for Radio Reloj  (Cuba)–it’s buried deep in the noise. You might detect the ticking and “R” “R” in Morse code. These recordings were taken within one minute of each other.

The Tecsun PL-310ET on 950 kHz:

The CC Skywave on 950 kHz:

Note that the Skywave pulled out the dominant broadcaster–one I could barely hear on the PL-310ET.

I then made a recording on 990 kHz AM which had a stronger dominant station.

The Tecsun PL-310ET on 990 kHz:

The CC Skywave on 990 kHz:

To my ear, the Skywave was clearer and the commentator’s voice seemed to pop out of the noise better.

I’ve spent a great deal of time listening to the Skywave on the medium wave band this week and I feel comfortable recommending it for the medium wave DXer.

FM

While I’ve spent comparatively less time (thus far) evaluating the Skywave’s FM band, I can say that the Skywave receives my “benchmark” FM stations with ease. Sensitivity also seems to be on par with my other DSP based portables (meaning, excellent sensitivity).CC-Skywave-Left

Shortwave

Of course, being a shortwave enthusiast, I’ve spent the bulk of my listening time since receiving the Skywave on the shortwave bands. And during this time, alas, shortwave radio band conditions have been challenging for any radio. Yet I’m happy to note that this little radio does not disappoint: it has excellent sensitivity and selectivity for a radio of its size. When I compared the Skywave with the Tecsun PL-310ET, in almost every situation, they are nearly equal in performance.

Shortwave audio samples

Below I’ve included audio samples of the Skywave on 9580 kHz (Radio Australia). Under normal conditions, Radio Australia would be a blowtorch signal here in North America, but this particular morning, propagation was quite poor. In the audio, you’ll hear both radios attempting to cope with pronounced fading, with their AGC circuits reacting to the quick rise and fall of signal strength. Both radios were set to a 3kHz bandwidth and the Skywave’s audio filter set to “voice” to help mitigate noise.

CC-Skywave-And-Tecsun-PL-310ET-Side

Tecsun PL-310ET on 9580 kHz:

CC Skywave on 9580 kHz:

Note that Radio Australia was broadcasting music, which can be more difficult to evaluate, but the vocals were prominent enough I felt it made for a good comparison.

This morning, I also recorded WWV on 15 MHz. Again, propagation conditions were poor across the bands, so even WWV (normally very stable) was affected by quick fading (QSB). For kicks, I decided to add the benchmark Tecsun PL-660 to this comparison. If you recall, it received some of the highest marks for sensitivity in our weak signal shoot out. The Tecsun PL-310ET and CC Skywave were set to 3 kHz bandwidth and the Tecsun PL-660 to it’s narrow bandwidth (which I felt was most equivalent).

CC-Skywave-PL310ET-PL660

Tecsun PL-310ET on 15 MHz:

Tecsun PL-660 on 15 MHz:

CC Skywave on 15 MHz:

The good news is that the Skywave is certainly a sensitive and selective portable. While evaluating shortwave performance over the past week, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well this little radio receives.

NOAA Weather radio

NOAA-Weather-RadioThose of us living or traveling in North America will appreciate the Skywave’s built-in NOAA weather radio functionality.  Since I have at least a dozen self-powered radios and desktops that have built-in NOAA weather reception, I typically don’t give the band much thought. I figured NOAA reception would be a mediocre add-on with the Skyview. I was wrong.

Not only does the Skywave have NOAA weather radio, but it also has weather alerts. What’s so great about that? Imagine that you’re travelling to a rural area and weather is looking ominous; in this case, you can simply set the Skywave to the strongest NOAA channel and activate the weather alert (choose options for 4, 8, or 16 hours). If severe weather is reported for your geographic area, the Skywave will alert you.

I’m very pleased with the NOAA weather radio reception, as well.  The Skywave receives NOAA stations even better than one of my dedicated weather radios.

AIR band

AirTrafficControllerC.Crane included the Air band for travelers, as a means to listen to air traffic control while in an airport or awaiting a flight’s arrival. I have several portables with the AIR band, but most lack an autoscan ability (Grundig G3, G6), and performance on these tends to be mediocre at best.

I’ve traveled to three different cities over the past week and used the Skywave to tune to the local air-traffic control tower. After a bit of scanning, it eventually found the frequency, and reception was quite good. I have not yet used the AIR band in an airport (notorious for RFI) nor in a large metro area, so I can’t comment about performance under those conditions.

What really separates the Skywave apart from my other shortwave portable with the AIR band is that it actually has an adjustable squelch mode. Nice touch!

CC Buds Earphones

HDP-AUDIO-CC-EAR-BUDSUnlike Tecsun portables which typically ship with batteries, an external antenna wire, chargers, travel cases, and the like, the CC Skywave comes with very few included accessories––just a carry case, an owner’s manual, and earphones.

Most of the headphones/earphones that accompany a shortwave radio package are of the cheapest quality. I’m happy to note that the Skywave’s included earphones are the best I’ve ever received as an included accessory with a shortwave radio.

The CC Buds Earphones are in-ear style (which I prefer, for sound isolation) with soft silicone earpieces. They are tuned to a frequency response which favors voice, an enhanced mid-range. For SWLing and MW DXing, I believe they’re nearly ideal. Indeed, I’m planning to use these with my Elecraft KX3 next time I’m operating QRP––I’m sure that SSB will sound great.

Since these are tuned for the spoken word, however, I wouldn’t necessarily favor the CC Buds Earphones over my Sony in-ear buds for music listening.

CC-Skywave-Top

Summary

Every radio has pros and cons, and I jot down my reactions as I evaluate a new radio so as not to forget any details. The following is my list:

Pros:

  • Overall great sensitivity and selectivity for a portable in this price class
  • Considerate design, well-tailored for the traveler:
    • Compact size
    • Air band
    • NOAA weather radio
    • Easy to set clock and alarm
    • Simple controls
    • Lightweight
    • Operates on 2 AA batteries
    • Charges from Mini USB (see con)
  • Wide HF frequency range (2.3 up to 26.1 MHz) compared to the PL-380/PL-310 (2.3 up to 21.95 MHz)
  • AIR band is truly functional: includes both scanning and squelch
  • NOAA Weather radio reception excellent
  • Includes soft silicone earphones (in-ear type) actually worthy of AM/SW listening
  • Auto scanning with the up/down buttons is very rapid
  • Integrated charging circuit
  • Uses common micro USB port for power/charging
  • Tuning speed easily changed by pressing tuning knob
  • Volume control is fully variable (free wheel, analog style), not in pre-determined digital steps
  • Selectable audio filters for music and voice

Cons:

  • Internal speaker audio is somewhat tinny (use of the voice audio filter helps)
  • No external antenna jack
  • No SSB mode (in this price class of $90 US, SSB is an included mode on some models)
  • Only one clock; no provision for dual local/UTC time
  • Mutes between frequency changes
  • Whip antenna is short––only 16” fully extended. While the Skywave seems to perform brilliantly with this short antenna (see pro), I can’t help but wonder if more length might boost some bands.
  • While no inconvenience to me, the Skywave does not come with an adaptor or USB cord for powering/charging. (Should you need it, C.Crane sells a proper noise-free regulated power supply separately ($15 US); however, most buyers will already have these cords and any USB port on your PC or USB-based phone charger will suffice. Also note that listening to virtually any radio while charging will inject noise into the receiver, resulting in sub-par reception.)
  • Can overload on shortwave and AIR bands if located near a strong radio station (see this comment)

Conclusion

The CC Skywave is nearly identical in size to the late and great Grundig G6.

The CC Skywave is nearly identical in size to the late and great Grundig G6.

C. Crane has few shortwave radios in their product line, and all perform rather well for their price point; I know, as I have owned all of them and even purchased as gifts in the past.

But I was concerned a few months ago when I noted the similarity between the CC Skywave and the poorly-reviewed Digitech AR1733, sold in Australia/New Zealand by Jaycar.

Fortunately, it’s clear that C. Crane noticed the shortcomings of the AR1733 and has modified the Skywave’s design and firmware accordingly, which may account for the delayed roll-out of the CC Skywave. Obviously, the Skywave’s ACG circuit has been tweaked to cope with medium wave and shortwave listening, since a poor ACG circuit is one of the shortcomings of the AR1733. But, if so, wow…what a tweak.

Because all in all, the CC Skywave is a excellent little radio. Indeed, in terms of the ultra-compact portable market (models like I included in a recent shoot-out), I think it’s one of the best surprise performers I’ve seen in the past couple of years.

CC-Skywave-1After just one week with it, I’ve already decided to take the CC Skywave along on my travels to see how it performs over time. It will replace my PL-310ET and PL-380 for my one bag domestic and international travelling. The CC Skywave is also especially well-suited for the “go”-bags and “bug-out” bags used in evacuations and other emergencies. Indeed, with AM/FM/SW/AIR plus functional NOAA radio, this little radio packs a lot––in short, the Skywave packs enough to get packed in my bag.

The CC Skywave can be purchased directly from C. Crane. It is also available at (soon) Universal Radio and Amazon.com.

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