Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Adid, who shares two inexpensive mods he made on his XHDATA D-808 shortly after taking delivery of it in 2018. One is simply clear tape over the display to protect it from scratches. The second is applying three tiny drops of glue which create tactile points on the keypad for nighttime operation.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gary DeBock, who shares his extensive 2021 Ultralight Radio Shootout.
This is truly a deep dive featuring five popular ultralight portable radios and examining mediumwave, shortwave, FM, and AIR Band performance.
The review is an amazing 40 pages long! In order to display the entire review, click on the “Continue reading” link below.
2021 Ultralight Radio Shootout
Five Hot Little Portables Brighten Up the Pandemic
By Gary DeBock, Puyallup, WA, USA April 2021
Introduction The challenges and thrills of DXing with pocket radios have not only survived but thrived since the Ultralight Radio Boom in early 2008, resulting in a worldwide spread of the hobby niche group. Based upon the essential concepts of DXing skill, propagation knowledge and perseverance, the human factor is critical for success in pocket radio DXing, unlike with computer-controlled listening. The hobbyist either sinks or swims according to his own personal choices of DXing times, frequencies and recording decisions during limited propagation openings—all with the added challenge of depending on very basic equipment. DXing success or failure has never been more personal… but on the rare occasions when legendary DX is tracked down despite all of the multiple challenges, the thrill of success is truly exceptional—and based entirely upon one’s own DXing skill.
Ultralight Radio DXing has inspired spinoff fascination not only with portable antennas like the new Ferrite Sleeve Loops (FSL’s) but also with overseas travel DXing, enhanced transoceanic propagation at challenging sites like ocean side cliffs and Alaskan snowfields, as well as at isolated islands far out into the ocean. The extreme portability of advanced pocket radios and FSL antennas has truly allowed hobbyists to “go where no DXer has gone before,” experiencing breakthrough radio propagation, astonishing antenna performance and unforgettable hobby thrills. Among the radio hobby groups of 2021 it is continuing to be one of the most innovative and vibrant segments of the entire community.
The portable radio manufacturing industry has changed pretty dramatically over the past few years as much of the advanced technology used by foreign companies in their radio factories in China has been “appropriated” (to use a generous term) by new Chinese competitors. Without getting into the political ramifications of such behavior the obvious fact in the 2021 portable radio market is that all of the top competitors in this Shootout come from factories in China, and four of the five have Chinese name brands. For those who feel uneasy about this rampant copying of foreign technology the American-designed C. Crane Skywave is still available, although even it is still manufactured in Shenzhen, China—the nerve center of such copying.
Prior to purchasing any of these portables a DXer should assess his own hobby goals, especially whether transoceanic DXing will be part of the mission– in which case a full range of DSP filtering options is essential. Two of the China-brand models use only rechargeable 3.7v lithium type batteries with limited run time, which may not be a good choice for DXers who need long endurance out in the field. A hobbyist should also decide whether a strong manufacturer’s warranty is important. Quality control in some Chinese factories has been lacking, and some of the China-brand radio sellers offer only exchanges—after you pay to ship the defective model back to China. Purchasers should not assume that Western concepts of reliability and refunds apply in China, because in many cases they do not. When purchasing these radios a DXer should try to purchase through a reputable seller offering a meaningful warranty—preferably in their own home country.
One of the unique advantages of Ultralight Radio DXing is the opportunity to sample the latest in innovative technology at a very reasonable cost—and the five pocket radio models chosen for this review include some second-generation DSP chip models with astonishing capabilities. Whether your interest is in domestic or split-frequency AM-DXing, FM, Longwave or Shortwave, the pocket radio manufacturers have designed a breakthrough model for you—and you can try out any (or all) of them at a cost far less than that of a single table receiver. So get ready for some exciting introductions… and an even more exciting four band DXing competition!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following guest post:
Revisiting the XHDATA: What Sangean Should Have Learned from the D-808
by Dan Robinson
Recent additions to the shortwave portable receiver market have been quite impressive, especially considering the continuing decline in the use of shortwave as a transmission method by broadcasters.
In what could be the final models from Tecsun, we saw the PL-330, PL-990x and H-501x all of which bring impressive features and capabilities to the game. Sangean finally introduced its upgraded ATS-909×2 including an early firmware upgrade that was supposed to correct some issues with this receiver.
As I have observed in some recent reviews, the very fact that the listening community still sees any new receivers is reason for gratitude, though we also have opportunities to acquire numerous classic receivers and can still do an excellent job in today’s listening environment.
One receiver that emerged a few years ago and which took the listening hobby by storm was the XHDATA D-808. Numerous reviews are online, including ones here on the SWLing Post, and excellent reviews by Gilles Letourneau here and here.
The 808 was and still is compared to the CCrane Skywave SSB, a much smaller and compact receiver. Unfortunately, in my experience both suffer from soft muting.
I obtained a D-808 shortly after it appeared based on early positive reviews. I used it once, at the beach in Florida where reception conditions were superior – comparing it to some older portables in my collection such as the SONY ICF-SW07, ICF-SW55, and the Panasonic RF-B65.
I was impressed with the sensitivity of the 808, large speaker, and inclusion of AIR band, though I noticed some digital artifacts and agree with negatives such as slight soft muting and chuffing, and slowness of the processor.
Sangean made some basic decisions with the 909×2. Many of them are quite positive over the old 909x. For many users the 909×2 has more than enough features to justify the higher price of the receiver.
I came to a different conclusion after returning my ATS-909×2, and I started thinking about how the D-808 could have informed engineers at Sangean as they considered which features to put in the 909×2. To what extent Sangean designers looked at various other portables, including the D-808, we will probably never know.
D-808 DEMONSTRATES IMPORTANCE AND IMPACT OF BANDWIDTH FILTER CAPABILITY IN SSB
AM bandwidth control on the ATS-909×2 is quite nice. However, what leaps out is the absence of multi-bandwidth capability in SSB mode. It’s baffling that Sangean seems not to have recognized this as a must-have feature.
Tecsun started providing this on small receivers years ago, and in the PL-880, the excellent though flawed portable that also took the listening world by storm, and in the recent 330, 990x and 501x.
Using the D-808 again after a few years reminded me that this little China-made receiver offers no less than SEVEN bandwidths, in AM mode. Let me say that again: SEVEN (7) bandwidths.
You don’t find that kind of selectivity capability even in a Drake R8B. After that, you’re getting into continuously variable bandwidth control found in premium DSP receivers.
So, in AM mode you have: 6 kHz, 4 kHz, 3 kHz, 2.5 kHz, 2.0 kHz, 1.8 kHz, and 1.00 kHz
The D-808 also has fine tuning capability. This is not the same as the Tecsuns which actually enable you to re-calibrate, and with adjustment that remains set for both USB and LSB. On the D-808 you fine tune to zero beat, but have to repeat the correction for LSB and USB on the frequency you’re on – it’s a bit more twiddly, but on my 808 the fine tuning is nonetheless very smooth.
Nevertheless, combined with SIX bandwidth options when in SSB, the fine tuning option on the 808 is a superb feature, not to mention that on my particular D-808 there is little to no “warbling” when carrying out the fine tune operation.
So, in SSB on on the D-808 you have: 4.0 kHz, 3.0 kHz, 2.2 kHz, 1.2 kHz, 1.0 kHz, and an amazing .5 kHz ! Imagine that: .5 kHz
I usually remember stuff like this, but when I first tried the D-808 in Florida back in 2018 I was more focused on assessing sensitivity, audio, and issues such as its pretty slow DSP response when changing modes.
So, now you have to pick me up off the floor as I re-visit the D-808 and realize what an amazingly capable little radio it really is – again, see the excellent reviews by Gilles in which he pays a lot of attention to this fact.
Additional years ago, I used receivers such as SONY SW-55s and Panasonic RF-B65s in ocean side DXing. These are fine receivers, but the 55 is limited to two bandwidths, NARROW and WIDE – similar to the SONY 2010 and SW-77, both of which also had effective synchronous detection.
One of my best DX catches at that time was Radio Rwanda on 6,055 kHz just before it’s sign off in the late afternoon eastern timed. Using a Panasonic RF-B65 which had NO bandwidth options, I was able to hear and record a full sign off and ID.
However, had a D-808 existed at that time this would have been much easier because of the multiple bandwidths in both AM and SSB. I imagine a SONY ICF-SW7600GR would have done a good job as well, but it too does not have the multiple bandwidth options that a D-808 has.
These days, with the number of stations on the air reduced even further, examples like this may be fewer and farther between. But one has to observe that for AMATEUR radio listening, the amazing bandwidth capability of a D-808 really sets it apart from the pack.
Am I glad I re-discovered the D-808? You bet. It was on my list of TO SELL receivers. Now, it has a reprieve and is firmly back on my keeper list.
I have to think that it is highly unlikely that there will be a new version of the D-808, unless someone out there has heard something in the receiver rumor mill that I have not. Perhaps the folks at XHDATA/RadioWOW will take this hint.
If XHDATA were to re-design the 808, the most improvements one would hope for are obvious: a newer and faster DSP chip to speed up mode changes, a jack for external recording. A real long shot would be to hope for the same sort of calibration adjustment seen in the Tecsun receivers.
When I really get to dreaming, I think of XHDATA or some other maker designing a portable like the 808 – why not call it the 1000 Super DSP – that actually has continuously adjustable bandwidth control. This will never happen.
It’s doubtful that XHDATA or some other manufacturer will consider competing directly with Tecsun and Sangean. But the D-808 carved out a place for itself in the small portable category, at an extremely competitive price point.
As this was not an exhaustive retro review of the D-808, I have not gone into the various negatives that every D-808 owner knows to exist.
Lack of a RECORD OUT jack is one. A D-808x might implement Bluetooth capability as Tecsun has, and MicroSD recording capability (though that gets into issues that appear to have prevented Tecsun from doing the same). And surely, get rid of the soft muting.
In conclusion, I go back to a question that occurred to me as I used the Sangean ATS-909×2: what Sangean could or should have learned from the D-808.
Here was a small, well-designed DSP radio that burst upon the scene with outstanding capabilities and which even today is prized among those who own it. Need I repeat? SEVEN bandwidths in AM mode, and MW, and SIX in SSB and LW.
Every company that’s still manufacturing receivers makes its own decisions. It’s as important that we voice our gratitude to Sangean for its latest (possibly last) effort to revise the 909xxxx series as it is to Tecsun for offering no fewer than THREE superb world band receivers.
Sangean has received feedback from me and other reviewers about the x2. All of that is aimed at helping the company possibly correct shortcomings in the new receiver. I hope that this commentary is another step in that direction.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Sorin, who writes:
I’ve read with interest your blog and inputs about the XHDATA radio.
Now since yesterday I own such a radio, and I’ve noticed it has aspects that are superbly resolved, but I miss a complete Instruction Manual. The pdf you have there (the same as the printed one that came with my radio) isn’t describing some matters, I will highlight just those I’ve confronted:
– How do you set the local time? The manual stops at saying how to switch from Automatic (I guess from the unreliable RDS clock) to Manual. What buttons are to be pressed further to set the time ?
– How do you save radio stations beyond the 10 pcs on Page 00? Ho do you go further from Page 00 to some other ? Pressing further the Page button doesn’t change anything.
– How do you call saved stations from other pages that Page 00?
Thank you for your question, Sorin. I’m letting a friend borrow my D-808 so, unfortunately, don’t have it handy to confirm this for you. My hope is that an SWLing Post reader can help.
I’m generally not a fan of slip-cover cases (or pouches) that are included with many portable radios. I like to have a little extra padding around radios, but I don’t like bulky cases either. My preference is to carry accessories separately and keep the case as small as possible while still offering some protection.
With that in mind, others may be interested in my choice of non-original cases for the Sangean ATS-909X and XHDATA D-808 receivers.
The Evecase sleeve leaves NO room for anything else, except perhaps a pair of earbuds loosely coiled on top of the radio before zipping the case shut. Protection of the ATS-909X is very good though, better than the stock Sangean slip case.
For the XHDATA D-808, I discovered that a model of the popular “Pelican” line of hard cases is an absolutely perfect fit. Model 1040 (Micro Case series) is the one to get, especially if you want the extreme protection this padded, hard-sided case provides. It’ll be right at home among your camping gear for instance, and if it happens to take a tumble from your backpack or car’s trunk, no problem!
It’s important to note that the solid color 1040 cases like mine have a sheet of thin protective foam in the lid, in addition to the molded padding in the bottom half. The clear lid versions of the 1040 case do not have this extra padding.
Let the description and photos of these two case solutions inspire you to consider other ideas for protecting your radio gear! A lot of possibilities exist, considering the wide array of protection available for tablets, laptops, GPS, hard drives, and so on. Many of these can be repurposed for portable receivers.
Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington. He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Golan Klinger, who leaves the following comment regarding the Digitech AR-1780:
I bought my AR1780 from Jaycar when they were first announced because I was too impatient to wait for the Skywave SSB.
It looked good on paper and I was really pleased when I finally tried it out. It turned out to be one of the best travel-sized radios I’ve ever owned.
Being a radio junkie, I did buy the CC Skywave SSB when it was finally released and an XHDATA D-808 when they first offered them at a huge discount. Both are capable radios, the latter being almost identical to the AR1780, but if I had to choose one, I’d take the Digitech. I just love it.
And that’s the thing isn’t it, Golan? Sometimes our favorite radios just “feel” good.
Like you, I’m a bit of a radio junkie and own all three of these radios. My preference is the CC Skywave SSB closely followed by the AR-1780. I also love the D-808, but although it’s superior to the other two radios in terms of audio and is slightly more sensitive than the AR-1780, I still tend to reach for the other two radios first.
Nice weather and pics! Hmmm… it wasn’t so obvious to me before but it looks like the Skywave SSB is even smaller than the D-808. Now I’m jealous! ?
I find it pretty amazing is that just a few wavelengths away from the water, the signals seem to be tapering off a bit already, so standing IN the water and holding a portable is certainly getting the absolute best out of the radio. When I moved here (to the coast) I took a portable with a relatively stable station tuned in and drove to my beach listening post with it, then I headed back home right away. It seemed pretty obvious how the proximity to the water gradually improved the signals but of course that was a pretty unscientific test. I should repeat that with an SDR rigged up on the passenger seat and do that a few times in a row.
I’m off now to check how I can get a Skywave SSB to Europe.
It is quite amazing how large bodies of salt water enhance reception! 🙂 Although my home in the mountains has very little RFI, the ground conductivity is poor. Those who live on the coast get much better mileage from their antennas!
Regarding the size of the CC Skywave SSB and XHDATA D-808, based on my measuring tape, the D-808 is about 1.25″ wider, 0.5″ taller and perhaps 0.125″ deeper than the CC Skywave SSB. Here are a few photos:
Not a massive difference in size by any means, but the Skywave SSB is smaller in every dimension. Since I typically do one-bag travel, I always choose the smaller radio. Of course, the D-808 is more affordable than the Skywave SSB and is easier to purchase outside the US.
I don’t know of a C. Crane distributor in Europe. Perhaps Post readers might comment with suggestions?
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