C. Crane CC Radio-EP
C.Crane’s Wonderful new CC Radio-EP
I had my CC Radio-EP on back-order since it was announced. My favorite radios, whether or not they include SW or FM, always include a HOT AM tuner. AM is my first love and my favorite radios are ones that do the best job of pulling in difficult, weak, AM signals.
The EP has not disappointed me. C.Crane has landed a knockout punch for AM radio lovers with this $85 model. It’s not perfect…what radio is? But it offers a level of AM performance right up there with some of my best AM portables. Later on I’ll compare it with several reference radios to give you an idea how it stacks up against them, but first a little description of its design.
The EP is an analog-tuned AM/FM radio. There are no digital features such as clock, timer or memory functions. Just a power button on the top, tuning and volume knobs on the right, plus a “Twin Coil Ferrite AM Fine Tuning” knob on the right. The front panel features an AM/FM/FM Stereo band select switch (FM Stereo is available at the headphone jack), Bass, Treble and a Voice/Music switch, which is actually an AM bandwidth switch. There is also a light switch on the top near the power switch…it allows the dial lights to stay on full time while the radio is on, even on battery operation. In fact, this is only the second radio I am aware of that offers full-time illumination even on battery power – the other is the Roberts Revival Radio (also available from C.Crane). The C Radio-EP runs on 4 D cells and the LED’s used to light the dial use little enough power that they can be left on whenever desired yet they provide a very bright, even illumination with a coolish blue hue. I measured the battery current draw in AM mode as 53.5 ma at minimum volume which would translate to over 330 hours of play time at very low volume. With the lights on the draw measured 68.6 ma which would translate to about 265 hours. Current draws were about 20% higher in FM mode. At loud volume levels the amplifier draws more power…doubling these figures, so the penalty for using the lights becomes less of a factor – you can use them whenever you want and perhaps switch them off when they’re not needed. The radio is a convenient size, measuring 11.4″ W x 7.3″ H x 2.75″ and weighing in at 4.5 pounds with batteries.
The left side panel features a headphone jack, a line in jack which can be used with an external music source such as an MP3 or CD player to use the CC Radio-EP as an amplified speaker (and it sounded wonderful in this mode), and a DC Input jack marked DC 6 Volt center pin negative…a 6 volt/500 ma AC “wall-wart” power supply is included. Unfortunately that AC supply seems to be extremely noisy, obliterating all but the strongest of AM signals. Hopefully C.Crane will address this issue with an improved AC adapter. (Update: I have been advised that some of the AC adapters are noisy and some are not. Crane is sending me a replacement and I will report back when it arrives). Update 2: Although my replacement AC adapter is quiet I know of two others which, although better than the ortiginals, still have some hum. Evidently there is still a problem here.
On the back are spring clips for an AM antenna and ground connection, an F connector for an external FM antenna, and a switch which disconnects both internal antennas…that is a great feature in a relatively inexpensive radio and one sometimes lacking even on more sophisticated radios. Excellent! AM reception is enhanced by a 7.9” Twin Coil Ferrite rod antenna which was found to be extremely effective at capturing AM signals. The EP is the latest product to incorporate C. Crane’s patented Twin Coil Antenna technology. Although the basic concept of the Twin Coil is present on all versions, C. Crane has continually modified the implementation of it to good effect. As of now versions of this antenna are available in the original, stand alone (and superb) Twin Coil Ferrite Antenna, The CC Radio-SW, the CC Radio-2 and now the CC Radio-EP. The CC-2 surprised many of us by virtually matching the raw sensitivity of our best vintage analog portables and the claim now is that the EP essentially matches that level of performance. We’ll see if it does shortly.
First I want to discuss that innocent-looking Twin Coil Ferrite AM Fine Tuning knob. Conveniently located midway between the Tuning and Volume knobs on the right side, the knob not only has a center detent position which is marked “Normal” but the instructions recommend that you can just leave it there for most listening. While that is somewhat true – many stations come in just fine at the center detent position – I nevertheless recommend that you be adventurous and adjust it each time you tune in a new AM station unless that station is 100% perfect already. After several weeks of playing with this radio I’ve discovered that this control has multiple effects, ranging from subtle to night and day depending on the situation. On some signals it actually changes the optimum tuning position for the main tuning knob. On stronger signals it can sometimes reduce the background noise level. And on some tightly-spaced signals it can greatly enhance selectivity.
On many signals it is worth tuning the main tuning knob carefully, then adjusting the fine tuning knob, listening for improvement, and then re-adjusting the main tuning. This back and forth sometimes makes a big difference even on relatively good signals. I live 20 miles from a 50KW AM station which is strong enough to come in perfectly on my best AM radios but with a touch of background hiss on lesser radios. When I first tuned it in on the EP there was a trace of background noise which I thought shouldn’t be there so I adjusted the Twin Coil Fine Tune knob and the hiss just faded away. Then I had to retune the main tuning to get back to center tuning, and the signal was now perfect…zero hiss. Several signals did this so it’s worth checking until you get the feel of it. On some signals if I rotated the knob to one extreme or the other I could hear murmuring interfering signals in the background which disappeared when the fine tune knob was set correctly. Finally in severe crowding situations the fine tune can dramatically help separating crowded signals. A very flexible, useful control. C.Crane themselves describe the action of it as sometimes “curious” and I think that is an apt description.
I also discovered that the Fine Tune control still functions when an external AM antenna is connected and the internal antenna was disconnected…I hadn’t expected this because I thought the control was affecting the twin coil antenna itself…evidently this control affects the associated circuit in such a way that even external antennas are affected by it. Get to know this control…it is essential to get the very best out of the CCC Radio-EP.
OK. So Crane has suggested that the EP will provide “similar performance” to their own CC Radio-2…no small claim. Others have wondered if the EP might be the new “Superadio”, now that the iconic GE Superadios are out of production after decades. Clearly I had to compare it with my very best AM portables, so for a representative sampling I put the EP head to head with my reference AM portable…the Panasonic RF-2200, as well as the GE SRI, II and III, and the CC Radio-2. Many other radios were compared as well. The vintage radios have all been carefully reconditioned as needed, aligned and compared against several other samples to ensure they are at their peak performance capability. I ran most of my comparisons at midday on very weak to medium signals which are very stable and repeatable day after day. Raw sensitivity was compared by judging the background hiss level of the signals which ranged all the way from almost perfect to barely readable. I covered the entire AM dial using more than 15 frequencies depending on the session. There were also several selectivity tests under a wide range of signal strengths.
RESULTS: Generally the CC-EP indeed matched the CC-2 on the majority of signals. The CC-2 was a bit easier to use since the twin coil adjustment is automatic and with its digital tuning there is no guesswork, but I was usually able to get the EP to match it if I made careful adjustments of the fine tune knob. The GE SRI and II were in this sensitivity class as well, but as I expected, the GE SR III was almost always somewhat hissier. The RF-2200 was sometimes just a bit less hissy but on many signals it was similar to the others…it remains the best overall but we are discussing sometimes minute differences. And it’s also important to note that both the CC-EP and the CC-2 each had one signal they were best on. Bottom Line: The CC Radio-EP is an extremely sensitive AM portable radio and competes with the very best I have. It is important to understand that in almost all circumstances, with any of these excellent AM radios your reception will be limited by the local noise level, not the radio. That’s saying quite a lot for a $85 radio.
SELECTIVITY: Here the SR’s were the losers. Although they are generally selective enough for most normal program listening, when compared under more demanding situations, such as with an interfering signal on both sides and the desired signal in between not very strong, the other radios were all clearly more selective. The EP and RF-2200 also have a narrow bandwidth switch which gives them an edge in these conditions, but even in their wide settings they separated the stations better than the SR’s, as did the CC-2 with its single bandwidth. So in this regard the EP is better than a Superadio…again, an amazing accomplishment. The Music/Voice switch is actually a Wide/Narrow IF bandwidth switch…I would describe the two bandwidths as Wide and Medium…they would appear to be nominally 6 KHz and 4 KHz which is an excellent choice for a program-listener’s radio. Usually the Wide mode will give the best sound with good selectivity but in crowded band conditions the narrower “voice” position gives greater selectivity at the expense of a bit of audio crispness.
FM: C.Crane also says the EP provides excellent FM performance and I found that it does. I compared it against some well-known excellent FM radios including the Panasonic RF-4900 and RF-2200, the CC Radio-2 and the C. Crane CC Radio-SW. In my suburban location at a fairly high elevation I receive FM signals from several distant cities so there are few unoccupied frequencies. Some radios miss some signals due to lack of sensitivity but many miss signals due to lack of selectivity. My best FM radios can hear some faint, distant signals which are completely absent on an average FM radio. The CC-EP did very well in these tests. Although the RF-4900 and RF-2200 occasionally did a slightly better job on some of the toughest catches, overall these radios all performed extremely well. Generally the differences were so small that moving one of the radios or its whip antenna even a hair could wipe out the differences. . The CC-EP also beat all of my Superadios on FM selectivity…I was able to clearly tune several signals on the EP which I could not receive clearly on the SR’s.
I also tried the EP on my external FM antenna and found it worked very well.. The added signal strength improved some stations dramatically but caused additional interference to others. If you are in a remote location with weak FM signals I’m sure the benefits would be greater but rest assured the EP does very well on FM with its built in whip antenna.
The ability to disconnect the internal antennas on both AM and FM is rare in a relatively inexpensive radio and it is very welcome here. I often use external antennas and the CC-EP accommodates them perfectly. I tried both a 40 foot wire and separate ground and also a Wellbrook ALA330S and the results were terrific with both. Daytime AM reception was dramatically better on several signals. Strangely though I discovered that the AM Fine Tune control still functioned when the internal antenna was disconnected…I hadn’t expected this because I thought the control was tuning some aspect of the built-in twin coil antenna…evidently this control affects the circuit in such a way that even external antennas are affected by it.
However I found that the CC-EP is not a good candidate for use with small, passive AM loop antennas via inductive coupling. Even my larger passive MTM Scientific loop which helps most radios did nothing for the EP. My guess is that the Twin Coil Antenna with its fine tuning scheme is so well tuned that introducing an external loop simply detunes it. But it must also be remembered that because the EP is very sensitive on its own, most reception will be about as good as your local conditions permit even without a loop to help it.
SOUND QUALITY is quite good and very satisfying for this size radio. It doesn’t match the much larger GE SR’s or CC Radio-SW but it sounds much fuller than the original CC Radio-2…of course the newer CC-2E with its greatly improved audio no longer suffers in this comparison. The EP’s amplifier is rated at 1 watt and it can fill a typical room with no problem.
OVERLOAD: One unfortunate limitation the CC Radio-EP shares with its up-scale sibling the CC Radio-2 is susceptibility to AM overload in strong signal areas. Although the results are worst in urban areas with a mix of several flame-thrower signals, proximity to even a single strong signal can trigger overload that can be compared on different radios. Since I work in broadcasting I was able to bring some radios to an AM transmitter site. At such a location any radio will show severe overload and desensitization, so after testing them there I drove a short distance away and compared them again, then again at a third location still further away. I found that the CC-EP (as well as the CC-2) all succumbed to overload which the vintage analog radios were better able to resist. The strong signal not only spread out wider on the dial than it should have, but there was also a background murmur and outright breakthrough on parts of the dial that just covered up many other signals. These results were expected…the older radios use three gang air variable tuning capacitors and have a tuned RF stage which provides extra gain and extra dynamic range at the same time…the ability to handle strong signals while maintaining top sensitivity to weaker ones. The CC Radios are incredibly sensitive and about as good as it gets in that area, but be aware that they may not be the best choice for urban, high signal level areas. The CC Radio-SW, although not quite as sensitive on AM as the CC-2 and CC-EP is a better choice in urban, strong signal areas…it handled overload a bit better.
I did find though that the fine tuning knob on the EP sometimes helped it with selectivity in overloading situations. When I was a few miles away from the transmitter site, trying to listen to an out of town signal three channels away from the local, at first there was no sign of it. But as I rotated the fine tune knob I was able to hear that signal and to receive it very well. Once again, it pays to experiment with the fine tuning knob…in this case a signal went from literally non-existent to very good.
Also note that the EP does give the ability to disconnect its internal ferrite as mentioned before and very possibly an inventive user could use this feature to be of benefit dealing with overload, such as with a direct connection with a shielded cable to an external tunable antenna.
C.Crane has hit it out of the park with their new CC radio-EP. It not only features top notch AM performance but it also about 2/3 the size and less than half the price of the excellent CC Radio-2, and it offers better sound to boot. The EP thus becomes the most sensitive AM radio in this size class. It is intuitive and simple to operate…just like a vintage AM/FM analog portable, the only added control is the Twin Coil AM Fine Tuning knob, but operation of that control becomes second nature after a short time. The ability to keep the dial illumination on full time, even during battery operation, is a welcome feature, as is the ability to switch out the internal antennas on both AM and FM when using external antennas. It is a convenient size, sounds great and most importantly, is a FUN radio to use. I recommend it whole heartedly!
C.C Radio-EP $84.95
C. Crane Company, Inc.
1001 Main Street
Fortuna, CA 95540