Eton Field BT AM/FM/SW Portable Radio With Bluetooth
The Field BT has replaced the Field 550 in Eton’s line-up, even though months after its release Eton has not yet updated its own website to reflect the change…odd. You can immediately identify the new model by the “Grundig Edition” and “Field BT” lettering at the top of the face plate and the BT symbol on the top band selector knob. The basic functions and control layout are virtually the same as the older model so you may want to read the original Field 550 Review for those details. In a nutshell, the Eton Field BT is a lunchbox-sized DSP (Digital Signal Processing) portable radio which runs on 4 D cells or an included Wall Wart AC power supply. It covers standard AM/FM/SW bands and can act as a Bluetooth speaker. It features RDS on FM. Many on-line sources currently sell it at $129.99 and I have seen it even higher but it is available for just under $100 at Amazon.
What’s New: Of course, the addition of Bluetooth capability is the biggest change. In addition, a totally re-designed and unusual high tech speaker has been developed and the display is more vivid and easier to see in varying lighting conditions.
Performance – A Mixed Bag: Being an admitted AM radio junkie the first thing I did was to check out the BT’s AM performance but unfortunately, I was not terribly impressed. The basic reception is very similar to the original Field 550 which is not bad but I found the BT had more problems with that dreaded soft-muting and resulting low volume issues with several weaker signals. You might not easily notice this depending on how many signals you check and where on the dial they appear. Initially I tuned to several stations of varying strength from the bottom to middle of the AM band and the BT seemed to be doing OK. But as I tuned higher on the AM band the overall volume dropped down to the point where there were few signals to be heard at all, even at night when the dial should be full of signals. In fact it was so bad that I bought a second sample to see if the first one was defective…the second one was indeed a bit louder but was still dramatically quieter than the original Field 550 or any of several other radios I put it next to. To me this is unacceptable performance and it can be squarely laid at the feet of soft muting which is one of the worst concepts we’ve seen since the introduction of DSP. (Note to manufacturers: All modern radios have AGC – Automatic Gain Control, the function of which is to maintain fairly constant volume levels as signals vary in strength from strong to weak. Good AGC makes listening and tuning much more pleasant. Soft muting works exactly the opposite of this, undoing the benefits of AGC, pushing weaker signals down in volume, evidently in an ill-conceived attempt to reduce noise between signals. The problem is that it can make medium and weak signals too low in volume to be enjoyed and in the case of the Field BT it is so heavy-handed as to render the radio far less usable than it need be,especially from the middle to top end of the AM band. I wonder sometimes if these manufacturers actually listen to these products before their designs are finalized…it would appear not. Please get rid of soft muting..all radio lovers will applaud you)! I will also caution that since I had two radios with this issue and know of several other owners who have reported this to me that it is not an isolated defect but as I saw with my two samples it can vary a bit sample to sample.
Spurious Noises: Thankfully Eton has started installing that important shield over the DSP chip (I had added such a shield in my modifications to the original Field 550). The result is that DSP noises are held to a minimum but they are not completely absent. A few frequencies showed spurious interference, most of which could be reduced or eliminated by turning off the backlight.
Now The Good News: Thankfully there’s quite a bit of good news to report.
FM Reception is as good as we’ve come to expect of today’s DSP-equipped portable radios. I scanned the entire FM band and found the BT to be comparable with other excellent FM portables I’ve gotten to know. Sensitivity and selectivity are excellent so if you have a pre-DSP FM radio and have longed for better reception the Field BT won’t disappoint you.
SW Reception is also comparable with other recent lunchbox-sized radios. Tuning mid-day searching for weak signals the Field BT was able to receive everything I could hear on my familiar same-size reference radios with equal clarity and freedom from background noise. At night with stronger signals thr BT was a joy to listen to. Although some soft muting was evident it was not nearly as intrusive as it was on AM.
Bluetooth: The Field BT functions as a Bluetooth speaker to stream audio from your Bluetooth-equipped player…it does not output a BT signal as a source device. My Android phone paired easily with it and it sounded wonderful, thanks mostly to its innovative new speaker.
High-tech Speaker: The Field BT uses an unusual speaker to achieve improved sound quality. A small driver fires forward directly to radiate high frequencies as a tweeter but it also feeds a larger enclosed box which incorporates a ducted port to emit low frequencies through the front. I’ve never seen a design quite like this but I can say that it works very well. The Field BT has a very wide range sound with good bass punch and treble clarity by portable standards…it sounded at least as good if not better than my modified original Field 550 and held its own against other good sounding portables I put it next to. Eton got this right!
Modifications: Recalling my original Field 550 review I had done several mods at the end of that article to improve that model’s performance. For the most part they do not apply to the new BT version.
The new high-tech speaker makes speaker replacement unnecessary. The box that surrounds this new speaker virtually rules out adding a longer ferrite rod…while an intrepid modder could conceivably cut a hole in that box to allow the longer rod to fit it would have to be sealed to keep the speaker properly loaded…I decided against going there.
The DSP chip is now properly shielded so Eton has done that mod for you. Finally, the damping goop is gone from the tuning encoder even though the new BT is still sluggish to tune quickly…evidently the damping is now part of the gear-reduction knob assembly. I did not attempt to change that.
Conclusion: There is plenty to like about the new Field BT. In the world of lunchbox-sized portables there are very few choices these days. The BT offers great FM and SW reception, good sound, Bluetooth capability, good auxiliary antenna connection flexibility and a bright display, all in an attractive, reasonably-priced package. The only caveats are muting while tuning and AM soft-mute which seriously hobbles the BT’s AM reception…if soft Mute could be eliminated the BT would rate about *** in my AM Mega Shootout list…as it is it falls a bit lower.