Eton Field BT Updated
This is an update to reflect production changes since the first review in January, 2017.
When I first reviewed the Eton Field BT about two years ago I found it to be a mixed blessing compared with its predecessor, the Field 550. The BT version adds Bluetooth connectivity, a greatly improved speaker, and better shielding and noise suppression of its DSP chip. The problem was that the AM band now had a strange problem…weaker stations, especially near the top half of the AM band were so low in volume that hardly any signals could be heard, even at night when the dial should be full of stations. It was so bad I bought a second sample but found it was only marginally better. Although the radio had many other strengths, I was bothered enough by this AM issue that I didn’t keep the radio.
Then, about a month ago I was urged by a reader to re-evaluate the ‘BT. His feeling was that his recently purchased radio was performing better than I had reported. I regularly receive many such recommendations to test particular radios but his letter was detailed and well-written and he convinced me to try another one. I’m very glad I did because Eton has noticeably improved things to the point where I can now recommend the Field BT. The only external difference between my early ‘BT units and this latest one is that the words “Grundig Edition” have been removed from the front panel (see pictures). Some of what follows is from the original review but I have amended everything that deals with AM reception.
Updated Review – Eton Field BT (New Sample from Amazon – December 2018)
The basic functions and control layout are virtually the same as the older Field 550 so you may want to read the original Field 550 Review for some of those details. In a nutshell, the Eton Field BT is a lunchbox-sized DSP (Digital Signal Processing) portable radio (a so-called Field 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 and FM Stereo at the Headphone and Line Outputs. Many on-line sources currently sell it at $129.99 and I have seen it even higher but it is generally available for just under $100 at Amazon and recently was as low as $79 so watch for price fluctuations. The introduction of a dramatically-improved hi-tech speaker and the addition of Bluetooth capability are the biggest changes over the previous Field 550. This new speaker provides a much fuller, richer sound quality than the older model. In addition, the display is brighter and easier to see in varying lighting conditions.
Features & Operation – Usability is pretty standard for a Field Radio. With no keypad for direct frequency entry there are several other methods to help you tune fairly easily. There is a Seek Button for Auto Scanning, a Q. Tune button which lets you jump quickly from one band segment to another, concentric Fast/Slow Tuning Knobs, Fast/Slow/Stop Tuning Steps, Up/Down Buttons and 10 Memory Presets per band (AM/FM/SW1/SW2/SW3) for a total of 50 presets. The memories are very easy to set up and use and don’t require wading through menus to access which is a plus.
Other features of note are FM RDS with Stereo at the Headphone and Line Outputs, FM Mono Mode, Wide/Narrow Bandwidth settings for AM and SW, separate Aux Antenna inputs for each band with an Internal/External Switch, a DX/Local Switch, a SW Variable Gain Control and a Backlight switch which can keep the lights on full time (including when you turn the radio off so be sure you turn the Backlight switch off). The Field BT offers the usual Clock/Timer/Sleep functions, three backlight brightness settings, a Beep Defeat setting for silent key presses and 1/8” jacks for Line In, Line Out and Earphones. The External Antenna switch disconnects the whip antenna for SW and FM but does not disconnect the built-in AM ferrite rod antenna.
Performance – Better Than The Original Versions: Being an admitted AM radio junkie the first thing I did was to check out the newest ‘BT’s AM performance. The unit I bought in December of 2018 is noticeably better than the early 2017 Field BT’s in AM sensitivity and better than the original Field 550. That original BT was so bad that I bought a second sample to see if the first one was defective…the second one was indeed a bit better but was still dramatically quieter on the top of the band in comparison to any of several other radios I put it next to. Luckily, AM reception is now very good. As I tuned to several stations of varying strength the late 2018 Field BT seemed to be doing very well compared with other *** 1/2 and **** reference radios. This beats the original Field 550 and the 2017 Field BT and in fact, if you read the original Field 550 article, at the end I substituted a larger ferrite rod AM antenna to improve its performance…this latest BT version virtually matches that enhanced ‘550 which is a one-star improvement from *** to **** Stars in the AM Mega Shootout list. This is a noticeable improvement. Weaker stations above approximately 1000 KHz are still somewhat lower in volume than same-strength signals on the lower half of the band and this is an issue I wish Eton could iron out completely, but you can still achieve enough volume for normal listening by turning the volume up. It’s still a quirk but one I can live with because the overall AM reception is now very good at Four Stars.
Spurious Noises: Thankfully Eton is now 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. This time around I didn’t notice any digital noises on AM compared with the earlier units.
FM Reception is as good as we’ve come to expect of today’s better 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 and better than most. Sensitivity, selectivity and capture ratio are excellent so if you have a typical pre-DSP FM portable radio and have longed for better reception the Field BT won’t disappoint you. It rates ***** on the FM Mega Shootout List…as good as it gets in an FM portable radio. At a typical street price of $100 you won’t find a nicer FM portable.
SW Reception is very good and is fully 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 SW signals the ‘BT was a joy to listen to. The two bandwidths provided a good choice between wide bandwidth for best sound quality on better signals and narrow bandwidth for weaker, more crowded signals. The two bandwidth choices seem ideal for most situations.
Bluetooth: The Field BT functions as a Bluetooth speaker to stream audio from your Bluetooth-equipped phone or other device. My Android phone paired easily with it and it sounded wonderful, thanks mostly to the 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 there is also a larger enclosed box with a ducted port to enhance low frequencies. I’ve seen other high-tech ported speakers in a few recent portable radios but I’ve never seen a design quite like this, and I must say that it works very, very well. The Field BT has a very wide range sound with good bass warmth and treble clarity by portable standards…it sounded better than my modified original Field 550 and held its own against other good sounding portables I put it next to. The Bass and Treble controls have good ranges so you can tailor the sound to your preference easily. Eton got this right…this is a wonderful sounding portable radio.
Modifications: Recalling my original Field 550 review I had done several mods at the end of that article to improve that radio’s performance. Luckily, they are not necessary for the Field BT…I’m using mine just as it comes from the factory.
The much-improved 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 probably have to be sealed to keep the speaker properly loaded…I decided against going there since I’m not sure exactly what is inside the large speaker enclosure. Luckily, this new model gets more out of its 6” ferrite rod than the older versions, virtually matching the performance of the original Field 550 with the longer rod added to it. Well done!
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 a bit sluggish to tune quickly via the knob. Evidently the damping is now part of the gear-reduction knob assembly and I did not attempt to modify it. There are many ways to tune this radio quickly so I tend to use the knob for slower tuning.
Conclusion: There is plenty to like about the Field BT. In the world of lunchbox-sized Field radios there are very few choices these days. The BT offers great AM, FM and SW reception, very good sound in this size range, Bluetooth capability, flexible auxiliary antenna connections for each band and a bright display, all in an attractive, reasonably-priced package. The only caveats are slightly reduced weak signal volume on the top part of the AM band (which you can compensate for by turning the volume up a bit more) and muting while tuning. In spite of this you won’t find a better performing radio at the price. The latest BT rates **** in my AM Mega Shootout list and ***** on the FM Mega Shootout list.