———————–FM Portables Mega-Shootout 2020———————–
Almost all current production radios utilize DSP IC Chips (Digital Signal Processing). DSP has generally benefited FM reception dramatically, raising the bar in portable FM performance, such that even some of today’s relatively inexpensive portables outperform many FM portables of any price and even some component FM tuners from just a few years ago. (On AM DSP has had a rockier track record, where a few radios have been truly outstanding on AM but many have been less good than their pre-DSP counterparts. As DSP technology has matured AM and SW performance has improved. On FM, these modern radios are often phenomenal, with excellent sensitivity, quieting curve, selectivity and capture ratio and excellent unit to unit consistency without many of the variables of critical alignment. This means that, unlike the AM Mega Shootout results, many of today’s FM portables rate Five and Four Stars, which is not surprising when you realize many of then are a built on the same chips. One, Two and Three Star radios generally are older or much less expensive sets. – many vintage radios have FM which is relatively sensitive but not as selective as the best of today’s FM tuners.
Comparing portable radios for FM performance is slightly different than for AM or SW. One of the problems concerns how critical radio placement and antenna positioning can be. When comparing two FM portables it is absolutely crucial that for every test signal you move the radio into different positions and aim its antenna in every direction to maximize reception. In many cases, with two radios side by side I will receive a given station on one radio but not the other. But swap their positions and that signal does not follow the radio that had it first…it may stay in that location, now being received by the other radio. Of course, this does not always happen but it occurs often enough that it must be checked on every station in order for comparisons to be valid. Therefore, if you see a test where the radios and their antennas remain stationary beware…the results may be misleading.
Today’s DSP chips are usually closely matched to the length of the whip antenna on the radio. Because of this, at least one radio with a shorter-than-average rod antenna is one of the best performing units…it is seemingly not at all compromised by its shorter whip. Adding more length to its antenna didn’t help at all. Some multi-band radios which also cover the shortwave bands may have very long rod antennas…it is worth experimenting with antenna length as well as orientation when trying to maximize a problem FM signal. Also be aware that shortening the rod may help for one station but not others.
FM Walkman-style radios which use the earphone cord as their FM antenna present another challenge. Again you simply have to take your time, moving the radios and cords to get the best reception. Then I do actual use tests, walking around with them on certain difficult signals to see what the final user experience is like. I even go so far as to test two radios simultaneously, using one earbud from each radio and listening for subtle differences between them as I move about. Eventually one can tell which radios are the most stable and forgiving under difficult reception conditions.
Also, be aware when watching videos of portable radios being compared that the sound must be picked up by a microphone, not by a direct connection to the radio. Adding ANY connection to a portable radio, even taking audio from a Line Out or Headphone jack, can not only act as an antenna or counterpoise, increasing signal levels, but may also increase noise levels, and different radios may react differently to the same connection, thereby possibly invalidating the test in portable terms.
Another thing to keep in mind is that different geographic areas place different requirements on any radio and FM is no exception – whereas some locations feature very weak signals where sensitivity is of utmost importance, others areas feature so many competing and interfering signals that selectivity and capture ratio become more important. To make my tests as universal as possible I use different locations where reception conditions are different. This helps to reveal which characteristics of FM reception are most important in different situations.
To fully understand comparisons of FM radios it helps to understand some of the characteristics that separate truly excellent FM receivers from lesser ones.
Quick FM Glossary:
Sensitivity: The ability of a radio to receive signals that are very weak and make them sound noise-free and clear. This is of utmost importance when you are located far from the stations you want to receive or in areas where signals don’t penetrate well. FM signals propagate primarily by line of sight so the higher your elevation the better your FM reception is likely to be. Valleys, very hilly or mountainous regions and cities with many tall buildings can block or distort even nearby signals whereas hilltop locations may receive signals from hundreds of miles away.
Quieting Curve: Related to sensitivity, this is the ability of a radio to quickly quiet the background noise as weak signals grow stronger. Two radios may be equal in sensitivity to very weak signals, but as that signal grows just a bit stronger it may improve much more quickly on a radio with a better quieting curve, producing a noise-free signal, while another radio might still sound weak and noisy. Since most FM listeners rarely listen to signals at the threshold of audibility, the quieting curve may be of more importance than raw sensitivity.
Selectivity: The ability of a radio to separate signals that are close together on the dial. Generally, this is more of a problem in metropolitan areas where there are many closely-spaced stations, and at high elevations where signals may be received from great distances, thereby crowding the dial with stations from several regions. Add to this the explosive recent growth of FM translator stations – low power FM transmitters which enhance the coverage area of an existing station, and the FM dial has become much more crowded than it once was. At my hill-side location I can receive signals from all over New England and New York. (I now live in Kentucky but even in my new more rural area I am at a high elevation and the FM dial is completely full with no totally dead frequencies…none. DSP radios have greatly improved selectivity which used to only be attainable with relatively high cost filters…now even relatively inexpensive FM radios may have excellent selectivity.
Images & Double or Triple Tuning: Related to selectivity, many older radios, especially portables and less expensive tabletops, have a problem with double or triple tuning. This is where an FM station appears to have two or three peaks as you tune across it. The problem is that the secondary peaks, which are weaker than the true peak, may cover another station close to it on the dial. This is very common with older portables and typical table and clock radios…most typical FM portables from the past have some degree of this problem and even proper alignment may not eliminate it. Images on the other hand are ghosts of signals popping up at other places on the dial than their actual frequency where they can cover up signals you want to hear. This is a big problem with many older FM designs especially in inexpensive radios.
Capture Ratio: Exclusively an FM characteristic this is the ability of a radio to ignore the weaker of two or more signals on the SAME frequency (co-channel). The best FM receivers have an excellent capture ratio of 2 db or less so one signal only has to be a little stronger than the other to be received clearly. This allows that radio to receive different stations on the same frequency by re-orienting the antenna or moving the radio…first one station “pops in”, then the other. With a less good (higher number) capture ratio those two signals interfere with each other, and only one or sometimes neither may be heard clearly. Excellent capture ratio also helps minimize multipath distortion as discussed below.
Multipath: FM signals travel primarily in a line of sight between the transmitting and receiving antennas, with the earth’s curvature eventually blocking the signal from you. This is why FM transmitting antennas are generally located as high as possible and also why increasing your elevation or the height of your receiving antenna may improve reception noticeably. However, these signals may also bounce off of hills or buildings, so a reflected signal may also arrive at your receiving antenna. However, because this reflected signal has travelled a longer distance it arrives slightly later than the direct signal. This time delay disrupts the phase relationship of the two signals causing them to interfere with one another causing distortion. Sometimes re-orienting your antenna or using a more directional antenna which can ignore one of the signals will cure the problem, but in some cases a radio with better capture ratio will be able to ignore one of the two signals if it is sufficiently weaker than the primary signal.
The quality of FM reception is dependent upon these and other factors. Because radios may be better in some performance characteristics and weaker in others, you will often find that one radio favors some signals while another radio may favor others, rather than one radio being better on all stations. Again, comparisons of only one or two stations may be misleading because you must compare many signals which test all the various aspects of a radio’s performance capabilities. A good example of this often occurs when I am comparing radios on two of my “problem” frequencies, 107.5 and 107.7. 107.5 can feature up to three different stations from Cape Cod, New York and Maine.
107.5 – WBLS New York City
107.5 – WFNK (Frank Radio) Portland, ME
107.5 – WFCC Hyannis, MA.
107.7 – WWRX New London, CT
107.7 – WACC Enfield, CT
The better modern DSP portables can often resolve each of these signals by moving the radios and their antennas into every conceivable position, but some radios can only hear one or two while another radio may hear a different one or two no matter what I do. And some radios can’t separate these signals and thus deliver none of them, or one of them with interference. Differences in the performance areas I mentioned above account for this.
Different Radios For Different Areas: As you can see, your listening location may well dictate which characteristics of FM performance are most important to you. I use a few different testing locations – while my hilltop location is a great spot to test for selectivity and capture ratio, once I leave the hilltop those out of town signals are gone and sensitivity and quieting curve are much more important. Only by understanding some of the many factors that contribute to good FM reception can these tests be valid for the majority of listeners.
The good news is that many of today’s top DSP portables excel in all areas and will likely bring you reception as good as it gets in most locations. I chose a representative group of more than 65 radios, both current and vintage models, to get an idea of how many popular radios compare on FM…the results were interesting to say the least!
Now, on to the results.
***** Five Star – These radios have FM reception as good as it gets in a portable radio and are excellent choices for almost any reception conditions. Almost all are modern, DSP equipped designs with a few notable exceptions:
***** C. Crane CC-3/CC-2E – (CC-3 is identical to the CC-2E with the addition of Bluetooth) The best of the best among current production radios which rate 5 stars on both AM and FM the CC-3/CC-2E are favorites of mine and have many other features including NOAA Weather with Alert,the 2 Meter Ham Band for local emergencies and a built-in AC power supply, along with great sound. A current day classic!
*****CC Radio-EP Pro – (Replaces the CC-EP). A DSP-analog-tuned model the new EP-Pro is an even stronger performer with better reception and better AM sound than the original model. A few revisions were made during the initial production runs which improved its tuning behavior so I now rate the EP-Pro as a top performer at a bargain price.
***** CC Radio Solar – This Emergency Radio is top tier with ***** reception on both FM and Weather bands. I put it side by side with my reference portables (larger and more expensive radios) and even on difficult FM frequencies which feature multiple faint signals the CC Solar kept up with the big boys. FM and Weather reception is as good as it gets in a portable radio at today’s state of the art.
***** Degen DE-1103 – Still in production after many years both the original and current DSP versions have top FM performance if you can live with the unusual ergonomics. AM was also Excellent in the older versions but has declined to Good in the current version. ..SW is very good for this size radio as well.
***** Eton E1 – Considered by many to be the last of the great multiband portables ever made the E1 delivers top FM and SW performance. AM uses the whip antenna which makes it susceptible to local interference, but in low-noise remote locations or with an external antenna the E1’s AM is about as good as it gets in a portable radio. The E1 is arguably Eton’s crowning achievement.
The Eton Field 550 has been upgraded to the much-improved Field BT. The BT, in addition to adding Bluetooth connectivity, offers a much fuller sounding high tech speaker for great audio and in addition to top tier FM performance (nothing beats it on FM) also offers improved AM performance, although weaker stations at the top of the AM band may be heard at slightly reduced volume – usually though there is enough reserve volume for normal listening. This is one of the nicest sounding lunchbox-sized radios currently available and it is also a great sounding Bluetooth speaker.
***** Eton Field 550/Field BT – Great FM reception. The Field 550 was replaced by the Field BT which features a much better sounding speaker but unfortunately AM performance has declined. Very good SW as well.
***** Eton Satellit, Executive Satellit * Elite Executive (Current Version) – These smallish portables offer top FM and also have very good SW and the best AM reception in this size category of any current production radio…also great sound for this size. The Executive Edition features an updated faux leather case and a new color scheme but the radios themselves are the same.
***** Eton/Grundig Satellit 750/Tecsun S-2000 – Great FM performance but two of three samples I tried required some fine tuning to achieve the best FM reception. Sensitive FM and SW reception distinguish the Satellit 750 while AM is slightly less sensitive. Excellent external antenna connection facilities.
***** Panasonic RF-2200 – The famed all-analog RF-2200 has always been an AM reference portable…well it performs just as well on FM. This is one of the only older FM portables in this review to match the other Five Star radios and along with the CC-2E is the only other radio to rate Five Stars on both AM and FM bands.
Read The Panasonic RF-2200 Review (Update In Progress)
***** Panasonic RF-4900/DR49 A contemporary of the RF-2200, the RF-4900 is analog-tuned with digital readout and offers excellent FM performance. However, the US version lacks a rod antenna so you must attach a wire or dipole for FM reception. The DR49 version has a rod antenna and matches the RF-2200 on FM. These are tank-like radios featuring very solid construction and are a knob-twirler’s dream.
***** Sangean ATS-909/909X – Although a bit less sensitive than most competing portables on AM and SW unless paired with an external antenna, the Sangean’s FM reception off its whip is first rate. Exceptional build quality is a Sangean hallmark.
The HDR-14 is a small, travel-sized AM/FM portable radio offering HD and RDS reception. As far as I know this is the smallest radio to offer both AM and FM HD at this size and at a street price of $79.99 ($99.95 list price) it is a bargain to boot. We’ll put it through its paces and see how it compares with its larger brother HDR-16 and other HD portables.
***** Sangean HDR-16 – Top FM reception with the addition of HD Digital (IBOC) reception. One of the very few (perhaps only) HD IBOC radios to offer AM and FM. If you live near HD stations you are in for a treat with AM that sounds like FM and extra FM channels which can only be received on an HD radio.
The HDT-20 is one of very few component HD tuners currently available, with an average street price around $155 it is the only component HD tuner anywhere near its price. Every HD radio I have tested previously has been either a portable or table model but the HDT-20 was designed to easily interface with any home audio or audio/video setup with standard RCA Line Out jacks along with SPDIF Optical and Digital outputs for maximum connection flexibility.
***** Sangean PR-D7 (Current Model) The PR-D7 is a smaller-sized PLL-digitally tuned radio. It features Sangean’slegendary build quality and is a solid *** AM performer….***** on FM. It is a good value on today’s market and has all the digital features of today’s modern radios.
The Sangean PR-D9W is the size of a paperback book, and features standard AM, FM and NOAA Weather band reception with Alerts. It is currently selling for about $56 on Amazon. Read the Sangean PR-D9 Review:
The PR-D12 from Sangean continues their tradition of quality in the world of portable and tabletop radios. Rather unassuming in appearance, the PR-D12 receives AM/FM and NOAA Weather Band frequencies and offers the Weather Alert feature which can be a lifesaver if you are in an area threatened by dangerous weather conditions. We’ll check it out, compare it with some reference radios and see how well it performs.
***** Sangean PRD-14 (Current Model) Another fine entry from Sangean whose radios seem to have the best build quality available today. The PR-D14 has all the digital features you’d expect and is a great value in a **** DSP AM radio, ***** on FM. AM audio could be a bit crisper but not all people are bothered by this…FM is top tier. Read the PR-D14 Review
When Sangean asked if I was interested in testing a new AM/FM portable radio they were introducing, designed specifically for the visually impaired, I envisioned something a bit less than what I received. I expected a radio with bright knobs, braille and other raised labels on the major controls and a large, bright display, along with simplified menus for initial set up and use.
I was pleasantly surprised that what I received was so much more. This radio speaks to you in its own voice telling you which button you have pressed and what the status is, such as, “Power On – AM Band – 100% Battery Level – AM Eight Eight Zero (880)”.
Aside from its special qualities the PRD-17 is also a winning performer. Read the Sangean PR-D17 review:
***** Sangean W-50/WR-50P – Available in stereo and mono versions this radio offers similar reception to the two radios above with bigger audio, adding Bluetooth connectivity but deleting HD/IBOC features.
***** Tecsun PL-880, PL-680,PL-660 Tecsun’s three popular mid-size radios have different features and overall performance but all share top tier FM reception. The most deluxe is the PL-880 with its built-in dedicated rechargeable battery and high tech speaker for surprising sound from this size radio. The PL-880 is known for its long list of “Hidden Features” (see review). FM and SW reception are very good…AM mediocre. The PL-660 has very limited sound quality compared with the PL-880 but otherwise performs similarly but with good synchronous detection for AM and SW. The PL-680 features better audio than the PL-660 but even weaker AM.
*****Tecsun PL-390/PL-398MP/PL-398BT Small stereo models with top FM reception.
PL-398 MP version available which adds MP3 Playback, PL-398BT Adds Bluetooth. Thin sounding, albeit stereo audio in a small box. You can choose from variant models with different features, but all have top rate FM reception.
The PL-990X is an upgrade to the still-available and very popular PL-880. Anon-co.com is selling it for $235 while the PL-880 goes for $149 in its basic from or with a deluxe package going for $209.99. I have compared the PL-990X with the PL-880 extensively and also compared it with other models from Tecsun and other manufacturers – here’s what you need to know.
***** Tecsun S-8800 (Current Model) The Tecsun S-8800 has many features including a remote control and multiple bandwidths. It offers Five Star performance on FM and is also as good at it gets on any current production portable on SW but, although it is Tecsun’s best performing AM radio it gets only *** stars for AM reception. It is reasonably sensitive to weak AM signals but medium strength signals have more background hiss than the 3 to 5 star radios above and there are also some troublesome birdies…spurious tones here and there. I still like this radio quite a bit but I wish Tecsun would decide to build a great AM radio. FM and SW are excellent. Read The Tecsun S-8800 Review:
***** XHTATA D-808 AM/FM/SW/SSB/Airband Portable Radio was born as a result of the sometimes strange state of affairs in Chinese manufacturing today. The story goes that it was derived from the Redsun-designed C. Crane Skywave SSB and cannot be sold directly to the US but it is now available here on eBay shipped via Tel Aviv. It is based on the same Silicon labs DSP Chip as the Skywave yet has several differences. It’s typical of today’s bet DSP Designs with top FM performance, and it’s AM sensitivity and selectivity are very good for a travel sized radio but there is more to know. We’ll put the XHDATA thorough its paces and compare it directly with the Skywave SSB and several competing travel-sized radios.
**** Four Star radios are generally still sensitive but lack the razor-sharp selectivity of the Five Star radios above. Bu these are still fine FM receivers for most uses.
**** C. Crane CC-EP – As an analog design the EP delights the radio enthusiast who doesn’t mind that tuning is less precise than with a digital radio. This is a Five Star AM radio and Four Star on FM but overall performance is excellent with great sound. Some refer to it as the current day Superadio and I agree with that…if you don’t need or want digital features this is a lot of radio for the money.
**** C. Crane CC-Pocket – Excellent FM sensitivity and selectivity but as with other Walkman-style radios which use the headphone cable as their FM antenna actual reception is sometimes compromised by the fact that the cable cannot usually be precisely aimed as it moves with you. The CC Pocket and Sangean DT-160 are currently the best Walkman-style radios in terms of FM reception.
**** C. Crane Skywave/Skywave SSB – An amazing travel companion with unusually broad band coverage (AM/FM/SW/Air/NOAA Weather with Alert) in such a compact package, the Skywave features greatt FM performance. Actually contains not one but TWO DSP chips to cover all of those bands.
**** C. Crane CC-SW/Redsun RP-2100 – Unfortunately now discontinued this multi-band AM/FM/SW radio featured big audio and good overall performance, following the “Field radio” concept of analog-style tuning with digital readout.
**** Eton/Grundig G8 Traveler II/Tecsun PL-300W – A multiband AM/FM/SW travel-sized radio with excellent FM reception. The G8 Traveler II was one of the first of the new DSP-based radios that showed the amazing FM performance that can be achieved at this size and price level.
**** Eton/Grundig Field S350/350DL/Tecsun BCL-2000/BCL-3000 – The first of Eton’s Field series, these radios feature analog tuning with digital readout. The FM on these is their main strength…it is a bit better than the AM/SW performance. There is some drift during warm-up which was improved with the later models but FM performance remained unchanged and quite good.
**** Eton/Grundig Mini – A very short antenna with no swivel but this radio is primarily designed for handheld use and has amazing FM performance for this size radio with a built-in speaker. This is today’s shirt-pocket-sized radio for FM lovers.
**** General Electric P990 – Another classic radio from GE the P990 is typical of portable pre-DSP designs…good FM sensitivity but less sharp selectivity and some double-tuning which reduces reception of some closely-spaced stations. Not one of GE’s top performing AM or SW radios it is nevertheless a heavy, rugged and beautiful design in a leather case.
**** General Electric GE Superadio/Superadio II – Perennial Five Star AM radios with great audio, the FM, which is also quite sensitive, rates Four Stars due to less selectivity than today’s modern FM designs, and some double-tuning further hampers reception of some closely-spaced signals. Nevertheless, a very good FM radio overall with great sound quality and usually available used at a bargain price. Read The GE Superadio Article
**** Grundig Satellit 800 – An unusual combination of very good selectivity but a tad less sensitivity than the Five Star radios above, the SAT 800 is especially well-suited to permanent installation with an external antenna in which case it’s slight lack of sensitivity doesn’t mean much and its good selectivity is a virtue. As for AM and SW reception the Satellit 800 is superb and together with Eton’s later E1 are among the best digital, multi band portables ever made.
**** ITT 101/102/103 – My reference for powerful, accurate audio in a large lunchbox-sized radio the ITT is another vintage analog design which features good sensitivity but less selectivity and capture ratio than the Five Star radios above. Still I often use the ITT for FM due to its phenomenal sound quality for routine listening.
**** Panasonic RF-1401 – FM performance is comparable with similar radios of the era including the GE SR’s…it is quite sensitive but not as selective as today’s DSP-equipped portables. It is fine for routine reception and it sounds wonderful in general on both bands with more powerful audio than the SR’s.
**** Sangean ATS-405 – Very selective but not quite as sensitive as the Five Star radios this model also offers AM reception about as good as it gets in this size class equaling the small Eton Satellit. This radio also allows more user control over some of its DSP functions such as soft muting and tuning muting and is a great bargain at its low price.
For those of us who follow the market of old and new radios, the arrival of the Radiwow R-108 was somewhat of a surprise. Nothing to do with the little radio itself, but rather how it came to be in the first place. It’s not a bad little performer, but it has a colorful backstory.
**** Sangean DT-160 – An excellent Walkman-style radio (no speaker – earbuds only) with excellent FM reception, limited only by the use of the earphone cable as an FM antenna. The CC Pocket and Sangean DT-160 are currently the best Walkman-style radios in terms of FM reception.
**** The Sangean DT-800 is Sangean’s new top of the line Walkman-style radio and it is another winner. I’ve owned several Sangean earbud portables and have found them to be excellent performers, particularly the newer DT 160 and DT-210 models, both of which are excellent, but the DT-800 tops the list with some added features and a better built-in speaker than usual in these Walkman-style radios which are meant primarily for headphone use.
**** Sangean MMR-88 is one of the nicest emergency radios I have seen. In addition to digital tuning it offers all the bells and whistles of such radios such as crank, solar or external USB charging for its internal battery, cell phone charging, flashlight and NOAA Weather Band with Alert and it also musters Four Stars for its great FM reception. And it’s brick-like design is both practical and very cute!
**** Sangean PR-D5 – The innocent-looking stereo radio that surprised us with its superb Four 1/2 Star AM reception, rates Four Stars on FM due to its poor FM selectivity and mediocre sound.
**** Sangean PR-D15 – The upgrade to the PR-D5 offers somewhat more selective FM and slightly stronger AM with enhanced features such as switchable Loudness Compensation, bass and treble controls and finer tuning increments.
**** Sangean PR-D18 – A great little travel companion in a rubberized case available in several of eye-catching colors here is another low-price entry into great FM performance close to the best at a bargain price. And they’re just so cute!
**** Sangean SR-35 – A true pocket portable with analog tuning and surprising FM reception together with nice sound from such a small radio. Rated as best Pocket FM portable in my latest Pocket Portables article. A bargain!
****/** The new Sangean U4 Rugged/Worksite Radio gets two separate FM ratings due to its short rubber duckie style FM antenna. It is designed to be damage proof and it is but with this small antenna the FM rates only **. This is just fine for typical local FM reception and most users will be totally happy with it but by simply adding a few feet of wire it jumps to **** if you need high sensitivity for weak stations. (More details in full article). The radio offers powerful audio to fill outdoor areas and features Digital Tuning with all the usual features such as presets, alarms and timers, Bass, Treble and Loudness controls, FM-RBDS with Auto Clock Set, AM, NOAA Weather Band with Alert, Bluetooth connectivity, Aux-In and built-in AC power with Smart Charging capability, all in a rugged, rainproof cabinet. Read The Sangean U4 Review
When I first received the amazing little WR-7 I didn’t want to put it down. I didn’t appreciate how tiny this unit is but its high-tech speaker will amaze you with how much powerful sound it can pour out. ..the WR-7 has a fullness of sound that belies its small size and I find myself marveling at how well I can hear the bass lines of my favorite songs. FM reception was also a pleasant surprise and the Bluetooth function worked flawlessly.
See It At Amazon: WR-7 (Choose Walnut Or Dark Cherry)
**** Sony CRF-5100/CRF-5090 – One of Sony’s Super Sensitive series the multi band CRF-5100 offers solid reception on all bands including FM and it is one of Sony’s more prestigious classic radios. Really a radio for multi band enthusiasts but the FM reception and sound are quite nice.
The WR-16 and deluxe version WR-16SE continue Sangean’s long-respected line of wooden tabletop radios with upgraded technology. The radios are identical in all regards except the 45th Anniversary Special Edition features enhanced cosmetics. They offer Bluetooth connectivity to let you stream audio from your smart phone or other Bluetooth audio source, a USB charging jack to charge an external device, the ability to use internal or external AM and FM antennas, Aux In, Record Out and Headphone jacks and the ability to operate either on AC or 12 volts DC. Read The Sangean WR-16SE Review:
See The WR-16SE At Amazon: $101.27 as of this writing
See The WR-16 At Amazon: $95.05 as of this writing
WR-22 With Digital Tuning $140.46 as of this writing
Sony ICF-506 & ICF-19**** (Current Models) These are without a doubt the least expensive radios to rate this highly for AM and FM performance. I was frankly surprised at how good they are. FM rates at Four Stars and is also very good. These two radios are DSP analog-tuned models so they do not tune seamlessly as a true analog would …they “jump” from one station to the next, but nevertheless they perform well, are easy to use and their tuning indicator assure you are properly tuned. These two models seem almost identical except that the ICF-506 runs on AA cells and has a built-in AC power cord while the ICF-19 has no AC power supply but runs on D cells which will give much longer battery life. See full details in the Complete Review:
**** Sony ICF-2010 – The legendary 2010 with its cult-status, one-time world-class SW performance and excellent AM is also surprisingly capable on FM with better selectivity than many of Sony’s lineup of that era which generally offer pedestrian selectivity but good sensitivity.
**** Sony ICF-6800W – One of Sony’s most sensitive SW portables ever, the ‘6800 offers good FM sensitivity and average selectivity. This radio also has a well-deserved cult following among SW listeners.
**** Sony ICF-EX5MKII – In many ways an unusual model because it offers SW reception only on 6 preset frequencies (See Article), the EX5 is a superb AM receiver but its FM suffers from less selectivity than today’s best portables. However, at Four Stars it can hardly be called bad.
**** Sony TFM-8000 – Another solid Sony Super Sensitive multi band radio the TFM-8000 offers typically good Pre-DSP performance which means great sensitivity but average selectivity. It also is the only portable in my collection with true flywheel tuning which is a delight. Audio is on the mellow side.
**** Tecsun – PL-310 – One of Tecsun’s smaller radios once a favorite of the Ultra-light AM lovers the PL-310 offers very good FM reception. The newest version PL-310 ET has not been tested here and may have had some initial (???) quality control problems but the FM performance is said to be unchanged.
The Tecsun PL-330 is a very small Ultralight-sized, DSP-based radio and is a worthy upgrade to the less costly PL-310 Et and PL-380 radios, adding several features and somewhat better overall performance as well. Covering AM/LW/FM/SW it packs some unusual features for such a small, relatively inexpensive ($59.95) package. For example, it offers Synchronous Detection, making the PL-330 the least expensive radio I am aware of to sport this feature. It also demodulates SSB (Single Sideband) signals, and allows the use of external antennas on ALL bands…one of the very few current production portable radios to offer that terrific capability. And as a modern DSP receiver it is excellent on FM.
The list of extra features is long and in this article we’ll check them all out and compare the PL-330’s performance to some other popular competing models.
**** Tecsun PL-365/ County Comm GP-5-SSB– An unusual model shaped like a thin remote control, designed primarily for handheld use with SW and SSB reception the PL-365 offers solid Four Star FM reception, but this radio is meant for communications use (aka voice) and offers very thin sound quality for the FM listener except through earbuds. An unusual model primarily targeted to a specific group of users.
*** Three Star Radios are represented by many smaller modern-day DSP designs and older radios with still better-than-average FM sections. They are fine for most typical reception needs.
*** Eton/Grundig Traveler III – Slightly less sensitive FM than the older Traveler II, the III is still a good performer for this size and price and adds FM RDS. AM performance is unusually good and a big improvement over the earlier G8 Traveler II.
*** GR SRIII – Although not top ranked the SR III I still a decent FM radio with awesome audio in a larger portable. Compared with the older SR and SRII, the SRIII feels distinctly cheaper and more plastic-y, and tuning weak, tightly-spaced FM signals is a bit touchy. However basic reception is pretty good and the great audio of the SR III makes it a good choice. Avoid the latest production under the RCA name as many had issues with bad tuning encoders.
The Panasonic RF-562D is an interesting, relatively inexpensive radio, offering a leather-like carrying case which allows you to use the radio while in the case…something almost all radios used to offer in the good old days. It is also one of the few remaining true analog radios being made today with no DSP (Digital Processing) chip. As such it has both strengths and weaknesses and it depends on exactly what you want to listen to whether you will love or hate it. But in today’s market place it may be a one-of-a-kind radio from Panasonic, one of the truly iconic names in analog radios of days gone by.
Every now and then someone sends me a comment or asks me a question about a vintage radio that I’ve never seen or owned. There are so many of these that it is impossible to obtain all of them, but occasionally one seems to grab my attention, either because I’ve read about it and known about it for years or simply because it occupies a unique niche in portable radio history and seems to hold a special place in many people’s hearts. One such radio is Radio Shack’s Realistic DX-440/Sangean ATS-803A from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. What Makes the DX-440/ATS-803A so special? Well, it was a top-of-the line model for both Sangean and Radio Shack, and it was the first shortwave portable made by Sangean to be offered by Radio Shack. It was a fairly early digital radio so it generated lots of interest, and typical of Sangean’s products (both then and now) it was solidly built and offered a nice user experience.
The TR604 is not a great radio. I’m not sure I can even call it a good radio. But for less than $30 is there any reason to own one? Maybe, but you’ll have to decide based on its features versus its operating quirks.
*** Sangean DT-400W – Before the DSP-equipped Sangean DT-160 and CC Pocket, the DT-400W, with its bright yellow “Walkman-Sports” styling was my go-to ear bud portable. It is quite sensitive on FM but not as selective as those two newer models. I still like the overall package a lot, but for better FM reception the DSP pocketables clearly outperform it.
*** Sangean PR-D6 – This $30 radio, available in several colors features great AM and nice sound quality with, believe it or not, Bass and Treble control knobs! However, the FM is a bit less sensitive and selective than today’s best FM portables. Still, quite a bargain and fine for general listening.
*** Sony 7600D/DS/7600G/7600GR – Although the 7600D/DA/DS are quite different than the more recent 7600G/GR series, they share a similar-performing, mediocre FM section. Many Sony’s of this era are relatively sensitive but not very selective and they also have some images which can cover up desired signals. Actually this is typical FM performance for the era.
*** Sony ICF-6500 – A cool vintage portable with typical FM sensitivity and selectivity for its day. I also noticed an apparently inferior capture ratio which jumbled some co-channel (same channel) signals which other radios could separate by antenna aiming. One tuning quirk is that it tended to skip over weaker frequencies toward stronger adjacent signals even though the radio does not employ AFC. Using the Fine Tuning mode I was able to get it to lock on to those crowded signals but usually they did not come in very well.
*** Tandberg Portable 41/Model 41 – A beautiful wood-encased 70’s era radio from Norway, the Tandberg is typical of its vintage – FM reception is relatively sensitive but only average for selectivity. Still, an easy radio to love for its striking appearance and pleasant audio.
** 1/2 Star Radios Are Good But Coudnt quite Squeek Into teh Three Star Group.
** 1/2 Panasonic RF-2400D (Replaces Original RF-2400) A nice, inexpensive portable for utility use and has built-in AC power which makes it a good choice as desk or shop radio that will play all day. FM reception is improved with fewer images so effective FM selectivity is slightly improved.
** Two Star Radios are fine for typical FM reception. Just don’t expect them to pull in very weak or crowded signals.
** Eton E100/Tecsun PL-200/PL-210 This family of radios is very compact and thus great for backpacking or general travel use or to hear a ball game out on the deck. The 210 uses an updated chip but its FM performance is about the same as the original versions.
** Panasonic RF-2400 – (Replaced With Upgraded RF-2400D) A nice, inexpensive portable for utility use and has built-in AC power which makes it a good choice as desk or shop radio that will play all day. FM reception is adequate but suffers from images and poor selectivity so use it for routine FM reception only.
* One Star – These form a baseline for FM performance and represent the most minimal FM performance that is still usable. * Star radios, while not particularly sensitive or selective, are nevertheless still fine for receiving your local FM stations and for many uses will be just what you need. Want a radio to stick in a pocket or purse? These might be all you need.
* Kaito WRX-111 – Longtime favorite inexpensive analog multi band portable the WRX will let you hear your local FM’s or AM’s with minimal size and cost.
* Sony ICF-18 – A larger radio with bigger sound than the two radios above the ICF-18 has long battery life from its D cells and offers decent FM reception of local and semi-local signals. AM is OK as well.
* Sony ICF-38 – Good build quality and built-in AC power make this a nice shop or desktop radio for all day use. FM reception is OK but it does miss some signals as a result of mediocre FM selectivity and some images. OK AM too.