Grundig Satellit 750/Tecsun S-2000

I had tried an early sample of the newest radio to carry the Grundig Satellit name when it was first released. Although I loved its looks and ergonomics I was not impressed with several aspects of its performance. However many posters to various newsgroups indicated that these early problems had been resolved so I decided to take a look at a fresh sample from recent production. A quick look at four pages of reviews revealed that most owners rate it 4 or 5 out of 5 stars while a very small handful rate it a 1 or a 2. Has Tecsun (which manufactures the OEM version as the Tecsun S-2000 as well as the slightly modified Sat 750 version for Eton/Grundig) “fixed” the SAT 750? Is it now worthy of that prestigious nameplate? I bought a brand new unit to refresh my memory and to see if this newest production unit differed at all from that early sample.

Features: The Satellit 750 has an impressive lineage. The most recent top of the line model from Eton was the Eton E1, and before that the Grundig Satellit 800. The Sat 750 is admittedly a less ambitious radio – it lists for $300 compared with $500 for its two predecessors, and is generally available for around $275. It also lacks some features of those previous models such as synchronous detection, passband tuning and selectable Fast/Slow AGC. However it does have fairly complete antenna input facilities, SSB, Air Band and a rotating ferrite rod antenna on the top of the unit. It lacks the sophisticated memory system of the E1 but does offer 1000 station memories (which seems overwhelming to me), Auto Tuning Storage (ATS) for AM and FM, dual alarm clocks, a variable RF Gain control, three position input attenuator, a squelch control and the ability to defeat the built-in antennas when using external antennas for all bands except the Air Band. The Tecsun version offers the same performance but with the addition of in IF output for an outboard DRM or other adapter. In addition the AC power supply is built-in rather than via an external wall-wart. In fact, the line cord storage compartment on the back panel is empty on the Grundig…the owner’s manual states that you can use it for anything you want…one idea might be to store earbuds.

Satellit 750 Top, Satellit 800 Bottom

First Impressions: Performance issues aside for the moment I’ve got to say that the Satellit 750 is an irresistibly cute radio. Pictures don’t do it justice because they don’t capture the fact that in person the radio appears to be a scaled down version of the earlier and much larger Satellit 800 and much earlier Satellit 600/650. The radio is just lots of fun to use and is one of the radios that people seem to comment on when they first see it. It is easy to use with no extra button presses needed during direct tuning with the keypad. The rotating ferrite AM antenna is a feature I wish more radios offered, the tuning knob is easy to spin with a fingertip and the dedicated Fast/Slow tuning speed button is easier to use than the auto tuning speed feature on many recent radios which seem to never know whether I want to tune fast or slow at any given moment. You can disconnect the internal antennas on all bands except Air and there’s even a choice of high or low impedance antenna inputs for SW, a relative rarity and something even the Eton E1 didn’t offer. SSB is easy to tune with Upper/Lower Sideband modes switch selectable and a variable BFO clarifier control, and the variable RF gain control and attenuator help further.

Performance: I was happy to find that the tuning offset and asymmetry problems I saw on several of the earlier units have indeed been corrected. Stations are centered when the exact frequency is displayed, and the fall-off in reception was about equal both above and below the target frequency. This allows equal selectivity against signals above and below the desired frequency – a big improvement. However the noisy contacts when using the rotating ferrite rod have not been addressed. Initially mine was OK but after only a day or two of use it became quite noisy…in fact, operation is so erratic while turning the antenna that it’s almost impossible to detect when the best reception has been achieved because the static masks the actual signal. I find it necessary to rotate the whole radio to find the peak or null, then position the swiveling antenna as I want it relative to the radio. Not deluxe at all. Many readers have reported that theirs do not have this noise…I can only report what I’ve seen with several samples of the radio, so even if some work as advertised, it is evident that many do not…it is a problem which should be addressed.

Reception: I had been intrigued that many users report that the SAT 750 has a very low noise floor but unfortunately that was not my finding here. I’m lucky enough to have a very low noise listening location, which easily reveals the differences in the noise floor of radios I compare…differences which are impossible to notice in higher noise areas. RFI levels have to be below the internal noise level of the quietest radio under test or comparisons may be misleading. I compared the SAT 750 with its built-in antennas to several radios here and the 750 lost in most comparisons. Indeed, even a much less expensive radio, the Redsun RP-2100/CC Radio-SW was noticeably more sensitive on AM and had a much lower noise on AM as well. It was also better on SW but not by nearly as much…the difference was usually fairly subtle on SW. Listening to weak daytime AM signals there was much more background hiss on the Grundig than on the other radios…even listening to SW at night with stronger signals fading in and out, there was an underlay of circuit hiss on the 750 that was simply not there on the other radios. In addition to the Redsun I used several SW radios such as Zenith Trans-oceanics and similar radios like the vintage Sony CRF-5100, Sony 2010, Eton E1, Satellit 800. For AM I used the CC radio-EP and CC-Radio-2, a GE SRI and a few others…the 750 was the worst of all of these for AM signal to noise ratio.

The AM suffers from a small amount of digital whine on some frequencies…very common with many modern radios… it’s not bad on the 750 but it’s there. Some of this noise is picked up by the rotating ferrite antenna and some is probably picked up internally. How did I determine this? Two tests made it quite clear. On some signals, such as a medium strength station on 1410, I found that if I held the rotating antenna in the best direction and rotated the radio beneath it I could get the tone to come and go. On other signals, such as a relatively strong station on 1080, the whine was very low in level but did not change at all by varying the ferrite rod’s position relative to the radio. In general I found the best reception is achieved by positioning the ferrite rod perpendicular to the radio (front to back), then rotating the entire radio for best AM reception. I also found that using an external antenna (disconnecting the built-in ferrite) this whine totally disappeared on all frequencies…even very weak signals were whine-free.

Top Left: Eton E1, Top Right: Satellit 750, Botton Satellit 800

However I was surprised at how well the SAT 750 did with external antennas on both AM and SW. I used a Wellbrook ALA-330S, a 40 foot random wire and several AM loops. It almost seemed like a different radio…it was very sensitive compared with other good radios on the same antennas. The 50 Ohm AM input worked very well with a direct connection to a small loop like the Select-A-Tenna or Terk Advantage AM which is a rarity…these same loops have not generally  worked very well with other radios via direct connection, always getting better results using them inductively. Evidently the input circuit of the SAT 750 is a perfect match for them.

The 750 also acquitted itself very well on SSB…it was easy to tune for best reception and it seemed rock stable, never drifting noticeably during any of my tests.

I would describe the FM reception as good but not stellar…again, on a side-by-side comparison with several other radios there were a few difficult signals which the 750 did not pull in as well as the competitors…radios with better FM reception included the Redsun RP-2100, CC-Radio-2, Tecsun PL-660 and Panasonic RF-2200.

Sound Quality: The SAT 750 is a pleasant sounding radio…on its own it sounds satisfying and has no serious flaws. It was upstaged by the much more powerful and wide-range audio of the RP-2100/CC- Radio-SW and GR SR’s, but really, it’s not bad. One oddity is the bass control…it seems to affect volume more than bass. I would say it is controlling a higher range of frequencies than a typical bass control…hence the unusual affect.

Tuning Characteristics: One oddity I noted in the early production samples is still evident in this new sample, although to a lesser degree. It is a result of the digital design of the radio and is an oddity to be sure. It’s unusual so I will describe it, and it is evident on some but not all signals…you have to look for it. Let’s say you are tuning to a signal on 1000 KHz. With most radios, if you start out at 996 and tune upwards toward 1000, the reception and signal meter will gradually rise to a peak at 1000, then as you continue to tune upwards towards 1005 the signal and meter will gradually drop off. Also, anyone who has ever tuned an AM or SW radio knows what proper center tuning sounds like…the signal becomes “darkest” at exact center tuning, meaning you tune for minimum high frequency content of both the desired audio and the noise components of the signal.

But not so with the 750. AM and SW tuning on this radio is unusual and quirky. Using our station at 1000 KHz as an example, starting at 996, as you tune to 997 the signal meter and reception fall back a bit. Then tuning to 998 it again comes back up. But at 999 it drops back a bit again, then peaks at 1000 KHz. Continuing to 1001 KHz it drops a bit, but at 1002 is peaks back up. Continue to 1003 and it drops, then at 1004 it peaks again. But there’s more. Forgetting the signal meter for now and just listening, it is not usually evident when you are exactly center tuned from listening to the audio. “Darkest” audio (the soundof exact center tuning) is heard not only at 1000 KHz, but also as 998, 996 and at 1002 and 1004, while the odd frequencies of 997, 999, 1001 and 1003 sound off-tuned with more treble content and a hissier noise component. By the way, this effect is much more noticeable in Wide mode than Narrow mode because the narrow filter tends to reduce output as you tune away from center frequency, thus covering up the effect.

As I said, this effect is less noticeable on this new sample than on the original ones I checked, and some signals seemed to reveal it more than others. However I have never yet seen a 750 that did not exhibit this odd tuning behavior and several knowledgeable radio enthusiasts I know personally have reported the same thing with multiple samples…it seems to be inherent in the design.

Conclusion: I have occasionally been accused of only writing positive reviews. Indeed the majority of my reviews are positive. The reason is that I have to buy most of the products I review so I tend to buy ones I expect will be to my liking. Also, when confronted by a product that is not to my liking, I usually won’t bother to take the time to write it up…writing and posting a review like this one, along with accompanying pictures and research takes many hours of work. Because of this, when I first bought a Satellit 750 I was so unhappy with it that I returned it and did not write a review of it. But so many people in various newsgroups have asked why I have not reviewed Eton’s current flagship model that I felt compelled to try a new sample. Several told me the tuning anomalies I described did not exist in their newer samples and that they felt the 750 had an extremely low noise floor on AM and SW.

All I can say is that my experience here does not agree with this. Sure it is possible their samples  are better than mine but after checking so many samples with similar issues I find it much more likely that our testing methodology is different than anything else…I find it hard to believe that yet another sample will perform any differently. Yes, the 750 is almost irresistibly cute and lots of fun to use…I wanted to like this radio or I would not have bought another one. I love its styling and ergonomics. But its basic performance falls short of what I would expect of a radio in this price class. The CC-Radio-SW lacks the 750’s direct entry keypad, Air Band and built-in SSB, but frankly, for raw RF performance and sound quality on AM/FM/SW with built-in antennas the 750 can’t compete. And although the 750 excels with external antennas, in that arena it can’t compete with the E1 or Satellit 800 which are simply more sophisticated designs, so I’m not sure exactly what niche the SAT 750 stands out in.

To be sure, one can have a lot of fun with the Satellit 750 and on its own it can be very pleasing, but when you put it side by side with competing radios and compare them carefully, its flaws are all too evident.

Jay Allen

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