Q: I see you devote as much of your web page to vintage radios as to new ones. Hasn’t technology made the old radios obsolete? Aren’t today’s radios better than ones from 50 years ago? For example…you often write of “DSP” (digital signal processing) in many of the newer radios. Isn’t that better than old tubes or transistors?
A: There are many pros and cons of new versus old radios. DSP technology is an incredible breakthrough in terms of reduced complexity and manufacturing costs. With much of a radio’s active circuits now contained in these DSP chips it costs much less for a manufacturer to assemble a radio than it would if they still had to use all discreet components. There are also far fewer alignment adjustments to drift out of specs over time, and DSP has allowed phenomenal advances in the quality of FM reception over what was achievable anywhere near the cost before DSP chips were introduced.
But DSP is not yet totally perfected in terms of implimentation. That is to say some manufacturers have used cost-savings measures which don’t allow the best performance these chips are capable of. An excellent example can be found at the end of my Eton Field 550 Review where we can see a critical shield was omitted even though the printed circuit board was clearly designed for one:
One can only guess how miniscule the cost savings must have been from that omission yet the set’s AM performance was dramatically improved when I added one.
But aside from that, generally speaking Shortwave performance has been similar to pre-DSP radios and on AM some DSP portables were a total disaster. Recently some excellent DSP designs have emerged which show excellent AM performance, but still not quite as good as some older designs with a Tuned RF Stage and three gang air variable tuning condenser. Some of these old-school radios are able to maintain extreme sensitivity with immunity to overload in strong signal areas that modern radios can’t match. Yes, the modern radios offer many advantages over the older radios, but the converse is also true.
I just read your interesting review of the (XXX) radio. Just recently, I purchased one to replace my old portable that I’d had for about 15 years or more. I must say I’m very DISSATISFIED with the (XXX). It may be a fine radio, but the user manual is so poorly written and so lacking in essential detail that, even after a few months of owning it, I still haven’t figured out how to make/change some of the simplest settings, the alarm on/off and alarm time-of-day settings for example. It seems to me — and granted I’m a senior, but not a completely senile one — that they have attempted (rather unsuccessfully) to program far too many settings using far too few buttons.
That said, do you know of any “after market” manual for it that I could acquire? I’ve got the radio, so I would like to make full use of it if possible.
A: Well I can’t argue with what you say…many of today’s manuals are less than clear and sometimes not completely accurate, but understand all modern mini-sized radios suffer this same design philosophy with maximum features along with minimum controls serving multiple functions, and even the full-sized ones aren’t much easier to learn. The only thing you can do is to get yourself in a receptive mood and sit quietly without distractions with the radio and the manual and try doing the steps until you figure it out. It will happen if you are patient. There are no shortcut manuals I have ever seen and I have to do it this way myself. One option is to check out the various Yahoo discussion groups and see if someone there can help you with some specific questions.
Note: This person later emailed me that he had indeed figured it all out…patience is key.
Q: I see that you rate the CC Radio-2E very highly…I bought one because of your recommendation and I agree with you…I love it! I generally find your reviews to be interesting, clear and unbiased and when I try the radios you review I seem to have the same experiences you do so I’ve grown to trust you over the years as a reliable source. However I read a review on another site which rated the Sangean PRD-4W just as good as the CC-2E (and it costs a lot less) yet you rate that radio is only 4 1/2 Stars in your AM Mega Shootout Article. Why does this other reviewer rate it more highly than you do?
A: This is a great question and the answer has a few elements to it. First, the difference between a ***** and ****1/2 star rating are not that great…even *** star radios are generally far better than average. Second there are some differences that are indisputable, ie, the Sangean only tunes AM in 10 KHz increments while the CC-2E allows fine tuning with 1 KHz increments. The CC-2E has tone controls, the Sangean does not….etc.
But the bigger issue is testing methodology. Remember, I take responsibility for every article on my site…all of the reviews and articles are my own. Most other review sites allow submissions from various contributors whose expertise, environments and testing methodologies may vary widely. For example, if a person tests radios at night, small differences in sensitivity will probably go unnoticed. I run very exhaustive daytime tests covering 20-30 or more signals over the whole AM band and as I noted in my Sangean PR-D4W review, “the CC-2E beat it on several stations but usually by only a very small margin. Some stations which were completely free of background hiss on the CC had just a trace of noise on the Sangean, Some trace signals were just stronger and more clearly audible on the CC. And there were two stations (710KHz and 1010 KHz) that had spurious noises on them on the Sangean which were clear on the CC. But in the majority of cases the two radios behaved very similarly.” It’s hard to argue with these results. I think this kind of side-by-side comparison is more complete than most reviewers generally perform. Plus I test sensitivity in the daytime where it is much more obvious while I test other parameters at night and I test in a very low noise environment so local noise does not mask small differences in the radios….this is all very important to getting consistently reliable results.
Add to that the fact that the Sangean has a 6” ferrite rod AM antenna while the CC-2E has an 8” rod – this tends to coincide with my results. Generally when I have replaced 6″ rods with 8″ rods I get a perceived sensitivity increase of 15-20% unless the radio is not a good candidate for this kind of modification.
When tests are done scientifically, under controlled conditions, with an understanding of causes and effects, most reviewers will usually arrive at the same conclusions, but the internet allows anyone to post an article. Although there is a wealth of great information out there I have read many user reports on everything from radios to razor blades which are a bit naïve and tend to mislead, however well intended.
Q: I’m wondering if there is any way to improve the AM reception of my small radio which has no provision for an external antenna.
A: There are a few ways to improve the performance of almost any small AM radio.
The most common method is to use an AM passive loop antenna such as the Terk AM Advantage, The Tecsun AN-100/200, or any of several others. I have many antenna reviews under the Antennas Tab at the top left of the Home Page.
A second low or no cost approach is to use a wire out the window if possible or even deployed indoors. Any length of about 25 feet or more should do it. Here’s the amazing part…no connection to the radio is needed! Just wrap the near end of your wire around the radio once or twice then ground the inside end of the wire…this last step is crucial. Although a real ground is desirable such as a ground rod driven into the ground, a radiator pipe or screw in the center of an outlet plate will work but please be careful working around outlets. Signals should pop in like crazy. If you don’t want to wrap unsightly wires around the radio you can form a coil of 3-5 inch diameter with two or three turns and place it against the back of the radio…it might work just as well.
And finally be sure you find the best location. Take time to carry your radio around your home to look for spots that are particularly good for reception. This step alone can make a big difference.
Q: I’ve got some noisy fluorescent lights. What can I do?
A: You cannot effectively suppress the noise they make so your only options are:
Turn them off
Replace them with no noise lighting (becoming harder to find these days)
Move your radio to a quieter location
Try a loop antenna to help reduce the impact of the noise.
RFI mitigation is usually a mixture of all of these with some compromises.
That’s about it.
Q: Why Don’t You Date Your Articles?
A: There are a few reasons.
When I first started writing articles I was doing mainly restorations of vintage gear. Those articles don’t seem to become outdated and stand with the same relevance today as when they were written. Later I started doing reviews of new radios and while they do sometimes make changes (and I update the articles when there are significant changes), usually the running changes are unpredictable and not really worthy of comment. For example, the Tecsun PL-880 Yahoo group has lots of interesting info on the radio but is has become an almost paranoid discussion of firmware versions and date codes. Predictions of whether there might be another firmware version aren’t productive and cloud the waters which really should be all about the performance and how people are using their radios. To me the overriding user experience of the ‘880 is that it is one of the top contenders in its category, other major players being the PL-660, PL-680, Eton Satellit and Sangean ATS-909X. I go into the strengths and weaknesses of each of these models in my reviews, and I believe that to a potential buyer these traits will remain essentially unchanged through firmware revisions and date code changes. But again, as with major changes to the ATS-909X and Eton Traveler III, I update the articles and make a post about that as well.
I think adding date codes might make my articles seem irrelevant only weeks or months after posting, and even more so by people who are overly concerned about firmware versions and date codes…but if such a change brings about a real change in performance (as opposed to minor tweaks of features) I will report on them.
Q: I Bought a CountyComm GP-5 because it had option for an external MW antenna but it seems that I can’t improve reception regardless of what I plug into that jack. I tried the provided “High Sensitivity AM Antenna”, a simple long wire and other AM type antennas I had around from different radios and none seem to make reception better, and in some cases, worse with more noise. My overall goal is to improve reception of a 1280 KHz station with signal that typically degrades after sunset. What am I doing wrong or misunderstanding?
A: There are two important aspects to this question. First, the AM antenna jack on the CountyComm GP-5/SSB (and similar Tecsun PL-365) is not a standard Auxiliary Antenna jack as found on most portable radios. It is designed specifically to be used only with the supplied antenna. It directly connects to the DSP chip’s AM RF input and wants to see the specific inductance of the supplied antenna. Plugging any other antenna into this jack is similar to opening up a radio, disconnecting the internal ferrite rod antenna and attaching your external antenna to its connecting points…the result is a gross mismatch. One solution is to buy the after-market 8” ferrite rod antenna which I reported on in the CountyComm GP-5/SSB – Tecsun PL-365 Review…it is designed to work properly with this radio. Another solution would be to try a passive AM loop antenna… I have many antenna reviews under the Antennas Tab at the top left of the Home Page.
The other consideration is that the signal you want to hear may simply not be receivable at your location in the evening. One good test is to see if you can hear it on a good car radio. If you can, then a good AM radio should be able to bring it in inside your house unless interference is over-riding it.
Q: I want an Emergency Crank Radio but I don’t see any reviewed on your site. Which one(s) do you recommend?
A: Emergency crank radios are designed as utilitarian devices. By that I mean they provide various features at various price points. None that I have seen are truly high performing as radios go and are greatly outperformed by non-emergency type radios. That said, if you want a really good radio for emergencies better choices are traditional portables like the full-sized CC-2E, Eton Field 550 or the travel companion CC Skywave. Any of these is a better radio for receiving difficult signals and it’s pretty easy to store spare batteries for them. Today’s alkaline cells have virtually a 10 year shelf life and a few extra sets of cells would power these radios for weeks or months. One tip…all digital radios use a very small amount of power to keep their clocks and displays running so if you are going to store a digital radio for emergencies store it with the batteries out of it and they will always be completely fresh when you need them.
Still, for many people the idea of a crank radio gives a feeling of preparedness because they don’t feel they can keep batteries on hand. For me one compelling reason to consider a crank or solar emergency radio is the ability to charge a cellphone in an emergency. So if you decide a crank radio is something you want, most of them should be OK so all you can do is choose by price and features, but I would consider cell phone charging to be useful.
Although shortwave is always fun to be able to listen to things from far away, in an emergency it is your local AM and FM stations and perhaps some more distant AM stations (at night) to bring you the localized info you will really need, so any AM/FM model should be fine. If it also adds SW that’s a small plus. On the other hand both the CC-2E and CC-Skywave have the NOAA Weather band which in weather related emergencies might be more useful, and the CC-2E has the local Ham band which might bring you local emergency info you won’t hear anywhere else.
Q: Is it better to use the external antenna jack or clip to the whip antenna?
A: You don’t say what kind of radio, antenna and installation you have but with most portable radios trial and error is often the best way to determine this for a few reasons. First, there is usually a gain difference between the whip and the aux antenna input on a portable radio. Some Ant in jacks have attenuation to prevent signal overload, and many radios have added gain on the whip not present on the Ant in jack. Second, some radios don’t feed the signal form the Ant. in to all bands…for example, many exclude AM.
Finally, the impedance of the Ant in jack is seldom given for portables but is theoretically lower than the whip input…typically the whip input is high impedance…maybe around 500 ohms and the Ant in closer to low impedance…hopefully around 50 ohms although many portables seem to have a higher ant in impedance. But the impedance of many home antennas is less than certain across the frequency spectrum unless it is a manufactured antenna or it is a proper installation using a balun if needed and coax lead-in. If you are using a random wire and a simple lead-in wire your antenna is high impedance…around 500 Ohms.
Therefore there are many variables at play with respect to gain and impedance differences as well as band coverage differences between the whip and ant in jack. So, all theory aside, if you compare performance using the two methods of connection you will see which seems to work best for you.
The following is one of the most frequently asked questions I receive:
Q: I live in (fill in the blank) town and want to receive station XXXX from YYY miles away. Will (ZZZ) radio receive that station in my location?
A: Unfortunately that’s almost impossible to answer without a lot more information. No one can predict what stations are receivable in your area so some scouting is necessary, but first a bit of background. AM signals travel further at night, so some stations can be heard at great distances…hundreds of miles is common. On the other hand, to reduce interference, other stations are required to reduce power, or change to a directional pattern that does not favor your area. And some stations are required to go off the air completely…they are called daytimers. Therefore, some signals may be receivable where you live only during the day or only at night.
One good way to check this is to see if you can receive the stations you want to hear on your car radio. Most car radios have excellent reception and they operate out in the open, usually away from the kinds of interference in modern homes. If you can receive a given station on your car radio you should be able to achieve the same reception in your home – providing: A ) You have a good radio, and B) You don’t have excessive local interference known as Radio Frequency Interference or RFI. RFI is very often the limiting factor on AM reception…I have an article about RFI at the top of the home page so check that out.
Also, some buildings, such as steel frame offices and apartment buildings, stucco or aluminum siding tend to block AM signals but we’ll discuss how to deal with that in a bit.
If you cannot get the signals you want on your car radio you probably won’t get them on any radio except possibly with some very sophisticated hobbyist antennas which are beyond what most people will be able to muster.
Then you might consider an internet radio which will bring you stations from around the world with ease. It may lack the excitement of actual reception from faraway places but there’s no denying the practicality of it when there’s no other option.
So what if you live in a shielded building as I mentioned? FM signals, because of their shorter wavelengths will usually penetrate such buildings but AM and SW signals will be blocked. In that case you have to import a stronger signal from outside. The best way to do this is with an outdoor antenna. An easier method is to put your radio on a windowsill…you will be amazed how much stronger AM signals will be there. If this is not convenient an antenna such as the C. Crane Twin Coil antenna can be put on the windowsill and connected to your radio several feet away…you’ll also get a big increase in gain which can make a world of difference in some cases. Finally, windowsill placement may also help you reduce that nasty RFI I spoke about.
In the end it’s very much a matter of trial and error to see what works in your location.
Crane Skywave Versus The Digitech AR-1733
I received a somewhat nasty email from a reader who claimed that these two radios are identical, and since he describes the Digitech as “a piece of garbage” that the Skywave must be as well, so how could I rate it so highly?
I can’t totally blame him for jumping to the erroneous conclusion that the two radios must be identical for indeed, they do LOOK identical. We have often seen radios rebadged with different name brands for marketing purposes.
However, in this case, the radios are, indeed, completely different animals. They are based on entirely different DSP chips, cover different bands and in fact, have completely different performance. Whereas I have read that the AR-1733 is not a great radio, I can attest to the fact that the Skyave is a great radio in its class and I’m not the only one saying so…every competent reviewer who has written about the Skywave has been as enthusiastic about it as I was in my review:
So the moral is clear. Don’t assume that because two radios look alike they must be alike…especially when reviewers you trust say they aren’t. You may be wrong!
Sony CRF-5100 Earth-Orbiter Problems
Hello – I read your article at radiojayallen.com, on the Sony Earth-Orbiter 5100. I just purchased one from Craigslist which had been advertised as being in mint condition. Cosmetically the unit looks all right, but when I turned it on, it had the following issues: I can only receive the local AM station at 1260 because I am only a mile from the transmitter. The RF gain control is not the problem because it was all the way “up”. The AM audio is not distorted – it just will not pick up anything beyond the local station. FM was very intermittent, changing from good reception to none at all, without being bumped physically. Shortwave bands seemed okay. The weather band behaved just like the FM, picking up intermittently. The big bandswitch on the side does not seem to be the problem – it does not crackle when switching bands.
I saw your picture of the vertical switches when the radio was disassembled, and your remark that a good cleaning solved the problem for you on your radio, but your problem was on FM. I can probably disassemble the radio to a limited degree, but soldering a circuit board is beyond my ability.
I purchased a service manual for the Sony 5100 online as an acrobat file, but it is very technical, and beyond my abilities. I am hoping for a bit of advice on a simple repair, like taking it somewhere to be cleaned.
Thanks for your excellent online article, and I hope to hear from you on (perhaps) what to try before signing up for expensive repairs.
I’m sorry you’re having this problem…nothing is more disheartening then getting a new (or old) radio only to find it has a problem. The intermittent FM/Weather band issue is almost always caused by the two vertical slide switches I pointed out in the review…cleaning them usually resolves this problem.
Unfortunately, the very weak AM reception problem will probably require expert service and may or may not be easy. With respect to the RF Gain control it should be full CCW in “Normal”.
First rule out the main bandswitches. I would check this again…take a minute with it set to AM, working the knob around the detented AM position to see if there are any blips or bursts of sound. If you are sure the switch is 100% solid and reliable (it could still be bad but will usually show intermittent noise when exercised), I would check that the ferrite rod is not broken – this sometimes happens in shipping and will render the AM just as you describe. Remove the back cover following the disassembly instructions in the service manual and check the rod. If it is broken it can usually be repaired to work 100% as well as new if carefully glued together. Check for a perfect fit between the two halves and use superglue. The perfect fit is necessary for the antenna to work properly without being retuned so get it right and the set should then work properly on AM.
There are a myriad of other possibilities which would require a technician to locate such as a failed component in the AM circuit, a bad solder joint, broken lead wire (possibly from the ferrite rod), a bad adjustment pot or coil etc.
So check the bandswitch and ferrite rod and if you rule those out you will need help getting it fixed…please let me know how you make out with this.
Comparing Apples To Oranges To Peaches
Grundig SAT 750 VS Tecsun PL-660 VS C.Crane CC Radio SW/Redsun RP-2100
Q: I Read your reviews on these models. If price was no factor, which would you take?
A: Hmmm…Interesting question with many aspects to consider. First, I think you would also have to discount their size to make such a choice. Otherwise it’s like asking, if a stretch limo and a small car were the same price, which would you want? In some cases you’d need the limo, but in other cases the smaller car would be much more useful. This raises a point I like to stress often – just as there is no perfect radio, there is also no one best radio. For a radio lover like me, I like many radios for different things, with each having strengths and weaknesses. Which radio is best for you or for a given application is a different question – only be understanding how models compare and differ can you make a choice that will please you. That’s why I laugh at those who have so much ego invested in arguing to the death why their favorite radio is “the best”…that’s a losing game.
To get back to your question, if these radios were the same price and size, here’s how I would decide. If I wanted best AM reception I’d choose the SAT 750 as the PL-660’s AM is its weakest point. For SW the SAT is a hair more sensitive but the PL-660 has synchronous detection which sometimes makes it more desirable. The SAT and PL-660 have Air band, the CC-SW does not. The SAT sounds better due to its size. But since they’re not the same size you have to consider that the PL-660 is much smaller for travel while the SAT 750 is a nice size for an around-the-house or stationary radio.
Here’s another choice that has no one right answer: SAT 750 versus CC Radio-SW/Redsun RP-2100. The Sat has keypad direct entry, AIR and built in SSB, but the CC/Redsun has better audio, better AM and FM, and is half the size and price. Which you prefer has much to do with what you want in a radio.
Q: Jay, I love your site. I’m an old guy who did not get the math gene, so I never had a chance to pursue my major love of electronics as a kid. I have some time now to play around with electronics and look forward to getting into this hobby in a serious way.
I am very interested in what you had to say about aligning the 500H. Could you provide precise instructions or even better, a youtube video of exactly how you did this for us new guys? I have some young kids who are showing an interest in all of this. Hope I can get them as excited as I was at their age about radio stuff.
Did I say I love your site?
A: Ron, Although I could give you the general flow of the alignment procedure, it is spelled out explicitly in the Service Manual and it varies a bit from model to model. It presupposes that you have at least a basic understanding of the circuits being adjusted (otherwise you won’t know if the alignment is going properly or not…there are pitfalls that can lead to poor results), that you use an RF Signal generator and ideally some sort of meter to read the output. An oscilloscope is not usually necessary for simple AM radio alignments although it would work in place of a simple meter.
The service manual also provides diagrams which give you the physical adjustment locations…without that you don’t know which adjustments are which even if you know the procedure. The Royal 500H has 8 adjustment points, and although a seasoned pro might be able to figure out which are which, even he might get stuck on one unusual IF blocking adjustment in the 500H…so you really need the manual. It will also give you the frequency limits which vary from model to model. Again, someone who has aligned hundreds of radios can usually do an AM only portable totally by ear, especially if he is very familiar with what stations are available in that particular area to use as test targets, and get results very close to what he would get with test gear, but if you’ve never aligned a radio before, following the exact procedure with the test gear is much easier than doing it without. And of course, for anything more complex, such as multiband radios, trying to adjust the radio without service info is a bad idea.
If you decide to get the manual and proceed I’ll be happy to help you in any way that I can, but you must start with the service manual. You will also need an RF signal generator and some sort of frequency reference…my signal generator is not very accurate so I use a PLL-tuned radio as a frequency reference along with a frequency counter…alternatively you need a very accurate sig gen so you will be able to generate exactly the right frequencies needed.
Panasonic RF-2200 With Intermittent Switches
Q: Hi Jay.
I’ve got an RF2200 that when selecting SW1 or SW6, I have to manually hold the SW switch selector down hard to get either of those bands to come in. If I let go of the switch, the bands are weak and can barely be heard. Switch positions for SW2 thru 5 work just fine.
Would popping off the switch and spraying a little De-Oxit be advisable to try to resolve this problem…or is this a fix that needs to be performed from inside the radio?
This problem is very common in this radio but it is also easy to fix. But it must be done from inside…spraying the control shafts from the front will not get the cleaner into the band switches at all …you will just make a mess.
But don’t despair…removing the back for access to the switches is easy, and you will see why spraying from the front would have done nothing once you see how the switches are constructed.
Lay the radio on its face on a soft surface such as a folded towel, remove the battery compartment cover and 6 screws (one in the battery compartment). Carefully lift the rear panel away noting that there are three wires which have to be removed…they can only be plugged back in one way so don’t worry about putting them back incorrectly.
Now you can see that the band switches are large, horizontally-running items. I recommend De-Ox-It from Caig Labs as the best switch cleaner/enhancer. Be sure to use Q Tips or paper towels and alcohol to wipe away any spillage…use the least amount of spray possible while working the switches many times…many times back and forth. You should find normal operation restored.
The toggle switches on the front are also usually problematical. Removing the front panel to get at them is also easy. Pull off all the knobs and press downward on the plastic latch in the hole uncovered by the tuning knob and the front panel will pull off. Spray into the switches while working them many times and clean up any spillage.
This should restore your radio to normal operation.
Sangean ATS-909X Questions – Is It Hot Or Not?
I’ve been reading many conflicting reports on this radio. Some say it is very sensitive, others say it is not. Isn’t this likely to be unit-to-unit variations? I also heard there have been upgrades…maybe new units are better than the initial production runs? What do you think? I really want your opinions on this becasue I’ve been reading your columns for years and you are one of the most knowledgeable and balanced reviewers I’ve found. Your expereinces always seem to mirror my own. And I love your new web site!
First, thanks very much for your nice email…I really appreciate it!
The differences of opinion on the ATS-909X (like the ATS-909 before it) are due almost entirely to the way the radio is tested and used rather than unit-to-unit differences…these radios are of high build quality and generally vary very little sample to sample. In a nutshell the radio is not very sensitive to very weak signals on AM or SW on its built-in antennas but you have to compare them with other radios under identical circumstances to see this. If you just use the radio and have no basis for comparison it will seem fine. But put it side by side with any of several competing radios and the Sangean will be very weak on many signals which come in much better on the more sensitive radio. This is true on AM and SW and it has been compared and verified on many samples. This seems to affect very weak signals on the Sangean more than medium strength signals which it seems to receive quite well compared with the other radios I comapred it with.
The Sangean has many plusses too. If you are using it with an external antenna, including the supplied wire antenna, it works very well. With a serious external antenna it also does well for a portable so in this mode it is a good choice. Many happy users of the original model and now the new one report it excellent as a desktop replacement and realize this is its best mode of operation. My only complaints are on stand-alone performance as a portable on AM and SW. It does very well on FM off the whip by the way…it’s FM whip performance is superb.
So when people say they have a 909 or 909X and it works well I don’t disagree…it’s all in how you are using it. No radio is best at everything. But if you compare it side by side with a more sensitive radio (such as a Degen DE-1103) you will see a huge difference in AM/SW reception…it’s very obvious.
Many people get their egos into a “my radio is best” mode and “if you don’t like my radio you must be wrong” attitude. I’ve seen some ridiculusly heated exchanges becasue of this in some of the radio discussion groups. How silly. I have a large radio collection and none is best at everything, even though I love most of them. If you read my reviews you’ll see that I try to present each radio’s strengths and weaknesses to help readers decide what best fits their needs.
Degen DE-1103 vs DE-1106 vs Tecsun PL-660
I intend to buy a portable radio and I am trying to decide between the Degen 1106 and the Degen 1103.
I had the chance to operate a friend’s DEGEN 1103 and it was as you describe. i didn’t like the handling because it has few buttons with a 2 or 3 simultaneous operations via each button. The volume control is a big issue….and after of a few hours of operation/handling Ididn’t get 100% used to it. I also didn’t like the 64 volume steps which don’t alwaya allow fine control at low levels.
I’m curious about the Degen DE-1106 which has a big usable display, a better signal meter,
direct buttons for volume control…(although with only 31 steps) and direct buttons for the most operations. How would you compare the DE-1103 and DE-1106? Is there a big difference in reception/sensitivity/selectivity/audio quality? In your report you have both radios with two ** but I need a more detailed comparison to choose which radio to buy.
Unfortunately no one radio is best at everything but I will compare a few of these competing radios to help you decide because your listening habits will be what makes your final choice once you know their nuances more clearly. I will add the Tecsun PL-660 to the mix because it excels in some areas too.
The DE-1103 will give reception as good as it gets in this size/price class on MW (AM) where it decisively beats all the others. If AM performance is really important to you this is the one to get – period. The only others which match this AM performance are the now discontinued Eton E5/Grundig G5 which delete the faux analog display add buttons for volume control…you may still be able to find one of those.
The Tecsun PL-660 has several advantages, one of them being a real volume control knob which is a real pleasure in use. It also has sync which locks much better than any Grundig G3 or Degen DE-1106 I have seen so it is much more often helpful, as the sync on the G3 and DE-1106 drops out so often as to become annoying in some circumstances. The PL-660 also offers superb SW and FM performance, handles an external SW antenna better than the radios below, and so far seems to have excellent quality control and unit-to-unit consistency…its weakness is AM which is noisier than the radios above. I am a real fan of AM radio so this really bothers me but I like the radio for everything else. It is a joy to use…I don’t really like Up/Down stepping volume controls compared with a real knob with infinite adjustments.
The Degen DE-1106 and Grundig G3 are overall quite similar in performance…they are both made by Degen and I suspect they are more alike internally than externally. Both models have been plagued by inconsistency unit-to-unit and sub-par AM performance compared with the DE-1103/E5/G5…their AM is closer to the PL-660. I have had several samples of each and they varied in overall tonal balance (some are warm and full while others are thin and hissy), sync performance and the degree of digital noises affecting the AM band. If you get a good one they are fine little radios except for slightly sub-par AM and weaknesses locking into sync mode, but you have to be willing and able to swap out a defective unit which rules out mail-order unless you have no other option.
SO…if the very best AM is very important to you I recommend the DE-1103 in spite of the ergonomic issues you mentioned, or a G5/E5 if you can find one. If SW is more important to you I recommend the PL-660 for its great ergonomics and excellent SW and quality control. If you really love the DE-1106 display…and it is a very attractive radio, just be sure you can get a good unit with good audio and few digital noises on the AM band, along with sync that locks when properly tuned to the signal and which holds down to a weak signal level. Otherwise stick with the PL-660…it seems to be a safer bet.
I hope that helps you…as I say…there is no perfect radio. Only by knowing their individual strengths and weaknesses can you make the best choice for you.
Is There One Best Radio Or Antenna?
I have been researching things pretty hard on the Internet, in many ways simply increasing my confusion. However you appear to know what you are talking about and have helped many. I hope that you can advise me and clear up my points of confusion.
My needs: Optimal AM, FM, and SW sensitivity.
FM: I live in the mountains and listen to an FM station (maybe 50-60 miles away) during the day (music and some talk) which is very hard to tune on my 30 year old Sony as it is wedged between two other signals. When I am not getting interference from the station immediately above or below the desired one, the radio actually jumps to one or the other station altogether. It is sheer luck when I can land on the spot where it stays on the desired station and without interference from another.
AM: I work at night and listen to AM talk all night, usually on clear channel stations hundreds of miles away. Additionally, I would love to have the capability to do some decent DXing. Also I would love to be able to pick up “local” AM stations (~50 miles away) during the daytime which I presently cannot (at least not without unbearable background noise). I would also love to have minimal static and/or hum from the wires in the walls and the computer in the room.
SW: I have not had a functioning SW radio in years but would like to resume listening to it, both for DXing and regular daily programming.
Additional: I have never had SSB so I am not sure whether I should regard it as necessary. Air band would be fun to have just for playing around.
After quite a bit of research online, I am inclined toward either the Eton/Grundig Satellit 750 or the C. Crane CCRadio-SW. Which would you prefer? Or is there a better one I am missing? What radio out there best meets my needs?
An interesting thing I saw you discuss with somebody online is antenna setup. Did I understand you to say that even if one buys a C. Crane with built-in Twin Coil Ferrite, one still actually needs to buy the external TCF for optimal reception? You also mentioned loops. Is a TCF always better than a loop? Will a loop add anything to a TCF? What is the optimal antenna setup for the radio which best meets my needs?
One thing that caught my eye about the Satellit 750 is that, although reviews are very mixed, somebody said that it has the best reception without an external antenna of any comparable radio. But even if true, how good is that reception? How much improvement might an external TCF provide? What about an external TCF on a CCRadio-SW? Is there still a marked improvement? Does the internal TCF disconnect when the external TCF is plugged in or does it even matter?
I would appreciate any recommendations you might provide.
Without realizing it, your question is so all-encompassing that it virtually requires me to tell you everything I know about AM/FM/SW radios and antennas in one email, which if course, is not possible. I will try to explain areas you have to be aware of to try to guide you into making some decisions but I cannot give you a single answer to answer all of this. I’m sure you understand.
First, you are asking, “What radio is best for AM and FM and SW? There is no simple answer to that as there is no perfect radio…no radio is best at everything. Every radio of the hundreds I’ve seen has strengths and weaknesses so I can only tell you which radios are generally considered best in certain areas of performance. Next you are asking about external antennas. That will depend on which radio you get and what your areas is like. Then local interference…that is different in each case, as are the ways to deal with it. I can’t recommend a radio which will ignore your local noise…you have to tackle it as best you can and as it matters to you. Huge topics all!
OK. So what CAN I tell you. Well, if you must limit your purchase to one radio to cover all three bands (AM/FM/SW), here are some top radios in no particular order with their strengths and weaknesses.
Eton E1/E1/XM (discontinued but some still available through Universal Radio or on eBay):
Best with external antennas…very good reception on all bands and decent sound. AM Problematical on whip antenna except in the RF quietest areas. Expensive.
Grundig SATELLIT 750: Designed for excellent SW sensitivity off the whip and can handle an external fairly well. Mediocre AM unless you use an external. FM good.
CC Radio-2: Excellent AM/FM reception with built-in antennas…about as good as it gets except in strong signal areas, but no SW. Does have 2 meter HAM and Weather bands. Audio not a strong point on this one…good value for AM/FM.
CC Radio-EP: Similar AM reception to CC Radio-2, slightly weaker FM but still good. But you get much better sound. No digital features or SW. A real AM/FM bargain at $69.95.
CC Radio-SW: Decent SW from the whip but not quite as sensitive as the SAT 750. However its AM is much more sensitive. (See what I mean about no one radio being best at everything?) FM also very good and excellent sound…a good all-around workhorse.
Degen DE-1103 or Tecsun PL-660: In a smaller carry-around portable two of the best on SW and FM. AM better on DE-1103.
There are a few options in used radios on eBay but dealing with used radios is way beyond the scope of this email.
Antennas: I don’t know if you need an external antenna until we know how a known radio performs in your area. Most of the above radios will be much more selective on FM than your old radio so you should not have the problem of trying to separate your favorite FM signals. The CC-2 in particular has a very sensitive selective FM but the others are all very good too.
AM: Again, a very sensitive AM radio like the CC-2 or CC-EP will “hear” every signal that is available in your location, limited only by your local noise (RFI) on their own. Radios which are less sensitive on AM like the SATELLIT 750 or CC-SW will benefit more from a loop antenna or the separate Twin Coil antenna. The passive AM loops such as the Terk, Tecsun, Degen, Select-A-Tenna et al, follow the laws of physics and tend to perform similarly. I have reviewed most of them for you to read about. A larger loop such as the MTM will provide more signal as will the C.Crane Twin Coil. Again, if you chose a less sensitive AM radio in order to get better SW performance, the benefit of the loop will be greater, so get the radio first and see how it does. You can also tackle RFI once you see how good your reception is.
Well…there’s a start for you…I hope I’ve helped you. Feel free to contact me again with specific questions.
Longwire/Random Wire General Questions:
I have ample distance to string a 200’ long-wire antenna outside but it could be strung only 4’ above ground alongside a non-metallic yard fence. Actually, I could string one up to 500’ feet if that would be better. Can this be bare wire or do I need something coated or shielded?
We do have a lot of RF noise sources at our residence such as a 100KW solar power inverter for house electrical power (lots of EMI), many dimmer switches (lots of RFI) and many motors for pond, pool and fountains that run 24/7. None of this equipment interferes with our modern radios or TVs, which is not the case with our AM tube radios.
Maybe I should forget about SW and buy a couple C. Crane Antennas.
An outdoor antenna would be great for you assuming there is lower noise outside your house where the antenna would be. It could work very well for SW as well as AM. You can check for this using a portable radio. Ideally you would tune it to some weaker station which is covered with noise in your house and take a walk out where your antenna might be. Try several frequencies. If the reception is better there…less or no noise and a good signal that is a good spot for your antenna. Such an antenna is often referred to as a longwire antenna but is properly called a random wire…random wires are the simplest wire antennas because they do not have to be cut or tuned to specific frequencies…any reasonable length from perhaps 50 up to hundreds of feet will work well…in practice 50 to 200 feet is a common range. 300 – 500 feet could be incredible but you would probably need a top quality receiver to handle all that signal without overload, and possibly also an external RF attenuator or pre-selector. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First some basics.
One of the good things about random wires is that the details are usually not very critical. 4 feet is not an ideal height…20 – 30 feet would be better, but even at 4 feet a long random wire should be awesome. Any type of wire will do…wires are usually chosen for durability more than electrical differences.
Use plain wire for the antenna itself, but to prevent noise from being picked up on the lead-in wire which comes into your house it is essential to bring that signal in using shielded co-axial cable. If you use a plain lead-in wire much of the low noise properties of your antenna will be lost. You will have to obtain a proper balun matching transformer to convert the high impedance wire to the low impedance coaxial lead-in and you should also install a ground rod at the point where the coax enters your house to bleed off static and protect your equipment. You can research the web to find out some details of this…one good site for this is:
The Twin Coil antenna on the other hand will usually give you the best AM reception you are likely to get inside your house short of an external antenna, and you could also get an extension cord with it to locate the receiving element in the lowest noise spot in or around your home. However, antennas are always trial-and-error. It’s a great antenna and it can sometimes do wonders in reducing nose and amplifying signals better than most indoor AM antennas but whether it will bring you the reception you desire can only be determined by trying it. I own several.
Let me know how you make out!
Tecsun PL-660 vs Sangean ATS-909X
Q: Jay, I love your new website! You are without a doubt one of the most believable radio experts I’ve found and I love your approach to reviewing radios and explaining exactly why you like what you like and don’t like. I’ve taken your advise several times and found you were always right on.
My question is about the Tecsun PL-660 versus the Sangean ATS-909X on Shortwave. In your review you pretty much explain that the PL-660 is as good as it gets on SW in this class of portables. Does that mean it outperforms the ATS-909X which costs more than $100 more?
Yes absolutely. The PL-660 is FAR more sensitive off its whip antenna than the Sangean is. The Sangean looks impressive and is well made but if actual reception as a portable is important to you there is simply no comparison. The Tecsun will receive many signals you will not be able to receive on the Sangean. True, the Sanean works very well with an external antenna but so does the Tecsun, handling external antennas far better than most other portables in this size class. Plus the Tecsun has excellent synchronous detection which holds lock as it should and can sometimes make an enormous difference on a particular signal, both in terms of improving selectivity against an interfering neighboring signal and in terms of reducing the audible results of selective fading.
Thanks for you email!
Grundig G3/Degen DE-1106/Tecsun PL660 Sync Lock Questions
Q: Hi Jay,
I have read your excellent article in Monitoring Times and would appreciate some additional info interpreting the article. I just received a new G3 and need to know if it is performing satisfactorily, particularly in the area of sync detection. My understanding is it should only be used on shortwave and medium wave. I am a longtime amateur radio operator so assume it would not be helpful with ham radio signals—-or would it?
When I use sync detection and press the sync button I see “sync- usb ” on the screen and I can accept that if it sounds ok. Or I can see what lsb sounds like.
But what freaks me out is when I get the “howling” instead of the satisfying sound of the sync locking on.
I like the radio but I get the howling maybe 25-30% of the time. Is this par for the course on what I can expect of a proper functioning G3?
You are correct…sync is used only on SW and MW (AM) bands and is not used when listening to HAMS in Single Sideband (SSB) mode. People often confuse these because sync has Upper and Lower Sideband modes too (and sometimes DSB or Dual Sideband Mode) but those are not the same as Upper and Lower SSB modes.
Your G3 may be less then as good as it should be. The howling means it has lost sync and is trying to re-lock into sync mode. One problem with many of the current crop of radios is that precise tuning is critical for the sync to lock…in other words, you have to be tuned exactly to the signal, say 9410, whereas better sync-equipped radios would allow you to tune between perhaps 9707 and 9413 and still be in sync. The G3, Degen DE-1106 and Tecsun PL-660 all have a very narrow range of sync lock width. Unfortunately, some of these radios are not perfectly aligned, so to lock in sync they have to be off-tuned by 1 KHz, so yours might hold sync lock better if it were tuned to 9409 or 9411. This is, of course, annoying although it can be lived with if it doesn’t drive you crazy. Also, this specific tuning point is likely to vary over time as radios tend to drift a bit with age, temperature, battery voltage etc. So sync lock width is one issue to check. As this is likely to change as I said you might choose to live with a unit that it 1 KHz off but the best samples are right on…I have now checked 6 units and 4 of them were right on.
A more important issue is sync lock depth…how weak the signal can be and still hold sync lock. The earliest G3’s only locked onto relatively strong signals, rendering the sync almost useless because as the signals faded the radio would drop out of sync, then howl, especially when it tried to relock. The best samples hold sync lock down until the signal is almost gone and that’s how it should be.
Of course, even with perfectly working sync there are times it does not help or may worsen a signal…that’s why it is always defeatable, so you have a choice of which mode sounds best with the particular signal you’re listening to.
I hope that helps you.
Zenith Transoceanic D7000Y Dead On AM & SW – Troubleshooting Tips
Q: I plan to look at a Zenith Transoceanic D7000Y, with chassis 500MDR70 this weekend. The owner claims it doesn’t work on AM and SW bands but ok on FM. I see from your website that you have some experience with this model. Do you have any idea of what could cause this particular problem ?
A: Don, First you should rule out the usual problem areas in these sets…dirty bandswitch contacts and poor contact at the plug-in transistor sockets – always check both of these first. After that it could be anywhere in the areas common to AM and SW; the local AM oscillator, Mixer, and IF stages and the detector. Let me know what you find.
Sony 7600GR Vs Modern Sync-Equipped DSP Portables
Q: Hello Mr. Jay! I enjoy your new website!!! I would like you to answer some questions in regards to the new DSP radios-If you please! Are there any radios on the market (mail order or physical radio stores) which can compete against the Sony ICF 7600 GR? The Tecsun PL 390 (and other radios of the same ilk) seem to be resemble cheap Mattel toys of the 1960’s! Can they make a good SW radio with DSP, synchro detection, tuning knob and good build quality that can compete against the Sony icf 7600GR or even the classic Sony icf 2010 of the 1980’s? Can Sony (the most popular and trusted of the radio manufacturers) make a “new” Sony icf 7600 with DSP, keep the synchro, add VHF air band, tuning knob, a bigger LCD display and make it like a miniature Sony 2010? Please add some advice…RSVP! THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A: Whew! There are hours of discussion points in all those questions. There is no clear-cut answer to the first portion because the Sony 7600GR is mechanically made very well and has excellent quality control, whereas most of the current world band portables in a similar price range have lesser quality control, even though some outperform the Sony. You mentioned several models but for the purposes of this discussion let’s stick to models with similar features and in a similar size/price category.
There are three sync-equipped models currently available that compete directly with the 7600GR. They are the Tecsun PL-660, the Grundig G3 and the Degen DE-1106. None has the sample-to-sample consistency of the Sony and that is a sad commentary on the state of things. However, the PL-660 seems to be somewhat better in this regard, even in its initial production run than the other two. But any of the three, assuming a properly functioning sample, outperform the Sony on raw SW reception. Weak signals are stronger on them. If you are listening to a weak signal that is fading in and out, placing the radios side-by-side, you will find that the signal holds on longer on the other three radios than it does on the Sony, and when the signals are audible on all the radios, the Sony is a bit noisier. Now keep in mind we are talking about a side by side comparison which tends to make small differences very noticeable. If you don’t tend to seek out weak signals you may be perfectly happy with the Sony, but if you want to hear the most signals with the least noise, the other three are a bit better. All three also have tuning knobs and all have a bit clearer audio than the Sony…also much better FM reception and AM that is similar or better as well. I would also point out that the now almost-classic DegenDE-1103 is an excellent performing radio on all bands at a bargain price even though it does not have sync.
But YOU have to decide what’s most important to you. BTW…NONE of these radios is anywhere near the quality or performance of the Sony 2010…that’s still a reference portable here. Even the Eton E1, now discontinued, had many superiorities over the Sony 2010 but it also had areas of inferiority…no radio is best at everything. My recommendation is to enjoy each model for what it does well and if you can own more than one, pick the one that does the particular job best at the moment. Searching for one “best” radio will lead you nowhere because that radio doesn’t exist.
As for Sony upgrading the 7600 with all those new features that is highly unlikely. Sony has steadily abandoned the shortwave radio market and with the passing of the 7600GR it looks like that will be it.
Q: I do not know all of the technical measuring tools for sensitivity, but every review I have read on the G3 is that is not nearly as sensitive as the (Sony) 7600 gr and that the G3 does not hold its sync well. Can you comment on this?
There is a lot of variation in the G3’s…I bought three before I got a good one. So there are many reports that are based on people’s experience with a less-than-good sample. It shouldn’t be this way obviously, and we can infer that the G3 is a risk. That said, I can report on how a properly operating G3 works.
It will beat a 7600GR easily on SW…it is much more sensitive. It is also much better on FM…more sensitive and much more selective. They aren’t even in the same category. They are closer on AM…the G3 is as good or better over most of the band but is perhaps just a tad weaker than the Sony above 1200 KHz.
The sync on a good G3 holds very well and can be a big help as it is on the Sony. It does tend to drop out prematurely on bad samples though. On a good G3 the sync will lock when the station is precisely tuned in – it should not require being off-tuned at all, and will hold lock almost until the signal fades to nothing. So the thing with the G3 is to be sure you get a good one and if it doesn’t perform as it should, get a replacement.
Or get the Sony. No QC issues…they all work pretty much the same (which is as it should be), but it’s been somewhat eclipsed by newer models. And it sounds rather midrangy too. I don’t use mine much anymore.
I might recommend a Degen DE-1103 to you. Decent quality control and superb reception on all bands. It doesn’t get any better in this size but you have to put up with the quirky volume control arrangement.
I hope that helps you…it’s never black and white.
Q: I received my ATS-909X this week and am very satisfied with it. I’m not sure I understand the reports of poor sensitivity for this portable radio that some are reporting. I’ve only had two or three other shortwave portables before this one, and the 909X clearly outperforms them. Maybe my expectations are different. Last night listening on 41 and 31 meters I stopped counting stations after I hit 40. This morning I was able to pick up quite a few stations between 21 and 13 meters. I have not yet connected an external antenna. This is not what I would call being “deaf” off the whip.
A: This seeming contradiction can be easily explained. The term “Deaf” as used in relation to other radios which are more sensitive…it would be more accurate to say hard of hearing rather than deaf which implies it would hear nothing.
With any properly working, decent radio, as you tune around you will find many strong listenable signals. Even the cheapest $30 analogs will do this. But if you compare quality radios, side by side, under identical circumstances you will begin to see difference, and that is what people are describing.
For example, take a relatively “whip sensitive” portable like the Degen DE-1103 (about $100). Set it next to an ATS-909X and start to compare AM or SW reception on as many signals as you can. Under those direct comparisons you will see that many stations which are weak on the 909 will be stronger on the DE-1103. The DE-1103 will be able to receive some faint signals you simply will not find on the 9009X. So it’s more accurate to say the 909X is not very sensitive (on SW or AM) with its built-in antennas, but you need some basis of comparison to see that. This does not mean the 909 is a bad radio as it has many strengths which have been well documented here. It’s never balck and white…there is no best radio. The 909 is very good with external antennas, it’s god a good Fm section even on the whip, it sounds nice and has great aesthetics.
I hope that clarifies it a bit for you.