Sangean PR-D17 AM/FM Radio for the Visually Impaired
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 envisioned 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 (which can be set for English or Spanish voice prompts, and I expect there are different language versions available in other parts of the world) telling you which button you have pressed and what the resultant operation is. Very cool indeed. Here are some examples of the voice prompts I heard:
“Power On – AM Band – 100% Battery Level – AM Eight Eight Zero (880)”
“Power Off – 100% Battery Level”
“Recall the Preset 4 AM One Zero Eight Zero (1080)”
“Recall the Preset 1 FM 88.9”
When Tuning Up or Down you hear “One Zero Nine Zero”
“AM Band/FM Band FM 88.5”
Pressing the Display Button you get “It Is 9:12 AM Battery Level 100%”
“Sleep Timer 60 Minutes”
“Set the Alarm”
“Set the Time”
“Switch FM To Mono – Switch FM To Stereo”
“Seek Up AM/Seek Down AM One Zero One Zero (1010)”
Clearly, they thought this out very well. I tried operating the radio with my eyes closed and after a short familiarization I felt confident with what I was able to do with it. Externally the PR-D17 shares the same cabinet as the HDR-16 as you can see in the side by side pictures but they are completely different radios internally, and although the PR-D17 lacks the HD capability which makes the HDR-16 special, the PR-D17 actually outperforms the HDR-16 on analog AM reception as we shall see. They are approximately equal on FM which is good news. More on this later.
FM 87.5 – 108 MHz with RDS & Stereo
Dedicated Stereo Mono Switch on left side of radio
AM 522 – 1710 KHz (9 KHz) / 520-1710 (10K)
200mm/7.874” AM Ferrite Rod antenna
FM Whip Antenna
High Contrast Bright Yellow Buttons with braille and raised symbols
Memory Presets 5 FM/5 AM
Stereo Earphone Out Jack 1/8”/3.5mm
Aux-In Jack 1/8”/3.5mm
Clock 12/24 Format/Alarm with Humane Wake to Radio or Buzzer
Power Output 1W x 2 (Owner’s manual however specs it at 800 ma x 2)
Speakers: 2 ½” x 2 (8 ohm)
Power: DC Input Jack/AC Adapter Supplied (9 Volt 0.7A center Pin Positive) or
6 C Cells (not supplied) 700 ma
LED Low Battery Indicator
Size: 10.24”/260mm x 5.35”/136mm x 2.48”/63mm
Weight: 2lb 0.3oz/915 kg
In Use: The PR-D17 is easy to learn. The Tuning knob and Menu buttons allow easy initial setup and use and the voice prompts are great for guiding those who can’t see the controls or the display. The volume of those voice prompts can be set independently of the listening volume. Memories are as simple as it gets. Tune to a station, press and hold a Memory Button and the radio will set that frequency to that memory (and tell you about it). A quick press recalls it…no pages to wade through. You can tune Up or Down via the Tuning Knob, and if you press Seek it will seek either Up or Down, determined by the last direction you had turned that knob. FM RDS displays station and program information when available and can be used for Auto Clock Set if you choose, or you can set the time manually. Again, voice prompts guide you through the simple process.
Sangean specifies battery life at 70 hours when used 4 hours a day. The supplied AC Adapter is similar to the ones Sangean has been providing for a few years now – it is a switching type wall wart but is well designed and so produces almost no noise on AM, although, as with any type of AC power supply, you will almost always get slightly better AM reception on battery power. Keep the radio a few feet away from the power supply for best AM reception.
The fold down handle makes carrying the radio very easy.
Performance: More good news – The PR-D17 acquitted itself very well in terms of AM and FM reception. The AM rates 4 Stars in the AM Mega Shootout article (slightly beating the HDR-16 but just slightly below the PR-D4W) while the FM rates ***** on the FM Mega Shootout list…as good as it gets. It also demonstrated good AM clarity on weaker stations with no muffling or bandwidth reduction on weaker signals compared to some other radios.
FM Stereo is of course a bit limited due to the close speaker spacing of such FM stereo portables but still, when nearby the stereo effect was great, and the dedicated Stereo/Mono slide switch on the left side of the radio was very easy to use…again, no menus needed. Sound through earbuds was excellent as well.
I only have one complaint and it is the same one which affects many of Sangean’s radios – those tapered Tuning and Volume knobs look very neat but they are hard to grasp…even though they are made of grippy rubber they nevertheless tend to slip out of your fingers, especially the Tuning knob. If these were straight rather than tapered the radio would be easier to operate with one hand…as it is I tend to use my left hand to steady the radio as I tune with my right hand. Admittedly not a huge problem but one that could so easily be remedied.
One other note – since the radio follows all button/knob operations with a voice prompt, this means you have to wait for the prompt to end before you get audio, so band scanning is not as fast as it would be without those prompts. I don’t think that any vision-impaired user will complain about this…it seems like a small price to pay for the advantages it gives.
Conclusion: The PR-D17 is the first radio of its kind I have seen and it should be a wonderful advancement in ease of use for the visually impaired. And even for those with no vision problems it is still a great performing, easy to use radio very good AM and FM reception and built-in stereo speakers. Over the years Sangean has impressed me with their overall quality and this new radio seems solid and well made, and I congratulate Sangean for providing a radio to help those with poor or no vision. It should give many years of faithful service.