Sony ICF-P26 – ICF-P36 – ICF-306 AM/FM Portables
In this review we’ll take a look at three inexpensive, entry level Sony compact portables. The smallest, the ICF-P26 was already reviewed in the Pocket Portables Article where you can see how it compares with several other pocket-sized radios.
It is currently selling for $19.99 on Amazon and the other usual sources but these prices tend to fluctuate slightly.
Just slightly larger is the ICF-P36, surprisingly selling for about the same price right now at Amazon.
The ICF-306 is the largest of these three at the size of a small paperback book and is currently selling for $38.95 at Amazon.
Make no mistake about it, none of these matches the slightly larger and more expensive portables I recently reviewed…the ICF-506 – ICF-19 and ICF-801, which are a bit larger and sell at higher prices. Nevertheless, any of these three could be a fun-sized companion for backpackers, sporting events or anyone who requires a small, lightweight set to keep in touch with AM/FM broadcasts. There is also something magical to me about catching a ballgame on a small radio which reminds me of the pocket portables of my childhood.
The ICF-P26 is a vertical design – a true pocket radio. It is a manually-tuned analog radio, using Sony’s CXA1019S IC which includes almost all of the radio’s critical circuitry. This chip predates DSP chips but still allows for great unit-to-unit consistency and ease of assembly.
It is easy to use with a slider for Off/AM/FM on the right side, a tuning thumbwheel just above it and a volume thumbwheel on the left. There are two LEDs, one for Power and the other a Tune indicator which illuminates when a station is properly tuned in. Although it is a mono unit it has a stereo earphone jack so you will get audio through both sides of your earbuds. There is also a swivel rod antenna for FM.
Basic performance was quite good for a radio that usually sells for under $20. Although it doesn’t compare with more sophisticated radios it is good enough that your usual local and regional AM and FM stations will come in fine on it. It is not as good at separating weaker signals sandwiched between stronger ones as more expensive radios are but one doesn’t expect that kind of performance here. Overall it does a credible job and for the money delivers what I would expect in terms of reception and sound quality. On FM, sensitivity was very good, but selectivity was sometimes improved by shortening or even collapsing the rod antenna.
The ICF-P36 looks like the ‘P26 flipped it on its side to create a horizontal format radio. It is incrementally larger…about ¼” deeper and perhaps an inch longer. It uses either the same or a very similar Sony chip as the ‘P26. Controls and amenities are the same although they are laid out a bit differently with the tuning now on the top. I carefully compared the ‘P36 with the ‘P26 and found the ‘P36 just a hair more sensitive on AM and about the same on FM. On very faint signals, ones you would not likely want to listen to, the ‘P36 played a bit louder and was just slightly less noisy. Really it was just a tiny bit better but side by side you could hear the difference even though it was slight. The ‘P36 maintained louder volume as signals grew very weak. On medium and stronger signals, they seemed to receive similarly, and again, I could discern no meaningful difference between their FM performance. Finally, the ICF-P36 had slightly bigger sounding audio than the ‘P26. Again, not a huge difference, but obvious on side by side companions. If you don’t require the slightly smaller, vertical pocket design of the ‘P26 the ‘P36 would seem to be a slightly better choice.
The ICF-306 is the big brother of these three. As you can see in the pictures it is a paperback book sized radio and as such does offer somewhat smoother sounding audio than the two smaller siblings. In fact, this is its primary advantage over the ICF-P36 – better sound. In terms of actual AM/FM reception it was so close to the ‘P36 that I have to say there was no observable difference other than that which the better audio created…sometimes a noisy signal seemed a bit less noisy because the sound was less bright and did not emphasize the noise as much. Yet actual reception was the same. Therefore, I recommend the ‘301 for its better sound quality unless size is the dominant factor.
Conclusion: At these prices it’s hard to find fault with any of these radios. They all deliver exactly what I would expect of them. The ICF-P26 is the shirt pocket sized choice and it works pretty well. It is certainly better than most of the shirt pocket radios I grew up with and it includes FM which they didn’t. The ICF-P36 is just slightly larger and slightly better on AM and sound. The largest model, the ICF-306 matches the ‘P36 in reception but has better audio due to its larger size. At these prices any of these is a great way to keep in touch wherever your travels may take you…even if it’s as close as your own back yard.
Jay Allen October 2017
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