Sony ICF-P27 AM/FM Pocket Portable
And A comparison with the previous ICF-P26
The Sony ICF-P27 is a very basic small AM/FM portable radio which is well suited for non-critical use where size and weight are of prime concern. It replaces the similar-looking ICF-P26 which may still available at increasing prices as a discontinued model…the ICF-P27 is currently selling for $23.88 (as of Sept 2022) at Amazon and the other usual retailers.
The Sony ‘P27 appears virtually identical to the outgoing ‘P26 but is a total internal redesign using a DSP chip whereas the P26 was all analog. For a full look at the ICF-P26 read my original review here…much of it pertains to the new ICF-P27 as well.
OK: So, the ICF-P27 looks almost the same as the ‘P26 but how do they compare?
That of course is the big question and I will give you a detailed comparison of the two radios but I must start by saying that these are definitely entry-level radios and despite some distinctions between them they are more alike than different. That is to say, although there are differences here and there, they both rate * on the AM and *** on FM Mega Lists.
The main visible difference you will note is that the P27’s FM dial is squeezed to less than the full width of the dial face which makes it a bit tougher to know where you are on the FM band. This is the result of the DSP chip Sony uses. The reason is that this model is also produced in a Japanese version which has FM band coverage from 76 – 108 MHz and in that version the FM dial looks normal. Evidently it would have been cost prohibitive to modify the design to spread the smaller 88 – 108 MHz band in the US version. Still, it is a shame they couldn’t compensate for this as they had on previous models.
DSP vs Analog PLL Design: The original ICF-P26 was PLL analog-tuned whereas the ICF-P27 is a DSP design and this causes some differences in tuning behavior. Whereas a true analog radio can tune smoothly across a signal, DSP designs by definition tune in discreet steps. The best DSP radios have very fine steps which simulate an analog feel, or they may be set to tune only in 10 KHz steps in the US – 800-810-820 etc. You can’t fine tune these but you should always be perfectly tuned. The worst designs can exhibit false peaks between the true peaks, complicating the tuning process.
Sony did a good job at this price point in the ‘P27. Although clearly it does not tune as continuously as the ‘P26 it nevertheless seems natural and easy to tune properly on both AM and FM. It would not be good for making fine side-tuning adjustments as some hard-core DXers might require but for an under $25 portable I can’t fault it. It is easy to use and does not confuse you with false tuning peaks…plus the tuning Indicator gives a visual confirmation of proper tuning.
Performance: I first compared their AM reception and had some interesting results. Initially I thought the ‘P27 was slightly less sensitive than the older ‘P26 but it turned out that the ‘P27 was actually a bit better at the lower end of the AM dial while the ‘P26 was slightly better at the top part of the band. My particular ‘P26 also had a mild het on 590 KHz but I discovered no other hets on either set. But remember, this could possibly vary a bit sample to sample and in any case, it was never a matter of hearing a station or not…it was always a case where the station was slightly louder on one than the other.
FM reception was also very close but here the ‘P27 seemed slightly better. It was slightly more selective in separating stations near each other on the dial and it also seemed better at rejecting a few spurious images which appeared on the ‘P26. Again, it was usually tricky to find instances of this but in a few cases the ‘P27 held onto a tough signal clearly while the ‘P26 was more finnicky in orienting the radio and antenna to keep the signal clear.
Sound is not a strong point here as you would expect. Possibly the larger holes in the ‘P27’s speaker grille are responsible for the differences but there is also a completely different amplifier which may also sound a bit different. Regardless of the reasons, what I found is that the ‘P26 has a slightly crisper sound which I generally preferred on AM while the ‘P27 is just a hair warmer sounding which I generally preferred on FM. Either one sounds OK on its own…you would have to have them side by side to notice the difference. I did note that the ‘P27 has a bit less volume at the earphone jack than the ‘P26. These radios are both mono but have stereo earphone jacks so you will get sound form both sides of stereo earbuds.
As a reality check I compared the ICF-P27 with the very popular ICF-S10MK2 which Sony sold for many years, sometimes at incredibly discounted prices as low as $10 – $16. The older model had somewhat stronger audio but the ‘P27 outperformed it both on AM (with slightly better sensitivity and weak station reserve volume) and on FM with better selectivity.
Conclusion: With the new Sony ICF-P27 Sony has switched to a DSP design while keeping tuning behavior as close to the original as practical at the price and in that I would say they have succeeded. The ‘P27 is slightly better on FM while on AM the two models vary depending on which part of the band you are on. And although the ‘P26’s analog tuning characteristic is preferable for band scanning the ‘P27 does a good job with a natural tuning feel and it is a radio you could have a lot of fun with.