Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Shortwave Primer

Panasonic RF-2200
I had a fellow Ham ask about Shortwave listening the other day, and I told him I would put together a collection of links and radio reviews.  A lot of this is my own opinion, but much of it from reading the sites listed below.  Enjoy!

I've been listening since I was a little kid.  My first radios were National Panasonic analog models, given to me by a family friend.  I have owned many of the legendary portables from the 70's and 80's including the Panasonic RF-2200, Sony ICF-6500W, Sony ICF-2010, and Sony ICF-SW7600GR.

Current inventory:  Radio Shack DX-160, Redsun RP-2000, Tecsun PL-390, Eton E100, Degen DE-1123, Degen DE-321, Sony ICF-SW20, Kchibo D96L, Bulova 885.  The first SW radio I ever bought (at age 15 I think) was given
to my late brother Paul, and is still in use in my sister-in-law's home, the previously mentioned Panasonic RF-2200.

Good online info for the hobby:  great starting point
The SWLing post (blog)
Herculodge (posts about radio, watches, and more)
Prime Time Shortwave (schedules):

I belong to a group called Ultralight DX at Yahoo.  They are primarily for AM DXing on very small radios, but a great resource for SWLers too, since most of the radios are AM/FM/SW, and many of the members are also SWLers.  Lots of MW and LW antenna projects too.  Here are some links for them:

the ultralight DX file area of DXER.CA has reviews of some of these and a little tech talk:
The Ultralight DX group on Yahoo is more for AM DXing but frequently has reviews on these radios:
One of the members of the group, Tao Qu, has an eBay store that comes highly recommended:

Monitoring Times
There are 2 magazines:
Popular Communications (not my favorite. published by the same people who publish CQ-Amateur Radio
Monitoring Times (much better than PopComm for SW listeners, but a bit campy at times)
both are available at Barns & Noble usually

World Radio TV Handbook
2 Good Books (published annually) :
The World Radio TV Handbook (2012 edition just came out)
Klingenfuss Guide (never had one, but many SWLers swear by it)


There are several main categories of radios these days.  I will list what the reviewers say overall about some, and indicate which ones I own or have owned.  I tend to buy and sell a lot just to try things.

Tecsuns and Degens are available on eBay (usually from Sino Radio store) or from Amazon

Grundig S450 DLX
I won't cover the large professional ones.

Larger portables:
Redsun RP-2100 / C. Crane CCradioSW:  Good sounding, and sensitive. I own a Redsun RP-2000 which is a 2100 without memories.  Build quality is so-so
Grundig S350 / Tecsun BCL-2000 and BCL-3000: An analog with digital readout. Great audio so-so performer
Grundig S450 DLX: This is a Grundig version of the Redsun. Re-designed, and better quality.  Sometimes goes on sale cheap.
The Redsuns and Grundig 450 DLX models can accept an SSB adapter, but otherwise no SSB on any of these.  I have a spare SSB adapter for them.

Sideband, book sized:
Grundig G3 - Degen DE-1106:  Degen makes this radio for Grundig.  Has SSB and also Synchronous mode.  
Tecsun PL-660:  This is Tecsun's Synch mode radio.  Also has SSB.  Supposed to be a better radio than the G3/1106
Tecsun PL-660
Sony ICF-SW7600GR:  This is one of the best made.  Not as sensitive as the radios above, but best Synch detector and built like a tank
Degen DE-1103, Kaito KA-1103:  These are inexpensive book-sized radios with SSB. Rated very high for performance, but have strange ergonomics
Degen DE-1102, Kaito KA-1102:  A little different than above, not as good a performer, but better ergonomics
Tecsun PL-600: Basically the 660 without Synch
Grundig G4000a: oldie but goodie.  A little dated, but good performer.  Bargain at $89 from Universal Radio
Sangean makes several radios in this range, but they have fallen out of favor lately

A little smaller:
Tecsun DSP portables:  These use a Silicon Labs radio-on-a-chip that is VERY impressive.  These are the most sensitive radios with just a whip that I own.  Amazing on AM and FM too.  Has 4 to 5 bandwidth settings.  Most have lots of memories and some form of auto tune.  Some of the newer ones have a feature called ETM which scans all of the bands, and saves any readable station to a bank of separate memories from the main memory.  None of these have SSB.
Here they are:  
PL-300 - Grundig G8:  no keypad, decent but limited
PL-310 - Larger AM ferrite but no ETM
PL-380 - ETM with smaller ferrite
Tecsun PL-606
PL-606 - no keypad, 4 bandwidths, tiny, but performs like the 390. ETM.  cheap!
PL-505 - similar to 606 with slightly different styling
PL-390 - Stereo version of 380 with even longer ferrite than 310 and ETM. This is the one I have.  Amazing radio.

PL-398 series - 2 different models similar to the 390.  One version has an MP3 player with an SD slot, the other lets you play a Bluetooth device through it.
PL-360 - Mini version.  Shaped like a TV remote.  less performance but fits anywhere for travel

Degen DSP portables:  Degen for some reason uses the DSP chips to make ridiculously small radios.  Super thin.  Not as good performing as the large ones, but great for travel.  I keep one in my backpack.  Many have MP3 players, but also record to MP3 with an electronic timer like an old VCR.  I think the model of mine is DE-1123

Degen is about to release a new radio, the DE-1128, which looks a lot like the Tecsun PL-398 series.  They will NOT be selling an English language version under agreement from Grundig which will be selling their own version called the G2

I have a few others worth mentioning.  I have the older version of the Tecsun PL-210, which is sold as the ETON E100, or Grundig G100.  Tiny non-dsp radio that performs great
I used to own a SONY ICF-2010.  the 2010 is known as one of the best SW portables ever made.  They don't go cheap, but are worth it.  The first Synchronous portable.  
Tecsun PL-390
I have a Degen DE-321 which is a DSP-tuned analog radio.  Interesting little thing.  The tuning circuit is actually just a variable resistor.  Dirt cheap and works well.  Very few components.  most of the radio is on 1 chip.

Purchase recommendations:

1 Radio:  Tecsun PL-660
1 Radio on a budget: Tecsun PL-390
2 Radios (small): Tecsun PL-660 and Tecsun PL-606 or 505
2 Radios (larger): Tecsun PL-660 and Grundig S450 DLX
3 Radios: Tecsun PL-660, Grundig S450 DLX and Tecsun PL-606 or 505

73 and good DXing!

1 comment:

Ron said...

Great post! I'm linking to it.