Seeking Thoughts on a Radio for a Beginner AM DX'er

yeti1963

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Jun 29, 2023
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Hi. Years ago, when I was a kid, I used to do AM dx'ing and really enjoyed it. I want to get back into it and am trying to decide what my first radio should be. I don't want to spend over $100 and it seems like there are a number of good options even at that price. I could see myself buying something better if I find I am really enjoying it, but figure better to start relatively inexpensively. I'm looking at a few Tecsun and Sangean models, a C Crane CC Skywave and a used Grundig S350DL. None of them seem to me to be clearly better than the others so I would really appreciate folks thoughts and suggestions. Thank you very much!!
 

mmckenna

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I am a lineman for the county.
If you are looking for used, I've been using the Sangean 803 (also sold as the Radio Shack DX-440) off and on since the 1990's. You can often find them used on eBay for reasonable prices.
I've always had good experiences with these radios. They'll cover everything from 150KHz up to 29.999MHz, as well as the FM broadcast band. It has an external antenna jack as well as a pretty decent internal antenna.

Not the "best", but pretty darn good and if you can find one at a decent price, it's a fun radio. At one point there were a few of them on eBay well under $100.

I sold my original one and I kicked myself for years. A co-worker had two of them and gifted me his spare.
 

K0WWX

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If you are not adverse to using a SDR with a computer or a laptop, I'd recommend the Airspy HF+ Discovery with a simple antenna and free software like SDR console. It retails for about $169, so more than your $100, but in my opinion it will outperform almost any standalone radio you can buy for AM DXing, regardless of price. Plus, you can look for the signals at the waterfall, a huge advantage. It revived my interest in AM DXing again a few years ago.

If you don't want an SDR, to get a good summary of all the standalone AM portable radios, see the Jay Allen mega shoot out results:

 

Boombox

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Ditto on the Sangeans. I would suggest the PR-D4W. Great sound, some adjustable bandwidths on MW, easy to use, performs as well if not better than Sangean's other models (I have a PR-D5, PR-D14, and PR-D18). Will go 120 hours or more on 4 D Cells. Also does well on FM (stereo through headphones). Has weather band. Mine gets the local Weather NOAA station without even extending the whip antenna. Awesome.

I had read nothing but good reviews on it, and when I finally got one a couple months ago, I was pleasantly surprised. Only "glitch" is that the radio takes 4 seconds to peak to the frequency every time it is changed. I.e., you turn to 1560, it will peak the radio's DSP circuitry to the antenna for that frequency and it takes roughly 3-4 seconds for it to maximise the signal.

But it is a terrific radio. Makes DXing great again. Switch it on, plug in a decent pair of headphones into the jack (I use a $20 set of Sonys), and tune to a DX channel, and it's impressive sounding.

The PR-D15 that a29zuk suggests is probably really good, too. It's a twin coil, 200mm loopstick radio like the PR-D5, except it's reportedly better on FM and it has tone controls, which helps on the AM side.

The prices on most Sangean AM-FMs are reasonable, too.

RE: The Sangean 803 / Radio Shack DX440 -- I have one and it's great on MW. Because I live in a narrow valley a loop helps. Great radio, though.
 

cistercian

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Hi. Years ago, when I was a kid, I used to do AM dx'ing and really enjoyed it. I want to get back into it and am trying to decide what my first radio should be. I don't want to spend over $100 and it seems like there are a number of good options even at that price. I could see myself buying something better if I find I am really enjoying it, but figure better to start relatively inexpensively. I'm looking at a few Tecsun and Sangean models, a C Crane CC Skywave and a used Grundig S350DL. None of them seem to me to be clearly better than the others so I would really appreciate folks thoughts and suggestions. Thank you very much!!
Best bang for buck is the Sangean PR-D4W. Excellent audio, excellent sensitivity on AM, variable bandwidths. No tuning knob...up down switches and seek function. I paid 66 dollars for mine. Highly recommended.
I also have a Sangean PR-D15 which is also an excellent AM DX machine. The longer 200mm antenna in it produces better nulls than the D4W.
At the very edge in daytime testing it is a tiny bit more sensitive. Tuning knob also capable of 1 kc steps unlike the D4W. A bit wider than the D4W and has 2 speakers...BUT the audio quality is not very good. Volume changes via a knob but it is an encoder so it changes in steps.
With sensitive phones there is circuit hiss too. Audio via speakers is pedestrian...but that being said it is an excellent radio for AM DXing and has great audio recovery. AGC is slow so it is well behaved when the band is noisy and there is rapid fade. It also does not mute while tuning. It has soft muting but it is easily turned off via menu. Way faster to tune up and down the band fast manually than the D4W because the peaking function in the D4W is slow and takes 2 seconds minimum...per frequency change. The AGC in the D4W is fast...and the signal strength meter requires a huge amount of signal to indicate. It makes it more of a challenge when using an inductively coupled loop to tune the external loop well.

For program listening the D4W is epic and if you want to sit on a frequency and see what fades in and out it is excellent too.
I consider both receivers excellent for DXing but to listen to for extended sessions on cool programs the D4W is fantastic. Rapid fade sounds horrible with it though. The D15 cost me 88 dollars vs 66 for the D4W.
Google Radiojayallen and then choose either of the sangeans. And feel great at how much you saved over a much more expensive radio that is only a bit better.
I am glad I own both BTW. And together they cost less than a cc crane 3 or 2e.
I use tenergy centura NIMH cells in both of my radios and charge them with a Sky RC MC3000. They run a long time.

Either one of these radios will blow your mind performance wise. They are excellent receivers.

I hope this helps.
 

cistercian

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I should add that I searched for years trying to find a smaller am portable than my old GE portable a 7-2990
which is a huge multiband radio that is only nominally portable. It turns out is is an "improved" Panasonic
RF-2600 which helps explain why it was so good. It is an epic performer but its HUGE. The sangeans perform so well
that after comparison testing it now gets used seldom. First rig I typically grab is the D4W. With NIMH D cells it is heavy
but so much smaller than the GE and so close to it in performance it makes for just that much more fun.
The GE is still worth about 250 dollars even now. I paid 178 for mine in 1985...over 500 dollars today figuring inflation.
Since I have many excellent desktop receivers as well the only thing I lacked was a smaller AM portable that performed well.
The sangeans fit that need perfectly.
My Sangean ats909x2 is a great radio but is deaf on AM compared to the D15 or D4W. No comparison at all!!!
 

MUTNAV

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Maybe a TECSUN PL-380. I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned yet... (<$50 on Amazon)

Youtube has reviews (of various qualities) for some of these radios also.

Are you willing to make modifications? If so, a 3" Ferrite Sleeved Loop (FSL) can be added to it for some real performance (I haven't, but the reviews are very good for it).

Thanks
Joel
 

a29zuk

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I also have a Sangean PR-D15 which is also an excellent AM DX machine. The longer 200mm antenna in it produces better nulls than the D4W.
At the very edge in daytime testing it is a tiny bit more sensitive. Tuning knob also capable of 1 kc steps unlike the D4W. A bit wider than the D4W and has 2 speakers...BUT the audio quality is not very good. Volume changes via a knob but it is an encoder so it changes in steps.
With sensitive phones there is circuit hiss too. Audio via speakers is pedestrian...but that being said it is an excellent radio for AM DXing and has great audio recovery. AGC is slow so it is well behaved when the band is noisy and there is rapid fade. It also does not mute while tuning. It has soft muting but it is easily turned off via menu. Way faster to tune up and down the band fast manually than the D4W because the peaking function in the D4W is slow and takes 2 seconds minimum...per frequency change. The AGC in the D4W is fast...and the signal strength meter requires a huge amount of signal to indicate. It makes it more of a challenge when using an inductively coupled loop to tune the external loop well.



Either one of these radios will blow your mind performance wise. They are excellent receivers.

I hope this helps.
And I agree here. The biggest drawback for the PR-D15 is its audio.
For DXing it doesn't bother me. If you want to listen to programming for long periods of time it can be fatiguing.
Even with the treble at +5 and the bass at -5 it still has a muddy sound.
The little Tecsun PL600 sounds so much better but can't hold a candle to the Sangean DX wise.

Jim
 

WA8ZTZ

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My first recommendation would be the CCrane CC Radio 2E... no contest.
However, it is beyond your price limit. So, next choice would be the CCrane Radio EP.
It's old school analog dial but very sensitive and no hint of soft muting on my receiver.
If you gotta have digital tuning, look at the Sangean PR-D15... big loopstick, very sensitive,
but may be priced beyond your range... shop around.
IMHO, stay away from the used 350.
 
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MUTNAV

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Just for info. There are a lot of organizations for MW DXing,



It's kind of a hobby for a lot of people, and the definition for the radios (though a little different now, price wise) is one that costs less than $50 and can fit in a pocket.

Some people get a kick out of modifying them for improved performance


I don't know if this helps.

Thanks
Joel
 

cistercian

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And I agree here. The biggest drawback for the PR-D15 is its audio.
For DXing it doesn't bother me. If you want to listen to programming for long periods of time it can be fatiguing.
Even with the treble at +5 and the bass at -5 it still has a muddy sound.
The little Tecsun PL600 sounds so much better but can't hold a candle to the Sangean DX wise.

Jim

When I remove batteries I have to go through the menu to reset treble and bass which is normal. I noticed the audio was worse so I checked the loudness...which defaults to ON. Turning it off greatly improves clarity on the D15. I hear on the D5 it is on by default and can't be changed. This alone makes the 15 a big improvement. I am using +3 on treble and +2 or 3 on bass with the loudness off and it is pretty good.
The D4W is still much nicer sounding!
 

a29zuk

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When I remove batteries I have to go through the menu to reset treble and bass which is normal. I noticed the audio was worse so I checked the loudness...which defaults to ON. Turning it off greatly improves clarity on the D15. I hear on the D5 it is on by default and can't be changed. This alone makes the 15 a big improvement. I am using +3 on treble and +2 or 3 on bass with the loudness off and it is pretty good.
The D4W is still much nicer sounding!
You can just press the volume button to go right straight to the bass and treble settings on the 15.
I haven't checked the loudness setting, though. Thanks for the tip.

Jim
 

Boombox

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To eliminate the battery removal re-setting the radio you could plug in the AC adapter when changing batteries.

On the other side of the coin, if the PR-D15 is like the PR-D5, PR-D14 and PR-D18, having the radio see power for extended periods (months or so) can cause the firmware controlling the buttons to glitch. A re-set (i.e. depowering the radio completely) fixes it.
 

cistercian

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To eliminate the battery removal re-setting the radio you could plug in the AC adapter when changing batteries.

On the other side of the coin, if the PR-D15 is like the PR-D5, PR-D14 and PR-D18, having the radio see power for extended periods (months or so) can cause the firmware controlling the buttons to glitch. A re-set (i.e. depowering the radio completely) fixes it.
That is what I do when resetting the bass/treble. I should have just said they were volatile. I do set them via the vol knob press.
The loudness is via the menu system however...and turning it off is a big improvement in clarity.
I have never used the AC adapters on either radio. I don't like series charging NIMH cells so that rules out using it on the 15 and
the D4W can't charge its batteries. AC line noise here is hideous so NIMH all the time for me.
 

Boombox

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That is what I do when resetting the bass/treble. I should have just said they were volatile. I do set them via the vol knob press.
The loudness is via the menu system however...and turning it off is a big improvement in clarity.
I have never used the AC adapters on either radio. I don't like series charging NIMH cells so that rules out using it on the 15 and
the D4W can't charge its batteries. AC line noise here is hideous so NIMH all the time for me.
I use a Sangean PR-D5 and it's always on the AC supply. No noise. The power supply (it may be the old-school kind with the transformer, i.e. non switching) is about five feet from the radio. My PR-D14 also runs off its Sangean AC power supply, which is about 2-2.5 feet from the radio. It's a switching power supply for sure. No noise to speak of.

Most of my radios, however, are on battery only, so your using a PR-D15 on battery only is understood. Batteries really help in reducing stray noises from being picked up by the radio on MW/AM.

What I meant in my suggestion, though was you could eliminate a step of resetting the preferences in the PR-D15 if you just plug the AC line in, pull the batteries, put in new batteries and then pull the AC plug from the side of the radio. You wouldn't have to re-set anything that way.

But it sounds like you've got it down OK. Sounds like a PR-D15 is a radio I probably should look into.
 

Falcon9h

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Go on ebay and find a GE Superradio II. That's the real way to go for AM DX.
Or if you're lucky, a Panasonic RF-2200, the abxolute best but prices are delusional.
Forget Tecsuns. All of mine from soup to nuts are horrible unless you use a loop.
 

cistercian

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Go on ebay and find a GE Superradio II. That's the real way to go for AM DX.
Or if you're lucky, a Panasonic RF-2200, the abxolute best but prices are delusional.
Forget Tecsuns. All of mine from soup to nuts are horrible unless you use a loop.
I have a GE 7-2990A ("improved" Panasonic RF2600). I was surprised how poor my Tecsun 660 and 990
performed on MW compared to it. It is not as hot as a Panasonic RF2200 and it has a smaller ferrite too. 120 mm VS 200 in the 2200.
That being said...it has a wide and narrow IF bandwidth switch and excellent sensitivity. A solid 5 star am bcb receiver with good audio as well.

Its bigger than a 2200. It takes 6 D Cells and with NIMH on board is HEAVY. It's a beautiful radio but huge. Until I read RadioJayallens reviews
and tried the Sangeans I had concluded that all modern smallish AM BCB portables were trash. I also had no intention of buying a CC Crane 2E or 3
because they are also pretty big and even worse have the hump for the battery compartment so laying them on their back and spinning for nulls is...awkward I am sure. Besides from what I have seen there is little difference in terms of improvement of reception compared to my dinosaur. The GE super radios are epic and the RF2200 is the king...but they are old. I had to repair my GE because the tuning gear cracked.
Nylon gears on a metal shaft always shrink enough over the years to fail so now a RC aluminum motor gear is in my GE.
The sangean D15 and D4W are very close in performance to it. Both are 4.5 stars in radio Jay allens review list and that seems a fair ranking to me. Both blow away every other modern portable I own. I was playing with both of them last night and as usual they were epic.

I am the original owner of my GE and it has low hours. It's used value is ridiculously high in my opinion.

One other thing. Both of my Tecsuns deal with high level signal gracelessly. Images and overload galore on AM BCB here. The GE is perfect and the D4W is fine too. The D15 does not like directly facing the 25kw station 2.3 miles away. It desenses some. Just turning it a bit and it's fine. Both tecsuns fail hard during the day when its on the air. My sangean 909X2 does much better than the tecsuns and it works better with a loop but the D4W and D15 blow it away dynamic range wise when used with the loop...especially my 4 foot on a side loop.
One other thing. The old radios don't tune to 1710kc. My GE maxes out at 1620kc and that segment of the band is fun to DX with the newer radios that cover that range.
 

modrachlan

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I've had good results with the Tecsun PL-880 and a small loop nearby. The 880 can be found right at or below $100 used nowadays.

It's nice because there are so many audio bandwidth choices so you can really fine-tune the sound.

Another reason why I agree with the poster above- if they have a laptop, an SDR is a very attractive option for AM DX. user selectable bandwidth really helps with copyability. I have an HF+ Discovery and it's brilliant for AM but it's more expensive than your budget.
 
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