this latest round of radio comparisons I focused on the least expensive
digital readout World Band models I could find. They cost between
$9.99 and $24.99, although with shipping the real price jumps to $16.99
to $35.99. These radios are all analog-tuned with digital readout,
which is a very recent development at this entry level price. All
Tecsun R-333 are tiny pocket portables of Walkman size the GP-4/GP-4L
at 3.4" x 2.55" x .83" is even smaller and is advertised
as the world's smallest digital SW portable. The R-333 turns out to
be a somewhat larger box measuring 8.5 x 5 x 2.5 inches. In terms
of size it doesn't fit into this group of pocket portables, but it
does belong by virtue of it's price and features. It's a good, inexpensive
"around-the-house" radio kind of a half-sized version
of the Grundig S-350. It would also be easy to pack into luggage as
a handy travel set. The other, much smaller units are ideal for backpackers,
joggers, walkers, for the briefcase anyone who wants to really
take their radio with them. These are the best prices I found in February
of 2005 they vary slightly from time to time. All were purchased
is also available as the Eton/Grundig G1000A at about $49.95 street
price. You may prefer to go this route in order to obtain local warranty
coverage, expanded AM band coverage and FM Stereo at the headphone
jack. You can download the Owner's Manual for the Eton/Grundig G1000A
GP-4L seems identical to the previous GP-4 with the addition of an
emergency light. I compared the two versions together and determined
that their operation was otherwise identical.
One doesn't expect a box full of accessories at these prices, but
for the most part the basics were included:
R-333 Owner's manual in Chinese
DR-910 Cloth Travel Bag - Clip On SW Antenna - Earbuds
R9702 Sturdy Travel Case - Clip On SW Antenna - Earbuds
DE205 Chinese Manual
GP-4L English Manual-Earbuds
In Common Frequency
Coverage: All of the Chinese versions omit the expanded AM band from
1610 to 1710. All except the R-333 (which has two continuous bands
from 3.90 - 18.0 MHz) cover the major SW bands but have some gaps
between them. I won't detail all the frequency band specs here, but
they are available easily online. But do be aware that all the radios
in this group bottom out at about 5800 MHz on shortwave no 60
Meters or below.
models are somewhat finicky to tune in, especially on shortwave where
knob movements caused much larger swings in frequency than on AM or
FM. It can be challenging to end up with the exactly correct frequency
displayed you have to learn the feel of the tuning system and
apply varying pressure in each direction to wind up perfectly tuned.
The R9702 and DR-910 were slightly easier to tune on SW than the others the
R9702 because of an unusually smooth feel and slow tuning speed of
the tuning knob and the DR-910 because it's 8 bands of shortwave spread
the frequencies out much more than the two shortwave bands of all
the others. The R-333 was somewhat fiddly on AM and quite tough on
FM, but once you get close with the course tuning knob you can fine
tune with the fine tune control. Still, with two tuning speeds, the
course speed is WAY too fast and the Fine Tune has limited correction
range it's not continuous it's a 270 degree pot so
you have to get fairly close with the Main Tuning first. Also, the
R-333, DE205 and GP-4L leave off the last digit on the frequency readout
on shortwave, so 6195 shows as 6190 or 6200. Not a huge deal really,
and still much easier to find stations with than the analog models
which formerly were the only choices anywhere near this price range.
a clock and timer function as well as LED display illumination except
the GP-4L which offers an emergency light instead. (The earlier GP-4
was identical but lacked the light).
have any station presets as they are analog tuned.
small sets showed significant hand capacitance effects generally
weak stations were received far more loudly and clearly while I was
holding the radio. Put it down on the table and a weak signal may
fade out. The R-333 was the best here possibly simply because
it is a bigger set.
group they all seemed surprisingly solid at these low prices
they offer very reasonable build quality.
are supplied with batteries or ac adapter.
Individual Comments Tecsun
The largest radio is the best for general around-the-house use by
far. It gets the best reception and has the biggest, most powerful
sound. Its 3 D cells should last a
very long time possibly the reason why this is the only tested
model that lacks an external DC input jack. It could have been more
use friendly if it had slower ratio tuning the unit's biggest
drawback. This radio is also labeled in Chinese, but the few controls
are quickly figured out with a few moments use. It also has a Tune
LED which is marginally useful, and a separate Fine Tune control which
has limited effect on AM but is essential on SW. This radio's gray
case with rounded corners looks more like a typical AM/FM portable
from the 80's than any of the other sets, but what it lacks in high
tech appeal it makes up for in a high performance versus price ratio.
A comfortable folding handle is also a nice touch. No Stereo FM. I
used the R-333 for a week in place of my trusty Grundig S350 and didn't
feel particularly short changed. It didn't match the S350 overall
but still I was able to listen to most of what I'm accustomed to hearing.
You could do a lot worse than the R-333.
An oddity with this model is that evidently, the Chinese DR-910 version
does not produce stereo FM at the headphone jack, but the Grundig
G1000A version does. It is unusual for this sort of feature to be
added for the import version and is
one good reason to opt for this version rather than the Tecsun version
if you care about stereo FM. I discovered that the downloadable English
manual for the G1000A shows an FM Stereo LED where my DR-910 has a
Tune LED, which functions on all bands. Also the only model in this
group to divide the shortwave spectrum into 8 bands, making SW tuning
by the thumb wheel much less touchy and critical. However the AM tuning
is quite touchy. Also has just a slightly sharper sound quality than
the R9702 below sometimes I liked the extra clarity, sometimes
the mellower R9720 made noise a little less bothersome.
Almost unbelievable at this price, this is a true dual conversion
receiver. The R9702 should have fewer problems with images ("ghosts"
of signals showing up at other
than their actual frequencies). Occasionally the R9720 seemed to exhibit
a bit less background squealing and birdies than the others. It's
two-tone gray and silver coloring is unique as is the smooth silky
feel of the tuning knob. It also has a relatively slow tuning ratio,
so although this is one of the two band SW radios in the group, it
is not very touchy to tune in exactly. One annoying trait is that
this unit always reverts to FM when you switch it on an annoyance
for me. Only radio in this review to produce stereo on FM through
earbuds. This model also has an unusually large and bright red power
led no mistaking when this one is on!
Elevation panel is not hinged on the back panel as is the norm but
is a separate plastic piece that is slid into a notch on the back
panel. It is tethered to the carry strap
so it won't get lost. A slightly less convenient arrangement than
usual but once in place it works ok. SW/FM rod antenna exits to the
left so cannot be swiveled to the right.
smaller than the previous sets, the DE205 is also the cheapest by
far. It also brings up the rear in overall performance. It suffers
from an annoying buzz, (probably from the frequency display) especially
on AM, which limits weak signal sensitivity. Unless you really need
the smaller size or need the cheapest digital readout radio available
the performance tradeoffs are probably not worth it for any real listening.
For $17 delivered it is far better than the cheapie analog Bell &
Howell or Lifelong radios generally available for about $10 plus tax
and/or shipping. It sounds weak and a bit hissy but will bring in
the stronger signals and you'll know what frequency you're on without
guessing like on the cheap analogs.
of all, this is advertised as the smallest digital readout radio available,
and as far as I know that claim is true. Performance and ergonomics
are similar to the DE205 SW reception
is slightly better than AM, but as with the DE205, only strong signals
are likely to be worth listening to. But the size factor makes this
a neat gadget if that is what you want, and it's small enough to fit
comfortably into a shirt pocket. When using earbuds their cable can
substitute for the whip antenna (on FM only) a convenience for
pocket use. While the front panel reveals only the digital display
and speaker grille area, the controls are on the sides and rear, with
ALL the labeling on the rear. The front panel contains a tune LED
... marginally useful. I soon discovered this was not a particularly
handy arrangement. As you operate the switches you have to flip it
around the look at the back, then back to the front to look at the
display. [Note: you
can read more about the GP-4 by reading Russ' review]
On To The Tests But
First A Problem
The first radio I tried was the largest the Tecsun R-333. Unfortunately,
I couldn't get it to power up. It was completely dead no display no
nothing. Although it is a simple radio, it is labeled in Chinese and
I wondered if I was missing something. (The manual is also in Chinese).
After trying every conceivable combination I gave the side a good
rap and on came the display and a burst of static. I started to tune
around but before I could find a station of any kind it went dead
again. Fairly well frustrated at this point I opened the case it
was straight-forward with 6 screws on the back panel. What I found
was that the bottom spring in the battery compartment was compressed
completely flat as if it had never been stretched out into the familiar
spiral shape and thus wasn't contacting the bottom end of the battery.
It was a simple matter to carefully stretch it open a bit since
then the radio has operated perfectly. It's interesting though, that
such a part could have been installed in the first place and never
have been discovered in any kind of final check it clearly did
not happen in transit. I mention this detail in case this problem
affects more than my sample of this model because it's easy to fix
if you know what to look for.
put new alkaline batteries in all the portables and proceeded to get
to know them. All of these radios run on 2 AA cells except the R-333
which runs on 3 D cells. Interestingly, although none of these models
is supplied with an ac adapter, they all have DC input jacks except
for the R-333. My guess is that the 3 D cells in that radio should
power it for months on end even with heavy daily use. I also have
to say that the R-333 is clearly not exactly comparable to the others
in this group, so in some ways it's not fair to compare them. As I
mentioned earlier, I selected these radios because they were the least
expensive digital readout radios I could find. After seeing them together
it's obvious that the R-333 will find it's best application as a casual,
around-the-house radio. It has stronger performance than any of the
smaller sets, both in terms of reception and sound quality. The smaller
sets sacrifice some of that performance, but in return offer you maximum
portability, down to shirt pocket size if that's what you want. Your
first decision, then, is how you want to use the radio. Beyond that
I compared all the radios directly to one another so you can see how
they ranked in different aspects of performance.
tests were at mid day the best time to check for weak signal
sensitivity to me one of the most important criteria for a portable
radio. By tuning each radio successively to a variety of signals I
got the feel of each one quickly, and tabulated my listening results.
kHz (med with fades)
MHz (med with int)
the 6000 MHz station (Radio Havana Cuba) the GP-4L and DE205 could
not pick the signal out of the jumble of signals near that frequency).
it is clear that the smallest two radios (GP-4L and DE205) were weaker
performers than the next size up (R9702 and DR-910), which in turn
fell somewhat behind the larger R-333. As a point of reference I also
compared all the above against some betterportables
to see how this group compared with more sophisticated radios. Not
surprisingly the pricier radios offered much more sensitivity, selectivity,
fuller sound and were generally easier to operate than the inexpensive
portables. However, it was good to see these inexpensive models weren't
horrible by comparison. The R-333 gave a reasonable showing against
the reference portables as long as the signals weren't too difficult,
which means it is a good value. The smaller radios gave up more sensitivity,
but were still able to deliver reasonable reception on average to
strong signals. Also the GP-4L and DE205 were quite disappointing
on AM with such poor sensitivity I would say they are only listenable
with fairly strong signals.
Each of these models has a single bandwidth which is adequate to separate
typical AM broadcast stations at night time I was able to tune
adjacent frequencies, one after the other on all of the radios fairly
well. They each exhibited some
heterodyne squeals and various other noises around some signals, and
the variations were somewhat random from radio to radio. That is,
one radio might have a bit of a whine on 710, while another might
be clear on 710 but have a whine on a different frequency. It also
became evident that the DR-910 has a slightly wider bandwidth filter
which caused it to exhibit some noises on crowded AM and SW frequencies
which the R9702 handled better. On shortwave selectivity becomes
more of an issue as you tune around crowded bands at night the
stations tend to run into one another and the ones you can listen
to are the ones strong enough to poke through. Again, pretty much
as you would expect in an entry level radio. The stronger majors will
be there for sure but don't expect to find many weaker signals in
between. Also remember that reception will usually be best while you
are holding the radio your body acting as a counter poise or
ground reference part of the radio's antenna system.
I didn't compare FM reception quite the same way as with AM and SW,
but paid more attention to reception and sound quality on the stations
that typically come in well in my area. In my suburban location I
am about 10-15 miles from most of the FM transmitter sites so I receive
ample but not overloading signals. The Tecsun R9702 and Eton/Grundig
G1000A provide stereo to the headphone jack. The DR-910 however, and
the other tested models do not. Sound quality was decent on all the
models in ear buds although not in the same league as a serious walkman
or mp3 player. Through their tiny speakers they all sounded tiny,
except the larger R-333 which sounded natural and surprisingly powerful.
march of technology is nowhere more evident that in this batch of
inexpensive world band portables, all of which offer digital frequency
readout. The features and performance they offer vary from one model
to the next, but as a group they represent a value that wouldn't have
been available anywhere near this price even a few years ago. While
there are many analog portables available for under $50 (Kaito WRX-911,
Sangean SG-622, Tecsun R-9700 and the Degen DE-312 to name just a
few), the digital readout alone makes these latest additions all a
bit easier to use. The fact that they can be marketed at these prices
shows that innovation is proceeding at a fast pace. It also means
that many models in the next price tier up ($50 to $100) are challenging
our notions of what kind of performance and quality can be had at
that price level, with models from Degen and Tecsun/Eton/Grundig providing
real value for the dollar, while other companies who formerly dominated
the field (Sony and Sangean) seem to have given up or lost the competition.
group the Tecsun R-333's size separates it from the other radios it's
not as convenient for travel as the smaller units but is the clear
choice for general in home listening.
followed in size and performance by the Tecsun DR-910 and R9702.
These two sets are the same size and close in price and overall performance.
However they have quite different "personalities". The dual
conversion R9702 resists some forms of interference just a tad better
than the DR-910. It also has a slightly narrower apparent if bandwidth
which means as you tune around you seem to get less squealing and
less heterodyne interference on some stations. The DR-910 is easier
to tune on SW because of its 8 shortwave bands while the R9702 tunes
the shortwave spectrum in two continuous bands. Yet the R9702 is
easier to tune on AM and FM, and scanning the AM bands at night it
does slightly better at separating adjacent frequencies without interference.
Overall the R9702 has a slight edge in performance over the DR-910
and also offers FM stereo.
leaves the two smallest radios, the Degen DE205 and CountyComm GP-4L.
These sub-compact or pocket portables aren't intended to snag faint
signals from the ether that is the job of their more sophisticated
bigger brothers and sisters. These small, inexpensive radios exist
to let you bring your world of shortwave, AM or FM along with you
almost anywhere with the least amount of effort, so no matter where
you may roam you need never feel disconnected. They can be lots of
fun to play with and just tune around at times when you might not
be able to have a larger radio available at all. As long as you realize
that they are only for reasonably strong signals you won't be disappointed.
*Notes about buying
from overseas The
radios reviewed in this article came from three sources: a supplier
who ships to most of the world directly from China; a seller who imports
the radios to the US then ships from there; a US Distributor.
particular group only the Tecsun DR-910 (imported as the Eton/Grundig
G1000A) and CountyComm GP-4L are available through a U.S. retailer
the others are only available in their Degen & Tecsun OEM versions.
Still it is good to be aware of the ins and outs of buying directly
from the source versus through an authorized distributor in your country.
differences deal with problem resolution and warranty coverage. Although
the radio will have a Manufacturer's or Seller's Warranty and will
be repaired or (usually) replaced for no charge during the initial
ownership period, the owner will be responsible for shipping charges,
often in both directions. At the price level of the radios reviewed
here this can equal or exceed the cost of a new one. Therefore you
should be aware that in exchange for getting a great price perhaps
half of what you might pay for the officially imported version, if
you do have a problem or receive a defective unit you might want to
just consider it a loss and start over. It is often worth taking the
risk as most of the radios should experience no problems, but many
buyers don't grasp this concept and then become angry when they don't
receive a free exchange or refund.
There are a few ways the Chinese version may differ from an officially
imported version of a radio.
You may receive only a Chinese language owner's manual. On these basic
receivers that's not much of an issue. On more expensive models the
sellers often offer English translations of the manuals at no charge
to their customers. Sometimes you can download the English version
of a manual if the model is also imported to your country, as in the
case of the DR-910/G1000A discussed earlier. Some Chinese models are
marked in Chinese. Again, not a big issue with these basic sets, but
it can be an inconvenience with more complex radios.
Coverage: Many Chinese versions omit the Expanded AM band up to
1710 kHz. If this is important to you, check the specs from the online
sellers or stick with the US version. (The radios in this review all
omit the expanded band except the CountyComm which is the only US
Import version in this group).
Requirements: If the radio comes with an ac adapter or charger,
the Chinese version won't work in the US without either a "120
to 220" AC voltage adapter or a replacement of the 220 volt AC
wall wart with a 120 volt model.
Stereo or Mono? This is the first time I've seen this, but while
the Tecsun DR-910 does not offer FM Stereo the Grundig G1000A does.
It pays to read the fine print.