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Degen has come out with two winners recently, the DE1101 and DE1102 - so there has been a fair amount of anticipation surrounding the 1103. The 1103 is a digital PLL dual conversion radio (FM/MWSW/LW). It has a display that provides you both a digital readout along with a simulation of the old-fashioned analog dial. The DE1103 comes with a 220v AC adapter, rechargeable NiMH batteries, earbuds, external antenna wire and instruction pamphlet (in Chinese).

The Basics
The radio measures 6.5"(w) x 4" (h) x 1" (d) and weighs approximately 1 lb. with 4 AA cells loaded. Size wise, it is somewhat smaller than the Sony 7600g but larger than the Degen DE1102.

Frequency Coverage
AM/MW 520 - 1710 kHz
LW 100 - 519 kHz
FM 76 - 108 MHz
SW 1711 - 29999 kHz

While the DE1103 has ten shortwave band segments identified, the coverage is indeed continuous. The radio is capable of receiving single sideband on LW, MW and SW.

The DE1103 can be tuned several ways:

(1) Direct frequency entry. Using this method, you enter the frequency from the "keypad" (a single horizontal row of buttons, 0 …. 9) and then hit the Bands+/AM button unless you are on FM, where you use the Band-/FM button.

(2) Automatic scanning. This can be accomplished by holding the Band+ or Band- button down for a few seconds. The radio will scan until a strong station is found. It will pause for 3 seconds and then continue. In auto-scan mode, the tuning increments are 1 kHz for MW/LW, 5 kHz for SW and 100 kHz on FM.

(3) Manual tuning. The radio can be tuned manually with the tuning knob. It tunes in increments of 1 kHz on SW/MW/LW and 25 kHz on FM.

One way that the 1103 cannot be tuned is from up/down buttons. These are not provided in this radio.

Help, I'm trapped in a band segment! The 1103 has "carved" out ten shortwave band segments. One example would be the 41 meter band from 6500-7500 kHz. An annoying feature of the radio, is that once you are in a band segment, you can't manually tune out of it. Example - you are tuning in the upper range of the 41 meter band…as you use the knob and move past 7500, you are returned to the low end of that band segment at 6500. The only way to get to 7501 is to punch in 7-5-0-1 and hit the Band+/AM button (or get there with a memory pre-set button). Not very convenient. It operates this way in auto-scan, which I can understand.

A couple of general notes. The wide-narrow filter on the DE1103 is very effective. It does a really good job of whacking back adjacent channel interference. Listeners will be impressed with both selectivity and sensitivity.

The DE1103 is a good performer on MW. Selectivity seems to be the strong point of the radio on MW. It did a pretty good job of reducing the sidebands of my local MW pest station. Sensitivity on MW was average to above average. You can really see the effectiveness of the narrow filter on MW.

Performance on FM is above average. Stereo reception is possible by using headphones. It does a pretty good job of detecting weak stations. The DE1103 allows you to switch between mono and stereo.

The DE1103 performs very well on shortwave. I can copy the major shortwave broadcasters easily. As mentioned earlier, the narrow filter setting is quite effective. To test its ability to copy weak signals, I gave it a good workout in the amateur 80, 40 and 20 meter bands. Both sideband and cw signals were easily copied. The 1 kHz tuning increment and the fine tuning (BFO) control works well to copy sideband. Often times, shortwave portables fall short higher in frequency. I checked up in the CB 11 meter band and got good copy up there.

There isn't much to listen to in my part of the world, but I was able to copy a few beacons here.

The 3" speaker provides enough audio when the 1103 pulls in a station that is strong enough to hear. As you would expect, better audio is obtained by listening through headphones.

Radio Layout
Upper left corner has three buttons. From left to right, M/F (memory select), Store (memory store) and Volume (this is the one you push and then use the main tuning dial to adjust volume). When the radio is off, the three buttons function as Alarm 1, Alarm 2 and Internal Charger (for supplied NiMH cells).

The speaker is on the left side of the radio. The large display window is on the right side. The top part of the display is the digital frequency read-out (or clock when the radio is off). The majority of the display area is for the fake analog tuning area. Twelve band segments are represented here (FM, MW and 10 SW bands).

Below the display window is a horizontal row of number buttons (1 through 0). Below the buttons are 6 buttons. From left to right. Power On/Off (also used to control the Sleep Countdown along with the tuning knob), Hold, Time (when radio is off, this button adjusts time along with the tuning knob), SSB (it functions as mono-stereo on FM), Band- (how you move to the next lowest band on the display…also it functions as the enter button for FM), Band+ (how you move to the next highest band on the display…also it functions as the enter button for LW/SW/MW). Band+ and Band- engage the auto-scan of the band segments when held down for a second or so. A small reset button is located between the Power and Hold button. A small LED is located under the SSB button - it illuminates when sideband is turned on.

Left Side

From Top to Bottom:
External antenna jack for SW/MW
Local/DX switch
headphone jack
DC power jack


Right Side

From Top to Bottom:
Tuning knob (which has many uses on the 1103)
Narrow-Wide filter (News-Music on FM)
Fine tuning (BFO) for sideband
Line Out jack
The light on/off switch is located next to the line out jack.


Back Of Radio

Flip stand and battery hatch.

Top of radio

Fold-over whip antenna for FM and SW.

Here is the radio's weakness. Let's start with the whole display concept of the 1103. This is a digital radio with a simulated analog dial in the 12 marked band segments (FM, MW and the 10 SW segments). As you tune across a band segment, the digital display tells you what precise frequency you are on. A digital pointer "sweeps" across the fake analog dial and approximates your position there. The pointer does not move continuously however. Example, you have to tune 30 kHz on MW before the pointer moves. So, the pointer points to 670 as you tune to that frequency. It stays there until you reach 700 when it jumps up. The marker jumps with every 25 kHz of tuning on shortwave. The analog simulation seems entirely unnecessary to me. It is like having a wristwatch with the traditional hour/minute hands and then a digital display to go along with it. Why? This analog simulation takes up a lot of space on the 1103, is usually not accurate and you will need to grab the bifocals to read the teeny numbers on the simulated dial.

Volume Control
Where is the volume control, where is the knob? Degen has turned the most basic of operations into an engineering exercise. To adjust the volume, you push a volume button and then turn the tuning knob. Now that is not intuitive. I believe this was a poor design decision. To add insult to injury, once you have set your volume setting, you have to wait a few seconds for the volume icon to stop blinking. If you try to tune before it stops, all you do is readjust the volume level!

I do not care for the single row of number buttons. We have all gotten used to the basic keypad or something very close. Unfortunately, so much space was used on the 1103 for the analog simulation, that there is no space for a standard keypad.

The backlight is quite effective in dark conditions. With the backlight on, all the buttons and display light up when you use any button or the main tuning dial. The downside to this, is that you have to make some kind of change (by pressing a button or moving the tuning knob) to get the lights to come on.

Radio ON and OFF Display
With the radio on, the display shows the frequency, sleep (if selected), memory position and a relative strength meter. The strength meter shows 9 "bars" - however, it is really just a four position setting as it moves between 2-4-6-9 bars shown. With the radio off, the clock time shows along with any alarms set.

The 1103 provides 256 available memories. They are named in 16 groups of 16 presets.

AM/MW reception is via the internal ferrite loopstick. FM and SW are received off the 36" telescoping whip antenna. There is an antenna jack provided to connect an external antenna for SW and MW.

The 1103 runs on 4 AA cells. My test of the radio was not long enough to ascertain battery life. The radio comes equipped with 1300 mAh rechargeable NiMH cells. These provided batteries can be recharged right in the radio with its internal recharger. The radio can also be powered via AC. The DE1103 comes with a 220 volt AC adapter, so obtaining a 110 volt step down transformer-adapter is a must.

The 1103 provides a 24 hour clock which is visible on the display when the radio is off. You can also view it by pressing the "time" button when the radio is on. The radio provides two alarms. Each alarm can be set to turn the radio on to a preset frequency at a defined volume level. There is no "beep" alarm option on the 1103. The radio does have a sleep/countdown feature which is adjustable up to 99 minutes.

Other Features
Other features provided by the DE1103 include: a lock switch, DX/local sensitivity switch, power jack, line output jack, carrying strap and flip stand. (see radio layout section for location of controls, etc.)

Bottom Line
The 1103 reminds me of some trips I have taken. The final destination can be a nice place to be, but the trip was not very fun. In the end, you wonder if it was "worth the trip."

The actual performance of the radio is quite good. Certainly, the frequency coverage is comprehensive. As mentioned earlier, the narrow filter provided is extremely effective. Both the selectivity and sensitivity are both impressive and generally, you are going to be able to hear what you want to on the 1103.

But the ergonomics/layout behind the 1103 takes a lot of the fun out of the DX-ing experience. The volume control design does drive me batty. If I were to own one of these, I would go set the volume up pretty high and then use an in-line volume control with headphones. I think those should be standard equipment with the 1103. I will also admit that I "don't get" the analog simulation. I believe that display space could have been much better used.

Degen got a lot of things right with the 1103. Now if they can marry the best features of the 1101, 1102 and the 1103 together - that's going to be one heck of a radio!

Best DX
Russ K3PI
July 28, 2004

All photos © RadioIntel.com

Special thanks to Degen and Danny Wu for helping to make this review possible.



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