August 2005 the date the long awaited, much anticipated Eton E1 receiver finally made it to market. Why is this particular product introduction so noteworthy? Well for one thing we've waited 10 years for it. Originally unveiled in prototype form at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago in 1996 as the Grundig Satellit 900, the E1 has followed a long road from those first mockup models to commercial realization. Originally sidelined because a critical circuit component was discontinued (at least that's one of the stories), the never-to-be Satellit 900 was promised time and time again with new delivery dates which came and went with no Satellit 900 ever marketed.
There's another reason as well the Eton E1, as a replacement for the recently discontinued, somewhat controversial Grundig Satellit 800, marks the end of the famous Grundig Satellit name plate and is Eton's statement that they are indeed the corporate entity behind this new radio. (The Satellit 800 is controversial for a few reasons. First, it was made to resemble its predecessor, Satellit 650, but internally is a completely different design. This really offended lovers of the 650 series. Secondly, although its ultimate performance is considered to be excellent, its quality control was horrendous. A high percentage of 800's had to serviced by R.L. Drake before they would perform to specifications. However, once you had a "good one", either through Drake's excellent service or just by luck of the draw, you had a radio which is astounding anywhere near it's price point). Through a somewhat secretive collaboration with R.L. Drake and XM Satellite radio the E1 is a bold and fresh new contender in the World Band portable radio market. The E1 heads up a line of radios which also include the smaller E10 and E100 portables. And even though this is no longer referred to as a "Grundig Satellit" radio, it is indeed "XM Satellite Ready." Satellite Ready is a new, official XM standard and means that the radio that will provide XM when attached to an optional, external XM antenna.
The E-1 is in many ways a departure from those classic Grundigs. Although the Satellits could all be classified as portables because they contain built-in antennas and run on battery or AC power, they were very large heavy radios. There were a few smaller Grundig Satellit models, the most recent of which, the Satellit 700, was a prime example of quality and features and is highly regarded by Grundig aficionados. The E-1 is a lap-sized portable at approximately 13 x 7 ½ x 3. It is the largest World Band portable available right now, somewhat larger than the Sony 2010 or SW77 portables but small compared with the Satellit 800 which is is over 20 3/8 x 10 1/4 x 8. In fact Etons own literature refers to the E-1 as a Porta-Top a cross between a portable and a tabletop set, and for many reasons that is appropriate as we shall see.
For all these reasons the radio industry is anxious to know how the new E1 compares with the Satellit 800, the famous Sony 2010, arguably one of the most successful and highly respected portable SW receivers of all time, and the Sony SW77, the most recently discontinued top of the line Sony portable. Will it be a new benchmark world band receiver that other radios will be compared with or will it be just ok with lots of bells and whistles but little substance for the serious radio enthusiast? Finally, what new features does the E1 offer, and how does the XM function work in the scheme of a World Band receiver? I was as anxious as anyone to find all I could about the E1 for myself and I was fortunate to receive one from the first shipment for evaluation, so let's get to it!
The E1 is a very full-featured AM/FM/SW/XM-ready radio. In addition to the traditional WorldBand features it has a few unique ones which I will detail as I go through the discussion. Some examples include 1700 non-volatile station memories (meaning they will not get lost if power is removed or if the radio needs to be "reset"), 3 IF bandwidths of 7, 4 and 2.3 KHz, automatic or manual AGC speed selection, synchronous detection that functions in double sideband mode in addition to the traditional upper and lower sideband modes, passband tuning, three tuning speeds and 3 frequency readout resolutions in AM and SW modes, automatic time setting, dual timers, a huge LCD display, an unusually intuitive control interface with "soft" keys which change function depending upon mode of operation, a switchable antenna pre-amplifier available in all modes except XM, a clever squelch control for all modes except XM, auto battery backup when AC power fails, three level illumination (Eton says 4 levels but one level is "Off") I could go on and on because this radio is so rich with features the list seems almost endless.
The E1 is assembled in India and sports Eton's new rubberized finish that has tremendous tactile appeal. All of the controls feel solid and sturdy and the radio absolutely exudes quality it is a joy to hold and operate. Only the initial batch of E1's had been shipped as of this writing my radio is serial number 186, but initial quality has been outstanding. Eton may have taken their time bringing the E1 to market, but it appears the wait has been well worth it.
The Eton E1 retails for $500 in the U.S. (XM antenna a $50 option). I have put the E1 through exhaustive comparisons with several reference receivers and those results will appear throughout this article.
The sound quality of XM is much better than the XM specifications would suggest. (I am referring to XM's specs, not the E1's). At a maximum bit rate of 128 KBPs, it would be considered to be "near CD" quality in mp3 circles. However there is generally much less audio processing on the XM music channels so the sound is much more like listening to a CD than the same music would be on FM, where broadcasters manipulate their signals to make them as loud and punchy as possible. You will find, though, that some of the talk channels use a far lower bit rate which can cause the human voice to have an odd, metallic quality. XM uses different bit rates on various channels in order to conserve overall bandwidth for all their channels combines, so don't expect most of the talk channels to be full fidelity they are more comparable to AM sound quality, especially if you are listening on external speakers or headphones. Not bad, but not the full fidelity of the music channels.
Antenna positioning for XM is relatively non-critical in my wood frame home in the Northeast US. Although you are instructed to aim the XM antenna in a South facing window I found good signal in some rooms with the antenna sitting on a desk or table not even aimed at a window. Obviously some signal was able to penetrate right through the roof or walls. In other rooms with no South facing windows, I still got good reception with little problem. One you find a spot where the XM antenna works it seems solid day after day the 20 foot cord is more than adequate in my situation, but extensions are available.
ETON E1 Versus Sony 2010, SW77 & Grundig Satellit 800
The E1 is a top-of-the-line radio and in most ways it delivers the kind of top-of-the-line performance we have been hoping for. However it is not without a few compromises. As I mentioned earlier the big question in many people's minds is "How does it compare with its predecessor, the Grundig Satellit 800 and the legendary Sony 2010 and SW77". I am happy to say that although each of these models has its strengths and weaknesses (after all, no radio is perfect), the E1's overall mix of features and performance at least equals them when taken as a total package, and the E1 does break new ground in several important areas. Here's what I found.
Shortwave Comparisons: I first compared these radios as true portables, using only their built-in antennas and battery power. Using daytime extremely faint shortwave signals it was obvious that the Sony 2010 is still the "raw sensitivity" champ. When signals are near the threshold of audibility the Sony 2010 still beats the Grundig Satellit 800 and the Eton E1 by a hair. The SW77 was last in this test. I used weak signals that were fading in and out and the 2010 would just barely maintain audio while both the Eton and Grundig had faded completely. The SW77 lost the signal the earliest. For these tests:
Faint DX Signals:
However, that doesn't mean the 2010 always provided the best overall shortwave reception. For one thing, the excellent synchronous detection on both the Grundig and the Eton held lock far below the level the 2010 could, meaning that listenability was often better on either of them than on the Sony. I noted that both the Grundig and the Eton had a slight trace of synthesizer noise which set the background noise level on some frequencies. This is fairly typical of synthesized receivers and again, affected only signals at the limits of detectability, but the 2010 was completely free of this noise by comparison.
Next I tested crowded bands at night for the ability to find weak signals buried in the noise caused by many other signals fighting to cover them up. This test reveals not only basic selectivity but also the dynamic range of the front end - the ability to receive weak signals in the presence of stronger ones, not necessarily right next to them in frequency. This so-called desensitization is the result of many areas of performance such as front end dynamic range, image rejection, blocking and basic selectivity. Here the results changed.
SW Selectivity, Image Rejection & Overload Resistance:
E1/Grundig Satellit 800 - Tied For First Place - Virtually identical
The SW77 actually had to be switched to Local for some of these tests it revealed some symptoms of overload even on its whip antenna at night. It was the only radio that overlaid an image of another signal over a relatively strong Radio Havana Cuba on 6000 MHz the interference disappeared if I used the Local switch or lowered the whip antenna partway The 2010 didn't do badly by comparison, but the E1 and 800 revealed many signals with much less background interference or noise and the audio seemed to emerge against a "cleaner" background making them more listenable. Also the 2010's wide bandwidth is so wide that it often had to be set to narrow, which causes the sound to be very muffled not enjoyable for a program listener, although useful for a dxer. The E1 and 800 have 3 bandwidths and only in the worst cases did I have to resort to the medium bandwidth setting which sounds quite reasonable compared with the 2010's narrow setting. And while you can often use the 2010's sync to eliminate some interference that won't help if there is an interfering signal on both sides of the desired one.
*Note: The E1 is noticeably more sensitive on AM than the SW77 but if there is any local interference the E1 is completely swamped by it whereas the SW77 can be rotated to null the noise. Again this is because the E1's whip antenna is non-directional on AM.
External Antennas: The E1 uses a PAL Antenna input jack. This is not a very common jack here in the US, but it is rugged for its size, and is decidedly better than the typical mini jacks found on most portable radios. The owner's manual states that a PAL connector is provided but my E1 did not come with one. You will need an adapter to connect most antennas to the E1's PAL antenna connector. You can use the Radio Shack Catalog #278-265 or Universal's #1156 PAL Female to F Female adapters. I also needed an RCA Female adapter for one of my antennas. I further recommend a right angle F connector be used in addition to make your installation neater and to reduce strain on the jack and cable. Unlike the Satellit 800 the E1 sports only a low impedance antenna input suitable for 50 to 75 ohm antennas. If you wish to use a high impedance antenna, such as a random wire, you can either clip it to the whip or use a balun to convert it to low impedance. Either method should work the low impedance solution has the added benefits of more consistent reception across different frequencies and less local interference if that is an issue in your area.
I verified that the E1 works extremely well with several external antennas I had available. The Justice/C.Crane Twin Coil Ferrite works beautifully on AM with a direct connection to the E1. I also tried a Select-A-Tenna Model M (the version with a jack which can be used for input or output), a 70 foot random wire and a Wellbrook ALA330S. On AM the Twin Coil eliminates all the drawbacks of the whip. You now have a rotatable ferrite rod antenna, extreme sensitivity and AM reception that's about as good as it gets without a much more sophisticated antenna. The Wellbrook provided excellent AM and SW reception far exceeding with I could her clearly on the whip antenna. The comparisons among the 4 radios were similar to the nighttime whip results above but were even more obvious. More signals and stronger ones were being fed to the radios putting the dynamic range of their front ends to the test once again.
the 800 and the E1 with these antennas it was difficult to detect
many meaningful differences in reception on AM or SW. Here both the
E1 and the 800 were able to resolve several tough signals that were
either non-existent on the Sony's or were severely attenuated by comparison.The
E1 versus 800 revealed seemingly identical noise floors, sensitivity
and selectivity. I used the three filter settings on each radio to
isolate a weak dx signal on 1350 adjacent to a relatively strong local
on 1360. In Wide mode both the E1 and SAT 800 had loud splatter.
In their medium settings they were very close...each allowed just
a small amount of splatter through. Small differences in fine tuning
swamped any perceivable differences in their ability to separate them.
And each radio was able to reveal the weak signal in full fidelity
in it's wide mode with the sync on lsb. The SW77 and 2010, with only
two bandwidths mandated the use of sync to clear up the splatter unless
I wanted to listen in their extremely muffled narrow bandwidth settings.
Also note the SW77 is the only radio in this group which does not disconnect the internal AM ferrite antenna when an external antenna is plugged into the antenna jack a limitation for those who use external antennas for AM.
By the way, you will not be able to use any antennas that operate via inductive coupling with the E1 they require the radio be equipped with a ferrite rod to radiate their signal into. However, I used several antennas with a direct connection with great results. The C. Crane Twin Coil Ferrite antenna works extremely well with the E1 in this mode and makes the E1 a very "hot" am dx portable, giving not only extreme sensitivity but also directionality when needed.
E1: First place
No Ferrite rod antenna - It would dramatically improve the E1's AM performance. Why does Eton's top of the line radio lack one?
No Handle - although neither Sony has a handle either, only a carrying strap which I've never liked.
No RDS - not a biggie for me but many enthusiasts feel it should have been included.
Flimsy whip antenna - One could wish for a longer, more robust antenna on such an expensive portable - one that could hold any position without swiveling down and one which approached the length of the Grundig Satellit antennas.
High Battery Drain In XM Mode: Battery life on AM/FM/SW modes is moderate, but in XM mode the drain is approximately doubled. In fact Eton recommends using the AC Adapter in XM mode. Also note the less expensive E10 contains a built-in charger that would have been a natural for the E1.
The E1 is in many ways a remarkable product. Comparing it with the Satellit 800 I found them to be extremely similar in technical performance. This is good news for owners of both models because in World Band portables, these are about as good as it gets at this price. I find the two radios to be uniquely suited for slightly different applications, although each is flexible enough to be your only radio. The Satellit 800 is 5 times the size of the E1 and seems best suited as a desktop radio. It's sheer size and large well-spaced controls make it easy to use and it fills a room with sound more convincingly than the much smaller E1. It also features a built-in stereo amplifier with stereo speaker outputs - not just stereo line outs - plus heavy duty SO-239/PL 259 antenna connections and switchable high and low impedance antenna inputs.
The E1 is well suited to portable use as an AM/FM/SW receiver, but AM won't be its strong suit due to the whip antenna. If you are going to use XM (and there are a lot of good reasons to consider it) the E1 virtually requires AC power. It also offers an amazing array of memory and tuning features which can greatly enhance the 'fun factor" of this radio. The E1 is a genuine joy to use.
For now my Satellit 800 remains in my den and the E1 is my new nightstand radio. There it gets AC Power to feed the XM, is connected to an external AM antenna and its stereo line outs are connected to a stereo sound system for times when I want to crank the XM. But I can still disconnect it to carry around the house as a portable and it works well that way too as long as I am not going to use XM.
The Sony 2010 can still claim to be the most sensitive SW portable anywhere near this size category, and I won't be getting rid of my 2010 any time soon. But even though it is a tad more sensitive off the whip, the E1's enhanced dynamic range and other rf capabilities, it's superior sync circuit and it's excellent SSB performance make most listenable signals sound better than on the Sony.
The SW77 is the least capable in this group. It's once novel "Page Tuning" feature (which I still like) simply doesn't compare with the flexibility and scope of the E1's memory system.
In total the E1 is a huge success and Eton is to be congratulated for giving us what stands as the current "Leader Of The Pack" among World Band portable radios. At this moment it's the best World Band portable on the market and I highly recommend it.
Comments or questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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