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KAITO
KA105
Pocket Sized
AM/FM/SW
PLL Digital Radio

 

 

Place your left hand on the radio, raise your right hand and repeat after me, "the Kaito KA105 is a $50 PLL portable radio that fits in your pocket… the Kaito KA105 is a $50 PLL portable radio that fits in your pocket…" This is the smallest least expensive direct entry PLL shortwave radio available today. Okay, now that we have established that this is not the Drake R8B or even a Sony 7600GR, let's go!

The Basics
The single conversion KA105 covers the AM/MW broadcast band from 520-1620 kHz, leaving out the expanded band frequencies of 1630-1710. The FM band covers the entire North American range (87.5-108 MHz) and continuous shortwave from 5.95 to 15.6 MHz. It is not capable of sideband reception.

Accessories
Kaito provides a drawstring carry pouch, earbuds, instruction pamphlet, AC adapter and plug in antenna wire with the KA105. Also a small piece of plastic is provided which slips into a slot on the back of the radio - this creates a rudimentary support stand for the radio.

Layout/Dimensions
The KA105 is tiny! It is same dimensions as a cassette tape case. The physical dimensions are approximately 2.75"h x 4.25"w x 0.75"d. It comes equipped with a carry strap. The aluminum alloy front gives it a classy look and a solid feel. It is a clever combination of metal and plastic on the exterior. With batteries installed the radio weighs less than 7 ounces!

The left front of the radio is dominated the 50 mm speaker. The display and up/down buttons are located in the center/upper right of the radio. Beneath the display are three rows of buttons. Six buttons are in each row.

Row 1: from left to right - Power, Sleep, Alarm On/Off/Set, Time/Memory Set,
AM (SW) In, FM In.

Row 2: from left to right - Band Select (Clock Set), keypad buttons 1 through 5.

Row 3: from left to right - Momentary Light, keypad buttons 6 through 0.

A small reset hole is located above the Momentary Light button.

The horizontal keypad layout is different. This is the first radio I have used that doesn't have the standard 10-key layout or something very similar. I imagine this layout saved a bit of space and in a radio this small, every bit of saved space would be important. Controls are pretty intuitive. I was able to figure out everything except setting memories without having to go to the operating instructions. A quick check to the instructions was all I needed to figure that out. As you might expect, some of the controls do double duty.
Figuring out the double duty stuff is probably the trickiest thing about learning how to operate the radio. Several controls are associated with the clock when the radio is off.

The layout is logical. I like the fact that the buttons are not exactly flush with the radio. They protrude enough where you could find them in low light conditions. The buttons have a "solid" feel to them.

Both the external antenna jack and telescoping whip antenna are housed on the left side of the radio along with a mono/stereo switch for FM listening. The following controls are located on the right side of the radio: volume (via a thumbwheel potentiometer control), earphones, lock and DC power input.

The battery hatch is accessed from the rear of the radio. A slot for a "flip stand prop" is also located on the back.

 

Tuning
Selecting bands (MW, FM or SW) is easy. Just press the Band button until you get the band you are after. An indicator comes up in the display to confirm your selection

Manual tuning is accomplished via the up/down buttons to the right of the display. In shortwave, the tuning increment is 5 kHz. On MW, the tuning increment is 10 kHz (and can be set to 9 kHz for listening outside of North America….via a small switch in the battery compartment). The up/down buttons move you in .1 MHz jumps on FM.

Direct frequency entry works easy enough. When on the MW and SW bands, push the AM-In button, use the keypad buttons to punch in the desired frequency and then hit the AM-In button again. Same process on FM, except you use the FM-in button.

The radio will also scan to the next received strong signal. Just hold down either the up or down button and let go. It will scan and stop at the next strong signal. It does not continue after that.

Antennas
AM (MW) reception comes via an internal ferrite bar. The whip antenna (16.5") functions as the antenna for both SW and AM. The KA105 uses a novel approach to the whip antenna. It telescopes horizontally into the radio from the left side. Again, this would appear to reduce a bit of space on the height dimension of the radio. I have never seen a telescoping antenna set up that is similar. (see update note at bottom) A mini-jack on the left side of the radio accepts an external antenna. The radio comes with a plug in wire (12.5 feet) to assist with reception on FM and SW. The plug in wire does have some effect on MW, increasing reception but also overloads from a nearby MW station.

Power
The KA105 runs off 2 AA cells or the supplied 5 volt AC adapter. The DC power jack is located on the right side of the radio and indicates that it will accept between 3-5 volts DC. A low battery indicator comes on when the batteries need replacing. I ran the radio continuously for 36 hours at moderate speaker volume without having the low battery indicator come on. I think we can safely say that battery life is exceptional on the 105.

Display
The display is approximately 1.75" x .50". The frequency/time numerals are about 5/8" high and easier to see than you would think based on the radio size. The momentary light controls illuminate green LEDs behind the display. The light only stays on while you have the light button pressed. you turn it off.

The display shows the frequency, of course, as well as what band you are on. There are indicators for alarm status, low battery, stereo, selected clock, memory preset number, lock and sleep countdown. When the radio is off, the time is displayed.

Performance
SW - Daytime: I was pleasantly surprised with the reception off the whip antenna. In a morning listening session, I was able to pick up 20+ stations with relative ease. The stations were in the 19, 25, 31 and above the 41 meter bands. Using the plug in antenna wire did help the reception some. With a full size outside wire antenna, overloading and images were present….that is too much antenna for the 105. Nighttime: This was fun! I was picking up stations from the bottom of the radio's shortwave coverage (5.950) up into the 19 meter band. Reception was especially clear in the in the shortwave bands below 10 MHz. You won't need anything other than the short whip antenna for enjoyable shortwave listening in the evening hours.

The KA105 exceeded my expectations for shortwave reception.

FM - does a good job of picking up my strong and medium strength local stations. It is not selective enough to separate weaklings between the big boys (very few of my portables can do this). Calibration seems to be about .1 MHz off (station at 92.3 comes in best at 92.4….104.7 at 104.8, etc.). I noticed the same phenomenon with the Kaito KA1101.

AM (MW) - Daytime: I have a local 5 kW station at 1440 about 3 miles away. During the daytime, it overloads the 105 badly, essentially covering up 1350-1540 kHz. Outside of that, it receives the stronger stations within 100 miles without difficulty. Adjacent channel weaker stations cannot be heard. Nighttime: I would describe night time MW reception as average. The powerful out-of-towners were received pretty well. My local MW station at 1440 was spilling over + / - 20 kHz, which didn't surprise me much.

Audio - it is what you would expect…on the tinny side with the small speaker. If you were around in the 60's, it takes you back to the sound coming out of your "transistor" radio! However, it sounds pretty darn good with headphones. There is no tone adjustment on the KA105.

Other features
The radio has 10 memory presets on each band (FM, AM, SW) for a total of 30.

Two clocks are provided and you can switch back and forth between them with the clock select button. As far as I can tell, the radio has to be off in order to read the clock. The clocks are in 24 hour format.

The alarm is one that turns the radio on to the last listened to station. After being turned on by the alarm, the radio stays on until it is manually shut off.

The Sleep function does not work as described in the instructions or like other radios I have owned. Normally, you can turn on a radio with the Sleep control and then it shuts off when the cycle is complete. This is what the KA105 instructions indicate. However, on my sample, the radio does not power on with the Sleep control. Once the radio is on, then you can use the Sleep control to vary the on-cycle to between 90 and 10 minutes (in 10 minute increments).

Comments
Okay, let's do it again. "The Kaito KA105 is a $50 PLL portable radio that fits in your pocket… the Kaito KA105 is a $50 PLL portable radio that fits in your pocket…" If you were only going to own one shortwave portable (heresy!), this probably isn't the one. Just $20 or $40 more gives you significantly more features and performance in the Kaito line (KA1101 or KA1102, respectively). But as a true pocket size on-the-go lightweight, easy to travel with, alarm clock radio with decent performance - consider the KA105. This is probably the best example of a current digital PLL portable that can actually fit into a pocket comfortably. Some of the other "pocket" radios are really too big or heavy to make that claim stick.

What do I like the most? The small thin profile which makes it very portable, ease of use, and the sharp looks (aluminum front). Also, I like the simplicity of the alarm set up. You have to have a PhD in Radio to figure out some of the alarm set ups on some of these portables. I like the innovative side loading telescoping antenna as well…a clever approach. I also like that battery hatch cover that stays attached…good thinking. As mentioned earlier, the KA105 did surpass my expectations for shortwave reception, particularly off the whip antenna.

What do I wish were different? I listen sometimes to WWCR at 5.070 MHz, so I wish it tuned that low. Coverage of the expanded MW band should have been included in my opinion. From a performance standpoint, the MW overloading described above and the .1 MHz off-calibration on FM are the biggest downsides. As with many radios from China, the translation efforts for the instruction pamphlet aren't going to win any awards.

Who will appreciate this radio the most? - the radio hobbyist that can appreciate the KA105 for what it is and doesn't expect the impossible from a low cost single conversion radio. The travelers may especially appreciate the small KA105's portability and dual time clock. If the idea of a fun little digital AM/FM/SW radio that easily fits in your pocket appeals to you…check out the Kaito KA105! Radiointel.com wishes to thank Radios4You (www.radios4you.com) for the opportunity to check out the KA105 and provide this review to our web site visitors.

Best DX
Russ K3PI
January 22, 2004

UPDATE: Thanks to a Radiointeller for pointing out that the "whip collapsing into the radio horizonally" is not a new idea. Sony used that idea for their ICF-SW1 . Additionally, they also used the plastic prop idea for the radio support.

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