PART 1 - Review by Gary Wilt
After reading Gerry Thomas's excellent R-30 review, as well as many others on Eham.net, I decided that it may be time for me to go ahead and purchase an R-30, since I've read more positive then negative reviews about it. So I went ahead and purchased my R-30 from Grove Enterprises. I decided to order from Grove, mainly because they had the R-30 on sale at the time, and their return policy is second to none. I was very happy to receive the receiver just two days after placing the order.
What to expect when it arrives....
The receiver is fairly well packaged. The entire package consists of a heavy duty outer cardboard box. The radio itself is wrapped in clear plastic and is then wrapped in an additional inner heavy cardboard type sleeve. The supplied AC adapter is housed in its own smaller box, and is then inserted into a heavier weight small cardboard box and is then laid across the face of the radio. The outside of the box only indicates the receiver's name and serial number on one of the end flaps, otherwise, the box is rather benign. You'll find no large company logo names or model numbers, as is so often the case by other manufacturers.
At First Glance....
After seeing many photos of the R-30 on the Internet, I was truly amazed at just how small the radio is. The pictures I have seen can make one believe that the radio is much larger then what it actually is. In my opinion, the R-30 is in the same league with the size of a Lowe HF-150, but is somewhat wider, and much lighter. Construction quality appears to be fairly good overall, but not up to the tank like exterior of the HF-150.
Quite honestly, the R-30 isn't the prettiest receiver available, but this isn't the reason why I purchased it. My main concerns were how well it performs, as well as, the ability of it to become portable.
There are very few good performing radios available that allow portability. Yes, there are many portable radios out there, but many of them must be discounted as they are poor performers. Undoubtedly, the best of the bunch is the famous Sony 2010, but this radio is fairly heavy, especially when you add the "D" cell batteries inside of it. It is also notorious for having overloading problems. The Lowe HF-150 would be my ideal choice, but it doesn't have a backlit display, unless you're able to find the newer Europa model, and there's no S-meter. The original HF-150's front end also leaves a little to be desired.
This is where the R-30 really seems to stand out. It sports a nicely backlit display, as well as a clear and accurate analog S-meter. It is also lightweight, and from what I've read has a very good front end. These features alone seem to make it the perfect "carry along" radio, especially one that's capable of performing very well.
Upon first inspection it's apparent that the radio has a minimum of front panel controls. There's the obvious VFO knob, which when pressed, changes the tuning rate between 500 Hz or 20 Hz steps. While I'm now on this subject, I'd like to comment further about the VFO knob. It appears that it is manufactured from a plastic material that feels lightweight to the touch. I also noticed a slight wobble when it was turned. I'm not sure if the knob itself is off a bit or if it's the shaft that its mounted on that gives this wobble effect. Otherwise, it does spin very smoothly, and seems to perform well. There's also no indicator light that lets the user know if the tuning rate is set for 500 Hz or 20 Hz steps. The easiest way to find out I found, is by looking at how rapidly the digits change on the display. I also found the switch portion of the VFO knob that selects the tuning rates, to be a rather clumsy method of doing so. At first, I wasn't sure if I had pressed the knob or not, as it's a momentary type of switch and one without much feel. But with a little practice I did become more accustomed to how this feature functions.
Elsewhere on the front panel, there are 5 small push buttons located below the LCD display that control Memory, Mode, Bandwidth, Attenuator, and AGC. There are also two more small push buttons to the right of the VFO knob that control Up/Down frequency stepping, in 500 Khz increments/decrements. There are also small LED indicators above the Attenuator, Bandwidth, and AGC buttons. These are used as a reminder of their settings. Another 3 small red LED indicators are located just to the left of the LCD display. These indicate the current operating mode, i.e. AM/LSB/USB. The only other control is the Volume/Power switch. A 1/4" headphone jack is also provided on the front panel, and lastly there is the very nice analog "S" meter, which is very clearly labled from S1 to +60dB.
The radio also features a heavy tilt bail located on the bottom panel. This helps aid in the viewing of the front panel when it's extended. The radio does have feet on the bottom, the front ones of which are a bit taller then the ones in the rear. This also helps to elevate the radio a bit, but the tilt up bail really improves front panel viewability.
The LCD display is easy to view from most angles and is adequately backlit. Likewise, the analog "S" meter is also very easy to read and clearly lit. The backlighting on both can be turned off via a pushbutton switch located on the rear panel of the radio. This certainly will help conserve battery consumption while the radio is powered via the non-supplied internal "AA" cell batteries.
The rear panel of the radio features the typical SO-239 low impedance antenna connector, spring terminals for the attachment of higher impedance antennas, the pushbutton switch which turns on/off the LCD/S-meter backlighting, (as was mentioned above). Also provided is a switch that allows power to be applied onto the SO-239 antenna connector, and the connection for the supplied AC adapter. A 1/4" jack is also supplied for connection of an external speaker, and there's also a Ground screw terminal, which allows for proper grounding of the radio.
Powering it up, or "So how does it perform, you may ask"?.....
Please understand that I'm only sharing how the radio performs in my part of the world. Your mileage may vary. I live in what's known as a highly "polluted" RF environment. So what do I mean by this? I live only a few miles north of the infamous Meadowlands here in northern NJ. Many high power AM transmitters reside here. Also, to my north I have WABC 770, which has its transmitter located in Lodi, NJ, another problem for me. So my DXing experiences are a real challenge for myself, especially when DXing the BCB band. I also am using a home made loop antenna for MW DXing, so that must also be considered. For the HF bands I use a long wire sloper antenna and my Cushcraft multi-band vertical antenna.
A. MW Band
I soon attached my home made loop, and decided to try to pull in a few of the harder to hear long range daytime MW stations. My first stop was on 640 Khz. There is a low power daytime station in Connecticut. This one for me is pretty difficult to hear. I was happy when the R-30 managed to pull it in with about an S-1 and nice clear audio. In fact, after tuning around a bit more I was generally very impressed how well the R-30 managed to pull in more of these longrange daytime stations, even if they were located on a frequency next to or nearby a strong local station. I was able to hear stations up to 150 miles from me with crisp, clear audio.
A few nights later I tried my hand to see if I could hear some TA (Trans-Atlantic), stations. I did manage to hear hets on 890, 1090, 1250, and 1520, and then even heard some Arabic chanting audio on 1521 from Saudi Arabia. I've only done this previously with my older Drake R-8 and with my Kenwood R-5000 receivers. This was a great thrill for me and clearly shows that the R-30 can hold its own with the bigger communication receivers.
I don't have any test equipment to perform accurate test measurement evaluations, but I do have extensive experience with many types of receivers that I have once owned. Over the years I've had the pleasure of owning the following communication receivers; Drake R-8, Kenwood R-5000, Lowe HF-150, and a Drake SW-8. I'd have to rate the Palstar R-30 right up there with those as far as sensitivity and selectivity is concerned.
The R-30 is rated at 2uV sensitivity, and has been measured as low as 0.5uV by some reviewers. While these are an excellent numbers, many good DXers know that sensitivity is not the only important factor for snaring good DX. Selectivity is also a very important specification in how well a radio can separate adjacent stations. In my opinion this spec is even more important then sensitivity. I found the R-30 to be very good in this aspect. I was able to clearly listen to many stations that were located right next my stronger locals. Readability only improved when I switched into ECSS, (exalted-carrier) mode. I noticed that it's also possible to tune away from a neighboring interfering station when in the AM mode. This also helped to reduce nearby splatter and allows one to hear the desired station much more clearly. I did notice that my R-30 was slightly off frequency when I used ECSS, by around 150 Hz, but this was later corrected by myself. I also tried using the narrower bandwidth while in the AM mode, but it appeared to significantly muffle the audio, more so then what I had expected. I did expect some degradation of audio, but not as much as what I had experienced. My best results were obtained when tuning in ECSS, or when I tuned away from the interfering station in the AM mode.
Audio quality is also quite good with the internal built in speaker, and seems to improve dramatically further with the use of an external speaker. I personally enjoy using Radio Shack's little OPTIMUS video cube speaker. They're designed for voice frequencies and seem to match up well with just about any radio I have ever used it on. I believe their still available today, but now carry the RCA brand name on them.
A major factor in my decision to purchase the Palstar R-30 was that most of the reviews I found stated that it had a very good front end, one that was good at handling strong signals. I've experienced overloading problems with many receivers in the past, but I can honestly say that I've experienced no overloading problems what-so-ever with this receiver. The front end on the R-30 really is well designed.
B. HF Bands.....
Tuning around on the HF bands, I was able to copy many of the International broadcasters. Radio New Zealand was very strong on 17.675, as was Radio Australia during the early morning hours. In fact, many of the International broadcasting stations were easily heard with great sounding audio emanating from my external speaker. With the R-30's clear, low distortion audio, anyone could listen to program content hour after hour without becoming fatigued.
I also spent a good deal of time on the amateur bands, in particular 20m. The band was open one night and I was able to easily copy many operators from all over Europe with no problems. The receiver is very stable after a short warm-up period, and once a station is tuned in, it stays rock steady, without the need for any additional re-tuning. Even many of the utility stations and WX-FAX stations were stable and clear. It's good to see that Palstar has made a good quality stable receiver for serious SSB and Utility work. Best stability appears to be after the receiver has warmed up. This generally takes place after about a 10 minute period when the radio is operated in a room temperature. It may take longer if the radio is used outdoors in cooler weather.
The AGC also performs as expected. The slow setting performs very well and the time constant is just about right. I found myself using the fast setting when tuning around high power or local stations, and I used the slow time setting for SSB, utility stations and after I tuned in a station I wanted to listen to.
Another important factor in purchasing this radio for me was it's ability to be operated as a portable. The R-30 can operate from internally inserted "AA" cells. This is a great feature, and makes it easy for taking the R-30 along with you during DXpeditions, hiking,or just lounging in the park or a backyard.
In this section I will try to describe how to install the batteries, because it does require a bit of work. The first step is to remove the 4 screws which secure the top cover. They are located in pairs on each of the lower sides on the radio. After removing all four of them, carefully lift off the top cover, taking special care of the wires connected to the top mounted speaker. I found it easiest to lay the cover on its side and placed towards the back of the radio.
Next, remove the screw that holds down the battery retaining bar, and then lift the bar from right to left. The left side of the bar is inserted into a notch. (It appears that the function of this bar is to prevent a battery from popping out of the holder while in transit.) Next, install 10 'AA' batteries, preferably Alkaline type, and be careful to insert each of them noting their correct polarity. Replace the battery bar, screw, top cover, and 4 cover screws in that order.
The radio appears to perform very well when I operated it on the internal batteries. From what I've read battery life isn't the best, but this is to be expected. Battery life will suffer greatly if the backlight is on, so be sure to turn it off to help conserve battery drain. I'd expect several hours of usage from a fresh set of alkaline batteries, probably long enough for one good DX session.
My Closing Comments....
Overall I found the Palstar R-30 to be a very good receiver. Certainly one sensitive and selective enough to pull out weak DX. Whether you enjoy DXing the medium wave band, International Broadcasters or Utilities on the HF bands, the R-30 should serve you quite well.
The audio quality is among the best I've heard. I would rate it up there with the Drakes, though not as bassy, and not as bold as the HF-150, but very good sounding indeed. The radio is built solidly, though I would still take care when carrying it with you. I did find a nice little carrying case at my local Radio Shack store which seems to hold the radio and the adapter securely in place.
The radio is certainly small enough to take along with you on DXpeditions or while monitoring on the go. While it does not have all the features that a "real" DX radio may offer, the R-30 seems to get along without them just fine. The excellent, low distortion audio quality is really an added bonus, and seems to help the readability of stations in many situations. ECSS mode does work, though I found I had to shift the frequency just a little bit, which I later corrected. The audio in the ECSS mode does seem to decrease somewhat, but was remedied by increasing the volume slightly.
In conclusion, this is a very fine offering from Palstar. I must commend them for the fine job they've done. The receiver seems well priced, performs very well and is built solidly. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a bare bones work horse that's capable of pulling in DX with great sounding audio, and for a radio that can be taken along on those outdoor adventures. It's certainly smaller and lighter then Drakes now retired SW-8 and it's lighter then the harder to find Lowe HF-150.
I do wonder
if Palstar will offer an upgrade for this receiver
sometime in the future. Most preferably, I'd like to see
them change the VFO tuning knob to a heavier type
We thank Gary Wilt for his excellent review of the Palstar R-30 and for permission to use it.
PART 2 - Review by Russ Johnson
If you have not read Gary Wilt's excellent review of the R30, I recommend that you do so before reading this one. In addition to his comments on the radio performance, he does a great job of describing the radio physically (jacks, switches, etc). Because of the thorough job he did in that regard, I chose not to spend much time covering the same territory.
I purchased my R30C in August 2001 directly from Palstar. After corresponding directly with Gerry Thomas, who did an extensive review in mid-2000 (comparing it against the Drake R8 and the JRC NRD-535D), I opted to get my R30 fitted with a Collins filter in the narrow SSB slot and the ceramic filter in the wide AM position.
There were no problems in ordering. The radio was in stock and arrived well packaged in two days via UPS 2-day air. The radio comes with an AC adapter, instruction booklet, ¼ to 1/8" mono adapter, spare fuse and spare stick on feet.
Let me preface my comments with a strong endorsement in favor of the R30. I will be pointing out some inconveniences associated with the radio but I don't want to leave an unintended unfavorable impression. I really like the R30. I bought it primarily for AM (MW) Dxing and for monitoring amateur radio SSB transmissions. I own numerous shortwave and MW portables. Feeling that it was unlikely that I would be moving up to the Drake R8B level any time soon, I saw the R30 as a good alternative for my purposes. I was intrigued by Gerry Thomas' comparison of the R30 against the Drake R8. I should point out that I have zero experience with the R8 series or any shortwave receiver of that caliber.
After you get used to the multi-functional tuning knob and the Memory button, the radio is very easy to operate. The radio can be mastered in one or two sessions. The operating manual is pretty good. I'd grade it at a B or B+. The most obvious error is that it has not been updated since Palstar changed the up/down slew buttons to 500 kHz. It was 1 MHz initially.
What's To Like?
In three words - overall excellent performance.
Audio - The audio is wonderful, even with the internal top mounted speaker. I am using an Optimus XTS40 as the external speaker which I bought on close out at Radio Shack a year or so ago. This is an excellent match for the R30. By the way, Palstar suggests the Jansen C-JR speaker, which is available at Circuit City. (May 2002 Update - I do see that Palstar now offers its own matching speaker for the R-30).
Stability - After an initial warm-up period of about 30 minutes, my R30C settles down (after drifting down 150-200 Hz) and stays put on frequency. The specs say that it is stable within 20 Hz (+ or -) per hour.
Display - Big, bright and basic. The display shows one thing at a time but in large numerals that you really can see across the room. Depending on what mode you are in, the display shows either: frequency, memory channel or locked frequency. The classic analog S-Meter is also backlit. The backlighting can be turned off via a pushbutton switch on the back.
Overall Build Quality - Seems superb with the exception of the lower quality feel of the tuning knob (see Gary Wilt's review for detail).
Performance - I am very impressed with the selectivity of the R30. SSB reception is exceptional. The audio is muffled on AM in the narrow bandwidth - however, you can get decent intelligibility by off tuning 1.2 kHz in either direction. The R30 offers very low floor noise. It's quiet.
What is Annoying or Inconvenient?
Tuning Speed - There is no visual indicator (LED) to tell you if you are in the fast or slow tuning position with the knob. Watch the display as you tune and you'll figure it out.
Am I In Memory Mode or Not? - Again, no indicator (LED) to tell you. It is frustrating to be listening to a station, turn the knob to go up 1 kHz or so and you find yourself "miles away" at your next memory position because you were in Memory Mode! (Here's a tip: if you can't remember if you are in Memory, push the Mode button. It will not engage if you are in Memory)
Up/Down Slewing - This is a matter of personal taste. Without a keypad, these buttons do need to cover some territory. The 500 kHz jump is a serious improvement over the 1 MHz jump from the original design. I'd actually prefer this to be even smaller, say 250 kHz.
Don't Push Too Hard - The radio is so light that you push the radio when you push in the tuning knob. When you want to push the knob, you'll need to push down on the cabinet top with a few fingers while you push the knob in with your thumb.
AGC - The AGC actually works well with one exception severe static crashes. The recovery (on both fast and slow) is way too slow for strong crashes. Most of my other portables allow for better copy against strong and severe static. The AGC does fine when copying through mild or moderate static.
Is that a 7 or a 1 ? - If your viewing angle of the display is just over the top of the display window, you lose sight of the top of the number 7, making it look like a 1.
Battery Replacement - Having to remove the cabinet and being not to snap off the speaker wires is a little too much to ask just to change batteries. How about a hinged lid, like the Hammarlund HQ-180 I used to have?
Easier Access to Alignment Trimmer Capacitor - The procedure to adjust the trimmer capacitor for calibration/alignment is easy. But getting to the trimmer could be made easier. How about an access hole in the plate holding the battery pack (under the redesigned hinged top?).
Once a Memory, Always a Memory - The manual warns you about this, but once you enter a memory into one of the 100 slots, that slot will always have a memory in it. You can change it to your heart's content but you cannot delete a memory position until you need it later.
What, no keypad? - I wondered how I'd like no direct tuning. It's really not a problem. Between some strategic memory settings and the 500 kHz slew buttons, I really don't miss direct tuning.
Hmmm, didn't I do without this for the first 25 years of my radio hobby?
Service - So far, so good. However, my experience is limited to two relatively minor problems. First, the R30 kept blowing fuses with battery operation. Second, the radio was about 150-200 kHz off frequency after warm up period. A call to Palstar got me to Paul who quickly outlined the easy frequency adjustment procedure (note - this is now posted in the Palstar R30 group files). The fuse blowing problem was a little more perplexing. After I was able to convince him that I had not installed the batteries backwards, he figured it out in a matter of minutes. The battery pack leads had been connected in reverse. It was relatively simple surgery. Palstar sent some wire and heat shrink material to help in the splicing.
As I said earlier, I really like the R30C. If your formula is: Excellent Selectivity + Very Good Sensitivity + Outstanding Audio = High Performance you will be a fan of the R30. Especially if you want that performance in a small package (8.26" W x 2.56" H x 7.68"D - 2.2 lbs.).
If you want lots of features (more than 2 bandwidths, more than 100 memories, synch detection, clocks, timers, multi-functional display, etc.) you may want to save up some more cash and purchase a higher end receiver.
I am really happy with mine to this point and I am looking forward to this winter when I can really put the R30C through some serious MW Dxing sessions!
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