U

RadioLabs
S
ANGEAN
Super ATS-909 Modifications

RadioLabs Home Page
www.RadioLabs.com

Sangean's Home Page
www.sangean.com

 

Back in December, I e-mailed RadioLabs to ask them if they would modify my radio. At the time, they were only selling pre-modified radios, but they told me to give them a call. Long story short -- Chris Justice agreed to do the "Super mods" to my radio. I UPS'd my radio to him, using the RMA instructions on the "Repair" section of the RadioLabs site.

It took a few weeks to get my radio back, but there were very good reasons for the delay. First and foremost was the fact that RadioLabs had not planned on being in the "mods" business -- they were planning on selling pre-modded ATS-909's as they had time to build them. I know they had to wait for more custom-design filters to arrive from the manufacturer.

I got an e-mail from Chris when it was ready, and confirming UPS tracking numbers from both him and the UPS shipping system. I had RadioLabs ship it to my office.

Two business days later, I saw the UPS guy in my office window, and met him at the door.


First Impressions

My Super ATS-909 looked exactly the same until I flipped it over. There, on the upper right-hand side of the back was a new RCA jack for an external FM antenna.

I put some new Alkaline batteries in it, and powered it on.

My presets were still there, so I was treated to WWL-AM, my "Priority" station, in a rich, full CLEAR sound.

I was floored.

Why? Because my office is in one of those flat-roofed, metal-studded, radio-unfriendly buildings full of RF from a couple of dozen networked computers and various other noisy electronic gizmos like plotters, copiers, laser-printers, and dozens of fluorescent light fixtures. I've never been able to hear radio there except near a window -- and even that was noisy.

I pulled up the antenna and tried shortwave. Too much noise there. Perhaps 11:00 AM inside wasn't the best time to try ;)

Shortwave
That evening, I put it on my nightstand and plugged in the AC adapter and my 75-foot random-wire antenna.

BLUE! The display was not what I expected -- I expected some "bluish" white light (instead of the algae-colored green), but what I see is a very deep blue color, reminiscent of something it would normally take neon to produce. It's like indiglo on steroids. The display is very readable, and though the display is a little brighter than it used to be, it is not an unwelcome new night-light. I can see a dim reflection on the ceiling in a pitch-black room. It's nice.

I was in luck -- propagation conditions were "good." WBCQ in Maine came in great (even on the whip), and I live near New Orleans. Of course all of my old favorite presets did as well -- only they didn't fade nearly as much as before. Then, another surprise -- It literally took me an hour to get through the 49-meter band, because it was full of newly-listenable signals to explore.

I came to really appreciate what RadioLabs had done with the "AM RF GAIN" knob. It will now zero, which is a HUGE help when you're trying to find a direction on MW or LW. Tuning shortwave, I found that I was using it quite a bit to help fine-tune signals and mute background noise. It is quickly obvious that the sensitivity has been boosted considerably.

Setting the bandwidth to "wide" on a powerful signal results in a very clean, full sound. When DX'ing, the "NARR AM" is different than before. It now seems to actively isolate a signal. It's fairly difficult to get two signals at the same time in that setting -- which I was trying to do to review this radio so I could use SSB to zero-beat a signal. One signal seems to get pulled in (even off-frequency) until there is another (stronger) signal, when the first signal will just drop away. This, at first gives the impression that it is "splash," but then you realize it's nothing but the radio continuing to bring in faint signals. When tuning crowded Shortwave broadcast bands, a Super 909 on a decent external antenna tends to move from one signal to another, rather than signal…static…another signal.

SSB
Next, I went to the 3.800 MHz area to tune in some SSB. At first, it was a little unusual, because I could hear the signals much sooner, and it required several more turns of the fine-tuner to get them. That's right -- you will now use coarse tuning to get close and fine tuning for perfection. SSB is "wider" than before, and the fine-tuning seems "finer" than before. I don't know if this is because of the better IF Filters or what. It could be that the sound is just so much cleaner that it "feels" like the sweet spot is much wider. I found one of the quickest ways to tune SSB was to turn off SSB, tune to the loudest spot that you can hear chatter, then turn on SSB and fine-tune.

The sensitivity increase does bring in a many more SSB signals, so you will find yourself using the newly-modified "AM RF GAIN" to drop the noise floor of off-frequency signals in overcrowded SSB areas, to isolate a single "net." This takes a little practice, but makes the radio a lot of fun to use.

I used to use SSB a lot more to zero-beat signals than I did to hear Hams. The new filters and the better "NARR AM" setting make for less need to zero-beat than before, so I set it to "WIDE" and pulled a few stations in as a test. It still works flawlessly as a tuning aid.


Longwave
I still don't hear anything I'm really interested in on Longwave. There are some curious "beeps and boops" (presumably navigational aids), but I'm just not enough of a radio geek to get excited about them. However, you do hear more of them -- A lot more.


Medium-wave (AM)
I've already mentioned how the modified antenna gain helps you find (or null) signals for medium-wave (Domestic broadcast AM radio).

There's more -- the sensitivity improvements really pull in more signals. I found myself wishing my CCRadio Plus had the same antenna gain control as my Super ATS-909, because you can decrease the "floor level" of all signals and effectively blank weaker stations heard in the background of stronger ones -- very handy. It makes the Super 909 the more listenable of the two in some ways. The 909 is still not as directional as the CCRadio Plus, and it does not "null" signals as well by turning the radio, due to a shorter internal ferrite rod antenna.

I moved my Justice AM Antenna (JAMA - now renamed the C. Crane AM Antenna - CCAMA due to Chris Justice's move to RadioLabs) to the Super ATS-909 just for grins -- and it makes for a real DX combination. You can bring in a really marginal frequency using the CCAMA, then attenuate it on the 909 to pull one station out of the jumble (as long as that station is marginally stronger than the others in the background).

I like being able to listen to my favorite nighttime 50 KW's with much less fading than before.

 

FM
I wish I could say that I've hooked up an external antenna to the new RCA plug for FM/SW, but I haven't. It is much the same as before, except with a much better sound from the speaker, especially on "MUSIC." Headphones are much the same as before, only with improved tone.

The original stereo mini-plug antenna jack still functions as normal.

The "RDS" function (which displays information such as station names, slogans, artists, and songs on RDS-enabled FM radio stations) is not modified and functions as before.


Sound
Basically -- night and day. First, the new speaker is crisp and clear, but more importantly it sounds FULL. I have found that I can keep the "TONE" switch on "MUSIC" and still understand spoken words from even marginal signals. The other settings are very good as well, and I have found them to be very useful when propagation conditions deteriorate. Still, I have really enjoyed actually hearing a little "bottom" on shortwave lately.

To give you an idea of the sound quality, many stronger Shortwave stations will remind you of "FM-ish" clarity. This radio shines on "broadcast" Shortwave, like BBC, VOA, etc.


Quality

My radio came back in great condition. Frankly, I think they polished it -- the display was really clean, etc. -- nary a sign that it had been on someone's "bench."

Also, my radio was a bit unusual, because I bought it from C. Crane with the tuning detent mod already done (their "Deluxe ATS-909). I was really surprised to see that RadioLabs even tweaked that. I guess it wasn't up to their standards, because the tuning knob now turns easily with one finger on the face of the knob -- something it did not do before, and a very welcome improvement.


Price
You can go two ways -- get a new Super ATS-909 for $299.95 or send them your own to modify for $109.95. As I mentioned in my review, I sent them a C. Crane-modified "Deluxe ATS-909" for modifications, so they adjusted the price for the tuning detent/anti-chuffing mod for that radio (around $30 as I recall) since it was already done. Now that it's back, I actually think I should have paid them more, because of the obvious work they did on that tuning knob.

Available here:
www.radiolabs.com/products/receivers/super909.php

Summary

This is one radio that will never be on Ebay. It's a keeper.

Guy Davis cmstinger@<CUTFORSPAMCRAP>yahoo.com
Picayune, MS

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Disclaimer
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I am not affiliated in any way with Sangean, RadioLabs, or C. Crane company, and I was not compensated in any way for this review. In fact, I paid good money for these modifications -- and I'm very glad that I did.

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