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Author Topic: Your choice for best take-along multiband radio for touring  (Read 2576 times)
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Danneaux
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« on: March 09, 2012, 04:33:20 AM »

Hi All!

(I think) I am looking for a small, lightweight, multiband radio for world bike touring, and would like your feedback and suggestions regarding the best model.

My ideal model would include:
- reasonable price
- small size
- light weight (<4oz/113gm or so)
- long battery life with common rechargeable AA or AAA batteries
- USB power or built-in recharging of batteries; dynohub/The Plug2 would charge batteries in the radio
- lighted LCD tuner
- AM/FM/MW/LW capability with good sensitivity
- stereo output through the earphone jack for earbuds, maybe a small mono speaker
- good sensitivity and selectivity
- DSP ETM PLL (digital signal processing and memory, and phase-lock loop tuning)
- Single conversion is okay, but I would prefer dual, double, or triple conversion; who wouldn't!

A quick check of the 'Net reveals the following models:
= #1 on the list for meeting most criteria is the Tecsun PL-380:
Manual: www.borantrading.com/ebay/pl/pl380.pdf
Review: http://radio-timetraveller.blogspot.com/2010/06/review-of-tecsun-pl-380-dsp-receiver.html
(no external antenna connection, but board can be easily accessed to add a connection; a couple years old, about the biggest size I would consider; prefer smaller)

= CCrane SW Pocket/Redsun RP 300:
Site w/reviews: http://www.ccrane.com/radios/shortwave-radios/ccradio-swp.aspx
(no USB or in-radio battery charging, large volume jumps, LCD driver-caused hiss at low volume

= GP-4L "Survival" radio:
Review: http://www.radiointel.com/review-2005digital.htm
http://www.endtimesreport.com/GP-4L_Survival_Radio.html , http://www.marathonwatch.com/products/item/shortwave-radio-alarm-clock-emergency-EFTR-short-wave/
(plug-chargeable; can easily hack charger socket to USB with cord for in-unit battery charging, LED area light, alarm clock, LCD display but no light, uneven reception, smallest, and price champ at USD$20+shipping)

Grundig used to have several offerings that appealed to me, but since they joined with Eton, they seem a bit less capable than before. Do they have more recent offerings that might fill the bill?

I'm a little reluctant to embark on this quest because I view wilderness touring as a chance to get away from such things. Still, it is sometimes nice to pick up weather reports and news, and for entertainment in camp. Trouble is, despite being out in open country/desert, I am also far away from radio stations, and my little AM/FM earbud radio just won't pull in much, so it would be nice to have something more capable, but still small and lightweight.

Do any of you own or take a small multiband radio with you on long or solo tours, and if so, what have you chosen? Are any of you amateur radio enthusiasts familiar with the current ultralight offerings? Any suggestions?  Thanks in advance!

Best,

Dan.
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mylesau
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« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2012, 06:37:31 AM »

A brand to look for or compare to is Sangean - they seem to be the most renowned radios.

My needs are simple - I have a small Sony Micro AM/FM radio - not sure they are available any more.  It uses 1 AAA and lasts for months - all manual tuning and uses the earphones as the antenna.  It has never failed me and gets very good reception.  It's all about the battery life for me...  I know this isn't what you're after but I thought I'd mention it.
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Danneaux
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« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2012, 06:42:37 AM »

Actually, that's a great suggestion, Myles, and it may be what I end up with for most of my riding needs. I have a couple similar ear-bud radios now -- one by Panasonic and the other by AIWA, but the tuner sections aren't too good. Perhaps I should rethink it with a Sony like yours. If the battery life and reception range were both excellent, I wouldn't have need for the recharging or international-radio capability while here in the States. If I could consistently get National Public Radio for world news, I'd be pretty happy.

<nods> Sangean, yes. That name is well-respected among radiophiles here as well.  Good reminder, Myles.

Thanks!

Best,

Dan.
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« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2012, 11:00:15 AM »

Dan

I went through the same process and found the Eton FR350 Survival Radio ...

http://www.ukdapper.co.uk/eton-fr350-wind-up-emergency-radio-p-7533.html

Now a discontinued model, I think it is still available in the US. It is often used in remote areas and has SW (not one of your requirements I know but you would always be able pick up a station in remote areas!). It contains an internal rechargeable battery and wind handle so meets my environmental requirements. You can use standard AA batteries too (The Plug 2 again!). Its of rugged weather-resistant construction.

In the end I dug out a radio I bought many years ago and is no longer made. The speaker did not work and the volume control and light was broken but I had it repaired locally and its as good as new. If you can find one on ebay or secondhand it is a great compact radio. Being oldish technology it can always be repaired unlike modern radios.

http://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/portable/icfsw1s.html
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Danneaux
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« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2012, 06:35:29 PM »

Thanks, Richard!
Quote
...the Eton FR350 Survival Radio...
Yes! This is still available in the US. My Dad has the same radio, next size up and it works well.
Quote
In the end I dug out a radio I bought many years ago and is no longer made
Oh, that Sony is a little beauty! The literally don't make 'em like that anymore. <-- Ever notice that after "they don't"...everyone wishes "they did"? Many things are no longer repairable. To me, the ultimate in recycling is often to keep what you have going, rather than simply ditch-and-replace. There's two environmental costs to products -- one when a product is made, and again when it is discarded/recycled (and sometimes a third...as it is being used). Keep the old and repair it, and you end up saving twice. That's why I still drive a favorite car that is 23 model years old ('89 Honda Civic Si hatchback. Still gets 33mpg City/44mpg Hwy, right up there with a current hybrid) and buy new bikes about every 20 or so years It isn't always possible or practical, but nice when it works out well.

My thinking with a radio like the Tecsun PL-380 with built-in USB recharging of the AA cells, is I could make it do double-duty as a radio and as a means to charge those batteries, all in one. Need the AA cells elsewhere? Just rob them from the radio when it is not in use. I'm trying to think of more and more double- and triple-duty uses for the electronic gear I take by standardizing on similar batteries. For example, the GPS, the SteriPen, and the radio would all use AA cells, but I would rarely need to use all three simultaneously, so what not swap the batteries between them (keeping a spare, charged set in reserve, for example). A bit like Ian Hibell's sock usage -- he wore two socks and took just one spare, so it could always be laundered and drying in reserve while he wore a pair, saving the weight- and space costs of a fourth sock. Madly brilliant! My solution? Quarter-socks without the leg shaft of a crew sock. They pack in about half the space and weigh less also.

Good radio suggestions; thanks!

Best,

Dan.
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jags
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« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2012, 09:44:50 PM »

i bought a dab radio last year excellent sound quality and great reception  hee in the republic but when i went to northern ireland  the dab didn't work  Cry but i still got great am signal.
it's a roberts eco logic 1 dab radio  cost on amazon 70 euro i think  about the size of a paperback weighs about 1lb or there abouts not multi band but as long as i can tune into some good music i'm a happy camper.
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Danneaux
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« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2012, 10:43:58 PM »

Quote
...roberts eco logic 1 dab radio...
That is a little beauty, jags, and fills the bill for recharging the (4 AA) batteries inside the unit. It surely does well in the online custoomer/user reviews. I do think DAB is coming more widely, and so long as one has analog AM and FM to fall back on, is fine most places. Still, just a bit large/heavy and too many batteries to meet my desired carry-along requirements. I'm still a fan of the nice, clean design; it's sure pretty.  Would be a terrific radio for other uses, though; thanks!

Best,

Dan.
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Danneaux
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« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2012, 08:43:30 PM »

Hi All,

Thanks to the information contained here: http://www.rwonline.com/article/whatever-happened-to-shortwave-radio/2842 and from several other sources, I'm beginning to rethink the need for a shortwave radio to take world touring. Apparently, it is all but dead, at least here in the States and also -- apparently -- in much of Northern Africa and even Europe, from what I am given to understand. Even in Cambodia, local residents are getting Voice of America on FM rebroadcast rather then Medium Wave or shortwave.

Yes, it seems Internet-rebroadcast of transmissions is partly responsible, but the real reasons pre-date that.  The decline of the Cold War was a major political factor, followed by the move toward rebroadcast of programming on FM stations.  Apparently, the US' Public Broadcasting Service offered a lucrative package to the BBC for programming rebroadcast rights -- TV entertainment programming primarily, but it also included rebroadcast of BBC America shortwave transmissions via PBS affiliates' FM frequencies. Since shortwave transmissions tend to be expensive, this represented a substantial cost-savings in the eyes of BBC directors at the time, and it seems the model is being duplicated in much of Europe and Northern Africa. According to the article linked above, a similar situation obtains in SE Asia as well. Here in the States, religious-oriented broadcasting has taken the place of government broadcasting on shortwave...when I tried my father's shortwave radio last night, that's mostly what came in clearly.

Please, can anyone in Europe, Africa, Asia or Australia confirm that shortwave just isn't what it was? Or, put another way, are there enough shortwave offerings available to make it worthwhile to get and take a shortwave radio to take along on a world tour? At present, it appears BBC World Service is no longer very viable, and that leaves Deutche Welle and Radio Netherlands.

I'll admit I readily succumb to the Romance of Adventure, and the mental picture of huddling over a shortwave radio in my little tent, listening for news of border closures, skirmishes on the frontier, and the atrocities of a rogue military junta have massive appeal. In reality, the wheel of progress has turned and it seems I have arrived a day late and dollar short to take full advantage of what is now an antiquated, largely abandoned technology.

More useful, it seems, would be a radio with a really good AM tuning section, a powerful FM receiver, and a tuner to received NOAA and National Weather Service reports here in the US. It is beginning to look like the leading candidate for bike touring is the Sony SRF-M37 Walkman ( http://www.google.com/products/catalog?hl=en&q=sony+srf-m37w+review&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&biw=1440&bih=726&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=14881555291521200817&sa=X&ei=SfxgT7eyD8qW2QXLgsyOCA&ved=0CDYQ8wIwAA ...and cheaper direct from Sony... http://store.sony.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10551&storeId=10151&langId=-1&partNumber=SRFM37W#specifications ), with a claimed battery life of 54 hours on AM, 34 hours on FM, and 31 hours on weather from only a single AAA cell. Dimensions are 3.375" W x 2.5" H x 1.31" D (83mmx63mmx32mm). Weight: 3.3 oz/94g including battery and belt clip. I'm going to get one this afternoon from Best Buy and see how it works, headphones replaced with more compact ear buds. Report to follow.

Best,

Dan.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2012, 06:45:01 AM by Danneaux » Logged
Danneaux
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« Reply #8 on: March 15, 2012, 01:18:50 AM »

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It is beginning to look like the leading candidate for bike touring is the Sony SRF-M37 Walkman
No, it's not...at least so far.

I got the little SRF-M37 this afternoon, and I'm pretty disappointed. I'll wait till nightfall when DX'ing conditions are more optimal to decide whether to keep it, but so far, this example isn't meeting the customer reviews:

- Indoor performance compared to other, cheaper AM/FM/Weather radios is abysmal. The radio isn't particularly affected by interference, it just doesn't grab any but the strongest stations, and those not very well.

- Sound quality is abysmal; I didn't expect much, but there is no fidelity on FM regardless of the headphones used. The Sennheisers made it sound worse, if anything, better reproducing all the lack of quality in the signal section. There's a really significant hiss caused by the LCD driver, and the volume cannot be turned "off", so the low setting is objectionably loud in a quiet setting (depending of course on headphone impedence). I have really good ears, and can usually still hear a television set to "MUTE" in a quiet room. I would definitely need to use this with an inline volume control. Radio volume control is by variable rotary potentiometer, and works smoothly. Time will tell if it becomes subject to moisture- and humidity-caused static (the radio is completely unshielded from dust, dirt, and moisture).

- Despite a PLL (phase-locked loop) tuner, there is very poor adjacent-channel rejection and selectivity, and reception wanders. There is a lot of bleed-over between AM stations and FM stations, and any strong local station washes over an entire section of the available band. I got in the car and took the radio out of town, and even in a rural setting away from strong stations, there is bleedover and lack of discrimination between frequencies.

- Weather-band broadcasts vary strongly in reception and volume on this radio compared to several weather-band radios I have on hand. There is a pretty big variation in reception from moment to moment, even with the earphone cord held steady and taut (it serves as the antenna for FM and weather band, but only the weather-band varies; FM varies less but still won't lock-on steady). [EDIT: Thinking the various earbud cords might not be the same length as the factory-supplied headphones, I tried the factory 'phones,since the radio uses the cord as the antenna for FM and weather-band. No difference in performance]

- Due the internal ferrite rod antenna, AM is very directional, as expected, but has pretty good daylight range. Not exceptional, but good, except for the lack of adjacent-channel rejection (selectivity). On all bands, the Local/Distance switch seems to have little effect on tuner sensitivity.

- On the good side, there is no beep or mute on channel-scans, so one can troll for stations and hear when one pops up; nice when traveling in an unfamiliar area. The battery door is nicely captive and can be replaced if dislodged. The clock is nice, but cannot be seen when the radio is on, and there is no display backlight.

- The Hold/key lock button is really necessary, as all buttons operate with a soft touch and protrude above the surface where they can be easily changed with any pressure, including brushing with a sleeve.

At USD$42 from US electronics chain Best Buy, it seems a bit lacking, especially when one can readily obtain the top-rated Tecsun PL-380 shortwave/AM/FM radio for only about USD$7 more. Sadly, that radio does not appear to receive US government weather broadcasts.

At this point, the Sony SRF-M37 Walkman doesn't look too viable as a bike-touring radio.

Best,

Dan.
« Last Edit: March 20, 2012, 07:57:18 PM by Danneaux » Logged
jags
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« Reply #9 on: March 15, 2012, 10:00:49 AM »

very disappointing dan mind you i did kinda get the feeling you were waisting your money ::)i have a wee sanyo multi band and its multi useless before that i bought a roberts multi band came with great reviews  i took it back and bought the much cheaper sanyo  Angry(mistake )
anyway cut a long story short thats the reason i bought the roberts dab radio at least now i can hear whats going on. no hiss great signal ok you have only so many stations in dab but i also have great reception on AM .
nah take it back dan boy get your money back. Wink
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Danneaux
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« Reply #10 on: March 15, 2012, 10:19:41 AM »

Quote
...take it back dan boy get your money back...
Good advice, jags! It's now 3AM and I've stayed awake, playing with the thing and trying to make it work to no avail. It ain't a-gonna, methinks. I ran through nine different earphone, placed the thing next to an inductive antenna, the works, and no real improvement. I may have gotten a faulty unit, but I'm more inclined to agree with you when you said...
Quote
...i did kinda get the feeling you were waisting your money...
<nods> Yeah, I sometimes get seduced by a combo of low price and good reviews, but this sure didn't meet expectations.  Back it goes to Best Buy later today.

I wish the Tecsun Pl-380 also picked up the US' National Weather Service, but -- like most multi-band shortwaves -- it just neatly misses that VHF band.

I'm intrigued by DAB or "Digital Radio" or "HD Radio" as it is called here. In Oregon, most of the stations are in the populated areas of the state, N-S along the Interstate-5 highway corridor passing through the Willamette Valley, where I live. I looked at a couple of Best Buy's Insignia brand HD radios today, and the smaller one wasn't too impressive. I'll look into it, though. Your Roberts was nicely reviewed.

Yikes...after getting a snack and taking a break from some late work, its 3:18AM. Time for sleep; I've got to awaken for real at 6AM and that doesn't leave much time to inspect my eyelids for holes.

Best,

Dan.
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« Reply #11 on: March 15, 2012, 01:18:01 PM »

Dan,
I use an Eton E5 which does just about everything you are looking for.
The speaker is big enough to give a nice sound.
unfortunately it is about twice the ideal size and weight for taking cycle camping.
Julian.
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« Reply #12 on: March 15, 2012, 09:45:17 PM »

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I use an Eton E5
Julian, that is a fine radio! Looking at the specs, I look in wonder at how much they managed to include for the price -- single-sideband reception, a 700-slot memory, and dual-conversion tuner; what a beaut!
Quote
unfortunately it is about twice the ideal size and weight for taking cycle camping.
Sadly, that's true, but it is still well worth knowing about, and serves as a benchmark to shoot for in a more portable model (or a "Santa's wish list" fulfilled next Christmas for Dad). I see the case is even rubberized, and it has a lighted display -- perfect for home use! The in-radio recharging of the batteries is a great convenience for general portability, and a savings over disposables as well. A nice review here: http://www.eham.net/reviews/detail/5687

Thanks so much for pointing this one out, Julian. It really is a joy to see something executed so nicely. It's very well-rated for performance, but even if it were a brick, the design is just wonderful to look at, isn't it? A real Modern Classic of industrial design. I love stuff like this.

[EDIT: I swapped the little Sony for another, thinking my experience might be due to a bad unit, since it worked so much worse than the reviews would indicate. The second unit is noticeably worse than the first in the same conditions in the same locale, with much poorer reception of the weather band]

All the best,

Dan.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2012, 02:46:11 AM by Danneaux » Logged
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« Reply #13 on: March 16, 2012, 03:24:52 AM »

How about the Sangean DT-400W AM/FM Digital Weather Alert Pocket Radio?

I have a nice Sony shortwave radio but it doesn't get the weather bands.
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« Reply #14 on: March 16, 2012, 04:04:42 AM »

Quote
How about the Sangean DT-400W
That's a great suggestion, Jim! As it happens, I was looking at it online just before dinner, and it appears to hit the mark in many respects:

- Reasonably small and lightweight

- Very well-rated for reception and reliability

- Bright yellow, which might reduce chances of it getting misplaced or overlooked in camp (I'm really good at looking around and doing an inventory before I hit the road each day).

- Available at retailers that would allow a return if it proves egregiously bad.

- Also available at REI (large camping gear/outdoor membership cooperative), and I will soon have a USD$59 dividend I could apply to purchase, making the radio only about USD$5 out-of-pocket.

I see REI doesn't have it in stores, but the Target department stores claim to carry it, so I might be able to go look at it firsthand tomorrow. It sure helps to actually see these things. Some fairly balanced reviews here: http://www.amazon.com/Sangean-DT-400W-Digital-Weather-Pocket/product-reviews/B0012YHQVE/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

It would be nice to have weather-band reception here in the States. Though only low-power VHF, the seven National Weather Service broadcast frequencies are available from transmitters in the smallest places Out West, and that is very handy. For a listing, see: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/nwrbro.htm Right now, the Pacific Northwest where I live is just being hammered by a number of storms, bringing heavy snow to the Cascade mountain range, and heavy rains and flooding to creeks and rivers, with soil liquifaction and slide warnings along many of the mountain streams, which are currently cresting their banks. HEavy rain and high winds are the order of the day for the Coast, with one storm after another making landfall. A winter-weather travel advisory has just been issued for the mountains and even some of the routes I would take on my longer day rides have been affected. All this information is available via the weather band, but AM and FM really don't have much to say about any of it. AM has become a haven for low-power religious stations and nationally-syndicated talk radio centering on sports or politics. I can get the US' Public Broadcasting Service and their contract rebroadcasts of BBC America, but except for Morning Drivetime, there really isn't local weather or community or national news except for brief 3-5 minute headline reports at the top of the hour. FM has become the home of top-40 and genre music by station, as well as home to nationally syndicated music and "personality" shows -- and PBS, often simulcast on AM.

When I'm out in the Great Basin, there isn't really much of anything  in the way of cover, and I either have to ride through a storm in the daytime or hunker down in my tent at night. Still, it would be nice to have a general idea of what's on the horizon weatherwise in the days ahead while on-tour, and it would also be helpful for me as I pass through and over the heavily forested Cascades on my way to the desert. And, too, it would be nice to have the same radio work when I am riding overseas. When I am riding there is entertainment enough in the travel, but when I am stopped for the night in camp, there is a little window of time when all the chores have been done and I've kinda worn out the idea of looking at and photographing the flowers and birds and wildlife, and the stars are not yet out, when it would be nice to have something to do besides popping the blisters on my palms and removing the day's layer of road grime and dead sunscreen. I can't really manage more than one book in my bags, and I don't want to add another gadget in the form of an e-reader. A netbook to journal in would nicely fill the bill (my hands can't write legibly after a 15-17 hour day on gravel, rocks, and dirt), but I am not quite ready to take the plunge on a netbook/tablet/combo yet (they're expensive and what I want is not quite available yet and they present a co-buy in terms of a buffer battery and charging scheme as well).

A radio seemed like just the ticket to meet my interim needs. I'm approaching it a bit reluctantly, since I take my tours to get away from the stuff of home, but it would be nice to have a little companionship (however remote) at the touch of a button, some news and weather that might affect me, and the occasional bit of entertainment. I had at first figured a shortwave radio was just what I needed, but that entire market seems to have changed worldwide, and it has become awfully hard to find a reasonably sized lightweight, powerful and sensitive/selective radio that meets my needs to take in my kit. I surely appreciate everyone's thoughtful contributions and look forward to any more that come my way.

I'll definitely look into the little yellow Sangean soonest, Jim; it looks well worth a try, and I really appreciate the suggestion!

Best,

Dan.
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