The New Qodosen DX-286

Disclaimer: Qodosen provided me with this radio to test. I like it just as much as the SR-286 that I paid for myself and have written about extensively.

This is not a product review because it is essentially the same model as the SR-286, so the review of that radio applies to the DX-286. The difference is in packaging, small firmware updates and a much improved product manual. All that follows.

Unboxing

The predecessor SR-286 didn’t come in a box. That’s remedied in the new model. I’ve decided to link to an excellent unboxing video by Andre from the SWL YouTube channel. One shouldn’t mess with perfection. Andre has some cool videos showing what he can receive in South Africa on an interesting variety of radios.

DX-286 Unboxing on the SWL Channel

But not only does it come in a nice box, it also comes in a very nice hard-body case! The case looks large in the picture but it’s no wider than a Tecsun PL-990 radio without a case. This should be great for travel.

Qodosen DX-286 in sturdy carry case
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Incoming Radio! Qodosen DX-286

It was a mere 6 months ago when I wrote a very similar headline: Incoming Radio! Qodosen SR-286. I bought that radio because it looked interesting, it looked different, and there weren’t many others around (I like to be an early adopter sometimes). I wrote several articles on it both because I liked the radio and because there wasn’t much information out there already.

That leads to the disclaimer:

The Qodosen company noticed my articles. They contacted me and offered to send me the new model DX-286. They asked me to share my opinion about it. They didn’t ask me to write about it and they didn’t ask me to say nice things about it, but the reader should know that I didn’t buy this radio with my own money.

DX-286 Photo from Product Manual

The DX-286, according to Qodosen is physically and electronically the same radio as the SR-286 with the difference in packaging and firmware. The SR-286 didn’t come in a box, just wrapped around with bubble shipping envelopes. It didn’t come with a manual; I had to find that online, and the manual was what I would call a rough draft. The new one comes with a box and a manual. Neither comes with the 18650 battery.

This is what Qodosen says about the two radios:

Before the official version of the DX-286 (with complete packaging) was launched, the SR-286 radio has always been sold in a customized manner, only circulating in a small circle of enthusiasts; all are produced and delivered after pre-ordering, and there is no packaging. During the group purchase period, enthusiasts did indeed suggest that they hope to add AIR/SSB functions, but because adding these functions require a large amount of R&D time and hardware costs, and enthusiasts hope to get customized version radios as soon as possible, we did not add AIR/SSB functions after comprehensive consideration. We have rich design experience in SSB/AIR and will collect suggestions from enthusiasts in the future to try to meet their needs.

I want to follow up on that bit, “We have rich design experience in SSB/AIR.” The principle designer of the SR-286, Deping Zeng, was also the designer of the Eton Elite Executive that has AIR, SSB and SYNC detection.

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Tecsun PL-330 or Qodosen SR-286?

UPDATE

This article has been sitting around unfinished for some weeks. In the interim, Qodosen has come out with a new model, the DX-286 that appears to be the same physical radio, but with updated firmware and a lower price ($79.99 on Amazon). I’m going to publish this article, not quite complete, because I intend to be reviewing the new model shortly.

I have access to the new, very polished, manual for the DX-286 for your reading pleasure.

Continuing with the article:

The Tecsun PL-330 is a well-respected radio. I’ve had mine for two years and it’s traveled across the globe with me. The Qodosen is brand new, with powerful reception on some bands and interesting features. Which one is the best? I’m a Gemini and I’m of two minds about everything. The best selection depends on what you value in a radio and here I hope to give you enough to help make up your own mind.

Qodosen SR-286 (top) and Tecsun PL-330 (bottom) – Click to expand

The big picture

There are some important feature differences and they might be make or break in your decision, so let’s get them out of the way first:

Things the PL-330 has that the Qodosen SR-286 does not:

  • SSB
  • Synchronous detection
  • SW coverage from 27 to 29.999 MHz.
  • BL-5C rechargeable battery

Things that the SR-286 has that the PL-330 does not have:

  • FM RDS/RBDS
  • Kickstand
  • 18650 rechargeable battery (not included)
  • Squelch

Both charge with a USB Micro cable, and neither has a thermometer.

The PL-330 is the choice for a shortwave listener. The SR-286 is a powerhouse on MW/LW and on those bands the lack of SSB doesn’t matter.

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RDS / RBDS: FM on Display

The Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS),1 as it is called in the North America, or simply RDS in the rest of the world, is a protocol for embedding data in an FM/VHF broadcast. The data can include the station name, program content and even the time of day. I have three radios that display some of this information on the FM band, some better than others.

RDS information is divided into segments, some of which are displayed on one or more of my radios:

  • PS: Program Service Name – may identify the station
  • PTY: Program Type – comes from a fixed list including things line NEWS or SPORTS
  • RT: Radio Text – this is a 64-character string of text that could provide more information about the station, program, or the title and artist of a song being played
  • DATA or CT: Time and date. May also include station call sign.
  • PI: Program identification: identifies the station with a regionally unique 4-digit hexadecimal number. Codes for the US can be found at the National Radio Systems Committee page.

It would seem that there are three practical uses for the radio enthusiast:

  1. Identifying the station
  2. Identifying the program content
  3. Setting a clock

Features and differences

Here are my three radios and what they can do:

Segment/featureEton Elite ExecutiveQodosen SR-286XHDATA D-808
PSYYY
PTYYYY
RTYYY
DATAYYY
PIY
Set clockYYY
RDS/RBDS settingY
RDS Off/OnYY
Radio Model RDS Capabilities

Clock setting for these radios is either Manual or Automatic. In Automatic mode, each of these radios automatically sets the clock from RDS data when it is received. I consider the feature useless because stations do not always have the right time; for example, one local station didn’t “spring forward” and update their time for Daylight Savings Time.

Each radio has a button to select which segment to display: it’s the [R·D·S] button on the SR-286, [RDS MODE] on the Elite Executive and [INFO] on the D-808. The RDS feature has to be turned on explicitly on the Elite Executive by pressing the [RDS] button or the [PAGE] plus [R·D·S] on the SR-286.

RDS vs RBDS

Differences exist between the two implementations; for example, the DATA segment is supposed to indicate the station call sign in RBDS, but not RDS. Also the Program Type codes are different.

Only the Qodosen SR-286 has an explicit setting for the mode. We’ll test to see if the other radios figure it out correctly. The Wikipedia article footnoted at the end has full technical details.

Testing

Testing is made more complicated by the need for a strong signal to get RDS information, inconsistencies in what radio stations actually include and the fact that information is not always available immediately. It may require a one-minute wait for the DATA segment to be broadcast during which the radio may display “NO DATA” (the D-808 will display “NO DATE”). I was misled to think none of my local stations had time data by not waiting long enough.

Note: the SR-286 manual has a mistake, saying that repeated presses of the [R·D·S] button cycle through PS/PTY/RT/DATA/PI. It actually displays them in the order, PTY/PS/RT/DATA/PI.

PS Segment

Three Radios displaying PS Segment (click to expand)
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Thunderous Clash of the Weather Radios

Weather radios are an interesting genre of radio. Some of them are specifically designed as emergency radios and some are general coverage radios with a weather feature added. I seem to have accumulated 8 weather radios. Here’s the photo array:

Top row: HanRongDa HRD-701, Mesqool CR1009 Pro, LiJiANi Rd239
Second row: iRonsnow IR-688, XDATA D-109WB
Third row: XHDATA D-608WB, Mesqool CR1015, Raddy RF75A

Disclosure: XHDATA provided me with a pre-sales version of D-608WB in exchange for my input on their product manual. The radio tested here may not be the final version. I am under no obligation to review the radio publicly or to say nice things about it.

I used to own a Kaito weather radio, but it got wet and died. The radios tested here are on the low end of the emergency radio market.

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Before the battle: iRonsnow IR-688.

I have a new radio this week, an iRonsnow IR-688 emergency radio.

iRonsnow emergency radio (photo by author)

I bought it on sale for $34.99 from Amazon, not to collect or to test, but to sit in the window and get weather alerts. It did arrive, however, in time to participate in my Thunderous Clash of the Weather Radios.

I don’t plan to make an in-depth review because while it does receive shortwave, it’s not particularly useful in the genre both for lack of sensitivity and because tuning takes a very long time. Todd Erbert has a fine YouTube video for someone interested in deciding whether or not to buy one of these. His conclusion is that it’s not worth it unless maybe on sale for $35 or less.

Several of my radios are capable of receiving weather alerts, but only 3, including this one, that could be classed as emergency radios: solar charging, crank charging, flashlight, SOS siren, high-capacity battery and the ability to charge other devices. The other two didn’t work out for me.

The iRonsnow IR-688. It has an advertised 10,000 mAh charging capacity that is provided by 2X 5000 mAh (without disassembling the radio, I can’t say what the two batteries are, but 21700’s are a good bet). Todd Erbert measured the capacity and concluded that the batteries actually totaled 8000 mAh, but that is still a lot.

It reminds me a lot of my old Mesqool CR-1009, but that’s not worth detailing. The important bits are:

  • Advertised 10,000 mAh reserve power (or 8,000 measured)
  • Solar charging
  • Crank charging
  • SOS siren
  • Flashlight, flood light and reading light
  • Digital display
  • Can be powered by 3 AAA batteries
  • Permanently attached battery door
  • Handle
  • Can charge external devices (USB A jack)
  • Charged via USB-C, but not with USB-C power distribution chargers. USB-A cable is supplied.
  • Stereo (2 speakers)
  • ATS memory.

It’s advertised as IPX3, defined as:

IPX3 is a water resistance rating that means a device is protected from sprays of water up to 60°. The equipment being tested must not experience any harmful effects from the water being sprayed at it from any direction.

There is an easy way for water to get in the battery door, so don’t spray it from the back or leave it in the rain.

The radio seems to work and I received stations on all bands. FM stereo was nice for such small speakers, but nothing to write home about. This radio suffered from a lot pop with everything you did when using headphones. Headphones were OK otherwise, but not outstanding.

The manual is extremely brief, although the radio isn’t complicated. One warning left me pondering: “In case of a crash, please directly dial “AAA.” It would seem more normal to dial “911” but maybe China is different. The radio has auto tune storage (ATS) that scans the full bands, not just broadcast frequencies, turning a long process into a painfully long process. There is no specification of how many memories are supported. It seems to be at least 30 per band.

There are two shortwave bands: 3.2 – 10 MHZ and 10 – 22 MHz. Why two bands? Given the painfully slow tuning, it helps a little to get to a closer staring point. It also gives more ATS memory slots.

In testing, I found the performance good on FM, about average for the radios I own. MW was essentially useless. It only weakly received my strongest local station during the daytime, although it did pick up more at night.

The burning question is how long it can stay on the window sill in weather alert mode supplemented by the tiny solar panel.

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Qodosen SR-286 Tuning Tutorial

I’ve never seen a radio with more tuning modes than the Qodosen SR-286. I thought it might be worth the time to go through everything related to the topic in a tutorial.

Broadly speaking there are 5 areas in tuning:

  1. Direct frequency entry
  2. The Tuning knob
  3. Auto Tune Storage (ATS)
  4. The Arrow keys
  5. Automatic searches (seek)

Within those, there are several options.

Direct Frequency Entry

The primary means of direct entry is to key the frequency and then press AM or FM. If one keys 153+AM, the radio will tune to 153 kHz and set the band to LW. Keying 1530+AM sets the band to MW and tuns to 1530 kHz. Keying 15300+AM sets the band to SW and tunes the radio to 15300 kHz. FM of course selects the FM band. This automatic band selection is very convenient and makes a lot of sense. The user doesn’t have to figure out what the current band is, or worry about setting it to quickly tune a station.

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