The parable tells of a man who found a treasure in a field and sold all he had to buy the field. My new Baijiali BJL-166 FM/MW/SW1-18 radio MP3 player arrived from China today. Save your money; this is no treasure.
Let’s start with what I don’t like. The MW tuning step is permanently set at 9 kHz. In the daytime the radio got exactly zero MW stations. I live in a weak signal area, but even the cheapest radios usually get something. At night I could pick up MW stations but they were very noisy.
The radio displays a maximum of 4 frequency digits, rounding to 10 kHz on shortwave. I don’t know what the actual tuning step is, but it hardly matters on a radio with such poor selectivity. Even with 10 kHz display, strong stations are heard on several displayed frequencies. It’s not selective on FM either, with a strong station audible on several frequencies. The radio has no automatic band scanning or memory.
There is a raspy tone audible across the MW band up through HF, perhaps less pronounced above 15 mHz. I assume it’s poorly shielded display electronics. It’s not audible with a strong signal. It’s possible that the internal noise was covering up the weak MW stations.
It’s also an MP3 player (no WMA files). It has no earphone jack and no clock, but it does have a sleep timer.
On the good side of the ledger, it does receive lots of FM stations on the whip antenna, crisply, and its tiny speaker does a credible job on some content, but is annoying on other.
Tuning is peculiar. Although the display is digital, the radio tunes like an analog receiver with a slide rule dial. The tuning thumbwheel has resistance, like it’s geared to a pointer. The wheel rotates multiple times in a band, but has a definite physical start and stop point. While your typical DSP radio tuning dial goes around with no stops, this one has limits. If you switch bands, it matters where the knob was on the previous band. Thanks to the gearing (and the lack of selectivity), tuning is not at all ticklish. The second thumbwheel on the side acts as a shortwave bandswitch (there are 18 SW bands) and next/prior track for MP3. The radio has tuning mute, the only reason I would think it’s DSP because it otherwise tunes a lot like the Tecsun DR-920 (an analog radio with a frequency counter).
I spent a little time on shortwave (it was daytime) and picked up some stations on the whip. Shortwave works best with an external wire antenna. CHU is a particularly strong station here on 7850 and with the whip antenna I heard it on 7840, 7850 and 7860.
I thought the case was solid, and seemed to have decent quality. I think it looks good. The lettering was large and crisp, and the display large and easy to read in good light. Perhaps a parent who just wants to listen to FM would be full of praise.
The radio uses an 18650 rechargeable battery, charged with a mini USB cable (supplied). The antenna is 26.5 cm (10.5″). The radio measures 10.5 x 6.5 x 3.3 cm (extra thickness to accommodate the battery). Mine came with no box, just a one-page instruction sheet, battery, wrist strap and USB cable from AliExpress for about $17 including shipping.
One reason I’m writing this is that a Google search for EVCHE EC-2110BTS returned no hits. We can’t have that!
I bought this AM / FM / SW / Bluetooth / MP3 player flashlight from AliExpress in hopes that the solar panel would be powerful enough to operate the directly, not just slowly charge the battery, and it does. In full sun the solar panel powers the radio at full volume.
Here are some of my observations:
The manual is 4 pages, most of which don’t tell you anything useful. For example, the radio has an AUX jack that’s never mentioned, nor is the solar panel. But it states twice: “Plase stop using the machine before switch on or off to the power.”
The radio is powered 5 ways: direct from solar panel, 18650 battery, 2 D cells (UM1), 110/220V AC power cord, 5V USB micro cable. A 220V power cable with a Schuko plug was included.
No unboxing video because there is no box. It’s in a shipping bag surrounded with ample bubble wrap.
It has just one SW band, 5.9-18 MHz.
The radio is big! It’s about 6 3/4″ wide, 5 1/2″ tall and 3″ thick including the folded down solar panel.
The radio arrived in good condition except that the solar panel mount was loose. I found out that the radio case underneath the mounting bracket had broken. The solar panel will have to be propped up to use.
The radio mutes while tuning on SW. I’m assuming that shortwave tuning is done in 5 kHz increments. This means that a tiny turn of the tuning dial mutes the radio, advances the frequency 5 kHz and then unmutes the radio. The result is a “chuff, chuff, chuff” sound while tuning the radio.
No earphone jack.
This sucker is loud. Most of the weight is in the 3W speaker.
The manual says not to take the radio apart, and the case is stamped with the same message. I took the radio apart (see photo following) to remove the rattling broken pieces of the solar panel mount.
The internal flashlight reflector had a big fingerprint on it. The flashlight is mediocre, and far less bright that the current breed of lights in emergency radios.
The AUX jack accepted both line and earphone level input OK.
The TF card can be at least 64G. Max not specified in the manual. MP3/WMA/WAV formats accepted.
Manual says it will operate > 300 minutes as a music player or > 500 minutes as a radio on one charge.
Bluetooth paired easily with Windows.
The tuning dial has a “scale” opening, but it it has no marking or numbers for the scale. I don’t think the designers knew what a scale is for.
It does not appear that the charging light goes off after charging is complete (at least not so far after 15 hours).
I think radio this might make sense as a kitchen radio since it can be AC plugged and the audio is quite good for music, plus you can get local radio stations during a power outage in the sunshine.
My father, uncle and my grandfather made their livelihood in large part by fixing things. My grandfather had a sign in his store:
We fix anything but a broken heart
My father was a watchmaker and when I was ready to go out into the world, he advised me not to become a watchmaker because in the future, watches would be electric and the movements in them would be replaced and not repaired. He was of course right.
My uncle repaired televisions, a dying business. I have a very nice but 10 year old Sony flat screen TV that failed. An internet search suggested one particular circuit board was the likely problem, but one on eBay would cost $250 and there’s a chance it wouldn’t work. New TVs of that size don’t cost all that much more, and newer ones have far more features — apps and things, plus a warranty. It’s not worth repairing (and not easy to dispose of either).
I have a cordless vacuum that died. I took it apart and determined that the problem lay in its circuit board. I’m sure I could get a new vacuum for less than replacing the circuit board.
Given my history and upbringing, it really galls me to throw stuff out rather than fixing it.
So, I’m going to try. I have a Ryobi P515 Reciprocating Saw and the blade has started falling out. Over time it fell out more frequently. I disassembled the saw and didn’t find anything immediately wrong, and concluded that it most be wear on the clamp that holds the blade. I tried new blades and that made no difference.
This is far on the low end of reciprocating saws that usually run $100 and up (not including batteries). By the time I add batteries and a charger, a replacement might be $150 – $200. I already have a Ryobi One+ battery set, so I’m biased to try to keep with that ecosystem.
There’s no way anybody is going to repair my saw for $69, but I thought I had a chance to do it myself and I think I found the part that would have to be replaced, an ASSY SLIDING ROD AND BLADE CLA that costs $15.26 (plus $9 shipping).
I was encouraged by the fact that Ryobi says this is a superseding part, so maybe the new part will last longer than the old one.
I received the new sliding rod/blade clamp assembly, and was presented with a new problem, installing it. The process required removing two retaining rings:
I actually have a retaining ring tool, but it’s too large for these rather small and very stiff ones. I ended up grinding and filing down my tool until it fit and I actually got the rings off. Perhaps an hour later, the installation was complete and I was able to saw through a piece of rebar with the same blade that fell out after a few seconds before. SUCCESS.
What still bothers me is that I put a blade in the old part and I couldn’t pull it out. Oh well.
I have two phrases I learned at Habitat for Humanity that give me comfort; one is:
Nobody will notice that except you
That didn’t quite work this time.
Here’s a photo of one of the Greater Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity job sites where I’ve been working the past few weeks. One of my jobs was to frame the access entrances to spaces under the stairs for 4 units. The job consists of cutting molding to size and installing it. The finished job looks like picture frames, so all the angles have to be close, and not all the entrances were perfectly square.
I screwed up with the angle on one of the cuts and the end result was that I didn’t have enough material to finish the job. I felt bad about it. To try to correct the situation (with the approval a staff member), I took two scraps and carefully glued them together to make a piece long enough, sanded them down, and installed them. It was in a back corner of the utility room, behind a hot water heater, and I thought that with a little paint, no one would ever see the splice.
A building inspector, however, saw the entrance door and said: that space has no AC and as a result mold could grow in there; you can’t have a door. So this week when I arrived on site, all the doors and frames were gone and a drywall patch was in their place; my new job was to mud the patches, covering up any trace of what I did before.
Can you say “Big black rubber buttons” three times really fast?
The big picture
The Prunus J-429SW (sometimes called an L-238 SW) is an AM/FM/Shortwave radio with the ability to play MP3 files from a TF/Micro SD card or a USB flash drive. It can also act is a speaker when wired to another device with an AUX or earphone output. It’s powered by a BL-5C battery. The Prunus is available on Amazon for $19.99.
This model radio seems to be marketed to seniors, touting simplicity of operation and a highly readable display with large buttons.
522-1710 kHz (See Note 1)
87-108 MHz (according to the box) The radio actually tunes 70-108.
2.3 – 29.50 MHz
TF Card / USB flash
DC 5V 500 – 1000mA
1200 mAh BL-5C (battery included)
5-6h (3-% Volume)
50mm 4Ω 3W
31 * 126 * 73mm
28g (radio) + 25g (battery)
Radio, battery, user manual, USB charging cable
Prunus J-429SW Specifications
Generally, an AM frequency range starting with 522 kHz indicates a radio intended for the European/Asian market where the frequencies are in 9 kHz multiples. Radios for the North American market start at some multiple of 10, like 520. For radios with digital tuning this is a big deal unless the radio can be switched from one configuration to the other. This radio, however, tunes in 1 kHz steps, so it doesn’t matter. Testing confirmed that AM actually works, but it is the weakest of any radio I own.
Casual use as an FM radio
It’s not unusual for an inexpensive radio to perform well on FM, and this is no exception, clearly pulling in 17 stations with the 10″ telescoping antenna. The sound is good and you can turn the speaker up very loud. So it’s fine as an FM radio.
The radio, however, has somewhat peculiar tuning in that you can’t exact tune across the band manually. The radio has 3 tuning modes:
Direct frequency entry – just key in the frequency and the radio will tune it.
Scan/Memory – Long press the “Scan” button and the radio will scan the selected band and store all the stations found in non-volatile memory. The user can then use arrow keys to select the next or previous station
Scan – Long press one of the arrow keys and the radio will scan forward to the next received station and stop.
I’ll probably have more to say about this, but my initial test found that the shortwave section of this radio was deaf as a post. What would you expect with a 10″ (25.4 cm) antenna? Clipping on another 20 ft. of wire helped a lot and I actually received a station in China from here in central Virginia loud and clear.
I’m an old electronics hobbyist from way back when 7-segment LED readouts were starting to be used; they made a lot of electrical noise, and apparently they still do. Particularly on the lower frequencies there is a very annoying buzzing sound when there is no strong station. The display shuts off after 1 minute if no button is pressed, and when the display goes off, the buzz goes away too.
As a speaker
Some radios like this can be used as a USB computer speaker, or even a Bluetooth speaker. This one has none of those feature. It works only via an audio cable plugged into its AUX port.
Just as a quick test, I tuned an FM talk program on a very well-regarded shortwave portable (costing a lot more), the Tecsun PL-330. I listened, and then I plugged the output into the AUX port on the Prunus, and the improvement in quality was stark.
Sound with headphones is good too. The User Manual says that the radio mutes when you unplug the headphones, but this feature does not work.
There is what appears to be a bass port on the back of the radio, but closer examination shows that the plastic is solid behind the perforated decorative grill, and no sound is heard coming out of it.
I put a TF/Micro SD card in the radio and it played MP3 files on the card. One can go directly to a particular track by entering a track number on the pad.
Big black rubber buttons
There’s no getting around the subject, the buttons are big, black and rubbery. Someone having difficulty operating or reading small buttons will find this welcome.
Someone looking for a shortwave radio could do better. Someone wanting an FM radio that plays MP3 files and is physically easy to operate might do well with this radio.
I sold about 80 radios on eBay, but there were just a few that nobody wanted. I went through those to see if there was anything worth saving from storage. One radio looked like it might be worth further study, a Kaide KK-MP903.
It’s a remarkably simple radio, with only 4 buttons, a volume wheel and a tuning wheel, but it is an 11 band radio, clock, alarm, calendar and MP3 player. The radio uses 2 AA batteries and has an earphone jack and a jack for an external 3V power supply. The antenna extends to 17.5″ and swivels allowing it to be vertical when the radio is on its kickstand, a fob on the end of the carrying strap.
It has AM (MW), FM, FM1 (70-88 MHz) and 8 shortwave bands from 5.95 – 21.85 MHz. The chart later on shows discrete ranges for the bands, but in practice, there are no gaps between bands; coverage is continuous. Tuning is digital. Repeatedly pressing the FM button switches between the FM and FM1 band. Repeatedly pressing the SW button sets the tuning to the start the next shortwave band.
Inserting a micro SD/TF card in the slot in the side converts it to an MP3 player. The same 3 radio operation buttons work as MP3 player controls, with function labels on the top of the radio.
This description was found on the internet, translated by Google from simplified Chinese:
The performance improvement brought by DSP technology to this radio section product: digital filtering, strong selectivity, no tandem; full-band frequency tracking and locking technology, no image and frequency drift phenomenon in short-wave reception; digital processing technology makes the sensitivity comprehensively improved, There are many receiving stations; built-in digital power amplifier, high power, low distortion; FM stereo output.
Also at the same site these specifications:
Frequency coverage FM: 87 -1 -108 +1 MHz MW : 520 -60 – 1710 +60 kHz SW1: 5.95 – 6.20MHz SW2: 7.10 – 7.30MHz SW3: 9.50 – 9.90MHz SW4: 11.65 – 12.05MHz SW5: 13.60 – 13.80MHz SW6: 15.10 – 15.60MHz SW7: 17.50 – 17.90MHz ( Shortwave frequency coverage is not narrower than the above requirements )
Signal-to-Noise Ratio FM: 98 MHz ≥ 50 dB AM : 1000 kHz ≥ 40 dB
Selective MW: 1000 kHz +/- 9 kHz ≥ 40 dB
FM stereo separation: ≥25 dB
Maximum current consumption: ≤ 180 mA
Maximum output power: ≥100 mW, maximum distortion ≤ 20 %
A brief test using just the whip antenna picked up many stations on shortwave. Here’s Radio Romania International on 7420 kHz on June 5 at 0010 UTC heard in central Virginia.
The functions of the 4 buttons were easy to discover. There are basically 3 sets of functions, when the radio is off (clock, calendar, alarm functions with dates and time selected with the tuning wheel), when the radio is on (band selection), and when the radio is on and a micro SC/TF card is inserted (next track, play/pause, previous track). Counterclockwise rotation of the tuning knob increases frequency.
The small speaker does not produce rich sound on radio, nor is there any significant bass response even with good earphones. Sound is much better playing MP3 files.
The display is large and easy to read. In radio mode, the band is displayed along with the time and frequency. There is also a stereo indicator for FM. When the radio is first turned on, a button is pressed, or the tuning wheel turned, the display is illuminated with a pleasant orange glow. When the radio is off the radio displays the date and time. In MP3 mode, the radio displays the time of day, the track number and the elapsed time played in the current recording. It does not play files in the WMA format.
My only puzzle is how (if possible) to set the AM tuning step to 10 kHz instead of 9. I’ve found virtually nothing about this radio on the internet. I probably bought it on eBay a dozen years ago. One Chinese exporter still sells it for $25 (one presumes it’s legit).
Two radios with similar function, but significant differences
The Kaito KA29 received a lot of attention by reviewers when it became available in August of 2014, but I only got mine today. The Zhiwhis ZWS-603 is much newer, from December of 2021.
There are some striking similarities in the radios, inviting a comparison. At the most basic level, both units are AM/FM/Shortwave radios that add the capability to be used as external speakers, to play music files from TF/SD and record from radio or from the microphone. Both use the same BL-5C rechargeable battery format. Both have a graphic equalizer and fall into the “ultralight” radio category. The ZWS-603 goes for $25.77 on Amazon, compared to $34.99 for the KA29.
Examples of similarity include a power button that requires a long press, a button immediately below it that locks the other keys and a mute button. And check out the similarity in what happens when you turn them off:
Here is the display when music is playing:
Both are supposed to be usable as computer speakers, the Zhiwhis via Bluetooth and the Kaito with a USB cable; however I couldn’t get the Kaito to work as a USB speaker with Windows 10.
Both radios have a a music equalizer for different styles of music (pop, rock, jazz, classical, bass and normal) when playing from media (not for the radio, darn it). Both display music lyrics from .LRC files when playing a music file with the same base file name. Both support browsing music files from their directories and selecting them by name — a major advantage.
Both radios have a button to mute the speaker when playing radio. It’s a speaker mute button on the Kaito and a Play/Pause button on the Zhiwhis.
The obligatory feature matrix
Frequency coverage (MHz)
FM 64-108 MW .520-1.710 9/10 kHz step SW 4.75-21.85
22 Languages (including English, Chinese, Korean Arabic, Russian, Japanese)
167 g (measured)
120 x 79 x 25 mm
131 x 76 x 27 mm
FM 80 MW 60 SW 300
1000 (per box). Manual says FM 440, AM 132, SW 928.
From Bluetooth AUX Microphone Radio
Zhiwhis ZWS-603 – Kaito KA29 comparison
The elephant in the room
There is one thing that I hate about the ZWS-603. While its bright green display is eminently readable, the labeling on the buttons is the most difficult to read of any radio I have ever encountered and virtually impossible to use except in bright lighting. The key captions are tiny and they’re grayish white on black. It’s darn frustrating. I don’t recall having problems with other radios; I can read the Tecsun PL-330 key labels OK. The Kaito has big bold black captions on shiny silver buttons. Outdoors, they would both be fine.
One negative with both radios is that they do not timestamp the audio recordings. The Zhiwhis has no clock and couldn’t be expected to save the time, but the Kaito has a clock and doesn’t use it.
The Kaito manual says it can be used as a computer speaker over USB, and Windows 10 recognizes the audio device as an AC309N voice recorder, but gives an error when one tries to use it.
Some differences of note
The most obvious difference is that the Kaito has a knob for tuning–buttons only for the Zhiwhis.
Both have labeled volume up and down buttons; however, only the Kaito buttons work by pressing them while using the radio. The Zhiwhis “Volume” buttons advance through the preset radio memories, and only do volume by press-holding them (except when playing music).
The Kaito adds a text-reader function. Files with the extension of .txt on media are displayed on the screen. Here’s a sample:
Another significant plus for the Kaito is its support for a USB 2.0 flash drive.
While I wouldn’t describe either as HiFi, the Zhiwhis with its more powerful 3W speaker and bass port is richer in sound and can be turned up louder without distortion.
I mentioned that the Kaito has a clock. One nice feature is the alarm, which can be set to ring once, or daily or on specific days; for example, you could set the radio to alarm just on Tuesdays and Fridays. One can either use an alarm tone or the last radio station listened to.
Oh yeah, these are radios. So I started with a strong shortwave station (WRMI) and both radios received it well, but there was a marked difference in selectivity between them. Strong stations could be solidly heard on frequency and +/- 5 kHz on either side, with occasional bleed +/- 10 kHz for the Zhiwhis, while the two 5 kHz side frequencies were noticeably degraded and the +/- 10 was completely missing on the Kaito.
As I said before, the Zhiwhis speaker is notably better than the Kaito, but with quality earbuds, it’s reversed. Bass shines on the Kaito and the Zhiwhis has weak bass and a very noticeable high frequency hiss on shortwave (perhaps because of the wide bandwidth). I think one would get tired of the Zhiwhis listening to shortwave on headphones.
The KA29 manual describes continuous shortwave coverage between 3.00 and 23.00 MHz, but there are gaps that simply cannot be tuned, not by direct entry, scanning nor the tuning knob. 19.305 – 21.155 is one such inaccessible range. Shortwave is divided into 12 bands that can be accessed through repeated pressing of the SW button.
1: 3 – 3.6
2: 3.7 – 4.2
3: 4.5 – 5.7
4: 5.8 – 6.4
5: 6.9 – 7.6
6: 9.2 – 10.1
7: 11.4 – 12.3
8: 13.4 – 14.1
9: 14.9 – 16.0
10: 17.3 – 18.1
11: 18.7 – 19.3
12: 21.2 – 23.0
Notice that the bands do not overlap, so many frequencies on the Kaito are omitted. Tuning, by key or the knob, is within band only. When reaching the end of the band, the radio wraps around back to the beginning, rather than advancing to the next band. Switching to the next band with the SW button takes about 1.5 seconds.
Direct frequency entry works on both radios by keying the frequency and pressing a key. The key is the Play/Pause key on the Zhiwhis and the labeled band key (AM/FM/SW) on the Kaito.
I was pleased with the Kaito because it didn’t “chuff, chuff, chuff” when I turned the tuning knob. It mutes the radio when tuning. This advantage is offset by the fact that it takes about a second for the station to appear after stepping to the next frequency.
There are several things I have noted that I think could be fixed in firmware. The Operation Manual I received with the radio has listed “Firmware Upgrade” listed in the table of contents, but it does not appear in the manual itself; however, the manual I found online (see references at end) has the procedure. Kaito told me in an email that there are no update for this radio.
The ZWS-603 is almost identical (based on button layout and manual) to the Retekess VT115 from 2016, the only difference being support for Bluetooth and a more powerful speaker.