The Burning Question: is the Qodosen SR-286 worth it?

Introduction

The Qodosen SR-286 set me back $129 US, a price tag that made me pause before purchasing. I wasn’t buying a radio on a whim. What drew me in was its novelty and the promise of improved performance compared to my current setup. An online review even touted its superiority on FM.1

As I share my findings and experiences with the SR-286 through information and videos, I expect to field questions about its value proposition. Is it worth the price, or would a more budget-friendly option like the XHDATA D-808 suffice? Perhaps some might wonder if it’s worth holding out for a pricier model like the Sangean ATS-909 X2.

It’s essential to recognize that different people prioritize different features. For instance, one comment on Facebook said, “If it doesn’t have SSB, it’s off my list.” If you share that sentiment, need AIR band coverage, or specifically require a radio that runs on AA batteries, then the SR-286 might not be the right fit for you. Its HF coverage tops off at 27,000 kHz, so you won’t pick up the US Citizens Band (CB) or the 10m amateur radio band. Additionally, it lacks weather band and VHF functionality. However, once you move past those limitations, the SR-286 starts to reveal its intriguing qualities.

Conventional wisdom in the world of portable receivers suggests that once you enter the upper echelon, all radios essentially receive the same stations; however, I’m inclined to challenge that assumption with the SR-286.

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Qodosen SR-286: First Impressions

Qodosen SR-286 (photo by author)

I’ve been waiting for 21 days for the radio to arrive and in that time I wrote a blog article in anticipation and studied the manual. Now that it’s here I want to share my first impressions. During the wait I researched and decided that I was going pronounce the brand, “CHO do sen.”

First, the radio felt heavy, but really isn’t particularly heavy; it’s just small. It actually weighed 8.6 oz. with the battery installed. I checked and yes, it has rubber feet. It comes in a fold over Velcro fastened case, sort of a khaki color. I like having a case. The kit also includes a USB Micro charging cable. What aren’t included are earphones, a product box and a manual. Good thing I found a manual on line. The manual says that the radio comes with a manual. OOPS.

The radio is small, in fact identical in size to the Sihuadon R-108, with the same 19 1/4″ antenna length.

I quickly noted that I really like the way this radio tunes. You don’t have to set a band. If you want 351 kHz LW, just punch in 351 and hit AM. If you want 1070 kHz MW, just punch in 1070 and hit AM. If you want 6070 kHz SW, just punch in 6070 and hit AM. If you repeatedly press AM without entering a frequency, it will skip from LW to MW to SW. The buttons feel good too.

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Sihuadon R-108: an overlooked radio

I’ve seen nice things said about the Sihuadon R-108 radio for some time, but I never bought one because it seemed redundant for my personal use. The radio is quite small (5″ L x 1.2″ W x 3″ H), it convenient to pack or carry. It’s powered by a BL-5C battery and sports LW, MW, FM, general coverage SW and AIR bands.

Sihuadon R-108 Receiver (Amazon product photo)

I thought that if I had the XHDATA D-808, I wouldn’t have any use for this scaled down version without SSB and without RDS. And that made sense, but not everyone has a D-808, and those who don’t might want a review of the R-108.

Pricing

I’m always looking for the best price for. This radio’s price has varied quite a bit. Today on Amazon US it costs $59.90 less a 12% coupon, or $51.71. On the XHDATA website it’s $52.90 less 30% promotion plus around $6.50 shipping from China, or $43.53. I paid $49 for mine including shipping from XHDATA.

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Charging Radios – USB-C

USB-C connector – Raddy RF75A

Houston, we have a problem.

A reader commented on a problem charging an XHDATA D-808 radio with a USB-C to USB-C cable. The XHDATA supplied USB-A to USB-C cable worked, but not the other.

This reminded me of something from a user guide:

TYPE-C input
a. TYPE-C data cable… Please connect 5V charger, computer interface, standard USB output port, etc. Please do not connect the phone fast charger; the phone fast charger output has 9V or 12V. It may burn the machine. This machine has done this protection, but the risk still exists. …

— LiJiANi Rd239 User Guide (V3.0)

I’ve been doing some testing with a standard USB-C end-to-end cable with 4 USB chargers:

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Radio Confusion

And no, I’m not talking about the clandestine radio station that sent me this QSL card.

Radio Confusion QSL from 1980

My confusion is over is the frequency range for FM radio in the United States. This should be an easy question, and the official answer is:

The FM broadcast in the United States starts at 88.0 MHz and ends at 108.0 MHz.  The band is divided into 100 channels, each 200 kHz (0.2 MHz) wide.  The center frequency is located at 1/2 the bandwidth of the FM Channel, or 100 kHz (0.1 MHz) up from the lower end of the channel.

Federal Communications Commission

And further research indicates that there other frequency ranges in other parts of the world.

In Europe and Africa (defined as International Telecommunication Union (ITU) region 1) and in Australia and New Zealand,[1] it spans from 87.5 to 108 megahertz (MHz) – also known as VHF Band II – while in the Americas (ITU region 2) it ranges from 88 to 108 MHz. The FM broadcast band in Japan uses 76 to 95 MHz, and in Brazil, 76 to 108 MHz. The International Radio and Television Organisation (OIRT) band in Eastern Europe is from 65.9 to 74.0 MHz, although these countries now primarily use the 87.5 to 108 MHz band, as in the case of Russia. Some other countries have already discontinued the OIRT band and have changed to the 87.5 to 108 MHz band.

Wikipedia

To simplify, US starts at 88 and Europe/Africa/Oceania starts at 87.5 MHz.

My confusion comes from dealing with real radios. Many portable radios with FM have a setting for the FM range, allowing the radio to function in a familiar way in different regions. On some of those radios, the FM setting also controls other things like the MW step (10 kHz in the Americas and 9 kHz most everywhere else) and sometimes the temperature scale, C or F.

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Incoming Radio! Qodosen SR-286

If all goes well, I’ll be receiving a Qodosen SR-286 (aka Xiaoqiang SR-286) radio mid-February from AliExpress. I learned about it from RadioJayAllen’s review and it pushed a few of my buttons.

First off, the SR-286 is small: 128 x 75.5 x 38 mm. I like a portable radio to be portable.

Qodosen SR-286 Product Photo (AliExpress)

Allen says that this is the best portable for FM that he’s seen, and the addition of RDS gives me an opening for more DXing on that band. I also like the fact that the external antenna can be used for all bands, including LW/MW. With tax and shipping from China, my order totaled $134.78, not exactly a bargain radio, but much less than a Tecsun PL-990 or Sangean ATS-909 X2.

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Visiting McGrath, Alaska

I’ve been taking surveys for the YouGov polling company for some years now (you can sign up here) and for the past year or so at least one poll a week asks the question, “What did you do last weekend?” and of the possible answers is always, “Visited McGrath, Alaska.”

With temperatures at -40° (at that temperature Fahrenheit and Centigrade are equal), I’m not about to travel there, but there was an event this afternoon involving McGrath that caught my attention after seeing the name so many times in polls. The local McGrath radio station KSKO today started a regular experimental transmission to occur every Friday afternoon at 4 PM Eastern Time (21:00 UTC) that relays their local broadcast via Space Line, Bulgaria, on 5900 kHz shortwave.

Station KSKO (photo from SWLING.COM)

I headed down to the pond to see if I could hear it. There was nothing at 21:00 but gradually the signal grew until the point that I could listen to it on an inexpensive radio using its whip antenna. Who knew?

I have lots of recordings from my radio travel adventure involving various antennas and radios, but much of it is copyrighted music and I don’t want the hassle of defending a fair use claim, so I’ll just include a bit from the weather report.

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