Two budget mini radios go head to head
I collect inexpensive portable radios, mostly for their visual design. A couple arrived today that I might actually use rather than just put on display. One is the Degen DE15 FM Stereo · MW · SW · FML DSP World Receiver and the Eton/Grundig Mini300PE AM/FM Shortwave Radio.
Both radios cover AM, FM and Shortwave bands, have internal speakers and clocks with alarm. Both come with a carrying case, integrated antenna and ear buds. Both fit in a shirt pocket, although the thicker Grundig makes quite a bulge.
Degen DE 15
What impressed me right off the bat was the bright, and I mean bright, green display. You can see this thing! The DE 15 is a digital radio, meaning that the tuning is digital – no tuning dial. In addition to up/down tuning buttons, you can also scan for a signal and set up memory pre-sets. Volume is set digitally too.
The radio includes 3 AAA rechargeable batteries, AC charger and plush draw-string carry bag. The charger system uses an included USB cable so that you can charge from your computer. The USB connector on the radio is the common mini-USB socket found on many devices: cameras, mobile phones, Bluetooth headsets and radios.
The clock was relatively straightforward to set. It supports a 12/24 hour mode. The clock displays when the radio is off.
Band selection is accomplished with a 4-position switch on the left side; however, the shortwave bands are selected by repeatedly pressing a button.
The operation manual is somewhat odd in its language, for example:
While tuning the stations, you had better get very close to the window or stand on the outdoor field in order to avoid the interrupt and gain the best reception.
Compare to the Grundig manual:
Getting close to a window may substantially improve your reception because the construction materials of some buildings do not let signals in very well.
The manual is careful to note that if power is interrupted, everything goes to factory defaults and the clock is reset. I was able, however, to quickly change batteries and retain the clock setting.
There is an FML band, which corresponds to the old US VHF television channels; however, since VHF isn’t broadcast in the US any more, this is useless here. FM is broadcast on this band in other counties.
One nice feature is a slide lock switch that prevents the button controls from operating. If you have opened your luggage only to find the radio on and the batteries almost dead, you will appreciate this feature.
The radio has 245 memory locations for favorite stations, although there is no way to label them. There are separate memories allocated for each band. It has an Auto Tuning Storage. It works like most TV sets, to scan the band and set up the stations you get. Here each band can be scanned and the strong stations automatically stored. I don’t know how useful this would be on shortwave, but it certainly makes sense for FM, with 100 station memories available. It worked OK, memorizing only two FM stations that were too weak to be useful. These can be easily deleted.
AM reception is remarkably good for a radio this tiny. It can be set for either 9 or 10 kHz. With the radio off, long press the M key for about 5 seconds. The radio will switch step values and display R09 or R10 depending on which step is selected.
What impressed me right off the bat was the rubberized case. No slipping or sliding with this one. The design reminds one of an older cell phone with a stub antenna or a walkie talkie. The whip antenna extends out of the stub in a conventional way.
Unlike the Degen, the Mini300PE is an analog receiver with a digital readout. There is a tuning knob on the right side. Like other inexpensive analog radios, the tuning knob is a problem. It is very difficult to tune it precisely. For example, I wanted to tune my local NPR FM station at 90.1 MHz I could get 90.15, but it was almost impossible to get 90.1. Also the readout seemed to be off. The best reception for the station was when the radio showed 90.2 or 90.25.
There does not seem to be any dial light, so the radio would be difficult to operate in the dark, except that since tuning and volume are easy to find knobs on the side, I guess the radio could be operated blind.
Besides the tuning difficulty, there was one other problem. While the radio is easy to turn on (press the Power button), mine is not easy to turn off. I had to keep hitting the Power button several times to make it go off. The button itself is OK because it always turns on the first time.
I hooked the output to my computer and observed that the two earphone channels were inverted images of each other. Curious. The radio is labeled “FM Stereo” on the back.
One interesting factor makes the GM300 more collectible: colors. In various product literature I have found it shown in black, grey, red, blue, orange, yellow, silver, pink, bronze, yellow, pearl and camouflage! So far I have black, yellow, red, gray, blue and silver.
In addition to these colors, the radio comes in black, and 4 semi-transparent colors co-branded “LL Bean.” I call them Lime, Raspberry, Grape and Tangerine.
Update: I collected all the colors except bronze, which I have never seen for sale. I also sold them all on eBay.
This radio may be discontinued, replaced by the Grundig/Eton Mini GM 400, similar features but is not so cool looking
Head to head
|Degen DE15||Eton/Grundig Mini300PE|
|FM Stereo||Yes, with earphones||Yes, with earphones|
|Frequency Coverage (MHz)||MW .52 – 1.71
FM 87.00 – 108.00
FML 64.00 – 87.00
SW: 2.30 – 23.00SW tuning is continuous, but there are 7 frequencies preselected when you press the band button repeatedly. They are:
SW 5.95 – 6.20
SW 7.10 – 7.30
SW 9.50 – 9.95
SW 11.60 – 12.10
SW 13.60 – 13.80
SW 15.10 – 15.80
SW 17.50 – 17.90The previous frequencies are the published ones. In actual operation I could tune:
AM .527 – 1.784
SW 5.845 – 6.47
SW 6.965 – 7.58
SW 9.355 – 10.24
SW 11.56 – 12.38
SW 13.265 – 14.00
SW 15.02 – 16.05
SW 17.475 – 18.24
|Weight with batteries||4.3 oz.||6.1 oz.|
|Battery level indicator||Yes||No|
|Signal strength indicator||Yes||No|
|Battery||3 AAA (rechargeable included)||2 AA|
|Accessories||Stereo ear buds, AC adapter, USB charging cable, carrying drawstring bag, 3 AAA Ni-MH rechargeable batteries, Operation Manual||Ear buds, carrying case with belt loop, carrying strap, stereo earphones, Operation Manual|
I compared the two radios tuning WWV at 10 MHz both using the whip antenna and the whip with a 30-ft. wire clipped to it. I also tried my current main receiver, a Grundig G4000A with the whip antenna and the 30-ft. wire plugged into the antenna jack.
The Degen pulled in many shortwave stations clearly in the 9 MHz band, and WWV, which registered at 10-30% on the signal strength indicator, was clearly there, but atmospheric noise made it next to impossible to understand the voice announcements. Adding the additional wire didn’t help. The Grundig G4000A was little better, although a bit improved with the additional antenna. The Grundig Mini300, however, seemed to eliminate most of the noise and the voice announcement was crisp and clear. The difference was like that between night and day. Adding more antenna actually caused interference from other stations to be come noticeable.
This practical exercise exposed one other shortcoming of the Degen. It takes literally forever to tune the radio. On shortwave, it steps at 5KHz which can take a lot of button pushing to go very far. Memory presets help.
Both radios work well. The Grundig is a delight to hold with smooth and solid controls and rubberized non-slip case. The only control problem is with a cranky off switch and difficulty with precision tuning. One concern with the Grundig is limited shortwave band coverage, for example 10 MHz is the only WWV frequency on the radio. Its superior noise reduction capability was a surprise plus.
The extremely easy to read display, precise tuning and continuous frequency coverage make the Degen stand out. The Degen is more expensive, but I found one on eBay for the same price as the Grundig.
So which is my pick? I picked both of them. I think the Degen wins for casual listening to strong stations because of its light weight, thin profile, bright display, and tuning presets. For exploring the radio dial for weaker stations, I pick the Grundig for the ability to tune across the dial fast and for superior noise reduction.
Update – April 2022
It’s 11 years since I wrote this article. Back in 2011 I picked the M300 as the better radio, but it turns out that I sold all of my Mini 300’s and kept the DE15. I kept it because I really like the bright green back light. It is smaller and lighter, a real shirt pocket radio. I have other better radios for shortwave. The DE15 does quite well on AM and FM. I just like the look and feel of it. It’s currently on my keeper list.