Two identically sized mini radios go head to head
I was struck by the fact that two radios in my budget shortwave collection are so very similar in size, and I thought a comparison was in order.
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.
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.
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 if I hurried.
There is an FML band, which corresponds to the VHF television channels; however, since VHF isn’t broadcast in the US any more, this is useless here.
One nice feature that both radios have 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, meaning that the 20 allocated to the FML band are wasted. It has an Auto Tuning Storage that I hadn’t seen before. 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.
Both with the internal speaker and headphones, I found the the audio to be crisp but decidedly lacking at low frequencies.
Unlike the Degen, the M400 is an analog receiver with a digital readout. There is a tuning knob on the right side. The tuning knob was easy to advance quickly and to tune precisely. However, the radio tuning would change by as much as 10KHz if I put my hand under the LCD display (so don’t do that).
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.
The M400 shortwave coverage is in two bands: 5.90 – 10 MHz and 11.65 – 18 MHz. In actual practice, I could tune a little beyond these published ranges (see following chart).
Both with the internal speaker and headphones, I found the the audio to be have less high-frequency response and more emphasis at low frequencies. Stereo reception seemed to give a more expansive impression than with the Degen. The volume control is easy to accidentally change and this is proving to be an issue.
Head to head
|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 – 23.00
SW tuning is continuous, but there are 7 frequencies preselected when you press the band button repeatedly. They are:
|AM .52 – 1.71
FM 87.00 – 108.00
SW 5.90 – 10.00
SW 11.65 – 18.00The previous frequencies are the published ones. In actual operation I could tune:
AM .505 – 1.768
|Weight with batteries
|Battery level indicator
|Signal strength indicator
|3 AAA (rechargeable included)
|USB cable and AC adapter (included). Radio recharges batteries.
|4.5 – 5v DC (adapter not included)
|Clock when radio is on
|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, stereo earphones, Operation Manual
I compared the two radios tuning WWV at 10 MHz and 15 MHz in the daytime both using the whip antenna. The Degen pulled in both reasonably well, but the Grundig did not receive the 10 MHz signal at all and was weaker on 15 MHz. There was one troubling issue with the Grundig. I head a faint signal from a local broadcast station over the entire tuning range of the two shortwave bands.
On FM the Degen was clearly superior in pulling in stations clearly that the Grundig missed entirely. AM on the Grundig was essentially dead, picking up only weakly the very strongest local stations. I’ve had better results with a crystal set. I was about to call Eton customer service when it started working for some reason. Go figure.
This practical exercise exposed one other shortcoming of the Degen. It takes a good bit longer to tune the radio. For shortwave, you repeatedly have to press the SW button to get close to the desired frequency, then push +/- buttons to go the rest of the way. 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. Music sounds better on the Grundig. The One concern with the Grundig is limited shortwave band coverage, for example the tropical band isn’t covered.
The extremely easy to read display, rock-stable 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? To listen to music on FM with headphones, I’d pick the Grundig. While I like analog tuning, the drift and relatively low sensitivity make the Degen a clear winner for anything else.