Looking on the radio shelf, I see 5 shortwave radios that are powered by the same Silicon Labs si4734 “shortwave radio on a chip.” There’s not much difference in the radios as far as performance goes except on MW or AM, where the size of the internal ferrite antenna matters. The difference is in size, features, ease of use and price. They all sport continuous coverage, preset station memories, all-digital operation, alarm, stereo FM, signal strength/SN ratio display and scan tuning.
Starting with the smallest, we have the Kchibo KK-D202. The D202 is the only truly shirt-pocked sized radio in the bunch. I got mine for under $25 including shipping on eBay. It has a real brushed aluminum front and is a nice shiny radio. It’s antenna is pretty short and that reduces its ability to pull in stations. You can read my longer review here. This radio has a design flaw as far as I can tell. There are two modes for the volume control (changeable with a complicated button press). One of the settings makes all of the volume control settings way too loud and the other makes them way too soft. The other problem is that the display is small and hard to read, with no back light. To add to the confusion, the buttons are labeled in Chinese and there is no English manual beyond the one in my product review. Better is the Kchibo KK-D680.
The Kchibo KK-D680 is a little larger than the D202, but still can be crammed into a shirt pocket. It costs about the same as the D202. It gains a tuning knob in exchange for the D202’s volume control knob, a good thing, because one of the volume settings actually allows the control, in this case buttons, to work well. The antenna is still short and the labels are still in Chinese. AM performance was slightly better. The feature set is identical with the D220 except for the fine dial light and larger display. The D680 is clearly superior to the D220 except for compactness. My review of the D680 is here. Better is the Tecsun PL-606.
The Tecsun PL-606 is yet another step up in size and price, but still smaller than a paperback book and some shirt pockets will hold it. I snagged this one including shipping on eBay for $36. It has more flexibility: you can set the FM and AM tuning range and AM step easily. It has 4 bandwidth settings. It recharges batteries. It has a control lock, temperature display and adds long wave reception. The antenna is longer and that helps, plus it includes a whip antenna extension, and sports an external antenna jack. AM performance is better. The two Kchibo radios have preset memories (90), but the PL-606 adds automatic scan and storage into a total of 550 memories. Oh, and there is a manual and the labels are in English. Better is the Tecsun PL-380.
Now here’s a keeper. The PL-380 (reviewed here) with yet another step up in size and price ($48.99 with shipping at Amazon) does everything that the 606 does, except it lacks an external antenna jack and adds direct frequency entry through a keypad. That overcomes the huge problem of interminable button pushing or knob twisting to go to a station and is the reason this radio will get used and the others will stay on the radio shelf.
Since I originally wrote this article, I bought a Tecsun PL-390 with yet another step up in size and price ($67.50 at Amazon.com). The most noticeable difference is the second speaker, making this radio stereo-capable without headphones. The antenna is considerably longer than any of the ones described so far and it adds back the external antenna jack missing on the PL-380 and adds a line-in jack, so the radio can be used as an auxiliary speaker for a music player, and the results are pretty good. There’s no bass to speak of, but you can turn it up pretty loud without distortion.
I’ve had a PL 380 for two months. The charger won’t fully charge Eneloop AA’s.
I got about 2-3 days on a charge. I then charged them with the Panasonic BQ CC17 smart charger and got much better results. Other than that issue, it’s a great radio for casual listening (at it’s price point!).
I use external chargers whenever I can. One just has to make sure they have a charger that will charge 3 batteries at once instead of just 2 or 4.
Yeah, I’ve noticed that too, even with the 2 freebie Tecsun rechargeable batteries that came with it.
USB charging is handy feature for the field (even if it uses mini rather than micro usb), but not a deal breaker on what otherwise is a great little radio.
Actually, I have the 606… but the same can be said of the charging capability.
Thanks for the reviews. I’m awaiting the arrival of my Tecsun PL-380 sometime next week. The PL-390 sounded interesting until I read about all the problems with the radio locking up/freezing. Despite the comment above by John, others report continuing problems.
I think the PL-380 is a good choice. The controls are easy to use and it’s just a good radio. I have a large selection of radios, but this is the one I grab when I go on a trip. At home I use the larger and heavier PL-660.
I haven’t had any problems with the PL-390 myself. My wife uses it as an FM radio to pick up a hard to get station she likes.
I have the silver version of the PL-390. For anyone who may have experienced freezing problems, below is a review I wrote on Amazon.
I was really digging the PL-390 radio until I also encountered freezing problems. I played with the different settings trying to see if anything could be causing the freezing. Finally success came with turning off the “charging function” of the radio (with the radio power turned off, press and hold the “M” button until can see “CHR OFF” on the lcd screen display). Overall this has pretty much eliminated the freezing of this radio. I did experience freezing once so far when I powered on the radio, but once I pressed the power button to turn off the radio, then pressed the power button again it successfully turned on the radio without having to remove the batteries. At this time I am still experimenting with this solution, but want to pass this information on to everyone.
UPDATE: (Oct. 11, 2013) Usually when my radio is left overnight, it would freeze in the morning, and would need to have it’s batteries removed and reinserted again before it will work again. This is the first morning it did not freeze and it works perfectly. As mentioned earlier about my experience with my radio freezing the one time after changing the “charge function” to off, it may have been due to an internal switching from “on” to “off” that initially caused a glitch. Once it made the switch, I did not experience any more freezing with my radio. Since I use rechargeable batteries, the downside is now the “battery indicator” meter will not accurately tell me the state of the batteries. So I just ignore the battery meter and my radio is working just fine.
UPDATE: (Oct. 12, 2013) So far so good, have experienced no more freezing. The PL-390 is the main radio I listen to in FM. It receives the stations with no problems, and I also use an external wire antenna (I use a wire antenna from another radio, but this one comes with one). The sounds from the two speakers are nice and easy to listen to, but there is no tone control switch on the radio. It is not a boom box, I keep the volumes between 8-12 (the volume dial is rotated in increments and a volume number is displayed on the lcd screen) which is equivalent to modest to medium levels (don’t want the risk of blowing out these nice small speakers). The two speakers “stereo effects” for what it is works in a small way, but it is pleasing. The sounds from the speakers is fine for the bedroom or smaller spaces. To tune into stations, I just use the keypad, I do not use the memory settings. The battery compartment can accomodate larger sized AA batteries (the other radios I have that have tight fitting battery compartments, I use the Sanyo AA batteries, they are the right size and works great).