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.
Wow, 11 years have passed, and all of those 5 radios are gone, sold on eBay. Today, the radio landscape has changed, pretty much everything is DSP. If I were to pick my top 5 DSP-based radios today:
- Eton Elite Executive
- Sangean ATS-405
- Tecsun PL-330
- Tecsun PL-880 (DSP detection only)
- XHDATA D-808