I like the Sangean ATS-405, but it tries my patience.
It’s an older model (it came out in 2015), but I picked it because it has some options not usually found on other radios: the ability to set the squelch level and options for tuning mute and soft mute. These have proven unimportant, but other features have come to the front. It also has an automatic gain control (AGC) setting, an advanced feature valuable in receiving some signals that are rapidly changing in strength.
One strong feature of the ATS-405 is the display. It is bright and easy to read in the dark (with the display light) as well as in full sun. A setting allows the display light to be always on, off or delayed off (10 or 20 seconds). There is also a dedicated light switch on the top of the radio. The information on the display is just what you need, and in particular it tells you the setting of the Local/DX switch (so you don’t accidentally have it set to Local). The bandwidth setting is there along with the signal strength. A quick button press switches to the clock display.
At first I was concerned that the radio had no tuning wheel, only up and down buttons. I’ve reversed my opinion. Radios like this use a digital signal processing (DSP) chip that tune only discrete channels. A tuning knob can be tricky to use with DSP radios, sometimes skipping a channel or not advancing; however, with a button press you’re always assured you’ve incremented one channel. The radio also has a fine tuning setting, allowing increments of 1 kHz rather than the usual 10 kHz spacing. Advanced users may use direct frequency entry rather than band scanning anyway.
I’ve compared shortwave sensitivity with some of my other radios: Eton Elite Executive, Tecsun PL-660 and Tecsun PL-330. The Sangean is notably less sensitive, and fairly deaf with the telescopic antenna. Seriously listening to shortwave will require a clip-on antenna. On the other hand, the best of the lot on MW.
Coverage is from 520-1710 MW, 2.3 to 26.1 mHz SW, and 87.5 – 108 mHz FM. A button can step through the 14 international shortwave bands.
Other positives: Included AC adapter/charger, included case, two alarms (one buzzer and one radio), a kickstand, audio tone switch (news, normal, music) and dedicated display light button (top of radio). Unlike many modern shortwave radios, the ATS-405 manual is well-written, informative and in good English. It uses and can recharge 4 AA batteries.
Here is the display diagram from the manual:
My unit had a small defect: the BAND button is erratic, sometimes requiring multiple or extra firm presses.
The audio quality with the internal speaker is not the best among my similar-sized portables and the radio cannot be turned up very loud. Quality headphones greatly improve the sound (but not the volume). Automatic tuning storage (ATS) of stations in memory is only available for FM and MW, and not for SW, and there are only 36 memory locations for each band for a total of 108. In many locations, an ATS scan would run out of FM memory locations long before reaching the end of the band. Direct entry of a frequency requires two extra button presses in addition to the digits. It does not have an external antenna jack
A long-press of one of the tuning buttons tells the radio to scan for the next available station, but there is a problem for shortwave. The scan only works within the current meter band. So if you were on 3.9 mHz on the 75m band, the radio would only to scan to 4.0 and then start over at 3.9. The manual is a bit ambiguous. It says:
Press[ing] and hold[ing] the Tuning UP or Down button will
automatically scan station frequency and stop when a
station is found.
Turn on the radio and select a waveband by pressing
BAND button. Press and hold either the Tuning UP or
Down buttons for more than half a second to commence
scan tuning. The radio will scan the station frequency and
stop automatically each time if finds an active station.
When the waveband end is reached, the radio will beep
and continue tuning from the opposite waveband end.
The only thing selected by the BAND button is MW/FM/SW, so a reasonable reading of the manual is that the scan scans the whole SW range. That’s not correct. The likely intent for the shortwave function is to press the “SW METER” button that selects one of the international shortwave bands — because that is all the radio will scan. In testing, the radio seemed to get confused and not act consistently with scanning. Here are the shortwave bands:
My unit and apparently others has a birdie (internal interference) on 800 kHz and 1600 kHz, so I cannot listen to one local MW radio station at 800 kHz.
The elephant in the room is the lack of single sideband (SSB) reception, making it useless for listening to Amateur Radio, utility broadcasts, and other non-broadcast radio services. It’s a radio for local and international broadcast listening.
Reviews by those far more experienced than I suggest that the sensitivity of the ATS-405 is a little below that of other radios in its class on shortwave, but that MW is pretty good. I have similar observations. There are weak shortwave stations that are just not there on the ATS-405. Sensitivity can be improved with an external antenna clipped on. The included whip antenna is an impressive 28 1/2″ (compared with 19 1/4″ on the Tecsun PL-330). MW performance is outstanding.
Here are daytime MW/FM results compared to other radios.
If I wanted to spend $80 on a radio today, I might look at something like the XHDATA D-808 (reviewed here) or the Tecsun PL-330. Both are more modern radios and both have SSB. The PL-330 has an excellent Enhanced Tuning Mode (ETM+) to scan and store stations by time of day. The D-808 has RDS and Air band, plus a louder speaker, but it’s memory system is awful. If I were trying to match features, I’d be more inclined towards something like the Radiwow/Sihuadon R-108 in the $50 range, or even the XHDATA D-109.
If you want an interesting radio, a stellar performer on MW, and a radio that’s easy on the eyes, then you might consider the Sangean ATS-405. I’m glad I have one even though I don’t use it very often.