After the roaring success of my Battle of the under $50 shortwave radios (36 views! ROFL) I’m inspired to up the ante and review models that could be purchased today with shipping between $50 and $100. The contestants this time are definitely more interesting:
- Sangean ATS-405
- Tecsun PL-330
- Tecsun R-9700DX
- XHDATA D-808
Zhiwhis ZWS-A320 (aka Raddy RF320, HanRongDa HRD-A320, Retekess TR112)
The R-9700DX is about $55 with shipping from Kaito USA on eBay. The PL-330 is around $80 on Amazon. The ATS-405 can be found on Amazon for $73; its price varies. The XHDATA D-808 has become popular with shortwave listeners and it’s price has shot up about 30% in the last 5 months. It can still be purchased direct from the XHDATA website for slightly under $100.
Breaking news! The ZWS-A320 was defective; the antenna joints were frozen together in two places. I returned it and reordered. The second one’s antenna joints were frozen together in one place. I returned it. I’ve given up on this radio. ZHIWHIS customer support says that I’m the only one reporting the problem. (What are the odds?)
The Tecsun R-9700DX is a pure analog radio, a dual-conversion superheterodyne model. It’s quite straightforward, with little in the way of features beyond a dial light, an external antenna jack and a tuning LED. It has a slide rule dial to cover MW, FM and 10 shortwave bands. The radio only covers select international broadcast frequencies and tops out at 1620 on MW. Mine has Chinese language labels.
The Sangean ATS-405 is an MW/FM/SW receiver that uses a digital signal processing (DSP) chip for tuning and signal demodulation. All of the radios in this battle, with the exception of the Tecsun R-9700DX, are the same. The ATS-405 has a very easy to read display, and sports the usual features of a DSP radio, direct frequency entry, station preset memory, variable bandwidth, digital frequency display, and a clock/alarm/sleep timer.
The Tecsun PL-330 is the most compact of the group. It adds longwave, single sideband detection (SSB), synchronous tuning, and auto tune storage (ATS) on shortwave. It is a general coverage shortwave receiver spanning 1711 to 29999 kHz.
The XHDATA D-808 adds more features to the table with FM RDS and AIR band. This radio radio has created a great deal of interest in the shortwave listening community with good reason. It’s the serious competitor to the Tecsun PL-330.
Let’s make a table!
|SW Freq.||2.3 to 26.1||3.9 to 21.851||1.7 to 29.999||1.7 to 29.999|
|MW Sens.||n/s||< 1mV/m||<1mV/m||0.5mV/m|
|SW Sens.||n/s||< 30μV||<20μV||<10μV|
|FM Sens.||n/s||< 10μV||<3μV||<3μV|
|28 1/4||33||19||25 1/2|
|Battery||4 AA||4 AA||BL-5C||18650|
1 The R-9700DX has 10 SW bands, broadcast bands only. It is not general coverage. The bands are: 3.90 – 4.00, 4.75 – 5.06, 5.95 – 6.20, 7.10 – 7.30, 9.50 – 9.90, 11.65 – 12.05, 13.60 – 13.80, 15.10 – 15.60, 17.55 – 17.90, 21.45 – 21.85 MHz.
2 The external antenna jack on the PL-330 can be used on MW through a “hidden feature.”
While the PL-330 is the only radio without a Local/DX setting, it is also the radio that seems least affected by overloading.
None of these radios can be turned up very loudly, although the PL-330 seems the loudest when receiving shortwave. Other less expensive radios have 3W speakers. It’s a puzzle.
Going into the comparison, I’ll share some opinions (that might be challenged later?). The first is that the PL-330 and the D-808 are the only two radios a serious shortwave listener would consider. Both are general coverage receivers that cover LW and the entire SW band. Both have SSB detection. Only the PL-330 has synchronous tuning, and only the D-808 has air band and FM RDS. The PL-330 has a shorter antenna and is easier to carry; the D-808 has a better speaker. I’ll always pick the PL-330 when traveling because it’s lightweight, compact, full featured and has superior band scanning capability. I’ve compared these two before: PL-330 or D-808?
I’ve been unimpressed with the R-9700DX because it’s difficult to read frequencies from its dial, and the dial on mine isn’t particularly accurate. Despite its technology that should give a lower noise floor, I get fewer, not more stations on it. It also overloads with an external antenna and has images. The speaker is big and folks like the nostalgic dial light.
The Sangean ATS-405 is a great MW receiver, but less sensitive on shortwave with the telescopic antenna. The display is easy to read in any light and it provides many settings like squelch, soft mute, and tuning mute. However, direct frequency entry is clumsy, preset memory is limited, and there is no ATS on shortwave. The speaker can’t be turned up loud. Of course, as with any radio, one can always clip on an external antenna.
This website already has reviews and comparisons for 4 of the radios, and covers them about as well as I can. The PL-330 and the D-808 are on top as far as performance, but with different features. The ATS-405 comes in second with a nice implementation and slightly lower sensitivity. The R-9700DX is just not a radio I work up any enthusiasm for; the inaccurate dial is a deal breaker for me; still, many others like it.
There are a couple of things to mention that don’t directly relate to performance. One very annoying thing about the PL-330 is that it does not have a kickstand. At home I have a stand I use with it, but away from home the lack of a stand is very inconvenient. There is a disparity in the cases that come with the radios. The ATS-405 has the all-around best case; it’s a pouch with a fold over flap secured by Velcro; it’s easy to insert the radio into it and easy to close securely. The R-9700DX has an attractive case, but it doesn’t fit very well; it’s difficult to wedge the radio into a narrow opening at the bottom of the fold-over case, and the fold over is a little too short to comfortably enclose the radio. The PL-330 and D-808 both come with string-closed bags that are a little clumsy to use.
Radio performance comparisons
All my radio comparisons start out with the daytime AM/FM band scan. These are done at midday outdoors with the radio oriented in a southeast direction (for MW) and with the telescopic antenna for FM. Here are the results with these 4 radios in bold:
The surprise here is the poor MW performance of the larger Tecsun R-9700DX. It could have been better based on its size and technology. My similarly-sized vintage Panasonic RF-085 gets 4 times as many MW stations. Also, the R-9700DX does not receive the upper portion of the North American MW band, from 1620 – 1710 kHz. The Sangean is on top for MW. R-9700DX is poor on FM compared to the others.
In all of my shortwave testing, the ATS-405 has lagged behind the PL-330 and the D-808 in sensitivity. When I attempted to receive the weak Music 4 Joy transmission with a clip-on antenna, the ATS-405 just didn’t get it when the others could (the R-9700DX barely). On a later session with a stronger signal, I was able to receive the station on all 4 radios fairly well.
I’d typically like to compare radios receiving time stations WWV or CHU, but the R-9700DX doesn’t cover any WWV or CHU frequency.
Only two of the radios can process SSB signals, the PL-330 and the D-808. Samples and comparisons for those can be found in my article: SSB! Only 3 of the radios have any sort of a memory preset system. The ATS-405 has only 36 memory presets for each band, 108 memories total, and no automatic storage for shortwave. With only 36 shortwave presets, ATS doesn’t make much sense. The D-808 is better with 100 for each band, but they are awkwardly arranged in 10 pages of 10 presets each and there’s no way to scroll through them. The PL-330 has a nearly perfect memory system. Check out my Radio memory systems article for details.
I decided to try a new location to test radios. I like station CFRX in Toronto on 6070 MHz, but unfortunately RF interference where I live is severe around that frequency. I found a picnic table next to a tennis court within walking distance and decided it to give it a whirl. I first tested the radios using a Sangean AN-06 reel antenna attached to a tree limb, but that proved just too easy for these radios, so I changed tack and switched to their telescopic antennas. As shown in the earlier specifications table, the R-9700DX has the longest antenna, followed by the ATS-405, D-808 and the PL-330 in descending order; however reception did not follow that order. I observed pretty much what I expected to observe: the ATS-405 had the best audio system, but the least sensitivity. The R-9700DX worked OK, but it was difficult to tune and it drifted. The D-808 received well but couldn’t be turned up loud. The PL-330 speaker could be turned up louder.
I have each radio recorded multiple times and the listener may note that conditions varied over time. This was particularly noticeable with the ATS-405. Any humming noise you may hear is environmental and not from the radios.
How do they sound?
The video below is recorded, as are most all of my radio videos, using an iPhone 13. I personally think the microphone on this device records a good representation of how the radios sound. As radios go, these aren’t particularly loud.
The video following is of a strong signal from WWCR in Nashville, Tennessee, via MLA-30+ antenna, playing pop songs. I threw in a sample at the end from an Eton Elite Executive that was handy, for the purpose of demonstrating what a more expensive radio could do.
The D-808 speaker power rating is higher then the PL-330, but the latter can be turned up louder. Sometimes the D-808 is just lacking in volume. The ATS-405 seemed to have better bass response than the others.
Some are more sensitive, some easier to tune, some have extra features and some have a nicer speaker. Different people would come up with different answers. I personally like the Tecsun PL-330 best and that’s why it’s in my upstairs radio collection, and the others are downstairs.
Here are other other articles covering these radios in some detail: