FM Radio Shootout: Part 1

I’ve been having a lot of fun lately with my new Qodosen SR-286 radio that is reported to be outstanding on FM, and indeed it is. But how outstanding? RadioJayAllen gave it 5.5 out of 5 stars.

Serious reviewers, like Gilles Letourneau in Montreal, Canada, have benchmark stations they look for; he has one, WVPS in Burlington, Vermont. I thought I would try to pick my own benchmark station, and so I got out my Qodosen DX-286 (same as SR-286) and found a station I could barely pick up unless I held the radio just right. It was a rock station on 96.9 MHz, one of three FM stations on that frequency in Virginia. I finally identified it by comparing the radio to the online streaming content. The station is a 3 kW station in Bowling Green, Virginia. Here’s its coverage map:

I live 54 miles away and well outside the estimated fringe listening area of WWUZ.

For a first pass, I took out two more small portable radios, a Tecsun PL-330 that will be familiar to many folks, and a lesser-known LiJiANi Rd239 that I’ve found to have good results on FM.

The three radios were held in my hand in close to the same position, horizontal, roughly in a north-south direction.

WWUZ FM 54 miles away on 3 radios

It looks like the LiJiANi was more sensitive and the PL-330 significantly less, although they all got something.

Another FM station of interest is WEMC 91.7, a 4.6 kW station in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It’s about 49 miles away, but across some mountains. I have picked it up on the Qodosen before using some old rabbit ears in the evening.

Size matters?

The DX-286 and the PL-330 have the same sized antenna, 19 1/4″. The Rd239 is longer at 23 1/4″. What about a radio with an even longer antenna? I have a couple contenders we might consider, the XHDATA D-808 at 26″ and a Tecsun PL-990 at an amazing 38 3/4″. I also want to throw in a quite decent radio that I don’t use as much, a Sangean ATS-405 and an old favorite, the Tecsun PL-660.

So here’s the line up for round two:

  • Eton Elite Executive
  • LiJiANi Rd239 (Firmware V3.0)
  • Qodosen DX-286 (June 2024)
  • Sangean ATS-405
  • Tecsun PL-330 (Firmware 3306)
  • Tecsun PL-660
  • Tecsun PL-990 (Firmware 99028)
  • XHDATA D-808 (Generation 2)

The Tecsun PL-660 is the only fully analog radio in the list; I’ve had it since 2011. The PL-990 is also an analog-tuned radio with a DSP chip for signal detection. The Sangean ATS-405 is an older model that I’ve had since January of 2023; it’s pretty good on FM. My XHDATA D-808 is from late March of 2023; mine is the second generation model with rubber feet and a simplified circuit board.

I walked down to a public space in the neighborhood, higher in elevation than most of the surroundings, and laid out an array of the radios to test. Here’s the video:

WMQR FM, 53 Miles away on several radios

Clearly, the Tecsun PL-990 was the outstanding radio on FM. It’s always been outstanding on FM in my tests. One thing I did notice is that moving a radio, even a few inches, made a significant difference in reception on fringe stations.

I had to use the water bottle behind the Eton Elite Executive to keep it from falling over. It’s the least stable radio I own.

For more, see Part 2

About Kevin

Just an old guy with opinions that I like to bounce off other people.
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