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What to buy and why!
A Beginners Guide to
"This information has been edited from
from the RADIO NETHERLAND Receiver Test
You can spend anything from US
$ 50 to US $ 50,000 on a shortwave receiver. But price is by no means the
only factor to consider. First you should decide what sort of listening
you want to try. In Europe, you are unlikely to hear a 10 watt station in
Venezuela on a 50 dollar portable. But conversely it would be foolish to
buy a US $ 5000 communications receiver for simple listening to major
international broadcasters (e.g. BBC, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America,
Voice of Russia, Radio Netherlands, etc.)
If you only listen to the stronger
international broadcast stations, general shortwave listening including
the Amateur Bands or if you plan to take a simple receiver with you
everywhere, then consider sets in this category. To avoid disappointment,
make a note of the following:
These receivers give good and
cheerful performance, but you must not expect too much. Their size and
weight is a given consideration, but that should not be the only factor to
FACTS TO PONDER!
Some sets only
offer PARTIAL coverage of the shortwave bands. If you plan to buy such a
set to listen to (a) particular station(s), then check in advance that the
set will cover the frequencies you want to listen to. On some receivers
the band coverage is incomplete and some bands are missing altogether.
Check out the frequency table under Coverage below. This is already a
CONTINUOUS TUNING OF ALL BANDS OF INTEREST BETWEEN ABOUT 2.3MHZ AND 30
Ease of tuning is another factor
to consider! The shortwave bands are extremely crowded
and, due to the price range, the shortwave bands may be cramped into a few
millimetres on the dial. The sets listed here are better than average in
this respect, but if you find the job of searching for stations difficult,
go for a set that offers "digital readout". This means the set displays
the frequency it is tuned to, rather like a digital clock. This eliminates
most of the "guesswork" as to where you are in the band. This is rather
more difficult with the conventional "point-and-dial"
SOME radios do not have the facility for single-sideband
(SSB ) reception, so you can't listen to amateur radio operators, radio
teletype stations, morse code or utility services. Selectivity (i.e. the
ability to separate the station you want from the interference) and
dynamic range (see later notes for an explanation of this term) are NOT
good enough for picking out very weak stations. Some receivers offer the
Phase Lock Loop (PLL) tuning systems. This means the set is generally more
stable and easier to tune than receivers using older techniques (such as
Wadley Loop). Sets offering FM (VHF) coverage, portability, built-in
clocks, and stereo adaptors for FM performance just add to their price
without offering better shortwave reception.
Buy the best possible receiver you
You CANNOT expect $2000 performance from a $200
receiver. You may be disappointed in the results of an inferior receiver.
Before assuming your present receiver is useless, or that it needs
upgrading, check your antenna facilities. Do not always assume that a long
(10 metres or more) random wire antenna in the garden will work wonders.
If your receiver is a portable, you may find that such an antenna will
cause too much signal to be fed into the receiver's sensitive circuitry.
This results in overloading and the appearance of strange stations on odd
parts of the dial. For further information, look at the shortwave antenna page on
this web site.
NEVER expect that by
buying an expensive receiver you will be able to tune in exotic countries
with hi-fidelity reception. Shortwave signals have to travel vast
distances. The imperfections of the ionosphere that forms part of the
signal path lead to fading and distortion. As yet, there is NO SUCH THING
AS A "SUPER POWERFUL" receiver that pulls rare stations in with "local"
quality. It is far better to start with an inexpensive set, learn about
the shortwave bands, propagation and the limitations of your receiver. If
you decide that international radio listening is interesting enough to
start pursuing weaker signals, upgrading is always possible
salesmanship at your local store talk you into buying a receiver without
at least a demonstration. There is still a serious problem when it comes
to getting advice from shop assistants, many of whom are not aware of the
existence of shortwave broadcasting stations. Their main expertise is in
video or hi-fi. If the salesman (or -woman) cannot name a major
international broadcasting station you can hear on the set, or fails to
give a convincing explanation of terms like SSB, the chances are s/he is
NEVER buy a receiver
in the hope that you can buy extra parts at a later stage to upgrade its
performance. Some more expensive receivers can have modifications done,
but these are the exception rather than the rule. You CANNOT economically
make a professional receiver from a US $150 dollar portable!
using the receiver on batteries if there is an option of AC mains
electricity. Batteries are up to 1000 times more expensive per unit of
electricity than the household current supply.
Abbreviations and terms
kHz: kilohertz, MHz: Megahertz, GHz:
1 GHz = 1000 MHz = 1,000,000
Wavelength (in metres) = 300 divided by Frequency (in MHz)
In North America, the medium wave band is usually referred to the
"broadcast band" or the "AM band".
Weight: This is given in grams
(1 oz = 28 grams). Unless stated, this weight is WITHOUT batteries!
AM: Amplitude Modulation (i.e. the type of signals found on long,
medium, or shortwave). MW: Medium Wave LW: Long Wave SW: Short Wave
VHF: Very High Frequency. This term, prominent in Britain, is now
being phased out.
FM: Frequency Modulation (i.e. mostly found on
the section of the dial between 88 and 108 MHz.) Sets made in Eastern
Europe, including Russia and for the Japanese market often have a
different FM frequency coverage.
NBFM: Narrow band FM (This does
NOT imply that the set can pick up the FM range between 76 and 108 MHz).
This mode is used by amateur radio operators on 10 metre ham band, and in
VHF/UHF portions of the spectrum. Some 27 MHz CB operators in Europe also
use this mode. You cannot use a narrow band FM position to listen to
conventional FM broadcasts - there is too much distortion.
Automatic Gain Control
BFO: Beat Frequency Oscillator (needed for
FET: Field Effect Transistor
IC: Integrated Circuit
LED: Light emitting diode display
Set can be powered from household AC power supply.
PLL: Phase Lock
SSB: Single Sideband ( A must for listening to Amateur radio operators on most
Keyboard Tuning: The set has a
calculator style pad on the front panel. If you want to tune in 6165 kHz,
you simply press the keys 6 1 6 5, and possibly an "EXECUTE" button. The
set will then automatically tune to that frequency. This is very handy
when moving about the dial fast, and also simplifies tuning for the
that only tunes the "official" shortwave bands may be very limiting. The
"Radio Regulations" of the International Telecommunications Union define
the shortwave broadcast bands. At the 1992 World Administrative Radio
Conference, new bands were created and existing bands were expanded.
The band limits in the following table reflect the WARC-92
agreements and broadcast band expansions used on a non-interfering basis
(e.g., the 41 mb starting at 6890 kHz on a non-interference
Band Frequencies kHz
2300 - 2495
3200 - 3400
3900 - 4000
4750 - 5060
5730 - 6295
6890 - 6990
7100 - 7600
9250 - 9990
Although the allocations do not
become official until 2007, in practice many stations have already started
using the expanded portions under the motto "use it or lose it."
Additionally, there are a few stations that broadcast outside the band
edges above, e.g., Iran on 9022 and a number of African stations around
9200 kHz. Clearly, receivers with continuous coverage between 1.6 and 30
MHz are preferred.
Sensitivity: This is the
ability to pick up weak stations. Most modern receivers (especially
portables) are sensitive enough. Those that are not are mentioned. A good
antenna is also important, but don't assume that a long wire of 30 metres
connected to a small portable will allow you to pull in the weak stations
better. The extra flood of energy may well overload the simple front-end
circuitry in the receiver!
This is the ability to separate the station you want to hear, from nearby
interference. This is to a large extent determined by the bandwidth
filters installed, and their so called "shape factor". The sharper the
filters the better. The smaller the filter setting, the greater the
reduction in nearby interference, but also the more muffled the audio
quality of the station you are trying to hear. For listening to weak
stations, most users want filters 4.0 kHz wide or less.
Range: This is the receiver's ability to cope with reception
of a weak station with a powerful station close by (either on the band
and/or geographically). Sets in class C are more expensive because of
their above average dynamic range. Two excellent portable receivers we
endorse highly that fall within the above range of specifications are made
by SONY and SANGEAN.
The SONY ICF-SW7600GR
is the best of the two
as reviewed by the Radio Netherlands Shortwave
Click the picture to see it!
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