The Best Shortwave Radios of 2018

Something of a vestige from a past era, the shortwave radio still sees action around the world. In fact, shortwave broadcasts remain the only truly omnipresent broadcast technology on earth.

Despite newer technologies, hobbyists still enjoy the artistry of setting and maintaining a frequency. Survivalists see it as a necessity. Campers and backpackers view it as a solid safety device.

Whatever a user's interests or needs may be, finding the best radio for their needs doesn't have to be its own adventure. Modern shortwave radios combine a lot of features in each box.

Options give radios some versatility but also makes the choice nuanced. This review will explain all the features and why a user would need them so they can make the most informed choice.

Shortwave Radio Features

The following reviews will go into detail about the parameters of several radios on the market in 2018. The reviews will focus on the overall effectiveness and value of each of these features.

Shortwaves also come in classes. These classes explain the size and functionality of the radios.

Features which play a part in modern shortwave design:

  • Antenna Connectors
  • Frequency Range
  • Frequency Readout
  • Modes
  • Durability
  • Selectivity
  • Tuning Methods

Table-top sets are the largest which allow the widest array of features. Portable units have limited features but are lightweight. Ultra-portable feature longer battery lives and portability but the least amount of features.

Antenna Connectors

The quality of a shortwave's antenna has an obvious impact on the functionality of the unit. A better antenna will allow for clearer connections at longe ranges.

Units with antenna connectors expand their range through antennas added after-market. This feature is rarely seen in portable and ultra-portable units.

Frequency Range

This is not the range in which a frequency can be broadcast or received. This is the range of frequencies that can be accessed through the tuner.

A wider range of frequencies would stretch 540 kHz to 30 MHz. Many shortwaves only cover the upper end of 1700 kHz to 30 MHz.

The best frequency range of shortwave radios can reach 0.15 Mhz. While a wider frequency range adds more utility, a unit with only the common range is not a deal breaker.

Frequency Readout

Users choose between digital readouts and analog readouts. Digital offers more fine-tuning as the exact frequency is shown. The analog readout takes some guesswork but also saves on battery life.

Readouts can be especially important when a user needs to tap into different markets across separate bands.

Modes

Broadcast modes allow a shortwave unit to tune to and transmit to more stations. AM (amplitude modulation) mode is the default. Some units allow SSB (single sideband) to extended the options for a user.

Guides to known frequencies can be found online or purchased in print editions.

Durability

This metric isn't so much a feature as it is a core metric. Durability represents both the physical survivability of the radio and its lifecycle.

Some radios will be stronger and more resistant to wear and tear. Other radios will be easier to break but maintain power longer or upkeep a stronger signal out of the box.

Selectivity

The more selectivity options a unit has the better the audio quality it can produce. Selectivity has a downside, though. More bandwidths create more opportunity for interference.

Units with narrow selectivity will have lower quality sound but less interference. Units with upwards of 5 selectivity options provide robust sound but may be interrupted and gain overlays for other stations.

Tuning Methods

The age-old question of knobs versus buttons--which is better?

Knobs provide detailed selection but often have to be readjusted to previous stations. Buttons lack precision but allow quick changes between several station options.

Like everything else, each option has its advantages.

Shortwave Radio Showcase

Each review list the pros and cons of a unit in terms of the features explained. A general description of each unit's functionality is also provided.

This gives a final thought on the interplay of the features that the breakdown may miss.

1. Eton NGWSATB Satellit

The notable portable entry from the Eton company differs from other offerings from the company. The portable package retains many of the features of the larger units but has some obvious differences.

The biggest departure is in the single telescoping antenna. No external antenna additions for this unit. Even so, the reception has PLL synthesized conversion. It also operates in a dual mode so the signals block static and interference from close stations.

Onboard memory provides 700 presets which can be selected with button tuning. Analog tuning is a bit rough with only one dial but slides well through the 1 KHz single band offered.

The unit was featured prominently as part of the UNESCO Radio Day celebration for its longevity and reliability to receive VHV and SSB sidebands. The dual local and world time settings provide an international touch.

The battery supply is adequate for the size and can be changed out for batteries or other battery packs. The power indicator is fairly accurate and also provides a charging time indicator.

One of the places the unit scrimps on power is in having no back-light function.

2. Eton Grundig Satellit 750

This table-top shortwave radio packs a lot of features in the chassis. The unit bridges the gap between portable and table-top with handles built into the frame which allow for transportability with ease.

Tuning can be adjusted with a combination of analog and digital to provide that solid combination of speed and precision. External antenna support screws into a bracket which rotates allowing 360 rotation for signal strengthening.

Functions in AM/FM and longwave and also SSB. Onboard memory supports 1000 presets across bands.

As a table-top unit, the Eton Grundig Satellit 750 takes more power than others but can run on battery as well as dual AC/DC wall jack adapters.

Sound settings are adjustable to enhance bass and treble which makes for better listening of broadcasts. This compensates for the major drawback of the unit which suffers from static on weak signals. This is largely due to the lack of a synchronous circuit.

The unit has a line-in and line-out so it can be used as a speaker for other radios or transfer sound to another system.

3. Sangean ATS-909X BK

The Sangean ATS-90X BK is a portable class radio that demonstrates the advantages of a digital display. The LED backlight provides easy readability. The display takes up about a 3rd of the unit at 2.2 by 1.9 inches.

The tuner offers five methods between either button or dial tuning. This gives the convenience of features such as direct tuning, auto scan, and memory recall while still allowing manual tuning.

Onboard memory can store 406 presets. It features both a speaker and a headphone jack.

This radio falls on the high-end of the price range of other radios in this review. The durability is high and the sound is good. The unit comes with multiple accessories such as the expanded antenna and headphones and a stand that can fold out from the back.

This radio doesn't skimp on quality or features but includes quality offerings across the board. It remains lightweight for its options and the battery life doesn't get in the way. Batteries can be charged in the unit but can also be changed out and charged separately for constant use.

4. Sony ICF-SW7600GR

This unit is built more for the casual music lover and world traveler than others on this list. The range is surprising for such a small unit with a single telescoping antenna.

The sound quality receives boosts from the PLL digital receiver. The presets benefit from a combination of alphanumeric keys for saving names instead of just numbers. The onboard memory can recall 100 stations.

Tuning modes feature button and a button-based analog that can nudge frequencies in increments. This can be a bit buggy as pressing a button and holding the button do different functions.

The scan function does a good job on the accuracy of frequencies and can be set to indicate signal strength preference. As a Sony product, the sound adjustments give the most versatility.

Tones can be adjusted as well as the reception selectivity to give optimal sound for weak or strong signals.

The ICF-SW7600GR covers the usual FM/AM and short and longwave stations but doesn't cover sidebands. Even so, the range on the coverage goes from 150 KHz to 200 MHz.

5. Tecsun PL-660 Portable

One of the more expensive portable units is the Tecsun Pl-660. The price point is high but provides a punchy package of features.

The SYNC detector for AM blocks a stunning amount of interference from nearby stations. On top of this, it has SW-SBB and AIR band receptions with a dual conversion.

The digital display is multi-functional providing both tuning and signal strength indicators. The tuning can be done button or analog. The tuning is precise with 6 different tuning modes for signal adjustment.

The selectivity is top notch, providing robust sound on medium grade signals and up. The antenna extends but does not feature an external antenna option.

Power comes from the built-in battery pack which can be charged via wall jack or popped out and replaced on the fly. Altogether, the unit packs the most features and longest range into the smallest package.

A downside from all these features packed into a small frame is that it is not durable. Too many precise parts can take damage quickly from even small impacts. The carrying pouch and wrist strap help to minimize chances of damage.

6. TIVDIO V-115 Portable

A wallet minded unit, the TIVDIO V-115 is small enough to fit in a pocket.

Capable of using SD cards and recording, the unit doubles as an Mp3 player. The line-in and line-out allow the unit to broadcast to and from other sources.

Onboard memory covers 100 presets. Even though the SD card is enabled, it doesn't support extra presets.

As an ultraportable unit, it doesn't have much in tuning modes offering only button input for its digital display. The bands supported are also limited to AM/FM and shortwave.

The sound quality is good, as would be expected from a unit also doubling as a dedicated music player. The battery life can drain quickly when recording or being used as an MP3 player. It is chargeable but doesn't have battery changing options.

The display can be set to Enligsh, Spanish, and Chinese.

7. Kaito KA500 5-Way

A radio designed specifically for backpacking and wilderness travel, the Kaito KA500 brings a lot of useful features to the forefront.

Most notable of the lot is its solar power component. It can also be hand cranked. On top of those, it has batteries, a battery pack, and an adapter jack.

The crank and solar panel don't charge quickly. Even so, the options provide that much more assurance when stranded. It is just not a good idea to let the unit run out of power before a situation arises.

Doubling the potential of the unit's ability to charge through alternate means, it also has a USB input which can charge other devices. Furthering its emergency and survival potential, the radio also comes with 7 pre-programmed settings for NOAA weather.

The Kaito KA500 is sold in a bright yellow impact-resistant material for ease of visibility. The unit is waterproof to 5 meters for 30 minutes.

AM FM and 2-band shortwave frequencies are covered. Dials are analog and the antenna telescopes for signal boosting.

8. C Crane CC Skywave

An entry for the ultraportable fans, the C Crance CC Skywave boast an impressive 70 hours of battery life.

The digital display features a pleasing backlight which will cut the play life down to about 60 hours if run continuously. Tuning modes include button and limited analog modes.

No extra antenna adding but the telescoping antenna does have a good 180 swivel. The small size of the unit makes it easy to adjust positioning.

Onboard memory can hold 400 channels and it is set for AM/FM and the NOAA weather stations. Reception can be weak for smaller signals but the speaker offers extra volume to compensate.

More durable than some other portables from its simple design and sturdy plastic, it also has a carry case.

Get on the Frequency

When you decide to make a purchase for a shortwave radio, you want to know you have adequate information to make an informed choice.

This review was written to provide the most thorough review of each model.

Consumers looking for further information, check back here soon for more reviews!

Leave a Comment