Please mention you saw it in Monitoring Times!
Tigertronics BP-2M / Active Shortwave Whip for Hand-helds / Make Time with KLOCKIT® / Trunk Following with E-Trax / MFJ Shortwave Noise Canceller / Radio Shack's Tuner Control & Lubricant /Kloss Model 88 AM/FM Radio / EXP-1750 LF Transceiver Kit / JRC NRD545 with VHF/UHF Converter / Nil-Jon Antenna / Avcom SDM42A Spectrum Display Unit / The Bose vs. Zenith Challenge / Sony Dynamo-Powered Emergency Radio / Crane / Sangean's CCRadio / Alpha Delta VRC Speaker / Icom Q7A transceiver
1999 Index to review columns: Scanner Equipment, Magne Tests, Computer & Radio, And More
By Ken Reitz, KS4ZR
Shortwave listening is almost as old as the century and the bands are still packed with the voices and music of the world's nations as well as all of those strange sounds which indicate the presence of digital transmissions. You've enjoyed monitoring international broadcasters, utilities stations, numbers stations and amateur radio operators, but maybe you've stayed away from the digital modes because it all seemed too expensive and complicated.
Now BayPac has taken away those excuses and opened up another dimension in shortwave listening. All you need is your radio and a basic PC with an unused serial port.
Tigertronics has made their BayPac Model BP-2M, a multi-mode modem, so easy to use and versatile you'll wonder why you haven't gotten one before now! Measuring just over 2" square, the BP-2M slips into a com port on your computer and plugs into the speaker jack of your shortwave radio, scanner, or HT. Now, by bringing up any one of three dozen freeware, shareware or inexpensive commercial programs (all available on their website), you can access digital transmissions including SITOR A/B, BAUDOT, PACKET (HF & VHF), ASCII, RTTY, NAVTEX, WEFAX, AMTOR, SSTV, CW and many more.
To get you started right away the BP-2M is shipped with a copy of their own installation software and latest versions of the durable and well-designed HamCom and JVFAX programs, as well as a concise, five page Installation & Operation manual.
The only thing you'll have to do is fit the cable with a plug to fit whatever you're using for a signal source. Details for doing this are found in the manual. The installation disk has dozens of pages of "Common Questions & Problems" in addition to "Getting Started with Packet Commands." Forget about power supplies, the BP-2M uses only 9 mW and it gets that from the signal it's processing!
Once I installed the programs on my computer and attached a mini-plug to the modem's cable, I fired up my Kenwood TS-140 transceiver using an all-band outside antenna and started tuning the dials. After loading HamCom, I was "reading the mail" on ham QSOs on 80, 40, 20, and 10 meters. The system was able to copy Tech Plus Morse code (CW) ops lumbering along at under 10 words per minute (WPM) as well as old hands zipping along at 40+ WPM. Even with atmospheric noise, local electrical hash, and the fact that both operators were slightly off each other's frequency, the copy was solid.
Switching to Slow Scan TV (SSTV), I tuned to 14.232 MHz, a standard SSTV frequency and, sure enough, the familiar and peculiar sound of an SSTV signal in progress was heard. Within seconds I had the JVFAX program up and an image from a ham in Florida was slowly filling the screen.
With very little practice, tuning WEFAX, SSTV, RTTY or CW is a breeze. Find an interesting image? You can save it for later viewing or to pass on to someone else by your own transmission. That's right; the BP-2M not only receives, but if you're a ham, you can transmit too! Even as a Technician Class operator you can use the BP-2M to expand your operating horizons.
Just for fun I shut down the Kenwood and reached for my old Uniden 2021, pulled out its telescoping antenna as far as it would go, plugged the modem into its speaker jack and started looking up WEFAX frequencies. Despite the interference from the computer's monitor less than a foot from the antenna, the minuscule size of the antenna, and the less than supersensitive receiver, within seconds the screen was filling with a shaky, but readable, weather chart from a coastal station over 1500 miles away. Not too bad!
The only difficulty I had was relearning how to get around with DOS commands. As they warn in the manual "Never try to operate Baycom or any of the MultiMode programs from Windows ... BayCom requires the total undivided attention of the computer to work reliably." Once you get over that little obstacle, operations become routine.
The one thing I found extremely useful to have on hand with the BP-2M was this magazine. I went back through last year's copies of MT and checked out the Digital Digest "Baudot and Beyond" column and many others, including feature articles, which had extensive lists of HF frequencies and the various modes found operating there. Now when you come across those articles you'll read them with a new interest!
The BayPac BP-2M does not pretend to replace desktop stand-alone multi-mode terminal units. What it does, however, is allow those of us who can't even consider spending much money a chance to explore the digital world of the shortwave and VHF spectrum. While much of the operations are easy, some digital modes will be more of a challenge. But, that's what attracts us to this hobby anyway! If you like to experiment with tuning in on new modes, expanding your ham radio activities, and would like to do so for just $69.95, the BP-2M is a great place to start.
BayPac Models BP-2 (Packet only) and BP-2M (Packet and Multi-mode) are available from Tigertronics, Inc., 400 Daily Lane, P.O. Box 5210, Grants Pass, OR 97527. Phone 800-822-9722 (orders only) 541-474-6700 or FAX: 541-474-6703. Visit their extensive website for updated information on all digital modes and available software: www.tigertronics.com
By Bob Grove
If you’ve ever tried to listen to medium wave and short wave signals on a wideband handheld scanner like those from Icom, AOR, and Alinco , you know how dismal the AM and SSB reception is with the little rubber duckie antenna provided by the manufacturer. Not only is the antenna woefully short to intercept adequate signal voltages, but the impedance mismatch is enormous. Not much signal gets to the radio. But that’s all changed now.
The "Active Duck" is a low profile (7 inch) amplified whip that snaps right onto the BNC connector of your wide frequency coverage scanner, providing enormous increases shortwave and medium wave signal strengths, and it doesn’t have to be removed for VHF/UHF scanner reception.
The Active Duck comes with battery installed and, because of its low 1 mA current requirement, it lasts for 8-12 hours of operation before replacement is necessary.
Frequency range of operation is 0.5-1300 MHz, with 10-15 dB gain up to 60 MHz, and passive above 100 MHz to avoid intermod associated with amplified VHF/UHF antenna systems.
During our evaluation tests, we snapped the little Active Duck to the top of a wideband scanner, switched it on, and were astounded by the enormous increase in signal strengths throughout the 0.5-30 MHz spectrum! Faintly detected broadcasters came thundering in, while what sounded like a dead CB channel suddenly came alive with signals.
We detected no apparent overload problems; clearly the JFET preamplifier circuit has excellent dynamic range, even at the low current drain required to operate the little amplifier. According to the manufacturer, they operated their prototypes under a transmitting tower to be sure that strong-signal overload would not be a problem before releasing the product.
The Active Duck is manufactured exclusively for Grove Enterprises, and is available for $49.95 by calling (800) 438-8155 for credit card orders, or mailing a check or money order to Grove Enterprises, PO Box 98, Brasstown, NC 28902.
By Ken Reitz, KS4ZR
Hams and shortwave listeners have always had a need for specialized clocks. What we're looking for is a clock which is accurate, easy to read, reliable, and inexpensive. And for this reason we usually end up inheriting clocks nobody else wants. But, we're also looking for flexibility – for example, clocks with 24 hour dials, and clocks which can give us local and UTC time. Finding one which fits all these requirements isn't easy or cheap. So, why not design your own shack clock? That's where Klockit, a mail order company from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, comes in.
Klockit caters to all manner of clock builders and hobbyists with parts and kits to build everything from $1,000 grandfather clocks to small digital clock inserts for as little as $2.80. Browsing through their 72 page catalog you'll start thinking about all kinds of neat clock projects to do for your listening post. They have several products which are perfect shack accessories:
1) The "World Time Clock Insert" lets you tell what time it is anywhere in the world. It has a 3-1/2" diameter brass outer ring with black numbers and a face which features a polar view of the world. The continents are raised and gold colored while the oceans are a dark blue. (Item #15046 $22.95)
2) "24-Hour European/Military Time with Quartz movement and dial." This insert has a 24 hour face and can be fitted with an optional sweep second hand. It can be used as a replacement dial and movement for an existing case or you build your own case. (Item #34089 6-1/2" dial $9.95 or #34090 9-1/2" dial $10.95)
3) Radio Controlled Clock Movements. Yes, these are the same movements which have the built-in receivers tuned to WWV, the National Bureau of Standards in Ft. Collins, Colorado, which "enables the movement to self-correct every day so that it always shows the exact time..." You'll need a dial and case to complete this project (just don't use a metal dial!). (Item #10087 $23.95)
Special "Radio Controlled" clock stickers for the face are available for $.75
4) Rectangle LCD Unit. Familiar digital LCD clocks in black plastic rectangular frames have setting buttons on the front. Mount two of them side-by-side and set one to local time, the other to UTC. (Item #16011 without alarm $4.95 each)
5) Brass LCD mini insert clocks. These 1-7/16" diameter LCD clocks are round with a brass bevel edge and battery included. (Item #15325 $2.80). Half a dozen of these can be lined up and inserted into a 1 x 4 with small brass plaques indicating the time zone and placed underneath for a very impressive (and very cheap) world time piece. (Klockit has brass nameplates which they'll engrave for you for $3.95 each.) A more expensive version can be made using clocks of the same size but with analog dials.
Making a stunning and useful timepiece for your listening post can be a breeze. In most cases all you'll need is a 1-inch thick piece of wood with a hole cut out to slip in the insert. For a really effective presentation go to your local building supply house and find a nice, small piece of oak, maple, poplar or other wood which will look good stained and varnished.
Cutting the circle for the insert can be done by hand with a coping saw or with an electric reciprocating saw. For precision circles you can't top Klockit's "Circle Cutter (Item #55031 $18.95). It fits into the chuck of a drill press or hand drill to make perfect cirlces. I've used it on oak, pine, plastic, even sheet metal!
If you're a ham, you might opt for Klockit's brass nameplate and have your call sign engraved and placed under the clock to complete the custom design. This makes a great presentation gift for your local radio club, a radio friend, or your "Elmer" to whom you've been meaning to say "Thank you!"
The Klockit catalog also features three pages of analog weather instruments including thermometers, hygrometers and barometers. There's even a "tide clock kit" so you'll know when your local tides are high or low. You can customize your own weather station/clock featuring a thermometer, hygrometer, barometer, UTC and local clock all on the same board.
For a free Klockit catalog call 1-800-556-2548 or write them at P.O. Box 636, Lake Geneva, WI 53147 or visit their web site at www.klockit.com.
By Rich Carlson, N9JIG
E Trax is a DOS based utility which allows tracking of the Ericsson Enhanced Digital Access Communications System (EDACS) trunking systems often used by public safety and business operations in the US. While not as numerous as the Motorola trunking systems, EDACS is a major player in the communications field. Nationwide there are hundreds of commercial and public safety EDACS systems in use.
E Trax, developed by Joseph Cardani (AMComm), currently operates only with the OptoCom receiver, which MT reviewed in May 99, but support for other radios such as the Radio Shack OS456 and Icom radios is in the works.
E Trax requires regular DOS, not a DOS Window within Windows. It suggests
a 486 or better computer. No modification to your radio is required. The
Bit Banger feature now included on the OptoCom is not required. I have
been successfully running E Trax on a variety of computers, including:
-IBM Pentium II, 233 MHz desktop (32 MB RAM)
-Compaq Pentium 120 MHz laptop (32 MB RAM)
-Compaq 486 DX4/100 tower (8MB RAM)
-Winbook 486/100 laptop. (8MB RAM)
At first glance, E Trax seems complicated. Once you read the instructions and view the files, it becomes clearer; after using it for a couple days you'll realize it really is an easy to use program. The instructions are easy to read and complete. An MS Word version is available on the E Trax web page (address below).
The program has several parts. The first is the actual program itself. This is less than 200 K in size.
The second part is the Config file. This tells the computer what kind of radio, what com port is used, etc. The manual tells you exactly how to edit this for proper operation.
The third part is the system file. You will edit this file to tell the radio the frequencies and other information on the system you are going to listen to. Several sample systems are available if you don't have the information needed for the systems you wish to listen to. Info on many EDACS systems are available on the E Trax web page.
One of the system files included is the "Initial" file. This is used to figure out the correct channel order used by your system. This is important, since an incorrect order will provide false groups IDs. The manual tells you how to edit this with the frequencies used by your system. The freqs can be found in Police Call or on various web sites.
You then run the program with the Initial file and follow the instructions to decipher the correct channel order. A second scanner is used to verify the correct channel order. Most, but not all, EDACS systems use the freqs in ascending or descending order.
Once you have the correct channel order, you can start listening to the system. The program shows you Group IDs (GIDs) as they become active. By careful monitoring you can figure out to whom the group the ID is assigned. Many times a unit will identify the group he is using ("22 to 44 on Car West"). If you are lucky enough to be monitoring a system during its installation and testing phase, the techs will often test each group and identify it for you. Once you figure out its use, you can add a title to the Group, called a Tag.
A recent excursion to the Joliet area allowed me to identify six groups in a few minutes. On a busier day I could have done a lot more, but since this was Sunday, the only active groups belonged to the Sheriffs Department.
As you identify group IDs, you can edit the system file and add up to 1000 GID tags. This should keep you busy for a while. You can also add them to a scan list by editing the same file. You can keep several versions of the same system file with different scan lists to allow for different scanning strategies. Just be sure to name them differently. Being DOS, remember to keep the names to eight characters or less, and do not use a file extension (no ".txt" for example).
Using E Trax
The program delivers a lot of information on the EDACS system you are listening to. The active frequency, talk group, the name of the group, type of group or conversation, what the control channel is, and status of the program. Talk groups that have not yet been identified are shown as such, so you will be alerted to listen carefully for clues.
The program allows you to monitor a system in several ways. One is to "Search" this is similar to searching on a regular scanner in that it will display any active group or call, and display the ID and Tag (if known).
You can chose to track a single group or call, scan a preselected list with or without a scan delay, follow groups only (again with or without delay), or even individual calls only.
After a couple weeks of operation I found the program to be a reliable and efficient way to monitor an EDACS system. In fact, it was the only way to track an EDACS system with a single radio until the Uniden BC245 just became available.
While monitoring the Illinois State Police system I was able to track individual groups when an interesting call came out, and searched out new groups. I already had a majority of the most active groups IDs, and as new ones were found, I tracked them until I figured out who they were. When I had several new groups identified I stopped the program and added them to the list of Group tags.
The only problems I had with the program were relatively minor, and are probably more preferences than complaints. I would prefer to run the program in a DOS Window, so that other Windows programs could run at the same time. I would also like to see the "F Key" functions on the screen to make it easier to select options. I found that the default yellow and blue on black screen was hard to see in bright sunlight in my van; an inverted screen color would make it easier to read.
There is no way to edit the system file with the program running, nor are there some advanced features such as hit counts or priority. Since the program was intended to be as simple as possible and use as little computer resources as possible, I do not consider these major deficiencies. Some of these features may be included in future versions. But, some of these ideas may not be practical for a program of this nature.
I liked the overall layout of the display and the operation of the program. It was easy to edit the group tags and to switch between modes.
The Bottom Line
Other programs coming in the near future may also track EDACS systems. New versions of Scan Star are rumored to allow simultaneous tracking of both EDACS and Motorola systems. Since E Trax is limited to EDACS systems only, it can be optimized for that application and avoid inflating the program to accommodate additional protocols.
E Trax is a valuable resource for serious scanner users. If you have an EDACS system near you and an OptoCom, then E Trax is worth the price. When this program supports some of the other radios such as the OS456 and PCR1000, then it will become even more desirable.
More information, including screen shots, is available on the E Trax Information Page at http://www.erols.com/jcardani/e trax.htm
E Trax is available for about $89.95 from: Grove Enterprises P.O. Box 98, 7540 Hwy. 64 West Brasstown, NC 28902 1 800 438 8155 Lentini Communications 21 Garfield Street Newington, CT 06111 1 800 666 0908 Optoelectronics, Inc 5821 NE 14th Avenue Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33334 1 800 327 5912
Rich Carlson is director of the Chicago Area Radio Monitoring Association (CARMA) and editor of ScannerMaster Illinois Communications Guide
MFJ Shortwave Noise Canceller
By Bob Grove
While some communications receivers and transceivers are equipped with noise blankers, these circuits are met with mixed results. They are effective against many pulse noises, but not against sinusoidal (radio signal) interference. If a second (interfering) signal is right on top of the desired signal, resolving the situation with the receiver's controls is often hopeless.
But what if we can suppress the interfering signal before it ever enters the receiver, leaving the target station in the clear? We can do that. Directional antennas can null the undesirable signals, or we can adjust the phases of the signals arriving from two different antennas so that the interfering signal is attenuated or cancelled entirely. It is the latter process which is more practical, and utilized in a new generation of noise canceling accessories.
The most recent of such accessories to be debuted to the hobby radio market is the MFJ-1026 "Deluxe Noise Canceling Signal Enhancer." This 1.8-30 MHz phasing device compares signals from two different antennas, then may be manually adjusted to reduce or eliminate the noise signal by mixing the two out of phase.
The noises may be from any source: tools, TVs, appliances, other transmitters, lightning, power lines, fluorescent lamps, dimmers -- any source of radio frequency interference.
While there may be some loss of the desired signal, the net result is better readability. Such measures are more an art than a science; while the technique and theory have been well establish for most of this century, the outcome depends upon frequency, relative signal strengths, and the size and locations of the signal and noise antennas.
So, how well does it work?
Quite well, both for nulling and peaking signals. Since the MFJ-1026 works at radio frequencies, it makes no difference what mode or modulation is being transmitted -- AM, SSB, CW, SSTV, RTTY, packet -- it treats all of them the same, whether you are amplifying a desired signal, or attenuating interference.
Actual operation takes some getting used to, since the procedure is one of experimentation until you get it right. With some practice, however, the hunt-and-peck phasing routine comes naturally.
Four rotary controls and four pushbuttons come into play. Since this MFJ unit can be used with transmitting equipment, one of the controls adjusts transmit delay time, so it is initially set and forgotten. A telescoping whip antenna (included) can be used for the noise-sensing antenna, or a random wire may be connected to the rear jack; a second coax connector is for the primary receiving antenna.
Although there are separate controls for phase switching, antenna gain, preamplifier, and power/bypass, the use of these soon becomes familiar and less daunting than may be first imagined. Signals may be enhanced either by increasing their strengths or by suppressing co-frequency interference; the first is easy, the second a little touchier. But it does work, and in many instances makes the difference between total obliteration and easy copy.
MFJ-1026, $169.95 plus shipping from MFJ Enterprises, Box 494, Mississippi State, MS 39762, www.mfjenterprises.com, and from MFJ dealers.
Be an electronics repair genius with
Radio Shack's Tuner Control & Lubricant
By Ken Reitz KS4ZR
Dust is the enemy of electronics. No matter how often you clean, you can't keep dust from building up on the contacts of all the switches and potentiometers in the gear that lines the shelves of your listening post. After a few short years that dust builds up and it's not long before switches don't switch and volume controls have that annoying scratchy sound which blasts from your speakers. Still, it's a throw-away world and manufacturers seem to be inviting us to do so and the electronics repair industry doesn't seem to be helping.
So, how much would you pay a repairman to fix that scratchy volume control on your old shortwave radio? Well, by the time you've paid the diagnostic bench fee, parts and labor, you could have made an extra payment on your car! Have you tried sending the unit off for repairs? Better add shipping to the other charges and about eight weeks in down time!
There is a better way, and it doesn't involve taking a course in electronics repair or calling on your know-it-all brother-in-law. You can do the job yourself with Radio Shack's Tuner Control Cleaner & Lubricant (RS Catalog #64-4315).
That's right; I've actually used this stuff in desperation to save otherwise dumpster-bound gear and it did the job! I have rejuvenated portable radios, old style TV sets, and stereo gear. I'm not ashamed to admit I even recovered the use of my old CB radio with this stuff! I've used it on everything from Walkman®-type players to expensive car stereos. Imagine what that would have cost to repair! I've even cleaned up the controls on my Kenwood amateur radio transceiver.
Here's how to use it: Just disconnect the power from the unit to be repaired, remove the knobs from the offending switches or pots, pump one brief blast into the opening, replace the knob and rotate the pot or flip the switch vigorously for about 30 seconds. Wait about 5 minutes to dry and restart the gear. The switches should operate smoothly and the pots should no longer be scratchy. It's a miracle! Radio Shack says this product is "...non-flammable, reduces wear and is safe on plastics..." Just be sure to heed the label warnings on the back of the can.
So, are you tired of mounting credit card debt from expensive electronic repair bills? Now you can take control of your financial destiny with this terrific product. You'd expect to pay $30 for anything that actually works, but, now you can have your own can of Radio Shack's Tuner Control Cleaner & Lubricant for just $7.99. That's right, for the price of a bottle of cheap wine, you can get years worth of listening pleasure from that mountain of old stereo gear growing in your hall closet!
But, wait, there's more! You'll not only get this extraordinary product with a generous amount of lubricant, but, you'll also receive, at no extra charge, a 4" flexible tube which allows you to spray into those hard to reach places. Why bother with expensive how-to courses and technical schools you'll never attend anyway? Save your money, save the landfill and do it yourself; it can't get better than this!
By Ken Reitz
Amar Bose debuted his Wave® radio in the early '90s and introduced a new generation of radio listeners to a fascinating concept: the table radio. Its success has been well documented and must have gotten the competitive juices flowing in a certain Henry Kloss, a long time pioneer in audio high fidelity.
In the late '50s and into the '60s Kloss led in America's Hi-Fi craze. Founding companies such as Acoustic Research and KLH, he continually pushed for perfection in audio fidelity. His Model 8 series of table radios brought the sound of big component stereos to smaller FM radios at a time when stereo FM radio stations were just beginning to proliferate. He continued to perfect the product into the mid '70s, but those years were not kind to American manufacturers.
Times change, however, and as Bose has now so ably demonstrated, the time is right to go back to the American market.
A Feast of Features
The Kloss Model 88, introduced just last year, is exquisitely designed and delivers the kind of high-end audio you'd expect to hear from an audio legend. This diminutive radio, measuring just 14"W x 5"H x 8"D, seems created not just for the living room table or bedroom dresser: It's also a perfect fit beside the computer. Let's take a closer look at the features.
The Model 88, available in ivory or slate grey, sports a kind of retro '60s styling. The painted aluminum grill work, which covers all but the front mounted control panel, gives it a solid appearance harkening back to quality you can see and touch, not just hear. With speakers on either side of the control panel, there's a distinctive duct at the lower right of the radio. It's part of the design which delivers the superb bass from the powered sub-woofer.
The front control panel features an LED display which is easy to read even across the room. The panel buttons are well spaced and laid out with screened labels on the front of each. The front panel also includes a discreetly placed but easily accessed headphone jack.
The rear panel includes two sets of stereo input jacks. One set, RCA jacks, are intended to take the output from a small, personal CD player; the other, an 1/8" stereo jack, allows you to play the audio from your computer directly into the Model 88. While the extra long power cord also doubles as an FM antenna, consumers who live outside the primary reception area of FM signals will appreciate the 75 ohm antenna jack on the back as well. For those who like to take their FM reception on the road, a 12 volt power jack is also provided.
And, finally, Kloss allows us to tailor the Model 88's bass response by providing a knob on the back which controls the level of bass you hear. The Model 88 is shipped factory set at the indented center position. Turning the knob either way can back off the lows or accentuate them depending on your taste and whether or not you have neighbors.
Hearing is Believing
The Model 88 comes with an infrared remote control the size of a credit card. Every button on the front panel is duplicated on the remote which has excellent range in both distance and angle from the radio. Tuning the FM band, the Model 88 had the same sensitivity and selectivity I'd expect from an expensive stereo component receiver. But, the fun part was tuning in a strong stereo signal and pressing the "wide" button. Now, special circuitry is engaged which spreads the aural dimension of the unit and actually makes it seem that the speakers are on each side of the room, not just six inches apart. It's a slight of ear which gives the Model 88, literally, a new dimension.
Another advantage in tuning is the mono button. Many listeners living out of range of the primary stereo signal will experience "FM hiss" which is present when the signal is not optimal. But, by pressing the mono button, the hiss disappears and the marginally received station is now crystal clear.
To really test the capabilities of the Model 88, I plugged in the audio from DMX® the satellite delivered CD quality music service. I set the DMX receiver to the Classic Jazz channel and made sure that all innocent by-standers were out of the house. I started easing the volume up on the remote just as DMX was playing legendary jazz bassist Ray Brown doing his "The Real Blues" which features an extended acoustic bass solo. I could actually hear Ray Brown's finger slipping off the strings and hitting the finger board as the notes seemed to explode from his bass. I reached "99" on the volume about the time the solo ended and the rest of the band broke in. The room was shaking and I had to back off the volume to avoid structural damage to my mind.
With a radio this good, it's hard to be critical. But, there are only six AM and FM station presets. That's not enough to handle the number of favorite public radio stations in this area, let alone the commercial ones. And, there's no built-in clock. This has to be the only electronic gadget made this late in the century which doesn't have a clock built-in.
Okay, I had to be really picky to find something bad to say about this radio. The best thing I can say about the Model 88 I've saved for last: The price is $199, and that puts it about $150 less than the Bose. A better radio with more features and a lower price: It's the American way!
Editor's Note: Missing from this review is the fact that the Model 8 is apparently only available from Cambridge Soundworks site (http://www.hifi.com)
There was a time when you had to build equipment from scratch if you wanted to get on the 1750 meter (160-190 kHz) license-free "Lowfer" band. Usually, this meant assembling a breadboard transmitter and a separate receiving converter for use with an HF receiver. The result was often a complicated arrangement that took many hours to get working properly. Dave Curry (WD4PLI) is helping to change all that. With his EXP-1750 meter SSB/CW Transceiver kit, you can be on the air in a rather short time (transmit and receive) using a compact, single board solution.
Description The EXP-1750 is an advanced hobby-grade transceiver, and includes many features that are highly desirable for longwave operation. It is clear that serious thought was given to the needs of weak-signal Lowfer work. In addition, the rig contains some features that, while not essential, add considerable flexibility to the rig (e.g., squelch control, adjustable RF output, illuminated "S" Meter, etc.). See Table 1 for a full list of specifications.
Table 1. Specifications for EXP-1750 Meter SSB/CW Transceiver
Parameter Specification DC power requirement: 12-18 Vdc Current Draw, typical: 100 mA Receive, 2.0 Amperes @ 10 watts RF output RX Audio Output: 2.5 Watts into 8 Ohms @ 2% distortion Operating Frequency Range: 160 to 190 kHz Transmitter Output: 0.5 to 20 Watts (adjustable) Operating Modes: Single Sideband (SSB) and CW Microphone impedance: High or Low-Z Metering/Indications: Front panel illuminated "S" meter, RF Limiting LED Front panel controls: Power, Preselector, Tuning, Mic Gain, Volume, IF Gain, Notch, Blanker, Bandwidth Rear Panel Connectors: Key, Microphone, Speaker, Power, Ground, Antenna Case Dimensions: 5.56" (14.12 cm ) D x 6.56" (16.70 cm) W x 2.63" (6.70 cm) H Weight: 1.9 Lbs. (8.6 Kg)
The instruction manual for the transceiver includes a brief introduction to 1750 meters and tells what you can reasonably expect to achieve on the band. Dave is quick to tell you that the longwave band is not for the faint of heart. It can, at times, be plagued with natural and man-made interference that will test the patience of even the best operators. As such, don't expect to switch on your rig and instantly raise your buddy 45 miles away -- as you might expect through a 2-meter repeater.
On the other hand, there will be times when 1750 meter signals can reach out to 200 miles or more. Communication range depends heavily on propagation conditions, the antenna system being used at both ends, and operator skill. Most operators consider the unpredictability of the band to be its biggest attraction.
Although most parts in the EXP-1750 kit are common through-hole components, some intermediate skill in electronic assembly and soldering is recommended. Builders who are not comfortable working with printed circuit boards and small parts should enlist the help of an experienced builder -- at least for the trickier parts, such as soldering heat-sensitive IC's and other delicate components.
I was quite impressed with the clarity and completeness of the instruction manual. It begins with a brief discussion of building strategy and a list of the necessary tools for construction (all of which are commonly available).
Next, come the main assembly procedures. Construction is eased by the fact that the transceiver uses a printed circuit board. You simply insert the parts as they are called out in the instructions, and solder them in place from the underside of the board.
Rather than installing all parts on the board at once, however, the procedures are broken down into logical sections (e.g., Power Circuit, Receiver Preselector, Audio Amplifier, etc.). Each section is followed by a test/alignment procedure to verify that it is working before advancing to the next step. If each circuit passes the test/alignment procedure, you can expect the entire transceiver to work properly when you're done. If it does not, a troubleshooting section at the back of the manual provides helpful guidance.
Besides the main assembly instructions, a section on transmitting antennas is included. It is illustrated with easy-to-understand drawings of antennas, ground radials and loading coils. The tips and ideas are offered here should allow any enthusiast to construct a workable antenna for 1750 meters.
A Word About Power
Current U.S. and Canadian regulations allow no more than 1 watt of input power and a maximum antenna length of 15 meters (50 feet) for operation on the 160-190 kHz band. Since the EXP-1750 is capable of up to 20 watts output, users must ensure that the RF power is set within legal limits. (If an LF ham band becomes a reality in the USA, the transceiver's higher power capability could prove very useful.)
I am impressed with the features and quality of the EXP-1750 kit. It provides a no-hassle way of getting on the license-free Lowfer band, and doing it in high style. With a modest amount of time invested in building the kit, you'll have a versatile rig that should provide many years of service. For additional information on the EXP-1750, visit Dave Curry's longwave web page at: www.fix.net/~jparker/currycom.htm. In the near future, the web site will also carry information for an optional enclosure for the transceiver board, which is currently being designed. (Figure 2 shows the radio mounted in a prototype enclosure).
The EXP-1750 is priced at $189 plus $10 shipping & handling in the United States ($15 elsewhere). An optional Bandpass/Notch Filter is available for $45. The EXP-1750 may be ordered direct from Dave Curry, P.O. Box 1884 Burbank, CA 91507.
By Bob Grove
Some months ago, Larry Magne exposed our readers to the high-end NRD545 communications receiver from Japan Radio Company (JRC). For a basic description of this attractive receiver and its performance, we would refer our readers to that review in our August 1998 issue.
Now JRC has released an internal VHF/UHF converter, extending the receiver's frequency range to 2000 MHz (less cellular). So how does the 30-2000 MHz range of this receiver compare to its lower-cost, competitors, the ICOM R8500 and AOR AR5000 Plus? We confined our tests to 30-1000 MHz, the busiest part of the VHF/UHF spectrum.
Sensitivity is roughly equivalent, but selectivity choices would go to AOR first, ICOM next, and JRC third with only one narrow and one wide FM filter. The skirt selectivity characteristics of the narrow FM filter leaves a great deal to be desired; strong signals cause a dramatic elevation of the noise floor for approximately 200 kHz above and below the center carrier frequency, interfering with near-frequency reception.
There are quite a few spurious signals ("birdies") generated by the JRC, some severe. Several spurs between 40-50 MHz averaged S3 to S5 on the signal strength meter, but there was a 40 dB-over-S9 signal at 144.1 MHz, and even meter-pegging 70 dB-over-S9 spurs in the FM broadcast band and UHF military aircraft band.
Tuning dial speed may be selected from 1000, 500, or 250 steps per dial revolution; 250 seemed plenty fast enough, and I would have opted for even slower tuning as found on the competitor's receivers.
Step sizes for wide FM are appropriately 50 or 100 kHz. For narrow FM, while it would appear that the user may select from 5, 6.25, 9, 10, 12.5, 20, 25, 30, 50, or 100 kHz, these steps are factory-assigned to specific bands which don't necessarily match the American band plan. It is possible to mistune or miss entirely some frequencies unless the smallest step size (5 kHz) is selected. In some cases, as the tuning dial passed an arbitrary, factory-selected band edge, the step size would change, yet tuning back past that point wouldn't necessarily restore the former step size.
Background hiss and signal strengths decrease or increase noticeably as the dial is tuned over a band and, as the receiver automatically selects a different front-end filter, there is an abrupt change in attendant sensitivity.
Finally, there is no IF output jack on the rear panel, preventing the use of a spectrum display, video demodulator, or many other useful accessories without modifying the receiver, a serious oversight in a wide-frequency-coverage receiver that otherwise could be used by military, government, and commercial organizations.
The Bottom Line
Is the converter useful with its host receiver? Absolutely. Sensitivity is comparable with its competitors, and the pushbutton selection of functions is easier than the AOR, and only slightly more cumbersome than the easy ICOM. But with its cost higher than that of either competitor, the performance should better match the appearance.
The NRD545 with converter is available for $2149.90 plus shipping from Grove Enterprises (800-438-8155), and is also available from other MT advertisers.
Nil-Jon antenna review from the March "Scanning Report" column by Richard Barnett
Programming? Coax? Antenna? All three are correct, as are other answers. Certainly one of the most foolhardy things you can do as a scanner owner is to invest in an expensive radio and fail to pay attention to that device that "sniffs" the signals out of the air.
Luckily, well-informed scanner users are aware of this fact. One of the most common questions we're asked is "What's the best all-around scanner antenna?" The answer this editor most often provides is the Diamond discone or its equivalent, which is available through Grove and other dealers.
When someone says "all-around" antenna, they're talking about an omnidirectional, all-band antenna. The discone is simple, yet extremely effective for this purpose. Beam or Yagi antennas are more effective at a particular band (or, more precisely, at a particular frequency), but that's a topic we've previously covered. Austin Antenna also makes a fine dipole all-band antenna that we highly recommend. (The discone includes ground-plane radiators while the dipole indicates that it is a "stick.") You can buy the Austin with a built-in preamp which is particularly effective in low signal noise areas.
Another, less well known, all-band omnidirectional scanner antenna has caught the fancy of many scanner hobbyists. The Nil-Jon antenna is quite different from the Austin or the discone in that it is designed with a boom which holds three elements. The boom is 67 inches in length with the longest element being 90 inches (effectively 45 inches on either side of the boom). The antenna weighs 7.5 pounds. Jack Nilsson of Nil-Jon claims that the antenna has minimal directionality (which is what you want in an omni), even when side-tower mounted. The antenna is built of aircraft aluminum, stainless steel and UV stabilized polycarbonate. The antenna will assuredly hold up very well under all types of conditions.
According to Dr. Nilsson, "We use three optimized, off-center-fed dipoles, some calculated as half-wave, some as 5/8-wave extended double zepps, and separated ideally on the boom. Taking those unique electromagnetic-interaction concepts into play, and joining them via phasing harnesses, in final you have tremendously high performance across the entire 25-1300 MHz range. That construction is completely distinct from anything else out there. While a number of antennas have some gain on certain bands, they fall short across the entire spectrum. This is where the Nil-Jon excels." Jack claims a nominal 6.2 dB gain.
Our initial impression of the performance of the antenna is excellent. It's certainly bulkier than a discone or the Austin, but we're after improved reception rather than looks. The ability to side-tower mount the antenna is a definite plus. We would much prefer "N" or UHF connectors as opposed to the "F" connectors that are supplied with the Nil-Jon. Dr. Nilsson believes that loss with the "F" is minimal at best and provides easier hook-up for the less-sophisticated user. Coax is critical and we recommend either RG-6 or, better yet, 9913-type.
We will offer further commentary on this and other antennas in a later article, including a basic side-by-side reception comparison on specific bands. For the bottom line on the Nil-Jon antenna, though, we'll take the word of a scanner expert if there ever was one, Dave Marshall of the All Ohio Scanner Club. Dave reports that the Nil-Jon is a "great performer" that pulls in signals 5-10 miles further away than what he hears on other base station antennas.
Nil-Jon Scanner Antenna Follow-up
from the June "Scanning Report "column
The radically designed Nil-Jon scanner antenna has now been put to the test and has passed with flying colors (check out their recent ads in MT). This well-constructed antenna may look like a beam, but it's actually an excellent omnidirectional that meets or beats our personal favorite "all band," the Diamond Discone, and it far exceeds the Monitenna on VHF and UHF. Note that we did not use any test gear to make these evaluations, just our own ear.
We've found that performance gains are particularly needed at our shack on VHF where the Nil-Jon proved a winner. The Nil-Jon was only equally as sensitive on 800 MHz as compared to the previously mentioned antennas. Other reviewers have had opposite results (the Nil-Jon outperformed its competitors at 800 MHz and provided equivalent performance on lower band). Overall we're very pleased with the Nil-Jon.
With an extensive instruction booklet, the antenna took twenty-five minutes to construct. While sturdy and good-sized (the boom is 67 inches long and the longest element is 90 inches in length), it remains relatively light (no more than 12 pounds) and easy to bring up a mast. It attaches easily with stainless steel U-bolts and requires RG-6 coax and an F-connector.
One down side to the Nil-Jon is that it is bulky and slightly awkward looking as compared to the discone and the especially-sleek-looking Austin Ferret "stick." We did experience some very limited directionality to the antenna when side-tower mounted, but it was hardly noticeable and can be eliminated if mounted at the top of a mast.
The Nil-Jon also costs more than most consumer-grade antennas. However, what you're getting is an antenna with the quality and durability of a commercial product but at a much lower price tag.
In short, this wide-banded antenna provides higher performance using an efficient feed system and a relatively compact design at an affordable price. Overall, what we as scannists want is distance and the Nil-Jon provides that in spades. If you've heard all you can hear locally and want to expand your monitoring horizons, the Nil-Jon is worth a try.
The regular street price of the Nil-Jon antenna is between $139 and $159. For more information or to order, you can contact Rick Wells of North Olmsted Amateur Radio 440-777 9460, email email@example.com. You can read more about the entire line of Nil-Jon antennas at www.nil-jonant.com
It has been some time since low cost spectrum display units (SDUs) have been available to consumer radio monitors. Those serious listeners who are fortunate enough to have one agree that they are indispensable, and having a tunable VHF/UHF receiver without one is like listening to TV with your eyes closed.
An SDU with a wide-frequency-coverage receiver is the virtual equivalent of a spectrum analyzer, and audio detection is even better than a spectrum analyzer. Applications include locating and identifying unknown signals, sweeping for illicit transmitters, antenna adjustment, receiver and transmitter alignment, filter design and testing, interference tracking, and more.
Most signal sleuths without the benefit of such a marvelous device are limited to tuning up and down the dial manually, hoping to hear a signal transmitting just at the time they tune across its frequency, or they must allow a scanner to laboriously search slowly across the band hoping for the same coincidence. But with an SDU, you are instantly alerted to the presence of a new signal; a quick turn of the tuning dial snags it for identification.
Currently, with the Grove SDU-100 discontinued, only the AOR SDU5500 is readily available, and it is primarily suited to match the AR5000 and AR5000 Plus receivers.
AVCOM, a leading manufacturer of cost-effective test equipment, has a universal alternative: the SDM42A, a lightweight (8 lb.), small profile (8-1/4" x 5" panel), 5-inch diagonal cathode ray tube (CRT) 'scope available for any receiver with an intermediate frequency (IF) output of 10.7, 21.4, 45, or 70 MHz. A BNC interconnect cable is included, and the SDU is powered by 120 Vac (a minor limitation for mobile applications).
With its 10 kHz resolution bandwidth filter, the signal spikes are sharp and clean, but limited to 65 dB dynamic range, according the specs (we measured 55 dB on the scale); above that, intermodulation generates phantom spikes ("spurs"). Reducing the gain helps, but eliminates weak signal spikes. Perhaps better gain distribution could have prevented this limitation which makes it difficult to resolve weak signals in a strong-signal field.
A continuously variable span allows a view of the spectrum from 0-10 MHz wide, conforming to compatible receivers like those from ICOM, AOR, and government/military vendors. At 0 span, the scope displays time domain, revealing modulation waveform for visual analysis.
Initial adjustment couldn't be simpler: With a signal tuned in, the input sensitivity control is adjusted for desired vertical amplitude (10 dB/division sensitivity), the fine tuning control centers the spike, and the span control selects the desired spectrum width. That's it.
A few trimpots are accessible from the front panel for tweaking if necessary; these include intensity, vertical and horizontal centering, center frequency spike adjustment, and sweep rate. A five-segment LED bargraph gives a coarse visual indication of the selected span up to 2 MHz wide. While that is nice, having it continuously adjustable up to the full 10 MHz span would make more sense.
After a few minutes' warmup, the trace is quite stable, far more stable than the more expensive PSA65C spectrum analyzer which drifts continuously. An occasional touch of the SDU's fine tuning control every few minutes keeps the signal spikes dead on center.
It's hard to fault a piece of equipment that works so darned well, but an edge light on the graticule, or even imprinting, would make the scaling far more legible; a coarse calibration of the span control would let the user know approximately how much spectrum he is watching; and a switch to reverse the sweep direction would allow the user to choose whether the span goes from low to high, or high to low, frequency. Most important, a 12 volt power capability would dramatically improve the SDU's desirability in mobile applications.
But just as it is, owners of receivers with IF outputs are short-changing themselves without such a useful accessory. The AVCOM SDM42A is available for $999.95 plus shipping from Grove Enterprises, PO Box 98, Brasstown, NC 28902 (800-438-8155 or visit www.grove-ent.com).
By Ken Reitz
On the surface it would seem unfair to pit a stereo system against a table radio, but, a glance at the two pictures above demands it. These two products appear to have so much in common that it's surely a mistake that one costs five times more than the other. It's the vaunted Bose Wave and the Zenith look-alike challenger. How do they stack up individually and how do they compare against each other?
You would have to be Amish not to have been bombarded by TV and print ads trumpeting the extraordinary sound of the Bose Wave radio. It's depicted as transforming a room into a concert hall and rising up into a looming entertainment presence by simply turning it on. Can this diminutive radio, with its little 2.5-inch speakers actually deliver room-filling sound? The answer is: It had better, because at $350 most buyers wouldn't tolerate anything less!
The Wave is another brainchild of famed MIT professor Amar G. Bose whose obsession with audio fidelity led him to research the "science of sound" and the formation of the multi million dollar corporation which bears his name. Introduced in 1993, it astounded audiophiles and set a new standard for the nearly forgotten table radio.
The Wave utilizes patented Acoustic Wave speaker technology (a 34-inch tuned wave guide to channel the audio); presets for six AM and six FM radio stations; a credit card-sized, full function infrared remote control; adjustable sleep timer; and two typical clock radio features you've come to love -- battery back-up and snooze control.
Realizing that most consumers don't know what to do with typical stereo receiver functions such as equalization, tone control, and balance, Bose has dispensed with them entirely. Instead, automatic signal processing and active electronic equalization are performed by special circuitry in the radio while you thumb through the Wall Street Journal. The result: perfectly balanced audio for your untrained ears.
The Zenith Z213 so closely resembles the Bose Wave as to cause a lawyer to twitch excitedly. Its dimensions are virtually the same as the Bose; it has a nearly identical topside control keyboard and virtually identical functions and features. Without turning the radio on, the most obvious difference is the price. At about $65 retail, the Zenith comes in at a savings of about $285.
Among the convenient features shared by the two are: a CD/Aux input jack; adjustable 90 minute sleep timer; full function remote control; wake to music or alarm; ascending wake-up audio; easy-to-read front panel digital display; battery backup, and an alarm that works even if the power is off.
Despite the price tag, the Zenith actually has more features than the Bose. With 10 AM and 10 FM radio station presets, the Zenith also tunes the VHF-TV audio band (with 10 presets) and the seven NOAA Weather Radio frequencies that, throughout North America, tune into instant weather information from the National Weather Service.
To test these radios I plugged a compact disc (CD) player into the auxiliary input of each and loaded it with classical, rock, jazz and pop CDs. I set the CD player to "spiral play" to rotate the music formats and, using the remote controls, switched between the Bose and Zenith for a side-by-side comparison.
The Wave delivers a depth and clarity of audio unmatched in any product this small. It even successfully challenges stereos many times its size, weight and cost. Not that the Zenith sounded bad; on the contrary, it delivers such excellent audio that I could convince no one of its inexpensive price tag.
While the Bose delivered the lows, even at fairly minimal volume, that the Zenith simply couldn't, the Zenith did handle the mid-range and highs, even at nearly full volume. Only when pressed to fill a 20-by-20-foot room was there distortion from the Zenith's 3-inch speakers. The magical Bose went to the volume limit, filling the room to the pain threshold of my ears without distortion.
The Bose excelled in other areas as well. Equipped with a built-in "F" connector, it can be easily connected to an outside antenna, a must in rural areas. The Zenith uses a 29-inch wire antenna which is dangled behind the radio. Consumers are cautioned against attaching an external antenna (there's no provision to do so), but I found it necessary in my location to achieve decent reception of weak stations. I did this by taking 1/4-inch of insulation off the antenna lead and attaching a plastic-covered alligator clip which I could then insert into any 75 ohm coax antenna cable attaching the clip to the center conductor. Reception, as expected, was greatly improved.
Both radios work best in an urban or suburban environment where signals are strongest. The Zenith has the edge over the Bose with its extra tuning capabilities, though to use the NOAA Weather Radio feature you'll need to be within 20 miles of the transmitter. The TV channel tuning feature is limited as well since it receives only channels 2-13. Popular UHF-TV stations in your area cannot be tuned in.
The Bose wins the reception event. While both tune in 100 kHz increments, the Bose is far more selective. Strong stations .1 MHz apart are easily separated. It's also considerably more sensitive. Stations receivable on the Zenith only with an external antenna are received without any antenna connection on the Bose.
The Bose Wave is the perfect table radio which lives up to its own hype; it's essential listening for the financially endowed. The Zenith Z213 is a great table radio, which, combined with a cheap personal CD player is all a person would need for a portable sound system for a small apartment or dorm room.
Available in "pearl white or graphite gray" and made in the USA, the Wave radio is sold directly from Bose via a toll-free number (800) 919-BOSE, or on the web at www.bose.com. The Zenith Z213 is available in white or black, is made in China, and is sold in most major electronics retail stores in the US. For additional product information call (800) 677-0894, or, on the web at www.sdidirect.com.
By Bob Grove
Sony's new ICF-B200 AM/FM analog radio is a busy little accessory. Power can be selected between AA alkaline cells (not included) or NiCd cells charged by a built-in, hand-cranked generator. The alkaline cells will provide approximately 40 hours of play time, while one minute of cranking will deliver enough charge for a half hour operating from the NiCd pack. An "Optimum Charge" LED signals the most efficient charging speed.
The brilliant, safety orange color of the case makes it easy to spot quickly, and a 75 dB, pulsed-tone, acoustic beacon can quickly locate it or anyone near it. The analog dial may be lighted for station selection. A rubber-protected earphone jack invites private listening. The radio is splash resistant for foul weather applications.
Signal sensitivity is in par with other pocket AM/FM analog radios; an LED signals proper center tuning for moderate and strong signals.
Designed for power outages, camping, and emergency dependability, the B200 is available for $79.95 plus $5 shipping from Grove Enterprises.
A review by Hans Johnson
The Taiwanese radio company Sangean and the American outlet store C. Crane Company have always enjoyed a close working relationship. Now they have a radio designed by engineers from both companies. Billed as "the ultimate AM/FM radio," the new CCRadio is the fruit of this partnership, a set specifically designed to receive the spoken word.
If you've ever held a Sony 2010, you know the size of the CCRadio. For those wanting more precise specifications, they're 10-3/4 inches by 3-7/8 inches by 6-3/4 inches, with a weight of about 4 pounds.
What immediately catches the eye is a large 5 inch midrange speaker that emphasizes voice and dominates the front of the radio. While this is a portable set, it has a wide and padded bottom, so the CCR always stands upright. Thus both the speaker and the controls face the listener. A slight incline to the top of the set and large controls on the top and side make them easy to see and operate.
The CCRadio's bands include American FM (87-108 MHz) and AM (520-1710 kHz), audio for television channels 2 through 13, and all seven weather band channels in the 162 MHz range. In a cost-saving move, shortwave is not included on this set.
Tuning is via a large rotary knob on the set's side or by up and down buttons. While there is no keypad entry, the radio has a seek function and there are five memories for every band except weather. It does take some twirling or pushing to go from one end of the band or the other. Nice features include separate treble and bass controls, a lock switch, a dial light that can be turned on or off, an alarm, and a sleep timer.
The back of the CCRadio has a battery panel that takes four D cells, which will power the radio for days on end. There are screw jacks for both an external AM antenna and a ground. A plug-in for an AC cord (it's included) and a molded carrying handle round out the back of the set. A reset button sits by itself on the bottom of the set.
How it Sounds and Rates
It sounds great, thanks to the large speaker that faces you. Reception on AM is good with the recommended longwire antenna. Reception is also good with the ferrite core, but you'll need a quiet listening environment to take full advantage of the radio's capabilities on this band. The radio's pushbuttons cannot tune in 9 kHz increments, so you'll have to use the rotary knob if you are DXing for foreign stations. What you do tune in, both here and abroad, will sound very nice, particularly programs with a lot of speech, such as talk radio or sports.
The FM tuner isn't quite as good as that on the Sony 2010 or on the treasured Panasonic RF-2200. It does the job, though, and you can pull in quite a few stations with a 17-inch whip antenna that swivels.
Stations on FM have a nice full sound rather than the rather tinny sound that most portables put out. There is no stereo reception, though, even through the 1/8-inch headphone jack, which doesn't produce audio to equal the speaker, even through a professional set of headphones. There is no separate tape jack, but you can record okay through the headphone jack.
The reception of TV audio is fine for program listening, but this is not a DX tuner. Expect it to pick up your local station, not DX catches. This band was included for those wanting to catch a particular show, but who cannot be glued to the screen for it.
Reception of weather band stations is average. The set will pick up the stronger stations, but don't count on it to receive a station if you are in a fringe area. The manufacturers have also included an alert system on the weather band. If the National Weather System issues an alert on the weather station you're tuned to, the radio will warn you either by a siren tone or with a flashing light.
It is a shame that the radio does not include the SAME (specific area message encoding) alert system, though. SAME allows a user to program his weather radio to only receive warnings for one's county or city. Without it, the listener receives alerts for situations anywhere within the station's coverage, meaning that at least some of the warnings you receive will be unwarranted. Listeners to alert radios without SAMES have been known to turn off the alert system after a few "false" alarms.
The Real Deal
With a selling price (including shipping) of $159.95, you don't get the ultimate AM/FM radio, but you do get a good radio and a heck of a value. The set looks good and the controls are easy to operate. The attention paid to the type of speaker, its quality and location, make the CCRadio a pleasing radio to listen to day in and day out, whether it is for the bedside, the kitchen, or the workshop. The inclusion of the weather band is nice, but the alert system is only of limited value without SAME. The set is available via C. Crane at 1-800-522-8863, or find them on the web at http://www.ccrane.com.
Review by Bob Grove
In the past few years, several manufacturers have released digital signal processing (DSP) audio accessories for customizing sound under noisy shortwave (and scanner) reception conditions. Some have automatic heterodyne notching and background noise reduction, some are cumbersome to operate, some add noise artifacts, and most (if not all) lack "warmth" in their sound as a result of the digital shaping of the audio.
Alpha Delta's VRC (Variable Response Console) is an attractive, easy-to-operate package with an internal speaker. Its sturdy, diecast enclosure is visually pleasing, and the LED bargraph brilliantly announces the low pass filter cutoff settings from 400 to 10,000 Hz. A second LED bargraph shows bass boost/attenuation by up to 12 dB. An operational folder is included, containing equalization graphs of the various control settings.
The notch/peak filter is continuously adjustable from broad (for voice and music) to razor sharp (to peak or reject narrow-bandwidth data or single-tone interference). Resultant audio is quite listenable, although harsher than produced by an analog processor.
A 1/4-inch front-panel jack invites the use of headphones when speaker operation is undesirable. A rear panel tape output (RCA phono jack) is provided. The VRC is powered by 12 VDC (AC adaptor provided). A shielded patch cord with 1/8-inch plugs and a 1/8 to 1/4-inch adaptor plug are included.
Although functions are limited to simple audio contouring (which it does very well), the Alpha Delta VRC is one of the easiest to use and acoustically acceptable DSP** audio processors we have tested. And it has a decent internal speaker, not universally found in competitive DSP** products.
The VRC speaker accessory is available for $249.95 from Alpha Delta, Inc., Highway 25 North, East Bernstadt, KY 40729; call (606) 843-6567.
**ED NOTE: Although the VRC speaker does use digital filtering, it is NOT a digital signal processor. The reviewer misinterpreted some wording in Alpha Delta's publicity to mean it was. The speaker's pleasing performance, however, speaks for itself.
By Bob Grove
For those of us who enjoy both ham radio and scanning, Icom's new entry is stunning. Slightly more than two inches wide and three inches tall, and powered either by replaceable alkaline or rechargeable AA cells (thanks, Icom!), the tiny Titan easily fits in a shirt pocket, yet transmits on the popular 144-148 and 440-450 MHz ham bands, and offers continuous reception (less cellular) from 30-1310 MHz -- AM, NFM, and WFM modes!
All this punch, in such a teensy package requires some compromises. How does one enter frequencies without a direct-entry keypad? It takes a little practice, but it's actually quite simple. The small cluster of keys are multi-function, as is the rotary knob on the top. After the appropriate band is selected (roughly 42, 133, 154, 370, 406, 865, 1300 MHz), the rotary knob is programmed to fine tune in megahertz, then kilohertz, steps. It sounds more complicated than it is ... once you get used to it!
Mode, step size, memory channels and banks, squelch threshold, volume level, VFO/memory toggling, repeater offsets, CTCSS tone (receive and transmit!), re-scan delay, and a myriad other useful functions are similarly menu-selected by the dual-function keys.
But don't try to figure it out without following the manual; we value our readers' sanity!
As a Transmitter
Audio quality is excellent, both transmit and receive, but is the low output power (1/3 watt) adequate for reliable communications? Under ideal conditions, as with similarly-powered FRS transceivers, a Q7A probably could talk to another of its kin up to a mile or so away, and even hit local repeaters. It may not be a DX machine, but for close-in talk-around, it will hold its own with bigger -- and much heavier -- competitors.
Icom's obsession with the SMA connector makes it difficult to substitute standard BNC fitted external antennas to the radio. SMA/BNC adaptors are available, but they create a leverage hazard on the plastic case (which is admittedly quite rugged).
As a Receiver
The Q7A receiver will hold its own with virtually any scanner on the market -- except for scan/search speed which, like its R1 and R10 predecessors, is a ponderous 7 channels per second. In actual practice, however, where only a few channels are likely to be scanned, or in busy metropolitan areas, where action is nearly continuous, the scanner doesn't have to look very far to find the next active frequency.
Sensitivity is on par with any comparable scanner (typically 0.2 microvolt or better), as is adjacent-channel selectivity (15 kHz AM/NFM, 150 kHz WFM). And the 100 mW audio output is surprisingly strong and clear from the internal speaker; a convenient top-mounted speaker/earphone jack is provided.
The Bottom Line
Would I recommend the Icom Q7A as a primary communications instrument? Not for extended distances. Does it make a good backup rig for close-in communications as well as a fine scanner? You bet! In fact, if you'll pardon me, I have to go now -- a dispatcher in a nearby town has just reported a fire. I'm letting the little Icom take me to the scene!
The new Icom Q7A wideband transceiver is available from several MT advertisers, including Grove Enterprises ($229.95)