Buying Right: World Bands on the Run

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, October 1995

Buying Right: World Bands on the Run
By Manrico Delcore (with Mary Beth Debicki)

If the one top 40 station your AM radio will pick up in the middle of nowhere has soured you on audio entertainment in the hinterlands, perhaps a stirring BBC production of A Midsummer Night's Dream or a symphony program on Radio Moscow could change things. Today's compact shortwave or "world band" radios are no larger than paperback books, yet they'll take you to more worldly locales (800-plus broadcasting stations in 170 countries) than a Paul Theroux novel.

Shortwave radios pick up a large slice of the electromagnetic spectrum, encompassing radio frequencies from 1610 to 30,000 kHz, as opposed to the 550-1600 kHz sliver that your old AM gets. This means that for every station on the AM dial, there are 25 on shortwave. There is a tradeoff for Walkman-wee size: In general, the larger the receiver, the better its sound--it's big speakers and plenty of circuitry that make a radio a top performer. But remember: A slightly staticky Deutsche Welle program is more conducive to escaping from the world's pressures than Rush Limbaugh coming in loud and clear.

When selecting a shortwave receiver, keep in mind that you'll be listening to weak signals that originate on the other side of the globe, and pay particular attention to performance-enhancing features. Look for selectable bandwidth, which reduces interference from adjacent channels, and multiple conversion, which minimizes ghost echoes and other electronic noise. Digital models allow more precise tuning, and a keypad for punching in a desired frequency will relieve you from having to troll for your program. Most models even include an alarm clock function, so you can leave Big Ben at home. Each of the following four shortwaves fits all of these features into a very packable unit.

The well-established Grundig Yacht Boy 400 (1.3 pounds, $250) offers the best sound quality of the bunch and deftly ferrets out even the weakest signals. The layout of its keyboard and the location of its controls are ergonomic and very logical--meticulously true to its German heritage. From Grundig, 800-872-2228.

Sangean's ATS 606 (one pound, $249) is a tiny device from the world's largest manufacturer of portable world-band radios. It's the only full-featured shirt-pocket-size shortwave receiver available, and its small speaker puts out disproportionately good audio. For its large, clearly labeled controls and singlekeystroke operation, the ATS 808 (two pounds, $189) shines in the simplicity department. From Sangean America, 818-579-1600.

Sony's ICF SW7600G (1.6 pounds, $240) is one of the few compacts with synchronous detection circuitry. Translation: It has a sophisticated feature, found mainly in larger models, that reduces interference from adjacent channels and keeps the signal from fading away. From Sony, 800-548-7669.

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