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If you are looking for the best shortwave radio for your emergency kit or for any other purpose, our article on 6 best shortwave radios in 2021 is the best place to start your search. You will find a lot of useful info about shortwave (SW) radios right here.
We have tried to explain all the important terms regarding SW radio signal and SW radios without making it complicated. If you keep reading this article, you will find out which frequencies are considered SW frequencies and learn a few important things about shortwave radio signal and SW propagation. You can also read about all the advantages and disadvantages of SW radios and find out which radio stations use SW radio signal to broadcast their program. In the end, you will see a comprehensive list of all the important features you should be looking for when buying shortwave radios.
If you scroll down, you will see our list of 6 best shortwave radios in 2021. We have tested a bunch of portable SW radios and picked out the very best. Below the list, there are detailed reviews where you can read about all the upsides and downsides of each SW radio.
Table of Contents
- 6 Best Shortwave Radios – Comparison Table
- 1. Kaito KA500 5-way Powered AM/FM/SW/NOAA Weather Alert Radio
- 2. C Crane CC Skywave AM, FM, Shortwave, Weather and Airband Portable Travel Radio
- 3. Tecsun PL-360 Digital PLL Portable AM/FM Shortwave Radio with DSP
- 4. Tecsun PL880 Portable Digital PLL Dual Conversion AM/FM, Longwave & Shortwave Radio
- 5. Eton Executive Satellite AM/FM/Aircraft/SSB/Shortwave Radio with RDS, NGWSATEXEC
- 6. Sangean ATS-909X BK AM/FM/LW/SW World Band Receiver
- The Definition of a Shortwave Radio Signal
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Short Waves and SW Radios
- Shortwave Radio Broadcasters
- Features You Should Be Looking for When Buying A Shortwave Radio
- Frequency coverage
- Analog or Digital Display
- Supported Modes
- Removable/Replaceable Antenna and External Antenna Connection
- Auto Scanning
- Build Quality
- Auto Gain Control/Auto Volume Control
- Noise Limiter
- Synchronous Detection
- Beat Frequency Oscillator
- Product detector
- Audio Filter
- Digital Signal Processing
- Dynamic range
6 Best Shortwave Radios – Comparison Table
|Best Shortwave Radios||Rating||Price||Review|
|Kaito KA500||4.5||Check Amazon|
|C Crane CC Skywave||4.1||Check Amazon|
|Tecsun PL-360||4.3||Check Amazon|
|Tecsun PL880||4.4||Check Amazon|
|Eton Executive||3.7||Check Amazon|
|Sangean ATS-909X||3.6||Check Amazon|
Some of you might be wondering why would you need a shortwave radio. Considering the popularity (or the lack of popularity) of SW radios, this is not a crazy question. What you don’t know is that SW radios can be quite useful in some situations.
Natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, earthquakes happen all the time and it’s important to be prepared. Some nice shortwave radio should definitely be a part of your survival kit. When there is no internet or TV, the only way to get some useful information about the current situation and weather conditions is the radio. You should be looking for a shortwave radio that can be self-powered (hand-cranked) or battery operated, preferably with the SSB and BFO features. The radio should also have AM and FM receiver and it should be able to receive NOAA frequencies (weather radio broadcasts).
Hunting for international radio broadcasts and SW listening can be really catchy and some radio enthusiasts are really crazy about these useful devices. That’s the second reason to buy a shortwave radio.
1. Kaito KA500 5-way Powered AM/FM/SW/NOAA Weather Alert Radio
KA500 is a nice-looking budget radio with a bunch of useful features. It is a good choice if you are on a budget and you need a shortwave radio to complete your emergency kit. This little radio can be powered in many ways, it covers AM, FM, SW, and NOAA radio bands, it is quite durable and very portable, it features LED flashlight as well as LED reading light and red SOS beacon light. It doesn’t have a digital display (one of the reasons for such a low price), and it doesn’t come with an AC wall adapter and SW antenna (it’s highly recommended to buy them).
What’s in the box?
The radio comes in a simple cardboard box with all the important features (freq. coverage, power sources, additional features) listed on the box. Along with the radio, you will get one USB to micro USB charging cable, a pair of cheap-looking earbuds, and user manual. AC wall adapter and a detachable SW antenna are not included and you have to buy them separately. SW reception is quite poor with that built-in antenna and you definitely need a detachable antenna to get better SW reception.
KA500 is quite small and portable. It is 8 inches wide, 5 inches tall, 2.6 inches deep, and it weighs 1.4 pounds. It comes in 6 different colors – yellow, blue, black, red, and green. The radio is made of hard plastic (ABS) and some parts are reinforced with rubber. It looks and feels quite durable.
On the front panel, there are 3-inch speaker, 3 LED indicator lights (battery indicators – Hi and Low, and tuning/charging indicator), analog display with 4 bands (AM, FM, SW1, and SW2), 3 knobs (NOAA weather knob with 7 channels, band selector (Weather, FM, AM, SW1, SW2), and power selector (off, battery, solar/crank/DC, NOAA alert)).
On the top, there are the 4-position light switch (flashlight, reading light, SOS beacon, and off), built-in telescopic antenna, and a rubber handle. On the right side, there is a hand crank for charging, and on the left side, you will see two knobs (volume and tuning) and a flashlight.
On the rear panel, you will see the solar panel (you can open this panel, face it towards the sun and charge the batteries), battery compartment with 3 rechargeable Ni-MH batteries (each with a rated capacity of 600mAh), and a rubber flap protecting input and output ports. When you remove the flap, you will see one USB output port (you can use it to charge your phone), one mini USB input port (use it to charge batteries), 3.5mm AUX input, DC input (you can use it to plug in your wall adapter and charge the batteries), and input/output switch.
Things we like
KA500 covers AM (530kHz to 1.71MHz), FM (88MHz to 108MHz), two shortwave bands (SW1 – from 3.20MHz to 8.00 MHz, and SW2 – from 9MHz to 22MHz), and 7 NOAA frequencies (depending on the state, you will have to choose one of those 7 NOAA channels and get the latest weather information).
The radio can be powered in 6 different ways – rechargeable Ni-MH battery (1,800mAh, 4 hours playtime), 3 AAA batteries (not included in the package), solar panel (can charge batteries in 4 hours), hand-crank dynamo generator (crank it for 5min and you will get up to 30min of playtime), 5V micro USB charging port, and AC wall adapter (not included in the package).
You can use this radio to charge your phone thanks to the USB output port. You can use your phone’s USB charging cable.
KA500 features three types of LED lights – LED reading light (on the back side of the solar panel), SOS beacon light (it’s not actually an SOS signal, more of a locator beacon), and LED flashlight.
The radio features 14.5 in long built-in telescopic antenna. The antenna is not good (or long) enough when it comes to SW reception, so you might want to consider buying that detachable 23ft long Kaito antenna.
Things we don’t like
The radio doesn’t come with an AC wall adapter. It’s sold separately and we recommend spending $10 more. Everything is much easier and faster (especially battery charging) with a wall adapter.
KA500 features analog display and knobs. Tuning is a bit problematic and AM and SW receptions are not perfect. That long SW antenna is really necessary.
The reception is very poor if you are using the radio to charge your phone because of the interference. Charging phone through the speaker takes a long time and it’s recommended to use the hand-crank to charge it.
No SSB capability.
2. C Crane CC Skywave AM, FM, Shortwave, Weather and Airband Portable Travel Radio
The next SW radio is made by a well-known American radio manufacturer called C Crane. This radio is not that cheap considering the performance and it’s maybe a little bit overpriced but if you are looking for a portable radio device with a decent AM, FM, SW frequency coverage under $100, this might be a good choice. Unlike previously reviewed KA500, CC Skywave is a digital radio with an LCD display and it allows you to tune the frequencies with more precision. It features an auto scan, 400 presets (you can play the memorized stations by pressing the keypad), sleep timer, battery status, and signal strength indicator. The speaker inside the radio is quite small but it offers pretty clear sound, especially when it comes to voices (it’s not that great for music). The radio is battery-powered – you will get up to 60 hours of playtime with two fully charged AA batteries (or even 70 hours with earbuds). This speaker doesn’t come with an AC wall adapter and you won’t get an additional (longer) SW antenna. You should buy these accessories if you want to get the most out of this device. CC Skywave can’t receive SSB signals (which is kind of important for an emergency radio). There’s also an upgraded version of CC Skywave (CC Skywave SSB) which can receive SSB signals but this one is more expensive (approx. $170).
What’s in the box?
CC Skywave comes in a simple box along with a pair of earbuds, hard carrying case, and 1-year warranty card. AC wall adapter and SW antenna are not included and you have to buy them separately. Batteries are also not included – you can use 2 AA 1.5V alkaline batteries or 2 rechargeable NiMH batteries (it’s not recommended to use Li-Ion batteries).
The radio is super-small and lightweight – it is 4.75 inches wide, 3 inches tall, 1.1 inches deep, and it weighs 5.5 ounces. It’s completely made of plastic and it looks kind of cheap which is not what we expected for that kind of price. It’s not extremely fragile or anything like that but we have expected some sturdier material and maybe some metal or rubber reinforcements.
Most of the controls are on the front panel. The speaker is on the left side (one 1.5-inch speaker), and all the control buttons are on the right side. There are 19 buttons in total – keypad (0-9), lock button, meter button, frequency button, page button (for memory presets), bandwidth button, WX/SW/AIR/Clock button, AM/FM button, 2 tuning buttons, and power/sleep button. Most of the buttons are multifunctional and you might need to read the manual to understand how to use different features. Just above the keypad, there’s a large backlit LCD screen where you can find all the info about the frequency (band indicator and frequency), battery status, signal strength, active memory preset (page and channel), sleep timer, tuning speed, etc.
On the right side, there are tuning and volume knobs. You can press the tuning knob to choose between fast and slow tuning. Fast is good if the signal is strong, but if you are trying to tune to some weak AM signal, you should use slow tuning (you can see which tuning speed is selected on the LCD display). By pressing the tuning knob while listening to AIR band, you will activate the squelch feature (this is not a good idea if the signal is weak – you won’t hear anything if the signal is weak).
On the left side, there are mini USB charging port (you can use it to charge batteries or to plug in the radio if you decide to buy that AC wall adapter) and AUX input. Above these ports, there’s a simple carrying strap.
On the top, you will see a telescopic antenna (16-inches long). The antenna is good enough on AM and FM bands, but you should consider buying that C Crane SW antenna for SW reception.
On the rear panel, there’s a battery compartment. You need two AA batteries (alkaline or NiMH rechargeable batteries).
Things we like
The radio is pretty good (not excellent) when it comes to frequency coverage. It can receive AM radio signals (from 520kHz to 1.71MHz), FM signals (from 87.5MHz to 108MHz), SW radio signals (from 2.3MHz to 26.1MHz), WX radio (7 NOAA weather channels), and AIR signals (you can use this feature to listen to communication between air traffic controllers and pilots). AIR band (aviation band) covers the frequencies ranging from 118MHz to 137MHz. That built-in 16in long antenna is quite useful when it comes to AM and FM reception but if you need good SW reception, you should consider buying C Crane SW detachable antenna.
CC Skywave features a digital display which is more precise than analog display and allows you to tune accurately to some frequency.
The radio also features auto scan feature (press it to search and memorize all the available stations on the selected band), clock (on the LCD display), sleep timer (set the radio to turn off in 15, 30, 45. 60, 90, or 120 minutes), battery status indicator (on the LCD display), lock button, signal strength indicator, and selectable tuning steps (9kHZ for EU or 10kHz for US).
The batteries are not included in the package and you have to buy them (alkaline or rechargeable NiMH). Two AA batteries will deliver up to 60 hours of playtime at moderate volume.
CC Skywave can memorize up to 400 radio station presets.
Things we don’t like
AC wall adapter, SW antenna, and batteries are sold separately. These accessories will cost you $30 to $40, which means that the actual price of the radio is almost $130.
We have expected more rugged radio for this kind of money.
CC Skywave doesn’t have SSB capability (can’t receive SSB signal).
The radio (the speaker inside the radio) is not great for music and FM stations but the voices sound pretty clear.
Considering all the features (and lack of some features), CC Skywave is slightly overpriced.
3. Tecsun PL-360 Digital PLL Portable AM/FM Shortwave Radio with DSP
PL-360 is an ultra-portable budget SW radio. If you are looking for the best starter SW radio, this might be the best possible choice. PL-360 offers a great value for your money, especially if you are more into AM and SW than FM. It has a bunch of great features, especially when it comes to tuning and scanning. The reception is really good for this kind of device (small and cheap). The radio features DSP (Digital Signal Processing) chip which additionally improves AM/SW reception and makes the scanning quicker. PL-360 does a great job when it comes to selectivity and it somehow manages to avoid registering noise peaks as radio signals. There are also some minor flaws like quiet hissing noise in FM stereo mode and the fact that PL-360 can’t receive NOAA weather broadcasts.
What’s in the box?
PL-360 comes in a simple black box along with a pair of headphones (you can use the headphones if you want to listen to FM stereo), external high-sensitivity AM antenna (covers MW band – 150kHz to 1710kHz), SW/FM detachable antenna with a clip that you are supposed to attach to the existing built-in antenna and hang the other end around your window, small carrying pouch, user manual, and 1-year warranty card. You are going to need three AA batteries as a power source. They are not included in the package so you have to buy them separately. You can buy either alkaline or rechargeable NiMH batteries. If you decide to buy rechargeable batteries, you should also buy a USB to mini USB charging cable.
The radio is small, lightweight, and portable. PL-360 is 6.3 inches tall, 2.1 inches wide, less than 1 inch deep, and it weighs less than 4.5 pounds.
Most of the control buttons are on the front panel. There’s a backlit LCD screen at the top (you can see all the information you need on the screen – selected band, selected frequency, clock, temperature, battery level, signal strength meter, etc.). Right under the screen, there are 14 control buttons – time button, alarm button, FM stereo/lock button, display button, MEM button, DEL/increment step button, 3 scanning buttons (ETM, VF, and VM; VM is also the battery mode button), power button and 4 buttons for selecting the frequency band (FM, MW, and 2 SW buttons).
On the right side, you will find two knobs (tuning and volume) and one mini USB charging jack.
On the top panel, there are a built-in antenna, AUX jack (3.5mm audio jack), and another jack for that high-sensitivity AM antenna that comes with the radio.
On the rear panel, there are battery compartment and a long plastic belt clip.
Things we like
PL-360 covers AM (520kHz to 1.71MHz), FM (87MHz to 108MHz), and SW (2.3Mhz to 21.95Mhz) bands. The sensitivity of this radio is quite good especially when it comes to AM and SW frequencies. It can pick up really weak signals, and you will be able to receive up to 100 (or even more) SW radio stations during the night (especially outdoors).
The thing that really makes this radio better than a bunch of other small SW radios under $50 is the DSP (Digital Signal Processing) chip, built into it. This chip can distinguish real radio signal from noise peaks which is not the case with other cheap SW radios. This chip also makes tuning and scanning much easier.
When it comes to tuning, there’s the ETM button which is the best and fastest auto-tuning option. ETM stands for Easy Tuning Mode. You just have to select the band and press the button and the scan is done automatically.
You can also use the VF button for tuning but it takes much longer. You are supposed to select the band and press and hold the VF button for 3 seconds to start the auto scan. You can stop the search and fine-tune some station before memorizing it. Tuning steps (increments) are different in different modes – 0.01MHz/0.1MHz for slow/fast tuning in FM band, 1kHz slow tuning and 9 or 10kHz fast tuning in AM (MW) band, and 1kHz/5kHz for slow/fast tuning in SW band.
When you find the station you want to memorize, you just have to press the MEM button.
In order to scan the memorized stations, press the VM button and use the tuning knob to change the stations.
There are 450 available memory presets (100 FM presets, 100 AM presets, and 250 SW presets).
Beside great reception and excellent tuning and scanning modes, this radio has many additional features. It has a built-in thermometer, it has a clock, sleep (auto turn off) and alarm functions, it comes with a detachable AM and SW antennas, it can tell you the battery status and signal strength, it can be locked, and it can be powered by rechargeable NiMH batteries. On top of all that, the sound is quite clear (but don’t raise your expectations too high – there is only one small speaker inside this radio). To conclude, PL-360 offers a lot for the price and it’s probably the best budget SW radio under $50.
Things we don’t like
If you decide to use the headphones and listen to FM in stereo mode, you will notice constant hissing noise at low volumes which can be quite annoying. The noise disappears when you remove the headphones and select FM mono. FM reception, in general, is not that great but you will be able to receive up to 50 stations at any moment.
The external antenna looks like a nice addition but the improvement in AM reception is not significantly better compared to the built-in antenna. There is some improvement when it comes to weak AM signals but it’s not impressive.
PL-360 can’t receive NOAA weather broadcasts (NOAA frequency band is not covered).
The radio can’t receive SSB radio signals.
4. Tecsun PL880 Portable Digital PLL Dual Conversion AM/FM, Longwave & Shortwave Radio
Compared to the previously reviewed radios, this one is on the expensive side and it can be yours for about $160. It’s more expensive for a reason. PL880 performs much better than previously mentioned radios, it covers SW and it can receive SSB signals. It also covers AM and FM bands very well. The sound is really clean (it doesn’t sound like some premium speaker but it’s cleaner and more detailed than cheaper radios of the same size). Sensitivity and selectivity are excellent on all bands. There are 4 bandwidth filters for AM and SW and 5 filters for SSB. Tuning is simple and fast and there’s also the knob for fine tuning that you can’t find on cheap speakers. There are more than 3,000 presets which is more than you are ever going to use.
PL-880 is small enough to take it with you on a trip and engineered well enough to deliver very good performance.
This radio is not cheap but the price is on par with the performance. When it comes to real downsides, you should know that PL-880 doesn’t cover NOAA weather band and it doesn’t cover AIR band.
What’s in the box?
The radio comes in a nice-looking box. Along with the speaker, you will get a detachable SW antenna, USB to mini USB charging cable, a pair of headphones, nice zippered carrying pouch, user manual, and 1- year warranty card.
The speaker is small, lightweight, and quite portable. It is 7.5 inches wide, 4.4 inches tall, 1.25 inches deep, and it weighs 1.2 pounds.
The speaker has lots of controls so you might need to read the instruction to understand the purpose of each button. Still, if you have ever had a shortwave radio, you will be able to use it even without the instructions.
Half of the front panel is occupied by the speaker (left side). On the right end of the front panel, you will see a backlit LCD panel (at the top), and a bunch of control buttons (26 to be precise).
On the right panel, there are three knobs (tuning, fine tuning, volume), binary bass/treble tone control (it’s probably better to set it to treble, there’s too much noise on bass), and LCD light switch (3 positions – auto, off, always on).
On the left panel, there are the line out jack (for recording or external speakers), attenuation /gain switch for the SW antenna (3 positions – local, normal, DX), external antenna jack, and a carrying strap.
On the top panel, you will see a long 38in telescopic antenna and a snooze button for the alarm.
The battery compartment is on the rear panel. The radio uses one rechargeable Li-Ion battery. Battery capacity is rated at 2,000mAh.
Things we like
The frequency coverage is pretty good. You can receive AM medium wave radio signal (520 to 1710 kHz with 1kHz/10kHz tuning steps), LW radio signals (100 to 519 kHz), FM radio signals (64-108 MHz with 0.01MHz-0.1MHz tuning steps), and SW signals (1.71MHz to 29.9MHz with 1kHz/5kHz tuning steps). The sensitivity and selectivity are excellent (especially on AM(MW) and SW bands).
You can tune the frequencies manually (tuning and fine-tuning knobs), you can use the auto scan function (SCAN button), or enter the frequency via the keypad.
Whenever you find the station you like, you can memorize it by pressing the MEMORY button. There are more than 3,000 presets which is quite impressive (although, you are not going to need all those presets).
There’s an impressive choice of bandwidth filters for AM and SW bands (9, 5, 3.5, and 2.3kHz filters). On SSB band, there are 5 bandwidth filters (4, 3, 2.3, 1.2, and 0.5kHz filters). You can play with these bandwidth filters and learn how to remove the noise. These filters really do the job but they will make the voices slightly quieter.
Compared to other portable radios of this size, PL-880 delivers superior audio quality. It’s not that noisy like the CC Skywave, the sound is crystal clear, especially the voices.
Things we don’t like
The radio is unusable on AM and SW bands when the battery is charging but that’s expected. It happens because of the interference caused by the adapter.
PL-880 doesn’t cover AIR and NOAA (weather broadcast) frequency bands.
5. Eton Executive Satellite AM/FM/Aircraft/SSB/Shortwave Radio with RDS, NGWSATEXEC
This little radio comes from another well-known electronics manufacturer called Grundig. Grundig transistors and cassette players were very popular during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Grundig was known for great quality and performance of their radios and transistors during the ‘80s but we’ve been wondering if they are as good now as they were back then. Especially when you know that Grundig was bought by a Turkish company called Koc Holding (or something like that) in 2007. We’ve tested their Eton Executive Satellite SW radio and we were pretty satisfied with the performance. We weren’t completely happy about the price (almost $200) but if you want premium quality and performance, you have to be prepared to pay that much.
Eton Executive is Grundig’s flagship SW radio with a great frequency coverage (AM, FM, SW, LW, AIR), SSB reception, excellent tuning and scanning options, great sensitivity and selectivity. It features digital tuner, RDS (Radio Data System), great LCD screen with lots of useful info, RF gain switch, 700 memory presets, and many other interesting additional features. It also comes with a pretty cool leather case. When it comes to downsides, you should know that batteries and are not included in the package (you have to pay extra) which is disappointing considering the price. If you don’t care about SSB or AIR band, or you need something under $100, there are 2 much cheaper versions of Grundig Eton SW radio called Eton Field (covers AM/FM/SW and has a built Bluetooth module) and Eton Executive Traveler (covers AM/FM/SW/LW).
What’s in the box?
The radio comes in a nice little box, with a radio illustration on the front side and all the important features listed on the back. Along with the radio, you will get one 1.2m long micro USB cable, one 6V AC adapter, and user manual (don’t throw it away – you might need it to activate some features).
Eton Satellite is quite small and portable. It’s 4.1 inches tall, 6 inches wide, 1.2 inches deep, and it weighs 12.3 ounces.
The left side of the front panel is occupied by the speaker. On the right side of the front panel, you will see a large backlit LCD display (at the top), and a bunch of control buttons. There are 32 buttons on the front panel – 10 keypad buttons (numbers from 0 to 9 that you can use to enter the frequency manually), F buttons (F1 to F7 – you can use them to set the day, select memory presets, activate/deactivate the alarm, select the increment steps on MW band, etc. – in order to fully understand the function of each button, you should read the manual) There are also power/sleep button, TZ(time zone)/LINE IN button, LW/MW button (quick press to select the band), Copy/Paste button (use it in memory mode to copy and paste presets), lock button, light/edit button (for adjusting the brightness of the screen and editing page name in memory mode), erase button (for deleting presets), U/LSB/RDS MODE button (in AM mode, you can use it to enter SSB and to switch between lower and upper sideband), SYNC SSB/RDS button, FM/AIR button (press to switch between FM and AIR bands), AM/meter band button, WIDE/STEREO button (press it to get stereo on FM band or to increase bandwidth on AM and AIR bands), NARROW/MONO (press to play mono on FM band or to decrease the bandwidth on AM and AIR bands), and 2 AUTO buttons (for auto scanning and selecting preset page).
On the left side of the radio, you will see the external antenna jack (the antenna is sold separately), DX/Local switch (you can use it to adjust sensitivity – you will get better results with DX most of the time), headphone jack, and DC input.
On the right side, you will see the tuning knob (you can press it to choose between fast and slow tuning or choose the squelch level), volume knob, and 3.5mm line in/out jack (for recording).
On the top, you will see a long telescopic antenna. On the back side, there are battery compartment (you need 4 AA batteries and they are not included in the package) and kickstand.
Things we like
Eton Executive offers excellent frequency coverage. It can receive AM signals (from 520kHz to 1710kHz with 10kHz tuning steps), FM signals (from 87.5MHz to 108MHz), LW signals (from 150 to 285kHz), SW signals (from 1.71MHz to 30MHz), and AIR band frequencies (from 118Mhz to 13MHz).
When it comes to sensitivity, this is probably the best radio on this list. Selectivity is very good. Bandwidth filters do a great job when it comes to removing the noise. There are 6 filters for SSB (4kHz, 3kH, 2.2kHz, 1.2kHz, 1kHz, and 0.5kHz) and 5 filters for AM (2kHz, 2.5kHz, 3kHz, 4kHz, and 6kHz)
You can tune each station manually (you can use the tuning knob or the keypad to enter the frequency) or you can use the auto scan feature which works in every band. When you find a station you like, you can memorize it. There are 700 memory presets available.
There’s a bunch of additional features –clock, local/world time zones, alarm, sleep feature, and RDS receiver (you can get the info about the station you are listening to on FM band).
The sound is perfectly clear on AM and FM bands. The voices are quite intelligible on SSB and SW.
Things we don’t like
Sync detector is supposed to minimize the interference on AM and SW bands but it doesn’t work flawlessly. Sometimes, it makes the reception worse.
Considering the price, some nice rechargeable batteries should have been included in the package.
The external antenna is not included.
This is a very good (some might say even excellent) radio but it is slightly overpriced.
It doesn’t cover NOAA frequency band.
6. Sangean ATS-909X BK AM/FM/LW/SW World Band Receiver
ATS-909X is the most expensive speaker on this list. It’s slightly more expensive than the previous Grundig Eton Executive Satellite (about $10) and it delivers similar performance. What makes it better is the build quality and the design.
This radio has so many great features packed inside. It covers SW and can receive SSB radio signals, it can be tuned in 5 different ways (including auto scan), it has built-in DSP chip (clearer reception than on analog radios), it has squelch and tone control features, it features RDS (radio station data on FM band), etc. SW reception is not great with that built-in telescopic antenna but it gets much better when some long external antenna is attached.
What’s in the box?
The speaker comes in a nice-looking box along with the AC wall adapter, carrying pouch, a pair of headphones, and user manual.
It’s small and portable but it’s actually pretty hefty for its size. It is 7.75 inches wide, 5.25 inches tall, 1.5 inches deep, and it weighs 28 ounces.
The speaker is located on the left side of the front panel. Right next to the speaker, there’s a large backlit LCD screen with all the possible information you need (frequency, band, clock, timer, alarm, battery status, signal strength, tuning type(slow/fast), and 14 different SW bands). In the top right corner of the front panel, you will see the power/sleep button. Right beneath the power button, there are charging indicator and display button (for adjusting the brightness and turning on/off the display). The rest of the control buttons are located beneath the speaker and LCD display. There are 31 buttons in total and a large tuning knob. You can use these buttons to select the band (FM, MW, SW, LW), select one of 14 SW bands within SW band, select SSB while listening to SW band. There are also 3 timer buttons, lock button, page and edit button (used for memory presets), priority button (for your favorite station), two tuning buttons for semi-auto tuning (auto-manual tuning), step button for selecting the type of tuning (slow/fast), and squelch button (there are 12 squelch levels and you should probably keep squelch to minimum in SSB mode if you don’t want to miss some weak signal).
On the right side, there are 3 switches – AM selectivity/FM stereo switch (on AM band, set to narrow to eliminate signals from adjacent frequencies or choose wide to decrease selectivity; in FM mode switch to stereo if you want to use the earbuds), tone switch (three positions – normal, news, and music), and time set switch (auto or manual). The volume knob is located near the top.
On the left side, you will see the jack for the external antenna, AUX input with on/off switch, standby and line out jacks for recording, headphone jack, charging port, and AM RF gain knob (if you want to increase the strength of the radio signal, turn it to maximum).
On top of the radio, there are three buttons – the clock button, daylight saving time button, and home/world time. The radio features a built-in telescopic ferrite antenna.
Things we like
Frequency coverage is pretty good but unlike Grundig Eton Executive, this one doesn’t cover AIR band. It covers FM radio band (from 87.5MHz to 108 MHz), AM/MW band (from 520kHz to 1710 kHz), SW band (from 1.71MHz to 30MHz) with 14 selectable bands within the SW band, and LW band (from 153kHz to 519kHz). It can also receive SSB signals (both lower and upper sideband). In SSB mode, you are supposed to set the AM RF gain to the max in order to get the best results. And you should definitely buy an external antenna and attach it (especially in SSB mode since the reception is not great with the built-in telescopic antenna).
There are multiple tuning methods. You can use the ATS (automatic tuning system) on FM, AM/MW, and LW bands. When using ATS, all the stations will be automatically memorized. You can also type in the frequency manually (press F button and enter the freq. via the keypad), you can tune the stations manually (use the tuning knob or two tuning buttons), or you can use scan tuning feature (when you press and hold one of the tuning buttons, the radio will scan through certain band until it finds a station). When tuning the stations manually, you can choose between two speeds (fast and slow) by pressing the step button. On FM band, the tuning steps are 50kHz (slow) and 100kHz (fast). On MW band the tuning steps are 1kHz (slow) and 10kHz (fast). On SW the tuning steps are 1kHz and 5kHz, and on the SSB, the tuning steps are 1kHZ/40kHz.
Whenever you find some station you want to memorize, just press the M button, select the page you want to save the preset on, and press enter. There are 406 available presets – 351 SW presets, 27 FM presets, 18 MW presets, 9 LW presets.
Squelch is a very useful feature and it can eliminate the noise but be careful – you might miss some station with a weak signal in the process. There are 12 squelch levels and you should try to reduce the squelch if you can’t find any broadcast on SSB.
RDS (radio data system) is another useful feature and it’s available on FM band but only if the radio station sends RDS signal. If that’s the case, you will see the RDS icon on the LCD display and you will be able to see some info about the broadcast (station name, program type, radio text).
Sound quality is surprisingly good for a radio of this size. You can select one of three tone settings (news, normal, and music). The sound is quite clear and balanced on FM frequencies (not so much on AM). The voices on SSB are pretty intelligible. This is probably the loudest SW radio we’ve tested and it’s definitely louder than Eton Executive Satellite.
Things we don’t like
ATS 909X doesn’t pick up weak ham signals with the built-in antenna and buying an external antenna is highly recommended, especially if you want to listen to SW band and receive SSB signal.
This radio doesn’t cover NOAA and AIR frequency bands.
The radio doesn’t feature synchronous detection.
This is the end of our list of 6 best shortwave radios in 2021. Hopefully, you have found something interesting here. If you want to find out more about SW band or you need some instructions on what to pay attention to when buying SW radios, keep reading this article.
The Definition of a Shortwave Radio Signal
There is no exact definition of the shortwave (SW) radio spectrum but the most common one states that all the frequencies within the range 1.7MHz to 30MHz are shortwave radio frequencies. This spectrum is actually part of the AM spectrum. AM spectrum is divided into three smaller spectrums: longwave AM ranging from 148.5 kHz – 283.5 kHz, mediumwave AM ranging from 525 kHz – 1.71 MHz (it’s mostly used for AM broadcasting today and most of the AM radio broadcasters in the US and in Europe use one of the frequencies from this band), and shortwave AM ranging from 3 MHz to 30MHz.
Not all the AM/FM radios have a shortwave receiver so you will have to be careful when searching for a radio that can receive a shortwave radio signal. Most of those cheaper AM/FM radios have only AM (525 kHz to 1.7MHz with 9kHz and/or 10kHz space between channels) and FM (87.8MHz to 108MHz) receivers. If you need a radio with a shortwave (SW) receiver, you will have to check the specs and search for SW feature.
Unlike other radio waves, radio waves within SW band can be transmitted over incredibly long distances thanks to the specific type of propagation called ‘’skywave’’ propagation. SW radio signal can be reflected from the ionosphere (electrically charged layer of the atmosphere), so when you send a signal into the sky (at a certain angle) it will be reflected and sent back to Earth and it could reach places far beyond the horizon. Because of this characteristic, SW radio signals can be transmitted over long distances and could reach other countries, even other continents. AM and FM radio waves can’t be reflected from the ionosphere. They can travel in straight lines only (limited by the horizon) and they could never be transmitted over long distances.
SW radio is used by radio stations that want to broadcast their program over large distances. Some SW frequencies are also used for military and diplomatic communication. Other SW frequencies are used by radio amateurs and enthusiast for international two-way communication or for emergency purposes. SW radio is also used in aviation.
The most heavily used band of SW frequencies spans from 9.4–9.9 MHz (31 m). Most of the SW radio stations are located inside this band.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Short Waves and SW Radios
SW radios have many advantages over AM and FM radios. They also have some advantages over the internet and other modern ways of communication.
You already know about the first advantage – SW transmission allows long-distance broadcasting (thanks to skywave propagation), while AM and FM broadcasting distances are limited. SW radio signal can even be broadcasted from one continent to another. Some SW radios are super-small and portable and can be battery-powered which makes them perfect for emergency situations. If all the other ways of communication are eliminated (internet, satellites, TV), you can always use your portable SW radio to get the information you need.
The Internet can be monitored and censored by the authorities. Any oppressive government can control and censor the internet. It is much more difficult to censor the SW radio. It’s impossible to check which SW broadcast is being listened to and it’s even harder to stop/block the broadcast. The only thing that could actually disrupt the broadcast is some serious change in the ionosphere.
Some SW radios are quite expensive but the most basic version of the SW radio is actually quite affordable. You can even make a shortwave radio on your own. You just need a shortwave receiver, radio antenna, speaker, and a few more parts. This is not the most important thing if you are living in a developed Western country but it becomes crucial when you are living in a poor third-world country governed by an oppressive dictator.
Establishing two-way SW communication is not too expensive and you don’t need a huge infrastructure to make two-way communication possible.
Unfortunately, SW radios and SW radio signals have some pretty big disadvantages.
In most of today’s developed Western countries, the number of people listening to SW broadcasts is very limited and that’s an understatement (only SW radio enthusiast and radio amateurs). Many new radio devices don’t even have SW receivers.
SW reception in large and developed cities is very poor due to interference. All the electrical devices in our homes (power adapters, modems, routers, PCs) can cause this interference.
SW radio signal can be transmitted over long distances which is a great thing but there are some downsides. The sound coming from the SW radio is not perfectly clear and it’s often distorted. That’s why SW frequencies are used for news and talk broadcasts (not for music broadcasts).
Shortwave Radio Broadcasters
Due to great popularity of AM/FM broadcasts, the number of SW radio stations (broadcasters) in the US (and in the rest of the developed world), is actually very small.
Some US-based broadcasters are owned/sponsored by the US Government and used for propaganda (Voice of America, Radio Marti, American Forces Network). Similar state-owned radio stations used for news and propaganda exist in other countries, too (Deutsche Welle in Germany, Radio France Internationale in France, BBC World Service in the UK, etc.).
There are also some private (commercial and non-commercial) radio broadcasters in the US. Most of the broadcasters are various religious organizations.
Features You Should Be Looking for When Buying A Shortwave Radio
There’s a lot to know about shortwave radios and some technical details can be quite complicated for understanding but we will try to keep things as simple as possible and explain everything in layman’s terms.
These are the features you should be looking for when buying a shortwave radio:
First of all, a shortwave radio should be able to receive shortwave signals (1.7MHz (or 3MHz) to 30MHz). Any additional frequency range is a plus. Most of the SW radios on our list of 6 best shortwave radios in 2021 have AM/MW (525kHz to 1.7MHz) and FM (87.8MHz to 108MHz) receivers. Some of the shortwave radios can receive NOAA frequencies (162.400 to 162.550MHz). To conclude, you should be looking for a shortwave radio with a large frequency coverage (AM and FM coverage is a must).
Analog or Digital Display
Unless you are an old-school person, digital display is preferred. It’s much more accurate than analog slide rule display and enables more precise tuning. Analog displays are cheaper and that’s their only ‘’advantage’’.
Most of the SW broadcasters use AM (amplitude modulation) and if your SW radio supports only AM mode, you will be just fine and you will be able to listen to those SW stations. A few SW radio stations, as well as radio amateurs (ham radio), military, aeronautical, and maritime services use SSB modulation (single-sideband modulation), so it’s a good thing if your SW radio can receive SSB signals (the number of stations you can listen to will be significantly increased). SW radios with SSB support cost more but they offer better listening experience and more listening options.
Removable/Replaceable Antenna and External Antenna Connection
Some SW radios have built-in telescopic antennas and they work quite well in most situations. It’s a good thing if you can remove and replace this antenna and it’s even better if there is an additional connector for an external antenna. Long external antennas usually deliver better results (enable better reception) than built-in antennas.
It’s a great thing if your shortwave radio can remember your favorite radio stations so you don’t have to search for the station every time. Some SW radios can remember more than 500 different frequencies (radio stations).
Digital scanners are great features. You don’t have to turn the wheel and search for the stations – you just have to press the button and your radio will search through certain frequency band and find all the available stations (and even memorize them). The problem with SW frequencies is that atmospheric noises can be mistaken for SW frequencies – your radio will find a lot of stations that are not actual stations.
If you are buying a shortwave radio for your emergency kit, you should be looking for something extremely rugged and durable. If you want to play with your shortwave radio and listen to different international broadcasts, the radio doesn’t have to be that rugged.
There are also some important technical terms you should be able to understand:
Selectivity is the ability of a shortwave radio to reject signals on adjacent frequencies to the desired frequency. It’s expressed as a frequency bandwidth at 6dB rejection points. Crystal lattice filter will additionally improve the selectivity.
Auto Gain Control/Auto Volume Control
AGC is used to control audio output level regardless of the radio signal strength. If the radio features AGC/AVC, the audio output will be constant regardless of the signal strength.
This feature limits/reduces (but doesn’t eliminate) the noise caused by other electrical equipment.
Describes the capacity of your SW radio to receive weak radio signals. The unit of measurement is mV. Lower voltage ratings are considered better.
This feature eliminates the noise and makes the audio output quieter until the signal becomes strong enough.
This feature reduces the fading effect by replacing the AM carrier with an internally generated signal.
Beat Frequency Oscillator
BFO enables the reception of SSB (single-sideband modulation), CW (continuous waveform), and FSK (Frequency-shift keying) signals.
This feature enhances SSB and CW reception.
It rejects certain frequencies depending on the type of the filter. There are three types of filters:
- Bandpass filter – rejects all the frequencies below and above the certain band and allows only that frequency band
- Low pass filter – allows frequencies below a certain frequency and blocks all the others
- High pass filter – allows frequencies above a certain frequency and blocks all the others
Digital Signal Processing
This feature enables conversion of radio (analog) signal into digital. The digital signal is then processed and converted back to analog.
Dynamic range tells you what’s the strongest signal that your SW radio can receive. It’s great if the dynamic range is more than 100dB (minimum requirement is 70dB).
This is the end of our article on 6 best shortwave radios in 2021. We have tried to offer you some useful info and honest reviews. If you liked the article, please share it and subscribe to our mailing list. Feel free to comment and share your experience.
Your AudioReputation Team
Hello, my name is James Longman.
I’m a writer and editor at AudioReputation. I disassembled my first portable AM/FM radio when I was only 8. At the age of 11, I burned the circuit board on my old boombox cassette player. I’m not going to explain how but it was reckless and stupid.
Since then, I have become much more careful around radios, boomboxes, and other audio devices (at least, I like to think so) but I have never lost the passion for audio equipment. Throughout 20 years of my professional career, I’ve been working for various audio equipment manufacturers and even started building speakers on my own in my little workshop.
I love the work we do here at AudioReputation. Testing, comparing, and evaluating all kinds of audio devices (speakers, soundbars, headphones, home theater systems, etc.) is something I truly enjoy. I try to be unbiased and give you my honest opinion on every piece of equipment I test. Still, you should take my reviews with a pinch of salt and always be just a little bit skeptical. The fact that I liked some speaker or soundbar doesn’t mean that you are going to love it. If you have the opportunity, you should test it/hear it before buying it.