From time-to-time, someone will ask my opinion about this or that radio. Usually the question comes from a person just starting
out in the hobby of SWLing. Or maybe it's a non-technical hobbyist who is experiencing difficulties or is dissatisfied with his/her
current setup. Well, my opinion is no better, or worse, than anyone else's opinion. However, I am flattered to share whatever it is
that can, or may, help. I am no more an expert than anyone else who has been doing this stuff for more than half-a-century. I
suppose my greatest assets are my notes and observations of the conditions, circumstances, and situations and my subjective
feelings of a particular device, born of it's lasting impressions - how much it has affected me.
Read this three times slowly:
"I have never, ever, listened to a communication receiver's internal loudspeaker for any length of time, if I could avoid it!"
The list of radios on the following pages is just a beginning. There are a lot more to talk about, but these are the ones I felt
compelled to discuss first. Here's my small print, disclaimers, qualifiers, and caveats:
Audio Caveat: It should be noted that all (I repeat, "ALL"), of my radios are connected to a suitable high quality external speaker
most of the time. Obviously, when enjoying a delightful beverage at poolside, or lying supine in the hammock, then it's usually just
the internal speaker playing.
Antenna caveat: Test Conditions: Over the years I have had many antennas, of wide and varying type, size, and configuration. At
this location (30+ years) I have always had the following three antennas. They have been moved slightly up or down, repaired or
replaced with different types of wire, and slightly lengthened or shortened, but basically, they have remained "technically"
1. An 80 meter (essentially a 120 (+/-) foot North/South (broadsided to E/W) dipole usually between 25 and 40 feet elevation, fed
without a balun through either 50 or 75 Ohm coax..
2. An 80 meter sloper, which is about 65 feet long at 45 degrees, North-facing, and top fed against the 45 foot steel tower, without
a balun through either 50 or 75 Ohm coax..
3. A 160 meter, 1/4 wavelength, end-fed, about 130 feet long over terrain that varies from 25 feet to 35 feet below. It is fed with a
9:1 transformer with opposed windings on a type 75 toroidal core in the voltage-winding configuration. It is fed with 50 Ohm coax.
Very important: My ground system is a farm of many solid copper pipes around my home, which are electrically bonded to the
electrical service entrance, cable, telephone and fresh water (iron pipe from the street) services, along with my tower, the metal
antenna cable entrance window and the shack's equipment bus bar. For the sake of signal quality, RF feedback, equipment
protection and personal safety, there are no grounds that are independent of the bonded system. Please read and learn about
proper grounding and bonding techniques and practices, which can be found on the Internet.
How I See It ... And Hear It: One man's Opinions
All comments and remarks are variously my subjective and
objective opinions, and based on actual use, bench testing,
and service experiences.
La Cappo de Tutti:
Serious TSCM*-Grade Surveillance, Intercept,
and Monitoring Station Receivers.
(*Technical Surveillance and Countermeasures)
These receivers were variously employed by NSA, CIA, FEMA, NRO, FBI, DEA,
INS, et al ... etc, etc.
Any one of these radios would be an SWL's dream come true. Fortunately (and
quite by an accidental event), I have had the opportunity to service and
modify equipment for a government agency on a contractual basis. Some of
the units listed below, and others, have spent time in my repair shop (and
shack). That was about 97% fun and 3% labor, but don't tell the Feds.
A real winner. It can be overloaded by a local flame thrower (sometimes) and
DSP needs some getting used to, but that's all fixable with proper adjustments
and/or aux. equipment. Similar remarks apply to the 8711 ans 8716/8718.
This is a TSCM sleeper that is up to the task. Similar to the HF-1000 -
sometimes better, sometimes a little worse. What a great radio!
This is the Godfather of all solid-state spy-type radios. It is now technically a
few generations removed from state-of-the-art, but what a performer. No DSP,
no sync AM ... you'll probably never miss it!
Ditto the above (for the R-9000) - but with tubes. This radio set all the
standards, and is still a contender - 1/2 Century later! Definitely worth a
serious love affair.
This one is actually mine! A real governmental snoop candidate. I always loved
JRC's ergonomics. A panel layout you can use in the dark. They got it right
with superb DSP functions of everything. About one quarter or one fifth the
cost of the mil-spec candidates. No menu hassles. Very few performance flaws
- probably not worth discussing.
Racal 3702 (3701)
Very solid, Cadillac feel, easy to use - a 24/7 radio.
Racal RA 6790/GM
Ditto above. The "6790" is an icon from the 1980s. This radio is very flexible in
many various build configurations. Choose the Racal faceplate you like and
buy the radio...it's that simple...all models seem to perform fantastically - they
just look different.
I finally got to borrow one for a few weeks. Sounds, feels and works like an RA
6790, but possibly slightly more flexible. This one is right up there on top.
I had one of these for a few weeks. The moment you fire it up, you know that
Drake has a commercial linage. This one is very quiet, easy to use, has flexible
controls, and feels like the solid performer that it is. More info here.
GOOD, SOLID PERFORMERS
If I was stuck on an island, this is the one I'd have with me. By all rights, it should be in the
category above, but it is a little outdated compared to its younger brother, the 545, and anyhow, I
needed a leader for this category. JRC did it all correctly. Even the ergo aspect is better than the
DSP version 545. It's a pretty radio and about as business-like as a front panel can be, save the
NRD-515. My personal 535 was one of the beta test models for the designers of the radio and
came straight out of their labs in New Jersey several years ago.
Dollar-per-performance; ya jes can't beat it ... period!
This is truly a classic. No DSP, no sync detector, no memories (without add-on unit), but just a
cast iron (actually aluminum) super performer. No one can 'not like' this radio. It's 2 generations
removed from the fantastic 535, but fundamentally the same baseline performance in a pre-digital
world. I'll never sell this one!
This one is a real sleeper. Out of the box it is a fantastic performer - and for about one third to half
the money you'd expect to pay for the performance, features, and functions. If you buy this radio,
you must buy the plug-in DSP Noise Reduction board - if you don't, you are only cheating yourself.
It has SAM, sync AM and that is not really executed very well, but kind of works. If I need that
function, I tune with ECSS and forget the rest - presto - no QSB! I have seen better ergonomics
from Icom, but this one is (just) okay in my book. The S/W driven menu options and setup are easy
enough to access and adjust, but I still like to have a knob, dial or switch for every function (call
me old fashioned). If you want the best that $500.00 can buy - this is the one. See: Mods
Matching companion to the VHF/UHF R-7000. Many governmental agencies have used this guy -
both these guys. The 71A was never a "super radio" in terms of noise, audio quality, selectivity
and sensitivity. And whoever decided on it's volitle ROM operating system should be arrested. I
have mine extensively modified with some gain and filter mods. I also added the non-volitle after
market ROM option (www.willcoele.com) . It is now quieter and listens like a champ! The radio is
layed out in an excellent fashion, with easy to find and use controls. Mine is currently in my shop
as a general coverage, casual listener for those all-day episodes at the work bench. I will never
willingly part with this one. See Mods
Good Old Standbys That Perform Very Well
Solid, selective, sensitive, stable. For a general purpose receiver, this is the do all-be all for not
Mine serves for long-term AM broadcast listening, shortwave broadcast surfing, and just general
easy chair relaxing. I love my 5000. This is my sweetheart #2, along side the 535D.
My personal opinion is that Yaesu never made a better all-around (receive-only) package, for the
time and dollars. Appearance, layout, convenience, performance, and audio - all very nice. There's
no pretense with this set - it's just tune the dial and listen. I am not a big fan of Yaesu's receivers
in general, since they never seem to quite hit the mark in Noise Floor, MDS, and sensitivity when
compared to competitively priced Icom and (even) Kenwood receivers. In that genre, I feel that
everything they have done over the years (receivers and transceivers), for the same money has
been done better by Icom and Kenwood - just an opinion. The radio is pretty nice, I could let mine
go without too much remorse, but I think I'm gonna keep it. All-in-all, it is of good utility, service,
and value. See Mods See Mod Schematics
Philips / Magnavox D-2999
I'm going to rate this along side the Yaesu 7700. It's a fun, good quality radio for general use. Fed
with an adequate antenna, it performs well across the bands. It is much more friendly than the
Yaesu for travel, although big and heavy as a portable, it would be no problem to take along on a
picnic or to the beach. If you are a "modifier" like me, it has some great potential for adding
goodies like a preamp, true RF gain, and filter experimentation.
Here's where I spend most of my free time lately. These are two of the best receivers I've ever used for general SWL work. They are
both designed for signal monitoring, intercept, and general surveillance. Both have been used by various 3-letter agencies, here in the
US and in foreign countries. They are also favorites amongst embassy technical personnel for SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) and
COMSEC (Communications Security).
The Watkins-Johnson family (WJ-8716, 8718A, etc.) is well known for its MIL-Spec construction, simplicity of operation, super quiet
noise floor, high sensitivity, great filter performance, high dynamic range, beautiful audio, and modular ease of repair.
The Racal RA6790/GM is nothing more than the battleship of receivers. It's built like a tank ... to use two metaphors. The Racal is
"dead-rock" stable. It tunes to 1 Hz -- and it stays there !!! It utilizes Collins filters, a cast aluminum chassis, is very sensitive, almost
impossible to overload, and a breeze to learn and use.
As you can see in the photograph, I frequently use these, in my shack, in duplex operation, from my 160-meter antenna, or in diversity
mode with other outside wire antennas.
But the above twins (okay, cousins) are not the only pair I employ at once. In the family room I listen to Japan radio's NRD-535D and
NRD-545. Same setup; duplex or diversity. The JRC radios are my favorite amongst the consumer-grade radios. Of course, I have a
huge place in my heart for the venerable Icom, R71A, JRC NRD-515, and Kenwood R-5000. But at the risk of repeating myself, please
just review my analysis below. Always keep in mind, there are my words, about my opinions, concerning my experiences with these
radios. Some of it is really objective from bench testing, but most of it is subjective, from actual use and from listening over long
periods, and owning these radios for some time.
Yuppie Disclaimer: Please understand, I am not flaunting some of the high-end radios I own. I have worked very long and hard to get where I am in this
hobby. I built my first (crystal) radio at age 7, in the Cub Scouts; I am now well into my 60s. And I must confess, I still love to play with the "other" fun radios
listed here, which can be had for less-than $100.00USD. It's all good, but it just never ends.
Enjoy your visit here ... Please read on.
The veteran W-J 8718A: A
super radio by any standard.