The best shortwave radios

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In this article, I review the best shortwave radios:

If you don’t have time to read the whole article, here is my recommendation:

I recommend the Tecsun PL880. – It has the complete range of frequencies for shortwave (1711 – 29999 kHz) and also has single side band (SSB) which means you can listen in on amateur radio operators. Finally, the external antenna jack and shortwave wire antenna included with the radio make the Tecsun PL880 the best choice.

Before we look at the 5 radios in detail, let’s have a quick look at what to look for in a shortwave radio.

What to look for in a shortwave radio

Shortwave broadcasting bands

The bands and frequencies used for broadcasting shortwave radio are defined and agreed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The total frequency range of shortwave is 2300 kHz – 26100 kHz (or if you prefer: 2.3 – 26 MHz)

Therefore to listen to shortwave, the radio receiver will need to have this frequency range. This large frequency range (band) is split up into 14 smaller bands or frequency ranges as follows:

BandFrequency Range
120 metres2300-2495 kHz
90 metres3200-3400 kHz
75 metres3900-4000 kHz
60 metres4750-4995 kHz
49 metres5900-6200 kHz
41 metres7200-7450 kHz
31 metres9400-9900 kHz
25 metres11600-12100 kHz
22 metres13570-13870 kHz
19 metres15100-15800 kHz
16 metres17480-17900 kHz
15 metres18900-19020 kHz
13 metres21450-21850 kHz
11 metres25670-26100 kHz

Radio amateurs (HAM) on shortwave using SSB

Shortwave is also used by radio amateurs (HAM) with an approved license. They use different bands / frequencies to the broadcasters mentioned above and more importantly, they use a different type of speech modulation to broadcasters.  “Normal” broadcasters use amplitude modulation (AM) but radio amateurs use a type of modulation called single side band (SSB).

So if you want to listen to radio amateurs, you will need an SSB radio which has the bands and range of frequencies as follows:

BandFrequency Range
160 metres1800-2000 kHz
80 metres3500-3800 kHz
60 metres5250-5450 kHz
40 metres7000-7200 kHz
30 metres10100-10150 kHz
20 metres14000-14350 kHz
17 metres18068-18168 kHz
15 metres21000-21450 kHz
12 metres24890-24990 kHz
10 metres28000-29700 kHz

Antennas and reception

Shortwave radios require an antenna (aerial) – the longer the better. Also, the higher up you can put it, the better. Putting the radio / aerial outside will definitely improve reception but is not absolutely necessary.

Be aware that a lot of modern day equipment such as computers, televisions, modems, wifi, routers etc will cause interference. So if you’re in a large city in an apartment block with neighbors on all sides, you aren’t going to get the same level of reception as someone who lives in a detached house in the countryside. 

When choosing your shortwave radio, there are two things to look for:

1) Check to see if it has an “antenna jack” into which you can plug an external shortwave antenna.

2) Check to see if it comes with some sort of an external wire antenna with a plug on the end that will plug into the antenna jack.  Often these wire antennae are simply a long length of wire (the longer the better).

Even if the radio doesn’t have an antenna jack, you can just attach one end of a wire antenna to one end to the telescopic antenna on the radio and that will work fine.

Tuning and memory presets

Basic cheaper radios will usually have analogue dials, knobs and displays which will work fine but it will be harder to find the stations you are looking for. There won’t be any memory presets on these radios.

More advanced radios will have a screen that displays the frequencies and other functions (clock, temperature). They will also have auto-scan tuning whereby you press a button and the radio will change frequency in one direction and stop when it finds a station. You will then have the option to save your favorite stations into one of the available memory presets so that you can come back to them quickly whenever you wish.

Squelch

In layman terms, the “squelch” feature will filter out all the static, background noise and interference that comes from a weak signal or that is there in between transmissions.  It’s particularly useful if you are listening to transmissions such as amateur radio (on shortwave SSB) or listening to pilots and ATC talking on airband.  With squelch, in between transmissions between a pilot and ATC or between two amateur radio operators, there will be silence but without squelch there will be the annoying sound of static.  Squelch therefore makes listening to these transmissions are lot more pleasant.

Power source

A very important thing to check is how the radio is powered. Common options are:

  • AC power cord plugged into a power outlet.
  • DC power cord plugged into a DC power source (cigar lighter in a vehicle)
  • Alkaline (normal non-rechargeable) batteries.
  • Chargeable batteries.

If the radio takes batteries, check how many it needs, what type and if they are included with the radio.

If rechargeable batteries can be used, how are they recharged? In modern radios, a common method is via a USB cable that is often included with the radio. One end of the USB cable is plugged into the radio and the other end is plugged into a PC that is powered. The batteries therefore are being recharged from the PC’s power via the USB cable.

If you don’t have a PC or you don’t want to have to switch it on every time you recharge your radio’s batteries, you can plug the other end of the USB cable into a “USB wall charger” like the one that came with your cell phone. If you don’t have one you can buy one online here.

Clock / alarm functions

Some of the more advanced radios will have an LCD screen displaying the time and the ability to set an alarm at a specified time. There will often be related features such as sleep timer and snooze options.

Size and weight

Be sure to check the dimensions and weight of the radio, particularly if you’ll be using this radio while out walking or if you’ll be moving it around a lot.

The best shortwave radios

Tecsun PL880

The Tecsun PL880 receiver covers the entire shortwave range, longwave, FM and AM broadcast bands. It has single side band (SSB) so you will be able to listen to amateur radio with this receiver.  Upper Side Band and Lower Side Band are individually selectable and there are multiple user-selectable bandwidth settings available for each band.

The radio has bass and treble control and the radio’s speaker is driven by a Class AB power amplifier capable of 450mW output.

Battery life has been tested in FM mode.  At medium volume, battery life is 29.5 hours on a single charge.

Strong reception – The Tecsun PL880 has a feature called “Digital Signal Processing” on the HF band ( in all modes). This makes it possible for the reception of weak signals. Further, the Tecsun PL880 Radio offers 9 user-selectable IF bandwidth settings, and a new long-life lithium-ion battery.

Bands / Frequency ranges

FM Band:                  64 – 108 MHz
AM Band (MW):       520 – 1710 kHz        
Shortwave (SW):     1711 – 29999 kHz    
Longwave (LW):     100 – 519 kHz

Tuning / memory presets – The radio has a tuning knob and a fine tuning knob for more precise tuning. The frequencies appear on the screen. There are 3050 memory presets and they can be divided up across all bands (FM, MW, LW, SW, SSB)

Clock and alarm functions – The radio has clock, alarm, sleep timer and snooze functions.

Power sources – The radio is powered by one rechargeable Li-ion 3.7V battery (included). It comes with a USB charging cable. You can charge it from your computer’s USB port or a USB wall charger that plugs into a power outlet (not included).

Antenna – The radio has a 3.5 mm plug outlet for an external shortwave antenna.  A long wire antenna with plug is supplied with the radio.

Earphone Jack – Diameter 3.5mm

Size: 9.4 x 6.3 x 2.7 inches  ( 240 × 160 × 70 mm)
Weight: 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms)

In the box

  • Tecsun PL880 radio
  • 1x Li-ion 3.7V rechargeable battery
  • USB charger cable
  • External shortwave antenna
  • Carrying pouch
  • User manual

Pros

  • The radio has the full shortwave band.
  • SSB modulation – You can listen to amateur radio (HAM).
  • External shortwave antenna jack and shortwave wire antenna is included.
  • Excellent reception – This unit has great sensitivity and selectivity.
  • Good build quality and strong design.
  • Long battery life (29.5 hours on medium volume)
  • Clock and alarm functions
  • 3,050 memory presets.

Cons

  • There is no way to name the 3050 presets.

RADIWOW R-108

The RADIWOW R-108 is a portable shortwave radio with the full range of frequencies from the shortwave band (1711 – 29999 kHz). You can also listen to civil aviation communications between pilots and ATC on airband (118 – 137 MHz ) when within range of an airport.

Bands / Frequency ranges

FM Band:      87 – 108 MHz         
Shortwave (SW):     1711 – 29999 kHz
AM Band (MW): 520 – 1710 kHz  (North America)  /  522 – 1620 kHz  (Asia, Africa and Europe)
Longwave (LW):     150 – 450 kHz
Airband:  118 – 137 MHz

Airband and squelch – You can listen to civil aviation communications on airband (118 – 137MHz). There is a squelch feature so you can filter out all the static in between transmissions.

Tuning / memory presets – Tuning is done using the dial on the side of the radio. The frequency is displayed on the LCD screen on the front of the radio. There are 500 memory presets (100 for each band – FM, MW, LW, SW and Airband.)

LCD screen – The LCD screen has a backlight making it easy to read in all lighting conditions. The screen displays information regarding radio frequency, time, alarm features, temperature and battery life.

Clock and alarm functions – The radio has clock, alarm, sleep timer and snooze functions.

Power sources – The radio is powered by one BL-5C lithium battery (included).  A USB charging cable is included with the radio with which you can recharge the battery.

Earphone jack – The radio has an earphone jack in which you can plug an earphone, headphones or a speaker.

Antenna – There is an integrated telescopic antenna for maximum portability. The radio has an external antenna jack for a shortwave antenna and an external shortwave wire antenna is included.

Size: 4.65 x 2.87 x 1.06 inches  (118 x 73 x 27 mm)
Weight:  6.7 ounces (190 grams)

In the box

  • RADIWOW R-108 shortwave radio
  • External antenna
  • USB charge cable
  • 1x BL-5C lithium battery
  • User manual

Pros

  • Shortwave – Has the full range of frequencies from the shortwave band (1711 – 29999 kHz)
  • Airband – Listen to civil aviation communications on airband (118 – 137MHz)
  • Very compact and light.
  • External shortwave antenna jack and shortwave wire antenna is included.
  • Clock and alarm functions.
  • 500 memory presets.

Cons

  • Doesn’t have single side band (SSB).
  • The battery life is decent but not great. You’ll get a few days of moderate use before it needs to be charged again.

Kaito KA321

The Kaito KA321 is a simple entry-level AM/FM shortwave radio with DSP (Digital Signal Processing).

Bands / Frequency ranges

FM Band:  64-108 MHz     
AM Band (MW): 522 KHz – 1710 KHz                
Shortwave (SW): 5700 – 21950 kHz       

Tuning / memory presets – The radio has a dedicated tuning knob for easy and fast frequency tuning. There is an LED tuning indicator which lights up when a station is found. There is no digital screen on this old school radio. The frequencies are displayed on a front panel display with a needle that moves up and down. There are no memory presets.

Power sources – This compact portable radio is designed for battery usage and it is powered by 2x AA batteries (not included). There is also a 5 V / 150 mA power jack for an AC adaptor (not included).

Antenna – The Kaito KA321 has a built-in telescopic whip antenna to improve the signal reception on the FM band and shortwave band.  This radio does not have an external antenna jack but an external antenna with a clip could be used.

Earphone jack – The radio has a standard 3.5mm stereo earphone jack for private listening (earphone / headphones not included).

Size: 4.8 x 0.8 x 3 inches (122 x 20 x 76 mm)
Weight:  4 ounces (113 grams)

In the box

  • Kaito KA321 radio
  • Wrist strap
  • User manual

Pros

  • An excellent entry-level shortwave radio at a low price.
  • DSP (Digital Signal Processing) circuitry giving the radio very good reception for its size.
  • The radio has a standard 3.5mm stereo earphone jack for private listening. (earphone / headphones not included)
  • The radio covers the main segment of the shortwave band (5700 – 21950 kHz)
  • The radio has a very wide FM range (64-108 MHz)
  • Very compact and light.
  • Very long battery life. (Many users have reported using the same batteries after several months of use.)

Cons

  • There are no memory presets.
  • No jack for an external antenna.
  • There is no digital screen displaying the frequency.
  • Manual tuning.

Tecsun PL-360

The Tecsun PL-360 is a portable digital radio that comes with 2 external antennas (see below). It has a PLL synthesized receiver that picks up AM, FM & shortwave.

Bands / Frequency ranges

FM Band:                  87-108 MHz 
AM Band (MW):       520-1710 kHz          
Shortwave (SW):     2300 – 21950 KHz

DSP (Digital Sound Processing) – DSP ensures that the audio is crystal clear and has high tone quality.

Antenna – There is a standard telescopic antenna on the radio to receive the FM and SW bands. Included with the radio is an external flexible wire antenna which you can clip to the telescopic antenna in order to improve reception on the FM and SW bands.

On the top middle of the radio, there is an external antenna jack into which you can connect an external AM antenna (included) for the MW band. This external AM antenna is the T-shaped object that you can see on the photograph.

Tuning / memory presets – There are four tuning methods: Tuning knob, memory, ATS (Auto Tuning System) and ETM (Easy Tuning Mode). ETM is a technology developed by Tecsun. It scans all receivable frequencies without taking up the memory spaces, offering you easy access to all available local stations. That is particularly useful when traveling. There are 450 memory presets.

Clock and alarm functions – The Tecsun PL-360 has clock, alarm and sleep timer functions.

LCD screen – The LCD screen can display the frequency, time, electric field strength, signal-to-noise ratio, temperature, battery capacity.

Power sources – The radio is powered by 3x AA batteries (not included). If you choose rechargeable NiMH batteries, they can be recharged while still in the radio using the micro USB cord (included).

Size: 6.3 x 1 x 2.1 inches (160 x 25.4 x 53 mm)
Weight:  4.5 ounces (128 grams)

In the box

  • Tecsun PL-360 radio
  • Stereo earphones
  • External AM antenna
  • External wire antenna for FM or shortwave
  • Carrying pouch
  • User manual

Pros

  • The auto search is very useful. It will scan the entire band and create a “preset” for each frequency that has a good signal.
  • Stereo earphones are included.
  • Two external antennae are included (one for MW and one for FM and shortwave) that significantly improve reception.
  • DSP (Digital Sound Processing) results in very good audio quality.
  • 450 memory presets.
  • Clock, alarm and sleep timer functions.
  • Compact size and very light.
  • The signal strength meter is a great feature.

Cons

  • The buttons are very small.
  • The volume is a bit low.
  • Due to its small size and small base, you can’t stand the radio upright without it falling over.

C Crane CC Skywave

The C Crane CC Skywave is a portable AM/FM radio with shortwave, airband and NOAA weather channels.

Frequencies

FM Band:      87.5 – 108 MHz        
AM Band (MW):       520 – 1710 kHz        
Airband:        118 – 137 MHz
Shortwave (SW):     2300 – 26100 kHz    
Weather:       All 7 NOAA channels for the NOAA alerts

Tuning / memory presets – The radio has autoscan tuning as well as manual tuning and fine tuning with the tuning knob on the side of the radio. The frequencies are displayed on the LCD display. There are 400 memory presets.

NOAA weather channels and alerts – This radio can receive all 7 of the NOAA channels and receive alerts of local bad weather.

Airband – The Airband allows you to listen in on all civilian aviation communications. There is a squelch feature whereby the background noise is filtered out between transmissions.

Clock and alarm functions – The radio has a clock with 12/24 hour format as well as an alarm, sleep timer and snooze.

Power sources – The radio is powered by 2x AA batteries (not included) or AC adaptor (not included). The battery life is 60-70 hrs at moderate volume.

Antenna – The radio has an internal AM antenna. There is also a telescopic whip antenna on top of the radio for FM, Shortwave and Aviation bands. There is no jack for an external antenna but you can attach an external flexible wire antenna (not included) to the end of the whip antenna.

More features – Lighted LCD display, rotary volume knob, stereo headphone jack, sleep timer, 400 memory presets, direct entry keypad, autoscan tuning, signal Meter, squelch (to filter out interference), 400 memory presets, direct entry keypad, auto scan, lighted LCD display. Rotary volume knob, stereo headphone jack, fold-out back stand, battery meter, signal meter, lock switch. The power output of the speaker is 0.5W.

Size: 4.75 x 3 x 1.1 inches (120.65 x 76.2 x 28 mm)
Weight (without batteries): 5.5 ounces (156 grams)

In the box

  • C Crane Skywave airband radio
  • Earbuds
  • Carry case

Pros

  • Shortwave band: 2300 – 26100 kHz.
  • Decent battery life.
  • Small size and very light.
  • NOAA weather alerts.
  • Airband – Listen to pilots and ATC when near an airport.
  • 400 memory presets.
  • Clock and alarm functions.
  • Squelch feature filters out background noise – No more annoying interference in between transmissions.

Cons

  • There is no external antenna jack.
  • The audio quality is a bit tinny due to the speaker’s small size.

Conclusion

So what is the best shortwave radio receiver?

I recommend the Tecsun PL880. – It has the complete range of frequencies for shortwave (1711 – 29999 kHz) and also has single side band (SSB) which means you can listen in on amateur radio operators. Finally, the external antenna jack and shortwave wire antenna included with the radio make the Tecsun PL880 the best choice.

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