The challenges of precision-tuning analog radios, plus the reliance of international shortwave broadcasters on switching between multiple frequencies and bands to reach global audiences 24/7, explains why direct-entry pushbutton digital radios came into this hobby almost 40 years ago.
The flag-bearer for SW radios that were as easy to use as a pushbutton telephone was the iconic (and still respected) Sony ICF-2001/ICF 2010. Released to the world in the mid-1980s, the ICF 2001D/2010D even had an LCD display!
Today, digital radios with direct pushbutton entry are commonplace in the portable SW portable receiver market.
I recently tested two such portables, the pocket-sized CCrane CC Skywave SSB and the new tablet-sized Sangean ATS-909X2.
In addition to offering pushbutton tuning and automatic frequency scanning, both come with manual tuning dials, back-lit LCD displays, the ability to tune to the full SW bands (1.711–29.999 MHz) plus AM, FM (stereo in headsets) and the AIR (aeronautical 118–137 MHz) band. The ATS909X2 can also tune to longwave.
They also offer a range of bandwidth filters to improve audio clarity on SW, the ability to preset station memories, and built-in SSB (single sideband tuners) for tuning in amateur radio transmissions heard within the SW bands.
As well, both portables come with long extendable whip antennas and windup external wire antennas for pulling in weaker and rarer SW stations, along with signal strength meters, stereo earbuds and even radio cases.
How to choose
So how can one pick between them?
Well, a diehard SW hobbyist would solve this problem by simply owning both, because the CC Skywave SSB and ATS909X2 are fine additions to any radio listening shack.
But for those only planning to buy one SW portable, here are some differences that may guide your decision.
At $169.99, the CCrane CC Skywave SSBis the less expensive of these two SW radios. It is also smaller, measuring just 4.8 inches wide by 3 inches high and 1 inch deep.
Although the CC Skywave SSB is the size of a vintage AM transistor, the similarities stop there. With a full range of features including 400 memory presets — so you can prestore your favorite SW stations and recall them easily afterwards — the CC Skywave SSB is the ultimate pocket radio.
This SW radio is also great for long-time listening with great selectivity (choosing between stations) and sensitivity, both of which are aided by the CC Skywave SSB’s range of audio filters.
As well, the CC Skywave SSB is a great performer on the AM band — especially at night — and delivers excellent stereo audio on FM when you use earbuds/headsets. CCrane is proud of the fact that this radio can run up to 70 hours on earbuds/60 hours on its built–in speaker using pair of AA Alkaline batteries.
At $265 on Amazon, the Sangean ATS-909X2 costs considerably more than the CCrane CC Skywave SSB, but there are good reasons for this price difference.
For example, the ATS-909X2 comes with a much larger LCD screen that is also in color, and capable of displaying all kinds of information including RDS station data on FM. It also has 1,674 station presets, with the ability to program in station names for each that appear on the radio’s display.
The ATS-909X2’s rotary-style tuning dial (in addition to its direct-entry keypad) is front-mounted, as opposed to the CC Skywave SSB’s side-mounted (and smaller) tuning dial. This provides an analog-style experience for those SW fans like myself who still enjoy tuning across the bands manually to see what happens to pop up.
Meanwhile, the ATS-909X2’s built-in speaker is twice the size of the CC Skywave SSB’s 1-inch unit, which delivers fuller, more listenable sound.
This unit’s FM headset audio is also better. To be precise, listening to FM stereo on the CC Skywave SSB is excellent, but the ATS-909X2’s FM stereo audio has extra depth and definition, rivalling that of a standalone Hi-Fi amplifier.
One feature that I particularly love in this radio is its pair of clocks, one for local time and one for Universal Coordinated Time (UTC, a.k.a. Greenwich Mean Time), which is the time zone in which SW stations list their broadcast/frequency schedules.
This spares me the mental gymnastics of converting 12- to 24-hour time and then adding four or five hours to that number, depending on the season in eastern North America, to get the right time for UTC.
These are just some of the many features found on the Sangean ATS-909X2, which is truly an astounding SW portable radio. But this fact does not take away from the superbness of the CC Skywave SSB, whose price is less than 40% of the ATS-909X2’s.
These radios are aimed at different parts of the SW portable market. The CCrane CC Skywave SSB is a solid all-round performer in a go-anywhere package slighting bigger than a pack of playing cards, while the Sangean ATS-909X2 is a technophile’s dream in a larger but still streamlined piece of practical yet beautiful radio engineering. This is why this reporter cannot choose between the two of them — and fortunately does not have to.