My Favorite Short Wave Radio

Okay, I have a dozen or more radios now and technically not all of them are short wave radios such as the C Crane 2E.  I am prepared to name my favorite radio of the bunch.  Note that all of the radios I own are NOT in the picture below.

You need to bear in mind that I said that this is MY FAVORITE RADIO and not that it is the best radio in the world.

This is at best a non-technical review.  I’ll leave that to the other guys.  One thing I’ve noticed about this hobby is that it is always about the hardware more so than the listening.


I personally think people worry about the hardware too much and how it compares to other radios.  Nothing wrong with that and it is extremely beneficial when doing research for buying a radio.  Somebody has got to do it.   I fancy myself much more of a listener though and a common sense USER.   I really enjoy listening to content, especially political content and I like listening to the crazy content out there as well.

I just want to tune, listen, and have a radio that is somewhat intuitive so I can enjoy my SWL sessions.  And yes there are a lot of great radios out there, and yes you probably won’t agree with my assessment here but hey……I came to my conclusion honestly through fumbling around with a bunch of other radios.

“You need to bear in mind that I said that this is MY FAVORITE RADIO and not that it is the best radio in the world. “

Okay, here it is.  John’s Tech Blog’s choice for Favorite SW radio.  The Sangean ATS-909X.

I just know out there is a gigantic collective groan totally disappointed that I didn’t post the Tecsun PL-880 or some other radio.  There are a couple of high profile sites that review radios and once something gets stated a couple of times it kind of becomes gospel throughout the community.   Here’s one example.  Look up Sangaen ATS-909X and one thing that is commonly stated is that it is deaf UNLESS you hook up an external antenna.   Guess what?  I almost always use an external antenna.

Okay, I’m not throwing hate towards the reviewers and I will defer to them on radio expertise all day long but if you hook a circuit up to an oscilloscope and post a result that data really can’t be argued with.  It’s recorded for all posterity with technical details backing up the claim.  But when you say something is “deaf” maybe it’s just where you are.  Maybe the ionosphere was on vacation the day you tested, MAYBE YOU’RE RIGHT.

But pretty soon everybody on every short wave radio forum who has never owned the radio is saying it as well, and that’s what I’m alluding to here.   Go on any forum and ask about the 909X and a dozen guys who’ve never owned it will claim it is deaf.

I own one.  I don’t think it is “deaf” at all and again I stated I always use an external antenna anyway.  So if that is all that is wrong with it………I’m golden.

Here’s why I think it is my favorite.

First off it has that external antenna connector.  It says AM but it greatly improves short wave as well and in fact the added long wire antenna for short wave plugs into there.  Maybe they should have amended the markings a little.

Secondly, and this is one of my favorite features on a radio, it has a dedicated LINE OUT.

You can take the Line Out and pump it directly into your computers sound card and record content perfectly.  I myself like recording content like the Numbers Stations and also the sound of the various signals like WEFAX, RTTY, DRM radio, etc.


Next up this baby has one of the best brightest and clearest LCD screens and backlights going today.   I’m sorry.  I’m 55 years old and need cheater glasses most of the time.  This screen is a godsend.  If you figure you are building a radio and your principal customers are a bunch of old men you’d think other companies would make a screen this good and this bright.   I’m left scratching my head wondering why they don’t.

Okay so bright screens don’t make a radio sound good or tune good.   The ATS-909X has a scrolling tuning wheel on the front of the radio, not the side.   The location of it and the raised gripping lines make it the best tuning wheel I’ve ever used on a portable radio.  Bar none.   Fingers on the back corner of the radio and spin the hell out of the wheel with your thumb.

Navigation is a little bit different between bands.  To listen to the 120 meter band you would push the SW button then the #1 button which also says “120m” on it.   That’s a little goofy and I had to read the manual to figure it out but once you’ve got it you’ve got it.  Also just below that beautiful bright screen is a list of the bands for easy reference.

I find performance on short wave to be exceptional with my di-pole antennas.  I also find MW reception to be almost on par with my C Crane 2E which is supposed to be one of the best MW radios.  In fact I find it so close in performance (FOR MY AREA OF LISTENING AND THE CONDITIONS AROUND MY HOME) that I kind of sort of wish I hadn’t bought the C Crane 2E.  No knock on the 2E, just that I find the ATS-909X to be almost as good on MW or at least good enough for me.  I can’t tell a nickels worth of difference.

FM on this radio is okay as well and there is only the whip antenna for that but the radio does have RDS which is pretty cool.  RDS is where the channel name or song name gets displayed.  SDR radios do this much, much better anyway but it is still a neat feature.

SSB is easy to tune as well.  Some radios are harder than others to hone in on an SSB signal and this radio isn’t one of them in my opinion.

Technically I could be off the mark a little but for me I prefer reaching for my ATS-909X over most of my other radios.   And yes, I own a Tecsun PL-880 as well.  It’s a fine radio and I love it but the big bright screen, the tuning wheel, and solid performance of the ATS-909X just make it my go to device.

Your mileage may vary.  Enjoy.





2 thoughts on “My Favorite Short Wave Radio

  1. Guy Atkins

    You’re totally right on the comments about some folks who say the 909X being “deaf on the whip antenna”. The 909X manual even states the radio’s whip antenna is for FM, and the included ANT-60 reel antenna is for shortwave! See page #33.

    Have you considered removing the detent in the tuning spin wheel? With your skills it’s right up your alley and in my opinion makes a lot nicer tuning “feel”. You basically desolder the encoder, remove it, and then pry little metal tabs back so the encoder comes apart. Then you just remove a short copper strip “spring” and put the encoder back together. Ta da! No more click-click-clickity while tuning. Here’s an article with some tips on removing the tuning wheel for disassembly:

  2. Rod

    Agree with everything you said. I have two of these and find that the older version is better assembled than P01. The old radio also has no need to increase the SSB volume.

    As for the SW sensitivity, I suggest you try to implement a 4:1 (or thereabout) transformer on the whip antenna input. If you position it correctly it will have no effect on FM reception. I have done it and now my 909X is just as sensitive (or better) as any other highly regarded portable from Tecsun.

    The information is available on the web.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *