15 April 2007

meet the tecsun dr-920 / grundig g1100

I emailed tquchina, an eBay seller, to ask if he could get me a Tecsun DR-920. I provided $28.80, and I received my new radio after a shipping time from China of 9 days. This radio was tested with alkaline batteries and iPod earphones; no external antenna was used.

Appearance

This radio is the same size and shape as the Tecsun R-9012, which has an analog tuning display. The DR-920 is slightly heavier between the two.

The front of this radio has a curved surface to the right of the speaker grille, which I believe originated on Yacht Boy radios. This is a simple radio, with only a few controls on the uncluttered front panel. I like the dark gray casing; silver buttons, knobs, and switches; and black border around the screen. The Grundig version has black controls instead of silver.

The predecessor of this radio, the uglier DR-910, is sold under the name Grundig G1000. This radio, the DR-920, is now also being sold under the name Grundig G1100.

This radio comes with standard Tecsun pocket radio amenities such as a wrist strap, a flip-stand on the back to allow angled positioning on a flat surface, a detachable battery door on the back of the radio, and a rotating telescopic "whip" antenna.





Power button

Each time I pick up this radio, I look at both the left and right sides, trying to find the power switch. Instead, there's a power button on the front panel near the bottom right. That switch on the right lets the user select "radio" or "buzzer" for the alarm mode.

Display

The LCD is small and very easy to understand. The leftmost column of the display shows the band (FM, MW, or SW); three to five digits show the current frequency, and a frequency unit (kHz or MHz) is on the right of the frequency. A sleep icon appears at the top right of the screen if the radio is in sleep mode, and a battery icon at the bottom right of the radio indicates battery life. If the alarm is set, the right side of the display shows a speaker inside a rectangle.

The amber backlight for the LCD display is on the left side. It can adequately illuminate the frequency digits, but the icons on the right side of the screen are harder to see in the dark.

One way the display could be improved is if the last 0 wasn't shown when using FM. For example, a station in the FM band is displayed as "96.50 MHz". The 0 never changes, and it is unnecessary.

Displaying the time while the radio is on can be done by pressing the time set button. The time will display and the backlight will illuminate for about 4 seconds.

Pressing the light button briefly will illuminate the backlight for about 5 seconds. Holding the light button down for about 2 seconds will keep the backlight on, but the backlight first turns off and comes back on when doing this.

Tuner

The tuning knob has a nice, tight tuning action. My radio came with the tuning knob all the way at the end, so I didn't realize at first that I was trying to tune past the top of the scale.

This radio is good for band-scanning, as long as the band ranges suit your needs. The tuning knob is more sensitive than I tend to remember, so each time I start using the radio, I tune too far until I adjust to the sensitivity.

While using the radio for FM and MW, slight frequency drift was observed along with the unfortunate side-effect of activating the backlight. The drift doesn't behave like my updated BCL-2000: rather than slipping down by one or two hertz, sometimes the display rapidly switches between two adjacent frequencies such as 739 and 740 khz. That's what keeps the backlight lit. Some additional logic should be added by Tecsun to make backlight activation less sensitive, if frequency drift can't be eliminated.

Sound

Sound quality is what I would expect for a radio (and speaker) of this size. It lacks good bass response, but I won't use this radio for music listening very often. Remember that this radio does not have a tone or bandwidth control, so what you hear is what you get.

Clarity of mediumwave signals is much better with the speaker than with earphones. Earphones seem to increase the presence of static. Low-end frequency response is better with earphones, so this is a good way to use this radio for music.

Alarm

I tried out the alarm buzzer. Once per second, the radio emits a fast beeping sound with a low scratchy component. Personally I'd rather awaken to the sound of a running stream with birds chirping! With this radio, I'll stick with the "Radio" alarm option.

Other operations

I can't seem to activate the keypad lock with the radio on. I suppose this is a more important feature for a digital-entry radio, since bumping the tuning knob on an analog-tuned radio such as this one is going to change the frequency no matter what. But why would this radio need a keypad lock only when the radio is off? The only thing I can think of is that it helps prevent accidental power-on when traveling.

Frequencies

Here are the frequency ranges for all of the bands on the radio that I received. These are the frequencies I was able to reach on my radio; this likely varies from unit to unit. If you have a DR-920 or G1100, I'd like to know how ours compare.

FM: 74.2 - 108.6 mhz
MW: 515 - 1619 khz
SW1: 3.81 - 4.325 mhz
SW2: 4.675 - 5.235 mhz
SW3: 5.810 - 6.37 mhz
SW4: 6.935 - 7.82 mhz
SW5: 8.99 - 9.98 mhz
SW6: 11.485 - 12.43 mhz
SW7: 13.345 - 14.155 mhz
SW8: 15.03 - 15.725 mhz
SW9: 17.295 - 18.52 mhz
SW10: 21.24 - 22.32 mhz

FM and AM (mediumwave)

I'm finding that mediumwave stations are the clearest if I tune 2 khz below the station's frequency. So when the display says 1258 khz, I have good reception of the station on 1260 khz. This seems to reduce some of the harshness that comes through if I tune to the exact station frequency.

Local stations were received just fine, but there was a station that I could receive on my Eton E5 and my Eton E100 that the DR-920 would not receive. This was KOMO 1000 khz in Seattle, which is about 750 miles from my apartment in San Francisco. When tuned to 1000 khz, the DR-920 seemed to have an image from another frequency whereas the other two radios had a signal of medium strength and full clarity on a night in early September 2006.

Tuning off the main frequency to improve clarity didn't hold true for FM, where stations sounded clearer overall. But this radio does not do a good job with FM reception. It picks up strong stations, but those stations appear at several locations through the FM band. One FM station that lives on 104.5 MHz was audible from 104.3 to 105.7 MHz. A local station on 96.5 MHz was also heard on 94.7 MHz and 91.1 MHz. Another station on 98.1 MHz was picked up on 95.5 MHz. However, this condition was improved by simply lowering the antenna.

I had similar problems with FM overrepresentation on the Tecsun R-9012, so this seems to be a common trait of portable Tecsun analog radios. It remains to be seen if the Kaito WRX911 behaves similarly.

Shortwave

I like to use WWV on 5, 10, and 15 mhz as a reference or test signal. On this radio, I can only get 5 and 15 mhz. The 31-meter band stops on my radio at 9.92 mhz.

Shortwave reception met my expectations. I did some nighttime listening tests between 0430-0530 UTC. Some of the major broadcasters that I picked up include WWV in 60 meters; VOA, China Radio International, Radio Marti, and Radio Netherlands in 49 meters; Radio Havana Cuba in 25 meters; WWVH and Radio Australia in 19 meters.




Wrap-up

This radio has a simple and appealing interface, with only modest reception performance and audio quality. I found that when I'm using a radio with frequency limitations, I prefer to have an analog display such as the one on the Kaito WRX911. Within this price category, I suspect that the WRX911 radio may be a better choice.

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