07 February 2008

kaito ka11 first look

Gadget-lust caused me to purchase a Kaito KA11 sometime last year. It is redundant in my radio collection, but I wanted it anyway because it is tiny, attractive, and offers good functionality. And Kaito has a reputation for producing high-quality radios. Let's take a look at this little thing:

I paid US$50.90 for the radio, US$9.95 for shipping, and received it from Florida in about one week. Simply opening the product box was enough to elicit shock from me over how small this radio is. The KA11 is smaller but heavier than the WRX911, and features a numeric keypad.

Here are the positive aspects of the KA11:
  • solid, firm enclosure
  • the side-mounted antenna has a hinge all the way at the bottom, so you can pull the entire antenna out and rotate it
  • the orange backlight looks really nice and fills the whole screen
  • the battery door is permanently attached
  • a plastic prop on the end of the hand strap clips into the back of the radio
  • strong local AM and FM signals are received with ease, and FM signals come in fine while the telescopic antenna is stowed within the radio
  • stronger shortwave signals in the 49-meter and 31-meter bands were picked up with just the telescopic antenna

And here are some of my complaints regarding the KA11:
  • pressing a button does not always register
  • moving the telescopic antenna in and out of the radio doesn't feel right, as if it is getting stuck or is about to break. the antenna enclosure is presumably tiny and delicate. the antenna itself is relatively sturdy and quite long.
  • quite a wide filter on AM, which means that strong local stations can be heard on adjacent channels
  • shucks, no protective pouch included!
  • lack of bass response is apparent on FM stations
  • sibilance (whistling, chirping sounds)
  • poor language in the user manual
  • location of the volume dial makes it susceptible to accidental adjustment
  • shortwave reception is limited to 5800-18100 khz
  • the digital thermometer is nice but gratuitous

The speaker's limited frequency response seems well suited to talk radio, where the speaker can adequately handle the typical frequency range of the human voice. The speaker's limitations are very noticeable when used for music.

One of the shortwave signals I picked up with just the telescopic antenna was a weak WWVH signal on 10000 khz around 0150 UTC. If you're going to use this radio for shortwave reception, you're going to need to supplement the telescopic antenna.

A high level of hiss is audible when earphones are plugged in and the volume is all the way down. I wish I had a better understanding of the technical side of this issue. It seems like the space requirements and the cost for improved audio quality is within reach for this type of product.

Before plugging in earphones, turn the volume way down to avoid a surprise and preserve your hearing! The volume output of the heaphones and the tiny speaker do not relate very well.

On the topic of volume control, my personal preference would be to remove the miniscule volume dial and instead provide up/down volume buttons.

This is certainly no DX machine; it is best suited to background listening rather than active listening. This is an attractive, pocket-sized novelty radio with basic capabilities and a cheap internal speaker. Perhaps the small packaging is enough to entice your friends or family members who have radio curiosity or require an ultra-portable receiver.


Art said...

The KA11 is a great travel/backpacking radio. I only use mine for about one week a year while vacationing in Mexico, but it's cheap enough that I don't feel bad letting sit in my dresser the rest of the time. I've only used it off the whip, and I've been happy with results. Now, if they put an SD card slot and mp3 recorder in it, I'd really be happy.


weatherall said...

art, i suspect it will be a long time before portable radios in the sub-US $100 price range offer any kind of mp3 recording.

Part of the challenge with the KA11 for me is the local interference, especially when attempting shortwave reception.

Art said...

Hi Weatherall,

My local interference here in Albany (next to Berkeley) California is so bad I don't where to start--buzzing street lamps, dimmers, fluorescents, appliances, it's made shortwave a chore. I can't really say if the KA11 is any worse that my old Redsun RP2100 or Sony ICF-2010, since they all suffered locally. It's certainly not as sensitive. My $100 DE1121 has a mp3 recorder, I use it for AM/FM broadcasts since those still come in well. But when traveling the KA11, I've been really happy. And when you are out of the country, shortwave still makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately my Ebay sourced DE11 (KA11 original) had a pleasure destroying high-pitched whistling sound on all FM stations (and some AM stations) - I guess that was classic PLL synthesisizer/flawed circuitry noise. Returned it for a DE1102 (KA1102) which I await with some suspicion (exchange only warranty). Meanwhile the simple, little-to-go-wrong analogue tuned DR-920 (thanks weatherall) does me fine. Think I'll stick to these digital display/analogue tuning types in the future - they still have sleep and wake-to-last-station-you-were-on functions, which satisfies my needs. I don't need multiple presets, I don't mind a bit of frequency drift, and tuning with a knob and a nice illuminated display brings back a touch of old world/childhood/wee hours radio romance...