I'm looking to buy a shortwave to listen to either solely at home or perhaps if possible in a vehicle when traveling. What should I look for when looking them over? I recall many years ago the ability to listen to Quito Ecuador from South Central Canada, as well as many Russian propaganda stations. I had purchased a radio from a Garage sale WWII vintage all tube, but boy did it work well (after it warmed up)!

I'm sure today's radios are very good, but would rather some of you experts tell me about things to look for.

  • $\begingroup$ Google "SDR Radio" or "SDR Software". Mobile has antenna limitations. Many stations on the web, an example websdr.ewi.utwente.nl:8901 Does not work for my "Internet Explorer". $\endgroup$ – Optionparty Mar 27 '15 at 23:52

To me, a good portable shortwave radio is:

  1. Battery Powered with built-in charger.
  2. Hand-held with telescoping antenna (removable for external antenna).
  3. Speaker plus headphone attachment.
  4. Very wide coverage, preferably DC to Daylight (or, 0.15 to 3000+ MHz).
  5. Many memory channels for storage.
  6. Frequency scanning (programmable) with memory stored bands.
  7. Dual-watch VFO.
  8. Multiple tuning steps, direct entry frequency.
  9. Reasonable Light weight.
  10. Highly sensitive receiver across all bands.
  11. Multiple modes: CW, SSB, AM, FM, WFM

Actually, I am describing my Icom IC-R20 hand-held portable receiver. It is excellent. I take it every with me in addition to taking along my portable transceiver (Elecraft KX3).

I highly recommend the IC-R20 although it is a bit pricey but worth it.

Late Comment Edit: I need to add one "negative" to the IC-R20 radio. Though this less than "best" feature does not bother me, it did bother a friend of mine to the point that he declared he would not buy an IC-R20. Since the radio is hand-held portable, it has a single speaker. Not only that, but that the headphones (at least on mine) are mono, not stereo. Thus, if you want to listen to your favorite FM music stereo station, you are out of luck, hearing one mono only. Therefore, if FM music is what you want in a portable shortwave radio, you may not want the IC-R20.

  • $\begingroup$ You're probably talking about the IC-R20, and not an "RC20". $\endgroup$ – sessyargc.jp Mar 29 '15 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ @sessyargc.jp -- You're right. ICOM R20. $\endgroup$ – K7PEH Mar 29 '15 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ Who broadcasts FM stereo on shortwave? $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Mar 30 '15 at 21:32

I was an SWL (Shortwave Listener)/ BCL (Broadcast Listener) before I got my ham license. So I hope I can give you an idea of what might work in your scenario. Shortwave (SW) is from 3MHz to 30MHz. Most shortwave radios focus on these bands. As with any other radio, you want a selective and sensitive radio, but there will always be tradeoffs specially in mass market SW radios. Also, a good radio can be made better with a good external antenna.

Most ham equipment can be used for SWL/BCL. They all have the pros mentioned by @K7PEH. Except maybe for portability, as most are intended for tabletop (station) use. Portable/mobile units exists. They are capable of transmitting/receiving on the amateur ham bands and receive on other frequencies. Just remove the mic so as not to inadvertantly transmit on the ham bands if you don't have an amateur radio license. All these extra features make them more complex and expensive.

Then there are wideband receivers. Same pros as mentioned by @K7PEH above. They are receive only. The frequency coverage is wider than typical ham radios! IC R-20 (hand held), AOR AR-8200 (hand held), AOR AR-8600 (table top) comes to mind. These are the do-all radios.

Then, there are dedicated SW radios. These focus mostly on the shortwave bands and the lower bands LW, MW (AM broadcast bands), but might cover the air band (to monitor airport controll tower to airplane communications), and maybe WX (weather channels in the US). These will have limited filtering options, FM, AM, SSB. Some have limited frequency step size, but for normal SW listening 5KHz is enough (9KHz/10KHz if you want to listen to AM broadcast). Fixed rod antenna (for local FM, and SW) and probably a small internal ferrite bar antenna (for LW, MW). Some do have 3.5mm jacks where one can plug a longwire antenna. Most run off batteries, and some come with internal chargers too. These are quite portable, but might lack the necessary connections/adapters to run off the car battery. As you can see, they are quite feature packed given the low price (as compared to a dedicated wideband receiver or ham radio).

The dominating SW radios are now China-made, these manufacturers have released new radios almost every year (or 2-3 years), but it doesn't mean these are new design because some design changes are cost cutting changes thus undermining the overall performance of the radio. Even the US branded SW radios are rebranded Chinese radios. On the other hand Sony has not updated it's SW radio lineup for at least a decade. As a point of reference, I still have an analog Sony ICF SW-23 (pocket size), and the newer the Degen DE-1103 (book size) and Tecsun PL-380 (pocket size, larger and wider than the Sony). The Degen and Tecsun are digital SW radios from China.


Chinese-made radios under various brand names have been mentioned. A low-price example is Philips AE3350 which has 12 bands (9 SW, MW, LW, FMmono). While good enough for listening on the broadcast bands this little analog radio has a remarkable defect: the OFF switch doesn't disconnect the batteries (two AA cells)! It took me a while to understand how the radio could deplenish perfectly good alkaline batteries every time I put it away for a few weeks. My tip is to glue the switch in ON position and to turn OFF when needed by pushing a thin slab of plastic between the battery cells.


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