Best Shortwave Radios Reviews (Updated 2020)
Looking for the best shortwave radio? Before we dive in the detailed reviews here is the short answer:
- Tescun PL880 Portable Digital shortwave Radio (Best Shortwave radio under $200)
- Kaito KA500 5-way Powered Solar (Best cheap shortwave radio)
- Eton Executive Satellite Shortwave Radio (Best premium pick)
Before we look at the best shortwave radios review lets get the basics first.
Shortwave radio is radio transmission using shortwave radio frequencies up to 30 MHz, usually ranging between 1.6 and 30 MHz. It is one of the most simple and effective means of communication since the early 20th century.
A shortwave radio can be used for very long-distance communication, for broadcasting of voice and music to shortwave listeners over very large areas; sometimes entire continents or beyond, for military over-the-horizon radar, diplomatic communication, and two-way international communication by amateur radio enthusiasts for hobby, educational and emergency purposes, as well as for long-distance aviation and marine communications.
One needs a license to create ham radio signals i.e. to transmit, but you don’t need a license to receive or listen to ham radio. All you need is a radio capable of properly demodulating the signal. You’ll want to invest in a good shortwave radio to receive ham radio over the shortwave (HF) bands.
Comparison Table – Best Portable Shortwave Radios
|Best Pick||Best Value for Money||Premium Choice|
|Tescun PL880 Portable Digital shortwave Radio||Kaito KA500 5-way Powered Solar||Eton Executive Satellite Shortwave Radio|
|Long battery life |
Has a USB port for recharging
Easy and effective controls
Good reception Loudspeakers
Has a protective carry case
|It is solar-powered |
Has a multifunctional 5-LED lamp
Has access to 24/7 weather forecast and emergency alert systems
Made from durable, water-resistant ABS material Has a USB port/cord to charge your mobile phone
|Compact and durable design |
Supports a diverse band range including AM, FM, SSB, LW, and SW
Comes with a leather cover for extra protection during travel
Features a jack for headphones
Has a long battery life
|Check Price on Amazon||Check Price on Amazon||Check price on Amazon|
Top 5 Best Shortwave Radio Reviews 2020
1. Tecsun PL880 Portable Digital PLL Dual Conversion AM/FM (Editor’s Pick)
- Battery life is excellent. A single 18650 Li-ion batteries are enough to power it up for hours before being recharged.
- Impressive ergonomics with a dedicated fine-tuning control.
- The backlight can be configured to switch off immediately or stay on for several seconds
- The PL880 is one of the few portable shortwave radios you’ll find that comes with a carrying case.
- Nice sensitivity and smoothness in control.
- For both AM/SSB, it has a wider array of functions
- Doesn’t mute between frequencies at all.
- Most of its functions are available by just holding up a button.
- A 24-hours alarm clock with sleep timer of 0-120 minutes.
- Excellent AM/FM reception. The PL880 is extremely good at picking up faint AM/FM signals.
The Tecsun PL880 is our pick for the best shortwave radio. It is quite identical to its past two models- PL-660 and Pl-600. It is a very sensitive and selective radio that receives AM, FM, Long Wave, and Shortwave broadcasts. The buttons are highly responsive and the entire control panel has got a very smooth response.
It has an external jack, a headphone jack, a line-out jack, a three-position antenna gain switch and a 5 Volt DC input jack on the left side. On the other hand, the right side has got the central tuning knob, the volume control, the fine-tuning knob, a tone controller switch and a backlight switch. Lastly, there is a 24 hour alarm clock plus sleep timer from 0-120 minutes and Snooze button.
The PL-880 has the best sound of these radios. It produces so much accurate frequency response. High frequencies are crisp and clear, low frequencies are audible, and the midrange is exceptionally clear. FM Stereo is available through the headphone jack. Although, it doesn’t have a bass that some larger models have, that hardly makes any difference in the listening enjoyment.
The radio is powered by one single 18650 Li-ion rechargeable battery with built-in charger, battery included. With heavy use and the back-light on, the factory-supplied 2000mAh battery lasts about 15 days. When it does discharge, you can just recharge it in the radio, or swap it out with another inexpensive, long lasting 18650 battery. Tuning for all bands is easily accomplished with separate main tuning and fine tuning knobs. This is a great arrangement, far better than the auto-switching tuning speed of the PL-660.
In addition to the many features listed in the manual, one can find many more hidden features like USB/LSB Synchronous Detector, Dynamic Noise Reduction, Muting Threshold, Changing Line Output Level, Calibration of SSB, Antenna Source, Firmware Version Display and date, “up” time, and a wall charger.
Other portable shortwaves do a better job of filtering out interference but the PL880 shortwave has a sync detector, but it doesn’t work very well.
The PL880 is an everyday radio. It may have functionality that blows other radios in its class out of the water, but it is nonetheless in that class. Not a perfect radio. But perfect enough for SWL fanatics, and imperfect enough to make reception reporting worthwhile. It is well worth the money, currently rated 4.6/5 by Amazon buyers.
- It is solar-powered
- Has a multifunctional 5-LED lamp
- Has access to 24/7 weather forecast and emergency alert systems
- Made from durable, water-resistant ABS material
- Has a USB port/cord to charge your mobile phone
The dark, scary outdoors is no place for you to be left alone in the middle of a storm without any way to get help in case something goes awfully wrong. Now, does this mean you postpone your backpacking camp tour? Nope! It means that you need a reliable partner to have your back throughout your stay. In this case, Kaito KA500 5-way solar-powered emergency shortwave radio is the best buddy to bring along.
Its design features 5 LED reading lamps, flashlight, SOS button, and pathfinder. No need to bring extra batteries along. This radio is solar powered. It is portable and a great source of entertainment in the outdoors.
Imagine how amazing it would be to own a portable shortwave radio that has all the features of a regular radio and so much more? One that you could carry and bring with you anywhere you want, listen to anything you wish, and use to call for help if you need it. Well, the Eton Grundig Satellit 750 Ultimate is how your thoughts become true. It’s easy on the eye, has fewer and straightforward controls, easy to operate and has flawless reception.
This radio has an auto-tuning feature that saves you the effort that comes with having to press on buttons or turn the knobs in your quest to find the right frequencies. To help make the process even easier, there’s a rotating external antenna.
- Features manual and automatic frequency input options
- Has an attractive yet compact design
- Can receive FM and AM shortwave and longwave
- Has a rotating antenna and a digital display clock
- Has flawless stereo and speaker sound quality
Durability and portability are key when you’re looking for the ideal shortwave radio. The Sony ICF-SW7600GR is your best bet if you are that guy who refuses to compromise on quality. It is possible to listen to music, the news, or your favorite radio shows quite clearly irrespective of where you are. Compared to previous models, this shortwave radio has grown to fill in the gaps, and become every outdoor enthusiast must-have gadget.
One of its most outstanding features is that it can detect faint signals and frequencies from the farthest stations.
- It has great reception
- Has incredible sound and speaker quality
- It has a strong metal build for enhanced durability
- Portable AM/FM shortwave radio
- Has a long battery life
Everything about this shortwave radio oozes perfection. It looks not only good, but it’s also a brilliant addition to bring during your travels. With the Eton Executive Satellite shortwave radio, you can listen to any channel on whatever frequency. You can access news, music, commentaries, radio shows on both AM and FM. Want more versatility? This seemingly small radio supports SSB, LW and SW bands
It has a portable, compact design that makes it easy to carry by hand or fit into small spaces. It has a durable build and comes with a cover for extra protection and storage.
- Compact and durable design
- Supports a diverse band range including AM, FM, SSB, LW, and SW
- Comes with a leather cover for extra protection during travel
- Features a jack for headphones
- Has a long battery life
Advantages of Shortwave over newer technologies
- Very little infrastructure is required for long-distance two-way communications using shortwave radio. All one needs is a pair of transceivers, each with an antenna, and a source of energy. This makes shortwave radio one of the most robust means of communications, which can be disrupted only by interference or bad ionospheric conditions
They can be used in situations where Internet or satellite communications service is unaffordable, temporarily or long-term unavailable.
Shortwave radio travels much farther than broadcast FM (88–108 MHz). Shortwave broadcasts can be easily transmitted over a distance of several thousands of kilometers, including from one continent to another.
In tropical regions, Shortwave is somewhat less prone to interference from thunderstorms than medium wave radio and is able to cover a large geographic area with relatively low power thus it is widely used for domestic broadcasting in many of these countries.
Drawbacks of Shortwaves
- Shortwave reception is very difficult in urban areas because of excessive noise from switched-mode power adapters, fluorescent or LED light sources, internet modems and routers, computers and many other sources of radio interference in developed world.
Shortwave radio ownership is usually limited to true enthusiasts since most new standard radios do not receive the shortwave band. Therefore, Western audiences are limited.
How to Choose Shortwave Radio
The importance of spending time exploring the outdoors cannot be stressed further. There are health benefits, physical and mental, in store for you if, once in a while, you take time away from closed doors. A simple thing like a shortwave radio is all it would take to ensure your peace of mind and safety is guaranteed.
But with a near endless list of options to choose from, it can be hard to find that one shortwave radio that checks all your boxes. It helps to have an idea of the specific features you want. Also, you must know whether you want a shortwave receiver for emergencies only, for entertainment, or both. Don’t fret if you haven’t the slightest clue what you want.
Here’s some help to point you in the right direction. Read on to find out all the factors you should consider when shopping for the best portable shortwave radio.
- A Synchronous Detector
Each radio comes with a unique set of features. The one most crucial feature, you should look out for is the synchronous detector. This feature is what enables the radio to lock on to frequencies and signals. It clears all the noise, limits distortion, and enables you to listen to clear audio. Finding a shortwave radio with a synchronous detector makes your work of finding channels so much easier.
- Coverage of Frequencies
The golden rule here is, the wider the range, the better the radio. Most shortwave radios have a frequency coverage ranging from 1.7 MHz to 30MHz. But don’t be surprised if you find one whose frequency coverage ranges from 0.54 MH to 30MHz. Of the two, the latter is the best choice because it gives you more options.
Most Shortwave radios only support AM and FM modes. However, some radios also support SSB, SW or LW modes. Pick that radio that can transmit in different modes because this gives you more options. You can tune into as many frequencies and broadcasts as you like.
If your budget is tight, then a shortwave radio with an analog display is what you should go for. If you are willing to adjust it slightly higher, then shortwave radios with digital displays are the better option. Digital readouts are far more accurate, visible and easier to read.
The number one headache most people encounter when using shortwave radios is finding a clear frequency. Whether you are tuning or transmitting, you should find a radio that can limit interruptions to give you clear and precise audio. In this case, find a portable radio with at least five selectivity options.
Knobs or buttons for tuning? Some people prefer one to the other. But when it narrows down to the ease of use and effectiveness, the knob method of tuning is far much better than pressing buttons. Some radios feature both options to cater to each user. In the long run, it is about finding what works for you.
- Jack for an Extra Antenna
An antenna is a superb way to enable you to enhance the range of your shortwave radio. While a built-in antenna can still work, you should find a radio with a provision/jack to fix an extra antenna. Should the need arise, you can bank on the additional antenna to tap more frequencies.
What material is the radio made of? Is it portable? How well is it built? Considering the fact that a portable radio is mainly supposed to be used in the outdoors, it should be able to handle adverse weather conditions like prolonged exposure to sunlight or being bumped into.
Find a model that is known for its durability. One that doesn’t tear and wear very quickly, or one that operates just as effectively even after years and years of use. The more compact, light and robust the radio is, the higher the chance that it will give you longer service.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is shortwave radio?
A shortwave radio receiver is a device that can pick up signals and transmissions ranging from 1.6MHz to 30MHz. Such a radio can tap into frequencies, there being a significant distance between you and the transmitters. It is perfect for use during emergencies or as a means of communication during outdoor getaways.
- What is the main difference between longwave and shortwave radio?
As their names may have already hinted, longwave radios can catch frequencies ranging from 30 kHz to 279KHz. Alternatively, Shortwave radios catch frequencies range from 1.6MHz to 30MHz. Longwave radios cover a wavelength of 150 meters while shortwave radios cover up to 85 meters or less.
- What does frequency range mean?
Each radio is enabled to support different bands. The shortwave radios listed above are designed to support FM and AM bands. Others support extra bands such as SSB, LW and SW, and so on. Each band carries a set of frequencies. The set of frequencies therein tells you the frequency range the radio you buy can match.
- Tabletop, Portable, or Ultra-portable, which one is best?
The type of shortwave radio you choose depends on your needs or demands. If, for example, you are looking for a radio to keep you company as you work on some DIY projects in your garage, or shed, then a tabletop radio will do. However, if you are looking to travel long distances on foot, or you want a radio that you can use for emergency communication, then a portable or ultra-portable shortwave radio will certainly be the better option.
Tabletop radios are more advanced and have stronger signals but can be bulky and demanding when it comes to the power supply. Portable and ultra-portable shortwave radios are much smaller in size but don’t need too much storage space, and they are easy to carry around. However, their frequency reception isn’t as strong as desktop radios.
There are unlimited opportunities in shortwave radio broadcasting, but there are also challenges that mar the existence of this device. While there’s room for advancement, it is irrefutable that this seemingly small device can play a major role in keeping you safe.
Its ability to establish clear lines of communication over long distances is something regular modes of communication cannot compete against. If you are someone who likes spending time outside exploring or traveling far away, then a shortwave radio is a must-have device to include in your suitcase.
Don’t give yourself such a hard time looking to find the perfect shortwave radio to buy. Above is a list of best shortwave radio devices anyone could wish for. Consider purchasing extra accessories to maximize and enhance the effectiveness of your radio. Some helpful accessories include external speakers, an antenna kit, reference books, and a monaural headset, to mention but a few.
If you were at all confused about what shortwave radios are or skeptical about whether or not you should bring them along, it is now hopefully clear. You should go out and get yourself one now. Feel free to choose one out of the featured radios above to see which one matches your needs the best.