Best Shortwave Radios Reviews (Updated 2021)
Looking for the best shortwave radio? The best radio in the market for 2021?
Best Shortwave Radios at a Glimpse:
- Best Shortwave Radio: Tescun PL880 Portable Digital shortwave Radio (Editor’s Pick )
- Best Cheap Shortwave Radio: Kaito KA500 5-way Powered Solar
- Best Premium Shortwave Radio: Eton Grundig Satellit 750 Shortwave Radio
- Sony ICF-SW7600GR AM/FM shortwave Radio
- Sangean ATS-909X AM/FM/LW/SW World Band Receiver
The best shortwave radio is the Tescun PL880. It runs on a high output power, providing clear sound with a long lasting battery.
What Is Shortwave Radio?
Shortwave radio is radio transmission using shortwave radio frequencies up to 30 MHz, usually ranging between 1.6 and 30 MHz. It has been one of the simplest and most effective means of communication since the early 20th century.
A shortwave radio can be used for long-distance communication including:
- Broadcasting voice and music to shortwave listeners over large areas; sometimes entire continents or beyond
- Military over-the-horizon radar
- Diplomatic communication
- Two-way international communication by amateur radio enthusiasts for hobby, educational and emergency purposes
- Long-distance aviation and marine communications.
You need 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. If you invest in a decent shortwave radio you can receive ham radio over the shortwave (HF) bands.
Comparison Table – Best Portable Shortwave Radios
Top 5 Best Shortwave Radio Reviews 2021
1. Tecsun PL880 Portable Digital PLL Dual Conversion AM/FM (Editor’s Pick)
- A single 18650 Li ion battery is enough to power it up for hours before requiring recharge.
- Impressive ergonomics with a dedicated fine-tuning control.
- The backlight can be configured to switch off immediately or stay on for several seconds.
- Comes with a carrying case.
- For both AM/SSB, it has a wider array of functions.
- 24-hour alarm clock with a sleep timer of 0-120 minutes.
The Tecsun PL880 is our pick for the best shortwave radio. It is almost identical to its past two models, PL-660 and PL-600. It has a broadband filtering array and it is a sensitive and selective radio capable of receiving AM, FM, Longwave, and Shortwave broadcasts. The buttons are highly responsive, and the entire control panel has a 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. The right side holds the central tuning knob, volume control, the fine-tuning knob, a tone controller switch and a backlight switch. It also has a 24-hour alarm clock, a sleep-timer adjustable between 0-120 minutes, and a snooze button.
The PL-880 has the best sound quality of these radios. It produces a highly 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, this hardly makes any difference to the listening experience.
The radio is powered by one single 18650 Li-ion rechargeable battery with built-in charger, battery included. With heavy use and the backlight on, the factory-supplied 2000mAh battery lasts about 15 days. When it does discharge, you can recharge it in the radio, or swap it out with another inexpensive 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-switch tuning speed of the PL-660.
In addition to the many features listed in the manual, there are many more hidden features like the USB/LSB Synchronous Detector, Dynamic Noise Reduction, Muting Threshold, Changing Line Output Level, Calibration of Single Side Band (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, though 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 shortwave listening fanatics, and imperfect enough to make reception reporting worthwhile. It is well worth the money and it’s highly rated by Amazon buyers.
- Solar-powered with at least 4 other power options, including dynamo crank
- Comes with 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 Kaito KA500 5-way solar-powered emergency shortwave radio doesn’t require sun, batteries or mains electricity to run, all of which might be absent if you’re stuck in a bad storm, or merely camping off-the-grid overnight. As long as you can turn the dynamo crank, you’ll have access to radio stations.
Designed to receive AM, FM and 2-band shortwave, it comes with pre-programmed weather channels and access to real-time weather forecasts in North America. You can even set it to automatically alert you of important news, including from the Public Emergency Alert System (PEAS).
Gain peace of mind knowing you have access to vital information during weather disruptions and other emergencies, or even if you’re just on the road or hiking and need to check in so you can decide your next steps.
Not only does it provide weather updates, news and entertainment, it can also recharge your mobile devices and function as a torch, lamp and beacon.
This all-in-one highly portable radio, light, and power source is hard to lose, and hard to miss, with its bright yellow durable waterproof casing. It is a useful travel radio for camping, hiking, road trips and other excursions but is also an affordable part of your home emergency preparedness kit.
- Features manual and automatic frequency input options
- Has an attractive yet compact design
- Can receive FM/AM Short radio waves, Long radio waves, SSB and VHF aircraft bands
- Comes with rotating antenna and digital display alarm clock
- Has flawless stereo and speaker audio quality
- Program up to 1000 channels from around the world
- DC and battery operated
The usability of this solid shortwave radio goes way beyond its shortwave capabilities. This makes it a great option for all round functionality whether you’re just pottering around at home listening to commercial stations, want to take a more exploratory approach into ham radio transmissions or tune into aviation bands.
For shortwave communications, this top-of-the-range radio receiver bridges the gap between consumer electronics and ham radio equipment. It has the capability to receive world-wide radio stations and you have the option to save up to 1000 channels, something you can take a step further and automate when you connect the appropriate computer software.
Eton Grundig Satellit has an earphone jack, a line out socket and has a USB port for connecting with computer and other equipment.
Its controls are satisfyingly responsive allowing accurate tuning and detection of long wave and remote stations. It has great selectivity, enabling the radio to pick out weak signals from surrounding stronger signals, and the filtering options support great audio quality for the listener.
The internal antenna is enough in most circumstances, especially as it is rotatable and directional, and reception can be further souped up by attaching an external antenna and antenna tuner.
- Digital AM/FM shortwave, mediumwave and longwave tuner
- Multifunction LCD screen digital display
- Four tuning modes available including direct, pre-set, manual and scan
- Strong metal build for enhanced durability with a compact antenna
- AA battery powered with optional AC adaptor
This compact, sturdy and highly portable radio punches well above its weight if you’re looking for a radio to take wherever you go while enjoying flexible tuning options, impressive sound quality, and outstanding reception.
For such a small radio you have access to a range of functionality with its four different tuning capabilities. You can punch in the frequency digits and go straight to your desired frequency or you can manually tune incrementally.
You also have a scanning option to pick up any transmissions within range. The synchronous detection feature in particular helps lock in and enhance your listening experience of weaker signals. You have access to 100 pre-set stations and can label these as you prefer with up to six alphanumeric characters.
This transistor radio, which picks up FM/AM, shortwave, medium wave and long wave, has outstanding receiver capabilities, which can be heard via its inbuilt speaker or the headphones that come with it.
The Sony ICF-SW7600GR comes with an easy-to-program world clock feature, including a dual clock enabling you to track two time zones as well as a turn-on/tune-in capability and a sleep timer function. It operates best when battery operated though you have the option to get an AC adapter too.
- 406 pre-set stations and auto tuning system as part of five tuning methods
- Single Side Band (SSB) receiver with fine tuning and squelch function
- 3 alarm clock options and an adjustable sleep timer function
- AA batteries or AC powered with battery and signal strength indicator and a built-in battery charger
- Comes with antenna and leather case
For a small, portable receiver the ability of this device to work with an external antenna makes it a great option for off-the-grid, traveling or stay-at-home ham radio enthusiasts who want to extend reach and station detection beyond the range of the inbuilt ferrite antenna.
The multiple tuning methods, along with wide-narrow bandwidth switch and upper and lower Single Side Band performance, offer both convenience and the joys of radio frequency exploration via direct frequency input, auto scan tuning, incremental tuning, memory recall, and via the rotary dial.
Durable and stylish, the Sangean ATS-909X is robust, with great quality feel to the keys and controls, and when combined with the easy to use and readable LCD screen, it is easy to tune and program. Its large LCD display includes a 12 element S-meter and battery life indicator, and a world clock, along with station names and their availability.
As part of its radio and clock function, you have three alarm clock options from waking up to your choice of radio station, a lovely sounding “humane wake system” or the more standard buzzer. Sleep mode, nap and snooze options are also available, and you set tone control to music, normal or news according to what and why you’re listening.
ATS 909x has a good inbuilt speaker providing great sound quality but also comes with earphones for the headphone jack.
Advantages of Shortwave over Newer Technologies
- Minimal 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 radio technology communications, though it can be disrupted only by interference or bad ionospheric conditions
- Shortwave radios can be used in situations where internet or satellite communications service is unavailable, temporarily or unavailable.
- Shortwave radio travels much further than broadcast FM (88–108 MHz). Shortwave broadcasts can be easily transmitted over several thousands of kilometers, including from one continent to another.
- In tropical regions, shortwave is less prone to interference from thunderstorms than medium wave radio and can cover a large geographic area with relatively low power, thus it is widely used by domestic broadcast organizations in many of these countries.
Drawbacks of Shortwaves
- Shortwave reception can be challenging 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 the 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 A Shortwave Radio
With a near endless list of options to choose from, it can be hard to find a shortwave radio that checks all your boxes. It helps to have an idea of the specific features you want. Think about 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.
To help point you in the right direction, read on to find out which 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 synchronous detection circuitry 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 the 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 even thought they are in a higher price tag. Digital readouts are far more accurate, visible and easier to read.
Sensitivity and selectivity
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? Since a portable radio is often used in the outdoors, it should be able to handle adverse weather conditions like prolonged exposure to sunlight or being bumped and knocked.
Find a model known for its durability, doesn’t tear and wear quickly, and operates effectively even after years and years of use. The more compact, light and robust the radio is, the higher the chance it will give you longer service.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a shortwave radio?
A shortwave radio receiver is a device that can pick up signals and transmissions ranging from 1.6MHz to 30MHz. This type of radio can tap into frequencies over significant distances between you and the transmitters. It is ideal for use during emergencies or as a means of communication during outdoor getaways.
What is the main difference between longwave and shortwave radio?
The difference is that longwave radios operate in frequencies ranging from 30kHz to 279KHz and shortwave radios operate in frequency ranges from 1.6MHz to 30MHz. Longwave radios cover wavelengths up to 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 MW, 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 you can use for emergency communication, then a portable or ultra-portable shortwave radio will 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, don’t need much storage space, and they are easy to carry around. However, their frequency reception is not as strong as desktop radios.