Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Review of Realistic DX394 Short Wave Receiver by RadioShack

DX-394 with Radio Shack Speaker 21-549A

Close-up of the superb display on the DX-394

This is a review of the Realistic DX394 Receiver by RadioShack. It is, in my humble opinion, a very much under-valued radio and I want to tell you why, having tried AOR 7030's, The Yaesu FRG100, The Lowe HF150, and numerous portable radios, my all-time number one favourite is the DX394!

The first thing I should explain is that, as far as I am aware, there are one or two, perhaps three, slightly different versions of this radio. I have serial number C006779 and on the back panel there is a small sticker with the letter "B" on it, identifying it as a "B" version model. The first DX394 I owned was an "A" model and years later when I purchased the "B" model I now own, there were a number of big differences immediately apparent. The first, and as a utility listener this was HUGELY important to me, was that the upgraded model didn't need to be offset by de-tuning the "fine tune" control. Let me explain: On the "A" model, if you wanted to tune to 8867 KHz, you would enter 8867 and then have to de-tune to approx 8866.8 KHz to be spot on. I also noted some frequencies needed more or less of an offset than others. This was fine when the frequency was active with plenty of traffic to enable the fine-tuning required, but seriously problematic for sitting on silent frequencies for hours waiting for that elusive call from far away. I missed some great stuff because of this short-coming, and I often woke up to a tape recording of aircraft over the South Pacific region calling Nadi or Auckland or Pascua Island only to discover I had forgotten to de-tune, and had 45 minutes of garbled rubbish. Very annoying! This does not happen with the "B" version. 8867 KHz is spot on 8867 KHz and I have never once had to de-tune a single frequency to correctly resolve a signal.

The second difference was in the sound quality. On both sideband but especially on AM, the audio quality was far superior. It seems to my ears (forgive me as I am not aware of the technical differences between the various models) that the "B" version uses better quality filters. I wouldn't want to go back to an "A" version. Just thought I'd mention this before I start telling you more about the radio as it is important.

I do not know of ANY short wave radio receiver with so many timers! There are 5, yes FIVE, separate timers on the DX-394. Many times have I set up a few minutes of recording on WWV Fort Collins at 18 minutes past each hour for the propagation report. For example: at 0217, 0317, 0417 and 0517 for 2 minutes each time. Just think of the number of late-night DX your could try to identify on the hour!

Another thing I love about this radio and that sets it apart from others I have tried is the excellent medium wave performance. It hears weak MW signals far better than my Yaesu FRG-100 or my portables. I have made a small, passive, medium wave loop covering 540khz to 2500khz and feed it directly into the 50ohm input of the DX-394. It is a terrific combination. If you are interested in medium wave broadcast or maritime MW utility listening, the DX-394 would be an excellent choice.

However, the NDB beacon band is not so good. In fact it is appallingly bad. Do not buy the DX-394 if you are an NDB beacon DXer. It is just totally deaf on this band. Even with a high quality RF Systems DX-10 amplified vertical antenna outside, it hears nothing at all.

The audio quality is OK. Fine for utility listening, but only adequate for broadcast listening. Years ago I had read that the Radio Shack speakers were very good and to consider them in preference to the costly Yaesu and Icom optional speakers. Well last month I was lucky enough to come across one at my local radio club equipment sale. And so for only £3 I bought one. In my opinion it is simply made for the DX-394. I hadn't realized before connecting the speaker, but afterwards it was evident that what I didn't like about the DX-394 audio was the fact it was somewhat muffled. It lack clarity and sharpness and isn't all that pleasant to listen to for any length of time. And during fading there is quite a lot of hiss evident. But through the Radio Shack speaker, the audio is beautiful. I prefer it to my Yaesu FRG100 and Icom 703 both of which I would rate highly for audio in their own right. When there is QSB on the signal, the signal deterioration is far less marked on the Radio Shack speaker, and I find I can listen for hours through this speaker, when on the DX-394 alone I would long ago have switched off. Gone is that muffled, almost processed characteristic. It has nice bass tones, but not too much so. And the higher, treble tones are much more soothing on the ear. As you can see, I can't recommend the combination of DX-394 and Radio Shack speaker highly enough.

The DX-394 also has another really cool feature: it will tune below 150khz all the way down to VLF and ELF. This is nicely demonstrated on this nicely demonstrated You Tube video
This means you can hear time signals, submarine communications, beacons and all sorts of other interesting utility stations. On his You Tube video Steven is using only a long wire and getting acceptable results. I was lucky enough to already own the RF Systems DX-10 antenna, which hears all the way down on VLF, and I can hear a plethora of stations down here. Just to re-cap: the button sequence to open your DX-394 up for VLF and ELF is:


I have tried, somewhat half-heartedly, to listen for some natural radio sounds, but have so far had no luck.

Something else I love about the DX-394 is how easily it lends itself to quickly entering and then swapping between a number of frequencies. If you knew for instance that RAI Radio Uno in Italy were on 657, 900 and 1575khz and you wanted to quickly jump to and fro between these frequencies to see the best one, or to spot when the changeover to RAI's regional programming had occurred, this is all the key presses that would be required:


then all you would need to do to quickly jump between them is to enter their respective memory channel number. So simply pressing 2 will take you straight to 900khz, another single press of the number 3 will take you to 1575khz etc etc I have used this facility numerous times to help identify different stations or to check for new frequencies of the same station. It has been invaluable. I know you can do this on all radios. But it is the ease with which the DX-394 lends itself to this task with so few key presses that I so appreciate.  

I hope I have covered everything you might have wanted to know, and I hope this review has been helpful. As always, if you want to contact me please do so via comments and I will reply that way too.

73 and as I have finished this on 24th December: Merry Christmas