Top 5 Best Shortwave Radio in 2021: Ultimate Buyers Guide
Shortwave radios were first developed in the early 20th century. What began as little more than an experiment ended up changing the way the world communicated. In 1920, almost all long-distance communication was conducted via transoceanic cables - but by 1928, shortwave radio communications had grown exponentially, accounting for more than 50% of long-distance communications.
Here is a list of the Best Shortwave Radio
Today, the popularity of shortwave radios has been largely reduced by invention of functional cell phones and the Internet, but the technology is still widely used around the world. Various international broadcasting organizations still use the technology, and shortwave radios are a staple of the survivalist community because of their ability to receive emergency transmissions over long distances.
So, what are shortwave radios, and how can you use them to your advantage? Technically speaking, a shortwave radio is a receiver that can receive radio transmission on frequencies up to 30 MHz, generally between 1.6 and 30 MHz (1600-30000 kHz). These particular frequencies are known for their ability to propagate over long distances, making international broadcasting possible and easily accessible. This ability has earned shortwave devices the nickname of “world band radio”.
Some radios are strictly shortwave, meaning they only pick up those particular frequencies, while others have a broader range and can pick up standard AM/FM stations and other common bands.
In a survivalist’s perspective, a shortwave radio provides an easy way to pick up emergency broadcasts, from local government channels, amateur radio channels, and international broadcasters.
Table of Contents
- Here is a list of the Best Shortwave Radio
- How do Shortwave Radios Work?
- What are Shortwave Radios Used For?
- What are the Different Types of Shortwave Radio?
- What are Some Things to Look For in a Shortwave Radio?
- How Much Does a Good Shortwave Radio Cost?
- What are the Best Shortwave Radios Available?
- Best Shortwave Radio Reviews
- What are Some Helpful Tips for Using Shortwave Radios?
- Final Thoughts
- Related Post
How do Shortwave Radios Work?
Shortwave radio signals are beamed up into Earth’s atmosphere from the point of broadcast, and then bounce off of the ionosphere (a layer of the atmosphere), and return to Earth hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the point of origin. This allows shortwave transmissions to be picked up thousands of miles away - even on the complete opposite side of the world if the signal is strong enough.
These high-frequency transmissions can travel a long distance. However, their actual range is highly dependent on certain conditions. Checkout the Shortwave.org Frequently Asked Questions to learn more about shortwave radio frequencies and how they work.
What are Shortwave Radios Used For?
Shortwave radios have a variety of uses in the modern world - some as simple as simulcasting AM/FM channels to remote areas, some as important as communicating in emergency situations. Here’s just a few of the ways that shortwave frequencies are used today:
Most countries operate their own shortwave radio channels, broadcasting news, music, opinions, and even blatant propaganda. In the US, there is one government-owned organization that broadcasts in shortwave, known as the International Broadcasting Bureau. This network broadcasts news and opinion worldwide, including the Voice of America show. The BBC also operates an international news station that broadcasts in shortwave.
This wide range of international programming available to shortwave users provides an interesting way to gain perspective of various cultures from around the world. Of course, most programming is broadcast in the country’s local language, but you will find some international stations in English.
Many people use shortwave radios to pick up stations that relay commercial AM and FM channels. Both AM and FM frequencies have very short ranges, usually around 50-100 miles from the point of broadcast. Some operators broadcast relays of popular AM/FM channels, including news and music, on shortwave frequencies. This allows people living in remote areas to listen to popular radio programming, and also provides a way for travelers to listen to their local news stations. Some of these operations are legal and legitimate, while others operate as “pirate radio” stations, broadcasting commercial programming without permission.
Amateur radio (Ham)
Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, describes the use of radio frequencies by non-commercial entities (individuals), for the purposes of communication, entertainment, recreation, and emergency communication. In other words, amateur radio is just what it sounds like: everyday people using radio technology to communicate with other ham operators, to host their own radio shows, or to conduct other experiments for recreation.
People interested in becoming amateur radio operators generally have to get licensed through the appropriate regulatory body in their country. In most countries, the application process involves a test to determine the operator’s technical knowledge and abilities. If passed, the operator can become a licensed ham operator, and will be given a call sign. In the United States, there are a number of different tests that each grant a different level of licensing, offering better privileges and shorter call signs for the higher-level tests.
Once approved, ham operators are able to broadcast non-commercial content, generally using FM or SSB frequencies. FM offers the highest audio quality (which is why it is used for commercial music stations), but has limited range. SSB (or single side band) has a much wider range, making it useful for international broadcasting and emergency communication.
Many amateur radio operators use SSB because it uses a lot less bandwidth than AM modulation, making it more efficient. Technically speaking, SSB is 12 dB more efficient than AM modulation. If your radio offers SSB capabilities, you can enjoy listening to ham radio stations for increased variety.
Amateur radio is primarily a hobby, used by those interested in radio technology as a hands-on way to learn about and experiment with radio frequencies. It’s also used as a way to communicate ideas across long distances. There are large communities of like-minded people, such as the National Association for Amateur Radio that can be great resources for newcomers.
Amateur radio and shortwave radio enthusiasts use radio technology to communicate over long distances. In an emergency situation, this ability proves very useful. Many survivalists have a shortwave radio in their collection of survival gear, because it’s an easy way to pick up emergency broadcasts in a natural disaster or other emergency, when cell towers might be compromised.
Many survivalists are also amateur radio operators, because that gives them the ability to transmit communications as well as receive them. In an emergency situation, this ability could prove essential in communicating with family, emergency services, and other survivalists.
Many shortwave radios operate without electricity, either using solar power, reserve batteries, or manual powering (cranks) to operate. Because of this, these radios can be a lifesaver during widespread power outages. If power and cell service goes down, there’s no internet, there’s no TV, and there’s no cell signal - how else do you know what’s going on, besides using a shortwave radio?
What are the Different Types of Shortwave Radio?
There are a few different types of shortwave radios. Selecting the best kind for you really depends on your needs, preferences, and budget. Here’s a rundown of the different types:
Portable shortwave radios are compact, easy to carry radios that are generally either battery powered or crank/solar powered. Generally they do not need to be plugged in to work, making them useful for emergency situations.
Portable shortwave radios are usually fairly affordable, but generally don’t have as wide a range as more advanced desktop radios. However, from the survivalist’s perspective, a portable radio is essential in a “bug out bag” or other emergency stash. Some survivalists have a portable radio for on-the-go use and a more full-featured set-top radio for use at home.
Find our reviews of portable shortwave radio options with SSB
Larger, more full-featured shortwave radios are generally used by amateur radio operators and advanced listeners. These devices are larger, and must be plugged in, making them significantly less portable. However, they can pick up a wider range of frequencies, have better audio quality, and can often pick up a wide range of frequencies outside of the shortwave band.
All-in-one radios are versatile devices that can pick up shortwave frequencies, as well as standard AM/FM stations. These devices are useful for everyday use, as they provide a lot more variety in stations (especially commercial stations like music) that you can use for entertainment, while still offering shortwave capability for emergency situations and international listening. Most desktop radios, and the more advanced portable radios, are considered all-in-one’s as well.
What are Some Things to Look For in a Shortwave Radio?
Like any other form of technology, there are a LOT of choices when it comes to choosing a shortwave radio. There is no single best shortwave radio, but rather, a variety of good options. The choice that is best for your depends on your preferences, needs, and budget. Reading shortwave radio reviews is a good way to find quality devices. We’ll go over a list of our top recommendations below, but for now, let’s take a look at some things to consider when choosing a shortwave radio:
The frequency coverage of a particular radio is important because it defines the range of frequencies you’ll be able to pick up. Shortwave frequencies are generally considered to be the range between 1.7 MHz to 30 MHz, although you should look for a model that allows for listening between 540 kHz (0.54 MHz) to 30 MHz.
There are two types of frequency readouts on modern shortwave radios: digital, and analogue. Generally speaking, a digital display is the way to go, because it gives you more detailed information and allows you to fine-tune onto the exact station you’re going for. With analogue readouts, there is some guessing involved to land on the right frequency.
Many shortwave radios, particularly the more affordable ones, only tune AM mode stations. While the majority of shortwave broadcasting stations do transmit in AM mode, some use SSB and other modes. Selecting a shortwave radio with multiple modes (including SSB) will expand your listening options.
Different radios allow for different numbers of selectivity bandwidths. While many portable receivers allow you to select between “narrow” and “wide” selectivity bandwidths, more advanced desktop radios can have as many as 5 selectivity bandwidths. Generally speaking, using narrow selectivity bandwidths reduces interference from adjacent stations.
Most portable radios have a built-in antenna, but no option to install an external antenna. Normally, external antennas offer better reception than built-in antennas. Because of this, you should always look for a radio that has a jack to install an external antenna.
How Much Does a Good Shortwave Radio Cost?
The price you pay for a good shortwave radio really depends on the features you want. You can pick up a decent ultra-portable small radio for as little as $40 or $50, or you could drop $500+ on a full featured desktop radio. Generally speaking, you can expect to pay around $40-$100 for a mid-range portable radio, and $100-$300 for a mid-range desktop radio.
What are the Best Shortwave Radios Available?
In this section, we will go over a few of our favorite shortwave radios. These are all quality options, and we’ve made sure to include a few affordable options and a few more advanced devices.
Best Shortwave Radio Reviews
Portable Radios ($100-$150)
Portable radios are overall the most versatile options. They are priced reasonably, in the $100-$150 range, and they offer good audio quality and frequency coverage, while still being portable.
The Tecson PL-660 is one of the more popular and widely available options. It’s simply designed and easy to operate, yet it has enough features to keep experienced listeners happy as well. Here are some of the highlights of this model:
- Offers shortwave (1711-29999 KHz), AM/FM, longwave and aircraft band frequencies
- Offers single-sideband reception
- 2000 programmable memory presets to save your favorite frequencies
- Clock and alarm clock
- Synchronous detection (usb/LSB selectable)
- Digital display
- Battery powered (includes charger/adapter)
- 4.0/5 star reviews on Amazon (As of release of this post)
Read our full length review of Tecsun PL-660 here
Sony is a well-known and trustworthy company, and they are also fairly well-known in the amateur radio community. One of their most popular portable shortwave radios is the ICF-SW7600GR - not exactly a memorable name, but a quality product nonetheless. Here are some of its best features:
- AM/FM, medium wave and shortwave (150 to 29999 kHz)
- 100-frequency memory storage to save your favorite frequencies
- Digital display - note: both analog and digital versions of this product are available - make sure you get the digital display!
- Single-sideband reception
- Synchronous selectable sideband (helps reduce fading distortion and interference from adjacent channels)
- 4.1/5 stars on Amazon
Ultra-Portable Radios ($40-$80)
If your budget is tight, or if you’re looking for an ultra-portable model that you can easily stash in your glovebox or even your pocket, these ultra-portable radios are a good choice.
The PL-380 is an excellent choice for listeners on a budget. It’s great for traveling because of its small and portable nature, yet it still offers good audio quality and frequency coverage. At less than $50, it’s a steal of a deal. Here are the highlights:
- AM/FM, longwave and shortwave coverage
- DSP (or digital signal processing)
- Digital display
- 550 programmable saved frequencies
- DSP bandwidth can be adjusted to 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 kHz
- 4.2/5 stars on Amazon
For the ultimate in portability, check out the Kaito KA600. This innovative radio offers 5 different ways to power it, making it essential in survival situations. The hand crank is particularly attractive, as it allows you to power the radio in a blackout, even inside with no sunlight. Crank for about 5 minutes and you’ll have roughly 45 minutes of radio use! Here are the highlights:
- 5-way powered - AC/DC adapter, AA batteries, USB, hand crank and solar panel
- AM/FM, longwave, shortwave and NOAA weather radio
- Digital display
- Alarm clock/sleep timer
- 4 tuning methods - direct digit entry, manual, ATS and memory tuning
- Adjustable solar panel with built in reading lamp, flashlight, thermometer and humidity meter
- Very light and compact - perfect for traveling
- 4.3/5 stars on Amazon
Desktop Radios ($200+)
Desktop radios are generally bigger, more advanced, and more expensive. They offer the best frequency coverage, selectivity options, and audio quality, and have features that the cheaper compact devices simply don’t offer. They are more expensive, but for more advanced users, they are well worth the price. Here’s our favorite option:
Eton Grundig Satellit 750
The Eton Grundig Satellit 750 is an advanced radio receiver that provides access to a wide array of frequencies. It provides all the features you’d want and need in a radio, plus has very good sound quality. At an MSRP of $300 (often available for a bit less), this radio is a great option for intermediate and advanced users. Here are some highlights:
- Receives AM/FM, aircraft, longwave (117-137 MHz) and shortwave (1711-30000 KHz) bands
- Receives single-sideband (SSB)
- 360-degree rotating built-in antenna provides optimal signal reception
- External antennas can also be installed and used (great for advanced users)
- Ability to key-in desired frequency, or tune stations via Auto, Manual, or Direct options
- Auto Tuning Storage (ATS) for all AM, FM, and Shortwave bands
- 200 memory locations per band, for a total of 1000 memory slots for your favorite frequencies
- Advanced digital display with clock and alarm clock
- Excellent audio quality
- Headphone jack
- 4.1/5 stars on Amazon
Read our full length review of the Eton Grundig Satellit 750 radio here
What are Some Helpful Tips for Using Shortwave Radios?
Now that you know more about how shortwave radios work, and you’ve seen our list of recommended products, it’s time to learn how to actually use your radio. Of course, step #1 is to read the instruction manual for your device (make sure it comes with an English manual, as many radios are manufactured overseas!). Every radio operates slightly differently, so we can’t give you a step-by-step guide. We can, however, give you some general tips that will help you get the most out of your new radio, and maximize your enjoyment.
Pay attention to the time of day
Because of the way shortwave signals bounce off the ionosphere, signals are generally stronger at night, when the ionospheric conditions are ideal. Generally speaking, higher frequencies above 10 MHz are easier to pick up during the day, while frequencies under 10 MHz come in clearer at night. There are many more factors that contribute to signal quality, but the above is a good rule of thumb. Here is a handy table explaining the best times to listen to specific frequencies. You can also check the ionospheric and solar conditions online. Tip: the lower the Kp index, the better signal you’ll get.
Play around with placement
Where you place your radio can have a surprising effect on the signal quality you can pick up. Generally, placing your radio near a window will help, although you’ll need to experiment. Try angling your antenna in different directions, or consider using an external/wire antenna to increase your range.
Use UTC (Coordinated Universal Time)
Most shortwave broadcast schedules that you will find list their scheduled times in UTC. Familiarize yourself with this measurement of time, and you’ll find it easier to figure out what times to tune into your desired programming. If your radio has a built-in clock, set it to UTC to make things easier.
Check online shortwave schedules
While wandering aimlessly through shortwave bands finding random broadcasts is actually quite fun, sometimes you want to actually find specific radio shows. There are several online shortwave schedules that you can use, such as www.shortwaveschedule.com, www.hfradio.org, and www.primetimeshortwave.com to help find programming.
Keep a log
Shortwave radio listening is largely about experimenting. In order to remember the results of your experiments, as well as the specific frequencies you’ve found enjoyable, you should keep a log of your findings.
If you are using a shortwave radio as part of a survival/emergency package, you should know how to use the radio and be prepared for an emergency. Familiarize yourself with the radio, making sure you’ll know how to use it when the time comes. Know how to find stations, and keep a physical list of emergency frequencies. Also - keep extra batteries handy to prepare for an emergency situation.
Recognize the learning curve
It’s not easy to use a shortwave radio well. As soon as you realize that, you’ll be in a better position to learn the ins and outs of operating a SW radio. Recognize that there is a significant learning curve, and you won’t get as frustrated when something goes wrong.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Shortwave radio listening is fun, but it can be frustrating. If you’re having trouble with something, or if you simply want to learn more, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Simply typing your question into Google can often yield good information. Alternatively, you can join a community forum to find answers to your questions. Forums like www.survivalistboards.com, www.arrl.org/forum and www.hamradioforum.net/forum.php provide a wealth of information and a like-minded community.
In the end, using shortwave radios can be an enjoyable hobby, a casual pastime, or an important part of preparing for emergency situations. Whatever you plan to use your radio for, know that there is a learning curve to using these devices. The Internet provides a wealth of information, with answers to most of your questions if you just know where to look. Guides like this one are a great starting point, but they are just that - a starting point.
However you choose to use your new radio, we wish you the best of luck! For hobbyists - have fun, and keep on learning! For survivalists - we hope you never have to use your radio in an emergency, but it’s always good to be prepared. Thanks for reading!