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Receiver and Antenna News:
Updates to Passport to World Band Radio - Edition 2003:

First Looks:

Tecsun BCL-2000 (Grundig S350)
When we first started testing shortwave receivers in 1977, the best portable was the $200-250 Panasonic RF-2800, sold in Japan as the National DR-28. Not only was this double-conversion model the top performer for world band, but also FM and mediumwave AM, with excellent audio and continuous bass and treble controls. More importantly, although the ‘2800 was analog-tuned, it featured something relatively new in a portable: digital frequency readout, using LEDs. Yet, thanks to its traditional analog circuitry it had virtually none of the audible circuit “hiss,” nor any of the chugging, that tended to plague later portables with digitally synthesized tuning.

The ‘2800 and its successor, the similar RF-2900, went out of production after a few years, but it appears that somebody in China never quite forgot how pleasant this radio was. Now, decades later, Tecsun has come up with the BCL-2000—similar, but smaller and with single conversion. Priced in China at under RMB400 ($50), it sets a new standard for value. It is marketed in North America under the Grundig label as the S350 “Aeronautical Design.” In the United States, the S350 is available from established Grundig dealers for $99.95. In Canada it is available from RadioShack, HBC.com and other vendors for CAN$149.95.

Built-in Power Transformer
The BCL-2000 measures10 3/4 x 6 15/16 x 3 1/2 inches (272 x 177 x 90 mm), including all extremities except the carrying strap, and weighs 4.7 pounds (2.1 kg) with batteries. This is a skosh beefier than the four-pound (1.8 kg) ICF-2010, recently discontinued. This results partly from an inboard 220V AC power supply, so you don’t have to tote around a separate “wall wart,” just a removable power cord that’s supplied with the radio. Too, it uses four “D” cells; while these add to weight and size, this along with low power consumption ensures that battery changes will be an infrequent exercise.

The radio also comes with a clever carrying strap that doubles as a comfortable padded handle—it’s the best we’ve ever come across on a world band radio. Also included is an owner's manual that's only in Chinese, and for travelers there's an easy-to-use clock-radio timer. Our clock came set to 12-hour format, but a helpful Chinese source points out that it can be toggled between that and 24-hour format by holding down the Hour button for six seconds. We tried it, and it works.

North Americans returning from China with a ‘2000 can power it from local current by using a travel 220>120V AC transformer—the $15-18 Franzus FR-22 is ideal. Or a 120V AC>6V DC adaptor with center-pin negative can be connected to the receiver’s DC input.

The Grundig version for North America operates from 120V AC using an outboard AC adaptor supplied with the radio. By using a UL/CE certified adaptor instead of an inboard power supply, the radio itself doesn't have to be UL or CE certified, which saves Grundig time and money.

Snappy Looks, Handy Operation
Henry Ford famously quipped that you could have a Ford in any color, so long as it was black. Tecsun, however, marches to a different drummer, as there are currently three color combinations with more possibly forthcoming. The Tecsun BCL-2000 comes in either a razzleberry red cabinet with black trim — the above photo doesn't do it justice — or all-black version. The Grundig S350 variation has an all-titanium-colored finish with black knobs and handle.

All versions are attractive and come with brushed-aluminum accents. However, our users, in a burst of unabashed subjectivity, preferred the Ferrari-like red/black eyeful to Grundig’s tasteful Teutonic titanium.

Operation is refreshingly simple. Tuning is by a two-speed tuning knob and a pair of bandswitches, with three “bands” for shortwave: approximately 2925-8150, 7840-17325 and 16835-28495 kHz—no presets, no slew or scan controls, no keypad, no RS232 port. There are two continuous tone controls, bass and treble, along with RF gain and volume controls. Add to that seven buttons for power, clock/timer and LCD illumination, along with an IC-reset detent, and that’s the full roster of controls except for attenuator and mono-stereo switches on the right side of the cabinet.

Ergonomics are reasonable, including a high-contrast LCD with an eight-bar signal strength indicator and separate six-bar battery level display to supplement the large digits for frequency and clock information. However, ergonomics would have fared even better had the locations of the volume and RF gain controls been swapped. Too, the black-on-black knob indicator detents are nigh invisible; applying Wite-Out or white paint with a fine brush, awl or round toothpick resolves this.

“Getting from here to there” with the concentric two-speed (4:1) tuning knob and shortwave bandswitch is fast and easy, although even the “slow” (inner) knob requires a steady hand to tune precisely. As the ‘2000 doesn’t demodulate single-sideband signals, this arrangement works out reasonably well.

Visual inspection suggests that the quality of construction is at least average, perhaps a tad better, but only time will tell.

Three Drawbacks
The '2000 is full of surprises—many good, some not, and the first of the latter becomes apparent after you turn on the radio. The power switch turns out to be nothing but a snooze-timer control to let the radio to stay on up to 90 minutes before it automatically shuts off. This is great for lulling you to sleep, but if you listen for long stretches it can be disconcerting for a newscast to go dead in the middle of an important report.

There’s no way around this except to turn on the radio again. We first encountered this unwelcome peculiarity with the Kchibo KK-S320 tested for PASSPORT 2003, so presumably some of China’s world band engineers hang out at the same tearoom or at least share some weird chips.

Another drawback is the analog tuning system which, like that of the Panasonic RF-2800, is a maze of string, gears and pulleys connected to potentially drifty variable capacitors. The result: frequency drift of 2-4 kHz per hour. Compounding this, the chip used for the frequency counter’s reading drifts with changes in temperature. Finally, on our unit the wide bandwidth filter is so asymmetrical that center-tuning by ear on mediumwave AM results in an additional 2 kHz frequency error on top of all the rest.

Tecsun appears to be keenly aware of the excessive drifting, and may be working to reduce it in later production units.

But the worst shortcoming is poor image rejection, as this degrades listening quality. As the ‘2000, like nearly all under-$100 models, is only single-conversion, images appear 910 kHz below fundamental signals. This bothers many stations, regardless of their frequency, but is especially problematic within the 60 meter tropical segment. For example, a powerful station on 5745 kHz will “repeat” at lesser strength on 4835 kHz, causing a variable-pitched whistle and program chatter to bother whatever tropical band station might be roosting on 4835 kHz. Better-rated radios just don’t do this.

Great Audio, Interesting Performance
In other respects, world band performance can be a pleasant surprise. Even though only a three-inch (75 mm) unbaffled speaker is used, audio quality, having only modest distortion, is markedly superior to that found on the vast majority of world band portables. This is aided by continuous bass and treble controls—a rarity, even among costly world band tabletop models—and there’s plenty of power for room-filling sound. Why can’t Sony have audio like this on portables costing several times more?

The "SW LPF" switch, which activates a 30 MHz low-pass RF filter, also winds up acting as an attenuator—presumably because of insertion loss. It or the RF gain control can be used to reduce overloading—and sensitivity—as can shortening the telescopic antenna.

There are separate antenna inputs for short/mediumwave and FM, but given that the ‘2000 is already pushing the overloading envelope with just the telescopic antenna, most won’t bother with external antennas.

Selectivity, or adjacent-channel rejection, is much better than is customarily found on low-cost portables. Two well-chosen bandwidths, rather than the one almost invariably found in this price class, provide flexibility in balancing the specific interference vs. audio fidelity requirements of any given received signal.

This combination of high sensitivity, flexible selectivity and superior audio makes the ‘2000 unusually pleasant for listening to world band programs.

Mediumwave AM Potential Unrealized
The ‘2000’s mediumwave AM performance has much going for it, including excellent sensitivity with low circuit noise, worthy directionality from the built-in ferrite loop antenna, flexible and appropriate selectivity, and superior audio quality. However, images and other spurious signals, as well as overloading, tend to intrude with no end of annoying internally generated interference, especially at night. This greatly diminishes what otherwise would have been exceptional reception.

We will be doing further testing in other parts of North America to see what impact location may have on mediumwave AM performance.

Coverage is approximately 520-1640 kHz, which misses the 1650-1700 kHz segment of the new X band. The Grundig version expands this coverage upward to around 1730 kHz.

FM Reception Generally Superior
FM acquits itself very well. Sensitivity is very good, while selectivity and capture ratio are at least average. There is only some overloading in the presence of powerful nearby transmitters.

Audio quality isn’t in the same league as a Kloss-designed radio, but is unusually pleasant for a world band portable, and this makes all the difference on FM. Alas, even though there is a mono-stereo switch and stereo line outputs, only mono is available at the earphone socket, although this may be upgraded to stereo units produced later this year.

Bottom Line
The Tecsun BCL-2000 is not for shortwave or mediumwave AM DXers, nor for those chasing utility or ham signals. But for the millions who enjoy listening to news and entertainment over the world band airwaves, the ‘2000 is a bargain, with superior FM thrown in. It’s straightforward to operate, has excellent sound and is priced to move.
>> Beware of a quasi-counterfeit clone labeled “ECB 2000,” also produced in China.

Lawrence Magne, Janette Porcelet and Chewei Wang.

Updates:
  • Sony has discontinued production of the venerable ICF-2010 portable some months earlier than they had indicated to us last autumn. According to Fred Osterman at Universal Radio, the last shipment of '2010s was received in late November, 2002, and on January 13th Sony indicated that they would be unable to fulfill dealers' considerable quantity of backorders, as production had already been terminated.

The '2010, which initially was sold outside North America as the ICF-2001D, was in production for 18 years, possibly a record for a consumer electronics model. In recent years it was available only within North America, but as Sony has been moving away from consumer electronics manufacturing and into more lucrative endeavors, it was decided to terminate the brisk-selling '2010. Sony, as usual, is tight-lipped, but possibly the reason is because the receiver's many discrete controls and components make it more difficult and costly to produce than newer models.

Fortunately, the '2010 is relatively rugged, so quality used units should continue to be available for some years to come.

  • Universal Radio also reports that Sony of America has changed the optional 120V AC adaptor for the ICF-7600GR compact portable. Formerly the AC-E60HG, now discontinued, it is now the AC-E60A. The new adaptor is more compact, but there is one problem: On its side, it reads, "NOT FOR USE WITH RADIOS." According to Universal, there is good reason for this caution, as the new adaptor causes buzzing that disrupts radio reception.

 

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