PREPS

Best Shortwave Radio For Travel | Portable | Handheld | Hobby Listening

Portable Shortwave Radios

Today’s communications methods and technologies are a lot different from what they used to be decades ago. Shortwave Radio, even HAM Radio, is not nearly as popular as it once was. However it’s still a viable means of communicating, and it has its advantages too.

On the plus side, these radio technologies do not depend on the power grid or the internet, making them good choices for emergency or disaster. A battery operated portable shortwave radio is one (of many) recommended preparedness-minded assets.

I own a few portable shortwave radios. One in particular has been excellent, and I’ve taken it with me all over the world when I used to travel a lot. Nowadays, I simply feel assured having it for “just in case”. I dust it off once in awhile and scan the bands for activity and listening enjoyment. They don’t make that particular model anymore. However I’ll recommend a few alternatives…

Best Shortwave Radio (Portable)

In my research there are four that you really can’t go wrong with. They have different price points, varying features, and arguably some differences in performance. They are as follows:

SW7600GR by Sony

 Many years ago I bought the Sony SW7600GR. After research, I felt that it was the best shortwave radio in its class that I could get. It’s now on my nightstand (a fun hobby sometimes in the evening). I also take it with me on EVERY trip that I travel (vacation, etc..). I do believe that it’s the best of its class, despite some of its comparative shortcomings with a few newer shortwave radios.

One thing that I really do wish it had, is a tuning knob (buttons instead). But it scans well enough. It lacks some of the advanced memory functions of newer radios. Its small, basic display is not as fancy and informative as newer portables. The manual is often necessary for a reminder how to use some of its features (not intuitive).

HOWEVER, the AGC / sync detector feature is the best of the rest. Great performance. Reliable.

You cannot get it “new” anymore. However there are used radios for sale: Sony ICF-SW7600GR AM/FM/Shortwave Receiver

So what’s the next best shortwave radio in the portable handheld department? Well, that’s often subjective. But there are some clear front runners…

ATX-909X by Sangean

Recently I had a commenter highly recommend the following shortwave radio: ATS-909X by Sangean

Here’s what it looks like:

That sure looks nice! If I didn’t already have “the best shortwave radio” (my SW7600GR) ;) , I would surely look into the ATX-909X.

Side note: Though we typically refer to these radios as “shortwave radios”, they actually receive more than that. For example here are the frequency specifications of the ATX-909X:

  • (MW) medium wave, it’s actually the AM radio band (520 – 1710 kHz)
  • (LW) long wave, frequencies below the AM band (153 – 519 kHz)
  • (SW) shortwave frequency range (1.711 – 29.999 MHz)
  • (SW) shortwave (meter bands), 120, 90, 75, 60, 49, 41, 31, 25, 21, 19, 16, 15, 13, 11
  • (FM) radio band, 87.8 – 108 MHz including FM RDS (RBDS) – CT

The feature set looks great too! In fact there are several nice features in the ATX-909X that are not in my Sony SW7600R. Great ergonomics and design. Wins “best looking shortwave radio”. Biggest display. Good audio quality. Advanced memory options, can store alphanumeric “name” along with frequency.

PL-660 by Tecsun

The Tecsun PL-660 may be the best shortwave radio vs. price tag.

Lots of features for its price. Good sync detector locks on to a station nicely, similar to the SW7600GR. Nice tuning knob and front panel functionality. It’s not terribly complicated to operate. And best of all, it performs very well. This would make for a great little portable shortwave radio for most people who aren’t necessarily looking for advanced features.

PL-880 by Tecsun

The Tecsun PL-880 is a VERY popular shortwave radio.

Not only does it have a tuning knob, but it also has a fine tuning knob. That’s pretty nice! One of the most popular perks of this radio is the audio speaker / quality sound.

The radio has more filter options than the others. SSB mode offers 4, 3, 2.3, 1.2, 0.5 kHz filters. AM has 9, 5, 3.5, 2.3 kHz filters. All nice for various listening/receiving conditions.

It can be complicated to operate. Some features are actually hidden (why? I don’t know). But overall it has become a highly popular portable shortwave radio.

The Takeaway

The shortwave radios listed above are pretty much the most popular regarded and reviewed in its class on the market.

Being preparedness-minded and ready for emergency or disaster situations involves discovering information. Though modern communications are not the same as it used to be, “if” things were really bad (large-scale grid-down?), HAM radio and other traditional radio wave communications do not require the grid or internet to operate.

It can also simply be an enjoyable hobby for the geek out there ;)

If the SHTF,

My very first action would be to asses the situation as best I can, because further decisions will hinge greatly on that assessment.

This involves verifying the extent of the situation and other things that may have occurred as a result.

One method of discovery will be to turn on a portable AM/FM/Shortwave radio and LISTEN. Depending on the event or potential grid-down situation, some stations may be on generator and broadcasting news & information. Obviously AM and FM radio info would be fairly local (caveat: AM in the evening can go pretty far!). VHF and UHF radios (not covered in this article) are also very local for 2-way comms. However, Shortwave, HAM (HF) bands, they can reach out far…

If you have a good shortwave radio like any listed above, you will be able to pick up many HAM radio bands depending on conditions and time of day. You might possibly hear other HAM radio operators around the country and world who may be transmitting by way of battery power or alternative energy sources.

Pro Tip: When I travel, or when I camp, I always bring a portable external long wire antenna as an accessory for my shortwave radio. The built-in telescopic antenna works great. But clipping on this antenna helps! Our long-time sponsor, ReadyMadeResources, sells this antenna which I highly recommend:

ANT-60 Shortwave Antenna

Continue reading: Best AM Radio for DX Long Range Listening (review)

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22 Comments

  1. pardon me for asking a question, Ken, to which most of your readers know the answer…..But…——I am embarrassed to ask (but worse still to not understand and not ask…), what is the difference between a shortwave radio and a “regular” radio? Can one radio do “all”? I have the idea that a “regular” radio will pick up local stations, and a shortwave radio will pick up far away stations?

    1. Jane,
      I’ll try to make what could be a complicated and very technical answer, instead a (hopefully) simpler one:

      Lets say that a “radio” is a something that you can listen to, and pick up different stations by tuning the dial.

      When you tune that dial, lets say you start at the left and tune all the way to the right, picking up any stations that may be in between. So far, so good, right?

      Well, here’s the thing… For the sake of simplicity, lets say that the span (between the leftmost and rightmost ends of the dial) is itself just a part of a MUCH LARGER span. In other words, just a slice of the big pie.

      Lets say your “regular” radio is only able to pick up just a segment. One slice. An example would be your ordinary AM Radio (e.g. in your car). It’s just a slice of the big pie. The AM radio band is typically broadcasting news, talk shows, etc..

      The FM band is another slice of the overall big pie (typically filled with music broadcasts, again, available on your car radio).

      The Shortwave band is yet another slice, which itself includes some HAM Radio bands which are used by individual Amateur Radio Operators who are licensed to broadcast (largely, a hobby interest). There are also commercial and government broadcasters in this spectrum – though not as many as there used to be (This is the slice that I’m mostly referring to with the radios above – though each of those radios also receive the AM and FM bands).

      There are LOTS MORE BANDS within the overall giant spectrum of Radio Frequencies that are used today for a multitude of purposes.

      They make radios that are designed specifically for slices within the overall spectrum. Some radios can receive wide sections (big slices) while other radios are very specific in their (smaller) slice.

      To take it up a notch, this giant spectrum I’m referring to begins at “DC” and goes all the way to “Light”. But I probably just lost you on that one ;) It gets deep, but there’s an incredible world out there in the realm of oscillating waves…

      I hope that helps!!

  2. I have an older Radio Shack DX399. I believe it was manufactured by Sangean. Works great, batteries or 120v. Came with manual that lists all the entities that transmit at least once a day, the programming times, which ones are in English, and country of origin. Lots of fun.

    Jane Foxe, yes, most of these cover local am/fm also.

  3. Ken,
    I have another stupid question…
    Most of the Gov’t, not to exclude LEO and Fire/Rescue, have gone digital. Will these radios also pick up those transmissions?

    1. Jabba,
      Communications via LEO, Fire/Rescue, and other agencies are typically on VHF/UHF frequencies, which are different from the Shortwave radios and their frequency bands mentioned above. It’s a different slice of the spectrum.

      There are unique radios that you can purchase which will cover those bands (LEO’s, Fire/Rescue, etc..). However not all of those radios will decode the digital / scrambled signals. Some will. It gets technical… That topic gets into scanners and VHF/UHF radios – a different purpose and topic than shortwave radio.

      The reason I feel that shortwave radios will be important in SHTF is because HAM radio operators in the HF bands will likely be communicating out there. This is one part of the information gathering that you will want to discover. These communications can traverse the country or world on these bands (if the conditions are right). You might hear someone 200 miles away on the 80 meter band, while you might also hear someone 3,000 miles away on the 15 meter band (for example).

      With that said, close/local communications by way of VHF/UHF radios will also be an important aspect (especially for security). It’s another topic worthwhile discussing.

      Hope that helps.

  4. I have a Grundig brand am/fm/short wave . I believe that they are made in Germany? Works great on batteries or plugged in to the wall socket. I also store a second one in a metal garbage can with other electrical items should an EMP ever occur.

    1. I too had an old Grundig YB-400. It was a good radio! Had no complaints for years. Until it developed a bad volume control (wicked scratchy – couldn’t be fixed with spray either). Then the main speaker went bad (couldn’t find a direct replacement). But then I bought the SW7600GR… ;)

    2. Seminole Wind
      Do you have any idea where I can send ours to be repaired?

      We have had it for Y E A R S, and it is having issues, so is the replacement I purchased off of eBay. I really like these radios as a back to our others we have on hand.

      1. The Eton Corporation markets the Grundig line here in the U.S. maybe they can help?

      2. It might also be a good idea for prepper’s worried about EMP’s, to get an older tube style SW Radio. Halicrafter SW Radios seem to be considered some of the best, and are still available. My understanding is that because of the fact it’s circuits are tubes…it can withstand an EMP and still function, as opposed to the new radios that need to be protected in a faraday container. The tube radios take a bit longer to warm up, but are very powerful and pull in amazing stations from around the world. I use a 60′ wire antenna…nothing fancy. There isn’t a country I can’t listen to, if I’m willing to adjust my schedule to their time zones and the “skip”.

  5. A better radio (now discontinued) is a Sony AM/FM/SW ICF-SW100.
    These were once a CIA issue item. Sony also sold them on the commerical market. They are small, very compact and work great. Usually, they can be found on Ebay for $150-$350. I have a couple for my B-O-B’s. They run on “AA”‘s. Don’t buy one that has a broken battery cover. They also use an AC adapter.

  6. I’ve narrowed down between a few handheld Hams as I’m looking into getting into the radio world. Would assume a handheld Ham would cover most bases of a shortwave radio? Or would it make sense to potentially have both? Excited to start exploring the radio world but man is it a overwhelming at first. FYI Ken great “slice of the pie” analogy, I had the same question as Jane Foxe lol

    1. (Would assume a handheld Ham would cover most bases of a shortwave radio?)

      NO

      With a very few exceptions hand-held radios are VHF & UHF only.

      Shortwave frequencies are 30 MHz. and below. Most all hand-held radios are 144 MHz. and above.

      The 2 most popular Ham Radio bands are 2-Meter (144 to 14 MHz.) and 70-Centimeters (430 to 450 MHz.) Most Hams call 70-Centimeter radios 440 radios.

      As it works out it’s quite common to have both of these bands in the same hand-held radio. Most all hand-held Ham radios only do FM, but that is OK as it’s by far the most popular mode on VHF & UHF.

      There is one radio that is portable that covers numerous Ham Bands. It does HF (Shortwave) bands, 6-Meter (50 to 54 MHz.), 2-Meter, 70-Centimeters. and it’s All-Mode on all bands. It does AM, FM, CW, SSB on every band. It’s only 6-watts, but with a good external antenna people talk 1/2 way around the planet on it.

      The radio is the Yaesu FT-818.

      Yaesu FT-818ND FT-818 6W HF/VHF/UHF All Mode Mobile Transceiver

      It’s about the size of a CB radio. It runs from internal batteries or external batteries. It cost $600.00. $600.00 may at first seem like a lot, but this radio does a lot.

      For a prepper I don’t think there is a better radio. You can use it as a Shortwave radio to listen to anything on Shortwave, you can talk on HF/ Shortwave Ham Bands. You can talk on 2-Meter and 70-Centimeters. as a portable. Or hook it up to a home or auto antenna and talk Simplex or on the local repeaters. It runs off internal batteries, a 12-volt battery, your auto cigarette lighter plug or of a modest home power supply.

      Lots of videos on it and it’s predecessor the FT-817 on U-Tube. I have the 818 and love it.

      While it doesn’t do it all, it does a LOT.

      PS: If you buy a used FT-817 make sure it’s the FT-817 ND model and not the FT-817 as the first version had a design problem that burnt up the final amplifier. The ND model and FT-818 version fixed it.

      1. Chuck Findlay

        Thanks for the info! Have actually been looking at the Yaesu FT-60R just because the reviews I’ve read are good and it’s closer to what I can afford right now but. Plus I’d like to start with a handheld but I’ll have to take a look at the 818 as well. So many options out there, makes it hard to zero in on one. Thanks again

        1. RB308 Nothing wrong with the FT-60, I don’t have one, I have 2 Yaesu handheld radios. The FT-70D (Fusion Digital) and an Yaesu VXR. The VX8R is a 3-band radio covering 6-Meter, 2-Meter and 440 MHz. But it also does 220 MHz. (only 1.5 Watts, 5-Watts on the other bands) it’s submersible and about the same size as the FT-60. A friend bought it a while back for something like $450.00. I bought it for $125.00 a few months ago at The Dayton Hamfest. Wasn’t looking for it, but it just jumped into my hands.

          I’m fairly active on 220 MHz. and 900 MHz. so another radio that does 220 was nice. Not that I need more radios…

          I mostly seem to buy Icom radios more then any other brand. But honestly I have found Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood and Alinco radios to all be good. Not that other brands don’t work but these are the ones I seem to like the most.

          Going to another Hafest in the morning (Adrian Michigan) and I’m sure some other radio will find itself in my truck and bound for home with me.

          Playing with, buying and rebuilding and then selling them. And keeping maybe a few too many of them is at this point an addiction. And it’s an addiction not in remission at all.

          And then there’s the other addiction that goes along with radios, building antennas. No Ham ever has enough antennas or the right one. It’s a viscous cycle that never ends..,.

          1. A few things I always get for every radio I have is an Alkaline battery pack. If you need a radio in an emergency and the rechargeable battery is dead it can take hours to recharge it. But with an Alkaline pack (uses AA Batteries) you can replace them and be back on the air in under a min.

            I also always buy (or mostly make up myself) a 12-Volt cord to power the radio off any 12-Volt battery. An auto battery has a lot of amps in it and will power an HT for weeks on end.

            And buy at least one extra battery for any HT

            All radios need power and it’s important to work out how you are going to keep them powered up before some bad event happens.

            A solar panel that puts out a few amps at 12-Volts is a pretty handy thing. I have a fold-up 50-Watt one for my FT-818 that works well.

            All this stuff cost but it’s better to fully equip a radio ahead of time then not to. Power is the life of a radio and it needs to be addressed.

  7. – Had to dig mine out of my GHB. It’s not as fancy as some that you show above, but it works and I’m happy with it. Mine is a Grundig M-400; LED display, rotary control for frequency and another for volume, no hidden abilities that I know of. It does have an alarm function if you need. It also will accept an earphone. On its bad habits; it accepts AAA batteries only; you can’t leave batteries in it when you you put it up, it will turn on accidentally and you will be hearing ‘voices’ (just so you know) {actually, you shouldn’t be leaving batteries in it}. It has AM,FM, SW Hi, and SW Lo. It comes in red and silver; mine is the red cause I don’t like to have to look hard to find it. It also has a cute little leatherette case.
    – Papa S.

  8. I love playing with radios, I have WAY too many of them, I don’t even count how many any more, just bought 2 more at a Hamfest last Sunday. And going to another Hamfest in 2-days.

    With that said I just don’t see the value of Shortwave these days as it related to prepping. Most all major broadcasters have left the Shortwave bands and it seems all that is left of the International Broadcast Bands is religious broadcasters. Heck WWV is supposed to go off the air this year. I hope it doesn’t…

    I still have maybe 7 or 8 Shortwave capable radios around and I do use them for utility and Ham radio listening but these transmissions take better radios and antennas then a portable can provide. And it’s very time-consuming to listen to these frequencies as 95% of the time you hear nothing. I always have a radio set on 5680 and or 5696 USB (US Search & Rescue frequency) when I’m in the radio room (Yes I have a whole room with radios and a radio repair bench)

    I really wish Shortwave was active like it was back in the 1990’s and back, but its for the most part dead these days. And while Ham Radio is still something easily picked up but many times you only hear one-side of the conversation. I wonder if there will really be that much good info on the Ham Bands. I’m a Ham and play on all the bands (other then 160) and I just don’t see a lot of useful info there.

    I would say for news and bug-out use a good AM, FM portable radio would be a much better choice. Would I take a Shortwave radio with me if I bugged out? Yes, but still I think for the most part it will be of limited value.

    It also takes a lot of time hunting and listening to utility stations (including Ham bands) to find any useful info. Most times I only get 1/2 of a conversation or only part of it and it leaves me with more questions then answers. Not trying to sound negative (more realistic I would say) but it takes a lot of time to gather lintel from a radio transmission and I would bet post-SHTF few people will have the time to sit by the radio hoping to find a few nuggets of useful info.

    PS” There is a method I use that allows me to monitor several radios all at the same time and to do it without having to sit in a radio room all the time. I can have a digital scanner on for the local police / fire. an analog scanner for local air frequencies and another analog scanner for Ham Repeaters and simplex frequencies and a digital Ham radio for Fusion, and a few others.

    It’s pretty simple to do and it allows you to move around your house and do things. What I do is put a baby monitor in the radio room and take the hand unit with me. The baby monitor re-broadcasts all it hears in the radio room. Just leave all the radios running at the same time. Range of a baby monitor is limited for the most part but it does work and baby monitors are easily found at garage sales.

    Just be aware that others can listen in on the baby monitor.

    PPS” An analog hand-held scanner (found these days for ridiculously low prices because all public services are digital) is still quite useful. I have a few of them programmed for all the CB channels, FRS, GMRS local Ham repeaters, VHF marine and the default frequencies Baofong radios come pre-programed with.

    There is an amazing amount of talk on these frequencies to listen to and having all that info in a SHTF or Bug-Out situation could be handy. People tend to not really understand that others can listen to them on a scanner so you get some very candid, unguarded talk.

    In a Post-SHTF World I think a survival group would do well to have someone always on radio watch (I think “Southern Prepper One” has a few videos on U-Tube talking about this) as it may be that any bad people may be using radios to coordinate attacks and you may get a heads-up on it. The baby monitor thing could work for this if you didn’t have a large group to support a full time radio person.

  9. It’s really easy to get lost trying to understand all the radio talk and what to listen to and what radios to get to listen to radio transmissions.

    My recommendations are the following radios to get and use

    FOR HOME USE

    Any good table-top Shortwave radio that can pickup SSB transmissions. All Shortwave Ham radio is on Side-band.

    An analog table-top scanner as there are still a lot of analog things you would want to listen to.

    A digital scanner, a portable one is OK as both table-top and portable ones seem to preform the same. I have an old Motorola police portable reprogrammed with all the local (within 50-miles or so) police and fire frequencies.

    FOR PORTABLE USE

    A portable Shortwave / AM / FM portable with SSB on it.

    Analog scanner (at least 200 channel.)

    A digital Scanner that is pre-programmed with all the local public service.

    What radios I use the most are

    Several Shortwave table-top radios (Icom IC R-70 being the main one, it hears things clearly that other radios hear not at all.) A grundig 750, several tube Shortwave radios.

    For anything above 30 MHz. (Scanners) I use several older radios. Radio Shack 2004, 2006, (both 400 channel) a 1,000 channel radio shack scanner (forgot the model number) I also have an Icom IC R 7,000.

    The R 7,000 is an absolutely incredible radio. it’s only 99 channel but it covers 25 MHz. to 2 GHz. (Basically everything non-digital) from the Shortwave bands to up beyond anything you will ever likely want to listen to. And while they were expensive (I think $ 2-grand) when new you can buy one for $300 today. I just bought a second one last weekend.

    For digital (pretty much all police and fire) I have a Whistler hand-held scanner (a piece of junk that misses a lot of transmissions) and a Motorola XTS 5000 re-programed to all the local public service. The Motorola picks up everything. One problem with Motorola radios is finding someone to program them, this can be difficult to impossible to get done. As luck would have it there are 2 guys I know that do it.

    I have several CB radios (all SSB ones) that I can use if needed

    And I have several VHF Marine radios (mobile and hand-held) put up that I have purchased over the years at garage sales.

    I also have numerous Ham radios to play with (and backup radios) on just about every Ham band from Shortwave to 900 MHz.

    All my radios are able to run from 12-volts other then the old tube radios.

    It takes a lot of learning to get a listening post setup. And even more to get into Ham radio.

    Radios are easy to buy, learning to get the most out of them, that takes years. But it’s a fun hobby for me.

    One thing that may be important Post-SHTF. Most redios today are more computer then radio and need a computer to program them and will be very hard to change Post-SHTF. It also takes a LOT of skill to computer-program them, most Ham’s I know can’t do it and have someone else do it for them.

    I have several newer computer-based radios, but I mostly gravitate to the older Ham radios that I can program, change frequencies easily. This is something you should give some thought to as a computer, the program, supporting cable and the person to do the programming may not be available to you and being able to do it yourself could be important.

    And another thing, every radio brand and even the same brand of radios have different programming features. What works for a Radio Shack scanner is different then an Icom, that’s different then A Yeasu, that’s different then a Kenwood, that’s different then a Uniden, that’s different then (and on and on.) It takes a serious commitment of time to learn all this stuff.

    If you have a survival group its a good (and in my opinion needed) idea to work hard to find a radio / electronic guy to join the group.

    And don’t forget radios break all the time. antenna connectors break, power cords break, batteries leak gunk all over the inside of the radios, Antennas get taken down by storms and need to be repaired etc. You need to have some skills to fix things, build things. For the most part these are skills that take a lifetime to learn and therefor the reason for my suggestion of a radio / electronic person. I think there will be a market for these skills Post-SHTF as few people really know much about radios.

    And don’t forget radios need antennas, coax cable (antenna wire) batteries and a way to keep the batteries charged.

    Download plans (web pages and PDF’s) on how to build antennas. for the most part antennas are easy to build out of salvaged parts.

    One more thing, join a Ham Radio Club and get licensed. The Tech Class is only 35-question long and they give you the answers. 2-days of studying the questions and answers and taking the test (cost $15.00) will open a new World for you.

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