Best Shortwave Radio For Preppers – Top Choices

Okay, it’s not just for preppers (grin). This is for anyone interested in owning one, even as a hobby. I will offer my opinion for the best shortwave radio that’s in production today. I’m talking about a portable (small / compact) battery operated shortwave radio. And one that meets a set of criteria and specifications to ensure quality signal reception of not only shortwave / medium wave AM amplitude modulation, but also SSB single side band reception within the HF ham radio bands.

(I have updated this post to include a new number one choice)

It’s sure different from what it used to be decades ago – with today’s digital technologies and associated communications methods, and the internet. However, being preparedness-minded, a so called portable battery powered ‘shortwave radio’ (including the HF Ham Radio bands) certainly has some preparedness appeal. Radios remain one of our most reliable means of communication. This is why they’re a must-have prepper item (at least in my own opinion) for emergency preparedness, when the internet and power grid may be down. The question is, what’s the best shortwave radio?

Such a radio does not depend on the electric power grid, or the internet. Therefore making them good choices for gathering information during emergency or disaster. A battery operated portable shortwave radio is one (of many) recommended preparedness-minded communication assets.

Why? Because disasters happen. Gathering information is important and helps decision-making. When the power is out and there is no internet or TV… well, you get the idea… Listening to AM radio broadcasts, or personal reports from Amateur radio operators (Ham radio) around the country (globe). It can be a hobby, and it can also shed light on what’s going on out there.

Side note:

What Is Shortwave Radio?

Shortwave radio consists of frequencies between 1710kHz and 30000kHz (30MHz). It’s called shortwave because, quite literally, the waves emitted are short as opposed to long wave and medium wave, used by AM radio, and wideband VHF (very high frequency) used by FM radio. These short waves can travel thousands of miles across the globe, so shortwave radio is, by nature, international.

When looking for the best shortwave radio, I recommend that it also includes the HF ham radio bands, and, (important), SSB capability (single side band). And of course the AM and FM broadcast radio bands.

Best Shortwave Radio (Portable)

I own several portable shortwave radios. One in particular has been excellent, and I’ve taken it with me all over the place when I used to travel a lot. Nowadays, I simply feel assured having it for “just in case”. I take it with me whenever I go on a vacation trip, etc., for hobby listening if the mood strikes me. That radio is out of production, though available on the used market. However, I’ll recommend a few very good alternatives…

A portable shortwave radio comes in a variety of models and different price points. The features and performance vary. And of course, you get the most when you pay the most. Though there’s a price-point for everyone…

First, this is the radio I was just talking about. I feel that it was the best shortwave radio of its type on the market during its time. It’s now somewhat of a legacy classic. Although there are other radios that absolutely excel in features and functionality, and are in production today! (read on)

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 has been the best of its class. However, there’s a new #1 that may be even better than this one (read on).

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 user 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
(check on amzn)

So what’s an equivalent best shortwave radio that’s in production today?

UPDATE:

The Best Shortwave Radio In Production Today – Tecsun PL990

Tecsun is a leader in the shortwave radio industry. The PL-990 was first introduced during the fall of 2020. It is an upgrade to the still-available and very popular PL-880 (another excellent choice).

Tecsun PL990
(view on amzn)

Tecsun PL990 best shortwave radio

PL990 Features & Specifications:

  • LW: 50- 519/50 – 522 KHz (LW can be disabled if desired)
  • MW/AM: 522-1620/ 520 – 1710 KHz
  • SW: 1621-29,999/1711- 29,999 KHz
  • FM: 64-108 MHz (Lower Limit Selectable At 64, 76, 87 or 87.5 MHz)
  • Tuning Steps: LW/MW 9Kkz/10Khz/1Khz
  • FM:100 KHz/10 KHz     (PL-990X Only: 50 KHz when AM set to 9 KHz steps)
  • Direct Keypad Frequency Entry
  • Page Memory System with VF (View Frequency) / VM (View Memory) switch
  • Up/Down Scan/Auto or Manual Auto Tuning Storage
  • Main and Fine-Tuning Knobs
  • FM Stereo/Mono Switch
  • Triple Conversion on LW/MW/SW
  • SSB with LSB/USB modes
  • Synchronous Detection with LSB/USB modes
  • SW Meter Band Buttons
  • Memories: 3150 total locations with 25 memory pages
  • DX/Norm/Local Gain Switch for All Bands
  • Clock (24 Hour Mode) with Alarm, Sleep Timer, Snooze
  • Multi-function Display with Time/Signal/SN Ratio
  • LED Lighting can be set to Auto or Always On
  • Audio Player – Micro SD Card 128 GB max (Playback only)
  • Supported Audio: 16 bit/44.1 KHz; FLAC / WAV / APE / WMA / MP3
  • Bluetooth Audio Playback
  • Computer Speaker Mode via USB Input
  • Bass/Treble Tone Switch
  • Key Lock
  • Output Power 450 mw
  • Speaker: 4 ohms 3W
  • Headphone Output 1/8” Jack 300 ohms
  • Line Out 1/8” Jack (Level Adjustable for FM Individually and as a group LW/AM/SW)
  • Aux Antenna Input Jack for ALL Bands 1/8: Mini Jack
  • Antenna switch disconnects both internal antennas when using external antennas
  • Power Supply: 3.7 V (18650 Li-ion Battery or External DC 5V (USB Type B Mini Socket)

There are ‘hidden features’ too. Although they’re documented (unlike their PL880 which were ‘secret’).

ATX-909X by Sangean

I had a commenter here on the blog who highly recommends the following shortwave radio:

ATS-909X by Sangean
(view on amzn)

Here’s what it looks like:

That sure looks nice! If I didn’t already have 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.

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. Consequently 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

This radio is has been one of their best, and is a VERY popular shortwave radio. Among all their portable offerings, the PL-880 is widely regarded by the SWL (Shortwave Listening) community as, simply put, one the best. Although one might argue that their new PL990 excels. With that said, the PL-880 has some of the clearest audio in its class. It’s audio quality performance is excellent. 

Tecsun PL-880
(amzn)

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). As a result of the hidden features, this has led to lots of discussion about this radio! 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 well 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. As a result, you will be getting first-hand information.

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! I wrote an article about it:

[ Read: External Antenna For Portable Shortwave Radio Improved Reception ]

[ Read:

Best AM Radio for DX Long Range Listening (review)

Radio Communications Post-SHTF

Batteries That Won’t Leak or Corrode (Important for your Radio!)

24 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. Ken,

    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,
      Those type of communications are typically on VHF/UHF frequencies, which are different from the Shortwave radios and their (HF) frequency bands mentioned above. It’s a different slice of the frequency spectrum.

      There are unique radios that you can purchase which will cover those bands. However not all of those radios will decode the digital / scrambled signals. Some will. Some won’t. 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 AM and SSB-capable shortwave radios will be an asset during SHTF is because Amateur radio (Ham radio) operators (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.

  3. 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”.

        1. I love tubes. Audio and Radio Frequency (RF). But they do suck a huge amount of energy. For standby transmitting its pretty hefty, and for just casual listening you’ll be burning the equivalent of a 100W light bulb or more. I have a Kenwood TS-520S with tube finals just for transmitting. The solid state receiver doesn’t take too much power, but the heaters still keep the tubes warm for transmitting so it still takes more than the average solid state short wave receiver. For that I have a couple C-Crane Skywave SSB radios. It covers Weather, Shortwave (including HAM bands) as well as the aircraft frequencies. Also general coverage on AM and FM radio stations. Takes very little power, runs on 2 AA batteries.

  4. 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.

  5. – 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.

  6. Ken
    Are there any models sub $100 you would recommend. Preferably operating on AA batteries. I ask as the more refined model may end up like my Baefong. To complicated to program or learn to use IMO. Looking for something to shorten the learning curve.

    1. The C-Crane CC Skywave SSB is only $169 and runs on 2 AA’s. Its about the size of my cell phone but about twice as thick. It weighs about the same as my phone. Aside from all the receiver specs it has a headphone port and a mini-USB power port as well as a clip on 30 ft retractable wire extension antenna for better reception. It has a little programming required if you want to set up your favorite channels. But its not near as complicated as the Baofeng. I keep mine in small Pelican “like” phone cases to stay waterproof and ruggedized while camping. My HAM prep tote though houses them in cookie or popcorn Tins. A nicely sealed cookie Tin can give you about 50-60dB of EMP attenuation. For good Mil- standard though you need at least 80dB of attenuation (isolation). So a cookie Tin for the radio inside a metal trash can with tight fitting lid will get you there with about 100 – 120 dB of attenuation.

    2. RWT, Unfortunately, I cannot recommend a portable shortwave radio with SSB for under $100. The closest I can come to that is the Tecsun PL680 which is currently as of this post date, about $140.

  7. Let’s consider a radio can entertain (play music, talk) and inform (news, weather). A good working radio with low power requirements could make a huge difference in terms of function and comfort during any emergency or survival situation. Don’t forget a flashlight, warm bedding/clothes, food, water and a good shovel now take it all down your tunnel and wait for the radiation to drop or spring so you can plant cabbage and beans. I’ve been living in my bunker for 3 weeks now to test run my survival setup. I have been living within my small bunker and monitoring short wave bands including Russian military but have no idea what I’m hearing. I have already noted several changes I need to make. One change was extending cable and a tv radio antenna into my shelter another change is better lighting and reducing humidity/moisture. A hidden room in the back and more food prep area with better garbage disposal would be useful. Don’t ask about the bathroom I’m still working to upgrade it. Learn your bunker now when changes are easy to make. Good luck all! Bunker Life!

  8. i really like my Kaito Voyager. i think they are 50 bucks and they have several ways to recharge them. the crank handle works well enough and will recharge it in short time, just don’t go gorilla on it. i recharged it once last year during the ice storm with a 30,000mAh power bank that i have, easy peasy.
    i have a external antenna set up attached to the metal roof of my house and it picks up well depending on the atmosphere. antenna’s are everything in radio.

  9. They do make a windup SW radio antenna. It comes with a jack to plug in to the antenna jack on the radio. Check Ebay for a start.

  10. No SSB then NO buy for me! I think one of the BEST radios available is the Eton Elite 750. Yes, its huge in size but I believe the top choice for an established camp/HQ.

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