By Eric Bryan
After enjoying my Grundig Mini World 100PE, I came across some online references favorably comparing the Kaito WRX911 to the Grundig. Both radios are Chinese (Tecsun made) single conversion pocket analogs in the $30 price range.
Intrigued by the reports on the Kaito and having a fascination for miniatures (as well as being unable to resist the electric blue in which it's available), I ordered the WRX911.
Out of the Box Impressions
The Kaito came tucked in a black, simulated velvet carrying bag/pouch, with a set of mini earphones.
The electric blue finish is startling in the flesh, with tremendous eye-appeal. (The radio is also available in black.)
After having gotten used to the Grundig, the Kaito seemed a little big and boxy (4-1/2"x3"x1"). It also felt hollow and light compared to the Grundig's compact density. The Kaito's horizontal layout makes it look and sit like a scaled-down version of a full-sized tabletop portable (whereas the Grundig's vertical layout makes it more of a handheld, and not a tabletop, set).
Controls and Features
The Kaito has a wrist strap, two little feet for sitting vertically on a table, and a flip-out stand (and two little angled feet) which allows the unit to lean back at about a 30° angle. This feature gives the speaker more projection, and makes the radio eminently more stable than when sitting vertically.
A telescopic antenna (about 19" extended) folds against the top of the set, and will swivel in just about any direction. However, when the radio is sitting upright, low antenna angles will tip the Kaito over. When resting against its flip-out stand, the set won't topple, but antenna angles and rotation are limited.
There is an ON/OFF switch separate from the volume control (which operates in reverse to the usual – UP is volume up, DOWN is volume down), a horizontally sliding bandswitch selector, and earphone and AC adapter jacks.
The bandswitch is smooth and quiet when switching between bands, but the tiny orange band selection indicator can be hard to see, depending on the angle of the set. There is no dial light, so in the dark I inevitably get lost and have to switch to the bottom or top band and count my way to the desired band.
The relatively thick tuning thumbwheel gives the Kaito a heavier, bigger radio feel than the Grundig. A flaw here was that the needle scraped against the dial face in places, so I opened the radio and slightly bent the needle away from the dial. The tuning wheel is now very smooth and a pleasure to use.
The analog dial face is about 2"x1-5/8" and easy to read. A red LED lights for power on, and a pale greenish LED operates as a signal strength indicator. (On a strong signal the green LED is very bright, and it's absolutely piercing during night bedside operation. I don't watch it straight on when bandscanning in darkness, and sometimes cover it or face it away from me when I find a station to listen to. It even illuminates a patch of wall and casts dancing shadows as it flickers.)
The following bands and frequencies are listed on the WRX911's dial, but there is fairly generous overlap on each end of the SW bands. For example, SW4 tunes from well below 9300 to above 10000 kHz, and the actual bandspread of 49 meters is about 5655-6600 kHz.
FM 88-108 MHz
AM 530-1710 kHz
SW1 4.60-5.20 MHz 60m
SW2 5.75-6.40 MHz 49m
SW3 6.95-7.65 MHz 41m
SW4 9.30-9.90 MHz 31m
SW5 11.55-12.10 MHz 25m
SW6 13.55-13.85 MHz 21(22)m
SW7 14.85-15.80 MHz 19m
SW8 17.40-18.05 MHz 16m
SW9 21.30-21.95 MHz 13m
I have found shortwave sensitivity and selectivity to be about equivalent to the Grundig, both when comparing via the whips or with a clip-on wire. When compared side by side with just the whips, the Kaito is almost as sensitive on most frequencies as my Sony ICF SW1 (compact digital), which (in 1988) cost more than ten times as much as the WRX911. It was a delight to learn that the Kaito (and Grundig) could approach the Sony in sensitivity.
The Kaito handles a 7 meter clip-on wire antenna perfectly, which greatly improves SW reception on most frequencies. Also, as with the Grundig, the clip-on wire improves MW reception.
Selectivity is such that signals of comparable strength 10 kHz apart can be separated and listened to easily. For example, the various big broadcasters which line up in the evenings on 9570, 9580, 9590, and 9600 kHz are all easily tuned to, separated, and listened to without interference from each other.
Signals of comparable strength 5 kHz apart can be separated and listened to, though usually with some interference from the adjacent station. For instance, I'm able to separate RAI Italy on 11765 from RHC Cuba on 11760, when RAI's signal comes in well enough to compete in strength with RHC's. When the signals are of similar strength, stations 5 kHz apart are still listenable enough, good enough to get station IDs, etc. But it takes careful tuning to separate signals which are 5 kHz apart.
Images are the curse of single conversion sets, and the worst of these on the Kaito appear on 60 meters. Here on the U.S. West Coast, the too-powerful gospel stations on 49 meters and Radio Thailand which comes crashing in on 5890 all bounce down 910 kHz (twice the IF frequency of 455 kHz) onto 60 meters. Also, on both the Grundig and the Kaito, a signal on 5070 appears as a ghost on 5980, sometimes damaging the BBC on 5975. A general rat's nest around 6000 kHz can sometimes make finding RHC on that frequency a challenge, though this isn't all the Kaito's fault: the Sony SW1 often shows a similar mess around that channel, too.
Further, a station on 5755, and the over-strong Radio Thailand on 5890, sometimes appear in the background of other stations up the 49 meter band. This is a characteristic of both the Kaito and Grundig, and decreases greatly or is eliminated when the wire antenna is detached.
Sometimes an image of CHU from 14670 kHz shows up on 22 meters at 13760, but it's usually not strong so not a big interference problem.
Other than the images, there are very few audible stations on 60 meters besides WWV 5000 and Radio Rebelde Cuba on 5025. An outdoor longwire would probably enliven that band.
If the images and spurious signals on 49 meters are bad enough so that I need to unclip the wire and use just the whip, I can usually still listen to BBC 5975 and the stations in the 6100-6200 kHz range while reducing or eliminating the sounds of other very strong stations in the background. For instance, Radio Japan on 6110, REE Spain on 6125, Radio Netherlands on 6165, VOV Vietnam on 6175, CRI on 6190, and BBC on 6195 are all usually available, though VOV often needs the wire.
If CBC on 6160 is strong, and RN on 6165 not overly strong, the Kaito can separate them. When CRI signs off, Mexico usually comes in on 6185. In fact, on both the Kaito and Grundig, Mexico has sometimes been quite listenable, and occasionally even strong, with just the whips, lighting up the Kaito's green LED brightly.
Repositioning the whip sometimes helps reduce images and spurious signals, allowing the desired station to come in more clearly.
A side note: The Grundig has a 5910 kHz image of WWV 5000; the Kaito doesn't. Otherwise, both sets have identical jumbles of images and spurious signals on 49 meters (the Grundig doesn't tune to 60 meters).
To me, some of the image problem blame rests with the stations which, for my reception area, are using too much power. More reasonable signal strengths of these stations would mean fewer and weaker images, making genuine signals which are hampered by image interference more listenable. Radio Thailand is the strongest SW signal I've ever heard. It's as strong as the local MW station. They would have a strong signal in my area with half the power.
Probably the best way to give a performance report of the Kaito is to offer my "DX" results so far. The indoor clip-on wire was usually used, though the stations were almost always audible via just the whip. I tune in all of these stations regularly or semi-regularly; for example, I listen to REE Spain and shoot for RAI Italy and Radio Cairo daily. All of the usual monster stations are a given, and so are not listed. Frequencies usually cross-checked on Sony ICF SW1.
Bulgaria 9700 11700 (one of first stations heard on Grundig)
Croatia (via Germany) 9925
Czech Rep 9870 11600
Greece 11665 (plus the CA relays)
Israel 11585 11590 17535
Italy 11765 11800
Kuwait 11675 15110 15505
Libya (or UAE?) 15435
Nigeria 7255 17800
S Africa 7215 116?? (TWR) 7265 9770 15215 (Channel Africa)
Spain 6125 11790(?) 15110 15385 15485
Sudan 11665 15325
Sweden (via RCI) 6010
Vietnam (via Canada) 6175
Wales (via England) 9795
All the above are received about equally on the Kaito and Grundig. Unrecorded are numerous unIDed Muslim calls to prayer and Arabian music on 19, 25, 31, and 41 meters. If IDed, they would probably add two or three countries to the list. The list has been compiled over a couple of months of listening.
AIR India has for some reason eluded me so far.
After using a digital SW receiver for 15+ years, and tuning with buttons, the analog tuning of the Kaito (and Grundig) has been a nice change of pace. For bandscanning, there's nothing like an analog radio. Because of the bandscanning-friendly analog layouts of the radios, I tend to look for and find more stations with them than I do with a button-only digital.
The Kaito is subject to some drift, but not as much as the Grundig. When trying to separate stations 5 kHz apart, the radio will naturally meander toward the stronger signal. Drift seems to lessen after the radio has "warmed up" for a little while. When on a reasonably strong signal like REE's, after some initial drift the Kaito settles down and holds the frequency well. Of course, on very strong signals such as RVI on 11635, drift is pretty much absent.
Like the Grundig, the Kaito is sensitive to hand and body position when receiving. Fingers placed on the back of the set will detune a frequency setting. Also, after tuning in a weakish station and putting the radio down, it wanders off the signal unless it's a strong one. Thankfully, this tendency is eliminated (on both radios) when a wire antenna is clipped on.
A flaw in most of the inexpensive Chinese analogs I've tried is eccentric SW dial calibration. On the Kaito, calibration on 25, 22, and 19 meters was substantially off, and I've since opened the radio and adjusted the SW oscillators for those bands so stations line up more accurately on the dial. (The jury is still out on whether or not my tweaking of some of the SW oscillators affected the RF, so that the RF trimmers would need to be re-peaked. The radio seems to be just as sensitive as before.)
Calibration on all the other bands was very good.
Poor calibration isn't disastrous unless the radio is actually missing a desired portion of frequencies above or below the band, i.e., part of the desired band is off the scale at top or bottom. Otherwise, once I know my way around the dial, mental corrections/adaptations of frequencies become almost automatic.
It would be a big boost if the Tecsun factory would tighten quality control of SW calibration of their analog radios. They're of course easier and more pleasurable to use when the needle and dial read reasonably accurately. After all, frequency guessing on an analog is hard enough as it is without complicating it further.
The Kaito is good on FM, pulling in the weaker university stations fine. On MW, it's better than the Grundig, probably because, due to its horizontal orientation, the Kaito's ferrite bar antenna is twice as wide, or long, as the Grundig's. (The clip-on wire assists MW on both sets.) The Kaito's MW sensitivity isn't quite as good as the Sony's. There's a station on 1330 less than a mile away, and a weak one 40 or so miles away on 1300. The Sony is able to pull the weak 1300 out from under the huge 1330 signal, but 1330 makes too wide a footprint on the Kaito for it to find the weak 1300.
Because of the larger cabinet, with more hollow space, the speaker is a little more resonant on the Kaito than the Grundig, giving it a slight edge in volume.
Both sets have a nice, solid, bigger radio sound via the headphones.
Like the Grundig and most true mini or micro SW radios, the Kaito runs on two AA batteries (or a 3V power supply with center negative, not included). A nice feature is that analog radios are much more forgiving on battery life than a digital. You don't have all the programming options and digital readout, but a set of AA cells will last and last.
The Kaito and Grundig complement each other:
The Kaito includes 60, 22, and 13 meters, which the Grundig doesn't.
The Grundig tunes lower on 41 meters, reaching stations the Kaito misses.
The Kaito has wider coverage on 49 meters, and can handle the clip-on wire antenna on 49 meters, whereas the Grundig cannot.
The Grundig receives in FM stereo (true, two-channel in-phase stereo), while the Kaito does not receive in FM stereo.
The more compact Grundig is a true pocket radio, so travels better, and its vertical layout makes it superior as a handheld set.
The Kaito, with its flip out stand and rotating antenna, is better as a mini tabletop unit. The Grundig, with its non-swivel antenna and no feature for sitting or leaning on a table (falls easily), makes it mostly a handheld radio. (But, with the whip extended just 3" and attached to a clip-on wire, the Grundig works splendidly lying on its back on the bed, for example.)
Other than the image problem on 49 and 60 meters, the Kaito has been a joy to use. For a tiny radio this cheap (on sale for $27.95 at radios4you.com) to even approach the Sony SW1 in sensitivity is impressive and, like the Grundig 1OOPE, it's a bargain.
My reception results with the Kaito and Grundig show that these little sets are up to the challenge of pulling in more than just the usual handful of major broadcasters. The Kaito WRX911 and Grundig Mini World 100PE do appear to have proven themselves to be the cream of the mini SW analogs in the $30 price bracket.
The Grove Catalog and Buyer's Guide