Receiver Review: Sony ICF-SW7600GR

ICF-SW7600GR

Year Introduced April 2001
Power6.0 VDC (4 AA batteries)
Size 190 mm W x 119 mm H x 35 cm D (7.9 x 4.7 x 1.4 inches), less antenna
Weight 608 g (1.4 lb.) with batteries
Price €209, US$170. Options: AC-E60HG A.C. power supply $20.
Coverage LW 150-529 kHz. MW: 530-1620 kHz. SW 1621-29999 kHz. FM 76-108 MHz. 100 tuneable memories

Value Rating: starstarstarstarstar

 


This review was compiled independently. The Medium Wave Circle and Radio Netherlands has no financial connection with Sony, the manufacturer of this receiver.


 

Review by Thomas R. Sundstrom

SONY's positive reputation for manufacturing quality portable shortwave receivers continues with the introduction of the ICF-SW7600GR receiver in April 2001. About the size of a small purse, the "GR" model replaces the ICF-SW7600G discontinued in December 2000. The "GR" is built in Japan. We purchased serial number 15173 in April 2001.1

The "GR" is a dual conversion, microprocessor-controlled, frequency synthesised general coverage portable receiver. There is direct access tuning via a keypad, in addition to tuning via arrow keys or recall of memories. A multifunction liquid crystal display (LCD) includes frequency readout to 1 kHz steps in tuning from 150 to 29,999 kHz.

To the issue at hand: what are the differences between the –7600G and the –7600GR? Aside from the change to a titanium–coloured case, the number of memories is increased to 100 (from 20) and there are two clocks – local and UTC – displayed at the press of a key. The tuning LED of the "G" has migrated onto the LCD, and the attenuator control is now variable.

It does not appear to us that there are any other significant changes to the "GR" over the "G". There is just one AM filter bandwidth, and the radio continues to mute when tuning by the front panel arrow keys. No receiver specifications were provided.

 

Unpacking the box

The package is small and contents are sparse. A manual (in 6 languages), a "wave guide" directory of stations, a compact "reel antenna" and a carrying case come with the radio. That's it. No batteries are included. Grab 4 AA batteries before taking the radio to the sales register.

The availability of optional accessories varies by region of the world. There are AC adapters, a DC car battery cord and various external amplified antennas to choose from.

 

The front panel

A 77-mm diameter speaker, rated at 380 mW at 10% distortion, dominates the left side of the front case. Power and hold keys, a keypad, and the "standard" SONY time and frequency change keys are set the right of the display.

The display includes (1) a tune indicator, (2) battery and (3) hold indicators, (4) a daylight (summer) time indicator that appears when the clock is adjusted to DST (summer time), (5) a number indicating the difference between your local time zone and UTC, (6) the off/on status of the synchronous detection lock, (7) a sleep indicator (up to 60 minutes), (8) two standby timer indicators, (9) a "page" number used with memory management and (10) a time/frequency display.

There is no s-meter, and no way to gauge the strength of the signal. We'd like to see an s-meter added to the display.

The "hold" button, to the upper right of the LCD, locks all controls on the receiver. Make use of this button when transporting the radio to avoid running down the batteries or accidentally changing receiver or clock settings.

 

The side panels

 

ICFSW76 side

The left panel has connectors for an external antenna, audio and headphone stereo outputs, and a DC input. The attenuator control is variable.

ICFSW76 right side

The right panel has the volume control, a two-position tone switch, and a three-position mode selector. Note the synchronous sideband detection is fixed to the chosen sideband, whereas SSB tuning – for amateur radio and utility station reception – is accomplished by a variable control.

 

Frequencies and memories

Tuning a frequency directly is easy. Select AM or FM, then press the "Direct" key. Enter the frequency – [6] [1] [6][5] – and press the "EXE" key. That's it.

To store that frequency in a memory, press the "Page" key and then a number key [0-9]. Hold down the "ENTER" key (under the display) and press a number key. (It took us about 30 minutes to populate 80 memories.) If you are entering more than one frequency on a "page" you can skip the page selection step.

The 100 memories are organised into 10 banks of 10 memories. There is no alphanumeric capability, such as in the ICF-SW100 and ICF-SW07 portables. Mode storage is limited to AM (no synchronous or SSB settings) or FM.

Recalling stations in memories is exceptionally easy too. Press the "Page" key and then a number key. Once on a page, simply press just a number key to change the station.

Have you programmed Radio Netherlands's frequencies into one bank? To scan memories in a bank and find the strongest signal, simply press "Page", a number key and the "Scan" key.

Tuning frequencies with the arrow keys – also used to set the clock time – steps the receiver in 1 or 5 kHz on SW, 1 or 9/10 kHz on MW, 1 or 9 on LW and 50 kHz in FM mode. You can recall a memorised station, and tune from that point with the arrow keys. In our opinion, SONY should have adjusted the MW band edge from 1620 to 1700 kHz for step purposes, but that's a minor quibble.

 

For the visually impaired…

In our opinion the ICF-SW7600GR is probably marginally acceptable for the visually impaired person. The numeric keys are fairly well spaced in a conventional telephone dial layout. The "direct entry" key is placed where the "*" key is located; the "execute" key where the "#" is located. And there is a "tit" on the case to identify the "5" key.

But we also should note that on the left side of the receiver the DC IN jack is adjacent to the headphone jack. Care should be exercised in plugging in an external power supply or headphones.

 

So how does the receiver perform?

There are other features too, including wake and sleep timers and a stereo audio output. (Hooray!) But one buys a radio to listen. That opportunity came the day after the ICF–SW7600GR arrived. We broke our right foot and were confined to bed for weeks. Listening tests were conducted using the built-in 8-section 89-cm (35-in) whip antenna (for SW and FM), and the internal antenna (for AM and LW).

The MW listening was quite telling in selectivity and overload characteristics. During the day, our local daytime 25 kW station on 640 kHz has a 4-tower array, 4 km (3 mi) away, directing the signal at us. Unlike other receivers recently tested, this time there was no second harmonic on 1280 kHz and no noise bubble was discernible so long as we did not use the AC adapter (see below). At night, we could easily null out the non-directional 50 kw station on 1210 kHz, about 16 km (10 mi) away) and listen to stations on 1200 and 1220 kHz. And we've been puzzling over the two Spanish-speaking stations heard late at night when nulling out Saint Louis, Missouri, on 1120 kHz. One station, we suspect, is in the Dominican Republic. Outstanding…

We briefly checked the FM reception and tested stations in Atlantic City and Wilmington. These are the most problematic stations here, due to the distance; reception was outstanding.

The late Spring 2001 propagation conditions at the top of the solar cycle have not been all that wonderful, with solar disruptions and high sunspot counts damping down long-range SW reception. Our usual test target stations in Asia and the Pacific have been among the missing, even on the tabletop receivers and external antennas here.

Compensating for the higher solar absorption and atmospheric noise levels, we found other indicators of superior performance. These included the Congo on 9610 prior to sign-off at 23 UT, the Voice of Russia on a number of frequencies directed to Europe during our afternoon hours, and a host of 19-25 metre Middle East broadcasters in the 03 to 05 UT time period. Australia and New Zealand did well in the dawn hours around 09 to 11 UT. During the day we listened to US Coast Guard transmissions on 5696 USB, and in the evenings we tuned through the 75-metre amateur radio band.

The synchronous detection works well except on some very weak signals. If the tuning lock is lost, then so is the sync lock lost. But when the sync lock takes hold it is a marvel to behold. Numerous tours through the 25, 31, 41 and 49 metre bands during prime time evening hours attest to its performance.

We also checked for spurious signals during prime-time evening hours when signals are the strongest. We searched 910 kHz below the 49 and 31 metre bands and found only two weak signals by manually tuning the receiver; the signals were not strong enough to flicker the tuning indicator. The culprits were from Sackville, Canada, transmitters: 5960 on 5050 and 9755 on 8845 kHz. We thought this performance was quite acceptable given the 1-hop skip zone. Your mileage may vary with location and use of external antennas.

 

The AC Adapter

Unfortunately we have to give the SONY AC-E60HG AC adapter a poor grade. As we discovered with a number of other portable radios, the adapter is apparently a switching supply that either induces noise into the receiver or lets noise from the house wiring pass through to the receiver. The end effect is that weaker signals are masked – until the cord is unplugged and moved away from the radio. This effect is mostly noticed during the day when there are less SW stations, with weaker signals, to listen to.

No matter who is the manufacturer, we wish such adapters would have power line filters included within the unit.

In our situation with the very local 640 kHz MW station, attaching the adapter also brought in the second harmonic on 1280 kHz. We also checked for the third harmonic on 1920 kHz; that was not heard. Reverting to the batteries, the harmonic disappeared. We can only assume the unshielded house wiring acts an antenna. Your mileage may vary.

For extended listening we still recommend getting an adapter or a DC plug to run the radio off a regulated power supply. If the reception of a station is questionable, just remember to unplug the adapter before giving up trying to listen to the program.

 

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that we like the SONY ICF-SW7600GR. We like the sensitivity, the filter choice for prowling through the SW bands, the synchronous detection, and the line out jack in a reasonably priced radio at US$170. We believe the ICF-SW7600GR is the lowest price portable radio with the sync and line out features.

The "GR" is slightly smaller than the Sangean ATS-505, a good entry-level radio at $130. For a few dollars more the user gets a significantly better filter on AM and SW and synchronous detection for better reception, a line output to record, and more memories. We think the $40 difference is worth it.

The Grundig competitor is the YB-400PE, at US$200, that is slightly larger than the ICF–SW7600GR. It has 40 memories, 2 bandwidth filters, no synchronous detection, and no line output, but it includes an AC adapter. The top-of-the-line Sangean ATS-909 sells for US$240, $70 more than the "GR", and has more bells and whistles than the SONY at US$170.

While the dollar increments of US $30-40 and the varying feature sets between manufacturers and models can make the final choice of a radio difficult, that choice is eventually yours. We probably can't recommend that an ICF–SW7600G owner upgrade to the "GR" as the performance characteristics are similar, but those with inexpensive radios and looking for something with better performance should take a hard look at the ICF-SW-7600GR. Those also buying a SW radio for the first time will not be disappointed.

In May 2001 we checked dealer prices in Canada, Europe and the Middle East. The ICF-SW7600GR model was not to be found. The "G" model was typically selling for an average price of US$300. If you have trouble finding the "GR" model at your dealer of choice, we purchased our "GR" from Universal Radio in Ohio, USA.

Accordingly, we give this receiver a 5 stars rating. As always, please remember the rating is based upon price versus performance and feature set.

This review first appeared on the Radio Netherlands website.