Retro Review of Radio Shack DX-397 (Sangean SG-622)

radioshackdx-397My CFOR podcast has turned this site into an audio blog, but it’s refreshing to write some articles every now and then. As promised in a past episode, I am going to have retro reviews of radios and other gadgets.

While this specific review will get onto the podcast, readers of the blog will get a chance to know about it first and won’t miss any details.

In the first retro review, I talked about my first shortwave radio, the Worldstar MG-6100. However, nothing lasts forever and it ultimately broke.

This radio, the Radio Shack DX-397, was its replacement. It was around my birthday in 1999 that my dad bought it for me.

Specifications

For a run-down of the specs, here is a listing:

Power Supply: ……………………………………… 3 AA batteries
AC/DC adapter, 4.5V DC, 200 mA, center tip negative

Frequency Ranges:

FM: ………………………………………………. 88 – 108 MHz
MW (AM): ………………………………………… 530 – 1710 kHz
SW1 (60 m): …………………………………….. 4.39 – 5.18 MHz
SW2 (49 m): …………………………………….. 5.72 – 6.33 MHz
SW3 (41 m): …………………………………….. 7.00 – 8.05 MHz
SW4 (31 m): ……………………………………. 9.20 – 10.02 MHz
SW5 (25 m): …………………………………… 11.35 – 12.25 MHz
SW6 (21 m): …………………………………… 13.25 – 14.28 MHz
SW7 (19 m): …………………………………… 15.00 – 16.05 MHz
SW8 (16 m): …………………………………… 17.30 – 18.18 MHz
SW9 (15 m): …………………………………… 18.70 – 19.25 MHz
SW10 (13 m): ………………………………….. 21.20 – 22.30 MHz

Maximum Sensitivity (for 50 mW output 8 Ohm):

FM: ……………………………………….. 6.3 microV at 98 MHz
MW (AM): ………………………………… 631 microV at 1,000 kHz
SW1 (60 m): ………………………………… 10 microV at 4.9 MHz
SW2 (49 m): ……………………………….. 10 microV at 6.05 MHz
SW3 (41 m): ………………………………… 10 microV at 7.2 MHz
SW4 (31 m): ………………………………. 12.6 microV at 9.5 MHz
SW5 (25 m): ……………………………… 12.6 microV at 11.7 MHz
SW6 (21 m): ……………………………… 12.6 microV at 13.8 MHz
SW7 (19 m): ……………………………… 15.9 microV at 15.5 MHz
SW8 (16 m): ……………………………… 15.9 microV at 17.5 MHz
SW9 (15 m): ……………………………… 15.9 microV at 18.9 MHz
SW10 (13 m): …………………………….. 15.9 microV at 21.5 MHz

Usable Sensitivity (for 20 dB S/N):

FM (for 30 dB S/N): ………………………… 12.6 microV at 98 MHz
MW (AM): ………………………………. 1,000 microV at 1,000 kHz
SW1 (60 m): ………………………………. 12.6 microV at 4.9 MHz
SW2 (49 m): ……………………………… 12.6 microV at 6.05 MHz
SW3 (41 m): ………………………………. 12.6 microV at 7.2 MHz
SW4 (31 m): ………………………………. 12.6 microV at 9.5 MHz
SW5 (25 m): ……………………………… 12.6 microV at 11.7 MHz
SW6 (21 m): ……………………………… 12.6 microV at 11.8 MHz
SW7 (19 m): ……………………………… 15.9 microV at 15.5 MHz
SW8 (16 m): ……………………………… 15.9 microV at 17.5 MHz
SW9 (15 m): ……………………………… 15.9 microV at 18.9 MHz
SW10 (13 m): …………………………….. 15.9 microV at 21.5 MHz

Speaker: ………………………………… 2.5 Inch, 8 Ohm, 0.5 Watt

Output Power: ……………. 150 mW 8 Ohm (10% THD) for built in speaker
5 mW per channel for headphones

Headphone Jack: ………………………… 0.125 Inch (3.5 mm), 32 Ohm

Dimensions (HWD): ……….. 3.5 x 6.625 x 1.25 Inches (90 x 167 x 32 mm)

Weight – Without Batteries: ………………………… 9.87 oz (280 g)
With Batteries: ………………………….. 12 oz (340 g)

While it doesn’t provide full coverage of the HF band, for the price of this radio at the time it provided a lot frequency coverage essential for major broadcasters.

Sensitivity

For a beginner shortwave or casual local radio listener, the DX-397 does the job. However, I would not expect it outperform more expensive, digital sets.

Back when I used this radio, many stations could be tuned into with ease. Of course, these broadcasters like Radio Netherlands Worldwide, HCJB, Radio Canada International, and Radio Taiwan International could be pulled up well enough with the telescoping antenna.

Aside from the major players beaming their signal to North America, getting distant stations was nearly impossible. Even Radio Australia couldn’t come in at all on this thing.

While it was adequate for getting direct transmissions, sensitivity to fainter signals was quite deaf. For me in the late 90s to early 2000s, it was enough for me to stay hooked to shortwave.

Performance

The DX-397, also made by Sangean as the SG-622, handled decently for a sub $50 portable radio. AM & FM reception for local stations worked as well as any cheap clock radio.

As for SW, it picked up the loudest of stations well. However, it tended to drift now and then.

The tuning knob had to be fine adjusted for a few moments and it was something I was already familiar with. Analog shortwave receivers are notorious for drifting and the DX-397 did plenty of it.

Another performance annoyance was fading. All HF signals tend to fade, but reception on any signal (strong & weak) would mute out. Once it did, static took over.

Even my parents would cuss at me to “turn that damn radio down.” I would adjust to volume so loud at times because the signal would almost vanish from existence.

Some Fond Memories

With the problems out of the way, I did have fond, pleasant memories using the Radio Shack DX-397.

One of those was listening to radio dramas. The BBC World Service used to air “Play of the Week” on weekends and heard some excellent stories. It even got me to submit a couple of plays for their drama contest every November.

Another was sitting down and listening to The Chronicles of Narnia on HCJB.

Along with radio plays, I also heard events live as they unfolded in real-time. Two big events I heard on the DX-397 at the time were the 2000 Presidential Election and aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Voice of America.

Finally, it was always a pleasure hearing my letters read on the air from RCI, RTI, and HCJB during mailbag programs including “Musical Mailbag.”

Conclusion

Despite some flaws, the Radio Shack DX-397 has some solid reception. Even with some fading and noise, it was able to pick up the stations I wanted to hear.

For the price, the performance was what I expected it to be. It was just adequate and a decent primer for a beginning SWL.

I had fond memories with the model, but using a number of radios in my life…it was one of the worst ones.

The DX-397 wasn’t a bad radio, but it wasn’t good either. Just “meh.”

I would not recommend it, especially today to veteran hobbyists or even those searching for a quality radio on the cheap. Interestingly enough, Sangean still sells this model on Amazon and other online retailers.

However, if you are going for a cheap well-performing radio for yourself or your little SWL, then get a Tecsun model and go digital. One could spend about $10 more and get a Tecsun PL-380, which is bound to provide better performance and not break the bank.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s