It’s actually not all that surprising if you happen to be looking for the best shortwave radio you can use these days. Sure, it’s old technology as it first appeared way back in the very early 1900s. Even after more than a hundred years of increasingly sophisticated wireless technological marvels, shortwave radios remain in demand.
Regardless of why you might want a shortwave radio, the real challenge is figuring out which one is the best for you. You can help yourself out and avoid the inferior radios by beginning your search with the following excellent options:
Best Shortwave Radios Review
1. Tecsun PL880 Portable Digital PLL Dual Conversion Shortwave Radio
If you want an “advanced” shortwave radio, this is it. It offers just about every feature and convenience you can find in a shortwave radio. However, let’s focus on some main features.
Tuning is great with the knobs, since you have a main tuning knob along with a fine-tuning knob. But if you know the exact frequency you want, then you can just use the keypad to enter the frequency. You can press a button to scan for frequencies as well. You even have hundreds of presets for all your favorite frequencies.
This gives you synchronous detection and dynamic noise reduction, to really cut down on the signal noise. While you also have a built-in antenna for this, there’s still a jack for am external antenna. This also gives you full range coverage. You get shortwave radio, along with AM/FM and single sideband.
With its LCD screen, you get the exact frequency along with the state of the battery power. This has backlighting, which you can turn off to conserve power. You also get the time, along with sleep and alarm functions.
The sound is great too, and in fact you’ll be hard-pressed to find better audio quality in this price range. The 3W Mylar speaker gives you crisp highs and mids, and the low frequencies are good.
For power, you have an18650 Li-ion rechargeable battery. This is a replaceable battery, so you can bring along a spare rechargeable battery when you use up all its power. Even with heavy use though, this battery can give you 2 weeks before you need to recharge it.
It’s portable as well, measuring about 7.5 by 5.4 by 1.25 inches. It’s easy enough to carry with its 1-pound weight and a hand strap. Your purchase also comes with stereo earbuds and a carry pouch.
- Multiband including AM, FM, and SSB
- Comes with LCD screen
- Easy to hone in on exact frequencies
- Great reception
- Long-lasting battery
- Lots and lots of advanced features
2. C. Crane CC Skywave SSB AM, FM, Portable Shortwave Radio
Now this is what you call a portable radio. It’s one of the smallest out there, as it’s less than 5 inches long and about 3 inches high, and about an inch thick. You even get a leather radio case for it. But it sure isn’t small when it comes to its features.
With this you can get just about anything out there. You’ve got shortwave, AM/FM, and the NOAA band plus the Alert. You also get the Airband and single sideband. Basically, you have the radio that can get info from just about any radio source out there.
The reception is great too, especially for shortwave. The people at C. Crane came out with a totally brand-new circuit board designed for super-clear reception and terrific audio. Your purchase even comes with a 23-inch shortwave reel antenna, that works better than any regular built-in antenna you can get in a radio.
You get all the advanced features here as well, with fast and fine-tuning on all bands except the weather band. You can enter the frequency directly via the keypad, or automatically scan for frequencies. You even have 400 presets for your favorite stations, including 10 presets for aviation.
Here you have a backlit LCD display, with a clock and alarm function along with a long list of other features. You can power it with the included AC adapter, but you can also just put in 2 AA batteries. Those batteries are enough to give you 60 hours of playing time, plus you get an extra 10 hours if you use the CC ear buds that are also part of your purchase.
- Extremely small
- Comes with 2-ft long shortwave antenna
- 400 presets
- Multiband including aviation and weather
- At least 60 hours of use with just 2 AA batteries
- Terrific reception
- Tuning knobs and keypad
3. Retekess V115 Portable AM FM Radio with Shortwave Radio
Yes, this handheld shortwave radio is quite affordable. It’s small as well, with dimensions of 4.7 by 3.1 by 0.9 inches. That’s small enough to fit inside a jacket pocket. This is a shortwave radio, but it’s a lot more versatile than its size or price will suggest.
This will keep you from being bored because it can also play AM and FM radio stations. You can even connect your smartphone to this to play music, as it plays MP3s. You can plug in a TF card with your tunes as well. The sound is much better than what you get from your smartphone, as with this you actually get bass. There’s an earphone jack as well.
This is so easy to use with its LCD screen which can display the info you want. It can show you the frequency you’re listening to, or maybe the time. The backlighting keeps everything easy to read even at night.
As for the power, this has a built-in 1000mAh rechargeable battery. With its USB cable, you can recharge it with your PC. You can use an adapter to plug this into an electrical socket.
- Extremely affordable
- Quite tiny
- Gives you shortwave, AM, and FN stations
- Can play TF cards with MP3s
- The aux-in lets you connect your smartphone
- Has built-in rechargeable battery, but can be plugged in with adapter
4. Sony ICF-SW7600GR AM/FM Shortwave World Band Receiver
It’s easy enough to think that the venerable Sony brand has every type of radio imaginable. And yes, they do have a shortwave radio to offer. Unsurprisingly, it’s great. This gives you AM/FM radio along with shortwave and SSB.
It has an antenna for AM and LW (long wave), along with a telescoping antenna for shortwave and FM radio. don’t worry too much about reception, since this has synchronous detection that minimizes noise and fading. It also has the PLL Quartz Frequency Synthesized Tuning that minimizes drift.
You even have 100 presets. Its auto-scan function lets scan the 100 presets one at a time. You’re able to listen to a few seconds for each preset until it shifts to the next one.
This is a compact model, as it’s about the size of a smartphone. It comes with a large LCD screen with lots of info, along with a keypad that gives you the station you want at the touch of a button. you even have 2 alarms to use, with different times to wake up. You can also set each alarm to a different radio station to wake up to.
This can work with an AC adapter, but on the go you can put in 4 AA batteries.
- Great reception
- 100 presets with auto-scan
- Easy to carry
- Easy to read LCD screen with backlighting
- 2 different alarms
5. C Crane CC Skywave Portable Travel Shortwave Radio
This is a smaller model than the earlier C Crane radio on this list, and consequently it’s more affordable too. But many people find this among the best travel shortwave radio models. Here you can listen to shortwave, plus the usual AM and FM stations. You can even get NOAA and the aviation band.
Those are excellent features, considering this radio is absolutely tiny. It’s less than 5 inches long and about 3 inches wide, and just an inch thick. That usually means it has a small speaker, but you still get a nice sound nonetheless. You also have an earphone jack to use if you want.
This uses only 2 AA batteries, and from them you get at least 60 hours. However, at home you can just plug it into an electrical socket.
- Shortwave, AM, FM, aviation, and weather bands
- 400 presets
- Auto-scan with direct entry keypad
- Backlit LCD display
- Comes with clock and sleep timer
- Extremely portable
6. Eton Elite Field AM/FM/Shortwave Desktop Radio with Bluetooth
Here’s another radio that you’d want to consider. It’s bigger than usual at about a foot long and 6 inches high, but then again you have a handle here for easier portability. Besides, it’s only about 3 pounds or so in weight.
This gives you the shortwave radio you want, along with AM and FM. You also have automatic and manual tuning options, along with 50 presets. If it’s music you want, you have Bluetooth here as well. This sounds great, as you also have controls for treble and bass.
- Clear digital screen
- Offers 50 presets
- Comes with external antenna connections
- Great sound
- Still portable
7. Kaito KA550 5-Way Powered emergency shortwave radio
If you want the best emergency shortwave radio, you should take a look at this. This gives you not just shortwave and AM/FM, but also the NOAA channels. The 14.5-inch antenna along with the advanced circuitry gives you good reception.
This can be powered in multiple ways as well. You can use a power adapter, or go with the rechargeable NiMH battery pack. This battery pack is replaceable as well, so you can have a spare battery pack. If that’s not enough, you can even put in 3 AA batteries. It also has a solar panel, and for the ultimate backup it has a hand crank. There’s simply no way it will run out of juice.
This also doubles as a phone charger and as a flashlight with extra features.
- Also gets NOAA alerts
- Multiple power options, including hand crank
- Impact and water-resistant
- Works as flashlight and emergency SOS beacon
- Great radio reception
8. Eton Elite Traveler AM/FM/LW/Shortwave Radio with RDS
This is the no-fuss radio you want if you need desktop shortwave radio on the road. It’s small at about 6 inches long, but you get AM, FM, and shortwave radio. You can put in 4 AA batteries and you’re good to go.
Put this on your bedside table, too, if you want. It has a sleep timer function, along with an alarm. The digital display can show you the time as well.
- Simple to use
- Very portable
- Uses 4 AA batteries
- Terrific radio reception
- Good sound from the speaker
9. PRUNUS M-160BT Retro Portable AM FM Shortwave Rechargeable Radio
This is a retro-looking model that may seem cute, and you might be tempted to get it because it’s also affordable. But its technology is modern, nonetheless. This may be the best desktop shortwave radio you can get for your money if you want a more vintage design.
Yes, you get the usual: AM, FM, and shortwave. But this inexpensive radio has both aux-in and Bluetooth so you can connect your smartphone music to it. You can also play the MP3s on your flash drive and TF card.
- Cute retro design
- Very inexpensive
- Offers aux-in and Bluetooth connectivity
- Plays flash drives and TF cards
- Comes with rechargeable 1200mAh battery
10. ICOM 7300 02 Direct Sampling Desktop/Tabletop Shortwave Radio
This tabletop shortwave radio is meant for home use, as it is large and definitely expensive. But that’s because it’s more than a radio receiver. You can use this to transmit as well.
This is also definitely not easy to use at first, but you can learn. No one has anything negative to say about it, because it certainly delivers. If you’ve graduated from the simple shortwave radios, this is the one to get when you think about transmitting broadcasts on your own.
- Built-in auto tuner
- 3-inch color touchscreen
- Includes CW and SSB radio
- Lets you do your own broadcasts
Best Shortwave Radio Buying Guide
When you’re looking for a shortwave radio, you may notice that most of them share the same basic features. However, there are some differences with some models offering more features than others.
If you want a better time with shortwave, you may want to make sure that your radio comes with the following features:
Standard Frequency Coverage
At the very least, your radio must be able to cover the range from 1.6 to 30 MHz. However, you’re free to get a radio that can receive even lower frequencies so you can have more options to listen too.
Also try to get a radio that works as a single sideband receiver. With SSB, you can really boost the sheer number of transmissions you can get. You may overhear chatter between military units, or get weather reports.
An LCD Screen
It’s true that there’s a certain appeal to retro designs with analog displays. You feel like a time traveler, listening to a radio that your grandfather’s grandfather could have used. Radios with analog frequency displays are cheaper too.
But you really should consider getting a digital display instead. That way, you can get the exact frequency and you can then return to that frequency in the future. In addition, an LCD screen can also give you the time, and maybe other info like your battery power state.
Basically, it’s a feature that lets your radio lock on to shortwave signals. You get a clear (or at least a clearer) broadcast, without too much fading and noise. While you may have to pay extra for this feature, many consider it a worthwhile investment.
A good antenna is mandatory for shortwave. You’ll want one that’s easy to adjust while also durable. You should go for the longest antenna you can get as well.
However, you may want to consider a radio with a jack where you can connect an external antenna. This external antenna will be much more useful in getting faint shortwave signals and will offer better reception.
Knobs and Buttons
What kind of tuning option do you want? More people tend to go with a traditional tuning knob. You can quickly go from one frequency to another, while you can also slow down to get it exactly right.
Some people do like the buttons. You may even be able to enter the exact frequencies you want. Some radios also offer presets that let you save your favorite stations.
This isn’t a feature you can confirm by glancing at the specs, though the length of the warranty can be a clue. The best way to learn about a radio’s durability is to note how many complaints you find in customer reviews regarding breakdowns.
If you’re a newbie, you may want to go with a portable model that you can take with you to hiking trips. You can also use it after you’ve driven around to a remote place where shortwave reception is better. Also, these models tend to be very affordable.
So, go with a compact and lightweight model. See if there’s also a carrying case that’s part of the purchase.
Your best bet is if your radio can go with both an electrical cord (or AC power adapter) or with batteries. For home usage, it’s more convenient to just plug in the radio to an electrical socket.
However, for outdoor trips you’ll need batteries. Some people prefer disposable batteries because you can just bring along spare batteries for your trip. You can then just replace the batteries once they run out of juice.
Others like the convenience of a built-in rechargeable battery. This saves you the trouble and expense of buying replacement batteries too often. However, you have to pay attention to how long a full charge will last. You may run out of battery power while you’re still outdoors.
Good reception won’t be of too much use if your speakers are crap. You may not be able to fully appreciate the esoteric music you’ve stumbled upon, or understand what the broadcaster is saying. What you want is a speaker that sound better than what you get with your smartphone. It may also help if there’s an earphone jack, just in case you already have high-quality earbuds or earphones.
Some people like it if their radio can get AM and FM stations. Sometimes you just want to listen to regular music, and you can go with an FM station for that. You may also want to get a radio that receives NOAA weather alerts.
Another feature that you might want is the sleep function. This is the countdown timer that automatically turns off the radio after a set amount of time. You can then go to sleep with the radio on, knowing that it will turn off on its own later.
An alarm function can also be very helpful. It may even have a humane alarm function that wakes you up with its increasing volume. This keeps you from being startled awake.
What Is a Shortwave Radio?
Most people nowadays are only familiar with “regular” radios. These are the radios that get AM and FM stations. So, what makes a shortwave radio different?
A shortwave radio is still a radio, which means it’s a receiver for radio transmissions. It’s just that you’re able to get the frequencies between the range of 1.6 and 30 MHz. This is the “shortwave” range” to differentiate it from the AM broadcast band that’s also called the “medium wave” frequencies.
What makes shortwave transmission special is that these radio waves are able to travel over long distances. Some radio waves can only be received within a “line of sight” distance of about 40 miles. But even a vintage shortwave radio can receive broadcasts from other continents. There’s no need for any cable or satellites to receive these transmissions.
Types of Shortwave Radio
Not all shortwave radios are the same when it comes to their features. Shortwave radios come in various categories, depending on their size and what they can do.
These are the software-defined radios, and they’re the most sophisticated shortwave radios you can find. They offer the ultimate performance in terms of reception and audio quality. Their range of features is truly impressive, and often you can transmit as well as receive.
These are the ones you get if you’re truly serious about long-range communications and have the budget to commit. Many military services use this type of gear to maintain contact with their various units.
Desktop Shortwave Radios
This is the type of radio you normally use at home, or at least in a place where you can plug it into an electrical socket. These offer a wide range of features as well. In general, the audio quality is much better than what you get from the smaller models.
In addition, you’re typically not limited to just listening in to shortwave transmissions. Many of these desktop models can let you get AM and FM transmissions as well.
Portable Shortwave Radios
These are more compact models that are much easier to carry around. You can place them in a glove compartment or in your backpack, and some are small enough to fit a pocket in your jacket. While these radios are easier to bring along, their size often cuts down on the number of features you can enjoy.
You may have limited frequencies with the radio, and you may not get single-band signals. Also, the audio quality of these radios isn’t exactly for audiophiles. However, some brands do offer more sophisticated portable shortwave radios.
All-in-One Shortwave Radios
This category refers to the shortwave radios that come with a full range of features. In general, this type can let you get AM and FM stations too. Most tabletop radios, and even a few portable models, fall into this category.
Advantages of SW Radio
If you’re asked why you want a shortwave radio, you can supply the following answers:
This is perhaps the most quoted answer to why anyone would want a shortwave radio. Keep in mind that shortwave transmissions can travel across continents. That means you can get broadcasts from just about anywhere in the world. If you’re in the US, you can get broadcasts from other states, or from Asia or Africa.
There’s a certain thrill in getting a broadcast from other countries. When you get them in a strange language, you realize that the world is bigger than you think. You feel that human connection even if you’re very different from other people.
Lots of Different Topics
With FM radio, you get music for the most part. With AM, you can also get news, talk radio, and maybe baseball broadcasts.
But the sheer range of topics you can get on shortwave radio is simply astounding. You may find plenty of people reporting on what’s happening in their neighborhood. This means you can get reports of natural disasters and riots straight from the people who are actually there.
Some like to discuss various hobbies, such as their gardening experiences. They may share recipes and tips on how to soup up a Mustang. You’ll find religious and political zealots of every stripe, screaming about the righteousness of their own beliefs. Even the music can be very different from the pop tunes you’re used to.
Shortwave Radio is More Reliable
Just because you have a smartphone doesn’t mean you’re plugged into the worldwide web of information all the time. You’ll find plenty of spots where you can’t get the Internet. If you’re prone to hiking to remote spots, you’re better off with a shortwave radio to remain aware of any news, instead of just relying on your smartphone.
In case of an emergency, you really should have a backup shortwave radio. This type of radio is so important that they’re often listed as part of an emergency preparedness kit.
You’ll find that breaking news may be heard more quickly through shortwave transmissions than through the internet. After all, the “reporters” are the ordinary people who are actually where the action is. News organizations need to get their reporters there first before they can make their reports.
You can’t jam shortwave transmissions. No government can keep these broadcasts from the air, so you can get the uncensored news. In places where free speech isn’t really practiced, you can get news from shortwave broadcasts that may be a lot more accurate than from official channels.
Shortwave radios aren’t all that expensive either. A reasonably good shortwave radio can cost you about $50, though it’s also true that you need to spend more if you want a powerful radio that can receive even the faintest signals.
It’s also true that if you’re not careful, you might wind up spending thousands of dollars on your gear. Listening to shortwave radio is a hobby, and like many hobbies there’s a chance you might go overboard.
There’s really not much to it. it’s a matter of patiently tuning the radio, while you may want to turn the unit from side to side to get the best reception.
Tips to Improve Your Experience with SW Radio
It’s also true that listening to shortwave radio can be a bit challenging. If you’re used to FM radio reception, the “dirty” signals of shortwave can be downright frustrating. Static will be a part of your listening experience.
Still, there are some ways that can alleviate the issues:
Pick the Right Time
That means around the time of sunrise and sunset. If sunrise is at 6AM, then you may want to try listening to shortwave transmissions from 5AM to 7AM. You can do the same 1-hour before and after time frame for sunset.
Get Away from Urban Areas
Towns and cities have many other radio wave transmissions that can affect shortwave signals. So, try shortwave when you’re hiking to remote areas, or when you’re on the beach.
Buy the Best Shortwave Radio You Can Afford
A good unit can minimize the frustration and enhance the excitement, as a good radio should be able to get shortwave transmissions more easily.
Do people really still listen to shortwave radio?
The short answer is yes. Why else would so many brands still make these things?
How do I find other shortwave fans?
Try googling for shortwave radio websites and social media groups. You can get a lot of info regarding shortwave stations all over the internet.
What’s a QSL card?
One of the more competitive aspects of shortwave is that many fans like to boast about the strange stations they’ve managed to get on their radio. The problem is that no one will really believe you unless you have definitive proof.
That’s where the QSL card comes in. This is the card you get from a station when you contact them and prove to them that you’ve managed to receive their transmission. If you’re able to prove it (usually by stating the time you got the signal and describing what you heard), the station will then send you the QSL card. This is the station’s official acknowledgement that you’re telling the truth about getting their signal.
Shortwave radio can be fun and diverting, but it can also offer crucial info in case of emergencies. The key to having a great time with shortwave is to get the best shortwave radio you can get for your money. Start with an inexpensive model at first, but don’t be surprised when you feel compelled to spend more for your new shortwave hobby!