We may be unable to read minds, but we do have an idea about how challenging it can be to select the best shortwave radio. While there’s no harm in going online and picking the first shortwave radio you come across, you are likely to end up with a radio that doesn’t really meet your needs.
Well, that doesn’t have to be the case because we’d be thrilled to give you a head start in the right direction. We reviewed 11 of the best shortwave radios you can buy in 2021 and chose the Tecsun PL880 as our top pick. Why? Because it effortlessly reiterates everything that a shortwave radio should be.
How We Picked These 11 Shortwave Radios
We carefully picked these 11 shortwave radios based on the value they offered and how useful their features were. This meant that we occasionally had to temporarily overlook things like price if we felt that it overshadowed the radio’s true value.
Quick Comparison of Top 11 Shortwave Radios
Reviews Of 11 Best Shortwave Radios In 2021
There’s practically no reason you shouldn’t pick the Tecsun PL880. This sleek single side band radio may look a little retro, but there is an entirely different story under the hood. Powered with a single 2000mAh 18650 Li-Ion rechargeable battery, this little shortwave radio can last for several hours without needing a recharge.
In addition, it packs a PLL synthesized dual conversion receiver to give you the exact precision you need when selecting channels.
- Weighs 1lb.
- 450mW output power
- 3.5mm earphone jack
- 2000mAh 18,650 rechargeable battery
- Comes with carrying pouch and stereo earphones
Why We Liked It
The sound from the unit is phenomenal at different frequencies, and this makes it a worthwhile choice for any newbie or professional would love a reliable shortwave radio.
The Tecsun PL880 uses a factory-supplied 2000mAh battery that can last for over a week. Of course, you could also use 4 AA batteries if you fancy.
The radio features a backlit display that allows you to choose whether the backlight should remain on or not. A backlit display is helpful in a dark environment. However, the ability to turn the backlight off can end up giving you a few more hours of battery life.
This radio has 100-250 memories per page per band. It also comes with a neat feature called Auto Tuning Storage (ATS) that sorts memories by band and frequencies to prevent duplicates.
- Good sensitivity and selectivity
- Easy to access functions
- Wide variety of filter options in AM/SSB
- Long life rechargeable battery
- Slight delay when changing modes
- Poor sync detector
Kaito’s KA500 will appeal to many people who intend to use the radio in harsh condition. This 6-way powered portable radio is made of strong and impact-resistant material which makes it sturdier than most others in the market. Its solar panel, on the other hand, is a godsend since you can recharge the unit virtually anywhere so long as there is good sunlight.
- Weighs 1.6 lbs.
- Sensitivity: FM < 10uV, MW < 1mV/m
- 2000mAh Li-Ion battery
- LED reading lamp + flashlight
- NOAA weather 162.4-162.55 (continuous band)
Why We Liked It
The KA500 features a 180-degree adjustable solar panel that allows you to use the radio even without batteries. Just place the radio in direct sunlight and the radio will power up.
5 LED Reading Lamp
The inclusion of the LED reading lamp can be helpful to a number of people especially in the dark. In addition, since they are LED, they draw little current and can thus help the battery retain its power for longer.
High Capacity Rechargeable Battery
Kaito KA500’s 2000 mAh Li-Ion battery is what will power you through the night. The radio itself offers various methods in which you can charge it as well e.g. using the USB port, the AC adaptor, the hand crank, or the solar panel.
- Can run without batteries
- Powerful built-in LED light
- Variety of charging methods
- Solid build quality
- Hand crank is weak
- Lack of a fine tune control
Just like the Kaito K500, Sangean’s MMR-88 comes with some equally innovative features such as the solar panel and the hand crank. Visually though, the MMR-88 looks sturdier than most other shortwave radios and can thus be suitable for use in harsh environments.
It features an adjustable LED lamp, a built-in clock, and can receive updates from all 7 NOAA weather channels. What’s more is that you can use the LED or its emergency buzzer in case you are in an emergency.
- Weighs 13.8 ounces
- 4-level battery indication monitor
- 90-minute auto shut off
- DSP Digital AM/WX/FM Tuner
- DC In 5V/0.5A and DC Out 5V/0.3A
Why We Liked It
The Sangean MMR-88 boasts an industrial look that goes beyond simple visual appeal. Its body is made of water-resistant material and its rubber edges make it easy to hold even in wet conditions.
Hand Crank Charging
The hand crank charging feature is not new, but on the MMR-88, you will notice that the time taken for a full charge is significantly less. Turning this radio’s crank for two minutes can generate a whooping six minutes of battery life.
Good Audio Quality and Reception
The signal reception on the unit is okay for its price. Its audio quality, on the other hand, is amazing. We were impressed with how full and balanced the bass from this unit was.
- Good hand crank to power ratio
- Good audio quality
- Small and compact
- Sturdy build
- IPX3 weather resistant
- Small battery size
- Lacks an AC adapter
Midland’s WR400 pushes the bar a bit higher with the wide array of customizations it lets you make on the radio. Using the Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) feature, this shortwave radio allows you to only tune in to your county’s NOAA weather radio signals without too many hassles.
Other than that, it comes with a built-in clock and a few warning system options. While it does not come with its batteries, you can fit in 4 AA batteries for emergency situations such as when there is a power outage.
- Weighs 1.4 lbs.
- Frequency bands: AM/FM
- Max frequency band: 162.55MHz
- Uses 4 AA batteries
- Selectable 85dB siren
Why We Liked It
The Specific Area Message Encoding for NOAA and EAS is useful than most people would imagine. This is because it helps the radio to receive alerts from counties that you choose, it allows you to disregard alerts from counties that are not important to you.
Warning System Customizations
Don’t like the WR400’s warning system? No problem. Thanks to its programmable capabilities, you can customize different ways in which you would want the radio to alert you. The available options include the voice alert, the 85dB siren alarm, and the LED flasher.
NOAA Weather Scans Plus Alerts
Midland WR400’s NOAA weather scan will automatically scan and lock onto the strongest weather channel to alert you of severe weather conditions. Coupled with the warning system, we found this to be quite innovative and impressive as other shortwave radios lacked some of these features.
- Great reception
- Customizable alerts
- Large and clear display
- The display can be too bright in low light conditions
In many ways, the C Crane CC Skywave shortwave radio resembles the Tecsun PL880. They both have the same sleek but classic design that can easily trick most people into believing that they are purely retro radios.
However, the C Crane CC Skywave is noticeably smaller and lighter, making it a worthy pick if you fancy portable shortwave radios. In addition, it also has other great features such as a backlit LCD display, a sleep timer, a signal meter, and a direct entry keypad.
- Weighs 5.4 ounces
- Requires 2 AA batteries
- Comes with 1-year warranty
- Includes earbuds, fold-out back stand, and a carry case
- 400 memory presets
Why We Liked It
The C Crane CC Skywave can access the AIR band. Ideally, it provides a means to listen in on air traffic control. Coupled with the autoscan ability and the adjustable squelch mode, this shortwave radio clearly stands out from the rest since few radios have this feature.
CC Buds Earphones
While we never really look forward to the stock earphones that come with most radios, the earphones that come with the C Crane CC Skywave are commendable. They are in-ear style which means that they offer good sound isolation. In addition, they are capable of reproducing voices with good clarity.
NOAA Weather Radio and Weather Alerts
Simply activate the weather alerts on the C Crane CC Skywave and you will be instantly notified of severe weather in the area you are in. The radio also helps by automatically picking the strongest NOAA channel available.
- Truly functional AIR band
- Great selectivity and sensitivity
- Considerately designed for the traveler
- Includes in-ear type earphones
- Lacks external antenna jack
- Lacks SSB mode
If you are in search of a 10-band portable receiver that has a wide range FM coverage, is super tiny and still packs plenty of features, then the Kaito KA321 is the radio for you. It comes with DSP technology for better sensitivity and stability.
Small as it is, it could not lack a 3.5mm earphone jack which allows you to connect your headphones. It has a low power requirement since it only needs two AA cells to operate.
- Weighs 4 ounces
- Covers 64 MHZ – 108 MHz (FM Band)
- Requires 2 AA batteries
- 50mm diameter in-built speaker
- 5V DC input
Why We Liked It
This radio isn’t called “pocket size” for nothing. It is a palm-sized device with superior performance for its size. You can literally tuck it away in your pocket.
Good Build Quality
There are decent radios out there, but the KA321 proved slightly better. Its build quality was top notch and even about to be at par with other Kaito radios like the WRX911. We also loved how Kaito placed the various components on the radio as this made the radio easy to use.
We know that fitting in an LCD display would’ve been great. However, the non-LCD frequency display is able to pack lots of information in a tiny space without using any power. This makes the KA321 remain true to its cause.
- Good reception
- Highly portable
- Poorly written user manual
It may not be as popular as it used to be some years back, but the ICF-SW7600GR has certainly held up to its reputation. This shortwave band receiver comes with a PLL digital tuner that receives FM, MW, and AM. You also get up to four different tuning methods and it allows you to store up to 100 of your favorite frequencies in its internal memory.
- Weighs 1 lb.
- 47-hour battery life
- Output power of 380mW
- FM Frequency range of 87.6-108MHz
- 100 station presets
Why We Liked It
The radio’s construction is durable, and this is thanks to the several generations of shortwave radios from Sony that ultimately led to the construction of the ICF-SW7600GR. It equally packs a sturdy antenna that is easy to adjust for either the FW or SW bands.
Direct Access Tuning
Sony includes 10 single digit keys on the front panel of the receiver to allow you to easily access your desired station quicker. In addition, the memory scan feature is also capable of going through the 100 presets so that you can hear what is being broadcasted in each station.
Refined Audio Quality
The ICF-SW7600GR hardly experiences noise interference, and this is all thanks to the radio’s fine-tuning system. It is equally precise and allows you to get the best reception each time.
- Simplistic and appealing design
- 100 presets
- Auto scanning feature
- Large LCD screen
- Average speakers
While the Tecsun PL-600 is an older model compared to the PL-880, it packs some features that rival many other shortwave radios in the market today. For instance, the radio can hold up to 600 preset stations in its memory and comes with a massive 3 x 1.125-inch backlit LCD display.
It also allows for both manual and direct tuning, giving you plenty of ways to get the most out of it. In addition, since it has a built-in automatic battery charger, you only need to plug it into a power outlet rather than physically remove the battery to charge it separately.
- 600 total preset stations
- 6V DC external power supply
- 300 mA power consumption
- 3.5mm jack
- 5-segment signal meter bar
Why We Liked It
600 Memories Available
Whereas other radios offer up to 100 pre-set channels in memory, Tecsun PL-600 offers 600 memories. That’s a huge number of channels. However, it does come in handy if you will be traveling a lot as you can save certain frequencies for easier access later.
Large LCD Display
This shortwave radio comes with an easy-to-see LCD display that displays valuable information such as battery level, frequency, and time. Bearing in mind that other shortwave radios are analog, modern day travelers would find this radio to be good enough.
The Tecsun PL-600 is not a top-tier shortwave radio, but Tecsun’s adoption of innovative features such as BFO have made this single sideband radio surprisingly powerful for its size.
- Easy to use
- Sensitive on FM/AM/MW modes
- Can hold 600 frequencies in memory
- Poor SW sensitivity
You are likely to compare the Sangean ATS-909X BK with the earlier ATS-909X. Well, you should know that the ATS-909X BK comes with plenty other features such as a bigger and LED backlit LCD display, 99 presets, and an internal battery charging system.
It also offers a higher selectivity thanks to the DSP tuner. With up to five tuning methods, you can tell that this is a versatile radio that will appeal to most.
- 406 memory preset stations
- Auto Tuning System (ATS)
- Weighs 1 lbs.
- 6 tuning methods
- 3.5mm headphone jack
Why We Liked It
The Sangean ATS-909X BK is clearly a better performer, and this is evidenced by its several features. It has a tripled audio output power compared to the ATS-909X for improved fidelity. In addition, since DSP (Digital Signal Processing) is a standard on the radio, you can expect enhanced signal reception and less interference.
6 Tuning Methods
One tuning method may be enough, but for extra precision, having more than one tuning method can be helpful. The ATS-909X BK packs six different tuning methods. Some of them include direct frequency tuning, auto scan tuning, rotary tuning, manual tuning, and memory recall tuning.
- Abundant features
- Good signal reception
- Over 400 memory preset station
- Stock antenna is not so powerful
If you are in search of another pocket-sized shortwave radio like the Kaito KA321, then the Retekess V115 is a suitable alternative. The V115 is compact and can fit in a man’s shirt pocket. This, however, does not make it any less powerful.
One feature that really amazes most people with this radio is its off-air recorder which can record and save audio files to a microSD card. Its battery isn’t large, but the 1000mAh rechargeable battery may be enough for people who wanted something simplistic.
- 3 selectable recording qualities (64Kbps, 96Kbps, and 128Kbps)
- 3.5mm AUX input
- 100 memory settings
- Dimensions 5.21 (W) X 27.95 (L) X 12.6 (H) inch
- FM frequency band:87-108 MHz
Why We Liked It
Supports microSD Card
Having the ability to record to a microSD card is neat since you can always playback your recordings later. Not so many shortwave radios have this capability, and that’s why the V1115 stood out for us.
While the Kaito KA321 required two AA batteries, Retekess V115 comes with a 1000 mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery. You can charge the radio by using its power adapter or by simply plugging it in to a PC with its USB cable.
Good Sound Quality
The radio is loud enough despite its size. However, since it includes a 3.5mm earphone jack, you could always use a headphone in case you are in a noisy room.
- It can record
- It has 100 memory settings
- Compact and portable
- Comes with a rechargeable battery
- Poorly written manual
- Poor built-in antenna
Kaito’s Voyager Pro KA600 is your all-in-one radio that comes with some amazing features. While other shortwave radios come with LED reading lamps and are solar-powered, the Voyager Pro KA600 comes with that and much more.
A flash light, a digital thermometer, and a humidity monitor are all fitted inside this one of a kind radio. What’s more is that it has up to four tuning methods and still has NOAA weather radio channels. All this makes the Voyager Pro KA600 the ultimate emergency radio.
- Weighs 1lbs.
- 600mAh Ni-MH batteries
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- 7 NOAA Weather channels
- FM range of 88-108 MHz
Why We Liked It
Multiple Charging Methods
If the Voyager Pro KA600 runs out of power, you have several ways of powering it back up. You could either use its solar panel if there’s ample sunlight. No sunlight? Just spin the hand crank dynamo and you’ll see the radio coming back to life and even start charging itself.
Large Digital Display
As a radio that literally has it all, it was delightful to see that the large digital display was not sacrificed for a more appealing feature.
Solid Build Construction
From a distance, most people would think that the Voyager Pro KA600 is a bulky radio, but that is not the case. It is lightweight and made of quality plastic which makes it look and feel durable.
- Multiple charging methods
- Durable construction
- Feature-packed and ideal for emergencies
- The solar panel is not very good
Types of Shortwave Radios in the Market
There are up to five different kinds of shortwave radios in the market that you can choose from. They include the following:
They are compact, easy to carry, and affordable. They also come with innovative features such as solar panels that make them ideal for use in emergencies. On the downside, some of the radios have a limited frequency range and may struggle to pick up single sideband signals.
Though scarce nowadays, these radios were known for their simple interface. However, their popularity declined after SDRs became mainstream.
Software-Defined Radios (SDR)
These types of shortwave radios can seem intimidating for most average users since they usually require a computer to operate them. They find a lot of use in cell phones since they can transmit and receive a wide variety of waveforms.
These radios are significantly better than portable radios. Many advanced listeners prefer having desktop radios since they provide better audio quality and they can also receive a wider range of frequencies.
All in One Radios
The name says it all. All in one shortwave radios can pick shortwave frequencies in more than one band. In addition, they are also equipped to handle emergency situations better than some of the other types.
What Is the Difference Between Ham Radio and Shortwave Radio?
Ham radio is usually a service that allows people in a certain locality or even around the world to listen and talk to each other using radio technology. However, a shortwave radio is ideally a radio that can receive more than one shortwave band that can range from 1.6MHz to 30MHz.
As the name suggests, a shortwave radio can only broadcast stations that are found in the shortwave range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Ham radio, on the other hand allows two-way communication.
In addition, ham radio uses a small frequency band compared to the one given for shortwave radios.
What to Consider Before Buying A Shortwave Radio?
Buying a shortwave radio is not overly complicated. In fact, there are high chances you would still pick a decent product even without a guide. However, knowing why a certain radio is better or more expensive than another one can help you make informed decisions. As such, here are five considerations to make before you buy a shortwave radio:
Not all shortwave radios are made equal. Some come with useful features such as NOAA weather alerts while others come with memory card slots for storing your recordings. Knowing which features you need in a shortwave radio will help you get a radio that meets your specific needs. Even though no one will stop you from getting a shortwave radio with all the best features, you’d be wise to go for one with the features you need since it will save you some money.
You certainly wouldn’t want a shortwave radio with poor reception as it would not relay information as clearly as it should. Because of this, you will need to decide whether you would want a radio that needs an external antenna or one that does not. Shortwave radios that support external antennas are more reliable and allow you to improve the quality of the signal reception.
If you intend to use a shortwave radio beyond your locality, then you may want to consider the radio’s overall weight and size. Since shortwave radios come in varied sizes, it is often easy to pick a radio that is perfect for you. Nevertheless, you should still be on the lookout for features that complement the radio’s portability.
This is more of a personal choice than a general rule. The shortwave radio you are interested in purchasing should have the bands that you are likely to use. Since bands are region-dependent, it is important to know if you’ll still be able to use your shortwave radio in a region that has fewer bands. This can happen when you travel internationally.
The durability of the radio is equally important. While most people only assess a radio’s durability based on its visual appearance, we recommend you to also take note of the radio’s battery life. Having a radio that is durable but cannot last for a single hour without needing a recharge is pointless. It is also a good idea to know how long you would want your radio to last without needing a recharge. This can help you select a shortwave radio that won’t necessarily be overkill.
Summing it all up, selecting the best shortwave radio requires you to have an idea of the features that are important to you first. For us, we still feel that the Tecsun PL880 had it all. With regard to price and features, the PL880 seemed balanced and ideal for anyone who wanted a reliable shortwave radio without much thought.