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Sangean SR-35 pocket radio review
on August 27, 2012
I bought the Sangean SR-35 on 3/5/12 from Amazon.
Until now I bought around 18-20 analog pocket radios over the years and the results were mixed, mostly bad. The pocket radios I found have tiny (high pitch) scratchy sound because of their little cheap speaker and cheap electronic parts and schematics. In 30 minutes you get tired of listening and you switch it off.
Over the years I owned Sony ICF-S10, Sony ICF-S10MK2, GE 7.2585A, Rhapsody, Bell&Howell (good little radio, $10, has short-waves too), Coby CX-CB12 a little bigger than a pocket with the most tiring sound of all, Kaito KA200, Panasonic RF-P50, Eton 100, Eton 300PE, Grundig G8, Innovage Outdoor and many others.
I liked "Bell & Howell" the most, $10 price, shortwave too, very easy on batteries and the best sound for a pocket radio until I found Sangean SR-35. The SR-35 changed everything by adopting great schematics, high quality electronic parts, fantastic speaker and great sensitivity to weak radio signals. Living in Seattle and surrounded by many powerful radio emitters, the SR-35 can handle them quite well without overloading.
The only station slightly overloading the SR-35 is KUOW 94.9 FM with 100Kw power, half a mile from my house. KUOW is so strong that you may lite a small flash bulb connected to a long wire ... (just kidding).
Why do I like then so much the Sangean SR-35 ?
I am always in a perpetual search for a great analog pocket radio. Searching the Amazon site I found the SR-35, read some encouraging reviews and decided to buy one for $17.41 (eligible for "Free Super Saving Shipping" when purchased together with other eligible items totaling over $25.00). The radio comes in a good shiny black color, very appealing. I decided to buy the radio and some blank DVDs to take advantage of the "Free Super Saving Shipping".
The radio arrived very carefully packaged and it looked stylish, shiny with good imprinting over all.
Specifications: analog, rotary tuning, LED green tuning, FM 87.5 - 108 MHz, AM 520 - 1710 KHz, speaker 2-1/4 inches for 8 Ohms, the speaker consumes 120 mW and the earphones only 5 mW, 2 AA batteries, Height 4.5 in , Width 2.5 in, Depth 1 in, Weight 5.2 oz without batteries.
And now let's talk about the radio's performance.
I chose to compare SR-35 with the KAITO 1103 radio, vastly superior portable and costing $100.00 (6 times more). KAITO is a great radio, several times larger and heavier, double heterodyne schematics, uses 4 AA batteries, very sensitive and having the ability to receive SW (Short Wave) stations. KAITO is a digital radio while SR-35 is just an analog radio.
The comparison does not seem to be fair to SR-35 but you will see that the little SR-35 can keep pace with the larger KAITO 1103.
1. - Batteries.
When I wanted to insert 2 fresh AA batteries I found out that I had none around the house. Well, I don't know why but I like to keep around the spent batteries from other radios, clocks, GPS, blood pressure monitors, maybe I can use them for something. I measured the voltage with my multimeter and found two having 1.14 V. Did insert them in the batteries compartment in the back (by the way the door is hinged so you cannot lose it), turned ON the radio. You need to turn the volume wheel aprox 30 degrees first until the sound kicks in. This is not a problem though, that's just the knob design.
I tuned to KIXI 880 AM (40s & 60s) and I liked what I've heard: clean sound, the fullest sound experienced in a pocket radio.
No tiring ear-scratching frequencies, but full sound. The other radios small speakers reproduced well only higher audible frequencies while the bas sound is totally lost. Not SR-35 however: the sound is full, balanced and relaxing. For me Grundig radios were the standard for the truly pleasant, relaxing sound (unfortunately Grundig company no longer exist). These radios were 3 times bigger and 5 times more expensive than Sangean.
But I found the Sangean SR-35 can compete with these Grundigs. The only Grundig I still have is the Yacht Boy 305 and the Sangean is on par with it listening on speaker. That by itself is amazing. Later on I found out that the SR-35 sounds almost as good as a $200 - $300 audio receiver if the sound comes through some trusty ears-enclosed headphones. My headphones are 15 years old Sony MDR-V6, very efficient, rendering an excellent sound while consuming very little power. So little that even a small pen-radio can drive them.
Please remember: the AA batteries came from others radios which could not use them anymore. But the SR-35 was sounding great even with those. Next day I bought new AA batteries and I replaced the spent ones: to my amazement, there was no difference in the audio quality. In other words, the SR-35 is able to extract power from exhausted batteries of other radios without losing the quality of the sound a bit. I decided to continue my test using the exhausted batteries around 5 hrs/day (1 hour only on speaker). It took 15 days for the batteries to finally run out of juice. Only in the last 2 days the sound was weaker in volume but the quality still good. If you have enough used batteries (from home, friends or from stores which recycle them) you can use this radio for free. In 1 year you recover the cost of SR-35 this way, especially since the sound quality is not affected. Hard to believe? Try it and you will be in for this nice surprise.
The larger KAITO 1103 is not able to do that.
2. - Sensitivity: the ability of a radio to receive weak signals.
Here the electronic scheme and electronic parts of SR-35 shine to the fullest.
You can amplify a weak station many times over and it sounds loud enough to listen on either speaker or ear-piece/headphones.
Signal amplification is not a problem on any radio nowadays and can be easily achieved. The problem is that 9 out of 10 pocket radios have a high internal electronic noise which gets amplified too; this way the signal is still not improved, just louder. Using a well thought electronic scheme and good electronic parts is paramount to reduce the internal electronic noise of every radio and the Sangean SR-35 is really shining at this chapter. The internal noise is so low and the sound is so clean that you can amplify it without limits, no matter how weak the station is. Now, if the radio-waves are coming from hundreds of miles, over mountains, emitted by only 5 KW radio antennas, the sound will arrive battered of course. But this is the external electronic noise which cannot be controlled and it's not the internal-electronic noise produced by the radio.
The external noise may be fixable a bit with DSP (Digital Signal Processing) electronics used in radios costing around $500 or more). Some stations are weak (I.E.: AM 810 KGO in San Francisco comes reliably in the night, in Seattle, from 690 miles away) but SR-35 amplifies it's signal without problems until your ears hurt with the headphones, but the sound is still crisp and full.
I graded the radio stations from 1 to 10 (1 the weakest, 10 the strongest). From 4 to 10 the SR-35 competes very well with KAITO 1103. From 3 down to 1 KAITO has one grade above SR-35 when listening on the speaker.
However, when listening on my SONY headphones the sensitivity of SR-35 equals the sensitivity of KAITO 1103.
Things are even.
3. - Selectivity: the ability of a receiver to separate signals close to each other in frequency.
This happens when a strong local station (I.E.: 50 KW power) produces sufficient amounts of band splatter which drowns a smaller station 10 Khz away. From 54 AM stations I was able to receive in Seattle during the night time, I cannot listen to 3 stations because they are only 10 Khz away from a strong local station. And Seattle has a lot of strong stations. However, the KAITO is able to detect these 3 stations but the reception quality is still not good, almost unintelligible.
All things equal the SR-35 measures up with KAITO.
4. - Signal handling ability: the ability of containing a strong local station to its frequency, otherwise it may show up on frequencies other than it's own. In other words the signal "spurs" on other frequencies. SR-35 is quite good at that on AM.
However I found a couple of instances in FM when KUOW 94.9 FM (Public Radio) with 100KW power located half a mile from me could be heard lightly on an adjacent frequency. But, by collapsing and re-orienting the radio's FM antenna you can eliminate pretty much this issue. KAITO is better from this point of view and has a slight edge on sensitivity too on FM.
The edge goes to KAITO but not by much.
5. - Loudness: the ability to receive and reproduce the sound with high volume.
SR-35 does not have this problem. The only limitation is the 2-1/4 inches speaker since this is supposed to be a pocket-radio. You cannot put a 5 - 10 inch speaker in your pocket, could you ? This radio is designed to be a personal listening device and not a PA (Public Address) system found in the stores or sports arena. However, If you place the radio in a hallway you may listen the music in all neighboring rooms. But, if you really want a loud sound from SR-35, just plug-in a pair of good encapsulated headphones and your ears and head will hurt, with no distortions. So good are the schematics and the electronic parts used in this radio ... In other words the limitation is the small speaker only. But this speaker is the best I've ever heard in a pocket portable, full sound, pleasant hours after hours of listening.
Just like the famous Grinding.
You may want to ask if Sangean SR-35 does not have any weakness.
It has one, albeit not important and does not affect it's quality: the tuning is a bit finicky.
Sangean simplified the tuning system getting rid of the traditional string and some small guiding roles and using a thin plastic wire instead. It works well but the plastic is elastic/flexible and compresses or contracts, depending from what side you are tuning from. When you release the tuning wheel after tuning, the plastic wire tends to come back to its normal size and, on weaker stations it tends to de-tune a bit. Then a second small tuning correction needs to be made and everything is fine. This issue does not affect stronger stations since they are "spilling over" using a slightly larger bandwidth. I found this to be the case only on aprox 10% of the tunings. To me this is not a nuisance at all: after several tries it becomes a second nature.
Besides, the tuning green LED is so sensitive and precise that tuning is really a snap.
Buy the way, the LED is quiet strong and you can use it as a small light to see things around.
I used it to read in the darkness the exterior temperature on my digital remote display.
I recommend to leave the SR-35 continuously on in the first 3 weeks with no interruption, in other words to try to burn it in. This should be a standard procedure for radios because if something happens in these 3 weeks you can still have 1 week to send it back to Amazon for an exchange, within 30 days guaranty.
To summarize, these are the For and Cons of SR-35 Sangean radio:
- Solid case feeling, shiny black case (as opposed to matte case found on all other radios).
- Great speaker providing full and pleasant sound, hour after hour. It produces an amazing base sound for a pocket radio.
- Very easy on batteries. The radio has the ability to extract 2 weeks of listening 4-5 hours/day from already spent batteries from other electronic equipment, with no listening degradation at all.
- Very good schematics and excellent quality electronic parts, capable of sounding like a good stereo system when listening on headphones.
- Very good sensitivity on both AM and FM.
- Large factor of signal amplification coupled with extremely low internal electronic noise. This way the signal is still clean even if it's highly amplified.
- It can compete with digital radios 5-6 times more expensive, even if it is just a pocket radio.
- Very good and bright green LED light helping you in finding things in the dark.
- Finicky tuning sometimes when trying to get a weaker station. However this is easily solved by the 2nd tuning (if necessary) becoming a second nature for the owner. This is so minor that I bought another Sangean SR-35 for my wife on 3/17/12.
As a recommendation I find the turning on/off wheel to be the weakest item in any radio. Please use it sparingly: if you want to stop listening for 1/2 or 1 hr, it will be better to turn down the volume to zero instead of turning off the radio. The radio is so economical that the batteries are very little affected. Many times the electronics are still good but on/off thumb wheel becomes unusable in 1-2 years and it's not worth replacing it. People then buy a new radio instead.
UPDATE - 11/14/2013
In one of my previous correspondence with "E. Paul Austin" I mentioned that Sangean SR-35 is a great pocket radio.
My caution to him was that the weakest points of this type of radio are the potentiometer (on/off switch and turn on/down wheel) and the variable condenser or the tuner.
I was very satisfied with SR-35 radio at the time but I expressed my reservation as to how well the above mentioned items are going to work in 2-3 years.
Well I have bought 3 radios SR-35 and used them for close to 2 years and I can say that the radios don't hold well.
The sound is still good but the turn up/down switch generates all kind of scratches when adjusting the sound volume. Sometimes I turn it up but the volume goes down instead because the carbon film is of inferior quality and it gets scratched.
This is bad in itself but even worse is the tuning. The variable condenser is breaking down that it makes it almost impossible to tune stations on AM (Amplitude Modulation). If I am able to tune a station it is often off frequency with distorted voice or music. If I try to tune it better I loose the station and it jumps to another one I don't want. If I was able to tune it well, the radio jumps when I release the tuning wheel to an arbitrary place. The tuning is unstable, capricious and frustrating.
Moreover, some stations I cannot tune anymore such as KVI 570 AM.
CONCLUSION: Even if the sound is still good, trying to find a station becomes an exercise in frustration and I have to downgrade the radio to only one star now.
Worse, all 3 radios have these problems.
My only question is: do these 3 radios coincidentally have these problems or they have been designed intentionally to break down after 2 years so you are forced to buy new radios from them? Hard to believe this is just a coincidence but is also hard to believe Sangean uses inferior parts to force the radios to break down in the second year of use. Use your judgment here...
CONCLUSION: SR-35 radio deserves 5 stars quality in the first year but only one star starting with the 2nd year of use. And this is happening with 3 out of 3 radios bought.
Watch out, based on my experience I don't recommend buying these radios anymore.
I am trying to deal with SANGEAN at this point about it and if not successful I will raise these issues with Customer Report Agencies and BBB from their state and my state.
They need to replace the tuner and volume control with a lot better parts.