Author Topic: Kaito KA321 AM/FM/SW DSP Radio  (Read 6486 times)

Offline Alan Georges

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Kaito KA321 AM/FM/SW DSP Radio
« on: October 20, 2012, 08:35:41 AM »
Pro: A very listenable pocket radio – DSP cleans things up, and there’s no heterodyne squealing.  Price, about $20.  Simple, intuitive controls.  No frills.  Price.  Tiny, perfect for a grab-and-go bag.  Did I mention price?

Con: SW tuning band only reaches down to 5.7 MHz.  Stiff frequency control makes precise tuning difficult.  Tiny loopstick AM antenna sometimes needs help.

Earlier this year I reviewed this radio’s analogue predecessor, the Katio WRX911 (http://thesurvivalpodcast.com/forum/index.php?topic=32960.msg367584#msg367584).  It had its pros and cons, but the one thing about it that drove me nuts was the squeal caused by its lack of selectivity.  Adjacent stations weren’t well-resolved, never could quite tune’em out, and it always sounded like a headache.  Well, those problems have been fixed by the DSP (digital signal processing) chip in this successor radio.  Beyond that, the two units are very similar.

Some of the bands on this radio are a little odd for U.S. users.  There are two FM bands, one familiar here in the States, and another reaching down to 64 Mhz.  Not a lot available there locally, but I understand Katio’s rational for not making country-specific radios.  More annoyingly, the SW bands stop on the low end at 5.7 MHz, which rules out a chunk of nighttime SW listening opportunities.  In comparison, the WRX 911 extends down to 4.7 MHz, and many other SW radios continue right down to the top of the broadcast AM band.  The top end is all you need at 22 MHz.  Of course there are no SSB receive provisions, but at this price that’s more than can be expected.  Other than these few dings and somewhat stiff tuning, SW performance is on par with my other “better” SW radios (Tecsun 380 & 660).  A clipped-on longwire helps.

Listening to broadcast AM last evening (WSM 650, about 430 miles away), piped through the stereo, it sounded pretty good.  The DSP chip auto-mutes the sound when the ionosphere ripples and signal-to-noise ratio gets too low.  This bothers some people who are all into DX receiving, but if you’re more into listening I’d say it’s a net plus.  Because of its size though, the little built-in loopstick antenna can only do so much and an external loop (like this: http://thesurvivalpodcast.com/forum/index.php?topic=34568.0) is a big help on marginal signals.

FM performance is very good with the built-in whip antenna.  Clipped onto an external dipole, it pulls in WWOZ out of New Orleans just fine, which is a sort of acid-test of a good FM receiver around here.  It is hard to tune though, with a very small and stiff analog dial, and no keypad input.

Other stuff: comes with a minimal manual (very simple stuff), a lanyard, and that’s about it.  Runs on 2 AA batteries.  No frills, no clocks, no thermometer, none of that useless stuff.  The tiny speaker is surprisingly un-shrill, it’s actually listenable.  About fit and finish, it’s head and shoulders over the WRX911.  Some of the reviews linked below indicated problems with the pop-out stand and the earbud output.  No such problems on my unit.  Good consumer-grad plastic all-around, it feels solid.

Bottom line is that I’ve got a new BOB radio.  It’s a little tricky to tune, but it works and sounds great.  Most importantly, it’s selective enough that adjacent channels don’t cause the thing to squeal.

For others’ reviews, here are a few links.  Some are of the Degen version; same radio, different label.
http://cobaltpet.blogspot.com/2012/09/degen-de321-dsp-portable-receiver-review.html
http://swling.com/blog/2011/11/a-review-of-the-degen-de321-dsp-shortwave-radio/
http://www.amazon.com/Kaito-KA321-Pocket-size-Shortwave-Processing/dp/B008MPKAPK/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1350697209&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=katio+321
« Last Edit: October 20, 2012, 05:44:28 PM by Archer »

Offline backwoods_engineer

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Re: Katio KA321 AM/FM/SW DSP Radio
« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2012, 02:02:31 PM »
Good review, Alan.  It might indeed be a good BOB radio, but that annoying 5.7 MHz lower-end limitation cuts out a lot of the advantage of SW radio (nighttime long-distance listening).  There are some stations stateside on the 7 MHz band, though frequencies vary throughout the year, as you know.

As a wireless engineer, I can tell you that it is amazing 1) how little DSP costs to add to a radio now, and 2) what amazing things it can do.  It is a testament to this technology that it is part of a $20 radio.

Again, excellent review.

Offline backwoods_engineer

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Re: Katio KA321 AM/FM/SW DSP Radio
« Reply #2 on: October 20, 2012, 02:03:47 PM »
One more thing: for the benefit of being found, you might want to get Mr. Bill or one of the mods to correct the spelling transpose in the title.  People will be looking for Kaito, not Katio :-)

Offline Alan Georges

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Re: Katio KA321 AM/FM/SW DSP Radio
« Reply #3 on: October 20, 2012, 05:35:43 PM »
True, BWE.  DSP on a $20 pocket radio is pretty freekin' cool.  Last summer I dug around on Silicon Lab's web site, and bulk prices for DSP tuner chips were about $3 per unit – how they get the price that low is amazing.

OK, off to ask a mod to transpose some characters...  KAITO not KATIO.

Offline Alan Georges

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Re: Kaito KA321 AM/FM/SW DSP Radio
« Reply #4 on: October 23, 2012, 01:29:50 PM »
A few more observations after a week's hard use:

It chews through batteries.  How long it runs on a pair of AAs I'm not sure, maybe 20 to 40 hours.  (Freshly charged 2000mAH Eneloops, BTW.)  A lot less life than others report for the older analog WRX911, several hundred hours.  Figure on one more spare set of batts in the BOB, it's worth it for the radio upgrade.

There's a low-level hiss that seems independent of volume level.  With earbuds it's just below "annoying."  On speaker, you'll never notice it.

For its tiny size, it's a nighttime AM DX monster.  Listened to WOAI San Antonio last night, 1000+ miles away on just the internal loopstick antenna.  Yeah, the external AN-200 loop did help a lot when I added it, but the radio was useable on just the built-in.  It has the usual AM loopstick antenna beam pattern (i.e., point'er thataway and then turn slowly for the best reception), which helps with interference and isn't too fussy for practical use.

Offline jdgct

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Re: Kaito KA321 AM/FM/SW DSP Radio
« Reply #5 on: November 04, 2012, 09:56:50 AM »
I have another question regarding the SW bandwidths on the Katio KA321 versus the Voyager.  To listen to Austraila, New Zealand, Western Pacific from connecticut- are the transmission band widths receivable on the KA321?

Offline Alan Georges

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Re: Kaito KA321 AM/FM/SW DSP Radio
« Reply #6 on: November 04, 2012, 01:27:08 PM »
To listen to Austraila, New Zealand, Western Pacific from connecticut- are the transmission band widths receivable on the KA321?

Yes, for the most part.  I usually can get the ABC early in the morning, before dawn a little above 10 MHz.  Here's a page with a downloadable pdf of their transmitter schedule: http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/waystolisten
Most of the bands overlap with the 321's receive capabilities.