Pros: A great value for $40, but doesn't quite match its "word of mouth" reputation.
Cons: Tuner dial calibration is poor, "dated" look and feature set
The GE 7-2887 Superadio III is described as a High Performance Long Range AM/FM Radio by its distributor, Thomson Consumser Electronics (which bought the GE Consumer Electronics brand in 1987). A "high performance long range AM radio" is something I've desired for a long time. Ive listened to late night radio off and and on since I was very young, first listening talk shows and Jack Buck and Harry Carey broadcasts of Cardinals games on KMOX (one of the great sports AM stations that also helped pioneer the talk radio format), and later enjoying other sports and financial programming, as well as talk shows like the one Bruce Williams hosts. With the combination of moving a few times in my life, along with the tendency of radio stations to change programming frequently, Ive struggled to consistently find the programming I wanted to listen to. I've never owned a AM radio that really excelled at receiving distant stations. When I noticed last year that Amazon was offering this well respected and almost legendary favorite of many AM radio "DX"ers (long range listeners) for just under $40, I decided that I needed this radio.
Initial Impressions and Appearances
We ordered the Superadio III early September, 2004, from Amazon. It was out of stock, and we actually received it a month later. Initially I was surprised at how big it was (12.5 by 10.5 by 4.5 inches), Id read the dimensions, but still, you dont expect a $40 AM/FM radio to be the size of a small briefcase or laptop computer. And given that its powered by 6 D cell batteries, youll find it to be just as heavy, at 6.5 lbs. The radio is all black with white and red text and markings, with silver trim, very "'70's" looking.
In the box was the radio itself and an effective, but short, Use and Care Guide, 7 pages each in English and Spanish. The battery compartment is on the lower back side of the radio, as is a compartment which houses the permanently attached 5 long 110V power cord. Also on back are external AM and FM antenna terminals.
In bright lighting, you can make out the speakers behind the front grill, a 6.5" woofer and 2 tweeter. The large, easy to find in the dark push button on/off switch is on top, along with the handle and 38 telescoping antenna. On the right side, as you face the radio, is a large tuning knob, and a headphone jack. Across the top front, above the speakers, is a AM/FM dial scale, behind which a large red marker bar moves as you adjust the tuning knob. To the right of the speakers are dials to adjust treble, base and volume. Also on the right are Select sliders for AM/FM selection, Wide/Normal AM band selection, and AFC (auto frequency control), to lock in FM stations. There are no digital indicators, LEDs, preselect buttons, or backlighting to make the Superadio easy to use, but that also means longer battery life and less things to interfere with reception or add costs.
Using the Superadio III
Initially, I was a bit disappointed with night time AM reception on this radio. AM reception is actually pretty good, but given how this radio is marketed and its reputation, I had hoped it would be significantly better than anything else I owned. The Superadio used Varactor tuning diodes rather variable capacitors, GE/Thomson displays this prominently on the features list for this radio, and from what Ive read, varactor tuners are more stable, and less affected by outside interference. The Superadio also has a 200mm ferrite rod antenna, larger than most, but fairly common, which should be pretty good for pulling in distant stations, but it also means youll often need to turn the radio to improve reception and/or minimize noise. A few other reception enhancing features are also listed, including tuned RF on both AM and FM. GE also lists features to improve selectivity and separation (to distinguish between close siginals on your radio), including . a Ceramic IF filter, plus 3 IF tuned Circuits on FM and 4 tuned IF circuits on AM.
What I was looking for in my radio was improved night time reception of distant radio stations, typically 50,000 watt superstations 100-1000 miles from my home in Baton Rouge, LA, stations like KMOX (St. Louis), WWWE (Cleveland), WBT (Charlotte) and WOWO (Ft Wayne). On two evenings, around 10pm, in late February and early March 2005, I compared reception offered by the Superadio III with 3 other radios I own, a small Sony ICF M410V, a GE Spacemaker 7290 kitchen radio, and a Boston Acoustics Receptor countertop radio. The Spacemaker and Receptor were plugged in, the GE Superadio and Sony were powerd by batteries. I like the Sony because it offers push button presets and a digital LCD tuner display. The Receptor is noted (deservedly) for its great sound and good reception. Stations I listened to were KMOX in St. Louis (1120), KMAY in Little Rock (1090), KWKH in Shreveport (1130), KTRH in Houston (740), WSB in Atlanta (750), WSM in Nashville (650) and WBAP in Fort Worth (820). The Spacemaker was clearly 4th in this list, suitable really only for local stations with strong signals. Noise and interference made it difficult to listen to other stations. But the other three were very competitive in this test. I could easily listen to six of the seven stations on all of the other three, the Superadio, the Receptor, and the Sony. KMOX was more difficult to hear clearly, and it often faded from good to mediocre. Sometimes the 110v powered Receptor sounded clearer than the other battery powered radios, though usually it was no better. The Receptor, while being fairly small, is a countertop radio, and doesnt lend itself to being relocated and turned to get the best reception, though I was surprised to see how well it did. In the end, I was a bit disappointed that the Superadio didn't provide clearly superior performance in this test, but perhaps I was expecting too much.
When comparing reception of weak, but local AM stations during the daytime, the Superadio III was noticeably better, the signal appeared stronger and there was less background hum and interference heard on the Superadio than the other radios I own. I was able to pick up and listen to more stations 50-80 miles from my home, albeit with some effort, than I could with the other radios. The Receptor ranked a good bit behind both of the battery powered radios tested, though the location where we keep it in our kitchen near many appliances probably doesnt help.
FM reception is very good. First I compared FM reception of the Superradio and the Sony with antennas collapsed. In this not too meaningful test, the Superradio seemed about 100 times better, being able to pick up a lot of FM stations with a clean signal that the Sony didnt even notice. Once the antennas were extended, the Sony became much much better. The Superadios FM reception was helped, but much less, but enought that it was still better better than the Sony, and about on par with the Boston Acoustics Receptor with antenna attached. I could find no FM stations in my area where either the Receptor or Superadio worked noticeably better than the other, though there were several stations that sounded clearer and better than they did on the inexpensive Sony. The Superradios AFC option was often a big help, making the signal sound clear where it was noisy on the Sony.
Compared to other $40 radio and cheap boom boxes, the Superadio sounds great. Its not quite as good as the $150 Boston Acoustics Receptor, but its a lot closer than you might expect from a radio costing over $100 less. The sound is only mono, but the bass is good, highs and mids range sounds OK. However, frequency response is not good enough that you can forget you are listening to plastic portable or countertop radio, as the Boston Acoustics Receptor can sometimes do. The volume knob is infinitely adjustable, though marked from 0 to 10. A setting of 1 is ok for casual listening. On 2-3, if you are listening to this in one room in your home, and if the doors are open, the person in the next room could be bothered by the sound. Settings of 4-5 are loud and will fill a large room easily and hinder conversations. Above about 7 distortion becomes detectable when music is playing, though acceptable. At the highest settings, both voice and music are distorted a little, and youll only use these settings outdoors to listen to news or a ball game.
Though this radio provides only mono sound, the headphone/earphone jack requires using something with a stereo headphone plug. If you plug a $4 Radio Shack with single (mono) earphone, like those commonly included with transistor radios a couple decades ago, it wont work.
Battery life is good, but, to be honest, I dont know how long the batteries will last. After 5 months and something in the ballpark of 100 hours of low volume listening, I am still on the first set of six "D" batteries (alkalines). Other reviewers have reported that these batteries can last 400 hours. Good thing, Id hate to replace 6 D batteries more than once or twice a year.
The tuning knob requires about 8 complete rotations to move the dial completely across the frequency spectrum, allowing you to sneak up on difficult stations. The AFC (auto frequency control) does a great job of locking in on FM stations, minimizing interence, and keeping the station locked in with a clear signal. The AM wide band selector, according to the manual, provides Maximum selectivity of adjacent stations in the NORMAL position, and Improved audio fidelity of strong local stations when it is in the WIDE position. Often the Wide setting does reduce interference and improve sound quality, but it doesnt help as much as AFC does for FM. Its also very difficult to tune in all but the strongest stations when the Wide setting is selected.
The tuning dial calibration is poor, particularly on the low end. For example, when tuning into AM station 740, the tuning dial looks like it is on 690. When listening to AM station 1150 or 1200, the dial appears to be about 20khz less. This problem has been widely reported by many users and there are few websites suggesting or describing ways for electronics hobbyists to calibrate the dial, but its not something the casual listener could do.
Though this radio bears the GE name, its sold by Thomson Consumer Electronics, which markets electronics products under several names, including GE and RCA. Though there is some information on this radio on the Thomson/GE Consumer Electronics website, it is minimal, and I can find no FAQs or support info for this radio. The warranty is for one year, and the manual tells users how to send the radio in for warranty replacement, if needed.