Pros: Extremely compact, attractive design, very good FM and shortwave reception, FM stereo through provided earbuds
Cons: AM (medium-wave) reception not as good as FM/shortwave reception
When I was growing up in the 1970s, I had a transistor radio, just as most every other kid did at the time. Now, iPods and other handheld devices largely serve the purpose transistor radios used to, but that just makes Grundig's little Mini 400 world band radio all that much more appealing to those of us who still like the convenience and versatility of an honest-to-goodness, pocket-size radio.
Available for about $30, the Mini 400 has both "retro" touches and modern upgrades. First of all, it's very small, measuring about 2.75 inches (7 cm) wide and 4.25 inches (10.8 cm) tall. In terms of width and height, this makes it similar to yesterday's transistor sets, but this radio is much thinner than those used to be, measuring almost exactly one-half inch (1.25 cm) thick. This makes it a very nice size to slip into a shirt pocket.
"Back in the day," transistor radios used a variety of tuning dials and pointers, most not very accurate, which made it hard to search for a particular station, especially a weaker one some distance away. In contrast, finding stations on the Mini 400 is easy because there's a digital display that shows the exact AM, FM or shortwave frequency to which the radio is tuned. The digital display also serves as a clock when the radio is off, and can also be used to set the radio's alarm, which is a really useful feature that transistor radios never used to have. (Clock and alarm times are shown in 12-hour a.m./p.m. format, not 24-hour international/military format.)
In terms of appearance and feel, the Mini 400's amazingly-compact size means it fits nicely in the palm of your hand, and there's a silky "rubberized" finish that feels smooth, reduces the radio's tendency to slide around as you use the controls, and lends a high-quality touch. Rather than turning the radio on and off with the volume control, as you used to do with transistor radios, the Mini 400 has a power button on the front. Other front-mounted buttons are used to set the time and alarm time. Setting the time and alarm time on this radio is exceptionally easy, by the way: You simply hold down the "time" or "alarm" button depending on whether you're setting the time of day or the alarm time, and then press the "hour" and/or "minute" buttons to advance the time of day or alarm set time to the desired point.
Thumbwheels on the right side of the radio are used to adjust the tuning and volume, and there's also a sliding "lock" switch on the right that prevents the radio from being turned on (or off) accidentally. This is useful for times when the radio might be packed in luggage or carried in a pocket, as it prevents the batteries from being run down by the power being inadvertantly turned on when not wanted. The band selector is on the left. A circular speaker grille gives the front of the radio a classy look reminiscent of old-time transistor sets.
Radio Performance and Reception
The Mini 400 covers the standard AM and FM broadcast bands, as well as the following shortwave frequencies -- 5.6 - 10.27 MHz and 11.4 - 18.23 MHz. (The shortwave coverage noted here is slightly different from what appears on this radio's specification sheet, as I have discovered that the radio's coverage is actually slightly wider than the manufacturer claims.)
The Mini 400's best performance is on FM, where the reception is surprisingly sensitive for a radio this small. FM stations from 50 to 70 miles away come in clearly when the internal telescopic antenna is extended. Selectivity is also reasonably good, and the Mini 400 resists "overloading" from storng local FM signals. For those who listen to stereo FM through the provided earbuds, the earbuds' wires also tend to serve as an FM antenna, allowing you to listen to FM without the telescopic antenna extended, which is nice for times when you might want to carry the radio in its pouch or in a pocket while listening to the earbuds.
Shortwave reception is not bad at all for a radio this size and price. Make no mistake, the Mini 400's reception is definitely a notch or three below larger and costlier shortwave portables, such as the Grundig G5, but the stronger signals all come through clearly. Comparisons with the G5 and other shortwave radios I have confirm that the little Mini 400 holds its own quite well, picking up even some of the weaker international signals.
Medium-wave (AM) reception is the Mini 400's weakest suit, but it does fine at receiving local and stronger regional signals, so it's suitable for catching a ball game or newscast on a nearby AM station. Limited reception of distant signals is also possible at night, as on other AM radios, but the little Mini 400's receiving ability on AM is limited by its small size and presumably small internal AM antenna.
One thing to keep in mind about this radio is that, while the tuning display is digital, the internal circuitry is analog. What this means is, for instance, when you're listening to AM and tune to the desired frequency, you are also moving the FM and shortwave frequencies, so the last FM station and shortwave stations you listened to will not be recalled when you return to those bands, as they would be on an all-digital radio.
Also, as with many analog radios, there can be some drift until the radio has been turned on long enough that it's internal circuitry stabilizes. So, sometimes it is necessary to re-tune a station once after you've been listening to it for a few minutes. While the drift of this radio is no worse than on many other analog radios, it may be more noticeable to users on the Mini 400 because the digital frequency display will change when the radio drifts, drawing the user's attention to it.
With a radio this size, the size of its internal speaker is obviously limited by design, so you can't expect -- and don't get -- high-fidelity music reproduction via the internal speaker, but the sound of the Mini 400 is very listenable, and both music and voices come through with clarity, owing to the good treble response of the small speaker. Again, the Mini 400 sounds a lot like the transistor radios of yesteryear when used with its internal speaker, and I used to listen to music for hours on end with those. For more full-range audio, the provided earbuds do provide much richer sound (and stereo sound on FM), which makes music listening more enjoyable.
Power is provided by 2 AAA batteries that seem to offer excellent life. Using off-brand alkalines, I seem to get at least 20 - 30 hours of playing time at low to moderate volumes when listening on the speaker, longer if using the earbuds. The radio does not come with an AC adapter, but there is a jack for one that can be purchased separately if desired. The radio's owner's manual says that any power supply with the proper-size plug that produces 4.5 - 5 volts DC with a positive center-pin polarity will work. Since the radio works on 3 volts when powered by batteries, I don't know why it would not also work on 3 volts from an external power supply, but the manual says 4.5-5 volts. In any case, this is the type of radio most people are probably going to buy for its go-anywhere versatility, so I think most will simply opt to use batteries.
As mentioned above, the clock and alarm are very easy to set. The alarm wakes only with the radio, as there is not an alarm beeper, so you need to remember to set the radio to a working frequency and turn up the volume enough that you'll hear the radio when it comes on. The internal clock seems to be quite accurate.
This radio comes with a nicely-detailed instruction manual as well as a very useful and attractive soft carrying pouch that has a belt loop to allow you to carry the radio with you anywhere. The earbud jack is on top fo the radio, so it's convenient to plug in the earbuds and listen to the radio through them while carrying the Mini 400 in its pouch.
The Grundig Mini 400 is a very appealing little radio. It receives FM and shortwave well, and catches AM (medium-wave) well enough for casual listening to local and regional stations. The "form factor" is outstanding, as this radio fits in the palm of your hand and has controls that can be conveniently operated with the thumb and forefinger of the hand you're holding it with. It is also remarkably thin, and is small enough that you'll virtually never have to be without a portable entertainment source.