Terrific Radio for Camping, RV, Job Site, Garage
Dec 1, 2009 (Updated Dec 2, 2009)
Review by cowboyind
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Extreme rugged construction, water resistant, excellent reception, well-designed controls, wonderful sound quality
The Bottom Line: The Sangean U1 is a rugged, go-anywhere radio that sounds great, gets excellent reception, and does not need special battery backs and chargers as many competing "job site" radios do.
I had been looking for a radio to use when camping in my travel trailer, as it's an older RV that does not have a permanently-installed sound system. I also wanted a radio that would be loud enough to play outdoors, in the garage, and in similar situations. The Sangean U1 is proving to be an excellent companion in all of these circumstances, and I am extremely pleased with it.
Recommend this product?
Compared to other "rugged radios" on the market to which I compared the U1, I found that the U1 has several important advantages. Perhaps most significantly, some of the competitors, many of which are made by tool companies, require the purchase of special battery packs and chargers from the same manufacturer in order to use the radio on battery power. In some cases, the battery packs cost as much as, or more than, the radio itself, and the charger adds still more expense. Moreover, many of these competing radios do not have a jack to allow them to be powered from 12-volt vehicle power.
The Sangean U1, on the other hand, can be operated on standard household power as well as 12-volt car/boat/RV power, and on commonly-available "D" size batteries. The ability to operate the radio on 12-volt external power was important to me, since that's what's available in my trailer. I did install D-size batteries so they'd be present in case I want to listen to the radio for short periods of time when away from household or RV power, but most of the time I'll use an external 120-volt or 12-volt supply.
I really like this radio's high-visibility yellow color, convenient carry handle, as well as the protective frame that surrounds it to keep it from being damaged if it is dropped. Sangean says the radio is designed to withstand a six-foot drop on a hard surface. While I hope I don't have to test this aspect of the radio's capability, accidents do happen when you carry something with you while camping or taking part in outdoor activities, so the ruggedness is a clear advantage.
In addition, the radio is said to meet a Japanese industry standard for water resistance. It is clearly not "waterproof," so it must never be placed in a situation where it could fall into water (especially if plugged into 120-volt household power), but its controls are designed to resist damage from being splashed. To achieve this, Sangean has provided hinged, flip-off covers for all external audio jacks that could potentially allow water to get into the radio, and has designed the radio's case without holes or vents that could admit liquids.
High-durability features are nice, but the radio performance also has to be good if a radio is to be useful. I tested this radio in a couple of different ways. First, I used a C. Crane FM transmitter unit connected to an external audio source, and I checked FM and AM performance on several regular broadcast stations.
The C. Crane transmitter provides an advantage over simply scanning the dial and noting impressions of how good the reception is, because its low power lets me easily compare a radio's low-signal sensitivity to other radios I have on hand. At the limit of picking up a very weak signal, I found that the U1's FM sensitivity is slightly lower than real FM champions such as the Grundig Satellit 700 or S350. I attribute this, essentially 100 percent, to the U1's short, flexible FM antenna, because when you touch the antenna or wrap a little extra wire around it to effectively lengthen it, the reception improves a little when you're receiving a very weak signal.
However, in daily use, I do not believe this will be an issue at all. The U1's flexible antenna, in addition to being far less susceptible to damage than a standard telescoping metal antenna, enables clear reception of FM stations from 50 to 75 miles away. In addition, the radio's circuitry does a fantastic job of suppressing hiss and static, so if this radio gets an FM station at all, it sounds very good.
AM performance is simply outstanding -- on a par with the best AM radios on the market. The U1 gets clear reception of stations that some other radios don't get at all. For example, with the U1 I am able to receive -- during the day -- an AM station from 350 miles away from my location. In addition, the U1 seems far less prone to "whistlle" and other AM reception issues than most any other radio I have seen.
Have you ever heard an old tube-type radio in a big wooden console? If so, you know what the U1 sounds like. Its sound is very rich and deep. However, unlike some table radios, there is also a good amount of treble response in this radio's audio system, so the effect is not "boomy" sound but full-range audio, with some emphasis on the lower frequencies. The U1's six-and-a-half inch speaker also reproduces very loud audio with no perceptible distortion, which indicates that the speaker is of good quality.
How loud does it get? Most people look at the audio output power of a radio as an indication of its volume, and obviously there's some connection there. You've heard the effect of this if you've ever driven up next to a kid who put a 550-watt stereo in his car.
But, audio output power is not the full story. At seven watts, this radio's power is far greater than a standard portable or table radio, but seven watts might sound modest next to some of the other job site radios, some of which proclaim to have close to 40 or more watts of audio power. Are those radios louder than this one? No.
First of all, audio power is subject to a logarithmic principle that amplifier power must be doubled to effect a three decibel increase in audio loudness. Three decibels is only slightly more than the minimum amount of volume increase that's perceptible to the ear, so if you go from seven watts to 40, you have enabled a theoretical increase in volume of a little more than six decibels, which is not that big a deal.
But, even that six decibel difference may not exist, as there are other issues, such as speaker efficiency, the level of distortion at which an amplifier's power is rated, and other factors. As a result, you just have to listen to any radio or other audio system in order to hear how loud it is. Based on that test, this radio is LOUD. With the volume control at half and the radio in one corner of the house, I can hear and identify songs on the radio from any other room of the house. You can also hear this radio above significant background noise, and a good distance away while outdoors. The volume level of this radio is comparable to, or louder than, the other job site radios on the market, many of which advertise higher wattage, and clearly as loud as anyone would ever need. If more audio power than this were needed, it would be necessary to think of getting an audio system with many speakers in multiple locations, rather than a single radio.
Audio Input Jacks
The Sangean U1 has input jacks for auxiliary audio sources, such as a CD player or MP3 player, and for an external microphone, which would allow the radio to be used as a portable public address system. I have tested the auxiliary input jack, and it works very well, but have not had an opportunity to test the external microphone jack.
Controls and Overall Design
Compared to other "job site" or "rugged" radios I considered, the controls of this one are clearly the best. The volume control, tuning knob and mode selector are large, would be easy to manipulate while wearing gloves, and have a weighted, "damped" feel that makes them move very smoothly. The tuning knob has reduction gearing that makes it easier to fine-tune stations.
The power cord has a well-designed storage system: After opening a panel on the back of the radio, there is a spool around which the cord can be stored. The spool slides outward to make it easier to wind and unwind the cord. The power cord itself is thick, and of a heavy-duty construction.
The Sangean U1 is ideal for campers, RVers, boaters, and handypersons who want a go-anywhere rugged radio that works and sounds great. It's a superior-quality product that I'm very glad I bought.
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