Pros: Very inexpensive, decent reception, long battery life
Cons: pocket radio type sound
Where have all of the pocket radios gone
long time passing.
On some recent trips to our local Mart stores (of the K and W variety) as well as T store (Target) I took a side trip to the electronics area to check out what was new in personal audio. At each store I was met with a wall full of portable CD and MP3 players and walkman style (headphone) radios. Nowhere could I find a standard pocket radio.
There was a time that you could buy a pocket radio anywhere from department stores to dime stores. Their tinny speakers and small size gave you the ability to share the news or a ballgame with a friend. Now, in a personal world it is single use headphones for all as we get to isolate ourselves in our own private audio heaven.
My store trips made me wonder if indeed the pocket radio was now as extinct as the dodo bird. A quick Google search showed me that this is not the case, but the endless varieties have been reduced to a select few. I trolled EBay and ran into several sellers hawking the Sony ICF-S10MK2 describing it as possibly the best pocket radio made since the golden days of the 60s and 70s (was there a golden day for pocket radios?). Some were offering this gem for almost $20 (plus S/H) and people were buying. I check some user reviews on this radio and they were equally glowing hmm, I had to check it out. Some searching led to Outpost.com and a price of $7.99. For less than the price of a movie ticket I thought I could do a little experiment and have some fun.
The Sony is a typical looking pocket radio, measuring 4.5x2.5 by 1 thick. It easily fits into my shirt pocket. It is make of ABS plastic in a silver tone. The front of the radio contains the speaker grill and a slide-rule type dial. There is also a little red LED tuning indicator on the front. Controls are very simple with thumb wheels to control the tuning and volume and a small slide switch to change bands. There is also a mono ear plug (you supply your own headphones). The telescopic FM antenna is side mounted and unfolds from the bottom. This is a better arrangement than radios that have the antenna coming out of the top of the radio (more stable). You can adjust the antenna to any angle. Build of this radio is typical of a transistor set. On the plus side the thumb wheels are nice and firm. On the negative side, the battery cover is a bit on the cheap side. There are no other options (tone control, AC adaptor socket) on the radio.
Sound: Sound is supplied by the front firing little speaker. The Ebayers talked about the high quality of the sound noting excellent lows and highs. To me, the radio sounds like well a pocket radio. There is not much base or treble and most of the sound is concentrated in the mid-frequencies. Like most pocket radios, there is some subtle distortion. You have to really listen for it, but it may be fatiguing for some listeners. Spoken words were clear and music (which was on the tinny side) was certainly recognizable. I plugged in a set of stereo headphones to see if this would perk things up. The set has a mono plug so you will only get sound out of one of the headpieces. Music was only slightly better using the headphones suggesting the use of an inexpensive amplifier section. No surprise here, after all this is a pocket radio. Volume was fine for a personal radio.
Power: The radio is powered by 2 AA batteries. I used the radio extensively for a week and I could not detect a change in volume. Other reports on the internet support this extraordinary battery life. Analog radios generally have great battery life because they dont have the microprocessor power burden that digital radios have.
Reception: I was curious to hear how good the reception was on this radio. I do a lot of dxing (distance listening) on AM but I always use a bigger radio. I was pleasantly surprised by the reception that I received. On AM I was able to get a variety of stations from other states clearly. Even better, when I would tune from a weaker station to a stronger station the radio would automatically adjust the gain (AGC) so the local station wouldnt blast out of the speaker. AGC was excellent for a small radio.
FM was also very good and I was able to clearly get Chicago stations from my suburban location (35 miles west of Chicago). Tuning was easy (but a bit tight on the small slide-rule dial) and I couldnt find images of stations popping up either. All in all, a satisfying experience.
I still didnt answer the question, was this truly the best currently available pocket radio? I thought I would do a little experiment which I called battle of the radios. I foraged around the house and quickly came up with a few other pocket radios. This wasnt too difficult because we have 6 people living here and I collect radios. Each radio was given fresh batteries and then I carefully tuned across the bands and counted how many stations that I could pick up. The only rule was that the stations had to be intelligible to my ear. Included in the study was my long time favorite, my Sangean DT 200V. This $60 pocket radio claims to have the best AM reception of any pocket radio. I was curious to see how it would stack up against the Sony. The radios are listed below from least received AM stations to most received AM stations. Reception was done at night, when AM reception is best.
1. GPX A2091 18 AM and 26 FM stations
2. Dorcy All Weather Radio 25 AM and 22 FM stations
3. Lenoxx Sound PR-35M 34 AM and 33 FM stations
4. Sony S10 MK2 36 AM and 39 FM
5. Sangean DT 200V 76 AM and 53 FM stations (I was shocked too).
Clearly the Sangean blew the other radios away. It is a pretty sophisticated radio with a sleep timer, PLL tuning, memories and wonderful sound via headphones. But it also cost $60. If you remove the Sangean and look at the inexpensive pocket radios the Sony comes out the winner. So I guess those EBay sellers were partially right. Dont forget that this radio can be had for less than $10 not too shabby.
I still think that there is a place in the world for cheap pocket radios. Their cost makes them almost disposable and it is a no-brainer to have one around for emergencies. For a few dollars more you can buy a slightly bigger radio that will give you better sound and greater utility (such as the Grundig FR200) but these little gems do the job. Tuck one in your office desk or work locker and you are prepared to get the latest weather report or disaster information. At lunch you can share some music, sports or news with your friends instead of going into a headphone cocoon. For less than $10 you dont have to be afraid that you are going to drop it or loose it. At this price I think the Sony is a very good value but not the top dog of all current pocket radios.