Sony ICF-SW7600GR AM/FM/SW Radio Reviews

Sony ICF-SW7600GR AM/FM/SW Radio

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$141.40
+$8.92 shipping eBay

Good, Compact Receiver

Feb 7, 2004 (Updated Feb 10, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Pros: Selectivity, SSB tuning, Sync Lock

Cons:Cons: Speaker, LCD Size, LCD light

The Bottom Line: Considering the relatively low price, this is a satisfying receiver whose few flaws are annoying mostly because they could have been easily avoided.


People who love radio will eventually wind up buying a shortwave receiver, if only to find out what else is out there on the radio waves. The first-time buyer will also, very likely, enter these shortwave waters cautiously, not wanting to spend too much but on the other hand not wanting a cheap and potentially underperforming unit; and so will settle on something that is, "for the price," well-rated. They will be led to, among others, the Sony 7600GR, which retails for $200, but can usually be had for about $160. It is has been well-reviewed on several internet sites. It runs on 4 AA batteries.

Unit Construction

The 7600GR is probably the most attractive unit in its class: minimalist and sleekly silver, its face is nicely balanced by the speaker grill on the left side and the tuning buttons on the right, with an LCD screen in the middle. The buttons on the numerical keypad (used to punch in a station's frequency) are made of hard plastic and have a tactile, clicky feel to them when depressed, which this reviewer prefers to the uncertain, soft feel which has come to be predominant with electronic pushbuttons.

But don't be misled by pictures of the unit on the Internet: the LCD screen isn't nearly so legible as it appears, especially when it is regarded at the least angle. It is, in the first place, rather small in proportion to the rest of the radio, being about an inch high and some inch and a half wide. The numerals and letters are jet black, but the background, of silver-grey, does not make for the best contrast. (However, for all I know, LCDs are necessarily made of this silver-gray material.) Just to the left of the LCD is a "Light" button, which, when depressed, will illuminate the screen for about ten seconds. The intention of the light was to make tuning possible in darkness; unfortunately, it only stays on for about ten seconds, and the tuning buttons are not illuminated; so it has only limited usefulness. Sony would have done better to make this light stay on for, say, fifteen minutes at a time and to have illuminated all the controls.


Controls

As mentioned above, the main controls are on the right-hand side of the unit. The top row includes the "Hold" switch, used to prevent accidental changing of a station tuned into; a "Sleep" switch, which can shut off the radio in quarter-hour intervals up to sixty minutes; and the "On/Off" button. Below this top row are the "Direct Tune" buttons of the numerical keypad. One presses the "Direct" button, then the station's frequency with the numerical keypad, and then presses the "Exe" key, and -- there you are: tuned into the station! Beneath the numerical keypad are a two blue buttons, "Page" and "Scan." The "Page" works in conjunction with the numerical keys, 1 through 0 (i.e., 1 through 10). Each of ten numbers can be a "page" on which one can preset ten stations, again using the 1 through 0 buttons. Thus, there are potentially 100 presets. The average user will probably use no more than 20 or so. By pressing the blue "Scan" button, one can then scan through the presets on a given page. Just to the left of the "Page" and "Scan" buttons is the button for selecting either AM or FM.

At the lower right hand side of the unit are three, arcing buttons used to manually tune and "Scan" stations within a given radio band. The scan feature is a necessity. When depressed for a few seconds and then released, it will automatically go up or down the band and stop at any detected signals. These buttons are also used to set and detect UTC, which stands for Universal Time Code, the 24-hour, military-style time format by which the time zones of the earth are delineated. Once you set your own region's UTC, you can with a click of these buttons easily calculate the time zones in other regions of the world, and so calculate when programs in foreign countries are being aired.

Below the LCD screen are five more dual-function buttons: "Standby Memory" (Timer Standby); "Enter" (Local Time Set); "Erase" (DST); and "AM Band" (World Time). Their purposes are as follows:

"Standby Memory" enables the user to program an alarm clock function and wake up to either a beep or a station preset. As there are two Standby Memories, one can wake to either one or the other. The "Enter" (Local Time Set) works in conjunction with the "Time Set" keys to set the local time in the 24-hour, military time format. The "Erase" (DTS) button will erase presets and also serves to set Daylight Savings Time (DST). The "AM Band" (World Time) button toggles the UTC region code above the digital time readout.

There are still more switches on either side of the unit:

On the right side, going from bottom to top, are the volume control; a tone control switch for either "Music" or "News" (the former offering more treble); an AM Mode switch, which includes "Normal," "Sync Lock," and "SSB"; an LSB and USB switch, which works in conjunction with the just-mentioned SSB; and then an SSB tuning wheel. SSB stands for "Single Sidebank" and refers to one part of the radio wave, either the upper part (USB -- Upper Sideband) or lower part (LSB -- Lower Sideband). Thus, when unit is switched to SSB mode, one can then select either USB or LSB, and then fine tune with the SSB tuning wheel. This is useful, indeed necessary, for tuning in to Ham and amateur radio broadcasts beneath 10 MHz. The Sync Lock, on the other hand, is very useful for all but the strongest signals. In this mode the radio generates its own signal at the same frequency as the one tuned into, which ensures freedom from drift. This is a definite help in locking onto signals from weak stations. However, on very strong signals, such as those from a powerful AM transmitter within twenty miles or so, it degrades reception and ought to be turned off.

On the right side of the radio, and again going from bottom to top, there is an AC adaptor input (the adaptor is not supplied with the radio); a headphone jack; a line out jack; an "ATT" or attenuator, switch; and an input for an external antenna. The purpose of all these inputs is obvious except for the attenuator, or "ATT" as it is labeled. This is equivalent to a squelch on a two-way radio; it sets the sensitivity of the reception. By switching this function on, and adjusting the degree of its implementation by way of the nearby wheel, the tuner will either skip over weak or "Null" stations, or it will stop at any least signal, no matter how void of listenable content. This is a nice feature, but will probably not be used very often for those who are curious at picking up even faint stations.

All these buttons, all these switches! The novice who takes the unit out of the box for the first time is likely to feel a little overwhelmed by them all. But rest assured that after a week or so, when you've become familiar with the functions, and you realize how infrequently you will be using most of them, you'll see that listening to this radio is mostly a matter of turning it on and tuning in to the dozen or so presets that you've selected.

The instruction manual that comes with the Sony is brief and straightforward. It is also absolutely necessary for someone new to shortwave radio to peruse these tersely-written and well-illustrated 34 pages. Also provided is a "Wave Handbook" of shortwave stations around the world, which in addition to listing stations also provides good instructions for calculating UTC. Though a useful booklet, I found going onto the Internet and hunting up shortwave station databases even more helpful and up-to-date. (Some of these online databases can be imported directly into Excel.)

Performance - Cons

An irony of this radio is that while MW (Medium Wave, or AM) reception is good, and still better with the Sync Lock feature, it is not better than, say, a GE Superadio or even Sony’s own pocket radio, which costs no more than ten dollars or so. One can't help regard this as surprising. Sony's pocket radio is remarkable for its sensitivity and selectivity, but one nevertheless expects that a radio fifteen times its price, and another Sony to boot, would be at least a little better in pulling in an reproducing a major radio band. But not so. Even the Sync Lock feature does not make up for this lack of sensitivity. This is not to say that the MW reception is bad. On the contrary, it is good. But it is not great. Shortwave enthusiasts might balk at this cavil and say that one can't expect a radio, especially at this price point, to be all things. But one doesn't expect all things: one only expects, and has a right to expect, the main things. Moreover, when one considers that shortwave listening will usually be confined to night, when reception from distant countries is possible, it is the AM section that most buyers of this unit will be listening to during the day.

A much bigger disappointment is the speaker. Sony, which has such a good reputation in radio electronics, should really be ashamed of itself for putting into an otherwise good shortwave receiver so cheap (or just cheap-sounding) a speaker. All the sensitivity and selectivity in the world doesn't count for much if a broadcast is heard in a thin, tinny timbre. It is true that so small a package could not accommodate a large, good-sounding speaker (and the two are nearly synonymous); but the most superficial glance at the unit is enough to show that it could have supported a larger speaker -- for instance, one that was oval rather than round, and so having more surface area. What with all its manufacturing and engineering resources, it's hard to believe that Sony couldn't get this obvious thing right.

The collapsible antenna is generously long and works pretty well. Unfortunately, the chrome plating on it has a bad tendency to strip off when the antenna is quickly collapsed. Though it is not likely that these particles or strips could fall into the louvered back of the radio, they could possibly do so and make disastrous contact with the circuit board. Either the chrome plating ought to have been thicker, or it ought to have been dispensed with; preferably the latter; since polished stainless steel would have been nearly indistinguishable from it.

The headphone jack is one of those 1/8" minijacks. These are notorious for malfunctioning with repeated use -- with the regular pushing in and out of a plug. The user would do well to decide whether he will listen to the radio through headphones or with the speaker in order to avoid this problem.

Finally, the "On/Off" button is unhappily located at the top right of the radio and is too easily depressed. Thus, the vinyl carrying case which comes with the radio can, when closed, easily turn on the unit.


Performance - Pros

Most reviewers who are shortwave enthusiasts rate this unit highly and compare it with radios several times its price. One must understand that high-end shortwave radios can cost thousands of dollars; they often have all the flash and bulk of stereo receivers. The person who has neither the interest nor the resources to buy this kind of equipment can only take these serious enthusiasts at their word when they give favorable opinions of the 7600GR -- always adding, as they do, that its performance is good "for the price." To paraphrase one online reviewer, a Toyota Corolla is never going to be a Mercedes Benz.

But a Corolla will get you were you want to go, if you are willing to make the appropriate compromises. The 7600GR, even with its built-in antenna, will at night pull in overseas stations with tolerable clarity, but don't expect the signal to be as crisp and steady as your local AM or FM station. Even with the Sync Lock engaged, foreign stations are likely to be adulterated with distortion and drift. A properly made and set up external antenna will doubtless improve reception enormously. Of course, for apartment dwellers an outdoor antenna is not an option. The unit comes with a portable shortwave antenna: nothing more than a length of insulated wire which can be placed near or on (with masking tape) a nearby window, and one end of which has a clip by which it is attached to the telescope antenna. It works well, however, and can effectively double or triple signal strength. Sony also sells the AN-PL1 portable antenna, which can be had for about $80 (a little too expensive, in my opinion), and which is supposed to provide much better reception.

The FM section is in stereo, but only of course from the headphone and (?) line output jacks. However, the signal can be fed to a pair of stereo speakers -- for instance, through one's computer -- and provide pleasant stereo quality.


Conclusion

After having owned the radio for about two months now, I have to say that I am, on the whole, satisfied, even pleased with it, despite the bad sound quality of the speaker. With regard to this, one can always hook up an external speaker, though this nullifies the "portability" factor. Nothing is pleasanter of an evening to tune in, or even to try to tune in, to HAM operators, the latest news from Havana, evangelical stations from the south (why are they all from there?), or the BBC, and hear what a diverse world we live in. A shortwave is also a great investment for the student of languages, or for someone wishing to brush up on high-school French, Spanish, or German. Where else are you going to hear native-born speakers?


Recommend this product? Yes


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