Pros: Best AM and FM reception you can get, nicely designed controls, good sound quality
Cons: Serious shortwave listeners might prefer a radio that will receive single-sideband transmissions
If you have a favorite radio talk show or distant station that no normal radio will receive clearly, your troubles may be over.
The Grundig S350 is a high performance portable radio that has the sensitivity to make distant radio stations sound like theyre close. Itll even produce audible sound on stations you may never have even heard before. At around $100, its a very worthwhile investment for anyone who enjoys listening to the radio.
What you get with the S350 is a nicely styled, moderately-sized portable radio that has a slight "military" look to its front panel and controls. In fact, picking up on that rugged theme, on the box they call it a "field radio." But make no mistake, you don't have to enlist in any of the armed services or venture out on a wilderness expedition to appreciate the capabilities of this radio. Its reception on all three of its bands -- AM, FM, and short-wave -- puts it among the very best choices for someone looking for a capable, do-it-all portable receiver.
While there are a lot of ways to rate a radios reception ability, the most meaningful measure in my opinion is to compare it to other radios. Thats what I did with the S350, and thats how I can say with confidence that its among the very best portable radios you can get -- bar none -- for picking up distant AM and FM stations.
I compared the S350 to my Grundig Satellit 700, which is a much more expensive quartz-synthesized short-wave receiver. I picked the Satellit 700 because its the best radio I had seen up to this point for bringing in distant stations. Heres what I found:
On the AM band (540-1700 Khz), the reception of the S350 was clearly better than that of the Satellit 700. On every distant AM station I checked, the S350 brought in a stronger, louder, cleaner signal than the Satellit. On the FM band, the reception of these two radios was virtually identical. Both brought in FM stations from 70 to 80 miles away with little discernible hiss and a loud, strong signal that was easy to listen to. (FM reception varies a lot depending on the terrain. The terrain in my area is flat, so FM travels farther here than it would in a hilly or mountainous area.)
On the short-wave bands, the Satellit and the S350 were also nearly identical in bringing in clean signals on all of the major international stations. However, the Satellit does offer some features the S350 lacks, such as the ability to receive single-sideband transmissions, and more stable quartz-synthesized tuning.
But even on short-wave, which is the specialty of the Satellit, the S350 offered a key advantage:. While the S350 has a digital frequency readout, it actually uses an analog tuning system. This means that scanning up and down the dial to find stations is easier and more natural. On a quartz-synthesized radio, even one with a knob that allows you to scan up and down the dial, you do not have as much ability to hear each signal come and go as you scan. If you have not experienced this before, the best way to think of it is to compare it to a satellite TV receiver where theres a slight delay before a channel comes in after you tune it in. The delay on a radio is not as long as with a satellite TV receiver, but its the same idea.
From previous comparison testing of other radios I know that the Satellit 700 is a very good performing radio, so my conclusion here is that the S350 is pretty much as good as it gets for excellent AM and FM reception. If your main goal is to listen to those bands, this is the radio to get. If you primarily want a radio for short-wave listening, the S350 is a good choice, but there are other radios you should also consider such as the Sangean series or the Grundig YB-400. These radios are more dedicated to short-wave, but their AM and FM performance is not likely to be anywhere near as good as this S350.
Offering separate bass and treble control, a powerful amplifier, and a good quality 4 inch speaker, the S350 sounds very good for a portable radio. Music sounds good, and the voice reproduction is crisp and clear. Some of the high performance table radios on the market such as the Bose Wave Radio and the Tivoli Model One table radio offer better audio than the S350, but these are not portables, and they do not have the ability to receive distant stations as well as the S350. The only way to get better sound in a portable radio than you get with the S350 is to get a much larger boom box type of unit, and these units will not get anywhere near the excellent reception that the S350 gets.
Controls and Features
You can look at controls rationally, looking at what knobs there are and how theyre placed, and you can also look at them subjectively -- in other words, how do they feel to use. The S350 does well on both counts.
The most prominent knob on the front of the S350 is the tuning knob, which is nicely designed and includes an outer ring that enables fast tuning -- moving you quickly across the band. Theres also an inner knob that is more of a fine tuning knob, moving up and down the frequencies much more slowly. Normally what you do is move to the general area of the station youre seeking with the fast tuning outer ring, and then home in on it with the fine tuning control. Because the S350 is an analog radio, its sometimes necessary to move the fine tuning control back and forth a few times to get the best signal. This is exactly the same as you would do with a traditional radio that has a slide rule type of frequency indicator. The ability to fine tune like this can in some cases allow you to get a better signal than you can get with quartz-synthesized tuning, because if two stations are very close on the dial, sometimes you have to slightly de-tune a station to hear it best.
Without a doubt, the tuning knob is my favorite feature of the S350. Its designed well, and its fun to scan up and down the dial with it, seeing what stations you can hear. This makes the S350 a more enjoyable radio than many others costing far more.
There are also bass and treble controls, a volume control, two band selectors, an RF gain control, and the controls for the clock and alarm. They all operate well. Normally users will leave the RF gain in the maximum position to make the radio as sensitive as possible, but its nice to be able to turn it down a little if you are very close to a strong station. This prevents the nearby strong signal from overloading the radio and drowning out other signals.
Band selection is accomplished with two separate rotary controls. One allow you to select AM (including short-wave) or FM, and the other selects between the medium wave AM broadcast band and the short-wave bands. There are also wide and narrow position for AM, as well as an automatic frequency control (AFC) position for FM. The wide and narrow positions are not normally found on portable radios, but theyre very useful. You use the wide position for most normal listening, as it gives the best sound quality. However, the narrow position can be very useful if two or more stations are very close on the dial, as it helps keep them separate. The AFC has a similar function for FM. If two stations are close on the dial, turning AFC off keeps them separated. Once you get a station tuned in, turning AFC on helps keep it tuned in and prevents it from drifting.
The power button is easy to find and operate, as it is colored red. One nice feature is that pressing the power button for a short time automatically activates a 90 minute sleep timer. The radio will play for 90 minutes, and then shut off. This prevents you from accidentally draining the batteries, which is easy to do if you are playing the radio at a low volume and forget that its on. However, if you dont want the radio to shut off on its own after 90 minutes, you just hold the power button down a little longer (a couple seconds) and the 90 minute sleep timer is canceled, and the radio will continue playing until you shut it off. By repeatedly pressing the power button, you can also select shorter sleep times if you want the radio to play for less than 90 minutes before shutting itself off.
The S350 also has a digital clock that shows on the frequency display whenever the radio is turned off. It will show traditional 12-hour AM/PM times, or you can change it to a military style 24-hour clock. Theres also an alarm which will turn the radio on at a preset time. The backlight for the frequency/clock display is controlled by another button. Pressing it for an instant turns on the backlight for several seconds. Holding the backlight button down for a few seconds will turn the backlight on constantly. You can turn it off by pressing the baclkight button again, or shutting the radio off.
Outputs and Connections
One thing that sets the S350 apart from other radios, truly making this a serious radio rather than one for completely casual use, is its generous host of outputs for audio as well as antenna connections. You can connect an external AM antenna, an external FM antenna (through separate jacks) and also a ground, also through a separate jack. These are things you do not find on too many portable radios, and theyre very useful for anyone who really wants to maximize this radios reception. There is also an earphone jack and RCA type line-out jacks that allow you to connect the radio to an external amplifier, such as a home audio system. (FM is produced in stereo through the line out jacks.)
Operating on 4 D size batteries, the S350 has long battery life. On any radio, the exact number of hours it will operate on a set of batteries varies greatly depending on how loud you play it, and whether or not the backlight for the display is used frequently. Mine has been played roughly 10 hours so far on its first set of D batteries, and theyre still going strong. Given the larger battery size, the S350 will have a battery life much longer than most modern radios, many of which run on AA batteries. Theres also an external AC adapter included with the radio so you can plug it in and save the batteries if youre listening somewhere near an electrical outlet.
The S350 has a padded carrying handle on its top which can also be extended to a much longer carrying strap to enable it to be slung over a shoulder.
Many elderly people enjoy listening to the radio more than watching TV. As soon as I got my S350, I immediately wished that my 91 year-old great uncle who recently passed away was still around to enjoy this one. I had gotten him a variety of radios over the years, and his most recent one was the GE Superadio. He loved that radio, using it so much that he wore the painted markings off of the control knobs. I know he would have liked this one at least as well, if not better. The large, easy to use controls, and big digits on the digital display, would have made it easy for an elderly person to use. The only thing that could hinder some older users is the fact that the controls are slightly more complex than on a very basic AM-FM radio, possibly making it necessary to look more closely at the front of the S350 than youd have to look at a very simple radio.
The Grundig S350 is one of the best portable radios on the market at any price. You can spend more, but you wont find a radio that brings in AM and FM any better than this one does. Its also pleasant to use and offers very good sound quality. It all comes down to one simple statement: If you love radio, youll love the S350.