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Paul’s Recommended Radios for Holiday Gifty Time

Radios make great gifts, especially for someone who is dedicated listener. Whether your favorite listener is into all-news, NPR, talk, college, community, music or even shortwave, a nice radio can really enhance the listening experience.

I own and use all of the radios I’m recommending here, so my comments on each one come from actual listening experience.

Killer Kompact for the Traveler

Tuning in local stations when visiting somewhere far from home can be a great way to learn about a place, hearing about what’s going on and tuning in some native culture. While most hotel rooms have some kind of clock radio, I find the quality of reception can be variable, often receiving only the strongest stations. That’s why I usually travel with my own small radio.

My current favorite travel radio is the Kaito WRX 911. Measuring about 4″ wide by 2″ tall and 1″ deep, it’s just a little bigger than an iPod or digital camera. It tunes in not just AM and FM, but also nine shortwave bands. It also has a metal whip antenna which extends and rotates making it much easier to tweak reception.

With such a small speaker the sound quality is nothing incredible, but it’s at least as good as a clock radio. And there’s a headphone jack for when you don’t want to disturb others. However, reception, is where the Kaito shines. I’ve had great luck tuning in low powered college, community and public stations in many cities, in addition to more powerful commercial stations. It won’t work miracles. Its selectivity–the ability to tune in less powerful stations that are next to more powerful ones–isn’t outstanding, but it’s outperformed most small portable radios I’ve ever owned. At just $20 it really can’t be beat.

Both Style and Performance

I lusted after the Tivoli Model One radio the minute it was announced some ten years ago. Its combination of understated good looks and the promise of a simple, but very well designed analog tuner set it apart from the garish plastic boomboxes and compact stereos out there at the time. Designed by the serial audio innovator Henry Kloss, the Tivoli also extracts impressively rich sound out of its relatively compact cabinet.

I bought my Tivoli eight years ago, and it has served as the primary radio in my house for everyday listening. It sounds great for voice, with a very balanced, pleasing tone. Even though it’s mono with just a single full-range music, music sounds nice as well. It’s better suited for background music than critical listening.

Its FM reception is hard to beat, and it will even accept an external antenna if you want to boost reception even more. The Tivoli’s AM reception is very good, but not world-beating for distant signals. However it does a capable job at minimizing interference and noise on the AM band, ensuring the stations you do tune in sound as good as they can.

The Tivoli Model One was so innovative that it sparked a revival in attractive, high-performance table radios. Admittedly, it’s not the cheapest radio out there. But if you told me I could only have one radio, I would not hesitate to choose the Tivoli.

For the HD Ready

When I embarked on my HD Radio journey several months ago I took the leap with the small Sony XDRF1HD HD Radio Tuner. It’s not a standalone radio, but rather a tuner that requires an amp and speakers. Yet it provides FM radio reception–both analog and HD–that rivals tuners costing much, much more.

On the analog side, it picks up both local and distant FM stations better than any radio in my house, except my Tivoli Model One, which it equals. The Sony’s sound quality exhibits the full range of what analog stereo FM is capable of. If you’re not getting satisfying fidelity, it’s more likely due to your amp and speakers, not the tuner.

I can’t really compare its HD performance since I haven’t spent any significant time with another HD radio or tuner. However, I can say that I’m able to tune in the HD channels of every station I should reasonably expect to receive. HD fidelity depends heavily on how much bandwidth the station dedicates to the HD channel. HD-1 channels sound as good as analog, if a touch quieter and noiseless. Many HD-2 channels sound quite pleasing, though not as good as either the analog signal or the HD-1 channel. I suspect that the XDR-F1HD delivers as much fidelity as the source station can offer.

Honestly, HD Radio is not a must-have. However, if you know someone who wants to hear a specific HD channel or just try it out, you can hardly do better for eighty bucks. Even just functioning as an analog tuner it’s a very good performer.

Portable Performance

While I really do love my little Kaito WRX 911, sometimes I’m willing to sacrifice compactness for a little more performance. For this I recommend yet another Tivoli radio, the company’s first portable radio, called the Songbook. This is my newest radio, which I bought just a few months ago so that I could have a radio in the office at work that I could also drag around with me as necessary.

Now, I work inside an early 1970s concrete monstrosity of a building. My office is in the interior and has no windows. Suffice it to say that it’s an extremely hostile environment for radio listening. Nevertheless, the Songbook performs very well, tuning in the stations I want to listen to most frequently. On several occasions colleagues have come into my office while it’s on and been surprised that I’m getting any kind of radio reception, nevermind such a clear signal.

The Songbook is a portable radio, using either battery or AC power, but it’s not especially small. True to its name, the Songbook is about the size of an average hardcover book. It is a very sturdy radio, covered in a rubber-like material that adds to an overall sense of solidity. Not nearly as packable as the Kaito, it’s easy to tote around. If I still owned a house it would be the radio I’d carry around with me while I did yard work.

Unlike its brother the Model One, the Songbook has a digital tuner. Still, it performs very well. However I do occasionally miss the ability to finely tune in a distant signal that is just a little more staticky with the slightly rougher digital tuner. Also like the Model One it’s not a cheap radio, but it is a piece of equipment that will likely outlast many cheaper radios by quite a margin.

So these are my holiday gift recommendations, starting as low as twenty bucks. I think any radio listener would be pleased to find any of these radios giftwrapped with her name on it. Plus, if you buy one using our Amazon links, a few shekels will go to help Radio Survivor keep surviving, at no additional cost to you. These are the gifts that keep on giving.


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One Response to Paul’s Recommended Radios for Holiday Gifty Time

  1. Greg December 9, 2010 at 7:27 am #

    I too have the Kaito WRX911 and totaly agree with you – an excellent analog-tuned SW/MW/FM radio that is excellent quality for about $20. Also, the Sony ICF-S10MK2 is an excellent FM/MW radio, great for AM DXing (before IBOC killed DXing).

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