Equipment Reviews, June 1999
The Sony ICF-SW07 Portable Receiver
Sony Electronics has been the market leader in the microminaturization of shortwave portables with “serious” perfomance. The trend started with the SW1 in 1989 and the concept was refined and further reduced in size in 1995 with the introduction of the SW100. The SW07 is slightly larger than than the SW100, but has several enhanced features, primarily in the area of memory management.
The ICF-SW07 follows the receiving “system” principle established by its predecessors, i.e. the radio comes with an active loop antenna, antenna control module, AC power adapter and stereo earphones. The AC adapter sold in the U.S. can only be used on 120 volt AC mains. There is a leatherette carrying case for the radio and a drawstring cloth bag for the antenna. The radio requires two “AA” batteries for portable power and the antenna control module requires an additional two “AA” cells. Battery life with alkaline cells is specified at approximately 32 hours when the radio is used in FM mode and 23 hours in AM mode. List price for the system is $529 with a street price of around $420.
Small And Compact
Although the SW07 is larger than the SW100, it is still in the bantamweight class. The overall dimensions with the display panel closed are 5 3/8 x 1 5/16 x 3 5/8 inches (WxHxD) and the weight with batteries is 9.1 ounces. The display panel measures 3 3/8 x 3 inches (WxD) and flips up to a convenient viewing angle just like a laptop computer. The display shows reception mode, frequency or time, memory channel, standby timer and time offset from UTC. The display is nicely backlit in a green color. The backlight is activated for 30 seconds when the “Light” button is pressed. There is also a world time zone map embossed above the LCD display.With the panel closed, all the contol keys are covered, but the speaker is still exposed, so the radio can still be listened to with the panel closed, an improvement over the SW100. The speaker measures 1 5/8 inches in diameter and the output power is 200 milliwatts.
The intial step when activating the SW07 (after installing the batteries!) is to set the clock for local time and UTC offset. This is important because it determines the MW tuning step as well as the appropriate database for the SW Station Call tuning feature. Unlike some of the other Sony portables I have used in the past, the time can be displayed while the radio is on–just press the “EXE” button and the time is diplayed for ten seconds. Unfortunately, the time zone cannot be switched while the radio is on, so you’re stuck keeping the clock set to local time while the unit is on, if you want to take advantage of SW Station Call tuning.
The frequency coverage of the SW07 is from 150 kHz to 29,999 kHz and from 76 to 108 mHz. The AM/SW section is dual conversion. FM reception is in stereo when stereo headphones are used. Tuning to a desired frequency can be accomplished by direct keypad entry which requires pressing the “Direct” key, inputting the frequency and then pressing the “EXE” key, using the Up/Down buttons (1 and 5 kHz steps on the shortwave bands in AM mode; 1 and 0.1 kHz steps in SSB mode) and various memory tuning modes. The “AM Band” key when pressed in conjunction with the Up/Down tuning keys will jump the radio to the lower ends of the standard international broadcasting bands. Pressing and holding the either of the Up/Down keys will start the radio scanning within the selected band. Scanning is stopped by pressing either Up/Down key.
Thanks for the Memories
There are twenty memory presets available via the numeric keypad–ten on the AM/SW bands and ten on FM. These are tuned immediately by pressing the appropriate key. These memories can be labelled with a six character alphanumeric tag if desired. In addition, the “MY” button allows access to 100 user defined memory channels. With the SW07, Sony has dropped the Page memory organization scheme. Instead, pressing the “MY” button twice starts the radio scanning through the frequencies stored in the MY memory table. These frequencies can also be stepped through using the Up/Down arrow keys. The MY memories are labelled numerically by default, but these can be changed to any desired six character alphanumeric label.
Sony has introduced a new memory feature with the SW07–SW Station Call Tuning. On the back of the radio is a little compartment which holds a ROM (read only memory) chip. Frequencies for various international broadcasters are stored in this chip and are organized for the usual frequencies used by these broadcasters for various regions of the world. The radio uses the local time zone chosen on initial setup to select the proper database. Front panel buttons allow immediate scanning of the stored frequencies for the BBC, VOA and Deutsche Welle. The button labelled “OTH” can be set to allow access to frequencies used by France, Japan, China, Spain or the Netherlands. The SW Station Call database does not compensate for time, i.e. the frequencies stored in memory are all those used by the station for the target area, not just those used for a given period of time within the day.
Updated ROM’s will be available in October of each year for $19.95 from the F Corporation in Tokyo (ordering address given in the radio’s instructions). When ordering a new ROM, the user will be able to specify which 5 stations from a list of 25 that will be included on the “OTH” selection.
The accessory that will generate the most interest in the SW07 system is the AN-LP2 collapsible loop antenna. This is a 19 inch diameter spring wire loop with an attached suction cup/clip combination for mounting in a window. The loop collapses to a diameter of 7 inches. The loop is designed only for shortwave reception and must be disconnected for LW, MW and FM reception. The manual also states that the AN-LP2 can only be used with the SW07. There is a separate control box which connects to the antenna via a 12 feet cable. A short cable connects the control box to the antenna input of the radio. Power to the control box is controlled by the on/off switch on the radio itself. There are no tuning controls on the control box, unlike the Sony AN-LP1 antenna.
The loop flips open easily and the suction cup/clip combo provides almost unlimited mounting options. The cable from the control box permits mounting the loop in a window and listening to the radio in a more comfortable postion in the room. The AN-LP2 is not just a “gee whiz” accessory–it is required for maximum performance of the SW07. The SW07 with just its built-in whip is not entirely “deaf” but close, receiving only the really strong international broadcasters. I did a side-by-side comparison of the SW07 with a ICF-7600G–with the radios’ built-in whip alone, the ‘7600G was the more sensitive radio, but the SW07 with the loop won hands down for listening to weak signals. In fact, the sensitivity was so great with the AN-LP2 loop that I was glad Sony had incorporated a variable attenuator into the SW07. This feature came in very handy when using the scan feature, as with the attenuator off, the radio tended to stop on noise. By switching on the attenuator with the switch on the left side of the case, I could adjust the rotary control to lower the background noise just enough that the radio would stop on legitimate signals but not miss signals of interest. This feature is a definite enhancement to the usual 0/-20 db attenuator switches.
The drawback to the improved performance offered by the loop antenna are the extra packing space and weight taken up by the loop and the control box, although both are relatively minimal. The collapsed loop and control box actually are larger than the radio itself. In addition, there is a definite “techno-geek” appearance factor associated with the deployed loop–it is not a very discreet listening setup.
Although the built-in speaker is small, I found the sound to be quite adequate. There is a “News–Music” tone switch on the right side of the case–a high cut filter is switched in in the “News” position to reduce hiss. The best sound is obtained by using the supplied ear buds (or other headphones). The headphone output is stereo in the FM mode. There is only a single IF bandwidth filter for both AM and SSB reception, but for AM reception the selectable sideband sync detector can be quite useful for reducing adjacent channel interference as well as reducing distortion due to signal fading. The sync detector works well–it locks quickly and holds lock through all but the deepest fades. The 100 hertz tuning steps for SSB are relatively coarse, but OK for casual monitoring of the ham bands.
My overall impression of the ICF-SW07 is favorable. The styling is a definite departure from the usual and takes some getting used to. I do wonder how durable the cable connection between the radio and display will be over time. The SW07 packs a lot of features into a tiny package and works well. The only feature that I would add would be a choice of a narrower bandwidth filter. I have mixed feelings about the need for the external AN-LP2 antenna. On one hand, it definitely enhances the performance of the radio and permits flexibility in listening position (I get tired of having to huddle by a hotel room window to listen to a portable radio–with the SW07 I could put the loop in the window and recline comfortably on the bed). On the other hand, it seems a shame to make such a tiny radio and then require all the extraneous gear for good performance. Also, the price is a bit on the high side. Information on the ICF-SW07 is probably best obtained from the catalogs of the major SW equipment suppliers. There was nothing listed on the Sony Website when I checked while preparing this review. I would like to thank Fred Osterman of Universal Radio for supplying the review unit.
New 24 Hour Clocks From MFJ–MFJ Enterprises has announced the availability of two new 24 hour analog display clocks. The MFJ-125 is a 12 inch clock with a quartz mechanism which runs off a “AA” battery. The main clock shows the time in 24 hour format and has a sweep second hand. Three smaller dials on the face of the clock show local time (12 hour format), day of week and date. The outer rim is black, the clock face is white and trim is gold. Suggested price is $29.95. The MFJ-115 is reminiscent of the Mastercrafters clock that was popular in DX shacks of the ’60s and ’70s, at least in the black and white photos in the press release. It is a 12 inch clock but only displays 24 hour time. The outer ring has names of premier cities in each time zone, along with the number of hours time difference from UTC. The face of the clock has a north polar projection world map in blue and brown. It also runs from a single “AA” battery and is priced at $24.95. MFJ Enterprises can be contacted at P.O. Box 494, Mississippi State, MS 39762, +1 (601) 323-5869/ (800) 647-1800 (orders only) or on the Internet at www.mfjenterprises.com.