A Poor Man’s Ideal Portable -
ith my old Sony ICF SW1 on the
blink, I bought the Grundig Mini
World 100PE, then the Kaito
WRX911 (both pocket analog sets), as temporary measures while I hunted for a replacement.
(See October 2004 Monitoring Times for my
comparison of these two sets.) I was pleasantly
surprised at the performance of these tiny, inexpensive units – pulling in African and European
stations here on the U.S. West Coast.
Nothing beats the analog feel for bandscanning, but I still wanted a radio with digital
precision for DXing. I was holding out for the
ideal radio which would meet my list of desired
Full coverage of 100-30,000 kHz
Dual conversion for image rejection
SW tuning in 1 kHz increments
A tuning knob
Direct entry
Memories (20 to 40)
SSB reception
Sleep timer
Dial light
Small portable
Operation on two to four AA batteries
Of course I also wanted the radio to be
sensitive and selective. And in the spirit of the
poor man’s shortwave listening post, I wanted
to pay $100 or less.
I was curious about some of the analogdigital hybrids, in which an analog tuner is
fitted with digital readout. Many of these were
intriguing and all had tuning knobs, but none of
them read out to the last frequency digit. Does
9.46 MHz mean 9460 kHz, 9465, or even 9455
kHz? It would be nice to have analog-feel tuning,
but the 15 kHz of frequency guesswork would
hamper DXing.
The Grundig YB550PE had many of the
functions I wanted but omitted LW and SSB.
A huge plus was its scroll wheel which tunes in
1 kHz increments, and it was also fairly small.
But then I discovered the Tecsun PL200, a tiny
version of the YB550PE. The extreme portability of that set was almost a clincher plus it had
a tuning knob, but the PL200 lacked the same
things the YB550PE did. Next, I almost decided
on the Grundig YB400PE because of its proven
and venerable record. But it didn’t cover all
of long wave, required six AAs batteries, and
lacked a tuning knob.
Thinking maybe I could find an analogdigital hybrid which read out to the last kHz
digit, I searched online and came up with the
reverse: a digital-analog which read out to the
last kHz digit. The Degen DE1103 came with
a bonus for someone like me with analog leanings – in addition to the precise digital readout,
March 2005
Degen DE1103
By Eric Bryan
it had a semi-analog dial and needle. Instead
of achieving exact digital readout on an analog
radio, the engineers here had done the reverse,
adding an “analog” readout to a digital radio.
I thought it was clever, but apparently Sony
experimented with a similar thing several years
ago (ICF SW40) without success.
While I was reading up on this radio which
appeared to fulfill my wish list, I noticed it was
being sold on eBay for a low price. When the
Degen DE1103 suddenly dropped another $10,
I was hooked!
Vital Stats
Aside from all my requirements, the
DE1103 has an extended FM band (76-108
MHz), a built-in battery charger (batteries charge
inside the radio), an AC adaptor, a line-out
jack, an external antenna jack (external antenna
disables whip on SW and FM), a Wide/Narrow switch which lets
you select a 55.845
MHz or a 450 kHz
IF (and doubles as an
FM tone selector), a
Hold (lock) button, a
signal strength meter, a
Local/DX switch, two
alarms (radio only), 255 memories, auto scan,
memory scan, a flip-out stand so the radio can
sit at about a 30 degree angle, and all of these
features presented within 6”x4”x1” dimensions
and weighing in at a pound or less with the four
included rechargeable 100 mA NiMH AAs
Honestly, I was so glad to be getting a
digital radio with a knob which tuned in 1 kHz
steps, many of these other features were extras
to me.
The Buttons
The direct-entry digit buttons are in one
row, 1-0, beneath the dial face. This is an inconvenient setup when fumbling in the darkness
at the bedside to enter a memory or frequency,
where the traditional telephone-pad layout can
be operated by touch. There’s a slight ridge on
button 5 to help orient you, and you can count
your way in from 1 or 0. Still, the buttons are
small, and your hand has to move around to
find them, where the usual keypad format requires almost no movement and provides easy
counting. But this is the price for having the
semi-analog dial face where a standard keypad
would normally be.
In the upper left corner are three buttons:
Underneath the direct entry buttons are seven
more buttons: Power/
Sleep; Reset; Hold;
Time/Del; SSB/StMono; Band-/FM
enter; Band+/AM
The Jog Dial
Probably the main thing to keep in mind
when approaching this radio is to recognize the
jog dial as the multi-purpose control it is. Besides
being a tuning knob,
it’s also for memory
setting and scanning,
charge, sleep, clock,
and alarm time setting,
and volume control.
But all of these functions can be operated
through direct entry, too, including volume
(press a desired volume level/number, then push
VOL). The volume control is easily mastered.
The LCD/Semi-Analog Dial Face
Information at the top of the dial includes
a 4-position triangular signal strength meter,
mode (AM or FM), frequency, volume (0-63),
a note if either of the alarms is set, and a battery icon which appears during charging and
which flashes when the cells are about to run
out. Pressing Time changes the frequency to
the clock momentarily. The clock displays when
the radio is off, and while charging, the signal
strength meter doubles as a charging indicator,
to show that charging is in progress. Further, the
meter acts as a battery level indicator, to show
how much charge is left in the cells. And, with
the radio charging, pushing CHG changes the
clock to the number of charging hours left.
LW, 120 meters, the 18900-19020 band,
11 meters, and the CB band aren’t shown on the
semi-analog face, only by the digital readout.
The SW coverage of the semi-analog face is
While in one of these bands, a thin LCD line
appears and acts as the tuning needle. On SW
it jumps in 25 kHz steps, so it reads anywhere
from exactly on to 24 kHz off. On MW, it jumps
every 30 kHz, and on FM, from .47 to 4.27 MHz,
depending on where you are on the dial face.
The digital tuning increments via the knob
are 1 kHz for MW and SW, and .02 and .03 MHz
(alternating) on FM. When you reach the top or
bottom of one of these bands, the needle snaps
back to the opposite end of the band. To tune to
frequencies outside these bands, you must enter
them, or a memory, directly (but coverage is
complete, from 100-29999 kHz).
Auto scanning up or down is in 5 kHz increments on SW, 1 kHz on MW, and .10 MHz on
FM. Auto scan goes through the entire band on
the dial, following the needle as it wraps around
back to the top or bottom of the band. When auto
scanning or manual tuning while outside one of
the bands on the dial face, if you then enter one
of the bands, you are locked in that band until
you again direct-enter an outside frequency or
memory or use Band - or + to enter another band
on the dial face.
The memories are labeled from 0-9, then
0A-0F, 10-19, 1A-1F, 20-29, 2A-2F, and so on.
Presets numbered 0-99 can be accessed through
direct-entry. Any memory with a letter in its
label (from 0A to FE; there is no FF) can only
be accessed by the jog dial in memory mode.
Your positions on each of the 12 bands on
the dial face are remembered, unless you switch
to memory mode, when they are effaced by
The operation manual refers to memories
0-99 as the “convenience” area, and memories
0A-FE as the “hidden” area. As you can see,
deciding how to set and use your memories can
be a confusing business.
Memory scanning is accomplished by
entering memory mode and then turning the jog
dial, which will run you up or down through all
preset memories (unset memories and all other
frequencies are skipped). This feature is the
way to at least partially overcome the lack of a
standard keypad for groggy bedside operation:
If you preset all your sleep time frequencies
consecutively in a cluster in the memory, then
enter memory mode, all you have to do is turn
the tuning knob to carousel up and down through
your group of chosen stations, without having to
press a single button.
For SSB reception, you tune to a SSB signal
with the knob or by direct entry, punch the SSB
button, turn the knob until the transmission starts
to become intelligible, then adjust the fine tune
dial for precise demodulation. SSB is stable, and
the fine tune dial feels smooth and solid. Once
you fine tune a SSB signal, usually no further
adjustment is necessary.
With the light switch on, while running
on batteries, the radio lights up whenever the
jog dial is turned or one of the front buttons is
pushed. Not only is the dial face illuminated
with an amber glow, but all of the front buttons
are, too. The lights stay on for 15 seconds after
the last turn of the dial or press of a button.
When running on AC power, with the light
switch on, the lights are always on.
To get the lights to come on without changing your settings, punch any of the direct entry
digit buttons. These functions only change the
LCD readout for a few seconds before returning
to the standard readout, giving you 14 “light
buttons” to choose from.
Selectivity is excellent on all bands. I did a
test on SW with the crushingly massive signal of
Radio Thailand’s 5890 relay. With the IF switch
set to wide, I found the bleed-over ceased about
15 kHz up or down, at 5905 and 5875. On the
narrow setting, RT’s footprint was reduced to
about a 5900 to 5880 spread. If there were fair
signals on 5880 and 5990, they would be listenable with the narrow IF, though perhaps not on
5885 and 5895, but Radio Thailand is extremely
strong in my area.
Overall, the IF selector works like a charm,
and is usually only necessary to separate stations
which are 5 kHz apart. If a station does interfere, switching the filter from wide to narrow
will usually make the desired station listenable,
providing it isn’t too weak. The sound will be
somewhat muffled and an increase in volume
will be necessary, but the interfering signal will
be drastically reduced or eliminated. A strong
station 10 kHz away will rarely interfere, unless
it’s your local AM station.
The narrow IF setting is also helpful in
pulling out a signal suffering under heavy
Tuning up 49 meters, there are no traces of
the spurious signals of RT or gospel stations in
the background, as there are on single conversion units. Images are rare.
Tuning with the knob is smooth, probably
as close to an analog feel as they could get it,
with no muting. But when a band is quiet, some
chirping can be heard with each 1 kHz step.
The 1103 has a very low internal noise
floor, so that weak stations inaudible on a
noisier radio will appear on the 1103. The rat’s
nest encountered around 6 MHz here in the
Northwest in the evening on single conversion
and lower quality radios is absent on the 1103.
The BBC on 5975 usually has no interference,
and the band is quiet on adjacent channels.
The 1103 can pull in almost any signal
with the 36” telescopic antenna. Plugging in the
included 35 foot wire and stringing it indoors
gives a further boost. With the wire plugged in,
the BBC on 11835 and Radio Vlaanderen Intl
on 11635 often overload this radio, necessitating unplugging the wire or sliding the LO/DX
switch to LO. Radio Havana Cuba on 9820 also
sometimes overloads with the wire.
Table 1 lists some of the stations I’ve heard
lately on the 1103, minus the monster stations. I
always use the wire indoors, though just about
all stations come in using the whip.
Table 1: Sample Loggings of
Moderate-Stength Stations
Austria: .................... 9870
Argentina:................ 15345
Belgium (RTBF): ........ 17570 (via Julich)
Bulgaria: .................. 9700 11700
Chile:....................... 11665
Croatia: ................... 9925 (via Julich)
Czech Rep: ............... 6200 7345 17485
Dominican Rep (tent): 6025
Egypt: ...................... 7115 11855 12050
Gabon: .................... 15475
Greece:.................... 7475 12105 15630
Hungary: ................. 9790
Indonesia: ................ 9525 11785
Israel (Kol): .............. 9 4 3 5 1 1 5 8 5 1 3 6 3 5
15640 17535
Israel (Galei Zahal): 15785
Italy: ........................ 11800
Jordan: .................... 11690
Kuwait: .................... 11675 15110 15505
Libya:....................... 11635 15205 15315
15660 17635 17695
Moldova (Cland): ..... 13800
Morocco: ................. 15345
Nigeria: ................... 7255 15120 17800
Philippines: .............. 11720 15190 17720
Portugal: .................. 15480 21830
Romania: ................. 11820 15380
Saudi Arabia: ........... 13710
Serbia/Montenegro: . 9580
Singapore: ............... 6150
S. Africa: .................. 7265 9770 15265
Spain: ...................... 6 0 5 5 1 5 1 1 0 1 5 2 9 0
Switzerland: ............. 13645 15445 15515 (all
via Julich)
Syria: ....................... 12085 13610
Tunisia: .................... 7275
Turkey: ..................... 7170 9460 15350
Ukraine: .................. 7545
UN Radio: ................ 15495 (UK)
Vatican: ................... 7250 7300 12055 15570
15595 17515
Also heard were many Middle Eastern and
African relays of Radio France Intl, Deutsche
Welle, BBC, and VOA. On 41 meters SSB,
I’ve heard hams from Australia, Arkansas, and
throughout the Midwest. On the CB band, “The
Big Bad Wolf from The Bayou” and another
from Dallas came crashing in during early afternoon.
At night on MW, a station is audible almost
every 10 kHz with just the internal antenna. The
March 2005
1103 pulls in the low powered FM stations well
on the whip or wire.
The 1103’s 3-inch speaker is powerful
enough to be listenable in a mid-sized room.
Those who have the 1103 and the bigger
YB400PE say the Degen’s sound isn’t as rich
and resonant as the Grundig’s.
With the included earphones, which apparently are similar to the Sennheiser models
MX/200 or MX/300, I tuned in Nigeria on 7255
near the top of the hour. I was stunned by the
depth and timbre of the African drums during
Voice of Nigeria’s interval signal. They sounded
huge. Through the earphones, music on decent
SW signals has rich bass.
Build Quality
I was impressed with the feel of the cabinet,
aluminum front, and controls of the 1103. The
whip is fairly thick and heavy duty and the whole
unit is solid. The silver model especially has a
nice finish and the bare aluminum face looks
sharp. The dark model has a flat gray finish,
with the aluminum face painted a matte milk
chocolate color.
A Fatal Flaw?
One of the 1103s I tried developed a faulty
tuning shuttle, affecting all jog dial functions.
The Yahoo! Kaito-de1103 user’s group reported
some other units with the same problem. The
dealer I bought the radio from says Degen claims
to have ironed out the shuttle fault and improved
SW sensitivity (already extremely sensitive) in
their recent batches of 1103s. My replacement
from a new lot so far shows no problems, though
the faulty radio took about two months to begin
acting up. Time will tell.
Bottom Line
There are a few changes I could recommend
for easier operation, but overall, besides the
direct entry button configuration and possible
future tuning shuttle faults, I may have found
my ideal radio. Everything works well, from the
sleep timer and alarms to the tuning knob and
SSB fine tuning.
I bought my 1103 from eBay seller Liypn,
a gentleman in Hong Kong who, unlike some
of the other sellers, offers a one year warranty
on the radio. His usual price is $44.90 plus $20
shipping to the US. The 1103 comes with a
220V AC adaptor, so Liypn offers a 110/220V
transformer for $7.90 at no extra shipping cost.
Liypn currently carries a %100 satisfaction rating on eBay. plans to sell the KA1103
(Kaito version of the DE1103) in the US, with
a 110V adaptor and one year warranty. (Tecsun
is the parent company of Degen and Kaito, and
they also manufacture a good part of the Grundig
line at their factory in Hong Kong.) The KA1103
should be the same as the DE1103, relabeled as
a Kaito.
Detailed specs of the 1103 and Degen line
can be found at:
Thank you to the Yahoo! kaito-de1103 users’ group for their many helpful posts.
Note: If you get a DE1103, be aware that
the factory set (and reset) volume level is 40 (it
comes on in FM). My normal listening volume
is between 8 and 12, 20 at the most to fill the
room. I worry the 40 level is high enough to
damage the speaker. The second you turn it on
(out of the box or after resetting), immediately
hit a direct entry button 1-0 and immediately
punch VOL/CHG and save your speaker and
ears. You will not have time to hit VOL/CHG
and go to the jog wheel to turn it down. It has
to be done instantaneously with the buttons.
Optoelectronics X Sweeper
By Bob Grove W8JHD
ne of the handiest gadgets for the
frequency explorer would be a handheld device that not only provides
signal reception, but shows band activity on a
wide-span spectrum display and also accurately
reveals their frequencies. Scanners can slowly
sweep and memorize search-discovered frequencies for later recall and monitoring, but have no
wide-span spectrum display. Spectrum analyzers
can manually be tuned to various portions of the
spectrum to visually display signals and some
have audio recovery, but they tend to be large
and expensive.
For several years a Chinese manufacturer
has offered such a device, but at $2000 its slow
sweep doesn’t find wide appeal. Now a prominent, American test-equipment manufacturer has
released a faster device at lower cost.
The new Optoelectronics X Sweeper expands technology embodied in a previous Opto
product, their Xplorer, offering a continuous
frequency range from 30-3000 MHz (3 GHz)
(less cellular except on government models),
and sweeping, acquiring and memorizing active
frequencies in that entire range in as little as one
second. Apparently it accomplishes this quick
sweep of a vast amount of spectrum through the
use of a proprietary comb-generating variablefrequency oscillator, mixing a large number of
separate oscillator frequencies simultaneously.
March 2005
❖ The X Sweeper at a Glance
As shown in the accompanying photo, it’s a
handful; the black plastic case measures 4-1/2”W
x 8-1/4”H x 2-1/2”D and weighs nearly 2 pounds.
A convenient (although hard to open), hinged, tilt
bracket is recessed in the back, allowing desk-top
placement at a comfortable viewing angle.
The 64 x 128 LCD is backlit for night
viewing, and is strongly visible in direct sunlight
as well. Contrast can be adjusted by a simple
key press. Yet another selection can reverse the
contrast from blue on white (normal) to white
on blue. The backlight can be
extinguished to extend battery
life during high ambient lighting
The display shows currently-chosen functions, menu,
center frequency, VFO settings,
clock/calendar, span, spectrum
bar graph, and other readouts as
selected by the operator.
The X Sweeper’s LCD spectrum display will show analog
signals, but not digital, and the audio detector circuitry is designed
to demodulate FM signals only,
although weak audio from strong
AM aircraft signals were heard
during our test.
A 25-button membrane keypad allows direct
frequency entry as well as selection of operating
mode, setup instructions, lockout of undesired
response frequencies, “joystick” up/down keys
for VFO operation, rapid span/frequency changes,
and bank selection for stored “hit” (active) frequencies,
As many as 1000 search-discovered frequencies can be automatically stored in its 10 memory
banks (100 channels each) which may then be
scanned for continued activity or identification.
Up to 65,000 hits are recorded and reported
by the memory which also stores frequency,
signal strength, and a time and
date stamp. A separate log memory
bank can store up to 1919 first- or
last-sweep-discovered frequencies
with their own reports.
An optional GPS unit ($249,
factory-installed at the time of
order) provides automatic memorization of the X Sweeper’s latitude
and longitude for each signal
record for mobile/portable applications.
Spans of frequency bands
may be swept from user-selectable
widths of 0.1, 0.3, 1, 3, 10, 100,
300, 1000 and 3000 MHz. Up to
2000 unwanted frequencies (inter-
ference, continuous carriers, signal harmonics,
intermod products, “birdies,” etc.) may be locked
out of the scan/search function at the touch of a
An autoskip/autohold function allows the
unit to search and register active-frequency hits
without dwelling on each signal for audible monitoring, enabling a much faster registry of active
frequencies. Alternatively, the unit will lock onto
a search-discovered frequency for monitoring.
❖ Low sensitivity and broad
Near-field reception is assured, and weak,
distant signals are ignored by the deliberately-low
sensitivity of the unit. Typically, the Sweeper
responds to signal levels above 20 microvolts
in the 30-800 MHz range, increasing to 150
microvolts at 1 GHz, and 40 millivolts at the top
end (2.4-3 GHz). Compared to the fractionalmillivolt sensitivities of scanners and receivers,
this is relatively deaf, but is necessary to reduce
unwanted hits from distant signals.
Intermediate-frequency (IF) Selectivity is
quite broad (nearly 100 kHz), dictating that the
unit will respond to the strongest (and presumably
the closest) signal in its passband.
❖ Power requirements
Power is provided for up to 6-10 hours
(as warned by a Low Battery sign before shutdown) by 8 AA alkaline batteries (included), or
continuously from the 120 VAC wall adaptor
(included). Alternatively, the unit can be operated
by user-provided and externally-recharged NiMH
or NiCd cells.
Its 9-12 VDC power jack makes it a natural
for long-duration mobile operation, identifying
nearby signals as they are approached or passed.
Alternatively, a 12 volt gel cell or other high-current, rechargeable battery in a belt or sling pouch
would be a practical consideration for extended
portable operation.
❖ Accessories
A swiveling, telescoping whip (4-1/2 to
22 inches) is provided (although when fully
extended, the weight of our whip caused it to
continually swivel downward from its loose
connector sleeve). Optional antennas are available from Optoelectronics, but the standard BNC
connector accepts an endless number of widelyavailable antennas.
Detected audio is clearly and loudly heard
from the internal speaker, disconnected when an
optional earphone is plugged into the 3.5 mm
(1/8”) jack. Volume and squelch controls are
An RS232 jack (1/8” stereo) allows data
download from a computer (cable and software
included), and a CI5 Reaction Tuning jack is offered as well.
reception capabilities. A list of such scanners is
supplied in the user’s manual. The installation of
an Optoscan 535 or 456 digital interface ($199
option) is required for some scanner models.
❖ Caveats
It must be pointed out that this is a piece of
test equipment, not a scanner. As such, its display
shows a single, narrow bar for a near-field signal,
and the detector demodulates the strongest (usually closest) FM sources. It is not a selective,
sensitive receiver that can distinguish between
closely-spaced, weak or distant signals, nor does
the display sweep or refresh quickly enough to
show digital bursts, spread spectrum, frequency
hopping, pulse, or single-signal waveforms.
The temptation to attach a large, outdoor
antenna to this instrument is irresistible, but signal
saturation from the receiver’s limited dynamic
range is likely, especially in a strong-signal environment, creating all sorts of phantom signals
and misidentified frequency readouts from the
resulting intermodulation, which also slows the
search function. Adjusting the squelch knob to a
looser setting reduces the false hits, but decreases
the low sensitivity even further.
Since there is no attenuator, strong signals
may be reduced by shortening the antenna or
increasing the distance from the signal source.
No provision is made for rechargeable batteries to be charged in the X Sweeper – surprising
considering the cost of the instrument and the
presence of such a facility in other, less expensive Opto products. A separate charger must be
acquired (available from Opto for $89, although
a less expensive discount-store model will work
just fine), and two screws must be removed each
time the batteries are accessed.
The sweep circuitry of the X Sweeper does
emit RF noise into its immediate environment;
while using it in my car I was unable to listen to
weak and moderate FM signals on my car radio.
choice of whips, mobile antennas, or even base
antennas as the requirement dictates. The supplied
telescoping whip enabled reception of two-way
base stations from several miles away using the
monitoring function.
Sitting in my car at Wal-Mart with a roof-top
antenna connected, I was unable to sweep-detect
460 MHz FRS handy-talkies in use by the clerks,
but miles-distant paging signals and the sheriff’s
repeater came in loud and clear.
A more serious assignment to sweep a professional office for a suspected listening device
made the X Sweeper a logical choice. Many interesting emissions from modern office equipment
were revealed (but no bugs were found!).
❖ The Bottom Line
The outstanding features of this new test
equipment are its wide frequency range, audio
recovery capability, fast search and acquisition of
signals, accurate frequency determination, scannable memory with auto-loaded hits, LCD display
of signals over a wide spectrum, direct keyboard
frequency entry, and small size and weight.
The signal-strength bar graph with its digital
level readings is useful for antenna adjustments,
bug detection, interference locating, signal-distance estimating and, with a directional antenna,
hidden-transmitter hunting.
The X Sweeper is available for $1599 plus
$10 shipping from Optoelectronics, 5821 NE 14th
Ave. Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33334. For additional
information or to place your order, phone (954)
771-2050, email them at sales@optoelectronics.
com, or visit their website at
❖ Our Field Tests
Sweeping the spectrum from 30-3000 MHz,
our sample could lock onto a nearby transmission
within as little as one second, and no longer than
a few seconds. Narrowing the span didn’t make
signal acquisition faster, but it did reduce the
likelihood of false stops and certainly made the
LCD spectrum display easier to read in an RF-rich
Unlike many scanners that inaccurately
display search-discovered frequencies slightly
high or low of their actual carrier frequencies, we
found the X Sweeper to have an excellent window
detector that accurately displays intercepted frequencies to 4 decimal places (specified accuracy
of 500 Hz).
The BNC antenna jack invites the user’s
❖ Reaction Tuning
The ability of the X Sweeper to lock onto
the frequency of a nearby transmitter may be used
to control certain Icom, Uniden and Radio Shack
scanners in order to use those radios’ additional
March 2005