Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Another Newstar DR111 Review

Our longtime DRMNA colleague Brendan dives headfirst into the DR111:  

I received my DR111 on May 21st, via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - which is not the shortest route between Cheng Du and Arizona! The package had seen a lot of miles, but it was completely intact and that is what matters most. Arriving at home, I carefully unboxed it and found everything that was supposed to be there was indeed there. I immediately plugged it in, deciphered the controls (who needs a manual? ;) ), and quickly had REE on the air. Since then, I've been enjoying listening to all the DRM I can get here. I am using an outside dipole for nearly everything, and reception has been excellent. Using my RX320D and PC in a side-by-side check, the two radios are about equal in sensitivity and DRM decoding ability, so if I got it before, I can get it now.

So far, I have received REE, RNZI, and Disco Palace with full decoding. I have also been able to receive the SDC data from Vatican Radio as well, although neither Sackville nor Santa Maria di Galeria come in well here. This replicates my recent listening experiences with the RX320D/PC combo, so that also confirms the sensitivity of the DR111.

DRM reception: this radio works! I'm listening to the Disco Palace as I write this, and there have been only a few dropouts, which are confirmed by the signal strength meter fluctuations. Last night I was able to listen to RNZI on 17675 for 4 1/2 hours, only turning it off to go to bed. Reception was near perfect the entire time, with the lower bitrate smoothing out any small dropouts as to be expected. The Disco Palace's P-Stereo is excellent as well, with good bass. Monaural audio is excellent, and my ears actually prefer the DR111 to the RX320D/PC combo. I have noticed a less 'tinny' (less hiss) quality to the DR111, with fewer digital artifacts and a fuller, richer sound. I am running the DR111 through a 2.1 PC speaker set, which I have used for the other combo: the DR111 simply sounds better. My ears aren't that great, but they aren't entirely shot either, so this is a subjective observation of course.

DRM technical: Decoding lock is quick, no trouble there. The signal strength meter appears to be sampling the RF side, and not the sampled SNR that Dream shows, so there is no time lag. All in all, I could find little to note about DRM reception other than it works really well!

Analog reception: Okay, there is more to comment on here. I have also noticed the AGC "pumping" on shortwave and mediumwave. When stations are either very low in signal strength or very high, the pumping kicks in, and the volume can drastically change. On frequencies with either no signal or a very low level one, the background noise can be reduced to nothing, and you begin to fear the radio has died (but it hasn't of course). On high level signals it starts to clip the audio, and it sounds very messy. Not all that accurate, "messy," but it describes it well. There is overloading present on the 49m band in the evenings, but I haven't researched if that is a major problem or very limited in frequencies affected. I have also had the DR111 lock up completely with sudden, high volume signals, and the only way to clear it up is to unplug it. Not cool, but probably fixable. Selectivity is GREAT! The ability to adjust the AM bandwidth is a great touch, and I've notched out nasty little beat frequencies with it. AM sensitivity is good too, and I can actually receive one particular station from Tucson (90 miles away) better with the DR111 than virtually any other radio I've got, including my ICF7600D. That may not seem much, but no Tucson station comes in very clear here: there are three small mountain ranges between us, and they do a good job of blocking the groundwaves. FM reception seems to be good, but I don't have many FM stations in this area. What ones there are fairly low-power in fact, and sensitivity appears to be a little low with my limited listening on that band with this radio. I didn't know longwave was included, bonus! Not that there is much here (not any, in fact), but hey, one never knows.

More technical comments: tuning is a little tricky, as going too fast with the knob results in zipping past the desired frequency, and that's in "slow" mode. Maybe the encoder could be slowed a bit? I really don't like the keypad going to sleep either. That took some getting used to. I can see that that action guards against inadvertent key presses, but still... The case is quite sturdy, and not too likely to break easily, nor is the whip antenna: it seems to be of a thicker gauge than others I've known. Keypad buttons: my memory #1 and #6 buttons slope a bit to the outside and aren't as high as the others. Mostly a QC thing it seems, they do work just fine.

Overall, this is a good radio in my opinion. Fix the issues I and others have already noted, and it will be even better. I wish the DR111 had been around about 3 years ago when there were way more DRM broadcasts to North America, as this is a perfect demonstrator radio for the technology. My thanks to Mr. Allen Liang for his very prompt response to my order: CDNSE deserves a lot of credit for persisting with this radio and the improvements they have already made in response to suggestions. May this be the forerunner of better DRM to come.

Brendan Wahl WA7HL
Bisbee, AZ