Receiver Review: Drake R8
Year Introduced & Discontinued: 1991 - 1995
Power: Mains, 12 VDC
Size: 334 x 134 x 330 mm
Price: US$1090, CAN$1600
Coverage: 100 kHz - 30 MHz, AM/USB/LSB/CW/RTTY/FM (VHF converter 35-55 and 108-174 MHz optional)
Value Rating star
This review was compiled independently. The Medium Wave Circle and Radio Netherlands has no financial connection with AOR, the manufacturer of this receiver.
Reviewers: Jonathan Marks & Willem Bos
In North America, the arrival of the Drake R-8 was accompanied by a major advertising campaign. After all, Drake made a popular high-end communications receiver in the mid-80's and then departed from the shortwave market to concentrate on satellite receivers. Now that they're back, the influence from the satellite business is evident in the styling of the receiver. Despite what you see in the advert photos, the receiver is easiest use when tilted at a slight angle towards you. Otherwise punching in the frequencies on keypad is rather awkward.
When you're designing a radio you have two options. Either you can put a button on the front panel for every function. But that can lead to a radio looking somewhat like the cockpit of a jumbo jet. On the other hand you can reduce the number of buttons by putting a number of functions under one key, and this is the approach Drake have taken with their R-8. This simplifies the panel, and can bring down the cost. But it can make the receiver fiddly to use.
Take the mode button for instance. You can chose between AM, narrow band FM, CW, RTTY, lower-sideband, or upper sideband, in that order. But if you're listening to a station in upper sideband, and you want to check the lower sideband, then you have to press the mode button five times. That's a nuisance.
The tuning steps are also related to mode. If you select the AM mode, the tuning steps are in 100 Hz, and the display shows the frequency to the nearest 1 kHz. You make this finer by a factor of ten if you want, so the display shows frequencies to the nearest 100 Hz. But if you touch the mode switch, then the radio switches back to its 1 kHz default setting. If you listen on SSB, then the resolution is to the nearest 10 Hz, and the tuning steps are 10 Hz too. Drake say they've done now updated the software to allow you to switch off these default settings.
So, you get a set with a wide choice of bandwidth filters, and the shape factor of these filters is good. You get a choice of 6,4, 2.3,1.8 & 0.5 kHz. But if you keep changing the filter settings to reduce interference, you must remember to retune.
Normally, when you switch from a wider filter to a narrower filter you expect the audio quality to drop, the interference from nearby stations should also be reduced, and at the same time the sensitivity of receiver should go up. When we switched to a narrower bandwidth filter on the R-8 we found that the sensitivity went down instead, almost by a factor of three. That's because the adjustment of the passband tuning control is critical. So to get the best results everytime you switch bandwidths, you need to keep adjusting the band-pass control. That takes some getting use to, and you have to do this because the pass-band tuning can't be switched out of circuit.
Coverage on this set starts at 100 kHz, so in Europe if you're interested in utility stuff below that, well tough luck. In practice there's such a strong oscillator whistle at 100 kHz so it really starts at 110 kHz. The receiver has an RS-232 connector on the back of the receiver for computer control. But at present there is no ready-made software available, in Europe at least, which can match the R-8's protocols.
Drake has decided to make the R-8 show the carrier frequency that's tuned in on the display. When you're listening to broadcast stations of course, that's exactly what you want. But if you tune in a Morse code or RTTY station to exactly the frequency of the carrier wave you'll have to mentally adjust the dial for the offset.
This review first appeared on the Radio Netherlands website.