Receiver Review: Radio Shack DX-394
Year Introduced & Discontinued: 1995 (4th Q) - March
Power: 120 VAC/13.8 VDC
Size: 96 x 233 x 230 mm
Weight: 2.1 Kg
Price: US$250, CAN$250, £160 (est.), A$600
Coverage: 150 kHz - 29.9999 MHz (AM, USB, LSB, CW)
This review was compiled independently. The Medium Wave Circle and Radio Netherlands has no financial connection with Radio Shack, the manufacturer of this receiver.
Reviewers: Jonathan Marks & Tom Sundstrom
Radio Shack last offered tabletop receivers in the early 1980s. This is probably the least expensive tabletop receiver in the marketplace at the end of 1995.
The DX-394 has a scanner heritage. A rod antenna mounts through the top of the receiver, and the 160 memories are in 16 banks of 10 memories apiece. There is frequency searching, but no memory scanning.
The receiver is clearly oriented to the international broadcast listener. A METER button lets the user select a band from 120 through 11 metres. One of two clocks is displayed at all times. A tape recorder jack is on the rear apron.
Not surprisingly for the price, the DX-394 lacks features found on more expensive receivers: passband tuning, AM synchronous modes, tone control, bandwidth and AGC selections and computer control. From our perspective the most conspicuous omission is a connection to control a cassette tape recorder -- despite the inclusion of five timers -- but a work-around may be to use a tape recorder with VOX control.
The DX-394 is sensitive, perhaps too sensitive, given the filters. Under certain conditions we noted crosstalk between two adjacent, strong signals on a band. We wish the filters were more robust. Clearly this receiver is not designed to be used with large, high external antennas. In tests in strong signal locations in North America and Europe, the included rod antenna or a wire of probably no more than 10m in length should be more than sufficient for general listening.
Originally introduced at US$400, the receiver was reduced by US$100 in August 1996 and another US$50 in August 1997. The DX-394's price point of $250 is attractive to the customer seeking something more than the DX-390/DX-392 portable receiver. In the US, the receiver is US$350 less than the Lowe HF-150 and Yaesu FRG-100.
Radio Netherlands Receiver Test Laboratory: Full Review
After more than a dozen years, in late 1995 Radio Shack -- a division of Tandy Corporation -- reentered the tabletop shortwave receiver market. Except for a low-cost AM-mode-only special production model built by R.L. Drake Company for a firm in Florida, USA, the DX-394 is probably the least expensive tabletop receiver in the marketplace at the close of 1995.
Physical details. The DX-394 is packaged within a slate gray high impact plastic cabinet of 233 mm wide, 96 mm high and 230 mm deep (9" x 3 11/16" x 9") weighing 2.1 Kg (4.6 lb.). It is powered by 120 VAC, 60 Hz, and 13.8 VDC at 450 ma. A removable 66 cm (26") rod antenna mounts through the right rear of the top of the cabinet.
Frequency coverage and modes. The DX-394 frequency coverage is 150 kHz to 29.9999 MHz, segmented into three "bands" of LW (150-509.9 kHz), MW (510-1729.9 kHz) and SW (1.73 MHz and up). A "BAND" button serves as a carousel to change segments. Modes are AM, LSB, USB, and CW. Filters are fixed to the mode.
As the receiver was unavailable in Europe in time for our review, we were unable to put the receiver on our laboratory test bench. The numbers are provided by Radio Shack. The sensitivity is 10 uV on LW, 7 uV on MW and 1 uV on SW (AM mode, 10 dB S+N/N ratio). Selectivity is 6 kHz @ -6 dB, 12 kHz @ -50 dB in the AM mode, and 6 kHz @ -5 dB, 9 kHz @ -50 dB in SSB and CW modes. Image and spurious rejection is rated at 80 dB each.
The front panel
The light-green backlit liquid crystal display dominates the upper-left front panel. Frequency, the S-meter, and one of two clocks - toggled with the "Time Set" button - are immediately apparent. Other indicators include 5 timers, a 30 or 60 minute sleep timer, memory channel, frequency step (0.1, 1, 5, 9, 10 kHz) and a front panel lock that affects the various push-buttons.
The upper-right portion has two horizontal rows of buttons: up- and down-arrow keys to adjust the frequency step, time set, sleep, dimmer (bright and dim), power, timer, noise blanker, a "MON" button to manipulate a scratch-pad memory, and lock. The MW, but not LW, default frequency step may be either 9 or 10 kHz.
Under the display on the lower left of the panel there are separate volume, RF gain, mode and fine tuning controls. The fine tuning control tunes in steps selected by the frequency step buttons, down to 10 Hz. The 3.5mm (1/8") headphone jack is monaural.
The keypad in the lower right portion of the panel serves multiple functions to enter frequencies directly, manipulate memories or initiate frequency range scanning functions. The keypad is small, and takes a bit of pressure to activate the keys. A beep provides tactile feedback; it cannot be disabled. There are no dimples to assist visually impaired users.
The rear apron
The a.c. line cord is fixed to the receiver. Other connectors are a DC jack, an external speaker, a 20 dB attenuation switch, an audio line-out phono jack for a tape recorder or digital decoder, and two connectors for high- and low-impedance antennas.
The 160 memories retain only the frequency. Akin to VHF-UHF scanner memory banks, the DX-394 memories are segmented into 16 ranges. 10 frequencies may be stored in each of the 13 broadcast bands (120m-11m), plus 10 each in the LW, MW and SW bands. Storing memories is quick and easy. To store 5965, 5975, 6020 and 6165 kHz in the 49m band, we pressed the METER button and selected 49m. Then it is a repetitive process: dial the frequency, press the PGM button, a memory channel button and ENTER.
To recall a memory, one simply presses the BAND (toggling to LW, MW or SW) or METER button, then a button 1 through 0 (corresponding to memories 1 through 10).
From our perspective, the most conspicuous omission is a connection to control a cassette tape recorder motor. We noted its absence as soon as we took the radio from the shipping carton and started to hook it up. It is a shame, as the generous number of timers -- five -- would otherwise offer considerable flexibility in taping programs when away from the receiver.
Other features absent from this receiver include passband tuning, AM synchronous modes, bandwidth selection, AGC options, memory scanning and computer control.
Turning on and tuning in
The receiver is clearly focused on the broadcast listener. The METER buttons and the pre-set band limits for tuning within the international broadcast bands clearly show the intent of the designer.
The DX-394 clearly is a very sensitive receiver and the equal of other, more expensive, receivers on the table. Tests from listening posts in New Jersey and Holland suggest that perhaps the receiver is too sensitive to withstand the use of longer random wires. Though the receiver front end does not appear to overload very easily, we had trouble dealing with strong adjacent signals on the 49 and 41m bands during the evening hours. For example, in New Jersey we noted crosstalk on signals such as RCI Sackville on 5960 and BBC Antigua on 5975 at 23-24 UT. Until we switched in attenuation and reduced the RF gain control, we could not eliminate the problem. Under such strong signal conditions, the rod antenna was quite adequate for casual program listening.
Except in weak signal areas, such as the Pacific Northwest of the USA or parts of Africa and Asia, a random wire no more than 10m (30 feet) long should be more than sufficient.
We wish the filters were more robust.
Digital signal listening
The DX-394 has no digital RTTY or FAX modes. With decoders we were able to tune in press RTTY and fax signals so long as the adjacent channel interference was at a minimum. In the USB mode, we had to tune lower than the nominal carrier frequency by 2125 Hz and 1.9 kHz respectively. For CW, we had to tune 700 or 800 Hz lower. In our opinion, the bandwidths are too wide to consistently enjoy good reception.
The bottom line
The tradeoffs in receiver design, features and performance versus the target price is difficult for all receiver manufacturers. This receiver is clearly designed at a price point to be attractive to the shortwave listeners seeking something more than the Radio Shack DX-390 and DX-392 portable receivers. It is important to note there is no panacea for the experienced listeners seeking a high-end receiver for a low-end price.
Originally introduced at US$400, the receiver was reduced by US$100 in August 1996 and another US$50 in August 1997.
In the USA and Canada, the DX-394 retails in the Radio Shack stores for US$250. Putting the price into perspective, in North America, the DX-394 is US$350 less than the Lowe HF-150 and the Yaesu FRG-100. The DX-394 price is competitive with the high-end portable receivers, such as the Sony ICF-SW77 and ICF-2010. The choice comes down to the desired receiver type and features.
For the programme listeners seeking an entry-level tabletop receiver, we believe the Radio Shack DX-394 offers a reasonable value for the money. We recommend the DXers -- seeking out the difficult and hard-to-hear stations -- and those listeners of utility and radio amateur frequencies requiring better receiver performance look to a higher-end tabletop receiver.
This review first appeared on the Radio Netherlands website.