Receiver Review: Sony ICF-SW1000T
Year Introduced: 1996
Power: Battery (2 AA), external mains adaptor
Size: 176 by 105 by 40 mm
Weight: 240 g
Price: €600, US$540, CAN$700, £800
Coverage: 150 kHz - 30 MHz, FM (stereo on headphones)
Introduced at the end of 1995, the ICF-SW1000T integrates most of a ICF-SW100S receiver with a stereo cassette recorder. Other features include LW, MW, SW, FM and SSB modes, 32 memories, clock and alarm functions plus a keyboard and shuttle keys akin to the ICF-SW100S. The cassette has auto-reverse and timer-record functions but no Dolby. Accessories include a stereo microphone and headphones, an active antenna and carrying case. Street price is US$550. Albeit expensive, it works quite well for the traveller.
This review was compiled independently. The Medium Wave Circle and Radio Netherlands has no financial connection with Sony, the manufacturer of this receiver.
Reviewers: Diana Janssen & Jonathan Marks.
In mid-1996 we had several reactions from listeners asking when we were going to test the Sony ICF-SW1000T, a new digital portable which was launched at the 1995 Berlin Funkausstellung. The price of around US$540 dollars in the US, around the equivalent of $600 in Europe has caught the attention of most people who have seen it in a shop window. That's a lot of money for a portable.
Two in One
The Sony ICF-SW1000T is two devices in one. On the one side it is a fully functional digital portable receiver. If you turn it around it turns into a fully functional cassette tape recorder. Looking inside the radio reveals they've taken the basic circuitry from the travel portable, the ICF-SW100 (most but not all of the features) as well as the insides from a recordable Walkman cassette tape recorder and integrated the two. That process of integration so that, for example, the liquid crystal display shows what the status of the radio and well as the cassette costs extra money, as well as miniaturisation which is why the total cost of this set is more than if you just bought a portable receiver and a separate tape recorder and an audio cable to connect the two. The receiver portion also shows similarities to the recently launched ICF-SW7600G.
Sony has done this before though with the old WA-8000 radio-cassette recorder and that was in many radio catalogues several years. This new radio is the same concept, but this time the radio is digital and it is a better radio than they put into the WA-8000. That had very limited coverage of the broadcast bands and we advised people not to buy it as a result.
The radio measures 176 by 105 by 40 mm. It is compact enough to fit into a attaché case, slightly too large for a pocket. Despite the fact that it is a recorder and radio in one case, we think it is remarkably thin. The radio weighs in on the kitchen scales at 582 grams including the three penlight batteries that fit into the bottom.
That's worth a comment. In 1980, Sony launched the ICF-2001 which used three size D cells, huge things, that got hot because the circuits used so much energy... almost 400 milliAmps. Now you need two penlights to power the radio and just one penlight to power the tape-recorder mechanism. A 3 volt DC power supply is an optional extra in most countries, but even if you do use the mains supply you need to keep two batteries in the set otherwise the clock stops and the memories fail. We got 20 hours of listening on a set of new batteries and 3 hours of recording using the cassette recorder continuously.
So let's put the batteries in, set the clock and switch on. The radio goes to the last frequency it was tuned to. If you want to select a new channel, you've got three ways of doing it.
If you know the frequency you can press the direct button and simply tap it in. You can scan up and down the dial in 1 or 5 kHz steps on shortwave, 50 kHz steps on FM, and on medium wave the choice is 3, 9 or 10 kHz steps depending on how you adjust the settings. In other words the radio can be used anywhere in the world. On SSB the tuning steps are in 100 Hz. That is quite fine, excellent for tuning in radio amateurs. It is a bit coarse for telex stations, but this set was not designed for this purpose. And the final way of tuning is to call up a favourite station from the memory. The ICF-SW1000T has thirty memories in the form of 3 banks or pages, each of 10 stations. The radio remembers both the frequency you stored and whether you were listening in AM, single- sideband or synchronous AM. So although the radio appears to have only one AM bandwidth, just under 6 kHz at -6 dB, in fact when you switch to SSB or synchronous AM you can escape adjacent channel interference by selecting only sideband. This works well on previous Sony models. It is the same circuit with the same specifications in this radio.
Listening in Europe we found that most broadcast signals were strong enough so that the radio kept locked all the time. Around lunch-time on very high frequencies when we had signals from Asia with quite a bit of fading sometimes the radio would momentarily lose lock. This is to be expected on weaker signals with this and other radios of this type. Listen in sync AM if you can. The effects of ionospheric fading are clearly reduced, in our opinion.
The liquid crystal display shows the status of the radio and the cassette recorder and there's a light to view it in the dark. Audio quality on the built-in speaker is fair to good. There's a two position tone switch, which we usually left in the full-fidelity MUSIC position. We conclude that this radio is designed for personal listening. It cannot compete, in the volume it delivers, with the larger radio-CD-cassette combinations. There's a switch on the side to select mono or stereo, which only functions if you're listening to an FM station on headphones.
There's also a sensitivity switch with a local and distant setting for both AM and FM. On AM we kept it in the "distant" position. On FM, using the set near Lopik we noticed some overloading because of the nearby FM transmitters. That was cured by using the "local" position. The radio comes with a collapsible washing-line style antenna which is useful if you're travelling. Sony tell us that in some parts of the world the radio are sold with an active antenna, but of course that adds to the basic price. Frankly, you'd have to be in a very isolated part of the world to justify the active antenna. Always try the passive piece of wire before you spend lots of money on an active antenna. There is a socket on the set to plug one in.
Compared with other radios we'd say the overall AM performance is good to excellent, FM performance is fair. But that's not all. There's a timer inside which can be set to wake you up with your favourite station. The radio-cassette will also record your favourite programmes while you're out. That sounds simple, though in practice you have to really have to think to get it right. If you don't do it regularly, then you'll easily forget the programming sequence.
With a bit of juggling we were able to get the radio to switch on at two minutes to eight in the morning to listen and record the weather forecast on a local FM station and then at eight-o'clock switch to Radio Netherlands Dutch service on 5955 kHz to get the world news headlines. There are two memories, one has priority over the other, you put the FM station in memory B, the SW station in memory A and there you are.
But you must concentrate if you want to record programmes. The auto- reverse cassette recorder is on the reverse side of the radio, so the cassette is always going in the opposite direction to what you expect. If you set the radio to record a programme at a particular time and you're listening to a cassette when that moment comes, the radio automatically switches into record mode. So if you want to preserve recordings against accidental erasure, you must punch out the recording tabs on the cassette. The cassette recorder uses an automatic level control system. It records from the radio without any need to take levels. You can also connect a microphone to record notes. There's no Dolby or any other noise-reduction system on it though which we thought rather strange. You have to see the LCD display to operate the timer... a point worth noting for blind listeners.
So who is going to buy this radio? Good question. Well if your job is to monitor radio stations in different locations and make recordings of what you hear, this is a pretty neat, compact solution. You definitely need to plough through the 45 page manual because even though most of the radio's operation is logical, some functions are quite complex. The English instruction book could have been better organised. It has been translated from Japanese and some explanations could be a lot clearer if they were more concise.
For the average user the price may be the biggest barrier. At somewhere between US$540-600, depending on where you buy it, this is not a casual selection. You might select it because you want a lot of features, including a cassette recorder, packed into the smallest possible space. If size is not a problem, companies like Sangean make a shortwave radio cassette combination which is three times the size, makes twice as much noise and costs half the price. But the shortwave radio section in the Sony ICF-SW-1000T is better than all the other radio-cassette combinations currently on the market. We should also point out that the radio is compact, but also delicate. The tray that springs out to accept a cassette reveals a marvellously intricate cassette recorder inside. But treat it with care or it will snap off. It is well built, but the cassette mechanism is not rugged.
This review first appeared on the Radio Netherlands website.