Receiver Review: Sony ICF-SW40
Year Introduced: 1995
Power: 4.5 v DC (3 AA batteries), AC adaptor optional
Size: 170 by 105 by 35 mm
Weight: 415 g
Price: US$130, CAN$190, £90, A$300
Coverage: MW, FM, SW (3.61 -26.1 MHz)
The ICF-SW40 is a "paperback book" portable, slightly smaller and lighter than its direct competition in Europe, the Grundig YB-360. Both are designed for the discerning traveller interested in more than average performance but also not too keen on spending vast sums for minaturisation. They are designed only for broadcast band listening; neither has SSB for listening to maritime communications or radio amateurs.
The ICF-SW40 is the smaller of the two. It measures 170 by 105 by 35 mm, and it weighs in at 415 grams including three penlight batteries that fit neatly into the back. The radio comes with a nylon carrying-pouch, and a sheet about shortwave receiving techniques. In Europe at least, an AC power supply is not included in the purchase price.
Sony: non technical appeal
The Sony ICF-SW40 is going to appeal to those people who want the convenience of digital frequency readout to the nearest 1 kHz and yet still find analogue tuning with a point and dial easier to grasp than keypads. Sony has therefore made a special liquid crystal display where the dial pointer is in fact a line on an LCD display instead of a mechanical pointer connected to a pulley system using a chord. This isn't the first time Sony has done this... there was the ICF-7600DA produced in the mid-80s with the same idea. But this new radio has much better performance and a wider coverage.
The dial scale on the new ICF-SW40 covers 3.95 to 26.1 MHz in just four centimetres. Normally, that would make any fine tuning impossible. But in this case, the analogue readout is just a rough indication. Above the point and dial representation is a standard digital readout. When the radio is switched off it shows the time, when the radio is on, it shows the frequency to the nearest 1 kHz. You can check the time when the radio is on thanks to a toggle button on the front panel.
The radio has a thumb-operated slider switch to select normal or fine tuning. On FM stereo from 76 to 108 MHz, that means steps of either 100 or 50 kHz. On long and mediumwave, from 150 - 285 and 530 -1620 kHz the steps are 1 kHz on the fine setting, 9 kHz on the normal setting. If you live in the Americas or the Caribbean, then you will need to switch to a 10 kHz spacing.
To switch to this raster you simply keep the mediumwave longwave button depressed and the radio beeps when its changed to 10 kHz. Note that the radio doesn't tune above 1620 kHz, so the new extended band in the USA can't be received. That's an oversight we think.
The tuning control is smooth and we noted that if you turn the tuning knob quite fast, the tuning steps widen automatically. That's useful if you have to skip from one end of the SW dial to another. You can also repeatedly press the SW band button which skips you to the start of each shortwave broadcast band.
The radio offers 20 memories that you can store from any waveband. When you hit a signal you want to store, you press and hold one button, and the desired station is put into the next available memory position. The same tuning knob is used to scan through the 20 memory positions. We gave the radio to a blind person to evaluate. She reports that if you use the memories to store marker stations with known frequencies, the radio is usable even if you can't see the frequency display. The radio makes a slight chuffing sound as it moves in 1 kHz steps, so you can also count the channels if you want.
The radio has a built-in timer which can be used to wake you up at two different times with up to two favourite stations. The dial can be lit so you can see it in the dark and it stays on for another 15 seconds after the last operation. We set the radio to automatically give world-news headlines for two minutes from a shortwave station, followed by weather from a local station. The radio has a buzzer if don't select a station to wake you, and you can also set the radio to switch itself off after 60, 30 or 15 minutes... the so-called sleep function which is a nightmare for any broadcaster. The radio is made in Taiwan... the first time to our knowledge that Sony has made a world-band portable radio in the Republic of China. We got 31 hours listening from a fresh set of alkaline batteries. In all, that's what you can do with the Sony ICF-SW-40.
Grundig or Sony? Which is better?
Now to the performance test. Here in Europe the Grundig is more sensitive and that means listening to shortwave after dark has to be with the telescopic whip fully collapsed. At the Radio Netherlands test site we're quite close to a powerful mediumwave station in Hilversum and whereas there is noticable breakthrough of 747 and 1008 kHz on parts of the SW dial using the Yacht Boy 360, these problems are not present on the Sony ICF-SW40. The shape of the bandwidth filter on the Sony turns out to be slightly better. Neither of the radios needs an external antenna in Europe... that might be different if you are living in a low signal strength area like New Zealand.
We think the Grundig sounds better but uses more battery power in doing so and it has coverage of the extended mediumwave band. The Sony will appeal to those familiar with analogue tuning dials and infact its probably easier to jump around the dial using this method than the keypad system used on the Grundig... it depends on what you're used to. The Sony ICF-SW40 retails in the high street at 199 Dutch Guilders in Holland, which is 117 US dollars. The Grundig Yacht Boy is more expensive at 249 Guilders, that's US$146.
This review first appeared on the Radio Netherlands website.