Year Introduced: 1993
Power: Battery (6 VDC), AC adaptor included
Size: 187 x 114 x 41 mm
Price: £170, CAN$399, A$600, US$299.
Coverage: LW, AM, SW (1.6-30 MHz continuous), FM
Value Rating star:
This review was compiled independently. The Medium Wave Circle and Radio Netherlands has no financial connection with R.L. Drake, the manufacturer of this receiver.
Reviewers: Jonathan Marks, Diana Janssen, and Willem Bos.
The Yacht Boy 500 appeared in most of the Grundig outlets in Europe in the course of October 1993. In North America the situation was different. Some of the US radio dealers we spoke initially disappointed that Grundig North America gave the exclusive distribution rights in the USA for the Yacht Boy 500 to a mail-order house called Willabee & Ward. Their toll-free number is +1 800 367 4534. In 1997 a salesman there told us the Yacht Boy 500 is still available at US$299. That does indicate though that Grundig in North America has brought some of its prices down to more closely match the competition from the Far East.
This radio was first shown at the Berlin Audio and Video Fair in 1993 and initially caused an impact on the European scene. The receiver offers coverage of FM with the Radio Data System, longwave, medium wave and continuous shortwave coverage from 1611- 30000 kHz. Unlike some of the Yacht Boy series, the 500 is double conversion.
The radio has an enormous number of functions with many of the buttons on the front of the receiver being used to do two or more things. Press a button gets you one function. Pressing and holding a button gives a different result. The display tells you what you’ve selected. We gave this radio to some visually handicapped users who reported they had difficulty setting up menus and accessing the memories without help from a sighted person. Things are not helped by a truly terrible translation of the (quite clear) German language instructions. In 1997 this had not been improved much if you want to get a quick overview of how the set works. Pressing 0 we’re told in the manual gives “passage from the ROM table to the normal memory and back again, with transfer into the tuning memory”. Reception may increase during evening and night hours due to “much more better propagation”. Nevertheless keep the instructions at arms length because unless you make frequent use of the memory and scan functions it is easy to forget the correct button sequence.
Many stations in Europe (and a growing number in North America) now transmit a silent data code with FM signals. If the signal is strong enough the radio decodes the data and puts the name of the station on the display. The radio also knows of any alternative frequencies that many be in use and can check to see if these sound better. There are around 100 stations using RDS in the USA. During tests near Baltimore and Washington DC we noted WHFS with an RDS signal on 99.1 MHz. You can’t use the function for DXing though. Weak signals cause too many errors for any RDS decoder to function properly. We found the FM sensitivity best suited to a European environment. During our tests in Baltimore and Washington DC during November 1993, the unit we had purchased had overloading problems with nearby stations. Retracting the telescopic whip helped if you wanted to listen to stronger FM signals. The set also has a signal strength meter on FM (really designed to optimise the RDS feature) which is useful is getting the angle of the FM whip correct for maximum signal.
The radio works off 4 penlight batteries and consumes around 65 mA at normal listening levels. That’s quite economical. We got around 24 hours of listening on a fresh set of batteries. A dual-voltage mains adapter is supplied and if this is used the audio power of the amplifier is noticeably boosted.
Shortwave tuning is achieved by tapping the desired frequency onto the keypad, or moving up and down the dial in 1 kHz steps. If you hold down the TUNE buttons the steps increase to 5 kHz. This set offers SSB (but not sync detection), and comes complete with 95 major frequencies of 9 international radio stations already programmed into it. A further 40 stations can be put in the memory. A 77 mm loudspeaker gives an adequate sound for the size of the radio, and the bass response can be boosted for pleasant FM listening.
MEDIOCRE SW PERFORMANCE
The single 3.5 kHz bandwidth filter is narrower than most other portables. That gives a distinctive mellow sound to any shortwave signal. But the shape factor of the filter is only fair/poor. At night in Europe the background noise rises considerably as a result of second and third order intermodulation products. The marine band of 1.8 MHz is full of harmonics from the medium wave band. Although it may look sophisticated, the radio is only really designed for reception of the stronger international broadcasters. The Yacht Boy 206 and 207 offered much quieter results on the 49 metre band for instance, with considerably less intermodulation. We had really expected a bandwidth option for a radio in this price range (in North America the cheaper Yacht Boy 400 has this for much less). The Yacht Boy 500’s mellow audio is something you either like or hate. The audio distortion problems in early models have been solved and dealer stocks are only the new versions.
This is a radio with a lot of functions. If you need simple shortwave performance, we feel the extra frills on the Yacht Boy 500 may be unnecessary and too complicated to use. Once mastered, however, the data bank of pre-programmed stations is handy while travelling and FM audio is great for a radio of this size. In our opinion, shortwave performance is only fair. Results will be better in low signal areas (e.g. US Mid-West and Pacific).
This review first appeared on the Radio Netherlands website.