The Alinco DX-R8T Communications Receiver - 21st Century Table top radio!
It is not every day that a table top communications receiver comes down the pipe - particularly in an era where shortwave broadcasting appears to be in a free fall.
So I was more than delighted to have a loaner Alinco DX-R8-T from Durham Radio in Ontario, Canada to run through its paces - and see what this relative newcomer to the radio hobbyist game would have to offer.
Build-Fit and Finish: The Alinco DX-R8-T is a very solidly built unit from a company that I am more familiar with from their power supply product line - and come to think of it, I have an Alinco power supply for my Amateur radio set-up that is delightfully over-rated for my "QRP" Low power set-up... at 30 or 40 Amps at 12 Volts! The Alinco DX-R8-T is well built, assembled with above average fit and finish for a modern piece of communications equipment. No sharp edges. Decent ergonomics (more on that later) and a generally solid feel to the entire product.
As received: The Alinco DX-R8-T came very well boxed up and padded for trans-continental shipping, with an very well written and intelligible instruction manual. The Alinco DX-R8-T does not come with a power cord per se... or a power supply. It comes with dual fused DC cables for whichever DC power supply you settle on.
That it uses an isolated DC supply or has an instant option for portable battery power: in my opinion, this is a good thing.
Power: Any decent 3 - 5 Amp 12V supply can handle the Alinco DX-R8-T with no trouble. Stress on the 3 Amp minimum. There are wall warts that can almost handle this - but having something a bit bigger with some regulation is always better. For portable use, a gel cell battery is a quick shoe in - and you get a slightly lower noise figure (from any hash that the power supply might be generating). Overall, the current consumption is around 1 amp - a battery pack is going to last a long time at an expedition.
First use: Alinco DX-R8-T hook up and initial power up is super quick, instant in fact. And contrary to some opinions, the Alinco DX-R8-T is not a DSP type receiver. It is, in fact, an old fashioned double super-het - albeit one that that has been thoughtfully designed with many modern conveniences - like I/O output and 600 memories... and we will get to all of that later!
Photo right Keypad: It is very good policy to point out that the Alinco DX R8T does a lot "under the hood" as it were - within the menu system as well as on the multi-tiered keypad system. You will find yourself hitting the function (FUNC) button quite frequently to do stuff - and that is OK. What I found a little ackward was knowing exactly what button to press for 2nd function items. Looking closely, it is not entirely clear whether it is the "below the label button" or the "above the label button". You will figure it out and get into the swing of things.
Good to know as well is that there are many settings within the screen menus that do lots of important stuff - like dimming the display!
Power up is instant. Frequency entry on the Alinco DX-R8-T is via the very large and well weighted tuning knob or via direct keypad entry. Band switching seems to be via UP and DOWN keys that can be configured for 1 Mhz at a time and 100/10/1 khz at a time (dual mode up/down). There are also quick single key band access buttons (default to the amateur bands but apparently you can program in mid-band stops to all your favorite SW or Utility bands. Bonus. Direct entry has short cuts as well - Like another "R8" receiver, the Drake, entering a frequency like 10 Mhz is as easy as press 1, 0, . and enter. Quick!
The Alinco DX-R8-T has a bright display (you can read by it) and there is a menu-function based brightness adjust - the Alinco DX-R8-T is capable of supernova brightness and it is fully adjustable from super bright to dim. Excellent feature!
The Alinco DX-R8-T display is among the biggest I have ever seen - and as a result there is lots of real estate to have everything at a glance - particularly for eyes middle aged and beyond. No reading glasses required for the Alinco DX-R8-T receiver!
Ergonomics: The Alinco DX-R8-T kind of borrows from over 50 years of good receiver design ergonomics - the folks at Alinco were paying attention. The tuning knob (apart from the display) is at the center of attention and it is (as is almost always the case) on the right hand side of the radio where us right handed folks would reach.
On the lower part of the front fascia (front plate) is the volume (one of the most used controls), the squelch, IF shift (Bandpass adjust) and RIT (useful for CW reception) - once again, elements of this are a little like the Drake R8 (coincidental I am sure!).
Photo right - tuning it old school: The Alinco DX-R8T is a classic double superhet radio. It is not an SDR. It does have "digital" memories and on-screen labelling of channels etc. It looks and feels like the solidly built radio of old. Good thing. The radio hobby is clearly not dead yet!
If I had one minor bone to pick at this point, the Alinco DX-R8-T could have been a little more like the Drake R8 by putting 2 controls onto one rotational knob surface and combining Volume and bandpass (IF shift) or combining squelch and bandpass. Just a minor pick mind you.
Performance: We tested the Alinco DX-R8T alongside the venerable Drake R8, the Kenwood R2000 and an Eton E1 portable (for good measure) - antennas used as various times included the Wellbrook ALA100 and ALA100M (short loop antenna), a 6' Firestick Helical whip (for 10 meters/28 Mhz) and an MFJ Balcony based loaded whip antenna (7Mhz to 28Mhz).
The Alinco DX-R8T was located in my "shack" which is within a concrete and steel 16 story tower at the highest point in my neighborhood near Victoria, Canada. Benefits include a very, very low ambient noise level. I am hundreds of feet away from the nearest RFI source and almost 600 feet away from any power lines.
Right out of the gate, the Alinco DX-R8T equals the Drake R8 in terms of sensitivity. There was no signal that popped up on the Drake that was not clearly audible on the Alinco DX-R8T. Naturally, the Drake had the advantage where selectivity was concerned but this was rarely an issue - the shortwave bands can no longer really be called "congested" anymore can they? Something of an irony I suppose!
The Alinco DX-R8T does have a very useful passband tuning feature that does work quite well in most modes, particularly on cluttered or crowded ham bands during contesting periods.
Modes: In AM mode, the Alinco DX-R8T had an audio quality that is somewhat better than the Kenwood R2000 but not quite as warm as the Drake R8 - noting that there is no radio that sounds as good as the Drake R8! The audio quality is much improved with an external speaker - as I demonstrated with a moderately priced Radio Shack book shelf speaker. The Alinco DX-R8T has 2 bandwidths for AM - both of them good choices for pleasant listening (wide) and (narrow) for pulling out weaker stations 5 khz from stronger ones - the Band Pass tuning also helps in this regard.
Technical particulars: Available bandwidths in kHz are (wide/narrow): AM – 9/2.4; SSB – 2.4/1; CW – 1/0.5; FM – 9 (no narrow filter for FM!). The Alinco DX-R8T receiver also has RIT (Receiver Incremental Tuning) most commonly found on amateur transceivers - useful for CW listening.
The Alinco DX-R8T, in reality, is designed with SSB and CW in mind. Not surprising since there is an identical Alinco DX-SR8T 100W All-Mode Amateur radio transceiver which, I believe, uses the same form factor and foot print -- the same box, in fact, with an added transmitter and associated circuitry.
SSB and CW performance with the Alinco DX-R8T is very pleasant indeed. Tuning rates, bandwidths, and extra features suited to SSB and CW work well, as expected, with the Alinco.
The Alinco DX-R8T is also FM capable but normally one only encounters FM on 10 meter Amateur on/about 29.6 Mhz
A High IQ! Yes, we know that most of us radio listeners and hams have a very IQ - but it seems that the Alinco DX-R8T has an I/Q ouput - suitable for PC/Laptop (and even Mac and Linux) demodulation of DRM (Digital Radio) and freeware spectrum analysis software.
I put the Alinco DX-R8T through its paces with my Toshiba NB555D Notebook and a Tascam USB audio interface. You can use just your laptop provided that it has a proper "line in" audio jack. Many smaller notebooks and laptops combine the mic level input and line level input and configure it on the fly as required. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it does not. I used 2 different open source packages for managing the IQ output signal (one suggested by Alinco and one I found on my own...) both of them worked as expected. Perhaps in a future article I will spend more time talking about Software defined radios, IQ and the like.
Wrapping up: In a field that is pretty thing on crops (radios for pure DX Radio listening), the Alinco DX R8T is a surprising addition to the marketplace. It is well built, well featured, very sensitive and functions well with a modest antenna system - and does not need a computer to complete itself! A plus - never needs rebooting! I found most things about the radio easy to interpret, including the well written manual. Start-up and first listening is next to instant. If you have every used a classic old style shortwave table-top communications receiver, then this one is a natural upgrade - manufactured by a reputable and serious manufacturer of electronic tools and related radio equipment.
As a DX listener, SWL and Radio Ham, I give the Alinco DX R8T two big enthusiastic thumbs up!
Colin Newell is a resident of the West Coast of Canada and has been a radio hobbyist since the early 70's - his work in the field of radio listening has been featured in the IRCA, Speedx and the Canadian International DX Club. His amateur call sign is VA7WWV