CCRANE SSB Skywave 2018 MICRO review

I literally have only had this little radio for one week and I'm that eager to share some of my observations with my readers - observations that are, ahem, growing by the day - and all good stuff!

So here is the thing - this little radio that fits in the palm of the average man sized hand covers AM, FM, SW, Airband, weather channels and has dual SSB mode for the "AM modes" (AM and SW) - which is brilliant.

CCrane Skywave Photo Gallery over here

This particular sample came as a loan from the long-suffering folks at Durham Radio in Ontarion - vendors who are endlessly hearing from me about borrowing this or that for a timely review. So, let's get that plug in: I have bought a lot of stuff from Durham - ham stuff and shortwave stuff, hardware, antennas, parts and accessories, etc. Never a single hiccup. Buy with confidence.

So. Back to the radio. In something so small you would not expect good performance from every feature. After all, it is a tall order to provide everything in a portable... in this case an ultra-portable.

So - in this mini-review (longer one to follow), what did I find? 

My criteria for this little beast (thus far): Side by side with the Eton E1 for at least part of the quick review...

CCranes own spec sheet for this radio - 

  • Stereo headphone jack and fold-out back stand
  • Clock with 12/24 hour format, Alarm
  • Rotary volume knob
  • High quality CC Buds Earphones, radio carry case and CC SW Reel Antenna included
  • Run Time (on batteries):
    ± 70 hours (earbuds)
    ± 60 Hours (built-in speaker)
    (times are approximate)
  • One Year Limited Warranty
  • 10 Aviation Memories can be scanned for activity

 

2018 Portable World Band Radio shoot out - ETON - SKYWAVE - TECSUN

Random observations so far: Like most other CCrane products, they feel like they have more heft than you would normally expect - which is to say that they seem solid and well made. Now, all aestetics aside (retro round speaker grill...), alongside my Eton E1 (which is more of a table-top competitor...) the CCrane Skywave SSB is a pretty impressive competitor. 

Out-of-the-box - The CCrane Skywave SSB comes in a pretty compact box (well insulated) with (if I recall...) ear buds and antenna reel and sporty feaux leather carrying case... oh yes and a well written manual worth of anything that Eton or Grundig ever put out. I had some immediate questions on how to operate the SSB features and they were quickly answered.

Photo Right - It only made sense that we timed this with a classic new portable radio shoot-out! Results below.

Figure it out! I do believe that most radios, if you have some background playing with World-band radio that is, should be fairly intuitive and easy to operate. That generally applies with Grundig and Eton radios. Tecsun not so much! The CCrane Skywave SSB was pretty obvious and having a small face plate with a limited amount of power-on functions (as well as power off timer functions...) it was pretty instinctive to operate right out of the gate. 

CCRANE Shoot out - TECSUN - ETON Grundig Anyway - I slapped in 2 AA cells and off to the races. Selecting AM/FM and Weather/SW/Air is something handled by two buttons - and that is immensely helpful. That is a small thing in terms of design that quickly become a payoff for the average user.

Ears to hear! With the power on and the AM band selected, I quickly discovered that the sensitivity, for its size, was pretty darn good. I will compare it in my next chapter to some of the other older portables that I have. With AM-SW bandwidths of 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1 khz it is dead easy to find the right setting that is right for your particular situation. Side-bar: Having owned and played with radios through the years, I am still astounded that all these features like selectable bandwidth and 1 khz frequency readout are just standard equipment. This is a sure sign that I am getting old!

Anyway, while wandering my neighbourhood by night, during a walk, I noticed the clarity and strength of all my favourite west coast "clear channel" stations - like KGO in san Francisco... clear as a bell and easily audible/listenable on a low volume setting while outdoors. Out of curiousity, I quickly popped up to one of our regional 80-meter band SSB civil defense nets on 3729 khz LSB.

Finding signals! It was easy to dial in and utilize the 10 hz fine tuning for getting the exact right pitch on this fun amateur radio mode. The super fine tuning is also more than adequate if you want to listen to morse code or CW stations! Bonus! Popping by WWV on  5 and 10 mhz were easily audible in my Northwest location - time for a quick check of my watch!

The CCrane Skywave SSB has a channelized weather reception feature on the radio - so no tuning - just stepping through the selections until you hit a local service. Brilliant! The CCrane Skywave SSB also has airband that actually works - it is sensitive and there are settings for air band squelch! That feature I tripped over by accident - you know what they say? Read the manual! FM is plenty sensitive even with the minimum draw on the little whip antenna. I live in quite the saturated FM reception zone but everything was in the right place on the dial with no odd images or unexpected results.

CCRANE Shoot out - GRUNDIG Tecsun - Sony - Yacht BoyShoot out at the OK Corral - We were fortunate enough to have a quick loan of a brand new Eton (Grundig) Satellite and a late model CCRANE Skywave for some comparisons - and we hoisted out a Sony 7600G, a Grundig Yacht-Boy 400PE, a KAITO 1103, a Tecsun PL-380 and an ETON E1 for some super-duper exciting comparisons... and here is what we found. We are not going to talk too much about the "old ones...".

Shortwaves - It's not the size so much - it's what you do with it - Bottom line: Size of radio is kind of irrelevant/antenna size NOT so much. Side by side, starting with the CCRANE Skywave SSB (and the CCRANE Skywave [non-SSB]), their ability to sniff out weak signals was nothing short of astounding. I used the Eton E1 (arguablty a table-top worthy unit that should be considered a communications receiver...) as "the spotter..." I knew for certain there would be stuff that I could hear on the E1 that would NOT show up on the smaller radios... and, *ahem* you know what they say about "certainty"!?

Photo right - The Eton Grundig edition Satellite - No slouch. Plenty of features. Edged out the CCrane slight under the most difficult listening conditions.

My method was: Get something weak and almost inaudible on the Eton E1 and see what the others could do. Well. The Eton E1 was the clear winner in the "extracting something from nothing category..." but a super-weak signal on the E1 was also detectable on the two CCrane radios -- just MUCH LESS audible or intelligible and signals, not surprising, got better as I switched over to the ETON Satellite (very marginally), to the PL380 which was even better and then the Sony 7600G (which can SYNC-Lock onto signals you cannot even hear!). Overall, if the signal was marginal to the point of not understanding anything you were hearing on one of the radios, it was bad on the others. That said, if it was marginal and almost audible on the CCrane or the ETON Satellite, it would quickly become more easily listenable on the bigger radios with the bigger antennas. This in mind, if you attached one of the "reel" type clip on antennas to any of these radios, the reception is immediately improved. The beauty and downside to life on the West Coast of North America is that we are in a DEEP fringe area for SW reception. There is something NOTHING directed or aimed here. If we pick up any SW broadcasts, it is because they were destined for somewhere else and they made it this far because of good conditions.

CCRANE Shoot out04 - Grundig Yacht BoyAM radio - medium wave - Size still matters! In the matter of "how good is your AM radio?" size was a big deal here. The smaller the radio, the smaller the internal ferrite antenna. It's that simple. Each subsequently larger radio got progressively and markedly better on the task of turning a weak signal into a listenable one. Granted, the 
Silicon Labs Si4734 chip that is the brains behind many of these new radios (regardless of manufacturer) is simply amazing in handling AM, FM and SW signals. The CCrane and the ETON (and the Tecsun) all use Silicon Labs chips to the best of my knowledge and they are remarkably robust - and equal between radios - but need good antennas. And the length is critical whether or not it is a ferrite bar or a whip antenna (like the Eton E1 does...)

Picture Left - One venerable Grundig Yacht-Boy 400PE (previously owned by the CBC Radio Canada Internationals own Ian McFarland...) still holds its own as a super-sensitive receiver on SW, FM and AM. It has lost no shine in going on 20 years! 

So, to a point what was audible on the minute CCrane radios became gradually better on the bigger radios. This makes perfect sense. The astounding range of selectivity selections on the CCrane created opportunities for "extracting intelligence from marginal signals". Same for the Eton Satellite I believe. Surprisingly, one of the losers in the AM shoot-out may have been the Sony 7600G, but in all fairness it has been dropped a few times, has travelled to Hawaii 6 times and is just simply beaten up! At the end of the day, you cannot go entirely wrong with any of these radios. I have heard from many folks that have bought a CCrane: "Now that I have one of these, I don't travel without it... it is just that portable and that powerful..." I agree. Size (or the lack of it...) does matter in certain circumstances.

Look up in the air, it is a bird, a plane, a helicopter! - The CCrane Skywave SSB was pretty darn good on Air band. It picked up traffic from our Harbour Tower some 13 km away. That is more than I can say for my Sony 2010 which has, I have heard, an imaginary Airband! Actually, I do not believe I have actually ever attempted to hear Airband on my 2010 - because, well, you know... reputation! The Eton Satellite has Airband and I have not checked it yet. I'll do that later!

Simply FM - The CCrane radios, Tecsun and Eton radios with their Silicon Labs DSP chips are all stunning on FM. I live in a saturated FM dial environment with no change to hear actual fringe area stations so I could not compare. I am sure, sure to the point of being "really sure..." that the comparison is not needed - because they use the same DSP which is a great performer.



At the end of the day and the end of the dial - Dollar for dollar there is a lot of "tech" and quality built into the CCrane Skywave SSB. Something for everyone: Credible SSB reception with fine tuning. Sync detection that works reasonably well. Not as much on the ETON Satellite. Low battery consumption etc etc. With the size and weight, it is simply unbeatable. In most places in the World, it would give you enough signal grabbing people to get you the signals you are looking for. Frankly, I was astounded with one or two small reservations. I'd give the CCrane Skywave SSB a  solid 5 * out of 6 *'s 

5***** out of 6****** on the CCrane Skywave SSB Radio!

Whether you buy a CCrane Skywave SSB or an Eton Grundig Satellite or a Tecsun you are getting a heck of a lot of radio that was simply unavailable only a few decades ago. "You've come a long way baby!" - for the DXer.ca website, I am Colin Newell. March 2018.