Living with the Eton E1- Chapter 1 - a users journey

I was browsing a copy of the Passport to World Band Radio recently and was surprised to see a photo of the Eton E1 receiver. And the reason I was so surprised was that I was paging through the 1997 edition of Passport! At the time, this very futuristic looking unit was ear-marked as the Grundig Satellite 900. After many promises and release dates come and gone, the Satellite 900 faded into memory.

Or did it?

In this, the first in a (hopefully) long series on receiver reviews, we offer you: The Living Series...



Living with the Eton E1 World-band Receiver

I am not, nor do I claim to be an expert on the Grundig series of World-band radios - but I have discovered from a quick Internet search that Max Grundig had a modest beginning after World-War II with a transformer winding shop and test equipment manufacturing facility. After a brief series of expansions and shop re locations, Grundig offered his first single circuit wireless receiver in the year 1947.
By 1949, Max Grundig had over 600 employees and the product line now included the "Grundig Boy" receiver. Within 4 years the production would include early VHF radios, tape-recorders and a new-fangled multi-media system called Television!

Grundig would come a long way between those early tube, hybrid, solid state and finally IC and computer chip powered radios. And although we see a different set of labels on many of these new radios - from Grundig to Tecsun to Eton (this is a complicated ballet of international trade and commerce [beyond the scope of this article]) some of Max Grundig's original commitment to quality and ingenuity most certainly remains.

In beginning a new series, ostensibly calling it the "Living with" series, it should be noted that I base this premise on the fact that radios are a part of everyday life for virtually everyone. Even in the 21st century, radio is the primary delivery mechanism for news, information, entertainment and (if you are lucky enough) propaganda. Radio is life. And in this vein, we consider the everyday venture of human existence essentially incomplete without this technological marvel. And insomuch that life is incomplete without the wireless experience, the radio and associated peripherals are, in fact, part of the very act of living.

Enough, you say! A final word on this first chapter of the "Living with" series - This Eton E1 feature could not have been completed without the technical encouragement and assistance of none other than Nick Hall-Patch, the kind words and opinions of Dr. Walter Salmaniw, the brief loan of a different Eton E1 by local DXer and enthusiast John and, of course, the unit in question provided by none other than retired CBC, BBC and NHK alumnus Ian McFarland - who by winning this Eton E1 at the 2007 SWL Winter-fest and then selling it to me for market value - well, none of this would have been possible or likely!

The Eton E1 - Out of the box

Considering that my sample came virtually direct from Eton and Universal Radio (via Ian McFarland) and the 2007 SWL Winter-fest, the display (or store ready) packaging appears to be robust and suitable for additional re-packaging to survive even the most abusive courier or postal employee.

The Eton E1 is sheathed in some pretty solid styro-foam and in addition to the radio, there is some software (manual on a CD), the operating manual (well written) and a wall-wart to power the Eton E1 when there are no batteries present. Do yourself a great big favor: resist the urge to throw out any packaging, especially the styro-foam and the box. These remnants are perfect for storing, shipping and traveling with your new Eton E1 receiver. And trust me, once you start living with the ETon E1 receiver, you will find it harder and harder to part company - more on that later obviously.

Although I had used a sample Eton E1 previously (courtesy of John in Victoria) I was well advised to peruse the operating manual provided. And so should you! The Eton E1 is a very intuitive unit to activate and use initially, but there are a wealth of features that will be hidden until such time you make the time to grasp all the concepts within the user guide.

Okay - so I did not read every page of the manual! As a result there were some very nifty things I missed out on while learning the ropes as it were. For instance, the Eton E1 has 1700 non-volatile memory assignments to play with, assign, re-assign, and delete. This means, regardless of the power provided or whether or not there are batteries or AC power present, you will not lose your memory - At least your radio memories that is! There are over a thousand country pages provided (alphabetically A-Z of course) and I hardly scratched the surface of this. In simple terms, you can scroll frequency memories and country memories looking for that elusive catch or previously scheduled broadcast. Very cool. And although I did not mess with it much, what it offers is light years ahead of my robust old Drake R8. And while we are on the subject of the Drake series of communications receivers, a little bit of Drake engineering went into the Eton E1 receiver (OK, maybe a lot of Drake!)

There is a ton of stuff on the inside that we will touch on - but the first impression on how the Eton E1 feels is an interesting one. Gone are the days of hard plastic or plastic-metal mixed components in radio. Good or bad, Eton has taken a bold step forward in the tactile elements of the Eton E1 radio. To me, everything about it feels ever so slightly rubberized -- if that is the correct term. I am totally not complaining here because it is different than anything I have ever handled. It is as if the Eton (and Grundig) group actually put a lot of thought into how this unit would feel in hand. And in the Eton E1's case it is kind of important because the Eton E1 is missing one key thing - a carrying strap. So, if you are moving around with it a lot, you might want to consider one of the mods that Mike Maghakian has done to add a robust carrying feature to the E1. More on that later.

Eton E1 - Under the Hood

The Eton E1 is a general coverage portable radio with coverage from 100 khz to 30,000khz as well as the FM Band (76Mhz to 108Mhz - selectable). This means that the owner of the Eton E1 has access to long-wave, the long-wave broadcast band, the entire medium-wave band and all of short-wave. Although the Eton E1 is not specifically an all-mode receiver (like the Drake R8 series or the AOR-7030+), it handles AM and SSB (CW by default) very well with lots of operating options.

Power: The Eton E1 is powered from 4 D Type cells or from the included 7-14 Volt wall-wart. Current consumption with about 1/4 Watt of the 3 Watt audio capability is about 250ma. That translates to many, many hours of use on one set of Alkalines and even longer on non-chargeable Lithium batteries.

Modes: The Eton E1 has user selectable synchronous detection - very useful in crowded Short-wave broadcast bands or spots on the medium-wave dial where you are trying to pick out a weak station from an adjacent power-house. Synchronous detection is also useful in reducing the effects of signal fading.
The Eton E1 has a selection of receiving bandwidth choices to suit most listening conditions - 7khz, 4khz and 2.3 khz. Simply, with the ability to adjust the bandwidth of the receiver, one can filter out adjacent channel interference or in the absence of interference improve the overall listening experience.

Extras: The Eton E1 has one particular feature that should be of interest to serious radio enthusiasts - Pass band tuning. In simple terms, PBT allows the Eton E1 user to, quite literally, move the signal of interest slightly out of harms way (of adjacent channel interference) - PBT on the Eton E1 is only really useful on SSB (Single Sideband) reception - on AM Mode it merely offers a frequency shift function. Still, it some in handy under some circumstances.

Tuning: In addition to having a good old fashioned tuning knob (and I am afraid to find out how many of my readers are so young that a tuning knob is meaningless to them!), the Eton E1 also offers variable tuning rates: Select the tuning rate and turn the knob - the frequency will go up or down correspondingly. The tuning knob on the Eton E1 is not velocity sensitive - that means it does not tune UP or DOWN faster as you turn the knob faster. That would be nice wouldn't it!
The tuning knob also does double duty for scrolling through certain menu elements and taking advantage of memory entries and country entries.

Display: The Eton E1 has a lot to offer feature-wise and it's all in the display - the digital display that is. Back when I was a kid (insert violin music here), frequency resolution was something you dreamed about in a radio receiver. My DX150B, ostensibly my first real receiver, had no frequency resolution -- other than a band-spread dial that is. And with the crafty use of graph paper, pencils, rulers and a 100 khz signal generator I was able to create a sheaf of interpolation charts that granted me a whopping 5 to 10 khz frequency read-out on this old table-top radio! Here in the 21st century the only paper and pencils you need are to note some of the remarkable things you pick up on the Eton E1! The frequency resolution on the Long, Medium and Shortwave frequencies is an astonishing 10 Hertz. So, if your copy of The Passport to World Band Radio says that St. Helena is broadcasting on 11092.50 Khz at 2100 UTC... Well, you just dial it in and go! You can do this via the tuning knob or via a direct entry on the numeric keypad. It is that simple. Of course, Radio St. Helena is not on the air but that is not the point.

Antennas: The Eton E1 comes with a sturdy collapsible and pivoting antenna as well as a PAL (Europe) type connector for unbalanced (50 to 75 ohm) external antennas. 1/2 wave dipoles, common to the radio shack would require a balun for the most efficient connection and active antennas like the Wellbrook ALA100 loop would not. For those of us over the age of 35, the Eton E1 does not have an internal loop or ferrite antenna - Notice how quickly this article has become ageist? This means that when you are listening to medium-wave signals, you have to have the antenna extended or have an external antenna plugged in. For those of us over-the-hill, we all remember that virtually every portable radio came with an internal ferrite-loop stick antenna that give the AM and LW bands that added boost and resistance to electrical noise. One more reason to invest in a Wellbrook ALA100 antenna! (Note the product placement!)

S-Meter: Simple enough, the S(strength) meter gives you a very accurate reading of how powerful the received signal is. It is also quickly displays the subtle (or profound) variations in signal strength due to atmospheric conditions. The S-Meter is a throw-back to some of the earliest radio receivers - and its original function was more of a tuning aid (for centering the frequency without the help of a digital display) - Yes, friend - there was a time in ancient history when radios did not have a digital read-out!

Shut up! Normally associated with scanners, a squelch is an interesting additional feature on the Eton E1. Receiver squelch works thusly - a variable pre-set exists for muting the received audio. When the received signal falls below a certain level, say the ambient noise level, the audio cuts out sparing you the irritation of listening to noise. This is useful on AM, FM and Shortwave. Interestingly (and I am just learning this now!), there is a cursor under the S-Meter that corresponds to the level of muting with the squelch. How cool is that? Now you can actually see where you are setting the receiver audio mute level. The squelch on the Eton E1 also works in conjunction with the Eton E1's ability to scan -- coming up in the next paragraph!

Scan & Seek: The Eton E1 can be programmed to toggle through memory areas until a signal is found. You can also scan through various ranges of frequencies to find here-to-fore unheard signals. Examples: You can block out a bunch of frequencies for, say, Australia - and the Eton E1 will visit all the frequencies until an active one is found. There is an enhanced scan level called T-Scan. You can mark favorites in groups of channels and instruct the Eton E1 (with the push of one button) to cycle through your hot list.

Time and time again: The Eton E1 comes with dual time clocks with better than quartz accuracy. How is that possible you ask? Well, the Eton E1 can lock into the time code transmitted by WWV or WWVH and set the internal clocks accordingly. Now that is on time! Depending on the signal level of WWV or WWVH, it can take a few minutes for the internal clock to sync up. I observed about 1 to 2 minutes before this happened. The clocks on the Eton E1 will remain running as long as there is AC or battery power applied - lose both of these and the clocks stop after about 10 minutes.
The Eton E1 offers 2 event timer operation - handy as an alarm clock or when you want the Eton E1 to come on for an event - like an early morning DX session. You could set up an MP3 recorder to come on as well and record something exotic while you sleep.

The Eton E1 in action and in comparison

Nick Hall-Patch and I compared the Eton E1 to a wide variety of highly respected portable shortwave radios and tabletop communications receivers. We even used it by itself and observed it in operation.

Here are some of our findings - Plus a TECHNICAL REVIEW Over here!

Comparison radios included the venerable Sony 2010, my Sony 2001 (the European version of the 2010 right down to the last nut and bolt), our Drake R8 receivers, my Kenwood R2000 and my Sony 7600G portable. Antennas used in the tests were Wellbrook ALA100's and some very old Fire-stick helical whip antennas ostensibly built and tuned for 27Mhz CB radio! (No, I am not nor have I ever been a CB radio operator)

If you are familiar with the radio dial in your area, the power up interval of the Eton E1 should be easy. Extend the antenna fully and make sure (on the left hand side of the radio) that the telescoping antenna is selected over the unbalanced input. Press the power button. Adjust the volume control for a pleasant level of sound (assuming there is anything intelligent coming from the speaker). Select a desired band of operations from the front panel soft keys; FM, SW, MW-LW. Enter a desired frequency in the numeric touch-pad or turn the tuning knob up or down. If you live in North America - or the Americas in general, tuning the Eton E1 to 5000, 10000 or 15000khz (depending on the time of day) should yield signals. A good rule of thumb is: If it is night, tune below 12,000khz. If it is day, tune above 12,000khz. Stations tend to congregate around known areas on the dial and this information is covered in books like "Passport to World Band Radio" - It's a book that every radio enthusiast should have!