Thursday, October 18, 2007

Grundig G5 / Kaito 1103 Shortwave Radio

I recently bought the Kaito version of this radio in gray, which is also made under license for Grundig and it is an amazing little set. For $90, which includes delivery, you get the radio, plus 4 Ni-Mh batteries that re-charge inside the radio, stereo earbuds, the adapter and carry bag and two shortwave wire antennas. It is the most amazing shortwave radio value I think I have ever seen. The Grundig G5 usually goes for about $30 to $40 more.(Hey, that German craftsmanship doesn't come for free!)

I would favorably compare the KA1103 to a highly-touted shortwave portable that I previously owned, the Panasonic RF-B65. The Kaito 1103 basically does everything that that one did, but also includes the built-in recharging battery system with the batteries and also has an excellent dial light and FM stereo which the Panasonic lacked. Audio is comparable between the units.

The Panasonic was a little bit larger and cost close to $300 back in 1988, which would be more like $500 in today's dollars. At first Chinese electronics were a joke but they are really improving. This radio is apparently made by the same operation (or an affiliate) that made the Grundig Satellit 800 but the build quality on the Kaito/Grundig G5 is far better than on that unit, with the 1103's case materials and fit and finish greatly exceeding the Satellit 800.

I have not tried the Grundig G5, which is basically the same radio with a different lay-out. (For an excellent and extended comparison of these radios, check out the Radio Intel site.

Part of the reasoning behind releasing the G5 (and also the Eton E5) seems to have aimed at addressing several severe criticisms made against the 1103's ergonomics by a noted and greatly-respected shortwave reviewer named Larry Magne. Having now worked with the Kaito 1103, in my opinion, Mr. Magne's criticisms were entirely overblown.

Yes, there is no volume knob or volume slider control. You have to push the volume button and then either turn the tuning dial or input a numerical value to change the volume. There are also no up/down slew controls for moving through the broadcast bands and you must push the clock button to see World Time when the radio is on.

The tuning knob on this model is so good that I really did not miss the slew controls that much. It tunes about as well as the Sony ICF-2010, which means at near analog quality, i.e., no muting and little chuffing.

The volume issue does take a little getting used to, but may have been incorporated this way in order to maintain the radio's retro-look. It is also somewhat similar to the volume controls on the iPod and may have been influenced by that incredibly popular design. Nevertheless, if the lack of a committed volume control or any of these other issues is a deal-breaker, get the G5.

On the other hand, many, including yours truly, find the Kaito to be a much more attractive looking radio. It has superior backlighting and dial light controls. The bands are arranged in a very attractive looking retro design with a faux needle that moves and indicates the approximate position on the dial. Mr. Magne took particular exception to this faux needle. (and has with respect to two previous Sony models incorporating this design). Apparently, Mr. Magne has no place in his heart for non-functional add-ons that simply look cool. I do.

In the dark, this radio looks great and reaches a level of low-light utility unfound in other models. The old Panasonic RF-B65, as mentioned previously, had no dial light whatsoever. You had to take great care not to burn it with your Zippo lighter while attempting to operate it at night.

One thing that does not come through in the pictures and advertisements of the 1103 is just how small it is. It is basically mid-way in size between radios such as the RF-B65 and Grundig Yachtboy 400 and the Sony ICF-SW1.

This radio can easily fit into a Dopkit, and yet, has much better audio and performance than the smaller Sony ICF-SW1, which lacked a dial light and SSB, had very poor audio through its external speaker and tuned only in crude 5kHz increments, and lacked an external antenna jack.

Perhaps the best comparison for this radio is the current incarnation of the outstanding Grundig Yacht Boy 400, now called the G4000A(why a company would change the name of a perenially great unit is beyond me).

In my estimation, the Yacht Boy 400 was essentially the same as the aforementioned RF-B65, with the deletion of the tuning knob and the addition of a dial light, although the YB400 was perhaps not quite as attractive as the RF-B65. Nevertheless, it puzzles me to see the RF-B65 touted by some as a wunder-radio, when there is an essentially identical, but yet better one overall, still on the market in the G4000A.

The 1103 compares quite favorably in terms of performance to the Yacht Boy 400 and although prices vary, likely can be had for about the same amount. If you want the slightly better audio and size is not an issue, then the Yacht Boy might be the better choice. but I think that the smaller size, ease of use, excellent backlighting and re-chargeable ni-mh batteries make the Kait0 1103 a clear-cut winner.

Overall, it is doubtful that there has ever been such an affordable and attractive powerhouse of a world band radio jimmied into something this small.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Kaito is not made by Grundig, but Degen in China. Grundig is made by Tecsun in China. My Kaito 1103 has great FM here in Los Angeles, but AM sounds muddy and is not exceptional. My Kaito 1102, which has better egronomics, has better AM but its FM is less sterling than the 1103's.