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Author Topic: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160  (Read 7047 times)

Offline VK3BVW

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RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160

Love itů.or loathe it? Probably our most controversial Retro Review to date!

http://medxr.blogspot.com.au/2016/03/retro-receiver-review-5-realistic-dx160.html

 :D
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Offline ChrisSmolinski

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #1 on: March 12, 2016, 1640 UTC »
Great article. I agree that the buzz about the DX-160 is more nostalgia than it actually being a great radio. It was commonplace and lots of DXers had one, due to the proliferation of Radio Shack stores.

I had a DX-160 for about a year. I got it as a Christmas present when I was 12. I had been using a portable radio that also tuned a few SW bands for a few months, as my introduction to shortwave listening. I was pestering my parents for a SW radio kit that Radio Shack was selling for about $35, hopeful that I would get it for Christmas. I forget the details now, probably one of those Archer kits. I was excited beyond belief when instead under the tree was a giant wrapped box with a DX-160 inside. I still remember tuning in the long wave bands that morning, hearing TUK on 194 kHz (long since gone) with weather broadcasts. In hindsight the DX-160 wasn't that great of a radio, but considering I was 12, was previously using a little portable, and my hopes were for an Archer SW radio kit that would have probably burst into flames after I built it, the DX-160 wasn't so bad, all things considered.  ;D

About a year later I "upgraded" to a DX-300, trading in the DX-160 for a discount. I'm not sure how much of an upgrade the DX-300 actually was, as I recall it was horribly mistuned, even though it had a digital readout I was never sure where I was actually tuned in. I eventually sold that and picked up a Kenwood R-1000, which was a much better radio. I eventually traded that it on an Icom R71A, which I still own today, although it sits in the basement workshop, mostly unused. Now that was a great radio for the day.
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Offline Josh

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #2 on: March 12, 2016, 2141 UTC »
I've had a few and feel that for what they are, they're a great radio. I know a guy who qsl'd some 130+ swbc stas with a 160 back in the day. Their forte however seems to be lw and ambc.
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Offline Pigmeat

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2016, 0300 UTC »
How could I hate it? I listened to "The Rumble in The Jungle" live via Armed Forces Radio on one back in 1974. It was 50 bucks to see the fight on closed circuit TV live, and a week or two delay before ABC aired it. It's still my fondest memory of listening to SW, especially as a rabid Ali fan.

If I'd been smart I'd have charged every guy in the neighborhood 5 bucks to listen to it from my front porch.

It was a good radio for what it was. A definite improvement over the Hallicrafters SX-120 and it's howling semi-functional BFO I'd been using before.

Offline Josh

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2016, 1647 UTC »
A guy I know modded his 160 with a MuRata 455KHz ceramic filter, he added a switch setup so that the more legs grounded the narrower it became (the filter had multiple ground legs, one per pzt pole, pzt = lead zirconium titanate, the ceramic resonators in such filters). Not the most efficient or elegant way to vary selectivity but it did work.
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Offline VK3BVW

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2016, 0222 UTC »
Great article. I agree that the buzz about the DX-160 is more nostalgia than it actually being a great radio. It was commonplace and lots of DXers had one, due to the proliferation of Radio Shack stores.

I had a DX-160 for about a year. I got it as a Christmas present when I was 12. I had been using a portable radio that also tuned a few SW bands for a few months, ..............


Thanks so much for your comments, Chris. From comments elsewhere, it seems that some people had more success with it than others. Quality control issues perhaps? It served a purpose at the low end of the market, of course.  73, Rob
Rob Wagner VK3BVW
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Offline ChrisSmolinski

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2016, 1123 UTC »
Some more thoughts... The DX-160 was around $169 back then. Today of course, $169 gets you a nice little portable with digital readout. But $169 was a lot of money back in 1978! According to one online inflation calculator I tried, that's equivalent to $661.75 today - enough for a very nice radio.
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Offline John Poet

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2016, 0818 UTC »
This was my second shortwave receiver, after moving up from a secondhand Heathkit GR-81 as a young teen in the mid-70s.  I was heavily into SWLing for several years, and heard and verified more stations on my used DX-160 than any other receiver before or since.  

One difficulty with non-digital receivers was always aligning the bandspread correctly to know *about* what frequency you were on, if you were hunting specific stations.  Radio Shack sold an outboard 100kHz calibrator in one of their "red breadboard" kits at this time which made that simpler in frequency ranges where you couldn't necessarily tune to a known station to calibrate.

I was two blocks from a 5kw AM station's pattern array, so there was some bleed into the SW at certain frequency ranges, but not nearly as bad as with the earlier Heathkit.

I was interested in tropical stations at that time, so had a large dipole in the back yard tuned somewhere around 60-75 meters.  Spent quite a few early morning hours trying to catch low-powered South Pacific stations.  I managed PNG Port Moresby 4890 kHz, the station in New Caledonia (on 7170 or thereabouts?), and of course Radio New Zealand back when it was only 10-20 kw.  I believe I heard the station in the New Hebrides Islands under heavy static around 3945 kHz, but could not successfully verify it due to vague details.  The island music of Radio Tahiti was a favorite on 15.xxx MHz in summer evenings.  Along with those I heard a whole raft full of the usual European and South American stations.
The Solomon Islands on 5020 kHz, and the fabled Cook Islands Broadcasting service were elusive targets, I never had any luck with getting any signal from those.

 At that time, ASIA and East Asia were the toughest reception among higher powered stations.  I never could manage India, Taiwan, or the Phillipines.

My best catch was probably Trans World Radio Bonaire on the AM band, on 800 kHz or whatever channel the CKLW station used to be on.  I managed to catch it only when CKLW had gone off the air for some reason, and was verified for it.

A real pity I don't have all those old QSLs...  :-\

After losing interest in shortwave, I sold the DX-160 along with a Lafayette tube receiver to help finance my first car.  Little did I know I'd be back into it within about 16 months, but in a different vein, and have to buy another receiver all over again...
« Last Edit: March 18, 2016, 0828 UTC by John Poet »

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Offline ka1iic

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #8 on: March 23, 2016, 1336 UTC »
I never had the DX-160 but I did have a DX-150A.  As for frequency readout <heh> I used a BC-221 for that little problem.  The BC-221 was great, the DX-150A no so but it kept me listening and that was all that counted...

73 Vince
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Offline BoomboxDX

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #9 on: March 26, 2016, 0837 UTC »
The DX-160 was a good radio for the day. It got the job done, and was not prohibitively expensive.

Anything that had dual or triple conversion, and anything close to an accurate readout (like a Drake radio, for example) was very expensive -- mostly ham store only items (i.e. hard to find for the average SWL).

Even the Sony and Panasonic radios available during the late 70's with built in crystal calibrators and bandspreads (Sony ICF5900, Panasonic 2200) weren't exactly cheap, or easy to find.

The Barlow-Wadley designs like the FRG-7, SSR-1 that came out in the late 1970's were still much more expensive than the DX-160, about twice as expensive, depending on vendor.

Single conversion superhet designs like the 160 were the average of the day if one was an SWL. Unless one was rich.

As for the DX-160's value today? It is still a good MW DXer. The rest is nostalgia, I suppose. An old 1965 Mustang car is junk compared to a modern car. Rides wonky, not easy on gas. But that doesn't mean you recycle it.

Edited to add:
I think I may have mentioned this earlier in another post on the DX-160: it can be used for SWBC listening. A simple antenna tuner reduces images, and most of the images I noticed were outside the SW bands. It also can be used for listening to the 20m-80m ham bands (and probably 160 as well), where the BFO acting like a passband tuner helps. I once used it to monitor a fall contest. Of course, the readout was useless. But I was just listening. You have to ride the RF gain on strong signals, just like the guys over at EHam say you have to do on strong signals on the big rigs, or it will chirp.

What I'm saying is that the 160 is obviously not high tech by any stretch. But it's not useless junk, either. Once one learns its idiosyncracies there is plenty to hear. But its strength for the modern day DXer is MW. It's a Realistic TRF with a little extra gain and probably better selectivity.
« Last Edit: March 26, 2016, 2147 UTC by BoomboxDX »
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Offline Pigmeat

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #10 on: March 27, 2016, 0103 UTC »
Those old receivers do have their bright spots. I once checked out that old SX-120 against a Drake R-8A just for fun. Same antenna, etc.......   Below the 80 meter ham band the SX-120 could hear about any signal the Drake would. It wasn't as stable, and didn't have the extras to pull weak ones clearly above the noise, but if it was there on the Drake it was there on the Hallicrafters.

For AM dx'ing it would probably make a fine choice even today.

Offline RobRich

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #11 on: May 08, 2016, 0239 UTC »
I have three of them, along with the matching sepeakers, in storage needing checked out. Probably all need realigned at this point, assuming they were even decently aligned from the factory, as noted in the linked review.

A properly working DX-160 was more than capable of handling casual listening of the typical BCB and SW flamethrowers of its era, which was more of its intended market IMO given its price point. Despite being single conversion, it was a desktop receiver with a BFO, bandspread, selectable AGC, antenna trimmer, etc. for around half the price of the popular FRG-7.

Lots of those casual listeners shopping for a shortwave radio at Radio Shack also just hung a short wire up the wall inside or maybe a basic long wire out the window to listen to VOA, BBC, etc.; thus another reason for the often vast differences in user experiences compared to the more serious DXers often using dipoles, loops, preselectors, antenna tuners, etc. for the more difficult catches.
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Offline Shortwave Pirate

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #12 on: May 09, 2016, 2345 UTC »
A properly working DX-160 was more than capable of handling casual listening of the typical BCB and SW flamethrowers of its era, which was more of its intended market IMO given its price point.

Like the "intended market" you mentioned, I also came to the mysterious world of shortwave radio by way of a general market receiver, one that just had shortwave as an afterthought. I had wanted a "boom box" back in the day and my girlfriend at that time, had the Magnavox D8443.



I thought it was cool, so I asked my folks for one for my birthday. I liked the sound of it and loved that it was capable of playing "metal" cassettes! Quite by accident, I happened onto the SW bands and heard my first ever SW station. . . .HCJB. From that moment forward, I was hooked. I wore the tuning mechanism out night after night listening to whatever was out there, logging each station carefully and then planning my nights around what would be on the air, based on my logs.

I had that for a lot of years until my future father-in-law's dad gave me an old Zenith 8-S-661 console radio from the early 1940s to knock around with:



I have nothing but fond memories of nights listening to shortwave broadcasts in my room, illuminated only with the orange glow of those old tubes and the musty smell that accompanied them. The 15" speaker that was in this thing produced the most wonderful deep, warm tones. Still the best I've ever heard shortwave sound, even up until this day. Many a nights the walls would rattle with the loud "thump-thump-thump" of WWV!

Since then, I moved on to what many would consider more "serious" gear, as finances would allow, but I still have very fond memories of radios intended for the masses bringing me into a hobby that I know and love today.
« Last Edit: May 26, 2016, 0553 UTC by Shortwave Pirate »

Offline Pigmeat

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #13 on: May 11, 2016, 0441 UTC »
A buddy of mine had one of those Zenith's when we were kids. His granddad owned a junkshop and needed more room. Pat got the Zenith. I loved the way that thing glowed in the dark. It was like sitting around a campfire.

He and his Mom rented a series of houses around town. Pat always took the basement for his room. That Zenith would rattle the rafters from six feet under the ground. He had the mighty clothesline antenna to feed it. Three strands of aluminum wire between the "T" posts that held the lines.

His Mom was always hollering "Turn that thing down!" and "What's that smell?" when that Zenith was rocking. Thanks for bringing back the memories!

Offline Looking-Glass

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Re: RETRO RECEIVER REVIEW #5 - The REALISTIC (Radio Shack) DX160
« Reply #14 on: May 14, 2016, 0856 UTC »
I remember the DX-160 very well as my best friend had one, for that time and era it done the job very well and provided many hours of enjoyment.  I opted for a Yaesu FRG-7 and although not real impressive it done the job and served me very well, it seemed to perform best on the MW band if I recall.

Didn't like the FRG-7000, just something about it so skipped buying one, ended up with the FRG-7700 and bought the VHF transverters for aircraft band listening. 

Best receiver I ever had was an Eddystone bought secondhand from a shipbreakers yard, worst thing I ever done was sell it.  It was a very large radio and stood out on the radio table.

Had a Drake SSR-1 and quite liked it.

Radio Shack products were usually called "Realistic" in Australia and the stores traded as "Tandy Electronics" and were quite popular in the old days, I remember the famous three radial Archer 27MHz 5/8 Ground Plane antenna, best vertical I ever had on 27MHz, the overseas DX I worked on that...again, being an idiot, I sold it, they are collectors items these days and like Tandy Electronics, a distant but fond memory... ::)
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