The Sangean ATS-909X2 is billed as the “ultimate” radio receiver and while I am not quite sure that is the case, it certainly is at the very top end of the portable multi-band receiver market today. You are going to be hard-pressed to find a radio with better capabilities and features that you can still call portable, for any amount of money.
The first two things I noticed when I pulled it from the box are that the Sangean ATS-909X2 is beautiful and hefty. This is not a pocket radio by any stretch of the imagination. A quick measurement shows it comes in at about 8″ x 5.25″ x 1.5″ and weighs just over 1 pound and 13 ounces loaded with Energizer Max AA batteries. This means it feels weighty (in a good way) in the hand, and sits well on the desk no matter where you point the fully extended telescopic antenna.
This brings me to my first very minor complaint, when sitting on the desk, the rubber contact points and plastic of the stand offer no real grip which can allow the Sangean ATS-909X2 to slide around a little too much for my liking. I would like to see some rubber added to the stand which has a little grip to keep the unit where I put it. I noticed the problem the first time I tried to use the Sangean ATS-909X2’s tuning dial on the front without holding the radio, that didn’t work very well. Adding the rubber to the stand would also help keep the sound from traveling into whatever the radio is sitting on.
Basic Reception and Audio Quality
Turning on the Sangean ATS-909X2 for the first time had me tuning to my favorite test FM radio station, 106.9 The Eagle in Houston (Splendora transmitter), about 50 miles south-east of here. Tuning to this station from inside my metal-roofed house sitting in the middle of a thicket of 100’+ pine trees has always been my go-to choice for testing FM reception of a radio, and the Sangean ATS-909X2 didn’t disappoint. With the telescoping antenna fully extended the signal was clear and strong, and even the RDS came in (although receiving the RDS in my house varies by time of day and placement of the Sangean ATS-909X2).
I was also impressed by the audio quality of the Sangean ATS-909X2 which sounded better than the size of the speaker seemed to suggest it would. This made me wonder how much the sound quality would improve if I took the speaker out of the equation so I used the line out jack to connect it to a Marshall Kilburn portable speaker. It worked wonderfully and I was very impressed. Taking it one step further and plugging that jack into my stereo’s input revealed extremely good audio quality, far above anything I expected from a portable radio.
That first evening was spent just listening to the Sangean ATS-909X2 playing that one radio station with a smile on my face. Seems like a waste of the capabilities of this little radio, but sometimes it doesn’t take a ton of features to make you smile.
Controls and Display
Before we get too far into the weeds talking about performance, reception, signal drift, and all those other technical points I want to cover the controls and layout of the Sangean ATS-909X2. The LCD is huge compared to most other radios I have used and the quality of the display is excellent. It clearly shows a ton of information without having to press a bunch of buttons to see what you want to see. The backlight is good and even and has multiple levels of brightness to fit most situations.
One interesting thing about the LCD is that if you look at it straight on, or angled from the left, right, or bottom, the screen is clear and easy to read. Reading the Sangean ATS-909X2’s screen from above, however, causes the text to fade out at some points and be very difficult if not impossible to see. If you stand the radio up this can be a problem as you look down on it to read the display. Using the built-in stand completely eliminates this issue and has the added benefit of making the radio easier to use. Oddly enough, I get better reception with the Sangean ATS-909X2 when it is leaning back on its stand instead of sitting upright so it is obvious it was designed to be used this way.
The LCD has a backlight but no contrast adjustment but the default seems fine. The Sangean ATS-909X2 displays a wealth of information on the screen and pressing the INFO button at the bottom of the keypad brings up lots of technical information. If I had to have a complaint here it would be that the signal meter on the far right of the screen seems like it is there more to have some bouncy action on the screen rather than actually being useful. The Sangean ATS-909X2 seems to think almost every signal is full strength. Yeah, I don’t really use a signal strength meter on an SW radio either but I found it a little funny.
The buttons on the Sangean ATS-909X2 feel nice and solid, providing a good tactile click when used. Not such a harsh click that it feels annoying or cheap, but a nice soft click that feels controlled and well done. On the front of the radio is a rotary dial for tuning which does the job well enough but doesn’t quite exude the quality feel of the buttons. It isn’t bad, it feels pretty smooth, but when compared to the quality of the buttons it just falls a tiny bit short.
On the right side is the volume knob and this is probably the one place they should have paid more attention to as it feels pretty cheap. I would suggest they add some grooves or other methods of grip as it is perfectly smooth and fairly tight. This knob also works just fine, it is just a fit and finish issue that for a radio in the price range of the Sangean ATS-909X2 I feel should be addressed. If we were talking about a $50 radio I really wouldn’t care.
It is interesting to note that the Sangean ATS-909X2 has some kind of control on every side except the back (although there is a switch in the battery compartment). This allows for some logical grouping such as having all the time-related functions on the top, tuning functions on the front, input/output on the left side, and audio/misc on the right. While these are not absolute grouping because there are exceptions, it does make it much easier to remember where certain things are.
One of the neat features is their ATS system which scans the band you are on and automatically saves the strong signals it finds in the memory of the Sangean ATS-909X2. I have seen this on far cheaper radios so I was curious as to how it works here. Simply put, the same. Just like on my other radios it found and stored every FM radio station perfectly. The ones it missed, I wouldn’t actually want to listen to anyway as the signal was terrible.
For SW (and I am lumping in MW and LW here too), the Sangean ATS-909X2 did exactly what my other radios with this feature did, and exactly what it does on FM, but the results are less than favorable. The Sangean ATS-909X2 found and stored every strong signal on whatever band I put it on. The problem is that either that signal was just garbage, or had no one there when I got around to listening to it. This isn’t a fault with the radio at all, it is just the way it is when dealing with SW.
One of the really nice features of the Sangean ATS-909X2 is that it has a large number of ports allowing you to extend the capabilities of the radio far beyond radios without these ports.
Let’s start with power as you can power the device from either AA batteries or the provided AC adapter. While that might not be that uncommon, one thing that did get my attention is that the power supply included with the Sangean ATS-909X2 does not seem to introduce any noise into the received signal. That may sound like one of those things that should be a given but a lot of radios that can run off AC power do so with a noisy AC adapter. I have never really understood this, but it nice to see Sangean didn’t cheap out here.
The AM external antenna jack is a welcome port as it vastly increases the signals you can hear and uses a standard 1/8″ or 3.5mm jack. Not only does this fit the cool little reel antenna included with the Sangean ATS-909X2 but is also common with other portable antennas. I even have a 3.5mm adapter for my big dipole antenna I use with my Kenwood TS-570D Amateur Radio Transceiver so I can use that antenna to receive on my shortwave sets.
Next up is the aux-in port which allows me to add a different source of input to my Sangean ATS-909X2. There is also a button to turn on and off this input. Honestly, I don’t use this and can not really imagine why you would want to. Maybe that is just me.
Below that are the standby and line-out jacks which allow you to take an excellent audio signal out of the Sangean ATS-909X2 and input it into another device such as an external speaker, recording device, or even a computer. As I talked about earlier this is a feature I really like and have had great success using. While the speaker in the Sangean ATS-909X2 is very good, sometimes you need something better, either because you want to get more enjoyment out of your music, or because having a higher quality speaker makes hearing faint signals easier. The latter is the reason so many amateur radio operators use external speakers or headphones (that’s my choice) for working DX.
When I first started playing with the Sangean ATS-909X2 I turned it over in my hand over and over looking for where to put the micro-SD card for recording. I honestly don’t use this feature very much, but I do like to record things on occasion and there is just no way to do that on the Sangean ATS-909X2 without an external recording device. This blows my mind because even my $23 Retekess V115 has a micro-SD slot and can do that.
On the bottom of the left side is the headphone jack and it does exactly what you think it does, providing good quality audio allowing you to listen with a set of earbuds like the ones included or higher quality headphones. I tried several different types of devices here ranging from my own earbuds to small walkman style on-ear headphones all the way up to my over-the-ear Audio-Technica studio headphones. Every one of my tests gave me excellent quality audio out of the Sangean ATS-909X2.
With a radio at this price range, this is really where the rubber meets the road. No matter how many bells and whistles a radio has, no matter how good the build quality is, if the reception stinks, the radio is junk. So how did the Sangean ATS-909X2 do? In a word, excellent.
Is it as good as my Kenwood TS-570D? Ummmm, no. But the Sangean ATS-909X2 is remarkably close considering it is portable and a fraction of the cost. I guess my point here is that there are better receivers, but I have not actually used one that was significantly better without sacrificing something serious to get there. In other words, it is a fantastic receiver for what it is.
My only gripes with the Sangean ATS-909X2‘s reception is that the frequencies are off a bit in the lower sideband. Not enough to cause the level of hysteria I have read about other people online having, but enough that I think it should be fixed on a radio costing this much.
If you are trying to be exacting for whatever reason, then the Sangean ATS-909X2 may not be the radio for you. I personally don’t understand that logic as radio reception frequencies can vary considerably depending on distance and how the signal propagates so why the big freak-out if the radio isn’t exact? For me, it is close enough. I mean if the spotter says there is a 40m signal coming from Japan on 7.076mhz and I get there and that isn’t where the signal is, two seconds worth of tuning up and down will get me on it. Big whoop.
Should the Sangean ATS-909X2 be accurate? Yes. Is it far enough off to cause a problem? Well for some people I guess so, but not for me.
Tuning to a frequency with the Sangean ATS-909X2 is simple using a variety of methods including directly inputting the frequency using the F key and then number keys, or using the tuning knob, and/or using the band keys (the number keys used in conjunction with the band key). I really liked being able to directly enter a starting frequency using the number keys and then using the Sangean ATS-909X2’s tuning dial on the front to get where I wanted to go.
When testing the Sangean ATS-909X2 against other SW radios I have the signal seems to hold at least as well as my best receivers, and better than most. Overall, a fine receiver.
The manual included with the Sangean ATS-909X2 is probably better than most as it covers just about anything you would want to do with the radio, assuming you know what you want to do. What I mean by that is that it is very dry and to the point. On the first page of information past the diagrams of the controls, it says “Radio for Air / FM / LW / MW / SW broadcasts”. What if you are a newcomer to anything beyond a standard AM/FM radio and have no idea what LW, MW, or SW actually is? Time to hit Google.
To be fair, the information in the manual is in perfect English and is clear and concise, exactly what someone with some experience with radios will want. I personally loved it, but I can see where people with less experience might have some questions about the Sangean ATS-909X2 that the manual just can not answer.
My manual for the Sangean ATS-909X2 appears to also be in French and Spanish but since I am not fluent in either of those languages I can only assume those translations are as good as the English version. If I am incorrect, leave a comment here and I will update this review to reflect that.
In the box with the Sangean ATS-909X2 is a manual, warranty card, power supply, earbuds, a case, and an external antenna. All of the components appear to be of just as high quality as the radio and are packed very well.
The case for the Sangean ATS-909X2 was the first thing that caught my eye as it is not at all what I expected which was smooth, cheap, fake leather. Instead, the case is ribbed and much more grippy than I expected which I really appreciated since the radio has some weight. This makes sure your grip doesn’t fail, allowing the radio to fall to the ground. The inside of the case is a very soft cloth that protects the finish of your Sangean ATS-909X2. It stays closed with two velcro strips which hold quite well.
Overall the Sangean ATS-909X2 case provides an excellent balance of protection, grip, and light weight.
The earbuds shipped with the Sangean ATS-909X2 are more than sufficient but nothing special. I personally don’t like the style of them as they don’t fit in my ear very well but that is a very subjective issue. This poor fit means the sound quality is less than optimal, which again would vary considerably with someone whose ears these fit in better. The wires are also very thin making me fear they will not last long with any real kind of use.
The real treat with the accessories included with the Sangean ATS-909X2 is the portable shortwave reel antenna which is about 26′ long. Attached to the reel is a lanyard with a nicely designed clip making it easy to attach to a pole, ladder, tree limb, or another line. I have a string with a rather large fishing line attached to one end which I throw up into trees to allow me to pull up an antenna and it was easy to attach my line to the lanyard and pull this up into the top of a tree to improve my reception. I also tried pulling it horizontally along the ground and up into a tree at a 45 degree angle.
Each of my tests of the antenna had varied results depending on the band I was tuning and the signal strength of the station I was listening to but they all had one thing in common, a vast improvement over the telescoping antenna built into the Sangean ATS-909X2. Keep in mind that I was impressed with the reception of the telescoping antenna, it was clearly one of the best I have ever used, but like all telescoping antennas, it has limits that external antennas can easily beat. It sure was nice that they include a nice portable external antenna in the box.
Features and Specifications of the Sangean ATS-909X2
Features of the Sangean ATS-909X2:
- 1674 station presets
- Additional Airband (118~137MHz)
- ATS (Auto Tuning System) on LW/MW/SW/FM
- Five Tuning methods: Direct frequency tuning, auto scan, manual tuning, memory recall, and rotary tuning
- A Larger LCD screen with adjustable LED backlight
- Automatically search for the strongest signal station within SW station pages
- 3 alarms by radio or HWS (Humane Wake System) buzzer
- Built-in 42 world cities time + D.S.T. device with 2 editable city names
- Automatic Bandwidth Control system
- Information indications with RDS PS/PTY/RT, SNR, RSSI, Memory Bank
- SSB (Single Side Band): USB / LSB 10Hz / step on fine-tuning
- Squelch function can adjust the receiving threshold to eliminate weak transmissions
- Adjustable sleep timer
- Dual conversion device for MW / LW / SW/AIR
- 3 individual Memory banks
- 10 characters for editing station name on display
- Fine-tuning control and Quick Shift Tuning
- Smart battery charger can individually detect the healthy situation of each battery.
- Tone control (Music / Normal / News)
- Individual headphone amplifier
- Signal and battery strength indicator
- FM Softmute
- Menu setting offer diversely functional settings
Specifications of the Sangean ATS-909X2:
|TUNER||FM||Frequency (MHz) 87.5 – 108 / 76 – 108|
|RDS / RBDS||PS / PTY / RT / CT|
|LW||Frequency (kHz) 153 – 519(USA)/100-519KHZ|
|MW||Frequency (kHz) 520 – 1710|
|SW||Frequency (kHz) 1.711 – 29.999|
|Meter Bands||120, 90, 75, 60, 49, 41, 31, 25, 21, 19, 16, 15, 13, 11|
|TUNING||Memory Presets||1539 (NO AIR) /1674|
|MEDIA||Aux – in|
|CLOCK||Real time||Time Dual (World / Home)|
|Alarm||Tuner / Media / Buzzer x3 alarms|
|FEATURE||Stereo||Earphones / Line Out|
|AUDIO||Sound Effect||Treble / Bass Control – Music / Normal / News|
|OUTPUT POWER (TYPICAL)||Output Power||1.4W|
|Earphones Output Power||1mW*2|
|Batteries Output Power||0.65W|
|SPEAKER||Size ( mm / inch )||3 inches|
|I/O SOCKET||Power||DC in|
|Aux – in||V|
|Line – out||V|
|POWER SUPPLY||Mains Power Supply||DC 9V / 1.2A|
|Batteries (Main Power)||4 x 1.5V (UM-3, AA)|
|DIMENSIONS||Width (mm/inch)||207.5 / 8.17|
|Height (mm/inch)||134.8 / 5.31|
|Depth (mm/inch)||41.3 / 1.63|
|Weight (g & lb. oz)||733.5 / 1lb. 9.9oz|
The Bottom Line on the Sangean ATS-909X2
The big question about the Sangean ATS-909X2 is; is it worth the money? The short answer is an absolute yes. While it is not perfect, nothing ever is. It does provide a lot of bang for your money and has more than enough features and capabilities to keep you enjoying it for many years to come while the issues are, by and large, very minor.
For me, the Sangean ATS-909X2 has become a constant travel companion with a guaranteed spot in a bag every time I travel.