Head back to the 90’s and shortwave radio was the king of communications. Thanks to its unbelievably long-range and ease of transmission, if you wanted European news in America you were likely tuning into shortwave.
As you can imagine, the birth of the internet and satellite technology has made shortwave radio not as popular as it once was. But don’t despair radio fans, there’s still a great number of uses for a shortwave radio and there’s a load of fantastic models on the market at a killer price!
In this article specifically, we’ll be reviewing the best shortwave radios on the market for under $500. By the end, you’ll be well informed on not only the best shortwave radios on the market, but exactly what makes each one so great!
Ready? Let’s have a look!
- Shortwave & Shortwave Radios Explained
- What Makes The Best Shortwave Radio Under $500?
- 5 Best Shortwave Radios Under $500
Table of Contents
Shortwave & Shortwave Radios Explained
Whilst there’s no official definition of what shortwave covers, typically it’s referred to as all of the frequencies within the 1600kHz (1.6MHz) – 30MHz range. This includes all of the HF & MF ranges alongside parts of the VHF range.
Shortwave is commonly used for long-range communication, thanks to its low power properties meaning waves can travel great distances. It also reflects off the ionosphere, meaning when fired into the atmosphere, it can be reflected back down to earth boosting the range even further.
Through the mid to late 1900s, shortwave was used to communicate cross-continent, with stations like the BBC World Service using it to transmit to America, Africa & Asia.
Shortwave radios are set up to operate in these frequencies, transmitting and receiving across those vast distances. Amateur radio fans still love shortwave radio devices, with the experience of transmitting hundreds of miles one that doesn’t get old!
If you’re here, we expect you’re in the market for a new shortwave radio. Before we pick out our favourite models, let’s look at what you need to consider when buying the perfect shortwave radio for you!
What Makes A Good Shortwave Radio: Criteria
When it comes to deciding on the best shortwave radio under $500, there are some key factors to consider. We’ll benchmark our ratings off of these, so get to know what makes a great shortwave device below:
- Portable vs Fixed – If you’re receiving out and about, you’ll need a portable shortwave radio. But, as with all radios, the more power you need, the more likely you are to need a fixed radio. The best shortwave radio for you will be the one that gives you the best mix of portability and power – in our roundup, we’ll show radios with varying mixes of the two.
- Durability – Radio is still one of the most reliable communication methods for those out and about in the wild. If you’re heading on an expedition, ensure you get a radio that’s physically durable to survive any bumps and scrapes.
- Frequencies – As we mentioned above, shortwaves isn’t a clearly defined term and depending on the radio, each model may only be compatible with selected frequencies. The best shortwave radio for you is the one that operates on the frequencies you need!
- Tuning Features – Many radios have a range of manual/automatic tuning options and features to store and save pre-selected channels. This is all about simplicity and will be especially useful if you’re going to be regularly re-tuning between frequencies.
- Antenna – As with all radios, one of the key components to great reception is the quality of the antenna. Either go for a radio with a great stock antenna or find a model that allows for external antennas to be fitted – the latter will really make a lot of difference!
5 Best Shortwave Radios Under $500
Note- these are listed in price order. Starting from around $25, up to around $400.
What makes it one of the best? – Delivers entry-level, portable functionality across FM, SW & AM for just $25!
The V115 Shortwave Radio from Retekess is the perfect radio to start off this roundup. This radio isn’t just great for under $500, or for under $100, it’s an awesome purchase for just $25. It’s a highly portable radio, featuring a 1000mAh battery to keep you receiving when out and about.
It comes with a range of great features including 400 preset channels, a large backlit screen, audio recording, and support across 4 languages. The antenna isn’t the best although it is telescopic and extends to a good length – so expect reasonable reception over shorter ranges.
Talking of short ranges – if you’re looking for a radio to see you good over long distances or through adverse weather conditions, this is not the radio for you. As a portable shortwave with a limited power capability, users of this radio report it doesn’t perform well outside of short-range, clear conditions.
If you need a small and simple shortwave radio, you won’t find a better price on the market, with a deal well under the $500 limit. This is the best shortwave radio if you’re on a tight budget!
What makes it one of the best? – Strong and durable portable shortwave radio with handy additional outdoor features.
For our second shortwave radio pick, we’ve gone for the Mesquool Weather Radio. Crucially, this radio ticks the durability box 10 times over with its rugged construction, hand power crank, built-in torch, SOS functions and pre-tuned weather forecast channels all contributing to make it an outdoorsman’s dream!
The 5000mAh battery also gives you loads of juice if you’re out on a long expedition with an internal power bank also available to charge phones via USB. The radio is let down by its antenna and lack of digital functionality, with a purely manually tuning capability over FM, AM & SW ranges and limited performance in obscure locations.
Price-wise, at under $50, you’re well below that $500 threshold meaning you could pick up a couple for a group trip or just a back up in reserve!
What makes it one of the best? – High spec portable radio that includes multiple digital features and SSB compatibility.
For the last of our pure-portable shortwave radios, we’ve picked out the super-digital Skywave model from C. Crane. This is a model that’s perfect for those that don’t want to compromise on either their functionality or portability, giving premium features in a small package.
Firstly, this radio’s got some range! Covering AM, FM, NOAA Weather bands, Shortwave Single Side Band and VHF Aviation, you’ll be able to receive on a whole host of different channels. Talking of channels, you’ll have the ability to configure the radio manually through direct frequency entry or auto scan and store up to 400 favourites.
A digital display, telescopic antenna and replaceable battery round off the package, with a high powered front-facing speaker delivering great audio quality. If you’re heading into the outdoors, this likely won’t be the radio for you, and as with all handhelds, performance will vary based on the conditions.
At around $170, this represents a big step up in quality from the two shortwave radios we’ve seen before but still keeps you well within the $500 budget. If you need a good quality, reasonably priced, shortwave radio that’s easy to tune and use on the move, this is the best under $500.
What makes it one of the best? – The power of a fixed shortwave radio in a portable, digitally-enabled package!
In the Sangean ATS-909X, you’ve got an AC powered radio that delivers great fixed performance with the added bonus of battery operation. Not only that, but this is actually quite a stylish device, not something you can often say about a radio!
Combine a high-tech, LCD digital display, manual tuning wheel, squelch control, 400+ programmable channels, SSB, autotuning (ATS) and functionality across AM, FM, SW & MW, and you’ve got a shortwave radio that packs a punch.
That delicate mix of features means it’s not a radio to take on an expedition, but its receiver & antenna option means you’ll get a great level of signal in most locations, with many owners using this radio for continental ‘world’ radio services.
At $330, you’re starting to get into the big leagues of shortwave radios. If you’re wanting to strike the balance between great power and portability, without compromising on digital features, this could be a good radio for you!
5. Eton Elite NELITE750
What makes it one of the best? – Fully featured fixed shortwave radio with tons of power and features for those serious about receiving shortwave.
To finish up this article, we’ve pulled out one of the best shortwave fixed radios on the market in the Eton Elite NELIITE750. If you’re serious about shortwave receiving, this is the radio for you.
Firstly, the features. You’ve got functionality across AM, FM, LW, SW, SSB and VHF frequencies, 1000 programmable channels, high-quality speakers and integrated audio controls for bass and treble. But where a fixed radio always wins is on power, and the Eton Elite is no exception.
Firstly, as a fully mains operated unit, you benefit from greater juice than with a batter. This fixed radio comes with an integrated, 360° high-gain AM antenna as well as dedicated ports for external FM and SW antennas if you want to boost reception. This is where a fixed radio will separate itself from portables, offering a fixed station to receive even the weakest signals and convert them into high-quality audio.
As you’d expect, this is a step up in price as well as quality. At $400 this is a radio for those that are dedicated to great shortwave signals. Remember, to achieve the best quality you’ll need to purchase some external antennas which should be achievable whilst staying within the $500 budget.
When it comes to shortwave radios, the good news is there’s a number of options under the $500 mark. When deciding which is the ‘best’ for you it’s going to come down to a few key factors including portability, durability, frequency range and tuning features.
If you’re just looking to receive radio signal locally, you’ll be fine with most of the portable models above, but keep in mind the durability if you’re heading into the outdoors. As you move up the cost spectrum, you’ll get more digital features, making tuning and channel storage much easier.
If you’re looking for premium shortwave performance, a fixed radio will be the way to go. Especially with those that allow for external antennas, you’ll see a huge jump in RX performance as well as audio quality, even when receiving from across the world!