I filed this review not long after buying this radio. The radio worked as described, or better, until I started having an annoying intermittent failure of the volume control about a year later. Volume came on very high and could not be cut. I'd turn the radio off in disgust and try again a while later. All would be well. But, eventually, it stuck on high volume which made the radio worthless because the loud volume was an annoyance, and also severely distorted the audio. I contacted Sangean's support about this. They offered very little in the way of suggestions, and would not take the radio back under warranty because I had bought it from a Korean reseller. As such, the review below is entirely "at your own risk" because, for me, this radio is now an expensive paper weight, and will probably soon be in the trash. Absent any recognition of the problem, or any useful service for this problem, Sangean is off my list for future purchases.
January 2, 2014
I bought this direct from Taipei because of detailed and impressive advance notice, though the price here is now far better. Okay, that information was PR, but in the case of this complete re-design of the ATS-909 it was pretty close to how the product performs.
I've used a variety of portables over the years, including the brilliant, but rather heavy, Sony ICF-2010, and its successor, the fine 7600GR. I've also tried a few of the new Chinese shortwave competitors, including the Degen 1103, probably the best cheap shortwave radio ever made.
Sangean, however, is not competing against Degen or Kaito. Established for a very long time as a maker of superb portables, they took some heat for the ATS-909. I can't comment on that model, as I have never tried one. The ATS-909X, however, is to my mind the successor to Sony's 7600GR as the best portable for its broad range of reception, which includes FM, LW, MW, and SW. The AM range is 150-29999. (note: the ATS909X does not have synchronous detection, using DSP and digital bandpass instead to clarify weak signals, but that's not a bad thing, just a different way of handling the same problems). The MW can be set for either 9Khz steps or 10, with corresponding ranges for different parts of the world.
Issues of interest to regular listeners and DXers: a) sensitivity -- it's as good or better than the 7600GR on SW, excellent on FM, and better than Sangean's CCRadio Plus on MW. Enhancing this on FM is a simple solution, a switch for mono FM, important if a signal is faint or erratic in stereo. b) selectivity -- the 3-way tone control, Wide/Narrow filter's skirts, digital bandpass, and DSP all contribute to cleaning up and separating adjacent signals well; I heard what I tuned. c) The ATS-909X is happy on either the built-in aerial or with a Kaito tunable loop (I prefer the latter, an inexpensive but marvelous tunable loop). d) The DSP IC's tricks work fine with weak signals, almost as well as the Sony 7600GR's synchronous detection. e) the sound quality on any filter setting is (to my ear) as good as the 7600GR and far better than the Degen 1103, which shows distortion if not slightly detuned. It also has noticeably more audio output than the Sony 7600GR. f) squelch. Yes, the ATS-909X resurrects an old method for keeping the racket down between stations. Most scanners have this feature and, if you use it carefully, it can make exploring noisy AM bands easier on the ears. (Tune to the weakest station you can still understand; then, adjust squelch to just slightly above where the weak station blanks out. Then, anything that's below that threshold will be silent.) g) RF gain -- it's rare for these to be on a portable any more. They're often not on desktop models. However, if you've got a really hot station you listen to regularly, it's nice to be able to back off on RF amplification. Judicious use of this gain control is also useful in picking apart stations that are extremely close together or where you can use a combination of antenna tuning and fiddling with RF gain to pull one station out front and put the other behind.
A few notes on FM: You don't get better FM on a small radio than this unless you include HD Radio circuitry. I don't know why Sangean didn't do that -- maybe a future model. Even so, you can plug this radio into a set of powered PC speakers and get sensational audio, or it sounds fine as is. Selectivity is excellent. Signal to noise almost sounds like HD radio. Of course I live in NYC, so signals tend to be very good. The images that plague cheap radios don't exist on the ATS-909X. It's happy with strong signals or weak. RDS mode, if in use by broadcaster, will show items like call letters, program title, and sometimes what's playing.
Further on MW. Believe it, it's better than a Sangean's own CCRadio Plus for sensitivity, selectivity, and, to my ear, audio quality. I can easily pick up stations from Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Charlotte, Boston, upstate and western New York, and that without the assistance of an external loop or Crane's twin coil external. If you've got stations on top of each other, not uncommon, using the USB/LSB control can separate one from the other, a trick unavailable on a CCRadio Plus (though you can detune the latter slightly for similar effects).
SW -- even on cheap radios, DSP can give startlingly good results on SW. When you can afford a little more effort in deploying this American IC, and higher quality components to interface with it, as Sangean clearly has, the consequence is an ease of tuning that's disconcerting. On my old FRG-7, for instance, first you did the preset on the antenna side, then the megahertz setting, then the kiloherz knob, hand fiddling with preset and KHz knob until you got a satisfactory signal. The old Wadley loop circuit worked well, but it took a while to get there. With DSP, digital bandpass, and PLL, none of that's required. Sangean's implementation of these new electronic elements is as good or better than any similar radio I have ever tried, including the ICF-2010, and the 7600GR. To be fair, neither of the latter employ DSP.
Memories -- here's how they're described in the manual.
406 radio station presets
FM 3 pages: 27 presets
LW 1 page: 9 presets
MW 2 pages: 18 presets
SW 39 pages: 351 presets + 1 priority preset)
Okay, it's not got 1000 memories or more, but the way they're distributed makes a very good fit with each band. I challenge anyone who claims to have more than 27 listenable FM stations in their area. There's a lot of stuff pre-set, which has never been particularly useful for me. Further, these pre-sets are not, as far as I can tell, going to be updated by Sangean (as they used to be by Sony and ICOM). However, you can create your own preset mixes for each page as a substitute for what's provided. The way they do it is a good model. They've put 9 pre-sets for a major outlet, such as DW, on one page. Select that page, and DSP hunts for the one that has a readable signal. Neat.
Another tuning tool is ATS, which is fabulous for the traveler. It's been around for a few years. You go to LW, MW or FM, press one button, and all of the readable signals are put into temporary memory. Get off the plane, tune into the new city, done in a few seconds. Not unique to Sangean, but a marvelous addition. (On some setups, such as the Degen 380, ATS works on SW bands, but not on the Sangean.)
The clock, once set to local time, will show the correct time at the touch of a button in 42 other cities. It's a useful feature.
The package I received included two adapters, one for Asia and one for the US (this may not be true in some packages). The US power supply is perfect; it puts out no detectable RF noise. On batteries, the radio will run quite a while though, to be honest, I haven't measured its endurance exactly.
The included long wire aerial is nice to have for SW, but Kaito's tuned loop is such a nice antenna, despite its tiny controls, that it's a better choice, and not very expensive.
The faux leather case is quite nice and strong enough to protect the radio when your bag is being tossed about the airport's luggage handling area.
For design, I find the ATS-909X one of the most satisfying portables I've ever tried. It's just solid enough to not fall over when you tune it, but it's not heavy. The finish quality is excellent. You can tune it in five different ways, without spending a lot of time with the manual. It has fewer memories than some, but the distribution of memory pages to FM, MW, LW and SW is well considered, not to mention amazingly easy to use. It's also beautiful to look at, and has the most readable LCD display I've ever seen on a portable. Add that to its exemplary radio performance and you have a great and advanced alternative to several older standbys like the Sony ICF-2010 or Sony 7600GR. You also don't need to buy two radios to get both very high quality SW and MW!
My only issue was that there was no English manual, but I addressed that, finding a multi-language manual on Sangean's US Web site. To be honest, it doesn't really need a manual, as most functions are easy to find and use. But Sangean will have a finished English manual by April. I'm not quite convinced the DSP is a better solution than synchronous detection, but this seems to be the way Asian radio designers and manufacturers are going, and this manifestation of DSP is by far the best I've heard.
Get one now before they raise the price! And a note to Sangean, for the ATS-909X Model 2, include HD to this great radio.