VOLUME 13 OCTOBER 1996 NUMBER 10
Equipment Field Test Report:BY JOHN MILLER
Zenith Trans-Oceanic Performance Test
John Miller compares the 1958 Zenith Trans-Oceanic with a modern digital readout shortwave receiver. Based on listening tests, ranging from AM broadcasting to the 13-meter SW band, his conclusions may surprise you. This article was first published in the newsletter of the Mid-South Antique Radio Collectors, "Old Radio Times," in the fall of 1994. (Editor)
A few months ago I was wandering through an antique mall when I spotted a stack of old National Geographic magazines. As I browsed through an issue from 1958, I saw an ad for Zenith's first transistorized Trans-Oceanic, the Royal 1000. I guess the thing that really got my attention was the price of this radio -- $250 in 1958!
My next stop happened to be Layman's Vintage Radios, where collecting friend Terry Layman showed me some of his new acquisitions. As I followed the path of radios into his overflow room, I spotted a Royal 1000 on the floor. The magazine ad was fresh in my mind as I looked the set over, or I probably would have ignored it altogether.
While not in the best condition cosmetically, when we popped in some batteries, the set seemed to work fairly well. Since Terry already had another one at his house, he talked me into taking this one home with me. This is a very solid and well-made radio, and as I made some initial listening checks, it performed much better than I had expected.
An ad for the Zenith All-Transistor Trans-Oceanic in "National Geographic," December 1957.
To rate how well this radio performs, I thought it would be fun to compare it with a modern shortwave receiver. The radio I used for this comparison is a Sangean 803A (also sold as a Realistic DX-440), a highly rated, mid-sized, portable, shortwave receiver that has a comparable list price of around $250. While not an exhaustive test, I spent a couple of evenings DXing with each radio, comparing reception, signal strength, and selectivity. For a fair test I did not use an outside aerial, but extended the built-in vertical antenna on each radio to the maximum length.
I put a fresh set of batteries in each radio (6 D cells for the Sangean and 9 for the Zenith) and began the test on the standard broadcast band. One of the first things I noticed was a little better tone quality in the Zenith, but the Sangean can put out more treble, which sometimes makes a very weak broadcast easier to understand. Both radios tuned through the broadcast band very well with each radio having the selectivity to tune adjacent stations at 760, 770 and 780 kHz. Both radios were also sensitive enough to tune a wide variety of weak signals equally well, both inside and outside the U. S.
Next came the 2-4 MHz band. Although the Zenith was slightly better at picking up the National Bureau of Standards station WWV at 2.5 MHz, the Sangean had the Zenith beat on SSB signals because it has a BFO that the Zenith lacks.
Both radios performed well on the 4-9 MHz band, but on the 31-meter band I noticed a couple of differences. The BBC, at both 9.515 MHz and a very weak signal around 9.424 MHz, sounded better on the Zenith; however, when I tuned in a very weak station at 9.750 MHz and a very strong adjacent station at 9.755 MHz, the Sangean displayed better selectivity. The Sangean has a digital tuner that can tune in increments of 1 kHz, so has an edge over the Zenith in tuning ease.
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On the remaining bands -- 25 meters, 16 meters, and 13 meters -- the results were about the same. The Zenith came in with better sensitivity while the digital tuner in the Sangean was easier to time and was more selective.
The sturdy Royal 1000 weighs in at about 13 pounds and measures approximately 12.5" x 10" x 5". The Sangean weighs 4 pounds and measures approximately 11.5" x 6.5" x 2.5". Thus, the Zenith is a little larger and heavier than the Sangean, but as an old radio collector I've never discriminated against the size and weight of a radio!
The digital tuner and 1 kHz tuning increments give the Sangean the edge in tuning ease over the Zenith. The Zenith could, however, still tune in any station I was able to pick up with the Sangean. In addition, the Zenith seemed a bit more sensiive, and a few of the weaker stations sounded better on it.
While the Sangean is a fine radio and has more features, such as FM, SSB, seek, memory, digital tuning, signal meter, etc., I was surprised to see how well the Zenith compared. This 36-year-old shortwave radio is a quality built unit that makes DXing a lot of fun.
I enjoy this Zenith because in 1958 my first grade allowance of 25 cents a week would never allow me access to such a radio. Since this was a fairly expensive radio, owners tended to take care of them and kept them around rather than throwing them away. Thus, these radios don't seem very hard to find (yet). At radio meets I've seen several for sale in excellent condition for about $100. If you scrounge around your local garage sales and flea markets, you might find one locally at a more modest price.
(John Miller, 3426 Coldstream Ct., Lexington, KY 40517)