Articles > Realistic DX-200 Shortwave Radio - Review
It is a good looking radio, and simple to operate. There are lamps behind each of the two drum dials and the S-meter. The lamps are powered from a separate winding on the power transformer.
It has coverage from 0.15MHz to 30MHz on overlapping bands, with a gap between 0.4MHz though 0.52Mhz (due to its 455KHz IF). The selectable 'bands' are:
- 0.15 - 0.40 MHz (Most of the Longwave band)
- 0.52 - 1.60 MHz (MW AM broadcast band)
- 1.60 - 4.50 MHz
- 4.50 - 13.0 MHz
- 13.0 - 30.0 MHz Copyright WebDevSys.com
AM and SSB/CW modes can be used on any of the bands, although in practice it is only useful for the upper bands where 'Hams' operate. Copyright WebDevSys.com
A standby mode allows the unit to remain powered without any output. Standby mode is useful when the DX-200 needs to be temporarily muted, without powering it off and therefore causing thermal frequency drift. Copyright WebDevSys.com
The unit has two external audio outputs, one 1/4" headphone jack on the front and one 3.5mm mono jack on the back. The front jack has proper headphone level output and the rear jack is at speaker level. When headphones are plugged into the front jack, the speaker and rear jack will always be disconnected. Copyright WebDevSys.com
Most of the RF circuitry operates on 9v DC. This is derived via a linear regulator IC, which takes its power from the main 15v DC unregulated rail, which also powers the audio amplifier IC. The output power is decent for the radio, however the audio tends to lack low end punch. Using an external amplified speaker or headphones is highly recommended.
The DX-200's bigger brother is the DX-300 and 302. They have a frequency counter with digital readout built in, eliminating the guesswork of determining the tuned frequency from the dial. They retain the use of an analogue variable capacitor, which maintains the 'feel' of analogue tuning.
Strong local broadcast MW stations don't appear to cause any major dramas or overloading of the DX-200's front end, although weak images of strong local stations can appear on the higher bands. When tuned to a strong broadcast station, the the RF gain can be set to minimum and yet the S-meter can still read full scale. In this case, the AGC will have attenuated the signal to acceptable levels, with only minor distortion.
The built-in antenna trimmer is also useful for peaking signals when using a random long wire. In this case, the random wire antenna should be connected to the Hi-Z (high impedance) input. If using a tuned antenna, it should be connected to the Lo-Z (low impedance) 50 ohm input.
As with any communications receiver, an outdoor magnetic loop is a must when listening to LW. A long wire or dipole would simply pick up too much electrostatic interference. Copyright WebDevSys.com
Tuning: due to its string and pulley design, the tuning action is very elastic and bouncy. The long string has to wrap around the tuning capacitor pulley, the frequency readout drum and around the tuning knobs.
When turning the knob, the string becomes stretched. Upon releasing the knob, the tuning will 'bounce' back a slight bit, necessetating the need to slightly 'overshoot' the desired frequency. Frequency will also drift for a short while as the string tension restabilises. This tuning backlash makes it very fiddly to tune to an exact frequency, especially for SSB signals.
'Scanning' through the bands can be tedious. Once you reach the end of a band, you need to flick the band switch across to the next band, and spin the tuning knob back to the start of the band to continue scanning up. If this is done frequently, the mechanism (especially the string) can be worn out very quickly.
SSB mode: On some bands, the BFO pitch will drift if the RF gain or Ant Trim is adjusted.
Frequency Drift: The unit only consumes 15W. Most of the energy used is turned into heat by the pilot lamps (2 x dials, 1 x S-meter) and the AC transformer (bolted to the internal chassis). After extended use, the casing is only ever so slightly warmer than the surrounding ambient air. A few rows of ventilation holes are punched into the top panel near the back, but they aren't really required for ventilation. It would be prudent to cover up the holes to prevent dust entry. Covering the vents also has a good side effect - it reduces airflow, thereby increasing the temperature stability inside the unit (after warmup), and a slight improvement in stability can be realised.
Basically, the DX-200 needs to be constantly babysat in order to keep it on frequency. On higher bands in SSB mode, the bandspread dial and/or BFO pitch will need to be re-adjusted every 15 minutes or so. Except for LW and MW bands, it is not a 'set-and-forget' receiver.
After warming it up for at least an hour, the DX-200 does attain reasonable stability, only slightly drifting every hour or two. As long as none of the tuning knobs or BFO are touched, the rig should stay on frequency.
Power supply: The power transformer is slightly underpowered. When loud noises are produced by the speaker (impulse, interference, very loud volume setting, etc) the pilot lamps will dim. The mains hum can also be heard through the speaker at low volume. The unit can be modified to reduce the hum by adding additional filter capacitors across the supply rails. Adding 4700uF will greatly reduce the background mains hum eminating from the AF amplifier output.
Peaky RF gain/AGC: The RF gain is very limited in range when in AM mode. As soon as you hit 3 or 4 on the gain setting, the AGC kicks in. Slowly turning the gain up further causes no noticeable effect apart from the S-meter increasing, because the AGC is attenuating the increased RF. It is only when you turn the gain up quickly, do you notice the level increase briefly, then become automatically reduced by the AGC a split second later (depending on the AGC fast/slow setting).
In this day and age (2000s), the DX-200 ghastly underperforms and is plagued by usability, stability and selectivity issues. The only reasons one should consider purchasing a DX-200 would be:
- For starting out with SWLing/amateur radio without splurging out on an expensive Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, etc
- Cheap price. Should cost no more than $50 for an average unit, or $70 for one in mint condition.
- As a collectors item. Radio Shack / Tandy discontinued the Realistic brand in the early '90s.
There are many DX-200s out in the world, some in very good condition, and some used/abused/neglected. The ones in good condition do tend to hold their value quite well - if $60 were to be spent on one today, it will not be difficult to re-sell for $40 or $50 ten years later - not bad, for a 30 year old radio. The other option, if you are into the restoration hobby, is to purchase a DX-200 in fair condition (e.g. garage sale for really cheap, < $20) and restore it. It is usually the metal casing that deteriorates, with rust being the most common ailment. Electronic repairs are also easy because it uses discrete components on a single-sided PCB (as are almost all other radios of that era).
Overall Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (considering age, price, purpose)