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Articles > Realistic DX-200 Shortwave Radio - Review

Realistic DX-200 Communication Receiver

Introduction

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:

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.

Performance

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

Problems

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).

Conclusion

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:

  1. For starting out with SWLing/amateur radio without splurging out on an expensive Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, etc
  2. Cheap price. Should cost no more than $50 for an average unit, or $70 for one in mint condition.
  3. 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)


Comments

Geoffrey Austin Barrington Powel, Thu, 14 Oct 2010 09:40 pm: Reply
I have used a DX200 IN THE 1970/80s and I spent many hours listening, I then got my call sign M1EDF and do CW all the time with exception to now , I have been after for several months a DX 200 which I started on and I have just got one, one owner and hardly used, I know about a bit of drift and the stringy effect on the tuning but I have always found this as NOT a problem.. I personally think this set is GREAT lively for DXing and Pacific listening, I got this set this week and got Auckland and planes across the Pacific on 5643 Khz.. a bit of chasing with the BFO I agree but overall I think it is sensitive ,exciting to have to keep ones fingers busy adjusting from time to time..The end result is that I can hear better with this than I can on my Icom 718 which has got DSP and other filters... I personally like a challenge and I wish I had not got rid of my FIRST DX200 and am pleased to obtained a one owner hardly used set..better even than the DX394 Finally I am giving myself a break from CW on Ham bands for a while as I have always been a devoted SWL .. Hope this helps ..It is a good set...gOOD LISTENING TO ALL gEOFFREY m1edf see my qrz.com..thanks..
Billy D., Sun, 14 Aug 2011 08:00 pm:
A good mod which I have done on my DX-200 is to replaced the detector diode with an infinate impeadance detector. It consists on ly a fet, resitor and a capacitor. very easy. I have picked up two signal stregth points and is more sensitive.
Re adjustment of the 3rd I.F. is required since this arrangement has a much less loading effect on the 3rd I.F.

Mike Lee, Thu, 14 Apr 2011 04:35 am: Reply
I use a DX200 and after a while the band switch went belly up, with only the Medium wave band working, so after a few months of it being sent to the loft I got it down took the outer case of and re-soldered all the joints on the board that had any thing to do with the band switch then a quick spray of WD-40 and it is now in perfect working order (apart from the drift), yes drift is a problem but as others say after an hour or so it is not to bad, using SSB but AM bands it is very stable I have to say.

Jimmy Fasi, Tue, 17 May 2011 11:18 am: Reply
I got this passed down from my mom and I'm 14 i was still curious on how to get the radio antenna working on it.
Timothy, Wed, 08 Oct 2014 01:18 am:
I would take a look at dipole antennas as they are easy to make and the calculations are not hard to do to get it right. Unless you have the room for it I would have to say that a 1/4 dipole would most likely be a good choice for you. I also want to say though that I am just studying for my ham test and I may be giving information that may not be the best. Bang for my buck (and current knowledge) 1/4 wave dipole antenna would be a good start.

Richard Harmon, Wed, 22 Jun 2011 10:05 am: Reply
I recently acquired a DX-200 from a family member. It looks like it had a antenna one time. What do you folks suggest for this device. I am new at this wold appreciate any suggestion about anything.
Dewayne Dykes, Thu, 23 Jun 2011 12:39 am:
An external antennae is required for reception. You can start with a simple wire (can be insulated or not) of at least 15 feet in length. Attach one end to the high Z connection on the back and stretch it around the rooom or out the window to yon tree. A better installation would be to attach a random length wire (whatever fits from your house to the tree or post out back) and bring it into the house using coax to sheild it from household interference. Ground the sheild on the coax and use the center wire to attach to your antennae and the receiver. An internet search will turn up many designs for effective homebuilt short wave antennae. Connect it on back with an alligator clip so you can unhook it when not in use. Good luck and enjoy.

Norman Sullivan, Sun, 06 Nov 2011 11:56 am: Reply
This is one of the better Realistic shortwave radios, and performs well considering its price point. I usually turn mine on an hour or more before I actually intend to use it. It requires a light touch on the bandspread control for SSB, especially for the higher bands. It is at its best from AM BC band thru about 20 MHz, and downhill from there. A good casual monitor radio.
Audio is better than the DX-150 series. Selectivity surprisingly good for the price range. It may be the best value in the $50-$90 range. Don't buy it at any price if the dial mechanism is messed up (unless you are a masochist.) I plan to keep mine.

Mary, Wed, 15 Feb 2012 08:11 am: Reply
I have a realistic dx-200 for sale if anyone is interested.
Roy, Tue, 05 Mar 2013 02:30 am:
Have you still got Dx 200?

Lloyd, Fri, 06 Jul 2012 10:59 pm: Reply
I have a DX-302 Does anyone do repairs or mods to these units? Thanks

e-mail gmc5@prodigy.net

John Kaiser, Mon, 09 Jul 2012 06:02 am: Reply
You might check lowbander.com

James Puah, Sat, 25 Aug 2012 06:22 pm: Reply
Just got one and the service manual on ebay. Will try recapping and audio mod when I receive the radio. The cosmetic design seems to be pretty 'WWII Militry radio' style with a modern touch but I have I have to try out to find out. Another of the mod I have in mind is to add the battery operation capability to the radio using D size dry cell since the power consumption of these radios seems to be very small. Also on the list of mod will be the LED light for the dials. Not sure what can be done to improve the bandpass filter before I read the service manual.

Adam Ebel, Tue, 23 Jul 2013 10:59 am: Reply
I bought me a DX-200 on Ebay because I wanted a real communications receiver without breaking the bank. The long wave band is very good when you use the KA-35 with the receiver, and also the AM and Short wave bands are very easy to tune and all it needs is a single 25 foot wire antenna. This receiver works great in the apartment and it works great at night on the AM and Short wave bands. I have not received a pirate radio station yet, but I will soon when I get a decent all band indoor antenna.

henk ruigrok, Sun, 02 Mar 2014 02:31 pm: Reply
Hi MIke Lee, just bought a mint condition Realistic Dx200 but the upper band switch does not work.So i will follow your advice to solder and spray the points who got to do with this.Later i let you know about the results and also my dx experiences with this radio.So 73 and hpe to cuagn.
Swl NL-10704 & Bcl PADX1
Henk Ruigrok

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