Though it may seem a bit outdated, there is actually a thriving market for the portable radio as manufacturers begin to adapt to new, emerging technologies and making products which look nothing like the portable radios of old. Of course, there are still plenty of portable radios out there made to cater to the utilitarian buyer as well.
Whether you look for a more modern style that includes numerous features found on most electronics today or something that can serve in the direst of situations and provide life-saving information, you need a guide to help you navigate the different options available to you.
- Best Portable Radio 2019
- 1. Sangean PR-D18GR – Best Portable Radio
- 2. Sony ICF-F10 AM FM Portable Transistor Radio
- 3. Avantree 3-in-1 FM Portable Radio with Bluetooth
- 4. Sony ICFP26 Portable Radio AM FM
- 5. C Crane CC Skywave AM FM Travel Portable Radio
- 6. Kaito KA500 5-Way Powered Emergency AM/FM/SW NOAA Portable Radio
- 7. Sangean H201 AM FM Weather Digital Portable Radio with Waterproof Protection
- 8. Grace Digital Mondo+ Wireless and Internet Portable Radio with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- 9. Tecsun PL-380 AM FM Small Size Radio
- 10. Sangean HDR-14 AM FM HD Portable Radio (Updated 2018)
- 11. Sony ICF-506 Analog Tuning Portable AM FM Radio with Powerful Mono Speaker
- 12. Milwaukee M12 2590-20 Cordless Job-Site Outdoor Portable Radio (No Battery Included)
- 13. Panasonic RF-2400D AM FM Radio Analog Tuner
- 14. Sangean WR-16 AM FM Wooden Analog Radio w/ Bluetooth and USB Charging
- Best Portable Radio – Buyer’s Guide
- Frequently Asked Questions
Best Portable Radio 2019
When trying to figure out which portable radio is the best for you, it is easy to get confused by the jargon and random specs. That is why we have put together a short list of the 5 best portable radios, highlighting what each one does best.
Then we provide the Top 10 portable radios and a helpful buyer’s guide, so you can figure out which portable radio is right for you.
The data collected in the article are relevant for 2020. The article will be supplemented and corrected as soon as the new information appears.
1. Sangean PR-D18GR – Best Portable Radio
The Sangean PR-D18GR is not for everyone but it quite possibly could be as this portable radio comes with a little bit of most features that you look for. This attempt to find a balance and best all-around value have led the Sangean PR-D18GR to be our best portable radio.
Great Reception and Options
The Sangean PR-D18GR has a decent AM and excellent FM radio reception. Moreover, this portable radio includes DSP chip which has definitely improved many recent AM FM portable radios to new performance levels at low cost. For instance, aside from 10 memory channels and a backlit LCD display, this portable radio also features a rubberized border to help keep it in place and absorb any shocks.
On top of that, the Sangean PR-D18GR also features a digital tuner for precise tuning as well as a convenient auto-seek feature to help find the clearest channels quickly. Finally, this easy to use portable radio also features a fairly robust clock that has 2 different alarms.
2. Sony ICF-F10 AM FM Portable Transistor Radio
Sony needs little introduction, but as one of the largest and most respected electronics manufacturers in the world, it only makes sense that they would cover the niche market of nostalgia. If you are looking for a simple portable radio that delivers top-notch performance, then the Sony ICF-F10 has covered and more. Though it is a bit larger than many of the other portable radios we reviewed, it is also far more durable as well.
Radio Reception and Battery
On top of that, it has the best battery life on our list at 200 hours and comes with a heavy-duty, telescopic ferrite antenna to provide excellent reception. While the Sony ICF-F10 comes with a 3.5 mm Aux headphone jack, it also provides some of the best sound quality on our list with a 3 ¾” speaker. Even better, this portable radio AM FM can equalize the signal for either high or low balanced audio.
3. Avantree 3-in-1 FM Portable Radio with Bluetooth
Avantree is definitely a bit unique in that they actually specialize in audio equipment more generally but with a focus on providing Bluetooth compatible products regardless of the specific product category.
The Avantree is an impressive portable radio in many respects, but not necessarily the ones you would expect definitively placing the Avantree in a target market aimed more for a younger audience. On top of that, we declare as the best portable radio with Bluetooth out of all the models we saw.
Excellent Digital Features
Specifically, the Avantree SP850 3-in-1 provides so many different connections, formats, and features that it can be a bit easy to overlook the fact that this portable radio with Bluetooth does not play AM radio stations. This will definitely give you something to think about, but the FM digital tuner still offers great reception while the ability to use Bluetooth, a USB port or an SD card is just icing on the cake.
4. Sony ICFP26 Portable Radio AM FM
With such a large market presence, Sony has the luxury of identifying specific niches and catering to those consumers more specifically. The Sony ICFP26 may not impress upon first look with its exceedingly minimal design and a veritable dearth of features, but if you are looking for a simple portable radio that delivers on the basic functions better than most, the Sony ICFP26 is a great option.
Great for the FM
For one, the portable radio has compatible rechargeable battery packs which are only made more efficient through the use of integrated circuits. On top of that, the circuitry of the Sony ICFP26 is superior in a number of other respects providing it with some of the best reception quality that we saw. With a compact profile and a convenient carrying strap, this portable radio for FM reception favors quality over quantity.
5. C Crane CC Skywave AM FM Travel Portable Radio
C.crane is another company that has been around for a surprising amount of time almost 45 years and has made a bit of name for themselves within their respective market. Even better, C.crane makes it a point to specialize in radios, so they can offer products, which are more nuanced than general electronics manufacturers.
It ensures that their products achieve a standard too high for most other companies to reach. The C.crane CC Skywave made our pick for the best portable radio for AM reception that we reviewed.
Great for the AM
The C.crane CC Skywave is perhaps the aptest product for this brand primarily due to the fact that it includes a wide variety of different bandwidths not normally included with portable radios many of which are simply relevant for specialized fields or, more likely, hobbyists.
For example, on top of the AM/FM and even the NOAA channels which are common enough, the C.crane CC Skywave goes the extra mile to include shortwave and air band channels as well even if you are unlikely to make direct use of the information. Even better, this is a completely digital portable radio providing great tuning precision as well as 400 memory presets. Finally, this is by far one of the portable radio we saw for listening to talk radio and other AM radio stations.
6. Kaito KA500 5-Way Powered Emergency AM/FM/SW NOAA Portable Radio
Kaito is not actually a specialized manufacturer of radios of any sort and instead focuses more on providing sustainable, solar power solutions for consumer needs. Considering how the company got its start, it should come to an as little surprise to those with a little knowledge of the market that the Kaito KA500 tops our list as the portable radio.
Excellent Charging Functions
For one, this is one of the few portable radios we saw that came with a light though this model’s light is a bit underpowered.
There are 5 different ways to power this portable radio including a manual crank and an included solar cell to ensure that you will always have access to information in an emergency scenario. While the Kaito KA500 is incredibly handy on its own, it actually has a USB out port that will allow it to charge your USB compliant smart devices as well.
7. Sangean H201 AM FM Weather Digital Portable Radio with Waterproof Protection
Great for the Beach
Granted, there is a bit more they could do to increase the body’s durability, but in terms of the general environment, the Sangean H201 has it covered. For example, this is the only portable radio for the beach we saw which is JIS7 waterproof rated for use in official marine settings.
Still better, you do not even have to worry about losing the Sangean H201 in the water as it floats though it is fully submersible. Finally, the LED flashlight and emergency siren make this a great portable radio to signal someone on land.
8. Grace Digital Mondo+ Wireless and Internet Portable Radio with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
Grace Digital may not has a true specialty or a history that can speak to quality, but they do offer some of the most innovative designs on “outdated” technology. It provides a wide range of audio equipment that can function as the bridge between internet radio and home stereo systems.
The Grace Digital Mondo+ is definitely another portable radio that is truly stretching the definition of that term as this is far more of an integrated internet device than it is a traditional radio.
That said, the Grace Digital Mondo+ is arguably one of the more impressive products we saw. It was the only one, which could connect via Wi-Fi, while also including Bluetooth and USB. The use of this portable radio may have been a bit more complicated but the sheer number of internet radio stations.
It also compatible cast apps means you will never be without a genuinely good option. Just to dunk on the competition, this portable internet radio also provides the best sound quality on our list.
9. Tecsun PL-380 AM FM Small Size Radio
Though it may say Tecsun USA, this is actually a Kaito Electronics product, which goes a long way in explaining why it is the best portable radio for camping on our list. By the way, Kaito as the Tecsun only authorized dealer in the United States and Canada markets.
Though it may not be skewed quite so much towards emergency situations exclusively, it still offers plenty of options for outdoor use like longwave and shortwave channels the former of which is great if you are sailing or flying.
The Tecsun pl-380 also provides by far the most memory presets with 550, though the absence of NOAA channels is fairly conspicuous. Still, the Tecsun pl-380 does have decent speakers for its size and also offers the precision of digital tuning for an all-around good experience. Finally, this portable radio for camping can make sure you are up with the dawn by using the included alarm clock.
10. Sangean HDR-14 AM FM HD Portable Radio (Updated 2018)
Considering how broadly they cover the market any lengthy list of the best radio from any category will naturally include numerous Sangean products. Of course, this means that not every portable radio they make will be jam-packed with features too.
Still, we end our list with a Sangean that for all intents and purposes is a traditional portable radio with some HD technology to provide a much better experience.
Multicast and HD Radio
For example, the Sangean HDR-14 may only receive AM/FM channels, but it can expand its antenna with an HD FM antenna. This will allow the Sangean HDR-14 to display whatever associated program data the radio station sends out with the signal.
Most importantly, this portable HD radio is also exceptionally clear as it can use automatic multicast re-configuration to clean up the signal amid the noise. Finally, the Sangean HDR-14 also provides 2 different alarms with 3 different types of alarm to choose from.
11. Sony ICF-506 Analog Tuning Portable AM FM Radio with Powerful Mono Speaker
The Sony ICF-506 has a simple design, but this gives it the advantage that you will want. For starters, the mono speaker is quite large and doesn’t have a screen that’s bigger than the front. And while you won’t be able to listen to anything on the stereo, the sound quality is still well taken.
Tuning indicators aren’t hard to view either, so you won’t have to strain your eyes when attempting to change stations. There’s no turning button though, and stations are switched with a dial. For those with a preference for this, the ICF-506 with keeping you entertained until you’re tired of music. And when that’s finished, the battery indicator will let you know when to charge it for the next time it’s used.
12. Milwaukee M12 2590-20 Cordless Job-Site Outdoor Portable Radio (No Battery Included)
For anyone that’s planning outdoor activities, let the Milwaukee M12 be the first radio choice. Saying that’s is built to last is a bit of an understatement. You could accidentally drop it on concrete and the device will remain intact play normally. But while you won’t want to do that anyway, you will also enjoy the controls, which doesn’t require reading a manual just to understand how it operates. Take your time with the tuning though; you cannot switch back from the direction and only forward stations are available. That means you must start over from the very last station (with the highest number) if you skip over one.
13. Panasonic RF-2400D AM FM Radio Analog Tuner
The Panasonic RF-2400D is another good AM/FM radio for bad weather events. It takes AA batteries but can be used in the home and plugged into an outlet. The dials are very big, including the AM/FM numbers on the front.
The primary advantage here is how long of a range the radio itself has; if you need something that will pick up stations that you have had trouble getting with other radios, try this one. It’s likely to find their signal, no matter if you’re in the city or close to the boondocks.
14. Sangean WR-16 AM FM Wooden Analog Radio w/ Bluetooth and USB Charging
The Sangean WR-16 is a bit unusual but in a good way. It looks like something that would have retailed 20 years ago but has the controls and features of a modern-day radio. It will fit nicely with any other high tech gear you have in your living room or bedroom.
There’s a USB slot in the back that can be used to change any device that allows it, and beautiful wood grain finished that covers the metal parts. Need Bluetooth? You’re covered with this product and pairing with your TV is as quick as changing a cable channel.
Best Portable Radio – Buyer’s Guide
When judging a portable radio, it is quite often a good idea to figure out what you actually want to listen to since a number of manufacturers will advertise features you may or may not use.
Considering you have no other means of supplying an input signal to actually get some type of playback at all, the reception of a portable radio should be seen as the most important aspect far more important than sound quality, which will often be inherently constrained beyond the ability of either you or the manufacturers to improve too terribly.
Even further, the reception of your portable radio will be a vital consideration regardless of the reason you have one. Those who wish to use their portable radio for listening to music will be just as reliant on the AM FM portable radio’s ability to pick up a clear signal as those who are using it specifically for updates when the power goes out or on a trip to the great outdoors regardless the length of time they intend to be there.
This consideration can be more or less important depending on where you are using your AM FM portable radio. For instance, if you have a portable radio so you do not have to worry about smartphone service coverage areas when you are hiking. But still want the ability to keep track of potential major events or weather patterns, you are likely going to want to opt for a portable radio with a telescoping antenna so as to best receive the errant transmissions.
Conversely, a telescopic antenna is a bit simple in terms of how it receives a signal with little to no differentiation. As such, those types of antennae are prone to picking up interference from a variety of other devices that generate strong electromagnetic fields. In the wilds, this is not much of an issue. But in a more densely populated area like a city, this can make the reception a bit inconsistent. In this case, you will likely prefer a component-based antenna which naturally filters out competing signals that are not radio waves.
Most of the different AM FM portable radios do not provide too terribly information concerning their circuitry one way or the other. This will still play an important role in terms of how well the radio can pick up radio waves. The primary component that will influence the radio wave reception is the transistor.
The best radio transistors are manufactured in Japan. And any radio that is either manufactured in Japan or uses Japanese transistors is liable to make it a point to advertise that fact. Similarly, some AM FM portable radios have specific chips soldered onto their circuit boards for either the explicit purpose of boosting the antenna’s reception or by providing a more advanced filter to distinguish, which electrical signals are radio waves and which are merely interference.
Nearly all portable radios are powered by batteries, but the type of battery used can carry some important implications for the user experience of the radio. There are significant differences in how radio will respond to an AA battery compared to an AAA battery. Though, it is important to note that both an AA and an AAA battery will provide the same exact voltage.
The difference between the two batteries hinges more on the amount of power the batteries can provide and the current that they can push. Basically, the AA battery will be able to power a device longer and push a greater current than the AAA. Of course, AAA batteries are smaller that means you can often fit more of them in the device.
The primary difference between whether a device uses AA batteries or AAA batteries. It will be more about its current consumption. While this may seem a minor difference, this can actually spell important effects in regards to the reception of the portable radio as the device with more energy to use on hand can often better power the transistors used in receiving the radio wave signal.
Some people simply want something playing in the background to serve as a sort of white noise, while others are more discerning and particular about what their portable radio plays. For the latter group, the ability to quickly navigate the different radio stations might be a feature worth devoting additional money and complexity towards. This is where a portable radio’s memory would come into play.
Essentially, the memory of radio is almost without exclusion used to keep track of your favorite radio stations. It also necessarily requires the radio to have a bit more advanced of a user interface, which decreases its ease of use. In fact, portable radios with programmable stations will almost always use a digital tuning station as opposed to the analog roller dial.
Ease of Use
One of the primary reasons someone would likely choose an older form of technology over the more advanced options available today is the ease of use. Thankfully, portable radios have a tendency to be far easier to use than most other types of technology today. However, this generally is due to a lack of more advanced features that would require a more complex user interface.
This dichotomy is so pronounced that is can be seen as almost an inverse proportion. Essentially, the more advanced a device is and the more features it offers, the more complex the user interface. As such, the easiest AM FM portable radios to use are also, unfortunately, the most simple with the fewest number of features. In this case, the intended purpose of the portable radio will generally determine whether you prefer it to be easier to use or more feature-laden.
When you are relying on a product roughly the size of a paperweight to listen to music on, you should expect some technological limitations when it comes to the audio quality. Portable radios are often able to utilize a couple of playback methods some of which can far surpass others. Of course, that may not actually be your primary concern when selecting a portable radio and can potentially be seen simply as an area where you can trim the fat and the price of your purchase.
With a product that is a little bigger than your hand, the laws of physics will ultimately confine your options with a radio in terms of what you can expect from a built-in speaker. Without the ability to provide a wide, deep cone, the speaker on a portable radio will only be able to provide so well of sound quality. Aside from the fact that most radios only have a single speaker. Which necessitates the use of a mono fidelity, the smaller speaker will also severely limit a radio’s ability to replicate bass. Thankfully, most AM FM portable radios also have an alternative method of playback. That can potentially offer excellent sound quality in stereo depending on the portable radio. And your willingness to spend more money to purchase quality peripherals.
You would think that even at this point in technological advancement people seeking a classic style of technology would still demand a headphone jack so they could enjoy listening to their music without disturbing those around them. Thankfully, manufacturers of portable radios pretty much ubiquitously feel the same. Almost all of the products in this market provide you an aux 3.5 mm jack to listen to the radio with headphones.
Since most portable radios are not really designed for impressive playback quality. The fidelity of their speakers is generally preordained. Mono playback fidelity is the standard especially considering the speakers themselves are rarely more powerful than a handful or two watts. That said, headphones definitely offer the opportunity to provide a better playback fidelity than the constraints of acoustic physics allows with the embedded speaker. In this case, you will still not be able to achieve surround sound quality. But you can comfortably expect to find stereo though even this quality is actually a bit uncommon for a product of which one of the primary seller features is its simplicity.
No discussion about portable radios would be complete without examining how well that moniker applies to the actual product. More impressive sound systems are intended to be large and take up an entire entertainment system. AM FM portable radios have the opposite requirement. Instead, they must provide the maximum amount of value in the most compact size they can. That said, with the need for a receiver and generally a speaker as well, the size limitations of radio often run up against the laws of physics and miniaturization.
The most portable radios come in a fairly similar profile package. There are a few measurements that stand out, which can truly differentiate the products from one another. For instance, the thickness on the AM FM pocket radio will have the widest range of divergence. While you are ideally looking for an AM FM pocket radio that is no more than 1” thick. You can find AM FM pocket radios that are as little as ½” thick. Similarly to thickness, the width of a pocket radio can also vary a bit more than the height. While the difference in size may seem small, your pockets will notice the difference between a pocket radio that is only 2 ½” wide compare to a pocket radio that is 3”+ wide.
Similar to size, the weight of a portable radio matters more in terms of its portability than its actual functioning. Of course, if you opt for radio, then portability is likely an important factor. A portable radio of small dimensions will not feel significantly more convenient to carry around if it weighs as much as a lead ingot. That said, the weight of a portable radio will rarely exceed a threshold where it becomes legitimately uncomfortable.
There is a fair range of weight between different products. This difference often does not provide any indication of its potential features. As such, there is little to no reason to consider AM FM portable radio that is on the heavier side as being more capable than one. That is lighter though the heavier portable radio may be made out of more durable materials.
Therefore, the reception of a portable radio is arguably the most important factor. That is affected by too many variables to boil down here. Instead, the types of channels are often grouped for the particular use, which will help provide a clear guide for deciding on which portable radio is right for you.
Outside of the standard FM/AM frequencies, the next set of channels that are common and also incredibly useful are the NOAA channels. The NOAA, or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is basically in charge of alerting the public to potentially dangerous weather.
On top of that, the NOAA channels are often better equipped to handle the actual weather itself. It will regularly continue playing even when FM/AM signals have been blocked. It is worth noting that these channels are more for large regions and will generally not provide the type of specified information that your local public broadcast might. For example, both will likely mention major interstate closures, but the NOAA is unlikely to mention smaller, local street closures something your local public broadcast channel almost certainly will.
This is the frequency range used for pilots and air traffic controllers. It should be seen more as an interesting oddity than anything else. The only obvious exception to this rule is if you happen to fly all the time say you are a pilot or even a busy businessman you may want these channels to be able to plan for potential issues as most of the chatter will be focused on the present conditions.
Most importantly, the pilots and traffic controllers will often discuss ancillary issues as well that may still be important for a passenger, like if there is a holdup in luggage processing or some other problem. Therefore, you are not allowed to communicate along these channels. You can only listen in something that is all the more difficult thanks to a code that the pilots and controllers use.
Shortwave radio is basically anything lower than AM frequencies which definitely place this feature in a bit of an odd situation. It also ensures that there is no lack of benefit. Specifically, shortwave radio signals can be reflected off of the atmosphere providing a length of transmission that can technically span continents.
These signals are commonly used for emergency broadcasts, especially when the potential disaster will affect a large area. That said, shortwave radio does technically include large swathes of the AM spectrum. This feature can increase the reception for those specific channels which do happen to be some of the more difficult to pick up at any distance. There is also something of a hobbyist community that enjoys listening to the official broadcasts various governing agencies send along these bandwidths.
This is pretty much an outdated type of radio transmission that is all but extinct in the United States. Though it still has a somewhat surprising life in Europe with Eastern Europe, in particular, providing a majority of the world’s longwave radio stations. That said, there are potentially other reasons to have a longwave radio. This is relegated primarily to navigation purposes with either marine or aircraft.
As such, if you are located in Europe, have plans to travel there, or will fly or boat long distances, then a longwave receiver is not a bad idea. If none of those conditions apply, then there is actually a good chance that you will not even be able to use this function as there will be no longwave transmissions close enough to matter. The only exception to this is a somewhat “underground” longwave community in the Americas that provides an “old school” feel.
See this short video to know “How AM FM Radio Works”
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best small radio to buy?
Stick with the Sangean PR-D18GR is you want something that you could fit into your vehicle or truck without it taking up too much space. Carrying it around won’t cause you much trouble either, and can alternatively be placed quickly in luggage if you want a radio to take with you while traveling.
Are transistor radios still made?
Of course. You could probably find a transistor radio easier than most other electronic listening products. They are commonly found at local retailers, specialty shops, and online. However, if you want the best in terms of quality and durability, you should stick to what’s shown on the internet.
What is the difference between radio and transistor?
In short, transistor and radio differ in the way they transmit the signal to a device. However, most modern radios feature transistors in their interior. If you want a transistor radio specifically, it is possible to find them. They are usually much smaller than your average radio, with some brands being able to fit in your pocket better than some smartphones!
Can you still buy transistor radios?
Yes. Since the mid 20th century, transistor radios have remained one of the most popular forms of communication in the world. This is owed to its relatively cheap production costs, widespread retail, and the role of importance that they play when emergencies such as power outages happen.
What is the best transistor radio?
Overall, the best would be the Sony ICF-506. The controls are simple, the design is compact, and dialing in between stations is precise. Most people that look for such radios value simplicity over complication buttons and turning options, and the ICF-506 manages to keep things simple and intuitive for people to use the radio without unnecessary hassles.
What is the best outdoor radio?
If you’re a hunter or camper, or just a person that likes to spend time outside, the Tecsun pl-380 is your go-to device for communication with your local stations. The sensitive components of the radio are well protected with the thick outer barrier, and even the grill along the speakers is reinforced. Plus, you get a handle little compartment for your additional audio devices. And don’t mind the rain, the exterior is complete water resistant.
Is DAB radio better than FM?
The DAB radio is almost identical to digital television in that the signal relies on an analog signal unless the product features both analog and DAB. The biggest disadvantage to DAB radio is audio quality and signal delay. Frequencies often suffer from sporadic disturbances, especially when the weather is poor. But most of all, DAB services aren’t available in the majority of the Americas and therefore aren’t recommended for people living in the US.
See this article on how to troubleshoot your portable radio reception issues.
Picking the absolute best portable radio will always be difficult because different situations will favor one set of features over another. If your needs are fairly basic and all that matters is how well the portable radio receives and plays AM FM signals, you likely will be unimpressed with various digital features or numerous channel communities.
Still, there are some products which check more boxes than most and for someone just looking for great portable radio, we recommend the Sangean PR-D18GR. It is a less expensive portable radio that offers something for pretty much everyone with an easy to use interface. It has a solid clock system and reasonably broad functionality.
Of course, if you are more interested in the hottest new thing that pushes the limits of the product, then we recommend the Grace Digital Mondo+. While this is certainly not the product for someone looking for a “simple” portable radio. It is surprisingly impressed with the sheer breadth of its functionality. If you do not mind spending more for this model than any other by a good chunk, you will not be disappointed.
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