The C Crane Skywave SSB Portable Radio

This will be a very brief post, and in no way constitutes a review. It’s barely even an “initial impressions” type of post. It’s just that I’ve been wanting a C Crane Skywave SSB for a while now, recently purchased one, and wanted to tell you! I’m sure many readers will identify with the search to find the perfect tool/gadget/product. We are, of course, not looking for genuine perfection, but for a tool that comes as close to fitting our personal needs as we think we are going to get. I went through this process a few years ago with cameras, after becoming a bit tired of lugging my DSLR and associated accessories around with me, every time I thought there was a possibility I might want to take a photo. At that time, my Holy Grail – the product that would cause me to ditch the DSLR and acquire a smaller camera, was a mirrorless, single fixed lens compact, with an APS-C size sensor. I didn’t just want any one, of course – I wanted one with the features that suited my style of shooting, and with a price point that would persuade me to take the leap. The Fuji X100 series was very tempting, but the Ricoh GR and GR II were smaller, half the price – and had a feature that is very useful for candid and street shooting (a genre I enjoy). That feature is called “snap focus”. If you press the shutter button halfway down, the camera, like a lot of cameras, autofocusses. Then you continue to fully depress the shutter to take the photo, or “capture the image” as I believe we say in the digital age. This process works well most of the time. However, in candid and street photography, in order to act near-instantly and capture fleeting moments, it is useful to be able to bypass that process. The Ricoh GR and GRII will, if you push the shutter button straight down, automatically set the camera focus to a preset distance and take the photo. For instance, if the snap focus distance is set to 1.5M (~5 feet) then, at f/11 everything from about 0.75 meter (2.5 feet) to infinity will be acceptably sharp. At f/8, the depth of field extends from approximately 1 meter (3.3 feet) to about 37 meters.  This is all explained in this article.  Snap focus is a fantastic feature in a camera for shooters like me. The fact that the Ricoh GR series has it, and no other similar cameras did, combined with the appealing price point, all combined to make it the perfect camera for me.

My little Ricoh GR II compact camera. Like the CC Skywave SSB, it offers a lot in a small, very portable package.

Anyway, enough of photography. What I’m leading to is that, for some years now, I’ve been rather aware of the fact that I don’t have a general coverage shortwave receiver with a relatively accurate digital frequency display. My Elecraft K2 has an accurate frequency display, but it doesn’t offer continuous coverage. It was never going to happen, but if ever Elecraft had offered a kit like the K2, but for a general coverage shortwave receiver, I would have been all over it like a cheap suit. My 2 Sproutie regen receivers can cover the entire HF spectrum, with the proper plug-in coils, but the analog frequency dials are not exactly the most accurate. I just wanted a portable shortwave receiver that could be reliably tuned to anywhere in the HF bands with relative ease. Then all the extra requirements, as I created my own feature “wish list” for my ideal receiver, started coming. A fairly good AM broadcast band capability would be useful for walking around the neighborhood and checking the range of my little Part 15 station. Different AF and RF/IF bandwidths would be helpful. Then there was the big one – SSB capability. I have a little solar-powered CW Part 15 beacon on the 13.553 – 13.567MHz ISM band. Currently, it operates with a very compromised antenna, so can only be received in the immediate neighborhood. Any portable SW receiver I bought would need to have SSB/CW capability in order to receive my little Part 15 beacons, as well as to listen to the ham bands, and utility signals that employ SSB and CW. Just like my camera, I wanted a little box that did as much as possible, in as small a space as possible – and with long battery life! That’s what we often want with our technology purchases isn’t it?

The C Crane Skywave receiver stood out to me in a way that my compact Ricoh GR II camera did before I purchased it. It looked to be a receiver that, although very small, had excellent performance for the size. It also operates for many hours on 2 of that most ubiquitous of batteries, the AA. There are so many information sources online, that I forget how I first heard about the CC Skywave, but The SWL Post did much to cement my desire for this receiver. Here is the initial review, and there were many other subsequent mentions on Thomas’ site.

The C Crane Skywave portable receiver was very appealing, but it didn’t have SSB/CW, and that was a deal-breaker for me. Good things come to those who wait, as they say, and I am very good at waiting – a little too good, at times! In this case, however, the waiting paid off when Thomas published a review of the new CC Skywave SSB in the Jan 2018 issue of The Spectrum Monitor. That review later appeared here, in the SWL Post. I was so keen to purchase this little receiver – and would have done, were it not for the performance quirks that Thomas discovered in multiple copies of this, the first production run. There was an internally generated whine, which was very noticeable in some sections of the HF spectrum. I don’t expect a very small receiver, with so many features, and such wide coverage, to be anywhere near close to perfect, but the non-SSB version of the Skywave didn’t have these issues, so I felt it was reasonable to expect the SSB version not to have them either.

So I waited again – and it paid off, In October of this year, Thomas reported that the issues had been fixed with the second production run. Yes! That was all I needed to hear, to place an order with C Crane, for a radio I had been wanting for quite a long time –

The CC Skywave SSB comes in a compact cardboard box, with minimal yet effective internal card packaging. It’s certainly more appealing than the plastic pack that the CC Skywave came (still comes?) in. Also included is an instruction manual, a pair of original CC earbuds, and a portable shortwave reel antenna. The quarter and 6″ steel rule are included in the above photo to help with gauging the size. I can almost guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised by it’s diminutive form. It is a very compact receiver –

A couple of years ago, I purchased a CountyComm GP-5 SSB, but ended up returning it. The reasons were that I found the lack of a tuning knob disconcerting, and it’s performance on CW was not quite what I was hoping for. The BFO was a bit unstable, and the CW note wobbled when the receiver was moved, or the antenna was touched. It was also unstable in the presence of a fairly strong CW signal. All this, plus the lack of any adjustable filtering, led me to return it. Many users really like their GP-5 SSB’s. It is half the price of a Skywave SSB – a factor which should be taken into account. There are ways around the lack of a tuning knob and, for listeners who don’t care too much to listen to CW, it is worth considering. The Skywave SSB is not perfectly stable on CW either. It also suffers from a slight frequency instability of the BFO in the presence of a strong signal, and a very slight instability when the antenna is touched, but these effects are much less noticeable than in the GP5 SSB.

I’m not going to make a list of all the features the Skywave SSB has, and compare them to other receivers. There are other blogs and websites that have already done that. I’ll simply say that the Skywave SSB covers a lot of spectrum, and has a lot of features, in a very small and compact package. You shouldn’t expect the performance of a modern communications receiver but then, you can easily take it traveling with you, to mountaintops, and RF noise-free listening locations. In photography, there is a saying that the best camera is the one you have with you, and the same quote could apply to shortwave receivers. Certainly, your NRD-515 will hear better than the Skywave SSB, but would you take it to the top of a mountain in a day-pack? The ability to take this receiver to a variety of different listening locations more than makes up for the difference in performance between it, and a larger, heavier, and higher-performing receiver.

Thomas, as well as a number of other posters and bloggers, were touting a little case from Hermit Shell that fits the Skywave and Skywave SSB perfectly. There is room for the receiver, as well as a pair of earbuds, spare pair of batteries (which you may well not need), and a roll of thin wire for an external antenna. Note that the C Crane Shortwave Reel Antenna which is included with the receiver, does not fit in this case. This little case from Hermit Shell provides plenty of padding and protection, and gave me a lot of confidence about taking it out in the field –

This is a cracking little radio. It has coverage of the AM and FM broadcast bands, SW from the top of the AM BC band all the way to 30MHz, the weather band, and air band. It does AM, SSB, and CW (as well as FM on the FM broadcast band), and has some useful filtering options (all the way down to 500Hz when on CW). The audio from the speaker is a bit tinny, which will not be a problem for communications-type listening. It might leave you wanting better audio when listening to the AM or FM bands but, for that, you can plug in a pair of quality earbuds, and the audio quality is there. There is only so much you can expect from such a small speaker. In my opinion, this receiver’s size and versatility more than make up for the thin audio.

Oh – and the internally generated whines that Thomas reported in multiple units from the first production run? Not there! Thank you Thomas and SWL Post, for cluing me in to this excellent little radio receiver.

 

6 thoughts on “The C Crane Skywave SSB Portable Radio

  1. Dave,

    Very cool little receiver! Thanks for pointing it out. Where did you buy it? I would hate to order one online and get an old first-run version. How can I tell, anyway?

    Thanks again!

    Rob

    1. Rob –

      If you order directly from C Crane, all their stock is now from the second production run. Also, I understand that after the issue with the first production run was identified, re-alignment was performed on the remaining stock that C Crane had.

      If you sign up for an account with them, I seem to remember that they give you a discount on your very first order. Also, they have sales from time to time, so it can pay to wait. Sometimes, I have placed items in my cart on their site, only to receive an email days later, offering me a discount on that item. With the Skywave SSB, I went ahead and paid full price. Somehow, I also had it in my cart after the purchase and, a few days later, received an email from them, offering a discount. I suppose I might have been able to finagle a discount from them on the Skywave SSB I had already purchased, but it seemed a bit cheap to do so. I was so excited to finally be getting this receiver, that I wasn’t going to nit-pick over a few dollars.

      Anyway, that’s the scoop. There are a few videos on YouTube if you want to see this receiver in action. It really is a crackin’ little portable radio!

      https://www.ccrane.com/item/rad_ccradio_skywssb/901100/cc_skywave_ssb__am_fm_shortwave_weather_vhf_aviation_and_ssb_bands_portable_travel_radio

      Dave
      AA7EE

  2. Hi Dave,
    Thanks for the post! I just wanted to add the info below that maybe of interest to your readers outside the US as the C Crane Skywave SSB is not easily available in other world regions (e.g. Europe).
    There is a quite interesting and much cheaper alternative (about €80.00 in the EU) to the Skywave SSB. It is the XHDATA D-808 which is based on the same SiLabs Si4735 DSP chip. The two radios share the same “engine”, very similar specs and very similar layout, although the XHDATA is slightly bigger in size.
    I did a video (link below) comparing side by side the XHDATA D-808 with the late ‘90s SONY ICF-SW7600G which to date was my favorite pocket book size SSB capable SW receiver. The video shows the capabilities of this little radios when listening to the Ham bands, utility stations and SW broadcast stations.

    Cheers,
    Antonio, EA4LE / KC2HAX

  3. Dave;

    Great post.

    Thanks much.

    don/k0kuz

    ZUT

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Any and all communications herein are the sole property of the email sender and originator. Any electronic intercept of this communication constitutes a violation of 50 U.S.C. § 1861(b)(2) of The Patriot Act. The use of this information in informal or formal proceedings, charges, investigations or indictments is strictly prohibited and rendered null and void if obtained without a warrant.”

  4. Excellent post. I have often compared my radios to that of photography – there is never the perfect body or lens for all situations, but having something with a wide range of options, while not optimum, will satisfy in many situations. Especially when travelling light!

    The CCrane Skywaves (both) are well-built and very capable – a testament to today’s amazing tech advances and this company’s apparent commitment to the U.S. radio market. Most serious enthusiasts have had nothing but accolades for these tiny rigs. I also own the Digitech AR1780 (the close sibling of the XHDATA above) which has been a surprise performer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s