Not surprisingly, we tend to group radios with similar sets of features, sizes, and prices into groups and compare them to one another. But on occasion the shortwave industry presents us with virtually identical models from different brands or companies. Sometimes these are manufactured in the same place by the same people and just branded differently. And you'd expect those devices to really and truly be "the same".
Recently it was noted that the new XHDATA D-808 radio appeared to be identical to the Digitech AR-1780. Both radios are of interest due to the following items on the set of scales mentioned above:
- Frequency coverage is good - broad coverage of the shortwave band, longwave, mediumwave AM, FM broadcast band, and AIR band (a small range of VHF frequencies used by airports and airlines)
- Single Sideband (SSB) capability - important for listening to Hams and some utility broadcasts
- Small form factor
- Built-in whip antenna and external antenna jack
- Built-in battery charger
- Relatively low prices (see below)
There are also a couple of items that are not so hot - one is from a company (Digitech) that has a decidedly low reputation, the other from a company most of us here in the states never heard of (XHDATA). And speaking of "here in the states", both radios have to be ordered from overseas suppliers and shipped to the US.
It isn't my intention to do a full review of either set here, though - but rather to list the similarities and differences. And the similarities are STRONG:
- Nearly identical size, shape and weight (the weight WITH BATTERIES is identical, while the D-808 is slightly larger in a couple of dimensions)
- Identical placement and labeling of buttons, knobs, and jacks on the radios with only a couple of exceptions, explained below
- The built-in whips are the same size, same length and number of elements
- The radios seem to use identical circuitry / DSP chips and have identical functions (indeed the manuals, both really slim and not too informative, are word-for-word the same)
- As you would expect the display readouts are identical save for the backlight color
But there ARE differences:
- The AR-1780 runs about $125 US plus shipping (I got mine on sale so that was about what I paid including shipping). The D-808 runs about $69 US, including shipping (I got mine on sale at $49 including shipping). This difference alone is driving a LOT of interest in the D-808
- Aside from the radio itself, the AR-1780 ships with the manual, and...nothing else. No batteries, no charging cables or devices, no earbuds, no external antenna, and no carrying case. I'll come back to the lack of any power supply of any kind shortly. By contrast, the D-808 ships with a soft faux-leather carrying pouch, a rechargeable battery, a USB charging cable, and a wire antenna that can be plugged into the available jack on the radio. Given that the radio is already half the price of the AR-1780, these extras create an even stronger advantage for the D-808.
- The AR-1780 uses 4 AA cells, and does have circuitry to charge Lithium Ion batteries inside the unit. It does not come with any batteries - I have plenty of Sanyo Eneloops so that's not such a big issue - but the radio also does not include a charger and/or charging cable. This is a pain since the AR-1780 uses an odd 7V charger. Again, I use an external charger for my Eneloops. In short, the fact that the unit can theoretically be run by an external power source and charge batteries inside is pretty much moot for the average buyer. Compare this to the D-808, which uses a larger 18650 Li-Ion cell, and uses a standard micro-USB port to to charge. The radio even ships with a micro-USB cable - not that you probably don't already have a bunch of them laying around, but it's nice to have it included. You can charge this off an available computer port or wall-wart or whatever you have that can charge USB. The different charger options for these radios results in one of the only real physical differences between the radios which is the power jack.
- The power button itself is located in a different spot on each radio - just to the left of the display on the AR-1780, just to the right on the D-808
- The buttons used on these radios are different, and this is the first downside for the D-808. On the AR-1780 they are raised and very tactile. On the D-808 they are flush with the case making them somewhat more of a pain to press (and impossible to to use the radio by feel - these are simple enough radios you could probably learn to operate the AR-1780 in the dark, but with flush buttons on the D-808 that would be a non-starter).
- The black case used on the AR-1780 shows the silk-screened labels (some of which uses a dark orange ink in places) on the buttons and the case itself clearly. The D-808 uses identical colors but on a grey case and the reddish orange labeling is super hard to read unless you hold the radio at an odd angle. Advantage here goes to the AR-1780.
- The screens used different color back-lighting - amber on the AR-1780, blueish-white on the D-808.
So - weighing pros and cons, the radios are pretty much identical in terms of form and function and features with a slight usability edge to the AR-1780 based on easier to feel and press buttons and easier to read silk-screened labeling.
The D-808 is a MUCH better VALUE proposition based on having identical features and performance and including the battery, charging cable, external wire antenna, and carrying pouch, for HALF the price of the AR-1780.
What else? Here are some TOTALLY SUBJECTIVE observations....
- I prefer the black case of the AR-1780 to the grey used by the D-808.
- I prefer the raised buttons on the AR-1780 to the flush ones on the D-808.
- For some reason the AR-1780 *feels* like it weighs more (and mentally this equates to feeling more solidly built) than the D-808, even though I have weighed them both at 11.5 ounces including their batteries. I think this is because the AR-1780 is very slightly smaller in a couple of dimensions so having the same weight in a little smaller packages makes it denser.
- The first few hours of playing with the D-808 I was sure it was defective - it seemed to struggle to pick up the same stations as the AR-1780, the signal strength displays were reading way lower, and I was thinking about boxing it up and contacting the seller to return it. But I removed the battery for a while, put it back in, and it has been perfect (compared to the AR-1780) ever since.
- Likewise the audio quality of the D-808 seemed much worse at first, but I think I may have had different bandwidth settings chosen. At any rate I no longer notice any difference.
Recommendation - if the two radios came with the same accessories and were within $20 or so of each other, I'd almost certainly recommend the AR-1780, as it just feels better in the hand and when pressing buttons. But given that it doesn't include batteries, requires an odd charger/adapter, and costs more than twice the price, the XHDATA is simply a FAR better value.
Final note - neither of these radios would get a strong recommendation from me regardless of price. They are both decent performers but the memories are a pain in the rear to program and to access, entering frequencies is also a pain, and there are just better choices out there (especially for the price point of the AR-1780). See the TECSUN PL-660/680 to understand what I mean.