BECAUSE WE'RE ALL ABOUT RADIO
FM DX GEAR
While you can use any FM radio to DX, especially when the band is open, there are radios that will improve your chances of pulling in better DX catches. One of the most important aspects of a great DX-grade FM radio is co-channel interference rejection, especially when you have local stations, as this will allow you to have a better chance at hearing weaker DX in between those local stations. As with any radio, sensitivity is also important, to be able to pull in weaker stations.
While SDRs are growing in popularity and performance for FM DXers, many DXers still search high and low for in-demand FM radios.
NOTE: What constitutes the "best" DX radio is always going to be a loaded question and matter of debate. People will have their personal favorites and place a premium on certain functionality and features that they are looking for over others. It is with that in mind, that we present to you the models that DX Central considers the top notch for FM DX. That doesn't mean everyone agrees, they are just the best that WE have come across and used in our own DX. This list may change over time, as we try out other equipment
BEST DESKTOP: Sony XDR-F1HD - Considering this radio sold for only $99 when it was in production, you might be tempted to overlook this radio (I know I did for years). However this is regarded as one of the best FM DX radios you can purchase at any price, any vintage, period. It is not without its faults, including issues with overheating. There are modified versions that can be purchased online which overcome many or all of those faults, including those from XDRguy - but they do come at a premium. If you can find a good used model, this is an excellent FM DX radio to add to your collection. It is just the tuner though so you will need some sort of speaker system to run the audio through. This is a fantastic radio and even with a small loop, will sometimes hear things my SDRs cannot.
BEST PORTABLE: XHDATA D-808 - There are going to be a lot of opinions on this one, as there are some fantastic FM portables out there that are hot stuff on DX. However, I have to say for the price point, the small form factor and the ease of use, it is awfully hard to beat the D-808. This thing absolutely screams on FM. I wasn't convinced until I experienced my first Tropo opening with this radio and I saw it outperform my RSPdx SDR with a 3-element FM beam! Seriously, the signals coming in to the D-808 were noticeably stronger than on the RSPdx, even with both antennas pointed in the same direction and using horizontal polarization. I tried to prove myself wrong on that one, but I just couldn't. I still mainly use an SDR since there is the capability to record, however, that D-808 will be a mainstay of any FM opening in my shack, to help me spot openings and look for new DX! At roughly $100 USD, it is simply hard to beat!
BEST SDR: ELAD FDM-S3 - After sitting on my shelf for a while (due to some serious operator error and lack of time to devote to learning) I finally was able to start putting the S3 through its paces. Luckily, we had some very nice Tropo openings early in the '21 season but it was during the Sporadic Es season during the summer of '21 that I really was able to push the S3 hard and see what it could do. I am blown away. it has handled everything I have thrown at it. Having the ability to record the entire FM band during an opening has been an absolute game changer for me. I was able to even set up a schedule within SDR Console to record an Es opening while I was away from home, allowing me to not miss a single second of the action. The sensitivity is fantastic and paired with my 4-element Yagi (below), I don't feel I miss anything during an opening. The selectivity is extremely strong, I can get in tight between two very powerful local stations to pull out weak DX. The ability to see the entire FM band at once on my waterfall has been remarkable. I can actually sit and watch the MUF rise from the low end of the band up to the top of the band. Being able to see where the MUF is sitting has proven invaluable to focusing my efforts and my attention to those specific areas. And when the entire band is full of signals, I hit record and don't worry about missing anything at all. If you are serious about FM DX, there is absolutely nothing that can beat this SDR. It is the dream rig we all wished we had years ago. Miss nothing, LOG EVERYTHING!
There was a time when you could walk into any neighborhood Radio Shack (and they were everywhere) and buy an FM antenna that would provide you with excellent results during FM DX openings. There were a number of manufacturers selling FM Yagi antennas, such as the hallowed APS-13 13-element beast that to this day is only discussed in hushed reverence.
Sadly, the market for outdoor FM antennas today is such that finding a commercially made, solid FM DX outdoor antenna requires a little more digging. Sleuthy Internet searches can turn up some results, many of which are incredibly expensive. There are a handful of antennas out there for the FM DXer to try, though, if you are persistent. I recently installed a new antenna for FM DX that I purchased from Amazon a 4-element outdoor FM antenna. Despite the low price tag, this antenna has proven to perform quite well during recent Tropo and Es skip openings.
Due to the difficult nature of even finding an outdoor FM antenna, I am not going to at this time rate a "best" option, as any beam antenna that covers FM frequencies is worth a shot at this point. I will though provide you with some of the resources I have found and used to great effect in my own DX.
These days, many FM DXers have resigned to building their own FM yagis, often modeled after the vaunted beams of yesteryear. If you are handy with antenna modeling information and have the materials/tools, then check out this site for the specs that you can use to create your own APS-13, FM10 and more!
I have gotten really great results using the design for the "Faulkner" FM loop. I have built both a PVC and wooden versions and they both work really well. They can hear almost everything my 4-element beam hears, while still being indoors and on a small stand off the floor! This loop works comparable to a 3-element yagi beam, for comparison.
Here is a fantastic video that shows one DXers process for building a 5-element FM yagi antenna, based on plans found at the K6STI site linked above:
There are a handful of commercially available FM beams available, but do come at a price. InnoVAntennas has been said to have solid performance (but a bit on the pricey side). The beam I ordered from Amazon to try out comes from Stellar Labs and is actually pretty affordable. The DXer at FMRADIODX Blog uses (among a few other things) this 3-element Britta Products FM yagi.
The New Zealand Radio DX League has some great information on FM DX antennas, including a 3-element and 5-element that are available for purchase in New Zealand (you may see if they are able to ship to you!)
While getting one of these antennas outdoors is ideal for reception, that is not always possible. Many DXers have to compromise with an antenna in their attic. This can still provide excellent reception, but expect a few dB in signal loss due to your home's exterior.
If you cannot put an antenna outdoors or in your attic, there are still some options that may work for you. FMRADIODX blog points out that is his situation as he lives in a condo in Virginia. Yet, with his setup, he is able to still enjoy FM DX. He mounted his FM and TV DX antennas on a piece of wood mounted to an IKEA lazy susan. There is one constant amongst all DXers, we are masters at using whatever materials we have at our disposal to create our shack!
There are indoor FM antennas such as the Terk Omnidirectional Indoor FM Antenna that can provide a signal boost over a set of rabbit ears or telescopic whip.
Regardless if you are considering an antenna that is mounted outdoors, in an attic, indoors or whatever came connected to your radio, there is sure to be an option that you can take advantage of to lure in more DX!
In addition to a solid radio and some sort of external antenna, most FM DXers require at least two main accessories to give them complete control over the FM dial when the bands are open.
If you have an outdoor mounted beam antenna, it is almost a requirement that you have it mounted on an antenna rotor so that you can remotely turn the antenna towards the DX!
As we saw with the FM antennas, antenna rotors are too becoming a bit of an elusive find. There are still commercially available rotors for smaller antennas such as those for FM DX. Probably the most popular (and the one I have in my own shack) is the RCA VH226F. There are three pieces to this rotor, the actual rotor that the antenna mounts to outside (and the rotor then mounts on some sort of pole or mast), the controller box and a remote control (actually more handy than you would think). You will need to get some antenna rotor wire to connect the rotor to the controller box. These RCA units usually use simple 3-conductor landscaping wire which you can purchase relatively cheaply at your neighborhood hardware store.
There are much more sophisticated (and expensive) antenna rotors available that serve the amateur radio community and their very large antenna systems. Yaesu makes a very good one, the Yaesu G-450AC which runs nearly $300. You have to buy special rotor control wire for this one, but it is pretty bulletproof especially with a smaller antenna such as an FM antenna)
Another piece of equipment that many FM DXers will employ is a pre-amplifier. These are signal boosters for the VHF/UHF frequencies that will increase weak signals. Be warned, they also will boost your strong, local stations as well, which can cause receiver overload if you are not careful. Most of those that use these are located in rural areas or at least in areas that do not have a number of high power FM stations to contend with.
A good example of one of these signal amplifiers can be found here. Another widely regarded preamp in FM DX communities is the Winegard LNA-200. There are a number of these available on the used market on sites such as eBay and even Amazon. I would recommend at least DXing your local stations and through one Sporadic Es season before you venture out to purchase an FM amplifier, you may not even need it!
RCA VH226F Antenna Rotor
Nippon KF-235 36dB VHF/UHF Amplifier