Best Portable Radios (FM & AM) in 2018 to Rock Out to
In recent times we’ve seen the rise of all sorts of music streaming services, and it seems that people don’t listen to radio anymore. But that simply isn’t the case.
Some still do simply because they are nostalgic and it’s in their nature to not let go of little rituals like listening to radio. Other people simply can’t be bothered to choose what to listen to, so they prefer all the perks of a quality radio broadcast.
Whatever the reason, if you’re on the lookout for a compact radio, the choices are huge these days. That’s why I've rounded up a few of the best portable AM/FM radios that definitely deserve your attention. Read on to find out why.
My Favorite Portable AM/FM Radios to Enjoy Anytime Anywhere
It’s hard enough to narrow down the choice to just a few products, but I’ve managed to do just that. Here are the portable radios I liked the most.
Table of Contents
- My Favorite Portable AM/FM Radios to Enjoy Anytime Anywhere
- Things to Consider Before Buying a Portable Radio
- Further Reading on Portable Radios
Let’s start things off with one of the most reputable manufacturers of portable radios. This is a tough little guy meant for those who live very active lives and spend a lot of time outdoors, so they’d need a portable radio that’s rather sturdy.
That’s why the Sangean PR-D18 comes enclosed in a protective rubber bumper around the sides. If you drop it, it should land safely on the bumper, which is a simple and clever solution.
Also, it’s meant for people who like colorful gadgets, as there are five different color options to choose from - Black/Grey, Black/Red, White/Blue, White/Grey, and White/Red.
The radio features a backlit LCD display which is easy to read, and it isn’t cluttered with too many buttons and functions. It’s pretty straightforward and easy to figure out, even without reading the manual.
This digital radio has 5 AM and 5 FM presets, and setting the preset stations and recalling them are straightforward for anyone who’s used an AM/FM radio before. It runs on AA batteries, but there is no AC adapter included, so you won’t be able to plug it in right out of the box. The AC adaptor is sold separately – it’d make sense to get it if you plan on listening to this portable radio at home.
There are two alarms settings so you can also use it as an alarm and a clock.
2. Sony ICFP26
If you’re looking for the most portable radio out there without sacrificing the sound quality too much, you probably shouldn’t look any further than the Sony ICFP26.
This little fella is very competitively priced and one of the lightest portable radios I’ve ever seen. Still, don’t let this scare you off, as it sounds pretty mighty, considering its size and weight.
If you don’t like the sound coming from the built-in speaker, you can always pop the headphones in and enjoy your favorite broadcast.
A bit of an old-school moment - it even has a telescopic antenna, just in case you radio channel suffers from poor signal coverage.
In case you don’t have a pocket to spare for the little Sony radio, it comes with a carrying strap, which is another neat touch.
There are LED indicators for AM or FM signal strength as well as for battery power.
3. Kaito KA500
All things considered, the Kaito KA500 is probably one of the best portable radios money can buy. Sure, it could be mistaken for a gadget from a superhero movie, but it sure packs quite a punch when features are considered.
There are five different colors to choose from - black, yellow, blue, green, and red. If you want the least flashy one, make sure to go for the black.
Besides being able to handle regular AM, FM and shortwave frequencies, it also features seven pre-programmed weather channels. It’s built to last and quite sturdy. It also has a telescopic antenna and three different lights - LED light, LED flashlight, and even a beacon light.
When it comes to power source options there are several of them to choose from. You can power it with AA batteries, USB power (mini USB input), the built-in rechargeable battery pack, built-in solar panels, electric power, or you can just crank it up by spinning the hand crank generator.
Note that for the wall electric option, you need to purchase an AC adapter separately. In addition, it can also be used to charge your cell phone or GPS device. It goes without saying that the sound reproduction is nothing short of excellent as well.
Here’s one for all you retro sweethearts out there. While everyone is trying to look modern and put out gadgets that belong in sci-fi movies, Panasonic went the other way around with the RF-2400D portable radio.
Simple, effective, and easy to use, just like in the good old days, this is a solid portable radio with a telescopic antenna for improved signal quality. There is even an old-fashioned 2-way switch for choosing between AM and FM radio frequencies.
There is also a dial, which you need to turn to change stations, the good old analog way. You can’t really expect miracles to come out of the tiny speakers, but it sounds pretty good for its size. The Panasonic RF-2400D can be powered by an AC adapter or four AA batteries, which are not included in the package.
Once you get past the quirky name, you’ll find one fine little radio with quite a convenient pack of features. It is one of the best compact AM/FM radios available on the market simply because it is quite hard to find any serious flaws.
I didn’t like the aesthetics that much, as it looks quite bland and uninspiring, but in terms of usability and convenience it is quite good.
The CC Skywave is quite small, lightweight, and portable. It features a telescopic antenna. It can handle AM, FM, airband, shortwaves, and even weather channels.
It comes with a tiny but backlit LCD screen, which makes it quite easy to use. You may need to use the manual to figure out all the buttons and button combinations, but in time you’ll realize it is fairly easy to operate.
It can be used as an alarm clock and included in the package are a pair of earbuds, a folding backstand, and a carrying case. If you want to switch from batteries to an AC adapter, you’ll need to purchase one separately.
Even though it looks a little silly, perhaps as if it is meant for those who want to listen to the radio while scuba diving, the Running Snail MD-088s is actually quite a respectable little piece of gadgetry.
Besides the usual AM and FM bands, it can also handle the NOAA weather stations to keep you safe in stormy weather.
The bright red color strongly suggests this is a rugged product, meant for outdoors and rough weather conditions. You can also use it to charge your cell phone or GPS device.
When it comes to power sources, it can be powered by its own rechargeable battery, solar charging, or hand-cranked manual generator. This is especially convenient if you’re stranded somewhere without electricity or batteries and need to keep that LED light on.
This is another cool little device from the masters at Sangean. The PR-D7 portable radio is a tech-oriented device, which is easily reflected in the design.
The design is really sleek and understated, and the device comes in a choice of black or white. Coupled with the small backlit LCD screen which shines orange, it should fit any lifestyle and outfit.
It comes fitted with a PLL synthesized tuning system, which means that the radio signal doesn’t suffer from fading and always stays true and clear.
The little PR-D7 can handle both AM and FM stations, and there are five different presets for AM and FM.
You can also use it as an alarm clock, and it has the clever Humane Wake System which won’t make you want to smash it into little pieces in the morning.
Unlike most affordable portable radios on the market these days, the Sangean PR-D7 comes with an AC adapter. It can also be powered by 6 AA batteries. They are not included and that’s a lot of batteries, but that’s what it takes to drive this portable radio’s relatively powerful audio circuitries.
Here is a rugged little radio from Sangean. This portable radio aims at people who lead active lives or work outdoors. It is equally at home by the swimming pool, at a picnic, or on a construction site.
The LB-100 is available in a wide range of colors, including yellow, blue, red, green, and black. All options come with an industrial-grade black roll-cage equipped with rubber shock blocks. This makes it fall and shock-resistant. LB-100 is also rain and dust-proof.
This little radio also packs a quality sound. It works with both AM and FM bandwidths, and has a simple LCD display (2.24” x 0.98”). It uses a quartet of C batteries, but you can also plug its standard 9’ AC cable into the wall.
The LB-100 is 11.8” wide, 9.1 tall, and 7.3” deep. It weighs 6.9lbs, which is relatively heavy for a portable radio. It has a 5” speaker and can memorize 12 radio stations (6 AM and 6 FM).
Dreamsky’s DS-209 portable radio is one of my favorites in the budget class. It is a simple, lightweight radio with functional design and understated styling.
The DS-209 comes with a backlit LCD display of a very simple layout. You can choose between 12 and 24-hour time formats. The radio has a single alarm with a built in buzzer.
The radio is powered by a pair of standard AA batteries which are included in the package. DS-209 can’t be plugged into a wall outlet when the batteries run out.
Along with the built-in loudspeaker, DS-209 also has a 3.5mm headphone jack. It also has a telescopic antenna which can be extended up to 14” for improved signal. A carry strap is also included.
The main strengths of this little radio, apart from its affordability, are its minute size and ease of use. These characteristics make it suitable for seniors and people who just want a simple portable radio.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Portable Radio
Though they are small in size, choosing a portable radio isn't the easiest thing in the world. You need to keep several crucial factors in mind, to ensure that you're getting something that'll suit your needs.
Weight and Dimensions
When looking for portable AM/FM radios, it is quite important to consider the size and the weight of the little gadget.
The radio you’re after needs to be small, so you can carry it in your pocket or your bag, and it also can’t be too heavy, or you risk missing the point of being portable in the first place.
Also, you may consider choosing a model which comes with a carrying handle or strap, so you can really take it anywhere with you.
The more, the merrier, right? This is definitely applicable here, so you may want to opt for a device that supports different power sources. Most portable radios are battery powered, but you should also consider that once you run out of batteries, you might need to rely on wall power.
Some models on the market are even powered by solar energy, so that’s a huge plus for those who like to spend a lot of time camping or fishing. Consider this, for many people battery power and wall power alone are enough, so you don’t have to automatically dismiss a radio for lack of fancy charging options.
While we’re on the subject, don’t forget to take the radio’s battery life into consideration when making a choice. If it has a backlit LCD, it will drain the batteries much faster than one that doesn’t have such modern features.
Speakers and Sound Quality
Last but not the least, you should be able to try the radio and listen to how it sounds, which means buying from somewhere with a liberal return policy. Of course, not everyone is an audiophile with a precise ear, but you should pick the one that sounds the best to you.
Obviously, the size of the speaker will greatly affect the quality of the sound, but this isn’t always the case.
While you won’t get the same high fidelity from your portable radio as you would from your home surround sound system, the sound quality is not something to be neglected. After all, no one can enjoy music or radio show on poor speakers. So, make sure to get one with a decent speaker.
Another thing to consider here is the ability to adjust the EQ. While some models come with a preset EQ setting, others will let you control the bass and treble to get the sound of your choice.
You should also check whether a model you’re interested in comes with an adjustable antenna. This is quite a handy feature, as it allows you to clear out the static noise from the signal without having to relocate the radio.
Of course, if you’re going out into the wild, a radio with a powerful speaker and clear sound might be a life-saver. It is very important to be able to hear weather alerts loud and clear.
Lastly, if you plan on taking your portable radio to a loud worksite, a radio with a weak speaker might be a bad choice. You might want to opt for a unit with more oomph.
Some gadgets are just radios, but most of them also have certain other features, so you can use them as a clock or alarm. The latest models on the market also come with advanced features such as acting as a power bank for your cell phone.
Headphones vs Speakers
Modern portable AM/FM radios are, depending on what they’re intended for, equipped with either speakers or headphone ports, or both. The choice should depend on your preferences and the way you intend to use your radio. Nonetheless, we’ll briefly discuss the main pros and cons of each option.
Portable radios with built-in speakers are still the most prevalent type. They are made to be used in pretty much the same way as their bigger siblings, to be shared by all present. A speaker-equipped radio might be a good option if you’re traveling with friends and family.
On the other hand, radios with headphone jacks are made for solitary listening. You should consider getting one if you like to enjoy radio on your own or in situations where you have to keep the noise to a minimum (e.g. if you are sharing a room with someone else or are traveling via train/bus/car).
Radios with both speakers and headphone jacks are the third option. This is also the most convenient variant, as it lets you switch from speakers to headphones and back in no time. If versatility is what you’re looking for, you should consider one of these.
Price is one of the important things to consider when buying a portable AM/FM radio. Like every other piece of audio equipment, portable radios have a wide price range. Your choice should depend on what you want from a radio and the money you are willing to spend.
It goes without saying that the price reflects the quality of the radio and included extras. While you can get a decent radio for under $20, a high-end model might cost you well over $100.
The most affordable ones will, most usually, offer a simple setup and only the basic functions. That being said, you might have to do some research to find affordable models that include advanced options. This gets easier as the price tags go up.
Models made for outdoor use and extreme conditions will almost without an exception cost more than similar models built for regular use. The inclusion of roll-cages, shock blocks, flashlights, dust and rain-proof construction, and other outdoors-friendly features will build up the price.
When shopping for a portable radio, it is good to check how many presets it comes with. Presets make the use of AM/FM radio a lot easier. They save you the trouble of having to search or fumble around for a station.
Some of the portable radios out there come with no presets at all, while others can have as many as fifteen. There are three types of presets a portable radio can have – FM, AM, and weather station. The majority of radios with presets focus AM and FM options. It is worth noting that only digital radios are capable of presets.
On the other side, digital radios built for outdoor use will most likely have weather station presets in addition to the standard ones. This would make it easy to reach your preferred weather stations and check up on the forecast and possible warnings. This is especially important if you plan on spending a prolonged period of time in places prone to sudden weather changes.
Today, portable radios are often equipped with additional features and options. Here’s a quick overview of the most commonly found extras.
Roll cage is a feature mostly found on outdoor portable radios. It is usually made of very durable plastic and might additionally include shock blocks (usually made of rubber or a similar material) to absorb shocks and avoid leaving marks on surfaces.
Flashlight is another feature commonly found on portable radios made for outdoor use. It is an essential survival tool with a myriad of possible applications.
LED display is another handy feature. It helps you operate the radio easily, especially in low visibility situations. Moreover, LED display can display time and other useful information.
USB port offers additional connectivity options. Portable radios with built-in USB ports can be connected to a smartphone or a tablet for use as external speakers.
Alarm clock is another handy feature found in digital radios. Some models have only one alarm, while others sport dual alarms. You can set the alarm to buzzer or radio for waking you up.
With the help of auto-scan, you’ll be able to scan through the available stations in no time. This feature is only found on digital radios.
Belt clip is found on small portable radios made to be worn on a listener’s body. Typical applications include walking and jogging. Also, if you’re on the move and need your hands free, a belt clip would be a handy accessory.
Telescopic antennas are there to improve the strength of the signal your radio receives. Most models include them, while others use internal antennas. Radios require an antenna of some sort and there are ways to improve reception.
Carry straps are there to make your portable radio even more portable.
Radio vs Internet
Nowadays, smartphones and tablets come with countless ways to reproduce music. They have built-in player apps and you can install any of the countless music apps. You can also install a radio app and be good to go. This naturally brings the question: Why choose radio?
Thanks to their simple construction (when compared to smartphones and tablets) radios are generally a cheaper option. Plus, they don’t require apps and subscription plans to play your favorite stations.
Another thing to consider is battery life. Since they are made to perform a narrow range of duties, AM/FM radios tend to have a considerably longer battery life. They also have touchscreen LCD displays which sap the batteries, nor do they need internet connection to play your favorite stations.
Further Reading on Portable Radios
How AM/FM Radio Works
The AM/FM radios have been around for decades. AM (amplitude modulation) was first used in late 19th century, while FM (frequency modulation) was first used in 1933. FM broadcasting began in the late 1930s in the USA and in Europe after WWII.
Today, radios that can tune to both are accordingly called AM/FM radios. Here’s how each of the principles work.
In the AM system, a station emits the signal at a constant frequency. It then changes the strength of the signal to alter the amplitude of the signal (therefore it’s called amplitude modulation). The changes in amplitude reflect the audio data that’s being sent. On the other end, an antenna has to be tuned to the frequency of the waves in the air in order to catch the signal and play the music or speech which is being broadcast.
AM signals can also be used to transmit video signal. AM is still in use among radio stations and radio amateurs, as well as aviation. Aviation still uses AM because multiple signals can be heard and received on the same frequency, and because it can be picked up even at very low signal strength. AM signals can also cover more distance due to the greater wavelength.
FM, on the other hand, uses constant amplitude and fluctuations to the carrier frequency (depending on the sum of the left and right audio signals) to transmit sound. Generally, FM offers better sound quality than AM. For one, most FM channels are stereo (distinct left and right channels) while AM channels are mono (the stereo AM experiment quickly fell by the wayside). ‘
Unlike the AM, FM radios can’t receive multiple signals at the same frequency, having the “capture effect”. On the flipside, FM radios are less prone to interference than their AM siblings.
While AM is strictly analog technology, FM can transmit digital data by altering the frequency of the carrier within a narrow range of values. This technique is also known as “frequency-shift keying”. Also, FM signals are used to transmit the sound of analog TV.
These radios offer protection from the elements while still letting you enjoy your favorite music or talk shows. If you like listening to radio while playing beach volleyball or lounging by the poolside, weatherproof radios might be an interesting option. Have in mind that the level of protection a certain model offers is in close correlation with its price tag.
Aside from leisure activities, if you plan on venturing out into the wild, radios built for extreme weather conditions should be your choice. They often feature rugged construction and other handy features. They are usually made of sturdy ABS and equipped with roll-cages around the bodies. This makes them resistant to impact and drops. Many of them are also rain and dust-resistant.
Some of them will have built-in flashlights which can help you navigate the terrain in the night. They can also come in quite handy if you need light to set up a camp.
Also, some of the models made for harsh conditions can tune to NOAA weather stations in addition to the standard AM and FM. Having access to an NOAA weather station will help you stay safe
Weatherproof radios are also a good solution if you work on a construction site or a similar outdoor location where you’d need an indestructibly built radio.
Hopefully, I have managed to shed some light on what to look for in portable AM/FM radios. You can’t go wrong with any of the models on our lists, though they all serve slightly different purposes.