The AOR AR7030:
a Bold Receiver from Britain
least once per decade a new receiver design comes
along which breaks the mold of conventionality and
causes a flurry of discussion among radio hobbyists.
Such was the case with the Drake R-7/R-7A of the
late 1970s, the ICOM R-70 in the early 1980s, and
the Watkins-Johnson HF-1000 at the beginning of
the 1990s. A case could be made for other receivers,
but these three caused a stir in the areas of performance,
features, and price point.
In 1996 the British have come
up with their own notable-- and controversial--
communications receiver. How well does it perform
for the mediumwave and tropical bands DXer? This
article will present an overview of performance
and features, and provide a "hands-on"
Talented designer John Thorpe is the individual
responsible for the AOR AR7030. He became known
to hobbyists as the man behind the "HF"
series of receivers for the UK's Lowe Electronics,
including the highly-regarded HF-225 Europa. Many
had expected Lowe Electronics to continue the progression,
but the HF-350 was never produced (remember the
mysterious "Project N"?). Thorpe and Lowe
Electronics parted ways in a not-so-amiable fashion,
with Lowe going on to produce the traditional--and
"comfortable"--HF-250. Thorpe took the
road less traveled by joining forces as an independent
designer with the AOR Corp. and creating the unconventional
AR7030. This receiver is manufactured at AOR's new
UK facility in Belper, Derbyshire.
Well-balanced performance, sturdy construction,
and minimalist controls are qualities that have
marked John Thorpe's previous receiver designs.
These characteristics are present in the AR7030
as well but there are unusual features sprinkled
liberally throughout. Among these are auto-tuning
synchronous detection, onboard filter calibration
and measurement, automatic RF attenuation for extremely
strong signals, and a comprehensive alphanumeric
display of virtually all receiver parameters.
Despite the automatic features available, the AR7030
is highly flexible. The operator can disable them
if desired and be in full manual control. An infrared
remote is supplied with the receiver, providing
control over all commonly used functions.
I cannot remember another radio
that generated so much positive and negative discussion
at its introduction as the AR7030. Therefore a few
comments are in order about the controversy surrounding
the new AR7030. The internet newsgroup rec.radio.shortwave
and Compuserve's SWL section in the Hamnet Forum
have had many postings from both sides of the fence.
AOR introduced the AR7030 at the Leicester hamfair/electronics
show in October 1995, billing it as a "high
dynamic range" receiver. The detailed information
and specifications reported by AOR caused many to
wonder if such commercial/military performance could
really be reached by a consumer-grade receiver.
When a price was announced by UK retailer Javiation,
they wondered even more: £799 within the UK,
or £695 to the USA including FedEx shipping.
For British customers the AR7030 is less than half
the price of a NRD-535.
AOR missed their initial Christmas 1995 release
date by months, due to printed circuit board problems
at a supplier. There were even (unfounded) rumors
of legal action by Lowe Electronics against AOR.
Although eight receivers were available on loan
to reviewers in January, regular production did
not begin in earnest until April. This delay encouraged
skepticism even more.
The unusual design, small size and new features
of the AR7030 also raised the eyebrows of those
who prefer more traditional receivers.
However, a lively debate over statements in a Radio
Netherlands' Media Network review (and a more detailed
technical explanation on Radio Netherlands' internet
WWW home page) is what really fueled the controversy.
The review presented test results with significantly
poorer intermodulation-free dynamic range (IFDR)
and 3rd order intercept point (IP3) figures than
those claimed by AOR. The internet article also
said that AOR's test method was non-standard, with
a result of spurious "good" numbers due
to AGC action reducing receiver gain.
John Thorpe later countered with a letter on AOR's
internet WWW homepage and rec.radio.shortwave that
disputed the claims, saying the method is indeed
standard and that the test equipment used for Media
Network's review was not sufficient for proper measurement.
Both parties have posted detailed information on
their specific methods and equipment to support
their position. It should be noted that the Media
Network review concluded that the receiver is a
good value in Europe with "well above average
performance in its price category".
Other reviewers and independent tests have produced
figures comparable to AOR's specifications, including
Chris Lorek writing in Ham Radio Today and Craig
Siegenthaler of Kiwa Electronics. User-reviews in
the Danish SW Club International Shortwave News
bulletin and on Ray Woodward's internet WWW homepage
also give the receiver high marks.
This is a feature-laden set even
though the receiver has a sparse front panel. The
full details are available on AOR's internet home
page and the main points have been covered in other
recent reviews. From a DXer's perspective, a number
of these are worth commenting on.
This receiver is apparently designed
around the concepts of total control and information
feedback. The menu system and dot-matrix display
(discussed below) are critical to the AR7030's approach.
A few examples are: passband shift settings displayed
in 0.1 kHz increments; bass & treble adjustments
shown in plus or minus decibels from a "flat"
passband; dual audio outputs independently adjustable
in audio level and displayed as a percentage of
total output; volume and I.F. gain displayed as
a percentage of total output; and the 100 memories
which can contain the tuned frequency, mode, I.F.
bandwidth, passband shift setting, scan include/exclude,
squelch setting, and BFO setting for CW & DATA
The AR7030 is an expandable and flexible receiver.
Options and accessories can be properly integrated
into the radio's control structure, rather than
"tacked on" as an afterthought. The AR7030's
operating system can also be customized for specific
commercial or scientific applications, according
Although my main interests are between 530 kHz
and 5 MHz, I find it intriguing that the AR7030
tunes down to 0.00 kHz. The receiver's sensitivity
is not reduced in the mediumwaves or below. Both
the preamp and the 4-step attenuator are available
for use if desired. The so-called "dawn chorus"
and "whistlers"--natural radio phenomena
at 15 kHz and below--can be tuned on the AR7030.
These and other DXing targets in the VLF range are
another part of the spectrum that can be pursued
with this radio. Likewise, the 32 MHz upper tuning
limit allows for a bit of lo-band VHF DXing during
the summer months. (In past years from the Seattle
area, I've been able to listen to Central American
para-military communications and public utilities
chatter from the East Coast, all between 30 and
A clear, backlit dot-matrix LCD display shows all
receiver settings. Excellent use is made of a two-line
display due to a carefully thought-out series of
branching menus. The feel of DXing with the AR7030
reminds me of operating a laptop computer, such
is the effect of the menus, the display, and the
multi-function knobs and buttons. If it were not
for this computer-like approach, the receiver would
need numerous individual controls and a larger case.
The receiver's price would also be higher!
Three definable "setups" allow the user
to quickly jump between favorite parameters for
the type of listening desired. AGC, filter bandwidth,
mode, tone controls, RF gain, etc. can all be assigned
to the setup memories. I have setup "A"
configured for general SWLing, "B" for
tropical band DXing, and "C" for foreign
Frankly, the menu system and flexible controls of
the AR7030 may disenchant some radio hobbyists.
Traditional design implies a single control for
a single function, and a display or front panel
that always shows the same information in the same
spot! John Thorpe has given us a new approach. Using
just a modest LCD display, the AR7030 can report
virtually all receiver settings and intelligently
assign "soft labels" to push buttons and
rotary controls. The only controls with single,
dedicated functions are the frequently used ones:
the power switch, menu button, volume control, up/down
mode buttons, the fast tune button and the main
tuning knob. Those who are comfortable with computer
software will quickly grasp the logic behind the
AR7030's array of menus.
Efficient operation with the front panel controls
only comes with experience and understanding of
the menu structure; the key is learning which menus
keep your favorite parameters accessible. I prefer
the filter menu with the assignable rotary knob
soft-labeled as "PBS" (passband shift).
This gives me immediate, direct access to filters,
passband shift, mode, main tuning, volume, power
on/off, and fast tune. A further press or two of
the filter button allows adjustment of AGC settings
(fast, medium, slow, plus off) and tone.
Other receiver functions are accessed through other
menu selections, or directly with the remote controller.
Again, to some users this may seem to be an ergonomic
nightmare. The AR7030 should be given a fair chance,
however, as familiarity comes with practice. Fortunately
the buttons have a good tactile feel to them, making
quick changes easy. Those who cannot bear to operate
anything that doesn't feel like the large, classic
rigs of yesteryear will view the AR7030 as mere
gadgetry. In my opinion it is not an unusual or
difficult receiver to use, but rather fun to control
after the initial learning curve.
FILTER MEASUREMENT AND ALIGNMENT:
This is one of the unusual features of the AR7030,
a capability it shares with the professional Racal
RA-6790GM receiver. Many styles of MuRata ceramic
filters (CFJ, CFK, CFW styles and others) plus Collins
low-profile mechanical filters can be directly fitted.
Other possibilities exist with Kiwa Electronics'
Premium filter modules. The AR7030 will measure
the bandwidth, determine the proper USB/LSB offset
for each filter, and sort the filters in ascending
The sequence takes about 45 seconds and is interesting
to watch. The resulting exact alignment is useful
during ECSS tuning of an AM signal, as there is
no change in audio pitch when alternating between
USB and LSB (if the receiver is properly tuned beforehand).
The AR7030 is the first receiver I've owned which
does not exhibit at least a small amount of USB/LSB
error due to normal variations in the manufacture
of individual filters and receiver alignment.
The supplied bandwidths are nominally 2.2, 4.5,
7.0 and 10.0. Although four filters are standard
with two optional filter positions, in reality any
filter may be changed except the 10.0 kHz bandwidth
(meant for narrowband FM). Any filter may be used
in any mode. In my AR7030, these bandwidths are
measured and displayed as: 2.0, 5.4, 6.5, and 9.5
kHz. The owners manual explains that most filters
are named by their minimum passband and (if stated)
their maximum stopband specifications. There can
be variations from filter to filter, and even temperature
of the filter affects the bandwidth. I've noticed
a 0.1-0.2 kHz reduction in measured bandwidth of
the filters in my AR7030 if I run the filter calibration
routine after the receiver is completely warmed
up (1/2 hour).
Kiwa Electronics' new "Premium Filter Modules"
make an excellent addition to the AR7030's arsenal
of filters. Hookup is simple, using miniature coax
cable for input/output leads. All module circuitry
is inside a fully shielded enclosure. A ground connection
and 4.5 to 15 volts DC power (at 1 ma) is also required.
These modules have ultimate rejection better than
100db; my particular 3.5 kHz (nom.) filter module
measures 107db. This surpasses even the highly-regarded
Collins mechanical filters. The shape factor is
stated to be better than 1 to 1.8, typically 1 to
1.5 or 1.6. The modules are available in selected
bandwidths in the approximate range of 2.5/2.7 to
8.0 kHz, and the price is $70 US. A late addition
to Kiwa's PFM series is a printed circuit board
that holds up to three filter modules.
I also have Kiwa's "High Performance Ceramic
Filter", the CLF-D2K, made especially for Kiwa
Electronics by MuRata. It is nominally a 3.5 kHz
filter but displays as 2.9. The total of six bandwidths
in my AR7030 measure and display as: 2.0, 2.9, 3.4,
5.4, 6.5, and 9.5 kHz. The difference between the
2.9 and 3.4 Kiwa filters is great enough in practice
to make each one a worthwhile addition to the AR7030.
AM SYNCHRONOUS DETECTION:
This mode has the tenacity of a mountain goat and
clings to signals weak and strong without problems.
It is the best I've ever encountered, period. The
passband shift can be adjusted liberally in synchronous
AM (SNC) mode without causing squeals of complaint
or loss of lock. Finally, a synchronous detector
that a DXer can use! My ears cannot detect any rise
in distortion in SNC mode (as reported in the Radio
Netherland's review); in fact, audio sounds definitely
better than with the AM envelope detector. With
passband shift carefully adjusted, both Kiwa filters
are very useful using this mode.
As with the Drake R8 and R8A, the use of passband
shift with the SNC mode allows selection of either
sideband (or any point in between). This is an extremely
useful tool for avoiding adjacent-channel intererence
and/or peaking certain audio frequencies to aid
The synchronous detector can be configured to use
either a narrow, wide, or auto method of operation.
Wide and narrow are "manual" settings;
the user tunes the receiver until the receiver locks
onto the carrier. Wide is easier to tune but cannot
cope with selective fading as well as narrow can.
The auto-synchronous method is an unusual feature
that tunes the receiver automatically, locks onto
the carrier, and displays the center frequency (normally
with 30 Hz or better display accuracy). The AR7030
only needs to be tuned somewhere within the passband
of the signal before switching to SNC mode. It's
interesting to watch the receiver "think"
a moment, tune up or down to the carrier, and then
lock onto the station.
My test signal for synchronous detection with any
receiver is Radio New Zealand International on 15115
kHz during my local evenings. It's often subject
to annoying rapid fades after sunset. My Drake R8
would lose lock and "bend" musical tones
unmercifully, but there's no such problem when using
the AR7030. I have not heard it lose lock even once
on this signal.
With the manually-tuned SNC methods, greater than
( >>> ) or less than ( <<< ) characters
are displayed, indicating which direction the receiver
needs to be tuned in order to gain lock.
For unknown reasons, the auto-tune synchronous detector
occasionally takes considerably longer than usual
to lock onto a signal. The audio is heard uninterrupted
in normal AM (envelope detection) while the receiver
is "thinking". I've waited as long as
20 seconds for the AR7030 to switch to SNC mode.
When it does, however, the result is rock-solid
CONSTRUCTION AND DESIGN:
The all-metal front panel and case are excellently
finished and extremely robust. Only the built-in
speaker's grill is less sturdy than I'd like to
see. The front panel is at least 5/16" thick,
and the large main tuning knob is solid anodized
metal and comfortable for bandscanning (it has very
effective and "seamless" variable-rate
tuning, also). The two smaller rotary controls are
not as comfortable, being rather tiny knobs attached
to mechanical encoders with quite "stiff"
click-stops. It helped to refasten the knobs a bit
further out on their 1/4" diameter shafts.
Aesthetics are mostly a personal matter, but in
my opinion the AR7030 is quite good looking. The
overall appearance resembles current British audio
equipment. It does not have that "military-industrial"
look common to many shortwave receivers.
The AR7030's compact size and bunker-like construction
will be appreciated by anyone taking it along for
DXpeditions. At approximately 9-1/2" X 9-1/2",
the receiver's "footprint" is very modest
for situations where space is at a premium. The
top-quality fit and finish is rarely seen these
days in receivers in the AR7030's price range.
INFRARED REMOTE CONTROL:
This is a standard item supplied with the AR7030,
not an extra cost option as with ICOM's R71A and
Lowe's HF-250 receivers. Most major settings and
adjustments can be done with the remote, although
changing the AGC time constants and turning the
receiver on or off is not possible. These must be
done from the AR7030 front panel.
The remote control has the "intelligence"
we've come to expect from today's microprocessor-based
receivers. Frequencies can be entered in kilohertz
or megahertz. No leading zeroes or excess keystrokes
are needed. Simply tap in the frequency, press the
"kHz" or "MHz" key, and you're
there. Frequencies can be entered from the keypad
in increments as small as 1.4 Hz (handy for utility
monitors). Tuning frequency step size can also be
entered and tuned from the remote.
The remote control is handicapped with small rubbery
rectangles masquerading as pushbuttons (common practice
on many remotes). Initially I did not care for the
feel or size of this unit, but I've now warmed up
to it. Rather than use the remote from across the
room, I place it on the desk in front of my receiver
shelf. I had a small "angle bracket" machined
from black plastic and attached it to the back of
the remote with heavy-duty Velcro fasteners. Two
hidden lead strips (for extra weight) and small
rubber feet (non-skid) complete the modification.
This angles the remote towards the receiver and
keeps it in a comfortable position. In this fashion
I can change frequencies, filters, memories, passband
shift, etc. with the remote at my left hand, while
leaving my right hand free to control the AR7030
normally at the front panel. While actively DXing
I tend to use the remote controller half of the
time, and it's very handy to have its keypad available.
The bracket is not needed if the receiver sits directly
on the desk, as the infrared sensor has sufficient
field-of-view. There is even a second infrared "eye"
on the back panel of the radio to help catch reflected
beams. All told, the remote is a fine addition to
the AR7030 and adds to the radio's versatility.
Larry Magne, in his Media Roundup review on Radio
Japan and writing in Monitoring Times, spoke of
a review model AR7030 that did not always register
the remote's keystrokes. This is not a problem with
my receiver; 100% of the keystrokes "take"
if the remote is aimed anywhere in the general vicinity
of the sensor.
During the dawn-enhancement period of a recent DXpedition,
I again encountered that heady experience of trans-Pacific
MW stations appearing up and down the band with
audio or strong hets. In a situation like this,
the AR7030's infrared remote is essential for efficient
DXing. A quickly changing DX opening is not the
time to use a cumbersome receiver! Casual DXing
can be done from the AR7030's front panel alone,
but be forewarned that the remote is truly a necessity
when you need to fly up and down the band (keypad
frequency or memory entry) in the heat of battle.
The receiver does have a Fast Tune button on the
front panel, and it works well.
The following are measurements on my AR7030,
serial# 100067. Many thanks to Craig Siegenthaler,
President of Kiwa Electronics for taking the time
to perform these independent tests. Kiwa uses the
test methods described by the ARRL (same as used
by Willem Bos for the R. Netherlands Media Network
review). The results are very close to AOR specs,
with testing at the AOR-specified frequency the
key factor. Test data on other AR7030 receivers
and full details on the Premium Filter Modules are
found on Kiwa's internet world wide web page: http://www.wolfe.net/~kiwa
Noise Floor Noise Figure
LSB -130.5 dBm USB -130.5 dBm (preamp ON) Preamp
OFF 19.5 dB Preamp ON 11.8 dB
LSB -123 dBm USB -123 dBm (preamp OFF) Preamp OFF
but using Kiwa SW Preamp 10.3 dB
5 kHz spacing -126.5 dBc/Hz 10 kHz spacing -133.5
20 kHz spacing -144.5 dBc/Hz 50 kHz spacing -155
100 kHz spacing <-156 dBc/Hz
Note: -156 dBc/Hz is the limit of the measurement
2nd Order Intercept measured
at frequencies similar to those in the AR7030 specifications
list (23 MHz): +80 dBm
2nd Order Intercept measured
at 4 MHz: +67 dBm. Note discrepancy between 23 and
4 MHz with IP2.
3rd Order Intercept measured
at frequencies similar to those in the specifications
list (12 MHz, Preamp OFF):
200 kHz spacing: +34 dBm 100 kHz spacing: +33.75
50 kHz spacing: +33 dBm 20 kHz spacing: +32.25 dBm
3rd Order Intercept measured
at 12 MHz with the Preamp ON: +9.75 dBm
3rd Order Intercept measured at 12 MHz with the
Kiwa SW Preamp: +19.5 dBm
3rd Order Intercept measured
at 2 MHz - Preamp OFF
200 kHz spacing: +11.5 dBm 100 kHz spacing: +11.5
50 kHz spacing: +10.8 dBm 20 kHz spacing: +10.8
dBm. Note discrepancy between the IP3 at 12 and
As shown above, Kiwa Electronics
performed their IP3 tests at 12 MHz which resulted
in measurements very close to AOR's specifications.
However, IP3 performance was reduced at 2 MHz. After
much investigation, John Thorpe has determined that
surface-mount components for the 1.7 MHz input filter
do not have sufficient intermodulation performance
to ensure high levels of IP3 around this frequency.
A modification exists to retrofit leaded components
(a few capacitors and inductors) in place of the
surface-mount devices. The resulting IP3 is a flat
response from 500 kHz to 30 MHz. AOR has not yet
indicated if this change will take place on future
AR7030 units. I have made this modification to my
own AR7030 (see comments below), and Kiwa Electronics
will retest its IP3 performance.
"REAL WORLD" PERFORMANCE
In early May I took delivery of my AR7030 via
FedEx from the communications retailer Javiation
in the UK. The 695 UK pounds price to the States
(including shipping) worked out to $1052 US. The
$54 invoice for the customs duty put the total at
$1106, which is just a few dollars more than a Drake
R8A in the USA. If one doesn't mind the risks involved
with overseas purchases this is the way to go, as
the cost from US outlets reportedly will be around
Jonathan Clough at Javiation is excellent to deal
with, however, and he regularly sells to US customers.
This is the second time I've bought a receiver through
Javiation without a hitch. Note the missing "I"
in "Javiation" if e-mailing: email@example.com
In the few months I've owned this receiver I have
used it at home in a suburban neighborhood setting
and during two DXpeditions to the Washington State
coast. The home location is a test of the AR7030's
intermodulation performance when hooked up to one
antenna in particular: a 350 ft. terminated, impedance-matched
mini-Beverage. Although this antenna is on a 270-degree
bearing toward Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya (two
favorite DX targets), it is also directly in line
with a few mediumwave powerhouses.
The only instance of intermod I've discovered with
this antenna and the AR7030 is weak garbled audio
on 3260 kHz, which is the mixing result of my two
most powerful locals: (2 X 850 kHz) + 1560 kHz =
3260 kHz. Both of these completely "pin"
the AR7030's digital S-meter (maximum display of
S9+50db) on their primary frequencies. With Drake
R-7 and R8 receivers I previously owned, these two
stations would show a level of S9+60db. The 3260
mixing product doesn't raise the S-meter above the
S-1 level band noise, but it is heard with audio
from both 850 and 1560.
Switching in 10db of attenuation, adding a high-pass
filter, or changing to another antenna completely
removes the intermodulation. The intermod is only
noticed when both stations are using daytime power.
Both the Drake R-7 and R8 exhibited the same problem
on 3260, so the AR7030 is not alone. So far I have
discovered no other obvious mixing products--on
any band--with the AR7030 at my home location. When
I owned the R8 it had a few other problem frequencies
between 2.0 and 3.5 MHz, and in the longwave region.
With the AR7030 connected to lengthy, unterminated
Beverage antennas at the coast, I find no indications
of mixing products or other spurious signals on
longwave, mediumwave or shortwave.
Since modifying the high-pass filter as described
above, the intermodulation products on 3260 kHz
are completely gone. This is now the first receiver
I've used that can pass the "3260 test".
LOW PHASE NOISE, HIGH AUDIO QUALITY:
The AR7030 is clearly the quietest solid-state receiver
I've ever operated. In a comparison with a Japan
Radio NRD-525 receiver, the difference is dramatic.
The low noise level is a revelation; and when used
in a quiet setting with a good antenna you get the
impression there is nothing between the signal,
the atmospheric noise level, and your ears. The
AR7030 seems nearly "transparent" as it
goes about its business.
The best of the hollow-state receivers of the past
could achieve phase noise figures of -160 dBc/Hz.
With a measured phase noise of <-156dBc/Hz at
100 kHz spacing, my AR7030 is in the same range.
This level of phase noise performance ensures minimal
degradation of the dynamic selectivity of the receiver's
I.F. filters. (This is a prime reason why Kiwa's
Premium Filter Modules are a great addition to the
Audio quality in all voice modes and bandwidths
is very pleasant, reminding me of the sound from
John Thorpe's HF-series of receivers. A bonus for
DXers is the very useful bass and treble settings.
There are no "do-nothing" knobs on the
AR7030! Careful adjustment of the bass and treble
helps intelligibility of weak, muffled stations
such as the tropical band Indonesians.
During a DXpedition I made a comparison between
the audio quality of a Drake R8 and the AR7030 on
trans-Pacific mediumwave and tropical band stations
(Solomon Islands 5020 kHz in particular). I used
the same pair of headphones (Realistic PRO-25) and
tried various bandwidths on each radio. The receivers
sounded slightly--but distinctly--different. The
R8's audio could be described as "clear and
crisp" and the AR7030's as "smooth and
mellow". Both receivers are easy on the ears
and can be listened to comfortably for hours on
end. Most importantly, each receiver provides good
intelligibility of signals.
When bandscanning with the AR7030 it becomes apparent
that selectivity is quite good. The best stock filter
is the 2.2 (nominal) ceramic, and it's the filter
of choice for serious DXing if no optional, higher
quality filters have been installed. If all six
filter positions are filled there are no less than
ten individual I.F. filters comprising the I.F.
chain (including "post-I.F." filters).
This cascading of bandwidths results in very good
adjacent channel rejection, even though most of
the stock I.F. filters are inexpensive MuRata ceramics
(such as used in low-cost portable receivers). The
selectivity John Thorpe has achieved through careful
circuit design and modest components is impressive.
(A similar approach is used in the design of Kiwa
Electronics' Premium Filter Modules.)
The above average filtering and the AR7030's passband
shift control are highly useful for DXing mediumwave
"splits". As an example, while listening
to T3K1 Kiribati on 846 kHz, it was possible to
avoid interference from a strong semi-local on 850
kHz by tuning in LSB and using the wide-ranging
(+/- 4.2 kHz) passband shift. In my opinion the
AR7030 provided better reception than a NRD-535D
on this station. Even though the NRD-535D has the
unique variable bandwidth control (BWC), that filter
degrades in shape factor as it is narrowed. Also,
the passband shift does not have an adjustment range
approaching the AR7030's (the NRD-535D has a passband
shift range of +/- 1 kHz).
Because of different bandwidths in the two receivers,
it was tough to compare the selectivity of the AR7030
against the R8A. The specifications would appear
to give the AR7030 the edge. In actual use on foreign
mediumwave and tropical band DX they both performed
very well. More comparisons need to be done, but
it appeared to me that the AR7030's stock filtering
is at least the equal of the R8A. The extra Kiwa
Electronics' bandwidths give a modest audible edge
to the AR7030 when using those two filters in my
receiver. Unfortunately, the R8A's filtering cannot
be changed or upgraded because the bandwidths are
composed of many individual and carefully-matched
parts on the circuit board.
Despite the useful passband shift, occasionally
some carriers or hets cannot be overcome (as with
any radio); a notch filter would be welcome on the
AR7030. An optional notch filter is expected to
be available by August from AOR, and it may include
a noise blanker feature. Now I'm using a Radio Shack
DSP-40 digital audio filter strictly for its "auto-notch"
capability. The DSP-40 works well for the purpose,
and at a close-out price of less than US. $40, it
was an inexpensive solution.
I do not find the current lack of a noise blanker
to be a problem with this receiver. Still, I will
likely add the noise blanker to my AR7030 when it's
available, just to make the receiver complete. I
prefer to tackle noise problems with outboard accessories
such as the JPS ANC-4 Antenna Noise Canceller. With
this approach the noise cannot affect the AGC of
the AR7030, but the gain control of the ANC-4 should
be used cautiously as its amplifier can be overloaded
by strong local MW stations.
There are many small details that become noticeable
and useful to the DXer as he spends more time with
the receiver. The following are a few features that
I consider "nice touches":
1) No immediate blast of audio
in the AGC off position. The I.F. gain takes a couple
seconds to reach 100%, so cycling through all three
AGC speeds is gentler on the ears when the off position
2) The high-impedance antenna
port and the ground connection for the AR7030 use
a locking lever to engage the wire, rather than
a spring-loaded pushbutton. I find it easier and
quicker to use than the typical spring connector.
A small detail to be sure, but it's appreciated
when working around the back of the AR7030 in low
light conditions or amongst a tangle of wires and
3) The relay timer, the 24-hour
clock, and sleep timer are easy to set and activate.
I particularly like how the AR7030 displays both
the current time and "TIMER ON AT 18:30"
(for example) on the dot-matrix display when the
receiver is on standby for remote recording. When
the AR7030 is turned on for operation it can show
the current 24-hour time, including seconds, on
the display if desired.
4) Utility and HF aero monitors
will enjoy the powerful scanning and squelch facilities.
The receiver provides adjustable hold, delay, and
mute, among other features. The squelch level can
be set independently for VFO's A and B, as well
as for each of the 100 memories. Scanning on HF
has some real limitations, but the AR7030's independent
squelch settings makes the most of variable conditions
from band to band.
5) The bar graph S-meter is composed
of 70 segments and is very accurate. I suspect that
each S-unit (and intermediate step) is programmed
into the AR7030's microprocessor, so that the meter
will not respond until the proper signal level is
encountered. Traditional analog S-meters are rarely
linear and exacting across their entire range.
6) The excellent owner's manual
is one of the best around, among contemporary receivers.
Curiously it lacks the British colloquialisms found
in other UK equipment manuals. It almost reads as
if it was written by a US author. Particularly interesting
are the discussions about the filter calibration
routine and the automatic-tuning synchronous detector.
Full technical details and a block diagram are at
the end of the manual, but no circuit diagram.
AOR does not include computer control data in the
owner's manual. The PC information is in a separate
nine-page document. Because it's possible to accidentally
scramble the data in the AR7030's microprocessor
via computer, AOR is reluctant to widely publish
programming information. This receiver is a major
leap forward in PC control capability (even individual
mixers and oscillators can be controlled by computer
link). Careless programming can turn the AR7030
into an expensive and attractive paperweight! Interestingly,
all commands to the receiver are byte structured
in binary format, so it is not possible to control
from a terminal.
7) The customer service and support
of AOR has been nothing short of excellent. They
are clearly eager to answer questions, give suggestions,
and be of assistance to new and potential AR7030
owners. Richard Hillier is the contact in AOR's
Marketing Dept. at the UK facility. He can be e-mailed
at: firstname.lastname@example.org Mr. Hillier can also put you
in touch with John Thorpe and/or pass along your
message to him if needed.
AOR also has an internet WWW homepage which presents
useful data on the AR7030 and other AOR receivers.
Found there is full technical information on the
AR7030 (including graphics-intensive I.F. filter
plots, AGC response curves, etc.), press releases,
and general information on IFDR and IP3 measurement
on communications receivers. The URL is: http://www.demon.co.uk/aor
As with any receiver, this radio has some quirks
and problems here and there. The few that have gotten
my attention are described below.
1) The selection of different
filter bandwidths or RF attenuation settings causes
a brief "pop" to be heard from the speaker
2) For those who plan to run
the AR7030 from 12 volts instead of the recommended
15 volts, be aware of some anomalies caused by the
reduced voltage. On a DXpedition I did some comparisons
between 12.5vdc operation and 15vdc, and discovered
some subtle but real effects: a decrease in opposite
sideband rejection and an increase in digital switching
noise at 12.5 volts power. Using the lower voltage,
I found that when tuning in USB and approaching
a signal from below, a low volume, rising pitch
is heard for about 1.5-2 kHz above (past) the center
frequency. This effect is reduced 75-100% with 15
volts DC power! I believe this crude test illustrates
a degradation in opposite sideband rejection at
12.5 volts. It was interesting to note that a NRD-525
was much worse in opposite sideband rejection at
its normal 12vdc power.
At the 12.5 volts level, I found a slight to moderate
increase in switching noises, pops, and low buzzes
when pushing various buttons. These were all at
very low audio levels, but noticeable with careful
listening. These noises are virtually absent at
15 volts, except for the brief "pops"
when filter or attenuation settings are changed
(these are louder and occur irregardless of DC power).
Note that these artifacts are only heard during
the actual brief moment that the button makes contact
when pressed. In the future I plan to run the AR7030
from 15 volts exclusively, for any serious DXing
while at home or on DXpedition. I have modified
one of my 12vdc DXpedition lead-acid batteries to
include 3vdc cells in series/parallel connection
to provide the optimum 15 volts.
3) DXpedition use of the AR7030
with Beverage antennas revealed that the preamplifier
is needed when listening to extremely weak signals,
at or above the noise level under truly quiet conditions.
In sensitivity comparisons to a NRD-525 and Drake
R-8, the AR7030 equaled the competition only when
its preamplifier was activated. (The test signal
was Radio Enga, 2410 kHz, during fade-in with audio
at 0820 UTC.) Note that the preamp helped intelligibility
only for the weakest of signals under quiet circumstances.
The typical suburban DXing location has enough local
noise and interference to mask truly faint stations,
and use of the preamp just raises noise (while reducing
3rd order intercept point, the opposite of what's
needed in or near cities). Stated another way, it
is my impression that the preamp helps weak signals
in a DXpedition environment but not at home where
noise levels are higher. I have not noticed any
circuit noise increase when using the AR7030's preamp.
4) A receiver of the AR7030's
caliber should have more than 100 memories. Serious
DXers (especially if they tune foreign mediumwave)
can easily make use of 200 or more memory channels.
With only 100 memories, an excellent opportunity
has been missed to make the AR7030 the receiver
of choice for the DXer with many targets across
the LF/MW/HF spectrum. The AR7030 memory system
is very powerful; it's a shame that only 100 are
The fact that passband shift setting is stored for
each memory makes the AR7030 unique among receivers.
If 200 or more channels were available, the foreign
MW DXer could store LSB, USB, frequency, bandwidth,
and passband shift for each split frequency--across
the entire band--as appropriate to avoid domestic
broadcasters. The exact foreign MW frequency could
be stored to step through the memories searching
for audio, or the memorized frequencies could be
offset (in LSB/USB modes) by a few hundred Hertz
to create a heterodyne when a carrier is detected.
The receiver's memories can be programmed this way
now, but the 100 memories only provide for 900-1000
kHz coverage of the mediumwave band. Stepping through
mediumwave with the infrared remote can be done,
but the benefits of the AR7030's memories--particularly
the passband shift settings--are unavailable.
OPTIONS AND UPGRADES:
An internal battery and fast charger for the receiver
should be available by August, and a carrying case
for portable use is also planned. Development is
underway for a notch filter and noise blanker, although
I'm not sure if these two features will be part
of the same option or if they will be separate items.
AOR is also planning to expand the range of available
optional filters, including crystal filters mounted
on a special circuit board.
Another planned option is a "VHF Band 2"
board with FM stereo capability, to take advantage
of the AR7030's two-channel audio path. Eventually,
"upgrade" microprocessors will be available,
allowing specific capabilities such as "VCR-like"
timers for day, week, and year; alpha-numeric labels
for memory channels, and other enhanced features.
AOR is also developing Windows-based PC control
software for the AR7030, with customized modules
for propagation prediction and other related items
for the radio enthusiast.
In this age of mega-corporations and design by committee,
it is refreshing to see what can be done by a single
talented engineer with a vision. Surely, John Thorpe
and AOR's UK facility are producing a remarkably
useful receiver for the hobbyist and beyond. I wouldn't
be surprised to learn of cash-conscious organizations
in industry and government choosing the AR7030 over
other, more expensive commercial receivers for computer-controlled
or remote monitoring. (Rack-mounted Drake R8/R8A
receivers have been employed for the same purpose.)
The AR7030 is a very good value and for the money
it's a lot of receiver, especially if you live in
the USA and purchase direct from England. How willing
are you to sacrifice a larger front panel, separate
controls and the traditional approach to receiver
operation in exchange for high performance, portability,
and reasonable cost? It's not easy for long-time
DXers, who have strong opinions about "real"
radios. Will this receiver become a DXer's workhorse
or languish on retailers' shelves as a collectable
curiosity? AOR management will readily know our
consensus answer to this question when they study
sales figures in the years ahead.
The AOR 7030 Update
More than a year has passed since the beginning
of widespread availability of the AOR AR7030 receiver.
Recognized as a strong value for the money, the
AR7030 is now used by DXers in many parts of the
John Thorpe and the AOR staff at Belper, Derbyshire
UK have not been idle. The most significant development
is the recent introduction of the NB7030 option.
Some of the planned options may not see the light
of day, such as the carrying case for the receiver.
Others, including the FM stereo option, are still
In its stock form the receiver has no noise blanker
or notch filter and the 100 memories may limit the
active DXer. However, the new NB7030 daughterboard
provides a flexible, automatic notch filter, noise
blanker, and an upgrade CPU for a total of 400 memories.
The "Enhanced Features CPU" (FPU7030),
which can be purchased separately from the notch
& noise blanker board, provides a 14-character
alphanumeric text tag associated with each of the
400 memories. Other enhanced features of the CPU
include 10 time/day/date timers for "VCR-like"
recording possibilities, and subtle improvements
in operation (elimination of the brief relay "pops"
from filter and attenuator changes; smoother auto-tune
The text tag allows all capital and lowercase letters,
numbers, and a myriad of symbols and punctuation.
I cannot fathom why some out-of-the-ordinary characters
are available for display, such as the Japanese
yen symbol (!). Perhaps this is a bit of droll British
humour hidden in the receiver.
I've installed the FPU7030 Enhanced CPU in my AR7030,
and it is a worthwhile addition for a reasonable
price (68 British Pounds when purchased through
Javiation in the UK). The equivalent U.S. price,
including shipping, was $98 at the current exchange
rate. Installation of the CPU is quick, and an included
EEPROM chip fits in a formerly empty socket on the
AR7030's display board. This small IC accomplishes
the expansion of memory channels to 400.
A unique feature of the Enhanced CPU is "Auto
Ident". When manually tuning across a frequency
stored in memory, the station name, country, or
other data entered into the associated memory channel
will be displayed on the front panel. This occurs
when tuning stops, and the alphanumeric information
replaces the S-meter display for about 10 seconds.
The text information displays when the tuned frequency
is within 1.5 kHz either side of the exact memory
frequency. For those of us whose own memories are
not what they used to be, the Auto Ident feature
is a great idea!
The 10 additional multi-timers enable hands-off,
unattended recording of multiple stations, programs,
and/or frequencies at various times and dates. This
is an obvious benefit to the dedicated program listener
or SWL, but the DXer can make use of the multi-timers
as well. I plan to use these for spot-checking/recording
of tropical band frequencies on the hour and half-hour,
for later review on tape. When a new or reactivated
station is expected to make an appearance "sometime",
this method is worth its weight in extra sleep!
I've not had first-hand experience with the NB7030
option, but initial reports indicate it works well,
particularly the notch filter. In true AR7030 fashion
all settings of the noise blanker/notch filter are
shown on the LCD panel, including the exact frequency
of the het (tone) notched out by the filter.
Mark Veldhuis of The Netherlands runs an English
language e-mail list devoted to discussion of the
AR7030 and its accessories, troubleshooting, and
operation. This is an excellent forum for keeping
up on developments. To subscribe, send an e-mail
message to email@example.com with the word "subscribe"
(no quotes) in the subject line; leave the body
of the message blank. In return you will receive
a message that explains use of the mailing list
and you will begin to receive AR7030-related messages
as they are distributed.
Kiwa Electronics offers a $40 modification to improve
the audio quality of the AR7030 even further. A
number of capacitors are replaced with higher quality
components and some of the wiring is replaced with
silver plated, Teflon-coated wire. The result is
a modest but noticeable improvement.
Word is spreading among AR7030 owners about the
usefulness of a quality preamplifier, particularly
when used on DXpeditions and in other low-noise
surroundings. On a recent West Coast USA DXpedition
in Washington State, Kiwa Electronics Broadband
Preamplifiers and Shortwave Preamplifiers were used
by most participants. Receivers included the NRD-535,
Drake R8 and R8a, ICOM R-71a and the AR7030. The
Kiwa devices provided audibly better S/N ratios
on weak tropical band signals and foreign (split
frequency) mediumwave DX targets. I believe more
strongly now than when I first bought my AR7030
that the receiver can use a preamplifier like the
Kiwa models with excellent overload immunity and
noise characteristics. The AR7030's built-in preamp
does not provide the same level of improvement.
The DataMaster software for the AR7030 is the only
commercially available control program on the market
at this time. However, a program called Ergo is
in the final beta stage as of 7/97 and should be
in commercial production within a few months. John
Fallows of Calgary, Canada is the author of Ergo,
and he has given the program a host of clever and
useful features. The software runs under Windows
3.1 and Windows 95 and provides the user with a
full-function database (500 record size), 400 memories,
an ionospheric propagation module, mercator and
azi-equi maps with realtime grayline displays and
signal paths, spectrum profile, graph-like display
of received signal strength, WWV/WWVH propagation
forecast alert, and more. The records that the user
creates in the database are similar to the memory
channels; the AR7030 can be directly tuned by a
single mouse-click on the record entry. All receiver
parameters are available for adjustment through
the software. Ergo also provides for! transferring
of memories between the program and the receiver.
I've used various beta versions of Ergo for the
past few months, and it is a polished and impressive
program. It will be a cost effective alternative
to DataMaster for the AR7030 owner who enjoys linking
their receiver to a PC.
The AOR staff in England continues their excellent
customer service and remains a reassuring presence
for those of us who have purchased from overseas.
However, the receiver is now sold through a number
of US outlets including Universal Radio, Grove Electronics,
AOR has recently added a new receiver to their product
line called the AR7030 Plus. The changes in the
Plus model are as follows:
--Increased mixer balance for improved 2nd and 3rd
order intermodulation performance
--High tolerance 0.1% components in the direct digital
synthesizer (DDS) section for low noise
--Enhanced RF attenuator operation for minimal intermodulation
--Higher specification wire antenna input transformer
for minimal mixing products
--Ceramic, metal-cased 4 kHz (displayed) AM filter
fitted as standard (typical bandwidths: 2.2, 4.0,
5.3 and 9.5 kHz)
--Bournes optical encoder for smooth main tuning
--"Features CPU" fitted as standard, to
provide 400 memories with alpha tags, and 10 multi
AOR will also offer Plus version retrofit upgrades
for owners of existing AR7030 receivers; contact
AOR UK for details. I've been in touch with many
owners of the AR7030, and all of them seem pleased
with most aspects of the receiver. It's excellent
performance is undisputed; the 1997 World Radio
TV Handbook's thorough review generally praises
the AR7030. It is safe to say that the AOR AR7030
will be a wise choice for radio monitors for years
published in the August 1996 DX Ontario,
the magazine of the Ontario DX Association)