The AOR AR-7030 Tested Against
the Drake R8A
Plimmer, November 1996
I feel a little intimidated doing
this test, as the AR7030 must be the MOST tested
radio in the hobbies history. Every major magazine
and authority has tested and commented on it exhaustively,
Radio Nederland has done a most comprehensive technical
test using no less than US$80,000 of test equipment,
and there are umpteen pages on the Internet and
other mediums with comments. Some have queried why
the extreme HYPE over this radio?
Having had it for four weeks,
courtesy of Noel Waddoup, I have to say that it
is a most impressive performer in all respects.
It comes in a very small casing, which puts old
Dxers like myself, used to huge boxes, off a little.
How can such a tiny box of tricks perform so well?
Yet it does, and performs right up there with the
best, a performance equal to the Japan Radio NRD-535D,
Rohde & Schwartz EK890 and the Drake R8A.
As neither of these radios
are stocked locally, one would have to purchase
them overseas; the AR7030 in the UK at about British
Pounds 620 before local VAT and the Drake R8A in
the US for less than US$1,100. This means before
any other charges for landing the radios in
SA, the Rand price would be R5,170 for the R8A and
R4,840 for the AR7030. The AR is thus several hundred
Rand cheaper and therefore represents very good
value for money in terms of what you get.
Before I get into detailed comparisons
of the sets performance, I must say that in listening
for many days to the most remote DX stations, Indonesia,
South America, MW and Tropical band, I can find
no difference in performance between these two top
performers. In all cases, if the one set gets the
station readable then so does the other. If one
cant get the station then neither can the other.
It was a little like testing top brands of whisky
blindfolded; if you closed your eyes and had someone
else operate the two sets, you would not be able
to tell the difference; to all intents and purposes,
the radio DX performance is identical and by that
I mean superlative.
The major differences lie in
the Drakes one touch operation and one single
view of all operating parameters. The R8A is two
and a quarter times larger than the face of the
AR. The AR, being so small, operates on a system
of cascading menus with multiple functions
for each of the few knobs and buttons. The viewing
LCD screen is also so small that it does not show
all the operating parameters, so you keep forgetting
your position and have to resort to menu manipulation
to see where you are with your filter settings,
AGC, gain, and so on. I found this a bit disconcerting.
The AR has been tested to have
considerably higher dynamic range than other competing
radios. In other words it is supposed to reject
powerful signals interfering with weak signals better
than other sets. In practice I was unable to say
that the AR was able to render intelligible any
more stations than the R8A, despite comprehensive
comparisons of this factor.
The two sets were connected to
a 17 meter Windom antenna via a FS Electronics splitter
and the Audio was played out through a common Icom
SP-20 speaker to ensure an exact comparison both
of the incoming signal and the sound.
The ability of the
radio to pick up very weak signals and render them
This radio is very sensitive indeed, and there is
an impression that on some stations the R8A is marginally
more sensitive and renders very weak stations slightly
more intelligible. This despite the fact that the
R8A is said to have a higher noise floor. This is
an overrated lab statistic as the noise received
by the radio from a large antenna usually exceeds
the noise floor of even a noisy receiver by several
Very sensitive and capable of receiving the
This is the most
important factor relating to a successful DX receiver
and falls into two parts:
* The quality of the filters
* The dynamic range and third order intercept point
of the receiver.
These factors enable the radio
to reject adjacent channel signals and render the
desired station readable with the least amount of
My test method for filters is
to select a medium powered station of about S10
and note the offset before the filter starts falling
off and then the reading when it has completed the
filtering. For the dynamic range, I then take a
very powerful station of S10+50 and see how far
the signal extends beyond the centre before it will
pick up a weak signal.
R8A Filters: Narrow 2.4/3.2
Khz wide also 4, 1.8 and 0.5 Khz AM 6 - 5.8/9.0
In practice the R8A filters are
very good and perform well. These are unusual electronic
filters unique to Drake and work on a High-Q principle
at an IF frequency of 50 Khz.
In general, testing these two radios against
the most powerful local S10+50 stations I found
no difference, but occasionally the R8A appeared
to be slightly better at rejecting a station such
as 6100 Khz, when the R8A was able to do a better
job of making both 6110 and 6115 intelligible.
AR7030 Filters: Narrow
2.6/3.1 Khz also 7 and 9.5 Khz AM 6 6.0/7.8 Khz
These are ceramic filters and work better than some
expensive crystal filters that I have used. They
appear to have steep skirts as claimed by the manufacturer.
They are very good. The AR is a superb performer
but most of the time it is almost impossible to
detect a difference between the two sets of any
Testing radios in a lab
with ideal constant conditions is very different
from testing with a long antenna with a lot of summer
thunder storms about creating heavy static and much
local electrical interference.
Other factors such as audio and
AGC also influence readability, which I discuss
Much highly technical
discussion has been written about AGC characteristics,
often confusing the uninitiated completely. Quite
simply, it boils down to whether you can hear your
chosen station easily with good readability under
heavy static conditions.
R8A The AGC of the
Drake is very smooth and allows quite easy listening
in heavy static and gives good readability of a
AR7030 The characteristics of
this radio is spiky. This means that
under heavy static conditions such as listening
to the Tropical Bands in summer, the audio sound
tends to be very sharp. This renders listening more
difficult and tiresome and a little heavy going
on the ears. It can also render a station less readable
than a radio with a smoother AGC characteristic.
This is often a matter of personal
preference, but in radio, audio has a different
function to what you may want to listen to in a
hi-fi system. If the sound from a radio is too bright,
DXing will become tiresome. If on the other hand
it is too deep or dull, then you may
not be able to distinguish weak DX voice signals.
R8A This audio is typical American,
favouring the bass and being somewhat on the dull
This can be controlled to a certain extent by the
judicious use of the Passband Offset, which will
increase the treble in the signal. Also turning
the tone control to increase the treble increases
the brilliance of the sound. So you can listen comfortably
in heavy static for hours on this radio.
AR7030 The audio is typically
British, quite on the bright side. This can be pleasant
when listening to powerful stations free of static
and the audio response is obviously very good. However,
when DXing in static, and coupled with the AGC characteristic,
the resultant noise on the ears is quite tiresome.
Background hiss becomes quite noxious.
Turning the AGC off or adjusting the separate tone
control does not help much. Something like listening
to an old scratched 78 rpm record.
This facility locks onto the
signal and stabilises it in conditions of fade.
Neither of the radios weak signal DX is particularly
helped by the use of this function. I personally
find this feature a little overrated on receivers
of this high calibre. This is because if the going
gets tough, I am going to switch to sideband. SSB
reception of difficult AM broadcast stations gives
a much better result than listening in AM with synchronous
R8A Works very well and, used
with the Passband Offset, can be positioned anywhere
in the Passband.
AR7030 Also works very well and can be positioned
anywhere in the Passband. Holds lock on weak signals
marginally better than the R8A. Has to be centred
on the frequency, but does this itself automatically.
and PC Computer Control
Modern radios are more
and more operated via their internal computer micro-processors
to a greater or lesser degree. This allows many
advantages but can also have the drawback of creating
radio interference noise. Both of these radios
are certified to the American FCC and European CE
standards and are thus well shielded.
R8A Whilst this radio has a high
degree of computer internal control, functions such
as volume, squelch, tone, passband offset and RF
gain are by traditional rotary controls. Computer
control of the radio is possible (with the exception
of the manual rotary functions mentioned above)
via a built in RS232 interface. Unfortunately Drake
do not supply PC operating software and I know of
no good one available from third party vendors.
AR7030 Every single function
on the AR is fully computerised and can thus be
retained in the memories or VFOs. So in addition
to all the things traditionally retained, now also
are kept the volume, passband offset, gain and tone.
These things are also remembered when moving from
mode to mode. This is generally a great advantage
but can also be a curse if you forget where your
settings are (as they are not displayed). AR have
recognised this and to help you they have three
special memories that retain your favourite settings.
Still it is all quite complicated and a little confusing
for the older generation. The set can be operated
by PC computer but so far no operating software
R8A large display that shows
all of the sets operating parameters at one glance.
AR7030 Very small display with
small difficult to read figures in a cluttered screen.
Only a few operating parameters shown at any one
time. Seeing what settings you have requires quite
a bit of toggling the menu buttons to see where
you are. I found this to be tedious and distracting.
When DXing you can lose track of what your settings
are and it is a bit off-putting to have to manipulate
various controls to see what they are.
Ease of Operation
Whilst ease of operation may
not get you any more DX catches, it will make life
easier for you if the layout and general operation
suit your personal style. My own preference is for
one touch operation and the ability to see all operating
parameters displayed on the screen at once.
R8A In its latest incarnation,
the R8A is the easiest of the top line communications
receivers to operate. Everything is available at
one touch of a knob or button and everything is
displayed for you to see the operating parameters
on the screen. This radio suits me very well and
allows for many pleasant hours of DXing. A major
feature of these two sets is their excellent passband
offset facility. Unfortunately, on the R8A the setting
can only be made roughly (it is not calibrated precisely
like the ARs) and then tuned for perfection
by ear. Since the setting for upper or lower sideband
is different, you have to do a lot of knob twiddling
each time you change mode.
AR7030 This radio is complicated to operate, taking
me over ten days to familiarise myself with all
its complex possibilities and requiring constant
reference to the user s manual. However, once
you have become familiar with its menu operating
system I got along fine with it. The menus
cascade down from the screen in a fairly logical
sequence, very similar to the Rohde & Schwartz
EK890, although that sets operation was more logical,
simple and visible. What I really did like was the
electronic digital storage of operating parameters
such as the passband offset. I like to use +2 on
USB and -2 on LSB. The AR holds this beautifully
whereas on the Drake you have to struggle with the
manual rotary knob each time you change mode.
I never used to be over impressed
by the number of memories available in a set, but
since the advent of up to 1000 memories onboard
and extending it even further on a PC to over 10,000,
and the use of alpha station/memory identifiers,
I have revised my opinion on the usefulness of the
memory function. Indeed, large numbers of alpha
identified memories are useful to a serious Dxer
R8A This set has 440 memories
that can be alpha identified. In addition, once
a frequency is stored in memory, it will appear
on the display screen when you are tuning through
For instance, I store every recognisable MW station;
this then makes DXing through the MW band easier
as when tuning through the band it displays the
station in alpha each time I pass a stored station.
Likewise on the Tropical band. Very useful and simple
AR7030 The AR has just 100 memories
and they do not have alpha identifiers. But they
do store much more than a usual set as additional
functions such as squelch level and passband offset.
In addition to the usual items stored, this gives
memory scanning on this receiver new possibilities.
I must confess that I have yet
to find a communications receiver that successfully
scans the shortwave bands. The Sony portables do
it well, but not the bigger tabletop receivers.
These two sets are no exception.
R8A Has a variety of band scanning
features, none of which work very well. However,
with the VHF option installed the scanning comes
into its own when scanning VHF airband memories.
AR7030 Has memory scanning only,
and because of its ability to install individual
memory squelch levels, it does have some possibilities
for keeping tabs on the Beeb, VOA etc.
R8A Works well and useful for getting rid of heterodyne
whistles. Also helps filter out annoying mush
and makes DXing easier on the ears. AR7030 Not fitted
R8A Very useful for getting rid of the annoying
electrical spikes in my area and inhibiting tropical
band static. AR7030 Not fitted.
AR7030 Included. Is rather small with small
imprecise rubbery buttons. Cramped space and unclear
markings make it rather difficult to use for the
poor of sight. I preferred to use the facilities
on the set itself. R8A remote not available.
R8A Three well chosen tuning rates via an awful
cheap plastic tuning knob. (Shame Drake!)
Fast in 1 Khz steps for moving through the AM band
Medium in 100 Hz steps for more precise tuning in
Slow in a well paced 10 Hz step for SSB. Nice!
Direct entry of frequency via onboard keypad.
AR7030 Two steps only:
A very fast rate for moving rapidly up and down
the bands. I preferred this to using the direct
frequency entry via the remote control. The only
other rate is semi-fast in 10 Hz steps. Too fast
and coarse for my liking in SSB. Direct entry of
frequency via the remote.
R8A Not impressive, rubbery keypad, uninspiring
metal casing and that terrible plastic tuning knob.
Having been weaned on an Eddystone, I have a thing
about big solid knurled tuning knobs.
AR7030 Excellent metal casing and engineering with
nice sized solid tuning knob. Looks more like a
piece of a Hi-Fi set rather than a serious communications
In addition to the usual antenna inputs, the
AR7030 has an extremely useful whip antenna facility.
This allows a whip or a couple of meters of wire
to be attached to the antenna socket and switch
in an antenna amplifier for the short length. It
works surprisingly well and is a boon in the summer
thunderstorms when the main antennas have to be
The AR has four fitted filters, only two of
which are useful for DXing. Is it necessary to fit
an additional filter such as a 3.5 Khz to the AR?
I think not, as most of my DXing is done with the
2.3 Khz filter in SSB mode and this arrangement
is more than adequate. Likewise I would not fit
a 1.8 Khz filter as the 3 Khz separation on the
Maritime and Aero bands renders this unnecessary.
The R8A has five well selected filters, all useful
Using the handheld remote controller you can
set any tuning step you like such as 1.5 Khz for
CW, 3 Khz for maritime or aero bands, 5 Khz for
AM and so on. A feature I love which should be mandatory
on all serious DX radios.
Both sets are well equipped for
the reception of data communications.
Both sets have quite good inboard speakers that
perform well, but both improve greatly when connected
to an outboard extension speaker. Both can be connected
to a Hi-Fi set as well.
I am not mentioning many other
small features of both sets. These have been well
published elsewhere. My main concern in this comparison
has been to highlight the sets serious DX capabilities
and how close these sets come to the ultimate DX
What of all the hype that has
surrounded the AR7030? Many commentators have stated
that the voice intelligibility of the AR7030 is
far superior to that of the Drake R8A. I cannot
make this finding at all, in every type of DX situation
the R8A is absolutely equal in all respects to the
AR7030. It makes me wonder if some Drake operators
fully appreciate all the operating controls on the
Drake and what they can do.
I can only understand the enthusiasm for the AR7030
in relation to the price of the radio in Europe,
where it is considerably cheaper than anything that
performs nearly as well as it does. In Europe it
is some Rand 3,500 cheaper than the Drake R8A and
many thousands of Rands less than the NRD 535D.
In the USA the position is different though, the
AR is more expensive than the Drake by some Rand
Are these the ideal DX receivers?
Yes I think so in relation to a price tag of around
Rand 5,000. I dont think the radio reception
side gets much better even at a considerably higher
price. The only addition that would be nice is DSP
(digital sound processing) filtering, but this would
add considerably to the price tag and put the receivers
out of the range of budget conscious DXers.
Performance wise these two radios
are virtually identical. Both will pick up the weakest
and most challenging DX with ease. I can emphatically
state that the AR in no way outperforms the R8A,
and stress again that the two sets performance,
after three weeks of careful testing on a wide variety
of DX stations, is equal in all respects. They are
both superb receivers.
The differences lie in the non
* The R8A is very easy to use,
the AR quite complicated and requiring many more
operations per change.
* Not all operating parameters can be seen at the
same time on the ARs LCD screen, on the R8A
you see it all.
* Filters, sensitivity, dynamic range and selectivity
on both sets is excellent.
* The only area that the R8A is markedly better
than the AR is the sound when DXing. The R8A gives
a smooth easy sound, the AR a sharp bright spiky
sound like listening to an old record. Quite unpleasant
* The AR has 100 memories, the R8A has 440 with
* AR has a lovely amplified whip antenna feature
and step tuning.
* R8A has essential notch filter and noise blanker.
Also has band scanning facilities.
* Build quality on the AR is very good, but the
R8A quite mediocre.
The AR company is said to be
working on offering: Notch filter, Noise Blanker
and more alpha identified memories.
What would I choose if my sets
were redistributed? Without doubt the R8A for its
ease of operation and excellent features. However,
if I was buying in Europe the choice would have
to be the AR7030 because of its much lower price.
1999 update for Drake R8B
For several months now, I have
upgraded to the Drake R8B version.
My own observations are that radiowise, the R8A
and R8B are identical. Drakes own user manuals and
other published data confirm this observation.
The only differences are:
* R8B has 1000 memories
* R8B has a superlative sideband selectable synchronous
detector. This allows easy listening of normally
difficult fading stations and also has the effect
of enhancing audio fidelity. It also helps reception
of weak DX catches.
AR7030+ Plus version
This more expensive version is
now available with more alpha identifiable memories,
notch filter and noise blanker. The notch filter
is automatic and does a great job of zapping offending
Further testing at this
QTH with ERGO software control of the radio shows
that it is VERY slow on computer control of the
radio, as its internal control rate is only 1200
baud, compared to the Drake R8Bs of 9600 baud.
on DXing.info on April 22, 2005 - originally published