N9EWO Review :
Degen DE1103 - Kaito KA1103
LW - MW - SW - FM Portable Receiver

Degen's "mixed bag" DE1103 portable LW-MW-SW-FM receiver, also sold as the Kaito KA1103. (N9EWO Photo)

(I do not own a DE1103, a test sample was used for this report)
Approx. serial number on test sample (2004) : AI 0123xx

Good Construction

Our DE1103 test sample's construction was of reasonable quality. It scores better than more current Degen models. However it still uses little "scotch taped on to the PC board" thin metal buttons. I personally know for a few that have failed in use (including the tape).

Loaded With Accessories, Thin Caring Case

The DE1103 we tested included earbud phones and a wire antenna. Also 4 AA 1300 mah Ni-Mh batteries are in the box as well. The very thin cloth pouch is a joke. No where near as thick as the case for the DE1101. The protection factor is light to non-existent. With the tested 2004 sample, it was imported directly from China, so no AC Adapter was included (not tested).

Built in charge recharge circuit for proper batteries (Untested)

As it was on the DE1101 and DE1102, The included nickel metal hydride batteries can be charged right in the set. The user adjusts the timer circuit using the "VOL" button and "Tune" knob.

Tactile Response, Set a General Ergonomic Nightmare / Volume Control That is a PAIN To Use.

Tactile response of the buttons on the DE1103 is excellent, but the small button factor that hits the DE1101 and 1102 is still a nasty issue one has to deal with on the 1103 too. Especially if the owner has larger fingers. All is tight on the front panel.

This has to be one of the worst portable receivers I have tested for ergonomics (even the DE1121 / KA1121 is better in some ways). First the keypad is in a nonstandard one row "across" layout. I guess once can get used to this in time, but really this should not be.

A bit of good news here is that one does not have to push a button to "Start" to enter a frequency. Just tap in the numbers (Khz) hit the tiny "Band +" button and that's it (Band "-" for FM). This does help the nastiness a bit with the sour ergonomics.

Next gremlin is that the volume control shares the "tuning knob encoder". So one is forced to play the button game. That is push you the VOL button, adjust the volume, and wait another 2 seconds for the control to come back to the tuning function. I could find no button to toggle back to the tuning function immediately. You just have to wait it out.

One can get around this problem (depending the way you want to look at it), enter the number of the desired volume level on the keypad and hit the "Vol" button. The wait time is still required.

The bandwidth / tone switch is located on the side and is not easy to operate.

LCD Display is a Big Waste of Space on the Front Panel / Total SW Coverage and LW Too

The DE1103 covers the entire SW spectrum, unlike the DE-1102 or DE1121.

As one looks at the DE1103's front panel, you see the simulated dial pointer for a good part of the used SWBC bands (10 of these bands), MW and most of the covered FM band, so total of 12 "Bands". LW is also covered (100 to 519 Khz), but is not shown in the analog window.

A bonus is that each "band" on the LCD has it's own memory, so whatever frequency you had tuned before you moved, it will still be there when you return.

But just as it is on the old Sony ICF-SW40, this layout on the LCD serves no real purpose. It's hard to see the numbers anyway all being very small.

Tuning Knob, But No Slewing Buttons / Knob Steps Only 1 Khz on SW and MW / Good Band Scanner, No Muting

The Degen DE1101 and DE1102 models lack any tuning knob at all. One of the high points of the DE1103 is that it has a very solid tuning knob. It lacks any detents when rotating (unlike the DE1121), is a traditional smooth knob.

This is a double edge sword however. Combined with the only tuning step on SW (which is 1 Khz), and with the smooth dial...it makes for a tricky (touchy) operation. You usually sail by a desired frequency the first time around.

You cannot tune in 5 khz steps on SW with the knob. Even if 5 Khz was offered, that would be an even worse situation without a detented knob. To make matters even worse, MW is also stuck on 1 khz steps. So the 9/10 Khz step issue on MW is moot.

When the auto "scanner" is employed, the steps here are 5 Khz on SW and yes still 1 Khz on MW. It takes a longer time to scan with MW signals, but interestingly it stops "on" channel more time than not and thank goodness works well.

Another big plus is that Degen is using no muting with the tuning knob. So a tad of microprocessor hash can be heard while rotating, but to my ears this is not severe at all. I would rather hear this noise vs. a nasty muting circuit.

SSB Mode an Improvement over DE1102 - Stable

The SSB mode works with a passing grade for non critical uses. It's not all what it could be however.

Even with 2 bandwidths the narrowest one is still too wide. Even worse an excessive amount of distortion is also present. No USB/LSB switch is found either.

But the SSB warble that existed on the DE1102 model is gone. Not only is the general stability of the DE-1103 good, the SSB is equally solid so any touchup to the provided "fine tune" control is not an issue.

Memories / EEPROM / 2 Ways to Have it

No battery is required to retain the memories. This receiver uses EEPROM circuitry, thus eliminates this requirement. Alas the clock will need to be reset if the batteries are removed for any length of time.

268 total memories exist on the 1103. 12 of these are counted as "band presets", so in reality there is 256.

If the owner wishes to make life easier and chooses not to deal with "Memory Pages, there is another scheme that can be used but limits the number to 100 memories (0 to 99).

Audio Quality / A Real "Line" Audio Output

I feel that the SW audio quality while not being poor is not in the same league as other portables in this class. It lacks crispness. But for many this will not be a drawback.

Bass nevertheless is lacking and no enhancement circuit as found on the DE-1102 to help compensate (that was only on FM on the DE-1102).

The 1103 has a "separate" audio line output jack. This is a stereo jack too, so when a FM STEREO is tuned in the output from this jack will be stereo as well provided the correct cable is used. It is a proper level too, that is not too loud or soft. Very good to see the correct circuit and separate jack being used after the disaster scheme used on the DE-1102 (which was not even a line out jack anyway).

Dial Lock / Light

The dial light is useful, however it's not the brightest. Also if an AC adapter is connected this dial lighting is supposed to stay on full time (not tested).

Dial lock also locks this light switch as well. Once the lock is switched on, the light switch will operate for one timed interval (about 7 seconds) and then go "locked".

The entire LCD has a dark background to it.

Sensitivity / Selectivity / Dynamic Range / Image and AGC Issues

Circuit noises with this Degen are non-existent. It is a very quiet receiver.

Sensitivity appears to be good as well, either with its internal whip or when connected to an external antenna.

Sadly the external jack only works with SW or MW. On FM you are out of luck. Yes this is odd when compared to most newer Degen sets as they lack MW out the antenna jack and do work on FM.

And speaking of the FM , the performance is on the very good side. Sensitive, selective with a good capture ratio.

Being that the DE1103 is using a Dual UP conversion scheme on SW (1st IF being 55.845 Mhz), very good image rejection should be the norm. Well for the most part it is, but hold the phone.

I did experience 900 khz down images when connected to an external antenna. For example, WYFR was heard on 5165 khz (fundamental frequency of 6065 khz). This takes a fairly strong signal for this to happen, but this should not be here at all period ! So I have to give the set a fair to good rating in this area.

Dynamic range was tested as excellent. I was unable to hear any overload at anytime during testing. Even on an external antenna, overloading was never heard.

However, on a few VERY strong signals (was in the 49 MB at night, external antenna) I noticed what sounded like an overloaded AGC circuit? The audio in the signal was weakened until I kicked in the attenuaton switch. This was also detected on a very strong local MW station.

S-Meter, But Not on FM

The 4 segment s-meter works quite well. Yes it pins fairly easily, but still beats any single LED.

But very strange that out test samples s-meter did does not function on FM at all.

This same scale is also used for the battery condition meter.

Is the DE1103 the Best from Degen ?

I think that this is debatable. But the slightly muffled audio and sour ergonomics (the volume control is the main PAIN), make that stick in my mind as less of a desirable set to own.

Dave N9EWO
Ver. 3.0

To Main Page