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Reviews Categories | Receivers: General Coverage | SONY CRF-320A Help

Reviews Summary for SONY CRF-320A
SONY  CRF-320A Reviews: 1 Average rating: 5.0/5 MSRP: $(missing—add MSRP)
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EXLABDRIVER Rating: 5/5 Mar 17, 2008 20:00 Send this review to a friend
Not a portable for the beach!  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
After using modern portable radios such as my Sony ICF-SW77 (now dead) and Eton E1 and E5, I recently caught the retro-radio bug. I started searching for a semi-modern receiver such as the Sony CRF-320 or an ICF-6800W that was in top condition. I managed to find a nearly mint CRF-320 complete with front cover on Craig’s List, thus thankfully avoiding e-bay. Fortunately it was within reasonable driving distance so that I could view it and test it out before laying out the big bucks that these receivers command.

As I had never actually seen a CRF-320, my jaw dropped when I walked in to the vendor’s home and finally laid eyes on this one. The vendor was the original owner who bought this unit in Japan (North American model) when he was serving in the USN in the early 80s and it has spent much of its life carefully stored. To me it was stunningly beautiful, immaculate and with its generous size, this radio made a very imposing sight. After twiddling its knobs and comparing its SW performance on its whip to my diminutive but extremely sensitive E5, I was hooked.

The following is a comparison over a couple of weeks on Vancouver Island of the CRF-320 to an Eton E1, E5, and the same vintage Realistic DX-300. Antennas used are a 45 foot PAR EF-SWL, a 77 foot ‘Snake in the Grass’ and a MW Select-A-Tenna that are all routed through a MFJ-1700C antenna/radio switcher. The radios’ whip antennas were not used.

Appearance – Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to me, the CRF-320 is substantial piece of gear, heavy (almost 30 lbs - this is a portable?!) and is a most impressive looking receiver. It exudes quality, elegance, and class. It is certainly a fine example of the look of high end electronics of the 1970s.

Build Quality – Externally, it is flawlessly and robustly built and I expect that it is the same inside. All of its switching gear and knobs are of the highest quality and operate smoothly, positively with no backlash or binding. All switches are sized just right and the tuning knobs are very large and finished with textured rubber for easy, precise tuning. Interestingly, the tuning knobs rotate opposite to the other radios - to increase the frequency, turn the knobs counterclockwise. The frequency dials are elegantly lit and are only illuminated when that particular band is selected. While the SW band has an analog dial, it is nicely supplemented with a digital red LED readout. The MW and FM dials are analog only making it quite difficult to determine the exact frequency (especially in MW) as compared to modern digital units. As with most receivers of the period, this is not a radio that lends itself to quickly searching around the bands.

Performance – Given the age of its technology, sensitivity wise the CRF-320 holds its own against the more modern portable receivers in my stable. After exhaustive testing of all of the radios against each other and utilizing all of the antennas, I can say that each has its own strengths depending on frequency band and conditions; however, there was never a clear overall winner in every case. The E1, compared to the CRF-320 and E5, sometimes had a slight edge in raw sensitivity and really benefited from its Sync Detector; however, it generally was no better than the others with its Sync Detector off. On SSB, the E1 was clearly superior on weak signals due to its fine tuning capability. While the E1 has a great Sync Detector, the CRF-320’s Antenna Tuner is top notch and is highly effective in peaking the desired signal. The CRF-320’s two filters seem to be well implemented. Surprisingly, even the much maligned DX-300 (no overloading here) with a bit of work and careful tuning often was able to ferret out most of the weaker signals right along with the others but was at a distinct disadvantage in resolving weak SSB signals.

Sound Quality – Using the internal speaker, the CRF-320 unquestionably produces the best audio. It exhibits a mellow, almost hi-fi like sound on good source material that the others cannot match. The CRF-320 is also extremely quiet when there is no antenna attached whereas the E1 was consistently strident with an annoying hiss causing me to continually turn it down to minimum when another radio was being tested.

Conclusion – This was a most interesting exercise and all of my radios performed more or less in the same ballpark. What is most intriguing for me is that of all of these radios, I tend to use the vintage DX-300 the most as I enjoy manual tuning. It works very well for most SW Listening situations and utilizing it daily saves wear and tear on my other receivers.

As for the CRF-320, this beast was produced when Sony was at the top of its game in the late 1970s. As an authoritative review acknowledged:

This is one of the most elaborate receivers ever made by Sony. Technical excellence is combined with a damn-the-cost approach to circuit design... It observed that the CRF-320 is primarily intended for SW Listeners and maritime use. The circuit boards are specially treated to withstand moisture and the front panel is splash proof. It therefore earned the coveted FTZ-C designation in Germany sanctioning its use on ships.

Anyone who is intending to chase down one of these units, be advised that there were two versions produced. The earlier production runs sported a mechanical digital/drum clock vice the later LCD clock (like mine). Unfortunately, the earlier version seems to be more susceptible to FM and MW tuning gear failures. Evidently over time the gear material (nylon type?) continually cures and shrinks on its shaft and cracks from stress thus rendering tuning of that band inoperable. Gear trains can be difficult to find now.

I am indeed fortunate to have acquired such an outstanding example of one of Sony’s finest efforts. It really is a knob twiddler’s delight as well as being wonderful to look at. With its apparent value and appeal, I will twiddle its knobs most gently and I won’t be lugging it down to the beach any time soon!

Therefore, given the Sony CRF-320’s age, quality, good performance and impressive appearance, I have no hesitation in awarding it a 5/5.

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