Degen DE221 Quick Look

Gary Sargent

I saw the announcement a few months ago about a number of new Degen small radios. The new DE221 caught my attention. I’ve been waiting for someone to buy one and report their observations. Not seeing this, I decided to buy one and give it a quick evaluation.

The DE221 is an upgrade of the Degen DE321 AM, FM and SW low cost small radio. Both are based on the Silicon Labs DSP chip. The major difference is that the DE321 is entirely looking like an old style mechanically tuned radio.  The DE221, even though based on the same DSP technology, it has most of the appearance and operation of a low end digital AM (MW), FM, and SW radio.

Some major points of the DE221

·         - Is a little smaller and thinner than the popular PL380. Pocketable.

·         - Digital display (non-backlit) of frequency, mode (I.e. MW, FM or SW)  time, alarm, sleep timer and battery strength

·          -Tuning is via a rotary control on the right side. The band is selected by a top mounted slider band switch (FM1, FM2, MW and 8 SW bands)

·         - As the band is tuned, a mechanical pointer on the right side of the front case moves from a value of 0 at the bottom to a 10 at the top. Think of this as a sort of band spread indication to show generally where you are in a band.

·         - As you tune, the digital display is showing the tuned frequency, in megahertz FM and SW and kilohertz MW. -There is a small and sensitive “Tune” LED that comes on when a station is exactly tuned in

·         - Volume is a rotary control on the right .. good speaker volume and good headphone sound

·         -There are 8 buttons with all legends in Chinese. But they are simple enough. The buttons from 1 to 8, from left to right and from top to bottom are:

1 – Stereo / mono for FM

2 – Alarm off / on (only when powered off). Alarm turns on the radio to last station tuned in.

3 – Set current time or alarm time hours (only when powered off)

4 – Select sleep timer minutes (steps from 90 to off with each press) and turns on the radio

5 – Set the current time (press and hold until display blinks, only when powered off)

6 – Set the alarm time (press and hold until display blinks, only when powered off)

7 - Set current time or alarm time minutes (only when powered off)

8 – Radio power on / off 

·     -   - Powered by 2 AA batteries or external 5 VDC. No feature to recharge batteries.

·         - Stereo headphone jack and a lock switch on the left side.

So how does it work?

·         In general the tuning control takes maybe two complete revolutions to span a band. So the tuning is not as difficult or ‘touchy’ as the DE321. The tuning seems smooth though mine seems to slip some. Time will tell if this is a chronic problem.  I had to take the radio apart and apply some auto belt conditioner to add a little grip to the dial cord (string, really) used inside. It has helped so far. The “tune” led comes on when a stronger station is tuned spot on say 88.1 not 88.0 or 88.2.

·         FM: good sensitivity and reasonable selectivity. Tunes in 100 khz increments. A given station can be heard even if the indicated frequency in the display is off by plus or minus a few hundred khz. Stereo in head phones. The DE221 heard almost all of the FM stations that my PL380 did. So FM performance is excellent.


MWMW: Poor sensitivity and selectivity. Touchy to tune to get exactly on the desired frequency. However the tuning is so broad, per the display, that you can receive the station even if the display indicates the frequency 20 or more kilohertz plus or minus from the actual frequency. So it’s easy to tune. Only tunes to 1620 khz. Only good for the medium and stronger local stations. The ferrite bar antenna looks to be just short of two inches long. The muting / volume reduction seems aggressive such that turning up the volume for a weak station may well blast you when you tune through a stronger station.

·         SW: Tunes in 5 khz increments.  Same broad tuning of a station as above for MW stations. Very sensitive off whip but burdened by some garble from the local MW stations on some SW bands. It was able to hear almost all of the SW stations that the PL380 did. Plus this tunes very much like an analog type of radio … meaning that you can fairly quickly scan across a band looking for stations. Overall, decent SW performance.


For a just over $20 price point the DE221 is just ok performance wise. The FM performance is very good and makes the DE221 acceptable for the price. SW performance is ok but MW is so-so. And this is assuming that my DE221 slipping tuning control is not an issue with all DE221’s.  Overall I feel there are other receivers at the price point with better overall performance. I’ve compared the DE221 to the PL380 that costs twice the price of the DE221 but the performance and features comparison is like night and day in favor of the PL380.

Gary KE8WO

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