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October 13, 2012 Comments (0) Outdoor Tech

Kaito Voyager NOAA Weatherband Radio

With everything we tote out to our campsites on a regular basis, somewhere in there is usually a radio. Some folks bring it along just to listen to music, some for emergency information should things go poorly, and lots of folks just like to have access to the most recent weather report. In this review, Woods Monkey takes a look at the Kaito Voyager. The Voyager is a medium sized AM/FM, Shortwave, and NOAA weatherband radio capable of functioning by a myriad of options.

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When friends and family and I head out to the woods for casual car camping, we almost always bring a radio. It isn’t necessarily for emergency weather reports, but that is something that I consider. Mostly though, a radio is just there for background noise, entertainment, news updates, and general listening. Up until recently, the radio I brought along was a small, underpowered pocket sized radio that only runs off alkaline AA batteries. The Voyager radio, produced by Kaito, can do everything I need, has multiple power options, and tunes into virtually any band I may want access to.

The Voyager is a table-top sized radio, designed to function equally well in daily use and during a power outage emergency. The Voyager is 8” wide, 5” tall, and 2.6” thick, and all of the various parts of the Voyager store neatly out of the way, making for a relatively snag-free design. With all the power options, and bands to listen to, we’ll start the review off by discussing the power functions, then move on to reception and field use.

The Kaito Voyager is capable of functioning off of four separate power sources. The first and simplest way to power the radio is to drop three AA batteries into the battery tray in the back panel of the radio. The instructions don’t advise against using rechargeables, so that’s exactly what I did. Using 2300mah (milli-amp/hour) batteries, the radio functioned just fine. I popped in three fully charged batteries and was able to listen to the radio for well over a week. In actuality, it was nearly two weeks of use for an hour or two a day, before the sound started to fade.

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The second, and most useful way to power the radio in an emergency, is the built in dyno (crank) that charges the built in battery pack. When you first receive the radio, you have to plug in the battery connector into the radio, which is a very simple task. Kaito ships the Voyager with the battery disconnected so as to prevent any electrical problems and keep the battery from draining down to nothing. Plugging in the battery is as simple as opening the battery compartment, pressing the plug in, and closing it back up. The battery is a 3.6v, Ni-Mh 600mah sealed battery that stores in its own slot in the battery compartment. The crank is well-positioned on the end of the radio, and I found it comfortable to turn with my right hand, while my left was holding the radio down on a flat surface. In testing, I was able to fully charge the battery in two continuous minutes of turning the charging crank, which gave be about thirty minutes of listening time at a medium to low volume. I found this to be excellent run-time for the effort I had to put in it, and I’d be completely satisfied if this was the only way to power the radio.

But, it’s not. The radio will also charge itself via the solar panel that tips up while you’re off doing other things. This is excellent, and I was able to get an approximate 90% charge (based on tested run time) with a full day of the radio sitting in front of my sliding glass patio door which gets sun for the majority of the day. The Voyager will not charge with the solar panel while you’re listening to it, which I didn’t expect. The solar panel is simply too small to put out enough power to keep the radio running, it’s only acting like a trickle-charger filling up the battery. The last way the Voyager will charge is via an AC wall charger. However, this is not included with the radio, so I was not able to test it out. I would prefer to see this come with the Voyager, even if it raised the price a couple of bucks. I think most folks would simply leave it plugged in and charged while it’s in use. Please don’t take this point as a complaint, though. With every other way to power the radio, you’ll have plenty of options to keep it running when you need it.

The success of any radio is not the power system, however. It’s the reception. Reception has to be there for any radio to be a winner. And with the Voyager, reception is definitely there. You get AM, FM, all seven NOAA weatherband stations, to banks of Shortwave frequencies, and a Weather Alert function as well! The extendable antenna on the back of the radio does an excellent job pulling in those weak signals. The Voyager has a 4” speaker, mounted so that it projects forward from the face. The sound is clear and crisp, plenty loud enough for casual listening, and I didn’t get any pops or ‘scratchiness’ from it whatsoever. This is a common problem with small speakers, and I was surprised to hear the Voyager’s sound was so good.

Testing FM first, I was able to pick up all my local stations, including several low and medium powered stations from over thirty miles away. One of the things that makes this possible is the analog tuning dial that really lets you ‘home in’ on the signal you’re looking for. I prefer analog tuning on radio’s like this, and even on my Ham radios, because I think it is much more efficient at getting those weak signals to come through than the digital dial a lot of pocket radios are going to. Low on the FM spectrum, around 88mhz to 90mhz, is a little trickier to pick up on this radio, but I was still able to grab my local NPR affiliate at 89.9 without too much trouble.

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AM signals on the Voyager are loud and clear. From 530khz all the way on up to 1710khz I could hear the news, weather, and talk stations that are so common on the AM band. What else is surprising, is how well AM came in during the peak of the day, an otherwise tough time for small radio’s. AM requires propagation to travel a long way, which basically means it’s bouncing off the atmosphere and coming back down to us. CB guys used to call this ‘skip’, and the term is still in use in the Ham radio crowd. AM frequencies have a tougher time in the peak of the day when the atmosphere is at its thinnest. But the Voyager didn’t seem to mind and I could hear all the talk radio I wanted, which isn’t much, while I ate lunch on my deck.

The shortwave function is great, and I truly get a kick out of rolling the dial around and picking up stations from all over the world. Like AM, Shortwave (SW) has a preferred time of day it likes to go bouncing around above us, night time. At night, the SW spectrum truly comes alive, and by 11:00pm I could get ten to fifteen stations clearly, from inside my house. After a night shift at work, I stepped outside at 4:30 AM and the SW band was on fire with political talk, foreign news, religious extremism, pirate (meaning illegal, not peg-legs and swords) music stations, and even a few guys chatting about pick-ups. SW is not something I spend a lot of time listening to, but it is nice to have access to it during an emergency or natural disaster.

The weather band function on the Voyager is also pretty good. There is a separate selector switch on the front of the radio, and the NOAA weathers stations are all pre-programmed and numbered 1-7 on the dial. This works pretty well, and I seemed to always be able to get one of the stations clearly. I would have preferred these to be on the dial, where I could fine-tune the reception, but it works fine just the way it is. The Kaito Voyager also comes with a weather alert function, which when activated, will turn the radio on automatically when there is an emergency alert in your area. This is an excellent feature for a radio like this that’s designed to be used during natural disasters or other emergencies.

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Built into the rubberized housing are two sets of LED’s, one at the front that acts like a flashlight, and a bank of five under the solar panel that do duty as a ‘reading lamp’ according to Kaito. The LED’s put out decent light and having them run off the rechargeable battery is a definite plus. The reading lamp LED’s are plenty bright enough to read by, but not enough for prolonged use. I think if you needed to work through a repair manual for your generator in the dark, they’d be just fine. Try to read War and Peace, and you’ll end up with a headache. Also built into the radio is a USB output to charge your electronics. This is the only aspect of the radio that didn’t perform like I’d hoped. The output was just too low to charge my iPhone 4s, even during continuous cranking on the dyno. But, the USB port did put out enough power to charge my LED Lenser flashlight, which is pretty good if you ask me. If you have a phone or mp3 player that only needs the 500milli-amps typical of most USB ports, I’m sure it will work just fine.

All in all, I think the Kaito Voyager is an excellent radio for several uses. It’s built well and sounds excellent, so you can use it every day around the house or workshop. It is also durable enough to come along on those camping trips or even out on the boat over the water. The multiple power features will come in handy when the lights go out, and the various bands ensure you’ll always have access to the latest news and weather. For a street price of right at $50.00, the Voyager packs capabilities of a radio well above this price point. If you’re in the market for a durable, multiple power option radio, take a look at the Kaito Voyager.

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