Sangean PR-D14 AM/FM Radio with USB MP3/WMA Playback
Although the Sangean PR-D3 has been my favorite radio due to its superb sensitivity and overall build quality, the adventurous part of me still wants to find a device that can help me enjoy my favorite songs and audiobooks, while at the same time offering similar AM/FM capabilities. With this in mind, I searched Amazon and quickly came across the PR-D14, another AM/FM radio from Sangean that also supports MP3/WMA playback from USB:
The USB port is at the top of the device with a rubber cover to prevent dust when the port is not in use. With this rather odd design, a tiny USB thumb drive is preferable, otherwise you may accidentally knock off the radio with the USB thumb drive sticking out of the port. To maximize battery life, you might also want to select a brand that consumes as little power as possible, as some cheap USB devices might not be designed with low power consumption in mind. Internally, the firmware probably only supports USB 1.1 as there is no need for high speed just to play audio files, so you may not want to use the fastest and largest device you can find. Up to 32GB FAT16/FAT32 drives are supported, although a 64GB or 128GB drives might work if you manage to format it with FAT32 and not exFAT. In my case, the SanDisk Cruzer Fit CZ33 with 16GB capacity (SDCZ33-016G-B35) which consumes around 15mA on average is just perfect. Refer to this link for the power consumption of several USB thumb drives.
What I like about the PR-D14 is that users can switch between various folders on the USB drive before switching between the tracks within each folder. By storing each audiobook or music album in its own folder, I can select which chapter or song I want to listen to just by switching between the tracks. The display will show “F3 T12″ to indicate that you are listening to track 12 in folder 3. This feature, however, comes with some major limitations. For one thing, nested folders (e.g. sub-folders) are not recommended and will cause weird behaviors if present on the USB drive. Despite taking a few seconds to read the folder structure upon startup (display will show READING during this period), the PR-D14 does not sort the files/folders by name, so entries may not appear alphabetically, depending on how they were copied. Also, because the PR-D14 does not show the folder name until after playing has started, it might take a few attempts to select the correct folder for playback, especially when your items do not appear in alphabetical order. As a workaround, you might want to use something like DriveSort on the thumb drive before using it on the PR-D14.
According to the user manual, the PR-D14 will memorize the last played file and will automatically resume playback from the last position if playback had been paused (e.g. by pressing the PAUSE button) before switching the device off. However, during my experiment, this is somewhat hit-and-miss. Sometimes playback would resume correctly, sometimes the device would simply play the beginning of the last track, while at other times the first track on the thumb drive would be played instead! Not to mention the fact that users may simply turn the device off without pressing PAUSE, in which case the last play position would not be stored. Occasionally in media playback mode, the PR-D14 would hang at “READING” upon startup. Soft-powering off and on the device would not help and the display will hang at “READING” again. To recover, you must remove the USB thumb drive, wait for 5 seconds before plugging it in again. Strangely, sometimes the radio would show “NO DEVICE” if powering up in USB mode but still proceed to play the last track. These issues do not affect me that much, as they only happen once in a while, but can certainly be improved in a future firmware update.
Speaker audio is warm and clear in both radio and USB modes, although a bass/treble adjustment like the Sangean PR-D3 would have allowed for some flexibility in adjusting the sound output. The 12-segment display supports up to 9 alpha-numeric characters and is useful to display names of FM station or files/folders. FM RDS performance is great and station names are displayed almost instantly given a strong enough signal. There is no fine-tuning, which is a bit disappointing, but the tuning step can be easily switched between 9kHz / 10Khz and 50KHz / 100KHz for AM and FM bands respectively. Although FM sensitivity and selectivity is superb, or rather as good as it can be for most FM stations, the same cannot be said for AM stations. On weak AM stations, the Sangean PR-D3 performs much better than the PR-D14, which is not surprising given the PR-D3’s 200mm ferrite coil. Audio on weak AM stations is also less intelligible on the PR-D14 compared to the PR-D3, which has a bass/treble adjustment that can be used to somewhat improve the audio quality. That said, for strong AM stations, both radios appear to be on par with each other, although the PR-D14 certainly sounds a bit warmer.
Unlike the PR-D3, the PR-D14 has a line-in socket which can be useful to play external media. There are also two alarm clocks that can be set independently, and the clock only shows hour and minute, as compared to the PR-D3 which also displays seconds. The number of presets remains at 5 for each band, and there is no socket for an external AM antenna, unlike the PR-D3. Not that there is a need for one, the radio is probably not designed with the best AM performance in mind (the lack of fine tuning would have made this obvious). What’s more, one can always simply tap the telescopic antenna to an external wire antenna, if stronger FM reception is needed.
The battery indicator on the PR-D14 is always shown when the radio is in use, as compared to the PR-D3 which only shows the battery level for a short time after the POWER button is pressed. The manual lists an average runtime of around 170 hours for 4 hours daily at average volume, which is a reasonable estimate in my opinion. During my tests, the battery level reduced gradually throughout a period of six months of average use, until one day the device showed “POWERFAIL” and refused to power on until the batteries were replaced. This error message is somewhat misleading as it seems to suggest that the power supply unit rather than the battery has failed; a simpler message such as “LOWBATT” would have been more user-friendly.
All in all, the PR-D14 is a great little AM/FM radio that can also be used to play your favorite songs or audio books. AM performance is obviously no match for the PR-D3, but that is exactly what the PR-D3 is for! As usual, I could not find a service manual for this radio – I believe the device is not built for major repairs. I can only find the user manual, which can be downloaded here.