The Realistic DX 394 is a general communications receiver covering 150 KHz to 30 MHz with AM/SSB modes. No longer made it was a budget priced radio when sold as a new retail product and is still holding its value when sold used.
This is my second DX 394 and after instantly regretting selling the first I was happy to find a well looked after second hand model up for sale not far from home. Felt sorry for the seller as he had been sold it on the understanding that it would receive UK police transmissions!, I spent some time explaining about the right frequencies and the sort of scanner he needed in the hope he wouldn’t get duped again.
If he did source the right equipment the usage would have been short because this was about the time these transmissions where switching over the the more secure TETRA system in the UK.
The first 394 was bought dirt cheap when Tandy closed all their shops in the UK with more knocked off after a bit of haggling due to it being without a box. Looking back I still wish there was more money in my wallet that day because the amount of radio gear going cheap was stunning and after working out if I could get away with not paying rent decided against it and walked away.
Front panel is well laid out with enough space between buttons for even my stubby fingers to avoid tripping two buttons at the same time. One thing I will say here is that the 394 is light and unless its wedged against something you’ll find yourself holding the unit while pushing buttons to stop it moving about (a little double sided sticky tape will solve this).
RadioShack have split the button panel into two sections with the business controls kept separate from the tuning and memory functions making selection much easier.
The main tuning dial is just large enough to give a good degree of accuracy with slowing flipping through small steps and even though it feels flimsy to the touch it has never been an issue on the two sets I have owned.
A Peek Inside
Never planning to do any mods on this radio this is the very first time the lid has been lifted and to be honest it could have done with a clean to remove all the extra flux left hanging about before assembly. Overall it looks a bit messy inside compared to the first 394 I owned but there’s no way its going to get cleaned now, I’ll just pop the top back on and try to forget about it 🙂
The radio has dual antenna connections meaning you can fit a HF whip and a long wire at the same time. When my first 394 was set up properly to receive over the entire HF spectrum I had an old CB mag mount for signals above 25 MHz and a 150 foot long wire for everything below, had a much bigger garden back then and don’t think I could run 50 foot of wire now even if I got creative 🙁
A large and loud top mounted speaker means the ext speaker has never been a necessity apart from trying it out after purchasing the radio while checking everything worked. Its good to know though if you intend to stack this radio with others that there’s an alternative to the built in speaker should it be needed.
Reset buttons are something you barely pay attention to until a radio locks up and I didn’t even noticed it until having problems with the first set I owned. A few seconds press will force a reboot and is always easier on the radio than pulling the plug. Only had to do this a few times mostly after the radio had been sat quietly for a few days, I had the impression it just got comfortable where it was and refused to change frequency.
Improving Performance on the DX 394
The stability of the 394 has been solid over the time (and two models) Ive had and leaving it sat on a frequency means it will still be exactly where it should be hours later. Even a small drift can be a nightmare if your using a receiver for decoding things like SSTV (Slow Scan Television) through a computers sound card. I would recommend turning on the lock to prevent knocking the sensitive dial especially if the radio is close by.
There are some modifications to improve overall performance covering many functions on the 394 from the power supply to better clarity on received SSB signals DX 394 mods and manuals. If your not skilled with a soldering iron please don’t ruin your radio by attempting these changes, these mods are quick jobs and you can usually find someone with the necessary skills who will be happy to do the job for you.
Tried some of the mods on the first DX 394 I owned with the most noticeable being the power supply correction to reduce audio hum and the change that made the SSB signal easier to resolve (Impressed with how well this worked)
Things I Would Change About the DX 394
A FM receive mode would come in handy for the 27 MHz CB radio band (even if its quiet these days) along with a usable squelch, I know its a lot to ask for this radios price class but have gotten so used to squelch on the other radios in the shack that it feels a bit odd sat listening to static.
These days this radio serves as a SSTV receiver which sits there hour after hour feeding a Windows 98 PC running Multipsk which stores the SSTV pictures for me to look through at the end of the day.
The DX 394 sold well while it was in production meaning there are usually plenty up for grabs on the secondhand auction sites for a good price but I would recommend going for an unmodified model because you just don’t know how well any changes have been carried out, spend enough time working on radios of any sort and you’ll see lots of half educated and sometimes fatal attempts at tweaking.