No radio gets more positive feedback from both expert reviewers and users than the Midland WR-300 (*Est. $65) . And even though it has been around for a while now, the radio continues to draw raves. Graham McClung, editor of enthusiast sites Home-Weather-Stations-Guide.com and WeatherRadioGuide.com, says the WR-300 is still a strong choice among desktop weather radios -- although it may have competition from a couple of promising newcomers. Among its positives are accessory outlets that let you link the WR-300 to a public-address system or to auxiliary warning devices such as strobe warning lights and pillow vibrators, making the unit ideal for those who are hearing impaired.
On his website, ham-radio enthusiast Richard C. Rhodes performs an extensive test of the Midland WR-300 and offers points to consider when programming a weather radio with Specific Area Messaging Encoding (SAME). He says the WR-300 requires obtaining the SAME location codes on your own -- they're available from the National Weather Service website -- and entering them manually. On the upside, blocking unwanted alerts is easy, and he appreciates that the radio lets users add future alert codes.
The Midland WR-300 is highly rated at most user-review sites, including Amazon.com, where it earns 4.1 stars out of 5 in nearly 800 reviews. The weather radio also scores well at eHam.net, Walmart.com and RadioShack.com. Most users speak highly of the WR-300's performance as a weather radio, but say it does an inferior job when used as an AM/FM receiver or a clock radio -- a problem that Rhodes says arises "when you make a relatively inexpensive device try to do too many things." The WR-300 is Public Alert certified.
The newer Sangean CL-100 (*Est. $65) doesn't get nearly as much feedback as the WR-300, but available reviews suggest it has been very well received. This Public Alert certified desktop weather radio with SAME costs the same as the Midland WR-300 but holds 25 county codes vs. the WR-300's 30. However, owners appreciate the CL-100's ability to shut down at the end of a broadcast alert; the WR-300 will either repeat the message for several minutes or require a manual shut-off. Graham McClung says the Sangean CL-100 is very easy to program and functions much better as a standard clock radio than the Midland WR-300 does. Users who post reviews at Amazon.com and Walmart.com tend to agree. Complaints are few, although a handful of owners mention substandard functionality or poor reception.
The Midland WR-120 (*Est. $35) is another popular Public Alert certified weather radio with SAME, and reviews call it a good choice for those wanting an inexpensive desktop weather radio. It has a built-in time and alarm clock feature, and can store 25 program codes. Its predecessor, the WR-100, got mixed reviews, but the latest updates indicate the WR-120 satisfactorily addresses the firmware issues that plagued the WR-100. Expert reviews say the WR-120's value is a huge advantage; it's said to be a reliable, well-designed weather radio that works well but costs about half as much as higher-end models like the Sangean CL-100. User feedback at Amazon.com, Walmart.com and enthusiast forums like RadioReference.com indicate that most owners are very satisfied with the Midland WR-120, especially in terms of the features they get for the price.
Still, the WR-120 does lack a few attributes found in the more expensive WR-300 and the Sangean CL-100. It can't receive AM/FM radio signals or block unwanted alerts, which could lead to some restless nights for owners. We also saw complaints that if a weekly National Weather Service test is missed, the WR-120 beeps every 10 minutes until the next scheduled test is received. The fix is easy, however: Reset the radio manually by pulling the plug and removing the battery. This won't affect any stored settings like SAME county codes, but the clock's time will need to be reset.
Owners agree that the Midland WR-120 is a good value and an adequate performer, but it might be worth paying a little extra for the WR-300 if your budget allows. Three versions of this weather radio are available -- the WR-120, WR-120B and WR-120C. According to the manufacturer, the only difference is the packaging; the radios themselves are identical.
Most weather radios are designed for use on a tabletop, desktop, kitchen counter or nightstand. While some might have a handle, they're really too bulky and heavy to tote from place to place on a regular basis. A few weather radios are smaller and specifically designed for portable use.
Among portable weather radios, the Sangean DT-400W (*Est. $55) is a top performer. Users at Amazon.com and RadioShack.com like the tiny unit for its durability, portability and sound quality. Graham McClung of Home-Weather-Stations-Guide.com and WeatherRadioGuide.com is also a fan, although his review suggests that he didn't test the radio personally. While the DT-400W lacks SAME capability, McClung says, "SAME is an advantage if you intend to only have one weather radio at home, but these are really designed to be portable, and will pick up the clearest weather radio signal in the area."
The DT-400W receives a lot of positive feedback, but it does have a few weak spots. The unit isn't Public Alert certified, although most reviewers seem unconcerned by this. Some owners say it's expensive for such a small radio, and that the included belt clip can break easily. There's no internal antenna, but it comes with an external wire antenna and the wire from a set of earbuds can act as an antenna, although users say the included ones are uncomfortable. Battery life could be better, so carrying an extra set on a long trip might be a good idea.
The Oregon Scientific WR601N (*Est. $35) is a portable weather radio that meets Public Alert standards. It includes a stand and a belt clip, and can run on either the included AC power supply or three AA alkaline batteries. While this unit uses SAME to receive alerts for only your area and allows you to block those from more distant locations, you can't lock out specific kinds of alerts. It receives all weather radio bands, but not AM or FM; you can select a specific weather channel frequency or set the WR601N to automatically tune to the strongest one.
When an alert is received, the WR601N turns on the radio, issues an alarm tone and displays the nature of the alert. Other features are modest, but some owners might appreciate the built-in digital alarm clock. User reviews are mixed, and coverage is too sparse to determine this unit's true rating. That said, its predecessor, the largely similar WR601, also received mixed feedback; chief differences between the two are body color -- the WR601N is canary yellow rather than silver -- and the addition of a blue backlight that makes the display easier to read in low light conditions.
The Midland HH54VP2 (*Est. $40) is another portable, Public Alert certified SAME radio that has drawn some good user reviews -- in addition to a number of negative ones. This radio has a siren and a large screen, and receives all NOAA broadcasts. Accessories include a charging cradle, rechargeable battery pack, power adapter and belt clip. The HH54VP (*Est. $30) is the same radio without the battery pack and charging cradle, running instead on standard AA alkaline or rechargeable batteries. That could be a problem, because the few reports we saw indicate that battery life is extremely short.