A review of the Tecsun PL-880 portable shortwave radio

Tecsun-PL880-SWLing-Post-0510
I have never seen such a eager response and extraordinary anticipation over the announcement of a new portable radio as with the new Tecsun PL-880. And I’m not surprised.  You see, it has been a couple years since a really good portable radio has been introduced to the market. Plus,Tecsun has proven itself a competent radio manufacturer; the predecessors to the PL-880–i.e., the PL-660 and PL-600–are both excellent portables (I own both). Their smaller DSP radios are favorites of travelers and ultralight enthusiasts.

As I was telling Jeff, over at the Herculodge blog, reviewing the PL-880 was much like attending the opening night of a play. My wife, who has worked in theatre, once told me, “the audience wants the actors to perform well.” The moment I held the PL-880 in my hands, I felt the same: I really wanted this to be a great performer, a new radio companion with which I could track down signals both weak and strong.

But what does the PL-880 actually deliver? Let’s take a look…

Drumroll, please….and now, the PL-880

Tecsun-PL880-SWLing-Post-0515I purchased/pre-ordered my Tecsun PL-880 from my favorite eBay seller, Anon-Co, as I’ve always been pleased with their customer service and delivery time. They’re based in Hong Kong, but my shipping time from Hong Kong via FedEx was only three days before the radio landed in my mailbox.

Unlike past reviews, in which I simply post initial impressions with a full review later, I elected to spill some of my early findings on the SWLing Post as I discovered them.  On the recommendation of a reader, I even photographed the unboxing; I’m glad I did, too, as it felt a bit like taking pictures of a Christmas gift being opened…which was even merrier.

I was happy to see that the PL-880 was packed carefully but with very little waste. Included with the radio was a rechargeable battery, earbud headphones, a wire antenna, and a USB power cable; Anon-Co also also sent a USB wall adapter plug. The carrying case, which holds the PL-880 and its manual, is substantial, reminding me of carrying cases that used to ship with portables some time ago.

The PL-880 is almost identical in size to the PL-660 and PL-600.  The buttons have a highly tactile response, the tuning/volume wheels are very smooth, and feel well-engineered. The display is back-lit and has a dedicated switch on the right side of the radio–meaning that if you turn on the back-lighting, it will stay on, even if you turn off the radio.

The PL-880 has all of the connections and controls I could have wished for in a portable. On the left side of the radio, it has an external antenna jack, a three-position antenna gain switch (DX, Norm, Local), a headphone jack, a line-out jack, and a 5 VDC USB input.  On the right side panel, you’ll find the  main tuning knob, fine-tuning knob, the volume, the back-light switch, and a tone control switch (bass/treble). On the top panel of the radio, there is also a “snooze” button.

When I turned on the PL-880 for the first time and (ironically) tuned to a local AM station on 880 kHz, I was most impressed by the audio fidelity of the 880’s built-in speaker. I believe the PL-880 uses a speaker system similar to the Melson portables: a small mylar speaker cone with some sort of acoustic chamber that produces great bass tones and treble highlights. The sound is room-filling…and delightful.

Performance: First impressions

To begin with, please note that my impressions of performance band-by-band, below, is based on a little over one week of listening. I typically spend longer with radios before publishing a review, but with the holiday season fast approaching, readers have asked for a more rapid response. [That being said, I will of course update and adapt this review over time; but be assured that any significant updates will be noted as such].

Filters

First of all, what truly sets the PL-880 apart from any other shortwave portable currently on the market is its selection of bandwidth filters. On AM, for example, the listener can choose between the following bandwidth settings:

  • 9.0 kHz
  • 5.0 kHz
  • 3.5 kHz
  • and 2.3 kHz

In SSB mode, the choices include:

  • 4.0 kHz
  • 3.0 kHz
  • 2.3 kHz
  • 1.2 kHz
  • 0.5 kHz

Choosing a bandwidth couldn’t be easier: simply press the “AM BW” button to display the current bandwidth setting, then either use either tuning control to widen or narrow the filter, or press the “AM BW” button to cycle through the options.

But how well do these filters work?  Very well, in my opinion. Indeed, I think this is the most innovative and valuable feature of the PL-880. The filter selection gives the PL-880 some of the best selectivity for a receiver under $200 US. To test selectivity, I usually tune to a part of the shortwave broadcast spectrum with two adjacent signals, and see how well the receiver blocks the adjacent signal.  In the case of the PL-880, I took it up a notch and tuned to the CW (morse code) portion of a ham band, as CW signals are spaced much closer together than broadcast signals, thus are more challenging for a receiver to select between. I was delighted to note that the PL-880 not only passed this rigorous test, but performed well above my expectations.

In the video below (which I posted earlier), you can hear what the PL-880 sounds like tuning through a CW pileup. While I would expect more from my ham radio transceiver, I’m most impressed with how well the PL-880 handles these tight conditions. Listen for yourself:

To be clear, though, the bandwidth functionality is not without its quirks. I have yet to determine why it happens, but occasionally when I narrow the bandwidth to, say, 1.2 kHz, then begin tuning–especially when tuning quickly–it opens up to 3.0 or 2.3 kHz. Additionally, with the narrower filters does come a slight audio splatter if a signal peaks during fading (QSB); this happens regardless of the volume setting, and may actually be associated with the PL-880’s fast AGC circuit. I have found that the radio’s three-position attenuation switch is a friend in these conditions, often eliminating the splatter when attenuation is increased.

But, all in all, when it comes to selectivity, the PL-880 is truly a winner.

Hidden features

The new PL-880 ships with a number of hidden features that are, curiously enough, not documented in the operation manual nor indicated on the radio labeling (at least in this first production run of radios). Many of these secret features require that you press and hold a button for about three seconds to enable it.

I’m not sure why Tecsun decided to hide these features. I’ll admit that I’ve really enjoyed hunting for and discovering them–most are terrific additions.  On the other hand, it has been frustrating as well:  I came close to posting an article describing what seemed to be an unfortunate audio stability problem in the PL-880, as I found that when I tuned in a weak station, if the signal level either fell below or climbed above 5, the audio gain would increase or decrease dramatically, making listening very fatiguing. A reader then discovered the hidden “muting threshold” feature, and the story changed. I found that my radio had shipped with a default threshold of “5”–I was able to turn off muting, changing the threshold to zero, and this instantly fixed the problem.

Rather than explaining each hidden feature here, I have added an appendix at the bottom of this review that lists undocumented features…at least those I’ve discovered so far. I plan to list others as I–and/or Post readers–discover them.

Band performance

FM

One of the first FM stations I tuned to was my benchmark NPR station (WFAE) on 90.7 FM, located about 92 miles away from my tuning locale. WFAE is line-of-site from my altitude, but serves as a benchmark nonetheless: my inexpensive receivers can’t maintain a lock on it.  Through the PL-880, the broadcast sounded as if it were local–not an exceptional feat for a quality receiver such as this–but it passed my FM benchmark.  Indeed, I couldn’t even hear a hint of static on the PL-880. I then tuned to several other FM stations I use as benchmarks, and the PL-880 could detect all of them comfortably.

Though I haven’t tried FM DXing with the PL-880, like other recent Tecsuns, it seems outstanding in this regard. (Herein lies the extent of my FM test…More to come.)

AM/Medium Wave

I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t claim to be an AM/medium wave DXer, although recently I have been spending much more time on the band.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I find that the PL-880 certainly holds its own on the AM broadcast band (570-1600 kHz). The PL-880 can hear every local and relatively distant AM station that my C.Crane CCRadio-SW could hear. For this type of armchair listening, the PL-880’s speaker delivers fidelity that is nearly unmatched amongst portables of similar size. It’s most impressive.

But go ahead; listen for yourself: though this video was shot informally with an iPhone, you can still hear the difference in fidelity between the Tecsun PL-880 and the PL-660:

Nighttime listening on AM is on par with the PL-660 in many respects, but I believe I prefer the PL-660 for this, as it features slightly better nulling and more intelligible audio. During nighttime conditions, upon tuning in a wobbly, fickle AM band, the PL-880 sounds a little more muffled or “mushy” than the PL-660. Also, the PL-880’s audio can splatter a bit when the filter is narrowed (again, sometimes moving the attenuation from “DX” to “Normal” helps with this.)

Also, I have to point out that the PL-880’s AGC (auto gain) circuit, as with many other Tecsun models, is just too fast for optimal weak-signal DX on medium wave or shortwave. Tecsun, if you’re listening, please slow it down a bit, or at least provide an AGC control…Thanks!

[Update: Jan 1, 2013] PL-880 owners living in urban areas with strong AM (MW) stations are hearing multiple images from those stations across the MW band, making it difficult for medium wave DXing.

But now, on to my favorite part of the spectrum…

Shortwave performance

PL660-PL880-SW7600GR

Of course, I’ve spent the bulk of my PL-880 listening time on the shortwaves…where I find the PL-880 a pleasure to operate.

Tecsun-PL880-SWLing-Post-0524Tuning

The PL-880 sports both broad tuning and fine tuning controls on the right side of the radio. They’re perfectly positioned to be operated with ease by the user’s thumb. They also protrude enough from the right side of the radio so that it can be tuned much like the tuning knob of the PL-660–from the top side of the control.

The keypad on the front of the PL-880 has a quality response/feel. Selecting a frequency is as easy as entering the number in kHz. No other button pushes are needed, much like the PL-660, and the Grundig G3. By pressing the “SW METER BAND” up/down controls, you can move through the broadcast bands with ease. Indeed, if you change the mode to SSB and use the same up/down arrows, the PL-880 will cycle through the amateur radio bands as well.  Nice touch, Tecsun!

Tuning increments are in very fine 10 Hz increments with absolutely no muting between frequencies…Brilliant.

The hidden sync lock feature

There was much speculation prior to the PL-800’s introduction as to whether it would have a built-in synchronous detector. After all, its predecessor, the PL-660, has a great sync lock that helps with selective fading and adjacent signal interference. I was very happy to discover that by pressing and holding the USB/LSB buttons, the user can activate an undocumented sync lock feature which is selectable on upper and lower side-bands.

After using the sync lock on a variety of strong/weak signals, I find that I’m not exactly wooed by it, however.  The PL-880’s sync detector is just not as good as the PL-660’s–not by a long shot. On weak stations, the PL-880 lock is feeble and wobbly. On strong stations, it makes the audio sound unnecessarily thin and sharp.

A sub-par sync lock is not a deal-killer for me, though.  Why? Because I get excellent results by simply using an SSB mode (USB/LSB) and zero-beating the AM carrier. It’s a trick well known in the SWLing world under many names–I call it ECR (exalted carrier reception)–click here for a previous article on the topic. This method rivals the PL-660’s sync lock under similar conditions. And as a bonus, the PL-880 bandwidths can be widened to 4 kHz, allowing near-AM fidelity in SSB.

How does the PL-880 compare with the PL-660, SW7600GR? 

A few days ago, I spent some time comparing the shortwave sensitivity and selectivity of the Tecsun PL-880, PL-660, and the Sony ICF-SW7600GR. Instead of shooting a video on my iPhone (which lacks a good mic), I used my newly-replaced Zoom H2N digital recorder with a direct, line-in connection.

I did my best to match the volume levels in the radios for a fair competition.  Note that while the Sony and the PL-880 have line-out jacks (a major plus, in my opinion), the PL-880’s line-out audio level is set way too high and overloaded the Zoom recorder; the FM line level can be adjusted, however.

AM Sensitivity

The first test was in AM, and I chose Radio Exterior de España on 9,605 kHz, which was moderately weak compared to other broadcasters on the 31 meter band. I recorded one minute clips. Halfway through the PL-660 and ICF-SW7600GR clips, I turned on the sync detector. On the PL-880, I simply turned on SSB, as I did not feel that its sync detector added to intelligibility.

Click on the radio name to download the MP3 of each clip, or simply listen via the embedded players below:

Tecsun PL-880

Tecsun PL-660

Sony ICF-SW7600GR

SSB Sensitivity

I then tuned all of the radios to 18,135 kHz, where ZD8UW (The Cambridge University Wireless Society) Ascension Island DXpedition was handling a pile-up.  You won’t hear stations calling ZD8UW, because they were working split and listening on 18,141 kHz. There is an adjacent SSB station, though, that you’ll hear on the side.

In this test, I had all the radios set to a narrow bandwidth. I had the PL-880 set to 3 kHz as it sounded similar to the others at that width. Since propagation conditions were changing,  I made two recordings of one minute’s duration of each radio.  I picked the version of the recording in which each radio experienced the same signal strength. Again,  you can click on the radio name to download the MP3 of each clip, or simply listen via the embedded players below:

Tecsun PL-880

Tecsun PL-660

Sony ICF-SW7600GR

The PL-880 is certainly sensitive on the shortwave bands, but when listening via headphones (as in this example), there’s sometimes a bit of splatter when the audio peaks. The PL-880 demonstrates great selectivity, as promised.  In the SSB example above, the PL-880’s 3 kHz filter successfully rejected the adjacent signal much more cleanly than the narrow filter on the PL-660 could.

Tecsun-PL880-SWLing-Post-0527

PL-660 vs. PL-880: Which is the better radio?

In my tests, the Tecsun PL-660 does a fine job of holding its own against the PL-880, and is certainly the best bargain of the two at $100-$120 US. In general, I find the PL-660 to have an edge on the PL-880 in terms of sensitivity. While I prefer the audio characteristics of the PL-880’s internal speaker compared to that of the PL-660, vocals seem to pop out of the noise better with the PL-660.

But comparing these two radios in terms of sensitivity is problematic, as it’s not an “apples-to-apples” comparison. In the examples above, I tried to keep the playing field level by leaving the PL-880 on one bandwidth setting and not using the hidden DNR feature (which seems to alter the bandwidth and lower the noise floor). It’s certainly possible some users may be able to tweak the PL-880 to give it an edge on the PL-660 in similar conditions.

Whether or not you should buy the PL-660 or the more expensive PL-880 will clearly depend upon your listening goals. If it’s to pull out voices from the static, for station ID and weak signal DXing, the PL-660 is your radio. If you want armchair listening of shortwave broadcasts with very low listening fatigue, go ahead and splurge for the PL-880. If you want a simple, straightforward portable, the PL-660 is your best option. If you like to tinker with settings, and enjoy all a radio’s bells and whistles–including tracking down hidden ones!–the PL-880 is your radio.

If your goal is to listen to SSB broadcasts (pirate radio, utility stations, ham radio traffic, so forth) both radios will do a fine job, but the PL-880 is more versatile and, again, has better selectivity.

Frankly, I will keep both radios in my listening arsenal. Which will I turn to the most? While I love the PL-660, I’m a sucker for the more dynamic, rich audio of the PL-880. To me, any difference in sensitivity is negligible.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons, of course. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions. Following is the list I formed over the time I’ve been evaluating the Tecsun PL-880:

Pros

  • Excellent ergonomics
    • most functions are either available at the press of button–or by pressing and holding a button for three seconds
    • tuning options include a dedicated fine-tuning control
    • buttons have a sturdy, tactile feel and response
  • Excellent sensitivity and selectivity
  • Wide array of filter options in both AM/SSB–more than on any sub-$200 portable on the market
  • Absolutely no muting between frequencies, even while using a .5 kHz filter in SSB
  • Using SSB ECR is more effective than synchronous detector (see con)
  • Sturdy carrying case has dedicated pocket for English operation manual
  • Single supplied rechargeable battery delivers very long life (see con)

Cons

  • Update: Older firmware versions lack features of newer models
  • Two-second delay when changing modes (AM/SSB/AM sync)
  • Some audio splatter on peaks in weak signal DX
  • Quirky characteristics:
    • hidden features (see list at review’s end), some of which have major relevance in operation, such as changing the muting threshold; Tecsun, why hide these?
    • unexplained occasional changes in bandwidth while tuning in SSB
  • Sync detector delivers mediocre performance and substantially reduced audio fidelity (see pro)
  • AM (medium wave) prone to imaging if strong AM broadcasters are nearby
  • Supplied rechargeable battery is not as common as AA batteries (see pro)
  • Supplied battery charger is a bit noisy on medium wave and shortwave if listening while charging. (Not a problem for me, as I’m a batteries-only listener.)

All in all, I really like the PL-880. It’s a quirky little rig that boasts more features than any other portable I’ve ever used (save the Eton E1). It’s sensitive, selective, has silky-smooth tuning and robust audio…but it’s not perfect. Many of the cons listed above could be fixed with firmware updates…ones which I hope users can make at home as opposed to needing to buy a newly-updated radio.

And, Tecsun, I hope you add those hidden features to future operation manuals. We’re keeping track of them here, and on the Yahoo PL-880 group, but some recipients may never realize the muting threshold, for example, can be adjusted. Tecsun, if you feel like these features aren’t ready for production, simply label them as beta or experimental features, and go for it anyway.

With all of its features and functions, hidden or not, I’ve found the PL-880 to be a challenging, but thoroughly enjoyable, portable to evaluate. Indeed, I’m still not done yet:  I plan to take my new PL-880 traveling in the future. So, stay tuned:  there’s more to come!

[IMPORTANT UPDATE Dec 14, 2013: Many units purchased at Amazon.com (via Kaito Electronics) have an older firmware version and users report problems and lack of features/functionality. Many have even returned their radios for a refund. At this point, I would exercise caution when making a purchase; you might even wait until Tecsun has either removed the older firmware units from the market or given its users a way to make updates from home.  If you want to purchase a PL-880 soon, I can only recommend buying from the same company I did, Anon-Co--see info below. I would verify with them that your unit has the latest firmware.]

Where to buy the PL-880

The PL-880 is only available from a few retailers thus far–most of whom are on eBay, some on Amazon. I purchase all Tecsun products from Anon-Co–I’m sure there are other qualified sellers on eBay, but Anon-Co has always provided me with excellent and responsive customer service, so I can recommend the company. My PL-880 was shipped by Anon-Co and received in only three days. Kaito Electronics, a US-based distributor, also sells the PL-880 on Amazon.com. The price on the PL-880 has been fluctuating over time, but seems to hover between $150-$180 US:

Appendix

Notes

PL-880 Hidden Features:

Resources

You can follow all Tecsun PL-880 updates by bookmarking/checking this link.

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44 Responses to A review of the Tecsun PL-880 portable shortwave radio

  1. Tom Stiles says:

    Awesome review. Is there some way you can sharing this so it can be printed out for writing notes and highlighting?

    Thanks for your time and efforts.

    Tom

  2. W4ASZ says:

    Thomas –

    Thank you for this review.

    You are wise and kind and good.

    -Steve

  3. Bill says:

    I often listen to MW. I returned my first PL-660 because it had a powerful spurious signal blanking out a section of the MW band at around 940-970 (it wandered some). I thought that was an individual defect. The replacement PL-660 had better sound on MW than the first one, but still had that spurious signal blanking out part of the MW band. I gave it away to a gentleman who wanted to use it for SW only. The last I heard, he was very happy with it.

    Does your PL-660 exhibit this spurious signal on MW? Does the PL-880 exhibit anything of the kind?

    You would think that such an obvious problem would show up in reviews, but nobody mentioned it that I noticed. I mentioned it in a forum and the reply I got was “They all do that,” which alarmed me a bit. If they all do that, I would think someone would mention it.

    Thanks.
    —bill

    • Thomas says:

      Bill,

      I will check my PL-660 when I’m back home. I just checked and did not noticed this on the PL-880. At the moment, I’m in a fairly RFI heavy area, though. Perhaps others will comment.

      Shoot me an email in 3 days if I haven’t replied with an answer on the PL-660 spurious problem. My email address is simply “thomas@” this domain name. You can also get it from the contact page.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  4. John Case says:

    Thank you for th excellant review. You mention using the wider AM filters while listening using the ECCS technique. How did you select the 5 or 9 khz filter in SSB mode?

    • Thomas says:

      John,

      Thanks for this comment–that was a mistake on my part. Just corrected it in the copy. 5 and 9 kHz is only an option in AM mode. The 4 kHz filter gives great fidelity on SSB (when properly zero beat).

      Cheers,
      Thomas

      • John Case says:

        Thank you for the reply. I figured it was a mistake, but I had hoped that this option was there for wider BW on SSB.
        I do not agree that the fidelity is there on the 4 KHz filter, for either SSB or Sync. It is bad enough that the sync detector loses lock easily enough, but even when it is engaged, the high fidelity of the signal is destroyed by the 4 KHz filter limitation. My ears are treble challenged, and I hat it when manufacturers stop at 4 KHz for SSB, and 5 KHz for AM. Listening to the 9KHz filter in AM is fantastic, and everything you could want in a radio sound. But apply SSB or sync and have another listen with the 4 KHz filter. Very disappointing.

  5. Lena Arlen says:

    Great review, Thomas! Thank you very much!

    I bought a PL-660 not long after it was put on the market. I have never hated a portable more. Soft mute issues, screwy AGC, sync detect that either won’t lock or howls very loudly when it does. I have never been able to listen to any band at a decent volume without the cabinet rattling, rendering it unlistenable. I own five Tecsuns, all pretty good (esp. the PL-310), but the PL-660 does my head in. One would think that these problems were addressed in later productions but two friends who bought the PL-660 two years after I did complained about the same things.

    For SSB I prefer my Sangean 909. For everything else I still rely on my Sony ICF-2001D.

    I like that you have more control over the settings but at that price I think I will pass on the PL-880. I am more interested in the new Redsun, once they sort the SSB issues! 73.

  6. …can someone please tell me why did Tecsun not include an Air Band (VHF)? Maybe then you can compare the Tecsun pl 880 to the old Sony icf 2010!?
    How does it compare it to the Sony icf 7600 gr?

    …….any feedback?

  7. Herb Simpson (Toronto) says:

    Thanks for the great review(s) and insights.

    After much interest in this model (pl-880) and reading the reviews here and the Yahoo 880 group I took the plunge and ordered from Anon-co and am now waiting for the Fedex person to dingle my chime. With all the info gathered I should be well on my way to trouble-free dxing.

  8. RadioFlynn says:

    Thank you. I do a lot of broadcast listening, so audio quality is important. I think you solved that for me, and I appreciate it!

  9. mike says:

    buyers in the USA should be aware of the danger of buying tecsun radios overseas, if the radio you buy breaks or arrives with issues , you are responsible for shipping it back and that cost a lot of money. if you buy it from Kaito in the USA or another authorized dealer then your shipping cost to the repair center in southern california is much much lower. and you can talk to the repair department too.

    • RadioFlynn says:

      I have found that Anon-co has more responsive and personal customer service than Kaito, even if it is only over email. They offer a one-year warranty, so you have to weigh the cost savings from buying overseas against the risk that you will have to mail a defective unit back. If you buy radios often, you will win this game in the end by going with the lower cost. Also, Anon-co promises not to send you a returned unit. Amazon does this, resulting in complaints that people have to order 2 or 3 to get a new one. Like radios themselves, no one vendor is perfect. Pick one and roll the dice…

      • RadioFlynn says:

        One more benefit of the HK-based sellers – you get the latest version of the radio.

      • tw says:

        If you deal with Kaito directly (rather than through Amazon) I have had good luck with them, they are trying to do the right thing. However the big deal with the 880 is to make sure you get firmware 8820. Kaito and their customers got royally screwed by Tecsun sending them the 8819 version.

  10. tw says:

    Thanks for your review and your website in general. I find myself here more and more often!
    I just purchased the PL880 from Kaito and got firmware version 8819.
    I thought I’d post some impressions after spending about a day with it.
    All in all, I don’t know if I’ve ever had more mixed feelings about a radio in my life. They got so much right with the 880, yet a few things are so very, very, Very, VERY wrong. First the ‘right': The speaker/amplifier is positively amazing for a radio of this size, and I’d even say overall sound quality rivals the RF-2200 by Panasonic (no I’m not kidding, it’s that good.) You can feel the power of the bass output when you hold it in your hand and the treble is clear and non-fatiguing and intelligibility is good. Put a strong station on AM and 9khz wide filter, and you’ll think it’s FM. FM is rich and lush. FM selectivity is also quite good. The quality control seems improved over the PL660, the ergonomics are excellent and the frequency display/tuning is the best short of a communications receiver. BUT, and here’s the big BUT for me–there’s one feature that makes me want to take a sledgehammer to it: As near as I can tell, there are not one, but TWO levels of muting or “soft squelch”. The first can be controlled via key #9 as you noted. (I also found that AM/SW/SSB each has an independent setting that is memorized—FM is not adjustable, btw.) HOWEVER, there is still a sort of “brick wall” muting/squelch that cannot be turned off, even if you set it to “00”, it will reduce volume on any marginal stations to near nothing on all bands, including FM. (And I haven’t forgotten the DNR setting (key 6)–it’s in the OFF position too). This brick wall “auto soft squelch” is disastrous for even moderately fading short wave stations as you can imagine, or for tuning for weak stations on AM, SW or FM. It renders the excellent selectivity of the FM nearly useless. Makes it practically impossible to peak tune TECSUN’s own AM loop antenna, because volume levels change in a completely counter intuitive way. In fact, it’s so severe on FM, try tuning in a marginal station at normal volume from 3 or more feet away and you’ll think the radio is turning itself off and on at random. TECSUN, why oh why torture us in this way???? I think what’s going on here is they’ve attempted to give an analog signals all the horrible attributes of digital—eg, complete drop-out of marginal stations, rather than hearing static or deep fades. Well, I suppose this is directed towards those with no experience with analog and maybe that is their perceived market. I am hoping someone can figure out a way to mod the radio, but I fear all those good digital features are tied together with the bad. It COULD be an amazing radio if this could be turned off completely.
    I wonder if your firmware vers 8820 is different from mine?
    Also, I discovered another hidden feature, when powered off, hold number 4 down, and you can adjust the battery level meter between 3.4 and 3.7 volts “full” reading (I believe that’s what it does).
    In addition, I noticed by holding down number 7, it actually adjusts the speaker volume of FM, not just line level. This is a nice thought as often FM is much louder than AM on some radios.

    • tw says:

      Also, couple more little things: 1) I did not get the cool zippered case. Mine is just like the one that comes with the PL660, except cheaper (corners not even sewn.)
      2) The radio cannot be used on anything except FM while charging with the Kaito brand charger. Combine this noisy charger with the ‘brick wall muting’, and even 50 Kilowatt locals are obliterated.

    • Thomas says:

      Most interesting. Preparing a post right now…
      Thanks, Thomas

  11. Bertrand says:

    Hi,
    very nice review….Thanks a lot…

    A question, how can a future firmware update be done on thsi radio, technically ???

    Bertrand

    • Thomas says:

      Hi, Bertrand,

      I don’t believe so–at least, someone on the PL-880 Yahoo group checked the USB port on the 880 and claims that it lacks the data pins necessary to do a firmware update. I have not verified this, though.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  12. LA7DFA says:

    SSB bandwidth

    I wonder if the bandwidth changes seen on SSB tuning is just operator error.
    If you change the bandwith with the BW-button, you have to *wait* until the readout goes from BW to frequency before start tuning. Else you will adjust bandwith, not frequency.

  13. Blake Ralitff says:

    Excellent review. With the price of the Sangean 909x coming down it seems to be direct competition with the Tecsun PL-880. Has anyone compared the two radios? I think I will end up needing to decide between the two.

    • Thomas says:

      I plan to get a 909X and compare it to the PL-880, but it probably won’t happen until well after the new year due to a lack of time. I’m very curious if anyone else out there has made the comparison.

      Thanks for your comment!
      Thomas

  14. PJMM says:

    A couple of days ago I received my TECSUN PL880 from Anon-co with the latest firmware loaded. Also I own two other TECSUN receivers PL398MP and PL390. Comparing side by side the PL880 FM sensitivity with this two other receivers, I have found the PL39x receivers seems to display always higher levels of signal than the PL880. That surprises me a little.

  15. Pingback: Video: PL-880 soft muting on SSB | The SWLing Post

  16. Pingback: Tecsun Releases New PL-880 Portable | radiodx.com

  17. John Case says:

    Had some time to check MW AM performance. This radio has even more ghost image problems than the PL-660. I have had 3 or more ghost images for every strong BCB transmitter in the area, and there are at least 4 where I live. There are so many pile ups from Ghost Images in the BCB that MW DXing is all but impossible. The attenuator switch does not affect the ferrite rod antenna, so no joy there. It appears that little attention was paid to the BCB and MW DXing in the design of this radio.

    • Thomas says:

      Hi, John,

      Yours is the third comment I’ve heard about MW images from strong stations recently. I’m going to update the review with a note about this. I live in an area that has no blowtorch stations, save one that is strong due only to proximity.

      Thanks,
      Thomas

  18. Pingback: Jay Allen’s review of the Tecsun PL-880 | The SWLing Post

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  21. John Covici says:

    Hi. Do you have any further information on the mandatory squelch that would not go away as talked about in an earlier comment? Or was this only for the older firmware version.

    Thanks.]

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  24. Max Andersen says:

    I mostly listen to MW broadcast stations on my PL-880. The sound is excellent but the sensitivity of this, or any other portable I’ve ever used and there have been plenty, doesn’t match that of my elderly Sony ICF-7600A.

  25. Roger Hare says:

    I am new to SW and am awaiting my PL 880. My research before buying led to Tom on Youtube and various websites. Through his recommendation I chose this model for its audio quality; Chose Anon to purchase. Watched many of his videos and must say his explanations are great balance between newbie and expert jargon. I can tell the difference between someone whose ego screams “i’m famous” and one who is truly dedicated to his craft.
    Thanks Tom, you’re a class act I’m learning from daily. When 880 arrives I will be able to jump in with much advance knowledge.

  26. WA3YAY says:

    Reminds me of the DX-440

  27. Pingback: The mega shortwave radio review of the PL-880, PL-660, ATS-909X and ICF-SW7600GR | The SWLing Post

  28. Fabio says:

    Hello,

    I live in southern Brazil, and recently I bought a unit Tecsun PL-880 (8820). Wonderful sound, but with a defect in the FM band. Above 100 Mhz has very little sensitivity to the point of not listening to an FM 106.7 Mhz with 3 Kw to 24 miles. My favorite is the frequency of FM DX. Sony 7600GR easily beats the PL-880 above 100 MHz. Sony is robust and there is no variation in sensitivity between 88-108 MHz. Their only problem is that he does not reject spurious signals and images. I live very close to FMs and can not use it to DX. The FM band is making spurious signals with Sony. Not so with the PL-880, which is wonderful in rejection.

  29. Doyle W.Simmons says:

    I recently purchased a pl-880 with a USB cable. My question is, can I use my lap
    top to charge the battery?

  30. Doyle W.Simmons says:

    Can I use the use the USB cable received with the PL-880 to charge the battery?

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