Category Archives: Reviews

Tecsun PL-680: Just How Sensitive is This Radio?

More than two months ago, in the Mount Evelyn DX Report I posted a review of the Tecsun PL-680 portable receiver, entitled Tecsun PL-680 Beats Expectations. In that article, I pointed out many of the positives and a few of the flaws surrounding the unit. At the end of the review, I promised I would do some sensitivity tests on the radio.

Well, I finally got around to completing the tests, and the results are in. Below is a YouTube video showing a practical demonstration of the receiver’s capabilities in this area of performance.

The portable Tecsun PL-680 receiver is a hot little radio! As these tests show, it appears to be very sensitive to weak signals. Here, we put the little 680 up against one the best HF transceivers on the market today – the Yaesu FTDX3000 transceiver. The receiver in the 3000 is quite brilliant! And it has all the “bells-and-whistles” to make it even better at digging out weak signals and reducing adjacent channel interference.

However, in these tests we turn off all the fancy facilities on the FTDX3000 and just run the two receivers side by side to see how the 680 compares. We use the same antenna and we plug both radios into the same external speaker, adjusting as close as we can to equal volume and tone quality. We select a variety of shortwave broadcast stations over a range of frequencies from the 60 through to the 16 meter bands. I think you’ll discover that the Tecsun is really a very good performer when it comes to sensitivity!

My Tecsun PL-680 Beats Expectations review in MEDXR is an updated version of a column I wrote for the August issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.

As always, your feedback is much appreciated.

73 and good DX to you all,

Rob Wagner VK3BVW

Rob Wagner, VK3BVW, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. He also blogs at the Mount Evelyn DX Report.

Oxford Shortwave Log: transatlantic MW DX catches with 200 metre Beverage – part 2

verdad-final

Hi there, here is the second set of reception videos for my transatlantic MW DX catches using the 200 metre Beverage antenna. Most of the signals originate from the United States and Canada, however, there is also a catch from Mexico – XERF La Ponderosa – which is a personal first and another from Bogotá, Colombia – Verdad Radio. I hope you enjoy them. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like further details regarding the Beverage design and/or construction. in the meantime, thank you for watching/listening and I wish you all great DX!



Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

Wired.com reviews the Como Audio Solo

como-audio-solo-tableMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jeff McMahon, who shares this review of the Como Audio Solo:

Here’s a $300 internet radio review from Wired:

Review: Como Audio Solo

Click here to view on Wired.com.

I was an early backer of the Como Audio Solo and reviewed it in October.

Since then, the Solo has become my WiFi radio of choice. I have it hooked up to an SSTRAN AM transmitter and use it to pipe audio through my whole house via the AM broadcast band. Though this only concerns a tiny fraction of hard-core radio geeks: the Solo has a very quiet power supply and my AM transmitter picks up no hum from the Solo. All of my other WiFi radio induce a hum if connected to mains power. This is what makes the Solo so useful in my household and shack.

Of course, when I have it tuned to a music station, like RFI Musique, its built-in speaker system provides ample fidelity!

As I mention in my review, FM analog reception is mediocre, though I imagine it would improve with an external antenna.  Wired believes the Solo is good, but not great.

A preliminary review of the PK Loop C-LOOP-HDSW6-18

eecraft-kx3-pk-loop

The Elecraft KX3 and the PK Loop C-LOOP-HDSW6-18

Over the past year, a number of SWLing Post readers have asked me to review the PK Loop portable magnetic loop antenna produced by Paul Karlstrand in Australia.

I finally caved in and purchased one.

I ordered the shortwave version of the loop, the  C-LOOP-HDSW6-18 in early November and received it about one week later.

sony-sw100-pk-loop

The Sony SW100 tuned to WBCQ.

I was first introduced to this antenna by SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who brought it to the SWL Fest and our 2015 PARI DXpedition.

Mark has taken his PK Loops (both the shortwave and mediumwave models) on his numerous travels around the world. He finds that they’re relatively effective portable antennas in RFI-dense environments like hotels and guest houses. They’re better at mitigating RFI than, say, portable wire antennas or telescopic whips.

Mark hooks up his portable SDR to the PK Loop and makes spectrum recordings (wideband recordings)–from, say, his hotel room in Kuala Lumpur–then takes the recording back home to listen and tune at his leisure via his laptop or tablet PC.  While I’ve certainly made spectrum recordings while travelling in the past, the appeal of such a portable loop antenna is what finally caused me to pull the trigger.

Overview

pk-loop

The PK Loop is a small loop antenna–measuring about 12″ in diameter. It’s encased in UV-stabilized PVC conduit and the matching box also seems to be made of PVC. It feels very durable and can, no doubt, even survive the wildest of luggage handling.

The PK Loop has an attached battery 9V battery holder, but can actually be powered by any 9-18 volt DC supply. Current consumption is less than 15 mA. On the matching box, you’ll find a tuning knob, a BNC connector, DC power in port and a HI/LOW gain switch. My loop shipped with a 2 meter BNC-BNC Cable, 3.5mm adapter, and DC Power lead to open ends.

Operation

Operating the loop is very simple:

  1. Power the antenna with a 9V battery or other DC source
  2. Chose either the high or low gain setting
  3. Place it on a stable surface (height from the ground is not a critical issue, but you should avoid placing it next to noisy electronics or mobile phones)
  4. Connect the PK Loop to your receiver’s antenna jack with the supplied cable
  5. Turn on your receiver to the desired meter band, then adjust the loop’s tuning knob until you hear the signal level peak
  6. Start listening, keeping in mind that as you tune around the band you may need to adjust the loop’s tuning knob for maximum gain

Loop antennas, in general, are fairly narrow-band and–unlike a Wellbrook or Pixel Loop–manual adjustments need to be made with the tuning knob to match the PK Loop as you scan across bands.

Still, I see why Mark favors the PK Loop for spectrum recordings: the bandwidth is wide enough that if I tune the loop to the middle of the 31 meter band, for example, it does a fine job covering the entire band.

On the air

pk-loop-kx2-sw100

My free time has been very limited since receiving the PK Loop earlier this month, but over Thanksgiving holiday, I took it to my family’s home that has relatively high RFI levels.

The following are a couple of videos I made with my Moto X smartphone. I’ll be the first to admit that these are not the best videos–I had no tripod and the Moto’s microphone leaves much to be desired–but I think you’ll still get the idea of how well the PK Loop works.

With the Sony SW100

Click here to watch on YouTube.

With the Elecraft KX2

Click here to watch on YouTube.

So far, I’m very pleased with the PK Loop. It does seem to mitigate noise better than other portable antennas I’ve used in the past and certainly improves my SW100’s reception. It makes SWLing with the Elecraft KX2 or KX3 easy and convenient.

One word of caution: if you use the PK Loop with a transceiver like the KX2, please turn off the ATU, and set the power level to 0W before using. The PK Loop is receive-only and will not handle any RF power.

Note that with the SW100, I have only used the PK Loop’s low gain setting. I’m a little nervous about overloading the SW100, so do not plan to use the high gain setting. The Elecraft KX2 seems happy to handle either gain setting: I imagine this will be the case with most general coverage transceivers and tabletop receivers.

More to come!

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be staying in a hotel room (likely with inoperable windows and heavy RFI) so I will attempt to put the loop through its paces and compare it with my radio’s built-in antenna.  Stay tuned!

Post readers: have you used the PK Loop or other similar portable/travel antennas? Please comment!

Click here to view PK’s Loop antennas on Paul Karlstrand’s website.

Paul also sells his antennas and ships internationally on eBay–click here to view the selection.

pks-loops

The brilliant little Tecsun PL-310ET: serious DXing on a budget – part 1

tecsun-pl-310etHi there, a good friend of mine Mr Thomas Brogan mentioned to me recently that his little Tecsun PL-310ET was proving to be an excellent receiver and that it would suit my DXpedition activities. Now, as someone who likes to push the envelope of performance with sophisticated portables, usually coupled to very large antennas, a cheap little Tecsun might not have been an abvious choice for my next purchase. However, Mr Brogan (who has an excellent Youtube channel by the same name – check out his wonderful collection of vintage and modern receivers) previously suggested I buy, for similar reasons, the Sony ICF-SW100. That little masterpiece of electronics turned out to be one of the best receivers I’ve ever owned. I felt compelled to take notice because Tom never gets this stuff wrong! A few days later I found myself in Maplins – again – and there it was on the shelf at just under £40, so I bought one.

I got back into shortwave listening about 18 months ago, after many years of inactivity whilst my poor Sangean ATS-803A rotted away in the garden shed and Sony ICF-7600G long-gone via eBay. To start all over again, I bought a Tecsun PL-360.  What a great little portable that turned out to be – there are over 100 reception videos on my YouTube channel demonstrating how it continually performed above and beyond the very modest price tag. I even managed to hear ABC Northern Territories 4835 kHz on it once –  simply amazing for a receiver under £30. Given my extensive experience with the PL-360 and having learned the PL-310ET shared the same DSP chip, I was expecting the same, or at least very similar performance and the only real benefit to upgrading to the PL-310ET was the direct frequency access.  However, I was wrong about that!

pl-360

The brilliant Tecsun PL-360 got me back into shortwave radio for less than £30

About a week after buying the PL-310ET,  I managed to get out on a DXpedition and with 30 metres of wire attached to it via the external antenna socket, I started tuning around the SW bands. Quite simply, I was amazed at the sensitivity and selectivity of this diminutive little portable. With the proven DSP receiver chip and a number of audio bandwidth filter options  from 1 to 6 kHz, coupled with direct frequency access via the keypad, it was a joy to use and listen to. In just over an hour I had  copied signals from North Korea, including their internal service KCBS Pyongyang, Zanzibar BC, ABC Northern Territories (at the first attempt!), Zambia NBC Radio 1, Radio Oromiya and Radio Amhara from Ethiopia, amongst others. Brilliant stuff and clearly demonstrating that the overall hardware/software package with the PL-310ET is a step up in performance over the PL-360 and capable of proper DX for a very modest outlay. Interestingly, in a conversation with Thomas Witherspoon regarding the PL-310ET, he reminded me that it was one of his go-to radios for travelling and confirmed it’s excellent performance.  I would definitely recommend this radio to novices and experts alike.

Reception videos follow below, with more to come in part 2; I hope you enjoy them. Thanks for watching/listening and I wish you all excellent DX!

 

 

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.