Tecsun PL-880: Evans notes signal meter and other discrepencies

PL-880 (1)

SWLing Post reader, Evans (in Greece) writes:

I would like your opinion regarding two strange points we noticed in two different Tecsun PL-880 models, which a friend and I have recently purchased. In particular:

  1. The signal meter is supposed to measure up to 99dBu (my Tecsun PL-390 s-meter goes indeed up to 95-97dBu for very strong amateur signals in my area included mine in mw zone). The point is that for both devices (both of which have 8820 firmware) the signal meter does not exceed 85 dBu and in particular my Tecsun PL-880 signal meter does not goes over 70dBu (ie. even lower measurement). Why this behaviour?

  2. Another strange point is that my friend’s Tecsun receiver displays for a “quiet” frequency (mw) a noise level of about 10-12dBu, while my Tecsun device shows only 2-3dBu noise (same frequency in the same spot!). We both tried the threshold muting adjustment (key 9) and this worked a bit but with minor results in sensitivity, especially for my Tecsun PL-880 receiver. Is it possible to adjust the noise level so that it can be 10-12dBu instead of being only 2-3dBu and hence better sensitivity? And is it possible to adjust the maximum signal level (99dBu instead of 85dBu or even worse 70dBu for my device)?

  3. I have noticed that the hidden feature regarding the external mw antenna didn’t work in my case, even though I did resets an tried many times. I pressume, hence, that maybe Tecsun disabled this hidden feature. Is there any modification available to “add something” into the radio hardware in order to be able to listen mw/lw frequences with external antenna and thus, increase sensitivity?

Many thanks for your questions, Evans. Since my PL-880 is a first production run unit, I’m hoping readers who’ve recently purchased the Tecsun PL-880 might comment.

I suspect Tecsun engineers give little thought to calibrating the S meters. I’m very curious if there is a hidden feature to do this, but I’m guessing this is limited only to those who can program the DSP functionality of the chip inside.

Posted in Mediumwave, News, Portable Radio, Radios, Shortwave Radio | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Tecsun cautions against using Lithium AA cells in the PL-606

TecsunPL-606

SWling Post reader, Philip Dickinson, recently contacted me with the following question:

“I have just bought a Tecsun 606 which takes two AA batteries which I think are normally rated at 1.2 volts. I have just ordered some lithium ion AA and notice that they are 3.7 volts. Can I use them?”

I replied to Philip that I’m pretty sure I’ve used lithiums in my PL-380 and/or PL-310ET without experiencing any problems. I know I’ve certainly used lithiums in several other receivers. [Update: I’ve always used Energizer and Duracell 1.5 V Lithium AA batteries–not 3.6V AA batteries.]

As I was about to post his question here on the Post, Philip sent another message:

“I found Tecsun’s email address and they rule out the 3.7 volt lithiums. Good job I checked.”

Wow–indeed, I’m glad you checked as well!

I had searched the PL-606 owner’s manual (PDF), but found no reference for voltage tolerances. Now I’m curious if other Tecsun receivers would have difficulty handling the higher lithium voltage.

Please comment if you have insight!

[UPDATE: Please check out this follow-up post and primer on Lithium batteries.]

Posted in News, Portable Radio, Shortwave Radio | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Guy’s review of the Babson DS-858

Babson-Shortwave

SWLing Post contributor, Guy Atkins, writes:

My “bargain bin” $13.99 portable Basbon DSP receiver arrived yesterday from China while I was out of town. That was fortunate for the little radio, as my absence allowed it another day of life (in one piece) on planet earth.

The good: the radio’s case is surprisingly solid and of good quality. To hold the receiver you’d think you had a $50+ portable in your hands. The smallish and very basic LCD display (cleverly labeled “DISPLAY” for those who don’t catch on too quickly) looks crude however, and gives forewarning that crude performance awaits.

The so-so: strong, local FM signals sound intelligible but with lots of tinny audio and some distortion. Strong AM signals (which happen to be near or coincide with North America’s 10 KHz channel spacing) are adequate.

The bad & ugly: Once you get past the puzzling multiple button presses to get past the clock display into shortwave operation, the noises and hisses coming from the speaker will make you wish you’d left well enough alone! Strong SW signals audible on Kaito’s $17.99 low-end (and analog) WRX-911 are simply a noisy, tone-covered mess on the Basbon receiver.

I was curious if the digital hash and noise was the result of an unshielded DSP chip, so I opened up the receiver. These two pictures show both sides of the primitive PCB:

Basbon_PCB_front

After removal of TEN (!) little silver screws holding the PCB board in place I could remove and flip it over. The square, multi-lead chip to the lower left of the LCD display is unmarked, and is presumably the DSP IC. I was contemplating making a small grounded metal shield to cover the chip, but as I moved the Basbon radio’s internals on my workbench the array of case buttons literally fell apart.

That’s the end of THAT idea! I have more interesting radio projects to spend my time on.

Thanks so much, Guy! While I’m a little sad the Babson DSP radio performed so poorly, at $13 I suppose we can’t be terribly surprised. My Babson DS-858 is yet to arrive–it took the seller 10 days to ship it and now it’s on the ePacket journey from China. Once received, my expectations will be adjusted accordingly.

In truth, like Guy, I often jump on radio deals like this in the off chance they may perform well for their price. Most of the time, though, I feel like I’m taking a bullet for SWLing Post readers–!  (Ha ha!) Giving an honest assessment of a poor radio keeps anyone else from wasting their money.

Many thanks, Guy, for digging into the Babson and for sharing your review with us!

Posted in News, Reviews, Shortwave Radio, Shortwave Radio Reviews, Ultralight DX | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hamfest find: Griffin Technology PowerMate Controller

GriffinPOwermateUSB

A few weeks ago, I attended the WCARS hamfest in near Waynesville, North Carolina. I walked out of that hamfest carrying way more goods than I had intended to purchase (more on that in a future post–!).

One of the best bargains I found was a Griffin Technology NA16029 PowerMate USB Multimedia Controller. The seller is a friend; he was trying (and succeeding) to push off a lot of his gear on me. We were actually in reverse price negotiations at one point–as he kept discounting prices, I was trying to raise them.

Knowing I’m an avid SDR guy, he insisted I give this Griffin Powermate controller a go.  I purchased it for $5 after I believe he had offered it for free (yes, the results of reverse negotiations).

I took the controller home assuming it would be cumbersome to interface with my SDRs–what a poor assumption I had made! It was a breeze: simply install the driver, and launch its associated application. The software makes it very easy to associate PowerMate controller actions with keystrokes and other PC functions.

PowerMate 8132015 54232 PM

There are a surprising amount of functions this simple knob performs:

  • Rotate clockwise and counter clockwise
  • Press down and rotate clockwise and counter clockwise
  • Press down once
  • Press down and hold

I set up the PowerMate to control my WinRadio Excalibur as follows:

  • Press and hold launches the WinRadio Excalibur application
  • Rotating the knob tunes up and down
  • Pressing down and rotating increases and decreases bandwidth
  • Pressing once toggles the volume mute

PowerMate-ExcaliburThe PowerMate is a brilliant piece of kit!

It has enhanced my user experience with the Excalibur. Soon, I’ll set it up to work with my Elad FDM-S2, and SDRplay RSP.

The PowerMate software allows you to set up multiple configurations, so it’s easy to call up a configuration based on the SDR being used (since mine have unique hotkeys).

The good news is a new PowerMate is only about $32 via Amazon.com.

I’m quite tempted, in fact, to buy a second unit to use with my laptop and to serve as a spare.

While looking up PowerMate pricing, I noticed more complex multimedia controllers on Amazon; I’m curious if any Post readers have experience with other models.

Seems to be a very affordable way to enhance your SDR user experience.

Click here to view the PowerMate on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1MmyxkC

Posted in How To, News, Shortwave Radio, Software Defined Radio | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Moshe restores a Ben-Gal “Duet-Stereo”

Ben-Gal-Duet-Stereo-Full

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Moshe, who writes:

About 2 weeks ago, a very good friend called me and exclaimed, “you just have to see this radio…I’m keeping it for you!”–so, I drove to his aunt’s house and saw this beauty.

After hauling the radio to my place, I started to check it out, to see what would be needed for restoration; it was working, with bad contacts, poor frequency response and low output.

I took hi-res pictures of this radio, some during restoration. Now the radio sounds great. It has been recapped, a couple of bad resistors and bad wires replaced, contacts have been cleaned, and some good cleaning for the chassis as well.

Ben-Gal-Duet-Stereo-Board3

Ben-Gal-Duet-Stereo-Rear2

Ben-Gal-Duet-Stereo-Front-Detached

As I wanted to keep the original appearance of the chassis, I kept the original filter capacitors on board, but disconnected them from the circuit, added terminal strips and new capacitors from underneath.

Ben-Gal-Duet-Stereo-Board2 Ben-Gal-Duet-Stereo-Board1

The radio uses an EF85 tube as the RF stage. With the addition of a grounding connection and random wire antenna, it’s very sensitive on shortwave.

Ben-Gal-Duet-Stereo-FrontPanel

About the Ben-Gal Duet-Stereo:

It was made in Israel by Ben-Gal, a label inside shows it was made at 12th of December, 1965.

It is a console model with record player. As the model name suggests, the amplifier and record player are stereo (though the tuner is not…).

The radio has longwave (marked in meters), mediumwave (marked in meters) and 3 shortwave bands (with megacycle and meter band marks).

The shortwave bands overlaps with each other, so cover is continuous:

  • SW3 2.3MHz to 6MHz,
  • SW2 5.5MHz to 15.5MHz,
  • and SW1 14.5MHz to 23MHz.

Ben-Gal-Duet-Stereo-Open

Many thanks, Moshe, for sharing photos and this description of this beautiful Ben-Gal Duet-Stereo. I bet the audio fidelity is amazing. My father has a 1960’s console–with a similar configuration–made by Admiral, though it was limited to mediumwave and FM reception. Some day, I will try to restore it to its former glory!

Thanks for the inspiration, Moshe!

Posted in AM, Longwave, Mediumwave, News, Nostalgia, Radio History, Radio Modifications | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Lansing Named CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors

John Lansing (Source: BBG)

John Lansing (Source: BBG)

(Source: Broadcasting Board of Governors Press Release)

WASHINGTON – The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the independent federal government agency that oversees all U.S. civilian international media, today announced the appointment of John Lansing as Chief Executive Officer and Director of the BBG. Lansing will begin his service at the BBG in September.

Lansing joins the BBG with nine years of experience as President of Scripps Networks, where he is credited with guiding the company to become a leading developer of unique content across various media platforms including television, digital, mobile and publishing. As President of Scripps Networks, Lansing was responsible for strategic and operational oversight of the $2.5 billion division of Scripps Networks Interactive, including the company’s portfolio of six cable networks – Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, DIY, Cooking Channel and Great American Country – and the $100 million Scripps Networks Digital division. Prior to joining Scripps Networks in 2004, Lansing was Senior Vice President for Television in the broadcasting division of the E.W. Scripps Company, managing the company’s portfolio of 10 network affiliated television stations. Earlier, he held various senior management positions at Scripps-owned affiliates, including WEWS TV in Cleveland, Ohio and WXYZ TV in Detroit, Michigan.

Most recently, Lansing was President and Chief Executive Officer of Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM), a marketing association comprised of 90 of the top U.S. and Canadian cable companies and television programmers. There, Lansing oversaw the development of business strategies and marketing initiatives that position cable television companies for continued growth as they compete with emerging digital content platforms.

Lansing also brings a deep understanding of journalism from roles as an award-winning Photojournalist and Field Producer, Assignment Manager, Managing Editor, and News Director at several television stations earlier in his career.

Lansing is currently Vice Chair of the Bellarmine University Board of Trustees and was named to the Bellarmine Gallery of Distinguished Graduates in 2010. He serves on the National Advisory Board of the Bellarmine University’s Institute for Media, Culture & Ethics; National Council for Media and Public Affairs of George Washington University School of Media & Public Affairs; and, until recently, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies Foundation, one of the nation’s top schools for professional journalists.

“John is a proven executive and a remarkable, transformative leader in multiplatform content strategies, development and distribution,” said BBG Chairman Jeff Shell. “With his journalistic sensibilities and success in leading media companies through periods of challenges and growth, John is the ideal person to lead the BBG as we accelerate efforts to shape a global, world-leading media organization that is up to the challenges of the 21st century.”

“We are very fortunate to have John take on the CEO role at this critical time when U.S. international media is on the front line of the United States’ most important and complicated foreign policy issues,” added Shell. “From eastern Ukraine to China to ISIL and Iran, the programming of the BBG is the most important, and in many cases, the only voice of honest and open journalism. John also understands that conveying and critically assessing official U.S. policy is a key component of BBG’s mission. American leadership in the world depends in part on international audiences knowing where the United States stands with respect to their countries and the issues that affect them.”

“I thank Chairman Shell and the Board for this opportunity to help lead this fantastic organization,” said Lansing. “As one of the world’s largest media enterprises, the BBG provides balanced, reliable and authoritative news in the face of partisan media and heavy propaganda from repressive nations and extremist groups. I am honored to enter into public service and to join a team of world class journalists and media professionals who are dedicated to expanding freedom of information and expression worldwide. I also welcome the opportunity to work with this distinguished Board, which has steadily guided the BBG forward.”

Chairman Shell also thanked André Mendes for his service as BBG Interim CEO. “On behalf of the entire Board, I would like to express our deep appreciation for the tireless work of André and his dedicated team. During this transition period, André and his colleagues have worked diligently to produce outstanding results and to spur on forward momentum at the BBG.”

BBG’s Critical Importance in a Fragmented World and Rapidly Changing Media Environment

U.S. International Media (USIM) operates today in a challenging environment in which global audiences have vastly increased access to information from both public and private sources and in which modes of communication are changing in fundamental ways.

The global information space has become a battleground, where new international actors have “weaponized” information to try to undermine not only Western values but also Western resolve to confront the challenges of the 21st century. The emergence of well-funded state-sponsored broadcasters have demonstrated how propaganda can directly influence events on the ground. Elsewhere, non-state actors including al-Qaeda, ISIL and Boko Harem are using social media to recruit fighters and sow fear.

The BBG is sparing no effort to bring global audiences alternative narratives – built on accurate, fact-based journalism – to foreign propaganda in Ukraine and across the former Soviet Union as well as in the Middle East, South Asia and the African Sahel. MBN’s Raise Your Voice, an interactive audience engagement initiative on TV and radio in Iraq exemplifies BBG’s response, empowering moderate secular and religious voices to discuss the root causes of ISIL while providing Iraqi leaders with constructive feedback on the lives and hopes of the Iraqi people.

Gallup research underscores impressive results, most notably where extremism is a palpable threat; BBG networks boast weekly adult audiences of 44% in Iraq, 53% in Afghanistan, 28% in Iran, 51% in Somalia, and 18% in Nigeria. Globally, BBG networks increasingly are engaging new audiences, reporting on issues of human rights, government corruption and other issues, which contributes toward an all-time high measured BBG weekly audiences in excess of 215 million and rapid growth across all media platforms including social media and mobile.

Telling America’s story is a significant part of BBG’s statutory mandate. BBG covers the United States in all of its complexity, reflecting the nation’s democratic process, so that the countries that are struggling to nurture their own democratic systems might learn from the American experience.

BBG has also developed a robust portfolio in Internet anti-censorship. The agency focuses not only on disseminating content, but also on expanding access to the Internet, and offering to citizen and professional journalists the tools to report safely without detection by government surveillance. Increasingly, this work is important in countries such as China, Venezuela and Iran that are bolstering their firewalls to stop the free flow of information.

About The Broadcasting Board of Governors

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is the independent federal government agency that oversees all U.S. international media. BBG is also the name of the board that governs the agency.

The BBG Board is focused on how to best leverage the combined power of the five media networks it oversees – Voice of America (VOA), Radio and TV Martí, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) – in countries where vital U.S. interests are at stake and freedom of the press and freedom of expression are under attack.

All current BBG Board members have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to their positions since August 2013. Board members are well-respected leaders in U.S. foreign policy, media, and government and operate in a collegial bi-partisan manner.

Current Board members include: Jeff Shell, Chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment; Matthew Armstrong, author and former Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy; Dr. Leon Aron, Resident Scholar and Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, whose 37-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service included service as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon; Michael Kempner, founder, president, and CEO of MWW, one of the world’s top five independent public relations agencies; Ambassador Karen Kornbluh, Executive Vice President of External Affairs for Nielsen and former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); and Kenneth Weinstein, President and CEO of the Hudson Institute. Secretary of State John Kerry is represented on the Board by Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, former managing editor of TIME.

Posted in Broadcasters, International Broadcasting, News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

DSP noise may come from clock and data line harmonics

ATS-405-9580kHz

In response to our review of the Sangean ATS-405–which noted DSP noises on 800 and 1600 kHz–SWLing Post reader, Steve Yothment, comments:

“Yes, modern radios usually have a micro communicating with the DSP IC through I2C communications.

The inter-IC communications includes a clock and data line. The clock for I2C is typically 400 kHz nowadays. Harmonics from this clock line are probably the source of the interference.

The manufacturer should have designed the product to ensure that this interference does not occur. It may be that they resolved it at one time but with limited manufacturing quality and component substitutions that often occur in mass production, the problem is occurring now even though it may have looked OK earlier in development. At least, that is my experience with such things. (I used to design car radios for the Panasonic Company.)

You can learn more about the I2C bus at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%C2%B2C.

Many thanks for your comments, Steve! I recall a similar metronomic sound on another DSP-based radio, but can’t remember which model. I need to dig through my reviews as I’m sure I noted this. I believe checking 400, 800 and 1600 kHz will become a standard checklist item when I review DSP-based radios.

Posted in AM, News, Radios, Shortwave Radio | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments