Tag Archives: Sangean

Tecsun PL-680 Beats Expectations

 

I have been procrastinating over investing in another portable shortwave radio to replace my ageing (but still going strong) Sangean ATS909. Also known in the U.S. as the rebadged Radio Shack DX–398, the Sangean has been a most reliable rig for in-the-field DXpeditions. My unit is one of the early first generation versions that I purchased on the second-hand market, so I’m guessing it has to be at least 16 years old now. It continues to provide a full rich tone quality on AM/FM and is very sensitive on shortwave providing you use an external antenna of 5 metres (16 feet) or more. The radio received some bad press because of its poor SW reception using just the telescopic rod antenna, which frankly was justified. The in-built whip is useless! But all of my work has been with an external antenna, and the results have been most successful over the years.

But the old ATS909 has lived a hard life, having been bounced around in the car on rough dirt tracks, dropped a few times, and thanks to a recent home renovation project it now has paint splattered all over it. On one occasion, I’d even left it outside on the ground after a spot of gardening, subjecting it to half an hour of heavy rain, before realising my forgetfulness. The radio was soaked but still going strong when I picked it up. However, the digital readout was all messed up. After 24 hours of drying, and it fired up beautifully again, and has been fine ever since! That’s some impressive build quality there! Thanks Sangean!

Anyway, a few months ago I decided to “pull the trigger” and purchased a new Tecsun PL-680 AM/FM/SSB/Air Band radio. This rig has been on the market since around February 2015. So far, it has performed very well for me.

Interestingly, on the built-in telescopic antenna reception is only marginally better than the Sangean, but the Tecsun is really quite sensitive with an external long wire antenna. In fact, I’ve had it hooked up to my three double bazooka (coax) dipoles for 80, 40 and 20 meters, and the performance has been excellent. The tone quality is not quite a good as the Sangean, lacking richness and depth on MW, FM and SW. But for DXing, the audio appears just right for digging out clear audio from the noisy shortwave bands.

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Recently, I hooked up both portables for a side-by-side comparison using four different external antennas outside the shack with switches between the two radios. I was eager to check how they measured up in terms of sensitivity and selectivity. The results for the Tecsun were impressive, picking up all of the weaker signals that the Sangean could hear.

Indeed, on several shortwave broadcast bands, the Tecsun appeared to be just a touch more sensitive at digging out some of the weakest signals. The audio also appeared a little clearer for those weak signals, perhaps because it has a narrower audio response than the Sangean. And selectivity for the PL-680 was about the same as the ATS909, generally very good.

On the ham bands, however, the SSB audio quality of the ATS909 sounds more pleasant to my ears than the PL680. But the Sangean’s tuning process in SSB is somewhat more cumbersome than for the Tecsun.

The PL-680’s synchronous detector effectively reduces adjacent signal interference. It’s easy to use and is a strong feature in its favor. However, occasionally it can fail to lock on to a weaker signal or when the signal is subject to deep fading. One other characteristic of the Tecsun is that it has a rather overly generous S-meter, hitting S4 or 5 for all but the weakest signals. This is a meter not to be taken too seriously!

But the PL-680 is not without its faults!

Click here to continue reading the full story.

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.

Jay reviews the Sangean PR-D6 AM/FM Portable Radio

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Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ron, who notes that Jay Allen has just published a review of the Sangean PR-D6.

Jay gives the PR-D6 high marks on AM performance–especially for a $30 radio.  I also love the simple analog design!  Thanks for the tip, Ron!

Battery Endurance Contest Results: Sangean DT-160CL vs Sony SRF-39FP

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On August 4, 2016, the same day I received my new Sangean DT-160CL, I popped a fresh set of CVS Max Alkaline batteries into the DT-160CL as well as into my trusted Sony SRF-39FP. The mission? To see which radio could perform longest on a set of batteries.

I set my stopwatch as I turned on both radios, tuned to the same frequency, set the volume to the same levels…and waited.

And waited.  And waited.  And as I waited, I posted updates.

But at last, the waiting is at an end:  here are the contest’s final results.

Sangean DT-160CL: Impressive Performance

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On August 9, I reported that the Sangean DT-160CL finally threw in the towel, logging an impressive 116 hours 30 minutes of operating time–!

Without a doubt, this is one of the longest run times I’ve ever experienced from an AM/FM radio with digital display.

Interestingly, the day after the DT-160CL shut down, I turned it back on, and it operated for an additional 45 minutes or so, obviously absorbing a little more voltage from rested cells. During that 45 minutes period of time, the audio and overall performance was respectable. No doubt the DT-160 shuts down before audio is terribly compromised.

Sony SRF-39FP: The Endurance King!

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Amazingly, the Sony SRF-39FP kept running well beyond 116 hours. Well beyond…

By Wednesday morning–one full week from the time I began the endurance contest–the Sony SRF-39FP finally began showing signs of low-voltage: the audio had a small amount of splatter and sensitivity began to be compromised.

Unlike the Sangean DT-160CL, which clearly has a cut-off voltage, the SRF-39FP kept milking the battery for its last vestiges of power.

I decided that I would call a “time of death” for this AA battery when the Sony struggled to receive local AM stations, as well as transmission from my in-house SStran AM transmitter.

This happened approximately 163 hours and 54 minutes into its marathon run.

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This stopwatch app tracked the full endurance test. I pressed “stop” when the Sony SRF-39FP finally gave up.

Wow, wow, wow.  I simply had no idea any portable could operate almost one full week on one AA cell–! 

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In truth, I’m sort of relieved the ’39FP finally gave up the ghost. I was beginning to think the thing was powered by some supernatural force…

When I started this test, I thought the Sony SRF-39FP was rated for about 40-80 hours of run time on a single battery.  I couldn’t remember where I got that number until I recently re-read this article from The New Yorker, which highlighted the 39FP’s role in correctional facilities:

“The SRF-39FP is the gold standard among prison radios in part because it runs on a single AA battery, and offers forty hours of listening time…”

Wait, just forty hours? Perhaps from the cheapest AA battery made…

With an advanced chemistry cell like the Duracell Quantum or Energizer Advanced Lithium series, you’ll clearly get three to four times that performance.

DX mode

And here’s the thing: I’m convinced I could’ve gotten much more time out of the SRF-39FP.

Like similar Sony portables, the SRF-39FP has a “DX/Local” switch. When set to DX, the receiver is made to deliver maximum performance.

If you’re listening to a local station, however, “Local” mode is a better choice. You’ll still be able to receive your target station, yet draw much less from the battery.

I left the Sony SRF-39FP in “DX” mode for the entire battery endurance test. Had it been in “Local” mode, I believe I’d be reporting an even longer run time. How much longer, I don’t know, but you can bet that my curiosity will soon get the best of me…I plan to do a separate endurance test to find out.

Clear choices for battery longevity

Sangean-DT160CL and Sony SRF-39FPNo doubt, our little test has proven that radios marketed to the prison system do offer excellent battery performance.

Now I’m very curious whether the standard Sangean DT-160 will offer the same battery performance as its clear-cased counterpart, the DT-160CL. The only difference in the two appears to be that one offers a clock, while the other doesn’t. I wonder if that would have any significant difference on battery life.

Additionally, the Sony SRF-39FP has shown us that analog receivers can be much more efficient than their digital counterparts. We’ve known this a long time at Ears To Our World, and which is why almost all of the radios we supply to schools in remote, rural locations are analog.

Sadly, analog radios are getting much more difficult to find these days as DSP-based receivers have become more affordable to produce.

The Sangean DT-160 is available at Amazon.com and Universal Radio. The Sangean DT-160CL (the version tested) is available through Amazon.

Click here to search eBay for the Sony SRF-39FP.

Readers: Know of any other battery-miser radios? Please comment!

Update 4: Sangean DT-160CL v Sony SRF-39FP

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If you’ve been following the Sangean DT-160CL versus Sony SRF-39FP battery endurance test, I have some news to report: one of our competitors has finally thrown in the towel…!

Yesterday, while I was on the road for about 1.5 hours, the Sangean DT-160CL at last gave up the contest.

Since I was traveling at the time, I can’t say with absolute certainty what o’clock the DT-160 cried uncle––but roughly, we’re looking at 116 hours, 30 minutes of run time, give or take 30 minutes.

Sangean claims the DT-160 series will operate for 100 hours with two AA batteries. That claim is obviously pretty conservative.

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Though I used CVS Max Alkaline batteries (a generic version of Duracell’s Quantum batteries)–an improvement on the standard alkaline battery–I set the volume higher than I believe Sangean or Sony would have set it for testing purposes. This should have drained the batteries faster. The radios were also tuned to a variety of stations: weak AM, strong AM, weak FM and strong FM.

In short: I’m very impressed with the DT-160.

A 116 hour play time from two AA cells on a digitally-tuned receiver is, well, pretty incredible.

Now that the endurance test is over for the DT-160CL, I’ll replace the batteries with a fresh set of CVS Max Alkaline cells and start testing the AM/FM receiver performance.

…And how about the Sony SRF-39FP?

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My iPhone's stopwatch has been tracking progress since last Wednesday.

My iPhone’s stopwatch has been tracking progress since last Wednesday.

Even more amazingly, the Sony SRF-39FP is still going strong––!

I actually fell asleep last night listening to the SRF-39FP and woke up this morning with music still in my ears. What a champ!

So, how long has the Sony SRF-39FP now been operating on one AA battery?

At time of posting, this little Sony’s clocked one hundred thirty nine hours.

Though I’ve always known that the  SRF-39FP was a true battery miser–one of the reasons it’s been a choice radio in the prison system–I had no idea it could operate this long on one battery.

Of course, I’ll continue tracking the Sony SRF-39FP.

How much longer will the SRF-39FP last? Stay tuned to find out!

Follow this review thread by bookmarking the following tag: Sangean DT-160CL v Sony SRF-39FP.

Update 3: Sangean DT-160CL v Sony SRF-39FP

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My iPhone's stopwatch has been tracking the endurance test.

My iPhone’s stopwatch has been tracking the endurance test.

It’s been one hundred nine hours since I started the Sangean DT-160CL versus Sony SRF-39FP battery endurance test and both radio are still hanging in there!

Not knowing which radio will check out first, I’ve been taking them with me everywhere and have been careful to keep their settings identical the whole time.

Last night, I even prepared my Zoom H2N digital recorder to monitor both radios simultaneously. Having passed 100 hours of operating on the same set of batteries, I was certain one would call it quits last night.

Not so.

There was one noticeable change this morning: the Sangean DT-160CL’s battery indicator now shows a depleted cell.

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It’s still operating, though–no noticeable difference in volume and reception.

The end must certainly be near! Indeed, it’s hard to believe I started this endurance test last Wednesday!

I’m very interested to see which pocket radio will go first.

Field time

Sangean-DT-160CL and Sony SRF-39FP Mount Mitchell

Yesterday, I spent the better part of the afternoon at Mt. Mitchell State Park. Of course, I brought the DT-160CL and SRF-39FP along.

Mt. Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi river. It’s a great place to play radio.

At one point, I tuned both radios to WAIZ 630 kHz: a 1,000 watt AM station about 95 miles east of the park. It’s one of my benchmark daytime stations from Mt. Mitchell.

Though most DT-160 reviewers have given the receiver low marks for AM performance, I found that the DT-160CL did a better job locking onto WAIZ than the venerable SRF-39FP.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that both radios, at that point, were operating on low voltage? Or perhaps the CL version of the DT-160 series has better AGC characteristics and sensitivity?

I doubt the latter assumption, but once the endurance test is complete, I’ll put the 160CL through the paces.

Follow this review thread by bookmarking the following tag: Sangean DT-160CL v Sony SRF-39FP.