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.

pl680-at-the-beach

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.

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10 thoughts on “Tecsun PL-680 Beats Expectations

  1. Troy

    Nice review Rob. I think you were wise not to replace the 909 with the 909X. Every time I am tempted to pull the trigger on the 909X, I go back and read the reviews (like Thomas’ for The Spectrum Monitor, among others) & listen to the comparison recordings. It – 909X – doesn’t appear to live up to the original 909’s re: weak signals.

    Reply
    1. Rob Wagner Post author

      Thanks Troy. I enjoyed writing the review. And there’s more to come when I test it against the “big guns”! Yes, considering my Sangean 909 was a first generation unit, I’ve been pretty lucky with it. Best 73 my friend!

      Reply
  2. Cap

    Two radios I had high expectations for were the PL-880 and the PL-680, the 880 had sideband distortion that was frankly unusable in my book and the PL-680 could not beat my 660 on SW even connecting to an external mag loop switching between them. I did various tests to try and convince myself the 680 was better than the 660 but I couldn’t. I made a schoolboy error at one point thinking the 680 was wiping the floor of the 660 until I realised I had the attenuator switched in on the 660. That was the final straw and the 680 was sent packing and I still have 2 x PL-660’s, one for base and one for portable/business trips. The 680 is pants on MW in comparison.
    I did notice however that the 680 had an ever so slightly tigher filter than the 660, not by much though and did not justify hanging on to it.
    Looking forward to Tecsuns next portable though.

    Reply
    1. Rob Wagner Post author

      Thanks for your comments, Cap. I was surprised to read of your problems with the 680. There have been no such problems here as I continue to use it most days. It even performs very well against my big Yaesu FTDX3000, which surprised me! Perhaps Tecsun’s quality control is not as good as it should be? Perhaps you got a bad radio sent to you? Who knows! It would be interesting to know when you purchased the 680. Personally, I’m not an “early adopter” of new technology, so mine was purchased about 18 months after it first came onto the market. I kind of hope that by that time, any bugs have been ironed out. 😉 73 and good DX.

      Reply
      1. Cap

        Don’t think there was any wrong with the 680 I had, sensitivity was the main issue but the 680 won on selectivity. Quality control could have been an issue though.
        I bought mine later in the day and was not an early adopter.

        Reply
        1. Rob Wagner Post author

          Hmmm….that’s interesting! Sensitivity is the one thing that I can’t fault on my 680. It compares most favorably to all my other rigs in that area. I’ve not owned a 660, so I can’t compare the two portables. Thanks for your input.

          Reply
          1. Cap

            The 660 has a hot receiver, although sensitivity is not everything in a portable but what the 660 does well is being an all round decent portable. It even performs well on MW as well, which i hard to come by in a portable (the only other portable that beats it in terms of sensitivity on MW is my Eton E5, not in selectivity though)
            Maybe someone else who owns/has owned a 680 can tell me I had a duff radio. If I did, I would buy another for a better comparison.

    1. Barry Ward

      Hi great reviews thanks. Are there any hidden settings on the Tecsun PL680. I have just purchased one. Thanks.
      Yours Barry

      Reply

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