Monthly Archives: August 2018

Astronomers organizing to save WWV

As an amateur astronomer, I knew it was only a matter of time before the astronomical community became involved to save WWV.  Specifically, it’s a group of mostly amateur astronomers who observe and record occultations.

What’s an occultation?  It’s the term when a solar system object passes in front of, and blocks out a star.  Why is this important to observe?  Lunar occultations are the easiest to observe (if the star is bright enough, one can do a crude observation with binoculars or even the unaided eye).  But there is very valuable science to be had with smaller objects.  When a dwarf planet [like Pluto] or an asteroid – passes in front of, and “blinks” out or blocks the light of a star – measurements can be taken that reveal the dwarf planet or asteroid’s size/diameter.  We can even determine if an object is round/oval – or maybe cigar-shaped when multiple ground observers record and accurately time how long the star “blinks” (or if the star doesn’t get covered by the asteroid in some locations but does in others). Okay, that is Occultations 101 (if you are interested in learning more, see the link).

Credit: Upcoming occultation – showing the path where the occultation is visible – from IOTA: International Occultation Timing Association

Note 1: In 2017, amateur astronomers using a 3” telescope determined that an asteroid had a moon!I had a 3” telescope, back in the 1970s, when I was a kid!

Credit: Sky and Telescope Magazine & IOTA: the International Occultation Timing Association

Note 2: Multiple occultation observations involving the dwarf planet Pluto (and its next target – a “KBO”) are helping scientists navigate the New Horizons space probe (and to identify hazards) as it speeds through space to its next target – nicknamed Ultima Thule – beyond Pluto (on January 1st, 2019).

Equipment used to record and document these fleeting events (some graze occultations only last fractions of a second) requires – you guessed it – time stamped video devices.  Back in the old days before video and other advanced equipment, astronomers would sit a shortwave radio next to the telescope with a tape recorder to audibly capture & record the time signal with the observer noting the start/stop of the event (we’ve come a long way since then – time stamped equipment has advanced this from “approximately” to “exact science”!).

The main point of this blog entry: astronomers have been asked to sign the White House petition to maintain NIST stations funding. Sky & Telescope Magazine, if they haven’t already, will be posting an article with an interview that they conducted with one of the leading occultation observers that includes a link to the petition on their web site.

Let’s hope this momentum continues to build – and that it makes a difference!

Guest Post by Troy Riedel.

Spread the radio love

Ham Radio Outlet Discounts RSPduo for Labor Day

From now through September 4th, Ham Radio Outlet in the USA is discounting the SDRplay RSPduo SDR receiver by $30–down to $249.95. This is a great deal on SDRplay’s newest and best SDR receiver!


Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

Spread the radio love

Guest Post: Possible Last Remaining Direct Biafra QSL Emerges

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor Dan Robinson who shares this fascinating story about what has to be “one of the most important occurrences involving a SWBC station that no longer exists — the Voice of Biafra”:

Biafra: One of the rarest of SWBC QSLs

by Dan Robinson

Many SWLing Post readers will no doubt have heard, in recent years, the  station Radio Biafra broadcasting via various relay locations on shortwave, and also on the Internet.

Those of us who have been SWLs for many decades remember the history of Biafra and the story of the original Voice of Biafra, which when the station was active on shortwave, before it was closed down by Nigerian government forces.

My own SWLing career began in the late 1960’s, but alas my receivers at the time, and my knowledge of what was on the air were such that I did not hear the transmissions from Biafra (I’m one of those who regrets having missed many former tropical band broadcasters, such as Tonga, Fiji, Gilbert & Ellice Islands (later known as Kiribati) when they used shortwave, and Biafra was on that list as well).

I first learned about the original Radio Biafra from articles written by the late Don Jensen.

In one of those [download PDF], Don re-printed a copy of one of the most famous SWBC QSLs of all time — a Biafra verification sent to DX’er Alan Roth.

Typed on a piece of notebook paper, it had “Broadcasting Corporation of Biafra, P.O. Box 350, Enugu” at the top. Three paragraphs of text followed, referring to Roth’s reception dated January 28th, 1969 of the station on 7,304 kHz.

Pictured with the letter to Roth was the envelope with “Republic of Biafra” mailed from the Biafra mission on Madison Avenue, in New York City.  I will always remember the caption, which said that Roth had taken his reception report to the Biafran delegation office which:

“managed to get it flown into the breakaway nation with other official correspondence, on the emergency airlift.  Radio Biafra’s chief engineer wrote the verification letter and returned it via the same route. . . a high contrast photo was required to bring out the typing since a well-born typewriter ribbon had been used.”

For decades this Biafra verification to Roth was indeed considered to be the only one in existence, though because so many SWLs and DX’ers were active through the years, it’s always difficult to state this with certainty.

Those of us who collect historic SWBC QSLs, going through thousands of eBay listings, always keep an eye out for cards and letters and station materials.

So it was that a few weeks ago, as I was doing my usual due diligence looking through eBay listings, I noticed something unusual.  Listed among SWBC QSLs from a seller in Ithaca, New York was something astounding — another Biafra verification letter!


Looking closely, it seemed to be exactly like the famous QSL letter sent to Alan Roth in 1969, with the exact same date, but sent to a James G. Moffitt, in Dallas, Texas.

Days ticked by — I had the QSL on ‘watch’ status on my eBay account, and as I do for any QSL of high value, I also had it on automatic bid status.  For this piece of SWBC history, my maximum bid was very high, something I rarely do unless the item has extreme historic or collectors significance.

I envisioned furious bidding for this Biafra verification, but in the end only four bids were recorded.  I won the QSL at what I consider to be a very low price ($81) considering its rarity.

Now, the rest of the story.

It turns out that among the three other bidders was none other than Jerry Berg, DX’ing colleague and author of so many wonderful books on the history of shortwave.

As I was preparing to complete this story for SWLing Post, I emailed Jerry who had already written up a comprehensive story about this newly-discovered Biafra verification.

Jerry’s superb article also includes links to the late Don Jensen pieces (The Life and Death of Radio Biafra and Biafra’s Incredible Radio), as well as a link to a recording of Voice of Biafra made by one of the other big names in the hobby, Al Sizer:

The “Undiscovered QSL of Radio Biafra”, as Jerry calls it in his new article, now resides with me here in Maryland.  Unless/until another of its kind emerges somewhere on the QSL market, it has to be considered the only one of its kind in the world.

As for the question of whether this previously “undiscovered” QSL is genuine, Jerry notes the similarities between the Roth QSL letter from 1969, and the one sent to James G. Moffitt, who he notes was active as a DX’er in the days when Radio Biafra existed.

Jerry continues:

“. . .what about the common date, and date-time-frequency details, in the two veries? If the reports had arrived in Biafra at roughly the same time, it would not be unusual for the replies to be prepared on the same day.  As to the common date-time-frequency details, perhaps whoever typed the letters thought these references were standard boilerplate rather than information that was to be tailored to the specific listener. Certainly the frequency could be expected to be the same. The common date of reception is harder to explain, but it is not difficult to see how the almost inevitable difference in dates of reception could have been overlooked. QSLers know that verifications can be wrong in their details, misdated, even sent to the wrong listener. As for the different fonts, and for Alan’s letter being light in appearance and Moffitt’s dark, perhaps the typist changed typewriters because one was running out of ink. We will likely never know for sure, but I think the Moffitt verie (which sold on eBay for $81) is genuine. In any event, the story reminds us how, in every endeavor, even shortwave listening, today’s connected world can cast new light on old events and turn longstanding certainties into question marks.”

I am quite happy with having acquired what surely is one of the rarest of SWBC QSLs.  It has been added to a collection that, in addition to my own QSLs that I carefully kept over the years, includes other unique cards, including one from ZOE Tristan da Cunha and the station at the former Portuguese Macao.

Amazing story, Dan! It pleases me to no end to know that someone who values our shortwave radio history–and does a proper job archiving it–has acquired this amazing piece. I especially appreciate the time that you and Jerry Berg put into sharing the history of the Voice of Biafra with the shortwave listening and DXing communities. Thank you!

Readers: As Dan suggests, I strongly encourage you to check out Jerry’s website, On The Shortwaves. It’s a deep treasure trove of radio history.

Spread the radio love

Catch some shortwave pirate radio action this Labor Day weekend!

Monday, September 3, is Labor Day throughout most of North America; shortwave pirates love to operate on long holiday weekends (though you can hear them most any weekend for that matter).

So, if you’ve never heard a live pirate station on shortwave radio, this is a great opportunity to catch your first pirate.

Don’t know how/where to hear shortwave pirates? Check out this primer!

Post Readers: Feel free to comment with you Labor Day weekend loggings!

Enjoy the SWLing Post? Consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund! Thank you!

Spread the radio love

Wired: The ngVLA and “Rebirth of Radio Astronomy”

The NRAO’s Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico is 40 years old.

(Source: WIRED)

IN THE EARLY 1930s, Bell Labs was experimenting with making wireless transatlantic calls. The communications goliath wanted to understand the static that might crackle across the ocean, so it asked an engineer named Karl Jansky to investigate its sources. He found three: nearby thunderstorms, distant thunderstorms, and a steady hiss, coming from … somewhere.

Jansky studied the hiss for a year, using a rudimentary antenna that looked like toppled scaffolding, before announcing its origin: The static was coming from the the galaxy itself. “Radio waves heard from remote space,” announced The New York Times in May 1933. “Sound like steam from a radiator after traveling 30,000 light-years.” Janksy had unwittingly spawned the field of radio astronomy.

Today, a replica of Jansky’s scope sits on the lawn in front of Green Bank Observatory, one of the four world-class public radio telescopes in the US. Along with the Very Large Array, Arecibo Observatory, and the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), it is the legacy of a boom time in federal investment in the field that began in earnest after World War II.

In the past several years, though, the National Science Foundation has backed away from three of those instruments. In 2012 the NSF published a review recommending that the foundation ramp down funding to Green Bank—just 11 years after it was finished—as well as the VLBA, which can resolve a penny from about 960 miles away. Three years later, the foundation asked Arecibo for management proposals that “involve a substantially reduced funding commitment from NSF.”

[S]upport for pure science in the US is always complicated, since it relies on the good graces of federal agencies and annual budgets. As funders balance building and operating new scopes with the old, while giving grants to the astronomers who actually use those instruments, something’s gotta give. And no matter what it is, the science will not be the same.

[…]THERE IS A new facility potentially on the horizon: The Next-Generation VLA (the VLA itself, while upgraded, is 40 years old). As currently envisioned, the ngVLA’s many antennas will together have 10 times the sensitivity and resolution as the VLA, at a wider range of frequencies. The primary array will have 214 18-meter antennas, spiraled across New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and Mexico. Nineteen smaller ones will sit close to the center, and 30 18-meterers will constellate the continent.[…]

Read the full article at WIRED magazine.

Check out this video for more info about the ngVLA:


Spread the radio love

Centauros del Desierto: a new shortwave music program on Channel 292

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Diego Collado who writes:

My name is Diego Collado and I’m an 18 year old student from Barcelona,
Spain. First of all, thank you very much for your website. It is a great
place for getting to know the amazing yet sometimes mysterious world of
shortwave listening. It has also been particularly useful when having to
choose a radio for shortwave and mediumwave reception.

I’ve been an SWLer myself for a while now, but I’ve decided to actually
start my own show on Channel 292, rebroadcasting the radio programme I
do monthly at the local radio station in my neighborhood. It is called
Centauros del Desierto“, broadcasting under the “Radio Collado” name
every first Saturday of the month at 19:00UTC on 6070 (Channel 292).
There is also a repetition of the show the Saturday after that at the
same hour, although this is prone to change if there is a conflict in
the schedule. I guess Channel 292 will warn if there is a schedule change.

Here is the show’s website:

Excellent, Diego! We will all look forward to listening to Centauros del Desierto on Channel 292, first Saturday of the month at 19:00UTC on 6070 kHz! Indeed, I’ll listen for you this Saturday (September 1).

Spread the radio love

A detailed review of the Tecsun S-8800 and comparison with the Tecsun PL-660 & XHDATA D-808

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, 13dka, for the following guest post:

Tecsun S-8800 Review

by 13dka

Looking for a new toy again I recently revisited the Tecsun S-8800, which looked like it could replace both my battered old Grundig Satellit and my Tecsun PL-660.  Being in production for a few years now, and with the “birdies” situation ironed out long ago, the S-8800 has gathered much acclaim by now but also a few somewhat contradicting reviews.  For example, one review reports that the S-8800 can cope with larger antennas, another one states the exact opposite, one praises the MW performance, another one attests only average sensitivity, and only one mentioned an unpleasant detail I’m going to emphasize on in a bit.

All reviews touted the improved SW performance in AM and SSB though, and that was reason enough to make my own experiences.  Testing it turned out to be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster though.

I hope I can share more than only redundant bits of information about the radio, and I’ll skip most of the general information you can read in most other reviews.

Off to the 13dka radio test site at the dike!

13dka’s SWL Happy Place


Like the technically somewhat similar Tecsun PL-880, the S-8800 is a triple conversion receiver and has 2 conventional IF stages, the third IF stage is using a Si4735 DSP chip again, providing the  filters and all that jazz.

Tecsun seems to have thrown a lot more parts into it than in previous radios, plus a pretty big ferrite rod (covering 8-9/10th of the radio’s width) with individual LW and MW coils (most of the smaller receivers have only one coil), a 108mm telescopic whip and of course the “gun metal” knobs.  Designing a radio with a rather simple front panel and making a remote control an integral part of the operation concept (like it is reality with TVs for a long time) is a charming oddball approach, in a way reviving an utmost luxurious feature of 1930s high-end radios.  So let’s cut to the chase and talk performance:

Longwave and Mediumwave

On LW and MW, I first compared the S-8800 with my old Grundig Satellit 400 at home.  The old clunker has similar dimensions, a big old speaker bass/treble controls and it was known to have an average sensitivity on the AMBC band in its time, when all the great, now vintage AM performers were still ubiquitous, so that’s rather a “Jay Allen average” than an “average of the mediocre AM radios of this millenium”.  I think Jay Allen might rate it 3 stars.


The first station I tuned in was the BBC LW transmitter network on 198kHz and it turned out a tad more noisy on the Satellit.  Great!  I could also pick up Medi1 and Kalundborg a smidge better than on the Grundig, and in the early evening, out at the beach I was picking up stations on all still populated channels on LW (minus 180kHz where it has one of the remaining birdies).  The other new portables I currently own (PL-660, D-808) are far away (PL-660) and far, far, far away (D-808) from that kind of performance.


Unfortunately that good impression vanishes gradually when leaving the long wave for the NDB band (still good) and finally medium wave.  Before I left the house to test the radios on the electrically quiet beach again, I was checking out one of my favorite border case stations (low power station from The Netherlands on 1602kHz, whatever their name is this week) and that made very clear already that the S-8800 can’t hold a candle to the Satellit, at least not on the top end of the MW band.  Despite all the noise indoors, on the Satellit I could easily recognize the song being played while the S-8800 didn’t pick up anything at all.

On the beach it turned out that – despite the ferrite rod being twice the size – I find it only marginally better than the PL-660, and not close enough to the little XHDATA D-808 (if you’ve read my D-808 review you already know that this little radio is almost on par with the Grundig on MW):

Timeline: 0:00: D-808 0:07: S-8800 0:11: D-808

Click here to download audio.

Of course I have read Thomas’ assessment of the AM performance so I was prepared to be underwhelmed.  But at least you can connect some high gain MW antenna to make up for the missing sensitivity and be happy again, or can you?

A not so nice surprise

The unpleasant detail I mentioned before is:  the Int/Ext Antenna switch does not turn off the internal ferrite bar antenna.  Jay Allen mentioned it in his review, it was the only review with that detail and unfortunately I overlooked it.  How does that matter?

The main issue is this: if you’re (like me) forced to use outdoor antennas to escape high indoor noise levels, the internal loopstick just won’t let you.  The external antenna will just increase the SNR a bit when the station is strong enough anyway.  Even in a low noise environment, the internal loopstick will needlessly add noise to the signal received from a high-performance active loop or FSL antenna.

That also explains a paragraph in Thomas’ S-8800 review:

“I also hooked up the S-8800 to my large horizontal loop antenna. This certainly did improve MW reception, but not as dramatically as I hoped. Additionally, it seemed to be very sensitive to RFI in my shack even when hooked up to the external antenna.”

There’s more external antenna idiosyncrasy:  only the BNC jack is wired to the “Ext” position of the antenna switch,  the “hot” (red) Hi-Z terminal is active when the switch is in the “Int”-position, it just seems to save you an alligator clip on the whip.

The dedicated “AM antenna” terminal was in part what sold the S-8800 to me.  The label made me assume this would be specifically wired to the AM circuit but as it turns out it’s just a generic high impedance input and I really didn’t anticipate that the internal loopstick remains always active (or in case of the Hi-Z terminals, the retracted whip).  Yes, technically you can connect an external antenna for MW, practically…YMMV.

To conclude this section, the final outcome of this antenna connector issue plus the not so brilliant MW sensitivity was that not even my active ML-200 loop (connected to the BNC-jack) could improve reception on 1602kHz enough to make the S-8800 get at least a bit into the ballpark of the Grundig with its loopstick antenna.  The currently mounted small 80cm rigid loop on the ML-200 just couldn’t produce enough signal to lift the station over the noise that much.

Shortwave SSB

As the other reviews reported already, Tecsun has obviously worked on the AGC issues their former products had.  I can confirm this so far, the AGC does not show the distorted onset of leveling anymore – unless the signal is very strong.  But the leveling happens much faster than e.g. on the PL-880 so the remaining blasts of distortion are quite short:

Click here to download audio.

A more relaxed AGC release time would save us most of those too.  I noticed AGC pumping effects from strong signals in the spectrum neighborhood only with a big antenna connected.  But unfortunately there is more…

Stuff you have to live with:

In his great review, Thomas mentioned the auto mute sometimes interfering with reception. I noticed this too (with all bandwidths on SSB) and I credited this to very low noise figures. When the bandwidth is narrow (=less noise) or if you have a very low noise floor anyway like when tuning through 25-30MHz, the receiver gets muted over the entire chunk of spectrum, just to intermittently and pretty suddenly pass the noise again.  Sounds like a broken antenna cable and has some potential to confuse people:

Click here to download audio.

Then I made some experiments with ECSS, destroying my “noise floor” theory.  It doesn’t always happen but under circumstances that may sound like this:

Click here to download audio.

Too bad that setting auto mute to ’00’ doesn’t actually turn it off in SSB mode so there’s likely no remedy for that.

On my example, there is absolutely no difference between the 3kHz and 4kHz SSB filters.  A working 4kHz filter would have been a good choice for ECSS reception.

Another remaining quirk at least on my specimen of the S-8800 is a slight FM modulation of an oscillator in SSB, particularly with strong signals.  You can hear it best if you create a heterodyne or listen to CW, the tone sounds a bit hoarse, so do voices and I’m not sure whether or not this could affect narrow-bandwidth digimiode decoding.  The front panel (namely the bandwidth knob area) is quite susceptible for “hand capacity”, the frequency varies a bit when you move your hand in front of the S-8800.  This is not uncommon with portables of course, but my D-808 for example has its “Theremin playing area” on the back of the radio.

In this clip you can hear both the “hoarse” modulation and my hand waving  to you.

This leads me to calibration and frequency drift.  The S-8800 can be calibrated on SSB (see the “Hidden features” section below), however this turned out to be a (too) fast moving target.  I don’t know if it’s the VFO or the BFO but it is so temperature-dependent that 6°C temperature difference equates to a quite substantial (for SSB) drift of 150Hz.  Whatever oscillator it is, it seems to lack any temperature compensation measures, with all the implications that may have on relaxed SSB listening, digimode decoding and ECSS reception when the temperature isn’t quite stable where you want to use it.  After calibrating it, it’s often slightly off again within the same minute.  My cheap little D-808 won’t drift even when I take it from an overheated apartment into a -5°C cold winter storm.

The good stuff

Now to the fun part!  When I compared the SSB performance of the S-8800 with my PL-660 the first time, I found them very close for some reason.  I could find only one weak station that came in noticeably better on the S-8800 and while I was happy that it wasn’t worse than the PL-660 I was also a bit disappointed.

Timeline: 0:00: PL-660, 0:10: S-8800 receiving the “Gander Radio” VOLMET.

Click here to download audio.

Then I repeated the test a few days later, this time a bit more into the evening and the outcome was very, very different.  The S-8800 won every single weak signal comparison with ease and sometimes in a way that made me think my PL-660 must be broken.

But then I could help the PL getting a lot closer by simply holding it in my hand, the difference was that I had placed the PL-660 differently so I could record both radios easier.  The factor I forgot to put in the equation was that the S-8800 is absolutely not depending on anyone holding it to give it some counterpoise – that and the long whip is certainly a part of its advantage, and the receivers would be much closer when used with the same external antenna.  With the radios just standing there tho (and that’s what most people will do with their radio instead of holding it in their hand), the difference is remarkable nonetheless and I also learned that you should always look and listen twice when testing radios!

Timeline: 0:00 D-808, 0:03: S-8800, 0:08: D-808, 0:10: S-8800

Click here to download audio.

Timeline: 0:00: PL-660, 0:05: S-8800, 0:10: PL-660, 0:16: S-8800

Click here to download audio.

When I repeated the test yet again but granted the PL-660/D-808 the litte bit of counterpoise they seem to need (I let them rest on the car door instead of holding them), the results were not that unequivocal anymore.  However, the receivers were 50% on par, the S-8800 was clearly better the other 50% and overall the other two receivers could not score a single point for them.  I think that shows that the S-8800 really is a hair or three better.  Beyond the increased sensitivity and minus the frequency drift, SSB reception feels more mature, the the S-8800 behaves more like a regular communications receiver now and the big speaker is a big plus.  Of course that means there should be also an improved reception of…

Shortwave Broadcasts

I know that the S-8800 has inherited the “Enjoy broadcasting” and “BCL RECEIVER” lettering from the cheap S350, but after stepping the PL-660 and the S-8800 through all shortwave broadcast bands, I felt that’s exactly hat it was made for, and it shows!

There is no doubt that a big speaker can create the illusion of better reception, but I think I don’t fall for that easily and rather listen to the background noise and how intelligible the “content” is.  While the comparison with the PL-660 often ended up in a tie when I subtracted the impact of the speaker in my mind, there were indeed some stations where the S-8800 had remarkably less noise than the PL-660.  But of course the big speaker is giving the S-8800 a permanent edge on all reception cases, and it’s a real joy to listen!  Combined with lower noise and a generally more stable signal (through better AGC) this made quite a difference between the two.

Bottom line is that when listening to shortwave broadcasts, the S-8800 gives you the warm and lush sound of yesterday’s famous receivers while it technically delivers the best performance of all Tecsun portables so far.  If you fancy music programs on shortwave and if you don’t mind the price for the luxury and performance, you’ll enjoy this radio a lot.


Short story: my specimen of the S-8800 lacks the very good FM band sensitivity of the PL-660 or the XHDATA D-808.  While the latter radios present my favorite marginal case station 100km away  fairly with some noise at sea level, the S-8800 just doesn’t receive that station at all, no matter how I position the whip.  It’s not exactly worlds between them but considering that (assumedly) most of the FM receiver is in the Si4735 chip that it shares with a couple of great FM performers from the same company, this is a bit surprising.

Signal handling capabilities

The S-8800 is said to have a pretty robust frontend, which I found true but I want to put that a bit into relation.  My “lonely beach/dike listening post” sports 2 abandoned steel flag poles of 6 and 8m height.  They can serve as support for wire antennas, or easily be used as an antenna themselves by inductively coupling them to the receiver – IOW by winding a wire 2-4 times around the pole (you could use the Eiffel tower as an antenna this way) and connecting the other end to the radio.

For some reason this contraption produces quite massive output voltages, but I could always use it for a quick and thorough (and due to the location QRM-free!) reception improvement with my PL-660 anyway.  Why?

The PL-660/880 have a 3-position (DX, Normal, Local) switch. I think it turns off the input preamp in the “Normal” postion and adds a simple attenuator circuit in the “Local” setting.  The latter is sufficient to tame the output of all sorts of antennas (including the flag pole) enough to make my PL-660 work just fine with that on all bands.

The S-8800’s sensitivity switch on the other hand has only 2 positions and telling from the results it really only turns off the preamp.  Now it actually acts up much less on the flag pole than the PL-660 in its comparable “DX” and “Normal” positions, so obviously Tecsun has put some effort into making the frontend more robust indeed.  But it seems they thought “that should do, let’s ditch the 3rd (attenuator) position and save 3 resistors” and that left me with many (but tolerable) images across the entire shortwave above 3 MHz, and a heavily image-infested 160m band.  BTW, a few soft images from (I guess) 49/41m blowtorches could be heard around 29MHz with only the whip.

A word on the audio

I believe that the “legendary” status of the Grundig and Zenith lines of world band receivers is partly owed to their big sound.  They had their music loving and program listening audience in mind, and Tecsun’s choice of casing, big speaker, the bass and treble controls are certainly taking the same line.

Compared to my Satellit 400 (80s model, but still has much of that “legendary” sound), the Tecsun sounds a bit more boomy in the lower mids while having a less super-deep bass response than the Grundig, which also sounds more neutral.  Besides these very unimportant distinctions, the S-8800 does sound big and that also helps reception – lacking low mid/bass content can impair intelligibility as well, and it causes more fatique on long DXing sessions.

The bass/treble shelving EQ is certainly more sophisticated than the Grundig’s, it has quite sharp cutoffs at very sensibly chosen frequencies, so turning the knobs down will leave the main chunk of the mid range completely unaffected and just helps removing rumble or the 5kHz beat frequency from a band neighbor, or add some nice hifi-highs and beefy low end when you turn them all the way up.  In other words you can continuously blend the speaker sound from perfect “voice communications” style to “dad’s big old radio”.

Hidden functions

Of course the S-8800 has some unofficial “power off” and “power on” extra functions assigned to the number keypad on the remote (they all work by pressing and holding a number key for up to 10 seconds).  Some are identical to the PL-880, some are different:

0.) I found calibrating the S-8800 on SSB works with the same method used on the PL-880:  Tune to a station with a known frequency, switch to USB or LSB and use the fine tuning knob to tune for best audio/music playback. An alternative way of doing this is downloading a free spectrum analyzer app for your smartphone (“SpecScope”), tuning the radio 1kHz off frequency so you get a nice heterodyne tone on USB or LSB, then using the fine tuning knob to tune the tone to hit exactly the 1kHz mark on the analyzer display.  Your last 2 (Hz) frequency digits will now show an offset frequency.

1.) Then press and hold the ‘0’ button until a ’00’ appears in the top right corner of the display and the last 2 digits of the frequency readout start flashing.  Release the button and quickly use the fine tuning knob to reset the last frequency digits to ’00’ (the number on the top right corner should be changing while doing that), then immediately hold the ‘0’ key again to confirm – tadaa, the offset should be gone while the last 2 frequency digits show ’00’ now.  This all needs to happen pretty quickly and with the right timing, so it may take a few attempts to get it right.

2.) With the radio off, button ‘2’ turns the LW band on/off.

3.) Press and hold the ‘3’ button while the radio is off to toggle between permanent and “intelligent” display illumination.

4.) When the radio is turned on, this button enables access to the extra functions of the number 6 and number 9 keys.  The display will read “On” when you perform this the first time, doing it again will turn it off again.

5.) Radio on, set to FM band: this toggles between 75 (US) and 50 (anywhere else) microseconds deemphasis on FM.

6.) Radio on: When enabled using the ‘4’-button as described before, holding the ‘6’ will toggle the (annoying) dynamic bandwidth feature off and on.  You can set this independently for AM and SSB.  Ideally to zero, because it automatically resets your bandwidth setting and since this is happening in steps, it sounds quite strange.  The PL-660 uses a stepless dynamic envelope following low pass filter (which is I believe what they called “DNR).

7.) This is still a mystery to me.  On the PL-880, this button apparently controls the line out level on FM.  On the S-8800 it (ostensibly) seems to control the S-meter bias with numbers running from ’00’ to ‘+99’ and ‘-99′ for all bands.  Positive values reduces the S-meter display which made me curious if it rather controls AGC level or gain at some stage, but it really seems to affect the S-meter display only.

8.) Radio off: Toggles the seconds display on the main clock (when the clock is displayed instead of frequency).

9.) Another important one: this controls the threshold of auto squelch/soft mute.  If you want to turn that off, turn it down to ’00’ with the main tuning knob, then hit the ‘9’ key again.  You need to do this for AM, FM and SSB separately.

Random stuff

  • The S-meter was indicating a permanent base level of 2 bars even at my remote beach listening post.  But even though it can apparently be “calibrated”, a 5-bar indicator is quite a step backwards from the 99-step RSSI meter of the PL-880.
  • After an initial discharge and recharge cycle, the 2x2000mAh “18650” batteries gave me a continuous runtime of 21 hours.  When you connect the charger and then turn on the radio, it stops charging unless – and this seems odd – you are in FM mode.  A full charge while listening to FM radio took 4:41.


I had a pretty hard time making my mind up about this radio.  It has so elaborate details, so much design improvement and costly parts went into it but I feel like it doesn’t quite meet the expectations Tecsun created with this radio.   Sadly, it has a few things that were started ambitious and ended underwhelming.

It got a huge 2-coil loopstick and somehow they managed to make it perform slightly worse than a 70€-radio with not even half of that loopstick size, they gave it 2 external antenna ports but they disappoint MW enthusiasts right again by keeping the loopstick always active, and how FM could turn out less sensitive than many radios with the same Silicon Labs chip (including their own models) is beyond me.

They improved the front end but then they dropped the attenuator, which costs the overall flexibility and better overloading-resilience their other radios have, they fixed the SSB issues of the predecessors and introduced a free-floating BFO with a mind of its own.

The price tag is making these downers certainly weigh heavier, and I think without them this radio may have turned out to be a real classic.

On the plus side I found a radio that really excels on shortwave. Shortwave program listeners can feast on a most sensitive, selective, luxurious and well-behaved portable with a big sound and I think there’s probably no current portable that could compete with that.

Ham radio aficionados get improved SSB reception and if there wouldn’t be this “cheap 70s receiver trademark” unstable oscillator, it would come close to communications receiver performance levels (minus the frontend needed for big antenna voltages).

That the price reaches into the ballpark of pre-loved high-end(-ish) JRC/Icom/Yaesu communication receivers or buys you a mint-condition ICF-2010/2001D may seem like a problem too.  But then again, none of those radios is perfect either, and only the Sony is a portable.

Despite the quirks, the S-8800 is still a great, valuable radio that revives an out-of-fashion style of radios in a pretty unique and modern way.

What a brilliant, critical review of the Tecsun S-8800!  Thank you so much for taking the time to properly test and compare the S-8800 with the venerable PL-660 and the XHDATA D-808 (readers, also check out his review of the D-808).

You’re right, too, in that I’ve noticed some contradictions in reviews–I do wonder if part of this might be variations between US and EU versions of the radio, or perhaps small quirks in production runs.

No doubt, however, that the Tecsun S-8800 is a champion of the shortwave broadcast bands and its audio fidelity is in a class of its own.

Click here to view the Tecsun S-8800 at Anon-Co or here to search eBay.

Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund! Thank you!

Spread the radio love