Tecsun PL-990x Initial Assessment

SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, and I have been evaluating a pre-production model of the Tecsun PL-990x portable shortwave radio–the same model which will be soon sold by Anon-Co.

Dan has just completed his initial assessment and included a long-format video. Many thanks to Dan for sharing the following:


Tecsun PL-990x:  An Initial Assessment

by Dan Robinson

Recently, Thomas Witherspoon posted the first photos of the Tecsun PL-990x – we both received units from Anon-co in Hong Kong for testing.

I was able to spend some time outside my house here in Maryland, running the 990x and comparing it to the older receiver by Tecsun, the PL-880.

Tecsun undertook a thorough re-design of the PL-880, which among other things was known for its superb sound through a large speaker.

The 880 was available both on its own, or in a hard-case kit that also included (or includes assuming these are still purchasable) a separate Tecsun-branded solid state recording device, spare knobs and other accessories including Li-ion batteries.

So, the long-awaited PL-990, which we have been seeing in YouTube videos being tested by various individuals who purchased pre-production versions from Asian sites such as AliExpress, is finally here – or will be in coming weeks and months.

Those who view my videos know that I like to do fairly long hands-on tests of receivers, and this is no exception, at about 50 minutes.  My test did not include medium wave or FM, focusing only on shortwave performance and using only the telescopic whip antenna.

Throughout the video, I do put the 990x up against the older PL-880, which had the well-known issue of poorly-implemented synchronous detection (SYNC was not an official feature in the older receiver).

IMPORTANT NOTE:   On the 990x, hitting the “4” key while the radio is powered on activates DNR (Dynamic Noise Reduction) which then activates auto-bandwidth switching, a feature I found quite annoying in the PL-880 and would no doubt find just as annoying in the 990x.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want bandwidths auto-switching on their own.

I always tell people who come to me for advice about radios that you don’t always have to have the latest receiver to enjoy what’s left of shortwave.

I am a big fan of classic older portables such as the SONY ICF SW55s, 7600GRs, SW100s, SW-07s, SW-1000Ts, SW-77s, etc along with other classics such as the Panasonic RF-B65.  I own one or more of most of these – they’re a joy to use assuming they are in good condition.

One more thing – I did not compare the 990x to the Tecsun S-8800.  I think they are really different radios – the 8800 has that gorgeous remote control and fantastic audio . . . I really don’t put it in the same category as the 880/990s or even the 600 series Tecsuns.

I will leave extensive tests of the 990x on medium wave and FM to others – there are already quite a few YouTube demonstrations online showing this.  In the tuning I did on MW and FM, the radio did seem quite sensitive.  I noted that whereas the 9 kHz bandwidth is not visible on shortwave, it is on MW.

Here is my list of high points and low points for the 990x.  Since this receiver, and the still-to-be-released H-501, may in fact be the last we will ever see from Tecsun, it’s up to the individual to make a judgment as to whether to buy.

PL-990x High Points

  • A thorough physical re-design of the old PL-880
  • Tecsun has mostly fixed the problem with synchronous mode which is now a regular as opposed to a hidden feature.
  • Selectivity options are still excellent.
  • Calibration function retained (but see below)
  • Audio is fairly full and powerful.
  • Sensitivity seems good
  • Tecsun has added mp3 play capability and a microSD slot
  • Tecsun has added bluetooth capability (NOTE:  This is activated by pressing the RADIO/MP3 key in powered off state, and then toggling Bluetooth on or off with the PLAY/PAUSE button).
  • Tuning and other knobs remain of high quality as on the PL-880
  • Bandwidths given their own separate buttons
  • Line out retained and hidden feature can adjust line out level
  • Claimed “Triple Conversion” in AM mode
  • Timer functions
  • ATS (automatic station tuning) retained
  • Nice faux-leather case retained

PL-990x negatives:

  • Re-design appears to have come at expense of speaker real estate.
  • Synchronous mode improved, but there still seems to be some distortion which is more noticeable on some frequencies and in some reception situations than others.
  • PL-880’s wide AM bandwidth of 9 kHz is no more at least on SW, but it does appear when using MW.
  • Sensitivity seems good BUT in some situations, PL-880 sounded better and seemed to bring in stations better
  • MicroSD capability does not provide recording from broadcasts (likely due to copyright issues)
  • Method for re-calibrating radio is puzzling – more information needed on this
  • Birdies are present
  • Top element of telescopic antenna is VERY thin, vulnerable to bending and breaking
  • Number keys seem to be not as good as they could be – the white paint on the keys is certain to fade over time.  On my test unit part of the “W” on the MW/LW key was already beginning to disappear.

Selectivity comparison of the PL-990x and PL-880

PL-990x

Selectivity Options on SW:

2.3, 3.5, 5.0, 6.0

Selectivity Options LSB/USB:

0.5, 1.2, 2.3, 3.0, 4.0

Selectivity Options LW/MW:

2.3, 3.5, 5.0, 9.0

PL-880

Selectivity Options SW/LW/MW:

2.3, 3.5, 5, 9

Selectivity Options LW/MW:

0.5, 1.2, 2.3, 3.0, 4.0

Video


Many thanks, Dan, for sharing your initial review with us. As always, your expertise as an experienced DXer is incredibly valuable. 

I’ve tested every function on the PL-990 save some of the hidden features (yes, there will be hidden features). Dan and I are both trying to sort out the calibration sequence so that when these units hit the market, there’ll be a documented procedure in place. 

We’ve been comparing notes along the way and are in agreement on all of the major points with this radio. Still more testing to do, but updated with be posted here with the tag: Tecsun PL-990x


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31 thoughts on “Tecsun PL-990x Initial Assessment

  1. Marco

    Anon-co is accepting orders since 9-20-2020. I ordered one and is should be here in few days. It is much less expensive than the inflated price on Banggood. And it appears to be a regular production item.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Tecsun PL-990x vs. PL-880: Comparing SSB audio characteristics and pre-production/production PL-990 models | The SWLing Post

  3. Pingback: Field Notes: Comparing the Tecsun PL-990x and PL-880 | The SWLing Post

  4. Isaac Hunt

    The Nevada Radio website in the UK is announcing that stock of pl-990x will be available “next week” and they are acceptimg pre orders at £259.95.

    Reply
  5. Bruce

    Hello Bruce,

    I’m expecting it in a few more weeks, I don’t have the exact details yet. At this moment it seems like the main benefits are a working synchronous detector, slightly better AM (MW) and audio player features like Bluetooth (a hidden feature) and through a microSD card. It does seem that the PL-880 may be a bit more sensitive on SW than the PL-990(x), and the audio of PL-880 may also be slightly better. It is to say that it always takes at least a year for many in-depth reviews to come out.

    Best regards,
    Anna….909X

    Reply
  6. MDK2

    6 kHz max bandwidth on SW is a deal breaker with me, especially given the asking price ($550 AUD at Tecsun Australia, which is just under $400 USD and a clear indicator of the ballpark where anon-co’s asking price will be).

    Reply
  7. Babis

    Thanks for review … Lucky you guys testing such radios, perhaps Tecsun next time should use beta testers in the US or EU in the early days of their products (yes thank you expert guys) … like Asus does, soon i will be testing a DSL-AX82U) …

    This is what i am suspecting ( as i was for a while beta tester) & not in any way to write bad about Tecsun because i already own 2 radios of them …
    I don’t think the pl-880 has richer deeper sound because its speaker is better or larger in this case …
    to me seems the pl-880 is more sensitive in reception due to specific kind of filters (perhaps better quality or hardware brand)…
    or at least the pl-880 it may process the signal better …
    or seems like the pl-990 need to touch the antenna or body for more boost…

    i have seen one more video with the first Chinese beta version 990 touching the radio to get better signal & now seems they have make it better, but maybe still there is a small issue …
    I also have seen a Chinese video that pl-330 was better reception at FM vs 990 beta…
    In all cases, can not tell 100%, until i see videos with MW & FM … so i am just suspecting & i may just be wrong…

    As this radio is multi band … will wait for reviews & at MW / FM, as mentioned by other users, MW is in use for many of us … if the 990 is not better at MW then the pl-880 is way cheaper now days

    Reply
  8. Bill R

    I’m waiting for some review on how it works on MW before I send any money. I had several other Tecsun portables. They were crappy on MW, just horrible. Nobody in the reviews ever bothered to mention that they had birdies that blotted out significant ranges of the medium wave band. Or across the SW bands either, as far as that goes. I wish some reviewer had deigned to mention these endless birdies, because I could have saved a lot of money and a lot of disappointment.

    With the paucity of SW signals (other than religious, and who cares about that crap?) I find myself listening to MW quite a bit these days. Since MW is being abandoned by any kind of format that actually makes money, it contains a lot of interesting fringe markets that provide some interest.

    I think what I should really do, rather than buy yet another SW receiver, is try buying an active noise canceller. It is worth a try. Yes, I have read the articles on this website which advocate going out into the field to escape electrical noise. That is stupid advice in a place where the best listening time of the year also usually involves subzero temperatures- always subzero Celsius and all too often subzero Fahrenheit also. (When it gets down to 45 degrees below zero, it doesn’t matter which scale you’re using!)

    I expect an active noise canceller will disappoint me too, but there is little hope left otherwise.

    Reply
    1. Mangosman

      Birdies are caused by distortion in the local oscillator or the mixer, A design problem.
      A noise canceller is no the answer to your problem. All it will do is to convert the noise to silence including the wanted program.
      The best solution is a directional loop antenna to maximise the pick up of the designed signal in the direction from which it comes unless it is in line with the noise source.
      I wonder if the digital version of the program in HD radio-AM will give clear sound or because of the large error rates, the radio will switch to AM putting you back where you started.

      The only other options are:
      find the source of the noise using a portable radio and tuning it where there is no transmitter and look for the maximum noise. It could easily be an arcing electricity insulator or a switchmode power supply in the dwelling.
      HD radio digital signal should be able to give noise free reception unless large error rates cause the receiver to switch back to AM.

      A better solution is DRM because the digital signal is much stronger than the same function in HDradio AM.

      Reply
      1. Bill R

        My existing radios don’t exhibit birdies. I don’t keep radios that do. However, I live in a condo which means I live right on top of other people– quite literally. 🙂 External noise is my big problem now.

        A better solution would be to convince all the local radio broadcasters to switch to HD, yes. However, my attempt to be elected Supreme World Dictator is not going well, so I doubt I can order them to do it. I do have one HD radio receiver- two if you count the car. With it I can pick up exactly ONE HD radio signal on FM. The rest are still analog.

        DRM is likely even better than HD, or so people tell me. However, it is not exactly a practical solution to my problem of radio noise in my condo. However good it may be, as far as I know nobody on this entire continent uses it on MW. I would say my chances of convincing one broadcaster anywhere to start using DRM were, shall we say, rather small. Let alone all of them.

        Sticking to things I can actually do without being God, I think an extermal noise blanker remains the solitary one I haven’t tried. I just can’t know whether it would help until I had already purchased it. That makes me a bit reluctant.

        Reply
      2. Rob

        I know my way around a recording studio writing music for radio &TV when young but no expert on radio.
        However , I recently tried out a Eaton Elite Executive and on broadcast AM it had very good SYNC so to listen to with low noise Atlanta WSV radio in Miami . I picked the stronger sideband fine tuned it away from interference up to almost 1K [ +99 to minus 99 in 10 hertz increments ].
        Then I SYNCED the sideband and was able to listen with low static for about an hour .
        So there ARE things you can do. The SYNC had a 2K lock range in the direction of the sideband [ USB coulld go to 752 , LSB could go to 748 ] .

        I felt my unit was hampered by the speaker [ which had less bass and less treble than the G3 speaker ] and the filters seemed to dull the sound and the USB was about 40 to 60 hertz off as I mentioned.

        The one that could really be a great radio is the Elite Field IF it had the SYNC and SSB from the smaller model AND a few more bandwidths AND the Antenna Gain could be turned up on AM in addition to SW …leaving the Auto Setting in place and the speaker and Amplifier etc etc so it ADDS to the performance already has and not eff it up.
        About $200 to $220 with the nice audio would be great .

        I did manage to trick the SYNC into locking quite well on a SSB signal a few times.

        There was very little comb filtering on the SSB on the unit I sent back ( people call that ‘distortion’ ) because if the two sides of the signal are out of alignment slightly – you don’t hear that on SSB …

        Reply
  9. Roger Fitzharris

    Dan,
    Thank you for your initial assessment of the Tecsun PL-990x.

    I liked your approach to just focusing on its shortwave performance during mid-day.
    Many of the stations that you were monitoring on the 49, 31, and 25-m bands are the same ones that I’ve monitored on my Tecsun Pl-880. And, although your location in Maryland is about 400 miles east of my southwest Ohio location, our latitudes are almost the same.

    My takeaway from your video is how well the nearly seven-year-old (design) 880 acquitted itself against its erstwhile successor. Which proves your point, you don’t necessarily need to buy the latest and greatest to enjoy what’s still on the shortwaves.

    Nevertheless, for primary selfish reasons, I would still like to see how the PL-990x compares with the S-8800. I’m not quite convinced it’s (the S-8800) worth its asking price for me to make an additional purchase at this time.

    Perhaps, for me, the H-501 would be worth the wait and worth the money.

    Cheers and 73

    Reply
  10. Bill (WD9EQD)

    I have both the PL-880 and the S-8800 along with other radios. At first I was looking forward to the 990 when it was announced. Not so much anymore. It just doesn’t add anything new that I really want.

    Here’s what I rally wanted:
    Bluetooth TRANSMITTER. So that I could use my bluetooth headphones and speakers that I already have.
    I do NOT need another radio that can act as a bluetooth speaker.

    Capability to record audio to a sdcard. Again, I don’t need another mp3 player.

    Now for what I really, really, really want:
    The capability to program the memories with alpha tags that will display on the screen.
    Of course computer programing of them would be a bonus.
    I have never understood why I have been able to buy ham radio HT’s that have had this ability for over twenty years but the shortwave radios have never even included programmable memory names.
    (I think one of my Sony radios did have the ablilty for memory tags. And there may have been a couple other radios that could do this).

    So I will continue to use my 880 and 8800 with the little bluetooth transmitter dongle with my headphones.

    73
    Bill
    WD9EQD
    Smithville, NJ

    Reply
    1. Croc

      I’m with you on this one. Bluetooth transmitter mode and the ability to record to removable storage.

      I hear the headphone output can put up with some reasonably high impedance headphones. This is a strong selling point for me. It would be somewhat better than the PL-880. My Kimber Kable headphones don’t seem to interface too well. I had to purchase a lower impedance set of cans, but in the process realising (for portability) my in-ears perform better. I use my lower impedance cans for my desktop radios now, and my in-ears travel in my Go Bag with my shortwave gear.

      I don’t see the point of the MP3 player. I would be buying the PL-990 for all the features the PL-880 already has. Doesn’t seem like a worthy upgrade unless the Shortwave listening experience outperforms the older model.

      Happy listening!

      Reply
  11. Mark

    Still using the same old display they’ve been using for many years. I got burned badly by the PL-880 and S-8800 with the extremely poor sound and distortion on SSB, I sold them and bought the PL-680 adn boy, what a truly wonderfully sounding radio. I think all these DSP radios introduce a harshness to the Audio, same with the D-808 while the PL-680 has a really wonderfully quite pure analogue sound that’s a joy to the ears. Sure, it hasn’t the selectivity of the 880 but the 4 Khz filter never worked on the 880 and 8800 but their audio was poor regardless on SSB and SYNC on the 680 works much better but Zero beating is where the 680 really shines that the 880 and S-8800 couldn’t do because of their horrid SSB audio and distortion more noticeable with external antenna.

    I wish I could hear the 990 on SSB with an external antenna.

    Reply
  12. Rob K

    I don’t think 990x will be $300 to $350 , somewhere in the $220. to $260.
    Surprised that they shrunk the speaker or the resonant cavity and output.

    Need to hear the AM and FM but it looks like they took one step forward and two steps back .

    Although again – I also would like to hear it on a wire antenna which hopefully can work on AM .

    I don’t care much about Shortwave – but am hoping for more interesting AM ( including some DX ) so external antennas would be good on these DSP radios.

    I was hoping the 990x would have similar audio to 880 with

    1] Bright switch with speech eq possible.
    2] More sensitivity
    3] More dramatic SYNC than in video.
    4] Clearly lower noise floor .

    Thank very much for the Review.

    The 990’s in the Videos seemed loud and punchy not necessarily in the bass range ( low mids actually ) but this amp sounds lower in wattage also. (? )

    Reply
    1. MDK2

      Tecsun Australia has had it available for preorder for about a week, asking price $550 AUD (about $405 USD). Anon-co is sure to offer it for around that price when it’s up on their site, and about the same for any US retailer who stocks it. I don’t think that’s justifiable, and honestly I don’t think any price north of $200 is.

      Reply
      1. Marty

        I found the PL-990 on Banggood while searching for more info on the H-501. US $304 but you can also get another $20 off if you are a new Banggood user. Shipping to the US is $12.73. I’m sure the price will go down but this looks pretty good for those that “can’t wait”.

        https://www.banggood.com/TECSUN-PL-990-FM-LW-MW-SW-SSB-Radio-DSP-Digital-Stereo-Computer-Speaker-Misic-Player-p-1647769.html?rmmds=search&cur_warehouse=CN

        They also have the H-501for US $380 and again $20 off if you are a new user. Shipping is $12.81.

        https://www.banggood.com/TECSUN-H-501-FM-LW-MW-SW-SSB-Full-Band-Radio-DSP-Digital-Stereo-Computer-Speaker-Misic-Player-p-1649149.html?rmmds=search&cur_warehouse=CN

        I’m not sure how reputable Banggood is so proceed with caution. I just happened to run across these and thought some might be interested.

        Reply
  13. Daniel Robinson

    Further clarification — four selectivity options in SW (AM mode), five in SSB, four in LW/MW:

    Selectivity Options on SW (AM):

    2.3, 3.5, 5.0, 6.0

    Selectivity Options LSB/USB:

    0.5, 1.2, 2.3, 3.0, 4.0

    Selectivity Options LW/MW:

    2.3, 3.5, 5.0, 9.0

    PL-880 Selectivity

    9?5?3.5?2.3 kHz bandwidth.
    4?3?2.3?1.2?0.5 kHz SSB

    Reply
  14. Dan Robinson

    I was referring to the 9 khz bandwidth setting, among the 5 that are available for shortwave, not anything to do with 9/10 khz for mediumwave. I noticed that the 9 khz wide setting is available on mediumwave whereas I did not see it being active for SW.

    Reply
    1. Daniel Robinson

      Sorry, should have clarified — I will check this again, but what I meant was that selectivity options in AM mode on SW are 2.3, 3.5, 5.0 and 6.0 On mediumwave I see the 9 khz option. LSB/USB options include narrower bandwidths.

      Reply
      1. Rob K

        I appreciate the Review .
        Re: bandwidth filters

        What happens to the filter options when a Broadcast AM Signal is split into upper and lower sideband ?

        Question 1 -What filter options exist ?

        Then – if SYNC is applied what filter
        options exist ?
        Question 2 – might the overall Sensitivity on a long wire antenna change in which the PL990x beats the PL880 in sensitivity ?

        Question 3 – are we at or very near to the limit of what these particular SiLab chips can do which is the reason for no clear sensitivity winner between PL 880 or PL 990x ?

        Reply
  15. Mangosman

    Outside of the Americas, all medium frequency stations are on multiples of 9 kHz where as in the Americas it is in multiples of 10 kHz. As a result the local oscillator has to move in steps of 9 KHz to be tuned to any broadcaster outside of the Americas. You state that this is the bandwidth of 9 kHz. Since AM produces a pair of sidebands, does this mean the audio bandwidth on the 9 kHz setting is less than 4.5 kHz or is it 9 kHz which means an RF bandwidth of 18 kHz?
    Broadcasters in the high frequency (SW) band are in increments of 5 kHz world wide so the 9 kHz switch is irrelevant.
    As I have already stated it is a pity it does not receive DRM in all the bands. The sound quality could be excellent.

    Reply
    1. Conro

      Basically I feel that PL-990 could be a bit more advanced for current price.

      PL-880 price is currently around 200$, PL-990 looks like for now is about 350$. Nearly 2 times more.
      I’m not sure if playing MP3’s and bluetooth are the most needed options and that they explain such significant price change.

      For FM – RDS is still missing, which I feel that should be a pretty basic thing (available in eg. XHDATA D-808), useful for FM DX. Additionally as Mangosman said, there’s no digital DAB+/DRM/HD Radio receiving, which could be a good reason for much higher price.

      Still Tecsun stays on the top in terms of quality of design, which is nice to hear.

      I’m waiting for more detailed reports, thanks guys for devoting your time to make such detailed reports 🙂

      Reply
      1. Daniel Robinson

        Thanks this is a good observation regarding RDS — hard to figure why they could not have put that in…

        Reply
        1. PedroJM

          Maybe for a mere question of licenses?,. I think no Tecsun radios have this!,.. A “basic” but great and valuable feature. When they put it on the radio, I will buy it … Hmmm I can wait sitting 😉

          Reply
      2. Mike

        HD Radio would require an extra chip they would have to pay royalties on, plus it’s useless outside of US/Canada. DAB+ may be in the same boat and isn’t used in the US/Canada.

        DRM hardware decoding would be nice until DRM codecs need upgrading; then how would people do that? Micro Card reader with it looking for a specific sequence in memory? That sounds like an accident waiting to happen.

        Reply

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