Tecsun PL-330: Initial impressions, overview of functions, and operation


Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jaap de Goede, for the following guest posts:


Operating the TECSUN PL-330 without an English manual

by Jaap de Goede

Introduction

Inspired by my father, I like listening to radio transmissions for the last 60 years. That includes listening to shortwave transmissions. In my collection there are a number of radios including computer based SDR-receivers. The TECSUN PL-330 is a shortwave portable radio with SSB and digital readout.

I’d like to share my operating experience of the PL-330 and throughout I will now and then compare this radio to similar radios in my collection:  Eton Satellit, XHDATA D-808 and CountyComm GP5-SSB (AKA Tecsun PL-365).

To be clear the PL-330 used here is a Chinese domestic version, probably manufactured in July 2020. An English manual was not available at the time of writing. In the meantime, the English manual of the Tecsun PL-990 helped to figure out a number of the features of the PL-330. Newer manufacturing batches might contain other firmware and that could change the way of operating.

Size and sound

With a volume of about 18 cubic inches the PL-330 is less than 20 cubic inches. It easily fits the pocket of my jeans. 20 cubic inches (unofficially) classifies it as an Ultralight DX radio. The smallest radio of the four is the GP5-SSB with 14 cubic inches. The Satellit is the largest of the four and the size of these radios can be determined by the eye but by the ear as well.

The PL-330 has digital VOLUME control and the volume level is indicated on the display. In contradiction, the three other radios have analog volume control. All radios have a 3.5 mm socket for a stereo headset. A nice feature of the PL-330 is that the FM stereo decoder only works with a plugged-in headset. Else FM remains in mono.  I think that’s a very clever feature because why would the stereo decoder degrade the mono-sound through the speaker in case of poor FM stereo reception?

Personal audio quality ranking from best to worst:

  1. Satellit
  2. PL-330 and D-808
  3. GP5-SSB

Power and Batteries

The PL-330 is supplied with a BL-5C battery of 1000 mAh. The battery can be charged in the radio through though a micro USB port. The display permanently shows battery status, regardless whether the radio is on or off. USB makes it very easy to charge from any external USB charger or an external USB battery. Here a quick comparison of the powering of the four radios:

Radio Battery Charging Port
Tecsun-PL-330 1 x BL-5C Micro USB
CountyComm GP5 3 x AA NiMH Mini USB
XHDATA D-808 1 x 18650 Micro USB
Eton Satellit 4 x AA NiMH Bus

 

I don’t have runtime figures. I just charge when indicated on the radio’s display and carry a spare USB battery to charge the radio in case.

Antenna and Backlit

All four radios have an extensible whip antenna (what else would you expect). Also, all four radios have a 3.5 mm socket for an external antenna. The only radio with an antenna attenuator switch is the Satellit.

All four radios have backlit. But a feature that none of the other radios has is the ability with the PL-330 to toggle the backlit between “always on” or “automatic off”. Just hold and press the 5 button to toggle between the two modes. For comparison, the Satellit has the nicest illuminated display of all four, while the D-808 is way too bright.

Supported Radio Bands

The PL-330 supports the following radio bands:

  • Long Wave (153-513 kHz)
  • Medium Wave (520-1710 kHz or 522-1620 kHz)
  • Short Wave (1711-29999 kHz)
  • FM broadcast (64-108 MHz)

Radio Band and Demodulation Selection

To enable or disable the LW-band you must long press the 2 button when the radio is powered off. When the radio is powered on and LW has been enabled you can select between LW and MW by short press of the MW/LW button.

The American or Rest of World MW-band plan can be toggled by long press the 3 button when powered off. When the radio is powered on you can select between MW by short press of the MW/LW button.

To select the regional FM-band plan you should long press the 0 button when the radio is powered off. When the radio is powered on the FM-band can be selected by short press FM/ST. button.

When the radio is powered on the SW-band can be selected by short press < or > button.

In LW, MW and SW bands de-modulation can be AM, SSB and AM synchronous (SYNC). A short press of the SSB button toggles between AM and SSB. A long press of the SSB button toggles between AM/SSB and AM synchronous mode.

A nice feature within the SW band is that you can quickly skip to pre-determined broadcast or HAM bands. In AM and SSB mode you can skip to the desired band by pressing < or > button. The following bands can be selected and indicated in the display:

  • AM (broadcast) bands: 120m, 90m,75m, 60m, 49m, 41m,31m25m, 22m, 19m, 16m, 13m, 11m
  • SSB (HAM) bands: 160m LSB, 80m LSB, 60m, LSB, 40m LSB, 30m USB, 24m USB, 20m USB, 17m USB, 15m USB, 12m USB, 10m USB

Manual Tuning and Step Sizes

There is one (digital) TUNING dial for all tuning operation in any radio band. It only tunes up and down the bands and has no other function. (That makes tuning with the PL-330 so easy compared to the other three radios with multifunction dials.) Depending on the selected band and de-modulation the tuning steps can be altered by the STEP button.

In the LW and MW bands for AM demodulation the step size can be toggled between 1 kHz and 10/9 kHz by short press of the STEP button.

In SW for AM demodulation the step size can be toggled between 1 kHz and 5 kHz by short press of the STEP button.

In the SW band for SSB and synchronous mode the step size can be toggled between 10 Hz, 1 kHz and 5 kHz by short press of the STEP button. My other three portable radios, but only plus or minus 1 kHz of the actual frequency in steps of 10Hz. The PL-330 has continuous fine tuning in SSB; you can tune the entire SW band up and down in steps of 10 Hz. However, I noticed that the step size can change from 10 Hz to 50 Hz in case you turn the TUNING dial fast.

In the FM band the step size can be toggled between 100 kHz and 10 kHz by short press of the STEP button.

Bandwidth Settings

For AM and SSB you can change the bandwidth by pressing the AM BW button, turn the VOLUME dial to the desired bandwidth and press the AM BW button again.

  • LW/MW band, AM bandwidth selection: 2.5 kHz, 3.5 kHz, 5.0, 9.0 kHz kHz
  • SW band, AM bandwidth selection: 2.5 kHz, 3.5 kHz, 5.0 kHz
  • SSB bandwidth selection: 0.5 kHz, 1.2 kHz, 2.2 kHz, 3.0 kHz, 4.0 kHz

Easy Tuning Mode or ETM and Memories

I decided to purchase the PL-330 because of my good and bad experience with the GP5-SSB (PL-365). The PL-365 is super portable and I think ETM is great for occasional shortwave listening. However, without direct frequency entry the GP5-SSAB is a nightmare to operate just now and then. Now the PL-330 has an enhanced version of ETM:  ETM+. No other radio has such a feature and I think ETM+ is fantastic.

ETM + provides 24 ETM banks that are chosen automatically based on the hour. Every hour you can press and hold the ETM button to initiate a (new or renewed) shortwave scan. It will display “E” plus the hour in 24 hours format like E00 to E23 depending on the time. When you quick press the ETM button it recalls the memory bank according to the time. As an example, when you quick press the ETM button at 15:24h it will recall bank E15. Then you can select the memory locations stored in the bank by turning the TUNING dial.

To toggle between ETM and Tuning mode press the ETM button.

In addition to ETM memories, the PL-330 has a lot of memories but lacks alpha tags. I really have difficulties remembering what I put in those memories. I hardly use them. The only one of the four that has alpha tags is the Eton Satellit, that makes things a lot easier.

Memories can be automatically populated in a bank separate from the ETM banks by using the Automatic Tuning and Storage (ATS) function. All four radios have ATS and I think it’s only convenient for FM. It works like:

  1. Press FM/ST. to select FM Band
  2. Press and hold FM/ST. to start ATS
  3. Use the TUNING dial to select from the stored FM stations

To toggle between Memory and Frequency tuning mode simply press the VM/VF button.

Bugs or Features

With the DISPLAY button you can change the upper right part of the display between:

  • Signal strength
  • Clock
  • Preset (only in VM Mode)
  • Alarm time

The display always returns to signal strength after a few seconds. Except if time is chosen with a long press of the DISPLAY button. Nevertheless, the display returns to signal strength after applying any operation, including volume change. I’m not sure if this is a feature or a bug.

When using a headphone and changing volume, sometimes the sound is cut off. By changing the volume again, it comes back. Seems like a bug, not a feature.

I tried AM synchronous mode. It works like on the Satellit: poor. I would recommend to make this mode hidden or make it work well.

Universal Serial Bus

When connecting the radio with an USB cable to a PC, its operating system does not show any connection information. If the radio would have USB logic apart from charging, connection information would have showed up. I assume there is no way to update firmware via USB.

Hidden Features

Without an English manual, and maybe even with a Chinese manual I couldn’t understand all functions.

When the radio is powered off:

  • Press and hold VF/VM shows all items of the display.
  • Press and hold 8 toggles display clock in “HH:MM” and “HH:MM: SS”
  • Press and hold 3 in MW/LW band toggles between internal ferrite and external whip antenna
  • Press and hold Enter shows “dEL ALL”, probably delete all (except what is all)?
  • Press and hold M shows numbers, no idea.
  • Press and hold 0 shows “PO []”, no idea.

There seems to be a combination to show the firmware version.

Missing Features

RDS display would be welcome. Even though the PL-330 shares the radio chip with the D-808 and the Satellit, the PL-330 does not display FM Radio Data System (RDS) on its display. Backlit buttons would be a welcome for operation in the dark. (Although you’ll quickly get used to the button layout.)

Features I didn’t miss

None of the four radios has DAB+ or HD radio. For DAB+ reception I use a Sony XDR-S41D and I can’t receive HD radio in Europe. DAB+ and HD radio could make the radio way more expensive and I prefer good SW performance anyway.

The possibility to upgrade firmware would be convenient. But I understand constraints of costs and the liability of bricking the radio.

The Satellit and D-808 support the Air band (108-135 MHz). That is ok for occasional listening to one single channel, but forget about channel scanning. I have my Bearcat UBC XLT125 VHF/UHF scanner for that purpose.

Conclusion

Like I started, I’m an occasional shortwave listener. I couldn’t really tell the difference in radio performance between the four radios. Of course, the best radio is the one you have with you. And because of its size, easy operation with a single tuning dial and features like ETM+, the PL-330 is probably the best portable shortwave receiver at the moment (for me ?). Thanks to Tecsun!

Jaap de Goede

October 2020


Many thanks, Jaap, for taking the time and care to put together this excellent overview of the Tecsun PL-330! This will serve nicely as an operation manual. Your father would be proud of you! 🙂

Readers: Please note that you can also download Jaap’s PL-330 guide as a printable PDF document by clicking here. The PDF has even better formatting as Jaap has used operation manual styled fonts to indicate button labels and functions. 

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42 thoughts on “Tecsun PL-330: Initial impressions, overview of functions, and operation

  1. Sunwind

    The algorithm of this setting is not clear. 01 is the minimum soft mute value, 30 is the maximum? Didn’t find any effect on the sound of this setting

    Reply
  2. Paul S.

    The PL-330 can defeat the Soft-Mute by tuning +/- 1kHz from the AM-BCB channel. On shortwave, the SoftMute disable is already set and tuned in AM-BCB, then go to the SW station and tune +/- 1kHz. Success is the “00” on the db (right) side of signal strength. Jaap’s Press and hold “9” does work, but the minimum setting is “01” to a maximum of “30”. A setting of “00” would turn off the soft mute, and “00” is NOT allowed.

    From CT USA (North East US) Shannon volmet 5505kHz was received better than my old Grundig G5. Gander Volmet equally well-received. The AM-BCB RX of the 330 is at least as good as my original 310 (not an et). For the added very good SSB U/L the $US70-80 is a solid buy, but tthe PL-365 is a little less.

    Frankly, the PL-330 makes the Skywave-SSB look VERY overpriced. And for about US$25 more the PL-660 has SYNC that actually works. My Sangean ATS 405 has some good bells and whistles, but looks expensive without SSB.

    This radio a solid 8.5/10, with SYNC that actually works,it would be a 10.

    Paul S. in CT FN31nl

    Reply
  3. Pingback: A Tecsun PL-330 features reference sheet | The SWLing Post

  4. Jaap

    And another interesting MW performance comparison by KOR_DXer on youtube. He compares PL-990x, PL-880, PL-660 and PL-330. The PL-330 handles quite well in my opinion.

    Reply
  5. Jaap

    Quick update.

    Based on questions about AM performance of the PL-330 I’m continuing my tests.

    I tested LW-band reception both in the apartment and outside in a park in Paris. Today at 11:00 AM CEST, with both the PL-330 and the D-808 I was able to receive 234 kHz RTL in Beidel Luxembourg, 333 kHz beacon from Penzance, UK, and 198 kHz sill to be figured out.

    When in LW and MW holding button 3 apparently use of the whip antenna can be switched on or off. When the whip is switched on the display will show SW in addition to MW or LW. (I thought that was a bug, but it clearly is not.) Switching on the whip while in the park made no difference. But switching on the whip on the 30th floor of the apartment increased the signal strength by a couple of dB. Maybe the building works as an antenna?

    Anyway, yesterday I also listened to 1215 kHz yesterday evening to Absolute Radio somewhere from London, UK. There was some quick fading. The D-808 held up better than the PL-330. I will do this test again when I have access to my GP5-SSB and Satellit in two weeks.

    For the moment it looks like Tecsun has provided a sensitive radio. Stable transmissions and operation work very well. But they should tweak the AGC before releasing the export version.

    Reply
    1. Babis

      first, Thanks for the updates … day time is more difficult for MW so is good sin the small tecsun could get almost same radio stations as d808 … so the internal ferrite of the pl-330 can not be so small as my pl-360

      >> Switching on the whip while in the park made no difference. But switching on the whip on the 30th floor of the apartment increased the signal strength by a couple of dB. Maybe the building works as an antenna? <<

      could be many reasons … however at 30 floors high)using the whip antenna seems had better view at the horizon or just better signal up there & let the whip do some job

      Hoping the secret menu No3 key to be available at final or export version as well

      Reply
    2. Sunwind

      The teescopic antenna works through a shortwave input having a high-pass filter, therefore it practically does not work at long waves, its efficiency starts from about 1300KHz and above

      Reply
  6. Jaap

    Hi Babis,

    I thought I would receive no LW or MW stations at all in my apartment in a huge concrete building in Paris. However, during the day I can receive RTL at 234 kHz from Beidweiler in Luxembourg. Beidweiler is approximately 300 kilometers or 200 miles from Paris. But in the night the MW opens up. At this moment, I’m listening to 1215 kHz, Absolute Radio somewhere from London, UK. Unfortunately, my GP5-SSB is at another address. But in 2 weeks I will have access and make some comparisons.

    By the way, I found another bug: In MW the display shows MW and SW, and in LW it shows LW and SW. So there is room for improvement in the firmware.

    Reply
    1. Babis

      Many Thanks for the Update, i am looking forward MW 330 vs 365 … & if possible 330 internal ferrite vs external aerial (hidden menu No3 still works while radio is on) … something like the video i have below

      Regarding the bug shows MW & SW / LW & SW, i have seen 2 videos (thanks to users) & seems this only appearing/happening while the external antenna of the hidden menu No3 key is enabled … so maybe is not bug & its just to warn external aerial is in use
      https://youtu.be/5XXvao5V9WI

      When you did get the RTL 234 khz, did was appearing the symbol SW together with the LW? if yes seems was swapped to external aerial … while radio is on (assume was enabled before while radio was switched off first) press & hold the number 3 key (with radio on) at some point the SW should disappear while still at LW (swpa to internal aerial) … is still receiving RTL ? (note you may need to wait for a night to appear RTL again because not all nights LW band is there)

      Many thanks for your time

      This is what i am getting at LW (some nights)
      https://youtu.be/rWers8vvDOE

      Reply
  7. Mike

    I have listened to a few videos of this radio and I am very concerned by the heavy amount of soft muting that I hear as the signal level drops below a certain level. This is especially prominent during quick, deep fades.

    You can hear it in this video as Radio Kuwait drops into a deep fade:

    https://youtu.be/8m12ZYRMCog

    Has anyone else had any experience with this? I was considering this radio as a possible replacement for my Skywave SSB due to the Skywave’s lack of an external antenna jack but to hear such aggressive soft muting on the PL-330 is unsettling.

    Reply
    1. Jaap

      Hello Mike, I don’t have this experience. Because when something likes this happens I just use “ETM+” to listen to another radio. Hopefully Tecsun will further improve soft muting in the PL-330 before releasing their export version. You better wait with replacement until it becomes available and people start sharing experience.

      Reply
  8. Mike Agner

    Jaap, when the pre programmed ham band ranges are listed, 60 meters was set up as LSB. This is incorrect, at least in the US and UK, USB is the standard. Is this the way the radio is set up (if so, someone should tell Tecsun) or was this simply a typo? Can it be overridden with a keypress if the mode is wrong?

    Thanks for the interesting review. Hopefully this will be available in the US soon. I’ve posted a link for this review at the RadioReference website.

    Mike

    Reply
    1. Jaap

      Hello Mike, thanks for reading and your effort to spread. When in SSB you can “fast forward or backward” to each HAM band by the buttons. When you are in the desired band you can select USB or LSB by a press of the USB or LSB button. Nowhere in the whole SW band the radio is bound to USB or LSB. It’s only the “fast forward or backward” between HAM bands that’s pre-set to USB or LSB. Hope that makes it clearer.

      Reply
      1. Jaap

        Hello Mike, I see that backward arrow and forward arrow are considered control characters. The response should read:
        Hello Mike, thanks for reading and your effort to spread. When in SSB you can “fast forward or backward” to each HAM band by the “backward arrow” and “forward arrow” buttons. When you are in the desired band you can select USB or LSB by a press of the USB or LSB button. Nowhere in the whole SW band the radio is bound to USB or LSB. It’s only the “fast forward or backward” between HAM bands that’s pre-set to USB or LSB. Hope that makes it clearer.

        Reply
  9. Tom Stiles

    Awesome article and loads of good information. With your permission I would like to share this via my YouTube channel (hamrad88).

    Thanks,

    Tom Stiles

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      Hi, Tom,

      Not a problem at all, of course! 🙂 You really don’t need permission, Tom, because you always give attribution to the author, etc.

      Best,
      Thomas

      Reply
  10. Robert Richmond

    I like the size as it is smaller than even my Grundig G3. That is a plus for portability.

    The PL-330 probably is more sensitive and selective than my now aging G3 as well, but one particular concern with the PL-330 is SSB sound quality.

    I assume the PL-330 is using the same Si4735 chip found in many current DSP portables, correct?

    Reply
    1. Jaap

      Hi Robert, I regularly listen to Shannon Volmet and HAMs in SSB. There is no real difference between my four radio’s. Demodulated sideband voices can be well understood. I assume the same that is; they share the Si4735 chip. Maybe you refer to the Tecsun PL-8000 that apparently uses the same chip, except it makes SSB voice sounds warbled, a seen on Youtube?

      Reply
      1. Robert Richmond

        Bingo. Many radios with the Si4735 demodulate SSB with a warbly sound.

        I am hoping Tecsun has able to finally address the issue, as thus far the results in other existing models have been a huge YMMV. Some people think they sound okay, while others do not.

        The reality probably varies somewhat depending upon what those users have for comparison, plus the content being modulated as well. For example pirate radio commonly uses SSB for music, plus there is ECSS tuning of AM modulation to consider.

        Thanks for the review and reply. 🙂

        Reply
        1. Jaap

          Well, like I said I’m ok with voice quality in SSB. With the Satellite and its line out I could receive and decode RTTY, SSTV, and other digital transmissions. The Satellit and PL330 have both a button for synchronous AM. But I consider it unusable on either radio. Hopefully Tecsun will improve the PL-330 based on their PL-990 experience. Of course you can use SSB for AM detection but it’s not Exalted-Carrier Selectable-Sideband.

          Reply
  11. Jaap

    Thomas, thank you so much for posting!

    The experience with this radio continues. What I forgot to mention is that the audio volume fades away when powering off the radio. Also the volume goes low when disconnecting a headset; no noisy surprises. Both nice features. What I miss is that the radio doesn’t reduce volume after a power cycle; it remembers the last volume setting which can cause noisy surprises.

    Hope to see the export version of the PL-330 soon.

    Reply
  12. Troy Riedel

    Great overview Jaap! I greatly appreciate the time you expended to share this. I’ve always liked the ETM feature but the ETM+ is a great upgrade and quite frankly that could be the deciding factor for me to add a 16th (or 17th, or 18th?) portable to my stable (I lost count).

    And yes – I feel the same way about the PL-365. It’s a great radio and all, but it’s probably my least used because it doesn’t have direct tuning (and obviously it cannot due to its size & design).

    Reply
    1. Jaap

      Hi Troy, indeed we have the same thoughts about the PL-365. I would say that the PL-330 is the easiest portable radio to operate of all I have: ETM+ and direct entry make things so easy. Saying that, bear in mind I have no experience with radios like the Belka-DSP, Alfredo LAN-IQ or the Malahit.

      Reply
  13. H. Darby

    I would not purchase a recently mass produced radio until it’s been on the market for about eight months.
    I realize most radio enthusiasts want to get their hands on the latest ‘Gee-Whiz’ radio toy! As a ham radio operator for over forty years i’ll be patient until all the bugs have been worked out.

    Reply
    1. Jaap

      Hello H,

      Thanks for your feedback. In contrast, as a radio operator I’m keen on experimenting and solving bugs. To each his own.

      Reply
    2. Babis

      you are right, if some one can wait is better …. how ever if we need a new radio, some times most of us, do not wait … i was one of the 40-50 persons testing for cable operator in UK their new modem (at time) & we did find few bugs, but when cable company release it (free) for all, the thousands other customers find few other bugs we did not & 3 of them was major issue (ok modem is more complicated but still rely on firmware, i just want to say, you are correct waiting some time later)
      it should be a way for getting firmware updates (for cases like this with new radios) but the new pl-990 should give via its card
      I was going to get the pl-330 from Thai with ex-wife (via lazada at time had it for 45 euros) because i want one for the OIRT band ( & bonus the SSB as never had such radio with this option) as down here in Greece are e-sporadics from time to time, but was the Chinese version & i was thinking about bugs already mentioned, while there is not possible firmware update … now i wait if anon-co get the export version (perhaps most bugs sorted) … if anon-co will not sell it by end of next month (how long to wait) i will just grab too the Chinese version & done

      Reply
      1. Jaap

        That’s what I did, really was eager to check out ETM+. By the way, do you mean the PL-990 can be updated with its SD card slot?

        Reply
        1. Babis

          Sorry my bad, ?? it can not … i mean once there is slot & can insert memory card, it should be able to accept feature updates if tecsun decide it … i hope they will make 990 to accept future updates

          Reply
  14. Babis

    Many Thanks for the review & by the end i wil ask please for a favor …
    I have seen few online videos by now & it seems this radio is doing well for its price & also i don’t think will get hard judges in the case something is wrong/bug with it due to suppose expected low price

    anon-co has already few samples & told me possibly by the end of next month will be out ( my guess the export version)

    Hidden features > jugging from my pl-360 i may have 2 answers

    > Press and hold Enter shows “dEL ALL”, probably delete all (except what is all)?
    It should reset all the radio manual memories, etm, volume, etc (master reset) … so while displaying the “DEL all” press the power button before disappears the “DEL all” (at this stage power button may need longer press but if i remeber correct a small press is fine)
    In this model it could be just deleting entries just for the current band

    > Press and hold 0 shows “PO []”, no idea …
    the memories you have added at randomly numbers (at VM mode) … it may short it out from low to higher freq
    So for testing place some memories such 20000mhz at number 20, 10000mhz at No 10, 5000mhzz at 30 & see if will add it as No 1 for 5000, No2 10000, No3 20000
    Note this it may be be just only at current band in use

    —> Once you owner of the pl-365 could you Please help me by testing the MW pl-330 vs pl-365 with out the external mw aerial (or with it as well)
    and tell me any difference? of course a short video is a thousands words !

    Reply
    1. Jaap

      Hi Babis, thanks for your reply. That’s a great idea to test AM. I never thought about that while in Paris I can’t receive any station at all. In a couple of weeks I’ll be in the Alps and will try to make some tests.

      Reply
      1. Jaap

        Hi Babis, I’m sorry but I won’t be able to test the PL-365 due to unforeseen circumstances. I will do as soon as I can.

        Reply
        1. Babis

          Thanks for the update, No problem & hope all ok there, is not so important, any way i was waiting kind of long for possible export version so now i may wait for the pl-990x (not sure yet)

          Reply

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