Matt compares the Tecsun PL-990 to the Icom IC-R9500 on an external antenna and the results are surprising

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Matt Blaze, who shares the following comparison of the new Tecsun PL-990x and the benchmark Icom IC-R9500 communications receiver.

Matt’s excellent comparison  is in audio form. I highly recommend listening with headphones or, at least, an audio device with separate left/right channels as his comparison takes advantage of this.

I love not only how he set up this comparison with both radios sharing an identical antenna, but his evaluation also explores how well the PL-990 handles a proper external antenna via its external antenna jack.

Click below to listen to Matt’s piece, or right click here to download the audio:

Thanks for sharing this, Matt. You’ve inspired me to do similar narrated audio comparisons!

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28 thoughts on “Matt compares the Tecsun PL-990 to the Icom IC-R9500 on an external antenna and the results are surprising

    1. Matt Blaze


      I’m not sure what point there would be in making a transcript of audio samples. If your complaint is that you’d prefer a written review, I apologize for not having sufficient time to produce one. This was a quick and dirty comparison, produced in one take and unedited. I’m afraid that’s all I have time for right now.


  1. Heinrich

    The audio file PL990x-antenna.mp3 is in the wrong audio container.
    It is an mp4 (AAC) audio file with mp3 ID3v1 tags.
    People who have trouble with the downloaded file should simply rename it PL990x-antenna.mp4 to gain more compatibility with players.

    1. James Patterson

      Concerning the new PL 990x,I see it has no Air Band? My much older PL660 does have Air Band and works very well.I also has the PL 2000,the Grand Master of DX receivers,but with covid amongst us all,even receiption on SW is way down or not at all.The bottom has fallen out of DXing,for utility stations such as Miltary,Shipping and Jet Aircraft,all has gone very quite now.Its hardly worth turning my receiver on any more. ( Auckland,New Zealand).

    1. Mangosman

      Professional receivers come with measured performance specifications. Unfortunately consumer receiver manufacturers do not want to publish performance specifications because every radio will need to be tested to see if it passes.

      The professional way to do this is to use a calibrated RF signal generator.
      You can select silence be generated. Then the power level can be measured, which is how broadcasting transmitters are calibrated.

      Using a sinewave tone, the modulation depth can be increased to 100 % which can be seen on an oscilloscope.

      The carrier is used in the receiver by the Automatic Gain Control circuit maintains a constant volume regardless of how strong the signal is. When the receiver gain is maximum then the volume of the signal will change.

      When the modulation is increased to 100 % the receiver the received tone is measured and using the volume control and perhaps an attenuator as well to make the level suitable for the computer to record the sound.

      The signal to noise ratio is measured to set the RF attenuator to make the comparison fair. With this method the receiver’s internally generated noise is measured and not the environmental noise which is variable and can mask the receiver’s internally generated noise.

      The measured results are the only valid method of comparing radio sensitivity. Selectivity which requires a pair of calibrated RF generators can also be measured along with distortion.

      Unfortunately calibrated RF generators cost to many SWLs.

      1. Thomas Post author

        I’ve always referred to Rob Sherwood’s receiver data table for lab testing. It’s *the* authority in my opinion. But as you point out, portable receivers rarely get this sort of lab testing.

        But what I love about Matt’s evaluation here is it’s “real world” in that we’re using real signals, live, and coping with normal propagation conditions. I do feel, also, that audio characteristics also have a huge influence on signal intelligibility. So real word testing gives us an opportunity for our ears to compare.


  2. Bob m3DPQ

    Hi Matt, thanks for the comparison both sounded good,l have the older IC R9000 would not part with it. With the cost of IC 9500 you really need to plug into RAF Croughton massive rombics and there HF log periodics.As for heavy l have two RA 17s one ARC 88 both are around 56lb each ariels this way out side Wellbrook loop at 40ft inside and portable the small AOL loops and ferite rod for LW MW and a inverted L for Ham bands.cheers from England M3DPQ Bob

  3. Matt Blaze

    A quick update: here’s 10 minutes of Radio Romania (in Spanish, from the African transmitter) this evening on 9700 with the same receiver setup: PL990x on the left, R9500 on the right, both fed from my rooftop loop via a signal divider.

    This example fades between moderate/strong and quite weak, and I think highlights the performance differences between the two receivers under poor conditions pretty well. The PL990x is great, but not a substitute for a good desktop communications receiver.

  4. Mangosman

    I was most impressed with your comparison, particularly the use of the line out which is rare on internet reviews. A few resistors could be used to attenuate the headphone levels back to the line levels if the volume control doesn’t drop the levels enough.

    A statistically valid comparison would have been to call receiver left and the other right and only identify them at the end. This would eliminate any bias due in the listener. For example the communications receiver must perform better than the pocket portable.

    Since long wave broadcasting is only allowed in ITU region 1 (Europe/Africa) I wonder how much interest there is in the rest of the world in Low Frequency (Long Wave). Since a lot of the LF and MF (“AM”) broadcasters have moved to either FM or DAB+ this should replace it as
    I agree there is no chance of DAB+ coming to the the Americas because the 174 – 230 MHz band is nearly filled with VHF television, however DRM operates from Long Wave to the FM band and needs to at least be an option. Unfortunately there is no international broadcasters aiming DRM signals at the USA, Radio Marti is broadcast from the USA to Cuba, and occasionally there is an overshoot of Radio New Zealand Pacific received in the USA. Hopefully soon there will be DRM signals from Brazil.
    That will remove all the background noise and interference heard in the above comparison. The stereo headphones should be retained for stereo sound even in the High Frequency band!

  5. John

    The IC-9500 has been on the market for quite a while now and at $13k requires deep pockets

    I wonder how the IC-9500 compares performance-wise to the recently introduced IC-R8600 which retails for considerably less at $2,250.00?

    Thanks Matt for that comparison between two receivers at the extreme edges of the receiver spectrum.

      1. James Patterson

        Concerning SONY.The Sony 2010 is well out dated now.I have both the 2000 and the 2010.I find the earlier 2000 is a far better performer,than the much glorified 2010.The read out screens that they had in those days are far too small,you need strong reading glasses to see the frequencies etc.The capacitors soon dry up in the 2010 espeicaly,and a host of other circuit problems arise because of their age.I found my PL 660 performed far better than both Sonys.However they are collectors items now,so Im keeping them hence they are both still in working order.I also have an old Sony 7600 G.This old radio mostly sits in its vinyl pouch cover,packed away with my vintage receivers.But if I decide to power it up,it fires up still like new with a very crisp sound and still very sensitive.Unfortunitly here in New Zealand,and with the Covid,receiption has really fallen out to rock bottom.Hardly worth turning any SW /SSB radio on any more.

        1. Mike Bennett

          …thanks for your reply! I had an Sony ICF-7600 (1991 purchased on the grey market!), and after 6 months of use
          (1 hour/ day on FM), this “quality” radio blew 3 capacitors!
          …how does the old Radio Shack DX-440 compare to your old Sony 2010 and the more modern radios of today? …rsvp!

    1. Matt Blaze

      The 990 lacks airband, but I was quite favorably impressed by its performance on LW. It has a sync detection,. but the performance is meh (has trouble maintain lock in the presence of interference or weak signals) compared with a decent desktop receiver sync detector or the rare Sony portable that got it right.

  6. Matt Blaze

    Hi Dan,

    Comparing anything against the Reuter would just be cruel, given how difficult they are to obtain outside Europe. As for the R9500, I’m not tired of it yet, and it’s a bit heavy to take on the Red Line, so I’ll have to pass on your kind offer:-).

    1. Thomas Post author

      I must agree with you, Matt. The IC-R9500 is way to heavy to lug out to the Red Line. It would be much easier for me to send you a UPS call ticket. 😉

      Thanks again for the truly excellent comparison.


  7. Daniel Robinson

    A typically superb presentation by Matt. Would be interested to see a demonstration of the Reuter Pocket against something like the 990x or perhaps the new 909×2 when it is available. Matt — if you ever tire of the 9500, just send it up the Red Line to me (:


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