Dan reviews the Tecsun PL-330 portable shortwave radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following guest post:


Tecsun PL-330:  The Powerful Mini With One Serious Design Issue

by Dan Robinson

As SWLing Post readers know, I have a huge radio collection – including premium receivers and portables, now nearly 100 in all.

So, these days I am hesitant to add too many, but I continue to take interest in what companies such as Tecsun and Sangean are doing in the way of stuffing the latest chip technology and capabilities into portables radios.

The last receivers I reviewed included the Tecsun PL-990x, which has developed quite an enthusiastic following since its consumer version was released in 2020, and the Tecsun S-8800.

Out for some time now is the Tecsun PL-330.  By now there are many reviews of it on You Tube and elsewhere.

It’s become a familiar observation for many of us – if this were still the 1960’s and 1970’s – even into the 1980’s, which could be considered the golden days of shortwave and we had receiver technology like this, well what a joy that would have been.

When I traveled around the world both before and after college, and professionally for Voice of America in the 1980s and 1990s, wow what a good time I could have had with today’s portables!

Some world band portables radios back then were superb performers.  The Grundig Satellit series 500/700/600/650 come to mind – but these were not exactly what I would call small portables.

Paging through Passport to Worldband Radio from 1990 (wow, that’s 30 years ago!) you see others such as the SONY SW-1, Panasonic RF-B65, and of course, the SONY ICF-2001D/2010 which introduced killer synchronous tuning technology in the 1980s and remains popular today decades after it first appeared.

Also available were the SONY ICF-SW55 and later in competition with the 2010, the SONY ICF-SW77.  Today, I have four SW-55s and two SW-77s and still use them regularly.

Tabletop receivers back in the good ol’ days offered multiple selectivity positions.  One of those was the Lowe HF-225 (and later Europa version) along with the HF-250, Kenwood R-5000 and R-2000, ICOM IC-R71A, and Yaesu FRG-8800 among many others.

But as far as smaller portables go, features such as synchronous detection and multiple selectivity were still pretty limited, and a number of receivers didn’t offer selectable synchronous as was eventually offered on the Drake R8B and later production of the SW-8.

The RF-B65 by Panasonic – which today remains sought after for its amazing sensitivity – was hobbled by having a single selectivity position.  Same with SONY’s SW-1 and SW-100, and 7600GR, though SONY’s PRO-80 had two bandwidths.

Indeed, it wasn’t until Eton brought out the E-1, with its three bandwidths combined with Passband Tuning (though no notch filter) that a portable finally reflected capabilities of some of the better tabletop radios (though lacking a notch filter).

The Grundig Satellit 800 was close in competition with the E-1 (though the earlier Sat 600/650 series also had multiple bandwidths) but was bulky.

Fast forward to 2021 – credit due to Tecsun and more recently to Sangean with its 909X2, for some years now we have enjoyed Asia-originated portables with multiple selectivity and synchronous mode, though sync implementation on some has left much to be desired.

Which is where the PL-330 comes in.  When I look at the 330, I am reminded of one of the now ancient SONY portables, the ICF-4920 which was a super small slide-rule receiver that nevertheless was quite sensitive.

Like the 4920, which you could easily slip in a pocket, the PL-330 is a perfect travel portable.  Only the Belka-DX SDR and still wonderful SONY SW-100 compete in terms of performance and size.

The 330 is basically a PL-990x in miniature:  smaller speaker obviously, shorter antenna, no bluetooth capability or card slot.  But as many people who frequent the Facebook groups have observed, pretty much anything the 990x can do, so can the 330.

This radio has ETM/ATS tuning, synchronous detection, multiple bandwidths in AM, SSB and MW, FM mono-stereo speaker control, alarm/timer functions, external antenna jack, display light, and other features.

Tecsun decided to go with a BL-5C battery here – the same with the new PL-368.  I think this is unfortunate, since it requires one to obtain a number of those flat batteries if you want to travel and not have to re-charge.  On the other hand, this is not a crippling design decision.

What is an unfortunate design problem, in my view, involves the simple question of tuning the receiver.

The main and fine tuning knobs on the right side of the PL-330 are embedded into the cabinet just far enough as to make easy rapid finger tuning of the radio nearly impossible.

In fact, in my testing it’s impossible to thumb tune the radio more than 10 kHz at a time.  The same applies to using the lower knob which controls volume.  When in FM mode, this issue make tuning just as frustrating almost forcing one to use rapid scan mode.

Another puzzler:  Tecsun limited bandwidths in AM SW to three, while in SSB you have 5 bandwidth options.  In AM mode, you have a 9 kHz bandwidth, another puzzling choice.  Longwave too is limited to 3 bandwidths.

But overall, none of these problems really knock the PL-330 down very far.  This is one mini powerhouse of a radio, one that makes you think “wow, if I had just had this back in 1967 or 1973 or 1982.

Some additional thoughts.  My particular PL-330 was supplied by Anon-co but is a pre-production version and so does not have the latest firmware.  Thankfully, I have not experienced the issue of SSB tuning running in reverse as others have.

NOTE:  As most users know by now, but some newer users may not, you cannot charge one of these radios – whether Tecsun or Sangean – using the mini-USB port and use them at the same time. . . there is just too much noise introduced from the charging process.

This little mentioned feature:  just as the Tecsun 909x has a re-calibration function, so does the PL-330.  Tecsun itself initially declined to acknowledge this, but finally confirmed through Anon-co.

The procedure: Switch to LSB/USB.  If the station is not zero beat, hit STEP button once and then quickly again to move the flashing display down arrow so it’s above the far right digit.  Then fine tune the station for zero beat.  Hold LSB or USB in for a couple of seconds.  The LCD blinks.  You then have zero beat – but be sure to repeat the process for LSB and USB.

I should mention that just like on the 990x, the re-calibration process doesn’t mean the receiver is then zeroed up and down the shortwave bands.  You will likely have to repeat the process from, say 25 meters, to 19 meters, to 49 meters, etc.

I have come to enjoy using the PL-330 here in my house, though like other portables in my collection I need to position it in one particular corner of my home away from incoming cable TV lines.

Belka-DX and Tecsun PL-330

The PL-330 and the Belka DX are currently king of the pile when it comes to my smaller travel portables.

I fully expect there will be no further receiver development by Tecsun after the PL-330/990x/H-510 radios – but that company will certainly have left us with some great receivers as the days of shortwave approach an end.

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14 thoughts on “Dan reviews the Tecsun PL-330 portable shortwave radio

  1. MARTIN

    The TECSUN PL-330 radio that I acquired at the Radiwow distributor is a radius that fills expectations given the price it has, in particular I can describe it as excellent working on FM, it is very sensitive, it is easy to listen to local stations of 5 kW Until those of nearby towns that do not pass from the 0.10 kW of power; In AM has a sensitivity, considering that I live in a mountainous region, I can tune in during the day some issuers of a city that is 80 km away, emitters ranging from 5 to 15 kW of power, if it lived in Flat terrain maybe more stations would be heard in this band and even located at greater distance. The shortwave listening on this radio is very good, although there are no longer many stations in this band, I can still tune stations such as Radio Habana Cuba, the National Radio of Amazonia, from Brasilia, US issukers such as Radio Miami International, or Radio Martí (it is unfortunate the quality of the programming of this station, should already change, and if they no longer achieved with the objective for which they created it, they should provide them with Cuban listeners, if there is, a programming with quality, Because the one they have currently is very bad). Radio Havana Cuba at 15230 kHz when conditions are favorable seems a local station. On the short wave I call me a lot of attention that is capable of tuning some stations that could not tune with an old radio that I had, a Sony ICF-SW35. I can not compare it with that radius because I do not have it anymore, but I can say that for a normal and momentary listening as it is the listening of the radio currently, the TECSUN PL-330 has nothing to envy you despite the fact that the SW-35 was A double conversion radius. Tecsun’s friends should think about the future in the development of this radio, due to the advantages offered by this compact size, the battery system that it uses although it is not inconvenient should be evaluated in future models with a battery of longer duration, and because not Going incorporating the DRM short wave digital radio into this compact model. In summary, the radio meets the expectations given the low price and is recommended.

    Reply
  2. Stephane Schmitz

    Thanks for the review.
    Very good radio !
    I have been using one for months and I love it.
    However it has 2 flaws : low sensitivity is very bad and battery life is poor (compared to pl380 for example).
    So I have removed original ferrite antenna and have replaced windings with a new litz wire with a lot more turns. LW is much more usable now.
    For the battery, I have replaced the black with a 2500 li-ion battery. For that, i needed to remove original bl5c connector and remove all plastic under the battery.
    I now have an almost perfect pocket radio !

    Stéphane

    Reply
  3. Ronnie

    Great review Dan thanks. After mine arrived a week ago I have some suggestions.

    I hate the soft mute which is terrible on weak or fading signals but I found two ways to greatly reduce it. 1. Tune off frequency 1KHz or if you have to 2 KHz and if no sideband interference try each side of the frequency and this generally works great by increasing the volume. 2. Use SYNC and try each sideband but the experience is quite variable due to inadequate lock on difficult signals (see below).

    I was skeptical of the BL-5C battery life so found and bought a 2450mAH version and a charger. I found the one supplied with the radio (Tecsun, 1000mAH) still provides many hours of listening at volume 06 or so. If I really want to power it from AA batteries I have an external box taking 4 batteries that has the required USB lead and is quiet enough.

    The annoyingly low STEP button surface can be raised by a) painting it, repeatedly if desired) b) gluing a plastic shape on top of it. I do understand the reason it is recessed because it it doubles as the keyboard LOCK key but the battery is so small and thin I would rather just take it out and put it in a little plastic container for travelling.

    The AM bandwidth choices are useful but basic (down to 2.5) but when put in SYNC (even on MW) the SSB bandwidths of 0.5 1.2 2.2 3 & 4 become available along with tuning to the sideband – surely enough to single out a station? I like the control up and down the bandwidth choices with the volume control where on the PL-380 one had to press the BW button repeatedly to go through the options the volume control enables retrying two or three until satisfied.

    The SYNC is not optimum (most receivers since the Sony ICF-2010/2001D have not been satisfactory!) but by playing around with the frequency adjustment in .1 or .01KHz and if necessary doing the frequency alignment procedure a sync can be stabilised or be made tolerable. There seem to be some anomalies if I tune to another station while staying in SYNC mode. It seems best to exit sync, tune and then enter SYNC again.

    My receiver (firmware 3305) seems to overload easily and to use an external antenna I wound a short piece of insulated stiff wire around the telescopic and connect the antenna to that. By moving the windings up to a short extended section I can reduce the overloading. At the bottom section there is plenty of signal for the weakest stations.

    The knob detents do not exactly correspond to shifting frequency or volume but I got used to it. Running a finger around the exposed edge of the knob enables faster changes as required. I guess I have adapted to the way they work, forgiving them when a detent sometimes doesn’t result in a change because for sure the next detent move will.

    The keys are terrific. They move frequency to the next band, to the station previously tuned in that band which can be very handy to monitor a SW station on different meter bands or just to return to a previously tuned station. At least I they work this way on mine, but I have used search function and ETM so that may be influencing these buttons now too.

    At first I was dismayed by the soft mute of this radio and the poor sync lock, but with some experience I have circumvented most of the issues. Overall I rate it much higher than my PL-380 and much more fun to use. Its very sensitive on shortwave but also very good on MW in my location. My requests for improvement would be a local/DX switch, a tone control and better sync but it is very good as it is now that I am used to it.

    Reply
  4. Chuck Rippel

    Dan,

    Great review and like you, I find myself wishing we had something even close to this technology in 1970 – 1980. I was using a DX-150 and later graduated, at the behest of Ed Shaw, to an SP-600. Great radios but I also remember the frequency v/s log scale charts we all kept. Of course all of air recordings were made on open reel followed by cassette tape…

    You need a GE Super Radio for your collection. They are not shortwave but on AM and FM, once I am done with one they can hear into the noise floor!

    Chuck Rippel

    Reply
  5. Tom Stiles

    Great article. May I have your permission to do a YouTube video on it? Giving you and the author full credit.

    Tom Stiles (hamrad88)

    Reply
  6. Blob

    Dan- I like the Belka DX a bit better than the 330 as seen in your latest Youtube. Thanx for the review.

    Reply
  7. tim eure

    To power and charge the PL330 I purchased, Jameco Part no.: 2289151. A 5V 1.2A linear regulated power supply. It comes with a 2.5mm x 5.5mm barrel connector, which I removed in order to splice on a USB female type a sockett, salvaged from a USB extension cable. I now can plug in the correct USB cable and play/charge a Skywave, PL330, or any other radio that has a USB charge port. There is no dectable noise when the radio is playing and powered.

    Reply
  8. Mike S

    As this radio has been circulating for a little while now, do there exist any disassembly photos which might show the length of the AM ferrite antenna?

    Reply
  9. Shawnj

    I think Tecsun and sangean makes nice radios and every radio has it quirks. As for ssb detection in my own opinion the Sony 7600 gr has the best ssb detection. It still has the edge on these new radios. Recently I purchased a Sony 7600 gr and have been using it to make this conclusion for ssb. To have all these new radios is a lot of fun too choose from. No matter if it’s Tecsun, Sangean,Sony they all add a listening experience to are hobby.

    Reply
    1. Robert Richmond

      As a previous owner of both, the older Tecsun 660 is closer to the Sony 7600GR in terms of SSB and sync performance IMO. Perhaps the 680 as well, though I have yet to personally test it.

      Note the 7600GR sync can be modified if willing to open and solder an extra resistor.

      http://stephan.win31.de/sony76-5.htm#7600gr_syncagc

      I did it back in the day, and the sync performance greatly improved, especially in regards to establishing and holding sync on weaker signals. YMMV, of course.

      Reply

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