Category Archives: Guest Posts

Gary DeBock’s 2021 Ultralight Radio Shootout!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gary DeBock, who shares his extensive 2021 Ultralight Radio Shootout.

This is truly a deep dive featuring five popular ultralight portable radios and examining mediumwave, shortwave, FM, and AIR Band performance.

The review is an amazing 40 pages long! In order to display the entire review, click on the “Continue reading” link below.


2021 Ultralight Radio Shootout

Five Hot Little Portables Brighten Up the Pandemic

By Gary DeBock, Puyallup, WA, USA             April 2021

Introduction   The challenges and thrills of DXing with pocket radios have not only survived but thrived since the Ultralight Radio Boom in early 2008, resulting in a worldwide spread of the hobby niche group. Based upon the essential concepts of DXing skill, propagation knowledge and perseverance, the human factor is critical for success in pocket radio DXing, unlike with computer-controlled listening. The hobbyist either sinks or swims according to his own personal choices of DXing times, frequencies and recording decisions during limited propagation openings—all with the added challenge of depending on very basic equipment. DXing success or failure has never been more personal… but on the rare occasions when legendary DX is tracked down despite all of the multiple challenges, the thrill of success is truly exceptional—and based entirely upon one’s own DXing skill.

Ultralight Radio DXing has inspired spinoff fascination not only with portable antennas like the new Ferrite Sleeve Loops (FSL’s) but also with overseas travel DXing, enhanced transoceanic propagation at challenging sites like ocean side cliffs and Alaskan snowfields, as well as at isolated islands far out into the ocean. The extreme portability of advanced pocket radios and FSL antennas has truly allowed hobbyists to “go where no DXer has gone before,” experiencing breakthrough radio propagation, astonishing antenna performance and unforgettable hobby thrills. Among the radio hobby groups of 2021 it is continuing to be one of the most innovative and vibrant segments of the entire community.

The portable radio manufacturing industry has changed pretty dramatically over the past few years as much of the advanced technology used by foreign companies in their radio factories in China has been “appropriated” (to use a generous term) by new Chinese competitors. Without getting into the political ramifications of such behavior the obvious fact in the 2021 portable radio market is that all of the top competitors in this Shootout come from factories in China, and four of the five have Chinese name brands. For those who feel uneasy about this rampant copying of foreign technology the American-designed C. Crane Skywave is still available, although even it is still manufactured in Shenzhen, China—the nerve center of such copying.

Prior to purchasing any of these portables a DXer should assess his own hobby goals, especially whether transoceanic DXing will be part of the mission– in which case a full range of DSP filtering options is essential. Two of the China-brand models use only rechargeable 3.7v lithium type batteries with limited run time, which may not be a good choice for DXers who need long endurance out in the field. A hobbyist should also decide whether a strong manufacturer’s warranty is important. Quality control in some Chinese factories has been lacking, and some of the China-brand radio sellers offer only exchanges—after you pay to ship the defective model back to China. Purchasers should not assume that Western concepts of reliability and refunds apply in China, because in many cases they do not. When purchasing these radios a DXer should try to purchase through a reputable seller offering a meaningful warranty—preferably in their own home country.

One of the unique advantages of Ultralight Radio DXing is the opportunity to sample the latest in innovative technology at a very reasonable cost—and the five pocket radio models chosen for this review include some second-generation DSP chip models with astonishing capabilities. Whether your interest is in domestic or split-frequency AM-DXing, FM, Longwave or Shortwave, the pocket radio manufacturers have designed a breakthrough model for you—and you can try out any (or all) of them at a cost far less than that of a single table receiver. So get ready for some exciting introductions… and an even more exciting four band DXing competition!

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Dan revisits the venerable XHDATA D-808 portable radio

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


XHDATA D-808Revisiting the XHDATA: What Sangean Should Have Learned from the D-808

by Dan Robinson

Recent additions to the shortwave portable receiver market have been quite impressive, especially considering the continuing decline in the use of shortwave as a transmission method by broadcasters.

In what could be the final models from Tecsun, we saw the PL-330, PL-990x and H-501x all of which bring impressive features and capabilities to the game.  Sangean finally introduced its upgraded ATS-909×2 including an early firmware upgrade that was supposed to correct some issues with this receiver.

As I have observed in some recent reviews, the very fact that the listening community still sees any new receivers is reason for gratitude, though we also have opportunities to acquire numerous classic receivers and can still do an excellent job in today’s listening environment.

One receiver that emerged a few years ago and which took the listening hobby by storm was the XHDATA D-808.  Numerous reviews are online, including ones here on the SWLing Post, and excellent reviews by Gilles Letourneau here and here.

The 808 was and still is compared to the CCrane Skywave SSB, a much smaller and compact receiver.  Unfortunately, in my experience both suffer from soft muting.

I obtained a D-808 shortly after it appeared based on early positive reviews.  I used it once, at the beach in Florida where reception conditions were superior – comparing it to some older portables in my collection such as the SONY ICF-SW07, ICF-SW55, and the Panasonic RF-B65.

I was impressed with the sensitivity of the 808, large speaker, and inclusion of AIR band, though I noticed some digital artifacts and agree with negatives such as slight soft muting and chuffing, and slowness of the processor.

I boxed the D-808 up and stored it away where it sat until recently when I took it back out after my experience using Sangean’s ATS-909×2 – thus the title of this brief commentary.

Sangean made some basic decisions with the 909×2.  Many of them are quite positive over the old 909x.  For many users the 909×2 has more than enough features to justify the higher price of the receiver.

I came to a different conclusion after returning my ATS-909×2, and I started thinking about how the D-808 could have informed engineers at Sangean as they considered which features to put in the 909×2.  To what extent Sangean designers looked at various other portables, including the D-808, we will probably never know.

D-808 DEMONSTRATES IMPORTANCE AND IMPACT OF BANDWIDTH FILTER CAPABILITY IN SSB

AM bandwidth control on the ATS-909×2 is quite nice.  However, what leaps out is the absence of multi-bandwidth capability in SSB mode.  It’s baffling that Sangean seems not to have recognized this as a must-have feature.

Tecsun started providing this on small receivers years ago, and in the PL-880, the excellent though flawed portable that also took the listening world by storm, and in the recent 330, 990x and 501x.

Using the D-808 again after a few years reminded me that this little China-made receiver offers no less than SEVEN bandwidths, in AM mode.  Let me say that again:  SEVEN (7) bandwidths.

You don’t find that kind of selectivity capability even in a Drake R8B.  After that, you’re getting into continuously variable bandwidth control found in premium DSP receivers.

So, in AM mode you have:  6 kHz, 4 kHz, 3 kHz, 2.5 kHz, 2.0 kHz, 1.8 kHz, and 1.00 kHz

The D-808 also has fine tuning capability.  This is not the same as the Tecsuns which actually enable you to re-calibrate, and with adjustment that remains set for both USB and LSB.  On the D-808 you fine tune to zero beat, but have to repeat the correction  for LSB and USB on the frequency you’re on – it’s a bit more twiddly, but on my 808 the fine tuning is nonetheless very smooth.

Nevertheless, combined with SIX bandwidth options when in SSB, the fine tuning option on the 808 is a superb feature, not to mention that on my particular D-808 there is little to no “warbling” when carrying out the fine tune operation.

So, in SSB on on the D-808 you have:  4.0 kHz, 3.0 kHz, 2.2 kHz, 1.2 kHz, 1.0 kHz, and an amazing .5 kHz !  Imagine that:   .5 kHz

I usually remember stuff like this, but when I first tried the D-808 in Florida back in 2018 I was more focused on assessing sensitivity, audio, and issues such as its pretty slow DSP response when changing modes.

Video Demonstration of D-808 bandwidth capability in AM and SSB modes:

So, now you have to pick me up off the floor as I re-visit the D-808 and realize what an amazingly capable little radio it really is – again, see the excellent reviews by Gilles in which he pays a lot of attention to this fact.

Additional years ago, I used receivers such as SONY SW-55s and Panasonic RF-B65s in ocean side DXing.  These are fine receivers, but the 55 is limited to two bandwidths, NARROW and WIDE – similar to the SONY 2010 and SW-77, both of which also had effective synchronous detection.

One of my best DX catches at that time was Radio Rwanda on 6,055 kHz just before it’s sign off in the late afternoon eastern timed.  Using a Panasonic RF-B65 which had NO bandwidth options, I was able to hear and record a full sign off and ID.

However, had a D-808 existed at that time this would have been much easier because of the multiple bandwidths in both AM and SSB.  I imagine a SONY ICF-SW7600GR would have done a good job as well, but it too does not have the multiple bandwidth options that a D-808 has.

These days, with the number of stations on the air reduced even further, examples like this may be fewer and farther between.  But one has to observe that for AMATEUR radio listening, the amazing bandwidth capability of a D-808 really sets it apart from the pack.

Am I glad I re-discovered the D-808?  You bet.  It was on my list of TO SELL receivers.  Now, it has a reprieve and is firmly back on my keeper list.

I have to think that it is highly unlikely that there will be a new version of the D-808, unless someone out there has heard something in the receiver rumor mill that I have not.  Perhaps the folks at XHDATA/RadioWOW will take this hint.

If XHDATA were to re-design the 808, the most improvements one would hope for are obvious:  a newer and faster DSP chip to speed up mode changes, a jack for external recording.  A real long shot would be to hope for the same sort of  calibration adjustment seen in the Tecsun receivers.

When I really get to dreaming, I think of XHDATA or some other maker designing a portable like the 808 – why not call it the 1000 Super DSP – that actually has continuously adjustable bandwidth control.  This will never happen.

It’s doubtful that XHDATA or some other manufacturer will consider competing directly with Tecsun and Sangean.  But the D-808 carved out a place for itself in the small portable category, at an extremely competitive price point.

As this was not an exhaustive retro review of the D-808, I have not gone into the various negatives that every D-808 owner knows to exist.

Lack of a RECORD OUT jack is one.  A D-808x might implement Bluetooth capability as Tecsun has, and MicroSD recording capability (though that gets into issues that appear to have prevented Tecsun from doing the same).  And surely, get rid of the soft muting.

In conclusion, I go back to a question that occurred to me as I used the Sangean ATS-909×2:  what Sangean could or should have learned from the D-808.

Here was a small, well-designed DSP radio that burst upon the scene with outstanding capabilities and which even today is prized among those who own it.  Need I repeat?  SEVEN bandwidths in AM mode, and MW, and SIX in SSB and LW.

Every company that’s still manufacturing receivers makes its own decisions. It’s as important that we voice our gratitude to Sangean for its latest (possibly last) effort to revise the 909xxxx series as it is to Tecsun for offering no fewer than THREE superb world band receivers.

Sangean has received feedback from me and other reviewers about the x2.  All of that is aimed at helping the company possibly correct shortcomings in the new receiver.  I hope that this commentary is another step in that direction.

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Guest Post: Jerome’s experiences as an SWL in Saudi Arabia from 1990-91

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jerome van der Linden, for the following guest post:


Experiences as an SWL in Saudi Arabia 1990 /91

by Jerome van der Linden

From about 1986 I worked for the Broadcasting Division of Telecom Australia (now “Telstra”), in Adelaide, South Australia. This Division of Telecom Australia had responsibility for installation, maintenance and operation of Australian Government funded broadcasting services (radio & TV) such as ABC (including Radio Australia) and SBS. In later years responsibility for this was taken away from Telecom Australia and handed to BAI.

I already had a life long interest in Broadcasting and short wave radio in particular, and I was recruited into a new non technical managerial position in the then new Broadcasting Division of Telecom Australia: it was the perfect job to my mind. In this period of the late 1980s, the organisation was heavily involved in the capital works to get Radio Australia Cox Peninsula (Darwin) back into operation, after it was largely destroyed by cyclone Tracy in 1975, as well as building the three Northern Territory vertical incidence (“shower”) services at Katherine, Tennant Creek, and Alice Springs (VL8K, VL8T, and VL8A respectively).  (The NT is probably about the size of a major US state like Texas). Apart from doing my non technical work, I took every opportunity to learn more and get involved in the technical side of things. On one occasion, when I knew that the technical staff would be testing the new transmission facilities on a range of frequencies, I was able to confirm with the onsite technician a booming signal into Adelaide from the Alice Springs transmitter he was briefly testing on 11715kHz in the daytime.

Alice Springs (VL8A) transmitter site in the last year is was operating (Photo by Jerome van der Linden).

As the opportunity arose, and as I was also part of the Southern Cross DX Club, I regularly participated in the Radio Australia DX program (I cannot even remember its name, 30 years later) that was produced by Mike Bird. I also contacted many rural cattle stations (equivalent to “ranches” in the US) that were spread throughout the Northern Territory to get them to report on how they were receiving the new NT HF service broadcasting stations when they came on the air. I saw it as a way of promoting the shortwave radio services throughout the Northern Territory.

My work gave me the opportunity to visit not just each of the new NT HF transmitter stations, but also included several visits to the Radio Australia (RA) facility at Cox Peninsula. While I also saw the old RA Receiving station on Cox Peninsula (dating from the period when signals were received from RA Shepparton and then re-transmitted from Darwin, in the period pre cyclone Tracy), this was at a time when that facility had already been largely dismantled.

In early 1990, I sought and was awarded a contract position with Telecom Australia’s Saudi project, and I was seconded to that from my job in the Broadcasting Division. From my own research, I knew that radio and TV in Saudi Arabia was quite unlike what I was used to, and I made it a point to take with me, on loan, a Sony ICF 2001D receiver. So it was in March 1990 that I arrived in Riyadh on a single person’s contract. I was allocated a 2 storey 3 bedroom villa for my own use among a large number of other identical villas occupied by other Telecom Australia staff, that were all located within a walled compound close to the Saudi Telecom offices.

Almost immediately, it was obvious that I would have to rely on the BBC World Service for my English news, as the KSABS radio services were nearly all in Arabic, and its TV service was even less appealing to me. I managed to string up some long wire antennas on the roof, and it was not long before I was also able to pick up services from Radio Australia. I got in touch with Nigel Holmes, then RA’s Frequency Manager in Melbourne, and was able to let him know how signals were being received in the Middle East, even though South Asia was about the limit of RA’s intended reach at that time. As my office was in the city of Riyadh some distance away, I was allocated a car for my own use, and – having found these were quite common – soon fitted it with a Short Wave capable car radio. In fact it was the one I reviewed in the 1991 WRTH.

The compound housing the many Australians and their families had its own CCTV system, and the Aussies were entertained by a regular supply of Australian VHS TV tapes. The same CCTV network was also used by Australians from the project making out as wannabee disk jockeys with their own programs before 7am and into the evenings.

As many people will recall, in mid 1990, Sadam Hussein, the then leader of Iraq, invaded Kuwait, and there was some concern he might continue and invade Saudi Arabia. As a direct consequence, radio with World news became even more important for the Australians,  and the many other expats working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

An unexpected benefit to the expats living in Riyadh was the arrival of thousands of US ground forces, who brought with them their very own AFN broadcasting services which operated on FM with their own high pitched professional female DJs who played the latest pop music. This was at a time when this type of music was not heard at all on local Saudi radio, and the only source we had of modern music was the many bootlegged copies of cassette music which were for sale everywhere (in addition to pirated copies of software).

When Sadam Hussein decided to stop international residents from leaving Iraq to travel home, their roles as ‘hostages’ caused international broadcasters to improve their services into the Middle East.

That included Radio Australia, and at least one of its Cox Peninsula transmitters was used to improve the signal to the Middle East in the hours up to its daily shutdown at midnight Darwin time (1430UTC). The strongest signal in those days was a 21MHz frequency, and it mostly boomed in. I recall one evening when the transmitter’s audio sounded very suspect to me. I made a quick international phone call direct to Cox Peninsula; spoke to the duty shift supervisor who I knew personally; described the signal to him; he picked the problem; switched the transmitter off and placed another transmitter online on the same frequency which gave clean audio, that I was able to confirm to him.

A Patriot missiles being fired to intercept a scud missile on 24 Feb, 1991 (Photo by Jerome van der Linden)

It was about this time that I realised my Sony ICF2001D had a feature I could use to the benefit of all my fellow Australians in the compound. In the first instance, I was able to arrange for an audio feed from the 2001D in my villa into the compound’s CCTV system, so that – provided someone plugged the audio in correctly – the signal from my Sony radio’s line out was relayed to every other villa that cared to listen. As I was absent during most of the working day, I used the Sony’s programming feature that allowed for up to 4 separate listening sessions to be set up. Each program required a SW frequency and start/stop times to be programmed. I think each session had a time limit of perhaps 4 hours. This enabled me to set the radio up to relay BBC World Service for most of the day switching automatically to certain frequencies as appropriate, and also provided the people with some brief Radio Australia segments with news from home.

In the period prior to January 1991’s, when George Bush had promised to retake Kuwait if Sadam Hussein did not withdraw, it was also interesting to pick up Iraqi broadcasts intended for (and to try to demoralise) American servicemen. Very strong signals from Baghdad were regularly audible, I seem to recall 11825kHz being one such frequency.

In the event, about January 16, 1991 the allies invaded Kuwait from Saudi Arabia, and made devastating air based attacks on Iraqi facilities. Radio Baghdad’s shortwave service did not seem to last very long after that.

We Australians were told in no uncertain fashion that Iraqi “Scud” missiles were ballistic (hence not accurately targeted), and would definitely not have the range to reach Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The experts were wrong however, and a couple of scuds did reach Riyadh. As our compound was in the “flight path” from Iraq to the Riyadh airbase the Americans were using, it turned out we were not in the best location! The American forces had “Patriot Missiles” set up to intercept any Scuds that got through, but nobody told us that the Patriots break the sound barrier seconds after being fired, and that they’re only capable of intercepting Scud missiles just before they hit the ground. You can imagine the sonic booms that went off the first night Scud missiles arrived: I have photo in my home that some daredevil took outside, that proves all this.

We had been told to tape up the glass on our villas in case it should shatter, and that we should leave our TV sets tuned to our CCTV channel turned on at all times, with the volume up so that if there was an air raid the staff and their families could be alerted by means of a piercing alarm sound that someone had fiendishly created. And so it was that one Thursday, when Jonathan Marks had scheduled a telephone interview with me for Radio Netherland’s Media Network, we were discussing media events in Saudi Arabia when the air raid alarm went off, and we had to postpone the rest of the interview. I seem to recall that he did call me again later the same night and we finished things off. I never did get to hear the program, or I would have recorded it! As far as I know, it’s not one of the programs that Jonathan has been able to find to include in his on line media vault. If anyone else has a copy of this early 1991 edition, I’d love to hear it again.

As the experts had been wrong in their assessment, it was decided that most of the Australians would be removed from Riyadh, and I was sent to do my work from Jeddah, for about 6 weeks. Again it was a slightly different media environment, and while interesting, I missed the ICF2001D, and bought a cheap multi band analogue portable to be able to keep up to date with BBC World Service News broadcasts.

By early March 1991, most of the fighting was over, and it was safe for me to return to Riyadh, where I worked for another two or three months, before returning to my normal job and family in Australia.

Off-Air Audio Recordings

Radio Baghdad to US Troops (1990):

BBC World Service News of the start of Desert Storm (January 16, 1991):

Radio Australia announcement by the acting Foreign Affairs Minister (January 16, 1991):

AFN Riyadh (Brief clip of Army Sergeant Patty Cunningham signing off her shift):

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Guest Post: A visit to Museo Marconi in Villa Griffone, Pontecchio, Bologna


Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ferruccio Manfieri (IZ1096SWL), who shares this report and excellent photo tour from a visit to the Museo Marconi in Bologna, Italy in 2018.

Today is International Marconi Day, so this is a very welcome, and timely post:


A visit to Museo Marconi in Villa Griffone, Pontecchio, Bologna

by Ferruccio Manfieri (IZ1096SWL)

Bologna, in Northern Italy, is renowned to be the seat of the oldest University in Europe and in the world (the Alma Mater Studiorum) and its historic, artistic and culinary heritage. From a scientific perspective, Bologna is the birthplace of Guglielmo Marconi as well as the place of his first experiments in transmission.

The inventor, born in Bologna on April 25th, 1874, was the son of an Italian father (Giuseppe, a wealthy landowner) and an Irish mother (Annie Jameson, of Jameson’s Whiskey family). At the age of 20, Marconi began to conduct experiments in radio waves, building much of his own equipment in the attic of his home at the Villa Griffone in Pontecchio (in the Bolognese countryside).

Marconi received his final resting place in Villa Griffone Mausoleum, an enterred crypt hosting his porphyr sarcophagus. The building was donated to the Guglielmo Marconi Foundation in 1941 after the  death of the inventor (on the 20th of July 1937).

Sadly, Villa Griffone and the Mausoleum suffered heavy damages from WWII bombings and pillages and were patiently rebuilt in post-war years. Today, Villa Griffone is reborn as a hub of research and divulgation activities, hosting Guglielmo Marconi Foundation, the Marconi Museum, a library and two research groups on communication systems.

On the 26th of april 2019 I visited with my family the Museum hosted in the original building (a short trip from Bologna, 20 minutes by public transport)

Villa Griffone and the Marconi Mausoleum

The visit began with a nice stroll in the Villa gardens, home with the nearby hill of the Celestini of the first long-range and not in line of sight transmission experiment in 1895. Marconi managed to send signals over a distance of 2 km, beyond a hill situated between the transmission equipment (to which he had added a grounded vertical antenna) and the reception apparatus (characterised by an extremely sensitive coherer).

Villa Griffone gardens and “Hill of Celestini”

We were in the very spot Marconi was when he transmitted his three signals to the receiver operated by his brother and the gardener behind the hill. Nearby, the replica of eight meter wooden pole with the attached metal boxes used as antenna.

Marconi’s first “long range” antenna – replica

This experiment in universally aknowledged as the birth of radio transmission (and, by the way, the rifle shot used as a confirmation of the reception was the very first QSL…).

Our valent host and guide to the visit was the Director of the Museum, Barbara Valotti, who thoroughly described us (with knowledge, passion and communication skills) the historical framework of Marconi’s biography and works. A more engineering oriented and hands-on visit to the working replicas laboratory was subsequently hosted with passion and knowledge by Adriano Neri I4YCE.

In the Auditorium Dr. Valotti  showed us two videos on the first transmission experiment and on the Republic incident in 1909, on of the first application of Marconi radiotelegraphy in an incident at sea, whose success (no lives were lost in the aftermath of the collision thanks to the coordination of rescue efforts via radiotelegraphy) gave a boost of popularity to radiotelegraphy and to the engineer, eventually leading to the Nobel prize in physics later that year.

A frame of the “Republic” video

This part of the visit emphasized his interest in real technological applications of his inventions and their commercial potential. Marconi was a “modern” mix of engineer (with an unhortodox, non-academic formation) and entrepreneur, ready to see the new potential applications of technologies in the society.  Interestingly, Dr. Valotti underlined that the main focus of Marconi research was always the point-to-point trasmission and not the broadcast.

Hanging on the ceiling of the auditorium, a replica of the kite used by Marconi to lift an emergency antenna in the first transoceanic transmission from Poldhu to St Johns Newfoundland in 1901.

Yacht “Elettra” – memorabilias

The visit continued to the “silkworm room”, the original room (once used to breed silkworms) where Marconi held his laboratory and performed his experiments. The room was full of instruments replicas to show the laboratory as in the young Marconi years.

“Silkworm room” – Marconi’s first laboratory (original place,  instrument replicas)

“Silkworm room” – Marconi’s desk (replica)

It was also possible to replicate the main experiments with educational working replicas.

Marconi transmitter – educational replica

Headphone and coherer used in the first transoceanic transmission (replicas)

The second phase of the visit was a more engineering-oriented explanation of the principles of radio telegraphy conducted by Adriano Neri I4YCE in a didactic laboratory on working replicas of the main epoch instruments.

Experiment table with working replicas: coherers, a wire decoder, a Marconi receiver

Instruments in the educational laboratory

With passion and competence, Mr. Neri explained us in a simple way (there were some very interested young people in the group) the cable telegraphy principles and the sequence of experiments and discoveries that led Marconi to his inventions.

In a detailed and fascinating exposition we saw applications of a Morse writer, the induction coil, the coherer and the first Marconi spark transmitter, all assembled in the end to transmit in the room some morse signals in the air.

Live demonstration of signal transmission by Adriano Neri . Against the wall a Marconi spark transmitter (note the antenna and ground plates), on the table: a Marconi receiver (with a coherer) connected with a Morse writer.

The laboratory, as the whole museum, hosts a huge number of working replicas (a wonderful collection in itself, handmade by Maurizio Bigazzi with rigorous standards of adherence to the original designs and, if possible, reuse of original parts) and some original equipment.

Ship wireless telegraph room – working replica

A last section of the museum is devoted to radio communication during the war (showing a WWI airplane-ground communication system) and radio broadcasting, with original sets of great interest like a 1923 Marconiphone (still working, we had a live demonstration receiving RAI programs) and a Ducati radio (the same Ducati company of motorbikes, based in Bologna).

WWI plane radio and ground receiver

1923 Marconiphone, working original set

Ducati radio

We spent all the morning in the Museum with great fun and interest from all the family.

I highly recommend a visit to the Museum for the place,  its significance in the history of radio transmission and the competent and passionate exposition of the historical and technical themes related to Guglielmo Marconi.

A wealth of information (also in english) can be found of the Guglielmo Marconi Foundation website (www.fgm.it).

A detailed gallery of the Museum can also be found on the new Museum website (www.museomarconi.it)

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Dan Robinson reviews the Sangean ATS-909X2

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post and review:


Sangean v Tecsun in the Battle of Late Shortwave Era Portables:  The ATS909x2

by Dan Robinson

Some years ago – actually more than a decade – I decided to give Sangean a shot at winning me over in the shortwave portable category.

I had and still do use numerous portables with a bias toward the classic SONY, Panasonic, and Grundig sets.  The ones that made an impression stayed, often in multiples, as anyone can see if they visit the radio shack here in Maryland.

These include, for those interested:  the Panasonic RF-B65, SONY ICF-SW77, ICF-2010, ICF-PRO80, ICF-7600D, ICF-7700, ICF-SW1000T, ICF-SW55, ICF-SW100s, ICF-SW07, Grundig Satellit 500, to which were added in more recent times the Toshiba  RP-F11, XHDATA D-808, and Tecsun portables ranging from the PL-365 and new PL-368 to the PL-880, PL-990x, H-501x, and S-8800.

Sangean has generally not been on that list. There’s a good reason – I just never considered Sangean to be competitive when it comes to portables, though they did have some excellent larger sets such as the ATS-803A that made the first forays into multiple bandwidth options.

My last experience with Sangean was with the ATS-909.  I liked the looks and capabilities of that receiver, and even went to the point of having mine modified by Radio Labs.  But those mods were underwhelming, in my view, and the original 909 always seemed to me to be deaf when using the whip antenna.

That issue continued unfortunately with the 909x.  Some of you may have seen a video I did a few years ago in which I set a 909x against a SONY SW-07 and Panasonic RF-B65.  This was done barefoot with only the whip antennas, but near a window.  In short, the other two radios wiped the floor with the 909x.

It took a surprisingly long time for Sangean to update the 909x with the 909×2, during which companies asked valid questions about the need for further development of world band portables.

Eton turned the market on its head when it introduced the still superb E1/XM which competed with the very end of SONY portable production, and co-designed with R.L. Drake added such superb features as Passband Tuning and three selectivity positions.

Meanwhile, Tecsun plugged away, introducing an impressive array of portables including the PL-600 series, then the 880 and now the 990x and H-501 portables.

So, now the 909×2 is here and with its 073 firmware upgrade has become a bit of a holy grail for portable receiver users.  There have been a number of excellent reviews, including Dave Zantow’s deep dive, and some others here on SWLing Post.

I’m going to give you my impressions, using the really detailed Zantow review as a base.  I received my 909×2 from Amazon just today – it is a 073 firmware which confirms that new supplies have the upgrade.

SENSITIVITY ON WHIP

First, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way.  Although I have not undertaken detailed technical testing of the 909×2 – nor do I have the equipment to carry this out – it does seem that Sangean may have finally tackled this crippling flaw that rendered the old 909x nearly useless when using it only on the whip.  I’ll undertake further testing and comparisons with some of my other portables to confirm this.  The whip antenna itself is robust – solid and long, something that Tecsun could take note of.

AIR BAND

Inclusion of air band on this radio is a major selling point for those interested in this type of monitoring.  My initial tests showed the 909×2 to be quite sensitive and useful – I managed to pick up no fewer than five airport comms frequencies in my area here in Maryland.

SELECTIVITY / AUTO-BANDWIDTH

The 909×2 really shines with FIVE available selectivity options that are easily selectable in shortwave mode.  It would have been nice to be able to actually see the values of each filter as one scrolls through, but that’s a minor point.  Think about it – in shortwave AM mode, this is the number of selectivity positions that one finds on such power house communication receivers as a Drake R8.  Amazing that we now have that in a portable.  On the negative side, I find the auto-bandwidth feature on the 909×2 to be nearly useless, as useless as the similar feature found on Tecsun receivers. The automatic switching is distracting and annoying. My advice to users: forget this, and stick with manual bandwidth control.  My advice to Sangean – I wish they had left this feature out but given us multiple bandwidths in SSB.

LCD AND BRIGHTNESS

Sangean hits it out of the park with this multi-stage lighting for the display.  Simply superb and the kind of quality we could only hope for from other manufacturers.

MAIN TUNING / DETENT CONTROL

I found the detents on the old 909x to be annoying – indeed, modifications have been available that could remove this feature.  But Sangean being Sangean, the detent wheel remains in the 909×2 and it is not a deal killer.

AUDIO QUALITY

The radio retains the excellent audio of the 909x – I am not sure the 909×2 exceeds what one hears from a Tecsun 990x or H-501x but it’s right up there and competitive.

POWER SUPPLY

As others have noted, thanks to Sangean for sticking with AA cells.  Together with internal charging when using Ni-Mh cells this is a major selling point.  On the other hand – competitor Tecsun went a step farther with its H-501x which though it uses 18650 lithium batteries, has dual batteries, one of which can be held in standby, and switchable charging.  That’s a design feature that you really have to respect.

VARIABLE RF GAIN

Again, as noted by others Sangean retained the extremely useful thumb wheel RF gain control.  This is an excellent feature.

KEYPAD

Another home run for Sangean when it comes to the keypads on the 909×2, which can be compared in this respect to the Tecsun H-501x which itself improves upon the 990x when it comes to front panel control.  Time will tell, however, and we shall see if the keys on these radios hold up in heavy use.

UP/DOWN SLEWING

These controls which sit outside the circular main tuning knob are excellent, and reminds one of the slewing buttons on the SONY 7600GR, SW1000T and SW100.

S-METER / DISPLAY

RSSI and SN Digital Signal Strength Information are provided on the beautiful 909×2 display.  This is an improvement over the Tecsun signal strength/SNR meters that I wish would be redesigned, if in fact Tecsun has any intention of future modifications to their portables.

NO SOFT MUTING

Thank goodness we don’t have to deal with the annoying soft muting issue that is still seen in some other portables (the XHDATA D808 comes to mind along with the Eton Executive).  Soft muting quite simply ruins a listening session and it’s baffling that any manufacturer still puts it in.

NEGATIVES (I AM IN TEARS)

OK, close all airtight doors and prepare to dive!  Here are the negatives I see with the 909×2.  I held off obtaining one of these radios because I knew there would be issues.  And I was disappointed enough in the past with the 909x and 909 before it that I had almost decided not to go for it.

SIGNS OF LONGWAVE RECEPTION PLAGUED BY CROSS-MOD FROM MEDIUMWAVE 

On my particular unit – it remains to be seen whether this is true for others – long wave seems to be near useless.  The band is filled with mediumwave stations bleeding through.  Turning down the RF obviously helps but I still hear AM stations here in the DC area, when I am in LW mode.

SSB PERFORMANCE

ALERT FOR SANGEAN AND ALMOST A DEAL BREAKERas mentioned in the Zantow review, and in other comments I have seen on the 909×2, the drop in level from AM to LSB is a killer negative.

This is less noticeable in MW.  But if you are in shortwave and have turned your volume up on any particular station, say a strong one such as Greece on 9,420 kHz or Spain, or an AM station, and you then switch to LSB it is like you have almost lost the signal.  This simply needs to be fixed.  Level on USB seems fine and acceptable, but LSB on shortwave requires immediate upwards adjustment of volume, only to have to reverse the process when returning to AM mode.  I find this problem to be sufficiently serious that I would recommend against obtaining a 909×2 until Sangean finds a way to fix it.  This issue is on the same level of BAD as the still unsatisfactory SYNC mode in all three of Tecsun’s shortwave portables.  In fact, I may return the 909×2 I obtained and wait until a fix for this emerges.

Example Video

In this video, I demonstrate the extent of the problem as seen on this particular unit of the 909×2, which carries a serial number dk201043181.

Dave Zantow says his unit does not have this issue, so there is a possibility this is due to unit to unit variation. As you can see, with a strong signal such as 12,160 kHz — switching from AM to LSB instantly reduces listenable level, and signal as measured on the 909×2 drops to zero bars or near zero. In USB, the reduction is less severe. Regardless, having to perform adjustments with main volume just to struggle to hear any signal in SSB is a bit ridiculous. This kind of thing is not seen on the Tecsun H-501x or 990x though as Dave correctly points out, Tecsun receivers are not exactly great performers in SSB. On Tecsun receivers, there is a slight processor pause while the receiver makes the switch into LSB or USB, without the sharp reduction in listenable level.

CALIBRATION ISSUES WITH NO WAY TO ADJUST

Imagine my joy when I first began using the x2.  Initially, it seemed to be smack on frequency – I tried this on WMAL, the powerhouse local AM station here in the DC area, and then again with stronger stations on shortwave, such as 12,160 kHz.  Ah, I said to myself, Sangean has some decent QC and paid attention.  About 30 minutes later, however, what I found matches the Zantow review.  Stations are consistently low of the tuned/displayed frequency by as much as 300 Hz.  The reason this is so disappointing is that I feel Sangean could have taken a clue from Tecsun and provided a re-calibration function (unless it exists and we aren’t being told about it).  On Tecsun radios, the re-calibration capability is the major counter-punch to poor synchronous mode – in my view, one can live with flawed SYNC on a 990x or H-501 or PL-330 as long as you can adjust and at least have zero beat or close to it across frequencies.  At the same time, as Zantow points out, no one should be expecting TCXO level performance from portables such as these.  However, it is a bit disappointing that after all these years and redesign of the 909x to add some really nice features, they’re still landing up to 300 Hz from a tuned frequency.  On the other hand, is this really any worse than one would see from an off-tuned SONY ICF-2010?  No, and adjusting those older receivers required surgery.

CONCLUSIONS

I really like the 909×2.  There simply is something about this design that Sangean knew was a winner when it first arrived on the market years ago, so it’s not surprising that Sangean stuck with it.  It’s clear that some hard thinking went into the step up from the old 909x, notably the larger LCD, addition of finer step tuning to make SSB easier, the robust antenna and the still pretty darn good audio through the wonderful speaker.  The 909×2 is a radio that you can imagine guests would comment on if it were sitting on your coffee table – it just looks THAT GOOD.

But then here in 2021, so does a Tecsun H-501x LOOK THAT GOOD.  As I noted above, where the Tecsuns fall down – with their still challenged synchronous mode – they make up for with the ability to re-calibrate.

That is a huge feature and one that Sangean struck out on, though surely Sangean designers had to know the 909×2 would appeal both to listeners and to hobbyists with obsessions about frequency accuracy.

To repeat, I really (really) like the 909×2.  But another area where the receiver strikes out is the problem with sharp reduction in LSB mode.  Seriously – you have to crank the volume control up to at least 50 percent to hear ANYTHING when you’re in LSB, whereas USB requires going only up to about 30 percent.  Then when you’re completing your carousel back to AM, you have to be sure not to still have the audio up at 50 percent or more to avoid blowing your speaker.

Again, as I said above, the calibration/drift issue on the 909×2 can be lived with.  The problem with LSB, in my opinion, cannot or should not be tolerated.  So, the question is, do you want to purchase a 909×2 now that still has that LSB audio issue, or wait a while until Sangean gets its act together?

These and other earthshaking questions are before us here in 2021.  We have some of the best portables ever made by anyone in a time of sharply declining shortwave use, but they each have their flaws.

I don’t usually do a star rating or RECOMMEND / NOT RECOMMEND for radios.  This time, I am going to make an exception and it links directly to the issue of the LSB problem on the 909×2.  These radios simply should not have been allowed to enter the market with this being as serious a problem as I think it is.  For that reason, I honestly cannot recommend a Sangean 909×2 until this is corrected.

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Dan reviews the Tecsun PL-368: “Large Receiver Features In Smaller Vertical Handheld”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post and review:


Tecsun PL-368Tecsun PL-368:  Large Receiver Features In Smaller Vertical Handheld

by Dan Robinson

It was back in 2020 that the first photos surfaced online of the PL-368 – posted on Facebook by someone attending the electronics fair in Shanghai, China.

Photos showed the successor to the PL-360/365 receivers – and also the PL-990, successor to the PL-880, as well as the new king of the hill for Tecsun, the larger dual speaker H-501.

Things looked promising, and it was pretty exciting.  Tecsun designers upgraded the PL-365 which had become a favorite of preppers and SWLs, but which was hobbled by the lack of a keypad, to the re-named PL-368.

The PL-365 and PL-360 before it were plagued by the problem of being overly sensitive to the touch – when holding the radio, reception was fine, but remove your hand and signal levels plummeted.  Usually, a full hand grip was necessary to obtain full sensitivity and any variation in grip reduced sensitivity – this was noticed mostly in shortwave mode.

Previous 360/365 models were known for the included small rotatable ferrite

AM amplified antenna which performed miracles in nulling mediumwave stations – for those who still like to listen to the AM band.  The 368 also comes with this additional ferrite antenna.

And the 365/360 (which were and still are sold by CountyComm as the GP-5) used AA batteries, making it very easy to find replacements anywhere the radio is being used in the field.  Tecsun changed that on the 368.

After the photos appeared, I contacted Benny Zhao, who had posted them on one of the Facebook groups and asked if he could send me a sample of the PL-368.  He obliged and a 368 was sent on its way.

The radio was sent without the BL-5C flat lithium battery which was prohibited in postal shipments.  It took a long, long time (3 months, apparently the package was sent by snail mail) but it finally arrived here and I have been putting it through some tests.

Tecsun PL-368

The PL-368 that I received has the notation “2020.12 VER 1” so it’s clearly a first version from 2020 production.

Tecsun PL-368

Like the models before it is a great, handy, portable to grab if you’re going on a trip.  It is lighter than the older 360/365s.  The change from three AA batteries to the flat BL-5C explains some of that.  There is a heft to the older models that the 368 doesn’t have.  I am not sure about differences in thickness of the 368 cabinet.  Perhaps we will find out more from Tecsun (see notes below regarding issue of tapping the front of the 368 cabinet).

Tecsun PL-368

The 368 retains the two multi function adjustment wheels on the right side, one for Volume, the other for Tuning.  These are also used for time and bandwidth control.

Tecsun PL-368

Tecsun PL-368 (left) and PL-365 (right)

On the 360/365 radios, I never found the tuning wheel approach to be particularly efficient since it was limited to a certain number of kHz per turn, either 5 or 1 kHz depending how fast you turned.

On the 368 it appears you can obtain up to 40 kHz from a single turn of the wheel, while on the 360/365 that was limited to 15 to 20 kHz depending on the speed you were turning.

Tecsun PL-368

Tecsun PL-368 (left) and PL-365 (right)

The antenna on the 368 is thinner, but 8 inches longer than the 360/365 models, and in the box you will find the included and very effective rotatable ferrite antenna for mediumwave that inserts in a jack on the top.

On the 368 the volume wheel has detents, whereas on the 360/365 the wheel had smooth turning.

We have gone from 14 buttons on the old PL-360/365 models to 28 buttons on the PL-368, including addition of the keypad.

UPGRADES

Tecsun PL-368

Tecsun has upgraded the 368 in line with improvements seen in the PL-990x and H-501 receivers.  There are now adjustable bandwidths – a particularly useful tool.  These bandwidths also operate in SSB, something that the new Sangean ATS-909×2 doesn’t offer.  Bandwidths are:  LW/MW 2.5, 3.5, 9.0  SW: 2.5, 3.5, and 5.0 SSB: 0.5, 1.2, 2.2, 3.0 and 4.0 kHz

Also in the 368 is now synchronous detection, a feature left off Sangean’s 909×2.  And you get the same intelligent tuning features seen in the 909x/501x models as well as the previous PL-880.

Tecsun added a control that enables activation of the light – this is located on the same button as the Step control which adjusts the tuning steps.

The 368 display now has the ability to tune in 10 Hz increments, an overdue upgrade from the 360/365 models.

Charging of the BL-5C battery can be carried out by connecting a DC 5V/0.5A adapter to the micro-USB port on the side of the radio.  The English manual notes that when charging, the charging time is displayed at the top right corner of the display while the “Charge” indicator flashes.

Adjustments for 9/10 kHz mediumwave, Longwave, and FM frequency range can be found on the 1, 2 and 3 keys.

The manual notes that in addition to the internal ferrite bar antenna, the external supplied MW/LW ferrite antenna can be connected to the antenna socket on top and rotated to obtain optimum reception.

Addition of the keypad makes the PL-368 far more useful than its predecessors for instantaneous frequency access.   This was the major drawback of the 360 and 365 receivers.  This can’t be emphasized enough.

This is a day versus night difference and vastly improves the attractiveness of the 368 over previous models.

There are 850 memory presets, 100 for FM/LW, 150 for MW, 300 for SW, and 100 each for SSB and SYNC.

ATS tuning, like the 990x and 501 receivers enables ATS within all meter bands by holding the [<] or within a selected meter band by holding the [>].  The manual also notes the ability to auto scan all stored stations within a frequency band or mode (SYNC/SSB) staying on each station for about 5 seconds before resuming.

The 368 has what Tecsun now calls Enhanced Tuning Mode (ETM+) – as explained in the manual, this allows auto tune and storing of FM, LW, MW and SW stations into ETM memory.  Unlike ATS, scanned stations will not be stored into regular memory (VM) – in this way, when in a different city or country, ETM+ can be used to auto search new stations without overwriting any previously stored stations.

FM De-emphasis Time Constant – as explained in the manual, while receiving FM broadcasts, long pressing [4] will adjust the de-emphasis setting for Europe, Australia, Japan (and most other locations), or for Americas and South Korea.

Add Seconds to the Clock – with the device powered off, press and hold [8] to add seconds to the clock.

Sleep Timer – as with its predecessors, the 368 has a Sleep Timer, with an indicator on the LCD display.

Alarm –  and like earlier models, there is also an Alarm function, which allows the radio to turn on at a preset time.  It’s possible to select a specific frequency to be used with the Alarm.

RE-CALIBRATION –  I have not been able to determine yet if the 368 has a re-calibration function as can be found on the PL-330, 909x, and H-501.

PROBLEMS

Let’s get one headline out to start:  The 368, as with the 909x and H-501 all have the useful Synchronous Detection mode.  However, SYNC continues to be hobbled, showing distortion and loss of lock.

As I have mentioned in reviews of the 330, 990x, and 501x any successful use of SYNC requires a delicate dance involving careful selection of various bandwidths while in SYNC mode and fine tuning.

The 368 manual contains 3 pages of explanation of SYNC noting that it can “eliminate distortion generated in the IF filter due to local fading, slight offset, modulation overshoot, as well as inter-channel interference and cross-talk modulation, and can also reduce noise interference.”

The problem with all of the Tecsun DSP chip receivers after the PL-880, which had a hidden SYNC feature that was the worst of the bunch, is the extent to which SYNC still suffers from distortion and loss of lock that renders the feature far less useful than it could be.

Ideally, one would want SYNC to match the capability achieved in such older receivers as SONY’s ICF-2010, SW-100S, SW-07, 7600GR.  You’re not going to get that with Tecsun receivers.

Like its predecessors, the 368 is still sensitive to touch.  I noticed this immediately on the old 360/365 receivers, especially when using the radios

at the beach.  If I was recording a station on shortwave, and left for a few minutes, I would return to find that sensitivity had dropped because the radio was not still being held in the hand, which rendered the recording useless.

I am continuing testing of the 368 to try to determine if this issue has been reduced to any extent and will update this review with any further findings. This sensitivity issue is not specific to the 368 – it can be seen on other older and newer receivers.

Many older portables (the SONY ICF-SW55 comes to mind) were constructed with robust cabinets that were less sensitive to touch.  Touching the whip antennas on some older receivers improved reception, while on others touching the whip antenna actually reduced sensitivity.

URGENT ATTENTION FOR TECSUN:  My initial testing of this particular China market unit of the PL-368 – again, it is marked as December 2020 Version 1 production – identified an additional issue.

When in SSB modes or SYNC, tapping on any area of the keypad and LCD display produces a warbling/distortion effect in the audio.  One can only surmise that this is attributable to insufficiently robust construction of the PCB board underneath.

(Video shows problem created when physically tapping front of PL-368 cabinet.)

This is NOT a problem seen with my PL-365 when it is in SSB mode.   

I hope that Tecsun gives this the attention it needs and corrects the problem in future production runs.

SUMMARY

Tecsun PL-368Were it not for the major problems detailed above, the PL-368 would be an automatic must-buy receiver in my book.

Addition of the keypad is a night and day improvement and when combined with additional features such as multi-bandwidth options and the still-to-be-perfected synchronous detection, the 368 would be a killer portable.

But as with the PL-330, 909x and 501x the problem with SYNC mode is still a major drawback on a feature that is supposed to lift Tecsun receivers out of the pack of portables that are on the market in 2021.

One can live with the issue of cabinet sensitivity – but the additional issue I identified where there is instability introduced when tapping on the front panel/keypad/LCD is a QC problem that simply must be addressed by Tecsun.

But as I have said in reviews of other Tecsun receivers, let’s back up a bit.  Imagine if we had had portable receivers with the capabilities that these have, back in the 1960’s or 1970’s.

It’s one of the great ironies of the radio listening hobby, that in 2021 any company is willing to continue producing receivers of this caliber as use of shortwave by major broadcasters continues to decline.

The obvious other killer feature to include in portables such as this would be to somehow integrate DRM into them.  However, I have a feeling that will never happen

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Dan’s review of the flagship Tecsun H-501x portable shortwave receiver

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post and review:


The H-501:  Jewel in the Tecsun Crown, With Some Attractive Features

by Dan Robinson

Since 2020, there has been one Tecsun receiver I have been most looking forward to reviewing, and that is Tecsun’s H-501.

Videos showing the pre-production and mainland China versions of the 501 started appearing online at least a year ago.  There are also numerous videos showing comparisons between the H-501 and PL-990x as well as the PL-330.

What I will do here is provide an assessment of the 501 informed by my use of a H-501 just received, the other two Tecsun receivers, and my decades of experience using a wide range of portable receivers.  This review is based on initial tests of a H-501x, among the first production units.

Video: Unboxing

HOMAGE TO RECEIVERS OF THE PAST

The elephant in the room with the 501 is, of course, its two large left and right speakers.  This reminds one of another Tecsun DSP portable, the PL-398BT with a similar left-right speaker arrangement.

On the left of the H-501, from the top, are the Volume, Treble, and Bass knobs which like the PL-880 and 990x has obvious lineage back to the famous Grundig portables of the 1990’s – the Satellit 500 and 700.  Both of those were limited to two bandwidths.  Only the 700 had anything approaching usable synchronous detection.

Each of the left hand control knobs on the 501 contains a dot to indicate where you are in the Maximum/Minimum range.  At the bottom of the left side is a micro-USB port for when the receiver is used as a computer speaker – quite a nice feature!

On the right side of the 501 you find ports for AM and FM antennas, each with a rubber traction cap, similar to what is found on the PL-990x.  There is also a three position sensitivity sliding switch for Local, Normal, and DX modes – that’s one more than usually found.

Knobs on the right side are the Main tuning and Fine tuning, again similar to the PL-990x.  At the very bottom of the right side is the 5v 1.0 amp micro-USB charging port.

ERGONOMICS

NEGATIVE:  Here I discuss one of two major negatives with the 501.  The tuning knobs are embedded quite far into the radio body.  Each has a round piece of rubber covering on the knob end surface designed obviously to provide traction, possibly also as a protective measure.

The reality is that on the 501, more seriously on the PL-330, embedding of the knobs so far into the cabinet makes it virtually impossible to undertake rapid tuning using those knobs if you are just placing your finger on the top barrel part of the knob itself!

As you will see in photos and video accompanying this review, holding a finger against the rubber on the end of each knob, or closer to the center, to achieve more rapid tuning.  But it’s kind of annoying.  On the PL-990x the knobs are somewhat different – extending a bit farther out of the cabinet, but also with the rubber coverings.

So, this is a design point for Tecsun to consider.  Surely, it should be possible to come up with slightly different knobs for the 501 that make it more comfortable to achieve rapid tuning.  As it is, the knobs on the 501 barely extend beyond the cabinet edge, including the end and rubber cap.

The same goes for the PL-330 – which has knobs that only one half inch in depth, and extending only about 1/16 of an inch beyond the cabinet edge.  Part of the attractiveness of the 330 is its compact size and I doubt Tecsun will be moving to put slightly larger knobs on that radio anytime soon.  But as it is, using the main and fine tuning controls on the 330 gets you maybe 10 kHz in tuning range.

[UPDATE]  I realized after further use of the 501x that Tecsun clearly intended for the rubber knob cap covers to act as traction for tuning.  The problems I see:  after significant use over time, those rubber covers will lose their stickiness and thus their ability to help tuning will be reduced.  Also, the fine tuning knob is smaller — and even using the rubber cover on the knob for more traction, it is somewhat difficult to achieve rapid tuning in 1 kHz mode.  Tecsun could help 501x owners on the issue with the tuning knobs by including spare rubber knob caps.  But it’s uncertain how the existing rubber knob covers are attached to the original knobs and how easy it would be to replace them when they lose their stickiness.

H-501 IMPRESSIVE FRONT PANEL 

At the top of the H-501 radio above the LCD display can be found the Display/Snooze/Lock button.  On an older Tecsun radio, the PL-880, this button doubled as the calibration adjust control.  On the PL-990x this triple function button is located on the top of the radio.

LCD DISPLAY

POSITIVE:   One of the big positives of the 501 is the large LCD display.  The number digits are absolutely huge and make it easy to read frequencies.

Thanks Tecsun!  The display contains numerous bits of information about receiver operation, the signal strength meter, etc.

Below the display is the keypad, with special dual keys for 9/10 kHz mediumwave, Longwave activation, and FM range adjustment.  Backlight activation is on the 5 key.  At the bottom you have the VF/VM key to select between frequency tuning and memories.  To the right are the FM, MW/LW, and SW + and – buttons.  These put the radio into shortwave mode and as is the case with the PL-990 and other receivers, activate ATS/ETM tuning.

At the very bottom of the front panel can be found PLAY/PAUSE, RR, and FF buttons for control of SD card audio when using the microSD card, which like on the 990x is located on the bottom of the receiver.  According to the manual, by the way, the microSD slot accepts cards of up to 128 GB.  Included in the box is a 16 GB SanDisk Ultra card.  A reset hole is also on the bottom of the radio.

Finally, at the bottom of the 501 face are rubber covered input ports for Earphones, Line In, and Line Out.

METAL TILT BAIL

POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE:  On the back of the receiver, you find the metal tilt bail which folds down and locks into two plastic tabs and can be lifted easily with a finger from an indentation in the cabinet.

This was a good design move by Tecsun, with the following observations:  there are no incremental positions on the metal bail as you find on, say, a Microsoft Surface or similar tablet type PC.  The only fully stable position is to have the metal bail fully extended back. That places the 501 in a great position if you’re standing or even sitting to a degree.  But if you try to place the bail in any middle position you’re in danger of having the radio become unstable.  Tecsun should definitely give some thought to a re-design, though the bail is better than the flimsy plastic stands found on the PL-990 and PL-880 and some older portables.

Still on the back of the radio, intelligently, Tecsun marks a screw hole which can be used to remove the telescopic antenna (marked as ANT SCREW).  The other screw holes for removal of the back of the radio are also clearly marked.  Thanks Tecsun!

However, one additional partial negative – there are no rubber pads on the bottom back edge of the 501x which will be contacting whatever surface the radio is sitting on while the metal bail is in use.  So, if you don’t want that bottom back edge to be scratched, place the radio on something to cushion it.

BATTERY CHARGING

POSITIVE:  Another interesting feature not found on other radios:  Tecsun has created a dual charging system for the 501 which uses two 18650 batteries.

In viewing numerous videos, I have not seen this discussed much.  Basically, this enables you to use the receiver’s internal charging capability to choose which battery you are charging.  The manual states that the battery contains space for a “spare” battery.  The charging indicator on the LCD display will flash while charging is underway – there does not appear to be a separate display for battery A or B.  However, and this is quite a unique capability – while you are using the 501x, the switch changes which battery the radio is using.

It’s not clear to me whether the receiver while powered on is taking energy from one or both batteries simultaneously.  As I note in my reviews, and this is amplified in the manual, do not expect to be able to charge a battery internally and listen to the radio at the same time because there WILL be noise.

HUGE WORLD MAP AND RADIO DIAGRAM INCLUDED

Tecsun includes a huge – and I mean HUGE – World Amateur Radio map in a plastic pouch with the manual.  On the back of this is a large photo of the 501 with clear English guide points to each and every feature of the radio.  In this, Tecsun is really going out of its way to make owning the 501 a special experience.

In the box (see photos) Tecsun includes 2 18650 lithium batteries, a 5 volt double USB A charging cube, a mini to mini cord, a USB charging cable, and to boot, a pair of fairly high quality wired earphones complete with spare ear tips.

PERFORMANCE

Anon-co advises that the H-501x uses a different IC than the PL-990x.  No further details were available as of the time of this writing.

This is clearly a sensitive radio, as is the PL-990X.  In these days of declining use of shortwave, almost any receiver is going to be able to hear “stuff” all over the bands and the 501x and 990x as well as the 330 are all quite capable in this regard.

In the video, I tune some familiar stations, including Voice of Greece and BBC

and move through the excellent bandwidth options.  This is where the 501, with its large dual speakers, excels because if you’re on a strong station – Greece is a great example because of its great music programs – and you have that wider option, it’s really pleasant to listen to.

NEGATIVE:  However, one has to puzzle over the decision to limit bandwidth to 6 kHz when in shortwave mode.  On mediumwave (AM) you have a 9 kHz option which provides some fine listening.  Perhaps Tecsun felt that there are few stations using shortwave these days that would benefit from having a significantly wider option?  I would urge Tecsun to make 9 kHz available in shortwave.

SYNCHRONOUS DETECTION

NEGATIVE:  I really had some hope that Tecsun would go farther toward

solving the problem of unstable/distorted SYNC mode with all of these recent radios.  Unfortunately, it was not to be.

Using SYNC on these radios – though this was not the case with the PL-660 and 680 – involves a delicate dance, requiring using a combination of bandwidth filters and LSB/USB.  SYNC works fairly well with some stations, but it really depends on signal level, and to an extent signal level of any station close to the frequency you are on.

There is a 1 kHz fine tune spread when using SYNC after which lock is lost.  And still, lock is often lost even when you’re on center frequency and not using

fine tune in SYNC – the signal just becomes distorted.  Not fun.  The PL-990x has the same issues.

Now, Tecsun has definitely made progress since the horrendous implementation of SYNC on the PL-880, which wasn’t even an official feature.  But it’s disappointing that given the design features in the 501, especially the wonderful dual speakers, a way has not been found to resolve this issue which obviously involves the DSP chip that is the brain of the receiver.

Video: Detailed testing of Tecsun H-501x

ANTENNA

NEGATIVE: One of the things the folks at SONY, Panasonic and some other manufacturers did so well was design radios with antennas that nested inside the radio and could be pulled up and out of the cabinet, and because of this, there was clearance from the top of the radio so the antenna can achieve vertical position.   Tecsun has not done the same.  Antennas on the H-501x, PL-990x, PL-330 swivel but cannot take up vertical position, and of course they are nested on the top of the radio.  One would have thought that after years of producing portables, and coming to dominate the portable market, someone at Tecsun would have recognized the importance of antenna re-design.  NOTE:  the antenna on the 501x is sufficiently long, but on the PL-330 for example, seems to be not long enough.

BLUETOOTH

POSITIVE:  Hooray for Tecsun in integrating BT capability into the 501x and 990x.  This was such an obvious move and thanks to Tecsun for really hitting it out of the park. Unfortunately, we don’t get the ability to record audio from the radio on to microSD cards – that would truly have been a major step forward

CALIBRATION

The H-501 has the same re-calibration adjustment feature as is seen in the PL-909x and the PL-330.  This involves going into LSB or USB mode, holding down the USB or LSB keys until a flash appears, then using the Fine Tuning knob to achieve zero beat on WWV or strong station that is known to be on frequency, then holding down USB or LSB again to have the radio re-zero itself.  This is a fine feature that we have seen since the PL-880.

When I first received the H-501 it appeared that the receiver was fairly on zero beat from mediumwave up through 25 meters shortwave.  Further testing revealed that re-calibration was necessary, but the degree of error from mediumwave up through 19 meters was not as significant as I have seen on the PL-990x.  Re-calibrating at a mid-point of 25 meters appears to be a good mid-point choice, but inevitably, doing re-calibration on shortwave will throw the receiver off by a bit down on mediumwave.

A cautionary note:  when undertaking this calibration function be sure to give the radio time to confirm it’s in calibration mode with the FLASHing LCD. Sometimes, the readout will jump a full 1 kHz above or below the frequency you’re zeroing on – if that happens use the MAIN TUNING knob to get yourself back (i.e. 9,704 to 9,705.00) and complete the zero beat operation with the FINE TUNING knob, then hold down LSB or USB to complete.

All of this may be overkill for most people – I am just among those who obsess over having receivers as exactly on zero beat as possible.  That’s more difficult or impossible to achieve with older receivers that have no calibration function, such as the ICF-2010 or SW-55 without literally taking those radios apart to access internal points of adjustment.  The fact that Tecsun provides this capability in these portables is something we should all be very grateful for.

CIRCUIT LOCKUP

All of the Tecsun radios have a “reset” hole to be used if the receiver is not functioning properly.  I had one occasion of lockup with this sample of the H-501x.  Rather than using the reset hole, I decided to remove one of the two 18650 batteries, which of course reset the receiver.  I have alerted Anon-co to this issue, but it’s hard to tell whether it’s a major problem without having other H-501 units to compare to.

CARRYING CASE

POSITIVE:  The H-501 that I received for review from Anon-co came with a beautiful faux leather case complete with a convenient carrying handle.  My understanding is that this matches mainland China versions that have been widely seen in videos online.

Anon-co advises that the first batch of 501x to be carried by them will come in a gift box with this PU leather case, possibly to be followed at some later point by a hardcover carrying case.  Indeed, a photo can be found online showing the H-501 in a hardcover carrying case similar to the cases for the PL-880 and PL-990x kits.

As of early April, Anon-co advises that while the price for 501x is not set yet, it’s expected to be somewhere in the $310 – 330 range including shipping to the U.S.

AM/MEDIUMWAVE AND FM PERFORMANCE

Not much to say here – I find FM performance on the 501x to be superb, and mediumwave reception is more than satisfactory.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

As I noted earlier, these days amid declining use of shortwave by remaining broadcasters, almost any DSP or older portable receivers are capable of producing excellent results for shortwave listening.

Facebook groups devoted to shortwave (they have become the new gathering place and information exchanges for those of us who still love the hobby) are

full of newcomers inquiring about which Tecsun, Degen, or other portables are best.

Often, my advice is to consider older portables that are still quite competitive, especially considering the reduction in the number of stations still on shortwave.  These would include such classics as the Grundig Satellit 700/500, the SONY

ICF-2010(2001D), SONY ICF-SW77, and ICF-SW55, along with the venerable Panasonic RF-B65 and SONY ICF-SW100S in the smaller category.

What Tecsun has done with what we have to assume may be the final group of DSP receivers it produces is come up with small (PL-330), medium (PL-990x), and large (H-501) radios that combine extremely attractive features and excellent audio.  The H-501x, in effect, is a Grundig Satellit 700 re-born for the 21st century and the path to it was paved by the PL-880.

Though implementation of SYNC in each of these receivers still leaves much to be desired, having this feature is enough to push prospective buyers to choose one or more of these Tecsun units over older portables.

Note that Sangean, which is now producing its ATS-909×2 (though the radio has growing pains and is having its firmware updated by Sangean) seems to have taken note of Tecsun’s dominance of the market and provided multi-bandwith capability, and an improved and enlarged LCD display on the 909×2 along with finer frequency resolution.

In a strange but perhaps understandable decision, Sangean left SYNC mode off of its new flagship receiver.  Whether this had more to do with production costs or a decision that synchronous detection really brings little to the game these days, or both, along with other factors, remains a puzzle.  It does appear, from early reviews, that Sangean may have improved sensitivity on the 909×2, though this too remains unconfirmed.

But again, even with the negatives I noted here about the H-501x, what Tecsun has accomplished is significant.  It has given remaining potential buyers of multi-band portables three superb receiver choices. There are others in the Tecsun line such as the S-8800 and S2000, but of these only the S8800 is something I would recommend.

As I noted in a recent review of the PL-330, had we enjoyed a situation back in the golden days of shortwave in the 1960’s/1970’s/1980’s where a portable provided multiple bandwidths, advanced memory operations, and synchronous detection, DXing would have been even more of an enjoyment than it was.  Certainly those Country Heard/Country Verified totals would have been higher!

The H-501x could easily be considered the crown jewel in the Tecsun group with its killer looks, large speakers, and performance equaling the PL-990x.  Each of these receivers is arguably an easy choice as a “daily driver” for traveling, though where air travel and TSA issues are concerned, the PL-330 would be a better choice.

RECOMMENDATION:  Of the negatives I discuss in this article, only one I would consider fairly huge, and that is the ongoing issue with synchronous detection.  If the 501x, like the 990x and 330, were to have this issue resolved that would make it easy to recommend any of the three radios.  As it is, the attractiveness of the 501x lies with its beautiful two speaker design.  Even with the annoying SYNC  issue, I would recommend the radio to anyone who understands the SYNC issue and doesn’t mind and who wants a nice, larger version of the 909x.

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