Category Archives: Reviews

Tecsun PL-990x vs. PL-880: Comparing SSB audio characteristics and pre-production/production PL-990 models

A number of SWLing Post readers have been asking about SSB audio characteristics on the new Tecsun PL-990.

Earlier this week, I took a moment while visiting family to make a few quick comparison videos with the PL-880 outdoors and away from RFI.

As I mention in the videos, there are a lot of cicadas singing in the background and you can also hear a bit of road noise–not ideal for audio, but I had to take advantage of a break in the weather!

You should also note that this isn’t a sensitivity comparison. The radios were pretty close together–if measuring sensitivity, I would have spaced them much further apart. Rather, I hope these videos give you an idea of the audio characteristics in SSB (both CW narrow and voice) and one comparison in AM. If you’re curious about sensitivity and how the PL-990x compares, check out Dan Robinsons initial evaluation.

CW Audio: .5 kHz filter on the 80 meter band

CW Audio: .5 kHz filter on the 30 meter band

SSB audio: 75 meter band

AM Audio: 5 kHz filter WWV 10 MHz

My thoughts

While these videos are far from ideal, they should give you a real-word impression of audio characteristics.

Personally, I think the PL-990x is a much better performer in single sideband. The noise floor is lower, but I think that may have more to do with better filter implementation. I’ve always felt that the PL-880 audio sounds “wider” than the selected filter in the more narrow SSB selections.

In addition, the PL-990x exhibits better SSB stability that’s especially noticeable in CW. The PL-880, at times, almost sounds garbled in comparison.

I also mentioned in the last video that the audio sounds better on the PL-880. I should have qualified that statement a bit better.

In general, yes, the PL-880 audio sounds better because its built-in speaker has slightly better audio fidelity that’s most noticeable when listening to music on the FM band, or a strong local AM station. On shortwave, I feel like I actually prefer the PL-990 audio for all but the strongest stations although I do wish the PL-990 filter could be widened to 9 kHz like the PL-880.

PL-990x (pre-production) vs. PL-990 (production model)

Tecsun Radios Australia reached out and kindly sent me one of their PL-990 production model radios to compare with the PL-990x pre-production model from Anon-Co we’ve been testing up to this point. This has been incredibly helpful as I put together my PL-990 review for the 2021 World Radio TV Handbook.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I feel it can be problematic using a pre-production model radio for review only because there can be differences in quality control when a small number of pre-production units are manufactured compared with a proper first production run (remember this case?).

I’ve only had the production model PL-990 for a few days and most of that time we’ve been dealing with the remnants of hurricane Sally moving through our area dumping torrential rains.

Last night, however, a massive tree fell across our road knocking out power for the better part of 5 hours. This gave me a perfect excuse to start my comparison indoors while rain continued outside.

Based on my comparisons last night, it appears performance is nearly identical between the production and pre-production models. I’ve still more testing to do, but my initial impressions are most positive. Very happy quality appears to be consistent.

Many thanks again to Tecsun Radios Australia for making this comparison possible.

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Taking the Par EndFedz EFT-MTR triband antenna to the field!

The Par EndFedz EFT-MTR triband (40/30/20M) antenna

In July, I purchased a tiny QRP transceiver I’ve always wanted: the LnR Precision MTR-3B. It’s a genius, purpose-built little radio and a lot of fun to operate in the field.

It’s also rather bare-bones, only including a specific feature set built around ultra-portable CW operation.

While the MTR-3B has features like CW memory keying, a wide operating voltage (6-12 VDC), extremely low operating current (20 ma in receive), real-time 24 hour clock, and a full compliment of keying adjustments, it lacks other features like a volume control, SWR meter, speaker, and built-in antenna tuner.

Some of those may seem like big omissions but SOTA and POTA activators who like extremely lightweight/portable gear love the MTR-3B for being so purpose-built.

The MTR-3B (and its predecessors) operate on three bands: 40, 30, and 20 meters. These are, without a doubt, my favorite bands when operating portable since antenna lengths are reasonable.

Since the MTR-3B doesn’t have an internal ATU, you need to pack an external tuner or, better yet, a resonant antenna–ideally, one that can be used on all three bands.

Although many of my portable transceivers have built-in ATUs, I rarely use them because I primarily operate with resonant antennas. Resonant antennas are more efficient–giving you the maximum mileage per watt. In addition, they’re also more simple: connect them to the rig and hop on the air. No tuner or tuning required.

Since I keep self-contained field radio kits, my MTR-3B needed a dedicated resonant antenna.

The EFT Trail-Friendly antenna is incredibly compact and quite easy to deploy.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m a big fan of the Par EndFedz Trail-friendly EFT tri-band antenna (above) which is resonant on 40, 20, and 10 meters.  I’ve activated well over 130 parks with this little antenna.

After I took delivery of the MTR-3B, I borrowed the Trail-friendly EFT antenna from my KX2 field kit. It worked well on 40 and 20 meters, but it doesn’t cover the 30 meter band. Also, by borrowing the EFT from the KX2 kit, I broke one of my rules: never borrow from one field kit to feed another. This led to me leaving the EFT hanging in a tree at a remote park and returning a week later–a three hour round-trip(!!!)–to retrieve it. (FYI, in all fairness, I also blamed my trusty canine companion for this mishap!)

Enter the Par EndFedz EFT-MTR triband antenna

A few months ago, Vibroplex purchased the Par antenna line from LnR Precision.

I was very pleased with this decision as I’m guessing LnR Precision wanted to hand off antenna production so they could focus on the very popular Mountain Topper transceiver line.

Vibroplex is owned by my buddy, Scott Robbins (W4PA), who is not only a successful entrepreneur, but also an award-winning contester and DXer. I’ve known Scott for years and knew he’d not only be a great steward of the Par product line, but also push new innovations.

I emailed Scott asking if Vibroplex had a field-portable antenna that would be resonant on 40, 30, and 20 meters. Turns out, there’s a Par antenna designed specifically to pair with the MTR-3 series transceivers: the Par EndFedz EFT-MTR.

Scott pointed me to a description of the antenna on the Vibroplex website:

The new EndFedz ® EFT-MTR is a 40m/30m/20m tri-band QRP antenna rated up to 25 watts. The “MTR” name was selected as LNR Precision developed this antenna to be the perfect companion to the wildly popular 40/30/20m Mountain Topper QRP transceiver. The EFT-MTR’s total length is 65′ of 22 AWG polystealth wire and weighs less than 4 ounces! It is built with the same high level of workmanship and quality that you have come to expect with all EndFedz ® antennas.

A particular innovation on this antenna: This EndFedz is a little different than previous designs. The user has the option to remove an SMA connector at the end of the 30M resonator to enable just 30 meters, or keep the SMA installed for 40 and 20 meters. Because of the broad bandwidth of the antenna, it is unlikely that it will require tuning in the vast majority of deployments. This is particularly true of 30 meters where the band is very narrow. As our tagline states, “They Just Work!”

Included with the EFT-MTR is the EndFedz Antenna Winder. Conveniently allowing winding up the antenna line to not have a tangled mess at the end. The winder will hold both the antenna and 25 feet of RG-174U coaxial cable (optional accessory).

Scott offered to send me an EFT-MTR to evaluate in the field (disclaimer: at no cost to me) and I accepted without hesitation, of course!

An EFT-MTR field review

I’ve taken the EFT-MTR antenna to three park activations at this point and have formed some opinions about it.

The EFT-MTR fits perfectly in a slide-in pocket in the main compartment of the Boot Boss.

First of all, I couldn’t be more pleased with the size as it fits perfectly in my MTR-3B field kit built around my Red Oxx Booty Boss pack.

I really like the built-in antenna winder: it’s larger than that of the EFT Trail-Friendly, but also much easier to wind up and manage post-activation.

I’ll admit, the length of the EFT-MTR was a bit surprising the first time I deployed it: 65 feet.  Keep in mind, though, I had been used to a much shorter 41 foot radiator on the EFT Trail-friendly. Occasionally, I operate in spots where I simply don’t have the room to deploy a long antenna. I also worried that the EFT-MTR resonance might be negatively affected by winding its way through trees and over a branches. The MTR-3B transceiver does not like high SWR values and has no built-in SWR meter to monitor it. Last thing I wanted to do was harm the MTR finals.

You might be able to spot the feed point of the EFT-MTR at my activation of K-6952 this week.

Fortunately, winding its way through trees doesn’t seem to have a significant impact on SWR.

Each time I’ve taken the EFT-MTR to the field, I’ve also taken my KX2 which I’ve used to read the antenna’s SWR value. So far, the difference has only been negligible and SWR well within the tolerances of the MTR-3B.  Score!

I should note here that since I’ve started using an arborist throw line, I’m also able to hang antennas much higher than I could before. This has had a huge impact on all of my field activities.

Removing the SMA cap changes the EFT-MTR from a 40/20 to a 30 meter resonant antenna.

To be resonant on 40, 20 and 30 meters, the EFT-MTR requires a field modification. On the coil about 2/3 the way up the antenna, there’s an SMA connector with a small screw on cap (see above). When the cap is on (thus completing the connection) the antenna is resonant on 40 and 20 meters. You must remove the cap for it to be resonant on 30 meters.

Since I’ve been using the EFT-MTR, I start an activation on 40 meters (which is typically my most productive band), then move to 20 meters (typically, my least productive). If I have the time, or need the extra contacts to confirm a valid activation, I lower the antenna, unscrew the SMA cap, and raise the antenna again.

I thought at first this would be a major pain, but it hasn’t. Now that I’m using an arborist throw line, it’s super easy to lower and raise antennas. But even when I’ve used fishing line, it really hasn’t been an issue.

The only issue I see is I’m afraid I’m going to lose that little SMA cap in the field. To prevent this, I’ve made it a routine to immediately put it in the internal zippered compartment of the Booty Boss pack. I might find a source for those caps, though, just in case I still lose this one.

I’ve been very pleased with the EFT-MTR’s performance. I’m guessing it’s actually higher gain than my beloved EFT Trail-Friendly antenna. On my last activation with the EFT-MTR, I knocked out eight 40 meter contacts in about eight minutes during a period of poor propagation. Note that the MTR-3B was only pushing 3 or 4 watts of power.

I then moved to 20 meters where, frankly, propagation was so crappy I didn’t hang out there long. Instead, I lowered the antenna, removed the SMA cap, and started calling on 30 meters. Within a few minutes, I racked up the rest of my contacts.

I was very pleased with how quickly the Reverse Beacon Network picked up my CQs and was thus auto-spotted on the POTA website.

Conclusion?

If you own a Mountain Topper MTR-3 series transceiver, I highly recommend the EFT-MTR antenna. As with my EFT Trail-friendly and Par sloper, the quality is top-shelf. I expect the EFT-MTR will last even longer than the EFT Trail-friendly since the winder is so accommodating and the in-line coil is designed so that it doesn’t snag on branches as easily.

I’m looking forward to much more field fun with the MTR-3B and EFT-MTR combo!

Click here to check out the EFT-MTR at Vibroplex.

Click here to check out Vibroplex’s full line of antennas.

Many thanks again to Scott at Vibroplex for sending me the EFT-MTR for evaluation!

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Field Notes: Comparing the Tecsun PL-990x and PL-880

Many of you have been asking about the new Tecsun PL-990, especially as compared with the venerable PL-880. If you haven’t checked out Dan Robinson’s post yet, I highly recommend you do so. His long-format video will also give you a good indication of how both radios compare. Also check out George’s review of the PL-990.

I’ve been incredibly busy here at SWLing Post HQ because a number of new products have all arrived at once–most were held up due to supply chain and logistics issues due to Covid-19.

In the background, I’ve been spending some dedicated time with the new PL-990x and comparing it with the PL-880. I’m writing a review of the PL-990 that will appear in the 2021 issue of the World Radio and TV Handbook.

Here are a few of my “field notes” I’ve gathered along the way. Most of these confirm what Dan and I have already stated about the PL-990x, but the notes below address the most common questions I’ve been asked by readers,

Shortwave

As Dan and I have both noted, the PL-880 still has a slight edge on the PL-990 in terms of sensitivity. It’s not a drastic difference in performance, but it is noticeable when comparing the radios in a noise-free location (in the field).

The PL-990 has a proper synchronous detection mode with sideband selection. Unlike the PL-880’s “hidden feature” sync detector, the PL-990 sync detector is quite functional. It does indeed help with selective fading and has an adjustable bandwidth that, in combination with sideband selection, helps mitigate noises or adjacent signals in one half of the carrier.  With that said, I don’t feel the sync lock is as stable as, say, that of the PL-660 or PL-680. I do hear a muted heterodyne “wobble” when tuned to weak stations or during times of deep fading (as we are currently experiencing).

I’ve yet to spend a meaningful amount of time comparing both radios with external antennas connected.

Mediumwave

I’ve been testing this pre-production PL-990x  for a couple weeks already and I do believe it has a slight edge on the PL-880 in terms of mediumwave sensitivity. Not a drastic difference–much like the difference between the two radio on shortwave, but the PL-990x seems to have the upper hand.

FM

Both radios have superb FM reception. I feel like they’re very comparable.

But since the PL-880 has a slightly better built-in speaker, it really can take advantage of FM radio audio fidelity when listening to music, for example. This is not to say that the PL-990 has crappy audio–far from the truth. Indeed, I was impressed with the audio when I first put the PL-990 on the air. You only notice the PL-880’s superior audio while doing side-by-side comparisons. Is it enough to sway my purchase decision? No, not really. For AM and shortwave–which is where I spend most of my time–the PL-990 audio is robust.

PL-990 strong points

A number of PL-880 owners have been asking if it’s worth upgrading to the PL-990. I’m pretty sure Dan and I–both being primarily shortwave enthusiasts–would agree that it’s not worth upgrading to the PL-990 at this point. I would wait to see how the upcoming, much larger, H-501 performs.

I’ve also been asked by readers what I like about the PL-990 in comparison with the PL-880. Here’s a list from my notes:

I prefer the ergonomics and front panel layout of the PL-990. The PL-880 is fine, but the PL-990 is better in my opinion.

The MicroSD card is found on the bottom of the radio.

While I really wished the PL-990 had a recording feature, I do appreciate the new digital audio player with removable MicroSD storage. It’s a simple process to load music, audiobooks, or podcasts on the PL-990. This is especially a bonus for me while I travel because I can also load recordings of ambient noises (from myNoise) to help with sleep in, say, a noisy hotel. (But golly I wish it could record as well!)

Why it’s a “hidden feature” I’m not sure, but I appreciate the fact that the PL-990 can also double as a capable Bluetooth speaker.

Summary

In the end, the PL-990 is not a game-changer in the Tecsun product line: it’s an incremental upgrade in terms of features.

If you own the PL-880 and are primarily an SWL, there’s no need to grab a PL-990 just yet. Wait for the H-501. If you’re considering either the PL-990 or PL-880 and prefer slightly better mediumwave performance, digital audio playback, and Bluetooth functionality, grab a PL-990.

Pricing and availability

Tecsun Radio Australia has just received their first batch of PL-990 inventory and are immediately available for $550 AUD.

Nevada Radio plans to receive their first batch of the PL-990 in the UK next week and have a pre-order price of £259.95.

Anon-Co has not yet posted pricing or availability of the PL-990x, but I expect they will soon.

Production and Pre-production comparison

Tecsun Radio Australia has kindly offered to send me one of their production PL-990 units to compare with the pre-production PL-990x.  I’m very grateful to them for doing this as it will be interesting to see if there are any differences between the two models. Of course, I’ll report my findings in the 2021 WRTH review and notes here on the SWLing Post. The production PL-990 is already en route to SWLing Post HQ via DHL.

For more PL-990 information check out:


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A review of the Xiegu G90 general coverage transceiver

The following review of the Xiegu G90 originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


A comprehensive review of the Xiegu G90 general coverage transceiver

My coming of age in the world of radio was during the era of big US and Japanese radio manufacturers.  Icom, Kenwood, Yaesu, JRC, and Ten-Tec––these were the icons of my youth. And, I freely confess, I developed a partiality for their products.

So when incredibly inexpensive transceivers from manufacturers in China started showing up on the market a little over a decade ago, I was…well, skeptical. Very.  Many of these radios were a fraction of the cost we had been paying, and some models looked like direct copies of radios that were already on the market…but these copies were all-too-often second-rate either in features or performance.

Thus, as it was my policy to invest in quality products, I continued to put my money toward US, Japanese, and European legacy manufacturers that I felt would be here for the long haul in the amateur radio and SWL communities.

Had I become a bit of a radio snob? I admit it…maybe I had. But in truth, I was simply waiting for a quality Chinese-made radio to come along and change my viewpoint.

Times have changed

Recently, I compiled a list of general coverage QRP transceivers for the SWLing Post. My buddy Eric (WD8RIF) pointed out that I neglected to include any of the Chinese-made Xiegu brand transceivers, all of which offer general-coverage receiving.

I know a number of hams who use Xiegu (pronounced roughly “SHEH-goo”) brand portable transceivers for Parks On The Air (POTA) and Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, and like them very well.  So I decided to waive my doubts and check out Xiegu’s transceivers. I found myself intrigued with one in particular: the G90.

The Xiegu G90

At time of publication, there are three Xiegu models widely available: the G1M, X5105, and the G90.

The GM1 ($260) is a compact, four-band 5-watt QRP transceiver, while the X5101 ($520) is a 160M-6M 5-watt Double Conversion Superheterodyne QRP transceiver. Both look promising, but the G90 is a 20-watt 160M-10M transceiver sporting a 24-bit 48 kb/s sampling analog-to-digital/digital-to-analog converter at just $450. That’s the one I chose to investigate.

I found both the G90 receiver specs and 20-watt-output power very appealing, especially considering the modest $450 price tag. But I found this receiver has other impressive features:

  • Detachable faceplate with included separation cable
  • Full-color backlit display with both spectrum and waterfall
  • Built-in side panel extensions to protect the front face and back of the radio
  • General coverage receiver (0.5~30MHz) in SSB/CW/AM
  • Built-in automatic antenna tuner (ATU)

About the only feature the G20 doesn’t include is an option for a built-in battery pack. Certainly not a deal-breaker by any means, since more often than not I use an external LiFePo battery for field-portable radio work.

I made up my mind to bite the bullet and purchase the G90. I was incredibly curious whether it could compete with my Elecraft KX3 and/or KX2, and I also wanted to explore the capabilities of its general coverage receiver for broadcast listening.

I placed an order with US distributor MFJ Enterprises for a total cost––including shipping––of $467.95.

Initial impressions

I tend to review ham radio transceivers around the time they hit the market. One of the unique advantages of being one of the first people to review a transceiver is that I really have no idea what to expect in terms of performance, other than perhaps what the manufacturer’s reputation has taught me over the years. And if the manufacturer is fairly new to me––? Then it’s truly a roll of the dice.

The G90, however, had been on the market for quite a few months, so I simply avoided reading any in-depth reviews so I could form my own opinions. With that said, I knew in advance that this radio is already well-loved by a very active and enthusiastic community of amateur radio operators. So I had only to make up my mind, myself. I got to work.

Form-factor

When I first removed the G90 from its box, I was struck by its weight, build quality, and size. First off, it’s a heavy little radio. The Xiegu site notes that the weight of the radio is about 2.2 lbs (1 kg), but perhaps due to its compact size, it felt heavier to me. Indeed, when I placed it on my postal scales, it came in closer to 3 lbs 10 oz. Still a very reasonable weight for a portable radio, but a bit heavier than described.

Speaking of size, the G90’s shape is pretty unique. Looking at the radio head-on, it’s reminiscent of most portable QRP transceivers (like the CommRadio CTX-10 or Yaesu FT-818, for example) meaning that the front face is compact. The depth of the radio, though (or length, depending on how you look at it), is about 8.3 inches––or nearly 10” if you include the side panels––equivalent to many of my 100 watt radios.

The build quality of the G90 is truly impressive. Holding it in your hand, you feel like you’ve acquired a quality piece of kit. The chassis is very durable, the buttons have a tactile response, and both the front and rear are protected by built-in side panels (typically side panels would be a third-party addition for most radios).

Audio

Audio from the internal speaker, which is mounted on the top of the radio, is loud and punchy, a desirable attribute for a field radio. Better yet, when you port the audio to an external amplified speaker (headphone jack is on the left side of the radio head), fidelity is superb.

Display

The color TFT LCD screen measures only 1.8,” one of the smallest I’ve ever tested on a radio, but Xiegu did an admirable job laying out the interface so that it’s easy to read at any viewing angle. If you wear reading glasses to read a book, you’ll need them to read this display––some of the numbers and labels are tiny, but very sharp, crisp, and high contrast. I’ve had no difficulty whatsoever reading the display in the field.

What’s more, the spectrum display and waterfall are responsive and in real-time––there’s no delay or averaging which I especially appreciate when chasing CW and SSB signals. Although at first blush one might think the spectrum and waterfall are just too small to be useful, that would be a mistake. I was guilty of this prejudice myself, and now find I rely on the spectrum display to help locate unused frequencies, spot someone calling CQ, and even identify the relative proximity of an adjacent signal. Truly a helpful feature.

Bail

Unfortunately, there’s one very conspicuous omission on the part of the G90 designers: it has no bail nor feet of any sort to support the front of the radio and angle it for ergonomic operation. Herein lies my biggest criticism of this radio, because it truly needs something to prop up the front of the radio for comfortable operation, not to mention, to allow the bottom of the radio to dissipate heat effectively.

There are a number of third-party producers that will supply a bail for the G90, but many are clunky and expensive, and I feel an attached/integrated bail is always best.

Ad hoc solutions to the fore: in the field, I simply prop the G90 on my
Bioenno 15 aH LiFePo battery; in the shack, I use a small support stand I purchased for my Elecraft KX3. Not as good as a purpose-made bail, but this works.

Microphone

The microphone that accompanies the G90 is what you would expect from a mobile HF rig: almost all functions can be controlled by its backlit keypad. I have read a few reports of people dropping and breaking the supplied mic. Turns out, the Mic’s 8-Pin Modular Plug is configured like a number of Icom radio models, and a replacement mic can be purchased on Amazon for about $22.

Remote head

As mentioned earlier, the control head of the G90 can also be separated from the body for use in mobile applications such as a car, RV, or even in the shack. The real surprise here is that the separation cable is included in the package. I’m not sure I’ve ever owned a mobile radio that came with a separation cable––what a luxury! Great addition.

Internal ATU

Another surprise for a radio in this price class: the G90 has a built-in automatic antenna tuner (ATU). When I first made the decision to purchase and review the G90, I didn’t realize this, and in fact would have never guessed it to be a possibility in a $450 transceiver. What’s more, this ATU is one of the best I’ve ever used in the field: it’s quick to match, and seems to find a match with almost any setup. I almost wish Xiegu sold a stand-alone portable ATU so I could use it with my other radios that lack an internal ATU.

Power output

Unlike most of the portable transceivers on the market that have maximum output power of around 5-15 watts, the Xiegu G90 will pump out up to 20 watts. While 90% of all of my ham radio communications are accomplished at 10 watts or below, I’ve appreciated a little extra “juice” while operating in the field.

Note: due to the speed of my phone camera, not all of the LED segments of my battery pack are visible.

With all that’s packed into this transceiver, no wonder it’s a heavy little unit!

My conclusion here is that the G90 feels like a quality rig. But how does it perform? Let’s first take a look at how I evaluate the transceiver as a ham radio operator, then as a broadcast listener and SWL.

Ham Radio Operation

Over one month of operating the G90, most of that time has been in the field, as I’ve taken the radio along for a number of Parks On The Air (POTA) field activations. Although I’ll be commenting about the G90’s performance as a transceiver in general, keep in mind that I do so mainly through the eyes of a field operator.

Although I often dislike operating compact radios due to small buttons and complex embedded menus that supply knobs and buttons with multiple duties, I find operating the G90 surprisingly pleasant. All of the most important functions of the transceiver can be called up with one or two button presses. Obviously, a real ham radio operator played a part in designing the G90’s operation.

Tuning the G90 is a simple process. The main encoder, of course, allows you to tune up/down the band. By short-pressing the encoder knob, you can change between the hundreds, tens, ones, tenths, and one-hundredths of a kHz. In fact, it’s very simple to move around a band this way. The encoder action is defined by detents that you feel as you rotate the knob. Normally I’m not a fan of detends on a radio’s main encoder knob, but since this one is so small, I think I actually prefer it as a means to control the spinning action. There is no brake adjustment.

Upgraded G90 Encoder

The supplied encoder knob is made of plastic and has dimples on the front to give your finger a bit of grip as you tune up or down. Upon the recommendation of a friend, I purchased a third-party dimpled aluminum knob to replace it––a major upgrade for a modest $8 investment!

Changing between bands and modes is very simple with the G90. There are dedicated band and mode up/down buttons on top of the radio’s front panel much like those on the venerable Yaesu FT-817 and 818 series. The G90 defaults to ham radio band allocations, but there is a menu setting that allows you to also include broadcast bands between band changes. Nice touch.

There is a dedicated AF gain control on the front of the radio. After receiving the radio, I was disappointed by the lack of an RF gain control, something I use a lot during noisy band conditions. Fortunately, Xiegu included an RF Gain control in one of the latest firmware updates: to access it, simply press and hold the AGC button, then make adjustments to the RF Gain percentage with the main encoder. The G90 defaults to a 50% setting. While I’m not really sure what this setting means, I do find the RF gain control quite effective, even though it doesn’t respond like a legacy receiver’s RF gain control.

The Xiegu G90 has a simple and effective variable-filter control: simply press the FUNC button then the CMP button, and use the encoder to adjust the low end of the filter.  To adjust the high end, press the FUNC and NB button in the same way. I love the fact that the filter can be adjusted from both the high and low ends, and that it’s variable instead of set at predetermined fixed widths such as “wide” and “narrow.”  All mode filters are adjusted in this fashion.

CW Mode

The G90 is a capable CW transceiver and should please the CW operator. The keyer speed, ratio, auto modes, and paddle setup are all accessible from the KEY function button. By pressing the FUNC and Key buttons, you can access the CW volume and tone parameters. The G90 also allows you to turn on a QSK function and adjust the hang time. The G90’s version of QSK isn’t the full-break-in variety you might find in, say, the Elecraft KX series radios. Meaning, while the hang time is very short, if sending at high speed you won’t be able to hear another station break in between your characters. You will note a slight relay click. With that said, I find the QSK mode to be quite effective for my use because I’m not really a “full-break-in” kind of operator.

The yellow CW tune LED on the front of the G90. Some might find it distracting if engaged.

Speaking of CW, the G90 features a CW tune feature that indicates when you’ve locked onto a CW signal: a yellow LED will flash as CW is received. While I find this feature a bit distracting, I’m sure some operators will appreciate it. In addition, the G90 features a CW reader that will decode CW when a station is properly tuned in and isolated from others.

Note the CW decode at the bottom of the display.

In the field, this feature has helped me confirm call signs––but like most transceiver CW readers, it’s not always accurate, especially if the CW operator on the other end uses a hand key or bug. Still: a welcome feature.

SSB mode

Most of my operating time on the G90 has been in SSB mode, and I’ve been very pleased with the radio’s performance in this mode. The G90 allows you to adjust the mic gain and enable compression. I’ve gotten excellent audio reports from the numerous SSB contacts I’ve made on the G90.

I should note here that although I feel you get much more radio than you pay for with the G90, I do wish it had a voice keyer. Especially when I’m activating a park via POTA, I call CQ a lot. With my Elecraft KX3 and KX2, for example, I set the voice keyer to “beacon” mode which allows me to pre-record a CQ and have it playback the message on a loop with a few seconds in between to allow me to recognize anyone replying to my call.  I rely so heavily on this feature for SSB park activations, just to save my voice, I know the G90 can never displace my Elecraft field radios. Again, I wouldn’t expect such a feature in this price class, but it would make for a near ideal field radio.

Digital modes

One thing that surprised me about the G90––especially since it is an SDR––is that operating digital modes is less “native” than I would have expected. Many modern SDR transceivers make setting up for modes like FT8 relatively easy with both CAT control and often the radio itself is identified as a sound card, thus no external interface is needed. When I decided to try running FT8 on the G90, I was discouraged by the fact that setup is much more like that of a legacy radio. Indeed, many users have had communication issues with popular software packages.

Since I wanted to test the G90 as a field radio and since I do very little FT8 in the field, I simply omitted testing this functionality. I have read that many operators have, of course, been able to successfully use the G90 for digital modes, but be prepared to read through the G90 email discussion group (see link at end of article) for best practices.

Update: SWLing Post contributor, David White, brings up one fine point about the G90’s VOX control. “I use that feature for TX control when running any of the digital modes with the laptop audio in/out going through the rear AUX connection.” Thanks for pointing this out, David. VOX control really facilitates using digital modes because the radio can detect audio comping from the computer and engage transmit without having to use CAT control of any sort.

Receiver Performance

Overall, I’m favorably impressed with the G90’s receiver. Both sensitivity and selectivity are above par, especially for a radio in this price class. The G90’s noise floor is also very acceptable, though not as low as that of my Elecraft radios. I do find that with the G90, I often need to ride the RF gain control in our noisy summer band conditions. I find that by adjusting the RF Gain and selecting the most effective AGC setting, I’m able to achieve an excellent signal-to-noise ratio.

In a nutshell: the G90 packs a lot of performance in an affordable radio, especially if you’re willing to tailor the filter settings, AGC, and RF gain to best accommodate the conditions.

Field notes

I’ve been very pleased with how long I can operate on battery power with the G90. Even with the display backlit set to 80% and with the volume set to high, I found that the maximum amperage the G90 would consume was about 0.60 amps. While I wouldn’t consider that benchmark, it is respectable.

I also like the G90’s built-in antenna analyzer. By pressing and holding the POW button, the G90 will display a graph showing the SWR figures across your specified frequency range. A brilliant and handy feature in the field! It’s important to note, though, that during the test the radio is transmitting a little RF so don’t try it with a receive-only antenna.

I do find that the G90’s body gets pretty warm–downright hot–when activating a park. It’s no wonder, really, because I often end up calling CQ at five second intervals over the course of 60-90 minutes on average.  That’s demanding a lot of a fanless radio, thus it gets very warm to the touch. Still, while I never had any overheating issues, I’ve also never operated the radio in direct sunlight for extended periods of time and I’ve always propped up the radio so that air can flow underneath the chassis. Again, if for no other reason than to dissipate heat, Xiegu should have incorporated a bail or folding feet. As much as I love the front and back panel extension, I would have chosen a bail over these.

Broadcast listening

While broadcast listening is often an afterthought for most ham radio operators, it never is for me. I like to travel lightly and I like my QRP transceiver to double-duty as a tool for SWLing.

From day one, I have spent a great deal of time with the G90 across the broadcast bands.

Shortwave

One of the main reasons I decided to review the Xiegu G90 is because I found so little information out there about how well the general coverage receiver worked for HF broadcast listening.  The G90 has a frequency range of 0.5-30 MHz (SSB, CW, and AM).

But I couldn’t find a specification showing the maximum width of the AM filter. In a few display photos with the AM filter width was indicated as 5.4 kHz––if this was so, I concluded, it was fairly workable if not particularly wide. However, only moments after opening the box and putting the G90 on the air, I tuned to the Voice of Greece (9,420 kHz) and learned how to change the AM bandwidth.  I was very pleased to find that in AM mode, that indicated filter width is only half the actual width: this means the G90’s AM filter can actually be widened to 10.8 kHz––brilliant!

In short, I’ve been very pleased using the G90 for shortwave broadcast listening; it has exceeded my expectations. I find that in terms of both sensitivity and selectivity, it offers performance on par with a dedicated receiver.

For an idea of how the G90 sounds on shortwave with its internal speaker only, check out the following videos:

The Voice of Greece

Radio Nacional De España

Broadcast listening is basic with general coverage transceivers: the G90 has no synchronous detector with selectable sidebands, for example. G90 users have requested this feature in a future firmware update, but I wouldn’t hold my breath in anticipation. I imagine G90 developers will be more concerned with ham radio-specific functionality.

Mediumwave

Let’s face it: Asking the G90 or any ham radio transceiver to perform on the mediumwave/AM broadcast band is asking it to do something it was never designed to do.

With that said, I have been very pleased with the G90 on the AM broadcast band.

Audio fidelity is excellent, especially with the AM filter widened appropriately and when using an external speaker or headphones.

The G90 performs so well between about 900-1700 kHz, I have even done some proper mediumwave DXing with it.

Below 900 kHz, I’m still able to tune strong and weak stations, but I have found some odd behavior with imaging as I tuned down to 500 kHz: some stations would move across the spectrum display in the opposite direction to which I was moving the encoder. I suspect this may be due to a very strong local station near me on 1010 kHz that was overloading the front end.

Again, however, I never expected any reasonable performance on mediumwave–especially since many transceiver manufacturers intentionally attenuate those frequencies, so I’ll accept any quirks it may have here and consider any G90 mediumwave functionality at all simply icing on the cake.

Important caveat for the broadcast listener

While, overall, I’ve been super pleased listening to the shortwave and mediumwave with the G90, there is (at time of publishing) a major drawback for anyone who would like to use the G90 exclusively as a stand-alone receiver: there is no way to completely disable the transmitter. 

The lowest power setting on the G90 is 1 watt. While that’s not a lot, it’s more than enough to fry your amplified magnetic loop antenna, for example. So, please use caution.

Although you could make it more difficult to transmit by not hooking up the microphone or a key (of course), there’s no way to disengage the internal ATU. If you accidentally press and hold the TUN button, it will engage the ATU and transmit.

In addition, if you press and hold the POW button, you will engage the antenna analyser function which will also inject RF as it sweeps across the bands testing the antenna’s standing-wave ratio.

Based on a suggestion, I even tried setting up the G90 in split mode with the transmit frequency set well outside the meter band I was operating.  I thought by having the transmit frequency out-of-band, it would keep the radio from transmitting. Turns out, I discovered a bug in the G90. When you perform this procedure, it essentially bypasses the safeguards that keep an operator from transmitting out-of-band. Since this is public now, I assume it will be addressed in a future firmware update.

And, as careful as I am as an operator, I would never hook my G90 up to an active receiving antenna for this very reason. While I’m sure there’s probably a hardware modification to kill the transmitter section on the G90, it would be brilliant if Xiegu developers include a function via a firmware update to snuff transmit.  At the very least, perhaps they could devise a way to disengage the ATU and antenna analyser functions via firmware.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions and observations. Here’s the G90’s list, from the first moments I turned it on to the time of writing this review:

Pros:

  • Amazing “bang-for-buck”––a lot of radio for the money
  • Crisp, easy-to-read backlit color display
  • Detachable control head, cables included
  • Built-in side panel protection for head and back
  • AM broadcast listening
    • Excellent shortwave reception
    • Capable mediumwave performance
  • 20 watts power output
  • Mic can control all-important radio functions, including direct frequency entry
  • Very good audio from internal speaker

Cons:

  • No built-in bail
  • No manual or auto notch filter
  • Very few options for customizing the display
  • (Minor) Firmware updates must be made to faceplate and transceiver body separately
  • MW: some weird functionality below 800-900 kHz (eg, images in opposite direction)
  • No voice keyer
  • No internal battery option
  • Cannot lower power output below 1 watt, cannot disable transmit
  • Bottom of chassis gets hot during prolonged periods of operation
  • ARRL and Sherwood testing shows key clicks in transmit

Conclusion

Despite the shortcomings above, I have to say: the Xiegu G90 has exceeded my expectations, and then some.

Without a doubt, the G90 is a solid radio and a steal at $450 US. If you’ve always wanted a field-friendly portable transceiver, but didn’t want to shell out a lot of money, you can buy the Xiegu G90 for the same price you might pay for a two year-old iPhone. Impressive.

Although the G90 is a budget radio, it doesn’t play like one. Performance is on par with a radio twice its price and not only does it pack a lot of extras––like an internal ATU, mobile-worthy control microphone and detachable faceplate––those extras actually work just as they should. Nothing about this radio feels “cheap.” In fact, I’d be more inclined to call it a little workhorse of a radio.

To answer a question I asked myself early in this process: will the G90 displace my Elecraft KX2 as my field radio of choice? No, but that’s because I already own the KX2 and find that it fits my operating style better than any other transceiver I’ve owned thus far. Yes, I still prefer the KX2’s operation, performance and versatility over that of the G90, but the former is more than twice the price when similarly configured.

I think the G90 would also make for a stellar beginner’s radio, as it is a totally self-contained station; simply apply power, and play!

In short, I’m pleased to report that I’ve finally found a very affordable radio that’s a solid performer, and I look forward to further offerings from Xiegu.

Resources

Retailers


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Tecsun PL-990x Initial Assessment

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

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


Tecsun PL-990x:  An Initial Assessment

by Dan Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PL-990x High Points

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

PL-990x negatives:

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

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

PL-990x

Selectivity Options on SW:

2.3, 3.5, 5.0, 6.0

Selectivity Options LSB/USB:

0.5, 1.2, 2.3, 3.0, 4.0

Selectivity Options LW/MW:

2.3, 3.5, 5.0, 9.0

PL-880

Selectivity Options SW/LW/MW:

2.3, 3.5, 5, 9

Selectivity Options LW/MW:

0.5, 1.2, 2.3, 3.0, 4.0

Video


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

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

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


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George reviews the new Tecsun PL-990

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, George Joachim, who shares the following review of the Tecsun PL-990.

AS George points out, the PL-990 in the following review is not the “export” model Anon-Co will eventually offer for sale later this year. It might be nearly identical in every respect, but at time of posting Tecsun is addressing some final firmware updates the the “export” version prior to starting a full first production run. As we learn more about the various versions of the PL-990 in the wild–compare serial numbers, etc.– we will eventually sort out any nuances between versions.

George purchased this PL-990 on AliExpress and I am incredibly grateful to read his review of this model:


Review of the Tecsun PL-990

by George Joachim

Introduction

The Tecsun PL 990 is one of the three new radios offered by Tecsun and according to the news from the company these may be the last developed.

The other two radios are the Tecsun H-501 and the PL-330. The H-501 is the largest with dual speakers and the PL-990 is of a similar size to the PL-880, PL-680, PL-660 and PL-600. The PL-330 is the smallest and is similar to the PL-310ET and PL-380.

The Tecsun PL-990 is a medium sized portable multi-function radio. It has the following features:

  • Shortwave (SW)
  • Medium Wave (AM)
  • Frequency Modulation (FM)
  • SSB (LSB and USB)
  • Bluetooth connectivity (BT)
  • MP3 playback from a microSD port
  • Clock and two Timers with Alarms
  • Auto Sleep
  • powered by a single 18650 rechargeable 3.7V Lithium Ion Battery, unbranded and supplied.

The radio is a refinement of the PL-880 with styling similar to the PL-680. It is matte black with a hint of grey, finished in a quality plastic case and it is ergonomic with a good weight and feel, just like the PL-880.

Background

This is my fourth portable radio of this size. I had owned the analogue Sony ICF-7601 back in the day and then the PL-660 and PL-880. The Sony was destroyed by me doing naughty electronic experiments and both the PL-660 and PL-880 were gifted to my family members.

Having no such radio, I considered the purchase of a new PL-880. I had contacted Ms Anna from the Anon Co. in HK and she was very helpful and also mentioned that Tecsun is developing a couple of new radios, but these are not yet available. This got me interested in the PL-990 and the H-501. I had also considered the H-501, because I liked the fact that it has two speaker sets, however the radio did seem a big bulky for my needs. I have a few desktop radios, but I needed something to be on my lap or by the bedside. Usually I fiddle with these portable radios lying on my chest until I find something nice to listen to then let it play on auto sleep until it puts me to sleep. I am sure some of you guys do this too. I imagine the H-501 would be a bit big for this.

After reading articles on the SWLing Post and despite the warnings about Pilot run versions and Chinese versions, I decided to risk a purchase from AliExpress. This has been my one and only purchase on AliExpress so far.

Purchase

My radio was supplied by a company called Li Jia Shops in AliExpress. It cost a steep US$400 and US$157 DHL shipping. Totally expensive and risky in my opinion, but I am known to be reckless with my online purchases.? Besides, I wanted a new toy!

As this was my first purchase from AliExpress, I was a bit apprehensive, as I mainly use eBay. Also buying electronic items from China is a bit risky. One may end up not getting the item, or getting it after some significant delay. As you all know, electronic items exported from China is the largest electronics export operation in the world, so there is congestion in logistics and Covid-19 also adds to that. Selecting DHL to ship the item was very expensive, but I believe necessary. Waiting for an expensive electronic device for two months is a painful experience, at least from my perspective. Using DHL took a mere 12 days. The main delay originated from the shippers. They give the shipment information to DHL well in advance, but they do not actually take the item to DHL unless it suits their facilitators who they assign. The shipment shows as shipped and DHL status is ‘shipment information received’, but in reality the item is still with the shippers. Once it does actually get to DHL, then it is quite fast. Usually the shippers are located in the Shenzhen area and DHL is in Hong Kong. AliExpress will not release the payment unless the buyer confirms receipt of the item as described, so there is some safety for the buyer.

Overall, I was satisfied with the purchase and shipping process. But it was expensive and it was risky. It would be better to approach Anon Co in HK for your purchases rather than AliExpress and Bangood, but ultimately it is the buyer’s decision. For the English Export Version you must wait a bit I think.

The Export Version, the Chinese Version and the Pilot Run Version

This aspect is a bit confusing. From what I understood, and I could well be wrong, the versions are as follows:

Pilot run: this has the buttons as TIME DISPLAY and ALARM (this is also slightly cheaper on AliExpress and Banggood)
Chinese version: TIME TIMER A and TIMER B, but with Chinese manuals (what I have acquired)
Export Version: TIME TIMER A and TIMER B but with English manuals. (there may be further changes / improvements, as these units are still not available)

I am not sure about the firmware. My unit is presumably a later Chinese Version. And everything works properly as per the Firmware. The serial number of my unit indicates a possible manufacture date of July 2020, although this could be wrong.

Review

The review will be based on the different functions of the radio.

FM reception

In the UAE we are blessed with several English language FM radio stations with good music and limited advertisements. Each station caters to particular tastes, such as 90s music, modern and classic hits. Reproduction was crisp and in full bodied stereo. The speaker is powerful and not unlike the speaker of the PL-880.

MW reception

I do not usually listen to AM or MW. However, the radio does a good job receiving these stations with a deep sound and minimal crackling.

SW reception

Shortwave is still out there folks, although its variety and abundance is greatly reduced. I do receive quite a few broadcasts using the telescopic antenna. Activity is concentrated around the 16m band, the 31m band and the 49m band, although occasional broadcasts can also be found in the 22m, 19m and 41m bands. The SYNC function holds on to weak broadcasts and makes them intelligible. I am sure that the Radio would do a commendable job if one could use a time machine to take it back to the SW hay-days of the 80s and 90s. I wonder if they have any time machines up for sale in AliExpress? 🙂

SSB Reception

Right out of the box I was able to fine tune into 14,182.10 kHz on the USB and hear HAMS ‘doing their thang’. It was excellent and far better than what similar attempts resulted in my previous Tecsun radios. I do think that Tecsun has improved the SSB reception with this receiver. I am not a very capable SSB chaser, but if there is something SSB out there, the PL-990 should able to pull it in. One needs to know where and when to tune and luck also plays a role.

LW Reception

Yes it is there, but no, I have never heard anything in there using the PL-990 and all my previous radios. I do wonder if submarines transmit in the LW band? I don’t know.

MP3 Playback

A lot of listeners are not interested in MP3 listening, but I am. Especially with SW being so sparse nowadays. MP3 was a feature missed from previous Tecsun radios. I enjoy compiling a list of favourite tracks and listening to them, while engaged in a barbecue or in car maintenance or cleaning. I am also a train modeler and like to listen to MP3s while running my trains. Tecsun has even supplied a Sandisk micro SD card of 16GB with various Chinese and international tracks, which I think was nice of them.

Bluetooth

There is no Bluetooth button, but by pressing the RADIO/MP3 button an indication will come on the display as BT. The radio can then be conveniently paired with a mobile phone to transfer the audio from a you tube clip or similar to the radio, although I wouldn’t see the need for that. I am not sure if files can be transferred to the radio this way, I believe the function is only for audio playback.

Presentation and packaging

Much like the PL-880, the radio comes superbly packaged. The cardboard box functions as a glossy display of the radio and its features. Inside there are foam holders and there is a sturdy grey plastic toolbox case. In the toolbox case there is the radio, within a nylon bag inside its light brown faux leather pouch. The radio as well as the pouch have a carrying strap. In the toolbox there is a black foam case that contains:

  • A blue 18650 3.7 V Lithium Ion Battery
  • A long wire antenna in its real
  • A short(ish) charging cable
  • A UK style plug adaptor
  • A Chinese style charger with 2 USB outputs
  • A Chinese language operation manual
  • A Poster containing the map of the world and country Radio codes
  • On the other side of the Poster is a detailed view of the PL-990 with illustrations in Chinese

Batteries

The radio uses one Li-Ion type 18650 3.7V battery. The included type is a blue generic unbranded type, I would have preferred a Tecsun-branded battery. I have a couple of vape equipment batteries –Golisi S30, which I believe are superior to the unbranded battery. (No, I am not a Vaper).

Concluding Remarks

The latest Tecsun offering is a great conclusion to their series of multi-function portable radios. It offers some advantages over the PL-880, such as:

  • Styling
  • MP3
  • Much improved SSB reception
  • Superb FM reproduction
  • Bluetooth

Apart from the above I don’t see a compelling reason to acquire the radio unless, SSB or MP3 is important for you. Or like me, you just must have the latest.

Score

Style: 90%
FM: 100%
SW: 90% SYNC available
SSB: 95%
MW: 85%
LW: 80%
Battery Life: 70% for the provided battery 8/10 for externally sourced batteries
Display: 70% (the display is good, but it hasn’t really changed from previous displays)
Buttons: 85% Sturdy and precise, no wobbly buttons here.
Dials: 90% hard and precise with excellent indentations
Ports: 90% strong a tight female ports with protection plugs
Packaging: 95% anything you could wish for.
Documentation: 100% for Chinese speakers
Antenna: 60% normal telescopic antenna, should be a bit more shiny IMO.
Stability: 70% Stands well and has the rear bracket as the PL-880, however, would be easy to snap if pushed.
Sensitivity: 95% if it is there it will receive it and improve the signal over listening time.

Overall Review Score:
85.3%

Final thoughts:
Go get one, if you must, but better wait for the full export version.

George Joachim
11 AUG 2020


Many thanks, George, for sharing your review of the PL-990!

So far, the PL-990 sounds like it has iterative improvements over the PL-880 which is, I suppose, what I would expect. The PL-880 is a great portable, so I believe even minor performance upgrades–especially in terms of synchronous detection–could be very beneficial to some SWLs.  And thanks for taking the deep-dive and grabbing one of the models on AliExpress! It’ll be interesting to compare notes once the “export” PL-990 is released.

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A review of the Ocean Digital WR-26 FM, DAB, Internet and Bluetooth radio

A few weeks ago, I was contacted out of the blue by a company I’d never heard of: Ocean Digital. They asked if I would be interested in reviewing one of their radios.

I almost deleted their message out of habit because (no kidding) I get at least one or two messages like this from retailers and manufacturers per week–often more. I checked out their website and could quickly see that they specialize in a variety of digital WiFi radios with Bluetooth, FM, and DAB. A quick search on Amazon and I could see a number of Ocean Digital models. I replied back and the company representative mentioned that it was one of my trusted friends and SWLing Post contributor who recommended that they reach out to me. So I read through their catalog of radios and selected their most affordable model: the WR-26. Ocean Digital sent a sample WR-26 at no cost to me.

I picked the WR-26 because, in terms of features, it packs a lot for a $75-80 US radio. I also love the portable size and built-in rechargeable battery.

WIth that said, it’s also a very simple radio. There was no need to reference the owner’s manual for basic operation.

Look & Feel

The WR-26 is compact, lightweight and sports an internal rechargeable battery pack with a Micro USB connection.

It has a front-facing internal speaker, and on top a small backlit display and eight function buttons:

  • On/Off
  • Home
  • Favorites
  • Left/Right arrows (for selecting and backing out of menu items)
  • Up/Down arrows (for tuning, and stepping through selections)
  • OK button for making selections

On the back of the radio, there’s a telescoping antenna, Micro USB charging port, and a headphones jack.

Overall, I really like the clean and simple design. If I could change one thing, I would move the telescoping antenna to the top of the radio and make it recessed to better protect it when packed in a travel bag, for example. But in the end, this is a very minor criticism.

Audio

The WR-26’s built-in speaker provides well-balanced audio. In fact, readers who own late-model compact shortwave portables (like the XHDATA D-808) will recognize the audio characteristics of this small internal speaker that I assume uses an acoustic chamber to provide a better bass response. I’m always pleased to find compact radios that implement this type of speaker.

One interesting note: when you tune to an audio source–a stream or FM station for example–the volume fades in slowly after making the selection.

FM Radio/DAB

The WR-26 has a built-in FM tuner that functions quite well. It received all of my local radio stations and even a few further afield. The first time you turn on the FM radio, it will ask if you want to scan the band. If you initiate a scan, it will search for signals and auto store found stations in memory locations that you can shuffle through with the up/down arrows.

The WR-26 also displays RDS information on the screen–very nice!

To manually tune the WR-26, press and hold the ‘OK’ button until ‘Tuning’ appears on the bottom right corner of the display. Then use the left /right arrow buttons to adjust the frequency. Press and hold the OK when done to exit manual tuning.

I did not test DAB reception. I’m located in North America where there are no DAB stations on the air to test this functionality.

Bluetooth

Not much to say about Bluetooth other than it works. You can wirelessly connect your smart phone, tablet, or PC to the WR-26 and use it as an external speaker. If you’ve ever used a bluetooth device, you’ll find pairing a straight-forward, easy process.

WiFi Radio

Ocean Digital radios use an Internet radio station aggregator (click here to learn about aggregators) called Skytune. I don’t know if Skytune manages their own database of Internet radio stations, or if they rely on a larger, more established aggregator in the background. I suspect the latter.

To use WiFi radio, you must first connect to your local WiFi network. I connected to my smart phone’s personal hotspot without any problems. If you have a long WiFi password, you’ll need a little patience to enter it the first time. Entering the password requires scrolling through a long list of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols.

Like most WiFi radios, you can tune the station of your choice by selecting the WiFi radio function, then searching stations by location/region, popularity, genre, etc. Once you’ve selected a station, the radio connects and if you wish to save it to your favorites list, simple press and hold the heart button.

On devices like this, I always worry about WiFi radio functionality failing if the station aggregator disappears. In the case of the WR-26, you can actually program your favorite radio stations manually. You simply find the radio’s IP address on your network (the manual describes how to find this in the Configuration menu selection) then enter the radio’s IP address in a browser on a computer or device that is connected to the same WiFi network.

I took the screenshot above by connecting my laptop to my phone’s personal hotspot and directing it to the radio’s IP address.

I like this functionality because it means I can even connect to streaming sources not found in the Skytune directory like more obscure internet stations, LiveATC and scanner feeds.

I’ve reviewed a lot of WiFi radios and I find the WR-26 to be rather easy to use. So far, I’ve found all of the stations I normally listen to via their aggregator.

Summary

All-in-all, I really like the WR-26. For the price, it’s a very capable little WiFi radio and a good value.

What I really love is the portability of the WR-26. After charging the battery with a standard USB charger, you can listen to FM, DAB, Bluetooth or WiFi radio for hours. The audio is respectable and volume can be increased to be almost room-filling.

The WR-26 is small enough that you could actually pack it and take it on travels. If your phone has a personal hotspot, you’ll be able to use all of the WiFi radio functionality on the road. Since I’ve no experience with Ocean Digital devices, I always question product longevity so we’ll have to see how that plays out. It’s comforting, though, knowing that a trusted friend in the radio industry made the recommendation–he’s never lead me astray!

Click here to check out Ocean Digital’s website.

Click here to purchase the WR-26 and here to check out their other products on Amazon (these affiliate links support the SWLing Post).

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