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Dan reviews latest firmware version of the Tecsun PL-368 and shares list of hidden features

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


Revisiting the Tecsun PL-368:  Assessing a Later Firmware Unit

by Dan Robinson

This past April, I reviewed Tecsun’s PL-368, the update of the PL-365 (also sold by CountyComm as the GP5).  There were some major changes:  Tecsun shifted from AA batteries to a flat BL-5C cellphone type battery, and of course the marquee design change was the addition of a keypad.

The keypad is a night and day change – whereas before the PL-365 was a handy receiver but hobbled by archaic tuning limited to memory access and the side thumb wheel, the 368 provides easy instant frequency selection.

In my previous review, I mentioned the well-known characteristic of the 360 and 365 models which exhibited over-sensitivity to the touch.  When removing your hand, signal levels plummeted – usually, a full grip was necessary and any variation caused reduced sensitivity – noticed mostly in shortwave mode.

The PL-368 I reviewed was from among the first versions of the receiver.  It had a firmware of 3681, from a 2020 production run.  Recently, I received from Anon-Co – the most reliable supplier of Tecsun receivers – an updated unit, with firmware 3684.

Please see my previous review for comments on various aspects of the 368: the longer but less robust telescopic antenna, addition of detents on the volume wheel, and the welcome addition of adjustable bandwidths, synchronous detection, and ability to tune in 10 hz increments, and other changes.

PROBLEMS

SYNCHRONOUS DETECTION:  As with the 909x and H-501, the upgraded 368 now has Synchronous Detection.  I did not expect any change in the 3684 firmware – SYNC still has some distortion and loss of lock.

As with the 330, 990x, and 501x successful use of this mode requires a delicate dance involving careful selection of various bandwidths while in SYNC mode and fine tuning.

However, whereas on the previous 3681 unit there was significant “warbling” when in SSB and SYNC, and phonics when touching the keypad, the 3684 unit has little to no such warbling and the phonics appear to be gone, or minimized.

It’s not known what Tecsun may have done to address these issues – my review of a previous 3681 firmware unit was published in April, so it’s hard to think that Tecsun made any major physical changes to the PCB/keypad and radio body.  But there does seem to be some improvement.

I had no expectation that a firmware change would result in any improvement in the other major issue common to the 360 series – reduction of sensitivity when the receiver is not being held in the hand.

The 368 still shows a noticeable reduction in signal strength, visible on the display, when left standing on its own versus being fully gripped.  But the problem does not seem to be as serious as it was with the PL-360/365.

And since my first review of the 368, I have done some additional comparisons with older portables which were constructed with more robust cabinets.  Some of those also exhibited reduced sensitivity when not being held.

For the PL-368 with firmware 3684, the headline really has to be the apparent disappearance of the “phonics” when tapping the keypad and cabinet top surface.  This was the elephant in the room on the first very early sample of the PL-368.

While there is still distortion using SYNC mode, this issue seems to have been slightly reduced with the latest firmware.  Without confirmation by Tecsun, there is no way to know what specifically may have been done to impact the SYNC issue in a positive direction.

A major disappointment is confirmation from Anon-Co via Tecsun that the re-calibration function seen in the PL-330, 990x and H-501x is absent from the PL-368.

That leaves a user with only the fine tuning option in SSB.  This is a real puzzler, since surely Tecsun could have enabled re-calibration on the 368 in the same way it did with the other receivers.

SUMMARY

I stated in my first review of the 368 that this receiver would be an automatic must-buy in my book, were it not for the earlier issues of cabinet phonics and signal level reduction when the radio isn’t being fully gripped in hand.

One hopes that the phonics issue has been fully addressed by Tecsun.  It’s possible that my initial early unit of the 368 had some weakness in the PCB for the keypad, and LCD display that has been recognized and corrected.

Without confirmation from Tecsun, it’s also difficult to declare that the 3684 firmware has truly brought about a measurable improvement in SYNC and SSB.  But based on my testing of this particular 3684 firmware unit, the radio is more usable and tolerable in SYNC and SSB.

And of course, addition of the keypad along with multi-bandwidth options moves the 368 firmly into the same zone as Tecsun’s other portables, albeit perhaps more in the “prepper” category.

There are so many offerings now from Tecsun in portables that it’s hard for me to place the PL-368 in the “must-buy” category, especially since the PL-330, 990x and H-501x bring so many superb features to the game.

But the PL-368 has a certain appeal – its walkie-talkie style design makes it an easy quick-grab for trips, similar to the PL-330, though the 368 can not really be safely balanced on a flat surface and is best used with some kind of stand.

In terms of raw performance, one has to observe that the wonderful Belka DX has to be considered as a top choice and major competition when it comes to extreme portability and top performance, especially with the available speaker/battery backs.

And the PL-368 still has major competition from the XHDATA D-808 (now appearing under the RADIWOW SIHUADON label) with excellent AIR band capability and multiple bandwidths, though no synchronous detection.

To “save” the PL-36xx series, Tecsun will have to ensure steady QC (quality control) in manufacturing and when possible, further firmware updates of the 368, as with all Tecsun receivers.


Preliminary List of Hidden Features for PL-368

Source: Anna at Anon-Co

Switch between internal ferrite rod and whip on AM (MW & LW)

1. Select the MW or LW band.
2. Press and hold key ‘3’ for about 2 seconds.

When the display briefly shows “CH-5” this means that the device is set to MW/LW reception using the telescopic antenna. The display shows MW (or LW) and SW on the left side of the screen.

When the display briefly shows “CH-A” this means that the device is set to MW/LW reception using the internal ferrite antenna. The display shows only MW (or LW) on the left side of the screen.

Adjusting the maximum volume level

Select the frequency band, then press and hold key ‘7’ for 2 seconds until a number is displayed. At this moment, rotate the [ TUNING ] knob to adjust and press the key ‘7’ again to save and exit.

Firmware Version

In power-off mode, press and hold [ VF/VM ] for 0.5 seconds until all characters on the display are shown, then wait a few seconds until the firmware version is briefly displayed at upper right of the display.

Extend SW-range for European setting (1621-29999 kHz)

1. In power-off mode, press and hold the [ 3 ] key to set the MW tuning steps to 9kHz.
2. Select the SW band, and then press and hold the [ 5 ] key for 10 seconds to enable/disable the SW frequency extension.

The starting point of the SW frequency range will become 1621 or 1711 kHz.

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More Tecsun S-8800 hidden features/adjustments

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who has recently been in touch with Anna at Anon-Co and discovered a few Tecsun S-8800 hidden features we haven’t mentioned in the past.

Anna notes:

There are some hidden features for this model that are worth mentioning, and are available on all S-8800 radios, also the pre-2021 ones.

Backlight setting

In power-off mode, press and hold [ 2 ] on the remote until the display shows “ON” or “Off”, this to change the backlight setting to always-on or auto-off. In the auto-off setting the backlight turns on after pressing a button or using a tuning knob, and turns off automatically after a few seconds.

DNR (Dynamic Noise Reduction

In the AM band (LW, MW, SW), first press and hold [ 4 ] on the remote to activate the possibility of this feature. The display will show “ON” or “Off”. Make sure that it is turned on. Subsequently, press and hold [ 6 ] on the remote until the display shows “ON” (DNR activated) or “OFF” (DNR deactivated).

FM De-emphasis Time Constant

While receiving FM broadcasts, long press [ 5 ] on the remote to adjust the de-emphasis setting to 50?s or 75?s.

Adjusting the signal indicator sensitivity:

1. Enter FM, LW, MW or SW band

2. Select a weak station.

3. Press [ 7 ] on the remote for about 0.5 seconds.

4. Rotate the main tuning knob immediately to adjust the bars of the signal indicator.

5. Press any button for confirmation or auto save after 2 seconds.

While making the adjustment in step 4, the value in the top-right corner of the screen changes. The factory default value is supposedly around “6” for FM and SW: 6, and around 16 for MW. The adjustment range is -99 – 99.

Add Seconds to the Clock

With the device turned off, press and hold [ 8 ] on the remote to add seconds to the clock. Press and hold [ 8 ] again to hide the seconds from the clock.

Adjust the FM soft muting threshold

While in FM, press and hold [ 9 ] on the remote for about 2 seconds until the current level (probably around level 5) appears in the main display area. Then adjust it by rotating the tuning knob and then press [ 9 ] again to confirm the setting.

Many thanks to Dan and Anna for sharing these tips!

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Tecsun H-501x pricing and availability via Anon-Co

Anon-Co has started taking pre-orders for the Tecsun H-501x portable receiver. Click here to read Dan Robinson’s review of this radio.

Anon-Co will start shipping these on Monday, May 16, 2021.

Hard case version

The price will be $298.00 US for both the hard case and faux leather case versions.

Faux leather case version.

  • Shipping cost: Depends on the delivery country; slightly higher cost for the hard case version.
  • Faux leather pouch is not included with the hard case version. It can be included as a $15.25 add-on, but does not fit inside the hard case.
  • Hard case version: Limited stock available (more stock expected by the end of June).

Click here to check out the faux leather case version and/or the hard case version of the Tecsun H-501x at Anon-Co.

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The export version of the Tecsun PL-330 has landed

Tuesday evening, I picked up a package from Anon-Co with the new export version of the Tecsun PL-330 inside. Anon-Co sent this unit to me for evaluation at no charge to me. Anon-Co will start shipping the PL-330 next week and the price will be $59.99.

By request, I took a few photos of the PL-330 as I unpacked it. This should give you an idea about how the radio is packed and what is included in the Anon-Co package:

The Anon-Co PL-330 package includes:

  • Tecsun PL-330 receiver
  • an English owner’s manual
  • a brown synthetic velveteen carry pouch
  • MicroUSB charging cable
  • earphones

My first thought? It looks like a mini PL-990!

The PL-330 is powered by one BL-5C battery pack. To meet shipping regulations, the BL-5C is not pre-installed–you’ll need to do that yourself.

Note that the PL-330 lacks a fold-out back stand. That is unfortunate

On the air

Unfortunately, I’ve had no proper time to evaluate the PL-330 (comparisons) yet as this is an incredibly busy week for me.

I did, however, listen to the PL-330 as I worked outside all day Wednesday. Sadly, there was a lot of news to follow here in the States that day.

I was able to receive all of my benchmark local and regional AM and FM stations with no problem. For day-to-day broadcast listening, it seems to be a solid portable.

It’s still early days, but I think the PL-330 may be one of the best portables for FM I’ve tested in a while. On Wednesday, I tuned to WFAE in Charlotte a number of times throughout the day and the PL-330’s lock on the station was rock-solid. WFAE’s transmitter is just over one hundred miles from my home, so this is typically a tough catch if I’m inside my home or my car, etc.

The real test? I can also receive WFAE with the PL-330 in my kitchen window. Again, only a small number of portables can reliably grab WFAE’s signal from that spot. Indeed, the PL-330 almost receives WFAE as if were a local station.

While this is far from a laboratory test, it is certainly a real-world test for this radio enthusiast.

I’ve yet to dive into the shortwaves, although I’m incredibly curious how well the sync lock might work. I’m keeping expectations low–after all, this is a $60 radio. The price point is quite good for sporting upper and lower sideband reception, let alone synchronous detection.

For more information about the PL-330, I’d encourage you to check out the following posts:

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Tecsun PL-990 Hidden Feature: Toggling ferrite bar and telescopic whip antenna on MW & LW bands

Many thanks to Anna at Anon-Co who recently shared an interesting “hidden feature” of the Tecsun PL-990 which allows the user to toggle between the internal ferrite antenna and telescoping whip antenna while on either the mediumwave or logwave bands.

Procedure:

1) Turn on the radio and then select either the MW or LW frequency band.

2) Press and hold the [ 3 ] key for about 2 seconds.

When the display shows “CH-5” (actually an “S” which stands for shortwave telescopic antenna) the radio is now set to MW/LW reception using the telescopic whip antenna.

The display will show MW (or LW) and SW on the left side of the screen.

3) Press and hold the [ 3 ] key for about 2 seconds.

When the display shows “CH-A” (“A” stands for “AM”) the radio is now set to MW/LW reception using the internal ferrite antenna once again.

The display will also show only MW (or LW) on the left side of the screen.

Pressing and holding the [ 3] key essentially toggles between these two antenna settings.

I’ve actually found that, indoors, using the whip antenna on mediumwave has been more effective at mitigating RFI with strong local stations. The ferrite bar antenna has more gain, of course, but for locals it’s not necessarily needed.

Many thanks, Anna, for sharing this tip!

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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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