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.
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.
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
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.
Anon-Co has just posted pricing and availability of the Tecsun PL-990x:
The PL-990x package like the pre-production unit I received costs $235 US shipped free via the postal service or via FedEx for an additional $9.00.
This package includes the Tecsun PL-990x, Tecsun EP-20 stereo earphones, 16GB microSD card, Tecsun AN-03L wire antenna, protective carrying pouch, charging cable, USB wall charger, radio amateur world map, and an English manual.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
ATS (automatic station tuning) retained
Nice faux-leather case retained
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.
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
As I suspected, it appears the Tecsun PL-990 batch that showed up recently on AliExpress for $399 each are the preliminary pilot run units that Tecsun offered in China last year. The final export version of the PL-990 is not ready for production yet and has been severely delayed by Covid-19 quarantines.
Anna at Anon-Co reports that Tecsun factories have been closed since mid-January 2020 and have only recently recommenced production, “but at a very slow pace.”
Since there will eventually be two different versions of the Tecsun PL-990 in the wild–the pilot run for China, and the finalized export version–I thought I’d share a trick Anna has described to tell the difference between the two.
One way to easily see this is from the labels for the buttons above the keypad, these should be
[ TIME ], [ TIMER A ], and [ TIMER B ] (see picture below)
Tecsun PL-990 Final Export Version:
Tecsun PL-990 Final Export Version
Pilot Tecsun PL-990 (preliminary China domestic version):
Preliminary Pilot Tecsun PL-990 distributed in China — image from AliExpress.
I highly recommend [no one] buy these pilot versions, because the software on those devices is also not developed.
There still isn’t a final version or any price indication available yet, but it will definitely not be US$399.99.
So in case it’s not clear: don’t purchase a PL-990 until you can confirm you’re receiving a final export version which has the TIME, TIMER A, and TIMER B labels.
Again, at time of posting, the final PL-990 export version is not yet in production.
When the final export PL-990 is available, I will announce it here on the SWLing Post with links to authorized retailers like Anon-Co.
Many of you have been asking me about the pricing and availability of the Tecsun PL-990 and H-501 receivers. Both radios were released late last year (2019) in China, but the final export version–and first full production run–has not yet hit the market.
I reached out to Anon-Co to see what updates, if any, we have about these radios. They were able to share the following points:
“Tecsun sold a first version of the PL-990 and H-501 in China as a promotion before Chinese New Year, at a promotional price.”
“They will launch further updated versions in the next few months, which will also be the international export version. This price will definitely be higher than the promotional prices, but the exact price is not available yet.”
“The version for the international market is not finalized yet. It may become available by the end of March or April, but there is no official launch date yet.”
The H-501 version released in China last year.
I think the important take-aways here are that we’re still perhaps a couple months out from the final versions shipping and that the price will be slightly higher than the initial production run in China.
Good news is, it sounds like this radio will get a proper vetting before it ships! I’m willing to wait knowing this. Also, if I’m reading between the lines correctly, there could be some noticeable changes and updates to the final exported versions.
If you would like to follow updates about these radios as we post them, bookmark the tags PL-990 and H-501.