Tag Archives: PL-880

Guest Post: Jock explores the Tecsun PL-880’s ATS system

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Oh, no, it’s broken – NOT! And other observations on the PL-880

by Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

 

Okay, okay, I’ll admit it: I’m an oldster, currently enjoying well over 70 trips around that Big Orange Ball in the sky. Further, I’ve been out of SWLing for a while.

Coming back into the hobby after more than a decade’s absence, has been eye-opening. Back when I wrote for Passport To World Band Radio, my main interest, equipment-wise, was tabletop communications receivers hooked to serious outdoor antennas.

Today, however, tabletop communications receivers are hard to come by (there are few new offerings), and, in my situation, serious outdoor antennas present a series of logistical problems that aren’t going to get solved quickly.

So that has brought me to today’s crop of portable shortwave receivers, and – bottom line – they are pretty darn cool, offering worthy performance on a number of levels. My latest acquisition is the Tecsun PL-880.

Like many of the current SW portables, it offers a system for scanning the SW bands and automatically storing the stations it finds into memory. On the PL-880, it’s called ATS (for Auto Tuning Storage.) Oh, you knew that. Yeah, but did you know that the PL-880 has, essentially, two ATS systems?

The down arrow activates ATS Mode A, and the up arrow activates ATS Mode B.

Check it out: If you press the DOWN arrow button (in the SW-METER BAND rectangle), the ATS Mode A system searches the band you are in (FM, MW/LW or SW, including ALL the SW meter bands), automatically stores stations it finds, and “previously stored radio stations will be replaced automatically by the newly found stations.” Each band has its own set of memories, so that SW stations will be stored in SW memories, FM stations will be stored in FM memories, and so forth.

ATS Mode B, however, behaves differently. You can activate it by pressing the UP arrow (in the SW-METER BAND rectangle). If you are in SW frequencies, ATS Mode B will search and store stations only within the current SW meter band. Further, it will NOT overwrite memories, but will start storing stations it finds, starting with the first available unused memory. Pretty neat.

You can, however, fool yourself. I ran ATS Mode A on SW frequencies one night and found a station that was broadcasting unusual stuff (Kennedy assassination, UFOs, and the like). A couple of nights later, I wanted to see what the night’s topic was on that station, so I punched the button to access memories and found . . . nothing! Oh, no, it’s broken!

Then I realized I was in SSB mode, and, it turns out, the PL-880 has a separate set of memories for SSB. (And the manual says that explicitly.) I switched off the SSB mode, and – tah-dah! – the SW memories reappeared. Sometimes it really does pay handsome dividends to read the manual.

One of the slick things about the PL-880’s memory setup is that, when you are in memory mode for a particular band, you can easily scroll through the memories simply by turning the tuning knob.

Wire antenna reels come in different styles. PL-880 (left) and CCrane Skywave SSB. But both improve performance for their respective radios.

The PL-880 has a nice long whip antenna (nearly twice as long as the CCrane Skywave SSB’s antenna), and it seems to be quite sensitive operating off the whip. But if you take the time to deploy the external wire antenna that comes with the PL-880, there is a considerable gain in sensitivity. Tuning around the 40-meter ham band, with the external wire antenna plugged into its socket, I could hear two stations in conversation, one louder than the other, but both copyable. When I tried to listen to the same pair of stations with just the PL-880’s whip antenna, the fainter station disappeared entirely, and the louder station was “down in the mud” but copyable. So the external wire antenna is clearly worth using.

So far, I am well pleased with the PL-880.

PS: Here’s a link to a really good article on extending the wire length of the reel-up antenna that came with the PL-880: https://www.hamuniverse.com/shortwavereelantenna.html

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Guest Post: A “Horizontal DXer” explores the CC Skywave SSB and PL-880

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Confessions of a horizontal DXer and some initial impressions of the Tecsun PL-880

by Jock Elliott

Back in the day when I wrote for Passport To World Band Radio, one of my favorite things to do, while my better half drifted off to sleep, was to clamp on a pair of headphones, lean back against the pillows, and mess around with a Sony 6800W shortwave receiver.

It wasn’t a radio that was built for band scanning: you had to rotate a dial to select the megahertz segment of the bands that you wanted, tune a built-in preselector to the appropriate area, and then dial in the frequency with a tuning knob. And memories? Ha! You want memories?!! There were no stinking memories . . . you had to remember what frequencies you wanted or at least what portions of the bands you wanted to tune. The memories were between your ears.

But it was a receiver with an extraordinarily low noise floor, and many a happy evening I enjoyed programming from half a world away. Drifting off to sleep with headphones piping in a signal from a distant land was not without its dangers, though. One night I fell asleep listening to the news from Radio Australia beamed, in English, to Papua, New Guinea. I woke a while later to the same newscast beamed to Papua, New Guinea, but this time in Pidgin English. I heard some English words, but the rest did not make sense. I panicked, thinking some neurologic event had scrambled my brain, but a crisp voice rescued me: “This has been the news in Pidgin English, from Radio Australia.” Thank God!

When Passport ceased publication, I neglected shortwave radio for over a decade, busy with freelance writing and running the Commuter Assistance Net on two meter ham radio.

Earlier this year, the SWLing bug bit me again, and I fired up a long-neglected Grundig Satellit 800 and started cruising around the HF frequencies. Many of the big-gun shortwave stations were gone, or they weren’t aiming programming at North America, but there was plenty to listen to, including shortwave stations, HF ham bands, and some utility stations.

Gee, I thought, it might be great to have a radio for a little horizontal in-bed DXing before shutting off the lights for the night . . . something I could hold in my lap, turn the tuning knob, and discover hidden treasures. The Satellit 800, emphatically, was not the answer. It is a large radio, roughly the size of the vaunted Zenith Transoceanic radios, and definitely not suited for laps.

So, based on a great reputation and excellent reviews, I bought a CCrane Skywave SSB. The Skywave SSB is a powerhouse, offering AM, FM, Weather, Air, SW, and SSB in a package roughly the size of a deck of cards and perhaps twice as thick. And it delivers the goods, offering worthy performance on every band, although SW performance is greatly enhanced by attaching the wire antenna that is included with the Skywave SSB.

Two factors, I discovered, reduced the suitability of the Skywave SSB for bedside DXing. First, the tuning knob is really small, so you can’t just twirl your finger to traverse the bands. It also has click-detents on the tuning knob and muting between tuning steps, so the tuning is non-continuous, which diminishes the pleasure for me. So the drill becomes: use the automatic tuning system (ATS) to search the bands and store stations in memory and then use the keypad buttons to jump from stored station to stored station. Further, each keypad key makes a distinct “click” sound when properly depressed. And that brings us to the second factor: one night, I am attempting to explore the stations stored by the ATS when my bride, who was trying to doze off, taps me. “What?” I say. “Too much clicky-clicky,” she says. Oh, I thought; now I need to find a radio that is quiet, so long as I am wearing headphones.

Now, just to be clear: I would highly recommend the CCrane Skywave SSB (except for use next to a spouse who is attempting to sleep), particularly for traveling because it is so small and performs so well. To underscore the value of a shortwave-capable travel radio, some years ago, I spoke with a journalist who was in Russia when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place. Russian media were not reporting on it at all; he found out about Chernobyl by listening to the BBC on a shortwave radio he had tucked into his luggage, and he rapidly made plans to leave Russia.

A bunch of research eventually led me to the Tecsun PL-880, which is about the size of a trade paperback book. According to some reviewers (including Dan Robinson), the 880 is a bit more sensitive and shortwave than the PL-990. The 880 offers a bunch of bandwidths on both AM and SSB, and the tuning is butter smooth with no muting or detents. The smallish tuning knob has a bit of knurling on the edge, which make it possible to twirl the knob with one finger; you can fine-tune SSB with another knob, and, with one button-press, use the tuning knob to select filter bandwidths or memory channels. In short, if you avoid the keypad, this is a radio that can be operated in near silence next to a better half who wishes to snooze.

The performance, so far, is exemplary; using the PL-880 whip antenna, I could readily hear Gander, Newfoundland, broadcasting aeronautical weather as well as Shannon, Ireland, air traffic controllers directing aircraft crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Yes! I haven’t yet begun to explore all that the PL-880 can do, but it promises to be a lot of fun.


Click here to read more posts by Jock Elliott.

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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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Converting Tecsun signal meter numbers into five strength units?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Chris Rolfe (M3OZP), who writes with the following inquiry:

Don’t know if anyone can help.

I have a Tecsun PL-880, and it shows signal strength in db. How can I work out the signal strength as 1 to 5? All my other radio have 1 to 5 signal strength meters which is what I have always been used to.

Many thanks.

Chris Rolfe
M3OZP

Thank you for your question, Chris. The signal meter on the PL-880 and a number of other late-model Tecsuns that use similar DSP chips share the signal display which indicates both the signal strength and signal-to-noise ratio.  I believe the dBu number indicates the conducted voltage across the receiver’s internal resistance.

It’s perhaps one of my quirks, but as a listener I actually pay little attention to signal displays on portables unless I’m evaluating signal strength for a report or even using it to locate a local noise. Converting those numbers into an S1 to S5 number is simply something I would do by “guesstimating.” Yeah, not terribly scientific.

There are folks in the SWLing Post community who can do a much better job explaining the readout and how to interpret/convert signal strength across the MW, SW and FM bands.

Post Readers: Please comment if you can shed some light on simplifying signal strength for Chris.

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Free download: A Tecsun PL-880 hidden features booklet

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, S. Thomas Bradley, who shares the following:

I just upgraded my receiver from my trusty old FRG-7 (I bought it new back in the 70’s) to a Tecsun PL-880. For my own benefit I have gathered together all of the PL-880 hidden features I could find on the web and put them into a booklet which I then printed out for easy reference and put a copy with the PL880 Operators Manual.

I don’t know if anyone else would be interested in this, but I thought I would share, so attached is a pdf copy.

Click here to download the PL-880 hidden features booklet.

Very well done!  Thanks for sharing your quick reference guide. I’ll also add a link to our PL-880 Hidden Features page.


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Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

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Jim’s PL-880 loses audio on FM band

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jim Krause, who writes seeking an explanation about a problem he’s experiencing with his Tecsun PL-880:

Tescum PL-880 Problem: The speaker will not output any sound when in the FM band.

The speaker outputs sound fine when in all other bands (AM, SW, etc.). When switched into the FM band, the tuner still works and outputs sound through the headphone jack- just not through the speaker, which just emits soft ticking sounds. The tuner itself and all other features seem to work fine- it just won’t output sound through the speaker when in FM mode.

FYI It was working fine until I had it plugged into a solar USB charger while listening to FM.

I hope someone here might be able to shed some light on the problem you’re experiencing. I do know that my buddy, Vlado, could address this issue but perhaps it’s not one that will require a technician.

I’m guessing this might be futile, but try doing a full reset of the PL-880. This is typically the first step in troubleshooting a Tecsun radio:

Simply use a paper clip to press and hold the recessed reset button above.

Readers: If you have suggestions or advice for Jim, please comment!

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Tecsun PL-880: turning off backlight and one mystery function

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, John Carrod, who writes:

I took delivery of my PL-880 and have seen your notes on hidden features.

With the radio off, press and hold button 5, this disables/enables the light switch.

Pressing same button whilst on FM reveals information of which I’m unsure, I expect you or your readers will no doubt know what that’s about.

Thanks for sharing this, John. I’ve let a friend borrow my PL-880 so I don’t have it for reference. I’m hoping someone here can shed some light on the information display you’re seeing by pressing button 5 while in FM mode.

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