Tag Archives: PL-880

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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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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Recommending the Tecsun PL-880 over the Sangean ATS-909X

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Direwolf131, who recently commented on one of the Sangean ATS-909X reviews in the Post archives.

Direwolf131 writes:

I’m a few years after Steve’s comments but I will have a go at it, at least anecdotally speaking. I’ve owned a half dozen Sangean ATS-909’s, which includes two of the 909X’s, and one super-909 from radiolabs. The 909X is the finest looking portable I have ever seen or lain hands upon, and that includes several Sony’s that I still think of as neat looking, I had the white cabinet 909X first and then the much more striking (to my eyes) black cabinet 909X after returning the first one due to rock hard buttons.

They are both extremely attractive, and exceptionally well made, especially by today’s cheap Chinese standards. I must confess that I also still find the original 909’s almost equally neat looking, though not quite sporting the same robustness of build.

The 909x’s sound wonderful on MW & FM, and its a decent performer reaching out to fairly distant FM stations. Unfortunately that is largely the best of the radio, its performance on MW & SW is best described as pathetic, and not just due to being deaf, it has a lot of noise, even when attached to the superb RF systems tuned EMF antenna. The older 909 is also to my experience substantially better then the 909X when matched up to a serious outboard antenna, such as the above EMF, I found this difference especially surprising, its not even close.

The PL-880 from Tecsun blows it away on SW and MW sensitivity, while also offering the superb advantage of genuinely ECSS tuning anything on MW & SW, you cannot decently receive any MW or SW signal via ECSS with the 909X as its SSB can only be fine tuned to 40 Hz, which is terribly disappointing, you can zero beat the little Tecsun easily. serious ECSS capability is to my mind a much more attractive option then a sync circuit, and unfortunately with the beautiful little Sangean 909X you get neither.

I do hope anyone who happens upon this pays attention, because for the money the PL-880 is far and away the better performer, in fact my little 1103 from Degen/Kaito out performs the 909X, as does my Grundig Yacht Boy-400, and my Sangean ATS-803A. Its my great hope that Sangean seriously upgrades these deficiencies in the otherwise gorgeous 909X, its circuitry is noisier than the old 909 and its not nearly not as sterling a performer hooked up to household current and a decent outboard antenna as the old 909, its 40 hz tuning SSB once a great reason to buy a 909, is no longer competitive, especially against the superb PL-880 which again is capable of excellent ECSS even by Icom R75 standards, Sangean would do well to drastically improve the SSB performance of the 909X.

I hope this helps, I liked the original review up top, but again its several years old, and the ATS-909X is now known to be clearly outclassed by the more affordable Tecsun, actually by the PL-660 to boot, I really hope Sangean addresses the issues, its such a beautiful receiver, you just want it to be as good as it looks, unfortunately it’s not!

Thank you for sharing your evaluation and comments!

The Sangean ATS-909X is an interesting radio indeed. Almost everyone loves the design, audio and overall quality of the 909X.  Yet performance reviews are somewhat polarizing: some 909X owners claim the 909X has strong performance characteristics on shortwave, while others believe it’s almost deaf. Your findings coincide with mine from the Mega Review where I pitted the ATS-909X against the Tecsun PL-880, PL-660 and Sony ICF-SW7600GR. In that review, where I relied on a whip antenna, the 909X was noticeably less sensitive than the other three competitors. Based on the premium one pays for the 909X, I was surprised.

I have learned over the years, however, that the 909X can handle larger outdoor antennas and doesn’t easily overload. Additionally, the 909X requires a fresh set of batteries for optimal performance/sensitivity. Some users have even modified the radio with a 4:1 impedance transformer–click here to read a post/comments about this mod.

I would love to see Sangean produce an updated/upgraded version of the 909X, but at this point I’m not exactly holding my breath. I’ve heard that they’re slowly pulling out of the market. Hope I’m proven wrong because I’d love to see a new shortwave set from Sangean.

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Tom praises Anon-Co’s “first-rate” customer service

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Tom Adams (W9LBB), who left the following comment on our Tecsun PL-880 review:

Just a note re. kudos to Anon-co re. customer support.

I got a PL880 late last year, and LOVED it; so much so that I ordered a second one, the “special edition” version, both radios from Anon-co.

While waiting for the second radio to be delivered, my first one developed a bug; the AM broadcast band was dead at turn-on. Sometimes switching to FM and back to AM made it work… not good.

The second radio arrived, and it worked on short wave for about 5 minutes, and went dead. Turning it off and waiting a while brought it back… but it would die in 5 – 10 minutes again.

I wrote Anon-co about the problems, and Anna addressed the problems. After the usual fixes (reset, pulling the battery for a half hour and reinserting to reboot the processor) failed, she had me send both radios back for factory service. Anon-co covered the cost of the FedEx to get them back to Hong Kong.

A half hour ago I got a note from Anna.

The newest radio is confirmed dead; they’re replacing it.

The older radio (sent for repairs under warranty) seems to have developed a bug that the technicians have never seen before. They say that diagnosis and repair could be very difficult… therefore they are replacing THAT radio too!

I’m a happy camper with that solution… and I can’t praise Anon-co and Anna too highly! FIRST RATE customer service!!!

Thanks for sharing this feedback, Tom. I’ve had the same experience with Anon-Co over the many years I’ve done business with them. Anna is an amazing customer-focused agent and they stand by their products each and every time.

There are so few companies who retail shortwave radios these days it’s nice to know that Tecsun’s primary distributor in Hong Kong is one of the best in the business! We can buy from Anon-Co with confidence.

Click here to check out Anon-Co’s website.

Click here to check out Anon-Co’s listings on eBay.

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