Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gareth Buxton, who writes:
I see that Anon-co have the Tecsun PL-990 Ferrite rod aerial for sale. It even says in the product description “You can use it for your DIY projects.” I thought it might be of interest to your MW/AM radio constructors, especially if they can build a radio that receives more stations than the Tecsun using the same part!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Michael Ye (BD4AAQ), for the following guest post:
In the Loop: PL-990 and LA400, a Perfect Match
by Michael Ye (BD4AAQ)
PL-990 and LA400
I have been a happy owner of Tecsun’s PL-880 world band receivers for years. In fact I have two PL-880 radios, one sitting at home and the other staying in my car. So, after Tecsun introduced the new model PL-990 in late 2020, it didn’t take me long to decide to purchase one. In this article I will discuss the Tecsun PL-990 receiver working with loop antennas, while referencing some relevant features of the PL-880.
Overall performance of the PL-990
Merely by its model number, it is easy to regard the PL-990 as an upgraded version of the already highly reputable PL-880. As expected, the PL-990 can very much be regarded as a combination of all the existing fine radio features of the PL-880 AND the music and bluetooth additions, with a number of improvements for instance in shortwave and medium wave performance. The ergonomic design of the PL-990 looks and feels different from that of the PL-880 in a number of ways. Although I may prefer the the more slim and elegant appearance of the PL-880, the PL-990 gives a more rugged and durable feeling, among other improvements over the older PL-880.
Working with loop antennas
The PL-990 and the PL-880 side by side
Living on the twelfth floor of a condominium in the crowded Shanghai, I have often been fascinated with loop antennas. As a licensed amateur operator, I have used the MFJ-1786X and have been impressed with its performance. On reception, I also find loop antennas appealing, as they are able to pull in weak signals while noticeably reducing electro-magnetic interference rampant in the urban environment. I have an unbranded shortwave loop antenna which I believe is based on and performs similarly with the AOR LA320. Despite its excellent performance, it is only good for the 5MHz – 15MHz shortwave range. So a few years ago when AOR launched the new LA400 wideband loop antenna, I bought one, which I often pair up with the PL-880 and other radios for shortwave listening, and get satisfactory results!
Antenna Switch on the PL-990
Now, back to the PL-990. When I first tried the PL-990 with the LA400, the results were generally good but not as good as as compared with using the same LA400 on my PL-880. This puzzled me for a day or so until I realised that the PL-990 actually has an antenna switch which the PL-880 does not have. The switch is used to toggle between an internal antenna (i.e. the built-in ferrite bar/telescopic antenna) and an external one (e.g. the AOR LA400). So a new PL-990 user who has often operated the PL-880 when first using the PL-990 could easily ignore the switch which should be pushed to “Ext” when plugging in an external antenna. This explains why the PL-990 may suddenly appear less sensitive than expected.
“Ext” antenna input for all bands
Contrary to the PL-880 whose external antenna socket is only good for shortwave signal input, the PL-990’s external antenna socket works with all bands, from long wave to FM. I found this to be an important and very useful change, and a pleasant surprise for my LA400, which covers a wide range of frequencies from long wave to medium wave to FM and up to 500MHz.
Once the LA400 is connected, the correct band selected, and last but not least the antenna switch turned to “Ext”, the PL-990 and the LA400 work like a charm in the indoor setting, remarkably better than the built-in telescopic antenna. With the loop connected, while there is not much to expect on the long wave band because of very few long wave stations remaining in the world, reception improves considerably on all other bands including on the medium wave and FM bands, as is also reflected on the upper right hand display of the signal strength and S/N ratio readings. Needless to say, performance on shortwave is as good as on the PL-880, if not better (again, remember to push the antenna switch to “Ext” when using it on the PL-990). Using the AOR loop on the PL-990 for FM reception is somewhat different as there does not seem to be a noticeable tuning point. Simply select the “Others” band, which appears to be broad enough for fair FM reception.
Tecsun AN-200 loop antenna
It is worth mentioning that I have a Tecsun AN-200 tunable medium wave antenna, which I have not used often. As its name suggests, it is for medium wave reception only. I tried it on the PL-990. Works great.
The AN-200 and the PL-990
It is hard to tell which one, the PL-LA400 or the AN-200, fares better, as the signal strength and S/M readings are quite close. They both perform better than the radio’s internal ferrite bar antenna to varying degrees, by improving the signal strength or the S/N ratio or both. The Tecsun loop is a passive antenna, meaning no power is required, making it easy to be used “wirelessly”, by simply placing the loop close to the radio, without having to be connected to the radio via a cable.
Chocolate, our house cat, tries to enhance reception with her tail
It should be noted that in the “wireless” mode of the AN-200 the antenna switch on the PL-990 should remain at “Int” so as for its built-in ferrite bar and the loop to couple with each other.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Matt Blaze, who shares the following comparison of the new Tecsun PL-990x and the benchmark Icom IC-R9500 communications receiver.
Matt’s excellent comparison is in audio form. I highly recommend listening with headphones or, at least, an audio device with separate left/right channels as his comparison takes advantage of this.
I love not only how he set up this comparison with both radios sharing an identical antenna, but his evaluation also explores how well the PL-990 handles a proper external antenna via its external antenna jack.
Click below to listen to Matt’s piece, or right click here to download the audio:
Thanks for sharing this, Matt. You’ve inspired me to do similar narrated audio comparisons!
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.
Many thanks, Anna, for sharing this tip!
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