I’m traveling this morning and packing up my EDC (everyday carry) bag here int he hotel room.
Last night, I was using the Tecsun PL-330 to do a little band-scanning and it dawned on me that I’ve used this radio along with the Belka DX quite extensively this summer while on an extended family road trip. Even before this trip, both of these radios were in heavy rotation.
I go through phases of using portables–sometimes I’ll dig out a vintage radio and use it for weeks, then I’ll switch it out for a modern rig. I like variety and giving all of my radios a little air time.
I packed the Belka DX and Tecsun PL-330 for our trip because they’re some of the most compact, lightweight radios I own.
I received a message from a reader recently regarding the Tecsun PL-330. They pointed out that Tecsun listed the PL-330 as “Discontinued” but I’ve confirmed that this is not the case. This is simply a poor translation/word choice.
The PL-330 is still very much in production, however I also learned the global chip shortage is hitting Tecsun (and most other radio manufactures) quite hard right now.
I checked with Anna at Anon-Co and she confirmed that they still have inventory of the PL-330 and other Tecsun models, but the chip shortage will almost certainly affect radio availability once her existing inventory is depleted.
I follow economic news pretty closely and most experts agree that the chip shortage may create issues for the next year or even two. Indeed, there’s even a shortage of “chips to make chips.”
No worries and no need to panic, though, as we’ll get through this. I would suggest not waiting to bite the bullet if you’ve been planning to purchase a new DSP-based portable radio in the nearish future.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gary DeBock, who shares his extensive 2021 Ultralight Radio Shootout.
This is truly a deep dive featuring five popular ultralight portable radios and examining mediumwave, shortwave, FM, and AIR Band performance.
The review is an amazing 40 pages long! In order to display the entire review, click on the “Continue reading” link below.
2021 Ultralight Radio Shootout
Five Hot Little Portables Brighten Up the Pandemic
By Gary DeBock, Puyallup, WA, USA April 2021
Introduction The challenges and thrills of DXing with pocket radios have not only survived but thrived since the Ultralight Radio Boom in early 2008, resulting in a worldwide spread of the hobby niche group. Based upon the essential concepts of DXing skill, propagation knowledge and perseverance, the human factor is critical for success in pocket radio DXing, unlike with computer-controlled listening. The hobbyist either sinks or swims according to his own personal choices of DXing times, frequencies and recording decisions during limited propagation openings—all with the added challenge of depending on very basic equipment. DXing success or failure has never been more personal… but on the rare occasions when legendary DX is tracked down despite all of the multiple challenges, the thrill of success is truly exceptional—and based entirely upon one’s own DXing skill.
Ultralight Radio DXing has inspired spinoff fascination not only with portable antennas like the new Ferrite Sleeve Loops (FSL’s) but also with overseas travel DXing, enhanced transoceanic propagation at challenging sites like ocean side cliffs and Alaskan snowfields, as well as at isolated islands far out into the ocean. The extreme portability of advanced pocket radios and FSL antennas has truly allowed hobbyists to “go where no DXer has gone before,” experiencing breakthrough radio propagation, astonishing antenna performance and unforgettable hobby thrills. Among the radio hobby groups of 2021 it is continuing to be one of the most innovative and vibrant segments of the entire community.
The portable radio manufacturing industry has changed pretty dramatically over the past few years as much of the advanced technology used by foreign companies in their radio factories in China has been “appropriated” (to use a generous term) by new Chinese competitors. Without getting into the political ramifications of such behavior the obvious fact in the 2021 portable radio market is that all of the top competitors in this Shootout come from factories in China, and four of the five have Chinese name brands. For those who feel uneasy about this rampant copying of foreign technology the American-designed C. Crane Skywave is still available, although even it is still manufactured in Shenzhen, China—the nerve center of such copying.
Prior to purchasing any of these portables a DXer should assess his own hobby goals, especially whether transoceanic DXing will be part of the mission– in which case a full range of DSP filtering options is essential. Two of the China-brand models use only rechargeable 3.7v lithium type batteries with limited run time, which may not be a good choice for DXers who need long endurance out in the field. A hobbyist should also decide whether a strong manufacturer’s warranty is important. Quality control in some Chinese factories has been lacking, and some of the China-brand radio sellers offer only exchanges—after you pay to ship the defective model back to China. Purchasers should not assume that Western concepts of reliability and refunds apply in China, because in many cases they do not. When purchasing these radios a DXer should try to purchase through a reputable seller offering a meaningful warranty—preferably in their own home country.
One of the unique advantages of Ultralight Radio DXing is the opportunity to sample the latest in innovative technology at a very reasonable cost—and the five pocket radio models chosen for this review include some second-generation DSP chip models with astonishing capabilities. Whether your interest is in domestic or split-frequency AM-DXing, FM, Longwave or Shortwave, the pocket radio manufacturers have designed a breakthrough model for you—and you can try out any (or all) of them at a cost far less than that of a single table receiver. So get ready for some exciting introductions… and an even more exciting four band DXing competition!
My Tecsun PL-330 hasn’t been getting the love it deserves at SWLing Post HQ. In a “normal” year, I would be traveling quite a bit and the PL-330 would accompany me. Compact portables like the PL-330 are my choice receivers for one bag travel.
The PL-330 has actually been in my travel pack for a couple months now, but not really going anywhere. My hope is that now most of the family is C-19 vaccinated, we might even be able to hop a border late this year. One can dream, I reckon.
I spent much of this morning in a parking lot outside a medical specialist’s office. My father was undergoing some tests and I needed to wait outside. As I waited in the car, I remembered that I had recently moved the PL-330 from my GoRuck GR2 pack into my Red Oxx EDC bag that was sitting in the car seat next to me.
I pulled out the PL-330, extended the antenna out the window and enjoyed a little morning SWLing. It was very enjoyable, actually, and the local RFI was more manageable than I would have anticipated.
The PL-330 is a capable little radio!
Eventually, I moved to the AM broadcast (mediumwave) band to see if I could snag a few of my favorite local/regional stations. After tuning to WAIZ on 630 kHz, I opened the AM bandwidth up to 9 kHz and it sounded amazing. Thanks, Tecsun, for giving us a wide AM filter width for those strong locals. (If you’d like to hear WAIZ’s morning show, check out one of these recordings.)
After tapping my feet to some of WAIZ’s 1950s B side tunes, I switched to the FM band. I must say, these DSP portables really deliver solid FM performance. The PL-330 is very sensitive and sounds great for such a compact portable.
I think I’m going to keep the PL-330 in my EDC bag for a while along with the Belka DX. Between the two, I’ll have top-shelf compact portables for more parking lot and picnic table DXing.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following guest post:
Tecsun PL-330: The Powerful Mini With One Serious Design Issue
by Dan Robinson
As SWLing Post readers know, I have a huge radio collection – including premium receivers and portables, now nearly 100 in all.
So, these days I am hesitant to add too many, but I continue to take interest in what companies such as Tecsun and Sangean are doing in the way of stuffing the latest chip technology and capabilities into portables radios.
The last receivers I reviewed included the Tecsun PL-990x, which has developed quite an enthusiastic following since its consumer version was released in 2020, and the Tecsun S-8800.
Out for some time now is the Tecsun PL-330. By now there are many reviews of it on You Tube and elsewhere.
It’s become a familiar observation for many of us – if this were still the 1960’s and 1970’s – even into the 1980’s, which could be considered the golden days of shortwave and we had receiver technology like this, well what a joy that would have been.
When I traveled around the world both before and after college, and professionally for Voice of America in the 1980s and 1990s, wow what a good time I could have had with today’s portables!
Some world band portables radios back then were superb performers. The Grundig Satellit series 500/700/600/650 come to mind – but these were not exactly what I would call small portables.
Paging through Passport to Worldband Radio from 1990 (wow, that’s 30 years ago!) you see others such as the SONY SW-1, Panasonic RF-B65, and of course, the SONY ICF-2001D/2010 which introduced killer synchronous tuning technology in the 1980s and remains popular today decades after it first appeared.
Also available were the SONY ICF-SW55 and later in competition with the 2010, the SONY ICF-SW77. Today, I have four SW-55s and two SW-77s and still use them regularly.
Tabletop receivers back in the good ol’ days offered multiple selectivity positions. One of those was the Lowe HF-225 (and later Europa version) along with the HF-250, Kenwood R-5000 and R-2000, ICOM IC-R71A, and Yaesu FRG-8800 among many others.
But as far as smaller portables go, features such as synchronous detection and multiple selectivity were still pretty limited, and a number of receivers didn’t offer selectable synchronous as was eventually offered on the Drake R8B and later production of the SW-8.
The RF-B65 by Panasonic – which today remains sought after for its amazing sensitivity – was hobbled by having a single selectivity position. Same with SONY’s SW-1 and SW-100, and 7600GR, though SONY’s PRO-80 had two bandwidths.
Indeed, it wasn’t until Eton brought out the E-1, with its three bandwidths combined with Passband Tuning (though no notch filter) that a portable finally reflected capabilities of some of the better tabletop radios (though lacking a notch filter).
The Grundig Satellit 800 was close in competition with the E-1 (though the earlier Sat 600/650 series also had multiple bandwidths) but was bulky.
Fast forward to 2021 – credit due to Tecsun and more recently to Sangean with its 909X2, for some years now we have enjoyed Asia-originated portables with multiple selectivity and synchronous mode, though sync implementation on some has left much to be desired.
Which is where the PL-330 comes in. When I look at the 330, I am reminded of one of the now ancient SONY portables, the ICF-4920 which was a super small slide-rule receiver that nevertheless was quite sensitive.
Like the 4920, which you could easily slip in a pocket, the PL-330 is a perfect travel portable. Only the Belka-DX SDR and still wonderful SONY SW-100 compete in terms of performance and size.
The 330 is basically a PL-990x in miniature: smaller speaker obviously, shorter antenna, no bluetooth capability or card slot. But as many people who frequent the Facebook groups have observed, pretty much anything the 990x can do, so can the 330.
This radio has ETM/ATS tuning, synchronous detection, multiple bandwidths in AM, SSB and MW, FM mono-stereo speaker control, alarm/timer functions, external antenna jack, display light, and other features.
Tecsun decided to go with a BL-5C battery here – the same with the new PL-368. I think this is unfortunate, since it requires one to obtain a number of those flat batteries if you want to travel and not have to re-charge. On the other hand, this is not a crippling design decision.
What is an unfortunate design problem, in my view, involves the simple question of tuning the receiver.
The main and fine tuning knobs on the right side of the PL-330 are embedded into the cabinet just far enough as to make easy rapid finger tuning of the radio nearly impossible.
In fact, in my testing it’s impossible to thumb tune the radio more than 10 kHz at a time. The same applies to using the lower knob which controls volume. When in FM mode, this issue make tuning just as frustrating almost forcing one to use rapid scan mode.
Another puzzler: Tecsun limited bandwidths in AM SW to three, while in SSB you have 5 bandwidth options. In AM mode, you have a 9 kHz bandwidth, another puzzling choice. Longwave too is limited to 3 bandwidths.
But overall, none of these problems really knock the PL-330 down very far. This is one mini powerhouse of a radio, one that makes you think “wow, if I had just had this back in 1967 or 1973 or 1982.
Some additional thoughts. My particular PL-330 was supplied by Anon-co but is a pre-production version and so does not have the latest firmware. Thankfully, I have not experienced the issue of SSB tuning running in reverse as others have.
NOTE: As most users know by now, but some newer users may not, you cannot charge one of these radios – whether Tecsun or Sangean – using the mini-USB port and use them at the same time. . . there is just too much noise introduced from the charging process.
This little mentioned feature: just as the Tecsun 909x has a re-calibration function, so does the PL-330. Tecsun itself initially declined to acknowledge this, but finally confirmed through Anon-co.
The procedure: Switch to LSB/USB. If the station is not zero beat, hit STEP button once and then quickly again to move the flashing display down arrow so it’s above the far right digit. Then fine tune the station for zero beat. Hold LSB or USB in for a couple of seconds. The LCD blinks. You then have zero beat – but be sure to repeat the process for LSB and USB.
I should mention that just like on the 990x, the re-calibration process doesn’t mean the receiver is then zeroed up and down the shortwave bands. You will likely have to repeat the process from, say 25 meters, to 19 meters, to 49 meters, etc.
I have come to enjoy using the PL-330 here in my house, though like other portables in my collection I need to position it in one particular corner of my home away from incoming cable TV lines.
The PL-330 and the Belka DX are currently king of the pile when it comes to my smaller travel portables.
I fully expect there will be no further receiver development by Tecsun after the PL-330/990x/H-510 radios – but that company will certainly have left us with some great receivers as the days of shortwave approach an end.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mad Radio DXer, who writes:
I want to let you & your readers know of a Tecsun PL-330 trick that I saw mentioned in the comments section of your blog some time ago which does not seem to have a lot of awareness. This is for using the telescopic antenna for the LW & MW bands, & it works for the 3305 version of the PL-330 which I understand is the export version. The original comment I saw said this also works for the Chinese version of the PL-330, before firmware 3305.
It is very easy to do & instructions are the following…
1. Turn on the radio.
2. Select either the MW or LW band.
3. Press the number 3 key down for a few seconds, until the display shows “CH-S”.
This means the MW & LW bands can now be received with the telescopic antenna.
4. To use the ferrite bar again, press the number 3 key until “CH-A” appears on screen.
This reminds me of the trick used for the Degen DE1103 PLL version which allows reception of the telescopic antenna for the MW band. However, in my opinion this is much easier to use on the PL-330 than the DE1103 PLL which could be very fiddly. Also this trick is most effective on the LW band, as I find Chinese portables are usually very weak on this part of the band which is good news for LW DXers. I hope you & everyone reading find this trick very useful & that it works.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Michael Sharpe, who writes:
Here are some personal observations after playing with the Tecsun PL-330 for a couple weeks, maybe an hour or two a day. I made a point of picking up the 310ET , the CCrane Skywave SSB and the G6 Aviator at the same time for some comparisons.
These comments are in no particular order.
The PL330 is very lightweight compared to the other three. This could be perceived in two ways.
A. The case seems less sturdy than it could be, it creaks and ‘gives’ a little when operating some of the controls that require ‘squeezing’ to activate a button. I would prefer a more solid feel.
B. The radio is very light which is a plus for travelling with hand luggage. You’ll like that 🙂
The backlight can be set to permanently ‘on’, I really like this. None of the other radios do this when on battery power only. I don’t consider any radio ‘portable’ if it is tethered to a power supply. It would be nice if the buttons lit up but let’s stay real here !
Tuning: I am not crazy about the detented operation of the tuning knob, but I recognise that this is a requirement on the lower cost portables that use digital tuning. However…the PL-330 scores highly because the detent clicking is soft and silent. When compared to the Skywave SSB, there is a world of difference. For me, a clicking knob eliminates the option to tune around the ham bands when my wife is trying to sleep. I did email CCrane to ask if a solution may be suggested, but the response was negative. The G6 Aviator wins hands down in this area, but apples to pears !
Memory Tuning: I really like the options here, easy to use and the time selective ETM+ is genius. I also like the easy ‘delete all memories’ option which enables a fresh start at any time.
Audio: It’s not a PL-880 but its Ok for a small portable and the bandwidth option is a big plus. I’m no expert here because I do a fair proportion of my listening with a mono single side earpiece at night.
AM: Seems to work fine. Pulls in everything I normally listen to and seems sensitive and stable enough.
FM: Seems to work fine. Pulls in everything I normally listen to (not much!) and seems sensitive enough. Brilliant that it will suppress stereo unless the headphone socket is used.
SW: I spend a lot of time here and it seems good enough. I did compare reception with the Belka DX and had nothing to complain about. I have learned that keyboard tuning to a frequency near the frequency of interest and then final tuning with the annoying detent knob is the way to go. Also, memory tuning is easy and makes the detent truly functional.
SSB: This my main area of interest as I love to tune around the ham bands, especially when travelling with no access to real ham gear. The fine tuning at 10 Hz with suppressed soft muting is a real winner. It would be nice if soft mute could be disabled completely but I understand this is limitation of the DSP hardware.
Calibration seems easy too with just a long press on the USB button when the audio is zero beat (note the calibration option is for the AM band but utilizes the USB or LSB to zero beat and set). I don’t do this any more, after all, what’s the point when tuning around to listen 🙂 Just twiddle the knob until it sounds good and Bob’s your uncle. I think the ‘Step’ button should replace the ‘Sync’ button and not be shared with the sunken ‘lock’ button. Too squeezy.
SYNC: Don’t bother. I tried it several times, not so much any more. Waste of a perfectly good button. (See SSB above.)
Battery: I actually like the battery choice. I get that AA’s or AAA’s are a good choice for emergency use because of availability but in an emergency you would probably have your phone with you, and some means of charging it. Just have an appropriate cable or adapter in the bag and you are good to go. My current phone uses the usb micro, as does the PL330 so I may be a little biased at this time.
Antenna: For portable use, the existing antennas work fine. The SW input jack works and the ability to switch the AM signal source between the internal ferrite and the external jack is a nice touch if you want to experiment.
I cut the wrist strap off, not sure what benefit this offers but they all have them. I must be missing something ?
A rear stand would be nice but it stands on its base reasonably well.
So….for around $60, it’s a no-brainer in my book.
Hope this helps. I’m no expert when it comes to deviation ratios, 3rd order intercepts, microvolt sensitivity etc. etc. but these are my impressions from a guy who just likes to play with radios.
Thank you for sharing your impressions of the Tecsun PL-330, Michael! I’ve also been testing the PL-330 and find that it is a great value for $60–certainly a low-cost alternative to the C.Crane CC Skywave SSB (although I much prefer the build quality of the Skywave). My family life has been so busy this past month, I’ve had little dedicated time to do comparisons, but it appears to me that the PL-330 is a solid performer.
Thanks again for sharing your assessment, Michael!