Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Svein Tore, who writes:
I’m blind. The type of shortwave radio I like best, is the analogue type with a tuning wheel, because I don’t need sight to use it, and I have full control over the receiver.
I would like to buy a radio with SSB, but it seems that all of the radios with SSB are digital, and you need to see the display to use the radio.
Are there any analogue radios with SSB?
If not, what is the simplest radio receiver with SSB?
I’m looking for a radio with as few functions and menus as possible, but it should have SSB.
I’m looking for a small or medium sized receiver, but if you are thinking of a big radio that seems to be right for me, please tell me about it.
Perhaps I have given you an impossible question now? I’m sorry for that.
Greetings from Norway.
Excellent question, Svien. I thought it would make sense to share your inquiry with the SWLing Post community as I know we have other readers who are visually impaired. Readers, please comment with any suggestions you may have.
To my knowledge, there are no analog shortwave radios with a BFO (for SSB) that are in production today. There are, however, numerous analog models from the 60s, 70s and 80s with a BFO (two examples: the Sony ICF-5800H and the Panasonic RF-2200).
My trusty Zenith Trans Oceanic will always be a part of my radio collection (Click to enlarge)
In fact, my first proper radio was a Zenith Transoceanic. I’ll never forget taking it to our local RadioShack, when I was eight years old, to ask one of the employees (who I knew was a DXer) what the heck “this strange BFO knob” does!
Since I can’t recommend a current analog model, I do have a digital solution that I believe may work for you:
The Tecsun PL-660
Listening to Channel Z in a parking lot with the Tecsun PL-660.
Though not an analog radio, the menus on the PL-660 are not “deep”–most buttons simply toggle features. There is no hardware “switch” to change bands, but I think you would find it easy enough to use the direct frequency entry keypad to navigate across the spectrum. The SSB feature works more like an analog radio as it has a BFO dial on the right side of the radio. The buttons and dials are also raised and tactile. Best yet, the tuning sounds like an analog radio since there is no muting between frequency changes.
There are a number of other portables out there that are about as simple to operate as the PL-660, but I like the price point of the PL-660 and its overall performance characteristics. For a little less money, and a similar form factor and function set–minus a synchronous detector function–you might also consider the Tecsun PL-600 as well.
Again, I’m hoping Post readers might chime in with even better suggestions! Please comment!
>>>>>UPDATE: This radio has been sold! Thanks for your interest!<<<<<
I’m in the process of thinning the herd around here at the SWLing Post HQ! I have dozens of portable radios that I rarely use–many I keep solely for review comparisons and benchmarking.
I’ve always loved the PL-600, but I rarely turn it on these days. I have the PL-660, PL-680, PL-880 and a number of other similar portables for review comparisons.
I used to lug this receiver around quite a bit–somewhere in my travels I scratched the display a bit.
It doesn’t hinder the ability to read the display–not cracked, just scratched–but it’ll turn off someone looking for a perfect specimen for sure. Indeed I’m sure there are other light scratches to be found.
It comes with the original box, soft case, earphones, power supply and manual. Essentially, the full original package.
This unit, of course, works beautifully. In fact, I turned it on for the first time in a few months and check out what was on frequency! So–BONUS!–if you’re a spy, this might be your dream radio.
I want this to be a good deal for someone, so I’ll ship to the first person who offers $40 or more (not too much more, okay?). Free shipping via the USPS. Payment via PayPal.
This morning, I received a question I’m often asked. It usually goes something like this:
“Should I purchase the Tecsun PL-600, or invest a little more and purchase the Tecsun PL-660? Is it worth the price difference?”
I decided it best to post this question, along with my response, below.
SWLing Post reader, Warren, writes:
“I have been on your web site for a couple of hours now. I especially appreciated your super review. From that I decided I liked the Tecsun PL-660 best. As I was looking for one on ebay, I saw an ad for a Tecsun PL-600. Although I did find specs on your web site, I did not find a review by you. I did find links to other reviews.
One person said a PL-600 was a PL-660 minus the AIR band.
Another said the SSB didn’t work until he took it apart and replaced a capacitor.
Another said the filters didn’t work as well on the 600, or didn’t exist.
Many said the quality was excellent – buy it! Many said it was terrible.
Can you tell me, in your opinion, which, if any, of the above you agree with? And give me your own rating of the 600?
The 600 is much less expensive than the 660. If it is missing filters and sound quality I’m not interested. If it is only missing the airline band I am very interested.”
Here’s my reply to Warren:
“It is confusing and, you’re right, for some reason I don’t think I’ve ever done my own review of the PL-600–though it’s been included in comparisons.
Here’s my answer to your question:
If you want the best overall performance, go for the Tecsun PL-660. I think it’s well worth the price.
The Tecsun PL-660.
The PL-660 has a great synchronous detector–something the PL-600 lacks–which helps with selective fading and pulling weak signals out of the murk. Since you can select the sideband for the sync lock, you can also use this function to help mitigate adjacent signal interference.
The ‘600 is one of the few portables on the market in this price range that has a BFO for single sideband listening (along with the CountyComm GP5/SSB and the Degen DE1103 DSP). When newcomers to the hobby want a full-featured sub-$100 radio that’s simple to operate, I often suggest the PL-600. I’ve never had any issues with my PL-600, by the way–it performed as specified right out of the box and continues to do so today.
SWLing Post reader, Tom Ally, writes to say that the Tecsun PL-600 is currently on sale at Amazon.com for $74.99, shipping included. While this is not a deep discount, he notes that it is a lot of radio for the price. I still have a PL-600 and tend to agree with Tom. In fact, I was using my PL-600 this morning, comparing it to the new Sangean ATS-405. In many respects, the PL-600 reminds me of the Grundig G5.
When I heard early reports about the new Tecsun PL-680, I was already wondering how it would stack up alongside other Tecsun portables. An early photo of the Tecsun PL-680 revealed how very similar it is, indeed, to the Tecsun PL-600, which has been on the market for many years. Moreover, the features of PL-680, which I heard about only a few weeks ago, sounded to me like a carbon copy of the venerable PL-660. I investigated further, and spoke with Anna at Anon-Co; she was given to understand that the Tecsun PL-680 was essentially a re-packaged PL-660 with improved sensitivity. I was curious enough about the PL-680 that I ordered one from Anna as soon as they were available, even paying for expedited shipping in order to have it in hand a bit sooner.
The Tecsun PL-660 has been on the market for several years now; it’s one of the most popular shortwave portables on the market. And for good reason: the PL-660 is relatively inexpensive, simple to use, packs all of the most vital and desirable functions/modes, and is available from a variety of retailers that ship worldwide. I have reviewed it numerous times and often used it as the basis for comparison with other shortwave portables. It’s China-based manufacturer, Tecsun, has emerged over the past few years as the dominant manufacturer of shortwave radios.
The Tecsun PL-680 looks like the Tecsun PL-600 body, with the Tecsun PL-660 features and layout. Indeed, the full complement of buttons, switches and dials are identically positioned to those of the PL-660.
Let’s cut to the chase…
Question: So, does the PL-680 have more functions than the PL-660?
Answer:No.It appears to be, and likely is, identical in every (functional) respect to the Tecsun PL-660. No surprises here, unless there are hidden features I haven’t discovered…!
Check out the following comparison photos–the PL-600 on the right, PL-660 in the middle, PL-680 on the right (click to enlarge):
The similarity is so striking, in fact, that I believe the PL-680 is the first radio I’ve ever turned on for the first time, only to find I immediately knew every function. I’m so familiar with the PL-660 that I could even use the PL-680 in the dark the first night I used it.
It also helps, of course, that the PL-680 is nearly identical to the PL-600, too, which I’ve owned for many years.
Here’s how I see the PL-680 product development equation:
In truth, I was quite disappointed that Tecsun did not add a line-out jack to the PL-680.
The PL-660, alas, lacks line-out, and though my Tecsun PL-880 has a line-out, its default shortwave volume is simply too high to be used by most digital recorders. I had hoped that the PL-680 might have a proper line-out jack, potentially making it a replacement for my trusty Sony ICF-SW7600GR. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
But other than missing a line-out jack, I really have few complaints. I’ve always been a fan of simple radio design and I believe Tecsun has done a good thing by keeping the user experience so similar in their PL-6XX line of portable shortwave radios. Apparently, a good thing is a good thing.
But here’s what everyone wants to know…
Question: Does the PL-680 have any performance advantages over the PL-660?
Short Answer: Yes! (But keep your PL-660.)
I should add here that I’m about to get rather technical and radio-geeky, so if you’re only interested in a summary, please skip to the bottom of the page.
Otherwise, help yourself to a cup of coffee, and let’s talk radio…
Since I spend 95% of my listening time on shortwave, I’ll begin with shortwave performance. Again, we’ll compare the PL-680’s performance with that of the PL-660.
In most circumstances, you’ll find that the PL-680 has better sensitivity than the PL-660. It’s a marginal improvement, but one I certainly notice on the shortwave bands–and so did the majority of readers who participated in the shortwave AM reception survey.
The survey had recordings from a total of three broadcasters: Radio Prague, WWV, and Radio France International.
The PL-680 was “Radio A,” and the PL-660 was “Radio B.”
The Radio Prague recording was quite strong and was the only broadcast in our survey in which the PL-660 and PL-680 ran neck-and-neck.
Based on comments from those who participated, the PL-680 came out ahead of the PL-660 in two respects: better sensitivity, and more stable AGC. In both sets of recordings, the signal was weaker than the Radio Prague recording, and QSB (fading) more pronounced. Herein lies a well-known weakness of the PL-660: soft muting and a sometimes over-active AGC equates to more listening fatigue.
Here is a chart with the full survey results based on 194 listener reports. The number of responses are represented on the vertical axis.
Obviously, the engineers at Tecun addressed the soft muting/AGC problem of the PL-660. In all of my time with the PL-680 on the air, I haven’t noticed any soft muting; the audio has been smooth and the AGC copes with fading much better than the PL-660. No doubt, these two improvements alone make the PL-680 a worthy portable for shortwave radio listening.
There is a downside to the improved sensitivity, however: the PL-680 has a slightly higher noise floor than the PL-660. This is mostly noticeable during weak-signal listening. Though I haven’t compared it yet, I’m willing to bet that the noise floor is comparable to that of the Sony ICF-SW7600GR. Personally, if increased sensitivity and stability means a slightly higher noise floor, I’m okay with that. I find that I listen better when the signal is stable and not fluttering/muting with every QSB trough.
The second survey focused on synchronous detection, which is a very useful receiver tool that mitigates adjacent signal interference and improves a signal’s stability. Perhaps it was my good fortune that the same day I tested synchronous detection, fading on even strong stations was pronounced at times. Perfect!
The first recording set was from Radio Australia, a relatively strong signal here in North America. Still, QSB was pronounced–making for an unstable signal–and there was hetrodyne interference in the upper sideband of the broadcast. When I switched the radios into lower sideband sync, halfway through, it effectively mitigated the hetrodyne in all of the recordings.
While I have always considered the PL-660 to sport one of the stronger sync locks in current production portables, it did truly struggle to maintain a lock in both the Radio Australia and Radio Riyadh recordings. Indeed, I was so surprised by how comparatively feeble the sync lock was on Radio Australia, that I disconnected the PL-660 from the recorder and moved to a different location to verify that something nearby wasn’t causing the sync lock instability. It was not; it was solely due to unstable band conditions.
It came as no surprise that survey respondents took note of the PL-680’s stronger sync lock: the PL-680 beat the PL-660 by a wide margin in both sample recordings. I chart the results, below, from a total of 85 responses:
Very good, PL-680! Someday I’d like to compare the PL-680 with the Sony ICF-SW7600GR, which I’ve always considered to have, among current portables, the strongest sync lock.
I wasn’t able to provide an audio survey of SSB performance since the PL-680 picked up too much noise from my digital recorder to make for a fair contest.
Meanwhile, I’ve spent time listening to both radios in SSB mode and comparing the models. To my ear, both are very close in SSB performance, but again the PL-680 does have a slight edge on the PL-660 in terms of sensitivity and AGC performance.
SSB audio fidelity is very similar in both radios.
While I haven’t spent more than, let’s say, an hour with the PL-680 on the FM band, I have concluded that it is very sensitive–able to receive all of my benchmark local and regional FM stations.
An informal comparison between thePL-680 and the PL-660 also leads me to believe that they are both excellent FM performers and seemed to compare favorably. I would certainly welcome FM DXers to comment with their own evaluations of the PL-680.
In short, here is where the PL-680 loses to the PL-660: whereas, on the shortwave bands, the PL-680 is more sensitive, it lacks the same sensitivity on the medium-wave bands.
Though I believe the PL-680 does a marginally better job than the PL-660 of handling the choppy conditions of nighttime MW DX, the PL-660 still pulled voices and music out of the static and made them noticeably more intelligible.
The survey result swung very hard in favor of the PL-660, which has long been one of the more notable medium-wave performers among shortwave portables.
I provided a total of four sample broadcast recordings for comparison. Below, I have embedded one of them–a recording of 940 AM in Macon, Georgia, for your reference.
If you’re a shortwave radio listener, you’ll be pleased with the Tecsun PL-680. In all of my comparison tests between the Tecun PL-660 and Tecsun PL-680, the PL-680 tends to edge out the PL-660, performance-wise. This coincides with the user surveys, too.
If you’re a medium-wave DXer, you might skip over the PL-680. That is, unless Tecsun makes a good iterative design improvement. If you’re a casual medium-wave listener, on the other hand, you’ll probably be pleased with the PL-680.
All in all, I like the Tecsun PL-680 and I see myself using it more than the PL-660 when I’m on the go. If you’re primarily a shortwave radio listener, the PL-680 may very well be worth the upgrade. At $95 US plus shipping, it is certainly a good value. Note that Anon-Co plans to post the Tecsun PL-680 for sale on eBay in March 2015.
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