Tag Archives: Tecsun PL-990

Tecsun PL-990x vs. PL-880: Comparing SSB audio characteristics and pre-production/production PL-990 models

A number of SWLing Post readers have been asking about SSB audio characteristics on the new Tecsun PL-990.

Earlier this week, I took a moment while visiting family to make a few quick comparison videos with the PL-880 outdoors and away from RFI.

As I mention in the videos, there are a lot of cicadas singing in the background and you can also hear a bit of road noise–not ideal for audio, but I had to take advantage of a break in the weather!

You should also note that this isn’t a sensitivity comparison. The radios were pretty close together–if measuring sensitivity, I would have spaced them much further apart. Rather, I hope these videos give you an idea of the audio characteristics in SSB (both CW narrow and voice) and one comparison in AM. If you’re curious about sensitivity and how the PL-990x compares, check out Dan Robinsons initial evaluation.

CW Audio: .5 kHz filter on the 80 meter band

CW Audio: .5 kHz filter on the 30 meter band

SSB audio: 75 meter band

AM Audio: 5 kHz filter WWV 10 MHz

My thoughts

While these videos are far from ideal, they should give you a real-word impression of audio characteristics.

Personally, I think the PL-990x is a much better performer in single sideband. The noise floor is lower, but I think that may have more to do with better filter implementation. I’ve always felt that the PL-880 audio sounds “wider” than the selected filter in the more narrow SSB selections.

In addition, the PL-990x exhibits better SSB stability that’s especially noticeable in CW. The PL-880, at times, almost sounds garbled in comparison.

I also mentioned in the last video that the audio sounds better on the PL-880. I should have qualified that statement a bit better.

In general, yes, the PL-880 audio sounds better because its built-in speaker has slightly better audio fidelity that’s most noticeable when listening to music on the FM band, or a strong local AM station. On shortwave, I feel like I actually prefer the PL-990 audio for all but the strongest stations although I do wish the PL-990 filter could be widened to 9 kHz like the PL-880.

PL-990x (pre-production) vs. PL-990 (production model)

Tecsun Radios Australia reached out and kindly sent me one of their PL-990 production model radios to compare with the PL-990x pre-production model from Anon-Co we’ve been testing up to this point. This has been incredibly helpful as I put together my PL-990 review for the 2021 World Radio TV Handbook.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I feel it can be problematic using a pre-production model radio for review only because there can be differences in quality control when a small number of pre-production units are manufactured compared with a proper first production run (remember this case?).

I’ve only had the production model PL-990 for a few days and most of that time we’ve been dealing with the remnants of hurricane Sally moving through our area dumping torrential rains.

Last night, however, a massive tree fell across our road knocking out power for the better part of 5 hours. This gave me a perfect excuse to start my comparison indoors while rain continued outside.

Based on my comparisons last night, it appears performance is nearly identical between the production and pre-production models. I’ve still more testing to do, but my initial impressions are most positive. Very happy quality appears to be consistent.

Many thanks again to Tecsun Radios Australia for making this comparison possible.

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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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George reviews the new Tecsun PL-990

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, George Joachim, who shares the following review of the Tecsun PL-990.

AS George points out, the PL-990 in the following review is not the “export” model Anon-Co will eventually offer for sale later this year. It might be nearly identical in every respect, but at time of posting Tecsun is addressing some final firmware updates the the “export” version prior to starting a full first production run. As we learn more about the various versions of the PL-990 in the wild–compare serial numbers, etc.– we will eventually sort out any nuances between versions.

George purchased this PL-990 on AliExpress and I am incredibly grateful to read his review of this model:


Review of the Tecsun PL-990

by George Joachim

Introduction

The Tecsun PL 990 is one of the three new radios offered by Tecsun and according to the news from the company these may be the last developed.

The other two radios are the Tecsun H-501 and the PL-330. The H-501 is the largest with dual speakers and the PL-990 is of a similar size to the PL-880, PL-680, PL-660 and PL-600. The PL-330 is the smallest and is similar to the PL-310ET and PL-380.

The Tecsun PL-990 is a medium sized portable multi-function radio. It has the following features:

  • Shortwave (SW)
  • Medium Wave (AM)
  • Frequency Modulation (FM)
  • SSB (LSB and USB)
  • Bluetooth connectivity (BT)
  • MP3 playback from a microSD port
  • Clock and two Timers with Alarms
  • Auto Sleep
  • powered by a single 18650 rechargeable 3.7V Lithium Ion Battery, unbranded and supplied.

The radio is a refinement of the PL-880 with styling similar to the PL-680. It is matte black with a hint of grey, finished in a quality plastic case and it is ergonomic with a good weight and feel, just like the PL-880.

Background

This is my fourth portable radio of this size. I had owned the analogue Sony ICF-7601 back in the day and then the PL-660 and PL-880. The Sony was destroyed by me doing naughty electronic experiments and both the PL-660 and PL-880 were gifted to my family members.

Having no such radio, I considered the purchase of a new PL-880. I had contacted Ms Anna from the Anon Co. in HK and she was very helpful and also mentioned that Tecsun is developing a couple of new radios, but these are not yet available. This got me interested in the PL-990 and the H-501. I had also considered the H-501, because I liked the fact that it has two speaker sets, however the radio did seem a big bulky for my needs. I have a few desktop radios, but I needed something to be on my lap or by the bedside. Usually I fiddle with these portable radios lying on my chest until I find something nice to listen to then let it play on auto sleep until it puts me to sleep. I am sure some of you guys do this too. I imagine the H-501 would be a bit big for this.

After reading articles on the SWLing Post and despite the warnings about Pilot run versions and Chinese versions, I decided to risk a purchase from AliExpress. This has been my one and only purchase on AliExpress so far.

Purchase

My radio was supplied by a company called Li Jia Shops in AliExpress. It cost a steep US$400 and US$157 DHL shipping. Totally expensive and risky in my opinion, but I am known to be reckless with my online purchases.? Besides, I wanted a new toy!

As this was my first purchase from AliExpress, I was a bit apprehensive, as I mainly use eBay. Also buying electronic items from China is a bit risky. One may end up not getting the item, or getting it after some significant delay. As you all know, electronic items exported from China is the largest electronics export operation in the world, so there is congestion in logistics and Covid-19 also adds to that. Selecting DHL to ship the item was very expensive, but I believe necessary. Waiting for an expensive electronic device for two months is a painful experience, at least from my perspective. Using DHL took a mere 12 days. The main delay originated from the shippers. They give the shipment information to DHL well in advance, but they do not actually take the item to DHL unless it suits their facilitators who they assign. The shipment shows as shipped and DHL status is ‘shipment information received’, but in reality the item is still with the shippers. Once it does actually get to DHL, then it is quite fast. Usually the shippers are located in the Shenzhen area and DHL is in Hong Kong. AliExpress will not release the payment unless the buyer confirms receipt of the item as described, so there is some safety for the buyer.

Overall, I was satisfied with the purchase and shipping process. But it was expensive and it was risky. It would be better to approach Anon Co in HK for your purchases rather than AliExpress and Bangood, but ultimately it is the buyer’s decision. For the English Export Version you must wait a bit I think.

The Export Version, the Chinese Version and the Pilot Run Version

This aspect is a bit confusing. From what I understood, and I could well be wrong, the versions are as follows:

Pilot run: this has the buttons as TIME DISPLAY and ALARM (this is also slightly cheaper on AliExpress and Banggood)
Chinese version: TIME TIMER A and TIMER B, but with Chinese manuals (what I have acquired)
Export Version: TIME TIMER A and TIMER B but with English manuals. (there may be further changes / improvements, as these units are still not available)

I am not sure about the firmware. My unit is presumably a later Chinese Version. And everything works properly as per the Firmware. The serial number of my unit indicates a possible manufacture date of July 2020, although this could be wrong.

Review

The review will be based on the different functions of the radio.

FM reception

In the UAE we are blessed with several English language FM radio stations with good music and limited advertisements. Each station caters to particular tastes, such as 90s music, modern and classic hits. Reproduction was crisp and in full bodied stereo. The speaker is powerful and not unlike the speaker of the PL-880.

MW reception

I do not usually listen to AM or MW. However, the radio does a good job receiving these stations with a deep sound and minimal crackling.

SW reception

Shortwave is still out there folks, although its variety and abundance is greatly reduced. I do receive quite a few broadcasts using the telescopic antenna. Activity is concentrated around the 16m band, the 31m band and the 49m band, although occasional broadcasts can also be found in the 22m, 19m and 41m bands. The SYNC function holds on to weak broadcasts and makes them intelligible. I am sure that the Radio would do a commendable job if one could use a time machine to take it back to the SW hay-days of the 80s and 90s. I wonder if they have any time machines up for sale in AliExpress? 🙂

SSB Reception

Right out of the box I was able to fine tune into 14,182.10 kHz on the USB and hear HAMS ‘doing their thang’. It was excellent and far better than what similar attempts resulted in my previous Tecsun radios. I do think that Tecsun has improved the SSB reception with this receiver. I am not a very capable SSB chaser, but if there is something SSB out there, the PL-990 should able to pull it in. One needs to know where and when to tune and luck also plays a role.

LW Reception

Yes it is there, but no, I have never heard anything in there using the PL-990 and all my previous radios. I do wonder if submarines transmit in the LW band? I don’t know.

MP3 Playback

A lot of listeners are not interested in MP3 listening, but I am. Especially with SW being so sparse nowadays. MP3 was a feature missed from previous Tecsun radios. I enjoy compiling a list of favourite tracks and listening to them, while engaged in a barbecue or in car maintenance or cleaning. I am also a train modeler and like to listen to MP3s while running my trains. Tecsun has even supplied a Sandisk micro SD card of 16GB with various Chinese and international tracks, which I think was nice of them.

Bluetooth

There is no Bluetooth button, but by pressing the RADIO/MP3 button an indication will come on the display as BT. The radio can then be conveniently paired with a mobile phone to transfer the audio from a you tube clip or similar to the radio, although I wouldn’t see the need for that. I am not sure if files can be transferred to the radio this way, I believe the function is only for audio playback.

Presentation and packaging

Much like the PL-880, the radio comes superbly packaged. The cardboard box functions as a glossy display of the radio and its features. Inside there are foam holders and there is a sturdy grey plastic toolbox case. In the toolbox case there is the radio, within a nylon bag inside its light brown faux leather pouch. The radio as well as the pouch have a carrying strap. In the toolbox there is a black foam case that contains:

  • A blue 18650 3.7 V Lithium Ion Battery
  • A long wire antenna in its real
  • A short(ish) charging cable
  • A UK style plug adaptor
  • A Chinese style charger with 2 USB outputs
  • A Chinese language operation manual
  • A Poster containing the map of the world and country Radio codes
  • On the other side of the Poster is a detailed view of the PL-990 with illustrations in Chinese

Batteries

The radio uses one Li-Ion type 18650 3.7V battery. The included type is a blue generic unbranded type, I would have preferred a Tecsun-branded battery. I have a couple of vape equipment batteries –Golisi S30, which I believe are superior to the unbranded battery. (No, I am not a Vaper).

Concluding Remarks

The latest Tecsun offering is a great conclusion to their series of multi-function portable radios. It offers some advantages over the PL-880, such as:

  • Styling
  • MP3
  • Much improved SSB reception
  • Superb FM reproduction
  • Bluetooth

Apart from the above I don’t see a compelling reason to acquire the radio unless, SSB or MP3 is important for you. Or like me, you just must have the latest.

Score

Style: 90%
FM: 100%
SW: 90% SYNC available
SSB: 95%
MW: 85%
LW: 80%
Battery Life: 70% for the provided battery 8/10 for externally sourced batteries
Display: 70% (the display is good, but it hasn’t really changed from previous displays)
Buttons: 85% Sturdy and precise, no wobbly buttons here.
Dials: 90% hard and precise with excellent indentations
Ports: 90% strong a tight female ports with protection plugs
Packaging: 95% anything you could wish for.
Documentation: 100% for Chinese speakers
Antenna: 60% normal telescopic antenna, should be a bit more shiny IMO.
Stability: 70% Stands well and has the rear bracket as the PL-880, however, would be easy to snap if pushed.
Sensitivity: 95% if it is there it will receive it and improve the signal over listening time.

Overall Review Score:
85.3%

Final thoughts:
Go get one, if you must, but better wait for the full export version.

George Joachim
11 AUG 2020


Many thanks, George, for sharing your review of the PL-990!

So far, the PL-990 sounds like it has iterative improvements over the PL-880 which is, I suppose, what I would expect. The PL-880 is a great portable, so I believe even minor performance upgrades–especially in terms of synchronous detection–could be very beneficial to some SWLs.  And thanks for taking the deep-dive and grabbing one of the models on AliExpress! It’ll be interesting to compare notes once the “export” PL-990 is released.

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Photos of the Tecsun PL-990

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, George Joachim, who shares the following photo of his recently acquired Tecsun PL-990. George also shared the following comment:

I have just received my PL 990 from Ali Express. Suitably impressed everything works as advertised and yes it is the newer (TIME TIMER A TIMER B) version. The serial number shows a production of July 2020. Comes in the usual box with all accessories as the PL -880. They even include a Micro SD card with prerecorded songs. Well done again Tecsun!!!

Photos


Thank you, George. You’re obviously not only a fan of shortwave and rails, but also the Queen of the Skies!

A quick update about my Tecsun PL-990 review

Hopefully in the next week or two, I will be receiving a pre-production export version of the PL-990 that will eventually be sold by Anon-Co. I should have received a model a couple weeks ago, but they discovered a last-minute issue they had to address in the firmware. Once this is sorted, I will receive a pre-production model to carefully test. I’m guessing the model I’m testing will have some slight differences with that of George’s above only because it’s my understanding Tecsun hasn’t made a production run of the variant Anon-Co plans to sell yet.  Cosmetically, I’m sure they’re near-identical. I’ll certainly post an update when I receive the test model. Thanks for your patience!

 

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Tecsun PL-990: How to distinguish pilot run and final export versions

The Tecsun PL-990

As I suspected, it appears the Tecsun PL-990 batch that showed up recently on AliExpress for $399 each are the preliminary pilot run units that Tecsun offered in China last year. The final export version of the PL-990 is not ready for production yet and has been severely delayed by Covid-19 quarantines.

Anna at Anon-Co reports that Tecsun factories have been closed since mid-January 2020 and have only recently recommenced production, “but at a very slow pace.”

Since there will eventually be two different versions of the Tecsun PL-990 in the wild–the pilot run for China, and the finalized export version–I thought I’d share a trick Anna has described to tell the difference between the two.

Anna notes:

One way to easily see this is from the labels for the buttons above the keypad, these should be

[ TIME ], [ TIMER A ], and [ TIMER B ] (see picture below)

Tecsun PL-990 Final Export Version:

Tecsun PL-990 Final Export version

Tecsun PL-990 Final Export Version

Pilot Tecsun PL-990 (preliminary China domestic version):

Preliminary Pilot Tecsun PL-990 distributed in China — image from AliExpress.

Anna adds:

I highly recommend [no one] buy these pilot versions, because the software on those devices is also not developed.

There still isn’t a final version or any price indication available yet, but it will definitely not be US$399.99.

So in case it’s not clear: don’t purchase a PL-990 until you can confirm you’re receiving a final export version which has the TIME, TIMER A, and TIMER B labels.

Again, at time of posting, the final PL-990 export version is not yet in production.

When the final export PL-990 is available, I will announce it here on the SWLing Post with links to authorized retailers like Anon-Co.

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Tecsun PL-990 (pilot run) now on AliExpress

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who notes that the Tecsun PL-990 has now appeared on AliExpress.com.

The price is a steep $399 US shipped via DHL with an estimated delivery of late March. They claim to have about 900 units available.

You can check out the PL-990 on the AliExpress website, but it might require registration even via this direct link.

Frankly, I would wait until the PL-990 is available at Anon-Co since they’re an authorized Tecsun distributor, have proven customer service, and will likely have a more competitive price. I would also question if the AliExpress units are the new export version we’ve been waiting for, or simply the units that were available within China last year. The AliExpress page gives us no clear indication of the production version at time of posting.

UPDATE: Turns out, these are the pilot Chinese versions of the PL-990. I can’t recommend purchasing one–especially at this price.

I hope this might indicate that the PL-990 is close to release. Covid-19 has certainly stopped much production and development in China. Thanks again for the tip, Dan!

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Coronavirus delaying product development, production, and shipping

Photo by chuttersnap

Earlier this week, I mentioned in a Patreon post that if you’re plotting to buy a radio or other consumer electronics currently in development or production in China, expect delays.

Due to the spread of the Coronavirus, a number of factories have been shut down and production effectively frozen since the beginning of the Chinese New Year. Some companies are attempting to slowly bring operations back to normal levels, but progress is unstable to say the least.

I’ve spoken with a couple of friends who work in the radio and consumer electronics industry in China and both have expressed serious concerns regarding new product timelines this year. Both noted that there’s no need for alarm or panic at this point, but consumer expectations should simply be in-check as the situation unfolds.

In the meantime, expect recently announced products to take longer to hit the market.

The Tecsun PL-990

I would not be surprised, for example, if the Tecsun PL-990, Tecsun H-501, Eton Satellit Elite, and Icom IC-705 are all delayed a few weeks or even months. Much depends on where each product was in the design, development, or production process when factories were closed.

It’s also possible if your regional retailers and distributors run out of product inventory, it could take an an extended time to replenish stock.

Again, there’s no need to panic about product availability at this point, just anticipate delays!

Post readers: Has this situation already had a direct impact on you?  Please comment.


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