Tag Archives: Tecsun PL-990x

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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Anon-Co publishes pricing and availability of Tecsun PL-990x packages

Anon-Co has just posted pricing and availability of the Tecsun PL-990x:

The PL-990x package like the pre-production unit I received costs $235 US shipped free via the postal service or via FedEx for an additional $9.00.

This package includes the Tecsun PL-990x, Tecsun EP-20 stereo earphones, 16GB microSD card, Tecsun AN-03L wire antenna, protective carrying pouch, charging cable, USB wall charger, radio amateur world map, and an English manual.

Click here to view the product page.

In October, Anon-Co will also start shipping a PL-990x package that comes in a hardcover case and an ICR-100 recorder. This version will be $283.00 US.

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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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Tecsun PL-990x Initial Assessment

SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, and I have been evaluating a pre-production model of the Tecsun PL-990x portable shortwave radio–the same model which will be soon sold by Anon-Co.

Dan has just completed his initial assessment and included a long-format video. Many thanks to Dan for sharing the following:


Tecsun PL-990x:  An Initial Assessment

by Dan Robinson

Recently, Thomas Witherspoon posted the first photos of the Tecsun PL-990x – we both received units from Anon-co in Hong Kong for testing.

I was able to spend some time outside my house here in Maryland, running the 990x and comparing it to the older receiver by Tecsun, the PL-880.

Tecsun undertook a thorough re-design of the PL-880, which among other things was known for its superb sound through a large speaker.

The 880 was available both on its own, or in a hard-case kit that also included (or includes assuming these are still purchasable) a separate Tecsun-branded solid state recording device, spare knobs and other accessories including Li-ion batteries.

So, the long-awaited PL-990, which we have been seeing in YouTube videos being tested by various individuals who purchased pre-production versions from Asian sites such as AliExpress, is finally here – or will be in coming weeks and months.

Those who view my videos know that I like to do fairly long hands-on tests of receivers, and this is no exception, at about 50 minutes.  My test did not include medium wave or FM, focusing only on shortwave performance and using only the telescopic whip antenna.

Throughout the video, I do put the 990x up against the older PL-880, which had the well-known issue of poorly-implemented synchronous detection (SYNC was not an official feature in the older receiver).

IMPORTANT NOTE:   On the 990x, hitting the “4” key while the radio is powered on activates DNR (Dynamic Noise Reduction) which then activates auto-bandwidth switching, a feature I found quite annoying in the PL-880 and would no doubt find just as annoying in the 990x.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want bandwidths auto-switching on their own.

I always tell people who come to me for advice about radios that you don’t always have to have the latest receiver to enjoy what’s left of shortwave.

I am a big fan of classic older portables such as the SONY ICF SW55s, 7600GRs, SW100s, SW-07s, SW-1000Ts, SW-77s, etc along with other classics such as the Panasonic RF-B65.  I own one or more of most of these – they’re a joy to use assuming they are in good condition.

One more thing – I did not compare the 990x to the Tecsun S-8800.  I think they are really different radios – the 8800 has that gorgeous remote control and fantastic audio . . . I really don’t put it in the same category as the 880/990s or even the 600 series Tecsuns.

I will leave extensive tests of the 990x on medium wave and FM to others – there are already quite a few YouTube demonstrations online showing this.  In the tuning I did on MW and FM, the radio did seem quite sensitive.  I noted that whereas the 9 kHz bandwidth is not visible on shortwave, it is on MW.

Here is my list of high points and low points for the 990x.  Since this receiver, and the still-to-be-released H-501, may in fact be the last we will ever see from Tecsun, it’s up to the individual to make a judgment as to whether to buy.

PL-990x High Points

  • A thorough physical re-design of the old PL-880
  • Tecsun has mostly fixed the problem with synchronous mode which is now a regular as opposed to a hidden feature.
  • Selectivity options are still excellent.
  • Calibration function retained (but see below)
  • Audio is fairly full and powerful.
  • Sensitivity seems good
  • Tecsun has added mp3 play capability and a microSD slot
  • Tecsun has added bluetooth capability (NOTE:  This is activated by pressing the RADIO/MP3 key in powered off state, and then toggling Bluetooth on or off with the PLAY/PAUSE button).
  • Tuning and other knobs remain of high quality as on the PL-880
  • Bandwidths given their own separate buttons
  • Line out retained and hidden feature can adjust line out level
  • Claimed “Triple Conversion” in AM mode
  • Timer functions
  • ATS (automatic station tuning) retained
  • Nice faux-leather case retained

PL-990x negatives:

  • Re-design appears to have come at expense of speaker real estate.
  • Synchronous mode improved, but there still seems to be some distortion which is more noticeable on some frequencies and in some reception situations than others.
  • PL-880’s wide AM bandwidth of 9 kHz is no more at least on SW, but it does appear when using MW.
  • Sensitivity seems good BUT in some situations, PL-880 sounded better and seemed to bring in stations better
  • MicroSD capability does not provide recording from broadcasts (likely due to copyright issues)
  • Method for re-calibrating radio is puzzling – more information needed on this
  • Birdies are present
  • Top element of telescopic antenna is VERY thin, vulnerable to bending and breaking
  • Number keys seem to be not as good as they could be – the white paint on the keys is certain to fade over time.  On my test unit part of the “W” on the MW/LW key was already beginning to disappear.

Selectivity comparison of the PL-990x and PL-880

PL-990x

Selectivity Options on SW:

2.3, 3.5, 5.0, 6.0

Selectivity Options LSB/USB:

0.5, 1.2, 2.3, 3.0, 4.0

Selectivity Options LW/MW:

2.3, 3.5, 5.0, 9.0

PL-880

Selectivity Options SW/LW/MW:

2.3, 3.5, 5, 9

Selectivity Options LW/MW:

0.5, 1.2, 2.3, 3.0, 4.0

Video


Many thanks, Dan, for sharing your initial review with us. As always, your expertise as an experienced DXer is incredibly valuable. 

I’ve tested every function on the PL-990 save some of the hidden features (yes, there will be hidden features). Dan and I are both trying to sort out the calibration sequence so that when these units hit the market, there’ll be a documented procedure in place. 

We’ve been comparing notes along the way and are in agreement on all of the major points with this radio. Still more testing to do, but updated with be posted here with the tag: Tecsun PL-990x


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Detailed photos of the Tecsun PL-990x and difference between it and the PL-990

This week, I received a pre-production unit of the Tecsun PL-990x.

You might have noticed the “x” in the model number which is used to specify the particular model that will be exported and distributed by Anon-Co.

It’s my understanding that the PL-990x is essentially the same as the PL-990 when the MW tuning steps are set to 10 kHz. When set to 9 kHz steps, however, it differs. I was sent the following chart showing the differences between the models:

PL-990x photos

Click to enlarge the following photos:

The side ports have small, protective inserts installed. They’re tiny and not attached in any way to the chassis so could be easily lost.

They can be a bit finicky to put back in as well. I’m sure I’ll simply remove the one from the headphones port permanently and leave the others in.

It’s a nice option to keep unused ports free of dust and dirt.

The radio comes with rubber pads installed on the tuning, fine-tuning and volume knobs. This does add a little extra grip while rotating the knobs, but I don’t personally think they’re necessary. Fortunately, they’re very easy to remove if you don’t like them.

Another thing I love about the PL-990 are the dedicated mechanical switches on the front of the radio for functions like antenna switching, gain/attenuation, and back lighting:

The keypad layout is very logical and in keeping with previous Tecsun models.

I’ll soon be putting the PL-990 through the paces! So far, I’m very impressed with the build quality and built-in speaker audio. I’ve yet to properly evaluate performance.

Funny: I’ve been so eager to check out both the PL-990 and the lab599 TX-500. Both have been held months up due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This week, on the same day, I received them both. For a radio geek like me, it’s almost overwhelming.

Stay tuned–there’s much more to come!

(Also, check out George’s recent PL-990 review!)


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