Tag Archives: Tecsun R-2010D Review

Mechanically-tuned portable DSP radios: a shootout

Three of the five contenders: The Degen DE32, Degen DE321 and Tecsun R-2010D (Click to enlarge)

Three of the five contenders: The Degen DE32, Degen DE321 and Tecsun R-2010D (Click to enlarge)

Following is my premiere shortwave radio column for the January 2014 issue of The Spectrum Monitor digital magazine.  It takes the form of a review–or “shoot-out,” if you will–of a few select mechanically-tuned DSP radios I’ve tested over the years.

While I’m a big fan of print publications, digital publications like TSM offer me flexibility that I can’t get in traditional print: namely, shorter time to publication (thus more up-to-date information) and especially, the ability to embed links and audio as I do here on The SWLing Post. In this case, I’m able to include audio clips which the reader can utilize to compare the radios firsthand (embedded here, as well).

Note: This being my first contribution to a brand new magazine, I thought it would be fitting to begin by explaining why I still believe in shortwave radio…I mean, how could I resist? I guess I’ll always be a shortwave evangelist at heart.

Hope you enjoy.

First:  why I still believe in shortwave

SP600Dial3While I’ve been blogging about shortwave for several years now, I simply can’t tell you how many times I’ve received an email asking doubtfully, “This seems like a fun hobby, but isn’t shortwave radio dead?”

My response?  No way!  Here’s why.

I once had the truly good fortune to be interviewed by Gareth Mitchell, host of the BBC World Service technology program Click. For once, I made a point of listening to this interview that featured me––always a bit embarrassing––but after all, this was the BBC World Service!

But Gareth’s lead-in to our segment about my shortwave radio-based charity, Ears To Our World (ETOW), truly surprised me:  our non-profit, he said, “distributes portable battery powered devices that can stream audio in real time, all via an intuitive touch interface.”

Wow…how true.  And since that interview, this is exactly how I see shortwave radio, too: not as a forgotten relic of the past century, but as a medium at home in the future with a unique, highly accessible, and yet global reach.  Shortwave radio, after all, requires no apps, no subscriptions, and no mobile phone or Internet connection to deliver information worldwide at the speed of light.

All you need––in short––is a radio.

Shortwave lives!

This column exists to prove to the doubtful that shortwave radio––indeed, radio in general––is not only alive and well, but loud and clear in urban as well as rural settings the world over.   Here, you’ll find in-depth articles that reflect the changing state of shortwave radio:  the technologies, the techniques, and the vast array of content currently available across the shortwave radio spectrum. Best yet, because SWLing (shortwave listening) is what you make of it, you can be part of it:  share your input, so that I can cover (and uncover) shortwave topics you wish to discuss.

So I begin this first column with a little comparison––a shootout––between five newly-popular analog DSP radios.  Let’s find out who’s left standing.

The contenders

We’ll be pitting five models against each other here: the Degen DE321, the Degen DE32, the Tecsun R-2010D, the Kchibo KK9803 and the ShouYu SY-X5. With the exception of the ShouYu SY-X5, all of these manufacturers have in the past produced at least one portable with truly notable performance (the Degen DE1102, 1103, Kchibo D96L and an array of Tecsuns, including the PL 310, 380, 390, 600 and 660).

Moreover––so that you can hear the difference for yourself!––I’ve included linked audio clips for each model. They were all tuned to the same frequency, same broadcast and within seconds of one another.

But first, what is a DSP radio? And why do we need them?

The Silicon Labs DSP chip found in many of these radios.

The Silicon Labs DSP chip found in many of these radios.

Mechanically-tuned DSP

Radio is no longer just your granddad’s medium.  Several years ago, the digital signal processing chip manufacturer, Silicon Labs (SiLabs), altered the entire radio landscape with one little chip. Indeed, most new digital shortwave/AM/FM radios on the market use a SiLabs (or other manufacturer’s) DSP chip as the centerpiece of their receiver architecture.

Using a DSP chip in a fully digital radio makes sense: after all, you have a digital display, digital buttons, and digital encoder. But using a digital chip with a traditional analog display––a mechanically-tuned DSP radio––does that make sense?

SiLabs and a growing number of radio manufacturers and retailers believe the answer is a resounding “yes.” In truth, there are concrete benefits to making this addition; among them:

  • Decreasing production cost of radios by as much as 80%
  • Decreasing R&D costs of new radios dramatically
  • Digital signal processing with the simplicity of analog radio design
  • Reduced power consumption when compared with digital display radios
  • An avenue to make radios more affordable––especially to listeners living in poverty, such as those in developing world settings, who make up a large subgroup of listeners

When I first learned about the implementation of a DSP chip with a mechanically-tuned radio in 2010, I felt like it might be “the” way to make quality receiver performance available and accessible to many.  Now, four years later, several manufacturers have produced mechanically-tuned DSP shortwave radios.  All are available from sellers at a price of under $40 USD. Not bad…

Common review points for mechanically-tuned DSP radios

I’ve now reviewed enough mechanically-tuned DSP-based radios that I’m beginning to note performance commonalities that can only be attributed to the design of the DSP chipset itself, regardless of how these are implemented in each model. So, before the shooting starts, let’s take a quick look at some common review points of the contenders.

Tuning: not quite an analog radio…

I’ve got to begin with the most obvious common review point: namely, tuning.

For those of us accustomed to analog tuning, the DSP/analog combination is, well, completely different and a little quirky. Tuning a traditional analog radio is a fluid process which allows for a certain amount of play; you need not be precisely on a frequency to hear a station, and often you hear a station fade as another pops into the band pass. But when tuning analog DSP, you hear stations and static pass by in comparatively coarse 5 kHz chunks. Especially in radios with tiny analog frequency dials, it makes tuning feel somewhat “sticky” or finicky, and ironically, rather imprecise. You feel like you’re skipping over stations while band-scanning.  And for those accustomed to digital tuning, instead of using buttons to tune in these 5 kHz increments, you’re using a tuning wheel, with no customary “step” response.  Not what you would expect from either digital or analog radio.

But of course, you can locate your station with this method.  It takes a little practice––and a measure of patience––but you’ll adjust to this different method of tuning.  Note that much of this awkwardness may disappear if SiLabs produces a chip with more precise tuning increments, such as 1 kHz steps with decreased muting.

Automatic Gain Control

In all the models I’ve tested so far, the Auto Gain Control (AGC) is a little too overactive when listening to weak AM/SW stations. This results in a “pumping” sound and serious listening fatigue when set on weaker stations. However, on strong stations, all models perform quite well.


Since all of these radios are based on the same chip family from SiLabs, you can expect eight shortwave bands: two FM bands, one AM (medium wave) band, and eight shortwave bands. The frequency ranges available to the manufacturer in all bands are identical.


FM performance on each of these radios is above average, and the coverage quite wide––from 64 MHz to 108 MHZ in two FM bands. If you like listening to FM radio, you’ll be pleased with any of these inexpensive models.

And now for some action!

Now, we’ll pit these five radios against each other in an listener’s challenge that will leave the losers in the dust…and the winners clear.


The Degen DE321 – Current retail:  $21.00 USD

The DE321 was the first analog DSP shortwave radio on the market. The DE321 is small, slim, über-simple, and fits nicely in the hand. The analog tuning dial takes up more than half of the front face of the radio––a good thing, as the larger the dial, the easier the tuning. Performance-wise, the DE321 holds its own in this crowd; it’s quite reasonable in both sensitivity and selectivity. The DE321 is the most bare-bones radio among the five described here.


The Degen DE32 – Current retail: $27.00 USD

The DE32 is the smallest radio of the five. Unlike the DE321, the DE32 is not “just” a radio; it also sports a simple MP3 audio player and a small white LED flashlight. The DE32 has a small built-in speaker which delivers tinny and rather cheap audio, but is okay for a single listener, and fine for spoken-word broadcasts. Audio fidelity is greatly improved with headphones. Performance-wise, the DE321 is slightly better than the DE32 on shortwave.


The Tecsun R-2010D – Current retail: $39.00 USD

When I first held the R-2010D, I initially assumed I had found the holy grail among analog/DSP radios:  while the R-2010D is the largest of the five radios, measuring nearly equivalent to my Sony ICF-SW7600GR (not a pocket-sized portable like the others) it nonetheless has a beautiful large analog display (a major plus!), an amply-sized speaker for great portable audio, and a fluid tuning mechanism. To top it off, the R-2010D has a small digital frequency display so that you can verify your frequency. The R-2010D’s AGC circuit handles strong stations well, but clips on weak stations. But the promising R-2010D has one major flaw: terrible selectivity. Indeed, the selectivity is so sloppy, that you will not be able to delineate two strong signals spaced 10 kHz apart from each other.

ShouYu SY-X5

The ShouYu SY-X5 – Current retail:  $27.00 USD

The SY-X5 surprised me: what makes this model stand out is the fact that it can be powered by either a rechargeable slim battery pack (found in the DE32) or three standard AA batteries.  It also has a built-in MP3 player that, like the Degen DE32, uses a standard microSD card for media storage. Unlike the DE32, the SY-X5 has a bright red LED display that helps in navigating MP3 files. The SY-X5 also has surprisingly good audio from its built-in speaker, rivaling the much larger Tecsun R-2010D. The negative here? Though the SY-X5 has a fluid tuning mechanism, it is prone to drifting when trying to adjust the analog tuning needle to frequency.

IMG_0823The Kchibo KK9803 – Current retail:  $16.00 USD

When I first wrote this review, I didn’t even include the KK9803. Why? Because, frankly, it’s one of the worst performing radios I’ve ever owned, and I would strongly discourage you from even considering it. My primary criticism of this radio is that the tuning is barely functional:  the shortwave band segments are far too close to one another on the dial, hence the digital tuning steps are too narrowly-spaced to offer any sort of tuning accuracy whatsoever. Barely moving the tuning wheel, one may pass over even a strong station…undetectably. The only hint of the station’s existence may be an occasional quick blip or audio buzz. I must confess that the experience of band-scanning (tuning) this radio offers is the worst I’ve ever known in any radio. Don’t buy it. In our shootout, it’s bitten the dust before it even aims, because let’s face it:  this radio just can’t.

Audio comparisons

Click on each radio model to hear a short comparison audio clips. Note that I added an audio sample of the Tecsun PL-660 to the weak signal DX examples as a benchmark.

The Tecsun R-2010D (left) has the best audio from its large internal speaker, the Degen DE32, on the other hand, produces "tinny" audio via its speaker.

The Tecsun R-2010D (left) produces excellent audio from its large internal speaker. The Degen DE32 (right) produces “tinny” audio via its tiny built in speaker.

Local AM Comparison (1350 AM)
Degen DE321
Degen DE32
ShouYu SY-X5
Tecsun R-2010D

Weak Signal Shortwave Comparison (KBS 9,805 kHz)
Degen DE321
Degen DE32
ShouYu SY-X5
Tecsun R-2010D

Tecsun PL-660 (AM and Sync)

Strong Signal Shortwave Comparison (WINB 9,265 kHz)

Degen DE321
Degen DE32
ShouYu SY-X5
Tecsun R-2010D

The Winners

All of these radios share similar qualities.  After all, they’re brothers of a sort, built around the same family of DSP chips. If you’ve read the summaries above, then you won’t be disappointed by any of these that follow–especially at this modest price point. Still, I reach for different radios based on their strengths, and to help you choose, here’s a “best of” list:

Most versatile: ShouYu SY-X5

Best Audio: Tecsun R-2010D and ShouYu SY-X5

Best sensitivity: Tecsun R-2010D

Best value: Degen DE321

Best overall?

The ShouYu SY-X5

The ShouYu SY-X5

If I had to choose just one of these radios, it might just be the ShouYu SY-X5. It offers the most value and versatility for the performance. I think its audio is brilliant for a pocket radio, and I love the fact it has an LED display to help me navigate through the MP3 files loaded on my microSD card. However, as with any of these low-cost contenders, don’t expect to try any weak-signal DXing with the SY-X5.

By the way, if the Tecsun R-2010D simply had better selectivity and weak signal gain control, it would win this contest, hands down. In fact, I actually sent feedback to Tecsun engineering regarding the R-2010D selectivity shortcoming in the hope that they’ll fix this problem in future production runs.  You might do the same.

In conclusion, mechanically-tuned DSP portables may not pack DXer-grade performance, but they are priced so that everyone can afford to experiment. And for your buck, that’s pretty good radio bang!

This article was previously published in The Spectrum Monitor.


Click on the radio model to read full reviews of each radio on the SWLing Post–I’ve also provided links to eBay:

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Another Tecsun R-2010D review

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(click to enlarge)

Thanks to Gary for sending this link to the Radio-Timetraveller’s review of the Tecsun R-2010D.

I see that he had the same issue with abysmal selectivity as I did in my review of the radio earlier this week. I certainly hope Tecsun works to fix this; it would be a pleasant radio, if selectivity were improved and the AGC was tweaked.

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A review of the Tecsun R-2010D shortwave radio

The Tecsun R-2010D (click to enlarge)

The Tecsun R-2010D (click to enlarge)

SiLabs DSP chips are now in the bulk of the newest portable shortwave radios on the market. And it’s no wonder: these small chips offer more features and improved performance, when properly implemented. Manufacturers love them, of course, because these little chips allow them to produce radios at a much lower cost–some of which they pass on to the consumer–for widening their profit margins.

While there are a few other mechanically-tuned DSP portables on the market–the Degen DE321, DE32, Kchibo KK-9803, to name a few–the Tecsun R-2010D stands apart in that it has a digital frequency display. Tecsun was able to achieve this by building the R-2010D around the SiLabs Si484X chip set. The Degen and Kchibo models actually use the Silicon Labs Si4831/35-B30, which lack a provision for digital display.

Tecsun first announced this receiver three years ago with the model number R-2010. Since then, I have received a lot of questions about this particular radio, so when I first heard that the R-2010D was available for purchase, I ordered one immediately from Anon on eBay.


I received the R-2010D in less than two weeks via airmail from Hong Kong. It was packed in a padded envelope, and while the postal service wasn’t terribly gentle with the package (the R-2010D’s box had damaged corners) the radio inside was perfectly fine.

The Tecsun R-2010D compared with my Sony ICF-SW7600GR (click to enlarge)

The Tecsun R-2010D compared with my Sony ICF-SW7600GR (click to enlarge)

My first surprise after pulling the R-2010D from its box was the discovery that it was much bigger than I thought it would be. I had assumed it would only be marginally bigger than the Degen models listed above; instead, it’s almost identical in size to my Sony ICF-SW7600GR (one of my largest true portables).

Immediately, without even turning the radio on, I noticed that Tecsun had put more thought behind the R-2010D mechanics and ergonomics than either Degen and Kchibo had in their comparable models.

First of all, the larger size means that the analog display is relatively large. One of the problems with the smaller portables is the difficulty in reliably tuning in a station on a tiny analog dial. With the larger dial, I could tell the R-2010D would be easier to tune accurately.

The telescopic whip antenna is another strong point. Like pricier portables, it is fairly robust, long, and fully rotatable. This is a welcome departure from many portables I’ve seen lately that have puny, fixed-position telescoping antennas. I was even further shocked to notice a dedicated FM & shortwave antenna jack on the left side of the unit. Wow.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

My R-2010D also came with a nice carrying bag and a pair of headphones. While it lacked a set of Ni-MH rechargeable batteries (which can be charged internally), I was pleased with Tecsun’s choice of AA batteries instead of the thin Ni-MH proprietary battery pack the Degen models use. I’m one radio listener that is content having a slightly larger radio in exchange for powering my receiver with standard AA cells. Plus, I have a large collection of Ni-MH AA batteries and a charging station specifically for use in my portables (and you should, too–check out my previous post on the topic).


I’ve had the R-2010D on the air for a few days, and have formed some initial impressions. I may follow up in the near future with corrections or further observations [spoiler alert: especially since there are serious issues with this model] but I feel pretty confident about my assessment, even with only a few days on the air.

First, let’s talk about the positives…

What a difference a digital display makes

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(click to enlarge)

One commonality in all my previous reviews of mechanically-tuned DSP radios is the quirkiness of a precise 5 kHz stepped digital tuner with a vague mechanical analog display as interface. The combination, especially with a little muting between frequencies, makes for a band-scanning chore.

I’m willing to bet that Tecsun realized this weakness and this is the reason they redesigned the radio around the Silicon Labs Si484X (sources tell me when Tecsun first announced the R-2010, they had planned to use the Silicon Labs Si4831 chipset). The Si484X chip allows the R-2010D to offer a precise digital frequency display next to the analog dial. Nice touch; you can accurately confirm your frequency! Secondly, the R-2010D analog dial is large, making the space between tuning steps more broad and therefore easier to find.

In fact, the Tecsun excels in the tuning category. While there is some noticeable muting between frequency changes, it’s not as distracting as other models listed above. Additionally, the tuning wheel itself is silky-smooth to operate, much like higher-quality Sony and Grundig analog portables of the past. There is no lag time or “play” in my R-2010D’s dial. Another nice touch: the tuning needle is thin, making it much easier to precisely place the needle on your target frequency (you can then fine-tune with the digital display).


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(click to enlarge)

Another strong point, of course, is audio fidelity. Being a larger portable means that the R-2010D has a larger front-facing speaker. Audio from the internal speaker is actually better than my Sony ICF-SW7600GR offers.

Even better, the R-2010D has a three position tone control switch (low, medium, high). I find that for AM listening, the low position seems to strike the right balance, especially during summer conditions when high-pitched static crashes and pops are ever-present. On the FM band, I find that I keep the tone control set to medium. The high position is rather high and I find that I personally don’t use this tone position.

FM performance

While still on the topic of clear positives, I can say that the FM performance of the R-2010D is above average. It can easily receive my benchmark distant NPR station with little static or fading. I can also hear all of my local FM stations with ease. Any distortion or noise seems to be very low on the FM band.

Shortwave performance

I’ve spent the bulk of my R-2010D listening time on the shortwave bands. The following are my observations:

Sensitivity: great

In terms of sensitivity, the R-2010D is great; very acceptable for a radio in the $40 US price group. I can hear stations with it that I cannot hear on my other mechanically-tuned DSP radios and, indeed, it seems to have sensitivity on par with my Tecsun PL-380. The PL-380 has a slight edge on the R-2010D, but only noticeable with the weakest stations. In fact, what probably gives the PL-380 an edge is its automatic gain control, which does a much better job of handling weak signal stations than that of the R-2010D. The R-2010D is not, however, as sensitive as my Sony ICF-SW7600GR (a radio three times the cost of the R-2010D).

Selectivity: unfortunately, terrible

In my opinion, the biggest failing of the Tecsun R-2010D is its very poor selectivity.

The second time I turned the R-2010D on, I tuned it to the morning broadcast of Radio Australia on 9,580 kHz. If you’re a regular here at the SWLing Post, you’ve probably heard one of the many recordings I’ve made of RA on 9,580; it has a blowtorch signal into eastern North America.

Here’s what happened: I tuned the R-2010D to 9,580 kHz, only to hear China Radio International (CRI)–with beautiful fidelity, I might add. At first, I thought that perhaps the Radio Australia signal had gone off the air. I checked my WinRadio Excalibur SDR, however, and saw that the Radio Australia signal was one of the strongest in my 30 MHz bandwidth display. It was being broadcast with its usual strength out of Shepparton. CRI, though, had a blowtorch signal as well on 9,700 kHz; only 10 kHz away. The CRI broadcast might have been ever so slightly stronger than the RA signal.

For some reason, the R-2010D could only detect the CRI signal; there was not even a trace of Radio Australia. I began to wonder if the R-2010D had poor alignment, so I tuned to other stations on the air, but found they were basically showing as broadcasting on frequency; alignment wasn’t the issue.

I grabbed a few other radios that were handy for comparison, and made quick recordings. Here is what I heard:

The Degen DE32 was being battered by the CRI signal, but I could still hear Radio Australia:

The Degen DE321 had better reception than the DE32:

The Sony ICF-SW7600GR could detect the Radio Australia signal with little problem (and without the antenna fully extended):

The Tecsun R-2010D, while tuned on 9,580, could only detect 9,570 kHz:

The Tecsun PL-380 (no recording) could hear RA almost as well as the Sony.

Upon further listening, I believe the selectivity may be poor in general, but it’s made worse by the fact that the only bandwidth setting is (obviously) rather wide. I came to this conclusion tuning through bands and locating another CRI blow-torch signal on 13,740 kHz. I could get a full tuning lock (indicated on the digital display) anywhere from 13,735 to 13,745 kHz. I could hear CRI, though, anywhere from 13,725 to 13, 755 kHz; a full 25 kHz spread! This explains why the R-2010D could not discern between two strong signals spaced only 10 kHz from each other.

This complete lack of selectivity means that I simply cannot recommend the R-2010D for purchase. It’s most unfortunate, as Tecsun is known for quality products and the best DSP-based shortwave radios.  

For what it’s worth, I am going to forward this review to both the eBay seller and a contact at Tecsun. I feel like if the default bandwidth were narrowed even somewhat, it could help the R-2010D cope with adjacent signals much better. This could be a simple firmware adjustment, or worse case, a flaw in the receiver design.

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(click to enlarge)

Medium Wave

I find medium wave (AM broadcast band to us here in North America) to be mediocre; very similar to my experience with the Degen DE32 and DE321. I had no luck with weak MW stations at night. Probably a combination of poor selectivity and an over-active AGC circuit created a bumpy, wishy-washy experience on the air. While I could hear booming clear channel stations at night, the receiver had a hard time coping with adjacent signals–even strong stations sounded periodically garbled. During the daytime, however, I could easily receive my few local AM stations.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the R-2010D for medium wave radio enthusiasts.


Below, I’ve tabulated the pros and cons from the moment I took the DR-2010D out of the box. Note that this list takes into account the $38 price level of this radio:


  • Smooth tuning mechanism
  • Adequately sized analog dial
  • Sturdy construction
  • Good audio from internal speaker
  • Tone controls
  • FM sensitivity good
  • Simple: you might only need to reference the owner’s manual to set alarm/clock features
  • Nice, wide flip-out back stand
  • Line-in ability
  • Antenna jack


  • Very poor selectivity on shortwave and on mediumwave
  • AGC circuit struggles with weak AM stations
  • Poor MW sensitivity
(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)


When I first pulled the R-2010D out of its box, I was most impressed. Tecsun had obviously thought through the mechanical engineering of this radio: smooth tuning mechanism, large accurate analog dial, small digital readout, beefy telescopic antenna, nice back stand, and overall quality “feel.” And audio, via the internal speaker, is brilliant: robust and room-filling.

What Tecsun engineers put into the mechanical engineering, they left out of the receiver design. When you tune the R-2010D to a strong, isolated shortwave signal, it sounds great.

However, the lack of selectivity is simply crippling on the shortwave and medium wave bands.

Note that this review is only based on the particular Tecsun R-2010D I received (ser# 41420130600006). Should I test another–just in case this is limited to my particular unit, which I regret is highly unlikely–I will instantly update this review. Tecsun, in my opinion, is a good company, so I trust they will take some notice. Until then, I would wait to purchase the Tecsun R-2010D.

I will also update this page with any response I receive from Tecsun. Meanwhile, if you purchased a Tecsun R-2010D as well, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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