Tag Archives: Tecsun Radios Australia

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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Continued public support for restoration of ABC shortwave services

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Troy Riedel, who shares the following from a Tecsun Radios Australia press release:

Public support has been steadily increasing in favour of the #saveshortwave campaign.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has written to the Prime Minister to ask him to step in urgently to stop the ABC from carrying out their plan to cut shortwave transmission today, 31st January 2017, saying:

“I am deeply concerned that the ABC took this decision without satisfactory consultation with affected listeners, community representatives and emergency service workers and agencies.”

The alternative solutions that the ABC have offered in the place of shortwave transmission are simply not practical for many listeners. In areas beyond signal reception, as many of the affected areas are, both AM and FM radio services are not available, and the equipment needed to receive radio services via satellite on the Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) is expensive and impractical for on-the-move reception.

The latest statement from the ABC promised that they would “supply (donate) a VAST satellite system to all Royal Flying Doctor Service bases, and 4WD Radio club bases in the affected region, allowing them to rebroadcast emergency or warning messages as required.” The issue is, however, that The Royal Flying Doctor’s shortwave broadcasts are not designed to cover the same geographical area as the ABC’s dedicated shortwave broadcasts, leading to a potential shortfall in range and availability.

Another key factor is that farmers, stockmen and the like in remote areas have listened in to shortwave broadcasts for 100 years or more – this is a hard-wired habit. How is information about the transition going to be provided to them if not by the only medium that they use?

Jay Mohr-Bell works on a cattle station outside of Katherine, and knows only too well about this:

“The ABC fails to understand that their audience who listens to local ABC via shortwave do not favour this service, this is their only available service,” he said in a statement to Guardian Australia, “essentially the ABC is closing down the shortwave service and replacing it with nothing.”

Alongside important concerns regarding access to emergency announcements, residents are also sadly losing their ability to listen to live radio and music, which is important from a community and integrational perspective.

Federal minister Nigel Scullion said “there was no need for the ABC to make this decision with no notice or community consultation.”

The ABC issued a statement yesterday to say it was “deeply committed to rural and regional Australia and the one-third of Australians who live outside of the capital cities.” From what we can see however, their actions seem to demonstrate otherwise.

We now have proof that our voices are being heard by the ABC and the Australia Government. We invite you to write to your local MP to tell them once and for all how much you value the shortwave service. Alternatively, the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association have drafted an email found here that you can sign and send to the Secretary of the Senate Enquiry.

Lets rally together one final time to #saveshortwave

This Australia-based radio retailer is not the only one behind a campaign to restore shortwave services, senator Nick Xenophon says he will introduce legislation to Parliament to force the ABC to reinstate its shortwave radio service.

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ABC Rural interviews Garry Cratt about decision to end shortwave service

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Troy Riedel, who shares the following announcement from a Tecsun Radios Australia email newsletter:

Tecsun Radios Australia owner Garry Cratt was interviewed by ABC Rural this week about the ABC’s decision to end their shortwave radio transmission after almost 80 years.

Click here to listen via YouTube.

The ABC have decided that as shortwave technology is now nearly a century old, it is outdated and serves a very limited audience. They are planning on moving towards a digital focused service instead.

Garry discussed this in his interview with ABC Rural:
“A lot of the places that do receive Radio Australia, there is no power for a start, so they’re relying on batteries and solar panels. The people that are listening, that will be affected, are those people who are maybe still back in the last century, but that’s not their fault.”

Tecsun Radios Australia recently sent a shipment of 500 radios to the Solomon Islands to be given out to remote villages. Shortwave radio is often the only way to communicate in rural villages like these, this is especially important during times of natural disaster such as the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, and as recently as cyclones Yasi (2011), and Pam (2015).

The ABC are planning on building a stronger FM transmitter network to use instead of the shortwave transmission – but what will happen to the people who are out of range of FM radio?

There are many people without this equipment living in places like the Pacific Islands, where Radio Australia is one the few news and entertainment resources. Due to the sparse population and wide geographic dispersion it is extremely difficult to correctly measure the effect that turning off the shortwave transmission will have.

Here at Tecsun Radios Australia, we are asking you to help us let the ABC know that shortwave radio is a much valued service. You can do this by tweeting a photo of your shortwave radio tuned into Radio Australia, making sure you tag @ABCAustralia and @TecsunRadios and using the hashtag #saveshortwave

Additionally, we are calling on the Australian Government to restore funding to the ABC, (previously provided via the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) to support the ABC’s international television and radio broadcasts. We acknowledge that the ABC has continued to provide international radio and television broadcasts by internally funding these programs, and now we ask the Australian Government to support our rural and Pacific Islands communities by giving the ABC the appropriate funding they require.

We are talking about $1.9 million in funding after all, which we think the Prime Minister could find if he checked under the Chesterfield seat cushions in his office…

To read the full article and listen to Garry’s radio interview, click here:
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-18/abc-shortwave-cuts-tourists-operator-pacific-island/8191374

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