Tag Archives: Tecsun

Guest Post: Jock explores the Tecsun PL-880’s ATS system

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Oh, no, it’s broken – NOT! And other observations on the PL-880

by Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

 

Okay, okay, I’ll admit it: I’m an oldster, currently enjoying well over 70 trips around that Big Orange Ball in the sky. Further, I’ve been out of SWLing for a while.

Coming back into the hobby after more than a decade’s absence, has been eye-opening. Back when I wrote for Passport To World Band Radio, my main interest, equipment-wise, was tabletop communications receivers hooked to serious outdoor antennas.

Today, however, tabletop communications receivers are hard to come by (there are few new offerings), and, in my situation, serious outdoor antennas present a series of logistical problems that aren’t going to get solved quickly.

So that has brought me to today’s crop of portable shortwave receivers, and – bottom line – they are pretty darn cool, offering worthy performance on a number of levels. My latest acquisition is the Tecsun PL-880.

Like many of the current SW portables, it offers a system for scanning the SW bands and automatically storing the stations it finds into memory. On the PL-880, it’s called ATS (for Auto Tuning Storage.) Oh, you knew that. Yeah, but did you know that the PL-880 has, essentially, two ATS systems?

The down arrow activates ATS Mode A, and the up arrow activates ATS Mode B.

Check it out: If you press the DOWN arrow button (in the SW-METER BAND rectangle), the ATS Mode A system searches the band you are in (FM, MW/LW or SW, including ALL the SW meter bands), automatically stores stations it finds, and “previously stored radio stations will be replaced automatically by the newly found stations.” Each band has its own set of memories, so that SW stations will be stored in SW memories, FM stations will be stored in FM memories, and so forth.

ATS Mode B, however, behaves differently. You can activate it by pressing the UP arrow (in the SW-METER BAND rectangle). If you are in SW frequencies, ATS Mode B will search and store stations only within the current SW meter band. Further, it will NOT overwrite memories, but will start storing stations it finds, starting with the first available unused memory. Pretty neat.

You can, however, fool yourself. I ran ATS Mode A on SW frequencies one night and found a station that was broadcasting unusual stuff (Kennedy assassination, UFOs, and the like). A couple of nights later, I wanted to see what the night’s topic was on that station, so I punched the button to access memories and found . . . nothing! Oh, no, it’s broken!

Then I realized I was in SSB mode, and, it turns out, the PL-880 has a separate set of memories for SSB. (And the manual says that explicitly.) I switched off the SSB mode, and – tah-dah! – the SW memories reappeared. Sometimes it really does pay handsome dividends to read the manual.

One of the slick things about the PL-880’s memory setup is that, when you are in memory mode for a particular band, you can easily scroll through the memories simply by turning the tuning knob.

Wire antenna reels come in different styles. PL-880 (left) and CCrane Skywave SSB. But both improve performance for their respective radios.

The PL-880 has a nice long whip antenna (nearly twice as long as the CCrane Skywave SSB’s antenna), and it seems to be quite sensitive operating off the whip. But if you take the time to deploy the external wire antenna that comes with the PL-880, there is a considerable gain in sensitivity. Tuning around the 40-meter ham band, with the external wire antenna plugged into its socket, I could hear two stations in conversation, one louder than the other, but both copyable. When I tried to listen to the same pair of stations with just the PL-880’s whip antenna, the fainter station disappeared entirely, and the louder station was “down in the mud” but copyable. So the external wire antenna is clearly worth using.

So far, I am well pleased with the PL-880.

PS: Here’s a link to a really good article on extending the wire length of the reel-up antenna that came with the PL-880: https://www.hamuniverse.com/shortwavereelantenna.html

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Guest Post: A “Horizontal DXer” explores the CC Skywave SSB and PL-880

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Confessions of a horizontal DXer and some initial impressions of the Tecsun PL-880

by Jock Elliott

Back in the day when I wrote for Passport To World Band Radio, one of my favorite things to do, while my better half drifted off to sleep, was to clamp on a pair of headphones, lean back against the pillows, and mess around with a Sony 6800W shortwave receiver.

It wasn’t a radio that was built for band scanning: you had to rotate a dial to select the megahertz segment of the bands that you wanted, tune a built-in preselector to the appropriate area, and then dial in the frequency with a tuning knob. And memories? Ha! You want memories?!! There were no stinking memories . . . you had to remember what frequencies you wanted or at least what portions of the bands you wanted to tune. The memories were between your ears.

But it was a receiver with an extraordinarily low noise floor, and many a happy evening I enjoyed programming from half a world away. Drifting off to sleep with headphones piping in a signal from a distant land was not without its dangers, though. One night I fell asleep listening to the news from Radio Australia beamed, in English, to Papua, New Guinea. I woke a while later to the same newscast beamed to Papua, New Guinea, but this time in Pidgin English. I heard some English words, but the rest did not make sense. I panicked, thinking some neurologic event had scrambled my brain, but a crisp voice rescued me: “This has been the news in Pidgin English, from Radio Australia.” Thank God!

When Passport ceased publication, I neglected shortwave radio for over a decade, busy with freelance writing and running the Commuter Assistance Net on two meter ham radio.

Earlier this year, the SWLing bug bit me again, and I fired up a long-neglected Grundig Satellit 800 and started cruising around the HF frequencies. Many of the big-gun shortwave stations were gone, or they weren’t aiming programming at North America, but there was plenty to listen to, including shortwave stations, HF ham bands, and some utility stations.

Gee, I thought, it might be great to have a radio for a little horizontal in-bed DXing before shutting off the lights for the night . . . something I could hold in my lap, turn the tuning knob, and discover hidden treasures. The Satellit 800, emphatically, was not the answer. It is a large radio, roughly the size of the vaunted Zenith Transoceanic radios, and definitely not suited for laps.

So, based on a great reputation and excellent reviews, I bought a CCrane Skywave SSB. The Skywave SSB is a powerhouse, offering AM, FM, Weather, Air, SW, and SSB in a package roughly the size of a deck of cards and perhaps twice as thick. And it delivers the goods, offering worthy performance on every band, although SW performance is greatly enhanced by attaching the wire antenna that is included with the Skywave SSB.

Two factors, I discovered, reduced the suitability of the Skywave SSB for bedside DXing. First, the tuning knob is really small, so you can’t just twirl your finger to traverse the bands. It also has click-detents on the tuning knob and muting between tuning steps, so the tuning is non-continuous, which diminishes the pleasure for me. So the drill becomes: use the automatic tuning system (ATS) to search the bands and store stations in memory and then use the keypad buttons to jump from stored station to stored station. Further, each keypad key makes a distinct “click” sound when properly depressed. And that brings us to the second factor: one night, I am attempting to explore the stations stored by the ATS when my bride, who was trying to doze off, taps me. “What?” I say. “Too much clicky-clicky,” she says. Oh, I thought; now I need to find a radio that is quiet, so long as I am wearing headphones.

Now, just to be clear: I would highly recommend the CCrane Skywave SSB (except for use next to a spouse who is attempting to sleep), particularly for traveling because it is so small and performs so well. To underscore the value of a shortwave-capable travel radio, some years ago, I spoke with a journalist who was in Russia when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place. Russian media were not reporting on it at all; he found out about Chernobyl by listening to the BBC on a shortwave radio he had tucked into his luggage, and he rapidly made plans to leave Russia.

A bunch of research eventually led me to the Tecsun PL-880, which is about the size of a trade paperback book. According to some reviewers (including Dan Robinson), the 880 is a bit more sensitive and shortwave than the PL-990. The 880 offers a bunch of bandwidths on both AM and SSB, and the tuning is butter smooth with no muting or detents. The smallish tuning knob has a bit of knurling on the edge, which make it possible to twirl the knob with one finger; you can fine-tune SSB with another knob, and, with one button-press, use the tuning knob to select filter bandwidths or memory channels. In short, if you avoid the keypad, this is a radio that can be operated in near silence next to a better half who wishes to snooze.

The performance, so far, is exemplary; using the PL-880 whip antenna, I could readily hear Gander, Newfoundland, broadcasting aeronautical weather as well as Shannon, Ireland, air traffic controllers directing aircraft crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Yes! I haven’t yet begun to explore all that the PL-880 can do, but it promises to be a lot of fun.


Click here to read more posts by Jock Elliott.

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Hidden connector on Tecsun PL-660?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Andy (G0FTD), who writes:

Thomas

Not sure if you’ve come across this, but earlier when I was cleaning my Tecsun PL660 and took the main tuning knob off the spindle, I discovered what looked
like 4 holes of a hidden connector behind it !

I just did a quick search around and I came across a piccy of the PCB on a blog
page here and yes there appears to be what looks like a small USB connector of some sort poking out the PCB where the VFO knob is. [Andy clarifies that he was trying to point out the area to look, but the pic appears to be from the opposite side, so you can’t see it.]

I can’t say that I’ve ever seen reference to it.

Maybe you or your readers might know ?

73 de Andy G0FTD

Thanks for sharing this, Andy. I am curious if that might be the port they use for firmware updates? Perhaps someone here can verify? I gave my PL-660 to a friend and no longer have it here for reference. Please comment if you have some info about this port.

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Giuseppe’s improved read-to-go case for the Tecsun S-8800

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Giuseppe Morlè (IZ0GZW), who writes:

Dear Thomas,

I want to share my latest version of my case / antenna for Tecsun S-8800 to make it immediately operational: simply open and listen.

In addition to the loop inside the case with a 3-meter wire at one of the ends that join two telescoping style whips of one meter each short-circuited to take advantage of the entire length. At the other end of the loop, a cable that goes to the ground of the variable capacitor.

I can tune the whole range from 3 to 16 MHz with truly amazing results.

You can see the video from my Youtube channel at the link:

Thanks to you and all the friends of SWLing Post.
Regards.
73. Giuseppe Morlè iz0gzw.

This is incredibly clever, Giuseppe! AS I mentioned before, I love how self-contained this makes the entire listening station and I especially love the built-in antenna options! This is truly a shack-in-a-case!

Thank you for sharing this.

Click here to read Giuseppe’s other contributions here on the SWLing Post!

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International Radio Report reviews the Tecsun H-501x

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Sheldon Harvey, who writes:

Hi, Thomas

Gilles and I have a special edition of the International Radio Report in which we discuss the new Tecsun H-501X portable shortwave receiver.

The special edition is available exclusively on our show’s YouTube channel.

Here is the link to the video:

Thank you for sharing this, Sheldon!

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Dan reviews latest firmware version of the Tecsun PL-368 and shares list of hidden features

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following guest post:


Revisiting the Tecsun PL-368:  Assessing a Later Firmware Unit

by Dan Robinson

This past April, I reviewed Tecsun’s PL-368, the update of the PL-365 (also sold by CountyComm as the GP5).  There were some major changes:  Tecsun shifted from AA batteries to a flat BL-5C cellphone type battery, and of course the marquee design change was the addition of a keypad.

The keypad is a night and day change – whereas before the PL-365 was a handy receiver but hobbled by archaic tuning limited to memory access and the side thumb wheel, the 368 provides easy instant frequency selection.

In my previous review, I mentioned the well-known characteristic of the 360 and 365 models which exhibited over-sensitivity to the touch.  When removing your hand, signal levels plummeted – usually, a full grip was necessary and any variation caused reduced sensitivity – noticed mostly in shortwave mode.

The PL-368 I reviewed was from among the first versions of the receiver.  It had a firmware of 3681, from a 2020 production run.  Recently, I received from Anon-Co – the most reliable supplier of Tecsun receivers – an updated unit, with firmware 3684.

Please see my previous review for comments on various aspects of the 368: the longer but less robust telescopic antenna, addition of detents on the volume wheel, and the welcome addition of adjustable bandwidths, synchronous detection, and ability to tune in 10 hz increments, and other changes.

PROBLEMS

SYNCHRONOUS DETECTION:  As with the 909x and H-501, the upgraded 368 now has Synchronous Detection.  I did not expect any change in the 3684 firmware – SYNC still has some distortion and loss of lock.

As with the 330, 990x, and 501x successful use of this mode requires a delicate dance involving careful selection of various bandwidths while in SYNC mode and fine tuning.

However, whereas on the previous 3681 unit there was significant “warbling” when in SSB and SYNC, and phonics when touching the keypad, the 3684 unit has little to no such warbling and the phonics appear to be gone, or minimized.

It’s not known what Tecsun may have done to address these issues – my review of a previous 3681 firmware unit was published in April, so it’s hard to think that Tecsun made any major physical changes to the PCB/keypad and radio body.  But there does seem to be some improvement.

I had no expectation that a firmware change would result in any improvement in the other major issue common to the 360 series – reduction of sensitivity when the receiver is not being held in the hand.

The 368 still shows a noticeable reduction in signal strength, visible on the display, when left standing on its own versus being fully gripped.  But the problem does not seem to be as serious as it was with the PL-360/365.

And since my first review of the 368, I have done some additional comparisons with older portables which were constructed with more robust cabinets.  Some of those also exhibited reduced sensitivity when not being held.

For the PL-368 with firmware 3684, the headline really has to be the apparent disappearance of the “phonics” when tapping the keypad and cabinet top surface.  This was the elephant in the room on the first very early sample of the PL-368.

While there is still distortion using SYNC mode, this issue seems to have been slightly reduced with the latest firmware.  Without confirmation by Tecsun, there is no way to know what specifically may have been done to impact the SYNC issue in a positive direction.

A major disappointment is confirmation from Anon-Co via Tecsun that the re-calibration function seen in the PL-330, 990x and H-501x is absent from the PL-368.

That leaves a user with only the fine tuning option in SSB.  This is a real puzzler, since surely Tecsun could have enabled re-calibration on the 368 in the same way it did with the other receivers.

SUMMARY

I stated in my first review of the 368 that this receiver would be an automatic must-buy in my book, were it not for the earlier issues of cabinet phonics and signal level reduction when the radio isn’t being fully gripped in hand.

One hopes that the phonics issue has been fully addressed by Tecsun.  It’s possible that my initial early unit of the 368 had some weakness in the PCB for the keypad, and LCD display that has been recognized and corrected.

Without confirmation from Tecsun, it’s also difficult to declare that the 3684 firmware has truly brought about a measurable improvement in SYNC and SSB.  But based on my testing of this particular 3684 firmware unit, the radio is more usable and tolerable in SYNC and SSB.

And of course, addition of the keypad along with multi-bandwidth options moves the 368 firmly into the same zone as Tecsun’s other portables, albeit perhaps more in the “prepper” category.

There are so many offerings now from Tecsun in portables that it’s hard for me to place the PL-368 in the “must-buy” category, especially since the PL-330, 990x and H-501x bring so many superb features to the game.

But the PL-368 has a certain appeal – its walkie-talkie style design makes it an easy quick-grab for trips, similar to the PL-330, though the 368 can not really be safely balanced on a flat surface and is best used with some kind of stand.

In terms of raw performance, one has to observe that the wonderful Belka DX has to be considered as a top choice and major competition when it comes to extreme portability and top performance, especially with the available speaker/battery backs.

And the PL-368 still has major competition from the XHDATA D-808 (now appearing under the RADIWOW SIHUADON label) with excellent AIR band capability and multiple bandwidths, though no synchronous detection.

To “save” the PL-36xx series, Tecsun will have to ensure steady QC (quality control) in manufacturing and when possible, further firmware updates of the 368, as with all Tecsun receivers.


Preliminary List of Hidden Features for PL-368

Source: Anna at Anon-Co

Switch between internal ferrite rod and whip on AM (MW & LW)

1. Select the MW or LW band.
2. Press and hold key ‘3’ for about 2 seconds.

When the display briefly shows “CH-5” this means that the device is set to MW/LW reception using the telescopic antenna. The display shows MW (or LW) and SW on the left side of the screen.

When the display briefly shows “CH-A” this means that the device is set to MW/LW reception using the internal ferrite antenna. The display shows only MW (or LW) on the left side of the screen.

Adjusting the maximum volume level

Select the frequency band, then press and hold key ‘7’ for 2 seconds until a number is displayed. At this moment, rotate the [ TUNING ] knob to adjust and press the key ‘7’ again to save and exit.

Firmware Version

In power-off mode, press and hold [ VF/VM ] for 0.5 seconds until all characters on the display are shown, then wait a few seconds until the firmware version is briefly displayed at upper right of the display.

Extend SW-range for European setting (1621-29999 kHz)

1. In power-off mode, press and hold the [ 3 ] key to set the MW tuning steps to 9kHz.
2. Select the SW band, and then press and hold the [ 5 ] key for 10 seconds to enable/disable the SW frequency extension.

The starting point of the SW frequency range will become 1621 or 1711 kHz.

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Giuseppe’s Tecsun S-8800 aluminum case is a self-contained listening post!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Giuseppe Morlè (IZ0GZW), who shares the following video and notes:

I recently bought a Tecsun S-8800 to be used mainly on shortwave. I carry it in an aluminum case to use it everywhere:

Many thanks for sharing this, Giuseppe! I love the integrated antenna–so clever!

Post readers: Giuseppe has had issues with the S-8800 accidently turning on in the case. Can anyone describe the button combo needed to lock the dial and controls during transport? I checked the manual but have found no reference. Please comment if you can help!

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