Tag Archives: Tecsun

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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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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Converting Tecsun signal meter numbers into five strength units?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Chris Rolfe (M3OZP), who writes with the following inquiry:

Don’t know if anyone can help.

I have a Tecsun PL-880, and it shows signal strength in db. How can I work out the signal strength as 1 to 5? All my other radio have 1 to 5 signal strength meters which is what I have always been used to.

Many thanks.

Chris Rolfe
M3OZP

Thank you for your question, Chris. The signal meter on the PL-880 and a number of other late-model Tecsuns that use similar DSP chips share the signal display which indicates both the signal strength and signal-to-noise ratio.  I believe the dBu number indicates the conducted voltage across the receiver’s internal resistance.

It’s perhaps one of my quirks, but as a listener I actually pay little attention to signal displays on portables unless I’m evaluating signal strength for a report or even using it to locate a local noise. Converting those numbers into an S1 to S5 number is simply something I would do by “guesstimating.” Yeah, not terribly scientific.

There are folks in the SWLing Post community who can do a much better job explaining the readout and how to interpret/convert signal strength across the MW, SW and FM bands.

Post Readers: Please comment if you can shed some light on simplifying signal strength for Chris.

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Tecsun PL-330: A quick update and an important note before you buy

We posted an update about the new Tecsun PL-330 in late April 2020. While we didn’t have a lot of details, it’s worth reading.

We still don’t have a lot of details (as of today, July 3, 2020) but readers have been contacting me and commenting recently with links to online retailers who are already selling the PL-330.

SWLing Post contributor, Babis, shared a link to retailer (Taoboa.com, see above), this website with more information, and a review on this page.

Before you buy

To be clear: I am not placing an order for the Tecun PL-330 yet.

Indeed, as I mentioned in a previous post, my trusted Tecsun contact informed me that all of the new portables–the PL-990, H-501, and PL-330–are first being released as a “domestic” or pilot version in China. The pilot version is not the final and fully-updated/upgraded international/export version.

I will make an announcement here on the SWLing Post when the international/export versions are available for purchase.

To be clear, I can’t comment on the performance of the domestic models, but I do understand that the export models will likely have better specifications and even updated front panels/functions.

I also understand that the PL-990 will likely be the first export model in terms of availability.

Stay tuned! I’ll post any/all updates here on the Post.


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