Tag Archives: Tecsun

Video: Daytime mediumwave shootout with the Tecsun S-8800

The Tecsun S-8800

About a week ago, I received a re-engineered version of the Tecsun S-8800 from Anna at the excellent online retailer, Anon-Co.

If you recall, I evaluated an early production unit of the S-8800 in February and while putting it through the paces, I discovered loud, warbling DSP birdies throughout the mediumwave and shortwave bands. Tecsun, to their credit, pulled the S-8800 from production to address the issue.

My schedule last week made it impossible to carve out the dedicated time I needed to begin an S-8800 evaluation.

Yesterday, however, I spent the afternoon with my family at Richland Balsam, the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway (6,000′ ASL) and a completely RFI-free zone. I brought the Tecsun S-8800 and a few other portables along for the ride–namely the Digitech AR-1780, the C.Crane CC Skywave and the Panasonic RF-2200.

I had just enough available space on my smart phone to record this one short video:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Let’s be clear: comparing any modern radio with the RF-2200 on mediumwave is hardly fair.

For one, the RF-2200 has been out of production for a few decades.

Secondly (what I never finished saying in the video is that) the RF-2200 has a large rotatable ferrite bar antenna that provides excellent gain. The RF-2200 simply wipes the floor with all of my modern portables as their ferrite bar antennas are a fraction of the size.

In other words, the RF-2200 was engineered to rule mediumwave like a boss.

On shortwave, the RF-2200 does a fine job, but isn’t nearly as accurate and stable as modern DSP receivers.

Spoiler alert

Still, as the video indicates, my final review of the Tecsun S-8800 will indicate that it is not a receiver for the serious Mediumwave DXer. It’s been my experience that few shortwave portables are excellent on both HF and MW.

At home, tuned to local station 880 AM.

Of course you can’t tell from the video, but the S-8800 actually sounds brilliant when tuned to a relatively strong/local AM station, but either a lack of sensitivity or internal noise makes MW DXing a challenge.

I spent the better part of two hours yesterday evaluating its daytime MW performance–the video is pretty indicative of my findings. The S-8800 struggles with weak stations, but does a fine job with strong ones. It’s overall audio fidelity almost matches that of the RF-2200 when tuned to a strong broadcast. I’ve yet to test evening MW

The S-8800 still has some birdies on MW, but they’re not the loud warbling kind found on the previous model. Tecsun did properly address this, though in full disclosure, I haven’t fully explored the shortwave bands yet.

Shortwave?

I suspect the S-8800’s performance on shortwave will be much better than mediumwave because the previous S-8800 showed excellent results. As long as sensitivity wasn’t harmed while addressing the DSP birdies, I expect it’ll give the PL-880, PL-680 and Sony ICF-SW7600GR a run for their money.

Still…the lesson learned yesterday?

The Panasonic RF-2200 is the indisputable champion of mediumwave!

UPDATE: Click here to read our full Tecsun S-8800 review.

The Tecsun PL-880: triple conversion architecture

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Larry Thompson, who writes:

There’s been some confusion on my part whether the Tecsun PL-880 is a dual conversion or triple conversion receiver. Amazon and eBay list the receiver as double conversion, whereas Universal Radio doesn’t mention either.

After scouring the Instruction Manual, I was pleased to learn that the PL-880 uses the Silicon Labs si4735 DSP microchip and has 4 Intermediate Frequencies.

1st IF: 55.845 MHz
2nd IF: 10.7 MHz
3rd IF: 45 kHz
4th IF: 128 kHz (exclusively for FM)

To me, that looks like a triple conversion architecture. The combination of the DSP microchip, and the triple conversion would explain why my Tecsun PL-880 is so much more sensitive and selective than my Sony ICF-SW8600GR.

My CountyCom GP-5/SSB emergency portable also has the same Silicon Labs DSP chip and it is almost as sensitive as the Tecsun PL-880, far more sensitive than the Sony. I’ve owned a Japan Radio JRC-525 and a Yaesu FT-900AT transceiver for many years, and the PL-880 digs out weak signals better than both those tabletop receivers, both dual conversion.

To quell the speculation, yesterday I contacted Anna at Anon-Co, the worldwide distributor for Tecsun radios. Her quick reply confirms my suspicions that the Tecsun PL-880 is indeed a triple conversion receiver. That would explain why it blows my Sony ICF-SW7600GR out of the water in senitivity and its ability to pull out weak stations.

Among all the other great attributes, this is an welcome discovery and one never mentioned in the specs by the various retailers of this receiver!

Thank you Larry, for shedding light on this–Anna would certainly know.

Your note makes me realize that I really should order a second, current production model PL-880. My PL-880 is from one of the first batches produced. I imagine I could benefit from some of the firmware tweaks that have been made to this receiver over time.  Perhaps it would even be a good time to compare the 1st generation with the current generation?

I just checked and Anon-Co is selling the PL-880 on eBay for $153.99 US shipped.

Have any SWing Post readers compared early and late model PL-880 units? Please comment.

Review: Eton/Grundig Executive vs. Tecsun PL-880

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Chuck Rippel (K8HU) for the following guest post:


A Tale of Two Radios: Tecsun PL-880 vs Eton/Grundig Executive Satellit

By Chuck Rippel, K8HU

This proved to be a difficult comparison strictly when writing from the perspective of “which one is better.”

In my view, the two models compliment each other and both are worthy additions for any DX’er or listener. Each has its own set of useable and unique features. That said, 1970 is when I got my start in SWBC DX, either of these radios would have been among “the gold standards” at a time when Realistic DX-150s were $119.95 new, Hammarlund HQ-180s could be purchased new and Collins was still putting “winged emblems” on their amateur equipment.

There were few consumer grade receivers which had frequency accuracy until the introduction of the Allied SX-190 at the princely sum of $249 but when tuning the 49MB in the evening, one heard the entire band on one frequency due to overloading. Oh well, I digress….

The Executive Satellit will be the 3rd from the Eton Satellit family I purchased. The first two were initial releases of the standard, black version; and both suffered from build quality issues and had to be returned. Some months down the road, I noticed that my friend, Clint Gouveia on his “Oxford Shortwave,” YouTube channel was demonstrating great success with his own Eton Satellit and with that in mind, I made what would become the 3rd plunge with Clint’s appreciated encouragement.

My first operational impression of the Executive Satellit was that the overall build quality had been improved by an order of magnitude. The radio looks and feels good, responding well to control inputs although their placement on the PL-880 is superior to my way of thinking. On the Executive, I quickly found a feature different from the original Eton Satellit, the adjustable display backlight can be set to stay on indefinitely, even with the radio turned off and when the clamshell style leather case held in place by a number of magnets is folded over the front of the radio, the display is out of view and if left backlit, will result in a set of dead batteries over time.

While on the subject of the Eton’s display, it is a major selling feature. The yellow-orange characters convey all the information a user might need with excellent resolution and the display is overall, pleasant to look at. A welcome change from LCD type displays more commonly found in portables today including the Tecsun PL-880.

The Satellit uses 4 AA batteries (I recommend rechargeable, 2000ma Panasonic Eneloop batteries) while the Tecsun uses an included, single 16550 2000ma lithium ion battery. Both radios share the capability of being able to charge their internal batteries when connected to an included DC wall-wort power sources and additionally, in the case of the Tecsun, from a USB source. The Satellit uniquely allows the user to enter a charging time in minutes via the front panel keypad and the owners manual suggests charging times for batteries of various capacities. A nice feature.

Each manufacturer stresses memory capacity as a selling point. Is a radio sporting 3,000+ memories better than a model with “only” 700? I suggest such a feature is a viable selling point only if the user can remember what is stored in each memory location. Both models help the user organize memory usage by organizing them in “pages” or banks.

As an aside, I organize memory pages using a couple for local MW stations, and one for local FM. Pages 1-24 contain SWBC stations organized by time. Bank or page 1 contains SWBC stations that can be heard at 0100Z, page 2 at 0200Z and so on. A plus for the Eton, the user has the option of assigning an 8 character label to each page of seven memory channels which are accessible via a row of “F” keys, located just under the display.

What about reception; what’s “under the hood?” Both have variable bandwidth, SSB, an external antenna input and fine tuning options. Using only the stock, attached whip antenna I was able to pick up Radio Havana, Cuba on 15370.0 although the PL880 suffered from picking up its own electronic spurs, seemingly a Tecsun characteristic noted across several of their models. Both radios received the station adequately but I’ll give a slight edge to the Satellit due to its slightly better audio recovery. Uniquely, the Satellit offers sideband selectable, synchronous detection but the resulting audio is on the muddy side and that feature is less than stellar. On FM, both were able to provide stereo reception of a 250 watt translator on 96.5 mHz located approximately 10 miles away with excellent, nearly identical audio quality. In as much as audio quality is judged differently by each of us, I will refrain from favoriting one radio over another.

The ability to receive, decode and display RDS data is a plus for the Satellit. An aside, there is a well known MW-DX’pert who also chases FM DX. What does he use for a radio and antenna? How about a Sony 2010 and Tecsun PL-310? He puts each radio on an open frequency and waits for E-skip. No special, hi tech FM tuner or multi-element FM antennas. Point being, either of these radios have high performance FM tuners and are capable of delivering FM DX when there is E-Skip or Tropo-Ducting which speaks highly for both.

As an Ultra-light DX’er since its inception, MW reception is important. Here again, performance between the two is was nearly identical although with their small ferrite internal MW antennas, don’t compete with say… a GE Super Radio II. Both the Eton and Tecsun benefit from an external, tuned, close- coupled MW antenna such as a Crate Loop. Unfortunately, the external antenna input on both is not operable on MW.

Video: Comparison of Satellit and PL-880

Click here to view on YouTube.

Clearly, there is no “best” here, either choice is a good one; having both is perhaps the best option. The performance of the Satellit and PL880 excel well beyond their price and make convenient traveling companions. A third of the size and half the price of what many consider “THE” benchmark portable multiband receiver, the Sony ICF-2010 or in Europe, the ICF-2001, both the Pl-880 and Satellit offer increased portability and compete closely with the Sony on performance and features.

Video: How to use Satellit synchronous detector

Click here to view on YouTube.

These attributes combine to deliver a sometimes rare commodity: VALUE ! I would challenge anyone to identify a current manufacturer, consumer grade receiver that offers the performance, features and audio quality of either these two receivers for under $250. All kudos aside, neither of these fine receivers will deliver the kind of gold plated performance delivered by a WinRadio, Drake R8B or Perseus, etc.


Many thanks, Charles, for sharing your thoughts on these fine portables! 

FYI: I just checked and the Eton Executive Satellit is still $156.92 shipped via Amazon.  

The Tecsun PL-880 is $159.95 (plus shipping) via Universal Radio, $159.99 via Anon-Co on eBay and $169.98 via Amazon

Charlie reviews the Tecsun PL-365

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Charlie Wardale, who shares the following guest post:


Tecsun PL-365 Review

by Charlie Wardale

I have had this receiver for over 6 months now, and whilst not using it every day, I have used it enough to have an informed opinion of it’s pro’s and con’s.

Overview

A quick description of the receiver for those who have not heard of it.

The receiver is of an unusual design, more like a hand-held transceiver, measuring 53(W) X 159(H) X 26(D) mm. It naturally fits in the hand, with the thumb resting easily on the thumb-wheel tuning. The buttons on the front are for a number of alarm and display functions, SSB selection, and ETM, along with band selection and up/down keys. The inclusion of SSB makes this quite a unique radio, and certainly interesting to use when out and about.

It is supplied with ear buds, faux leather carrying case, the plug-in MW bar, and instruction booklet. A manual is also available to download.

As can be seen from the picture, the receiver sports a telescopic antenna for FM/SW, and a unique plug-in MW ferrite rod antenna, which is rotatable in its socket.

Band coverage is as follows:

  • FM 87~108 MHz
  • MW 522~1620
  • SW 1711~29999 kHz

Long Wave is also available and on mine was factory set to be included, but if not, it can be made available by the menu options.

Like many of Tecsun’s latest receivers, the PL-365 includes the ETM function, which stands for Easy Tuning Mode. With this, you select the band (MW,FM,SW), press ETM, and it loads into a local memory, all the stations that it detects. These do not over-ride any of the main memory that may have been already used to store stations. It is specific ‘ETM’ memory. Once the detection process is completed, the tuning wheel is then used to select each of the stations detected. This is an extremely useful feature on this receiver, as it doesn’t have keypad entry for frequencies. And band scanning using the thumb wheel in 5 Khz steps can get tedious! Of course, ETM will have to be repeated a number of times during an extended listening period as stations come and go.

Initial Listening Tests

My first port of call on starting the listening tests was FM, to judge how it received the local and national broadcasters, and to see how stereo broadcasts are received. Incidentally, I changed the supplied ear buds for some in-ear types which I find stay in place better. All national broadcasters (BBC) and local radio stations (BBC and independent) were detected well. Received audio on the built in speaker is pleasant, but as can imagined from such a small speaker, not of great range. However, stereo broadcasts from BBC Radio 3 (classical music) and Classic FM, sounded excellent using the ear buds. At night time, some further afield stations are detected, so the FM sensitivity is good.

When I conducted these initial tests, it was evening so I decided to give the MW band a whirl as well. I fitted the MW bar antenna into it’s socket atop the receiver, selected MW and hit the ETM button. After a couple of minutes, the detection process stopped and a great number of stations had been detected. Going through them, not only were there the local (and not so local) UK MW stations, but some from much further afield such as Bretagne 5, SBC in Riyadh, and RNE Radio 5 in Madrid. By turning the ferrite antenna, it was possible to peak these stations nicely.

So now to SW. As can be seen, SW coverage is full range from 1711 – 29999, excellent for a receiver of this price range. For this initial test, listening was carried out in the early evening, in the garden, during the summer, so the higher bands were where most of the action was. Following a similar pattern to the FM and MW test, the telescopic whip was extended and the ETM button pressed. On stopping detection, a total of 65 stations were noted. One or two of these, it later proved, were images, but for the most part they were all receivable signals. The treshold for detection is quite low, so some stations are barely audible under the noise, a testament to the sensitivity of the 365. All the major stations were received well, such as VOA on 15580, Saudia Arabia on a number of frequencies, CRI of course, over numerous frequencies. And in between, stations such as CNR1 (China National Radio), the regional Chinese service, and R Australia on 12065, BBC from Singapore.

After this, I did some listening on the 20 and 40m ham bands. To do this is slightly tricky, as it entails coming out of ETM mode by pressing the VF/VM button. This puts the radio into frequency mode and the thumb wheel is then used to get to the correct frequency. The USB/LSB button is then pressed and once a station is found, press the BFO button. The tuning thumb then becomes a BFO fine tune, and the amateur radio station can be tuned in accurately. It is tricky to start with but you do get used to it and amateur stations can be tuned in well. I received a number of European stations on 40m and European/Asian ones on 20m. So again, sensitivity is good, even though this is just using the whip antenna.

Long Term Listening Impressions

Over the months between those initial tests and now, I have done a number of hours listening using this radio, on both the MW and SW bands. I especially like it if I am out for a walk in the country near us as its handy to carry in the pocket. One Sunday I listened to the whole hour of a VOA broadcast on 15580, whilst wandering along the Lincolnshire foot paths. And it is also a nice radio to do a bit of casual listening from the armchair of an evening, when the TV is on but of no interest. This way I have enjoyed many a broadcast from VOA, RRI and the BBC using the ear buds. It’s also nice to tune into the Celtic music of Bretagne 5 during the evening on MW as a change from the fair on BBC Radio 2 or 3.

Conclusion

Would I recommend this radio? Yes I would, whole heartedly. For what it is designed to do, it does very well. Could it be better? Of course. A keypad would be nice, an external antenna port would be great and so on. But it was designed to be a general coverage receiver, in a small, hand-held package, and for that it receives top marks.


Many thanks for your review, Charlie! I agree with you that the PL-365 is ideal, in terms of form factor, for radio listening while on long walks and hikes! It is certainly an excellent portable.

The Tecsun PL-365 can be purchased from Tecsun Radios Australia and occasionally on eBay (click here to search).

Tecsun S-8800 update

UPDATE: Click here to read our full review of the re-engineered Tecsun S-8800. Note that the post below refers to the first production run units only.

If you’re considering purchasing the Tecsun S-8800, this is an important post.

I’ve had the S-8800 for about two weeks and had planned to have audio clip comparisons prepared and posted by now. My exceptionally busy schedule has made this difficult–and there a few other complicating factors.

First off, the good news: in terms of sensitivity, selectivity and audio fidelity, I’m very happy with the S-8800. I’ve compared it a number of times with the Tecsun PL-880 and the Sony ICF-SW7600GR and it either holds its own or even has a leg-up on both radios in terms of overall performance. I find that the S-8800’s AGC is more stable than my 1st generation PL-880.

Of course, what will be most telling is what you, dear reader, think of the performance when compared in a blind audio test.

As I mentioned, though, there are complicating factors–It’s not just my schedule which has made the S-8800 review come to a halt.

Birdies…

Yes, birdies. Lots of them.

At first, I thought the noises were due to the fact my mobile phone and Zoom H2N digital recorder were too close to the S-8800.  I dismissed this interference as it didn’t sound like the typical steady tone/carrier birdies I’ve come to loath over the years.

As my testing continued, though, I quickly realized these variable heterodyne and digital hash noises must be internally-generated.

Quite literally, as I was outdoors testing the S-8800 and making this discovery last week, I received a message from SWLing Post contributor, Bertrand Stehle (F6GYY). You might recall, Bertrand provided us with an initial review of his S-8800e (the European version of the S-8800). He also started noticing the birdies and, like me, initially assumed they were due to an external source of RFI.

Bertrand kindly mapped out the extensive list of birdies he found on his S-8800e–he noted a total of 81 birdie/carrier locations:

  • 14 birdies on longwave
  • 4 birdies on mediumwave
  • 63 birdies between 1859 – 29095 kHz

Comparing notes, there are some differences between Bertrand’s S-8800e and my S-8800:

  • Only 50-60% of the birdies on my S-8800 are in the same frequency locations as those mapped by Bertrand on his S-8800e
  • The total number of birdies, however, are likely identical–I find birdies where Bertrand hadn’t noted them

The appearance and intensity of the birdies can vary depending on listening location and the strength of any nearby broadcast signals. I’ve noticed four distinct birdie sounds: a variable carrier, a steady carrier, digital hash, and something I might describe as digital variable noises.

I’ve even noticed some change slightly as you move the radio around.

Here are a couple of examples:

Example on 610 kHz:

Click here to view/listen via YouTube.

Example on 2009.15 kHz:

Click here to view/listen on YouTube.

Moving forward

Obviously, this is a major issue for an enthusiast-grade portable.

I’m sharing all of this information with Anna at Anon-Co. No doubt, she’ll share this information with Tecsun engineering. The last I heard, projected availability of the S-8800 from Anon-Co is late March 2017. Perhaps there will be time for Tecsun to eliminate these birdies by improving internal grounding and/or shielding?

Until the birdie issue is sorted out, I’m not proceeding with audio comparisons or a full review. It goes without saying that, at present, I couldn’t recommend purchasing the S-8800. Sad, because this is otherwise a great radio.

I hope Tecsun can sort this out, though.

I will share any/all updates here on the SWLing Post.

Follow the tags S-8800 Birdies or S-8800.