Three Years Old: The Tecsun PL-660 Still Rocks

If anyone paid attention to the last blog post, then I mentioned my change in listening habits. To clear the air, I have not & will not abandon the shortwave hobby. 20140223_131624

The article merely points out how shortwave listeners like myself are adjusting their habits. I wanted to gauge how other SWLs felt about the rise of internet radio and if it has (or will) replace the hobby.

While last month’s post seemed negative, there is a lot of fun to have as a shortwave listener. As I am typing this entry, I have my Tecsun PL-660 with me…with intentions to tuning to stations after work. I listen to internet radio more than ever, but I still go back to my shortwave radio every now and then.

This universally acclaimed radio is what this month’s post is all about. When first starting this blog, one of my early articles was about the PL-660.

If readers go to it now, then they will see a dead video. You can thank YouTube trolls for thinking they are Steven Spielberg while posting negative nitpicks on video production (With that, I am not longer doing video reviews, but I’ll upload my catches). However, I had a positive experience using the PL-660 when I first ordered it on Amazon in 2011.

20140223_131653It has been about three years and I am proud to admit that it works the same as it did on Day One. The only problem I had was a broken antenna hinge after it fell on the floor. The antenna has been replaced and there’s no permanent damage to the unit luckily.

Performance is still great across the bands. I can still pick up local stations well and distant ones boom. Even though more international broadcasters have left the air, the remaining ones like Radio Australia, WRMI, and Voice of America are received loud and clear.

Synchronous detection still locks and holds fading signals and audio sounds great for a portable radio. Anyone who is looking for a shortwave radio can find this gem for less than $85. Surprisingly enough, it is about $120 on Amazon, which is roughly $20 more expensive than when I bought mine.

For a radio capable of getting all that you want out of shortwave, the Tescun PL-660 is still a great performer and holds up after three years.

20140223_131715I am content with keeping the Tecsun PL-660 for its lifespan. Even if shortwave “goes away” and the radio inevitably “kicks the bucket,” I will probably replace it with another PL-660 if it’s still in production.

Some of the SWLs reading this post might ask, “What about the Tecsun PL-880?” Surely, it appears to be a fine radio and seems better than the PL-660 in most areas.

I can’t really stack both radios up to comparison because…well, I don’t have the PL-880. I swore to myself that PL-660 will be my last shortwave that I will buy. It’s not because I am giving up on shortwave; but it is probably the best radio I’ve used and most others don’t compare well against it.

Except maybe the Tecsun PL-880, but that’s not on my shopping list until the PL-660 finally breaks down.

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24 thoughts on “Three Years Old: The Tecsun PL-660 Still Rocks

  1. SINCE TABLETOPS ARE NO LONGER ON THE MARKET GENERALLY PORTABLES ARE THE BEST CHOICE IN MY VIEW AS LONG AS THEIR LIMITATIONS ARE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT. SDR RADIOS ARE TO COSTLY AND COMPLEX AND MUST RUN IN A PC PROGRAM ON A PC GENERALLY. HAM GEAR IS COSTLY, NOT PORTABLE AND GENERALLY DOES NOT HAVE THE AUDIO RESPONSE NEEDED FOR BROADCAST RECEPTION. MY CHOICE IS THE GRUNDIG 750 WHICH BY THE WAY HAS NO ASSOCIATION AT ALL WITH THE ICONIC RADIOS ONCE MADE IN GERMANY BY THE ACTUAL FRIM GRUNDIG GMBH.

    • Actually the Grundig 750 is a Tecsun S2000.

      There are a few desktops available these days, but the affordable ones are bare bones and the full featured ones are ridiculously expensive. I’m very glad I kept my Drake R8. Less than $1000 for a full featured, high end receiver. A real bargain in its day.

      • I have thought of tabletops like the Eton E1XM and Satellit 750 in the past. They’re always out of my price range and stuck to high-performance portables like the Eton E5, Tecsun PL-660, and Sony ICF SW-7600GR. Of course, I never even considered the Drakes, Icoms, and Yeasus. For me, $1000 is way too much for a radio. I cringe to spend over $100 :P.

      • These numbers are very approximate, but there’s a noticeable difference between a $35 radio and a $100 radio, between $100 and about $400 and $400 and $1000.

        There’s a sweet spot at the $1000 range (or at least there was 20 years ago, probably a lot more now) where it changes from radio to Communications Receiver. Multiple filters with narrow skirts, a front end that doesn’t flinch from nearby 50kW AM broadcasters, seriously low noise floor, passband tuning, notch, the ability to do ECSS and really have it make a huge difference, a dynamic range that could choke a horse plus other useful tuning aids that change tuning a radio to operating a piece of equipment.

        I recall listening to an AFRTS signal with different programming on each sideband.Virtually no splash from the opposite sideband. It sent chills down my spine.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, observations and comments on the PL-660, one of my favorite radios of all time. I’ve been a DXer, MWDXer from about the age of six and SWL from the time I discovered HF, so for going on half a century now, and I have a real soft spot for high performance portables, especially small ones. For a long time the Sony ICF-SW7600G/GR was the only small and affordable portable that had the almost magical synchronous detector and it was looking pretty bleak for the portable market until the advent of the PL-660. I wish Tecsun a long and successful future in the SW market.

    It’s a shame your videos didn’t last on YouTube. I would have liked to have seen them but I understand your reasons for deleting them. Maybe you could post them to Vimeo, a much higher class video hosting service.

    A few thoughts on YouTube…

    YouTube is the largest repository of human stupidity that has ever existed. You can watch people ramble on endlessly about the most bizarre and inexplicable things to ever wander through darker recesses of the human mind and manage to stick long enough to form a thought.

    Flat-earthers, geocentrists and Velikovskyites are in abundance. Pick a conspiracy theory, any conspiracy theory, the wackier and more convoluted the better, and you’ll find hundreds of videos on the topic. Misguided religions that can be disproved by cracking open any high school level science book are so thick that you can’t swing a cat without hitting a few thousand of them.

    Kids dropping fireworks down their pants, eating painfully spicy foods, jumping off buildings, or, well think of anything mindbogglingly stupid and I guarantee that someone’s done it, videoed it and posted it for our amusement.

    Sure, there are a few good, informative videos and quite a few harmless bits on babies and animals acting cute or funny, but they seem to only exist to help contrast the baseness of that odious site.

    And it isn’t just the videos, the comments sections following the videos are the natural feeding ground of the lowest, most brutish, malignant and malevolent trolls that can be found on the internet.

    When it comes to parading the really scary or really stupid side of human nature, YouTube is a goldmine. It embodies the worst of what the internet can be.

    • Despite the nature of the internet community, I just don’t have an interest in buying newer radios and reviewing them. I simply don’t have much time anymore and the current trends indicate that it’s simply not worth it. My rationale is “what is the point of getting a new radio where there’s little left aside from hams, foreign language programs, and right-wing wackos. That said, there is still a variety of content on SW…but much more on the internet.

      • I agree with the sad state of shortwave these days. It’s annoying. Just as portables are gaining some very impressive features while keeping prices low, the major broadcasters are exiting the airwaves in droves, only to be replaced with stations not worth listening to.

        At least utility stations still exist and there are cheap smartphone apps to decipher them.

        I do find myself listening to less and less shortwave these days, but still get excited by new radios. I guess once the bug bites it doesn’t want to let go.

        Regarding content on the internet, that’s cheating. Unless you’ve switched the bandwidth, switched over to sideband for ECSS, tweaked the passband , tuned the notch filter and fiddled with the RF gain, there’s no challenge. May as well switch to the BBC channel on cable and grab a bag of popcorn.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts on the Tecsun PL-660. I’ve had one for about a year now and its great. Since then actually I bought a second hand Drake R8B and a NRD 535D.

    Yes OK its called a late-life crisis (retirement) but I simply had to finally hear for myself what these great radios could find on the bands. Sure they are good, but listening alongside with them, the Tecsun is often able to present at least as good a listening experience than those two! (Outside antennas to each of them).

    The advantage of the Tecsun is of course it is portable so goes with me on my travels and I know if there is something to be heard, the Tecsun will bring it in. I’ve just ordered the 2014 factory model because I simply could not bear to be without it now.

    I watched the YouTube comparison of the PL-660 and the PL-880. To me the 660 was picking up more stations and the audio on it sounds fine to me. I’m not taken with DSP so far and the extra cost of the 880 didn’t seem justified. Maybe I’ll buy a later model if opinion dictates it is really good (but missing the air band which I sometimes listen for a change).

    • I don’t regret my purchase. It’s a fine radio and don’t plan on buying another. However if something goes awry with it, I’m not quite sure if I will replace it. As it stands, I would drop money on a Logitech Squeezebox or Jambox Mini bluetooth speakers. Preferrably the green ones (since it’s my favorite color). My roommate & friend has one and it sounds fantastic on such a small bluetooth speaker. I would love pairing TuneIn Radio on my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with it and listen to some stations.

  4. As far as a good antenna for the 660 goes,as I do own a good one now after that TradeMe Seller tried to sell me a dud one,yet he wasnt to know I quess,The 660 will not over load on a long wire antenna,you can use the gain switch if it does.Ive never had any local AM stations cutting in with a long line antenna.Are you a high rise appartment dweller or liveing in wide open spaces you will experiment on whats best for you.Liveing near electrical interference or not.These are all the things to take into consideration when making up an antenna for a small portable radio such as the 660.You say you have a good one,well that would have been hard to find because alot had serrious internal “Birdie”/Harmonic problems,and was made more so when switched over to SSB.So I do hope you managed not to buy as I did off the same seller on TradeMe.I went through 4 befor I found one that was definatly okay.I think a bad batch was brought into NZ.Anyway Chris,you will find its very easy to hook up any antenna for your 660.Happy listening.

  5. James, I’m not familiar with TradeMe but I purchased mine from Amazon (which was distributed by Kaito-USA). I have read that some early models had quality control issues but those seemed to been fixed in newer PL-660s.

    Good to hear that you are able to find a good one after so many duds. I actually live in a house in the center of town, which isn’t that dense in terms of space. Personally, I don’t bother with antennas..too complicated for me.

    Also, my listening habits have changed in the past few years, but much more in the past year. Pretty much, all of my radio listening is done online. Apps like TuneIn Radio, iHeartRadio, and PocketCasts have all of my favorite content, which have left the airwaves at one point or another.

    Some say internet radio isn’t radio, but I say boulder-dash. I find radio all the same. It may not have the challenge that some like, but I still get the same joy and satisfaction getting a station thousands of miles away with quality content. My Jambox Mini speaker makes it even better.

  6. I recently purchased the Tecsun Pl660, FM and AM and even AIR work fine where I live on 21st floor in downtown condo complex but I have not been able to get one station on SW SSB. Wonder if it has to do with major interference because all I get is major loud white noise and some buzzing on certain bands..Last 3 days or nights , absolutely not one SW SSB station..Since everything else works great, even local air travel comes in nice and clear, could there still be a problem with radio or do I need better antenna than the wire I have running straight out on my balcony.? thanks

    • Having lived in a college dorm multiple stories high, it is rough getting shortwave reception in tall buildings. A long wire antenna would work but you could try the telescoping antenna if that improve reception. I would also try an active antenna, but expect it to dramatically improve reception.

      • Chrisfreitas,you may have bought a PL660 that has a internal harmonic problem,as I did,and I needed to check out 4 PL660s befor I was satasfied thatI finaly had agood one with no internal harmonics.Because if useing SSB,you will only get alot of Hissing sound,it will cloud out any incoming signal,as it did to mine.

  7. I have a pl660 and i cant get cb on it cant hear anything the frequencies are on it but no cb

    • Hey Michael! It’s possible that there may not be CB operators in your area? Unless you have heard them on another radio, you’re probably not hearing them because some are either not transmitting or you’re further away. Most CB users are probably using them in trucks or big rigs and are the move.

      I haven’t put the PL-660 or PL-680 in much testing with CB reception. I don’t listen to it but I would think it should be capable of pulling them in if someone is transmitting.

    • The PL 660 will receive CB radio both on AM,the lower channels and LSB on the upper channels.All you need to do is connect a 26/27 mg antenna or a 18FT long line and be close to where the transmission is signaled from.Mostly a 50 km distance.But remember you will always hear “Skip” dueing the warmer mths.Any receiver that goes up to 30mgs will receive it if thats all you are listening to.There are hundreds of utility stations out there useing SSB.

    • I had a similar experience. The I connected it to the CB Antenna on the top of my car. It was amazing. I started picking up Illinois, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Maine, New Zealand. Both regular CB bands and side band were loud and clear. There is a lot to be said for using an antenna tuned to resonate to the frequencies you are targeting.

  8. hi..i.alsohaveatecsun.pl-660.thebestradioiveeverpurchased.costme.8o.britishpoundssterling.completewithcase.etc.etc.doesnotallwaysneedextera.antenna. The hewhipworksgreat.atthemomentlisteningtobrazil.on618o.khz.at.oo.oo.utc.excellentreception.nicemusica…alsohavesangean8o3a.usefor.mw.mediumwave.dxing..cfrb.1o1o.at.2358.utc.sinpo.33333.peaking.at.43434.with.no.am.loop..icanaffordexpensivereceiver.but.love.my.pl-660…joncollins..birmingham.central.middle.of.the.uk…swl

  9. Although I respect & agree with your assessment of the pl660 I wish that you would go into extensive review of said radio. Thank you.

    • Perry there are several written reviews of the PL660 if you search for them and several comparisons with other radios on utube too. Therefore we don’t have to repeat review the radio. Rather we can discuss our opinions of the radio, the reviews, the comparisons etc.

      Personally the bottom line for me is there is so much in a small package for a very good price. But it does lack a little sophistication. Personally I find the audio nulling for a weak signal very annoying and I modified my two (you can find the mods on the w3). This makes it much better listening for me. (This is “fixed” on the PL680.) I also find its not quite aligned with the Sync lock on one of mine, the other is better. This is only sometimes a problem, depending on which side of the frequency the other strong station is. It still locks on lower s/band or u s/b but alters the audio quite a lot.

      I find the PL660 very sensitive and the three stage RF gain switch is good. Using the whip while mobile outside is as good as it gets. It handles an outside antenna quite well and more stations are heard on a nominal outside wire antenna. The Tecsun roll-up antenna is not bad also.

      Wish list – up and down 5kHz tuning like the Sony ICF7600G/R would be good.
      A more simple memory store function for the 10 numeric keys would be handy.
      Use the SSB BFO tuner for fine tuning normal AM would be great.
      Better switching between SW, FM, Air and MW would be good as I find getting back to the prior listening SW station doesn’t work.

      Overall I rate it very comparable to the Sony ICF7600GR and I think the Sony ICF2001D is just better still. In all cases, beware of RF noise from all kinds of pulse-mode power supplies, LED lamps, USB chargers and many other modern appliances inside the house!

      Its a great buy for the price.

      • Ronnie, I couldn’t say it any better than most folks who have more through reviews out there. Thomas Witherspoon from SWLing.com and Jay Allen have very extensive articles that showcase the PL-660 very well.

        I have also found the radio to be very comparable to the Sony ICF-SW7600GR. Both perform similarly and are highly coveted among SWLs. I don’t regret selling mine about two years ago, but the PL-660 is still one of my favorite receivers.

      • I have read your review of the tecsun pl660 and of all the sw radios I own the pl660 is the easiest to operate.It is a pleasure to use.I agree with your evaluation on the pl660 .And like you said if you own the pl660 there is no need to get the pl680.

    • Hey Perry, glad you agree with my assessment of the PL-660. Before this 3 year review, I had actually did an extensive review on YouTube and linked it to the blog but I ultimately took it down because of trolling. I don’t have it anymore, but the PL-660 still holds up as a fantastic radio for SWLing.

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