Art Bell, former host of “Coast to Coast AM,” has created a new show. Starting today, he is starting a test run of “Midnight in the Desert.” While listeners can hear the show online and on certain local radio stations, shortwave listeners can tune into the program on WBCQ on either 7490 kHz and 9330 kHz on weeknights from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
In this episode of the podcast, Chris talks about a new international broadcaster coming to shortwave later this year. Also there is news about a cable provider offering streaming video services and a project to bring shortwave to car radios.
Later in the podcast, you’ll hear Part 2 of “Sounds of Shortwave” and details about next week.
The Tecsun PL-680 hit the radio market earlier in 2015. Despite the decline in shortwave broadcasting, the Chinese radio manufacturer has been churning out receivers and they are meeting some success for this niche market.
It is the first true successor to the PL-660 and follows the latest radios in the 600 series. I have had it for a few days, put it to test, and came up with some impressions of the Tecsun PL-680.
Appearance & Build Quality
This radio will immediately look familiar to SWL enthusiasts. It shares a similar design to the PL-600, the 660’s predecessor.
Even though the PL-680 replaces the 660, its casing is nearly a duplicate of the 600. The appearance is angular unlike the the PL-660 which was a round design.
For example, the numeric keypad buttons are bigger and flat, unlike the smaller and rounder buttons of the PL-660. This design choice make inputting frequencies and switching band easier and ergonomic.
Like the PL-600 and PL-660, the Tecsun PL-680 uses the same hard plastic. It isn’t glossy but not quite matte. It roughly weighs the same as those models. It is in that middle ground of not feeling cheap, but not quite as premium builds such as the Sony ICF-SW7600GR and Sangean ATS-909X.
The tuning and volume knobs are not wobbly and are firmly in place. In fact, there seems to be more resistance compared to the PL-660. Also, the face buttons more responsive compared to its predecessor.
The Tecsun PL-680’s features are exactly the same as the PL-660. Internally, both radios are identical.
In case you missed out on the PL-660, here’s what can expect in this model.
The PL-680 has full continuous coverage of AM, FM, shortwave, LW, and aircraft bands. There is also selectable Single Sideband Band equipped with BFO (beat frequency oscillator) with fine tuning.
The feature that set the PL-660 apart for the 600 comes included in PL-680: synchronous detection. In short, it is a method of signal processing that extracts a weak signal and replaces it with a stronger channel.
This, in turn, reduces or eliminates fading and interference from adjacent stations. Sync detection only works on AM, LW, and SW bands.
There is an external antenna jack along with a tone switch for bass and treble and antenna sensitivity controls for DX, Normal, and Local. In addition, you can adjust the bandwidth on AM, LW, and SW for wide and narrow.
The radio also has 2000 memory presets with numerous pages to set them. For me, I would never use that many but there is certainly plenty to program favorite stations.
In the box, the Tecsun PL-680 comes with a pseudo-leather carrying case, rechargeable batteries, power adapter, owner’s manual, and a long wire antenna. Tecsun certainly gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
The display is also the same as the PL-660’s. It gives you frequency readout, signal strength, time in 24-hour format, dual alarms, tuned band, bandwidth or in stereo (FM only), and sync hold. It’s not a large display but is large enough to display these indications clearly.
The screen is also backlit when you turn the radio on, press a button, or tune the bands. However the light stays on for roughly 30 seconds and turns off.
You can manually keep the it off, but the backlight can’t stay on.
The speaker is sounds nearly the same as the Tecsun PL-660. It tends to have more bass than other radios in the market. Adjusting the tone controls to treble and bandwidth to wide certainly brings clarity, it allows more static to overpower it on weaker signals. I am usually content with having bass on and a narrow bandwidth.
The noise floor on the PL-680 seems to be considerably lower the PL-660. I’ve noticed this on AM and shortwave.
As previously mentioned, the Tecsun PL-680 also has sync detection. Like the PL-660, it functions in a similar manner and locks the signal.
You’ll be happy to know that synchronous detection works well with this model. It is perhaps slightly better than its predecessor.
It holds the receive signal better and does a better job at fade and interference rejection. Even on weaker stations, the PL-680 has a firm grip on it and I haven’t notice any fades on SW and AM.
By far, this has the best synchronous detector that I have used on any radio.
First, it’s time to get some bad news out of the way. Compared to the PL-660, reception on AM is weaker.
While local AM stations here in Memphis were clearly received, distant ones were not as lucky.
I tested reception on some clear-channel distant stations as well as local ones. There was no trouble receiving them, but stations like KMOX in St. Louis, WGN in Chicago, and WLAC in Nashville were not as pleasant to hear as if I had received them on the Tecsun PL-660 or even my Sangean WR-22 (which made it sound local upon comparison).
It is not doom and gloom though. The weaker stations were subject to more noise, but using sync actually helped remove any fading, something that even the PL-660 couldn’t handle right on AM DXing.
Despite the noise, listening to clear-channels is tolerable on the PL-680. Lower power AM stations may be a trouble find, though.
If you plan on listening to local AM stations or others like KMOX, it should be fine but the performance is a step back from PL-660, which has less than stellar AM reception.
If you own an external loop antenna like the Tecsun AN-200, that might help improve reception.
This rest is up hill from here. FM performance is the same as the Tecsun PL-660. Local and distant signals came in very well. I don’t do much FM DXing but there is a distant NPR station in Mississippi, WMAV 90.3, that comes in loud and clear and is more than 50 miles from Memphis.
Weaker local stations are received just as well, both on the telescoping whip antenna and external wire antenna bundled with this radio.
Like the PL-660, the Tecsun PL-680 really shines on shortwave. In terms of sensitivity, this one is marginally better than its predecessor. Both on the whip and external antenna’s sensitivity is top-notch.
Essentially every station that I was able to pick up on the PL-660 was received on the PL-680. However, this radio has the edge.
Some stations that I had a bit of trouble getting like WRMI, WBCQ, Voice of America, and Deutsche Welle came in better and clearer. Using the synchronous detection improved it even further by not allowing the signal to fade.
Also, the noise floor on shortwave to be slightly lower compared to the PL-660. Signals just sound a bit better and more intelligible.
In the United States, there are not any broadcasters that use longwave transmissions. I did give it a test and didn’t pick up one station.
In Europe or other regions that still use LW, there may be better results. However, there is simply no way of knowing how it performs here in the U.S.
Therefore I don’t see that as a negative or positive on the PL-680.
I wasn’t able to pick up aircraft communications either, not for lack of trying. The Memphis International Airport is roughly 5 miles from my home, but perhaps it is not close enough to pick up any air traffic chatter.
I don’t listen to any aircraft signals, but someone who does may like this feature.
It wasn’t able to pick up anything when I tested it, but I don’t see it as a huge feature to consider when scoring this radio. With that said, there were similar results on the Tecsun PL-660 in this area.
To sum up my experience with the Tecsun PL-680, it is worthy as an successor to one of the best multiband receivers created in recent times. It performs better than the PL-660 in most areas, except AM.
I truly love this radio and don’t see myself going back to the PL-660. However, I really can’t recommend the PL-680 to anyone who owns the PL-660 or even PL-880.
It does have better performance overall, but it is marginal compared to those radios. All three are nearly neck and neck when it comes to sensitivity, synchronous detection, sound quality, and signal to noise ratio. If you already own one of these receivers, then there’s really no point to upgrade. Heck, the PL-660 is slightly cheaper and performs close to par.
However, if one doesn’t already have a shortwave radio or perhaps upgrade from the PL-600 or other cheaper models from Eton, Sangean, Kaito, or Degen, then I’d say go for it.
The Tecsun PL-680 will not disappoint. It is now my favorite all-time shortwave radio and definitely a keeper.
After two weeks of waiting, I have finally received the Tecsun PL-680, the successor to the popular PL-660, from Anon-Co this morning. Before reviewing this radio, it has to be unboxed and pictures of its contents are provided below.
Here are some quick impressions. In short, the PL-680 seems to be a fine radio. It is very similar to what you can expect out of a PL-660.
Shortwave reception and sync detection hold up very well. FM is top notch. Also, there is some merit to a deafening on distant AM stations, but clear channels and local broadcasters seem to be just fine if you don’t DX.
I have yet to put it through its paces but I should have enough experience with it before my review this Friday. So far, it is a worthy successor of the PL-660. Although, it isn’t much of an upgrade if you already own one.
If you will excuse me, I will get back to listening to Radio New Zealand International, which is coming in crystal clear.
On Episode 2 of On The Airwaves, I reviewed a tabletop radio that also has Bluetooth connectivity. It has been about three weeks and it must be said that the Sangean WR-22 is a fine receiver with lots of functionality.
This model was ordered through DataVision, a seller on Amazon and it was priced around $130 US. Shipment was expedient, but it was sent through FedEx. I have a bit of bias against that company, especially since I used to work there as a handler and know how well boxes are not treated.
It was no surprise that the box was a tad dented, however the radio and most of the materials were intact with an exception of the included FM antenna. However, the WR-22 accepts any TV antenna with coaxial inputs and can serve as a spare FM antenna.
Once the packing was unwrapped, I powered on the radio and was immediately impressed.
Sangean has a reputation of making fine radios, especially notable receivers like the ATS-909X. It was that appeal alone that made me decide on a clock radio with excellent build quality. The WR-22 is no exception.
Upon lifting it out the box, I can feel the weight of it and it certainly is heavy. There are many variations on the WR-22, but mine has a walnut finish on it. It’s not real wood but the look and feel is just as solid.
The rest of it has a glossy black plastic cover. It doesn’t seem cheap, have any creeks, or weak spots in the design. It is a fingerprint and scratch magnet though, but that doesn’t bother me much.
Buttons and connectors are clicky, responsive, and well-constructed. There are no loose connections.
The Sangean WR-22 is a tabletop receiver that picks up AM & FM RDS stations. In addition, it also connects to computers, smartphones, and other related electronics via Bluetooth.
Also, you can connect devices to USB and an audio auxiliary input.
On the back, there are inputs for an external antenna for AM and FM. While the radio does have an internal ferrite antenna, there is an option should anyone want better reception out of the radio.
A headphone and subwoofer jack can also be found on the backside.
There’s a 2.5 inch display on the front of the radio. It’s not huge, but is large enough to see across a small room.
To begin, this radio has dual alarms and a sleep timer.
The top of the screen shows the time, which can be manually adjusted or synced with FM RDS stations.
The bottom shows the tuned frequency, station name and other RDS information on FM, song name and artist if an media player is connected through USB, and the name of the connected Bluetooth device.
The display is also backlit and even lights up the buttons and Sangean logo on the front panel. You can also adjust the brightness if you wish it to be brighter or dimmer.
Tuning, Volume, and Presets
On the front panel are tuning and volume knobs and preset buttons. Turning these knobs are somewhat similar to the ATS-909X. There are notches in the tuning where you can come to a stop.
The larger tuning knob is used for changing frequency. The smaller one adjusts the loudness of the speaker. Pressing down on the knobs serves other functions.
For example, pressing down on the tuning knob in Bluetooth mode pairs your device. Hitting down on the volume knob changes the treble and bass adjustments.
Also, the WR-22 has 5 preset buttons for AM and FM stations. This is fine for me, but someone may want to have additional presets to program more than 5 stations. There’s also no frequency input so you’ll have to manually tune to the station.
Additionally, you can use the included remote for tuning and volume adjustments.
The front of the radio sports a 3 inch 7W single speaker. The sound is only in mono, but it sounds great. I can’t really compare this to a tabletop Bose system or similar products but it does sound much better than cheaper clock radios such as iHome. Even my portable Jambox Mini sounds tiny compared to the audio coming from the WR-22.
It can fill the room and gets really loud without much distortion. The radio favors more bass, but you can adjust treble and bass settings if you want something more mid-range. For me personally, I like to have a bit more bass.
If anyone has used a Sangean shortwave radio, then you might get an idea of how well reception might be on the WR-22. You may be pleased to hear that this receiver has good sensitivity.
Reception of AM and FM stations is a similar experience to the ATS-909X. Local stations come in clearly and sound great. There is a low noise floor with the received signal.
Depending on what you are looking for, local station listening is great. If you’re a DXer, then you may want to invest in an external antenna.
It’s not to say that distant signals can’t be received. However, there is a bit of static on faraway AM and FM stations.
I have tested this with two benchmark distant stations: KMOX 1120 in St. Louis and WMAV 90.3 in Oxford, MS. Both broadcasters are not too far from Memphis and could be received. They did come in loud, but not as clear. Some static could be heard on both signals, and KMOX had a bit of fading.
It may seem as a negative, but it’s not bad at all. I would get the same results from a Tecsun PL-660 or any high-quality radio. I just want to be upfront in stating that this is not a DXing rig.
However, this radio does have external antenna connections and I’ve only used the internal antenna and a TV antenna. I can imagine a better antenna could bear better results, but my setup was fine in getting distant stations with a tolerable amount of static. It is impressive, indeed.
Here are some audio clips of stations that I am able to pick up here in Memphis. Hopefully these samples will give prospective buyers an idea of terrestrial radio performance and audio quality. I have three audio files for both AM and FM reception and each last roughly a minute long.
The Sangean WR-22 is equipped with a Bluetooth receiver. Any device that has Bluetooth functionality will connect with it.
For instance, my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Surface 3 syncs up with the radio flawlessly. It pairs up with your compatible device easily and quickly.
For comparison purposes, I have used the Jambox Mini and it takes nearly 20-30 seconds to connect to my devices. With the WR-22, it took about 10 seconds and sometimes faster than that if Bluetooth is already turned on.
As for range, the WR-22 works well across a bedroom and a little bit beyond through walls. It has better range than the Jambox. It also holds the connection and has yet to drop the signal. Unlike the WR-22, my Jambox will drop the signal once in a while and is less stable.
Here’s a fun fact. The WR-22 can also charge up your device while connecting a USB cable in Bluetooth mode (in addition to USB mode). The radio has to be on for the device to charge, but it works.
The Sangean WR-22 has a USB port for charging and syncing MP3 players and USB drives. While using this mode, you can shuffle through any audio files stored on the device and play through the radio.
If you plan to use an iPod or even a smartphone through USB mode, it will not recognize the file system. Smartphones have Bluetooth, but for incompatible devices like an iPod Nano or Zune, you’ll want to use the auxiliary input mode to play music through the WR-22.
I am quite impressed with the Sangean WR-22. It has performed better than I expected.
Audio quality is top-notch and sounds pleasant to my ears. I didn’t notice any static, distortion, or speaker pops on clear signals.
Connecting to a Bluetooth device is easy and it is fast too.
Reception on AM and FM performed well especially on local stations. If I want to take further advantage of DXing, then I am glad that I have the option of installing an external antenna.
The build quality is rock solid and I can see this lasting a long time.
Perhaps the only negative I have is that it can’t be battery-powered. There is no internal rechargeable battery or battery compartments.
The large size alone makes it solely a tabletop radio. For a portable option, there’s the Jambox Mini.
Overall, the Sangean WR-22 is my primary radio. It is great for local radio listening, and works well as a music player and internet radio when using radio apps on my Note 4. This receiver is also a great device for listening to podcasts as well.
The Sangean WR-22 is simply a fantastic radio.
Build Quality: 5/5
Sound Quality: 5/5
AM Performance: 4/5
FM Performance: 4/5
Bluetooth Connectivity: 5/5
In Episode 3, listeners will hear the first part of a series called “Sounds of Shortwave,” which was bundled with a Radio Shack booklet many years ago.
Also in the show, Chris talks about a 4 year anniversary of a local web station, released archive of a defunct radio publication, petition to get an international broadcaster on shortwave, and the launch of another streaming radio service.
Finally, Chris explains why he is back as a shortwave listener.