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
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 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.
LW and Aircraft Band Performance
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.
Build Quality: 4/5
Sound Quality: 4/5
AM Performance: 3/5
FM Performance: 5/5
SW Performance: 5/5
Sync Detection: 5/5
Overall Score: 4.5/5