I’m Still Blogging

Hello everyone! In case you may be wondering if this site is still active, then no need to fear.

I haven’t been able to update this WordPress site in a quite so I apologize for being absent since my last post on the Nintendo Switch.

Field_FRONT_0You should expect more posts in the weeks to come, especially radio related content. I recently purchased a slightly used Eton Field with Bluetooth. It is basically a newer version of the Field 550 but with Bluetooth so you can stream content to the radio from a PC or smart device.

The Field BT will be reviewed sometime after I get my hands on it next week. I had also traded in my two year old Sangean WR-22 to Amazon.

I am thinking of doing something special on YouTube once I get the Field BT. There’s an idea of possibly creating a weekly YouTube stream session on weekend evenings.

It will be via Google Hangouts and viewers can interact with the show called “Shortwave Tonight.” It would something similar to a game session on Twitch, but with radio and other radio listeners.

I am planning on doing it primarily on Saturday nights between 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. However, times may vary depending on availability or some internet fluke.

Needless to say, I think it will be a lot of fun interacting with other SWLs and a talking about radio while listening to some interesting stations.

Is the Mighty KBC Back on Shortwave?

Recently, The Mighty KBC ended shortwave transmissions and went with DAB and internet broadcasting. On their Facebook page this past Saturday, I saw announcement that the station would be on-the-air on 9925 kHz between 0000-0200 UTC.

I decided to take my Tecsun PL-680 on the porch and tune in. Seems like it has a strong signal.

There’s a longer version of this video but the audio is muted thanks to YouTube’s copyright restrictions (because who would ever copy music off of YouTube). However this minute clip on Instagram gives you an idea of The Mighty KBC’s reception.

Tecsun Builds A Premium Radio: A Review Of The Tecsun PL-880

pl-8802

Introduction

The Tecsun PL-880 hit the radio market in 2013. 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.

The PL-880 is this first of its kind in this series. I have had it for about two weeks, so I put it through its paces and came up with some thoughts and impressions.

Appearance & Build Quality

This radio shares a similar button layout but has a unique design.

The appearance is angular like the PL-680 but has rounded edges.

For example, the numeric keypad buttons are a little larger than the PL-660’s, but is more responsive and clicky. This design choice is truly ergonomic and makes inputting frequencies and switching band easier to tune in.

Like the many of this company’s radios, the Tecsun PL-880 uses hard plastic. However, what sets this receiver apart is its superior build. There’s a hefty weight and everything is firmly placed.

The display and front is glossy but the rest of the set is matte. This is possibly the most well-built radio I’ve put into my hands.

The tuning and volume knobs are not wobbly and firmly in place. In fact, the knobs are metallic instead of the plastic attached to most Tecsun radios.

Features

pl8801The Tecsun PL-880 has a feature set that sets itself apart from the rest of their lineup.

Here’s what you can expect in this model.

The PL-880 has full continuous coverage of AM, FM, shortwave, and LW bands. There is also Single Sideband Band equipped with BFO (beat frequency oscillator) with a separate fine tuning knob.

You can also adjust bandwidths in AM, SW, SSB, and LW modes. There are about four different selections. For example, in AM & shortwave, users can select between 2.3 (the narrowest), 3.5, 5 (mid-range), 9 Khz (the widest). While listeners may adjust according to reception conditions, I found the 5 KHz bandwidth to be the best choice for causal listening.

While most features in this radio can be found in similar radios like the PL-660 and PL-680, there are many hidden features as well. However, there was one that I truly wanted to test out: sync.

Synchronous detection, also found in the PL-660, PL-680, and Sony ICF-SW7600GR, is a hidden feature in the PL-880. 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.

You would think that Tecsun would advertise this as a main feature of the PL-880, but there’s a good reason why it’s hidden.

Unlike the PL-660 & PL-680, sync doesn’t perform as well as those radios. Although it does hold a fading signal, the sound coming from a synced signal sounds muffled and garbled. It sounds better to have the feature disabled.

If you hoped sync detection was better in newer models like mine, then you may be disappointed. However, I still found this radio to perform quite well with the feature disabled. Since it is hidden anyway, I do not see it has a huge problem with this radio.

There is an external antenna jack along with a tone switch for bass and treble and antenna sensitivity controls for DX, Normal, and Local. There is a line-out jack for recording and rerouting audio to external speakers.

The radio also has 3050 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-880 comes with a brown pseudo-leather carrying case, a rechargeable battery (along with a spare), power adapter, a world map, owner’s manual, and a long wire antenna. Tecsun certainly gives you a lot of stuff with your purchase.

Display

The display is also the nearly the same as the PL-660’s. It gives you frequency readout, signal strength/noise radio (numeric instead of signal bars), time in 24-hour format, dual alarms, tuned band, bandwidth or in stereo (FM only), and sync hold. It’s not a huge 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. The light stays on for roughly 30 seconds and turns off.

There’s a switch on the side that allows one to keep the backlight on or set it off automatically.

Sound Quality

The speaker is sounds much better than the Tecsun PL-660 & PL-680. This one tends to be more mid-range than other radios in the market.

The noise floor on the PL-880 seems to be considerably lower the PL-660. I’ve noticed this on AM and shortwave.

By far, it has the most pleasing audio out of any portable shortwave radio I’ve ever used.

AM Performance

Compared to the PL-660 & PL-680, reception on AM is much better.

Local AM stations here in Memphis were clearly received, and distant ones were received as if they were local.

I tested reception on some clear-channel distant stations as well as local ones. There was no trouble receiving them, even stations like KMOX in St. Louis, WGN in Chicago, and WLAC in Nashville were pleasant to hear.

The weaker stations were subject to more noise, but moving the radios directionally into a sweet spot improved reception greatly.

If you plan on listening to local AM stations or others like KMOX, I highly recommend this radio.

If you own an external loop antenna like the Tecsun AN-200, that might help improve reception as well.

FM Performance

FM performance is the same as the Tecsun PL-680. 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.

Shortwave Performance

Like the PL-660, the Tecsun PL-880 really shines on shortwave. In terms of sensitivity, this one is marginally less sensitive than the PL-660 but still very sensitive compared to other radios. Both on the whip and external antenna’s sensitivity is top-notch.

Every station that I was able to pick up on the PL-660 was received on the PL-880. However, this radio has the edge in better audio, while the PL-660 is able to pick up those signals out of the static and hold them well with sync.

Also, the noise floor on shortwave is much better compared to the PL-660 & PL-680. Signals just sound more pleasant and can allow for some bedtime or armchair listening.

LW 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-880.

Overall

To sum up my experience with the Tecsun PL-880, it is worthwhile radio. It performs well in most areas, except sync.pl-8802

I highly recommend this radio for AM and FM listening. If you can ignore the poor synchronous detection (again it is not an advertised feature), then you’ll enjoy using this radio.

It does have better performance overall with excellent audio quality.

If you plan on buying this solely for shortwave listening, it will serve you well. However, keep in mind most international broadcasters are leaving shortwave for the internet or shutting down completely.

In that aspect, I kind of regret buying this radio. Nowadays, I do the majority of my radio online via TuneIn, iHeartRadio, or podcasts and stream them to my Sangean WR-22.

However, I wanted to get the PL-880 and I can now clearly see why radio enthusiasts like it. It’s a winner.

I don’t know if I’ll keep it as my listening habits change, but this Tecsun radio is on-point.

Score Breakdown

Build Quality: 5/5
Sound Quality: 5/5
Affordability: 3.5/5
Features: 5/5
Portability: 5/5
AM Performance: 5/5
FM Performance: 5/5
SW Performance: 4/5
Sync Detection: 2/5

Overall Score: 4.5/5

An Update on the Tecsun PL-680

20150706_114807Hey folks! Sorry for the delay on making this week’s episode of On The Airwaves. I intend to have the episode up and available by tonight, but don’t quote me on that.

There’s been a ton of breaking news in Memphis, especially in the past 24 hours and it has caused me to spend more time at work. These news developments haven’t allowed me time to make (or even create) the podcast so please bear with me a little bit longer.

Last week, I told you about taking a break for my birthday camping trip. In short, it was a blast at Enid Lake, MS.

During my outdoor trip, I took the Tecsun PL-680 with me and put it to further use. There are not any recordings with this post because my recorder wasn’t packed and my phone’s battery was drained most of the time.

I will, however, discuss my findings on how the Tecsun PL-680 operated in rural and outdoor settings.

On the FM and Shortwave side of things, sensitivity and clarity of radio stations was excellent. The distance from Memphis and Enid Lake is roughly 70 miles apart and I was able to receive every Memphis FM station (such as WKNO, WMXX, and WUMR) with little or no static.

Reception of broadcasters like Radio Australia and WRMI came in very well and sounded like a local station. Outdoors conditions were noticeably better than back home in Memphis.

Sadly, AM reception didn’t do so well. I think I mentioned on the review that local AM stations could not be received well in Atoka, TN, which is 20 miles away. They were audible but static and noise overwhelmed signals from Memphis stations like WREC 600.

Unfortunately, the PL-680’s MW limitations became more apparent. At Enid Lake, I could not receive any AM station from Memphis. There was nothing but static.

However, clear channel stations like KMOX 1120 AM from St. Louis, MO came in well. In fact, I listened to a Cardinals baseball game on the first night of camping.

It’s a bit odd that a faraway station came in better than a local one like WREC, but it is unsurprising given clear channels operate with more powerful transmitters. Still, it is disappointing that the Tecsun PL-680 isn’t good at AM reception.

It is fine in urban areas, but gets much worse as you move away from the signal’s origin. The PL-680 is certainly not the radio you want to use for AM reception. Otherwise, it is still a fantastic radio and well worth the money.

Tecsun PL-680 Review

It has arrived!

Introduction

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

20150706_114807This 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.

Features

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.

20150706_114751The 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.

Display

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.

Sound Quality

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.

Sync Detection

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.

AM Performance

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.

KMOX 1120 (St. Louis, MO)

WGN 720 (Chicago, IL)

WLAC 1510 (Nashville, TN)

WSM 650 (Nashville, TN)

WREC 600 (Memphis, TN)

FM Performance

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.

WEGR 102.7 Rock 103

WMAV 90.3 FM (Oxford, MS)

WMFS 92.9 ESPN Radio

WUMR 91.7 FM U92 “The Jazz Lover”

WYPL 89.3

Shortwave Performance

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.

Deutsche Welle at 0430 UTC (9800 kHz)

Radio Australia at 0445 UTC (17840 kHz)

Radio New Zealand International at 0500 UTC (11725 kHz)

Voice of America at 1700 UTC (17895 kHz)

WRMI at 0440 UTC (9955 kHz)

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.

Overall

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.

Score Breakdown

Build Quality: 4/5
Sound Quality: 4/5
Affordability: 4/5
Features: 5/5
Portability: 5/5
AM Performance: 3/5
FM Performance: 5/5
SW Performance: 5/5
Sync Detection: 5/5

Overall Score: 4.5/5