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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Build Quality: 5/5
Sound Quality: 5/5
AM Performance: 5/5
FM Performance: 5/5
SW Performance: 4/5
Sync Detection: 2/5
Overall Score: 4.5/5