Saturday, June 19, 2010

Review Of The Tecsun PL-380 DSP Receiver

       -With emphasis on mediumwave reception
       -And comparisons to various radios

       -by RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER

       Purchased From: Anon-co (eBay)
       Price: $45.99 + $24.00 shipping ($69.99 total)

       Serial#: 369-2010-0202-752 03/2010


INTRODUCTION

The Tecsun PL-380 DSP Digital Receiver is one of the newest offerings in the ultralight-sized category of pocket receivers. It uses the industry's first fully integrated, 100% CMOS AM/FM/SW/LW radio receiver chip, the Silicon Labs Si4734. It tunes the longwave, mediumwave, shortwave and FM bands, and uses the latest in software-based digital signal processing to provide an outstanding choice of filter selectivities of 6 KHz, 4 KHz, 3 KHz, 2 KHz, and 1 KHz, minimizing interference. This little receiver is truly a quantum leap in technology.

Coverage:

       Longwave coverage: 153 - 513 KHz
       Mediumwave coverage: 520 - 1710 KHz (9 or 10 KHz split)
       Shortwave coverage: 2300 - 21950 KHz
       FM coverage: 64 - 108 MHz

This review is lengthy and quite technical in places. It is purposely slanted toward the mediumwave DX enthusiast, mainly because I am one and that's why I bought this radio: to further pursue this hobby of mediumwave DX. Virtually all of what is said in terms of functionality and technical specification can also be applied to the shortwave and FM sections of this radio.

SHIPPING AND ARRIVAL



This is my first radio purchased directly out of China (Hong Kong), so I was a little nervous. Seller Anon-co sells these and other radios via eBay. It has been a good experience and exceeded my expectations. Purchase is easy through Pay-Pal. Joyce, the sales agent for Anon-co, contacted me via e-mail within 24 hours of my web purchase introducing herself and asking my preference of color for the radio. Three styles are available: silver, grey, and black. I chose the black one.

The radio was shipped out of Hong Kong within 48 hours via air post. A tracking number was provided for the parcel, shipped by a Hong Kong shipping company. The radio arrived 13 days later in New York via US Postal Service registered mail.

The PL-380 is physically small, fits in a shirt pocket, and is just a little larger (by 5/8 inch width and height) than my Kaito WRX911. It was packed in a Tecsun box, the box itself in a heavy duty bubble-wrap envelope. Radio size is 5-1/4 inch wide x 3-3/8 inch high x 1 inch deep. It arrived in good shape, complete with Hong Kong stamps on the envelope for the stamp collector.

ACCESSORIES

The PL-380 comes with a nicely equipped accessory package. Accessories include a nice zippered cloth case with inside pocket and small foldover pouch for earbuds, an external antenna wire with mini connector and curtain clip, earbuds, 3 NiMH batteries (1000 mAH), a USB charging cord, and a manual.


MANUAL

The manual, in English, contains 29 pages. It is well-written with an acceptable amount of Chinese-English speak. Included in the radio description are many graphics showing how to use the various functions. The inside front-cover has a nicely detailed block diagram of this innovative digital receiver for the technically curious. Studying it, you can see this radio has few parts outside of the Silicon Labs' Si4734 DSP micro-chip. See the accompanying photo in the FILTERS AND SELECTIVITY section showing the radio disassembled and you will see what I mean.

SETUP

The radio requires 3 AA batteries, like my Grundig YB 300PE. Battery level is displayed on the screen as it is for the PL-600, and is accurate for either NiMH batteries (~1.2 volts) or standard alkalines (~1.5 volts). A simple key press toggles the display between alkaline or NiMH so that your current battery level reads accurately. The NiMH batteries are chargeable right in the radio using the USB adapter cabled to a computer. Charging automatically shuts off when finished. Battery consumption is very low, and batteries should last a long time especially if headphones are used.

Anon-co checks out each radio before shipping to make sure they work, a nice service. The radio also came preset for the North American mediumwave split, 10 KHz. Again, a simple key press toggles between 10 KHz and 9 KHz splits. The long wave band (153 KHz - 513 KHz) was already activated too, and can be activated or deactivated by key press.

The clock is easily set by a combination of a key press and rotation of the tuning dial, done while the radio is off. 12 or 24 hour formats are available. The clock can be made to show while the radio is in operation if desired.

No other setup was required.

QUALITY AND ERGONOMICS



The PL-380 build and fit quality is excellent, and better than the PL-600. The telescoping whip antenna measures 19-1/2 inches when fully extended, and is stout and of nice quality.

Buttons, though small, give a nice solid click when pressed, and have a stiff spring behind them. A somewhat loud tone is also emitted for each button press, but is easily silenced by a simple key action. Unlike the PL-600, lettering on the radio's buttons is on top of each button itself and it will be interesting to see at what age and usage the lettering begins to wear. The keypad is layed out in correct telephone pad-style format, with the zero key at the bottom center. Brilliantly, there are no tedious menus to wade through when changing core radio settings. Simple 2nd function key presses accomplish this. Excellent design.

A small (1-3/4 inch) front-firing, round speaker is on the left front. Sound through the small speaker is trebley at best. Use headphones, this is not a boom box.

The left side of the radio has a headphone jack and a 5 volt DC input connector, the connector being like those found on many digital cameras. Curious. I'm not sure how you would hook it to another 5 volt power source other than a computer, though a cable from an old digital camera could be stripped and cobbled up.

Two ridged, thumb-wheeled styled knobs protrude edge-wise from the right side of the radio. They are tuning and volume. They each have stepped-detents and seem a bit delicate. Be gentle when using them. I have seen one report in the Yahoo Ultralight group where a user's tuning wheel broke loose off its shaft.

On the back of the radio is a flip stand for elevating the PL-380 if set on a flat surface. The PL-380 also comes with a handstrap. The battery compartment cover is not hinged, but removable, and could be easily misplaced.

THE LCD DISPLAY

The display is clear and easy to read, and contrast is good. Backlighting is yellow, with perhaps a tinge of green, like the PL-600. It can be activated at any time by a key press, or turned on or off permanently.

A key lock button can be pressed to lock all controls on the radio. When locked, a small key is displayed on the LCD.

By pressing the Display button, found just under the Power button, the clock, alarm time, temperature, or received signal strength indicators can be made to show in turn along with the tuned frequency. Stop at the one you wish to be continually displayed.

The clock and alarm read in hours and minutes only, no seconds. A single timer is available which can activate the radio for up to 90 minutes when the alarm is triggered. You can also set the alarm to produce a buzzer-like sound.

A sleep function can turn off the radio after up to 120 minutes. By default, on first power up the radio starts in sleep mode and will play for 30 minutes before shutting off. A "30" will show on the display for the first few seconds. This can be defeated by a key press so the radio stays on permanently after power up.

Temperature reads in either Fahrenheit or Celsius. Cleverly, the software tests the mediumwave split you have selected (9 KHz or 10 KHz), and displays Fahrenheit if you have chosen the 10 KHz split or Celsius for the 9 KHz split.

For the longwave, mediumwave and shortwave bands, received frequency is displayed in kilohertz. For the FM band, received frequency is displayed in megahertz.

Memory operations are displayed in the received signal strength indicator area, at the upper right.

The PL-380, like the other ultralights using the innovative Silicon Labs' Si4734 DSP micro-chip, has a unique signal strength indicator display, the likes of which old radio buffs like me would never have dreamed possible back in the 1950s and 1960s during the waning era of vacuum tubes and analog signal strength meters. Learning of this when the Grundig G8 Traveller and Tecsun PL-300 came out, I was very excited to one day see this in action in addition to wanting to move along and try these new designs. I avoided these initial production attempts due to the so-called soft-mute issues inherent with their design software. The PL-380 has toned down the soft-mute attenuation. But more on that later.

THE RSSI AND SNR DISPLAY

When the PL-380 is tuned to the center carrier frequency of a broadcast station, the carrier strength in dBµV (dB above 1 microvolt) and the signal (+noise) to noise ratio in dB is displayed in the upper right corner of the LCD display. These are commonly called the RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) and the SNR (Signal to Noise Ratio), respectively. The RSSI figure displayed is relative of course, and should not be confused with any published figures of signal strength like those available from V-Soft Communications, or seriously compared with private calculations for receivable stations in your area. Actual received signal strength is highly dependent on local terrain, daylight/nighttime conditions, transmitter antenna pattern gain, receiver antenna, ground conductivity, and other factors which make it impossible to accurately fix through calculation.



It is important to note that the RSSI indicator (marked dBµ on the display) is not the same measurement as dBu, the figure commonly used in recent years by the FCC for measuring electric field intensity of AM broadcast stations at prescribed distances. dBu [lowercase "u"] is electric field intensity, always in decibels above one microvolt/meter (and the same as dBµV/m). dBµV, on the other hand, using the Greek letter µ ["mu"] instead of u, is voltage expressed in dB above one microvolt into a specific load impedance, commonly 50 ohms. The PL-380 measures and displays dBµV, not dBu-dBµV/m.

Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) is the ratio of (a) the power of the desired signal plus the noise to (b) the power of the noise. The (S+N)/N ratio is usually expressed in dB.

RSSI indications, as displayed on the PL-380, can range from 15 to 63 dBµV. Per Scott Willingham, one of the Si4734's designers, "The RSSI readings are referred to the pins of the chip, which are the inputs to the LNA. In the Tecsun radios operating in the MW band, this is also the voltage across the loopstick. In SW bands, the Tecsun ULRs use a preamp/LNA on the circuit board between the whip antenna and the Si4734. In that case, the RSSI readings reflect the signal at the output of Tecsun's external LNA."

Displayed SNR indications can range from 0 to 25 dB. About SNR measurements, Scott Willingham related that, "The SNR figure is calculated by a proprietary DSP algorithm, and neither the RSSI nor audio output directly play a role. The input to the algorithm is the filtered IF signal before audio demodulation. It is really more of a carrier-to-noise ratio than directly an audio noise measurement. Obviously, in AM it is bounded between 0 and 25 dB. The motive for computing and providing the number comes from implementing better station search capabilities; the display is just a nice byproduct."

At 0 dB SNR, a weak signal at best, soft-mute is at maximum attenuation according to the Si4734 programming manual. A great discussion thread on PL-380 soft-mute exists on the Yahoo Ultralight group.

Soft-mute, a further lowering of the audio level of the received signal when it drops below a prescribed strength, is undoubtedly meant to provide a more comfortable listening experience for the casual listener and not the DXer. The idea is to relieve the listener from all that nasty low level "static" and "interference", or as Silicon Labs states: "The soft-mute feature is available to attenuate the audio outputs and minimize audible noise in very weak signal conditions."

Long suffer the mediumwave DXer, as static and interference and low level signals are his bread and butter and the secret to gaining new DX. Luckily for him a weakly received signal is still there, though attenuated, and may in fact be perfectly readable if not for the soft-mute. How do we recover it?

A general consensus indicates that tuning 1 or 2 KHz off frequency and advancing the volume control will compensate for the muted audio. This is the theory: When you tune off the center frequency of the carrier it causes the signal to noise ratio to drop to zero (in fact it does), and the software responds by fully engaging the soft-mute, stabilizing any pumping audio possibly caused by multiple and different strength stations on the same frequency. At that point the volume is manually raised to counteract the soft-mute reduction.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes not, in my experience. Raising the volume also raises the background noise level and sometimes I don't see any beneficial signal recovery. Many times I have found if you stay tuned on frequency, wait a few seconds and rotate the radio around a bit to either peak the desired signal or null the offending one, the soft-mute seems to settle down and disengage, allowing reception of the weak signal. So try this too.

Maximum soft-mute attenuation for the PL-380 is 6 dB. As measured, the soft-mute threshold is actually 3 dB (SNR reading) and the slope is 2 dB/dB. This means that there is no soft-mute effect at all for SNR readings of 3 dB or more. Below 3 dB SNR, the audio is attenuated 2 dB for every dB decrease in SNR, up to a maximum of 6 dB when SNR reaches its minimum reported value of 0 dB, as such:

       3 dB SNR: 0 dB audio attenuation (the threshold)
       2 dB SNR: 2 dB audio attenuation
       1 dB SNR: 4 dB audio attenuation
       0 dB SNR: 6 dB audio attenuation

On a separate issue, a different person in the same group reported a generally high and somewhat constant RSSI value (dBµV) across segments of the mediumwave band. I have noticed the same effect here in the general frequency neighborhood (let's say plus or minus 40-50 KHz) of the local powerhouse stations, where RSSI values will hang at a value of perhaps 20-40 dBµV with an SNR of 0. I can only attribute this to a kind of front end "desense", ahead of the filtering, as I don't know what else might cause it. When you get far enough away in frequency from the overly-strong signals, the effect vanishes.

The RSSI and SNR displays update every two seconds, however the radio itself responds to realtime changes much faster than this. For example, when rotating the radio to null a station's signal, you may notice that soft-mute kicks in before the SNR display reaches 2 dB. This is because the display has not reached its update cycle yet. This is not a problem, but just something to be aware of if you are using the displays for positioning the radio.

ANTENNAS



The PL-380 employs a rather short ferrite bar antenna (3-1/8 inches in length) for the LW and MW band frequencies. FM and shortwave employ the telescopic whip antenna. Signal nulling is excellent and as good as any radio I own, as good or better than the renowned WRX911.

Interestingly, WRX911 nulling was improved dramatically here by the removal of the telescopic whip antenna's connection to the circuit board which was found to be interacting with its ferrite loop and worsening its ultimate nulling capability. Per the block diagram, the PL-380 also connects its whip to the AM tank circuit, as the AM side of the Si4734 chip is also used for shortwave AM tuning. The connection is made through a so called "SW LPF" (low pass filter), funneling the shortwave band signals to the AM tank circuit. I wondered if there would be interaction with the whip causing a degradation of mediumwave nulling and maybe some false "signal enhancement".

I did an experiment by taking the PL-380 outside away from household noise and attaching about ten feet of wire to the telescoping whip. Tuning to distant outlet WGY-810 in Schenectady, NY (186.3 miles distant), the signal to noise ratio (and audible signal strength) increased by a factor of 7 dB when the wire was attached to the whip versus when it was not. It seems there is at least some interaction between the whip and mediumwave reception, as was the case with the WRX911. In the case of the PL-380, however, even with the whip extended a full 19-1/2 inches it is probably minimal, a matter of a couple of dB and hardly noticeable.

Further, coupling this unit to a passive loop to enhance sensitivity is a rather strange experience, and unlike any other ultralight or other radio I own. Passive loops seemed to tune rather broadly, making it a bit difficult to find a signal peak. Loose coupling seems to work best, and finding the "sweet spot" of best signal transfer is difficult.

My homemade Q-Stick device, the 4-Inch Tunable Ferrite Bar featured on RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER last September, couples even more poorly than the passive loop does to the PL-380. Again, in close proximity, tuning is upset and even more skewed and undefined. I often can't find a signal peak at all when tuning the external ferrite bar. All in all, the PL-380 exhibits some strange coupling tendencies. You will have to experiment with your passive loop or ferrite tuning device to see what works best for you.

Reports in the Yahoo Ultralight group suggest that Tecsun has tweaked the stock AVC for the Si4734 chip so much that it results in "unvarying volume over many conditions", which in turn makes it hard to determine a signal peak when coupling to passive devices. See this discussion.

SENSITIVITY

The sensitivity of the PL-380 is good and markedly better than my little Sangean DT-400W ultralight. It approaches the PL-600's sensitivity throughout the mediumwave band, though it tends to be down a little more at the lower end. Reports speak of the low tank coil inductance as curbing sensitivity on this unit, particularly at the lower frequencies. Ranking four radios for sensitivity, arbitrarily ranking the Kaito 1103 at a ten since it is the most sensitive, they would rank thusly:

       Kaito 1103: 10.0
       PL-600: 9.5
       PL-380: 8.0
       DT-400W: 4.5

The PL-310, on the other hand, a previously manufactured DSP ultralight receiver using the same Si4734 chip, had a longer loopstick and better sensitivity than the PL-380, as witnessed by others. Unfortunately, reports of its heavy soft-mute signal attenuation have steered me away from it.



So what to do if you want more sensitivity? Short of using a cranky passive loop or Q-Stick device, the answer for improved sensitivity seems to be hacking into the unit and replacing the PL-380's ferrite bar with something longer and tuned correctly. This has been hashed about in many posts in the Yahoo Ultralight group. A 7.5 inch ferrite bar has been used with very good results.

All-in-all, I don't find the PL-380's sensitivity that bad. It is certainly not dead, and better than many other ultralight receivers. It is obviously no Kaito 1103 or even a Tecsun PL-600, but it can hold its own with many others.

Get up early some morning just before sun up and take the PL-380 outside and away from household noise. Put your headphones on. You will find a world of distant DX stations fighting with each other for dominance on nearly every channel. And better yet, use the 2 and 1 KHz filters to slice that interference and IBOC nastiness out of existence.

TUNING

No chuffing or dropout is apparent when tuning the radio, and tuning is very smooth once you get used to the detents on the tuning dial. The days of chuffing and signal masking while tuning are about gone for digital radios, I hope.

Two tuning speeds are available, slow and fast. They are as follows:

       Longwave/slow: 1 KHz per detent
       Longwave/fast: 9 KHz per detent

       Mediumwave/slow: 1 KHz per detent
       Mediumwave/fast: 9 or 10 KHz per detent, depending on split

       Shortwave/slow: 1 KHz per detent
       Shortwave/fast: 5 KHz per detent

       FM/slow: 10 KHz per detent
       FM/fast: 100 KHz per detent

Slow or fast tuning speed kicks in automatically depending on how fast you spin the tuning wheel. It takes some getting used to, to get the feel for how fast you can spin the tuning dial before the radio goes into fast tuning mode. It is annoying at first and will catch you off guard till you learn the feel.

Direct entry tuning couldn't be easier. Punch in a frequency, like 8-5-0, and it instantly tunes to 850 KHz without having to press an additional "enter" key, or a "period" key twice. Such a simple feature makes a huge difference. Kaito, Eton, are you listening?

General shortwave band selection is done by the "carousel" method. Press the "up" or "down" arrow keys to take you to the band you desire. Or, just punch in the frequency on the number pad once you have arrived on a shortwave band. It is simplicity at its best.

The PL-380 has several different scanning modes. See the MEMORIES AND SCANNING section for a further description.

FILTERS AND SELECTIVITY



Selectivity is nothing short of astonishing on this little radio. Five selectivity widths are available, digitally filtered of course - 6 KHz, 4 KHz, 3 KHz, 2 KHz, and 1 KHz. Gone are the days of ceramic filters, good. The AM Bandwidth button at lower left controls the filter setting using a carousel type method.

Audio recovery of weakly received signals is excellent and intelligible even in the 1 KHz bandwidth setting of the filter. And the benefit of using the lower bandwidths of 2 and 1 KHz are better signal to noise ratio, thus better signal recovery when receiving weak DX. I have tuned signals with this radio that were very weak but perfectly intelligible in the 1 KHz setting when they were not apparent in either the 4 or 6 KHz filter settings. So use the 1 or 2 KHz filter width when scanning for weak DX.

Offset tuning can sometimes be used to pull in a weak station that can't otherwise be received on frequency, perhaps due to adjacent channel interference or muddled audio. Switch to the 1 KHz or 2 KHz filter and detune the station by 1 or 2 KHz. The audio will brighten, usually imparting better clarity. Raise the volume some, to counteract the soft-mute. There are few receivers that I have known which can carry off intelligible audio at such narrow filter widths. The PL-380 can.

AUDIO

Audio quality is fair with the speaker and good using headphones. Don't expect to set this radio on a garden table and get yard-filling, full range volume. Use your boom box for that. Headphones are the key. They are the DXer's choice.

MEMORIES AND SCANNING



The PL-380 has 550 memories. Longwave, mediumwave, and FM each have 100. Shortwave has 250. Memory operation is simple. Tune to a station, press the memory key (VM), press again to reconfirm and store. Use the tuning wheel to scroll through memory slots when in memory mode.

Easy Tuning Mode (ETM) is an automated band scan type of operation which automatically scans and stores receivable channels into the Easy Tuning Mode memory, separate from regular memory. The manual states that the longwave, mediumwave, and FM bands have a total of 100 storage slots, and shortwave 250. While in the band of your choice, hold the ETM button down until the scan starts. Stations above a prescribed strength will be saved in ETM memory. A handy function, but almost identical to ATS, below.

Auto Tuning Storage (ATS) automatically scans and stores stations just like Easy Tuning Mode does, only uses regular memory. Makes me wonder why they even included ETM as another scan type operation. The difference appears to be that you have a full range of 100 memory slots for each band (longwave, mediumwave, FM) versus 100 total. Shortwave is the same, at 250.

Scanning within any band is simple, and fairly effective, though the lock thresholds are set a bit high. Press the VF key to start/stop.

Memory scanning is also available through the VM key.

SIGNAL SPURS AND IMAGES

As noted by others, the PL-380 has some spurs. The one usually reported is the strong one, a 2 KHz heterodyne on 620 KHz. I found numerous other heterodynes of low to medium strength on 560, 820, 850, 880, 920, 1010, 1280, 1420, 1430, and 1570 KHz.

Also, I'm hearing some sort of broad digital hash between 570 and 580 KHz, and a strange digital mixture fighting with a weak station on 590 KHz.

I have not detected any images in the MW broadcast band.

NOISE IMMUNITY

The PL-380's LCD display is fairly clean. Touching the display produces a barely perceptible amount of digital hash, about the same as the Tecsun PL-600. The Sangean DT-400W produces a noticeable amount of hash when you touch the digital display with your thumb.

RFI susceptibility is about the same for the three radios. Moving the radio about the house near sources of RFI produced the usual buzz in all. A computer will introduce a sizable amount of digital hash into all three radios.

THE PL-380 IN USE



As stated, the PL-380's sensitivity approaches the PL-600's throughout the mediumwave band. However, you will never notice it by hurriedly flipping through the band. If you take your time in tuning, use the narrow filters, rotate your radio and allow soft-mute to settle down and disengage, you may be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

First, let me say that sensitivity comparisons were done near mid-day to avoid any enhanced nighttime propagation.

At the high end of the MW band, usually weak CHTO-1690, Greek Multicultural Radio Toronto (1KW at 98.4 miles), is perfectly receivable on the PL-380, and about equal to the PL-600. Conditions on this one vary greatly throughout the day. I have had occasion where the PL-380 had the stronger signal by a small margin.

At the low end of the MW band, CIAO-530, Brampton, Ontario (1KW at 120.1 miles) is weak but readable, and the PL-600 excels here. WJR-760, Detroit, MI (50KW at 286.2 miles) is barely readable, but above the noise, a good catch for an ultralight without help from a passive loop. Neither the 530 KHz or 1690 KHz channel (let alone WJR-760) can be received at all on the Sangean DT-400W ultralight without help from a passive loop.

Nulling signals on this receiver can be an interesting experience if the station's signal strength at maximum null results in an SNR of 2 dB or less. At the 2 dB threshold the soft-mute kicks in and the signal drops off most abruptly, giving a false sense of having nulled the signal. Keep your eye on the SNR display when nulling, or tune 1 or 2 KHz off frequency, turn the volume up and null again, listening for the center of the fade. Remember, the SNR display may lag a little before it catches up.

Now for the selectivity test. A major problem here is local station WYSL-1040, which beams a whopping 20KW daytime signal in here with a level of some ~76 dBu - the strongest signal on the MW band here at the farm. With an antenna pattern pointed roughly northward, at some 4.25 dB gain in that direction, its effective radiated power is equivalent to some 53 kilowatts aimed right at me, and less than five miles away. It literally overwhelms receivers plus or minus 20-30 KHz either side of its frequency.

CP24 Radio 1050 (KHz), Toronto, Canada (50KW, ex-CHUM), across Lake Ontario, a distance of 105.0 miles, is the only station even capable of putting a up a fight with WYSL. All the rest are either too weak or too distant. I can usually detect the presence of CP24 in the WYSL splatter with the PL-600 using the narrow filter (4 KHz), however identification is difficult to impossible. Using the PL-380 and nulling WYSL carefully, it is perfectly readable using the 2 KHz and 1 KHz filters. This is an astonishing feat which impressed me very much!

SUMMATION



The Tecsun PL-380 is a technological wonder in a small package, and all for $45.99 + shipping. It is an experimenter's playground if you are into high technology, and a keeper for me.

Sensitivity is adequate in my opinion, and if you are patient with a passive loop it can make a positive difference. Remember, overall it is no Tecsun PL-600 or Kaito 1103 in the sensitivity department, but it is way ahead of a lot of other standard ultralights.

Selectivity is unmatched, perhaps in any radio under $1000 except for other Si4734-based receivers. Nulling is excellent. Audio is good. Ergonomics are simple, and the receiver is easy to use without tedious menus to navigate. 550 memories, not that you will use them, but they are available.

Four different scanning options. Two tuning speeds, and a real volume control. The display is bright and easy to read. If I could change a couple of things, I would add some up and down frequency slew buttons and perhaps beef up the tuning dial to be more like the PL-600 or Kaito 1103, getting rid of the detent. The detent is fine for the volume control.

Soft-mute is at a minimum in this radio, and I didn't find it objectionable once I got used to it. 6 dB of audio reduction is not a lot and can be defeated with some finessing of the radio, making it a non-issue in my opinion.

The radio has a fair amount of spurs, and some digital hash on a couple of channels. These are annoying. This is not the cleanest radio.

All-in-all, the PL-380 may be the ultimate ultralight receiver as of this writing, and a competitor to some larger models for mediumwave reception. The first company that produces a radio using this Si4734 chip with the soft-mute defeated, the thresholds lowered, AVC adjusted, and includes a matched, 6 to 8 inch ferrite rod is going to have a real DX machine on their hands.

LINKS

For the technically curious, an excellent treatise on calculations and measurement of electric field intensity, received voltage, and power density, see:

Calculations and Measurement

A excellent description of signal to noise ratio can be found here:

Signal to Noise Ratio


69 comments:

gkinsman said...

Bill,

This is a very comprehensive review of the PL-380. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

Regards,
Gary

Radio-Timetraveller said...

Hi Gary,

Glad you liked it, thanks. Took me a little longer than I thought. Once I got into it, I realized there was a lot to say!

I really love the little radio. The soft-mute thing is a bit quirky when you first encounter it, but not a problem once you get used to it.

Sensitivity is good, better than my other ultralights.

Good luck,

Bill

gkinsman said...

Hi Bill,

My PL-380 is on its way from Joyce at anon-co (Hong Kong).

It that your PL-380 that's pictured in the disassembled state in your review?

Regards,
Gary

Radio-Timetraveller said...

Hi Gary,

Congratulations on your ordering the PL-380.

No, the disassembled picture I got off the Tecsun site as well as the pictures in the "Introduction" and "Antennas" sections. I took all the other pictures myself. Mine is the black one.

Let me know how you like the radio.

Bill

gkinsman said...

Hi Bill,

I picked up my PL-380 at the local post office yesterday morning. I tested it some last night, but I'll have to do some comparison tests this weekend.

It's good lots of neat features, especially the 5 AM bandwidths, which seem to be perfectly symmetrical, something that never seems to happen with cheap, non-DSP filters.

Some things I don't like are:

1) The speaker audio is a little shrill. My E100 sounds far better. On the other hand, the audio through headphones sounds pretty good, without the boosted bass of the E100.

2) The lack of a tone control (treble cut). This would be especially useful on FM.

3) There are quite a few hets where they shouldn't be, even on very strong KFI 640. The E100 and E10 have this problem as well, but my DT-400W and DT-200VX do not. As you noted, this is not a "clean" receiver. Using different filters and tuning up or down 1 kHz can often minimize the het.

4) There is no way to force the radio to tune in 10 kHz increments rather than the infuriating 1/10 kHz slow/fast tuning. Because of this, bandscanning from one station to another is way more difficult than it should be. I programmed the MW memories with every frequency from 520 to 1510 to get around this -- unfortunately there are not enough memories to get all the way to 1710.

Regards,
Gary

Radio-Timetraveller said...

Hi Gary,

Glad your radio arrived safely.

Yes, the filters seem to be perfectly centered, something I had not thought of. It is a problem with standard filters.

I almost always use headphones here, so the audio works well for me. I prefer a bit of treble myself. Probably my "tin" ears. hehe

Yes, the tuning in 10 KHz increments would be very helpful instead of having to always spin the dial fast enough to get into fast tuning mode all the time. Lots of wear and tear there on that dial mechanism. I wish they had incorporated an up/down slew button, as that would have been helpful.

Big het here on 620 KHz, coming from the radio itself. Is this the one bothering KFI?

How do you like the sensitivity?

Bill

gkinsman said...

Hi Bill,

It looks like the Kchibo KK-D6110 solves the tuning inconvenience of the PL-380.

(excerpt of Gary De Bock's review on the Yahoo ultralightdx group)

A quick check of the KK-D6110's AM-band performance was made against the D96L and PL-310, and provided an interesting glimpse into where this model may eventually fit in the Ultralight niche market (assuming that it is approved by the Definitions Committee). Kchibo has retained the relatively pleasant audio of the D96L model, as well as the bright green digital display whenever a control is changed (which stays on for 4 seconds, and causes no digital "chuffing noise" like in the D96L). For those who have complained about the quirky dual tuning rate of the PL-310 and PL-380 based on tuning knob rotation, the KK-D6110 comes to the rescue with a selectable 1 or 9/10 kHz tuning rate, making DXing very predictable. The new Kchibo model has numerous digital tuning functions, although it will take a Chinese expert to completely figure them out from the manual (my own Chinese reading ability is basic, although probably better than that of most ULR DXers :-)

Regards,
Gary

gkinsman said...

Bill,

I don't think the 620 kHz het is the one affecting KFI.

During the day, I'll have to check the MW sensitivity across the band versus my DT-400W and E100. I'm pretty sure the PL-380 will be better at the low end. I'm not sure about the mid band and high end.

I'll have to try using my Q-Stick with the PL-380 as well. My experience is that the Terk loop always works better than the Q-Stick, but the latter is much more compact and would make a better traveling companion.

Regards,
Gary

gkinsman said...

Hi Bill,

I did a quick test of the sensitivity of my PL-380 versus my E100 and DT-400W. Here are the results:

530 kHz: PL-380 is much more sensitive than the E100 or DT-400W.

990 kHz: PL-380 and E100 are similar; PL-380 is slightly more sensitive than DT-400W.

1700 kHz: E100 is slightly more sensitive than the PL-380 (the latter sounds "choppy" as well); PL-380 is slightly more sensitive than DT-400W.

So my PL-380 is more sensitive than my DT-400W across the MW band. Compared to my E100, the PL-380 is much better at the low end, but the E100 is slightly better at the high end.

BTW, the Q-Stick makes weak signals more readable, but not as well as the Terk loop. Either one can be tuned to get rid of the annoying hets on the PL-380, even the one on 620 kHz.

Regards,
Gary

Radio-Timetraveller said...

Hi Gary,

Thanks for the updates on the PL-380. Had a look in the Ultralight group this morning and saw the review of the new Kchibo KK-D6110 by Gary DeBock, which seems to have solved the 10 KHz tuning problem of the '380, as you said. At least the Chinese are listening!

Great on the sensitivity tests. I see your Sangean DT-400W is down as mine was. Mine is rather dead compared to my PL-380. Yours seems a bit better.

Okay on the 620 KHz het too. Interesting on KFI, when I am in Arizona in the wintertime, KFI is my favorite station to listen to. I stay in Quartzsite, just 18 miles east of Blythe, CA, so KFI is a not "too distant" 240 miles away, and quite receivable there. A great station.

Do you find the coupling a little weird on the PL-380, when trying to couple to the Q-Stick or loop?

Bill

gkinsman said...

Hi Bill,

The PL-380 doesn't couple as well with the Q-Stick as my Sony 7600GR does. I believe Gerry Thomas designed the Q-Stick to work with his 7600G, so this may explain why.

It seems like the E100 and DT-400W don't couple that well with the Q-Stick either. Both of these, and the PL-380, do much better with the Terk loop.

With the PL-380, I just tune the Q-Stick "up" until the signal audibly drops off, then tune it "down" a little. The two-second sampling interval makes tuning by the meter not as convenient as it is with the non-DSP E100.

With the Terk loop, it seems like the drop off in strength to either side of a station is more symmetrical than with the Q-Stick. With the latter, it drops off quickly when you've moved higher than the station, but not so when tuning lower than the station. I wish I could find an antenna the size of the Q-Stick with the performance and behavior of the Terk.

Regards,
Gary

Radio-Timetraveller said...

Hi Gary,

Thanks for the info on the coupling at your end. My experience is very similar. There is no symmetrical peak. You just have to try to creep up on it from the low side, then catch it just before it drops off. Scott, the guy involved in the design of the Si4734 chip, says it is probably due to the overwhelming AGC action, set by too high a value where they were trying to keep signals levels even.

Yep, I like the Q-Stick idea better than the loop also, as it travels better.

Happy 4th!

Bill

gkinsman said...

Bill,

Check out the antenna that Guy Atkins put on his PL-380. Holy cow!

http://herculodge.typepad.com/herculodge/2010/07/guy-atkins-radio-receiver-blog-perseus.html

Regards,
Gary

Radio-Timetraveller said...

Hi Gar,

Wow! That is a monster! Would love to hear what that brings in.

Bill

Molly229 said...

Can anyone help me? I live in Canada about 2 hours outside of Ottawa. I want to get Ottawa radio stations on my radio at work but am unable to. I can get them in my car though. What I want to know is what kind of radio to purchase that will boost the FM receiver so that I can get it. I hear static and a few voices on my current radio that I use, so I know it's there, I just need a better radio and have no clue.
Please e.mail me at hpare2000@yahoo.ca with the subject FM booster radio if you can direct me.
Thank you.
Helen

Radio-Timetraveller said...

Hi Molly,

Not sure how to help.

Radios inside the workplace are notorious for being insensitive because of all the shielding the building provides. The little PL-380 is among the best in FM sensitivity. If it doesn't work, probably nothing will. Your car radio most likely works well because it is outside and in the clear. Two hours out of Ottawa probably means roughly 120 miles, and that's a long way to pick up an FM station inside a building. An external antenna would help. A table top model with and external antenna connection would be required.

Radio-Timetraveller.

Stephen said...

Hi Bill, others...

I have a PL-380 (and have had it for probably about 9 or 10 months now), and have a few comments on my experiences.

First off... I wonder if I'm the one you mentioned in the ultralightdx group who experiences desense on portions of the band. ;) In the daytime, a 50kW station 9 miles away on 1170, KCBQ, produces around 43-45dBu RSSI off channel throughout much of the 1100kHz range. Also I think 1130 KSDO, 10kW @ 6 miles, is a formidable foe, and contributes to the elevated RSSI (which is still in the mid to upper 30s into the upper 1000s and mid 1200s or so). At night, KCBQ drops to 2.9kW, and around 57-60dBu RSSI on 1170, whereas KSDO stays at approximately the same level - same TX power, slight pattern change.

My major nighttime pest is 760 KFMB, 50kW @ 7 miles. Elevated RSSI is approximately 41-43dBu +/-20-25kHz or so. They are only 5kW in the daytime, so are a bit less of a pest then, but still peg the display at 63dBu on 760.
Recently I measured signal strengths outside vs. in a car to help calculate what the 63dBu signals would read if the cap wasn't there, and I estimate that 1130 would be about 72dBu, 1170 would be ~78dBu daytime, and 760 would be ~82dBu.

Interestingly, the desense (elevated off-chnnel RSSI) is worse in the 1100s than the 700s, even though 760 is stronger. Two ways I know 760 is stronger are: 1 - higher RSSI in the car (760=61, 1170=57), and more severe audio overload distortion when coupling it and a Select-A-Tenna to a power pole's ground wire. Also, 760 at the pole has a 50dBu RSSI desense from 153 to around 3200-3400kHz, and 63dBu on the first 10 or so harmonics, but 1170's 50dBu desense at the pole only covers the upper 2/3 to 3/4 of the MW band, with the 2nd harmonic being 63dBu and the 3rd being around 56dBu or so.
Also, even in 1kHz mode, I've noticed splatter 11 or 12 kHz away, even on signals that only have a RSSI dBu in the mid 40s.
At my grandparents' house, there are a few stronger signals. Basically, the mid 1000s up to somewhere in the 1500s or so, have a constant 50dBu off-channel RSSI, with 49dBu extending down into the 800s or 900s, and up to about 1710 or so, barefoot. The 3 strongest signals there (all daytime) are 1430 KMRB, 50kW @ 1/3 mi (v-soft says it's 3149.9mV/m in their zip code, I can see the towers from the street through the nearby tall trees; drops to 9.8kW night), 1300 KAZN, 23kW diplexing with 1430 day (1kW from a different night site), and 1110 KDIS, 50kW IBOC @ 5 mi (20kW night, IBOC around 58-62dBu daytime.

I've also checked the behavior in less saturated environments. In a car here, for example, a few stations were reading 4-5dB higher SNR than the RSSI, for example 1550 XEBG which was touching 17,22. Also I made a trip to Campo, CA, where the strongest barefoot signal was 1390 XEKT at 44dBu, and the off-channel RSSI was 15dBu throughout the band. The best RSSI/SNR ratio I see, though, is when I tune the SAT to 1170 in the daytime here, and somewhat loosely couple my PL-380 to it outdoors, and tune to 2340, the 2nd harmonic. When I've done that, I've seen RSSI,SNR of 15,25.

(to be continued...)

Stephen said...

Also, regarding a couple hets... there seems to be one on 643. I notice this when listening to KFI (~44,25 at home, daytime) - there's a 3kHz het which drops in pitch as I tune up until it disappears at 643. Also there's one on 1540 that sometimes produces a non-zero SNR.

As for sensitivity, I find that in a "quiet" environment like Campo, CA, I can sometimes hear signals ~1.75-2.25x farther than radio-locator's estimated 0.15mV/m fringe contour. However, in more saturated environments, like my grandparents' house, some stations even INSIDE their predicted local 2mV/m contour are practically unreadable.... which brings me back to selectivity and desense.

My mid 1990s Panasonic RQ-SW20, once you get several channels off the big pest, can hear stations just fine that the PL-380 struggles with, for example 1390 KLTX or 1230 KYPA, or (iirc) 860 XEMO, 1240 KNSN and several others from less than 1/4 mile from KCBQ's 50kW transmitter. The SW20 has a fairly wide filter - 1300 & 1430 are heard loudly from the mid 1200s to the low 1500s at my grandparents' house, with 1430 being heard weakly all the way to 1710. In less saturated areas, the PL-380 significantly trumps the RQ-SW20, whose sensitivity I recently learned is rated at about 0.5mV/m, 3dB.

Also, on another note, the tuning knob has broken twice on my PL-380 (I've repaired it once).

In conclusion, the PL-380 does have its good points, but isn't quite what I was hoping for, particularly due to an abysmal / non-existent front end. I was hoping to replace the RQ-SW20 with a pocketable radio (PL-380 is not quite) with comparable sensitivity to what the 380 can do in quiet environments, in the face of strong interference, like a 50kW station 10kHz and 1/2 mile or so away. As a couple examples, I wanted to hear 1290 KKDD at my grandparents' house (~0.15mV/m, 1/3 mi from 23kW 1300 KAZN), and 1110 KDIS from home out from under 1130 KSDO. Neither radio has a chance with 1290. KSDO bleeds over 1110 strongly on the SW20, wiping it out, and 1110 is deeply buried under an elevated RSSI noise floor, around 41dBu. I do have a little consolation, though - 50kW 1580 KMIK, 300 miles east of me, regularly hits an RSSI in the mid to upper 50s at night, and I've actually seen it hit 62,25 a few times, using only the built-in stock loopstick antenna. Co-channel 50kW KBLA, about 3 times closer, does often step on KMIK, though.
Also I was hoping to hear (without interference) in the daytime near home, among other stations, 1180 KERN (~2x past 0.15mV/m contour, 9 mi from 50kW 1170 KCBQ), and 700 KALL (~2x past 0.15mV/m contour, ~32mi from 77kW 690 XEWW), while walking around and carrying the radio hands-free. Therefore I don't care much about directivity (I'll use an external loop as needed), but sensitivity and selectivity (especially front end) are extremely important for me.

Radio-Timetraveller said...

Hi Stephen,

Yes, radio-locator provides a passable guideline for where the fringe limit is, though in a quiet environment it's almost always possible to hear beyond that. I commend them in that they not only take antenna pattern into consideration, but also ground conductivity and I believe height above average terrain (HAAT) in their pattern plot. There is a huge amount of math involved in putting all of that together. I have toyed with some of that in a program I'm writing.

In my PL-380 review, you were one of the ones I was thinking of when I made reference to the desense issue. My PL-380 also desenses here under strong nearby signals, and I'm sure that is common for all of them, in fact almost any receiver. I have a 20KW transmitter at 4.9 miles distant (WYSL-1040), with a 4.3 dB pattern gain aimed right at me, so I have an effective 53KW ERP pointed at me from 4.9 miles away. It pretty much destroys the band on the PL-380 plus or minus 40KHz in both directions. I have, however, using the 1KHz filter and carefully nulling of WYSL, been able to catch adjacent Canadian 50KW CHUM-1050 across Lake Ontario at 105 miles. The null must be perfect.

To have any kind of luck you must reduce all that RF flying around.

Good luck with your DXing.

Radio-Timetraveller (Bill)

Bojan said...

Excellent review, great has been done.Looking for I decided that I take one,if it was not possible because it is the worst country in the world Serbia :(

greeting

gkinsman said...

Hi Bill,

I like listen to shortwave with my PL-380. I find that clipping the Sony wind-up antenna (that came with my 7600GR) to the PL-380 whip produces much more signal strength, and allows ETM to find many more stations.

This works fine when listening though the speaker, but when I listen through headphones, almost all of the signal is canceled out, and mostly what I hear is noise. It seems like the headphone cable is acting like an out of phase antenna, and canceling out the desired signal. I tried three sets of headphones with similar results. This even happens with earbuds that have only a three foot cord, but to a lesser extent.

Have you run into this problem? Do you have an idea what is going on and why? What is the solution? Would an audio isolator (normally used for ground loops) help?

Someone on the ultralightdx group recommended using a stereo to mono adapter, but I tried this and it made no difference.

Thanks,
Gary

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Bojan,

Thanks you for the kind comments on the review.

Good luck,

Bill

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Gary,

Hadn't used my PL-380 for shortwave much, so just tried this outside in the garden. I did not have the same result. Shortwave signals are the same strength on my unit. Audio level sounds the same, and dBuV level remains the same.

Not sure what is going on. Interesting. A ground loop is possible I suppose.

Regards and good luck with it,

Bill

Duncan said...

Hi, this is a good review of this radio i have been looking to order either the PL380 or the 600 and i think i will go with the 380. This is to replace a small low cost shortwave radio I have and the LCD display has now gone faulty on it so you have to tune blind !, Its main use will be for use in the garden and holidays, indoors i use internet radio. I will be doing a quick review on my blog once it arrives and i have used it a bit so will report back.
Thanks

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hi Duncan,

My apologies for the belated reply. Too many irons in the fire lately, and a death in the family.

Good luck with your new PL-380. I know you will like it.

Best DX,

Bill

Freejack said...

Great review - Very detailed. Have you written a Review for the Kaito 1103? Also, do you have a link or know of a good homebrew Loop Antenna for the SW bands?

Thanks,
Jack
MHZ-Radio

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hi Freejack,

Thanks for your comments.

No, I have not written a review for the Kaito 1103, but I do own one. It is a good radio, on the order of a Tecsun PL-600, though the 1103's sensitivity is a bit better and audio a whole lot better.

The 1103's drawback is the wasted space for the pseudo-analog dial and weird button arrangement. The other drawback is the "jog" dial - audio volume setting, which many did not like. It requires pressing a button, then using the tuning knob to set the audio level within a short timeframe. You did get used to it, though.

After about a year my 1103 failed with intermittent tuning problems - it would mute stations every other 10 KHz on the MW dial, or 5 KHz on shortwave. It was also extremely sensitive to local static electricity, in that the tuning would not respond if the radio became hot with static in a dry environment.

Others have had better success with the 1103 than I have.

Have used few loops on shortwave, as they are not usually very efficient. You might try the Wellbrook site. They are well known, seemingly perform well, though can be a bit pricey.

http://www.wellbrook.uk.com/

Short wire antennas can be used effectively on shortwave, but they perform better if they are matched through a balun or tuning device. Another option is what iss known as a "magnetic balun". I have had great success with these using short wire antennas, as they match almost everything without tuning, even down to the MW band.

http://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/sw_ant/1484.html

Best of luck,

Bill

C.M. said...

I have just received my Tecsun PL-380 receiver.

After having tested the FM, AM (MW/LW) and Shortwave frequencies I can say that I am satisfied with this radio EXCEPT for reception of all Long Wave frequencies available in Western and Eastern Europe and North Africa.

My particular radio is abysmally deaft on this band (153 to 513Khz) except for reception of London based BBC4 on 198Khz.

No audible reception of France Inter (162 Khz), Europe 1 (183 Khz), Radio Monte Carlo (216 Khz), RTL (236 Khz), RTE Radio 1 (252 Khz) and none of the existing powerfull German, Russian and Algerian stations.

I am located in South London where I can receive almost all these stations on a Realistic DX-400 radio.

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hi C.M.

Longwave tends to be a bit weak on the PL-380, from all reports I've seen so far.

Check the Yahoo ultralightdx interest group for tricks in enhancing the longwave sensitivity. Some have used external loops and ferrite rod antennas.

Good luck,

Bill (RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER)

Vimal said...

Hi Bill,
I have read many reviews.Your's review of PL380 one of the best.It's comparable to radioscanner's review of DE1103.
How about reviewing latest PL 390,which seems similar to PL 380.Keep up the good work :)

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hi Vimal,

Thanks for your kind comments about the review. The Tecsun PL-390 is basically the same receiver as the PL-380, except for the larger case with dual speakers and longer ferrite loopstick. The longer loopstick increases the sensitivity somewhat over the PL-380. The radio itself is essentially identical otherwise.

All the best,

Bill

cyclekarl said...

Hello I have one of these radio's,it's performance is great in FM but terrible in all other wave bands and no where near as good as basic radios,anyway you said the sleep function can be turned off,would you be so kind as to explain how,because the instructions don't and it's doing my head in turning off every 10 minutes?

Many thanks.

Karl.

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hi Karl,

Found it in the manual on page 15.

To change sleep timer:

Press and hold the ON button til the sleep time shows (30,60,90,120, etc.).

Rotate the tuning knob to cycle through the sleep times til you see "ON". Stop there.

That will do it.

Hope this helps.

Bill

Larry Lanberg said...

I hate blog radio reviews. They usually slam radios that I love, and glorify radios I find to be useless techno-crap (an example of the latter is the Kaito KA-1103 which, by the way, is NOT as good as the Tecsun PL-600 on MW). You probably don't know what you're talking about either, but, I'll say that this is the single best radio review that I've ever read. I can actually feel this little thing in my hand. Good job sir.

Larry Lanberg said...

On my Tecsun PL-310, which is very similar (if not identical) to PL-380, I get an increase in MW reception just by pivoting the telescopic rod off the back of the radio. It doesn't matter if I extend it or not.

I propose that the metal rod laying so close to the small loopstick inside negatively impacts the loopstick. Perhaps because the loopstick is so small —might not matter if it was a larger one. In some cases I get a dramatic increase by getting the telescopic off the back of the radio.

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hi Larry,

Glad you liked the review, thanks.

It is entirely possible for a telescoping antenna in close proximity of the loopstick to produce a measurable amount of gain or rejection in received signal strength. I was able to recreate the same in a test I did for the review, though my results were less pronounced than yours.

Bill (RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER)

shaukat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shaukat said...

I bought tecsun pl 380 from http://www.avcomm.com.au. Really liked the set. Good price and delivery one time.

Zach Liang said...

hwllo
two things that i did not see in this review :
the selectivity of FM. MY PL360 outperforms all analogue Degen and Tecsun radios with narrower bandwidth so that i can listen to stations not otherwise audible except with PL600 Can you wrote a short review of this?PL360 is a real FM DX machine !!

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hi Zack,

Thanks for your comments. The PL-360 should have virtually identical FM bandwidth characteristics as the PL-380 because they use the same DSP chip. Sensitivity should depend somewhat on the size of the ferrite loopstick length as compared to the PL-380. I don't have a PL-360 here to make a comparison for further review.

Selectivity specs for the PL-360, available on the Silicon Labs site, show a typical 50dB down at +/- 200 KHz and 70dB down at +/- 400 KHz.

The PL-600 is not a DSP machine and thus uses analog IF filters so its ultimate selectivity will be down from the PL-380 (and PL-360) capabilities. However, the PL-600 has much greater sensitivity than either of the others by a wide margin.

Sorry I didn't comment much, if any, on FM reception. My interests and the focus of the blog are geared toward AM DXing.

Good luck and good DX.

Bill

Yusuf Khan said...

Dear sir
In India, tecsun pl 380 costs around $100 & sony 7600 gr costs around $300.
I am using tecsun pl 360 and fully satisfied with its mw reception.
I want to gift a good mw radio to my father. Should i buy tecsun pl 380?
Is its mw reception better than pl 360.

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hello Yusuf,

The Tecsun PL-360 uses the same DSP chip as the PL-380, so essentially the sensitivity should be the same except for the difference in loopstick length. I believe the PL-360 has a rather short loopstick, so the sensitivity might be a little less.

I don't own a PL-360 so I can't make the comparison. You might post this question to the Yahoo ultralightdx group and see what they say.

I would guess the Sony 7600GR would have the best sensitivity of all three.

Best DX,

Bill

Radio Fan said...

A very good unit. I travel a lot and find that the ETM feature is great when I travel to a new city and want to quickly store the local stations without losing my main, home station memory.

Jan said...

Thanks for your very extensive review!

Regards,
Jan (Netherlands)

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Much appreciation for the recent comments! Thanks!

Bill

AsitPaul said...

The price is about USD 60 on DirectDino.com. Free shipping to India via Ordinary Post. Ebay India sells it for USD 89.

Unknown said...

Hi Radio-Timetraveller,

Thanks for the writeup.

I'm looking for a pocket radio that will be able to pick up an AM radio station about 120 miles away, even if I'm indoors in my apartment, or on a public transit train. I can get that station on my car radio. There are other AM and FM stations that I listen to also, but I really want a pocket radio that can pick up the far away one.

I started my search at retail stores (since I would be able to physically see it). I had wanted the Sangean DT-220A, but that had been discontinued, so I bought the DT-210.

http://www.sangean.com/products/product_category.asp?cid=6

The DT-210 could pick up the far away station if I was outdoors, but not inside.

I then started looking into the Tecsun PL-380. It has a telescopic antenna, which is something that interested me. And your review was favorable. However, it has an analog tuner. Do you think a digital tuner would be better? Or is this radio better than others with a digital tuner? Do you think the whip antenna would help me with the far away station?

Would you recommend the PL-600 over the PL-380?

The PL-600 looks a little too big to be a pocket radio to me, what is your opinion? That wouldn't be a deal-breaker though. While I'd prefer to store it in my pocket during my commute, I could just store it in my bag too.

I like how the PL-380 comes with its own rechargeable batteries.

Will the Tecsun PL-380 or PL-600 be better than the Sangean DT-210? I just bought it a few days ago, so I still have a few weeks before I have to return it.

Unknown said...

BTW, if I sit in my car with the doors closed, is that a good simulation as to whether a radio would be able to pick up a radio station on a public transit train? That's what I tried with the Sangean DT-210.

Unknown said...

One other question. Will I need to plug in headphones to hear FM stations? Does it use the headphones as an antenna? Some radios do that.

I don't think this does it, because it has a telescopic whip antenna, but I just want to make sure it doesn't.

Thanks.

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hello Unknown,

You're welcome, I'm glad you liked the writeup.

Receiving an AM station at 120 miles on a pocket portable is "iffy" under most circumstances. Fringe level is defined at about 0.15 millivolts per meter field strength. For example, reception at 120 miles is right at fringe level for a powerful 50 kilowatt station at 1000 KHz. For a 1 kilowatt station at 1000 KHz, fringe level drops to about 60 miles.

Of course stations are routinely received past the fringe level distance, but they become very weak. Car radios are notorious for being pretty sensitive and most will easily receive stations at 120 miles when in the clear.

Not sure where in the country you are. I am in the northeast in western New York. Here's my experience with Canadian CIAO-530, Brampton, Ontario (1 kilowatt at 121 miles and across Lake Ontario), using various radios. Reception results are rated 0-5, with 0 being no reception and 1 being very weak, 5 being very strong. Reception was outdoors. CIAO should put in a near fringe level signal here.

Kaito KA321 0
Kaito WRX911 1 (weak)
Tecsun PL380 1 (weak)
Tecsun PL600 2 (fair)
Sony M37V 0
Sangean DT400W 0

As you can see, the minimum radio required is the PL380.

Indoors and inside public transportation is a different story. Inside buildings, usually the electrical noise factor plays a bigger role if the building is not sheathed in metal. If public transit is a bus or train or other metal-enclosed vehicle, you are going to have a bigger problem.

Yes, I would expect that sitting in a my car with the doors closed would be similar to the effect of sitting in an metal-enclosed transit train, as long as you are not talking about a subway underground. It will usually compromise the signal quite a bit.

I'm not familiar with the Sangean DT-210's reception abilities as I don't have one. But since it is receiving your station at 120 miles, though weakly, it is fairly sensitive as pocket portables go, and most likely close to the Sangean DT400W.

The next step up in sensitivity usually comes with the larger radios, like the PL600 and Kaito KA1103. They are paperback book sized. And you cannot put them in a shirt pocket. They fit easily into a handbag, however. I have both. The PL600 is about 7.5 x 5 x 1.5 inches in size when in its case. The KA1103 is similar in size. The KA1103 has the better sensitivity of the two by a small margin. Though a very good radio, the 1103 has a quirky interface, so do some reading before you by it.

The PL380 does in fact have a digital tuner. In terms of sensitivity, digital does not always mean it's better. Some of the analogs have very good sensitivity. The little Sony SRF59 is one of the best and probably would easily equal or better your DT210. It can be found online at Amazon or at KMart for about $15. I have one and it is remarkably sensitive. For it's low price, I would definitely give it a try. No whip antenna on this one though. Headphones only.

You might also look into the PL660 (paperback book sized, and considered very good), and the Tecsun PL-606, more of a pocket portable, with reportedly fairly good AM reception. I don't have either so I can't comment on the reception ability.

The whip antenna on all small portables that I know of is for FM only. It will not enhance your AM reception in any way. The AM antenna is a ferrite loopstick inside the radio. Pocket portables with no whip antenna often use the headphone wire for an antenna in place of the whip for FM reception. So if it has a whip antenna, you are all set for FM and don't need to use the headphone's wire for the substitute antenna.

The best pocket sized radio will probably be the PL380 or the SRF59. The best paperback book sized radio will probably be the KA1103 or the PL600 or the newer PL660, though these are much higher priced. But you may still have difficulty receiving that station inside. I can't guarantee.

Hope I have answered your questions and have been of some help. Good luck in your radio choice.

Bill
RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER

nuraman00 said...

Hi Bill,

(I'm Unknown from above, decided to try a different identity option from above).

A few more questions.

I live on the west coast, in the Bay Area in CA.

I'm trying to get KHTK 1140AM. That's a 50 kW station. Driving distance is 113 miles away, straight line distance is 83 miles away.

Ok, so the metal enclosing the public transit train is going to cause a problem. Thanks, that helps me set my expectations. It's not underground except for a few small tunnels.

About the PL-380, I mentioned it not having a digital tuner, because I saw a tuning knob:

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71hj5eEawkL._SL1500_.jpg

I thought it might have an analog tuner with a digital display, as opposed to a digital tuner?

Or do you use the up arrow and down arrow (^ and down ^ on the lower right-hand side) to tune stations?

I'll await your response, then look further into the pocket-sized and paperback size options you gave. At worst, the PL-380 seems like it would be better than the Sangean DT-210 that I currently have, for a similar price.

And maybe I'd decide that I'd want a paperback sized radio, just for the sake of having a better radio, even if it would still have trouble with the far away station.

Does the PL-600 come with its own rechargeable batteries? If not, can you recharge batteries using a USB adapter, as you could with the PL-380? And if not, is there a brand and model of charger for rechargeable batteries that you recommend, especially if it's a smart charger (that might even show the individual level of each battery)? I realize this might be beyond the scope of your blog, but just thought I'd ask in case you had any experience with a good charger. If not, then I'll pick one based on my own research. Thanks again.

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hi nuraman00,

I think we're just talking different semantics on the digital tuner of the PL380. Yes, an analog dial does tune it. To a radio guy, digital tuner means digital circuitry which tunes in digital steps. The PL-380 does that. I didn't catch your meaning exactly, sorry.

The up and down arrows on the right side take you through the different bands or memories in a "carousel" like way. They don't tune the radio from station to station. I wish the PL380 did use the arrow keys to tune between stations (in addition to the tuning wheel and keypad). It would be perfect then.

Yes, my PL-600 came with rechargable batteries. But no, you cannot recharge batteries using a USB adapter, as you could with the PL-380. I don't own a smart charger yet, but have been looking at the PowerEx MH-C9000 WizardOne Charger-Analyzer on Amazon. It is $50, not cheap to charge AA or AAA batteries, but does what I would want, and you too. I'm sure there are others out there, and maybe even cheaper. This looks like a nice one though.

Good luck to you.

Bill
RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER

nuraman00 said...

Hi Bill,

I went with the Tecsun PL-600.

Both the PL-380 and PL-600 looked good. I wanted the one with the greater sensitivity.

I also looked into the PL-606. While it looked pretty good, and the size of it was similar to the PL-380, I noticed it didn't have any keypad entry to tune to a station, and a lot of reviewers commented on that. I also wasn't sure if the sensitivity was going to be as good. So based on a combination of factors, I preferred the PL-600.

Also, I found out that I could just charge the batteries on the PL-600 by using the wall adapter, and setting it to charge mode. So I decided not to get an external battery charger, for now. I could find time to charge the batteries at night, or when not at use, sort of like charging a cell phone.

If I do get a battery charger eventually, your PowerEx one looks good. I was also considering this Sony BCG34HLD one:

http://www.amazon.com/Sony-BCG34HLD4KN-Charger-Pre-Charged-Batteries/dp/B00166BNI0/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top


Questions:

1. How many hours do you think I could use the presupplied batteries, before needing to charge them? And do the batteries come pre-charged? I saw the batteries were only 1000mA, disappointing, but hopefully it's not too bad.

2. Can you explain what calculations you did in the following post?

Fringe level is defined at about 0.15 millivolts per meter field strength. For example, reception at 120 miles is right at fringe level for a powerful 50 kilowatt station at 1000 KHz. For a 1 kilowatt station at 1000 KHz, fringe level drops to about 60 miles

How did you use the 0.15 mV, with the 1kW power station at 100KHz, to come up with the fringe distance of 60 miles? How exactly did you do the calculations?

And, so how could you apply that to my desire to get 1140AM, on a 50kW station, which had a straight-line distance of 83 miles from where I was?

3. Seeing as how this radio was used for ham radio by many reviewers, I started to look into it.

I had some newbie questions, if you don't mind.

I read this article (and a few others):

http://blog.makezine.com/2009/08/30/theres-plenty-of-fun-to/

That linked to this site, which had a list of repeaters:

http://www.artscipub.com/repeaters/search/index.asp?state=California

A. Would I just tune to 1284.9 in Berkeley, for example? Would I be able to enter a decimal point frequency on the PL-600?

B. What could I expect to hear? Police stations and fire stations?



Ok, here are some frequencies for police, fire, and hospitals. Can I just tune to those and start hearing conversations (if they're in use)?

http://www.radioreference.com/apps/db/?ctid=183#cid-19284

Do you think I'd have to be outdoors, or could I be indoors?

And given the radio that I'll have, how far away do you think I could pick something (police/fire/hospitals) up from? Hundreds of miles (say southern California)? To the midwest?



Thanks again for your time.

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hi nuraman00,

Good question on the supplied batteries for the PL-600. Batteries supplied for these kinds of radios are usually minimal. 1000maH rechargeables is not much power. You would be better off buying some 2400maH (or more) ones and starting there if you want to go the rechargeable route. I don't have a guess how long the larger size would last. Maybe 50-75 hours. I usually use alkalines anymore, and get good service out of them. Batteries that come with the PL-600, or any radio, will be way down in charge level, pre-charged or not. Typically, rechargeable batteries lose perhaps 3% charge per day, every day, even if they are not in use. I would fully charge them before using.

The calculations for signal strength levels at mediumwave using ground wave conductivity and other mitigating factors are very complicated and lend themselves more to computer program calculation. I have a couple of articles which introduce the basics on the blog. The links are on the right sidebar. Look for "Field Strength".

I plotted your KHTK-1140 station. Your ground conductivity out there is quite good in that area, WHICH HELPS THE SIGNAL. 0.8 millivolts per meter field strength should be somewhat close for the 80 miles distance. That's considered in the "distant" range, but quite receivable. Inside a metal enclosure would reduce that quite a bit, though.

Police, fire, and amateur repeaters are in the VHF/UHF range of frequencies. They are not covered by the typical receiver we have been talking about, and not the PL-600 either. You would need to buy a scanner receiver to get them. Much of police police and fire are fully digital anymore too, so a fully digital capable scanner would be required to get a lot of it. The term "shortwave" really refers to frequencies below 30 MHz. VHF starts at about 50 MHz.

Hope this helps.

Bill
RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER

James said...

Hi Bill,
Great review of the PL-380.
I'm really pleased with my radio which arrived yesterday. I'm having a slight issue with the alarm function in radio mode. The radio switches on okay with the station I choose - but the volume is always too high at number 11 on the volume scale. I have tried several times, clicking the volume on about 5 or 6 in set up. But each time when the radio comes on it's at the higher setting.
A bit frustrating. Have you any suggestions?
Thanks
James

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RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hi James,

Thanks. Glad you liked the review.

Am travelling so dont have access to a manual but dont see any volume option. The number entered after clock seconds is for the sleep timer duration. Volume should come on at the last level it was set prior to shutting the radio off. Thats how mine works anyway.

Bill
RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER

James said...

Hi Bill

Thanks finding the time to reply.
I'm now seriously wondering if I might have a faulty unit.
I still hit the same problem when the radio is set to alarm mode with the radio coming on at a higher volume level than it has been last used at. I've tried everything - but still no joy. I can be listening at volume level 5, set the alarm, turn off the radio but when the alarm time arrives it switches on it's blasting out in radio mode at level 10! I tried an experiment by setting the alarm and then keeping the radio on. When the alarm time arrives I hear a sudden increase in the received volume.
It means I am reluctant to use the radio for it's intended primary purpose - as a radio alarm. I bought the Tecsun as it seemed a sensible replacement for my Sony ICF-SW7600, which unfortunately gave up the ghost a few months ago after nearly 25 years of faultless usage!
I'm wondering if anyone else has struck the same issue with the PL-380. Any further thoughts would be much appreciated.

Regards

James

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hi James,

Its always possible Tecsun has changed the firmware for the new models to use a set alarm volume. Mine does remain the same as where it was last set. My radio is about two years old now.

Maybe someone else has some more info here.

Bill
RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER

Rakesh Kumar said...

Very details..Thanks for putting so much effort

nuraman00 said...

Hi Bill,

Still have a few more newbie questions, hope you don't mind.

Looking at the link here, and using the Tecsun PL-600:

http://www.artscipub.com/repeaters/search/index.asp?state=California

1. Do I use the frequencies under "output", or "PL"?

I tried going to LW and entering some of the frequencies, but the format doesn't appear to be right. On the chart, they have a 3 digit frequency followed by 3 decimal places. While LW on the Tecsun just appears to have 3 digits, without the decimal places.

If I'm supposed to use the "PL" one, I noticed a lot of the repeaters are at 88.5. I go to FM for that, right? And then if so, doesn't that signify a limited broadcasting range?

2. What can I expect to hear, is it always some sort of talk radio, or can it be music, or something else even?

3. I also tried some shortwave stations, such as 5960 in Canada, and 15430 in Mexico. I couldn't hear anything.

http://support.radioshack.com/support_tutorials/communications/swave-6.htm

Basically I'm trying to find something other than MW or FM, to see what else I can do, and am having trouble tuning into something. Probably because I'm not doing something right, or am not understanding something.

I'm also hoping I can find/tune into something interesting that I never even knew was possible, before. One of those "wow" moments.

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Hi nuraman00,

Not a problem.

The California amateur "Ham" repeater link web page you included lists Ham repeaters which are in the VHF range of the radio spectrum. The PL-600 doesn't receive signals this high, which is generally above the FM band.

You will be able to receive longwave (below the AM broadcast band), the AM broadcast band (530-1700 KHz), shortwave (2300-30,000 KHz), and FM (88-108 MHz).

Longwave will be iffy. Mostly you will find radio location beacons, though Europe still has some broadcasting there. Long distance will be during nighttime hours. You probably won't hear Europe. Too far even at night for the SFO area.

AM broadcast you already know about. Receive long distances at night, 0-1500 miles or greater.

Shortwave will have different receiving characteristics day/night depending on what part of the shortwave spectrum you are tuned to.

Generally:

2300-7500 KHz are nighttime reception for long distances. Much shorter distances for daytime.

9500-15,000 is mixed distance day/night.

15000-30000 KHz are daytime reception for long distances.

Remember, 15000 KHz = 15 MHz. They are used interchangeably in literature you will read.

So, after dark, generally tune below 15 MHz. During the daytime, generally tune between 11500 KHz - 21450 KHz.

A nice chart of where different bands are can be found here:

http://www.gars.net/swlchart.htm

Check out this page for current schedules:

http://www.primetimeshortwave.com/

As a noobie, pay particular attention to broadcasts aimed at North America (see the link on the left side).

Also check out this page. It is very helpful for identifyting what you will find on certain frequency ranges.

http://www.dxing.com/tuning.htm

Good luck!

Bill
RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER

Pradeep Ivon said...

Excellent review and a well researched passionate blog on the hobby of radio listening. I am not even an amateur but a baby in front of all the experts here on the review list. After being convinced by you I bought my PL380 from ebay and received it today. The reception of SW is really good as SW listening is my hobby that i am able to practice may be only an hour max in a day. can you tell if there is a way to turn off the display fully? and where is this 9/10Khz button to change temp.F to C degree/ All in all i like the build and sound reception of this radio. rgds/pradeep ivon, new delhi

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Pradeep,

Thank you for your kind comments.

Glad you got the PL-380. It's a marvelous little radio.

Normally, a short press of the 'Display' button toggles between the time, alarm, and temperature display on the LCD.

To turn the display off, hold down the 'FM ST. button with radio off to turn off intelligent backlighting. The light may still be turned of if needed by pressing the 'Light' button.

Also, note that holding the 'Bell' (0 key) button down with radio off toggles the beep sound on/off when buttons are pressed.

Hope this helps.

Good luck with your new radio! Have fun.

Bill
RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER

RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER said...

Pradeep,

Pardon me, I forgot to answer your other question about temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius.

Unfortunately, temperature setting in F or C is determined by which frequency step (9 or 10 KHz) you have selected. With the radio off, long press the '3' key to select a 9 KHz step for your part of the world (Asia). Your temperature will read in Celsius automatically.

The frequency step is the spacing of mediumwave channels for your area of the world. In my part of the world we are spaced at 10 KHz.

Bill
RADIO-TIMETRAVELLER

Pradeep Ivon said...

thanks a lot Bill for your thoughtful and helping response! i am glad to chance upon this blog i will mark as one of my favorite on radio listening. rgds/pradeep

memeticdrift said...

Hola Bill,

Thanks for the great review of the PL-380. I had purchased this radio before coming down to the Amazon, thinking that I would be able to pick-up the shortwave radio transmissions that indigenous peoples here use (transmitting on 5710khz). However, since arriving I've yet to be able to pick up ANY shortwave stations, let alone listen to the transmission I want to listen to. Do you think that using the PL-600 would be a better choice for this environment? A better antenna? I'm at a loss as I really don't know much about the technology. Any help is greatly appreciated!