2018 March 1     Electronics,     Radio


Introduction


The Tecsun PL-880 is a multi-band portable radio with SSB. 

It's still available today.  How does it stack up?

Let's see.



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In This Article

Some Specs

Miniaturization

SMD's

Antenna

Clock

Lighted Buttons

Performance

Scan Feature

Schematic?

Sensitivity and Selectivity

Versus Grundig G5

What's Bad

What's Good

Conclusion



Some Specs




AM Broadcast Band:  Yes
Aircraft Band:  No
Batteries:  1 x #18650 Li-ion; see below
Clock: Yes
Continuous Coverage:  Yes, AM band.
Conversion:  TRIPLE
Date
External Antenna Jack:  Yes
FM Broadcast Band:  Yes
Frequency Range:  150-29999 kHz (MW, SW bands) and 87-108 MHz (FM band)
Headphone Jack:  Yes; 3.5mm stereo
Lighted Buttons  No
Line-Out Jack:  YES, 3.5mm stereo
PLL:  Yes
Price:  Typically $170-$200 here
Shortwave (HF) Band:  Yes
Signal Strength Indicator:  Yes
Size (H x W x D):  About 4.5 x 7.5" x 1.25" SSB:  Yes; includes USB / LSB selector
Storage of Favorites  Yes, 24 pages; up to 3050 channels
Synchronous Detection:  Yes, but see below
Tone, Bass, Treble Controls:  YES
Tuner Type:  RF & IF stages analog; then processed digitally
Tuning Controls:  Knob and Buttons, with Fine Tuning knob
Volume Control:  Knob
Weight:  about 1 1/4 pound with battery
Year Introduced






Miniaturization


The PL-880 is a portable.  Surface-mount components allowed these radios to be small, while still having many features of a tabletop radio.

Today there are still definite advantages to tabletop and field receivers, even ones like the Satellit 750 or S-2000. Maybe we'll explore this in a future article.

The PL880 is a bit larger than other portables, but it's still quite small compared to a tabletop.


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SMD's


I haven't taken one of these apart yet, but I expect it to be similar to the G5 and other radios of this type.  Either mostly or all surface-mount electronics.

Didn't see a schematic in anything included with the radio.

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Antenna


The telescoping antenna is for FM and SW.

MW uses the ferrite core inside the radio.



Great feature:  the radio has an antenna-gain switch for SW.  If a station is overloading the radio, you can turn it to "Local" and attenuate it;  or if it's very faint, use "DX" to amplify it.

The external antenna connector (for SW) is a standard 3.5mm jack.

Get your radio here

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Battery


Type 18650 Lithium Ion. Charges @ 5 volts via the included Mini-USB cable.

In some ways this is more handy than AA batteries;  modern Li-ion batteries last for many charge cycles.



Carrying Case




Nicer-looking than the Grundig G5's.  This one is tan, possibly leather.  It has a retro or vintage feel to it.  Very nice.

This is just one of the reasons to buy a deluxe radio like the 880, rather than a cheap one.  You get all the nice little accessories, in addition to the better controls and functionality.


Get your radio here

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Clock


This one, again, looks like the radio has to be OFF to set the clock.

If I'm wrong about that, will update this section.

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Lighted Buttons


No; they're opaque plastic. 

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Line-Out


3.5mm stereo.  You can run the line-out to your tape deck, digital recorder, whatever.  Anything that can take Line-Level input.


Get your radio here

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Non-Slip Coating


Nope, and glad of it.  It won't have that problem encountered with the Grundig G-series.


Try this link to get your radio

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Performance


All radios depend on areas of good reception.  Find yourself a low-noise spot, and this radio is fantastic.  Like most portables, it's not going to have the selectivity of an Icom or something, but it's probably about as good as portables get.

This radio can easily pick up those faraway broadcasts and ham traffic;  just remember that the most important thing is finding a low-noise reception area.  That, and how you orientate the radio's antenna is really a big factor, too.

With this radio I'm easily picking up loud-and-clear ham traffic on the 80-meter band from 700 to 800 miles away.  That's just with the whip antenna;  no external wires or antenna tuners needed.  One of the guys was saying he was transmitting on five watts.  This portable radio shouldn't even be able to pick up such a low-wattage transmission, but it did.



Try this link to get your radio

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Scan Feature


Slow and Fast Scan modes.  In the daytime it seems to pick out stations that other radios just skip right by.  Some of these stations will be static or RF noise from appliances.  But that also means it will lock onto stations that you'd want; find a low-noise area and try again.

The Scan feature is kind of non-intuitive.  First, it keeps trying to lock onto stored channels.  I'm trying to scan AM, and it keeps going to a stored FM channel which I don't want to listen to right now.  So you try to defeat this by deleting all the stored channels (yep, it's that frustrating).  But then it keeps going back and trying to put stations into the memory.  And then, when you finally get it to scan, it decides to scan only a narrow range of frequencies in the whole band. 

After about twenty wasted minutes, I finally got it to scan through most of the HF band.

The user manual will clear this up, but they could have made the scan feature a little easier.  This is what happens when electronics manufacturers over-digitize the controls.  As soon as they started having one button that does two or more things, depending on some button sequence or combination, that's going to cause confusion. 

Overall I still like this radio a lot, but it seems designed for people who already know what frequency they want to listen to.


Try this link to get your radio

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Schematic


Couldn't find one;  will update this if I do. 

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Sensitivity and Selectivity


Both are excellent.  Seems even better than the G5, even if not by a tremendous amount.


Buy this radio

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SSB


This radio lets you select between Upper and Lower Sideband.

The Fine Tuning is paradoxically more precise... and less accurate... than the G5.  The G5 makes it more difficult to tune someone on SSB, but when you do, the voice pitch is natural and sounds right.  The PL-880 has a stepped digital fine-tuner, even though it's a knob.  It tunes in 0.01 kHz increments.  You might think that's fine enough tuning for anything you could ever need.  Maybe not.  Sometimes the voice pitch will be off by just a little bit, and no matter what you try, it never sounds quite right. 

On a true analog fine-tuner, you can get it exact.  This is one of the reasons why digital is problematic.  Just to get a "good enough" approximation, the complexity has to go sky-high compared to the analog that it's trying to copy. 

So, the Volume knob appears to be analog, but maybe it's an extremely-finely-stepped digital.  But the Fine Tuning knob definitely seems to be digital.

The distinction between USB and LSB is good, though, and the Fine Tuning does make it faster to tune stuff in single-sideband. So, for a beginner this is a good portable if you want to listen to ham radio stations. And there are a lot of them on 80 meters in the evening.


Buy this radio

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Synchronous Detection


Yes, technically.  You have to press and hold the USB or LSB button to activate it.  And it works only in the USB or LSB modes;  it won't improve standard AM reception.

To receive faint signals without fading, first eliminate noise sources.  Then, make a good external antenna.  Or get an active SW antenna.


Buy this radio

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Tuning


The RF and high-frequency IF stages are analog.  From there it's digitally-processed. This is a Triple Conversion radio, so that means there are three remaining IF stages; these are probably digital.

The regular Tuning knob goes in 10 kHz increments;  Fine Tuning is 1 kHz in AM mode, and 0.01 kHz in SSB.  You can adjust the tuning bandwidth (but not the increments) by pressing "AM BW".  Higher bandwidth has a more "open-air" sound.

Frequency appears on the LCD screen, as you'd expect. As with many portables, the LCD lights up when you adjust the tuning.

There are several ways to tune.  Turn the knob, type in the frequency directly, jump to a stored frequency, or scan.

Tuning is continuous throughout the AM bands.  That means you can tune anywhere from 150 kHz through 29999 kHz.  There are no gaps you can't tune in this spectrum.

FM tuning on this radio is from 87 to 108 MHz.


Buy this radio

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Versus Grundig G5


The Grundig G5 is smaller and more compact.  Its volume control is a klunky, coarsely-stepped digital version that's controlled by buttons only.  However the G5 has what appears to be true-analog fine-tuning, which for SSB is critical unless your digital stepping is really, really fine. 

And right from the box, the G5 has better treble, although you can adjust it on the PL-880.

The PL-880 is larger than most other compacts, including the G5.  And it's got three knobs instead of one.  The PL-880 has slightly better reception on AM broadcast stations, but not by much. In fact sometimes I think there's no difference. 

PL-880 lets you keep the LCD panel lit-up all the time, which I like.

Neither one has really "intuitive" buttons;  there's a learning curve here.  That said, the channel storage was easier for me to figure out on the G5 than the PL-880.

The G5 would be my choice for travel, but not only because it's smaller.  The 880 is almost too nice a radio to be taking it out where it'll get scratched and dinged up. 


Get yourself a PL-880

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What's Not To Like


Not much, except perhaps that it's not a field or tabletop radio.  I also don't like that the SSB fine-tuning is digitally-stepped, because sometimes you can't get the natural voice pitch. That's actually rather significant. Now, it may be there's some feature that fixes that, buried in the button sequences somewhere, but I don't know of any.

Other than that, I can't think of anything I really dislike about this radio.  I could see the volume knob having one downside, which is that you might accidentally bump it and max out the volume.  But if you have it on a desk or table, that probably won't be an issue.


Buy this radio

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What's To Like


The Volume has continuous adjustment;  it's either not a stepped digital function, or if it is, the stepping is so fine that it seems continuous.  I also really like that this radio has three knobs;  tuning and volume just seem to go better with knobs than with buttons.

Design aesthetics.  While some compacts can appear generic, the PL-880 looks like a deluxe radio.  Because it is.

Sensitivity and selectivity are excellent. 

It's the top portable from Tecsun.  This is a really nice radio. 


Buy this radio

Top



Conclusion


The PL-880 is not as small as some of the other compacts, but it's still very portable.  The receive quality is great;  it has plenty of advanced features; and when you buy it new, you also get all those nice little accessories that don't come with cheaper radios.

While there are $50 or $60 compacts that work well, part of the experience is using a nice radio with advanced features.  The PL-880 has a bit more of a refined quality to it, it seems less noisy, and of course it has SSB and triple conversion.  I'd say get one.



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Another Article You Might Like...  Review of the Grundig G5 Radio




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