John's Musings

Yeah, Me Neither

Tecsun PL-880 Review

Recently rediscovered an old love of mine. Short Wave Listening (SWL). I have many SDR radios which are technically superior because they have that big old computer behind them allowing you to do more. Also software is fluid, allowing you to do many different things or use specific pieces of software for specific tasks.

Still, there are times when a radio by the bedside is what you need. Or for casual listening while on travel in the hotel room. Or tuning into that cool frequency you found with the strong signal thereby freeing up your computer for some other important task.

Here's another thing to ponder. An SDR plugged into the computer, using software only you are familiar with, hooked to an antenna only you know how to position is not intuitive to other members of the household. From a sheer emergency or preparedness situation any family member including children can operate a radio.

So now that I've convinced you that you need a radio.............Here's the one I got. The Tecsun PL-880. If you google up "best shortwave radio" on almost every list you will find the PL-880. As a matter of fact you will find it at the top of almost every list.

Again if you are looking for a hardcore technical review, you have come to the wrong website. I'm a regular guy who uses regular items and records regular observations. Here's my first observation:

Despite all the buttons and dials it is a pretty intuitive radio to use. You can figure it out pretty quickly. I particularly like the Scan button (top row, far right). It will scan backwards too if you give the dial a slight turn in the backwards direction first and then push the scan button, consequently that works in the forwards direction as well.

When reversing the scan though the scan arrows still point to the right which threw me for a loop for a minute or two. Wish those arrows would point the other way for a quick indication of direction of scan.

As it is you have to watch the numbers roll and it takes a half second or so to see which way they are rolling. Once or twice I caught myself scrolling in the unintended direction.

The radio comes with a 20' flat wire short wave antenna which is cool however the whip antenna worked just as well indoors as far as I was concerned. I'm sure that antenna would work much better stretched out flat on the ground outside. Speaking of antennas I have a 40 meter band dipole antenna in the back yard and I'd sure like to utilize it however the plug for the antenna is a 1/8th inch (probably 3.5mm, made in China) jack. It sure would have been nice to have an adapter come with the $159 radio. Wink, wink, hint, hint.

You can buy one of these adapters from Amazon here. It is a 1/8th to F Type Coaxial.

I can't stress enough how much more impressed I'd have been with this radio had an adapter been included. Yeah, it's not a deal breaker but it seems like a no-brainer.

Can't find one of these that is 1/8th to SMA. It's probably out there, just that I can't find it.

What else is cool? The carrying case.

My only beef with the carrying case is that if you put the included charging cable in there (the radio has a rechargeable battery) it will distort the case if it even fits at all. With just the radio in there it is a sleek, and tight fit.

And speaking of charging the battery............the cable that comes with the radio is a USB cable. There is no brick. You would have to charge off of a computer or in my case my home has those fancy electrical outlets that have USB ports in them in almost every room. I can plug the radio right into the wall. Sure you can pick up a brick for next to nothing and you probably have 5 already laying around that you don't even remember what they are for.

Still. It's slightly incomplete but again not even close to being a deal breaker.

You can download a manual from here.

Also there are hidden features. Some claim they are awesome hidden features, others claim they are crappy or experimental so Tecsun never put them in the manual. Either way, they are there. Here's a cool chart someone made of them.

As far as the radio goes...........from a technical standpoint.......I'm happy. It's a fine piece of hardware that is pretty intuitive to use despite all the buttons and knobs. I compared it to my old Grundig S350 and while the S350 held its own, the PL-880 had better sound, sensitivity, selectivity, features, etc. I love my old S350 but the PL-880 is better, smaller, lighter, better looking, etc.

The only complaints I had are that for $159 I'd love an antenna adapter and a power brick. Even if I never used the power brick I'd like to see it there, if not for me but for others.

If you are an SWL 'er, who travels or doesn't want a computer with an SDR and a coax across your lap in bed all the time, or you want a good radio for the family to use in a pinch...........look no further.

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