John's Musings

Yeah, Me Neither

Tecsun PL-880 vs. Tecsun PL-660

If you go online and Google a shootout vs. the Tecsun PL-880 (left) and the Tecsun PL-660 (right) you'll almost see the PL-660 come out on top, which is surprising since the PL-880 is the newer and more expensive version of the two.

Usually the shootout is based around Single Sideband (SSB) performance and the fact that the PL-660 has an Air Band (airplane/airport monitoring). At any rate, I tend to prefer the PL-880 and here's why:

First of all I seldom listen to SSB transmissions. I own multiple Software defined radios (SDR) that have excellent discrimination for listening to SSB transmissions. Same goes for Air Band. If I want to listen to Air Band I'll just go grab an SDR.

Also regarding the Air Band on the PL-660 there is no scanning on the Air Band. You either have to turn the tuning dial manually or KNOW what frequency you are listening for and manually input it. What the hell, man? The manually tuning is God awful slow. It would take you an hour and give you carpal tunnel syndrome to work your way through the band. Still, I guess it is a cool feature.

Okay so maybe this review is not for you. I bought this radio to be well , errrrr, a radio. It's primary function is ShortWave Listening (SWL). Both radios perform about the same in my estimation regarding signal capture and playback but there are some inherent differences. Here are some PL-660 observations.

  • The PL-660 auto scan is SLOOOOOOOWWWW. Painfully slow.
  • The PL-660 auto scan stops on every bit of static in some bands. It would take forever to work it's way around the whole spectrum.
  • The PL-660 sounds pretty good.
  • The PL-660 tuning knob feels kind of cheesy and moves with minimal progress.
  • The PL-660 has a tuning meter that lets you see how strong the signal is.
  • There is no Line Out on the PL-660. Cannot record to another device such as a computer.

Here are some PL-880 observations:

  • The PL-880 auto scan is considerably faster.
  • The PL-880 will seemingly auto skip bands which have high static. At least I think that's what it is doing.
  • The PL-880 has no Air Band.
  • The PL-880 SSB performance seems okay to me despite what others say about it. Maybe I'm not that picky.
  • The last tiny element of the antenna feels like it is going to be easily broken off. Extra care must be taken.

Regarding the line out feature of the PL-880........I discovered that most laptops these days DON'T have a Line In. File that under "You gotta be shitting me". Higher end laptops have them but your average every day ordinary laptop won't.

Fortunately there is a cheap cure.

About $6 gets you a USB Sound Adapter that has a Line In. Plug it in and then download Audacity

But alas, all is not perfect in Line Out Land ™. The PL-880 has a hidden feature that lets you change the Line Out level because it is full bore maxed out. Imagine recording someone screaming into a microphone. Yeah it sounds like that. So you reduce the Line Out Level.........Well that works on every band but Short Wave, which oh by the way, IS WHAT I WANT TO RECORD. What were the firmware programmers thinking? All is not lost. Another few dollars fixes the problem. Buy one of these. Then you can manually reduce the line out recording volume before it gets into your sound card.

Audacity has a cool trick where you can set up voice activated recording (VOX) so lets say you were recording a Ham Radio conversation you'd get only the speaking and none of the empty space in between. A cool feature indeed.

Here's a pic of the Audacity setting that shows you how to turn on VOX. Once you click on where it is highlighted blue then you press the record button in Audacity. It will just sit there until voice is heard. (Yeah you may have to play around with the squelch or the sound activation level (the setting below VOX) but you'll figure it out.

Let's face it. There is a lot of cool stuff out there in ShortWave Land. Stuff that is worth recording sometimes. If this even remotely impresses you as a "feature to have" then you better get the PL-880 because the PL-660 doesn't do it. The Line Out is what seals the deal for me more than anything else at all. Also you could Line Out to stereo speakers or something as well. Mono - eh - mono is all you get with the PL-660

Ultimately they are both great radios on AM/FM/SW. Air Band is cool but not a deal breaker for me. Ditto with SSB stuff. Both radios sound okay but, hey, they are both little bedside radios. Both come with 20' long, long wire antennas for SW reception. What a great addition that is to both radios.

What both radios are MISSING though is an adapter for hooking up an external antenna. The included 20' wire antenna has a 1/8th plug on it. No other HAM radio antenna in the world comes with a 1/8th inch connector. You need an adapter like this:

1/8th inch connector to Coaxial Type F

You can't go wrong with either radio but I lean heavily towards the PL-880.

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