Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Tecsun PL660 Review

I have been using my Tecsun PL660 for a little over 6 months now, and thought a few comments might help others who are thinking of buying this radio make up their mind. I initially owned a Sony SW7600GR, but I kept tiring of having a totally useless battery meter and no signal meter. So I sold my Sony (good riddance!) and was soon the proud owner of the Tecsun PL660.

The review I based my purchase on was that in The World Radio and TV Handbook, as I was impressed by the highly favourable review of the synchronous detector, a feature I find invaluable when programmelistening on shortwave. The sync on the Sony was terrific, but I didn't like the fiddly side switch nor the way the display didn't differentiate between whether the sync detector mode selected was Upper or Lower sideband. I also felt the audio was a bit "flat" on the Sony. The Tecsun synchronous detector is also terrific: it locks onto the weakest of signals and even if the signal meter falls back to zero the sync stays locked. What I especially like is the way the display boldly shows whether Upper or Lower sideband is selected when in sync mode. The audio is also very much more to my liking: it sounds to me as though the audio bandwidth might be wider. Even when the "narrow" bandwidth is selected the audio sounds more wholesome and rounded. That of the 7600GR was more like the Icom R75 - neither sounding very nice to my ears. I use the synchronous detector not only to knock out an interfering sideband but also to smooth out distortion during fades. In both respects the sync on the Tecsun PL660 functions seamlessly.

The WRTH 2012 review of the PL660 stated that the airband feature was poorly implemented and was highly negative. Whilst the addition of the airband wasn't a purchase decision, I do find myself using it from time to time, especially when sat in the garden as an aircraft flies overhead and I want to identify it: I switch over from SW to airband and tune into my local airport radar frequency. Admittedly there is no squelch, but if you were serious about an airband radio you would probably have another handheld set anyway. But I find it a lovely addition and would miss it if I didn't have it. If I tune to London Ctl on, say, 126.075, then even strong signals will not splatter across a large bandwidth: 126.050 and 126.100 are both silent. This makes it a joy to use on this now very crowded band. I have just returned from a holiday to Cornwall, and whilst there we went to the Classic Air Force Aerohub at Newquay Airport. I hadn't brought my Maycom AR108 or my Yaesu VX3, but I had brought along the PL660 and so I decided to give it a more thorough workout. Boy oh boy what a joy this radio was! Admittedly it was a bit bulky, but what I generally tend to do is set myself up at a little corner of the airfield with my radios, thermos, packed lunch and cameras and so it didn't matter that it was a bit on the large side. I tuned into the tower frequency (I find you have to detune by about 3 khz so 134.375mhz needs to be reset to 134.372mhz) and it was immediately clear that this radio was going to be a lot of fun to use. The audio is loud and punchy, and so unlike these little handheld radios that often need to be held up to your ear, I could leave the PL660 standing on the grass in front of me and not only myself but anyone sat planespotting alongside me could hear perfectly well. Being able to "share" the radio in this way made it much more enjoyable. The batteries (1000mah NiMHs) lasted all holiday, including several hours of nonstop use at the airport - bearing in mind this radio has no squelch I think this is a tremendous feat. I almost forgot to say that, unlike my AR108 and VX3, the PL660 has direct button frequency entry. Normally, when I am at an airport, I just stay tuned to the tower on one radio and approach on another. But sometimes I want to follow an aircraft to its en-route frequency and to do this on the 108 and VX3 can be time-consuming enough to miss the call on the new frequency. So having the facility to just punch in any frequency immediately on the PL660 is a feature I wouldn't be without. Now I wouldn't consider a trip to the airport without this little gem in my rucksack. 

Another feature which I couldn't live without if I were to lose this radio is the open squelch scanning I enjoy on USB. You just enter, say, 6733, 8992, 9016 and 11175 into the memory and then scan. The radio slowly scans these frequencies, listening to each one for 5 seconds. I often activate it when washing up, cooking the roast or sitting in the summerhouse on a wet afternoon, and I've lost count of the number of interesting flights I've caught this way. It's priceless if you are at all into utility band DXing.

I am an avid NDB Beacon enthusiast and here the Sony 7600GR was quite significantly better. On its own internal bar antenna the Tecsun is very much quieter. But I always use an external homemade loop for LF beacons and when this is sat nearby performance is very much improved and as similar to my Sony as I can remember. I always pack the loop and my Tecsun when I go away for a few days holiday to see what new beacons I might catch, and I rather thought this might not be possible when I sold the Sony.

MW performance is also very good. Again it is quieter and a lot less lively than the Sony when using the internal rod antenna. But couple it up to a loop and it is superb. I actually recently treated myself to the Tecsun AN200 MW Loop as it is so much more attractive than my ugly homebrew loops, and even given the small size of this loop, performance is terrific when sat next to the Tecsun 660.

I only use FM for Radio Three and Four and quick scans of local stations when I am on my hols, so am not really qualified to comment to this band, but it sounds great and works well, and that's good enough for me!

For portable listening a good battery meter is essential. Forget the 7600GR. Its meter is completely useless. That of the Tecsun, in contrast, is simply superb: you can select whether you are using NiMH or Alkaline batteries, and after days and days of regular use (in my case about an hour each day, perhaps a little less, and with 2000 or 3000mAH MiMHs fitted)  the battery icon then imperceptibly slowly drops first one bar then another. When there is only an hour or so of battery life remaining the icon shows only one bar, then only an outline, then a flashing outline. You will never run out of power unexpectedly at the most inconvenient times with this lovely feature. 

I am a huge fan of Tecsun: I have the PL310 in my bedroom, and use the PL660 everywhere else. If my 660 were to go wrong I would buy it over again and again, something definitely not true of the Sony 7600GR which I was glad to be rid of.

I hope this helps if you are considering purchasing this fine little radio.

Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments and I will do my best to help. 

73 Adam (M6RDP)