Monday, January 25, 2010

Tecsun PL-310 DSP shortwave radio review

When travelling, I always pack a short-wave radio. Normally it's a little Sony or if I'm not travelling so light, I pack the excellent Sangean ATS 909. At the Coffs Harbour radio expo I plunked down $89 to Av-Comm and purchased the first consumer radio with digital signal processing that I've seen. Welcome to the Tecsum PL-310.

radio front.jpg


It's actually very small, it would fit in a large pocket, like in cargo pants, without too much trouble. 135x85mm not including the tuning knob or antenna.

They had me at the block diagram:

block diagram.jpg


The radio is based around a Silicon Labs si4734 CMOS radio receiver chip. Just look at all the features you get:

features.jpg


The DSP feature means that on AM and shortwave you can choose between bandwidths of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6kHz. They really work.

Both knobs, tuning and volume are rotary encoders so there's nothing to get scratchy over time.

knobs.jpg


The radio runs off 3 AA batteries and can charge them internally via a mini USB socket. When turned on, the radio defaults to a mode where it will run for 90 minutes (selectable) and then turn itself off. This suits me fine as I tend to go to sleep listening to the radio.

Sockets are the USB charging socket (wouldn't it be great if that was a USB audio output!), stereo earphone out (it accepts a long iPhone plug with no problems, and an external antenna socket.

sockets.jpg


The front panel buttons work well but are a little slow to respond, I suspect keyboard scanning is slow to reduce interference.

Tuning, for a consumer digital radio, is reasonably good. There is some muting as you step frequency but it's not as bad as some I've used.

Sensitivity was equal to or better than the Sangean, but intelligibility was much better on the little PL-310. Side by side, for short wave listening it was much better in my tests. One complaint is that the built in temperature seems a little high to me.

temperature.jpg


Interestingly, station reception is measured in dBu and dB signal to noise. I'm not quite sure how to interpret this, the station it was tuned to in the first shot above seemed pretty weak but read 15dBu and S/N of 6dB. These readings update only every few seconds and I'd prefer a bar meter or at least an option.

The radio has every other feature you might want, lots of memories, scanning and auto memory setting, clock and alarm. The only thing I miss is side band.

It comes apart easily with six screws. The RF stuff is well shielded and the rest just looks like a pocket calculator with a ferrite rod.

inside.jpg


I've used the radio heavily for two days on a set of three 2500mAh NMH batteries, it reported full battery all that time and then suddenly dropped to low. It will operate, and charge, via a USB cable.

Frequency coverage is:


  • LW 153-513kHz

  • MW 522-1620kHz

  • SW 2300-21950kHz



So no 160m I'm afraid. Long wave was disabled by default.

11 comments:

cuums said...

"Just look at all the features you get" ... but no 160m? I was going to plonk down my hard earneds since I need a small 160m radio to listen to when walking the dog on a Saturday night, but I'm glad I looked at the specs first!
Can you confirm if it can get 160?
cheers
cuums

Peter B Marks said...

I should have made it more clear, no it doesn't have 160m. It's just the shortwave broadcast bands plus long wave.

I can hear some beacons on LW so that seems to work quite well.

vk3ase said...

Yes it looked to good but ssb and
complete coverage is a must. The
ATS 909 is the best at the moment
good ssb and does not spew when
nected to a big tenners.
BTW Mr Marks i got an I touch in
Bankock, seems a fun thing, only got
it for wifi surfing.

cheers
Mr stu

DB said...

I bought this unit on your comments and it is great. Is there any way to get the radio alarm to turn on with other than a level 10 volume setting? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

i'm nor interested ssb neither hams band so for me looks fine.

Kevin Davidson said...

An eBay seller has this for $36 today. What I'm trying to figure out is how this radio differs from the Tecsun PL-380 that costs more. Just comparing features, it seems to be the same thing with the buttons rearranged.

Peter Marks said...

$36 is a very good price for either of them. I can't see the difference either, they both look very similar. I assume the 380 is an update of the 310.

Kevin Davidson said...

One difference is that the PL-380 (which I have) has a thumbwheel for tuning rather than the knob on the PL-310. I think I would rather have a knob. It looks to me that besides 50 more memories, the important feature that the PL-380 adds is Easy Tuning Mode (ETM). When you visit a new location, just press ETM and it loads all the available stations into ETM memory. This works independently from the ATS memory, which isn't disturbed. Great for travel.

AsitPaul said...

I think newer version ie Tecsun PL-310 ET comes with ETM (Easy Tuning Mode) like the PL-380. It costs $52 including shipping from HongKong via eBay.

Tom Marshall said...

How does one set a station and ????how does one activte snooze button???t9940@bell.net Tom

Richard said...

I have the 310 et and as noted above when you set a radio alarm it seems always to override the volume setting and turn on at 10. Any ideas how to fix this? Too loud for a wake up!