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First Impressions: Tecsun PL-680 Receiver
Reliving my shortwave listening days with a new, more capable modern radio!
This morning, I unboxed a brand new Tecsun PL-680 radio. My very first impression was: this thing is bigger than I thought it would be! I was expecting something a bit smaller, but the 680 is a bit of a beast. I like it. It feels very solid.
This is not a lightweight shirt pocket transistor radio of days gone by. This radio is rather hefty, weighing just over one pound! In the photo below, a shirt pocket radio would be as tall as the 680 but a little narrower than the 680’s speaker grill.
My second impression is the controls satisfy my retro-modern leanings. It has dial controls for tuning and volume. (There is just something about spinning a dial. It is ever so much more satisfying than punching a button.) A third dial is used to select upper and lower sidebands when listening to SSB signals. Yes, that’s right: this radio also works for monitoring amateur radio bands.
The 680 also has a digital keypad and a digital display. While I will always miss the VU meters like we used to see on reel-to-reel tape recorders, they have no place on a piece of tech like this. I can live without the dancing needles, even if I do imagine them from time to time.
Third? My third impression is the sound quality is good, as long as one remembers that the speaker is small. The 680 holds onto FM signals well. If one is listening through the 680’s built-in speaker, a button turns off the stereo output to improve the sound quality. With earbuds in and stereo output selected, this meaty radio sounds great, with well-balanced audio. (I’m not a fan of bass-boosted “boomy” audio.)
The display is big enough for me to read without having to reach for my reading glasses. The almost white lettering on a black background for the keys leaves a bit to be desired because these markings are almost unreadable in low light. But the display has a selectable backlight, so to me, that balances the equation fairly well. In normal light, I can read the buttons and labels.
In my first 20 minutes with the radio, I set the time, put several FM stations put into memory, and listened to some airplanes notifying the Portland airport (PDX) of their approach. I’ve tuned around in a few ham bands. With FM memories, once you put the 680 into memory mode, you can flip through your saved stations with a simple flick of the tuning dial. Nice.
(As I handle and operate this radio, I’m enjoying old memories of my most intense shortwave listening days in the mid-1980s when I was working in Irian Jaya (the western half of the island of New Guinea), about three degrees south of the equator. Back then, our only contact with the outside world was postal mail, a telex machine, and shortwave radio. I had a National (known as Panasonic in the United States) shortwave receiver that served me well. I bought the RF-B600 from a duty-free shop in Cairns, North Queensland. I can’t count the hours we spent listening to the rest of the world on that radio!)
eHam.net has reviews of the Tecsun PL-660, the precursor to the 680, where reviewers gave the 660 radio 4.1 of 5 stars. Of note to my fellow hams is this comment by EI3IBB:
“If you're on the fence deciding whether you want the PL-880 then I would say, especially if you're a HAM and you listen to a lot of SSB then avoid the PL-880 and get the PL-660 or PL-680 and you'll get the added benefit of a great SYNC detector for amazing shortwave listening + much better audio.“
I think the Tecsun PL-680 is going to be a keeper.
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