22 October 2009

tecsun pl-310 first look

I received a Tecsun PL-310 at last. Silver was my color of choice. My second attempt at purchasing this radio succeeded, just a few days before they started appearing on eBay. I just got it out of the box, so here are some initial thoughts on this new Tecsun product.

The radio has a nice appearance, but feels flimsy in my hands. With some of my radios, I wouldn't be concerned while holding both the left and right ends and twisting it slightly to test its durability. With this radio, I don't think that's a good idea. Some Chinese radio manufacturers have certain products or certain production runs that they deem export quality, and I'm not sure whether my radio qualifies. It is an early production run to be sure, so I'm hoping Tecsun will deliver a more refined product later on. This product offers the full range of FM (64-108/87-108 MHz) and MW (520-1710/522-1620 kHz) frequencies that anyone would want, plus LW (153-513 kHz), so from a technical standpoint, this product can satisfy all portable radio markets.

In contrast to the fabric protective bag that Tecsun includes with many pocket radios, this radio comes with a zippered clamshell, perhaps made of nylon. The inside has a little pocket, and my folded shortwave cheat sheet fits nicely. It's a thin enclosure, so it's mainly useful for avoiding scratches during transit.

This is the first radio I've purchased that comes with a USB cable. It makes this DSP-based product for analog broadcasting almost seem like a modern electronics product! The mini USB port on the radio is labeled "DC-IN 5v", so it's intended for NiMH battery recharging. I don't yet know of other uses for the USB port.

All of the Chinese-language documentation was included, which I can't use, but I enjoy having to look at anyway.

Oh, I suppose you want me to put in some fresh batteries and turn this thing on?

General

• The radio made two quick beeps upon insertion of the batteries. The beeping can be disabled by pressing the bell button (corresponding to the 0 key) when the radio is off.
• Both the volume dial and the tuning knob are notched continuous encoders. The tuning knob has a bit more resistance than the one on the PL-350, but its feel is similar to that radio. It's not like the strong resistance on the PL-200 tuning knob (which annoys me). I didn't expect the notched volume dial though.
• The only way to change the tuning knob from small to large steps is to turn quicker, according to my experience so far. I don't really like this. I want to be able to turn the knob and know exactly how much the frequency is going to change.
• When volume is adjusted, the volume level (00-30) is shown at the top right of the screen momentarily. With a strong local FM station, I didn't hear anything but static for volume levels 00-04. Level 30 was ridiculously loud and the speaker was distorting. For a mid-sized room, a volume level of 10 works well for me.
• The LCD screen shows dbµ and db numbers, updated about once a second. Pressing the "display" button quickly will toggle this section of the screen among the db meter, the alarm clock time, and the temperature. I haven't figured out how to change the temperature readout to fahrenheit yet. Pressing the "time" button will momentarily show the current time (according to the radio) in this same top-right region.
• The code system used on previous Tecsun radios such as the PL-200 is not needed here to set the FM frequency range, the MW step size, or the 12/24 hour clock preference. While the radio is off, just press the buttons "FM SET", "12/24", or "9/10 kHz" (corresponding to buttons 1-3 respectively) until the desired setting is shown on the screen.
• Similar to just pressing the labeled buttons to perform a function while the radio is off, the battery button (corresponding to button M at the bottom left of the numeric keypad) toggles between NiMH battery mode (allowing recharging) and alkaline battery mode (disallowing charging).
• When using 9 kHz steps for MW, temperature will be displayed in celsius (for example, 23ºC. When using 10 kHz steps, temperature will be displayed in fahrenheit (for example, 73ºF).
• Pressing a numeric key while listening to a weak signal or a blank frequency produces audible momentary static, or occasionally, a rapid pitch shift that sounds like a zap special effect.
• Toggling the screen backlight with the light/snooze button momentarily boosts the volume. I don't like that.

FM

• Selecting an FM station is easy! Just punch in the frequency digits: "9" "6" "5" gets you to 96.5 MHz; "1" "0" "2" "9" goes to 102.9 MHz. Unfortunately, I'm seeing quite noticeable lag after pressing each digit, and sometimes, a keypress doesn't register.
• When an FM stereo signal is received, two speaker icons are shown on both sides of the "FM" indicator. FM stereo can be enabled or disabled with a dedicated button on the right side of the interface. Stereo output is only useful when using the headphone jack.

SW

• When tuning to a shortwave frequency, the meter band of the frequency is momentarily displayed at the top right of the screen, such as "120 mb". This doesn't happen when switching to a frequency outside the range of the bands.
• I heard a faint WWVH signal and a strong WWV signal on 5000 kHz.
• Shortwave reception can also take advantage of the AM bandwidth settings.

MW

• For AM, bandwidths of 6, 4, 3, 2, or 1 kHz are offered, and toggled with the "AM BW" button as you might expect. For my ears, 4 kHz sounds best for my local flamethrower, KCBS 740 kHz.
• If there's a local/dx setting somewhere in this radio, I haven't found it yet. Bummer, because I'd really like that for mediumwave.
• I was able to hear KRLA identify while listening to 870 kHz, so this pocket radio has DX potential. That's a 3 kW station at night, about 400 miles away in Glendale, California.
• I received a clear signal from KOMO on 1000 kHz, a 50kW station about 800 miles away in Seattle, Washington. I had to lower the bandwidth to 2 kHz to get rid of the annoying adjacent channel chirps coming from local station KIQI 1010 kHz.

LW

• It was not intuitive to tune to longwave frequencies, so here's how I did it: with the radio off, I held down the MW/LW button for a few seconds, and the display showed "LW On". Then, with the radio on, pressing the MW/LW button toggled between mediumwave and longwave as one would expect out of the box. I'm not sure why longwave is disabled by default.
• While tuned to 404 kHz, I heard the MOG airport beacon which is about 300 miles away from me. The radio was very buzzy while tuning through longwave, and the airport beacon was very faint. That's all I've been able to do with longwave at my location.

Conclusion

This is quite a promising pocket radio. I like that this radio can receive weak, distant mediumwave stations with ease and clarity. I like the more immediate interface provided by simple digit-pressing for frequency selection. The construction quality could be improved, and buttons could be more responsive than they are. I don't yet have any information such as battery life or reception capabilities compared against other radios in the same class. Since I don't plan to do a full review of this radio, I may post occasional updates in the future and I'll do my best to answer specific questions from readers. So, feel free to ask questions or share your own experiences with this new product.

7 comments:

Plínio Marcos De said...

Hi, the MW is very sensitive? Thanks

Kim said...

Hi,
An english manual for the PL-310 is in ultralightdx Yahoo group under (4) manuals files section.I ordered one & will receive soon or I will be glad to send email copy .
Kim

Erik said...

Have you used the radio much since your intital review? I'm looking at this radio as a potential x-mas gift, and just wondered if it's worth getting! Thanks!

Keith said...

Fantastic radio.
You will not be disappointed.
Buy now for Santa's delivery.
Cheers,
Radio-K

rgs said...

After about 4 months I no longer get sound from the radio although headphones still work. Joyce n Hong Kong suggested sending it back but the cost is more via Canada Post than the cost of the radio. Wonder if it's difficult to fix over here?
Richard

rgs said...

After about 4 months the radio stopped putting out sound although the headphones still work. Joyce in Hong Kong suggested mailing it back but the cost via Canada Post is more than the radio cost. Wonder if it can be fixed over there?
Richard

MauricioSalvador said...

I am in Brazil. I bought a radio Tecsun PL-310. I did not like in MW, not good at medium waves. The Pl-300wt was best on medium wave.