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TECSUN
PL-230
Digital PLL Shortwave/AM/FM Receiver

Sold Also As The Grundig YB-550PE

Their Home Pages
www.tecsun.com.cn
English Page

 


Review by Judah Smith judah_smith<SNIP FOR SPAM>@netzero.com

Have you searched endlessly for a review of this radio only to come up empty handed? Perhaps you were up late one night on Ebay, and saw one of these radios staring back at you and were wondering...."Should I buy it? Is it junk? Has anyone else purchased one?" Well I wondered the same thing. And searched the web endlessly only to find a few commercial reviews (which I rarely trust) and the occasion comment in a newsgroup. But in the end the radio was so pleasing to the eyes....I had to have one.

As with most if not all Tecsun brand radios they have to be purchased off of Ebay, as they are generally sent directly from Hong Kong to your front door. Have no fears. The vendor I used...e-mailed me back in excellent english, answered every question I had about the radio, and as promised he sent the radio AIR MAIL directly from Hong Kong to my front door. (He stated that 99 percent of the time the item would arrive within 10 days, and it did...even over the busy Christmas and New Years holidays.)

NOW on to the review. My first concern was that the radio looked similar to the old Grundig YB-500. Trust me. While the exterior may look the same, internally it is quite a different beast; if what I read about the 500 in PASSPORT magazine is true. The Grundig YB-500 was considered a poor performer. So do not confuse the two. In addition there is a Grundig YB-550, which is in fact the same radio as the Tecsun PL-230. Made at the same plant in Hong Kong. I prefer the Tecsun PL-230 version better, and here is why. Whenever you buy a radio from Tecsun directly, your getting the latest version of that radio. So any modifications and upgrades are always included. (Unlike the grundigs which may be bought in big lots and then sit on store shelves for months. This radio had a freshness date (date made) of November 11 2003. Only a month old. (On my Tecsun BCL-2000 there were in fact some modification to the radio...that had not been implemented on any but the latest Grundigs. This included a drift fix, and off button modification) In addition my Tecsun PL-230 comes with rechargeable batteries, that are actually recharged by the radio. (When I read the YB-550 manual it claims you can't charge the batteries in the radio) I quote directly from the document -

"USING RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES: Rechargeable batteries must be charged in their own charger. They will not charge inside the YB-550."

As I said the PL-230 DOES CHARGE your rechargeable batteries inside the radio. So this is definitely an improvement. Granted the radio's AC plug/Charger is designed for the Chinese 220v outlets, but have no fear....both Tecsun radios I purchased were sent to me with a USA 110v converter. *FREE* (a 10-15 dollar value) My third reason for buying Tecsun is price. I have bought two radios new on Ebay from a Tecsun distributor and both were anywhere from 40-60% cheaper than their Grundig doppelganger. (even after you factor in shipping from Hong Kong). So in review....

WHY BUY TECSUN OVER GRUNDIG

1) You always get the latest version of the radio (with any upgrades or improvements) Not one that has been sitting on a store shelf for a 6 months- a year.
2) With the PL-230 the rechargeable batteries are recharged inside the radio. (The YB-550 does not have this feature.)
3) Price (Tecsun radios are always cheaper, even after shipping from China.)

WHAT YOU GET FOR YOUR MONEY

The radio comes with one PL-230 PLL dual conversion receiver. (I emailed the seller, who said he believed it to be dual conversion, so if it is single I apologize.) An AC Battery charger (which you can also use to run the radio off AC power. A very nice carrying case. A pair of earbuds (earphones, which I haven't used), 3 rechargeable batteries, a number of manuals (all in Chinese, so download a copy of the YB-550 manual from Grundig, it works exactly the same). A reel external shortwave antenna. And a neat little radio stand, so you can set up your radio on the table at a comfortable angle for viewing. I would rate the amount of extras that come with the radio as -
EXCELLENT

QUALITY OF THE PL-230

The quality seems to be at par with most other Grundig products. Comparing it with my Grundig YB-400. (the older pre PE version) the radio seems to be of similar stock. I purchased the black model, and the plastic seems just a little lighter, and slightly thinner than the old YB-400. But not by much. I think the radio will hold up well when traveling the world with you, assuming you don't drop it. The lighter plastic may be due to the fact that the radio seems to be designed to be very lightweight, and travel friendly. But in any case it appears to be a tad less sturdy. As portables go, I would still rate the construction as -
VERY GOOD

PL-230 SENSITIVITY

I buy shortwave radios for shortwave performance. I could care less about FM and AM reception to be honest. But in any case the FM performance is very good. I have heard a few complaints about AM reception, and I'm not sure why. The AM band seemed to be quite satisfactory to me. Not nearly as good as my BCL-2000, but certainly equal to the YB-400 in a side by side comparison. Now for shortwave. I set both radios on the kitchen table, side by side....and started tuning the shortwave bands. The YB-400 has for years been considered an excellent value, for those in bad reception areas, as it is one of the most sensitive portables you can buy in its price range of $149-199 dollars. So I am using it as my benchmark. (NOTE: both radios were being tested off the whip antenna) (IN ADDTION: PASSPORT has always rated the YB-400 very well in sensitivity.)

In my comparison I found that the PL-230 was almost always 1 signal level higher than the YB-400. If I was tuning the BBC at a signal strength of 3-4 on the YB-400....it was always 4-5 on the PL-230. I spent at least two hours comparing the two. And found that in all cases the radios were either at a dead heat. Or the PL-230 would edge out the Yacht Boy just slightly.

So I would rate the sensitivity on this radio as -
VERY GOOD to EXCELLENT

PL-230 SELECTIVITY

Crosstalk is not a problem with this radio. It does an excellent job of tuning in a selected frequency and allowing you to hear even the weakest stations, even if they are sitting next to a more powerful one 3 to 5 kHz away. The default filter is very close to what you get in selectivity when the YB-400 is set to its WIDE filter setting. FM and AM seemed to be at par with the YB-400, and selectivity on SW is rated as -
VERY GOOD

PL-230 AUDIO QUALITY

This radio is small, which already puts it at a disadvantage in the audio department. Small speakers often produce small sound. Happily the radio does provide a HIGH/LOW tone switch. Very much like the YB-400. As stated above the audio is very similar to a YB-400 on the WIDE setting. In fact when I was comparing the two I left the YB-400 set to the WIDE filter. The audio is good for the size of the radio. And very pleasing with a good set of headphones on the LOW setting. It is very close to the YB-400's sound quality, but the speaker size just makes the sound slightly less full, rich and mellow. However, it does have very good volume, and is quite good if your working in the kitchen or garage and need some room filling sound.

There is one additional item that needs mentioned in the sound department. AUDIO HUM. Most digital PLL shortwave receivers have this. And it often makes listening to weak stations very difficult, as their sound is drowned out by the HUMMING of the internal circuitry in the radio. This is not a problem for the PL-230. It is one of the quietest PLL digital radios I have ever tried. There is really no hum at all. (On batteries) Where as the YB-400 always had some audible HUM in my opinion. So for listening quality on weak signals the PL-230 always beats out the YB-400. Now when you use a walwart/AC plug with the PL-230....there is a very slight hum, it helps to move the radio away from where it is plugged in. But the HUM is very slight. And weak signals can still be heard well above it.

While on straight audio comparisons the YB-400 and PL-230 are close. I have to give it to the YB-400...as it has a bigger speaker...and a richer sound. The PL-230 still does quite well for its size. And there is no HUMMING...I rate the audio as -
VERY GOOD

A FEW ADDED FEATURES NOT MENTIONED BEFORE
*TUNES: FM: 76 -108 MHz
MW/AM: 522 -1620 KHz
SW: 1711 - 29999 KHz
*Adjustable Auto off Timer
*Alarm clock function
*Save up to 200 Frequency Memory locations
*Display light
*FM *Fine Tuning knob for tuning 1 kHz at a time
*DX/Local switch
*External antenna jack
*Lock switch to prevent accidental power on's and off's
*Direct frequency input via front keypad
*Can use rechargeable or standard AA batteries

DIMENSIONS OF THE PL-230
Dimensions: 5.7 x 3.5 x 1.2 inches / 145 x 87 x 31 mm.
Battery: Uses 3 AA size 1.5V. Battery.
Weight: approx. : 225 g. / 8 oz. (without battery)

The radio is very light and only uses 3 batteries as opposed to the YB-400's 6.

THE BEAUTY IS NOT SKIN DEEP

Obviously from the above information this radio is an excellent receiver for the price. But physically it just looks cool too. The vertical layout of the radio is a very nice change. And the radio is designed in such a way as to be small without looking cheap. It looks like something a secret agent might carry with him as he travels the globe, and the design is very hand-held friendly. In the looks department this radio is one of the nicest looking modern portables I have seen.

WHAT COULD BE BETTER

The buttons all seems a little stiff. And the tuning up/down buttons get tedious to push over and over when trying to bandscan. Granted the radio has an auto-scanning feature. But the ear is always superior to electronics when it comes to scanning for weak signals. So bandscanning with this radio is not as pleasurable as say with a TECSUN BCL-2000. What adds to this is the CHUFF CHUFF noise that comes with all PLL digital radios. That little silence when you change the frequency does get annoying. But that is not an issue with just the PL-230....rather with all PLL tuned radios. I find that I use the fine tuning knob to actually bandscan through certain areas I know are full of stations. But it is slow, and still makes the CHUFF CHUFF noise. So if you just like scanning around the dial to see what's out there, you may find this radio rather frustrating. In which case I would strongly suggest the Tecsun BCL-2000. No CHUFF CHUFF, and it is a bandscanners dream.

I should also mention that this radio has NO SSB. No lower or upper side band support at all. Which is disappointing. As I think, since the fine tuning knob is already there, it would have taken very little to add a switch for USB/LSB. So this radio is a broadcast SW radio only. You won't hear HAMS in SSB on this jewel. Just know that going in. I personally find that listening to HAMs occupies only about 10 percent of my overall shortwave listening time. So for me it is no great loss. And of course I have a YB-400 and a DX-394 for that if I get really desperate. If you're simply into broadcast listening...I.e. BBC, Radio Havana Cuba, Radio Japan, etc....this radio is just what you want. Tecsun seems to really gear their radios to making the broadcast listening experience the best.

IN CONCLUSION

For the price this radio is an excellent buy. You won't be disappointed as long as you know what you are getting going in. The radio itself is an attention grabber. And people will ask you "Where did you get that cool looking radio?" The sensitivity in the SW department really impressed me. And I might include the fact that I often use it around a ton of computer equipment (monitors, UPS, CPU towers, printers, etc.) and I get very little interference, if any from those devices. So it is nice if you plan to use it in an office environment. I find it to be ever enjoyable to use, and the sound while not as rich as bigger radios, is quite pleasant for the size, either through the speaker or headphones. Get yourself a good shortwave frequency guide, and this radio is a dream to play with.

So if you want a small, rechargeable GRUNDIG YB-400 at almost half the price, but minus the SSB support, this is it. It's a Grundig YB-400 mini-me.

PS. I live in a very poor reception zone in the United States. Deep in the Southwest. So for all you people living in bad SW reception locations....I feel your pain. This radio is a good choice.

PROS
Lightweight, great for traveling
Very Sensitive
Cool Looking
Nice audio for the size
Rechargeable batteries that recharge in the radio

CONS
No SSB support
Bandscanning is a pain
Audio could be a little fuller, but size makes that difficult
Buttons are a little stiff
Manuals are all in Chinese (but English are available for the YB-550)

FINAL RATING 1-10 (1=poorest/10=best)
IN PORTABLE SW CATEGORY

BUILD QUALITY = 7.5
SENSITIVITY = 9
SELECTIVITY = 8
DESIGN (LOOKS) = 9.8
AUDIO = 8.1
AMOUNT OF FEATURES =7.5
FUN FACTOR = 8.2
VALUE FOR PRICE = 9
OVERALL RATING = 8.4

 

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