Comparing 3 Tecsun radios: PL-660, PL-380, PL-330

I haven’t bought a radio in quite a while, but the new Tecsun PL-330 seemed quite capable, so I used the proceeds from selling off older radios on eBay to buy a new PL-330 (with firmware version 3306). I was primarily looking for an all-purpose model with emphasis on travel.

The PL-330 invites comparison with the earlier PL-380, both at similar price points and size, so I dug out my old A/B switch, plugged in the headphones and compared reception of CHU on 3300 kHz. I could not detect any difference in reception between the two radios — I thought the switch was broken. The switch was fine; the radios were just that close.

Tecsun PL-330, PL-380, PL-660

Note: the only manual that came with my PL-380 was in Chinese, so I found one online and have included it here. The others came with English-language manuals.

Size matters:

For travel purposes, size and weight are concerns. There’s a big difference. (Specifications from the manuals, weight with battery and case measured.)

  • PL-330 – 130 x 80 x 26 mm – 210g (238g with case and battery)
  • PL-380 – 135 x 86 x 26 mm – 200g (324 with case and batteries)
  • PL-660 – 187 x 114 x 33 mm – 470g (649 with case and batteries)

The PL-660 with case and batteries weighs more than the other two radios combined! The manual is just wrong on the depth measurement. The PL-330 is 24mm deep and the PL-380 is 29mm (rounded down). Part of the difference in depth is that the PL-380 has a kickstand structure on the back that adds to the thickness, but even without the kickstand, the PL-380 is noticeably thicker.

Batteries

Part of the weight difference comes from the batteries (my measurements used eneloop brand rechargeable batteries). The PL-660 uses 4 AA batteries; the PL-380 uses three AA batteries and the PL-330 uses one BL-5C cell phone battery (included), available on eBay for under $5 with free shipping.

Both the PL-330 and PL-380 can be charged in the radio by connecting a 5V DC source. The PL-380 uses a mini USB connector and the PL-330 a micro USB connector (in the models I have). The PL-660 requires a 6V external supply to charge the batteries.

Each radio has a setting to enable internal charging and to change the battery charge status indictor to take into account the lower voltage of rechargeable batteries.

Various features

The PL-380 seems to be unique among the three in having a thermometer. Use the “Display” mode button to switch between what’s displayed in the upper right corner of the screen. A long press of the “3” key with the radio OFF switches between 9 kHz and 10 kHz steps on the AM band and at the same time switches the temperature display from C to F.

The PL-380 and PL-660 have kickstands but the PL-33o does not. The PL-660 has an aircraft band but the other two do not. The PL-330 and PL-660 have external antenna connectors, but the PL-380 does not. Supposedly there is a secret long-press (“3” with the radio ON) for the PL-330 to switch AM/LW reception from the internal ferrite antenna to the external antenna. For more hidden features, visit the swling site.

The PL-330 can tune in 5 kHz or 1 kHz steps on shortwave, but in addition can be set to tune to a precision of just 10 Hz. This is used for SSB and SYNC tuning.

The PL-330 and PL 380 each have 27 buttons and 2 knobs, albeit not exactly the same ones. The PL-660 forges ahead with 28 buttons, 2 switches and 3 knobs. The two switches are for features lacking in the other radios, a DX/Normal/Local switch and a tone switch.

Sensitivity specifications are identical for each radio except for longwave where the PL-660 is rated at 5 mV/m compared to 10 mV/m for the other two.

Memories

All three radios have better memory than I do, organized in different ways:

  • PL-330. 850 memories, 100 LW, 150 MW, 300 SW, 100 AM, 100 SSB, 100 SYNC. In addition there is a separate memory set for the Enhanced Tuning Mode (ETM+) that stores stations found by automatic scanning, organized by band and for some bands, by time of day. For shortwave, there is a separate bank of memories for each hour of the day, and for AM there are 6 segments of time with their own memory bank. FM has only one bank. The user can also store individual stations manually. There is a total of 21 banks of ETM+ memory, but the number in each bank is not specified in the manual.
  • The PL-660 has an incredible 2000 memories. It has an Easy Tuning Mode (ETM) that can store 100 FM/AM/LW/Air stations each, 200 shortwave stations and 200 SSB frequencies. On top of that there are an additional 1200 memories organized in 12 pages of 100 memories each. It also has manual storing.
  • The PL-380 has a pathetic (just joking) 550 memories, 100 each for AM/FM/LW and 250 for SW. It also can scan and automatically store stations.

Frequency coverage

  • PL-330
    • LW 153-512 kHz
    • MW 520-1710 / 522-1620 kHz
    • SW 1711-29999 kHz
    • FM 64-108 / 76-108 / 88-108 MHz (depending on region; mine goes 87-108)
  • PL-380
    • LW 153-513 kHz
    • MW 520-1710 / 522-1620 kHz
    • SW 2300-21950
    • FM 87-108 / 64-108 / 75-108 MHz (depending on region; mine goes 87-108)
  • PL-660
    • LW 100-519 kHz
    • MW 520-1710 / 522-1620 kHz
    • SW 1711-29999 kHz
    • FM 76-108 / 87 MHz-108 MHz (depending on region; mine goes 87-108)
    • Air 118-137 MHz

Single sideband (SSB)

Only the PL-330 and PL-660 support SSB transmissions. The PL-660 uses a more traditional approach. On tunes the station and then uses a separate SSB BFO (beat frequency oscillator) control to zero in on the setting that generates the missing sideband. The PL-330 simply tunes the station by frequency and nails the reception. It is possible for the station or the radio to be slightly off frequency and for that the turning step can be set for 10 Hz to get it precisely, although this is usually not needed.

The two SSB radios also have synchronous tuning, a technique where only one sideband is received and the other excluded and regenerated in the radio. This can perform miracles when two stations are very close together.

Picking

Up until now, my go to radio for home use was the PL-660 and for traveling the PL-380. I prefer the PL-660 overall because of the lack of chuffing, the “chuff, chuff, chuff” sound heard when tuning. It’s annoying. The PL-660 tuning dial turns smoothly, while on the other radios there is a detent for each position that can be felt (more so on the PL-380 than the PL-330). At this point I don’t see any need to keep the PL-380 and I’ll probably sell it.

About Kevin

Just an old guy with opinions that I like to bounce off other people.
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4 Responses to Comparing 3 Tecsun radios: PL-660, PL-380, PL-330

  1. ben says:

    Awesome article! I am trying to figure out if the PL-330 can receive the weather fax signal. Can you help me to understand this better please and whether you can receive the weather fax on the radio?

    • Kevin says:

      I have never attempted to receive weather fax; however, based on this information I found, the PL-330 should be suitable:

      “The only requirements of the radio are that it tunes the frequency ranges of interest. A general purpose communications receiver tuning 0-30 MHz is ideal, SSB marine radios may also be used, if they can receive the frequency bands of interest. The radio must be able to tune in USB (upper sideband) mode. Inexpensive portable radios are not as satisfactory, although higher-end units can work well. The radio must be able to tune in small steps (10 Hz), or have some sort of a fine tune adjustment.”

      http://www.blackcatsystems.com/software/multimode/fax.html

      The PL-330 does have USB, tunes to 30 mHz and can be tuned in 10 Hz steps in USB. It also has an earphone output.

      Several sources have bad links to the NOAA weather fax schedule. This one is good as of today:

      https://www.weather.gov/media/marine/rfax.pdf

      Also this is a great video on weather rax in general:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1QyDVgclto&list=WL

  2. john r harris says:

    hi Kevin, thanks for your reviews on these radios. I have the PL-380, Pl-310ET and the PL-660. I’m thinking of getting the PL-330 for the SSB and available filters it has. How is the audio on the Pl-330 compared to the PL-380? thanks for any info, take care!

    John Harris

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