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Reviews Categories | Receivers: General Coverage | Tecsun PL-390 Help

Reviews Summary for Tecsun PL-390
Tecsun PL-390 Reviews: 5 Average rating: 4.8/5 MSRP: $50
Description: LW, MW, Short Wave, FM receiver
Product is in production.
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SMAUG Rating: 5/5 Jun 19, 2013 15:37 Send this review to a friend
Speakers lack bass, line in function is limited, but still good  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I bought this instead of the PL-380 because of the line input (1/8" mini phono jack) and external antenna jack. I also liked that it includes a carrying case, external antenna, and ear buds.

The carrying case is a thin neoprene job of decent quality. It probably will not protect the radio from impacts, but will protect it against scratches. The case is big enough to accommodate the included accessories; it even has a gusseted zip-open expandable area in the bottom to make sure of it. This is nice; I HATE it when a provided case cannot be made to work after the initial factory packing.

The speakers have no bass. When you see the size of the radio, it will not be surprising to you. Normally, I would not give much weight to this, but since it actually has two speakers, for stereo sound, the expectations are a bit higher. Not a deal killer, as the radio is still pretty compact. It's just that when I compare it to my Sangean ATS-505, it sounds pitiful in comparison when music is played from a clear FM station. If you'll be using this primarily to listen to talk, it's a non issue. Also not an issue if you will use it as an external receiver for your hi-fi A/V sound system at home. Not a biggy, but worth mentioning. This is the price of a small radio!

Now, regarding the issue with the line-in jack: I went with the -390 instead of the -380, figuring that if I don't like or can't receive much shortwave, I could always use it as a set of amplified speakers for my smart phone's MP3 player. The problem with this is that the jack is monitored by the radio's microprocessor. When it doesn't detect a signal, it stops 'listening' to that input. The issue arises between songs from the smart phone, when the signal drops for an instant. Then, the connection is lost, and you have to unplug the phone and re-plug each time. The result is that this is useless as external speakers for an MP3 player, but could still be used with a Discman or Walkman or something.

Now, onto the meat of the radio.

The Easy Tuning Mode (ETM) feature is WONDERFUL. It is so much less time-consuming to find stations this way. I find that I use this mode 90% of the time, instead of manual tuning or manual scanning. (both of which this radio also supports) It scans the band or bands (in the case of shortwave, it scans all bands right after each other) and stores the stations with an audible signal in a temporary memory bank. Then, just scroll through them one station at a time with the ratcheted tuning knob.

If you like to manually tune with a knob, this is not really the best radio. the knob has ratcheted detents, and tunes digitally: each click is x Hz. Turn faster, and the increments are larger. It sounds ideal, but in practice, it is not as easy as an old fashioned analog style knob. Don't let this dissuade you, as the ETM mode is so good it pretty much makes manual tuning obsolete. You only need to tune manually to move away from the broadcast in tiny increments, to make those weak signals easier to hear.

The sensitivity of this radio is great, as is selectivity; on par with my Sangean ATS-505. The amount of memories is more than adequate, especially when you remember that shortwave conditions change night by night.

Another reason I chose this over the PL-380 was that the telescopic whip antenna and internal ferrite antenna are longer, and should give slightly better reception. I'm not sure if that is the case in reality. Keep in mind that with broadcast FM, your local stations will be so strong that it won't be an issue. With shortwave, reception is SO much better with an external antenna, you may not do too much listening with the whip anyway, except when you're up on a hill. Even then, you'll probably bring the included external wire atenna with you and REALLY try to bring in the distant stations!

The other features on the radio are also appreciated. For instance, the alarm clock works great. Good radio reception, along with independence from AC power make it idea for this use.

The thermometer is also handy. I use it to see how cold my apartment is, when the landlord is being cheap with the heat. You could also use it to see the temperature when you're listening outside. When you change the AM tuning step from 10 kHz to 9 kHz, it also change the thermometer units from F to C. Nice.

The signal strength is displayed in digital numbers, which I don't consider to be as good as a bar graph. Still, it's nice to have.

The built-in clock is quite accurate. The intelligent backlight works great and intuitively. It can also be controlled manually.

The band buttons on the top front right of the radio, are quite hard to press. I wonder why they take more effort than all the other buttons? No biggy.

The three buttons on the upper-left of the face are ETM (previously described, Variable Memory mode, and Variable Frequency mode. In Variable Memory Mode, one can enter the memory number one wants to go to directly, but must enter all three digits. For example, Memory 1 would be entered as '001' not just '1'. Variable Frequency mode allows us to directly enter the frequency to jump to. A long press on any of these three buttons scans in that mode. For example, a long press on VM would scan through your saved memories, waiting on each one for 8 seconds. A long press on VF would scan the whole band, stopping for 8 seconds (or until the tuning knob is turned manually) on each station with a signal.

Pressing the 'DISPLAY' button cycles through what can be displayed on the upper right: Temperature, time of day, signal strength, or alarm time. A long press on that button locks all controls, so the radio is not turned on while in one's luggage. Another long press turns it off.

The AM tuning bandwidth can be changed between 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6 kHz increments.

The red text by some buttons indicates the feature that can be changed by a long press on that button when radio is powered off.

I'm not sure what the wrist strap is for. This is not a radio you would walk around listening to with it in your hand; it's too bulky for that. But it seems to be a traditional feature for shortwave radios.

When the back stand is deployed, the whip atenna can't be vertical. The top of the enclosure gets in the way. It always has to be at a slight angle. This is a minor design flaw, but it prevents the radio from being put too close to a wall or from putting it on a windowsill when it is on the stand.

The viewing angle from the LCD is from a slight downward direction, not straight on, so the display is hard to see when the radio is standing up straight.

All in all, it is a great radio, but if I were to do it again, I would get either the PL-380. I would value the extra compactness, since the sound is not going to be great anyhow. The line-in jack is useless for MP3 players, so no value added there. I don't see reception being too much different either.

The Sangean ATS-505 has better sound quality enough bass that listening to FM broadcast music is better. I like the analog manual tuning and volume better on it. The antenna will go straight up when it is on the back stand. It has much fewer memories, but enough for the job at hand. It is twice as bulky though, and at the time of this writing, it cost $80 (Radio Shack version) instead of $55 like this Tecsun. The killer feature on these Tecsuns is the ETM modes, which isn't present on the affordable Sangeans. The scanning tuning of the Sangean doesn't hold a candle to the ETM of the Tecsuns. It's just not as modern and convenient.

It is worth noting that there is an iteration of the PL-390 with a built-in MP3 player, but it seems to be an afterthought, since the controls are on the back of the radio, where we can't see them most of the time.

All in all, this PL-390 is a great value, but probably not any better than the PL-380, when it comes right down to it. I give it a 5 star rating because the minor cons are not strong enough cancel out all the great things about it.

+ Compact, yet feature-laden
+ ETM mode is AWESOME. Very useful and user-friendly
+ Great implementation of the backlight, and programmable too.
+ Includes a nice carrying case and external antenna.
+ Good sensitivity and selectivity; best in class for a radio in this size/price range.

- Line input is monitored, and turns off between tracks from an external MP3 player; makes this feature all but useless
- Speakers have no bass, but this is to be expected from a radio of this size
- Antenna cannot go straight vertical when the radio is on its back stand. This would've been easy for them to address.
- Band buttons require a very hard press

BOTTOM LINE: Buy the PL-380 and save yourself $10. You'll end up with a more compact radio with the same sound quality.
KI6H Rating: 5/5 Apr 19, 2011 22:10 Send this review to a friend
Fun & elegant; brings back the simple pleasure of listening.  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
In the three weeks I've had it the Tecsun PL-390 has provided more fun per square inch than any of the other seven shortwave radios I've acquired along the way.

The kid-in-a-candy-store feature is ETM, Easy Tune Method, which polls the shortwave bands and in a minute or two puts into memory all the stations that have a reasonable signal. Then, it's a simple matter of dialing through them to see what's on the air. It's pretty effective. After the top of the hour, I re-poll the stations and see who's come on the air, and who has left.

In my brief experience it has pulled out stations I would have missed with my other radios (which include a beloved Eton E1). The bigger, fancier radios aren't going away -- but this little guy holds his own against some tough competition. The biggest issue is the small speakers -- but small size is one of its advantages in other ways.

The 390 was an impulse purchase -- less than $70, shipped to my door -- and I am astonished at its performance, especially the digital signal processing, which pulls in very weak stations & renders them listenable.

On recent warm nights it's taken me back to the basics -- sitting outside with a wire, a radio and a pair of ears -- pulling in English language stations from Africa & Russia & Europe & South America just for the pleasure of listening.

It'd be a great first radio for a young listener; and on my travels it's the only one I carry along, displacing an Grundig G5, which is in fact a great radio; it's just that the Tecsun is a little better.
TERRYW Rating: 5/5 Jan 23, 2011 06:26 Send this review to a friend
Big improvement over Grundig G8  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
Tecsun's PL-390 is a very nice implementation of the Si4734/35 integrated circuit. We've seen in the G8 how AM can go horribly wrong using that chip, and those problems are mostly fixed here.


Easy Tuning Method (ETM) very good at finding current stations on FM/SW/MW/LW
ETM scans extended SW bands
five excellent filter sizes (6, 4, 3, 2, 1)
good copy on AM even using 1kHz filter
two speakers, with stereo FM
world clock, which can display when radio is on
very long whip (same length as G5)
very good sensitivity on all bands (though a hair less than G5 and E1)
excellent selectivity on FM (better than G5 and E1)
display light can remain on when using batteries
works well with random wire (though some image problems)
recharges batteries via adapter
good at handling fading distortion in AM
pouch has extra pocket for supplied external antenna, ear buds and USB recharge adapter
direct frequency tuning via keypad
plentiful memories (ETM uses its own bank)


some image problems, but can be escaped by partially collapsing whip
no SSB
no synchronous detection
ETM takes 2.5 minutes to scan SW bands (several seconds on MW and FM)
best FM stereo experience is three inches from your nose
somewhat tinny and fatiguing sound, but not disastrous (as in G6 and YB300PE)
tinny sound even through good headphones
still some AGC flutter on AM, though minor
flimsy flip stand (very much like DX-398)
whip swivel impeded by body of radio
no included AC adapter

A very enjoyable small portable. The ETM consistently found 50 to 60 stations on SW using whip, even during early afternoon. Great bedside radio. Nice stereo FM with radio resting on your chest (just don't fall asleep!) SSB is still missed, and ECSS with 10 Hz fine tuning would be fantastic.

Considering the low price, this is a winner.
DD5FZ Rating: 4/5 Jan 13, 2011 00:45 Send this review to a friend
A Nice SI4734 DSP Radio  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I have a rebranded Tecsun PL-390 from Thieking & Koch in Germany. The Thieking & Koch brand is the CE and RoHS version for Europe and, AFAIK, otherwise identical with the Tecsun version.

For a low cost radio, this SI4734 based radio is surprisingly good. One mustn't expect any miracles and it is not surprising that strong MW stations cause some (weak) intermodulation in the lower parts of SW band or that LW sensitivity could be better. But as an inexpensive broadcast receiver for use when travelling, it is impressive.

It is a pity that the SI4734/35 chips do not offer AM-Sync demodulation and SSB.

AC7CW Rating: 5/5 Dec 3, 2010 15:07 Send this review to a friend
Just Jiffy!!  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
This radio is so satisfying as a bedside MW/FM unit and quite good for SW as well. Use of the controls lights up the LCD panel so using it at night is nice. It's based on a DSP chip from Silicon Labs. I took it to the beach and stretched out the external wire antenna and scanned the short wave bands one afternoon; it found sixty or so stations. The thing about the scanning is that it uses the DSP to decide what counts and all your results are legible stations. The readout includes signal strength and signal to noise ratio.

This radio scores really high on the overall useability scale in my book. Tuning is with a knob and if you tune faster it jumps to a faster tuning rate. It has several different ways to tune, there is something there for everybody. The sound quality is ok considering the form factor and FM is great through the headphones..

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