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domenica 21 dicembre 2014

Tecsun PL-660, MW listening, etc.

Recently I felt the need for a simpler way to enjoy radio listening, compared to the usual way I do NDB chasing.
I mean, to listen to the NDB band on LF, I usually place my homebrewed "foldable" 3-turns loop in a sweet spot I found in the apartment (yes, I use it indoors); next, I connect the loop terminals to a wideband amplifier, then - by few meters of cable - to the receiver (an AFEDRI SDR-Net) and to the PC running the SDR-Radio software.
Of course both the AFEDRI and the wideband antenna amplifier need a power supply, to be connected and switched on; and finally I'm ready for my listening session, which usually lasts for 3-4 hours in the night, unless propagation conditions suggest to go to bed sooner than planned.
Well, while I'm pretty satisfied of the above-described setup, sometimes I'd like to simply switch on a more "traditional" receiver and have a couple of hours of pleasant, easy, relaxing listening to broadcast transmissions. By the way, this year I also decided to buy my first copy of the WRTH (the famous World Radio Television Handbook), to support my decision to "taste" the broadcast listening.
For the same purpose, a week ago I bought on the Internet one of these small portable radios, the Tecsun PL-660. I had already had the simpler Tecsun PL-600 model and it had worked very well for years. I had tried several modifications on it and it has survived to my soldering iron as well as to repeated disassemblies. It was still fully functional when I decided to sell it (at a fair price, of course). So, when I came to the decision to buy another portable radio, my choice has been for the successor of the PL-600, that is the PL-660.

My new Tecsun PL-660 portable receiver with a copy of WRTH 2015.

Compared to the PL-600, the PL-660 basically adds syncronous AM detection and the AM air band. Ergonomics were excellent on the PL-600 but have been furtherly improved on the PL-660. Overall, the value vs price is very good in my opinion.
I have made some quick tests of course on my new portable receiver as soon I received it. Most important weaknesses I have found so far are: the battery status indicator and the battery charger, which don't behave very well with normal NiMH rechargeable AA batteries (based on the "battery low" indication on the LCD display, it would seem they last much shorter than expected but I suspect the indication be wrong); and the reception in the MW band, which in my opinion is subject to easy overloading.
I have a 100 kW transmitter on 657 kHz (the Coltano station of the italian broadcaster RAI) within 10 km from my home. If I tune the PL-660 on the exact frequency, the reception seems to be not completely good, while it clearly improves if I detune the receiver by a couple of kHz or switch the built-in attenuator on the "LOCAL" position.
Uhm, this is a bit of a problem for my project to spend some time in broadcast listening. I have been a member of the MW Circle for a couple of years now and I was just thinking of medium wave (together with long wave) as the band of choice for my BCL activity (I always thought that shortwaves were too wide, too many kHz to surf, too many different kind of signals, too much stuff for me).
I think that an external tuned loop with good selectivity could help in working around this issue. I have a small square loop, that I had built with a "quick and dirty" approach for the PL-600. It is handy enough to be used as a table-top antenna. It has a 50 cm side and 19 turns of wire, closely wound on a square wooden frame. I also added a single turn to be used as a secondary winding for better impedance matching, in case of direct connection to the antenna socket of the receiver. The tuning range was from about 280 kHz to about 830 kHz, so mainly suitable for exploring the NDB band, but it could probably be moved upwards by removing one or two of the sections of the variable capacitor, that are currently connected in parallel. The Tecsun PL-660 does not enable its antenna input in MW (neither did the PL-600, I had to apply an HW modification to change this behaviour). So I will use the loop by coupling it inductively to the internal ferrite loop of the receiver.

My simple tuned loop antenna when I used it with the Tecsun PL-600

The variable capacitor connected to the primary winding.
The red wires are the terminals of the single-turn secondary winding.

Later on, if the new hobby will reveal to be attractive enough to me, I will think about a better antenna and maybe a better receiver (the system I currently use for listening to the NDB band will be the first candidate). For now, let's keep it easy (and cheap) as it was originally intended.

The video clip below is a quick test that I have performed with the Tecsun PL-660 during a short walk near my home. SSB reception on 20 m USB and 40 m LSB ham bands is shown, as well as in the AM air band and on MW (with the receiver tuned to the strong 657 kHz local station I have mentioned above). In the air band, following stations were recorded: Milano FIC (Milano Information) on 128.925 MHz AM, Roma ACC (Roma Radar) on 124.800 MHz AM, Pisa VOLMET (nominal frequency 128.400 MHz) on 128.390 MHz AM. The IF filter was set to "wide" in all cases.

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