With clear weather and lots of open space in our back yard, it was time for a full Shootout between the Si4734-chip-powered Tecsun PL-380 and the new Si4736-chip-powered C.Crane Skywave portable. Both stock models were checked out for normal operation before the contest, with new batteries and an equal chance to receive six fringe MW stations just after local noon.
The new Skywave is significantly smaller than the Tecsun PL-380 (see attached photo), and at $89.95 (before shipping) costs about twice as much. The Tecsun PL-380 stock model was chosen for this Shootout because it has become the favorite of Ultralight radio Transoceanic DXers, with a generous range of functions combined with "toned down" soft mute. Its stock loopstick places it near the top of the ULR class in sensitivity, and with DSP filtering doiwn to the 1 kHz level it provides fairly representative performance of all the Tecsun Si4734 DSP chip Ultralights.
Rather than tell you immediately how the Shootout went, I will let you form your own opinion by posting six MP3's of the relative reception by the PL-380 Vs. the Skywave in receiving the daytime DX fringe stations. In each MP3 both the PL-380 and the Skywave were set on the 1 KHz DSP setting, and both were pointed in the same direction. In each MP3 the PL-380 receives the fringe station for the first 20 seconds, and the Skywave receives the same fringe station for the final 20 seconds.
550 KARI Blaine, WA (5 kW at 127 miles)
690 CBU Vancouver, BC (50 kW at 148 miles)
750 KXTG Portland, OR (50 kW at 117 miles)
1070 CFAX Victoria, BC (10 kW at 100 miles)
1420 KITI/ KUJ Centralia and Walla Walla, WA (5 kW at 46 miles and 202 miles)
1470 KELA Centralia, WA (5 kW at 46 miles)
Comments: The Si4734 DSP chip in all of the Tecsun Ultralights tends to clip off the higher audio frequencies in the 1 kHz DSP setting, leaving the audio with somewhat of a "muddy" sound. Obviously, the Si4736 chip in the Skywave not only solves this issue, but solves the heterodyne issue (audible in the 1420 kHz MP3) as well. As for why the Skywave seems to have a slight sensitivity edge over the PL-380 (except on 550, where it smokes the PL-380), it could either be the result of a superior loopstick, or superior sensitivity of the Si4736 chip. Further testing should reveal the cause.
Verdict: The Si4736 DSP chip in the Skywave is a major improvement over the Si4734 chip in the Tecsun DSP Ultralights. Although there may be some jokes about the Skywave's cost being "sky high," the radio seems to be everything claimed by C.Crane, at least in its MW performance. This model should see a lot of action among Transoceanic MW DXers, where its superior audio and heterodyne-free reception should make a significant difference in split-frequency results.
73 and Good DX,
Gary DeBock (in Puyallup, WA, USA)