Sangean PR-D15 vs. Tecsun PL-390 Test Review


Todd
 

Enclosed are some performance notes on the recently purchased Sangean PR-D15 versus the Tecsun PL-390. The PL-390 is a proxy for the other popular ULRs such as the PL-380, so these notes should be of some interest to others on the ULR forum. With the holiday season still in progress, man-made noise (QRM) has spiked at my location, sufficiently so that sensitivity comparison tests are difficult at present. This has delayed the review being completed. 

The current main medium size high-performance MW portable competitor is considered by some to be the CCRadio 2E Enhanced. The CCRadio 2E Enhanced portable totals some AU $340, compared to the more affordable PR-D15 at some AU $170. At roughly double the price, the overall MW DX performance for both radios is probably near-identical. This is especially true when used with high gain loops which tend in effect produce level playing field DX results. 

To provide an indication of relative physical size for the 40 inch side length PVC tunable box loop versus the PR-D15, and PL-390, some photos have been uploaded to the Ultralight DX forum photo section.
 
Internally Generated MW Band Heterodynes:
 
The PR-D15 doesn't produce any internally-generated MW-band heterodynes from 531 to 1602 KHz. However, the PL-390 generates several internally-generated MW-band heterodynes distributed through sections of
the MW band (see listing below). There may be even more present under local signals. My black PL-390 also generates strong heterodynes around 666 KHz, so I assume there are heterodynes on various frequencies similar to what is heard on the grey PL-390. These heterodynes are most easily heard during daytime non-skywave conditions. The other stand-out issue with the PL-390 is digital display hash noise which is somewhat modulated (increased) by varying degrees of hand capacitance when touching the frequency display screen. The PR-D15 does not produce audible digital display noise. It is not yet understood if these two performance differences (internally-generated MW-band heterodynes, and digital display hash) are partly related to the PL-390's Si4734 DSP chip. From what I understand, the PR-D15 uses the Si4731 DSP chip. It could be due to other factors (e.g. smaller physical size, reduced internal shielding), but whatever the factors, the PR-D15 when operated "barefoot" has a lower noise floor, hence S/N is more optimal.
 
Sensitivity:
 
As mentioned above, the general absence of internally-generated MW-band heterodynes, and digital display hash, contributes to a low noise floor on the Sangean PR-D15. The larger 200 (~ 8 inch) ferrite rod also contributes to the PR-D15's higher sensitivity. Hence, under relatively low-noise conditions during the daytime, the PR-15 more efficiently resolves very weak groundwave MW compared to the higher noise PL-390.
 
However, when a high gain 40" loop is tuned to resonance, and positioned at the optimal distance for pickup via induction, the PL-390's internally-generated MW-band heterodynes, and digital display hash cannot be heard. 
 
The soft-mute in volume terms is more pronounced on the PR-D15. When operating the PR-D15 "barefoot" and listening to very weak stable groundwave signals, the volume needs to be set to 30 maximum level. This is an acceptable listening level, but the PL-390's soft mute volume is much louder. However, when weak signals strengthen during the evening hours, the volume on the PR-D15 needs to be reduced to around 20 to 25. The PR-15's volume level is more than adequate once weak signals rise to a certain threshold.
 
When used "barefoot" during most evenings, the 4,630-mile 1200 kW Fujian province Chinese signals on 684 and 909 KHz can be clearly heard. Also, the 10 kW New Zealand signals at some 1300 miles.
 
The PR-D15 couples very efficiently to relatively large tuned loops. In one test, a Sangean PR-D3 (proxy for the PR-D13) was positioned next to a $65 (TAM) PK loop. The signal improvement was small, but it was even smaller with the (TAM) PK Loop + PL-390 combination. The upshot is that portable radios with large ferrite rods work more optimally with larger size loops. The lowest signal improvement is obtained with ULRs (PL-380, PL-390 et al) and small loops (small (TAM) PK Loop, AN-200, et al). When using the PR-D15 with a 40" side length tuned loop, the signal pickup difference is dramatic. The general DXing performance is similar to a Drake R8B + outdoor 120ft wire combo.
 
Selectivity:
 
The main test frequency used here for wide +/- 18 KHz selectivity is 1089 KHz 2EL Orange, NSW (weak deep fringe 130-mile 5 kW signal) 18 KHz separation from local 5 kW 1107 KHz 2EA Sydney @ 5 miles. The PR-D15 has a slight edge over the PL-390 
regarding reduced splash from 1107 KHz. For adjacent channel +/- 9 KHz selectivity comparison tests, 585 KHz 2WEB Bourke (584.996 KHz, 10 kW @ 388 miles, 309 degrees) was used. The local signal is 575.999 KHz 2RN Sydney (50 kW @ 16 miles). When used "barefoot", the PR-D15 was able to resolve 2WEB with less adjacent channel splash compared to the PL-390. De-tuning the PR-D15 to 586 KHz, offered a small degree of further improvement. The improvement is relatively small because the PR-D15's selectivity curve is so sharp. To compete against the PR-D15, the PL-390 needed to be set to the 3 KHz selectivity position.
 
For DXers desiring wide (somewhere between 4 and 6 KHz) fidelity, and high adjacent channel selectivity performance, the PR-D15 is hard to beat.
 
Image Rejection:
 
The local MW TX site is only 5 miles. This site includes the majority of Sydney MW transmitters, e.g. 5 kW stations such as 2UE, 2GB. The high power 50 kW ABC TX site is 16 miles. Both the PR-D15 and PL-390 do not produce internally generated (IMD) images, apart from one exception being a weak ethnic signal on 1233 KHz. My Drake R8B and Icom R8500 produce only 1233 KHz 2NC Newcastle.
 
Audio Quality:
 
The PR-D15's audio quality is sometimes referred to as being relatively muffled. This was even more true with the PR-D5. In an effort to tweak the audio, the treble was set to max 5, the bass 2, and loudness option
on. By detuning 1 KHz away from a DX signal, the high frequencies are more pronounced. However, given that the PR-D15 selectivity curve is so relatively sharp, it is not recommended to de-tune more than 1 or 2 KHz maximum. By contrast, the PL-390 can be de-tuned up to ~ 3 KHz.
 
Sangean PR-D15 Supplied AC/DC Plug-Packs:
 
My PR-D15 was purchased from a local retailer in Sydney, hence both a 110-240v, and 240v AC/DC plug-packs were supplied. The 240v AC-DC plug-pack produces high-level hash, sufficient to wipe out the entire band apart from local signals. The 110-240v USA/Australia version plug-pack introduces high-level IMD. Touching the internal whip antenna increases the IMD. Suffice to say, both plug-packs are unusable for weak signal work with the PR-D15. Of course, where possible, battery (DC) operation is always preferred to minimise AC noise.
 
Sangean PR-D15 Pros:
 
Very High Sensitivity.
High and fast efficiency induction coupling to larger size loops.
High selectivity, especially for 9 and 10 KHz signals adjacent to locals.
Useful carry handle.
1 KHz minimum tuning steps.
Overload immunity in strong signal areas.
Relatively good quality audio (somewhat better than the PR-D5), and considerably better than the PL-390. But not as good as some portables.
Attractive modern uncluttered appearance.
Rechargeable battery option.
Efficient rotary tuning dial.
Low noise floor, i.e. no noticeable digital display hash, or internally-generated MW-band heterodynes.
 
Sangean PR-D15 Cons:
 
Soft mute volume reduction is too aggressive on very weak signals.
Unlike the PL-390, no accurate numerical digital signal display.
Digital display frequency doesn't permanently stay on.
Supplied two AC/DC power supplies generate unacceptable RF noise (50 Hz buzz), and IMD.

Conclusion:
 
The Sangean PR-D15 is an overall more capable DXing portable radio than the Tecsun PL-380 or PL-390. But the Tecsun's excellent numerical digital display signal strength meter makes up for the PR-D15's major short-fall. Hence I recommend the PR-D15 and a Tecsun ULR is an excellent combination for serious portable or home DX work.
 
Regards,
 

Todd
Sydney, AU

PS:

Tecsun PL-390 internally-generated MW-band heterodynes noted on grey colour version:
 
665 - 671 KHz
724 - 725 KHz
784 - 785
798 - 804
842 - 845
887 - 894
928 - 931
1031 - 1045
1141 - 1146
1194 - 1200
1243 - 1237
1311 - 1318
1337 - 1345
1356 =- 1364
1401 - 1435
1455 - 1461
1482 - 1487
1501 - 1515
1527
1559 - 1560
1571 - 1578
1598 - 1610



Todd
 

It's been some weeks now since I purchased the Sangean PR-D15. The only spurious signal received is on 1233 KHz from the local ethnic 1107 KHz Sydney TX. However, the Tecsun PL-390 also receives the same 1233 KHz spur. During the evening, skip signals (e.g. 1233 KHz Newcastle, NSW) completely override the spur on both the PR-D15 and PL-390.
 
These larger size portables with ~20 cm length internal ferrite rod, couple more efficiently to small loops such as the PK Loops TAM, Tecsun AN-100, and Grundig AN-200.

The MW soft-mute is more pronounced on the PR-D15 vs. the PL-390. 

The supplied two AC/DC plug-pack power supplies are horrendous noise generators at MW. Until a suitable plug-pack is proven to be well behaved at MW, DC battery operation is used.
 
The PR-D15 is notably more selective at MW compared to the PL-390. One evening, 1116 KHz Brisbane was buried in 1107 KHz Sydney adjacent channel splash, but the PR-D15 was able to resolve 1116 Brisbane with relatively good quality signal. This mirrors the observations of a fellow Sydney MW DXer, with his comments reproduced below.
 
Regards,
 
Todd


"I have my PR-D15 working today. I'm very impressed with its performance; equal to the Tecsun PL-390 on FM, if not a hair better, particularly since the PR-D15 has superior audio quality. Distant troposcatter signals such as Batemans Bay and Orange FM are easily resolved without detuning. The 10 kHz fine tuning option (as on the PL-390) enhances its selectivity further. Ts levels today are too poor to resolve 91.7 2ST next to 91.6 TCBL; detuning to 91.74 yields a splash free signal so it should be possible.

Groundwave MW is actually poorer on the PR-D15 when used 'barefoot'. However, when I bring my PK Loop in line, signals such as 549 kHz 2CR Orange are greatly enhanced. As we know, the PL-390 struggles to couple with the PK Loop. One notable drawback: I did notice a fair few images/spurs from the local MW transmitters which are not present on the PL-390. In any case, skywave signals should easily overpower them.

I think most of the spurs are from the ABC site at Prestons; the path from here to the TX traverses a stretch of water to my WNW, which would greatly enhance the signal. For example, the 2nd harmonic of 702 kHz (1404 kHz) is strongly audible on most of my receivers.

Initial skywave results were encouraging with a ~2 bar enhancement on certain distant signals provided by the PK TAM loop. 1035 kHz Wellington was very strong; the screamers on 1386 were weaker but good on peaks. I had two signals mixing on 1278- Melbourne and another- which was probably Newstalk ZB from New Plymouth. 1116 4BC was also quite clear, so the selectivity lives up to the hype.

In conclusion, the PR-D15 will probably be my portable radio of choice for home use, with the PL-390 more suitable for DXpeditions due to its much more compact size." 



keith beesley
 

Thanks, Todd, good to know.

Regards,

Keith Beesley
Seattle WA USA


On Friday, February 10, 2017 5:46 PM, "toddemslie@... [ultralightdx]" wrote:


 
It's been some weeks now since I purchased the Sangean PR-D15. The only spurious signal received is on 1233 KHz from the local ethnic 1107 KHz Sydney TX. However, the Tecsun PL-390 also receives the same 1233 KHz spur. During the evening, skip signals (e.g. 1233 KHz Newcastle, NSW) completely override the spur on both the PR-D15 and PL-390.
 
These larger size portables with ~20 cm length internal ferrite rod, couple more efficiently to small loops such as the PK Loops TAM, Tecsun AN-100, and Grundig AN-200.

The MW soft-mute is more pronounced on the PR-D15 vs. the PL-390. 

The supplied two AC/DC plug-pack power supplies are horrendous noise generators at MW. Until a suitable plug-pack is proven to be well behaved at MW, DC battery operation is used.
 
The PR-D15 is notably more selective at MW compared to the PL-390. One evening, 1116 KHz Brisbane was buried in 1107 KHz Sydney adjacent channel splash, but the PR-D15 was able to resolve 1116 Brisbane with relatively good quality signal. This mirrors the observations of a fellow Sydney MW DXer, with his comments reproduced below.
 
Regards,
 
Todd


"I have my PR-D15 working today. I'm very impressed with its performance; equal to the Tecsun PL-390 on FM, if not a hair better, particularly since the PR-D15 has superior audio quality. Distant troposcatter signals such as Batemans Bay and Orange FM are easily resolved without detuning. The 10 kHz fine tuning option (as on the PL-390) enhances its selectivity further. Ts levels today are too poor to resolve 91.7 2ST next to 91.6 TCBL; detuning to 91.74 yields a splash free signal so it should be possible.

Groundwave MW is actually poorer on the PR-D15 when used 'barefoot'. However, when I bring my PK Loop in line, signals such as 549 kHz 2CR Orange are greatly enhanced. As we know, the PL-390 struggles to couple with the PK Loop. One notable drawback: I did notice a fair few images/spurs from the local MW transmitters which are not present on the PL-390. In any case, skywave signals should easily overpower them.

I think most of the spurs are from the ABC site at Prestons; the path from here to the TX traverses a stretch of water to my WNW, which would greatly enhance the signal. For example, the 2nd harmonic of 702 kHz (1404 kHz) is strongly audible on most of my receivers.

Initial skywave results were encouraging with a ~2 bar enhancement on certain distant signals provided by the PK TAM loop. 1035 kHz Wellington was very strong; the screamers on 1386 were weaker but good on peaks. I had two signals mixing on 1278- Melbourne and another- which was probably Newstalk ZB from New Plymouth. 1116 4BC was also quite clear, so the selectivity lives up to the hype.

In conclusion, the PR-D15 will probably be my portable radio of choice for home use, with the PL-390 more suitable for DXpeditions due to its much more compact size." 




bbwrwy
 

Neither of these receivers are ultralight radios, and this review should not have appeared here.

Richard Allen,
near Perry OK USA.