Test of TECSUN PL-550 PLL radio


The PL-550 is manufactured by Tecsun. It is not available at retail in the U.S. and nearly all of the markings on the radio are in Chinese. The Tecsun is somewhat reminiscent of the old Sangean 803A, albeit much smaller physically. My evaluation unit came with a translated instruction sheet and diagrams of the radio with English markings on the various controls. I am most appreciative to HongKongRadioer for providing this documentation. Without it, figuring out the many features of this radio would have been quite time consuming.

The PL-550 is available regularly on E-Bay from some enterprising individuals who import them and then auction them off. Typical selling price is in the $60-75 range (this includes shipping).

The PL-550 provides the following coverage: MW (520 - 1710 kHz), SW (1711 - 29999 kHz), and FM (78 - 108 kHz). Sideband reception is not possible on this model. The radio checks in at 4.5" H x 7.5" W x 1.25" D and weighs approximately 1.25 lbs. with batteries installed.

There are several ways to tune the PL-550. Yes, it has a tuning knob…so you can tune it the old fashioned way if you wish. Tuning increment speed is variable (fast and slow). On MW, you can have the knob tune at 1 or 9/10 kHz increments. Your choice on FM is .05 /.10 MHz. On shortwave you can switch between 1 or 5 kHz.

Up/down buttons are available also. They move 9/10 kHz (MW), 5 kHz (SW) and .10 MHz (FM). Of course, direct frequency entry is provided through the 10-key keypad. Band-scanning is also provided. On all band/modes, one can engage auto-scanning which will take you to the next strongest signal and stop. When inside one of the 14 defined SW band segments, auto scan does not take you out of the segment. The PL-550 has a shortwave band select button. Pressing it takes you to the bottom of next defined shortwave band segment.

After you load your pre-sets loaded in, you can "scroll" through these by engaging the Freq/Preset button and using the up/down buttons.

Wait, there's more! You can also load in frequencies using the ATS (Automatic Tuning System) function. The PL-550 scans for FM and MW stations and loads up to 50 stations automatically into a reserved portion of memory. I suppose this would be a useful feature for someone on-the-go who wants to load up the stations that can be received in a new location.


Tecsun gives you the ability to set this according to your preference. These choices are available: 10 pages/50 pre-sets per page (10/50) or 20/25, 25/20, 50/10. The presets do not memorize filter settings. On the positive side, you can mix up the pre-sets from various bands/modes (SW/MW/FM) within a page. Beyond these 500 pre-sets, there are 50 additional memories apparently reserved for the ATS system.

The display is nice. The critical information, frequency and time, are displayed in big easy to see numerals. When the radio is on, a 5-position signal strength bar graph is displayed along with: Band/mode chosen (SW/MW/FM), bandwidth (narrow/wide), IF chosen (shortwave only), page/memory pre-set selected (this replaces the clock when chosen). When the radio is off, the bar graph switches to a battery meter. Additionally, you see the current time and alarm settings. A back light is provided on the PL-550, but it is pretty anemic.

Clock Features
Tecsun put some thought into the clocks. First off, you can choose between the 12 hour or 24 hour format. When the radio is on, the time appears in the upper right corner of the display. When the radio is off, the time takes center stage in large numerals in the middle of the display.

The PL-550 provides two alarms (A and B). When both of the alarms are not set, the most recent time settings for A & B are displayed alternatively in the upper right corner. If only A is set, then the time setting for A is shown along with an alarm icon. If both alarms are set, an icon is shown for both alarms and the display takes turns in showing you the time settings for both alarms. The alarm turns the radio on the frequency set for each alarm.

The sleep countdown timer is interesting. It can be set to shut off at any of the following: 1, 5, 10, 15, 30, 45, 60, 75, 90 and any 30 minute interval after that up to 480 minutes. The power button defaults to the last sleep setting unless you hold the button in when turning the radio on - this defeats the sleep timer.

The provided antenna for FM and SW is a telescoping fold-over whip (34.5"). MW reception is off the internal ferrite antenna. You can connect an external antenna to the 1/8" mini-jack. A feature not found on many portables is an antenna pre-selector control for shortwave (it has no effect on MW or FM).

The PL-550 runs on 4 AA cells. Tecsun provides 4 low capacity NiMH cells (1100 mAh). The radio has an internal charger. An AC adapter is provided, but it is a 220 volt adapter. A 110-220 volt transformer adapter is necessary to use this radio via AC in the U.S. and other 110 volt nations.

Other Features (not previously mentioned)
Narrow/Wide filter which is quite effective. Wide is very wide and I can't imagine any time that I would not have it in narrow. Lock button, flip stand, carrying strap, tone switch, wind up antenna for SW, earbuds and perhaps the worst smelling carrying case of all time (smells like recycled rubber soaked in kerosene??).

Shortwave - Coverage is fantastic (1711-29999 kHz) and I had no difficulty receiving major broadcasters. Weak signals were copied in the 11 meter CB band where portables often times struggle. Keep the filter setting to narrow. This is the first radio I have ever seen that allows you to vary the IF (455 or 450 kHz). More times than not, I found that the use of the 450 setting (and its fixed narrow filter setting) provided more intelligible copy on shortwave.

FM - The PL-550 proves to be quite nice on FM. I am able to receive a weak FM station on 88.9 that is typically overpowered by an urban powerhouse on 90.1. This is a good test of both sensitivity and selectivity in this location. You can set the radio to receive the FM band beginning at either 76 or 87 MHz.

MW (AM) - (520 - 1710 kHz) I would say that the PL-550 is well below average on medium wave. It is not very sensitive in my estimation. I have a local low power TIS station about 10 miles away that I use as a benchmark. The 550 barely produces any audio from this station. In terms of selectivity - nothing to brag about here either. My test for this is to see what kind of reception I get on stations at 1410 and 1460, on both sides of my local 1440 slopper. While I could discern some audio, it was not intelligible, even in the narrow filter setting. Users can set the radio to step in either 9 or 10 kHz increments. I did use the radio with a small MW loop antenna and it did significantly improve reception.

Since the radio's markings are in Chinese, a good idea would be to take a look at the translated Chinese to English layout of the PL-550 by clicking here. If you decide to get a PL-500, be sure to make a copy of this for handy reference. Also Eton has released the E10 which is more or less the PL-550 repackaged. The E10 user manual is essential for any PL-550 user since the PL-550's user manual is Chinese only. A E10's manual may be downloaded from Eton's website.













 Bottom Line
I will admit that it is hard for me to work up much enthusiasm for a portable shortwave radio that can't receive sideband, as that is important to me. Also, I am always on the look out for that super-hot MW portable radio. Well, the PL-550 cannot receive sideband and it isn't a firecracker on MW.

But despite that, I think I like this radio. Why? Well, it has a ton of features (550 memories, effective narrow filter, SW pre-selector, ability to tune via knob or up/down, external antenna, nice display, ability to define some of the functions, etc. And it isn't so bad on MW when you use a little loop. It can do a lot. A shortwave program listener who doesn't have serious demands for MW reception will really like the PL-550.

Despite the Chinese markings, after about 2-3 hours of use and referring to the English translation, I was able to master the PL-550.


[click on photos below to enlarge]



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