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.
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.
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.
Other Features (not previously mentioned)
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.
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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