FM/AM/LW/SW/Audio Player with Bluetooth & Stereo Speakers
Tecsun has emerged over the past several years as one of the largest manufacturers of multiband portable radios and their latest H-501/H-501x is an interesting new addition to their very extensive lineup. Coming on the heels of their well-respected PL-990 and PL-330 the H-501 is unique in several ways including a high-tech 4-speaker stereo system and a switchable dual battery design utilizing two 18650 Li-ion batteries. Other notable features include auxiliary antenna inputs and the ability to disconnect the internal antennas on all bands, audio playback capability from a Micro-SD card and the ability to play digital computer audio through a USB connection. There is also an undocumented Bluetooth speaker function and with the H-501’s great sounding stereo speakers this is a worthwhile feature. The H-501 has much to recommend it as we will see. Currently $349 at US Amazon.
Features & Specifications:
MW/AM: 522-1620 KHz with 9 KHz/1 KHz tuning steps
520-1710 KHz with 10 KHz/1 KHz tuning steps
LW: 50-522 KHz or 100-519 KHz with 9 KHz/1 KHz tuning steps *
SW: 1711-29,999 KHz or 1621 – 29,999 KHz with 5KHz/1 KHz steps *
FM: 64/78/87/87.5 – 108 MHz 50/100/10 steps*/Easy Stereo-Mono switching by quick pressing FM key
(LW can be disabled if desired)
Single Sideband mode (SSB) with 10 Hz Tuning Steps
Multiple bandwidths: MW/LW: 9 KHz, 5 KHz, 3.5 KHz, 2.3 KHz
SW: 6 KHz, 5 KHz, 3.5 KHz, 2.3 KHz
SSB: 4 KHz, 3 KHz, 2.3 KHz, 1.2 KHz, 0.5 KHz
Three Position DX/Local/Normal switch
Fast and Fine-Tuning knobs
Direct Keypad frequency entry
Auto Scan Up or Down
ATS Auto Memory Storage/Manual Memory Storage & Management
3150 Station Memories in 25 Memory Pages
Display shows signal strength, S/N ratio, SW Meter band/time/alarm times/memory location/charging time/mp3 track number
Backlight has Auto and Locked On modes
24 Hour Clock with 2 Alarms/Snooze/Sleep modes
Bluetooth Speaker Mode*
Audio Player via SD Micro card supports 16bit/ 44.1khz WAV, FLAC, APE, WMA, MP3
FM Stereo thru built-in 4 speaker system
Bass and Treble controls
Dual 18650 Li-ion batteries with A/B Battery switch *(See text)
Aux Antenna Inputs All Bands – 2 Jacks – 1 for FM Antenna, 1 for AM/LW/SW
Stereo Headphone Out jack
Stereo Input/Output jacks (All the above are 1/8” mini Jacks)
USB Micro USB B Charging port
Computer Speaker mode via micro–USB Type B port
Metal folding tilt stand
Dimensions – Approx: 10.9” x 6.5” x 1.73” / 277 mm x 164 mm x 44 mm
The H-501 uses a combination of PLL and DSP design and features triple conversion on all AM bands for good image rejection.
This is just an overview of the features and specifications. For complete details and to aid initial setup be sure to read the well-written owner’s manual.
*One big omission from the specifications and the owner’s manual is that the H-501 DOES INDEED feature Bluetooth. Just hit the Mode button at the bottom of the front panel and there it is. I quickly paired the H-501 with my phone and started listening in great sound. Why this feature is not mentioned anywhere is a mystery and would seem to be an oversight. (I noted that the PL-990 also has BT and it is not mentioned anywhere I could find).
*H-501 vs H-501x: Just as with the recent PL-990, the H-501x is also available as the H-501 which is nearly identical. In a nutshell, when the AM channel steps are set to 10 KHz there is no difference. However, when set to 9 kHz MW steps, there are a few differences:
LW range is 50-522 kHz (H-501x) instead of 100-519 kHz (H-501)
SW range is 1621-29999 kHz (H-501x) instead of 1711-29999 kHz (H-501)
FM tuning steps are 50 kHz when set to 87.5 – 108 MHz (H-501x) instead of 100 kHz (H-501)
And according to info I got from Anna at anon-co-com, “It is of course still possible to tune into the 1621-1710 frequency range on an H-501, but for users outside of North/South America, they will first need to set the radio to 10 kHz MW steps, and then enter the MW.”
For simplicity I will refer to this radio as the H-501 but my comments will apply to both versions.
Initial Observations: I was immediately struck by the size of the H-501. Although less deep than Tecsun’s S-8800, it presents an impressive front view due to its relatively slim yet wide cabinet with stereo speakers flanking the central control/display area. The radio feels good to hold…which is not as silly as it sounds because listening to FM in stereo on this lap-sized radio is very enjoyable. With the radio sitting on my desktop the stereo effect is wonderful. The variable Bass and Treble controls are nice to have and the audio is full and well-balanced. The H-501 feels solid and is very attractive.
The packing is traditionally Tecsun with a nice faux leather carrying case (with handle), noise-blocking earbuds, a USB charging cable and a compact dual output AC Charging unit. Optionally, the radio can be purchased with a hard travel case.
Overall, the H-501 is a larger, stereo version of the PL-990 and other than the H-501’s larger size and stereo speakers this is pretty much the case. One feature I really like about the H-501 is its unique dual battery design. The radio runs on one standard rechargeable 18650 Li-ion battery, but there are two separate battery compartments and a rear panel slide switch to let you choose which battery is in the circuit. This is the battery the radio will use for power and the battery which will be charged when the unit is connected to a USB power source. Therefore, you have a backup battery you can switch to should the one you are using run out of power. Keep them both charged up and you will always have a spare ready to go at the flip of the switch…a very thoughtful new feature. I also liked the tuning feel with no muting or noises which makes band scanning a pleasure.
Ergonomics: If you have used other Tecsun radios you will find the H-501 has a strong family resemblance to them which makes it very user-friendly and easy to get to know. For example, you can directly input a frequency without having to hit any extra keys before or after…just hit 15240 or 590 and there you go…very nice. The H-501 also features separate Fast and Fine-Tuning knobs which make quick scanning and zeroing in on a signal very intuitive and quick. You can also easily spin these knobs with a fingertip which aids quick scanning and fine tuning. There is a constant on backlight setting which I like although I could wish for lighted buttons for use in the dark. It is easy to toggle between FM stereo and mono with a quick press of the FM button which is much simpler than many radios which require you to navigate a menu to do that. I also like that when scanning in SW it will scan one meter band after the next rather than repeating the scan in one meter band, although I admit this is a personal preference.
I noted one item not mentioned in the owner’s manual (again the same as with other Tecsuns); Scanning using the VF button can scan up or down depending on the last direction you manually tuned the radio. In other words, if you tune from 6000 to 5995, then initiate a scan it will scan downward. If, however you tune from 6000 to 6005 it will now scan upwards.
I also like the bandwidth setting methods. You can hit the BW button to toggle through the settings but you can also hit the BW button then scroll up or down through all the settings using the Fine Tune knob so you can instantly hear the effect of each filter making it very fast and easy to find the most suitable setting for what you are listening to.
The H-501 features a phenomenal 3150 Station Memories in 25 Memory Pages, and as with the PL-990 it can save them automatically with ATS scanning and you can add, delete and manage them with auto sorting and manually as well. There is no alpha tagging but you can set them up and re-arrange them however you like so it is a very usable system.
Hidden Features: Similar to some other Tecsuns, the H501 has a set of Hidden Features you can use to tailor some settings to your liking, and I’m happy to report that the H-501 performs very well with the default settings. I was also just made aware that the FM de-emphasis is changed by pressing the AM BW button while in FM mode. Pressing this button while the radio is Off will display every icon in the display. (The Hidden Features list is incorrect in that pressing the #5 button toggles the backlight on/off on the H-501).
Performance: I tested the H-501 first on its own, getting to learn the feel of the radio and becoming comfortable with its controls and features. I found no surprises as the radio follows the same protocols of other recent Tecsuns. I read the Owner’s Manual and performed the initial setup but after that everything seemed to fall into place.
As I mentioned already, I enjoyed the sound of FM in stereo through the radio’s high-tech 4-speaker system…the H-501 sounds terrific. I also listened to SW the first night and with some stronger signals the sound was impressive, sounding like local AM on some of my larger vintage radios. I have to admit I fell in love with the sound and feel of this radio. I then put the H-501 alongside several other radios including several other Tecsuns, an Eton Elite Field, Elite Executive and the Sangean ATS-909X2 to get a feel for how well it performs and I made some interesting observations.
AM Reception: When I pitted the H-501 against several other contemporary multiband radios the results were not quite what I expected. Comparing at least 30 frequencies covering the entire AM broadcast band, midday in a low noise location, I found that each radio sometimes beat the others in terms of extracting clear audio on a given station, generally a measure of the radio’s background noise floor. This is the best test of AM sensitivity. For extremely weak or trace signals this could be the difference between being able to understand what was being said or not – readability. For medium strength signals it is a measure of how much background hiss was beneath the audio. Although the radios were very similar on many stations the difference was rather dramatic on a few frequencies although I did note that the H-501 generally was more sensitive than the PL-990 above about 1300 KHz. There were variations from station to station on all of the radios which is why quick tests on only a few frequencies might be very misleading. The H-501 will rank *** on the AM Mega Shootout list which is good performance for a multiband radio although Tecsun’s S-8800 and the new Sangean ATS-909X2 sometimes beat it. In many cases though the H-501 is good enough that the limiting factor in your AM reception will be your local noise floor (RFI).
I also noted that each radio had a few frequencies with some spurious noises generated within the radio. Usually these were fairly subtle and I was able to achieve good reception on the H-501 by slightly side-tuning. At night with the dial full of stronger signals I logged all the distant AM reception I am accustomed to and found the H-501 a pleasure to use and listen to…a nice nighttime AM performer. Its multiple bandwidths were a treat and the radio’s great sound also contributed to the positive experience while the AGC did a good job of minimizing the rapid fluttering common with fading signals.
The H-501 is one of the relatively few current multiband portables that allow the use of external antennas on all bands including the AM and LW bands with the internal antennas disconnected. I tried the ‘501 with several AM antennas via a direct connection and it responded very well to them…fans of external antennas will like the H-501. It also worked well with small passive AM loops used inductively.
No Soft Muting: I was also happy that I could side-tune with no reduction in volume on all bands which indicates that the DNR or Soft Muting are off by default…great!
SW: Shortwave reception was a bit more consistent among all of the radios in this group of admittedly quality sets although there were differences. I tested both daytime and nighttime and the H-501 was a top performer on SW along with the Eton Elite 750, Tecsun S-8800, Tecsun s-2000 and Sangean ATS-909X2…it seemed that in general smaller radios were a bit less sensitive perhaps partly due to their shorter whip antennas. In the daytime there were of course far fewer signals and many were quite weak and I found that moving a radio a foot or two here or there could make some signals come and go. Also, attaching a short wire antenna to the radios provided a noticeable increase in sensitivity and more difference than I found in any of the radios themselves. At night with many stronger signals the H-501’s multiple bandwidths were very useful and I occasionally used the Local/DX switch to good effect when using an external SW antenna. The H-501 is an excellent SW portable.
SSB: The H-501’s SSB performance is good for a portable. With 10 Hz tuning resolution it is easy to achieve natural audio recovery and often reducing the signal strength improved the clarity on some SSB signals. ECSS mode also worked well.
Synchronous Detection: Unfortunately, Tecsun doesn’t seem to have gotten the message that sync should not make the radio sound filtered and poor. Although the H-501’s sync lock is adequate the audio in sync mode is so unpleasant as to render it a cure that is worse than the disease. Many have wondered why Tecsun has a sync circuit which works fairly well and sounds good in the PL-660 and PL-680 but other Tecsuns with sync have this strange implementation of it. While it not a game ender for me (because its use is optional) it remains a mystery.
FM: The H-501 has an excellent DSP FM tuner and since it is the only radio in this group with stereo speakers it will be the obvious choice for FM music lovers although it is unfortunate that it does not have RDS as the Sangean ATS-909X2 and some of the Eton models do. I compared several top current production portables with DSP FM tuners and their FM performance was extremely similar as you might expect as many are based on the same or similar DSP chips. This is a Five Star FM Tuner. There were the usual minor variations from channel to channel I noted on other bands. In particular the Sangean ATS-909X2 sometimes was just a hair more selective but usually the difference was fairly subtle. Today’s top of the line FM DSP tuners are superb overall and should do well in most areas with today’s crowded FM band conditions.
The Micro SD Card Audio Player works well and of course sounds excellent. My only complaint is that Fast Scan forward and reverse only works at twice normal speed. This is OK if you’re only listening to 4 minute songs but for use with 30 minute programs it is very slow. A faster scan speed would be wonderful.
Sound Quality: Many people will tell you that audio is highly subjective and although that is partially true it is also true that there are objective qualities of audio that can be recognized and quantified. Of course, the H-501 is exciting with its stereo speakers and listening to FM in stereo can be lots of fun compared with listening in mono assuming you are close enough to hear the stereo effect. I do wonder though why Tecsun does not mention the Bluetooth function in their specifications because the H-501 is a natural for BT – of course there is also a Line In jack that can be used to feed stereo audio into the radio from another source. The H-501 is one of the best sounding radios in this group along with Tecsun’s S-8800 and Eton’s Elite Field/Field BT. It offers full, rich audio and separate bass and treble controls to allow you to tailor the audio as needed.
FYI on battery life per charge. The H-501’s stereo amplifiers can draw lots of current when the radio is played very loudly, especially with bass-heavy music. Because of this, battery life per charge is extremely dependent on how loudly you listen…perhaps more so than with some other radios. Played at normal (medium or lower volume), the H-501 battery life is good (and with the backup battery you have that extra backup of a second battery), but be aware that if you really crank the volume to high levels, playing time per charge will be dramatically shortened, even causing the radio to switch off due to low battery voltage, yet you can turn the radio back on at lower volume and get many hours of further play time.
The Tecsun H-501 is one of today’s top multiband portables. It offers many features, some of them unique and overall performance can’t be faulted in any area. All in all, its combination of features, performance and good ergonomics combine to provide a great user experience.
Or At anon-co.com below: