Tecsun S-8800 AM/LW/SW/FM Field Radio With Remote
Tecsun S-8800 AM/LW/FM/SW/SSB Portable Radio
This is a 2021 update to my original review of the Tecsun S-8800 published in 2017.
With the arrival of several excellent new radios from Tecsun such as the PL-330, PL-990 and H-501, I decided it was time to re-evaluate the S-8800 as these four are my personal favorites from Tecsun’s incredibly extensive line. Looking at anon-co.com there are dozens of models at every price point, feature set and performance level, several of which I happen to own so I have first-hand experience with many of them. To be sure several models have specific qualities that may be of special importance to some users, but the four above are the ones that seem to offer a good balance of performance and value. I have also been told that SWLing.com learned about a list of Hidden Features I was not aware of before so I will include that as well.
In an age where manufacturers seem to be producing increasing numbers of inexpensive radios of every conceivable description this Tecsun clearly takes aim at what has become the higher end of the portable radio segment. Initial prices were higher as usual but have settled down to about $258 at anon-co.com. The S-8800 has a rather complete feature set along with a few innovations which we’ll discuss, but first here are the basics:
DSP/PLL/ Hybrid design
Class A/B type power amplifier/”ultra-dynamic full-range” 4” speaker
Bass & Treble Rotary Controls
Remote Control for direct station entry and most other functions
FM: (Selectable) Tuning Steps 10 KHz/100 KHz
64 – 108 MHz
76 – 108 MHz
87 – 108 MHz
88 – 108 MHz
LW: 100 – 519 kHz (tuning step 1 kHz or 9 kHz)
522 – 1620 kHz (band step 9/1kHz for Asia / Africa / Europe)
520 – 1710 kHz (band step 10/1 kHz for Americas)
1711 – 29999 kHz (tuning step 1 kHz or 5 kHz) with SSB (Single Sideband mode)
SSB tuning steps: 10 Hz / 1 kHz
Tuning Knob for manual tuning
Auto scan tuning with 5 second stop on each station
Direct frequency entry using the remote control
Station Storage Methods:
Manual storage: tune into stations manually and store them
Semi-auto storage: choosing which stations to save during auto scan
Auto Tuning Storage (ATS): automatically tune into and store stations
FM-stereo via headphones or Line Out
Adjustable shoulder or hand carrying belt
650 station memories
Stored stations memory browsing
Auto Sorting Memory: Sorts all stored stations according to frequency and removes duplicate station frequencies.
LCD backlight (Automatic 5-second or continuous illumination)
Multi-functional Digital Display shows:
– Frequency & SW meter band
– Signal strength indicator
– Stored station location
– Clock & Alarm time
– Battery indicator & charging time
Clock/Alarm time (24H-format)
Sleep timer (1-120 minutes)
Alarm clock (by radio)
Alarm Off Timer (1-90 minutes): auto turn off radio after alarm
Charcoal grey metal knobs
Separate tuning and fine-tuning knobs
AM IF bandwidth selection (2.3, 3.0, 4.0, 6.0 kHz)
SSB bandwidth selection (0.5, 1.2, 2.3, 3.0, 4.0 kHz)
Local / DX Gain switch
Low-impedance (50Ω) FM/SW BNC female antenna socket
High-impedance (500Ω) spring clip terminals for LW/MW/SW antenna and ground
Line Out Jack: Dual RCA Phono Jacks/ (Note: The manual says the Line Out level is volume controllable but it is a fixed output level as it should be)
Headphone Jack: Stereo 1/8”/3.5mm mini jack
Reset Button (Underneath Tuning Knob)
Power supply: Two 18650 lithium (Li-ion) rechargeable batteries with individual Go/No Go indicator LEDS in battery compartment
Charging: DC (5V / 1A) USB mini-B charging socket (USB charging cable supplied for connection to a computer or external DC charger with USB socket
Remote Control Unit: Two AAA’s (included)
Unit size 272 x 173 x 88 mm/10.7 x 6.8 x 3.5 inches
Remote control with two AAA batteries
USB charging cable
Two 18650 Li-ion batteries (see seller for shipping prohibitions)
Tecsun S-8800 Hidden Features: As with many Tecsun radios there are several settings which can be controlled but are (inexplicably) not referenced in the Owner’s Manual.
Before the radio will accept commands from the remote it must be placed in standby mode. Turn it on, then off, then proceed with the below settings. The Signal Indicator Sensitivity adjustment took a few attempts before it worked.
Backlight setting – In power-off mode, press and hold [ 2 ] on the remote until the display shows “On” or “Off”, to change the backlight setting to always-on or auto-off. In the auto-off setting the backlight turns on after pressing a button or using a tuning knob, and turns off automatically after a few seconds.
DNR (Dynamic Noise Reduction – In the AM band (LW, MW, SW), first press and hold [ 4 ] on the remote to activate this feature. The display will show “ON” or “Off”. Make sure that it is turned on. Subsequently, press and hold [ 6 ] on the remote until the display shows “ON” (DNR activated) or “OFF” (DNR deactivated). I recommend you leave it Off.
FM De-emphasis Time Constant – While receiving FM broadcasts, long press [ 5 ] on the remote to adjust the de-emphasis setting to 75 micro-seconds (for the US) or 50 microseconds (other countries)
Adjusting the signal indicator sensitivity:
- Enter FM, LW, MW or SW band
- Select a weak station.
- Press [ 7 ] on the remote for about 0.5 seconds.
- Rotate the main tuning knob immediately to adjust the bars of the signal indicator.
- Press any button for confirmation or auto save after 2 seconds.
While making the adjustment in step 4, the value in the top-right corner of the screen changes. The factory default value is supposedly around “6” for FM and SW: 6, and around 16 for MW. The adjustment range is -99 – 99.
Add Seconds to the Clock – With the device turned off, press and hold [ 8 ] on the remote to add seconds to the clock. Press and hold [ 8 ] again to hide the seconds from the clock.
Adjust the FM soft muting threshold – While in FM, press and hold [ 9 ] on the remote for about 2 seconds until the current level (probably around level 5) appears in the main display area. Then adjust it by rotating the tuning knob and then press [ 9 ] again to confirm the setting. I recommend you leave this off.
Initial Observations: There was certainly a lot to take in after checking this long list of features and specs and I will say that Tecsun has produced one of the best owner’s manuals I have seen in a long time. Luckily the S-8800 is intuitive enough to use right out of the box but I did have to check a few things in the manual to get set up. As always, I did end up reading the entire booklet…you will certainly miss a few details if you don’t. Always read the manual! For example, you would never know to look under the Tuning Knob to find the reset button, or the function of the two Test LED’s in the battery compartment. And of course, there are other functions you won’t know about without the checking the manual. You can download the manual online.
I find it interesting that Tecsun chose to build this sophisticated radio into the same cabinet as the now vintage BCL-2000/BCL-3000 radios which were also sold under many other names such as the Eton/Grundig S-350 series. Not that there is anything wrong with this design – quite the contrary. This form factor is both familiar and convenient and has become very popular as the so-called “Field Radio” design which was reinvigorated when the BCL-2000 was introduced back in 2004. My only concern whatsoever is that the resemblance is only skin deep…the new S-8800 is a far more sophisticated, much higher performing radio in many ways and I want people to know it shares nothing other than outward appearance with those earlier designs which, while they were high “fun factor” radios, suffered severe image and drift problems which are completely non-existent in this new model.
The S-8800 ships with a standard USB to USB mini-B cable which can be plugged into a PC or USB charger – no AC charger is supplied. The specs call for a 1A charger. While this might be considered a negative, most of us have collected several USB chargers and I found an old cell phone USB charger rated at 1 amp output which charged the batteries fully in a few hours. Any standard USB power source should work fine of course, although some may require a longer charge time. I connected the radio to my USB-2 equipped PC and found it took about 4:15 to do a full charge.
Hybrid DSP/PLL Analog Design/A Look Inside: The S-8800 boasts Triple Conversion on SW which pretty much guarantees that there will be no image problems here and indeed I observed none during my tests. Tecsun has decided to utilize a combination of DSP (Digital Signal Processing) circuits along with traditional analog circuits but it took some digging to see where DSP is used. I took a look inside and discovered that the AM/SW contains both types. Looking at these pictures along with the specs given in the manual we see that most of the AM/SW circuitry is PLL/analog along with the 1st and 2nd IF’s, while the 3rd IF is DSP. All appear to be well-shielded and labeled and construction quality looks very good. I did not locate the DSP chip and decided not to remove any of the shield covers to do so. The FM would appear to be DSP and my performance tests seem to back up that assumption.
The remote control is perhaps the most unusual and welcome feature. It not only adds direct entry of frequency which has been lacking in other Field radios but allows almost all of the radio’s functions to be controlled, from band and bandwidth selection to fast/slow tuning, memory functions, SSB mode, volume and much more. About the only functions you can’t control from the remote are bass and treble adjustment, time/alarm setting and master volume. To explain that, what I’m calling the “Master Volume” is the knob on the radio itself. You initially set it to maximum or whatever volume you feel is the loudest you will ever use, say, the one o’clock position, then the remote allows you to reduce that volume down to zero in 30 steps – it reads out on the display from 30-0. There have been many situations where the remote control was very useful…I love it!
Both the radio itself and the remote have a nice, solid feel. Tuning via the knobs is silky smooth and the ability to switch from the main tuning knob which tunes in fast increments to the smaller fine-tuning knob which tunes slowly and continuously allows excellent flexibility for band scanning and fine tuning with no muting…thank you! You can also fast or slow tune with the remote which has dedicated Fast and Slow tune buttons…Tecsun got this right. This radio is wonderful to tune offering the perfect analog feel along with digital precision. In fact, during my tests I compared the S-8800 with my C. Crane CC-SW and Eton Field 550 and now that we have a Field radio with a keypad and direct frequency entry I found it frustrating trying to change frequencies quickly on the two older models…the Tecsun is just so quick and easy by comparison.
Another plus is that you can defeat the DNR or Soft Muting which plagues so many otherwise good radios. Soft Muting is a feature of many DSP chips which attempts to reduce noise between stations but in use tends to undo the benefits of AGC (Automatic Gain Control) and to produce unwanted volume surging and muting. Luckily, DNR can be completely disabled using one of the Hidden Features and I recommend you do so.
Power Standby Mode: One point explained in the manual is that you must initially turn the radio on using the Power button on the radio itself. After that you can turn it on or off with the remote control, but if you leave the radio off for an hour the radio shuts down entirely and will have to once again be turned on by the front panel Power button. This is unavoidable in a battery-powered portable. Standby mode – the ability to receive signals from the remote – uses battery power. If the radio stayed in standby mode the battery would be drained so it can’t remain on permanently as it is in AC powered devices. In use I didn’t find this much of a drawback. Let’s face it…the fact that the S-8800 even has a remote sets it apart from other portables and this is a small price to pay. One idea Tecsun might want to consider though is adding a way to dock that remote, perhaps on the back of the radio. You could do this with Velcro so when carrying the radio about you wouldn’t have to carry two items…just an idea.
No Synchronous Detection: I must admit it is hard to understand why sync was not an included feature, especially since Tecsun has an effective sync circuit in its PL-660/PL-680 models. But sync is an on-again/off-again thing with Tecsun since it is not present in their S-2000/Satellit 750 and is less-than-ideal as deployed in some of their other models. It’s not a game-ender for me.
Performance: There is no doubt the new S-8800 is loaded with features but at this price point buyers are going to expect top performance and for the most part they are going to get it. In fact, all bands proved very capable and are as good as it gets in any current production multiband portable radio I have seen. Here is Tecsun’s description:
“A new, high performance DSP BCL radio receiver … aimed squarely at AM listeners! When we say long-neglected, it’s true: manufacturers seem to have gone out of their way to improve reception for FM listeners and even provided many more “bells and whistles” for short wave and even long wave enthusiasts. But to a large degree, AM reception has been much the same for many years. And that’s a pity, because despite what you might think, AM radio hasn’t lost much (if any) of its popularity and many listeners, particularly in “the bush” have been crying out for a decent AM radio. They might just have one with the Tecsun S-8800.” (Courtesy TecsunRadios.com.au)
The reality is that the S-8800’s AM performance, while not quite achieving 4 or 5 star performance is as good as any other multiband portable currently available, and better then many, ranking *** in the AM Mega Shootout List. Overall I am very happy with the S-8800 AM’s performance for a multiband portable. Of course, a small loop or external antenna like one of these improves this markedly bringing the S-8800 up to Five Star AM performance.
http://amzn.to/26m4hzV or http://amzn.to/1qJ31pX
The S-8800 also seemed to excel at impulse noise rejection compared to many current portables- I turned on a window fan which generates a bit of static and noticed that the S-8800 seemed to ignore that noise better than several other radios I compared it with.
*Now – that caveat.
Birdies – A Moving Target: Initial reviews revealed the presence of several birdies on AM and SW…internally generated noises that can mar reception on certain frequencies. Later reports indicated these may have been somewhat mitigated but unfortunately my sample has a few of them. I tuned slowly across the entire AM band and found six birdies…most were het-like tones but one was a seemingly dead carrier, which gave full signal meter reading but no sound. But oddly, the next day when I tried to verify their frequencies they had all shifted higher in frequency. As an example, the first birdie I found covered frequencies from 558 – 565 KHz, and could be heard behind a semi-local station on 560. But the next day I found that 560 was clear…no birdie, so I scanned slowly and found this birdie had moved to a range between 565-574 KHz. The third time I checked it was now 567-577 KHz. I think this drift of the birdies was caused by changes in temperature. Possibly, battery voltage plays a part as well, although I think that Li-ion batteries put out a fairly constant voltage over most of their discharge range.
I may be lucky but it seems those birdies seldom bother the stations I listen to most often and usually I could side-tune just a bit to eliminate it, but if one happens to exist on a frequency that’s important to you it might be hard to live with. And even if not, I would sure be happier for general band scanning if they were not there. (I have since heard that these birdies have been addressed but I have not tested a newer sample myself).
LW: I am not in an area where there is much to hear on LW except for DX’ing but there are some utility signals I can receive and the S-8800 seemed to hear them just fine compared with a few other radios I compared it with. I would say it seemed pretty good on LW but will leave more precise LW reports to others.
SW Performance was excellent. This radio features Triple Conversion on SW which results in none of the images which plagued the earlier BCL series radios. Using the whip antenna, I did several daytime band scans comparing the S-8800 side by side with several familiar radios including the Tecsun S-2000/Grundig Satellit 750, the Tecsun H-501, PL-990, PL-880, PL-660, Eton/Grundig Satellit Executive, the Eton Field 550 and BT and a Sony ICF-7600GR. The S-8800 matched or beat them overall…it always held its own against the competition and here and there it was just slightly better. I would say it is as good as it gets in a currently-made portable radio for SW reception.
I also tried SSB mode with great results. It was very easy to tune for natural audio, even from the remote; the fact that the Fine-Tuning knob and the Fine Tuning on the remote are continuous makes it very easy to tune SSB. You only have to get close enough to hear the signal with the Main Tuning Knob or Fast Tuning on the remote, then rotate the Fine Tuning or use the Slow Tuning on the remote until you’re there. SSB reception was stable with good AGC characteristics that did not create unnatural surging or distortion and it was very easy to tune for best audio. Occasionally, shortening the whip or using the Local switch position made for clearer SSB reception of stronger signals. I was not bothered by any birdies on SW…the S-8800 should delight SW listeners.
FM Performance was also excellent, rating Five Stars on the FM Mega Shootout list. Selectivity was superb as with most of today’s DSP FM tuners – the S-8800 had no trouble separating closely packed stations on the dial, and sensitivity to very weak FM signals was excellent. Capture ratio also competed with my best reference radios…many frequencies revealing multiple stations that could be received by reorienting the whip antenna or moving the radio. The S-8800 ran with the best in these tests.
External Antennas: The S-8800 has a BNC jack for a low impedance SW or FM antenna and spring clips for a high impedance AM antenna. You cannot disable the internal ferrite rod AM antenna. I first compared the Tecsun with my reference Grundig Satellit 800 and Eton E1 connected to my Wellbrook ALA-330S amplified loop. This caused a slight logistics problem because I use the Wellbrook for AM and SW and with the S-8800 this required a different connection for each mode. I ended up using an A/B switch to alternately connect the antenna to either of the S-8800’s inputs and this worked fine. The S-8800 performed wonderfully with the external antenna and although it did not quite match the more sophisticated reference radios on a few faint signals, it performed just as well on most of things I could receive and it was as good or better than any current multiband portable in this test which is great performance. There were some signs of SW overload at night as on most of the other portables but the Local/DX switch completely eliminated it.
I also used an attic-mounted FM antenna and the S-8800 worked well with it – the antenna gave a boost in reception over the whip on FM on many signals but since the attic antenna is omni-directional some signals were better with the whip since I could adjust it for them. In my location the whip antenna brings me all I need – for a more serious FM antenna one would need a directional antenna and a rotor.
Sound Quality was very satisfying. In general, these Field radios (large lunchbox size) have pleasing audio. The sound is a bit on the mellow side but I think most people will like the nicely balanced, powerful sound you will get from the S-8800. You can listen to it all day without fatigue.
One last point is that the Battery Meter gives a good idea of how much charge is remaining…it drops from Full to Empty very gradually. During my testing period I used the radio for several hours each day and generally got three days between charges…you may get several more if you only use it an hour or two each day. It was always clear how much more life was left before the next charge was needed.
Conclusion: The Tecsun S-8800 is a worthy contender in the Field Radio (aka Lunchbox-sized) arena. Is it perfect? No. But what radio is? For example, the Eton Elite Field/Field BT has slightly crisper audio, but weaker AM reception at the top of the band, and no keypad for direct frequency entry. The (sadly) discontinued Redsun RP-2100/C. Crane CC-SW also have strong audio, but again, no keypad and they don’t tune as much like an analog radio as the Tecsun does. Of course, neither has remote control nor the S-8800’s huge list of features. Even Tecsun’s S-2000/Eton/Grundig Elite 750 do not match the S-8800 on AM, they don’t match its audio, nor do they tune as smoothly and nicely as the S-8800 which also boasts more sophisticated, more symmetrical IF filters.
In other words, although I hope the birdie issue has been resolved, I don’t find it a deal-breaker on my early production sample. I do hope that someday Tecsun and other manufacturers of worldband portables will be able to build an AM tuner that can compete with Four and Five Star AM radios such as the C. Crane CC-2E/CC-3, CC-EP-Pro or some or our favorite vintage radios. Nevertheless there is a lot to like about the Tecsun S-8800. It has a long list of superiorities along with features available on few if any other radios.
See it at: https://www.anon-co.com
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