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N9EWO test of 4 "Sweet and Sour" Chinese Portables
KCHIBO KK-S500
Tecsun PL-600 (now improved)
Tecsun PL-450
Degen DE-1104

Kchibo KK-S500
It's Sync really "Stink"
(N9EWO Photo)


Kchibo KK-S500

Serial number of test sample : 1051052x

A Very Pretty and Solid Radio, Batteries A Pain To Deal With.

The Kchibo KK-S500 is for the most part very solidly made. Very attractive with a brushed aluminum insert that covers most of the front part of the plastic cabinet. The tuning knob (encoder) is on the front of the set and was pleasant to see the excellent placement.

It comes with an above average case too. It’s thicker than those thin cloth ones that are included with most Degen’s receivers these days. But it too has the aroma of a tire factory.

Battery cover is not hinged. Whip antenna appears to be rugged enough with a bit larger tip on the end than what you normally see. The 3 AA batteries are hard to insert, making replacement difficult. It’s the way the lower 2 have cells to be inserted.

But if one uses the included ni-mh rechargeable batteries and built in charger, this is less of a concern as one will not be making as many battery changes.

Chinese Markings and No Printed English Manual, Takes 2 Pokes Of the Power Button. Sleep Timer Well Implemented.

Our test sample of the Kchibo KK-S500 the panel markings were just about entirely in Chinese. No official printed version of the manual appears to exist in English. However the ebay seller provided a simple 21 page translated PDF version via email. However it’s simplistic and contains such broken English that is sometimes is impossible to follow. It’s the “better than nothing syndrome” as this model was never intended to be exported outside China ?

It’s generally easy to use once you figure out what button does what.

To fire up this radio it takes 2 taps of the power button to make happen from a cold start. The first push turns on the LED back light and the second actually does it.

Thank good ness the power up “forced sleep timer” that has hit so many Chinese sets over the years does not exist. But if one keeps the power button pressed down on the second “Power On” tap, THEN one can set the sleep timer (keep tapping it right after) down from the default 90 minutes down to 10 minutes (in 10 minute steps).

Very Good Sensitivity Including FM,. Total Coverage With FM Down to 76 MHz Too.

Sensitivity is very good on all bands. And speaking of those bands the KK-S500 has no gaps on SW (1620 to 29999 kHz), MW is from 522 to 1620 kHz. FM has extended coverage from 76 to 108 MHz and as is normally the case is in Stereo via the headphone jack.

This receiver does not cover the LW band in any way.

As will be covered later on, we were unable to test the 10 kHz MW step in North America. But the radio will cover the extended MW portion but having to use the SW band to get it done.

No Images, Or Other Weird Signals Expect For Local MW signal In Spots. Frequency Display Off On SW and MW.

Dual Up Conversion is being used (1st IF of 55.845 MHz), and this gives for excellent image rejection on SW.

The only real weird gremlin we noticed was a local 1 kW MW station bleeding into the SW part of the set. But this was only when a better antenna was connected and only once in awhile.

Frequency display was found to be approx. 1.5 kHz low on the SW and MW bands. FM was OK.

Selectable MW Step Not Working On Our Test Sample

Some strange instructions were given that should have allowed the MW step to be switched form the default 9 kHz step to the 10 kHz step used in North America.

We were unsuccessful to make this happen after many attempts. So were unable to tell if this really is capable or the 10 kHz spacing or not on MW ??

Thanks good ness there is a 1 kHz step that allowed up to at allow least tuning MW signals with the knob, slewing buttons or keypad.

Buttons Feel Good, Tuning Knob, Other Tuning Methods, Scanning

All buttons have a good tactile feel.

The tuning knob has detents for each step and but has more rotational play between these steps than we feel it should have. So’s it has a bit of a sloppy feel to it.

It also this knob does not stick out very far from the cabinet (it’s too thin) and one can really not grab onto this “disc” knob and is forced to use the not very deep speed dimple. It’s OK here but there is room for improvement.

You can scan up and down the band with auto stop. One is also able to scan the memory channels by hitting the M key just right of the LCD.

Up-Down slewing buttons are also provided. There is a buzz heard on lower frequencies when any key is pressed. Also a slight synthesizer buzz on the very lowest frequencies (2~3 MHz) mixed in, but was not found to be a issue as most signals covered it up.

Tuning steps with the tuning knob are either 1 or 5 kHz on SW. MW is either 9 kHz (or 10 kHz if the MW toggle was to work) or 1 kHz. FM is either 1 MHz or 100 kHz. Slewing buttons on SW is either 100 kHz or 5 kHz. MW is either 9 kHz (or 10 kHz if it was working) or 100 kHz. On FM it’s 1 MHz or 100 kHz again. Very well thought out indeed for tuning steps and no finicky VRIT circuit either.

1000 Non-Volatile Memories, Clock 24 Hour Only

More memories than anyone could ever use. 1000 total that are broken up into 600 for SW, 200 for MW and the last 200 for FM. 10 memories for each page, so SW has 60 pages, MW 20 and FM another 20. There is no alpha tag feature that the Degen DE1121 (Kaito KA1121), or eton e5 (Grundig g5) both have.

These memories are not backed up via any battery, so one should never loose them . Once the batteries are removed, you have 10 minutes (not the 15 as given in the PDF manual) to change these out until the clock and calendar will need resetting.

The clock display is separate from the frequency readout and once you turn it off, you also get the day, month and year displayed on the top line.

Clock only provides 24 hour format.

Limited Dynamic Range, AC Adapter Creates Hum

Dynamic range is OK when using it’s own whip antenna or a short wire clipped to the whip. But when any real external (outdoor) antenna is used, overloading occurs and depending how high the signals are across the tuned band, even switching in the one level attenuator doesn’t always cure it (say the 49 mb at night).

The provided 110 vac (voltage as it was marked) AC adapter included with the set actually uses a analog (non switching) IC regulator inside. However using this with any indoor antenna, we experienced a heavy hum mixed with signals as it lacks disc ceramic capacitors across the power diode rectifiers.

Using with any external antenna this was not an issue.

Single Bandwidth Filter, Muffled Audio on SW and MW, Poor Sync Detector Which Screeches Like An Old Regenerative Set.

A single bandwidth filter is used and if the selectable sideband sync detection were to work properly it would have done the trick nicely. Alas, it doesn’t. The sync detection has a hard time keeping locked even on a strong signal with little fading. As one can figure, with weaker stations that have lots of fading this becomes a howling nasty time. When the sync looses lock it howls to make ones ears shoot into pain.

Sync does not turn off either as you tune about, so you have to shut it off when tuning around. With the frequency display being off on our sample we had to mis-tune down 1 kHz to make it lock. It only has about a 2 kHz lock range. Another royal pain indeed if one is using the 5 kHz tuning step.

For someone who is not too critical, one may be able to put up with the unlocking on strong signals with hardly ANY fading. But for many it will get on ones nerves and shut it off even at that.

The Kchibo KK-S500's audio on the SW and MW bands is on the muffled side (FM is fine). Using the sync helps slightly to maybe make it slightly crisper sounding. But not always as one side band tends to sound really muffled. But this is all for nothing as most will just turn the sync off all together.

SSB mode is not to be found at all.

Excellent LCD Backlighting, However Flickers In Use and No Continuous Mode Even On Adapter, Icons Are Super Small

LCD backlighting is absolutely beautiful in a nice color green that really works. The fly in the soup here is that it flickers a bit in use and cannot be put into a continuous mode when say connected to the AC adapter. It’s timed for 10 seconds after the last button or knob is turned. Then it shuts off no matter what.

The Frequency and clock/calendar numbers are more than large enough, but as far as the rest of the icon’s on the LCD goes...almost forget it. They are super small and very difficult to make out.

S-Meter Useless, 2 Event Radio On Timer

It was most welcomed to see a S meter on a portable in this class. Even the praised Sony ICF-7600GR is lacking a real signal strength indicator.

There is a vertical bar type signal meter on the right side of the LCD. It appears to have 10 bars. In reality it turns out to be only a 5 step signal strength meter (2 per step). But this really means nothing as this meter pins on just about every signal, weak or strong, even just with noise. It about as useless as the sync detector.

A 2 event timer is provided. You can only set the “on” time. The off time is preprogramed for 2 hours and cannot be changed. This is a clock radio type, and no buzzer is provided.

Not a Worthy Portable For It’s Sync Or Audio Quality.

The Kchibo KK-S500 is a sensitive portable just using it’s whip and can be a plus in parts of the world were signals are weak. However even with the Sync Detection using selectable sideband it especially unlocks excessively with weaker signals. If one desires better Sync performance in the same size package the Sony ICF-7600GR is a better choice. However the Sony lacks a tuning knob , but it’s sync overall works much better but at about double the price too.

Dave N9EWO
N9EWO
Ver 2.0


Tecsun PL-600
Distorted Audio on LW, MW and SW Bands.
It has been reported that with later samples , this bug has been fixed (not tested) ??

(N9EWO Photo)


Tecsun PL-600

(Important Note / Update : Test sample was from the first production run. Also a 220 VAC power adapter (not multi voltage) was included with this receiver. We were unable to run testing with any AC adapter in use (batteries only). It's been reported that new versions have the LW-MW-SW audio distortion bug fixed , however we have not tested this.

The Tecsun PL-600 is a larger compact at 7 1/4 x 4 x 1 inches.

It general operation layout is very similar to it’s lesser version PL-450 (review below), but here we have SSB mode and 2 radio timers (only one on the PL-450). The BFO has a rotary control that includes a light feeling center dimple. And just like the 450 there are 2 well chosen bandwidths and the 600's non volaille memory channels that even remember the bandwidth and the mode. This is SSB or AM as there is no separate USB and LSB selections available.

Good ergonomics and ease of use and the buttons have a good feel. However, they are a bit too flat and the PL-450’s buttons were a bit more desirable in testing.

Clock is displayed separate from the frequency, and when off the frequency part of the display becomes the time and where the time was shows the alarm time (flashes between timer 1 and timer 2). Seconds display are not available.

LCD is large and most icons are easy to see. However as is the case with other Tecsun receivers over the years it’s background is dark and one is forced to use the good back light most of the time (unless you are in very bright light or in direct sunlight).

Sensitivity is good all around and for more kick the included wire can be connected. It’s noticeability better over the PL-450 on the FM band.

External antenna jack works on SW and FM (not on MW or LW). Dynamic range pretty much behaves itself even with good sized outdoor antenna in use.

A 2 step attenuator (“Local-Normal-DX”) kills way too much of the signal even in the “Normal”position. This is not the first Tecsun receiver to have this bug. Perhaps no so much of a issue when using a external antenna, but on the whip makes it almost worthless. The attenuator works on SW and FM bands only.

The real major problem with the PL-600 is with it’s audio quality. It’s very good on FM, above average with a nice bass boost for the size. But on LW, MW and SW bands it’s loaded with distortion at any signal level. The attenuator not helping the cause at all. This makes the receiver MUCH less attractive than it should have been and is a major drawback.

When connected to a external antenna and in the prime time listening periods (say in the 49 meter band at night) 2 additional nasty things pop up. First we discovered local MW bleed through across various spots in the SW bands. Next 910 kHz images appeared. So the dual conversion design that is being used here is not as promising as it should be.

5 bar signal strength meter is provided. It over reads, but not as much as some other models around.

One strange gremlin was with the sets external DC input jack. We were forced to try to use aftermarket adapters as the included adapter was 220 V input only.

No contact was able to be made with a number of plugs that fit perfect in ALL other devices that it worked in at the test location. We discovered that the center tip of the jack used is smaller than what it should be. If we giggled it a bit we made a connection for a second. Taking a look at the included adapters “plug”, sure enough the center pin (female socket) was much tighter than normal. This is also the same issue on the PL-450 as well.

The memories are not battery backed up (they are non-volaille), and once the batteries are removed it takes about 90 minutes for the clock to reset. The 4 batteries install and remove great with no problems. There is no hinge on the cover, so loss can be a problem.

If you want to bypass the 1 to 120 minute Sleep Timer, the user has to push and HOLD the power button for a second longer at power up. Almost ditto to turn it off, push and hold it for a second.

Tuning steps with the slewing or with the knob are (slow / fast tuning step) 1 and 5 kHz for SW, 1 or 10 (or 9) kHz on MW, 1 or 9 kHz on LW. FM band is 10 or 100 kHz.

There was a 18 page English manual included with the test sample and was useful. It lacks any specifications however.

Dave N9EWO
N9EWO
Ver 2.2


Tecsun PL-450
Above average dynamic range even with a good-sized outdoor antenna in use.
(N9EWO Photo)


Tecsun PL-450

Note : A 220 VAC power adapter (not multi voltage) was included with this receiver. We were unable to run testing with any AC adapter.

The Tecsun PL-450 is a tad smaller than the discontinued Sangean ATS-606. Size is 5 x 3 x 1 3/8 . So this is no pocket set and is in the compact portable class.

It general operation layout is very similar to it’s mother version PL-600, but it has no SSB mode. But included are 2 well chosen bandwidths and the 600 non volatile memory channels even store the bandwidth setting as well.

Good ergonomics and ease of use and the buttons have a great feel, perhaps a bit better over the PL-600 as they are slightly raised here where they are very flat on the 600.

Clock is displayed separate from the frequency, and when off the frequency part of the display becomes the time and where the time was now shows the alarm time. It does not display seconds.

LCD is large (considering the size of the set) and most icons are easy to see. However as is the case with other Tecsun receivers over the years its background is dark and one is forced to use the good back light most of the time (unless you are in very bright light or in direct sunlight).

Sensitivity is good and for more kick the included wire can be connected. FM was less sensitive for weaker signals when side-by-side comparisons were done with the larger PL-600. But is more than adequate for normal FM metro use.

External antenna jack works on SW and FM (not on MW or LW). Dynamic range pretty much behaves itself even with good-sized outdoor antenna in use.

There is a FM fine tune control that eliminates the FM being off frequency that can occur with these lost cost sets. But is strange to see this and makes for slightly more involved operation. Once this is fiddled with it can be left alone.

Just as with the PL-600 the 2 step attenuator (“Local-Normal-DX”) kills way too much of the signal even in the “Normal”position. This is not the first Tecsun receiver to have this bug. Perhaps no so much of a issue when using a external antenna, but on the whip makes it almost worthless. The attenuator works on SW and FM bands only.

The PL-450's audio quality is decent especially for it’s size. But don’t expect lots of bass response either. Strangely is does not have the audio distortion bug that plagues the larger PL-600 cousin above.

When connected to a external antenna and in the prime time listening periods (say in the 49 meter band at night) 2 nasty things pop up. First we discovered local MW bleed through across various spots in the SW bands. Next 910 kHz images appeared. So the dual conversion design that is being used here is not as promising as it should be.

5 bar signal strength meter is provided. It over reads, but not as much as some other models around.

One strange gremlin was with the sets external DC input jack. We were forced to try to use aftermarket adapters as the included adapter was 220 V input only.

No contact could be made with a number of plugs that fit perfect in ALL other devices that it worked in at the test location. We discovered that the center tip of the jack used is smaller than what it should be. If we giggled it a bit we made a connection for a second. Taking a look at the included adapters “plug”, sure enough the center pin (female socket) was much tighter than normal. This is also the same issue in the PL-600 as well.

The memories are not battery backed up (they are non-volatile), and once the batteries are removed it takes about 70 minutes for the clock to reset. The 3 batteries install and remove great with no problems. There is no hinge on the cover, so loss can be a problem.

If you want to bypass the 1 to 120 minute Sleep Timer, the user has to push and HOLD the power button for a second at power up. Almost ditto to turn it off, push and hold it for a second.

Tuning steps with the slewing or with the knob are (slow / fast tuning step) 1 and 5 kHz for SW, 1 or 10 (or 9) kHz on MW, 1 or 9 kHz on LW. FM band is 10 or 100 kHz.

No manual was included with the test sample (unlike with the PL-600). So the owner is pretty much on his or her own to figure it out. This will make it impossible to adjust the user-defined settings without the proper information (say to toggle 9/10 kHz MW steps). The general layout and microprocessor operations are “almost” identical to the larger PL-600.

Dave N9EWO
N9EWO
Ver 2.0


Degen DE-1104
Digital Display , Analog Tuning on MW and SW.
Lots of Audio Bass for a Small Portable.
(N9EWO Photo)


Degen DE1104

The Degen DE1104 is a hybrid type of portable receiver. The FM uses a PLL synthesized system with 36 total memories (3 banks of 12). The FM section even features a ATS for auto store of stations when say traveling. It also uses a seek function with the up down slewing buttons. Once it’s going (press and hold a up-down button for a second) will find and park on a station for about 3 seconds and zip along to find the next one automatically. Down side is that if you want to zip from one end of the band “fast” using the up down buttons, it’s a slow trip pressing these buttons for every channel to move along.

SW and MW bands take a back seat and uses a analog tuning system with the old fashioned tuning method with a frequency display. It’s broken down into one MW band and 11 World Band segments that are not continuous and misses the 2, 19 and 26 MHz bands all together. Generally the SW coverage is OK, but it still misses in a few edge spots (see chart). Of course being analog it has no memories at all on MW or SW.

Additionally the MW band misses a few channels of the extended portion.

One plus side is the MW and SW bands are electronically selected. That is no mechanical switch is used. This helps the stability, not that it equals the PLL design on FM, but it behaves itself here even when a hand is placed behind the cabinet.

Degen DE1104
Tested Coverage
(approx on MW and SW,
will vary slightly with battery condition)
Test Sample Serial Number : CT00049x
 Band Frequency
 FM 76.0  to 108.1 MHz
 MW 520 to 1670 kHz
 90m 2985 to 3620 kHz
 75m 3635 to 4270 kHz
 60m  4615 to 5250 kHz
 49m 5785 to 6420 kHz
 41m 6935 to 7570 kHz
31m 9315 to 9950 kHz
 25m 11580 to 12220 kHz
22m  13380 to 14015 kHz
19m 15035 to 15670 kHz
 16m 17380 to 18020 kHz
13m 21330 to 21965 kHz

Whip Sensitivity Excellent on World Band (well almost), FM Pars Only OK. SW Dynamic Range Pitiful.

The DE1104's whip sensitivity is above average. For daytime listening say in the 19 and 16 meter band this is a real treat. At night however this is a evil as it overloads just on the whip (say in the 41 and 49 meter bands). Shortening up the whip gives for real help as the even with the single attenuator in use it still does not control it.

A strange trait however with sensitivity, It drops off nasty over the last 100 kHz on the top of each SW band, 1300 kHz and up on MW.

We indeed have a external antenna jack, but one dares to use it as it jumps into heavy overload in a blink. Best to live with just using the whip antenna with this set. Also when the set dives into overload a local MW station was in the SW mish-mash as well.

FM is in the same boat with dynamic range. But here the whip sensitivity is only fair as compared to better Degen sets that have a “good” FM section. Adjacent channel rejection is also on the sour side. But for more local stations the FM performance should be adequate. Just don’t expect distant stations to pour in on this one.

Dual Conversion, Good Image Rejection, A Whistle Mixed In, 2 Alarms, Sleep Function

Using a Dual Conversion circuit on SW tames any images or most strange signals well. However, we are able to hear stations with a whistle mixed in, so it’s not perfect here.

Are 2 radio “Alarm” clock settings (no buzzer). The real plus here is that one can set the day of the week as well. A 90 min sleep timer (selectable in 10 min steps) is also available. Time display is separate from the frequency. And when it turned off “number one” alarm time is displayed as well with the time.

Smooth Knob, Above Average Audio Quality, Selectivity Too Wide, But This Helps Audio Quality.

A number of low cost analog Degen sets we have tested in past years had lousy tuning that were either as tight as a drum and/or had excessive slop and play. The DE1104 does much better in this regard. Smooth and very little if any play at all. It still takes a bit of a surgeons touch to fine tune a station however, so it’s not perfecto again. But is much better over earlier attempts with analog tuning schemes by Degen.

Audio quality is above average. Plenty of output, clean, no excessive hiss an there is a tone switch that actually does something. When the Bass is selected, it really give you.... well more Bass. Appears not to be just another high cut off tone control?

Selectivity is indeed a bit too wide, but this one of the reasons why the audio quality is above average. It’s not going to be a weak DX set anyway, so this arrangement is useable for what it is.

LCD Backlighting Is Excellent, Useful Volume Control Window

The orange backlighting is excellent and most of the LCD digits are large or on the larger side to make it all easy on the eyes. The 4-step bar s-meter is an exception (that is quite tiny). Instead of the back lighting using a electronic button scheme perhaps with a timer, with the DE1104 it uses a simple slide switch. This again will work great for use as a travel alarm clock for a defacto “night light”.

Volume control thumbwheel is found on the FRONT of the set and even has a calibrated 0 to 9 scale (and M for maximum) in a little window.

AC Adapter Hum Excessive

Operations using the included AC adapter created nasty hum when using local indoor antennas or with the internal whip. Even worse than the DE1121/KA1121. When any external outdoor antennas (or on batteries) were used this issue disappeared totally. Of course with the poor dynamic range, you really can’t connect any external antenna either as it jumps into overload hell. When we switched over to a different regulated adapter this problem cleared up totally with ANY antenna’s in use. The power jack on the DE1104 uses a standard positive tip (unlike the DE1121/KA1121).

The DE1104 is a useful entry from Degen. Simple to use and the audio for its size are major treats. The nice whip sensitivity is a plus, but the downright awful dynamic range is a royal stinker.

Dave N9EWO
N9EWO
Ver 2.0


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