Which should you purchase: the Xiegu X5105 or the Elecraft KX2?

This year I’ve been trying to make dedicated posts and videos to address questions I’m asked most often by QRPer.com readers and my YouTube channel subscribers. The idea is to have a link I can send in a reply instead of trying to give a comprehensive answer in an email.

One question that’s been surfacing a lot lately is a variation of:

“Which should I buy, Thomas? The Xiegu X5105 or the Elecraft KX2?”

I’m sure the reason I’ve been getting this question is because I reviewed and purchased the Xiegu X5105 earlier this year and have used it on a number of activations.

I’ve owned the Elecraft KX2 since 2016 so have a lot of experience with this little field radio as well.

Why the choice between these two particular models?

Shack-in-a-Box

No doubt, the reason why these two are compared is that they’re both “shack-in-a-box” QRP transceivers; meaning, they’re so comprehensive all you need to do in the field is hook up any antenna, a key and/or microphone, and you’re on the air! Both of these radios either ship with or have options for an internal battery and an internal ATU. They also have built-in microphones for SSB operation without a separate hand mic.

If you did a survey of the ham radio transceivers on the market, very few have both an internal ATU, internal battery, and (especially) built-in microphone.

Big price difference!

The most obvious difference between these two transceivers is the price.

The Xiegu X5105 (at time of posting) retails for $599 US. When I purchased mine from Radioddity earlier this year, it was for $550 US. The X5105 ships with a power cable, speaker mic, USB cable, CE-19 interface, and a (not terribly helpful and very outdated) user manual. Radioddity often posts seasonal sales and I suspect with the advent of the new X6100, the price of the X5105 may go back down.

The Elecraft KX2 is purchased á l carte. Elecraft’s philosophy is based on their heritage of designing and selling transceiver kits with optional modules. To have a comparable radio to the X5105 package with the optional internal battery, external rapid charger, hand mic, and internal ATU, you’ll be spending roughly $1200-1300 US. Elecraft does offer package discounts and seasonal discounts as well.

In short: you could buy two X5105s for the price of one KX2 and still have enough change to take the family out to your favorite restaurant.

The price difference has everything to do with the fact that the Xiegu X5105 is designed and produced in China. The Elecraft KX2 is designed and produced in the USA by Elecraft.

Also, those of you who’ve been trying to purchase a new KX2 in 2021 have no doubt discovered that they are on backorder. At time of posting, orders are being fulfilled 6-8 weeks after being placed. I should hope that this will improve over time as supply chains and pandemic issues resolve.

Quality difference?

I go into this in much more detail in my video below, but yes, there is a difference in quality between the X5105 and KX2.

Although I can’t yet speak to its longevity having owned it only a few months, I believe the X5105 offers excellent quality and value for the price. It has acceptable performance for a radio in this price class, offers an exceptional amount of features, and…well…it just works. Quite well, actually.

The X5105 is a fun field radio and I really surprised myself when I purchased it after my review for The Spectrum Monitor magazine. I wanted to keep it in my field radio arsenal. The X5105 is a little rough around the edges, but it gets the job done!

The X5105 has a few advantages over the KX2 besides the price point:

  • It covers from 160 to 6 meters–the KX2 only covers 80 to 10 meters
  • It has backlit buttons on the main control surface
  • Its battery can be charged internally (although Elecraft has noted on their email reflector that they might design an internal battery charger/clock module for the KX2)

Video

My summary and notes continue below, but I’ve included even more details and my thoughts in this video:

So is the KX2 really worth more than double the price of the X5105?

Yes. I believe it is and if I could only own the X5105 or the KX2, I’d choose the KX2 without hesitation.

The Elecraft KX2 is one of the best QRP field radios ever made, in my humble opinion.

What advantages does it have over the X5105?

  • A much better receiver
    • Lower noise floor
    • Better sensitivity
    • More robust front end with the ability to block adjacent signals
    • Much better built-in filtering
  • More compact than the X5105
  • Built in voice memory keying with beacon mode
  • Up to 10 watts output power (compared with 5 watts from the X5105)
  • Much lower current drain numbers in receive (about 120-135 mA compared with 300-600 mA)
  • Better overall audio quality
  • Better ergonomics that are designed around field operation
  • Silky-smooth full break-in QSK operation with silent pin diode switching
  • Option to attach KXPD2 paddles directly to the KX2 body
  • Exceptional customer support from real human beings by email or by phone from  Elecraft pretty much for life

The best choice for you?

Despite what I consider all of the KX2’s strengths, I feel like both of these are great field radios depending on your needs and requirements.

Painting with broad brush strokes, here’s my advice…

Purchase the Xiegu X5105

  • If you have a modest budget
  • If you want a dedicated, capable field radio but can’t invest in the KX2 yet
  • If you want to operate on 160 and 6 meters
  • If you like the larger display and backlit buttons
  • If you want a relatively affordable radio kit to keep in the car or go-bag at all times (I’ve got mine in a dedicated field pack in the car these days, ready for unplanned park activations)

Purchase the Elecraft KX2

  • If your budget allows or you’re willing to stretch for the best quality and performance
  • If you want a radio with a receiver that can better handle RF-dense on-air events like Field Day and contests
  • If you want the most compact and lightweight full-featured general coverage transceiver currently on the market
  • If you plan to operate SSB primarily: the 10 watts of output power and voice memory keying are huge positives for voice mode operators
  • If you want the option of carrying more than one internal battery pack for longer outings or multi-activation weekends (the X5105 cannot be replaced easily in the field)
  • If you want to operate RTTY and PSK data modes natively without a computer; the KX2 will allow you to send exchanges with a CW key and it’ll output the digital mode
  • If you want low current drain in RX
  • If you plan to do shortwave broadcast listening; the KX2 has better audio characteristics for this activity
  • If you want one of the best field-portable radios currently on the market

Summary

When readers ask for advice about choosing a radio, I typically reply with a lot of questions like…

  • How much are you willing to budget?
  • Where do you plan to use this radio most?
  • What are your goals while on the air? Activate a park? Activate a summit? Work DX? Ragchew?
  • What modes do you prefer using? SSB, CW, and/or Digital?
  • How important are ergonomics compared with performance and features?
  • How important is customer support from the manufacturer?

In so many ways, choosing the right radio is less about features and performance, and more about the operator and operating style. In other words, my favorite radio might not be your favorite radio.

Need proof? Just look at any ham radio forum where someone asks the group for advice on choosing a radio! Sometimes those discussion threads get heated because folks are so passionate about their own particular choice and perspective.

I’m curious what your thoughts are and, perhaps, if there’s a shack-in-a-box type radio you prefer over these two and why! Please comment!

For more detail about each of the radios being compared here, check out my full reviews:

Thank you!

I hope you found this comparison useful.

A special thanks to those of you who are supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free–I really appreciate the support. Your generosity allows me to purchase radios like these for review and comparison. Thank you!

72,

Thomas (K4SWL / M0CYI)

17 thoughts on “Which should you purchase: the Xiegu X5105 or the Elecraft KX2?”

  1. Buy cheap, buy twice.
    Only buy the x5105 if you are happy with virtually nonexistent support, and abandonment when a new model comes out.

    What the x5105 is good for, is a lower value item where you might risk theft or confiscation.

  2. Thank you Stephen, your comments have helped me very much.

    Because of deafness, (I am not a CW operator, by the way), I’m exclusively a PSK operator, and always strictly at 5 Watts, and I enjoy the challenges, both when operating from the shack, and /p.

    I’ve been hanging my nose over the 5105 and the American offering – US equipment is, I find, superb in both quality and performance, but the price put’s ’em out of my price range, and the comment about the Chinese stuff puts the 5105 out of the equation.

    Anybody know of a Five Watt, PSK only, rig, please?

  3. The KX2 uses the identical Tayloe sample-and-hold down conversion as its big brother (KX3), which is, I believe, second on the Sherwood list of best receivers. Need one say more?

  4. Hi Thomas, great post to a difficult and potentially contentious issue of comparing products where manufacturers may get offended. Your comparison was honest but fair and at the end of the day, you really do get what you pay for and you were also able to leave out the important discussion of buying a product from the people’s Republic of China vs buying one from the United States.

    Recently, I saw reviews on the Baofeng UV-5R at rediculas prices here in Canada where as most of your subscribers are aware that the Canadian dollar is only worth about 80 cents against a US dollar. So for $50 Canadian I got shipping included, a UV-5R.
    It speaks English and gives mode and frequency info but is NOT the same build and ruggedness as my 1992 Yaesu ft26! Given a choice between then, I will keep my yaesu! That being said, it’s interesting and I will keep it also.

    Thanks again Thomas for great material and interesting posts, I read every one, Vy 73 from VE1 land

    1. Here in US a UV5R can be had for $20-25 and can get with programming cable, a must for programming the HT is a real bear, takes like 10 steps for each memory. Using Chirp really simplifies the programming.

      Of the local Hams I know almost all have UV5R or similar version, I have 4 for some reason. Does a lot, most all any of the Icom and Yaesu do. But I also like and prefer my Yaesu FT70R for $150.

      Our local EOC and club sponsored a Tech class and for those that passed they were given a UV5R to help support our local EmComm Ham group.

      73, ron, n9ee/r

  5. Understand the article was to only compare the KX3 and X5101.

    The KX2/3 is direct sampling DSP where the X5101 is IF DSP. But seems this is not a real issue for both work great and provide for tunable IF filters, one major feature in a receiver.

    Yes I would prefer a KX2 over the X5101. But might go with the G90 for it is very good rig, has 20W. But dollar for dollar the X5101 would beat the KX2, same can be said for G90.

    But if going for KX3 at $1200 I’d go with the Icom IC705, much better display and operational features. Both are direct sampling DSP and both are SDR. Being SDR does offer upgrades.

    I dont care much for a QRP to cover VHF/UHF or DSTAR as the IC705 does. But if backpacking these might be good features to have, for weather reports and local repeaters in case of needing help.

    But if just considering the KX2 or X5101 spending the extra money KX2 would be the preferred rig, IMHO. As was said in reply support form X5101 is not so good. EleCraft support would be something to consider.

    73, ron, n9ee/r

  6. Good article, but would like to see update of the previous article on various QRP rigs. Lots of good choices in rigs to choose from.

  7. Morning Thomas, nice post. Initially, I was a little puzzled by your use of the term “Shack In A Box” because traditionally that term is reserved for radios which offer HF, VHF and UHF and I thought some newcomers to the hobby might be confused by it. I do understand your use of it in this context though 🙂

    It seems to me that people are indeed quite passionate about their own choice of radio and whatever’s in their shack is always the best choice (at that time), lol.

    Many a time I’ve seen people compare two radios when they should never have been put next to each other in the first place – like the 7300 and 991A – different altogether.

    I’ve owned Xiegu and Elecraft and as you indicated in your post, they’re similar and dissimilar at the same time. My own preference would be for the Elecraft, but there’s no denying the amazing VFM of the Xiegu.

    My motto is “Buy the very best you can afford at the time”. Sometimes I can afford Xeigu and sometimes Elecraft. Sometimes a Baofeng, sometimes a Kenwood.

    Make hay while the sun shines.

    Love your blog!

    73, Tom.
    http://www.M7MCQ.com

  8. I am very glad I chose the KX2. I never looked back, as it will take me years to figure it out.

    What I greatly appreciated was the patience and even good humor at Elecraft when I called with perhaps tiresome pre-purchase comparison questions (KX2 vs 3) and some technical setup problems I was experiencing when the rig came.

    They have my business because they were patient, kind, explanatory when they were busy, and didn’t mind questions that I now post to QRPer or their reflector.

    I reroofed a small barn with my husband to earn the KX2 with my wanted accessories. No regrets!

  9. I have never known of a KX3 owner who was not happy. It is a most advanced rig, direct sampling DSP and lots of good features for QRP.

    I am sure the KX2 owners will say the same.

    Xiego is still in the 1990s IF DSP, but are excellent rigs also.

  10. As someone who owned an x5105 I feel it’s important to note that you missed out on the Antenna analyser on the X5105 which makes it amazing for experimentation with antenna building.
    That’s an awesome feature of the radio.

    That said it’s incredibly unstable software wise.

    Personally the software and instability drove me nuts- saving up for the KX2 and waiting for stock

    1. You know, that’s a good point I forgot to note. I’m going to add that one to the post. Thank you!

  11. Once in the long-back I had a K2. Nice radio for the then. Went through the first Xiegu (“You too can be a beta tester”) and got rid of it. Much trepidation getting the X5105. Now, half a dozen firmware upgrades later, it’s a pretty decent field radio. But . . .
    . . . It’s full of birdies in some very nasty places, worst of which is an internal ~ 28.4 MHz signal generated in the radio itself and audible on any other SW receiver you bring near it. Other on 12m & 17m where you just know some serious DX will eventually show up.
    . . . At which point it’s a field radio, good enough for POTA or SOTA and field day &c but deff not for serious DX chasing or contesting. And having no experience with the KX-line radios, I can only hope they’re better for the price one has to pay for such. Or: Is the X5105 worth the nearly $600? Well, yeah, I guess so. But for a tad less you can get a G90 or a tad more a FT891.

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