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?
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 The X5105 ships with a power cable, speaker mic, USB cable, CE-19 interface, and a (not terribly helpful and very outdated) user manual.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.
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)
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?
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
- 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:
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!
Thomas (K4SWL / M0CYI)