Last week, I received the new Xiegu X6100 QRP HF transceiver on loan from Xiegu distributor/retailer Radioddity. This is the exact same unit Josh (KI6NAZ) reviewed for Ham Radio Crash Course (click here to see his updated X6100 video).
Many thanks to Josh for sending me this X6100 so promptly and performing the first firmware update!
I took delivery of the X6100 last week after returning from vacation in the Outer Banks. It was bittersweet as I was so eager to check out this new radio but simply had too many projects on the table to complete before Christmas day.
That and in the morning light after our return, my daughter pointed out that one side of my horizontal delta loop antenna had fallen to the ground. Fortunately, I was able to fix the antenna in short order. It’s certainly time to push the schedule up for completely replacing this 10 year old wire antenna!
X6100: Known issues
I had gotten a few messages from X6100 early adopters like Scott (KN3A) and Rich (KQ9L) noting that the current firmware version (the December 7, 2021 release) had taken care of a few initial bugs, but there were still a few outstanding points that specifically affect CW operators. Most notably:
- Noise reduction (or DNR) in CW mode severely distorts audio
- CW message memories can be stored and saved but cannot yet be played back on the air (SSB message memories are fully functional, however)
- Fine tuning is limited to 10 Hz steps at the moment
Someone had also noted possible CW keyer timing issues.
At the same time, I had read mostly positive comments about SSB operation from QRPer readers and subscribers.
Frankly, knowing Xiegu’s history of pushing the production and distribution timeline ahead of a radio being fully-functional and properly tested, I expected a few bugs and issues that would need to be sorted out in firmware updates.
To be very clear: I’m not a fan of the “early adopters are the Beta testers” philosophy. I wish Xiegu would thoroughly Beta test their products so that they were more polished and fully-functional right out the door much like we expect from the likes of Elecraft, Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood. There are almost always minor post-production bugs to sort out even with these legacy manufacturers, but issues should be of the variety that somehow slips past a team of Beta testers who actually use the radio.
Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox! 🙂
X6100: In the shack
Over Christmas weekend, I did have some time to hook the X6100 up to my (repaired) sky loop and casually work a number of park and summit activators. Of course, I formed a few initial impressions about the X6100 and I speak to those in the video below.
I did confirm the known issues with DNR, fine tuning, and message memory keying in CW. As for electronic keyer timing, I hadn’t noticed any major issues, but then again hunting park and summits requires only short exchanges. I knew that to properly investigate keyer timing, I would need to attempt a proper field activation in CW.
Indeed, before receiving the X6100, I had only watched Josh’s two X6100 videos at Ham Radio Crash Course, and one other early introductory video from another channel. At the end of the day, I actually like forming my own opinions about new rigs, so didn’t watch other videos.
Based on the number of messages I’ve received from readers and subscribers, I knew there weren’t too many videos or demos of the X6100 being used in CW mode. Many who contacted me were urging me to produce a video demoing CW at my earliest convenience so they could make a purchase decision before the end of the year.
So here goes…
X6100: My first CW activation!
I had actually planned to do my first X6100 field activation today (Tuesday, December 28, 2021) , however as I left the house to run an errand yesterday (Monday), my impatience got the best of me.
I grabbed the X6100, its hand mic, and my X5105 kit. (In case you’re wondering, I included the X5105 as a backup in case any major issues popped up with the X6100.)
I decided I’d give the X6100 internal battery a workout since it had been fully charged in the shack. I didn’t bring a separate external battery.
I thought I’d also give the X6100 ATU a proper test by pairing it with my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna. Since the speaker wire has no in-line matching unit, the X6100 ATU would have to do all of the heavy lifting.
I packed all of these items in my SOTA bag and hit the road.
In the field: Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)
The weather has been unseasonably (and historically) warm/hot in WNC this week. Yesterday, it felt summer-like; I even wore a short sleeve shirt. I arrived at the Folk Art Center around 14:30 local and set up in the parking lot picnic area.
I deployed my speaker wire antenna with my new super-compact throw line kit (more on that in a future post). It took me all of one minute (throw lines are so freaking amazing!).
I set up the X6100 and also pulled the X5105 out to have it at the ready in case there were any issues.
- Xiegu X6100
- Xiegu X5105 (as a backup)
- Muji A6 Notepad and Koh-I-Noor .9 mm Mechanical Pencil (affiliate link)
- 28.5 foot speaker wire antenna using one BNC Binding Post Adapter (affiliate link)
- N0SA SOTA Paddle
- Spec-Ops Brand T.H.E. Pack EDC
- Mini Arborist throw line kit: Tom Bihn Small Travel Tray, Marlow KF1050 Excel 2mm Throwline, and Weaver 8 or 10 oz weight
- Camera: OSMO Action Camera with Joby tripod (affiliate links)
Before leaving the QTH, I scheduled my activation with a three hour window (not knowing exactly when I would fit it in). Doing this allowed the POTA spots page to scrape my information from the Reverse Beacon Network and auto-spot me in the field. Although I had Internet coverage at the BRP, auto-spots are so much easier!
Note that since the CW message memory keying isn’t yet functional on the X6100, I did all of the keying manually with my N0SA SOTA paddle. I could have brought along my Pico Memory Keyer, but frankly, I wanted to see if there were any timing issues with the X6100 electronic keying and no better way to test that than to do some intense keying in real time. POTA is the perfect test!
As I started recording my real-time, real-life activation video, I decided to spend a few minutes going over some initial observations about the X6100. If interested, check them out in my video below.
After my introduction to the X6100, I started calling CQ…
On the air
With fingers crossed (no, not literally) I tuned to 7063 kHz and pressed the X6100 ATU button for the very first time. It very quickly and quietly found a match.
Those Xiegu ATUs are truly phenomenal.
I plugged in my paddles and only needed to call CQ POTA a couple times before I started hearing chasers–thanks RBN spotting!
I found out that conditions were actually very poor while I was on the air. The bands were unstable and QSB very deep.
Still, the X6100 and speaker wire combo worked brilliantly!
Within ten minutes, I had the ten contacts needed for a valid activation. What more could one ask for?
Lots more chasers logged, that’s what! Here are images of my paper logs:
In the end, I ran out of time and sent QRT de K4SWL. That lead to another handful of contacts (it’s almost impossible for me to not answer someone calling!). Eventually, I turned off the radio so I couldn’t hear others calling.
Here’s what the X6100 and speaker wire antenna did with 5 watts in CW:
I had hoped to include an SSB contact or two and to move to the 20 meter band, but 40 meters CW kept me so busy I simply ran out of time.
SSB with built-in mic
On Sunday, I opened the POTA spots page and found that Mike (K8MRD) was activating a park. I tuned to his frequency and he was a good S9.
I couldn’t find the X6100 box with the hand mic , so I simply gave him a call using the X6100 built-in microphone. Mike replied to my call immediately.
One of the great things about Mike (besides being a great guy and having a great YouTube channel) is that he also reviews radios, so I valued his input about the X6100 audio.
Mike didn’t realize I was using the built-in chassis mic and volunteered that the audio sounded great, but had a bit of a “roomy” quality to it (as if I was speaking a large room).
We both agreed that a roomy sound is pretty acceptable for the chassis mic. He mentioned that the audio was perfectly clear and readable. Very good to know.
Mike, by the way, was running his IC-705 and KM4ACK EFHW at 10 watts. We both had solid S9 signals–not at all bad for an NC to TX path.
Thanks again for the feedback, Mike!
X6100: First activation thoughts
The audio is much improved over the X5105 although there is still a bit of splatter if the AF gain is pushed too much.
I had no issues at all with the X6100 keyer. Indeed, I found it to be pretty accurate. Keep in mind, though, that I had my CW relay recovery set to 200ms. Back in the shack, I did discover that running it at zero milliseconds did not give me true full break-in QSK and the relay/sidetone combo was a bit distracting.
As I mention the in the video, the X6100 display is superb. Even though you’ll see a reflection on the screen protector in the video and images, it’s not difficult to read in the field. The GUI is clean, well-organized and the characters and numbers are easy on the eyes. I love the spectrum display as well.
The X6100 doesn’t sport a touch screen like the IC-705. I’m sure some operators may prefer a touch screen, but frankly I could care less in a field radio–in fact, I prefer tactile mechanical buttons for field use. I find a touch screen offers more utility in the shack.
I love the size of the X6100 which is maybe slightly smaller than the X5105.
It’s wonderfully portable rig and since it sports an internal ATU and battery it is a proper shack-in-a-box.
Again, I include more thoughts in the video below. Note that I will be producing a full review of the X6100 for The Spectrum Monitor magazine likely in the February or March issue depending on when Xiegu publishes their next firmware update and if it sorts out some of the CW issues mentioned above.
Again, the first portion of this video covers some of my initial and superficial impressions of the X6100. If you’ve never seen one of my videos before, they’re unscripted and unedited–you’ve been warned!
I’ve pushed this video to the front of the line knowing quite a few CW operators wanted to see how the X6100 would play on the air in a real-life situation.
Many of you are trying to make a purchase decision before the next production run of X6100 units are spoken for. I can’t give a purchase recommendation this early in the evaluation process.
I can say this: the X6100 has exceeded my expectations so far.
Yes, it’s missing advertised features and has a few bugs that really should have been sorted out well before the first production run, but so far I like it. It feels like a proper successor to the venerable X5105.
I plan to pair the X6100 with a wide variety of antennas at parks and on summits. I’ll be publishing more field reports and videos featuring the X6100, so stay tuned.
If you own the X6100, I would love some of your feedback. Please comment!
I love testing and reviewing radios, so this first X6100 activation was pure fun for me. Thanks for coming along for the ride!
I’d like to send 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. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and I’m most grateful!
Here’s wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year!