The new Xiegu X6100: Let’s see how well it performs CW in the field!

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)

Since I was squeezing this activity into my schedule, there was no question in my mind where I’d perform the activation: the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center, only a three minute detour

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.

Gear:

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.

QSO Map

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

Regarding SSB, I have made exactly one contact to date.

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

So far, I like the X6100.

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.

Activation Video

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!

Click here to view on YouTube.

My recommendation?

If you’ve made it this far in my field report, congratulations!

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!

Thank you!

I hope you enjoyed this rather lengthy field report.

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!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

24 thoughts on “The new Xiegu X6100: Let’s see how well it performs CW in the field!”

    1. This is an excellent report.

      I totally agree. Users should never be beta testers. In theory.

      Here’s the thing.

      If we keep requiring radios that do everything this radio can do… to have a price-point around $600/unit… something gotta give. In this case and so many other related use cases, that “something” is the complete testing phase.

      For $600… we are going to be doing the heavy-lifting of the beta test.

  1. Thanks for the review. Might have been a thought for future, other than it being Chinese, though sounds like a nice radio.

    On the other hand, (for my birthday) my congregation has purchased a KX2 package for me, and I may get it when? January or February!!

    Looking forward to getting it and then on the air. Thanks again for your excellent post and review.

    73
    WB8YXF

    1. A KX2? One of the best field rigs ever made. Your congregation is spoiling you! Amazing! You’ll love it and I promise it’s worth the wait.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  2. Another great report, Thomas, thanks! I’ve really been looking forward to an in-depth on this new radio … tempting, but my impatience and newbie status has me pursuing more “proven” tech. My new Icom 705 JUST arrived today! Perhaps we’ll connect soon, if you ever pick up that mic!
    73
    W4LTC

    1. With an IC-705, you’ve no real need of the X6100. The X6100 appears to be a lot of fun, but the ‘705 is the better of the two in my opinion. Plus you can do VHF/UHF and D-Star! You’ll love it.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  3. I have on order from Radioddity a X6100, in 2nd batch that was to ship in Dec, here it is Dec 28 and no word.

    Wonder why Radioddity is sending X6100 out for evualation and not to paid up customers.

    My main concerns are the bugs. I wonder if I should have waited a few months so any bugs could be worked out. Guess can upgrade since is SDR, but then hope any bug is a software issue, not hardware.

    73, ron, n9ee/r

    1. The bugs and missing features can be fixed in software updates–and I’m sure they will. The hardware seems solid at least from my experience so far.

      Almost all radio manufacturers send out pre-production early models to Alpha and Beta testers to work out issues prior to running a first production run. Occasionally, they’ll send pre-production models to reviewers, but I prefer not to check those out because they’re not the “final” version that people buy.

      When the first production run is complete, they’ll send a few out to reviewers and magazines so people can see how well they perform (or not, as the case may be) before they commit to purchase.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  4. Hi Thomas

    Really enjoyed the video and the report – you were sure getting a move on with all those contacts! Very impressed with the performance of the little 6100.

    I have actually had a 6100 here for about 3 weeks now – direct from Xiegu in the first batch with the original firmware.

    I am not so bothered about Xiegu sending it out with incomplete firmware to be honest; I was expecting that. They seem to have the hardware well sorted – that is more important.

    And there is an excitement too that comes from seeing how they add features to the radio over time. There are a lot of blank ‘tiles’ in the menu system and I expect to see those filling up over time.

    I think we need to remember that Xiegu is, size-wise, unlike our “big 3” – as a small company, they won’t have the staff or probably the time to test in the way those guys do. So I can cope with being part of the wider “test team” and they do seem very responsive so far.

    By way of a parallel, I look at the way the 5105 developed over time and am satisfied they will support this radio similarly. The 5105 ended up very different from when that radio first came out!

    Sadly, I have not yet been able to take my 6100 outdoors yet – on my home 240’ doublet, it overloads like mad with multiple mixing products from our semi-local super-high-power MF broadcast transmitters. 🙁

    Since no-one else seem to have this issue, I am guessing it simply doesn’t like high powered MF stations and the front-end filtering just really handle it.

    (To be fair, my old Elad FDM-DUO SDR could only handle the overloading with its attenuator in! Sadly on the 6100, even with ATT in and RF gain at its lowest, it makes no difference to the mixing products.)

    So at home at least, it is useless for me just now, as I cannot even hear anyone!

    No problem though – I haven’t bought it to use at home – I will get a better idea of its capabilities when I get out in the field with it (eventually!)

    I take great encouragement from your report and video – it’s a super piece of hardware and it’s fantastic to finally see you operating one.

    The really sad thing is that I was so excited to see your report pop up on YouTube, that I had to explain to my wife that I needed to absent myself for 75 minutes to watch it in my office! What has my life become?!?!?

    Betcha you end up buying one!! 🙂

    1. “Betcha you end up buying one!!”–???

      Don’t say that, Chris! 🙂 Ha ha!

      You make some superb points here and I really like your attitude. It’s true: Xiegu is a much smaller operation compared to the bigger players. I *still* think with their sales volume (which is impressive, indeed!) they could give their rigs at least a couple weeks of hard-core Beta testing. But you have a point as well: I haven’t heard a single X6100 owner really complain about the initial quirks. I think we all know and expect it to be a wee bit rough around the edges at first.

      You are confirming a suspicion of mine, though. I fear the X6100’s front end is pretty wide open. I noticed here when I tuned to the 31M band (I may have mentioned in the video) that I would see imaging in the spectrum display. Still: on the ham bands, I never noticed it, but I also don’t live so close to a blow torch. You can probably address this with some inexpensive band pass filtering!

      I hope you get to take the X6100 to the field soon, OM!

      Best,
      Thomas

  5. Hi Tom,

    I’m so glad you were able to get to the X6100 so soon and do a field review. I received mine in late November, but I have only taken it on one POTA activity. I spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with its operation in my radio office and the CW message memory keying was the first issue I found. It was very disappointing to me that it didn’t function yet for obvious reasons. I also found I had to use Iambic B and 150ms QSK to get the keying in a rhythm that was suitable for me, but the keying was still not as smooth and consistent as the QCX Mini or the IC-705.

    I’ve only made a few SSB contacts with it so far. The mic gain settings seem to have a very narrow adjustment range. When I tried the built-in mic, my audio was very low, even with higher gain settings and speaking close to the audio port.

    I have also experienced the same issue as Chris (G7DDN) noted above with receiver overloading at my QTH. I live only a few blocks from the GA State Capitol building and the Mercedes Benz stadium, so I truly live in an RF saturated environment with VERY strong signals. But here is what’s strange: When the X6100 is connected directly to my self-resonant EFHW which uses a 65′ wire, the radio is useless. The waterfall scope washes out in red and yellow and no attenuation or reduced gain setting will allow me to hear anything other than noise. However, when I place my MFJ tuner inline, set it to the “Tuned” side, adjust properly for lowest SWR, the receiver behaves as desired with low noise and good reception.

    As you noted, the NR makes the received audio unintelligible. I found that to be true with both CW and SSB. The filtering though seems to be quite effective. I have made successful CW contacts with high QRM by narrowing the filter down to about 30Hz (if I remember correctly).

    Chris’s comments are spot-on in my world otherwise. I’m a tinkerer, so I am loving this radio. It has so much potential because, as Temporarily Offline (YouTube) noted, it is basically a computer with a built-in HF transceiver… and it’s exciting to be a part of its evolution and development. I may even try to root mine like we used to do with our Android phones; you won’t be doing that with your Icom or Yaesu 😉 It’s so much fun to experiment.

    Thank you, Tom, for all of your content and your investment of time to make it happen. I often wonder if you are retired because I truly don’t know where you find the time 🙂

    73 to all and Happy New Year!!!
    Dan/ KQ8Q

    1. Thank you so much for your insight, Dan. I agree with you: in many ways, the fact that this radio could be rooted is pretty impressive. I fully suspect folks may jump in and make their own port of the X6100 software. The great thing is, I assume, that if it doesn’t work, you can always flash it back to the original software.

      I like your attitude, OM!

      Cheers,
      Thomas

  6. Thanks for the advice on the filters, Thomas. Good call and worth some experimentation time!

    I’m not *too* concerned about the front end overloading though tbh. I guess the front end is optimised to work with portable antennas, what with it being a portable radio and all!

    Keep up the fantastic work. And I hope you and your family had a great Christmas!

  7. Thanks for the writeup and video.

    The Xiegu radios are an attractive alternative for those of us that are casual operators. It’s hard to justify the price of an IC-705 or KX2/3 for those of us that don’t get out multiple times in a month, by something the price of the X6100 is a bit easier to come to grips with. I’ll be keeping an eye on improvements over time and maybe this will end up in the bag at some point.

  8. Excelente video,cuando quieran un reto vengan a mi país “Costa Rica” vivir casi al medio del planeta y su topografía y con la propagación como esta o te alegra o decepciona tanto con equipos como antenas aquí la publicidad se queda corta,atte TI2BF

  9. Thomas fantastic CW perspective review. I saw your spot but started activating in OH as you were finishing up. Your review has prompted me to order a 6100.

    73

    Erik
    KE8OKM

  10. Thomas, were you using a counterpoise in the video? I could not see it hooked up near the end of the video when you picked the radio up. Usually the other side of the speaker wire antenna is hooked up to the black side of the connector. I’d be surprised at the performance without a counterpoise.

    1. In the first 30 seconds of the video the counterpoise is visible running across the table. There it seems to be connected to the black connector. Same color and wire type as the vertical wire.

  11. When you published your X6100 report, I could not wait to see the video! You tipped me off when we had our QSO that you were using it! As you said in your YouTube comment, a X6100 to X6100 was accomplished at your activation!

    I am an avid POTA/SOTA QRP operator and mostly use my IC 705 on activations. It is a superb radio and no intention of ever selling it. The reason I was attracted to my x6100 was the fact it’s an SDR, has a very nice display screen and has a built in ATU. I use many different antennas on activations, and some require a ATU, like my Sotabeams Bandhopper 3. I like using it when I go backpacking and activating due to how easy it is to deploy and lightweight.

    To those who attempt to compare the x6100 to the IC 705 is like comparing a Ford F-150 to a Toyota Tacoma. I had a x5105 for a few months and went on a few activations with it. I would mostly compare the x6100 to the .5105 and call it a big upgrade to the x5105.

    I got familiar with the x6100 in my hamshack the past 3 weeks, and although I know of it’s shortcomings, which I did share with Thomas prior to it’s arrival at his QTH, I am very pleased with the radio even with the features that are not enabled yet. On Christmas eve, I went hiking and afterwards did a quick POTA activation inside my car using my IC 7100 and 50 watts. The temperature was getting warmer and warmer out, so I made a hasty decision to go home and get the x6100 and take it to another local park and sit outside on a picnic table. I decided to use my spark plug antenna (www.sparkpluggear.com) and use my 17 ft. Shakespeare fishing pole. I had almost 1:1 SWR on 40 and 20 meters and had to use the ATU as I was having about a 3:1 on 30. The ATU kicked in and had a perfect match in seconds, which is also the same response as the G90 and x5105. Knowing I had to manually call CQ POTA…. I immediately wished I had my IC 705 with me. However, I decided to go old school long before memory keyers, and I started calling CQ with 5 watts. In just over 40 minutes I made 20 CW QSOs. It was amazing, I was doing 19 WPM with my CWMorse keyer, and calling CQ POTA was not so bad after all, although that’s usually when I take my coffee sips between QSOs. I set the bandwidth to Filter3 and I went into my Radio Settings2 tab and made the RIT control my default to easily move back and forth to work the stations who were not zero beat on me (thank you to those who do that!!!) It’s so hard to decode multiple callsigns when you’re all zero beating me. It was getting later in the afternoon, and it was Christmas Eve, so didn’t want to fall out of favor with my XYL, so I packed up and went home.

    It was such a great feeling knowing that this radio is going to be even better very soon, but I was completely comfortable with it doing CW.

    Fast forward to December 26th. It’s Sunday and I ate too much the day before so I decided to hike and POTA at K-4567 along the Susquehanna River here in PA. The X6100 easily packs into my camera case that I’ve been using to transport my IC 705 in….it is much thinner and fits in better, and I can even put my keyer and my Bioenno 12v 3aH battery inside of it. I decided to leave the mic at the home QTH because I intended to do CW only again. Hiked almost 2 miles and went down to the river and set up the same spark plug antenna with the Shakespeare (I got funny looks because of that inside my backpack from other walkers/runners/bike riders). I found out my buddy AK9IT was also activating POTA nearby but was doing SSB. I found him on 40 meters and did the PTT on the radio and called him. Bang, got Julius right away. He gave me a really good audio report and started the outing with a P2P as well. I saw on the POTA spotting network that there were a ton of activators on 40 meters SSB, so since I had so much success with Julius, I did some searching for P2P contacts and then found an open frequency and decided to call CQ on phone with 5 watts. 99% of my activations I do CW, so this was foreign to me, but I ended up with 22 SSB contacts (17 of them were from me calling CQ POTA). I did not have a CQ POTA voice memory set up, but I was so busy with pile ups I wouldn’t have used it at all anyway. I then went to CW and made another 10 QSO’s and called it a day.

    Count me in as one of the very satisfied X6100 owners, even with the shortcomings that are temporary. At first I did not like the buttons on top, but after a couple of days of using it in the shack, and learning the radio, I don’t even have to look at the buttons on top, I know what button to press for ATU, band changes, mode changes, etc. As for the feet, I find it’s the perfect angle. I know Josh was not a fan of the feet, and I saw his video a few days before mine arrived, so I was ready to hate it right out of the box. But, to my surprise, I like the tilt on it even better than when I had the x5105. The price point for the radio is $599, which to me, especially as a so called “beta tester” for Xiegu, is a steal. When I pre-ordered the radio I thought that if I didn’t like it, that it would be very easy to resell on The Zed. Well, that won’t happen and I can’t wait to take it on many upcoming POTA/SOTA adventures, including hopefully some overnight activations on the A.T. next summer.

    Folks, if you are looking for an all-band, portable size, 5 watt (or 10 watts with external battery), want a built in ATU for those antennas that are not resonant, and a very crisp SDR display, this is the radio to get. It’s only going to get better, and with the possibility of rooting the device like the old days with my Android phones, it’s well worth the price even in it’s present form. I also want to quickly mention the SWR scan on this is fantastic. So much easier to use than the IC 705 one. I don’t even need my Rig Expert AA 55 anymore with this radio.

    Thanks Tom for the video review. I think it was a very fair report and glad you liked it. I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up, and I have a feeling you will eventually purchase one as well!

    73 Scott
    KN3A

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