What are my favorite QRP field radios in terms of audio quality–?

Many thanks to QRPer.com reader, Charles, who recently sent me the following question:

Thomas, I’ve watched a number of your videos and read your activation reports. I’m studying for both my Technician and General class license right now and hope to pass both in one session later this month. I’m also learning CW.

I consider myself an audiophile and appreciate good audio fidelity. I know that amateur radio modes are narrow and by their very nature have less audio fidelity than commercial broadcast modes. 

I’ve already obtained a Kenwood TS-590G for the shack. It was practically given to me by a friend. I’m very pleased with its audio fidelity especially when I connect it to an external speaker.

Next year, I plan to buy a dedicated QRP field radio. Out of the radios you’ve owned, what are your favorites in terms of audio fidelity. Also, what are your least favorites?

Thank you.

What a great question, Charles!

Being an audiophile, I’m sure you understand that this is a very subjective area: one person’s idea of good audio might not match that of someone else’s.

I can only speak to how I evaluate a transceiver’s audio.

What makes for good audio?

A lot goes into what I would call “good audio” in an amateur radio transceiver.

To me, “good audio” means the radio

  • produces clear accurate sound,
  • has stable AGC (Auto Gain Control),
  • has audio properties that benefit amateur radio modes like CW and SSB,
  • has enough audio amplification to be heard in noisy field conditions,
  • and has little to no internally-generated noises leaking into the audio amplification chain. (In other words, a low noise floor.)

In contrast, radios with poor audio

  • sound noisy/harsh,
  • have a high noise floor or produce audio hash making it difficult to hear weak signals,
  • have speakers that become distorted at higher volume levels,
  • have poor AGC characteristics which lead to pumping,
  • and are simply fatiguing to listen to during extended on-air sessions (like long activations or contests).

I would add that a good receiver front end is an important part of audio because it keeps imaging and overloading at bay, thus producing a less cluttered and noisy audio experience.

My field audio favorites

I’ll keep this discussion limited to QRP field portable radios. There are numerous 100 watt desktop radios with excellent audio because those models aren’t trying to limit their current consumption like field radios typically do. They can use more amperage to benefit audio amplification and push a much larger speaker.

In addition, I’ll limit the scope to field radios with built-in speakers. There are some great CW-only radios out there that lack an internal speaker but have great audio (thinking of the Penntek TR-35 and the Elecraft KX1, for example); choice of earphones or headphones can have a dramatic effect on audio. That’s a different discussion altogether!

Best audio: My top three picks

The following are three of my favorite portable field radios in terms of audio quality. I limited myself to three simply because all of the radios I use regularly in the field have what I would consider good and acceptable audio.

The following are simply stand-outs, in my opinion:

The Icom IC-705

I believe the IC-705 produces the best overall audio of any field radio I own.

The internal speaker provides crystal clear audio and the volume can be cranked up so that it can be heard in noisy field conditions without distorting–say, on a windy beach as seen above.

The receiver is quiet, the front end is nearly bullet-proof, AGC is stable and adjustable, the filtering is amazing, and the user can even adjust the audio EQ.

Of course, this kind of performance comes at a cost. The IC-705 is one of the priciest field radios I own (currently around $1,350 US).

The Penntek TR-45L

If you checked out my latest POTA activation video with the new Penntek TR-45L, you’ll have no doubt heard me brag about this little CW-only radio’s audio.

The TR-45L has a very low noise floor and stable AGC. The speaker mounted on the side of the radio uses the enclosure as an effective acoustic chamber.

End result is, the TR-45L produces very warm audio and beautifully reproduces CW.

Note, however, that the TR-45L can only transmit in CW mode. That said, it can receive SSB and it sounds superb as well.

The TR-45L’s audio reminds me of a good 1970s era solid state radio.

That’s a high compliment in my world.

The Elecraft KX2

I use the KX2 more than any other radio I’ve ever owned.

Like other Elecraft radios, the KX2 has excellent receiver characteristics (good front end, good filtering, good dynamic range, low noise floor, etc.) that make for an overall pleasant listening experience.

It is one of the most compact radios I own, thus the internal speaker is small and can’t produce the volume of the other two radios mentioned above.

That said, it is an improvement over the KX3’s built-in speaker (in terms of volume) and I have never been in a field situation where it wasn’t loud enough. Overall, it’s a very balanced package and this is, no doubt, why I reach for it so often.

Some radios that could use improvement

A big caveat here: I feel like the following radios would benefit from better audio. None of these are what I would consider “unacceptable” for field use. In fact, I own or have owned all of these and have had a lot of fun in the field with them.

If–as in Charles’ case–audio fidelity is very important to you, you might take note here.


I wish Xiegu would spend time improving the audio fidelity of their radios. I’ve owned and/or reviewed the G90, GSOC, X5105, X6100, and am currently evaluating the G106.

Without a doubt, I believe the G90 is the best of the Xiegu bunch in terms of audio (click here to read my full review). No doubt this is why it’s so popular in the world of POTA.

I think the X5105 (review) and X6100 (review) are really cool platforms: I love the versatility, portability, and all-in-one nature of both radios.

But both radios produce unrefined, harsh audio. Neither of them have internal speakers that can be pushed hard without distorting. They both have a “tinny” quality to them.

To be honest? Most of the time, the audio is fine for the field. But I think it’s particularly unpleasant when earphones are needed.


I remember using the X5105 last year at the New River State Park campground in the early morning. I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors, so I used earphones. After 30 minutes on the air, I honestly wanted the little pile-up I generated to stop just so I could take the earphones off. It was a really unpleasant experience and that’s while you won’t see me using earphones with my X5105 except in a pinch.

I’m also testing the new Xiegu G106 right now and find that it’s audio is pretty lacking too.

Again, I wish Xiegu would spend a little time improving the audio in their otherwise feature-packed radios.

Another radio worth mentioning is the (tr)uSDX which I actually think is an amazing radio in so many respects.

But audio is just not its strong suit.

In truth? It’s hard to criticize the (tr)SDX because it is utilizing its hardware to the max and it’s insanely affordable.

If audio quality is important to you though, you might look elsewhere. The internal speaker (without modification) is very weak and easily distorts (squeals, even); then again, I wouldn’t even expect a speaker on a $115 transceiver. Overall audio characteristics are better than I expected, but the noise floor is pretty high. If you want to hear for yourself, check out the activation video in this field report.

What are your favorites?

Again, this is a very short list on purpose–I could brag about the audio with several other radios I use regularly.

I’m curious what you think? What are your favorite field radios (or shack radios) in terms of audio quality? Please comment!

38 thoughts on “What are my favorite QRP field radios in terms of audio quality–?”

  1. The KX-2 is my only portable field radio with a speaker. I do like the audio.

    My other current radios are an LNR MTR-3B_LCD and a Venus SW-3B. Both require earbuds, headphones, or an external amplified speaker.

    I would note that of those two radios, both have good quality audio but the SW-3B wins hands down because it has volume control, and can drive even the cheapest “dollar store” earbuds very well.

    Tim N9PUZ

    1. You’re certainly correct about the SW-3B. That AF gain–and even RF Gain–control makes it a stand out in the ultra-portable category.


  2. My favorite is the KX2 and the worst is my KX3
    That’s only from a sample of 5
    1. KX2
    2. K1
    3. FT891
    4. FT817
    5. KX3

    Thanks for all you do!
    Stan AE7UT

    1. Yes, in general I think the KX3 audio is fantastic. It’s wee internal speaker is just quite limiting–especially in terms of the amount of volume it can push. Via headphones, though, it’s a brilliant radio.

      Speaking of radios, you have some great ones in your collection.


  3. Thomas hit the nail on the head. Definitely the IC-705 outshines the rest. The KX2 and KX3 are great except when a strong station comes in with the volume control set too high causing a splattering sound. I’ve heard it many times on Thomas’ videos. I have a K1 with built in speaker and it also sounds great.

      1. K1 is right up there. Takes me back to the early days and can listen for hours without fatigue. Charlie/WA4APL

          1. Thomas…. Recently while watching one of your many videos, I think I heard you mention you were buying a new (corded) portable speaker for your video recording…

            Most portable speakers out there are now only bluetooth. Some have aux line inputs, but they are increasingly harder to find. (At least the small compact speaker).

            Here’s one idea I recently implemented… using my small Retekes SW radio, and it’s speaker for use with my various kits.
            The radio is rechargeable, and it even boasts a way to record the audio…. One rock, and a couple of birds, bamm!

            Oh, and have you tried the Medagalia D’Oro instant espresso? I add enough to give it the Krema and richness I prefer… with some heavy cream. Have you tried it, and whatcha think? Curious…

            Here’s a link to the SW Radio…. https://www.ebay.com/itm/363215692097?mkcid=16&mkevt=1&mkrid=711-127632-2357-0&ssspo=5XDYroZKSzS&sssrc=2349624&ssuid=6r-SyPa_TSy&var=&widget_ver=artemis&media=COPY

  4. What you have to understand about Chinese radio manufacturers under the CCP.
    ” We have your money now so we don’t care”. It is as simple as that . One youtube video about a certain manufacturers latest model destroyed what little ‘credibility’ the brand had, over night. So maybe NOW, they might stop using their CUSTOMERS as beta-testers.


  5. My two favorites are the KX2 and the FT818, I don’t have the TR-45L yet so I can’t say 🙂 73 de AI5DD

    1. You’ll soon have three radios with great audio. I could have just as easily put the FT-817/818 on my good audio list.

  6. Great question and great answer. I’ll throw my comments here for consideration. I appreciate the sound of older analog superhet rigs, so I’d add a K2 into the mix. Of all my field radios, it just sounds so good and right. Thomas, I would also second your comments about the Penntek. I have a TR35, although it doesn’t have a speaker, the audio is so warm and pleasant sounding and as a field radio it is pretty darn sweet. Ultimately sound preference is in the “ear” of the user and there are so many good choices out there.

    1. Hear hear! I hope to add a K2 back to my radio collection sometime next year. I really miss that rig.

  7. Also, with headphones the KX2 has the stereo effect which to me makes headphone listening otherworldly and lest taxing on the ears and brain.

    1. I *love* using that stereo effect when listening–especially in crowded conditions. I find that it spreads out the audio making it easier for me to hear weak signals. Also, it effectively widens the audio for broadcast listening in AM.

  8. I totally agree about the X6100. My first one, it died and was replaced under warranty, the speaker died before the rig totally died. Head phones still worked so was the speaker.

    Would be listening to weak station, turn up volume and when strong station came in the audio was so distorted. I also think the reason the speaker died, it could not handle the audio.

    I think most of these small QRP rigs with small speakers do have rcv audio quality issues.

    I do like my IC705 with front speaker, never had an issue with it. A friend has a KX3 and I was impressed with it’s audio.

    73, ron, n9ee

    1. One concerning thing about Xiegu products is how they’ll hold up over time. I’m curious if 20 years from now, they’ll all still be working. From looking inside these radios I can tell that some batches have excellent workmanship, others much less so. It mostly depends on the production run.


      1. I have never owned a Xiegu, nor likely too… I’m more likely to buy a kit radio, I love Elecraft… not to be a snob. But it’s receiver is amazing with a properly deployed antenna.

        That said, the small QRP radios, like the QCX Mini, MTR’s or any Weber design, continue to impress me.

  9. Great right up and I appreciate all the comments. I should first start out that I have owned a lot of qrp radios over the last 45 years. My favorite right now has been for a while, is the KX2.

    With all the newer radios that have come out, I am really enjoying some of my new toys for my different applications the TR-35, LNR MTR-4B, (tr) uSDX, and my QCX minis.

    Thank you again.

    Dave KN4OK

  10. My favorite is my Elecraft KX2… it has a built in speaker, and can pull in very weak signals.

    Although, as simple as it may be… I have a Weber Mountain Topp’r 20/40 ‘dual bander’… the genesis of the MTR series of radios. It has no volume control, yet it has a receiver, of brilliant elegant simplicity. Your earbuds (with volume control) are alive. You can dial it in, and hear what you need.

    I had Adam, K6ARK, install a capacitive key, two chrome acorn nuts… it works great! You have to trick the circuit, by inserting an iambic key during power on, then pull it, and use the CapKey.

    With a 9v battery & earbuds, the K6ARK EFλ/2 (linked with a 40m extension.). You are on the air!

    1. I love the idea of your pimped-out Mountain Topper dual-bander! That would make for a super tine complete package. Adam is certainly the grand master of miniaturization!

      And, yes, the KX2 is truly benchmark.

    1. Excellent! For it’s long-term health, I suggest taking it to the field frequently! The G90 loves the outdoors. 🙂

  11. I love my old school Icom IC-703. I think CW and SSB sound excellent. Reminds me of my old school Icom IC-728, in a great way. I sold the IC-728 to a school radio club years ago but I’m keeping my IC-703. Both fixes were done by Icom under warranty.

    72/73 Kevin N2TO

  12. HI to all.
    I work mobile HF and V-UHF, but only on portable mode, what I can carry with me. I and my young nephew….. I recently got a Yaesu FT-818ND that we are appreciating very much.
    From LW to UHF.
    Gabriele, I4JXE

  13. Tom,

    After your recent review of the Ten Tec Argonaut V, I succumbed and bought another one. This will be my third. The other two I owned were long gone. Don’t ask.

    The Argonaut V sounds sweet using its internal speaker or with Headphones, and I have no doubt it will sound just as good in the field. I am in the process of installing an adjustable temperature control to eliminate fan noise when operating CW or SSB.

    So far I have only been using it in the shack primarily for CW & FT8, but as soon as I aquire a decent battery and finish the fan control modification, I will use it for POTA activations.


  14. I had a Xeigu G90 and an X6100. Sold them both as I found the audio tiresome. They are not bad radio’s, just not for me. I have an IC-705 and a TX-500. Both have great audio. I mostly use them with headphones or ear buds so as not to bother others. I am on the TR-45L list waiting impatiently for it. Though not QRP, my other field radio is an IC-7300 which also has great audio.

  15. I have been in QRP since the early 70’s. I have the Heathkit HW-8, HW-9, Ten Tec Argonaut 515, Argosy (analog), Argonaut V, Argonaut VI, Elecraft K1, KX1, KX2, KX3, Yaesu FT-817 (W4RT dual filter board), Icom IC-703+ (W4RT dual filter board), SGC SG-2020, MFJ-9020 & 9040, DSW II 20 & 40 & Aerial-51 SKY-SDR. Best audio using internal speaker is Argonaut V. Best portable rig is hands down KX2. Worse radio, SG-2020. If you can find a Hype portable speaker https://www.bestbuy.com/site/hype-portable-mini-amp-speaker-black/1984215.p?skuId=1984215 this will improve any rigs audio. I also use dbhi compact in-line module which really eliminates a lot of the noise if band condx are noisy. I find it words better than most internal NR.

    Reed Fite W4JZ

  16. I am not sure if this is the “best” audio in some objective sense, but to me the Collins 75S3/B/C sounds most like what I think of as how a HF radio “should” sound. BTW, it’s interesting to me that cheap is what most folks think of in terms of speakers/headphones. Bad transducers=bad sound…

  17. Currently I have a (tr)uSDX that I purchased pre-built. I agree, the audio can be a bit harsh. I connect a pair of Bose QC headphones and it’s workable. I’m pretty happy with the performance overall for basic POTA hunting from my front porch.

    It seems to me that the ic-705 and Elecraft are at the top of most people’s list – and I could see getting one of those in the next few years. But before that I could see making an incremental purchase. Maybe a 5105, 6100, or G90. If I’m happy with the (tr)USDX would I probably be happy with a Xiegu? Or would I better off waiting for one of the new rigs from BG2FX?

    1. I would personally wait to see how the new BG2FX radios perform. They should be shipping within a month or so.

  18. I have learnt a lot from your videos. Yes, a choice of radio is very subjective.

    I splashed out and bought the X6100 and was made aware that the raig had its shortcomings. On a positive not, however, its not all doom and gloom. As the X6100 is Linux under the hood, it allows anyone with the know how to make improvements – and some have. Have a look at what R1CBU and his team have managed. (http//r1cbu.ru). Of the radios mentioned, the 705 is a heap of money to pay – way more than double what the X6100 cost me.

    I don’t own the G90 but have heard from those that do that its a good rig. On the plus side, it can TX up to 20W but that small screen maybe a hindrance for some.

    73 de Kevin ZS6KB

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