Note that the following review first appeared in the May 2023 issue of TheSpectrum Monitor magazine.
Update: Also, please note that the G106 is on sale at Radioddity at time of posting. With our affiliate link pricing is only $264 US (see note at end of review). Please read this review prior to making a purchase decision!
An in-depth review of the Xiegu G106 QRP HF transceiver
by Thomas (K4SWL)
Last year––in May of 2022, that is––Xiegu announced a new compact field radio that would be added to their line of transceivers: the Xiegu G106.
Xiegu has really made a name for themselves over the past few years with several transceiver offerings, many of which have become very popular. Among these:
- The Xiegu G90 is a 20-watt transceiver with an excellent built-in ATU. The G90 has become a very popular field radio over the past few years.
- The Xiegu X5101 is a five-watt shack-in-a-box HF transceiver covering 160-6 meters. The X5105 has become a go-to QRP portable due to its fine built-in ATU and built-in rechargeable battery pack.
- The Xiegu X6100 is much like the X5105, in that it’s also a shack-in-a-box QRP transceiver, but it leverages SDR technology to provide a beautiful color spectrum display and a host of features not found on its predecessors. Many have adopted the X6100 because its operating system is Linux-based and many enthusiasts have created their own X6100 interface that promised direct digital mode operation.
Because we’re seeing more products like these from Xiegu, the up-and-coming Xiegu G106 stirred interest.
Moreover, Xiegu has become a low-cost leader among HF transceiver manufacturers. In each of the reviews I’ve published about Xiegu radios, my summary statement is that each unit offers a lot of performance for the price. Xiegu transceivers don’t have the most robust receiver front-ends, and the audio is unrefined, but their rigs get the job done and have some serious “fun factor.”
So when I first learned about the new Xiegu G106, I was curious where it would fit into their product line.
Introducing the Xiegu G106
As I was capping off my summer in Canada back in August of 2022, Xiegu retailer Radioddity started shipping the G106. Radioddity had me on the list to send a loaner G106 for review, but upon my return I found myself so busy that I didn’t immediately request it.
I did watch, however, K8MRD’s initial and updated review of the G106 on YouTube. While it was less than stellar––understatement alert––more relevant to me was that Mike shipped his second evaluation unit to me on behalf of Radioddity.
I connected that G106 to a dummy load, checked the transmitted signal on my SDRplay RSPdx spectrum display, and it simply didn’t look very clean. In fact, it looked worse than it did when Mike checked it only a couple of weeks prior.
I shared my results with Radioddity and told them I didn’t feel comfortable putting the G106 on the air; they asked that the unit be returned and checked out.
Fast-forward to January 2023, when I was once again contacted by Radioddity to see if I would like to field test an updated G106? I answered that I was happy to do so, because I was curious whether the G106 experience had improved.
In the spirit of full disclosure, keep in mind that Radioddity is a Xiegu retailer/distributor––the company is not the manufacturer, nor is it owned by Xiegu. They sent this G106 to me on an extended loan for an honest evaluation.
So where does the G106 fit into the Xiegu product line? It’s being marketed as a low-cost, entry level, multi-mode QRP HF transceiver that leverages 16-bit CODEC sampling to provide the user with a lot of radio for the price. It’s basic, and meant to be so, in that it’s only a transceiver; there is no built-in ATU or battery. The G106 is marketed as a bare-bones portable HF transceiver.
I feel like it hits this mark.
The G106 doesn’t have a lot of features or controls one might expect in other Xiegu radios, but it has more features than any other modern HF radio I know of in its price class (see features list below). Indeed, I can’t think of any other 80-10 meter general coverage QRP transceiver that retails for $320 or less. The G106 has this market niche to itself for the moment.
The sides of the G106 are rounded and the chassis extends beyond the encoder and front controls of the radio, thus the interior is quite well protected in the event the radio is dropped. This is one of the few QRP field radios on the market that doesn’t need an aftermarket cage. I’ve been transporting the G106 in an old hard shell headphone case a friend gave me. The case isn’t large, but it easily holds the G106 and a power cord with a bit of room to spare.
The G106 sports a small monochrome backlit display that’s very easy to read in the shack or in the field with full sunlight.
Besides the weighted encoder (which has soft detents), the volume control, and microphone port, there are also four multi-function buttons located under the small display on the front panel. On top of the radio, there is a power/backlight button, mode/pre-amp button, and two band buttons that also can be pressed and held to change the frequency cursor position. The internal speaker is also mounted on the bottom of the top cover, just behind the top panel buttons.
The most conspicuous omission is a headphone or external speaker port. I would have expected this in a QRP field radio because operators often prefer using headphones in the field rather than a speaker. I know that some G106 owners have built their own RJ9 audio plug to port out the audio to headphones. There is a headphone port on the supplied speaker mic, but CW-only operators might prefer a more direct way to connect earphones in order to keep the bulk of their field kit to a minimum.
What is surprising is that the G106 has a very basic spectrum display that is actually quite useful!
The ergonomics of the G106 are overall pretty good…but a bit quirky. To be honest, giving the user access to numerous functions and features on a radio this small is always going to affect ergonomics; there’s only so much control-surface real estate.
There’s always a bit of give and take. For example: I like the encoder. It has a smooth, weighted feel and seems to work smoothly. Some users might not appreciate the soft detents that can be felt while tuning. I think it works quite well, but to change the tuning steps, you must press and hold one of the two band buttons on top of the radio, then wait for the frequency cursor to move in order to change the frequency step. This is a great solution on paper, but in practice I’ve often not held the band button quite long enough and accidentally moved bands when wanting to fine tune.
Otherwise the band up/down buttons work perfectly, as do the mode and power buttons.
The four multi-function buttons are a clever way to control a total of twenty transceiver parameters. Press a button once, and the display will show the function it controls immediately above the button; this display lasts for about three seconds before returning to the normal frequency display. While the display label is above that button, simply touch the button to adjust each parameter. Pressing and holding the button can reveal more detail in some functions. Here’s a list of all of the menu items with their associated features per firmware version 1.2:
- V/M: VFO and Memory Tune Toggle
- A/B: VFO A and B toggle
- MW: Memory channel write
- MC: Memory channel clear
- CFW: CW filter selection
- CWT: CW sidetone tone control
- CWR: CW ratio
- QSK: QSK operation toggle
- KS: CW keyer speed
- KM: CW keyer mode (left/right paddle or straight key)
- IMB: Iambic mode
- CSN: Startup display setting
- SPL: Split mode
- DIS: Display options (three variations, at time of publication)
- BP: Beep on/off toggle
- VER: Firmware version information
- WFM: FM receiver mode (turns the G106 into an FM broadcast band receiver)
- BSM: Band selection toggle (full or ham band only)
- MG: Hand mic gain
- TXP: Transmit power settings Low (≈500mw), Mid (≈2W), High (≈5W)
This is quite an impressive feature list for a radio in this price class.
That said, there are a few items I wish would have been included as menu options. Limitations are:
- No SSB compression
- No AGC control (supposedly the G106 has an active AGC, but it can’t be adjusted)
- No CW sidetone volume (sidetone volume increases with AF gain)
- No RF gain control
Most conspicuous omission: no metering
The first thing I noticed when I put the G106 on the air was the fact that it has no SWR or power output meter. I had hoped this could be added in a future firmware update, but Xiegu has confirmed that this is a limitation of the hardware, so it cannot be added.
It’s a shame, because built-in SWR and PO metering makes it easy for an operator to check that their field antenna is performing nominally. There are other basic radios that lack metering; I also miss SWR metering in my MTR-3B and TR-35.
[Update: N6ARA has a tiny SWR meter kit in Beta at time of posting that I would recommend for the G106.]
Again, we’re talking about a $300-320 radio, so frankly it’s hard to complain about any feature shortcomings, as the G106 has a larger complement of features than any other HF radio in its price class. Period.
Overall, I’ve had a lot of fun with the G106, and it’s accompanied me on some of my most active, demanding POTA activations. However: it’s not a perfect radio, and I feel that any future owner should take into consideration its pros and cons, as well as how they plan to use the G106, before determining whether it would be a suitable addition for them.
I was telling a friend recently that Xiegu radio reviews tend to be some of my lengthiest reviews because, when you’re evaluating a low-cost leader, the review must focus on the nuances of performance and capability within the context of price and market. Whereas when I review a radio like the Icom IC-705 or Elecraft KX2, performance is benchmark, but comes at a benchmark price, understandably.
But some operators might not need benchmark performance for the way they plan to use a radio. In these cases, one must carefully weigh the pros and cons.
Let’s take a look at some of the G106’s most basic characteristics, then look at mode-specific performance based on my experience using the G106.
The G106 sports a general coverage receiver that tunes from 550 kHz to 30,000 kHz. Since it has AM mode, it can be used to listen to the AM and shortwave broadcast bands. While I think this frequency coverage is an excellent bonus for broadcast listeners, I wouldn’t purchase the G106 as a dedicated shortwave receiver, for example.
Interestingly, the G106 also includes the FM broadcast band from 88 – 108 MHz. In FM mode, you can tune in your favorite FM stations quite easily.
I believe the G106 receiver is adequately sensitive for field operating; I know this, because I’ve enjoyed some successful activations with it. That said, when I compare it to other QRP transceivers, they tend to do a much better job at making weak signals intelligible. I wouldn’t pick the G106 for weak signal work––or, again, in a contest environment.
A note about overloading
As with the Xiegu X6100, the G106 is prone to overloading from AM broadcasters. The G106 has no effective internal BCI filters, so if you’re relatively close to a transmitting site, you will likely hear audio bleed-through.
From my QTH, for example, I often hear a local broadcaster around 1,010 kHz bleed through the 20-meter ham band. At times, it’s quite strong––noticeable enough that when I first evaluated the G106, my wife overheard the broadcaster bleeding through as she passed my shack door, and asked if that was “normal.” Sometimes the bleed through is less prominent from this local AM station, roughly five miles away as the crow flies.
I’ve also experienced this type of overloading in two POTA activations at sites where none of my other radios have ever had an issue.
The front end of the G106 is very wide and weak. The remedy is to build (or buy) a simple in-line BCI filter. I purchased a BCI filter kit (see photo above/below) for $20, shipped, from Dan (K9DP); I highly recommend this filter for any G106 or X6100 owner.
Adding the filter effectively eliminates broadcast band interference. Plus this little kit would make for a great club build.
I’ve never considered audio fidelity to be one of Xiegu’s strong suits. The G106 audio is pretty harsh and unrefined. On the flip side, it is quite loud for field use, as long as the pre-amp is engaged on the higher HF bands and you’re experiencing no broadcast band interference.
The AGC (Automatic Gain Control) is quite “loose,” for a lack of a better word. You can’t adjust the ACG level as you can on many other SDR-based radios, and I find that the default AGC on the G106 lends itself to audio popping and pumping. For example, while writing this review, I worked John (AE5X) who was activating a park in Florida in CW on 20 meters. His signal was a solid 599 and at 20 WPM, the G106 audio was pumping with each CW element––even making the speaker buzz a bit when at moderate audio levels.
For field use, the G106 audio is actually very tolerable. While evaluating the G106 in the shack, I had it turned on for hours at a time; I’ll admit that the audio can be a bit fatiguing for extended operating sessions.
One other oddity that I noticed over the course of writing this review: on some bands, the audio can’t actually be completely muted. I discovered this because I had the G106 next to me as I put together this review, and I worked a constant stream of POTA and SOTA stations and even did one random rag chew. I found having the radio on with CW signals in the background was a bit distracting, so I turned the volume all the way down. Oddly enough, the audio never completely disappeared save on 15, 12, and 10 meters. Since I was primarily working stations on 20 meters, I had to turn the radio off in order to fully mute the audio.
Again––reality check––we’re talking about a $320 radio here.
The G106 defaults to 1 kHz tuning steps. In order to adjust fine tuning to tenths or 100ths of a kHz, you must press and hold the right or left band buttons. One two-second press of the right band button will move the tuning cursor to the right by one decimal place. Each move requires a two-second press of the band button. Note that one long press followed by a shorter press will inadvertently move the G106 to a different meter band, which can be frustrating.
I’m not sure why Xiegu engineers didn’t design the rig so that one press of the encoder knob would highlight the tuning cursor, then a right or left turn would position the cursor where the user wants it. This is how most other radios with simple controls function, and it’s much more familiar to most operators.
Instead, a press of the encoder brings up the menu system over the four front panel buttons. It’s redundant, unfortunately, because one press of any of the front menu buttons does the same thing. This is one of those cases where you can tell there’s likely a disconnect between the radio engineer/designer, and the actual operators or users. Again, while this is a minor quibble, and based on my own personal ergonomic preferences, I felt it was worth noting.
The very first activation I made with the G106 included SSB, and it worked very well. Frankly I was a bit surprised by this, since there’s so little in the way of SSB tailoring. I’ve had friends check the audio and have been told that it’s clear, but not “punchy.” I do feel a little compression control has a big impact on QRP radios; it would have been nice if this had been included.
The supplied hand mic is very small––to the point that it feels a bit like a toy mic––but it certainly does work.
Of course, the G106 lacks SSB message memories, but that’s not a feature I would actually expect in this price class.
Having seen how few parameters can be adjusted in SSB mode (basically only Mic gain), I was surprised to find that the G106 has some of the most important adjustments for CW: filter selection, sidetone frequency, ratio, QSK, keyer speed, keyer mode, straight key, and paddle left/right toggle. The only thing missing is sidetone volume, but (again) for $320, there’s no room for complaint here.
I must say that I think Xiegu got it right the first time with the G106 keyer. The pacing and cadence better match other electronic keyers I’ve used, thus my keying has been accurate.
While the G106 has a QSK toggle, it doesn’t deliver full break-in operation. With QSK engaged and with the t/r delay set to 0 milliseconds, you can’t “hear between” sent elements, but you can hear during breaks in words. I should add that, while I haven’t tested this on the bench, I believe Xiegu’s declared 0ms delay time is fudging it a bit; indeed, I can’t tell any difference at all in t/r relay time from 100ms to 0ms. I believe 100-150ms is likely the true floor because the receiver remains muted between elements until you’ve sent a character––or at high speed, a word.
Overall, though, I’m quite pleased with the G106’s CW operation!
I have not tested digital modes on the G106. It was designed to work quite well in digital modes but requires the optional Xiegu DE-19 interface. With the DE-19 between your radio and computing device you can work all of your favorite digital modes, including FT8.
Input Voltage and Current Consumption
The G106 is pretty flexible in terms of input voltage, as it can handle anything from 9 to 15V DC. This opens up a wide range of battery chemistries for portable power.
Portable operators always keep an eye on a QRP rig’s receive current numbers because the amount of current used directly equates to the size of battery needed, as well as to the amount of run time one can achieve with a certain battery. Xiegu notes that the G106 uses a max of 370mA in receive and a max of 2.8A in transmit. I found that its receive current was actually slightly lower: about 330mA with the backlight on, and 320mA with the backlight off. While this current figure is about three times that of my Discovery TX-500, which uses about 100mA, it’s still a respectable number.
I have pretty much adopted 3Ah LiFePo4 battery packs as my portable power source of choice. I find that long POTA sessions with the G106 can deplete a fully charged battery. I believe a better battery pack size for this rig would be 4.5Ah or even 6Ah.
- Very modestly priced at $300 ± $20 US
- Compact form factor and lightweight (1.6 lbs/0.7 kg)
- Multi-mode (CW, SSB, AM, FM)
- 80-10 meters
- General coverage from 550 kHz to 30,000 kHz
- Spectrum display is simple but useful, with three display size options
- Display backlight can be easily turned on and off
- Encoder is somewhat weighted for better ergonomic feel
- Front end overloads in the presence of AM broadcast stations: BCI filter is needed
- QSK: no proper full break-in (no difference between 0 and 100 ms settings)
- No SWR or power output meter
- No CW or voice message memories
- No RF gain control
- No RIT control
- Unrefined audio
- Sidetone volume and AF Gain are locked together
- AGC cannot be adjusted and seems “loose” and a little unwieldy at times; sometimes audio pops heard after a particularly strong signal
- Audio never completely goes to zero on 20 meters and below
- Audio pops often heard when switching bands (not good, especially if using earphones)
- Menu mode times out too quickly: when changing a parameter in the menu, if you wait more than about 2-3 seconds, it times out of menu mode
- No headphone or external speaker output on the radio (hand mic has an external audio port, though)
So, should you purchase a Xiegu G106?
This is always a very difficult question to answer because so much of one’s enjoyment of a radio has to do with personal preference. When I write a review, I feel it’s my duty to note any and every observation that I feel could influence a purchase decision. I also try to evaluate the radio by stepping into others’ shoes, so to speak; that’s what I’ll do here:
If you’re looking for your first HF radio, I believe the G106 could be a possibility, if you want to cut your teeth on a basic, affordable QRP radio that has less-refined performance in order to build your own skill set. I liken this to when I first learned to play a bass guitar: my first bass was very much a beater, but it taught me a lot; then when I actually acquired a higher quality bass guitar, I felt I had grown as a musician first. I had an appreciation for the extra quality. The same thing might be said of the G106––it will force you to do a bit more “DSP” with that amazing “filter” between your ears! My personal advice for a first HF radio, however, would be to go with something more akin to the Yaesu FT-818ND (if you want to go QRP), the Yaesu FT-891, or the Icom IC-7300. All of these radios offer better overall receiver performance and inherent quality.
If you’d like a dedicated portable field radio for a budget price, the G106 might fit the bill, especially if none of the cons above seem like deal-breakers. For less than $400, you could easily assemble a full HF field radio kit around the G106 that could take you on many POTA and SOTA adventures. I’ve also read that with the DE-19 interface, it’s a capable field radio for modes like FT-8. If, however, you’re a discerning, experienced operator who is used to higher-performance receivers, full break-in QSK, and more SSB parameters, I would take a hard pass on the G106.
If you’d like a QRP for competitive on-air events, I would also pass on the G106. The reason? It simply won’t cope well with RF-dense environments like Field Day or contests. The front end is just a little too weak. That said, I have found that the G106 can handle pileups we POTA or SOTA activators encounter: the audio can become a little garbled and overall sensitivity seems to decrease in the presence of so many signals, but it’s doable.
As mentioned earlier, if you purchase a G106, plan to buy or build a simple BCI filter as well. Even if you can’t hear audio bleed-through from a nearby AM broadcaster, it could still have a negative impact on the G106’s receiver performance.
The Xiegu G106 had a very bumpy start. In fact, most Xiegu transceivers do; the company seems to push the envelope on design-to-production time at the expense of pre-production testing. Early adopters essentially become the Beta testers. When the G106 first hit the market last year, it was, unfortunately, half-baked at best. Since then, Xiegu has updated the firmware and amended many of the early issues. I hope they continue to improve the firmware.
If you’re not expecting $1,000 performance from a $300 radio, you might give the G106 a go. I feel it’s certainly a good value and better performer than the price would suggest.
The truth is, the more I used the G106––especially after adding a BCI filter––the more I liked it. It grew on me. I believe this is because the simple rig has a bit of a fun factor. Besides, we QRPers enjoy doing more with less––and in this radio, less may very well be more.
At time of posting, the G106 is on sale for $279 US.
Xiegu G106 Field Reports/Activation Videos
Click here to check out my full Xiegu G106 Playlist on YouTube. Field reports for each of these activations are linked in the video description.
In addition, check out all Xiegu G106 posts here on QRPer.com by clicking on this link.