Category Archives: New Products

The new (tr)uSDX QRP transceiver kit by DL2MAN & PE1NNZ!

Oh my giddy aunt!

I just learned–via AE5X’s excellent blog–that Manuel DL2MAN and Guido’s PE1NNZ fork of the uSDX series of transceivers is now for sale in both kit form and fully assembled (projected in March/April) via the Romanian retailer/manufacturer roWaves.

Of course, it hit the web and everything is already sold out. John snagged a second production run one, though!

As John makes clear, this is not the Chinese uSDX version (that I recently sent back to the retailer due to its numerous issues). It’s a complete kit version of the uSDX sandwich transceiver.

I would encourage you to check out AE5X’s post for more details.

My oh my, we live in exciting times! I have been hoping that someone out there would kit up the original uSDX sandwich for all to enjoy!

Overloading: The Xiegu X6100’s biggest negative

I’ve had the Xiegu X6100 on loan from Radioddity since December 23rd, 2021. In that time, I’ve used it heavily in the shack and I’ve taken it on three field activations using a variety of antennas.

Overall, I think it’s a great little field radio.

I’ll be producing an in-depth review of the X6100 for The Spectrum Monitor magazine, but in the meantime I’m trying to bring up any points in advance that might help others make a purchase decision.

On that note?

Receiver overloading

Let’s face it: receiver strong signal handling and overload performance are important factors when you choose a radio.

No one buys a new radio and says, “I really hope it overloads easily!

As the title of this post implies, the biggest negative with the Xiegu X6100–in my humble opinion–is that it is prone to overload when in the presence of a strong signal. It’s a shame the front end isn’t more robust.

I’ve noticed this from my QTH, especially when tuning the X6100 outside of the ham radio bands. Indeed, I recently made a post about this on the SWLing Post. In truth, though, all bets are off when we move into the broadcast portions of the HF spectrum. Transceiver manufacturers usually don’t guarantee performance outside the ham bands. It makes sense as the focus is placed on ham band filtering.

But I have noticed overloading on the ham radio bands as well.

Earlier today, I did a park activation in Pisgah National Forest with the X6100. Before my activation started, I could hear a local AM broadcaster punching through the X6100’s front end all over the 40M band. I think it was a station on 1010 kHz which is only about 4-5 miles away from the site as the crow flies.

Disappointing.

Was it an issue? Not really. Not for me. Continue reading Overloading: The Xiegu X6100’s biggest negative

Xiegu X6100: Scott’s thoughts and impressions

Yes, Scott will freely admit that his sticker is tongue-in-cheek!

Many thanks to Scott (KN3A) who recently commented with his thoughts and impressions of the Xiegu X6100. Scott writes:

When you published your X6100 [field] 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 Icom 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 an X5105 for a few months and went on a few activations with it. I would mostly compare the X6100 to the X5105 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 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. Continue reading Xiegu X6100: Scott’s thoughts and impressions

New Xiegu X6100 firmware adds WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity

The X6100 WLAN configuration screen.

Many thanks to Radioddity who sent me the following note this morning:

We released new [Xiegu X6100]  firmware, which adds BT & WiFi function.

    1. Added WIFI function
    2. Added Bluetooth function
    3. Fixed the bug that can not save the user-selected filter group(1,2,3)
    4. Optimized the ALC algorithm and corrected the problem of power rise slow.
    5. Optimized the system settings.

For more details, please check this blog below,
https://radioddity.com/blogs/all/xiegu-x6100-firmware-upgrade-20211207

New Firmware Update Guide:
https://radioddity.s3.amazonaws.com/Xiegu_X6100_Wifi_%26_Bluetooth_Function_Instructions_20211230.pdf

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

POTA Field Report: Activating South Mountains with the new N6ARA TinyPaddle!

On Sunday, November 28, 2021, my family needed a little time outdoors after a Saturday full of home projects.

I packed my field radio kit in the GoRuck Bullet Ruck, then we jumped in the car and drove to the Clear Creek Access of South Mountains State Park (the same site in my previous POTA field report).

South Mountains State Park (K-2753)

It was a gorgeous day and we had the park to ourselves. First thing we did was hike the short Lakeview Trail loop.

This trail is only 1.3 miles long, but offers up some beautiful views.

Hazel also came along and enjoyed the sights, smells, and even got her feet wet in a stream!

Fortunately, no one was using the one solitary picnic table at the Clear Creek access, so we claimed it!

First thing I did was launch a line and deploy my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna.

I knew it would pair perfectly with the Elecraft KX2!

I love this compact Weaver throw line bag!

The new N6ARA TinyPaddle

This activation also gave me an excuse to check out a paddle my buddy Ara (N6ARA) recently designed.

He calls it the TinyPaddle:

An appropriate name, because this key is wee! Ara notes:

As someone who likes bring experimental gear to summits, I have had paddles break on me multiple times. […] I don’t like carrying the extra weight/volume of a second set of paddles, so I designed my own “TinyPaddle” for backup as a middle ground option. It weighs roughly 3.7g and is 1.2cm x 1.2cm x 5.0cm in size.

He’s right, the TinyPaddle could tuck away even in the most compact of field kits. You’d never know it was there.

Here’s the TinyPaddle connected to the side of my Elecraft KX2:

Ara sent this key to me for frank feedback (prior to doing a small production run of them) knowing I’d not only check it out in the shack, but (of course!) take it to the field.

I decided to do my activation at South Mountains State Park using only the TinyPaddle.

Gear:

Before taking it to the field, I had some concerns that the TinyPaddle might turn in the 3.5mm key port on the side of the KX2 as I used it. Once plugging it in, though, I could tell that it would not be a problem at all. The paddle is so lightweight and so sensitive, it’s simply not an issue. In fact, it would be rather difficult to use it in such a way that it would shift in the 3.5mm port.

On The Air

Knowing in advance that it was a contest weekend (the CQWW), I decided I would stick with the WARC bands during this activation.

I tuned the speaker wire antenna to 10.112 MHz on the 30 meter band.

Hazel asks, “Got any doggy treats in that pack, daddy?”

The 30 meter band was more crowded than usual as many other POTA/SOTA/WWFF and casual operators sought refuge from the signal density on 40 and 20 meters.

Since I had the family with me and since we’d spent most of our time at the park eating a late picnic lunch and doing a casual hike, I allotted only 20 minutes of air time for this activation. I was hoping I could validate the activation with 10 contacts in that amount of time.

I started calling CQ with the N6ARA paddles. First thing I noticed was how sensitive and precise they were. Although the TinyPaddle is a mechanical paddle (with spaced contacts), they feel more like a capacitive touch paddle they’re so sensitive.

I started calling CQ POTA and soon logged KE4Q.

A few minutes later, I worked AI8Z, followed by W5WIL, WO0S,  WA2JMG, AA0Z, WA2FBN, N0VRP, KA3OMQ, W9SAU, and K1MZM.

With a total of 12 stations logged in 21 minutes, I went QRT.

QSO Map

Here’s what 5 watts into a 28.5′ speaker wire did on 30 meters that fine day (click map to enlarge):

Video

Here’s a video of my full activation. Hazel was being very camera shy; for some reason, she doesn’t like the OSMO Action camera. My wife and I think it must resemble something she’s seen at the vet’s office? We may never know!

Click here to view on YouTube.

And the TinyPaddle?

In short? I love the TinyPaddle!

Ara is obviously a talented engineer. I’m always impressed with devices like this that are so simple, yet so effective.

The TinyPaddle is going to live in my KX2 field pack as a backup to the KXPD2 paddles which have actually failed me in the field before.

That time the KXPD2 failed me…

I mention in the video that I once needed to use my Elecraft KXPD2 paddles to communicate with my buddy Mike (K8RAT) to share my SSB frequency for a very rare park activation I activated in the spring of 2020. After plugging the KXPD2 paddles into the KX2, I found that I could only send “dits.” I couldn’t even set it up to send as a straight key from one side of the paddle.

This forced me to drive 25 minutes to a spot where I had cell phone reception to contact Mike with info for a spot, then drive back to the site. That effectively shortened my activation of this ATNO park by 50 minutes!

KXPD2 missing one of the two center posts.

I sent Elecraft the photo above and they quickly identified the problem: turns out, one of the center posts had loosened and fallen out.  They immediately sent me a replacement post free of charge (typical Elecraft customer service).

I use the KXPD2 paddles quite a lot because they mount directly to the front of the KX2 making it possible to use my kneeboard during SOTA activations.
Since that mishap in the field, I tighten the KXPD2 posts at least once a month and also carry a precision screwdriver with me in my field kit.

A proper backup!

But having the TinyPaddle now is even extra insurance that a paddle failure won’t stop me from completing my activation!

When I made the video, I wasn’t certain if Ara was planning to do a production run of these or not. I’m very pleased to see that he has!

He’s made a storefront on his website N6ARA.com and is now selling the TinyPaddle as a kit for $15 or fully assembled for $20 US.

I’m certain he could actually fetch much more for these paddles, but he wants them to be an affordable, accessible backup paddle for anyone doing CW field activations.

He even includes a link to his Thingiverse page where you can download and 3D print accessories (including a TinyPaddle holder) and replacement parts at home free of charge.

Ara, thanks for making your project so available and accessible to everyone!

Click here to check out the TinyPaddle at N6ARA.com. Note that he’s doing these production runs in batches, but you can pre-order them.

Thank you!

I hope you enjoyed this field report and activation.

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.

Thank you!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Bonus photos!

My daughter Geneva (K4TLI) took a few extra photos at the park that day. Enjoy!

She took this candid photo of me as I packed up the KX2. Check out my KSKO (McGrath, AK) tee shirt! Thanks for that, Paul Walker!

Xiegu X6100: Josh reviews the final retail production unit

If you’re interested in the new Xiegu X6100 QRP transceiver, I’d strongly encourage you to check out Josh’s latest view on the Ham Radio Crash Course YouTube channel:

Click here to view on the HRCC YouTube Channel.

I’m very pleased to see that Xiegu has addressed some of the issues found in their pre-production model. Most encourgaing!

I look forward to checking out the X6100 soon and putting it through the paces in the field. Although I say this with some apprehension, the X6100 does look promising.

I know that Scott (KN3A) will have his X6100 soon and also will share his thoughts and field experience.  [Update] Scott comments with some unfortunate news:

Sadly, I received mine on Monday morning, and I had to return it to HRO last evening. Intermittent problems with transmit/receive on all bands except 40 meters. Did a couple of videos to document the issues before returning it last night. Hopefully it was just a fluke and there will be a replacement. There are a lot of things I liked about the radio in the short time I used it on Monday. It certainly does have potential.“]

Stay tuned!

Early days with the Chinese uSDR / uSDX reveals weaknesses

A couple days ago I finally took delivery of the uSDX/uSDR transceiver I ordered in late October from this seller on eBay. I’ve been tinkering with it in the shack since then and have started to form some initial impressions.

The uSDX is a super cheap transceiver and, to be clear, my expectations were (spoiler: thankfully) very low.

If you’ve been here for long, you’ll know that I don’t normally test or review super cheap transceiver varieties found on eBay, AliExpress, etc. So many people asked me to check out the uSDX, however, that I decided I would try to give it a shake out.

I’ve yet to take this little radio to the field, but I have made a couple dozen contacts from the shack, all in CW and I’ve done a lot of listening. Yesterday afternoon, I even hooked it up to an oscilloscope.

It’s still early days and I’m sharing the following observations and notes with the hope that uSDX owners might be able to guide me if I need to make menu adjustments to sort out a few issues.

More specifically, there are two big cons with my uSDX:

Con #1: The Audio

Trying to be diplomatic and kind with my words here, but let’s just say the uSDX audio leaves much to be desired.

I think it’s great this little transceiver has a built-in top-mounted speaker, but it produces some of the harshest, most spluttery audio I’ve ever heard in a radio.

On top of this, the volume control (which requires going into an embedded menu item to adjust) is just…strange. It’s hard to explain, but the audio feedback isn’t what I would expect from a volume control or AF gain. It seems like each volume control step (starting at “-1” and going up to “+16”) is a mix of both AF and RF gain values. It doesn’t have a fluid amplification progression like I would normally expect.

In fact, I can’t really turn the volume up to +16 because on many bands around level +14 or +15, it starts to emit a really loud squeal.

Although very minor compared with the issues above, the audio amplification chain also has an ever-present hiss.

In addition, even with the volume turned to “-1” I can still hear splattering and even garbled whispers of CW signals if connected to an antenna.

I hope I’m missing something here and the audio can be tailored for better listening. Perhaps there’s a combination of adjustments I can make in the menu options to help?

Please comment if you own a uSDX and can provide some feedback.

Con #2: The Receiver

Again, unless there’s a magic combination of adjustments I can make in menu items, I find the receiver of the uSDX to be incredibly anemic.

I took the uSDX to my buddy Vlado (N3CZ) yesterday and we hooked it up to an analog oscilloscope and signal generator.

We concluded that the uSDX is very sensitive, but the front end seems to be as wide open as a barn door.

This confirmed my on-the-air observations made over the past two days: even with the 500 Hz DSP filter engaged, CW signals as far away as +1.7 kHz could easily bleed through. In fact, quite often when I tune to a POTA or SOTA station operating CW, I could even hear FT8/FT4 stations bleeding through from far across the band.

I couldn’t help but think if I had taken the uSDX on my recent Mt Mitchell SOTA activation instead of the QRP Labs QCX-Mini, there’s no possible way I could have handled the pileup. The uSDX receiver would have completely fallen apart because it shows no ability to handle tightly spaced signals.

Again, if you’re a uSDX owner and can provide some insight here, I would very much appreciate it.

Still testing the uSDX TX

One of my main goals with purchasing the uSDX was to test the transmit signal to see how clean it might be and if there were spurs in any harmonics.

Vlado hooked up the uSDX to his oscilloscope and we discovered that it did produce spurious emissions in harmonics of the 40M band. The spurs were negligible and we both assume it might possibly be within FCC guidelines.

With that said, Vlado didn’t completely trust this particular analog oscilloscope because there appeared to be a slight fault in its BNC input port. We ran enough tests–and even compared the uSDX to my KX2–to know that there are definitely faint spurious emissions and that the CW transmit signal isn’t nearly as clean as the KX2.

Here’s a 2 second video clip showing the uSDX transmitting CW on 7 MHz into the scope:

Click here to view on Vimeo.

I plan to hook the uSDX to a digital oscilloscope to get more accurate results in the near future.

Not all cons

The uSDX does have some positive attributes.

For example, the QSK is quiet and even full break-in. This little radio is also chock-full of features. I’ve even found that though it’s advertised as an 8 band radio, mine will transmit on 10 bands; everything from 160-10 meters.

I think if I planned to operate the uSDX on SSB when the bands were relatively quiet, it might do quite well for casual contacts.

Time will tell…

To be clear, though, the issues above can be deal-killers for me.

I want my transmitted signal to be clean enough to at least meet FCC requirements–I like being a good neighbor on the bands.  This might require some modifications on the output, but let’s see what a digital oscilloscope might reveal.

Of course, if the uSDX can’t handle multiple CW signals being thrown at me at once, I can’t see how this would possibly work as a SOTA or POTA field radio.

I can already tell that the ergonomics of the particular uSDX model I purchased will likely lead to–as Spock put it in Star Trek IV–some “colorful metaphors.”  Especially when I reach for the volume control buried behind a menu item. (I mean, seriously?)

Again, if you own a similar uSDX, I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions!

Elecraft AX2 20M modifiable pocket antenna now shipping

AX2 illustration by Elecraft

Many thanks to Wayne (N6KR) at Elecraft who notes that the Elecraft AX2 20 meter pocket antenna is now shipping:

https://elecraft.com/collections/antennas/products/ax2-minature-20-meter-whip-antenna

Here’s the product description from Elecraft’s website:

The AX2 is small enough to take anywhere – just in time for lightweight field ops during the new solar cycle. Use it HT-style with a hand-held, like the KX2; on a picnic table with an AXB1 whip bipod; or with a tripod and AXT1 tripod adapter. The AX2’s rugged, nylon housing is water-resistant, with low wind resistance and our new anti-wobble design.

Illustration by Elecraft

Experimenters will love the AX2’s versatile design. A snap-off cover provides access to the high-Q inductor. Simply remove turns and re-solder one wire to cover your favorite band. Clip-off tabs are provided for band identification.

Elecraft also provides an AX1 and AX2 comparison chart on the AX2 product page:

COMPARISON CHART

The table below shows how the new AX2 20-meter mini-whip compares to our original AX1 multi-band whip. Both are designed for lightweight portable operation. The versatile AX1 covers multiple bands via a selector switch and can handle up to 30 W continuous TX power.

The ultra-compact AX2 has a new anti-tilt base design that minimizes BNC connector wobble – ideal for hand-held (HTstyle) use. While the AX2 covers 20 meters as shipped, it can be modified by the user to cover any single band from 17 through 6 meters. The base unit includes small tabs that can be clipped off to identify the target band.

NOTE: Both whips are intended to be used with an ATU to compensate for terrain, body capacitance, height, etc.

A reader recently asked if I’d be selling my AX1 after learning about the AX2, but that isn’t going to happen. The AX2 is a 20 meters and up antenna and I see it as being a brilliant SOTA companion since its lightweight, stable design should do well on windy summits.

For POTA and WWFF, however, I really rely on the 40 meter band for most of my contacts. The AX1 covers 40 meters brilliantly (and 20M and 17M) so I’ll still rely on it quite heavily.

Click here to check out the AX2 antenna on Elecraft’s website. The price is currently $79.99 US plus shipping.

Josh checks out a pre-production Xiegu X6100

Josh (KI6NAZ), over at the excellent Ham Radio Crash Course YouTube channel, has just published a video demonstrating a pre-production Xiegu X6100.

If you’ve been interested in the X6100, I highly recommend checking it out.

Josh compares the X6100 with the X5105 in terms of size and functionality, and even makes a QSO with it. For CW ops, he also demoes the relay clicking sound (spoiler alert: it uses relays instead of PIN Diode switching).

His particular unit is really a pre-production unit–it sounds like the first production run (that many early adopters should soon be receiving) will have upgraded software and even hardware.

Josh (rightfully so) holds out on making a recommendation until he’s able to test the first production run unit–the same version early adopters will receive–which is being sent to him soon.

Check out his video below:

Click here to view on YouTube.

I’ve gotten so many questions about the X6100 from readers and YouTube subscribers. Fear not! I will get a chance to check out the X6100 in the near future. In fact, Josh is sending me the Radioddity loaner unit he’ll be testing. I’m not sure how long I’ll get to hold onto it, but I’ll give it a thorough workout.

In addition, I know Scott (KN3A) has purchased one of the first production run units and will give us his impressions–since he owns the IC-705 and has owned the X5105 in the past, he should have some valuable insight. Stay tuned!

If you’re considering purchasing the X6100, you might check out Radioddity’s upcoming Black Friday sale.  They have a sign-up form on the X6100 product page. I have no inside information, but I must assume the X6100 will either be discounted or come with extra goodies (or both?).

Do you already have an X6100 on order? Curious if it looks like the X6100 is on track to meet your expectations after watching Josh’s demo.