Category Archives: QRP Radios

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Xiegu X6100 and PackTenna Random Wire

I’ve had a lot of fun testing the Xiegu X6100 in the field. Each time I’ve taken this little shack-in-a-box radio outdoors, I’ve paired it with a different antenna.

I’ve paired it with the Elecraft AX1, an End-Fed Half-Wave, and my 28.5′ speaker wire antenna.

On January 10, 2022, I decided to try one more antenna: the PackTenna 9:1 UNUN random wire.

The Packtenna random wire is a brilliant little antenna to pair with radios like the X6100 that have built-in, wide-range ATUs. It’s such a small antenna and can easily find matches on my favorite POTA/SOTA bands:  40 meters and up. It’s also very compact and super durable.

I use te PackTenna random wire quite a lot in the field, so I was curious just how effectively it might pair with the X6100. Continue reading POTA Field Report: Pairing the Xiegu X6100 and PackTenna Random Wire

My new MTR-3B Ultra-Compact Field Kit built in a Tom Bihn HLT2

I’m a bit obsessed with field radio kits (understatement alert).

If you don’t believe me, check out this episode of the Ham Radio Workbench podcast where they graciously allowed me to geek out about radio packs for a good two hours.

I should also note that I write, in detail, about my packing philosophy in this Anatomy of a Field Radio kit series.

There’s no cure for my pack obsession. I’m constantly in a state of assembling and testing the most efficient kits I can conjure up.

Since I rotate a fair amount of radios in my activations, the majority of my kits are modular; meaning, components like antennas, ATU’s, batteries, log/pen, and cables are packed in their own small pouches/pack. Before embarking on an activation, I simply assemble the components in a backpack along with the radio/s I might use that day. Over the years, I’ve developed a certain workflow with this process that ensures I don’t forget components or pack the wrong ones.

But by far, my favorite type of kit are those that are fully self-contained–proper grab-and-go kits that have everything I need inside to, for example, activate a summit.

Self-Contained Kits

Fully self-contained kits are reserved for the radios I use in the field most because, frankly, they’re stingy resource hogs: they  don’t share components with my other radios or kits. Continue reading My new MTR-3B Ultra-Compact Field Kit built in a Tom Bihn HLT2

Rich builds a simple GX12 key/paddle adapter for the Discovery TX-500

Many thanks to Rich (KQ9L) who shares the following tutorial describing how to build a compact key/paddle GX12 connector for the lab599 Discovery TX-500:

This adapter is simple, compact, and eliminated the need for yet another wire extension.

How to build a Discovery TX-500 key adapter

I love my Lab599 Discovery TX-500 however I was frustrated with all the extra “wires” hanging from the connectors on the rig.

I took inspiration from Vlad Solovey (RA9QAT) who posted his design for a small and compact 3.5mm jack that allows you to connect your paddles directly into a GX12 connector. Continue reading Rich builds a simple GX12 key/paddle adapter for the Discovery TX-500

New Xiegu X6100 V 1.1.2 firmware addresses a number of known issues

Yesterday, I received the following notification from Radioddity regarding a new firmware version for the X6100.

I mentioned that I’ve purchased an X6100 and it’s en route to me now. It was dispatched prior to this new firmware being made public.

It addresses a number of outstanding issues:

  • Improved battery management
  • Functional CW message memory keying (thanks for confirming, Scott!)
  • Improved noise reduction functionality in CW mode
  • CW decoding algorithm improvements
  • Added hand mic button functionality
  • Bluetooth connectivity improvements
  • Many more…

I’m looking forward to this improved functionality–especially CW message keying and battery management. Continue reading New Xiegu X6100 V 1.1.2 firmware addresses a number of known issues

Guest Post: Erik’s Review of the Venus SW-3B

Many thanks to Erik (KE8OKM) who kindly shares the following guest post:


Venus SW-3B Review from a newbie SOTA/POTA activator’s viewpoint

by Erik (KE8OKM)

My journey into amateur radio is relatively short (approaching 2 years now) in this short time I have become enamored with “in the field” QRP operating. Particularly SOTA/POTA.

SW-3B in action Bearcave Lookout PA SOTA!

When I started studying for my tech license I kept coming across CW–what the heck is that? After I learned it’s a mode using Morse Code (a highly effective one at that) I thought, “not interested” and “they still do that?

Much to my chagrin, I find myself loving CW and obsessed with all things Morse! The CW mode is both a skill and an art. I am still drawing with crayons but hope to paint someday…at least like Bob Ross…

The Venus SW-3B is a small 3 band transceiver operating on the highly effective 20/30/40m bands: the SOTA/POTA activator’s bread and butter bands. To date I have logged over 450 QSOs with this little “black box.” I often come across some disparaging remarks since the transceiver is built in China.

The SW-3B’s design and manufacturing is overseen by Dale (BA4TB). Now having 3 of these, I can say the quality is fine across the line. Product support is reported very good in the rare event it’s needed. Continue reading Guest Post: Erik’s Review of the Venus SW-3B

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!

I’ve sent the Chinese uSDX QRP SDR Transceiver back…

A couple weeks ago, I posted my initial thoughts about the Chinese uSDX/uSDR QRP transceiver.

In short, it wasn’t exactly a glowing review.

I’ve now tested the uSDX at home for a couple weeks and decided to send it back to the eBay distributor.

I made a short video detailing the reasons why I’m sending it back (see blow), but in short there are two main reasons:

1.) The receiver and audio

I understand that quality control varies greatly with the various versions of the uSDX being manufactured in China.

With that in mind, I have to assume mine is one with an incredibly inadequate receiver.

My uSDX receiver overloaded when in the presence of pretty much any strong-ish signal.

As an example, one of the first signals I tuned to on the CW portion of the 20M band–K4NYM activating a park in Florida–had FT8 audio bleeding in from over 20 or 30 kHz away. K4NYM had an S9 signal, but he was very much a portable operator, not a blowtorch contest station. The uSDX should have easily been able to handle this situation.

On my unit, if you tuned to a strong CW signal (or worse yet, a pileup) it opened the receiver window so wide that signals across the band bled through. There was essentially no selectivity. Continue reading I’ve sent the Chinese uSDX QRP SDR Transceiver back…

Field Report: Let’s play POTA with the Ten-Tec Argonaut V!

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently purchased a Ten-Tec Argonaut V transceiver. It was–being honest here–an impulse purchase. This is what I get for randomly browsing the QTH.com classifieds!

Truth be told, I’ve always loved the design of the Argonaut V and I knew, being a Ten-Tec, it would be a proper CW machine.

As soon as I received the Argonaut V, I put it on the air and chased a few parks and summits from the shack. It seemed to work brilliantly, but of course I was eager to take it to the field!

Around the same time, my buddy Max (WG4Z) mentioned that he’d discovered a new access point for South Mountains State Park and had enjoyed performing an activation there. He wrote,

It is a part of South Mountains State Park custom made for a Thomas Witherspoon visit.  A great site for an activation, video, and photos. If you haven’t been there, please put it on your list!

On Wednesday, November 10, 2021, I packed my Argonaut V and headed to the South Mountains State Park Clear Creek Access. Continue reading Field Report: Let’s play POTA with the Ten-Tec Argonaut V!

My QCX-Mini Field Kit

So I just finished putting together a dedicated, compact field kit for the QCX-Mini. I’m planning to do a SOTA activation tomorrow, if the stars align. Hopefully, they’ll align!

Everything in the photo above, save the throw line bag, fits in my Spec-Ops Brand Op Order Pouch.

QCX-Mini Field Kit Contents:

One of the newest products in this kit is my high viz 2mm x 50M Marlow throw line. I learned about this throw line from Mike (W4MAF)–thank you, Mike! It is much less bulky than standard poly throw line and fits in my Tom Bihn small travel tray. We’ll see how well it works tomorrow. First impressions from having used it at the QTH once was very positive.

Again, with any luck I’ll have this kit in the field tomorrow on a summit. If you’ve nothing better to do, look for me on the SOTA Watch spots page!

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!