Category Archives: QRP Radios

Xiegu G106 and D90: A few pre-production unit photos

I’ve a friend who works with a number of radio manufacturers including Xiegu. He recently took delivery of the new Xiegu G106 QRP transceiver and a Xiegu D90 USB-Radio Interface.

Based on the photo above, the G106 is even more compact than I originally assumed.

These are the accessories included in his G106 box:

Looks like the same cables and mic included in other Xiegu radio packages.

He also took delivery of the new Xiegu D90 expansion card:

Note that these units are very much early prototypes and don’t even have serial numbers. Nonetheless, he plans to take the G106 to Field Day today–I’m looking forward to hearing his report.

A comprehensive review of the Penntek TR-35 four band QRP transceiver

The following article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


“Look at this, Tom! Only the stuff I need and nothing more,” cheerfully noted my good friend and Elmer, Mike (K8RAT).  It was Field Day two decades ago, and Mike was gazing at his TEN-TEC Scout. I glanced over, and agreed. “So simple and so effective,” Mike added.

I’ve never forgotten Mike’s sage words. That Scout (Model 555) was about as simple as a then-modern HF transceiver could be:  it had a total of three knobs––one for AF gain and IF bandwidth, one for RIT and Mic gain, and an encoder. It also had three mechanical switches on the front: one for power, one for TUNE and NB, and one for CW speed and RIT. It also had an analog SWR/power meter. The Scout used plug-in band modules for each HF band and featured a large segmented bright green LED frequency display that was characteristic of so many TEN-TEC rigs of the day.

And Mike was right. For those of us who appreciate radios with a simple, uncluttered, and an almost utilitarian interface, the Scout was, in vintage parlance, “the bee’s knees.”  And that the Scout also performed beautifully was just icing on that cake.

When the Scout first appeared in 1994, embedded menu options and spectrum displays were not yet commonplace among amateur transceivers. Embedded menu items can open the door to near granular level control of your radio’s functionality and features. Then again, if those embedded menus aren’t well thought out, it can lead to awkward operation practices in the field, during a contest, or even during casual operation.

As a radio reviewer, I spend a great deal of time sorting out embedded menu functionality and design. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I so enjoyed reviewing a radio that bucks this trend and reminds me of a time that was simpler, not to mention, easier.

Enter the Penntek TR-35

The new Penntek TR-35 is a four-band CW-only QRP transceiver that is available both as a kit ($279) and as a factory assembled and tested unit ($379). Penntek transceivers are designed and manufactured by John Dillon (WA3RNC).

All of his transceiver kits are available at his website WA3RNC.com.

I was first drawn to the TR-35 after reading the opening paragraph of the product description:

“Compact but powerful 4-band, 5-watt CW transceiver kit that uses no tiny push buttons, and without those seemingly endless and hard-to-remember back menus. There is a knob or a switch for every function!”

Sold!

I considered buying and building the TR-35 kit, but I wanted my eventual review––this one!––to focus on the radio’s functionality and performance. So a factory-assembled and tested unit was right for this purpose, just so that any performance issues wouldn’t be a result of any shortcomings in my kit building skills.

I decided to reach out to WA3RNC and ask for a loaner. John very kindly sent a factory built TR-35 to me along with return postage and a very flexible loan period (thank you, John!). Continue reading A comprehensive review of the Penntek TR-35 four band QRP transceiver

Solar POTA: Pairing the Buddipole PowerMini 2 with folding panels and the FT-817ND at New River State Park

Photo by K4TLI

I’m often asked if I ever charge my LiFePo4 batteries in the field via solar energy.

Truth is, I’m a big fan of solar, but I’m rarely in the field long enough to need to recharge my batteries via solar when performing SOTA and POTA field activations. It’s easier to charge them at home in advance (often via the solar system at our QTH).

In fact, one of my 3 Ah LiFePo4 Bioenno batteries can easily take me though 3-5 activations or possibly more, depending on the length of the activation and the rig I’m using.

Photo by K4TLI

For longer forays into the field, however, I love going solar.

Indeed, every few years, my family will stay in an off-grid cabin on Prince Edward Island (Canada) for up to 6 weeks at a time. Solar is the only practical way to stay on the air that length of time.

Of course, I also like having a solar option, when doing proper primitive/off-grid tent camping.

In the past, I’ve used a very simple portable solar charging system based on a variety of rigid and folding panels, a Micro M+ charge controller, and sealed lead acid batteries. The batteries are of course heavy, but they work brilliantly for fixed operations.

These days, I’m fully invested in LiFePo4 batteries and my Micro M+ charge controller is not really designed to pair with the BMS (battery management system) in my Bioenno packs.

Bioenno sells a number of affordable solar charge controllers, but most resemble units that are used in permanent installations.  I wanted something more portable and, ideally, something with Anderson PowerPole connections.

Late last year, I discovered the Buddipole PowerMini 2:

Photo by Buddipole

I contacted Buddipole with a few questions about the unit and to find out when they would be in stock again (at the time, they were on back-order and indeed they are at time posting this report).

Turns out, they were to be restocked the next day, so as soon as inventory was showing on the site, I ordered one. Continue reading Solar POTA: Pairing the Buddipole PowerMini 2 with folding panels and the FT-817ND at New River State Park

Choosing the right QRP radios for an extended road trip

As I mentioned in a previous post, if all goes according to plan (and we never take that for granted anymore) our family is plotting an extended road trip into Canada this summer. We’ve got most things lined up: a brilliant house sitter, an  home base in Québec, a doggy “summer camp” for Hazel (my kind father-in-law), and, oh yes, a list of parks and summits I hope to activate.

What I’m still sorting out is the radio gear.

Let me be the first to admit that I’m blessed with a number of field radios (so be warned: this is going to sound very much like a first world problem) and there are aspects of each one that I appreciate. On a road trip like this, though, space will be at a premium.  I can really only justify two compact HF radios and their associated accessories. I plan to bring at least one of my Bioenno 3Ah 12V batteries and charger as well.

Fortunately, I can take a few antennas. We have a roof top Thule cargo box that is actually perfect for my CHA MPAS 2.0, MPAS Lite, and TDL–they’ll fit on the floor of the box and essentially take up no room in it. Otherwise, the cargo box will be dedicated to all of our bulky camping gear.

My HF radios will have to fit in the car trunk/boot along with food, clothes and other supplies.

I already made a decision about one of the radios that will come with me. In fact, it was a bit of a no-brainer:

The Elecraft KX2

I’ve taken the KX2 on all of my major road trips since 2016. It’s incredibly compact, feature-rich, and can handle any situation I throw at it.

In fact, as with two previous years in Québec, I’ll use it to do a little shortwave radio listening (always an important aspect of my travels) and record the BBC Midwinter Broadcast to Antarctica.

Indeed, recording this particular broadcast has become an annual event over at the SWLing Post. It’s one of the highlights of my summer and always falls on my birthday.

The other thing about the KX2 is since it has an internal ATU, I can pair it with any antenna: resonant or not. If the need arises, I can also build an antenna from speaker wire, computer/phone cable, or pretty much anything that conducts.

And, of course, if I pair the KX2 with my low-profile AX1 antenna, I can operate anywhere. I do have a number of urban parks in Ottawa and Québec City that I plan to operate super low-profile and on foot.

The KX2 batteries require that I bring the rapid battery charger and that does take up a little more space (almost the same amount of space as the radio itself!).

As for a second radio…

I think I can get away with packing one more radio. That way, in the unlikely even I have an issue with the KX2, I would have a backup. Plus…hey…variety, right?

I don’t have the room to take my Mission RGO One, Icom IC-703 Plus, or Ten-Tec Argonaut.

I’ve even excluded the KX3 from the list because it wouldn’t offer me much more than the KX2 (just 160 & 6 meters, plus a little extra power output if needed it). The radio I choose needs to be one of my more compact, lightweight, and efficient models.

I’ve also left out the QCX-Mini because I want more than a mono band radio.

Hmmm…then again, the QCX-Mini is so extremely small, I could throw it in my glove compartment and no one would be the wiser [shhhh…let’s keep this between us, shall we?].

Here’s a quick run-down of some of the radios I’m considering and why: Continue reading Choosing the right QRP radios for an extended road trip

Xiegu G106 preliminary specifications and features

Xiegu distributor, Radioddity, has now publicly announced a product page for the new Xiegu G106.

No pricing/availability mentioned, but we do learn a few more details from their page.

Features:

  • The Xiegu G106 is a 5W SDR transceiver using 16bit-CODEC sampling
  • SSB, CW, AM modes are supported along with wide FM reception (for the FM broadcast band)
  • General coverage receiver
  • Three selectable CW bandwidths
  • Digital modes when connected to a computer with the Xiegu DE-19 interface

Specifications

  • Receiver frequency range: 0.55~30MHz and 88~108MHz (WFM)
  • Transmitting frequency:
    • 3.5~3.9MHz
    • 7.0~7.2MHz [I assume this is incorrect]
    • 10.1~10.15MHz
    • 14.0~14.35MHz
    • 18.068~18.168MHz
    • 21.0~21.45MHz
    • 24.89~24.99MHz
    • 28.0~29.7MHz
  • Receiver sensitivity:
    • CW: 0.25uV @10dB S/N
    • SSB: 0.5uV @10dB S/N
    • AM: 10uV @10dB S/N
  • Frequency stability: ±1.5ppm within 30min after power on @25°C: 1ppm/hour
  • Transmitting power: ≥5W @13.8V DC
  • Transmitting spurious suppression: ≥50dB
  • Audio output power: 0.3W
  • Operating voltage: 9~15V DC
  • Standby current: 0.37A @Max
  • Transmitting current: 2.8A @Max
  • Dimensions: 120*40*135 (mm)
  • Weight: about 720g (only host)

Radioddity notes: “The shoulder strap [above] is for display only. Final equipped accessories not decided yet.

My G106 takeaways?

Based on Xiegu’s previous offerings, I would have to assume the G106 could be in production within a few months (supply chains/C-19 pending). It’ll likely be released with basic firmware and updated with time. It’ll be price competitive for sure.

I would hope that perhaps they’ve worked on the audio characteristics and noise floor of the G106. Previous Xiegu products have mediocre audio characteristics and a higher noise floor than my other transceivers. Let’s also hope the front end is more robust than the X6100.

At 0.37 Amps, current drain in standby/receive is a tad on the high side for late model QRP portable radios. Still, quite respectable for a field radio.

It doesn’t appear the G106 has an internal tuner, nor an internal battery unless they’ve simply omitted this from the features list.

It also doesn’t mention CW and/or voice message memory keying which I consider to be so valuable for park and summit activators. If history is an indicator, I suppose they could add this later in firmware updates.

Also, the Radioddity announcement mentions that the G106 covers “[t]ransmission and reception of all amateur frequency bands within 3.8~29.7MHz.” Yet in the specifications, they fail to list the 60M band and the 40M band is noted as 7-7.2 MHz. I assume the 40M band range is simply a typo–I can’t imagine it would actually stop at 7.2 MHz. I also imagine they may have simply omitted the 60M band channels. RX seems to dip as low as 0.5 MHz, thus covering most of the mediumwave broadcast band.

Truth is, these are early days for the G106 and we may learn that it has more features than listed here on Radioddity’s page.

If it does indeed lack an internal ATU and/or internal battery, I assume the price point would be well below that of the X5105 and X6100; my (complete and total) guess would be somewhere between $300-400 US.

I’ll post more info about the G106 as we learn more. I’ll also try to update and correct this post if I learned some of these details are incorrect.

Click here to check out the G106 at Radioddity.

Xiegu X6100: Greg uses an OTG mouse for better selection control

Many thanks to Greg who writes:

After seeing your YouTube channel, I decided to try my hand at POTA operations. There are at least three state parks on the POTA list nearby. I am trying to increase my CW speed, because CW would be a bit more efficient for operations.

[…]I have gotten an Xiegu X6100. The biggest reason was it is Linux based, which I am familiar. It is a nice size also has nice features. With an external battery (car jump starter) and a decent antenna, it should be able to make contacts.

My unit has the version 1.1.5 soft/firmware. I have found the Bluetooth and WIFI connectivity be lacking a few software components. I have been able to make Bluetooth connections to a keyboard and speaker, one at a time. However, there is no data connection to the just of the software.

So, one hears no sound and pressing a key generates no data. The X6100 has the potential to be a very capable modern transceiver. I got it through Radioddity.

I have working with the support group, who are good. Hopefully, the next software update will improve things.

What I found that worked and was a help was a mouse/trackball with OTG (on the go) cable connected to the USB Host port.

One was able to select the menu/submenu items.

The best improvement was Memory Editing the submenu Tag item. Using a trackball to update the Tag information via the popup screen keyboard was very easy and quick. Using a mouse/trackball with X6100 might be a good video.

Thank you for the tip, Greg! I will have to give this a go. I’m curious if other readers have explored using a mouse/trackball with the X6100 as well. 

One of the most appealing things about the Elecraft K4 interface (another Linux-based transceiver, I believe) is that you can connect a mouse and have full control of the radio. This made selecting items so much easier than using a finger to do the same on the touch screen. 

MJ’s Mountain Topper MTR-4B brag photo!

Many thanks to Mike “MJ” ( WO9B) who writes:

Hi Thomas,

I’m not normally enthusiastic about an equipment review, but as for the MTR gear…welcome to the 4B-V2 club. For no good reason I have to pass along a brag photo of my setup.

After growing tired of chasing a key around the picnic table, a removable epoxy bracket was added to mount the venerable Begali Adventure paddle. The battery is a small LifePO4 1.1 Ah battery which provides about 5 hours of Field Day operating.

Naturally, I use a Spark Plug for my antenna. The last two Field Days have been with this setup. It is an outstanding piece of gear. It took me one email exchange with Steve, WG0AT, to overcome the lack of a volume control. Not a moment of buyer’s remorse.

See you on the air….

MJ, WO9B

Thank you for sharing this, MJ! I love brag photos.

What a nice combo, too: the Begali Adventure and the MTR-4B! 

Readers: MJ is owner of www.sparkpluggear.com. I’ve heard many good things about his Spark Plug EFHW. I need to grab one and give it a go soon!

And yes, MJ, I’ll see you on the air!

Update: A few more details about the new Xiegu G106 QRP transceiver

Yesterday, I posted some photos of the new Xiegu G106 transceiver.

Since then, I’ve been getting a few updates from my friend as, I assume, Xiegu releases preliminary info.

This is the latest illustration (click to enlarge):

You can see Xiegu is certainly eyeing the park and summit activators out there.

They’re also touting digital mode operation and I’ll have to assume this means the radio has an internal sound card which would certainly simplify a field-portable digi mode kit.

I was originally told that the G106 had six bands, but this image implies 80-10 meters including the WARC bands. We’ll have to verify this once the production marketing information is released. Since this is the 2022 Hamvention weekend, we could be learning more int he next couple of days.

I’ll continue to post updates here on QRPer.com. Bookmark the tag G106 if interested.

Oh yeah, I do hope there are some fold-out feet or a bail hiding under that G106 chassis!

Photos of a new Xiegu G106 HF transceiver [updated]

A friend who works in the amateur radio industry has shared the following photos and given me permission to post them.

These are images of the Xiegu G106 HF transceiver (click to enlarge):

As a field operator, one thing I noticed immediately are the protrusions around the faceplate that protect the encoder and what I assume in a multi-function knob. The form-factor seems to be roughly that of the Xiegu G90 (even smaller) with a backlit LCD display that resembles the Xiegu X5105 (only, again, much smaller).

I’m assured this isn’t vaporware, and I have to assume we’ll learn a lot more about the G106 soon.

The front panel is incredibly simple, so I must assume it’ll reply on menus for filter control, etc.

I have no other details at this point. When I learn more about the Xiegu G106, I’ll post updates here on QRPer.com.

Xiegu G1M replacement

Update (17 May 2022): I’ve just learned that the Xiegu G106 is the replacement for the Xiegu G1M . It’s sports 6 bands [actually, it might be more according to this update] has 5 watts of output power, and, of course, is SDR based like other Xiegu products. I’ve also learned it can receive wide band FM (hence the FM broadcast band image above).

An additional photo:

I’ll continue to post updates here on QRPer.com. Bookmark the tag G106 if interested.

Which to choose? The Venus SW-3B or the Penntek TR-35?

Many thanks to Pat (N0HR) who shared following question in a comment:

Thomas

I simply love your videos – both your impressions of the gear and the activations themselves. Great stuff.

I’m curious – now that you’ve played with both the SW-3B and the Penntek TR-35, which is the favorite? Seems like they’re both roughly in the same price range.

Thanks for your fantastic channel and website

73,
Pat N0HR

Thank you for the kind words, Pat, and great question! Several people have asked me variations of this very question recently.

I like both radios, so I’ll frame this in a way that might help others make a purchase decision.

Spoiler alert: You really can’t go wrong with either radio and I feel it’s more a question of operator preferences. Continue reading Which to choose? The Venus SW-3B or the Penntek TR-35?