I had a very good RS-188 (McHF clone) and a uSDR; I sold them because these equipments don’t have a tuner (I like to keep the minimum).
The X5105 is a very good transceiver, the integrated tuner is wonderful.
The X6100 that fails to convince me. At least in 40 meters it is acceptable.
Thank you for sharing this, César! Photography backpacks in many ways are absolutely ideal for radio gear. Many allow for a great amount of flexibility in terms of adjusting internal organization. In addition, they’re very well-padded.
Interesting what you say about the X6100 compared with the X5105. I’m hoping to do a video soon focusing on the differences between these two.
You may have noticed a common theme in my field reports: basically, it’s rare that I plan out an activation more than 24 hours in advance.
Indeed, due to my “dynamic” (I think that’s a good word for it?) family schedule, I often don’t plan an activation more than one to two hours in advance.
But last month, I saw an opportunity open on Wednesday, January 26, 2022. Basically, I had from early morning until late afternoon to play radio.
At first, I thought about striking out early and hitting some of the parks that are a little further afield–parks I hadn’t visited in a couple years, or some new-to-me parks.
Then, I hatched an idea to activate two SOTA summits. Both would qualify for bonus winter points and both were technically doable in the time I had allotted. It would involve about 9-10 miles of hiking in addition to 3 hours of driving plus allotting for the time I’d actually spend on the air. It would equate to a very early departure and some steady hiking.
That Tuesday evening, I started putting the plan together, downloading all of the maps, preparing my SOTA alerts, and packing my SOTA pack. I spent the better part of an hour plotting and planning these activations.
Then the realization hit me: the trails I’d be hiking were likely covered in snow and ice which would slow me down considerably especially since my Yaktrax Traction Chains hadn’t yet been delivered. I realized the schedule was just a little too tight. There’s be no room for mishaps and if I made the trip I really wanted to hit both summits in the same day. So, I saved all of my maps, links, and notes to do this multiple SOTA run in the near future.
Back to the drawing board!
I decided that I did like the idea of doing multiple activations in a day, so why not fit in a RaDAR run?
RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio) is basically an activity that can be combined with summits and/or park activations and the idea is simple: you complete multiple rapid field deployments within 24 hours.
If you’d like more information about RaDAR, check out this webpage. Parks On The Air even has a few awards for RaDAR runs–it would be fun to apply for one of them (thanks, WD8RIF, for the heads-up!).
I so rarely have enough time to consider more than two or three activations in a day that the idea of fitting in four or possibly five activations was very appealing.
This year I’ve been trying to make dedicated posts and videos to address questions I’m asked most often by QRPer.com readers and my YouTube channel subscribers. The idea is to have a link I can send in a reply instead of trying to give a comprehensive answer in an email.
One question that’s been surfacing a lot lately is a variation of:
“Which should I buy, Thomas? The Xiegu X5105 or the Elecraft KX2?”
On Monday, September 27, 2021, I had just enough time to stop by the Blue Ridge Parkway on my way back from Asheville, NC and fit in a short activation.
I had my Xiegu X5105 along for the ride and decided to pair it with the MFJ-1984LP EFHW since I knew propagation was going to be rough.
That day, Earth was being pounded by CMEs and, frankly, I didn’t know how pleasant it would be on the air.
I picked one of my favorite spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway: a grassy hill I’ve used numerous times in the past. I love this particular site because it’s incredibly rare that anyone else parks or walks there, so I can set up larger wire antennas and not have to worry about others walking into the radiator or tripping over the counterpoise.
Recently, I found myself in an embarrassing situation: I was being interviewed on the Ham Radio YouTube channel Red Summit RF, when someone in the chatroom asked how many HF QRP radios I currently own?
How many…? It dawned on me suddenly that I didn’t know the answer.
Throughout my life as a radio hobbyist, I’ve owned a number of transceivers, but I’ve never owned so many at once as I do currently. Since I was licensed in 1997, I’ve owned up to two or three transceivers at once. But things really started changing for me in 2020. And I blame the Covid-19 pandemic.
Our family loves to travel––but during the pandemic, we were essentially grounded. I keenly missed the travel. So, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I turned my attention to more regional destinations––and often took the family along––by activating local parks through the Parks On The Air (POTA) program and local summits through the Summits On The Air (SOTA) program.
As a result of this activity, I also began reviewing and evaluating more and more QRP transceivers––and, if I liked them (as I all too often do) purchased them following the review period.
Fact is, I thoroughly enjoy trying out radios, putting them through their paces and engaging all their bells and whistles; I enjoy shaking up my field activations by employing different radios with different antennas and accessories on each outing . I also enjoy writing up field reports and including activation videos on my blog, QRPer.com. Altogether, radio activation gives me a great deal of satisfaction, as does encouraging others to give it a go.
It’s funny: when I started my POTA journey in earnest during February 2020, I plotted out all of the state parks in the part of western North Carolina where I travel the most.
At the time, POTA had only a wee fraction of the community it does now and many of the parks and game lands were still ATNOs (All-Time New Ones)–parks that had never been activated. Fort Dobbs was still one, in fact, and I had marked it on my POTA game plan spreadsheet.
My mission back then was to rack up unique-to-me parks as I explored the region; in doing so, I ticked off quite a few ATNOs. It was fun!
I focused on parks a little further afield first. This provided me with a sense of adventure and travel during the first round of Covid-19 lockdowns.
At the end of 2020, I realized I had never activated Ft. Dobbs State Historic site which was, ironically, one of the lowest hanging fruit sites around. It’s only, perhaps, 30 minutes from where I travel each week.
I suppose Fort Dobbs has been “out of sight, out of mind” until I saw a tweet from Andrew (N4LAZ) who activated Dobbs on August 6, 2021. I mistakenly assumed that the only spots to set up on site were around the periphery of the parking lot. This time of year, in the middle of the hot and humid summer? I’m less enthusiastic about open parking lot activations.
Andrew mentioned that the site actually has an excellent covered picnic area where he was allowed to perform his activation.
That’s all I needed to know!
Fort Dobbs State Historic Site (K-6839)
On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, I traveled to Fort Dobbs State Historic Site and quickly found the covered picnic area Andrew had mentioned. It was, indeed, ideal for POTA!
Each time I head to a park or summit, I have a goal in mind.
With summits, it’s getting to the summit and activating it because, sometimes, that can be a challenge in and of itself. I’m not exactly Sir Edmund Hillary, so I’m happy when I make it to the top of any summit!
Parks, however, offer me the chance to experiment with transceiver/antenna combos, test gear, and explore hikes. Parks tend to be more accessible and spacious than summits and even have shelter options if weather is questionable.
I don’t even attempt afternoon summit activations if they require a decent hike and there’s a good chance of pop-up thunder storms.
On Monday, June 7, 2021, it was hot and incredibly humid in the Piedmont of North Carolina. That early afternoon, little patches of showers were passing through the region delivering brief, isolated downpours.
The weather forecast also predicted a high likelihood of thunderstorms that afternoon. (Turns out, they were correct.)
Those were not conditions for a SOTA activation, rather, I decided to pick out a park I knew could offer up some shelter options. Lake Norman was an obvious choice–there’s a very nice covered area at their visitor’s center and also two large picnic shelters at the other side of the park. Lake Norman it was!
I drove to Lake Norman State Park with one goal in mind: deplete the Xiegu X5105 internal battery. I had assumed the battery would only power the X5105 for perhaps two activations on one charge.
Now three full weeks later, I decided I would deplete the battery at Lake Norman because that afternoon I had a decent amount of time to play radio in the field. In my head, I was prepared to squeeze perhaps 30-45 minutes more air time out of that one May 16 battery charge.
Lake Norman (K-2740)
I arrived at Lake Norman State Park and scouted out a site. Fortunately–it being a Monday in the early afternoon–it wasn’t busy and all three shelters were available.
I chose to set up at a shelter at the far end of the main picnic area.
The humidity was so thick that day, I was sweating just walking around the site. I noticed in my activation video (see below), I was breathing as hard as I would hiking to a summit even though I was just tooling around the picnic shelter.
I had no doubt in my mind that if a thunderstorm developed, it would be a doozie! (I was right about that, too–keep reading.)
On The Air
I paired the Xiegu X5105 with my Chameleon MPAS 2.0 mainly because I wanted to see how easily the X5105 ATU could match this multi-band vertical. Turns out? Quite easily.
I expected the X5105’s battery to deplete to the point that I would need to use an external power source to complete the activation, so I connected my QRP Ranger battery pack, but didn’t turn it on. I knew that when the radio died, I could flip the QRP Ranger’s power switch and perhaps only lose a few seconds of air time.
I hopped on the air and started calling CQ. I planned to operate the X5105 until the internal battery died, then (if needed) continue operating with the QRP Ranger until I logged my 10 contacts for a valid activation. Post activation, I planned to hike one of the Lake Norman loop trails.
Normally, I would mention the number of contacts I made perhaps noting the bands that were most productive. Instead, if you’d like to experience this activation with me, you might consider watching the activation video.
Please note that this is the longest video I’ve ever published, so don’t feel any pressure to watch it in its entiretity:
Let’s just say that the X5105 sold me.
The activation was incredibly fun and I logged 20 stations (18 CW and 2 phone) from Alaska to Spain with my 5 watts and the MPAS 2.0 vertical. Propagation conditions were only “meh” but since I had the time to play radio longer, I was able to take advantages of little openings as they happened.
The X5105 won.
I simply gave up on trying to deplete the internal battery because I was running out of time to fit the activation and a much needed hike that afternoon before thunderstorms moved in.
I operated over 90 minutes with constant CQ calls and the battery never made it below 10.2 volts.
A most welcome surprise.
No mic, no problem!
During the activation, I remembered that I had been asked by readers and viewers to include more SSB work.
Problem was, I left my X5105 mic at the QTH (nearly 2 hours away by car).
I remembered though that, like the Elecraft KX2, the X5105 has a built-in microphone.
I decided to give that mic a trial by fire and, by golly, it worked!
Not only did it work, but it worked well.
The X5105? A keeper.
It was at Lake Norman that day, I decided the X5105 was a keeper.
That evening, I reached out to Radioddity–who lent this X5105 to me–and offered to pay full retail price for it either in cash or via ad credit
Since Radioddity is a sponsor on my other radio site–the SWLing Post–we decided that, since their ad was coming up for renewal soon, I would simply extend their ad time an equivalent amount of months as the full value of the X5105 ($550 US). This saved them from having to cut a check in two months. Worked for both of us.
I have much, much more to say about the X5105 and will do so in an upcoming review.
In short, though? It’s not a perfect radio by any means, but I feel like it really hits a sweet spot for the QRP field operator.
I enjoy putting it on the air and it’s an incredibly capable little transceiver.
I’m very pleased to now put it in rotation with my other field radios. Look for it in future reports!
Here’s the QSO Map for this activation (click to enlarge):
Hike and dodgy weather
After packing up my gear, I walked over to a nearby trailhead and checked out the trail map. I was prepared to take a very long hike that afternoon despite the heat and humidity, but I also knew conditions were ripe for a thunderstorm.
I decided to take what appeared to be a fairly short loop trail along the lake. Looking at the map, I assumed the trail might be 1 mile or so long.
The hike is well-worn and well-marked, so there’s no getting lost here. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t bother looking at my GPS map or even consulting the trailhead map in detail.
Instead, I simply started hiking the Lake Shore Trail loop. It was gorgeous. Here are a few photos (click to enlarge):
The skies started getting dark, though, and I heard a little distant thunder.
I decided it might make sense to consult my phone for the weather map.
A line of thunderstorms had developed and they were sweeping toward me. Time to pick up the pace of hiking!
It was at this point I realized I had underestimated the length of this loop trail. Part of me was quite pleased that it was longer than I anticipated, but the part of me that didn’t want to be caught out in a t-storm wanted to get back to the car ASAP.
I checked another weather map a few minutes later.
I decided that jogging the rest of the trail made sense!
Turns out the 1 mile loop was something closer to 3 miles when I included the walk back to the car.
I did make it back to the car in time, though, right before the heavens opened.
It’s no exaggeration to say that I was sincerely concerned about the possibility of tornadoes in that storm front.
The skies were dark enough that streetlights turned on and the rain was incredibly heavy with strong wind gusts. I saw flash flooding and driving conditions were nearly impossible. I parked next to a brick building in the town of Catawba and waited for the strongest part of the storm to pass. I was also very grateful I wasn’t still on the trail by the lake!
Of course, the storm passed and I expected conditions to be a little drier behind that front, but I was wrong. I think the humidity level increased to 150%. Ha ha! No worries, though, as I was on my way to air conditioned space!
Thanks so much for reading this field report and stay safe out there!
Preamble: Based on some social media comments, let me say at the outset that: a) I know that the ATU does not tune the antenna, but provides a good match to it; b) resonant antennas are more efficient; c) that you can tune a dummy load; d) just because you can tune something doesn’t make it an effective radiator. I do know these things. This post is intended as a bit of fun and to see just how much of a mis-match this ATU can handle to press objects into service as an antenna, even a very inefficient one. Please don’t take it too seriously!
Ask any Xiegu owner of the X5105, G90 or the XPA125B linear amp, and they will all tell you that they have great auto-tuners. Well, I own a X5105 and recently was lent a G90 for review for Practical Wireless. I decided to put the ATUs to the test using my X5105.
But what challenge to give it? Well, how about trying very, very long and very, very short antennas? What about metal gates, a cow shed roof, the framework of a polytunnel and a stock trailer?
I love G4USI’s philosophy with this fun experiment: see if it’ll match, then see if you can get spotted!
Xiegu ATUs certainly have a wide matching range–so do the Elecraft KX series ATUs. Indeed, having a super capable trans match means that you don’t necessarily need an extra inline transformer to make matching a non-resonant wire easier.
And I see why G4USI mentions that there’s a difference between a good SWR and efficiency. It’s an important note because, yes, dummy loads will yield perfect SWRs!
Many, many moons ago, I used to participate in a fun contest where the idea was to make as many contacts as possible from not-so-standard antennas. The rules of the contest really pushed the operator to metal objects that, in no way, resembled an antenna. They didn’t allow electric fences or even gutters, if I recall correctly.
One year, I remember loading two identical small trampolines and my in-law’s house. I think I ran them QRP with my Elecraft K2 and used a ZM-2 manual tuner to match them. I’m sure they weren’t efficient, but it worked! I made several contacts with other contest stations and it was amazing fun!
Have you ever had success with a non-traditional antenna? Please comment!
I told Thomas I would do my own field test of the Xiegu X5105 doing a couple of Parks on the Air activations and what I thought of the radio.
I have had several radios I’ve used on POTA and SOTA activations over the past year and without a doubt my favorite radio for out in the field is my ICOM IC-705. It has everything I want in a portable radio, however I’m also enjoying it alongside my ICOM IC-7300 in the shack. Therefore I’ve looked at other portable radios for field use.
My latest acquisition was a used Xiegu X5105 that I purchased used on QRZ. The radio works fine and for the most part the menu system with it is very easy to understand. As Thomas has pointed out, the CW memory is absolutely insane to use. It just makes no sense to me why with the 10 memory slots that it’s really impractical to use more than the memory in Slot 1, which for me is the CQ POTA. I would never even have known how to set it up in the first place without instructions to Tom that was shared in Tom’s post regarding the X5105.
I got the radio on June 3, played around with it in the shack to get familiar with it and programmed in the memories. I went to K-5481 (Wm. Penn State Forest), which has several parts scattered around eastern Pennsylvania. It has a very small 10 acre tract in the Cornwall mountains between Lancaster and Lebanon County, which is also at a SOTA summit. I used my Sotabeams EMCOMM III antenna and turned on the radio to start calling CQ POTA. For the life of me I could not get the CQ message to send, so I gave up on that and used my CW Morse paddle and did it the old fashioned way. I also spotted myself on the cluster and made 3 QSO’s on 40 meters fairly quickly. I had success on 30 and 17 meters as well. In total, there were 10 QSO’s made in about 45 minutes.
Other than my disappointment not being able to easily send the CQ from memory, overall I was pleased with the activation. When I got home I investigated again how to send CW. I also learned how to use the DSP to make it more narrow on CW, which I was thankful for. I then started to see if I could go hands free using my Heil headset that I was able to use when I had the G90. Unfortunately that did not work at all using the AD-1-iCM adapter as it would not transmit with the foot pedal. I did use the Heil headset in the side jack and put the radio in headset mode. I was disappointed to find that I had to increase the volume up the whole way to be able to hear CW loud enough for my old ears. When I unplugged the headset suddenly the radio RX was very loud. (If anyone can offer a solution, please let me know).
Today I took it to my local POTA park near my house, K-1418 (Samuel Lewis State Park). I used the same Sotabeams antenna and was on the air in no time. Band conditions were not so good and I ended up with 18 QSO in just over an hour. It was nice having the CQ function working, however I am used to the interval where it would automatically send every 7 seconds like the IC 705 does. Not a big deal, I just had to press the PTT button on the top.
I never tried using the radio on SSB before so I called unsuccessfully on 20 meters and went to 40 where KM4JEG called me and gave me a 55. Sadly, I had to take my headset off because when I keyed the mic I was hearing my distorted voice through the headset. So, headset was removed. I didn’t expect that was going to happen, so now on SSB, I’m not able to use the headset, at least on TX.
I really like the internal battery in the radio. I did not have to bring the Bioenno 12v 3aH battery along. The internal battery works great!
It is very portable. I watched a YouTube video, and unfortunately I cannot find who it was, but they had an Osprey UltraLight Roll Organizer which I purchased on Amazon. This is perfect for storing the X5105 and the few accessories it needs, in my car so I’m always going to have a portable radio available when I travel.
The ATU is great on the radio. I can tune all the bands I want to work with the Sotabeams antenna. This also saves having an extra wire and external ATU like I would have to use on the IC 705 with this type of antenna.
The radio is nice and portable and will store nice in my car when not in use and will be ready to go.
The CW presets are almost worthless and not easy to get to. Once I found how to send from the memories, it only really makes sense to use one of the memory slots. I wouldn’t easily be able to switch to a 73 menu shortcut, then go back to the CQ memory.
With the headset plugged in, when I was transmitting CW, I could hear some distortion while it was sending, however it was not too bad, but something I’m not used to hearing.
The headset for SSB could not be used at all due to the distorted noise it made. Also, the volume for the headset and the volume through the radio are night and day. As I mentioned before, when I unhooked the headset and the audio came out of the radio again, I had to quickly adjust the volume down.
Overall, my opinion of the radio is this: For the price and the features it has, I would say it’s a good field radio, as it is easy to store in the car, it has the built in ATU if being used on a random wire antenna, and for 5 watts, people had no problems hearing me, even with poor band conditions and QSB. I hope this radio grows on me, and in the back of my mind don’t find myself thinking during the activation, gee I miss my IC-705 out here.
I know comparing the X5105 to the IC-705 is like comparing apples to oranges. Each radio has it’s good and bad. For the price difference, the Xiegu definitely is worth the price. I would never use it as a first HF radio in the hamshack if I were a new ham. This radio is also not going to be used by me on digital modes. If I want to do digital or work a contest while doing a POTA, then there is no doubt the 705 is coming along for the activation. The Xiegu will be used by me when I want to use a random wire antenna since it has the built in ATU, along with the fact it will be light in the backpack if I am hiking to a summit, and the IC 705 will be used with one of my end-fed half wave antennas or the Hustler vertical array so I don’t need the mAT-705 which I’ll use in the hamshack. I’m trying my best to get away from wires all over the place when I activate, so the laptop computer is staying home. I really like the HAMRS logging program, which I highly recommend, on my Android Samsung S-20.
If anyone who reads this who has some insight into some of the issues I mention, please reply so I have a better understanding of this radio.
Scott Lithgow (KN3A) is a contributor on QRPer.com. Click here to check out his previous posts.
This weekend, I used the X5105 in the shack for perhaps 30-40 minutes chasing a few parks and summits on that same charge. During that weekend time it was mostly in receive mode, unlike when I’m activating (and working stations or constantly calling CW).
I decided to see how long it would continue to play off of the internal battery, so I didn’t re-charge it. Instead, today (June 7), I took it to Lake Norman State Park and had an external battery at the ready if it failed mid-activation.
It didn’t fail, though, even after 1.5 hours on the air. The voltage, when I finally gave up, was about 10.2 volts. I ran out of time, not the battery.
Once I’ve uploaded the video and written the field report (in a week or two), you’ll see that at one point today, I switched to SSB operation. Thing is: I didn’t bring the X5105 hand mic with me–it was 2 hours away at the QTH!
I remembered that the X5105 has a built-in mic–meaning, built into the body–so I decided to give it a go. I mean why not–?
Turns out, it was very easy to operate: simply press the PTT button as you would a mic button and speak. I worked a few SSB contacts this way.
The only other radio I own with an internal mic is the Elecraft KX2.
This X5105 might become permanent
Herein lies the trouble with doing radio reviews: sometimes you get attached. I need to talk with Radioddity.
I’ve been hesitant to take this unit on a SOTA activation because the chances of it getting scratched, etc. increases.
I believe I’m going to add the X5105 to my HF radio arsenal. It’s a fun little radio and it would make the short list for SOTA runs along with the Elecraft KX2 and Discovery TX-500.