Tag Archives: Xiegu

Field Report: Let’s build a super simple antenna on-site and activate this park!

Until 2016, I had never purchased a commercial field antenna; I built all the ones I had ever used.

These days, I take a number of commercial antennas to the field and use them in my real-time videos and I really enjoy deploying and using them. My buddy Eric (WD8RIF) reminded me, though, that I hadn’t actually used a homebrew antenna in ages. He was right!

You see, while I believe commercial field antennas can be incredibly durable and compact, it’s important to note that antennas are one of the easiest components of an amateur radio system to build yourself. They require only the most simple of tools and are very affordable. And the best part? They can perform as well as those that are available commercially.

I also get a great deal of pleasure out of building things.

A simple goal

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I often set a little goal that runs in the back of my mind for each park or summit activation I make.

On Monday, June 14, 2021, I made a simple goal: buy my antenna wire en route to Lake James State Park, build the antenna on site, and complete a valid Parks On The Air (POTA) activation.

A very simple antenna

I also decided to employ my Xiegu X5105 since 1.) it’s one of the most affordable general coverage QRP transceivers I own and 2.) it has a built-in antenna tuner (ATU).

One of the cool things about having an ATU is that, if it has the matching range, you can allow it to do the “heavy lifting” in terms of matching impedance.

Although I’d never put the X5105 to the test, I suspected its internal ATU would have the matching range to forgo building a 4:1 or 9:1 transformer and simply pair it directly with a random wire.

All I would need was a 28.5 foot length of wire for a radiator, at least a 17 foot length for a counterpoise, and a BNC to binding post adapter.

The antenna would benefit from multiple 17′ counterpoises, but I really wanted to keep this setup dead simple to prove that anyone can build an effective field antenna with a very minimum amount of components.

Even though I have plenty of wire lying around the house to build this simple antenna, I wanted to pretend I had none to prove that any wire would work.

And to add just a wee bit more challenge, I also limited myself to shopping for antenna wire between my home and the park without making a serious detour from my route. That really limited my options because there isn’t much in terms of commercial areas between me and Lake James State Park.

The wire

As I left the QTH, I decided that the best spot to shop was a Walmart in Marion, NC. It would only be a four minute round-trip detour at most.  I had a hunch that Walmart would even have speaker wire which would be ideal for this application.

In my head, I imagined I would have at least three or four choices in speaker wire (various gauges and lengths), but turns out I had a difficult time finding some at Walmart. We live in such a Bluetooth world, I suppose there isn’t much demand for it these days. A store associate helped me find the only speaker wire they had which was basically a 100 foot roll of the “premium” stuff for $17 US.

While I would like to have paid a fraction of that, in the end it’s not a bad price because once you separate the two conductors, you have double the amount of wire: 200 feet.

Although the frugal guy in me cringed, I bit the bullet and purchased their speaker wire. To be clear, though, I could have found another source of wire in that Walmart, but I preferred speaker wire for this application. And $17 to (hopefully!) prove a point? That’s a deal! 🙂

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

Once I arrived on site, I found a picnic site I’d used before with some tall trees around it.

I cut 28.5 feet of the speaker wire and split the paired wires so that I’d have two full 28.5 foot lengths.

Next, I stripped the ends of the wire and attached banana jacks I found in my junk drawer. Although these aren’t necessary as the binding post adapter can pair directly with the wire, I though it might make for a cleaner install. In the end, though, I wasn’t pleased with the connection to the radiator, so dispensed with one of the banana jacks.

Next, I deployed the 28.5 radiator with my arborist throw line, and laid the other 28.5 half on the ground (the ground of this antenna would pair with the black binding post, the radiator with the red post).  I only needed 17 feet of counterpoise, but once it couples with the ground, I don’t think any extra length makes a difference (although less than 17 feet likely would).

The antenna was essentially set up as a vertical random wire with one counterpoise.

My new speaker wire antenna in all its glory.

Gear:

On The Air

I’ll admit: I was a bit nervous putting this antenna on the air. Although I felt the X5105 ATU *should* match this antenna, I had no idea if it actually would.

Fortunately? It did.

At this point, if you don’t want any spoilers, I suggest you watch my real-time, real-life, no-edit, no-ad, video of the entire activation (including buying and building the antenna!).

Click here to watch the video.

Otherwise, scroll for my activation summary…

I was very pleased that the X5105 found a match on the 40 meter band.

I started calling CQ in CW and validated my activation by logging 10 stations in 13 minutes.

Honestly: it doesn’t get much better than this.

I logged three more stations on 40 meters CW, then moved up to the 30 meter band where the X5105 easily found a match.

I worked one station on 30 meters before heading back down to the 40 meter band to do a little SSB. I logged three SSB stations in five minutes.

Mission accomplished!

In the end, I logged a total of 17 stations including a P2P with K4NYM.

Not bad at all for speaker wire!

After the activation, I tested the X5105 ATU by trying to find matches on other bands–I was able to find great matches from 60 meters to 6 meters. Most impressive!

X5105 battery

You might recall that I attempted to deplete my X5105 internal battery at my last (rather long) activation of Lake Norman State Park.  I wasn’t able to deplete the battery at that activation, but I finally did at this one.

All I can say is that I’m incredibly impressed with the X5105 internal battery.  This was my fourth activation from one initial charge on May 16.  The battery lasted for 20 minutes, taking me well beyond the 10 contacts needed to validate this park. I’ll now consider taking the X5105 on a multiple SOTA summit run!

Short Hike

Even thought the heat was intense and the humidity even more intense, I decided to take in a 2 mile hike post-activation. I snapped a few shots along the way.

This is the Christmas Fern which derives its name from a few characteristics: its resilience to early season snows maintaining a dark green color beyond Christmas, and because folks believe its leaves are shaped like Santa’s boots or even Santa on his sleigh.

Improvements

I’ll plan to add more counterpoises to the speaker wire antenna as I know this will only help efficiency.

In addition, I’ll plan to build even more antennas with this roll of speaker wire. If you have some suggestions, feel free to comment!

Thank you for reading this field report!

Cheers,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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POTA Field Report: Attempting to deplete the Xiegu X5105 internal battery at Lake Norman

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!

Goal

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.

Boy, was I wrong.

I charged the X5105 before this activation on May 17, then I completed this short activation on May 18. I never expected the battery to keep going, but it did.

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.

Gear:

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.

Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life, no edit video of the entire activation including my full set up.  My summary of the activation follows–keep scrolling if you’re open to a spoiler.

Please note that this is the longest video I’ve ever published, so don’t feel any pressure to watch it in its entiretity:

Impressed

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.

X5105 Battery

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!

QSO Map

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!

73,

Thomas (K4SWL)


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G4USI has fun testing the matching ability of the Xiegu X5105 ATU

Many thanks to Stephen (G7VFY) who shares the following article posted on G4USI’s blog:

Xiegu ATU’s – just how good are they?

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?

Read on to find out how it really performs.

Click here to continue reading…

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!

The new Xiegu X6100 portable HF transceiver: Yes, it’s real and no it’s not vaporware

It seems folks are now finding out about the new Xiegu X6100 HF & 6 meter portable transceiver.

There have been a few rumors about it, so I thought I’d share some of the few details that have been confirmed.

What is the X6100?

If the Xiegu X5105 and Xiegu GSOC had a baby, it would look like the X6100.

The X6100 is a completely self-contained SDR QRP transceiver much like the X5105. The X6100 sports a 4″ high-resolution color capacitive touch screen and is built on on a quad-core processor, 4G ROM, and 512MB RAM. I assume this will run on a similar Linux version/distro as the GSOC.

The X6100 will include an internal automatic antenna tuner (ATU) and a 3500 mAh internal rechargeable Lithium Ion battery pack.

Power output will be 5 watts when using the internal battery pack and 10 watts when connected to an external power source.

Key features:

  • Modes: USB/LSB (J3E), CW (A1A), FM (F3E), RTTY (F1B), AM (A3E)
  • Receiving: 0.5MHz~30MHz, 50MHz~54MHz
  • Transmitting: 1.8~2.0MHz, 3.5~3.9MHz
    5.3515~5.3665MHz 7.0~7.2MHz 10.1~10.15MHz 14.0~14.35MHz 18.068~18.168MHz 21.0~21.45MHz 24.89~24.99MHz 28.0~29.7MHz 50~54MHz
  • External voltage range : 9.0~15.0VDC
  • Integrated SWR meter
  • Voice and CW memory keying
  • Integrated modem
  • Native Bluetooth and WiFi functionality (easy keyboard and mouse connectivity)
  • Two USB interfaces supporting HOST and DEVICE
  • Standard high stability TCXO
  • 24bit sampling rate and “large dynamic RF front-end unit”
  • Ruggedized chassis and backlit buttons
  • Maximum current consumption in receive: 550mA

Early Product Sheet

I’ve also been sent a pre-production product brochure. This has a number of details and, as you’ll see, it even hasn’t been through a final edit.

Click here to download the preliminary Xiegu X6100 product brochure (PDF).

Pricing and availability

Pricing and availability have not been determined at time of posting. I will post an update when that information can be confirmed.

I can only assume bringing this new radio to fruition will take time. Most radio manufacturers are struggling to keep up inventory levels as we work our way out of the C-19 pandemic supply chain issues. Parts availability has become a real issue.

Enjoying a casual trailside activation with the Xiegu X5105 and PackTenna 9:1 Unun

I love day hiking with radios.

When I pack all of my radio gear in a field kit that is compact enough to fit in a small day pack, it forces me to only take the essentials. This, in turn, makes for a quick deployment and pack-up.

I think this is one of the reasons I find Summits On The Air so appealing.

On Tuesday, May 18, 2021, I had a hankering to fit in a hike and, of course, play radio. I also wanted the option to fit in two activations, so needed a simple and short hike to minimize time.

Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)

I decided to head to Tuttle Educational State Forest–one of my favorite accessible POTA sites–because their two mile loop trail was just what the doctor ordered. In fact, I knew exactly where I wanted to set up on the trail.

Tuttle is rarely busy–especially on a Tuesday afternoon.

I arrived on site and, as I was pulling my backpack out of the car, I was greeted by one of the Tuttle park rangers. He was incredibly nice and provided me with even more ideas of places to set up in the future along the trail and trail extensions. We must have chatted for 15-20 minutes–he had a number of questions about amateur radio and I never miss an opportunity to be an ambassador for both ham radio and POTA/WWFF.

Gear:

On The Air

The hike was amazing and, besides park rangers, I had the entire site to myself. About 1.5 miles into the hike, I found the spot I earmarked for this activation: a little open area with three wood benches on the side of the path.

This particular deployment reminded me how thankful I am that I discovered the Arborist Throw Line last year. I had the PackTenna deployed in three minutes.

It was so…effortless.

I decided to take the Xiegu X5105 out for another activation. Radioddity sent this to me on loan for a full evaluation and review. The previous day, I activated the Blue Ridge Parkway with the X5105.  I wanted to see how many activations I could accomplish off of one charge of the X5105’s internal battery, so after the BRP activation, I didn’t re-charge the battery.

As insurance at Tuttle, I brought along my trusty QRP Ranger LiFePo4 battery pack and hooked it up to the X5105. If the X5105’s internal battery died on me, it would be easy to simply turn on the QRP Ranger’s power switch and hop right back on the air.

I started one of my real-time, real-life activation videos (see below), then called CQ on 40 meters.

Maybe that quick antenna deployment was foreshadowing the activation, because in the span of 13 minutes, I logged 11 stations all on 40 meters.

I was very pleased to work P2P (Park To Park) contacts my friends Steve (KC5F) and Scott (KN3A). Thanks, guys, for hunting me!

Here’s my log:

I didn’t even move up to 30 or 20 meters after working the string of contacts on 40 meters because Tuttle is far from being a rare site and I wanted to fit in one more activation that afternoon.

The X5105’s internal battery easily powered the rig for the entire activation (perhaps a total time of 15 minutes). I suppose I’ll have to take it to yet another park on this same charge!

Packing up was nearly as quick as deployment. I owe thanks to one of my YouTube Channel subscribers for suggesting that I pack the Arborist Throw Line pouch by winding figure eight bundles of line on my hand (much like I do with antenna wire) and stuffing them in the pouch one bunch at a time. This saved me a lot of time.

While the portable throw line pouch isn’t as quick to pack as the throw line cube, this method made it a cinch!  I can’t find who originally made the suggestion, but I’m grateful–thank you!

Video

Here’s a link to the full activation video:

Photos

During my loop hike, I snapped a few photos (click to enlarge):


Well hello there, little fella’!

I’m most grateful to the late Ms. Tuttle for leaving this amazing park for all to enjoy. Her legacy protects this land for all future generations.

When you’re doing a park or summit activation, don’t forget to stop and take in a good dose of nature and the outdoors.

It does us all a world of good.

More X5105 thoughts

This second activation had me warming up a bit more to the X5105. I do like its size, and I think it’s a good rig for CW ops.

CW operation is very pleasant, actually, and keying feels natural. I was impressed that the battery held for a second activation, even though this was a very short one.

Again, I think the internal speaker audio leaves a bit to be desired–I dislike the audio splatter I hear at higher volumes–but for $550? It’s really hard to be critical.

During this activation, I still hadn’t learned how to program CW memory keying. A YouTube subscriber recently described the process and it seems overly cumbersome and much more complicated than it was in an earlier firmware version.  I’m going to contact Xiegu about this. Unless I’m missing something, it really holds the radio back from being pretty stellar on CW for the field op.

Readers, if you own the X5105 and can describe the best way to use CW memory keying, please comment with directions! I’d really appreciate it!

Thank you

Thank you once again for reading through this field report and perhaps watching the activation video.

I’d also like to thank the readers and subscribers who’ve recently supported me on Patreon and via PayPal. I am humbled and honored.

Thank you.


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New radio day! A shakeout activation on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I learn a lot about a radio the first time I take it to the field. I’m not sure if it’s because being out of the shack helps me give it my full attention, or if it’s because field conditions vary and this allows me to see how flexible and adaptable the radio is.

On Monday (May 17, 2021), I was eager to hit the field with a new-to-me radio.

The previous week I didn’t log even one park or summit activation. Typically I’d hit at least two. There were a couple of reasons for this…

First, we had a fuel shortage in western NC and I didn’t want to burn any extra fuel for activations knowing we had some important family errands that week.

Secondly, I needed to hunker down and finish a number of projects I’d been working on including a lengthy two-part field radio kit feature for The Spectrum Monitor magazine, and a new in-depth TX-500 review for RadCom.  FYI: Part one of my feature for TSM will appear as the cover article in the June 2021 issue.

We also had a number of family projects to sort out. So a week at home perfectly timed with the fuel shortage.

The new radio

I collect reader and viewer suggestions and when I see that there’s a radio or product, in particular, folks would like to see tested, I try to obtain one.

One of the most requested radios lately has been the Xiegu X5105.

A number of readers have asked me to obtain an X5105 and take it to the field. Many are considering purchasing this (incredibly) affordable full-featured QRP transceiver, others own it, love it, and want to see how I like it compared with my other radios.

Last year, I came very close to purchasing the X5105 for review, but opted for the Xiegu G90 instead (here’s my review of the G90).

Even though the X5105 is only $550 US, I really didn’t want to make a purchase at this point because I’m budgeting for a new MacBook, new video camera, and I just purchased the TX-500.

So I reached out to Radioddity who is a sponsor over at the SWLing Post. I’d been in touch with Radioddity a lot as of late because I’ve been evaluating and testing the Xiegu GSOC for the past few months. They lent me the GSOC (and a G90 because I sold after my review) and I was in the process of packing up both units to send back to them.

I asked if they could lend me an X5105 for a few weeks. They were quite happy to do so and dispatched one in short order.

A clear relationship

Side story…

Back when I decided to place ads on the SWLing Post and QRPer.com, I worried about any inherent conflicts of interest. I read magazines that review products and can tell that they’re being gentle in their criticism because there’s a two page ad of the product immediately following the review. I don’t like that.

This conflict is something that’s almost inevitable with any radio publication that grows to the point of needing monetization to support it.

I made a few Golden Rules up front:

1.) I would only place radio-relevant ads on my sites. Period.

2.) My ads and sponsorships would be hand-picked and by invite only. I choose who can be a sponsor.

3.) I’m up-front with sponsors that my reviews call it like it is. If they send me product to review, I will give it an honest evaluation based on real-life use. If I don’t like it or can’t recommend one of their products, I’ll let my community know.

I’ve lost a couple of sponsors over Golden Rule #3 over the years. I’m okay with that because I’d rather not allow an advertiser on my site that can’t take customer criticism.

I invited Radioddity to be a sponsor of the SWLing Post last year after I had some positive interactions with them.

The Xiegu GSOC

Radioddity sent me the new GSOC to review in November 2020. I discovered in short order that the GSOC had some major issues and, frankly, I didn’t like it and certainly couldn’t recommend it. I communicated my concerns about this product with detailed notes and suggestions for improvement. I was open and honest about the GSOC on the SWLing Post (read the thread here).

Radioddity not only embraced my criticisms but sent them to the manufacturer and thanked me.

Impressive.

Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)

But back to the activation!

So on Monday, May 17, I had an errand in town that took me right past the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Arts Center. The detour to do an activation was maybe two minutes, so there was no “fuel-shortage” guilt! 🙂

Also, I had a good hour to burn before I needed to go home and pack for a quick trip to visit my folks.

Equipment list:

I deployed the PackTenna 9:1 random wire antenna specifically because I wanted to see how easily the X5105’s internal ATU could match it.

I hopped on 40 meters first, hit the ATU button and it quickly found a 1:1 match–good sign!

This turned out to be a pretty easy and simple activation.

I started calling CQ and within 12 minutes I logged 11 stations.

I moved up to 20 meters knowing it would be a tougher band, but worked one more station–KG5OWB at K-0756–pretty quickly.

I was quite happy with  logging 12 stations in short order. A nice contrast to recent activations where conditions were so poor it’s been a struggle to get even 10 contacts within an hour.

I would have stayed on the air longer but (as I mention in the video) I wasted a good 20-25 minutes waiting on the landscape crew to finish mowing on/around the site before I set up my station. I didn’t want to be in their way.

Here’s my log sheet from the POTA website:

Video

Of course, I made one of my real-time, real-life videos of the entire activation. I’ve quite a long preamble in this one, so if you’re interested in skipping straight to the on-the-air time, go to 16:24.

X5105 initial thoughts?

So far, I like the X5105. It certainly accomplishes its goal of being an all-in-one “shack in a box.”

I performed this activation only using the X5105 internal battery. In addition, the ATU worked perfectly with the random wire antenna.

I like the size–it’s much smaller than I imagined. It’s also fairly lightweight.

It feels rugged, too–I wouldn’t be concerned about it getting easily damaged in the field.

The speaker works pretty well, but if the volume level is pushed too hard, it starts to splatter. I wish it could handle a little more volume before the splattering kicks in.

The ergonomics are pretty good. It didn’t take long to sort out how to use most of the functions.

One area for improvement? The owner’s manual. It’s poorly written and (frankly) reads as if it was rushed to print.

For example, I wanted to set up CW memory keying prior to hitting the field. Unfortunately, the owner’s manual was no help.

There’s actually a dedicated page regarding CW memory keying, but the first thing it does is reference a different section of the manual (without giving a page number). I followed the procedure, but it didn’t work. In fact, it didn’t make sense as it seemed lead me down the path of digital mode macros. I think the manual may be referencing a procedure before the last firmware update (which, it appears, changed the menu structure significantly).

If you can help guide me through setting up CW memory keying, please comment! I’m sure it’s a simple process, but I haven’t sorted it out yet.

Overall, though? I see why the X5105 is so popular. It appears to compete with a loaded Elecraft KX2. It’s a bit larger, heavier, and less “refined” but it’s also half the price of a loaded KX2.

I also think it’s a great radio for CW operators. The keying feels natural and responsive. It uses relays instead of pin diode switching, so QSK includes a little relay clicking. I don’t find it to be too loud, though.

I’ll be taking the X5105 out again very soon.  I’ve got it for 6 weeks, so it will get plenty of park and summit time. If you own the X5105, I’d love to hear your comments on this portable rig.

Thanks for reading!

Why I sold my Xiegu G90

Many thanks to Brain who asks:

“Thomas, I read your review of the Xiegu G90 transceiver on the SWLing Post and it seemed your overall impression was positive. I bought a G90 some time ago and love it. So far, I’ve only been listening with it, but hope to pass both my Technician and General class license exams this month. Curious why you stated that you sold it after your review. Could you shed a little light on that decision? Inquiring mind here. Thanks so much for your articles and videos.”

Good question, Brian! And bravo on tackling both your Tech and General class license exams in one go! We’re rooting for you!

The short answer is it had more to do with my own personal preferences than the radio’s performance and specifications.

As I stated in my review, I think the G90 is a great value and certainly a capable field radio. It must be one of the most popular portable transceivers in the Parks On The Air (POTA) program (along with the Yaesu FT-891) which is certainly worth noting.

You would be hard-pressed to find a transceiver with the features of the G90–including an excellent internal ATU and 20 watts output–for less than $600 and the G90 is currently only $425 US.

If you have a limited budget, and like the overall specs and features of the G90, you really can’t go wrong.

Personal preferences

When I review a product, I do my best not to allow my own personal preferences to cloud my judgement. I try to imagine how I’d review a piece of gear based on being in a number of other operators’ shoes.

One of my pet peeves, in fact, is to read a product review and find that the reviewer is indulging in nit-picking and hyper-focusing on particular characteristics, features, and design shortcomings. I want to hear the negatives for sure, but I also want to feel comfortable that the reviewer’s personal preferences didn’t cloud their overall objectivity.

I also value real-word, hands-on experience in a product review.

After purchasing the Xiegu G90, I took it to the field and made a number of POTA activations with it. It never disappointed. I also used it in the shack for a couple of months. I found that the display was quite useful, easy to read, and it had most of the functions and features I tend to use in the field. Never once did I feel it was under-performing or not meeting my expectations. If anything, the G90 exceeded my expectations.

In fact, I remember telling some of my friends that the G90 was a “keeper” after taking it on a few field outings. But after my review, I found that I rarely reached for it when heading to the field. Why? Turns out some of my own personal preferences surfaced:

Memory Keying

Most of my other QRP transceivers have CW memory keying and/or voice memory keying. The Xiegu G90 does not.

For POTA and SOTA activators, voice and CW memory keying is a useful feature, as it frees you to do other things like log, eat a sandwich, or talk to others while calling CQ. In other words, it can help with your “work flow.” If you’ve watched my activation videos, you might have noticed that I tend to use memory keying for calling CQ and, sometimes, for sending 73s.

When walking out the door to hit the field, I tend to grab my transceivers that have memory keying functions.

Audio

The G90 has an excellent internal speaker for use in the field. With that said–and this is hard to describe–I find its overall audio characteristics a little “harsh” and unrefined. I found that, over time, the G90 gave me a bit of listener fatigue during long sessions in the field or shack. That’s not to say it has bad audio–it’s just not as good as some of my other transceivers.

Key clicks

ARRL lab testing shows that the G90 has key clicks in transmit. In fact, the key clicks were bad enough in their testing that they suggested never using the G90 with an external amplifier.  For those of us who don’t use amplifiers, this may never be a factor at all. Also, Xiegu retailers sell affordable external amplifiers to pair with the G90, so I must assume it doesn’t affect all amplifiers negatively. If I’m being honest with myself, I think this was another nail in the coffin.

In summary…

I knew the G90 would collect dust, so I sold it.

However, I know operators who love the G90 so much, they sold their pricier rigs after buying a G90. I even know operators who own two G90s: one for the shack, one for the field. With a total investment of only $850, I see why they made that choice.

The G90 just wasn’t for me though.

A final note about the new Xiegu GSOC

Ironically, I was asked by Radioddity to evaluate the new Xiegu GSOC controller only a couple weeks after I sold my original G90. Since the GSOC is designed to pair with the G90 , they had to send me another G90 on loan for the evaluation.

If you have a G90 and have considered purchasing the GSOC, I would strongly urge you to read my latest review of the GSOC.

In short: I can’t recommend it. The G90 is a much better radio without the GSOC controller, in my opinion.

Do you own the G90?

Have you even owned or operated the Xiegu G90? What do you consider to be its pros and cons? Please comment!

Initial review of the Xiegu GSOC controller

In early November, I took delivery of the new Xiegu GSOC Touch Screen Controller which has kindly been sent to me by Radioddity on loan for a frank evaluation. [Thank you, Radioddity!]

To be clear: the GSOC is not a transceiver, it’s a control head for the Xiegu G90 and (to a limited degree) X5105. Note I recently  reviewed the Xiegu G90.

GSOC development has been closely watched by Xiegu owners since its announcement in the summer of 2020.

Frankly, I didn’t completely see the appeal myself because the price of the GSOC was projected to be around $550–at least $100 more than the retail price of the G90 transceiver it controls.

The G90, in my opinion, is a good value field radio. Not a stellar performer, but it gets the job done and the built-in ATU does a brilliant job finding matches. It’s become a very popular radio for portable field operators because of the price, the versatility, and the power output (up to 20W). It’s not a KX2, KX3, or IC-705, but it certainly provides much more than one would expect from $450.

When you combine the price of the G90 and GSOC, however, you’re pushing $1000 and that’s getting in the range of radios like the Icom IC-7300.

Not feeling the GSOC love

In short, I’ve been quite disappointed with the GSOC. It feels like a product that was rushed to market way too soon. The specs and features don’t match up to what’s been advertised yet.

Yesterday, I posted an updated evaluation of the GSOC on the SWLing Post after performing the first public firmware upgrade. If you’ve been considering the GSOC, I would strongly encourage you to read that full post.

Check out the number of images that temporarily appeared in the spectrum and waterfall.

In a nutshell, there are some major issues with the GSOC at present (December 2, 2020):

  • No documentation or owner’s manual at time of posting other than an incredibly basic quick start guide
  • CW mode is essentially unusable due to latency in the CW sidetone audio
  • Combined current drain of the G90/GSOC pair is about 1 amp. For QRP field ops, that’s a substantial number and one you’d expect from a 100W field radio
  • The spectrum display is inundated with noise and images that are not present in the G90 received audio
  • On my unit, the large encoder sticks a bit and rubs the front panel when in use. I plan to see if I can reseat the encoder knob to help.
  • A keyboard and mouse or capacitive stylus are almost required for accurate operation of the touch screen due to the size of some of the buttons.
  • Click here to view a more comprehensive list

In summary? I can’t recommend the GSOC yet and that’s why I’m posting this summary here on QRPer–I’d like to dissuade readers from grabbing one of these as a Christmas gift.

The package looks tempting, but there are too many issues that must be addressed just to achieve proper control of the G90.  I can tell that, personally, I won’t purchase the GSOC even when everything is fixed. The price point is just too high, in my opinion, for the functionality it provides. The G90 is a fun, functional little radio, but doesn’t sport the performance and receiver characteristics that I feel warrant a touch screen controller. The controller will only ever be as good as the transceiver to which it’s attached.

Do you own or have you considered purchasing the GSOC? I’d love your comments/thoughts.

Snagging two state game lands in three days for Parks On The Air

View from Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway (June 13, 2020).

The following article first appeared on our sister site, the SWLing Post.

You might have noticed from recent posts, I’ve been on a bit of a POTA (Parks On The Air) kick lately.

I’ve been enjoying taking the Xiegu G90 to the field and seeing just how well it performs under intensive use on battery power. So far, it has certainly proven itself to be a capable field rig.

Still, on two recent activations I also brought my trusty Elecraft KX2 along as well.  Without a doubt, it’s still my number one field rig. It will be difficult for another field transceiver to displace it.

With that said, the G90 is less than half the price of the KX2 (when the KX2 is configured with the optional ATU). The G90 can also pump out a full 20 watts of power–nearly double that of the KX2. I also love the G90’s spectrum display which makes it so easy to find free frequencies and hunt other parks. Its internal antenna tuner–like the KX2’s–can match almost anything very quickly.

Here are a couple of quick reports from my recent activations:

William H Silver State Game Land (K-6967)

Saturday, my family had planned a trip to visit my father-in-law. My wife encouraged me to find a nearby park to activate as there are so many between our house and his. I made it slightly more challenging by deciding to find a park or POTA entity I’d never visited.

Turns out the William H Silver State Game Land was only a 30 minute detour. I had never visited it and, in fact, it was even an ATNO (All Time New One) for Parks On The Air, meaning no one had yet activated it.

I had initially planned 1.5 to 2 hours for the activation, but we were running behind Saturday morning so I had to cut my time at the park to a total of about one hour–which included set-up, operation, and take-down.

We arrived at the site and I immediately deployed my EFT Trail-Friendly end-fed antenna.

My 12 year old daughter (who is studying for her ham radio license and is a great at digging callsigns out of the noise) helped me log contacts. I stuck with very brief exchanges so that I could work as many stations as possible. When activating an ATNO, I always want to give as many POTA “hunters” as possible the best opportunity to put the site in their log books.

I started on the 40 meter band and worked 20 stations in 25 minutes with the Xiegu G90.

I then moved up to the 20 meter band and switched over to the Elecraft KX2.

Turns out, 20 meters was pretty unstable, so I worked very few stations. I did work a station in California with 10 watts and a wire, though, so I’ll still call that a success.

I plan to visit this same site again later this year–it’s very accessible.

Buffalo Cove State Game Land (K-6886)

Monday morning, even though the weather outlook was dodgy, I scheduled another park activation which, like Saturday’s, was at a state game land which was another ATNO.

I like game lands. Unlike state parks, I don’t have to worry about crowds and I also usually get to take my Subaru or truck off-road. Access roads here in the mountains are typically steep, curvy, and washed-out in places. Finding the site can be very challenging, too. Still, I love adding a little off-road fun to a park activation!

The Buffalo Cove State Game Land is much larger than park K-6967 (above). I drove deep into the lands and found a large parking and camping area for hunters. I had the whole place to myself, so I found the best tree to support my end-fed antenna.

I operated the KX2 exclusively on this activation because I wanted to use its voice keyer and my Heil headset for hands-free VOX operation.

In the course of 90 minutes, I worked 51 stations from the trunk/boot of my car.

Many thanks to my good friend Mike (K8RAT) who made the whole process much smoother by spotting me on the POTA site.

Band conditions were actually pretty rough today, so I was very pleased with the results and intend to return here for a weekend activation later this year as well. This would actually be an ideal location for making low-noise portable SDR recordings while camping overnight.

This weekend, I decided I want to increase my portable field antenna arsenal. More about that in a future post!


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An impromptu Parks On The Air (POTA) activation with the Xiegu G90


Note: The following is a cross-post from the SWLing Post.

Yesterday, I was in my hometown helping my parents with a few projects. Around noon, I realized that I had a good four hour window of free time–a true rarity these days!

I had two fully-packed go bags in the car: one with my trusty Elecraft KX2, and one with my recently acquired Xiegu G90.  On the heels of a successful POTA activation this weekend, I was itching to activate a new POTA site.

I did a quick check of the POTA site map and decided a trip to the South Mountains State Park (K-2753) was in order. The park was a nice 30 minute drive on back roads, so why not?

I posted a quick announcement on the POTA website, and jumped in the car.

When I arrived at the park, I noted an excellent, easily accessible picnic site with a nearby tree to hang my EFT Trail-Friendly antenna. Since I hadn’t been to this park in many years, I continued driving to check out other potential POTA sites.

In the main parking lot, I spotted a ham radio operator’s car with a prominent callsign on the back window and a POTA bumper sticker. I couldn’t see their operating site from the parking lot and since we’re all trying to social distance these days, I didn’t bother searching for them to introduce myself.

While it’s certainly allowed to have two activators running a park at the same time, I really didn’t want to impose and certainly didn’t want to cause any QRM by operating on the same meter band.

Contingency plan

I had a “Plan B” in mind in case the park wasn’t accessible.  On the west side of South Mountains State Park there was another POTA site: the South Mountains State Game Land (K-6952). I started driving in that direction, then used Google Maps to help me locate the entry road. Turns out, it was an additional 35 minutes of driving! Still, it was a beautiful day so no complaints from me.

The road was typical of game land roads: gravel and washed out in places. I had to ford one creek. My Subaru had no problem doing this, of course. (I actually love off-roading, so secretly I hoped the road would be more challenging!)

About four miles in, I found a pull-off that was big enough for my car and had an ideal tree to hang the antenna. I backed into the site, opened the hatch on the Subaru, and used the trunk/boot as my radio table.

Within ten minutes I had the G90 on the air.

I started calling CQ on the 40 meter band and thanks to buddies Mike (K8RAT) and Vlado (N3CZ) I was spotted on the POTA website.

Although there was a fair amount of QRN on 40 meters, now that the G90 has an RF Gain control (with latest firmware v 1.74), I could easily mitigate it.

I worked a number of stations on 40, then decided to move up to 20 meters.

I was very impressed with the response on 20 meters as well. Fading (QSB) was very deep, however, so I kept contacts brief. At times, stations would call me, I’d give them a 59 report, and when they’d reply I could barely hear them (and vise-versa). It took a little patience and good timing, but I believe I worked everyone who called me.

In the end, I had a total of 27 contact in the log with about one hour of operating. Here are my log sheets:

After transmitting steadily for an hour at a full 20 watts, the G90 body was pretty warm to the touch, but it had operated flawlessly.

A great field radio

The G90 is a gem of a transceiver and has some features that make it ideal for field use.

For one thing, I love being able to keep track of my battery voltage on the display:

Also, the G90 has excellent selectivity. On both 40 and 20 meters, at times I could see adjacent stations on the spectrum display that would have bled over and created QRM on less robust receivers.

I also like the ability to control all of the major transceiver functions without  having to dive into an embedded menu. Adjusting the filter, RF gain, attenuator, and pre-amp, for example, is super easy.

I love the spectrum display, too. In the field, it’s nice to be able to find an open frequency by simply watching the display for a minute or so before calling QRL or CQ. It also allows me to see when folks are tuning up nearby to make contact with me.

Although I’ve been using a resonant antenna in the field, the G90 has a very capable built-in ATU.  Back home, I’ve used it and have been very impressed with its ability to find good matches. Yesterday, for fun, I was even able to get it to tune up the EFT Trail Friendly antenna on 80 meters! I doubt it would be efficient, but the ATU did find a 2:1 match.

The only two features I feel like the G90 is missing are a notch filter (both manual and auto) and a voice keyer. I’m sure a notch filter could be added in a future firmware update (others have been asking for this as well), but I doubt a voice keyer could be added as easily. In truth, the voice keyer is a bit of a luxury, but it’s a feature I use without fail on my KX2 since park and summit activations often require constant CQ calls. Being able to record a CQ and have the radio automatically send it allows the op to drink water, eat lunch, and relax between contacts.

This is a lot of radio for $450 US shipped. I’ve also learned that the G90 has a very active community of users via this Groups.io email list.

I had planned to sell the Xiegu G90 after my upcoming review in The Spectrum Monitor. I must admit: this transceiver is growing on me. It might be hard to let go of it.

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