My game is RaDAR – Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio, it is my focus and my thoughts on amateur radio revolve around it all the time. The RaDAR concept as we know it is almost a decade old. I like practicing RaDAR while on foot, moving and redeploying after every five contacts. It’s a challenge and it’s good.
Batteries, weight and bulk issues
Backpack weight needs to be reduced wherever possible. I used a FT817ND and LDG z817 ATU for almost a decade using various battery systems including internal batteries but there was always a weight issue. I almost always came back to Sealed Lead Acid Batteries (SLAB’s). They are heavy.
The batteries were always an issue. Then there are the latest and greatest high power battery systems available with dedicated chargers and protection mechanisms and this comes at a very high cost. Certainly many times more than a SLAB! Bulky too. I needed to keep the size of the kit down not only the weight.
QRO vs QRP
There were occasions where higher power was needed and through negotiations I managed to find a full house immaculate FT897d which suited RaDAR QRO ops ike a glove and I traded my satellite radio the FT847 and ATU for it, also in immaculate condition. The FT897d + ATU + internal AC power supply was heavy to carry and very bulky too! It needed even more SLABS which added to the weight.
The Xiegu X5105
Then I discovered the Xiegu X5105 and all it would require was another negotiation. The exchange rate in South Africa is pretty rediculous at the moment and the Xiegu X5105 way more expensive than what I paid for my FT817ND a few years back and it too was expensive at the time. The X5105 price at the time of writing :
It was through a local supplier, Rory ZS2BL. Not an official supplier in the eyes of the rest of the world but at least makes it easier for us local hams to aquire such a radio. Rory was prepared to swop my immaculate, full house FT897d + LDG 897 ATU + Optional internal PSU for a new, out of the box, Xiegu X5105.
The X5105 solved the battery problem
My main concern.
Batteries, bulk, weight, on foot, space to carry water, food and clothing too were all criteria for my decision. The X5105 offered a battery solution, no VHF and UHF though but I’d passed the will to use the FT897d for Satellite communication and digital modes. On foot, movement and HF communications is what I do. Ninety percent of all my QSO’s are QRP anyway.
I did the swop …..
The Xiegu X5105 came with the original factory firmware. The ATU wasn’t working like I was used to with the LDG z817 auto ATU and FT817ND. It simply didn’t work. Some menu options like the adjustable filter did not work either. I joined the Facebook Xiegu group and started my discussions on this topic. I learnt much through this group, a tightly controlled group I might add. (Edited – I was banned from the Xiegu Facebook group since posting this review).
Power output issues
My X5105 intitally only put out a half a Watt on 40m. Then it came right by itself for some unknown reason but would hesitate sometimes on the first character while sending CW. I put on my home brew QRP Power meter and could see the power output hovering around a half a Watt and then it would suddenly go to full power.
Not a very good impression coming from a Yaesu world and a practically perfect FT817ND or FT897d not to mention a FT-847. I had a FT902dm line once too and before that a FT101EE a Yaesu man through and through. I ran an Icom 706mkiig once which springboarded me into modern amateur radio.
The X5105 was a dissapointment although it fit my criteria for a battery solution. I almost sent it back after a week or so.
The ATU issue found it’s way to the Xiegu developers and within days a new firmware update was released. I discovered that my radio used the old way of updating the firmware. My first attempt failed and I thought I “bricked” the radio but I tried a second time and the update succeeded. I was quite surprised to see two VFO displays, a really impressive improvement on the previous firmware version. My ATU worked too!!! The power output and keyer issues showed improvement. Why the radios were initially released with “inferior firmware” is anyone’s guess but this version was impressive! A programming / CAT cable is supplied with the radio at no extra cost.
New firmware bugs
The new firmware didn’t come without its problems though. The RF gain on default settings was excessive. In high static conditions incoming signals were chopped and became unintelligable. Reducing RF Gain helped. The S Meter although needing calibration just didn’t “feel” right. The audio on the speaker output jack is the worst I’ve heard in my life! Apparently nothing can be done about it, it’s in the hardware …… I’m not sure how it sounded with the previous firmware. These issues seem to be taking a while to resolve.
I once built a 40m QCX transceiver designed by Hans Summers. The audio section on this rig is the benchmark. Absolutely perfect! Discussing this radio and using it to compare audio quality was a catalyst in having me removed from the Xiegu Facebook group.
A FRIENDLY reply via email from Xiegu.
By the way, many people complain that the X5105 is not sounding properly after connecting the headphones. This is because the headphone output can’t drive a load less than 32 ohms. If you want to connect an external speaker, use an active speaker. If we use headphones equal to or greater than 32 ohms, and its sound quality will be very good. If the load is less than 16 ohms, it will sound very bad.
The X5105 has a built in battery charger and I guess battery protection mechanisms. The operator needs to have access to a decent 13.8v D.C. power supply though in order to charge the battery. It takes a pretty long time to charge too. Many hours!
The manual is reasonably well written but quickly outdated with each firmware revision which is acceptable of course. Downloading a new manual with each new firmware update appears to be slow. I haven’t seen one for the latest update yet?
There is ZERO technical detail in the form of a block diagram or circuit diagram. It appears the developers have no intention of sharing this information? Concerned that their designs are copied apparently? Detail circuit diagrams and service information is available for any other ham radio transceiver that I know of, why not for the Xiegu X5105?
Features of the X5105
The internal mic is a big plus, Less bulk to carry not having to pack the mic. It can stay at home but I’m able to do SSB if the need arises.
Backlit controls. Awesome when the sun sets.
Large display. This is of course a definite improvement over most rigs who have small screens!
Stands. It was always a irritation holding the FT817ND so I could see what was on the screen. My eyesight isn’t that good anymore since passing sixty!
The battery, actually to date I haven’t come close to a flat battery and now purposefully don’t charge the rig till I get there – a few times. (Edited – I did some SWLing until the battery fell to 9.2 volts where the rig abruptly shut down. It actually didn’t take that long. After a few recharge cycles I will test again)
ATU – For what it’s worth, it works if my link dipole is not hundred percent resonant on a particular frequency while set up in the field. I prefer end feds though with a manual tuner for matching the half wave wire to the rig.
The user adjustable filter (Menu 9 I think) – it works on the latest firmware.
There is a built in keyer (Improved with the latest firmware) for a paddle but I prefer a hand key in the field, the predefined messages help as an extra hand sometimes.
It has a PSK decoder – Pretty useless really. Having a CW decoder like the Hans Summers QCX would add a LOT more value to the X5105 in this regard.
Recessed controls, easy to pack and less chance of damage.
The X5105 has a simple antenna analyser that produces a SWR graph of your antenna – This is a very handy facility if you enjoy building HF / 6m antennas!
Overall the Xiegu X5105 suits my needs. It does NOT exceed my expectations, I expected more for the price. On the outside the rig is very well built.
I’ll have to live with the imperfections after all it’s a trail radio and used on the trail in typical RaDAR fashion. I can live with that ….
The X5105 will be put through its paces on the 3rd of November 2018 during the international RaDAR challenge. The details can be seen on www.radarops.co.za
Yesterday I set up the X5105 in the shack. Forty meters has become skippy again! The X5105 is not a shack radio, my ears are EXTREMELY sensitive to that noisy audio amp ….. it is almost like trying to listen with a very noisy fan inside the rig with the audio superimposed on the sound of the fan. Very annoying. You don’t hear it quite so easily when outside, the wind and the birds make up for it. This is on the built in speaker!!! Headphones are of course OUT OF THE QUESTION!!! That’s it, it’s a great trail radio but that’s it, it’s a trail radio…..