The Xiegu X5105: a new QRP portable transceiver in development

Xiegu-X5105

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Mike, who writes:

I thought your readers might like to know about the new Xiegu X5105 [HF] transceiver which is being developed by the Wouxun group out of China (the same company who produces an inexpensive line of amateur HTs).

According to YaesuFT817.com, the X5105’s receiver is a double-conversion superheterodyne design and is made portable by way of 3 rechargeable lithium batteries of 1.8 mAh each. Native output of 5 watts.

I’ve read that the price will be around $500 US.

The X-108 forum also has the following message, I assume, from a company representative…

“Xiegu Tech will launch new products. I’m very pleased to share relevant information with you:-)

I. X5105 short wave transceiver

  • X5105 is a highly portable transceiver working at HF+6m band, with a built-in power output of 5W.
  • Technical features: double-conversion superheterodyne, fitted with up to 3 lithium batteries of 18,650mph each.
  • Expandability
  • A standard main unit (embedded with one 8-pole 2.7k-SSB crystal filter)
  • An optional high stability, high precision TCXO module
  • An optional 500Hz narrow band crystal filter
  • An optional plug-in 5W antenna tuner module

II. XPA125 integrated amplifier and antenna tuner

  • XPA125, with a built-in antenna tuner, amplifies the output up to 125W.

Technical features:

  • 125W linear power amplifier + combined LC antenna tuner.

Expandability: 

  • A standard 125W amplifier, An optional 125W automatic antenna tuner.”

Thanks for all of the info, Mike!

That’s an interesting portable design. I like the display–reminds me of the Icom IC-746.

I’ll be very curious how well it performs as a general coverage receiver. I don’t see any specs regarding AM mode or the maximum bandwidth. The price is certainly competitive; nearly half that of the Elecraft KX3. I seriously doubt it could give the KX3 a run for its money, performance-wise, but who knows? Looks like we’ll have more info by the end of the year when the X5105 hits production. Thanks again for the tip!

Review of the Kaito KA108

Kaito-KA108-Front-2

Recently, I learned about a new portable by Kaito Electronics: the Kaito KA108. While there are a number of compact portables on the market, the KA108 really caught my attention because it features a built-in digital recorder. Which is to say, you can listen to a station on shortwave, press a button, and the KA108 will record it to a MicroSD card. Pretty cool, right? It’s also the first shortwave portable I’ve ever known that offers a scheduling feature for recordings.

In the past there have been a few shortwave portables with digital recording capabilities, but most of these have been plagued with poor performance. So this time, I had my fingers crossed that Kaito might have produced a winner.

Having used the KA108 for several days now, my initial review follows, with a focus on shortwave as well as mediumwave performance.

User’s Manual

The KA108 actually ships with two manuals: a quick start reference guide and a proper highly-detailed user’s manual.

Kaito-KA108-Unboxing-3

The manual is written in English and is quite descriptive, despite a number of spelling and grammar errors that should have been caught before going to print. It’s obvious that Kaito didn’t hire a native English speaker/professional editor to check their copy.  (I don’t understand why a company would go to the expense to produce a manual without having it professionally edited…Kaito, please take note!)  Fortunately, these spelling and grammar errors, while annoying, can be overlooked and/or deciphered by most English-speaking readers.

Tuning

Kaito-KA108-Side3

On the plus side, the KA108 sports a full number keypad for direct frequency entry. This makes tuning to a known frequency a very simple process––with one exception (see below). There’s also a tuning wheel on the right side of the radio.

Kaito-KA108-Keypad

Note where the “0” is placed on the keypad: why the change?

Using the keypad requires some getting used to, however. Most of us––myself included––are familiar with traditional numeric keypads, but the KA108 inexplicably changes the game plan: as you can see above, the “0” button is located on the lower right side of the main keypad. So it took me a few hours of use before I could reliably key in a frequency without looking at the radio.

In my humble opinion, Kaito should have moved the number pad up one row, positioned the “ATS” button to the lowest row on the left, the “0” button to its immediate right, and completed the bottom row with the “Rewind/Play/Fast-Forward” buttons.

Another annoyance––and this is a big one for me–-is that the KA108 has extended muting between frequency changes. It makes band-scanning a frustrating experience. I made a short video demonstrating this:

Audio

DSC_3495The KA108 is designed around a very innovative small speaker with an acoustic chamber that significantly boosts bass response. This is the same speaker used in the Melson S8 that I reviewed some time ago.

The audio fidelity is excellent on FM, and when playing back a full-fidelity digital recording. Unfortunately, when tuned to the AM broadcast (mediumwave) band or to the shortwave bands, the KA108 falls short; the bass response actually becomes an impediment to listening.

In a nutshell: the KA108 audio has issues. A further explanation of the KA108’s audio is described in the performance notes that follow.

FM Performance

On a positive note, the Kaito KA108 has respectable FM reception. I was able to receive all my benchmark FM stations with little trouble, and the KA108 maintained a strong lock on all signals.

And as mentioned above, KA108 audio via the built-in speaker is much better on FM than on any other band. Indeed, on FM, the KA108 produces rich, full-fidelity audio that can easily fill a room. Audio is similar to that of the Melson M7 and the Melson S8.

If you’re seeking a nice FM portable with robust audio, you’ll enjoy the KA108.

Shortwave Performance

Kaito-KA-108

I’m quite disappointed with the KA108’s shortwave performance.

Almost immediately after unboxing the KA108, I inserted a battery, walked outdoors, and tuned through the 31 meter band.

Other than a couple of blow-torch North American private broadcasters, I heard…nothing. It was during this first band scan that I realized how annoying the tuning mute could be. And the audio, meanwhile, sounded muffled and garbled: I assumed that there was some local interference, and simply turned the radio off, hoping the following day would produce a change for the better.

The following day, I spent a great deal of time with the KA108 on the air, and compared it with the Eton Traveller III and the Tecsun PL-310ET––both capable, similarly-priced compact DSP radios.

Sure enough, when compared with other portables, the KA108’s reception is, sadly, rather poor.

At first I thought it might be an issue with receiver sensitivity, but the KA108 could receive almost every station the Traveller III and the PL-310ET could receive. But the audio was so muffled on the KA108, even with  the use of headphones, that spoken word was hard to interpret. Additionally, the over-active AGC (Automatic Gain Control) meant that audio levels were all over the place. That combination makes for fatiguing listening.

Volume level indicator.

Volume level indicator.

Over the next few days with the KA108 on shortwave, I drew a few conclusions.

After recognizing that the audio fidelity did not improve significantly when using headphones, I realized that at least three factors are having a negative impact on shortwave audio, as follows:

  1. The default AM bandwidth is too narrow for broadcasts, and cannot be adjusted
  2. The AGC setting is over-active and causes audio pumping; it, too, cannot be adjusted
  3.  Portions of the shortwave bands are polluted by internally-generated noise/interference

This combination makes for sloppy shortwave performance.

To save time in making the KA108’s comparison information readily available, as well as to indicate actual speaker performance, I decided to take a few quick comparison videos not with the KA108 or an external mic but simply with my smartphone. While my phone’s microphone is somewhat limited, I believe you’ll be able to observe the  inherent problems with the KA108.

I compared the KA108 with the Traveller III in each video.

In the first comparison, I tuned to Radio Exterior De España on 9690 kHz, as you’ll see. The signal was marginal or relatively weak at the time:

(Click here to view the video on YouTube.)

Next, I tuned in a very strong shortwave signal from Radio Havana Cuba on 11,670 kHz:

(Click here to view on YouTube.)

Finally, later in the afternoon, I tuned to All India Radio on 9,445 kHz––again, a marginal signal:

(Click here to view this video on YouTube.)

Mediumwave Performance

Mediumwave (a.k.a., AM broadcast band) performance is very similar to shortwave performance.

In this video, I’ve tuned to an AM station located twenty-five miles away on 1600 kHz.  The KA108 can receive the station, but audio is not pleasant and the AGC is, yet again, overactive. I’ve noticed that the mediumwave band is plagued by more internally-generated noise than are the shortwave bands.

(Click here to view this video on YouTube.)

Note that YouTube’s copyright checking system flagged my video because it recognized the song being played in the background on WTZQ. I believe this easily qualifies as fair use since the clips are short and it’s an off-air recording with dialog on top. I’ve disputed this, but YouTube may choose to delete this video.  In anticipation, I’ve saved the audio from this video–you can listen to it by clicking here.

In a nutshell, AM performance on the Kaito KA108 is frankly poor. Even when I tuned to strong local stations, the audio sounded muffled and distorted, much as in the Radio Havana Cuba example above.

So you can forget about using the KA108 for mediumwave DXing.

MP3/WAV Playback and recording

There are some redeeming virtues with the KA108, however.  Here’s a positive: digital playback with the KA108 is fantastic. I’ve played a wide variety of audio files on the KA108, and am very impressed with its on-board MP3/WAV player. While audio characteristics unfortunately cannot be adjusted––i.e., there’s no equalization––I find the default audio settings well-balanced for both music and voice.

The KA108 has a dedicated MicroSD slot and a covered USB slot on top of the unit.

The KA108 has a dedicated MicroSD slot and a covered USB slot on top of the unit.

Recording directly from shortwave and mediumwave is also quite good. I believe its on-board recorder is perhaps the best I’ve tried in recent portables; it’s a marked improvement over that of the Kaito KA29, for example. It seems to capture the receiver’s produced audio well, with only a slight, high-pitched “hiss” injected in the audio, though this is not a major distraction.

Sadly the main distraction is that the recorder is recording audio, as I’ve outlined above, from a sub-par receiver.

Still, as an MP3/WAV player, it’s brilliant, and boasts excellent audio.

Summary

Invariably, all radios have strengths and weaknesses; here’s a list of my notes from the moment I put the KA108 on the air:

Pros:

  • Great portable size
  • Clear back-lit display
  • Numerous recording and playback features
  • Audio via MP3 or headphones is strong, considering the small speaker with acoustic chamber provides more bass response and volume than comparable portables (see con)
  • Excellent FM reception
  • Excellent MP3/WAV playback with well-balanced audio fidelity
  • Recorder schedule function
  • Alarms and sleep timers easy to use
  • Dedicated MicroSD and USB slots on top of chassis

Cons:

  • Mediocre sensitivity on SW and MW
  • Internally-generated noise on MW and SW
  • Audio (via built-in speaker) is:
    • too bass-heavy, lacks treble on MW/SW
    • garbled and mushy on MW/SW
    • “hot” and often splatters/distorts when signals are strong
  • Tuning
    • extended mute between frequency changes
    • no “scan to next station” function (only ATS)
  • Odd numeric keypad layout
  • Any local RFI garbles reception even further on SW/MW
  • No SSB (in fairness, few radios in this price class have SSB)
  • Antenna swivel to the front somewhat blocked by the radio’s chassis
  • No backstand

Conclusion

I really wanted the Kaito KA108 to be a strong––or even average––performer. Why? Because, like many of you, I would love to have a capable shortwave/mediumwave radio with built-in digital recording and playback.

Kaito-KA108-AM

Sadly, the KA108 falls short on multiple levels.

Concerned that I might have simply received a defective unit––as I did when I reviewed the Sangean ATS-405––I contacted Kaito Electronics USA. I mentioned my disappointment with the radio’s performance, and detailed the negatives mentioned in this review.

I asked Kaito’s technician if I might have received a defective unit? He responded that my experience seems to be the norm with this particular production run. He, too, had noted muffled/garbled audio on shortwave and mediumwave. Per his request, I sent a detailed list of the KA108’s shortcomings with suggested fixes. He is planning to send this to Kaito’s current manufacturer in China.

The KA108’s poor performance issues would likely be mitigated to a great extent, if the manufacturer would simply make the following adjustments:

  1. Widen the AM bandwidth
  2. Tweak the AGC for greater stability
  3. Adjust the audio settings for the AM mode
  4. Minimize/shorten muting between frequency changes
  5. Improve internal shielding and grounding
  6. And while they’re at it, have the radio manual edited by a native English speaker

Since this is a DSP-based radio, I imagine the first four adjustments can be made via firmware upgrades.

Time will tell if the second production run of the Kaito KA108 improves on the first.  Fingers crossed…!  Kaito, we’d like you to succeed on this score.

Again, many thanks to Universal Radio for supplying me with a KA108 for this review.

Chris has developed an easy way to run the RTL-SDR dongle on a Mac

RTL-SDR-001

Many thanks to Chris Smolinski who writes:

I wanted to run SdrDx, and other SDR apps on my Mac with an RTL SDR Dongle. So I wrote this server app, that makes it appear like a networked SDR.

 

No need to install any RTL libraries, or compile any code.

 

Just run the app on your Mac, configure it and your SDR app, and you’re all set.

 

The app is free, and should work with Mac OS X 10.6 through 10.11.

Chris has kindly allowed me to share his full post here on the SWLing Post below–you can read the original at RadioHobbyist.org:


Running an RTL SDR USB Dongle On Your Mac The Easy Way With Cocoa RTL Server

I’ve had a few of the RTL radio tuner dongles for a while. These are USB devices that were originally made for use as TV tuners overseas, but it turns out that you can access the I/Q data stream, and turn them into an SDR (Software Defined Radio). They can be tuned roughly over a range of 25 to 1700 MHz, and sometimes even higher, depending on the tuner IC chip inside the particular dongle.RTL-SDR

 

I previously posted about how to get the RTL dongle working on the Mac here: An SDR for $17 – The R820T USB RTL-SDR DVB-T Dongle and here: An SDR for $17 – The R820T USB RTL-SDR DVB-T Dongle – Part 2. These posts were from 2013, and I did the installation on a Mac running OS X 10.6, using some pre-built libraries.

Fast forward to the present day. I got a new Mac running OS X 10.11 El Capitan, and I wanted to be able to use the RTL dongles with my favorite SDR software on the Mac,SdrDx. Enter Cocoa RTL Server.

Cocoa RTL Server is a stand alone app that interfaces with an RTL dongle. It does not require you to build or install any drivers or libraries. It just works. It’s based off of an open source app called SoftShell, that I heavily extended. Cocoa RTL Server also acts like a networked SDR, following the RF Space protocol. That means it works with SdrDx, as well as any other SDR app on the Mac that supports RF Space SDRs like the netSDR. You can download a copy of the app from the Cocoa RTL Server page. Source code is included, however I am not offering any support for the project or final app.

Here’s a screenshot of the app running:

Chris-Screen-Shot

Getting up and running is easy:

1. Plug in your RTL device
2. Run CocoaRTLServer 2.0
3. Select the device from the popup menu (usually it is already selected)
4. Change the rtl_tcp or tx_tcp port values if needed
5. Click Open
6. Configure your SDR app (set the correct TCP port) and run it

I’ve run it under Mac OS X 10.6, 10.10 and 10.11, It should run under 10.7-10.9 as well.

Using SdrDx, I can tune a large portion of the FM broadcast band, click to view full size:

Chris-Screen-Shot-2

 

In this case I am tuned to 97.9 MHz. To the left of the signal meter, you can see it has decoded the station ID from the RDS data. Yes, SdrDx decodes RDS.

If you look at the lower right corner, you see the scope display of the demodulated FM audio. There are markers for the portions of interest:
You can see the main audio above the green marker to the left.
The stereo pilot at 19 kHz (red marker).
The stereo subcarrier (aquamarine)
The RDS data (orange)
The 67 kHz SCA subcarrier (purple)
The 92 kHz SCA subcarrier (yellow)

Cocoa RTL Server also includes a server that emulates rtl_tcp, so it works withCocoa1090 which decodes aircraft transponders that transmit on 1090 MHz. It should also work with any other app that gets data from rtl_tcp. Here’s a screenshot of Cocoa1090 running:

Chris-Screen-Shot-3


Thanks so much for developing this app, Chris!

I think I might go ahead and pull the trigger on an RTL-SDR as it would be great to run one on my Mac. I think your app will make the process much easier.

Readers: make sure you check out Chris’ blog RadioHobbyist.org.

 

 

Kaito KA108: Unboxing Kaito’s new compact portable radio and MP3 player/recorder

Kaito-KA-108

Yesterday afternoon, I ventured off of our snowy mountain for the first time since Thursday. I was very pleased to find the new Kaito KA108 waiting for me at the post office. Universal Radio kindly dispatched a unit to me for review from their very first shipment. Thanks, Universal!

I’m starting to put the KA108 through its paces: checking out reception on shortwave, mediumwave and FM. I plan to make a few recordings today and see if its internal recorder is effective (my fingers are crossed on this one!).

By request, I took a few photos while I unboxing the Kaito KA108 last night (click each image to enlarge):

Kaito-KA108-Unboxing-1

Kaito-KA108-Unboxing-2

 

Kaito-KA108-Unboxing-4

Kaito-KA108-Unboxing-5

Check back soon as I plan to post at least a short review/overview within a few days.  Follow the tag: KA108

Ron approves of the high-gain ferrite bar antenna

Ferrite-Bar-PL-365In response to our post about the high-gain ferrite bar antenna for the Tecsun PL-360/PL-365 and CountyComm GP5/DSP and GP5/SSB, SWLing Post contributor, Ron, writes:

…and it’s worth it.

On MW there is a marked difference on both the low and high ends
of the band, just as the builder said, compared to the stock plugin antenna.

On longwave my local NDB BH went from being barely audible on the stock
plugin to being quite readable–well above the noise.

The seller replied to a question about it being shipped very quickly
since it never did track on USPS.

Good seller, reliable email, good antenna that works as claimed–no problem here.

Click here to view the antenna on eBay.

Thank you so much for the report, Ron!

The Worldwide Listening Guide: the content DXer’s handbook

WWLG-7th-EditionI’m very pleased to have just received the 7th edition of John Figliozzi’s Worldwide Listening Guide (WWLG), the latest, most updated version of the excellent guide I’ve often reviewed.

As I’ve said, you may want a copy of the WWLG in your shack, especially alongside your computer or Wi-Fi radio.

SWLing Post readers know that I’m a huge fan of the Word Radio TV Handbook (WRTH); it’s my go-to guide for radio frequencies and schedules. Well, Figliozzi’s Worldwide Listening Guide is my go-to for programming and content, not only helpful on the shortwaves, but also handy when tracking online content.

WWLG: The Content DXers Guide

Like many SWLs, I’m something of a “Content DXer:” I love chasing obscure programming––news, documentaries, music, and variety shows, anything the broadcasting world has to offer.  For this, I often turn to Wi-Fi radio.  Wi-Fi radio offers the discerning listener the ability to track down fascinating regional content from every corner of the globe––content never actually intended for an international audience.

But the fact is, there’s so much content out there, it’s hard to know where to start. This is where the WWLG comes in: Figliozzi exhaustively curates more than 4,000 programs (!), indexing their airing times, stations, days of broadcast, program types, frequencies, and web addresses. Additionally, he sorts the programs by genre:  arts, culture, history, music, sports, and more. And Figliozzi also includes a well-thought-out directory of at least forty genres.   In short, this directory has helped me not just locate, but identify, programming I would never have known about otherwise.

Frankly, I’m not sure how Figliozzi manages to curate such a vast assortment of programming.  But I’m happy that he does, and especially, that he offers it for the SWL’s benefit––!

Thus the WWLG  has become a permanent reference book in my shack, alongside my trusty WRTH. There’s a surprising amount of information packed into this slim, spiral-bound book…enough to keep even a seasoned DXer contented for years.

The 7th edition of Worldwide Listening Guide can be purchased here:

With a retail price under $25, I feel like the WWLG is an excellent bargain.

Alexander reviews the Avion AV-DR-1410 DRM receiver

81-58a+inIL._SL1500_

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Alexander (DL4NO), for the following review of the new Avion DRM receiver:

A review of the Avion DRM receiver

by Alexander von Obert (DL4NO)

The Avion AV-DR-1401 DRM receiver has appeared on the SWLing Post before in a previous review.

Amazon India does not sell the Avion outside of India. As it happens, I found someone who was willing to buy it for me and bring it with him from India to Germany.

The first impressions were quite disappointing. This feels more like a prototype, not a polished product:

  • The power supply produces lots of interference and runs quite hot. Unless I find another power supply, I can either charge the battery or listen to the radio.
  • The handle rattles. Such things often are symptoms for the whole product.
  • The firmware fails in many ways: update errors of the display, very confusing user interface.
  • No acceptable field strength indicator, especially in DRM until a signal is decoded. If you have a selective antenna you need to switch to AM to tune it. And then you tune it by ear or by numbers. No bar of any kind.
Avion AV-DR-1410 DRM

Radio Romania

Radio Romania produced very good signals this evening in southern Germany on 41m. But with the built-in antenna, DRM reception was impossible even in my shack directly under the roof. A Degen 31MS selective active antenna indoors enabled sketchy reception of Radio Romania and All India Radio on 41m. Reasonable reception was only possible with my external antenna.

All India Radio

All India Radio

Just imagine why I took the trouble to get the receiver! It is a far cry from what I really wanted: a modern replacement of my trusty Sony ICF7600D from the 1980s. I had to retire it for mechanical reasons after it travelled with me for 20 years.

In India, they might not have the industrial infrastructure they have in China or Japan, but an intensive firmware update is urgently needed. Software is something they are good at in India. Many problems could be solved that way:

  • The volume knob has no stop and must be pressed for a few seconds to turn the radio on or off. A short press could be used to switch it between volume and tuning.
  • A reasonable field strength indicator should be introduced.
  • The remote control does not work reliably.
  • With the “mode” switch I can select AM, FM, or DRM. But I have not found anything that the “band” switch could be doing.
  • The “scan” switch works on FM and puts all transmitters found into the favorites. But neither is that the function I would expect it to do nor does it work on other bands.

From my preliminary tests I fear the unit has massive large-signal problems. For example, I heard distorted signals of Radio Romania on bands where they were not transmitting at all. I use an active antenna but this is the same I use for the DX Patrol or SDRplay RSP, therefore I know that my antenna is not to blame. I also see this as an indicator about the DRM signal of Radio Romania.

I could not help but open the Avion receiver: [the internal antenna worked so poorly, I wanted to investigate].

I must say that the rattling handle was an accurate indicator of production quality.

Inside the Avion

Inside the Avion

See “Inside the Avion” image above (click to enlarge). The back side on the left was originally covered by an aluminum shield. I had to remove it as the wires are quite short–one cannot put the two parts flat on the bench otherwise. You see that they tried to improve the shielding on the right.

AVION internal antenna preamp

Avion internal antenna preamp

See “Avion internal antenna preamp” above (click to enlarge). The circuit board at the lower left corner of the first picture is the preamp for the internal antennas. In the lower left corner is the telescopic antenna connection. The wire here was extremely short–either it broke before and made contact by chance or I broke it when I dismounted the circuit board. At least I did not force it (still a bad manufacturing practice).

If you examine the circuitry, you see very bad practices: C2 directly connects the antenna to the base of Q2. It must be a bipolar transistor considering R3/R4. At least there is DN1 which seems to be protection diodes. On the whole board I can find no inductivities at all. There is absolutely no band limiting.

AVION broken shilding wire

Avion broken shilding wire

See “Avion broken shielding wire” above. The shielding wire had broken from the soldering. That was definitely not my fault. At the yellow isolation, a second wire is connected. That is the wire routed around the backside without any connection. This doesn’t make sense to me.

Avion crushed battery holder

Avion crushed battery holder

See “Avion crushed battery holder” above. The battery holder is fixed together with the aluminum shielding. The worker crushed the lug of the battery holder while mounting the shield. A few other threads were torn, too. A typical case of too much strength.

Avion seems to know about the inherent RFI problems of this receiver, but could not solve them. No wonder I have to use an external antenna.

Perhaps I will replace the antenna preamp with something reasonable.

Otherwise this radio will gather dust here.

Thank you for your report, Alexander–I’m sorry to hear about your experiences with the Avion, especially after the trouble you went to obtaining it.

So far, I’ve heard no truly positive reviews of the Avion AV-DR-1410. Sadly, it sounds like a radio to avoid.