Which would you choose as a first radio–the Icom IC-7300 or Xiegu G90?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul, who writes:

This came to me from a friend; he is curious about choosing between the Xiegu G90 and the Icom IC-7300 for his first rig. He has money to buy the Icom which is $999 right now after rebates, but wants to know if he is really getting twice the radio for the Icom, vs the Xiegu, or are there other good reasons to get the 2016-introduced Icom, vs the newly introduced Xiegu.

Maybe this can be a posting to ask your readers? Greatly appreciate it.

Thanks very much
Paul

Thank you for passing along the question, Paul.

While I almost consider this to be an “apples to oranges” question, let’s approach this from a couple of different operator perspectives and truly explore the decision.

I like both radios for different reasons, but first, I’ll tell you what my decision would be if I were in in his shoes…

The Icom IC-7300 SDR transceiver

I would choose the Icom IC-7300

While the Icom IC-7300 does cost twice the amount of a Xiegu G90, it’s a much more versatile transceiver. There are almost too many IC-7300 features to list here, so I’ll mention a few that immediately come to mind, focusing on features the G90 lacks.

For one thing, the IC-7300 is a 100 watt radio, thus the max rated power output is five times that of the Xiegu G90.

The IC-7300 doesn’t require an external sound card for digital modes. Simply plug the radio into you PC with a USB cable, and with your favorite application (like WSJT), you can operate any number of digital modes. (I found configuring the G90 for digital modes to be a bit frustrating.)

The IC-7300 also covers the 6 meter band–the G90 tops out at 10 meters.

The IC-7300 has useful features for contests and field operation like:

  • voice and CW memory keyers with beacon mode,
  • native transmit and received audio recording,
  • a large touch screen display to quickly enter frequencies and adjust settings,
  • audio EQ on both transmit and receive,
  • a built-in bail
  • notch filters and Icom’s twin passband tuning

Again, by no means is this a comprehensive list–just some of the features that come to mind.

As a first rig, the IC-7300 can take you into any aspect or mode of the HF band your friend cares to explore. It must be one of the most popular HF radios on the market right now, so there’s also a massive user and knowledge base out there on the web.

The IC-7300 also has better transmitter specs, producing a cleaner signal than the G90, especially in CW (the G90 is known to produce key clicks and not recommended for use with an amplifier). It also can handle close-in signals better than the G90 and has a higher dynamic range. Overall, it has better specs than the G90.

For a more detailed look at the IC-7300, check out my full review.

Why one might choose the Xiegu G90 over the Icom IC-7300

The Xiegu G90 with upgraded encoder

Let’s get an an obvious point out of the way first: the G90 costs half that ($450) of the IC-7300 (generally $900-1,100). This could leave your friend with even more money to invest in an antenna. As I’ve said so many times before, a radio is only as good as its antenna!

If your friend plans to operate primarily in the field, the Xiegu G90 is much more portable option. The G90 is very compact and weighs a fraction of the IC-7300. The G90 also draws less current in receive mode, so is much kinder on a battery. It also has built-in side extensions to protect the front and back panels while being transported.

The Xiegu G90 has a detachable face plate which would come in handy for mobile installations (although, admittedly, there are a number of better mobile transceivers on the market).

My full review of the Xiegu G90 is in this month’s issue (Aug 2020) of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. It’s nearly a 4,000 word review so is one of the longer ones I’ve produced. If your friend wants to make a decision soon, he/she might purchase this issue to fully explore this rig.

Another option: Yaesu FT-891 and LDG Z-11 Pro 2 external antenna tuner combo

If your friend is seriously considering the Xiegu G90, then I have to assume he/she has portable operation in mind.

Making this assumption, I would also suggest they check out the Yaesu FT-891. Like the IC-7300, it has a full 100 watts output and also covers the 6 meter band. Like the G90, the front panel can be separated from the radio body for easy mobile installation.

Although I have never reviewed the FT-891 (although I plan to before the end of the year), the radio has an almost cult-like following among SWLing Post readers. It’s also a favorite rig of Parks On The Air (POTA) activators because of its 100W output, relatively compact footprint, and great audio characteristics. The G90 and IC-7300 both are based on SDR architecture, the FT-891 is a triple conversion superheterodyne general coverage receiver.

Unlike the IC-7300 and G90, however, the FT-891 lacks an internal antenna tuner (ATU) and I’m guessing your friend wants one based on the fact both the G90 and IC-7300 have one.

The LDG Z-11 Pro 2 ATU

No problem! The Yaesu FT-891 is one of the best bang-for-buck transceivers on the market. The price at time of posting is $609 after rebates. That leaves room to purchase a benchmark portable HF+6 meter antenna tuner. I personally love the LDG Z-11 Pro 2 which would only set them back $169. I’ve owned one of the predecessors of this ATU for nearly a decade. It’s located outdoors, in an enclosure and serves as a remote antenna tuner for my multi-band sky loop. It has operated flawlessly through seasonal temperature extremes and powered by a 15 year old  12V gel cell battery that is charged off of a 5 watt PV panel and Micro M+ charge controller.

The FT-891 and Z11 Pro 2 ATU combo would total $778 which is a nice compromise between the $1,000 IC-7300 and $450 G90.

If your friend wanted a more compact option than the IC-7300, and better specs and more power output than the G90, this FT-891/Z-11 Pro 2 combo would be hard to beat.

Don’t Forget Antennas and Power

As I mentioned before, do your friend a favor and remind him/her to set aside a budget for an antenna.

If you build your own wire antenna, you can create an amazing one for $50 or so in quality ladder line and wire–at least, that’s about what I put into my sky loop antenna. Retailers like Universal Radio, HRO, and Gigaparts stock quality pre-made wire antennas that cost a bit more, but are pre-tuned, durable and very easy to deploy. The type of antenna you can install is totally dependent on the environment around your home, access to your radio room, and any local interference you might need to mitigate.

Of course, all of the radios mentioned above need a DC power supply. There are many on the market from lightweight switching power supplies to heavy linear supplies.

I would not choose one of the cheapest ones you can find because switching power supplies especially can inject noise. I’m a big fan of the Powerwerx SS-30DV which will typically cost around $110 at ham radio retailers (although, at present, it’s one of the many items out-of-stock due to the Covid-19 pandemic). It hits the sweet spot for me and is a little workhorse!

What do you think?

As I always say: radios are a personal choice. Specifications and features make for convenient points of comparison, but often choices are made based on a user’s own needs and operating style.

Between the Xiegu G90 and Icom IC-7300, which would you choose as a first rig? Can you think of a better compromise?  Please comment!


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30 thoughts on “Which would you choose as a first radio–the Icom IC-7300 or Xiegu G90?

  1. John VE3IPS

    The 7300 is the better choice and the better built radio with 100 watts.

    New hams dont do well with qrp radios as the lower power isnt too great on 40m or during this time in the solar cycle.

    The FT891 is also a great choice too

    The G90 is a great radio the money but the fit and finish and build quality is not the same as a japanese radio

    The G90 is a better choice over a FT-818

    Get a G90 while you save up for the 7300 as the base radio and you will have a great field radio.

    Reply
  2. Rick Sullivan

    I am a new Ham, older and retired. I have the disposable income to support this hobby. I bought the G90 as an entry level radio. It is a great radio and performs every bit as good as the internet reviews and videos state. My plan was to use this as a starter radio and use it as a base and portable radio. Living in an HOA neighborhood I have limited options with my antennas. I have enjoyed learning and playing Ham radio with the 20 watt G90. When you look at the G90 and then consider adding all of the accessories that are available with this radio it can add up to close to $1,000.00 or more.

    I knew that I also wanted an Icom-7300 as a second radio. I spent months shopping/looking online for a good used 7300 from a reputable seller. I feel like I hit the Jackpot when I randomly looked at Craig’s List one day and found a mint/newish 7300 from a local Ham. The radio was everything that I was looking for and fortunately the seller was an experienced Ham and completely honest individual. I paid $850.00 for the radio. It is a delight to operate, includes features that I will be learning how to use for months to come. I believe that it is the most popular HF radio in production. SO……My thoughts would be go with the Icom-7300. You will get a full 100 watt radio with features that will keep you learning for a long time to come.

    Reply
  3. Mike N7MSD

    For an apples to apples comparison, I’m amazed the IC-705 hasn’t come up AT ALL in this conversation! Unlike the 7300, the 705 also has 2m & 70cm plus D-STAR all in a very compact package that even takes HT batteries! No, it doesn’t have a built-in tuner but besides Icom’s own AH-705, there’s the mAT-705 and ANY tuner that accepts Icom’s tuner interface including the LDG IT-100 & (especially) Z-100; I’m sure LDG will also mod the controls on their 817 tuner to make a “new” 705-specific tuner as well.

    Have to agree with the “Cowardly Ham”‘s comments about China, but the G90’s tuner is rapidly becoming legend, truly being able to tune that wet noodle. In addition, another Chinese radio in the same space that’s coming out is the Ailunce HS2 HF VHF UHF SDR Transceiver which, like the 705, also does 2m & 70cm and is even supposed to come out in the same time frame (mid-Sept):

    https://www.ailunce.com/hs2-hf-vhf-uhf-sdr-transceiver

    They don’t give display size but watching the video it appears to be around the same size as the G90.
    IMHO, getting older the bigger display of the 705, 7300, 9700, or my current 9100 & 7100 are getting to be a bigger deal so I don’t have to put on glasses to read the display! Something to think about. OTOH, if you’re going portable (S/POTA) that huge display will become a liability quickly according to the experts, especially being a touch screen.

    One last thing, though: if you’re a new ham just starting out, do you NEED the latest bells & whistles? Around here on Craig’s List, hamfests, etc are LOTS of used radios, some at pretty good prices. The local HRO has a huge number! You can save big bucks by going this route, especially if you want to get in for the electronics and not just being a prepper.

    Hope this helps, Mike

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      Good points about the IC-705, Mike. I didn’t really address models other than the ‘7300 and G-90 (well, save the ‘891), because I was simply answering the reader question. The only negative about the IC-705 compared with the G90 and ‘7300 is the price. It’s at least $300-400 more than the IC-7300, and $850 more than the G90 at present (IC-705 is about $1,300 at time of posting). That price discrepancy will go down with time, though, as the 705 price decreases.

      And I agree: there are a number of fabulous used transceivers on the market. As a new ham, I would only be cautious to purchase from someone you trust and, perhaps, stick with a later model just so there’s less risk your first radio might need re-capping, etc.

      Thanks!
      Thomas

      Reply
  4. Shane

    If you’re on a budget, you can’t really beat the FT857. I still keep one handy, and I’ve got SDR, Ts850, Ts440 and other sdr to 6 ghz here.

    The 857, for a new ham, can’t really be beat.

    –Shane
    KD6VXI

    Reply
    1. Mike N7MSD

      I would have to disagree on anything “budget” related on the FT-857 as it’s discontinued, has several known & severe manufacturing defects, yet is selling for almost the price of new: as an example, here in Phoenix a guy is selling one on Craig’s List for $800! I’m assuming the 891 has solved these problems, but I don’t know.

      Reply
  5. Mark

    I also own all 3 radios and I have to say that the FT-891 is my favourite radio, why ? because the Audio sounds so good ( with headphones, I only listen to my radios with headphones) and it’s got a lot quieter receiver with better filters and for the money it’s a way better radio than the 7300, My 7300 sits gathering dust because it’s audio is too noisy and fatiguing and it effects my ability to detect the weakest DC signals, I live in the Country so I can hear some DX that doesn’t move the S-Meter.

    The FT-891 built in speaker isn’t the best but it shines with headphones, the audio is a real pleasure to listen to. The DNR is also amazing if and when you need it.

    Check out Steve Ellington’s video of the 7300 noise here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LBbiXXRex8

    The G90 is similar in the noise to the 7300 but the G90 is a decent throw in a bag radio for some portable fun but the 891 is similar in size but with 100 Watts and again, far better receiver, far better audio.

    The 7300 was my first new Radio after I got my license but after I got the 891 and having used a friends TS-590 SG for Base use I have ordered a TS-590SG, it’s got great ergonomics, filters, NB and sounds really good. It’s such a nice radio to operate. Panadapter built in for the waterfall on the big screen far better, let the buyer choose, you get a traditional high performance radio that’s great to operate with all the buttons and you can still have the waterfall. Pity all radio manufacturers don’t take this approach.

    The 7300 is a great entry radio but if you want a better performing radio that sounds great (with headphones ), in my opinion the FT-891 is a much better choice. Lots of menus but a lot cheaper and will make a great portable radio and one radio you’ll most likely never sell. The menus are mostly set once and forget. It’s a hell of a lot of radio for the money. Keep the rest of the money you’d spend on a 7300 for a better radio.

    It just goes to show that you can take the Sherwood reports with a grain of salt, at the end of the day all the digital instruments in the World can’t tell what the radio will sound like to a Human and the sound is what really counts, the best radio can be let down completely by poor harsh noisy audio.

    Just my opinions based on owning all 3 radios.

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      Thank you for sharing that, Mark.

      Man oh man. You touched on a subject that I need to write about sometime.

      Although I review and evaluate radios–truly putting them under the microscope then making both objective and subjective comments–I truly believe the best radio is the one you enjoy the most.

      You’re right: specs aren’t everything. Audio counts for a LOT. And close-in blocking is less important if you’re a casual operator–much more important if you’re a contester.

      Thanks again for sharing your perspective.
      Thomas

      Reply
  6. Daniel

    I believe the 7300 is a much better system for the money,the g90 can do what the 7300 can,, and you learn more than with it

    Reply
  7. Charles

    Methinks a lot of people here voting for the 7300 who have never touched the g90 or just dismiss it as cheap Chinese junk. Sad really.

    I would choose the g90 for some simple overlooked reasons by all you NOT NEW Hams…

    1. It’s cheaper so if i blow something up I’m in less woe
    2. Beginners have a lot to learn about Antennas, feedline, etc and almost certainly do not have antenna analyzers. The g90 has a truly superb tuner. The icons internal tuner is jokes. So the friend here will still have to shell out $300 for a tuner. Making the 7300 3.5x more expensive
    3. The 7300 has sooo many features. True. But I’m a beginner. Too many features means steeper learning curve. The g90 forced me to learn how radios work. What’s actually happening with digital modes like ft8. What an alc actually does.

    Ans one last comment about 100 watts. That’s not a huge difference on the ol S unit scale from 20w like it is with a 5w or 10w qrp… I have worked all over with 20w….

    I’ll upgrade to a 7300 but today the g90 is 100% the better starting radio.

    Reply
    1. John

      I don’t own a G90 so can’t comment on its performance, it may be an excellent peformer and good value at that price point.

      There is the matter of reliability, quality control and warranty service if something goes wrong with your unit.

      With respect to the above the Japanese Big Three (Icom, Yaesu and Kenwood) are the gold standard. I’ve owned many, many Icom radios/tranceivers over the years and literally the only problem I’ve had was a battery that went south on a handheld well outside the warranty period…and that’s it. So I buy the Japanese-made amateur radio equipment with confidence in their quality of construction, reliability and warranty service.

      You don’t have to drop $300 for an antenna tuner for the IC-7300, the tuner I use cost me ~$130.

      As for ease of use and the IC-7300’s feature set. True, it’s a feature-rich rig, but operation of the IC-7300 is very intuitive, you can just ignore its more exotic aspects until you’re a more experienced user. Also, getting to know a rig like the IC-7300 and exploiting its full potential is part of the fun of it all.

      Joun
      KC8RZM

      Reply
  8. Al Bisasky

    You get what you pay for. Go with the IC-7300. It’s worth the higher price. It will save you from buying a radio that you will eventually try to dumb on eBay so that you can buy the ‘7300.

    Al. K3ZE

    Reply
  9. Paul Brunton

    Well as a newcomer to SWLing post and passing my old Morse code test in 1991 using an Icom hand held radio and an Icom base rig I would choose Icom 7300 without any doubt and as I have just purchased the IC 7300 it’s great, but not sure about the G90 though, I am G0RBV in the usually damp area of Devon England and shall soon put it to the test. 73’s to one and all. Paul.

    Reply
    1. John

      Hi Paul,

      Not as damp as the Borders Scotland where I grew up.

      I kind of miss the overcast grey skies and drizzly rain climate.

      Best,
      John
      KC8RZM

      Reply
  10. Andrew Thall

    For a first radio, I would strongly recommend a 100 watt radio. There are many good used rigs that your friend could consider. Lower power operation requires MUCH more patience — something newer operators tend to lack. I wish him good luck.
    Andy K2oo

    Reply
  11. Paul

    Thank you all, I will relay them to my friend. Special thanks to Thomas for the detailed comparison.

    It’s too bad that Icom raised the after rebate price to $999. It was $899 just a few months ago after the rebates.

    Reply
    1. Bill Dreisbach

      I really like my Yaesu FT-991a as well, it has exceptional SSB and does everything the 7300 does plus 2m/440 all mode and Fusion. Couldn’t be easier to interface with a single usb and built in sound card; digital modes work great. However I’ve used the icom7300 at field day and I really like it a lot. Very easy to use and if you don’t want 2m/440 it probably would be my rig.

      Reply
  12. Andrew

    the point, as I see it, isn’t who or where a rig is made, but how many bangs for the buck and how long one plans to keep it, for a short (say 5 years) time, and willing to spare, one may go for the xiaegu and then sell it and buy a different rig, but if one is planning to invest for a keeper then the ic would be a better choice; the xiaegu may also be a good pick as a second/third rig or for dxpeditions, but I don’t think it could be considered as something which you’ll keep for years and years

    Reply
  13. Cowardly Ham

    The real choice is: Which country do you want to support with your USD? Buy a Xiegu and you’re supporting a socialist, authoritarian country that doesn’t respect human rights. But ICOM and support Japan, which is more of an ally to us than China will ever be.

    Buying China is the same as selling out the US.

    No, I’m not going to give my name out on this comment, as the Xi Jinping has people out scouring the ‘net for anti-Chinese sentiment and I’d like not to be arrested if I’m forced to go to China by my company.

    Reply
  14. Radio Mike

    I currently own all three of the radios you mention in this post and couldn’t agree with you more. The g90 is a good rig and lots of fun, but very simple and limited. I’ve never gotten FT8 to work on it.

    The FT891 is solid. Good audio and good overall radio. Mine is mounted in my car, but I’d happily use it at the QTH.

    But the IC-7300 like another commentor said, is not only the best choice in this bunch, but exceeds the performance of radios costing much more. Honestly it’s all the radio you’d ever need for HF. I’ve even thought about getting a second one for our vacation home so I don’t have to keep moving it each season!!!

    Go grab the IC-7300 and never look back I say!

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      Mike, since you own both the IC-7300 and the FT-891, I’m curious if one handles strong adjacent signals better than the other in your experience. Have you ever used the FT-891 on Field Day, for example?

      Cheers,
      Thomas

      Reply
      1. Radio Mike

        Thomas the FT-891 has only lived in my vehicle and I’ve only used it on SSB. Can’t get my head around the CW mobile thing. I have never compared the two side by side so maybe I’m not qualified to answer your question.

        With that said I think the IC-7300 would do a better job. I have used it on Field Day and compared it side by side with an IC706 and it smoked it. Much better audio but could also hear more stations packed in there.

        If I can remember I’ll play with the 891 during the next contest and see how it does. Bought mine from a friend so not sure ??? if it’s the latest version or whatever. I just know it works FB! Love it!

        Reply
      2. john

        I own the FT-891 as well though I haven’t used it much.
        I have read many positive reports of its performance though.

        John
        KC8RZM

        Reply
  15. John

    Hand down I would choose the IC-7300, it equals or exceeds the performance specs of transceivers 3-5 times the price. When this model was first issued at retailed at around $1300 , and even at that price it was great value, at the current price it’s a steal.

    Icom really hit it out the park with this one (as they have been in other amateur radio categories these past few years). I believe it’s one of the best-selling HF/6M rigs of all time.

    You should keep an eye out for deals, my unit cost $979.95 (after the $100 rebate = $879.95).

    Waiting (impatiently) for the IC-705 to reach the US.

    John
    KC8RZM

    Reply

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