Tag Archives: Comparing Radios

Comparing the Icom IC-705 and Icom IC-7300 with the Xiegu GSOC G90 combo

I was recently asked to make a table comparing the basic features and specifications of the new Xiegu GSOC/G90 combo,  and comparing it with the Icom IC-7300 and IC-705.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I plan to add to it as I test the GSOC. It doesn’t include some of the digital mode encoding/decoding features yet. I’m currently waiting for the next GSOC firmware upgrade (scheduled for November 20, 2020) before I proceed as it should add mode decoding, audio recording, fix CW mode latency, and add/fix a number of other items/issues.

Comparison table

Click to enlarge

Quick summary of comparison

At the end of the day, these radios are quite different from each other. Here’s a quick list of obvious pros and cons with this comparison in mind:

Xiegu GSOC G90 combo ($975 US)

Pros:

  • The GSOC’s 7″ capacitive touch screen is the biggest of the bunch
  • The GSOC can be paired with the G90 or X5101 transceivers (see cons)
  • The GSOC controller is connected to the transceiver body via a cable, thus giving more options to mount/display in the shack
  • The G90 transceiver (read review) is a good value and solid basic transceiver
  • Upgradability over time (pro) though incomplete at time of posting (con)
  • GSOC can be detached, left at home, and G90 control head replaced on G90 body to keep field kit more simple (see con)

Cons:

  • The GSCO is not stand-alone and must be paired with a Xiegu transceiver like the Xiegu G90 or X5105. The X5105 currently has has limited functionality with the GSOC but I understand this is being addressed. (see pro)
  • I don’t believe the GSOC can act as a sound card interface if directly connected with a computer (I will correct this if I discover otherwise). This means, for digital modes, you may still require an external sound card interface
  • No six meter coverage like the IC-7300 and IC-705
  • Quite a lot of needed cables and connections if operating multiple modes; both GSOC and G90 require separate power connections
  • At time of posting, a number of announced features missing in early units, but this should be addressed with a Nov 20, 2020 firmware upgrade
  • Replacing and removing G90 control head requires replacing four screws to hold in side panels and secure head to transceiver body (see pro)

Icom IC-7300 ($1040 US)

Pros:

  • Built-in sound card interface for for easy digital mode operation
  • Excellent receiver specifications (click here to view via Rob Sherwood’s table)
  • Possibly the most popular transceiver Icom has ever made (thus a massive user base)
  • Well thought-through ergonomics
  • Includes six meter operation and expanded RX frequencies (compared with G90/GSOC); high frequency stability

Cons: 

  • The heaviest of this group (con), but it is a 100 watt transceiver (pro)
  • Smaller display than the GSOC
  • Touch sensitive display (not capacitive like the GSOC)
  • Faceplate not detachable like the G90

Icom IC-705 ($1300 US)

Pros:

  • Built-in sound card interface for for easy digital mode operation
  • Excellent receiver specifications (click here to view via Rob Sherwood’s table)
  • Can use swappable Icom HT battery packs
  • Well thought-through ergonomics, but on that of the IC-7300
  • Includes six meters and VHF/UHF multi-mode operation with high frequency stability
  • Includes D-Star mode
  • Includes wireless LAN, Bluetooth, and built-in GPS
  • Weighs 2.4 lbs/1.1 kg (lightest and most portable of the bunch)

Cons:

  • No internal ATU option
  • Maximum of 10 watts of output power
  • The priciest of this bunch at $1300 US

In short, I’d advise those looking for a 100 watt radio, to grab the Icom IC-7300 without hesitation. It’s a solid choice.

If you’re looking for the most portable of these options, are okay with 10 watts of maximum output power, and don’t mind dropping $1300 on a transceiver, the Icom IC-705 is for you. You might also consider the Elecraft KX3, Elecraft KX2, and lab599 Discovery TX-500 as field-portable radios. None of them, however, sport the IC-705 display, nor do they have native VHF/UHF multimode operation (although there is a limited KX3 2M option). The IC-705 is the only HF QRP radio at present that also has LAN, Bluetooth, and built-in GPS. And, oh yes, even D-star.

If you’re a fan of the Xiegu G90 or already own one, give the GSOC controller some consideration. It offers a more “modular” package than any of the transceivers mentioned above in that the controller and G90 faceplace can be swapped on the G90 body. The GSOC screen is also a pleasure since there are two USB ports that can connect a mouse and keyboard (driver for mine were instantly recognized by the OS).  The GSOC/G90 combo is a bit “awkward” in that a number of cables and connections are needed when configured to operate both SSB and CW: a CW key cable, Microphone cable, I/Q cable, serial control cable, power cable for the GSOC, and a power cable for the G90.  This doesn’t include the cables that might be needed for digital operation. I dislike the fact that the CW cable can only be plugged into the transceiver body instead of the GSOC controller like the microphone. Still: this controller adds functionality to the G90 (including FM mode eventually) that may be worth the investment for some.

Did I miss something?

I’ll update this list with any obvious pros/cons I may have missed–please feel free to comment if you see a glaring omission! Again, these notes are made with a comparison of these three models in mind, not a comprehensive review of each. I hope this might help others make a purchase decision.

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Results: AirSpy HF+ vs Elad FDM-S2 Weak Signal Comparisions

Looking north toward Cape Lookout, Oregon, near the site of my SDR receiver recordings. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
In my original article 10 days ago, I set up a SWLing Post reader poll to let you give your opinion on which shortwave recordings within four pairs of audio files provided the most intelligible result. The recordings were intentionally noisy, low-level signals to help us discover–through critical listening to the files–if there is a clear favorite between the AirSpy HF+ or the Elad FDM-S2 receivers. Of course, there were only four pairs of recordings…not a very large sample size.

However, 34 readers of the original article took the time to listen and respond, so let’s get to the numbers, shown in these graphs:

Interestingly, the responses above seem to point to:

  • Two recording pairs tied in the results (50% / 50%) or were very close (HF+ 52.9% / FDM-S2 47.1%)
  • The FDM-S2 led one recording pair by a large margin (67.6% / 32.4%)
  • The HF+ led another recording pair by an equally large margin (67.6% / 32.4%)

Taken as a whole, no obvious winner emerged, although one might conclude the HF+ has a slight edge due to its lead in the “very close” recording pair of 7.230 MHz.

One thing is clear–the AirSpy HF+ is a surprisingly good performer for its price of $199 USD! For many enthusiasts this will be all the SDR they need.

As a final note, I’ll mention that the AirSpy HF+ used for the tests was totally stock. I have not yet performed the “R3 Bypass” mod nor the firmware update to my HF+ units. The simple R3 Bypass, discussed at length on the AirSpy Groups.io forum, significantly boosts sensitivity of the HF+ from longwave up to about 15 MHz, without any noted overload issues. For more on this modification from a MW DXer’s perspective, read Bjarne Mjelde’s insightful article at his Arctic DX Blog.

Thank you to all the readers who took the time to listen to the SDR recordings in this comparision and register your opinions.

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

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Results of the Shortwave Portable weak signal shoot-out

RadiosShootOut-SonyTecsunSangean

Thanks to all who participated in our shoot-out!  Last week, I posted three recordings of a weak shortwave broadcast in an attempt to evaluate which recording–thus which radio–our listeners prefer. The test was “blind” in that, though four radios were evaluated, only three recordings were posted, merely labeled, “Sample #1,” “Sample #2,” and “Sample #3,” respectively.

The radios tested were not just average radios. Rather, they represent the best of the truly portable radios currently on the market, namely: the Sangean ATS-909X, the Tecsun PL-880, the Tecsun-PL660 and the Sony ICF-SW7600GR.

Indeed, the most popular question I receive from SWLing Post readers is about two or more of these models, asking,”which is best?”

The samples

To refresh your memory, I’ve embedded the audio samples below–but if you haven’t yet, I would encourage you to read our previous post (and the great reader comments following!) before proceeding.

The recordings in our samples are of Radio Romania International on 11,975 kHz. Normally, the signal would have been stronger, but propagation was rough, and QSB (fading) was pronounced at times. Note that I recorded all of these samples with my Zoom H2N digital recorder via a line-in connection, using the radio’s headphone jack. Since not all of the radios have a line-out jack, I used the headphone jack each time and simply set the volume and line-in gain to the same level.

Sample 1:

Sample 2:

Sample 3:

And now, here is the sample I intentionally left out in my previous post…Sample #4. I didn’t include it in the evaluation because, frankly, it was such a weak performer compared with the other three; I knew it would take last place:

Sample 4:

With that in mind, we’ll start with the radio behind Sample 4:

Sangean-ATS-909X

Sangean ATS-909X ($200-250 US)


Many readers guessed rightly that the Sangean ATS-909X was the radio omitted. Evidently, it is known for its lack of sensitivity when only employing its telescoping whip antenna. You’ll notice that, most of the time, the RRI broadcast is lost in the static.

Frankly, I was somewhat surprised that the ATS-909X didn’t perform better. It has a loyal following amongst SWLing Post readers and has been a popular radio on the market for the past three years or so. While I’ve used the ATS-909X in the past, I have never owned one, and had never done a side-by-side comparison.

To perform this test, I borrowed the 909X from a friend who usually has it hooked up to an external antenna. In fact, this is when I learned that the 909X performs admirably when hooked up to an external antenna.

In my tests, however, I didn’t want to hook up external antennas.  I believe that for a radio to be evaluated as a portable, it must be judged on its ability to receive signals from its telescopic whip antenna as a base line.

But let’s move on to the radios you did hear in our weak signal evaluation…

Let’s take a look at the radio behind Sample #3, the radio our readers voted to take last place in terms of weak-signal listening:

Tecsun-PL-880

Tecsun PL-880: Sample 3 ($150-160 US)


With the exception of three votes (out of more than seventy), Sample #3–the Tecsun PL-880–was overwhelmingly voted worst in this weak-signal shoot-out.

The bulk of your criticisms focused on the fact that the PL-880 did not handle fading as well as the other radios. When the signal was at a peak, it sounded great, but in QSB troughs, the signal became unintelligible and you could hear DSP artifacts and distortion.

But is the PL-880 a “bad” radio? Absolutely not. Indeed, I gave it pretty high marks when I reviewed it last year. It’s just not the best choice for weak-signal listening–at least in its current firmware version.  Note to Tecsun:  I do believe it may be possible to tweak this portable’s AGC circuit so that it handles fading better…

But let’s move on to the other contestants. Here’s our second-place portable:

Tecsun-PL660

Tecsun PL-660: Sample 2 ($110-130 US)


During the first day of voting, the Tecsun PL-660 actually had a noticeable lead on the other radios. I’m not surprised. The sensitivity was better than the rest of the contestants, in my opinion. The received audio was clear and seemed to pop out of the static better than the others.

Overwhelmingly, those who didn’t vote the PL-660 as best, voted it as second. Their main criticism was that the PL-660’s AGC was a little too active and less stable than the radio which actually took first place.

And with no further ado, here’s our winner:

Son-ICF-SW7600GR

Sony ICF-SW7600GR: Sample 1 ($130-150 US)


Surprised?  I was!

After I evaluated the blind test myself, I was certain the PL-660 would be the winner with its stronger sensitivity. But the result–and reader comments–proved me wrong. More of you placed a value on the Sony’s rock-solid AGC circuit which handles the peaks and troughs of fading better than the other contenders.

Commenters noted that the Sony’s audio and stability lent itself to easier, less fatiguing, listening. Keep in mind, though, that many of these same commenters mentioned that the PL-660 (Sample #2) would be their preference for identifying a station in under weak signal conditions.

Now let’s look at the raw data, and then discuss what it all means.

The data

The Sony ICF-SW7600GR was voted:

  • first place 41 times,
  • second place 2o times, and
  • third place once

The Tecsun PL-660 was voted:

  • first place 23 times,
  • second place 33 times, and
  • third place twice

The Tecsun PL-880 was voted:

  • first place never,
  • second place three times, and
  • third place 53 times

I’ve attempted to place this data into a bar graph to make it a little easier to visualize: RadioShootOut-ResultsIf you noticed that these numbers don’t completely add up, it’s because responses were inconsistent.

Most survey participants listed their preferences in order (i.e., first, second, and third place). Some respondents only listed their favorite of the three, while others only listed the one they didn’t like. No one responded with a tie between the radios, all had an opinion.

Another way of reading the results

SWLing Post reader “Radio Flynn” helped me with some additional data interpretation this morning. He put together this analysis (download as a PDF), and commented:

“[A]lthough a majority of people choose sample #1, nearly everyone ranked either sample #1 or sample #2 as preferred, and the average ranks are very close, closer than the raw percentages would indicate. I have not done a statistical analysis so I don’t know if the difference in mean rank between #1 and #2 is significant (in other words, I don’t know if there is a significant preference for #1), but you can say that either sample 1 or sample 2 would be acceptable to almost everyone, and sample 3 clearly last choice.”

Radio Flynn also pointed out that next time I do this sort of test (and I will be doing another!) that I should keep votes consistent by asking everyone to rank their preference. Excellent suggestion; I’ll be sure to do so.

So the Sony ICF-SW7600GR is the best radio…right?

Not exactly.

Herein lies the difficulty of suggesting the “best” radio for any particular listener.

This test only evaluated weak signal sensitivity under rather rough conditions. The Sony was “the winner” in this respect.

SideBySide-FourRadiosBut this doesn’t tell the whole story.

I’ve had my Sony ‘7600GR longer than any of the other portables in this contest and it is invariably the radio I reach for when I want to make a field recording. I prefer the Sony because it has good sensitivity, a stable AGC, excellent single-sideband selectable sync detection and it can handle being connected to a long external antenna. Indeed, it was the Sony I packed when I spent the summer of 2012 in an off-grid cabin in the Canadian maritimes. In short: my Sony ICF-SW7600GR is my “old faithful.”

But frankly, when I travel, I reach for the PL-660 more often than not. Why?  Yes, the Sony has great receiver characteristics, but its ergonomics leave a lot to be desired. I use my Sony when I plan to key in a frequency and leave it there. The PL-660 is a joy to operate, has simple direct-frequency entry, an excellent auto-tune feature, not to mention, a stable sync detector.

If I want to identify a signal buried in the static, I reach for the PL-660.

If I want to do casual listening and am less concerned with DXing, I reach for the PL-880. It’s a solid radio and has a quality feel to it (running neck-and-neck with the ATS-909X in this respect). Of this bunch, it has by far, the best audio from its internal speaker. If I want armchair listening, I reach for the PL-880. It’s also an excellent SSB receiver–one of the best in this group–and offers more filter selections.

In summary, it’s not always easy to suggest which radio is best…I must ask in response, “Best for what?” The data from this test proves this, as our readers who ranked their favorites backed up their choices with consistent and valid comments.

What do you think?

Before long, I plan to pit these radios (and perhaps another?) against each other in terms of their synchronous detectors in another blind test.  It may take a while to work this up. Your enthusiastic responses, however, completely justify it.

Stay tuned!

Resources:

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Weak signals: Which radio do you prefer?

SideBySide-FourRadios

I’m in the process of reviewing a number of shortwave portables and pitting them against each other. Sometimes, it can be very difficult to decide which radio is better–especially if you have more than two radios to compare at a time.

What I’ll often do to help level the playing field is to make an in-line recording of each radio (via my Zoom H2N handy recorder) with the mic and volume levels equal. I then tune to the same frequency with similar filter settings (wide, maximum RX gain, antennas fully extended, etc.).

I also like comparing radios while listening to weak signals and/or when conditions are less favorable. Those were exactly the circumstances yesterday when I pitted four radios against each other: the Sangean ATS-909X, Tecsun PL-660, Tecsun PL-880 and the Sony ICF SW7600GR.

I found a weak signal from Radio Romania International on 11,975 kHz. Normally, the signal would have been stronger, but propagation was rough and QSB (fading) was pronounced at times. Under these conditions you get the opportunity to hear how the AGC circuit handles fading and troughs, how the noise floor sounds as conditions change and note the overall sensitivity.

While I give priority to a receiver’s sensitivity and selectivity, there’s more to evaluate–for example, sometimes the more sensitive radio may be less pleasing to listen to.

Below are three recordings of Radio Romania International made from three of the four radios tested (I did not include one of the four radios that was notably less sensitive). These are audio snapshots, but represent what a listener would hear via headphones during similar conditions. All recordings were made within a four minute period of time.

[Update: Check out the results of this test.]

Which of the three recordings do you prefer? Which radio do you find handles these unfavorable conditions best? Why do you prefer one over the others?

Sample 1:

Sample 2:

Sample 3:

Please add your comment below, or contact me via email with your favorite and any comments. I’m also very interested in which one you believe is second best. I’ll tally up the results in one week and will reveal which radio came out on top!

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