Yesterday, I cleared my radio bench and performed a few firmware updates that were recently published for the Xiegu GSOC Controller and Xiegu G90.
Upgrading the Xiegu GSOC to the latest firmware version requires also upgrading the Xiegu G90 to take full advantage of the GSOC fixes.
I downloaded the G90 firmware, driver and upgrade tool, then read through the upgrade manual. The process is pretty straight-forward, but the G90 transceiver actually has two units to upgrade: the control head and the transceiver body. I successfully completed both with no errors from the firmware tool.
Next, I downloaded the 300MB+ GSOC upgrade which is essentially an entire Linux operating system. I flashed it to a 16GB MicroSD card, inserted it in the GSOC and after turning it on it extracted and upgraded its OS. It’s an easy upgrade, but requires a MicroSD card and download time (especially if you’re like me and have a crummy rural internet connection). 🙂
After I completed the upgrade, I connected the GSOC control head to the Xiegu G90 once again and turned it on.
The GSOC still takes a good 30 seconds to start up because it’s essentially loading a Linux OS.
Keep in mind there was one fix in particular I was looking forward to checking out: the CW latency issue.
As I mentioned in my initial GSOC post, and also in the post after the first GSOC firmware update, the GSOC had been exhibiting sidetone latency that interfered with my ability to correctly send words and letters. In fact, it really made it impossible to send accurate code at speeds north of 11 WPM or so. Xiegu engineers tried to fix this after the first GSOC update, but it was still present. I suspected the GSOC CPU simply wasn’t fast enough to produce sidetone audio as the G90 body fed it a steady stream of dits and dashes. So far, my GSOC evaluation has pretty much been on hold because I’m unable to use CW mode.
I’m happy to note that Xiegu has now fixed the CW latency issue, but there’s a small caveat. I’ll explain…
In SSB, FM, or AM mode, for example, the GSOC produces audio via its internal speaker. This is also how it used to produce CW sidetone audio.
After the v1.3 firmware update, when you use CW mode, the audio will be produced by the G90 body. Not an elegant solution, but this does eliminate CW sidetone latency because the GSOC controller is effectively eliminated from the audio chain.
I connected the GSCO/G90 to a dummy load and tested CW which seemed to work fine. Then I hopped on the air and worked POTA activators in Ohio, Maryland and Indiana with no problem because I was essentially only using the G90 body (hence the same experience I had in my G90 review).
Honestly? This might not bother some ops, but it is a bit weird to use the GSOC on AM and SSB then switch to CW mode since the speaker audio moves from the GSOC to the G90 body. (If using headphones, I suppose you’ll have to unplug from the GSOC and plug into the G90.)
When I’ve had the GSOC in the shack, I’ve placed the control head on my table (which is the main operating position) then placed the G90 body about 2 feet away behind one of my PC monitors. With this setup, the audio jump to the G90 body is very noticeable.
This GSOC and G90 are both on loan from Radioddity, but if I owned the GSOC, I believe I’d connect an external speaker to the G90 to bring the audio closer.
It’s worth noting that If the “Modem” function is turned on in CW mode, the audio will be played via the GSOC (not the G90 body).
Noise on the spectrum display
Although it wasn’t noted in the firmware release notes, I had hoped they might have adjusted the IQ feed to help eliminate some ever-present noises on the spectrum display (which cannot be heard in the audio).
After I performed the update, the GSOC spectrum display seems to be somewhat “deaf.”
At least, I’m not able to see signals as I did moments before the upgrade. I can hear signals as I tune through the bands–and they sound fine–but I can’t see anything corresponding appropriately on the spectrum display or waterfall. I tried adjusting the default spectrum gain values but this doesn’t seem to help. I’ll try replacing out the IQ cable, but again I doubt this will have an effect because I’m sure it’s associated with the update.
If I tune to the broadcast bands, I can see strong AM signals in the spectrum, but it seems weaker SSB and CW signals are lost.
I haven’t seen other GSOC owners report this yet, so must assume it’s an issue with my particular unit and possibly a glitch from the firmware updates? I will contact the manufacturer and see if this can be sorted out.
The v1.3 firmware update also added a Bluetooth serial port, tweaked AGC algorithms, and added the ability to perform a full reset from the GSOC system menu. There are still some missing anticipated features like direct audio recording to the MicroSD card.
If I’m being perfectly honest, though, the GSOC still feels like a product in Alpha or Beta testing–not one in production. The CW sidetone issue would have been discovered if Xiegu had even one Beta tester attempt a few CW contacts prior to production. Spectrum display noise would have also been found. In addition, most promised features should have been on the unit from day one and some–like the notch filter–should have functioned properly. The whole unit feels rushed and not yet ready for prime time.
I personally much prefer using the Xiegu G90 as-is, without the GSOC controller. It’s not an Icom IC-7300 or even a Yaesu FT-891 for that matter, but it’s a very budget-friendly, full-featured field radio that sets a benchmark for its $425 US price. While I’m not a huge fan of the G90’s audio, it’s perfectly fine for field use and normal operation.
I’m undecided if I’ll continue reviewing the GSOC at this point–I may simply send it back to Radioddity who–very much to their credit–has embraced my criticisms of this unit. At present, the GSOC and G90 are living in their shipping boxes until I pull them out to perform upgrades, test them, then put them back in the boxes. Not how it should be. When I review new gear, I’m usually eager to put it in full service in my shack and in the field. Frankly, I just feel like the GSCO and G90 take up too much space and are in the way of radios I prefer using.
Are you a Xiegu GSOC owner? What are your thoughts? Please comment.
For those of you who have been asking about the new Xiegu GSOC controller, I just updated my unit with the latest firmware (version 1.1).
Firmware notes show that it addresses the following items:
Xiegu GSOC FW V1.1
1. Solved the CW sidetone delay problem
2. Solved the problem of unstable system and occasional crash
3. Added RTTY modem
4. Added CW decoder
5. Added SWR scanner
6. Added FFT/Waterfall level adjustment
7. Added FFT line/fill color mixer
The list above was copied directly from the version notes.
I’m currently evaluating the GSOC/G90 pair which were kindly sent to me on loan by Radioddity. I upgraded the GSOC firmware to v1.1 this weekend.
What follows are some of my evaluation notes an observations after performing the upgrade.
Updating the GSOC firmware is a pretty straight-forward process.
First you must download the GSOC firmware package (about 330 MB!) which includes a disk image and application to flash the image to a MicroSD card.
Yes, you’ll need a dedicated MicroSD card to upgrade the GSOC firmware–meaning, you can’t simply use a MicroSD card with data on it you’d like to keep because the process of flashing the ISO file also includes a full format with multiple partitions.
You’ll also need an SD Card reader/writer if your Windows PC doesn’t include one.
The included firmware application/tool makes it quite easy to flash a disk image on the MicroSD card.
After the MicroSD card has been prepared, simply turn off the GSOC, insert the MicroSD card on the left side of the GSOC, turn it back on and the GSOC will automatically boot from the MicroSD card and install the new OS/firmware.
Once the upgrade has completed, the GSOC will turn itself off and you must remove the MicroSD card.
If you want to restore the MicroSD card to one partition, you’ll need to perform another format and shrink the volumes.
CW sidetone latency (still issues)
After performing the upgrade, I hopped on the air and tried to make a few CW contacts since I noted in the version notes that the CW sidetone latency had been addressed. So far, my evaluation has pretty much been on hold because I’m unable to use CW mode with any sense of sending accuracy.
Unfortunately, I’m still finding that there’s still a bit of sidetone latency or keyer timing interfering with my ability to correctly send words and letters.
To my ear, it sounds like there’s much less latency in the sidetone audio now (compared with v1.0 which was a little insane) but I still struggle sending characters that end in a string of dits or dashes. For example, when I try to send a “D” the radio will often produce a “B” by adding one extra dit. Or if I try to send a “W” it might produce a “J”. I know something is a little bit off because I botched up two CW contacts with POTA stations yesterday as I tried to send my own callsign correctly. And “73” was even problematic.
I’m guessing that there may still be a bit of audio lag between the G90 body (where the CW key is plugged in) and the GSOC (where the sidetone audio comes out). At the end of the day, the keying information must be sent to the GSOC from the G90 transceiver body and I assume the processor on the G90 is causing a bit of audio latency. Hopefully, Xiegu can sort this out. It’s a serious issue for anyone who wants to operate CW with the GSOC.
If you own the GSOC and operate CW, I’d love your comments and feedback.
I tried using the CW decoder yesterday via the “Modem” menu and had limited success decoding a CW rag chew.
My markup in red: You can see at the very end of this conversation, it decoded the call sign, but interpreted “TU” as “TEA”
The decoder seemed to adjust the WPM rate automatically at one point, but as you can see in the image above, almost every dit was interpreted as an “E” and every dash a “T”. I must assume I don’t have it configured properly, but I don’t have an operator’s manual for reference and instruction. I’ve also tried RTTY decoding, but haven’t been successful so far–I’m pretty sure this is also because I haven’t configured it properly.
I tested the new SWR scanner and it seems to work quite well, plotting SWR across a given frequency range. I did note, however, that it doesn’t seem to confine itself to the ham bands at all. It does inject a signal as it scans (I read 1.5 to 2 watts on my CN-801 meter).
I discovered out-of-band scanning when I took the photo above while trying to do a scan of the 30 meter band. It started around 9.6 MHz–well into the 31M broadcast band where it shouldn’t be transmitting. Xiegu needs to limit transmitted signal to the ham bands.
I had hoped Voice Memory Keying would be added along with TX/RX recording. I do believe this will eventually be included in a future update. It appears via the “Modem” menu that CW Memory Keying has been added, but I can’t sort out how to make it work (again, a operation manual would be quite handy).
I had hoped transmit and received audio recording would be added in this firmware update; I understand this will eventually be added.
Combined current drain
As I mentioned in a previous GSOC update, the GSOC controller and G90 transceiver both need a 12V power source–indeed, each has a dedicated power port. The GSOC does not derive power from the G90.
I was originally told that the G90 and GSOC both pull about .60 amps in receive which would total 1.2 amps combined. My Hardened Power Systems QRP Ranger battery pack displays voltage and current; it’s not a lab-grade measurement device, but it’s pretty accurate. When I operate the GSOC and G90 at a moderate volume levels in receive, it appears to draw 0.95 to 0.97 amps–basically, 1 amp.
At home on a power supply, this is inconsequential, but in the field you’d need to keep this in mind when choosing a battery. It’s on par with a number of 100 watt transceivers.
Spectrum display images
I’m still finding images on the GSOC display that are not present in the received audio. I mentioned this in my initial overview and it doesn’t seem the firmware update addressed this.
I can only assume the spectrum imaging might be due to the I/Q input being too “hot” coming from the G90 via the shielded audio patchcord. Perhaps there’s a function to manually lower the I/Q gain, but I haven’t found that yet.
Spectrum images are most noticeable on the 31 meter band, but found them on the 20 meter ham band as well.
Here are two screen shots that show how images appear when a nearby signal overwhelms the GSOC:
Images are not present all of the time, only when a strong signal intrudes.
Ever-present noise and spurs in portions of spectrum
Perhaps this is related to the issue above, but there are some spurs on the spectrum display that seem to be present whether the G90/GSOC is hooked up to an antenna or dummy load.
Here’s a photo of the GSOC hooked up to an antenna:
And to a dummy load:
I’ve highlighted the spurs in red and as you can see, the intensity is stronger without an antenna thus I’m guessing this is internally-generated. The spurs do not move on the display as you change frequency.
Again, I feel like the GSOC firmware isn’t mature and I can’t yet recommend purchasing it. I feel like Xiegu have rushed this unit to market.
I know that, over time, more features will be added and Xiegu certainly has a track record of following up.
When I evaluate a product, I keep a list of notes that I send to the manufacturer and to keep for my own reference. In Alpha and/or Beta testing, I’d share this info only with the manufacturer. Since the GSOC is a product that’s in production and widely available, however, I thought I’d share them here publicly:
GSOC volume control scale is 0 to 28. The difference between 0 (muted) to 1 seems to be the biggest increment. Volume 1 is actually a low to moderate volume level (i.e. a bit high).
Boot up time for the GSOC is 30 seconds
A keyboard and mouse or capacitive stylus are almost required for accurate operation. Many of the touch screen buttons are quite small and difficult to accurately engage with fingertip. The pointer seems to fall slightly below where fingertip makes contact on the screen.
Notch Filter seems to have no effect even after the v1.1 upgrade. There is no Auto Notch feature either.
I can’t seem to engage split operation even though there are A/B switchable VFOs and a “Split” button above the spectrum display. Using a keyboard and mouse doesn’t engage it either.
There are a number of announced features that I haven’t discovered including some WiFi and Bluetooth wireless functionality.
For field use, you must pack quite a bit of kit: the transceiver, the controller, CW key cable, microphone, serial cable, I/Q cable, G90 Power cable, and GSOC power cable. It would also be advisable to take a wireless keyboard and mouse especially if you plan to use any advanced functions like CW memory keying.
It doesn’t appear that you have CAT control of the GSOC which complicates digital operation. I believe many of us hoped the GSOC would make digital mode operation easier with the G90, but it hasn’t. Indeed, I assumed the GSOC would have an internal sound card for digi modes much like the Icom IC-7300 and IC-705. Use of VOX control is still the best way to control transmit. I hope this can be upgraded else this would be a missed opportunity.
Since the v1.1 upgrade, the GSOC hasn’t crashed (it did frequently with the v1.0 firmware).
Not a pro or con, but I wish the AF Gain/Squelch was AF Gain/RF Gain like most HF transceivers. I’ve accidently engaged squelch twice which essentially muted audio. Pressing and holding the PO (Power Output) button opens the RG Gain control function).
The GSOC Universal Controller is an interesting accessory for the G90 and I’ve read comments from users that love the interface and added functionality.
If I’m being honest, I feel like I’m Beta testing the GSOC. I’ve yet to find a GSOC operation manual–this makes it very difficult to know if one has correctly configured the controller and engaged features/functions correctly. A quick start guide is included with the product, but it really only helps with connections and starting up the GSOC the first time. If you’re a GSOC early adopter, just be aware of this. Again, I’m pretty confident Xiegu will make refinements and include promised features in future firmware updates. I understand their software engineer closely monitors the GSOC discussion group as well. If you’re considering the purchase of a GSOC, I’d encourage you to join the GSOC group.
As I said, I can’t recommend purchasing the GSOC controller yet. So much can change with firmware updates, however, I would encourage you to bookmark the tag GSOC to follow our updates here on the SWLing Post. I will update the GSOC controller each time a new firmware version is issued and until Radioddity asks for the loaner units to be returned. Again, many thanks to Radioddity for making this GSOC and G90 evaluation possible.
Feel free to comment with any questions you might have and I’ll do my best to answer them!
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.
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)
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)
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)
Built-in sound card interface for for easy digital mode operation
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)
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.
Listening to Radio Prague via WRMI with the Xiegu GSOC
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Tim R, who writes:
First of all thank you so much for the all of the energy you put into the SWLing Post. When crazy things are happening in the world it’s a very welcome sanctuary! Sending you some coffee money.
I plan to become a ham radio operator next year. Bought the book last week and once I finish a large project for work, I’m on it. Of course, the Tech license will only give me limited exposure to HF, but I’m already plotting an HF radio purchase because I can’t WAIT do do some SWLing with it. Up to this point, I’ve only owned portable radios and never really have used external antennas other than some cheap wire.
I’ve been considering grabbing a Xiegu G90 because it seems to be a nice comprehensive beginner’s HF rig and is very affordable. I read your review and understand your caveat that there’s no way to completely disengage the transmit so that it can’t be accidently hit if connected to an RX only antenna. I’m not worried about that because I’m going to hang a G5RV wire antenna and use it both for TX and RX. No problem if RF is accidently sent through it.
Of course, there’s a lot of buzz in the Xiegu community about the new GSOC controller. I had not planned to exceed $600 for my radio purchase, but I love the idea of the controller. But when I add $550 for the controller and $450 for the radio, all the sudden I’m at $1,000.
After some deep soul-searching (and let’s be frank here, a blessing from my wife and CFO) I’ve decided to raise my budget to $1,000.
All of this to ask, if you had $1,000, would you buy the G90 and GSOC controller, or would you get something else keeping in mind I want to use this as much for shortwave listening as for future ham radio work?
Any advice would be appreciated.
Thanks for your question, Tim! And thanks for giving me a complete picture of your budget/radio requirements and the antenna you plan to use.
I’ll try to answer your question here, but understand this is more what I would do if I were in your shoes. This is a pretty simple question, but not simple to answer because there are so many options on the market.
Xiegu GSOC and G90 combo option
Keeping in mind, I feel like the GSOC is a work in progress at the moment and not fully developed–check out my initial review. Once the next firmware update is available it could certainly solve a number of small issues I found with the unit. It works, but it’s not a refined product yet.
It’s ironic, actually. When I received your message this morning, Tim, I was SWLing with the GSOC and G90–listening to Radio Prague on WRMI. In the end, though, the GSOC is primarily an enhanced interface for the G90. While it does add some extra functionality (and should, over time, add much more) it doesn’t really change the performance characteristics of the G90. I’d check out my G90 review for more info about performance.
Would I purchase the G90/GSOC combo if I were in your shoes? Again, it’s early days, so I don’t feel comfortable making a recommendation call yet. The G90 is, without question, a great value at $450 (often even less) investment. I like it primarily as a field radio, though, and once you add the GSOC to the mix, it’s a little less portable because it’s two units with quite a few interconnect cables. Of course, you can swap the GSOC unit for the G90 control head at any time, but that involves attaching and re-attaching the control head each time (there’s no accessible serial port on the back of the G90, for example)
If you’re a huge fan of the G90, the GSOC should eventually be a worthy addition. At present, for your use as a new ham and for SWLing, I’d perhaps consider other options too.
The Icom IC-7300
The Icom IC-7300 SDR transceiver
Since you’ve raised your budget to $1,000, I’d consider adding the Icom IC-7300 to your list. At present, via Universal Radio you can buy a new IC-7300 for a net price of $1039.95 after rebates. Sometimes, the price will go even lower although during the C-19 pandemic, I think that’s less likely to happen since supplies are lower than normal for many items.
The IC-7300 has better performance specs than the G90 and can output a full 100 watts if you like. The display is touch sensitive rather than capacitive like the GSOC. The display is also much smaller than that of the GSOC. The IC-7300 has a lower noise floor than the G90.
I would include the new Icom IC-705 as a recommendation here, too, but it’s $300 over your budget.
A PC-connected SDR and separate transceiver
This might be the option I’d take if I were in your shoes.
Get the 20 watt Xiegu G90 ($450) as planned or consider a radio like the 100 watt Yaesu FT-891 ($640), Both of these radios are general coverage and would serve you well for SWLing and ham radio activities. I’d personally invest the bit extra and get the FT-891 since it would also give you 100 watts output and even has advanced features like memory keying.
Yesterday, 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!] GSOC development has been closely watched by Xiegu owners since its announcement this summer.
I’ve heard some GSOC reviewers on YouTube note that the GSOC may also work with the tiny Xiegu G1M transceiver, but I’m not sure how it could convey the I/Q information since I don’t believe the G1M has I/Q output (perhaps someone can correct me as I’ve never used the G1M).
Connecting the GSOC to the G90 is a simple process:
Remove the G90’s control head
Use the supplied 9 pin serial cable to connect the GSOC to the G90
Connect the G90 I/Q out to the GSOC I/Q in with the supplied 1/8″ (3.5mm) stereo patch cable
Connect the G90 and the GSOC to a power supply or battery (each unit has a separate power connection)
The GSOC Sports a Large Touch Screen Interface
No doubt, the best thing about the GSOC is the 7 inch color touch LCD screen. It’s a capacitive touch screen as well, so feels more like a tablet screen than a soft pressure-sensitive screen.
While it doesn’t seem to have the pixel density of some modern tables, the resolution is more than adequate for the task and is, frankly, quite attractive!
The GSOC has a large encorder with a finger dimple that “floats” as you turn the the knob (much like my Icom IC-756 Pro).
This firmware version does have a number of adjustable settings for the GSOC and transceiver–all are easy to use.
A huge bonus is that the GSOC sports two USB ports. I’ve connected my portable wireless Logitech keyboard/trackpad to the GSOC via one of the USB ports and it works brilliantly.
I find it’s much easier to use a mouse or trackpad to click buttons on the screen as some buttons–especially the cluster below the frequency display–are tiny and a little more difficult to accurately click/select with a finger.
The GSOC form factor works well for tabletop operation. There’s a fold-out bail that tilts the display forward for very easy operation. In fact, the GSOC bail must be used because it also acts as a stand-off to give the serial cable and IQ cable room to be connected. I prefer this rather than having all of the cables exit one side of the unit, for example.
When everything is connected, there are quite a few connections and cables in play:
Two power cords (G90 and GSOC)
Antenna cable (for the G90 body)
If I owned a GSOC, I would sort out a way to manage the cables better and move the G90 body off of my table to save space.
One note: while the GSOC has a dedicated microphone port, it does not have a CW key port. Your CW key still needs to be connected to the G90 body.
Keep in mind, all of these notes only pertain to the initial firmware version:
Startup time is about 29-30 seconds.
Many features such as CW/Voice memory keyers, CW reader/decoder, audio recording, auto notch filter, and many others have not been implemented yet but will be in the next firmware release according to the manufacturer.
The pointer arrow shows on the display regardless if you’re making selections with an attached mouse or your finger.
There’s a latency issue with the CW keyer in this firmware version which makes it difficult to form CW characters properly so I can’t test CW functionality. I understand this will be fixed in the next firmware version.
I’ve noticed some images across the spectrum display (most notably on 31 and 20 meters. I believe this may be due to the I/Q signal being a little too “hot.” I’m not sure if there’s a way to adjust this with the current firmware.
At time of posting, there’s very little in the way of a manual for this radio. It was shipped to me with this quick operation guide (PDF).
If you’re a fan of the G90 or the X5105, though, it makes for an attractive and useful addition in the shack. It not only adds features to the G90, but even an FM mode. While the GSOC is certainly portable, I’m not sure I’d take it to the field often because it would require extra setup time, bulk and weight. In an extended field event like Field Day or a park vacation, it might be worth the extra weight and space as it will soon give you programmable voice and CW memory keying.
What I find most interesting about the GSOC, in fact, is that it’s a case in point about how our radio world is moving into a “modular” area where components like the transceiver, amplifier, and panadapter/controller can be swapped out.
The Xiegu GSOC is following in the footsteps of other rado products out of China these days in that they’re initially released with a basic set of features to get you on the air, but advanced features and adjustments/tweaks are made in firmware upgrades after production. Based on the success of the G90 and Xiegu’s attention to customer feedback, I assume many of the missing features will be added soon. I’ll take a deeper dive into the GSOC in the coming days and certainly note when firmware upgrades have been made.
If you have any questions about the GSOC feel free to ask in the comments section of this post. I’ll do my best to answer, but keep in mind I’m pretty much learning the ropes here without a manual!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Muthu, who writes with the following inquiry after reading our Xiegu G90 review:
Very nice review. I have a question.
I’m preparing for a restricted ham license in Hong Kong and may try transmitting for a couple of months. However, in the long run I plan to use the rig just as a receiver mainly for shortwave broadcast listening once I return back to India next year.
I’m considering Icom IC-7300 or an almost new Kenwood TS 590-S[…].
You said that there is no way to completely disable the transmitter on the Xiegu G90. Is there a way to completely disable transmit on the Icom IC-7300 or Kenwood TS-590?
Thank you for your question, Muthu. My hope is that SWLing Post readers who own the IC-7300 and/or TS-590 series transceivers can confirm.
I only had the IC-7300 on loan a few weeks during my evaluation/review period. While I feel like I recall the ability to disable transmit (or perhaps lower the output power to 0 watts), I’m not sure if that also applies to the internal ATU. I have no clue if this is possible with the TS-590S as I’ve never spent meaningful time with this fine transceiver.
Post readers: If you own either of these transceivers and can you confirm if transmit can be disabled on the IC-7300 or TS-590? Please feel free to comment!
A comprehensive review of the Xiegu G90 general coverage transceiver
My coming of age in the world of radio was during the era of big US and Japanese radio manufacturers. Icom, Kenwood, Yaesu, JRC, and Ten-Tec––these were the icons of my youth. And, I freely confess, I developed a partiality for their products.
So when incredibly inexpensive transceivers from manufacturers in China started showing up on the market a little over a decade ago, I was…well, skeptical. Very. Many of these radios were a fraction of the cost we had been paying, and some models looked like direct copies of radios that were already on the market…but these copies were all-too-often second-rate either in features or performance.
Thus, as it was my policy to invest in quality products, I continued to put my money toward US, Japanese, and European legacy manufacturers that I felt would be here for the long haul in the amateur radio and SWL communities.
Had I become a bit of a radio snob? I admit it…maybe I had. But in truth, I was simply waiting for a quality Chinese-made radio to come along and change my viewpoint.
I know a number of hams who use Xiegu (pronounced roughly “SHEH-goo”) brand portable transceivers for Parks On The Air (POTA) and Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, and like them very well. So I decided to waive my doubts and check out Xiegu’s transceivers. I found myself intrigued with one in particular: the G90.
The Xiegu G90
At time of publication, there are three Xiegu models widely available: the G1M, X5105, and the G90.
The GM1 ($260) is a compact, four-band 5-watt QRP transceiver, while the X5101 ($520) is a 160M-6M 5-watt Double Conversion Superheterodyne QRP transceiver. Both look promising, but the G90 is a 20-watt 160M-10M transceiver sporting a 24-bit 48 kb/s sampling analog-to-digital/digital-to-analog converter at just $450. That’s the one I chose to investigate.
I found both the G90 receiver specs and 20-watt-output power very appealing, especially considering the modest $450 price tag. But I found this receiver has other impressive features:
Detachable faceplate with included separation cable
Full-color backlit display with both spectrum and waterfall
Built-in side panel extensions to protect the front face and back of the radio
General coverage receiver (0.5~30MHz) in SSB/CW/AM
Built-in automatic antenna tuner (ATU)
About the only feature the G20 doesn’t include is an option for a built-in battery pack. Certainly not a deal-breaker by any means, since more often than not I use an external LiFePo battery for field-portable radio work.
I made up my mind to bite the bullet and purchase the G90. I was incredibly curious whether it could compete with my Elecraft KX3 and/or KX2, and I also wanted to explore the capabilities of its general coverage receiver for broadcast listening.
I tend to review ham radio transceivers around the time they hit the market. One of the unique advantages of being one of the first people to review a transceiver is that I really have no idea what to expect in terms of performance, other than perhaps what the manufacturer’s reputation has taught me over the years. And if the manufacturer is fairly new to me––? Then it’s truly a roll of the dice.
The G90, however, had been on the market for quite a few months, so I simply avoided reading any in-depth reviews so I could form my own opinions. With that said, I knew in advance that this radio is already well-loved by a very active and enthusiastic community of amateur radio operators. So I had only to make up my mind, myself. I got to work.
When I first removed the G90 from its box, I was struck by its weight, build quality, and size. First off, it’s a heavy little radio. The Xiegu site notes that the weight of the radio is about 2.2 lbs (1 kg), but perhaps due to its compact size, it felt heavier to me. Indeed, when I placed it on my postal scales, it came in closer to 3 lbs 10 oz. Still a very reasonable weight for a portable radio, but a bit heavier than described.
Speaking of size, the G90’s shape is pretty unique. Looking at the radio head-on, it’s reminiscent of most portable QRP transceivers (like the CommRadio CTX-10 or Yaesu FT-818, for example) meaning that the front face is compact. The depth of the radio, though (or length, depending on how you look at it), is about 8.3 inches––or nearly 10” if you include the side panels––equivalent to many of my 100 watt radios.
The build quality of the G90 is truly impressive. Holding it in your hand, you feel like you’ve acquired a quality piece of kit. The chassis is very durable, the buttons have a tactile response, and both the front and rear are protected by built-in side panels (typically side panels would be a third-party addition for most radios).
Audio from the internal speaker, which is mounted on the top of the radio, is loud and punchy, a desirable attribute for a field radio. Better yet, when you port the audio to an external amplified speaker (headphone jack is on the left side of the radio head), fidelity is quite good. The audio and noise floor, to my ear, is rougher than that of pricier QRP transceivers.
The color TFT LCD screen measures only 1.8,” one of the smallest I’ve ever tested on a radio, but Xiegu did an admirable job laying out the interface so that it’s easy to read at any viewing angle. If you wear reading glasses to read a book, you’ll need them to read this display––some of the numbers and labels are tiny, but very sharp, crisp, and high contrast. I’ve had no difficulty whatsoever reading the display in the field.
What’s more, the spectrum display and waterfall are responsive and in real-time––there’s no delay or averaging which I especially appreciate when chasing CW and SSB signals. Although at first blush one might think the spectrum and waterfall are just too small to be useful, that would be a mistake. I was guilty of this prejudice myself, and now find I rely on the spectrum display to help locate unused frequencies, spot someone calling CQ, and even identify the relative proximity of an adjacent signal. Truly a helpful feature.
Unfortunately, there’s one very conspicuous omission on the part of the G90 designers: it has no bail nor feet of any sort to support the front of the radio and angle it for ergonomic operation. Herein lies my biggest criticism of this radio, because it truly needs something to prop up the front of the radio for comfortable operation, not to mention, to allow the bottom of the radio to dissipate heat effectively.
Ad hoc solutions to the fore: in the field, I simply prop the G90 on my Bioenno 15 aH LiFePo battery; in the shack, I use a small support stand I purchased for my Elecraft KX3. Not as good as a purpose-made bail, but this works.
The microphone that accompanies the G90 is what you would expect from a mobile HF rig: almost all functions can be controlled by its backlit keypad. I have read a few reports of people dropping and breaking the supplied mic. Turns out, the Mic’s 8-Pin Modular Plug is configured like a number of Icom radio models, and a replacement mic can be purchased on Amazon for about $22.
As mentioned earlier, the control head of the G90 can also be separated from the body for use in mobile applications such as a car, RV, or even in the shack. The real surprise here is that the separation cable is included in the package. I’m not sure I’ve ever owned a mobile radio that came with a separation cable––what a luxury! Great addition.
Another surprise for a radio in this price class: the G90 has a built-in automatic antenna tuner (ATU). When I first made the decision to purchase and review the G90, I didn’t realize this, and in fact would have never guessed it to be a possibility in a $450 transceiver. What’s more, this ATU is one of the best I’ve ever used in the field: it’s quick to match, and seems to find a match with almost any setup. I almost wish Xiegu sold a stand-alone portable ATU so I could use it with my other radios that lack an internal ATU.
Unlike most of the portable transceivers on the market that have maximum output power of around 5-15 watts, the Xiegu G90 will pump out up to 20 watts. While 90% of all of my ham radio communications are accomplished at 10 watts or below, I’ve appreciated a little extra “juice” while operating in the field.
Note: due to the speed of my phone camera, not all of the LED segments of my battery pack are visible.
With all that’s packed into this transceiver, no wonder it’s a heavy little unit!
My conclusion here is that the G90 feels like a quality rig. But how does it perform? Let’s first take a look at how I evaluate the transceiver as a ham radio operator, then as a broadcast listener and SWL.
Ham Radio Operation
Over one month of operating the G90, most of that time has been in the field, as I’ve taken the radio along for a number of Parks On The Air (POTA) field activations. Although I’ll be commenting about the G90’s performance as a transceiver in general, keep in mind that I do so mainly through the eyes of a field operator.
Although I often dislike operating compact radios due to small buttons and complex embedded menus that supply knobs and buttons with multiple duties, I find operating the G90 surprisingly pleasant. All of the most important functions of the transceiver can be called up with one or two button presses. Obviously, a real ham radio operator played a part in designing the G90’s operation.
Tuning the G90 is a simple process. The main encoder, of course, allows you to tune up/down the band. By short-pressing the encoder knob, you can change between the hundreds, tens, ones, tenths, and one-hundredths of a kHz. In fact, it’s very simple to move around a band this way. The encoder action is defined by detents that you feel as you rotate the knob. Normally I’m not a fan of detents on a radio’s main encoder knob, but since this one is so small, I think I actually prefer it as a means to control the spinning action. There is no brake adjustment.
Upgraded G90 Encoder
The supplied encoder knob is made of plastic and has dimples on the front to give your finger a bit of grip as you tune up or down. Upon the recommendation of a friend, I purchased a third-party dimpled aluminum knob to replace it––a major upgrade for a modest $8 investment!
Changing between bands and modes is very simple with the G90. There are dedicated band and mode up/down buttons on top of the radio’s front panel much like those on the venerable Yaesu FT-817 and 818 series. The G90 defaults to ham radio band allocations, but there is a menu setting that allows you to also include broadcast bands between band changes. Nice touch.
There is a dedicated AF gain control on the front of the radio. After receiving the radio, I was disappointed by the lack of an RF gain control, something I use a lot during noisy band conditions. Fortunately, Xiegu included an RF Gain control in one of the latest firmware updates: to access it, simply press and hold the AGC button, then make adjustments to the RF Gain percentage with the main encoder. The G90 defaults to a 50% setting. While I’m not really sure what this setting means, I do find the RF gain control quite effective, even though it doesn’t respond like a legacy receiver’s RF gain control.
The Xiegu G90 has a simple and effective variable-filter control: simply press the FUNC button then the CMP button, and use the encoder to adjust the low end of the filter. To adjust the high end, press the FUNC and NB button in the same way. I love the fact that the filter can be adjusted from both the high and low ends, and that it’s variable instead of set at predetermined fixed widths such as “wide” and “narrow.” All mode filters are adjusted in this fashion.
The G90 is a capable CW transceiver and should please the CW operator. The keyer speed, ratio, auto modes, and paddle setup are all accessible from the KEY function button. By pressing the FUNC and Key buttons, you can access the CW volume and tone parameters. The G90 also allows you to turn on a QSK function and adjust the hang time. The G90’s version of QSK isn’t the full-break-in variety you might find in, say, the Elecraft KX series radios. Meaning, while the hang time is very short, if sending at high speed you won’t be able to hear another station break in between your characters. You will note a slight relay click. With that said, I find the QSK mode to be quite effective for my use because I’m not really a “full-break-in” kind of operator.
The yellow CW tune LED on the front of the G90. Some might find it distracting if engaged.
Speaking of CW, the G90 features a CW tune feature that indicates when you’ve locked onto a CW signal: a yellow LED will flash as CW is received. While I find this feature a bit distracting, I’m sure some operators will appreciate it. In addition, the G90 features a CW reader that will decode CW when a station is properly tuned in and isolated from others.
Note the CW decode at the bottom of the display.
In the field, this feature has helped me confirm call signs––but like most transceiver CW readers, it’s not always accurate, especially if the CW operator on the other end uses a hand key or bug. Still: a welcome feature.
Most of my operating time on the G90 has been in SSB mode, and I’ve been very pleased with the radio’s performance in this mode. The G90 allows you to adjust the mic gain and enable compression. I’ve gotten excellent audio reports from the numerous SSB contacts I’ve made on the G90.
I should note here that although I feel you get much more radio than you pay for with the G90, I do wish it had a voice keyer. Especially when I’m activating a park via POTA, I call CQ a lot. With my Elecraft KX3 and KX2, for example, I set the voice keyer to “beacon” mode which allows me to pre-record a CQ and have it playback the message on a loop with a few seconds in between to allow me to recognize anyone replying to my call. I rely so heavily on this feature for SSB park activations, just to save my voice, I know the G90 can never displace my Elecraft field radios. Again, I wouldn’t expect such a feature in this price class, but it would make for a near ideal field radio.
One thing that surprised me about the G90––especially since it is an SDR––is that operating digital modes is less “native” than I would have expected. Many modern SDR transceivers make setting up for modes like FT8 relatively easy with both CAT control and often the radio itself is identified as a sound card, thus no external interface is needed. When I decided to try running FT8 on the G90, I was discouraged by the fact that setup is much more like that of a legacy radio. Indeed, many users have had communication issues with popular software packages.
Since I wanted to test the G90 as a field radio and since I do very little FT8 in the field, I simply omitted testing this functionality. I have read that many operators have, of course, been able to successfully use the G90 for digital modes, but be prepared to read through the G90 email discussion group (see link at end of article) for best practices.
Update: SWLing Post contributor, David White, brings up one fine point about the G90’s VOX control. “I use that feature for TX control when running any of the digital modes with the laptop audio in/out going through the rear AUX connection.” Thanks for pointing this out, David. VOX control really facilitates using digital modes because the radio can detect audio comping from the computer and engage transmit without having to use CAT control of any sort.
Overall, I’m favorably impressed with the G90’s receiver. Both sensitivity and selectivity are above par, especially for a radio in this price class. The G90’s noise floor is acceptable, though not as low as that of my Elecraft radios. I do find that with the G90, I often need to ride the RF gain control in our noisy summer band conditions. I find that by adjusting the RF Gain and selecting the most effective AGC setting, I’m able to achieve an excellent signal-to-noise ratio. I find the G90 audio a bit fatiguing when I’m operating for long periods of time–at least, compared to some of my other transceivers.
In a nutshell: the G90 packs a lot of performance in an affordable radio, especially if you’re willing to tailor the filter settings, AGC, and RF gain to best accommodate the conditions.
I’ve been very pleased with how long I can operate on battery power with the G90. Even with the display backlit set to 80% and with the volume set to high, I found that the maximum amperage the G90 would consume was about 0.60 amps. While I wouldn’t consider that benchmark, it is respectable.
I also like the G90’s built-in antenna analyzer. By pressing and holding the POW button, the G90 will display a graph showing the SWR figures across your specified frequency range. A brilliant and handy feature in the field! It’s important to note, though, that during the test the radio is transmitting a little RF so don’t try it with a receive-only antenna.
I do find that the G90’s body gets pretty warm–downright hot–when activating a park. It’s no wonder, really, because I often end up calling CQ at five second intervals over the course of 60-90 minutes on average. That’s demanding a lot of a fanless radio, thus it gets very warm to the touch. Still, while I never had any overheating issues, I’ve also never operated the radio in direct sunlight for extended periods of time and I’ve always propped up the radio so that air can flow underneath the chassis. Again, if for no other reason than to dissipate heat, Xiegu should have incorporated a bail or folding feet. As much as I love the front and back panel extension, I would have chosen a bail over these.
While broadcast listening is often an afterthought for most ham radio operators, it never is for me. I like to travel lightly and I like my QRP transceiver to double-duty as a tool for SWLing.
From day one, I have spent a great deal of time with the G90 across the broadcast bands.
One of the main reasons I decided to review the Xiegu G90 is because I found so little information out there about how well the general coverage receiver worked for HF broadcast listening. The G90 has a frequency range of 0.5-30 MHz (SSB, CW, and AM).
But I couldn’t find a specification showing the maximum width of the AM filter. In a few display photos with the AM filter width was indicated as 5.4 kHz––if this was so, I concluded, it was fairly workable if not particularly wide. However, only moments after opening the box and putting the G90 on the air, I tuned to the Voice of Greece (9,420 kHz) and learned how to change the AM bandwidth. I was very pleased to find that in AM mode, that indicated filter width is only half the actual width: this means the G90’s AM filter can actually be widened to 10.8 kHz––brilliant!
In short, I’ve been very pleased using the G90 for shortwave broadcast listening; it has exceeded my expectations. I find that in terms of both sensitivity and selectivity, it offers performance on par with a dedicated receiver.
For an idea of how the G90 sounds on shortwave with its internal speaker only, check out the following videos:
The Voice of Greece
Radio Nacional De España
Broadcast listening is basic with general coverage transceivers: the G90 has no synchronous detector with selectable sidebands, for example. G90 users have requested this feature in a future firmware update, but I wouldn’t hold my breath in anticipation. I imagine G90 developers will be more concerned with ham radio-specific functionality.
Let’s face it: Asking the G90 or any ham radio transceiver to perform on the mediumwave/AM broadcast band is asking it to do something it was never designed to do.
With that said, I have been very pleased with the G90 on the AM broadcast band.
Audio fidelity is excellent, especially with the AM filter widened appropriately and when using an external speaker or headphones.
The G90 performs so well between about 900-1700 kHz, I have even done some proper mediumwave DXing with it.
Below 900 kHz, I’m still able to tune strong and weak stations, but I have found some odd behavior with imaging as I tuned down to 500 kHz: some stations would move across the spectrum display in the opposite direction to which I was moving the encoder. I suspect this may be due to a very strong local station near me on 1010 kHz that was overloading the front end.
Again, however, I never expected any reasonable performance on mediumwave–especially since many transceiver manufacturers intentionally attenuate those frequencies, so I’ll accept any quirks it may have here and consider any G90 mediumwave functionality at all simply icing on the cake.
Important caveat for the broadcast listener
While, overall, I’ve been super pleased listening to the shortwave and mediumwave with the G90, there is (at time of publishing) a major drawback for anyone who would like to use the G90 exclusively as a stand-alone receiver: there is no way to completely disable the transmitter.
The lowest power setting on the G90 is 1 watt. While that’s not a lot, it’s more than enough to fry your amplified magnetic loop antenna, for example. So, please use caution.
Although you could make it more difficult to transmit by not hooking up the microphone or a key (of course), there’s no way to disengage the internal ATU. If you accidentally press and hold the TUN button, it will engage the ATU and transmit.
In addition, if you press and hold the POW button, you will engage the antenna analyser function which will also inject RF as it sweeps across the bands testing the antenna’s standing-wave ratio.
Based on a suggestion, I even tried setting up the G90 in split mode with the transmit frequency set well outside the meter band I was operating. I thought by having the transmit frequency out-of-band, it would keep the radio from transmitting. Turns out, I discovered a bug in the G90. When you perform this procedure, it essentially bypasses the safeguards that keep an operator from transmitting out-of-band. Since this is public now, I assume it will be addressed in a future firmware update.
And, as careful as I am as an operator, I would never hook my G90 up to an active receiving antenna for this very reason. While I’m sure there’s probably a hardware modification to kill the transmitter section on the G90, it would be brilliant if Xiegu developers include a function via a firmware update to snuff transmit. At the very least, perhaps they could devise a way to disengage the ATU and antenna analyser functions via firmware.
Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions and observations. Here’s the G90’s list, from the first moments I turned it on to the time of writing this review:
Amazing “bang-for-buck”––a lot of radio for the money
Crisp, easy-to-read backlit color display
Detachable control head, cables included
Built-in side panel protection for head and back
AM broadcast listening
Excellent shortwave reception
Capable mediumwave performance
20 watts power output
Mic can control all-important radio functions, including direct frequency entry
Very good audio from internal speaker
No built-in bail
No manual or auto notch filter
Very few options for customizing the display
(Minor) Firmware updates must be made to faceplate and transceiver body separately
MW: some weird functionality below 800-900 kHz (eg, images in opposite direction)
No voice keyer
No CW memory keyer
No internal battery option
Cannot lower power output below 1 watt, cannot disable transmit
Bottom of chassis gets hot during prolonged periods of operation
ARRL and Sherwood testing shows key clicks in transmit
Received audio a bit fatiguing over long listening sessions
Despite the shortcomings above, I have to say: the Xiegu G90 has exceeded my expectations, and then some.
Without a doubt, the G90 is a solid radio and a steal at $450 US. If you’ve always wanted a field-friendly portable transceiver, but didn’t want to shell out a lot of money, you can buy the Xiegu G90 for the same price you might pay for a two year-old iPhone. Impressive.
Although the G90 is a budget radio, it doesn’t play like one. Performance is on par with a radio twice its price and not only does it pack a lot of extras––like an internal ATU, mobile-worthy control microphone and detachable faceplate––those extras actually work just as they should. Nothing about this radio feels “cheap.” In fact, I’d be more inclined to call it a little workhorse of a radio.
To answer a question I asked myself early in this process: will the G90 displace my Elecraft KX2 as my field radio of choice? No, but that’s because I already own the KX2 and find that it fits my operating style better than any other transceiver I’ve owned thus far. Yes, I still prefer the KX2’s operation, performance and versatility over that of the G90–it’s more refined–but the former is more than twice the price when similarly configured.
I think the G90 would also make for a stellar beginner’s radio, as it is a totally self-contained station; simply apply power, and play!
In short, I’m pleased to report that I’ve finally found a very affordable radio that’s a basic solid performer, and I look forward to further offerings from Xiegu.