Call me a retro-crank, an old-schooler, but part of the joy of listening to shortwave is that the signals sound like they have come from far away. There is nothing like hearing the music, the news, the commentary “filtered through the shortwaves” . . . as Edward R. Murrow once put it.
At the same time, I am a content DXer (thanks David Goren for that phrase; it fits perfectly what I do). Merely hearing some scratchy, barely audible signal won’t scratch the itch; I want to hear what is being broadcast clearly enough to make sense of it.
And when something particularly catches my ear, there are times when I would like to minimize the noise.
That’s where the Xiegu GNR1 Digital Audio Noise Filter comes in. According to the Radioddity website (they loaned me the unit for testing) — https://www.radioddity.com – “The Xiegu GNR1 digital audio noise filter is an audio processing device integrating digital noise reduction and digital filtering. It can be widely used in the external audio processing sector of all types of wireless receiving equipment such as radio transceiver, receiver, radio, to effectively reduce the background noise, improve the signal-to-noise ratio, and improve the signal identifiable degree.”
What I found is a mixed bag. I had some difficulty getting the unit to work at first when I plugged my headphones into the headphones jack on the front panel. Once I plugged the phones into the SP #2 jack on the rear panel, I found the GNR1 will, indeed, reduce the noise on a relatively “fat” shortwave broadcast signal, rolling off the static with no digital artifacts and making the signal more pleasant for long-term listening. And you can use the high cut filter and low cut filter to tailor the sound to suit your ears, and they work quite well for that purpose.
On weaker signals, however, the GNR1 did not provide as much help in reducing noise or sometimes could not hear the signal at all.
For example, at my location east of Troy, NY, I can hear the Canadian time station CHU on 3330 nearly all the time. Today I could hear the time “pips” but down in the noise. I plugged in the BHI Compact In-Line Noise Eliminating Module (which I reviewed elsewhere), and I could hear the time station better, along the with the trickling water sound that is an artifact of the BHI noise reduction algorithm. But with the GNR1, it was as if the CHU time station had disappeared, no matter what adjustments I made to the device.
Bottom line, I can provisionally recommend the GNR1for reducing noise with no artifacts and tailoring audio on strong shortwave broadcast signals, but not for weak signals.
Late last year, Xiegu started shipping their latest portable rig: the Xiegu X6100.
The X6100 is an all-in-one QRP SDR field transceiver. It sports an internal antenna tuner, internal Li-Ion rechargeable battery pack, and even an internal mic for hams who don’t want to carry the supplied mic to the field. For field operators, it’s in the very desirable “shack in a box” category. Just hook up an antenna and you’re on the air.
The X6100 got a lot of attention in the ham radio market because in many ways it resembles the Icom IC-705.
The X6100 sports top-mounted controls, a beautiful high resolution color display, and front-facing speaker. At $630 US, it’s less than half the cost of a new IC-705.
As with pretty much all modern SDR transceivers, the X6100 has variable filters and a general coverage receiver. The X6100’s receiver has gapless coverage from 0.5 MHz to 30MHz and 50MHz to 54MHz, thus covering the mediumwave and shortwave broadcast bands.
Radioddity sent me a loaner X6100 that I took delivery of on December 23, 2021.
Literally, the first thing I did was tune it to the 31 meter broadcast band.
While I’ve spent the bulk of my time with the X6100 in the field testing it as a QRP transceiver, in the shack I’ve done a fair amount of SWLing both in AM mode and (pirate radio stations) in SSB mode.
I’ve received a number of inquiries from SWLing Post readers about the X6100 asking how it stacks up to the IC-705 from an SWL’s perspective, so I thought I’d share my impressions so far to help guide any potential purchase decisions. I’ll provide much more detail in my upcoming review in The Spectrum Monitor magazine (likely in March or April 2022).
In short: I would not buy the Xiegu X6100 specifically for shortwave broadcast listening.
While the frequency coverage is ideal, the variable filters are useful, and the color spectrum display and waterfall (in terms of the interface) are benchmark, the radio has a few cons from an SWL perspective:
I have noticed imaging on the spectrum display as I tune through the broadcast bands (shortwave and mediumwave). I seriously doubt this is something that can be addressed in firmware.
The X6100 does not have a robust front-end. A number of my readers on QRPer.com who live near strong broadcast stations have noted that it’s almost unusable from home.
The audio is typical of Xiegu radios, meaning it’s unrefined and a bit harsh. I find it a bit fatiguing over extended listening sessions both using the internal speaker and headphones.
In fairness, the X6100 wasn’t designed with the SWL in mind.
With the negatives out of the way, the X6100 is very much a usable radio for casual broadcast listening. You might even be able to push it into a little DX action as well. If you plan to purchase the X6100 for ham radio activities anyway, consider broadcast listening as a bit of “icing on the cake.”
X6100 vs. IC-705 from an SWL’s perspective
I’ve been asked specifically about how the X6100 compares with the IC-705 in terms of shortwave and mediumwave listening.
There’s really no competition: the IC-705 is better than the X6100 by orders of magnitude in this regard.
The IC-705 is a high-performance radio with receiver qualities that would please most serious DXers. (Check out some of 13DKA’s reports!). That level of RX performance and filtering comes with a $1,300 US price tag.
The X6100 was designed to be price-competitive and to have ample performance and a tool set to please the low-power ham radio field operator. I feel like it’s a success in this regard. When I’m in the field performing a park or summit activation, I’m typically far removed from urban RFI and blowtorch broadcasters. The field operations I’ve performed so far with the X6100 (mostly in CW/Morse Code) have been quite successful and enjoyable.
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!