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Show all reviews of the Xiegu X1M - 5 Watt QRP Radio
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of the Xiegu X1M - 5 Watt QRP Radio.
May 24, 2013 07:45
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Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I saw this radio at the 2013 Dayton Hamvention and spent the next night wondering whether I could afford or whether I should dare to buy one. At 5W CW it was right in the park for QRP and with SSB it would at least be fun that way too. But it was obviously a rough, first-time build. Decisions, decisions. In the end I plunked down the cash & walked off with a Chinese transceiver in a USPS Priority mailing box. My friends were somewhat amused at the obvious 3rd World machine work on the case.
Up front & country simple, the X1M has all the outside trappings of a Joe's Garage built radio. The speaker holes on top of the extruded aluminum case were obviously done with a template and a drill press. The knobs for volume & tuning controls aren't much either. And the front panel controls remind me definitely of a Chinese DDS VFO board I had bought off eBay for my own attempts at a QRP transceiver. But that's just external appearances.
Inside the box are three cleanly run boards & a couple jumper boards, each full of SMT chips & other parts. The bottom board contains the PA, transmit filters & two TO220 mono voltage regulators (7809 & 7805). The transmitter output transistor is on this board. It's held to the bottom of the case with a screw & nut. Those unfortunate enough to undo that screw soon discover the joys of retrieving the nut from underneath tin box shields soldered to the bottom board.
The top board contains the receiver and transmitter and bandpass filters, including the VCO IC, an AD9851, which is another topic. The front board with the display, mechanical rotary encoder for the VFO control & other function push buttons mates into the edge of the top & bottom boards.
The whole thing fits inside a two-part, black, extruded aluminum box (1.5"x4"x6.12" HWD) with black end panels fastened with Allen head cap screws. Frequency/function display, AF gain, VFO, function buttons & mic input are on the front panel. The RF out (BNC), key, headphone/speaker & power jacks (coaxial, center positive), as well as a 9 pin serial connector are on the back. A mating power plug & a stereo mini plug for the key/keyer & microphone are provided. There is no computer control cable yet available for the radio, although the vendor said one is in the offing.
The front panel controls & buttons access various menus & set mode, RIT, memory/VFO call, tuning step & other functions. You can download the English translation of the original Chinese language manual with addenda from the Import Communications website.
The radio runs well with any DC supply between 12 and 14.5V. The audio is not that strong out of the speaker but headphone copy is adequate. The higher frequencies (above 10 MHz) demand the use of the internal switched preamp. The internal keyer has a default setting of 20 WPM. The sidetone is adjustable by opening the top of the radio. You'll want to do that unless you're open for hearing loss punishment, since the sidetone is obviously not a sinewave, although it's frequency is ostensibly tunable in the menu system.
On the air the reports vary. A few folks on the yahoo X1M users' group have noticed spurious signals on lower frequencies. I found that problem related to the VFO circuitry, and to the temperature sensitivity of the AD9351.
I had to superglue a chunk of tin strap to the top of the AD9351. I discovered early on that within a few minutes of turning on the radio, the receiver would suddenly pick up everything on the air. SW broadcasts, ham band signals, everything. Then I discovered that this also happened on transmit: a clean CW signal would suddenly become rough & ragged, and my keying would show up every few kHz up and down the band. Listening to the VFO on a SW receiver led me to the culprit chip. When I blew air over the chip, the VFO became stable for a second or two. When I laid the blade of a screwdriver on top of the IC, it stayed that way. Thus the addition of the heat sink tin (which also makes sliding contact with the top half of the radio case). Whether this is normal for the IC is not a real question. The real question is why the design would run that part of the circuit so hard that it heats up at all.
Although the menu system allows users to tune the BFO frequency for USB, LSB & CW, the low-rent rotary encoder will jump entire ranges as one tunes through or to a certain setting. The menu exit option gives you the chance to not save such mistakes but that means you have to start all over again. And yes, there is a complete reset to default/factory settings on exit.
The CW paddle jack is wired backwards. Dot is on sleeve; dash is on tip, completely the opposite of other rigs like the IC718, FT817 & any of the Elecraft or Norcal radios. And although there's an "auto" detect for the keyer/keying, the wiring of the jack leaves me scratching my head in wonder or exasperation. And since the same uP used for radio controls is shared by the keyer, there is some interaction at medium speeds between internal timing & the keyer. Dashes are sent a bit short & dots are almost missed every couple seconds of sending.
The audio quality of the receiver is pretty good. The AF amp is a DIP LM386 soldered into place on the top board. Transmit audio is not overly strong but an external (or in-the-mic) preamp/compressor circuit might fix that.
Over all, this is a not bad first-try radio. If and when the manufacturer makes a programming cable available & comes up with firmware mods to correct the keying jack mix-up, cure the heat sensitivity (or possible overheating) of the VFO circuitry, and the encoder's eratic behavior, the X1M might be some competition to other QRP radios dedicated to HF. Until then I'd say it's not bad but not that good and sometimes a little frustrating to use, adjust, set up & play with.
Yes, you get 5W out on CW, good transmit AF on sideband & all the usual simple bells & whistles. And 100 memories. But there's need for some work & those who buy into these early editions should know that they will become unpaid beta testers for a radio with very little contact available to the manufacturer, if at all.
So three stars right now. If the manufacturer comes up with the necessary fixes, mods & firmware revisions, I'll make a revision to this review or post another one.
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