QRP Alternatives: After The Funeral, What Comes Next?

Let the dead rest.

Now several weeks out from being the #1 ham radio news story, the Yaesu FT-818/817 product sunset has faded from attention. Anyone not already on the Yaesu platform will have to seek QRP alternatives. Most hams were surprised, some were disappointed, and some were strangely…glad? One well known blogger and YouTuber went on at length cheering its demise. This person, who legitimately has a high level of skill and knowledge, somehow got the idea that trash-talking the dead was a classy way to advance amateur radio. His approach was peculiar and very off-putting. QRP alternatives

My takeaway is that funerals bring out the best and the worst in people, even when it involves the “death” of an inanimate object.

Moving on. QRP alternatives

With a legendary radio now off the market, at least as a new unit, what other options are out there? What QRP alternatives can we dig up? As it goes, there are many choices. Whether or not they can fill the 818/817’s shoes is a matter of opinion.

It’s worth pointing out that the prices vary considerably. To make fair comparisons, keep this in mind when making your own choices.

Xiegu. QRP alternatives

Xiegu offers several QRP transceivers ranging from the $319.00 G106 to $639.00 X6100. These radios are not high end, but they are well respected and generally get good reviews. They offer a lot of features for the money. For example, the X6100 has a ten watt output and a 3.6 inch (9.1 cm) “waterfall” display.

Red flags: They claim to be a “worldwide” company but their website only lists an address and phone number in what I assume is China (the exact country is not given).  No service centers or regional facilities are listed anywhere else. I sent them an email asking about out of warranty service. As of the posting of this article (six days later) they have not responded.

I also contacted Ham Radio Outlet (likely the biggest and most well known ham radio retailer in the USA) via email and asked if they handle Xiegu service themselves or if a user would have to deal with Xiegu directly. HRO responded within minutes and stated that they handle warranty claims for Xiegu radios purchased from them. QRP alternatives

So although Xiegu is perfectly decent radio, getting it serviced may be a problem, especially if it is out of warranty or you bought it used. Luckily, peer-to-peer internet support is available from the many Xiegu user groups and social media pages. Because these radios are so popular, there is a large base of experience to tap for help.

Elecraft KX2 & KX3

The Elecraft KX3, and its little brother KX2, are among the finest QRP radios available and have a commensurate price tag. It’s an absolutely stellar radio by any measure. Unlike Xiegu, US-based Elecraft has a very well laid out website. Getting support is as simple as filling out an online form. They also go the extra mile by offering downloadable schematics, technical bulletins, software updates, and more. They really do cover all the bases and do not make you wander all over the internet to find help. QRP alternatives

Red Flags: The Elecraft KX-series, as outstanding as it may be, does have a few points of concern. First off, a microphone is a $79.00 USD option. That’s right. After dropping big bucks on a top-tier radio, they will squeeze you for another $79.00 if you actually want to talk to anyone. I realize many hams run data or CW exclusively, but come on, Elecraft! Really? It’s an unbecoming money grab.

Speaking of things you don’t get, the Elecraft KX-series also does not include an internal battery. They were thoughtful enough to design the KX3 to take eight common AA cells, so that makes things simple. The KX2 uses a proprietary internal battery. The web description is unclear if it is included, so I sent Elecraft an email asking for a clarification. They responded in less than a day, stating that the KX2 does not include a battery. The battery cost $59.95 USD.

Lastly, accessories such as an antenna tuner ($259.00 USD) and pan adapter ($759.00 USD), while not required, are costly. Adding them to a KX3 will drive the price well past $2000.00 and will more than double the price of a KX2.

None of these issues are necessarily deal breakers, but it’s disappointing that an expensive, high end radio does not include something as basic as a microphone and a battery. It’s like spending $100,000 for a luxury car and being told the  windshield wipers will cost extra.

Icom IC-705. QRP alternatives

The IC-705 made a huge splash when it was first released in 2020. Since then, it’s been one of the most talked-about radios on the market. The buzz is justified. It includes pretty much every feature on a ham’s wish list, including advanced functions such as wireless connectivity, GPS, and DSTAR. The $1349.00 price tag means, like Elecraft, this radio is only for serious QRP-ers. And unlike Elecraft, for that price they leave nothing out. You do get a microphone and a battery.

Icom provides a detailed 200 page manual. In addition, there are many on line social media pages and user groups.

Red flags: There isn’t much about the IC-705 to pick apart. Some reviewers state that the microphone is cheaply made and they don’t like the Y-connection on the mic cord. Also of note: the 705 has a somewhat outdated micro-USB port and not a more modern USB-C. The battery is proprietary, but it’s the same battery used for Icom handheld radios. If you are already on the Icom platform, you have battery compatibility between your gear.

Photo courtesy of Icom America.

Everything else.

This is hardly a comprehensive list. There are many, many other choices. For those who truly take a minimalist approach, there are CW-only radio kits available for as little as $15.00 USD. You’re going to be limited to one band (or even one frequency), but these kits offer a lot of fun-per-dollar. I also found off brand radios in the $150.00-$200.00 range. You will need some courage to buy one because little is known about them and the reviews are not encouraging.

The Discovery TX-500 is an under-the-radar player in the QRP market and gained a lot of respect for its sturdy tank-like construction and solid performance. The manufacturer is based is Russia, although it’s unclear if the radios are actually made there. With everything going on regarding Russia, I was surprised to find new TX-500’s readily available for sale here in the USA.

QRP alternatives

Photo courtesy of lab599.com

And of course, there are many old radios on the used market. Most of these vintage rigs will not run data, at least not easily, but their durability and value is well established. I always admired the Heathkit HW-8. If I ever come across a clean one at a good price, I’ll bite. I don’t “need” another radio, the HW-8 is just cool.

Thinking more practically, my next QRP radio is going to be the IC-705. The value, features, and performance for the money is off the scale. I’m even thinking of selling my FT-817ND and all its accessories to subsidize the 705.

If you could have any QRP radio except the FT-818/817, what would you choose? Leave a reply in the comment section below.

26 thoughts on “QRP Alternatives: After The Funeral, What Comes Next?

  1. Ryan

    Great writings, love the break down on each! I don’t QRP but follow those who do. I’m a 100 watt and wire guy. Thanks! Looking forward to another post.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      I do a lot of QRP articles because it lends itself so well to off grid operations. But everyone is welcome here, and we’ll be visiting sone higher power topics soon.

      Thanks for your support! Please spread the word on the air, social media, etc.

  2. randall krippner

    I’d go with the iCom as well I think if I had to replace my 818. That thing looks fantastic.

    I have to admit I am very curious about that Preppcom CW transceiver with the built in CW decoder/encoder. The 3 band version with 80, 40 and 20 meters is going for about $500 with single band versions going for about $400. So far I’ve managed to talk myself out of it. (No, Randy, you do not need another transceiver! You already have six of the things sitting in the shack already!)

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      It looks like Icom will be taking the QRP crown. Elecraft is certainly in the league, but the Icom offers more for about the same money.

  3. BV

    Is there another portable HF-UHF radio out there for under $700? No. There is now a hole in amateur radio. Let’s hope Yaesu comes through.

    1. randall krippner

      The Yaesu FT -891 is HF/VHF/UHF, isn’t it? It’s not a QRP rig, true and would require an external battery. And I think it sells for around $650.

      But I know what you mean. There isn’t much out there if you want an all band, all mode, inexpensive transceiver.

    2. Chris Warren Post author

      Unless Yaesu has some super-secret radio in development, I would count them out of the QRP scene. I’ve been a “Yaesu guy” my entire ham career and it’s disappointing that they just gave up in an area that’s important to me. The only mid- price range rigs out there are Xiegu. It’s a decent enough radio, but definitely a downgrade from the 818/817.

      1. randall krippner

        Agreed. I don’t think Yaesu will bother with a dedicated QRP rig any more. QRP may be popular but company like Yaesu has to sell a hell of a lot of radios to justify development of a new product.

        OH, update on the Bluetti. Someone seems to have lit a fire under their customer service department! Not only did I get a response from customer service about the issues I saw (and gave me a discount on future purchases) this morning I got an email from one of their engineers asking about specific information about the problems so they can try to track down what happened. And judging from the questions he asked he’s an actual engineer, too, not just someone in the PR department. My solar panels should be here tomorrow as well.

  4. Richard Crispi

    Good article Chris. Right now when I want to run QRP I use either my 817ND or my 40/30 meter Elecraft K1 that I built several years ago. I’m a CW only op and these two rigs more than fill my needs. If for some reason these two rigs left my arms and became unobtainium, I probably would look for an IC-703 or IC-703+ if priced right. Nothing against the rigs you mentioned but my operating needs do not require all the bells and whistles those fine radios have.

  5. Damian de G4LHT

    I have had all these, LAB599 broke down three times replaced twice, got a refund, KX2/3 superb, 817/8 again Swiss army Knife;
    705 too bulky imo for the field and travel; missing is the 703+ still one if the best QRP radios ever made, finally all the Xeigu bar the 106 i’ve had, honorable mention G90 needs a speaker mic but, for noisy beaches; Want to see the KX2 with a mag loop bust a VK pile up;
    https://youtu.be/5PVtvC-88gk as V31HT last but not least the SGC 2020 Vogad radio I worked some serious DX on this radio and a EFHW, SSB, CW qrp well that’s a different ball game.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Damian, greetings from the USA. I may find room in my budget for a Xiegu, mainly because it seems like a lot of radio for the money.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Bob

    One of your comments how The U s b was out of date considering the k x three and the Eight one seven and eight one eight did not have anything of the sort it’s not out of date and as far as the batteries Go The battery packs in the yazzu’s were all proprietary for that radio so I mean the only thing i Would say that was out of date was the ft817,818 radios Considering neither one of those radios can do what the ic 705 can do out of the box.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Bob, it’s true the 817/818 batteries are proprietary, but at least it came with a battery. The 705 battery works with other Icom equipment, so that’s a plus.

      As for the data ports, that’s a minor issue. I just think if a rig is going to have a data port at all it should at least be current.

      Thanks for your input, I hope you’ll visit again soon.

  7. Gary Faust NG9T

    I would build several QRPLABS QCX Mini transceivers. They are mono band, CW only, with 5 watts output, but have some really surprising features in a radio the size of a deck of cards. With a price tag less than $100, building several to have multiband coverage is not a hardship. It’s not a kit for beginners, so you might want to buy one already put together for a bit more cost. I’m amazed at it’s receiver, the way it filters out noise, the performance of it’s cw decoder, and much more. Check it out in QST.

  8. Dennis Webster W7WJ

    I would not call the Xiegu X6100 a quality radio. I just returned one due to the extremely poor rejection of the front end. If you live in a major city with local AM stations it is pretty worthless as BCI wipes out all but the strongest signals. The feature set is great except for the non-functional Bluetooth. But unless you’re in a remote area, you may be very disappointed. I have a Xiegu G90 and although a tank, a much more usable radio. If I buy another QRP radio, I’ll have to reach deep into the pocket and get an Icom 705. I’ve had a Elecraft KX3 and it has the best receiver of any portable radio, but it lacks the features of the 705.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      I would classify Xiegu as the “Little Caesar’s Pizza” of radios: It’s not bad…for what you are paying. Your experience illustrates why there are always tradeoffs.

      I could afford to buy a Xiegu today but I’m going to wait until I have the cash for a 705.

  9. fmteter

    Good article. Thank you for writing and sharing.

    I recently went the IC-705 route. A few additional things to consider: 1) no internal tuner, so you’ll need an external tuner if working with non-resonant antennas; 2) the included battery powers the radio at 5 watts, getting to the radio’s 10 watt max requires an external power source; 3) I personally would not recommend taking the radio out into the field without some type of protective cage, as some of the knows really protrude from the face of the unit.

    All that being said, it really really is a great little shack-in-the-box QRP radio.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      I forgot about the lack of internal tuner, but almost all internal tuners kind of suck anyway.

      And yes, definitely get a cage or case or something to protect from bangs and dings!

  10. KD9QPO

    Icom 705 and the iPad app are really a game changer. Wireless ft8 amongst other things could not be simpler.

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