Chinese radio makers versus the big leagues, my perspective

I have been a ham radio operator for most of my life, was a shortwave listener from my teens and still am, and of course was able to play in the CB craze that took place in the late 70’s and into the 80’s. High school was where I got my start at amateur radio and electronics. I am not an electronics technician, nor will I ever admit I am even close, but I am a guy who has had a blast and an addiction to ham radio, mostly QRP, CW and portable ops. Combine that with my addiction of outdoors, winter survival, canoeing, hunting and camping and those are some $eriou$ hobbie$. Oh and I cannot forget photography, heaven forbid..

In the radio hobby I like to play, test , trade , and swap gear all the time to use, if it is new I want it. Portable and low power gear and small antennas is where I like to be, but where am I going with this? I have owned, Heathkit, Swan, Kenwood, Icom, SGC, Yaesu, Hy-Gain, Tokyo, Index Labs, OHR, Alinco and more gear in the past as well as Elecraft whom I think I can throw in with the big boys as they have come the furthest out of the small guys.

Recently in the last few years I have been playing, testing, reviewing, been a beta tester, manual writer for a few of those in the Chinese market, (oh and lets not forget the European market as well, we are seeing rigs from Greece, Russia and all over). Among those is my friend Yimin who lives just outside of Toronto and is the owner of Youkits Canada. Yimin has tried his hardest to put out quality gear at a price that won’t break the bank. Some in kit form and others assembled, and still backs it up with support and returns, unlike some of the other builders out there.

On the market today we see Xiegu, Bofung, CRK Kits, BG2FX with his FX line of gear and others. I have had the Xiegu X1M, neat little rig but had many quirks. I have the X108G which has come light years ahead since it’s first days of life and still continues to get better, Xiegu also offers support, firmware upgrades and a return policy, they have gotten to be a fair size company.

What makes some of this Chinese gear look so good? Is it the fact that the price tags seem lower then the big guns on the market ? Does it stand up to quality control testing that the big guns do? Is it clean on transmit evading those spurious transmissions? These maybe some of the questions that get asked. For me it is just that I like new toys and like to play. Have I been burnt or disappointed? You can bet your bottom dollar I have, and many of my reviews and past blogs would tell you that. But I still like to play with this gear and see how it works. Dollar wise is another topic that is a hard one to stomach as most producers be it in China or other Countries sell in US$, so for me as a Canadian whose dollar is less, the exchange kills, and makes these radios no cheaper in the long run, tag on the fact that shipping from Canada is also very costly if I need to ship back to China, so how do you win?

Of all the radios that I was most disappointed wit it was the KN-920 that was built by I believe BA6BF and was sold via Aliexpress and a few other warehouse dealers. The KN-920 one weekend blew it’s finals burnt some of the PC board off. It was still under warranty but to ship back would have cost huge dollars. The builder send me 3 sets of finals to try replace with same result each and every time, the seller at Aliexpress was only concerned with the money he was going to lose if I was to get or return the item, at this point the consumer, customer or other meant $hit. I see on ebay they have a KN-850 now, I hope they learned something from it, but highly doubt it. Top that with no manuals, no instructions etc. Many of these builders do not speak English as is the case of BG2FX who builds the FX series of radios.

So why do we still buy or have a thirst for new gear? It is because we all want to play and not break the bank. Or in my case , that is it. I own a KX3 and just bought a KX2 for canoe trips, camping and more because it is self contained, small and does all bands and modes including digital , and also serves as a shortwave radio when out in the wilds.

So is all Chinese gear made the same ? I think not, some builders are using recycled products, out of tolerance products, solder that creates whiskers (both in part to lack of heat and the elements that make solder real , like tin and lead) and put together in their homes or offices and then put out into the market. Other builders like YouKits and Xiegu have put some thought into their builds and ideas and have actually looked at it from the consumer side, oh yea, there will be horror stories, but in my ham career I can tell you some about the big 4 as well in the past, mention IC-706 and see how many feathers have been ruffled and how long to get that beast right.

I need to add as a caveat that of all the portable Chinese radios that I have tried and do own, the HB1 series by Youkits is my favorite as a cw qrp rig. I own the MKII and MKIII and take those up North with me on a regular basis as they are also self contained with battery, light weight and cover the bands I use.

Just a quick intro to my YouTube Channel and look at a few of the rigs in action using the same antenna.

Have a great summer one and all, and don’t forget to practice your emergency plan, have a 72 emergency kit ready and stay safe on the road, lakes, fields or where ever you may be.

Again this is just my perspective.

Cheers

Fred Lesnick

VE3FAL

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Canada

Fred Lesnick, VE3FAL, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Thunder Bay Ontario, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

10 Responses to “Chinese radio makers versus the big leagues, my perspective”

  • Phil ZL2OWL:

    TU for that Fred – very interesting.

  • Bob. VE3ORK:

    Great article and a nice comparison video, Fred.

  • Ron VK3AFW:

    Hi,

    Xiegu are now too expensive here but the X1M was a good buy when it first hit the market. My first one had an issue but the dealer replaced it cheerfully. It’s done a good number of SOTA activations. I also have an X108 – paid too much much but wanted a small 20 W HF portable rig and wanted a toy that was different. The extra power certainly helps now conditions are not at their peak but very hard to read the screen in the field and prone to overload by strong signals.

    The Elecraft are a fine product line but could be a tad more robust.

    Thanks for the Newsletter.

    73
    Ron

  • Bob KK5R:

    Very good thoughts. A lot of us can identify with you in the range of experience.

    Many of us started with HW-7 and -8 radios and those type radios are truly nostalgic. There are others, of course, depending on how far back a ham goes to his/her beginning in the hobby

    I’ve gone the Pixie route but always listened (no QSOs) with them which meant getting a kind of RF soup which included many signals, not all from hams. Then I got the X1M.

    The S1M had many good attributes but mine had a problem with the AM setup so within a week, after assorted tweakings and since it was still unopened, I traded up to the X108M outdoor version since it has many more good attributes. Because it was under warranty (being so new), my further investment was relatively close to what a new X108M would have cost if I’d gone that route at the start

    I am very satisfied with the X108G but the X1M still has its place as a usable QRP radio which covers all bands and then some. The 108 has filters for the WARC bands, though, and this alone was a big draw for me. Being able to run 20W instead of a stretched-out 5W does make a difference when signals are marginal but, however, I set mine at 15W to make sure it does not go into RF Amp Shutdown if the SWR is not all it should be. The transmitted audio is a bit bassy but no one has said that it’s hard to understand what I say. As for receive audio, I use an amplified computer speaker with only one channel but make sure that the “ring channel” is not shorted out as it would be if a mono plug is used in the audio out jack.

    Again, nice article. These kinds of articles are what I really like but, as the old saying goes, everyone’s taste is in his own mouth. {;->

  • Ladislav OK1UNL:

    THNX Fred for your info. And what about Youkits company??? Any positive experience??
    73! GL
    Lada OK1UNL

  • Steve G1KQH:

    The Chinese will always be welcome into our hobby, they bring something fresh and new, with a price that sometimes can surprise!

    Of course this is healthy for Amateur radio it keeps the others on their toes and always looking behing their backs.

    They may not quite get it right first time, but the Chinese are very quick learners and no fools.

    Keep you eyes peeled, you never know what they will produce next that may take the market by storm!

    73 Steve

  • Roger G3XBM:

    The Chinese (I think) will enter the amateur radio market as major players quite soon and give the big Japanese manufacturers a real shock. Not all Japanese companies will still be around in 5 years unless they change. If you look at most things you see “Made in China”. Why? Because their prices are very low. The days of high prices from Japan are limited.

  • Ron Isaacson:

    I must be getting too old! I remember when “made in Japan” meant the cheapest junk you could get! Boy, how times have changed! No matter how you look at it, “let the buyer beware” still rules. Use your brain, and don’t expect IC-7600 performance for $200.00!!!

  • Andrew ZL3DW:

    I have “built” three Elecraft kits, the KX3, 500W linear amp and 500W tuner, but they are assembly jobs rather than component level kits. I am working on a mcHF SDR kit, but it is pretty scary, 900 plus smd components. I’m not very confident that I will ever make it go!

    I would love to build an HF transceiver kit. The options are DZ Sienna,K3S, K2, or the Mini Kits M1. But by the time you get a basic kit with 100W PA, you are well past the cost of a Kenwood TS590SG with IF DSP or an Icom IC-7300.
    Sadly the kits are not cost effective.

  • David VK2DMH:

    Thank you, Fred. You just saved me blowing some money on a KN-850 transceiver. I was kinda tempted, but could not find any reviews until I read your take on the rig.

    I have bought some Youkits stuff and agree that Yimin is one of the few Chinese sellers who sells good quality gear, and who will actually help if anything goes wrong.

    Keep up the good work, OM.

    73

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