Friday 17 November 2023



There's an absolute mountain of them out there and it's difficult for beginners to know which one would be best for them - there's so much to consider and a lot of it comes down to budget, portability, band coverage, feature set, preferred mode of operation and even aesthetics.

QRP is (loosely) determined as using up to 5W power output in CW mode and 10W in SSB. Anything above that isn't usually considered QRP, although people who regularly use 100W or more think of 20W as QRP (incorrectly in my opinion).

Some QRP radios are limited (or designed) to work in one particular mode such as Digital, while others will operate in every single mode available! The radios which are dedicated to a single mode, such as the QRP LABS QDX, will usually perform much better than those radios which try to do everything  (unless you pay a lot of money).

I've owned quite a few QRP radios and swapped and changed regularly over the last few years of being licensed. I've gone to a lot of effort in finding mint condition used radios at a low, low price so that I can sell them on without losing money (and sometimes even making money).  I would strongly advise others to follow a similar line instead of just forking out for new radios which will always lose a chunk of their value as soon as you open the box!  Having said that, if you absolutely know that the radio you're buying is going to be a keeper, then by all means search out a deal on a new one so that you benefit from dealer-support and warranty.

So let's look at some of the radios available. These are the ones that I have personally invested in and have used myself. There'll be lots of other radios that I've never had the opportunity to try and other people may advise you to look elsewhere for your QRP equipment. Just bear in mind that many people give advice without ever having owned something they're recommending - I don't do that.

The list...

  • (tr)uSDX
  • Elad FDM DUO
  • Elecraft KX2
  • Elecraft KX3
  • Flex 1500
  • FX-4CR
  • Hermes Lite2
  • Icom IC-705
  • Preppcomm MMX
  • Xiegu G90
  • Xiegu X6100
  • Yaesu FT-818
Somewhere on my blog there's a review of each radio, so I'm not going to go into great detail on this page - you can simply click on the blue-links to read the individual reviews after you've read this post. On here I'm going to give a very short summary and suggest why you might want to add it to your short-list.

To read a full review, click on the link above each photo!

I'll say straight away that I love this little value-for-money gem. I've actually got 3 of them 😮 and use them regularly. I have one at home, one at my holiday home and one in the glovebox of my truck. They are super compact and have a built-in speaker, built-in microphone, built-in keyer and even a CW decoder!! They have a tiny (but clear) OLED screen which on later models includes a bit of colour. The radio also has a great user-interface, making it easy to operate even for newcomers. It covers 5-bands and pushes out around 5W depending on band and power source (you can attach a regular psu/battery or power it up using a micro-usb lead and get around 500mW output (handy for extreme qrp experiments)). 

If you want to save more money, you have the option to purchase this radio as a self-assembly kit. Please be aware that there are some fake clones out there, so be sure to purchase only from an approved supplier. I will never forget the first day I received this radio - I unpacked it, connected my end-fed-half-wave and broke into a pileup, receiving a genuine 59 on the first attempt! Highly recommended for people wanting to "dip their toes" into the qrp waters.

Considered by many to be the KING OF QRP! This Italian beauty has an excellent receiver which takes some beating, especially when used with the magnificent SW2 software - it truly is amazing!! On its own, the FDM DUO is a stand-alone HF/6M SDR transceiver capable of putting out up to 9W and needless to say, this is an all band, all mode radio. It is small enough to take out portable and substantial enough to be used in the shack as your main transceiver (especially if you opt to buy the matching 120W amplifier). When connected to a PC/Laptop (indoors or out), the radio is capable of providing you with 9 independent receivers with staggeringly good filters and noise blockers!! Yes, this is a hefty amount of money for a QRP rig, but it is that good. Highly recommended if you are quite technically minded and can afford it.

This is an extremely popular 10W QRP transceiver and for good reasons. It is very similar in terms of performance to its big brother (the KX3) and yet it's much smaller and cheaper. Nevertheless, £1,000 is a serious amount of money and if you add the desirable options, that price will jump up closer to £1,600. This is a full blown SDR radio covering 80-10M, all-modes with superb performance and a built-in battery. These are much sought after radios and usually retain a lot of their original value. You could (if you want) connect it to an Elecraft amplifier to make it usable at home in the shack as your main radio. The Elecraft doesn't have any dedicated software like the Elad, so maybe not the radio for those looking to take full advantage of an SDR. Still, an excellent radio for POTA/SOTA.

The top of the line portable Elecraft. A superb performer with almost everything that an outdoor operator could wish for. 160-6M SDR, 15W output, all mode, with one of the best receivers on the market and 
a built-in battery. A superbly intuitive user interface and lots of optional extras available (taking the price close to £3000). 

The KX3 never felt rugged enough to me for regular outdoor work. Chucking it into a rucksack just never felt right - I was always guarding it. Back home though, you can connect it to one of Elecraft's excellent amplifiers if you have the license for it, but you do end up with quite a bunch of leads trailing all over the place. These radios have been easy to find on the secondhand market and prices fluctuate wildly. I bought one for £700 and sold it for £800. Then I bought another for £700 and sold it for £1700. Crazy! Like the KX2, there's no dedicated software available 😓. A lovely, lovely radio though.

The little Flex 1500 is not stand-alone, so you will always need to connect a computer in order to use it. If that's not a problem, then this is probably the most Value-For-Money SDR out there. You can pick them up for a couple of hundred quid and use them with the amazing POWER-SDR software by K9ENS. The radio will push out a clean 5W and covers 160-6M bands, all modes. The software is easy to use and incredibly comprehensive at the same time. To avoid any operational lag, you'll need a decent laptop, so you'll have to factor that cost in too. Obviously not as convenient as a stand-alone, but a great performer. Highly recommended!

I have to say upfront - I'm a bit of a fanboy when it comes to this radio - I absolutely love it and even though I own some amazing radios, this is the one I probably use the most. It's not the best at any one thing in particular, but it somehow flicks all the right switches for me.

It's a high performance 10-Band SDR which fits in the palm of your hand. Its output can be adjusted from the mW range up to 20W and has a superb receiver, a full colour screen, a spectrum scope, a waterfall, built-in speaker (a good one) and even a built-in microphone. And all for £450 - not only that, it's also superbly built!! There's a real pride of ownership with this little gem and the designer (Yu Hongbo) is one of the most approachable and helpful guys out there. Now I understand that many people are very wary of buying  radios directly from China, but rest assured that you are safe as long as you purchase directly from his website.
I have used this little transceiver both outdoors and indoors and have been amazed at how well it performs. Regular firmware updates continue to make this radio better. If you want to invest in a mid-priced QRP SDR radio, then this is well worth considering. Highly recommended!

I had heard lots of great things about this little DUC/DDC SDR radio and really wanted it to work out, but in the end it was too much of a technical challenge for me (I have very limited networking knowledge) and so I ended up selling it quickly (thankfully with no financial loss), but later, I bought another one (the PLUS version) and it's now lodged firmly in my shack. The 5W transceiver covers 130kHz to 30MHz and has performance on par with radios costing at least twice the price.

The Lite 2 is not a stand-alone radio and is useless without a computer attached. Most buyers would be looking to leave it at home anyway and would access it remotely from anywhere in the world which is a really attractive proposition, but to achieve that, you need to be quite techy (and have a license which permits remote operation). Although I'm computer literate, I have zero networking skills, so I struggled to do anything other than operate it directly.  Only consider the Lite 2 for remote work if you are very technically minded and a bit of an experimenter. 

If you want an extremely good SDR transceiver to operate from your shack (possibly with an amplifier) for an extremely low amount of money, this could be the one. Read the review and make your own mind up.

If you want the most advanced QRP Shack-In-A-Box Transceiver in the world, then there's currently nowhere else to go other than an Icom shop. This technological marvel does it all! A Full-Colour Touchscreen, a Waterfall, a Bandscope, GPS, Bluetooth, HF, VHF, UHF, DSTAR, RTTY & PSK Decoder, AirBand, Broadcast Coverage (inc LW/MW), a Wireless LAN, MicroSD, QSO Recorder a built-in Li-ion battery and a Charger. Up to 10W output. Phew!!

This amazing transceiver has it all and can easily be used as your only radio (just buy an amplifier for use in the shack if you feel the need for more power).  There's virtually nothing to touch this radio at this price level and I'm just amazed that 4 years after it hit the shops, Yaesu still haven't responded to it by building something similar. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for those looking to operate on HF/VHF/UHF with a single radio. 

This one's a bit different in that it is a CW ONLY transceiver.  But it's much more than that! It's actually a QRP CW ENCODER/DECODER which means that you don't even need to know Morse Code 😮 How cool's that??

We all know that the most reliable (or effective) way to make DX contacts with QRP radios is in CW mode. Those dits and dahs just seem to penetrate all the noise and reach far flung places with relative ease. The MMX (a three band 5W radio) reliably decodes morse code and allows you to reply by simply typing a response on the supplied keyboard. It takes some time getting used to the vagaries of the MMX tuning, but once you've put some effort in, you will soon be able to rack up some previously unattainable contacts for your logbook. Read the full review before committing.

This is a DIGITAL ONLY 5-Band, 5 Watt Transceiver and it comes as a kit which may or may not challenge you depending on how comfortable you are with following instructions and soldering. Personally, I really enjoyed the challenge - so much in fact that I bought a second one! For an extra £45 you can have it pre-assembled. The performance of these transceivers is exceptionally good and I just can't recommend them highly enough.

There's another fabulous transceiver from QRP-LABS called the QMX and this one adds CW to the mix (and it's rumoured that it may be upgradable in the future to include SSB). 

The G90 has an awful lot going for it, not least of all the fact that it is a 0.5-30MHz all mode SDR transceiver capable of outputting 20W! It has a small colour screen with panadapter and a great Icom-style DTMF microphone. It's not the most sensitive receiver in the world, but outdoors with a decent take-off, you'll be hard pushed to fault it. The only thing that I never liked was it's peculiar  size and shape. It kinda feels awkward. It offers superb value for money and works well with the Xiegu amplifier. Recommended!

This was a disappointing experience for me. I really wanted to like this radio but I ended up moving it on very quickly. It had quite a few bugs and some features just didn't work at all. Worst of all though were the number of birdies that were present right across the bands - some were ridiculous (IMHO). 
I'm aware that the X6100 has proven to be popular among many outdoor operators and on paper the radio looks amazing, but IRL it turned out to be disappointing. I'd recommend the G90 over it any time - especially because it's a lot cheaper and works perfectly.

On sale for over 20 years, this little gem from Yaesu has been the go-to radio for outdoor QRP operators. Or it was until they ceased production earlier this year. As good as it was, no one could deny that it was getting a bit long in the tooth and was in need of a massive update.

Competition from Icom's (IC-705) knocked it into a cocked hat, and while the 705 costs over twice as much as an 818, it gave operators everything they could ever wish for (apart from an internal atu). I'm sat here with my fingers crossed that Yaesu will soon launch a modern replacement that will blow away anything currently available. But there's no sign of it at the time of writing.

Nevertheless, the FT-818ND is still a fabulous All-Band, All-Mode Shack-In-A-Box with a built-in battery and is an amazing secondhand investment. Just be aware though that the 817's can be up to 20yrs old and many owners expect silly amounts of money for them. If you can afford an 818, buy one. Read the article for more info.

And that's the end of the list. Thanks for reading my ramblings and I hope you've found something useful amongst it all. If you have any comments, leave them below and if you have any questions please feel free to email me

73, Tom, M7MCQ


PE4BAS, Bas said...

Hello Tom, great list. I still have an old FT817ND. Doing the job for me on QRP. But I like to read your detailed reviews for shure. Keep on going. 73, Bas

MadDogMcQ said...

Hi Bas. I hope you are well. Thanks for your kind words 👍

73, Tom.