Friday, May 04, 2012

My Impressions of the New Elecraft KX3

I had the fortunate opportunity to use a new Elecraft KX3 (Ser# 23) while on a mini-DXpedition to Montserrat/VP2M April 8-16th.  This included both Villa base station and beach /p operations.

Disclaimer:  I am a K1, K2, and K3 owner/user.  I am a huge supporter of Elecraft products and frequent drinker of the Elecraft kool-aid!  I also have used the Yaesu FT-817, FT-857, and FT-897 portable radios. 

Here’s my non-technical impressions of this rig:

1) The KX3 is much lighter and smaller than I expected.  Yes, I saw/touched the Elecraft booth rigs at Dayton last year, but to have it in your hand and using it is much different.  Maybe it was just the excitement of actually being able to use it!
2) It is an SDR (software define radio) but you would not know it.  It functioned nearly like my more traditional K2 radio. 
3) What a pleasure to have a BIG display that was easy to read in bright, daytime sunlight conditions.  Especially compared to the Yaesu rigs!
4) The panel layout was functional and relatively intuitive.  But you DO need to read the operating manual.  Lots of functionality layered, so-to-speak, in the multi-function knobs or push-buttons.
5) Not all the knobs or push-buttons operate the same as in the K3.  If you are a K3 user, you will have to read the operating manual to understand the different key functionality.  However, the learning curve is short and soon you are navigating the panel efficiently.  But do read the operating manual!
6) If you are familiar with the K3, the “Menu”, “Config” , and “Display” keys are intuitive and logical.  But do read the operating manual!
7) Performance was excellent!  I had some raging pileups as VP2MUN/p where the filtered passband of about 600 hz had “dozens” of CW callers, all seemingly 20+ db over 9 on the S-meter.  No detectable artifacts, no AGC pumping, no overloading!  I get the same performance on my K3 with the tight roofing filters!
8) I was initially “suspect” of the new, connected CW paddles.  However, once the paddles were adjusted, I quickly learned to really “like” the paddles.  They have a good feel.  I do still like my outboard Palm Mini-paddles, however.
9) The onboard ATU was fast.  I didn’t test it, however, on challenging mismatches like an EFHW antenna.
10) The built in speaker is adequate.  I use earbuds (since I am mostly a CW operator) and the audio volume is more than adequate.  Small outboard speakers could provide that “shack presence” if you wanted.
11) I did operate the rig on SSB with my Yamaha CM500 mic and headphones. I did adjust the compression and equalized the transmit audio for my voice per the recommended guidelines using the ALC menu per the manual.  I got “great” audio reports and many folks gave unsolicited “great punch” reports and were surprised I was “only” running 10 watts.  Plenty of audio drive for the Yamaha headphones.
12) Battery current drain was low but then I’m also used to my K2. 
13) Elecraft support was exceptional.  Wayne of Elecraft had emailed me prior to the trip indicating his immediate support if we had any “issues” while operating the rig. 
14) I used a 4S2P outboard A123 battery to power the KX3.  I did not use the internal battery pack on my /p operations but Paul/KB9AVO (Ser#24) did use the internal pack for some PSK31 contacts where it worked fine according to him.  I monitored my battery voltage via the KX3 Display setting and never saw it dip, i.e. after two hours of 50% duty cycle operating I was still on the linear discharge curve for the battery.
15) On one /p operation to a local beach, the ambient air temperatures in the shade were in the low 90’s.  Humidity was typical “tropical”.  I operated on both 20m and 17m CW.  I never saw the PA temperature rise above 54 C.  And in minutes, it would drop into the high 40’s C.  The backside of the case was “warm” to the touch so the PA heatsink was doing its job.

It was fun to operate the KX3 as a portable and base station rig.  I could easily see, given the performance characteristics, that this rig could become your “one rig does all”.  Now that shipping has begun, I hope you too will soon get to enjoy this finely crafted transceiver.


John AE5X said...

Thanks for the detailed write-up, Guy. Now for the $64k question: are you going to get one of your own?

John AE5X

N7UN said...

YES!!! I was abt 10 mins in after the order gate opened. So should have one of the early kits wken they are released soon. Can't wait...just like a 4 yr old and Christmas!

John AE5X said...

I guess you'll be all over Bearfort Mountain and elsewhere soon enough!

I know you're primarily an outdoor op - but do you see yourself using the other aspects of the rig - mobile use, SDR?

N7UN said...

I do very much enjoy /p operations as means to combine hiking, beautiful locations, and ham radio. But I also enjoy my morning 40m CW ragchews and /m CW is a real hoot! It's very enjoyable to be at a (warm) beach and take advantage of the "salt water amplifier" for an added dimension! But I do love the pileups...a real test of operating skills, esp. as a /p operator! SOTA activities are just another dimension...mountain topping but with an HF rig!

The KX3 is revolutionary...such a high performance rig in a lightweight and small package! It will change our behavior as we learn to use the rig in new ways, e.g. easy to pack it in your travel luggage!