Before the Elecraft KX3 was released I was using a Yaesu FT-817. I still have this radio and occasionally use it as an Echolink node. It has served me quite well but there were a few shortcomings both in the field and at home. In the field five watts and the lack of an internal ATU were my biggest frustrations. Having said that though, it’s a really portable package and gives good battery life. The two antenna connectors are very handy too. But the power connector is flimsy – I had to resolder mine – and is of an unusual size. Sure they can be got hold of easily but why not just use a more common size.
Then there’s the “blown finals” issue. The repair is easily done and the parts are affordable but why was the radio put on the market with such a glaring design fault.
Filters are an after market thing which is another frustration.
The Icom IC-703 was worthy of a look. It was big and heavy but the real show stopper was current drain on receive. It’ll suck batteries dry pretty quickly. I stopped looking at it when I discovered that.
At that stage there was no KX3 so the FT-817 was a no brainer and I got one. As I said, it’s served me very well. It’s done a number of outback, remote area bicycle trips being bounced around in a pannier and exposed to good old red dirt for weeks on end without issues. All that was needed was an antenna of some sort, an external ATU and a battery pack and it was good to go. The ATU is a home brew Z-Match using polyvaricons and a small toroid as well as some switched capacitors. It can handle the five watts from the FT-817 but I wouldn’t trust it with much more – maybe 10W at a stretch. For batteries I use a LiFePo4 pack and charger that I built up myself. Carrying batteries and charger around is something that will have to be done no matter which radio I have though.
And along came the Elecraft KX3
When the KX3 first came to my attention (before it was available) I did a lot of reading about it. It could be configured with an internal ATU and it seemed to be a Software Defined Radio with knobs which meant that with the optional filter I could have easily variable and tailorable filters. There was a 100W amplifier mooted as well as a panadapter. The more reading that I did the closer it seemed to be to what I wanted for both a portable and a home station. The only things missing was 2 metres and 23 cm both of which the FT-817 has. Given that I only rarely use those two bands that could be easily lived without. As a bonus, though, it had even lower battery drain than the FT-817 on receive.
Sure, the form factor was a bit bigger than the FT-817 and the layout was different but nothing that was a show stopper so I ordered one as a factory kit requiring assembly.
The assembly manual was spot on and I had no trouble putting it together. Following the Elecraft procedures the filter optimisation was a bit time consuming but it really is a breeze.
After a couple of nights with a glass or two of red it was ready to be fired up in anger. First impression was that the receiver was so much better than the FT-817. The roofing filter made separating signals easy. The audio equalisation (receive and transmit) made tailoring the the received audio easy.
It has a facility for up to eight macros that can be assigned. I’ve written a bit about that here.
Digital modes are a breeze – just select the right mode on the radio, plug it into the computer soundcard, load up the digital software of your choice and have at it. I use the DXLab Suite which can be used for radio control, logging, digital modes, etc.
Getting all that working perfectly was just so much easier than the FT-817. Elecraft have come up with a top notch product which suits my needs perfectly. I can use the radio as a home base radio, with the PX3 and the KXPA100, or as a portable radio when I’m out and about either in the camper or on my bicycle. With a decent antenna on the car it’ll also make a damn fine mobile radio.
A final word about the noise blanker and noise reduction. I drive a Land Rover Td5 Discovery 2. The Td5 engine has electronic unit injectors which make an incredible amount of electrical noise. With the FT-817 it was untameable. My original D2 almost had it’s own body weight of ferrite beads in it but anything less than a S9+10db signal just got lost in the din. With the KX3, careful setting of the NB and NR and a S5 signal was copyable.
The final word
Since I’ve had the KX3 I’ve got the PX3 panadapter and the KXP100 amplifier with built in ATU. It all works perfectly together and has provided me with many hours of pleasure. The inbuilt ATU manages to match just about any old bit of wire thrown in a tree. Not the most efficient but you can make contacts, which after all is the object of the exercise.