And the winner is……

As I wrote in a previous post, being used to rigs from over 20 years ago it was quite a culture shock operating both the KX3 and the IC-7200. Knobs all have dual functions and there are menus abound with almost infinite options. RTFM is not an option, it is a must. In the beginning I found that I would often put my KX3 aside and go back to my tried, trusted and familiar TS130V to have my radio fix.

After I got the IC-7200 that changed, because to me the lay-out and functions came a bit more natural. I did have a “duh” moment when I connected a microphone to the set. I didn’t get the stock HM-36 mike but bought a HM-118TN instead, which is supposed to be wired identically. The mike would key the radio but no sound was being transmitted in SSB. Turned out there is a menu option where you can choose what input to use for SSB: the front connector, the USB connector or the rear aux connector. Maybe obvious to most, but it took me the entire evening to find out, resulting in a brand new microphone being completely disassembled and reassembled.

But after that everything was fine and dandy and now after some two months of operating both I can more or less say which of the two sets has my preference. And the winner is…….none at all! Both are fine rigs in their own right, but neither one will become my favourite rig. Here is why (and remember, these are my opinions based on my experience)….

First the KX3, the pros of this rig:

  • an excellent receiver for CW and SSB
  • very sharp filters
  • excellent internal tuner
  • easy CW operation and internal decoder
  • energy efficient
  • config menu system is very clear and arranged alphabetically

and the cons:

  • volume is much too low and distorted when turned up
  • lousy AGC
  • lousy AM reception
  • sub par reception below 1800 kHz
  • no separate audio out
  • no adaptive tuning speed
  • clumsy operation for some functions
  • inadequate cooling of the finals
  • output power only 12 Watts

My biggest gripe with the KX3 is the audio output. I realize that the rig is designed for use with headphones, but I am not keen on using headphones inside the shack. When receiving weak signals I have to turn up the volume high (up to 50) to hear it comfortably (with NR off, because that reduces audio volume even further). If you then encounter a strong signal the AGC doesn’t kick in enough so you get distortion. I tried playing with the AGC settings, but to no avail. I also tried to further isolate the small speaker from the case, but also no improvement. I could use an external speaker, but that defeats the purpose of the KX3 as being a complete package in a small footprint.

Apart from the audio gripe the KX3 is a dream for CW operators. The spot function is so convenient I already miss it when not using the KX3. Even under noisy conditions the 50 Hz filter still produces clear signals. I compared both rigs during the CQ160 contest in January. On the IC-7200 I heard stations, but could not decode them. With the KX3 they came in clear and decodable. If the Elecraft K3 is as good at receiving as the KX3 it might well become my next rig.

Then the IC-7200. The pros here:

  • easy to operate
  • excellent audio for such a small speaker
  • adaptive tuning speed
  • one USB connection for audio and rig control
  • filters are excellent for digital modes
  • excellent reception on medium wave
  • 100 Watts output power

and the cons:

  • no band up/down buttons
  • no PTT button
  • narrow filters settings give a lot of ringing under noisy conditions
  • lousy internal keyer
  • some often used functions are not easy accessible
  • sub par reception below 500 kHz

Operating CW with the IC-7200 is not as pleasurable as the KX3. With little noise the narrow filters work fine and give clear audio. But with the noise level going up, so does the ringing and that makes signals unintelligible. The USB cable connection for both rig control and audio is a great feature, but it has its disadvantages: below 10 MHz the noise from my laptop is noticeable and below 3.5 MHz it obliterates most signals, except the strongest ones. Unplugging helps, but that defeats the purpose of the USB connection, of course.

But you have to live with the cons and enjoy the pros, so I will. Need I make a choice I would keep the IC-7200, because it delivers more bang for the buck and the set just “feels” right to me. The KX3 doesn’t give me that comfy feeling when I operate it, but man, it sure can receive well. I don’t need to make a choice, though. I will keep both rigs because the KX3 will be used in my portable shack-in-a-box and the IC-7200 will remain on my desk for daily operations. It’s almost a bit like with cars: a station wagon for daily commutes and grocery shopping, and a sports car for those short drives in the weekend.

Hans "Fong" van den Boogert, BX2ABT, is a regular contributor to and writes from Taiwan. Contact him at [email protected].

4 Responses to “And the winner is……”

  • Harry K7ZOV:

    I had a IC-7200 for a number of years and really liked the radio. Doing a A/B comparison with a IC-756PROII the 7200 edge the PROII out with a lower RX noise floor and the ability of really cleaning up a signal. One hint on CW. The filers are excellent and I do kind of remember some ringing…the trick is to use the Twin Band Pass Filters. You can narrow the band pass manually down to 50 hz if I remember correctly with no ringing. As with most of my radios I traded it off for something different. Can’t remember what at this time. Too many trades over the past 12+ yrs. I do know it was one of my favorite radios and one I would not think twice about getting again. It was a winner in many ways and I did use the USB port a lot for rig control and digital.

    I also have the KX3 at this time. It, like all Elecraft products, takes time to learn and feel comfortable with. The question I have is this. What are your radio requirements? I am fortunate to have done some really serious “Up” trades and when my mother passed away I was left with a little money my XYL insisted I put toward my hobby. (She really did and is not a ham nor wants to be.. she is a keeper…hihi). So my main rig is a K3/K-line. My digital radio is my ICOM 756PROII, My two QRP radios are the KX3 and Flex 1500. The 1500 more for home QRP and fooling around and the KX3 is my take it everywhere I travel radio.

    I like having a base station and portable capability. In your case the 7200 should be what it was intended for, a base and maybe mobile radio. Yes it can be used in the field but to my way of thinking it draws too much current. The KX3 was designed for QRP camping, hiking, travel, emergencies etc. Yes a lot of people are making it the main radio. But it was not intended for that. So use it for what it was intended to be used for and you will be much happier.

    OK I rambled more then enough. But those are my thoughts. Both are winners as far as I am concerned. And try the twin bandpass filter trick on CW. You might be surprised at the outcome.

    73 to you and yours
    Harry K7ZOV

  • @Harry – thanks for the comments. I already tried the dual PBT trick, but didn’t get a much improved result. What I did notice was that the RF gain helps a lot, so I am making it a habit to tweak it right after I set the filters.

    You are right that the two radios have different functions and should be used as such. As I wrote, I will do so. Still, people use the KX3 as their main rig and with the added 100W amplifier it would be a nice and small alternative for a desktop rig. Not for me, though.

  • Harry K7ZOV:

    Hans, I am surprised that the PBT trick did not work. You must have a whole lot of qrm/qrn in your area. More so then most. The RF gain trick has been used as far back as I can remember, and that is a long time. Been a ham since 1963,

    The issues I have with KX3 as a base station is that it was never designed to be a base station or even a mobile. Not enough power for a speaker for one thing. The 100 watt amp/atu looks wonderful but even without the money exchange here it is way too expensive. For the combination it is about $1200 USD. I can buy 2 to 3 100 watt radios off of any week for that. In my case I went with the Hardrock-50 50 watt amp. Only about 1/2 S-Unit below 100 watts and still small. The ATU is a used LDG Z-100plus I paid $100 for. So for less the $400 I have a amp and atu if and when I need one.

    You are better off with how you have your set-up now then going and making the KX3 the only radio. BTW have you tried the USB option with the 7200. I had a ball with FLDigi and HRD/DM780 when I had mine. Just one wire and free software. Can’t get easier then that.

    Take care my friend. Hope to find you on the air someday. That will be exciting for me. Have a great week-end

    73 Harry K7ZOV

  • @Harry – the PBT trick does work but not as much as I hoped it would. I do have a fair amount of local QRN, especially on 20 meters, so I restrict myself mostly to the higher bands. The path between AZ and Taiwan is excellent, so we can certainly meet on air. I’ll keep your call in the back of my head. 73

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