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.