KX3–The first 24 hours

As previously mentioned, my KX3 shipped from the Elecraft factory on Tuesday afternoon and was delivered to me in Denver, Colorado via USPS Priority Mail Service.  I’ve gotta say for the price, USPS Priority service is the best way to go in most cases.   Of course this blog post is not about shipping services and I’ll move on.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve seen some awesome Youtube videos from hams who have received their new KX3.  I see no reason to re-invent the wheel, just search Youtube for Elecraft KX3 and you’ll find these. 

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My Elecraft KX3 is serial number 57.  Perhaps s/n 59 would have been cool, but I’m happy nonetheless.  I spent a little bit of time with my KX3 the first evening.  I took the time to attach Anderson Powerpoles onto the supplied power cable.  I adjusted the tilt legs on the back.  Which by the way, in recent days I’ve noticed a lot of discussion on the Yahoo KX3 reflector dedicated to the discussion of the tilt legs.  I’ve seen no issues with any binding of the thumb screws.  You just need to gently loosen the thumbscrew, lower the tilt leg into position and then re-tighten the thumbscrew.  Repeat for the other side.  It really is that simple.

I grabbed a short coax jumper and connected the KX3 to my Hustler 6BTV.  I clicked the band switch until the KX3 was in the 40m band and turned the VFO.  While doing so I read through the manual and tried out many of the features of this remarkable radio. 

For the most part, my KX3 will be used for SOTA or Summits On The Air and will replace my Yaesu FT-817.  At this time, I’m not planning to purchase the Elecraft amplifier which would most certainly turn this little radio into a nice shack rig.  I already own a Yaesu FT-950 which I use primarily for SSB and run digital modes from my Yaesu FT-897.  I’m happy with what both of these transceivers do for me in the ham shack.

In all honesty, I was also pleased with my Yaesu FT-817 for field use.  I purchased it new about 4 years ago and it’s been a trusty companion for both SOTA activations as well as general portable use.  So why purchase the Elecraft KX3?

Like many of you, I began hearing about the KX3 around Dayton 2011.  I watched the videos and did some research into Elecraft.  Everything I read, heard and watched pointed to the KX3 being a fantastic radio.  Then in the fall of 2011, I was bitten by the SOTA bug.  Chasing quickly turned into activating and now I’m lucky to have the opportunity to assist one of the coolest SOTA activators I know.  Of course, I’m talking about Steve Galchutt wG0AT.  Steve appointed me as the Central Colorado regional manager.  My role is to promote the Summits On the Air program as well as amateur radio.  To date, I’ve conducted three face to face SOTA presentations to local amateur radio clubs in the greater Denver area.  I’ve conducted one via Skype to a club in Washington state and I have many more lined up.  This opportunity has truly allowed me to broaden my Elmer opportunities beyond my blogging and podcasting efforts.  Thank you Steve.

So as I learned more, I realized the KX3 would become a much better SOTA performer for me than the 817.  Allow me to point out a few of the differences.

Weight – Advantage KX3

My Yaesu FT-817 weighs in at a little over 2.5 pounds.  This includes the internal FNB-85 9.6v battery pack. 

The KX3 with 8 AA batteries weighs in slightly less than 2 pounds.  While I don’t plan to operate the KX3 solely on internal power, I may not install internal batteries.  Note:  I didn’t purchase the optional KXBC3 charger. 

Size – Advantage KX3

The size differences between the 817 and KX3 are minimal.  The 817 measures in at 7 3/4 x 5 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches.  The KX3 is much more compact with measurements of 8 x 3 1/2 x 2 3/4.  Unfortunately, the comparisons I did a few weeks ago with my 2×4 prototype don’t match real KX3 comparisons.  I can still use the Lowepro Apex bag but will not pack the battery pack in side. 

Durability and Ruggedness – Advantage 817

I’ll admit this was one category I thought long and hard about.  The Yaesu FT-817 is a rugged little radio just like it’s big brother the FT-897.   I handle all my gear with care, but accidents do happen and certainly portable operations increase this chance greatly.  

Now please don’t confuse this with poor construction or design.  The KX3 design just has a larger control panel footprint.  This is great and what leads to my next category.  However, a little more surface area to get damaged from an accidental drop or other mishap.  I’ll just be extra careful.

LCD Display and Control Panel– Advantage KX3

I’m 45, will turn 46 in October.  I’ve been using reading glasses for the past 4-5 years.  Each year my prescription is bumped up a little.  I’m to the point where I can’t read anything without either holding it at arms length away from me or making sure I have my reading glasses with me. 

The LCD display on the 817 is a tiny 1.5 x 1.0 (rough measurement) screen.  However, the LCD on the KX3 is 4.75 x 1.25.  I can read the frequency or any of the other items without my reading glasses.

Portability and SOTA Readiness – Advantage KX3

While the Yaesu FT-817 is an all mode transceiver including HF, VHF and UHF operations as compared to the KX3 which today is HF/50MHz only (internal 2m module coming soon).  The lack of 2m or 70cm operations does not impact me and the way I will use the rig.  I carry the Yaesu VX8 for APRS tracking and will use that radio for any V/UHF operations.

Speaker Audio Output – Advantage 817

Elecraft has stated from the beginning that headphones or external speakers would be a must for a noisy environment.  The speaker in the KX3 is tiny and I honestly don’t see how this could have been avoided.  However, I view this as a non-issue.  I use a lightweight pair of over-the-ear ear buds for SOTA activations.  This is important as in windy conditions or even noisy band conditions, a headset or ear buds will help. 

Other Features and Functionality – Advantage KX3

I’ve truly enjoyed operating QRP and have honestly gained much more respect for QRP operations in general since being active in SOTA.  Working DX from on top of Mt. Herman (W0/FR-063) opened my eyes to what a little bit of power and a properly tuned antenna can accomplish. 

While the KX3 does offer extra transmit power from the 817, I will keep it set at 5 watts and only increase to 10 or 12w when needed.  In addition, while I’ve never packed my LDG Z-100 Auto tuner on a SOTA trip, I did order the internal ATU in the KX3.  However, I firmly believe a successful SOTA activation starts with a properly tuned antenna and will continue to stick to that process.

The VFO knob is most certainly a major difference between the KX3 and 817.  You can really crank up or down the bands with much greater precision and speed on the KX3.  In addition, the KX3 allows for direct frequency entry.  This makes easy work of tuning up and down the bands. 

Of course, another feature set that completely blows the 817 out of the water is the ability for the KX3 to decode PSK/RTTY and CW signals.  I’ve played around with this and the PSK decode is spot on.  The only problem is watching the text.  The text is displayed in an 1.5 x .5 inch area of the LCD screen.  It goes by pretty quick.  I’m experimenting (with much success) using the PSKer iOS app.  I plan to blog soon about this testing. 

In closing, and in all fairness to the Yaesu FT-817, the 817 is a great little SOTA rig.  There are many SOTA activators and other portable enthusiasts who will continue to benefit from the performance the 817 can deliver.  Just how much improved performance I’ll gain from the KX3 on a typical SOTA activation has yet to be seen.  I plan to correct this and schedule a SOTA activation in the near future. 

Until next time…

73 de KD0BIK

Jerry Taylor, KD0BIK, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Colorado, USA. He is the host of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast. Contact him at [email protected].

3 Responses to “KX3–The first 24 hours”

  • Jyoti Chakravartty vu3bgi:

    thanks for the review, can you please tell me if I can operate SDR with my laptop like our SDR Transreceivers or receivers. Using popular SDR softwares. thanks.

  • Matt / KØMOS:

    I felt the need to defend the FT-817 a bit. You can read my rebuttal at: http://wp.me/p1XRZT-pA

    Cheers, Matt / KØMOS

  • Chad KJ4VYI:

    awesome radio — one of the local hams here in the pensacola had one out at our local swap meet and greet this past weekend — i think his sn# was 56 or 59 ill have to ask again — what i liked the best was its internal tuner and decoding of cw all in one unit !!! i may have to save my nickles for this !!

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