Upgrading My FT-817

The FT-817 is a great little radio. It has been around for 15 years and was the first QRP radio, that I'm aware of, that was designed for backpacking and covered 160m through 70cm. It is housed in a rugged package that is efficient, and is relatively easy to pack. The radio sells for ~ $660 and is a great value for the money. It has been the undisputed leader of it's class until the entry of the Elecraft KX3 came to market. The KX3 is a fine radio that clearly has more bells and whistles than the FT-817 although it is doesn't cover 2m and 70cm in its base model.

I have both radios but favor the FT-817 for SOTA expeditions when I choose to carry an all band radio. (I usually carry CW only radio that is much lighter, but carry the FT-817 on some trips). Clearly the out of the box filtering is better on the KX3, but so is the price. You can buy two 817's for the price of a KX3. However that said, I set out to modify my 817 to see if I could close the gap between the two. So I added the W4RT On Board Filter ($284) with both SSB and CW (300Hz) filters. I also added the BHI DSP filter ($169). These prices include installation by W4RT, if you do it yourself you can save a few bucks. These modifications, in my opinion help to close the gaps between the two radios considerably.

Below are some very basic, unscientific, comparisons of the two radios on SSB and CW.

CW Comparison

SSB Comparison

As you heard in the videos the differences boil down to a matter of taste. I think the 817, with the 300Hz filter comes very close if not better than the KX3 on CW, on SSB the KX3 has the advantage but the DSP does clean up the noise and the SSB filter does sharpen the 817 audio considerably. I favor 817 for outdoor work and the KX3 for the in-shack QRP radio.

In future blogs I will discuss a couple cool additions to the 817.

Mike Crownover, AD5A, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Texas, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

4 Responses to “Upgrading My FT-817”



  • Mel Leader kb0qfp/ag:

    I’m 83 and new to the digital ham world. In the market for a transciever, the KX3 is a possibility. Ease of operation is important because of some physical handicaps. The KX3 has a clear reading front panel for my limited eye sight. Are the firmware menus clear to create an efficient rig, contesting is of no interest to me. I live in Colorado Springs and have no contact with local hams to locate someone with a KX3. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Mel Leader KB0QFP/AG

  • Scott W0SGM:

    The KX3 overheats easily and cuts back power on digital modes, ( I’ve had mine cut back running cw and ssb too )= poor heat dissipation IMO.
    frequency not stable enough for JT modes without performing temp compensation procedure.
    I think the rx’er is noisy.. almost always about an s5 noise level on my KX3
    ( have seen the same on all the K3’s I’ve seen )
    Regardless of what lab measurements say,I don’t think the rx is anywhere near that of my TS-590
    Pluses for the KX3

    1) Big display
    2) most things are right on the front panel unlike buried in menus on the 817
    3) excellent battery usage life compared to 817
    4) not so much this one; but 8-12w output depending on band
    5) Elecraft service is second to none

    I had an FT-817ND that I sold to get the KX3 that honestly I wish I would have kept. Seriously thinking of getting another and selling the KX3
    Scott W0SGM

  • Fred VE7FMN:

    I have a solution for the overheating. fsmeier(at)telus(dot)net.
    A very sophisticated replacement heatsink that takes 20 minutes to install and does not permanently deface the original factory radio.

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