K3 and Beam: 6 months update

At the end of 2014 two major upgrades took place in my shack. First was a new Elecraft K3 to replace the Yaesu FT-950. The reason I got the K3 was because I wanted a new radio that was easier to use and had better filtering/options. The other major upgrade was that I’ve added a 3 element tri-band yagi to my antenna farm. This is my first ever HF directional antenna.

I decided on the major upgrade because Amateur Radio is basically the only hobby that I’m active in. I’ve felt that I got the most out of my radio and especially my G5RV. There was no more enthusiasm to get on the air anymore. I never went a week without turning on the radio but I noticed I was slipping away from getting on the air. Nothing was exciting me other than a contest here and there and field day.

K3 6 Months In

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I made a joke when I purchased the K3 that Elecraft will release the K4 not far after I purchased my K3. The reason I made this joke is that Kenwood came out with the TS-590S soon after I purchased my FT-950 and I knew the TS-590s was a better radio for the price. Sure enough a couple months after I purchased the K3, they release a new synth board that makes the K3 better and is now standard on the K3. Then in May, elecraft releases the K3S which is even better. Another punch to gut. I wasn’t really happy to be honest.

But…

Compared to the FT-950, I am having a much better time with the K3. There is some things I missed about the FT-950 but with what the K3 has to offer, it made me not look back. The K3 is much easier to use. I can easily adjust power, DSP settings, filtering and even have the radio perform a custom set of functions with just a push of a button. With my two “Custom” buttons I am able to cycle through different TX EQ profiles and easily switch between my headset and my front panel mic.

I also want to believe that the narrower filters I’ve installed made NEQP more enjoyable. I was able to test the difference between the 2.7Khz filter and the 1.8Khz filter with a packed 40m band and there is a difference. During the QSO party I took the 1.8Khz out (through software) and did some comparisons using the 2.7Khz filter at 1.8Khz. To the ear there was some differences, Adjacent signals on the 1.8Khz were not as pronounced as the the 2.7Khz turned down.

So even though there is the new K3S, my K3 was still worth the purchase. I just wish it felt and looked better to use but it doesn’t matter during a major contest when you need a radio that will not only work but it will work well.

3 Element Yagi 6 Months In

Up until I installed the beam, I never really used directional antennas.  The only time I ever used directional antennas were at K1TTT and W1AW. Those stations are pretty much optimized and there is no way I could compare to my home setup. So for the past 5 years I’ve been active on HF, all my contacts from home were using a G5RV or G5RV jr.

I was used to the wire antennas and basically told myself  “that’s it!”. I thought it would be only antenna I will ever use. It has served me well but I knew I could do better. But what are my options considering I live in a semi urban area with a 150ft steep hill directly behind my house? Of course I wanted 70ft+ tower with at least a tri-bander (20/15/10m) stacked on top of a 40m Beam but that wasn’t going to happen. The wife wanted no guy wires and the cost of red tape,  pouring a base, tower and other stuff exceeded what I can really afford. I thought it was out of the question but someone suggested a roof tower and it seemed to be the only logical choice. I have a very tall house which would put the antenna at least 40ft up in the air. Thankfully someone local was moving and wanted to get rid of his roof tower and antenna. I ended up with a 4.5ft tower and a Mosley CL-33 (Classic 33).

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Why didn’t I get a beam sooner?

There was an instant major difference. I was able to play in the ARRL 10m contest that year and did quite well. I never really liked 10m because it was never open to me. Now that I have an antenna for 10m, it proved to be an enjoyable band. On 20m and 15m, this antenna is excellent. Of couse it’s better than my G5RV but having the beam really opened things up. It’s easier to navigate pileups and I have increased the amount of DX contacts I am making drastically. Contesting is much easier and even rag chewing is easier. I mostly rag chew with newer ops and most of them are on wires like I was and being able to do some of the heavy lifting on my end has made contacting newer ops much better.

Overall thoughts

Should you drink the Elecraft Kool-Aid? That depends. As much I joke around, I wouldn’t suggest the K3(S) to a casual operator. I wouldn’t suggest it to the guy who doesn’t contest and just gets on the air every once in awhile to make an occasional DX contact or rag chew. The Kenwood TS-590SG is a really excellent radio packed full of options for considerably less. The money you would save could be put into your antenna which is just as import, if not more important than the radio.

But if you’re into contesting, I would suggest the K3(S).

With the antenna, I’ve always suggested to people to just get (or make) an antenna that could get you on the air. But that has since changed. I would strongly suggest a beam but I know not everyone can have one. Just make due with what you can do.

Thanks for reading!

– Jeff

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