Along with recent antenna improvements I felt I needed to improve my rig. I had the Yaesu FT-950 that provided me thousands of contacts, countless hours of entertainment and awards such as DXCC and WAS. It was an excellent radio but it also had its issues. The most annoying thing for me was the menu driven system that Yaesu loves to use. In order to adjust some of the DSP settings or even the power level, you had to dive into the menu system. To make things worse, Yaesu decided to abbreviate the menu items which makes it almost impossible to adjust without memorization or referring to the manual. However the FT-950 was a good radio, I never had a problem with it and received many reports about how good and clean my audio is. It just worked. The IF output option from RF-Space was a big plus. I could have kept using it but I felt I just need a new radio and sell the FT-950 while it still has value.
What to get?
I wanted a new radio but I wasn’t sure what to get. My budget was a little over $2,000USD. I had to sell most of my station off to obtain the funds needed for a new radio. This left me with a decent amount of choices. I can choose either the Yaesu FTdx-3000, Kenwood TS-590SG (The new version), Flex 6300, ICOM IC-7600 or the Elecraft K3.
FTdx-3000 – Didn’t want to get another Yaesu rig. Looked more menu driven than ever and wanted to stay away from having to constantly dive into menus. Not saying it’s a bad rig, I just want something other than Yaesu.
TS-590SG – Great radio and really great price. Obtaining IF output is very difficult. If they were able to have an IF output, I would have purchased the TS-590SG
Flex 6300 – Very tempting. I love SDR and love being able to scan an entire band in one shot. Point and click tuner with one heck of a receiver and filtering is a plus. However it’s not a proven contest rig, it’s dependent on a computer for operating and I am not a fan of having to pay for software upgrades. Still very tempting.
Icom IC-7600 – Excellent radio but the price is too much for me. I also think for the price they would have a better receiver compared to my other choices. I’ve used the 7700 multiple times and really love the radio. It’s more fitting for 756-Pro users
Elecraft K3 – Even though I am not a fan of the ergonomics and the cheap looking aesthetics, it’s a proven contest and DXpedition radio. People often compare their radios to the K3 which means a lot. It has a very excellent receiver and you can basically make the radio work for what you need it for. It can be a $1700 radio or a $7000 radio depending on what you’re willing to spend.
As you may have already guessed, I’ve decided on getting a K3. It seems to be the best for what I’m willing to spend. Even though I wanted something that was new on the market, The K3 still met my requirements even though it’s already a 7 year old radio. The amount of available options and excellent receiver is what won me over. The K3 also allows me to build up the radio over time. When one of the big 3 discontinues a radio, they often discontinue options/upgrades for that particular radio making it much harder to upgrade the older it gets. By going to Elecraft’s website, you’ll see they’re still offering previous radios as well as their options/upgrades. That means I won’t have to worry about the K4 (if there is a K4) coming out and losing out on possible upgrades for the K3 over time.
You already have a KX3. Why not purchase the KXPA100?
I purchased the KX3 as a portable rig to use for things like Summits on the Air (SOTA), Parks on the air (POTA), camping and other portable operations. Even though the KX3 has an excellent receiver, It couldn’t compete with the possible options the K3 has to offer and I honestly didn’t want a mess of cables on my desk in plain sight.
If someone from elecraft reads this, I would suggest to add a docking port on the KX4.
Have a slide cover on the rear that would expose an MCX connector and a pin header that could be used to plug into a dock or cradle that is attached to the KX4PA100 to make it look like a base rig. That would avoid having a bunch of cables coming out the side of the KX4 when it’s “at home”. Maybe put a better speaker into the docking bay. If this was available then I would have got the docking amp over a K3. Having a Dual purpose radio without the mess would be nice.
Okay, out of fantasy land.
Getting The Radio
Being the cheap Ham I am, I had to come up with the funds to purchase the K3. I sold my FT-950, FT-736R and almost everything that I didn’t need in my shack that I’ve purchased over time. I was able to get enough saved up for just a basic K3 in kit form with no options other than the 100 watt PA. I ordered it Christmas week and figured it would be awhile before it would show. Elecraft did a really good job getting me the radio quick. I’ve learned USPS from CA to MA is much faster than UPS.
A Little Overwhelming
I was very excited when the packaged arrived and I wanted to tear into it. However I knew I should carefully read everything to avoid having a $2000 brick on my table. I opened up each box and was overwhelmed by the amount of bags and envelopes containing just nuts and bolts. I couldn’t imagine if this were to be full-on solder kit.
The first hour was spent making sure every single nut, knob, board and panel was accounted for. Thankfully everything was accounted for and even had extra parts. I didn’t have to jump into the “Spare Parts” bag.
My only suggestion is to keep the parts and fasteners in their respective bags and envelopes. Don’t dump everything into one big sorting case because you will be working in stages and some require special sized screws.
I also had an organizer box with little post-it notes stating what is in each slot. That helped quite a bit
It’s Assembly Time
Now that everything is there and counted for. It’s time to assemble. I decided to stream my assembly which gave people some insight as to how one is assembled. I managed to record 1/3 of the build.
You could watch the video but I admit it’s real boring. I was even bored. There are a ton of assembly videos and there are a ton of website/blog postings about the assembly of the K3 so I won’t bother going into great detail.
The build went quite smoothly and only had two moments of stupidity. The first was that I missed some masking left on from their metal fabricator/powder coater on the front panel and noticed After the front panel was sub assembled. A razor type blade and a pair of needle nose pliers took care of it. My other moment was that I plugged the synth board into the wrong spot. However I caught that before it could cause any trouble.
Overall it took around 5 hours to build. I don’t know how long it normally takes but I wasn’t trying to win any time trial. I wanted a working radio and I didn’t want to hear screws bouncing around the case a month or two down the road.
Is it worth getting the kit version over the assembled version? That depends on how much you value your time. I value my time but knowing I could apply the savings to options, I’d much prefer the kit. Plus I get to get hands on with my radio and see what part does what.
It’s alive… It’s alive… IT’S ALIVE!!!
Once the radio was on and calibrated I wanted to get on the air. Thankfully a couple of people were watching my stream and hopped on the air willing to make contact with me. I scrambled to get on the air but had much trouble because I installed the filter in a different spot. I’ve read the assembly manual over and over but failed to read the operation manual which made getting on the air a little tricky. For some reason the speaker wasn’t working and couldn’t get the filters to default to the spot I put them in. After a couple minutes I was on the air and made my first contact with a local. It’s was really nice to know it actually works. After making a couple contacts, I went back to work and installed the 100W PA.
After messing around with it for a couple hours I started to get buyers remorse. It felt small and it felt cheap. The main VFO didn’t have that smooth action that I am used to. It felt like I was turning a sanding disk. Nothing was impressing me which started to make my stomach turn as if I just wasted all the time, effort any money for something that was less than what I had before. It felt like my dream rig was being crushed right in front of my eyes.
But then I tried making a voice contact with someone in the noise on 80M with a strong signal nearby. I narrowed the filter and shifted the IF and that took a lot of the nearby signal out. Not bad considering all I have is a 2.7Khz stock roofing filter. I then applied noise reduction and that weak station that I could barely catch a couple words is now coming in much clearer. I can now fully understand the DX and managed to make contact. The adjustment took just a couple seconds and that knot in my stomach started to fade away the more I dived into the K3. I am now satisfied and I now feel I’ve made a wise purchase.
Let’s Compare the K3 to the FT-950
After playing around with the K3, I started comparing the mental notes I had about the FT-950 against the K3. The K3 pretty much beat my FT-950 in almost every aspect… almost. The FT-950 looked better and felt better than the K3 but that doesn’t really matter in a contest on an extremely packed band. The FT-950 has an excellent receiver but it shadows in comparison to the K3 with even just the stock 2.7Khz 5-pole filter installed. I guess I traded an aesthetically pleasing radio for one with better performance.
The K3 even does things right out of the box that I wish the FT-950 could do. With the K3 I am able to switch from a desktop microphone to a pair of headsets quite easily because the headsets could be plugged into the back. I could get away without using an soundcard interface since there is audio line in/out ports. I could use the headphones and have the internal speaker working at the same time which is good for field day. I have two custom buttons that I could program macros in that would allow me to do many things.
What makes the K3 really stick out in comparison is that I rarely have to dive into the menu system to make adjusts to the DSP or even the RF power level. When I do have to dive into the K3 menus. It’s much easier to navigate. I flat out hated having to dive into the FT-950’s menu system. It wasn’t in really any order and it was abbreviated or numbered. If I haven’t been in the menu for awhile, I would have a real hard time trying to adjust simple things like DNR/DNF and even my TX bandwidth. It’s much easier in the K3
What’s next with the K3?
I purchased the bare minimum when it comes to the K3 with the exception of the 100W PA. Now that I’ve played with the K3, there are some much needed options that I am starting to save for. Of course I would like a completley decked out K3 with EVERYTHING but that isn’t going to happen. So here is my list of options I would like in order of importance starting with what I feel is the most needed with a short reason why
KXV3A – RX Ant, IF out, Xverter Interface – I love SDR and want a Panadapter
KFL3A – 1.8K – 1.8 kHz, 8-pole filer – For SSB contesting and packed bands
KDVR3 – Digital Voice Recorder – For SSB contesting, Can control with N1MM. No more WAV files
KFL3A-250 – 250 Hz, 8-pole CW Filter – For when I get into CW.
KFL3A-6K – 6 kHz AM / ESSB, 8-pole Filter – I like ESSB at times and would need this
KBPF3 – General Coverage RX Bandpass Module – I listen to more than just hams. I have SDR rig for now
K3EXREF – External Reference Input – I am bit of a time nut. I would love to use either a GPSDO or Rb Atomic Clock.
That is my “wanted” list. Of course I won’t be purchasing it all at once but I would like to have at least the 1.8Khz filter and DVR options before field day. You won’t see the 2nd receiver option unless I win the lottery. I am interested in SO2V and even SO2R operation but I would rather go all out on SO2R. I never felt a need for a sun receiver so I’ll save my pennies for something else.
It was a fun build, dealing with elecraft was great (because i didn’t), assembly went great and I don’t have buyers remorse (anymore). It’s an “American” radio and it’s a damn good one. Hopefully I don’t drown in the kool-aid
Thanks for reading!
– Jeff (NT1K)