Getting To Know You Series: The Elecraft KX3–My thoughts, notes, and one extreme QRPp contact!

I’m very fortunate in that in the past few years I’ve accumulated a number of QRP radios that I use in rotation when I do park and summit activations.

I’m often asked for advice on choosing radios, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, I feel like the decision is a very personal one–everything is based on an operator’s own particular preferences.

Over the years, I’ve written formal reviews about most of the field radios in my collection. In those reviews, I try to take a wide angle view of a radio–to see how it might appeal to a number of types of operators. I highlight the pros and cons, but I don’t focus on my own particular take because, again, my style of operating might not match that of readers. I try to present the full picture as clearly as I can and let the reader decide.

The Getting To Know You series gives me an opportunity to highlight one radio at a time and showcase what I love about it and why it’s a part of my permanent radio collection. After we spend a bit of time talking about the radio, we’ll do a park or summit activation with it!

The Elecraft KX3

I was originally introduced to the Elecraft KX3 at the 2011 Dayton Hamvention–over a decade ago at time of posting!

I was commissioned to write a review of the KX3 for the Monitoring Times Magazine and Elecraft was kind enough to lend me a brand new KX3.

At the time, there was nothing like the KX3 on the market and I felt like I’d just received a radio from the future.

The KX3 offered 160-6 meter general coverage with an optional 2 meter module, ATU, internal AA battery compartment, and roofing filters. The controls were top mounted and current draw in receive was as little as 150 mA. At the time, there was no other radio on the market that could compare with the KX3’s field prowess.

But it wasn’t just its field design that was impressive.

In fact, when Rob Sherwood tested the KX3, it placed at the top of his list which is sorted by Third-Order Dynamic Range Narrow Spaced.

This field radio sported a bullet-proof front end and true contest chops, displacing $10,000+ high-end rigs.

Today, the KX3 (at time of posting) is still number 12 on Rob’s list. An impressive feat!

Herein lies the danger of doing reviews…

I didn’t have the KX3 in my grubby little hands for more than a few hours when I decided I had to buy one. I sold some gear to free up money and I bought the KX3 Elecraft sent me on loan for the full price.

I’ve taken this KX3 on numerous activations and on international travels. It’s a brilliant QRP companion.

These days, it’s in the shack more than in the field because I keep it hooked up to my KXPA100 amplifier. I feel like the KX3/KXPA100 combo is like having a poor man’s K3. As a huge bonus, the KX3 takes up little space on my table and the KXPA100 sits on a shelf–the overall footprint is much smaller than a K3 or K3s. It’s like having a remote head on my desk and works perfectly for my limited space shack.

The KX3 is a stellar, benchmark field radio, so it was great fun to feature it in this video.

Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace (K-6856)

For this Getting To Know You report and video, I decided to activate one of my favorite local parks on September 12, 2023: the Vance Birthplace.

I called the park director to confirm no school groups were using the site and she replied, “You’ve got the place to yourself!”

I set up in their picnic shelter.

For this activation, I decided to pair the KX3 with the Elecraft AX2 antenna.

Why? No really good reason–I’d just never paired them before.

Setup took no time at all!

A QRPp twist

I’m not entirely sure how I get these ideas in my head, but I decided it might be fun to try to make a contact with the AX2 at 100mw (0.1 watt).

Yeah…a fool’s errand for sure, but I had to try.

After starting the video and my Getting To Know You segment, I matched the AX2, set the KX3 to .1W and sent a beacon “CQ POTA de K4SWL” that ran while I was still talking about the KX3.

The toy walkie talkies I used as a kid pushed more power than this, so I was prepared to walk away with no contacts.


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On The Air

As I sat there taking about all of the things I love about my KX3, while it sent out my CQ POTA message in beacon mode–meaning, on repeat with 5 second breaks between calls.

The Reverse Beacon Network picked up my flea powered signal and spotted me to the POTA spots page! That showed some promise.

Still, it’s one thing to be picked up by the RBN and quite another to actually make a real contact with 100mw into the smallest, most compromised antenna I own.

Within a few minutes, though, I almost jumped out of my seat when I received a call back from N8EYF in Florida! WOO HOO!

It was so fun making this contact and it was a solid one at that.

Once I finished talking about the KX3, I then upped the power to one watt, then five watts and completed the activation with ease.

In the end, I logged a total of 12 contacts including my friend AE5X who was traveling in Maine!

I was thinking at the time that after I upped the power to 5 watts, a lot of the people trying to hunt me had likely given up since they’d listened on frequency and couldn’t hear me when I was pushing 100mw. I was pleased to have knocked out the activation so quickly once I put the power up to 5 watts.


Here’s what this five watt activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map:

Activation Video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the entire activation.  As with all of my videos, I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time. In addition, I have monetization turned off on YouTube, although that doesn’t stop them from inserting ads before and after my videos.

Note that Patreon supporters can watch and even download this video 100% ad-free through Vimeo on my Patreon page:

Click here to view on YouTube.

So much fun…

I get such a thrill out of going QRP with these wee antennas. Sure, I’d throw a better signal with a proper wire antenna, but amateur radio is all about experimentation and just trying things. I had to give QRPp and the AX2 a go!

And the KX3?

If you haven’t gathered, it’s one of my all-time favorite field radios. It’s a rare thing indeed when someone regrets a KX3 purchase. It’s not a cheap radio–indeed, one of the priciest field radios on the market when fully-configured–but very few have buyers’ remorse.

The KX3 has been out there long enough that they’re not hard to find on the used market. So far, I’ve seen KX3 field kits for sale at every hamfest I’ve attended this year.

And, hey, I’m already looking forward to my next activation with the KX3!

Thank you

Thank you for joining me on this activation and this Getting To Know You installment!

I hope you enjoyed the field report and my activation video as much as I enjoyed creating them.

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

As I mentioned before, the Patreon platform connected to Vimeo make it possible for me to share videos that are not only 100% ad-free, but also downloadable for offline viewing. The Vimeo account also serves as a third backup for my video files.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me! Have a brilliant week filled with radio goodness!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

16 thoughts on “Getting To Know You Series: The Elecraft KX3–My thoughts, notes, and one extreme QRPp contact!”

  1. Hi Thomas,

    Great report and I agree, no buyer’s remorse here. In fact I added the heat sink module and the roofing filter since I got mine.

    I also tried a 0.1 watt activation using the KX3 on FT8 and was able to get the 10 I needed. It took a while though. 73, Conrad

    1. Yes, with your digi mode activations, that heat sink is a wise addition! And well done pumping 0.1W into the AX1 to validate a POTA activation! What fun!


  2. Hello Thomas,
    I would be interested in knowing if you and others use the default settings on your KX3 or if have a CW and SSB configuration. I just had Elecraft configure my KX3 (new to me) and it tested out great. So I need to start learning how to use it. Feel free to point me to any site location if you like.

    Thanks Andrew

    1. It’s been a very long time, but I did spend time tweaking my SSB settings in the KX3. I got on the air with a good friend and he provided me feedback as I adjusted the TX settings. It really does vary by voice, so one person’s settings will not necessarily be the best for you.

      My advice? The KX3 manual is well-written. Take time to read it cover to cover with the KX3 in front of you. It will help you explore the very deep settings and granular controls. The ones you reach for most often will soon become routine.


  3. Thomas,

    I too would love to know your settings, except with the KX2. I’ve tweak & sqweeek’d it, to what I think works well. But I’ve oftened wondered what else may I have missed. With your experience, both trial & error, it may give us insights as how to optimize our settings.

    And I’m sure I’m not the only one. Some insights on how each setting may improve performance , in certain conditions, would be helpful. Come on: “Show us how the sausage is made!”

    I have to add, that White & Black Volvo looks great! Really! Does it require a dinner jacket? (Fancy!)

    de W7UDT (dit dit)

    1. You know, you might have to ping me again in a week or so about this (this week is crazy for me). I’ll admit that I change my settings all the time (NB, NR, Filters, etc.) in CW. In SSB (admittedly, it’s been a while), I last tweaked the settings to work best with my Heil Pro K2 headset. Those settings have still worked quite well with the internal KX2 mic, though.

      Oh, and I *always* keep not one, but two dinner jackets tucked away in the trunk of the Volvo. You never know when you might want to stop for a 5 star dinner after a POTA activation! 😉


  4. Good to work you, Thomas. I regret not having recorded a bit of your transmission so you could see how well your set-up sounded in Maine – I would never have guessed you were QRP *and* using a small antenna. Thanks for the contact & 73!

    1. It was so great hearing your call pop up out of the ether and to hear “ME”–! I was imagining you on a rocky coastline with waves crashing nearby and you put down your lobster roll just long enough to make the exchange and send me 73! 🙂

  5. Great write up as always, Thomas. You are a great inspiration for Qrpers. I too have been playing with different antennas in different configurations the last two weeks. Only using 5 watts with KX-3. Usually running 10 watts here in the Midwest. I have got to try the 1 watt activation. Can’t wait to see what you try next.

    1. Thank you, Dennis!
      I like shaking up my activations and experimenting. Varying power output is just one way I do that. 🙂 When you’re out there and not too pressed for time, go ahead and move that power output!

  6. Great review! I really enjoyed reading about the low power capabilities of amateur radio in general, and this radio in particularly, especially as a newly licensed operator. I need to start studying for my General!

    1. Great job on working toward your General! No doubt, you’ll soon be on the HF bands!

  7. I had an old cb walkie talkie 100 mw and changed the crystal to a ten meter one. I was talking to a guy in San Francisco and had him tune to it. He heard it from Arkansas when I stuck it out the back door.

  8. Hey Thomas. Sometimes life takes you down strange paths. I was looking to add a KX2 to my shack but ended up trading for a K3/10. What a lovely radio. It is one of my field radios and a pleasure to use. I am slowly turning it into a K3S/10. I will have a few more bits from Elecraft coming this week. I have considered upping the power to 100 watts but, I am not sure. Maybe I’ll get a KPA100 instead. I have a good set of crystal filters for both SSB and CW (even though I mostly do CW). Thank you for One of my favorite places.

    1. I’m honored, Scott! Thank you.
      Oh yes, the K3/K3S is an amazing radio. There’s a reason that platform is still a choice radio for DXpeditioners across the globe. It’s high-performance, portable, and designed for field use.

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