Update: Some Elecraft KH1 Initial Notes

I’ve had the Elecraft KH1 in my hands now for a little over 24 hours. I had hoped to squeeze in a POTA activation yesterday, but the stars did not align. I had way too many dad responsibilities on Halloween.

I hope to correct that today with a POTA activation, if I can squeeze it into a hectic afternoon. It’ll be a cold, blustery one for sure!

Yesterday, I did fit in a couple of opportunistic contacts with the KH1 along with some morning on-the-air time in the home office while working on projects.

Since I’ve gotten so many questions about the KH1 since Monday, I thought I’d share a few random answers and notes here.

Does the KH1 work on a desktop?

Quite a few of you have written in to ask how well the KH1 works on a desktop. Some have mentioned that they like the size of the KH1, but don’t see themselves doing the pedestrian portable thing.

The answer is, the KH1 works really well as a small desktop transceiver.

In fact, yesterday morning, if I made contact with you, it was with the KH1 on my desktop while I was plugging away on spreadsheets in the office.

Elecraft designers cleverly positioned the AF Gain and Encoder knobs so that they’re accessible when the radio is lying flat on its back.

As you can see in the photo above, the key plug is positioned between the two knobs, but there’s enough separation there that you don’t feel your key cable is in the way while making adjustments. Of course, the rest of the controls are on the top, so they’re very accessible.

To be clear, I prefer using my KX2 or KX3 on a desktop (they were designed for this), but I feel the KH1 works quite well.

In fact, for the average 30-60 minute park activation where I’m connected to a wire antenna? I see myself using the KH1 on a tabletop.  I’ll operate pedestrian portable when doing SOTA and fitting in those little opportunistic and impromptu radio sessions.


The ergonomics of the KH1 are excellent. It was designed to fit in the palm of your hand, and it does this perfectly.

I’ve also gotten a lot of questions about the KHPD1 keyer paddle…what the action is like, how well they work, etc.

Keep in mind that these paddles were intended to work in pedestrian portable environments where the entire radio could be moving around a bit while transmitting.

In fact, Wayne (N6KR) noted that the paddles were designed to key accurately in high vibration environments. I see his point: using precision paddles with contact points that are spaced closely, you’d probably transmit unintentionally while in the hand.

The keyer paddle action is “softer” than other paddles I’ve used including the KXPD2 paddles. That said, when adjusted to your liking, you’ll find that they get the job done effectively.

When I first put the KH1 on the air, I had no issues keying accurately right out of the gate even though the paddle action was softer than I expected. I even made a contact while I was walking down my driveway (being careful that the 13′ counterpoise was trailing behind me and I wouldn’t trip on it).

Mark my word: I’ve no doubt in my mind that there will be numerous third party, 3D-printed paddles in the KH1’s future. Key/paddle preferences are such a personal thing.

The front panel controls and menus are like nothing else Elecraft has produced yet.

While waiting on your KH1, read through the online manual thoroughly. When you receive it, walk through the basic functions with the manual next to the radio before hitting the field.

Having previous experience with Elecraft radios won’t help you a lot here: this is a completely different user interface.

That said, it’s pretty darn intuitive and all of the important field adjustments (AF Gain, Tuning, Keyer Speed, ATU, Message Memories) are top-level. It won’t take long to learn the ropes.

Of course, I’ll demo some of these things in my activation videos.

My KH1 lacks a few advertised features that will be pushed out in a firmware update (Elecraft is working on them now).

At time of posting (November 1, 2023) three features are still missing:

  1. CW Message Memories
  2. Internal Logging
  3. CW Decode

I’m especially looking forward to the first two items: CW message memories and internal logging!

Another random note: I really love the KH1 display. It’s simple, easy to read in the field at any angle, and high-contrast enough I don’t need my reading glasses.

The display is very Mountain Topper-esque which I consider a major positive. You’ll want to read up on the the display items–it’s quite information-dense (again, a big pro in my book).

The real KH1 game-changer?

It’s kind of wild having a radio that packs away so small it’ll fit in your pocket and is at-the-ready to hop on the air anytime, anywhere.

As I pack it this morning in my EDC bag, I keep feeling like I might be leaving something behind, but pretty much everything is already attached to the KH1: the antenna, the key, the battery (inside), and the counterpoise (wound around the body). It just slips in its padded pack, then in my EDC bag.

So simple.

Wish me luck fitting in an activation this afternoon!

It’s an extremely busy day for me and it’s possible my plan could be derailed if anything in my schedule runs late. Normally, I wouldn’t try to fit in an activation today, but I do want to show you how this KH1 plays in the field. Plus, I want it to do its first POTA activation!

I’ve never filmed an activation while pedestrian portable, so this will be a new experience. With any luck (and with the help of a local friend’s bandwidth) I hope to have a short video posted sometime tomorrow. Fingers crossed!


Thomas (K4SWL)

36 thoughts on “Update: Some Elecraft KH1 Initial Notes”

  1. More great information Thomas, thank you!

    This is setting me on fire…8 weeks isn’t going to pass fast enough.

    I did want to ask, how are the antenna clips attached to the case?

    1. I know this is an “Elecraft” radio, but considering that it’s a 3 band radio, do you feel like it’s overpriced? I wouldn’t pay over $500 for a radio that only has 20,17, and 15m as it’s 3 bands.
      Maybe I’m off base, but am I the only one that has this opinion?
      I know that the base price isn’t way out there, but by the time you add the options that everyone would want, then it’s more than a Yaesu 710 or ICOM 705…..
      73 all from Gary NG9T

        1. Looks like an excellent radio. Transmit is only CW capable so that would not be as useful to me. Although it would be motivation for learning CW.
          Kenwood thd72 and thd74 radios here. So time a drop in charger and spare batteries, antennas etc a radio ends up more than the base price anyway.
          The joy of the hobby is there is so much that can be done within the hobby. Yes a phone and apps can be used for ham radio. But the thrill of a new transceiver and learning it’s possibilities is exciting for sure.
          As a 57 year old lady I do enjoy the hobby. If it were in my budget I would definitely buy the kit but also see what printer designs offer for a keyer.
          If I hadn’t already set a budget for the kenwood thd75 I would have probably set aside finance for the KH1.
          I do plan to post info of the KH1 in my telegram group so that people are inspired to purchase it.
          Health and prosperity to you and your family.

      1. Andrew is correct, 5 bands. The 15/17/20 you see on the radio are the bands that can be used with the attachable whip and internal loading coils/tuner. Sliding the selector to “OFF” flicks it over to the BNC so you can do 30/40 (as well as 15-20) off the BNC. The internal loading and tuner can’t handle 30/40 with just the whip.

  2. Looking forward to your videos on the KH1! I am curious how the radio performs on 40m with the AXE1 antenna. Perhaps a future video scenario!
    Dale N3HXZ

    1. Hi I ordered a KH1 at Pacificon and can’t sleep waiting fer it! I did also order the 40 m loading coil and the bipod. I was told it will tune FB w this setup. With all the addons I am well over a K$ ! Amazing how that happens. Thinking that only CW might be a pain.. It would be nice to be able to use a pinhole in the case as a mic… also a matching 25 watt amp to fit in my other pocket, and a solar panel roof over said head..then a 4 el Yagi
      Today took the KX3 to a city park here in Santa Rosa, Ca and ran at 1 watt just fer fun

      Was told at the show 2-3 weeks.. Was that a very optimistic guess??

      Anyway vy excited waiting ..
      73 de K6TR Paul

  3. looks amazing, need one, want one, cant afford one! very jealous. but glad I’ll be experiencing it by proxy with your wonderful words and videography soon. Thank you Thomas your enthusiasm it makes me smile and pushes me to try new tings within this amazing hobby of ours. Huw. M7EJN.

    1. Actually, they do include an errata sheet that mentions CW message memories will come in a future update.

  4. From Gary NG9T…..UH OH, I see that I jumped the gun on my earlier comment. 5 bands instead of my stated 3 bands.
    And base price of $549 instead of the $1049 that is a package price.

    I APOLOGIZE for sticking my foot in mouth, it happens way too often, especially since I turned 60, sigh…..

    Still, I would like to hear any opinions on prices. Is it worth the money to buy all the bells and whistles??

    Thanks and again, sorry for my misinformation.

    73 all from Gary NG9T

    1. Gary I’d get the package and be done with it. I didn’t get the case and log tray. The ATU, keyer, and internal charger are necessities IMO.

    2. You don’t have to be 60 years old to put your foot in your mouth, or to halfway read something on the internet and get the details wrong. I do that all the time! If this radio looks as good to you as it did to me, my advice on the KH1 is to just pull the trigger and have fun with it. The sooner you order the less you’ll have to wait till it arrives! See you out there Gary! 73!

      Scott K4VOR

    3. To me, the KH1 might as well be a $1100 radio. Because let’s be real, you are gonna at the very minimum want the ATU, battery and charger. The key, case and tray are nice to haves at well.
      Without those additions I feel you could just get a QCX/QMX/SW-3B and be just as happy. The rig has an edge in portability and it’s those additions that truly make it stand above those aforementioned radios. (And the 5 bands too but not my point)

  5. Thanks for keeping the rest of us pacified while waiting on our orders to arrive! Ordered mine on the 20th, so according to Elecraft, 2-4 weeks to go for me!

  6. Thanks for your helpful posts, Tom.

    Let’s not forget NVIS.

    Near Vertical Incidence Skywave propagation occurs most readily from the 1.8 MHz through the 10.1 MHz bands; two of those bands, 7 MHz and 10.1 MHz, are on the KH1. Antenna tilt orientation is critical for NVIS. That should be as horizontal as practical, and relatively close to the ground. See the Wikipedia article about NVIS. Since NVIS bounces off the ionosphere high overhead, the antenna’s azimuthal orientation is irrelevant.

    NVIS is not a DX mode. It shines when we don’t want to be bothered by skip zones and we want reliable regional communication up to about 650 kilometers or 400 miles away. For NVIS, holding a telescoping antenna horizontally is ideal, although mostly-horizontal wire antennas like low dipoles also work well for NVIS. If antennas for both stations are fairly low and horizontal, NVIS is happy.

    NVIS can become the favorite propagation mode for HF regional emergency communications. The Elecraft KH1 could be ideal for that.

    Bruce Prior N7RR

    1. For NVIS would be nice it it had 60 meters. 60 is low power mode, and ideal for NVIS local work versus 40. FT-8 mode would be nice as well. Maybe future considerations hi. Just brainstorming…
      Rich / NJ6F

  7. FYI: somewhere between 19:00-19:30 UTC, I’m taking the KH1 on its maiden POTA activation. Look for my spot on the POTA.app site!


    1. Sounds like you are having a QSO party! Unfortunately I can’t hear you to WA with my setup to hunt. Looking forward to the video!

  8. Thanks for the run-down, Thomas! For the record, my interest in this radio would be almost entirely tabletop, as I don’t do xOTAs, and ragchewing from a standing position would be an infrequent interest. But I do operate outdoors a lot, and this radio would eliminate the _necessity_ of a horizontal surface, making it much easier to, say, sit on a log, park bench, or the tailgate of my truck. To say nothing of my sleeping bag. (All of which are a recurrent challenge for me.)

    As I also use an external keyer for iambic, log in a wirebound notebook, and do my own decoding, the “missing” features are no deal-breaker here. Other hams of my age and ilk may feel similarly. But I get why others value those things. Having and not using beats wanting and not having, no question.

    Amazing times, eh? Sounds like a real game-changer of a radio, from a respected maker. Super cool.

    TNX AGN!

  9. You mentioned alternative key designs and I’ll probably see if I can modify the one that Adam K6ARK designed on printables to work with the KH1 (assuming he doesn’t do it first)
    I did it for the KX2 so nothing is stopping me from doing it for the KH1.
    Would be cool if elecraft released some drawings of the slot to allow for key mods but we will manage either way!

  10. I have a KX-3 and an Ic-705. Each is a wonderful unit. I find the KH-1 a bit too limited for my interests. Also its’ form factor and function is a little too close to a Cell phone. Seems that if CW operation is paramount then you could download an app and operate on a cell phone and how much of a stretch is it to then access a repeater in some way via a phone app or just use cell networks to essentially do much of the same. I respect Elecraft’s products greatly but I think a broader degree of functionality would have served this product well.

    1. I think you are somewhat missing the point here. Maybe I’m not understanding your comment but it seems to me like you are talking about it’s use in an emergency. I don’t think the KH1 is meant to replace a cellphone in an emergency. In a situation where CW operation would be paramount it really wouldn’t matter what radio you used.
      The purpose of the KH1 is to try to make a CW transceiver that is as small and versatile as possible. That makes it perfect for SOTA, POTA or any situation where size and weight might be a constraint. I see it being used for recreation, not for what you are talking about.

  11. Now we have the high end, extraordinarily compact, minimalist CW radio from Elecraft. I am missing 10 m, but the rest of the form factor is very intriguing. I know logically that with a KX 2, an FX4CR, a QMX on eternity-order, I don’t really need this ( and currently can’t afford it anyway!) but it is intriguing and it is one of those radios that just catches your attention and you really feel the visceral need to have it in the collection. Maybe. Someday.

    What we need next will be at the other end of the spectrum, the Yaesu replacement for the 818. The love child of the 818 and the 891, QRP levels of power consumption, with up to 20 W output, multiband multi mode 2m -80m with interior space for an ATU and at least a modest capacity lithium ion battery.

    Here’s hoping 🙂

  12. Thanks Thomas for the comprehensive information. I can’t wait to get mine and put it to the test. It’s not the radio for everyone but if you do any serious portable/SOTA/POTA or pedestrian mobile this looks like the answer to our prayers! I wish I had this on my recent trip to VO1 Newfoundland and will be definitely using it on my trip to the Shetland islands next summer. Having had the same thrill as Thomas of working DX with a simple setup using the AX1 and AX2 is like nothing else I can describe. I worked EA6 Balearic Islands from Signal Hill in Newfound with the KX2 and AX1 at 5W CW. Signal Hill is where Marconi first heard transmissions from the UK in 1901, so it felt great to be there continuing the radio connection. If you’re not familiar with HF CW then you’re missing out out on an enormous level of fun and joy-which the KH1 will deliver. No cell phone apps/repeaters but true radio direct from me to you. Thanks Wayne for persevering with this rig! Hope to work you all from parks and summits in the Pacific NW. with the KH1. 72 (years) and still hiking to you all.

  13. Sorry but way too much money for what you get. Stick a whip on your 817. There are several other choices out there if you want to try out hand held HF portable that do FT8 and SSB as well. And hundreds less! I like Elecraft stuff but when they got away from QRP kitting and chasing big bucks, just hasn’t been the same.

    1. The Elecraft KH1 is a niche product, so I completely understand if it doesn’t appeal to you and seems pricey.

      I’m a huge fan of the FT-817/818 but I can’t fit it in my pocket, nor can I hold it in my left hand during an entire activation. The KH1 is a very unique radio–I know of no other radio on the market that is this fully self-contained (ATU, Battery, Antenna, Logging Tray), pocket portable, lightweight and compact. It’s a brilliant bit of radio engineering. I am curious what handheld SSB and FT8 radios you mention that compare to its size, capabilities and portability.

      Keep in mind that the starting price for a KH1 is $550. That will get you a five band general CW radio with options you can grab later if you choose.
      Also keep in mind that this radio is both designed and manufactured in the United States. This is the cost of US labor, benefits and living wages. I like my money going to innovative companies that support domestic production. To each their own, though. We’ve so many cool products out there now. 🙂 There’s never been a better time to be a ham!

      1. Thanks Thomas for the succinct response. I always am amazed at how some folks will comment on a radio without having any understanding of what it actually does or is targeted to. Jess-this is a CW only self contained extremely portable rig. Everything you need to operate is included within the rig- battery, antenna,antenna tuner, paddles,filters,counterpoise storage and logging both manual and onboard the radio,filters and a panadaptor display-all enclosed in a small package about the size of a cell phone or 2M handheld. As far as I know there’s nothing remotely like this radio anywhere on the market. And price wise-by the time you add most of these features and items (antennas,tuners just to name some) the price on any radio would be comparable or in excess to the KH1 and still a large footprint. I started doing portable QRP in the mid 1970’a hauling out my TenTec Argonaut 509 with 2 6V lantern batteries,tuner, paddles,antennas, antenna and tuner in a large pack. The Argo was the lightest and lowest current drain QRP rig available-about a foot and a half long and weighing some pounds. BTW I still have it in the home shack and it’s a wonderful radio still to this day. As as said elsewhere ‘Wayne-you built my radio!’ And his reply—‘I finally built my radio!’
        Jess-can you share with us a comparable handheld CW radio? You mentioned there’s some available-are you holding out on us??

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