NI1Q’s Long-Awaited Elecraft KH1: Worth the Wait?

After 126 Days, A Long-Awaited Unboxing: The KH1 Arrives!

by Emily (NI1Q)

If there was one thing being in a physical rehab facility for 4 months taught me it was friends and families were a comfort.  They brought encouragement, broke the boredom and were helpful in bringing hope when I wasn’t sure if I would be walking again. I was able to have my DMR handheld and checked into nets and talked with friends, but I really missed being on HF.

Although I own an IC-705 and a QRP Labs QMX, managing them in a room would have been difficult.  I really love the 705, and can manage the QMX, but the 705 is not the kind of rig you can put in a bedside table drawer;  the QMX with an EFHW + batteries becomes about as large and difficult to deploy.  Especially in bed.

It was with this mindset that I watched in interest Tom’s initial videos of the Elecraft KH1.  I initially saw it as something akin to the QMX, and I had some reservations about the key.  As I watched several of Tom’s exploits, my mindset began to change.  On January 29, 2024, I placed an order for KH1 Edgewood package.  I would soon (I hoped) become an Elecraft owner, part of what sometimes seems to be a cult, and other times seem to be the most loyal fanbase in ham radio.

I initially calculated I would get delivery sometime in April, just in time for my birthday.  As that time passed I talked to Elecraft and they opined that I would have it in time for Dayton.  A week before, it wasn’t going to happen, and I packed heavy to take the IC-705 with me.

And, then, May 30th, my wait was over. An email arrived: The KH1 was on the way!

Boxes Arrives:  I can’t contain myself…

On June 1st, I was out playing fetch with Zoe and saw the postal truck coming down the street, and I rushed over to the curb to meet him.  As he clicked his phone to certify delivery I asked “It’s from Watsonville CA, right?”  He smiled; “You must have been waiting for this one.”  “126 days for sure.”  I rushed into the house with my package quicker than Ralphie Parker running out into the snow with a Red Ryder BB-gun on Christmas day.

I had previously ordered the right angle antenna adapter, so together I had two boxes to unwrap.  The KH1 was packed well enough the box puffed up with what I assumed was bubble-wrap.

Carefully cutting the packing tape confirmed my assumption, and I was greeted by a very nice and unexpected colour manual that confirmed I had now become an Elecraft owner for the first time.

I thumbed through the manual and made a mental note of the sections I’d need for a quick “getting started” activity.  Time set – check.  Antenna selection – check.  Charging – check.  On-off switch – check.

I was ready (and eager) to go.

Pieces, Lots of Pieces.

Even though it looks like a tidy group of four things, there were multiple layers.  First out was the Edgewood case.  It’s a nice case but with only one extra pocket.  I would later learn it wasn’t really enough. The case was well padded, so for now it would be where the radio lived.

Next to come out was the battery, which, as it was packed you can see, looked like a charger.  It isn’t.  When I opened the package it was obviously a battery, but had a 2.5mm DC plug.

What was really confusing was – as later confirmed – the perfect size to plug into the external battery jack on the side of the KH1.  So I suppose you can use an extra for an external battery.  Quick reference to the manual informed me to look for the 2.5mm power jack inside.

Next to come out was the Morse Key, and it was very tiny.  I  questioned if my large fingers would be able to use it.  It was very light weight and made of plastic, which alarmed me for a bit. I was already resigning myself to carting around my BaMaTech key.

All the Other Stuff

I restrained myself and before the final act of unpacking the radio itself, I decided to unpack all the other little fiddly-bits.  Out came the whip antenna (small), the fold-over cover/logging tray with a pen (also small), an external power cable which is eventually destined to have power poles on it.

I unwrapped the counterpoise and noted it is thin and stiff.  I marked this in my head for replacement with some 24 ga silicone wire.

Last came the USB programming cable.  I was disappointed to learn that you plugged it into the same 3.5mm jack as the Morse key and ran at 9600 baud.  In this day of amazing USB C connections, I think any radio would benefit from one for power and data and I have already converted my 705 to use it.

OMG!  It’s so Tiny and Light!

After getting through the appetiser and the main meal, it was time for dessert, and I had ordered the best.  The first thing that happened when I picked up the pink bubble-wrap I assumed was the KH1 my brain fired off the “Ut-Oh, this isn’t it – they forgot the radio” message.  I was definitely expecting something much heavier, if not larger.  As I pulled away the bubble-wrap I breathed a sigh of relief at the tiny, featherlight box, wrapped in plastic.

Without the battery, it is just so amazingly light.  It was about 2/3rds the size of my favourite handheld radio (Icom ID-52A).

I removed the plastic and couldn’t resist plugging the battery into it.  The light next to the on-off switch came on. Acknowledging that it probably wasn’t truly meant to plug in there, I removed it and set on to installing the battery.

The KH1 case front and back are metal – top and bottom are plastic.  Opening up the case involves pushing a small snap-on the top-rear that allows the case back to swing open. The manual urges care by doing so, and I agree.  It struck me at the time this would be an operation I would rarely do, and I was happy with that.

As I looked around the insides, I could see the 2.5mm power connection on the inside.  But where was the foam on the top of the circuit board to protect it?  The answer was simple: there isn’t any.  I’m not sure how I feel about that and made a note to see what might fit there without suffocating any of the chips. I’ll probably add some 2mm thick foam squares on the battery bottom corners for extra support.

Installing the battery wasn’t difficult but it was not clear how to route the wires.  I opted for the wires on the bottom route. Again I was surprised by the lack of padding for the gap between the battery and the (as shown) bottom side. To be added for sure.

Closing the cover is a snap (literally) and there I was.  The last chore was to unpack the antenna right angle adapter and set it up.  I recommend looking at the manual for the stand as I was very unclear on the way it went together.

First QSO

Sitting on the park bench in the shade of a 100’ high oak, I assembled the antenna, threw out the counterpoise, turned on the radio and hit the Autotune button.  1:11 match which made me quite cross.  Then I remembered “there’s an antenna switch on top.”

I put it in the 20m position and this time it tuned to 1:1.1 .  Now we’re talking.

I started to call CQ on 20m.  First run of CQ and my first contact was in Michigan.  Next I called someone in the Kentucky QSO party.  No problem in Kentucky.  Last call was CQ again on 17 meters, and I had success down to Florida.  Conditions were not great, but I was ecstatic.

Follow-Up

I am extremely satisfied with the performance of the KH1.  Although the controls are small and compact I didn’t have any trouble with most.  The Morse Key is small, but despite my initial worries it works like a champ for me.  My only concern is that I occasionally hit the key when trying to adjust the volume.  I also think the key should be disabled (generally) when using the menu system.

Although the ES20 case is well padded, I prefer something that is a bit more protective and found the Pelican 1040 was a perfect fit with really no modifications.  With the cover on, and the antenna in the mount, the KH1 fits perfectly.  The 1040 has enough room to hold the counterpoise and a pair of earbuds.

I did replace the counterpoise with BNTECHGO 24 ga silicone wire.  It is very easy to deploy especially with a ¼oz lead sinker on the end.

12 thoughts on “NI1Q’s Long-Awaited Elecraft KH1: Worth the Wait?”

  1. Congrats on the new rig!

    Putting a small weight on the end of your counterpoise wire — I will have to try that. Should work well for deploying the counterpoise after sitting down at a picnic table. Might snag on things when walking around /PM though. I’ll give it a try.

  2. Excellent comments, and fun to read Thank you for your recommendations on the case and the counterpoise wire.

  3. Wow. Contacts right out of the shipping box. Do need to charge the battery as it seems to be shipped with only a minimal charge. Took six hours fully to charge my KH1 when it arrived. Spent a long time yesterday on 20 meters without a QSO. Finally, heard NA4A starting up and worked getting a 229 report. Only contact. I do not know how people are able to make contacts, but about 3.5 watts just does not do it for me. Sounds like you have a keeper and I need to retire my KH1. 73 N8TT

    1. Before you retire your KH-1, try it with a longer and higher antenna. If you don’t make contacts then there is something else wrong, possibly one of the settings. If you do make contacts, then give the whip antenna another try. As you know, conditions have been horrible much of the time lately, and they make a huge difference.

  4. Wait until band conditions improve! You are going to have a blast. Any where, any time you can get on the air easily. Not everyone needs extreme portability, but everyone will have fun trying it. True pedestrian mobile is great fun and a unique challenge. Wrapping the counterpoise through a couple of fingers of the hand holding the radio helps prevent loosing the counterpoise when you step on it.

      1. Okay. Sorry, I meant size, that is, diameter of the wire. My bad. I seen now you did say 24ga.

        Bill,
        W8BC

  5. I ordered my Elecraft KH1 many months ago. Within a day, I realized that I also should have ordered a little antenna base that allows the antenna to stand upright on a table top. So I ordered that also. Two separate orders. One day apart.

    Two weeks ago I received notice that they had charged my PayPal account and sent a copy of the receipt. Then within a day or so I received USPS tracking information telling me that my package was on its way.

    As I followed the package across the country I became more and more anticipatory, and when the day finally came was greatly disappointed to find in my mailbox only the antenna base. Not the KH1. I immediately emailed Elecraft and they responded in the same day telling me that there is a delay of another 10 to 25 days for my KH1 to be shipped. I sent back an email telling that it would be nice if when we get a USPS tracking notice that it would be helpful to tell just WHAT was shipped. Elecraft responded with “I agree.”

    So I am waiting for my KH1, not really upset because there have been delays in getting this beautiful radio into production and out the door and I can’t really fault the communication of Elecraft. They tried. Maybe they will update their communication to let us know when something is ordered or what is being shipped.

    So beware if you order two separate items you may not receive them in the order that you purchased them.

  6. I think a proper “QRP mindset” is as important as output power or antenna. Remember what Glenda the Good Witch told Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power to make contacts. You just had to learn it for yourself. Tap your key three times and repeat, ‘I CAN make contacts. I CAN make contacts. I CAN make contacts.'”

    😉

    As far as a weight on the end of the counterpoise goes, I’m going to dig out my old tackle box and squeeze a split shot sinker on the end of a counterpoise and give it a try!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.