The following article first appeared on our sister site, the SWLing Post.
You might have noticed from recent posts, I’ve been on a bit of a POTA (Parks On The Air) kick lately.
I’ve been enjoying taking the Xiegu G90 to the field and seeing just how well it performs under intensive use on battery power. So far, it has certainly proven itself to be a capable field rig.
Still, on two recent activations I also brought my trusty Elecraft KX2 along as well. Without a doubt, it’s still my number one field rig. It will be difficult for another field transceiver to displace it.
With that said, the G90 is less than half the price of the KX2 (when the KX2 is configured with the optional ATU). The G90 can also pump out a full 20 watts of power–nearly double that of the KX2. I also love the G90’s spectrum display which makes it so easy to find free frequencies and hunt other parks. Its internal antenna tuner–like the KX2’s–can match almost anything very quickly.
Here are a couple of quick reports from my recent activations:
William H Silver State Game Land (K-6967)
Saturday, my family had planned a trip to visit my father-in-law. My wife encouraged me to find a nearby park to activate as there are so many between our house and his. I made it slightly more challenging by deciding to find a park or POTA entity I’d never visited.
Turns out the William H Silver State Game Land was only a 30 minute detour. I had never visited it and, in fact, it was even an ATNO (All Time New One) for Parks On The Air, meaning no one had yet activated it.
I had initially planned 1.5 to 2 hours for the activation, but we were running behind Saturday morning so I had to cut my time at the park to a total of about one hour–which included set-up, operation, and take-down.
We arrived at the site and I immediately deployed my EFT Trail-Friendly end-fed antenna.
My 12 year old daughter (who is studying for her ham radio license and is a great at digging callsigns out of the noise) helped me log contacts. I stuck with very brief exchanges so that I could work as many stations as possible. When activating an ATNO, I always want to give as many POTA “hunters” as possible the best opportunity to put the site in their log books.
I started on the 40 meter band and worked 20 stations in 25 minutes with the Xiegu G90.
I then moved up to the 20 meter band and switched over to the Elecraft KX2.
Turns out, 20 meters was pretty unstable, so I worked very few stations. I did work a station in California with 10 watts and a wire, though, so I’ll still call that a success.
I plan to visit this same site again later this year–it’s very accessible.
Buffalo Cove State Game Land (K-6886)
Monday morning, even though the weather outlook was dodgy, I scheduled another park activation which, like Saturday’s, was at a state game land which was another ATNO.
I like game lands. Unlike state parks, I don’t have to worry about crowds and I also usually get to take my Subaru or truck off-road. Access roads here in the mountains are typically steep, curvy, and washed-out in places. Finding the site can be very challenging, too. Still, I love adding a little off-road fun to a park activation!
The Buffalo Cove State Game Land is much larger than park K-6967 (above). I drove deep into the lands and found a large parking and camping area for hunters. I had the whole place to myself, so I found the best tree to support my end-fed antenna.
I operated the KX2 exclusively on this activation because I wanted to use its voice keyer and my Heil headset for hands-free VOX operation.
In the course of 90 minutes, I worked 51 stations from the trunk/boot of my car.
Many thanks to my good friend Mike (K8RAT) who made the whole process much smoother by spotting me on the POTA site.
Band conditions were actually pretty rough today, so I was very pleased with the results and intend to return here for a weekend activation later this year as well. This would actually be an ideal location for making low-noise portable SDR recordings while camping overnight.
This weekend, I decided I want to increase my portable field antenna arsenal. More about that in a future post!
Our new K4 harnesses the latest in signal processing while retaining the best aspects of the K3S and P3. The resulting user interface makes the technology transparent, allowing you to focus on working the world.
160-6 meter, all-mode coverage & dual RX
The K4 includes dual receive over 100 kHz to 54 MHz. Since it utilizes direct sampling, there’s no need for crystal filters in the K4 or K4D (see Models, back page). For extreme-signal environments, we offer a dual superhet module (standard in the K4HD). An internal VHF/UHF module is also planned.
High-resolution mini-pan for each receiver
Our advanced fine-tuning aid, with its resampled bandwidth as narrow as +/- 1 kHz, is displayed separately from the main panadapter. You can turn it on by tapping either receiver’s S-meter or by tapping on a signal of interest.
Simple operation and setup
The K4 features a large, full-color touch display, combined with a rich set of real controls. Per-VFO transmit metering makes split mode completely foolproof. Band-stacking switches and per-receiver controls are both intuitive and versatile, adapting to operating context. Usage information on these and other features is just one tap away, thanks to our built-in help system.
Rich I/O complement
The rear panel includes all the RF, analog and digital I/O you’ll need to complete your station. All K-line accessories are supported, including amps, ATUs, and our K-Pod station controller. The HDMI video output supports an external display with its own user-specified format.
Full remote control from multiple devices
The K4 can be 100% remote controlled, via Ethernet, from a second K4 as well as a PC, notebook, or tablet. Panadapter data is included on all remote displays.
Modular hybrid architecture
The K4 adapts to your needs, with three models to choose from:
Basic K4 with wide-range dual receive
K4D with diversity receive
K4HD with a dual superhet module for exceptional dynamic range
You can upgrade or add options as desired, or as new technology becomes available. This extensibility applies to software as well. The K4’s powerful, fast-starting CPU provides unlimited expansion opportunities.
Fast signal processing
The RF signal chain in the K4 incorporates parallel hardware processing of data streams, including a dedicated DSP subsystem. This, combined with silent, PIN-diode T/R switching, ensures fast CW break-in. Data and speech-processing delays are also minimized. Standard DSP features include easy-to-adjust, per-mode RX/TX EQ; clean, punchy RF speech processing; full DVR capabilities; and several built-in data decode/encode modes. Direct-sampling technology results in an ultra-flat passband response for clean RX and TX audio. Since the signal chain is softwaredefined, the DSP can be field upgraded to add new algorithms and operating modes.
The KAT4 ATU has a nominally 10:1 matching range. It includes 3 antenna jacks, any one of which can be selected as an input for one or both receivers.
Internal VHF/UHF module (future option)
An expansion slot is reserved for a high-performance VHF/UHF module, with output of approximately 15 W. This module will support all modes.
A no-soldering kit version of the K4 is planned for later release. Builders will learn about advanced radio technology as they proceed. All modules are pre-aligned and tested.
Other: RX/TX EQ, real-time clock,100% remote control including panadapter data, remote antenna switch control*, custom in-box software apps*
Models (K4 & K4D upgradeable by the user at any time)
K4: Basic K4 transceiver provides 160-6 m, all-mode coverage; 100 W output; five receive RF sources; and wideband dual watch, allowing the main and sub receivers to be set for the same or different bands.
K4D: Adds KDIV4 option, with a second set of band-pass filters and additional direct- sampling ADC module. This allows the two receivers to use different antennas – a requirement for diversity receive. Having two sets of band-pass filters also optimizes signal handling when the receivers are on different bands and/or antennas.
K4HD: Includes all of the above, plus our dual superhet module, the KHDR4. Ideal for competitive field day, contesting, and DXpedition stations. Each superhet receive section includes two crystal filters: one SSB/data bandwidth, one CW bandwidth. The superhet’s 8 MHz IF has excellent dynamic range, so additional crystal filters are not required.
After rumors surfaced about the demise of the Elecraft “K1” line, Wayne Burdick (N6KR) made the following announcement on the Elecraft email reflector, specifically mentioning the original K1:
We should have made a formal announcement here. Yes, we discontinued it because certain parts are hard to come by now, making it no longer cost effective for us to manufacture.
It was a great product for us, and I used mine for years, taking it on many trips. I thought of it as a “Sierra on Steroids” at the time (referring to an earlier design I did for the NorCal QRP Club). But we’ve moved on to more versatile field radios, including the KX2 and KX3.
I’ve owned both the K1 and KX1 and they performed amazingly well. I suppose that’s why I also invested in both the KX3 and KX2 transceivers. I suppose all good things must come to an end.
I still own a K2/100 and I certainly hope Elecraft continues to support this fine transceiver. It’s unique in that it’s about the only American-made transceiver kit on the market that’s easily serviceable by a non-technician. It’s also a rock-solid performer and, frankly, has a cult following of its own.
Battery Anker Astro Pro2 20000mAh Multi-Voltage (5V 12V 16V 19V)
Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank
Avoid look alike batteries and the next generation model from Anker. The newer Anker
battery is only capable of delivering 1.5A from the 12V supply. Two look alike batteries
I tried did not have the auto-off feature that the Anker does.
ACC2 and I/Q Jacks 2 x 2.5mm Stereo Jack Panel Mount (PH-666J-B)
Phone, Key, and ACC1 3 x 3.5mm Stereo Jack Panel Mount (High Quality) (PH-504KB)
Mic Jack 1 x 3.5mm 4 Conductor Jack Panel Mount (PH-70-088B)
12V IN and CHG IN 2 x 2.1mm DC Power Panel Mount Jack (PH-2112)
12V OUT 1 x 2.5mm DC Power Panel Mount Jack (PH-2512)
You also need plugs and wire for interconnects. I bought some 2.5mm (CES-11-5502)
and 3.5mm (PH-44-468 for stereo, PH-44-470 for 4-conductor) audio cables with right
angle plugs and just cut them to use for the signal lines going to the KX3. I did the same
thing for the 2.5mm (PH-TC250) and 2.1mm (PH-TC210) power cables. A couple of
caveats are in order. The Phone, Key, and ACC1 interconnects require low profile
right angle connectors. The cables I listed above won’t work. Vetco part number VUPN10338 will work. The power cables I’ve listed above use 24 gauge wire. This
is a little light, but the runs are small so I think it is OK. You can use higher gauge
cables if you can find a source.
USB OUT USB 2.0 Right Angle Extension Cable (RR-AAR04P-20G)
L Brackets 8 x Bracket Rt Ang Mount 4-40 Steel (612K-ND)
These L brackets are used to mount the KX3 to the panel and the panel to the case.
For mounting the KX3, I use a little piece of stick on felt on the bracket to protect the
KX3’s cabinet from damage. Replace the KX3’s screws with #4-40 Thread Size, 1/4”
Length Steel Pan Head Machine Screw, Black Oxide Finish (see below). For the panel
mounting, use #6-32 Thread Size, 3/16” Length self tapping sheet metal screw. You
may need to cut the tip off in order to not puncture the outside of the case.
RG316 BNC Male Angle to BNC Female SM Bulkhead Coaxial RF Pigtail Cable (6”)
This is not the original interconnect I used for connecting the KX3’s antenna output to
the panel. However, I think it is a better option for new designs. The caveat is that you
will need to verify the hole in the panel matches the bulkhead connector on this cable.
There will be a little loop in the cable when you are done, but that is fine.
This is optional if you want a built-in sound card interface for a waterfall display using iSDR. Make sure to eliminate the holes in the upper left corner of the panel if you are not installing. You will also need 2.5mm x 10mm screws to mount this to the bottom of the panel (see below).
In my opinion, the KX3’s noise reduction is totally ineffective for SSB communications. This external noise reducing DSP is one solution, albeit an expensive one, to that problem. It is only for SSB, not CW or digital modes. It is also available from GAP Antenna Products.
Scott: you have done a beautiful job here and have spared no expense to make a wonderfully-engineered and rugged go-box. No doubt, you’re ready to take your KX3 to the field and enjoy world-class performance on a moment’s notice.
Though I’ve never used them personally, I’ve noticed others who have taken advantage of the Front Panel Express engraving service–certainly makes for a polished and professional front panel.
Again, many thanks for not only sharing your photos, but also your bill of materials which will make it much easier for others to draw inspiration from your design!
Speaking of designs, when I looked up Scott on QRZ.com, I noticed that he also sports a QSL card (above) designed by my good friend, Jeff Murray (K1NSS). Obviously, Scott is a man with good taste!
What I love about the Hamvention is that it is a one-stop-shop for innovations appearing in our radio world.
Here are a few of the companies I’ll be following at the Hamvention this year:
Ten-Tec announced yesterday that it will merge with Alpha Amplifiers under the flag of RF Concepts. I plan to stop by Ten-Tec’s booth Friday and learn more about the merger. Personally, I believe the merger with Alpha Amplifiers is a good move. Both of these companies are known for great customer service and quality US-based design and manufacturing.
I know Ten-Tec is introducing a new open-source product to their line, the Patriot, because I’ve been beta testing one (check QRPer.com for details later this week).
Icom will showcase their new ID-5100 D-star, dual band, mobile with built-in GPS. While I’m more of an HF guy, this radio does intrigue me. You see, for almost one year now, I’ve been very pleased with my Icom ID-51A, dual-band, D-Star handie talkie (HT).
I find D-Star to be a very flexible digital mode and I’m amazed with how many interesting mom-and-pop companies have produced products for the D-Star mode. I’m surprised neither Yaesu nor Kenwood has adopted the D-Star standard (it’s not proprietary to Icom–indeed, read about the CS7000 below).
The new ID-5100 is a mobile version of my ID-51a. What I love about this radio is that it can store repeater frequencies and dynamically load them based on your geographic location. Perhaps my largest gripe with mobile VHF/UHF rigs is their inability to adapt to the repeater “landscape” when you travel. The ID-5100 may change this and push other manufacturers in the same direction.
In less than a year, Connect Systems has become a household name among ham radio enthusiasts who love VHF/UHF and digital modes.
This Connect Systems is developing an HT–the CS7000–which will be the first non-Icom radio to have the D-Star digital mode. Whatsmore, in addition to D-Star, the CS7000 will also pack DMR.
I don’t think Connect Systems will have a working prototype at the Hamvention (I could be wrong), but there is a possibility that they will be taking early orders.
I’ve been intrigued by the Elad line of Software Defined Recievers. This year, they will attend the Dayton Hamvention. I look forward to checking out the new FDM-DUO tabletop SDR. I plan to review some of the Elad product line in the near future.
Last year, Palstar showcased a prototype QRP transceiver with touch screen interface. To my knowledge, this would be Palstar’s first transceiver (though they’re well known for antenna tuners and their shortwave radio receiver, the R30A).
Last year, I was told that the new Palstar transceiver would be available this year and would retail between $1,600 – 2,000 US (a rather steep price for a transceiver with 20 watts output). One of the transceiver’s designers assured me that the receiver would “be worth the price.”
I’ll stop by Bonito’s booth to check out their new AntennaJet ASM300. I’m curious how it works and what the Hamvention price will be.
Though pricing is a little steep, I might bring one home as I often would like to share one antenna with two receivers simultaneously.
The only new product I know of from Elecraft is the PX3 Panadapter for their Kx3 transceiver. Reviews of the larger P3 Panadapter for the Elecraft K3 are excellent, so I imagine this will be a great product. I hope to check out the PX3 at the Elecraft booth–I believe they’ll have a prototype on display.
For the past three years, the market for software defined radios has been growing rapidly. I’ll be on the lookout for anything new–especially improvements on current 3rd generation SDRs.
Did I miss something?
Please comment if there’s something you’d like me to check out at the Hamvention–I’ll try to include it!
Again, if you’re attending the Hamvention, please stop by and introduce yourself at our booth: 411 in the Ball Arena (BA411).
Last Friday, if you were lucky enough to attend the Visalia DX Convention, you would have seen the debut of Elecraft’s new KX3 accessory, the PX3 Panadapter. (Many thanks to Eric (WD8RIF) and Michael (KD9AUR) for the tip!)
The compact PX3 form factor is similar to that of the KX3 (see photo above). Features/Specs include:
Many of you know that I’m not only into QRP, but I’m an avid shortwave radio listener, as well.
If you’re an SWLer, too, you might might consider venturing over to my shortwave radio blog, The SWLing Post, where I just published a review of the Elecraft KX3. Unlike other reviews of the KX3, this was originally written for the May 2013 issue of Monitoring Times Magazine and focuses on the KX3 as a shortwave radio receiver.
Now accepting orders for the Elecraft KXPA100 100 W Amplifier
We have received FCC certification and are putting on the finishing touches and performing our field test on the KXPA100. We’re now taking orders for deliveries planned to start in the next 60 days (mid to late August).
You will find a direct link for ordering the KXPA100 below, at the bottom of this email. (This order form is not yet visible on our regular web page.)
KXPA100 features include:
100 W output on 160-6 m with 5 W input typical
13.8 VDC powered; 20 A typical current drain
7 lbs with KXAT100 installed. 10 x 5.125 x 4.25″
Compact unit ideal for both desktop and mobile use
Solid-state diode T/R switching — fast, silent T/R and QSK
Large convection-cooled heat sink for reliable and quiet operation
I’ve been meaning to write a post about my Elecraft KX1, because, of all of the rigs I own, it’s the most-often-used, thus the clear favorite in my stable. But: this morning, I read John Harper’s (AE5X) excellent assessment of the Elecraft KX1 vs. the Ten-Tec HB1B. He provides some significant numbers to consider when comparing these two lightweight CW-only QRP rigs, and makes a great case for elevating the newcomer HB1B over the KX1–at least, for some readers.
I’ve had my Elecraft KX1 for over three years, and, in all honesty, absolutely love it. But, let’s face it: if I didn’t have one, if I had never touched nor used one, I would be seriously tempted by the HB1B–for its price, for the fact that Ten-Tec sells it (I’m a long-time Sevierville radio fan), and for the fact that it’s not a kit. Oh, yeah: and because it works very well.
However, having used the KX1 for so long, I know that the HB1B (at least in its current state) could not replace my KX1. But before I explain why, I would like to make some strong points in favor of the HB1B.
The Ten-Tec HB1B
At least on paper, the HB1B has better filtering, a better display, and generally speaking, more bells and whistles than the KX1. Best of all, it comes fully assembled.
Why is this last point an advantage–? For a number of talented QRPers reading this, building the kit is the best part! I know, I get it…And to tell the truth, I want to be like you kit-builders out there! But I am only now getting into kit building, and building my confidence in kit-building. I’m sure there are many others out there like me. For these QRPers, please note: the KX1 is not a beginner’s kit. I did not build mine. When I bought my KX1, I purchased it from a KX1 beta tester and professional engineer. The soldering and overall build quality are top-shelf.
Moreover, no matter how great an Elecraft radio is, it’s only as good as the person who built it. If the builder does sloppy work, your rig’s longevity and performance may suffer. Since you’ll likely be taking the KX1 with you everywhere, and it’ll experience a fair amount of movement (aka, hard knocks), this is especially important.
If, like me, you’re not prepared to take on building a KX1, fear not!–you should simply purchase from someone who knows their stuff: Elecraft can suggest some builders (including the amazing Don Wilhelm, W3FPR) or you can simply purchased a used KX1 fully-assembled. Or, you can simply purchase the fully-assembled HB1B.
So, why do I not find the HB1B enticing?
Yes, the Ten-Tec HB1B comes ready to roll. Still, could it replace my KX1? I don’t think so. Two HB1B deal-breakers for me:
As AE5X mentions, there is no internal antenna tuner option.
There is no way (at least, on this version) to attach paddles directly to the rig.
Portability + Simplicity = QRP Fun
Why are these features so important? Well, my KX1 has an ATU, four bands, and an attachable paddle. One of my favorite things to do with my KX1 is, while traveling, to pull it out of its Pelican case, toss a 28′ wire into a tree, and lay a ground wire. As I stand there, I can hold the KX1, tune the antenna (easily 40M and up, with the internal ATU) and work stations my favorite way: while standing up. I can also (if I like) sit for a moment, then jump up again, walk a bit, and generally move freely–just not possible with sit-on-a-table units.
Additionally, everything I need fits inside a Pelican 1060 case. The Kx1 itself is an all-in-one unit–nothing external to attach, unless I want to. Oh, and I can also operate the KX1 with gloves on in below-zero conditions.
Why would I want to operate standing up? Fact is, where I go, I’m only operating for thirty minutes or so, and in places where there’s no convenient spot to settle down or get too comfortable. In many cases, I’m operating on a whim–when I can grab a few minutes in a busy itinerary, or on a hike or day trip. With the Kx1, this is remarkably easy to do. I can have my KX1 on the air in four minutes or less, in most cases–and that includes the time to hang a wire–! Packing up is also quick. This kind of operation feels as free as flying a kite. Spontaneity at its best.
Part of that functional synergy comes from the fact that there are no additional components to hook up (i.e., no external tuner, external paddles). With the HB1B, I would be forced to either build a set-up, so that I could stand and hold the transceiver, tuner and paddles, or I’d have to…sit down.
Wayne’s inspiration for the KX1
Thinking back to a Dayton Hamvention several years ago, I seemed to remember that Wayne Burdick, N6KR (co-founder of Elecraft) was inspired by just this sort of off-the-cuff operation. To confirm this, I asked Wayne, just this morning, if I was on track with that. He offered this very thorough (and insightful) response:
I had been designing portable QRP gear for my own use for many years, including the “Safari 4″ (documented in three issues of QEX magazine in 1990). The Safari-4 was 3x5x7”, but it was fully self-contained, including an attached keyer paddle, internal 1-Ahr gel cell and manual antenna tuner, wattmeter, SWR bridge, and 4-band coverage. But it was too large for backpacking. Later, I designed some far smaller rigs with very good performance for NorCal and Wilderness Radio, including the SST, NC40A, and Sierra.
Then I started Elecraft with Eric, WA6HHQ. After we had success with the K2 and K1, I pitched the idea of a smaller version of the Safari-4 to Eric.
There were two inspirations for this. Back in the 70s, W7ZOI (Wes) created his “Mountaineer”, which was a crystal-controlled 40-m QRP rig that was very simple to use, very small, and self-contained, in that battery and paddles were built in. But it had no VFO, no ATU, a single band, and no frills. Taking what we’d learned in the K2 and K1 designs, I figured we could pack a great radio into this same size using updated technology. It had to cover at least 40 and 20 meters, and the idea was to use latching relays to minimize current drain and simplify band switching. We also used a DDS chip for the VFO–not quite as pure as crystal control, but just as stable, and totally adequate for a portable radio.
The other inspiration was my idea for an attached, but easily removable and mechanically reversible, keyer paddle. This became the KXPD1. I literally woke up at 5 AM with this idea. I realized immediately that this was the enabling technology for a hand-held radio, and I got busy with the design.
Having spent time camping and hiking with other rigs, I also knew that the ATU had to be built in. This allows the use of ad-hoc, wire-in-a-tree antennas, which is the secret to quick setup. It was a challenge creating an ATU that’s just 1 x 5″, but it worked. We spent weeks refining the rig and the ATU to work with typical field antennas, adjusting the component values to cover 40 and 20 meters. When we added the 30-m module, we found that it handled this well, too.
Most of my KX1 operation involves not even sitting down. I literally stop on the trail at a scenic overlook, pull the daypack around and extract the rig, toss a wire into one or two trees, and I’m on the air. I love this kind of operation. I’ve gone so far as to operate while sitting in a tree (an “inverted vertical”–a dangling wire–works amazingly well). Having to futz with add-ons can be fun, too, but it discourages “instant” operation. I like to quote Ade Weiss, W0RSP, from his book The Joy of QRP: “If there is a place, and you can get to it, you must operate from there.”
You can’t overlook performance and features, either. The KX1 is stable in all operating environments and draws only about 35 mA. It includes a variable-passband crystal filter that can be widened out to copy AM and SSB signals, and can even do cross-mode (transmitting in CW while receiving LSB or USB). It has a full set of frequency memories and CW message buffers. For blind hams (or when you’re too tired to keep your eyes open), the KX1 has a 100% Morse-audio-feedback system. I tested this firmware with my eyes closed, and the result was very well-received by the blind amateur community.
Thanks for the history, and your inspiration, Wayne. Love it!
When you hold and operate the KX1, this legacy is all too apparent. Thoroughly thought through–down to a built-in LED lamp for logging–and, without a doubt, the original inspiration for several radios that followed: the HB1B, the MFJ 92XX series, and the Hendricks PFR3.
My guess is that the next generation of HB1B will have some of these clever features.
In the meantime, if you’re in the market for an inexpensive, CW-only, very portable QRP rig, and you’ve no plans to embark upon impromptu operation, the HB1B could be your rig. Based on my experience with Ten-Tec, if they sell it, they’ll give you excellent customer service. That is the beauty of these two choices, both Elecraft and Ten-Tec are excellent companies to do business with.
I only think I’d give up my KX1 for…the new KX3, and I’m not even convinced I’d do that, yet. The KX1 has become my little travel buddy. Time will tell, though. Check back here–if I’m wooed by another QRP radio, I may eat my words.
By the way, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the inspiration to finally write down my thoughts on the KX1 came from John Harper (AE5X) who has an excellent QRP blog that you should certainly add to your favorites! And thanks, again, to Wayne, both for his response, and for his original ideas that continue to make QRP so liberating.