Tag Archives: Elecraft

Repairing Ruby: Dr. Vlado performs surgery on the Elecraft KX1

I might have mentioned in a previous post that I named my little Elecraft KX1 “Ruby.”

I name all of my field radios that are permanent; ones I never plan to sell or trade at any point in the future. Ruby is firmly in that keeper list.

Why do I anthropomorphize field radios? That’s perhaps a discussion for a different day but I reckon it’s because I feel they have a lot of character and are, quite literally, trusted companions. They go with me on travels, hikes, and all sorts of outings.

Ruby love

So Ruby is actually the second KX1 I’ve owned.

My first Elecraft KX1 also had a dedicated Pelican 1060 case. There’s even room to fit an external Whiterock paddle.

The first one I purchased in 2008 as a reward to myself for learning CW (see photo above). I enjoyed that KX1 until 2016 when I sold it to help fund the purchase of my KX2.

I immediately regretted selling it, although it helped that I sold it to an amazing person.

In October 2020, I purchased Ruby and wrote a post about how great it was to be reunited with this gem of a radio.

 

At the time, I had no idea what a great deal I had landed.

Ruby turned out to be a four band radio (it was advertised as three), included the built-in ATU, and the package came with a simple wire antenna, three different coaxial DC plugs, a Pelican 1060 waterproof case, earphones, and a set of KXPD1  paddles. All of this for $300 US shipped.

I took Ruby on a number of field activations and couldn’t have been happier

Intermittent issues surface

In the summer of 2021, I started noticing some odd behavior.

Sometimes, after turning on the power switch, the rig wouldn’t completely power up. Instead of the typical two clicks we KX1 owners are accustomed to hearing, I only heard one click and neither the display nor any of the functions worked.

This was an intermittent issue–the next day it might power up as it should.

I did a little troubleshooting: I completely disassembled it, visually inspected all of the solder joints, and removed/cleaned and reinserted the firmware chip. This had no effect at all.

So, I took Ruby to one of the best radio repair technicians in the world who also happens to be one of my best friends: Vlado (N3CZ). He actually does a lot of repair and even has a radio repair website.

Dr. Vlado

Vlado (N3CZ) draws a crowd during a joint park activation on the Blue Ridge Parkway a few years ago.

Vlado will be the first to tell you that the worst problems to diagnose are those that are intermittent; it takes much longer to trace the source of the problem.

A few days later, Vlado sent me a message notifying me that the patient (Ruby) was on the operating table and surgery was about to begin. (See why I call him “Dr. Vlado”–?)

Vlado checked the circuit board very carefully. He found a few solder joints that needed work including a couple on the chip holder. In fact, he completely desoldered the chip holder and soldered it back in properly. Keep in mind here that the KX1 was only ever available as a kit, so quality had everything to do with the skill of the original builder.

He re-assembled Ruby and she worked perfectly.

A second operation

I put Ruby back on the air for a few months, but then in December 2021, a variation of the same issue resurfaced. This time, the “two clicks” in startup took a couple seconds longer than it should. Then it simply stopped working altogether.

Vlado wanted Ruby back in surgery ASAP, so I dropped her off at his “Emergency Room.”

Since the problem was no longer intermittent, Vlado quickly sorted out the main issue: a faulty encoder.

I should note here that since the KX1 hasn’t been produced by Elecraft in many years, there’s always the fear that a replacement part might already be “unobtainium.”

I called Elecraft support and fortunately for KX1 owners everywhere, the encoder is one Elecraft uses in a few of their radios. They have a healthy inventory and the part costs less than $5.00. Woo hoo!

Admittedly, when I placed the order, I also order a few extra parts I thought could fail in the future and might be difficult to find: 3.5mm jacks, pots, and even the LED screen. If I was paying shipping anyway, why not add a few extras? The parts are all very reasonably priced.

The KX1 doesn’t seem to have a lot of unobtainium in it–I seem to recall though that the firmware chip can no longer be ordered from their website and neither can the pushbuttons.  I bet you could find other pushbuttons if needed, though.

I had the encoder shipped directly to Vlado and he completed Ruby’s operation in short order. Thank you, Vlado!

To the field!

I’m so happy to have Ruby back on the air! We’ve chased numerous parks and summits in the past week and I took her on an activation Monday, pairing her with my recently-built K6ARK EFHW antenna.

I’ll post an activation report and video in the coming weeks.

KX1 advice

Elecraft KX1s have become as rare as hen’s teeth lately. You’ve no doubt noticed this if you’ve been looking for one. I’m sure I could sell my KX1 package in a heartbeat for twice more than I paid a year and a half ago. It’s a little insane, really, but I get it.

If you’ve been looking for a used KX1, I would offer the following notes/advice:

  • Since these were only available as kits, you might ask the seller about the original builder and/or have them take photos of the soldering work inside prior to purchasing.
  • Assume issues might arise with time. With radios like this, I mentally set aside at least a couple hundred dollars for future replacement parts and/or repairs.
  • Keep in mind that as with any other radio that’s a bit long in the tooth, you may find that some components are simply no longer available. That’s the risk we take being custodians of these cool little rigs.
  • Actively looking for a KX1 at time of posting (Feb 2022)? Note that interest in particular radio models waxes and wanes over time. With a little patience, you’ll eventually find one. I’ve seen this happen with so many other radios over the years.
  • The KX1, as with most Elecraft radios, comes in a number of configurations and you need to be aware of this if purchasing. Some only have two bands, some have three, and some have four. I’m not certain if band modules are still available via Elecraft, so you might get stuck with the configuration you purchase.  Also, the internal ATU was an option; don’t assume the one you’re purchasing has the ATU.
  • KXPD1 paddles are very difficult to find these days. It’s a big bonus if your radio comes with them. Not everyone likes these paddles, but the version I have now seem to work really well, actually. N6ARA Tiny Paddles are a brilliant little replacement, but you might wish to make a 3D-printed holder to attach the the paddle point on the front of the radio to take a little strain off of the 3.5mm jack inside.

I should also add that Vlado is a brilliant repair technician and has worked on numerous Elecraft, Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, and Ten-Tec models over the years–if it’s solid state, he can repair it. If you ever need his services he can be reached via his website HamRadio.repair.

Also, Dave (W8FGU) is an Elecraft employee that is devoted to their legacy radios like the KX1/KX1/K2, etc. He’s a great guy, brilliant resource, and I believe can also arrange repair, if needed.

Enough blogging: I think Ruby and I will chase a few summits now while I finish my morning cuppa’. 🙂

One year later: Did I decide to keep or sell my Elecraft KXPA100?

Using my KXPA100 during Field Day in 2020.

Many thanks to Ron (KK1L) who asks the following question after reading my post from January 2021 regarding the decision to keep my Elecraft KXPA100 amp instead of selling it:

Hi Tom,

If after a year of opportunity to reevaluate have you changed your mind? I am looking for an opportunity to wrestle with the same dilemma.

73 es God Bless de KK1L, Ron

Thank you for your question, Ron!

It’s funny you should ask. Only a couple months ago, when I re-arranged my shack, I thought yet again about selling the KXPA100 because it gets so little use as I run QRP 99% of the time both in the field and at the QTH.

The thought occurred to me that I could sell it and easily afford a dedicated 100 watt radio for the shack–either a brand new Yeasu FT-891, or an Icom IC-7300. With a little extra money added, I could even purchase the new Yaesu FT-DX10. That was very tempting.

Possibly most tempting would be to get a used Elecraft K3 or possibly a K3S; more of these have been appearing on the used market after the introduction of the K4.

Also, I had an opportunity to purchase a used mint Icom IC-7200 with a full side rail kit; I’ve always loved both the receiver and look of this particular radio! It, too, was tempting.

I came very close to posting the XPA100 on the QTH classifieds. Continue reading One year later: Did I decide to keep or sell my Elecraft KXPA100?

My last activation of 2021: It was a blast!

I’ve been so busy these past few weeks, it only hit me yesterday afternoon (Dec 30, 2021) that if I wanted to activate another park or summit in 2021, I needed to do it that same afternoon. I knew that we had plans for today and would visit with friends.

Looking back at 2021

As I’ve mentioned before, I really don’t follow my park and summit statistics with any regularity. For me, each activation and opportunity to play radio is a reward in and of itself.

I’m not a competitive fellow but I’ll admit that I’m in awe of those activators who are! Some have truly mind-blowing activation numbers. I’d encourage you to check out the POTA and SOTA leaderboards!

For SOTA, I set a vague goal of activating 12 summits in 2021–roughly one summit per month.

Yesterday, it hit me that I hadn’t checked my SOTA numbers and thought, “What if I’ve got 11 and need one more? Could I get one more summit before Saturday?!?Continue reading My last activation of 2021: It was a blast!

Elecraft AX2 20M modifiable pocket antenna now shipping

AX2 illustration by Elecraft

Many thanks to Wayne (N6KR) at Elecraft who notes that the Elecraft AX2 20 meter pocket antenna is now shipping:

https://elecraft.com/collections/antennas/products/ax2-minature-20-meter-whip-antenna

Here’s the product description from Elecraft’s website:

The AX2 is small enough to take anywhere – just in time for lightweight field ops during the new solar cycle. Use it HT-style with a hand-held, like the KX2; on a picnic table with an AXB1 whip bipod; or with a tripod and AXT1 tripod adapter. The AX2’s rugged, nylon housing is water-resistant, with low wind resistance and our new anti-wobble design.

Illustration by Elecraft

Experimenters will love the AX2’s versatile design. A snap-off cover provides access to the high-Q inductor. Simply remove turns and re-solder one wire to cover your favorite band. Clip-off tabs are provided for band identification.

Elecraft also provides an AX1 and AX2 comparison chart on the AX2 product page:

COMPARISON CHART

The table below shows how the new AX2 20-meter mini-whip compares to our original AX1 multi-band whip. Both are designed for lightweight portable operation. The versatile AX1 covers multiple bands via a selector switch and can handle up to 30 W continuous TX power.

The ultra-compact AX2 has a new anti-tilt base design that minimizes BNC connector wobble – ideal for hand-held (HTstyle) use. While the AX2 covers 20 meters as shipped, it can be modified by the user to cover any single band from 17 through 6 meters. The base unit includes small tabs that can be clipped off to identify the target band.

NOTE: Both whips are intended to be used with an ATU to compensate for terrain, body capacitance, height, etc.

A reader recently asked if I’d be selling my AX1 after learning about the AX2, but that isn’t going to happen. The AX2 is a 20 meters and up antenna and I see it as being a brilliant SOTA companion since its lightweight, stable design should do well on windy summits.

For POTA and WWFF, however, I really rely on the 40 meter band for most of my contacts. The AX1 covers 40 meters brilliantly (and 20M and 17M) so I’ll still rely on it quite heavily.

Click here to check out the AX2 antenna on Elecraft’s website. The price is currently $79.99 US plus shipping.

POTA Field Report: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 with a stolen doublet at Table Rock Fish Hatchery!

Someone asked me recently which activity I prefer more: Summits on the Air (SOTA) or Parks On The Air (POTA)?

Truth is, I like both.

I like SOTA because I love hiking and playing radio on the summits of some pretty impressive mountains.  I’m often treated to amazing views and the DX can be spectacular. I love the sense of accomplishment when the activation goes well and I’m back home later feeling a bit tired from a long hike. Good stuff!

I like POTA because it’s incredibly accessible (thus fits in my tight schedule easily). Many of the parks have great hiking trails, and there’s almost always a picnic table available making set up so much easier.  Here in western North Carolina it’s almost a given that park picnic tables are surrounded by large trees and have a reasonable amount of space, thus POTA sites can be ideal for antenna experimentation.

I don’t typically experiment with antennas during SOTA because after hiking 2-3 hours to a summit, I feel pretty invested in the activation and the last thing I want to do is roll the dice with my antenna.  With POTA, I can bring a few extra supplies or “plan B” antennas if something goes sideways.  Plus, unlike parks, summits are often lacking in tall trees so I stick with shorter wire antennas and self-supporting verticals.

On the morning of October 20, 2021, I decided that I wanted to try a new antenna or an antenna I hadn’t used in quite some time. My intention was to dig out my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical, but when I reached into my antenna bag, I pulled out a nondescript Shure microphone pouch. I scratched my head for a moment…

For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what this was, so I opened it up and discovered a doublet inside! Not just any doublet, either–based on the use of a 35mm film canister in the antenna’s construction, I knew it had to be a creation of my buddy Eric (WD8RIF).

Then my memory kicked in. Continue reading POTA Field Report: Pairing the Elecraft KX2 with a stolen doublet at Table Rock Fish Hatchery!

POTA Field Report: Dodging the rain at Lake James State Park

On Thursday, October 7, 2021, I was driving back to the QTH and had a hankering to do an activation. There was only one problem…

Rain.

Lots of rain…

As I was driving on Interstate 40 west-bound, I passed through bands of rain producing torrential downpours; the kind that brings interstate traffic to a crawl. Weather-wise, this is not typically when I would contemplate a park activation. I did a quick mental inventory of what I had in the car. Turns out I had the Icom IC-705 and the Elecraft KX2.

I also had the Elecraft AX1 portable antenna. Having used the KX2/AX1 pairing under picnic shelters with success, it was a no-brainer what I’d use at Lake James.

Most North Carolina state parks have covered picnic shelters that are first-come, first-serve or can be reserved (at no small expense) for group gatherings. There’s a really nice large picnic shelter at the Catawba River access of Lake James State Park–in fact, I took shelter there earlier this year during an activation.

No matter how bad the rain, I knew I could play radio under the shelter with my KX2/AX1 pair. Continue reading POTA Field Report: Dodging the rain at Lake James State Park

Elecraft notes mid-November price increases

Those of you who subscribe to the Elecraft newsletter, no doubt, took note of this particular news item:

Price Increases Coming in November

By now you may have seen and heard the numerous communications regarding the impact the global pandemic is having on supply chains, and what has in turn resulted in price increases of raw material, parts, and transportation costs. Unfortunately, we have also been affected by these increases. Given this situation, we will be increasing prices of products across all product lines on November 15, 2021. Any orders before November 15, 2021 will be honored at the lower prices.

We value your business and thank you for your patience as we navigate these challenging times.

Elecraft isn’t the only manufacturer who will soon increase prices. I’ve spoken with other manufacturers who’ve told me that, along with raw materials/parts,  even their shipping and packing supplies have increased as much as 15-20%. For many manufacturers, this takes a deep cut into narrow profit margins, so price increases are inevitable.

If you’ve been planning to purchase an Elecraft product even knowing there may be a lead time involved, you might consider pulling the trigger before November 15, 2021.

 

KX2/AX1 Portability: How K8ZT worked the State QSO Party from Amtrak Platforms

Anthony (K8ZT) works two 20M stations from the Sacramento platform.

Many thanks to Susan (WB2UQP) who shared this piece by Anthony (K8ZT) which was originally posted to the Elecraft KX forum. Anthony kindly gave us permission to re-post it here on QRPer.com:


AX1 Success Story

All year I have been taking part in State QSO Party Challenge with the goal of working all 45 events.

The problem was I would be on an Amtrak trip on the California Zephyr during the entire California QSO Party (ironically arriving at my destination in Emeryville, CA just after CAQP ended).

So my opportunities to get the two required contacts would be on one of the platforms during one of the Zephyr stops (usually around 5 minutes, but with a few 10-minute stops) so there would be no way to set up an antenna. I was using my Elecraft KX2 and purchased an AX1 for the trip.

My first opportunity was 10 minutes at Glenwood Springs, Colorado Station.

Using the KX2 and AX1 with counterpoise I was able to work three stations in CA on 20 Meter CW: K6XX, W6FRU, and N6TV.

During my next opportunity, now as an in-state station, from the Sacramento platform I worked two stations on 20 Meters:
W0BH in KS on CW, and K2KR in CO on SSB

-Anthony Luscre (K8ZT)


I love this, Anthony! Combining rail travel and radio? It can’t get better than that!

I also love this because it points out the advantage of compact radio setups like the KX2/AX1 pairing: they allow you the flexibility to operate in time frames and conditions other setups might not easily accommodate.  

To think that you met your goal of working the State QSO Party from Amtrak platforms in 5 to 10 minute windows of time? Wow!

And it doesn’t even look like you’re breaking a sweat!

Thank you for sharing!

Which should you purchase: the Xiegu X5105 or the Elecraft KX2?

This year I’ve been trying to make dedicated posts and videos to address questions I’m asked most often by QRPer.com readers and my YouTube channel subscribers. The idea is to have a link I can send in a reply instead of trying to give a comprehensive answer in an email.

One question that’s been surfacing a lot lately is a variation of:

“Which should I buy, Thomas? The Xiegu X5105 or the Elecraft KX2?”

I’m sure the reason I’ve been getting this question is because I reviewed and purchased the Xiegu X5105 earlier this year and have used it on a number of activations.

I’ve owned the Elecraft KX2 since 2016 so have a lot of experience with this little field radio as well.

Why the choice between these two particular models? Continue reading Which should you purchase: the Xiegu X5105 or the Elecraft KX2?

Guest Post: A Booty Boss Micro Radio Kit

Many thanks to Carolanne (N0RNM) who shares the following guest post:


A Booty Boss Micro Radio Kit

by Carolanne Fisher N0RNM

I am a bit of a tinkerer and an aspiring POTA activator, so when I received my Elecraft KX2 a couple of weeks ago with its way-too-big carry bag, I immediately started to think about ways I could keep the KX2 protected on the trail in a much lower-profile, light-weight, and easy-to-carry kit that would always be ready to go. The trick was to find a case of just the right size, with plenty of built-in organization and flexibility to build the kit around. I found what I hoped would be exactly what I was looking for from the excellent Red Oxx Manufacturing company (redoxx.com) — a soft-sided compact bag they call the Booty Boss Waist Pack. At least the specs looked good…

My Booty Boss Micro Radio Kit, packed up and ready to roll. The color isn’t exactly “low-profile,” but I figure there is more than enough black and gray in the world.

I am certain that whoever designed this bag did it specifically with the KX2 in mind. It is small enough to take anywhere, yet it fits my entire setup, including the radio, an extra battery pack, an AX1 antenna, complete with its 40 meter extension coil, 2 counterpoises, along with other necessities perfectly. I printed and spiral-bound a small note pad, shoved in a few accessories, and I was ready to rock and roll. The bag is even lightly padded for a bit of peace of mind. I am a CW-only kind of op so a mic is not a concern, especially since if I absolutely needed to use phone, the KX2’s built in mic would serve perfectly fine.

A peek into the top of the fully packed bag. I replaced the carrying strap that came with the bag with a Red Oxx Claw Non-Slip strap to make a more secure carry.

I tested the bag during several “back-porch activations” and everything seemed to work great. That is until I tried to use it under more realistic conditions — without the shaded picnic table to deploy on and the comfortable chair to sit on. Sitting on a rock while balancing the radio on my knee with its floppy AX1 antenna, and note pad while actually tying to send code proved to be a bit more than I could handle. It was clear that something like a clipboard was necessary to complete the micro radio kit, but a normal-sized clipboard would completely break the one-tiny-bag ethos.

A couple of years ago I designed and 3D printed a portable folding easel to support my sketchbook, watercolors, water etc. when out and about nature journaling or urban sketching. It worked great for that so I made a smaller version, added a recess for the radio and made sure it had room for the notepad. In order to fit in the bag, the size, even when opened to its full 8” x 9.5” size is a bit cramped, but with the addition of a leg strap, like a pilot’s lap desk, it it does the trick.

The complete current contents of my micro radio kit. Total weight: 4.3 Pounds

Here is everything currently in the bag and how it all gets stowed:

Front zip pocket

  • 13’ and 33’ counterpoises for use with the AX1
  • An extra 28.5’ random wire antenna with 50’ of mini throw line attached (fly fishing backer line with two 1 oz. fishing weights) along with a 17’ counterpoise

Front main compartment

  • Folded radio desk
  • Note pad
  • Pencil

Two small interior pockets

  • Binder post
  • Spare KX2 Battery

Interior zip pocket

  • Spare set of paddles w/ KX2 attachment and cord (by Peter GM0EUL)
  • Spare pencil
  • Copy of my radio license

Rear main compartment

  • Ax1 antenna (whip, 20 and 40 meter coils) lying the bottom
  • KX2 (fits in the bag with the KXPD2 paddle attached)

Large slip pocket

  • Ear phones
Kit fully deployed with the KX2 on the custom radio desk.

The KX2 fits flat on its back or up on its kick stand in its custom sized recess. A sticky gel pad (from Amazon) placed in the recess pretty much “glues” the rig to the desk until you want to remove it.

Although I don’t use it all that often, the AX1 is my all-purpose, quick-to-set-up and a snap-to-put-away antenna. I mount the bipod inboard to the radio (over the BNC connection) so it fits on the desk to provide support. I wedge the bipod out from the rig with a spare pencil or a stick from the trail placed between the rig and the front leg to take some of the twist pressure off the BNC connector.

Although the micro radio kit holds everything I need to make contacts, there are plenty of times that I like to have a more luxurious set up — a folding chair and table, my Alex Loop antenna, tripod, lunch, iPad, etc. Or perhaps I’m off for a multi-day and need an external battery, a solar charging system, food, shelter, etc. This scenario is precisely where the micro radio kit really comes into its own. It is tiny enough to slip into just about any bigger bag or placed on the waist belt of a backpack. No more wondering if you remembered this or that bit of radio kit or loosing track of things you borrowed from another kit. If you actually did forget something extra you thought you packed, not to worry, the micro radio kit has everything you need right inside to make contacts.

As a tiny everything necessary, nothing extra radio bag, the Booty Boss micro radio kit is, well, the BOSS!

– Carolanne (N0RNM)


Thank you so much for sharing this, Carolanne! As you know, I’m a massive fan of Red Oxx gear and also own the Booty Boss. It’s simply brilliant that you can even pack a folding radio desk inside! Thank you so much for sharing your field radio kit with us.