Sunday, January 27, 2008

Day 2 With K3

Saturday yielded some interesting observations.

PL1 ERR?: I flipped the K3 on in the afternoon and let in run for about 6 hours to give it a chance to burn in. Later, around 8:30pm I meandered down to the dungeon to give it a spin. When switching to 40m I got a "PL1 ERR" message on the display. Hmm. Switched to other bands, no error; it occurred only on 40m. After looking up the error in the manual (PLL voltage out of range) I did another VCO calibration and the error went away. Have to keep an eye on that to see if it recurs.

RTTY Decode: The BARTG RTTY Contest is running this weekend so there are lots of digital signals on the air. Getting the K3 to decode and display standard Baudot RTTY was a snap. The CWT tuning meter and split filtering for mark and space tones are both great features. Decoded almost everything with a moderately strong signal or better.

CW: In a word: Stunning. So much better than other radios I've used. Auto Spot works extremely well, and text decode is a useful but not so much that it can (or should) be used as a crutch. The French REF CW contest was on and I heard several F stations calling CQ TEST, plus several domestic QSOs. Even at the narrowest bandwidths the copy was perfect with no filter ringing or distortion as with the JST-245, just a clean DC note. The Dual Pass Band filter mode is great. This may very well be the rig that finally gets me into CW in a big way.

Ergonomics: It's a small radio, but not cramped with buttons and knobs. Everything seems to be where it needs to be for easy access. I never particularly liked radios that made me step through modes and bands (especially when wearing headphones!) but that is just a personal preference thing, I'm sure I will get used to it. All of the knobs and buttons feel good to the touch, not overly cheap like some of the YaeComWood radios I've used over the years. The LCD is very crisp and looks great at all brightness levels. Fairly light weight, but not so much that it goes sliding across the desk when I push buttons. All in all, a very solid radio.

JST-245 Comparo: I ran a cable from K3 RX Ant Out jack to the JST-245 for receiver comparison. Under this night's particular conditions (shitty antenna, internal speakers, dead bands) I was surprised to find the two radios to be very close on SSB. When not using the K3 noise reduction the JST-245 delivered a little more punch on the weakest signals, but when the NR is kicked in the K3 really stepped up. On stronger voice signals, I really preferred the sound coming out of the JST-245 - it just seemed to have a little more punch to it. This could be attributable to the different speakers, or perhaps to the fact that I haven't tweaked the K3's RX EQ to a setting I like. Whatever, this fight will have to continue once I get the Multi-RX set up again so the two radios can be compared through a common AF system. On CW... well, I never liked the JST-245 in that mode so it's not a fair fight. So for Round One, I'd score it K3 10, JST 9 - very close but the DSP giving a slight edge to the K3.

Receiver-wise, the K3 has pretty much met my expectations relative to the hype it has received. I was at first a little surprised that the JST-245 compared as well as it did, but then I remember how much better that radio is over all the other analog (and several DSP) HF rigs I've used so maybe it's not so surprising after all, just further testament to how great the JST-245 really is. It will be interesting to see how the two radios compare when better antennas deliver stronger signals under more favorable band conditions. Meanwhile, I need to complete the installation of the 100W PA, set the rig up for use with my Heil Proset and MH2 mics, and wait patiently for the rest of the options to ship.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Elecraft K3 #216 Passes Smoke Test!

It's aliiiiiive!!!!!!

Assembly took about 6 hours, including a painstaking inventory count of every #4 inside-tooth lock washer and whatnot. The 100W PA is still in the box, that will have to wait until I get a dummy load and can do the TX tests called for in the manual. No major problems with assembly, just a few minor things like the four connectors that mate the front panel assembly to the main RF board taking a lot of fidgeting before snapping together.

When I confirmed and updated my order with Lisa at Elecraft I left the General Coverage BPF off my list, so I've asked her to send one to me as soon as possible.

First impressions:
  • DSP Noise Reduction and AFX (binaural audio and delay effects) make weak signals jump out of the background noise.
  • Filtering very steep and with good rejection - tune 3 kHz away from S9+ SWBC carrier on 40m, dial bandwidth down to 2.5 kHz, and it vanishes without a hint of it ever being there.
  • Ergonomics excellent, though I have to get used to the Vol/RF Gain knobs on the left side of the main tuning dial. I keep reaching to the right instinctively after years of using JRC and Kenwood transceivers.
Some photos during assembly...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


The nicest thing anyone has said to me so far this year:
Dear Paul,
Attached is a copy of your K3 invoice for your confirmation. Your order will be shipping within the next 7-10 days.
Finally, after 8 months and 4 days! I've changed my order slightly, sticking with the stock 2.7 kHz (5 pole) filters instead of the 2.8 kHz (8 pole) options, and adding 2.1 kHz (8 pole) filters to go along with the 6 kHz and 400 Hz filters (one of each in main and sub receivers). Also ordered: the KVX3 transverter output in order to take full advantage of the K3's myriad antenna possibilities; the KDVR3 digital voice recorder, as I intend to do some contesting with the new rig; and an MH2 hand mic just in case I ever need it. I will still have one open filter position in each receiver, but otherwise this radio is fully loaded.

Total price for all this fun stuff is $3,603.00 - this for a radio which by all early accounts will hold its own with (if not surpass) the Orion II ($4,500) and IC-7800 ($10,500).