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Elecraft K3 Review

N0NB

Active Member
Oct 3, 2010
265
97
38
Bremen, KS
www.n0nb.us
The AGC has been a hot topic of discussion on the Elecraft list for the past week or so. At the moment I have AGC SLP set at 005 and AGC THR set at 005. I have not yet given the other settings any thought.

As I was setting up my K3 the other day I was listening on 40m phone and overheard a conversation with one guy with a K3 and the other running a TS-480 or some such and the second commented that the K3 was a superb CW rig but not so good on SSB. I should have jumped in and asked him explain his assertion, but I was busy and am generally too polite to do so. As I sit here and twiddle the knobs, I'm wondering what was left out. I think the K3 is what the operator makes it and it can be made into a very fine SSB rig as well as a CW/data rig.
 

Moleculo

Ham Radio Nerd
Apr 14, 2002
9,052
1,367
283
As I was setting up my K3 the other day I was listening on 40m phone and overheard a conversation with one guy with a K3 and the other running a TS-480 or some such and the second commented that the K3 was a superb CW rig but not so good on SSB. I should have jumped in and asked him explain his assertion, but I was busy and am generally too polite to do so. As I sit here and twiddle the knobs, I'm wondering what was left out. I think the K3 is what the operator makes it and it can be made into a very fine SSB rig as well as a CW/data rig.

At this point in time, anyone who says that the K3 is not so good on SSB either has never used one and is just parroting something they read or has not taken the time to learn how use their K3. I have seen a lot of material since the K3 was introduced where various functions that I've already described may have not worked as well as they could, but improvements continually get made. At this point, the TS-480 and the K3 aren't even in the same class of rig for SSB use, IMO.

I can understand that some operators may not like the K3. Many people prefer a rig that is much simpler and is pretty much ready to operate without much setup. The K3 may not be for them. However, if you like being able to almost endlessly tailor a rig to suit your needs and style and also like being able to give input toward functional improvements and new features, it's hard to go wrong with the K3.
 

Moleculo

Ham Radio Nerd
Apr 14, 2002
9,052
1,367
283
Other Features

The K3 has a whole bunch of configuration options that are too numerous to post here. I can cover a few more of the more significant options if there is interest. Suffice it to say, this is a rig that you can truly tailor to your operating preferences. There are other options available that I did not purchase, but may at a future date. These include a board that contains an additional RX antenna, IF out and transverter interface, a sub receiver that includes slots for 5 roofing filters, digital voice recorder, and a 10 watt, 2 meter module. If you purchase the additional sub receiver, you can configure the rig for diversity receive, which allows you to listen to a frequency with two different antennas, preferably with different polarity. There are very few rigs on the market that have this capability.

Final Summary

I'll sum up my review with brief comments on the following criteria: Performance, Functionality, Value, Support, and X-Factor.

Performance: Everything on this rig works as advertised. I have no ability or reason to doubt lab reports like those from Clifton Labs, but from a practical standpoint, performance is outstanding. I have never had a rig of this caliber before and I don't want to go back to something inferior. From the RX design, to NB, NR, DSP functions, TX, PC interface...everything is top shelf.

Functionality: I've already stated how nice it is to be able to customize just about everything. That alone makes this rig worth gold. The 8 band TX and RX EQ, Noise Gate, macro capability, complete control of the NB at both the IF and DSP, tons of memories, roofing filters, CW recorder, etc. offer top of the line functionality. There are a few things that I think could be improved, however. The memory functionality is OK, but it is a little different/weird compared to other rigs. Once you become familiar with the memory implementation, it's OK but it does take some getting used to. They try to make up for the lack of direct band change buttons by implementing the special memory 0-9 band switch, but it doesn't work as well as rigs that have the bands actually labeled on the numbered buttons. This is primarily because it is difficult to remember which bands you assigned to each button. I wish there was a band sweep function similar to my Icom 746 Pro. The P3 Panadapter is a far superior way to accomplish this, but a "poor mans" version would be nice. Lastly, the onscreen PSK31/CW/RTTY decoder just doesn't have enough screen real estate to be effective. The inclusion of a DB9 serial port instead of a more useful USB port is odd. Keep in mind that these points are my personal ideas for improvement and could even be considered nit-picking. As a whole, the functionality of the rig is outstanding

Value: A basic K3 with 100 watt PA, three roofing filters (to get you SSB, AM, and FM operation) and automatic tuner will run you about $2500. When you consider that you also get 8 band RX and TX EQ's, a noise gate, and the best receiver on the market, the price starts to look very competitive with other rigs. Other rigs that might be considered comparable are the Icom IC-7600 ($3800), the Yaesu FT-2000 ($2650), and the TenTec Omni VII ($2995). Keep in mind that all three of these rigs have slightly different included features that you need to compare for yourself. The constant improvements and upgrades that are available to owners free of charge ensure that your investment will last a long time.

Support: Initial experience with the Elecraft support team has been very positive. Emails to tech support are answered incredibly fast. Turn around for my build mistake was more than prompt. Elecraft fans rave about how good the support is and so far I have no reason to dispute that. Elecraft appears to listen to suggestions and respond as quickly as they are able. When I pointed out that there were many MARS frequencies that were blocked, even after the MARS mod was applied, Elecraft updated their utility within weeks to give us what we needed. Very cool.

X-Factor: This is where I rate things like "coolness" and "fun" factors. First, the ability to build the rig yourself, even if it is just a modular board kit makes "coolness" rate off the charts. I have not had this much fun with a piece of radio equipment in years. "Made in America" means something special to me, too. Knowing that I can expand the rig and add more features as budget and needs allow is worth something to me, too. I can't wait to add stuff like the second receiver and P3 panadapter.

Overall, I rate this rig as a real winner. While there are opportunities for improvement, I can't really find any glaring faults. I'm sure that some operators will favor the user interface of other rigs, but the capabilities and performance of this rig simply are best of class. I hope the features and capabilities continue to grow throughout the lifespan of the rig.
 

N0NB

Active Member
Oct 3, 2010
265
97
38
Bremen, KS
www.n0nb.us
Good summation, Tim. I've had my K3 operational for about a week and I'm getting comfortable with the UI. I am somewhat puzzled by the constant harangue about the bandswitch versus individual band buttons. The comments seem to also include about how slow band changes are. I have found a trick for the bandswitch and that is tapping up or down in quick succession until one arrives at the band of interest and then the K3 will switch the bandpass relays and be ready. When the bandswitch is tapped more slowly then, yes, one must wait for the relay switching to occur. As always, there is the direct frequency entry available which is quick for me.

As you stated, the memory functions are different enough for me to comment on. On the Yaesu rigs that I'm most familiar with, the radio is in either memory or VFO mode and data can be move between the two at the operator's option. The K3's method where memory data replaces VFO data with no ability to revert back to the previous VFO data seems a step backward. I'm not sure how they could improve this with the current button layout. Again, direct frequency entry is available so this is a fairly minor issue.
 

CDX-007

Transducer Fanatic
Jan 26, 2006
706
17
28
Were you possibly on 3.820 along with VooDoo TS-950 Jeff from San Jose?
ESSB

Last night after playing with PSK31 and making several contacts, I decided to head over to a 75 meter frequency where a bunch of locals hang out at night, most of whom have very good audio properties. The idea was to play with the ESSB functionality and obtain a little feedback on the air.

First, I have to reiterate again how quiet the receiver in this rig is. When I first switched over to 75m, I thought, "Wow, the band is pretty quiet tonight". Well, it wasn't bad, but then I switched rigs, back to the 746 Pro for comparison. I couldn't BELIEVE the difference. The 746 Pro had such a higher noise floor that it was a night-and-day difference...and I was doing this with the Noise Reduction turned off on both rigs.

Back to the ESSB stuff...

The K3 comes with the ability to widen your SSB TX audio up to 4Khz wide. I turned ESSB on and set it to 3.3 Khz wide using the menu setting like this:

moleculo-albums-elecraft-k3-build-picture2188-k3-essb-setting.jpg


I got nothing but good audio reports from the other stations, especially from those who had their RX widened up to hear the difference. Turning on or off ESSB is a matter of going into the Config menu, dialing around with VFO A and setting the options. It's not something that is quick to do. For this reason, you would probably create a macro to turn it on/off and set it to one of the programmable buttons. Which leads me to my next topic on the rig's macro capabilities...
 

TonyV225

W9WDX Amateur Radio Club Member
Apr 18, 2005
5,824
315
143
Wisconsin
These things really seem to be a hit!! We were just talking about this rig along with the Ten Tec models the other night on the radio.
 

Robb

Yup
Dec 18, 2008
11,433
3,573
323
Silicon Valley CA, Storm Lake IA
After reading eHam's glowing reviews of the Kenwood TS-590 and comparisons made to the Elecraft K3; it would be interesting to compare the two. That is, if that possibility exists. Is there anyone around you that you can borrow one from and run a side-by-side comparison? Sure would like to see how well the receive compares between these two radios. . .

For the price, the Kenwood looks competitive . . .
 

De_Wildfire

Member
Jul 27, 2009
58
0
16
57
Ok, I have an Elecraft K3. I can't find the crackling popping noise that is giving me s-9 from 22 mhz to 30 mhz. That is a project in which I'll need to go fox hunting in the neighborhood. But I am glad I have this radio for that reason. I hit the noise blanker and the other filters and can knock it out totally. I can hear stations that I could not hear before. I had this radio for two years now and love it. I get great audio reports on the hand held mic and some think I am using a studio mic. I can't wait to get a studio mic. I like the simulated stereo especially when using head phones. I can hear stations better and more clearly. If I had the money, I would get another K3 in a heart beat as a back up rig. You can't go wrong with this radio. Can't wait to try out the P3 add on.
 

doctor

Supporting Member
Aug 1, 2006
1,036
79
58
79
indiana
k3/rtty

Does the k3 the model to just plug in and operate rtty from your keyboard..if so how does it work...
TNX
DOCTOR/795
 

EA3GEG

Member
Dec 13, 2009
5
0
11
58
Hi guys, i am using K3 utility with CW mode and I haven't any problem, but when I am going to use on RTTY mode don't transmiting and the K3 utility cann't decode.
It's a configuration problem???? or it isn't posible RTTY from the K3 utility.

Any idea

Thanks

Joan EA3GEG
 

g4ilo

Member
Aug 30, 2009
33
0
16
Cumbria, UK
www.g4ilo.com
I don't know. You should try KComm, it's a bit fuller featured than the K3 Utility.

You should also make sure that the tones are not inverted. By default they are the wrong way round. Someone told me the menu option to change but I'm afraid I can't remember what it was.
 

Moleculo

Ham Radio Nerd
Apr 14, 2002
9,052
1,367
283
Does the k3 the model to just plug in and operate rtty from your keyboard..if so how does it work...
TNX
DOCTOR/795

Sorry, missed this question.

You can't operate RTTY with the K3 using a keyboard plugged into the rig. It would be cool if it did, but it doesn't. The K3 does not have a USB port. However, the built in sound card interface is a real no-brainer to hook up to your PC and use a Soundcard application.

You CAN send RTTY directly from the K3 by using CW because the rig knows how to convert the CW input into RTTY. I'm not sure why you would want to do this, but you can.
 

EA3GEG

Member
Dec 13, 2009
5
0
11
58
I don't know. You should try KComm, it's a bit fuller featured than the K3 Utility.

You should also make sure that the tones are not inverted. By default they are the wrong way round. Someone told me the menu option to change but I'm afraid I can't remember what it was.



Thanks for the information and the link
 

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