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Elecraft K3S Transceiver: First Impressions

2015/08/14
I’ve played with the new K3S for a little over a week now.
I’m still gainfully employed, so my hours of operation have been limited.
But, I think it’s probably the proper time for “initial impressions”.
First, the Elecraft people are beyond impressive.  Whether it was pre-sale advice, the offer of extra support when the radio arrived, or the way they approach continuous improvement, these folks are tops.  They would need to make a pretty crappy product to not have a loyal following just based on their own attitudes, and the products are well, awesome, too.I thought this was my first Elecraft, but I used a K2 briefly about ten years ago.  It was used, not functioning perfectly and for some reason I sold it before the magic took hold.  Instead, I’ve been using Kenwood, Yaesu and TenTec top-line rigs that I’ve found used from local hams.  Each of those righs served me well, and each change was an upgrade in technology and performance.The Elecraft K3S is a significant advance for me.  Over the years I had grown quite accustomed to use of the Orion II features, and in contests and DXing it was the best radio I’d ever owned.  But as the TenTec aged, and future service options seemed to be dimming, I shipped it off to the TenTec folks for service and ordered the K3S.  I went on vacation so the lack of a radio didn’t cause a nervous breakdown.  Hello, Disney.

I’m a DXer and a single-op contester.  I haven’t been the srious contester I was at one time, but I still value those skills in both operators and equipment.  So, I made sure to try the K3S in one or two contests, even if only for a few contacts.  The North American QSO Party wasn’t much of a challenge for the radio. Since *most* operators run without their amplifier, the signals tend to be better spread out, and since it’s mostly a domestic contest, it seems there’s a more casual element operating.  The Elecraft almost made HF seem “channelized” in that I’d tune in a signal and that’s all I’d hear.  One signal.  Tune again, one signal.  Tune again.  And so on.  I was starting to think it needed buttons like the car radio.  I experimented with the CW reader, without much luck.  I’ve seen videos of others using it, but never got it to work as well as my brain (no comments, please) so I quickly gave up.  Yes, I did the CWT and SPOT and all that. I will try that again some slow night.

I later tried the Worked All Europe.  While I operating the NAQP on 40m QRP, I did WAE on 40m at 100W.  I worked everyone I heard in one call. and although the bands were more crowded, there were no times when I had any trouble squeezing out the noise for the signal I wanted.  The filtering is pretty intuitive when you realize how it works, a usability improvement over the Orion. So, two contests of far different style, but in both cases I felt the receiver, the audio and the filtering were a vast improvement.

I started working to get my headset mic working.  Initially the audio was much too low for people to hear me, and I played with TEST mode and MONitoring to get that improved.  That made QRP possible again, and also made any call under power a one-call contact.  Pileup, what pileup? Very nice.  Audio from the recevier also excellent.

It too 15 minutes to get my computer software properly configured after the Windows 10 upgrade and the change of radios.  But everything that worked before the change works at least as good afterwards.  It took some time to get the K3 Utility on the proper port (USB), but once I had that up and running, things were better.  Loading CW memories and (rotating) Macros was easy, and once I realized what the button numbers were for the macros I was reprogramming the PF keys at an irrational pace. HI

I’ve only used the K3S on CW and SSB.  I never did get a decent DATA station going with my previous radios, but this one seems worth a try.  So, that’s my next challenge: getting on RTTY/PSK and getting my first DX.

So, this is a very solid transceiver.  This one (10072) is configured with both receivers having 2.8, 2.1, 1.0, 0.5 and 0.25 filters.  It includes the ATU and the 100W option.  It works really well.

There is a lot of talk about how expensive it is.  I hesitated because of that factor, but I don’t have one ounce of regret. And now you know why I’m still gainfully employed.  This is one of those rewards!

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