You may not be familiar with the innovative, US-based radio designer and manufacturer, Elecraft. First of all, note that “US-based” adjective: this is an increasingly rare phenomenon in the world of radio production, and it deserves a word of praise up front. Elecraft started life as a kit manufacturer, focusing on QRP ham-band-only radio transceivers that were effective, affordable, and maintained a very high level of performance. Their K1, KX1, K2, K3 and K3S transceivers are legendary. Their KX3, introduced in 2012, became a benchmark transceiver and still tops the charts in performance.
A Look at the KX3
In 2011, Elecraft introduced the KX3–a portable SDR transceiver with a full-featured knob-and-button user interface that doesn’t require connection to a computer to operate. At the Dayton Hamvention, the KX3 instantly drew crowds, as it was unlike any other transceiver on the market. I was eager to try out this full-featured transceiver, especially upon learning that even the basic, no-options model has a general coverage receiver. A ham transceiver with “general coverage,” incidentally, means that its receiver is not limited to the ham bands only; these receivers typically receive between 100 kHz and 30 MHz (i.e., the full shortwave radio spectrum). With a KX3, I could have a full-featured QRP transceiver and would serve as the main transceiver in the shack, coupled to a linear Amplifier, or to take out portable with its 15 Watt output.. Ideal! ...... I just had to get my hands on one to find out.
A closer look At first glance, the KX3 resembles just the faceplate of a tabletop radio: it has a large tuning knob, wide, clear amber backlit display, and a traditional set of function buttons and multi-function knobs…but not much else. Or so it appears, as there’s no bulky chassis. Connections for microphones, DC power, headphones, IQ out, key and PC interface are located on the left side panel of the radio, while the RF connection (a female BNC) is on the right side panel. The KX3 has built-in folding feet, quite sturdy, that allow the radio to be tilted at a comfortable angle for tabletop operation. To best evaluate the KX3, I’ll first discuss some of the features that would interest a ham radio operator, There is a hidden keypad for direct frequency entry (notice the numbers printed next to the multi-function knobs and buttons?)
Everything for the Radio Amateur You’ll love the feature set on the KX3. It must be one of the most comprehensive set on any radio I’ve ever used. At a bare-bones level, meaning without adding any options, the basic KX3 is truly an all-in-one QRP transceiver. Of course, it will function on any mode: USB, LSB, CW, Data, AM and FM. The output power is adjustable from 0 to 10 Watts. You can easily adjust the DSP filters, AF, RF, passband, and notch all from dedicated buttons and knobs. It even has a memory keyers for both CW and voice.
Optional ATU: Worth the Cost As I mentioned earlier, the optional automatic antenna tuner, the KXAT3, makes a lot of sense for the ham who operates portable. If you are a licensed amateur radio operator, the ATU can be a powerful tool for matching random length, or multi-band antennas to your desired broadcast band by tuning to a nearby ham band frequency. The L and C parameters of the tuner can be manually adjusted to optimize without transmitting. The user can select one of 8 L’s or one of 8 C’s parameters in the ATU MD menu entry. When an L is selected, C is set to 0, and vice-versa. However, it is not presently possible to select combinations of L and C to achieve a closer resonance. Still, selecting an L or C value in this way will provide a useful increase in gain.
Digital Modes You say you prefer digital modes? Not only will the KX3 natively decode RTTY and PSK31 and display the scrolling text on the display, but you can also send RTTY and PSK31 without a PC. How? Simply set the appropriate data mode and use your key to tap out your message in CW. Though you will hear the CW side tone, the KX3 will transform your code into RTTY or PSK-31, and send. Hypothetically, armed with only a KX3, you could run a RTTY contest from the field with no computer. Hopefully a Firmware upgrade will allow a computer keyboard to input PSK, RTTY and CW. Remarkable. The variable DSP filtering is most impressive and the KX3’s ability to block adjacent signals is benchmarked. Indeed, if you look at Sherwood Engineering’s receiver test data rankings at www.shereng.org which are sorted by third-order dynamic range (narrow spacing), the KX3 is second only to the Hilberling PT-8000A, an $18,000 transceiver.
With the installation of the optional internal automatic antenna tuner (the KXAT3), you will be able to tune almost any wire antenna on the go, with no need to use an external ATU.
In short, for the radio amateur the KX3 offers a cornucopia of features, too numerous to list here; but I can at least tell you that I discover something new on this radio almost every day and continue to be amazed by the features on this transceiver, especially considering that it cost 2016) only 1,000 GB Pounds (Basic Transceiver, then plus any options........Filters, Microphone, Internal ATU, etc) , will bump the Factory built KX3 up to around 1,400 GB Pounds (1900 USD).
The KX3 Transceiver and PX3 Panadapter on my desk.
Elecraft PX3 Panafall Adapter for the KX3
Portable, High-Performance Panadapter
The PX3 Panadapter adds a visual dimension to signal hunting, with fast, real-time spectrum and waterfall displays of band activity. Its small size and weight make it ideal for travel or field use. The PX3 is fully integrated with the Elecraft KX3, utilizing its serial control port and RX I/Q signals*. The panadapter tracks the KX3’s VFO frequency and filter settings via on-screen cursors. You can point and click on signals by rotating and tapping the PX3’s SELECT knob. With its very wide dynamic range and frequency span of up to 200 kHz, the PX3 offers better performance than most PC sound cards. It’s also one of the most sensitive panadapters available, detecting signals down to the noise floor of the KX3. A PC or Mac can still be connected to the KX3 (via the PX3) for use with logging and control programs.
Advanced Features and Signal Processing PX3 features include CW/RTTY/PSK text display, multi-pass signal averaging to pull out weak signals, peak detection to show total activity on the band, adjustable reference level, and amplitude range scaling. There’s also a full set of programmable switches to access often-used settings. The PX3 has a wide supply voltage range (8-15 V) and low current drain (typ. 140 mA @ 13.8 V). It includes a comprehensive manual, and is available factory assembled or as a modular, no-soldering kit.
CW/RTTY/PSK text display
Tracking and Fixed Tune display modes
DSP Noise Blanker for display
High-performance companion panadapter for the Elecraft KX3 transceiver
Full-color waterfall and spectrum displays, with fast sweep and excellent sensitivity
Simple plug-and-play operation—no PC, soundcard, software drivers or setup required
Weighs just 13 oz (0.37 kg); enclosure size: 5.4 x 3.4 x 1.7” (13.7 x 8.6 x 4.3 cm)
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