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Comparison of Kenwood Ts590 v Elecraft K3

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio Equipment Reviews' started by N9NY, Jun 26, 2017.

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  1. N9NY

    N9NY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Would greatly appreciate your reviews in comparing the TS590s to the Elecraft K3 as far as ease of use, receive characteristics etc. I am considering the Elecraft for CW, chasing DX
    73 & thanks
    Gregg N9NY
  2. KS2G

    KS2G Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I've owned a '590S for six years, and used K3 rigs many times at Field Day and at multi-op contest stations.

    Both excellent rigs.

    I'd give the "ease of use" edge to the '590S ... major menu functions are mostly "set and forget" and access to features like noise-reduction, notch filters, etc are one-button toggles, where many things on the K3 require push or push-and-hold to access up to three functions on a single button.

    I think the receivers are more-or-less equal, depending on which roofing filters are in the K3 (the '590S is all-DSP, so no roofing filters), but that's hard to say for sure since I've never done a side-by-side comparison.

    I'm mostly a phone op, and everything I've heard is that the K3 is a "cw rig".

    The K3 rates higher on the Sherwood list. (

    The K3 can be equipped with a sub-receiver, rather than just the second vfo in the '590S, which can be very useful in DX pile-ups.

    But then there's the price differential.

    The '590S is substantially less expensive than the K3, so I'd give it the edge, by far, when it comes of "bang for the buck".

    And all of the above goes for the current models -- K3S and TS590SG.

    Since, I see on your QRZ page, that you already own a '590S, you're well aware of how good it is.
    The only way to know if you'll find the K3 superior would be to see if you can find a way to try one, preferably side-by-side with your '590S.

    All I can tell you is that six years ago I considered both radios, but decided that, for me, the K3 wasn't worth the substantially higher cost. And my experience using K3 rigs since then at Field Day and at contest stations hasn't changed that assessment.
    KU3X likes this.
  3. AF7ON

    AF7ON Ham Member QRZ Page

    My two HF rigs are a Kenwood TS 590 SG and a three-year-old Elecraft K3 modded with the latest synthesizer.

    I upgraded from the 590 S to SG as I was considering adding an SDR panadapter, which is easier on the SG. Otherwise, the performance difference between the S and SG is insignificant.

    I am using the K3 with a P3 panadapter, which I find very useful and will likely add an SDR panadapter to the Kenwood.

    As far as comparisons between the Kenwood and Elecraft go, the differences in performance are mostly small and not likely to be significant to the average user. I am principally a CW operator on the HF bands and find them both very good. The K3 has more receive filter flexibility than the Kenwood, but again not very significant to most users. The Kenwood has full USB connectivity out of the box, whereas older K3 models require a $400 upgrade.

    By all accounts, the newer K3s is a superb rig, but configured to give similar features to the 590S will set you back $4,000 or more. A used reasonably-equipped K3 will set you back at least $2,000. Lightly-used 590 S units are available at $750 or less and the 590 SG for under $1,000. I would say that, overall, the K3 is better than the 590 S or SG, but it's not three or four times better! The Kenwoods are excellent value for money with performance that is pretty close to Elecraft.

    NQ1B, N0TZU and KU3X like this.
  4. KV6O

    KV6O Ham Member QRZ Page

    And this is true with so many things in life. Is a $1M car 4 times "better" than a $250K one? A $1000 bottle of wine 4 times better than a $250?


    But, if you're at the extremes of performance, these little, incremental differences can make a difference. Is it "worth it"? That's for the buyer to decide!
    K7GQ, N9NY, N0TZU and 1 other person like this.
  5. AF7ON

    AF7ON Ham Member QRZ Page

    Agreed - and it's also not just about performance. What I like about Elecraft is their flexibility in configuration and the ability to customize the rig to your own personal requirements. Having built rigs from scratch (I still have a 1980s home-brew 40-meter QRP transceiver) and from kits, I am not shy in pulling apart my K3 to add or remove options or give it a tweak. Being a US-based manufacturer with good customer service is another Elecraft bonus.

    Still, Kenwood makes some very good rigs and I opted to keep my TS-590SG instead of adding a second receiver to the K3, which would have cost me about as much! I now use the 590 SG as a portable and back-up rig.

    KV6O and N0TZU like this.
  6. KV6O

    KV6O Ham Member QRZ Page

    And the support and configurability (is that a word?) of the K3 is a major reason why I have one. I purchased mine in 2008 (IIRC), I added the P3 pan adapter a few months ago, and I am about to pull the trigger on the new synth and DSP board. What other radio can you do factory supported hardware upgrades nearly 10 years down the line? Filters, sure, but major components like a second receiver, 2M, and hardware upgrades?
    N9NY likes this.
  7. W9CW

    W9CW Ham Member QRZ Page

    I know this thread is nearly 8 months old, but I would like to correct an incorrect statement by KS2G below. The TS-590S does have roofing filters, exactly the same roofing filters as the TS-590SG. There was no change in the design on this from moving from the -590S to the -590SG. When on the 15m, 20m, 40m, 80m, or 160m bands, or specifically when the rig is using down-conversion, both the -590s and the -590SG have 500Hz and 2.7kHz 6-pole MCF roofing filters in the 1st IF (11.374MHz). However, from the -590SG's sales brochure, Kenwood implied that this was a new feature on the -590SG. Not so... I believe this "glitch" occurred in the Japanese to English translation, which happens more than you would think.

    I have both a TS-590S and TS-590SG, thus I know for a fact that each have exactly the same roofing filters in the 1st IF. Except for being able to use the DRIVE feature output on the -590SG for use with a SDR receiver to provide a panadapter/spectrum scope, I see no intrinsic performance difference between either rig on the air. I had my -590S' ALC overshoot taken care of by Kenwood East Service Department in 2012 - with their free of charge ALC Update - thus, it's fine using with an amp as is the -590SG of course.

    Other than that, I agree with KS2G's assessment.

    WS9K likes this.
  8. N9NY

    N9NY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Went with the K3S. Great for CW. I also owned a 590S which I found easier to work but in the end, I am happy with my choice. This is my last rig that I will purchase, especially with the downturn in solar activity.
    73 Gregg N9NY
  9. AF7ON

    AF7ON Ham Member QRZ Page

    One final comment on this issue. Yes, the 590S and 590SG are virtually identical and do have roofing filters. Sherwood's receiver tests show the SG to have a small edge over the S, but it was not one I found obvious. The K3 shows even better receive performance than either Kenwood, but in side-by-side on-air tests it is hard to tell.

    I do prefer the ergonomics of the Kenwood over the Elecraft. With over 60 controls, the Kenwood has about 50% more buttons than the Elecraft, so it's a bit easier to find the mode or feature. I can't count the number of times I've hit the power switch instead of the mode switch on my K3! But to me, the audio of the Elecraft is more pleasing and the rig I use most.

    It all depends on personal preference and most hams would be happy with either.

    I am sure Gregg will enjoy his new K3S!

    KU3X and N9NY like this.
  10. W7ARX

    W7ARX Guest

    HAd a K3 and now the 590S. Lots of spare change back in my pocket and a much more enjoyable radio to use ergonomically...I think the others have pretty well hit all the high spots...

    I got caught up in the K3 hype and after a while found it wasn't for me...

    GL with your decision(s)....
    KU3X and KB7FSC like this.

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