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Elecraft K3 and K3S quality

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio Equipment Reviews' started by KB0EZY, Feb 7, 2017.

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  1. KB0EZY

    KB0EZY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I read as many reviews as possible on equipment and the Elecraft K3 and K3S always get high marks. I've only seen one in use and the owner was inexperienced and could not demonstrate all the features. At that time it didn't seem much better or worse than my TS-590SG but we didn't have them side by side.
    I the K3/K3S primarily a CW rig?
    I have been able to talk to a few owners at Hamfests and it's like they are in a Cult of some sort. I never heard any of them say anything negative about the transceiver. I'm thinking about saving up and buying one or a complete system. Or would I be wasting my money when I can do just as well with what I have (TS-590SG, IC-7300, IC-7600)?
  2. N6RGR

    N6RGR Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    If you look at the Sherwood receiver test results the Icom IC-7300 is not that far off from the Elecraft K3S. I would guess it is a matter of preference. If I win the lottery I might buy the K3S package, bur until then I believe sinking every extra dime into a high end antenna system will make my transceiver as good or better than the higher end ones.

    Roger KK6IVD
    HK1A, WD4IGX, KK5JY and 1 other person like this.
  3. KV6O

    KV6O Ham Member QRZ Page

    I have owned a K3 for about 8 years now and it's the BEST thing in the world! Sell your kids! Rob a bank! You MUST HAVE ONE! It's my precious....

    Yes, there are certainly some crazed fanboys out there. I have thoroughly enjoyed mine, and can recommend one IF you can make use of one. It's a great CW rig, PIN diode T/R switching, and with narrow 8-pole filters it can sound very good, even at really tight settings. It's the best CW rig I have used.

    For SSB, it's good... but not sure that it would be any better than a TS-590SG which is a pretty darn good rig. I guess it really depends what you're looking for. For contesting, the K3 is a good choice. For ragchewing, it doesn't really matter. If you're running portable (light weight, power efficient), it's a good choice, but the KX3/KX2 might be better choices.

    Try one. If you can, borrow one and operate as you would with any rig for a few days. That's my advice. They are pricey, and dropping a bunch of money on something that doesn't change things too much wouldn't necessarily be the best way to spent that money - perhaps you would better benefit from better antennas? An amp? Multiple radios? If your main atenna is a 20M dipole, then spending the money on a tower and beam would yield much better results than upgrading your rig to anything.

    Good luck!

    W8LGZ, WJ4U, WA7PRC and 3 others like this.
  4. KS2G

    KS2G Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    What kind of operating do you do?
    Mostly cw? ssb? rtty?
    Casual rag-chewing?
    Serious DXing?
    Hard-core contesting?
    What's your budget?
    Portable/DXpeditions where small size and light weight are critical?

    I'm an active all-mode "little pistol" contest operator at home, and seriously considered the K-3 before acquiring a TS-590s six years ago. Since then I have used K-3 and K-3s rigs numerous times in a "big gun" multi-multi contest environment and at Field Day.

    The Sherwood ratings not withstanding, I've never come away from using a K-3 or K-3s thinking, "Wow that's SO much (or even noticeably) better than my '590s!"

    When I made my purchasing decision, I projected that in my situation the considerably higher cost of the K-3 would not be worth the extra expense. And that's turned out to be exactly the case.
    W8LGZ and N2EY like this.
  5. KV6O

    KV6O Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'll throw this in the mix...

    The measured performance is just a measure. It's like the horsepower rating of a car, it don't tell the whole story. HP doesn't tell you how fast it will go (things like weight come into play), how usable it is on a day to day basis, etc. The Elecraft's are somewhat minimalist when it comes to the wiz-bang looks of other radios. I bought mine because the performance was more important than the looks - to me. That is not how everyone thinks, however.

    Support is another area you don't see in the specs. My K3 is about 8 years old now, and I can buy a second receiver for it, new filters, a 2M module, an upgraded synthesizer, etc. It's still a supported radio with regular firmware updates. The fact that I can customize it at original purchase, make changes/upgrades, and swap out major parts for newer, better designs (like the synth) is a major selling point to me. When I bought it there wasn't a pan adapter or or 2M module, or external 10Mhz reference option, but there is now, and I can add them if I want. I can't think of another manufacturer that you can do this with. For many wiz-bang radios, you're lucky if they update their firmware to address issues beyond a year or two.

    Even with that said, if those things don't matter to you, then it moot.

    Yep. It would probably take some extreme conditions to really make a telling difference, maybe with multiple transmitters on a DXpedition or something. Or running 5A at Field Day. But My TS-2000 sitting next to the K3 works just fine, as does the TS-830S next to that. Most times, it's more enjoyable to ragchew on the 830. But if I am looking to work some weak DX on CW thru a pile-up, the K3 is my tool of choice.

  6. KE0EYJ

    KE0EYJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Let me ask you this... when you ran that K3, or K3S, were you making use of one of its most powerful (and often overlooked) Elecraft features -- the Receive EQ?

    Too many people will play with a radio for under an hour, and proclaim that other radios they have intimate knowledge of are "just as good." Unfortunately, things are missed.

    When you combine some good old-fashioned "riding of the RF gain" with the ALC turned off, and some aggressive settings on the Receive EQ, it's a whole new world. You're able to drop the noise floor way down, then pop signals out very strongly. Forget about the NR, as it's not even needed.

    Another powerful feature of Elecraft radios is the Noise Blocking. Sherwood touches on why.

    This isn't a K3 or K3s demo, but it's using the KX2, with the same idea, in terms of EQ:

    K6JEA likes this.
  7. KS2G

    KS2G Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    The Kenwood TS-590S and '590SG both have full-featured receive (as well as transmit) EQ, and I use it on my '590S with excellent results.

    Definitely a great feature on any radio.
    KE0EYJ, KU3X and KK5JY like this.
  8. WA9WVX

    WA9WVX Ham Member QRZ Page


    Did you know that the Elecraft K3 / K3S (Wooden Oak Receivers) are Deaf compared to a 55 year old design by Collins Radio? The 75S3B has a -146 dB Noise Floor Stock (as in No Preamps) Per Sherwood Engineering's tests. No manufacture has come close to the 75S3B Electrical Specifications and these are vacuum tube receivers.:eek:

    N9NY likes this.
  9. N2DTS

    N2DTS Ham Member QRZ Page

    That would not be important as band noise would be way higher then that, plus it would be getting torn apart by off frequency strong signals.
    Plenty of phase noise also.

    Way down the list and not in the running for anything.

    AG6QR and N2EY like this.
  10. N2DTS

    N2DTS Ham Member QRZ Page

    As far as the various K3 radios go, performance is mostly great, but there is more to it then that.
    Ease of use, handy controls, audio quality, price.
    I tend to really dislike the Elecraft every knob or button does 6 things method.

    Elecraft makes great portable efficient stuff, or stuff you can build, but its expensive and not as easy to use as other rigs.
    The Icom 7300 would likely be a much better buy for most people.

    For SOTA work, grab the KX2, for the shack, give me a big box radio with lots of knobs or an SDR.
    Contest? Maybe the K3s.

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