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Reviews Categories | QRP Radios (5 watts or less) | Elecraft KX1 Help

Reviews Summary for Elecraft KX1
Elecraft KX1 Reviews: 89 Average rating: 4.8/5 MSRP: $279
Description: A unique 3-band HF CW transceiver optimized for backbacking and lightweight travel; only 9 oz., 1.3"H x 5.2"W x 3"D. Includes DDS VFO, internal battery, optional internal automatic antenna tuner, plug-in keyer paddle. Covers entire 20/30/30 m ham bands (30 m optional), plus SWL segments.
Product is in production.
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LX1LH Rating: 3/5 Jun 22, 2007 06:25 Send this review to a friend
Easy to build - excellent rx - awful usability  Time owned: 6 to 12 months
I had one myself, I build another one for a friend, easy to build. You get a very good transceiver - not only for portable - but with one caveat: How this thing is to be used is horrible, especially with the ATU in it. You need the manual close at all times - you expect from a small CW TRX easy usage ... cannot be said and usability is 50% of the game in my oppinion. SOLD !
KX0R Rating: 4/5 Jun 12, 2007 10:03 Send this review to a friend
Incredible radio, great features, a few problems  Time owned: more than 12 months
Most of the recent reviews of the KX1 are essentially correct. The KX1 is a great QRP portable radio, and itís a fun project. The folks at Elecraft have created a nice product that you can assemble successfully. Iíve used my KX1 for over a year, in the field and at home.

The price is fair, considering that you get a sophisticated DDS radio with a nice superhet receiver, great firmware, low power consumption, and multiband capability. Elecraftís sales model seems to be to sell you the bare-bones kit at a reasonable price, and then fleece you with the accessories that you inevitably find irresistible. The basic 2-band KX1 is OK, but youíll probably want the KXB3080 30/80 band module and the KXAT1 ATU, plus maybe the cute KXPD1 paddles, so you could end up spending almost as much as for a Yaesu FT817ND!

The KX1 is particularly nice to use while camping. You can see the red LED display in the dark, and itís easy to adjust the brightness. The white LED ďlog lightĒ is actually a useful flashlight, and it may mean you donít need to wear an LED headlamp to write or find stuff in your tent (inconvenient with earphones). You can partially operate this radio by feel, in a sleeping bag in cold weather. The 10 hz tuning is nice, and changing to larger steps is easy Ė just poke the knob.

Iíve had numerous rag-chew contacts with my KX1 while lying in a tent in sub-freezing weather. Some of these were at Scout campouts in the local Rocky Mountains, with compromise antennas like end-feds with counterpoise wires strung through the snow. The KX1 makes contacts as long as the antenna is up reasonably high. 3 or 4 watts is not much, and you have to give it a fair chance to get out. The radio works well in the cold, and of course, the DDS doesnít drift the way that VFOís do. Iíve had many QSOís exceeding 30 minutes, with stations 500 to 1000 miles away, and the far operators were able to copy all the key points of the conversation and had no problem sticking with me. Some of these were QRP-to-QRP, always cool.

If you plan to use this radio in the field, please order the KXAT1 ATU and the modules for the other band(s) you want. The ATU will let you efficiently match a compromise unbalanced antenna, which is useful when youíre outside and time is limited. You can use a balun if you prefer balanced feedline, and the ATU will match through it just fine. If you donít like that approach, order a BLT (Balanced Line Tuner) kit from Doug Hendrix and enjoy its nice performance.

The ATU in the KX1 has a limited matching range, but itís still very useful, especially if you need to operate on more than one band with the same antenna. One of the best features of the KX1 is its ability to work more than one band while in the field. Youíll like this if you operate in the morning or evening, when 20, 30, and 40 are all open.

The KX1 will display your SWR and power, but only if the ATU is installed. Youíll really like that power and SWR information, especially when your antenna is ridiculous and your feedline is lying in the snow or snaked through tree braches.

You actually need the ATU or another tuner with this radio, because itís conditionally stable. What this means is that the KX1ís transmitter may generate spurious emissions (as in ďillegalĒ) when itís operated into a mismatch. I did some tests with mine, and I found that itís particularly unstable when operated into certain kinds of reactive loads, such as a misadjusted tuner, a non-resonant antenna, or a mismatched feedline. This radio will create strong spurious emissions if the SWR is worse than 2:1 or 3:1, by its own meter, if the reflected phase is wrong. The simple final amp has no feedback and no SWR protection Ė it canít tolerate bad loads. The ďresistor modĒ that Elecraft suggests to improve the RF drive actually reduces the stability. The good news is that if you use the internal ATU, or a correctly-tuned external matching device, your rig will behave and the output will be clean.

I did a lot of tests with my spectrum analyzer to investigate the instability of the KX1. I thought that I might be able to cure it, but I didnít succeed. Every trick I tried that improved the stability reduced the power output. There is no extra drive to work with in this simple transmitter. What it boils down to is that you MUST use a load (antenna) close to 50 ohms with this rig. DO NOT just connect an antenna to the output and assume it will be OK, unless you have the ATU and it gives you a decent match! This is what Elecraft recommends Ė they warn against weird loads.

I think Elecraft knows about this stability limitation. I communicated clearly with Gary at Elecraft about what I found, and he seemed aware of the situation. Many small QRP rigs with simple transmitters are conditionally stable, and they need a good 50-ohm load in order to behave. This is my primary reason for giving a rating of 4 instead of 5 (on this otherwise wonderful radio). Because I tested stability, and understand how valuable it is in a portable radio, I probably spent three times as much time working on the stability issue as I did building my KX1. For a while I was convinced it was some little error Iíd made, so it was frustrating. The old saying ďOut of sight, out of mindĒ is appropriate. The reverse is true if you have access to a spectrum analyzer Ė once you see those unstable blips gliding around outside the ham band, you canít ignore them.

Too many QRP radios have been sold with conditionally-stable transmitters. All the engineering development is done with laboratory 50-ohm loads. A radio intended for field use should be able to tolerate a large amount of mismatch all over the Smith chart, without breaking into spurious oscillations, burning out the final, or otherwise failing. What we want is to hook up a compromise antenna and operate without fear.

The keyer in the KX1 is pretty nice. Itís easy to change speeds while in QSO, and the display tells you your speed setting. If I have any criticism, itís that the Mode A timing seems a little strange (this is a personal thing). The keying and break-in are just fine.

One feature I particularly like is the RIT. It works well, and the display blinks to remind you when itís on.

Others have mentioned the cool variable-bandwidth crystal filter, which is very useful with its knob adjustment. However - I believe that it reduces the sensitivity of the radio when the bandwidth is narrowed. Sometimes I can copy a weak signal easier with a wider setting, in spite of hearing more noise and QRM Ė many CW filters donít work that way. This filter seems to favor a lower audio frequency as the bandwidth is reduced, and itís too low for my preference Ė but you get used to it. Mostly I use the filter in its middle range.

The sensitivity of the KX1ís receiver is adequate to copy most of the stations you could actually contact with your 3 watts. You WILL have to use earbuds or other high-sensitivity phones, as the audio gain is barely adequate. I could use another 10 or 15 db, particularly when the windís swishing through the trees. Nevertheless, on 20M and 40M, I can hear CW signals at -130 dbm with the filter set fairly wide. I could probably copy code OK at -120 dbm. On 30M the sensitivity is reduced by several db, but itís still adequate.

The receiver is relatively free from overloading, intermods, and spurious responses. It does a good job with a minimal amount of power and a modest component-count. It receives SSB and AM, and it tunes SWBC outside the ham bands.

The packaging is attractive, and the arrangement of the controls and the topside display make this rig easy to use outdoors or in a tent. However, the rig isnít ruggedized or even water-resistant, so it requires protection from impact, rain, and snow.

The clever package includes space for internal batteries. With 6 non-rechargeable AAís inside you can put out about 1.5 to 2 watts. While this is enough for a few short contacts, most of us would rather have the 3 or 4 watts the KX1 can deliver when run on 12V. Unfortunately the space for the internal batteries is wasted, and the layout for 6 AAís works against substituting better batteries. This radio works great on 3 rechargeable lithium-ion or lithium-polymer cells at 10-12V, but itís easier to use these with an external pack. This would be a better radio with an internal lithium rechargeable battery, but they would have to re-do the whole radio to offer this. Yaesu made the same mistake with the FT817 Ė wasting all that internal space for a battery thatís cute, but too small for practical use in the field.

The KXPD1 screw-on paddles look nice, but Iíve never tried them. Instead I chose Palm Minipaddles, and Iíve never been sorry. The Palm paddles work well and offer more posture choices for operating in uncomfortable positions, as when tent-camping. I see no value in having the entire rig in one cute package.

While the KX1 is a great performer with lots of clever features, there are smaller and more efficient radios for actual trail and backpacking use. Steve Weberís ATS-3A is a fraction the size and price of the KX1, yet the ATS-3A can deliver 5W on four bands, with incredible efficiency and performance.

The KX1 is the rig I usually take for winter tent camping and day use outdoors. You really can throw a wire in a tree on a hilltop, work DX, or ragchew with this magical radio. If you like CW QRP portable, youíll appreciate the many features of this unique rig.

72/73 KX0R
AI5RB Rating: 5/5 Feb 15, 2007 02:24 Send this review to a friend
Great Rig  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
This rig was fun to build. All parts were included and the fit-and-finish is perfect. The assembly instructions were very clear.
Magnifying glasses are a must to read component values and inspect the PCB. The step-by-step approach allows construction of one section and testing - just using a DMM. I used a fine-tipped ESD-safe temperature controlled iron with thin solder, as recommended, and had no prblems. Toroid wnding and stripping is also easy.
I assembled the basic unit and made an instant contact the first try! Then, I added the ATU, and then the 30/80M unit. My initial output with the 30/80M unit was very low, but I discovered a toroid lead that was shorting against a pad (it's a tight fit in there). After adjusting the position, the rig fired up fine.
The accessory paddles feel nice and are easy to use, too.
In summary, a very well designed kit, easy to build, and works great!
WA6RSV Rating: 5/5 Jan 13, 2007 01:43 Send this review to a friend
Impressive  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
Well I just finished a QSO with FO/N6JA on 40 meters at 0135 PST using the KX1 at max power (4w)and a High Sierra motorized antenna on the a 449.(4100 miles on 4 watts on 40 meters)

I look at this little rig and I can't believe that someone with mediocre building skills such as myself was able to build it plus the antenna tuner and the 30/80 mod and then make it work.

What can I say..their manual took me by the hand and their emails were prompt and curteous.

N4BGR Rating: 5/5 Nov 5, 2006 04:21 Send this review to a friend
Ditto & Kudos  Time owned: 6 to 12 months
Ditto to everything said. This is one that QRO types would enjoy. An easy build, setup is a snap, menus are intuitive, manual gets 2 thumbs up and QSOs are fun. I take mine to the park about a block away and kids are curious...yes, the KX1 is an ambassador for ham radio. Recently took it to JOTA (scout jamboree on the air) and used it as a tool to teach morse code. Code is not dead, folks and this little rig is here to stay!
AE6CP Rating: 5/5 Sep 10, 2006 17:42 Send this review to a friend
Another awesome K-Rig  Time owned: more than 12 months
I built one with the tuner, 30 meter option and paddles. It worked perfectly the first time and is amazingly small. I have one of those little yellow waterproof pelican cases and inside that I can fit the radio with lithium batteries, the paddles, laminated quick reference cards, a small notepad, pen, BNC to bannana adapter, a 41 foot piece of wire and a 16.5 foot piece of wire, a set of earbuds, a small pocket knife, a roll of fishing line and an aux power cord with power pole connector. The whole box is about 7"x4"x2.5". An entire station in a box!!!
Thanks again Elecraft!
-Larry AD5VM
NZ0R Rating: 5/5 Jul 24, 2006 11:44 Send this review to a friend
Fun project; great radio  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I'm not a backpacker and really have no need for an ultraportable transceiver. But I have already built a K1 and K2/100 and was looking for another project.

The kit went together easily. It has a taste of everything you'd do to build a more complex radio like the K2 but in smaller doses. It helped to have built the K1 and K2 but not in any major ways. For example I knew to look ahead and find the torroids and transformers and go ahead and wind those when I had a few minutes.

I've been surprised at how much fun it's been to use this radio. The integrated paddle is a little quirky but once you get it set up it's quite nice. When it's screwed in tight I like it as well as the $400 hand-crafted March paddle I use with the K2. Recalling the frequency you're on takes some getting used to. Since it's only a 3-digit display it takes a button push to get it to tell you the full frequency.

The KX1 is a nice project for someone new to Elecraft kits or someone who's built a K2 and is just looking for something to keep the bench busy.
W7AAR Rating: 5/5 Apr 13, 2006 13:42 Send this review to a friend
The little rig that could...  Time owned: 6 to 12 months
Would simply second the preceding positive comments. Was listening to a Russian station the other night on 20 with the KX1. Switched the antenna to my new Mark V Field for a side by side and could not hear him. The Field is a complex machine and I may have had something set wrong but the KX1 has all the receiver I need. Noise level seems way less than the Mark V. Amazing rig and fun to build. QRP really can be a way of life.
IW0GXY Rating: 5/5 Feb 25, 2006 14:31 Send this review to a friend
incredible rig  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I got mine in 10 days after order. I didn't expected so early tought i choose the cheaper delivery to Italy (50 bucks). Well after i started to assemble strictly following the manual. I took 2 days of work to build it with 30mt and ATU options. Well it works well since i turned it on the first time. I'm not a kit builder and it's long time i didn't built a kit. Anyway, this was the first surprise. The second didn't last to come. I prepared an "emergency" antenna using a roll-on portable receive only antenna (that one that usually come with receiver like Sangean or sony) cutting the original 3.5mm plug and soldering the BNC. I tried last evening to listen and I was amazed of clear and loud signals i could get on the low bands. Today then I unrolled the antenna between the tents holder in my living room and a bookshelf 4 meters away. Well, I tried to answer to calls and unexpectedly i got response from UU5,LY2 and DA0 on 20 and 30mt (between 1100 to 1700 kms away). Uhu, I was feeding it with 6 fresh NiMh Batteries. What can I tell you more. I'm very happy with this little piece of rig and I'm amazed of good reception even tought a piece of wire is connected.
DL6XAZ Rating: 5/5 Dec 7, 2005 08:50 Send this review to a friend
Excellent little radio  Time owned: more than 12 months
I am not a trecker, backpack addict or similar, but I wanted a pocket size cw transceiver for whenever I stop with the "best of all wives" at some scenic place, throw a wire into the landscape and play ham radio. The FT-817 has got its role for holiday, but this one is absolutely stunning in performance, ergonomics and design, just right for what I wanted it. I love it and do not regret anything except that I did not get it earlier. Elecraft: my sincere compliments.
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