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

Reviews Summary for Elecraft KX1
Elecraft KX1 Reviews: 92 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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N9GRG Rating: 2/5 Sep 15, 2007 19:48 Send this review to a friend
Fun to build - hard to use and expensive  Time owned: more than 12 months
I really like building this radio but it's really a novelty and an expensive one at that. I found that it's a cool radio a cool concept and even looks cool, but it's not practical for any use except if you really, really want to pack light or use this as an emergency backup.

It's OK but I look at it as spending $300 for the fun & therapy of building it but I don't use this at all and have sold it.
GEIIM Rating: 3/5 Sep 8, 2007 10:28 Send this review to a friend
A good niche product - has it's flaw though  Time owned: more than 12 months
This radio is certainly a neat idea and well executed overall - all the positive comments thus far are proof-positive of the great product that Elecraft provides. As a portable it's very well rounded and provides something no other radio does - the size of a paperback, runs on batteries xmits to 4 watts, huge range of bands, internal tuner & integrated paddle as options. It is very stable and doesn't drift much if at all. The DDS design makes alignment simple and sure!

It's also a great kit that's relatively easy to build. You will be proud of it when you're done - I know, I've built two of them.

Still there are some things that I don't see mentioned that you may want to consider. Not that it makes this a poor radio, to the contrary it's a great radio & Elecraft is the best company bar none. I've built over dozens of their kits and found them to be a great group of people and a credit to the hobby!

Still, everything has its flaw and knowing them ahead of time is easier to accept than to find out later and be disappointed.

- The side tone is a square wave. It's very raspy sounding compared to the silky smooth sound of the other Elecraft radio's side tone. The transmitted signal is fine, it's just the side tone sound that's rough and it's tiring after any period of time. It is adjustable so you may find a more pleasing side tone freq but see the next point.

- The radio always transmits with the offset of 600hz. So even though you change the side tone to another frequency, the radio will always xmit on 600hz offset. If you like to zero beat the other signal this is can't be done and so you're basically stuck at 600hz square wave side tone.

- There is no speaker so you must use headphones (ear buds actually). The audio output level is very low so you need very sensitive ear buds and even then it doesn't get very loud. So if you working in windy or noisy conditions you will have a hard time hearing signals.

- The display is only 3 digits. I would have preferred smaller digits and more of them. 3 digits make sense for a single band radio, but with four bands it's a real pain to use if you’re tuning around a lot.

- SWL use, though mentioned in the documentation, is relatively poor. You can do it, but only the strongest of signals gets through well. So while it technically does do SWL, you're better off with a small Sangean or Eton for that.

- Expensive. Sure the $299 for the base model is a good price, but then the options really add up. The ATU is $89.00 and it's good but not very sophisticated. LDG sells a full features model for little more. Sure it won't fit in the case like the Elecraft will but you'll be able to tune up more. You really need the tuner though as the KX1 generates spurious emission into a mismatch and is a no-no. The Key is $65.00 whereas a Bencher BY1 (not portable of course but you get a lot more)is a little over $100 and you get a much better key. All the costs I've mentioned speaks nothing for the time put in to build it. By the time your done buying all the options and time spent building, you could buy a FT-817 and get a lot more features or an IC-718 and get a lot more radio for the buck (not portable of course)- but then you don't have the pride or experience in building it yourself.

- Internal batteries are a great feature but you will not get full 4 watts with them. You must use external 12 volts to get 4 watts. You can come up with some method to get internal 12 volts but then you'll probably be removing the internal battery holders so you'll lose this feature. Actually, this is a great area for experimentation if you're so inclined.

- This radio is neither rugged nor weatherproofed in any way. The case is metal and relatively tough but the knobs & pots are not tough and can be damaged in your pack. Do not get this near water or snow as there are no seals on this. Especially keep that in mind if you’re using gloves in the snow.

- Ergonomics are rough. Maybe it's inherent to this kind of radio but I find it hard to use regularly with having to press two keys at the same time, etc.

As I've mentioned before for what it is designed for it is the most feature filled radio kit out there & it's a great radio.

I have found this to be true of Elecraft - I love building their kits a lot more than I like using the completed product. I've built over a dozen of their kits (3 K2, 3 KPA100s, 2 KX1, etc) and found it true in every case and so I've sold them all. I hope the new K3 changes all that.
KG6IYX Rating: 5/5 Jul 15, 2007 01:54 Send this review to a friend
KX1 Build  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
The Elecraft KX-1

I admit it. I am one of those guys that took the general exam 3 times thinking I would “get around to taking the code.” Every time I let it lapse.

The 4th time is a charm, as I have my newly minted General and a strong desire to learn the code. I will not be “no code” for long. The catalyst for getting into the code was a new rig, the Elecraft KX-1.

Presently I live the life of an airline pilot. Based in Chicago, a place I stay in California about 2 times a year, and living in Thailand. Home is where my suitcase is. Unfortunately I am still struggling to get my Thai license issues straightened out, but that is another story.

I purchased the KX-1 for several reasons. One being in my past I was a “techi” before changing occupations to flying for the airlines (maybe, not a smart move). My 26 years of aircraft maintenance experience with the navy reserve (Aircraft Electrician Chief-retired), and being in charge of maintenance on a non-motion simulator (called an FTD) at my present airline as well as flying the line, helps keep my soldering technique and tech skills up to par.

I was looking for a rig that was smaller than my FT-817. I do like it, but it’s power hungry, heavy, not very rugged, and just too large (antenna, tuner, power supply, etc.), for daily airline “bag dragging.” Looking into the KX-1, the extremely small footprint, light weight, built in tuner option, and fits nicely in a “bag drag proof” protective pelican case small enough to squeeze into my flight case made the decision for me. Not to mention the ultra light random wire antenna would be perfect for dangling from some of the hotels we overnight at.

First impressions… What can I say? In an age where it seems like “quality control,” is very lacking. I received every part, a comprehensive manual, and all the errata sheets in a well protected box! If only some of the aircraft Mod’s I did in the past had this going for them! As I do not really have any place to build the KX-1, I brought it with me before a maintenance period on the FTD and built it in the company lab (off the clock of course)!

The manual and instructions were excellent. The checklist for construction was natural, well organized and logical. I did break a golden rule once and paid the price. In the airlines, an interrupted checklist requires starting over from the beginning. During the construction, I was preparing to install the R-Packs. I checked them carefully and decided to make some coffee. Coming back with my steaming mug, I grabbed the one I thought I should and promptly soldered it in place. Looking it over and admiring my work, I was horrified when I realized I put the wrong one in the spot! In shame, I cut it up into pieces and removed it.

I took it over to the company avionics shop to show it off and they could look it over. They admired the KX-1 and made some cracks about my solder joints (these guys are expert at it). So the mumbled “not bad” comment I received from them was high praise. Telling them the story about the R-Pack, they laughed and told me I should have brought it over “before” I chopped it up as they can remove whole components with little problem! I cannot print my thoughts about that!

I called Elecraft Technical support to order the part I hacked apart during the extraction process. When I called a human being answered! Yes, I was shocked. Then they transferred me to Tech support without extensive holding (maybe 1 minute), then to my amazement, another human being answered the phone. He had complete command of English and did not insult my intelligence by asking me questions like… Is it plugged in? Did you install the flux capacitor correctly? Or what kind of soup did you drop it into?

The rep I talked to was very sharp, professional, and located at Elecraft here in the USA. He only hesitated once when I told him I was using a 100 watt soldering iron to build my KX-1 (yes… I was joking)! He told me it was alright to continue populating the board while waiting for the R-Pack which I could not find anywhere in Fresno California. The Rep was a former navy pilot so we had some common background and was a pleasure to talk to.

The construction continued and on the second day I had completed the radio with the exception of the R-Pack. I then went to work on the ATU, paddles, and band expansion boards. I cheated and ordered the pre wound toroids. No shame in that. I know my forte, and it made things move right along. One the third day my R-Pack came it. I installed it and turned the unit on. I am sure you have heard this before… but the sound of static and seeing the unit test as advertised from the moment I turned on the power on a rig I built was very rewarding!

I used the Elecraft RF oscillator and dummy load mini-modules for test and alignment. Then I gave it the final outside test to check it out using a random long wire. The ATU tuned it up nicely. Unfortunately, I have not made any contacts as my code skills are developing. I plan to test the transmit side for contacts in the next few weeks when I get back to the USA.

You have most likely read all the detailed reviews so I will give you my “short form” impressions

1. Wonderful Rig. Very easy to use, (comparing to my FT-817, 706-MKIIG).
2. Building was easy and straight forward. Follow the checklist with the exception to item 3 below.
3. NOTE! Look for the documents for the upgraded power output and install those resisters first! I had to remove the ones I originally installed and reinstall the new ones.
4. Sound quality must be mentioned! Maybe it is because I built it, but even the background noise sounds good. The reception was head to head with my 706, and seriously, it just sounds smoother to me.
5. What a motivator to learn CW!
6. Short of dropping this in the ocean by accident, I will be holding on to this rig!

The Con’s:
There are always some. I have only 2 comments.

1. The unit is expensive and I recommend adding the ATU into the cost. I went with the extra two bands as it adds flexibility. You get what you pay for, and I could find nothing else out there this portable, in a single box, sports a digital display, and low power consumption. I consider this not really a "con," but a consideration.

2. The internal batteries. I did install the internal battery packs and used Li-Ion cells. But I wish Elecraft would mod this radio to accept slightly greater input voltage, like 14.5 instead of 14. This would allow ease of hooking it up to a higher power Li-Ion external battery pack without the bother of adding power supply to put out 14 VDC. Also, a Li-Ion charge circuit for the internal batteries would be nice! (In a perfect world)…

Wish list:
My military back ground comes to the surface when I think how nice this rig would look in a machined anodized aluminum case. Water and dust proof of course! I have been considering looking into having a case manufactured myself. Not because it needs it, just because it would be “right.”

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 it’s a fun project. The folks at Elecraft have created a nice product that you can assemble successfully. I’ve 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. Elecraft’s 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 you’ll 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 it’s easy to adjust the brightness. The white LED “log light” is actually a useful flashlight, and it may mean you don’t 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 – just poke the knob.

I’ve 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 doesn’t drift the way that VFO’s do. I’ve had many QSO’s 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 you’re 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 don’t 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 it’s 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. You’ll 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. You’ll 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 it’s conditionally stable. What this means is that the KX1’s transmitter may generate spurious emissions (as in “illegal”) when it’s operated into a mismatch. I did some tests with mine, and I found that it’s 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 – it can’t tolerate bad loads. The “resistor mod” 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 didn’t 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 – 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 I’d made, so it was frustrating. The old saying “Out of sight, out of mind” is appropriate. The reverse is true if you have access to a spectrum analyzer – once you see those unstable blips gliding around outside the ham band, you can’t 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. It’s easy to change speeds while in QSO, and the display tells you your speed setting. If I have any criticism, it’s 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 it’s 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 – many CW filters don’t work that way. This filter seems to favor a lower audio frequency as the bandwidth is reduced, and it’s too low for my preference – but you get used to it. Mostly I use the filter in its middle range.

The sensitivity of the KX1’s 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 wind’s 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 it’s 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 isn’t 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 AA’s 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 AA’s works against substituting better batteries. This radio works great on 3 rechargeable lithium-ion or lithium-polymer cells at 10-12V, but it’s 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 – wasting all that internal space for a battery that’s cute, but too small for practical use in the field.

The KXPD1 screw-on paddles look nice, but I’ve never tried them. Instead I chose Palm Minipaddles, and I’ve 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 Weber’s 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, you’ll 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.
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