|Pretty good rig, but...
||Time Owned: 3 to 6 months.
|I have the K4D. Comparing to my K3s while rapidly switching antenna back and forth I find I can hear signals about the same as on the K3s. I do like the K3s better for inputting memory, the K4D is a bit more complicated in the process compared to the K3s maybe I just don't have the hang of memory input yet. I tend to like the NR in the K3s a little better, seems to have more adjustability in the K3s. I found the NB to be about equal in the K4D and K3s. The pan scope in the K4D is superior to the P3. I have a HDMI external monitor and the display in mirror and pan mode are excellent. I find the mouse curser to be hard to see in the K4D internal pan scope, but in the external monitor in mirror mode it's ok. I find the touch screen to be just a bit finicky, I guess I'm not a great touch screen fan. I'd like to see more robust receiver audio, it still seems to be on the weak side. I use outboard powered speakers for more rx audio, but most of the time when I'm active on the air I use headsets in speakers plus headphone mode from the rear headphone jack. The K4D transmitter seems very solid and the implementation of the new compression scheme is a real winner. I have not had any problem yet with a near field RF from other stations, nor have I encountered BCB problems, I have one 10 KW AM station about 2 miles from me and I'm in their primary lobe, so far so good in that area and the K4D. I can't comment on the digital or RTTY modes as I have not used those modes yet. Some owners have mentioned fan noise, but I have not been bothered at all with the cooling fans making noise. I'm looking forward to more features to be implemented in future firmware updates. All and all the rig is a keeper for me, but I'm also keeping my great K3s/P3 rig, the youthful K4 has not made it to that level of greatness and class yet, but I am hopeful as it matures over the coming months. I am an Elecraft follower, it's been the ham radio company I have stayed with the most in my 62 years of hamming it up. Good work Elecraft and keep it up. :) |
|DX'ers dream machine.
||Time Owned: 6 to 12 months.
|K4D #482 Software (R30.B4) |
I am mainly an SSB operator and I have logged over 7000 Q's on my K4D at the time of writing so I feel now is time to submit my review.
This transceiver is a DX'ers dream. I use a Radiosport RS60CF headset directly connected to the K4D and it has very low fatigue because it is so easy to clean up the sound and reduce any QRM or QRN with the excellent noise reduction. The noise blanking totally kills the clicking sound of a near by electric fence.
Automatic notch is amazing. If someone tunes up on your frequency, switching it on removes it like magic.
In contest conditions or on a crowded band the filters do a great job of keeping out unwanted interference. I do not see the need to add the superhet upgrade which would make it a K4HD.
CESSB (controlled envelope single side band) is a game changer if you work phone mode. It is a pile up busting monster feature. You can throw away all your external EQ and processing audio equipment, you don't need it with the a K4.
My audio settings are SSB BW = 2.8kHz*, MIC = 20 and CMP =20
My TX Graphic EQ settings are 100=0, 200=0, 400=0, 800=+3, 1200=+5, 1600=+12, 2400=+14, 3200=+5
I receive unsolicited good audio reports.
*You can go out to 4.5kHz with ESSB on if that is your thing ;-)
I love the radio's display (which looks amazing on the 4K external monitor). I don't use the mini pan feature much but I know others do and love it.
With the optional KAT4 atu installed you have lots of antenna connectivity options. I run a Hexbeam as my main TX antenna and can select any of my RX antennas on the Main or Sub receiver at the push of a button.
Once set up I have not needed to use the excellent menu because all the everyday functions are accessible on the front panel or programmed into function buttons with macros. eg diversity reception, split operation etc.
One very big difference between owning an Elecraft K4 and one of the other major brands is the support and community you have access to. I highly recommend you join the Elecraft-K4 groups.io if you are considering a K4.
Interfacing the K4 with software and logging programs is a piece of cake. I am no computer wiz but I managed to get N1MM Logger, CW Skimmer, WSJTX working without a problem.
A quick plug for Win4K4suite if you like CAT control and lots of addition ports to play with.
This is probably the last HF transceiver I will buy.
73 de Ady G6AD
|Next Generation Elecraft
||Time Owned: more than 12 months.
|As an Elecraft field tester, I was able to report on the K4D in this column back in April, 2021. At that time, I was running a pair of field-test K4D radios and was delighted with their integration, audio, packaging, user interface, ergonomics, and performance. I've since upgraded to production units but everything I said about the FT radios still applies. Since that review, I've begun operating the FTn digital modes and I'm delighted with what I've learned there. K4 seems well-suited for digital, requiring exactly zero additional cabling once a computer is in use for rig control. Since I eschew an external amp for these weak-signal modes, the K4 automatic antenna tuner receives much more use and, like its predecessors throughout the Elecraft line, works great. My initial review waxed nostalgic about the BAND button of K3, no longer present in K4. However, I've since implemented Band Up/Down buttons on an attached K*Pod control console which are almost as good as the K3 rocker switch, perhaps better since they're so close to hand.|
But none of the above seemed sufficient to trigger an update to my earlier review. It was Beta software release R29 that does that. I've been through a lot of K4 software releases since the start of field testing and this is one of the most significant. You can see the Beta Release Notes at the Elecraft.com website under Software. My favorite features and enhancements include CESSB, improved "IIR" CW filters, new AM demodulator, and external connection warnings.
Controlled Envelope SSB (CESSB), first described by David Hershberger W9GR in 2014 in QEX, is a novel method of compressing audio for increased talk power without the distortion that plagued earlier compression techniques. It is telling that a CW operator like me would declare this to be the signature feature of R29, but I have to. N6KR of Elecraft has measured up to 8 dB of increased talk power compared to raw, unprocessed transmit audio. That makes a 100W K4 punch through like a 500W radio! You can hear the difference immediately in the K4 monitor or in a separate receiver. You can see it subjectively on external meters. And you can measure it in dummy load heating! In operation in SSB contests, it made me feel significantly louder than ever before. Unsolicited audio reports are uniformly admiring. Bravo, Elecraft!
Another new voice mode feature (useful on AM and FM as well as SSB) is an adjustable noise gate that effectively suppresses background noise. K3 had this, too, and it's a welcome addition in some ham shacks.
Improved CW filters: Elecraft had been using "FIR" digital filter algorithms at all bandwidths in K4. New "IIR" filters at the four lowest bandwidths (200, 150, 100, and 50 Hz) provide much steeper skirts with very little ringing. I find them particularly useful in weak signal reception, pushing toward the goal of making on-the-air CW sound like a local code practice oscillator. Tuning becomes critical at those narrow bandwidths but, once mastered, the reduction in background noise and increase in intelligibility is remarkable. If you prefer broader skirts, as I do when contesting, you can disable the IIR filters with a menu entry and you can toggle that with a PF key, programmable soft button, or K*Pod button.
New AM demodulator: In prior releases, as in K3, AM signals sounded better using the SSB detector. The new AM detector in K4 provides the closest I've found to "hi fi" sound on an AM signal. It's excellent for short-wave listening or AM broadcast radio. The FM demodulator is also improved but I haven't tested it.
External connection (and other) warnings: If K4 detected a key-down condition when you powered it up, it used to disable that line (KEY IN, PTT IN, PADDLE DOT/DASH) without comment. Now, it displays a concise warning so you know where to look for the problem. This is a big help surprisingly often. ("Ask me how I know.") Similarly, if you speak into the mic when VOX is OFF, it pops up a concise explanation of why you're not transmitting. However, some warning messages still persist too long. The one that traps me most often is tapping TUNE when the rig is in TEST mode. I'm pretty sure Elecraft will fix that eventually.
Other notable R29 features: There are other improvements in R29. Among my favorites are off-screen arrows on the panadapter screen pointing to VFOs that are outside the current display bandwidth. Line Out now has controllable Monitor volume and control beep suppression. And there are new macro commands for those who customize K4 with button and logger functions. "...and more" - see the Beta Release Notes at the Elecraft Website.
------------------- Original Review ------------------
From Elecraft came a new rig,
With expectations excitedly big.
..They hit a home run,
..And the rig's lots of fun,
So into its features let's dig!
I've had the great privilege of field testing many products for Elecraft since their founding in 1999, including K2, K3, and now K4. Each one represented a new generation of architecture, design, packaging, and user interface. Yet they all share some common characteristics that users cherish: small size and light weight making them excellent for travel as well as home station use, frugal current drain for field use, compact user interfaces exposing most-used functions all the time and hiding less-used features in menus, excellent CW QSK, clean transmitters, field upgradability in both hardware and firmware, and outstanding support both from the company and its on-line legion of helpful and knowledgeable users.
K4 continues the series, bringing Elecraft users a direct-sampling, full SDR with a real front panel, 21st century color display, built-in best-of-breed panadapter, and outstanding dual receiver performance. Had it not been for the pandemic, the 2020 Summer of Fires, and the near collapse of electronic parts supply chains, I have no doubt I would have been writing this review long ago. But history is what it is, the radio is finally here, and production is beginning to ramp up. Many faithful customers have waited a long time, but those who hang in there won’t be disappointed!
This review emphasizes the user experience and is largely subjective. I have two field test units, not yet updated with final, production hardware tweaks. I am not equipped to measure performance accurately, nor to test specifications. ARRL, Rob Sherwood, and others will take care of that in due time. A plurality of my testing has been on CW, but I’ve exercised the radio on SSB and RTTY as well. I’m a contester at heart and I believe that a rig that works well in contests will work equally well in casual operation on less congested bands and in DX pileups with their own unique characteristics.
Elecraft has announced three models of this flagship radio: K4, K4D, and K4HD. The basic K4 offers SDR-based dual receive without any extra second-receiver hardware. That’s fine for same-band, same-antenna operation or even for split-bands with a shared antenna and without bandpass filtering. The K4D adds dual BPFs and A/D conversion to provide the full sub-receiver experience, allowing diversity reception, split bands, and different antennas. Both K4 and K4D are available now. Because no direct-sampling radio can provide the strong adjacent-signal immunity of a superhet design, Elecraft has designed the K4HD option which adds a superhet stage with narrow I.F. filtering, but it is not yet available. The different models are all field-upgradeable one level to the next. I have been using a K4D, although my experience includes many hours of single-band, single-antenna operation, so most of my remarks apply also to the base K4.
My prior radios were a beloved pair of Elecraft K3’s, one of which I upgraded with K3S synthesizers. K3 was one of the most successful contest-class radios of all time. At WRTC 2010 in Moscow and WRTC 2014 in New England, the majority of all rigs in use were K3’s! So a natural question for me and thousands of other K3 users out there has been how does K4 stack up against its predecessor? Raw performance is similar. The big differences as I see them are in Integration, Audio, Packaging, and User Interface. I’ll mention Performance as well.
INTEGRATION: “We’re all system integrators on this bus” is more than just an echo of Firesign Theater. As ham stations get bigger, more complex, and more heavily accessorized, integration becomes increasingly important. K3 was pretty easy to integrate. K4 makes K3 seem clunky. K4 provides full plug-compatibility with K3 plus a variety of simplifying options. In addition to the K3-compatible RS-232 connector, K4 adds four USB sockets. I’m using one to connect my logging computer (eliminating the USB-to-Serial converter), one for a wireless mouse, one for a K*Pod accessory knob console, and one is still available to plug in a USB memory stick for backups and user-preference data. Since the panadapter is built-in, there is no need to cable in a P3, further simplifying station setup. And K4 has additional, more flexibly assigned antenna connections.
There are more options for FSK signaling. I’m using an external MoRTTY device driving Pin 1 on the ACCessory connector, but you can key FSK directly from your computer through the DTR line on one of the serial ports (real or USB). And you can move AFSK or digital mode audio through the same Speaker, Phones, or Line In/Out ports as K3. Or you can use the built-in sound card, obviating any need for an external sound card or use of your computer's own sound card with the attendant conflict over system sounds.
AUDIO: Listening to K4 is a delight. Received audio is super clean and clear. Signals in pileups are much easier to separate than with K3. Even the internal speaker is an improvement, although I prefer an external pair of stereo amplified speakers when I’m not under the ‘phones. Operator fatigue is reduced because the audio is so clean. Unsolicited transmitted audio reports are uniformly outstanding. I’ve used a variety of mics and headsets. Like K3, the K4 has a built-in audio equalizer that lets it work well with just about any mic.
PACKAGING: The beautiful, color display dominates the front panel. It’s a touch screen but can also work via a mouse. Touching a signal on the panadapter is difficult to do precisely but with the mouse it’s a breeze. I like the new sheet metal design in K4, with more metal-to-metal contact all around for RF shielding. The internal connectors are more solid and the panel buttons are firmer and offer more tactile feedback. The radio’s footprint is actually smaller than a K3 and P3 pair side-by-side and it’s easier to carry around by virtue of being one piece.
A welcome and, IMHO, major improvement in K4 is the rear panel. K3 crams 17 or 18 connectors into a 3.5” x 3.5” I/O panel. K4 spreads them out over twice the total area, with the BNCs far away from the RCAs, 3.5mm’s, D-Subs and USBs, with no heavy cables lying on top of light ones. The 3.5mm jacks have higher insertion and retention forces, but it is easier to unplug or change an individual cable because they’re all farther apart.
The K4 also sports an RJ-45 Ethernet connection. An on-screen Update function lets you check for and download software updates with no need for an attached PC. If the history of K3 improvements over time is any indicator, and I'm sure it is, K4 will also benefit from continuing engineering as Elecraft designs new features and improved algorithms. Bring 'em on!
USER INTERFACE: Although the total number of knobs, buttons, and menu functions is very close to those of the K3, the control experience feels quite different. In essence, you see more and need to keep less context in your head. I've already mentioned the beautiful, color display. It supports "soft buttons" whose functions can change and invoke sub-functions. Many of the functions in the K3 Main and Config menus and the P3 menu are now in sub-menus devoted to DISPLAY, TX, MAIN RX, and SUB RX. This makes it much easier to find important settings related to those aspects of the radio. Less frequently-used functions and functions unrelated to the four specialized menus are in alphabetical order under a single MENU button.
There are now three multi-function knobs corresponding to the four on K3 but their total 12 functions are always visible on the display, configurable by tapping the display or the buttons themselves. There is a new Status Display area under the soft knob functions to display and, when applicable, set up things like Date/Time, user ID (callsign for me), and basic or detailed electrical and thermal parameters. Very nice!
A "?" soft button displays an on-screen Operating Manual. It has hyper-linked sections explaining all the major connections and functions of K4 with mini-pictures of individual control and display fragments. It is searchable and can be context-sensitive, popping up Help text on the last control you used. You can download and print a copy of this document from the Elecraft Web site.
There are dedicated display areas for Transmit and Receive information and the two receivers (VFOs for basic K4) have identical display areas. These include frequency; S-meter; and annunciators for AGC speed, preamp use, attenuator insertion, bandwidth graphic, and antenna selection. TEST MODE, SPLIT, RIT, and VFO selection display prominently at top center when in use.
Panel button functions and nomenclature are very similar to K3. Positions are similar but not identical. Although the BAND soft button, which pops up a list of standard or transverter band buttons, is nice to have, I do miss the BAND rocker switch of K3. It provided single-tap selection of the next-higher or next-lower band, changes that predominate in my contesting and casual operating.
Users transitioning from K3 to K4 will feel right at home although I have experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance operating SO2R with a K4D and a K3. It's not as bad as operating two totally dissimilar radios, but you do need to be conscious of the different button locations. Of course, the ideal contesting setup relies on the logging and control computer, with infrequent panel interaction. As W2SC likes to say, "If your hands are off the keyboard, you're losing."
All in all, it's a fine, 21st century user interface!
PERFORMANCE: I have to be subjective here as mentioned earlier. The K4D certainly out-performs the K3 in pileups by a good margin. It is much easier to separate signals, even without tweaking AGC parameters. It’s well worth the upgrade for that alone.
My station in the California High Sierra is set up for SO2R, with most antennas on a single tower and switched Dunestar 100W bandpass filters between the rigs and the amps, no stubs. It has a KPA1500 on Rig 1 and a KPA500 on Rig 2. With a pair of K4D’s, the SO2R experience is very similar to the pair of K3’s that they replace. It’s easy to operate 10-15, 15-20, and even 10-40 (although that’s rarely needed). The 10-20, 20-40 and 40-80 combos are OK if I stay away from the second harmonic. That’s less of an issue on SSB where the lower-band harmonics are farther away from the upper-band operating frequency.
K6XX, an Elecraft engineering leader who lost his home in the fires, operated a pair of K4D’s from my mountain station in the 2020 California QSO Party and came in first place, single-op assisted high power, almost matching his own 2016 record score set with K3’s at the many-tower installation that he had lost in the fires only weeks earlier.
K6NV is about a mile away from that QTH, running a K3/KPA500. We were always able to operate within a few KHz of each other when we were both running K3’s. He says that when I run my K4, he can get even closer. And he doesn’t bother the K4 any more than he bothered the K3, even on 160 where he pins both S-meters.
On FD, I operated from a fixed, single transmitter station in Silicon Valley with one K4D. There were many active stations nearby but not as close together as they would be at a normal Field Day site. I never experienced damaging interference. I only saw the noise floor elevate one time, for a minute or two. It stopped before I could figure out who and where it was - I just kept running. I’m very pleased, even without the HD superhet option. I will probably try that option when it’s available, but I can definitely contest comfortably without it.
In DX pileups, K4 is superb. I can put either VFO on the DX and the other on the pileup, operating SPLIT as needed. With the integral panadapter, I can see the entire pileup and often can tell which blip is currently working the DX. Then I can tune or mouse click right there (or just above or below, depending on the DX station’s operating habits). Easy peasy.
Summary: A perfect storm of bad karma has delayed availability of K4. But it’s here now and I trust shipping rates will increase steadily until they work off the large backlog. It’s a rig worthy of Elecraft’s reputation earned over 20+ years, delivering high performance radios that are light, attractive, easy to operate, and upgradeable for years to come. I’m delighted.
|Extraordinary Transceiver and Innovative SDR Package
||Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
|I ordered a K4D at Dayton 2019, and then waited like many for Elecraft to manufacture and deliver it. The disruptions of the supply chain and labor markets from the COVID-19 pandemic obviously delayed its release until 2021. My unit arrived in December 2021. I was able to set it up and start using it quickly as N6TV offered assistance and guidance. It was easy and straightforward to connect via USB to the PC and to n1mm+, my only logging program. |
Unfortunately, the unit came from the factory slightly defective – the sub-receiver AF gain knob did not work and the headphone jack on the front had excess wiggle and play in it. I sent it back to Elecraft after an initial 3 week period of using it as a single receiver rig. It took about four weeks to be returned repaired and fully functional. Elecraft checked it out and upgraded the firmware while there.
My evaluation is from the perspective of an experienced Icom user. It may be unfair to evaluate it from that perspective but I have had multiple Icom rigs in the shack since the mid 1990’s. Prior to the current Icom rigs, I had a Drake B line and a Collins KWM-2. The K4D is running with firmware version 28 at the time of my review. I have been happy with the Icom rigs and remain happy with them. My comparisons are in no way intended as a criticism of the Icom rigs.
My main operating activities are radio contesting and dxing. The K4d has been extensively evaluated casually and in two major CW contesting events. I have used it in CW and SSB. My comments are largely focused on its CW performance and I will offer some thoughts comparing it A vs B vs C with my current station rigs: the Icom 7851 and the Icom 7610.
The K4D is a light unit to pick up and move, weighing in at less than 10 pounds. It weighs slight less than my Icom 7300, about half the weight of my Icom 7610 and substantially less than the Icom 7851. The unit is bigger than the 7610 but much smaller than the 7851. The feature set in a package of this size is a welcome change for those of us with limited desktop space.
The receiver is extraordinary. It is quiet and crisp. The CW audio sounds better than any rig I have ever used. There is something special about the CW sound in the K4D which reduces listening fatigue during contesting. For example, I had planned to operate the NAQP CW event for an hour or two but went nearly six hours because of the pleasant sound and function of this rig. Every time I operate with it on the air, I want to stay on the air longer because of the experience. The radio is simply fun to use and a great listening experience.
The CW filtering eliminates noise and makes signals seem to pop up out of the noise. Many rigs sound optimal with wider CW filtering. As one narrows the filter, the CW sound becomes more artificial. It is different with the K4D.
I prefer to use CW filter bandwidths of 50-100 Hz compared to typically 200-300 hz on the Icom rigs. There is little noise in the passband when one is using a filter bandwidth of 50-100 Hz. Nonetheless, the NR feature on the K4d is also extraordinary. I have chosen to set the NR at 7-8 on the scale. The bands are just quiet and pleasant with the NR at this level and the CW filter bandwidth at a narrow amount. The higher NR settings do not artificially change the CW signal or SSB sounds. They simply transform the rig into an even quieter radio. I have always liked The Icom NR. Elecraft offers an equally good if not slightly better NR Option now than my Icom rigs have.
What about CW pileups when running?
The K4D receiver handles very busy CW pileups easily and crisply. There is no mush of melding of multiple signals into hash. There is always the opportunity to differentiate multiple different callsigns, if only partially, which is a strength during busy CW contests.
The AGC is amazing – weak signals, medium strength signals and extremely strong signals typically sound the same in the audio chain. The AGC default settings work extraordinarily well with factory default settings.
The APF is more narrow than the Icom APF. It still works well and there is only minimal ringing when it is activated to 30 Hz with the CW filter bandwidth set at 100 Hz. I personally like the 7610 APF features better than any other rig I own but the K4D APF allows for reception of extremely weak signals on the Low bands, a feature that contesters and Dxers will appreciate. I find the Icom APF is better at this time.
Situational Awareness and the Panadapter
The bandscope and panadapter are extremely high quality with lots of granular detail. They offer more detail on signals, band noise floor and situational awareness than I have on my Icom 7610 and 7851 rigs. And the Icom rigs have good bandscopes. The Elecraft banscope is just superior in my view. It is easier to find an open spot to run in a contest, something critically important when trying to run in a contest. I also believe that extremely weak signals are easier to spot. The connection to a HDMI monitor offers a higher grade of resolution with more granular detail than I can get with the DVI output on my Icom rigs. I prefer the HDMI output over the DVI signals I see at my station.
What are some differences with the Icom rigs?
1. I like the CW sound better and there is less contest fatigue with the K4D.
2. The EQ on receive and transmit are nice features which make SSB reception better and allows one to tailor their SSB transmitted audio for maximum clarity or richness of audio. They are easy to set up and use, or to change as band conditions necessitate. I like the 8 band EQ option as it allows more tailoring of the transmitted audio. I also find it more helpful on receive than the lesser degree of EQ enhancement Icom offers.
3. Multiple USB and IO ports – the Elecraft rig has multiple USB ports that allow one to connect a mouse, keyboard and other peripherals to the radio easily and quickly. There are also outputs which will provide band data allowing an automatic antenna switch or an amplifier to be brought to the correct frequency.
4. Audio and Microphone jacks on the front and back panel. The location of rear and front jacks allows one to put the connections for these devices in a spot that is optimally ergonomically and minimizes front panel clutter.
5. The bandscope offers richer details and is better at spotting close-in signals as well as weak signals.
6. You can use the HDMI output to put one of the receiver’s bandscopes on the external monitor while keeping the other receiver’s bandscope on the rig’s LCD screen.
7. The manual is available on the LCD screen. You can access it directly from the screen.
8. The setting of antenna 1 or 2 or the receive antennas can be assigned to any or both receivers. They require several more button pushes than the Icom rigs do. The ability to hold down the antenna switch to pop in the receive antenna option on the Icom radios is nice and quick.
9. Ergonomics are a big factor for contesters. The 7851 has superb ergonomics while the 7610 has more menu driven features. The K4D has superb and superior ergonomics. It is easier to use and adjust things than I find with the 7610 and it is on pare with the 7851.
Are there any weaknesses?
Any radio today has weaknesses or less than ideal features, from an individual user’s perspective. As one relatively new to the Elecraft line-up, the menus are deep, more complex and allow for many more adjustments than Icom typically allows. I like the 7851 menu system but I do not like the 7610 menu system nearly as well. The K4D menu system is more complex but it is logical and well laid out. You can also tailor the K4D to your own preferences in many more ways. It takes time to learn such a complex menu system as well as to learn how to optimally integrate the K4D into one’s station and operating style. As others have also reported, some desired features are still undergoing development.
The rig will continue to be refined by the team at Elecraft but it is now a competitive, class-leading HF transceiver for the modern contest or Dx station.
I am extremely pleased and happy with the K4D as it is a worthy competitor to Icom’s flagship, the 7851 and offers more features than the 7610. It is a top tier contest radio and is not just a worthy successor to the K3S but a stronger unit with more features and flexibility.
|Excellent in all dimensions
||Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
|I received my K4 on Christmas Eve… who says there is no Santa Claus! I waited a week to procure a high-quality cable to connect to the ethernet, to carefully read the manual (not the glossy document provided with the radio, but the more detailed PDF version of the manual internal to the K4), and to review the startup instructions provided by N6TV at the reflector Elecraft-K4@groups.io.|
The first thing any prospective user must understand about the K4, is that like any SDR, this is first a computer and second a radio. In the extended period I awaited delivery of the K4 I read the posts on the reflector, and noted ones that I thought might be helpful.
Through this waiting period, two things became apparent. First, my radio kept getting better as new firmware addressed issues and added new capabilities. It was quite uncanny to see my undelivered radio improve. Second, the owners of Elecraft interacted with comments, sometimes clarifying misunderstandings, but more often taking note and committing to changes in firmware.
I must confess to a having a crisis of confidence in the summer of 2021 when the review of the K4 placed it below the KX3 (which I own) and other radios, in particular Kenwood’s TS890 and Yaesu’s FTdx101d. I am certain had I cancelled my order and gone with either of these radios I would be pleased, however I need to relate why my pleasure with the K4 grows every time I turn it on.
I operate casual SSB and some CW. Prior radios include the K3, many Kenwood’s (I have a complete TS830s line that I will never part with) and my nostalgia HW-101 which I fire up any time my shack gets cool and I want to chase signals over the band as the rig warms up.
• The computer connectively is superb, with ethernet, USB (2 in back and one on the front panel), PC, RS232, and HDMI connections. The rear panel offers multiple antenna outputs (if you order the internal antenna tuner), xvtr connections, and an ACC connection to communicate with the KAT500 and KPA500. The usual PPT in, Key Out, Line In and Out, speakers, phones, mic and inputs for paddle and key. One you be hard pressed to find another rig with these connectivity options.
• I also like the 12 volt (1.5 amp) out on the rear. I plan to add an active antenna to the RX in and will also install a receiver guard and switch to kill the preamp on the Rx antenna. Having 12v on the back panel of the K4 (which the K3 also had) cuts down the rat’s nest. The FTdx101 has this, the TS-890s does not.
• Firmware updates via the internet are really easy, which is important since Elecraft is releasing new firmware updates every couple of months. This rate will stabilize as the K4 matures, but a new one is one the way, and Elecraft is monitoring suggestions every day. Name another company where owners interact with customers (and non-customers) to upgrade a radio.
• The panadapter is gorgeous; flexible in span (frequency) and scale (signal level). Coupled with a wireless mouse/keyboard (dongle plugged in the back) pouncing on signals has never been easier.
• I was familiar with the Elecraft philosophy having had the KX3 and K3, so the menu system was quite familiar. Standing back, it should be easy for anyone to acquire navigational skills quickly.
• I use a Yamaha Headphone/Mic combo (CM500), with Heil hand switch pending the arrive of the stock mic (another victim of supply chains). Set up was very easy, and the option to have both speakers and headphones active is very handy since I do not like wearing the headset constantly.
• The selectivity (recently upgraded in revision 28 of firmware and to be even more enhanced in revision 29) is superb. In CW, the narrow filtering with the APF (selectable between 30 and 50 Hz) is just stunning. In SSB, the shift and bandwidth have allowed me to evade the lids that never check whether frequencies are clear. The filters also do not ring.
• The noise reduction (a major requirement for most urban hams and not assessed in the Sherwood reviews) is also excellent, and without the trickling toilet in the back ground.
• The integration with the KAT500 and KPA500 is seamless. I had some trouble initially, until I updated the firmware for the KAT500, which was recently amended to support communication with the K4. Now, I have a 500-watt transceiver that tames my set of mongrel antennas. The memory tuning is near instantaneous.
• At first, I was upset at the lack of a fat printed manual. The glossy large size manual that arrives with the radio will get you started. But the radio has the current manual internally – just press “?” on the front panel - that reflects current firmware. Some enterprising folks on the reflector have posted a PDF version.
• The radio is light compared to others in its class.
• The radio is a pleasure to listen to over extended periods. I use two Kenwood SP-230 speakers and it sounds good.
I have a few niggles. At low volume I hear the fan idling. By no means a show stopper since at normal listening volumes I hear nothing. I would like a little more audio volume. Revision 28 did fix some issues, but strong audio out has never been Elecraft’s strong suit. Note – headphone volume is fine.
When the superhet front end upgrade is released, I am sure the K4 will vault to the top. However, the radio I have (serial 501) will continue to improve through firmware updates and is quite different than the radio tested by Rob Sherwood (serial 122).
No doubt Kenwood, Icom, and Yaesu owners will cite specific areas where a particular radio outperforms the K4. A key point for me, is that the K3/K3S had a product life of 13+ years and it remains a competitive radio two years after production ceased. An early adopter of the K3 could keep current through hardware and firmware upgrades. If Elecraft maintains this upgrade schedule, the K4 will last the rest of my life. Other manufacturers cannot claim this. This makes the K4 a cost-effective choice.
I have absolutely no regrets with the K4 and look forward to getting a “new” radio every few months. Just to be clear, I have no financial stake in Elecraft and I will post another review when I add the H option and after firmware revision 40 (Hi!).
|Wow, best transceiver I have ever owned!
||Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
|Seriously, the only issue is that it is complex and there is a lot to learn. It is extremely versatile and integrates seamlessly with the KPA1500 amplifier. Various features such as ability to drive an external monitor, dual panadapter display selectable (handy when working spilt), mouse control and an incredible array of features that are a ham's dream come true. So far, everything I have tried to find if it can do is either there, or in process of being developed (something Elecraft is very good at - keeping your radio up to date in features and occasional bug fixes.|
Absolutely worth the wait!
73 de W5SV, Dave
|Amazing Integration of Features, Functions & Capabilities
||Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
|One week in with my new K4 and I am loving it. It is a LOT nicer and more refined than I expected from reviewing the K4 brochure, the K4 Introduction manual, and seeing several presentations at multiple online virtual hamfests. The quality and fit & finish are amazing, but even more impressive is the seamless integration of all the features, functions, and capabilities. I don't know any other transceiver currently on the market at any price that is as well thought out or as exceptionally executed as the K4. Once you see it in your shack and have a chance to use it, it will blow you away. Simply amazing in every regard.|
Thank you - to the entire Elecraft team for another groundbreaking product. The integration is world-class. No one else does it better than Elecraft at any price. It is worth every dollar for another great Elecraft product. 73, Mark WU6R
|Much better than a K3
||Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
|As an early adopter of the K3, having bought one in 2007, I reluctantly sold it and ordered a K4D from the UK distributor, Waters and Stanton. At the time (early August 2021) their web site stated delivery in 6 to 8 weeks, which seemed odd as USA deliveries were taking many months. However, I was assured the delivery time was realistic as W&S may have pre-ordered a batch. Anyway, after just under 8 weeks my K4D arrived!|
The K3 was OK at the time, but is nowhere near as good as a K4. Fair enough, the K4 isn't at the top of that list ranking transceivers by their close in dynamic range for 160m CW contest ops, but there is more to a transceiver than that single specification. In any event, there is a planned K4HD upgrade to cater for the few who need that performance.
Where the K4 excels is in integration, coupled with an Elecraft amplifier it becomes a QRP to QRO transceiver with seamless power adjustment. Like the K3, it has per band amp on/off power setting. With its excellent power control there is no need to make any drive level change when turning your amp on to contact a DX station.
While many haven't the wall space, if you want to impress your visitors hook up a 4K 40" TV to the HDMI output of the K4. Using the external pan display is incredible. You can have different displays on the external screen to the front panel one. Another nice feature of the panoramic display is the mini pan, tap the S-meter and you have an additional +/- 1KHz (CW) tuning display to visually net onto a station. Incidentally, you can use a wireless mouse via one of the 3 USB ports to save having to tap the screen.
CW operating is very smooth. With diode antenna change over, and a low noise synth, QSK is really good. You can operate at 30+ WPM and still hear someone on the frequency. You can "sense" a signal between dots well beyong 30 wpm, which is pretty good going, especially for an SDR transceiver.
SSB works well too, there are front and rear panel mic and headphone sockets. You can use electret or dynamic inserts and have additional amplification if necessary. There is an 8 way graphic equaliser to help adjust your microphone to your voice, it is very easy to adjust on screen.
Like the K3, there are line in and out sockets to use with external hardware, as well as internal USB sound.
Many hope newer transceivers will magically remove high levels of background noise, the pain of SSB operating in a modern urban environment. In this regard the K4 is no better than an Icom 7300, but is much better than older radios such as the K3. Unlike the K3, noise reduction is a simple matter of turning the level between 1 and 10. Some claim better noise reduction in brand X than brand Y, but in reality trying to reduce noise by DSP in the radio is never going to be be easy if you expect to clearly receive an S3 signal swamped by an S9 level of "mush".
One big advantage with the K4 (and perhaps other high end radios) is the isolation of serial ports. There is an RS232 9 pin connection and two USB derived serial ports. I can operate a logging program on USB, an external Pactor modem program via the RS232 9 pin, and WSJTX via USB, all without needing to worry about shutting down programs.
Configuring the antenna routing for the main and sub receivers is very easy, again via the front panel screen. The sub receiver can operate in diversity mode with both receivers locked together to utilise an additional antenna on the sub RX to minimise the effect of fading. I use an active antenna on the BNC RX1 port to good effect. You can use a split screen panoramic display, or have main on the front panel and sub on an external monitor, or vice versa. Using the sub receiver is much more straightforward than it was on a K3.
The S-meter reads the same regardless of whether you use a preamp, attenuator, or reduce RF gain. It is a great feature, as signal reports shouldn’t depend on your selection of attenuator or preamps.
There are currently some missing features in the K4; the much talked about, and advertised, remote operation software is yet to be released. There is provision for "Pure Signal", or similar pre-distortion to give less IMD products on SSB. Both the K4 and the companion KPA1500 amplifier have sockets for this. When pre-distortion will be available is not yet mentioned by Elecraft. Also missing is voice record and playback... Rather strange as there are dedicated buttons for it.
Minor bugs and errors are quickly addressed with regular beta software releases. Updating the software (or returning to an earlier version) is very straightforward via the RJ45 LAN connection directly to the internet - straight from the front panel screen. Even without a router nearby you can use a cheap WiFi extender to connect via WiFi. Maybe in future a WiFi dongle could be used as the radio runs on Linux via an internal single board computer.
A decent "in depth" manual, like those provided by Kenwood, would be very welcome as there is a lack of information as to how best to use some features, or whether the input is protected from over Voltage, etc.
|My Dream Radio!!
||Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
|A couple of caveats: My only interest in a rig is CW contesting. My wife would shoot me if I got into other modes and spent even MORE time contesting behind a rig. I am also a long time Elecraft owner since building a pair of K2s, owning a KX2, owning three K3s and now a pair of K4HD (H module coming soon) so the Elecraft Kool-aide is a standard part of my diet. Others have commented on all the non-CW mode features and how well they work but, I'll primarily stick to a CW opinion.|
I sold my K3s more than a year ago to help pay for the K4s. While waiting for mine to arrive, I was very worried when I saw the Sherwood RX ranking which showed the K4 ranked below the K3 and K3S. That fear went away now that I've had a few contests under my belt. Now I'm thinking, "Hey, I really don't need that heterodyne module" but I'm getting it anyway to flesh out the K4 to its fullest as well as being ready for any DXpedition that I might be on where I find myself the target of huge pileups or multi-multi contesting I stumble into. I also can't wait for the Sherwood test AFTER the H module comes out to see how far up the ranking a full K4HD goes. The K4 "feels" like it is just hearing better than my K3s no matter what the Sherwood ranking says, plus, I've got more features now than I'll ever use.
If anyone remembers the beautiful sound that a Collins 75-A4 had on CW (and SSB for that matter), the K4 has that same breathtaking fullness with the ability to slice and dice a signal anyway you want. The filters completely knock out anybody on either side as long as they aren't clicky (which isn't the rig's fault). No ringing even when cranking the filter down to 50 Hz if needed. I've even done some SSB with the K4 and it is truly a pleasure to listen to. I'll probably get into CQWW SSB a bit as well as a full effort in Sweepstakes SSB this year and will give SSB a real test. I'm not really a full QSK CW guy and am happy with a CW delay set to .02-.05 seconds but when I play with QSK, it sounds pretty awesome to me and my amps (ACOM 2000A) follow it very nicely too. I've had friends who had Ten Tec gear (with legendary QSK) remark that the K4 is the same or better to them after they sat down to my K4. I trust their judgement!
This is my first rig with a panadapter built in. I never had the Elecraft P3 with my K3s but used DSP dongles off my K3's IF to see the bands. For contesting, I just wanted to know where the action was so the ability to change the VFO with a panadapter never interested me. Now that I have that ability built into the rig itself, it is fun to simply touch the screen when I see a blip and be on frequency of that signal.
My station is 60 miles from my house so remoting is an imperative to me. Elecraft has not released their software or hardware solutions for remoting quite yet but I know they are coming so I've set up an interim remote system using the K4. What took me a while to get through my skull was that the K4 can communication to several different devices/apps over 3 separate COM ports while also connecting via Ethernet to another device/app. When you're experimenting with make shift remoting attempts, the more connectivity, the better. I can connect my rig control software over Ethernet remotely while the COM ports handle any local connectivity required. It is truly more flexible than I could have imagined and opens up so many possibilities for me. Once I turn everything on, I shut down the Remote Desktop because it isn't needed for complete control. The ultimate solution for me, of course, will be Elecraft's remote head (actually, a pair of them) so I can have full SO2R from my house. That's a while off but the plans are laid on my end. ;-)
Having lived through the K3 cycle and seen new firmware show up every month or so when the K3 first came out, I know that Elecraft will be improving TONS of things and adding more features to the K4 but even as it sits today, it is one great radio that I am proud to own knowing that Wayne and Eric will be adding things I want/need and a bunch of stuff I'll never use but my fellow K4 owners have high on their priority lists.
You can't go wrong with a K4!
|GREAT RADIO, worth the wait.
||Time Owned: 0 to 3 months.
|I am not a technical guy, but I have been licensed since 1964 and have owned all sorts of radios. I listen much more than I transmit, so my receiver is very important to my enjoyment of ham radio (and my SWLing).|
Without question the K4D is the best receiver I have ever used. The audio is by fair the most pleasant I have ever heard. The DSP works great, better than the K3 (which was pretty good.)
The user interface is also great. Very easy to use and understand. Much easier than the K3 (which wasn't all that bad, the K4 is just better.)
The wait was worth it. It is just a GREAT radio and also well worth the cost. I love this rig. (I do have the HD module on order just in case.)
I will leave the technical stuff to N6TV and others who know what they are talking about. Cheers!