You might have noticed a lack of posts this weekend and that would be because I was completely off-grid and off-line, camping with two good friends in Pisgah National Forest.
It was brilliant, actually. I got to hang with friends I’ve known for over 30 years, test my new one person backpack tent (a.k.a. the “Bear Burrito”–the one on the right above), and of course I played a bit of radio.
Black bears are a fact of life here in the mountains of western North Carolina and we spotted three hanging out within 25 meters of our campsite.
By the way: the trick when camping with bears? Don’t put food in your tent, else that whole “bear burrito” thing becomes a reality.
I had a fabulous time putting my Elecraft KX1 “Ruby” on the air. I made perhaps 15 contacts in CW (Morse Code) with 3 watts of power.
One of the cool things about the KX1 is you can change the mode to SSB and actually tune through several shortwave broadcast bands (if you have the three or four band version of the KX1). Of course, I had to do a little SWLing.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m also a proper coffee snob and I firmly believe coffee tastes better when brewed outdoors. Yesterday morning, I brewed a pot of Rock Creek French Roast.
Off-grid, off-line camping recharges my internal batteries and it’s for this reason, I’ll be doing a lot more this year with my family.
It’s is also a brilliant way to experience an environment without any forms of radio interference (QRM or RFI). If you want to do some proper DXing, take your radio on some primitive camping experiences. It’ll remind you what life was like before switching power supplies ruled the world!
Yesterday [Saturday, November 14, 2020] my family decided to make an impromptu trip to one of our favorite spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Richland Balsam–the highest point on the BRP.
Of course, it was a good opportunity to fit in a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation, but I had also hoped to activate Richland Balsam for Summits On The Air (SOTA) simultaneously.
It being well beyond leaf-looking season, we had hoped the BRP would be relatively quiet, but we were wrong.
Trail heads were absolutely jam-packed and overflowing with visitors and hikers. We’ve noticed a sharp hiker uptick this year in western North Carolina due in no small part to the Covid-19 pandemic. People see hiking as a safe “social-distance” activity outdoors, but ironically, hiker density on our single-track trails is just through the roof. One spends the bulk of a hike negotiating others on the trail.
The trail head to Richland Balsam was no exception. Typically, this time of year, we’d be the only people parked at the trail head but yesterday it was nearly parked full.
Being natives of western North Carolina, we know numerous side-trails and old logging/service roads along the parkway, so we picked one of our favorites very close to Richland Balsam.
We hiked to the summit of a nearby ridge line and I set up my POTA station with the “assistance” of Hazel who always seems to know how to get entangled in my antenna wires.
“I’m a helper dog!”
Taking a break from using the Icom IC-705, I brought my recently reacquired KX1 field radio kit.
I carried a minimal amount of gear on this outing knowing that there would be hiking involved. Everything easily fit in my GoRuck Bullet Ruck backpack (including the large arborist throw line) with room to spare.
I took a bit of a risk on this activation: I put faith in the wire antenna lengths supplied with my new-to-me Elecraft KX1 travel kit. I did not cut these wires myself, rather, they are the lengths a previous owner cut, wound, and labeled for the kit.
With my previous KX1, I knew the ATU was pretty darn good at finding matches for 40, 30, and 20 meters on short lengths of wire, so I threw caution to the wind and didn’t pack an additional antenna option (although I could have hiked back to the car where I had the CHA MPAS Lite–but that would have cut too much time from the activation).
I didn’t use internal batteries in the KX1, rather, I opted for my Bioenno 6 aH LiFePo battery which could have easily powered the KX1 the entire day.
I deployed the antenna wire in a nearby (rather short) tree, laid the counterpoise on the ground, then tried tuning up on the 40 meter band.
The ATU was able to achieve a 2.7:1 match, but I don’t like pushing QRP radios above a 2:1 match if I don’t have to. I felt the radiator wire was pretty short (although I’ve yet to measure it), so clipping it would only make it less resonant on 40 meters.
Instead, I moved up to the 20 meter band where I easily obtained a 1:1 match.
I started calling CQ POTA and within a couple of minutes snagged two stations–then things went quiet.
Since I was a bit pressed for time, I moved to the 30 meter band where, once again, I got a 1:1 match.
I quickly logged one more station (trusty N3XLS!) then nothing for 10 minutes.
Those minutes felt like an eternity since I really wanted to make this a quick activation. I knew, too, that propagation was fickle; my buddy Mike told me the Bz numbers had gone below negative two only an hour before the activation. I felt like being stuck on the higher bands would not be to my advantage.
Still, I moved back up to 20 meters and try calling again.
Then some radio magic happened…
Somehow, a propagation path to the north west opened up and the first op to answer my call was VE6CCA in Alberta. That was surprising! Then I worked K3KYR in New York immediately after.
It was the next operator’s call that almost made me fall off my rock: NL7V in North Pole, Alaska.
In all of my years doing QRP field activations, I’ve never had the fortune of putting a station from Alaska in the logs. Alaska is a tough catch on the best of days here in North Carolina–it’s much easier for me to work stations further away in Europe than in AK.
Of all days, I would have never anticipated it happening during this particular activation as I was using the most simple, cheap antenna possible: two thin random lengths of (likely discarded) wire.
People ask why I love radio? “Exhibit A”, friends!
After working NL7V I had a nice bunch of POTA hunters call me. I logged them as quickly as I could.
I eventually moved back to 30 meters to see if I could collect a couple more stations and easily added five more. I made one final CQ POTA call and when there was no answer, I quickly sent QRT de K4SWL and turned off the radio.
I still can’t believe my three watts and a wire yielded a contact approximately 3,300 miles (5311 km) away as the crow flies.
This is what I love about field radio (and radio in general): although you do what you can to maximize the performance of your radio and your antenna, sometimes propagation gives you a boost when you least expect it. It’s this sense of wireless adventure and wonder that keeps me hooked!
The seller, who lives about 2 hours from my QTH, described his KX1 as the full package: a complete 3 band (40/30/20M) KX1 with all of the items needed to get on the air (save batteries) in a Pelican 1060 Micro Case.
The KX1 I owned in the past was a four bander (80/40/30/20M) and I already double checked to make sure Elecraft still had a few of their 80/30 module kits available (they do!). I do operate 80M in the field on occasion, but I really wanted the 80/30 module to get full use of the expanded HF receiver range which allows me to zero-beat broadcast stations and do a little SWLing while in the field.
The seller shipped the radio that same afternoon and I purchased it for $300 (plus shipping) based purely on his good word.
The KX1 package
I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous: I hadn’t asked all of the typical questions about dents/dings, if it smelled of cigarette smoke, and hadn’t even asked for photos. I just had a feeling it would all be good (but please, never follow my example here–I was drunk with excitement).
Here’s the photo I took after removing the Pelican case from the shipping box and opening it for the first time:
My jaw dropped.
The seller was right: everything I needed (and more!) was in the Pelican case with the KX1. Not only that, everything was labeled. An indication that the previous owner took pride in this little radio.
I don’t think the seller actually put this kit together. He bought it this way two years ago and I don’t think he ever even put it on the air based on his note to me. He sold the KX1 because he wasn’t using it.
I don’t know who the original owner was, but they did a fabulous job not only putting this field kit together, but also soldering/building the KX1. I hope the original owner reads this article sometime and steps forward.
You might note in the photo that there’s even a quick reference sheet, Morse Code reference sheet and QRP calling frequencies list attached to the Pelican’s lid inside. How clever!
I plan to replace the Morse Code sheet with a list of POTA and SOTA park/summit references and re-print the QRP calling frequencies sheet. But other than that, I’m leaving it all as-is. This might be the only time I’ve ever purchased a “package” transceiver and not modified it in some significant way.
Speaking of modifying: that 80/30 meter module? Glad I didn’t purchase one.
After putting the KX1 on a dummy load, I checked each band for output power. Band changes are made on the KX1 by pressing the “Band” button which cycles through the bands one-way. It started on 40 meters, then on to 30 meters, and 20 meters. All tested fine. Then I pressed the band button to return to 40 meters and the KX1 dived down to the 80 meter band!
Turns out, this is a four band KX1! Woo hoo! That saved me from having to purchase the $90 30/80M kit (although admittedly, I was looking forward to building it).
The only issue with the KX1 was that its paddles would only send “dit dah” from either side. I was able to fix this, though, by disassembling the paddles and fixing a short.
Although I’m currently in the process of testing the Icom IC-705, I’ve taken the KX1 along on a number of my park adventures and switched it out during band changes.
Indeed, my first two contacts were made using some nearly-depleted AA rechargeables on 30 meters: I worked a station in Iowa and one in Kansas with perhaps 1.5 watts of output power–not bad from North Carolina!
I’m super pleased to have the KX1 back in my field radio arsenal.
I name radios I plan to keep for the long-haul, so I dubbed this little KX1 “Ruby” after one of my favorite actresses, Barbara Stanwyck.
Look for Ruby and me on the air at a park or summit near you!
So the SWLing Post has been online now for twelve years and during that time I’ve been accused of being a “radio enabler.” Of course, I’ve never counted just how many, but I’m guessing somewhere in the region of 115,900 times.
Truth is, radio love is infectious.
In the past, I’ve read reviews and articles about radios that have lead me down the path to making a purchase. Countless times.
Yesterday, though, I quite literally enabled myself.
I owned the KX1 for years. It was my first CW-only transceiver and my fist backpack-friendly radio for proper lightweight, low-impact, field radio fun. I sold it in 2016 to help fund the purchase of my Elecraft KX2.
Besides simply admiring a radio that embraced the philosophy of “form following function,” the KX1 had features you wouldn’t expect in a radio so compact and so lightweight. For example…
SWL Band RX
Wayne Burdick (N6KR)–co-founder and engineer/designer at Elecraft–is a shortwave radio enthusiast.
The KX1 was designed so that while you’re camping, hiking, or activating a SOTA site, you can also do a little SWLing!
Even though the KX1 is a CW-only rig in transmit, they added both LSB and USB out-of-band reception. Depending on the KX1 band configuration, you can zero-beat broadcasters, widen the adjustable filter, and enjoy shortwave listening in the field.
When I owned the KX1, I did this quite often. Don’t get wrong: it couldn’t compete with, say, a dedicated shortwave receiver like the Tecsun PL-680, but it worked well enough that listening to even weaker stations was very doable. When one-bag travelling or camping, it was great to have one radio that could serve two functions.
LED Log Book Lamp
Photo: Eric (WD8RIF)
To my knowledge, the KX1 is the only portable transceiver I know of that includes a built-in logging lamp.
I remember once operating the KX1 on the beach at Jekyll Island, GA one evening and using the lamp to illuminate my logging sheet. Good times…
Perfect ergonomics for winter field operating
Elecraft KX2 (top) and KX1 (bottom)
Even though the KX1 is a small radio, it was one of the first field rigs to have top-mounted controls. All of the buttons, knobs, and pots are well-spaced and easy to access. I especially love the pots used for the RF Gain, Filter, and AF Gain–raised, thin, tactile stems, essentially, that could be easily adjusted even while wearing thick winter gloves.
In fact, the KX1 is the only portable radio I’ve ever operated that didn’t require me, at some point, to remove my gloves.
Insane amount of features
In true Elecraft fashion, the KX1 packs a ton of features specifically designed around field operation. Check out the features from their quick reference sheet above.
One ham had a KX1 listed. It was nearly identical to the one I owned and even included the same Pelican case. The only difference was my KX1 sported 4 bands (80, 40, 30, and 20m)–this one only had three bands (40, 30, and 20). Not a big deal because typically when I’m hiking I do little operating on 80 meters. If I decide to add 80 meters, I may still be able to snag the appropriate kit module.
The listing had no price.
I called the seller–who turned out to be fairly local–and within an hour he came back with his offer: $300 for the entire kit plus true shipping costs. I thought that was a fair price, so I purchased it and he even shipped it same day.
Moral of the story?
Next time I make a post about radios I’ve regretted selling, trading, or giving away, I need to publish it, then slowly back away from the computer.
I’m not going to be too hard on myself this time, though: I’m truly looking forward to putting the KX1 back in rotation here at SWLing Post HQ.
[Update: One of our readers purchased the K2/100! Thanks!]
I freely admit it: a lot of radios enter and exit my radio shack––especially portable receivers and SDRs of all stripes. It’s just the nature of doing gear reviews and evaluations. I also keep a fairly robust arsenal of radios here at SWLing Post HQ for future comparison reviews and evaluations as models are upgraded.
But amateur radio transceivers that I personally use at home and in the field––? These come and go much less often.
I feel lucky in that I get exposure to most of the radios currently on the market. Yet I’m also cursed in that I simply can’t turn off that internal reviewer when I use a radio! I’ve become a bit extra-critical, hopefully constructively so, of radio ergonomics, user interfaces, functions, and of course, performance.
I used to have a healthy selection of transceivers in my shack as well, but over the years I’ve found it necessary to distill them down to just a few––almost all of which, if you’re curious, are Elecraft models.
My Elecraft KX1 in the Pelican 1060 case which fit it and its accessories perfectly.
One of the first Elecraft rigs I owned was the KX1, the ultimate handheld field portable 4-band CW radio of its time. I believe I acquired it in 2008. SWLs will be interested to know that I could even tune to broadcasters on the KX1, using ECSS.
The Elecraft K1 (Source: Elecraft)
I loved the KX1 so much, in fact, shortly thereafter I purchased a K1. The latter I ended up keeping for perhaps one year or so.
Soon thereafter, I purchased an Elecraft K2/10 (the “/10” stands for 10 watts).
I should note here, for those who are not familiar, that almost all of Elecraft’s products are available in kit form. The K1, KX1 and K2 are proper kits. You can’t buy them factory built at Elecraft. With that said, I’ve never had the pleasure of building any of these models from kit form because I purchased them second hand.
The Elecraft K2
The K2 has been in production now for twenty years (!!!) and it still has a healthy market and dedicated community. The K2 must be one of the best documented, benchmark performance through-hole kit transceivers ever made. Because of the robust user base and the fact Elecraft still produces it, it’s also one of the easiest radios on the market to diagnose and repair. The thing was designed to be a “hands-on” radio–to be pulled apart and serviced–there’s no mystery meat inside.
I used my K2/10 for many years…and assured myself I’d never sell it.
Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men…! In 2011 Elecraft introduced the venerable KX3 and I fell head over heels for that radio (just read my review). All of a sudden, my trusted K2/10 wasn’t getting as much air time and started collecting dust, so I (reluctantly) sold it to free up some radio funds.
Then, within weeks of selling my K2/10, someone posted a K2/100–a 100 watt version of the K2–for sale on our local radio club’s email group. No one in the group showed interest. The sale was for a late local ham, now SK (silent key), and his friend who was selling off the equipment really wanted to unload it quickly for the benefit of his family. I expressed interest, and only two weeks after selling my K2/10, I was a K2/100 owner.
I figured this must be the universe intervening because, had I not sold the K2/10, there’s no way I would have had funds to purchase the K2/100.
After purchasing the K2/100, I sold my only other 100W rig: my beloved Ten-Tec OMNI VI+. I had been the owner of the OMNI VI+ for more than a decade and it was a radio I dreamed about in the 1990s. Still, it took up way too much table space in my modest little shack and, yet again, I needed to consolidate.
Activating PK01 (The Appalachian Trail) with the KX2 during the amazing National Parks On The Air event.
Fast forward a few years to the day before the 2016 Hamvention: Elecraft announced their new field portable radio, the Elecraft KX2. The Elecraft team gave me early access to the KX2 and once again, I was head over heels for this new rig. When I started my review of the KX2, I already knew I wanted one, so didn’t even bother reaching out to Elecraft for a loaner––I just bit the bullet and purchased it. Click here to read that review. Shortly after making this purchase, I sold my KX1.
If you’ve been keeping track thus far, you’ll note that I currently have: an Elecraft KX3, an Elecraft KX2 and an Elecraft K2/100.
You’d think I was an Elecraft fan, but that’s not entirely the case. Elecraft KX series transceivers simply suit my operating style and meet my performance expectations. Why?
Recently, I’ve come to realize that although I still love the K2/100 in so many respects, I reach for my KX3 and KX2 more often…even though the K2 is my only 100-watt transceiver.
For this reason, I’ve decided I must sell the K2/100 so that I can fund the purchase of the (rather pricey) Elecraft KXPA100 amplifier. With the KXPA100, both my KX3 and KX2 will have a 100-watt linear amplifier at their disposal. Integration is seamless, and the amplifier is quite portable. With the KXPA100, I’ll be able to run a “full gallon” on Field Day on two radios I know like I know the back of my hand (especially the KX2!).
It has the latest firmware and includes all modifications. It’s fully-loaded, too–here are the options:
KPA100 K2/100 Internal Integration Kit
K160RX 160M and 2nd RX port
KDSP2 SSB Adapter (which is now discontinued)
KNB2 High Performance Noise Blanker
KSB2 SSB option
The only option it lacks, as far as I can tell, is the K60XV (60M and transverter adapter).
I’m hoping to sell the K2/100 for about $900 shipped (unless you, gentle readers, advise otherwise).
My K2/100 will be on view at the Winston Salem, NC hamfest this weekend, where I plan to hold down a table with my buddy, Vlado (NC3Z). I doubt I’ll sell it there, so will likely post it online later.
Here’s the thing, though…I look at this awesome little radio and wonder why I’m selling it! And then I close my eyes….take some deep breaths…and remember that it’s all about consolidating the shack and maximizing the potential of the KX3 and KX2.
And, who knows? Maybe the universe will intervene once again, and I’ll own another K2 in the future.
Post Readers, weigh in: What radios have you bought and sold? Any regrets? Which have been, or are still, your favorites––and why?
It’s not every day that I get exciting news about the production of a new radio.
It was two days before the 2016 Dayton Hamvention–the day before the Four Days in May QRP conference–as I was eating lunch en route to Ohio, that I received the news: Elecraft had just announced a new transceiver, the Elecraft KX2.
Elecraft being known for their exceptional products, I thought instantly, hmmmm, this could be interesting. I immediately dropped everything and contacted Elecraft, asking, “When can I see this new rig?”
Wayne Burdick (N6KR) of Elecraft kindly sent me a few specs, and the following day, I previewed the KX2.
What is the KX2?
In short: the KX2 is a feature-rich pocket QRP transceiver. For those who are familiar with the Elecraft product line, it’s like a KX3 (feature rich portable rig) in a KX1-sized (much smaller, handheld/pocket) package.
The Elecraft KX2 (left) and KX1 (right)
The day before the Dayton Hamvention, Elecraft allowed me to snap some photos, ask some questions, and generally give their new little rig a once-over. After holding their new offering in my hand–it’s slightly narrower, if a bit thicker, than a paperback book–was already tempted to plunk down $749 for the KX2 right then and there.
Comparing the size of the Elecraft KX3 (top) and KX2 (bottom) at Elecraft’s Dayton Hamvention booth.
So, what what stopped me? For one, I was less than two weeks away from taking a two month trip in Canada, and already had an (embarrassingly) large number of radios to take along. I also had a few other reviews in the works and needed to finish them prior to evaluating the KX2. And–let’s face it–that kind of cash is significant to a reviewer like me.
Yet there was another consideration–two, actually: I already own both the KX1 and KX3 transceivers, and like them very well. Come on, I chastised myself, as I continued to admire the latest Elecraft in its tiny package. Wouldn’t a KX2 be rather…redundant?
Nonetheless, in August I took the plunge and ordered a KX2. Perhaps it was a leap of faith…or a momentary lapse of judgement that led me down temptation lane. At any rate, I had been doing enough NPOTA activations that I fell for the idea that I could potentially have the advantages and performance of the KX3 in an even smaller, even more portable, package.
Would there be buyer’s remorse? The only way to tell, obviously, was to put the KX2 on the air.
Learning my way around the KX2
I imagine a lot of new KX2 owners will be Elecraft veterans like myself. Once you’ve used Elecraft equipment for a while, you begin to understand how the company designs their menu trees and functions. In other words, once you’ve experienced the Elecraft ecosystem, moving from one radio to another becomes easier.
The KX2’s on-board microphone is located on the left side of the front panel and works very effectively especially in an HT configuration.
I approached the KX2 with confidence, having owned the similar KX3 for three years and the K2, K1 and KX1 for many years.
The left side of the KX2 is where all connections are located, save the antenna connector.
The BNC antenna jack is located on the right side of the KX2.
I plugged the KX2 into my power supply, main antenna, and powered it up by pressing the Rate and A/B buttons simultaneously (a clever keylock method). The KX2 defaulted to the 20-meter band. I started tuning around and quickly realized that the SSB mode was set to the lower instead of the upper sideband. No problem, I thought, and instinctively pressed and held the MODE button to switch from LSB to USB. This is where I found the first difference between KX2 and KX3 functions. Pressing and holding mode button on the KX3 toggles USB/LSB, but on the KX2 it enters the frequency memory store mode.
I tinkered with the KX2 MODE button to no avail, so reached for the KX2 owner’s manual, fortunately a well-written tome. Turns out, to switch between USB/LSB, you: enter the KX2 menu system, select the ALT MD entry, then switch the “alternate” to the “normal” SSB band mode, which moves it to USB on the 20-meter band.
A number of functions accessed on the front panel of the KX3 require using the menu system on the KX2. RF Gain is another example of this, as I discovered pretty quickly.
This got me thinking. I don’t envy the folks at Elecraft who have to sort out the ergonomics and functionality on a radio as small as the KX2. I decided I’d better check out the owner’s manual and familiarize myself with the functions I use the most in the field.
Elecraft manuals are superb; they’re spiral bound, easy to read and comprehensive.
I must say, Elecraft has done an admirable job of keeping the most essential functions on the face of the radio and tucking the less-used functions into the background of their menu system [Not to suggest access is ever complicated, considering that you just 1) enter the menu, 2) select the function, and 3) change the parameter…that’s it.] No doubt, the reason for their success is the fact that their key designers, like co-founder, Wayne Burdick (N6KR), actually operate radio in the field–they get it.
Speaking of the field, that’s exactly where I wanted to take the KX2 to test, since that’s clearly where the rig’s designed for use. Note here that this is not a base rig: its size and features lends itself very well to a pack radio–one I wanted to keep packed and at-the-ready!
Prior to receiving the KX2, of course, I did some pack research (those of you who know me know that I’m a bit of a pack geek).
Elecraft was actually selling two models of a LowePro pack that fit the KX2 exactly: the ViewPoint CS 40 and ViewPoint CS 60. Though I searched far and wide, I couldn’t find a pack from some of my favorite manufacturers (such as Spec-Ops Brand, Red Oxx, and Tom Bihn) that has the right amount of padding, exact space and fit for the KX2, as did the CS 40 and CS60. So I purchased the larger CS 60–the larger of the two packs.
My Elecraft KX2 kit then consisted of the following:
The Elecraft KX2, with internal battery and ATU options
All of this–save fishing line, weight, six-foot coax cable and clipboard–were protected by the compact and perfectly portable LowePro ViewPoint CS 60 padded case, and fit it like a glove. I tucked the whole kit quite conveniently into my 20-year-old Dana Design lumbar pack.
The only way to know if the kit was complete, was to take it to the field. Nothing like trial by fire.
NPOTA: National Parks On The Air
My first NPOTA activation with the KX2 field kit was at the Carl Sandburg Home in East Flat Rock, NC.
After hiking about twenty minutes to my trail location and setting up the station, which I found to be a fairly simple process, I realized that the KX2 is so compact that it easily fit on the clipboard I was using to hold my log sheets. Thus, the clipboard instantly became my laptop operating table.
As soon as I sat down in my folding chair, I turned on the KX2, set the frequency to 14,286 kHz, and pressed the ATU button, which gave me a 1:1 match (since the EFT is resonant).
Next, I recorded my CQ call into the KX2’s built-in voice keyer by:
pressing and holding the MSG button,
assigning the voice message to “memory allocation 1” by pressing the PRE (1) button,
pressing XMIT to start the recording,
reading off my CQ call, thus: “CQ, CQ, CQ, this is K4SWL calling CQ for National Parks on the Air…”, and
pressing XMIT again to stop the recording.
Then, I started calling CQ by simply pressing the MSG button and selecting my message stored in memory allocation 1 by pressing and holding the PRE (1) button.
By pressing and holding the PRE (1) button, I initiated a loop-playback of my CQ call where my KX2 would transmit my call from memory. Then I waited a few seconds to listen for any replies, and played it again. (In loop-playback mode, I’d learned that the KX2 will repeat my CQ call until I interrupt it by pressing a button or keying my mic.)
It’s a brilliant and easy function which saves my voice. By automatically calling CQ, it gives me an opportunity to answer questions from curious passersby who were naturally fascinated by a guy sitting on the side of a trail, talking into a little box connected to a tree-branch suspended wire.
In the end, I didn’t even need to use the voice keyer that much. I worked my minimum of ten stations within six minutes! Of course, I continued to call CQ until I worked everyone in the pile-up (including stations from California, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, and Mexico–thanks, folks!).
Result? Wow. That first field experience at the Carl Sandburg home couldn’t have gone better. And the KX2 had quite a lot to do with that outcome–both in function and form-factor.
Since then, I have taken the KX2 on more than twenty NPOTA field activations, and my compact field kit is making impromptu activations a breeze. Indeed, by the time you read this review, I’m guessing I’ll have added a dozen more NPOTA activations with the KX2 field kit.
[Update: At time of posting this review, I have a total of 54 NPOTA activations–almost forty have been made with the KX2.]
Internal battery option
Activating PK01 (The Appalachian Trail) with the KX2
One of the things that make the KX2 so easy to set up is the fact it can run quite effectively on a high-capacity internal LiPo battery pack.
The KX2’s 10.8V 2600 mAh LiPo battery
On one particular set of activations, while returning from the W4DXCC conference in late September, I activated several sites, including a couple of “two-fer” sites, just during my drive home. I only used the KX2’s built-in battery to power the rig. I was on the air almost three full hours of fairly intense transmitter use (repeating my CQ call through the voice keyer). The KX2 was able to pump out a full 10 watts of power for a little over one hour, then as the voltage dropped, it reduced output to 5 watts.
I feel like this is impressive performance from such a small battery pack. It’s a little pricey (at $84.90 US for both the battery and external charger), but very much worth the cost if you’re splurging for a KX2, anyway.
View of the Elecraft KX2 battery compartment. Note the speaker wires which attach the two halves of the chassis.
One complaint: I’m not crazy about the fact that the LiPo battery must be removed from the KX2 in order to be charged. To gain access to the battery, you loosen the two thumb nuts on either side of the KX2, then carefully open the back compartment. You must be careful because two speaker wires are attached to the back panel which holds the internal speaker; if you yank it open, you could disconnect the speaker.
I’ve read a report from an NPOTA activator who said that, in the process of multiple openings/closings of the back plate, the speaker wires have rubbed bare spots on the insulation. He used black electrical tape to fix the problem. So far, I haven’t noticed this, but I certainly see how it could happen with time.
Operating a NPOTA “two-fer” under the Blue Ridge Parkway and in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In the end, I give Elecraft a little grace on this point. After all, this is the first transceiver they’ve ever produced that doesn’t have a kit form, plus they’re trying to satisfy the needs of battery and charging circuit while keeping costs down, as well as make everything fit in an almost paperback-sized enclosure. Frankly, this works fine. I don’t mind the extra care required because, in the end, having such a capable internal battery outweighs any inconvenience of charging at home.
Elecraft, if there’s a way to reinforce the speaker wires, that would likely help.
KXAT2 Internal ATU Option
I ordered the KXAT2 internal ATU option with my KX2. Having used the KX3 internal tuner for years, I guessed this might be an excellent ATU, as well.
And it is. In the field, I’ve used a variety of wire antennas, and the KX2’s internal ATU has matched them beautifully.
So, exactly how good is the KXAT2? The following story will give you an idea.
I brought my KX2 along to the W4DXCC conference in late September. The conference has a club station that consists of two Icom IC-7300s which are hooked up to a variety of antennas. During the conference, my buddy WD8RIF was activating a particularly rare NPOTA site. My only chance of working him was on 40 meters.
Conference attendees took turns operating the KX2.
Unfortunately, out of all of the self-supporting antennas erected on site, none were resonant below the 20 meter band. I had no means to properly hang my 10/20/40 meter EFT Trail-Friendly antenna at the hotel, so out of desperation, I tried to load a 20 meter hex beam on 40 meters at QRP power using the IC-7300 and its internal tuner. In short, the IC-7300’s ATU couldn’t find a match and refused to transmit.
But I had my KX2 in my field pack. I set up the KX2, connected it to the 20M hex beam, tuned it to 40 meters, and hit the ATU button. The KXAT2 promptly found a 1:1 match!
Using the Elecraft KX2 on 40 meters at the W4DXCC conference while attached to a 20 meter hex beam.
Granted, we were only operating 10 watts, but even the IC-7300’s internal ATU wouldn’t work at that same power level.
In short, if you plan to operate portable with the KX2, do yourself a favor and order the KXAT2 internal tuner, as well. Clearly, it’s ability to match is impressive.
KXPD2 keyer paddle option
Elecraft also sells a small, attachable paddle that is custom-made for the KX2–it’s called the KXPD2 keyer paddle.
I had not planned on acquiring a KXPD2 as I’m not the biggest fan of paddles that are attached directly to radios. I did, however, think back to my KX1 and the many times I operated CW while holding that little rig in my hands. To be clear, though, the KX1 paddles are primitive in comparison to the KXPD2, which has adjustable contact spacing and even built-in allen wrench storage.
One night at my local radio club, I passed the KX2 around with the KXPD2 attached and received a number of positive comments about it. I find it a pleasure to use, too, and lightyears better than my KX1 paddle.
In the field, I personally find the two thumb screws which attach the KXPD2 a little small to turn fluidly. This is due, primarily, to the fact I have bigger fingers. Steve (WG0AT) experienced the same problem, and came up with a creative solution: silicone rubber tape. He simply wrapped the tape around the thumb screws, giving them a larger tactile surface area. I’ll try this with my KXPD2 paddle screws, as well.
The KXPD2 is a brilliant little key, I must admit. I say this even though I feel the $109.95 price is rather high. Still: it’s a quality little product and I’ve been very pleased with its smooth action and precision. And, oh, yeah–a bonus–it will fit my KX3 as well!
General coverage receiver
In August, Elecraft pushed out a Beta firmware release on the KX2 which included AM mode. Following this release, I received a number of inquiries from SWLing Post readers asking for a comparison and audio samples.
At the time, I had the excellent LnR Precision LD-11 transceiver in the shack, so I thought I’d do a quick audio comparison with the KX2 since both price points are similar and both are transceivers with AM mode.
I set the LD-11 to a bandwidth of 9.6 kHz, and the KX2 to 5 kHz: the widest AM filter settings of each. Keep in mind, of course, that this is was not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it did showcase each radio’s potential AM audio fidelity.
To make the playing field as even as possible for these two disparate units, I tuned both rigs to the Voice of Greece on 9420 kHz around 00:30 UTC. VOG’s signal was strong into North America.
I made the following recordings with my Zoom H2N digital recorder, feeding in-line audio patched from each radio’s headphone jack. I tried to balance the audio levels between the two rigs as closely as possible to one another.
The results from both radios are duly impressive. Since the LD-11’s bandwidth can be widened to 9.6 kHz, strong signals like this one sound pretty darn amazing. In truth, I actually prefer a filter width of about 8.2 kHz on strong signals, but VOG was wide enough to justify 9.6 kHz. I believe the LD-11 would rival many dedicated tabletop receivers.
The Elecraft KX2, in normal audio mode, sounds flatter and narrower than the LD-11 of course, but still remarkably pleasant–a surprise, considering its limitations.
In the KX2’s “delay” DSP audio mode–available when headphones are used–the signal sounds much wider than 5 kHz, though the effect adds a little graininess to the audio. That’s okay, however; I appreciate having the “delay” audio option in my tool bag.
In the past several months, I’ve used the KX2 for shortwave broadcast listening, and each time I’ve been happy with it. It’s an exceptionally sensitive and selective receiver, with a stable AGC, thus would please the most dedicated DXer. Does it have the audio fidelity of the Drake R8B? No way. But its audio is very good, nonetheless, and it can dig weak DX out of the noise as well as any of my dedicated receivers.
After all, this is a ham radio transceiver, not a broadcast receiver, so I’m impressed that it can double as both.
While HF reception is very good, Elecraft is the first to tell you that KX2 mediumwave reception is strictly limited, and indeed rather poor:
“Sensitivity rolls off significantly below 3.0 MHz due to protective high-pass filtering. Preamp-on MDS is typically -105 dBm at 1.5 MHz, and -80 dBm at 1.0 MHz, sufficient for emergency AM broadcast signal copy.”
So, don’t plan on doing any mediumwave DXing with the KX2. It is sensitive enough, however, that I can receive strong local stations reasonably well.
Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions and observations. Here’s the KX2’s list, from the first moments I turned it on, to the present:
Excellent sensitivity and selectivity
All modes: SSB, AM, CW, and Data (with built-in PSK/TTY decode/encode)
A convenient portable package for the field with needed options:
Built-in ATU option
Optional internal LiPo battery (see con)
With telescopic whip, the KX2 can be used as an HT via the internal microphone
Very quick deployment in the field
Built-in voice and CW keyer
Excellent general coverage receiver; AM mode effective for shortwave broadcast listening
Backlit display is easy to read in both shack and field
Numeric keypad for direct frequency entry
Considerate use of multi-function controls
Free and easy firmware updates via supplied software
Elecraft support and customer service
Battery must be removed to charge; battery removal requires careful consideration of speaker wires (see pro)
Downward-facing speaker not ideal in the field unless back leg is used to raise off of surface
Price (shipped) exceeds $1,000 when loaded with ATU, battery, and external charger
Poor mediumwave/AM broadcast band reception (con) by design (pro)
Let’s be frank here: the cons I’ve listed above are rather nitpicky.
I suspect Elecraft will work on a better solution for the speaker wire (for those of us using the internal battery) or else KX2 users will come up with a creative modification.
In a perfect world, I also wish the KX2 were somewhat weather-proof or water-resistant. A couple of times, I’ve been operating in the field when rain caught me off guard. I feel like the KX2 is pretty vulnerable, so I either pack up the radio and stop operating, or I seek shelter if it’s available. It wouldn’t take a lot of moisture to penetrate the KX2 and there’s no way I’m letting rain ruin my rig. But I’m guessing weatherproofing would add significant cost.
So, did I experience any buyer’s remorse after purchasing the KX2?
Not in the least. Between us, kind reader: the KX2 has been a difficult rig with which to find fault. Price and inherent compromises for portability aside, there are really no serious negatives about this radio in my book. It suits my purposes very well.
Activating the Blue Ridge Parkway (PK01) with the Elecraft KX2 and “Silver Tip” 20 meter vertical. An effective combo!
Yet we reviewers cringe when our reviews appear this “glowing.”
Elecraft pushes our ham radio hobby forward, and it’s innovations like the KX2 that make our radio market and our hobby a dynamic and inventive space.
To be clear, I know the KX2 didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s the culmination of many iterations of Elecraft transceiver designs over the past eighteen years. Elecraft has taken feedback from customers, made notes, and improved their products with time, and it shows in this little rig.
The Elecraft KX2 is clearly a product of iterative agility. It will, no doubt, be a market success.
I remember when Elecraft co-founder Wayne showed me the KX1 many, many years ago at the Dayton Hamvention. He told me that the KX1 was a step toward the perfect portable radio he’d dreamed of as a kid. The KX2 is simply that–and a profound upgrade of the KX1. But more to the point, it might have been the portable of which I dreamed, too.