CQ Magazine KX1 Review
o doubt about it, friends, QRP
is the hottest special interest
in amateur radio today! Just
step back and look at the escalating
worldwide interest in low-power communications, the numerous on-theair QRP contests, QSO parties, and
all the dazzling QRP gear, and you,
too, will agree. It is maximum enjoyment at minimum cost. You can go
first class with a brand-new attentiongrabbing QRP transceiver plus
antenna and accessories and still
have money left over for other pursuits. Now that feat is hard to beat in
today’s world!
Ready to add an exciting new
dimension with real go-anywhere,
do-anything flexibility to your amateur radio life? Get rolling with QRP
and start enjoying the good life!
As further encouragement to do
more with less, this month’s column Photo 1– Equipped with all its options, Elecraft’s new KX1 is a
takes an up-close look at Elecraft’s three-band CW transceiver with built-in battery pack, automatic
captivating new KX1 transceiver kit. antenna tuner, electronic keyer and paddle, LED, plus Morse code
This multi-feature and coat-pocket- readouts and even a logging light. The little rig is microprocessor
size rig is quite reasonably priced, a controlled with a superb receiver, 4-watt transmitter, and silky
smooth break-in operation. (Photo courtesy Elecraft)
great little performer, and also surprisingly easy to assemble, even if
you only have a few minutes of spare time a day. lines). Current drain is very trail-friendly at 32 ma
I did it, and my spare time is tighter than my month- receive and less than 700 ma on transmit at full
ly budget! I also took the new KX1 on a QRP road power and about half that current at 2 watts, so
trip you should find interesting, so read on as we battery life is exceptionally good. An optional CW
paddle and internally mounted automatic antenna
discuss Elecraft’s new kit.
tuner further enhance stand-alone operations with
the KX1. The tuner is a gem. It matches coax-fed
The New KX1
antennas such as dipoles and verticals, and it also
Wayne Burdick, N6KR, and Eric Swartz,
works with random longwires (really—longwires).
WA6HHQ, of Elecraft have done it again. They
It uses latching relays to hold settings without
have developed and packaged another outstand“keep alive” current. The optional paddle, which
ing CW transceiver kit, and it is loaded for big-time
can be attached quickly, makes the KX1 a comradio action! The new KX1 sports top-mounted
plete “grab and go” station you can carry anywhere
controls for easy campsite, laptop, or handheld
in a coat pocket. Now this is QRP in style!
use. It is quite small (the size of a QSL card and
The KX1 really shines in the special-features
only 1.2 inches thick) and fully self-contained. The
department. It has a direct digital synthesized
little transceiver covers 40 and 20 meters plus
(DDS) VFO with microprocessor control, LED
receives adjacent-to-band frequency ranges and
readout, three tuning rates, RIT, three-pole crystunes the 49- and 22-meter international shorttal filter, three frequency memories per band, and
wave broadcast bands. An optional module adds
built-in electronic keyer with two message memo30-meter operation and enhances reception from
ries plus a beacon or auto-CQ mode. Receive
8 to 12 MHz. Power output is approximately 4 watts
bandwidth is panel-adjustable from approximateof band-blasting RF with a 13.5-volt DC supply or
ly 2.0 kHz to a hair-splitting 300 Hz, and CW T/R
2 watts when using internal batteries (six AA alkadelay time is selectable from 900 ms right down to
zero. I think there is also a rocket launcher in there;
I just have not found it yet.
*4941 Scenic View Drive, Birmingham, AL 35210
Particularly attractive is the KX1’s on-board
e-mail: <k4twj@cq-amateur-radio.com>
microprocessor with a 16-function menu set that
CQ Reviews: Elecraft’s New KX1
CW Transceiver Kit
lets you customize the KX1 to fit your
personal preferences. As an example,
you can set the LED readout to bright or
dim or to switch off after a selected time.
You can also set the sidetone level and
pitch, T/R delay, CW message record
and play, beacon repeat internal, and
low-battery-level warning point, plus
switch the auto antenna tuner and Morse
readout announcer on/off via the menu.
If that is not enough, the microprocessor also has a second 100-count troubleshooting menu set that reads out a
code when there is a problem, and the
KX1’s manual explains how to read the
code and find the problem.
Building the KX1
It is difficult to believe this is a kit transceiver (it is elaborate!) or that it is easy
to build, but both the rig and its manual
are so well planned and laid out that
anyone who can follow hand-holding,
step-by-step instructions can do it. At
the chance of sounding dumb, I would
say if you have the time and patience to
put together a couple of jigsaw puzzles,
even if it is only a few pieces a day, you
can build a KX1. All the components—
even the controls, connectors, and
readout—just mount in clearly marked
holes on the main PC board. There are
no wires to run, cross, or get confused.
You can’t miss. Dislike winding toroids?
No problem. Check with Mychael
Morohovich, AA3WF, at 412-481-2349
or e-mail him at <toroidguy@
earthlink.net>. Mychael winds and sells
toroid sets for the KX1, K1, and K2, and
I can say firsthand that they are well
worth the cost! I would estimate total
KX1 assembly time as around 20 hours,
and you gain substantial “hands on”
experience working with new millennium circuitry in the process. While on a
“special-frills roll,” incidentally, check
out the stick-on tuning-knob spinners
from Wayne Smith at <K8FF@
fingerdimple.com>. (See photos for
more on constructing the kit.)
Circuit-wise, the KX1’s single-conversion receiver consists of an NE612
“front end” mixer, a crystal filter, another NE612 as a BFO and product detector, and an LM-386N audio amplifier.
Dual JFETs are included for receiver
muting, and a transistor circuit handles
AGC. The transmitter consists of three
transistor stages driving a hefty
2SC2166 to 4 watts output. As previously mentioned, a microprocessorcontrolled DDS VFO drives both receive
and transmitter sections. The KX1’s
manual is such a great tool for teaching
new and seasoned amateurs alike how
Photo 2– The full Elecraft KX1 kit as received, unpacked, and ready for assembly. Various components such as resistors, capacitors, and inductors are packaged in separate envelopes, while larger items such as transistors and ICs are in
static-safe bags. The optional 30-meter board, antenna tuner, and paddle are also
in separate bags.
Photo 3– Assembly begins as various parts, switches, and LED display begin filling holes on the main PC board. The keys to building a kit rig such as the KX1
are a steady hand, small soldering iron, thin solder, patience, and a good magnifying visor (I use an inexpensive one from “Nancy’s Notions,” 1-800-833-0690).
Photo 4– This “reverse view” shows how small parts mount on both sides of the
main PC board. The receiver has now been assembled, and the transmitter section is half completed. Assembly has also begun on the optional automatic antenna tuner (long, narrow board) and 30-meter mod (small board). Two pre-wound
toroids from AA3WF have been installed, two are ready to be installed, and four
for the tuner are in envelopes.
to work with modern micro parts and PC
boards that, thanks to Elecraft, it is the
highlight of next month’s “How It Works”
column. Watch for it!
My KX1 worked like a champ right
from turn-on. Even before I could check
out and tweak the receiver on 30-meter
band noise, I heard a YV calling CQ. I
called him and received an immediate
reply. I was still dinking with keyer speed
settings and connecting a wattmeter to
measure output when a KL7 started
“QRZing” me, so I worked him, too
(tweaking? Who needs it?!). I then
Photo 5– Top view of the fully assembled KX1 ready for installation in the case. The LED display is in middle left, the main
tuning encoder (dial) is in middle right, and the three controls
are vertical on the right. The RF output transistor is above the
tuning encoder, the 30-meter board is mounted upside down
below the encoder, and the automatic antenna tuner is mounted on the back side of the main board. The kit goes together
very well.
switched to 20 meters and, by Jove,
there was a YU completing a CQ. Yep,
I worked him too. The little KX1 is a killer!
After the fun and games calmed down
slightly (new rigs are so exciting!), I discovered several cool treats not mentioned in magazine ads. High-speed
diodes are used for T/R switching, for
example, so the previously mentioned
T/R delay only affects receiver mute
time. I also noticed the extended receive coverage was perfect for checking signal propagation reports from
WWV on 10.0 MHz at 18 minutes after
each hour and for monitoring east coast
aviation weather data from New York
Central on 10.051 MHz.
Another neat surprise was the “Morse
Frequency Readout.” You just tap the
Band button once to read the frequency in Morse code and tap it again to
switch bands (and read the new frequency). If you depress the Band button for one second, the keyer’s speed
is “read” in Morse, and speed changes
(made by the main tuning knob) then
also “read” in Morse. Tap the RIT button and you hear “R” and “O” for on and
off. Tap the Menu button, scroll with the
main tuning knob, and all menu selections “read out” on the LED and also in
Morse. Those of us with visual impairments will find this feature essential.
We could continue for several more
pages, but describing all of the KX1’s
assets in this column’s limited space is
nigh impossible. We thus encourage
you to check with Elecraft at 831-6628345 or <www.elecraft.com> for more
Photo 6– Our “minimalist” gear laid out for the QRP road
trip. Items include the Elecraft KX1 with optional case-mount
paddle, external “Parkwood” paddle from WB9LPU
(wb9lpu@earthlink.net), MFJ AC power supply, Maldol pullup antenna with clip-on counterpoise, and self-supporting
“Buddipole” antenna. Mobile antennas are not shown.
Photo 7– The main key to successful QRP mobiling is using
the vehicle’s metal frame as a solid ground. Here we scraped
off 1/4 inch of paint so one of the mount’s screws connects
to ground. We then added a base matching coil and connected its ground strap to the mount’s screws. A VOM check
confirmed solid grounding.
Photo 9– Poolside portable setup. Just plop down the rig,
stretch out the counterpoise strap, and you are on the air in
less than a minute. Try that with a big 100-watt rig. By the
time you set up a power supply and run an antenna cable, I
will have worked all the DX and gone parasailing!
Photo 8– “Instant mobiling” in a rental car is easy. Just put
the transceiver in your lap, let the XYL drive, and use a small
earbud for good copy over road noise and screeching tires.
Notice the separate ground strap clipped to the antenna plug;
it routes directly to a body bolt under the seat and makes a
big difference in performance.
details or to purchase your own KX1. There is no better way
to really get into QRP than with a brand-new dedicated QRP
rig. Go for it!
QRP Road Trip
After “getting going” with the KX1, and with some folks still
questioning if QRP really works out under totally unpredictable circumstances, we recently put our low-power show
to the test. The results were most interesting. In addition to
proving QRP’s worth during good and adverse conditions
alike, the secondary purpose of our short road trip was to
check out the retirement possibilities and medical facilities in
Panama City, Florida and Dothan, Alabama. Since we were
traveling in a rental car, staying in motels, and moving at warp
speed, hamming on the fly with minimum time for rig setup
was vital.
Typical of unexpected circumstances, we were never in one
spot long enough to string up a wire antenna or even quickly assemble the multiband “Buddipole” antenna we carried for
use on the beach. Our main on-the-air time was mobiling from
the car with the KX1 and 7-foot Hamsticks and operating “poolside portable” with the KX1 and a Maldol pull-up antenna
(handicaps some non-QRPers would consider overwhelming). The results? While sporadically operating 20 meters during daylight hours, I worked stations from coast to coast with
an approximate 75-percent reply to all calls—even to our own
CQs. Results on 30 meters at night were even better, with 85percent return to calls, many including good DX QSOs.
Judging from past experiences under similar circumstances,
I doubt that I would have been any more if I had used a 50or 100-watt rig. The only good one that slipped away was a
VK at daybreak on 30 meters. We were traveling in a fog and
had to stop for food and fuel before I could call him. The fate
of that call will always be a mystery, but one fact is certain: A
little QRP goes a long way!
On that cheerful note, we must once again sign off for
another month. Keep on working the world with low power,
and I will be listening for you week nights on 30 meters.
73, Dave, K4TWJ
(Reprinted with permission from CQ Communications, Inc., February 2004 issue of CQ)
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