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My K2 and the CQWW DX Contest

Column #93 by John K3WWP - On October 10, 2011 I got an Elecraft K2 rig from my friend Mike KC2EGL. I also got the KX-1 that he and I built as a NAQCC project a couple years ago. I'm going to talk a bit about the K2 in this column.

After a couple months of using it, I believe it is the best rig I have ever owned. It is also the most customizable rig I've ever owned by far which contributes to it being the best rig. This model has a wide range of 'add-ons' like a 160 meters module, a 6 meters transverter, automatic antenna tuner, and best of all a great DSP filter. The filter made a world of difference in my reception here. It knocks out just about all my local QRN except for some furnace noise on 15 meters. I may be able to reduce that some more also after I get a chance to play with the 'denoiser' configuration.

Over the couple months I've had it, I've fine tuned just about every setting to my liking except for the denoisers which are still set at factory defaults. I firmly believe that this is the rig that anyone serious about CW/QRP work should have. While this is a QRP column, I will mention that with the 100 watt add-on that I don't have or need, it makes a great 'regular' rig also, I'm sure. Although it has been superceded by the K3 and the upcoming KX-3, many folks say the K2 receiver is better than the K3. The KX-3 will probably be shipping in February or March of 2012. Then folks can compare the KX-3 to it also.

I gave it a good workout in the recent CQWW DX contest to see how it would perform in contest conditions. Here are excerpts from my story of that contest I have on my web site.

With the Sun finally very nicely spotted with resulting great propagation conditions, I set out to put in a pretty serious effort in the contest to give the new K2 a workout in a big DX contest.

I started out just about at the starter's gun on Saturday at 0000Z, and made my first contact at 0005Z with P40L on 20 meters. However the pile-ups on 20 were absolutely awesome and after working NP4G there, I decided to try 40 meters.

The situation was just about the same on 40. I don't think I'd ever heard the band so busy in a DX contest. Perhaps it was increased activity with a lot of folks coming back to DX contests with the improved propagation. Or maybe the great receiver in the K2 was just allowing me to hear more than I usually do in my noisy location. More about the K2 as we go along.

I did manage 5 QSOs on 40 in the 0000Z hour before I gave up. Three were EU and two NA. I was surprised how easily I worked PJ5G which is still a quite in demand country, I would think. He wasn't strong and I got him on the first call if I remember correctly now.

I came back to 40 in the 0300Z hour and found the situation pretty much the same. I fought the activity for about an hour before giving up again. I managed only 7 QSOs, all in NA except EE2K. It was nice to work Montserrat, a somewhat less common country. That was VP2MWG. That was it for the night. I went to bed. I woke up a couple times during the night but didn't even try the bands. I figured I'd wait till Sunday to do that since competition should be less on the second day. Anyway I was actually more looking forward to seeing how 10 and 15 were in the morning than doing 40 and 80 in the middle of the night.

I got up around 1315Z and hit the dial around 1330Z. 15 meters was alive with DX from deep into EU and the usual Caribbean stations. I stayed mostly on 15, with a brief excursion to 20, until 1410Z. In that time I made 27 QSOs with some of my favorites being ED9M from Ceuta, and RT5Z/UA5A/RT4F.

At 1410Z, my curiousity got the better of me and won out over the nice runs I was having on 15 meters. I had to check 10 meters. It was decent, but not up to the conditions at the peak of the last sunspot cycle by any means. So I switched back and forth between 10 and 15 for about 3 1/2 hours or so before also including 20 meters in the mix. I did take a break from 1500 to 1535, and then pretty much stayed on the air until 1945 or so when I took a longer break for chow and just for a break in general as late afternoon is kind of a down period here for DX as the higher bands are closing and crowded 20 is about the only really good band at that time.

As far as the K2 goes, I was continually impressed by how it knocks out my local noise. Except for when my noise-making furnace came on, there was virtually NO noise to be heard on 15 and 10. I could literally hear stations at the S0 level. I was hearing many of the very weak (to me) stations that were in the pile-ups chasing the DX stations. Probably what I was hearing was very similar to how I sound at many of the DX stations, and I can understand how with their big antennas and a quiet location with a good receiver they can easily copy me if the competition doesn't overwhelm my signal. It was also impressive how I could work some of those very weak stations I was hearing here. The last QSO before my 1945 break was with ZM1A whom I was barely hearing.

Let's go back now and pick out some more favorite QSOs from Saturday morning and afternoon. Of course I enjoy each and every QSO in a contest like that, but some do stand out for one reason or other. TC3A because I can't recall working a TC prefix before, and it's always nice to work Turkey anyway. Many of the SN, SO, SQ stations from Poland again for the chance of them being a new prefix. The tiny country of Luxembourg always fascinated me along with Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and a couple of the other small EU countries. I like the way they stood up over the centuries and resisted incorporation into some larger country and thus maintained their independence. I still have never worked Andorra, but I did work LX1NO and T70A in this contest. I've worked Monaco, but not in the contest. Another small EU entity OH0Z from Aland Is. MD2C for the prefix. 4O3A for a still somewhat new country. PA0LOU because he was among my first DX stations worked back in the 1960s when I was still new to the ham radio game. I don't know if it is the same person, but it brought back memories. TK4W because he wasn't all that strong from a rare entity and I beat a pile-up to work him very easily. That takes us up to late Saturday afternoon. At 1945 I had 130 QSOs and 103 multipliers.

The rest of Saturday wasn't too eventful with a couple exceptions. Although I only made 20 more QSOs before going to bed, one of them was WL7E. Why was that special? After trying KL7RA on 10 meters endlessly with 900 mW with no sucess, a little while later I found WL7E and worked him easily with the 900 mW. That finally completed a mW WAS for me. I already have a LotW verification for the QSO also. KH6LC and KH7M came easily on 10 meters as does Hawaii most every time for me on either 10 or 15 meters no matter how weak their signals may be. Another country I seem to work easily is Cape Verde. If you look at the antenna farm they have there, it's no wonder I snagged D4C with no effort at all on 40 meters not long before giving up for the night at just 0105Z. Overall the bands were just not working for me then. 20 meters was pretty much dead except for stations I had already worked. EU stations were not hearing me at all on 40 meters, and I had worked most of the Caribbean stations there. So I called it quits for the evening with 150 QSOs and 127 multipliers.

I woke up around 1100Z and thought I'd see what was happening on 40 and 80. I figured I could work some OC stations on 40 and possibly find a KL7 on 80 to complete an 80M WAS. However neither panned out at all and conditions were pretty awful on both bands at that time. So it was back to bed.

I got up again at 1300Z and joined in the fray. The pattern for the first part of Sunday was very similar to the first part of Saturday with somewhat equal conditions. 15 remained the star performer, but a lot was to be had on 10 and later 20 also. Some of the favorite QSOs from Sunday morning included the following: PA3BWK who has a great Morse Code web site. YQ6A for a new prefix. After chasing Bosnia for a while I finally got it with E7DX and E73W back to back. UX1UF whom I worked on Saturday on the same 15 meters, but I know he logged me as W3WWP then so I worked him again and he got it right this time around. M3I for a neat little call who was quite popular later on in the contest with a big pile-up. The always easily workable DL1IAO. Another country that evaded me for a long time - EI2CN. I had really concentrated on working as many countries as possible so I could make it to a total of 100 since I got the K2 and get the Elecraft DX Chasers award. TK4W again easily, this time on 15 meters. I1EIS because the dit, di dit, di di dit suffix makes for a nice rhythm. ZS4TX for another country I took so long to work originally, then worked ZS6EZ so easily several years ago. I 'complained' about it being 'too easy' in one of the contest reports on my web site and got a comment from ZS6EZ on his QSL card to the effect that he wouldn't make it so easy the next time. HI. As morning turned to afternoon here, I worked C5A - hadn't worked The Gambia in several years. ED9M again - I'd eventually make it 3 bands with him. 6V7V greeted me by name. I couldn't figure out who it was till after the contest despite him telling me about the operation. It was my young friend Jeff N1SNB who submitted one of my first ever 'Teens and CW' reports for the web site many years ago. Shortly after that, it was OQ5M operated by Franki ON5ZO, another friend from via the web site many years ago. We had a brief chat. Two new contest countries back to back in 6Y3M and GI0RQK. I almost didn't get GI0RQK. I tried him before but then the furnace noise came on, so I put him in the K2 memory and went back after the noise quit and got him. A few new contest countries also as the contest was winding down came from PZ5T, CO6LP, 8P5A, HC2SL, VK6LW. The VK6LW QSO came on 20, and was one of those whom I could barely hear. It took a while to work him. He wasn't hearing me at all, then suddenly came back with WWP. I sent my complete call twice and we made the QSO. Without the K2, I probably wouldn't have even heard him. OH8X late on 20 meters. I can usually hear and work Finland after the rest of EU has disappeared due to some factor of propagation. That brings us to the end of my contest.

I shut down just after 2330. I had been trying to reach 300 QSOs, but just couldn't find anyone new and was getting tired, so I quit at 296 QSOs, 213 multipliers, and 178,068 points.

Among the 213 multipliers were a total of 93 countries which is the most I've ever worked in a contest. I find my best previous total was 83 in the 1999 CQWW DX contest.

With the 93 countries in the contest and 13 others from October 10 to November 25 that I didn't work in the contest, that made 106 countries with the K2. so I reached that goal, and have applied for the Elecraft DX Chasers award.

I found out one important thing in the contest. My 15 meters vertical dipole will tune nicely on 10 meters with the wide range antenna tuning unit in the K2. It seems to work just as well as, if not better than, my sloping 10 meters dipole plus it has a better S/N ratio.

Overall the K2 passed its contest test with flying colors. Ergonomically, it is very well designed. Generally rigs that have small panels with multi-function pushbuttons and a menu system are very hard to use, but a lot of thought went into the K2 and everything that needs to be accessed immediately is right there with a single push of a button and things that only need changed occasionally are accessed via the menu system. Split frequency operation is achieved much easier than with my Kenwoods - 570 and 480. The RIT is very easy to work with. I just can't say enough about the ease of operation.

A couple days after the contest I got to thinking about how well my 15M antenna tuned on 10M with the built in ATU, and decided to see if my random wire would tune without the external tuner I had to use with the Kenwoods. Bingo - I got an SWR of 1.5:1 or less on 160, 80, 40, and 30 with just the K2 built in ATU. Probably more efficient without the extra tuner in line and certainly a couple less switches and knobs to have to use to change bands.

If you have a chance to get a K2, I'd say go ahead and do it now. Don't put it off as long as I did. Many folks have upgraded to the K3, or are going to get the new KX-3 and are selling their K2's at a reasonable price. Get one, and optimize all the configurations to your personal preferences, and you won't regret it.

No, I'm not affiliated with Elecraft in any way. I'm just a very satisfied user of their equipment.

For continuing reports on the K2, check my web site at http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/. Email me at jsk3wwp@windstream.net with any questions or comments. 73 -30-