K3WWP's Ham Radio Activities
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K3WWP - Reviews of QRP Rigs

This review of the Elecraft K1 transceiver was contributed by Rick Sturdivant, KB6MMS

I like to build ham rigs. I find it especially exciting to build my own rig and make contacts using it. I don't get to do it as often as I would like which may be why I find it so enjoyable. While looking for a new kit to build I found the Elecraft web site. They offer the K1 and K2. Though the K2 looks to be a super rig, it was the K1 that caught my attention. It is a CW QRP rig which is available in a two band or four band version. The features include RIT and XIT, full break-in CW, memory keyer, three crystal filter bandwidths, configuration menu, speaker, digital display and user variable transmit output power from 0-5W or more. So after convincing my xyl that I really need (and of course deserve) it, I called Elecraft and placed my order for the K1 with the four band option. I chose 40m, 30m, 20m and 15m. It is possible to get 17m instead of 15m. The choice is made during assembly. I wish they had a 10m option.

The kit shipped the next day. I received an email notifying me of the ship date. That started my daily questioning of my xyl. "Has it arrived?" It did arrive 3 days after they said it left their office. I have to admit that I was really excited to see it waiting for me. I was impressed by their quick delivery. However, I was even more impressed when I opened the box and began to read the manual. It is a professionally printed, spiral bound, 91 page document. It is very detailed and comprehensive.

Kit Building:

I took my time building it. Since I triple checked every component before soldering, it took me about 17 hours to put together and tune up. I highly recommend that you also triple check every component before soldering. I learned this the hard way on a previous kit I built. The instruction book is first rate and if followed EXACTLY will lead to a happy result. All the parts were in the kit and they even include extra screws. I guess the extra screws are in case you drop one on the floor and can't find it. I always do that! I suggest that you group all the caps and other parts by value before starting on each board. The resistors are on tape strip in the order that they are assembled on the board which is very helpful.

The rig has three boards. The filter, front panel and main RF board. The filter board is the first to assemble. The most time consuming part of the filter board assembly is the toriod winding. It is really important to wind them exactly as the instructions show. It is even more important when winding the transformers on the main RF board. The front panel is assembled next. It contains a large PIC IC, LCD and related electronics. Make sure that you touch a good ground before touching the PIC chip. This will help bleed off static charge that is on your body so that it does not transfer to the IC and "pop" the devices in it. I did have a little issue with one of the front panel LEDs(D2). It is a little tough to solder since the board is double sided and parts on the solder side are in the way. I just had to be REAL careful with the soldering iron. A fine tip soldering iron is helpful. Other than that LED, all the parts went on the board with ease. The main board was just as easy to assemble. All three boards have silk screen patterns showing the parts placement, orientation and reference designators. This is very helpful when putting the diodes and polarized caps down.


Here are some short specs I measured on my K1: Rx current is about 50mA, Tx current is about 800mA, tuning bandwidth is about 170KHz on each band! Output power on 40m is 7.5Wmax, 30m is 5.8Wmax, 20m is 6.0Wmax, 15m is 5.0Wmax all with 12.0V into the K1. Output power is flat over the amateur bands on 15m, 20m & 30m. 40m has about a 2.5W variation when tuning over the whole 170KHz bandwidth. However, over the first 60kHz section of the 40m band output power variation is less than 0.5W. I recommend that you set the frequency dial to your expected (preferred) operating frequency on 40m when tuning the filter board for that band. I have not measured the receive sensitivity yet, but by ear it seems great. I was able to measure the short term frequency stability to be better than +/-15Hz drift within the first 20 minutes of turn on.

The rig has a selectable menu control. It is real impressive. There are many features which would take me too many pages to describe. But I was surprised that Elecraft was able to pack so many user configurable features into such a small rig. For instance, output power can be set. I really like the selectable Rx filter feature. It is very helpful. AGC also works good. RIT works just fine with a +3.9KHz and -3.6KHz tuning range.

There are several options available. I have not tried any of them yet. There is a noise blanker, internal automatic antenna tuner, internal battery adapter, tilt stand and additional band filters (80, 40, 30, 20, 17 or 15m).

This rig is a real pleasure to build and even more fun to operate. It is not for the complete beginner, but it does not require any special experience. If you have successfully soldered parts to a circuit board then you should be able to build this kit. I highly recommend it to those with a desire to operate a rig that they have built with their own hands.

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