Hands-on with the new Elecraft KX2

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This lucky guy scored a KX2 in Dayton.

I had a chance to play around with the Elecraft KX2 on Saturday. While I wasn’t able to do a thorough test, I was certainly able to form some impressions of this little radio.

I know some of the guys in the Dutch Fork Amateur Radio Group (our clubs have been collaborating more in recent months), and one of them, knowing I have a K3, invited me to an unveiling of the KX2. After meeting with a group of members for lunch Saturday we made our way over to the DFARG club shack in Little Mountain and all gathered round while one of their members conducted a show-and-tell of Elecraft’s newest offering.

According to the member who owns the radio, he was second in line to purchase it at Dayton the previous week, and attributed his luck obtaining the radio by having a vendor pass that allowed him to get into Hara Arena earlier than most attendees.

The first impression, not surprisingly, concerns the size. We’ve seen the images and read the specs, but it certainly does seems smaller in person. Even with the “handles” this particular owner had already installed on the sides, it’s still a small rig. Saw an FT-817 in half longways and you’ll approximate the size and thickness of the radio. It’s also very light, maybe slightly heavier than my Tytera DMR handheld.

kx2-2

One of the DFARG members holds the KX2 as we all swoon at the small size.

We placed it next to a KX3 and indeed the KX3 feels quite a bit larger in comparison to the KX2. Interestingly, both radios share the same screen size and display cues, which is also the same display as the full-size K3. The advantages of the display are obvious, particularly when compared to an FT-817, which has a display about the size of a 42mm Apple Watch.

The information layout is the same as its older siblings, and anyone familiar with operating Elecraft gear will be able to pick up the KX2 and get on the air quickly. I still had to poke around a bit to find some of the more esoteric functions, but options such as power output, filter width, mode/band, were right where you’d expect them to be.

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The KX3, top, and the KX2 side-by-side. Apologies for the glare!

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The KX2 is dwarfed by the full-sized K3, but note the screen sizes are exactly the same.

I only managed to test the rig in single side band mode because we didn’t have a code key handy. In the confusion I didn’t try tuning around to listen to CW, but I have no doubt CW operation is a pleasure because SSB was excellent.

Edit: I have since played with this rig again and did manage to listen to some CW. It sounds EXCELLENT through the built-in speaker and the CW decoder is no doubt the same firmware used in the K3/KX3, so it functions quite well also. It’s quiet with the 500 hz filter in line, and receiving code is nice and punchy.

Members commented on how good the tiny bottom-mounted speaker sounded and it sounded good to my ear as well, even though I did hear some crackle and buzz. Another member mentioned it was an improvement over the KX3’s sound. I’d probably still want a good set of cans if I were using it, but for casual operating, particularly in a quiet room, it would be fine without.

The receiver seems sufficiently hot. We tuned around on 20 meters on the club’s tri-band beam and there seemed to be a lack of stations Saturday, but we did roll up on KX5AR conducting an NPOTA activation and scored a QSO on the first shot, having no issues conversing with the operator on our 10 watts of power. I managed to record the QSO in the below video.

The small size makes this a neat little radio for digital modes and it would tuck away nicely under a monitor on a desk or alongside a tablet or laptop for portable use. If I wanted to dramatically scale down my shack, I’d still select the KX3 and an amp, just for 6 meters and the additional control surface.

That does bring me to the one thing I didn’t really like about the rig, and that was the cheap-feeling VFO dial and secondary knobs. This isn’t an issue limited to the KX2, as even the K3 has some cheap knobs (the VFO B knob comes to mind…). Of course, this does save weight, but the rotation of the main VFO didn’t “feel” like that of a $700-1000 radio, if I’m being honest. Even the FT-817 has a smoother action. But again, considering functionality over aesthetics, I can live with the “plastic fantastic” knobs knowing the receiver is good.

Much has been made of this being a “handheld” rig, and I’d say that’s true. We didn’t test the internal microphone. The design is the typical Elecraft style: That of a utilitarian black box, and as such, it’s not particularly ergonomic. It’s larger than most modern handhelds, but yes, it can easily be used in this fashion if that’s what you’re into!

There isn’t really much else I can say. It’s an Elecraft, and a worthy offspring of the venerable K3. It just works very well and portable ops will love it. It functions just as you’d expect an Elecraft rig to, and maybe that’s the highest praise it can be given.

Speaking of portability, one of DFARG’s operators has figured out an easy way to mount a KX2 or a KX3 on a car dash. We’re calling this the “W1TEF solution” and it uses a $28 clamshell style GPS holder from ChargerCity. See the photos of this in action below.

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I’m not sure the KX2 is going to replace my FT-817 at this point, as I don’t do enough portable operation to make it worth the while. But there’s no doubt Elecraft has made an intriguing little radio at an attractive price-point.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Hands-on with the new Elecraft KX2

  1. Hello, and thank you for your honest and detailed review of the new KX2!
    I am a new ham who has a General Class license, returning to ham radio after some 30 years, and have not yet bought any rigs. I intend to do SSB only with a Buddipole I’ve just purchased. I had pretty much made my mind up to buy the Icom IC 7300 since it is also relatively portable, and has been getting great reviews since its introduction. Since I live in a condo, however, I have been reconsidering as I may be at a park much of the time. I am concerned about the current draw that the 7300might impose on batteries, though LiFePo4 may suit the task. Based on your experience with the KX2 and KX3, would you recommend the KX2 as a rig for a new ham, both in the park and at home, or would you recommend the KX3, or stick with the ‘7300. It would be my sole rig for some time. Thank you very much and 73! Rob KD9FZW

    • Wow, you don’t ask the easy questions do you? Heheh

      For me, I wouldn’t want to use the KX2 as my one and only home station. Although I’m sure it’s capable for that purpose! I like having a larger, weighted VFO knob to spin around. The KX3 is probably more capable for your sole home unit, and it works well at the park too. I hear the audio quality isn’t as good, but if you use headphones or an external speaker, that’s moot.

      But let’s look at your situation: Condo, compromise antenna, and SSB only. I think you almost have to go with the IC 7300 so you can run 100 watts. QRP sounds like fun in theory — and it IS fun — but it’s just easier to bust through with 100 watts if you’re a new ham. I personally haven’t had a lot of luck with SSB and a Buddipole at QRP power, even from a mountain top. CW is another story. You can do quite a bit with 5-10 watts on CW.

      I have never used the IC 7300 but it looks like a great radio, and it may not set you back as far as a loaded KX2/3.

      See if you can find someone with some of these rigs and try them out. I do like Elecraft, and something like the KX3 with the panadapter and the KXPA100 amp would be a very nice base, then when you needed to travel, you could grab it and go. But you’re looking at at least a grand for the radio, another $800 for the amp, and $600 for the panadapter. That’s not cheap!

  2. Have a KX2 on loan for a few months (taking it to Mt Whitney next month) I LOVE it. How do I make or where do I find that awesome right angle jumper in your pics? I struggle with large feedline and small BNC adapters with this tiny radio. Also the latest firmware just added some modest logging capabilities.

    Also really enjoying the JT-65 article. Can I publish some of the copy on my website if I credit the source properly?
    Clifford
    KK6QMS

    • Hi Cliff, check this page over at Elecraft if you want to buy the right-angle adapters (http://www.elecraft.com/elecraft_prod_list.htm); I’m guessing somewhere like DX Engineering may also have them.

      Feel free to link back to or quote anything on here! If it’s the JT article I’m thinking of (the one about high power stations flooding the bandpass), I’d be careful citing it because I think some of my information is wrong. Although other folks have made similar observations!

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