Saturday, February 14, 2009

Finishing the K3

Let me make it clear right from the start that I do not have a grudge against Elecraft. I think Eric, Wayne and Lyle are great guys and enthusiastic amateurs running a radio business that has earned a good reputation for listening to its customers and providing good customer service. However it should be clear to anyone who is not wearing rose-tinted glasses that the K3 was an ambitious project that turned out to be a bit more difficult to complete than they first thought. More than 18 months after the original announcement, they are still struggling to make everything work as it should.

Unfortunately one runs the risk of upsetting the rose-tinted spectacle wearers if you make any remark that could be construed as criticism on Elecraft's email reflector. When someone posted an email asking about new product releases for Dayton, I replied that it might be a good idea to let them finish the K3 first. This resulted in a reply to the effect that adding the support for .5ppm accuracy of the TCXO was hardly important enough to hold everything else up.

I'll be honest, and admit that the lack of support for the high stability TCXO is not a major operational problem for me. But it is one of the features that was promised right from the start. The procedure for calibrating the oscillator is even documented in the manual. I paid $99 for this option, therefore I think I am entitled to receive it. Even a budget radio like the Icom IC-7200 claims .5ppm stability, and the K3 is supposed to be a high end radio.

But there are more important things that still don't work correctly, as of the date of this posting, and I think these should be addressed before Elecraft starts to ease off on the K3 and spend more time developing other products. The ones that immediately spring to mind are:
  • Failure of the ALC to limit initial speech peaks to the power level selected. This has been noted by several experienced UK amateurs who know what they are about. If you speak after a pause, or scratch the mic, or key the PTT with a creaky switch, the first 50ms or so of RF out can considerably exceed 100 watts, regardless of the power level set. This is a serious issue for many who use linear amps that generate the full legal output with less than 100W drive. Elecraft is currently working on it.
  • Excessive power output on data modes. When the audio level is set up as described in the manual, the output can be up to twice the power level requested. The only way to ensure that the output power is what you expect is to adjust the audio drive level from the computer. This is inconvenient at best, and means that you can't use the K3 remotely because you need to be able to see what the output power is with your own eyes, you can't rely on the power control to control it. Elecraft is working on this, too, but without success so far which is not confidence inspiring. Currently I am getting 65W out in data when 50W is selected, on most bands, but only 20W on 30m! But the power levels seem to change sometimes for no apparent reason.
  • Disabling the DSP transmit and receive equalization in data modes. Equalization is not required in these modes and can potentially distort the signal resulting in inferior copy. This has been requested on several occasions over the last year but as far as I know it is still "on the list" of things to be done.
Independent equalization settings for each voice mode would be nice. But I'm not asking for anything other radios don't have. I'd just like the K3 to be not inferior in this or any other respect to radios that cost a similar price.

The K3 is a great radio for CW, and the receiver is extremely good. But in certain other respects it is quite frankly not up to scratch, and I make no apology as a paying customer for expecting these issues to be addressed, not put on one side so that new products can be developed.
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