Saturday, December 05, 2009

Cracking up

A few months ago there was a spate of complaints on the Elecraft reflector from new K3 owners that the front panel knobs had disintegrated. The knobs on the K3 are made entirely from plastic or some compound material and do not have a brass insert, so they are very vulnerable to over-tightening. According to Elecraft, the manufacturer of the knobs made a bad batch that was rather brittle. They are now making the knobs with a much tougher composition and these were sent to all those affected and are being fitted on all newer K3s.

That should have been the end of the matter, but every now and again another incidence of cracked knobs is reported. One Swedish amateur complained on the reflector rather rudely because after requesting a replacement it took eight weeks to arrive (not necessarily Elecraft's fault) but then to add insult to injury the replacement also failed. This morning Al, WA6VNN, who has K3 #31 delivered in November 2007 reported that his AF gain knob has failed, even though he took care not to over-tighten it when assembling the radio.

Because of this I expressed my concern that problem is not confined to a faulty batch as originally stated and that the K3 knobs may not last the life of the radio. Of course, this offended those who will tolerate no criticism of Elecraft. I received numerous emails on the lines of "My K3 is S/N #### and no knobs have failed" as though that proved there is nothing wrong with them. All it proves to me is that, like mine, their knobs haven't failed yet. I suspect it's more a matter of when, rather than if, they fail.

Someone even went as far as posting a picture of one of the cracked knobs on Flickr with the comment "What is all the fuss about?" Am I being completely unreasonable for expecting better quality knobs on a $3000 radio?

Eric Swartz of Elecraft replied rather grumpily to the latest complaints that the issue had been solved months ago and referred to an earlier posting where he explained about the bad batch and states that "we will replace any broken knob for free." But given the evidence that the knobs on any older K3 may break at some point, not just those from a duff batch, why should K3 owners have to wait until one does (perhaps at an inconvenient moment) before requesting a replacement, and then suffer days or weeks of inconvenience until it arrives?

My friend Dave, G4AON just checked the knobs on his K3 #80 and found the AF control was cracked. I think Elecraft ought to offer replacement sets of the new tougher knobs to all owners of K3s fitted with the original brittle ones. But after previous experiences, I no longer have the courage to suggest that on the reflector.
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