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K3 arrived today.

Discussion in 'Ham Equipment' started by N0NB, Oct 5, 2010.

  1. N0NB

    N0NB
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    UPS managed to get my new K3 here on schedule. Due to various commitments on my time, I hope to have it operational within a couple of weeks. I planned to start on it this evening but when I got the anti-static mat out of the work truck, the wrist strap and associated connector to the mat and alligator clip is missing. Grrr. :oops: I definitely intend to take my time and not zap it, so if I don't find the strap it will be off to get an anti-static mat before I start this project.

    Ahhh, the joys of waiting until the last minute to gather all the tools... :laugh:


     

  2. Moleculo

    Moleculo
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    Cool and congrats! Take some pics and post 'em! :)
     
  3. N0NB

    N0NB
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    I just sooo love tiny hardware. Not!!

    As I separated the large bag of hardware into a 17 compartment "bead" box I got at Walmart for three bucks, I noticed I was short one #6 split washer. That's how it goes sometimes. After this evening's session (a start, finally) I was undressing for bed and I heard something hit the linoleum and thought immediately of the missing #6 washer. So I grabbed the LED flashlight and found that sucker!

    Moral, undress over an uncarpeted floor and listen carefully! :laugh:

    I got as far as mounting the LPA into the RF board which I figured was a good stopping point.
     
  4. N0NB

    N0NB
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    Another evening of assembly and it's beginning to look like a radio! Well, only if you can imagine an SO-239 and a few other connectors on the rear panel and the side panels with the handle and feet surrounding a big circuit board a radio. :laugh:

    I have about three hours worth of work over two evenings in it and I stopped at the point of beginning to assemble the front panel last night. The most tedious part of the process is correctly identifying the correct screw length and so far I think I've been successful.

    Thus far I've forgotten to take pics, but I will take some before I go on with the next phase of the build and document this process more completely.

    I am impressed with the fit. The manual advises that some previous assembly may need to be loosened to achieve a good ift, but so far everything has been in perfect alignment. I credit Elecraft, not me. :D
     
  5. N0NB

    N0NB
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    Here are pics of my K3 build so far.

    [​IMG]
    The 17 compartment organizer. Three bucks from Wally World.

    [​IMG]
    Elecraft provides a large anti-static bag for the RF (main) board so that the assembled sub-chassis will fit for safe storage.

    [​IMG]
    Partially assembled sub-chassis before the front panel will be assembled and installed.

    [​IMG]
    The 10 Watt PA is in the center lower. My filter options are toward the upper left--2.7, 2.1 kHz, 500, 200 Hz. Slot 3 is open for a future choice.

    [​IMG]
    The rear panel sans second antenna connector and transverter interface. I may add these later.

    [​IMG]
    The 10 Watt PA transistors. Elecraft had already installed the stand-offs. One must be mindful when working with the sub-chassis to avoid damaging the transistors as they are not fastened until the bottom cover is installed!

    [​IMG]
    The antenna board. This may be replaced by the optional tuner in the future.

    At this point I am undecided on a 5th filter. As my interest is in SSB, CW, and digital modes, an AM or FM filter is not on my list at this time. There is a small company offering a 700 Hz filter for the K3 which would probably be almost ideal for modes such as Olivia or MT63 but I will evaluate the 500 Hz filter first. 1 kHz would be very nice for conversational CW but I will have to determine whether the DSP can handle whatever the 2.1 kHz filter lets through at a ~1 kHz bandwidth. The joy of choice!
     
  6. N0NB

    N0NB
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    Last night's session results:

    [​IMG]
    The mostly assembled front panel.

    [​IMG]
    Mostly assembled rear side of the display board before mounting of the DSP board.

    Like Tim, I decided that Elecraft's procedure for mounting the concentric knobs is overly complicated (engineering versus real world experience?) and chose to simply mount the lower knob just off the panel surface so that it moved freely and then did the same for the upper knob. The tricky part was locating the small allen screw with the tiny wrench as the screw is almost invisible in the knob!
     
  7. N0NB

    N0NB
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    I spent a couple of hours with it this morning and managed to get it looking closer to a radio. :laugh:

    [​IMG]
    Starting to resemble a radio!

    [​IMG]
    It lives! Well, it passed the "smoke test" without smoking. (y)

    [​IMG]
    No flash used just to pick up the front panel LEDs.

    [​IMG]
    Aside from mounting the front panel to the sub-chassis, likley the most delicate installation are the Reference board to the left and the Synthesizer board to the right.
     
  8. Moleculo

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    Lookin good (y)
     
  9. N0NB

    N0NB
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    I've been remiss keeping this thread updated as my K3 is on the air! :w00t:

    I spent Monday evening finishing the build and actually had it on the air by Tuesday morning which was my goal as it is an anniversary date in my ham career as it was 27 years to the day that I took and passed my Novice test and 25 years to the day that I upgraded from Tech to Advanced. But I digress. ;)

    [​IMG]
    Complete except for the PA and ready for calibration.

    [​IMG]
    Look, ma, no PA!

    [​IMG]
    Completely assembled (for the moment) K3 4762 takes its place of prominence on my operating desk.

    As I have been on the Elecraft mailing list since July I've had the chance to try a few tips and tricks, but mostly I'm getting familiar with button placement, etc. Audio reports while using my Yaesu MD-100A8X mic with it have been good (I have a lousy radio voice) with no tinkering with the EQ or any of that. Perhaps next week I'll bring a service monitor from work and do a proper RF amd S-meter calibration (I'm on vacation this week being a farmer).

    Being a Linux user, I was disappointed that the button for entering the TCXO values was grayed out. I tried running the later Windows version in Wine which seemed to work fine but it could not find the com port (could be a Wine issue I need to address). So I resorted to a Win2k machine I have in the corner to run the utility and enter the TCXO data.

    Being one of the developers/administrators of the Hamlib project, I guess I'll be busy refining Hamlib's support of the Elecraft rigs. I know they are generally Kenwood compatible, but there are also some quirks.
     
  10. N0NB

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    I've been using the radio for about 10 days and am feeling comfortable with it and have stopped habitually tweaking this and that. :laugh:

    Memory operations

    One of the first things I've noted is the difference in the way the memory functions are handled compared to the Yaesu radios I've used for over a decade. In a nutshell, the Yaesu rigs have the concept of "memory mode" and "VFO mode" while the K3's paradigm is one of stored VFO settings as "memories". In the Yaesu model memories are tunable and once can always revert back to the memory setting as stored or VFO A or B as they were before entering memory mode. The K3, on the other hand, immediately replaces the current VFOs (both A and B) with the memory contents as soon as one sets about selecting a memory with no way to revert (that I've yet to find) to the previous frequency/mode, etc. So long as one knows what's about to happen, it's no big deal, but it's quite a paradigm change.

    "Noisy" receiver

    On the Elecraft email list there are some times mention of the K3's receiver being perceived as noisy. There are likely several reasons for this and one approach is to change the AGC THR and AGC SLP values from the defaults which I have set to 008 and 003 respectively. It also occurred to me that the noise that was annoying me was mostly of the higher audio frequencies, particularly since I am using a small set of hi-fi speakers with the binaural audio effect turned on, so I adjusted the audio equalization to roll off the high frequencies. This helped a lot and the K3 matches my FT-920 for listening quality on SSB, especially since Yaesu radios are known for having quiet receivers.

    Pulling out the weak ones

    After only ten days it is quite difficult to make a final determination on how well the K3 makes weaker signals easier to copy. However, something has dawned on me that I'm paying a bit more attention to and it will take some time for me to form a solid opinion on this.

    On one of our section's 75m SSB nets there is a station from not too far away, well within the NVIS zone, who has been consistently uncopyable here for the past few years on both my FT-920 and FT-890. I have now heard him, although weak perhaps 75 to 90% copy, more often than not. It's likely that it's simply band conditions and a happy coincidence or the K3's DSP really does employ some algorithm that is allowing me to hear this station more consistently even with the RF preamp off and ATT switched in plus the RF Gain control at about 3 O'clock. Again time will tell, perhaps a year or more to really appreciate the difference.

    Unfortunately, I sold the FT-920 before I ordered the K3 so I can't so an A/B comparison nor am I setup to do an instant A/B with any of my other rigs.

    Audio effects

    One of the neat things to try is the audio effects with a pair of stereo speakers. Copying HF will never be the same again! Set the audio effects to bin and enjoy. It takes some time to get used to and all I can say is that the operator will have to decide if it's useful or wanted.

    VFO knob noise

    Now, this one will seem odd, I know. In order to provide operator adjustable feel on each VFO control a very stiff fiber ring is placed between each knob and the front panel. By virtue of having stiff fibers I found the action to create noise when spinning the knob before I powered up the radio. As I like a "light" feel, perhaps I noticed more noise than if I had caused more friction between the knob and the fiber ring thus making the knobs feel heavier. Once I have the AF gain turned up to a comfortable listening level (just past 9 O'clock), I don't hear the knob noise at all so in a practical sense it's a non-issue. Still, for a rig in this price class it seems a bit cheap. OTOH, it's likely Elecraft chose this method over a complicated and OEM style torque setting system which would have certainly added more cost to the radio and would be one more thing to possibly fail in the future of which there seem to be few of a mechanical nature on this radio.

    TX audio

    I'll admit it, I have a very poor radio voice and a face made for radio so I should probably stick to CW. :D But I persist on voice and earlier this week one of the locals confided that my TX audio has much more punch and modulation than with either of my Yaesu rigs he has heard me use. This was completely unsolicited and so far no one else has made mention of it. I am using the Yaesu MD-100A8X desk microphone on the K3 that I also used on the FT-920 and FT-890. I am running compression at 0 and mic gain at 29 to get the recommended ALC level.

    Sound card modes

    Throw that interface up on eBay or some other site as it's not needed with the K3. Although, that may not necessarily be true especially if you're using a machine where adding a second sound card may not be possible then something like a SignaLink USB may be useful. Otherwise, I simply cabled the K3's transformer isolated Line In/Out jacks to the onboard sound jacks on my desktop (I use a PCI sound card for KDE and other sound use) and set Fldigi to use Hamlib to key the K3 via CAT control which eliminated the need for using a second serial port just to key the rig.

    Elecraft support

    So far things have gone according to plan and I've not needed to utilize Elecraft's support for anything major. I did notice a couple of small chips in the paint on the top cover (the only blemishes on an otherwise perfectly appearing radio) so I fired off an email to Elecraft support asking about touch up paint. I received a reply during the next business day stating that the paint is actually powder coat so the suggestion was to use a black Sharpie to cover the small spots. I did so and would be very hard pressed to find the exact spots again.

    Being a Linux user, I naturally try to use Linux apps when possible and the K3 Utility is no exception. I found that a couple of days ago that a pair of short macros were not being saved to the K3 correctly. An email to the mailing list and soon I was in contact with the Linux K3 Utility author and this morning he gave me a link to an updated version which worked. I volunteered as a beta tester for the Linux version so I hope to help development.

    In closing

    I'll add to this thread in the future as observations warrant. In lieu of a blog of my own, I guess this thread will suffice. (y)
     
  11. Moleculo

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    This is an interesting comment to me. I find the K3 far from noisy compared to other radios I've used. One of the first things I did to the receiver is set the RX Equalizer to get the audio quality sounding the way I liked it. Perhaps that first step helped immediately mitigate part of the issue. I also live in a high noise environment, so using the NR is almost always a must and I also occasionally have to use the NB. I also find that making effective use of the RF Gain makes more difference with the noise level that is passed with this rig than others I've used. Messing with the various AGC settings made an incredible difference to me. That is one really cool feature in this rig.

    I think the thing that potential K3 buyers must realize is that it is not simply a plug and play radio. You have an incredibly adjustable and flexible platform at your fingertips. That type of flexibility comes with the requirement to get it set up in the way that suits your operating preferences, as you've found out.

    Anyway, great comments and sharing. Keep them coming!
     
  12. N0NB

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    Firmware update

    It was noted on the Elecraft mailing list yesterday that a new MCU firmware, 4.14, had been released and while it didn't offer much to me, I figured I may as well see how the upgrade process works.

    Firstly, I tried the previously mentioned fixed K3 Utility for Linux, but for whatever reason, it did not detect that new firmware was available. As it is not open source, I did not pursue it further and woke up the Win2k laptop and ran the latest K3 Utility from there which did detect and download the latest MCU firmware. Sigh.

    It all went to pot when I started the MCU update process and my previously working K3 came up with a dim display that showed MCU LD. ARGGGGGHHH! I'd read about this but I couldn't find the message in my saved emails so off to Google. I found a previous message that said to remove power from the K3 and retry the update which didn't work. So another link was a bit more detailed explaining the steps as:

    1. Remove power from the K3's APP connector for 15 seconds or so
    2. Close the K3 utility
    3. Apply power to the APP connector and power on the radio
    4. Radio should show "MCU LD" on the display
    5. Restart K3 utility and restart the firmware update

    After following those steps the firmware updated correctly and my K3 is working as before except the BN, band switch, command does work faster as stated in the release notes.

    Others have noted that the Elecraft developers have worked hard to avoid a K3 becoming a brick should some update error occur. I felt like panicking but we got through this one unscathed.

    Noise blanker persistence

    I have noticed that on band changes or through power cycles the noise blanker does not stay switched on. I suppose an argument could be made that this is a good idea as having the noise blanker on when not needed can seriously degrade receiver performance, but I'm used to my other radios leaving it on until I turn it off and when I hear a lot of distortion I can turn it off or adjust its level. Again, this isn't a deal breaker as it's one of those peculiarities that I'm learning and once familiar, it's no big deal, but it is a significant difference when operating this radio while being used to another brand.

    The noise reduction behaves similarly, but I don't use it as much.
     
  13. N0NB

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    As luck would have it, I solved the noise blanker persistence by RTFM! To do so one simply needs to set CONFIG:NB SAVE to YES. It works as I want it to now.

    Next week's CW Sweepstakes and the SSB Sweeps three weeks from now will be the acid test as everyone aims toward the center of the USA, but so far the K3 is working splendidly as I tune around the bands during CQWW SSB. The receiver is simply clean with no signs of artifacts and intermod as I've noticed on other radios through the years.
     
  14. N0NB

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    Firmware 4.17 was released as beta today. It's most popular feature will be the APF (Audio Peaking Filter) which gives a several dB boost to a narrow audio bandwidth on CW. In this firmware release the APF replaces the DUAL PB function (CONFIG: DUAL PB to change, is set to APF as default) so all one does is hold XFIL as if to activate DUAL PB and APF is enabled instead. The SHIFT control now "tunes" the APF across the passband and the sub display shows the center frequency of the peak in 10 Hz increments.

    Does it work? My preliminary tests show me that yes, it works at any bandwidth. It does a good job of dropping the noise and ringing when the bandwidth is narrowed and pretty much obviates the need for the NR without reducing the volume level of the desired signal. I've yet to use it in battle and there is a QRP net I check into at 8 PM Central on Wednesday evenings that I'll give it a go with. This feature should prove useful as it's sort of an "audio spotlight" for CW.
     
  15. N0NB

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    Here is a message I posted to the Elecraft mailing list after slogging through this year's phone Sweepstakes:

    Since I wrote that missive another owner posted about a glitch I also noticed during Sweepstakes and that was an audio pop when PTT was released and the notch filter was on. Today Lyle KK7P asked for testers of a new DSP firmware to fix the problem. So far my use of this firmware has been positive with no observable ill effects. As this issue appeared in a previous beta, it's merely bug stomping on the way to the next stable firmware release which will include the Audio Peaking Filter for CW and an improved noise gate for phone.
     
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