What Kit to Build, Part Seven
Wow, this one is really interesting, yet I find it easy to make my
choice. Now, you have built the range of kits, you have confidence, tools, skill
and you want to build that "ALL EVERYTHING KIT" of your dreams. You know,
the one that does it all in one box. My choice here is the K2 from Elecraft
Radio, and I don't think it is a surprise to anyone.
The K2 from the team of Eric Swartz and Wayne Burdick is selling like
hot cakes. They have shipped over 500 kits, and that is quite a feat when
you consider that it costs $549 for the kit!! Yet hams all over the world
are ordering this kit so fast that they can't keep up. There have been some
serious delays in providing kits, but they are getting that worked out,
(they are a new company you know). Eric told me last week that they are
shipping fairly quickly now.
What does the K2 do? Here is the kit description from the Elecraft Web
EleCraft K2 160-10M CW/SSB Transceiver
Easy to Build:
'No-wires' construction: most controls and connectors mount directly to
Comprehensive user manual with step by step instructions and theory of
Incremental assembly and test.
No surface mount devices.
No specialized test equipment beyond a standard digital multi-meter is
required for test and alignment. (Built in test.) The K2 even includes a
built in general purpose frequency counter, volt meter and radio current
Largest possible PC board pads and traces to simplify rework and repair.
Full documentation provided for user modifications.
K2 High Performance CW Base Unit, General Features:
Small, portable size. 2.9h x 7.8w x 8.2d inches.
Efficient 10-15 volt operation for home or field use.
Less than 110ma typical receive current (backlight off, low Ip mode,
pre-amp off, headphones).
@200 ma typical receive current (high performance Ip mode)
Adjustable 0-10W PEP (via front panel menu).
Rugged, attractive custom enclosure.
Back-lit LCD display (backlight can be disabled).
160-10 meter ham band coverage, with some out of band overlap. (160 meters with 160m/RX Antenna option.)
PLL synthesized for low noise (no DDS spurs).
CW-only and SSB/CW (with SSB option).
2 VFOs with split operation plus 10 memories.
Direct keypad entry of frequencies, memory channels and key parameters.
RIT and XIT.
Headphone jack handles mono and stereo plugs
10 memories store Mode, VFO A/B, Split, RX filter, RX sideband (CW), etc.
Simple menu system for advanced settings. (Up to 2 menu functions can be
assigned to the programmable front panel function keys.)
BNC antenna connector -- A QRP standard. (SO-239 on High Power option.)
Room for additional connectors on the rear panel for user modifications.
All options may be added at any time.
Double-balanced diode mixer for excellent front end dynamic range and IP3.
Ham Band bandpass RX/TX filtering, relay switched (for excellent IP2 on RX).
Preliminary K2 Performance Measurements (14MHz Typical Values)
MDS(dbm) IMDDR3(db) Ip3(dbm) Ip2(dbm) BDR(db)
-136/-131 96/97 +5/+10.7 +77/+78 125/133
XX/YY = preamp-on/preamp-off results; See K2 Performance Comparisons for more details.
RX pre-amp and attenuator. (Both switchable on/off.)
Single conversion RX to 4.915 Mhz IF.
Room for additional switchable IF crystal filters.
Smooth, Fast attack, IF-derived AGC (no 'popping' on strong signals)
with fast/slow decay. (AGC can also be turned off).
IF gain adjust.
Sharp IF crystal filtering helps prevents receiver overload from signals
outside the RX passband. (Much better adjacent signal rejection (without AGC pumping) than the switched capacitor audio only filtering of other rigs.)
1 Khz per knob revolution for fine tuning; also 10 and 100 Khz per revolution.
10 Hz display resolution (7 digit).
Bar-graph S/RF OUT/ALC meter.
Full break-in CW.
Built in keyer with 10 programmable memories and both popular iambic
modes A and B.
Sharp, variable bandwidth CW crystal filter (250 - 1750 Hz).
Options for a fixed-bandwidth narrow crystal filter or a wide-bandwidth crystal filter for tuning the band.
Adjustable RX CW pitch with tracking TX side tone.
Selectable opposite sideband RX for QRM reduction.
Normal / Reverse paddle setting for Dot / Dash; Manual Key setting.
Efficient transmitter operation.
Whew!! That is a lot of radio!! 9 bands for $549!! Here is the pricing
K2 and Options Pricing
K2 HF Transceiver (CW) $549.00
SSB Option $ 79.00
160M / 2nd RX Ant. $ 29.00
Noise Blanker $ 29.00
Internal Auto Tuner $125.00
Internal 2.9AH Battery with Bracket Kit
(The K2 uses a PS-1229 Sealed Gel-Cell) $ 79.00
Battery Bracket Kit Only $ 39.00
Replacement 2.9 AH Battery $ 40.00
K2 Manual (Note: .pdf version free via web download) $ 29.00
Let's look at the other entries in this class, the Sierra, The OHR500
and the Hands GQ2000.
First the Hands GQ2000 -
Information from web page: GQ2000 CW Transceiver 5w Starter kit 80/20
Discrete commercial 6 pole xtal IF filter Option to cover all HF bands
PLL and DDS LO options for high stability 5 or 20 watt PA options Full QSK
98 db dynamic rx range
The GQ2000 is a high performance multiband cw transceiver based on the
very successful GQ mono-banders. Designed as a project for the GQRP club
magazine Sprat, the tcvr allows a one or two band starter configuration through
to a full ten band rig.
The base kit comprises of the IF2000, RF2000, AMP2 and the RTX-VF055 or
the optional DDS2. This gives a 5w 80/20 mtrs qsk tcvr with qsk changeover.
Alternatively, adding the RTX-AMP and DC10 gives a qsk 20 watt tcvr. The
transceiver can be put on any of the other HF bands by adding the RTX
PLL system and populating the required band filters on the RF2000.
The Intermediate frequency is at 9mhz and features a dedicated cw xtal
filter by Network Sciences Inc. This discreet 50 Ohm 6 pole filter has
500hz bandwidth with an excellent shape factor and is a perfect match for the
50 Ohm RF2000 front end. A single MC1350p is used as an IF amplifier
followed by a NE602 or 612 as a product detector.
Audio from the detector is pre-amplified by a LM351 op-amp - this makes
up the insertion loss of the following ele passive audio filter. This has a
top cut of 1khz and removes all traces of audio hiss. The audio pa is a
TDA2003, although a 20watt device, it is considerably under-run in this
application and gives genuine hi-fi quality. The module also contains the QSK timing
circuit and a keyed CIO for the tx section. The CIO is followed by 5
element LPF to remove any harmonic content.
What does this kit cost? I could not figure it out from the Kanga US
web page. As near as I can tell, the 2 band 20/80 meter starter kit,
without the DDS VFO is $450. If you are interested in the full 10 band kit,
then you need to contack Bill Kelsey at Kanga for prices. Since I am not
sure of the pricing, I did not consider this kit in the super kit category, but
I did want to mention that it is available to be complete. I do imagine
that it will cost more than the $549 of the K2, and on that alone, I would
pick the K2.
The next entry is the OHR 500 from Morse Express. Here is the
description from their web page.
The OHR 500 CW Transceiver Kit
Optional Iambic Keyer: $39.95
The Oak Hills Research OHR500 is a five band CW transceiver that covers
150 KHz of 80, 40, 30, 20 and 15M bands. Some of the features include a new
quieter single signal superhet receiver, diode ring mixer, new ultra
stable pre-mix VFO providing high side L.O. injection. The VFO is tuned with a
new high quality double bearing air variable cap. Additional features
include RIT, four pole crystal filter, four pole audio filter switchable from
front panel, TX power out control on front panel. The receiver includes a high
performance AGC circuit which can be turned off at front panel, RF gain
control, true sinewave sidetone with separate frequency and level
controls, room filling audio at rear panel speaker jack. A scope is NOT required
for alignment. We have included on-board RF probes so you can use your DMM
and frequency counter for alignment. The L.O. signal is available at a rear
panel jack for use with the DD-1 digital display. Chassis is pre-punched
for optional keyer kit. The transmitter provides 4-5 watts out on all bands
except 15M which is 3-3.5 watts. The transmitter also has a silky smooth
QSK circuit. The transceiver operates on 12 - 13.6VDC. The current drain on
RX is 270mA and 1A on transmit. The completed transceiver measures (HWD) 4"
x 8 1/4" x 8 1/4" and weighs 3.8 pounds. The kit is complete with cabinet,
three high quality silkscreened PCB's, all components and instructions.
The cost of this kit is $349.95, but it does not come with a keyer or
frequency display. The keyer is $39.95 and the frequency display is
$74.95, and I consider those a necessity, so the kit is now $464.85. With that
you get 5 bands, with the K2 you get 9, plus many, many more features for
the extra $85. My vote is for the K2.
Now the Wilderness Sierra. Here is the description from their web page.
The Sierra is the only compact, low-current, multiband transceiver kit
available. Designed by N6KR and extensively field-tested by the NorCal
QRP Club, the Sierra has been completely upgraded for Wilderness
Radio--including a painted and silk-screened enclosure and improved
performance on both transmit and receive. We've also added ABX -- an
adjustable bandpass crystal filter.
The Sierra uses plug-in band modules for 80, 40, 30, 20, 17 and 15 meters.
(You can build modules for the other bands by purchasing additional band
module PC boards.) Since there is no band switch, and because all
controls and connectors are mounted on the main board, there's virtually no chassis wiring.
For the portable operator, the Sierra offers very low receive-mode
current drain: only 35mA. The superhet receiver has excellent AGC range and
sensitivity, RIT, and a 400Hz crystal filter. Using ABX, you can vary
the crystal filter's 6dB passband from about 150 to 1500Hz to adapt to
operating conditions. Transmit power is about two watts. QSK is fast and clean.
In addition, there's built-in flexibility: extra panel and interior
space that invites customization. You can even store up to four band modules
inside the cabinet. Quick-release latches on either side of the cabinet
provide easy access to internal controls and for changing band modules.
Sierra shown with KC2 (option) installed
For more details on the original NorCal version of the Sierra, refer to
the article by N6KR in the 1996 ARRL Handbook.
Note: Power output will vary somewhat on different bands and with
different settings of the drive control. Unless otherwise noted, measurements were
made with a 13.8V supply and 50 load at the antenna jack.
General Size: Cabinet: 2.6"(H)x6.3"(W)x5.3"(D) Overall: 2.8"(H)x6.6"(W)x7.0"(D)
Band Module: 1.25"(H)x4.0"(W) Weight: Approx. 2 lbs Power Requirements: 10 to
15VDC Receive: 35mA; 35-70mA when using speaker Transmit: 275-350mA at 2
watts (typical) Frequency Ranges: 3.5-3.65,7.-7.15, 10.0-10.15,
14.0-14.15,18.0-18.15,21.0-21.15 VFO operating range: 2.935 to 3.085
MHz, w/8:1 vernier Calibration: 5KHz increments, readable to 1kHz Drift: <
100Hz/hour after 30 min. warm-up (RIT off, 25 C, top cover on)
Transmitter Power Output: 1.5 to 3 watts, depending on band Spurious
products: -40dB or better (typical) Final Amp efficiency: 60-75%
Transmit offset: 400-1000 Hz, adjustable Transmit-receive delay: 0.3
seconds nominal; adjustable Receiver Sensitivity: Better than 0.5uV for 10dB S+N/N Selectivity:
150Hz wide to 1500Hz wide at -6dB using built-in ABX control; w/ ABX control
at 50%: -6dB @400Hz, -32dB @ 1KHz AGC range: 60 to 80 dB (typical) I.F.:
4.915MHz; 4-pole Cohn Xtal filter plus single-crystal filter after I.F.
amp R.I.T. Range: +/- 2KHz nominal (can be increased) Audio output: 0.3
watts max into 8 to 32 load
Now for the pricing:
The basic Sierra kit is $215, plus shipping ($7 U.S., $12 Canada/Mexico,
Package prices are as follows:
$245 with 1 band module
$269 with 2 band modules
$295 with 3 band modules
$369 with all 6 band modules
Call for the 9 band price
$7 shipping US, $12 CANADA AND MEXICO and $20 DX.
Band Module Kits are available at $31.00 + $3 shipping US/CAN/MEX and $5 DX.
Band module PC boards also available separately at $9.50 + $3 shipping
US/CAN/MEX and $5 DX.
Again we have to do some figuring to get the 9 band price. Here is what
I come up with. The price difference between the 6 band module and the 3
band module kit is $74, so I assume that the same would apply to the 6 and 9
band module kit. I may be wrong on this but I bet it is pretty close. The 6
band kit is $369 and if we add $74 to the price for the extra 3 bands on
the 9 band kit, we get $443. But we are not done yet. That does not
include the KC-2 keyer/frequency counter/wattmeter/SWR meter option. That adds
$75 to the kit plus another $15 for the drilled and labeled front panel that
fits the KC-2. So now we are at $533 for the 9 Band Sierra with KC-2
options. No contest here, the winner is the K2 at $549.
But what if we compare the 6 band rig instead of the 9 band? You drop
the price $74, and you are still at $459, but you don't get 3 bands, again,
the K2 wins.
Personally I like the K2, I think it is the ultimate kit on the market
today. There are a couple of things that I don't like. One is the
industrial looking case. I wish that they had used counter sunk screws
like Doug Hauff does in his DSW and Red Hot Radio cases. They give a much
more finished look to the rig. Just my opinion, but everytime I see the rig
those screw heads sticking out bother me. The second thing is the
keyer. To use the keyer memory you have to push 2 buttons. Wish it was like
the keyer from Idiom Press that you just push a button on. Other than that,
I love the rig. I have not built one, but I did operate Jay Bromley's for
several hours when I was in Arkansas this summer. I am going to treat
myself to a kit soon. (JoAnne's phone number is 209-392-3522 in case
you want to call and have her add it to my Christmas list, grin).
There it is, my choice for the All Band Super Kit, the K2. But let me
add a word of warning here. Please build a kit or two before you build the
K2, in fact, I would suggest that you build several before you tackle this
one. It is the crown jewel of kits today, but it does deserve an experienced
builder. But if you have built most of the kits in this series, there
is no reason that you shouldn't build the K2 with ease and enjoy the process
The next installment will be the final one, when I suggest a project for
all of those who have built the K2 and want the next challenge. It is out
there, and you will be challenged. That comes tomorrow in What Kit to
Build #8, the Next Step.
Hope you enjoy this series. Again, this is my opinion and attempt to
pull together accurate information for the builder as to what I think is the
best value for the dollar in kits today and provide an enjoyable learning
experience at the same time. I believe that all 4 of the rigs I
mentioned today are good kits, but I do have a favorite and I said what that was
and why. 72, Doug, KI6DS