K2 Road Test...

Radman (radman@best.com)
Wed, 13 Jan 1999 22:08:51 -0800

Gang, I got an invite from Wayne Burdick - N6KR -- to buzz over to his lab for a final K2 test drive. What a blast! Here we go: K2 - S&P CW Scan Mode: We ran the new CW "scan mode" thru its paces just about every way we could think of. Here's how it works: you can set scan edges up to 100 kHz apart (eg: 7.000 to 7.100MHz) and save that scan range to memory. You can tweak CW filter width, RF gain and AGC speed to suit band conditions. You can set the tuning step to adjust the scan speed. To start scanning for CW stations, you poke a couple of buttons and the K2 starts scanning from the lower edge toward the upper scan edge. It will pounce on any CW station it encounters between those scan limits. It pauses for a second or two on that station's freq, and then resumes scan unless you defeat the scan mode by tapping any front panel button or your paddles. Then the fun really starts.... you just sit back (or light the BBQ) and watch/listen to what the K2 digs out of the band. As Wayne puts it, "the K2 will pause on any signal that's interesting and hopefully CW." Naturally we started on 40 Meters and trolled some familiar territory. The K2 pulled out a lot of weak stations that were barely igniting the first dot on the S-Meter. Could the scan edges be set for 7.037-7.044 for a Fox Hunt and let the scanner "ping-pong" for ten minutes -- searching for the pack of hounds? Cheating? Probably, but it could be very interesting! Next we hopped up to the 40M Novice sub-band and set the scan to 7.100 - 7.150MHz. The results were acceptable. The K2 was occasionally "fooled" by strong AM carriers or other noise typical of that nasty band segment, and we had to manually turn the main tuning encoder past the offender to resume scan. But, it still found the Novices in the midst of all the band noise -- impressive! Other interesting scanning tests included scanning the "lone prairies" of less active band segments. We surfed 15M, 30M and lower 20M -- which was just drifting out to sea during our test. The K2 dug out numerous CW stations that we would never have found without endless, painful, conventional knob-spinning. I believe you'll love CW scan mode because you'll cover more territory, find more CQs and make more QSOs! It's quite impressive. DX Pile-Up - Full Metal Jacket : We scanned smack into the middle of a DX pile-up on 20 Meters and Wayne went into full combat mode -- flack jacket, combat helmet, NorCal paddle in hand... I'll tell you, N6KR can seriously hustle DX ! I asked him how fast he could head-copy as he employed all of the usual er "techniques" for cracking a pile-up. He copies 50 WPM in his head... "while in his Zen state." Fatigued from months of K2 design work, I'd say he's dropped to about 45 WPM. But, it's to our benefit that this guy's a CW speedster -- he's well qualified to design fast, clean QSK/full break-in transceivers. How fast and clean is the K2? It's good between the dits at 40wpm and still tweaking! I sat back and watched Wayne work the pile-up using the K2 keyer's REPEAT function to drop his call in at every break. Great combat action, but we had to move on! Scoping it out: We put the K2 on the Tek scope and had a look at keying wave forms at all power levels on all bands 160-10. Perfect! They are dead on the money, clean and fully symmetrical. We looked for spikes. We listened for chirps. We monitored the K2 on a reference Kenwood transceiver. It's perfect. It's done! Receive Current: I wanted a demo of the full range of receive current scenarios, from "pup tent" to home QTH. Elecraft has hit their target numbers. We measured 100mA in "Survival/Y2K Mode" -- with every receive feature switched off. Next we went to "Performance Mode" to establish a worst case -- with every receive feature enabled -- max audio, AGC on, Hi-IP, S-Meter in bar mode with all bars fully lit ... about 280 mA total. (This scenario is very unlikely in real world operation -- given that no one would have the S-Meter bar on full illumination 100% of the time with each "dot" LED pulling over 18 mA!) One very cool aspect of Elecraft's power management scheme is to allow YOU to set your own parameters for receive current in a variety of ways. You can disable the S-Meter, change S-Meter mode from DOT to full BAR, disable Hi-Intercept Point, turn-off the backlight, turn off AGC, switch from DAY mode to NIGHT mode, etc. DAY mode pre-sets the backlight to off and cranks the S-Meter illumination to maximum -- just what you need in bright sun. NIGHT mode turns on the backlight and turns down the S-Meter dot/bar illumination. Nice touch for field operation -- it saves your battery. Wayne says there will even be a construction option allowing the 5-watt purists to wind their toroids to optimize the K2's transmit efficiency. The Bottom Line: The K2 has come a long way in a very short time. From a cardboard model at Pacificon 1997 to taking firm orders in about a week from now is remarkable for a transceiver of this complexity -- two guys investing perhaps three man-years of their lives. When you compare K2's performance numbers (on their web page) to the American and JA big rigs, it suggests that the K2 is closing in on them. I can tell you from road testing the K2 that some folks running FT-1000's and OMNI-VI's will have a more difficult time price-justifying the big rig against this sub $1K machine -- especially if they're die-hard CW ops. In fact, after we finished the tests and I returned to my shack, I switched on my IC-765 and checked the bands. My IC-765 didn't sound quite as sharp as it usually does. I wondered if the Icom was getting weaker? I think not. I believe the K2 has been getting stronger. The performance gap is narrowing and Eric's lab measurements prove it. Will the K2 be too much radio for some? Yes and No. I believe that while the K2 will set the performance standard for the $1K class, some folks will always prefer simpler front panels without "tap/hold" switches and smallish knobs -- some may never let go of their TT Scouts. On the other hand, the K2 is significantly easier to operate than an IC-706 or the other JA miniatures -- quite intuitive. And, if CW scan mode, or tweaking receive current draw is not your thing, you can just ignore it and use the K2 as a very simple transceiver -- I still haven't read the book on how to operate it, nor have I felt a need for one. (Besides, Wayne still hasn't written the book, so how could I read it?) The K2's performance suggests that it will certainly attract the attention of the DX-Pedition and contest crowd -- even the type who never seem to have enough menu functions on their 1000MP's. I believe we'll start hearing of many K2s turning up in far away places with strange sounding names -- and big antennas. Finally, for the one hundred field testers building the first K2's -- and I'm one of them -- you'll be astounded at the maturity of this rig's core technology. The K2's guts are ready for battle -- no mods required. Except for the fun mods, like designing your own custom filters or DX-Pedition airline packs. For me "the wait" was well worth the additional engineering time that Elecraft invested in the K2 to get this thing designed right. I think you'll agree. Hope to meet all of you on the bands! Standard disclaimer: I'm not related to Elecraft, Wilderness, et al -- and I pay full retail :-) Approximate shipping date: middle of Jan, '98 -- for field test. For all the specs, pictures and more... check out "elecraft.com" 72 - Conrad Weiss - NN6CW

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