Saturday, April 16, 2016

From the K3 to the Flex 6300 - Part 1

To many people, Elecraft and Flex represent the best of the two disciplines of radio architecture available to hams: knobbed-partial-“depends on your definition of SDR”-SDR and full-fledged, unapologetic, “we digitize just in from the antenna” SDR. These two disciplines generate arguments aplenty over which is “best” with most people belonging to one camp or the other. As a new apostate, I thought I’d share my rationale.

It started out mostly about money.

About a year ago I started seriously looking into adding the 2nd receiver to my K3. I thought (correctly, as it turns out) that being able to listen to the DX on one receiver (left headphone) and the pile-up on the other (right headphone) would offer a significant advantage when working the big DXpeditions. But I also knew that seeing the entire pile-up at once on a pan display would make it easier to find the last station worked and therefore the DX’s listening freq. The cost to add both the sub-receiver, 400  Hz CW filter and panadapter to my K3 would be close to $1600. This is on top of what the K3 already cost.

It was at this point that I started looking at a state of the art manufacturer just down the road from me – Flex Radio.

I subscribed to the Flex user’s forum and read it and the Elecraft reflector daily. User’s opinions, problems, solutions and complaints gave me a good idea of whether I could justify the money for an entirely new rig rather than upgrading what I was already familiar with. A QRP Apache Labs Anan-10E had given me an introduction into the world of SDR operating and I liked it. A lot.

After informing myself as best I could about the Flex’s capabilities, and reading all the opinions on Sherwood Engineering’s rankings, it was time to look at the other numbers – the ones preceded by a dollar sign. When I did, the Flex made more financial sense than pimping my K3. I bought the “entry model” Flex – the 6300 and, after 8 months, I have zero regrets.

For $2500, here’s what it offers along with the price to outfit a K3 in a similar way:


Granted, the F6300 is not the Flex rig that gets top billing in the numbers department. That would be the 6500/6700, one of the main advantages of them over the 6300 being ham band preselectors (the other advantage being 4 receivers - a feature unavailable in the K3 or any non-SDR rig regardless of price). I obsessed over this difference and about the $4300 Flex 6500 but I needn't have worried. Last November's CQWW (CW) contest dispelled any misplaced notions that lacking those preselectors would lead to an inability to copy weak signals next to strong ones - a scenario common in CQWW. The lower-priced '6300 had zero problems in that or any other department.

Many pile-ups for very rare DX have taken place since I bought my Flex - Juan de Nova, Heard, South Sandwich - and the '6300 is doing what I bought it to do. I'm in and done with the pile-ups more quickly that I would have been with my almost-stock K3 - at a much more reasonable price than a "Flex-equivalent" K3.
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5 comments:

  1. John,

    This is where I was until mid-Summer 2015. I had been telling everyone at my local club that my retirement radio was going to be a K3 with a 2nd receiver. I was dutifully putting away 100-200 dollars every month for the past 3 years in preparation for "purchase day" just before retirement. Then "one Saturday" happened.

    One of our members was donating a bunch of gear to the Club as he down-sized to move to a smaller home. On the second trip to get "another pickup load", he had bought a shiny new 6500. I spent all of 5 minutes with it and was completely hooked, since I was going to run the K3 via Computer anyway for Digital modes and remote operation. At the end of the day, I bought accessories I would have never been able to have in my budget, upgraded to a bigger/better tuner, Heil headphones, and save about a grand.

    I am utterly at peace with the choice I made (a 6300) and wouldn't go back at all.

    73 de Gary, WB5ULK

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    1. Hi Gary,

      I'm trying to decide what to do with my K3 now. If a year goes by without it being used, I'll probably sell it. I know I could never go back to DXing the old-fashioned way, spinning a dial and tuning blindly. As of now, it's packed away in the closet with a bunch of other radio stuff that needs to be put on eBay...

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  2. Quite an eye opening comparison! I love my K2 and cannot afford a K3, but have a soft spot for Elecraft and their awesome reflector. Also love my Valiant, Ranger & Hammarlund 100-A, so I lean toward the old-fashioned. Technology marches on, giving me a touch of sadness.

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    1. I agree and it was with a degree of sadness that I sold my K3. I felt the same way about a few previous rigs I've owned over the years from other manufacturers. My KX2 eased that feeling and I believe it is one rig I'll never sell.

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  3. Great points to consider. I am leaning toward the 6300 as well. Thanks!

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