In my quest to find the next portable rig (I already decided), I made a comparison sheet with stats about the various rigs I was considering.

Here is my portable rig matrix (including handhelds). Hopefully this list could be of help to others.

Bear in mind, I had specific goals in this rig evaluation:

  • Portability of station setup
  • Ease of use in multiple modes
  • CW practice wherever I was
  • Expansion of my amateur radio capabilities into other modes, e.g. APRS, packet, digital HF, base and mobile antenna improvement
  • Versatility and integration with my existing setup

While I was dead set on getting the Elecraft KX3 fully loaded, I decided that if reining in the budget, a single QRP rig was not worth all the other gear (antenna ideas) that I wanted to invest in. So I went with my second choice, the RS-918SSB mcHF v0.6 clone “Recent/Risecomm” RS-918SSB. It was a tie with the Xiegu X5105, but that mcHF screen!

New RS-918SSB
Shiny new mcHF clone.

I am fully aware of the politics behind this radio but found that the original m0nka v0.6 kit is no longer available. He’s focusing on an entirely different form factor that does not appeal to me.

In addition, I was able to save that money to acquire lots of other imporant items: a couple of hamsticks, a shiny new Kenwood DH-TH74A for APRS and D-Star work, a mini paddle key from American Morse, and a Bioenno LiFePO4 battery with solar controller and 2A LiFePO4 charger. I also ordered a military pole 36ft portable mast for my field and base station plans. All this and more by exercising a little bit of frugality against my Elecraft lust.

Kenwood TH-D74A and California Bourbon
Kenwood TH-D74A and Bourbon

I was also able to get a Smiley Antenna Tri-band Whip antenna for the Kenwood, which enables amazing 220 resonance in addition to great gain on 440 and solid performance on 2 meters. (For when I am not attaching the Kenwood to my car mobile antenna.)

All in all, it was an exercise in cost-benefit analysis. I had certain goals, e.g. to get a primary APRS mobile setup while commuting, and also a very portable “EDC” (everyday carry) HF rig.

While the KX3 is in a class of its own with regard to receive filtering, modularity, and overall quality of radio, I thought I could live with a rig in equal (or smaller) size that enabled me to get on the air with more watts (15w vs. 10 on the KX3), a sweet touchscreen color display with much more info, daily CW practice without having to lug around my FT-857D, and less than a quarter of the price of the KX3 (picked it up for $450 with shipping vs. $2000 quoted from Elecraft website).

And with this, I’m now on D-Star, a digital mode I wanted to know more about, am able to work packet (via KISS bluetooth or USB on the Kenwoond TH-D74A), explore Winlink, ultimately get out there and work stations– on 2 more rigs with supporting gear!

It’s so cool to be positioning with APRS, and so far have made 300+ mile CW contacts from a crowded parking lot on 40m CW.

And with about $800 to spare!

So you tell me… Did I make the right choice? I’ve always heard it said that QRP is a luxury once you get your “real rig” established. In an EMCOMM situation. you’ll wish you had that extra power. I tried to choose the most versatility with the options before me.

Maybe one day I may still get the KX3. But it will be after gaining much wisdom having explored so many other aspects of ham radio.

8 Replies to “Choosing the Next Rig”

    1. The novelty has worn off, and I use it now as a backup rig. I have not figured out the discrepancy of transmit power, it will go to the full 15w on 40m, but that quickly drops to about 5w max on 20m. Also, there’s an offset I’ve not been able to adjust, so when transmitting on CW, I need to go about 400khz up from my target frequency. I am sure these are all in documentation, but being an opensource (and older) version of the software, there’s not much help there. Overall, it’s a nice rig, but I work more with my QRO rig these days. Thanks for your comment!

  1. Wow! I could have written this! My journey was the same: lust for the KX3 followed by “how much stuff can I get for that money?”

    Like you, it came down for me to the mcHF or the X5105. That mcHF sure is sexy!

    But I went with the X5105 for the internal ATU.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kevin. The X5105 is a mighty fine rig, and doing it all over again I would have gone with that (esp with the SWR analyzer and that internal ATU!). I just got seduced by that SDR screen and waterfall.

  2. Same conflict here. Lusted for the KX3 for years, but the huge investment always dissuaded me especially not having all the bands of the 817/818. KX2 had some appeal, improvement on design, etc though at reduced capability.

    Hoping for a dream follow on KX4 about the size of KX3 with built in touch screen panadapter for front UI (still would want the knobs, especially the big VFO), but soft buttons linked to the screen like the mcHF would be grand. Want all bands: 2m, 4m, 6-160, without needing add-ons. Internal ATU, filters, build in the handle/ears and maybe a bit more rugged and most importantly not black. Able to take AA and/or internal cells as well as external batteries. Grey or tan to avoid heat issues. That would easily be worth ~$1500 in kit form. Then I’d be willing to consider their amp, external panadapter etc for shack use.

  3. I found the KX3 (in fact all the Elecraft models) to be too much money for the rig itself; especially given the harsh sound it produces during RX as well as the lack of ergonomics for me.

    I have dome a few blind tests when it comes to RX where both left and right were different TRX and In almost any QSO the non-elecraft won. YMMV.

  4. My Portable setup is the FT-891 100 watt radio and the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 vertical setup and I purchased the CAP HAT separately but these are my swr readings below with CAP HAT and single supplied counterpoise.

    FT-891 is around the same size of the G90 so why not have the 100 Watts and better receiver and quieter receiver with really nice analogue sound ? the screens of SDR won’t allow a radio to receiver or perform better and in many cases the SDR will introduce a harshness to the audio not found in superhets.

    A KX3 with MIC, Tuner costs a lot more money than 891 and you can have a chunk of money left over to buy that wonderful MPAS 2.0 Antenna, 891 + MPAS 2.0 and you got a DX capable station or use the wire that comes with the MPAS for NVIS on 160 and 80m.
    my SWR with CAP HAT
    160m 3.1
    80m 2.6
    40m 1.87
    20m 1.4
    17m 1.18
    15m 1.4
    12m 2.1
    10m 1.9 -2.4 for the higher part

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