Yaesu 817ND vs Elecraft KX3 Differences for Portable Use 54

Elecraft KX3 looking out from Guardilama

I use and love both the Yaesu 817ND and Elecraft KX3. Both of these rigs inspire passion in their owners for good reason and both are excellent. That said, having used both for portable operation I have a favourite.

This post came about during email exchanges with Andreas (SM6UNC) about which one I’d recommend.

 

 

Before we begin, let’s do a quick overview of the facts:

Yaesu FT-817ND Elecraft KX3 (inc. 2m Module)
Bands HF + 6m, 2m, 70cm HF + 6m, 2m (with 2m module)
Maximum HF Output 5 wattsernal battery) 10-15 watts (15w with latest beta firmware update)
2m
Output
5W 3W
Receive Current 300-400mA As low as 150 mAh
Weight 2.5 lbs, 1.2 kg 1.5 lbs, 0.7 kg
Price £440 (as of January 2016) Basic KX3 Built: £960

Optional Extras

Hand Mic: £65 (or a cheap PC headset)

Internal ATU: £170

2m Module: £200

Filtering Module: £120

Total: £1,690

So in conclusion, if you need a shack in a box and a cheap price then the Yaesu 817ND is the outstanding winner! If, however you’re not too worried about the extra cost and lack of the 70cm band, then read ahead to find out my experience of using the two.

Advantages of the Elecraft KX3

SOTABeam Stand for KX3I’ll preface the advantages by saying that the Elecraft KX3 is a much newer rig than the Yaesu 817 which has been out a lot longer, so inevitably it’s a bit more cutting edge in comparison.

1. Great receiver sensitivity – the 817 can seem quite deaf in comparison!
2. (Up to) Three times the output power! 10-15 watts can make all the difference compared to 5w when conditions are down and you’re using SSB.
3. Easier to use – no death by a thousand menus like the 817. Most controls are easily accessible via buttons and if not the menu is very easy to use with the large screen.

4. Contest grade performance – stick the optional roofing filter in and you have a receiver and filtering that rivals a lot of full sized base station rigs

5. Built in ATU – I’d definitely advise getting this option, the ATU itself is excellent and could tune a wire fence! Carrying a separate ATU is a pain and another thing to forget.

6. Fine controlled adjustable output – you can adjust in 1 watt increments from the full 12 watts down to 1 watt and then in 100mW increments down to a minimum of 100mW – 817 doesn’t offer this level of flexibility, it steps from 5, 2.5, 1w and 500mW. I sometime like to try experiments with QRPp and for this the KX3 is much better.

7. Large display – A large display alongside a better viewing angle make the KX3 much easier to read than the Yaesu 817’s miniature screen. That said you can’t adjust the colour of the screen like the 817.

8. Better Ergonomics – the KX3 display and controls are all in the right place, while with the 817 I struggle to lean it in an upright position so I can see the display and controls without leaning down.

9. Built in support for PSK/RTTY/CW decoding (on screen) and sending (using macros)

10. It’s a Software Defined Radio with knobs on – hence the great performance and regular software updates from Elecraft

11. Firmware Updates – Imagine getting new features and better performance every couple of months. Elecraft continue to release firmware updates for the KX3 and in fact the January 2016 Beta release increased the output to 15 watts from the previous 10-12w.

12. It’s a proper base rig – A number of KX3 owner’s use their KX3 as their main base rig in the shack. The only thing that limits it is the output, but if you add a linear amplifier you’ve got a very capable rig that’s significantly cheaper than the Elecraft K3S and not much less performance.

Elecraft KX3 Setup on Trig Point

2M Ready to Rock & Roll on the KX3

2M Ready to Rock & Roll on the KX3

Advantages of the Yaesu 817ND

Yaesu 817 Mid-QSO on 2m FM

Yaesu 817 Mid-QSO on 2m FM

Ok, so we’ve seen some of the advantages the KX3 has over the 817, now what’s about the plucky 817?

1. It’s a HF/VHF/UHF shack in a box – it does everything from 160m-70cm, the KX3 does 160m-6m as standard and if you want 2m you need to buy a 2m transverter which fits inside

2. It’s much cheaper! Elecraft is like Apple it’s built well and performance is incredible, but it’s far from cheap! The Yaesu 817ND on the other hand is a bargain at half the price of a basic KX3 and less than a third of a fully loaded KX3.

3. Built in battery (as standard) – Useful if your external battery fails, or when you travel abroad, as airport security will not be so concerned with a built in battery rather than an external one. Only downside is you’re limited to 2.5w output with the internal battery (you can override this and go with 5w, but don’t expect the battery to last long!), which really is quite limiting on SSB as I found out when activating a Spanish SOTA summit. The KX3 does have an AA battery compartment, but the charger module costs another £60, and swapping AA batteries is a little risky due to the potential to trap & break the display’s ribbon cable!

4. Robust Build – I don’t need to protect it as much as the KX3 as it feels more solid and there’s less knobs to break off – here’s how I protect my Elecraft KX3. The 817 feels like you could throw it around a bit without many issues

5. It’s really fun to use – I can’t tell you exactly why but I enjoy using the 817 and find it fun to use – while the KX3 feels like a more professional radio and slightly less fun as a result. This is a hard one to articulate!

6. Speaker Volume – The 817 has a more powerful speaker than the KX3. I usually use earphones so It’s not a problem for me and this save battery. Most KX3 owner’s use a small portable speaker to make things a bit louder.

Yaesu 817 ready to go

Yaesu 817 ready to go on Ogono EA2/BI-068

The Yaesu 817 setup on Oiz

The Yaesu 817 setup on Oiz EA2/BI-009

 

Conclusion

This is my own subjective view of each rigs relative merits and after writing this I realise that they are two very different rigs. They are similar so much in that they are portable radios and marketed as such, but are so different in many ways.

If budget is a concern then take the Yaesu 817ND, the performance is adequate and it’s a ‘Swiss army knife’ of a radio, it covers everything from HF-UHF!

If performance is more of a concern then I’d opt for the Elecraft KX3, I use mine for portable contesting and appreciate the extra performance and features offered.

In summary, I love both of these rigs and it’s mostly a matter of what you want to get out of the radio and the budget you have that will affect your choice. I reach for the Elecraft KX3 more often though!

Please leave a comment if you have anything to add here, I’d love to hear what your experiences of using these great rigs are.

54 thoughts on “Yaesu 817ND vs Elecraft KX3 Differences for Portable Use

  1. Reply Glyn Jan 25,2016 18:31

    Good comparison however, there is a menu option to get the full 5W from an internal battery rather than the usual 2.5W.

    • Reply James Stevens Jan 26,2016 09:33

      You are right Glyn, I’ll update the article. Not sure the battery would last very long at 5w though 🙂

      73 James M0JCQ

  2. Reply NE4AM Terry Jan 25,2016 21:28

    Truly the FT-817d is my favorite . CW is great and I installed the collins filters and THAT was an amazing difference. KX3 is PRICEY . 817 is in my hiking bag and with a yo-yo antenna and an american morse paddle I am set. add a solar panel, 10 watts , and you can have a lot of fun

    • Reply James Stevens Jan 26,2016 09:36

      The collins filters do improve the 817’s performance by some amount, I’ve still personally had issues under extreme contest conditions while the KX3 filter is adjustable so you can wind it right down to eliminate the QRM.

      How are you getting 10w from the 817?

      73 James M0JCQ

  3. Reply Walter Underwood (K6WRU) Jan 28,2016 21:57

    The KX3 has internal batteries, too. If you use non-rechargeable 1.5V cells (Lithium AA’s, 3000mAh), you can get 10W.

    Here is a photo of the KX3 on a peak, running on internal batteries and with a wire antenna connected directly to the rig (no coax).

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/walter_underwood/17417496311/in/album-72157652448882921/

  4. Reply Andy McMullin Jan 28,2016 22:20

    My KX3 has batteries built in, and charges them when connected to 12v.

  5. Reply Bill Frantz Jan 28,2016 22:50

    The KXBC3 Internal NiMH Charger / Real-Time Clock for $70 in the US gives the KX3 internal batteries. (Batteries not included.)

    Bill Frantz, AE6JV

  6. Reply EA2IF Jan 28,2016 22:57

    See here how to implement modification to get 10w out of the FT-817

    http://www.hampedia.net/yaesu/ft-817-10-watts-output.php

    Best 73,

    Guru

    • Reply James Stevens Jan 29,2016 10:26

      I heard rumours that this could be done Guru, so thanks for the link. Not sure I’ll give it a go on mine though, not sure how long the finals would last and what 10w vs 5w of reflected power would do :/

      73 James M0JCQ

  7. Reply Jim K9YC Jan 28,2016 23:19

    The KX3 can hold a pack of 8 – AA batteries, and there’s an optional charger for them if they’re Nicads. RX current drain (1/3 that of the 817) is a major advantage of the KX3 — since a large fraction of most operation is listening, that greatly increases battery life. A big deal if you’re backpacking.

    Last summer, I loaned my KX3 with optional 100W amp to another ham who was going to backpack 2+ miles on a trail that gains 1,000 ft of elevation to light up a rare 6M grid. I also loaned them a 20Ah LiFePO4 battery. At the end of the one-day activation, the 20Ah battery still had some life in it!

  8. Reply Larry-KW5B Jan 28,2016 23:59

    10 watt solar panel, not 10 watts from the 817:)

    What do you use to protect your KX3?

  9. Reply Andrew Jan 29,2016 00:12

    Hi James,
    This is a well thought out comparison of the two radios. Your points are well made. One option available for the 817 is to replace the nicad type internal batteries with a lithium battery of double the capacity. Disable the 2.5w limit and you have longer life and power from the self contained radio. I have the 817 and an Icom703 which is a lovely radio to use on summits, esp on summits (have CW filters in both radios). I have used KX3s and like them. Just need to find a way to fund one…
    73
    Andrew
    VK1DA/VK2UH

    • Reply James Stevens Jan 29,2016 10:20

      Good tip Andrew, I may well try this as 2.5w SSB is quite limiting when conditions are down. On one SOTA summit in EA2 I could only work groundwave on 20m! The K index was 5 and a solar storm had just hit earth, my fourth contact was a random Finnish op, not sure how he got through when the regular SOTA chasers couldn’t hear me 🙂

  10. Reply Gerard VK2IO Jan 29,2016 00:55

    The KX3 has an internal battery too in the form of 8 AAs. When I was in Europe I worked Australia a few times using 3W out from the internal batteries.

    Cheers, Gerard – VK2IO

    • Reply James Stevens Jan 29,2016 10:18

      Thanks Gerard, I’ve updated the article. I forgot as I don’t have the battery recharge module installed and using non-rechargeable AA’s are a pain to install & remove due to the display’s ribbon cable. FB on back to VK from EU!!

      • Reply Walter Underwood (K6WRU) Jan 29,2016 15:26

        I’ve never heard of anyone damaging the ribbon cable. I did dislodge mine once, but that was trivial to fix.

        The KX3 is designed to work with internal rechargeable batteries, but you don’t have to pay for the charger if you don’t want it. With the FT-817, you have to pay for the charger it whether you want it or not.

  11. Reply Brian G8ADD Jan 29,2016 00:58

    Hi, James, a small correction about the 817, it has four power steps, the lowest power being 500mW.

  12. Reply KG6VDW Jan 29,2016 01:31

    The KX3 also has the option to have an internal battery but is generally limited to 5w output using the internal battery. I didn’t get this option when first purchased my KX3 because I intended to always have an external power source. But I found there were times when I would like to be in the arm chair and just listen so I finally opted for the Internal battery option and I am quite happy with it.

    • Reply James Stevens Jan 29,2016 10:15

      You’re right. I also didn’t get the optional battery charger module with my KX3 as I couldn’t justify even more cost. Rarely have I needed it due to using external LiFePo4 batteries, but when I travel by plane it would be easier to get through customs 🙂

  13. Reply Pete Jan 29,2016 01:48

    James, last time I looked my KX3 also had built in battery capability! You seem to claim this as a bonus only the 817 possesses. I think one of the benefits of the KX3 is that it’s more than just a portable rig. For me, and many others, it’s my main station rig with full cat control, IQ output and ergonomics to match the K3.
    It’s also a quite a bit cheaper if you buy direct from Elecraft and self assemble (even after UK import duty) .

    • Reply James Stevens Jan 29,2016 10:11

      Good points Pete. You are of course completely right about the KX3 being able to take batteries. I’ll update the article to reflect this. I don’t own the optional battery charger module for my KX3 and my experience of swapping AA batteries in and out has concerned me. You have to open the rig right up (no discrete battery compartment like the 817) and the potential for breaking the display’s ribbon cable is too great due to the positioning 🙁

      I also imported and built my KX3, but it seemed like a fairer price comparison to use the ready built one as the 817 isn’t available as a kit. Boy did the VAT bill sting from HMRC! Still worked our cheaper buying direct from Elecraft though 🙂

      73 James M0JCQ

  14. Reply Skip NC9O Jan 29,2016 03:41

    Great write up James I agree with you as I own both rigs and I find both rigs fun to operate. I the US the 817 did not come with the internal rechargeable battery when I bought it. I use rechargeable NMHI in both the 817 and KX3 with the KX3 lasting longer. I owned an FT857 along with the 817 and I find navigating the menus some what easy the stumbling block is the small display as you pointed out. I do find that the KX3 gets more attention and is a fun rig to operate and I usually operate at 2 to 5 watts so either rig will work.

    73 Skip NC9O

    • Reply James Stevens Jan 29,2016 10:00

      Thanks for the kind words Skip. It’s interesting to see just how many people own both rigs! I completely understand as they’re both awesome!

      73, James M0JCQ

  15. Reply Andrea Nardini Jan 29,2016 06:19

    Good comparison, kx3 is my favorite portable ring, cw is fantastic, better than ft817 with collins filters.
    73/72 de ik3ghz.

    • Reply James Stevens Jan 29,2016 09:58

      Thanks Andrea. Interesting to hear about the difference in CW performance this isn’t something I can comment on as I mostly use SSB.

      73 James M0JCQ

  16. Reply Lex PH2LB Jan 29,2016 07:48

    Owning a ft817 incl the colins filter for /M and /P. I had the chance to operate the KX3 a few tines and I can find my self in both lists. Both have cons and I’m glad I bought the 817 years ago. Because working in the field just gives that little extra to our hobby. That said the KX3 is in my list but until the savings allow it 🙂

    For (mobile) contesting I use my FT897D or my old FT301, because like you said, sometimes a little extra punch is needed.

    73 de Lex PH2LB

  17. Reply Martin Waller Jan 29,2016 10:16

    Hi James, Nice blog entry. We all seem to agree that we like the KX3. I have both rigs myself and I’m particularly interested in your comment “if you go for the KX3 let me know and I’ll tell you what I use to protect mine.” I want to go out portable this year with my KX3 so I’d very interested to see how you protect yours. I’ve toyed with various ideas and I keep searching the internet but I’ve not settled on anything yet!

    73 de Martin G0PJO

    • Reply James Stevens Jan 31,2016 13:58

      Hi Martin,

      I’ve just posted an article on what I use to protect the KX3 when I’m out and about on SOTA summits:

      http://www.hamblog.co.uk/protecting-the-elecraft-kx3-on-the-hills/

      73, James M0JCQ

    • Reply Skip NC9O Jan 31,2016 16:53

      Martin and others I use a Plano brand model 1460 hard case which is waterproof too. It measures 9x6x4.5 inches (length width and depth) with a carry handle. It holds the KX3 my porta-paddles, earbuds, hand mic, small amplified speaker, adapters, and a small wire antenna with counter poise. Also dc adapter cables and small flashlight. This package weights about 5.5lbs and travels easy grab and go.

      Skip NC9O

      • Reply James Stevens Feb 1,2016 09:25

        Thanks Skip, that looks like a great solution! Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be widely available here in Europe, but you can get it delivered from the states and would make a great grab and go setup without worrying you’ve forgotten that vital cable!

        73, James M0JCQ

  18. Reply IK2YRA Jan 29,2016 11:35

    Always FT817….
    1/3 of the kx3 price….
    Excelent receiver….
    Heavier? Yes, because stronger!
    QRP means 5w or less, not 10 or 15w!
    Carlos ik2yra

    • Reply James Stevens Jan 29,2016 12:05

      Thanks Carlos. QRP output depends on who you talk to, 10w for SSB and 5w CW.

      The KX3 allows better experimentation for the QRP/QRPp operator with much finer power output controls…

      73, James M0JCQ

  19. Reply ON6KE Jan 29,2016 12:13

    KX3 controls power out in 100mW steps all the way, below and above 1 Watt.
    Average review.

  20. Reply Scott McDonald Jan 29,2016 13:24

    James, I logged lots of great contacts on a well-worn FT817 long before there was a KX3, and while I’m a very happy KX1, FT817 and KX3 user, I think the FT817 has lots of advantages for the right situation.

    Air travel, especially business travel, when you want to travel light, the 817 is great – it brings airband, FM, easily programmed local repeaters on 2 and 3/4 meters and that undeniably non-sustainable but darn handy internal battery case. I can’t count the times where I sat in a park on a business trip burning thru the rechargeables and a second set of alkalines for an hour and a half of fun without the fuss of dragging any other power along. And it fits well in the brief case.

    And the form factor of the 817 lends itself to handheld (at least while sitting down, although I’ve walked several beaches with it) operation much better than the KX3. A recent river cruise trip in France I ended up outfitting the FT817 with a bracket for the Buddistick on one side, a bracket for the KX1 keyer paddle on the other, and literally walked off the boat, pulled up the whip and operated cw a minute later.

    The KX3 still gets the good trips where there’s time and space – beach vacations, driving vacations especially, but like a lot of people here, ya got to have both !

  21. Reply Mike, k2mol Jan 29,2016 14:06

    I was warned about modding my 817 to push 10 watts. Not a good idea for finals. I will be buying the kx3.

  22. Reply Walter Underwood (K6WRU) Jan 29,2016 15:32

    A lot of people use the SideKX end plates and cover to protect the KX3’s knobs. They are great.

    http://gemsproducts.com/

    There is a general assumption that the KX3 is fragile compared to the FT-817 or IC-703, but that does not seem to be the case in the real world. With around 10,000 of them sold and an active e-mail community, we would have heard lots of horror stories if the KX3 really was fragile.

    Elecraft has lots of experience making robust radios. The KX3 was designed as “trail ready” from the beginning.

    My KX3 has fallen several feet twice, zero issues.

  23. Reply M0XJP Jan 29,2016 18:06

    Great blog James,

    I have KX3 (number 005466) with all the bits and love it. Have installed more expensive batteries (8) from Nevada which hold their charge without depleting much. If rig not using batteries or not used for a period of time.

    As previous mention above the KX3 internal ATU is superb.

    I love KX3 so much I have not used my trusty FT817 in 2 years!

    You can read about my Spanish trip in HF Highlights in Feb 2016 Practical Wireless as EA5/M0XJP

    Martin M0XJP

  24. Reply M0XJP Jan 29,2016 18:17

    My website is not as up to date as on QRZ.com

    73 Martin M0XJP

  25. Reply Kevin KM4LTV Jan 30,2016 04:13

    James, what do you use to protect the KX3 knobs and such?

  26. Reply Darren Jan 31,2016 13:03

    Hi,
    My KX3 serial 499 has traveled with me everywhere, suffered much abuse, without any drama.
    The RX is one of the most pleasant you will listen to(with headphones or extend speakers).
    The ATU will tune almost anything.
    Comparisons between these two rig’s is pointless IMHO,it’s like comparing a fiat and a Mercedes!
    Enjoy your portable ops.
    73 de G0ott, Darren.

  27. Pingback: Protecting the Elecraft KX3 on the Hills ← M0JCQ's Ham Blog

  28. Reply Ian Jan 31,2016 20:59

    I have the 857d,…but often feel like buying an 817 just because…well…I dunno…I just want one. (Like you say, hardto articulate) But I never buy one because if I’m honest I can’t think of a time I would use it over the 857d.

    So when would you choose to take the 817 out instead of the kx3. Is it just nice to have the change of rig from time to time ?

    • Reply James Stevens Feb 1,2016 09:17

      Hi Ian,

      I also have the 857 as well, I use this when I want a bit more power, usually from the car.

      I choose the 817 instead of the KX3 when travelling abroad, just because it’s a bit tougher and I can run it from the internal battery if my LiFePo external gets stopped at security. I also like to change rigs occasionally like you suggest! The 817 is suitable for working amateur satellites as well as it’s 2m/70cm and you can carry it around your neck which is handy when you’re waving a yagi around in the air 😉

      73, James M0JCQ

      p.s. I deleted your duplicate post 🙂

  29. Reply Keith G0RQQ Feb 5,2016 22:24

    I purchased side rails and the carrying pouch for my 817 from the company Portable Zero http://portablezero.com/index.html and find them ideal for a quick and convenient way of packaging the radio, ATU, key, mic, and even a wire antenna. The rails offer protection for the knobs on the front and also anything plugged into the back such as a Morse key and an external DC supply. (I have no connection with the company other than being a satisfied customer.)

    • Reply James Stevens Feb 7,2016 16:12

      Thanks for the tip Keith. These rails do look really good and have looked at them before. I’m tempted to get some for my 857 🙂

      73, James M0JCQ

  30. Reply Richard aa4oo Mar 5,2016 20:23

    Both are nice portable rigs. I ended up keeping the kx3 because the continuous menu diving in the yaesu drove me nuts.

    I use side panels and a plastic cover to protect in the backpack. After that set-up is a breeze. An end fed antenna a paddle and the radio is all I need. Everything is self contained.

    http://hamradioqrp.com
    Rich aa4oo

  31. Reply Axel Jun 13,2016 13:41

    Thanks for this comparison.
    Very usefull information about these transceivers.
    Keep it up and take care!
    73 de DL4DE
    Axel

  32. Reply Pedro, CT1DBS Jul 15,2016 18:09

    Hi James

    Congrats! This is the most accurate comparison between the FT-817 and the KX-3 I’ve seen.

    I will link this in my SOTA blog because lot of amateur radio operators have/had one or both radios.
    I had a FT-817 and now I have a KX-3.

    73 es tnx de Pedro, CT1DBS/CU3HF

  33. Pingback: Best comparison between the Yaesu FT-817 and the KX-3 | CT1DBS/CU3HF

  34. Reply Richard Feb 17,2017 20:54

    Another advantage held by the 817 is the two antenna sockets. Easy to set up to say tx on 2m from front bnc and hf from rear so239, or any other configuration.

    Did enjoy your revue, although with at least double the cost the KX3 ain’t twice as good lol. Another point is the 2m output on the KX3 isn’t very efficient.

    73, Richard.

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