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)|
|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
Hand Mic: £65 (or a cheap PC headset)
Internal ATU: £170
2m Module: £200
Filtering Module: £120
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
I’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.
Advantages of the Yaesu 817ND
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.
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.