A reader recently asked if I would recommend the Yeasu 817 as an alternate for the Elecraft KX3, in the tactical HF radio role. In my opinion, if the KX3 wasn’t available, the 817 would be my rucksack radio of choice. After all, the original 817 (now the 817ND) is a time tested radio that has been around for nearly 20 years and is just about bullet proof.
The price point for the 817 is seductive, averaging about half the price for a maxed out KX3. That being said, there are a few differences. The KX3 is an SDR (Software Designed Radio) that has a ton of options available and so many functions that it can be overwhelming to a new radio operator, while the 817 is pretty straight forward.
My list of requirements for a rucksack HF radio primarily focuses on a few items.
First is weight; my motto being ounces is pounds. The KX3 comes in at 1.5 lbs while the 817 comes in at 2.6 lb.
My second requirement involves power issues. Power out: KX3 – 10 watts, 817 – 5 watts. Not a big deal if you are fairly experienced with QRP. If you are new to ham radio, you might be a little frustrated initially with the limitations of either of these low power radios.
Power consumption is major concern when in the field with no resupply. I don’t want to charge batteries after every contact and I don’t want to pack around large batteries. I charge the 8 Eneloop AA batteries for my KX-3 using a small Renogy solar panel and XTAR battery charger while in the field. The normal rx power consumption for the KX3 is 150 ma versus 300 ma with the 817. The 817 is well known as a power hog but the problem can be partially mitigated if you get rid of the 1400 mah nicad battery pack that comes with the radio and go with the W4RT 2700 mah battery pack built especially for the 817. Look here: http://www.w4rt.com/FT-817-Accessories/One-Plug-Power-FT-817.htm How you would charge the battery in the field would take some thought. I would probably change out the crappy stock battery access door with the W4RT door at the same time. Here is a pretty good link regarding the power issues with the 817: http://www.ka7oei.com/ft817_pwr.html
Third issue: using CW and digital vice voice comms. Voice comms is pretty much out, this is a QRP rig after all. Both radios have internal keyers for CW and will support digital modes.
Fourth, is the radio rugged and waterproof. Neither is water proof or even remotely water resistant. Keep your radio in a dry bag. I would say the 817 is a little more rugged than the KX3 but you can rugged-ize the KX3 somewhat if you drop the extra bucks and buy the gemsproducts SIDE KX cover and side panels.
My fifth requirement is an internal antenna tuner. In a tactical situation, you shouldn’t use the same freq. twice. Unless you want to cut the antenna to proper length for each different freq. used, you need a tuner. You have that option with the KX3, but not with the 817. That problem can be solved by purchasing the Emtech ZM-2 ATU (Antenna Tuning Unit). Find it here: http://emtech.steadynet.com/zm2.shtml
The 817 has more band coverage than the KX3, which tops out at the optional 2 meter band. The 817 also includes the 6, 2 and 70 cm bands. In certain situations, I would caution the use of a radio in those VHF/UHF bands.
Just my thoughts. Whatever radio you go with, get out there and get on the air.