Entries from March 2015 ↓

Kenwood TS-850

Ever since I repaired a TS-850 for a close friend I have been wanting a TS-850 of my own. I do have a TS-950 and the TS-850 appears just as good and considerably lighter in weight. On top of that I know how to keep it running.

Like many Kenwood radios, you can get them with or without certain options. The ATU is one such option and raises the price of the radio. Is an antenna tuner really needed? It is only needed if you don’t have antennas and feedlines that ensure an impedance match to your radio. The ATU will ensure a match to the feedline at the operating position. That keeps the transmitter happy but could make the operator unhappy as the power is dissipated as heat in the transmission line.

You are much better off using well designed, resonant antennas. They radiate better, more efficiently and also ‘hear’ better and you don’t need an ATU to use them.

Depending on condition the 850 is worth from $500 to $600 if it is electrically perfect. Trouble is, even new out of the factory, some of these radios were not perfect. That makes their value on the used market below $500. Unfortunately most sellers of this radio do not agree and ask prices that take them out of the used equipment market.

Recently I have come to the conclusion that it is more enjoyable to play with new radios than to try and repair some sick broken toy that no one wants.

Sure, I can repair it and make it work but it is still an old toy looking for a place to die. It is just not worth the time it takes to keep the old stuff working when the new stuff works better and does much more.

Do I still want a KWM2?

I recently saw a KWM2 and speaker power supply offered for sale for $1500. As little as twenty years ago I might have considered buying it. Today I would rather spend that sort of money on a KX3 and PX3 from Elecraft. Below is a list of capabilities the Elecraft radio provides that are not available in the KWM2.

Adjustable speed keyer
RTTY transmit and receive with scrolling readout
PSK31 transmit and receive with scrolling readout
CW transmit and receive with scrolling readout
160 to 6 meters including WARC bands
effective DSP
100 memories to hold freq and mode info
notch filter
audio peaking filter for CW
noise blanker
multimodes AM, FM, CW, RTTY, PSK31
speach compressor
SWR indicator
Power indicator
integrated panadapter/w color waterfall and spectrum displays of up to 200 khz of any band.
The panadapter turns the rig into a spectrum analyzer.
audio equalizer for custom audio response (TXandRX)
audio compression for microphone
digital voice recorder
easy interface to computer controlled operation.
general receive from below the broadcast band to the high end of 6 meters.
Optional antenna tuner
optional 2 meter coverage
optional 70 cm coverage
portable battery operation
enough power to drive a linear amp to 200 watts output.

These features make the KWM2 look like the obsolete boat anchor it has become.

All is not lost. A KWM2 can be made to include most all of the features listed by adding external equipment. Unfortunately the additional equipment required will cost upwards of $1000. Since we can get all those features for around $1500 from Elecraft that limits the price we can pay for the KWM2 to a maximum of $500.

Add to this the very real possibility that a 60 year old KWM2 is probably in need of having its electrolytic capacitors replaced, we are looking at another $200 to $300 expenditure to bring the old rig up to spec.

So, do I still want a KWM2? Yes, but I am not willing to pay more than $200 for one and that includes the speaker power supply.

K2 or K3 or KX3 or TS-950SD ?????

Too late for the KX3 and TS-950SD. I already have one of each. I am currently considering a K2 or a K3. Recenly I decided it would have to be a K3.

In order to get the K3 I would sell the TS-950SD and a couple of linear amps to fund the purchase of the K3.

When I told my wife the good news she had several questions I could not answer.

“What is wrong with the new KX3? I thought you were happy with it. Is the K3 so much better that you have to sacrifice to get one?”

Well, I had to admit that the only thing I knew for sure about the K3 was that it came in a bigger box.

“If the K3 is better, maybe you should sell the KX3 instead of the 950. Is there something wrong with the 950?”

After having ooed and ahhed over it for the last three days there was no way I was going to sell the KX3. Right now I had it driving the old TL-922 amp and getting about 200 watts to the antenna with superb audio reports on 40 meter sideband while using the MH3 Elecraft hand mike.

After sleeping on this exchange of ideas I have decided not to sell the 950. There is nothing wrong with the 950SD. It is not a 950SDX but there is little operational difference between the two. Besides, the SDX had some problems with cold solder joints and uses higher voltage finals that some think are not as good as the ones used in the 950SD.

The 950SD came out in 1989 priced at $3800. Today it is worth $950 as a used radio but its performance is still equal to a 1989 $3800 radio.

I still want a K3 but I am not going to dump the 950 to get one.


TS-950S Digital

The Kenwood has three variants of the TS-950 series Transiever, the original two TS-950 S (100 % ANOLOG)and TS 950 SD (DIGITAL TRANSMIT) were released in 1989, it was available as a “S” stock radio, without the Digital Hang Under unit,and with only minimal number of crystals installed or as the “SD” Digital version, which had the added Digital Hang Under unit I think its Part # was a “D-10 unit” The 950 SD came loaded with all the filter options as a completed Maxxed Out Top of the line Transiever. Those two Radios came with low voltage trans Finals, and You could remove the digital unit and filters or add the filters and D-10 package to make it more or less fully complete, The outside of the TS 950 S and the TS 950 SDRadios are identical, you could make one into the other and visa-versa. Then about two years later the released the 950 SDX radio which is a totally different radio altogether , it did not come stock with all filters installed and it had a Menu Driven from the outside front knobs along with I think 50 volt Trans Finals. You can upgrade a 950 S to a 950 SD, but you could not do a upgrade of either. to turn them into a 950 SDX. I hope I have those details correct. 73′s Terry McCoy




I have tried many radios but none have more pleasant listening audio when the bands are open. One of the most sensitive receivers I have ever had. The best mix of analog and digital so it sounds great all the time. I have tried the TS-950SDX and it is a nice radio too, but not better enough to warrant the extra few hundred dollars. Most of the 950SDX radios have been modified so much and with the cold solder problems kenwood admitted to, it’s hard to find a nice reliable one anymore. A newer more modern DSP radio can dig the signals out of the noise better when the bands are not good, but still not very pleasant to listen too. If you are not using it for contesting and you just enjoy spinning the dials when the bands are fair, you will be very happy rag chewing with this radio. I’m like a child on Christmas morning every time I turn it on and it just looks great sitting in front of you (still a very modern looking after over 25 years)!

I also have the TS-870S. It too is a great radio. The receiver on my TS-950SD is a little more sensitive, but the TS-870S IF DSP is a little better at bringing the signal up out of the noise when the bands are not great. The TS-950SD is easier to search the bands as the TS-870S does not have direct band jumping buttons, it does however have band up and down buttons that will scroll thru the bands in order. The biggest difference between them is my TS-950SD has the 120 vac power supply built in and it does not operate on 12 vdc. The TS-870S operates on 12 vdc only, making it a much lighter and smaller radio (no power transformer). The TS-950SD has 150 watts output on ssb and the TS-870S has 100 watts output on ssb, but most stations I talk to cannot tell the difference because the TS-870S does a great job with the DSP giving it a more pronounced (hot) audio. Do not let this be a deciding factor when considering either radio. I use ssb only. I can not comment on the CW difference, but most reviews I have read like the TS-870S better for this mode.

These are solely my impressions and are based on unmodified radios. They are both truly great radios ahead of their time (thanks to Kenwoods great engineers) and if you cannot decide, just get both like I did!

KG4BON 73′s


I will add a PX3 to the KX3 and learn to use that combination along with my laptop before even thinking about a K3 again.


A week ago I became the owner and user of a new KX3 transceiver.

I use the KX3 in a fixed station application powering from an old reliable PS-30 power supply. I run the KX3 at maximum power and use it to drive a TL922 amplifier to about 250 watts on 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters. I frequent those bands because I have resonant antennas covering those frequencies.

I am also blessed with three other linear amplifiers each could easily bring my signal up to the legal limit but I have not found a need to do that.

The KX3 has spoiled me. It is superior in all respects to any and all rigs I have ever used since starting in ham radio in 1959.

I was reluctant to commit over $1000 for the KX3 but it was worth the investment. Actually the KX3 purchase was funded from proceeds from the sale of equipment I no longer used so there was no out of pocket financial burden.

My satisfaction with the KX3 has fueled a desire to acquire a K3. I would sacrifice my TS-950 and one of the better linear amplifiers to help fund the purchase of a K3.

The questions now are, K3 or K2? New or used?

A K2 is priced at half the cost of a K3. You can buy two K2s for what you would have to pay for a K3.

The following information from Elecraft has helped me decide in favor of the K3.


> …what is in the K3 that requires 4x more current? What do the additional current consumers contribute to the operation of the radio?

The K3 has the following stages that add both current and features or performance advantages:

- high-dynamic-range, dual-conversion superhet architecture with heavily biased mixers, post-amp, etc.
- multiple stages of high-bias PIN-diode T/R switching and other PIN-diode path switching
- high-performance 32-bit DSP I.F.s for main and sub receiver
- large, brightly lit LCD with dual VFO displays, alphanumeric display for text decode, etc.
- four multi-function encoders, each with two LED indicators
- ATU that uses non-latching relays to maximize tuning speed
- digital voice recorder (DVR)
- high-power stereo AF amplifier
- misc. support and I/O circuitry (not found on the K2)

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Yes, it’s more current drain than a K2, but we were able to provide excellent performance and a wide range of features in the K3 while consuming 1/2 to 1/4th the current drain of most transceivers in its class.

The KX3 is another interesting point of comparison. Its receive current drain is about 200-250 mA, typically, while providing the highest performance of any ultra-compact transceiver by a wide margin.


The only decision point left is to decide on buying new or used.

Used prices asked for K3 and K2 are only a few hundred dollars less than the new prices. Two or three hundred dollars is significant when considered on its own. It looses some significance when compared to a $1000 or $2000 purchase. If you can justify spending one or two thousand dollars, an additional $300 is not that much of a stretch. Especially when that additional cost buys you minty new gear fresh from the factory with all the old boo-boos and blemishes fixed and updated. Buying new also gets you a factory one year warranty. Most factories are reluctant to warranty used equipment they have not seen even if it was originally built by them. For that reason warranties are not usually transferable.

Also, you have to wonder why someone would sell his older equipment. People don’t sell off equipment they cherish. People sell equipment to fund the purchase of something better. We all seek something better and hope for the best. You don’t get there by accepting discards even if they are superior to your present equipment.

No, I don’t buy into the idea that they need the money. People in financial difficulty usually need far more than a few thousand to ease the pain. You just cant get rich selling radio onesies.

I used to lowball my hobbies. I embraced QRP not because it was ‘fun’, but because it was cheap. At least it was cheap in 1959 when you built your own from parts salvaged from TV sets and radios found in the dump.

Imagine my horror to discover QRP prices that rivaled the cost of ‘real’ radios. That cured me of my lowball approach to ham radio.

I was not turned into a spendthrift. I still require value for money spent but I no longer search for parts in the junkyard.

I appreciate useful features over bells and whistles. Bells and whistles make noise and draw attention but they don’t become features until someone finds them useful.

The K3 provides useful features that are worth the extra expense. Factory fresh, minty new, updated and current features under warranty are also worth the nominal additional cost.

So when am I going to order a new K3?

First I need to divest myself of a TS-950 and the linear amp that goes with it. I need to find someone with money and the physical strength to lift that equipment.