The Elecraft KH1 Handheld Transceiver

My Elecraft KH1 5-band handheld transceiver. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.

This is not a formal review. There are plenty of those out there in the wild. This article is a bit of my experience in using this little rig in the field. Perhaps someone will find something useful from my experience.

The KH1 was designed by one of my favorite radio engineers, Wayne Burdick of Elecraft. I do not know how long the little rig was in development, but it was released late in 2023. I ordered mine on 20 October 2023, an hour after I learned of its existence. It was delivered in February 2024.

  • It is a five-band CW mode (Morse Code) ham radio transceiver that is small enough to fit in my hand.
  • It has an internal battery pack that will run it for hours.
  • It has a small set of paddles that will store in their socket on the bottom of the radio.
  • Two knobs on the bottom provide access to volume and VFO and protect the paddles.
  • There are four small buttons on the front panel that provide access to many regularly used functions.
  • There is an internal speaker, but the little rig sounds much better with phones.
  • The rig has an internal log feature.
  • It will run with a short telescoping whip antenna and a counterpoise affixed to the radio.

There are a lot more features to the KH1 than listed above. But you can induct from that list.

There is a menu system for features/settings not directly settable from the front panel and bottom controls. The menu requires some learning and reading the manual is suggested. (I need to read it again a couple of times.) The manual is well written and complete to the best of my knowledge.

The display is bright and readable in daylight. It is backlit so is readable in low light. The bottom line can display decoded Morse Code if desired.

Deployment of the radio is very quick. The steps are:

  1. Retrieve the radio from its bag (or other storage).
  2. Affix the telescoping whip to its stud and extend it.
  3. Attach the counterpoise and throw it out on the ground. (Or let it droop from the drivers side window of your rig if waiting for your SO to finish shopping.)
  4. Unplug, turn over, and reinsert the paddles into their socket.
  5. Turn on the radio and start operating.

I can have mine running in less than five minutes. It will match 15m, 17m, and 20m easily with the internal loading coil. It will kinda-sorta match 30m with same internal loading coil. The 40m will not match without help. The best I can tell, one can still operate the KH1 on 40 meters as the finals are resilient, but power is reduced.

Right after I received mine, I carried it with me one afternoon when I drove over to Lowe’s to pick up my son from work. While waiting, I deployed the counterpoise, affixed the whip, and was operating the KH1 with the antenna sticking out my slightly open drivers side window. (It was cold.) I chased three POTA activators while waiting the few minutes for my son. Recovery did not take much longer than deployment and we were off for home.

The receiver is very good. I do not have its specs and I do not care. I find that I hear plenty of signals and the three filter levels work well for my style of operating. When chasing activators, I can use a little XIT (transmitter incremental tuning) to move my sidetone away from the pack so the operator can hear me a little better than the others.

Rejection of strong adjacent signals is solid. I expect this from Elecraft radios.

I have used the KH1 to activate several parks for the Parks on the Air program. I am still getting used to the little paddles, but they function well and are adjustable. I use a pilot’s kneeboard to log on paper. I might be able to position my iPhone on the kneeboard and use it for logging as well. But, for now, I am logging on paper.

I also have the Elecraft AX1 and AXE compromise antenna systems. Given that the KH1 already has a loading coil and switch for the 15m, 17m, and 20m bands, the AX1 seems superfluous. However, I mounted the AXE on the antenna stud and affixed the 33ft counterpoise that accompanies the AXE to the KH1 and pressed the ATU button for 7.060MHz. The KH1 buzzed and fidgeted a moment before returning a 1.2 or 1.3 SWR match. This is plenty good enough to operate on 40m.

My KH1 puts out about four watts (indicated) on the 40m band. That is enough.

With the AXE and long counterpoise attached, the KH1 will find a match on the 30m band as well. I flipped the switch to the 15m/17m side and hit the ATU button. I got a 1.1 SWR match.

I removed the AXE but left the long counterpoise attached to my KH1 and the rig will match frequencies on the 15m, 17m, and 20m bands easily with the longer counterpoise. That means all I have to do is remove the AXE from the rig and replace the whip and I can operate on the higher bands. That makes changing bands very fast.

After several POTA activations and a SOTA activation, I really like this little radio. It does everything my KX1 does but adds the 15m and 17m bands, which I find more useful for my field operations. I have other rigs that will do the other bands if I want them.

I have not done much with wire antennas and the KH1 yet. That is an area I need to explore and I will.

I have an unbuilt MTR5b in my inventory that I bought to get 15m in a pack-friendly radio. Now it seems I will not need the 5b.

I really like the Elecraft KH1. I plan to use it a lot this summer. I will also know a lot more about using the rig in a few more months.

AAR — Shelvin Rock Access SCA POTA, K-10221, 10 March 2024

I really despise the change to/from Daylight Saving Time. It interrupts my circadian rhythm for no good (to me) reason. Yesterday morning was the date to change to DST. So, my routine was AFU from the beginning.

Nonetheless, I had a couple of things on my list and got to them after I was sufficiently caffeinated, which required substantial caffeine. Older Son was busy with other things, so I went outside and retrieved some materials from the camper. I began rebuilding my end-fed random wire antenna.

I have a substantial amount of the copper-clad steel antenna wire that is quite small (maybe 26ga). It never releases its memory and will twist itself up readily. Witness the number of times I mentioned that in my travels when attempting to deploy that antenna.

I made new elements from the DX10 wire that Callum McCormick uses to build the DX Commander antennas. I bought and took delivery of 200m of the stuff late last week. So, I cut three 34ft pieces of wire and used one to make a sloping EFRW, the second to be the counterpoise (wire on the ground), and the third to be an extension to make the antenna work on the 80m band.

I setup a test antenna using the SOTAbeams Carbon 6 mast and the Elecraft KX2 would match it connected to a cobrahead adapter (direct connection to the radio) on all of the bands but the 12m band. I put a 9:1 Unun (matching transformer) between the wire and the radio and it matched all of the bands from 10m to 40m.

I then added the extension to make an inverted vee shape and then the radio with the 9:1 Unun would match all the bands from 10m to 80m. So, I have a working EFRW.

Then Older Son and I blew out the sunroof drains that were stopped up. I know they were blocked because I had water in the floormats of the 4Runner after a rainy night last week. Indeed, water was blown out of the passenger side drain when compressed air was applied.

I put away all the tools and went indoors to have a bite and take a break. Older Son and I decided to get The Girl out for a walk and a play and so we did.

She loves her ball. We have a lot of good plays with her ball and the thrower.

After walkies, Older Son decided to get in a workout so I elected to take The Girl and go activate a park. I wanted to play with the Elecraft KH1 a bit more as I am still learning the radio.

We drove out to Shelvin Rock Access SCA (K-10221) and I found a place to park. I got out the little radio, the small antenna bag (houses the Elecraft AX1 and AXE antenna plus some support materials), and a pilot’s kneeboard on which to keep my log. I sat on a rock, affixed the AXE to the antenna port and added the 4ft whip. I threw out the 33ft counterpoise and turned on the radio.

I set the rig to the 40m band and listened around 7.060MHz. There were stations either side of the frequency, but none heard there. I called a couple of times for usage but heard nothing. So I started the little radio calling CQ CQ POTA DE AG7TX K (calling any station for a Parks on the Air activation) while I spotted myself on the POTA website.

The little radio had tuned the AXE/whip combination to a very usable SWR (Standing Wave Ratio, a measure of the match of the radio to the antenna with 1:1 being perfect) of 1.2 or 1.3. It was putting out about four watts of power. In only a couple of minutes I started taking calls.

I worked several stations before no more callers appeared, so I changed to 10.111MHz on the 30m band and started calling, again letting the radio work while I respotted myself. I worked more stations.

I then rinsed and repeated the process at 14.059MHz on the 20m band. I finally called QRT (I am done and off the frequency) a few minutes before 0000Z (when the day changes), closed out my log, and put away the radio. I made 19 contacts in about 45 minutes — not a bad day.

I have a few notes from the outing.

  • I still have a bit of trouble with the paddles. They are small and need a bit more adjustment after my initial setup.
  • The AXE works perfectly with the KH1 and its whip antenna. The 40m and 30m bands are quite usable with the AXE screwed to the antenna port and the long counterpoise (33ft).
  • The Elecraft reflector correspondent who told me that the AXE would not work that way did not know what he was talking about. That is what I thought when I read his response and now I have proved it (again).
  • There is a bit of art to manual logging and managing this radio. I will need a few more repetitions, I think.
  • I am thinking that I really like this little radio. It is very handy, quick to deploy and recover, light in a pocket or pack, and has a very good receiver and very good audio (with headphones or earbuds). It is very easy to get it out and have a little radio fun without a big ordeal.
  • Wayne Burdick and Elecraft have once again outdone themselves with this little rig. It is a field operators friend and will be a lot of fun for POTA, SOTA, or quick operations.
  • I have activated a couple of parks by sticking the radiator out the window of my 4Runner with the counterpoise thrown on the ground/pavement.
  • A better application is to use Pro Audio Engineering’s (Howie Hoyt’s) bracket clamp to affix the AX1/AXE to something outside and run a short length of coaxial cable through the vehicle’s door seal if the weather is bad. That keeps rain out of the rig.

I had a good day and a fun, short POTA activation to boot. It was a good day. Life is good. I am grateful.