Pending arrival of the new 6000 series transceivers, I performed a preliminary competitive comparison of the “K3S Contester and DXer” package vs. a Flex-6600/Maestro package. I chose these packages to create a “knobbed vs knobbed” comparison among two of the best high performance transceivers on the market. Neither package requires a separate computer for basic local and remote operations, but both need a computer to support some desirable capabilities.
Elecraft offers the discounted package with dual receivers and several important options for $5900 ($300 discount) vs. $5200 for the Flex 6600/Maestro package (no discount).
While the K3S package is excellent, the Flex 6600/Maestro duo has several features and capabilities that are not included in the Elecraft package. Accordingly, I added extra cost options to match wherever possible the features of the Flex-6600/Maestro package and as a result the cost of the K3S package rose to $8090 vs. $5200 for the Flex package (rounded amounts to next $5).
I’ve avoided comparing raw performance specifications, leaving that to Mr. Sherwood and other experts to sort out and chose to focus mainly on operating features, options and capabilities. But, I couldn’t cover everything, so please pardon the absence of some distinctions between the two radios. I’ve tried to carefully verify all of this information, however, should anyone discover an error, please let me know and it will be promptly corrected.
K3S “Contester and DXer” package includes the following:
· K3S-F 160-6M, 100 W Transceiver
· Digital Voice Recorder
· 100W Internal Autotuner
· 2.8 kHz High Perf. SSB/Data Filter
· 2.1 kHz High Perf. SSB/Data Filter
· 400 Hz High Perf. CW/Data Filter
· 200 Hz High Perf. CW/Data Filter
· High Perf. Subreceiver
· 2.8 kHz High Perf. SSB/Data Filter (for Subreceiver)
· 400 Hz High Perf. CW/Data Filter (for Subreceiver)
· MH2 Hand Mic
· P3 Panadapter
· P3SVGA Video Adapter
· Elecraft Hat
The Flex-6600/Maestro package includes the following:
· Flex-6600 transceiver
· Maestro control console
· Hand microphone
The Flex-6600 does nearly all RX/TX filtering in software (except RX preselectors and TX final bandpass) whereas the K3S employs conventional and crystal filters to perform the same tasks. While the K3S package comes with a robust filter set, it does not include the AM/FM filter at $150. Narrow filter options for CW and SSB on the sub-receiver, will cost an additional $320. Also, for general coverage, you’ll need a bandpass filter for $180. Again, these filters are added to approximately match the capabilities of the Flex-6600.
The Flex-6600/Maestro duo is designed for native remote LAN/WAN operations, supporting nearly all functions with tactile and touch-screen controls and a high resolution panadapter/spectrum display. The Maestro can connect to a network via Ethernet cable or Wifi, while the radio is connected with Ethernet cable only. Also, the 6600 can be operated remotely without the Maestro using SmartSDR 2.0 software (SmartLink) on a Windows or IOS computer connected to your LAN or the Internet.
The K3S requires a package of hardware for remote operations and provides no remote panadapter display support. The equipment includes RemoteRig gear for $500, K3/0 mini control head for $700, plus cables and power supply, totaling $1320. Unfortunately, the RemoteRig control site box does not support WiFi.
Both radios provide standard TX support for 160m-6m, while the K3S can support 2m with an optional board (not included in package). Both radios have standard transverter I/O ports.
The K3S can monitor two bands and display spectrum for one band with the P3, while the 6600 can monitor up to four bands (slices) and display the spectrum for each on four separate panadapters (two on Maestro). Both provide general coverage (includes 630m and 2200m bands), but this capability requires an optional filter with the K3S package. The Flex covers down to 30 khz while the K3S covers down to 100 khz.
Both radios have dual receivers with separate antenna inputs and support diversity reception.
The P3 display is small (4.5” approx.) with poor resolution (480x272) and limited 200 khz bandwidth, while the Maestro display is much larger (8”), has higher resolution (1280x800), numerous touch-screen controls and covers up to 14 mhz bandwidth.
The P3 as optioned supports an external monitor while the Maestro does not. Of course, the Flex provides native support for high resolution monitors at no extra cost when the radio is operated with a computer instead of the Maestro.
The K3S has built-in, but limited support for PSK31 and RTTY modes (text displayed on the front panel) with no requirement for external hardware or software. There is no provision for direct text input via a keyboard, so text is entered real-time with a CW key (code translated to text) or as macros in memory. Full digital capability with keyboard input and GUI requires a computer and third party software.
The 6600, when operated with Maestro, does not support digital modes, however all digital modes are fully supported when operating the 6600 with a computer running SmartSDR, third party software, DAX and SmartCAT.
No external sound card is necessary for either radio when operated with a computer.
The K3S does not support DSTAR while the 6600 provides support with an optional USB drive. Also, Free DV support is included with the 6600 (waveform plug-in), but not the K3S.
The Flex-6600 has a .5 ppm main TCXO (preliminary published spec) while the K3S is rated at 5 ppm. An optional high stability TCXO for the K3S will nearly match the Flex-6600 at a cost of $120.
The 6600 has a standard 10 mhz input for external oscillator reference control, while the K3S package needs an optional board for $100.
An optional internal GPSDO is available for the 6600, but not the K3S.
The KS3 digital voice recorder provides RX/TX recording capability (several recordings for TX), while the 6600 provides only a single RX recording, which can be played back in TX or RX mode. The Elecraft DVR is more capable and there is no comparable option available for the 6600 (third party software solutions are feasible).
Both radios provide CW recording, macros and TX playback.
The Flex 6600 provides support for SO2R in one radio and full duplex (cross band), while the KS3 provides neither.
Third Party Software Integration
With introduction of N1MM spectrum integration and spotting software into SmartSDR 2.0, Flex has taken another big step in exploiting the tremendous benefits of its networked architecture and sophisticated software APIs. Elecraft is significantly behind in this area, offering no native network interface for developers. It’s seems unlikely that the P3 will provide a robust graphical user interface for third party apps.
The K3S package comes with an Elecraft hat, while customers must purchase the Flex hat separately for $12 plus shipping.
The K3S “Contester and DXer” package is $5900. Additional K3S options to match or partially match the Flex-6600 standard features are as follows:
$ 1320 Remote operations package
$ 150 FM/AM filter
$ 170 Narrow CW filter for subRX
$ 150 Narrow SSB filter for subRX
$ 100 10 mhz external reference oscillator input board
$ 180 General coverage bandpass filter
$ 120 high stability TXCO (1 ppm)
These items bring the K3S package to $8090 vs. the Flex-6600/Maestro package at $5200. Again, this pricing was derived by matching features to the extent possible. Some features, such as full duplex, SO2R in one radio and native remote operation are currently not available from Elecraft.
I recognize that many of these "high" features may not be wanted or are affordable for some hams. However, eliminating all of them from the upgraded K3S package would still result in a cost difference of $700 in favor of the Flex 6600/Maestro while retaining all the standard high features in the Flex package.
If traditional knobs are not essential and you already have a decent Windows or IOS laptop or tablet, the Maestro can be eliminated for a total savings of $1900 whilst retaining a peerless panadapter/spectrum display, native remote capability and several other features lacking in the K3S package.
Alternatively, the Flex-6600M alone would provide operational equivalency in combination with a laptop or tablet (specifically for remote ops) for $900 less than the K3S “Contester and DXer” package (with no add-ons).
I admire Elecraft and Flex and own quality products (6500 and KPA500) from both American companies. With the arrival of the 6600/6400 radios and SmartSDR 2.0 Flex has in my opinion taken the industry lead in value, features, operating ergonomics and software integration. Competition is a good thing for amateur radio and it inspires better and lower cost products for us to enjoy.