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Looking for advice on equipment for first ham shack

CharlesCharles Member
I just got my license and am planning my first ham shack.  I would appreciate any advice ya'll can offer a newbie.

After a lot of research, I am planning the following at the moment-

Flex-1500 Transceiver

A linear power supply- probably an Astron VS-35M or maybe an Elecraft SS-30DV (cheaper but cannot find any reviews on it)

ATU/RF amplifier- an Elecraft KXPA100 100 watt RF amp with Antenna Tuning Unit (was thinking about the Hardrock 50 but Elecraft seems like a better value)

DX Labs logging software

Will want a headset(wired or maybe wireless) and/or a desk microphone but have no clue on brands and models yet.

Any thoughts on compatibility or lack of compatibility  with these components would be greatly appreciated.  Or any other suggestions.




  • KY6LA_HowardKY6LA_Howard La Jolla, CA. Paris and Sablet FranceMember ✭✭✭
    edited July 2018
    First. You forgot to mention the most important part. Antenna. Second you need to consider the station RF grounds. Here is a link on how to build a quiet station https://www.dropbox.com/sh/47u5xha71gsgj65/AAD9M03eoJj1C8KsPR7H20E4a?dl=0 I use the Astron. Good reliable and very low RF noise I have no experience with the small Elecraft Amp but generally they make high quality products
  • Jim VeatchJim Veatch Member
    edited November 2016
    Hi Charlie,

    I would second Howard's comment on the antenna and grounding system. A good antenna and proper station grounding are the difference between an enjoyable hobby and a source of frustration.

    Also, the Elecraft power supply that you mention is a switching supply not a linear supply.

    As far as value in the Hardrrock vs. the Elecraft; we like to say that the Hardrock is 1/2 the KXPA-100, 1/2 the size, 1/2 the weight, 1/2 the power and most importantly 1/2 an S-unit.

    With the Hardrock-50 you can use a smaller power supply like the Pyramid PS-14KX to run your station instead of a 25-30A supply (1/2 the power). The Hardrock-50 integrates directly with PowerSDR; all you need is a USB cable. I personally haven't used the KXPA-100 with PowerSDR but it looks like the special cabling you'd need comes with the amp and since the KX3 can process CAT commands, I suspect that the amp can as well.

    Jim WA2EUJ (HobbyPCB)

  • Bill -VA3WTBBill -VA3WTB Member ✭✭✭
    edited February 2018
    The Flex 1500 is good but I would look for a Flex 3000. there are some going for a good price if you watch. Unless QRP is your thing.
  • Peter K1PGVPeter K1PGV Member ✭✭
    edited June 23
    I would forego the 1500 and a separate amp.  It's just a complication you shouldn't have to deal with getting started.  Given that you'll almost certainly have less than an idea antenna (on any band), you WILL want an antenna tuner and having one integrated into your radio is a great convenience.

    Used Flex-3000 with ATU (though you'll be cursed with having to setup a 1394 connection on your computer... ugh!)?  Can you swing the cost of a 6300 with ATU... THAT's a nice first rig.


  • Walt - KZ1FWalt - KZ1F Member
    edited November 2016
    My Astron 25 is switching also.
  • Walt - KZ1FWalt - KZ1F Member
    edited November 2016
    SInce this is the FlexRadio site I won't mention a sub $2,000 very good rig recently upgraded made by Kenwood. If you are good for mid $2k, than Peter made a very viable choice.

    First off though, congrats on the license, very good!

    in all seriousness, regardless of this site's sponsor, the very first question you need to become very comfortable with, is do you want a radio that absolutely requires a fairly substantial Microsoft Windows enviironment to use? Whether it is a multi-monitor business class Dell, or a tablet running Windows, if you are not into the requirement to have to run a computer program to use a Flex, you can save yourself a lot of heartache with answering that question, for yourself, up front.  And, yes, there will be a lot of people denouncing what I just said, but the reality is a Flex radio requires  Microsoft Windows, currently, to run. Independent of whether it requires Windows or Linux or Mac, or iPad, it will require a computer. If you are ok with that, Peter's choice is a good one.
  • Norm - W7CKNorm - W7CK Member ✭✭
    edited December 2016
    I agree with trying to swing a 6000.  I stayed away from Flex until they got past the 1394 and went Ethernet.  Much better...
  • edited May 23
    I agree with Walt, the 1500 is a terrific rig, but its definitely a niche rig, it requires a computer that is up to the task, and a little patience to set things up correctly, especially if you're planning on working digital modes. And yes, the amp complicates matters as well (though the Hardrock with a direct interface may work seamlessly). I have a HLA-150 100w amp which took a little getting used to. As a new ham, I would think you'd just want to get on the air and make contacts, your antenna matters most in that regard, an entry level 100w radio might suit you just fine, or a $2K 100 w rig if you're so inclined, just my 2 cents :), 73!
  • Jon_KF2EJon_KF2E Member ✭✭
    edited May 2015

    Howard is right! When I first got into the hobby I worked on every aspect of my station except my antennas. When I finally realized the error of my ways I started to focus on antennas. You can't spend money on anything in your station that will delivery better performance gains than antennas...well, at least up to a point. I'm a big fan or resonant antennas and never have needed an antenna tuner.

  • CharlesCharles Member
    edited May 2015
    Thank you both for your comments.

    Did not forget antenna.  Just thought it too use specific, site specific, and complex to try to discuss here.  Was concentrating on the equipment part.  Probably more than half of my research so far has been antenna related.  Still have no idea what I will do yet.  I expect I will go through several (many) options before settling on something.

    Howard, I am aware of noise.  That is why I am leaning toward a linear power supply instead of switching.  Thank you for your comment on the Astron.  During my research several weeks ago, I did try to download your pdf from dropbox.com but could not get it to download.  Will try again.
  • CharlesCharles Member
    edited June 2015
    Thank you both for your comments.

    As mentioned above, antenna definitely not forgotten.  Just not addressed here.

    I suspected that the Elecraft PS was switching (given its lower price) but had not confirmed it yet. Thanks.

    Astron does make both switching and linear non-switching power supplies.  I have been concentrating on the linear to eliminate potential sources of noise.  More expensive, but I thought it worth it.

    Pyramid power supplies are all switching I think.  I don't remember seeing any linear.

    Re Hardrock vs Elecraft--  Yes it is about 1/2 everything. I/2 performance, 1/2 the price.  I was leaning toward the Elecraft because of the 100 watts and the fact that for about a $100 I can get it factory assembled.  The integration of the Flex with the Elecraft KXPA100 was my concern.  It looked like it should integrate fine, but just was not certain.  Still would like confirmation from someone using both.
  • CharlesCharles Member
    edited May 2015
    Thank you for the comment.

    I have not seen much information on the FLEX-3000 since it is not a current model.  I know it has a built-in ATU and is 100 watts.  Other than that what are the advantages over the FLEX-1500?  What did they originally sell for?

    Almost all the FLEX-3000 reviews are about the software, which of course is the same, not about the hardware.

    Re finding a used 3000, I looked on Ebay and none there.  Any suggestions?
  • CharlesCharles Member
    edited May 2015
    Thank you both for your comments.

    Firewire not an issue if I thought the 3000 was the way to go.

    Looking at the hardware specs, I don't see a lot of advantage to the 6300.  Now the 6500 is the one to lust for!

    I really don't want to spend that much money to start.  I would rather start small and move up later as I get more experience and learn more about what direction I want to take.  Might regret it, but that is my thought at the moment.
  • CharlesCharles Member
    edited May 2015
    Thanks for your comment.

    The fact that it is computer driven is one of the things that interests me.  My background is computers. 

    I did look at some of the regular BKAB radios (BigKnobsAndButtons) but found that I just was not as interested in them as the software driven radio.
  • edited June 2015
    I've owned a 1500 and found it quite good for the money. If you are just wanting an inexpensive way into SDR radio, it's hard to beat for the price. But, adding an amp to boost the output to 100 watts or so, (a good amp) ups the cost considerably. Not to mention the 1500 has, documented, poor transmit IMD issues that would get worse at higher power levels. For a cleaner signal, consider a used 3000. Most sellers include the Firewire card and cable in the deal. Then, resell the 3000 later when you are sure SDR is for you, and get a 6300 or whatever suites your fancy and pocketbook. james WD5GWY
  • CharlesCharles Member
    edited May 2015
    Thank you for your comment.

    Computer definitely not an issue.  I have several Windows 7 or 8 Intel Core I9 computers available.

    I did look at the HLA-150 briefly but later took it off of the possible list.  The reviews I saw were not very favorable.

    The integration between the Flex1500 and the RF amp is what interests me.  I take it that you have had good success with the HLA?  What are you using for an ATU?
  • CharlesCharles Member
    edited June 2015
    Thank you for your comment.

    Do you have any sources that document and discuss the IMD issues?  I would like to read more about that.

    Re a used 3000, any recommended sources?  I have not seen any for sale.

  • N7AIGN7AIG Member
    edited June 2015

    Hi Charles,

    I have a Flex-3000 that I am not currently using. Has maybe a few hundred hours on Rx, and about 2 hrs on Tx - mostly WSPR at 5W. I also have the power supply and Mic that Flex sold me. Let me know if you want this one. I'm not looking to make a killing on it, but a fair price would be nice.

  • edited June 2015
    For the most part it works great, I did struggle a bit with it, it took me a few qso's to get used to it. The HLA150 has an rf sensing circuit that automatically selects the proper band pass filter for the band you're on, then it keys the output. There is a noticeable delay. On SSB its no big deal, I haven't tried it on cw or psk. The HLA150 does have a ptt jack on the back, and I could probably wire up a ptt line utilizing the flexwire port on the back of the 1500. I use a LDG Z-11 Pro at, works great!
  • W4WHLW4WHL Member
    edited July 2016
    I assume you mean i7 not i9 :)  One thing to note is the 1500 is limited to 48khz IQ sampling bandwidth,  This is pretty small.  The 3000 is limited to 92khz which is more acceptable, but still very small. 

  • Walt - KZ1FWalt - KZ1F Member
    edited November 2016
    But, ya know, the 1500, including all warts, is $600, not $2600. I purchased a 1500 while the 6500 was preordered. From the northeast I was very disappointed with the ssb, however I worked all over the world on digi, psk32 and a little RTTY, mostly psk32. All with a very toasty 15" I7 in my lap driving a Gap Titan in the backyard at 5-10W.
  • k3Timk3Tim Member ✭✭
    edited December 2016
    How do you  like the Gap Titan Walt?

  • Ken - NM9PKen - NM9P Member ✭✭
    edited June 23
    I have a 1500 and love it.  But after owning it for about 3 weeks I ordered a 6500 (There was no 6300 at the time.)   I have had the 6500 for almost two years.  I prefer the 6500 to the 6300 because it fits my operating style batter, but the 6300 is a wonderful, wonderful rig and nothing to sneeze at.  A 6300 with the optional ATU is $1500 less than a 6500.

    Your rig choice will really depend upon your passion and your budget.
    As others have said, do not short-change your antenna system, and concentrate upon reducing noise in your station.  You can't work-them if you can't hear-them.

    Then, get the best rig you can responsibly budget.  
    Obviously, I am partial to the FLEX, especially the 6000 series,
    It sounds like you are interested especially in SDR type rigs.

    For moderately priced Analog or Legacy superhet-plus-DSP rigs, there are some good offerings by Yaesu  (the 1200, 3000, etc)  and Kenwood (590), and Ten-Tec has some good offerings for under about $1500.  Don't get stuck thinking only about buying NEW rigs.  There are a great many good ones on the used market.  Just do your research and get feedback from other trusted hams.

    As far as SDR, especially Flex... I would not necessarily recommend beginning with a 1500/amp combo unless you really want the ability to go QRP Portable, or plan to use it with a transverter for VHF/UHF.  The 1500 is a respectable transverter engine, especially for voice modes.

    A used 3000 or even 5000 is within the realm of many beginning hams.  I have seen 5000's go for as little as $1200-1800 lately and the prices are dropping rapidly. Try to get one with the 2nd receiver option.  The 1500/3000/5000 rigs are not quite as good on CW as some other rigs, due to computer latency issues, unless you use an external Keyer or WinKeyer.  But they shine on SSB and Digital modes.  And are very nice when using external keying, or CWX.

    Flex-3000's are going for $1000-$1500 on the used market and offer 100 watts and built in ATU.  It has twice the panadapter bandwidth and VOX, but no transverter or alternate antenna ports (The 5000 has both)

    If your budget allows, consider a 6300 for a great leap in performance.  There may be some on the used market, but I have not seen many for bargains much more than $300-400 less than new price.  (though I haven't been shopping for them much)  If you like to run CW, it is hard to beat.  The CW note and Full Breaking keying are superb.

    At the risk of alienating some on the board, the ELAD FDM-DUO is a 5 watt self contained SDR that will run with or without a computer.  But it is only 5 watts and is electrically and performance-wise very similar to the 1500/3000/5000 generation of rigs.  And you have the external amp issue to mess with.

    After buying your antennas and rig, figure about $50-$250 for a good mike and boom or desk mike, or if you like, get a headset with mike combo.  You don't need to get the absolute best, but don't just get a cheap CB mike.  SDR's and many other modern rigs have adjustable EQ's that can tune many different mikes and make them sound good.

    And if you get an SDR you need to put some money into a good set of powered speakers.  There are many on the market, just be sure to review them for RX immunity.

    I like the Bose Companion 2 Series 3. (about $99) They allow 2 different audio streams at the same time. They sound great, and I have no RF problems at all.  I had a small ground loop issue, but that wasn't the speaker's problem.  Creative Labs and other manufacturers also had some nice ones for $50-100.

    Good luck and enjoy the process.  Take your time and research not only the equipment, but ask yourself "What do I want to do with it?"  that will help you determine what features you want in a rig.  Of course, until you get on the air and play a while, you won't really know fully how to answer that question!  Whatever you get, you will add to it later... ask anyone!

    Ken - NM9P
  • Ken DavisKen Davis Member
    edited December 2016
    FWIW - I started with a Kenwood TS-570 and still have it for a backup. Then I got the 5000 and worked with it for 6 months and NEVER solved the lockup issue with the firewire connection. Sold it and went to the Yaesu FT-2000.  It worked great but too many knobs and buttons plus when you adjusted something it was not very visual like a Flex. Now I have sold the FT2K and have a 6300 and just love it.  But probably the best thing about the Flex system is the fantastic customer support. I was a manager in customer support at a large airplane company for over 30 years and Flex by any comparison does it right. That in itself is worth a lot when you are having issue.
    Good Luck
    Ken - W0KRD
  • CharlesCharles Member
    edited June 2015

    I can only lust after a 6500......

    I have many questions to answer including passion, budget and the all important "what do I want to do with it?".  Some of these will only be answered over time.  That why I wanted to start reasonably small, then learn and expand.  I am trying to make reasonable choices now that won't waste a lot of money.

    I have not given the transverter aspect much thought.  80-6 meters seems enough.  At least for now.  What are your thoughts?

    Are the 3000 and 5000 still good technology, even though now replaced by the 6000 series?  Looking at the specs, the 5000 looks quite good, including 192kHz receive bandwidth instead of 96 on the 3000 and only 48 on the 1500. 

    So would you say that a 5000 (with second receiver option and the ATU) is first choice, then a 3000, and lastly the 1500?  Assuming that the 6000's are not an option pricewise.

    Are there any options or other things to look for if I decide on a 3000 or 5000?  I do know about the second receiver option and the ATU option on the 5000- both of which I would want.  Apparently the ATU is standard on the 3000, but what about the second receiver? 

    A question re firewire on the 3000 and 5000- will a firewire/usb converter work?  I do not have native firewire and since these are laptops cannot add firewire directly.

    I had not looked at the ELAD FDM-DUO.  I don't see any advantage except for portable QRP which I don't think I have any interest in.  It looks like it would about the same performance as a 1500 but much higher price.  Nice looking radio though.

    A good mike and headset are items I want to look at.  Any suggestions?

    I looked up the Bose speakers you mentioned.  They look quite good.  Thanks for the recommendation.

    Thank you very much for your comments and suggestions.  They have been very helpful.

  • Ken - NM9PKen - NM9P Member ✭✭
    edited December 2016
    Hi Charles, Yes, the 3000/5000 are still great rigs. I hang on 75/40 meters with a bunch of guys that are mostly Flexers. Many of them started with 1500/amp combos. And many of them have moved up to used 3000's and love them. One of them just got a great deal on a used 5000. I was originally planning on a 5000 /ATU & 2nd receiver, and would probably have a 5000 now instead of a 6500 except a small windfall allowed a "splurge" in the ham radio budget. The 6500 had just been announced, and I decided that once in my life I wanted to have a top-line rig. It has not disappointed, and is the best rig I have ever had, and more than I ever dreamed I would have. (A 6700, however, was still only a fantasy! ) If I had to choose between a 3000 and 5000, I would go win the 5000 if the price was in budget. It has several features that make it more desirable, unless you plan on going portable...balanced mike input, transverter and multiple antenna inputs, receive antenna inputs, option for second receiver, option for VHF/UHF module, wider panadapter bandwidth, etc. The prices are coming down, asking used 5000's attractive. But used 3000's are getting to be very, very affordable. You couldn't go wrong either way. But a new 6300 is about $2500, and $299 for internal ATU. So for $2800 it is heck of a good package if you want a top-line performer. 3000/5000 rigs are bring about half that amount or a little more. Re: mikes. There are lots to choose from, from a good mike at Radio Shack (if you can find one still open) for about $39, to a Samson R-11 from Sweetwater.com for about the same. Some run Sure SM-58 or SM-57 for about $99. I run a Heil PR-22UT that I got on sale at Guitar Center for $107 and love it. A few others I know are using the Heil HM-12 which is a bit less. Higher-end mikes... Heil PR-781 can be had for $150-200. RE320 is a great mike, as are the RE20 & 27, PR-35 and PR-40 and other "Studio Mikes." But these are in the $300-500+ range. Get a good, full-range, articulate mike and use the TXEQ to fine tune it to your own voice. I would stay away from mikes that have too much proximity bass, unless you like that big boomy sound. I find the SM58 to have too much for my own voice and tastes. But other hams love that mike. This is an area where everyone has an opinion and some are quite animated about theirs! I have gotten good audio reports on my 6500 even with a three dollar computer headset, after properly adjusting the TX EQ, etc. but I always return to my PR22. It just seems to fit my voice. Your voice might find another best fit. Hope this helps. Ken - NM9P
  • KY6LA_HowardKY6LA_Howard La Jolla, CA. Paris and Sablet FranceMember ✭✭✭
    edited January 2017
    Here’s a link to “How to Build a Quiet Station V2.pdf” in my Dropbox: https://www.dropbox.com/s/9rcikiks1p57tti/How to Build a Quiet Station V2.pdf?dl=0
  • Burt FisherBurt Fisher Member ✭✭
    edited August 2016
    The best reports I got were from a $3 webcam type plug in mike, better than the Heil PR-781 and D-104
  • Walt - KZ1FWalt - KZ1F Member
    edited November 2016
    Tim, there is an interesting story there. I had one issue during construction that forced me to call Gap, I got talking to this very talkative engineer that that completely encouraged me to get some wire mesh screening and make a 6'x6' square and place it on the ground with the antenna going through the center of it and that that, alone, would add immeasurably (I don't recall his gain number) to the gain of the ant. To answer the question more is difficult as I am not sure my issues,as stated above were a result of the 5-10W (likely) or it was my first vertical (also likely). BUT, it was phenomenal on digi, from the northeast, I worked Japan, Vietnam (I think twice), VK, ZL, Serbia, as I recall..generally all over the globe. SSB, a completely different story. I had trouble getting into Europe and any further west than the Mississippi. I got it on the advice of a friend KD4IZ who absolutely loved his. Oh, I never did acquire a 6' sq wire mesh but the eng at GAP swore by it.
  • Doug HallDoug Hall Member ✭✭
    edited June 2015
    There are reasons to prefer a 1500 and separate amp over a 3000. Whether those reasons matter to you depends on your plans. Two SDRs ago I had a 1500. (I still have it but it's not my daily driver.) I used it with a Ten Tec 418 amplifier. The Elecraft 100w amplifier was not available when I bought the 418.

    Putting aside the cost difference (the 1500/amp combo is either slightly cheaper or much cheaper than the 3000, depending on which amp you buy) the deciding factors for me were:

    1. With the 1500 I got a separate receive antenna port. I used this with my Pixel RF PRO-1B magnetic receiving loop on 160/80/40m and for BCB DXing. You don't get that with the Flex-3000. If you're serious about the low bands (especially 80 and 160 meters) then a separate receive antenna can help a lot.

    2. With the 1500 I got a transverter port that could drive a 144 MHz transverter. In fact it supports any VHF and UHF transverters that I am aware of. There is no transverter output on the Flex-3000.

    3. There is a 10 MHz external reference input on the 1500 that is not present on the 3000. If you need extremely accurate frequency, or if you are doing frequency measurement tests then this is a handy thing to have. Even though I have a Flex-6300 now I still use the 1500 with a GPS disciplined oscillator for frequency measuring tests.

    Yes, you get an automatic antenna tuner on the 3000, but since I sometimes ran 1000w an internal antenna tuner was of no use to me. So there are cases where a 1500 and separate amp makes more sense than a 3000.

    Either way I found PowerSDR to be a decent application, and it ran flawlessly on a quad core Windows 7 machine that I bought from a gamer here in town.

    Doug K4DSP

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