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Looking for advice on equipment for first ham shack

2

Answers

  • Rob Fissel
    Rob Fissel Member
    edited June 2015
    eham.net, qrz.com all have classifieds to puruse through. I'm particularly fond of QTH.com's swapmeet, where I bought my Flex 6300 used for a good deal!

    Many of those here will advise you to stay away from eBay for used ham gear and I would tend to second that sentiment.

    http://swap.qth.com/search.php
  • Ed, K0KC
    Ed, K0KC Member ✭✭
    edited May 2019
    Charles,

    "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."

    Unless I missed it in the comments of others above, no one mentioned that, to the best of my knowledge, Firewire to USB converters will not work with the 3000/5000 series of Flex radios so that fact may greatly impact your choice of rig.

    If I am in error, please someone, correct me!

    Ed, K0KC
  • Tim - W4TME
    Tim - W4TME Administrator, FlexRadio Employee admin
    edited December 2016
    You are 100% correct.
  • Charles
    Charles Member
    edited June 2015
    Was able download it this time.  Thanks.
  • Charles
    Charles Member
    edited June 2015
    Ken, thank you for taking so much time and providing a lot of good information.  I have been thinking about your comments and started researching the 3000 and 5000 in depth.  I see your point regarding them so I am seriously rethinking my position on the 1500 with an amp.  I will try to see what I can find for used 3000's or 5000's.  Also thanks for the mike suggestions.

    Burt, I have a few of those laying around I can try.  Thanks.
  • Ken - NM9P
    Ken - NM9P Member ✭✭
    edited December 2016
    Charles,
    As Doug Hall mentioned above, there ARE a few valid reasons that one might select a 1500/amp combo over a 3000...including Transverter input/RX antenna input, transverter output, and 10 MHz clock input.

    If these features are important to you (i.e. you might want to use a separate receive antenna on 160/80 meters for noise reduction, or put the rig on 144 MHz or 432 MHz) then the 3000 would not be a best choice.  The 5000, however, if you can find a great deal on one, would be a dynamite rig.

    And as others have said.  USB/firewire converters are useless for FLEX rigs.  Your computer must have a good firewire port, or an available port to which you can add one. (3000/5000)  the 1500 uses a USB port.

    Frankly, you can do a lot of talking with a good antenna and only 5 watts.  I did it on my 1500 for about 8 months until my 6500 arrived, even with my Kenwood TS-850SAT sitting on the desk next to it.  It was more work, but it was fun.  I didn't have a 100 Watt amp, and my antennas were not optimum.  Some say that "life is too short for QRP," but I have found that it builds character and operating skills.  (at least in ops that are not Type-A personalities!)

    Good luck!

    Ken - NM9P
  • Charles
    Charles Member
    edited June 2015
    Doug, Thanks for your time and your comments.

    I don't think I have seen anything on the Ten Tec 418.  I will have to look it up.

    Re other items-
    1. Understand your comment.  I think the 5000 does have multiple antenna connections. So, I guess a point for it.
    2. I have not given much thought to transverters.  Correct me if I am wrong, but I think transverter is for tuning other higher frequencies by converting them down to a native range for the receiver.  Like being able to tune 2 meters or 70 cm.  What little thought I have had about this was more in the line of a separate receiver or HT, if I go there at all.  Afraid my newbie status is showing....
    3. How important is the 10 MHz reference input?
    Re the ATU- My thinking was that it would be simpler and cheaper to have the ATU as part of the amp/3000/5000.  I don't expect to increase power in the near future,  But if I did, any separate ATU that I bought now would probably have to be replaced anyway for a higher power unit.

    Thanks again for your comments.  Please feel free to disagree or correct anything I have said.  Just a newbie wandering around in the woods trying not to get too lost.

  • Charles
    Charles Member
    edited June 2015
    I may be interested.  Based on some I the comments I have received, I am thinking about the 3000 or a 5000.  Let me know what you have and your asking price.  If you want to take it off forum you can reach me directly at KM4KOZ  at gmail dot com.
  • Charles
    Charles Member
    edited June 2015
    Thank you for the sources.  I was familiar with the reviews on eham but did not realize that they also had classifieds.  Will check out the others also.
  • Doug Hall
    Doug Hall Member ✭✭
    edited June 2015
    Charles,

    A transverter works on both transmit and receive. For example with a 2m transverter you would transmit on 10m into the transverter and it would convert it to a 2m at some specified power output. On receive the transverter converts 2m signals to 10m where they are received on your 10m receiver. It works independent of mode, so you get all-mode (SSB, CW, FM, etc) 2m capability. The folks who do stuff such as meteor scatter (bouncing your signals off of the ionized trails left by meteors) or moonbounce make good use of transverters. But if you don't anticipate that then the transverter port is not important.

    A 10 MHz reference input is only important if you care about doing very accurate frequency measurement, or if you need for your transmit frequency to be very accurate. I'd say most people are fine without such an input.

    Good luck on your quest, and above all, enjoy the hobby!

    73,
    Doug K4DSP

  • Charles
    Charles Member
    edited June 2015
    Ed, I did find the write-up on firewire in the 5000's manual and the support database when I was researching the 3000 and 5000,  It is a bump in the road, but fortunately one of the laptops that I would use has an Express Card slot.

    Thanks for pointing it out though.  It could have been a real issue.


    Tim, thanks for confirming.  The posts were two years old so I was going to ask if anything had changed.  I guess not.

    I do have one question-  How can you tell what chipset is being used on a firewire express card?  Apparently TI is preferred and VIA should be avoided.  Most of the time the description does not specify and the cards are sealed.
  • Jay Nation
    Jay Nation Member ✭✭
    edited August 2016
    I'd just avoid purchasing the ones that don't specify which chipset they use. 
    It matters that much. 

    Jay - NO5J
  • Charles
    Charles Member
    edited June 2015
    Doug, Thanks for the explanations.  Although I had heard of them in my studies, I think moon bouncing and meteor scatter are a ways down the road.  I do want to be accurate on frequency of course but I am assuming that the 10 MHz reference is not essential.  So I guess these two items will go on the nice to have list rather than the essential list.
  • Tim - W4TME
    Tim - W4TME Administrator, FlexRadio Employee admin
    edited December 2016
    Only use the TI chipsets.  I recommend the cards from SIIG.  They just work.
  • Charles
    Charles Member
    edited June 2015
    Tim, Here is the SIIG card- apparently the only Expresscard firewire card they sell.  It says VIA chipset not TI.  Do you still recommend it?

    http://www.siig.com/it-products/firewire/firewire-400/expresscard/firewire-expresscard.html


  • k3Tim
    k3Tim Member ✭✭✭
    edited December 2016
    Hi Walt,  Thanks for the interesting response.  With QRP levels the antenna is performing well, SSB notwithstanding.  I have read the instructions can a cryptic. I have a 10 meter GAP monopole and the instructions were a bit challenging. I worked some good DX but think the environment around the antenna hurt performance.  A Ringo 5/8 wave 10 meter antenna seems to be really doing the job.
    The Titan has a nice small foot print.  Will consider this antenna, keeping in mind the ground screening.  That does seem a good suggestion.
    Thanks !

    k3Tim
  • KY6LA_Howard
    KY6LA_Howard La Jolla, CA. Paris and Sablet FranceMember ✭✭✭
    edited January 2017
    Charles There are a couple of Ham Radio. Sayings that I totally subscribe too. 1. Vertical antennas work equally poorly in all directions If there is any way. You can put up at least a dipole or better yet a. Yagi beam you will be infinitely happier with the results over any vertical. 2. Life is too short for QRP Except for some digital modes, operating with less than 100W can be very frustrating. Yes there are times you can get thru with 5W. But most of the time you really need at least 100W.
  • Tim - W4TME
    Tim - W4TME Administrator, FlexRadio Employee admin
    edited December 2016
    Here is the deal with the VIA chipset.  For Win7 PCs, this card only works well if you select the legacy 1394a bus driver.  For Windows 8 and greater, Microsoft depreciated the legacy 1394a bus driver so it is no longer an option.  What you may experience, because depending on how the ExpressCard bus interface is engineered, your mileage may vary, is that the card will not handle the higher data rates and you will have to operate PowerSDR with a lower sampling rate than the radio can use, resulting in a narrower bandwidth spectrum display.  Or it may not connect at all.  It is hard to predict.

    And while I am in full disclosure mode, running the radio using a laptop presents additional challenges.  Laptops are engineered for battery life and to be light weight.  The achieve this at the expense of IO throughput performance and internal system latency.  In general, there is really nothing you can do to change that if the laptop is experiencing latencies so high that the operating system cannot process real-time audio without performance issues.  Using a desktop PC is a much safer bet and you have a much greater selection of PCIe based Firewire cards.

    I am not trying to dissuade you from your purchasing decision, I want you to fully understand the risks so that your radio experience is a good one.  A well operating FLEX Series SDR is a blast to use, but you want to spend your time operating and not fighting Windows and PC issues.  This is one reason why a FLEX-6300 might be a better longer term radio choice as it does not have the Firewire challenges.  Just something to consider.
  • Walt - KZ1F
    Walt - KZ1F Member ✭✭
    edited November 2016
    And, as a really really good starter radio, to the extent a > $2000 radio can be considered starter (there are also no good starter homes anymore either), the 6300 should hold in value really well. Should you ever outgrow it, there is sure to be another new ham looking for his first radio as well.

    Anyone want to buy a TS-530SP? No? I didn't think so. :-)

    I used my 1500 with my 15" laptop. A really unpleasant experience. My lap got really hot too. I use my 6500 with my 15" laptop, also a less than pleasant experience, but it is no longer in my lap. I am also changing the form factor of my 6000 control surface.

    But, yes, Tim is quite correct on the laptop or even tablet control surface.
  • W4WHL
    W4WHL Member ✭✭
    edited February 2017
    My primary antenna is a multi band wire beam in my attic.  I have only been on HF for only 9 months, and up to 99 countries, including Australia. 

    Granted my Attic is large, and 3 stories high.  But, its amazing what can be done with meager means. 

    My suggestion is make your own antenna.  Do the research, have some fun doing what hams do, and brew your own :)  Its very rewarding!

    William
  • Walt - KZ1F
    Walt - KZ1F Member ✭✭
    edited November 2016
    Howard and William are both correct:

    The most effective contributor to your signal, by far, single piece of equipment in your overall station is the antenna. If you have very limited funds, acquire a really good antenna first, whether it is bought or made.
    For instance, get a $1,000 antenna and a $1,600 TS-590SG and be under the price of a 6300  alone, with a really good antenna. Upgrade to the 6500 when funds permit.

    A monobander at 100' will outperform a wire dipole at 100'
    A wire dipole antenna at 100' will outperform a monobander at 10' (someone will quote me on that so I will stipulate "for the sake of argument")
    A yagi, IMHO, is a better antenna than a vertical.
    A vertical is generally a fraction of the cost of a yagi.
    A directional antenna is generally better than an omnidirectional antenna. (omni is equally bad in all directions)
    A home built antenna is a fraction of the cost of a store bought antenna.
    IMHO, the radio is the most expensive piece of station equipment and the least effective towards transmission of and reception of a signal.
    I'd got so far as to say your choice of coax is a larger contributor to a receivable signal than the radio. After the antenna, work on a good quality coax.
    Finally, if you are in a zoned area, subject to covenants, your choices for antenna are limited but, yes, research the antenna first. Whatever you get for an antenna, put it up as high as you can. A monobander in you attic (point to the south pacific or due north over the pole, for instance) may be way more fun than a dipole in your back yard.  And monobanders are easy to make.
  • Charles
    Charles Member
    edited June 2015
    Tim, Thank you for the extended explanation and potential problems.  I am assuming (dangerous I know) that the TI chipset does not have the same legacy problem.  With the coming Windows 10, I am assuming the problem will continue or even get worse.  If I go for the 3000 or 5000 I will try to stick with TI chipset.

    I appreciate the laptop warnings.  The laptop I have with the Expresscard slot is a high end unit so maybe it will be ok.  If I have to build a desktop, it will definitely skew the cost factor.  

    Yes the 6000 series would definitely be nicer and avoid some potential issues.  Now if only Flex would have a 50% off sale on the 6500..... :-)
  • W4WHL
    W4WHL Member ✭✭
    edited July 2016
    My antenna is a 6 element (2 elements per band) beam.  It is fixed north over the pole.  I do extremely well to Europe/middle east.  It is also electrically reversable to point due south with relays.  Although the south direction provides only minimal gain over dipole, I can work the Caribbean, south Africa fairly well.

    For contest I have a monoband 20m and separate monoband 10m 2 element hombrew beams that I mount on a 30ft telescopic mast.  Due to my HOA, these are temporary and only come out during contest.

    To be honest, antenna building is my favourite part of the hobby. 

    William
  • Ned K1NJ
    Ned K1NJ Member ✭✭
    edited December 2016
       By all means, put up an antenna you make yourself.  The education you will
    get along the way will be well worth the effort and will last a lifetime.
  • Jay Nation
    Jay Nation Member ✭✭
    edited May 2019
    Charles
    Having had to be picky about chipsets used in the past. Here are some other choices that should work.
     http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16839158010&cm_re=1394_expresscard-_-39-158-...
    TI chipset, Lists for $42.99.

    and 

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA4P02T64859&cm_re=1394_expresscard-_-39-104-0...
    This one lists for $59.95, It claims to be a Firewire,USB combo card, using the TI chipset. I'm reluctant to mention it though due to past recommendations to avoid "Combo" firewire cards, from Flexradio.

    and

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16839158012&cm_re=1394_expresscard-_-39-158-...
    TI chipset, Lists for $61.99

    Unless you can find anecdotal evidence about that "Combo" card that claims it works FB with the FLEX series. I'd avoid that one, but the other two should work.
    73, Jay - NO5J
  • Walt - KZ1F
    Walt - KZ1F Member ✭✭
    edited November 2016
    That sounds incredible!
  • Tim - W4TME
    Tim - W4TME Administrator, FlexRadio Employee admin
    edited December 2016
    Charles - the TI chipsets for the most part are immune to needing the legacy driver to operate. However, the engineering of the chipset onto the bus interface card is another factor too.  The take away here is that a lot of Firewire card and chipset manufacturers do not engineer their cards to the full 1394 specification and the FLEX-5000 and FLEX-3000 can push them beyond their limits.  We use a multichannel audio Firewire interface in the FLEX-3000 and FLEX-5000.  When we started testing the FLEX-5000+RX2, the interface manufacturer had to make numerous changes to their firmware and drivers due to the amount of isochronous data the radio is streaming to the PC.  The FLEX-5000 became one of their stress test cases and in that testing, TI as the host adapter chipset came out on top more than any other.

    So sticking with TI is the way to go.
  • Ed, K0KC
    Ed, K0KC Member ✭✭
    edited June 2015
    Charles,

    I  know cost is definitely an issue as you set up your station, but keep in mind that you probably will be running software in addition to PSDR or SSDR such as a logging program, perhaps digital mode programs, etc. You will most likely want to expand to at least two monitors in the future and that means a video card that is capable of handling that task. I guess that I am suggesting that you consider a desktop computer if your ham radio budget can handle it. On the other hand, something like the 1500 with a laptop will at least let you get your feet wet enough to see if this hobby is for you and worthy of further investment.

    Ed, K0KC
  • W9OY
    W9OY Alpha Team Member ✭✭
    edited February 2017
    I'm as big a Flex fanboy as they come, but being dead honest with you I would not recommend any of the firewire flex radios as a first station simply because of lack of firewire support in the computer industry.  As time goes on firewire dwindles further and further into obsolescence making the radio harder and harder to sell.  The actual performance of the radio is excellent but....   I am a big fan of 100W radios but if you are willing to use a 15W radio I would consider a Anan 10E as a possibility.  This radio is a fully functional DDC/DUC radio and it's connection to the computer is via Ethernet which will be part of computer interfaces for decades so you're unlikely to experience the firewire scenario.  The radio is a stripped down version of the Anan 10, and uses a cheaper 14bit ADC and cheaper FPGA, bit will still field 2 receivers/slices and for most casual operating will be an excellent choice to get into the SDR aspect of ham radio.   The radio can be had for about $935 to $1000 depending on sales, and includes only the radio, no tuner.  

    The problem with the Anan is that Apache Labs sells only hardware not software, which is why they can sell the radio so cheaply.   Effectively the only software option is a program called PowerSDR_mrx which is a much modified version of Flex's PowedSDR.  This means you are at the mercy of whoever decides to continue with software development, and you have no one to call for help.  There is a yahoo group and they sometimes can be helpful but often the help is more about mythology than actual understanding, at least this was my experience.  However the software in its present form is very mature and very feature laden and works very well.  It therefore is possible to have a relatively unscathed plug and play experience.  The radio is a full blown SDR with a full blown integrated panadapter.  The advantage of this radio at that price point is you will at least for the next few years always be able to sell the radio for probably with about a 85-90% recoup, and you will have a very good platform from which to gain experience with SDR.  For a power supply I would go with a Samlex SEC 1223.  I've seen these on ebay for as little as $65 no noise as far as I can tell.  I have 4 of these and 1 SEC 1235 but that ps has a fan which I hate.   You might need a tuner depending on your situation since there is no built in tuner.  Personally I think a vertical properly deployed with adequate radials is a very good antenna especially for DXing on the low bands, and especially if you can't get a dipole up very high.  Above 30M I think some form of horizontal dipole antenna is a better choice.  I put up a Butternut HF2V vertical over 1000ft of radials in 2004 and worked 100 countries in 1 week on 40, 100 countries in 2 weeks on 30, and 100 countries in 3 weeks on 80M.  It's not a good antenna if you are not willing to install adequate radials.  

    My SDR experience is with a SDR-1000, multiple little SDRs like softrock, dongles etc, Flex 3000, 5000, 6300 and 6500, with an Anan 10 and a Anan 100D and with a Elecraft KX3.  I would not recommend the Elecraft as a SDR experience or even a QRP experience.  The receiver is OK but the rest of the engineering is ridiculous.  

    73  W9OY
  • SteveM
    SteveM Member
    edited December 2015

    "...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."


    Hey Charles - Mr. Blunt here. I just wanted say that, in my opinion, buying cheap and "expanding" later is a sure-fire way of wasting lots of money. There are people in this game that are trading rigs all of the time. It's like they are addicted to shopping. I've seen TS-990's advertised for sale that are less than a couple of months old! The insatiable owner undoubtedly takes a huge beating on the sale.

    I, too, am fairly new to the hobby so I have recently made the same decisions that you are now contemplating. My opinion is that one should make his move with confidence and resolve. Get the rig that you know will make you happy. I decided upon a 6500 about 6 months ago and I can't imagine wanting to "expand" or trade-up. It's the best available in its price range.

    Now, if you say something like "A 6xxx radio is out of my price range.", then I have one question for you. What kind of car do you drive? The reason for this question is that I have seen +$50k four-wheel drive trucks parked in front of houses in which chickens would be embarrassed to live. Just sayin' some people have messed up budgets.

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