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Flex or a box with knobs?

Monk - K5HP
Monk - K5HP Member
edited June 2020 in SmartSDR for Windows
Greetings, I am new to the Flex community. I joined to get insight into the Flex and it's nuances. Being the age I am and knowing this may be my last purchase as the base radio for my new station, I am very interested in making the best decision. I am building my retirement home on land that will allow the long awaited antenna farm, separate bldg for ham shack etc. The last thing I want to do is purchase a radio I am ultimately unhappy with. Having said that I am concerned with the myriad problems reported in the community. Although I am completely enamored with the Flex capabilities I do not want my retirement years spent fighting windows updates, quarreling with third party issues and, in general facing a new problem every time I turn around. I would really like to hear from satisfied Flex owners of course, but also those who may say "don't buy and here's why". My other choice would be the K-Line so I'm really torn. Thanks in advance for your input. 73, K5HP Monk


  • Kent Hufford
    Kent Hufford Member ✭✭
    edited March 2017
    You want the best receiving, best sounding, great situational awareness radio. Get a FLEX.

    I've had a FLEX 3000 and now a 6500. I have friends with K3S, Kenwood 990, and ICOM7851s.
    All great radios, with the new style receiver in them. Lots of nice smooth operating knobs. I still like my 6500 better. Tho I am only 69, I can still learn not to turn a knob.

    BUT, if you NEVER want to worry about Windows updates, third party issues, or FLEX software updates. Then don't buy a FLEX, nor a ICOM, nor a Kenwood, nor a Elecraft, cuzz they all have software updates also that must be applied, and Windows software to interface to the world.

    So, Never... might be just sit back in the Lazy Boy and watch TV.... BUT, my smart SONY TV does updates via wifi and the cable box does too..
  • K0UNX
    K0UNX Member ✭✭
    edited June 2016
    Good move on your part!  I waited YEARS to get a REALLY GREAT RADIO TOO.  I'm 71, and bought my Flex 6500 last summer.  So here are ONE HAM'S views.

    First, THE RADIO:  Top notch.  You can't do better.  I absolutely love mine.

    The problems are pretty much all related to WINDOWS and its vagaries.  Windows has always been an issue in the computing world.  

    I have a MAC.  When I first got the radio, I bought a copy of Parallels, in order to be able to load a copy of Windows on my Mac to run the SmartSDR software.  It works GREAT!  I didn't get the SOUND back and forth between the computer and the radio, but that was no big problem because the radio is rack-mounted in the closet behind my operating desk, so I was able to run the speaker and mic cables through the wall and right onto my desk.  So I never gave much effort into making the sound work.

    THEN DogPark Software came out with DogParkSDR -FOR MAC, and that doesn't have any of the Windows sound issues.  It works perfectly, whether I use the physical speaker and mic connected to the radio or use my Mac for audio in and out.

    THEN K6TU came out with K6TU REMOTE, so I can use my iPad, and again I have NO ISSUES.  Everything works perfectly, even the AUDIO IN AND OUT.  I can even use my Bluetooth HEADSET while I walk around the house and yard with my iPad.

    NEXT: The MAESTRO should be coming out shortly, and I've got one on order.  That will give me yet another way to use the radio.

    NEXT: SSDR 2.0 should come out in maybe the first six months of the new year, which will give me WAN access, so I should be able to use the radio remotely from distant locations.

    Feel free to contact me directly if you want specific questions answered.
    Jim Flannery
    Littleton, Co.

  • David
    David Member ✭✭
    edited March 2017
    As you know it comes down to a personal decision. For me I have not been stung by updates taking away the enjoyment of the Flex. On the few rare times an  update caused a problem it was a simple uninstall the Flex software of related problem and reinstall to get things working again. You will have determine your comfort level of dealing with software updates and when to do them for the OS level, Flex, and third parties. One option might be to have a PC you dedicated to just the Flex and maintain it in very conservative way with only ham related programs installed and selective updating. You might use a virtual machine program like VirtualBox and create an image that is just for radio if you don't want to have an PC. There are several ways to address these concerns and one may be SDR isn't for you because of it.

    As for the move from the traditional physical knobs and buttons radio to SDR it was an easy change over for me. The SSDR brings a new life to the hobby for me. Being able to see the whole band(s) on the panadapter point and click to an active station, find an open frequency, or see which bands are active is a great pleasure. SSDR makes if possible to try our and do digital mode easily without extra hardware or cables. Those are just a couple of the many additions to things SDR makes possible or easier to do. There are also knobs and buttons add-ons for the Flex so those are not completely lost features.

    You will find comments on either side of the traditional vs SDR. I recommend finding someone local or willing to let you remote into their radio and trying it out. Also take advantage of Flex Radio's 30 day return policy. If you find in that 30 day period (make sure it is 30 days that you can  take full advantage of) and you find it is what you are comfortable with even return it with just a loss in shipping costs.

    New radios at this price level are not an easy decision. You are doing the right thing to ask around and read up on all the comments. Good luck.
  • George KF2T
    George KF2T Member ✭✭✭
    edited February 2019
    Agree with Kent. The Flex will change the way you view the bands and the way you operate. I don't want to go back, ever! The Elecraft line is a fine one, and I own several of their products. That said, each of the three kits I built had a QC "gotcha" with a wrong or missing part. Customer service was first rate, but the fact is I've never had a lick of Flex trouble that was anything but my own doing. The Flex 6000 receivers are incredible. Best out there. It would be wrong to compare them to the others, even. One knob is essential, though. Get a FlexControl. Very worth it. Finally, the ability to remotely operate your rig is huge. Nothing better than the Flex in that regard. If you eventually don't feel like making the trek to the rig, it is as close as your laptop or iPad,
  • Jim W3IPO
    Jim W3IPO Member ✭✭
    edited February 2019
    I appreciate your concerns as I have recently made the same decisions.
    I am one of those many guys who returned to the hobby after many years of doing other things.
    When I got back it, I purchased an ICOM 9100---a good rig but more buttons than knobs and many many menus and sub menus.  For me the learning curve took the fun out of operating.

    I have a KX3 which is a nice radio, but also has more buttons than knobs-->meaning again a learning curve.

    I have a Flex 6500.  I have found it by far the easiest to operate.  (no buttons (1) and no knobs).
    I can be away from the radio for several weeks and sit down and operate immediately.  I can not do that with the KX3 or the ICOM.  I am a visual person and seeing the pan adapter and waterfall is perfect for me.  The GUI is intuitive and the manual when needed is an easy read.

    I am not concerned by the "problems" discussed on this forum.  Many of the problems are for 3rd party programs which can be an issue for any radio.  The Flex DAX system makes most of those problems easy to work on.

    I have never had any issue with the radio itself.  The engineers and support staff at Flex are the most responsive any where.  Perhaps that is because the radio is made in the US (as is Elecraft).

    Dare I say, the some of the "problems" are in front of the key board.  Also Windows is notorious for difficulties.  I had issues getting HRD to work with the ICOM.  My only complaint is that full blown SSDR is Windows only.

    Others will be more elegant is their opinions.

  • Paul Bradbeer
    Paul Bradbeer Member
    edited June 2016
    Hi Monk, I can certainly offer an opinion. Having got used to the panafall display on a K3 and P3, when I finally got tired of its poor ergonomics and cheap knobs, I knew that whatever radio that replaced it would have to have a decent view of the spectrum (I've become really accustomed to looking for signals). I sold my P3 and K3 and bought a Flex 6500. I love it - sounds great, fantastic panafall display, great audio options and easy to integrate (I've easily hooked it up to CW Skimmer and N1mm logger. It has revolutionised my operating and taken me on a new journey of learning SDR and software applications. The SMARTSDR package is actually pretty mature...ignore the moaners and nitpickers. As for the Knobbed versus Flex comparisons....my other radio is a TS-990s, but I've hardly turned it on since I've got the 6500. I love 6m and 2m as well as HF bands, and with its ease of transverter hook-up, the Flex is by far the best transverter driver going. See if you can find a local Flex user so that you can get a demo; I'd be surprised if you weren't impressed! Just my 2 cents worth.... Paul M0CVX
  • Wayne VK4ACN
    Wayne VK4ACN Member
    edited September 2018
    For what it's worth I've been a ham for close 40 years. Owned many radios. I invested in a 6500. About 14 months ago. With shipping costs. Exchange rate, import duties it was a lot of money but I've haven't been happier. Best radio I've owned. Don't regret it. My Yaesu FTDX5000 sits on bench gets turned on occasionally to keep it going. You won't regret it. 73 Wayne. VK4ACN
  • SteveJ
    SteveJ Member
    edited February 2017
    I had a Flex 6300 and soon after returned it for a 6500.  I am an IT manager so I am around computers all day long.  At first the 6500 was great but I still just couldn't get used to not having the VFO knob.  Sure the Flex Control was a substitute but it wasn't the same. Didn't really care for the SSDR software interface either. Actually I liked the software that is used with the Flex 5000 better.  What I did not like was the third party utilities that were needed to operating the amplifier and such.  I also did not like having to have a separate computer with Windows.  Maybe the Maestro will take care of the computer part but after about 7 months I sold the 6500 and went with an Icom 7700.  Sure it is not the latest and greatest Icom available but I have always liked that radio.  I am still visiting the Flex community just to stay in touch with anything new coming from Flex.  For now a traditional radio is what I use and will continue to do so.  Who knows I may revisit SDR radio again in the future when the software matures and it doesn't require a computer.
  • Walt - KZ1F
    Walt - KZ1F Member ✭✭
    edited November 2016
    The Flex 6500/6700 are terrific radios. However, the single most important personal decision you have to make is can you live being tethered to Microsoft Windows and a computer just to even listen. Most everyone on here will tell you its not an issue. This is something of a self selecting crowd, the ones who viewed it as a big deal aren't here anymore. If you aren't sure, spend $500. and get a used 1500 and use it for a few weeks. If requiring Windows or just a computer starts getting tedious, you have you answer, sell the 1500 for $500 and get a (what some mockingly refer to as) a legacy radio. My understanding of firmware updates on other rigs are very well vetted before vthey are pronounced GA. It comes down to how much you like Windows.
  • Mike Kasrich
    Mike Kasrich Member
    edited December 2015
    Well I bought a K-3 in 2008. Great radio. I now own a Flex 6300 and I think I may look into an upgrade to the 6500. I sold my my K-3. I kept both radios for about 7 weeks and both radios are equally sensitive.  The Flex is easier to listen to in the narrower bandwidths. With a 6300 for instance you get the ability to have a sub rx without having to purchase an option, a panadapter without having to buy an option. Don't get me wrong Elecraft is great stuff but you get more **** for the buck with a Flex. Now there will be options with the Flex (Maestro, SO2R filters) but still you come out ahead in my opinion. What really put the K-3 for sale was the ARRL 160 contest.  In that contest stations are stacked every 300Hz, some really strong. I could move from one station to the next without hearing the station I just left and this with no xtal filters!  Magic, how do they do that?

    P.S.  The Maestro looks to satisfy any need for knobs.
  • Walt
    Walt Member ✭✭
    edited July 2017
    Since you are putting together a ham station with many thousands of dollars, I think you should head to the nearest ham convention that offers the vendors you are looking for (maybe Ham-Com in Irving TX).  Then run back and forth between your 'top-three' radio booths until you make up your mind.  An investment in gas money and a hotel room will pay for itself in your satisfaction of selection.  How YOU operate is so critical as to happiness with any particular radio.

    Besides, nothing like putting your paws on the goodies . . .    You may find you like a radio as-it-is and will never perform a software update.  Or even use a computer at all.

    As for me, the Flex was an experiment - I am not sure what kind of radio it will be a year or two from now and I am not convinced that Flex knows either - the software changes as the fussing and demands of the user base change (that is why you see so many feature-fights in here).  I have other radios in service and will not give them up for some time, if ever.    


  • Walt - KZ1F
    Walt - KZ1F Member ✭✭
    edited November 2016
    Legacy radios - my old ts-530sp is a legacy radio. The k3s, 990sp, IC-7851 are all high end rigs.
  • Bill Turner
    Bill Turner Member
    edited December 2016

    My only problem with the 6300 is lack of a real knob to adjust power. The slider is awkward to use and since I am driving an amplifier, I use it every time I change bands. Yes, I also use DDUTIL but that only pre-sets the power and does not allow one to adjust it.

    73, Bill W6WRT


  • David Altekruse
    edited March 2017
    Monk said:  "I do not want my retirement years spent fighting windows updates ..."

    I'm a retired software engineer and am happy with my 6300 though I've had more than my share of problems with it in the past.  My opinion is that 6x00's are not for everyone. Unfortunately, dealing with Windows-related issues comes with the territory.  For me the advantages of my 6300 out-weight the downsides.   However, based on your comments I'm guessing you would be happier with a transceiver that doesn't depend on a properly configured Microsoft OS to work.

    73, David, N1DNA
  • Bill W2PKY
    Bill W2PKY Member ✭✭
    edited December 2016
    I solved that problem with PROFILES. I have several profiles for each band and mode. Some profiles have full power and some have a power setting for the AMPs. Adjusting the slider is easier if simply clicking the left mouse button on either side of the power radio button. Each click moves the power 1%. Hope this helps.
  • Ross - K9COX
    Ross - K9COX Member ✭✭
    edited June 2017
    Go with a Flex however you should expect biased opinions here.
  • Lawrence Gray
    Lawrence Gray Member ✭✭
    edited January 2016
    We have a nearly new K3 at our club station.  I have a K2 I built and still use as a portable.  I was inactive for many years and returned to the hobby in retirement wanting to build a nice station.  I researched and read about SDR's, which sounded interesting.  I bought a used Flex-1500 as a test.

    I was completely amazed by the receive capability and brick wall filtering--there really is no adjacent channel interference.  This is something I think you have to see to really believe.  I also consistently received high quality TX audio reports and worked much DX with the 5 watt Flex-1500.

    Based on that experience, I purchased a 6300 and recently upgraded to the 6500.  The performance is even better.  I receive unsolicited praise for the TX audio virtually every time I use the radio.  I can hear signals that I can't really see on the panadapter.  I can work virtually any mode without external boxes.  I check into AM nets where many of the operators are using Flex radios as the basis of their AM stations.

    I use our club station K3 regularly.  It is a fine radio, but doesn't hold a candle to the 6000 series FlexRadios.  It has limited filtering compared to the Flex and a multi-function button interface that is far more complex than the Flex to operate.  It is also small, with small buttons and knobs, which I don't find ergonomic.  The biggest issue with the K3 is that I can't visually see activity on the band or bands.  Once you become used to working with a great panadapter interface that supports multiple bands, it is extremely frustrating to work without the visualization.  Sure, you can add a panadapter to the K3, but it is another box and not fully integrated as in the Flex.

    I have not experienced issues with PC's or software.  I have a laptop dedicated to the Flex and related software that is used for nothing else.  I've never experienced any of the issues with updates that are mentioned by some users.

    Best of all, the radio is software defined, which means it is easily updated to add features or improve performance.

    Lawrence W. Gray, KC1DAD

  • Eric-KE5DTO
    Eric-KE5DTO Administrator, FlexRadio Employee admin
    edited December 2016
    Note that you can also use the FlexControl to adjust the power.
  • NX6D Dave
    NX6D Dave Member ✭✭
    edited December 2019
    Like David before me, I'm also a retired SE.  And I'm a Windows "Insider" and early adopter and a Flex Alpha team member.  I'm currently running an advanced version of SmartSDR on Windows 10 Pro (latest updated version).  No problems -- completely stable.

    I agree that this radio technology is not for everyone.  If you want a turn-key solution that won't change (for better or worse), Flex is probably not your best choice.  If you want the best radio that is constantly improving, I think you've found it.

    Part of the choice depends a lot on the what you want to do.  I run a lot of digital modes, so my 6500 is the radio for me.  There is no intermediate analog audio step.  Hard to improve on that.

    I run some SSB, on evening nets on 80M.  I get complements on my signal all the time.  My station is nothing but a 6500, a Heil 781 and a 80M horizontal loop at 30 feet.  That says a lot about the audio chain in the 6500.

    Let me suggest that you hold off making any decisions until you've seen version 1.6.x of SmartSDR.  And keep in mind that there is always a serious sampling bias in these on-line forums.  People who have had no problems with the software seldom jump in and say so.

    And take the advice given above.  Go to Dayton, or Pacificon, or Huntsville, or wherever and see these radios and the Elecraft radios in action.  You may see something you can't resist, or something you can't stand.  In the end it is a personal choice based on what appeals to you.

    I've noticed many times that some people will have software problems and go on and on about their difficulties in this forum, but won't submit a help request on the HelpDesk.  Yet, most everyone (perhaps everyone) gets their problem solved quickly and efficiently by FRS, at no cost.  It's enlightening to know that the help desk is essentially a two man operation.  That says something about the real scale of the problems.

    Finally, consider the effect of the Alpha Team.  This is a group of hams, nearly all of whom are far more skilled and experienced than me, who pour over every detail of the software.  Performance, human interface, bugs, features, suggestions, documentation (my area) -- all of these topics and more are constantly being scrutinized.  The back/forth communication between the FRS designers and developers and the test team is extraordinary.  These radio products are designed by people who use them.
  • Monk - K5HP
    Monk - K5HP Member
    edited December 2016
    Thanks, Howard, I appreciate all the replies (with more to come I'm sure) I DO plan to run a dedicated PC with Windows 7 and will not be the test pilot for 10 as is Microsoft's usual modus operandi but would like to upgrade once it's stable.
  • Walt - KZ1F
    Walt - KZ1F Member ✭✭
    edited November 2016
    Dave, just above here, has a point re: seeing the radio's 'in the wild'. Unfortunately, Elecraft radios can't be seen in the wild, nor can Flex radios.. You can also go to your local HRO store. I found that trip most revealing. It may well be you've made up your mind from these posts. Where you are looking to spend between $5000 and $9000 you might try some of the other vendors sites or their respective reflectors on yahoo.
  • Burt Fisher
    Burt Fisher Member ✭✭
    edited August 2016

    Remember where you are, Flex owners, some need to justify their decision to what they call, "invest." I invest in the stock market which makes me money, usually. I bought my Flex 6300 which loses money but that is expected.
    Big Pluses:

    Customer Service-you can talk to the President (not Obama) right here.

    I HATE knobs with their tiny hard to see printing, the Flex is far easier to see. The indicators EMIT light.

    A character on Saturday Night Live, Rosann Rosanna Danna said, "it's always something." That has been my experience with the 6300, 5000, and to a larger extent the 1500 (don't use it on CW).

    The 6000 series is still far from its potential.

    Poor reports on AM.

    Am I sorry I bought it? No because where else can you talk to such intelligent people?

    I don't demand peace in my life (I am retired) if you are looking for simple buy something else

  • Walt - KZ1F
    Walt - KZ1F Member ✭✭
    edited November 2016
    One last comment Monk. The most important piece of your retirement (ham) shack is the antenna(s). Buying the better radiator will equalize an awful lot of competing transceivers. You'll be spending a lot of time with the radio, be sure you love it.
  • Craig K9CT
    Craig K9CT Member ✭✭
    edited March 2017

    I have read your post and the responses on here have been excellent. However, I took a look at your QRZ page and really don't know much about what your background is other than you really like cw and have spent considerable time learning. Bravo....

    Anyhow, you didn't say how you would use the radio or what your interests are. Can you elaborate? What kind of station are you going to build? Depending on your answers, the responses on here could be more pointed and helpful. 

    If you like cw, I think all of us would agree that the 6000 series is a very pleasant radio to listen to and use for hours. I would definitely recommend that you listen to a few radios and listen to the filtering and effect on the audio quality. 

    Other than that, I really have enjoyed reading all the responses you have evoked. So are you a DXer, Contester, net person, VHFer, ragchewer? What antennas do you have planned for this radio?

    I look forward to reading more in this thread.

    73, Craig K9CT
  • Monk - K5HP
    Monk - K5HP Member
    edited December 2016
    Thanks for your comment Craig. Right now I am totally involved with getting up to a proficiency level I can live with in CW but I also have enjoyed several of the 80 meter nets over the years so there will be the occasional foray into to SSB to stay in touch with old friends. I want to get into DX chasing and contesting as a way to keep my interest level up and fill my retirement years so the Flex is very desirable due to the many enhancements that seem ready made for these pursuits as well as exploring the digital modes which is an arena I've never ventured into. I am looking at the Optibeam and SteppIr as well as some different variations of wire antennas and single band yagis since our retirement will be on land bought with this in mind (high elevation and plenty of room with no HOA or land use restrictions. As you know the antennas and associated peripherals plus tower etc. will cost a bundle since i do not plan to skimp on antennas so the entry level Flex is what I will go with and possibly upgrade later.
  • ka7gzr
    ka7gzr Member ✭✭
    edited February 2017

    I own a 6700 and an IC-7850. I couldn't make my mind between an SDR or "conventional" transceiver so I got both. I generally use the Flex for receiving and the Icom for xmit. I still like buttons and dials and wasn't willing to give them up. The Flex is more like operating a piece of test equipment (Spectrum Analyzer) than a ham radio. Sometimes it feels 'cold" with no soul.

    The flex has the best spectrum display. I haven't used a K line but the Flex puts the 7850 spectrum display to shame. The crispness and signal clarity from the "grass" is amazing.

    The choice is hard- Knobs or a Mouse- in my case both.



  • Ken - WA8JXM
    Ken - WA8JXM Member
    edited February 2017
    I agree, the Flex panadapter is much better than the Elecraft. But for CW operation, I prefer my K3 with its adjustable knobs. Try finding the mouse pointer and adjusting the CW speed on the flex vs the K3. I also find that I am spending too much time with computer issues trying to integrate both rigs with logging and control software, etc. Lately I'm going back to more basic CW operation with a paper log only and the heck with all the software issues. Both are good rigs, you need to match your operating style with which rig fits best. 73
  • Barry N1EU
    Barry N1EU Member ✭✭
    edited May 2018
    I've got a K3s/P3 and a Flex 6500 here.  I'll offer some comments based on experience.  

    You can't go wrong with the K3s.  It's a known quantity and the most solid radio available.  It's cw performance is unsurpassed.  It's subreceiver is superb and affordable.  The 6500's subreceiver (aka the 6700) is not so affordable.  I do a lot of stereo diversity operating, esp. on 160M, so a good subreceiver is important.

    For me, the Flex receiver has a slight edge over the K3 and every other receiver out there that's NOT direct sampling - it simply sounds cleaner.  I gravitate to the Flex for phone operating.  I think the K3s is the better cw radio.  The Flex has a better panadapter but the P3/SVGA is very good.

    I think they're the two best radios on the market.  You can't go wrong either way.  Ergonomics should be a big factor in your decision.

    73, Barry N1EU

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