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Trying to get good and reliable CW keying on SmartSDR for Mac (M1)
I posted a question about this topic on the FlexRadio Enthusiasts page on Facebook
CW on Mac on SmartSDR: This has been asked in the past, in various forms on both that forum and on this one, but as time goes on folks find solutions to old problems so I thought I'd give it another try. Has anyone found a truly good way to send CW (either keyboard entry or some hardware/software combination to use an external iambic keyer), using a Mac with SmartSDR for Mac on a FLEX 6000 series radio?
At Michael's suggestion, I am posting my experience on this community forum. There was some interaction with others on the FB page, but the essence of my question/issue is what follows:
I normally run a Bencher paddle. Right now I have it connected to the port on the back of the 6600. It works well there, as well as on the back of the Maestro, in the shack. It also works plugged into the back of the Maestro when I'm operating remote. The sidetone appears to be coming from the Maestro's audio output of choice when I'm plugged into it and from the 6600's audio output when I'm plugged into it. So latency isn't a problem. It woks great!
It is when I tried to operate from my MacBook Pro that latency was coming into play. I do know that it doesn't take very many milliseconds (like probably 5 ms or less) of latency to throw my feeble head off when I'm sending CW. I was almost beginning to wonder if having an external keyer and paddles like I used back in the 70's that could plug into the USB port on the Mac might be a good answer. That way the sidetone would be generated at the same device, the keyer, where the keying input is being originated. "Zero" latency.
Michael asked if I had seen the information in the SmartSDR for Mac documentation about building an interface cable to use between the paddles and the Mac. I did build the cable that Marcus described, last year. It worked, sort of, but at that time I did not feel it was a good solution. I'll be honest in saying that I don't recall exactly how I felt it to be unreliable, but as I recall it was a speed issue. And the issue wasn't at what one would call "high speed CW". At slow speeds I think it did ok, but not when the speed was increased. I tried adding capacitance between the two terminals as he described and that did not quite get it there, either. After putzing with it for some time, I gave up on it and decided that it was too troublesome and that hopefully something better would come along. It may even be that software updates have improved its usability between then and now. That's why I posted my question on the Facebook group. It is been probably over a year since I tried his solution and was hoping that a better approach may have materialized.
At Michael's suggestion, yesterday I plugged the cable that Marcus describes into my Mac and my Bencher, and it IS working. It is a little clunky in its iambic operation, but it does work, today. Yay! I don't know what's different, if anything, other than it may have been the iambic performance that caused me to abandon it last year. The dits work. The dahs work. The dit-dah-dit-dah-dit-dah works as long as the paddles are squeezed. The only issue is that the keyer input logic doesn't seem to buffer quite the same as most keyers I've used in the past, including the one in the 6600. As a result, a "C" wants to come out as a "K", or an "R" wants to come out as an "A". With practice, I think that might be able to be gotten used to.
I was also able to get the CW Keyer function working in the SmartSDR for Mac, both from using "pre-recorded" text strings and from the keyboard. Wow! Doing it from the keyboard was really a strange experience!! Perhaps with practice it could be a neat option. But typing a message and at the same time hearing it from the Mac, but not in synch with the keys being pressed at that instant, i.e. "in real time", really messes with my head!!
I checked out the K1EL System that Michael suggested, but it appears to be Windows, only.
THAT BRINGS UP THE SECOND POINT OF MY POSTING AND QUESTIONS: WE NEED TO TALK FLEX's SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS INTO TWEAKING SmartSDR FOR WINDOWS SO IT WILL RUN ON M1 MAC'S that are using a virtual machine like PARALLELS. The Windows version of SmartSDR worked very well on my old Intel Mac under Parallels, but when I try to install it on my new M1 Mac the install ends with a "splash" saying it needs an x86 processor to work. Dang!
Thank you all for your fantastic insights and information on these wonderful radios!!
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