Control of StepIR from Flex-6500, will a USB Cable do it all?

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 I am seriously interested in acquiring a “BigIR” with 80m coil but am unsure how I would interface it with my Flex-6500.

Reading online has been confusing with reference to:-

DDUtil 3rd party software presumably running on another Windows-Computer.

Band data, (available / not available) presumably for switching in the 80m coil.

And many other comments which I frankly didn’t understand.

My setup is simple, initially I used to control the transceiver using Windows-PC running SmartSDR, but now prefer to control my Flex-6500 using a Maestro.  When operating digital modes I do use a PC Laptop Win-10 running “fldigi" or ‘WSJT-X”, otherwise the only computer in the shack is my iMac into which I manually input log-data into my MacLoggerDX program.  My antenna is a MFJ loop which has to be manually tuned every time I change frequency - which is time consuming and frankly a pain.

Has the control of StepIR become simpler since the advent of the “USB Cable Interface”?  Will I have to purchase and run another Windows-PC to running 3rd party software and if so can I still use my laptop at the same time for PSK and JT modes.  Its all terribly confusing, can any one make sense  out of it?

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Andrew Rose

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Posted 2 years ago

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Mack McCormick, Elmer

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Official Response
What you're asking is super easy and detailed in the USB Interface Guide available on the Flex Website. You simply configure a USB cable to talk to the SteppIR SDA 100 controller (with the correct cable detailed also in the guide) and it works seamlessly.

Mack
W4AX
Alpha Team
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Andrew Rose

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Hi Mack,
Please do you have an 80m coil in your setup?  Are there any problems with band switching?  What about inhibiting transmission until the antenna has finished tuning?  This is sounding too good to be true!
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KENT HUFFORD

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I have a 6500 connected via the USB cable directly to the back of the STEPPIR controller for my big IR. The BigIR vertical follows the freq of whatever freq the 6500 is on. So using my Maestro is seamless. 
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Andrew Rose

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Hi Kent,
Does your system have an 80m coil requiring switching?  Is transmission inhibited in the Flex-6xxx until the antenna has finished tuning?  Is the Cable C12 plug compatible at each end?  Please advise. This is sounding too good to be true! 
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KENT HUFFORD

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Nope, the 80m coil acts seamless. NO, the transmission is not inhibited. If I am away, using a Maestro or a remote laptop, I just wait a min or two. Also I hit "TUNE' so it sends a low power to fine tune, but it also lets me know it is tuned. I just leave my control box in 3/4 all the time. Nor can you retract. ON bands that it does not work, it does not go into 3/4 wave. You need to follow the instructions about null modem and jumping 7-9 pins. DDU is another way to go, if you need more stuff running, but then you need a PC also running. I have smoked a PW1 while the STEPIR Big IR was still tuning once. MY fault. 
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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Hi Andrew.
 
I have a MonstIR in my station. Truly a beast. I do automatic band changing but I use DDUtil for a few reasons.

Yes it is possible to have a USB cable and connect to your SDA100 or even the old style control box and have it follow the band changes on the radio. You don't need a Windows PC for that. However, you won't be able to do 180, bi-dir or 3/4 (applicable in your case since you have the BigIR) nor calibrate nor retract.. 

DDUtil allows you to have the control box follow the radio AND it allows you to have more remote control over the SteppIR. It even has a handy transmit inhibit feature to prevent transmission during tape movement which can damage your tapes and/or brushes. The drawback of course is that you must have a Windows PC connected even just to have the antenna follow band changes.

The first connection is connected just like any transceiver using the Kenwood protocol and uses the bottom port on the SDA100. You must use the Kenwood cable from SteppIR for this or make your own according to the user manual. 

The second connnection method using DDUtil, you can just use a null modem cable.
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Andrew Rose

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 Hi Ria,

Thanks for your prompt reply, I am quickly trying to get my head round this one.  In the system you advocate there would be a Windows-10-PC communicating over my local area network with the Flex-6xxx using CAT & DAX etc.  The DDUtil software has a user interface (which presumably is not required all the time) only for setup and special commands.  A second cable then runs from this computer to the StepIR Controller.

Question:-  Can I still use my existing Windows10-Laptop to run digital modes at the same time?  I didn’t know you could have two computers talking to the FlexRadio at the same time.

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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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@Andrew

You should be able to run everything (DDUTIL, SSDR, Digital Programs) on the same computer

I run a SteppIR MonstIR with the 80M option on the same computer as everything.

I do not use the USB interface of the Flex because it is not as comprehensive because it lacks very important features (Transmit Inhibit, 180, Bi-Directional, Calibrate) that I find necessary to have available when I operate remotely.   DDUTIL does it all much better... Plus DDUTIL knows to rotate my Antenna 90 degrees when I am on the dipole on 60/80M

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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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In the system you advocate there would be a Windows-10-PC communicating over my local area network with the Flex-6xxx using CAT & DAX etc.  The DDUtil software has a user interface (which presumably is not required all the time) only for setup and special commands.  A second cable then runs from this computer to the StepIR Controller.

The way I have it setup is that the transceiver (radio server, you have to think of it that way) is connected to a switch port so it is on my internal LAN. Direct connect to a PC will not allow you to use the server/radio to its fullest. 

The way I have it setup is as follows:

Flex-6700 -> LAN (ethernet)

PC -> LAN (ethernet)

PC via ddUtil -> SDA100 (serial null modem cable)

Flex-6700 -> SPE 1.3K-FA (serial cable via FTDI USB converter)

Flex-6700 -> 5B4AGN TX BPF (serial cable via FTDI BCD cable)

Incidentally if you want your SteppIR to follow the radio you must have it running. It can run in the system tray but I like to have the window up so I can control the SteppIR or rotor. 

Question:-  Can I still use my existing Windows10-Laptop to run digital modes at the same time?

Yes, of course you can. That is how most people I presume would have it running.

  I didn’t know you could have two computers talking to the FlexRadio at the same time.
You can have any number of network devices (computers, smartphones, raspberry Pi etc) connected to the radio via the ethernet API. However, you can only have one instance of SmartSDR client software (this includes iOS and Maestro) running connected to a particular radio. This may change in the future. However these additional devices connected to the radio that are NOT running SmartSDR can get things like band data and even DAX audio from the radio.
(Edited)
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Hank Wolfla

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How are you able to get both USB devices to come up on the software.  I can only get the CAT or BCD USB device to be shown, but not both.  Hank K9LZJ
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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You can only have one mode (Cat, BCD, Bit) per USB to serial adapter.
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Andrew Rose

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Does your system require 80m coil switching?  Is transmission inhibited in the Flex-6xxx until the antenna has finished tuning?  This is sounding too good to be true!
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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I don't have the 80m option on mine. But if I did, the SDA100 would figure it out automatically based on the frequency from the radio via DDUtil (or direct from the radio if I had it connected that way). It's the same with the BigIR. The controller will switch in the coil once you are within the 80m range. 
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John - WA7UAR

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Andrew, from what little reading I have done of the SDA100 manual, transmission IS inhibited until the antenna has finished tuning. Is this your practical experience Ria?
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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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I do have the 80M Dipole on my MonstIR.  I used DDUTIL Exclusively rather than the extremely crippled and limited USB function of Flex.


DDUTIL automatically does Transmit Inhibit while tuning.

DDUTIL will automatically rotate my beam 90 degrees in order to have the correct orientation for the 80M antenna along the boom


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Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

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Andrew in a rare departure from the official response,  I agree with Ria on this one.  And the cable advise is what I have observed amongst the alpha team during testing of the USB functions is very important to understand.  DDUTIL allows for an off the shelf null modem, whereas with the USB interface you need the Steppir provided transceiver interface able as advised above.  DDUTIL has provided buttons to control advanced steppir functionality.  the FRS usb interface will just provide tracking band data, and lacks the ability to flip 180, retract, calibrate, etc.  all of those features are available with the DDUTIL interface.  There are more confusing issues if you want to use a flex 6700 SO2R, or control 2 steppIR devices.  I am assuming you are not going there so wont bog down the post with the challenges of that.  Just keep in mind that DDUTIL is coded to follow the active slice, so if you, say have a multiband vertical AND a steppir, it will detune your steppir of you go to a band that is also in the steppirs capability.  this can be a bit frustrating.
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Andrew Rose

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Many thanks for your most helpful replies.  I just have a little more to get clear if you can continue to help.

The answer to my question, how to interface StepIR to my Flex-6500, seems to have two answers.

Simple Method: Make a connection using a type “C12 Cable” and the antenna tuning will follow the radio tuning with no problem.  However there is a problem in that it is possible for the radio to transmit power before the antenna has finished tuning and this will damage the antenna tape and brush.

More Complex Method: Use a “Windows10PC running DDUtil software” as an interface between the radio and the antenna controller.  This will inhibit burning out the tape and brushes and give additional features such as 3.4 length tuning on high band and calibration.  This leaves me with another question,  can data between the Flex and this new PC be accomplished via the local area network using CAT?  Can a second PC be used at the same time also using CAT & DAX to run digital modes? I dont know if 2 computers can talk to the Flex at the same time.  PC’s these days only have USB connectors - does this system also use the C12 Cable and is this a USB connector?

Thanking you all once again.

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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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Andrew .. you are correct EXCEPT

I would call the DDUTIL Method the SIMPLE METHOD

Yes I regularly use 2 computers to talk to my Flex at the same Time .. Only 1 computer can run SSDR but two or MORE computers can run DAX and CAT simultaneously

I used two computers - one running JTDX and one running WSJT-X on the same band at the same time.... using 2 slices and 2 different DAX and CAT Channels but each slice on the same frequency for JT65

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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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Simple Method: Make a connection using a type “C12 Cable” and the antenna tuning will follow the radio tuning with no problem.  However there is a problem in that it is possible for the radio to transmit power before the antenna has finished tuning and this will damage the antenna tape and brush.

You can still use the tuning relay, either SteppIR or the N8LP one, depending on which controller you have. In fact that is a better solution in my opinion because the controller gets to shut off the signal before it decides to start moving the tapes. It is more failsafe. This will work only if you have an amp, but the tapes/brush don't get damaged with only 100 watts. 


This leaves me with another question,  can data between the Flex and this new PC be accomplished via the local area network using CAT?  Can a second PC be used at the same time also using CAT & DAX to run digital modes? I dont know if 2 computers can talk to the Flex at the same time.  PC’s these days only have USB connectors - does this system also use the C12 Cable and is this a USB connector?

For this system you are using ethernet to your network and a Null modem cable to the SteppIR. If your PC doesn't have a serial port you can get a USB to serial adapter or a PCIe card. 

Remember what I said - think of the Flex as a radio server. Put it on the network and any number of clients can access it, but only one can connect to it via SmartSDR. The rest can connect to read frequency data and stream DAX audio, etc. But they cannot run SmartSDR. 

(Edited)