First HF radio advice

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In August 2014 I passed the Industry Canada basic exam and earned "Basic with Honours" and purchased a hand held, got on D-Star and joined the Mississauga Amateur Radio Club. Now in 2015 I want to purchase an HF radio and I am very interested in the SDR FlexRadio System radios. I've read many "what should my first HF radio be" posts on the internet and there are definitely strong opinions on this question. 

The top opinions are:
  • A newbie should not get a QRP radio
  • Don't spend to much money on your first radio
  • Etc...
My question is if I decided to get a FlexRadio as my first HF radio should I be considering the Flex-1500 or Flex-6300? Should I get the Flex-1500 and get my feet wet or should I go for the Flex-6300 from the start? I am interested in getting into some of the digital modes, CW and SSB.

Thanks for any advice.

Ian
VE3IJF
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Ian Fletcher

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Posted 4 years ago

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Lee

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My suggestion is go for the 6300. I would not get the 1500.

Super radio...very easy to use. NO REAL MENUS.

Lots of support here too.

Why not start with one of the best.

You will love it.

It does not take a real high end PC.


If you don't get the Flex...get a Ten-Tec Eagle...Awsome radio as well)

73,

Lee

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Ian Fletcher

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Thanks for the advice. I will take a look at the Ten-Tec Eagle.
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Ernest - W4EG

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Ian,
My best advice is why buy the old PDSR technology when you can start with the latest SmartSDR?
If money is not an issue.
Get you nothing less than a new Flex-6500. 
(Edited)
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Ian Fletcher

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I will have to compare the specs between the Flex-6300 and the Flex-6500. I already know the price difference :). Assuming I buy a Flex-6300 and everything goes well and I love it what are the chances I'll wish I had purchased the 6500.

Thanks for responding.
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Kevin LaFata / K0KEV

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Ian,  You and I were in pretty similar situations. I'm recently licensed and was wondering if I should get a more traditional radio or an SDR for my first HF radio. I had been playing with an SDR dongle for a while before this.

Someone lent me a boat anchor (Drake TR-4C). It was fun learning about how it worked, cleaning it up, replacing some tubes, etc., but it wasn't that enjoyable to operate when I knew what the alternatives were.

I'm also a software developer. Once I saw how easily the 6000 series integrates with a virtual sound card and other Digital apps, I was sold. I also learned I can write my own software on top of the Flex, so that was an extra bonus.

I think if I had spend $1200-$1800 on a traditional radio, I would be regretting not getting the 6300.  Hope that helps from another point of view.
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Mark Erbaugh

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Welcome to ham radio. If money is not an issue, I would recommend the 6300. The 1500 represents older technology and I suspect that most software development will focus on the 6000 series. I've used my 6300 on digital modes, CW and SSB. If you are interested in low power operation, you can reduce the power output of the 6300 to 5 watts.

If money is an issue, one thing to consider is that if you find the Flex 6300 isn't to your liking, you can probably recover most of your cost selling it. You shouldn't have any problem finding a buyer, since FlexRadio has a program for transferring the warranty.
(Edited)
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Ian Fletcher

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Hi Mark

Based on your response and several others I will likely remove the Flex-1500 from my list.

Thanks
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George Molnar, KF2T, Elmer

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Welcome aboard, Ian. As you've discovered, there is no "right" answer. You'll get pretty much any possible answer based on someone's personal experience or bias. No worries. Getting into HF with a Flex is somewhat different than a knob radio. If you're okay with that, and have good relationships with computers, a Flex can be one of the most rewarding and joy-inducing purchases you can make. The 6000 series may spoil you for all others - be warned! :-) I bought a used 1500 to get my feet wet in SDR after 36 years "knob" hamming, and I'm glad I did. It's simple enough, works great, and is a very mature product. I also didn't have to mortgage my dogs to buy it, not knowing if I'd like it. Turns out I LOVED it and felt extremely confident buying my 6500 a year before they started shipping. Flex has never let me down. Downside to the 1500 is the power level. For digital (JT modes particularly) five watts is fine, especially if you have a good antenna. CW with a good antenna is okay. SSB is tougher, but do-able. The Flex receivers are excellent, and will give you a great taste of what's out there. As you listen, you might discover your initial interests evolve, too.

Some folks may suggest you buy a knob radio first, kind of like learning to drive stick before graduating to automatic. They do have a point. Some might go as far as suggesting a tube radio, to get that intimate experience. Also a good point. In the end, it's up to you. I suspect if you're like me, your first rig will ultimately be one of many over the years, each with their own personality and features. I still have a very fond place in my heart for my old Drake 2-B receiver and Hallicrafters HT-37 transmitter. Together, they weighed over 100 pounds and warmed my shack very satisfactorily. Would I go back? Not a chance.

Again, welcome. Ham Radio has plenty of room for everyone, their favorite equipment, modes, bands, antennas, etc. The joy is discovering YOUR favorites.
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Ian Fletcher

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Hi George

Thanks for the response. For my day job I am a Software Developer so there is something about the FlexRadio System that has great appeal to me. I've seen and played with one at the local dealer and was impressed.
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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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Search the forum for comments re: 6300 vs. 6500. I won't repeat them all here. Bottom line... If you want more possible pan adapters and more than two simultaneous slices for digital, balanced mike input, and more flexible RX antenna and transverter access, get a 6500 if you can afford it.

If two pans and slices will be enough, then settle for the 6300 and use the extra $1500(US) for antennas...
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Ned K1NJ

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    Money is always an issue.  But I see it this way.  Get the best you can afford at the time
or even extend a little.  Plan to use it for several years or more, so in a way the expense
gets spread over the years.  Don't buy in to technical obsolescence.  What will happen
is that if you buy an older product, you will soon want a newer, state of the art model and
will be faced with having to sell it (a pain) and inevitably lose money on it.  Get what at
the time seems state-of-the-art and meet your needs. Then when the sate-of-the-art
advances enough to offer significant advantage (about half a solar cycle) go for the
newer rig, but keep the older one as backup.
     QRP is fun for those experienced enough to seek further challenge.  They have the
skill sets you need to develop.
     Warning:  Once you get into the SDR domain, you might not want to go any other way.
  
Ned,  K1NJ
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Ian Fletcher

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Hi Ned,

Thanks for the advice. I definitely have a budget but do agree with getting the best I can afford and will definitely be using it for several years.
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Jon - KF2E

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I'm not sure I agree with buying a 6000 series as your first HF radio. Are you sure HF is for you? Lots of people don't get into contesting, chasing DX or long distance rag chewing. When I first bought an SDR, I bought a used 5000. I used it for a year and sold it for exactly what I paid for it and then bought a 6500. Today you can buy a used 3000 for less than $1000. It's a great value and in many ways PowerSDR is more mature and feature rich than SSDR. Another consideration is your antennas. If you spend all of your money on your radio and have to skimp on antennas you won't be happy with the results. On HF, improving your antennas almost always makes more difference than improving your radio.

Whatever you decide you will be very happy with a Flex.

Jon...kf2e
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Bill -VA3WTB

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I would get the 6300, If you don't like SDR after a while you can sell it without losing on it.
But once you have it you will not even look at another radio again.
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Dave -- W7IWW

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Ian,

Can only agree with previously well stated comments.

I started out in ham radio in 1961. Dipped toe in SDR water with used Flex 5000 2-1/2 years ago. Now have had 6700 nearly a year. For a 70 year-old with limited computer skills, getting into SDR has had some challenges. However, the learning has been fascinating and I have never had so much fun in ham radio. PwrSDR with the Flex 5000 and mature software are terrific. Getting a 1500 can bring you a lot of joy. Now having SmartSDR in the 6xxx series, even though its software is still maturing, is even more remarkable.

Welcome to ham radio, Ian. This reflector has a lot of great contributors so you are very wise in seeking ideas and opinions here. You will have fun regardless of your ultimate decision.

Dave W7IWW
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Steve W6SDM

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Welcome to the hobby.  I've been doing this for almost 50 years and I'm still not tired of it.  You asked your question in a Flex forum so you're going to get some biased answers but they're valid ones nonetheless.  There is no reason to isolate yourself to box radio or a less capable radio.  If you can afford it, go with the Flex 6300.  If you can't afford it, and you don't want to save up for one, go for something else.  You will still have fun, just not as much of it.

The 6300 isn't terribly expensive - less than many box radios.  It's not difficult to learn or use.  You can get on the air within an hour of opening the box.  As time goes on, you will learn more of the capabilities of the radio and your operating skills will increase.  The radio will be ready when they do.

Plus, you get the fellowship of a great Flex community with all of the support and advice that comes with it.  I am on my third Flex radio and still loving it.

73,

Steve
W6SDM
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W4YXU

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Personally I am sold on Flex, both as a radio and as a company to deal with.  I have a 6500 that bought just before the 6300 came out. The price difference between the 6300, 6500 and the 6700 makes the 6500 the best buy for me.

History:  I was licensed in 1952 as a Novice, WN4YXU moved up to Tech 3 months later.  Just before the  Novice ran out I passed the 13 WPM and got General class.

At some point in the late 60's my work interests took over and I was inactive for about 25years until I read an article about the "New SDR radio"  About 7 years ago I got my Extra and ordered a Flex SDR1000.  Then I found a good deal and moved up to the Flex 5000 with 2nd receiver option.  About a year ago I moved up to the 6500.  Traded the 5000 for a 3000 and some cash then after a while I sold the 3000 to a friend.

The 2nd receiver option worked beautifully but I just rarely used it.  Therefore the 6500 was a better deal for me.

Jim
W4YXU
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W7NGA

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I am getting so old these days. I remember when the perfect station for a new ham was a Heathkit DX40 and National NC-300 receiver. I wasn't as fortunate and had to work with a BC-348 out of a Boeing B-17 Bomber and a home-brew 5-watt transmitter with 6AG7 & 6V6 tubes, winding the coil on a toilet-paper tube. Never had so much fun in ham radio ... ever.

73's

dan W7NGA
(Edited)
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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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That brings back memories!  
My first novice rig in 1974 was a borrowed surplus ARC-5 transmitter on 80 meters and my Allied A-2516 receiver, until I could fix the Globe Scout 65 that I bought used for $25!
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Burt Fisher

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We both getting old, there was a day when you saved first, bought second. I had a USED DX-40 and an S-76.
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Steve W6SDM

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You were walking in tall cotton, Burt.  I had to borrow one of my electrodes from Hiram Percy Maxim.  :)
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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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Welcome to the hobby!
As others have said, it depends upon your budget and your commitment.
If you are committed to HF, want a first class station, and are committed to the time and effort required for the learning curve to operate the FLEX, get a 6300 or 6500.  Then you will be on the cutting edge of ham radio for many years.   And as a beginner, you wouldn't know anything else BUT a flex in which case you don't need to "unlearn" anything in order to learn it on a FLEX...... (If you really want to splurge, go whole hog for a 6700, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend that for a beginner.)

If you are not sure how deep you want to get into this hobby or into SDR and are just "trying it out" then try it out with a 1500 or used 3000 (a great buy if you can find it) until you get addicted and need to move up to a 6000 series.  

On the other hand, if you want to jump in with both feet, go big and get a 6000 series, as big as your budget will stand.  But beware the mistake that others have made.... don't blow ALL of your radio budget on a rig and a big amp so that you have nothing left over for your antenna.  Without a good antenna system, extra money spent on a rig will leave you frustrated... like buying a multi-thousand Dollar surround system and putting cheap speakers on it, or getting a blu-ray DVD player for a 19 inch TV.  After purchasing a great rig, I would put my money into a quality antenna system BEFORE investing into big amplifiers.  You will improve BOTH your receiving and transmitting signal much more than adding an amp to a poor antenna.  And high power amps bring their own RF-in-the-shack problems that 100 watt stations don't usually face.

I have been a ham almost 41 years and have a long list of rigs I have owned, the last one being a Kenwood TS-850SAT that I kept for 20 years.  Then I started the FLEX radio stuff with a 1500 and that lasted 3 weeks until I was severely hooked and ordered a 6500... best ham radio decision I have ever made.  My 1500 is now my backup/monitoring rig.  I occasionally play with it just to keep up on PowerSDR so I can help others in this group and some of my FLEXer buddies who gather on 40 & 75 meters.

Good luck and have fun!

Ken - NM9P
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Lee

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Well,

To be honest......in the last few days I used my Drake R-4C (Full Sherwood modified) T-4XC, and L-4B amp and left the Flex off.....had a ball.

Also the R-4C can virtually hear anything the Flex or any modern radio can...and the audio is nice.Full Passband tuning, Notch, selectable IF filter AND front end roofing filters..WOW for 1974.

I also run Collins (KWM-2, S-Line), Hallicrafters(SR-400 Cyclone, HT-32B, SX-115) and Johnson/National (HRO-60/Ranger II) vintage gear here as well.

All of it does the job quite well.

The thing is I really like the visual way of running the radio...and that is a big draw as to my Flex 6500.

Fun to use it all......If I had to choose between modern vs vintage...well there would be some sleepless nights before that decision would be made. But I would probably go with the Flex as I am getting older and the vintage takes lots of room, some ongoing Maintainance (I do all my own) and someday my wife will have to dispose of all this heavy gear! 

So, once again my recommendation for a new guy is: Get the 6300, try it for 25 days...then upgrade to the 6500 if you love the way it works. If you only want to spend $1500...go get the Ten-Tec Eagle package deal being offered right now. It is in my opinion..the very best radio in that price class...because if you can't hear em...you can't work them and it has the legendary Orion II upgraded Receiver.

73,

Welcome to Ham radio...and a world of equipment choices!

Lee


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Peter K1PGV, Elmer

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Welcome to ham radio!

Assuming you want an SDR and that you're happy to control your radio with your computer (not ever single ham is... unfortunately for them): by all means, get a 6300.  It's a terrific radio. 

You want 100W.  You want the antenna tuner (really, you do).  You'll get a ton of flexibility, good ergos in the software, and the ability to talk to folks all over the world.

QRP isn't a newbies game.  It'll force you to develop really good habits, that's for sure, but I'm afraid it'll do so at the cost of the ability to jump on 20M any time and have a QSO.  This is a hobby: I don't know about you, but sometimes I don't want to "work" for my fun... in such cases it's fun to just hop on the radio, tune up some band (digimode or SSB, whichever I feel like) and answer a CQ.  With a 6000-series radio, you can do this easily, any time of the day or night.

PLUS, the 6000-series is starting to develop a vibrant developer community that's creating extensions, additions, and various add-ons for the radio using the (openly published) FlexLib radio API.

As NM9P pointed out, don't forget to get a decent antenna.  This doesn't have to be a yagi on a tower.  You don't have to spend a lot of money.  If you have the space, get an OCF Dipole up in the air and you can work any band.

Whichever you do have fun.  And, whichever way you decide, don't hesitate to post here with any questions or comments you might have. Flex-related or just radio-related.  We're here to help.

Peter K1PGV

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EA4GLI - 8P9EH - Salvador

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I have the Flex 1500 and the 6300. Both are great radios! If buying just one, and you want an SDR radio you cannot go wrong with the 6300.

However, I am going to throw something different out there. For a first radio, which is just a great little device I would get a Yaesu Ft-857D. 100W on HF, 50w on 144 and 25w on 440 SSB, AM, FM on all bands. Very portable and can become the radio to run in your car/mobile/field day. Once you move to a "better" HF radio, such as the 6300, then you can keep the Yaesu to work VHF and UHF (local repeaters) and even do some satellites. You can find used ones for less than $600.

I will invest in a hexbeam antenna, small rotor (you can move a hex with an inexpensive tv rotor), get  a 500/600w HF amp and a x200/x510 vertical for VHF/UHF. You will have a blast with that setup.

The Yaesu is a bit of a pain with a small screen and sub-menus, but if you connect it to the computer and use software like Ham Radio Deluxe, you can easily access a lot of those options.

And once you have a few contacts under your belt, a few months down the road, get the Flex 6300 and keep both. The Flex will greatly benefit from the multi-band in one feed line nature of the HexBeam antenna and you will keep a second radio that will cover any local VHF/UHF needs and give you a portable radio to boot.

Just my 2 cent.

Welcome to the hobby.
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Ned K1NJ

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    This is very good advice also, and has a very high bang for the buck factor.
As Salvador points out, it is also a "keeper" as you advance.

Ned, K1NJ
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Bob Hinkle

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As someone who often trades radios to try their technology, I really agree with EA4GLI and Ned. The 857D is a great starter radio, and it offers you all the common ham bands that you'll most likely ever use. Two meter nets (or local 440) are fun for swap nets, weather emergencies and local rag chewing.  The 857D has a very stable used price and your investment will hold its value.  The Flex-1500 is NOT a beginner's radio -- the low power will be frustrating and will be disappointing for a new ham who wants to - needs to - make contacts.  Computer connections for digital work are very easy with any of the newer radios that have a USB port - Kenwoood TS-590S and Icom IC-7200 are good values, but are HF only.  All that said, I'm a very happy Flex-6300 owner and love all the features, including that amazing waterfall display that makes click-and-tune so easy!  I use the second slice for watching for band openings on 10 meters these days while I'm on 20 meters or 17 meters.  Good luck with your choices !