Flex or a box with knobs?

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  • Updated 4 years ago
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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
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Monk - K5HP

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Posted 4 years ago

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Kent Hufford

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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..
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Bill Turner

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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


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Bill W2PKY

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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.
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Eric - KE5DTO, Official Rep

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Note that you can also use the FlexControl to adjust the power.
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Delbert McCord

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I was where you are now last year. I read one persons comment about having to update ICOM or Kenwood. I have both and have never did a update to the rigs and they work just fine. 

The computer I am on how is a Windoz 7. I am not the kind of person that wants to run out and get the newest operating system. I have a beard and am a little fuzzy but I do not want to be a guinea pig. 

I had been looking at the Flex at Dayton for a couple years, last year I purchased one. At first I was disappointed because I could not use my BHI DSP speaker that I just LOVE. The speaker you plug into the Flex 6300 has to be a amplified speaker. The first few evenings were terrible (I'm not a big manual reader) and I could not find a way to reduce the noise (No RF Gain) I almost gave up and just put it on eBay. Then I found the control (where slow, med, and fast is selected) that would allow me to reduce the gain. (Flex does not call it RF gain, they like to confuse the old guys).

Now that I have found that and its very simple to slide it back and forth, Its the best receiver I have ever used. I have a ICOM Pro III with the roofing filters and that's a nice receiver! 

I would suggest to keep a rig with knobs (I'm going to) but the Flex is where I think HF is going and I can see why. They are coming out with updates all the time but you have a choice to update or not and if you update and don't like it you can go back even on the rig. I do not jump on any new updates I wait a few months and let them get the bugs out of them first. This is part of Amateur Radio is about is tweaking things and learning new stuff.

Now let me tell you way really sold me on the 6300. I LOVE that fact that I can use it anywhere in my house or on my property I have my Internet ran to. Mine likes a wired cat 5 cable but will work most of the time on the WiFi. So in my shack I can use the desktop and if I'm not in the shack I can monitor a net (including checking in) or rag chew with my friends in my pole barn when I am working on a project. I do not know about you but my hearing is not so good anymore so I have a pair of wireless headphones that plug into my computers and with them I can turn the rig up as high as I wish and not bother the XYL and can talk  on it wirelessly. the headphones are around 30$ on eBay. If I use VOX I can walk around the house and do other things while I rag chew.

So in closing (Are you still awake?)  Yes it will take a little learning but I did it and still have not read the book. And you will have  alot more functionality that just a HF rig.

I like mine so much that I purchased one of the used ones Flex offered (people are trading in their 6300 for the 6500 and 6700 rigs) and I am going to put it at my cabin and put that ICOM rig I have not at the cabin on the shelf for a backup.

I hope this helps. 73 Delbert McCord KA8OCN

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Lawrence Gray

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Profiles fix that issue, as well as other settings.  Just takes a second to save a profile.
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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.
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Steve W6SDM

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You know, Flex could always come out with an accessory pack with some stick-on knobs.  They wouldn't necessarily need to do anything but, like TSA, they would make a lot of people feel better.  :)
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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.
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George Molnar, KF2T, Elmer

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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,
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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.

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Wayne VK4ACN

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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.
Wayne. VK4ACN
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Mike Kasrich

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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 bang 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.
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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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At our Contest Station, NX6T, we have virtually every radio including several fully loaded K-3s. IC-7700, IC-7800, FTdx5000 (plus a few more Legacy Japanese Radios on the back shelves) and a Flex 6700 and 6300 so I can speak from experience.

At Home I use a Flex 6700 as my primary radio...it is just that much better for my style of operating than any of the above Legacy Technology Radios.

Basically in contests none of the Japanese Legacy Technology Radios are competitive anymore...
They are totally overpriced for 30+ year old technology....it really comes down to K3 vs Flex as all Japanese Radio now sit on back shelves unused.

For Contests.. Our CW guys really love the Flex over the K3 as a Run Radio because it has much better filters BUT the lack of knobs make it more difficult to use in Search and Pounce CW or as a Mults Radio

For SSB Contests.. the K3 is a better Run Radio because the knobs make it easier if you need to fine tune a station..    BUT my rate on SSB Search and Pounce is at least double on the Flex over the K3 because I can quickly see where the stations are transmitting and jump on them....I also prefer the Flex for SSB Mults where the tuning does not need to be so fine.

For me personally, the biggest advantage of the K3 is a software program NaP3 (no longer supported by the author) where I can get Spots on the Panadapter screen.   However that feature is now available for the Flex on a Mac using DogPark Software.... That is my number 1 item on my Flex wish list for Windows.

I am expecting delivery soon of an a Maestro (Next Month?) to test.  It has knobs and may fix the ergonomics of the lack of knobs issue that we currently have for some parts of contesting.  If the Maestro works as advertised we will be dumping all the K3's  

Technology... The Flex 6700 is way ahead of the curve of every other radio on the market... it ranks top of the ARRL and Sherwood Listings... The Flex can do things like SO2R in a single box and Full Duplex than none of the other radios can do...

Remote:  I also operate remotely a significant part of the time as my XYL and I travel as much as we still physically can.  I carry an iPad and so far have remoted through my Flex from 27 countries.. it is incredibly easy to do so.. BUT i also run remote inside my house.... so I can be away from the shack and still monitor the bands while watching bowl games.  No radio is easier to remote than the Flex as you do not need any external hardware to remote...

Digital:  Flex is superb with Digital Modes AND you do not need to buy any additional External Hardware and the myriad of cables that you would need with a K3.   When we ran tests on JT-65 using the Flex vs our IC-7700 the Flex would decode about 6dB better than the Icom...

Windows :   Windows is a BIG Pain in the Butt... for EVERY RADIO, not only Flex..   Don't be fooled into thinking you will operate without a computer.. You need a computer for logging, digital modes, and Contesting.   Most programs are still windows Based... albeit there is a good Maclogger from Dogparksoftware

Most of the Windows issues you currently see on this community are related to people who made the mistake of upgrading to Windows 10 about 2 years before Microsoft has fixed everything.  So they are experiencing all sorts of issues with EVERY Program (not only Flex) when Windows 10 automatically updates.. 

We stuck with Windows 7.. NO PROBLEMS WHATSOEVER with Windows 7.

Finally.. the Flex is a Software Defined Radio.. Flex regularly releases new features with new software.  The Legacy Radios. rarely if ever update new features

Bottom Line:  Try a Flex for the 30 days free trial  (Something no other manufacturer is brave enough to do) .... I suspect that you will keep it once you try it...
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Monk - K5HP

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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.
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Burt Fisher

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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

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NX6D Dave

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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.
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Craig K9CT

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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
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Monk - K5HP

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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.
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K9APW - Dick - Verona, WI

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I have had my 6700 for over 2+ years! I have had ZERO problems! Every time there is a new FREE update, it's almost like getting a new radio all over again! SDR is the future of our hobby! Enjoy your retirement with the best available radio which is up to date, simple to use, hears like nothing else, has literally dozens of filter settings, has superb audio, & is simply the neatest most fun radio you could ever hope to own!! NOTE that I am not computer literate, am truly an 'appliance' operator, and 70 years old! Make your Flex even more wonderful and add an Expert SPE solid state amp! It's an unbelievable combination! State of the art all the way!! K9APW
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EA4GLI - 8P9EH - Salvador

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Flex 6000 series + SPE Expert + Logperiodic/Hexbeam/OptiBeam (OB9-5, OB11-5 or OB16-5) on a telescopic tower so you can do your own maintenance.

Add a 38+ inch monitor and a decent PC and you have yourself a wonderful radio shack.

About US $10,000-15,000
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Hi Monk, and welcome to the group.  First let me say, asking the question "Flex or a box with knobs?" on the Flex forum is akin to logging onto the Corvette Forum and asking, "What's better, a Corvette or a Mustang?"  As another member pointed out, those that don't like the Flex are long gone, so obviously you're going hear biased opinions here, and mostly similar praise if you log onto the ICOM, Yaesu, Kenwood, Elecraft, or any other manufacture forum.  It's not uncommon for people on these forums to champion, defend, and justify their purchase, whatever brand it is. 

I can tell you I have owned, and own, a lot of equipment and up until recently an ICOM IC-7800 was my favorite rig.  And I can tell you I'm not a fan of Elecraft because I think they have a toy'ish feel and I hate their ergonomics.  I can tell you I've owned high end knob radios that present a healthy learning curve.  I can tell you inside of 2 months my Flex-6700 has become my favorite rig and I rarely ever turn my other equipment on anymore.  I can tell you that even though I'm far from being a PC expert, dealing with my Flex and Windows hasn't been a concern.  I can tell you a lot of things but truthfully none of this matters.  What really matters is what rig are you going to feel most comfortable operating?  My suggestion is, find a way to sit down in front of every radio that interests you, at least a hour or two, and ideally with someone who can show you how to put each radio through its full paces. Then you'll know what fits you best.

Good luck with your decision. 
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Rick Hadley - W0FG

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As a 69-yr old retiree, I can understand your quandry, Monk.  I can only 2nd the suggestion you attend a large hamfest or convention where you can get a feel for multiple rigs. 2 years ago I lost my airplane to a windstorm and decided to get back into ham radio after a near 10 year layoff.  My then current rig was a Yaesu FT-757, bought new in 1987.  I was on the verge of buying a new FT3000dx before I attended the Midwest Division convention and had a chance to see both the Yaesu, Elecraft and Flex rigs in operation and listen to the dog-and-pony shows from each vendor.  I ordered a new 6500 as soon as we got home and I've never regretted it.  This will probably be my last major rig purchase and I wanted something that was state-of-the-art.  That's Flex, all over. I worked in IT-related jobs most of my professional life and wanted something that integrated well.  My current shack has two computers and 4 monitors.  SSDR, HRD Log, and either my digital program or alternatively CW Skimmer, Flex Stack, Flex Meter and HRD Rotor control are all displayed simultaneously, while the laptop handles things like this.  You can see the layout on my QRZ page.  With just a vertical and a Hex-beam at 25', I've worked more DX than you can imagine in 24 months.  Aside from the new Icom 7100 I just bought for my Jeep, I'll never go back to a knob radio again.
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Clay N9IO

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I will simply say that the pan adapter is one of the biggest advantages you will enjoy in either DXing or contesting.  The rock solid filter skirts are absolutely amazing.
I run a Flex 6300 with a Six-Pak antenna switch and an Acom 1000 amp.
The Flex Control knob is essential to me.  I really don't need a Maestro and I would be just as happy without it but I really want to see where this is going and want any advantage I can muster so I ordered one at Dayton this year anyway.  (I suspect that It's going to get really interesting, soon!)

I generally run one slice with XIT on split (XIT/RIT are not limited to 9.99 kc as in legacy types of the past).
The Six-Pak two antenna switch I have connected to both antenna ports 1 and 2.
I transmit on port 1 but port 2 allows me to select any of my antennas for receive (whichever is quietest, VERY versatile).
I use the transverter port for my small receive antennas (EWE, pennant).

RTTY is a breeze with DAX, super clean.

Between LOTW and the Flex 6300 my DXCC count is rising rapidly and I couldn't be happier.
I am having so much more fun in the hobby than I have since I began in 1973 because of the 6000 series radios.

Gerald said in an earlier post "If we were in it simply for the money, we would be in a business other than ham radio"  I am very pleased to see a man (and staff I might add) that is as passionate about the hobby as I consider myself.  I am totally amazed at the programming talent they have on staff.
These folks are rewriting the books make no doubt, I am happy to be in this place and time in radio.

I will NEVER go back, NOPE!

So whatever you decide, good luck best DX.  Hope to meet you OTA sometime.

73' Clay N9IO 

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