FlexRadio's CW Failings

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Let me start this post by saying that the FLEX-6600M has the best receiver I have ever owned. [that was the "praise" part]

I have been following the recent CW-related posts with interest and I would like to submit my observations for your consideration.

I am a CW man, and my radio operation covers several CW-related use cases. I am a traffic handler, a middle of the pack contester, a moderately active DXer and I enjoy plain old rag chewing. 

In my esoteric endeavors, the most demanding test of a receiver is a 160M CW contest. I tend to select my main transceiver based primarily on this particular use case. I want a receiver that can hear a very weak signal in the presence of extremely strong adjacent signals. The FLEX-6600M excels at this task. 

My previous radio was an Elecraft K3S, which I sold to fund the purchase of this radio. Before that it was a Ten-Tec Orion II and before that it was a Ten-Tec Omni VI+. I still own the Omni VI+ and will likely never sell it. (Prior to this, I believe my progression of radios purchased new was: TS-520SE, TS-440, TS-940, TS-950, but that was before I zeroed-in on CW...and I digress.) 

So, why did I buy the Elecraft and Ten-Tec radios? They provided the best receiver performance available at the time of purchase AND THEY WERE DESIGNED BY CW OPERATORS. In late 1999, after researching the current crop of radios, it was clear that the CW rig of choice was the Omni VI+, so I drove to Sevierville and bought one. I never regretted that purchase, nor the Orion, nor the K3S.

When I selected the 6600M based primarily on receiver performance, I may have made a mistake. It is obvious that its designers do not operate CW. Aside from the CW-related bugs currently being scrutinized by the user community (PTT receiver muting, truncated characters while sending, QSK issues, sidetone issues, transmitter CW key lockup...), there are features available on other radios that are missing on the FLEX. 

For example, on the FLEX-6600M there is no way to generate sidetone without keying the radio. This is a basic CW feature available on radios since the dawn of time (give or take a few millennia). It is used for spotting (zero beating) as well as simply adjusting the sidetone. In addition to this, competing radios also provide a visual tuning aide and even an auto-tuning function, for the tone-challenged operators among us.  

Another deficiency is the lack of ability to adjust the weight of the internal keyer. I enjoy the arcane pursuit of using a bug (for the uninitiated, in this context a "bug" is a semi-automatic Morse code keying device), however I suspect that the majority of CW operators use the internal keyer for every day operating. The user should be able to adjust the weight of the internal keyer. Competitors also provide additional keyer modes other than iambic, (e.g. Ultimatic mode and "bug" mode), and some offer CW waveform shaping along with other features (listed in the postscript at the end of this quasi-diatribe). 

CWX is also missing some functionality. For one, how do I send prosigns that are not defined? (prosigns are special symbols that are often written as two or more letters, which are to be sent together as one with no spacing) In CWX, there is no way to send the prosign for "wait" (AS) or "new line" (AA). 

Now, admittedly, not everyone uses the prosign AA, since it is used mostly in traffic handling, but ALL CW operators use AS (or at least know what it means), making it painfully obvious that the CWX developers do not know Morse code and did not consult a subject matter expert. Please note that I do not expect FLEX engineers to learn Morse code simply because I like it, however I do expect them to consult with a subject matter expert on subjects in which they lack knowledge.  

[Side note: A prosign that I use in MARS, but not in amateur radio, is the interrogatory (INT) prosign. It would be nice if there was a way to define a custom prosign, however I do not classify the lack of this functionality as a deficiency, per se.]

For those who like to record a QSO using DAX, if you operate SSB, you're in luck, but not if you are a CW operator, as CW sidetone is not available in DAX.

QSK. Aside from the bugs discussed by other users, the only complaint I have is rather subjective: "It isn't as good as my previous radios." The radios I have used in the past were actually advertised as great CW radios. Here are some snippets from advertisements over the years: 

Ten-Tec: Omni VI+ "Lightning fast QSK", Omni VII "Legendary QSK CW includes adjustable rise and decay times", Eagle "TEN-TEC’s legendary silky-smooth QSK for CW and fast switching digital modes", Argonaut "Legendary TEN-TEC quality QSK CW keying", (see the trend here?) and going back a few years, for Omni C they also add "Built-in CW zero-beat switch", "Built-in adjustable sidetone" [which you could listen to while you adjusted it]

Elecraft: 
"Fast, silent, PIN-diode T-R switching – QSK without relays", "Eric and Wayne are experienced CW operators, so solid CW performance...is a priority", "Elecraft's auto-spot and CWT features are very useful tools for CW operators, especially those not experienced in pitch-matching."

And finally, REMOTE CW. This is a whole subject unto itself and I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to go back and review the many comments submitted on this topic.


My recommendations to FlexRadio: 
1. Seek out and engage competent CW operators to advise you on how to improve your designs. 
2. Go back and look at the features in the transceivers from the other manufacturers mentioned herein. Look at how the functions were implemented and use this knowledge to incorporate these missing features into your design.

Regards,
Marty N9SE



Postscript:

As I was looking at the competitors' ads just now, I saw this from Yaesu --actually, I am beginning to ask myself why I didn't buy one of these radios:
FT DX 5000:
"Great features for real CW enthusiasts", "CW Zero-in Feature", "CW Spot Feature", "Additional CW Capabilities: DSP APF, Separate KEY jacks on the front and rear panels, Built-in electronic keyer...Weight control, Bug keying emulation, CW Full Break-in, Message memory function, Automatic insertion of incrementing contest numbers into stored messages, Automatic Beacon keyer mode, Adjustable CW VOX delay 20msec-5000msec, CW Mode Reversal, CW keying available during SSB operation".

FT-2000:
"A Host of Features for the CW Enthusiast!
The front and rear panels have their own key jacks, which may be set up independently for connection of a keyer paddle (for use with the internal keyer), a straight key or bug, or a computer-driven keying interface for use with contest logging software, etc.    ...With the FT-2000/D, you can use both your ears and your eyes to zero in on another CW station. The CW SPOT switch engages a spotting tone that matches the offset of your transmitted signal (as set by the CW Pitch selection), allowing you to match that pitch to that of an incoming signal perfectly. And the CW Tuning Indicator provides a graphical depiction of the tuning process, with a ? marker lighting up when the incoming signal is precisely aligned with yours."

...And from Icom:
IC-7610/7851:
"FPGA-controlled CW keying waveform shaping, CW pitch control from 300 Hz to 900 Hz, Auto repeat function, Contest serial number counter, Normal or short Morse number style, Double key jack system, Full break-in and semi break-in, CW auto tuning, APF (Audio Peak Filter) function with adjustable filter shape, width and AF level", "Multi-function electronic keyer with adjustable keying speed, dot/dash ratio, keyer type, rise time and paddle polarity"
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Marty Ray

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Posted 1 month ago

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Robert-KP4Y

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Marty,

I feel the same way. In the meantime, Flex is spending resources on features that a minority of the users will exploit or enjoy. There are currently a number of threads like this with similar concerns. I noticed the CW deficiencies in my 6600 and thought that Flex was going to give them high priority. Now I'm getting ready to wait a long time. Well, if I don’t sell the radio sooner. BTW, my previous rigs were a K3 and FTDX5K. Both excellent CW radios.

73,
Robert-KP4Y
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W2ECK

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Marty - Kudos for one of the best posts I have read in this Community since joining 6 months ago. I too a former K3 owner and miss many of the CW functionalities that came standard with that fine rig. I certainly hope some of the Flex powers to be are reading your comments. One of the great things about the Elecraft "Community/Reflector" is that Wayne and Eric are participants and respond and comment on members post. It would be encouraging to see some feedback from the Flex management on these comments and not just the deafening silence/echoes of us talking to ourselves.

73 & tnx
Paul w2eck
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N5LB - Lionel B

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I am mostly CW, more of a generalist, a litte dx, ragchew, and contests, on any band that’s open and the tuner tunes. I leave my 6400 in qsk, delay at zero, and run 20 to 25 wpm. In comparison to my old TS850, based on recall, the 850 was better in the ability to hear between dits, especially with weak signals. The 6400 is good and I enjoy using it but I found that careful setting of AGCT is necessary for the best performance . I can hear better at 20 between dits than at 25, so it seems - purely qualitative.

Is this an issue for all SDR’s?

The 850 used relays for qsk, if memory serves.
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Eric - KE5DTO, Official Rep

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Marty,

First, thanks for the great post.  I really appreciate your feedback and the manner in which it was presented.

I will note one small thing that seemed inaccurate -- You can turn Breakin off, you can get the sidetone without actually keying the radio.

While some of this is hard to hear, we respect your thoughts and will take them to heart.
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VE6WZ

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I am a 90% CW Low-band DX kind of guy. Think very weak signal on 160m.

The Flex platform works for me ONLY because of the remote operation ergonomics compared to the KSs twin set-up.
I still use and prefer the K3 for CW.  The moment Elecraft comes out with an SDR equivalent I will likely be done with the Flex.

The Flex CW deficiency is two-fold for my needs:

1.The  APF is ineffective. The K3 APF is excellent. This is NOT a new issue for the Flex community. See here for a very good suggestion posted by NN4ZZ on this reflector....posted 2 years ago!!
https://community.flexradio.com/flexradio/topics/ssdr_v1_2_apf_could_use_more_gain_it_seems_diminish...
The APF workaround is to crank up the RX EQ to provide gain, but still not optimal. 

2. Still no CW sidetone returned from the remote...but we all know about this one...and the can
continues to get kicked down the road!

Clearly the Flex team is un-interested in the CW op's out there.
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Al / NN4ZZ

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Hi Kevin,
RE: competing radios also provide a visual tuning aide and even an auto-tuning function, for the tone-challenged operators among us. 

I submitted this idea for an Automatic Zero Beat on CW signals with a "click tune" option.  This may address the Marty's comment.  It is actually 5 years old but #2 on the idea list by votes.  

https://community.flexradio.com/flexradio/topics/ssdr_autozerobeat_on_cw_click_tune

Regards,  Al / NN4ZZ  
al (at) nn4zz (dot) com
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Al / NN4ZZ

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Hi Marty,
A CW (only) OP here.  

In addition to the AutoZeroBeat idea which is #2 in user votes on the idea list,  VE6WZ mentioned the APF gain idea I submitted 2 years ago which is #5 by votes.   

Here are a few more ideas that I submitted that would help both CW and other modes. 

Add an option to Automate the AGC-T  -- submitted 5 years ago #1 by user votes

https://community.flexradio.com/flexradio/topics/option-to-automate-the-agc-t-setting

Make the Zoom to Segment feature configurable ( no need to see the SSB segments)

https://community.flexradio.com/flexradio/topics/zoom-to-segment-make-it-configurable

If you are trying to work a big DX pileup you might also like the BlackBox recording idea.  Number 11 on the list by votes and submitted 5 years ago.

https://community.flexradio.com/flexradio/topics/black_box_recording_add_a_looping_option_to_the_record_playback_function


I hoping that once the dust settles on V3 that some of these other ideas can be addressed.  

Regards,  Al / NN4ZZ  
al (at) nn4zz (dot) com

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Al / NN4ZZ

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Marty,
RE: "Another deficiency is the lack of ability to adjust the weight of the internal keyer"

This idea for making the "keying weight adjustable "was requested at 6 years ago....and marked as "under consideration"




Also questioned again 2 years ago and Tim E noted "For future reference, this is item # 131 in the feature enhancement database"

https://community.flexradio.com/flexradio/topics/can-i-adjust-cw-weighing-in-smartsdr


Regards,  Al / NN4ZZ  
al (at) nn4zz (dot) com





(Edited)
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Dan Trainor

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Hello Marty,  this is the best and most thoughtful post I have seen in awhile.  For CW ops I use my Ten-Tec Argonaut V 516 as it has the proper basic CW behavior such as fast smooth and clean QSK.  Very basic but done correctly. Many newer designed radios have more CW features and also things like auto tune and APF and other CW features that are amazing.  Flex is not let's say not a serious CW rig. But flex should get serious about CW, its important for many. It is not too late, they might be able to get back on course and provide updates to the SW to fill in the many CW gaps with the 6000 series.  That would be really great. Dan WA1QZX
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Mark - WS7M

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Excellent post Marty!

As a software engineer with access to the audio coming out of the radio and the radio API I have been testing an external software zero beat feature.

It's not ready for release but this will listen to the CW signal you are tuned to and lets you align your slice to a particular frequency of interest.  This could be the "Pitch" value of your side tone or really any value.

I hope to make this available at some point to people, but I do agree, this should be built into the radio.   

In CW mode I think there should be an entire setup dialog.  In that dialog you can:

Set your zero pitch
Set CW waveform shaping
Set CW weighting
Chose modes
and a multitude of other things.

There should be a clear button somewhere on the GUI that lets you align your slice with the desired zero beat pitch.

As a primarily CW op but not at your level I don't miss many things.  I particularly don't like full-breakin.  It just bothers me.  I run a very short delay so I can hear but I really personally don't need the instant receiver the moment I let up the key.

I do use the internal keyer a lot and I use CWX a lot.  While the other radios you mentioned are of course CW masterpieces in their own way, none of them can do what I do now with my 6600.  

My 6600 is safely tucked in a nice mechanical close away from everything.  I can sit in my chair in the great room and watch football and run casual CW or poke at a DX pile up.

Before Flex I had to be at my station.  Yes there was remote rig and stuff like that but none make it so easy that I can haul out my laptop or an iPad and run CW from just about anywhere.

That being said, some CW improvements would be very nice!
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mikeatthebeach .

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Mark
Agree, seems Icom, Kenwood and Elecraft have Zero Beat Tuning and Pitch Adjust features for CW
And CW Decoders built into their Radio’s but not Flex
73 Mike
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Al / NN4ZZ

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Hi Mike,
Yes, it would be nice to have the CW decoding built into SSDR ( as an option of course) along with an integrated CW Skimmer display.  

This was noted in the idea submitted 5 years ago and is currently #3 in user votes.  

https://community.flexradio.com/flexradio/topics/pfskimer_what_is_the_possibility_for_a_smartsdr_display_that_combines_panadapter_waterfall_cw_skimmer?topic-reply-list[settings][page]=2#topic-reply-list

Here is an update from 2 years ago on the decoding based on a new version of CW Skimmer that is coming.  It is copied from the idea link posted above.



Regards,  Al / NN4ZZ  
al (at) nn4zz (dot) com
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Mike - VE3CKO, Elmer

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Where do you find the time Mark, very innovative thinking. Looking forward to playing with your software.
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Joe N3HEE

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You make good points Marty. I also own a Elecraft K3 and have enjoyed it’s great CW capabilities. I am primarily a CW operator and I agree there is room for CW improvements on Flex radios. I have a detailed post on getting reasonable sounding QSK. I will also add that FRLogger has a very much improved version of CWX that I regularly use. I am keeping a close watch on V3 to see if some of the CW issues have been resolved.

Joe
N3HEE
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Charles - K5UA

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Just to add my two cents into the CW discussion.  I could be wrong, but CW "weight" in the early days of electronic keyers affected both the dot AND dash lengths, producing a heavy and sloppy sounding CW string.  This early CW "weight" control produced inferior sounding CW as compared to the modern variable dash-to-dot ratio "weight enhancement" as implemented by Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, and WinKey.

My request to Flex would be....whenever you decide to add "weight" enhancement to the Flex CW keyer, please emulate the variable dash-to-dot ratio as found in full implementation of WinKey.

Charles   K5UA
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Al / NN4ZZ

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Marty and others,
Here is one more idea that was submitted 5 years ago to further improve the RX equalizer for CW. Many of us use the RX equalizer to peak a CW signal in the audio chain. Using the RX equalizer for CW was new back when the improvement was suggested but has become common over the years.

The idea is to adjust the RX slider settings when in CW mode to make it even more effective. It is another idea that was marked as under consideration and an approach used by other radio vendors as well. In my experience a narrow setting is another way to make weak CW signals stand out as well as reduce the hiss or rumble you might otherwise get with a wider audio chain setting. If you get a chance, read through the thread and let me know what you think.

https://community.flexradio.com/flexr...

Regards, Al / NN4ZZ
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VE6WZ

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Great idea Al !
My preferred CW tone is 400 Hz. I also use the EQ to peak up the gain, but I'm stuck between 250 and 500 Hz sliders. Your idea would be great....or, just provide gain in the APF and be done with it!, but somehow if this hasn't been addressed in 5 years, something tells me it wont happen.

If there are no serious CW ops on the Flex team, I fear there will remain a lack of understanding about why these CW features are desired.  It is likely that most of these CW suggestions are viewed as "fringe" ideas which are not considered important to the majority of operators.
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Dan Trainor

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I can't believe it.  Even my $150 SDRPlay w/ SDRUno SW has an amazing CW auto-zero-beat function and an Audio-Peak function (APF) that works incredibly well. And that is freeware.  These are basic CW functions at this point in time.  How is it possible a high-end Flex radio does not have this?  It makes no sense! 
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Al / NN4ZZ

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@VE6WZ,
i believe the APF gain idea and the R X equalizer ideas are complimentary.

In my experience a narrow equalizer setting is another way to make weak CW signals stand out as well as reduce the hiss or rumble you might otherwise get with a wider audio chain setting.

Ideally with both features available we can use either one or a combination to get the best result for both weak signal reception and / or other band conditions.

@Dan,
RE: ‘....basic CW functions...how is it possible a high end Flex radio does not have this?”

For the last few years it seems that FRS has been focused on big projects like the new models, amp, SmartLink and MultiFlex and not as much on the enhancements and basic improvements to SSDR. While that can be frustrating hopefully there will be time to address them soon. I think it would be a good idea to devote time to these kind of efforts every few releases but of course FRS has to decide where customers requests vs other projects makes the best business sense. Maybe Steve or Gerald will comment on this.

Regards, Al / NN4ZZ
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Douglas Maxwell

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Hi Marty, it’s good to see Flex paying attention to your post. I also made the wrong decision in buying a 6500 and have been waiting for CW bug fixes since V1 (not new features, just bug fixes). Can I add that in the search for CW experienced ops for alphas, casual CW ops do not represent the needs of serious CW contesting ops and the other way round. In the past, Flex has listened to casual CW ops and their need for QSK and other new features. For contesting it’s simpler, low latency, fast tx/rx turn around and muting in PTT, everything else can be done externally or manually with the brain. Any bug fixes or optimisations in these specific areas are key if Flex is to be used for serious CW contesting.
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Stan - VA7NF

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Since you reference V1:  Flex did change the filtering algorithms for signal width at -60db.  Pre-release and V1 filters were so good that I couldn't hear somebody answering 200hz off frequency.  This was caused by the many loops in the filter resulting in brick wall filters at the cost of latency.
With the variable filters, I now use one position from brick wall - The latency is less and there is a slight audible alert that something is there.
Generally I agree that CW is lower on FRS agenda, and said so 5 years back.
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Douglas Maxwell

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Hi Stan, for running, I leave the CW filters in ‘auto’ and open them slightly more than 400Hz, which I believe is the toggle point between brick wall and more relaxed slopes with slightly less latency. Currently I get too many missed first CW element of return callers and the occasional pop/glitch in the audio, always at just the wrong time. The biggest problem for me is after 12 hours solid running listening to pop hiss pop hiss pop pop hiss whilst PTT is meant to be engaged.
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Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP, Elmer

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Hi all,
Interesting post. I agree on some issues. However I would like to state the following.
I am a CW man and work 95 % remote operation. Even contests now. I have great demands in my operating. I strive to work most DX-peditions on all band slots on all bands (today little difficult due to sun spots) and lately even to be among top SM or Scandinavia in many contests. I used to work K3s with remote panel and Remote Rig. I used diversity as well. It worked but I felt it was a lot manual reading in K3 manual.
After switching over to Flex three years ago remote operation has been much easier and I have been able to achieve higher operating goals. And CW is my main mode. Much because it is technically easier with Flex user interfaces. I run SO2R and 2BSIQ with both high and low power band pass filters since my three towers are close (within a 150 feet radius). I lack only remote CW audio which I achieve over a pair of Remote Rig boxes to route the CW audio back to home.
I would never had gone this path with K3s and its platform for station integration. To much technical hassle for me. Doing it over ethernet and USB is so much easier.
I guess I am not to much of a CW virtous to demand all features that many say is lacking. They will for sure come by Flex as many are contesters (but perhaps not too many do CW I perhaps). Till now FLEX has served my "CW needs" well.
Happy Easter and see you in CQ WPX CW I hope!
(Edited)
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AC9S

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I have had good luck with in the noise 160 meter cw signals using minimal latency and 50 hz filtering.  Minimal latency kills ringing and 50 hz seems to bring the signal out of the noise.

Keith - AC9S
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Roger, W6VZV

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I agree with many of the comments here about the Flex and CW.  I suppose the frustrating thing is that it is pretty obvious that with some effort all of these issues could be corrected by software (except the relay switching; obviously).  The Flex is an adequate CW transceiver now and I love it.  It could be a superlative one and I hope that Flex will now devote some R&D towards software enhancements that will make it so.
de Roger W6VZV
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Bill -VA3WTB

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Lol, along with the 500 or so wants as well....
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Roger, W6VZV

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Not sure why it is "LOL" that we would like a few CW enhancements that the competition mostly has.  The rig is terrific in most ways; why not this way?
de Roger W6VZV
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Dwayne - NA6US

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First off, I want to apologize for asking as I am a beginner when it comes to CW...

I understand there are various software keys available and the attached video demonstrates a number of these... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgiHS2UC0JQ 
It seems many of these software keys have features over and above the built in keyer - Is there a particular software keyer that stands out in terms of features?

Beyond the Flex, its build in keyer, and/or a software keyer, what other features are missing from the Flex ecosystem that my Yaesu FTDX3000 would have??
(Edited)
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Al / NN4ZZ

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Hi Dwayne,
Welcome and always glad to see new CW OPs join the group.   While there are a few enhancements on the list for the internal keyer and CWX ( the text to cw feature) they are pretty good.  There are a few notable enhancements / issues listed here in the post related to the CW capabilities.   The dedicated programs in the video have some nice features that go beyond and are especially useful for rigs that don't have an internal keyer. 

As far as other Flex features that could be opportunities to enhance your CW operation or to compare with your FTDX3000, you might want to look at some of the idea links above in this post.  Or just browse the idea list to see what others have suggested in terms of general capabilities. 

Regards,  Al / NN4ZZ  
al (at) nn4zz (dot) com
(Edited)
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Paul Christensen, W9AC, Elmer

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Very nice QRZ page, Marty.  First, I'm delighted to see such an enthusiastic response from CW ops at a time when it seems like the entire amateur population has defected to FT8.  

Adding to your list of observations, I have two of my own that I've discussed here in the past:

1) Maestro's pseudo-square wave CW side-tone; and

2) Noisy Opus CODEC when listening to CW via remote.  Although it's probably subtle to most users, I find the correlated noise very unnerving. What's needed is the option to select a linear CODEC when network conditions permit.  Even low bit-rate linear will clean up the correlated noise.  

You mentioned the Ten Tec Omni Six.  Back in 1998, I conducted an extensive set of tests on the CW performance of the Omni Six and compared it to the Omni Six Plus.  My findings can be found in the Ten Tec list archives.  

In a nutshell, more or less, Ten Tec made several evolutionary changes that diminished CW performance.  As an example, ALC attack time was reduced to the point that the CW wave shape adjustment no longer functioned.  Unlike the Omni Six, the waveform adjust control results in the same waveform at both ends of the potentiometer.  The leading edge is near vertical and results in low to moderate key clicks.  At the same time, Ten Tec changed the control board to invert the operation of the 9 MHz oscillator.  

Today, I can still detect the sound of an Omni Six Plus on the air 100% of the time. The CW exhibits a slight "micro-chirp" that's exacerbated by the sharp leading edge of the waveform and the fact that the 9 MHz oscillator is resting on the knee of the 2.4 kHz filter, causing significant group delay.

After two months of study, I modified the ALC with a dual-speed circuit (see N1EU website for details), and fixed the 9 MHz oscillator inversion.  After the mod, CW sounds like the original Omni Six. 

Another useful mod to the Omni Six/Six Plus is the removal of plug 52. Doing so disables the clicky CD4066 CMOS side-tone "wrap-around" circuit.  It's original purpose was to maintain side-tone level irrespective of the AF control.  Removal of plug 52 still allows a side-tone audio mix adjustment through the front panel menu.  After the mod, the AF control affects side-tone and receiver audio, but without audible clicks from the CMOS circuit.

Paul, W9AC







(Edited)