Looking for advice on equipment for first ham shack

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I just got my license and am planning my first ham shack.  I would appreciate any advice ya'll can offer a newbie.

After a lot of research, I am planning the following at the moment-

Flex-1500 Transceiver

A linear power supply- probably an Astron VS-35M or maybe an Elecraft SS-30DV (cheaper but cannot find any reviews on it)

ATU/RF amplifier- an Elecraft KXPA100 100 watt RF amp with Antenna Tuning Unit (was thinking about the Hardrock 50 but Elecraft seems like a better value)

DX Labs logging software

Will want a headset(wired or maybe wireless) and/or a desk microphone but have no clue on brands and models yet.


Any thoughts on compatibility or lack of compatibility  with these components would be greatly appreciated.  Or any other suggestions.


Thanks,
Charlie
KM4KOZ
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Charles

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Posted 4 years ago

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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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First. You forgot to mention the most important part. Antenna.

Second you need to consider the station RF grounds.

Here is a link on how to build a quiet station

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/47u5xha71g...

I use the Astron. Good reliable and very low RF noise

I have no experience with the small Elecraft Amp but generally they make high quality products
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Jon - KF2E

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Charles,

Howard is right! When I first got into the hobby I worked on every aspect of my station except my antennas. When I finally realized the error of my ways I started to focus on antennas. You can't spend money on anything in your station that will delivery better performance gains than antennas...well, at least up to a point. I'm a big fan or resonant antennas and never have needed an antenna tuner.

Jon...kf2e
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Charles

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Thank you both for your comments.

Did not forget antenna.  Just thought it too use specific, site specific, and complex to try to discuss here.  Was concentrating on the equipment part.  Probably more than half of my research so far has been antenna related.  Still have no idea what I will do yet.  I expect I will go through several (many) options before settling on something.

Howard, I am aware of noise.  That is why I am leaning toward a linear power supply instead of switching.  Thank you for your comment on the Astron.  During my research several weeks ago, I did try to download your pdf from dropbox.com but could not get it to download.  Will try again.
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Jim Veatch

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Hi Charlie,

I would second Howard's comment on the antenna and grounding system. A good antenna and proper station grounding are the difference between an enjoyable hobby and a source of frustration.

Also, the Elecraft power supply that you mention is a switching supply not a linear supply.

As far as value in the Hardrrock vs. the Elecraft; we like to say that the Hardrock is 1/2 the KXPA-100, 1/2 the size, 1/2 the weight, 1/2 the power and most importantly 1/2 an S-unit.

With the Hardrock-50 you can use a smaller power supply like the Pyramid PS-14KX to run your station instead of a 25-30A supply (1/2 the power). The Hardrock-50 integrates directly with PowerSDR; all you need is a USB cable. I personally haven't used the KXPA-100 with PowerSDR but it looks like the special cabling you'd need comes with the amp and since the KX3 can process CAT commands, I suspect that the amp can as well.

73,
Jim WA2EUJ (HobbyPCB)
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Walt - KZ1F

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My Astron 25 is switching also.
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Charles

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Thank you both for your comments.

As mentioned above, antenna definitely not forgotten.  Just not addressed here.

I suspected that the Elecraft PS was switching (given its lower price) but had not confirmed it yet. Thanks.

Astron does make both switching and linear non-switching power supplies.  I have been concentrating on the linear to eliminate potential sources of noise.  More expensive, but I thought it worth it.

Pyramid power supplies are all switching I think.  I don't remember seeing any linear.

Re Hardrock vs Elecraft--  Yes it is about 1/2 everything. I/2 performance, 1/2 the price.  I was leaning toward the Elecraft because of the 100 watts and the fact that for about a $100 I can get it factory assembled.  The integration of the Flex with the Elecraft KXPA100 was my concern.  It looked like it should integrate fine, but just was not certain.  Still would like confirmation from someone using both.
(Edited)
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Bill -VA3WTB

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The Flex 1500 is good but I would look for a Flex 3000. there are some going for a good price if you watch. Unless QRP is your thing.
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Charles

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Thank you for the comment.

I have not seen much information on the FLEX-3000 since it is not a current model.  I know it has a built-in ATU and is 100 watts.  Other than that what are the advantages over the FLEX-1500?  What did they originally sell for?

Almost all the FLEX-3000 reviews are about the software, which of course is the same, not about the hardware.

Re finding a used 3000, I looked on Ebay and none there.  Any suggestions?
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Rob Fissel

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eham.net, qrz.com all have classifieds to puruse through. I'm particularly fond of QTH.com's swapmeet, where I bought my Flex 6300 used for a good deal!

Many of those here will advise you to stay away from eBay for used ham gear and I would tend to second that sentiment.

http://swap.qth.com/search.php
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Charles

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Thank you for the sources.  I was familiar with the reviews on eham but did not realize that they also had classifieds.  Will check out the others also.
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Peter K1PGV, Elmer

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I would forego the 1500 and a separate amp.  It's just a complication you shouldn't have to deal with getting started.  Given that you'll almost certainly have less than an idea antenna (on any band), you WILL want an antenna tuner and having one integrated into your radio is a great convenience.

Used Flex-3000 with ATU (though you'll be cursed with having to setup a 1394 connection on your computer... ugh!)?  Can you swing the cost of a 6300 with ATU... THAT's a nice first rig.

Peter
K1PGV
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Charles

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Thank you both for your comments.

Firewire not an issue if I thought the 3000 was the way to go.

Looking at the hardware specs, I don't see a lot of advantage to the 6300.  Now the 6500 is the one to lust for!

I really don't want to spend that much money to start.  I would rather start small and move up later as I get more experience and learn more about what direction I want to take.  Might regret it, but that is my thought at the moment.
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Doug Hall

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There are reasons to prefer a 1500 and separate amp over a 3000. Whether those reasons matter to you depends on your plans. Two SDRs ago I had a 1500. (I still have it but it's not my daily driver.) I used it with a Ten Tec 418 amplifier. The Elecraft 100w amplifier was not available when I bought the 418.

Putting aside the cost difference (the 1500/amp combo is either slightly cheaper or much cheaper than the 3000, depending on which amp you buy) the deciding factors for me were:

1. With the 1500 I got a separate receive antenna port. I used this with my Pixel RF PRO-1B magnetic receiving loop on 160/80/40m and for BCB DXing. You don't get that with the Flex-3000. If you're serious about the low bands (especially 80 and 160 meters) then a separate receive antenna can help a lot.

2. With the 1500 I got a transverter port that could drive a 144 MHz transverter. In fact it supports any VHF and UHF transverters that I am aware of. There is no transverter output on the Flex-3000.

3. There is a 10 MHz external reference input on the 1500 that is not present on the 3000. If you need extremely accurate frequency, or if you are doing frequency measurement tests then this is a handy thing to have. Even though I have a Flex-6300 now I still use the 1500 with a GPS disciplined oscillator for frequency measuring tests.

Yes, you get an automatic antenna tuner on the 3000, but since I sometimes ran 1000w an internal antenna tuner was of no use to me. So there are cases where a 1500 and separate amp makes more sense than a 3000.

Either way I found PowerSDR to be a decent application, and it ran flawlessly on a quad core Windows 7 machine that I bought from a gamer here in town.

73,
Doug K4DSP
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Charles

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Doug, Thanks for your time and your comments.

I don't think I have seen anything on the Ten Tec 418.  I will have to look it up.

Re other items-
1. Understand your comment.  I think the 5000 does have multiple antenna connections. So, I guess a point for it.
2. I have not given much thought to transverters.  Correct me if I am wrong, but I think transverter is for tuning other higher frequencies by converting them down to a native range for the receiver.  Like being able to tune 2 meters or 70 cm.  What little thought I have had about this was more in the line of a separate receiver or HT, if I go there at all.  Afraid my newbie status is showing....
3. How important is the 10 MHz reference input?
Re the ATU- My thinking was that it would be simpler and cheaper to have the ATU as part of the amp/3000/5000.  I don't expect to increase power in the near future,  But if I did, any separate ATU that I bought now would probably have to be replaced anyway for a higher power unit.

Thanks again for your comments.  Please feel free to disagree or correct anything I have said.  Just a newbie wandering around in the woods trying not to get too lost.
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Doug Hall

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Charles,

A transverter works on both transmit and receive. For example with a 2m transverter you would transmit on 10m into the transverter and it would convert it to a 2m at some specified power output. On receive the transverter converts 2m signals to 10m where they are received on your 10m receiver. It works independent of mode, so you get all-mode (SSB, CW, FM, etc) 2m capability. The folks who do stuff such as meteor scatter (bouncing your signals off of the ionized trails left by meteors) or moonbounce make good use of transverters. But if you don't anticipate that then the transverter port is not important.

A 10 MHz reference input is only important if you care about doing very accurate frequency measurement, or if you need for your transmit frequency to be very accurate. I'd say most people are fine without such an input.

Good luck on your quest, and above all, enjoy the hobby!

73,
Doug K4DSP
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Charles

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Doug, Thanks for the explanations.  Although I had heard of them in my studies, I think moon bouncing and meteor scatter are a ways down the road.  I do want to be accurate on frequency of course but I am assuming that the 10 MHz reference is not essential.  So I guess these two items will go on the nice to have list rather than the essential list.
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Walt - KZ1F

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SInce this is the FlexRadio site I won't mention a sub $2,000 very good rig recently upgraded made by Kenwood. If you are good for mid $2k, than Peter made a very viable choice.

First off though, congrats on the license, very good!

in all seriousness, regardless of this site's sponsor, the very first question you need to become very comfortable with, is do you want a radio that absolutely requires a fairly substantial Microsoft Windows enviironment to use? Whether it is a multi-monitor business class Dell, or a tablet running Windows, if you are not into the requirement to have to run a computer program to use a Flex, you can save yourself a lot of heartache with answering that question, for yourself, up front.  And, yes, there will be a lot of people denouncing what I just said, but the reality is a Flex radio requires  Microsoft Windows, currently, to run. Independent of whether it requires Windows or Linux or Mac, or iPad, it will require a computer. If you are ok with that, Peter's choice is a good one.
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Charles

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Thanks for your comment.

The fact that it is computer driven is one of the things that interests me.  My background is computers. 

I did look at some of the regular BKAB radios (BigKnobsAndButtons) but found that I just was not as interested in them as the software driven radio.
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James Whiteway

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I've owned a 1500 and found it quite good for the money. If you are just wanting an inexpensive way into SDR radio, it's hard to beat for the price.
But, adding an amp to boost the output to 100 watts or so, (a good amp) ups the cost considerably. Not to mention the 1500 has, documented, poor transmit IMD issues that would get worse at higher power levels. For a cleaner signal, consider a used 3000. Most sellers include the Firewire card and cable in the deal. Then, resell the 3000 later when you are sure SDR is for you, and get a 6300 or whatever suites your fancy and pocketbook.
james
WD5GWY
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Charles

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Thank you for your comment.

Do you have any sources that document and discuss the IMD issues?  I would like to read more about that.

Re a used 3000, any recommended sources?  I have not seen any for sale.
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N7AIG

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Hi Charles,

I have a Flex-3000 that I am not currently using. Has maybe a few hundred hours on Rx, and about 2 hrs on Tx - mostly WSPR at 5W. I also have the power supply and Mic that Flex sold me. Let me know if you want this one. I'm not looking to make a killing on it, but a fair price would be nice.

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Charles

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I may be interested.  Based on some I the comments I have received, I am thinking about the 3000 or a 5000.  Let me know what you have and your asking price.  If you want to take it off forum you can reach me directly at KM4KOZ  at gmail dot com.
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Chris - KC5IIE

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I agree with Walt, the 1500 is a terrific rig, but its definitely a niche rig, it requires a computer that is up to the task, and a little patience to set things up correctly, especially if you're planning on working digital modes. And yes, the amp complicates matters as well (though the Hardrock with a direct interface may work seamlessly). I have a HLA-150 100w amp which took a little getting used to. As a new ham, I would think you'd just want to get on the air and make contacts, your antenna matters most in that regard, an entry level 100w radio might suit you just fine, or a $2K 100 w rig if you're so inclined, just my 2 cents :), 73!
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William Hemmingsen

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I assume you mean i7 not i9 :)  One thing to note is the 1500 is limited to 48khz IQ sampling bandwidth,  This is pretty small.  The 3000 is limited to 92khz which is more acceptable, but still very small. 

William
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Walt - KZ1F

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But, ya know, the 1500, including all warts, is $600, not $2600. I purchased a 1500 while the 6500 was preordered. From the northeast I was very disappointed with the ssb, however I worked all over the world on digi, psk32 and a little RTTY, mostly psk32. All with a very toasty 15" I7 in my lap driving a Gap Titan in the backyard at 5-10W.
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k3Tim

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How do you  like the Gap Titan Walt?

Tim
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Walt - KZ1F

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Tim, there is an interesting story there. I had one issue during construction that forced me to call Gap, I got talking to this very talkative engineer that that completely encouraged me to get some wire mesh screening and make a 6'x6' square and place it on the ground with the antenna going through the center of it and that that, alone, would add immeasurably (I don't recall his gain number) to the gain of the ant. To answer the question more is difficult as I am not sure my issues,as stated above were a result of the 5-10W (likely) or it was my first vertical (also likely). BUT, it was phenomenal on digi, from the northeast, I worked Japan, Vietnam (I think twice), VK, ZL, Serbia, as I recall..generally all over the globe. SSB, a completely different story. I had trouble getting into Europe and any further west than the Mississippi. I got it on the advice of a friend KD4IZ who absolutely loved his. Oh, I never did acquire a 6' sq wire mesh but the eng at GAP swore by it.
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k3Tim

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Hi Walt,  Thanks for the interesting response.  With QRP levels the antenna is performing well, SSB notwithstanding.  I have read the instructions can a cryptic. I have a 10 meter GAP monopole and the instructions were a bit challenging. I worked some good DX but think the environment around the antenna hurt performance.  A Ringo 5/8 wave 10 meter antenna seems to be really doing the job.
The Titan has a nice small foot print.  Will consider this antenna, keeping in mind the ground screening.  That does seem a good suggestion.
Thanks !

k3Tim
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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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I have a 1500 and love it.  But after owning it for about 3 weeks I ordered a 6500 (There was no 6300 at the time.)   I have had the 6500 for almost two years.  I prefer the 6500 to the 6300 because it fits my operating style batter, but the 6300 is a wonderful, wonderful rig and nothing to sneeze at.  A 6300 with the optional ATU is $1500 less than a 6500.

Your rig choice will really depend upon your passion and your budget.
As others have said, do not short-change your antenna system, and concentrate upon reducing noise in your station.  You can't work-them if you can't hear-them.

Then, get the best rig you can responsibly budget.  
Obviously, I am partial to the FLEX, especially the 6000 series,
It sounds like you are interested especially in SDR type rigs.

For moderately priced Analog or Legacy superhet-plus-DSP rigs, there are some good offerings by Yaesu  (the 1200, 3000, etc)  and Kenwood (590), and Ten-Tec has some good offerings for under about $1500.  Don't get stuck thinking only about buying NEW rigs.  There are a great many good ones on the used market.  Just do your research and get feedback from other trusted hams.

As far as SDR, especially Flex... I would not necessarily recommend beginning with a 1500/amp combo unless you really want the ability to go QRP Portable, or plan to use it with a transverter for VHF/UHF.  The 1500 is a respectable transverter engine, especially for voice modes.

A used 3000 or even 5000 is within the realm of many beginning hams.  I have seen 5000's go for as little as $1200-1800 lately and the prices are dropping rapidly. Try to get one with the 2nd receiver option.  The 1500/3000/5000 rigs are not quite as good on CW as some other rigs, due to computer latency issues, unless you use an external Keyer or WinKeyer.  But they shine on SSB and Digital modes.  And are very nice when using external keying, or CWX.


Flex-3000's are going for $1000-$1500 on the used market and offer 100 watts and built in ATU.  It has twice the panadapter bandwidth and VOX, but no transverter or alternate antenna ports (The 5000 has both)

If your budget allows, consider a 6300 for a great leap in performance.  There may be some on the used market, but I have not seen many for bargains much more than $300-400 less than new price.  (though I haven't been shopping for them much)  If you like to run CW, it is hard to beat.  The CW note and Full Breaking keying are superb.

At the risk of alienating some on the board, the ELAD FDM-DUO is a 5 watt self contained SDR that will run with or without a computer.  But it is only 5 watts and is electrically and performance-wise very similar to the 1500/3000/5000 generation of rigs.  And you have the external amp issue to mess with.

After buying your antennas and rig, figure about $50-$250 for a good mike and boom or desk mike, or if you like, get a headset with mike combo.  You don't need to get the absolute best, but don't just get a cheap CB mike.  SDR's and many other modern rigs have adjustable EQ's that can tune many different mikes and make them sound good.

And if you get an SDR you need to put some money into a good set of powered speakers.  There are many on the market, just be sure to review them for RX immunity.

I like the Bose Companion 2 Series 3. (about $99) They allow 2 different audio streams at the same time. They sound great, and I have no RF problems at all.  I had a small ground loop issue, but that wasn't the speaker's problem.  Creative Labs and other manufacturers also had some nice ones for $50-100.

Good luck and enjoy the process.  Take your time and research not only the equipment, but ask yourself "What do I want to do with it?"  that will help you determine what features you want in a rig.  Of course, until you get on the air and play a while, you won't really know fully how to answer that question!  Whatever you get, you will add to it later... ask anyone!

Ken - NM9P
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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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Hi Charles,
Yes, the 3000/5000 are still great rigs. I hang on 75/40 meters with a bunch of guys that are mostly Flexers. Many of them started with 1500/amp combos. And many of them have moved up to used 3000's and love them. One of them just got a great deal on a used 5000.

I was originally planning on a 5000 /ATU & 2nd receiver, and would probably have a 5000 now instead of a 6500 except a small windfall allowed a "splurge" in the ham radio budget. The 6500 had just been announced, and I decided that once in my life I wanted to have a top-line rig. It has not disappointed, and is the best rig I have ever had, and more than I ever dreamed I would have. (A 6700, however, was still only a fantasy! )

If I had to choose between a 3000 and 5000, I would go win the 5000 if the price was in budget. It has several features that make it more desirable, unless you plan on going portable...balanced mike input, transverter and multiple antenna inputs, receive antenna inputs, option for second receiver, option for VHF/UHF module, wider panadapter bandwidth, etc.

The prices are coming down, asking used 5000's attractive. But used 3000's are getting to be very, very affordable. You couldn't go wrong either way.

But a new 6300 is about $2500, and $299 for internal ATU. So for $2800 it is heck of a good package if you want a top-line performer. 3000/5000 rigs are bring about half that amount or a little more.

Re: mikes. There are lots to choose from, from a good mike at Radio Shack (if you can find one still open) for about $39, to a Samson R-11 from Sweetwater.com for about the same. Some run Sure SM-58 or SM-57 for about $99. I run a Heil PR-22UT that I got on sale at Guitar Center for $107 and love it. A few others I know are using the Heil HM-12 which is a bit less.

Higher-end mikes... Heil PR-781 can be had for $150-200.
RE320 is a great mike, as are the RE20 & 27, PR-35 and PR-40 and other "Studio Mikes." But these are in the $300-500+ range.

Get a good, full-range, articulate mike and use the TXEQ to fine tune it to your own voice. I would stay away from mikes that have too much proximity bass, unless you like that big boomy sound. I find the SM58 to have too much for my own voice and tastes. But other hams love that mike.

This is an area where everyone has an opinion and some are quite animated about theirs! I have gotten good audio reports on my 6500 even with a three dollar computer headset, after properly adjusting the TX EQ, etc. but I always return to my PR22. It just seems to fit my voice. Your voice might find another best fit.

Hope this helps.

Ken - NM9P
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Burt Fisher

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The best reports I got were from a $3 webcam type plug in mike, better than the Heil PR-781 and D-104
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Charles

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Ken, thank you for taking so much time and providing a lot of good information.  I have been thinking about your comments and started researching the 3000 and 5000 in depth.  I see your point regarding them so I am seriously rethinking my position on the 1500 with an amp.  I will try to see what I can find for used 3000's or 5000's.  Also thanks for the mike suggestions.

Burt, I have a few of those laying around I can try.  Thanks.
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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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Charles,
As Doug Hall mentioned above, there ARE a few valid reasons that one might select a 1500/amp combo over a 3000...including Transverter input/RX antenna input, transverter output, and 10 MHz clock input.

If these features are important to you (i.e. you might want to use a separate receive antenna on 160/80 meters for noise reduction, or put the rig on 144 MHz or 432 MHz) then the 3000 would not be a best choice.  The 5000, however, if you can find a great deal on one, would be a dynamite rig.

And as others have said.  USB/firewire converters are useless for FLEX rigs.  Your computer must have a good firewire port, or an available port to which you can add one. (3000/5000)  the 1500 uses a USB port.

Frankly, you can do a lot of talking with a good antenna and only 5 watts.  I did it on my 1500 for about 8 months until my 6500 arrived, even with my Kenwood TS-850SAT sitting on the desk next to it.  It was more work, but it was fun.  I didn't have a 100 Watt amp, and my antennas were not optimum.  Some say that "life is too short for QRP," but I have found that it builds character and operating skills.  (at least in ops that are not Type-A personalities!)

Good luck!

Ken - NM9P
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SteveM

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"...I wanted to start reasonably small, then learn and expand.  I am trying to make reasonable choices now that won't waste a lot of money."


Hey Charles - Mr. Blunt here. I just wanted say that, in my opinion, buying cheap and "expanding" later is a sure-fire way of wasting lots of money. There are people in this game that are trading rigs all of the time. It's like they are addicted to shopping. I've seen TS-990's advertised for sale that are less than a couple of months old! The insatiable owner undoubtedly takes a huge beating on the sale.

I, too, am fairly new to the hobby so I have recently made the same decisions that you are now contemplating. My opinion is that one should make his move with confidence and resolve. Get the rig that you know will make you happy. I decided upon a 6500 about 6 months ago and I can't imagine wanting to "expand" or trade-up. It's the best available in its price range.

Now, if you say something like "A 6xxx radio is out of my price range.", then I have one question for you. What kind of car do you drive? The reason for this question is that I have seen +$50k four-wheel drive trucks parked in front of houses in which chickens would be embarrassed to live. Just sayin' some people have messed up budgets.

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Ken Davis

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FWIW - I started with a Kenwood TS-570 and still have it for a backup. Then I got the 5000 and worked with it for 6 months and NEVER solved the lockup issue with the firewire connection. Sold it and went to the Yaesu FT-2000.  It worked great but too many knobs and buttons plus when you adjusted something it was not very visual like a Flex. Now I have sold the FT2K and have a 6300 and just love it.  But probably the best thing about the Flex system is the fantastic customer support. I was a manager in customer support at a large airplane company for over 30 years and Flex by any comparison does it right. That in itself is worth a lot when you are having issue.
Good Luck
Ken - W0KRD
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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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Here’s a link to “How to Build a Quiet Station V2.pdf” in my Dropbox:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/9rcikiks1p5...
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Charles

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Was able download it this time.  Thanks.
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Ed, K0KC

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Charles,

"A question re firewire on the 3000 and 5000- will a firewire/usb converter work?  I do not have native firewire and since these are laptops cannot add firewire directly."

Unless I missed it in the comments of others above, no one mentioned that, to the best of my knowledge, Firewire to USB converters will not work with the 3000/5000 series of Flex radios so that fact may greatly impact your choice of rig.

If I am in error, please someone, correct me!

Ed, K0KC
(Edited)
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Walt - KZ1F

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And, as a really really good starter radio, to the extent a > $2000 radio can be considered starter (there are also no good starter homes anymore either), the 6300 should hold in value really well. Should you ever outgrow it, there is sure to be another new ham looking for his first radio as well.

Anyone want to buy a TS-530SP? No? I didn't think so. :-)

I used my 1500 with my 15" laptop. A really unpleasant experience. My lap got really hot too. I use my 6500 with my 15" laptop, also a less than pleasant experience, but it is no longer in my lap. I am also changing the form factor of my 6000 control surface.

But, yes, Tim is quite correct on the laptop or even tablet control surface.
(Edited)
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Charles

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Tim, Thank you for the extended explanation and potential problems.  I am assuming (dangerous I know) that the TI chipset does not have the same legacy problem.  With the coming Windows 10, I am assuming the problem will continue or even get worse.  If I go for the 3000 or 5000 I will try to stick with TI chipset.

I appreciate the laptop warnings.  The laptop I have with the Expresscard slot is a high end unit so maybe it will be ok.  If I have to build a desktop, it will definitely skew the cost factor.  

Yes the 6000 series would definitely be nicer and avoid some potential issues.  Now if only Flex would have a 50% off sale on the 6500..... :-)
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Tim - W4TME, Customer Experience Manager

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Charles - the TI chipsets for the most part are immune to needing the legacy driver to operate. However, the engineering of the chipset onto the bus interface card is another factor too.  The take away here is that a lot of Firewire card and chipset manufacturers do not engineer their cards to the full 1394 specification and the FLEX-5000 and FLEX-3000 can push them beyond their limits.  We use a multichannel audio Firewire interface in the FLEX-3000 and FLEX-5000.  When we started testing the FLEX-5000+RX2, the interface manufacturer had to make numerous changes to their firmware and drivers due to the amount of isochronous data the radio is streaming to the PC.  The FLEX-5000 became one of their stress test cases and in that testing, TI as the host adapter chipset came out on top more than any other.

So sticking with TI is the way to go.
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Ed, K0KC

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Charles,

I  know cost is definitely an issue as you set up your station, but keep in mind that you probably will be running software in addition to PSDR or SSDR such as a logging program, perhaps digital mode programs, etc. You will most likely want to expand to at least two monitors in the future and that means a video card that is capable of handling that task. I guess that I am suggesting that you consider a desktop computer if your ham radio budget can handle it. On the other hand, something like the 1500 with a laptop will at least let you get your feet wet enough to see if this hobby is for you and worthy of further investment.

Ed, K0KC
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Charles

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Ed, thanks for the comments. Dollars are certainly an issue, but more importantly I am trying to look at value and flexibility. Re desktops versus laptops, part of the issue is that I already have laptops and was trying to use them.  I understand potential limitations of laptops but also realize that some laptops are more powerful than some desktops and do allow dual displays.  The 1500 with a laptop was my initial thought to try to determine what direction (if any) I want to go.  That is part of the problem.  I don't know yet what I will want to do.  If I knew exactly, it would make equipment and antenna selection so-o-o-o much easier.
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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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Charles

There are a couple of Ham Radio. Sayings that I totally subscribe too.

1. Vertical antennas work equally poorly in all directions

If there is any way. You can put up at least a dipole or better yet a. Yagi beam you will be infinitely happier with the results over any vertical.

2. Life is too short for QRP

Except for some digital modes, operating with less than 100W can be very frustrating. Yes there are times you can get thru with 5W. But most of the time you really need at least 100W.
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William Hemmingsen

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My primary antenna is a multi band wire beam in my attic.  I have only been on HF for only 9 months, and up to 99 countries, including Australia. 

Granted my Attic is large, and 3 stories high.  But, its amazing what can be done with meager means. 

My suggestion is make your own antenna.  Do the research, have some fun doing what hams do, and brew your own :)  Its very rewarding!

William
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Ned K1NJ

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   By all means, put up an antenna you make yourself.  The education you will
get along the way will be well worth the effort and will last a lifetime.
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Walt - KZ1F

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Howard and William are both correct:

The most effective contributor to your signal, by far, single piece of equipment in your overall station is the antenna. If you have very limited funds, acquire a really good antenna first, whether it is bought or made.
For instance, get a $1,000 antenna and a $1,600 TS-590SG and be under the price of a 6300  alone, with a really good antenna. Upgrade to the 6500 when funds permit.

A monobander at 100' will outperform a wire dipole at 100'
A wire dipole antenna at 100' will outperform a monobander at 10' (someone will quote me on that so I will stipulate "for the sake of argument")
A yagi, IMHO, is a better antenna than a vertical.
A vertical is generally a fraction of the cost of a yagi.
A directional antenna is generally better than an omnidirectional antenna. (omni is equally bad in all directions)
A home built antenna is a fraction of the cost of a store bought antenna.
IMHO, the radio is the most expensive piece of station equipment and the least effective towards transmission of and reception of a signal.
I'd got so far as to say your choice of coax is a larger contributor to a receivable signal than the radio. After the antenna, work on a good quality coax.
Finally, if you are in a zoned area, subject to covenants, your choices for antenna are limited but, yes, research the antenna first. Whatever you get for an antenna, put it up as high as you can. A monobander in you attic (point to the south pacific or due north over the pole, for instance) may be way more fun than a dipole in your back yard.  And monobanders are easy to make.
(Edited)
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William Hemmingsen

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My antenna is a 6 element (2 elements per band) beam.  It is fixed north over the pole.  I do extremely well to Europe/middle east.  It is also electrically reversable to point due south with relays.  Although the south direction provides only minimal gain over dipole, I can work the Caribbean, south Africa fairly well.

For contest I have a monoband 20m and separate monoband 10m 2 element hombrew beams that I mount on a 30ft telescopic mast.  Due to my HOA, these are temporary and only come out during contest.

To be honest, antenna building is my favourite part of the hobby. 

William
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Walt - KZ1F

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That sounds incredible!
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Jay / NO5J

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Charles
Having had to be picky about chipsets used in the past. Here are some other choices that should work.
 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16839158010&cm_re=1394_expresscard-_-39-158-...
TI chipset, Lists for $42.99.

and 

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA4P02T64859&cm_re=1394_expresscard-_-39-104-0...
This one lists for $59.95, It claims to be a Firewire,USB combo card, using the TI chipset. I'm reluctant to mention it though due to past recommendations to avoid "Combo" firewire cards, from Flexradio.

and

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16839158012&cm_re=1394_expresscard-_-39-158-...
TI chipset, Lists for $61.99

Unless you can find anecdotal evidence about that "Combo" card that claims it works FB with the FLEX series. I'd avoid that one, but the other two should work.
73, Jay - NO5J
(Edited)
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Lee, Elmer

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I'm as big a Flex fanboy as they come, but being dead honest with you I would not recommend any of the firewire flex radios as a first station simply because of lack of firewire support in the computer industry.  As time goes on firewire dwindles further and further into obsolescence making the radio harder and harder to sell.  The actual performance of the radio is excellent but....   I am a big fan of 100W radios but if you are willing to use a 15W radio I would consider a Anan 10E as a possibility.  This radio is a fully functional DDC/DUC radio and it's connection to the computer is via Ethernet which will be part of computer interfaces for decades so you're unlikely to experience the firewire scenario.  The radio is a stripped down version of the Anan 10, and uses a cheaper 14bit ADC and cheaper FPGA, bit will still field 2 receivers/slices and for most casual operating will be an excellent choice to get into the SDR aspect of ham radio.   The radio can be had for about $935 to $1000 depending on sales, and includes only the radio, no tuner.  

The problem with the Anan is that Apache Labs sells only hardware not software, which is why they can sell the radio so cheaply.   Effectively the only software option is a program called PowerSDR_mrx which is a much modified version of Flex's PowedSDR.  This means you are at the mercy of whoever decides to continue with software development, and you have no one to call for help.  There is a yahoo group and they sometimes can be helpful but often the help is more about mythology than actual understanding, at least this was my experience.  However the software in its present form is very mature and very feature laden and works very well.  It therefore is possible to have a relatively unscathed plug and play experience.  The radio is a full blown SDR with a full blown integrated panadapter.  The advantage of this radio at that price point is you will at least for the next few years always be able to sell the radio for probably with about a 85-90% recoup, and you will have a very good platform from which to gain experience with SDR.  For a power supply I would go with a Samlex SEC 1223.  I've seen these on ebay for as little as $65 no noise as far as I can tell.  I have 4 of these and 1 SEC 1235 but that ps has a fan which I hate.   You might need a tuner depending on your situation since there is no built in tuner.  Personally I think a vertical properly deployed with adequate radials is a very good antenna especially for DXing on the low bands, and especially if you can't get a dipole up very high.  Above 30M I think some form of horizontal dipole antenna is a better choice.  I put up a Butternut HF2V vertical over 1000ft of radials in 2004 and worked 100 countries in 1 week on 40, 100 countries in 2 weeks on 30, and 100 countries in 3 weeks on 80M.  It's not a good antenna if you are not willing to install adequate radials.  

My SDR experience is with a SDR-1000, multiple little SDRs like softrock, dongles etc, Flex 3000, 5000, 6300 and 6500, with an Anan 10 and a Anan 100D and with a Elecraft KX3.  I would not recommend the Elecraft as a SDR experience or even a QRP experience.  The receiver is OK but the rest of the engineering is ridiculous.  

73  W9OY
(Edited)
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William Hemmingsen

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I was going to recommend the Anan-10e also, but didn't want to be the first :)  Many hoped Flex would release a flex-1600 type DDC QRP radio.  But they have said many times they had no plans.  So in under 100w SDR, the ANAN is king!  Also the price is right.  For ~$995 you get DDC, ethernet, and 15w, vs the 1500 soundcard, firewire, and 5w.  And you get it for not much more.  Also if you decide to add an AMP you have a bit more exciter power to drive it.

To be honest, there aint many places you cant contact with 15w.  I had great success in the ARRL 10m contest with a 5w QRP rig.  I should place second for QRP in my region.  The antenna is the most important thing IMO.

I almost bought the ANAN 10e, but I really wanted a FLEX and found the cash to get the 6300, and glad I did.  But if I couldn't afford the 6300, I would get the ANAN-10e over a 1500/3000/or even 5000 flex.  No offense to Flex, but these are old tech.  And if you decide to upgrade in a year or two....You will not get much value on resell.

Your a new ham. Get yourself a mini ANAN.  Buy the ARRL antenna handbook, and experiment and have fun.  And when you decide to upgrade the ANAN will have a good resell value.

My 2.367845 cents!  Sorry flex, but you just don't have a modern product in this price range.  I wish you did!  I think many would love a modern QRP rig to replace the 1500.


William
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Doug Hall

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"vs the 1500 soundcard, firewire, and 5w."

I've seen several people mention Firewire when also discussing the 1500. The Flex-1500 does not use Firewire, but uses USB 2.0 as its interface to the computer. It differs from the 3000/5000 in this respect.
73,
Doug K4DSP
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William Hemmingsen

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My apologies I forgot the 1500 is USB,
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Walt - KZ1F

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Charles/Charlie, I don't believe anyone asked you some very important questions:
1) What aspect of ham radio most excites you, ragchewing, DX, Contesting, Awards, digital, cw, phone, satellite, EME?

2) and this is the tricky one. Ham Radio can be as expensive as an old restoration house. Do you have a red line on budget? Independent of red line, what are you thinking is the point of resistance.  Most of the people offering heart-felt thoughts on it had their station set up decades ago, some had unlimited funds, some whatever. I don't see anyone asking you how elaborate do you want to get. So, I think it is important to ask where are you coming from, what are your gotta haves and can't affords?

Or, are we all just talking amongst ourselves at this point as you already got the answers you were looking for?
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William Hemmingsen

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Or, are we all just talking amongst ourselves at this point as you already got the answers you were looking for?
LOL I think this is highly likely
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Charles

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Nope.  Still here.

You guys have given me so much information to think about and research.  And unfortunately I do have a day job.

Walt, 1) is the issue.  I have no idea yet.  That is why I am trying to have enough flexibility to try different things.  Re 2), I don't know where my red line is.  I can justify almost anything if I want it bad enough!  I am still trying to convince myself that I NEED a 6500-- I know I want one.  Being a newbie, its just hard for me to jump that far and deep.
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Walt - KZ1F

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Frankly Charles, I'd go with Simon Lewis's advice. Yu can get a nice 100 watt radio for a few hundred dollars. You haven't said what sought of neighborhood you are in. Are you restricted as far as antenna. I'd stay away from tower for the time being. If you have trees around, run some wire between them. A friend of my, who got his license when I was first licensed got 4 2x4's and some bolts  put two of them end to end and used the other two to bolt the first two together then dug a deep hole buried one end and did the same for the other end. If you are into an area heavy with covenants, your choices are fewer. Give Simon a call, he doesn't have a brand to sell you. If you went to the Elecraft forum on Yahoo, they'd all try to sell you a K3, .. just like they all have. Probably ought to seek out unbiased advice, as Simon said, from someone sensitive to a newcomer's knowledge and experience.
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Charles

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Thank you all for all your comments and suggestions.  They have really been a big help.

Based on many suggestions, I have decided not to go with the Flex 1500/amp combination I originally thought about.  It does seem that a used Flex 5000 would be a much smarter move.  So I have decided to try to find a used 5000 at a reasonable price as my first setup.

If I get a sudden windfall, I'll go to a 6000 series Flex....

Thank you again for all your time and efforts to get me started.

Charlie
KM4KOZ
 
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Simon Lewis

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Charles, I am a novice licence instructor so have plenty of experience with newcomers to the hobby - firstly congrats on taking up a hobby that will provide you with a lifetime of fun and enjoyment and introduce you to so many new friends. 

I know you're on a flex radio site but as a newcomer I would be thinking simpler and easier. Owning an SDR is quite a leap and for someone new to the hobby I'd be thinking baby steps.

For HF I started with an old QRP radio because that's all I could afford as a teenager but i slowly moved up trading in different radios - based on what I found interesting. leaping in and buying something now I can tell you that you will find you want to change it and us hams are terrible in gear lust - just as bad as camera dudes!

So my advice would to be select something simpler, don't worry about the SDR yet ... or buy that 1500 as an extra sometime later - get yourself a good all rounder and something reasonable priced. There are some great radios around $1000 new these days.  You may not even know if you wanna stay on HF only or VHF too .. 6M is a great band, 2M can be a lot of fun. And even HF has so much to offer ... you will need a lifetime to even scratch the surface - so don't sweat it .. buy something you can afford .. maybe a sec hand TS590 ... or even an older IC706MK2G if you want VHF-UHF. Keep the 6500 in the back of your mind but just remember .. you will no doubt change your interests as your hobby experience matures!

Not sure of your living arrangements but if you have garden spend some time playing with antennas, if you're stuck for cash this is an area you can do yourself for little money. I build VHF-UHF arrays for moon bounce using all home made gear inc the preamps and amplifiers.

So ... don't sweat the decision.. know it will change... find something you can afford, get on make contacts, learn about propagation, antennas and have fun!

You can email me on gm4plm@hotmail.com if you need any extra advice but welcome to the rest of your life .. make the most of it :)

Cheers

Simon ZL4PLM 
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Dave - W6OVP

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Charles - A used 3000 is an excellent suggestion IMHO. I had a 1500 and loved it, but QRP ain't my thing and I quickly moved to a 3000 and was satisfied. (Until I got a 6300.) The 3000 built-in tuner and 100 watts made all the difference. It's a great buy and a great intro to SDR at low cost. Don't fuss with an external amp.

A used 3000 can be had for not a lot more than a new 1500 + an external tuner. I had zero trouble with the 1394 connection. Plug and play! And when you want to move up you will probably find a ready market for it. (Took me only 24 hrs!)

Good luck --- Dave!