Why I chose Flex for contesting

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  • Updated 3 years ago
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Copy of post I made to Uk contesting reflector re contesting radios thread, on why I chose flex:

All,

I took the plunge last October and bought a flex 6300, after months of research and review reading. It was looking like better value for money than a k3, with similar or better performance, and I was still not happy with the pro3 I had bought the previous year on ssb on 40m and 20m in major contests or in 80m during afs ssb.


FT1000D had been my main hf contesting radio for last 15 years, with ft1000mp and ft1000mpmk5 with inrad filters coming and going out the door. My last ft1000d had a funcube dongle hung off the if out on the rear and hdsdr software running to give me a 192kc bandscope - work great and gave me the taste for bandscopes finally. But, the ssb close in performance of the radio, even with inrad ssb filters fitted, was still not great.


I bought a second hand pro3 and liked it a lot, especially its performance on 6m and with a cheap transverter on 4m, and its bandscope was good for 4m and 6m contesting to see most of the band. On hf ssb its performance was better than the ft1000d so my third ft1kd was sold on to a new home.


I bought a second hand ts590s - excellent value for money and loved the usb interface. Excellent on cw and better than the pro 3 on ssb with the roofing filters. But it had the alc overshoot issue which was a pain on 6m with a solid state pa. Sold it on last year just after I bought the flex 6300. If I was looking for two identical radios to do so2r without the need for a bandscope I would buy two ts590sg radios - I know some have bought two for so2r and they are excellent value for money compared to a k3.


Why no k3 here? I have used several k3s in ssb and cw contests and just don't like the build quality or the ergonomics - but mainly I don't like the cost of the spec I would need for ssb and cw contesting plus the 6m pre amp!


Why no ft5000mp here? I have used one locally, and have twice gone to buy one, but the reliability issues on the oleds and some respected cw dxers views on them for cw has stopped me each time. I came to the conclusion last year that if I bought one I would need an lp pan2 as well to give me a decent bandscope rather than toy that comes with it. The recent price drops indicate that it was a wise decision to not buy one, and second hand values have  dropped heavily.


Is the flex 6300 difficult to get used to? I sold my microham so2r box as I was fed up with fiddling around with w7 sound settings and microham router settings on data contests. By contrast I found the flex easy to set up and use without the usual reading of the manual that I had had with legacy radios. I concluded last year that the computer had to be at the heart of any contest station and a few weeks with the flex 6300 with just a mouse and cw paddle alongside N1MMplus convinced me that I had made the right decision. The real bonus though was the better performance on lf dx and 40m ssb under crowded contest conditions - wow what a difference. I have also found that I receive better audio reports with the same heil hc5 headset as previously used, on hf and vhf. CW performance is superb and the latest software version has improved apf as well as nr.


Is it contest radio?  Well I have used it in most of the 80m CCcontests, cqww cw, ssb and cw afs, beru, 160m cw, and 6m and 4m ACs  plus 4m cumulatives.   I sold my pro 3 and 4m spectrum, and now have a Kuhne db6nt 4m transverter hanging off the flex 6300 transverter port - in vhf contests I can now see the entire 4m and 6m bands, and I can monitor both bands on separate panafall displays on my laptop away from the shack using lan wifi to connect remotely to my flex 6300 in the shack - I can even now operate ssb using my laptop speakers and mic or a usb headset and cw using the keyboard, with no lag across the lan. So I can be in the kitchen or living room and can monitor audio or see both 6m and 4m bands (or two other bands) watching for sp es openings and watching for beacons popping out of the noise. On 6m its ears with the 20db pre amp switched in are slightly better than my icom 7400 with its preamp 2 switched in (my usual set up). On 4m on the same antenna (6Y) I can hear beacons I could not hear with the pro3 and spectrum tvtr.


So2v?  Its better than the pro3 for so2v as you can have mixed modes  - cw on one receiver and ssb on the other, whereas the pro3 with dual watch did not allow mixed mode.  So for this years 21/28 contest I will be able to have one receiver on 21 MHz cw and the other on 28mhz ssb etc.  I will be able to have both ears on 15m run frequency whilst just watching the panafall scope for 10m to see if any signals pop up.


S02r?  Not yet here although some eastern eu stations are using flex 6700 with its multiple antenna options and second receiver circuit.  Having got through the easy learning curve of using the flex 6300 in ssb and cw contests, and setting it up for data contests for 80m CCs; plus easy wsjt ms work on 4m and 6m, I am now ready for the next step.  If you read the roadmap from Dayton talks and the recent announcement from flex and 4o3a this week you will already know that the two companys are now collaborating to bring out a fully filtered so2r box that will interface via your network with the flex 6000 radios to give so2r from one 6000 series radio (I presume using a version of the 403a tcip station controller and triplexer/filters) and a 1.5kw  solid state tcip controlled amplifier covering 160m to 4m is also under development.  They are also working on better integration with N1MMplus using the api rather than legacy kenwood cat controls. That sounds like the future of contesting on hf and vhf for me!


I took the decision to spend the last winter trying the latest sdr, having only played with the fun cube dongle previously. I currently live at the bottom of a valley bottom with no tower, and low vhf beams and wire / vertical antennas on 12ft poles and in trees. It made sense to me to try 3g sdr and its station integration now, to see if it works well, so that when I move house to somewhere more suitable for vhf and hf contesting I will have already sorted out the shack side and can then concentrate on getting my tower/s and antennas up.   


Missing knobs?  No I found using the mouse and also being able to see the bandwidth and my signal along with the adjacent interfering signals made it easier to work out which skirt to pull in and the filtering really is brick wall straight on ssb. On cw I can go down to 10hz rather than the 50hz of the pro3, with no ringing. QSK is superb and all the main settings are visible on the 42 inch hd tv screen in front of my seating position, but its not cluttered as hdsdr software and you can hide the main controls if you just want to see the bandscope full screen. Most of N1MMplus is sitting on the laptop screen in front of me, with some multiplyer windows open on the bottom of the waterfall on the tv screen. After a few months I bought a flex usb knob, to see if it improved things for s and p hunting on the second receiver - I can now move the second receiver around the band, or another band, with my right hand on the ergonomic vfo knob and my left hand can use the mouse or my cw paddle - most of the time both hands are on the keyboard entering stations :-)  I use traditional run receiver in left ear and second receiver in right ear so2v operation and can adjust the volume separately either with a slide of the mouse or by pressing one of the three buttons on the flex knob set to adjust the active receiver volume - the other two buttons activate the rit or agc threshold (which behaves like traditional rf gain control in practice).


If the following link works you can see a video of gw0etf working last weekend as gw4j when we did 6m trophy contest from a friends hilltop qth on Anglesey, which gives you an idea of the set up with the flex tucked away on the left side and all the action happening on the two pc monitors we had hooked up to Stewart's flex 6300 and his pc.  


https://www.facebook.com/steve.jones.758/videos/10207092463052258/?hc_location=ufi


Having spent the winter months playing with the flex 6300,I now find it difficult to use a traditional radio in the heat of contesting battle - must be rusty on where the knobs are and which menu I need to access from which multi function button - you get the picture.


If 4o3a and several big usa multi multi contest teams are actively moving down the flex 6000 route, that should give an indication as to where the future of contesting radios is going - banks of 3g sdr radios in the antenna and server room, and uncluttered multi screen desktops with a keyboard and paddle!


Downsides? Its cleaner than my previous ft1k radios so too many stations come right up close because they can now! SO2r is not there yet but its on its way. I find that excellent so2v adequate for my current needs and in multi band contests I can see what is happening on another band/mode from the second panfall display or by having the audio in my right ear. Since October there have been two major software upgrades which have each gone smoothly and have vastly improved some features or introduced new ones, like digital ssb (not tried that yet). Compared to updating the firmware on a ic7800 or ft5k its a doddle, and you can easily roll back to the previous software and firmware version if you don't like the new versions. So far I have found each upgrade worth keeping. Unlike hdsdr and 2g sdr radios which depend on fast pcs to do most of the work, these flex 6000 radios do not need ultra fast pcs and I am using aduo core i3 laptop with on board video with no issues in the shack or over my network lan.


Hope the above helps other people to contemplate whether their next radio to try should be a 3g sdr. If you want to find out more sign up for the free flex community forum and read all of the questions, problems, praise and news on there - its what I did last year, and I have found it great for getting help from more experienced flex users.


73


Steve gw0gei
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Steve Jones

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Posted 3 years ago

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Simon Lewis

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can't see the video Steve but your findings are sound .. I have 2 x TS590's here .. ditched the K3 a long time ago ... Have a Flex6500 and looking at adding a second one now ... nice article :)
Photo of Don -  ik2egl -  ai4sd

Don - ik2egl - ai4sd

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thanks for sharing you experience. I fully agree with that 6000 series is doing a significat step forward in adopting sdr for serious dx and contesting. I have been using succesfully flex from sd1000, used in parallel with IC765 and than flex5000, before 6500 I have now
station configuration is more simple and flexibility is a reality.
Photo of Tim - G7GFW / F4VQP

Tim - G7GFW / F4VQP

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Thanks for an excellent article - very interesting and well written. Shame the video link isn't working, be very interested to see it if you can correct it sometime.
Photo of EA4GLI - 8P9EH - Salvador

EA4GLI - 8P9EH - Salvador

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Excellent article. I feel like you described my progression through different transceivers to reach similar conclusion. In my case the Flex replaced an icom 756pro2.

I appreciate the way you expressed some of the things i have experienced with my 6300 which i wasn't able to articulate as well as you did.

Thanks for sharing.
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Ned K1NJ

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       Great!  There is more to these radios than "good numbers".  Good specs are fine, but
all modern high-end rigs have more than adequate "numbers".  At this point it may be more
important that you enjoy the experience of working with it.

Have Fun,
Ned,  K1NJ