Call: WA1J Operator(s): N1TA K1NZ Station: N1TA Class: Multi-Op LP QTH: wma Operating Time (hrs): Summary: Band QSOs ------------ 160: 80: 308 40: 128 20: 63 15: 37 10: ------------ Total: 536 Sections = 84 Total Score = 90,048 Club: Yankee Clipper Contest Club
I occasionally check in to weeknight local nets on 10m. It occurred to me recently that there is no reason to go all the way to the shack, away from family, to do it. Flex has a solution: all you need to make a new operating position is a computer.
I anticipate using this for casual operating and checking conditions. It will also fill the need for a shortwave receiver in the den. Maybe it will make a good spotting position during multi-op weekends too.
Flex makes all of this too easy, even for a guy with limited computer skills like me.
The WA1J team will be here for ARRL Sweepstakes next month. Accordingly, I made some changes to the station to accommodate two operators in a true multi-single setting.
Flex gear makes this reconfiguration easy — it’s a matter of re-arranging monitors more than anything else. The multiflex functionality of SmartSDR V.3 means both a run station and mult station can be on the air using the same radio. It’s very slick.
There’s practically nothing left on the desk, besides tuners that might need occasional attention. All switching is computer automated, and amps are remote to eliminate noise and heat.
I have both the Flex-6400 and Flex-6600; both arrived in 2020 during a pandemic, so they have seen substantial use. They’ve both been used during contests, some of which were serious efforts. I also have the Power Genius XL amplifier, which has been similarly used.
The features of each piece of hardware is different to some degree, but they all interoperate beneath FlexRadio’s proprietary SmartSDR. As they are all linked and function together, I figured the best way to review this equipment would be a “sixty-thousand foot” -view — things I like and don’t like about the entire Flex experience, instead of getting into the nitty gritty.
SmartSDR – The Software
I am impressed with SmartSDR. As a stalwart of knobs and switches, I thought the learning curve would be difficult. I even purchased the FlexControl knob, fearing that I would be uncomfortable using the mouse. That turned out to be untrue! The software is incredibly user friendly.
The ability to see the whole spectrum and to zoom in/out is indescribable. I cannot remember contesting without it! It makes finding multipliers effortless, but where it really excels is in finding a clear run frequency. I can QSY and find a clear frequency within seconds — that is perhaps the most unexpected utility I’ve yet found.
The only drawback, of course, is that the program is only as good as your computer. I purchased a new dedicated desktop for this, and it functions well. If I were using a laptop that shared radio, work, and personal functions, maybe I would have experienced more trouble. If you’re spending this type of money on Flex gear, however, you should consider buying a dedicated machine.
Flex-6400, Flex-6600, PGXL – The Hardware
The first thing you’ll notice is that the physical radio weighs practically nothing. All connections are located on the rear panel. Overall, the rig looks sharp, but unassuming. Non-ham visitors here often mistake it for a computer, especially given the low-level whir of the cooling fan.
The biggest unexpected advantage of the radio is what it eliminates. Prior to Flex gear, I was using dated Yaesu FT-1000MP radios that required soundcard interfaces and associated cables, breakout boxes to bring band data to different devices, and RS-232 connections to the computer. All of that is now unnecessary; the radio is connected directly to my home network and can be found by any device, even over WiFi. A single USB connection sends band data to the Hamation network. Soundcard interfacing is done completely internally via Flex’s DAX utility.
The main difference between the 6400 and 6600, at least in my usage, is that the 6600 has more slices available and can do SO2R all by itself. The receiver is slightly better than the 6400 as well, but after listening side-by-side, I’m sure this would only matter in very specific circumstances. If you are a casual operator, DX chaser, or single-rig contester, the 6400 is a great deal and you’ll be pleased with it.
The single-box SO2R capability of the 6600 sync up with the Power Genius XL perfectly. When someone complains about the price of Flex gear, I remind them that the 6600 and PGXL are essentially two radios and two amplifiers; if you do the math, you’re saving money already. Add in the cost savings of not having to buy an SO2R audio interface and the complexities of dealing with OTRSP, interconnections, and building cables, and you’ve stumbled upon the real value.
The 60,000-foot view
|What I Like||What I Don’t Like|
|SmartSDR. Very intuitive yet powerful||Software upgrades. Common and a pain.|
|SO2R with one box||Occasional glitches — this is a computer after all|
|Integration between gear||PGXL fan noise is very, very loud|
|Elimination of interface equipment||Remote exclusively via Flex’s system & servers|
|Flex support is very responsive and very fast||Lead time on new products|
This is a living post; I’ll be adding to it as time goes on.
At the 2005 National BSA Jamboree, I saw a demonstration of a QSO via laser. I recently found the document I had been given at that time and am uploading it here as I can find very little mention of it online. I have not built this, and obviously the component prices no longer apply as RadioShack has long been out of business.
I had written KA8MID across it at the time; I am unsure if that was the person doing the demonstration, or the designer. If anyone has additional information, please contact me so I can credit the appropriate source.