Today, I used the Flex 6700/SPE 1K-FA combo for the first time (outside of testing) in the CQWW SSB Contest. During the first hour of the contest I had a problem with the amplifier not changing inputs automatically and/or being on the wrong input altogether. I was certain all the hardware was wired correctly, as that had been proven during electrical testing. I started thinking I was having an RFI problem. After some investigation, I found it was not a wiring or an RFI problem at all, but more a problem of how the wiring was being told to behave. I’ll try to explain. Lucky for me, a quick course in the power of FlexRadio profiles would be all I would need to get everything working perfectly.
A Fully Automated SO2R Station
The object was to have the Flex 6700’s two Spectral Capture Units (SCU’s) connected to the amplifier in Single Operator 2 Radio (SO2R) configuration. The plan was to dedicate one SCU to the Mosley antenna, and the second SCU to my 130 ft height compromised dipole antenna. The amplifier was programmed to select the Mosley for all bands 14 mhz and above, and to select the dipole for all bands below 14 mhz. Finally, each antenna would be tuned by its own dedicated (and CAT controlled) AT-AUTO.
What the heck?
I use the DXLab Suite of programs. DXL is great software that had worked seamlessly with the Flex 6000 series radios up to this point. I realized that some of the problems I saw occurred after clicking on DX spots that caused the radio to enter into what looked like diversity receive mode (not split), while at the same time, the amp ended up on the wrong input, and DXL was losing its connection to the radio.
Getting to the bottom of it…
The major issue was the amplifier no longer switching inputs automatically, so I decided to start there. The SPE 1K-FA Linear Amplifier is designed specifically for SO2R. At the minimum, the amplifier senses RF and changes the inputs automatically that way. So why was that not even happening?
I knew I had the radio TX1 output connected to the amp input #1 and radio TX2 output connected to amp input #2, so that’s not it…or is it?
In the 6700 radio setup tab I could see both TX outputs were enabled…what the heck. Then it hit me. Of course, both radio TX outputs were keying at the same time. Therefore both sides of the amp were being told they were in transmit at the same time, and the input could not switch, or it switched incorrectly. I proved this by disabling one of the USB CAT cables. Great! I found the problem! Right?
While the amp input switching problem was going on, I also noticed that the transmit and microphone profiles kept changing, and, they were changing to profiles created by the radios previous owner. Another level of “what the heck” to deal with… None of it made any sense, so I decided it was time to read the manual!
In the meantime I created a workaround in DXL and connected to the radio as a “Kenwood” using a COM port (on the ports tab) in order to get the frequency information into the logging program. I worked through the remainder of the contest without issue, albeit not in a working SO2R configuration.
Understanding the problem
I realized that I needed the TX1 relay to be activated ONLY when the radio was requesting ANT 1, and likewise with the TX2 relay when operating on bands covered by the dipole. Since part of the problem involved the changing profiles, it was time to read the manual on profiles.
The first paragraph was all I needed to see, and everything suddenly started to come together.
From the SmartSDR v2 Manual:
Transmit profiles are linked to the TX Antenna setting in the transmit slice. When the antenna used by the transmit slice is changed, the Transmit profile associated with the new antenna selection is invoked. For example:
- Slice A is the transmit slice. TX ANT is ANT1
- Slice B is NOT the transmit slice. TX ANT is ANT2
- Load SO2R_TX1 Transmit profile. (This Transmit profile is now automatically linked to ANT1)
- Set Slice B as the transmit slice.
- Load SO2R_TX2 Transmit profile. (This Transmit profile is now automatically linked to ANT2)
- Set Slice A as the transmit slice. (This loads the SO2R_TX1 Transmit profile)
- Change Slice A TX ANT to ANT2. (This loads the SO2R_TX2 Transmit profile)
To associate a Transmit profile with a TX antenna, select the TX Antenna you wish to associate in the transmit slice, then load or save a Transmit profile using the Profile Manager, or select an existing Transmit profile using the drop-down menu.
This explained everything!
Of course the SO2R_TX1 profile only had the TX1 relay enabled, and the SO2R_TX2, only the TX2 relay! Problem solved! Almost…
FlexRadio USB Cable: Data Source
I had originally set the Flex USB cables to send frequency data from slice A and B to amplifier inputs #1 and 2 respectively. This seemed to work OK for sending frequency data to the auto-tuners, so I set the USB cables to the amplifier the same way, to use the “slice” as the source of the frequency data. This worked OK until I added a third (or more) slice.
I took a second look at the source menu for the USB cables, and I found the perfect solution:
The sources are:
- TX Slice – The cable will report the frequency of the slice receiver that holds the Transmit Indicator.
- Active Slice – The cable will report the frequency of the active slice receiver (the slice that has the yellow cursor).
- TX Panadapter – The cable will report the center frequency of the panadapter that contains the transmit slice
- Specific Slice – The cable will report the frequency of the specified slice (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H)
- RX Antenna – The cable will report the frequency of the specified receive antenna (ANT1, ANT2, XVTR, RXA, RXB).
- TX Antenna – The cable will report the frequency of the specified transmit antenna (ANT1, ANT2, XVTR). Note: This frequency is only changed/reported when the TX Slice is connected to the specified antenna.
By choosing “TX Antenna” as the source for the USB cables connected to the amplifier, any one, of any number of open slices, could now connect to the correct antenna!
Once I realized the benefit of this new data source, I set the auto-tuner USB cables to “TX Antenna” as well. The switching and tuning of the amplifier, and the auto-tuners is now 100% functional from any slice on any band, and guarantees that the correct antenna will be selected and pre-tuned every time, effectively eliminating operator error.
Any slice that is designated as the “TX” slice will get the correct antenna and amplifier settings every time! While operating, I can temporarily switch TX designation to a slice on the other antenna, have it tune, then reassign the TX back to the original slice and I have the second band pre-tuned for SO2R. Pretty slick!
The only operating ‘delay’ I see now, could possibly occur, if the AT-AUTO’s were requested to change bands when the bands were far apart in the tuning range at the time of the request. e.g. the OP requests the 20m antenna be tuned to a frequency below 20m, like 40m. While this can be done, it is very unlikely to occur in practice.
Re-tuning within the same band is practically instantaneous, and long band change tuning delays are few and far between when employing proper operating technique. Furthermore, I employ two AT-AUTO’s, one for each antenna, thus greatly lessening the chances a long band change re-tune would ever be required. Both antennas are continuously tuned and each tuner responds nearly instantly when operated within the predetermined tuning ranges.
Once I had all this working, I went through every saved profile and created, edited, and saved new transmit profiles within each, so that the correct keying occurs every time.
Finally! The sweet sound of full station automation!
The Flex engineers are getting a round of applause at K6HR today. What an incredible effort they put together to create this amazing product! For the serious amateur radio operator….indeed.
P.S. DXL Commander 13.7.9 and SSDR v 2.4.9
I checked and a fix was being discussed to correct the issue that’s causing DXL Commander to lose its connection to the Flex 6xxx radio. Once this bug fix is applied, I’ll go back to DX Lab. I can see DXL’s going to be great with the 6700 once this little problem gets sorted!