2019 Hardware Upgrades

2019 Hardware Upgrades

After working with the Flex 6700 for about a month, I must say, I’m really impressed with how quiet the receiver is. Now that I’ve had the experience of using the contest grade filtering, and all the other great features, it just makes sense to upgrade my 6300 to a 6500 (which I will likely dedicate to digital modes). It’s never too early to begin planning for my 2019 hardware upgrades.

My Only Flex Disappointment

I’m going to ‘take a real shellacking’ on the sale of my 6300. I purchased it from Flex before the model 6400 price was announced. The day after the 6400 was introduced at $1999, the value of 6300’s went down the drain. I paid the top dollar price for mine in September 2015. Ouch!

I know, no sense crying over spilled milk. After all, that’s how the cookie crumbles. It turned out, after some wheeling and dealing, and a stroke of luck, I was able to achieve my 2018 hardware upgrade goal under budget, which is great news for my 2019 planning!

Flex 6500: Dedicated Digital Mode Radio

The contest station is complete, so my 2019 plan is to put together a new 24/7 digital station using a dedicated 6500 radio. This new setup will have its own antenna, and PC, and work independently along side the contest station.

I don’t have room for another HF yagi antenna, so I am considering a vertical. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I heard about the Comet CHA-250B HF vertical on one of the local repeaters. It fits the bill, and should be easily tuned with the 6500’s internal tuner.

I’ve heard a lot about the FT8 mode lately and it sounds like something I would like to have running here. I could have up to four HF digital modes running 24/7.

To get the plan rolling I must first:

  • Sell the 6300
  • Purchase  a 6500, CHA-250B vertical, and 100ft of LMR-400UF

Back To The Front

New Addition: Flex 6500

Going ‘All In’ with FlexRadio!

After working with the 6700 for a few weeks I decided it was time to replace my 6300 back-up radio, with a 6500. The 6300 served me well during my introduction to the 6000 series hardware and SmartSDR. It sold quickly (thanks Leo) and the repaired 6700 and CPO 6500 will be here as soon as the repair is complete. After working my way through all the used listings online, I couldn’t find an available unit for much less than the cost of a  Certified Pre-Owned 6500 with a 1 year warranty. It made the most sense to buy the CPO from Flex. And in light of my experience with the drifting CPO 6700, I decided not to take any chances. The new addition Flex 6500 should complete my radio hardware requirements for the foreseeable future.

The “Business End” of the Flex 6500

Dedicated to Digital

The plan is to purchase a Comet CHA-250B vertical antenna for use with the 6500, and dedicate the radio to digital modes. I’ll experiment with some new (for me) modes like FT8 and PSK and decide at some point which modes to settle on. And of course, I will continue with SSTV and EasyPal.

The purchase of the Flex Maestro freed up this little Gigabyte Brix PC that I used to run SmartSDR in another area of the house.

I need to find a use for the Brix PC!

I’m going to pair up the Gigabyte Brix PC with the 6500 and see how it keeps up. The Brix ran SSDR ok, but the wireless connection was not the greatest. In the new setup, the Brix will be located next to the router. The question is whether or not several programs will run alongside SSDR. We’ll see…

Back To The Front…

Hardware in Transit!

Some great news this weekend! The LP-500 is bought and paid for, as is the Flex 6500 and the Comet CHA-250B. I was also notified by the Flex Service Dept. that my 6700 is ready. The FlexRadio units will arrive together on Friday, and hopefully the LP-500 arrives around the same time. All hardware in transit!

These are the last few items to complete the station. Once installed, the radio rack will be moved back into the operating position, and the shack furniture will be put back into place.

I’m a week away from wrapping up all the new hardware! Hardware in transit is a good thing!

Back To The Front

WSJT-X, JTAlert, and DXKeeper

JTAlert Makes FT8 Logging Simple!

I jumped right into the FT8 fray. I setup a Flex 6500 specifically for use in the digital modes. FT8 in particular. Like everyone else, I heard a lot about the mode and decided to give it try. It wasn’t long before I realized that logging my FT8 contacts manually was not only cumbersome, it created opportunities for data entry errors. I use DXLab’s DXKeeper for logging, and a quick google search revealed that JTAlert provided connectivity with several popular logging programs, including DXKeeper. The main feature of interest to me is JTAlert’s ability to link WSJT-X to the DXLab Suite of programs. Using JTAlert as a bridge, I could connect my FT8 operations directly to the DXKeeper logbook!

Setting up the Flex to work with WSJT-X was relatively easy. I was making contacts and having a blast. The Flex 6500 is using a multiband antenna (CHA-250B vertical) so I can change bands with a click to be wherever the action is. I also have a second instance of WSJT-X running in order to monitor a second band. So the logging can get fairly complex. After the first two data entry errors, I knew I had to find a solution.

JTAlert Setup and Configuration

I downloaded JTAlert and followed the installation instructions found here. I installed on a Windows 10 Home Edition PC and used the version designed to fix the ‘missing menus’.

JTAlert has a lot of features that I am not currently taking full advantage of. As I get more adept at working FT8 I’m sure I’ll find a use for some of these extra features. There are filters to help you find contacts you need so that may be a useful feature down the road, as I currently need everything!

I followed these JTAlertX Configuration Instructions, and had it connected to DXKeeper in a matter of minutes.

I Was Doing It Wrong!

It turns out that despite all the fun as I was having, I was doing it wrong. I would soon find out that my FT8 operating skills left a lot to be desired. After reading the article Hinson’s Tips for FT8 and in particular the section that explained the “Hold TX Freq” feature, I quickly realized what I was doing wrong.

It turned out that under certain operating conditions I had been unintentionally QRMing stations that I had just made contacts with.

If “Hold TX Freq” is not selected the TX frequency changes to the calling frequency for every CQ call you reply to.. For example, let’s say I replied to a station that was calling CQ, and after the contact was complete, I changed over to calling CQ myself. I was then transmitting in the previous stations ‘slot’ and QRMing them. Bad practice! Needless to say, I’m very happy to have read Hinson’s tips! I think the “Hold TX Freq” should be the default setting!

Software “Automation”

One could say that JTAlert has claimed a legitimate place in the station automation scheme.

Back To The Front