Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Flex 5000 Diary - Installation & First Impressions

Well the bands last night were garbage. The usual net traffic was struggling and it wasn't conditions that I would of liked on the first evening with the Flex radio.

After unboxing I took my time and put Anderson Powerpole connecters on the power cord and connected the best ground cable I have. I cleaned up all the wiring from the previous radio and tried to make the cleanest and RF free environment for the Flex right from the start.

I had already installed PowerSDR 2.4.4 prior to arrival so it was just a matter of powering up the Flex and letting the drivers install in Windows as the firewire device is detected for the first time. In my case a firmware update for the 5000 was required and installed as part of this detection process as well. When PowerSDR finally booted for the first time I paniced as the software crashed with multiple errors connecting to the radio. Since the firmware was just updated I stopped, BREATHED, powered off the radio, turned off the 12v power supply, rebooted the PC, and started everything up fresh again. This was all that was needed to initialize the radio with the new firmware and PowerSDR loaded with no other problems for the rest of the night.

After setting up the basic startup settings for PowerSDR I realized that my Heil HM-Pro and CC1Y cable did not appear to be working. I tried numerous things and eventually created a Trouble Ticket with Flex Radio Support and switched to a trusty old xlr Shure 58 and plugged into the Balanced Input on the back of the radio. No PTT, but it was workable for the evening clicking on MOX with the mouse to transmit.

UPDATE - Flex Support has already replied to my ticket and I'll try their suggestions tonight.

So now I was operational with PowerSDR and I just played for a few hours with the settings, features, filters, DSP, etc. It was just incredible and exactly what I had hoped for. As I mentioned before the band conditions were horrible but I could tell that I was getting better reception than a lot of the others and even provided relay for the first time ever on a daily 80m net.

I have three separate HF antenna systems to work with and  never have I been able to switch so quickly between then and compare their performance both by ear, and visually on the Panafall display in PowerSDR. If you had asked me before yesterday I would have been extremely confident that my 80 Horizontal Loop was my best antenna, but with the visual display options on the PowerSDR display I could see subtle differences when comparing the Loop (ANT1) to my G5RV (ANT2) on certain bands. Differences I couldn't hear, but ones I could 'see' had slightly less noise and better signal reception on certain bands. My 3 element tri-band Yagi (ANT3) also had a chance to shine while I compared it's performance on 10m, 15m, & 20m.  Thanks Flex! I love that feature.

With the built in Antenna Tuner option in the Flex it was quick at tuning every new band and frequency as I scanned around and the only time it failed to tune is when the wrong antenna was selected for the band I was trying to tune on. But even then I got to see the tuner at work and how PowerSDR warns you when it fails to tune and your SWR is too high to transmit on.

It did take a while to figure out navigation in PowerSDR with the mouse and keyboard, but it only took an hour and I was moving around the band and narrowing in on weak signals with great success and incredible clarity.

I'm lucky that in my first year as a licensed ham radio operator I've owned and played with 3 distinct generations of HF radios. A 1970's Kenwood with no DSP. An early 2000's Yaesu with basic DSP and some noise cancellation, and now a brand new premier software defined radio with all the bells and whistle of filters, DSP, noise reduction, and a top tier receiver.  WOW


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