I decided to borrow the Flex-5000A from our showroom display for a day this past weekend.
My computer situation at home is a bit different from most. The PowerSDR software is for a PC only, and I am a Mac guy. I have Windows XP SP2 (not the current SP3) running under Apple’s BootCamp, so I was somewhat concerned about having enough computer for the Flex setup. What’s nice though, is my 24″ iMac has the Firewire interface built-in, so no need to add any hardware.
I set up the radio hardware, grounded, power hooked up, firewire plugged in, antennas connected, ready to go. I installed the software, booted it all up, set my preferences, hit the start button, and I got the choppy audio at startup issue !
No problem, hit the start button again and everything is fine. Whew !
Right away I realised that my Apple mighty mouse’s swipe-to-scroll feature does not work under Windows (at least I haven’t figured out how to make it work), and I had left the USB VFO knob back at Radioworld, so I was unable to tune around, other than clicking with the mouse. I quickly discovered you can use keyboard keys to tune the vfo. Although a bit awkward at first, once you get the hang of it all, it is pretty easy to do.
Tuning around the bands, there were many stations working the ARRL Sweepstakes contest, of which I had zero interest. But this makes a good test for the Flex, as there are big signals with big splatter and bad operators. Perfect.
Off to 10 metres I called a number of Europeans, netting none of them. Hmmm. I didn’t connect my amplifier, maybe the 100 watts isn’t enough. No, couldn’t be. I noticed the power meter on the radio is staying at 0 or at best a watt or two. Hmmm. I see my audio shows really nicely on the scope, what’s wrong ?
Over to 10 metre FM, an OK2 station calling on simplex with a booming signal. I give my call and ….. no answer. Then the OK2 says he sees a carrier but there is no audio. DOH ! Mic gain is down at almost nothing. Turn it up, equalize it, and the OK2 remarks on how fantastic my audio is – five different times during our QSO. YAY ! Of course the Heil PR-781 helps too – what a fantastic microphone.
After working a few guys, it happened again. No one answered my calls, even strong stations I should work easily. Why? I was baffled. Those that have seen the PowerSDR software know there are a lot of controls on that screen – a little overwhelming at first. And after looking very closely at all those settings, I noticed my split was on and I was transmitting 5 kHz away from my listening frequency. Turn off the split and everything is good again.
Throughout the course of the day I tested the Flex on every band 160 through 6, and contacted a number of stations, avoiding the contesters. Even poking around the AM broadcast band and shortwave bands I was amazed at just how great the receiver is.
The ability to sneak in between two splattering contesters and work weak DX amazed me over and over. I saw a cluster post for T2T in Tuvulu, tuned to his frequency, and there he was around S4 working Asian stations. There were no North American stations calling him – I guess he was too weak and they couldn’t hear him through the splatter. I called one time and worked him.
“WOW”. I literally said “Wow” out loud.
Then I saw a cluster post for a station in Rarotonga. Again, weak, but surrounded by big stations, no North Americans calling because they couldn’t hear him. It’s like I have a secret weapon and they don’t. Worked him on the first call. I said it out loud again – “Wow”.
Then ZL2WX on 10 metres, really early in the day for ZL’s but there he was calling CQ with no takers. In the log, thank-you. Awesome.
Then I hear FP5BZ in St. Pierre & Miquelon working a European pileup. I thought that he will never hear me if he’s beaming Europe. Worked him on the first call.
Okay, that was easy, but now there is a pileup for D2AM in Angola, Africa. No way I’ll crack this one. Au contraire – you know where I’m going with this – worked him on the first call. Again – “Wow”.
Was this all due to conditions, my average antenna, or the FlexRadio ? Probably all three. Most of these guys are weak or surrounded by the contesters, so this is where the Flex 5000 really shines.
This went on for the rest of the day. Whether they were new countries to me or not, if they seemed weak and unworkable, I worked them all. The Flex really flexed it’s muscle. All at 100 watts and a modest triband beam at 30 feet – nothing special.
My iMac did not have any issues running the Flex setup, never showing more than 30% CPU load, even with both receivers active and all the bells and whistles on. I had web browsers open, logging software running, and antivirus software running at the same time.
After the initial plug in of the firewire cable, I never had to think about it again.
After packing it all up to return it, I must say it was a fantastic experience. I definitely was a “big radio with a VFO” guy until I gave the FlexRadio a chance. There are one or two comparable big box radios, but none at a better price or even close to it.
Now excuse me while I write a letter to Santa.
See the entire FlexRadio setup here: