Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another F3K User Speaks

My buddy Greg AB4GO wrote me a review of his shiny new F3K. Greg lives about 25 miles south of me and is part of the Florida Contest Group and the Local DX club. He is a bit of a rocket scientist as he designs antennas for satellites among other things, when he isn't busy pursuing his avocations. I saw Greg at the Orlando hamfest when I stopped by Gerald's talk down there. By the end of the talk I swear he was drooling over the new radio.

Greg lives in a deed restricted community. Its a beautiful community except it is anathma to ham radio. As McGuire said to Ben in the graduate: I have one word for you


This is something that affects many hams these days, so view Greg's experience through the lens of what it's like for a ham with covenents.

As McMahan used to say And HEEER'S Greg!!

AB4GO Experiences With the Flex-3000 May 17, 2009

My experiences turning on the Flex-3000 have been very pleasant. Let me introduce myself as Greg O’Neill, AB4GO. I am a radio development engineer currently focusing on Wireless Antenna Products. At home, I am just a ham. I live in a covenant restricted neighborhood with antenna restrictions. There are a few embedded disguised antennas here and there. I believe I represent a great number of HAMS that enjoy operating their radios in a modest environment.

I became interested in the Flex-3000 when I saw the advertisements in QST last fall. I mentioned it to my wife back then. Well, at the Orlando HamCation, when we heard K5SDR talk about the radio, my interest peaked. I ordered the radio. The anticipation of receiving the radio has been fun. I read some background articles and subscribed to the reflector. The reflector is somewhat intense and may not be worth the time for the casually interested person. It is great if you want to follow all the nuances that can come up.

At my station, I have a newer model laptop computer with a Core 2 Duo processor at 1.66 GHz and only 1 GB of RAM. I should update the RAM. There have been no hesitations in the operation of the radio. The computer seems to take the radio in stride with and the Flex Owners Manual running in the background. The CPU generally operates between 15 and 25 percent, sometimes higher. The Flex-3000 comes with a nice IEEE 1394 6 pin to 6 pin cable. Nice ferrite cores are on the cable meant to be placed near the radio. My computer has a small 4 pin IEEE 1394 connector. Lee suggested I get a 4 pin to 6 pin cable. So I visited Radio Shack and Walmart with no joy. The BITs computer store in town had the cable. Apparently, the Firewire is not widely used on today’s computers.

In preparation, I took the time to terminate the power cables with lugs. A good solid ground wire is run to a single ground rod outside my radio shack. I positioned the Flex-3000 on top of a 1995 ARRL Handbook, used as a spacer, and then on my shelf above my 2 ft by 4 ft radio table. Finally I was ready for installation. I have a 12 volt powered amplified speaker and an excellent pair of MFJ-392B headphones. I decided to power the radio from my Astron RS-35M to ensure sufficient power for the transmitter. I choose to use my Heil Goldline microphone. I purchased the adapting cable from Flex with my initial order. The cabinet is cool and quiet during transmit.
The Quick Start Guide installation was straight forward. I did not study the PowerSDR presentation on the screen before receiving the radio. I wanted to listen to some signals while I began to read the Owners Manual. There was a moment or two of now knowing what I was doing to try to tune a signal. Once I began reading the manual I became comfortable tuning a signal. I enjoy 20 meter SSB and some 80 meter SSB.

My philosophy about this radio is to enjoy discovery. There is no need to conquer it immediately. After poking around a little with the receiver, I began reading the Owners Manual. The manual is very easy reading. It is set up just right, but in Chapter 6 OPERATION, we really get into the operating technique.

I listen to many folks talk about strong signal rejection for their radios. I sort of have the opposite problem. I need to be able to hear the weak signals. There aren’t any strong signals to reject here. Flex has made an advancement in the way we will make signal level measurements. A basic signal, say an S4 signal reads S4 whether the receiver pre-amplifier is on or off or the attenuator is used. The signal just gets clearer if the pre-amp is needed. I really appreciate having the panadapter calibrated in dBm. That is better than having some arbitrary 10 dB/division scale. I believe we hams will, in the near future, talk more about high frequency path loss. Flex allows us to adjust the vertical scale of the display in other than 10 dB/divisions. That will be nice for finding weak signals. I like to use the AVG (Average) display of the swept signals. I have listened mostly on 20 meters using my Buddipole antenna set up as a ½ wave vertical.

It has been fun to exercise the MultiRX listening to two QSO’s which should be good for working pileups. I am sure there are many other features that I have not yet experienced. I have used the ANF (Auto Noise Filter) to reduce in passband tones and the NR (Noise Reduction). I have played around with the AGC-T which is similar to an RF Gain control. Having read Lee’s piece about this control suggests I have more to learn about the fine points of this control. I have played with the receive filter selections a bit. It is nice to have such a wide selection readily available. One thing I need to learn more about is how to set the filters to receive the low bass voice of some of my 80 meter broadcast quality friends under strong signal conditions. This may be in part due to the speaker I am using.
For transmitting, I followed the procedure for setting the Microphone gain. I have found that on 20 meters, during less than strong signal conditions, the receiving stations have recommended for me to use the DX feature for mic operation. That has increased the received power level significantly. I am just now experimenting with the GATE control. It seems to take out any extraneous noises. The internal Antenna Tuning Unit has worked nicely.

I have made several contacts. My reports are similar to my other radio. These contacts have been to Europe from my location in Florida. I had a nice rag chew with a station in Illinois. The radio is operating flawlessly. It is a pleasant experience. Later today, I hope to make some CW contacts and get familiar with the internal keyer. These are my first impressions, with many more to discover.


This is a pic of Greg's Buddipole out in his yard.

Regarding the reflector, it can be a little intense as Greg says, but to a large extent that is because this technology conceptually tends to be kind of foreign to the ham experience and the "lingo" is a bit unfamiliar. In fact that is the major thrust of this blog to try and introduce these concepts in normal situations that hams experience in their operating lives. To that extent it is very worth while to read the Flex reflector. Over time repeated exposure to the terminology and concepts start to make more and more sense.