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New K9ZW Custom QSL Cards by Jeff K1NSS 9 - February - 2014

Posted by k9zw in A Good Read series, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled, K9ZW Operations, US Islands.
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Just finished today is the design phase of a trio of new QSL card designs commissioned from Jeff K1NSS.

I’ve segmented my operating QSOs recently into those where I’ve been on my new Flex-6700, those where I’ve been using vintage gear, and those made from my frequent visits on Washington Island.

Jeff K1NSS Eyeball QSO Card Designs for K9ZW

Jeff K1NSS Eyeball QSO Card Designs for K9ZW

Jeff K1NSS was brought to my attention as an illustrator and featured name in the K9YA Club Newsletter and by word of mouth.

We exchanged a few emails working out a strategy to a portfolio of designs, each with print and web versions, plus a coordinated Eyeball QSO Card.

Jeff has great talents suggesting viable themes and asking great questions to draw out what I was hoping for.

The Flex-6700 feature reflects the “magic decoder ring” that this piece of SDR equipment has brought to my operations. If you receive the full actual card there are “Easter Eggs” hidden in the design.

A “Voice of Steve” card seemed a natural to give a feel for the reverence of operating with vintage gear. I’ve gear spanning the WWII period onwards which I put to use when I can.

The third segmentation are those QSOs I make as a guest at the George Ulm W9EVT mega-shack at Greengate Farm on Washington Island, Wisconsin. The card gives tribute to this significant radio operation and also a way to highlight any other Washington Island QSO I make.

The reduced designs are the Eyeball QSO Cards illustrated. Eyeball QSO Cards is an Amateur’s way to say “calling card” and have taken the full card themes in a form adjusted for the purpose.

A highly rewarding experience, the process was a lot of fun! I spent more with Jeff than many of his projects, as I asked him to do not only the three designs, but also a WI9DX Washington Island DX Club version and a club member version of that card as well.

Oh and I asked him to do custom reverse sides to blend with the cards designs.

I’ll trickle some examples on the blog over the next few weeks.

Hope you like them as much as I do!

73

Steve
K9ZW

SmartSDR v1.1 – Another New Radio in a Download 3 - February - 2014

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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A Seven Band Look via SmartSDR V1.1

A Seven Band Look via SmartSDR V1.1

FRS delivers and then some!

More than just revised and improved!

It is as if a whole brand new radio was dropped off.

The screen shot, by the way, is the radio being run via wireless from an iMac using Win7/74 under Parallels.  The base machine is running OS-X Mavericks.

I could have opened another Slice, except I had “wasted one” fiddling from my WinXP box and iPad Air (Air running K6TU’s App) and didn’t feel like rebooting to clean up my mistake.

73

Steve
K9ZW

FlexRadio System – Major SmartSDR Update/Upgrade 1 - February - 2014

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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This is easiest left in FRS’s own words:

 

SmartSDRTM v1.1 Available On Time and Exceeding Promised Feature Set

FlexRadio Systems is pleased to announce the availability of SmartSDRTM v1.1.  SmartSDR v1.1 for both the FLEX-6500 and FLEX-6700 contains a wealth of new features – a number of which are over and above those promised in the public roadmap.  In the installation package are the release notes, which have important information about the features and caveats that are important to know.  Please read the release notes, as there are several important notices with v1.1.  Our team has worked hard to provide not only the features promised with v1.1, but also many new features that we feel will enhance your operation and provide more fun for your operation.  Here’s a partial list of the new features we are releasing with SmartSDR v1.1:

Double the number of panadapters and receivers for a total of four (4) of each for the FLEX-6500 and eight (8) for the FLEX-6700.  With more panadapters you will be able to simultaneously view up to 4/8 bands at once to monitor band conditions.  Increased slices opens the opportunity to monitor digital portions of multiple bands or the same band, have multiple receivers setup to work liaison on HF nets with multiple stations, etc.

Digital Audio eXchange (DAX) for seamless support of 3rd party digital programs.  With DAX, digital sample streams are routed directly from the radio to your PC and made available on DAX channels.  Much of the confusion about cable numbers and which virtual cable belongs to which receiver and transmitter is gone.  Each DAX channel is clearly labeled appropriately such as “DAX Audio RX 1″ and “DAX Audio TX 1″.  Each slice can be routed to a DAX channel on the fly in the SmartSDR client and all of the channels are created for you on installation of SmartSDR.

Promised with SmartSDR’s introduction was up to two simultaneous digital channels for digital software out of the radio.  We are pleased to announce that every slice receiver in SmartSDR has the capability to run DAX simultaneous to other receivers.  So on a FLEX-6500, up to four (4) DAX Audio channels may be run at once and on the FLEX-6700, up to eight (8) DAX Audio channels may be run at once.

DAXIQ streams added for wide-band data output.  In addition, with SmartSDR we promised DAXIQ streaming of I/Q samples at up to 96ksps (96kHz).  We’re pleased to announce that we have DAXIQ streaming running at up to 192ksps in v1.1.  For v1.1, we have DAXIQ streaming at your choice of 24, 48, 96 or 192ksps.  You may have up to four (4) total streams running simultaneously, but only up to a combined output rate of 384ksps today.  This allows you to run 96kHz of four bands into CW Skimmer from a single radio.

Both DAX and DAXIQ are network clients and may be used on multiple PCs on the network.  That means that you can run multiple digital mode applications all talking to the same radio but using different bands and modes at the same time and on different computers if desired.  We believe this is ground-breaking technology for amateur radio.

New filtering algorithms with sharper filters in all modes plus lower latency for digital modes. With SmartSDR v1.1, we are introducing variable sharpness filters which offer the best filtering when needed to eliminate incursion of sideband splatter from adjacent channels or very narrow CW filters, but also relaxes for lower latency with wider CW filters and latency-sensitive digital modes such as PACTOR.  The filter sharpness is automatically selected based on operational mode and filter width as selected by the operator.

Active Slice Control Panel.  A new Active Slice Control panel has been added to the right side of SmartSDR for Windows giving you immediate access to most slice controls in a single location without having to open up slice panels.  This allows the operator to collapse all slice panels and operate receivers entirely from the Active Slice Panel which will follow the selected slice receiver.

Tabbed control panels in SmartSDR.  All control panels on the right of SmartSDR are now under a tabbed control that lets you add or remove these panels at will.  In addition, you may rearrange the panels by dragging them to a desired location.  This lets you customize the layout of the SmartSDR control surface to match your preferred operational environment.

Advanced SmartSDR Persistence memorizes previous states.  Persistence capabilities in SmartSDR now remember key details about your operation on each amateur band.  Power, filter, and slice settings, panadapter levels, etc. are all remembered by amateur band so returning to the band later will quickly restore all the values back to their previous settings.  When appropriate, settings such as microphone and CW settings are memorized by mode rather than band or slice.

Enhanced panadapter display averaging.  With SmartSDR v1.1 you have control over both the speed of panadapter updates as well as the degree of averaging on top of the speed.  When reducing the panadapter update rate, all frames are used in the radio for better averaging, but preserving network bandwidth.  The additional averaging control adds a peak-weighted average which emphasizes signal peaks as it smooths out the noise baseline in the panadapter.

CW Audio Peaking Filter.  A new CW Audio Peaking Filter has been added which emphasizes audio signals at the pitch frequency of CW reception.  The APF raises the level of the desired CW signal, adding gain above adjacent signals to help you pick out weak signals in the presence of other signals or noise.

Hardware ALC for external power amplifier operation.  ALC provides a convenient way to reduce the output power of the FLEX-6000 Signature Series transceiver when driving external power amplifiers.

Automatic re-centering of Panadapter on Zoom.  Now when zooming in on a panadapter, the active slice or alternately the closest slice receiver will be re-centered before the zoom to quickly close in on the signals of interest.  Zooming without re-centering is still provided by using a click-drag on the frequency scale at the bottom of the panadapter.

New REMOTE POWER ON capability.  The remote jack on the back of every FLEX-6000 has now been enabled as a method to turn on or off your FLEX-6000 transceiver on or off. Now with a simple relay or external control device, your FLEX-6000 can be started and stopped under your command.

Master oscillator calibration capability.  Each FLEX-6000 Signature Series transceiver has an ultra-low phase noise oscillator for the best low-noise reception.  Unlike other transceivers that must be opened on a periodic basis to adjust the frequency of the master oscillator, SmartSDR now allows frequency calibration with just a software control.  Simply provide a reference signal or use WWV and enable frequency calibration.  SmartSDR will measure the offset and update the master oscillator and store the result to ensure you are always on frequency.

Improved Antenna Switching Logic with broad QSK support.  With new antenna switching logic, every conceivable operating condition has been considered individually and the optimal radio antenna solution that ensures the best operation is now computed automatically by the radio.  Even better support for QSK has been added with this change including support for QRQ QSK up to 100WPM using different receive and transmit antennas.

Updated SmartCAT for increased third party software support.  Several new commands have been added to CAT to support additional software programs and broaden the software that works with the FLEX-6000.

Add RIT/XIT support including operation with FlexControlTM.  Both RIT and XIT have been added including basic operation with the FlexControl.

Improved slice display for narrow band operations (CW, digital modes).  The slice receiver indicators have been updated to include clarity for narrow band modes and some digital modes such as PSK-31.  Key down to RF and slice tone output for CW is world class at less than 8ms.

For more information on this release or to download SmartSDR v1.1 and the associated release notes please visit the FlexRadio Systems website.

Enjoy your new radio!

73,

Your FlexRadio Systems Team

 

My local (in shack) update is 100% and I am in-process on the iMac update.  Looking awesome!

73

Steve

K9ZW

FLEX-6000 SmartSDR How DAX does the hard parts of Digital Modes 20 - December - 2013

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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FlexRadio Systems has released a very encouraging video on the use of the new DAX software to interface for digital modes.

Direct link is: FLEX-6000 SmartSDR DAX HOW-TO – YouTube.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Flex-6700 – Review after Four Months In 13 - October - 2013

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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My FlexRadio Systems Flex-6700 is radio #11, and arrived as part of their public Beta Program – the SmartSDR Preview Program – third week of June 2013. Software at the time was SmartSDR Preview Edition 0.12.x which was fairly basic.

As I write it is October 2013 and the radio is now on full production release SmartSDR 1.0.0, the Preview program having wrapped up after four-five updates, each which transformed my Flex-6700.

Most importantly SmartSDR 1.0 is the first step on a road map of quarterly updates, each which will bring major additional features to my Flex-6700. By download I’ve got a “New Radio” arriving every three months!!

Flex has implemented an excellent collaboration tool during the Preview Edition program that is staying in use. http://community.flexradio.com/flexradio Combined with their main website’s HelpDesk, ZenDeck (warranty system), KnowledgeBase and Downloads the support is excellent. Their main website is at: http://www.flex-radio.com

The Preview Edition experience:

It was an absolute privilege to participate and when the technical discussions were outside of my knowledge zone, to be an insider spectator during the forging of the earliest widespread release of SmartSDR into a form that could stand as production. At times I was a bit embarrassed when fellow participants forgot that the Preview Edition software was a work-in-progress. Those who had the big picture view were amazing in the amount of testing, troubleshooting and “what if” challenging they gave a radio-in-progress. I personally learned a lot about our hobby by being part of the process.

Each 2 weeks, provided candidate software passed small group quality checks, an update of “SmartSDR Preview Edition” rolled out. In a few cases the candidate software did not pass FlexRadio Systems small group quality checks and therefore was not released to the Preview Edition group. Some very silly grumbling from some of the Preview Group who moaned they didn’t get an update – as if FlexRadio Systems would ever knowingly distribute software that failed quality checks? In all honesty there were members of the Preview Group who should have not asked to have their radio shipped until the features they felt critical were completed.

A few of the Preview Group struggled with “The Radio is in The Software” capability of the next SmartSDR Preview Edition to transform their radio to the next level. It is worth remembering to check either the SmartSDR software level being reviewed or the date any SmartSDR commentary you read on the internet given the massive improvement achieved in the SmartSDR Preview process and planned with the roadmap taking SmartSDR v 1.0 forward.

Added along the way added has been SmartSDR CAT. SmartSDR CAT can replace other virtual serial port driver software packages, or serve as the Flex-6000 SmartSDR aware additional virtual serial port driver software package. This add-on is slick, making the virtual serial port driver issue very simple. While it comes bundled with SmartSDR it does require a manual Windows Program Uninstall and then Installation when SmartSDR CAT is upgraded. This separate Manual Uninstall/Install is a Microsoft Windows requirement and may be with us on Windows platform clients for some time.

Adding into the integration is v3 of DDUTIL by Steve K5FR – http://k5fr.com/DDUtilV3wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

DDUTIL hooks SmartSDR CAT and SmartSDR into an environment your other radio software and hardware will recognize. In my shack DDUTIL integrates an Expert Amp, Palstar Autotuner, a Green Heron rotor control, and several software packages to my Flex-6700.

The Flex-6700 running SmartSDR version 1.0:

Okay, here is where the rubber hits the road – with the first public release of the SmartSDR software my Flex-6700 is already equal to or better than any other amateur transceiver on the market. At least any that I have had the pleasure of spend time operating. There is a remarkably easy-to-listen-to nature of the received audio and it is a true DX hound.

The receiver is a very good match to the Tennadyne T-8 Log Periodic antenna, making the most of the no-tune nature of the Log.

I’ve been able to leave the Expert Amp on half or lower power with the same effectiveness.

All in all it is a ready to rock-n-roll SSB DX rig. Similar reports speak of sound CW performance. Laggard at this time is the Digital Mode capabilities which are sound provided an external interface and computer sound card audio routing like a black-box transceiver is used, as the full digital implementation is further down the road map. Reports are solid on those using a Flex-6000 for digital in the old school setup.

The ability to pop open panadapters on additional bands and drop receivers to monitor other band segments/bands, is awesome. The features presently released work quite well, with only a few glitches being reported at this stage.

Now what is cool is about every 90 days a new updated version of SmartSDR will be out.

http://community.flexradio.com/flexradio/topics/smartsdr_development_roadmap-5gkip

Here is a pdf snapshot of the present (Mid-Oct 2013) roadmap, showing that several features have already been pulled ahead:

PastedGraphic-2.pdf

The Flex-6700 Future Beyond the Road Map:

Obviously the road map is just a scratch at the surface of unleashing the Flex-6000. SmartSDR is just one of several possible GUIs and non-GUI interfaces. FlexRadio Systems has hinted about add-in modules to Contest, work on other client platforms, link/combine several Flex-6000s, do wide-area diversity and things as users we’ve not likely even thought of.

One has to remember that FlexRadio Systems is building on years of experience with professional grade products, and is distilling down the best of that experience to an amateur radio products.

You can see my pre-launch series of articles for some of the possibilities I had thought up.

What the Flex-6000 Series is NOT:

The Flex-6000 Series is very different than a conventional transceiver. In its present form the Flex-6000 is not:

  • A micro-DXpedition/Mobile ready radio as the radio’s present interfaces are all PC based.
  • A prepper’s primary back-up radio.
  • Ready for the visual impaired (though alternate UI’s are possible).
  • A single-box shack – you need the PC to access the radio.
  • A likely radio for an “Internet Free” QTH unless arrangements were made to get physical media with various upgrades.
  • Simple Plug-n-Play – while SmartSDR is easy to install, if an operator would have trouble installing Microsoft Office they will need help with a Flex-6000.

Like any new technology the Flex-6000 and SmartSDR have attracted naysayers – the vast majority who have an agenda rather than first hand observations to share. Again it is important to date reviews/comments against the SmartSDR Preview Edition version or production roadmap version, as the comments may be of historical interest only given the rapid evolution of the radio.

The Flex-6000 Mindset:

The Flex-6000 is seriously challenging to conceptualize as the hardware/software combination is layered, complex, exceptionally simple at the User Interface while immensely powerful under the hood, elegant, evolving, and vacates concepts like VFO-A/VFO-B architecture.

This is not a comfortable mindset for some users, as their personal concepts of what an amateur radio should be is something different than this brave new world of the Flex-6000. A few SmartSDR Preview Edition participants sold their radios to other hams, or simply put them on the shelf waiting until a general release with the feature they hold dear is available.

The latest generation of technology always stretches the operator. The “Game Changer” of the Flex-6000 series is here, to stay. That doesn’t mean that IC-7800′s, or FT-1000MPs, or TR7s, or Gold Dust Twins – or any other layer of prior technology – is somehow anything less. I have no intention of suddenly selling my favorite older radios because of the Flex-6000 revolution. But I do understand that the new cutting edge has been pushed way ahead – the boundaries of the hobby have suddenly expanded. And I am thrilled to be a participant with radio #11 of the new wave of Flex-6000 technology.

What could be any more fun?!

73

Steve
K9ZW

First Impressions of SmartSDR v1.0 General Release 30 - September - 2013

Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
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FlexRadio Systems did that StarTrek Transporter thing again, and sent me a brand new radio by software download.

This time it is the first full public release – SmartSDR Version 1.0

I have been testing my Flex-6700 using an aged and clunky old Dell Windows-XP Box – the bottom end of what a use might think of using.  I have a newer SuperMicro Windows-7 Machine ready to use, and will update the station in the next few weeks.

The old hardware/software did give me some minor glitches in this particular upgrade process.  Somehow it caused the radio to duplicate as both ready to go and still needing update in the radio-selector:

SmartSDR Phantom Duplicate Radio

SmartSDR Phantom Duplicate Radio

 

I could highlight either one, but the obvious need for a full power down and hard reboot of computer and radio fixed everything.

Once all sorted the temptation to “go play” was huge and I quickly worked a handful of DX Stations.  I missed on the Nigerian chap as I never could hear his call sign in the QRM.  Chile, Cuba, Ireland, West Indies, and a handful more.

Really a step up from the SmartSDR Preview Edition and knowing there are many features laid out on the SmartSDR Technology Roadmap means I will be getting another “new radio” by download roughly quarterly for some time to come!

Very impressed with the step-up from the first software I used through the roughly half-dozen versions to this much more polished General Release V1.0

Well done FlexRadio Systems!!

73

Steve
K9ZW

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