Monday, May 26, 2014

Post WPX

The radio performed very nicely.   I spent some time trying to figure out how to optimize this radio for contesting.

My conclusion for antennas is that you need some kind of multi-band antenna to maximize the features of this radio.  My F5K had 2 entire RF paths for each receiver.   In other words I had discrete single band antennas and amplifiers connected to ANT 1 and ANT 2 on that radio.  Each amp had its own TX key as well.  I had one band following amp (ALS-1300) and one antenna switch which could both be driven by BCD using band data from the radio.  I also had some other discrete antennas so I could set up ANT 2 as the run antenna, and use ANT 1 for band hopping.  It worked well.

For this radio since there are not discrete receivers (SCU's) a single multi-band contest antenna would likely work best.

This is my eznec design of a "contest vertical".   This antenna uses a single 34.5 ft tapered aluminum tube and covers 40, 20, 15, 10.  It uses no tuners, coils or switching and should be good for many KW, all off one coax.  Here is the SWR graph of this antenna:

Resonances are 7, 14.1, 21.2, 28.  I have enough scrap aluminum that I am going to build this antenna later this summer.  Of course there are many dipole variants of this design.  I think  I have figured a way to add 80M  the WARC bands as well but mostly this needs to be a solid contest antenna on  40, 20, 15, and 10 since these are the point rich bands.

My other choice would be some kind of tri-bander with a 40M dipole on the same feed point.  This would be a definite step up in performance.  Since the radio has only one TX key line at this point getting all fancy with multiple amps and exotic antenna is probably a waste though you could certainly do that for a specific contest (the 160 test comes to mind).  You could set up a freq agile amp/antenna switch on say ant 1 and use the contest vertical on say the transverter input and given your situation that may improve your rate.  The main thing is to have a efficient antenna that can hear well on multiple bands.  On 160 I could envision a BDV (big damn vertical) on ANT 1 and some kind of RX 4 square or K9AY on the transverter port.

I have trouble with the way the RIT is setup in the radio for the contest situation.  It is ergonomically terrible.   I have a knob and one button is designated to RIT.  RIT is extremely important if you are running with 100 hz filters.  Very often a station calls back up or down the band.

Here you see my RX on 7.029 and a station 180 hz down the band.  I hit the RIT button on the knob and I can immediately tune my passband onto the station down the band.  So far so good.  To cancel RIT I have to press the knob button AND mouse over to the RIT drop down and turn off the RIT and reset to zero.  That's 4 steps.  

What should happen nis when you hit RIT the drop down automatically opens and RIT is turned on  you can then tune the RIT.  If you click RIT a second time RIT toggles off and on but the offset is retained.  If you click the button on the knob RIT turns off, the offset is set to zero, the RIT drop down closes, and normal slice tuning resumes,  If you have to go from the knob to the mouse to the keyboard to the knob bla bla bla and back in a contest your hosed as far as rate goes.   

A couple of times during the contest if I left the radio for a long period of time the main display would freeze.  I would have to completely shut every thing down including the radio,  power supply and computer.  I was running 2 slices, 2 skimmers, 2 bandmaps on Writelog etc.  To start from a cold boot is a lot of steps.  I'm not sure exactly what happens but I think it's related to multiple ethernet streams. 

I wish there was a way to band follow easily.  I had that set up with the F5K but the parts I used were not reliable enough to suit me.  To make it work you need a 100% reliable LPT port and I was using u home brew usb device.

I am very happy overall with how the radio performs in the contest scenario.  It's not SO2R but its about as close as you can get with a single SCU/receiver.  There was absolutely no overload, not even close!   The 100hz filters were superb and the ability to tailor the audio in the stereo field is perfect to be able to easily discern 2 stations at once.  That part surprised me in how effective it was.  After a while listening to 2 streams of CW became second nature and not at all distracting.  I think it was this plus the razor sharp filters that made this psychological effect of non-stressed 2 things at once happen.

WriteLog is an incredible logger.  It interfaces perfectly with skimmer and SSDR.

Over all I had me too much fun.

73  W9OY   

Saturday, May 24, 2014


I wanted to wring out the 6300 in the CQ-WPX.  This radio places itself squarely as an excellent choice in the single op class:

Single Operator Categories: One person (the operator) performs all operating and logging functions. There is no limit on band changes. Only one transmitted signal is permitted at any time.

I set up my station to further fulfill this subclass:

Single Operator Assisted: Entrants in this category may use QSO alerting assistance (see rule IX.2)

QSO alerting assistance:  The use of any technology or other source that provides call sign or multiplier identification along with frequency information to the operator. It includes, but is not limited to, use of DX cluster, packet, local or remote call sign and frequency decoding technology (e.g., CW Skimmer or Reverse Beacon Network), or operating arrangements involving other individuals.

My kind of setup.  Here is a shot of the 2 displays as I set them up:

(right click pic>open new tab>zoom with ctrl mousewheel)

First is the radio on the right with 2 slices blazing away

Next 2 instances of CWskimmer   The right skimmer goes with the upper slice

Finally the logger.  I am using the latest edition of WriteLog

and finally tying all of these components together is SDR-Bridge

Ed W2RF has done the Flex world a huge favor.  He figured out a way to have up to 4 instances of CW skimmer andf 4 slices tied together and he found a way to interface WriteLog to it all.  It makes contest operating a breeze at least in the assisted class.  SDR-Bridge uses telnet (aka ethernet) to tie the radio, the skimmer and writelog together, yeilding a very robust fast and high performance system.  This is my first experience with writelog and I can tell you even as a novice user this program rocks and is well worth the price of admission.  In the screen above you can see 2 band maps on the far left.  These maps are populated by my cluster program VE7CC client (CC Cluster).  You can see the sky blue client screen poking its head over the top of WriteLog.  The bandmaps are color coded.  If you look closely call signs are differentiated according to this color key:

New stations are pink dupes are gray and new multipliers are red.  As you knock off mults the sea of red changes.  The stations are also transferred to skimmer  To work a station you merely click the band map or skimmer and that station is loaded into the logging screen.  Tab through the report and fill the number and hit enter/  If you switch toi the other band map or skimmer screen or click the other slice TX is switched to that slice a station is entered into that slices logging area tab tab num enter and another one is in the log.  

I found the audio setup in SSDR very useful.  I set my cans so that the top slice is in both ears.  

and the bottom is in the left ear (my dominant ear)

The filters allow single signal reception so the stereo/pan effect makes it eassy to listen to 2 stations at once with no confusion.

If you are running and someone comes calls offset simply click the aux button you have set for rit and turn the knob immediately the off freq station is tuned.  Press the knob itself to cancel the offset.

The run freq is denoted by the red line and the offset station is in the passband of your filter.  

More to follow as I digest how all of this works but so far its pretty well thought out

73  W9OY

Full Duplex

So I was fooling around in the CQ-WPX contest trying to figure out how to best deploy the 6300.  While noodling I came across this really cool aspect of the radio


If I transmit on a fundamental of let's say 3.5 mhz (and change to be legal), I can see my harmonic on 7 mhz, 14 mhz, 21 mhz, etc.  I also noticed the harmonic strength varied with transmitted power as one would expect.

Can you say full duplex?   More on my contest experience in a subsequent post.

73  W9OY

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Bands are Alive!

Some pretty pictures

15 M

20 M

40 M


40 M in one ear -- 20 M out the other

How crazy are those waterfalls?

Happy Memorial day!

73  W9OY

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Crunch Time

So there is a lot of hand wringing about the fact this radio (6300) has no preselector so I decided to give a quick real world test given the equipment I have on hand.  I was hit by lightning a few years ago and it took out a fair amount of equipment so I thinned the stuff on the desk considerably.  One radio I do have immediately available is my Elecraft K-1.  Yes Virginia even I own an Elecraft.  I fired it up on 40 M on the back 1/2 wave 40 M vertical.  This antenna ain't no quick n easy 'tenna buddy cheapo.  It's 60 ft tall with a matching network coil made out of #6 wire.  It's over 3000 ft of wire the longest being my 160 radials which are about 150ft long.  The 40 M tuner is on the left.

In the front is a 43 ft wire vertical hanging in a pine tree 

and this is my remote tuner, a MFJ 929 auto tuner fed with T bias 12 V on the coax in a 50 cal ammo can.

I use this antenna primarily as a receive antenna on 160 80 40 and 30  since I can tune it from the shack.  I can also cut the 12 v to get a broadband response by bypassing the tuner.  

The 43 ft antenna was chosen for the Flex 6300 and the tuner was bypassed.

I ran the K-1 up to 0.2 watts and here is its spectra as seen on the 6300

Note the transmitted signal is about -40 dBm or about 33 over S9.  It is here I loose the spitting (spurs) from the K-1  and I could easily carry on a contact with a station at -120 dBm (s1)  The transmitted signal K-1 is 9 khz away.

I tuned up the band a bit further and at 20 khz up the band from the K-1 transmitter I can no longer hear the first hint there is a 33 over signal being transmitted 175 ft from my rx antenna.  

Here is a shot of me listening to a station who is -117 dBm only 6 khz up from my K-1.  He is 100% Q5 copy.

I had to go do a couple of operations to pay for my kids college so I didn't get to the second part of this rest till I got home.  I had been scheming ways to get a stronger signal into my 6300's un-preselected front end.   I cranked up the power to 7 W on the K-1.

As you can see the spectra is far dirtier.   Note the signal is about -20 dBm or about 53 over s9.  I put the K-1 through my alpha and got this 

Same spectra but the signal in the 6300 is now about -5 dBm  Now I'm up to 68 over S9 and this represents 40 W of transmitted power from the K-1  The band was dead so I looked for the first station that was tweaking my panadaptor 

It was a SSB station about 100 khz up the band  His strength was about -100 dbm or S4

I hit the key on the K-1 and was still able to copy him Q5,  His signal was totally unaffected.  I could not tell my K-1 was transmitting even though I was sending 50 w of CW on an antenna 175 ft from my rx antenna.

That's about as drastic of a test as I can muster right now.  It none the less is I think a pretty amazing test.  All of the RF from 30 khz to 54 mhz including a signal 68 over S9 only 100 khz up the band on SSB no less and the rx is bullet proof.  Eventually I will get another rig on the bench capable of driving the alpha to 1500w.  If I was at a 100 w class field day site: on 40 M I could easily work S1 stations on CW with a SSB station 150 khz up the band and as long as his TX was clean and I wasn't on a spur, no problemo.   Given enough power I'm sure I could crush the front end BUT the loudest station I ever hear is Radio Havana on 6 mhz and the loudest I've ever heard them is - 37 dBm or s9 plus 37.  This test gives a real world example of how the radio works

Not bad for a radio that ain't got no front end much less a friggin' roofin' filter!!

73  W9OY

Someone on eham didn't believe my band noise on 160 so I thought I would include a shot for the record.  Look at the dBm reading in the flag.  My antenna is a 66 ft resonant vertical.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Dialing It In For Contests

Today I spent a little timer setting up Writelog

WriteLog is an amazing contest program written by Wayne W5XD.  It is strongly linked to the SDR-Bridge program by W2RF via telnet.

It also links up to 4 copies of CW skimmer to the Flex 6x00 radios.  My radio has 2 RX slices so I link to 2 skimmers via SDR-Bridge.  

Tonight is the EU contest so I'm trying to get a feel for how the system is going to run for a contest

WriteLog can open up to 4 band maps.  I have 2 open

The band maps are tied to a slice.  The map on the right goes with slice B, and the one on the left with slice A.  Skimmer right also goes with B abd Skimmer left A.  If you look closely at bottom right in this pic You can see 2 call signs loaded one from slice A and one from slice B.  The band map acquires data from CC user for each band.  When I switch bands in one slice the band map comes up already populated 

Pretty cool for contesting or just general use/

I can hear both of these stations in my headphones and of I like I can put slice A in the left ear and slice B in the right ear. 

But for listening to two at once I prefer the slice with the weakest station to be in both ears and the strongest station in my left.  If both are equal it just sounds like QRM.  This aural tuning of audio input to how your brain processes is very important.  Done correctly you can listen to the data streams without the added brain processing of separating the signals/  I am using 100hz filters and APF and both signals are peaked at my preferred 450 hz offset.

Either or both can be muted.

My cluster program is VE7CC client called CC user.  This is another fantastic program.  It allows color coded very depth filtering as well as propagation data etc.  It links to Writelog via localhost telnet link.  

I click the band map or skimmer and the freq and call sign are loaded into into WriteLog for that slice and the slice and skimmer are also sent to the correct freq

(right click > open in new tab > use crtl mouse wheel to increase pic size) 

This is also a screen shot of my contesting desktop.  Here 2 stations are loaded into WriteLog   LY2F was calling CQ and loaded from the skimmer screen.  UX2IJ came from the band map

I don't yet have band following set up on my amp and antenna switch.  Once it's in place all I would have to do is click the "TX" spot on the flag to send the transmitter to the right band hit memory keyer and enter them into the log, then click the opposite TX hit the memory keyer and enter them in the log.  This could also be done from a run freq in one slice and SnP in the other say in a 160 contest where your antennas are the same or if your antennas are on the same coax like a tribander.  It's not true SO2R but it's about as close as a half duplex radio can get.  

There are more little details to be worked through but this was a fun exercise for me to set up.  This radio is a total gas

73  W9OY

Thursday, May 15, 2014

DXing with the Flex 6300

I've been using the Flex 6300 for about 6 weeks now.  I was part of the alpha team and was not able to talk about the radio till May 9th.  As time goes on I will talk about aspects of the radio.  Tonight I want to speak about the remarkable DX capability of this radio and the ancillary programs.

I started using Log4OM as a general purpose logging program.  I have been using DXLab but found some instability between SmartCat which is Flex's CAT interpreter and DXLab's commander.  This program uses OMNI rig to interface to SmartCAT  and is stable.   I will quickly run the the few programs needed to turn this radio into a dynamite DX blaster.  Remember to right click a pic and open in a new tak if you want a close up view use ctrl-mouse wheel for zoom

Log4OM is a new program to me.  It is a full featured logging program.

Above is a shot of the logger and the cluster screen.  I am using VE7CC cluster in this example.  One can show all spots or filter a band/mode.  Here is filtered 30M.  When you click a spot the radio through OMNI rig is brought up on the DX freq and the callsign and country reports name etc. are pre-loaded into the data fields.  You can edit these before the contact is logged.

Here is a shot of the world map with gray line.  Stations in the filtered cluster are displayed as red boxes on this nice map.  The data is transferred to the radio by Omni rig and SmartCAT (part of the Smart SDR suite).

Omni Rig is one of Alex VE3NEA's creations and is a general CAT interface used to connect radios to various other of his programs.  In this case I am using the PowerSDR CAT command set.

SmartCAT is Flex's virtual port program  It provides the control link between Omni Rig and Log4OM.

In addition I am using  2 instances of CW skimmer, one for each open slice.

Skimmer is another of Alex's dynamite programs.  It provides a "skimmerfall" of CW signals scattered across the band and each skimmerfall can control its own slice in the radio by simply clicking on the desired CW signal.  Skimmer also decodes morse and displays call signs and 599.   Decoding becomes an important aspect of point and shoot hunting. 

To get multiple skimmers you need these ancillary programs.  Above is DAX which is part of the SmartSDR suite.  It provides the channels of I/Q from the radio needed to drive the visual information on the skimmerfalls.  The I/Q data is 96000 hz wide (96khz)  a big chunk of the CW band.

This little puppy is SDR-Bridge written by Ed W2RF.  It is a very robust program that controls skimmer and WriteLog via Telnet, a less fragile connection than CAT.  This program works great!  With these programs all linked up you have tremendous control in a pile-up on 

Here is a shot of the Aland Is. 30 M OH0BCI pileup on 10110.4,  The DX is in the top slice and the right skimmerfall.  The DX is placed in the panadapter and skimmer by clicking the entry in the cluster screen upper left.  When clicked you can see the log enters the call sign, time, report, band, mode, and other incidentals like name may be entered.  This contact could also be reported out to the cluster.

You see the DX in the upper panadapter and waterefall at 10.110.385.  I tuned off slightly to peak the station in my 100 hz filter.  I turned on the APF in DSP and peaked the DEX signal.  I then locked this panadapter so the DX is always present no matter what gets pressed.  The transmitter is controlled in the lower slice, and is displayed in the left skimmerfall.  I merely look around for the 599 or look for the callsign of the station I hear the DX working and click that and my transmitter is on freq for a call.

Here is something really cool.  If you look closely at the right skimmerfall you can see EI6JK at 10.109 working DX simplex.  I simply click his call in the cluster box to load his info in the log and click the right skimmerfall to put my transmitter AND the second slice B receiver on his freq.  I have OH0BCI in slice A and EI6JK in slice B.  The transmitter in this case goes with slice B.  In 1 call I have EI6JK in the log.  If he had been working offset I would just click on the XIT to send the transmitter up. 

 I then mute slice B click the transmitter back up to the OH0BCI pileup and 2 calls later he is in the log.  Three calls and a couple of clicks and mere seconds and 2 DX stations are in the log!  An example of the SO2R versatility of this radio!!  It also points out the even greater versatility of the 6500 and 6700 more slices more binary pairs of SO2R!   At some point its hard to wrap your mind around the possible parallel processes.  Its efficiently manipulating parallel processes that win contests and maximize log entries. 

I can't get over how much fun this radio is to operate!!