FlexRadio 6700 - Initial QSO's
This last week I've been test flying the FlexRadio 6700 in a number of QSOs both on HF as well as 6m so I thought I'd give an update on the most recent experiences.
As a reminder I'm still using pre-release software together with the other alpha testers. Functionality is quickly approaching the release 1.0 level and so on-air testing is now seriously underway.
My installation is totally remote - all my radio equipment and antennas are located away from the house and controlled via Ethernet. Audio is handled by a balanced audio link over a spare CAT6 Ethernet drop patched through from the radios to my office in the house. The CAT6 cable has 4 pairs - two are used for stereo audio from the radio, one for microphone audio to the radio and the last for the PTT line. For many years I used a homebrew set of balanced audio drivers but early this year, switched over to commercial components made by Radio Design Labs. Much better fidelity and more audio drive (with gain controls brought to the front panel) make this link a considerable step up on my homebrew effort.
Since I never got round to training Brando to go and push buttons on command, I spent a lot of effort over the years in station automation. With my Flex 5000, the CAT port from PowerSDR runs into DDUtil (courtesy of Steve, K5FR) which then handles the different components of the station - amplifiers, SteppIR antenna controller, rotor etc.
The current pre-release of the Flex 6700 software doesn't yet include CAT support (its coming soon!) so I have to go through a few extra steps to handle its operation until CAT is available.
So armed, I've made a fair number of phone QSO's over the last few days. Mack W4AX (also one of the 6700 alpha testers) and I had a short 6700 to 6700 QSO on Sunday morning. The bands weren't in good shape with an A index of 58 due to a sneaky CME hitting the Earth's magnetic field and creating a G2 class storm. The severe weather in the mid-West didn't help either - lots of lightning static made for a noisy band.
Mack's business brings him to Silicon Valley from time to time so we have had the pleasure of an eyeball QSO - I mention this because I know what Mack sounds like when he's in the same room - and he sounded just the same during our QSO on Sunday morning - natural and good audio! I mention this because the TX equalizer we're using has a set response configured in the software - the controls for the equalizer are being externalized as I write this and will appear in SmartSDR shortly.
Late Sunday afternoon, I had a great QSO with Bob K8MLM in Woodbridge, VA. I was testing on 20m just making sure I had my station control figured out and Bob called me. Turned out Bob was running a Flex 5000 and so we had a great chat about FlexRadios in general and the 6700 in specific. Bob was complimentary about the audio from the 6700 and with the bands in better state, gave me 59 once I'd kicked the amplifier in.
Last night (Monday) with the after effects of the geomagnetic storm abated, I checked on 6m before heading to dinner with my wife. The band was alive and hopping up and down the West Coast and I made a couple of QSO's into British Columbia using the 6700 barefoot. Tuning down to the CW portion of 6m, I heard WL7N in Ward Cove, AK - located in the sliver of Alaska just to the West of BC, Canada. Of course, I hadn't hooked up the CW key line from my keyer to the 6700 so sadly a new grid square didn't make it to the log!
A note about SmartSDR and remote control...
Integrating the 6700 into my remote station so far has been very straight forward and easier than the Flex 5000. In the case of the 5000, I have a computer sitting right next to the radio which runs PowerSDR. I control that remote computer using UltraVNC over the Ethernet - works great and with plenty of bandiwdth between my home office and the radio, burining 50 Mbps on screen updates isn't an issue. I can still use my FlexControl to tune the remote copy of PowerSDR as I use the Eltima Serial-to-Ethernet driver to remote my tuning knob.
Since SmartSDR connects to the radio over Ethernet, I run SmartSDR on the computer in the office. Its a Mac Book Pro running Windows 7 under Parallels 8 for the Mac. My FlexControl is plugged directly into the Mac and is assigned as a USB peripheral (via Parallels) to the Windows 7 VM. The whole thing works seamlessly - tuning is smooth with no lag when I stop turning the FlexControl.
Ever time I turn on the 6700 I'm struck by the receiver performance - this radio has good ears!