Spent the weekend in front of the rig and under the operating table setting the FlexRadio 1500 up for contesting season and rewiring the rat’s nest of cables.
So for contesting what would I add?
Number one is a VOX setup. You can’t contest in a serious way using push-to-talk on a mic cord. Now I see there is a PTT line out the back of the box and the headphones line push-to-talk button is on the headset end of a plug that connects the set to the rig so there’s hope there for an external tiny VOX box or at least a foot switch.
Two the rig needs a built-in SWR indicator. This would eliminate the need for a QRP meter on the desktop.
An autotuner is essential. As I’ve said before when I operate outside of the resonant point on the antennas the rig starts to cut back its power. And at 100 watts who cares but when you’ve only got 5 watts to start with this is essential. Now I read comments about the autotuner in the Flex 3000 and I’d like to get my hands on the rig before I make any decisions.
I am considering an external autotuner but honestly my MFJ $99 tuner and Diawa QRP-capable watt/SWR meter is perfect. Once I tune to the band and antenna I’m on with the exception of big moves on 160 and 80 meters it’s pretty much set and forget. Adding a $200 autotuner makes little economic sense…and I want one 🙂
Of course Flex has to fix the CW hardware interrupt issue that comes from using paddles or straight key and buying a bigger more expensive computer is just a workaround and not a fix. The built-in CW keyboard or CW memories are not affected and work perfectly.
So if we added all this up and added a 100-watt PA what would we have? A $1500 a FlexRadio 3000. Humm.
Now if I bought a 50-watt amplifier for the 1500 I’d never use it again as a QRP rig. I just know me too well. Besides on the weekend’s Scandinavian Activity Contest I worked about 20 stations on 20 and 15 meters effortlessly at 5 watts with reports of S-7 being common.
The FlexRadio is not an appliance box. Anyone who can’t or won’t read a manual and a ton of comments on web reflectors might want to consider a more plus and play box. (The new Kenwood looks good for a rig under $2K.)
I’ve yet to setup the virtual cable interfaces to other software programs to the SDR program but some folks seem to do this first time and others struggle somewhat.
So the bottom line is this:
For monitoring the bands (160-6) it’s perfect. The panoramic display which has a bunch of different display modes is fabulous and built into the price. The headphone jack will drive a set of amplified cheap computer speakers for casual listening.
For chasing DX and special event stations, it’s a nice challenge without being so low powered as to be ineffective but you need a decent antenna (at least a full-size dipole at a quarterwave or better above ground; a properly installed vertical over a ground-radial system; or a beam at 10 meters or higher). Any of the compromised antennas like loaded dipoles or mobile whips will limit the rig’s ability to get out. Yes it will get out but not consistently so and will not work for contesting.
And for contesting…well it’s a blast. You won’t be able to run much or break a pileup but at 5-watts (an S-7 signal compared to a 100-watt S-9) you will be heard, worked and logged. When 10 and 15 come back (and 15 is showing signs of life), a QRP rig is much less of a disadvantage and you might even be able to hold a frequency and run. Also, contesting in some of less popular contests is less frustrating. CQ WW DX contests have a QRP category but I don’t know anybody who ever won one. (There is a contest saying about life is too short for QRP and in the CQ contests there’s some truth there.)
Notice I didn’t say the 1500 needed a knob. Knobs are for old guys. This isn’t your father’s radio.