Sunday, March 22, 2009

Digital down, Phone to go.

Saturday was "Phone Day" for Junior.

I have a Heil ProSet Plus iC set of headphones that I use with my Icom radios that has the iC and the HC-4 elements in it, so I figured this would be the easiest way to get the FLEX-3000 on the air using phone. FlexRadio sent me one of the RJ-45 to 8-pin Foster (male) "pigtails" to connect the Yaesu headset connector I had for use with the FLEX-5000. Connecting the two together and plugging it into the FLEX-3000 was just too easy.

Again, I connected a dummy load and started some testing while listening to it with a second receiver. I was surprised. No TX audio output. Darn. Gotta be the cable, right? Well, no. It was a PowerSDR database setting. In USB mode, I had VAC enabled - DUH! One click of the mouse and Junior was speaking and it was not the digital warbling babble it was on Friday.

I cannot use the iC element in the Heil ProSet Plus without wiring up the voltage pin in the connector (the iC element requires a 5 VDC to work), so I decided to use the HC-4 element.

For those who are not familiar with the Heil HC-4 element, it is the "DX" element that has a very narrow frequency range which rolls off sharply @ 500 Hz and has a 10 dB "boost" at 2K Hz for extra punch. This element is poorly suited for the FLEX-3000 and FLEX-5000 because it was designed for older analog radios that do not have a flat TX frequency response like the FLEX family of radios do. So I tried to “EQ out” the undesirable characteristics of the HC-4 element that makes the audio sound hollow and tinny sounding. There is only so much an EQ can do and I was hoping that the 10-band EQ could get the job done. Did it? Keep on reading...

There was a Russian DX contest on, I fired up Junior and start to search and pounce using the Panadapter (aka “shooting fish in a barrel”) I made about 30 DX QSOs very rapidly. I did not have any issues cutting through the pileups with my barefoot signal. I was pleased with the initial results.

I though I had done a fair job setting the TX EQ for the HC-4 when I received an e-mail from Dudley (WA5QPZ) telling me that he had just received the other FLEX-3000 test unit from Gerald and want to set up a SKED. You bet I jumped at the chance to have the first “real” FLEX-3000 to FLEX-3000 QSO and he could make over-the-air recordings so I could hear what the radio sounded like.

Dudley soon had his FLEX-3000 fired up after an initial Firewire glitch due to a slight assembly problem (this is why we shake out the radios before shipping them to you) and he was soon on the air. Propagation between North Carolina and Texas was very good Saturday afternoon and we soon were able to find a spot on 20m where the Russians were not consuming more than their allotted bandwidth (they have wide signals and the Panadapter doesn’t lie).

Dudley made me a recording and the HC-4 sounded like [insert your own explicative here] once I could hear myself with a receiver that has a wider RX filter range than the Icom. So we started tweaking the EQ setting, turned off the Leveler and it started sounding better, but as I said to Dudley, “…the HC-4 ain’t no PR-40”. We announced that we were QRV on the FlexRadio Reflector and were soon joined by several hams, like Bob (Mr. CAT-man-do) K5KDN, Dale, WA8SRA, Daryl KA1VVT, Marvin KM4GQ, Dale KP2CZ and Chris KF6VVL (?).

After the SKED / roundtable was over, I was “bugged” about the TX audio quality of the HC-4. I was mostly annoyed that it did not do the FLEX-3000 justice since Dudley’s audio was EXCELLENT with the BM-5 headset he was using. I hade to make some changes…and soon.

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