New Ham interested in SDR looking for advice

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by KC1DMJ, Jan 25, 2017.

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  1. KC1DMJ

    KC1DMJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hi Everyone -

    I recently received my Amateur Extra license in November of last year, after studying on and off for about a year. I'm looking for a good entry-level rig with SDR capabilities, and I'm hoping some of you with more experience can help guide my decision. I'm mainly interested in casual DXing, traffic nets, CW (still learning), and tinkering with SDR software. I'm fairly savvy with computers, so I'm not afraid of getting something that will require some work.

    I started off looking at the ICOM 7300, but the more I read, it seems limited as far as the SDR software goes when connected to a computer. From what I understand, you can only use the ICOM software, and it's not as robust as some of the other software out there. It's also a little pricey for my budget at the moment. Lately, I have been reading into the Flex 3000 (used from Flex), and the Yaesu FT-450D. I've seen some pretty cool setups with the Yaesu FT-450D using SDRPlay. The price-point fits my budget, and based on the reviews it seems like a solid entry-level rig. I've heard good and bad on the Flex radios, but the Flex 3000 seems solid for the used price ($900) from Flex.

    I suppose right now I'm leaning towards the FT-450D, but I'm wondering 1) what your opinions are, and 2) if there are other entry-level rigs that I should consider.

    Also, I'm planning on running a G5RV dipole in my backyard (about 150ft from my station with LMR400 coax). This is really my only option, as I live under HOA restrictions, but should be able to hide the antenna in the pine trees out back.

    Thanks in advance!

  2. KK5JY

    KK5JY Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm going to make a suggestion that you may not have considered.

    Go ahead and buy the 450 or whatever "normal" rig you were considering.

    Then, go buy the DXE RTR-2 [] device, or find a used RTR-1 device and buy it. These are very simple devices, and a used one should be easy to test and make sure it is in good condition. Or, or build one of the myriad of equivalent kit circuits you can find about the internet. Basically, what this does is to allow you to add an "receive antenna output" connector to any radio, which will save you some money, and give you a lot more flexibility in choosing a transceiver. Then you can connect your SDR to the auxiliary antenna output, and run your transceiver as normal. When you transmit, the router will disconnect your SDR, and when you go back to receive, it will automatically reconnect it. This will let you use the SDR and transceiver on the same antenna, which will let you have both a normal radio and a full-power SDR running simultaneously, just like if you were running a Flex or ANAN SDR option. It will let you run SO2R later, if that ever interests you, and it will give you the best of all worlds. Many people have linked their SDR and their main rig so that as they spin the dial, the SDR follows.

    The best part of using the above "router" option is that you can combine any transceiver with any SDR, and you aren't locked-in to any specific model for your combined station. It is very easy to build a diode-based receiver guard protection circuit for your SDR, so just in case you accidentally get RF into your SDR antenna path, the diodes will protect your SDR box.

    There are oodles of good SDR receivers out there.... I use the SDRPlay, but there are plenty of others. For software, I use SDR#, but it's mainly because I use the SDR as a panadapter, and SDR# has one of the best panadapter displays I have seen.

    Some radios allow you to have an antenna output, including the K3 and the TS-590SG. I have used both of these radios, and they are both suburb.

    If you are just looking for an HF radio that uses DSP internally, I would recommend you investigate the following:

    IC-7200: this underestimated radio has very nice DSP filtering. I very much enjoy using this radio alongside an SDR using the RTR device. Icom has put this radio back into production recently, and I prefer the DSP in it over the DSP in the 450, because the 7200's filters have a lot more flexibility. It includes one built-in roofing filter.

    TS-590SG: this radio is a bit higher-end than the 7200, and a lot more than the 450, but it is a lot cheaper than the K3, for a radio that has nearly the same specs as a K3. This radio has two or three internal roofing filters standard, although I forget the details.

    The 450 is great as an entry-level radio. The filter width options are very limited. It does have an internal roofing filter. I used my 450 for several years until I upgraded to a K3. I later cross-graded the K3 for a TS-590SG, which is my current main radio, with a 7200 as my "backup" or "tinkering" radio.

    The current Alinco HF offering has an output for an SDR... I believe it is I/Q, which will be very easy to integrate with a soundcard-only SDR receiver.

    The KX3 also has an I/Q output for an SDR, and I have a friend that runs his KX3 with a KPA-500 that I sold to him, and he loves this combination. The KX3's receiver chain has some variations from the K3 that make me think the KX3 might be a slightly better performer in an urban environment than a K3. My friend certainly thinks so. :)

    The K3(s) is not cheap, but you can build it slowly as you figure out what features you want. I started with a fairly bare K3/100, and added boards as I figured out what I wanted. The K3 has a breakout panel option that will let you connect an external SDR, either as an antenna or IF slave device, which makes the K3 extremely flexible when used with an external SDR. I woiuld recommend against the P3 option, and explained why in my eHam review. There are way less expensive options that provide a much higher quality panadapter.

    Enjoy your shopping! :cool:
    KA8UGB and KC1DMJ like this.
  3. N6PAT

    N6PAT Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I just purchased the Flex 6700 (it's on sale for $500 off the regular price) after owning the FT 450D for 4 years. I had terrible experiences with the 450D including less than advertised output power and a known problem with the 450D VFO that I was not informed about when I purchased it new from one of the major outlets. See the numerous eham reviews about the VFO issues.

    SDR is the way to go. No knobs, dials or switches to break and far more expansion possibilities than a conventional radio. My Flex allows me to listen to 8 different frequencies (same or different bands) at the same time. Show me a conventional radio that can do that.
    K1OIK, KC1DMJ and N9DG like this.
  4. N9DG

    N9DG Ham Member QRZ Page

    Since you are comfortable with computers your original idea of something like Flex-3000 is good one. If at all possible though I'd stretch for the Flex-5000 over the 3000 instead. It allows a for 192 kHz spectrum display vs. the 96 kHz of the 3000 and the 5000 also has more antenna and transverter interfacing options. The Flex-5000 now has to be the best bargain that there is out there on the used radio market. And the Flex 3000 or 5000's spectrum display detail (resolution bandwidth), screen fresh speed, pixel resolution, and down to the noise floor visibility out to the 96 or 192 kHz of spectrum bandwidth they are capable of, will run circles around any radio out there today with a built in spectrum display on the radio’s front panel at any price. There is a reason that there a lot people adding ~ $120 SDRPlay's or even the cheaper RTL dongles to their $3-10K radios that already have spectrum displays built into them.

    I would not start with a low end knobs and buttons radio and then add a low end RX only SDR to it. Yes it works, but it is still a compromise approach. And you will still have a low end radio for the RX and TX audio and signal handling, so you won’t have the benefits of the better technology in a Flex-3000 or 5000.

    And once you have some more funds freed up, I’d still get an SDRPlay. It can run along side the PowerSDR for a Flex on the same computer no problem, unless of course you have some really old computer, but anything mainstream from the last 7 or so years will be fine. It is unquestionably the best bang for the buck radio that there is. No traditional knobs and buttons general coverage LF to ~ 2GHz RX can touch it at that price range. But they do have strong signal handling limitations. But as long as you are staying under the SDRPlay’s strong signal handling limits, they are stellar performers. The February 2017 QST review will provide insights to the SDRPlay’s hardware capabilities and limits.
    KA8UGB and KC1DMJ like this.
  5. KC1DMJ

    KC1DMJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    That is exactly the setup I saw with the FT-450D. I do lean more towards this option because of the flexibility. It also appeals to me because I can buy materials for my antenna, an antenna tuner, and the SDRPlay now to play around with receiving. Then, when I have more funds I can opt for the transceiver to jump into transmitting. Also, having a physical radio with knobs and buttons is appealing to me.

    Yea, SDRPlay has the most appeal to me from what I've seen so far. I do have an RTL dongle that I was considering augmenting with the NooElec "Ham it up" upconverter, but SDRPlay seems to have a larger community around it.

    Thanks for these recommendations. There is part of me that wants to save up some more to get a better rig, but there's also another part that just wants to get on the air.

    I do like the flexibility of the Elecraft rigs, but they are just a little out of my range right now. Definitely something I would look into more down the line though.

    Thanks for the detailed response! I am going to read up some more on the IC-7200 and TS-590SG and weigh my options some more.
    KA8UGB likes this.
  6. KC1DMJ

    KC1DMJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks for the info about the VFO issues. I imagine the 6700 is a doozy. I'm going to have to wait many years before I consider something like that :)
  7. KC1DMJ

    KC1DMJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Looks like the base 5000 model is going for $1099 certified refurbished from Flex. Or, with the built-in ATU it's $1299. It's a stretch, but I could probably do it if I hold off a few months. It looks like the built in ATU is pretty good, and better than the $160 external option I was looking at. Curious what your thoughts are compared to the Flex 5000 and going with something like the TS-590SG (mentioned by N9DG above, since it's a bit nicer than the FT-450D) and the SDRPlay setup. There's some part of me that would like to have a physical radio, but not if it's at a great expense to quality.
    KA8UGB likes this.
  8. N9DG

    N9DG Ham Member QRZ Page

    The key advantage of the built in antenna tuner is that it is integrated with the software. It operates seamlessly.

    The 590SG is considerably better radio than the 450D all around. But cost wise by the time you have an SDRPlay integrated with the 590 it will be more expensive than the used Flex-5000. As for a traditional physical radio, I rarely turn mine on any more. They are so cumbersome for me to use, and when I do use them, I feel totally blind, and have next to no situational awareness of what is happening on the band when using them. I have been really spoiled by having a good panadapter/waterfall and the random access tuning it allows for.

    Also note that KE9NS has been adding many new features to PowerSDR for the Flex-1500/3000/5000 series radios recently. Really quite impressive all the stuff that he has added to PowerSDR, is "easy" to do since it is open source.
    KA8UGB likes this.
  9. W6UV

    W6UV Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    If you have any interest in CW stay far away from the Flex-1500/3000/5000. Latency on these makes CW painful at best.
    K1OIK likes this.
  10. KC1DMJ

    KC1DMJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    That's a good point about the costs after adding SDRPlay plus the RF router. Also, I guess the specs I was looking at for the Flex 5000 ATU were wrong (I found the spec sheet direct from Flex). Do you think I'd be able to reliably tune a G5RV with the built-in ATU? I was looking at the Z-100Plus which tunes 6-800 ohms, compared to the 5000 built in which tunes 16-500 ohms).

    I had read that KE9NS has been pretty active with developments. That's nice to know, and since it's open source I would like to eventually tinker with it myself.

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