Leaning toward a Flex-1500

F1500Over the years, I’ve tinkered with the poor man’s SDR – primarily SoftRocks and various “dongles”. They’re fun, educational and well worth what little money they cost.

I’ve also considered adding Elecraft’s panadapter to my K3-based shack.

Both of those paths seem to be leading to one much more efficient place – an SDR radio with real functionality that can perform the above-mentioned (and many other) tasks.

The Flex-1500 has been around a while. When it was new, PC’s required to operate SDR well were costly – back then, I would have had to buy a “performance” PC to run the rig. That’s not the case anymore and my very basic PC (purchased 6 months ago) easily exceeds the specs required run this little rig well.

Elecraft’s panadapter costs $750 and it’s just that – a panadapter with a small display.

The Flex-1500 costs $700 and can be a panadapter for any rig. And of course it’s already a complete multimode QRP rig itself. It’s also a SW receiver and a way to enable me to experiment with operating a CW skimmer, a WSPR beacon, a 2nd receiver for spotting mults during CQWW, etc.

And it would make a great 6-160m travel radio since a computer always makes the trip with me anyway.

Many reviewers, blog postings and other websites rave about the ‘1500 with many mentioning that they would find it difficult to go back to a “knob & dial” rig.

Perhaps most compelling is that Sherwood Engineering puts it right up there with the TS-990 and other expensive rigs in terms of receiver performance – and at only a fraction of their size and weight.

I don’t mean to sound like an ad for Flex…just mentioning the mental debate I’m having…

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  10 comments for “Leaning toward a Flex-1500

  1. July 25, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    I have had my eye on this baby for some time now. They are a great price new and not sure what they are on the second hand market. I did in the past have the LP Pan and used the SDR software and it was great. I like the fact you can mouse click on a spot and the rig moves there. I have been after Elecraft to add this to the P3 but it has fallen on deaf ears. I was wondering if Flex Radio was still active with updates for the 1500 or is it just as is now? This rig has been out there for some time now and has proven itself. In the past the draw back for me was the fact that as they improved the rig with downloads they could only work as per spec if your PC was up to speed with the latest and greatest. With the 1500 as you say the average PC can handle with rig no problem.
    Mike

    • July 25, 2013 at 7:01 pm

      Same here, Mike – I’ve toyed with the idea of this radio since its inception and it’s getting time to…well, I’ll refrain from the expression that comes to mind, but every time I see or read about a new SDR kit, I’m inadvertently steered back to the Flex-1500 for a number of reasons. Just today I read an article in Monitoring Times by K4SWL that mentions an SDR kit (the Peaberry). It’s $150 and covers 4 bands. I’m sure its a great kit but I think I’d end up wanting all bands, the ability to use as a panadapter, a proven design and not a kit this time – so back to the Flex.

      I’m not sure of updates to the ‘1500 over time but the software that enables it is constantly being updated which is one of the main points of SDR.

  2. July 25, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Hi,

    Flex-1500 is still an I/Q receiver like the Peaberry or Cross Country Wireless receivers.
    You should consider direct conversion receivers. The AFEDRI based receiver has far better specs than the I/Q receivers. Its only restrction is the limited 12bit sampling resolution leading to more conversion noise and less dynamic range.
    That’s not a problem for a “panadapter” usage has the display is less demanding than decoding signals.

    A last thing about PCs. That’s true current selling entry-level PCs have enough computing power for SDR. Even embedded computers like the CubieBoard 2 can run a panadapter.
    However, entry-level PCs have many bottlenecks when moving data, and that leads to freezings in the display and latencies (degrading performance and rendering them difficult to use for QSK CW by example).

    73,
    Yan.

    • July 25, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      Hello Yan,

      I have taken a look at those and the QS1R. I think the Flex rigs appeal to me a bit more in spite of what may be lesser performance due to the fact that support for them is more easily available. None of them are “plug and play” but I believe Flex comes a bit closer than the others and, for me, that matters at this point ;-)

    • Terry
      July 28, 2013 at 2:11 pm

      Yan,

      I agree with your comments 100%
      I had a FLEX 1500 (I bought it to get my feet wet with SDR) I couldn’t get rid of it fast enough – you almost need a ‘CRAY Supercomputer’ with ANY FLEX Radio to get them to work on CW without latency!

      my 10c

  3. Chris
    July 31, 2013 at 6:03 am

    I dont think you’ll go wrong with a 1500 John, Ive owned mine over a year now and still having a blast. Dont let the processor speed scare you, recent versions of PowerSDR are much less latent than earlier versions. Im a pretty slow cw op (20wpm or less) and I dont notice any lag. Faster sending may require the internal or external keyer but thats no deal breaker. Digital modes are a breeze and the ability to tweak SSB audio makes one sound like a much bigger station than 5 watts. Yes, I drank the kool-aid and liked it :)

    • July 31, 2013 at 7:37 pm

      To be honest with you, I probably won’t use a Flex (if I buy one) on CW. I have the K3 optimized for that and don’t want to change/adjust its settings to tinker with WSPR, skimmer/RBN uses, etc – that’s where the Flex will come in so any issues with latency are non-issues for my intended uses.

  4. October 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    99% of issues with today’s Flex 1500 are either CPU issues (anything over 25% is going to cause issues and happen because any old computer won’t run SDR) or operator error IMHO. Been contesting at QRP levels with 1500 for several years now and stripped down I7 PC runs around 2% CPU and thus no latency to speak of and CW keying from Writelog. (Runs Photoshop like a dream as well!) With a small beam on CW and RTTY I pretend I’m QRO and work just about everyone, everywhere on first call during contests. SSB…well not so much but worked SM on 12 meters with R-5 vertical 10′ off the ground last week :) Not a rare QSO.

  5. Aaron
    April 9, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    I’ve had the flex 1500 for several months now and it is phenomenal. The first week I sold my Icom boat anchor to a beginner ham for $100. I have no interest in conventional radios now whatsoever. Once in a while I would like more than 5 watts, but with a resonant dipole, 5 watts is plenty for digital modes and I even make some ssb contacts as well. Someone would have to be way off not to like this.

  6. AL Alexander
    August 31, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    One question I have: Is it necessary to purchase the VAC software for all modes? I already own a 1500.

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