3 March 2016

Twenty years later...

I've been a Yaesu man since I could first afford to buy commercial amateur radio kit some time back in the '70s. Yaesu produced some pretty good radios and, frankly, some terrible ones, notably in the early synthesiser days. Yaesu weren't alone in this - most early synthesiser radios were pretty poor. In the end I found what I needed and Yaesu started getting their synthesiser radios to work properly. Starting with an FT1000D (excellent radio, wish I'd kept it!) through the FT1000MP and FT1000 Mk V, I eventually moved on to the FT5000 when they first appeared around five years ago.

Generally, I've been happy with the FT5k. It has some annoying aspects (notably the lack of a fixed stereo audio output for recording QSOs) but in general it's a fine radio. After fiver years I might reasonably be expected to be eyeing up what's coming next but, in general the answer has been "nothing that's good enough to displace the FT5k". As mentioned in my initial post, I continued to discount SDRs even though, from a technical point of view they appeared to be coming along well and were, by now, knocking on the performance doors of top of the range radios.

A chance exchange of e-mails on the CDXC reflector in February 2016 changed all that.

Steve, G1XOW, who is an SDR aficionado and is quite content with mouse clicking his way around the bands, helped me to realise that SDR does not equal no control panel with twiddly knobs and buttons to press. Of course I sort of knew that already - even the Pegasus had an optional external VFO knob - but none of the bolt-on goodies seemed to address the broader issue of a full panel.

The Flex Radio Maestro
The key discovery was that Flex Radio Systems were producing just such a control panel - the Maestro. Interesting! Form factor-wise the Maestro doesn't do it for me but it made me realise that it must now be possible to fully control an SDR via an external interface. The question was "is that interface specification available?" The answer, it turns out, is yes. Not only that but it is fully open source and the interface is via Ethernet, so it's easy to implement.

By degrees, a cunning plan began to emerge. I could build my own custom panel!

And so we come to the purpose of this Blog, as I navigate the route from this simple idea to something that meets my, admittedly demanding, requirements. If I get it right then never again shall I need to complain about the ergonomics of my radio, for I shall have it in my power to make it as I wish it to be. If it works then I shall have that worthy successor to the FT5000 that has eluded me hitherto.

Feel free to join me for the ride.

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