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Icom IC-7300 HF Transceiver Review

Discussion in 'Product Reviews' started by Moleculo, Apr 3, 2016.

  1. Moleculo

    Moleculo
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    The new Icom IC-7300 direct sampling SDR rig has arrived at my shack! This new rig is a radical departure from the traditional Icom, Kenwood, Yaesu superhet design and instead uses direct sampling low-IF design. The closest other rigs to compare this to are Flex rigs and the Elecraft KX3 (although the KX3 is a zero IF Direct Conversion SDR, which is a little different). The architecture used in the Icom IC-7300 allows for a variety of features to be incorporated into the rig at a reasonably affordable price point - currently $1500.

    [​IMG]

    Current Icom HF users will find the layout of the buttons and knobs familiar, short-circuiting the learning curve for the new rig. However, this rig also features a touch screen which is used for many adjustments, making this one of the most modernly designed user interfaces in an HF rig we've seen to date. In this first part of the review, I'm going to briefly showcase some of the many features in the 7300 and then go into further detail in subsequent posts.

    The direct sampling architecture makes it possible to use a real-time spectrum scope, which Icom has incorporated directly into the LCD touchscreen. This architecture allows for a very wide bandwidth display on the scope; the IC-7300 allows for up to 1 Mhz bandwidth. In this picture, you see a close-up of the spectrum scope screen showing the entire 20 meter band:

    [​IMG]

    There are a few different ways to view the spectrum scope. The previous screen was the expanded, larger scope screen activated using the EXPD button. If you would rather display a smaller scope with larger meters or other information, choose the shorter spectrum scope:

    [​IMG]

    Of course, like any good spectrum scope application, you can adjust the bandwidth to suit your needs. This picture shows it zoomed all the way in:

    [​IMG]

    Here's a 50 Khz span:

    [​IMG]

    In addition to a band scope, there's also an audio scope. Better still, the audio scope works in real-time for both TX and RX audio!

    [​IMG]

    This screen showing the various meters will look familiar to users of other Icom rigs. It shows the S-meter, Power output, ALC, Compression, SWR, Drain Current, Drain Voltage, and PA temperature.

    [​IMG]

    If you press in the MULTI knob, the menu for adjusting the power output, mic gain, compressor, and monitor pops up to the left. Adjusting these settings while using the multi-meter screen makes the task really simple.



    [​IMG]

    You can also show the meters with the scope at the same time:

    [​IMG]

    Accessing the menu to activate various screen views is done by pressing the MENU button and then using the touch screen. This is also where you manage memories, the recorder, and various other settings:

    [​IMG]

    This image gives you an idea of how the menuing system works to make various setup adjustments. Setting up this rig very easy - I didn't even read the manual!

    [​IMG]

    Another feature which I'll discuss in more detail later is the SD Card slot that is accessed on the face of the radio. This has become a standard feature on most new Icom rigs and other manufacturers should follow suit.

    [​IMG]

    Here's the view of the button functions on the right side of the rig. The dial has a very smooth feel with a tensioner ratchet underneath.

    [​IMG]

    Pressing and holding the filter indicator at the top of the LCD brings up the filter settings. The rig gives you three filters for each mode which you can preset and then tailor to your needs.

    [​IMG]

    The Function button brings up the menu to toggle some of the most commonly used functions needed on any HF rig:

    [​IMG]

    To wrap up this installment of the review, I took a picture of the IC-7300 next to the Elecraft K3 to give everyone a perspective on the rig's dimension. They're almost identical in size - much smaller than most 100 watt transceivers. It looks to me like it's a little larger than the Yaesu FT-991.

    [​IMG]

    My first impressions of this rig can be summed up with the following: It's very user friendly and easy to set-up (I've figured out everything I've tried so far without reading the manual). It packs a TON of features into a nice package at a price that presently can't be beat. I'm looking forward to giving the IC-7300 a workout over the next few months in order to give my impressions of the receiver and overall capabilities. In the meantime, I'm predicting that Icom is going to sell a ton of these; it made a big impression on me on my first day with it.
     
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  2. Moleculo

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    Screen Capture Capability

    One neat IC-7300 feature is the Screen Capture function. You can turn this on from the SET icon after pressing the MENU button. Once activated, you simply press the POWER button to capture an image of the screen. There's an option to save the file as either a PNG or BMP. Now that I know of this feature, any screen shots shown in this review will use that function. Remember, once activated, you have to remember to turn it back off if you want to power off the radio. A general observation about the screen captures: They appear to be a bit darker on the PC screen than they are on the radio.

    One of the first screen captures I took was of the alternate display color, which uses a blue background. Some may find this setting a bit easier on the eyes than the standard high contrast black and white setting:

    [​IMG]


    On Screen Keyboard

    There are two on-screen keyboards available which are primarily used for naming memories. (Saving memories is fairly straight-forward so I'm not planning on covering it in this series of reviews unless someone asks for it). The on-screen keyboard is nice, and it really makes the best of the touchscreen experience. You can choose from a standard QWERTY keyboard:

    [​IMG]

    or chose a 10 key based keyboard:

    [​IMG]


    The touch screen is also used to change bands by simply pressing on the MHZ portion of the frequency display. When you do, this convenient band register is presented so you can quickly change to another band:

    [​IMG]

    Next, I'll cover a few of the other convenient features that come with this radio like recording and playback for voice and CW modes, as well as on-screen RTTY decode.
     
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  3. Moleculo

    Moleculo
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    Receiver Performance

    Some leaked Sherwood Engineering test results have started showing up on the Internet. Until these tests have been officially published, we can assume that they're real (who would take the time to fake ham radio receiver test results??), although we need to accept the fact that until the numbers are published, they may be changed.

    Now that I have all of the qualifiers out of the way, here's what we believe we know: The IC-7300 is one of the best performing radios at any price based on its Narrow Spaced Dynamic Range results. It currently places 11th on the list of test receivers; for comparison, the only mainstream rigs that perform better are from Elecraft, Flex, one Yaesu rig, and one Ten Tec rig. The IC-7300 performs better than all other Icom rigs and better than any Kenwood radio on the market.

    Sensitivity, Phase Noise, and Noise floor figures are all very competitive with the other high-end rigs, as well. Keep in mind that the IC-7300 costs $1500. The only other available transceiver on the Sherwood list that comes close to this price point is the Elecraft KX3, and that is a 15 watt rig without the 100 watt option.

    More Spectrum Scope Functions

    I decided to showcase a few more functional aspects of the 7300's spectrum scope. You can use the touch screen to select and change to various signals showing on the waterfall. Obviously this will work better with a smaller span but regardless, when you touch a signal, the screen automatically zooms in on the selection area and places a big square around the selected signal:

    [​IMG]

    Once the area selected is accentuated and highlighted, you touch the screen again to change frequency. This will get you pretty close, but not exactly on the desired signal, so you typically need to tweak the VFO slightly to tune the station in. The whole process is very easy and intuitive.

    The on-screen Speed button adjusts the overall waterfall speed. Personally I prefer to just leave it set to the fastest setting, but there are choices for those that prefer otherwise:

    [​IMG]

    If you're operating Split, the scope uses a green vertical line to show your RX settings and a red vertical line to show your TX frequency. There is a little key in the top left corner as shown in the pic below (highlights by me):

    [​IMG]

    For the Red/Green color blind crowd, the lines are discernible as RX has one dot separation between the longer lines and the TX has two dots.

    In the next installment of the review, I'll continue to cover more basic user interface functionality. In case you can't tell yet, I'm really loving this radio.
     
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  4. Moleculo

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    CW UI Basics

    Icom makes good use of the IC-7000's new touch screen interface in all of the various operating modes. I felt that it was only appropriate to showcase a couple of the ways that they've improved the operating experience while using CW.

    Icom has continued the use of the twin pass band tuning filter system ("Twin PBT") as evidenced by the next image. The functionality works exactly the same as other Icom rigs: you use the two tuning knobs to adjust the width and shift of the filter - there isn't a lot knew for this rig compared to other Icom offerings.

    [​IMG]

    The "MULTI" knob proves to be useful in all modes, though. Pressing in on the knob brings up a quick adjust menu where you can adjust the power output, key speed, and CW pitch with just a few easy taps on the screen.

    [​IMG]

    And just like voice modes, the Audio Scope monitors both the received and transmitted CW modulation characteristics:

    [​IMG]

    Press the "Menu" button on the radio and then "Keyer" icon on the screen, and the eight CW transmit recording menu is enabled. This menu also shows the settings for tracking contest contacts.

    [​IMG]

    This menu again demonstrates the thought that the Icom UI engineers put into making this rig functional while easy to use. Press the EDIT/SET menu to edit any of the eight TX presets. To transmit a preset, you simply press the Transmit button and then tap the memory icon on the screen.

    The icon on the bottom right is used to track contest contacts. The default behavior is for the rig to automatically increment the contact serial number whenever M2 is pressed (sending a signal report), although this can be customized in the EDIT/SET menu. The three digit number shown on the bottom-right menu is the current contact serial number, but if you tap it the count is decremented by one, as indicated by the "-1" visual cue.

    I have played with the various CW functions and they all work as expected. I even messed around with the CW "auto tune" button which is found next to the main frequency dial. I found that this function worked very well; in fact, it worked just as well as my Elecraft K3 sitting on the bench next to the IC-7300. The biggest difference in this small test was the fact that getting the rig into a mode and filter setting to make best use of the auto-tune was faster and more intuitive with the 7300 than the K3, due primarily to the 7300's much more modern and intelligent touch-screen interface.
     
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  5. Moleculo

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    Voice TX Recorder Memories

    Activating and using the transmit Voice recorder is accessed from the VOICE icon after pressing the MENU button while in any voice operating mode. The implementation of this feature is another example of a well thought-out user interface and usage of the touch screen. Remember, you MUST have an SD Card inserted to use this feature. The following image shows the menu functions, but it also demonstrates the rig transmitting T1 while the audio scope is monitoring.

    [​IMG]

    The REC/SET button is used to initiate recording for each of the 8 memorie, toggle the monitor options, and set the desired repeat time.

    [​IMG]

    The actual recording screen also makes good use of the touch screen, showing you the duration of your recording, audio recording level, as well as a control to set the mic gain for recording, which is independent of the overall rig mic gain.

    It took me a while to figure out how to name the TX voice memories without reading the manual, as this feature isn't very intuitive. While in the REC/SET menu, you press REC and then do a long press on the recording you wish to name, which produces the following option:

    [​IMG]

    After using the onscreen keyboard to assign a name, it now shows on the Voice Recorder TX screen. Note the "call cq" name under T1:

    [​IMG]

    Next up in the review, I'll discuss the rig's NB, NR, and Notch filter implementation.
     
  6. Moleculo

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    Sherwood's Receiver Performance Tests

    I referenced earlier some preliminary Sherwood receiver tests; the official results are now published at http://www.sherweng.com/table.html.

    One of the features of the IC-7300 is something called "IP Plus". Turning this on is supposed to improve IMD and "improve the Third-Order intercept point while minimizing the reduction of the receive sensitivity" (from the manual). The manual doesn't actually say what this feature is really doing, but there is plenty of material floating around that describes it. Sherwood's test give some interesting information on the feature.

    With IP+ turned on, the noise floor is fairly significantly degraded, about 11db worse. Also, Dynamic Range is about 13db worse, which is significant. The footnote about the 7300's IP+ feature says, "NOTE: With IP+ OFF, intermodulation degrades gracefully. Recommend only using IP+ when absolutely necessary due to noise floor degradation"

    USB Port

    Like most newer Icom HF radios, a USB port provides the interface to a PC for both rig control and sound card interface. I tested this on my PC using Ham Radio Deluxe and it worked fine. The Setting menu has several options for the USB port, including an oddly labeled setting for sending AF or IF out through the port. AF is what you choose for typical sound card interfaces, but the IF option is not actually an IF out, but rather a digital output that only works with Icom's RS-BA1 software. This software gives you a remote base capability, as well as a full-fledged panadapter view on your PC. The software is not free and costs about $100. My personal opinion is that the rig should have an option to send IQ out so that you can use any of the popular panadapter sound card - based applications you desire.

    Additional settings for the USB port include USB keying options and settings for the USB CI-V functions. To get Ham Radio Deluxe going, I had to set the CI-V USB Port option to "Link to [REMOTE].

    One additional note on the USB port: While I had no trouble getting the rig to play with my Windows 10 notebook via the USB port, I have yet to do so with my Mac running Windows 10 under Parallels. While Windows / Parallels sees the rig sound interface properly, the driver for the USB Serial CI-V interface won't install. I wouldn't put too much stock in my experience with this because my Mac / Windows 10 / Parallels VM is used to experiment with everything and is not a very clean, typical install.

     
  7. Moleculo

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    A Few Issues

    I've found a few issues with the 7300 which I believe could be corrected with software updates.

    First, there is an issue with the band scope that occasionally shows itself when the rig is dialed into a very strong signal. I've seen this most often on the lower bands, but that could just be because that's where most of the strong signals have come from lately. This issue is that, for lack of a better description, the scope "pumps", much like AGC pumping. This is seen on the scope by periodic flashes in the modulation, as well as a series of horizontal lines, as shown in this pic:

    [​IMG]

    In this screen capture, you can also see the ghost images of the modulation peaks. The best way I've found to get it to stop doing this is to dial the frequency around a little - the problem goes away for a while.

    Next, the receiver is overly sensitive to strong signals and will flash "OVF" (overload) in bright red at the top of the screen. I've mostly seen this happen on 75m and 40m, but I can also make it happen when simulating a multi-rig contest situation like field day. The only way I found to make it go away is to turn down the RF Gain. I also found that nearby rigs transmitting on the same band desense the receiver pretty well. Although I don't have any definitive test data, I switched back and forth between my Elecraft K3 and did not notice the problem nearly as bad on that rig. If you're planning on operating in an RF-rich, same-band-multi-rig environment, this may not be the transceiver for you.

    Lastly, the internal tuner is very limited and a real bummer for me. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but it really isn't a very capable tuner. When the mismatch presented is much over 3:1, the tuner just can't handle it. This is common with Icom rigs so it's not really a new design issue, but I wish Icom would give us better performance in this area.
     
  8. Moleculo

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    Overall Impressions

    I like this rig very much. It packs a TON of features at a price point that is hard to argue about. There are improvements that should be made, but they are minor annoyances compared to the overall functionality you get. I didn't mention this earlier, but the NB and NR work VERY well - they are real assets in this rig. In earlier posts, I've already called out the issues I have discovered with the rig, but stepping back, a lot of other ham radio manufacturers should learn from Icom, take a page from their playbook and update their entire UX design concepts around a rig like the 7300.

    Icom has hit a home-run with the IC-7300. I predict that they're going to sell an absolute ton of these.
     
  9. camaro1

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    very nice,, I was so close to calling aes on Friday when I saw they had them listed as "in stock" , really wish they would have had another antenna jack but oh well. really seems like a whole lot of radio for the price,, as I sat here today using the 7200 and 7410 thinking about which one id get rid of if,, don't think I would they are both great radios,,, and both on the discontinued list now that the 7300 has come out

    what did the 7300 come with for a mic?? the same China HM-36 or something new
     
  10. 2RT307

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    Very slick looking rig. I'm anxious to hear how it performs for you. Really wish it had two meters and 440 on it though!

    73,
    Brett
     
  11. BBB

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  12. RatsoW8

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    I'm really tempted to order one. I think I'll wait for Moleculo to some brutal real world comparisons against the K3 :) None of this controlled labratory testing nonsense.
     
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  13. tba02

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  14. 2RT307

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    I tend to be the same way. Despite my rig not beating the Kenwood TS590, my ears like it better.

    Moleculo, I know this is your shiny new baby, but is there any chance you will try it mobile? I am curious how well the noise limiter and blanker work.

    73,
    Brett
     
  15. Road Squawker

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    Well, it may be the best thing since fried rice, but,.......... I NEVER buy a newly designed rig until it has been on the market for at least a year.
     
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: Icom IC-7300

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