Product Review - The ICOM IC-7000

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by AA7BQ, Dec 7, 2005.

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  1. AA7BQ

    AA7BQ QRZ Founder Administrator Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    The ICOM IC-7000

    A short review by Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ

    Since I have the pleasure of being one of the first 100 or so folks in
    the US to get the new IC-7000 I wanted take an the opportunity to share
    my initial impressions with the QRZ community.

    By now you've probably heard of the radio which some would describe as
    the successor to the IC-706MKIIG. The comparisons are easy to make at
    first glance but in many ways it may be more like the IC-756 PRO series
    radios, or perhaps a bit of both. There's no denying on any account
    that it's a dynamite package with big league operating features. In
    this review I'll take a practical look at the radio from an experienced
    user's point of view. Since I don't have a spectrum analyzer or the
    types of gear needed to do a scientific review, I'll leave that part of
    it up to the ARRL labs.

    [​IMG]
    First, a bit about myself. I've been involved in electronics and
    computers for about 30 years. I've been a ham since 1987 and my first
    radio was a Kenwood TS-820. Over the years I've owned quite a few
    different HF rigs including Galaxy's, Swans, plus a variety of modern,
    solid state rigs including the TS-440, TS-940, TS-850, TS-570, TS-480,
    IC-706, IC-735, IC-761, IC-765, FT-920, plus a few others that I can't
    recall at the moment. My favorite radio for look and feel was the
    IC-765, and for performance it has been a toss up between several of
    them. Just last week I sold my TS-480SAT (which incidentally was a
    great radio) as I scraped together the cash (about $1500) to buy the
    IC-7000.

    Now, back to the IC-7000. Let's face it, from a distance it looks
    exactly like an IC-706 with a color screen. It's about the same size
    (a little smaller, actually), and has the main tuning knob on the right
    just like it's older sibling. It also covers HF/50/144/440 just like
    the IC-706MKIIG. That said, we can stop comparing the two. The '7000
    has capabilities and features that only a decade's worth of technology
    can account for, and performance which will probably put a lot of other
    radios to shame.

    [​IMG]
    First Impressions
    Obviously, the color display is big news. ICOM introduced the first
    color TFT display in an HF rig with the 756PRO and now with the
    IC-7800. Yaesu has it in their flagship FT-9000D and Kenwood has,
    well, nothing. Kenwood is so far behind the technology curve right now
    that they may well be on the verge of abandoning the amateur radio
    market.

    Unlike most HF radios, the IC-7000's screen is a true video display.
    The capabilities of the display are not limited to any specific
    character set or presentation but instead are controlled by the radio's
    software. It shouldn't be all that surprising really as this type of
    small-screen presentation has been available for several years now on
    your typical cell phone at dirt cheap prices.

    [​IMG]
    When I first looked at the 7000, I was a little shocked at the size of
    the screen. It measures only 2.5 inches diagonal which is noticeably
    smaller than the IC-706's antique LCD display. Some of the characters
    are very small, smaller than typical newspaper print. Despite this,
    however, they are extremely sharp and clear. Not a hint of fuzziness
    or video artifacts but more like the crisp display of Palm Pilot or
    cell phone.

    Interestingly, the 7000 has a composite video output jack on the rear
    that can be fed into any standard TV. I saw a Japanese website where
    someone had mounted one in a car and attached one of those wildly
    popular 7-inch in-car DVD screens to it. Feeling like I could possibly
    get an IC-756 PRO III for the cost of a small screen, I hurried down to
    Fry's Electronics and picked up a 6-inch "headrest monitor" for $123.
    With it's simple 12 volt hookup and single video connector it was a
    snap to hook up.

    I found the results of the external monitor to be a bit of a
    disappointment. Since the external video output is analog and not
    digital (as the 7000's internal screen surely is), there were some
    video artifacts such as some light ghosting/smearing plus some
    difficulties setting the color and contrast. The biggest shock,
    however, was the loss of apparent detail. The resolution of the
    internal screen is very small, perhaps on the order of 320x160 (actual
    numbers not yet known), and when they're blown up onto a larger screen,
    the characters look a bit choppy and staircased.

    Wondering if this was a product of the cheap 6 inch external display, I
    then hooked up the 7000's video output to a regular 20" television set.
    The results were the same except that there was some horizontal
    overscan. Fortunately, there was a menu setting that corrected the
    overscan, a nice touch from ICOM.

    For the past two days I've been using just the built in 2.5 inch screen
    and have left the external display disconnected. I'm happy to report
    that my initial fears were unfounded. Due to the uncompromizing
    clarity of the little screen, I'm having no real trouble reading it
    even with my 52 year old eyes and bifocal lenses. I can say that I'm
    happy with it as-is. Forget the external display except when your
    vision is very bad, or, you're looking to show off the radio to a
    crowd.

    Ever since the radio debuted in Dayton 2005, we've all been told of
    it's ability to receive and display standard broadcast TV. We've seen
    pictures of it doing this in Japan. Lo and behold, however, the FCC
    nixed the idea and when the final approval was granted, it was minus
    the TV receive capability. Rumor has it that this will be restorable
    via a diode mod but so far nobody has spilled the beans on it. The
    mods website www.mods.dk has been listing an extended receive mod for
    the IC-7000 for about a month now but there is no description at all as
    to what exactly the mod accomplishes. I elected not to do the mod from
    www.mods.dk lacking more info and waiting to hear from others who may
    be braver than me.

    Perhaps the "extended receive" mod makes the radio work in the 200-400
    mhz range, which is completely blocked out for some unexplained
    reason. TV audio can be heard in the low band (54-88 mhz) and part of
    the high band (175-199 mhz) using the wideband FM mode. You can hear
    the video as well so its clear that at least the lower 13 channels
    should be receivable.

    To be fair, broadcast TV reception is a gee-whiz feature that doesn't
    have a lot to do with ham radio, except perhaps for a few isolated
    cases. The same can't be said for ATV, however, and there doesn't seem
    to be a good reason why it was disabled too. The FCC's rationale for
    inhibiting TV was based on the perceived danger of people watching it
    while driving their cars. Sure, it could happen, I suppose, but that
    idea sure hasn't stopped the raft of in-dash CD/DVD players with the
    flip-up screens that the consumer world so enjoys. Sure, there are
    state laws which prohibit its use, but it doesn't prohibit the
    manufacturers from selling car stereo equipment that has this
    capability. Why do they think hams are any less responsible? I suppose
    they do it because they can, and because unlike mass consumers, we're
    subservient to their wishes.

    The Out of Box Experience (a.k.a. the OOBE)
    Unpacking and hooking up the radio was a no-brainer with no surprises.
    Two things I noted about the rear were that first, there are two
    antenna connectors, one labeled Ant-1 and the other, not surprisingly,
    Ant-2. To me, this meant that the system had an A/B antenna switching
    capability, much like my TS-480 had. Not so. Although it's not marked
    on the unit, Ant-1 is for HF (160 thru 6 meters) and Ant-2 is for VHF
    (54 mhz) and above. The other oddity was that there are four 3.5 mm
    accessory jacks on the back, none of which are labeled! After holding
    the radio up to the light for several moments I finally noticed that
    there is a label on the bottom of the unit that identifies the mystery
    holes as well as the serial number and FCC ID of the unit.

    That said, I think that I was able to get "basic" functionality out of
    the unit before I cracked open the 150+ page manual but had I insisted
    on sticking with that strategy I would have missed a great deal of what
    the rig had to offer.

    Speaking of the manual, my first recommendation is to go to the ICOM
    website and download the PDF version. With the newest free Adobe
    reader, you can search the entire manual for key words which is much
    faster than endless thumbing back and forth looking for subjects of
    interest.

    The second thing about the manual that I find odd is that unlike
    most rigs, this one comes without a schematic. There is not one
    shred of info about the internal workings of the radio, something
    that at least Kenwood gives with every rig. I can't remember if
    the other ICOM rigs include a schematic but one would have been
    nice to have with this one. I suppose I'll have to wait for the
    service manual to come out in order to get a peek.

    Immediately upon unpacking the unit I took notice of its weight.
    There's a lot of stuff packed in this little box and it has the kind of
    heft that folks used to use to judge cameras. Good, expensive ones
    were always heavier than the cheap, plastic imitations. This box feels
    like a solid brick which gave me the warm satisfying feeling that it
    might well be worth the $1500 that I paid for it.

    So just how packed is it? Well, for starters, there aren't any
    options, none. Filters? None. TCXO? Built-in. Speech synthesizer?
    Built-in. Voice recorder? Built-in. Memory keyer? Built-in. This
    is a fully loaded rig containing all the desirable options right from
    the factory. I like it. On my TS-480 I suffered the indignity of
    adding the voice recorder/speech synthesizer option which cost too much
    money. It was especially frustrating to note that the option was about
    the size of a postage stamp and it contained one big integrated circuit
    and a connector. Kudos to ICOM for doing away with this insulting
    practice and for raising the bar on minimum transceiver standards by
    including the $2 chip right on the motherboard!

    Getting My Feet Wet
    Turning on the new radio, you first see the ICOM logo and then a notice
    that RF power is set at 100%. The initial operating frequency is
    14.100 mhz, USB. A turn of the knob and yep, there's activity on the
    band. Being a technocrat, however, I wanted to see what the radio
    would DO, not what was happening on the bands so I started wildly
    pushing buttons and flipping through menus. Wow! What an assortment
    of things to look at. It's hard to begin and impossible to recall
    exactly which buttons I pressed in what order except to say that I
    spent a good 30 minutes just marveling over it.

    The total number of features is hard to describe. Needless to say,
    most front panel buttons have multiple, context sensitive functions and
    some use abbreviations that aren't immediately apparent. It was
    beginning to look like some manual reading would be in my future.

    [​IMG]
    A really big discovery was the microphone. It's not your typical mic
    as it has 25 buttons not including the PTT switch. It is most useful
    in that it gives you one-button access to a lot of features that take
    multiple presses on the radio's front panel. I really like the one
    button band selectors, the quick access to the Filter menu, and the two
    programmable buttons that can be set to do whatever. I can imagine
    that some enterprising soul will invent an external control panel that
    duplicates these features. This would be especially true for base
    station use where a different microphone (having no buttons) might be
    connected.

    The basic menu idea follows what has become a standard of sorts in a
    lot of rigs lately. If a button has a label, pressing it activates
    that function. Press and hold the same button and you're taken to a
    menu where you can adjust the feature. While this strategy isn't
    necessarily followed on all functions, it is the basic idea and one
    that helps you understand what to expect when pushing buttons. Don't
    worry, if you're wrong or if the button has no meaning in the current
    mode context, the radio will issue a beep sound and nothing happens.

    An example of this is the mode button. Each time you press it the
    operating mode changes to the next mode, for example CW -> RTTY -> FM
    -> LSB. If LSB is currently selected, pressing and holding it changes
    to USB. If FM is selected, pressing and holding changes to AM, or to
    WFM (wideband FM). It's not that different from a lot of other radios
    and easy enough to get used to. One button is oddly labeled in my
    opinion. The legend says P.AMP which without thinking reminded me of
    Power Amp. Actually, it's the receiver preamp button. I would have
    labeled it PRE instead. Press once to engage the preamp, hold it down
    for 1 second and it engages the Attenuator.

    The DSP functions are some of the best I've ever seen. The radio has
    two DSP chips but the documentation doesn't indicate how their tasks
    are divided. One can only guess that perhaps one is for transmit and
    one for receive, but until someone sees a block diagram, no one will
    know. There are four noise reduction features: a Noise Blanker (NB), a
    Noise Reducer (NR), a Manual Notch Filter (MNF), and an Automatic Notch
    Filter (ANF).

    NB is the typical ignition-type noise blanker. It was hard to find a
    test signal but I could tell it was engaged when I listened to the 80
    meter band. Like all of the DSP features, this one is adjustable by
    holding down the NB button for more than one second. A pop-up window
    will show the current level and you use the main tuning knob to
    adjust. The NR is great, and it is also adjustable. It really
    improves 80 meter operations. The MNF is a really useful feature. It
    is actually a dual notch filter and when it is engaged you have two
    independently adjustable notches. Adjusting them is easy with a little
    graphic that slides left and right across a small scale. The ANF is
    the automatic notch and it works well to suppress heterodynes. It is not
    enabled in CW mode, where the MNF is typically used.

    The DSP is also responsible for an elaborate dual passband filter with
    adjustable width and center frequency. Adjusting it is similar to the
    IC-756PRO and it gives a nice graphic to see the two pass bands. The
    two bands are represented by graphics that have different colors and a
    third color shows the intersection of the two. For SSB the pass band
    filters have three default settings of 3.6 khz, 2.4 khz, and 1.8 khz,
    all of which sound good. By pressing a button, you can customize any
    of these three filters to be as wide as 3.6 khz all the way down to 50
    hz. Cool. The available filter widths vary by operating mode to
    values that are sensible for that mode. There is also a SOFT/SHARP
    selection for each filter that selects the filter shape. My gut
    feeling is that we won't be missing crystal filters with all of this
    adjustability.

    [​IMG]
    The radio has a nice RTTY decoder function with a built-in waterfall
    display. I've never seen an easier RTTY decoder to operate. The
    waterfall shows up in blue and makes for a pleasing presentation. This
    isn't a feature that is immediately obvious, however, and one that I
    had to crack the manual to figure out how to use. One comment about
    it, however, is that it is receive-only. In other words, it has no
    built-in tone generator (which would have been easy) and no way to send
    RTTY except by using a traditional external source. RTTY can be sent
    either FSK or AFSK and the manual documents the hookups well.

    [​IMG]
    A lot of us get really excited about the notion of a band
    scope. The scope on the IC-756 PROIII is a prime example, and
    the scope on the IC-7800 is legendary having a dedicated DSP
    unit just for that function. The IC-7000's band scope is nice
    but it won't compare to either of its big brothers. The reason
    has to do with the fact that a) there isn't a lot of space on
    the screen to display it and b) it doesn't have a dedicated DSP
    chip. When you're using it, the audio cuts out with the regularity
    of a square wave as the chip samples the IF stream. The sampling
    speed is adjustable, i.e. FAST and SLOW, and in the slow mode you
    can still understand what folks are saying. In the FAST mode,
    you pretty much give up receive while it updates the display.
    Still, it's pretty usable and the adjustable bandwidths are
    nice. It's also easy to tune to a peak to see what's really
    happening around you.

    The CW keyer is pretty fabulous too. It stores up to 4 messages and
    has an auto increment feature for contests. To program a message, you
    turn the main dial to select characters to send. Oddly, however, there
    is no CW decoder which should have been a no-brainer with the on board
    DSP.

    The radio has more memory channels than I will ever use, and I suspect
    few will exhaust it. A super cool feature is the ability to tag every
    memory location with a name, and a scrollable list to choose from
    them.

    Room for Improvement
    Despite my unabashed love for this new radio, I can still find a few
    areas where the rig could be made even more spectacular: First, it's
    time for the manufacturers to jump on the USB bandwagon. The interface
    circuitry for USB is very cheap and there should be no reason that it
    cannot be added to the typical rig. There is so much that could be
    done with USB 2.0 including full audio I/O, remote control,
    accessories, and more. CV-I is nothing more than old fashioned serial
    data converted from RS-232 to 5V TTL. Stick a fork in this protocol
    because it's done. In addition, how about Bluetooth? Wouldn't it be
    cool to attach a wireless Bluetooth keyboard or headset to the unit?

    The ability to send CW and RTTY via a keyboard would have been an easy
    add-on if USB had been implemented. The processing power is certainly
    there.

    Finally, there's the clock. I like the little time display but am left
    wondering why ICOM went through all the trouble to include a 2nd clock
    with offset from Clock 1 when only one of the two clocks can be
    displayed at any time. It would have been nice to see both clocks on
    the display, such as local and UTC. As it is, its one or the other.

    [​IMG]
    ICOM makes two separation cables for this unit, which are new part
    numbers for this radio. One is 3M and one is 5M in length. Both are
    outrageously expensive (About $80) and the 5M wire costs $20 more than
    the 3M wire. Why? I can't help but feel that I'm being raked over the
    coals on this inconsequential part. To top it off, the connector is so
    unique that there's virtually no possibility that an after-market third
    party offering will emerge. Hat's off to Kenwood on their TS-480 for
    using standard RJxx connectors in this area. To be fair to ICOM, an
    RJ-45 wouldn't have worked because the radio needs 10 contacts instead
    of the 8 afforded by the wildly popular telephone/ethernet/microphone
    connector.

    The main tuning knob has a detent lever much like the IC-706 that is
    used to adjust the drag feel. There are 4 settings, Channel, hard,
    medium, and no drag. My complaint here is that the lever is difficult
    to move and the detent's aren't as positive as they should be.

    The Tune button doesn't work for my tuner, the SGC-230. ICOM wants me
    to buy their inferior AH-2 or AH-4 which I don't care for. I suppose
    I'll have to get one of those little plugs that some guys are selling
    on eBay to trick the radio into thinking an ICOM tuner is attached.
    All I need is a few watts of CW out while I'm pushing the button. Of
    course, whistling into the microphone will do it too, but I can't help
    but feel like a CB'er when I do this. For that reason I usually end
    up switching to CW or RTTY for my tune ups, even though I could just
    key up and start talking, as the SGC can handle it.

    More to Come
    I don't yet have a VHF/UHF antenna setup but there's a brand new
    Diamond dual band stick in my garage. I'm looking forward to trying it
    out on both FM and sideband, realizing the limitations of not using a
    Yagi. Still, I expect to have a lot of fun once I get the antenna up
    on the roof. Speaking of antennas, my HF setup includes an SGC-230 at
    the end of about 100' of 9913 coax. This the tuner feeds a 100 foot
    wire that is about 25 feed above the ground at its highest point. I'm
    able to tune everything from 160 through 10 meters with this, and the
    noise level is pretty decent. I don't miss not having an internal
    automatic antenna tuner and for my money, and external remote tuner is
    the best in nearly every longwire situation.

    Having only owned the radio for 4 days, and not having as much time to
    spend as I'd wish, I have just barely cracked the surface of what it's
    capable of doing. I hope to have more to report in the coming weeks.

    [​IMG]
    The Bottom Line
    This is one of the most exciting radios I've come across in a while.
    It delivers performance and features like none other that I've owned.
    It would be very interesting to see how it competes with the IC-756 PRO
    III, or the IC-746 PRO. Without the test equipment to prove it, I have
    a gut feeling that it's going to hold its own in most areas, and
    surpass in some others.

    ICOM should do well with this radio and they have clearly set the new
    standard for features and usability across a broad product range.
    Kenwood is left the farthest back in the dust with no top end radio and
    only a mediocre midrange rig (the TS-2000). Yaesu is doing quite well
    with the FT-9000D but they seriously need to produce a competitor to
    the IC-756 if they're going to expand their market share. Ths FT1000MP
    MKV Field is nice, but it doesn't get really nice until you pump a
    boatload of expensive filters into it. Ditto for the MKV as well.
    Until Yaesu and Kenwood really jump into the LCD digital display and
    DSP arena like ICOM has done, they're going to stay in second and third
    place in the mainstream radio technology race. ICOM clearly wins this
    round and they are the force to be reckoned with.

    Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ

    <hr>
    Additional Comments Dec 8, 2005

    After some more operating and various emails, I've collected a few more observations that I'd like to share.

    The Band Scope
    The band scope is much more useful that I first gave it credit for. Last night I set the receiver to the UHF public service band with a scope BW set to 250 khz, channel spacing at 12.5 khz. Wow! I let it run there for about 30 seconds and I had peaks popping up everywhere, places that would be easy to miss on a squelch scan. Upon pressing the HOLD key, I could turn the tuning knob directly to any of the peaks and see what was going on at the particular frequency. I'm also using it frequently on HF as well where it does what you'd expect it to do: it finds areas of activity. While it is too bad that it doesn't have a dedicated circuit of its own, it's still a very nice feature and one that I'll be using a lot.

    Frequency Changing During Transmit
    This rumor is true. None of the front panel buttons, or the mic buttons, seem to be disabled while you're transmitting. I found it easy to accidentally change the operating frequency, or BAND, while talking. I hope this gets fixed with a firmware update. No wonder the DTMF doesn't work from the microphone keypad. When you press any of these buttons with the PTT depressed, it does a band change. The LOCK function helps to keep the main tuning knob from affecting your operating frequency, but it doesn't prevent a band change. Worse, when the radio switches bands while transmitting, it comes up on the new band also transmitting, at whatever frequency was in the band stacking register. Ouch! While this is bad behavior, it is something that can be avoided with due care by the operator.



    I received the following operating tip from a friend at ICOM who has a suggestion about CW operating:
    Watch this space for more updates as I discover them.

    <hr>

    TV Receive Capability
    A mod to restore the TV receive capability has surfaced and some hams have already got it working.

    -fred
     
  2. W6TMI

    W6TMI Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks Fred, I've been looking for a review on this radio since it came out.

    Would appreciate hearing any other big negatives you come across. Haven't found any other geni pigs, ahem.. I mean reviewers..

    Very upsetting about the removal of the TV function. I know it's kinda dumb, as I'm not buying a 1500 dollar radio to watch TV, but it just seemed you could do stuf with ATV with that. Or even watch TV while you are parked, waiting for your kids or somesuch.
     
  3. KC0KBH

    KC0KBH Ham Member QRZ Page

    Drooooool....

    It is sooooo cool! How many years before I get one? I'm not even old enough to play the lottery. [​IMG]
     
  4. NZ3M

    NZ3M XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    You forgot to mention that the price is ridiculus for a little mobile.

    Is it really worth twice as much as an FT-857D?
    Compare features, bands etc.

    Dave
     
  5. KC9ECI

    KC9ECI Ham Member QRZ Page

    No D-star?
     
  6. N2NH

    N2NH Ham Member QRZ Page

    Great review, covered most of the bases. Sounds like a great radio and all that in a package smaller than the IC-706 too. No accessories except for the separation package. I wonder if you need a separate cable for the mike like most rigs though and how would this perform as a portable? Sadly, it's still priced a bit steep for me though.
    [​IMG]

     
  7. N7USX

    N7USX Ham Member QRZ Page

    As we found out from the Kenwood blue screen of death.
    How does the ICOM-7000 display fair in the car, in the SUN, Bright Day light, Night Time? Can you See it, or do you guess what freq your on.
     
  8. n0zu

    n0zu Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks for the review.

    sounds like a very nice radio for the money compaired to the 756pros, and at about half the price.  

    I hate to say with my income I will have to wate for the price to drop a bit..

    Very upsetting about the removal of the TV functio,
    would have made it a cooler radio.
    but I bet they are wating for digital tv to install it.
     
  9. NF0A

    NF0A Ham Member QRZ Page

    Nope the more bells and whistles put in, the more junk it will become later...I`ll stay with the older, simpler, more reliable and "repairablewithoutanengineersdegree" rigs
    .... [​IMG]
     
  10. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Hi Fred,
    loved your precis of the 7000
    I used the Japanese version when I flew with the crew into Hong Kong yesterday, (Military Radfio Club ),
    too difficult for me to take on board, but quite a cool rig,
    I'll try harder next time,
    73
    Howard
     
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