I purchased a new IC-7300 in June 2018 to revamp my /P setup – after mixing the KX3 and FT-857 depending upon my operating mood, band conditions etc, I wanted something that had a) a good RX b) a visual display. My options were limited within the scope of “portable” (not to mention budget) and I wasn’t prepared to go down the KXPA+PX3 route (around £1800 just to have 100-watts, an ATU and the Panadapter).
Obviously, that left the IC-7300 which had been on my radar since choosing the TS-590SG over the 7300 back in April 2016. It was a difficult choice but I think I made the right one as I much prefer the Kenwood as a “workhorse” for the Shack with its big chassis, twin cooling fans and traditional radio layout.
2020 Update: Since writing this nearly 2yrs ago, I’ve found myself using the 7300 more for casual listening owing to the convenience of being able to move around the bands easily (without wearing out physical buttons) plus the visual display makes it so easy to gauge a band’s state. It’s no surprise that I’m considering whether the FTdx101, IC-7610 or TS-890s should be replacing the TS-590SG at some point. The Yaesu wins on specs although most of us are unlikely to take advantage of those extra few dB in a typical QTH. The Kenwood wins because it’ll be an easy transition in terms of operating (but its menu is ugly), whilst the Icom wins for familiarity because of the 7300. I’ve written about my current radios here in Radio Ga Ga.
Some of my initial pros+cons remain below along with some comments on what I found as a new user:
Putting aside that “shiny+colourful new radio” look, as an operator of CW, SSB and Digital modes, I was pleased to find a number of aspects to aid operating them:
- Easy to drive – I only had to resort to the manual a few times
- TX audio is very punchy – easily able to get a clean 100-watts peak (within the safe ALC zone)
- SD Card to store/recall settings (eg: different operator settings)
- Playback+record TX/RX audio – great for “CQ Contest” calls and logging notable QSOs
- Nice “main dial split lock” feature (see below)
- CW “auto-tune” surprisingly good (much like the TS-590SG), and faster/better than the KX3
- 4m / 70MHz – the only downside here is that I had to make a dipole for it!
What don’t I like – well, there are a few issues, and this may just be a result of making the transition from the KX3 as well as having a TS-590SG in the Shack. Sure, there will be differences – but just what stands out as being a bit “meh”?
- Cooling Fan – it starts up quickly (voltage surge) and is a fair bit noiser than the (pair of) fans in my TS-590SG. It also comes on immediately during TX – there doesn’t seem to be a time or temperature threshold (that I’ve noticed yet). Personally, I’d favour a “min TX time” threshold which is overridden by a temperature sensor – so during brief “599 TU” exchanges, it won’t come on unless the the radio temperature is above a certain threshold. I’m aware of the “CPU” fan mod – but the suggested fan (Noctua NF-A8) doesn’t push as much air as the stock fan.
- TX/RX QSK Relay – Far noisier than the TS-590SG and annoying if you’re not wearing headphones. As I’ll be using this radio when /P, I don’t think it’ll be an issue for me so much.
- Lack of quick access to a tuning carrier – You have to enter a multi-layer menu and switch from paddle to key in order to get a constant carrier from the radio for tuning purposes. There is the option of using a push-button attached to the Molex “Tuner” socket but it would have been nice if Icom had offered something a little more user-friendly – especially given that the internal ATU is not a wide-ranging one. With the TS-590SG, you can assign the “tune” function to one of the PF A/B buttons.
- Tuning Steps are “global” between Band Stacking VFOs, so if you prefer 1Hz res for CW, it’ll be that when you cycle through the VFOs (I use the 3 VFOs for CW, Data, SSB). I’d rather they were unique to each VFO – so that CW is set to 10Hz but SSB 500Hz.
- Annoyingly, the waterfall “base” (or REF) level is global, too. This means that if you suffer a particular nasty bit of local QRM on 1 (or more) bands, you can’t compensate on a “per band” basis. The Pre-Amp settings are, however, unique to each band – odd! Edit: Firmware v1.40 (26th Feb ’21) fixes the REF “bug”!
Driving the 7300
I’d say that it’s easy to drive – especially as the menus are large+clear. However, it is often the “long press” of buttons which take you to the relevant settings, eg: if you press the VOX/BK-IN button it’ll toggle through Semi Break-In, Full Break-In and Off. If you hold the button down you’ll get the “hang-time delay” setting. Same with the Noise Blanker+Reduction buttons which offer the settings menu for each.
The Stacked VFO makes life much easier for a multimode operator like myself. With each press of the same MHz (Band) button, you can cycle through CW, Data and SSB sections of the bands with ease, eg: without having to spin the VFO dial, change modes/filter settings etc.
Display : Spectrum/Waterfall
What’s not to like about this? You can easily see a large chunk of the band as well as narrow-down to +/- 2.5KHz to watch for that 5NN during a CW pile-up. Being able to take a screenshot of the display (example below) is a nice touch – allowing for captures to be shared on websites/social-media. Audio recording (RX+TX) can be useful for special QSOs or for giving audio to your QSO partner during audio/signal testing.
It amazes me that there are some people who regard a waterfall display as “not being real radio” – I find this quite a strange opinion. If you are “sampling” a wide frequency range (or even just the audio passband), why not take advantage of it and plot it visually? In my opinion, it makes for a more efficient operating experience as you can see how busy the band is, find a signal to investigate and even find some space to park and call CQ.
In this day and age of electrical QRM, it can also make identifying (and locating) spurious emissions a lot easier by ascertaining how often they appear, frequency spread etc.
One of the amusing aspects of visually seeing a band’s activity is the before and after effect of a big contest: Here’s the last few moments of the IARU Contest and immediately after:
USB CAT / OmniRig
I had some initial issues getting the radio to communicate with OmniRig and display live freqency+band info on PZTLog. This was simply teething-trouble as far as baud-rate, CiV and other parameters went. After a bit of tweaking, I got “Rig2” in OmniRig to work nicely and was able to switch between the Kenwood and the Icom within PZTLog.
I had to modify PZTLog to use CAT-based PTT so that the digimodes window could key the radio – This is because OmniRig “grabs” the serial port which meant basic DTR (CW) and RTS (PTT) had to be issued via OmniRig. The radio does NOT have any kind of Data/USB “VOX” so I wasn’t able to get PSK/JT modes to key the radio upon an audio signal being present via the USB sound device.
With the SD Card slot comes the ability to not only store the radio’s settings from it, but to put that card into another 7300 and recall your personal settings. The built-in voice recorder is great for capturing notable QSO as well as keeping the voice alive during long operating events like field days or contests.
Main Dial Lock with “Split”
A particularly nice touch was a menu option to lock the main dial during “split” operation. This means that you can keep the DX station locked whilst holding the XFC button to tune around listening for the station they are working. On the TS-590SG, the lock was VFO independant, so worked “out of the box”. This menu setting (SET>Function>SPLIT>SPLIT LOCK) was not enabled on the demo unit at ML&S so I was a little miffed that I’d not be able to easily navigate a split pile-up without losing the DX station on VFO-A.
This is a great feature for zero’ing onto a caller’s frequency to ensure pitch-perfect (and filter aligned) Morse. It reacts well, seems better than the one used on the KX3 and (thankfully), operates on RX-only when you have RIT engaged: So, if you are on 14.050.00 and are called slightly off-freq, you can engage the RIT and hit “Auto Tune” to bring the pitch in-line with yours (but without affecting your TX freq) lest you end up chasing each other up+down the band.
4m / 70MHz
More and more EU countries are getting an allocation on 4m and it’s certainly something I’d like to try now that I can generate an easy (and clean) 50-watts on all-modes. This did necessitate me making an aerial for the band – I settled on a “lock-nut” RG58 dipole-centre from Moonraker which is mounted to my interlocking fibreglass poles via a long bolt. I used 2 pieces of 10mm ali tube from the local U-will-Q DIY store which, in the stock 1m length, gave a nice VSWR across the band. I further improved on this single-bander by drilling a 4mm hole near the end of each tube so that I could slide+lock in another of a smaller diameter giving me a 6m Dipole when required.
Easy Headset Wiring
OK, you still need to wire a 3.5mm socket to 8-pin chassis connector but if using a cheap “electret” headset, you only need to wire the Mic and Ground connections, no resistor+capacitor as Icom have all that inside the radio. The downside is if you want to use a dynamic microphone (like a vocal mic or non-iC Heil), a blocking capacitor is advised. My own headset adapter is the 8-pin front panel connector with 2 short lengths of screened cable: a 3.5mm for the headset mic and a phono for a foot-switch.
Here’s a simple Q+A which may help you decide if it’s right for you – this is based on my experiences owning the following radios: Yaesu FT-817ND, FT-857D, FT-450D, FT-950, TS-590SG and Electraft KX3.
- Would I buy this as a main Shack radio? Yes, but only if I absolutely needed an in-built spectrum/waterfall display
- What would I buy as a main Shack “workhorse”? I like the TS-590SG, simply for its build-quality, large chassis+cooling. It’s a cracker on CW+Data.
- What’s the best “first HF radio” with a £1500 budget? There are a few within that price-range. At the bottom-end, the FT-450D is a great HF+6m set: Small, a good compliment of buttons to make swift changes a breeze plus good (300Hz) filtering for CW+Digimodes. The FT-857D (now discontinued) was a great “Shack-in-a-Box” but lacked “proper” selectivity on CW+Digimodes unless you add a £120 of filter to it. Failing that, it’s a tough choice between the IC-7300 and TS-590SG.
The Sherwood Engineering Table of receiver performance is also worth a look – if only to see how different transceivers vary across manufacturer (and price). Do not be fooled that you need something from the Top 10 in order to enjoy the hobby – unless you find yourself sitting among the penguins in Antartica with a 20m 5-ele prodtruding 50m high from the ice, you’re unlikely to observe the differences in receivers at your typical QTH.
There are numerous other reviews, resources and YouTube videos of the radio in action – so use Google and make up your own mind as to whether this is the radio for you. Visit a Ham store: Try it out, compared it with another.
As always, I am not a Doctor and YMMV 🙂