In August 2015 at the Tokyo Hamfair, Icom debuted a new type of transceiver in their product lineâ"â"one featuring a direct RF sampling receiver. Essentially, it was an SDRtabletopÂ transceiver.
At about the same time that the IC-7300 started shipping around the world, Icom pulled their venerable IC-7200 off the market. Yet the IC-7200 was established as a well-loved product,Â due toÂ itsÂ highly sensitive receiver, its relatively robust front end, and its quality audio. Moreover, itÂ was simple to operate, which made superbÂ as aÂ Field Day or radio club rig.
Therefore,Â even though the IC-7300 promised much more versatility than the IC-7200, for its price point it had a tough act to follow.
So, of courseâ"â"evenÂ more so than with any other radio Icom has introduced in the past few yearsâ"â"I was eager to get my hands on aÂ IC-7300. Â Iâm very fortunate that my good friend, Dave Anderson (K4SV) was one of the first purchasers of the IC-7300, and that he didnât mind (after only having the rig perhaps one week!)Â allowing me to borrow it for a severalÂ weeks forÂ evaluation.
Note: Â I should state here that since this rig was loaned to me, I evaluated itÂ based on the firmware version it shipped with, and made no modifications to it.
This review primarily focuses on the receiverâs performance, functionality and usability.
Introducing the Icom IC-7300
In recent years, the âbig threeâ ham radio manufacturers have been using color displays,Â andâ"â"Icom most especiallyâ"â"touch screens. While Iâm no fan of backlit touch screens in mobile applications, I Â think touch screen displays make a lot of sense in a base radio. If carefully designed, a touch screen can save an operator from heavily-buried menus and decrease the number of multi-function buttons on the front panel.
The challenge, of course, is making a display with intuitive controls, and one that is large enough, and with sufficientÂ resolution, to be useful to the operator. In the past, Iâve been disappointed by many displays; the most successful have been incorporated in DX/Contest-class (i.e., pricier) transceivers, meanwhile, entry-level and mid-priced transceiver displays often seem half-baked. WhileÂ the graphics may beÂ crisp, spectrum displays at this price point are often too compressed to be useful, and if not a touch display,Â force the user to pause operation in order to find the correct knob or button to change settings. In suchÂ cases, I find myself wonderingÂ why the manufacturer went to the expense of a color display at allâ"â"?
But what about theÂ C-7300 display? Â Iâm thoroughly pleasedÂ to reportÂ that Icom did afantasticjob of balancing utility and function in design of the IC-7300âs color touch display and front panel. There are Â number of ways you can chose to display and arrange elements on the screenâ"since Iâm an SDR fan, I typically chose a display setting which gave the waterfall the most real estate. Of course, one can chose to give the frequency display priority or a number of other arrangements.
I can tell that Icom built upon their experience with the IC-7100â"â"their first entry-level touch screen display transceiver.
I was able to get the IC-7300 on the air in very little time. Within five minutes of turning on the IC-7300, I was ableÂ to:
- change the display to feature a spectrum waterfall;
- change the span of the waterfall display;
- adjust the TX power output;
- change the filters selection and the transmit mode;
- change bands and make direct-frequency entries;
- adjust notch, passband, and filter width;
- adjust AF and RF gain;
- set A/B VFOs and operate split;
- change AGC settings;
- turn on Noise Reduction/Noise Blanker, and
- adjust compression.
Basically, I found that all the essential functions are clearly laid out, accessible, and highly functional. Â Impressive.
The IC-7300 ships with a manualâ"â" aptly titled, the âBasicâ manualâ"â"and a CD with the full and unabridged operations manual. Â The Basic Manual covers a great dealÂ a lot more than the manual which accompanied theÂ Icom ID-51a. If you read through the manual, youâll readilyÂ familiarize yourself withÂ most of the IC-7300âs higher function operations,Â and especially, youâll be able to adjust the settings to your operation style. The Manual is written in simple language, and includes a lot of diagrams and graphics.
If youâre like me, you will find youâll also need to reference that unabridged manual, so hang on to the CD, too.
Still, I imagine thereâs a large percentage of future IC-7300 owners that will never need to reference the manualâ"â"especially if they donât care about tweaking band edges or similar settings. Yes, believe it or not, itâs that easy to use.
While I spent a great deal of time listening to CW and SSB in various band conditions and at various times of day, I spent less time on the air transmitting.
With that said, all of my transmitting time was in CW since the IC-7300 mic was accidentally left outÂ when my friendÂ loanedÂ me the rig.
Iâm please to report that CW operation is quite pleasant. All of the adjustmentsâ"â"RF Power, Key Speed, and CW Pitchâ"â"can be quickly modifiedÂ using the multi-function knob. While in CW mode, you can also toggle full break-in mode,Â which is quite smooth,Â via the function button and touch screen.
SSB functions are similar. While in Â SSB mode, the multi-function knob allows you to change the tx power, mic gain, and monitor level. The function button opens an on-screen menu with VOX, compression, TBW, and the monitor toggle.
Hereâs a short video I made with my phone while I made a few adjustments to the IC-7300:
Of course, my smartphonesâs microphone canât accurately reproduce the audio from the IC-7300, but you probably get the idea.
The only annoyance I notedâ"â"and perhaps Iâm more sensitive to this, being primarilyÂ a QRPerâ"â"is that the 7300âs cooling fan starts up each timeÂ you key up. It even comes on when transmit power is at its lowest setting. I find this a little distracting in CW. Â Fortunately, however, the 7300âs fan is fairlyÂ quiet and operates smoothly.
Receiver performance and reader survey results
Since our radio comparison shoot-outs have been particularlyÂ popular (and useful; check out our shoot-out between top portables, andÂ ultra-compact radios, and others), I decided it would make sense to inviteÂ our informedÂ readership to evaluate the Icom IC-7300âsÂ performance in a series of blind, informal tests. (For information about these surveys,please read the first survey.)
Below, Iâve matched the labels (Radio A/Radio B) with the radio models. Â Iâve also included pie charts which show the results from the survey.
Icom IC-7300 vs. WinRadio Excalibur
Weak Signal CW (40 meter band)
Based on listener comments, those of you who preferred the â7300Â did so because the CW was more interpretable and stable.
Some of you noted that I didnât quite have CW at the same pitch on both rigs. I believe this is because the IC-7300âs calibration was ever soÂ slightly off. This has since been addressed.
Weak/Strong SSB QSO (40 meter band)
This result was almost tied. The Excaliburâs audioâ"â"without any adjustmentsâ"â"has a fuller and âbassierâ sound. The â7300 can be adjusted to have similar characteristics,Â but the default EQ settings produce very flat audio. Many of you commented that the IC-7300 more faithfully produced audio optimized for SSB.
Shortwave Broadcast recordings
The following recordings were made on the 31 meter broadcastÂ band in the evening. Both radios had the same filter width: 9 kHz and 8.2 kHz.
Weak Shortwave AM (Radio Bandeirantes 31 meter band)
There was a noticeable preference for the WinRadio Excalibur in this particular audio set. Even though the Excaliburâs audio splattered a bit, the content was more interpretable. The IC-7300âs audio sounded flat in comparisonâ"â"again, something that can be adjusted quite easily in the â7300âs audio settings.
Strong Shortwave AM (Radio Romania International, French 31 Meter Band)
Once again, the Excalibur won favor, but I imagine results would have been closer had I adjusted the â7300âs audio EQ.
MediumwaveÂ Broadcast recordings
Note that the following mediumwave recordings were made during the morning hours (grayline). The strong station is the closest AM broadcaster to my home;Â itâs not a blow-torch âClass Aâ type station, merely the closest local broadcaster.
In the âweakâ sample, IÂ tuned to 630 kHz where multiple broadcasters could be heard on frequency,Â but one was dominant.
Both radios are set to a filter width of 9.0 kHz.
Strong Mediumwave AM (1010 kHz)
Two out of three listeners preferred the Excalibur in this example.
Weak Mediumwave AM (630 kHz)
In this particular example, the IC-7300 could not pull the strongest broadcaster out of the pile as well as the WinRadio Excalibur. In fairness, the Excalibur was using AM sync detection,Â something the IC-7300 lacks.
Icom IC-7300 vs. Elecraft KX3
I also decided to pit the IC-7300 against my well-loved Elecraft KX3.
Audio Clip 1: CW (20 meter band)
Elecraft KX3: Radio A
Based on comments, readers who preferred the IC-7300 felt the CW sounded more pleasant and stable.
Audio Clip 2: Weak Signal CW (20 meter band)
Your comments indicatedÂ that the CW seemed to âpop outâ of the noise slightly better withÂ the IC-7300.
Audio Clip 3: Weak/Strong SSB
(Sable IslandÂ working Asia/Pacific onÂ 20 meter band)
These results were spilt in the middle. Again, I believe this comesÂ down to personal preference in theÂ audio. And againâ"â"in both radiosâ"â"the audio EQ can be adjusted to suit the operator.
Receiver performance summary
I enjoy producing audio clips for readers to compareÂ and comment upon. Each time Iâve done so in the past, Iâve had listeners argue the virtues of a particular audio clip while others have the complete opposite reaction to that same clip. Not all of us prefer our audio served up in the same way. No doubt, thereâs a great deal ofÂ subjectivity in this sort of test.
Iâve had the IC-7300 on the air every day since I took possession of it. Iâve listened to SSB, CW, and lots of AM/SW broadcasters.
And hereâs my summary: the IC-7300 is an excellent receiver. It has a low noise floor, superb sensitivity and excellent selectivity. I even slightly prefer its audio to that of my Elecraft KX3,Â and Iâm a huge fan of the little KX3.
Iâve written before about how difficult it is to compare SDRs;Â the problem is that there are so many ways to tweak your audio, filters, AGC, noise reduction, etc. that itâs hard to compare apples with apples.
In the audio samples above, the IC-7300 and WinRadio Excalibur were both set to their default audio settings. In SSB and CW, the IC-7300 excels, in my opinion. CW seems to pop out of the noise better and SSB is more pleasant and interpretable. The Excalibur has a better audio profile for AM broadcasters, though. Its default audio simply sounds fullerâ"more robust.
The audio from the IC-7300 on AM sounded absolutely flat. However, if I tweak the audio of the â7300, adding more bass, it instantlyÂ sounds more like a dedicated tabletop receiver.
I should also mention that while the IC-7300âs built-in digital recording is a fantastic and effective feature, it doesnât produce audio true to whatâsÂ heard through headphones live. This is especially the case when you add more bass and treble response as in the RRI example above. When the audio EQ is set to a default flat, itâs quiteÂ accurate.
To be clear: Â for broadcast listening, Iâll still reach for my SDRs (the Excalibur, FDM-S2,TitanSDRand CR-1a).
If, however, I have limited space and/or budget for multiple receivers, Iâd be quite happy using the IC-7300 as a broadcast receiver on the HF bands.
Speaking from theÂ Shortwave Radio Listener (SWL) perspective, meanwhile, am IÂ pleased with how the â7300 handles the broadcast bands? Â Most definitely.
And as a ham radio operator, am I pleased with the IC-7300âs receiverâ"â"? Â Absolutely.
In short: Â the IC-7300 seems to have some of the best all-around receiver qualities of any transceiver I know under $2,000.
Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes of my initial impressions. Hereâs my list forÂ the IC-7300:
- Excellent sensitivity and selectivity
- Excellent, highly-customizable RX and TX audio
- Color touch screen interface
- Spectrum display is large enough to be useful
- Intuitive functions
- Twin PBT is both intuitive to operate and effective
- Effective RF gain to compensate for noisy band conditions
- Built-in RX and TX recording, file transfers via common SD card
- Front panel knobs and buttons are spaced appropriately and easy to use
- Quiet cooling fan (see con)
- Decodes RTTY on screen
- Built-in ATU
- Antenna analyzer function (not tested)
- Lacks secondary receive antenna jack on rear panel
- Cooling fan immediately starts upÂ on CW/SSB transmit at any power setting (see pro regarding fan noise)
- Occasionally you mayÂ get lost in deeper customized functions
- Supplied printed basic ownerâs manual, while well-written, doesnât fully cover the IC-7300s functions and options; you must explore the digital ownerâs manual in supplied CD.
In a nutshell: Icom has hit a home run with the IC-7300. Â If I didnât already have an Elecraft KX3 and K2, I would buy the IC-7300 without hesitation.
Though the price point is a little high for an âentry level transceiver,â itâs worth every penny, in my opinion. For $1500 US, you get a fantastic general-coverage transceiver with an intuitive interface, nearly every function you can imagine, and performance that would please even a seasoned DXer.
Though I havenât done and A/B comparison with the IC-7200, I imagine the IC-7300 would prevail in a test. The IC-7300 would certainly wipe the floor with itâs more economical brother, the IC-718.
Radio clubs,Â take note:
In my view, the IC-7300 has the makings ofÂ an excellent radio club rig in whichÂ performance, functionality, as well as ease of use are important. I expect that the IC-7300 will not only cope very well with crowded and crazy Field Day conditions, but it will also give any newcomers to the hobby a little experience with a proper modern transceiver. The fact that you can viewÂ signals so easily on the spectrum display means that it will be easier to chase contacts and monitor bands as they open and close. Indeed, what better way to mentor a newly-minted ham in modes, contacts, carriers, QRN, QRM, and so forth,Â than to simply pointÂ theseÂ out on the IC-7300âs bright,Â clearÂ displayâ"â"?
If your club is considering a transceiver upgrade or purchase, do seriously consider the IC-7300. I think youâll find this rig isÂ up to the task.
And for home? The Icom IC-7300 may be all of the rig youâll ever need.