Tuesday, 28 January 2020

ICOM IC-7100 REVIEW

AN OWNERS P.O.V.

For people who are looking for their first radio and for those who want a 'complete' solution for under £1000, a second hand 7100 is a fantastic option!


The ICOM IC-7100 was never really on my radar. I guess I just didn't really like the idea of that odd looking control unit. In the beginning I could only focus on BIG radios with a million knobs and buttons and weight and presence!

But after twiddling all those knobs and buttons I soon realised that my tiny shack was getting tinier and the big radios had to be placed at awkward angles on shelves which were at awkward heights. The 7100 soon became more appealing and so I looked further into it and found that it grew on me - so I got one. And I'm glad I did. I've seen plenty of these radios for sale around £700-800 and that's a LOT of radio for that money!

First of all, I like the fact that this radio is a "Shack In A Box" with HF, 6M, 4M, 2M & 70cm. It will also do DSTAR on all bands. I also like that it has good computer connectivity and not only can it be controlled directly through a PC, but it can also be controlled remotely through one!


The radio comes in two parts - the Base, which can be stored away somewhere on a shelf or under your desk, and the Head unit which can be placed conveniently closeby. The two are connected to each other by a single cable (CAT-5 I think). The Head unit has a built-in speaker and sockets for a morse keyer, microphone and headphones. The two parts cannot be connected together in case you were wondering.

The Head unit (control-unit) is neat and compact but it still has some weight to it which is nice and it certainly feels like a very high quality bit of kit. Pushing buttons on the unit does not cause it to move around on your desk - it pretty much stays where you put it. Underneath it has four anti-slip feet and the back ones can actually be extended out to make the unit even more stable. There's also a very handy "Tripod Mount" on the underside.



The VFO Tuning Knob is large and comfortable to operate with a nice level of detenting. This can be adjusted by use of a small lever to the side, so that the knob rotation can be tailored to suit your personal preference (either stiff and notched or free and spinning). It's very easy to live with and it's a shame that other radios don't have this - I would have certainly loved the feature on my super-sensitive FT-DX3000 VFO dial!

The screen is nice and crisp and clear. Illumination is good and it can be controlled for brightness and contrast. It is a shame, however, that it's not colour. Icom should have maybe included it as standard or (if they were trying to keep to a certain price-point in the marketplace), offered it as an option. Having said all that, I am perfectly happy with the 7100's display and when I'm using the radio I never give it a second thought.



The IC-7100 is extremely easy to use - straight from the box, without even reading the manual. It's all very intuitive and the Touch-Screen really adds to it. To me, at least, everything is 'just right' and when I want to do something new, I always seem to find the relevant options quickly and easily. Icom have included some physical push-buttons on the head-unit, most of which make sense, but I must admit that if I had been on the design team, I'd have done something different with them. Still, that's just my opinion and there's probably others out there who think it's spot on.

The Touch-Screen makes the IC-7100 a dream to work with - it's like Point & Shoot! You want to change something? If you can see it on the screen, you can usually change it just by touching that part and an option window appears. At the bottom of the screen is a row of 5 context-sensitive, virtual buttons and these form part of the MENU system - there's actually 3 sets of them - you cycle through them by pressing the physical MENU button.


Once inside the Menu System, it's all very easy to choose your options and then get back to listening to radio. I have hardly ever reached for the Manual and even less so, the advanced manual! And I don't even think it's because I've had other Icoms (I've only had the IC-7400) - it's because the Icom system is just so good!

So how does the radio perform? Well I guess it's all relative to what you've had before and in my case, I've had some pretty special rigs - Elecraft KX3, Flex 3000, Yaesu DX3000, Elad FDM Duo and currently, an IC-7610. So I'll be (unfairly) comparing the IC-7100 to those.

One has to accept right at the beginning that a 'Shack In A Box' is never going to be as sensitive as a KX3 or DX3000, but in every day life, there is very little difference. Sure, the tiniest, most faded signals can better be pulled out of the distance with the premium HF radios, but the IC-7100 is no slouch!! It has really surprised me when making direct comparisons with my other radios. Flicking the antenna switch from one to the other has often resulted in me trying my best to find an advantage that the "superior" radios have over the little Icom.


7100 v 7300
Weak Signal

So yes, there is a tiny difference, but it's of no real significance to rag-chewers and everyday users. DXers will want lower floor noise, more sensitivity and better filters, but they'll have to pay a chunk more money for that and they won't have VHF, UHF and DSTAR. Everything in life is a compromise and so too is the IC-7100.

The  32-bit floating point DSP supports many digital processing features such as digital IF filter, twin PBT and manual notch filters. Of course, these high-grade digital processing features work on all ham bands, from HF to the 70cm band. 

The Noise Reduction on this radio is superb in IMHO and works wonders in pulling weak signals from noisy SSB bands. I was quite surprised by how good it was. The PBT is another fantastic tool in getting rid of unwanted noise. It works by electronically modifying the IF PassBand width to reject interference and although it took me a while to get the best out of these tools, it was well worth the effort and practise. Up to now, I haven't honestly used the Notch Filters so it would be unfair to comment on them.

On the desk, you soon start to appreciate how very convenient it is to have a compact radio that can be placed virtually anywhere. I tend to have mine sitting just underneath my computer monitor where it's out of the way but still easily within reach and very visible. The 45 degree angle on the screen seems to be perfect wherever you position the radio and there's no darkening of the screen when viewed from the sides. With your wrist on the desk, the VFO dial falls naturally to hand and playing radio is just a pleasant experience.

Most radios have a meter which allow you to cycle through a range of displays such as SWR, POWER, ALC, Etc. But the IC-7100 does one better than that - it will show you ALL of them at once including temperature, current and voltage. Nice!



The speaker within the control-unit is perfectly adequate for listening to VHF or UHF frequencies in FM mode where the signals are generally clean and bright once they've broken through your squelch, but if you are trying to dig something out of the dirt on HF you'll probably want to plug in an external speaker to the base unit (or the control-unit). Alternatively of course, you can plug in a headset or headphones.


My radio came with a HM-151 DTMF Microphone which has some remote-control capabilities including band and frequency changing. The older IC-7100's came with a HM-198 which many people complained about. My ELAD FDM DUO came with a mic which looks identical to the 161 and so I did a recording of my transmissions using the ELAD software and compared the 151 to the 198. The HM-151 was the clear winner!! I have also seen a video on YouTube where a guy spends hours recording transmission and making comparisons between his HM151 and a host of other mics including expensive HEIL headsets - and the HM-151 beat them all!


DSTAR : I use this digital mode frequently on my Kenwood TH-D74 handheld. I find it far more user-friendly and trouble-free than Yaesu's System ConFusion! Because I cannot reach a DSTAR repeater from where I live with the handheld, I use a DVAP DONGLE, but I thought the IC-7100 with a full 10W and connection to a Diamond D300 might manage it - but it doesn't.

Setting up DSTAR was a total pain in the ass on the Kenwood (not helped by the fact that no one at the local radio club had a clue and no one on the online forums seemed to know anything about setting up a D74) but eventually I got my head around it. I was hoping that the IC-7100 might be different but it's not. You basically have to setup memories not only for the Gateways/Reflectors but also to make an initial Connection and then you switch to another memory channel to CQCQCQ (or that's my understanding of it LOL). I've just ordered RT Systems programming software and I'm hoping that it will make the whole process of setting up DSTAR far easier - I'll update this section later.

Another great feature of the IC-7100 is the SD CARD that sits in the front of the base-unit. It can be used to store all the radio's memories and also to record QSO's or even store pre-recorded voice messages which can be transmitted at the push of a button. It's simple to make a backup copy of the card and even share it at the Radio Club with fellow 7100 owners. Speaking of the Base-Unit, there's another small, but sensible feature - the fan is at the front of the case instead of at the back where it's normally stuffed up against a wall with restricted airflow.

The connections on the rear panel are well spaced and easy to identify. The unit works well with a range of ATUs and a simple interface guarantees a fully integrated operation.  I use an MFJ-993B in the shack with the IC-7100 and an LDG Z100 when working portable.


Playing with FT8 and other such digital modes is a breeze with the IC-7100 because the soundcard is built-in and everything goes through a single USB port (my ELAD uses three). Control software like HAM RADIO DELUXE or WIN4ICOM works well with the radio and one of the unique features is the ability to use the IC-7100 remotely using Icom's own RS-BA1 software.


WIN4ICOMSUITE

HAM RADIO DELUXE

ICOM RS-BA1  V2

I have a small shack in the corner of a shared 'Hobby Room' and my desk is filled with Flight Simulation paraphinalea, MFD's, keyboard, mouse, etc. The unit fits in any gap remaining and I can quickly and easily remove it for portable operation.

Using a shielded CAT-6 cable which came with my BT Router, I sometimes just take the head unit into the adjacent lounge and sit comfortably on the couch playing radio. Absolutely brilliant! If I could be bothered to have a cable routed around the outside of my bungalow to the conservatory, I could do the same there. Or with a full licence I could just connect from anywhere using IP software (RS-BA1).

Before I finish, I'd like to discuss a couple more features, one of which is good to have and that's the SWR SWEEP. It's great for evaluating a new antenna quickly. You can set the radio to sweep a band or a portion of it and see on a graph where the SWR is low or high. Almost like having an antenna analyser.


CLICK TO WATCH VIDEO

The final feature is the built-in scope. It's non-active like the FT-991pre-A. Personally, I prefer to use an SDRPLAY RSP1A to provide a large and accurate scope and waterfall on my big PC screen. 

The RSP1A shares the same antenna as the IC-7100 but is protected from the 7100's transmissions by an MFJ-1708B. The 1708B detects the 7100's TX and puts the RSP1A to ground until the transmission is over. Very handy devices and incredibly good value for money.




So overall, I'm really very pleased with the radio and I'm very glad I bought it. It fits in well with everything I do. For "serious" HF DXing or contesting I can always switch over to the wonderous IC-7610, but the fact is, the Icom IC-7100 does 90% of what the 7610 does, plus it has VHF & UHF. It can operate remotely, it receives the AirBand (an area of interest to me) and the Scan speed of the memories is nice and fast.

A reader suggested that I mention an issue which was banted around the internet some years ago about LOW SSB TX OUTPUT, so I said I would.

Below is a piece from someone FAR more expert than me - KV5R. I would  strongly recommend  that you look at his review of the IC-7100 - it's much more thorough than mine and the rest of his blog is a mine of information too! Click Here

Low SSB Power?

Much has been written (and YouTubed) about the 7100’s SSB power. Indeed, out of the box you plug in the mic and talk and see about 13 watts on the meter. This is because it has a very fast ALC, pulling average talk power (and typical meters) way down. But the PEP is actually there! On mine, a bit over 100 watts PEP, on a ’scope. There is no need to mod the radio, either with the capacitor mod, or the jumper mod. Version 5 of the firmware brings up average power some, though it still needs to be run with a fairly high ALC indication, and maybe a 1 on compression. If you are used to running SSB voice with little or no ALC indication, well, forget that, and run the 7100's ALC at about 40-80% indication. Also, Icom has corrected the initial ALC overshoot problem, but adding a capacitor to slow down the ALC is a bad idea, as it may cause ALC overshoot, perhaps arcing your amp or tuner. KV5R



M7MCQ
_______________________

SPECIFICATIONS
Receiver:
0.030–199.999MHz*2
400.000–470.000MHz*2

Transmit
1.810–1.999MHz
3.500–3.800MHz
7.000–7.200MHz
10.100–10.150MHz
14.000–14.350MHz
18.068–18.168MHz
21.000–21.450MHz
24.890–24.990MHz
28.000–29.700MHz
50.000–52.000MHz
70.000–70.500MHz
144.000–146.000MHz
430.000–440.000MHz
ModeUSB, LSB, CW, RTTY, AM, DV, FM,
WFM(Rx only)
No of memory channels495 regular, 4 call, 6 scan edges,
900 D-STAR repeater channels
Antenna connectorSO-239×2
(one each for HF/50/70MHz and 144/430MHz, 50Ω)
Operating Temp. range−10°C to +60°C
Frequency stability±0.5ppm
(0°C to +50°C @ 430MHz)
Power supply requirement13.8V DC ±15%
Current drain
(at 13.8V DC)
Tx:
22A (HF/50/70MHz)
16A (144/430MHz)

RX:
1.2A/0.9A (Max. audio/standby)
Dimensions
(W×H×D,
projections not included)
Main unit
167×58×225 mm

Controller
165×64×78.5 mm
Weight
(approx.)
Main unit
2.3 kg

Controller
0.5 kg
*1Showing EUR(#03) version. Varies according to version.
*2Some frequency bands are not guaranteed.

Transmitter

Output power
(at 13.8V DC)
SSB/CW/RTTY/FM/DV:
HF/50MHz: 2–100W
70MHz: 2–50W
144MHz: 2–50W
430MHz: 2–35W

AM:
HF/50MHz: 1–30W
70MHz: 1–15W
Modulation systemSSB:
Digital P.S.N. modulation

AM:
Digital low power modulation

FM:
Digital phase modulation

DV:
GMSK digital phase modulation
Spurious emissionsLess than −50dB (HF bands)
Less than −63dB (50MHz)
Less than −60dB (70/144/430MHz)
Carrier suppressionMore than 50dB
Unwanted sidebandMore than 50dB

Receiver

Intermediate frequenciesSSB/CW/AM/FM/RTTY/DV:
124.487MHz, 455kHz, 36kHz

WFM:
134.732MHz, 10.700MHz
Sensitivity(HF: Preamp-1 ON, 50/70MHz: Preamp-2 ON,
144/430MHz: Preamp ON)

SSB/CW (BW=2.4kHz at 10dB S/N):
1.8–29.995MHz: 0.15μV
50MHz: 0.12μV
70MHz: 0.15μV
144/430MHz: 0.11μV

AM (BW=6kHz at 10dB S/N):
0.5–1.8MHz: 13μV
1.8–29.995MHz: 2μV
50MHz: 1μV
70MHz: 1μV
144/430MHz: 1μV

FM (BW=15kHz at 12dB SINAD):
28–29.7MHz: 0.5μV
50–54MHz: 0.25μV
70MHz: 0.25μV
144/430/440MHz: 0.18μV

DV (at 1% BER):
28–29.7MHz: 1μV
50MHz: 0.63μV
70MHz: 0.63μV
144/430MHz: 0.35μV

WFM (at 12dB SINAD):
76–108MHz: 10μV
Sensitivity for RED (Less than)
Preamp ON
SSB, AM, FM: at 12 dB SINAD
SSB (2.4 kHz):
1.8–2.999 MHz 10 dBμV emf
3.0–29.995 MHz 0 dBμV emf
50/70 MHz band –6 dBμV emf
144/430 MHz band –6 dBμV emf

AM (4 kHz, 60% modulation):
1.8–2.999 MHz 16 dBμV emf
3.0–29.995 MHz 6 dBμV emf
50/70 MHz band 0 dBμV emf
144/430 MHz band 0 dBμV emf

FM (7 kHz, 60% modulation):
28–29.700 MHz 0 dBμV emf
50/70 MHz band –6 dBμV emf
144/430 MHz band –6 dBμV emf
SelectivitySSB (BW=2.4kHz, sharp):
More than 2.4kHz / −6dB
Less than 3.4kHz / −40dB

CW (BW=500Hz, sharp):
More than 500Hz / −6dB
Less than 700Hz / −40dB

RTTY (BW=500Hz):
More than 500Hz / −6dB
Less than 800Hz / −40dB

AM (BW=6kHz):
More than 6.0kHz / −6dB
Less than 10kHz / −40dB

FM (BW=15kHz):
More than 12kHz / −6dB
Less than 22kHz / −40dB

DV (12.5kHz spacing):
More than −50dB
Spurious and image rejection ratioMore than 70dB (HF/50/70MHz)
More than 65dB (144/430MHz)
(except 1/2 IF through on 50/70MHz,
IF through on 144MHz)
Audio output powerMore than 2.0W
(10% distortion, 8Ω load, 13.8V DC)



Before I go, may I also suggest another option for those who want something more portable?? The ICOM IC-705. Wow!!!




Thanks for visiting - please take a minute to leave a comment below 

73, Tom, M7MCQ.


9 comments:

  1. Thanks for this nice review Tom. I've been reading it several times. I really like this radio and have been thinking about it to replace my IC-706 last year. But then I thought by myself I never use UHF/VHF so what's the use for me. So I bought a IC-7300 which looks way better. I still have no regrets but I still like the 7100. 73, Bas

    ReplyDelete
  2. No, there's no point in buying a 7100 if you're HF only. And the 7300's are supposed to be awesome radios - I know a few operators who love them. When deciding whether to buy a 7610, I actually thought of getting a 7300 and the matching 9700, but I just couldn't bring myself to pay £1800 for a VHF/UHF radio.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great info, I agree with most all of your comments. I’m mostly an HF CW guy but I specifically wanted the option for VHF and UHF for local contacts and creating an emergency net for my several family members living within 12KM. I’m still not even close to exploring or pushing my 7100 very far but I will. I’m considering an install into my truck so I can use it more often. Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, thanks for popping by - it's much appreciated. And I'm glad that you found the review useful. Stay safe!

      Best regards, Tom. M7MCQ

      Delete
  4. Hi Tom. I did not understand what you meant at the beginning of your review, when you said: "The two are connected to each other by a single cable (CAT-5 I think).... The two parts cannot be connected together in case you were wondering." I'm thinking of getting one of these, or an IC-705. I was wanting to go portable as my wife doesn't want aggro from the neighbours, as we had some years ago! Thanks, G1TCH

    ReplyDelete
  5. PS My email address is clydehinton5@gmail.com. G1TCH

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Clyde,
    The IC-7100 Main Unit and Head Unit are connected via a cable with RJ-45 connectors on each end. I was saying that I believe it to be a CAT-5 type cable.

    I have now got an IC-705 and it is my favourite radio for sure. Read the review here...

    https://tommcquiggan.blogspot.com/2021/01/icom-ic-705.html

    73, Tom, M7MCQ

    ReplyDelete
  7. Enjoyed your review. I have two 7100s. Are there better radios? You bet. Are there better HF/VHF/UHF radios for under under $1000? Nope.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes Elux, they are fabulous radios! I will always have a soft-spot for the 7100. It's a classic.

      Thank you for visiting the blog.

      Kind regards, Tom. M7MCQ

      Delete