ICOM IC-7200 Listening Tests and Observations


Introduction

In Spring 2009, I evaluated and photographed the ICOM IC-7200 transceiver. For this web page, only its receiver was evaluated for HAM and SWL purposes by using my eyes and ears. For technical evaluation, please click on these assessments written by Adam, VA7OJ/AB4OJ or Peter, G3SJX . Additionally, eHam.net has a review web page to consult and the ARRL publication, QST for June 2009 has a review. With my modest camera and lighting equipment, it was difficult to well photograph this very dark colored transceiver indoors.

I like ICOM radio equipment and am therefore biased in my review. Please consider trying this and any other radio out before you purchase it. Our needs, expectations and budgets tend to be uniquely different. Like others, I would rather own the new ICOM IC-7600, Yaesu FT2000D or Elecraft K3, however, my budget does not allow this.

It appears that the target audience for this transceiver is as follows: portable or field/emergency communication usage and/or it is oriented towards entry level HAMs or perhaps those wishing a modern DSP-filtered back up rig. My review is from a SWL/HAM perspective.


General Thoughts

Although modern and stylish, this radio is very easy to use. The owners manual is well written with clear examples of how to perform the various setting changes. After reading the manual and and trying the radio buttons and knobs out, I pretty much mastered receive operation on my first night. The LCD display is small, however is reasonably adequate considering that this whole radio is compact. I believe some operators will have difficulty with this diminutive display. The S-meter is a little difficult to see. You can push a front panel button which announces the S-Meter reading, set frequency and mode in English or Japanese language if you can't quite see the display at an odd viewing angle.

The VFO knob has adjustable resolution and works well, however, it lacks that silky smooth/weighted feeling of many other radios including the R75 receiver. The ICOM engineers had there work cut out for them; include all the modern interference fighting features; place them in a small chassis; make it easy to use and come in on budget. They did it! This radio is full of useful interference management tools. One example is the (DSP) manual notch filter; it works superbly. There is no FM mode. I imagine by dropping FM mode capability , the designers were able to use the specified 6 KHz roofing filter at the second IF which has the potential to improve dynamic range at close-in signal spacing for some modes. When I started in Amateur Radio many years ago, roofing filters were never mentioned, but have become a huge marketing lever and seemingly a topic of much confusion.

DSP IF Filtering

The DSP IF filtering works very well. Does it function better than more traditional crystal IF filtering? Yes and no. It is a question of compromise for me. The greatest DSP attribute is that there are no expensive crystal filters to purchase. Additionally, you can customize the desired IF filter bandwidth (wide, medium and narrow) for each mode and also set a "hard" versus "soft" filter shape. The soft shape equates less ringing and potentially less listener fatigue than the hard setting. I have never liked listening to CW signals through stiff, 6-8 pole 250-500 Hz crystal filters on any receiver, so for me, adjustable DSP IF filtering is preferable. DSP IF filtering is not perfect as authors like Rob Sherwood, NC0B have presented, however, ICOM have a pretty good DSP platform out now and I am pretty sure their latest technology from the IC-7600/PRO 3 on down have also been used in this receiver. After all, you can always try to find an old Drake and order some crystal filters for it, or spend significantly more cash on a high-end transceiver if you need better performance.

Shown to the the left is a few front panel controls and the front firing speaker. This speaker is reasonably nice sounding. There seems to be less harmonic distortion and audio gain than the R75 receiver. The radio front panel controls are well thought out and seemed intuitive to use after reading the manual and/or just trying them out. The various hardware components such as potentiometers, rotary switches, microphone jack, PL-259 jack etc seem not to be of the highest quality. When you compare such components to that used in their older designs, there is evidence of modern cost containment. I have seen many reviews describing this transceiver as rugged. Certainly the diecast frame is solid, and I hope the forementioned hardware is as well. There is only one antenna connection. I believe that any radio offering the 6 meter band should offer two SO239 antenna connections, however, this likely would have crowded the back panel layout and increased cost for the RF in/out switching.

The VFO knob (shown to the right) looks and feels a little cheap. Functionally, however, the knob spins very well and precise tuning is easy to perform. One of my first tasks was to input various the frequencies I use for both amateur and short wave listening into the (201 maximum) memory slots. This was very easy to do and each memory channel also stores the mode and filter setting.

AM Reception(R75 versus IC-7200 )

The IC-7200 is a good short wave receiver. With a high quality external speaker connected, pleasant and warm sounding AM audio may be heard; however it is not Hi-Fi. That is; the IC-7200 is not an audiophile AM receiver. There is no synchronous AM detection and no 15 KHz wide IF filter for example. For AM reception, the user may choose from an 8000 to 800 Hz IF bandwidth in the 3 switchable filter settings. During testing, I set my wide filter setting to 8000 Hz, my medium setting to 6000 Hz and my narrow setting to 3000 Hz for AM reception. Of course these bandwidths can be further adjusted at any time. Local MW broadcast radio sounded great with an 8000 Hz IF bandwidth during testing. The various AM reception appropriate interference controls such as pass band tuning (PBT), automatic notch filter (ANF) and digital noise reduction are all configurable or adjustable and I found the ANF and digital noise reduction helpful when listening on the crowded 49 meter band during a rain storm.
I performed A/B comparisons with the IC-7200 and the R75 simultaneously hooked to the same antenna. For AM reception, they are comparable with the R75 having marginally better sounding (more Hi-Fi) audio. I had the R75 IF filter bandwidth set at 15 KHz and the IC-7200 IF bandwidth set at 8 KHz (both at their maximum IF bandwidth).

CW/SSB Reception (R75 versus IC-7200 )

In CW mode, both were set to have a 500 Hertz IF bandwidth.(The R75 had the FL-100 model 500 Hertz crystal filter in its 9 MHz IF slot). The IC-7200 was quieter, clearer and less overloaded by adjacent stations during pile ups. There were occasionally weak signals I was able to copy on the IC-7200 that I could not even hear on the R75 due to noise. The IC-7200 is a joy to use on CW; really fantastic.
On SSB, I found both receivers fairly comparable, but the IC-7200 was better for pulling weak signals out of the noise as the noise floor was a little quieter and the audio a little more crisp. My wife also agreed with me in her "independent tests" of the CW and SSB reception. I am certain to catch flak because my subjective comments are based upon listening tests and not measurements. It is interesting to note that in almost every aspect of our lives, preferences are made using 1 or more of our 5 senses. From listening, observing and also reading the reviews of others, it seems ICOM has a hit with the IC-7200.


Mouse over the images below left to view a full size photograph





The IC-7200 in the sun.






Rear view of the transceiver.





Top angle view. There are ventilation holes at the top right hand side. You can just see the ventilation screen just next to the right top panel screw.






Reverse angle top view. The military look is attractive.






The IC-7200 and R75 side by side.





Another photograph of the 2 radios from the front angle for comparison. The LCD display size difference is quite obvious in this shot.




The receivers at a right angle. The IC-7200 is a glad update, although, I would likely not upgrade from the R75 to the IC-7200 just for receiving purposes. If I was considering choosing the IC-718 (transceiver version of the R75), the IC-7200 is worth the extra money. It is also an excellent transceiver consideration for an entry-level rig, for back up purposes. or for the budget-minded operator.






Conclusion

The IC-7200 is a serious choice for amateurs seeking a good, modern HF plus 6 Meter transceiver. It is more than adequate as an SWL receiver if you are an amateur radio operator plus SW listener like myself. Please try one out for yourself if you are considering this transceiver.