VK3BL Rack… Icom IC-7300 Still Wins!

So, despite my best efforts to date with the DBX equipment pictured below, the stock IC-7300 mic pre-amp and compressor still gets slightly better on air audio reports!

A true testament to how good the Icom IC-7300 sounds out of the box, especially with a Heil Microphone!

I’ve sunk over 30 hours into this setup so far, so my recommendation is to people unless you like fiddling, keep it simple and stick to plugging the microphone into the front!

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What should a New Ham look for in their first transceiver?

As a new Ham, you should be playing with every radio you can get your hands on before you buy one.

You should ask these questions:
-How easy is it to adjust TX power level (if you have a tuner or amp, you will do this often)
-How easy is the DSP to use, and how well does it work? (NB, NR & IF Shift)
-How many antenna connectors does it have?  (Do you need more than one?)
-Does it have an internal ATU?
-Is it nice to listen to? (You’re going to spend a bit of time doing that!)
-Is the radio big enough for shack use comfortably? (the FT-857D is a pain to use)
-Does it have a built in Equalizer, for transmit and receive?
-Does the radio have a reputation for ‘sounding good’?  (the IC-7300 definitely does)
-Are there any extras?  Eg, real time band scope?
-Does it come with all the filters you need, or are they extras?  Eg, the K3
-Can it be plugged into a computer via USB for Audio & Control? (you won’t need a digital mode interface then)
-How long is the warranty?  Is there a local factory authorized service center? (accidents happen)
-Does it decode RTTY? CW without a pc?
-Can it SEND RTTY? CW without a pc?
-Does it have any recording features?
-Does it have a Voice Keyer (eg, you record ‘CQ 40’ and then just press a button)

Don’t worry about Sherwood lists, or other comparisons that focus on a single aspect of a transceiver.  Those appraisals are targeted to specific audiences (eg, CW Contesters).

Your first radio should be an ‘all rounder’ – if you later on find you’re only interested in CW Contesting, then sure, buy a radio that excels at that at the expense of other features.

IMHO, the current best entry level rigs are the Icom IC-7300 and Kenwood TS-590SG.  The reasons for this are as follows:
-Both have receiver performance beyond their price class
-Both have USB connectors so you can plug them into your computer and use digital modes without other adapters
-Both can do voice keying (with the optional board installed in the kenwood)
-Both have built in Antenna Tuners.
-Both are decent enough in size to use as shack radios, and both offer decent ergonomics
-Both get pretty nice sound quality reports on air
-Both are pretty nice to listen too
-Both have the ‘basics’ like IF DSP (NR & NB), IF Shift
-Both have a built in compressor, and adjustable TX bandwidth & equalization

There are a few significant differences:
The TS-590SG has 2 antenna connectors, and a really handy ‘tune’ button (transmits a low power carrier).
The IC-7300 has an exceptional real time spectrum scope & audio scope.

I’ve used both – I like both very much.  Personally, the real time spectrum scope and the fact the Icom service center is 5 minutes drive from my workplace pushed me towards the IC-7300.

Icom IC-7300 Mini Review

So its a pretty exciting time over here – a new radio has been acquired for my main QTH here in Australia – the Icom IC-7300.

The plan is to setup a remote station in Cambodia so I can work digital modes etc from VK. My previous main radio, the IC-7200, was originally purchased to take to Cambodia on my previous expedition, and when I go back in November I plan to leave it there – hence I needed a new radio for my shack!

So far so good, it is an amazing radio, and I will post a full review soon.  So far, my favorite features are:

  • The Built in ATU.  It will match 3:1 loads at 100 watts, or if the special ’emergency’ mode is activated, it will match 10:1 loads at 50 watts.  This is perfect for digital modes such as JT65, where 50 watts is more than enough, and the 10:1 range is enough to match my 40/20M Fan Dipole on all bands above 40M!  Efficiency suffers, but what a cool feature in a low end radio!
  • The built in band scope.  Whilst a lot has been said about this, being the star feature and all, it is amazing how well it works.  Not only is it incredibly accurate with no noticeable ‘birdies’ (a common problem with RTL-SDR based panadapters), but it also provides a very useful view of bandwidth usage in both transmit and receive. The audio scope is also amazing – you can quickly and easily see what transmit bandwidth the other station is using.
  • The extended transmit bandwidth.  The IC-7300 can transmit from 100Hz to 2.9KHz. Whilst not the widest range, most radios in a similar price bracket only offer 2.3KHz of transmit bandwidth – not 2.8KHz.  Naturally, you can lower the bandwidth if your chasing DX or don’t want to be considered ‘wide’.
  • The ‘Antenna Analyzer’. The IC-7300 comes with a neat little feature that lets you graph your antenna’s SWR performance across a band.  Whilst it isn’t anywhere nearly as fully featured as a standalone Analyzer, its an interesting gimmick.
  • The Receiver.  Whilst not the best receiver available, the IC-7300 is ranked pretty highly up in the Sherwood Engineering transceiver rankings.  With IP+ off, it achieves a Narrow Spaced Dynamic Range (2KHz) of 81dB.  With IP+ on, that figure rises to 94dB.  Rob Sherwood recommends leaving IP+ off, unless needed.  Also worth noting, is that Rob has previously stated that 80dB of dynamic range is more than enough for SSB work in most cases.  In a nutshell, the IC-7300 is good enough for all but the most extreme contest enthusiasts.  See more info here: Sherwood Engineering Transceiver Rankings.

There are many more great features, and I will cover them soon in an expanded / proper review.  Let me know if there are any questions you’d like answered.

73,

Jarrad

What does it take to work 100 Countries? Not Much!

Even though I have a really modest station at the moment, over the last year I have been able to work over 100 DXCC Entities without too much difficulty.  Today I though I’d share the details of my basic setup; hopefully to inspire other would be Hams or current Hams who don’t use HF to give it a go.  The following gear is all you need to get your Basic Mixed DXCC (at least from Australia), and the total cost should be less than ~$1750 USD:

  • Icom IC-7200 Transceiver
  • Icom AH-4 Remote Antenna Tuner (a remote tuner significantly minimises loss in feed lines)
  • ~5 Metres of 1″ Aluminium Tube (for element)
  • ~100 Metres of 1.5mm^2 Wire (for radials)
  • 1 Star Picket for the ground
  • Miscellaneous insulating material and a few hose clamps.
  • 32 Ferrite Beads (for tuner control cable & feed line)
  • Coaxial Cable (I used Belden LL-195)

The Icom IC-7200 is a great value budget transceiver; it does everything a new Ham could want, and more.  Some standout features are: easy to use IF DSP with dedicated knobs, built in USB for CAT & Audio (digital modes are easy to use), control for Icom AH-4 Tuner, rugged and low cost.

The AH-4 is a wonderful tuner, and the fact it is mounted at the antenna means that loss due to high vSWR (which mostly takes place in the feed line) is significantly reduced.  Not only is it one of the smallest on the market, it also matches a very wide range, and works perfectly with a vertical element of a random wire.  I have found performance to be excellent when used with a vertical element, as the take off angle is a lot better for DX work than a low height random wire.  The only catch is, unless you put ferrite beads on your feed line and control cable, you may run into issues with RFI in the shack, although this is not an issue with the tuner itself.

All in all, the aforementioned basic setup has brought me a lot of joy; I also used a similar setup in Cambodia and managed 70 DXCC entities in 6 weeks.  If the aluminium tube is substituted for a fibreglass telescopic pole with a wire taped to it, the setup makes an excellent portable station, however these poles are best not used in a permanent installation as they will not last as long as an equivalent aluminium tube and are more expensive.

Here are a few photos of the gear (the radio photo I borrowed from Google Images, but mine is the same):

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The moral of the story is you don’t need to be rich to enjoy DXing on HF!

My Current Home (Australian) Station

Hi Everyone,

Below is a few pictures of my current station in Australia.

It basically consists of the following:

  • Icom IC-7200 HF/6M Transceiver
  • Yaesu FT-101E HF ‘Hybrid’ Transceiver
  • Yaesu FT-857D HF/VHF/UHF Transceiver
  • Icom AH-4 Remote Antenna Tuner
  • Daiwa CN-801 ‘HP Type’ 1.8 – 200 MHz Cross Needle VSWR Meter
  • Daiwa CN-801 ‘V Type’ 140 – 525 MHz Cross Needle VSWR Meter
  • DOSS SPS-8400 40 Amp 0-15v Power Supply
  • Mac Pro Desktop Computer

Continue reading

XU7AGA & JT65

Hi Guys,

As many of you know, for some HAMs getting a QSO with XU7/Cambodia is quite a challenge; for others, its an every day thing. For this reason and others (mainly poor band conditions), I’ve started playing around with JT65.  I’m using the software JT65-HF, which I’ve found quite easy to use and there is a beautiful HOWTO / write up on its use by Dave Dunbar N0RQ at eHam, click on the link for more details in a new window.

However, I want to take the opportunity to cover a few of my operating preferences, with reasoning:

I don’t particularly enjoy using JT65 (Paint dries considerably faster in Cambodia, and it wastes my laptop battery more than other modes per QSO), so I’d like to make a few requests / points.  Basically, I want to make sure I help as many people have a QSO with Cambodia / XU7 as possible, so here goes:

  • If you’ve had a QSO with XU7AGA, please don’t expect me to reply to you first on JT65.
  • I will always pick DX ‘Proper’ (eg Brazil, USA) first on JT65, otherwise we might not get a QSO.
  • DO NOT CALL OVER A DX STATION I’M WORKING UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

While it may seem a little unnecessary to explain this, almost 1/3 of my logged QSOs so far come from Japan.  Russia in general is a close second.  I love having QSOs with Japanese, Russian & Ukrainian HAMs, and will continue to do so as much as possible.  However, it is in everyone’s best interest that such QSOs take place via SSB and/or PSK.  Both of these modes are considerably faster, and allow us to exchange meaningful information, not just signal reports and call signs.    

Put Simply:

I’m not fond of JT65, but I’d love to help ‘DX’ DX stations get Cambodia in their log and mine, so I use it.  If you’re local and/or high powered (think Russia, Ukraine, Japan, Indonesia), please have a QSO with me on PSK or SSB. I spend almost 5 hours a day using PSK31 on the 15M Band (21070) if not more, so no one will miss out.

I understand that for some HAMs having a QSO on as many modes as possible is an important part of the hobby.  If that’s a particular interest of yours, please email me and I will make sure to let you know when I am operating on JT65, and that I make every effort to have a QSO with you regardless of your location.

The above goes for other modes as well.  If I’ve had a QSO with you on PSK31, but you’d really like a SSB contact, just let me know.  Unfortunately, an SSB contact between Cambodia and Australia on 80M for instance might be impossible, but I will do my best to work with everyone near and far alike 🙂

73s,

Jarrad Mitchell

XU7AGA & VK3HXT

Finally some good news! (In the form of a pristine ‘time capsule’ Yaesu FT-101E)

So recently I’ve had some issues with the XYL which has lead to a relocation of the QTH and a reassignment from XYL Status to XXYL Status.

HOWEVER, today was a good day.  Upon a trip to Strictly Ham, I noticed a Yaesu FT-101E sitting on the bottom shelf near Slim’s desk.  Having always wanted a FT-101, I asked some of the guys there (Steve, Theo & Slim Himself) about the radio.  They promptly informed me that it was for sale, and remarked upon the condition.

Upon examining the radio, it was clear Steve was not overstating when he said it was the most mint condition example he had ever seen.  The face plate was still covered in its protective plastic.  The chassis screws were devoid of any marks whatsoever (eg, never been opened).  The top plate’s screws (where ALC, BIAS etc is set), also hardly even looked touched.  The rear fan was not missing the slightest bit of paint, and didn’t even have a spec of stuck on dust.  I could not believe it.

And to top it all off, the boys informed me that it both received perfectly, and tuned up with full power!  We’ll, having always lusted over a hybrid, I asked if I could look at it.  After a bit of a ‘HAND QSO’, I put it on the desk for further examination, which Steve took as the cue to connect it up.  The coax was plugged in, the 240v was connected and within about 10 seconds he was picking up QSOs on the 40m band.

I was hooked.  Ross and I proceeded to a bit of casual negotiation, and latter that day I walked out with my dream boat anchor, feeling like I had just spent a few hours in Dr Who’s Targis and purchased a brand new ex store demo FT-101E.

Taking it home, the top cover was removed, the HV cover removed for the first time I believe and dust blown out.  The Finals were inspected to ensure nothing untoward was going on, the valves were left to heat for a while and i tuned it up.

Immediately after tuning, I made a QSO with special commemorative call ZL1PPY.

Thanks Slim (Ross), you’ve brought a lot of joy to an OM who just wanted to absorb himself in HAM Radio till emotions settled.  Admittedly I am still feeling emotions, but they’re more along the lines of AWE!