Sunday, 14 October 2018

My grudging appreciation of the Icom IC-7100

Yes, I know I have promised something more about 1970s VHF, but it is all just too complicated. I am working on it. In the meantime, this ...

I believe that the major Japanese manufacturers are puzzled by the Western habit of buying "mobile" radios and using them as base stations. Why, for instance, when Icom offer us the IC-9100 base station, would anyone want to use the IC-7100 mobile radio from home?

Erm, maybe because the IC-9100 is currently £2799.95 while the IC-7100 is £999.95.

Now of course the IC-9100 is a better radio than the IC-7100. It is better equipped, it has a built in ATU, it will produce 100W on 2m and 75W on 70cms (or at least it claims to, I have no personal experience) compared with the 7100's 50W on 2m and 35W on 70cm. With the 9100 you can add a module for 1296MHz, if you have £623.99 to spare for that.

If you accept that the IC-9100 is better, even though you might wonder if 180% more £££ would bring you exactly 180% more joy, that does not mean that the IC-7100 is easily written off as a base station.
The IC-7100 control box at GM4FVM

I must declare my interest. I have had an IC-7100 here since August 2013. You can look back in this blog and find me moaning about the "clicking" sound on transmit, which I can find but nobody else has ever heard (maybe it is inside my head). You can also find me complaining about the low average output on SSB, which I resolved by using an outboard speech compressor. Apart from that my total list of complaints is NIL.

(EDIT -  here is some of it

Five years is a long time for me to hold on to something which I might have doubts about. That's the thing about the IC-7100, it just does its job. It works. I have never doubted it. OK, along will come the IC-9700 which will I guess make a better VHF  base station than even the IC-9100. But will it cost £999 new?

I noticed a couple of second hand  IC-7100s on eBay. They sell for about £700, or even less. That is quite a bargain. No doubt there are some poor condition ragged ones about, perhaps modified ones too, but mine has had nothing more radical done than to add an N-type socket to the VHF side. Any others like it on sale might be a very handy used radio.

Let's think about it. Rather than comparing it with sets at three times the price, at it's own price, second hand, it is streets ahead of anything else around. The Yaesu FT-857 is an ancient plodder by comparison - it doesn't have IF DSP like the IC-7100.

The 7100 is still in production. You could pay sky high prices (£1000++) for an out of production IC-910, and not get the USB connectivity of the IC-7100. The 7100 just needs to have its USB plugged into the computer with no audio data interface. Sure the IC-910 is better in many ways but the 7100 gives you HF for free.

There are lots of out-of-production VHF radios you could buy second hand for maybe half the cost of the IC-7100. The problem with this is that they are now so old that their performance is below what we have come to expect. Solder joints are failing and capacitors are drying out. The IC-7100 is stable enough for data in that it does not drift significantly. It is probably more sensitive than the old rigs but maybe not quite in the latest transverter league. For £700 you would get solid performance by comparison with older equipment, but it is not quite earth shattering.

The IC-7100 was designed with FM and DStar operation in mind. It has good cooling and an effective fan. This means that it is very happy with high duty cycle work, and data seems to pose it few problems.

There are some nice aspects of using the IC-7100. It has separate PTT outputs for HF and 2m/70cm. This means you can use a linear on 2m and a different one on, say 4m or 6m, and the linears would only come into use when you select the right band. Of course, HF, 4m and 6m are all one one PTT output, and 2m and 70cms are on the other, just like the RF output sockets. I certainly made us of this feature. Also, as the control head is separate I could mount the radio at the point where the 70cms coax enters the shack whilst having the control box on the desk. This saves some lossy coax.

For the European market the IC-7100 comes equipped with 70MHz. This was a bonus for me at the start as I already had a 4m transverter. I planned to stick with the transverter. Within weeks I was using the IC-7100 on 4m exclusively. Later I used the LDG IT-100 automatic ATU with it on HF and that proved very satisfactory. After that it was my 6m rig, then my 2m rig, and now it is my 70cms rig. In that role I can produce a map of what it has done because it is my only 70cms transmitter (apart from FM which I only listen to).
70cms contacts at GM4FVM 30 June to 14 October 2018 (F1BHL/P sadly missed off the bottom of the map)
If this looks modest, it is 70cms and I had my first QSO on 30 June which is three and a half months ago. All of them on the IC-7100 - though lately with a 95w linear. On all bands I have had hundreds of contacts on the IC-7100, from Greece on 70MHz to Canada on 50MHz, to Australia on 28MHz and lots elsewhere too.

There have to be some downsides. My early model came with a fairly poor microphone. The physical design with its sloping display is a bit odd. Spinning the VFO feels rather peculiar as the control head tends to move - it needs the free moving finger cup which the IC7300 has. Some of the logic for switching between meters on the touch screen display seem strange. Some people don't like the monochrome display but it never bothered me.

This is a very personal thing. I borrowed an Icom IC-910 and hated it - the ergonomics appalled me. I do not like the looks of the TS-2000 (but it is discontinued now anyway). The IC-7100 is not a radio I love either. I cannot deny it has served me well. As a new buy at the current price of £999 (and less on the grey market) or about £700 used, it really does compare well with older models in the same market sector (which means the Yaesu FT-857). As for anything older still, I wouldn't consider any of them if I could find a clean used IC-7100. It certainly is not perfect, but it is modern and it works.

In case you think I might throw my IC-7100 out when I do eventually buy a VHF base radio, have no fear. I have plans for using it mobile - goodness, a mobile radio used mobile! Of course, I cannot buy a VHF base station until somebody makes one I would want or could afford, but that is another story.





  1. Jim, I do have a 7100, and it has been my standard 4m station for quite a while. The 7300 is my choice for 6m operation.
    The thing I do miss, nowadays, is the spectrum scope, but I am playing with an idea for for an external relay box with a low gain preamp and splitting the RX signal between the 7100 and an RTL-SDR, and maybe one or two more receivers, so I can monitor, e.g. the FM calling frequency and/or one of the digital frequencies (FT8) while tuning around and operating in the DX mode. The PTT output must be useful for that.
    Yes, too many ideas, too little time.

  2. Jan
    Yes, absolutely. I have seen a modification somewhere involving bringing the IF out of the IC-7100 and then observing that on an SDR dongle. I do not remember what the bandwidth was.
    I did have the chance to sample the IF before the IC-7100 when I had a transverter, but the convenience of the IC-7100 won me over.
    Too many ideas, too many unfinished project. But, Jan, it is the thoughts and the ideas which inspire us. Personally I have stopped worrying about whether my ideas ever happen, I just enjoy dreaming them up.
    Jim GM4FVM

  3. Great write-up Jim. I love my 7100. So much so, I sold my TS-590S in favor of it. I like the versatility and "shack-in-box" of it, even if it is not the performer that the 590 might be. I did not like the ergonomics of the 590. I can do everything on the 7100 quicker than I could on the 590.
    Dan K3DBI