ICOM IC-7800 HF and 6 Meter Transceiver
Joel R. Hallas, W1ZR Assistant Technical Editor
The ICOM IC-7800 has been the subject of much speculation and discussion since it was announced at the 2003 Dayton Hamvention. This radio fills the spot at the top of ICOM's Amateur Radio lineup formerly held by the now aging IC-781. In our view the somewhat larger and heavier than usual enclosure contains more than just a radio. Included are a 200 W HF and 6 meter multimode transceiver, power supply, antenna tuner, RTTY and PSK31 transmit and receive terminal units, and two DSP-based high performance receivers. These are all coupled with a multifunction automated display and control system presented on a 7 inch color TFT display.
In consideration of the multiple facets, we brought together a team of reviewers to push at the edges of multiple performance envelopes of the IC-7800. Overall performance specifications have been first measured and recorded by ARRL Lab Engineer Michael Tracy, KC1SX. The receiver performance and system operability in a harsh environment have been evaluated by Dave Patton, NN1N, a top contester. Digital mode performance has been checked out by Steve Ford, WB8IMY, and the 6 meter capabilities have been evaluated by 6 meter aficionado Dennis Motschenbacher, K7BV. Each of these "specialists" has described their experiences to give you an indication of how the equipment performs in their specialized environments.
On first impression this radio stands out from the crowd in a number of respects. First there's the price, more in the neighborhood of a compact car than typical ham equipment. Next there's the size and weight—this is a large and heavy radio that won't be confused with the recent trend toward pocket-sized models. Then there's the display, a knockout of color and information a step beyond other ham radio transceivers.
Perhaps the second impression is even more stunning. ICOM has made an attempt to set a new level of performance and offer features well beyond those of other radios. In the area of performance, ICOM has set a new standard in the
important dynamic range area. In the feature department, ICOM has included almost every operating mode and convenience imaginable.
Getting a Grip On It
This is a serious radio, at 55 pounds, it outweighs its predecessor by 4 pounds. The manual recommends using two people to move it, and that might be a good idea, especially if you have tight corners. Fortunately a pair of easily removable heavy cast combination handles and rack mounts are provided that make moving it somewhat easier, although they made me wish it could be put it down on its back panel without breaking connectors. It also takes up some serious space, although considering all that's included in the single box it is a reasonable implementation. I put it in my shack in place of my full-size transceiver and had to move neighbor equipment to make space. One nice feature: This radio doesn't slide when you push a button or plug in the phones!
So What Does it Do?
What doesn't it do might be easier to answer.
I mentioned the stunning display as a major contributor to first impressions. Its beauty is a lot more than skin deep and is well worth a detailed look. ICOM has dedicated one of the four DSP chips to display functions, and it pays off, as shown in
Figure 1. What caught almost every observer's eye early on was the ICOM implementation of virtual D'Arsonval moving coil meters. We've all seen the various attempts at metering on display screens, going from the group of dashes to meter shaped curved display elements. You wouldn't confuse any of these with a real meter, although it can be argued that for many functions they are adequate.
ICOM spent a long time studying and emulating the ballistics of a moving coil meter with the result that you almost can't tell that their meters aren't real. Only by looking from the side and realizing that there isn't any space between the "needle" and the scale do you understand that you're not seeing what you thought. According to ICOM, this is not just a matter of vanity. They are preparing for the time when mechanical meters will no longer be available. There is another advantage— meters are often the most fragile part of a radio and you'll never bend this needle around the pin! If you don't like the pair of large "meters" provided, you can select narrow edge type or bar meters instead (Figure 2).
Other display functions are notable. The fully functional real-time spectrum scope can be set to work on either receiver, so you can monitor activity on 10 meters while you work 20, for example. The spectrum width can be adjusted and the display can stay fixed or track your tuning. In either case cursors show you where you are on each receiver, if within range. The transmitted spectrum can be monitored as well. Menu selections are not just in text, but in many cases also show the shape of what you are adjusting.
If you find the 7 inch display too small, perhaps due to vision limitations, or if you....