I just got rid of my flex 6300 and replace it for a icom ic-7300.
If you just want to read my opinions about the icom, just skip the first part talking about the flex radios.
The flexradio life
While I really liked the flex 6300, I didn’t really like the company making them. I feeled like a beta tester who had to pay lot’s of money to participate in the development.
The radio itself started to be usable when the 1.5 version of smartsdr was released and they added some form of noise mitigation. It was still bugged and it still is to the last version I had (1.7.x).
One of flexradio problem is the target market they aim for with their products. It’s not easy to give support for cutting edge sdr technology when most of your clients know very little about computer and mostly nothing about networking. I would not like to be the one trying to solve audio configuration problems, remotely, on a vintage xp computer probably filled with old software, virus etc. on a wifi network provided through the isp modem. That’s probably why most flex owner connect the ethernet cable directly in the computer. It’s probably also one of the reason there is many complaints about the flex maestro right now.
I have to give credit to flex for the community forum on their website and their general support and let’s face it, ham radio operator generally lean on the whiny side, specially the loud ones on the internet.
All in all I like the radio but didn’t like the direction the company is aiming at with the ridiculous (in my opinion) maestro and last couple of software updates. Also smartsdr need to be more customizable for me. I’m gonna miss running the software on a laptop around the house for sure.
The best point about the flex, compared to conventional heterodyne receivers :
- not been tied to the shack
- amazing bandscope of 7-14 mhz if you want (but we never use it)
- sound quality (can’t stand dsp in many modern radios)
- running completely on a computer
- dax, audio conduit possibilities
- easy to use
- quick access to everything, no menu etc
- auto calibration of the radio’s tcxo
- able to receive as wide as you want or up to 10k (not useful over 5k but it’s there)
- able to transmit as wide as you want or up to 10k (not my interest but the possibility is there)
- amazing for digital modes, cw skimmers, other ham radio software
- new generation does not need lot’s of computer power
- screen can be as big as your wallet allow it
- can be used on touchscreen and windows 8.1 0r 10 for nice experience
- very visual experience where you look at the bands and not listen to A band to see if there is activity
While this is all good there are some point I liked a little bit less with the model I had :
- been highly dependant of flex for the software development
- bugged software often released in a hurry then fixed then new bugs etc. but it was getting better
- need large bandwidth to be used remotely making remote operation erratic at best
- ridiculously priced, designed, delayed flex maestro and the idea that then need to develop for nostalgic knob lovers
- The complexity of the radio and parts used make it a “call for RMA and return it” if something goes wrong
- not able to talk with my antenna tuner directly
Enter the new icom ic-7300
While the flex still have high value (when a new generation is released the price of the previous ones tend to tank) I decided to get rid of it and got an icom ic-7300. I didn’t want to have to deal with flex for an out of warranty repair in the future or try to sell it when they close the doors or bring a new generation of radio. I kind of expect the maestro to be a fiasco even if I hope it’s not.
After couple of days, I don’t see the ic-7300 as a flex or anan replacement or competitor AT ALL but I never expected it to be. While I highly enjoy the radio and it answer 110% to my need I have to be honest the ic-7300 is more a heterodyne radio replacement.
For someone without sdr exposition maybe it could be considered as a full fledged sdr radio but I don’t agree with that. It’s a little of both, well made and integrated (unlike the flex maestro i’ve seen operate in videos on youtube) really enjoyable to use radio. It only have 1 mhz of bandwidth but it is enough for 99.9% of my use since I rarely even used 1mhz on my flex-6300. It does give the operator a good visual experience of the bands while having the best audio quality i’ve heard on an icom radio so far.
With the ic-7300 you can run the radio from the computer with icom rs-ba1 (with an update) and get a bandscope but it’s not even a tiny bit close to the experience of doing it with a flex radio. The usb port in the ic-7300 still run at serial com port speed so what you have is a little bit slow and laggish. The good point of it is the low bandwidth needed will make it easy to use in remote operation (have not tried it yet).
Having played with the icom ic-7600, the 756 pro iii etc, the 7300 is in a league of it’s own making them look like old and slow limited technology. The ic-7300 can replace my flex-6300 where a ic-7600 wouldn’t since i’ve been exposed to a good sdr radio. Now this is for my use, in my shack and on my antenna. I’m not a contester (except once a year), it doesn’t interest me, and don’t do digital modes often. I have to try the digital modes soon and see if my hamradiodeluxe licence work with it.
All in all, using the radio is a such a joy. The screen is fantastic and the touchscreen operation is another step ahead of the ic-7100 (also own) and make the yaesu ft-991 and ftm-400 (also own) look really bad. The touchscreen operation and menu are optimised, quick and easy to use. It’s exactly the opposite with the yaesu ft-991 and ftm-400dr where everything seems to have been designed by someone who never touched a smartphone in his entire life.
I really give credit to icom bringing this radio to market. Not many company would cannibalize their sales of higher-end radio bringing a new technology to market like that. The radio feels ready to be used out of the box and not a work in progress like flex does with their customers. I can see peoples waiting for the next icom release if they are in the market for a ic-7600 7700 etc or simply getting the ic-7300. I would not buy anything else from icom presently knowing how good is this little radio for the price.
I predict this radio will sell really well and be liked by their owner. I only have two days of play time on it and will post a follow up later.
So far, for my use, it’s like a largely improved ic-7600 for almost half the price (in Canadian pesos) and while it’s not a flex or anan replacement, after owning one for a year, it’s not a necessity for me and this radio answer to 110% of my need.
My shack is quite small so I have nothing against smaller radio giving me big radio performance since it mean I can fit more radio on a small desk.
I can’t wait for the next ic-7650, or whatever the call it, from icom and what could be the answer from kenwood or yaesu.
Here is the shack in june 2016
The good points of the icom ic-7300 :
- perfect size for a small shack but keeping it fully usable
- nice set of function easily accessible from the knobs, nice set of quick setting on the function knob and menu really easy to use and configure
- the UI was optimized contrarily to stupid yaesu touchscreen radios.
- wonderful little screen that is quick, easy to read, good response to touch and good brightness and contrast
- aesthetically pleasing
- will please the knob crowd with a little sense of adventure
- works with icom tuners, microphones etc
- sense of continuity in the menu, filter setting, memory operation, nb nr notch etc from radio to radio making it easy to use if you played with anything from icom in the last 15 years
- amazing audio quality for an icom radio, I don’t hear the usual icom dsp digital harshness or tiring hissing noise like in a ic-7000
- transmit audio seems really good even if limited to 2.8khz of bandwidth (seen negative aspect of the radio)
- quite ok internal speaker for the size of the radio, sound from the speaker output is a lot better on larger speakers
- easy to update and manage with sd card
- up to 1mhz of bandscope that is highly configurable with an all in one sdr radio
- smooth vfo (should we still call this a vfo?) that is pleasing to operate
- while the fan can be noisy at full speed, the speed control seems well though so it won’t spin at all receiving
- the auto tune in cw is really nice
Some bad points of the icom ic-7300 :
- No backlight for the buttons (that is really stupid)
- limited to 3.6khz in receive (it’s a sdr, don’t limit it like that)
- limited to 2.8khz in transmit (it’s a sdr, don’t limit it like that)
- uncomfortable to hold and plain original microphone
- no way to transfer sdr data to the computer for second receiver
- voluntarily limited by icom to be able to sell the next sdr they will release
- one antenna jack (see previous point)
- no rx antenna
- bandscope limit in fixed mode don’t switch when you reach one extremity
- not as fast to operate as a flex radio because of the lack of mouse to select the frequency to listen to
- rs-ba1 could be better considering they sell this for 100$ us
- should have an automatic tcxo calibration like flex
- when you push the power button quickly it take a screen snapshot instead of closing the radio, you need to hold power instead
- the noise blanker doesn’t remove visually the noise from the scope like the wnb on a flex, it would be nice
- the auto tune in ssb would be nice