A user's perspective on the IC-7600

by George Bethea K5JZ, 26 May 2009

As an owner of an Icom 7800, I am an operator that has come to expect and demand quality and performance. I have owned and I most certainly have (at the least) operated most of the top of the line transceivers that have been available over the past thirty years. I recently sold my venerable Yaesu MKV to a close friend and I was looking for a rig to use as backup to my 7800. This new rig would also have to fit into the role of my Six Meter dedicated operating position. I have been looking at the market offerings for the past year and I was in limbo about what to do. I then heard the first rumors of this new 7600 coming to market. I expected nothing and approached this new rig with the same candor and impartial critique that I have used in dealing with all of the radio equipment that I have purchased over the years. If it works well and I like the ergonomics, I keep it. If not, it "hits the road jack, and don't you come back no more".

All brands and models of equipment can break. All brands of radios can experience components failing and certainly electronics can be stressed beyond their design parameters by uninformed or over zealous operators. There are also times that "stuff" just happens. I have been around the block with top-of-the-line, multi-thousand- dollar amps and transceivers of numerous brands. I have even experienced having an FT1000D and an Alpha 87A amp replaced under warranty. Both of these units had endured multiple repetitive failures! I still own and operate that replacement 87A and I have never had a hint of a problem from that unit. I have learned over the years that one must look at the overall track record and performance of equipment when forming an opinion as to its worthiness.

This leads to one having to be careful of reviews of such equipment that appear on certain websites across the Internet. While many of these reviews are interesting and can be of value in determining the eligibility of certain equipment, emotions can come into play on both sides of this coin. Nothing trumps personal experience, but a well documented and educated opinion by people that one respects and trusts, a person or persons that have owned and operated equipment as much as you have and someone that has the equipment and the know how to test and evaluate equipment in a relevant manner - can become your eyes and ears and a marvelous resource as to whether a piece of equipment is worth trying out for yourself or not.

I have come to know Adam Farson (VA7OJ/AB4OJ) quite well. We have known each other through Ham Radio for many years. I used to check into the Icom net when he was living in Florida and MC'ing the net as AB4OJ. We converse via email quite often and we try to QSO each other as time allows. There is also Matt Erickson KK5DR, whom I do not know well but whom I have read and listened to on technical issues and through user groups over the years. Matt and Adam both run websites that are amongst the finest resources available to the tech savvy Ham. They both know the reality and limitations of equipment and both have the ability to convey those qualities in a clear and concise manner. After reading their technical reports and their personal observations and comparisons, I decided to purchase a 7600 at Dayton and test-drive this model for myself.

As life works out at times, I ended up having to cancel my trip to Dayton this year. Several close friends were going to attend and Ed KA5VFU was actually going to host an IOTA seminar for Icom. His subject was covering the recent IOTA Dxpedition that our MDXA group had put on from East Ship Island last October. If you saw the huge banner above the Icom booth at Dayton or you look at the cover of the latest Amateur Electronic Supply catalogue, you will see a picture of Jerry N5UCF (Ed's brother) drinking coffee as the Sun rises over Ship Island. The photograph of the 7600 that appears in the sand of a wave-washed beach, along with a "message" in a bottle, was taken on Ship Island.

Since several of our members (including myself and my 7800) have done much satisfied business with Steve (from HRO Virginia) over the years, our club members purchased four 7600's and one Pro III from them at Dayton this year. Ed and I received our 7600's just in time for Memorial Day weekend. While you can find all of the technical data on the 7600 on various spots on the web, I will only offer the reality of observation and operation during this initial phase of ownership.

If you are coming from the Pro series or a 7700 or 7800, you will feel right at home negotiating through the menu system. If you are coming from some other brand of equipment, you will be pleased to know that the 7600 actually speaks English quite well! To quote my friend Adam, “The 7600’s UI is in plain English, not hieroglyphs.” There will be no need for the use of a “Rosetta Stone” to navigate Icom’s settings!

The 7600 is quite a bit larger in performance than it is in footprint. It's quality and fit and finish is what one would expect from Icom and a rig in this price range. While it is not quite as fine in the look and feel department as the 7800, nor does it cost $10,000, it does come very close and it looks quite comfortable and at home sitting next to one! What it does “surprisingly” share with the 7800 is much of its performance! The receiver is nothing short of outstanding!!! The filtering and features, DSP performance and QRM fighting abilities more than hold their own. Its flexibility will make this radio well loved as a lean, mean DX-fighting machine or an 80-meter rag chewer's or audio aficionado's dream. One can truly have two different radios in one cabinet, with the ability to store and program radio parameters from a USB thumb drive.

The scope and display exceeded my expectations. The 7600’s display performance and functionality is supreme. I find that it is not only useful, but as an owner of a 7800, I find that this scope is something that I can no longer live without. It is bright and colorful and I find the resolution to be quite acceptable. I wish the 7600 had a video out so that I could use a larger monitor with it, like I do with my 7800 and 7000, but this in no way would keep me from buying or operating this fine rig. Side-by-side with my 7800, this rig just keeps on pleasing and surprising me. Ed KA5VFU feels much the same, and in just two days of operation, he has decided to (eventually) replace his Pro II and Pro III with two more 7600's! The proof is in the pudding.

The transmitter is very clean and yes, it delivers a sound and firm 100 watts of carrier and 100 watts PEP output into a Bird 43 and a commercial 50-ohm dummy load. I actually tested the 7600 into two different dummy loads with the same result. The transmitter is a breeze to set up to have it sound and operate in whatever mode and style you wish. Here its flexibility is also apparent. I use a Heil HM-10 with both an HC-4 DX element and an HC-5 wide range element. I find that I can use the same EQ settings for both elements and with the HC-5 I achieve outstanding unsolicited audio reports, stating that my signal is of high quality and fidelity. With the flick of a switch on the mic and by engaging the compressor with mid width with about 10db of compression, the 7600 slips into the "war mode" and turns itself into a pileup-busting, knife-edged assault weapon.

My friend Ed bought the new SM-50 Icom desk mic to go with his 7600. Using almost the same EQ settings that I have used and by utilizing the LOW CUT button on the base stand, he also achieved the exact same results. Several members listened while we experimented the other night and everyone was amazed that one can go from rich, pleasing, almost plate modulated AM sounding audio to DX pileup-busting punch with the push of a button or two. The 7600 drives all three of my amplifiers in a seamless and functional manner. It interfaces with Ed's PW1 so that it melts into simply a 1200 watt rig, seamless, flawless and quiet in its marriage.

I am a CW man and this 7600 feels and operates much like my 7800. That is ALL that I need to say. On RTTY it also feels and operates much like my 7800 does. Side-by-side they both perform like two thoroughbred racehorses! I am pleased and very satisfied with these two modes of operation and the 7600's performance on both!

One comment: the 7600 deserves a far better external speaker than the SP-23. Do yourself a favor and buy the SP-20. Enough said.

There you have it - one man's opinion. I find that the performance that Icom has put into this small-footprint radio is downright scary and if the competition has any sense at all, they had better be scared to death of this 7600. I for one am absolutely thrilled and amazed by my latest purchase. Ed feels exactly the same way.

George K5JZ

Text copyright © 2009 G.G. Bethea K5JZ. Editing and page creation: A. Farson VA7OJ/AB4OJ. All rights reserved.
First posted on the IC-7600 Group, 05/25/2009
Last updated: 10/18/2019