By Kelvin Marsh M0AID
I was recently able to spend a couple of hours evaluating the Icom IC-7600 owned by G4JZL. This cannot be an in depth review, but I wanted to satisfy myself the rig could be used easily by a blind operator.
My immediate impression was of a substantial piece of equipment. According to the Icom specifications, the radio is 340mm wide, 116mm high, and 280mm deep. These measurements do not include the front dials and other protrusions. The rig covers the HF bands and 50MHz and has an output of 100 watts. The Ic-7600 replaces the IC-756 series, and has many modern features such as USB to PC connectivity, allowing easy integration of digital mode audio.
In line with most modern Icom transceivers, the IC-7600 has a voice synthesizer built in as standard. The voice read-out button was conveniently positioned at the bottom right of the front panel. The incoming Signal Strength, the frequency, and the mode are voiced. The individual mode buttons can also be made to speak, but this requires a menu setting to be turned on.
With a radio of this size, I found there was plenty of room on the front panel. I found there was a dedicated control for all of the important functions of the transceiver. This is important because the Menu System is not accessible. The radio is very tactile, with different sized knobs and well placed buttons. I had the impression that some of the buttons to the top left, such as the power on, the Send/Receive, and the auto ATU, were flat and smooth, making them sit almost flush with the front panel. This impression is made on reflection as I am no longer in front of the radio, but might cause some initial difficulty if touch sensation is poor.
I also found the status of functions, such as the Processor, gave the same beep regardless of it being turned on or off. Whilst I did not thoroughly investigate this function, I suspect the Monitor facility would have to be engaged to allow a blind operator to determine if Processing was being used.
I found It was easy to select the previously determined filter widths, and adjust the shape of the band pas filtering. The Noise Reduction control is a pleasure to use. Just turn the NR on, and turn the knob to suit your preference. Functions such as the Mic Gain, the VOX delay, and the TX Power are each adjusted with dedicated knobs.
The numeric keypad makes frequency input straight forward, and there is a marker on the 5 key. The keypad is slightly recessed, and this means there is a useful tactile ridge in the casing, running down to the right of the numeric keys. This made tactile keypad orientation very intuitive. The Split operation was very slick, and the Split, Dual Watch, and the Main/Sub buttons were nicely placed.
I did not use the Memory features, but I would expect them to be just about usable for recalling 50MHz repeaters. Without voice prompts, Memory usage may well require sighted assistance.
Of particular interest, was the Dual Watch capability of the radio. This feature allows the operator to listen to both the receiving and the transmitting frequencies at the same time. If you are interested in working DX stations, you will find the operators often work Split. It is really useful to find and listen to their RX frequency, particularly if it is being continually adjusted. You can often spot a structured method in their listening habits, and it helps you call in the right spot.
The IC-7600 allows you to hear both frequencies at once, by merging the TX and RX signals into a single mono signal. A separate knob allows you to adjust the volume balance of the two incoming frequencies.
The IC-7600 can store short recordings of incoming audio. The radio is continuously recording, and pressing the Record button, and then the Playback button, will repeat the last 5 seconds of signal. I suspect that more like 20 seconds is actually recorded, and the full recording can be heard by entering the Recordings Menu. Just hearing the last 5 seconds is incredibly useful, though. If you hear a callsign, just hit the Record button. The last 5 seconds is usually just the right amount of time to capture the callsign, ready for immediate playback with a press of the Play button.
The radio can also store voice keyer messages, ready for transmission. This can be useful for often repeated phrases, such as CQ calls. With practise, both the playback and the recording of voice messages can be performed by a blind amateur, but there is no voiced feedback. Rather, it is necessary to remember a sequence of button presses. Fortunately, it is always possible to start from a known position, and there are audio cues including playback of the actual messages. CW messages can also be stored, but as this involves the inputting of characters, I suspect this is inaccessible using the rig interface, but is perhaps possible using an external keyboard.
To make the use of the message keyer much easier, the Ic-7600 will accept an external ‘button box’, plugged into the rear panel. This box has 4 buttons, and these will operate the voice and CW keyer. The big advantage being, the operator need not get the keyer menu up on the display to use the pre-stored messages.
In summary, I was immediately at home using the IC-7600. The voice synthesizer only reads the basics, but the number of dedicated controls means there will be no pressing need to enter the inaccessible menus. A blind operator may well require initial sighted assistance to set up personal preferences, but should find the radio comfortable in daily use.