Icom IC-7400 Accessibility Review

Picture of Icom IC-7400 with frequency reading 14.195 mhzAccessibility Evaluation of Icom IC-7400

By Kelvin Marsh M0AID

– May 2010.

When I start looking at a new or unfamiliar radio, I hope to find I can perform commonly used commands, without the need for menu access or multi-layered buttons. This is essential for a
blind user. Adjusting the volume, the frequency, and the mode, and having these spoken by the voice chip, would naturally come at the top of any list. Next would be the ability to adjust those very frequent occurrences like Band Pass filtering, Noise reduction, Notch Filters, ATU Tuning, Split Operation, Power Reduction. The kind of things we constantly adjust to get the best operating conditions possible for every QSO. Then would come adjustments like Mike Gain, Vox Gain, VOX Delay, and CW Pitch. In effect, the settings you might only adjust once per day.

With this notional list in mind, I try to learn if the essential commands have a dedicated control, or if I have to constantly enter a menu system. Accessibility for a blind user is not just about what Is being spoken, but whether the layout is intuitive. After all a blind operator does not have the luxury of being able to read descriptions on buttons. They must remember the position and function of every button, every knob, and possibly unspoken menu layouts and button sequences.

All of this means a radio with even a limited spoken vocabulary , can actually be very accessible if it is well designed. All of these thoughts came to mind when I first had my hands on the IC-7400!

My initial impressions were favourable. The radio is a traditional base station construction, and feels chunky and solid, and gives the impression of not being overloaded with buttons and knobs. The unit covers HF, 6M, and 2M, with three antenna sockets at the rear. The power output is 100 watts on all bands and modes.

The IC-7400 had been fitted with the optional UT-102 voice synthesizer. As with some other Icoms I have tried with this chip, the volume needed to be increased to maximum, by removing the radio’s casing and adjusting an internal pot. The UT-102 chip sounds rather stilted compared to newer Icoms with voice built in, and I found myself waiting impatiently for the complete frequency to be laboriously read through. The signal strength and frequency, are voiced by pressing and holding the lock button, and the mode is spoken as each Mode Button is individually pressed. One of my few criticisms of the IC-7400’s tactile layout, is the placement of the Voice announcement Button. It is tucked almost under, and very close to, the large VFO dial.

The radio comes with an internal automatic ATU rated at matching better than 3-1. There is a very subtle difference in the ‘clicks’ when turning the ATU on and off, with a quick press. When tuning, with a longer press, it is possible to decide if the ATU has found a match, depending on whether it has engaged ‘On’ or has failed to find a match ‘Off’. I was not overly enthusiastic about the very subtle indications I was being given for a potentially high, and therefore potentially damaging, SWR. I also found that the radio attempted tuning at full power, unless this was manually reduced.

In operation on the HF bands, I found the IC-7400 a pleasure to use. Whilst I had initially thought there were not many controls, I found there were just the right amount. The controls are very tactile and well spread over the front panel. I found I could easily adjust the Noise Reduction, the Notch filter, and the various Band Pass filtering to cut down splatter. The frequency is entered using a numeric keypad with hard smooth plastic buttons, and whilst a pip on the 5 would be useful, the numbers were well spaced. Split operating is intuitive, but no verbal indication is given.

Inevitably on a modern transceiver, there is a menu system. Unfortunately, none of the menu is spoken by the IC-7400. There are some important commands requiring menu access, but, in my opinion, these are not show stoppers. Two notable functions requiring menu adjustment are the Speech Compression on and off, and the AGC. With some practice, I believe the Compression can be turned on and off by a blind operator, but of course, a dedicated button would have made it so much easier. There is a Monitor Button, so using this in conjunction with the Compression setting, would enable an operator to hear any changes through headphones, before going on air.

I was pleased to find there is a Tuning Step Button, allowing the buttons on the microphone to step through the band in 1Khz or 50Hz steps. The Memo Pad or Quick Memory function is easy to use. The main Memory is again relatively straightforward, but none of the channel numbers are spoken, and only the frequency in each channel can be made to speak. I did not use the radio on VHF, but the fact the Duplexing, CTCSS, and other useful settings require unspoken menu access make this much less useable. Setting up repeater memories independently will be difficult, if not impossible.

The IC-7400 has a lot going for it as a multi-band, multi-mode transceiver. Because so many necessary functions have dedicated buttons or knobs, this radio can be very effectively used by a blind operator.

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Icom IC-7000 Accessibility Review

Picture of Icom IC-7000 with microphone resting on top of the radio
Accessibility Evaluation of Icom IC-7000

By Kelvin Marsh M0AID

April 2010.

I had been looking forward to reviewing the IC-7000 for use by a blind operator. The radio is small, and can be regarded as being a mobile or portable transceiver. The main aspects of the IC-7000 are, the 160m to 70cm coverage, the multi-mode capability on all bands, and the 100 watt output in such a small package.

The radio is similar in size to the IC-703 and IC-706, but the interesting potential for a blind operator is the inclusion of a keypad on the microphone. This gives the operator the ability to enter a frequency, and goes some way to making up for the small physical size and sparse number of controls on the front panel.

The IC-7000 comes with a detachable front panel. The microphone and headphones plug into this panel, and it clips securely onto the body of the transceiver. The radio does not have an internal ATU, and the various tuning buttons on the front panel and microphone require a suitable external tuning unit. There are two SO239 antenna sockets at the rear of the radio, one for HF and one for VHF/UHF.

I initially found I had difficulty using some of the radio’s controls. The buttons on the front panel of the IC-7000 are very sleek and almost flush with the surrounding surface. After several days of use I became accustomed to this, but it is easy to unintentionally press the wrong button. I found the Function buttons, F1 to F4, along the base of the display, very hard to differentiate, but as these are virtually unusable on accessibility grounds, I tended to avoid these.

Icom have shipped the IC-7000 with a voice synthesizer fitted as standard. A press of the readout button speaks the received signal strength, frequency, and mode. The mode button can also be set-up to announce the mode as it is selected. With this limited spoken output, a blind operator relies on other audio cues, and needs dedicated controls for frequently used functions. With a radio of this size, the addition of a useable microphone keypad becomes essential.

Using just the front panel, I could control the audio volume, and the Squelch and RF gain are on a shared knob. I could alter the band Pass filtering with two concentric knobs, but the same controls are also shared for RIT and Memory Chanel selection, and I found I could not reliably use these.

Again from the front panel, I could select the Mode, and use the Pre-Amp, Attenuator, Noise Blanker, Noise Reduction, and Notch Filter. The front panel controls also allowed me to activate the voice chip and Frequency Lock, and step through the bands. The VFO itself is a good size, and fast tuning steps can be engaged.

As previously mentioned, the IC-7000 is shipped with a good sized keypad on the microphone. This usefully duplicates some of the controls on the front panel, such as the voice output and mode, but mainly offers additional controls. Of great importance is the inclusion of a good sized numeric keypad. This allows direct frequency input, and uses Icom’s stacking system for quickly moving to a previous frequency within a band.

In addition to the voice output, mode, and numeric keypad, there are buttons to toggle IF filters, tune the external ATU, and operate the memory channels. Two buttons step up and down in 50hz increments, or in 1 Khz steps if fast tuning is engaged.

The microphone also boasts two programmable buttons. In their default state they are Quick Memory Write and Quick Memory Recall. These simple functions are the only memories that can be sensibly used by a blind operator. I conclude the standard memory channels are not accessible.

With a modern radio of this size and complexity, it is inevitable many of the more advanced features will need to be set-up in the menu system. In the case of the IC-7000, the limitations of the voice chip means a blind operator will certainly need initial sighted assistance. Of more concern, is the potential need for on-going sighted help. For instance, I found power adjustment required use of the menu system. Whilst it is eminently possible to change the power, it is dependent on the operator memorising a sequence of steps or referring to notes .

To change power, a blind operator will need to use this sequence. press the AF control momentarily and hear a short beep. Press Function key 1. This highlights the last option on the menu list, so holding down F1 for a while will move back to the first entry. Hopefully, the Power option is selected. At this point, there is no audio indication of the current power level. Turn the VFO knob anti-clockwise at least two turns. This will set the power to its minimum level. From this point, every half clockwise turn of the VFO will increase power by approximately 25%. Two full clockwise turns will give full power. The final step is to momentarily press the AF control twice, giving one short beep, followed by a longer beep. If there is any deviation in this sequence, other important parameters can be accidentally changed, potentially putting the radio into an unusable state!

Other areas of difficulty are most notably in using the Split function. In its default state, Split can only be invoked through the inaccessible menu. It is possible to allocate Split commands to the two programmable buttons of the microphone, but the Quick Memory commands would then be lost.

In its basic operation, the IC-7000 can be used by a blind operator. The radio is more accessible than the IC-703 or IC-706, because of the microphone keypad. I have reservations over the difficulty in performing tasks such as changing power and operating in Split mode. The lack of memory channel accessibility could compromise repetitive VHF repeater use. Commonly used controls such as RIT, Compression, Mic Gain, and AGC, all require use of the menu.

In summary, this radio can be used by a blind amateur, but independentchanging of common functions are not possible. Unfortunately, with the limited amount of information spoken by the synthesizer, there are just not enough dedicated controls to allow a blind person independent use of the IC-7000.

Comment 1:

Hi Kelvin
Liked your review, but there is also one other useful attribute to this little radio,
it is the ability to add a television or monitor screen via its video output which
could be considered useful to a partially sighted person.
I use this facility and use a 9” wide screen television to make viewing the screen
Hope you don’t mind me adding my pennyworth.

Comment 2:

By Trevor VK6YJ, January 2013.

I have owned the IC7000 from Icom maybe just over twelve Months, for me it fills the bill, HF VHF and UHF.

A nice small Radio, sits on the operating desk well, compared with my old IC745. One major difference between the two radios, the size, and the 7000 does not have an in built power supply.

The HF side of the Radio is strait forward, once you have the settings as you want Them, all is well. Frequency, Signal strength and mode are announced. Would be an advantage if the voice output could say more. HF works well.

Now to VHF and UHF, here is where I have difficulties in using this Radio. Simplex operation no trouble, using the repeaters etc becomes a problem. Reason for this is keeping the settings that were set, as when you go to change something on the front panel, if the correct sequence is not followed, the radio settings head off in to unintended areas, and you don’t realise which group of settings you have gotten in to. Speech is read out just like on HF, and only when pressing the PTT do you find out if you’re on simplex or Duplex.

I find the buttons on the front panel no trouble to use, the only thing is, I don’t know what they are going to do. One reason for this, is the lack of information for the blind in the Manual. If the manual was in a text or some way we could study it, I feel sure some of us might be able to work the Radio. It would be better if for example , the Manual stated ‘press F1 twice, then F4 once’, and then stated what should happen. But all we get from the PDF manual is press F1 185 then F4 177 or whatever. Too many Graphics.

A great deal of the operation can be done from the HM151 microphone, for me even this is a problem I do forget what some buttons do, unless you use them all the time. If there is a good pair of Eyes around things could be done easier. For me however, the XYL Her Eyes are as bad as mine. With an attachment, a desk microphone can be connected. Have not done this yet, a new Microphone is still in its box where I put it this afternoon when it arrived from the supplier. Summing up, a good radio only if more could be gained from the controls, does not take up much room, the Radio can get a little warm at times.

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Icom IC-7600 Accessibility Review

A photo of the IC-7600. The VFO is tuned to 7.076 lsb and the spectrum display is active.
Accessibility evaluation of the Icom IC-7600

By Kelvin Marsh M0AID

March 2011

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.

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