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Flex to Icom 7610 -
I tried to post this a number of times into the "Why did I go with Flex???" thread but it would never take.
I wanted to share a few things I've found.
I own a Flex6600, a Maestro, and a Flex 6300. Over the summer I won a raffle for a 7300 and through a friend/officer at the club I ended up buying their new 7610 and returning the 7300 to them.
Why if I have these flex radios did I want the 7610? Well part of my interest in this hobby is learning to integrate and talk to the radios through software. Since the 7610 is so popular I decided I'd try to see what kind of effort would be required to automate it.
The 7610 is instant on. If you just want to operate, you hit a button and 1 second later you have audio and you are virtually ready to operate. The flex radios take at least a minute to get going unless you leave them on all the time.
For a single "slice" the 7610 is quick and fast. You can get anywhere you want very quickly. However using the second receiver is surprisingly hard. Adding a second slice or pan to a flex is one click. Perhaps on the Maestro it is a little harder.
7610 is two "slices" max. My 6600 does four. This makes the 6600 the go to radio for looking at a lot of bands. But I can with the 6600 monitor 4 bands of FT8 at the same time. I've only been successful doing a single FT8 instance so far with the 7610.
Icom has not released the ethernet protocol for talking to the 7610 over the LAN (or WAN) so you are limited to the CI-V interface which looks like a virtual serial port. The CI-V command set is cryptic in places but there seems to be a lot there. If I wanted a network controllable radio the Flex is the best choice. But from a software developer standpoint I prefer the Flex API over the CI-V and I would have to do more work on the CI-V to make it work over the LAN. This might change if Icom ever opens up the ethernet port.
On my simple little 80m loop antenna, the receivers appear identical. However the Flex allows you to control the vertical scale so you can take a quiet day on the band and zoom in to see low signals. The icom seems not to offer this. I've yet to be able to change the vertical scale.
My flex pan adapter at times can look really messy. Noise and neighbor devices cause humps in the pan. The icom display seems to make these less noticeable. On one day on 20m that was particularly nasty looking, my Flex pan looked a little like a camel with two noise humps. Moving the slice over the **** produced that nasty hash buzz noise. Switching to the icom the **** were way less obvious. In the waterfall I could see there was some noise there but the signal line did not show the humps as much. I tried different averaging and speeds but it was not as visible. The hash buzz audio was the same on either radio.
The icom noise reduction and blanker are very good. I don't have much noise here but I tried them on the camel humps above and you can **** the buzz very well. I think it is a common complaint that the Flex NR is just not as good and it is not in a direct side-by-side comparison.
Flex slices are much much more flexible than the 7610. You can completely customize your filter width, AGC etc. The 7610 offers 3 filters and they have their twin PBT control which takes getting used to but is the same generally as what you can do with a Flex slice.
RIT on both flex and 7610 are easy to use. However the API in the flex, I'm sure there is a CI-V to do the same makes it very simple for me to have software control for splits.
The sub menus and menus on the Icom 7610 can be confusing. There is a lot there. But if I want to change the AGC time for example it is not very easy to get to.
The 7610 display is very fast, faster than the flex. If you like a display that updates very quickly in waterfall and signal line the 7610 give you that.
The 7610 offers a DVI output. Strange they picked an older technology and didn't supply HDMI. The display is simply a mirror of what is on the main display of the radio. Flex displays using a computer are much more flexible in what you can place and where. The 7610 max external resolution is 800x600. I hooked it up but honestly I don't use it.
While the 7610 has a nice built in display it too becomes small as you try to fit more data in place. The ads always show the needle meters which are beautiful in how they look and operate but they take up space. I went to the bar meters so I could see more stuff. Interestingly when I switched bar meters and bigger pan/waterfall the dual times the radio supports chop off one of the times! I had set up the radio to have both local and GMT time as the second time. But in the display mode I like the GMT time is gone. So I configured the primary time to be GMT.
I've received good CW reports and very good audio reports using just the supplied 7610 mic. Out of the box it is ready to work and sounds really good. But the Flex offers many more audio input options. You can use USB mics, Balance studio mics, and others. If I want a different mic for the Icom I have to make up a mic with a cable that fits there connector. Their may be a way to pipe audio from a USB mic into the 7610. I've not tried. It does have USB ports on the front but I believe those are for keyboard and mouse. You might be able to feed audio in from a USB mic via computer by setting the audio source to be the same source normally used for digital to/from the computer but I have not tried. Anyway it would be more complex to setup and get working than the Flex.
Keyboard mouse - Ok so the 7610 has USB ports to plug in a keyboard and mouse. The keyboard is nice to enter call signs, perhaps edit CW messages or to use the built in PSK/Rtty mode. The mouse I find almost useless because they have limited it to just the pan! You cannot move the mouse outside of the signal display area to click on things like the mode, filters, frequency etc. So all the mouse can help you with is to click on a signal. I find that odd.
Fan noise. I have my Flex 6600 mounted in another room. I never hear a thing from it and I talk to it completely over the LAN. The 7610 by design sites on the table right there. The fan in back comes on about every 10 minutes. Its not very loud but I do hear it. Luckily the radio uses silent CW keying. There is NO relay sound. The 7300 does make relay sounds as it keys. While I'm not nutz about no noise, the fan in the 7610 is a little annoying it makes more noise spooling up and down than it does when its running. If I were doing the firmware I might run it full time but at much less speed and only increase the speed when the radio needs it which seems to be never. The radio has a heat display and even keydown at 100 watts for well over 5 minutes I could not get the display to even begin to approach "hot".
Stability - So far the icom is very stable. It never crashes. My flex stuff due to dependencies on LAN and computer are less stable. I've had my flex reboot during a contest. I worked 12 hours of field day on the 7300 and it never needed a restart.
So here is my summary:
Flex: Best remote, Best if you want your radio in another room. Easy to talk to if you are developer. Best for multiple bands and slices. Only real con: Takes a minute or two to startup.
7610 Instant on, great display, very intuitive to use except for more hidden things like AGC time. Great audio, great CW. Cons: some what louder fan, no real LAN support for developers. CI-V over serial works but you need to get crafty to use that over the LAN.
While digital with one frequency is easy on the 7610 the Flex is by far the easier solution allowing it to work seamlessly over the LAN even to a laptop or ipad and if you get crafty it is easy to have, in my case, 4 FT8 slices all monitoring different bands.
I will likely enjoy trying to get the 7610 to be controllable over the LAN.
Any direct questions let me know.
Mark - WS7M
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