Tag Archives: Sony ICF-SW100

The diminutive but brilliant Sony ICF-SW100: a few autumn/winter DX catches

Hi there, I posted an article on this brilliant little radio a few months ago because it had demonstrated a level of performance way beyond my expectations. Notwithstanding it’s incredibly small size the DX results I obtained with it were beyond my ICF-SW55 and up there with the iconic ICF-2001D. Armed with synchronous detection, selectable side bands, SSB, CW and sensitivity seemingly boyond it’s tiny form factor I can’t recommend this radio highly enough.

 

Originally introduced into the market in 1993 and discontinued in 2005, the ICF-SW100 won’t ever be repeated – a point I made in my original post, but of course they are available on eBay and prices remain robust for what is now essentially a vintage receiver. Unfortunately, I don’t get to use my ICF-SW100 very much as I have various other receivers and have been involved in antenna building/testing and MW DX for the past few months. However, on the couple of occasions when I have taken the Sony on a mini DXpedition, it’s resulted in some fine DX. As demonstrated in the examples below, Mali, Guinea, Alaska and Japan are amongst the more difficult signals to copy in Europe and yet the ICF-SW100 delivered them! Text links to reception videos on the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel follow below and futher down you will find embedded videos. Thanks for reading/watching/listening and I wish you all great DX!



Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

Video: Shortwave listening and radio astronomy

Sony-ICF-SW100

On Thursday I attended an event at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI)–location of the 2015 SWLing Post DXPedition.

During a break, I had a couple of free hours, so I reached in my messenger bag and pulled out the Sony ICF-SW100: a radio that has quickly surpassed all others as my favorite EDC (everyday carry) radio. It has so many useful features in such a small package!

Radio astronomy observatories are ideal locations for impromptu shortwave radio listening as there is little to no radio interference/noise present.

PARI-26E-and-26W

PARI’s “Building 1” and the 26 West (left) and 26 East (right) radio telescopes.

While the weather on Thursday was gorgeous, HF band conditions were…well…miserable. There was very little to hear other than China Radio International, Radio Havana Cuba and a few other blow torch broadcasters.

Still, time signal station WWV was on my mind since I had just purchased Myke’s new edition of At The Tone and have been reading your excellent comments with early memories of listening to WWV and WWVH.

I tuned to 15 MHz and, of course, there was reliable WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado on frequency. Though WWV’s signal was relatively strong (despite the conditions) I turned on the SW100’s sync detector because fading (QSB) was pronounced at times.

Here’s a short video of the ICF-SW100 on a picnic table in the middle of the PARI campus. That’s PARI’s 26 (meter) West telescope in the background:

The bands are open! Make time to listen.

Sony-ICF-SW100-Outside-Fall

Though I’ve spent the entire day sawing and splitting firewood, I’ve been actively recording spectrum on the 31, 25, 19 and 16 meter bands with the WinRadio Excalibur, Elad FDM-S2 and the SDRplay RSP. Why? Propagation–especially on the higher bands–has been the best it’s been in several weeks.

As I discovered at the recent SWLing Post DXpedition, my shack PC can handle making multiple spectrum recordings simultaneously as long as I limit each recording to the width of a broadcast band. (I’ve never tried pushing the limit very hard.) Someday in the future–perhaps when we’re having terrible propagation–I’ll play those spectrum recordings back and tune through them as if they were live.

Radio time travel at its best.

Sony-ICF-SW100-Outside-2

When I decided to throw in the towel with all of the firewood processing, I fired up the Sony ICF-SW100 (above) and tuned in a game on 17,855 kHz: Radio Exterior de España.

The REE signal was simply booming into eastern North America!

Hard to break away from the radio on days like this.

My advice? Take advantage of these conditions and make time to listen!

For me, SWLing a great excuse to relax and let me back heal after a long day of splitting wood. For some, perhaps it’s a good excuse to take the radio outdoors and away from urban interference. Whatever the excuse, don’t hesitate to fire up your radio!

There are some interesting stations on the bands this evening. Feel free to comment with some you’ve logged.

A repair story: Vlado’s fix for the classic Sony ICF-SW100

Sony-ICF-SW100In June, I made a small leap of faith and purchased a (dead) Sony ICF-SW100 from Universal Radio (see the listing on right).

ICF-SW100-Used-NonWorkingYou see, for many years, I’ve dreamed about owning this wee little receiver, now a classic among tiny radios, but used ones are typically too expensive for my modest budget.

This time, seeing the ad at Universal, I spoke with Universal Radio directly to obtain more details about their defunct unit; while they simply didn’t know what was wrong with the Sony, they were able to very accurately describe its cosmetic and functional condition…I took a deep breath, and decided to take a chance on it anyhow.

In full disclosure, I have a secret weapon in my camp:  my talented friend, Vlado (N3CZ), who is not only the most adept electronics engineer/technician I’ve ever known, but one who truly welcomes a challenge.  The thought had occurred to me as I admired the wounded Sony, Wonder if Vlad would like to take this on–?

The answer, of course, was Yes!  So I dropped the DOA Sony off at Vlad’s home last week. He disassembled the radio, only to discover that my ICF-SW100 was a victim of the (dreaded) damaged ribbon cable.

A short history of the Sony ICF-SW100 and SW100S

These radios are indeed brilliant, incredible performers for their miniscule size.  Yet the first generation of ICF-SW100 radios–those produced before the fall of 1997–have a design weakness: the ribbon cables which connect the upper and lower portions of the radio’s clamshell design eventually fail. Multiple openings and closings bend and cut the cables, rendering the otherwise remarkable little radio useless.

SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, recently shared his knowledge about the ICF-SW100 series. Dan notes:

SW-100 Seekers Beware

As shortwave veterans know, the classic SONY miniportables — SW-1, SW-100(S) and  SW-07, represented some amazing technological achievements. SONY managed to  shrink some fantastic technology into these receivers, including (with the last two in the line) — SYNC capability. The SW-07, which was the last of these receivers, still brings some high prices on Ebay.

But if you are searching for the ICF-SW-100S there are some things to consider and beware of. As everyone knows, the SW-100 suffered from the well-known ribbon-cable failure problem. SONY addressed this problem in later serial numbers, and changed the design of the radio case.

Modified SW-100s have a notch where the top cover meets the base.

There are some dishonest sellers out there who are trying to pass off older version SW-100s as modified ones. Usually, the tip-off is that the photograph in the Ebay auction will be dark or out of focus, so it’s hard to tell if the radio is the modified version or not.

It has become quite rare to find an original SONY modification kit, which includes a new top cabinet of the SW-100. And some sellers are trying to get as much as $300 for these, though they rarely sell at this level.

This repair kit was on eBay at time of posting.

ICF-SW100 modification kit found on eBay at time of posting.

It’s also becoming rare to see SW-100S radios new-in-box. I had two of these, sold one and kept the other.

If you’re after one of these marvel radios, do what everyone should do when considering items on Ebay — ask many questions about [the] cosmetic condition, accessories, serial numbers, etc.

Universal Radio, a trustworthy seller I know, had fully disclosed the model number and problems with this radio, so I knew exactly what I was buying. Dan has a very good point, though: unless you know the seller to be honest, do your research and ask questions!

The ailing ICF-SW100

Vlado discovers the faulty ribbon cable.

Vlado discovers the faulty ribbon cable (click to enlarge)

Back to my ailing unit:  Vlado delivered the news about the ribbon cable via text message, and though I was well aware that the chances were high that was the ribbon cable, I was a little bummed, to say the least, to get the formal diagnosis.

Why? As Dan mentions above, you’ll find that the SW-100S upgrade kit Sony produced in the 1990s is no longer available new; sellers typically list these kits at prices in excess of $300 US.  Out of my budget.

But Vlado, ever the intrepid engineer, had no idea I would be disappointed with this news; he was just giving me this FYI via text. Indeed, he seemed entirely unfazed, as in, hey, no serious internal damage here…

Another hour passed. Then came another message from Vlad; this one simply said: “Call me.”

Oh no, I thought. But I called, and Vlado answered cheerfully, “Hello? Tom, is that you? Sorry, I can’t hear you very well because your SW100 is playing too loudly. Hang on–let me turn the volume down!”

Vlad installs the replacement ribbon cable (click to enlarge)

Vlad installs the replacement ribbon cable (click to enlarge)

“What!?!” I responded, in utter disbelief.

Yes, he’d got it working!  It seems that Vlad had unearthed an old DVD player in his garage that he’d kept merely for parts. He opened it up, identified a ribbon cable with the right pitch, then cut and folded the cable to fit into the SW100.  Ingenious!

That’s Vlado for you!

And should I be interested in replacing this used cable with a new one–or in repairing other Sonys–Vlad directed me to eBay listings for new cables which only total about $20, shipped. Truthfully, I’m in no hurry, as this one is functioning perfectly and changing out the ribbon cable seems to have no effect on stored memories, etc. With a single affordable eBay purchase of multiple cable sets, it occurred to me that Vlad would have enough replacement cables to repair the SW100 many times over…

So I bought the cables.  (This one for the narrow cable and this one for the wider one.)

My “new” Sony ICF-SW100

Needless to say, I’m very pleased with my “new” (to me) SW100. It’s a little masterpiece of receiver engineering in such a tiny package.  And since the ICF-SW100 is unquestionably the smallest portable I own–and is one of the few I own with a proper line-out jack–it may very well become my go-to radio for one bag travel.

Listening to the 'SW100 before I pack it for my next trip.

It’s in the bag: listening to the ‘SW100 before I pack it for my next trip!

Stay tuned the review…

Vlado’s radio E.R.:  the doctor is in

Sony-ICF-SW100-Open2As I’ve said, Vlad is one of the most adept repair technicians I’ve ever known.  At my prompting, he’s kindly agreed to let me promote his services here on the SWLing Post. Vlad acknowledges that he “likes a challenge,” adding that he enjoys nothing more than making repairs even when”parts are scarce” and radio”surgery” is required.  Moreover, his bench fees will be quite reasonable, especially considering what you receive: new life for a failing radio. So, if you’ve got an ailing rig on your hands, and don’t mind waiting for Vlad to get to it, send it to his radio emergency room, where radios (like my Sony) have life breathed back into them once again.

Long live the Sony ICF-SW100!  And long live Dr. Vlado, who makes this possible with his creative (and nearly miraculous) repairs.

To contact Vlad, simply contact me with a description of your radio and its problem and I’ll put you in touch with Vlado.