My new (to me) Sony ICF-2001 shortwave radio

Sony-ICF-2001-003

A few weeks ago, I made an impulse purchase: a Sony ICF-2001.

Perhaps it was the post about John Lennon’s ICF-2001, or perhaps it was the simple fact I couldn’t afford a ‘2001 when I was a kid; either way, I saw what I thought was a fair price and I bit the bullet.

icf2001lAt about 9-10 years old I remember seeing the (above) image of the ICF-2001 in an advertisement and imagining all that I could hear with this amazing–microprocessor-controlled, dual conversion, frequency synthesized general coverage(!)–portable receiver.

Sony-ICF-2001-7

At the time, my only shortwave radio was the Zenith Trans Oceanic Royal D7000–a wonderful radio for sure–but the convenience of digital tuning? I could only imagine.

The ICF-2001 had revolutionary featured like direct access keypad tuning and an LCD digital readout. The ICF-2001 covered 150 to 29,999 kHz and, like my Transoceanic, could receive single sideband. It also had six memories that could be assigned to buttons for quick access to my favorite frequencies. Six. Whole. Memories!  

Sony-ICF-2001-1

I picked up my used ICF-2001 for $67.00 US shipped. The seller (a fellow ham radio operator) insured that the radio was in excellent mechanical shape, though cosmetically showed some signs of wear. The only thing missing was the ICF-2001’s shoulder strap. That was fine by me, though, because the seller included all original manuals/documentation and a very cool canvas carry bag (below) that fits the ICF-2001 like a glove.

Sony-ICF-2001-8I’ve had the ICF-2001 for a few weeks now and I must say that I’m quite pleased.  It’s much larger that most portables currently on the market, but was probably slightly smaller than the venerable ICF-2010.

The audio from the ICF-2001’s built-in speaker is top-notch; with separate treble and bass control, it’s easy to adjust audio to your taste.

Would the ICF-2001 out-perform a modern portable receiver? Probably not. Was performance similar to the ICF-2010? No way. The ICF-2001 has a few annoying quirks (like muting between frequencies, no tuning knob, a backlit display that’s rather small and hard to read at certain angles)–items most modern portables have long since addressed.

With that said, the ICF-2001 does have a few features I wish modern receivers would adopt, like, a built-in antenna trimmer.

Sony-ICF-2001-3

This morning, on my porch, I listened to several broadcasters across the bands and used the antenna adjustment to tweak the match. The adjustment would sometimes increase reception by three S units. I would love to have a similar feature on, say, my Tecsun PL-680.

I also like the old school power switch–a proper mechanical switch that makes it much more difficult to accidentally turn the radio on while traveling or operating in a portable setting.

Sony-ICF-2001-1

Even thought the ICF-2001 was a bit of an impulse purchase, I have no buyer’s remorse at all. She’s a sturdy rig with great audio and, I believe, decent performance on the shortwave and medium wave bands. I can certainly confirm that it would have blown my mind when I was 9 years old!

Besides..if the ICF-2001 is good enough for John Lennon, it’s good enough for me!

Sony-ICF-2001-5

Any SWLing Post readers out there still have a Sony ICF-2001?

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29 thoughts on “My new (to me) Sony ICF-2001 shortwave radio

  1. Pingback: Sony ICF 2001 – Early Days of Global Digitalization | Justrecently's Weblog

  2. Bill

    No, I replaced them and it didn’t help. It worked for 15 years or so, so I wasn’t too upset. Generally electronics last a long time for me as I look after them. One exception – I accidentally touched the antenna on my Yaesu FRA-7700 (active antenna) and fried two FETs due to static electricity discharge. Had to replace them. No problem since.

    Thanks for your comments though.

    Reply
  3. Bill Sproul

    I bought one of these while I was in the Air Force in Germany, back in the mid 1980s. An amazing radio, it was my connection to the world in a foreign land, especially the BBC and VOA. Being in the Cold War period, the bands were full of interesting stations – Radio Moscow, Radio Tirana, etc. Great for picking up military aviation radio on HF as well.

    Brought it back home and it worked for many years, then one day I turned it on and it was dead as a door nail. Seemed to be a microprocessor fault so that was the end of my beloved Sony.

    Bill
    VA1BIL

    Reply
  4. Rich

    I have heard from sources that the ICF-2001D performs better on SW than the older model. Is there any truth in this?

    Reply
    1. Michael Black

      The “D”is the “2010” elsewhere. It’s not a minor model change as suggested by merely adding a letter to the model number. It adds a synchronous detector, but is apparently a much better receiver. The straight “2001” was important when it came out, but had a relatively short life, while the 2001D or 2010 had a very long manufacturing life, and is considered a legendary receiver.

      Michael

      Reply
      1. Rich

        Cheers Michael,

        In the next couple of days I shall be the owner of the 2001 model. The previous owner having added a useful rotary tuning dial as well as manual frequency input. I look forward to seeing how it performs and comparing it to my 2 more modern units.

        Reply
  5. James Patterson

    As far as wanting a good mobile antenna for your truck,to operate your 2001 on all bands ,All you need to acturly do is walk into a Electronics/car radio store near to where you live and purchase a good quality stainless steel/copper chromed “Long” telescopic car antenna.You will need the telescopic type to give you the hight needed when driveing out in the hills etc.Fix it to your truck on the gutter of the cab roof or fender where ever is best because the earthing of it will act as a “Ground plane” meaning the surface of your truck will become a Reflector for the antenna.Then if the coax cable is not long enough have a tech guy make a good join to lenghten it to your needed lenght to reach where ever you are going to need to operate the radio.Change the “Pin” type plug at the end of the cable to the type needed to fit into the DX antenna input socket.That’s basicly all you need to do.Simple as!!…Enjoy your DXing and try the SSB mode.It will suprise you what you receive,Military,Air force etc.

    Reply
  6. Mike

    Hey There
    I’m very much an novice on the radio front, but I am a proud owner of a Sony 2001 (as above) I inherited it from my surrogate grandfather who was in the Merchant Navy… I’d like to install it in my truck for off-grid living, but that means an external aerial. Could anyone recommend what would be most appropriate? I guess I’d like to be able to use it to it’s full potential, so SW as well as FM

    Apologies for the extremely basic question, but you guys seem like a friendly bunch, and given this kit is clearly do decent, I’d like to get this right!
    Best,
    Mike

    Reply
    1. George

      Mike, I’ve run a Yaesu FT100D in my truck for a while using the insulated aluminum crossbows on the tonneau cover for a receive antenna. I ran a coax out of the truck cab to the bed through a spare grommet in the floor. The FT100D is a 50 ohm input but the ICF2001 is a high impedance input and a coax run to a piece of wire run near the top of the bed, away from the walls, insulated from ground, should work well. I also like Mr. Patterson’s idea of the longer pull up antenna to replace the stock one. The coax from that antenna is 100 Ohms or more and will work better with the Sony. Get an instruction book for the ICF2001 to read about the pull up antenna on the radio and how it works with the ferrite loop from 150 kHz to around 1.8 MHz along with the built in antenna trimmer. Use it when you travel to quiet spots to hear good DX. This is a killer radio on the AM band and on the longwave band down to 150 kHz, probably the best ever made! Enjoy!

      Reply
  7. James Patterson

    Can anyone advise how to date the manufacture of the Sony ICF 2001D or American model 2010 .How can you tell from Serial numbers on back of case? or some other way of knowing please.Just received one in the post and done small repair to have it in full working order again.But I would like to know the age of it.I have googled but seems there is nothing there.

    Reply
  8. James Patterson

    Well I have a comment on a ICF 2010.In NewZealand it is called the ICF 2001D,as labled on it.I bought the ICF 2001D at a sale.Brought it home and it seemed to perform almost perfectly on all bands.In fact I was very suprised on how well it worked.Audio was excellent,sensitivity was great,even the Air Band received very well.But Im a very keen SSB DXer,meaning I monitor the Single Side Band utility stations like HFAir,Marine,military etc.So I needed to check the SSB in the radio.Well on offical frequencies like 8.86700 HF AIR,it was well off,and came up readable arround 8.86500,even with the tuning speed mode set to “slow”.So I then decided that with the age of the radio,over time it has drifted off zero beat,so I would need to re-align the BFO/SYNC coil.I looked up on the internet at the signal board,and located the correct coil.Having the batteries out of the radio,I pluged in the DC power supply and retuned that coil and got the speech correct at 8.86700.I also checked the universal time signal on both USB and LSB and it was “Bang on”.I was very pleased with myself,meaning I now had a Sony ICF 2001D working in perfect condition.But just then the radio went dead.At this stage I still had the board lifted up,as I had just finished the realignment.I could not understand,after all my work,what had happened.So having a good look at the wires and the board,to my most disapointed dismay,I noticed one of two Ribbon cables,Sony call it a “Flexable circuit board”had snapped right across and come appart.There are two ribbon cables on the board.This was the short one.So,with the slightest lift of the board,this one snapped.I then felt the cable and noticed how frail it was with a peice just falling off.The ribbon cable as I call it,had become most fragile with age and probably heat from the sun? over the years the previous owner had it.So all of a sudden I found I had a ICF 2001D no more.I looked at the other board,the CPU board underneath and noticed that ribbon cable was joined to the other ribbon cable side by side to become one cable,and spot soldered onto the board.Also on shifting the CPU board to view underneath it,the selective speed plastic slide switch snapped off.So by now,I was in a state of complete disaray to say the least.Never was I going to have the ICF 2001D operational again.So guys,be most carefull if you ever need to do any repairs or realignment of that radio,remember the Ribbon cables become very fragile and will just snap right across as mine did with the slightest lift of the board.I wish I had known this,and I would have taken the cable out of it’s socket first,then when finished,pluged it back in,and radio would still be working.But to realign it,the cable would need to be connected anyway.So I hope this does not happen to anyone else,espeicaly if you dont have spare parts,as I dont have.So Im keeping this one for parts now,and hopeing to replace it with either another 2001D or its older brother ICF 2001.I do have a small collection of vintage portable Short wave radios they all have SSB,and all work very well.Most have the varible BFO control knob and that seems to suit me better,rather than a radio with tuning steps and needing to perhapes realign it.I think the ICF 2001 is very simular to my SW 7600G with only a few memories and no tuning knob.I think the older ICF 2001 would still be my radio of choice though.

    Reply
  9. George

    That may be a modification, but a DE1103 is not even close to the performance of the ICF2001, by a long shot on MW and LW. You see, the 2001 has an active antenna or E probe front end and the 1103 doesn’t. That is why the 2001 is tunable, there are tuned circuits and FETs just for the tuned antenna circuit. Give it a try, at least 20 dB or more better than the 1103 on the AM broadcast band and lots more than that on the LW band where the 1103 is deaf. The Sony 2002 is similar to the 1103 but still better on LW, and the 7600Gr is better yet but still not even close to the 2001. Truly unique radio. I hear Medi1 and several other European LW stations on the ICF2001 using no external antenna with decent conditions in Pittsburgh. If you have a radio that can hear NDBs more than 15 miles away without external antennas, please share the model numbers with me.

    Reply
  10. George

    I’m going to make a statement here that I hope is not misinterpreted. I doubt if anybody is using the ICF2001 properly on the AM and Longwave bands or they would call it the best AM and LF DXing radio ever made, magnitudes above the ICF2010. Did you ever pull up the whip antenna for AM or longwave? It is a whole new world when you do. As an ex-lowfer, we discovered these radios were unlike anything ever available for these bands. Yes, compare to another radio, any radio, on the AM band and it will perform the same sensitivity wise on the internal ferrite bar. But, pull up the whip, (this is an active whip on all bands), and 20 more dB of sensitivity appears. I’ve compared this radio to the ICF 2002, the Tecsun DE1103, and even the ICF2010 and yes, 20 dB more sensitivity. Don’t take my word for it, try it. The longwave band comes alive with NDBs and differential GPS signals. Again, nothing like it to date, turn yours on and give it a try and don’t take my word for it. Tune in a weak AM station on your comparison receiver, then pull up the whip on the 2001 and give it a try. You’ll have to switch in the attenuators to match the signal level and on LF, you won’t even hear a flutter of what you’re hearing n the 2001. Let me know if I’m wrong. Post a counter remark and I’ll publish my email address for your discussion. Thanks for your consideration!
    George

    Reply
    1. Tomas

      You can enable the whip for MW/LW on the DE1103 too (or just use the antenna jack on some other radio).

      The problem is that you will receive all kinds of interference and it’s not useful in an urban setting, there you need the directionality of the ferrite rod. So in practice it’s not that useful.

      Reply
      1. George

        I have an 1103 and the schematic shows the whip is not connected to the AM or LW antenna circuit. I usually don’t hear complaints about “excess sensitivity”, but after all, the whip is tunable! There is an adjustment in the ICF2001 to center tune the whip at MW and LW so it is intended for use. I live in a suburban environment and I DX NDBs with the ICDF2001, many times near the house but at a quiet spot in the yard. I am on the edge of Pittsburgh today and I’m receiving 5 NDBs in the parking lot. You won’t do that on any portable radio available today. I can’t do much on the MW band since I can see 4 AM broadcast antenna arrays, but it still works where the AMs don’t interfere for the most part. About the closest radio in sensitivity on the LW band is the Sangean ATS803 / DX 440 but they won’t touch the 2001 on the MW band, only uses the ferrite bar for both. Lowfers have been using this radio for 25 years or better as a receiving standard and when the general public finds out how good they are you won’t be able to buy them any more! Caution, an internal multivibrator power supply on the 2001 tends to put out lots of noise on the lower bands when the caps go bad, but I have three of them and only a slight problem in one. Also the battery connections to the motherboard are usually intermittent. I’ve seen them fixed by many means but usually copper tabs pushed into the battery contacts and wired directly to the board works the best.

        Reply
        1. Tomas

          There are youtube videos showing how to enable the whip for MW and LW on the DE1103.

          NDBs are simple to hear, if you’re listening on LW broadcast stations thousands of miles away the noise is more critical…

          Reply
  11. Mark Fahey

    I also had a ICF-2001 and brought it soon after release in 1980 in that den of radio shops that was at the time in Tsim Sha Tusi (Hong Kong). I remember the trip well as it was the day before my first trip into the Peoples Republic of China (Red China in those days!). The trip was wonderful of course, everyone still rode bicycles and I had a “minder” just like I had much later in life when undertaking my North Korean adventures. In fact at that time China was still very much like North Korea is today, they certainly didn’t have the high speed bullet trains and Starbucks you find in China now!

    The radio served me for a long time, it was a totally amazing machine. So small! A portable communications receiver! It was my first radio with a digital frequency readout. It was amazing to know what frequency you were on – I guess younger DXers (are there any?) don’t realise that even knowing what frequency you were tuned to you to be a problem. If you had a good machine (communications receiver) you kind of knew + or – 5 or 10Khz, but portables were all mainly slide-rule displays so I guess + or – 25 or 50Khz!

    Eventually the volume slide potentiometer gave up and they the keyboard would lock up so the beast was retired. It had traveled widely around the planet and looked like it had too, so it went to the tip during a house move in 1988 or so.

    I have often look on eBay to get one because this receiver holds so many memories for me. But haven’t found the right (close to mint condition) buy yet! Thomas your one looks to be in excellent condition, good catch!

    Reply
    1. John Cole

      Hi, I saw your post and thought I’d let you know I have a near-mint one in the box with manuals, strap, earphone, you-name-it and I’ve got it.
      You might like to get in touch. it’s being prepared for sale, photos, write-up,etc, which I expect to be done around January 2017.
      Kind regards from John Cole in Melbourne, Australia.

      Reply
        1. John Cole

          I’m just getting around to it now, some months late. It’s the ICF-2001 in the original box with manual, etc.

          Reply
      1. Mark Fahey

        Sold! Particularly as this specimen is here already in Australia. Seriously I sooooo much want a good condition example of this receiver. For no reason other than reminiscing about long fun nights tuned to my traveling companion as I traveled to places where many others were wise enough to avoid!

        Reply
        1. John Cole

          I’m just getting round to selling it now in November 2017. I am asking $100 plus postage, or pick up in East Malvern, Victoria.

          Reply
        2. John Cole

          I’ve just got round to advertising it. It is on Gumtree now and I’m asking $200. There are heaps of photos on the site. If you are still interested after all this time I am “johncole2003@hotmail.com” and I am in Malvern East, Victoria. Thanks.

          Reply
  12. Ian from England

    Hi Thomas!
    Well done on getting an ICF 2001. I bought one of these in late 1980, after being suitably impressed by a review of it on a BBC World Service DX program. The real thrill was being able to enter frequencies directly, revolutionary back in 1980! Add to it the ability to “scan” between two points, and those memories, and it really was a breakthrough.

    When the novelty of direct entry began to wear off though, I realised that I regretted not having a “proper” tuning knob. I did keep the ICF2001 until 1984, when I sprang for a Panasonic RF B600, which had BOTH a direct entry keypad AND a very nicely weighted tuning knob! The thing I missed the most on the 2001 was not being able to wander through the bands easily to see what was on, as it was not easy to do with just Up and Down buttons which you had to hold down. As you point out, the inclusion of an antenna trimmer was also very useful. I remember the FM reception was also pretty good on it too.

    Those pictures brought back a lot of memories for me of DX-ing around that time. Glad you finally found one of your childhood “wants” Thomas………enjoy!!

    Reply
  13. James Patterson

    Well I was really amazed to see an old 2001 that still performs!! I have read reveiws where all the capacitors have dried up on most 2001s by now.So it’s pleaseing to see that the one pictured is still a “Winner”.Yes the Sony 2001 was one of my very first portable gen coverage receivers as far as SW goes .I thought it was xmas when I bought it pre loved from a fellow DXer.I had that right up untill the 2001D Sony came out,and in those days the 2001D was the supreme model.Still is, if you can get one that still works,or even as a collectors item of old school portables.Well I decided to up grade my old 2001 Sony on the then brand new Sony SW 55.That must be arround 17 years ago! Well, able to “Tag” stations!! What other portable on the market at that time could do that,as well as the world time and so many other features that the old 2001 just couldnt compete with.When I walked into the Sony Shop here in Auckland New Zealand,I saw stacks of SW55s on the shelves,all waiting to be sold,at the then crazy price of well over $1000 NZ.It was like putting money on a car,or bike maybe.But for my adiction to SW DXing,as it was,and still is,and always will be,I put a deposit on it and eventurly paid it off. I sold my very much loved 2001 at a good price,as yes they were still well sort after,even just for the sake of owning one!! Well to date,my old SW55 has died big time,caps have dried up as they do in that model,but it still sits in a favourite place,as a good reminder of a really good reliable portable SW receiver.The SSB was always quivery,but I over came that by turning the gain down.I have just recently bought the new Sangean flag ship ATS 909X that has replaced all that the SW55 did and alot more.SSB is very smooth on the ATS 909X.Acturly the ATS 909X I bought via an importer here in NZ has all the bands shortened.SW only goes up to 26.1mgs.Other bands AM,LW and FM are all shortened too.Very strange.Im now currently awaiting for an exchange,hopefully the next one will be true to form.Anyone had any frequency range problems with the ATS 909X?? I would be happy with any comments on that.In the meantime,yes the old Sonys were winners in their time!!

    Reply

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