Portable tuner (ATU) options for the new Icom IC-705

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul, who asks:

What are good choices for ATU and 100W amplifier for the IC-705? [Also] will the Icom AH-4 antenna tuner work well with the IC-705?

Great questions, Paul!

100 Watt Amplifiers

I’ve limited experience pairing the IC-705 with external 100 watt amplifiers. I own the Elecraft KXPA100 and it pairs well with the IC-705 via RF sensing. My hope is that SWLing Post readers may be able to chime in here and offer more suggestions as there are a number of inexpensive, basic, amplifiers on the market now but I’ve never personally used or tested them. I can say that the KXPA100 is a beautifully-engineered amplifier.

Antenna tuners

Icom AH-4

First off, regarding the Icom AH-4 ATU, I’m not certain if the IC-705 has the same control commands as the AH-4 (I’m guessing it does, but perhaps someone can confirm–?).

It would not be my first choice as a portable antenna tuner for field work. For one thing, it’s a pricey at $300. That, and I’ve always viewed the AH-4 as more of a remote antenna tuner for those who need a permanent matching box outside the shack near the antenna feed point. For that application, I’m sure it’s amazing.

According to the AH-4 specifications, it requires “10 W (5โ€“15 W)” of tuning power. I’m not quite sure what the “5-15” watts means, but the IC-705’s max output power is 10 watts using an external 12-13.8V battery, and only 5 watts using the BP-272 Li-ion Battery. Not sure if that would be adequate to trigger the AH-4 to find a match without some sort of command cable connection.

For portable ATUs, let’s take a look:

IC-705 Portable ATU Options

The Icom IC-705 actually has a port on the side of the radio that allows one to connect the rig to an ATU for some level automatic ATU control. At time of posting, there are two ATUs in the works that are able to use this port: the Mat-Tuner mAT-705 and the Icom AH-705 (there could be more, but I’m not aware of them).

Mat-Tuner mAT-705 ($220 US)

I reviewed the mAT-705 on QRPer.com (click here to read). In short, it’s absolutely brilliant at matching antennas quickly and efficiently, but it has a few design shortcomings. The main issue is that you must use a mechanical switch to turn it on and off, else you deplete the internal 9V battery within a week. Most similar ATUs either have auto-off functionality, or at least an external power option. Since the mAT-705 can connect directly to the IC-705, it automatically knows when you need to tune to a frequency and will do this anytime you send a carrier, hit PTT, or initiate tuning via the menu option. It can also remember frequencies you’ve already matches to make the process quicker. The mAT-705 is also RF-sensing, thus can work with other radios. Vibroplex is the US distributor of the mAT-705. Note, too, that there are a number of portable Mat-Tuners that will work with the IC-705–the mAT-705 is the only one that uses the IC-705 control cable (which I feel is actually unnecessary).ย  Check out their full product line before ordering.

Icom AH-705 ($T.B.A.)

The Icom AH-705 is Icom’s own external ATU designed to work with the IC-705 and fit in the LC-192 backpack. Since the AH-705 will be able to connect directly to the IC-705, its functionality will be very similar to the mAT-705. I’m speaking in future tense here because, at time of posting (18 November 2020), the AH-705 is not yet in production and we’ve no retail price. With that said, Icom has a legacy of making fine ATUs, so I’ve no doubt it’ll function well. Like the mAT-705, it has a mechanical on/off button so you may have to be aware of turning it off when not in use to preserve the internal alkaline batteries. Unlike the mAT-705, it has an external 13.8 VDC power connection. Universal Radio will update their site with pricing and shipping information once available.

Elecraft T1 ($160-$190 US)

The Elecraft T1 ATU has been in production for many years now and is a fabulous portable ATU. Not only is it incredibly adept at finding matches, but it’s also efficient in terms of power usage. It will run for months on an internal 9V battery (that’s very easy to replace in the field). The T1 has no special connection for the IC-705, but it does have an optional T1-FT817 adapter for the Yaesu FT-817 series transceivers. In truth though? I find control cables unnecessary because tuning the T1 only requires pressing the tune button on the ATU, then keying the transceiver. Once it finds a match, it shuts down and locks it in. You can purchase the T1 directly from Elecraft ($160 kit/$190 assembled). The Elecraft T1 is my portable ATU of choice.

LDG Z-100A ($180 US)

I’ve owned a number of LDG tuners over the years an absolutely love them. I find that they offer great bang-for-buck, perform amazingly well, and are built well. In fact, I designed an outdoor remote antenna tuning unit around their original Z-11 Pro auto tuner. It’s housed in a sealed waterproof enclosure, but is completely exposed to outdoor humidity and temperature changes (which can be dramatic here on the mountain). I’ve been powering the Z-11 Pro for 10 years off of a discarded sealed lead acid battery that’s being charged by a Micro M+ charge controller and 5 watt BP solar panel. I’ve never needed to maintenance it. One of LDG’s latest portable ATUs is the Z-100A. I’ve never used it, but I imagine it’ll perform well and I may very well reach out to LDG and ask for a loaner to review with the IC-705. It does have a command cable port that works with Icom radios, but I’m checking with LDG to see if it works with the IC-705 (I’ll update this post when I hear back). The LDG Z-100A retails for $180 via LDG’s website.

Emtech ZM-2

Shortwave radio listeners, especially, should take note of the Emtech ZM-2 balanced line tuner! Unlike the ATUs above, the ZM-2 is manual–meaning, you manually adjust the tuner’s L/C controls to achieve a match with your antenna. I’ve owned the ZM-2 for many years and have used it with a number of QRP transceivers. Since it’s not automatic, it might take a minute or so to find a match, but it’s worth the wait. The ZM-2 requires no batteries to operate, which makes it an invaluable and reliable little tool in the field. In addition, since the ZM-2 doesn’t require RF energy in order to find a match, it’s a brilliant choice for SWLs who want to tweak their wire antennas. I find it functions as well as if not better than other manual tuners designed specifically for receivers. The ZM-2 is also the most affordable of the bunch: you can purchase a pre-built unit for $87.50 from Emtech or $62.50 as a kit. I would advise purchasing one even if you also have an automatic antenna tuner–makes for a great back-up!

Other options?

This is by no means a comprehensive list of portable ATUs to pair with the IC-705, just a few suggestions. In fact, companies like MFJ Enterprises make a number of manual tuners that could easily be taken to the field and require no power source (much like the ZM-2 above).

Please comment if you have experience with other types of ATUs and please include links if possible!

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11 thoughts on “Portable tuner (ATU) options for the new Icom IC-705

  1. john

    My LDG Z-817 arrived this morning, gonna try it with my IC-705 this afternoon.

    Use a LDGZ-100plus for my IC-7300.
    I’m sure the Icom AH-705 tuner will be a little on the pricey side.

    Speaking of prices, I noticed Gigaparts are selling the Icom LC-192 backpack for $119.95, a $50 discount over the usual price and a few days late to save me 50 bucks

    Reply
  2. Andrew

    I wonder what happened to ham spirit; a tuner is nothing more than an air capacitor (or two) and a tapped coil, there’s no “black magic” behind it !

    Reply
  3. 13dka

    The only not sooo pricy PA alternatives I’ve spotted so far (unless you want to craft something yourself) are these:

    Italian 100W brick without a tuner

    https://www.wimo.com/en/mla-100

    ..and of course the Xiegu PA:

    https://xiegu.eu/product/xpa125-100w-solid-state-linear-amplifier/

    both would get me 100W for reasonable 550-ish Euros.

    BTW tuner, I ordered an Elecraft T1 last week after all of your cool QRP activities really nudged me to do so, Thomas, even though I’m planning on avoiding the need for a tuner! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      You’re going to love the T1, OM! It’s a brilliant tuner and incredible versatile. You can even “tweak” an almost perfectly resonant antenna.

      Reply
      1. 13dka

        Oh I’m sure I will love it, I have full confidence in your assessments. ๐Ÿ™‚ But of course I also did some additional homework and it simply fits my profile best as it seems and I’m glad you pointed me to it.

        Reply
  4. Paul Evans

    Sorry to disagree, but Elecraft PAs have an AWFUL reputation for putting out very ‘dirty’ signals, especially on SSB. They have earned the reputation in Europe of being avoided at all costs. Also, when used at less than full output they are terribly inefficient, dropping to below 25% when driven at 30 W or so output. The proposed ‘clean up’ code to be included in the Elecraft K4 is an attempt to get around this BUT is not a replacement for good RF power amplifier design. Shame on you Elecraft. The inverter used to bias the PIN switching diodes (actually cheap 1N4005s) is very noisy and I sold my K2/100 on the basis of it producing spurs all over the bands, especially 28 MHz! Awful.

    Reply

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