Collectors of classic boatanchor gear know what has been probably the rarest of tube sets year after year, decade after decade. That set is the Hammarlund SP-600 JX21A.
While there have been numerous JX21s on eBay, there has not been, to my memory, a single JX21A appearing. This particular model was a version of the SP-600 that was produced in small quantities in the 1960’s, and according to one writeup was the only one with a product detector and switchable sidebands. According to Radiomuseum it was the last model in the SP-600 series, and was recognizable for its knobs which were different because the silkscreen information was printed directly on the front panel rather than on the edge of the knob skirts.
Now, an ultra-rare SP-600 JX21A has appeared on eBay. Like other models in the series, this would likely require replacement of numerous capacitors and a thorough refurbishment. The seller in this case has started bidding at a very low level, but if history is any guide, a rare model like this one may indeed go for thousands of dollars when all is said and done at the end of the auction.
Amazing! Thank you for sharing, Dan! What a gorgeous set. Though the seller states it’s in need of restoration, I’m pretty sure this one will get snagged up at end of auction. I’m very curious where the final price will land.
Are there any SWLing Post readers who own an SP-600 model–or the JX21A? Please comment!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who writes:
Here’s a blast from the past that might be interesting reading for the SWLing Post.
Back in 1986, just before ending my three year tour as VOA East Africa bureau chief, I had an opportunity to visit Zanzibar, with a group of journalists. Back then, Zanzibar was still under the socialist government in charge at the time, and was still attached to Tanzania’s socialist government.
Zanzibar town was full of old structures, and clay/stucco type buildings [see photo at top of page]–it was a wonderfully exotic place, with pristine beaches. The main hotel at the time was in poor condition — this was way before any of the extensive hotel development that the island has seen in recent decades.
One day we were traveling across the island, but I made a point of stopping at what was then still Radio Tanzania/Zanzibar. This was of course years before that station would become ZBC, which remains on the air today, and that time the power was still far lower than the station we know today that serves some fairly wide sections of East Africa and up into the Gulf region.
I hadn’t remembered snapping this photo, but found it recently while going through some old prints. This is what I believe to be Radio Tanzania/Zanzibar as it looked back in 1986 [see below].
Another photo [below] shows old Zanzibar town (shot taken from just off the shore).
Two other shots [below] show a graveyard on Grave Island, off Zanzibar, with one of the stones belonging to someone named Henry Bodley Carpenter (click here for more info) who served on the H.M.S. Briton and died in 1873.
Thanks so much, Dan, for taking the time to share these photos of Zanzibar with us. I imagine your work with the Voice of America took you to many corners of our wonderful planet!
I still get a small thrill when I put Zanzibar in the logs! Thank you again.
What is interesting also about this is the similarity to the Drake SW8 — notably the
40A s are rarely seen on the used market, and in line with other older Eddystone
equipment, they are built like a tank.
I agree, Dan! This receiver is built like a tank! It would be a seriously fun (though relatively heavy) field radio–I love how even the chassis corners are rounded and the entire radio can be protected for transport. Obviously, these were designed with durability and stability in mind. Great find and thanks for sharing!
The DoubleTree hotel where the Winter SWL Fest is held.
Last week, I attended the 31st annual Winter SWL Fest in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. This was the ninth year in a row I made the pilgrimage to join my radio friends and family–it was certainly a ‘Fest to be remembered!
I made the trip by car, leaving Monday, February 26 and spent two nights in the DC area so that I could visit friends.
NCRTV’s Brian Belanger gave us an excellent private tour of the museum, allowing me an opportunity to snap even more photos of this beautiful museum (you might recall the photo tour I posted in 2015). I will plan to post the new photos soon.
Dan Robinson (left) and Brian Belanger (right) checking out a number of early 1900s receivers.
Wednesday morning, I picked up my friend Mark Fahey (also an SWLing Post contributor) at a Metro stop in Maryland. Mark had just flown into DC from Sydney, Australia, the previous day.
Knowing Mark is a huge fan of all things aviation, we made our way to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport. This was my fourth visit to the museum, but Mark’s first. He had a blast and, like me, is sure to return in the future!
A small selection of aircraft at the Udvar Hazy Center.
View of the new Dulles Airport from the former ATC tower at the Udvar Hazy Center.
We left the museum by 2:00, to avoid serious DC traffic, and arrived in Plymouth Meeting, PA by dinner time.
Like last year, the Winter SWL Fest took place over a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The schedule was jam-packed and covered the full spectrum of radio.
Here’s the program with descriptions:
Winter SWL Fest Forums
Thursday, 1 March 2018
THE IBERIAN BROADCASTING SCENE with Tracy Wood
1300 – THE IBERIAN BROADCASTING SCENE – Tracy Wood
Our own “fiestero” reflects on his trips to Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar experiencing the complicated radio scene there. From longwave to DAB, community radio to big national networks–even foreign language FM stations–it’s true that the Spanish dial remains impressive. Included are slides from his tour and interview at Madrid’s Radio Exterior de España highlighting their amazing audio vault. He’ll also reflect on DX climbs at the Rock of Gibraltar (UK) and Veleta, the third highest peak in Spain (11,142’). Bring your own sangría.
1415 — MORE CHEAP FUN WITH RTL/SDR – Dan Srebnick
Dan follows up last year’s presentation by telling you what he got wrong. (!?)
You CAN decode FM IBOC, thanks to a researcher who figured out the protocol. We’ll hear how that works, along with a look at how to decode amateur APRS packet and display weather alerts on a map, and how to decode NextGen ATC on the cheap, without having to feed data to Flight Aware. We’ll also give you some ideas on how to make use of a Raspberry Pi with the RTL stick, providing yet another source of cheap radio fun.
1530 — THE GOLDEN AGE OF ANALOG TV DXING…IS NOW! — Rich McVicar
TV DXing via sporadic e-skip and tropospheric propagation, from an historical perspective in the 50s-80s when there were many analog DX targets available in North Americ, to today’s low VHF (Channels 2-6) scenario. Few US stations are using those channels now making DOUBLE-hop e-skip reception possible, something very few experienced before 2009 but a number of us in the northeast US and Canada have observed quite a few times now. Instead of new states and provinces, we’re logging new countries! Includes video clips of single hop vs. double hop and equipment and technique tips.
MORE CHEAP FUN WITH RTL/SDR with Dan Srebnick
1645 – TERMINATED LOOP ANTENNAS – Jef Eichner
This popular series resumes with Jef covering terminated loop theory and construction, along with some new (and old) toys for show and tell. Time permitting, he will start on loop phasing techniques.
How well do you know radio? AM, shortwave, utilities, transmitter sites, station names, call letters, frequencies, interval signals, radio personalities, program names, and more, we’ll have questions from all categories. In the end we will crown the first Winterfest Trivia King (or Queen!). The quiz is open to anyone with the courage to participate.
Friday, 2 March 2018
0830 – HOW DO SMART SPEAKERS CHANGE YOUR LISTENING HABITS? – Rob deSantos
We will examine the impact of “smart speakers” on the listening experience. What can you do and what can’t you do with these systems? The internet radio and international radio still live but they live inside the speaker. Bring your own personal experience and questions to share. Included will be the presenter’s personal use and testing of systems such as Amazon Alexa and Sonos and compare the cost and benefits to using these as alternative listening sources as well as their limitations.
0945 – THE ANNUAL SCANNER SESSION – Tom Swisher
Back to Basics – Programming Strategies for the new generation scanners. Have the newer generation scanners got you stumped? This year we’re going back to basics, and will discuss programming strategies, tweaks and tips for the newer digital-capable scanners. We’ll also give a few nods to some of the software packages out there that can make this task easier.
1100 – THE ANNUAL PIRATE SESSION – George Zeller
A review of Pirate Radio news during the past year and the announcement of the new class of inductees to the North American Pirate Radio Hall of Fame. Time permitting, a discussion of the NASWA Pirate Radio Report column also is planned.
It’s quite a coincidence every year that the ‘Fest hotel is chock-full of pirate radio broadcasts. If one were to know such things… (Note I had to illuminate this flyer with a flashlight!)
1330 – TIME SHIFTED TUNING WITH SPECTRUM ARCHIVES – Thomas Witherspoon
We will take a look at both shortwave radio audio archives, what has been done since our 2010 Winter SWL Fest forum, and what collections have been preserved. We will also dive into the concept of radio spectrum archiving, noting the challenges and amazing benefits to future historians, media specialists, anthropologists and—yes–radio enthusiasts too. Imagine a digital library full of recordings you could load on a web-based application and tune through as if it were live radio–a time traveling WebSDR! We’ll live demo spectrum recordings dating back to 1986.
FILM SCREENING – “SPECTRES OF SHORTWAVE” with Amanda Dawn Christie
1500 – FILM SCREENING – “SPECTRES OF SHORTWAVE” – Amanda Dawn Christie
An experimental documentary film by Amanda Dawn Christie about the RCI shortwave radio towers in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. Images captured on film are accompanied by personal stories told by people who lived near the towers. For over 67 years, the Radio Canada International (RCI) shortwave site broadcast all over the world. In 2012, budget cuts necessitated the decommissioning of this site.
**Winner** Prix de la vague – meilleur documentaire (best documentary) international category – FICFA 2016 ** Official Selection** Atlantic Film Festival 2016
1945 – THE DXER’S SAMPLER MENU – ONE HOUR, FOUR IRRESISTIBLE SENSATIONS – Mark Fahey
This session presents four appetizer sized topics (each which could easily have consumed a full hour of discussion) in convenient, portion controlled sizes.
Transformation of Marginal & Noisy Tropical-Band Stations into Armchair Quality Reception: A live demonstration of real-time digital enhancement and filtering of shortwave signals.
Interval Signals from the Jungles and Volcanoes: For over 40 years I have been recording Indonesian interval signals and now the collection is complete. These are not noisy, low-fi recordings; every one is a pristine, studio-quality recording that reflects the exotic location and unique culture of each station.
What’s Happening in The Studio: Thousands of radio stations now continuously stream high-definition video of their studios in simulcast to their audio broadcast. We will drop in and discover what is happening behind the microphones.
Radio Soundscapes: Let’s explore the growing selection of what hipsters and eclectic music collectors are listening to.
2130 – THE ANNUAL SHORTWAVE SHINDIG – David Goren
David Goren and friends celebrate the short wavelengths in story, song, and vintage sounds. Saul Broudy, our resident folk song laureate presents an extended set of radio favorites and more. Interdisciplinary artist Amanda Dawn Christie performs using her theremin to trigger sounds and images of the towers at RCI Sackville.
Later in the evening, we’ll feature a specially upconverted segment on FM Urban Pirate Radio including the debut of the Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map.
Saturday, 3 March 2018
0830 – THE VERY STRANGE WORLD OF VHF & UHF MILITARY SATELLITES – Matt Blaze
Most modern satellites are on SHF frequencies, are used for high-bandwidth, global communication, and require special antennas and equipment to receive and track. But there are also constellations of satellites operating on VHF and UHF frequencies, easily received with standard communications receivers and antennas, and what you can hear on them can be very surprising. Originally intended for tactical military use, these birds are largely dominated by pirates, unintended signals, and the occasional legitimate user.
0945 – TRAVEL THE WORLD WITH VIRTUAL DXPEDITIONS – Bruce Churchill
For many of us Shortwave DXing has become more a reminiscing than a listening exercise. Oh, if we could only reprise the ubiquitous Indonesians, Venezuelans, Ecuadorians, Brazilians and Indian regionals! Into this seeming abyss comes the world of remote receivers such as the Perseus, Global Tuner and KiwiSDR networks. In this session we’ll educate, discuss and debate the merits of traveling to virtual DXpeditions through the use of remote receivers around the globe.
1100 – RF OPS AT WORLD EVENTS – Paul Kaltenbach
Take a behind-the-scenes look at network news RF/field operations covering some of the largest stories that have made world headlines in recent memory, as well as a discussion regarding the technological changes that have changed the definition of what real-news is, and is not.
1330 – VOICE OF RFCHOKIA SHORTWAVE TV ROLL OUT – Jeff Murray
Introducing VOR’s 2018 North American Short Wave Television Service including a virtually live, slow scan slideshow broadcast direct from Rfchokia – the apocryphal breakaway republic formerly known as South Pottsylvania. This very special event will be emceed and produced by VOR spokesman/ cartoonist Jeff K1NSS/WPE2GEP, eager to wish Best DX to you and your family.
1500 – SHORTWAVE MEMORIES – Dan Robinson/Skip Arey
Dan and Skip chronicle the personal memories of Fest attendees about what shortwave has meant to them throughout their lives, putting some needed focus on the human side, rather than the more commonly heard mechanical or technical aspects, of the hobby.
Each year at the Winter SWL Fest, we hold a silent auction with a wide array of donated goods. I donated a box full of gear myself. All of the proceeds are given to charities–Ears To Our World has been a proud recipient of portions of the Silent Auction proceeds since I first attended in 2009!
Here are a few of the items that were in the silent auction:
Nor’easter and power outage
Of course, what everyone at the 2018 Winter SWL Fest will remember is that Friday morning, we were hit by a “nor’easter”–a storm with strong winds, and driving rain that by noon had turned to snow. Traffic outside the hotel was an absolute mess–and quite treacherous.
It was a little crazy. Right around 2:30–only a minute after my presentation ended, the mains/grid power flickered out.
The hotel staff kept everyone informed with news posts like this one.
Fortunately, the hotel’s backup generator did power one set of outlets in the conference room which fed the projector and amplified speakers, so the show continued…albeit in the dark!
Of course, there are advantages to being in a hotel with little power and much less RF noise–I was able to do some satisfactory MW DXing from my room window. A rare opportunity!
We held the Saturday night banquet in the hotel’s atrium area which was was better lit that the interior conference rooms. It was a very memorable banquet.
All-in-all, the Fest was a massive success. I heard very few complaints about the power outage, only praise for the forums, our guest speaker (Amanda Dawn Christie) and all of those who make the Fest a reality–especially John Figliozzi and Richard Cuff.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following guest post:
ICOM’s IC-R8600: Can this mega-radio stay in the ring with big gun “legacy” receivers when it comes to shortwave band reception?
by Dan Robinson
When ICOM rolled out its new wideband receiver, the IC-R8600, I immediately took an interest in it. I have been primarily a hardcore DX’er and SWL and avoided purchasing wideband receivers, including the predecessor IC-R8500, because they were limited in areas such as selectivity.
My experience with ICOM includes owning a IC-R71A and R72, both of which I found to be strong performers, as well as a IC-R75. The R75 as everyone knows established a reputation as an excellent receiver that delivered bang for the buck, including for example 1hz readout and extreme stability.
In its design decisions with the 8600, ICOM clearly intended to hit it out of the park, taking a huge step from the 8500. That can be seen in the amazing color 4.3 inch LCD display with fairly fast spectrum scope and waterfall displays, coverage from 10 kHz to 3 gHz, decoding capability in multiple protocols, (Baudot RTTY, D-STAR™, NXDN™, dPMR™, DCR (Digital Communication Radio) and APCO P25, and the combination of SDR and superheterodyne circuitry, with 2000 memories.
The new Icom IC-8600 at the 2017 Hamvention
At this point, there have been numerous reviews of the 8600, and videos are all over YouTube showing the basics of its operation and features. It has numerous flexibilities selected from the front panel and within the menu system. The ability to record directly to SDHC cards eliminates the need to attach an external solid state recorder (over the course of my DX career I accumulated many of these). I can’t say enough about this capability which automatically keeps fully labeled logs.
Other features include ICOM’s wonderful Twin Passband Tuning, combined with the ability to adjust filters 1/2/3, adjustable attenuation, Digital AFC, tone controls, noise blanker digital noise reduction, speech enunciator, main tuning dial tension adjustment, synchronous L/U/Double sideband, adjustable panel brightness . . . in short, just about everything one would think should be included in a 21st century receiver of this kind, ICOM put in the 8600. The firmware update released recently (1.30) added the capability to use the radio’s IQ output with HDSDR software, which means that the receiver is now not only a standalone but also functions easily with a PC.
Since the 8600 has been on the market for some time now, I discussed with Thomas Witherspoon of SWLing Post, the idea of obtaining an 8600 for the specific purpose of comparing it to some of the top receivers in my collection.
At the current time, that list includes a JRC NRD-545, the Drake R-8 (original version purchased in 1993), JRC NRD-515, Watkins Johnson 8718A/MFP, Cubic R-2411, and a McKay Dymek DR-33C. All of the radios in my shack use a Wellbrook 1530 loop, fed through a RF Systems DA-8 Distributor/Amplifier which maintains signal levels from all outputs.
Watkins Johnson 8718A/MFP
A surprising outcome of my comparisons of the 8600 to these radios is that my appreciation of the qualities of these older receivers was actually re-ignited–so much so that some that had been on my ‘to sell’ list are now back in the ‘keepers’ column. This is not as much a criticism of the 8600, as it is a reaffirmation of the quality that was built in to some of the great receivers of yesteryear.
Because my collection actually extends across 2 or 3 rooms, moving the 8600 away from my central receiver “stack” was not possible, so testing comparisons were limited to the sets mentioned above. I would have liked to compare the 8600 with, for example, some classic tube receivers (HQ-180A, Eddystone 830/7), but they have been mostly inactive and located away from incoming antenna inputs.
Here in Potomac, MD outside of Washington, DC, the addition of the Wellbrook a few years ago, after years suffering with long wires, fundamentally changed a difficult situation. Signals were boosted, noise reduced. I wish things had continued this way. Unfortunately about a year ago, my area began to be plagued by a troubling ignition-type buzz, source unknown, targeting 11,500 to 12,100 khz though noticed elsewhere in the shortwave bands. It has continued, usually worse in summer than in winter.
I begin with this to underscore what I noticed as a high point for the 8600: its Noise Blanker and digital noise reduction are in my opinion quite effective, so much so that when properly adjusted, they can eliminate troublesome ignition-type noise. While NR is useful, as noted in other reviews it needs to be used carefully so as not to introduce too much digital suppression.
Here is an example of NB and NR in use against severe ignition-type noise at my location:
In August of 2017, I had my first experience tuning a 8600 at a DXpedition in Ohio.
So, I had a basic grasp of the various controls — the A/B/C knobs, and the menu system. When I received my review unit from ICOM last November, I was up and running quickly, but still puzzled over some aspects of the receiver’s operation.
Thanks to Dave Zantow who alerted me to a possible issue involving firmware 1.30 which appeared to introduce an increase in audio harshness (ICOM has been alerted to this). Dave also had suggestions (see his full review of the 8600 and other receivers on his site) about audio adjustment and speakers, and tweaking of the front display to make maximum use of the Peak and Waterfall settings. Dave emphasizes that careful adjustment is required of the 8600’s tone controls and AGC decay settings to get the most out of the receiver.
Because it is among the receivers in my shack in close proximity to the 8600, I chose to perform a number of tests comparing the ICOM to the Japan Radio Company NRD-545. As everyone knows, the 545 was the last in JRC’s prosumer line of receivers. It is feature-rich — JRC threw everything into this receiver. But one issue followed JRC receivers through the 5xxxx series — noisy audio. After finally acquiring a 545 some years ago (a high serial number unit formerly owned by the late Don Jensen) I jumped on that bandwagon of criticisms about the 545’s audio. However, in terms of sensitivity and numerous tools to hear and process signals, the receiver remains among my favorites, and this remains the case after my comparisons with the 8600.
When I compared signals heard by the 8600 with the 545, I found that while the JRC does have that ‘DSP’ sound, it was in many situations actually clearer than the ICOM. That was the case even when following advice on adjusting the 8600’s tone controls and AGC. The following two videos compare the 545 and 8600 on 5,905 khz and 17,655 khz. A third shows the receivers on 6,040 khz demonstrating effectiveness of their notch filtering capabilities:
My next comparison was the Drake R8. Little can be said about the Drake R8xxxx series of receivers that hasn’t been said. That superb Drake audio, established with the R8 and continued through the R8B, puts these receivers at the top of the heap and makes stations stand out. So, it’s little surprise then when compared to the 8600, which is an SDR in the HF range up to 30 mhz or so, the R8 still sounded superior on many, though not all, stations. Use of the SYNC mode (not adjustable on the original R8, but was on the R8A/B) also improves recoverable detail on the Drake.
The following video shows the 8600, 545 and finally the R8 on 5,995 khz (Mali), and the three receivers compared on 9,650 khz (Guinea), and a third comparing the 8600 with the full range of receivers in my main receiver stack, tuned to 9,415 khz which at the time was China Radio International.
Despite what some critics have said, I believe that the 8600’s synchronous detection modes are actually pretty good, helping with fading and stabilizing signals. I think the ICOM’s sync is certainly superior to what I experienced with the IC-R75. I would rate the SYNC on the AOR 7030+ superior to the 8600, with the NRD-545 a bit behind the 8600.
Acquired about 2 years ago, my AOR-7030+ is a late serial number version of this fantastic receiver. If I were to sell every radio in my shack but 5, the 7030 would not leave. Put simply, it is among the top shortwave receivers ever made, with off-the-charts audio, and if one has the rare NB7030 card, amazing notch and other capabilities. Comparing the 7030 to almost any other shortwave receiver ever made is like putting a Ferrari on the track with the competition. The audio, and reception tools are just that good.
At the same time, in the 8600 ICOM has produced a receiver that has as many of the essential tools required to manipulate and clarify signals as exist. The twin passband tuning continues to be superb. Being able to vary bandwidth in conjunction with the PBT, and do so even in SYNC mode, further enhances reception powers. Combine this with the ability to actually see signals on the 8600’s beautiful color LCD — we’re getting pretty close to the ultimate receiver (though I would love for someone to drop the successor to ICOM’s IC-R9500 on my front doorstep).
The following videos compare the 8600 to the same full range of receivers, ending with the Watkins Johnson 8718A/MFP, all tuned to 5,935 khz, followed by a comparison of receivers tuned to 5,000 khz
In the following videos, I compare the 8600 to other receivers 11,810 khz (BBC) which shows
the superb audio of the Drake R8xxxx series, yet the 8600 does quite well, and another video
compares the 8600 with the 545 and R8 tuned to 6,070 khz.
In the months that I have had the 8600, I did some comparisons with other receivers, among them my Watkins Johnson 8718A/MFP, which you saw in several videos. WJs prior to the 8711/HF-1000s were built like boat anchors and are QUIET. WJ, Cubic and similar sets manufactured for government and intelligence agencies, shared superb sensitivity, and most cases, excellent audio.
Comparisons of the 8600 on shortwave frequencies had the so-called Premium radios out front. The ICOM clearly shined when it comes to modern signal processing and adjustment tools such as PBT, Notch, and infinitely variable selectivity.
So, here’s a summary of my impressions after weeks of testing the ICOM IC-R8600 against some of the top gun receivers of yesteryear.
The 8600 scores a 10 on reception tools that are useful — though not crucial in these days of waning shortwave broadcasting activity — in producing and processing listenable audio: Twin PBT, Notch and Auto-Notch, Variable Bandwidths (though limited at the high end to 10 kHz), Pre-Amp and Attenuation, and that beautiful color LCD that allows one to see signals.
Predictably, the 8600 doesn’t blow away premium receivers that were manufactured to pick up the signal equivalent of butterflies and targeted government and spy agencies, and it also does not out-perform a range of other classic receivers whose reputations are well-established.
From a sensitivity and audio perspective, there is no real competition with the Drake R8, which time and time again excels in producing superior easy-to-listen audio. And the same holds for the AOR 7030+.
JRC’s NRD-515 more than holds its own and in many cases exceeds the 8600 in signal sensitivity, and producing listenable audio, despite its selectivity limitations.
The NRD-545 — maligned by critics for its DSP audio, often produced highly-listenable audio even in comparison with the 8600. The ICOM and the 545 share features that provide tremendous flexibility, the tools required to slice and dice signals. If the JRC NRDxxx receivers were the modern equivalent of such boat anchor classics as the Hammarlund HQ-180A, the 8600 is certainly at the top of the heap when it comes to having those same tools in a 21st century receiver.
I performed some additional audio only tests between the 8600 and NRD-545 on several frequencies. In each, I carouseled from wide to narrow on the 8600, and did the same on the NRD-545. Here are the results:
You may have noticed that while on some examples the 8600 appears to sound better, the 545, with DSP technology born in the 1990’s is more than competitive with the ICOM.
In conclusion, with the 8600 we have a receiver that tunes up to 3 gHz, with highly flexible color scope, usable with HDSDR, with every tool imaginable for sifting through signals from 10 kHz up to 30 MHz, which is the area I have focused on for decades.
ICOM’s superb Twin PBT knocks out interference and narrows the heck out of any signal, with highly adjustable notch capabilities, customizable bandwidth functions, and what I consider to be highly effective noise blanking and noise reduction. Add to this 2,000 memory channels, multiple antenna inputs, adjustable attenuation and AGC and you have far more than what is needed given the current state of shortwave broadcasting.
Here’s the tough question: Would I recommend that a shortwave listener focused on what remains of listening in the SW bands purchase a 8600? Or to put it another way: Is the 8600 that much of a better radio in the SW spectrum? The answer has to be no.
Numerous receivers from the classics to even the latest portables with multiple selectivity flexibility (see the XHDATA D-808 or Eton Satellit) work for that. The used market overflows with superb HF communications receivers. Any of the Drake R8xxx series receivers, available on the used market for $400 to $1,000, now constitute overkill when it comes to reception in the MW to 30 mHz range.
But if you can project someday to having the time and patience to apply yourself to what is available above 30 MHz, and have the appropriate antenna(s) for those ranges, then by all means, the 8600 is the radio for you. It is the Babe Ruth’s bat of the receiver world — AND it has numerous flexible tools (though one wishes that ICOM had included DRM capability).
As I finalized this review, I continued to wrestle with the decision of purchasing the 8600 that was so generously provided by ICOM. You won’t read here what my final decision was–but anyone who is interested can contact me in coming days and weeks to learn the answer.
Last minute update Just before this review went to press, I discovered an issue of concern: when the 8600 was left on overnight, or for any period of multiple hours, upon awakening from “sleep” (screen off) mode, nothing but distortion is heard from the speaker. The only solution was to perform a POWER OFF/POWER ON, after which normal audio was heard. This issue was I brought to the attention of ICOM.
I want to thank Ray Novak and Faheem Hussain of ICOM for providing the 8600 used in this comparison, and for their patience as I encountered several delays completing my review and getting to print. And thanks to Thomas Witherspoon without whose initial encouragement, this review would not have been possible.
Dan, thank you for an amazing IC-R8600 review and comparison with your benchmark commercial grade receivers! Thanks for taking the time to make thorough comparison video and audio recordings. Your guest posts are always most welcome on the SWLing Post!