If you’ve been reading the SWLing Post for long, you’ll know that I think the Icom IC-705 is a brilliant radio for shortwave, mediumwave and even FM DXing. I mention this in my IC-705 review.
Indeed, I realize that I may even use the IC-705 as much as I use some of my excellent computer-connected SDRSs (Software Defined Radios). The IC-705 is actually an SDR, too, just one that is self-contained, stand-alone, and powered by a rechargeable battery. It’s just so convenient and easy to use–plus it has very useful built-in recording/playback functions.
I also use my Elecraft KX2 for SWLing–although not designed for broadcast band listening, it does a pretty amazing job especially if your primary goal is weak-signal work. Elecraft attenuated the mediumwave band on purpose, thus MW DXing with the KX2 is not feasible.
Do you use general coverage transceivers for SWLing?
Truth is, modern general coverage transceivers tend to be based on SDR architecture these days, thus incredibly capable and versatile as a broadcast band receivers.
I’m curious: do you primarily use a general coverage transceiver for SWLing? If so, why and which make/model? Please comment! If you prefer a dedicated receiver over a general coverage transceiver, please consider sharing your thoughts as well!
Bottom line, ever since I read it, I have very much wanted to hear at least some of those MF marine stations that Don writes about. One of Don’s recommendations is “Hang Out on 2182 kHz.” So sometimes when I am messing around in the radio shack, I will park one of my shortwave receivers on 2182 USB in the hopes of hearing some marine communications. 2182 is the frequency that the US Coast Guard once monitored as a distress frequency, but no more.
According to Don: “Today 2182 kHz still gets some use as a calling frequency, where a ship and a shore station quickly arrange to have a conversation on another frequency. But the more common use now is for shore-based marine broadcasters to pre-announce marine information broadcasts they are about to transmit on other frequencies.”
Just the other day, I brought up 2182 on my Satellit 800, but the atmospheric noise was pretty bad. I fooled around with a couple of different indoor wire antenna configurations but wasn’t able to achieve any substantial improvement. But in the midst of that messing around, I “rediscovered” my Icom IC-706 MkIIG on a shelf. It receives from 30 kHz to 199 MHz and from 400 to 470 MHz, and I used mine for over a decade to run the Commuter Assistance Network on two meters. I still keep the 706 as a back-up in case my main rig for running the net goes down.
But I had never used the 706 extensively on HF (weird, I know, but that’s the truth). Nevertheless, a little voice in the back of my head (probably one of the brain dudes) kept saying “Why don’t you give the 706 a try as an HF receiver?”
So I did. I hooked up the 706 up to my horizontal room loop through some coax and an LDG 9:1 unun (the same antenna setup I had been using on the Satellit 800). And – shazam – the 706 is substantially quieter on 2182 with that antenna than the Satellit 800.
That’s good, I thought, but what if the 706 appears to be quieter because it is less sensitive? So I did some comparative tests with the 706 and the Satellit 800 on the 80 and 40 meter ham bands and satisfied myself that the 706 is both quieter and more sensitive than the Satellit 800. I could just plain hear the signals better (and more pleasantly) with the 706.
The only substantial weirdness with the Icom 706 MkIIG is that, as a small unit, it has relatively few buttons on its face. As a result, it has no keypad for direct frequency access. There are buttons for jumping from one ham band to another and another button for changing tuning steps, so with judicious use of those buttons and the tuning knob, it’s fairly easy to get from one frequency to another, but it is not as fast as direct entry.
And, of course, the 706 does not have all the cool seek-and-store functions and the like that are available on today’s really slick shortwave portables.
Here’s the upshot: if you’ve been on the hunt for a better HF receiver with single sideband capabilities, an old dog, like an old ham transceiver, might be just what you need. And if you are already enjoying an old ham transceiver as a shortwave receiver, I’d like to hear about it.
So, have I heard any of those cool MW maritime stations? Not yet, but I’m sure I’ll have fun trying!
Late last year, Xiegu started shipping their latest portable rig: the Xiegu X6100.
The X6100 is an all-in-one QRP SDR field transceiver. It sports an internal antenna tuner, internal Li-Ion rechargeable battery pack, and even an internal mic for hams who don’t want to carry the supplied mic to the field. For field operators, it’s in the very desirable “shack in a box” category. Just hook up an antenna and you’re on the air.
The X6100 got a lot of attention in the ham radio market because in many ways it resembles the Icom IC-705.
The X6100 sports top-mounted controls, a beautiful high resolution color display, and front-facing speaker. At $630 US, it’s less than half the cost of a new IC-705.
As with pretty much all modern SDR transceivers, the X6100 has variable filters and a general coverage receiver. The X6100’s receiver has gapless coverage from 0.5 MHz to 30MHz and 50MHz to 54MHz, thus covering the mediumwave and shortwave broadcast bands.
Radioddity sent me a loaner X6100 that I took delivery of on December 23, 2021.
Literally, the first thing I did was tune it to the 31 meter broadcast band.
While I’ve spent the bulk of my time with the X6100 in the field testing it as a QRP transceiver, in the shack I’ve done a fair amount of SWLing both in AM mode and (pirate radio stations) in SSB mode.
I’ve received a number of inquiries from SWLing Post readers about the X6100 asking how it stacks up to the IC-705 from an SWL’s perspective, so I thought I’d share my impressions so far to help guide any potential purchase decisions. I’ll provide much more detail in my upcoming review in The Spectrum Monitor magazine (likely in March or April 2022).
In short: I would not buy the Xiegu X6100 specifically for shortwave broadcast listening.
While the frequency coverage is ideal, the variable filters are useful, and the color spectrum display and waterfall (in terms of the interface) are benchmark, the radio has a few cons from an SWL perspective:
I have noticed imaging on the spectrum display as I tune through the broadcast bands (shortwave and mediumwave). I seriously doubt this is something that can be addressed in firmware.
The X6100 does not have a robust front-end. A number of my readers on QRPer.com who live near strong broadcast stations have noted that it’s almost unusable from home.
The audio is typical of Xiegu radios, meaning it’s unrefined and a bit harsh. I find it a bit fatiguing over extended listening sessions both using the internal speaker and headphones.
In fairness, the X6100 wasn’t designed with the SWL in mind.
With the negatives out of the way, the X6100 is very much a usable radio for casual broadcast listening. You might even be able to push it into a little DX action as well. If you plan to purchase the X6100 for ham radio activities anyway, consider broadcast listening as a bit of “icing on the cake.”
X6100 vs. IC-705 from an SWL’s perspective
I’ve been asked specifically about how the X6100 compares with the IC-705 in terms of shortwave and mediumwave listening.
There’s really no competition: the IC-705 is better than the X6100 by orders of magnitude in this regard.
The IC-705 is a high-performance radio with receiver qualities that would please most serious DXers. (Check out some of 13DKA’s reports!). That level of RX performance and filtering comes with a $1,300 US price tag.
The X6100 was designed to be price-competitive and to have ample performance and a tool set to please the low-power ham radio field operator. I feel like it’s a success in this regard. When I’m in the field performing a park or summit activation, I’m typically far removed from urban RFI and blowtorch broadcasters. The field operations I’ve performed so far with the X6100 (mostly in CW/Morse Code) have been quite successful and enjoyable.
The RDR52 can basically be seen as a desktop version of the popular Reuter Pocket mobile device. Astonishingly, the Pocket is often used as a full-fledged desktop receiver. Many operators report that they have sold their “large” devices and now only use the Pocket because it pairs good reception properties with simple operation and offers a very effective spectrum display while keeping the power consumption to a minimum.
However, the battery-powered Pocket was never designed for that purpose. First, it needs a stand-up aid to be easy to operate on your desktop (display almost vertical). Second, the playback volume of the loudspeakers is low and turning the scroll wheel feels finicky. Third, operation on a constant charging current supply is suboptimal for the built-in batteries: Constant full charging shortens their service life.
The RDR52 avoids these disadvantages. It essentially contains the circuit and thus the display and reception properties as well as the operating options of the Pocket. Due to the larger housing (heat dissipation) and a slightly higher possible current consumption (no batteries as power supply), improvements in the IM behavior (more powerful preamplifiers and AD converters) could be achieved. Other differences to the Pocket include:
Aluminum profile housing 190 x 90 x 100 mm³ with 5 mm thick front and 2 mm thick rear panel, powder-coated / anodized.
BNC sockets for antenna connection, separate for 0 – 71 MHz, FM / 2m / DAB and exciter / QRP transmitter.
Large rotary knob with solid optical rotary encoder.
Additional rotary knob for volume adjustment of headphones and loudspeakers.
Two 32 mm loudspeakers with good bass reproduction.
External power supply DC voltage 9 – 15 V (common hollow pin socket with 2.5 mm pin).
All the Pocket’s enhancements are also available for the RDR52 (broadband spectrum with up to 52.6 MHz display width, 8 different FM filters for extreme DX to high-end stereo, up to 16 GBit flash memory for audio or I/Q recordings, screen dump of the display to the recorder, WiFi, Bluetooth, power supply and control of the RLA4 / RFA1 directly from the antenna input, …). Two basic hardware versions will be available: Standard black with simple loudspeakers and plastic knobs, or a special version with metal knobs and aluminum loudspeaker membranes.
The equipment of different transmitter modules and frequency ranges has been a bit expanded in contrast to the Pocket. Two modules can be installed in the RDR52 at the same time (Pocket: only 1 module). This means, for example, that the FM module and the SW QRP transmitter can be installed at the same time, or the broadband exciter can be installed without the need for an FM module. However, equipping both transmitter modules (exciter and QRP transmitter at the same time) is not possible.
The RDR52 is in production and is expected to be available from the end of December 2021. Prices according to the current price list.
Based on the price list, it appears the RDR52 will start at € 999 with a number of optional upgrades/configurations.
While browsing the QTH.com classifieds last weekend, I found an ad for a Ten-Tec Argonaut V (Model 516).
The Argo V was a general coverage HF transceiver produced by TEN-TEC starting around 2003 or so. When it was introduced to market, I wanted one because I thought not only would it be a great QRP transceiver, but TEN-TEC rigs tended to have brilliant audio and were capable broadcast band receivers.
The seller described it as being in “pristine condition and operating to factory specs on all bands.”
The seller seemed to be a nice fellow and sent me a number of photos with his QSL card in the image and his email address matched what was on file with QRZ.com. The seller checked out on many levels confirming this wasn’t a scam (always assume a classifieds listing could be a scam!).
I purchased it last week and it was delivered today.
The first thing I did after connecting it to a power supply was tune to the 31 meter band, switch the mode to AM, and widen the variable filter to 6 kHz (the Argo’s max AM bandwidth).
So far, I’m impressed!
For a ham radio transceiver, I can tell that the Argo V is going to be a competent rig for casual shortwave radio listening.
I also tuned to the mediumwave band (not having even checked in advance its lower RX limit) and am happy to report that it covers the whole AM BC band as well.
If I’m being honest, though, the real reason I’ve always wanted an Argonaut V, specifically, is because I absolutely love the front panel design of this radio.
The large LED digit frequency display is fabulous and has–as my buddy Eric put it–a certain “Apollo era” aesthetic. The large frequency display was one of my favorite things about my beloved OMNI VI+ as well.
I’ll admit that I also love a good analog meter!
The Argonaut V also has a very simple, very Ten-Tec, front panel with good field ergonomics. In fact, the Argo V is a very simple radio: there are no modern features like message memory keying, built-in batteries, nor does it have an internal ATU.
Although spec-wise, I’ve much better receivers at SWLing Post HQ, I’m looking forward traveling the shortwaves with the Argo V!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Peter, who asks:
Two of the tabletop shortwave receivers recommended in the past are listed as discontinued by retailers. Do you have any current recommendations?
Great question, Peter. I’m guessing that you’re looking for a new tabletop communications receiver and I also assume you may be referring to the CommRadio CR-1a and the Alinco DX-R8T. Both of these have been discontinued by the manufacturer.
Fewer options than in the past
To my knowledge, there are very few dedicated, stand-alone tabletop shortwave receivers currently on the market.
The ELAD FDM-DUOr
One notable exception is the ELAD FDM-DUOr which is essentially a tabletop, stand-alone SDR. It is an excellent performer and I believe still available from ELAD for about $900 US. The FDM-DUOr is currently the best option I know of under $1,000 US.
There are still a handful of dedicated communications receivers on the market, but they tend to be wideband receivers and carry a heavier price tag than legacy HF-only receivers.
In my opinion, two innovations pushed dedicated tabletop receivers off the market:
The proliferation of high-performance, affordable software defined radios like the AirSpy HF+ Discovery and SDRplay RSPdx. Both of these models retail for less than $200 US new and offer superb performance when coupled with even a modest PC, laptop, or tablet. In addition, those seeking benchmark SDR receiver hardware and performance will invest in higher-priced models like the new ELAD FDM-S3. Click here to read Part 1 of our SDR primer.
General coverage ham radio transceivers now provide performance that’s on par or even better than legacy tabletop receivers. Many shortwave listeners now purchase transceivers and simply disable the transmit function so that they don’t accidentally inject RF power into the antenna. Transceivers lack some broadcast listener features like synchronous detection, but their single sideband performance often compensates for this, in my opinion. Some current (sub $1,000 US) favorites among SWLs include the Icom IC-7300, and the Yaesu FT-891. I’m also a huge fan of the new Icom IC-705 portable transceiver, although its price point is closer to $1,300 US. Click here to read more about general coverage transceivers.
If SDRs and general coverage transceiver lack appeal, keep in mind that there are a multitude of legacy communications receivers on the used market.
I should add here that one Ohio-based manufacturer, Palstar, has mentioned that they plan to produce the Palstar R30B tabletop shortwave receiver which would be the latest iteration of their R30 series. This announcement has been out there for some time, though, and I’m not sure when or if the R30B will ever come to fruition.
Have I missed something? Please comment if you know of other tabletop communications receivers currently on the market. Also, if you use a general coverage transceiver for SWLing, please share which make/model you like in the comments section! Click here to comment.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Giuseppe Fisoni, who reached out a few weeks ago noting that he was very impressed with the Icom IC-705‘s receiver performance even compared with his Icom IC-R8600 wideband receiver.
I asked Giuseppe if he would perhaps write up a short informal report to share here on the SWLing Post. He just sent me the following notes:
[…]Consider this more of a qualitative comparison – just S meter readings with a few brief notes.
My overall impression is that the IC-705 is a fantastic SW receiver, as you’ve already made clear on all your posts. In most cases, it holds up well against the IC-R8600, and even performs better in some cases. I have some notes below, which you are welcome to share with your readers if you’d like. For a while I also had two IC-705s in my hands, so I even got to test “replicas” with the 705 (there was no major difference but it was still fun to do).
A few things about my comparisons:
1. All tests were done using a 50’ long wire antenna (house to tree) with an un-un.
2. The IC-R8600 was operated using an ICOM AC adaptor (creating a disadvantage), while the IC-705 was run on battery. However, I tried to only compare stations where the noise floors were comparable and the 8600 didn’t have any RFI.
3. I tried my best to normalize the RF gains on each radio, but this became somewhat difficult. I’m not sure if they are on the same scale (i.e. does 80% RF gain mean the same thing on both radios?). Also, I very quickly noticed that turning up the RF gain on the 8600 only increased the S meter reading and apparent noise floor on the waterfall spectrum, but it did not actually make the audible signal or noise audibly stronger. This was especially true from 50% and up on the RF gain. In contrast, the RF gain on the 705 operated as you’d expect – the more you turned it up, the higher the gain on the signal (and noise), evenly across 0-100%.
3,330 kHz CHU
IC-705: weak signal but audible, S6
IC-R8600: no signal!
Winner: clearly 705. Shocked the 8600 couldn’t pick up CHU!
3,215 kHz WWCR Nashville
IC-R8600: S9+20 to S9+40.
Winner: Tie – although the 8600 had a stronger signal on the S meter, it didn’t really sound any better than the S9+20 on the 705.
9,690 kHz Radio Espana Exterior
IC-705: S9 to S9+10
Winner: Another tie – the stronger signal didn’t make much of a difference. The 8600 only sounded slightly better because of its speaker, not the receiver, so I’m calling it a tie.
10,000 kHZ WWV
IC-705: S3, very weak
IC-R8600: S7 to S9 but high atmospheric noise
11,820 kHz Radio Riyadh
IC-705: S1, barely detectable
IC-R8600: S5 to S7, intelligibility unstable
15,000 kHz WWV
IC-705: S3 to S5
IC-R8600: S9, slightly clearer and crisper tones
Winner: 8600, but not by much
15,580 kHz VOA Selebi-Phikwe, Botswana
IC-705: S1 to S3, in and out with fading
IC-R8600: S9, much more stable signal
7,780 kHz WRMI Slovakia International
IC-705: S9 solid, stable signal
IC-R8600: S9, same
6,604 kHz USB Gander VOLMET
IC-705: S5 to S7
Winner: Tie, no real difference
11,940 kHz Radio Exterior Espana
IC-705: S5 to S9 solid signal with some fading
Winner: Tie – no obvious difference
9,420 kHz Helliniki Radiophonia, Greece
IC-705: S9 +20. Excellent signal
IC-R8600: S9+ 20-30. Excellent signal
Winner: Again, a tie. But the wonderful Greek music reminds you again how much better the speaker is on the 8600.
Here’s the important thing: even though in most cases the IC-R8600 pulled in a much higher S meter reading, it often didn’t matter unless the difference between the two radios was a lot. In cases where it mattered, I could have turned up the RF gain or preamp on the 705 to match the signal on the 8600 (unless it was really weak on the 705), but I was trying to avoid that for the sake of having some baseline for comparison. How comparable are RF gain levels across ICOM radios?
IC-705 pros/cons take aways for me:
High level of portability and ability to operate on battery
Has desktop-like features and controls
Ability to use tripod or custom stand offers custom ergonomics (I found it easier to look at and interact with than the 8600, which has a lower angle of display)
All-in-one package: SWR + HF/VHF/UHF transceiver
Built-in audio speaker leaves a lot to be desired, definitely not desktop receiver audio quality
No stereo headphone jack
I am quite impressed with the IC-705! I am looking to downsize my radios and these comparisons have convinced me that the 705 can really check a lot of boxes for what I am looking for in a radio. I think it really offers a lot in a small footprint, which I find very impressive. So, since I have no use in monitoring anything above UHF, I will be looking to sell the IC-R8600, even though it is also a very great radio.
All the best,
Fascinating report, Giuseppe! Thank you so much for taking the time to perform these comparisons and sharing them with us.
Like you, I believe the IC-705 could replace a number of my other radios. I originally purchased it for my review and planned to sell it after, but quickly realized there’s no way I’m selling it. In fact, it could convince me to sell other radios it effectively makes redundant.
For SWLs who have limited space for a listening post in their home and who like to take their radio to the field, the IC-705 is a no-brainer. It’s an investment at $1,300 US, but I believe it’s a quality rig and certainly an outstanding, feature-packed unit.
I’ve found that the IC-705’s performance on HF and Mediumwave is truly DX-grade. I imagine its FM performance is as well.
It’s funny that you mention the IC-705 front-facing speaker as a con, because I often tout it as a pro. Thing is, I’m most often comparing the IC-705 with other field-portable QRP transceivers. Compared with them, the IC-705 speaker is amazing. But compared to the IC-R8600 or, say, a Drake R8B or SW8? Yeah, I agree with you 100%–it’s just not in the same league with those tabletop receivers. Of course, you can port out the audio to a better speaker if needed. (Indeed, the IC-705 even has built-in Bluetooth!)
Thanks again for sharing your notes with us, Giuseppe!
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