The new SDR-Control app that lets you use certain iCOM radios as remote controlled SDR stations for Macbook or iPad does not yet (May 2022 now) officially support my iCOM IC-R8600 but Marcus Roskosch from https://roskosch.de/ told me that he recently purchased an IC-R8600 and the app already works on an experimental basis.
I immediately bought the app, installed it on my MacBook, connected a network cable between home router and radio and tried it out…
I also show how I use bhi DSP units to filter out noise to enhance speech at the radio and at the computer audio.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Matt Blaze, for the following guest post:
2022 rooftop receiver shootout
by Matt Blaze
I realized it’s been long past time for me to do another head-to-head receiver comparison “shootout”, where you can compare the audio from multiple radios receiving the same signal at the same time. Long time readers of Thomas’ blog may remember I’ve posted a few of these before.
So I took advantage of the nice weather and brought a bunch of radios, recording gear, and an antenna up to the roof to listen and record signals under an open sky. My neighbors, no doubt, wondered what I must have been up to. (Don’t tell them I’m just a harmless radio nerd.)
This year, our focus is on eight “dream receivers” from the 1980’s to the present. Each radio is at or near the top of the line in its class at the time of its release. Our radios include, in roughly reverse chronological order:
Icom R-8600, a current production “DC to Daylight” (or up to 3 GHz, at least) general coverage communications receiver, with highly regarded shortwave performance.
AOR AR-ONE, another DC to Daylight general coverage radio, less well known due to the high price and limited US availability. Excellent performer, but a terrible (menu-driven) user interface for shortwave, in my opinion.
Reuter RDR Pocket, a very cute, if virtually impossible to get in the US, small production, high performance SDR-based shortwave portable receiver. It’s got an excellent spectrum display and packs a lot of performance into a surprisingly small package.
AOR 7030Plus, an extremely well regarded shortwave receiver from the late 90’s; designed in the UK. It’s got a quirky menu-driven user interface but is a lot of fun to use.
Drake R8B, the last of the much-beloved Drake receivers. Probably the chief competitor to the 7030.
Drake R7A, an excellent analog communications receiver (but with a digital VFO) from the early 80’s. It still outperforms even many current radios.
Sony ICF-6800W, a top of the line “boom box” style consumer receiver from the early 80’s. Great radio, but hard to use on SSB.
Panasonic RF-4900, the main competition for the Sony. Boat-anchor form factor, but runs on batteries. Excellent performer, but also hard to use on SSB.
The radios were fed from my portable Wellbrook FLX-1530 antenna, using a Stridsberg Engineering HF distribution amplifier. So every radio was getting pretty close to exactly the same signal at its RF input.
Recordings were taken from the line output, if one was available, or the external speaker/headphone output otherwise. In either case, the audio was then isolated and converted to a balanced signal for recording.
For each signal, I recorded monaural “solo” tracks for each radio, as well as a narrated stereo track in which I compared the audio from each radio (one after the other) against the Icom R8600, with the audio from the R8600 on the left channel and the audio from the other radios on the right channel. This gives you a quick overview of what all the radios sound like.
The stereo recording requires some explanation. For it to make any sense, you MUST listen in stereo, using decent headphones if at all possible. You can switch earpieces back and forth (with your finger on pause and rewind) to get a quick idea of what each radio sounds like compared with a modern receiver, and how they handle things like fades and static.
The solo tracks, on the other hand, consist entirely of the continuous audio from a single radio, with no narration or interruption.
I recorded three different signals, for a three part comparison. (Parts four and up will come, hopefully, soon). I think both the differences and similarities will surprise you.
Our first signal was the BBC on 9915 KHz, broadcasting from Madagascar to western Africa. This signal was extremely marginal here, intended to show how each receiver can or can’t handle signals down in the noise. It’s definitely not “armchair copy”.
The stereo overview is at:
The individual receiver solo tracks can be found here:
Reuter RDR Pocket:
Our next signal was the Shannon (Ireland) aviation VOLMET broadcast on 5505 KHz USB. This synthesized voice gives the latest meteorological conditions at airports around Europe. The signal was not strong, but entirely readable. It shows how the radios handle a weak SSB signal. Note that the Sony and Panasonic consumer radios, though equipped with a BFO, were VERY hard to tune properly.
The stereo overview is at:
Receiver solo tracks can be found here:
Reuter RDR Pocket:
Our final signal was a stronger, though occasionally fading, shortwave broadcaster, Radio Romania International on 13650 KHz AM. This gives you a sense of how the receivers performed on a typical “average” signal that you might actually want to enjoy listening to. Because the radios have different filters and other capabilities, I tuned each radio to whatever sounded best; I did not attempt to use comparable settings (since no common settings existed).
The stereo overview can be found at:
And the individual solo tracks are here:
Reuter RDR Pocket:
Subsequent comparisons, hopefully soon, will focus on receiver performance on signals in crowded bands and under various kinds of interference and noise.
A quick note on production: The recordings were made with a 12 channel Sound Devices 833 recorder with a Sound Devices SL-16 mixing console. The audio was isolated and converted to balanced output with Switchcraft 318 direct interface boxes (highly recommended for recording radios with pro audio gear).
The stereo track narration was done by me in real time, as the signals were being recorded. I made some comments about which receivers I thought sounded best that were not always the same as what I would later conclude after carefully listening to the solo tracks once back inside. But judge for yourself. I used a Coles “lip” microphone, an amazing ribbon mic designed decades ago for the BBC for use in highly noisy environments. It was very effective in reducing the sometimes considerable street noise and other ambient outdoor sounds.
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!
Rob Sherwood, at Sherwood Engineering, has now published test results of the Icom IC-R8600 wideband receiver. The IC-R8600 is (impressively) second from the top of the list sorted by third-order dynamic range narrow spaced if phase noise limited:
“The excellent ICOM IC-R8600 “Wide Band” SDR communications receiver. Direct Sampling SDR below 30 Mhz. Hybrid Superhet / SDR above 30 Mhz. It is NOT just a IC-7300 “receiver” section with VHF / UHF Coverage added on (however overall HF receiver performance is similar). In our view the best receiver Icom has produced to date (“Wide Band” or not). One MUST remember this is NOT a “scanner” type receiver, so no Trunking etc. Audio quality while very good, we detected some minor harshness and or spurious gremlins that we could not put a handle on in the AM / FM and WFM modes (with all 3 test speakers, Firmware 1.10, see text) ?? This was not an issue at all with the IC-7300 Transceiver cousin, but it has much less dynamic (flat) audio in comparison.”
A few “first” IC-R8600 observations (latest 1.10 firmware) :
General size is slightly smaller than the IC-7300 SDR HF Transceiver.
With the IC-R8600 having a near 2 AMP current draw, does make for very warm operation after a few hours on (that is over double current requirement of what the IC-7300 uses in receive.) It does NOT make use of any cooling fans…whew good news here ! The receiver requires an external power supply, and I REQUIRE my regulated linear power supplies NOT to run HOT with any continuous operation (I would never use a noisy switching supply with it , but that’s my choice). I say the minimum size to use is the Astron RS-12A. While this may seem overkill, we tried a smaller RS-7A and after being on for 2 hours it’s lone pass transistor was too hot to touch which is totally unacceptable to N9EWO’s standards. The RS-12A has 2 pass transistors and a larger heatsink (and thankfully still no fan to create room noise). We have NOT tested a RS-12A with the IC-R8600 to verify this, but should be the one to try (I say don’t go with a lower current model) ???
S-AM modes (AM Synchronous Detector) sadly works the same as in the IC-R9500. In other words, it does NOT help with AM mode fading distortion (adjacent interference help only). So another Icom receiver with very poor “Sync” performance. We can HOPE for improvement on this with later firmware update, but I would not hold my breath ?? Yeah, one can use manual ECSS (zero beat in SSB modes) which does excellent, but SSB modes have limited top bandwidth of 3.6 KHz as all Icom’s do.
It’s top mounted Internal speaker is surprisingly good for it’s size. Tone control has much larger “Bass” range over the IC-7300 (excellent). Super clean audio as with the IC-7300. Connected to a classic Realistic “Minimius 77” 2 way speaker sounds stunning.
Tuning knob is of a “clicky” type (detents) out of the box. Good news , there is to way select a “smooth” feeling knob by moving the 3 position slider adjustment on the bottom of the knob (it’s not so easy to do however). So it goes from left to right : smooth loose – smooth tight – clicky. It has some rotational play in the “clicky” mode (but so does the IC-R9500’s knob in “clicky ” mode), but overall it feels good and this knob scheme was well done.
FMBC reception has a strange ACG pumping trait. Of course on the FMW mode the AGC and decay rate are not adjustable.
Uses no (or fewer) relays with it’s front end filters at least on SW. The “click and clack” when tuning around with the IC-7300 in the SWBC bands does not exist with the IC-R8600 (uses didoes ??). When we can locate a schematic will tell the whole story here (NOTE : No schematics are included with the set).
I’m really curious to see how the IC-R8600 stacks up to the IC-7300 on the HF bands. Looking forward to your updates, Dave!