A user review

Michael Stevenson

Port Macquarie, NSW, Australia

January 2004

I am the owner of a Sangean ATS-909 portable and was the owner of a Kenwood R2000 table top communications receiver. The Sangean is a terrific portable radio and surprisingly sensitive. The Kenwood is also a very good receiver with good sensitivity and selectivity and audio quality. During the last few months I have been reading lots of reviews and owners opinions and comparisons about the very popular ICOM R75 table top communications receiver, especially by DXers in the USA, which has interested me greatly especially with the increasing value of our Australian dollar against the greenback. A comment made by our very own Bob Padula when he also pointed out that now would be a good time to consider importing a top quality receiver from the USA for a good price in comparison to buying one locally and of course. Bob was and still is dead right!

Following much research and Emails to Universal Radio in Ohio, USA, I finally took the plunge and purchased one of their new but demonstration ICOM R75 receivers, which also has the UT-106 DSP (Digital Signal Processing) unit installed free. Importing the R75 from the USA has cost me A$1029, which includes A$110 air freight (which took three days to come from Ohio to Port Macquarie!!), approximately A$137 import duty and A$20 for a suitable power transformer to covert the mains power supply from 110 V to 240 V. To buy the equal here in Australia is currently A$1299 (A$1699 RRP) plus A$135 to purchase the UT-106 DSP unit, so I am very pleased as to the outcome of my cost savings.

The ICOM R75 receiver is a mid sized tabletop communications receiver measuring 241 mm x 94 mm x 229 mm. It is a fairly light unit weighing in at just 3 kg, the lighter weight is also due to it having a separate outboard power supply rated at 16 V, 2 A, so this saves on weight if you want to use the R75 as a semi portable in the car as it is a 11-16 V DC input. The separate supply also helps keep the bulk of heat out of the receiver itself as the power supply does run very warm when left on for any length of time.

Because this version of the R75 is for the USA market, covering 30 kHz up to 60 MHz without gaps, the Australian version has a couple of links installed to limit coverage to 30 kHz to 29.999 MHz, and 50 to 54 MHz for the Amateur band. The receiver is all-mode with USB, LSB, CW, RTTY, AM, S-AM (Synch AM detection) and FM. It has a fairly large orange backlight LCD display which has a fully adjustable brightness from zero up to very bright (for seeing in full daylight), it displays a signal strength meter from S1 up to +60 dB over S9 in bar graph, a large digit frequency display with readout to 1 Hz with fully selectable tuning steps of 1, 10 Hz, 0.1, 1,5, 6 25, 9, 10, 12.5, 20, 25 and 100 KHz and 1 MHz quick tuning step all controlled by the large tuning knob which is weighted with an adjustable clutch for very free spinning or tighter for no spin. It also has a lock button so that the frequency setting cannot be accidentally moved if the tuning knob is bumped

A single clock and timer on/off is also displayed but both frequency and clock cannot be displayed at the same time which is a bit of a disadvantage, the Sangean 909 displays both clock and frequency at the same time and also has the choice of displaying world time in most major cities around the world! The Kenwood 2000 is like the ICOM, you had to turn a knob to see the single clock but then the Kenwood has a small fluoro display (unlike the R5000 which displayed frequency and two clocks at the same time). The ICOM has a single one event timer (very easy to set) like the Kenwood R2000 (the Sangean has three timers). The display also shows, at the same time as frequency, the memory channel chosen and its status (programmed or empty), whether one is using VFO or memo at the time, as well as the operating mode and whatever else is being used at the time, DSP noise reduction or auto notch filter, pre-amps, attenuator, AGC, noise blanker, antenna 1 or 2, filter selection etc.

The R75 has a headphone socket on the front (which disconnects the in-built speaker or an extension speaker if one is used) and on the back there is a recorder remote switching socket, line out for recording, an RS 232C to connect to a PC so most things on the front panel can be controlled from a computer, a CI-V remote control for use with a transceiver, an external speaker socket, a mute control jack (for use with a transceiver), cheap plastic red and black push terminals for connecting a wire antenna and earth and a PL-259 socket for connecting a 50 Ohm antenna and finally an 11-16 V DC power socket.


A power button which you push momentarily for on and hold for two seconds to turn off A dual knob with the inner being for audio volume level, the outer for a dual purpose RF gain / squelch control
Two buttons to the right of that with the upper button for antenna 1 or 2 select as well as for entering a menu mode for selecting and setting of the RF gain / squelch The beep (every time a button is pressed) off or on
Another dual knob to the right of that is for the twin pass band tuning (or IF shift) The volume level of the beep
The S meter peak hold The beep level limit
Scan resume time S-AM mode of manual or auto
Scan speed CW pitch control from 300 to 900 Hz
AM noise blanker on or off Recorder remote on or off
Blank channel indication Speech option language and speed as well as for speech level
CI-V address to distinguish the type of accessory equipment (transceiver or receiver) Speech current time
CI-V baud rate RTTY mark frequency and shift width
CI-V transceiver LCD backlight brightness or off
CI-V with IC-735 Auto tuning step which selects how fast you want to change the frequency in the selected tuning step when spinning the tuning knob.

All the knobs and buttons are below the LCD display Another row of buttons below this right on the bottom left of the receiver is left to right...... preamp select for 1 or 2 or off, a 20 dB attenuator, a NR button which brings in the optional UT-106 DSP module (if it is installed) to give a selectable range of audio signal processing much the same as the bhi NES10-2 DSP speaker I have, ANF which is an auto notch filter which also only works if you have the optional UT-106 DSP module fitted, NB or noise blanker which works reasonably well at reducing or removing pulse type noise and an AGC switch for fast, slow or off.

To the right of the LCD display and above the large tuning knob are switches for AM, SSB, CW/RTTY & FM as well as for the filters you want to select (wide, medium or narrow) and when held can go into filter options if any optional filters are installed) and finally another button for selecting the tuning steps. To the right side of the radio at the top is a keypad with numbers for direct frequency entry and for setting the clock and timer as well as having alpha select of writing names to the stations locked into the memory bank which has 99 normal memories and two others for the scan edge feature. Below the keypad are buttons for selecting VFO or memory, MW for memory write, CLR for clearing a memory or if you make a mistake as well as for select memory on or off and for selecting the memory name, a button for scanning and below that is an up and a down button for selecting the memory channel, below that is the lock button for preventing the tuning knob from changing frequency

On the left top corner is the front facing speaker, it is only 50 mm in size with limited audio quality and volume and I personally would recommend using the built in speaker for portable or mobile use only if you did not want to carry an external speaker with you, it certainly does not sound as good as the 75 mm speaker in my Sangean 909 and of course the ICOM's audio frequency response has been tailored to suit communications and not hi-fi sound. Even with an external speaker, there are only two Watts at 8 Ohms of power available with a frequency response that does not extend much below 100 Hz or above 3 kHz.

I have to say though, adding an external speaker is the best way to go, even a large speaker (provided it is of high efficiency such as musical instrument or guitar speakers) will sound very good and especially if the wide IF filter is chosen. I personally have selected a small 3 inch speaker from an old two way radio as well as a larger 5 inch speaker that has come from an old National Panasonic portable radio and the 4 inch speaker which is part of a Tandy amplified speaker (CAT # 32-2040) but I have the amp disconnected because it was hissy, these three speakers are connected with switches to the external speaker out on the ICOM.

On the tape record or line out I use the bhi NES10-2 DSP speaker which is also switchable through the other 3 speakers, so, I have a lot of options to choose from as to which speaker will do the best job at the time.

It is quite easy to operate but not quite as easy to remember all the adjustments and functions that it has available, especially on the ones that are not used all that much and it requires the odd reference to the instruction manual when one forgets. The instruction manual in my opinion is written quite well but does not go far enough in explanation of how to operate some of the more advanced controls and features to get the most out of this rig when DXing. Anyone owning an R75 or is contemplating buying one should become a member of the excellent R75 group on Yahoo groups at com/group/ICOM75/ There are a lot of friendly people on there with experiences, tips and modifications to help everyone get the best out of their R75 and would also be of help to experienced DXers.

Once you become familiar with the way the R75 works, the wealth of tips and information regarding this receiver will allow you to gain maximum benefit from it, after all, a receiver is only as good as the operator who knows how to get the best out of it, this applies to any radio I love the ICOM R75, it is a powerful and wonderful receiver and once you get used to all the multi-function buttons and controls, there are a load of tools available to you to be able to dig out that difficult DX or just make listening to programs that much better. Using a better and larger external speaker, I find the audio very pleasant and it is very good for being able to understand what is being said even under very difficult noise and QRM conditions. Some of the buttons require to be held for two seconds to activate them, this might sound like a long time but it seems to happen a lot faster than two seconds to me, more like one second, so, using the controls and buttons is easy and convenient most of the time.

This receiver is very sensitive especially when switching in one or both of the pre-amps and if noise is a problem then switching in the DSP noise reduction which is adjustable to be able to get a good compromise between noise reduction and audio quality will work wonders in any mode, there is also the auto notch filter which works on AM or SSB and will track up to three heterodynes at once and reduce them or eliminate them. I also find that two DSP's are better than one, under very bad noise conditions, switching in the ICOM DSP and also using the DSP speaker I have is of a huge advantage, voices just seem to rise out of the noise like magic to a fairly well understood level. This receiver has Synch detection however and unfortunately, it is available only on AM. An awful lot of debate and opinions have been expressed about the way AM Synch detection is implemented in the R75, most say it just does not work and they cannot tell the difference, some say if works sometimes but is not very good. I have no past experience of Synch detection so I can only give my personal findings on this particular R75.

Apparently, and especially on slightly weaker signals, synch detection is suppose lo reduce fading and tries to hold the audio at a more constant level. When I switch to S-AM on the ICOM which I have set to manual mode, and, providing there is no co-channel splatter around, the synch detection certainly does improve the fading and during deep fades in particular, it hangs onto the voice or audio so that it can still be understood, it also tends to help on some moderately strong signals too. When I find the S-AM actually worsens what you are trying to listen to is when there is co-channel QRM in the form of splatter, it whistles and distorts and generally won't settle down. I do not know if this is what happens to other receivers using synch detection or not. Kiwa Electronics in the US have a mod kit out for the AGC and synch detection for the R75 (which come from the modifications on the R75 YahooGroups) for a low cost which improves the S-AM to working all the time so, I guess this is one mod I will have to do in the future.

There is also the usual noise blanker which reduces impulse noise such as from car ignition systems, the NB in the R75 seems to work reasonably well on most of those types of noise including someone switching on and off an appliance The twin pass band tuning which are dual knobs work a treat, especially when narrow fillers are selected and especially when using SSB or CW. This receiver is so stable that under severe QRM conditions, it is better to switch to SSB or CW when listening to an AM broadcast station, with 1 Hz tuning, one is able to zero beat easily and it stays locked on. You have the choice of LSB or USB to get away from the QRM or with a slightly different outcome, sometimes better than SSB is to switch to CW, you either have normal or reverse CW to choose from and you have a choice of beat frequency of between 300 to 900 Hz, this means that you have to tune up or down by say 300 Hz to zero beat and this gives even more of a chance of getting away from the offending QRM with addition of the pass band tuning. Not only that, but having twin pass band controls gives you the chance to effectively narrow the bandwidth even more than the standard narrow filters that are switched in, wonderful stuff.

An example of this was trying to tune into Radio Prague at 0800 UTC on 9880 - it was a weak signal and Swiss Radio via Julich was booming in on 9885 splattering all over 9880, the Sangean could not even reveal that there was a station on 9880, even with its Kiwa narrow filter switched in and tuning 2 kHz down, the splatter was all that could be heard. Turning to the ICOM and trying AM narrow and tuning down 1 kHz revealed Radio Prague, weak but with understandable audio. Switching to LSB and using the pass band tuning made the audio much better and reduced splatter even more, switching to CW reverse and tuning down to the maximum of 900 Hz to zero beat, then cleaning up a bit with the pass band tuning was even better again, it would have been easy to take notes of the program and send a reception report in.

With the Sangean ATS-909, I was unable to hear if Radio Prague was even on air or not, too much splatter completely wiped it out! I am sure that the Kenwood R2000 would have been able to detect Radio Prague on 9880 too but because its narrow filters are not as narrow as the ICOM's (2.7 kHz on the Kenwood as compared to 2.4 on the ICOM and narrower with the pass band tuning). I don't know if the splatter would be reduced enough to be able to understand the program, I no longer have the Kenwood to be able to do current comparisons with. Needless to say, tuning and listening to SSB is a breeze with the ICOM, being very stable helps a lot (and ICOM themselves have an option available which will make it even more stable!)

It is a triple conversion receiver (like the Kenwood R2000) with IF's at 69 MHz, 9 MHz and 455 kHz. With the stock standard IF filters, wide is 15 kHz at 9 MHz and 455 kHz, medium is 15 kHz at 9 MHz and 6 kHz at 455 kHz, narrow is 2.4 kHz at 9 MHz and 2.4 kHz at 455 kHz. These filters can be swapped around in the advanced filters settings menu to suit preference, there is also a large amount of different filter options available for your own choice The sensitivity is quoted as being 1.6 microVolt for 10dB S/N on AM with preamp 1 switched in and 0.16 microVolt for SSB under same conditions from 1.8 to 29.999 MHz. On MW, the R75 has been attenuated to reduce possible overload to shortwave, it is an easy mod to remove this and have the same sensitivity from 0.1 to 1.8 MHz as well Just to say a little about the RF gain control which also acts as the squelch, the 7 to 12 o'clock position is for RF gain with maximum gain at 12 o'clock, turning this control further to 1 o'clock then brings in the squelch control with receiver mute usually at 2 o'clock or more depending on noise.

The RF gain is like the one I used to use on the Drake R-4C in that as you reduce gain, it moves the signal strength meter upwards and whatever the S meter is set on then most noise on signals below this setting are then cut off, this way, the gain is reduced and also helps to cut out the noise which can be used to advantage, doing this on AM especially helps reduce fading and noise especially if S-AM can be used, makes some signals sound like a local station, very good for program listening as well as for certain types of DX especially by reducing the gain and turning off the AGC. In closing this review, I am extremely pleased with the performance of this stock ICOM R75 receiver, reminds me of the fun I had with the Kenwood R5000, the ICOM is a better receiver because it has more tricks up it's sleeve to reduce or eliminate noise and interference, has better audio than the R5000 (but then, so did the R2000!) and is a receiver that just sits there begging you to use it, and, so I do (not as often as I would like to though!)

I am very happy to have saved a fair amount of money by importing and to have the DSP unit included as well, I now have a receiver that will probably outlast me and shortwave as we know it, I presume the R75 will be able to pick up DRM with modification and probably computer software, I guess this will come to light as or is DRM ever going to be the future of shortwave. Best of DX to you all!

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Michael Stevenson