Icom IC706 User Review
by T. Kirby 1996, 1997
I wrote the following article for publication in the journal of the First Class CW Operators’ Club (FOC), FOCUS, in 1996.
In case you have not seen the adverts, the IC706 is a miniature 11 band transceiver, covering all amateur bands between 1.8 and 200MHz (excluding 70MHz in the UK – more of this later). On all bands except 144MHz, the power output is 100 watts. On 144MHz, output is 10 watts. Since I already had a reasonable quality HF rig, I was not too concerned about the HF performance of the rig and expected this to be mediocre. I was more concerned about the VHF performance on 50 and 144MHz, where I enjoy DXing on CW and SSB. After some discussions on the HAMNET – Icom Support forum on Compuserve and an exchange of e-mail with Geoff, GJ4ICD I was satisfied that the VHF performance would satisfy my needs.
As many members will know, I had the opportunity to take a “permanent” job here in Toronto earlier on this year which I was pleased to accept. This necessitated a rethink of what radio equipment I should keep in the UK and what I should take to Canada. I had a considerable number of items “surplus” to requirements, so I decided to trade those in against an IC706.
When the rig arrived, I thought there had been some mistake, as the packaging and box were VERY small. But a flurry of bubble wrap later, I confirmed I was indeed the proud owner of an IC706 rather than the latest tri-band handheld. The rig measures just 167W x 58H x 200D mm and weighs 2.5kg. There are options to have filters installed. I decided on the 500Hz filter. If you fit this yourself, note that physical installation is not enough ! You also have to enable the filter in the software – not difficult, as long as you know to do this.
A number of reviews I had read of the rig complained of a noisy fan. I am not sure whether Icom addressed this issue, or whether the reviewers were being super sensitive. Either way, I can report that fan noise is barely noticeable on receive and “normal” on transmit.
My first tests of the rig were on 50 and 144MHz CW and SSB. With the preamp switched on, I found the receiver sensitive. I was able to hear the 144MHz GB3ANG beacon quite consistently over a path of some 450kms using a small 8el yagi mounted at about 30 feet. Reports on SSB were good – and the processor got particularly good reports, increasing average “talk power” without introducing any distortion. I then tried CW and was pleased to have good reports of the keying from local stations on both semi and full break-in. I tend to use semi break-in on this rig as the chattering relays annoys me a little when using full break-in. Mobile on 144MHz with a 1/4 wave, I was able to make some good SSB contacts from the Cotswolds area to North Wales and the Isle of Man (distances of 150 to 200 miles). Another entertaining “testing” QSO was a cross band between 50 and 70MHz with my friend Evan, G3CJ. I discovered one minor annoyance at this stage, it is not possible to transmit on one band and receive on another. Normally this would not be an issue, but would make life difficult if you wanted to use the RS-12 satellite (21MHz uplink and 29MHz down) for example.
Gradually I was finding my way around the rig. The “menu” system of selecting functions does take a little getting used to, but after some initial hesitancy I find it quite simple. Most often used functions (RF Output, CW Speed etc) are towards the top of the “menu structure” and can be accessed using a Quick Set feature. Yes, the rig has a built in keyer. It has dot and dash memories and I find the timing pleasant and easy to use. It is a little off-putting not to be able to control the CW speed without diving in to the “menu”. This is only a problem when you need to adjust the speed, perhaps either at the beginning or end of a QSO as someone of differing CW ability calls you. I am beginning to perfect the technique of sending with right hand whilst pressing buttons and selecting options with my left. It’s not easy, I assure you ! I do think that some people might find the menu system confusing, but if you are used to computers – you’ll have no bother.
A number of friends were keen to see the IC706 and since I don’t have any real decent HF antennas at present, this afforded some opportunities to try the rig in some challenging conditions. Many of you will be familiar with the mega-station at VE3EJ. John has been kind enough to invite me to his house on a number of occasions and one day I took the IC706 for us to play with. John immediately suggested we try it on 7MHz. With a full-size beam at 175 feet, I was concerned that this would be embarrassing. Not at all ! Whereas with my poor antennas at home, I can generally operate on HF with the preamp selected, this HAD to be turned off to prevent overloading. However, with the preamp switched out and the CW filter selected, the rig was soon pulling in Europeans and the occasional Asiatic station. We then hooked up some rudimentary switching so that we could compare the ‘706 with John’s IC765. To our enormous surprise, the 706 put up a great show and there was nothing that we could hear on the 765 that we couldn’t on the 706. We both had a sneaking suspicion that the 706 might even have been better – but there certainly wasn’t much in it. I don’t think the ergonomics of the rig commend it as a contest radio – BUT if you find yourself in some DX hot-spot with a serious pile-up, you can feel confident that the 706 will not let you down.
On the higher bands, performance is good too. I enjoy the Quick Split function. If a dx station is working up a couple or so, you can hit the Split button and your second VFO will be placed a user defined offset, up or down (eg +3kHz). This saves a second or so from conventional arrangements. In a pile-up situation you can do all the usual good stuff like reverse the VFOs quickly so that you can listen on your transmit frequency and find out what’s happening.
I was not able to try the 50MHz DX performance until I got to Canada and the Sporadic E season got underway. In some casual operating this summer I have worked around 100 grid squares, including the West Coast and Caribbean using the IC706 and a small whip antenna on the balcony of the apartment here in downtown Toronto. So if you fancy trying out six metres this could be a great way to do it. You’d be surprised at the FOC members that you find there too !
In the UK, there is also 70MHz to be considered. The rig does not have transmit on that band (although several people are reported to have modified the rig in the UK), but I was keen to see how it performed on receive. Derek, G3NKS kindly allowed me to connect the rig to his 4m beam in Cheltenham. Performance was good, slightly inferior, I felt to Derek’s transverter and HF rig combo. But we were still able to hear the 70MHz version of GB3ANG consistently and a number of other closer beacons. If transmit mods do become widely available for the rig, this could revolutionise four metre activity in the UK. It also affords some possibilities for good crossband QSOs during, perhaps Es openings or even the peak of Cycle 23 !
The rig has general coverage receive up to 200MHz. Above 150MHz I have not heard a single station – even the weather station on the CN tower some 3 miles away (I can see the tower from my apartment, dammit!). Common “wisdom” on the Internet suggests that there is a problem with the way some of the filters are wired causing out of band VHF performance to be severely impared. I haven’t pursued this as yet – but it would be nice to be able to use the rig to listen to the Aircraft and Marine bands, for example. Wide band FM is available, so you can listen to your favourite FM station in Band II if you get bored of listening to amateurs! At HF, general coverage works just fine – though I have tried little other than listening to the BBC World Service in the evenings here.
In summary then, I am delighted with the rig. It exceeds my expectations of performance at HF and VHF. I believe it will satisfy the needs of many amateurs as a very small, yet high-performance radio. The menu to control the rig’s functions will not be intuitive to everyone – so try to play with a rig before you buy to see how you feel. My guess is that most people will get used to it. It’s a small price to pay for the convenience of having so much powerful functionality in a small package. I was disappointed with the extended receive performance at VHF, but feel sure that this can be addressed – so that the rig will work outside the amateur bands. That was hardly the reason I bought the rig in the first place. And hopefully, you’ll get a chance to hear my 706 on the air from some interesting location before long !
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