05 August 2023

Considering the IC-705?

Earlier today I watched a YouTube video by Ham Radio DX doing a 'should I buy' review of the IC-705. While the video is otherwise unremarkable, the author did mention a few things that clicked with me, and started me thinking.

I've owned my IC-705 for over two years, and really like it. Notice I say 'really like', not 'love'. There have always been a few things about the 705 - issues and shortcomings - that bother me. I've written about most of these issues on this blog, so I won't go back and beat the dead horse (just search on the blog for 'ic 705'). I'll just say that while the IC-705 stands alone in its class it still has some shortcomings.

Which leads us to this post, and the ideas spurred by the Ham Radio DX video. Here's my advice to folks considering buying an IC-705, or have bought an IC-705 and are struggling with some of its shortcomings:

The IC-705 should be considered as nothing more than the core of a larger radio system. It is minimally functional right out of the box, but requires a compliment of additional hardware and software to be considered a fully mature and capable system.

To be fair, this concept applies to virtually every other QRP rig I've owned or used, including the highly touted Elecraft KX series. However, Icom seems to specifically market the IC-705 as a complete, all-in-one rig that really doesn't need any add-ons. But out here in the real world, it does.

So, if you think about the IC-705 as being just the core of a larger 'system' you will be less likely to focus on its shortcomings and become disappointed. The other components of the system will effectively address the shortcomings and make it an incredibly capable best-in-class radio system, but at a cost.

What are these system components? Here's my minimum requirements list:

  • Environmental protection for the radio. Something like the Peovi or Windcamp cages or one of the dozens of 3D printed cages on offer on eBay. I particularly like the Peovi solution because of the available polycarbonate snap-on cover made by SideKX. ($285 current price for the Peovi)
  • Antenna tuner. Please, spare me the righteous talk about only using resonant antennas. This is the real world, and I like frequency agility. Compromised antennas are often a fact of life, particularly with lightweight portable radio setups. While just about any tuner will work with the 705, the one that works best in my experience is Icom's own AH-705. It's an incredible tuner, although somewhat big when compared to the radio itself. ($360 current street price)
  • Power. To get the full 10 watts out of the IC-705 you'll need an external power source. The good news is that it doesn't need much external power. Like a lot of 705 owners, I use a small 4.5 amp hour lithium-iron phosphate battery that will keep the 705 running at 10 watts for well over 8 hours. ($65 from Bioenno)
  • Software (and the computer to run it on). Software is only required if you run digital modes, but since most folks buy the 705 for its digital mode capabilities, some software is required. The only software package I consider absolutely essential is Icom's own RS-BA1 v.2 software. It is the remote server component of this package that allows you to control the radio via a wi-fi USB connection. Why not just use the USB port on the radio? Because Icom failed to properly shield the IC-705 and the radio is highly susceptible to RFI coming in over the USB connection. It is so bad that, when running digital modes like FT8, it overwhelms the radio on all bands. I wrote about this in an earlier post so I won't re-hash it here. Suffice to say, you'll need the RS-BA1 software. ($140 current street price)
These minimum system add-ons come to $850, in addition to the base cost of the IC-705. There are cheaper options on the market for things like the protective cage, tuner and battery, so consider this $850 a high-end estimate. It just reinforces that reality that most IC-705 owners will face at some time or another. You don't have to buy these at the same time you buy your radio, but to exploit the full capability of the 705, at some point you'll likely need to add them.

If you go into the IC-705 purchase knowing it takes these add-on items to reach what we called in the Army 'full mission capability' you are much less likely to be disappointed with your radio.

W8BYH out

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