Review and Commentary on the ICOM IC-706mkII(G)
By Matt Erickson KK5DR
July 4, 1999
Review unit serial number; 02257
Prelude; You may have read my review on the IC-756, if not, please do. I welcome your responses to it, and this one. To receive the review on the IC-756, e-mail your request to; firstname.lastname@example.org
I decided to buy a IC-706mkII(G) because of the new, added features, and an established "track- record" of performance of its older versions. Here forward called the 706G in this review.
It has been my personal policy, never to buy a new rig, the first year after its release. The 706G is the third generation of its kind, so I felt it is safe to buy it as soon as it hits the open market. All the problems found in the rigís previous versions, "should" have been fixed by now.
Iíll use my 756 as a benchmark standard for the 706G, also, my experience with numerous other rigs of many makes. You might say, this would be an unfair comparison, but, it is mostly for receiver performance that I use these benchmarks. I have to start somewhere.
I will avoid explaining the obvious functions & controls on the rigs, and concentrate on the operation, rather than what each button or knob does. To many reviews I have seen in the past, have spent far to much time explaining "button function," and "knob settings." This review will be about the whole experience from start to finish.
I will judge the 706G on its own merits for most other aspects in this review.
THIS REVIEW vs. "THE LEAGUE"
Once again, the type of reviews I do are more geared toward the average ham, who does not have access to high tech lab test equipment, and for whom the results of such testing, means little.
Over the past 10 years, I have read all the League reviews, and I have found a disturbing pattern, which Iím sure, Iím not the only one who has noticed. The pattern I see, is that those manufacturers who donít purchase large amounts of advertising space in "The Magazine," tend to get indifferent, or less than shining reviews on the equipment reviewed. Also, those companies that purchase large amounts of advertising space in "The Magazine," and have the equipment reviewed and tested by the League lab, have the test parameters altered by the lab techs, ever so slightly, to make the results appear more favorable for that equipment.
Itís time to demand "standardized" parameters, for lab test on reviewed equipment, or not submit the results at all.
Itís time to demand that all testing & reviews be done by "outside" RF labs, and reviewed by "non-League" affiliated persons, to remove any bias.
Itís time to print the review un-edited, good or bad
If the League cannot do this, itís time for them to get out of the product review "business."
Time to order
May 5, Friday
I call my dealer, whom Iíve been buying from for years. I ask if he has the new 706G in stock, yes, is the answer. Whatís my "cash" price(I get abit better prices, as a long time cash customer), $----, OK, great, Iíll send you my check, should be there by Monday, with special instructions, on shipment, & options.
May 12, Wensday
I call the dealer to verify they have received my check, & the rig is ready for shipping. I talk to the owner, who says that ICOM have ordered them to return all the 706Gís they have in stock, to Bellveue, Wash. It seems that ICOM Japan is upgrading the 706G with some "enhancements," of which my dealer will not explain, but he says that they will be well worth the wait till the end of the month, for shipment direct from Japan.
What could they be up to? What upgrades would warrant a "recall" of all stocked units, for replacement, with "enhanced" versions. Was there a "problem," with the units sold before the dealer recall?
My dealer gave me this information about the "recall," only if I told no one till after the end of the month. If the persons sold the units between release, and re-release, were to know about the "recall," it could cause ICOM, a large loss, in free updates on those units.
The units returned to Bellevue, will be returned to Japan, where they will be upgraded, repackaged, and assigned new serial numbers. So, there should be a "glitch," in the normal ICOM serial number sequence. Those of you unlucky enough to have received your 706G early in the release, prior to the "recall," will have to try to get your rig updated on your own. It must be a fairly expensive upgrade, if ICOM fears that you guys will want your rigs updated for free.
Update, June 1
I call my dealer to get the current status of my order. I tells me that the shipment was to be sent out from Japan via Air freight. He said that he had 5 units that were "ear-marked" for his customers that have been waiting the longest, of which Iím one. My dealer said the shipment from Japan was 350 units, with at least 500 people waiting for their order. ICOM is scrambling to get these units back to the dealers, to fill the orders.
The REAL story, June 12
I went to HAMCOM in Arlington,Tx. to pick-up some used ICOM gear. While I was there I thought I would talk to the people at the ICOM booth, trying to get the true story on the 706G.
The young woman (who shall remain nameless), told me that the real reason ICOM had recalled the 706G, was a "problem" with the boards, and she would not or could not explain further. She also said that there was an air-freight shipment to fill orders that were waiting at dealers. She did not know if there would be a second air-freight shipment, and that the main shipment of Bellevue, Wash. stock was scheduled for shipping at the end of June(by boat).
Why am I tell you all this? Because, there are at least 350+ buyers waiting for their orders too. I donít know what "they" were told the reason was for the delay. Maybe this will help them understand.
So, the "enhancement" story, may have been a total fabrication by the dealer or abit of "dis-information" sent down from ICOM, or both.
FCC compliance theory
The members of the ICOM users net have been informed of the preceding events, and it was the conclusion of the net, that a more likely reason for the 706G recall, was that of a problem with FCC compliance. This theory is supported be that fact that one member of the net, recently went to Japan on business, and he said that all radio shops there had no shortage of 706Gís, during the recall time period. Other ICOM rigs have compliance problems too.
Last call, June 14
I called the dealer today, fully intending to "rip-em-a-new-one." If he didnít have the rig, or a damn good answer why not, I was going to cancel the order and get a FT-100. But, he said it was there, and would be sent out today. That was close.
The Arrival, June 15
Itís finally here! Only 40 days from order placement, to receiving, WAY TO GO ICOM !! (he says sarcastically)
Outside & Inside
The appearance of the outside is clean and smooth, with well rounded corners. Much like itís "big brother", the 756, the 706G has a nice, hard, flat finish, possibly oven baked enamel, or powder coat paint. the color is flat black, and the front panel is dark charcoal color.
The display is green backlite LCD, very good for mobile visibility in any light conditions.
The body of the 706G is basically a single large heat sink, very heavy for itís size. After running the rig for awhile, it gets very warm too. Even during RX only, the body of the rig gets quite warm.
The rig has a very high tech look to it, and is about the same size and weight as a car CD player.
With the cover off the rig, you see nothing but, Surface Mount Technology "SMT". This is what all rigs will soon be, 100% SMT. High tech, very fine construction. The circuit boards are like jeweled plates, excellent !
You might think that setting up the 706G for itís first time on the air would be hard, but itís as easy as pressing the power button, and talking. Some rigs take a lot of "tweaking", of the controls and the menu settings to get it to sound good on the air. The 706G needs little to no adjustment. I turned on my 706G after getting it hooked up, and didnít change any of the factory default settings. The initial reports on the transmit audio, were very good. The stock mic (HM-103), has a very good sound on SSB, and FM.
I did lower the mic gain a few numbers, and the compression level was lowered very slightly. This gives me the best flexibility, when switching bands & modes.
There is a adjustment for TX audio, Carrier Offset, some people may need to change it, to compensate for variations in their voice. I tried a few offset changes but found that the "0" default setting was about as good as I needed. Also, the rig was right on freq., straight out of the box, no calibration needed.
How it sounds
At home in base operation I disliked the sound of the on board speaker, itís frequency response is abit high, & harsh, an outboard speaker fixed that. In mobile use the built-in speaker is very good, with road noise and engine noise present, itís high freq. response is great, & not much AF gain is needed to be heard easy. Overall receive sound is smooth, clean & articulate. Whether on SSB or FM, the receiver is very clear.
A few nice items
The "quick reference" sheet is a handy help in learning the sequence of menu operations.
One of the "cool" items that caught my eyes, is the "RPTR Tone Scan", that lets you "grab" a "PL" tone out of the air, while listening to the input of a repeater that is in use with PL tones on. "COOL!"
I have a few gripes about ICOM, mainly the high cost of optional items, $61 for the 706 separation cable, PLEASE ! ICOM optional filters have some of the highest prices in the amateur market! I guess this area is where ICOM makes most of the profit.
Bandscope & SWR graph
These features are of such low resolution, and limited ability, as to make them a nearly useless item, and of questionable value. Clearly a marketing "gimmick". I feel there is no need to examine these items any further. A waste of time and money, both here and in the rig.
The noise blanker, on the 706G, removes about 95% of the ignition noise in my mobile. There is little or no distortion of the receive audio with the NB on. Compared to NBís on older rigs, this one is very effective, with minimal signal degradation.
HF 100 watts !
On HF, the 706G has a TX full power output of a very "stiff" 100 watts, on SSB. It takes very little mic gain to drive this rig to full output, unlike some other rigs that most be driven "hard", to get a sickly 80-90 watts output. This little rig packs a stiff "wallop".
The VFO tuning uses ICOMís version of what most hams know as "fuzzy-logic", this is becoming a standard feature in modern rigs. This feature changes the speed or size of the tuning steps in relation to the speed of which the VFO knob is turned, faster increases the step size, slower decreases the step size.
100 watts output on 6mtrs too. Reports I received on this band were good, about the same as HF reports. The 706G was right on freq., very stable, and sensitive. I rate it as an excellent 6 mtr all mode.
My review unit reached an output of 60+ watts, the meter I used to measure power out with has a max of 60 watts, but the 706G, "pegged" the meter, so, 60+ is all I can guess at output level. Max power level can be reduced by an internal varible resistor.
The 706G is rated at 20 watts output, and my unit measured 20 watts even. Audio reports were excellent, but donít use the DSP while on FM, it causes some weird audio distortions on receive audio.
So, you bought a new 706mkII(G), but have no money left to buy the PW-1 ? All you have is an old "worn-out" IC-2KL, AT-500. Well, ICOM has made the 706G , "Backwards compatible" with the older ICOM accessories, youíll need (2) OPC cables, the OPC-118 & the OPC-599. If you are abit of a builder or "solder monkey", you can do without the OPC-599, simply use the 13 pin pigtail supplied with the 706G. You will need a 7 & 8 pin female DIN plugs, wire them to the proper wires from the 13 pin pigtail. This will allow you to operate full auto with the 706G & the IC-2KL & the AT-500. I did this to my unit, and it worked great, but the 706G has a different ALC setting from my 756, no big deal.
A round of applause for ICOM on this one.
The tuning ranges of the review unit were as follows; Lower limit is 30khz, upper limit is 470mhz. The unit tunes continuously from 30khz to 199mhz, no gaps. Then the tuning jumps to 400mhz, tuning up to 470mhz.
Birdies, Birdies everywhere !
I tested the unit for "birdies", in the following manner; I turned off all other electronic equipment(computers, radios,etc.), I put a 50 ohm 1-500mhz dummy load on the 706G, with preamp on, and in SSB mode. I then began tuning from 1.8mhz upward. I found several types of noise, that I will explain each.
(1)"Birdies", a steady tone, like a cw signal, of unchanging strength, usually from an IF leak, or oscillator signal with in the rig itself, heard in itís own receiver.
(2) CPU noise, generated by the rigs own CPU, sounds like a buzz, sweeping rasp, sometimes with regular clicks, in a cyclic manner.
(3)VFO encoder noise, generated by the rigs tuning encoder pluses & freq. synthesizer. These noises are only present while the VFO knob is being turned.
(4)IF noise, usually heard on 455khz & 9mhz, & are usually isolated to the fundamental IF freqs.
The following list are the "birdies", and other noises I found in the review units receiver;
(These may be unique to this rig, and may or may not be found in other rigs of the same model)
2.940 MHZ VFO encoder noise centered in this area.
3.313 very weak VFO encoder noise.
4.917 birdie below S-0
7.379 CPU noise
7.727 CPU noise
9.010 IF birdie
10.503 strong birdie
19.446 weak birdie
19.500 weak birdie
19.663 strong birdie
19.993 weak birdie
20.991 weak birdie
22.121 CPU noise
24.505 very weak birdie
30.000 very strong birdie S-1
69.002 Strongest birdie found S-7 on SSB, full scale on FM
140.000mhz very weak birdie
430.510 mhz "
This list could go on much longer, there were more, but I didnít feel it was needed, the birdies and other noise I found were not audible when a antenna was connected.
Most all these noises were outside the amateur bands, so if your not a SWL, youíll never know they are there. For the serious SWL though, this might not be the rig for you.
During field day operations some other noises were discovered. It was apparent that the 706Gís CPU was generating some spurious noise in a near by VHF receiver, while the 706G was not transmitting, when the 706G was turned off, the noise disappeared from the VHF receiver.
The 706G also generated composite "phase noise",on transmit, in the other receivers in the area, so, the unit was turned off for the rest of field day duration. The other transceivers then operated simiutaniously without interfering with each other.
Menus, there are four, with a number of settings in each, the most used ones are Q , quick menu, with RF power, mic gain , vox settings , carrier offset, and rptr tones. CW keyer options. The M, menu with VFO options, meter, AGC, NB, VOX, & compressor settings.
The S, menu has the memory, scan, band stack register, & DSP settings.
There is an INITIAL menu with setting that are less often changed, and can be configured to suit an operators personal preferences. There are 37 settings in this menu.
Most of the menus are mode sensitive, and change to suit the modes needs.
The RF power settings have a memory, and are band specific, so, you can have the HF power level set at full 100 watts out, and 2mtrs set to half or anywhere you want, and you donít need to change it when going back and forth from one band to another, once set the RF power doesnít have to be changed, it stays where it was set for that band. If you need to change the maximum power output setting(i.e. to drive a low drive amp), there are varible pots. inside the rig, for HF, VHF, & UHF. Each is shown in the back of the manual. HF QRP, is about 2 watts, on SSB or CW.
Thanks for the memories
All the 706Gís memories are tunable, and there are Band Stacking, Register memories too, so this makes the rig very versatile in getting the freq. you want, and storing your favorites.
The tuning steps are programmable, with steps from .01, 0.1, 1, 5, 9, 10, 12.5, 15, 15, 20, & 100khz,
The 1hz digit can be turned on or off, when itís enabled. There is also a 1 mhz step available too.
Sub dial & shift
This knob has multi-functions, memory channel, and RIT on the same knob switched by a button above the knob.
The outer ring on sub-dial, is a IF shift control when turned the sub-display automatically changes to a graphic display of the shifting IF, when the tuning is finished, the display goes back to normal display mode. All automatic. The sub-display also switches to RIT offset when the RIT is engaged, and retains the last setting, weather on or off.
A digital LCD bar graph, with a selectable peak hold option. Also, displays ALC, power out, & SWR. I found the peak hold to be very useful.
The 706G is sold with DSP as standard equipment. This is a AF level DSP, that performs much like an outboard audio DSP unit, but it has a up-to-date program running it, and seems to work abit better than the outboard units do.
While using the DSP, I found that the ANF or Automatic Notch Filter, worked very well, and never heard a heterodyne with it on. The NR, or Noise Reduction, seemed to work well on static noise, but I had to set the level to a lower setting.
I can see that DSP is going to be a standard feature on all rigs from now on, and with continued upgrades to their performance.
The 706G has a variable adjustment on compression level, I turned the level down only slightly from itís factory default setting. The "on air" reports were, that it sounded very clean and clear, and the compression gave just enough extra talk power to get over the noise.
My advise on speech compression, is, less is better, use the minimum amount needed to get through the noise. To much, makes the problem worse.
In CW mode, there are a number of setting options, an OP. can use straight key, paddles, bug, or even use the mic up-down buttons to send CW.
semi-brk-in, & full brk-in keying is standard. Brk-in delay setting are separate from the VOX delay. CW (R), or reverse CW is a option for those who wish to use that method.
CW pitch is also adjustable from 300-900hz. CW weight ratio is adjustable on a menu, as well as keyer speed.
In RTTY mode, one can use either AFSK, or true FSK, which is the preferred method. AFSK is done through the mic connector from the TNC, or via the 13 pin DIN, or phono jack on the rear panel for FSK. For FSK, the tones and shift are adjustable.
For 1200 or 9600bps packet, the 6 pin "mouse type" DIN plug on the back panel is used.
There is a CAL setting for adjusting the audio level to the correct level from the TNC.
The 706G can use the UT-102 voice board, to announce the freq. & S-meter level, the same unit is used in the 756.
There are three slots for optional filters, these are plug-in type , and are easy to install.
Sensitivity & Selectivity
The 706G is a very sensitive receiver, as good as most others on the market currently, itís also a very quiet, smooth receiver. Selectivity is good, and has a nice sound. The rig comes standard with an FL-272 SSB filter installed, at 2.4khz width. During normal band conditions with lower crowding, it gives good filtering, & good audio. During crowded, noisy band conditions, a narrow filter would be needed, the IF shift goes along way to helping here. The exact width of the optional SSB, or CW filter is a personal preference.
If your expecting "big rig", performance out of this little rig, you might be disappointed with the 706G. But, given allowances, it performs well, and does a great many things, for itís small size.
Right rig ?
Is the 706G the right rig for you? That depends what you want to do. If your one of us, who has a small vehicle, with limited space for equipment, then the 706G is a good choice. It can take the place of several mono-band rigs. The remotable control head can save even more space. If your thinking of the backpacking operation with the 706G, I might tell you that the rigs power consumption, mainly on receive (1.8amps), would require a rather large battery for more than a few hours of operation in a field location. I used a 205 AH marine battery on the 706G for 5 days of operation, for a few hours each day, before the battery needed charging, but a 205AH battery would not be very good for "backpacking".
I use my 706G in mobile operation, to cover all the bands I use in the mobile. I also use the rig as a back-up for my HF base rig and VHF/UHF HT. If I didnít have a main HF base rig, I donít think the 706G would be it, it is much better suited for mobile/portable use.
ICOM engineers have done allot with the 706G, but a rig this small, that does this much is going to have some problems & design restrictions. NO RIG IS PERFECT! And the 706G is not perfect. It does allot, and doesnít cost more than a new car, so that is a plus on itís side. The rig is a astiticly pleasing unit, a handsome radio, that might even get the approval of a XYL that thinks most rigs are ugly.
What the 706G canít do, is not nearly as apparent as what it can do, so over looking itís short-comings, itís a great little rig, very handy.
When the "crap-hits-the-fan", this rig could be your entire communication system in one box, or an enjoyable time passing item on a long car trip.
Iím glad I bought one, and waited to finally get it. Itís going to do many things, and go many places with me.
I have not written this review to convince you to buy one, but to inform and educate others, with my opinions & observations on this rig.
Now that you have read this, you can use your own judgment, & make your choices.
To find out more about the rig, and hear the opinions of others, listen, and or check into the ICOM users net, on 14.317mhz, Sundays @ 1700Z.
Best of 73 de Matt, KK5DR
Matthew A. Erickson KK5DR
RRT. 1 Box 146-B
Paige, Tx. 78659