Receiver Review: ICOM IC-R9000

IC-R9000

Year Introduced: 1985
Power: Mains, 12 V DC supply optional
Size: 424 x 150 x 365 mm
Weight: 20 kg
Price: US$6200 (see note below), CAN$9000, A$8500
Coverage: 0.1 - 1999.8 MHz continuous

Value Rating: starstarstarstarstar

Note there are regional variations of this receiver. Further, in the USA the IC-R9000 is no longer sold to the public due to laws that now prohibit monitoring cellular telephone calls. USA government agencies may still purchase the receiver.

At first glance, the ICOM ham radio transceiver called the IC-781 looks very similar to the R9000. The IC-781 been around much longer, but our tests show the R9000 is not just the 781 without the transmitter section. The focal point of the receiver is an orange coloured cathode ray tube. When you first switch on it shows the frequency the radio is tuned to, within a resolution of 10 Hz, and the tuning step that has been selected on the main rotary tuning knob. You can jump up the dial in 100 kHz steps at a time, or select any one of 8 other tuning steps down to the very fine 10 Hz increments. Icom uses the screen to simplify access to radios 1000 memory channels, its video-recorder style timer, and its extensive scanning system. Menu information on the screen gives you options, and you select them using the 6 function keys just underneath.

IC-R9000 picture

Whilst the menus on the screen are simple to use, the keyboard on the set is poorly designed. We asked several people to try it out, and most complained that because the keys are small and close together its easy to punch in a wrong number. No one uses a calculator by standing up vertically and trying to punch in numbers. Likewise, the R9000 would be easier to operate if a separate accessory was available so you could tap in the numbers on a horizontal keypad. The keyboard software is rather user unfriendly too.

The main reason for buying such a radio is the performance. On that score, the Icom 9000 excels. The background synthesizer noise is so low that you immediately notice how quiet some portions of the bands really are. The lower the background noise, the easier it is to pick out the weak signals. And with a dynamic range of 102 dB using the narrow SSB filter, this radio is not seriously desensitised by powerful radio signals operating near the frequency you are trying to listen to. We were somewhat surprised to find that the R9000 has no synchronous detection capability. Sensitivity throughout the coverage, not just on shortwave, is more than adequate. The four selectivity options switch in sharp or wide filters which offer good shape factors, enabling you to pick out signals you want.

Tuning is greatly enhanced by a spectrum analyser on the front panel. If you select this then you get a visual representation of 25 kHz either side of the frequency you are tuning. Transmitters are shown as a sharp peak. In a crowded broadcast band like 49 metres you get something that looks a mountain range that is constantly moving up and down as propagation affects the incoming signals. The resolution turns out to be adequate to spot weak signals next to strong ones. You simply twist the dial to hear what the small blip on the screen is actually saying. On higher frequencies you can widen the "window", otherwise the blips on the screen are too far apart. If you are someone who likes to bandscan, this device is brilliant, even more so because it remains activated while the radio is in the scanning mode.

1000 memories might seem too much for a shortwave listener. But on higher frequencies where signals are more spread out, logging marker stations is very useful. The radio can be controlled by a home computer if an optional interface is connected. There is suitable software on the market for you to set up very complex scanning procedure's if you want to. There's an option for a built in voice synthesizer to which you can use to announce frequencies on one channel of a stereo tape recorder, while the audio is registered on the other. The voice announces in English or Japanese.

The radio has a video output, so by connecting a computer monitor you can start searching for television signals.


This review was compiled independently. The Medium Wave Circle and Radio Netherlands has no financial connection with Icom, the manufacturer of this receiver.


Review by Jonathan Marks, Diana Janssen, & Willem Bos.

 

Introduction

This radio is rather rare these days. When it was introduced it had a price tag which varied a lot depending on where you purchased it. It was cheapest in the United States (approx US$4700), but considerably more expensive in Europe where the price was in the region of £4080. Despite the price tag, the R9000 has found a niche in the market, wedged between the top end of the semi-professional market and the "budget" end of the professional monitoring range of radios used by government installations and the military. There are also some executives who reach retirement age and get a lump sum from the insurance company. These people want something to last for the rest of their life and they want the best.

For most of us, the R9000 will remain out of reach, even in the second hand market. Nevertheless, judging from reader response, there is a strong interest in how well it performs. At first glance, an ICOM ham radio transceiver called the IC-781 looks very similar to the R9000. The IC-781 has been around much longer, but our tests showed the R9000 is not just the 781 without the transmitter section.

 

Coverage

Most versions of the Icom IC-R9000 cover from 100 kilohertz, continuously through long, medium, and shortwave, VHF and UHF frequencies until coverage stops at 1999.8 MHz. The French version does not include the FM broadcast band between 88 and 108 MHz to avoid a certain import duty. In Holland, though, the full coverage version is available, and that is what we tested.

The focal point of the receiver is an orange-coloured cathode ray tube. When you first switch on it shows the frequency the radio is tuned to, within a resolution of 10 Hz, and the tuning step that has been selected on the main rotary tuning knob. You can jump up the dial in 100 kHz steps at a time, or select any one of 8 other tuning steps down to the very fine 10 Hz increments. ICOM uses the screen to simplify access to the radio's 1000 memory channels, its video-recorder style timer, and its extensive scanning system. Menu information on the screen gives you options, and you select them using the 6 function keys just underneath.

Televisions and computer monitors are generally regarded as one of radios ardent enemies. Just put a radio near a TV and all you will hear is a continuous buzz. ICOM has therefore done a lot of screening to ensure the monitor inside this radio is doesn't radiate radio frequency noise. Indeed you can put a portable on top of the radio and not suffer any interference. There is some unavoidable radiation from the front of the display though, and that is not removed when the screen is put into a standby mode.

 

Keyboard Design

Whilst the menus on the screen are simple to use, the keyboard on the set is poorly designed. We asked several people to try it out, and most complained that because the keys are small and close together its easy to punch in a wrong number. Nobody uses a calculator by standing up vertically and trying to punch in numbers. Likewise, the R9000 would be easier to operate if a separate accessory were available so you could tap in the numbers on a horizontal keypad. The keyboard software is rather user unfriendly too. Instead of making a separate kilohertz and Megahertz button as other companies have done on cheap portables. So on medium wave for instance, you cannot just punch in 747 kHz. You have you put in 0.747 MHz. That takes some getting use to, especially if you want to jump from one part of the dial to another quickly.

 

Performance

But the main reason for buying such a radio is the performance. On that score, the ICOM IC-R9000 excels. The background synthesizer noise is so low that you immediately notice how quiet some portions of the bands really are. The lower the background noise, the easier it is to pick out the weak signals. And with a dynamic range of 102 dB using the narrow SSB filter, this radio is not seriously desensitised by powerful radio signals operating near the frequency you are trying to listen to. We were somewhat surprised to find that the R9000 has no synchronous detection capability. Sensitivity throughout the coverage, not just on shortwave, is more than adequate. Figures below are for 10 dB S+N/N (12 dB SINAD for both FM modes) given in microvolts (50 Ohms: 60% mod AM, 100% SSB, 1 kHz tone.)

Freq/Mode AM SSB/CW FM WIDE FM
0.1-0.5 3.1 0.5 - -
0.5-1.8 6.2 1.0 - -
1.8-30 1.1 0.15 - -
30-999 1.4 0.33 0.5 1.3
1000-1240 2.1 0.33 1.1 4.0
1240-1300 2.0 0.33 0.5 2.0
1300-1600 4.2 0.64 1.0 4.1
1600-1999 5.6 1.0 1.5 5.7

The four selectivity options switch in sharp or wide filters which offer good shape factors, enabling you to pick out signals you want.

Tuning is greatly enhanced by a spectrum analyser on the front panel. If you select this then you get a visual representation of 25 kHz either side of the frequency you are tuning. Transmitters are shown as a sharp peak. In a crowded broadcast band like 49 metres you get something that looks a mountain range that is constantly moving up and down as propagation affects the incoming signals. The resolution turns out to be adequate to spot weak signals next to strong ones. You simply twist the dial to hear what the small blip on the screen is actually saying. On higher frequencies you can widen the "window", otherwise the blips on the screen are too far apart. If you are someone who likes to bandscan, this device is brilliant, even more so because it remains activated while the radio is in the scanning mode.

1000 memories might seem too much for a shortwave listener. But on higher frequencies where signals are more spread out, logging marker stations is very useful. The radio can be controlled by a home computer if an optional interface is connected. There is suitable software on the market for you to set up very complex scanning procedure's if you want to. There's an option for a built in voice synthesizer to which you can use to announce frequencies on one channel of a stereo tape recorder, while the audio is registered on the other. The voice announces in English or Japanese.

The radio has a video output, so by connecting a computer monitor you can start searching for television signals. If you have an external radio teletype or packet converter, the text can also be fed back into the R9000 so press agency copy appears on the screen, although the text might be rather small for some older people. Ventilation of the radio is important, the back panel gets rather warm within half an hour of continuous use. As it weighs 20 kilos, it is not a good idea to carry the R9000 very far.

 

Conclusions

To summarise, the ICOM IC-R9000 represents truly state of the art technology at a price. If your interests are confined to below 30 MHz, it is probably difficult to justify. But if VHF and UHF are also desired, this radio is represents good value, as you would otherwise have to buy two types of communications receiver to get the same coverage as the 9000. It does offer noticeably better performance both above and below 30 MHz than sets costing one third the price, though it's not perfect. We found an internally generated spurious signal on 574 kHz that gave slight problems to medium wave reception in the vicinity of that channel. There were weak internally generated signals on 11670, 11755, 18543, 27815, but not strong enough to cause reception problems. The R9000 may be a sign of the sets to come in the late 90's, so far costs is the main limiting factor.

This review first appeared on the Radio Netherlands website.