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Icom IC9700 Background Icom IC9700 RADIO VK3FS
The IC-9700, a robust radio with some growing pains

IC-9700 First Impressions

There’s been a lot of talk both online and on air surrounding the latest radio to join the Icom lineup. The IC-7900 is a much anticipated replacement to the IC-910. It’s an SDR radio with 2m, 70cm, and 23cm. It also comes with a premium price tag.

The radio is very well built. It has a very good receiver(s), and connects to the shack PC with little effort, but see the notes below. This page is not the place for specs, they can be found on the Icom page, but more for my obseration and experiences in using the IC-9700.

 

The main reason I purchased the radio is for contesting. As a fan of the VK VHF/UHF contents, I think this radio would be a great addition to the shack. It’s quiet and very easy to use. There are one or two operational processes to get your head around but the RF power, receiver sensitivity, waterfall and computer control is perfect for field days. Check out my thoughts after 6 months of use.

A dynamic list of likes and dislikes

Likes

  • Radio pofile – small and compact
  • A sizeable, easily read touchscreen display
  • A reasonable speaker with good audio
  • CIV, Ethernet and USB control
  • Two amazing receivers – very sensitive with a waterfall
  • No general coverage receiver
  • 100w on 2, 75w on 70cm and 10w on 23cm
  • Fully optioned with Dstar (If that’s your thing)
  • Customiseable waterfall
  • USB audio in and out of the radio
  • Radio data programing format very similar to other Icom radios
  • Two speed VFO
  • Waterfall bandwidth is programable and easily configured (sensitivity and colours)

 

Dislikes

  • Supplied microphone.
IC-9700 3FS

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Resources

IC-9700 Product brochure

IC-9700 Operation Manual

Icom IC-9700 Firmware Updates version 1.24 This may not be the latest version

CS-9700 Computer controlling software (Free download for the IC-9700)

USB driver for IC-9700

At the time of writing, firmware 1.13 was the latest firmware version which added much needed radio stability. Please chech the Icom Global site for up to date drivers.

To buy or not to buy…

Don’t buy this radio if you only want to work 2m and 70cm FM even D-Star. There are cheaper options available. Buy this radio if SSB on 2, 70 and 23cm interests you. It’s built for contesters, satellite users and those who enjoy tropo and Sporadic E openings. If that’s your interest, you’re going to love this radio.

OmniRig, VKCL and the IC-9700

VKCL is an acronym for VK Contest Logger. It’s written by Mike Subocz, VK3AVV. The latest version of VKCL can be downloaded from Mike’s website.

OmniRig is a go-between program that goes between your IC-9700 and VKCL. There are two versions of OmniRig. At the time of writing, the one you want is OmniRig V1.19 which you can download from the DX Atlas Website. Version 2+ is not compatable with VKCL and will not work. I’ve confirmed this with Mike.

As the IC-9700 was released AFTER OmniRig 1.19, you’ll need an ini file which needs to be copied into the OmniRig installation folder on your hard drive. Download the ini file here, unzip it and copy the IC-9700.ini to c:/programs (x86)/Afreet/OmniRig/Rigs. You’ll see this folder after you’ve installed OmniRig 1.19. Now you can select IC-9700 in the Rig type drop down.

Assuming you’ve left the C-IV inteface of your IC-9700 at A2, the factory default, you can now open OmniRig and configure the port. You can check this on your radio by going to Menu ->Set->Connectors->CI-V and scroll to CI-V Address. It should be A2h.

OmniRig IC-9700 setting

Next, set your port number and baud rate according to your system. My IC-9700 is on Com 7, and the speed I communicate to the radio is 19200. Your port will most likely differ.

Now start VKCL and follow Mike’s instructions to get VKCL to talk to OmniRig. I run two radios and when you have yours working, you should see your rig or rigs in the radio panel on the top left hand corner of the screen.

VKCL radio interface

When contesting, you’ll have to select the radio you’re using with the radio buttons, but there’s two settings you need to confirm in the IC-9700. Firstly, if it’s not enabled, turn the CI-V DATA Echo Back to ON, as well as CI-V USB Port set to Link to [REMOTE]. Now when you change bands in the top VFO on the IC-9700, VKCL will automatically switch bands in the contact summary panel for you.

If you use Icom’s companion IC-9700 software, it would pay to save an image of your radio after you’ve made the changes above. Otherwise you’ll have to do it all again if you restore an image you made prior, which isn’t ideal moments before a contest.

These notes have been compiled with VKCL version 4.8 which Mike published on June 4, 2019. My IC-9700 has firmware version 1.13. – September 19

Band Stacking on the IC-9700
How to Band Stack on the IC-9700
  • Firstly, get the radio, either via VFO or memory on the first frequency and mode you want to band stack.
  • Press the MHZ (144) on the touch screen to open up the band stacking register.
  • Assume that the frequency you have selected in memory or VFO is in the highlighted window. (Top Left where mine says 144.100 USB) It won’t show that. It maybe the default factory setting.
  • Select the next button to the right, not the one where you want it to go, and the radio will return to the operational VFO or memory screen.
  • Now select or dial up the VFO or memory channel for the middle or second 2m register.
  • Press the MHZ (144) again on the touch screen to open up the band stacking register again.
  • You should see the first register has been set to your first frequency.
  • Select the third stack for two meters and the radio will again return to operational mode.
  • Again, select or dial up the VFO or memory channel for the right or third 2m register in the stack.
  • Press the MHZ (144) again on the touch screen to open up the band stacking register.
  • The second register should now be correct.
  • Now select the 1st register as if to go back to 144.100 MHz

 

That should be it. Every time you press the MHz (144/432/1296 ) in the operational screen, you’ll open up the band stack to see the three loaded frequencies.

If you say press the 2nd register, you’ll go to that frequency, but as son as you adjust the operational frequency, that will automatically become the band stack frequency for that register.

 

Repeat the same method for the other bands.

Getting the band stacking on the IC-9700 is some what of a dark art, especially for first time users of the radio because you can’t really see what you’re doing! Even the Icom manual doesn’t shed much light on this, and to add an extra level of frustration, you can’t even program the band stacking from the CS-9700 sotware! Icom, if you’re reading this, please make this editable in the software.

IC-9100 Band Stacking Register
Save your radio settings for easy recall

Now that you’ve mastered the dark arts of IC-9700 band stack, save your efforts to the SD card or the CS-9700 software. As mentioned, you can’t actually edit the band stacking frequencies in software, but this way, to resore all 9 of your favourite frequencies to the band stack, simply resore the backup or snapshot to the radio.

The good news – once you’ve done this a few times, you’ll get the hang of it. Just ask Robert VK2ACR.

First trip to Icom Australia for repair

In mid January 2020 I had been using the IC-9700 for about 6 months when it developed its first fault which needed the attention of Icom’s service department. The radio had had almost daily use. It was running firmware version 1.21 and up until now had been running flawlessly.

The Fault

On powering up the radio, the 9700 would work as expected. After a random period of time, anywhere between 15 seconds and one minute, the receiver would just stop. There was a telltale pop in audio as the radio fell silent. The waterfall also froze. I could repeat this every time I powered up the 9700, but each time the time until radio silence would be a little different. At no stage either before or after the receiver or transmitter failed (this happened simultaneously) did I lose control of the radio. All controls remained functional as you’d expect them to work.

My first thought was that it may be a firmware related issue and that the radio needs a reset. I performed a full factory reset which didn’t resolve the issue. My next option was to roll back the radio to firmware 1.20, the previous version, then roll forward to the current version, 1.21 again. The updates were both successful and happened without any errors. The fault persisted.

This was the first fault like this that I’d heard of. Andrew, VK3LTL, had a supply rail problem a few months into his radio. This also had to be fixed by Icom Australia.

The Resolution

Well, having been at Icom’s service department in Clayton for only 9 days – not bad, I picked up the IC-9700 and restored it to the last saved settings I had. All good! The radio function exactly as it did before going faulty. In the repair complete notification from Icom Australia, the said

Disassembled unit, thoroughly inspected, tested and found that main board is faulty. Replaced and realigned. Transciever all OK.

I spoke to the tech who did the repair asking if there were any more details he could shed on the fault. He said that he located the faulty board and swapped it out for a new one.

Extended Icom Australia 5 Year Warranty

One thing I learnt is that you need to fill out Icom’s online warranty page to receive the 5 year warranty. This was drawn to my attention in an email from their service department. I’m guessing if you don’t apply for the warranty, you only get the statutory one year.

It’s also worth noting that the extended warranty is not transferable. So if you sell it 3 years after you bought it, the next owner does not get the remaining 2 years of warranty.

IC-9700 service resolution
What’s all this talk about instability?

Netting the IC-9700 with an external 10MHz oscillator

An added bonus…

My IC-9100, which also has the 23cm module in it, has the ability to tune but does not have a 10MHz input. Tuning VK3RXX on both the 9700 and the 9100 allows you to manually shift the reference frequency on the 9100 for a zero audio beat with the 9700.

I recently hooked up my 10MHz GPS locked reference oscillator to my IC-9700, more so out of curiosity, but was quite surprised to see how far off frequency the radio was at 23cm. Using VK3RXX as a 23cm reference, I netted to the 10MHz oscilator and you can see and hear the results in the video.

10MHz GPS Oscillator
BG7TBL 10MHz GPS Oscillator

Some of the original problems (pre firware version 1.11) with the radio were associated with short term stability. The drift rate was 10Hz per second at 1296 MHz which leads to frequency variations. The breeze from the fan turning on and off caused rapid thermal variations of up to 300Hz in a short period.

What’s the verdict post v1.11 firmware release?

99% of people will be fine with the internal firmware. Just keep shack at a constant temperature. – Glen VK1XX

There was a lot of talk about frequency instability with the IC-9700. Icom, to their credit, have made remarkable inroads to fixing this problem with firmware version 1.11. There’s still room for further improvement though.

At the 2019 GippsTech radio convention, Glen VK1XX made a very detailed and humorous presentation about firmware version 1.11. His observations are as follows:

 

  • Holds the radio to +/- 5e-09 at 1296
  • Suitable for all commn applications to 432 MHz
  • OK for SSB, CW, WSJT at 1296 MHz
  • Marginal for WSPR at 1296 MHz
  • OK for stable (temperature) environments
  • Good job by Icom to fix a bad start.

10 MHz locking on the rear panel?

Glen says the original 10MHz external input was not for locking the transceiver, but netting instead. The new firware holds the LO much better.

First time setup of the CS9700 software

From the outset, I’ll let you in on a secret. I don’t like programming radios from the front panel. Before you shoot me down in flames, that’s just me. I’d much rather use a keyboard and a computer. One reason for this is I have incremental backups stored on my PC which means I can roll back to another point in time if I need to. It’s a bit like a snap shot in time. I do this with all my radios, especially DMR rigs. It also makes returning to your favourie band stacking settings a breeze.

Icom have developed the CS9700 programming software to go with this radio. Normally they’d want upward of $80 for this, like they did with the IC-9100 and earlier radios. Good news! It’s a free download from the Icom Global site.

Tips and tricks with the CS9700

If you run older versions of the USB software for other radios like I do, you will have to install the latest driver. I learnt this the hard way with an error that poped up after what appeared to be a successful read of the radio’s memory.

If you update the firmware of the radio, check for a new version of the CS9700 software while you’re at it.

Use a quality USB cable, as short as possible. I run mine successfully in a USB3 port.

Label your new audio inputs and outputs for your USB device in your soundcard settings. This is really handy if you have multiple devices. On your PC, press the Windows key, then type ‘sound’ and open the sound control panel. Look for the new USB device in the Playback and Recording tabs.

Contesting Software

If like me you’re planning to participate in contests like the RD contest or VHF UHF contests, the download a copy of Mike Subocz’s VK Contest Log as well as Omni Rig. These two applications work seemlessly so all you ave to to is make contacts and enter callsigns. You can even submit your log without leaving Mike’s program. Check out the notes above.

Extras for your IC-9700

A good desk mic

Icom SM-30 desk mic

The supplied mic is… well, sort of the weakest link. You’ve invest good dollars into an asset that’s going to bring you years of fun, so go the extra bit and get a good desk mic. I’d suggest buing what sounds good on air. There’s much more expensive mics than this, yet they’re indistinguishable when you’re on air.

A triplexer

If you’re planning to use this radio on FM, then you can’t go past one antenna and one coax. Invest in a good quality triplexer, the best coax you can afford, and the best a triband antenna the works for you. Some triplexers are not too good at 23cm to say the least. Also, it goes without saying… but I will anyway… triband antennas are a compromise. Convenience over quantity and expense. There. I’ve said it.

External PreAmps

Minikits make a fantastic range of exteral preamplifiers specifically designed for the IC-9700. Pictured above is their 23cm 1296MHz UHF RX/TX Preamplifier which is powered up the coax from the radio. This is ideal to mount at the mast head to overcome coax loss. It can be purchased as a kit or built into a ready to mast mount box. I bought mine ready built. It works a treat.

Minikits also have a 2m 144MHz VHF RX/TX Preamplifier as well as a 70cm 430MHz UHF RX/TX Preamplifier. I have the 70cm preamp as well. They”ll also make and ship worldwide. I’m not affiliated with them in anyway, they just make what the promise, and the do it very well.

Now the IC-9700 does come with preamps built in on all bands, and as I say these are extras which in my opinion compliment the performance of the radio. As these preamps are RF VOX switched, a sequencer isn’t essential. Take care when running volts up the coax though as things like antenna switches, SWR bridges and triplexers can cause grief. You don’t want to damage anyting do you!

Power Supply

This radio is going to draw around 18 amps when running high power on 2m. Make sure you’ve got enough in the tank to give the IC-9700 all it needs. Once again, a good power supply starts at around $250 which is one tenth the cost of the radio. If you’re going to buy a switch mode supply, make sure it’s radio friendly. Buy from a reputable and trusted radio outlet rather than an electronics shop or off-shore specal on eBay. Like the radio, this power supply is going to years of seriosly fun radio operation.

Icom IC-9700 and IC-7300 hero