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.
The ability to program the IC-9700 to beep, or become a beeper on-air is great for peaking signal strengths between stations. Microwave operators use beepers all the time and it’s easy to program the radio to do this. It’s a process common to the IC-705 and IC-7300. The ‘how-to’ and video can be viewed here.
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.
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.
For the 2m and 70cm bands, the antenna connects to a band-specific preamp and attenuator module before passing to a bandpass filter. The signal then passes through an RF switch before going to an analogue-digital converter or an ADC to be digitised. The digital signals from the ADC then pass to a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) IC for processing.
The field-programmable gate array (FPGA) has several outputs:
The 23 cm band received signal passes from the BPF to a mixer for a single conversion stage to an IF frequency (311 – 371 MHz) and then to the RF switch and into the ADC for sampling.
The process for transmitting is similar, but just in the reverse direction. Audio frequencies are sampled by an ADC. The digitised audio is processed in the FPGA and then produced as an RF signal at the required frequency by a DAC. The RF signal is then processed with appropriate filtering and amplification.
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.
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.
IMPORTANT! If you can’t get VKCL and OmniRig to work, make sure CI-V USB Echo Back is set to ON
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Glen says the original 10MHz external input was not for locking the transceiver, but netting instead. The new firware holds the LO much better.
According to the product information on the Leo Bodnar ICOM IC-9700 Reference Injection Board page…
This module allows locking the ICOM IC-9700 radio transceiver internal frequency reference, to an external 49.152MHz signal. If the internal reference is locked to a GPS signal, achievable ICOM stability can be better than 1Hz on all bands.
Installing this module inside the ICOM IC-9700 does not require any soldering or modification to internal circuitry. This modification is completely reversible and should not affect your warranty.
We have improved ICOM IC-9700 frequency lock solution.— Leo_Bodnar (@LeoBodnar) November 29, 2019
External GPS locked 49.152MHz signal, inductively injected into reference oscillator, provides sub-Hz stability. No soldering or rig modification. Connects directly to our GPS clocks.
More details: https://t.co/kPbB52ntRG pic.twitter.com/w1NUtsktXq
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.
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.
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.
Firmware 1.30 is available from Icom’s website as of February 26 2021. This video is a run-through of how to update your radio to this version of firmware. Don’t forget to download the CS-9700 software while you’re there.
The IC-9700 has a server for remote operation built right in. This video shows how to configure the IC-9700 to operate remotely and control nearly all functions of the radio.
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.
The operation and spectrum scopes with the waterfall functions can be used on your remote PC. MAIN and SUB spectrum scopes can be observed on the RS-BA1 at the same time. Of course, the RS-BA1 can be used with Icom single receiver transceivers.
The RS-BA1 Version2 supports the IC-9700, but not in dual screen (band) mode. be sure to read the documentation to double-check as it may have changed since writing this. The image below is the RS-BA1 software talking to the 9700 from my laptop which is tethered to my phone and connected to the radio via Telstra 4G and NBN. You will need to do some port forwarding in your NBN router to get it to work. It’s also worth allocating a fixed IP address for the radio in your DHCP server. This way you won’t need to update the software when the lease expires.
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.
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!
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 special on eBay. Like the radio, this power supply is going to years of seriously fun radio operation.
The IC-9700 has the ability to save audio and radio parameters to an SD Card. It’s optional, but mandatory for many functions of the radio as well as updating firmware as it becomes available.
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.