Icom IC-703 'travel rig' – a very brief assessment

Background

In May 2014 I spent a few days operating a HF station close (but not close enough) to Hadrian's Wall Ancient Monument, and sitting in a chilly and dark motor car in a Youth Hostel carpark.  Taking my mobile rig out of a Land Rover wasn't an option, nor was carrying a larger FT-897D with its attached LDG AT-897Plus ATU . . . and power supply  . .  and so on.

I decided that I needed a small portable rig for use while travelling and staying in youth hostels around Europe, B&Bs, hotels, and campsites where it may be necessary to carry equipment a long way, or up stairs, or where operating from a motor vehicle in an adjoining carpark is not possible.

Such locations are not always suitable for high power operations because of the limitations of antennas, power supplies and table space. This effectively meant it had to be a QRP rig. This is similar to the requirements for SOTA activations and the like.

My specification for a travel rig therefore was that it should:


  • cover the 40m to 10m bands
  • be smaller than a FT-857D with FC-30 ATU
  • have an in-built auto ATU
  • have DSP, preferably on the IF
  • have SSB and be capable of using data modes
  • have low power consumption
  • cost less than £350 (rig only)


The realistic choices in the pre-owned market are the Yaesu FT -817ND or FT-857D, Icom IC-706GMk11, or the much rarer (and highly sought-after) IC-703. However, only the IC-703 has an internal ATU, so the other three rigs were ruled out. The excellent Icom IC-7200 almost fitted the bill, but the cost was beyond my budget, and it is not a small rig.

Consequently, I started searching for an IC-703 in June 2014 and had mostly given up hope when one was advertised for £300 in Radcom (the RSGB journal) in November: I naturally bought it without hesitation.

http://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/hamhf/0703.html

Photo is linked to www.universal-radio.com page on the IC-703 page (US version)


I have added a Yuasa 12V 14Ah Deep Cycle battery (£27 fully inclusive from Value Power Systems, and also have obtained an adapter in order to use an Icom SM-8 desk microphone if required.

The rig has recently been used for an hour per day in order for me to become familiar with it. So far I consider it to be a well designed rig, that will do the job required as it stands.


Receiver

On the RX side, sensitivity is good; but the standard filtering is 6KHz; this is too wide on SSB nowadays and I have therefore ordered an INRAD 2.4KHz SSB filter which is narrower than the discontinued 3.3KHz Icom FL-257, but not as restrictive as the 1.8KHz FL-222. Together with the rig's IF shift this should help with southern European and Russian QRM. The only snag is that additional filters are always expensive but the INRAD (from Vine Antennas) is the most affordable

The DSP is the same as in the IC-718 and only operates on the AF output. It is not adjustable, but it does have a noticeable effect. For most in-shack applications I use a modified Datong FL3 variable notch filter which has outstanding performance compared to any other AF DSP, as well as a BHI NES10MkIII which is only really effective against QRN. These two additional items are small and transportable, so I have the option on using them when travelling.

The IC-703 speaker is on the top of the case which is not ideal, but it is satisfactory.

A basic Noise Blanker and AGC are fitted and despite not having much adjustment they are effective. The IF Shift is also effective.


Transmitter

On the TX side, the ALC is only automatic as far as I know: but that's not a bad thing: I have received many reports that the transmitted audio is crisp and clear and a good level. Compression is available, but I haven't yet fiddled with any microphone settings.

The Auto ATU seems to handle a wide range of impedances without difficulty. An interesting feature is the ability to check the SWR across a whole band in various steps: this will be useful when operating in the field, etc.

At present, I am using the rig at home with my main OCFD antenna. When travelling I will use one of the portable antennas I discuss on another page or on a new design which is under development.


Ergonomics

Like most modern rigs the IC-703 has few front panel knobs and buttons and therefore relies on four banks of menus for many functions. There are 99 memories plus band edge memories which permit scanning.

Generally, the menus are easy to use, but switching between stored memories and the VFO usually involves multiple key presses and is a bit of a chore. Most other functions don't usually need to be accessed much; but when they do, scrolling through the menu banks is sometimes frustrating. However, because the IC-703 has relatively few 'advanced' features, compared to my FT-857D and FT-897D, the menus system is comparatively uncomplicated.

Other controls for band changing, tuning steps, and so on are small but easy to use. It is, after all, a very small radio.


The bottom line

There are more comprehensive reviews and assessments the IC703 available online, so there is little point duplicating them.

So far, I am very pleased with this rig. It meets my requirements and it is easy to use. The 10W output is as much as I need for my intended uses and it appears to have enough 'punch' in the audio to compensate for an apparent lack of raw RF power.


Links

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PhoenixARC Radio,
29 Nov 2014, 13:58