N9EWO Review :
The triple conversion AOR AR-mini “Communications Receiver”.
Overall a worthy solidly built pocket receiver with good performance.
However the CTCSS and DCS modes have a strange trait (see text). Also the receiver exhibits excessive phase noise.
I feel the Icom IC-R6 is a much better value, perhaps fewer issues and less confusing operation (not tested) .
Batteries are a pain to remove. It was made in "high-cost" Japan (not including all accessories)
County of Manufacture
AOR AR-mini Receiver: Japan
AC-mini (switching type 100 ~240 AC adapter) : China
Tested Optional Accessories
PC-mini (USB PC cable) : Japan
SC-mini (soft case) : Japan
Watson WSMA801 : China
Watson WSMA889 Telescopic Whip : China
Receiver (reprieve of model : September 2015)
AOR’s Second Try With a Small Pocket Receiver
In early 1999 AOR Japan released the AR16 pocket “wideband” receiver into the Japanese and North American markets. This was AOR’s first mini “wide band” pocket receiver. For the most part it was a “pricey” sour performer when compared with the Icom IC-R2 (or the similar IC-Q7A transceiver), which was sold at the same time. However the AR16 did scan and search slightly faster when compared to the IC-R2, but still S-L-O-W by today’s standards.
Late 2008 AOR released the next generation of this pocket receiver to the marketplace. Called the AOR “AR-mini”, many features were added including CTCSS and DCS decoding, a real VFO, 1000 memory channels and louder audio amplifier.
Frequency Coverage and Entry / Size, Antenna, Belt Clip / Nice Soft Case Option
Frequency coverage is fairly close to the AR16, 100 KHz to 1299.995 Mhz. The AR16 started at 500 KHz. But I would not expect LW coverage to operate well anyway (untested). USA “B” consumer version has the 824 to 849 and 869 to 894 Mhz segments cut out (for that now way outdated ECPA law). Also the "B" version lacks the voice inversion descrambler found on the wide open "U" model .
The AR-mini does have an internal loopstick that works up to 5 Mhz. It helps with MW reception, but don’t expect any DX either. This band segment can be toggled over to use the external SMA jack as well. One can also select the option to use the earphone cord as an antenna. This is over the entire range of the receiver. Was a case-by-case situation if it was useful for me (frequency I was trying to receive) .
Nope, no trunking, no Digital APCO P25, no Close Call or Spectrum Sweeper, no spectrum scope, no SSB modes, no internal audio recording, but it was never intended to compete with that side of the market either. Of course the purchaser is aware of this before purchase (or should be).
Size is slightly smaller what the AR16 was (the mini is 2.4 x 3.7 x .9 inches), but is still a bit larger than the Icom IC-R5, IC-R6 or even the older IC-Q7A.
We have improved tuning over the old AR16. For example you now have a “Real” VFO and a “Fast” tuning mode (usually 1 Mhz but is programmable). But of course in this size package with limited buttons there is no direct keypad entry. There is a loop of “band presets” to help get you closer (like Icom and Yaesu have used over the years).
However even with these tuning enhancements, we found the entire operating scheme to have a very steep learning curve. The general software of the radio is illogical which means one needs to keep the manual close at hand. But with limited buttons on a radio this is always a difficult feat.
The included printed owners manual does OK to explain all of the features, but some parts are just downright confusing in the converted Japanese (version 1.1).
For example on page 40: “Returning to VFO with Displaying Memory Frequency” (?). What this actually means is that the memory channels are tunable. While sitting on a memory channel push and hold the “up and down” keys at the same time for about 1 second and the memory channel is then transferred over to the VFO where it then can be tuned or scanned.
“Scan Resume Mode” is another confusing part of the receiver. We will cover this later on in this review.
The volume and squelch adjustments are done with the “tuning” knob (encoder). You push it in once and the "Volume" is adjusted, push it again and it now you have the "Squelch" adjustment. Push it again and you are back to VFO or memory adjustment. Works OK mind you but I would have liked to seen a separate volume control like the AR16 had, or at least have the option to be able to use the up-down buttons as the volume adjustment (as Icom does). This arrangement took awhile to get used to.
The encoder knob does exhibit a bit of rotational play and is on the noisy “clacky” side when turned. One has to wonder how well this encoder is going to hold up in use being as it is being taxied with so many operations?
A plastic belt clip provided and attached with 2 screws (using brass inserts into the case). This is an improvement over the AR16, as that model did not offer any belt clip at all. In fact no screw holes on the 16’s rear panel were even provided to add one. Even so this was of little moment for me, as I don’t use belt clips at all.
Optional SC-mini soft vinyl case is generally a winner as it provides protection of the LCD display and all FRONT buttons. Also slides in and out with great ease and a “hook and loop” latch on top. However the left side buttons are not covered at all (exposed). Also it is bit of a pain to insert and remove the case if the belt clip is installed.
Instead of a “slide off” battery door on the AR16, the AR-mini uses one of those bottom clasp bars (as does the Icom IC-R2, R5, R6 and IC-Q7A transceiver). Good news is that it can be released just by using a finger, so is no too tight or loose (more on the batteries below).
Nice Large Back Lit LCD / Built in Battery Charger / Battery Removal A Royal Pain
Features a nice large size LCD that that has good contrast. It is not adjustable but doesn’t need to be (was well chosen). The green LED backlight gets the job done very well. Sadly the buttons are not involved with the backlight. Timed or can be selected continuous.
There is a built in battery recharge circuit. This is a bit of a chore to activate, as one needs to drop into the set menu to activate. Reports around the Internet indicate that this function has a bug that does not allow the batteries to receive a full charge. We have not tested this feature as we do our battery recharging at a slow rate with a better grade external charger. Additionally the AR-mini’s internal charge circuit uses an old-fashioned timer circuit.
Inserting the 2 AA included Ni-Mh batteries went easy enough, but removing them is another story. To start with it is just hard to grab onto either one with a finger. Additionally the lower battery + contact is against a flat coiled spring and makes for a even more frustrating time to get it out. I needed a plastic blade screwdriver to pry either one out.
Computer Connection “PC-Mini” USB Cable / PC Programming
(Ok we will get a bit long here, but I felt required. There are no help files at all with the software.)
Connecting the AOR AR-Mini to a windows based computer for programming the receiver memories requires the extra purchase accessory of the overpriced “PC-Mini” USB cable. The free software is downloaded from the AOR Japan web site. Remember to use the English web site and not the one in Japanese; otherwise you will get the program in the wrong language. Also can be downloaded from the AOR USA site (as this report was typed).
Separate and required USB driver is also included in the same zipped file. We tested software version 1.0.0 for this review. We felt that the cable length of the PC-Mini interface was a bit too short. The coiled output cable that you may see in some pictures of the “PC-Mini” cable around the Internet is actually straight and was actually more desirable for me (I normally hate coiled cables).
Do NOT plug in the cable yet. First step is to unzip the downloaded package to a temporary folder. Next install the Silicon Labs CP210X USB driver. This went well with no problems.
Next step is to install the actual PC-Mini application (setup). Again for us this installed just fine with no problems. You may wish to add a shortcut to the desktop, as the program does not automatically do this.
NOW plug in the PC-Mini cable into an unused USB socket on the host computer. Once that installs correctly with the usual Windows stuff on the bottom of the screen, next bring up “Start > Control Panel > System > Hardware (tab) > Device Manager” (Windows XP Pro in our case). In the Device Manger list find “Ports” the Silicon Labs CP2100 driver. Right click on this and bring up properties. Now click on “Port Settings” tab. Next click on “Advanced”. Make note of the COM number the computer automatically defined the driver to. Just close out of all of this and make NO changes. Important Note: We did not test the program or driver in Vista or Windows 7.
Bring up the program and find the COM in the upper bar and drop down and access the “Ports”. Match up this “Port” setting to the one as indicated above. Once this is done, the lone LED on the PC-Mini interface will glow a nice bright orange. Yes, this means that all is well.
We found the program to be too simplistic. For example there is no way to program the channel lockouts in the software (this can only be done on the receiver itself after the fact and has to be done EVERY time you upload changes). To place an Alpha Tag on a channel, you just enter that in the spot, if not desired on that channel just leave it blank. Note: Toggling from a channel with an Alpha Tag to Frequency display on the radio is only temporary and a real pain to access. So keep that in mind. One can only enter the Frequency, Mode, 6 character Alpha Tag, CTCSS or DCS or Scrambler Function operation and the value of these with the software (inversion scrambler function not found on USA “B” versions). Yes, that is all that can be entered with a channel entry. Another feature totally missing is you cannot move around (or insert) a channel. No cut or paste either. There is another tab that allows the “Set” functions to be adjusted and another that is for “Search Band Memories”.
Uploading or Downloading is a bit daunting and you almost need a second person to make happen. You need to press and hold down FUNCTION, DOWN and the DIAL (tuning knob) all 3 at the same time while powering the radio up. So one is dealing with 4 total buttons. We made it happen fairly easy, but I can see where this could be a real stinker for some. The owners manual makes a confusing mess out of this and says do not attempt FUNCTION, DIAL and DOWN as covered in the owners manual (say what?). This confusing correction was covered in a separate loose sheet of paper stuck within the version 1.1 of the manual.
When you have done the strange exercise properly you will see PRG-M appear on the LCD on the radio. Then it’s ready for upload or download from the software. You must upload or download the normal memory channels separate from the “Search Band Memories” or the “Set” perimeters. Just turn off the set when you are finished with the uploads/downloads.
Very Important Note: When entering the “Set” or “Search Band Memories” be sure and click on the “Set” icon on the screen after each entry otherwise the entry will not take or save.
Mind you it all went well for me, but again I can see where some may have a problem with this?? It still beats entering by hand any day, especially with the limited buttons on the receiver itself.
Here was a bit of a laugh (for me anyway): On page 22 of the version 1.1 manual we see this, “Caution: Although this software is provided free of charge, do not make any illegal copies.”
“Buggy” Bug Detector / 33 Menu "Set" Adjustments
We see a bug detector feature. No, this is not a fancy wideband signal detection circuit here (like Uniden’s neat Close Call). It’s just a scan of pre-programmed frequencies that you are not even able to change. Not very useful to my eyes or ears I’m afraid.
33 menu "Set" selections for receiver operations. Once in awhile after setting a value, the set would power down and then back up with no ill effects. Not sure if this is a normal thing ?
Very Sensitive Receiver, But Has Excessive Phase Noise / Above Average SW and FM / 15 db Attenuator / TCXO
The AOR AR-mini is a very sensitive “Triple Conversion” receiver across the board, even better using a better SMA aftermarket antenna(s) and is advised. The included stubby duck is OK for pocket use and that’s about it.
However there is excessive “phase noise” mixed in with signals. Even with it’s punchy audio some signals were washed out in the receiver generated noise. Also with some normal FM (not FMW) signals we also experienced excessive distortion as well , but not on all. In any event this was not a good part of the receiver for me.
On the plus side it is above average on SW and FM broadcast performance . SW will require a short piece of wire to achieve this (say 20 feet maximum), but as normal it will overload with a too good of an antenna. The single step attenuator help to reduce this. However, even with a short 15 foot piece of wire indoors, we experenced local MW and FM stations bleeding into the SW reception both at the same time. FM band will also require a better antenna as well to experience this above average performance. We tested the FM using a Watson WSMA-889 SMA telescopic whip. But one has to watch the stress on the receivers SMA connector with any whip in use.
Yes this wideband pocket set is above average for some reason on SW and FM broadcast bands even with the wide filter on the AM mode. In fact one of the best ever tested in a “pocket” wideband receiver. But of course you still cannot compare it to a better SW portable either.
There is a 15 db selectable attenuator, but this setting is not retained in memory. So this affects all memory channels when engaged.
Here is one that no other SMALL handheld receiver has ever offered, a TCXO. Even if it's only at +/- 2.5 PPM , will greatly help stability on higher frequencies.
“Scan Resume” Mode Confusing
Scan Resume Mode is confusing. On page 36 of the manual "Changing the Search Type" covers this, however this is also valid for SCANNING as well. The manual keeps calling it "searching". It turns out that this selection is valid in both Scan and Search modes.
Anyway, when in "scan" mode as one pushes the "scan" button (again) and selects the resume mode in a loop. Watch for the B in the upper left hand corner of the LCD display.
B (constant lit) = Paused for as long as the signal is active. Resumes 2 seconds when the signal is gone. This is of course the way we will use it (most of the time in memory SCAN).
B (flashing) = Scan or Search totally stops when a signal is received.
No B is displayed = Timed paused. Here is where # 7 in the menu is used to determine the time it sits on a channel (or frequency in search). This is also is where the confusion takes place is as it defaults to this (as new or a fresh microprocessor reset) if only the scan button is pressed once to get the scan operating.
Actually this is not a bad way to do it; just that the owner’s manual explains it with confusion.
Nasty CTCSS - DCS Bug / Memory-Search Channels
There is one bug that makes the already slow scanning rate even slower. If the CTCSS or DCS values do NOT match up while scanning, the receiver will still lock on the channel for a second until it has figured out that it is the wrong tone (then it continues).
There are 1000 regular memory channels, 23 search band memories. More confusion sets in on how to select the search mode. This is done in menu # 8.
The AOR-mini is a very good solidly made pocket handheld. But the excessive receiver phase noise , CTCSS/DSC bug (as covered above), and generally confusing operation are gremlins that do not help the final score for me.
Yes as far as wideband handheld's go, its FM and SW reception were a bit above average (with a limited added wire antenna on SW or telescopic whip on FM).
However I feel that the much lower cost Icom IC-R6 was a far better deal in a similar size package with proper CTCSS tone/DCS decoding and I bet lower receiver phase noise (not tested). Even my historical Icom IC-Q7A transceiver does a better job all-round as a wide band receiver in a similar size package (minus real HF coverage). But keep in mind Icom's normally do not do well at all for any "DX" FMBC performance.
Discontinued Receiver (reprieve of model : September 2015)
N9EWO Review :
Icom's Discontinued "Very Thin" IC-RX7. Overall a very nice solid pocket Wide Band Receiver.
Not quite as sensitive as the AOR AR-mini above , but no excessive phase noise either.
Just as with the IC-R20 , the LCD is hard to see in dim room light without the backlighting in use (unlike the AR-mini).
The AOR AR-mini has "MUCH improved" selectivity on the FM Broadcast band.
Without the overpriced CS-RX7 software and OPC-478UC interface , the set is a royal pain to program.
Speaker audio is a bit weak. PROPERLY ADJUSTED menu audio tone settings can help (see text) .
(Photo : N9EWO)
Review of the ICOM " IC-RX7 " WideBand Receiver
ICOM IC-RX7 Receiver: Japan
BC-149A AC Adapter/Charger (Linear type 117 AC adapter) : China
BP-244 1100 mah Lithium-Ion Battery Pack : Japan
SA-270C Antenna : Japan ?
MB-112G Belt Clip : Japan
Tested Optional Accessories
CS-RX7 PC Software and OPC-478UC Interface : Japan
LC-170 Soft Case : Japan
BP-262 3 AA Battery Case : Japan
Watson WSMA801 : China
Watson WSMA889 Telescopic Whip : China
the R2, R5 and R6 but More Features Too
The Icom IC-RX7 is larger over the R2, R5 and R6 at 2.25 x 5.0 x 0.8 inches, but is “sleeker-thinner” due to its use of lithium ion battery pack. In fact it is the same identical battery that is used with the Vertex-Standard-Yaesu VX-2R and VX-3R transceivers.
If ones uses the optional BP-262 “3 AA” battery case, that slim size disappears. The included MB-112 belt clip is a real treat as it not only looks pleasing but attaches and REMOVES from the radio’s body fairly easy at least with the lithium ion battery pack in use. BP-262 Battery Case Update : Some brands of rechargeable batteries are too large to fit and will be very tight in any event . Will also require a plastic pry tool to remove . Also can ruin (tear) the plastic skin of the cell due to the tight fit . My view here is , best to use with NON rechargeable batteries ONLY .
Also the optional LC-170 case is well thought out as it protects the keys and slips on and off with unusual ease. You do not have to remove the plastic antenna either. However as with many Icom’s cases over the years, it’s overpriced. NOTE : Case NOT for use with the BP-262 AA battery case (another reason to avoid this AA case).
Icom's IC-RX7 (left) uses the same type "lithium ion" battery pack as the Vertex-Standard-Yaesu VX-2R and VX-3R Transceivers (right).
I say to forget the BP-262 "3 AA" battery case option. Rechargeable cells don't always fit on the radio in this case (if at all) and can tear up the cells outer skin.
It also rules out the use of the LC-170 Soft Case and makes the receiver too "chubby" (no more sleek pocket size) .
(Photo : N9EWO)
Other updates over
the IC-R6 receiver include, more advanced 1650 memory channels
and a fancier dot matrix LCD display. Of course direct keyboard
entry. As it goes in Icom receivers and transceivers, keyboard
entry is done in Mhz only. So you always must remember to hit the
“point” when using this. The tactile feel of all
buttons are excellent. They are recessed which helps the sleek
streamlined look. As one can see the use of any
“Function” buttons are totally absent in the operating
USA consumer version “IC-RX7-05”, have the usual (and now totally unnecessary) neutered 800 Mhz band between 824 to 849 and 869 to 894 Mhz. Cell phones are long gone from this band (and went digital long before that). A now really STUPID outdated US law that should be rescinded and changed. If one is lucky to snag a IC-RX7-10 “so called” US Government version (or a non USA version) the receiver coverage is continuous from 150 Khz to 1300 Mhz in AM, FM (both 12 + KHz bandwidth on paper), and Wide FM modes (150 + Khz bandwidth on paper which is more like 250 + Khz as we will cover later).
It takes about 5 hours to recharge a totally dead pack using the included BC-149A (linear type) wall charger. This is an OK reasonable time frame. Beats the 3 times longer than the old IC-T90A transceiver took with its slow included lithium ion battery charger.
Battery latch (on the bottom), which holds the cover on, releases easily and properly with just a single finger. Huge improvement over the old IC-P7A pocket transceiver that took a tool of some sort to unlatch it as it was way too tight.
The lone rotary mechanical encoder on top has a nice “soft click” feel. Similar (but not quite as good) to the old Icom IC-Q7A pocket transceiver, which I have always felt used an excellent feel encoder. It’s not of that noisy “Clack CLACK” type, which I despise.
Fancy LCD with Confusing Menu System – Software A Real Requirement / Hard To See In Dim Ambient Light Without Backlight In Use
Instead of Banks and Channels found on older traditional scanner receivers for the memory channels, here the scheme is set up as Category’s > Groups > Name > (then the desired frequencies). Yes , programming works manually, but as usual goes it is MUCH easier and faster with the optional CS-RX7 clone software / USB interface and cable. However just as with the LC-170 soft case, it’s overpriced.
Another part that makes for frustrating operation is there is no way while scanning that indicate what category’s and or groups you have active. I guess don’t blink as the frequencies zip by and try to figure it out..?? The users locks and unlocks certain Category’s and or Groups using the numeric keypad with the “up-down” and “left-right” buttons which also has a fairly steep leaning curve.
Just as it is with the Icom IC-R20, if you don’t use the backlight and in a room with low ambient light, the display cannot be seen. Contrast is adjustable, backlighting is either on continuous, off completely or Auto where most will keep it. The keypad is not lit.
One cannot have the entered frequency displayed with any alpha tag in a memory channel. We prefer to see the received frequency with any alpha tag. So for a way around this, we just added the actual Mhz frequency in the tag, with a few letters left for identification.
There are 25 user programmed search ranges and 200 Auto Write memories.
Triple Conversion Receiver, But Performance Is A Bit Behind The Pack / No Excessive Phase Noise / Internal MW Loopstick / Lacks SSB Modes
As with the older IC-Q7A transceiver, IC-R2, IC-R5 and IC-R6 pocket receivers, the IC-RX7 uses a triple conversion receiver design. There are NO CW/SSB modes, trunking or P25 digital reception.
A huge plus is there is no excessive phase noise as found with the AOR AR-mini. Built in 495 to 1620 KHz loopstick antenna and works similar to what most of these in wideband handhelds are with the same set up (fair to poor, local stations only). Selection is toggled in the menus to select the loopstick or external SMA antenna jack in this range.
Of course next we tried “short wave” broadcast bands for performance. As expected it is similar to the Icom IC-R20. We got away with a 15-foot piece of wire (with a proper plug) and even better with an external one. But of course overloading sets in fast with any real antenna along with local MW station bleed thru this time. There are 2 ways to help to fight this with the IC-RX7. One is a lone 15-db attenuator (this can also be selected on a individual channel basis in the memory channel programming), or a 10 step RF Gain selection located within in the menus.
As it goes with any wideband handheld receiver, it works for the stronger SW broadcaster signals the best.
Now we move to the VHF and UHF public service and Ham bands. By the way the included plastic antenna is the FA-S270C, same one included with the old IC-Q7A transceiver and was compared using this same antenna with all sets compared to. Its general sensitivity is adequate but is no barnburner either across the range. The AOR AR-mini is a tad more sensitive overall, except on the 800 Mhz band where it is substantially better (as was the IC-Q7A). Again and as usual a good aftermarket antenna will work better. We used a two Watson aftermarket antenna’s that improved signals, sometimes greatly (see models as listed above).
FM Broadcast is just as it is with most of Icom’s large and small handheld receivers are, that is useless for any weak signal reception. Either overloading sets in or the filtering is way too W-I-D-E. I will say a good 250 KHz or more wide in the IC-RX7? The AOR AR-Mini while no DX king either, but at least the performance is better with tighter IF filtering to help separate stations.
One can also opt to use the earphone cable for the receive antenna (works across the board) for sheath operations. But this will decrease the performance. We found this to be of little REAL use for us.
CTCSS / DCS Works Properly / Zippy Scan and Search Speed
Unlike the AOR AR-mini as reviewed above the IC-RX7’s CTCSS (and DCS) decode performance worked properly . No strange lock ups, hesitations or other odd happenings .
Some have reported the speed is a bit slow in decoding, or the DCS not working right, but be were unable to duplicate these issues.
The scan and search speeds are noticeably faster over the AR-mini.
Speaker Audio Punch Is Lacking A Bit / Tone Adjustments In Menu Helps Slightly / Electronic Volume Control Works OK
Just looking at the paper specifications one can see about HALF of the audio power over an IC-R6. Yes, it’s on the weaker side for sure. Even the AOR AR-Mini has more powerful audio (but mixed with phase noise most of the time). However one can improve on this slightly when the audio tone settings are changed in the “Sounds” menu (from default).
In “Sounds” menu, select “Tone Control”. Then “Bass”, and choose CUT selection. Go back to “Treble” and choose BOOST selection. You will need to do this for all 3 modes (AM, FM and FM Wide) as they all have independent settings.
Not quite the Icom IC-P7A “disaster” receive audio but perhaps is the worst bug with the product. If you are in a noisy area indoors or out, don’t be surprised if you need to switch to an earpiece or headset. The earphone jack is located on the right side (yeah Icom...it should be on the top, NOT on the side).
At least the volume control can be adjusted either with the top encoder OR swapped with the UP-DOWN buttons. We have none of the “push the knob” to access the volume control nonsense as with the AOR AR-mini.
A Nice Pocket Set / Accessories Overpriced / Now Discontinued
The Icom IC-RX7 is a thin, attractive and generally pleasant wideband receiver. It’s not the loudest or most sensitive wideband handheld on the market. It uses lithium ion batteries, which in the 21st century is the only way to go.
However don’t expect the SW performance to be improved over the more expensive IC-R20 either. It’s not.
Direct keyboard entry was a real plus, and the volume control even using the "up-down" buttons was much more pleasant area over the AOR AR-mini’s “push the encoder” knob design to control volume.
Expect to spend some time to learn the complex memory structure especially if you don’t take a deep breath and purchase the CS-RX7 software and cable package.
At the original $ 300. USD street price it started out at when it was first released onto the market , FORGET IT !! It was sold in the $ 200. area just before it was discontinued (closeout status). Here it was a much better value, but as usual the accessories as tested above were always overpriced.
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