N9EWO Review :   Icom IC-R20
Handheld Wide Band Receiver

"A World Band Bomb "
Icom’s IC-R20 Handheld Wide Band Receiver (N9EWO photo)

N9EWO's "Mini Review" on the ICOM IC-R20 Handheld Receiver (below 30 MHz)

(Note : I No Longer Own This Model)

(Discontinued Receiver)

The popularity and frequency coverage of handheld scanners has increased over the years. Many have coverage of the shortwave spectrum as well. Most if not all have been poor performers with world band "HF" signals.

The Icom IC-R20 is on the beefy side as far as this type of receiver goes, about 5 1/2 inches in length. Radio is powered via the included 3.7v 1650 mah capacity rechargeable lithium ion battery pack. The owner can also choose to use 3 AA penlight batteries instead by sliding a thin plastic insert into the battery cavity.

The set also boasts having “Dual Watch” reception, that is being able to simultaneously monitor 2 signals at once. However this is limited to the Aircraft, VHF and UHF segments. Nada for world band. Modes provided are AM/FM/FM Wide/USB/LSB/CW. There is no "Super Narrow FM" mode. These are selected in a single button “loop” arrangement.

Within the SW bands we found the sensitivity to be a major bummer. Only the strongest powerhouse signals could be heard using the included whip. With a bit of help connecting a indoor 20 foot thin wire clipped to the collapsed whip did give it a shot in the arm. But even then moderately weak signals were still a struggle to hear. Going to the next step and connecting a real outdoor antenna, it did even better.

Now for the real problem with this handheld set. The IC-R20 has very poor dynamic range. So poor in fact that even after tinkering with it’s single 30 db attenuator or RF Gain control, we were not always able to control the issue with the outdoor antenna. Even with the 20 ft wire at night proved to be too much on certain bands. But most of the time the overloading could be tamed, but with MUCH reduced sensitivity. This made the receiver much more difficult to use than it should be and in some cases made the receiver totally useless.

Sensitivity on MW is ditto what it is on SW. The internal bar antenna for MW does nothing to help this. FM broadcast while doing better hearing stations, suffers from poor dynamic range and capture ratio as well.

Image rejection and spurious signals both performed well.

The included whip antenna swivels a couple different ways, however has a tendency to flop around like a dead fish when fully extended.

Selectivity is another fly in the soup. The receiver has 3 bandwidth filters and are NOT independent of mode. One is for FM wide (150 khz). The FM/AM filter is at a whooping 12 Khz. It functions adequately for stronger stations in the clear and sounds very nice. The small low cost "plastic" SSB bandwidth filter is in the 3 khz area. This is still a tad too wide for tight amateur radio signals but allows for good manual ECSS operation. Other than a bit of a low level buzz mixed in, SSB modes work well.

Stability is also very good to help with the SSB/manual ECSS performance. The frequency display was off about 200 hz (low) with our test sample. It can tune and display down to 10 hz increments.

Biggest romp with the Icom IC-R20 is it’s ability to digitally record any output that irks from the speaker for up to 4 hours. 3 record quality settings are available. We found the 4 hour selection to be very hard on ones ears as it’s loaded with distortion. The middle (normal) setting is improved but still has a grizzly sound to it. The much more limited 65 minute “fine” mode pars much better still and for many will be the one to use. It’s playback is never hi-fi but a very useful part of the receiver nevertheless. The playback quality varies with the reception mode.

I will NOT be held responsible for any info that is listed here.

However the created audio file is in some weird non-standard format and is not easy to playback within a computer (like almost impossible). The audio quality , recording time is no where near what the much lower cost Degen DE1121 recorder provides and it does it the standard MP3 format (and the better receiver in the HF area too).

The recording can also be switched with the squelch control. That is it will not record until the signal breaks squelch. Going into pause mode while it is not receiving anything.

Internal speaker performs well for it’s size with no cabinet buzzes even at top volume. It’s audio output is rated at 100mw and is lacking punch when used in any outdoor or noisy environment.

The large LCD has a very useful back light and can be selected for continuous operation say when connected to the included AC adapter/charger. However without this back light on the LCD background is dark and hard to view.

All keys have a good tactile response. Ergonomics while not great, work in the difficult layout on a receiver in a handheld configuration. Tuning can be accomplished via the knob, keypad, 1000 memories and even slewing is provided via the side mounted “up-down” buttons. Tuning steps of .01, .1, 5 , 6.25, 8.33, 9, 10, 12.5, 15, 20, 25 , 30, 50 and 100 khz are provided.

Disconcertingly a couple of times during testing the receiver failed to power up even with the ac adapter in use. The only recourse to bring it back to life was to disconnect the power adapter , remove the battery, wait a minute or two and replace.

Even with the front panel marked as a communications receiver, world band signals on the Icom IC-R20 are a major disappointment. For those people who will use receiver above 30 MHz, it will fare better. But at the $ 500. price point it sells at, one can have much improved performance and at a much better price for portable HF reception with other "non-handheld" portable models on the market .

Dave N9EWO
Ver 3.0

(Discontinued Receiver)

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