N9EWO Review :
ICOM IC-R9500 Wide Band DSP Receiver

ICOM's IC-R9500 Wide Band DSP Receiver
In our testing it did not beat out the WJ-8711A with down in the mud HF signals (was close), but is very respectable.
However , even at this price point it has it's share of bugs (firmware 1.03) that sets it further behind the WJ-8711A. (Photo : N9EWO)

(I do NOT own a ICOM IC-R9500. A borrowed sample was used for this test, limited to the HF part of the spectrum below 30 Mhz.)

Test Sample Firmware : 1.03
Approx. Serial # 060101x
Country of Manufacture : Japan

IMPORTANT NOTE : During the testing period, after a 12 hour time frame being continuously powered on, our test sample exhibited nasty “buzzy” distorted audio in all modes. After switching the set off and then immediately back on, the problem cleared up totally. Weirdly this issue only occurred once in testing and never returned again.

Here is a recording I made of this IC-R9500 "buzzy" gremlin (in wav. format : 13 seconds, 114kb size)

Built Like Rock and Weight Is Like One Too  /  No Front Flip Up Feet  / Manual In A 3 Ring Binder

This no lightweight box. At 20 Kg (44.1 lbs), unless you are Mr. Universe this is one receiver where 2 people should be involved moving it. There are 2 very solid metal rack handles that help greatly. 2 lesser plastic handles on either side can help placement as well.

Just as it is with most JRC receivers over the years, there are no elevation front feet provided and this is a glaring omission. Even the older IC-R9000 model offered this. There are indents on the top cover that allows another R9500 to be stacked on top (for those extremely lucky people who are able to own 2 of these).

Color scheme reminds one of a piece test equipment, not a radio receiver.

The owners manual is provided in a 3 ring loose binder. This is a nice touch and is very easy to page through. The down side is that it seems to leave area’s in the dark on some topics and is hard to follow sometimes. There are full schematics and block diagrams provided on the last pages.

Tuning Knob, Push Buttons  /  General Button Feel Only OK

Tuning knob is large, sensible, weighted with a rubber track around the gripping surface. The knob spinner actually rotates. All other controls are equally good with a solid feel. Just as it was with the IC-R9000, you can have the knob selected for what is called the “click” mode. This gives the knob a detent with every tuned step. The only small quirk is a small amount of play in-between each click was noticed.

All keys have a nice feel and are solid. These are all of the hard plastic variety (no soft “rubber” type are used with the IC-R9500). The tactile response varies slightly. For example the 1 to 0 keypad buttons miss the “sharper” tactile feel, whereas the buttons along the left side of the LCD are excellent. However more of the buttons have the “better” tactile feel than not. So overall this is good.

Loaded Rear Panel  /  Good Record “Line” Output  /  Not So Good SPDIF Optical Output.

Rear panel of the IC-R9500 has just about every output and input one could ask for.

Including multi antenna inputs, DB-9 RS-232 connector, the Icom standard CI-V (for use with the CT-17 computer interface), connection for external computer monitor, 10.7 IF output, 10 MHz reference signal input/output.....just to start with.

The record output “line output” is provided in the rear using a standard RCA phone jack, and additionally on the front marked as a “record” using a 1/8 inch phone jack. Levels are good and work fine in all modes.

Also provided is a SPDIF (also known as toslink) optical digital output jack. However, in our testing with this output using a Sony MDS-JE480 Mini Disc recorder deck’s optical digital input, with any SSB mode the audio was heavily distorted, clipping and even cutting out (AM modes were fine). No amount of fiddling of the level control for this output (located in the set menu) or with the MD deck level control would clear this issue up.

Voice “Speech” Synthesizer Standard  /  Built In Power Supply or Use External DC.

Voice “speech” output is standard. The output level and even the speed of the voice output are adjustable in the set menu.

Built in AC power supply. Our test sample had a voltage indication marked between 100 and 120 volts. It was unknown if other higher voltages are able to be connected “almost” directly. We say “almost” as near the fuse holder, that is a indication sticker that on 220 to 240 volts of a different fuse value that is to be used.

One needs to switch on the rear “sub” power switch before the front power button is turned on. The front panel indicator will glow orange once the AC power cord is attached and this rear switch is in the proper position.

There is a connection for external 13.8 vDC input on the rear panel (at a huge over 10 amp requirement...but untested to what it really is). However the matching plug or cable is NOT included. It appears to be a similar plug as used on Icom's newer HF transceivers, but I was unable to verify this in the testing period. But that might give for cooler operation , less RF noise as you can use a non switching supply, and just maybe without the annoying loud power supply fan (more on this next) ?? Perhaps a nice regulated "linear transformer" power supply like the Astron RS-35A (at least) would be needed if you do not want the supply's heat sink running too hot with this continuous current draw mode (or the RS-35M with meters) ?
Important Note : We did not test this with the test sample !!!

From viewing the service manual, the internal "switching" power supply appears to be "custom made" for Icom by COSEL in Japan ??

Receiver Runs Very VERY Warm to HOT   /  Internal “Noisy Fan” Cycles in Operation.

The receiver runs very VERY warm to downright hot. The rear panel after it is in use for awhile exhibits the most heat.

There is a internally mounted fan on the rear panel that cycles on and off as long as the set remains on. We found the noise factor to be distracting and annoying. For those who are used to the black box computer receivers, and with the computer noise from those fans, this may be of little moment ?

Being the air being blown out of the R9500 inner shell is quite hot, one would have to think how hot the inner cabinet is actually reaching ? The center area where the fan is located gets so hot that any fingers should be avoided here (burns).

Three antenna inputs are provided for the short wave side of the IC-R9500. These are selected right on the front panel. One being a standard SO-239, another is using a RCA-Phono type and the last one is shared with the VHF-UHF side and is a N type connector. When storing memory channels, this antenna selection is also recognized.

Main LCD Performance, with Connections For a External One  /  Analog TV Watching With Non USA Versions  /  Also Standard Composite Video In and Out  /  Dimmer

The large 7 inch TFT color screen is beauty to view. It’s output can also be viewed (at the same time) on any external computer monitor that uses a standard DB-15 connector (even on the USA version with this output).

There is also a standard composite video output (or input too) that can be used for connection to a standard TV (or from another video source into this display). However this composite output does NOT work on USA versions.

You can also watch analog TV signals (again for NON USA models only) that use the NTSC, PAL or the SECAM systems. That pretty much covers all systems in the world. However the "off air TV" watching feature is (more like has) become useless with everything being digital these days. So is not a feature anymore.

A Screen Saver is provided that shrinks the viewed output and moves it around just like on a PC. It also mutes the any connected external computer screen when activated. Can be set for 15, 30 or 60 minutes before it activates from non use. When the main tuning or any other knob or any button is pressed it bounces back to normal.

A 2 step dimmer is provided and found this to be most useful. With our test sample the right side of the screen was a slightly dimmer than the rest of it as noticed in the lower setting.

The LCD backlighting uses the older CCFL (Cold Cathode "Florescent" Tube) method . It's not using the more desired LED way for LCD backlighting. This is a real disappointment even for when the IC-R9500 was on the drawing board.

2 screen colors are selectable. Blue background with white letters and a Black background with white letters. We found the black background to less stressful on the eyes.

Super Wide Band Coverage for a Super Wide Band Price  /  P25 Digital Option For VHF/UHF

DC to Daylight coverage, from 5 Hz right up to 3335 MHz. With the USA version there is the usual chunk removed in the 800 MHz area for blockage that is no longer used for any cell phones. Versions in France have even more coverage neutered above 30 MHz. For everywhere else it’s a wide open affair.

The UT-122 option board adds P25 (digital) mode operation used in the VHF and UHF public service bands (not tested).

Sensitivity Excellent With Pre-amp In Use, 4 Step Attenuator  /  Dynamic Range  /  Front End Filtering.

Sensitivity is excellent as long as at least one of the 2 provided pre-amps are used. (Above 30 MHz only one pre-amp is provided). Using the set without a pre-amp in use makes the set deaf. So to make it more equal to other receivers, the pre-amp must be on. Just using # 1 pre-amp gets the job done well.

The pre-amps are at 13 and 17.5 db levels. A nice array of 4 attenuator levels are provided. 6,12,18,24 and 30 db.

Dynamic range doesn’t get any better than this. Will be hard for any overloading to happen in any part of the world. Ditto for front end filtering. No strange signals anywhere that we found.

DSP Selectivity That Includes With 4 Roofing Filters  /  Dual Digital PBT  /  AGC

DSP bandwidths are excellent. You have 3 presets that are user defined for any these bandwidths (marked as Filter 1, 2 or 3) :

First in AM modes bandwidth can be selected between 200 Hz to 10 kHz in 200 Hz steps. In SSB and CW modes, 50 to 500 Hz in 50 Hz steps and from 600 to 3.6 kHz in 100 Hz steps.

In addition there are 4 different roofing filters that can be selected as well in the HF part of the receiver. Shape factor can also be tweaked for the SSB and CW modes as well.

The AGC control has 3 preset settings. Time constants can be adjusted for user preference individually for each one, are marked as Fast , Mid and Slow. Also the front panel knob allows one to fine tune whatever setting has been selected. It works well.

Low Audio Distortion Audio with Separate Bass and Treble Controls  /  Synchronous Detector Another Icom Bust  /  Very Good Internal Speaker  /  DSP Harshness Is Present

General audio distortion is extremely low in all modes (with one exception, more later).

Excellent separate Bass and Treble controls, and to make it work even better each mode has it own tone fine tuning (Bass and Treble separately) to custom tweak ones subjective tastes. Even a AF high cut filter that is selectable in the Set menu for each mode.

Not only can the “keypad beep level” can be adjusted, but the tone of this beep can also be tweaked from 500 Hz to 2000 Hz. Nice touch and works well.

The provided synchronous detector locks well enough on strong and semi-strong signals, but not well on weaker ones with any kind of severe to moderate fading. It can do double sideband (
just like the WJ-8711A), but USB or LSB “Sync” as well. It appears to only slightly reduce fading distortion however (if at all).

Actually it’s hard to tell that it is doing much of anything. Again, it also unlocks with really weak signals with any fading involved (as it shows on the LCD), there is no squealing or heterodynes at all. Reminds one of the sync that was used in the JRC NRD-345 (well not quite, as that “sync” was double sideband only).

Using the sync in reducing co-channel interference does a bit better job, or at least we can hear it do something to reduce another interfering signal next door. But overall the sync in the Icom IC-R9500 is in the tradition of the older IC-R75's for “sync” performance....that is forget it. Yes, even the double sideband S-AM in the WJ8711A works much better than with the IC-R9500 sync for at least for reducing fading distortion.

The front facing speaker in the IC-R9500 is a aural treat. With it’s separate Bass and Treble controls one may never have to deal with any external speaker at all. It’s sounds that good. Of course there is a 1/8 inch external speaker jack provided on the rear panel as normal.

As is the case with every other DSP based set around audio harshness is present, but this makes the audio recovery of the IC-R9500 excellent if not right up there with the very best. No hiss either, none.

Manual ECSS Another Major Drawback / Stability “Rock Solid”

With the Sync Detection being a loss, now one might think , OK I will switch over and use manual ECSS to help reduce interference or decrease distortion ? Well the R9500 has “Rock” stability using a OXCO OK , but what we experienced was a unacceptable amount of audio dropouts (and nasty distortion) in the ECSS mode.

Plain and simple this was a another strikeout. Normal SSB mode signals work just fine with no problems. We never got a handle on what was causing this, but a wild guess is that the problem lies within the DSP firmware ? Again the firmware tested was version 1.03 (testing was not done with later firmware).

Here is a recording I made of this IC-R9500 "Manual ECSS" gremlin (in wav. format : 13 seconds, 109kb size)

Note : Icom's IC-7600 HF Transceiver can also suffer from "Manual ECSS" bugs in our testing (see review here).

Excellent Performing Bar Signal Strength Meter Can Display in 4 Different Types  /  Rear Connection For Adding a Analog Type.

The bar type s-meter on the IC-R9500 is very useful and accurate. Not only that, but the type of display it provides can be set for one of 4 types. These include : Standard s-meter type, dBu , dBu (EMF) and dBm.

Also a little arrow along the bottom of this meter can be adjusted with the squelch control to aid the use of that function.

For those who like a real analog meter and just cannot live without one. Icom has provided a output here too for a connection of a external analog meter on the rear panel (not tested).

Multi Mode Spectrum Scope But With Limited Use On HF

The normal spectrum scope covers a range from (+/-) 2.5kHz to 5MHz. Here one can view the scope while listening. In the wide band spectrum scope the audio becomes muted. Here one can observe up to (+/-) 500MHz (+/- 10MHz, 25MHz, 50MHz, 100MHz , 250MHz and 500MHz selectable). When using the normal spectrum scope, the digital scope’s filter width can vary from 200Hz to 20kHz with a variable sweep speed.

Why anyone would want to slow the sweep speed down is a real mystery, as most will keep it up at maximum. An attenuator just for the spectrum scope is also provided at 10, 20 and 30 db levels. This is going to be required to used in a very busy band (say 49 meters at night).

Center mode allows one to tune around the scope currently displayed on the screen (a red line). Fixed mode receives the frequency as displayed at the center line and the spectrum display above and below a specified frequency. In this non fixed mode it moves up or down continuously as the tuning knob is adjusted. The Peak Marker function allows one to keep a eye on the maximum strength of signals displayed with a red marker at the top of a signal.

The display is a busy to watch even with no signals present (when it should not be). A wash of what could be called “grass” is displayed at the floor of the scope. This was never a problem with the elder IC-R9000 model. With a noisy open band (say 49m at night), keeping the scope attenuator at the 30 db level was needed to keep this “grass” at bay. Any very weak signal detection on the spectrum scope is just not possible as it gets washed out no matter how much we twitted with adjustments.

It is still a very useful tool, but weak signals were never seen with this scope which limits the feature for digging out those types of signals.

Dual Digital Notch  /  Auto Notch  /  DSP Noise Blanker  /  DSP Noise Reduction

Nice deep and useful Notch filters. One is of the auto type. Just push the button and any hets are gone. Its that simple Also 2 manual notches are also provided and between these 3 one can eliminate just about all heterodynes.

Noise blanker we found to be only somewhat useful, not being a super performer. OK nothing more.

The DSP noise reduction does even less. There is a easy to use front panel knob that helps put it to use. This in itself is better over the JRC NRD-545's NR feature that requires one to drop down into the a quirky set menu and try and get it adjusted. But even here with any way you adjust, it just doesn’t do much of anything except for cutting off the high frequencies and adding computer artifacts to the audio.

1000 + Memories That Are Selected via 2 Knobs / 10 VFO’s

If you count all of the apples in the basket, the IC-R9500 has a grand total of 1220 memory channels.

1000 of these are of the regular variety. 100 are auto write when searching. 100 are for Skip Memories that are also used with scanning functions. The last 20 are for Scan Edge operations that indicate the upper and lower of a search range.

The best deal here is with the memory operation in general. Icom is using real knob to select the memory channel and not just some up and down buttons. But with the R9500, the outer part of that same knob selects the memory bank. You can move over the memories at lighting speed.

Between this and the ease of just entering and dealing with memory channels in general, this is a top notch deal. Icom has done very well in this area once again as with the elder R9000. Alphanumeric tags can also be entered on every channel. 10 characters each. To top if off each bank can also be alpha tagged.

2 Digital “On Board” Audio Recorders  /  USB Stick Memory Can Add More Recording Time.

The IC-R9500 has 2 types of built in digital audio recorders.

One is for a longer continuous recording (press and hold the REC button for a second). This stores the data using a internal “Compact Flash” 128 MB internal memory (included CF memory card) or can also be channeled to the USB port where one would add a memory stick device for a much longer recording time. Remember as with any USB memory stick device , one must still follow the normal USB dismount instructions even with the IC-R9500 carefully to avoid loss of data (or other damage).

The “Compact Flash” (CF) memory card access / socket is located via a trap door, this is held in place with 2 screws on the rear of the receiver. Again a 128 MB card is included . The manual totally misses the CF card information and this rear port altogether. This socket does not have any eject button either. So if the owner wishes to (more like going to) upgrade to a larger card, it a pair low tech pliers (or similar) to the rescue to get the old one out. The CF format mode found in the menus "must be done" once a new card is installed. Of course be sure the set is OFF and unplugged BEFORE attempting this !!!

At only at 128 MB this included CF card is very “wimpy” . With the low prices of memory cards these days this seems woefully inadequate at the price point of the IC-R9500.

There are 5 different levels of recording levels. SQ1, SQ2, HQ1, HQ2, and SHQ. The best being SHQ. They are using the standard .wav format which is far better over the weird un-standard format used with the older discontinued Icom IC-R20 handheld receiver’s recording modes.

In testing, in the highest recording level SHQ, quality was very good indeed and at this setting and all is well. Of course as one drops the recording setting down, the recording quality goes down as well. But the real nasty was that fading distortion became very harsh to almost intolerable depending on the signal and quality setting.

Both tone controls “do” effect the recording (they do not work on recorder playback). We found that if the treble is cut back to about 12 o’clock position (or so) before recording, this makes the 2 HQ modes most usable (this of course cuts the high frequencies back a bit too). The 2 SQ modes could not be salvaged in any event.

In the “Voice Recorder” screen is where one views the record file list, playback, delete etc. Each file has the date of recording, quality and reception mode used. Fast forward and rewind buttons are available here as well. The recording level is all automatic and no fiddling with the volume control is necessary.

So one should figure on using the SHQ mode for the best quality and dynamic range. But again both HQ modes were usable with the proper treble adjustment prior to recording.

Total Recording Times with Included 128 MB CF Card (may vary slightly)
QUALITY SETTING - TIME (Hours, Mins, Seconds)
* SHQ (48 kHz) 0:22:05
* HQ2 (24 kHz) 0:44:11
* HQ1 (16 kHz) 1:06:17
  SQ2 (12 kHz) 1:28:22
  SQ1 (8 kHz) 2:12:34
* Recommend Settings (see text)

The other on board recorder is at a much shorter temporary 15 seconds total (just tap the REC button for a second). This is for quick ID’s, addresses etc. This one is volatile and is erased once the power is removed. Good news is that the quality of this short recorder is similar to the SHQ / HQ settings in the longer mode above.

Computer Connection via Standard 9-Pin Serial or Icom’s CI-V Port. Lan Port Too / Auto Tune Function / AFC in FM and FM Wide Modes

Conductivity between receiver and computer is well covered with the IC-R9500. We have the usual DB-9 serial connection. The Icom CI-V port for use with the CT-17 computer interface level converter or between other Icom equipment.

A USB port used for connection of a USB keyboard (Alpha Tag entry), Memory for the Audio Recorder, or even a hub. To top that off there is even a Ethernet LAN connection. This is perfect for use with any firmware updates, which the R9500 is indeed set up for.

Not sure if you are in the middle of a signal ? The IC-R9500 might be able to help you find it using the “Auto Tune” mode. It’s limited to within +/- 5 kHz on AM, +/- 1 kHz on SSB and 500 hz on CW. It works well, however not always. It depends on the strength and fading of the signal. We found this to work better than expected. Selectable AFC is available in the FM and FM Wide modes (not tested).

An Engineering Marvel

The Icom IC-R9500 is a very good to excellent performer overall. But it also is a real expensive receiver to boot. This is one super set , but not without some disconcerting bugs (possible MAJOR power supply failures for one) . It costs a chunk of change just to ship it anywhere. This is the most expensive receiver I have ever tested to date. Again in my view it does not make it to the performance standards set by the WJ-8711A , but is in the near ball park.

Dave N9EWO
Ver 4.1

IMPORTANT : If you found this information to be enjoyable and useful, please consider a small donation to help keep it here and updated. ANY donation amount is very much appreciated. Please see the main page for details. Thank You.

Back To Main Page