ICOM IC-703 Plus HF and 6 Meter QRP Transceiver
ICOM's new HF QRP transceiver adds 6 meters. This makes a great travel companion for CW and SSB operators (FM and AM too) at up to 10 W out and with a competent general coverage receiver as well.
An interesting trend in commercially manufactured Amateur Radio equipment may have started several years ago with the introduction of the Vertex/Standard (Yaesu) FT-817. This radio was a multi-mode full featured MF/HF/VHF/UHF transceiver designed especially for portable operation. The power level was low to allow extended operation under battery power, making it an ideal QRP backpacking companion.
ICOM has now introduced a low power version of their tremendously successful IC-706MKIIG, called the IC-703 (see July 2003 QST, p 61), to capture some of this market. The original '703 was a fine rig, but lacked VHF coverage. ICOM has now redesigned the '703 to provide the ham on the go with a small, easily transportable and battery friendly package covering all the HF bands (a call to ICOM will get simple instructions for adding 60 meters) and 6 meters. Note that early '703 HF versions erroneously indicated that they covered 50 MHz on the front. New production units indicate the actual supported frequency range for each type on both the box and the front panel.
I received the review radio from the ARRL Lab and immediately started setting the little rig up in my shack. The only 6 meter antenna I had handy was the Diamond D-130J discone that is used as a scanning antenna at K7SZ. This antenna will handle up to 100 W on 6 meters, so I connected the '703 to the discone and started tuning around. As usual, when I'm on 6 nobody else is! However, I was able to bring up two local 6 meter repeaters and received good audio reports using the factory default settings in the radio. I was able to do all this without consulting the manual!
The IC-703 Plus is an easy radio to get to know and use. The 96 page manual is easy to read and digest. Not being the type who likes to go to the manual unless all else fails; I spent some time just poking around to get the "feel" of the rig. The large display is definitely easy on the eyes, and much easier to read and decipher than the displays on either my FT-817 or FT-857 radios. The display is very readable from a variety of angles. This becomes extremely important when using the IC-703 Plus in a mobile environment. Since the front panel detaches and can be mounted remotely, mounting the front panel at an angle for good viewing is easy. The large display greatly simplifies this process.
The IC-703 Plus features 105 memory channels, and will operate on any voltage between 9.0 and 15.9 V dc. Power output is controllable from the front panel, via menu selection, from 0.1 W to 10 W (5 W at 9.6 V) on all bands using SSB, CW, FM and RTTY. AM output is 0.1 to 4 W (2 W at 9.6 V).
If you've ever operated portable at Field Day or on a camping trip in the bush, dragging along extra accessories like an outboard tuner, coax jumpers, etc, gets to be a real drag. The IC-703 Plus solves that problem by building the tuner right into the radio. It will match 16.7 to 150 Q unbalanced load on HF and will tune a 20 to 125 Q load on 6 meters. Adding a 4:1 balun allows the user to also tune into antennas fed with balanced
transmission lines. You'll get a 1:1.5 match in a matter of a couple of seconds. Nice...really nice! Earlier I mentioned that the IC-703 was a "battery friendly" radio. The trend in QRP today is to operate from remote locations. In order to successfully do this requires a radio that is not going to drain the battery in a couple of hours. Receiver current runs between 300 mA and 1.2 A depending upon power source and whether the receiver is quiet (squelched) or actively buzzing with QSOs and, of course, the volume level. Transmitter power output level determines the transmit current. At 5 W output the transceiver draws around 2 A, and it draws 3 A at 10 W.
Time to check 6 meters again. While the discone antenna's lower limit on 6 meters is 52 MHz, using the IC-703 Plus on-board tuner, I was able to get a match from 50.0 MHz all the way up to 54 MHz with no problems. I also coupled my 180 ft 40 meter Extended Double Zepp (fed with 450 Q ladder line via a 4:1 balun) into the IC-703's tuner. Wow!
A match! Had the band been open during the evaluation, I'm sure I would have made many SSB and CW contacts with one or the other antenna.
While the main thrust of this review was to highlight 6 meter operation, giving an old QRPer like me a radio like the IC-703 Plus and not expecting me to drop....