ICOM IC-91A Review
I absolutely love the radio! I own a lot of Icom radios for other purposes than ham and all of them have had some annoying shortcomings. Icom put all they had into this radio. The specifications are obvious and clearly indicated so I will cover what is not obvious or stated in the specifications about this radio.
This radio feels real good in your hands with a die cast aluminum case with a little bit of weight to it. Fits real nicely in the palm of your hand. However, if you have big sausages for fingers the keypad will be a little hard to work.
My subjective opinion is that the receiver is very sensitive. It is clearly more sensitive than any receiver I currently own and I do own quite a few expensive receivers (some with transmitters). I listened to several of the same transmissions at various frequencies on the same antenna while swapping radios and the IC-91 proved out to be the most sensitive based on a listening test.
The transmitted audio quality is superb! I drove around town and talked to my pals while recording my conversations on my IC-R20 at home. When I played back the audio I was impressed. The sound quality was equivalent to the home units I was talking to. Be aware that the audio sensitivity is quite high. Early on I was told to back off from the mic.
The HM-75 produces superb sound and a little weaker mic sensitivity, which is good.
On other receivers with LCD displays I have noticed a segment scan buzz through the audio sections while listening to weak signals. No buzz on this rig even at very low signal levels!
Considering the sensitivity of the receiver it is fairly immune to interference.
Battery life is pretty good and will certainly get a monitoring oriented user through a full day with some talking while in battery miser mode.
If you are a casual user you do not need the desktop charger as the internal charger with wall wart works just fine.
I would recommend to anyone that the perfect setup is the desktop charger and a second battery and an external speaker/mic.
There are many complaints about the low power audio on this rig but we have to keep in mind that this radio is very small and compact and as such I am happy with the audio sound levels.
The only thing I like about the programming software is that it is real time. In real time you can control the radio and memory without going through a "clone" process. Big plus!
The not so good:
No cross-band but does have two separate simultaneous receivers on A & B groups.
Memory channels are A:0-799 + 24 scan edge pairs and B:0-399 + 24 scan edge pairs and are mutually exclusive of each other. Big pain! In order to use both receiver sections to listen to the same set of frequencies you have to enter them twice. My IC-R20 shares the memory without partitioning and I really like that. Why can't the IC-91 do what the R20 does?
No SSB or CW modes! So, ICOM, your going to sell this wideband radio to HAM's and not have SSB???! I just don't get it.
No AMWS (Automatic Memory Write Store) to help search for frequency activity.
Weather alert chops (time slices) your receiver to listen to the weather stations and you can hear it during a reception of a transmission.
The volume control friction is way too loose to the point where you can never trust that your volume is set correctly. I am always pressing the "squelch open" button to check volume levels. I find myself pressing the "lock all" function often.
The minimum or low volume levels are too steep. The volume control is a potentiometer with a smooth turn feel, but the rotation is converted to digital steps. They should insert a intermediate volume level between the first and second steps to accommodate ear buds. By the 4th volume step (of estimated 128) the volume is way too loud for ear buds.
Could be my imagination but this radio pops open the squelch about once per minute as if to tell the operator it is still on and working. Not a very stealthy issue.
Minimum Tuning Step (TS) is 5khz in VFO or MR mode. While this is normally OK it makes working satellites harder since you can't adjust for Doppler shift except to enter the shifted frequencies directly from the keyboard. AFC would help this as well if it existed.
The display light is a little weak which is great out at sea on a new moon, but a bit dim for normal city night lighting.
While running in dual receiver mode and scanning a series of channels in B group that are a mix of +Dup and -Dup a cyclic clicking sound is heard on signals received in the A band group. The click cycle corresponds to the flipping of +Dup and -Dup of the scanned channels in the B band group. This is not a subtle click either! This is a major flaw!
I have had a hard time recreating this problem but with low signal level AM stations a faint repetitive tone can be heard. Will write more about it when I determine more.
Do not power the rig from the power jack on the side while transmitting!!! The radio emits a beep tone from the speaker and the same tone is very loud inserted into your TX audio.
The software sux! Very aggravating! It is great compared to entering info into the radio keys, but missing basic commands that every program on the planet incorporates. Memory is a table of information. As such, I expect to be able to sort it, select ranges with SHIFT, select items using CTRL, copy, paste, drag and drop... Can't do that here! All you can do is view, move one frequency up or down one channel at a time, clear, delete and type in a frequency by hand. No import. No export. Isn't export to Excel or delimited format one of the top items on the list of features that must be built into any program???!!! No print. No print to file. Also, the real time control of the radio screen has buttons that are not in the same order to the layout on the physical radio, which shows poor quality control in the software development group. You would think that at one of the software development checkpoints they would have compared the buttons on the radio to the buttons on the software! Aren't the Japanese manufacturers well known for attention to minute details?
Not yet kown:
This radio has not been in the hands of users long enough to know if the how the case, printed lettering on the keys, display lens, display segments and battery latch will hold up.
If ICOM was brilliant...
They would develop solid software in one program that could read all of their radios. I liken this Garmin GPS's where one set of software can read all their GPS's. I can not leave Garmin because all of my accessories (infrastructure) works on the next Garmin I buy.
The dream software would allow me to move frequencies from one radio to the next or to my family of radios. This would make it real hard for me to leave ICOM for another brand.
Their accessories would be compatible with a broad range of units. Batteries, chargers, mics, headsets, software, etc. would all be compatible.
Any accessory I own for ICOM that has an ear bud/ear phone on it is way to loud! The volume can't be set low enough without introducing all kinds of amplifier noise (SNR). They need to toss a resister in line with the ear pieces.
If ICOM were truly brilliant I would get the feeling they actually used and thoroughly tested what they built prior to production.
While in 5 watt mode and chatting a lot the unit does get quite warm, but this is normal.
I give the IC-91A a score of 4.75 of 5 points.
Updated on 04/30/2007 09:10:20 PM