Icom 705: First Impressions

Icom 705 First Impressions

The new IC 705 arrived yesterday morning, this is a quick review of my first 24hrs with the radio.

I consider myself a technically savvy new ham, having a solid foundation in technical skills, but having only been licensed for a few years, there is still much about the hobby I’m learning and exploring for the first time.  For a little over 2 years I’ve operated an IC 7300 as my primary HF station, both in the shack and in the field. I’ve also had the opportunity, thanks to fellow ham KK6DA, to operate a KX3 that’s been graciously on loan to me. My interest in the 705 has been primarily as a teaching platform for a new series of video training courses I’m building for WaveTalkers.com. So after 24 hrs with this new IC 705 these are my first impressions of the radio.

IC 705 arrives in a colorful box.

The Form Factor

The IC 705 is remarkably small and compact.  It’s very similar in both size and weight to the KX3. In the shack thus far it’s felt most comfortable to operate when on a small desktop tripod. The bottom of the radio has a chamfer near the back that allows the radio to sit on the desk and tilt up for a better viewing angle.  This works well, but it really needs a support foot of some kind to maintain this position. With a small ¼ x 20 threaded foot, the radio would remain in a good operating position, however I found that a small tripod seems to feel more natural for me when operating it in the shack.

The VFO knob and many of the buttons along the bottom edge of the radio sit close to the bottom of the radio so I found operating the radio while sitting flat on the desk to be a little less comfortable than when raised a few inches on a sturdy tripod.

Flat on the table, the bottom row of buttons and VFO knob sit very close to the table top.

The IC 705 works well in the shack, but this radio is clearly designed for field operation; and the form factor feels completely natural when holding the radio in your hand or sitting it in your lap. Laying the radio on its back and looking straight down at the screen works quite well.

The screen is really nice, and I mean really nice.  Out of the box, the screen is set to only 50% brightness and it was easy to see in full sun. I had not used a VHF/UHF radio that had a waterfall besides my RTL-SDR dongle, so I was not prepared for how helpful that waterfall really is for finding an active repeater or operator on simplex.  Saying this now feels like a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious), but it was something I simply hadn’t considered before operating the IC 705. I’m very used to using the waterfall of the 7300 and the Pan Adapter of the KX3 to help find stations on HF, but suddenly all of my VHF/UHF radios (HTs and a mobile) feel like blind dinosaurs compared to the IC 705.   

My Kenwood D710G is a great radio in my opinion, but after one evening of operating with the IC 705, it makes the D710G feel like operating with bear skins and stone knives in comparison. Even something as simple as having more than 7 characters to name a memory channel makes all of the other radios I have feel like outdated equipment designed and stuck in the 1990s.  The UI/UX of the IC 705 is not perfect by any means, but it feels to me like a giant leap forward when compared to other ham radios currently on the market.

VHF / UHF Operating

One of the ARES teams I operate with holds their weekly nets on Monday Night, so I wanted to configure the IC 705 to use for my check-in on that net. I consider myself very comfortable operating my IC 7300, but since I do not have an IC 9700 I had not used the Icom UI/UX to set up tones for talking on a repeater. I didn’t find the process intuitively obvious at first.

After trying to figure the steps out on my own, and skimming through the manual a bit, I watch a couple of YouTube videos on the IC 9700 and that’s when it occurred to me, one of the big differences between the IC 705 and its IC 7300 / 9700 siblings, is that the IC 705 has far fewer one press physical buttons to control the functions you’re looking for and thus you need to access those functions either through the touch screen or a layer or two deep with the physical buttons. Once you realize this, what didn’t seem at first to be intuitively obvious, suddenly becomes pretty simple and straightforward.

The UI/UX of the IC 705 makes a lot of sense for portable operation which is what this radio was designed for.  Nearly every physical and onscreen button reacts differently if you short or long press the button. As an IC 7300 user, this took just a little getting used to, but even after a short period of time, the UI/UX of the IC 705 started to feel more natural. It will take a little bit of adapting to this new mode of operating the radio, but when I switched back over to my 7300 last night, I discovered that many of those same button presses work on the 7300 as well, I had just never noticed them before.  Therefore, I see this new UI/UX as helping to surface those other additional functions in the other Icom radios that have been sitting there all along.

IC 705 receiving signals from a repeater 80 miles away.

I configured a few repeaters manually using the IC 705 interface, but then once I had the process down, set out to install the device drivers and Icom programming software on my PC to speed up the process of configuring repeaters in the radio.

Once configured, I was easily able to talk on a repeater about 80 miles away, full quieting and my first contact was with a station in the high desert outside of Los Angeles and they were well over 150 miles away from me. 

During the evening ARES LAX NW net, N0ART reported that my signal was 59, loud with crisp and clear audio.  During the Simplex net, I often have difficulties contacting stations in the San Fernando Valley from Ventura, even when using my Kenwood D710G running at a full 50W of power.  I normally call out requesting a relay, and occasionally hear other stations calling back.  Last night was no exception, another station on the Oxnard plain responded back and we had a strong simplex connection between us. I checked in with net control this morning, and my simplex check in was heard by a couple of stations and we were relayed in. Propagation was such that the few stations I did hear were so far down in the noise I couldn’t pick them out on either radio.  So it wasn’t a legitimate contact, but a good starting point nonetheless.

Connecting to a PC

There are several options for configuring the IC 705 using a PC. What I found was that the radio does not like being connected through a USB hub, and thus directly connecting a USB Micro cable between the radio and a PC running Windows 10 seemed to work fine. Programming repeaters into the radio was fairly straightforward once I had the data cloning pathways set up and working properly. The Icom programming software can be downloaded here for free, just make sure you install the device driver into your PC first, then it’s a good idea to update the firmware using a micro SD card and following the online instructions.  

CS-705 Software from Icom

Once the radio and PC were talking to each other, I downloaded the initial configuration from the radio into the Icom programming software.  Then made a few changes and uploaded those data back into the radio.  Once I got this round trip of data working, I set out to key in a variety of local repeaters for the various ARES groups and repeater groups I operate on.  That process went fairly smoothly and the programming software also has what seems to be a full suite of configuration options for the radio as well.  I’m still exploring these but, it seems much faster to run through a whole bunch of settings in the configuration file and then load them all into the radio at once using the software.

Bluetooth Connectivity

Bluetooth in ham radios has always been pretty disappointing to me.  I have a Kenwood D74 and while I’ve been able to use the bluetooth to connect to some headphones for monitoring and to my PC for data transfer, the supported version of Bluetooth has always meant more problems than solutions.  Most ham radios in my experience that support Bluetooth only support the older protocols and thus many current headsets and wireless speakers will simply not connect reliably to them.  Data transfer has also been flaky at best in my experience. That is not the case with the IC 705, both headphones and data transfer paring seemed to work right out of the box without issues.

Headphones and PC paired with the IC 705

I was able to easily pair my Sony WH-1000X M3 noise canceling headphones and PC laptop with the IC 705 on the first attempt. Routing the radio audio directly to the noise canceling headphones is simply awesome; it just works. I have not had time to configure the PC to send email via WinLink using a Bluetooth connection to the IC 705 yet, but that will be one of my next projects. 

HF operation

I currently have an 80m dipole rigged for NVIS communication from my home QTH. Connecting the IC 705 to that antenna yielded some surprising results. I spun around on the 80m band last night tuning in stations and getting used to the controls.  The antenna is currently cut for the lower portion of the 80m band as I’m still making adjustments to it. I called CQ for a while but didn’t get a response. I then connected my 7300, set to the same frequency, and cranked the power up to 100W to see if I was simply not being heard on the lower power.  Still no response, so I’ll do more testing as I get my other antennas back in the air in the coming days. 

IC 705 listening on 80m NVIS

I know the 80m NVIS antenna is pretty good and receiving signals across multiple bands, however, while swapping antennas at one point I still had the 80m NVIS antenna connected by mistake instead of my 2m/70cm N9TAX roll-up slim jim, and was still able to use it to connect to the repeaters on top of Mt Wilson about 80 miles from me. I didn’t have a tuner connected and clearly the antenna was not optimal but it actually worked just fine. I wouldn’t suggest repeating this experiment as the SWR was quite high, but it’s nice to know that if I had to, it seems like the IC 705 can use just about anything to get a message through. 

Listening on Other Bands

I was also able to listen to stations on other HF bands including 20, 40, and 160 using my NVIS antenna.  A quick spin through a variety of Short Wave frequencies yielded similar results. I could easily pick up Radio Havana, WWV, a station in North Carolina, and others. I’m not sure exactly where some of these other stations were broadcasting from, but the experience seemed similar to that of my IC 7300 so pretty good for a quick and dirty test.  Everything sounded good through both the handheld speaker mic and the speaker built into the IC 705.

The IC 705 has several other bands outside of the amateur bands that you can monitor including Air Band, NOAA Weather Radio, AM/FM commercial broadcasts, and analog commercial frequencies often used by Police, Fire and other agencies.  Having the waterfall display on the IC 705 made finding and listening to these signals really easy. 

Pressing the Air Band button gave quick access to listening to several local airport towers and planes that were operating in the area. NOAA weather radio can be accessed under the Quick menu button. Being able to pick up local FM broadcasts is nice for following local news and information. Listening in on emergency services dispatch and local command frequencies provides some of the best situational awareness information during an emergency. I tested all of these and all worked great right out of the box.

Overall First Impression

Overall, my first impression of the IC 705 is that this radio is simply awesome.  I love technology that is extremely flexible and the IC 705 exceeds that bar.   I feel as though I’ve just scratched the surface of what this radio is capable of.  I’m looking forward to getting the radio out in the field for some POTA and SOTA operations as well as using it at a platform to build out a new video training series for WaveTalkers. Having such a compact, all modes, all bands rig, with a nice big easy to see waterfall, that can be ready to go at a moments notice is a very welcome addition to my GoKit and Shack. 

As a final footnote, I did reach out to Icom America to inquire about getting a loaner unit for review, however with such high demand for these radios none were available.  Since I had already paid for an IC 705 I ordered when the radio was first announced earlier this summer, Icom was able to get my order expedited to help me get this review out a little quicker. Therefore, a big thanks to Icom America for helping with the logistics of getting my order to me a little sooner.

Chris Mattia – W6AH