My trusty ICOM 756 Pro II died last month. Time for a new ham radio. But which one? And what features do I need?
Last month, my wonderful ICOM 756 Pro II radio passed away. A blank screen, a pop, and a puff of smoke greeted me one morning. When an electronic component burns out, there is a sickly smell. Oh dear. This model was discontinued in 2004, and replacement circuits are not readily available. Perhaps it could be repaired. However, the costs of labor, shipping and replacement parts would probably have been more than $500. Better to put that money into a new ham radio transceiver.
I bought this 756 Pro II on sale when the Pro III was released. Good service for 13 years. The 756 Pro series were the first ICOM radios to use digital signal processing in the final IF stage. In addition, a particularly welcome feature was the computer-generated spectrum display on the screen. My Microham Microkeyer connected to the ICOM to provide additional control, audio routing and Morse Code features.
Any new ham radio I buy will have to meet or exceed the performance my old radio.
New Ham Radio Performance Requirements
For me, there are three things to look for in a new ham radio. Aside from the obvious requirement of good quality and reliability.
First is receiving performance. This is a combination of selectivity, sensitivity and noise abatement. Selectivity is the ability to reject undesired signals and mixing products. Sensitivity is the ability to hear weak signals. Noise abatement is a variety of techniques to reduce man made or atmospheric noise. Here in western Canada, sensitivity is more important than selectivity, because most of the signals heard here are fairly weak. Also, since I enjoy short wave listening, I want good AM signal reception.
Second is signal display. I feel naked without being able to visualize all of the signals on a frequency band. Modern receivers offer a combination of spectrum and waterfall displays. Spectrum shows the signals in real time. Waterfall shows the past minute or more of spectrum history.
Third is control and interconnection. I want to easily adjust receiver settings for things like frequency, gain and bandwidth. Equally important is the ability to connect the radio to a computer, external audio processing, and specialized software for digital radio modes. In the past, these types of interconnections were made using serial ports and audio/accessory cables. Modern radios should provide signals and control connections over USB, which gets rid of a rats nest of wires.
So, now it’s time to look at some alternatives for a new ham radio.