Icom 703 Field Review
When Icom released the 703 and later the 703+ (added 6m) it started to erode market share from Yaesu and its FT-817. Kenwood never had a response to the QRP community for a similar radio. Icom chose to offer a 10W version of the highly successful 706 100W mobile radio. The primary market was the JARL member that loves to operate SOTA, picnic table, mobile, hiking and yes home use operations. Japan is blessed with many mountains and QRP operations out in the field is very popular. Well, yeah that also includes the rest of the world that would enjoy such a radio.
The two radios serve a similar market but their design views are completely different. Yaesu wanted to provide an all-in-one radio whereas the deign engineers at Icom felt that HF performance was key. I own both radios and use each one for different purposes.
Today it’s a harder decision, since back in 2001 this is what we had to work with where now we can add Elecraft and Ten-Tec to the mix.
The 703 offers a better receiver than the 706 radio it is based on and a noticeable improvement over the 817. Its still a rugged radio as its meant to be carried around in the Lc-156 back pack.
Unlike the 817, the 703 requires an external battery. Using a 13.8v power supply the consumption on receive is 550 ma and you can lower that to about 350 ma by turning the lighting off. The 817 draws 450 ma by comparison. On transmit it draws 2A at 10W and 1.6A at 5W. Where things get really interesting is that the radio will operate right down to 8 volts before it shuts off. At the 11v point the radio will choose 5W below this and 10W above this. In fact a popular battery choice was the 9.6V NiMH RC car battery packs which today has been replaced with a 5A 10.1V Lion pack. Phil AD5X has a mod for holding the battery on a tray on the side of the radio. You just cannot do that with the 706 or even the FT-857.
CW always is the low power mode of choice and the 703 has a clean output with no key clicks. This radio really shines when you add the FL-53A 250Hz narrow CW crystal filter in the 455 KHz IF. Its an expensive $300 filter but it’s the same one in the big HF rigs Icom sells. Set the tone o 700 Hz and enjoy CW at its best. The QSK is a relay so expect the chatter. This filter is the first add on one needs to buy.
I was given great audio reports from the HM-103 hand mic and the built in speech compressor is a must have when trying to punch out a low power signal on 40m. I leave mine on all the time. The Pass Band Tuning control is forever useful and there is a graphic icon showing its adjustment.
Its not bad for something that’s over 10 years old in technology but the UT-106 board remains in the Icom line up. The Auto Notch Filter works great for the tuner uppers on the Ontars and Ecars nets. The NR works ok with little distortion but its not as effective as one expects.
Its built in and works very well. The 703 has a High Band Pass and Low Band Pass design for each ham band and with the added tuner in-line adds additional levels of tuning the front end. I don’t have any issues with broadcast band interference but I have heard that the tuner can help with at as it adds additional filtering.
I like how the RIT control is detented
I like the built in ATU
Better ergonomics than the 817 as far as knobs and menu action
No room for a built in battery
MIC connector on the bottom. Dumb idea.
Memory keyer included
Better receiver than the 817 but I can’t work the local repeaters
Reasonable current consumption makes battery operation very practical
The Passband Tuning does not work on AM
LC-156 Back pack
Well built and designed for the 703 for field use. I wish it had more to room to carry a lunch and water but as a grab-and-go its perfect. You need and want the short separation cable kit for this set up.
Like any short antenna it has its weaknesses as far as efficiency on the lower bands but it is just as good as its competitors as far as performance. You do need the 25 foot counterpoises for it. I saw a I think a Diamond or Create version in the Akhibara in Tokyo ( I think it was around $190 US based on Yen rates) so Icom is not the OEM for it. I prefer the ATAS version for a field whip from the Japanese radios makes but really the Buddipole Buddistick and some modifications is a better performer. Save your money and forget about the MP-1 Super Antenna.
AM Filter Modification
The 703 is also a great low band radio for MW broadcast DX and LF listening (better than the 817) but the AM filter is too wide at 9KHz.
The AM filter is a Murata CFWS455G and can be easily replaced with the 6KHz Murata CFWS455HT. The HT version is the AM filter used in the 817. It’s a simple mod to improve the AM bandwidth for SWLs. (I have done this on the Icom R70, 71, previous 703 I owned, and the 735 transceiver). I got the “blue dot filter” from Kiwa Electronics and Yaesu parts.
The MW band sensitivity is not bad at 2uV. Its not what the MW Dxers look for but for an all rounder radio its acceptable. The 817 has a MW sensitivity of 32uV. Its kind of deaf for MW Dxing but works well as designed for local stations.
This is my third Icom 703. I got the first one off the boat from Japan and within 2 weeks I had to ship it to Icom Canada as I had joined the blown finals club. Eventually I sold it to fund the massive Yaesu FT-1000 Mk5 purchase. Then I bought it again (703+) complete with the backpack and separation cable which fixed the finals issue. I also found the rare AH-703 antenna. I enjoyed using it for a week in New Brunswick having a blast making contacts with the antenna clipped onto the side of the pack. I then sold it to someone who made an offer I could not turn down. Now I have another and this time CW is so enjoyable with the Narrow CW filter. I cannot believe I had never added the filter before but I remember why …that filter was almost half the price of the radio. However, its well worth it for the CW operator.
This a very ideal portable radio with HF receiver performance like the big boys, built in ATU and some handy extra features that makes the radio highly recommended for portable and QRP buffs.
(I have been known to have the 817 sit on top of the 703)
(I have owned the KX3 which is a great radio but different in so many ways)