The wideband receiver ICOM IC-R9500 is the direct follow -up model of the IC-R9000 which at its time was the benchmark of a broad band receiver. No other radio combined shortwave with the upper frequency bands with such high a reception quality. The IC-R9500 was introduced to the market in 2007 and is still (2015) being produced.
If you have a closer look at the IC-R9500 the trained eye will notice the excellent manufacturing quality. The radio comes in an elegant grey-white color. The blue lines on the front (made of aluminum) gives the appearance of the IC-9500 a special touch and reminds you of the receivers made by Rohde & Schwarz. The feel of the control buttons is simply phenomenal. Everything is in its place. The big and heavy VFO has a flywheel effect which I had never encountered on a radio before. Additionally, you can activate the latching function, if you want to hop from channel to channel.
If you open the case to have a look at the inner parts you will be surprised at how heavy this receiver is. You will hold 20Kg of concentrated reception technology in your hands. Most of the weight comes from the case and the cover. After unscrewing approximately 30 screws, the radio is open and you will see scrupulously separated and shielded boards. The case is made of thick aluminum cast and absolutely torsion-free. The boards are all shielded by a thick sheet covering. The integrated power supply is even shielded twice. The mechanical construction is completely satisfying and on a professional level. It is clear that such a radio produces heat. In order to minimize the heat load, the IC-R9500 has a cooling fan on the back. It is activated when a certain level of heat is exceeded. Unfortunately though, the fan is very loud; to be exact: it produces quite a lot of noise; even if you have your headphones on you will hear the fan. For a top class receiver, this is an absolute no go. I took care of the fan and replaced it by a 'silent fan' The result can be viewed under the link "Icom IC-R-9500 Fan Modification"
The IC-R9500 in Action Full HD Video
The IC-R9500 is a very flexible receiver.
The front of the IC-R9500 is full of control knobs and push buttons. You really have to get a general overview before you can start. With all these controls, you cannot do without the manual. But with some technical knowledge, you can operate the radio very well. To start with: Almost every function of the IC-R9500 can be user-defined. The IC-R9500 has all those important features, which a DXer or a SWL needs on his hunt for weak and rare stations.
Connectors on the rear panel
Working with the IC-R9500
You will not become familiar with such a radio right away. It will take some time to get to know all its functions. I worked with it for a couple of months practically on a daily basis and compared it to other receivers, mainly the Watkins Johnson HF-1000. But the Perseus SDR and the NRD 525/535 were used for comparisons as well. The IC-R9500 beats any other receiver as far as the 'feel' of it and the workmanship are concerned.
I need not say much about the receptions qualities of the IC-R9500. All in all, they are absolute top class! Large signal immunity is not much of a topic. With a IP3 +40dB, it can handle very large and effective antennas. In some other areas, though, the IC-R9500 has to shed feathers. In the AM-synchronous mode, the HF-1000 and the Perseus with HDSDR software are better. Although the IC-9500 has a synchronous detector with selectable sidebands, the suppression of the sidebands of the synchronous detector leaves something to be desired. The other side band is not very well suppressed. This became clear, when the IC-9500 was compared to the Perseus with HDSDR software. Also, the stability of the synchronous detector is not beyond all doubt because it often loses synchronization. In this regard, I was reminded of the Ten-Tec RX-340. Additionally, the noise blanker loses its effectivity in this mode. The interferences caused by a nearby pasture fence became noticeable as soon as AMS was activated. They could not be heard with the HF-1000 in AMS. Nonetheless, the synchronous detector of the IC-9500 eliminates the typical crackling of AM.
The sensitivity of the IC-9500 is acceptable on longwave and medium wave, but can be enhanced by the low-noise pre-amplifiers and then the IC-9500 is on par with the HF-1000. On shortwave, it can handle any situation and because of its exemplary features and its effective signal processing capabilities, it produces in most cases a better signal than the HF-1000. None of these capabilities is superfluous or works badly. The two configurable noise blankers, which because of near by pasture fences are very important for me, were effective and suppressed the interferences without a trace. Another strong feature of the IC-R9500 is the treble and bass control, which work highly effective. The sound can be adjusted to the receiving conditions. It sounds more natural and more analogue than the one of the HF-1000. The audio amplifier is perfectly designed and produces no inherent noise.
Should reception conditions be not so good, the IC-9500 puts an adjustable noise filter at your disposal, which "de-noises" the signal as long as you don't open it too wide. Then it starts to make bubbling sounds (artifacts). Both of the manual notch filters can be adjusted and customized. There are three filter widths which can get rid of whistling sounds very effectively.
The double passband tuning (Twin-PTB) makes it possible to shift the pass band of the band width filter on both sides. This way, interferences within the pass band can be eliminated. With the Twin-PBT you can also reduce the band width if you push both buttons in opposite directions. Additionally, the band width can be changed in steps of 200 Hz in AM and 100 Hz in SSB. Unfortunately though, the way of changing the band width is a little inconvenient. First, you have to access the band width menu by pressing the key, then you press the "BW"-key and keep it pressed and only then can you adjust the band width with the big VFO. It would have been better to make this operation easier with the installation of one button or switch for just this purpose. A good example of a good solution is the band width adjustment of the JRC NRD 545 DSP, where you can program three fixed band widths and select them by repeatedly pressing the appropriate key. Although the IC-R9500 has sharp DSP-filters, it also features so called "roofing filters". Before the signal reaches the DSP filters, it is passed through a selectable roofing filter which enhances selectivity.
In difficult receiving conditions, the AGC is a decisive factor. Ideally, it should be possible to switch it off completely or should be adjustable. The IC-9500 sports this feature in an impressive manner. The AGC can be programmed separately (SLOW, MID, FAST) for AM and SSB. You can also bypass these settings by using the turning knob. When things become difficult, you can turn off the AGC and carefully use the RF-Gain. Unfortunately, the RF-Gain influences the signal strength indicator which is atypical of a professional receiver.
A Dxer can almost not do without the built-in digital speech recorder. It has two modes. A short recording can take up to 30 Sec. You activate this function by pressing the "Rec" button temporarily. This is very handy, if, e.g., you didn't understand the station identification. A long recording is started by pressing the "Rec" button a littler longer. It can be as long as you wish until the memory is full. The internal "CF-Card" memory has a capacity of 121 MB. You can also insert a USB flash drive which can't be bigger than 2 GB. The recording quality can be adjusted as well to make better use of the memories.
The IC-R9500 sports 10 VFOs, which is very helpful if you want to compare the signal strength of different stations transmitting on different frequencies. Of course, each VFO remembers the data which were used on a particular frequency.
With 14 fixed tuning steps and a programmable step width between 0.1 KHz - 999.9kHz, you will almost always find the best step width. I say "almost" because the channel spacing of 8.33 kHz used in aviation in missing. You may program your own steps but only in 100 Hz intervals. If you want to scan aeronautical radio in 8.33 kHz steps, you are out of luck, you will also be outside the desired frequency.
The IC-R9500 has a search function which scans 40 channels/Sec in the memory mode. It also has intricate search mechanisms which leave nothing to be desired.
Of course, the center piece of the IV-9500 has to be mentioned: the big 7" display. Without this information center, the operation of such a complex receiver would become difficult. On the display, the spectrum and the modes are shown simultaneously. The width of the spectrum goes from 5 kHz - 10 MHz in the audible range. Beyond that, the width is up to 1000 Mhz. A special function is the built-in FSK decoder, which decodes the signals right away. The default Baud- and Shift rates are atypical, though, because they are exclusively used in ham radio. Nonetheless, professional services, e.g., the German Weather Service (DWD), can be decoded without any problems. Decoded Synop is not possible. Unfortunately, this spectrum is not real time like with any good SDR, but it is "wobbled". At a high resolution, the wobbling is slowed down, which in return slows the speed of the spectrum. That is unfortunate, because the usability of the spectrum is somewhat diminished. More would have definitely been possible. When the IC-9500 was developed, SDR technology had already been available. This is a big flaw, but still the spectrum can be used for an overview. The filter menu can also be shown with the Twin-PBT. The functions are displayed with symbols. The memory management and the scan functions are shown very well.
Reception above 30 MHz is very good, there were no large signal problems. The 6m-band could be received with my antennas without any problems. Here, the IC-R9500 proved to be a very sensitive receiver. FM reception in WFM was a bit disappointing because WFM has only a filter width of 180 kHz. An additional width of 110 kHz or 80 kHz would not have been out of place and the IC-R9500 would have been a good DX receiver for FM. The scanning function was very useful for the air bands. The air band can be scanned in a few seconds when scanning at a medium speed. Nothing can be criticized in this respect, except that the 8.33 KHz step is missing and that the scan always stops in the middle of the frequency. The 2m and 70cm-band was without any problems. The frequency range of the IC-R9500 is up to 3335 MHz. To evaluate the receiver in the highest frequencies, you would need special antennas and expert knowledge, which I don't have; so I had to stop the test with the 70cm band.
The ICOM IC-R9500 is an outstanding receiver with an incredible number of functions and adjustments. It is the receiver with the best features that has ever been on my table. It is built very sturdy and of excellent quality. Reception with this radio is top class and is on par with any other receiver. Although it has so many features, some aspects leave something to be desired. The loud fan was the thing that annoyed the most, but luckily that could be remedied. The spectrum did not make the best impression; it does not work real time, which is really too bad because it diminishes its usability. The third flaw is the lack of an additional, narrower filter for WFM. This makes the radio a little less useful for FM- DXing. Above 30Mhz, reception is flawless. The scanning capabilities leave nothing to be desired. Too bad, though, that an 8.33 kHz step for the air band is lacking. The synchronous detector did not make the best impression, either, but is useful, nonetheless.
The IC-R9500 is the epitome of a top class receiver.