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Old 02-14-2016, 3:07 PM
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Default Icom R20 Review

*** This review was written by me in 2006, I have recently found it and have published it for "historic" reasons.

Recently I had the chance to purchase an Icom R20 communications receiver second hand that was in great condition and had only been used for a short time prior to being sold. Over the last few years I have used a large number of radios and as such I have a good knowledge of them and how they perform.

First let's look at what you get when you open the box for the first time:

The R20 unit: This is rather large, but feels very solid and has a full keypad unlike some other radios that require the use of a dial to set channels.

Antenna: A 6 section telescopic whip with a double joint at the bottom to allow moment in many different directions.

Belt Clip: This screws to the radio and seems very strong and professional unlike some other models that appear weak and easy to break.

Battery Spacer: This allows the use of 3 normal AA cells to power the unit if the main battery runs out.

Hand Strap: Allows you to wear this around your hand to reduce the chance of you dropping the unit.

Battery Pack: This is a 1600 mAh Li-lon and should keep the unit running for a full days of use.

AC Adaptor: This is a 6V 2A plug pack that recharges the battery pack in about 8 hours; it also allows the radio to be used off the mains at home to reduce the drain on the battery.

Some of the specs of this unit are:
0.150 MHz to 3304.980 MHz
All mode receive (AM, FM, WFM, USB, LSB, CW)
1000 memory channels, plus 50 scan edges and 200 auto write channels swell.
Dual Watch. Audio Recorder.
VSC Feature

Now let's get in to setting up and using the R20 to do some scanning and searching.

I have to say that the manual supplied with this unit is very good and explains very well how to setup the features of this unit, because of this I will not go in to great detail on setting it up, more on using it and its great features.

Once I had programmed about 180 channels by hand (only took 3 hours) I turned it on I found that the scan speed is around 30 channels / second, this is a great improvement on the Icom r5 that was about 10 channels / second. One of the first things I heard was an airplane taking off form the local airport, I noticed that the audio was very clear and had no trace of the tinny sound you sometimes get with a handheld. During the next hour as I listened to it, I noticed that the Audio was very clear; the signals seemed to be pulled in very well by it even with just its normal aerial and it did not seem to suffer from as much interference as other radios I have used here in the past.

I have noticed a few channels that seem to suffer from pagers breaking in mainly in the 70mhz to 80mhz band, but I have discovered a great feature that seems to stop most of this, it is called VSC, but I will talk about that later. So overall, it sounds good, pulls in the signals and seems very good in regards to pager break in and interference from other services. Now I did some tests side by side while scanning the VHF and UHF bands with my 780 Trunk tracker using my external aerial and the R20 with its standard aerial, I also swapped these over to make sure the aerials were not affecting the results.

Below is a list of the channels, and which had a better signal and better audio while listening at the same time. (The 780 was on the external aerial for these first tests below)
70.325 MHz: 780
79.0625 MHz: 780
118.7 MHz: R20
147.0 MHz: R20
151.9MHz: R20
159.640MHz: 780
168.1125MHz: R20
463.525MHz: R20
474.775MHz: R20
476.425MHz: R20
506.8MHz: 780
866.4625MHz: R20


Now with the R20 on the external aerial:
70.325 MHz: R20
79.0625 MHz: R20
118.7 MHz: R20
147.0 MHz: R20
151.9MHz: R20
159.640MHz: 780
168.1125MHz: R20
463.525MHz: R20
474.775MHz: R20
476.425MHz: R20
506.8MHz: R20
866.4625MHz: R20

Out of the 24 frequencies above the R20 was better on 19 of them. Basically whatever the 780 with its external aerial could hear the R20 could also hear and in a lot of cases the signal and audio was better on the R20.

On the 865 MHz band which is of interest to me as the police have a Trunking radio system there, was very strong on the R20 and I managed to pull in 5 of the data channels that this system use, where as the 780 could only get 3 data channels of this system.

Swapping the aerials gave the same result. I am not much of an expert on listening below 30 MHz, but I did find the time station on 10.00 MHz was clear enough with just the normal aerial. I also spent a bit of time searching around the HAM bands and on 7.075mhz I was listening to a VK3 talking to a VK5 on LSB, this was just using the normal whip aerial that comes with it, I would guess an external HF aerial would improve it a lot.

So overall on the VHF, UHF and 800mhz bands it is more then up to the task and I can not fault the unit at all while listening to these bands, if you are just looking for a great handheld to scan the bands with, then I can not recommend the R20 high enough.

However we will now look at the "special" features that I think turn the R20 from just a nice handheld in to a very special receiver that I feel has a very special place in our hobby, that I am sure other companies will be looking at to include in there new models soon. I will outline each feature and give some details of how useful I have found it.

Audio Recorder: This in my opinion is one of the best features and I have found it very useful, basically depending on the quality setting you select you have 1, 2 or 4 hours of voice activated recording time, this allows you to set a group of channels that are scanned and any audio is recorded for playback later, this is great for keeping track of interesting things heard and I am sure we will see this feature included in more radios in the future.

Alpha Tags: These are up to 8 charters long and make keeping track of channels very easy, one thing with this is that they are quite a bit smaller then the frequency display above, maybe Icom could look at making them a bit bigger.

Dual Watch: This is like having two radios in one, and allows you to listen to two frequencies at once; I have only used this for a little while, but seemed to work very well.

Voice Squelch Control (VSC): This feature basically only opens the squelch when a voice signal is received, I am not a radio tech so I don't really understand how it works but as you would have read above, the police use an 800 MHz EDACS radio system and this removes the 5 beeps that the system adds to the end of each transmission, making listening to the system easier, it also helps with the interference I got with some of the VHF channels.

Overall I love the R20 and I can not recommend it enough, however there are few things that I would like to see changed.

The delay is set on a radio wide basis not on each channel; I would like to see the delay programmable for each channel, not the same for everyone.

The alpha tags are a bit small on the screen compared to the frequency above it; If possible these could be made a bit larger.

To sum it up, if you have a need for a great scanner with lots of very good features and have around $670 spare, look no further then the R20.

Launceston Analytical Radio Scanning : Icom R20 Review
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Old 09-01-2016, 7:08 PM
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All my old reviews (including this one) are now online in a single spot

Launceston Analytical Radio Scanning : My Radio Reviews
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Old 09-01-2016, 8:47 PM
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Nice... I like my R20 too. They're a few more reviews on the unit here, as well.

ICOM R20 Product Reviews
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Old 09-01-2016, 9:11 PM
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I am keen to have a look at the R30 when it is released
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Old 09-02-2016, 6:20 AM
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I do like the audio on the R20 better than on most scanners and and often use mine for marine and air monitoring. I am also very interested in the R30 when it is available,
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Old 09-02-2016, 5:56 PM
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I bought the Icom R20 when it came out use mine to monitor the airbands which does an excellent takes a while to get use to learn all the functions other than that its an awesome receiver.

Regards Lino.
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Old 09-02-2016, 6:10 PM
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Lino, you living down in Tasmania now?
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Old 01-25-2017, 6:57 PM
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Thumbs up Very nice review

I have been toying with the idea of purchasing one for a while. At least Icom has it right over AOR. I was first attracted to the 8200 MKIII. Then I looked closer. $700+ for the portable, then add another $120+ for a CTCSS option slot card and you are STILL left without DPL tones? Seriously? When is AOR gonna change with the times and put PL/DPL tones standard in the radio and not as a partial option? I like the R20 but do admit that the new R30 looks even more attractive.

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Old 01-31-2017, 11:30 AM
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I'll tell you, I use my R20 exclusively for aircraft. I love it!
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Old 01-31-2017, 7:41 PM
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I've always wanted a R20 but never pulled the trigger. I am seriously considering the R30 when it's released.
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