Having had the chance to get my hands on a Yaesu VX5-R Amateur transceiver I could not help but notice the similarities with the Icom ICR-2, both are of very similar size and both use a SMA rather than a BNC connector, but is that where the similarities end?
The Idea of this showdown is for anyone who may own one of these transceivers and is wondering is it worth making the plunge of buying a dedicated scanner such as the Icom ICR-2. You may think that the Yaesu is at a disadvantage being pitted against a dedicated scanner receiver, or you may think the other way that a scanner is never going to be of good quality as a transceiver. What must be remembered here is that the Yaesu is multi Ch with scan facility so can be classed as a scanner albeit with the capability to transmit in the Ham sections such as 50MHz-144MHz-430MHz areas, Also the Icom is based on the Icom ICXXXX Transceiver so should have some of these qualities, but for the purpose of this "contest" if you like, the scanning capabilities will be exploited, for a more detailed description of its use as a Transceiver then go to Yaesu website.
First impressions of the Yaesu as I pick it up is quality, it is clear that it is built to take the knocks in fact I believe it passed US military specifications in this dept. As if this was not enough I unintentionally put this to the test whilst fooling about with my daughter, the radio was knocked flying from my hand I watched in dismay as it landed with a thud and preceded to skid along the floor when I picked it up there was not a mark on it! Although it is small it has a definite but far from uncomfortable "Heft" about it. I have long wanted a scanner that had the feel of quality of the professional Motorola radios, as soon as I picked up the Yaesu it reminded me of the quality of the Motorola's. The Icom does not have this same quality about it but in all fairness it has taken its fair share of knocks over the years and it has the scars to prove it. Being of the normal plastic we have come to expect from scanners the Icom does not stand out from the crowd here.
Power on on both radios is via an orange button which has to be depressed to switch on the power (and switch off) I do not see any advantages or disadvantages using this method compared to the traditional on/off switch.
Programming of the two receivers differs somewhat as the Icom requires you to "Dial in" the frequencies which can be a bit time consuming compared to the traditional button pressing to enter frequency.This takes a little getting used to on the Icom but you soon get used to it after a while the main drawback of this method is if you are on vfo freq 460MHz then decide you want to listen to something in the vhf range then it takes quite a while to dial in through all the other frequencies. This is not the case with the Yaesu as it uses the traditional push button frequency programming method.
Display The display differs on each radios somewhat as the Yaesu has the option of making the numbers either large or small depending on your preferences so for someone with poor eyesight this is a bonus, in all fairness the Icoms font size is set to large by default anyway so the Yaesu does not score any more points for the visually impaired but I prefer the smaller setting so it does score some points for aesthetics in my opinion. The biggest bonus in this category is the facility to Alpha Tag memory Ch's on the Yaesu, this option is not available on the Icom which for me is a big negative, in my original review of the R2 I put this down to the small size of the Icom but Yaesu have proved it can be done, and with eight characters this is as good as the AOR8000 which is muck larger yet only managed to squeeze eight characters in. This in conjunction with the ctcss option makes this a pleasure to use. The rest of the display on the Yaesu is made up of the current frequency in use, Mode in use such as NFM, a battery saver icon (If activated) and a low power battery indicator when batteries are near depletion. Also a bar graph indicating signal strength. (This can also be tailored to your own taste). Also the mode MR and Ch number for memory mode and VA or VB for vfo mode. On the Icom You have frequency in use mode such as FM a battery life indicator MR for memory Ch. And Ch number and dup if you have the duplex facility set up.Signal strength bar graph. Backlight on the Icom is the traditional green we have come to expect whereas the Yaesu it is a red colour which I can not decide whether or not I like. (I have seen pictures of a mod to change the backlight to a more pleasant blue) Of course there are other permutations of the display depending on what functions you have set up but too many for this article. Most of the features will be covered as we progress anyway.
VX5 Showing Alpha Numeric tagging
Sockets on both receivers differ in as much as the Icom earphone socket is on the top of the unit whereas the Yaesu's is on the side and also doubles as a Mic socket for use with an attached microphone or headset. Of the two I prefer the Icoms choice of placing the socket on the top as when in use the earphone came loose a couple of times on the Yaesu in quite embarrassing circumstances, not a good thing for discreet monitoring when the audio is coming through your earphones and through the loudspeaker at the same time! Whether or not this is a direct result of the location of the earphone socket I do not know, or maybe it was not designed for a normal 3.5mm jack plug. (Remember this is also doubles as an external PTT socket.) Also the Yaesu has another socket for DC power supply which also is used for access to the internal battery charger. This is a feature that the Icom does not have requiring the user to rely on an external battery charger supply.
Battery life on both radios is very good the Icom when ran on two Ni-Mh battery gives very good longevity the Yaesu however shines through in this dept. The new Generation Li-Ion Rechargeable gives approx. 18 hours of use (This is receive only) depending on your scanning habits. The battery pack on the Yaesu is also very slim. The Yaesu has a few good features regarding the battery life for a start it has a battery saving feature which can be adjusted for different ratios depending on your requirements, another nifty little feature is that at a click of a button you can see what the current battery voltage is, so you know how much battery life is left. It is quite interesting to see how much battery drain is used when you do everyday things like switch on the backlight or even turn the volume up.Yet another good feature is at a click of another button I can see how long in hours and minutes I have been receiving on the unit.The Icom comes with a battery saver circuit which can not be adjusted but appears to do the job admirably albeit without all the features of the Yaesu's battery indicators.
The Yaesu with battery pack removed
Aerials supplied with both units appear to be very similar in appearance, the Yaesu is unique in as much as it comes with a screw in tip which is for coverage of the 50MHz amateur band just how effective this is I do not know, I tried a few times for activity in this area but came up with nothing the same goes for other scanners so I just presume there is not much activity in this amateur band. Both use a SMA type connection which I think is disadvantageous compared to BNC in as much as it restricts your usage of different whip type antennas.You can of course purchase a SMA-BNC connector thus allowing fitting of BNC type aerials.
Loudspeakers are situated in different locations on both units, the Icom favouring at the top of the bottom half of the unit and the Yaesu th bottom of the bottom half. I found audio quality exemplary on both units considering the small size of the receivers in whole, the Yaesu I think has the edge again giving commercial Motorola type quality. Very little distortion as volume is turned up full. NOTE Some VX5's suffer from speaker howl when volume is turned right up this is a bug which can be fixed by following these instructions: Speaker howl: Testing: any active frequency, turn volume knob from low to high. At some point the speaker will start to 'howl' It is not a distortion of voice because of tiny speaker, not feedback, but a self-generated tone that seriously disturbs understanding anything. It only occurs with the internal speaker, not external ones. Causes: The speaker board is linked to the audio one by a thin flexible circuit where a single ground wire isn't enough to carry the current to the speaker without disturbing the reference levels, causing this oscillation. The original design had the metallic case as carrier for these higher currents, but the painters of the case never knew about it. Fix: Yaesu acknowledges the problem, so you can just send it for warranty repair. If you are a do-it-yourselfer , open the radio, and where the four screws that are in the battery compartment (You just unscrewed them to get this far) on the inside of the radio you will see a raised quarter circle around each screw hole which acts as a contact to the keyboard p.c.b. Don't file them, otherwise they will be too short and not touch the board above. Now with a medium size screwdriver lightly scrape at the top of the quarter circles just enough to give the tips a little shine. Zip the radio back up and all should be well.
Belt clips on both units are a bit of a let down, I know I have already broken the original one on the Icom and the one supplied with the Yaesu does not give much Spring at all not giving me much confidence in leaving it attached to my belt or hooked over the top of my trousers, this is not such a big problem on a bigger heavier scanner but with these midgets you can forget they are there (Or not in this case!) of the two I have greater confidence with the Icom's clip.
Okay down to the nitty gritty to see how both units compare when on air. I will be using different permutations of aerials on both units so that they both get a fair crack of the whip.Like my reviews this will be done in layman's terms, nothing too technical here. For a look at the tech specs for the Icom and for the Yaesu then see the foot of this page.
HF on both units is supposed to be fair at best, I have not checked this myself as I do not have a dedicated HF receiver to check them against but from what I have read elsewhere they are not great performers in this category.
VHF Trying both units first with their own respective supplied aerials on VHF air band both appear to give very similar results which is good my local airport on both units the tower from my location on 119.250 can just be heard so the two are neck and neck in this frequency area. Moving further up in frequency in the 163-170 MHz area both units fail dismally with only the very strongest of signals coming through from very local repeaters. This is very disappointing to me and no doubt anyone else considering purchasing any of these receivers. Fitting a Watson W889 Telescopic aerial improved matters no end on both units especially on the Icom, in fact the Icom proved to be a very good performer on VHF. The Yaesu although there was a marked improvement it was not to the same degree as the Icom and I would consider it a poor performer in this area.
Moving further up into the 180-200Mhz area with the supplied aerials fitted the Icom clearly had the edge here hearing signals that the Yaesu just could not hear, a swap over of aerials on the performance increased somewhat on the Yaesu and deteriorated on the Icom showing that the supplied Yaesu aerial is not good at all in this frequency range.This was borne out the higher in frequency I went in this range with there being little between the two at the lower 180 MHz end. Fitting a Watson W889 to both units resulted with much better results with very little between them.
UHF Further up into UHF 433 amateur through 440PMR 450 Police 453-456 PMR both units came through admirably, with the Yaesu having a distinct edge pulling in weaker signals that the Icom just could not hear. In fact it even heard things that were not there! The Yaesu although very good on UHF was picking up image frequencies, those of you who used to use the old Tandy type realistic scanners will be familiar with this, remember how you could get mobile phones on 800MHz when they really were on 900MHz? and VHF police would blast through on airband? Well this is all to do with filtering you see these old scanners used double conversion and the newer type use Triple conversion and these filter out Image frequencies which basically are images on another frequency of an original frequency.Guess what the Yaesu uses? Yes you guessed it double conversion, now this is a big let down of a unit of this quality and not a flaw I'm happy to say that the Icom has. This is a shortcoming I have not seen for a long time in a decent scanner, maybe it is to do with the fact that it is a ham radio and in this environment maybe does not suffer from these problems I do not know, but these signals were not coming through twenty MHz away from the original signal but a few KHz away! even those old Tandy scanners could do better than that. Again you must take into consideration that the Yaesu is for all intents and purposes an amateur receiver and I did not get these problems in the amateur bands, but in the UHF PMR I was sometimes when doing a search wondering if I had found the correct frequency. I must also state that in the UHF bands the Yaesu was rock steady on most signals not a lot of shakiness of signals when moving the unit from A-B. Again professional Motorola type quality.There is a frequency used locally in the 440MHz area which is right next to a mobitex signal 12.5KHz away, you know those chuff chuffing signals? When received on the Icom this chuffing would break through even with ctcss enabled, the Yaesu totally ignored it much to my delight. Attaching the two units to a discone brought in no extra signals to the Icom in this portion of the UHF spectrum but did to the Yaesu.
Up into the 460MHz range the results are pretty much the same with the Yaesu pulling in more signals than the Icom any further than this I do not know as I have not gone any further there is not a lot up there that interests me.
Scanning The Icom has the most channels compared to the Yaesu 400 for the Icom and 220 for the Yaesu the Icom also has a banking structure so that you can enter certain types of frequencies into one bank and other types in the others very good, but with the Icom you cant scan any combination of banks its either all banks or one bank, a bit of a disappointment. The Yaesu although it does not employ multiple bank scanning as such, it has another feature in as much that you can tag certain Channels to be scanned, select a few of these and only these channels will be scanned all others will be passed. The Yaesu also has a group scan facility which I believe works similar to the Icoms one scan bank at a time. Both units can also be set to skip or lockout certain channels also. The Icom is definitely the quicker of the two when it comes to scanning through the channels and the Icom is not quick by any means, when you compare it to the likes of a 8200 or PRO26 this is a consideration you must take into account, when it comes to scanning 200 Ch's it may take a bit of time, the stats I believe state an 11 channel scan rate.
Searching for signals is again similar to the Icom and again you can only search one bank at a time. Again when searching next to the Icom it comes clear immediately that the Icom is the faster of the two. The Yaesu does come with a search and store facility but I believe this is quite limited in as much as it will only work with frequencies either side of a set frequency. The Icom has the widest frequency range but both should have ample frequencies for most scanning needs the all important airband civil and military are covered by both units.
Tuning steps for both units is user selectable and offers a good range of steps that should fit most needs the only step missing that is of benefit to UK users is a 6.25KHz but using the 5KHz option there did not appear to be any loss of signals in the PMR446 range. E.g. 446.006875 PMR 446 Ch6 tuning the Yaesu to 446.070 brought in just as good if not better signals than the Icom tuned to the correct frequency. As a matter of fact the PMR 446 frequencies do not use 6.25KHz steps but a 12.5KHz offset but 6.25KHz does the job.
This is the reason I decided that the Yaesu was worthy of stepping into the Ring with a dedicated scanner as it has features that I just wish scanner manufacturers would employ. The first Nifty little feature is that when the Yaesu is scanning (or searching) it can be set that when it stops on a signal the unit emits a double beep this is a feature I like but I know some of you will find it rather annoying, no problem it can easily be deactivated at will. A feature I really would like to see on a scanner is a double beep when a priority Ch is activated this would really be a winner. Talking about Priority both units really lack a decent priority feature the Icoms as I understand it can only be used when searching or from VFO not from a bank scan. The Yaesu's is really a Dual watch facility that can not be used whilst scanning but when "sitting" on another frequency, however I do consider this marginally better than the Icom. Again you must take into consideration what the unit was intended to be used for.The Icom I'm afraid does not have this excuse.
Another feature I like is that when scanning (or searching) and an active Ch is stopped on the backlight will be activated for the duration of the conversation switching itself off as scanning resumes. Again this can be deactivated for battery saving. Now why don't scanners have this facility? This is great for night time scanning when you don't want to excessively exhaust the batteries with continuous lighting.
Both units have a APO (Auto power off facility) Which I find great, no more going out and forgetting to switch the scanner off, as with this facility you can set the unit to switch off at a predetermined time then if the unit receives no input from the operator after the set time it will automatically shut down. The Yaesu scores more points because it can also switch itself back on at a predetermined time! You can't do it by setting a specific time but just calculate how many minutes or hours or a combination of both and it will automatically power itself up after the time set has passed so say if you go to bed at 12.00p.m and get up at eight set it for eight hours and it will power up at 8.00am!! This is another feature I would like to see more on a dedicated scanner, I do know there are a couple of scanners that do this.
Spectrum analyzer: On the Yaesu only I have not explored this feature as I have stated before, I have little use for it, I'm sure there are people who will welcome this feature and therefore this will be a bonus.
CTCSS decode and encode is available on both units which is seen as a necessity for a lot of modern scannerists and this facility in conjunction with the alpha tagging of Channels make using the Yaesu a dream for accurately identifying users on channel. Where the Yaesu loses out is that it searches for tones in use a lot slower than the Icom, I understand this was a problem with older VX5's which has been rectified but nevertheless it is not as quick as the Icom also with the Icom you can still monitor the signal being received with the Yaesu audio is muted whilst searching a few times whilst trying to identify a user I decided to skip the ctcss search function in case of losing an ID a few times, with the Icom I would simply search for tone and monitor at the same time. Both units come with a bell function which can be set on a specified channel and tone so that when someone calls using the correct ctcss tone you are alerted. I also noted that the Icom comes with more CTCSS tones than the Yaesu, but when searching for tones in use I was never left short. All the right ones appear to be there.
DCS is available on the Yaesu. This is one in the eye for the Icom which does not employ this function. Again you have a decode and encode function as with ctcss and also the bell function works with DCS.
So Which is the best? The Yaesu climbed into the ring the underdog, after all it is for all intents and purposes a Transceiver but due to its multi channel capability and functions I feel that this was indeed a fair fight. Okay just as we would clap two boxers at the end of a hard bout then I feel that both of these units deserve a round of applause before we score the contest, as there is no doubt that these two lightweights pack a mighty punch in the scanning world. Whilst researching for this page I found something which goes to prove the popularity of the Icom not just as a scanner CLICK for the full story. Okay all credits received now lets go to scoring.
I will do this by giving marks out of five for all the features I have covered
Construction: No doubts here the Yaesu is definitely built to take the knocks and has a quality feel about it. The Icom is also capable of taking the knocks but I have the Yaesu ahead 5 points for the Yaesu and I'll give the Icom 3.
Power on: No difference here both use the same method a button depress as opposed to a switch I can take or leave either method lets score them both a 3 for arguments sake.
Programming: Of the Yaesu is somewhat easier on the Yaesu than the Icom as on the Icom the only method is to "Dial in" to the required frequency whereas with the Yaesu you can dial in or use the more conventional direct entry keypad method. This definitely is a bonus over the Icom. I used to put up with this inconvenience on the Icom as I always thought it's small size was an excuse for no keypad but the Yaesu shows that there is no excuse. I will give the Yaesu a five and the Icom a 1
Display: Again I always made excuses for the Icom when it came down to Alpha Tags and again the Yaesu has shown that small size is no excuse. With the facility to change the icons on the display, including signal bar graph and the display size and the afore mentioned Alpha tagging the Yaesu again is ahead of the Icom. I will give Yaesu a 5 for the effort of squeezing so much into a small scanner. and will give the Icom a 3 (Well you do get a signal strength meter and low battery indicator).
Sockets The positioning of the Yaesu's sockets is a matter of personal preference and in all fairness the problems I mentioned above did not show themself again when I just connected the earphone when I had the problem was when using a mono to stereo jack plug to get audio in both ears, but with the Icom I had no problems whatsoever, so I will give the Icom a 5 here and the Yaesu a 2.
Charging: The Yaesu comes with a built in charger circuit allowing it just to be plugged into a wall socket PSU for charging and operating, with the Icom you need to remove the batteries and use a separate charger. 5 for the Yaesu and 0 for the Icom.
Battery Life: Is good on both units with the Yaesu having the edge 5 for the Yaesu and 4 for the Icom.
Aerials: The supplied aerials on both units are only good for a limited frequency range on the Yaesu this appears to be 144MHz Then falling off rapidly any higher (or lower) in the VHF range, but good throughout the UHF part of the PMR spectrum. The Icom giving good results in the 152MHz (Better than telescopics tried) and again falling rapidly above or below in the vhf range, also again good in the UHF region. I'll give the Yaesu and the Icom 3 each here.
Loudspeakers: Both units come with good audio quality with little distortion however my particular Yaesu did catch the bug mentioned above giving a howl when volume was turned up fully (or nearly full) this can be rectified by the above method but nevertheless is something that should be sorted before it reaches the shops. I know when this bug is not present the Yaesu has the edge over the Icom but as I am contesting these two particular models I will have to drop the Yaesu 2 points here. So I will give the Yaesu a 3 and the Icom a 4.
Beltclips: Both units do not come with a good beltclip the Yaesu's has no spring to it and I found myself wrestling with the top of my trousers to try and get the unit to clip over. No such problems with the Icom's however it would look more fitting on a Child's toy than on a scanner of this calibre. I'll give the Yaesu a 1 and the Icom a 2.
HF: Neither units will be remembered as brilliant performers on HF (But then what hand held is?) I do believe it has been thrown in as an extra if you are serious about HF then go elsewhere I will score both unit a 1 for having it anyway.
VHF: Both units scored about the same on VHF airband giving quite pleasing results many a scanner has not been able to receive my local control tower from my location but these two just break the squelch so that audio is intelligible, further up both units fail dismally with the supplied aerials but there is a definite increase in signals when another aerial is fitted such as a Watson W889 Telescopic or Watson W881 whip especially on the Icom it comes alive! In fact I found the Icom a brilliant performer on VHF. Not so the Yaesu I'm afraid to say. Although fitting another aerial onto the Yaesu definitely brings in more signals on VHF but I found it a slouch, once it is out of the amateur bands it does not really want to know. I'll give the Yaesu a big Zero here and the Icom a big 5
UHF: As already stated, on both units is very good to say the least. I did not really get a chance to explore the UHF military airband as I live so far from any military airbase it is a hit and miss affair. But out into the UHF PMR bands the Yaesu excelled but comes down to earth with a big bump when you start hearing Ch's on the wrong frequency! This is due as already mentioned to the double conversion employed by the Yaesu, to give you and idea of these problems I received comms from 456MHz in the 459MHz area and 450MHz popping up on all the wrong frequencies. 154MHz signals appearing on 220MHz area. You get the picture? The Icom does not suffer from any of these problems (well mine didn't) and this is due to the triple conversion techniques used. I will score the Yaesu a 5 for UHF and the Icom a 4 (I would like to make it a 4and a half but things will get confusing then)
Interference: When I say interference I mean of the variety just discussed with the Yaesu using double conversion it is always going to be open to image frequencies the Icom uses three and does not! Yaesu 0 Icom 5
Scanning: No doubt about it the Icom is the fastest of the two when it comes to scanning. One of the biggest disappointments I have with the Icom is no choice of bank scanning the Yaesu however gives me a select scan or preferential as Yaesu call it. Taking the slow scan speed but in mitigation the select scan I will give the Yaesu a 3 here and the Icom for its limited scanning ability but also in mitigation the quicker scan speed I will also give a 3.
Searching: The Icoms much quicker Yaesu 0 Icom 3
Tuning steps: For the UK the Icom has the best Yaesu 3 Icom 4
Features: No contest the Yaesu has shown that small size is no excuse for no features Yaesu 5 Icom 1
Spectrum analyzer: The Yaesu has one the Icom does not! Yaesu 4 Icom 0 (I could not really do the Yaesu justice here as I am not familiar with spectrum analyzers as I have no need for them so I have just scored on whether it is there or not).
CTCSS: Decoding is quicker on the Icom this includes searching for an active tone and when programmed in I found with the Yaesu I would sometimes lose the first couple of words being transmitted before the CTCSS was decoded.Also when searching for an active tone on the Icom I could still receive the signal not on the Yaesu. Apart from that it was very reliable unlike the AOR8200. Yaesu 3 Icom 5
DCS: Yaesu has it Icom does not this is a big bonus for the Yaesu I found it worked well also. Yaesu 5 Icom 0
So there we have it, the Yaesu scores 66 and the Icom 59. Remember these are my views only and another man may have scored it differently. I was in no way biased in this in fact all the way from start to about three quarters of this page I thought that the Icom would come out winner but it is not until you thoroughly exploit a radio that you find out exactly what it is made of. If the Icom had the features of the Yaesu then I am in no doubt that it would have come out on top. Its time for the scanner manufacturers to look at the features on these Ham radios and employ them. If the Yaesu had better VHF reception and triple conversion then Wow!" This would be one hell of a Scanner/Transceiver. So is it worth a ham radio user that owns a VX5 to buy a Icom? I think not unless VHF is important. I can see myself updating this page quite a bit over the coming weeks because time and again I think of another comparison so keep checking back.
UPDATES: Just given the Yaesu a work out on 70MHz am which I always find poor on most scanners but with the supplied aerial the results were quite pleasing giving a better reception than the Icom.
I have just performed the simple op to fix the speaker howl bug the whole operation took about ten minutes using the above instructions. Result one crystal clear Yaesu.
(6 Months later and the howl is back, looks like I need to do the mod again!)
8 Months since I did this review, how do I feel now? Well I still own both radios which bears testimony but the Yaesu has shown some short comings. For a day out frequency finding the Yaesu finds itself left at home, the reason being I have found the Icom does not suffer from interference as much as the Yaesu. A recent trip into a very large city centre rendered the Yaesu almost useless on UHF due to interference, whereas a previous trip with the Icom was faultless. This just goes to show you that a review really is just first opinions and you have to live with a radio for some time before the flaws (or lack of them show) bit like when you marry a woman I suppose. If I had to make a choice now then I would rate the Icom above the Yaesu however let's not forget that the Yaesu is for all intents and purposes a ham radio. Another fault that has shown itself a couple of times is that the Yaesu would just keep blinking it's display rendering the radio useless the fix was to leave switched off for an hour or so, this may have been a PLL error.If you want a super sensitive ham radio and scanner in one package look out for a second hand Yaesu FT-51R radio. In my opinion this is more sensitive than many scanners and is an excellent ham radio. and although not as small as the VX-5 I think it is miles ahead on performance.
Frequency Range RX: 0.5 - 1.8 MHz (BC Band)
4.5W (@ 7.2 V 430 MHz)
Modulation Type: Variable Reactance
Specifications are subject to change without notice, and are guaranteed within
amateur bands only.
* German and Austrian version inhibits 50 MHz transmission
[ Aor 8200 ]
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