[IRCA] Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Sony ICF-S5W
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[IRCA] Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Sony ICF-S5W

Hello Guys,
     Thanks to Jay and Russ for their comments on the  ICF-S5W.  As probably 
the top fanatic on the ICF-S5W, I thought you guys  might like to hear a 
little of its history.
     The Japanese-market version, the ICF-S5, was  introduced in Japan in 
October of 1979--  and was immediately a super  seller.  The first of the SSP 
(sensitivity, selectivity, portability)  series in Japan, the ICF-S5 has an 
innovative FET RF amplifier design which  gives it amazing sensitivity on the AM 
band. It also has  a Murata 455 kHz IF filter which provides quite good 
selectivity, for  a consumer portable.  The tuning system features both green and red 
LED's,  which alternate in illumination depending on signal strength.  In 
Japan,  the ICF-S5 also had the Japanese FM band 76-88 Mhz), plus 
crystal-controlled  reception of the Japanese NSB shortwave frequencies on 3, 6 and 9 Mhz (6  
stations total). It had a map of Japan on the back of the cabinet, and a  drum 
rotation system displaying Japanese stations in ten different areas of  
Japan, for tuning purposes. For the Japanese, who have far more radio  enthusiasts 
per capita than do North Americans, the ICF-S5 was an overnight  sensation, 
with AM sensitivity superior to anything else on the market at  the time.  It 
gained the nickname of the "Superstar," and when I was  stationed at Yokosuka, 
Japan in the Navy (in early 1980), its photo was  displayed in train stations 
and shopping centers, similar to those of the  most popular Japanese actresses 
and pop singers.
     Based on the phenomenal sales in Japan, Sony  designed an ICF-S5W model 
for the American market, retaining the outstanding FET  RF amplifier for the 
AM band.  There was a map of the USA on the back  panel, however, and the drum 
rotation tuning system showed ten American areas,  which correspond to the ten 
amateur radio area numerals.  In comparison to  the ICF-S5, the ICF-S5W was a 
rather stripped-down model, with no NSB shortwave  coverage.  There were 
shiny tuning and volume/tone controls, however,  which are not found in the ICF-S5.
     Introduced in America in the middle of 1980, the  ICF-S5W retailed for 
just over $50 at the time, and was extensively reviewed for  IRCA by Bruce 
Portzer, Mark Connelly, Gerry Thomas and others.  Its major  competition at the 
time were the TRF's, Supperadios and RF-2200. Most of the  ICF-S5W reviews were 
positive as far as sensitivity, but one serious issue  showed up repeatedly--  
strong image reception 910 kHz  below strong local stations.  Sony never did 
address this problem in  the ICF-S5(W) series.  Otherwise, the radio's 
phenomenal sensitivity made  it extremely popular with those North Americans who 
actually purchased it, and  it has retained a certain cult status even until 
today, with decent units on  eBay going for $200- $300 or more.  Unfortunately, the 
actual sales in  North America apparently did not satisfy Sony, and the 
ICF-S5W model was  discontinued after only about a year, in 1981.  This has 
produced the  current situation of limited supply for the AM-DXers' demand, with the  
resulting high resale value.
     Sony took many of the ICF-S5W concepts and  incorporated them in their 
new ICF-EX5 model, which was introduced in 1985 in  the Japanese market (only). 
 The ICF-EX5 has also been a runaway best  seller in Japan, and is still 
currently in production--  23 years  later!  It has a double conversion system on 
the AM band (which reduces  image reception somewhat), and a synchronous 
detector also (one of the very few  analog designs so endowed).  Performance is 
very similar to that of the  ICF-S5(W), and full details may be obtained in the 
ICF-EX5 review posted on  dxer.ca.
     Before becoming an Ultralight Radio fanatic, i was  an ICF-S5 fanatic, 
importing 9 sets from Japan obtained via the Japanese Yahoo  auctions (where 
great units go for about $25, because of the huge  supply). A friend in Japan is 
usually necessary to do this, because the  Japanese typically will not ship 
outside of Japan (or even wish to  communicate with foreigners who are 
strangers).  Fortunately, the  ICF-S5 has all of the innovative AM circuitry found in 
the ICF-S5W,  and is a great substitute.  Most of my supply of the ICF-S5(W)  
models have been given away to friends now, but if any owners have  questions 
on the radio's alignment or conversion to 530-1700 kHz, I will be  happy to 
give information (a service manual is definitely required for  disassembly and 
     In summary, the ICF-S5W is the most sensitive  stock AM portable I have 
ever owned, and is certainly capable of providing great  DX thrills even now, 
for those few DXers fortunate enough to find a model.
     73,  Gary DeBock 

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