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Reviews Categories | Transceivers: VHF/UHF+ Amateur Hand-held | Icom ID-51A Help

Reviews Summary for Icom ID-51A
Icom ID-51A Reviews: 43 Average rating: 4.3/5 MSRP: $629.95
Description: Dstar VHF/UHF Handheld tranceiver
Product is in production.
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K0JEG Rating: 4/5 Jul 2, 2014 21:28 Send this review to a friend
So Close, yet not even  Time owned: 3 to 6 months
This is my first Dstar radio, but I've had several HT's over the years. I generally agree with most of what's been written, but I also think there were a lot of poor design decisions made.

The positives:
Very good receiver. Nice size if you have big hands. Speaker-mic connection maintains water resistance. Easy to use, and easy to program with supplied software or RT systems (with the cloning cable or USB). Screen display is sharp and legible. Long name field means plenty of characters for repeater names. "DR" mode with local repeater DB is very handy (although sometimes a little bit optimistic). Recorder function, I use it to record a west coast net that's past my bedtime and will use it for satellite work. It only records when the squelch is open so you can save a lot of time too.

The negatives:
Broadcast bands, and maybe weather band are a waste. Imagine if that expense and circuit board space went toward a Bluetooth chip (like the ID-5100 option) so that you could use it with off the shelf headsets and your smartphone camera (like the ID-5100)?

Repeater DB should include FM repeaters too. This is a premium product in the age of the $30 Baofeng, and Icom had better realize what they're up against. Having the entire 2M/70CM ARRL repeater directory in your HT would be an excellent selling point.

USB on the radio. No excuse for this one. I thought Kenwood settled this one with the USB port on the TH-d72 back in 2010. Heck, even Icom's HF rigs have USB interfaces! And why is their $75 USB-data cable incompatible with Windows 8.1 and OS-X? For $75 you'd better be able to get someone to write some drivers!
Stock battery life is terrible. I got less than 5 hours out of it when out hiking just monitoring a local DV and FM repeater. The 1880mA battery is a necessity, unless you plan on just keeping it in the car or house.
N4SJW Rating: 5/5 May 17, 2014 19:32 Send this review to a friend
Excellent  Time owned: months
I'm in to my third month and this is an excellent HT. You buy it because you want to work DSTAR otherwise the price doesn't justify the purchase. If $ if important to you get an FT60 or equivalent. Living in Denver metro area we have several DSTAR repeaters and this HT works well with all of them. (a note to the fellow below, if you can't hit the DSTAR repeater but can hit other analog repeaters, maybe it's the repeater and not your ID51).

Likes: dual VFOs you can easily toggle to a mono VFO; big beefy belt clip; fits well in my hand, just abt the right size; customizable audio TX/RX.

Dislikes: you really need to get the programming software for this radio; audio note, I initially had the base boost on TX and RX but was getting reports of "muddy" audio. I change audio settings off the base boost (normal) and added treble boost and put mike gain to 4 and that is getting excellent audio reports (YMMV). Battery life, with the GPS working the stock battery doesn't last long so I got the bigger batter and that works well for several hours.

Wish it had: easier way to bring up and unlink reflectors. Dual DSTAR RX like the 5100.

Yes it's around $500 but if you want best of breed DSTAR HT, this is a good choice. It's waterproof and an easy carry radio for all around use.
WA7KGX Rating: 2/5 Apr 22, 2014 09:47 Send this review to a friend
Oops  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
At ten times the cost of a Baofeng, I expected several times the practical utility. Not in this radio.

The main feature of this radio is D-STAR. Unfortunately there don't seem to be any fully functional D-STAR repeaters in the Portland Oregon area. Using an external antenna I can get a response to a D-STAR repeater about 12 miles away. I can hit a co-located FM repeater with a Baofeng and a short stubby.

The evolution of digital modes seems to be moving awat from the somewhat low performance but overly costly proprietary D-STAR codec.

The advertising for the ID-51 mentions the ability to locate nearby repeaters using the built-in GPS. Unfortunately, this only covers D-STAR repeaters, not FM repeaters. If you are close enough to a working D-STAR repeater chances are your smartphone can get service. This unexpected limitation in a major feature killed the deal for me. I returned the ID-51a and learned a $90 lesson.

KT4EP Rating: 5/5 Mar 21, 2014 09:01 Send this review to a friend
Excellent Radio  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I've had mine 48 hours and love it. My last HT was an ICOM IC-24AT @ $420 in 1992. The ID-51 is light years ahead for just $100 more. I bought the RT Systems programming for the rig, a nice little hand microphone, fast charger, and already see the need for the higher capacity battery. Local UHF D-STAR repeater here (Memphis) is excellent and I have absolutely no problem accessing it in D-STAR mode with a half watt. The repeater is about 6 miles away. The audio is just fine. The radio is sturdy and solid feeling. Broadcast AM/FM, GPS, analog 2 meter and 440, NOAA weather with alert, voice recording, QSO recording, uses a micro SD card, I could go on and on. Like my venture into psk-31 two years ago after 15 years off the air, the ICOM ID 51 is renewing my ham radio enthusiasm.
KG7GNI Rating: 4/5 Mar 9, 2014 18:54 Send this review to a friend
great Radio, Difficult To Use  Time owned: 3 to 6 months
I have both this and the Kenwood T6A. I primarily use the 51A because it's reception is so much better. I really miss wide band receive, though, and setting this radio for D-Star is so complex I still haven 't figured it out. I've gotten on D-Star repeaters in Portland, but, here, in Southern Oregon, I am forced to use a DV-Dongle, the 70cm version, that I simply cannot make work. The instructions for both products are terrible. For all of that, the radio is so well made, the GPS and memories are sensational, the controls well laid out, that it would recommend it to anyone. Typical top notch Icom quality with typical a Icom poorly written, often incomprehensible, user manuals. With this being such a common praise and complaint about their products, I would think a Icom might invest a tiny bit of money into hiring an American technical writer for their amateur radio products. With that major defect handled, this would get 5 stars.
Mike, KG7GNI
VE2DC Rating: 5/5 Feb 12, 2014 10:27 Send this review to a friend
Sounds fine  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
OK, this is preliminary. I have only played with one that my friend has bought as I helped him get started with D-Star. I have however talked to him many times on D-Star and Analog. It sounds fine...D-Star sounds like D-Star... OK given its first generation AMBE chip... it doesn't sound as good as Motorola MOTOTRBO, for example. But that's the mode, not the radio. It sounds as good as any D-Star radio I've worked. On analog, it sounds great. We are using D-Star and Free-Star repeaters locally and it decodes flawlessly. I think I'll get one for myself ;-)
KC0KW Rating: 5/5 Jan 24, 2014 12:34 Send this review to a friend
Excellent Portable Radio  Time owned: more than 12 months
This unit is small, conformable in your hand and easy to use, It works great. The "D" star feature makes it a keeper. Perfect for a home or car anywhere radio. I use mine on the boat. It is great for using into a "D" star hot spot. This is a very well made radio with excellent performance. It also has a lot of features. But unlike some other brands that offer features with less radio performance. This it is a great radio first that happens to have extra features.
WB8NUT Rating: 5/5 Dec 14, 2013 07:25 Send this review to a friend
Great D-Star/FM Handheld  Time owned: 6 to 12 months
This radio is so simple to set-up on D-Star, even a cave man can do it.

Seriously, the only thing a ham really needs to do to get on DStar is program in their own call. Other than that, everything is pre-programmed for you. Does not get any easier than that folks.

The built in GPS is great and the DPRS capability of most D-Star repeaters is seamless at getting your position into the APRS network.

I have never had an issue using it with any of the D-Star repeaters here locally or when I travel. I also have used it on FM with excellent results.

The 51A also has dual receive so you can listen to both a D-Star and FM repeater at the same time.

This generation of D-Star radio is the easiest to use on D-Star as well as FM.

Some lament on having a keypad, but there is hardly the need for a keypad now. It is easy to direct entry of a frequency using the existing controls on the radio. Don't miss the keypad at all.

If you are interested in a great D-Star/FM dual-band handheld, this is the one to buy.
M0JFK Rating: 5/5 Nov 28, 2013 03:19 Send this review to a friend
Review ID-51E  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
What a great radio. A little bit menu intensive for the operator and confusing if your just starting out in the hobby but the more advanced licensed user will soon get to grips with this radio and the operations of it.

I have read most of the other reviews on here and I think sometimes people can be a little bit to critical of the radio for what I think are trivial reasons.

I for one think the quality of the receive audio on the standard analog and digital mode is perfect and you can even set the base, treble, tone in one of the menus to suit your ear so whats the problem?

The transmit audio was a little muffled on the first batch of these radios because the radio was designed to be waterproof so the little microphone near the output speaker had a plastic waterproof membrane over it that you had to remove on the first generation models. Not the case now with the new batch of radios now marketed.

I cant fault the radio the buttons are all sweet and positive to operate and they have a nice firm feel to them and they don't feel like they are about to fall off if you push or turn them a little to hard like they do on some of it's competitors radios from the like of Yaesu and Kenwood.

Sorry but the radio is so good I cant find any faults with it other than on the European (E)model of this radio the auto repeat function for the repeaters is not enabled and is not even an option either...sad.

The radio is just a tad expensive but the quality of the radio is reflected in that price for sure.

Go buy one you will not regret it I promise you and don't take to heart most of the negatives on this radio in previous reviews because sometimes I think people just feel they have to be very critical of the radio just for the sake of the review and quite often it is just down to user setup for example the complaint of bad receive? Just go in the menu and set it up to your liking, quite easy really.

First generation radio with muffled audio on TX? just remove the membrane or fit a external lapel microphone and this makes the radio even a more of a joy to use.

Marks out of ten? I give it eleven that's how good it is. Or am I just easily pleased?

7 3 from Peter (M0JFK)
N2HUC Rating: 5/5 Nov 27, 2013 12:03 Send this review to a friend
Great for Advanced Users  Time owned: 0 to 3 months

The short version? Pretty good radio for the ADVANCED and EXPERIENCED user, but could use some simple improvements. If you are not willing to really study the owner’s manual, and actually LEARN how to use the many features this radio has to offer, don’t get this radio. Keep it simple and buy an IC-80AD while saving some money at the same time. That is a much easier radio to use, with a more direct front panel keypad approach, containing more multi-function keys for simplified operation. The ID-51 is menu intensive, and the so-called quick menu area (yes, there are two different menu systems) changes all the time depending on what you are doing with the radio at any given moment. The to-lazy-to-learn operator will be confused and drive the rest of us nuts trying to help them use this radio because they just “don’t get it”, and probably never will. This radio is great for experienced power users who travel and need to access repeaters outside the home area or state (because you can’t program all the nation’s repeaters in the memory channels). If you really know what you are doing, and actually learn all about the great features this radio can do, you will love it and get real value out of this little box. This radio has some real advances.

That being said, there are limitations with this radio you should know about. I’m not sure where Icom is getting the repeater data from (Doesn’t match D-STAR Users dot org or D-STAR Info dot com data), but the pre-loaded repeater list is pretty messed up and missing quite a bit, so you will have to fix it yourself and start by updating it from the downloads available at D-STAR Info dot com. Even then, you will have to supplement the list with unknowns (they are out there) and fix quite a few lat/lon locations on some repeaters, as well as frequency mistakes in the data (those exist). You only get 750 Repeater List memories from Icom (not nearly enough), and the only way to get the whole US repeater list in the radio is to delete the hotspots and leave only the repeaters (and the two national simplex D-STAR calling channels on 145.670 and 441.000). Then you will have only enough room for about 25 additional repeaters for future growth, and that small amount of remaining memory will likely be used up by the end of 2013 if you update regularly. It’s not perfect, but way better than Icom’s (lacking) repeater list “updates”. Just know you can’t depend on Icom’s list, and if you think you can, you need a good dose of reality. You’re not getting it all. There is absolutely no way a “real” world repeater list would ever fit. Why is Icom so stingy on CHEAP memory? And Icom completely missed the boat on REPEATER LINKING by neglecting to allow that function from the repeater list (No one does repeater forwarding…in the blind…It’s not the same as repeater linking, which is much more effective). The 200 UR memories in this radio, which you can now assign names to (yeah!), are better than previous offerings of only 60, but not near enough for all the people you may want to route/DSQL to, repeaters you may want to link to, and the (dreaded) reflectors you may (or may not) want to connect to. This is the best place to store and access universal routing and linking options (not repeater specific memory channels) because you can use them on any system. You would think Icom would let you expand all this lack of memory on the micro SD card (up to 32 GB). NO! You can’t do that. You can only replace the limited radio memory with contents off the micro SD card, and not expand memory channels, repeater list entries, or UR list entries. That was another Icom blooper, IMO. Icom just doesn’t get it. They fail to realize how the rest of the world uses D-STAR and how much memory (and features) are needed to do what this radio set out to do with the GPS “Near Repeater” lookups, which is really revolutionary for travelers. It is a big D-STAR world out there, and the radio should have had the memory to support it with ample space to expand well into the future. So why do I still like this radio? Despite the limitations, it was well designed on a number of fronts. Some of the new features are big improvements that I was glad to see (finally) come to fruition. Other new features were very clever (like call sign announcement). Being waterproof is a big plus for outdoor enthusiast. This radio is a giant step forward if you appreciate the added functionality; otherwise it is just something expensive to brag about.

As an advanced user I made the investment to learn the radio options and menu features, and it was worth it! At first I tried to operate the radio without reading anything, just to see how intuitive it was (not very). Then I looked up what I couldn’t figure out. That helped, but I had to keep repeating some steps to “burn it into my memory”. Few keys on the front of the radio mean you have to select most things from menus, and there are different keys to navigate to do some of the D-STAR functions that are not very logical, like turning on the R2 gateway, which was defaulted to “NOT USED”. You have to select the “Use Repeater” selection in the Your Call list (which is actually CQCQCQ) and turns on the R2 gateway call sign…and sets UR to CQCQCQ. That doesn’t make sense! I renamed that to make some sense, but R2 should have been enabled as default in the first place. Finally, I read the whole manual cover to cover (especially focused on the menu section near the end), tried some features I didn’t even know about, and set up all my menu selections to optimize every feature on this incredibly complex (in a good way) radio. I’m getting the best out of the radio now, but it took the investment, as defaults are not always the best choice and you can optimize quite a bit to fully utilize the features offered in this radio. Then I mirror imaged my IC-2820H channel memory and bank scheme, including my UR list. I had to delete many of those reflectors Icom pre-programmed into the UR list, correcting the US reflector list and deleting the other countries, to make room for call signs and repeaters I wanted to link to. I now have 24 open UR list memories, but that could easily be used up if I expand my list with new repeaters and new users I might want to route to. And I am concerned there will soon not be enough regular memory channels to support my home state, as D-STAR is growing quite fast here in Florida. My bank memory setup divides analog on one display and digital on the other. And I set up bank linking to work two ways; locally, and also roaming for times I go outside the home county area. Then I can pull from the (corrected) DR repeater list when I travel around the country to access repeaters outside of my home state. NOW I have a radio that gets full use out of all the features that were offered. Paired with a Mirage BD-35 amp, and a Larson NMO 2/70 SH in my travel bag, and I’m good to go in rental cars, mobile, portable…whatever. I also like the ability to monitor for weather alerts on the analog side (even while scanning on both sides) just in case it gets ugly out on the road. Scanning digital on one side, scanning analog on the other side (with WX alert), and even listening to AM or FM broadcast between two-way transmissions is a whole lot of reception capability to accomplish at the same time! Another neat feature you can set up is the ability for broadcast reception to automatically mute during two-way reception, and stay muted for up to 10 seconds after the two-way transmissions end, then continue receiving broadcast again. THAT is very cool. You can even choose a menu option to have all of these different receivers, including broadcast, have their own volume settings (nice!). Add the powerful GPS features with position display and DPRS/APRS reporting over D-STAR, and you have the all-in-one waterproof survival radio solution in one box. But I do wish this “box” was a little bigger with louder audio and a larger speaker. Audio output is pretty low, but it works as long as you are in a fairly quiet environment. A full DTMF keypad on the front would have been a real plus too. Perhaps an external (big speaker) DTMF microphone is needed to overcome these shortcomings. Somebody needs to make such a thing. For my temporary mobile setup I use a Motorola amplified motorcycle speaker (old black metal type with silver metal grill) plugged into my HM-75 speaker/mic. That makes a huge difference! (Volume to spare!) I have to snake a very thin audio cable through the coiled cord to keep the coiled cord from snagging because Icom put the external speaker (earphone) jack on the bottom of the microphone, and not on the radio plug end. I would have preferred the radio end, as they sell plenty of ear-bud/mic options. But a good portable temporary mobile setup can be put together with this little radio. It just takes some thought and planning. Money helps too!

I took current (amperage) measurements of all conditions on this radio, including charging, and this radio is VERY power efficient (much better than my IC-91AD). I can scan two bands with WX alert, have GPS on, and have the back light set to ON when 12VDC is plugged in, all with only 80mA of current draw. When the trickle charge comes on it adds 70mA of draw, and full charge will add up to 400mA on a fully depleted battery. The GPS being on only adds 7mA of current draw, so it is not a battery killer like some have reported. In the most efficient single band/single channel standby power saving mode, with all unnecessary options turned off, the current draw only measures 50mA in DV mode and 45mA in FM mode with standard (default) battery saver settings. That is low! Add 7mA for GPS reporting/reading, and you can cruse for a very long time on the BP-272 2000mA battery. I have a hard time killing that battery with everything turned on…scanning both displays, GPS auto beacon TX every 5 minutes, and being in some long 5 watt QSO’s a few times throughout the day. I get well over 8 hours under those conditions, but if I reserved my use for wilderness adventures I could easily get 12 hours with occasional check-ins and GPS reporting. Transmit current measures 305mA, 530mA, 745mA, 1.14A and 1.61A (100mw/500mw/1w/2.5w/5w) on VHF. UHF is a little higher at 345mA, 640mA, 810mA, 1.26A and 1.75A respectively. With the Mirage BD-35 dual-band amplifier I get 60w VHF out at 7.9A, and 40w UHF out at 7.0A with 5w drive levels. I like to run LO2 (1w) on VHF for 31w out at 4.85A, and run MID (2.5w) on UHF for 30w out at 5.9A. That is a good compromise to keep both the amp and radio running a bit cooler, but be aware that repeated long key-downs will heat up the radio to HOT conditions where it stops transmitting. I use a protective LC-179 case on my radio, and that doesn’t help to let it cool down between transmissions. It actually keeps the heat from dissipating, so be aware of that if you ragchew like I do. Part of the heat is the voltage regulation the radio does from 13.9V down to 7.5V operating voltage. Using a CP-19R with an output of 11V helps reduce some of the extra heat. Speaking of current consumption, the BC-202 rapid charger quickly ramps up to 740mA on a fully depleted battery and gradually reduces down to 14mA trickle charge when the charge cycle is completed. With no battery in the charger, the draw is 5mA. When I operate in the woods on a portable battery station with solar charging, it is prudent to unplug rapid chargers and even remove radio batteries from the radios (when not in use) to conserve battery life. My IC-91AD charger draws a whopping 22mA with nothing in the cradle (waste!). The 91 radio is also a current hog, but it is a good radio with louder audio. Very prone to overheating, though. The IC-80AD is much better on current efficiency, but not as good the ID-51. Icom really made an effort to conserve power with this radio. Kudos!

It is also nice that Icom offers useful button selections for the HM-75 microphone with this radio model, like HOME CHANNEL and SCAN, but I find it strange that the home channel can’t be instantly selected from the radio itself without the HM-75 microphone. That should have been an easy long press on the center button (which currently does nothing) to jump to the HOME CHANNEL. And it’s fantastic that Icom finally gave us a TEMPORARY SCAN SKIP feature (up to 5 channels can be skipped for up to 15 minutes) for those times when a group of selfish lids has initiated a high powered, high gain antenna, long winded QSO on the national simplex CALLING channel (like they don’t know any other simplex channel to QSY to because they are uninformed, ignorant, selfish, and poor operators), but not so good they buried that Temporary Skip activation way down the quick menu list. It takes too long to get to it. That too could have been a long center button press during scan (not a huge issue, but would have made it easier).

After you learn everything this radio can do, how to do it, and set up all the menu selections, repeater lists, UR list items, memory channels (with full options), banks with linking, and program the radio accordingly, you will have a powerful tool for the advanced D-STAR user who travels. Is this the radio for the beginner? NO! It will be too hard to learn and navigate on if you have no idea what you are doing and don’t want to learn. Use an IC-80AD and you will get more pleasure out of that great radio. That is as easy as it gets, and has plenty of memory for local/statewide use…plus you can share the same programming file with the excellent ID-880H radio (win/win). If all you want to do is brag about your new “top of the line” toy ID-51 (which you don’t know how to use because you don’t really want to learn it and are too lazy to make the effort…as all you do is set it to one frequency and waste all the features the radio offers), talk to your DVAP two feet away from your HT (which you could barely get working by yourself…and probably set up on the national simplex CALLING channel because you know no other simplex channels), and connect to reflectors with your stupid Raspberry Pi (which you could never figure out how to configure yourself, as you depend on someone giving you an image file to get it to work) so you can embarrass yourself and showcase you lack of knowledge on international reflectors, you DO NOT need this radio!

So now that Icom engineered a portable D-STAR radio with this much functionality, might they be working on a new mobile with the same features? Maybe an updated version of the IC-2820H??? I could see that! And if Icom is smart, they will allow cloning between the new mobile and the ID-51. And while you are at it, Icom, please put a mini-USB connector on the back of this (supposed) new mobile radio so I can use it at home with my RS-BA1 software to remote control it! I would buy two of them…one for the house and one for the car. The IC-7100 is not a two-display radio with the ability to separate analog and digital (with scanning on each side and bank linking) having two separate volume and squelch levels. I love my 2820 for all it does, and now the 51 for many of the same features (and then some), but the next GPS driven database D-STAR mobile radio needs to be a high power (big display) version of the ID-51 with built-in GPS and USB remote control capability. I’ll sit one on top of my IC-7600 for complete home station remote control. ;-)

Bottom line on the ID-51? Great radio for the experienced power user, and not for the clueless appliance operator (that can’t even set the clock on a microwave oven) who just wants to brag about having the newest and latest fancy toys they will never learn how to fully setup (themselves) and use to full advantage. And if some of these repeaters around the country would dump those noisy reflectors (almost totally void of any good conversation) so someone could actually “call sign route” into the repeater, allowing someone to actually reach out and contact someone they are looking for…or link in and connect two repeater groups together without the whole world being included, you would get much better use of your repeater(s). All that brilliant functionality is wasted when repeaters are tied up on reflectors (listening to half-baked QSO’s about nothing…where people can’t even get your name or call right when it is showing on the radio display!). Is this what amateur radio has become? There is much more to D-STAR than just reflectors and DVAP’s that can’t accept or make call sign routing calls. Call sign routing is the “crown jewel” technology achievement of D-STAR! You’re wasting that feature. And if you must use reflectors, try to leave SOME SPACE between transmissions so someone with an emergency, or someone trying to UNLINK, has a chance to get in. How many times have I tried to break into a reflector HOG QSO, where every transmission has ZERO SPACE between the them, and couldn’t get in no matter how hard I worked to time it right? Way too many times! Operation like that doesn’t deserve a radio like this. This radio is worthy of someone who actually uses ALL the features D-STAR has to offer and knows good operating etiquette. Anyway, I rate this radio 4.7 out of 5.0. Let’s keep our fingers crossed on a mobile version of this radio with a Mini-USB port that allows RS-BA1 opreation. :-D

Phil ~ N2HUC

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