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

Gary DeBock

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 adjustments).
     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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