A Review of the Sony ICF-EX5MkII

I find that a lot of things I buy today have their roots deep in my past. Whether it be pocket knives, watches, or yes, radios, they can all be traced back to either a childhood desire or some other want that went unfulfilled at the time. This radio is no exception.

The Sony EX5 is a radio that’s intrigued me ever since I heard about it on Radio Netherlands Media Network. This radio, featuring an analog, linear AM dial and a synch detector, was reported to be a very hot performer on mediumwave, but it was also available only in the Japanese market. After toying with the idea of trying to get a friend of mine in Japan to pick one up, I resigned myself to the fact I would never get my paws on one.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago,  when I am looking at the many different  eBay options available for obtaining this radio, all promising to deliver withing 10 to 21 days. Before hitting the buy now though, I decide to do a quick check of Amazon to see if there are any available there. Not only do they carry them, they’re cheaper than eBay and are eligible for two day delivery! I quickly add the radio to the cart, and within a few days, I had a brand new Sony ICF-EX5 MkII sitting on my desk. Thank you, internet!

First Impressions

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The Sony ICF-EX5MkII, right after unboxing.

The radio comes ready to use, with a carrying strap, four C size batteries, and a manual and warranty card, both of which are written in Japanese. It should be noted that the radio does not come with an AC adapter, which is fine, as it wouldn’t fit an American outlet anyway. If if you want to use this radio with AC power though, you’ll need a 6v adapter to make it happen. FYI.

I did notice that my particular unit at least is that the tuning knob seemed to ‘catch’ as it turned. I do not know if this is common with all units or not (who knows, maybe it’s a feature that’s addressed in the manual?), but I solved the problem by gently pulling the tuning knob out about an 8th of an inch, which solved the problem with no other issues.

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The EX5MkII next to the SupeRadio II

One of the first things that grabbed me about this radio is that it is fairly compact, especially compared to some of the portables I’m used to. Measuring in about 10.5 inches long, 5.5 inches tall, and maybe 2.5 inches wide, I’d guess it’s a little smaller than a Sony 2010, quite a bit smaller than any of the SupeRadios, and downright minuscule when compared to the behemoth that is the Satellit 800. The C batteries, while not as common as their bigger D sized brothers, help to keep the size and weight down, making this radio a great choice for a quick DXpedition to the beach, your local park, or anywhere else that’s away from electrical interference.

Cubs win! sounds good on any radio.  Note the small turntable the radio is on. 

Since the radio arrived, I’ve spent a lot of enjoyable evenings out on the patio with this radio exploring the AM dial, and putting it through its paces. Like most Sonys, this radio has very nice audio, with an upper and lower tone adjustment switch to tailor your listening preferences. Not as handy as separate bass and treble controls, but still a nice feature for a radio this compact.

The Linear Dial

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A close up of the linear dial on the Sony EX5 MkII.

Maybe my analog radio skills are rusty, but I am surprised at how long it’s taken me to get used to the linear dial on this radio. Unlike most analog dials, which stretch out the lower frequencies while crunching the higher ones closer together, this radio has uniform spacing from the left hand of the dial to the right. While it seems like an easy adjustment(it’s really no different than the Hammarlund or Collins in the shack), I’ve struggled with it. I continually find myself going back to known stations to get a bearing on where I’m really at, and then feeling my way up or down to my target station. This is something that one goes through with every new analog portable though regardless of how the dial is configured, it just seems like more of an adjustment with this radio than others. Your mileage may vary.

That Synch Detector!

My location is about fifty miles away from WHO radio and their 50 KW transmitters on 1040 kHz.  This makes 1030 AM a great test for any radio or antenna system, and it’s where I started with the EX5. Finding WHO on the dial, I slowly made my way down to 1030. I could hear a couple of different stations with the radio turned to null out the WHO transmitters, but I was still getting a fair amount of splatter from WHO’s lower sideband. It’s here where the synch detector on this radio shines! A flip of a switch, and 90% of the splatter disappears, revealing a couple of weak stations someone so fittingly described as “in the soup.” I recognized one of the voices in that jumbled up mess as that of Dan Rea, the host of WBZ’s Nightside program out of Boston. I performed a similar test on 650 AM, where I managed to hear Eddie Stubbs’ music program on WSM in spite of the local WOI on 640. Neither of these tests were much of a challenge for the Sony and it’s synch detector.

Unlike a lot of synch detectors I’ve experienced, which take a moment or two to lock and may have to reacquire the carrier from time to time, this one seems to lock on instantaneously and never lets go. That’s a great thing to have when you’re trying to get an ID on a weak, fluttery station coming in from who knows where. In these cases, the synch detector minimizes the flutter and washing of the signal, and gets you the clearest reception possible. Nicely done, Sony.

What else?

Did you notice the red light in the tuning indicator? That little light not only makes the indicator easier to see, but it also doubles as a tuning indicator. The brighter the light, the more in tune you are with the station, sort of reminiscent of the old Sony Earth Orbiter. It can also double as a signal strength meter of sorts as well, which comes in handy when you’re using a tuned loop, or some other external antenna that couples with the radio via the internal ferrite rod.  One thing that I do find missing though is a dial light. Yes, I know, that’s what they make flashlights for, but it would still be a nice addition to what is already a very fine radio.

I have no idea how this radio performs on FM as I’ve never bothered to give it a try. I have heard reports of the dial being off a few MHz on FM though, so if this is a concern to you, keep it in mind. I haven’t tried the Radio Nikkei reception just yet either, but that will definitely happen sooner or later. Once i get bored enough to hook this thing up to the SAL,  I’m sure I’ll hear both Nikkei 1 and 2 on 3925 and 3945 with no problem. And yes, I will definitely make a YouTube video of the occasion.

Final Thoughts

IMG_20160524_105644361 (2)I think it’s safe to say that this radio lives up to the hype. Its sensitive enough to hear KKDA out of Dallas on 730 kHz, but has a strong enough front end that I’m not swamped by a couple of strong, local stations. The synch detector is nothing short of remarkable, and it all comes in a relatively compact package. While the linear dial takes some getting used to, the tuning light is pretty handy, and you can pack your own flashlight to see where you’re tuning. Is it going to replace the perseus and the SAL-30? Of course not! But the SAL won’t fit in a small book bag either.

I’ve had a lot of fun with this radio the last few weeks, and I highly recommend picking one up.