Features January 2008 Issue

Icom Updates VHF

New M34 challenges Uniden, PS’s reigning Best Choice VHF.

We last reported on handheld VHF radios in an October 2006 review of eight units priced under $175. The Uniden MHS350 ($150) took top honors, while the Standard Horizon HX270S ($100) was selected as the

Practical SailorBudget Buy. Two Icom radios—the IC-M32 and the IC-M2A—were also tested, but their short battery lives kept them out of the winner’s circle.

Since that review, Icom has replaced the IC-M32 with a totally redesigned handheld that floats: the IC-M34. We put it through the same tests as the handhelds reviewed in 2006, following the required 14-hour charge with the supplied AC charger.

Icom VHF Radio

Transmitter power and frequency measurements were taken from the radio antenna port and piped through a Ramsey Communications Service Monitor for analysis. Initial tests were conducted at a room temperature of 75 degrees. For a cold extreme, the radio was put in a freezer set at 15 degrees for four hours. A fish smoker served as an environmental chamber to get the radio to high-temperature extremes. It was left to cook for two hours at 122 degrees. The transmitter power output stability rating and frequency stability rating were derived from our complete series of tests, which included a check of the low-power setting.

Overall, the IC-M34 performed respectably on these tests, earning mostly Good or Excellent ratings. The one Fair rating was on transmitter frequency stability. At temperature extremes, especially at warm temperatures, it tended to drift a bit off frequency, not enough to adversely affect performance, but enough to lower its rating.

The screen was rated Good based on the display dimension, size of the channel number, additional information shown, and the quality of the backlighting. The screen shows volume and squelch settings, channel group, scan setting, and battery status. Backlighting comes on anytime a button is pressed.

Audio output was measured at 92 dBA from 1 foot away—as high as any radio we’ve tested in this price group.

The large IC-M34 weighs a meager 10.8 ounces and floated during our dunk test. It also passed our 4-foot drop on concrete and 30-minute freshwater submersion tests. Like its predecessor, the IC-M32, it has front-panel push button control for volume, squelch, channel selection, and scan. One new addition is the top-mounted external speaker-microphone jack.

Switching from the M32’s nickel cadmium battery to the M34’s 980 mAH Lithium Ion battery doubled battery life to 12 hours. But battery replacement cost is a bit high ($50).

Conclusion

The new Icom performed very well and is compact. However, when performance, cost, warranty, battery life, included equipment, recharge time, display, and audio are all considered, the IC-M34 does not overtake the Uniden MHS350, the reigning

Practical Sailor Best Choice for handheld VHFs under $175.

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