Sony ICF12S Radio

Review: Sony ICF-F12S Radio

If you were born in the seventies or early eighties in India, the sound of a radio -which was the only source of entertainment and news  then would bring on a wave of nostalgia and rekindle old memories. For me I have additional memories passed down from a generation before and radio is an inseparable part of me. I never became a HAM like I wanted to when I was younger, but my love for radios and electronics never ended.

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The preserved “radio tower” in Ajjerkaad (Udupi) which is built on a rocky area close to the Arabian sea. This place was  known well enough for Mahatma Gandhi to hold a rally here in Feb 1934

The oldest information on radios I came across is of a place back home called Ajjer-kaad (also spelled Ajjarkad) which seems to come from two words Ajjer (Grandfather) and Kaad (Forest) in Tulu. It is alleged that it got its name from the practice of deserting old folk who had become a “burden” to their families in the forest there and leave the poor old things to die. Currently there stands an old radio tower there from the times when people did not own radios’, just like a mainframe computer when there were no personal computers around. People used to come come from all over Udupi town and sit on the surrounding rocks to listen to the news at fixed times.

The next memory is from Bombay at a family friends house where they had a big old Grundig* valve radio in a wooden cabinet as big as a microwave. I remember having to wait several minutes for the valves to heat up and to hear its sweet melodious sound. It had piano buttons to select the band and a valve with a red light (I think it was called magic eye or something similar) which came on when the radio was properly tuned. It had an external antenna wound on a cross shaped wooden frame wound like a spider’s web.

Simple, sturdy packaging. none of that slippery plastic coated junk
Simple, sturdy packaging. none of that slippery plastic coated junk

The next memory is of transistor radios’. My uncle in Udupi had one which was powered by a cheap battery eliminator and would give us electric shocks when we touched it. Then memories of a Jetking radio kit which I assembled by myself and finally a beautiful Philips Major radio in a wooden cabinet with a warm back lit tuning dial -what fantastic sound! We used to regularly use it to listen to Radio Ceylon and Saturday Date when we were in Bombay. The funny part is that in Delhi, they still announce in the Metro and in various other places not to pick up an abandoned “transistor” radio as it could be a bomb. I don’t think any one carries around a radio anymore and people would ignore it anyway.  It seems only yesterday that people would have special attachments on their bicycles for hanging a radio and would pedal around listening to the news or to music or a play.

Very well made aesthetic design of the front of the radio
Very well made aesthetic design of the front of the radio

Somehow after that we ended up stuck on FM and as cassette recorders, CDs’ , walkmans’, Discmans’,  MP3 players and of course TV, followed by cable TV and now Dish TV, the radio was mostly forgotten. However after so many years, I really began to miss on radio. Its big advantage -in spite of its sound quality was the choice of free programming! Unlike video, you don’t need to be pinned to the device… you can listen to it and continue doing other work unlike if I were watching a movie on my laptop. It really cuts down on the eye strain if you spend upwards of 16 hours on a laptop and a few additional hours on a smartphone and tablet. I often find myself using it in the kitchen and catching up on interesting stuff. It is also big brother free as it uses one way communication:-)

IMAG1653
Simple, easy to understand user guide

To get back to the review, although Sony let me down with their very expensive “MW-1 Smart Wireless Headset Pro” bluetooth headset and their even more expensive  PRS-T1 e-ink ebook reader, I still kind of trust Sony with radio in spite of everything  being now made in China. I very badly wanted to buy one of their World band radios’, but was scared on sinking so much money and getting a dud. I decided to buy something with my credit card reward points instead of unnecessarily locking up more of my increasingly hard earned money which seems to be taxed more and more and is worth less and less in this stupid fiat money economy system. After Googling around, I finalized on the 3 Band Sony ICF-F12S. It seems to have a preferable SW range (5.9-18 MHz)  compared to the ICF-F11S. These seem to be primarily manufactured for Asian markets but are pretty hard to come by. They are mostly out of stock. I got mine from infibeam.com and had to wait for quite some time before they could organize one from their sources.

Side view (Right) Top to bottom, Power switch, band switch and ear phone socket
Side view (Right) Top to bottom, Power switch, band switch and ear phone socket

As soon as I got it and unpacked it, it reeked of quality. It had a nice tough protective cardboard box and had a narrow cheesy looking strap meant to be attached to the radio. The plastic of the radio was quite good like some of the older HP laser printers with a pleasing dial and volume control and tuning knobs.

Pros:

  • Has a finger thick indentation running the length of the back of the radio which makes holding the radio secure and comfortable.
  • Separate on/off slide switch on the side of the radio. I’ve always hated those radios’ with the combined Volume/power switch where you had to turn the volume to zero and then turn it further to switch it off, unnecessarily reducing the life of the volume control pot.
  • Very comfortable tuning knob with good feel and gear ratio for tuning on SW (with a little practice)
  • Very comfortable volume control knob too. I’ve mostly never required to turn it past the first volume marker indicating the volume level.
  • Service manual easily available online (check end of post) which means I can fix it at home!
  • Good value for money if you disregard the cost of the batteries, however, I plan to connect an external power source -either rechargeable or an external power supply.
  • Telescopic whip antenna feels very sturdy to hold and operate.
  • Pleasing sound -good level of bass so sound is not too harsh and flat, yet it is not so much that spoken audio becomes unintelligible or difficult to understand. Similarly, treble is pretty balanced too and I don’t miss a tone control.
  • For the no of stations I got on SW with the use of the whip antenna, the bandspread seemed to be quite okay with no overlap of stations. I’m not sure whether this will still be the case if I modify the set to accept an external antenna.

Cons/limitations :

  • The service manual, download it from the end of this post and print it out :-)
    The service manual, download it from the end of this post and print it out 🙂

    No socket to connect an external 3 Volt source (Can be easily customized and fitted with one)

  • Uses R20 -D cell batteries -pretty expensive. I had to pay Rs. 280/- (INR) for a pair of Duracells’
  • The Integrated Circuit (IC) it is built around has provision for a tuning indicator but the provision is not implemented. I’m not sure whether this has been done to increase battery life. (can be modded though)
  • I’d have preferred a folding plastic handle rather than the dicey stringy nylon strap provided.
  • No back light -again probably to save battery (I didn’t miss it) (can be modded if required using a white LED)
  • Headphone/Earphone socket is mono! This means that if you plug in a headphone, only the left speaker on the headset will work. This is cheap! (The connector could be probably modded -I haven’t opened the set yet)
  • Tuning gets disturbed as the knob turns accidentally when picking up the radio (for right handed people)
  • Power switch turns on upwards. This could possibly accidentally turn on the radio when slipping it into a bag

The Sony ICF-F12S is a simple analog portable shortwave radio produced for the Asian market. Short wave coverage spans from 5.9-18 MHz. There is also a lookalike, going by the model no ICF-F11S which has a different shortwave range,  ( 2.3-7.35 MHz). So pick and choose whether you want the lower shortwave range or the upper one. Most, including me will prefer the upper shortwave range.

I’m very happy with this purchase. Its a neat bargain for INR 890/- I will post my mods to it in a separate post.

Dimensions:
  • Width 216 mm
  • Thickness 68.6 mm
  • Weight 676 gm
  • Height 129.8 mm
Features:
  • High Power Sound with Long Battery Life Feature
  • FM/MW/SW 3Band Portable Radio
  • SW: 5.9-18MHz
  • 220 Hours Long Battery Life (When using SW/MW with two R20 (size D) batteries)
  • High Power Sound
  • Carrying Strap
* Grundig radios were beautiful, at least before Philips and then Eton took over. I have an Eton emergency radio ( Solarlink FR360) which is the shittiest radio ever manufactured. I’ll never buy any of their products ever again.
Resources:
Posting these here so that jerks like www.mypdfmanuals.com don’t send you a fake manual and then ask you to pay for the real one -for something that is freely available from the manufacturer.

Download the Sony ICF-F11S / ICF-F12S User and service manuals from here for free.

Sony ICF-F12S-manual-eng

Sony-ICFF11S_12S-service manual

 

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