Clash of the titans. The UHF CB big guns compete.

Vertex VX-2200CB + Icom IC-400pro

 

  

Anyone who takes their UHF CB seriously will know the name Icom IC-400pro. The IC-400 has an unshakeable reputation as “the ultimate CB radio”. The Vertex VX-2200CB is a little less well known, but many recognise it as a serious competitor for the top spot.

 

Both these radios are Australian type approved legal UHF CB radios. They operate at 5 watts output on the 40 UHF CB channels. These two radios were never available as 80ch versions. For 80ch you have to buy the IC-410pro or the VX-4600. But read on for tricks and tips.... 

 

However, they are not purpose built CB radios, they are both re-programmed commercial transceivers. The VX-2200CB is actually a VX-2200U and the IC-400pro is a member of the IC-F6020 range of commercial sets. Both these sets have 128 channels and operate in the 450 to 500MHz range. They are both 25 watt output (although a few VX-2200Us have 45 watts output) and if you have the software and leads, they are fully programmable with a windows based PC. 

 

This is a user’s review and not a technical analysis of performance. But as a user of both these radios it is clear they easily outperform the huge majority, if not all, of the other CBs on the market. They are commercial quality sets and give the performance a professional would expect. The received and transmitted audio is very good and the receivers are sensitive but unaffected by pagers and other strong nearby transmissions. In addition to this, they are strong. They are built like brick outhouses and can take the abuse of industrial installations. They are the tough guys of the CB world.

 

New prices vary from around $350 to $450 for either. But if you are willing to shop overseas it is possible to buy an unprogrammed  VX-2200 for as little as $270 including shipping. Second hand prices are around $200 to $250 depending on condition. This is a little more than your average CB, but not that much more when you consider the built quality and that they are 80 channels capable.

The performance and build quality of the two sets is so alike we can only compare them on features and ease of use. So taking each in turn...

 

Vertex VX-2200CB

The 2200 was a little larger than I was expecting. Not huge, but after using slimline modern CBs it is a bit chunky. But this makes the display large and easy to read. It has a large heat sink and a power lead that could easily handle 15 amps. The words “heavy duty” stick in mind.

 

Having said that, almost as soon as I started using the set, the microphone lead fell apart. I had to replace the whole mic. Although, to be fair, I have no idea how old the lead was and the radio had obviously been well used before I bought it.

 

As soon as I saw the set I realised that this was not a modified commercial set. It was a commercial set. The four function buttons are marked P1 to P4 rather than with their actual function, so you have to remember what they do. As supplied P1 to P3 are – squelch override, display dimmer and low power. P4 does nothing. There is no scanning. There is no duplex button as the radio is programmed with 48 channels. The 8 repeater channels are included twice, once simplex and once with repeater shift. The letter S or D is displayed next to the channel number to show which is which. The two telemetry channels, 22 and 23 have transmit inhibited and are receive only. I presume the newer versions have been updated with 96 channels. 80 simplex, 16 repeaters and 5 recieve only telemetry.

 

It’s just as well the radio is very simple to operate as I had no manual. Try as I might, I could not find a manual for the VX-2200CB. I couldn't even google up a mention of one. But I have been reliably informed by someone who bought a VX-2200CB new that a "CB quick usage guide" sheet is included with the radio to explain what the unmarked buttons do. I have only managed to find a copy of the VX-2200V/U manual and I don't know if this is also supplied with the VX-2200CB. This manual is the type which is supplied to commercial radio dealerships explaining all the features the radio has and how to program them. This makes no sense giving it to a VX-2200CB buyer as it details all the features which are not programmed into their CB.

 

Having read about the large number of features that were trapped inside the radio unable to get out, I decided to do a little re-programming. To do this I needed a lead and software. Programming leads with USB or 9 pin serial plugs are available for around $25 to $30 on eBay. A lead made to fit any Vertex or Yaesu with an 8 pin RJ45 mic plug will do the job. The software is called CE82 and works with the VX-2100 and VX-2200 series of radios. This software is only available to Vertex dealerships and is not available to the public. This produces a moral dilemma as any resourceful internet user can easily furnish his or herself with a copy. I will leave it to the individual to agonise over the extent of their conscience on that issue. I was loaned a copy by a Vertex dealer (honestly, I really was!!!).

 

The true potential of the 2200 is released with the software. All 128 channels can be programmed with frequencies and display tags for each channel entered. CTCSS can be programmed and user functions like scanning and squelch adjustment can be allocated buttons on the front panel. Each button can have 2 functions depending if you press it momentarily or hold it for 2 seconds. The 25 watt output can also be enabled, but this is of course illegal.

 

In fact, the radio probably loses its type approved status as soon as any part of its programming is altered. The CE82 software has a non-rewritable file included so any 2200 can be reset to identical type approved settings. The law surrounding this is a bit of a grey area as we could, for example, leave the set on 5 watts and 40 channels but add the scan function. Would this invalidate the sets type approval? We only added a feature that most other CBs have and didn’t change anything else. I don’t know how far we could go with re-programming and still remain strictly legal so I chose to add a few user functions, but not add any extra watts or unlicensed frequencies.

 

After some time experimenting with the software I settled on my 2200s configuration. It has 2 banks of channels.

Bank 1 - 40 wide deviation CB channels

Bank 2 - 80 narrow deviation CB channels

 

The 4 function buttons now act as 8 as they all have a second function. In addition to the original functions I have added a band change button. This switches between the old 40 wide channels and the new 80 narrow channels. Giving me two CBs in one box. Very useful. A talk-around button, otherwise known as repeater shift. All repeater channels now default to duplex every time the channel is changed but the talk around button allows me to switch back to simplex if required. A set up menu button which lets me turn off the key beep, the display back light and a few other rarely used functions. Perhaps most importantly, I have added a squelch control. The squelch varies from 0 to 9 and is programmed individually for each channel with the software. I set them all to 2. They were originally set to 4. Unfortunately when the squelch is adjusted via the front panel it resets back to the default value when the channel is changed or scanning is started. This is due to the 2200 being a commercial radio which was never meant to have the squelch as a user function. I have also added scanning.  The scanning in the 2200 is very adjustable. The software can be used to change delay times, speeds and how the radio reacts. I opted for a conventional carrier pause and 2 second delay.

 

With the programming upgrade the 2200 has gone from a very good but very basic radio to a flexible and useful radio. There are a few minor complaints. The squelch resetting to default every time it scans and not being able to use the CTCSS without uploading a new program from the computer is a little annoying. But I can live with these.

 

One gripe that borders on infuriating is the volume control. It doesn’t turn the audio level up and down gradually. It jumps in steps. And when the radio is switched on, it sometimes doesn’t return to the volume “step” that it was on when it was switched off. Although a tweak of the control brings it back. I would suggest there was a fault but I owned 2 brand new VX-2500s and they were exactly the same. The perfectionist in me is disgusted at Vertex for making such a good radio and spoiling it with such a basic flaw. But in truth, I can live with that problem and won’t abandon the radio just for that one negative. There are too many positives.

 

Icom IC-400pro

The 400 is a little smaller than the 2200. It’s more the size of other modern CBs. It’s just as strongly built though. Unlike the 2200 it is not a commercial rig programmed with CB channels and shipped out to customer. Icom have altered the radio and its firmware to make it more CB friendly. The buttons are marked with their CB functions. Also unlike the 2200 when the repeater shift is switched on or off, or the squelch altered, it does not reset when the channel is changed and stays that way for all channels. As a CB should.

 

The 400 arrives with an impressively comprehensive manual explaining how the many functions and menus work. If you were not familiar with commercial radios, you could be forgiven for thinking the 400 was a good quality purpose built CB. Icom have taken the time and effort to make it into a CB and not a recycled commercial rig.

 

The 400 has a DUP button which works as per regular CBs. It has a scan button as well. There are 4 different scan groups. Open and group, which work as per Uniden etc. Also a priority scan and a repeater scan. The repeater scan selects the repeater channels, starting on channel 1. It transmits for a moment on each channel to test if an active repeater is present. It stops scanning once it hears a repeater reply. This is a fantastic facility, apart from one thing. It always starts on channel 1. If you have a repeater on channel 2, it’ll find it and stop. If you then start it scanning from channel 3, it will go back to 1 and find channel 2 again. If you have a second repeater on channel 4, it’ll never find it. Brilliant idea but not quite properly thought through. Never mind Icom. I have to mention this minor glitch as it’s my one and only complaint about the 400. I liked everything else about the radio.

 

Incidentally, the scanning only works if the mic is hung up on its hanger. That caught me out for a few minutes until I figured it out. If the radio stops scanning, simply picking up the mic will cancel scanning and return the radio for normal use on the busy channel.

 

The 400 has CTCSS available through the front panel set up menu. It also has the squelch setting in the set up menu too. It takes 5 keystrokes to get to it, but that can be achieved quickly once you practice. The squelch adjusts from 0 to 255, so is much more finely adjustable than most radios.

 

There is also a selective calling system which is fully programmable via the front panel. I didn’t explore this in detail as selective calling isn’t my thing, but it sure looked like a very programmable system. I did notice that the radios ID code can be set via the front panel, unlike other CBs which are fixed at manufacture.

 

My 400 arrived with programming software and lead. The software is available from the web as per the 2200, but I don’t know if Icom approve of this. As with the 2200, you’ll have to deal with your own moral dilemma. It is possible to add more frequencies, and more channel banks via the software. The first 40 channels are in the first bank. They cannot be removed and are required to remain CB channels. This is so the repeater scan works and the radio indicates the correct input channel during repeater use. There is also a number of “private” channel banks which can be filled with receive only frequencies. I chose to wipe all the receive only channels and create a second bank with the 80 narrow deviation CB channels. So like my 2200 I can switch between banks and effectively have two CBs in one box.

 

As with the 2200 the 25 watt output can be enabled with the computer. As with the 2200, it is not legal to do so.

 

Every feature the radio has can be set via the computer. Such as the selcal, subtones or scan groups. This can also be done via the radio panel, but it’s easier to type it into a computer keyboard where all the settings are displayed on one screen. The function of the buttons can also be changed and Icom provide a sheet of tiny stickers so you can mark the front panel to match your button preference. I chose to change only one. I added a wide/narrow width selection.

 

Conclusion

I bought both these radios as I wanted a product which was not available on the CB market. A good quality, user friendly, legal CB which has switchable width so it would be compatable with older 40 channel sets and new 80 channel sets. These two radios were my only options. Altering the programming away from standard may have invalidated their type approved status, but I can always put them back to standard and by keeping them on CB channels at only 5 watts I don’t feel guilty and I do not envisage any unpleasantness with radio inspectors in my future. I’m sure they have better things to do.

 

When I bought the Icom IC-400pro I wanted to see if it was as good as my Vertex VX-2200CB which was my favourite set at the time. I genuinely didn’t know if it would be better or not. But now I have used both, the Icom is by far the better radio for CB use. It is smaller, easier to use, has more useful features which are all available via the front panel rather than via software, and is simply a more versatile radio. The Icom IC-400pro is now my favourite CB radio. I still like the Vertex VX-2200CB but now it will have to live in the Icoms shadow.