Friday, December 23, 2011

Yaesu VR-120

Yaesu VR-120 Review


What's new? Well new to me at least is the Yaesu VR-120 Communications Receiver. This is the VR-120 model. This is the older model Yaesu VR-120. The newer version, the VR-120D (note the D on the end) adds a DC Jack on the side below the speaker jack. This allows for alternate powering using either an AC adapter or a DC power cord. Also charging batteries within the radio. Since that part didn't concern me, I picked up this VR-120 at a great deal.
I use rechargeable AA batteries and usually get close to 20 hours service out of one set of Energizer (or Duracell) 2500 mAh batteries.
I purchased this little (and I mean little) receiver used for a steal! I couldn't pass up the deal. So far, I am impressed with it's performance on HF, and VHF-High. This is not my first time using a Yaesu product because our department uses Vertex radios. The Vertex VX-180 to be exact. All in all I am pleased with Yaesu. I was very surprised when I received the package containing the VR-120. It weighed almost nothing. I actually thought I had been sent a box full of air! Once I opened the box, I was shocked at the size of the receiver. I have seen pictures online and knew it was small but man, this thing is tiny! With the supplied antenna you could easily stick this in your shirt pocket, and forget it.
Ease of Use
This thing is a bugger to operate at first. With minimal buttons it is hard to figure out how to store memories, search, and execute all the many features this receiver performs. After getting used to it a little, I am getting better but I keep the owner's manual very handy! I think it is meant to be an entry level type receiver but it operates far from that.
The VR-120 (D) has many features that are very useful. First off, it's size. The size of this receiver is such that you can absolutely take it anywhere and not get that "look at that nerd" stare from everyone! Alpha tags make it easy to know who belongs to each frequency, however you only get 6 characters as opposed to the 16 I am used to with Uniden and some GRE's. Other notable features include:
  • Dual Watch. Basically you can set 2 frequencies to be monitored and the receiver checks those two channels for activity until a transmission is detected. Very handy! You can set up to 8 pairs of Dual Watch frequencies to be monitored. You can only monitor 1 pair at any given time though. But still very useful feature indeed.
  • One Touch Memory. This feature allows you to set one frequency to each of the 4 buttons on the front of the receiver. In this mode you can push the buttons and monitor the frequency assigned to that button. Only downfall is that the receiver must be dedicated to this operation, meaning no scanning or searching.
  • Channel Counter. Much like Uniden's Close Call or GRE's Signal Stalker, the Yaesu version seeks nearby transmissions and displays the frequency. The Yaesu version doesn't receive the audio so all you see is the frequency.
  • Smart Search. This feature allows you to set a search range and the receiver will search that range for transmissions and store the frequency into a special memory bank. Not much use for me but some will likely find it useful.
  • Preferential Memory Scan. This is a great feature! Much like having multiple priorities. The receiver only has 1 true priority channel. However using the Preferential Memory Scan, you can select as many channels as you like to be scanned with this feature. Use it how you like but I set up my most important programmed frequencies into this feature. This scans only the programmed frequencies you have assigned to the Preferential Memory Scan. Each time you assign a frequency to this feature it is indicated by a P.S. symbol even when the feature is deactivated so you can easily see which frequencies are assigned to this feature. Hold one of the functions down for a couple seconds and it's instantly activated. This is a great tool that I have used several times in the few days I have had this receiver.
  • Other features that are included on this receiver is the ability to link banks together and scan them much like ordinary scanners. However it is a little more difficult to do because you have to step through the menu to do it. The receiver also features a Priority feature. You can set one programmed channel as "Priority" and the receiver will check that frequency every 5 seconds for a transmission. You can adjust the step sizes. The buttons and LCD are backlit but not bright. It is just okay for low light viewing and does nothing for you in the daylight. But on the other hand it is not annoyingly bright like some receivers. Keypad beep on and off is also a feature. The receiver has a battery save feature. A pause feature that allows you to pause from 1 to 12 seconds on an active channel. You can pause for the allotted seconds, pause until end of transmission or have the receiver stop and hold on the first transmission it finds. Also featured is a sleep timer 30 / 60 / 90 minutes to select from. Very nice when listening to Shortwave at night. Various other features allow you to check your battery voltage, also a low battery warning flashes on screen with NO beeps, I like that!!!! An S-Meter buzzer that emits an annoying tone when the S-Meter peaks but the S-Meter is disabled when the tone is enabled? I haven't quite figured that part out? There is also a simple game that is thrown in there for good measure. Basically numbers roll across the screen like a slot machine and you push the buttons below to stop the numbers. Pretty boring and waste of memory if you ask me. A great and welcome feature is the Attenuator feature which helps to block strong signals. Although the Attenuator is global meaning it is either on or off and can't be assigned to an individual channel.
Antenna Options
On AM you can select either to use the built in internal Bar antenna or the external antenna. Also on FM radio if you use headphones, the headphones can be selected to double as a FM antenna.
This receiver receives in AM/FM/WFM modes from 100 kHz to 1299.995 MHz (Cellular Blocked). It has 640 memories divided by 10 banks @ 64 channels per bank. With battery and antenna the total weight is approximately 195 grams. Very lightweight!
Don't expect booming audio from this receiver. I was expecting more audio because I was told it had big audio for it's size. However, it is very hard to hear when mobile in a car. Also sometimes in loud or busy streets it becomes almost inaudible. But in the room or next to the bedside this is a friend to be had.
I have listened to various broadcast shortwave programs with this receiver. Mostly out of Nashville, TN but have heard Radio Havana Cuba as well as China Radio International and other strong shortwave stations. There is no SSB on this unit but it isn't missed by me. Maybe a VR-500 later in life with SSB capabilities. AM radio pretty much stinks. I have a local AM station approximately 1 mile from my house and it's signal has static, even using the internal bar antenna in the radio. This isn't the radio for AM reception. FM Radio comes in just okay using the stock duck. It isn't the greatest but will get you by in a pinch. Using a better antenna than the stock improves reception, like the Diamond RH77CA. I haven't tried the earphone antenna.
VHF-Highband is where the VR-120 shines. I connected the Diamond RH77CA antenna on the 120 and can receive a great deal in the VHF-High range. I believe it is more sensitive (picks up more) than my Pro-97 and that says a lot!!!. Funny thing is if you hold the receiver in your hand, the reception improves. This is typical on all bands HF through 800. I am very impressed with the receive on the VR-120 in the VHF-High band. I have yet to find a better receiver in this band except maybe the VX-180 our department uses, but I think the 120 beats it! I haven't heard much on 800 band but I don't have very much in that range that is conventional around my part of the State. But one neighboring county uses 800 conventionally and I pick them up very well. Also Jefferson County has an analog trunked system which is about 40 + miles away and I programmed their frequencies in conventionally and picked them up with ease. Note that the Jefferson County system doesn't normally come in and I can't monitor them on a regular basis. Probably just good ducting the past week or so. Connect the RS800 antenna and the reception improves on the 800 band.
Notice I never called this radio a scanner. It is not a scanner. It is a communications receiver. With a scan rate of less than 20 channels per second you aren't going to cover large bands or numerous banks of frequencies with this scanner. It is best used for selective frequencies. I have about 70 channels programmed at the moment and it will go through those in a couple of seconds but if you are wanting a scanner, then purchase a scanner.
I got this for the DC to daylight coverage. Meaning Shortwave all the way up through the 800 band. It is a decent receiver and I recommend this if you want an inexpensive receiver to take along with you. It provides general reception on the AM and FM broadcast bands, HF Shortwave bands, VHF and UHF TV bands, the VHF-AM aircraft band, public safety bands, ham bands, as well as UHF Military bands 225 through 400 MHz. If you can find a good used one it is well worth $100 or less if you can pick one up. The competition Icom R5 looks promising as well but I have never used one so I can't comment too much on a comparison at this time. I do hear the R5 can't link and unlink banks together like the VR-120(D) but the audio is reported to be better on the R5. The R5 also adds CTCSS/DCS feature. For the money, this is a good receiver. I give it a 6 out of 10 because it is hard to program and operate at first because of the lack of a numerical key pad. Also the audio is lacking and of course it doesn't do trunking. But for the money and it's intended purpose, this is a great little (and I mean little) receiver.
written:  04/30/06

Icom IC-R5

Icom IC-R5 Review

written: 02/28/2007 
The Icom IC-R5 has been out for several years now, but I have only recently gotten my hands on one. The Icom R5 is tiny by comparison to other "receivers." The lack of a full keypad turns some away from this little radio but don't let that keep you from owning a true performer!

Key Features
  • Wideband Coverage 150 kHz to 1309.995 MHz (less cellular and gaps)
  • 1250 Memories (1000 memories, 25 scan edge pairs, 200 auto write channels)
  • 30 - 120 Minute Auto Power Off
  • Built-in Ferrite Bar Antenna
  • CTCSS/DCS Decode
  • 6 Character Alpha Tags
  • Priority Channel
  • Weather Alert and/or Monitor
  • Channel Alert Beep
  • PC Programmable
  • 2 AA Battery Operation
  • Pocket Sized! 2.3 (w) x 3.4 (h) x 1.1 (d) inches
  • Weighs only 6 oz.
In the Box
  • Wall Charger
  • Flexible SMA antenna
  • 2 AA Rechargeable batteries
  • Belt Clip
  • Wrist Strap
  • Owner's Manual
  • Ham Radio Terms Booklet
  • Hot 100 SWL List (short wave radio frequencies list that are preprogrammed into the R5)
Construction and Physical
The R5 is an attractive little receiver. Its gloss black outer shell gives an impression of quality. The R5 is built very sturdy. The outer case is plastic but has a very rugged feel to it, despite its small size. The R5 weighs only 6 oz. (185 kg). The control buttons have a good textile feel to them. They offer good feedback when pressing them. The VFO knob is large enough to be comfortable when turning and offers good feel with its detenting while turning. The antenna connection is SMA but you can purchase a SMA to BNC adapter if you have BNC antennas you prefer to use. The battery compartment is securely closed with a clasp type lock.
LCD. The LCD is easy to read and has a nice bright backlight! The alpha tags, although limited to 6 characters are large and easy to read, as are the signal strength meter, and other symbols displayed. When scanning banks, the display can either show you the frequency, memory name, bank name or channel number. You can change this as you wish but you can only display one at a time.The information displayed on the LCD varies depending on the mode you are using, but for the most part you will see: Frequency Readout, Key Lock Indicator, Receive Mode Indicator, Duplex Indicator, CTCSS or DCS Indicators, Skip Indicator, Priority Watch Indicator, Memory Indicator, Memory Channel #, Signal Strength Meter, Volume Meter (when volume is selected), Battery Meter, and Attenuator Indicator.
Speaker. The speaker is located under the control buttons. The speaker takes up approximately 1/3 of the face of the receiver. The audio is nice on such a small rig. Audio is much better on the R5 as compared to the Yaesu VR-120.
Performance and Features
The Icom IC-R5 is a very sensitive receiver. It shines in the VHF-High band (150 to 160 MHz). The R5 does suffer from interference from other sources, but can be easily overcome either by CTCSS/DCS or using the attenuator. The R5 does have a rather slow scan sped at only 10 channels per second or 30 steps per second when searching. Albeit this is not a scanner but a "Communications Receiver" as is plainly printed on the front of the IC-R5. You can use the R5 to search for CTCSS or DCS tones but you have to select one or the other and it is not instant. This can be somewhat evasive unless you hold on a channel and catch a lengthy transmission so that it has time to find the correct tone. The R5 has 3 receive modes, FM, WFM, and AM. Also has tuning steps of 5, 6.25, 8.33, 9, 10, 12.5, 15, 20, 25, 30, 50, and 100 kHz.
Weather Alert is a feature on the Icom R5 that works, and it works well. When turned "ON" the weather alert seeks the 1050 Hz tone from NOAA Weather Radio Repeater (that you preset) every 5 seconds, or so the manual says. I think it is more like 2 seconds. If you are listening to the scanner, you will hear a break in audio every couple seconds. I usually set the R5 on a frequency I know won't have traffic, and let the Weather Alert do its thing. I like the fact that this was added as a feature on the R5. (US Version Only)
HF Bands. This isn't the best receiver you can buy for shortwave listening and other HF DXing, however it does receive the stronger stations quite well at night. But don't expect great performance in this band.
AM Radio. Even with the built-in ferrite bar antenna, the AM reception stinks. You'd be better off going with a more dedicated AM radio if you were interested in that band. (A Kaito 1103 does well on AM and SWL).
VHF-Low Band. I don't have much in this band to monitor in my area. I have monitored some local VHF-low signals in the 37.000 range with good results. But no long distance monitoring.
VHF-High Band. This is where the Icom IC-R5 shines. It pulls in VHF High signals like nobody's business. I am extremely impressed with the receive capability in this range. I can consistently monitor VHF-High frequencies from 30 to 50 miles on a daily basis with ease. Now keep in mind I am not using the stock antenna. I use an extendable antenna that came off of a Pro-2055 scanner, but even with the stock antenna the little receiver does extremely well. But adding a band specific antenna really shows the receivers strength!
UHF Band. Again, very little UHF traffic in my area. I only have about 2 frequencies that are of interest to me in this area and I have not had an opportunity to test them on this receiver, sorry.
800 MHz Band. The R5 is decent on 800 MHz. I can pull in signals from 40 miles using 800 MHz band specific antenna however I cannot do this consistently. Usually late in the evening, is when these signals roll in. Almost everything within reasonable distance to me is P25 digital so I can only hear the data.
Civilian and Military Air. Again, the R5 is a good air band receiver and is why many people buy this receiver. It has the 8.33 step size that many air band enthusiast want in a receiver. It is very sensitive in the Civ Air band but also seems to be plagued with interference in this band range, at least in my area. MilAir is a little more tricky as I have only had the chance to catch a couple of active frequencies but seems to do well in this range, but is also plagued with interference.
Audio. Audio on the R5 is surprisingly loud for such a small receiver. It is loud enough for most mobile use situations. For indoor, it is more than powerful enough. It has crisp clean audio that does not distort at higher levels. I like the fact that the audio control is on the face, the up and down buttons control the volume. This can be easily changed for those who prefer the VFO knob to control volume levels.
Memory. The R5 has 1200 programmable memory channels. These store alphanumeric memories, frequency, mode, step size, duplex direction and offset, CTCSS or DCS and skip settings. The attenuator is global and is not applied per channel, which is a small disappointment, but nothing major. You can copy a memory channels contents to VFO or another memory channel which is handy for manual programming. You can have 1 priority channel as well and can "watch" it while memory is scanning, or VFO scanning.
Battery Consumption. I use Energizer 2500 mAh rechargeable batteries. They last approximately 10 to 12 hours while scanning with the LCD back light on 100% of the time. Truly a power sipping receiver! Great battery life! The battery life can be extended further by turning the back light off or to Auto (only comes on when pressing buttons).
Squelch. Squelch on the R5 is different in that it is digitally represented on the screen. You can set it to Open, Auto, or Level 1 - 9. I find that Auto works great on most everything. I use he Open mode when using it for AM or Shortwave Listening.
Dislikes. The Icom R5 is very difficult to use and understand the functions. If not for the programming software, I think I would have given up. The controls and programming steps are awkward to say the least. To be a great receiver, I almost was put off by the complexity of the operation of the receiver (and I am no rookie). This is not for the novice or weak of heart. If you do buy, do yourself the favor and get the programming software and programming cable. You will thank me! Don't expect the Owner's Manual to shed much light on the confusing interface. The OM is poorly written and is very hard to understand.
The R5 only allows bank scanning by 1 or all. Meaning you cannot link banks together and scan them. You can either scan 1 bank, or you can scan all banks. This is annoying at times, but can also be overcome by adding duplicate channels to banks. When programming, you have to add a frequency to the master list, and then assign it to a bank. So if you want 2 of the same frequencies in different banks, you have to add it twice to the master list and assign them to different banks. Just a minor annoyance.
The interference is annoying, but as stated earlier, if you use the Attenuator function and/or CTCSS/DCS feature, it cures that problem.
The lack of a full keypad is missed but does't really bother me that much. The missing keypad helps keep it's small footprint!
Missing chunks of the 800 MHz Band are another gripe from many users. The frequency ranges covered by the Icom R5 are from 0.15 to 823.995 MHz. 849.00 to 868.995 MHz. And 894.000 MHz to 1309.995 MHz. So anything above 868.995 up to 894.000 is missing (US version only). Some public safety agencies operate in parts of that range and may be a problem for some. Fortunately it was not a problem in my area.
I would have liked to have seen NFM mode and the 7.5 step size for Narrowband. It wasn't a deal breaker as most frequencies round up or down easily with no problems.
Some complain about the belt clip being flimsy but I purchased my R5 used and did not receive a belt clip.
The Icom IC-R5 is a great receiver. It far surpasses any handheld that I have used on VHF-High band. The little receiver has some drawbacks, however they aren't enough that you shouldn't enjoy the features and performance it has to offer. Universal Radio has them and numerous accessories at great prices. I got my Icom R5 used at a great deal that included software and programming cables. If you find a good deal, don't pass it up. If you need a "communications receiver" then I recommend the Icom IC-R5. If, on the other hand, you need a "scanner' then look elsewhere, because the R5 is not a "scanner." Obviously there are other features on the Icom R5 that aren't covered in this review. You can view a full list of specifications and features on the Icom America website.
If you are comparing the VR120 to the Icom R5, then you will have a tough decision to make. There are features on each that are appealing. The VR120 has an easier to use interface in my opinion. The audio on the R5 is much better. Both have near equal receive sensitivity. The VR120 has some very useful features like "One Touch Memory" where you can assign a frequency to a button on the receiver for quick access. Also the "Dual Watch" and "Preferential Memory Scan" are great features on the VR120 as well. If the Icom had those few features it would be near perfect! But the VR120 lacks the audio and CTCSS/DCS and a few other features to make it useful in day to day monitoring of multiple frequencies for me.
Performance, size, and features are enough to warrant the $150 to $200 price tag on the R5. A good solid receiver that is a true performer.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Any interest in me doing a review of the GRE PSR-800?

Please comment below.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Uniden BC396T

The BCD396T is the best scanner I have ever used, period. I really like the memory setup that is similar to the BC246T. The dynamic memory makes programming multiple trunking systems a snap and I never worry about running out of memory or “banks” like in older scanners when programming multiple trunking systems is near impossible at times. The dynamic memory setup allows you to easily group various agencies or frequencies together. In a system, I personally always group all of my fire in one group, police in a separate group, EMS in another group, etc. With 6000 channels regardless if you use text or not, you will find it hard to use all of the memory. It can be done, but I don't see myself using all of the possible memory. I have programmed every county in the state of Arkansas (fire, police, and EMS) along with virtually all of the public safety trunking systems in Arkansas and much of North Louisiana conventional and trunking and I have only used 66% of the available memory. Very impressive!
I love the bright blue backlight. It really stands out and is easily seen in the dark and in direct sunlight. There are numerous settings for the backlight including a timed light (10 and 30 seconds), key press 10 second and infinite, and also backlight with squelch. The 100 quick keys is a very welcome addition to the BCD396T. The BC246T only had 10 quick keys to access systems. This limited your ability to access your programming. Adding the 100 quick keys to the BCD396T allows you to unlock the potential of the dynamic memory.
Fire Tone Out (FTO) is a great feature added to the BCD396T. It is somewhat difficult to find the information needed to program the FTO but if you have access to the information via a fire dept, radio programmer, or some info can be found at the radio reference database, it is a great feature. You cannot scan and use the FTO at the same time. FTO works similar to the SAME weather alert feature, where the scanner must be in standby mode while waiting for a fire tone to activate the FTO. A nice feature added by Uniden via a firmware update is if a dept uses the same radio frequency but different tone frequencies for different groups like EMS, FIRE, Rescue, etc., the FTO feature will monitor all programmed FTO settings using the same radio frequency and activate on the group that is paging.
The Close Call feature on the BCD396T is the same as that on the BC246T and Pro-83 scanners. This is a great feature when you are close enough to the transmitting source. If you don't expect the close call feature to catch frequencies over 100' away, you'll enjoy the feature, especially if you happen up on an accident, fire screen or other incident where you don't know the agencies involved. You can use the close call feature while scanning your programmed frequencies which is a great feature. You can also use a search and store feature with the close call that automatically stores the found frequency to a system. I have picked up a close call hit form as much as 1/2 mile away from a repeater but this is not typical. Mostly it will be a close proximity feature. The BCD396T has a great alert feature. You can set the scanner so that it alerts you when there is activity on a channel you specify.
Custom Alerts For each alert in the scanner (such as channel alert, Close Call alert, emergency alert), you can select from 9 different tone patterns and also set the alert volume level independently from the main volume level. This works great for me because I set different alerts for different fire depts. in my area. I hear the unique alert and without looking I automatically know which fire department is transmitting.
The single knob on the top that acts as a volume, squelch, and scroll knob is a good idea. I'd like a separate knob for squelch but this one works well. It simplifies the top of the scanner. The squelch isn't as sensitive as I'd like it to be. The squelch has to be set to 0 to open up (cause static). I usually keep it set at 2 with no problems. When you adjust the squelch and volume, there is a digital readout on the screen that shows 0 to 15 on both squelch and volume. If you push the knob down, you will see the volume bar on the screen along with a volt meter in the top right of the screen. The volt meter isn't mentioned in the manual but is a great “hidden” feature.
A couple of other unmentioned feature is that this scanner will do I-Calls on a 9600bps digital system. This is something that other digital scanners can't do. Also there is a feature that is similar to the 246, a frequency counter. While powering on press (Hold, 3, and 0) and the scanner will be a frequency counter for the frequency range specified.
There is also a signal strength meter on the screen of the BCD396T that I like. I missed having a signal meter on the BC246T and am glad to see it made it to the 396. The screen has an adjustable contrast which I find useful at times. This scanner has the SAME weather alerts and weather alert priority like the BC246. As with the 246T, I like the fact that you can use the weather alert priority while scanning. It does cause a skip every 10 seconds in a transmission you are hearing. That pause you hear is when the scanner is checking for activity from the local NOAA weather transmitter. I use the SAME feature (which must be in standby mode) at night when my area is expecting severe weather. I think this is a great feature to add to a scanner. I hope all future scanners keep this feature. I don't use it often, but I do appreciate it when I need it.
The BCD396T comes with everything you need unlike Pro-Series scanners. The BCD396T includes a PC Programming cable, 3 rechargeable batteries, AC adapter, BNC/SMA adapter, belt clip, SMA antenna, wrist strap, and free downloadable full version programming software. The software is a little difficult to navigate at first but makes programming this scanner much easier than doing it by hand. The belt clip included with the scanner is the first of its kind on a scanner. I really like the swivel style belt clip. The clip makes carrying the scanner more pleasant than other scanners. Because of the size of the scanner along with the belt clip style I find myself carrying the scanner everywhere I go. The belt clip holds the scanner firmly in place on a belt or clipped to the pocket. The wrist strap is a nice addition as well. I use it when holding my scanner and it has prevented the $525.00 investment from hitting the ground.
The scanner comes preprogrammed with hundreds of frequencies and systems from all over the US, none of which were in my area so I deleted them. If I travel to an area, I can reload them via the software provided by Uniden. The audio on this scanner is much louder than that of the 246T. If you open the radio all the way to full volume, the audio is loud and clear. It doesn't distort like the 246T does. The pitch of the audio is different than that of the 246. The 246 has a deeper pitch whereas the 396 has a higher pitch (more treble) sound. Analog audio comes in very well on the 396T. I haven't had a chance to monitor a digital system as of yet, my area is to change over Mid-September 2005 and I will report back after I have had a chance to monitor the new digital system for a month or two. The reception of the BCD396T is really good on 800 MHz and VHF-High with the supplied SMA antenna. I would likely buy an antenna dedicated to 800 if I lived in an area with multiple 800 systems but I only have 1 in my area and will likely stick to the supplied antenna.

BCD396D Digital System
I like the fact that Uniden has given us the feature of search with scan. While scanning my programmed frequencies I can set up one or more custom search of a frequency range and/or the preprogrammed service searches. This is a great feature if you are searching for new frequencies or just want to monitor for instance the HAM frequencies.
Battery life of the BCD396T averages between 8 to 12 hours depending on backlight usage, radio activity, and battery type. I use mostly Energizer 2500 mAh rechargeable batteries. But I also use the stock 2300 mAh and Energizer 2200 mAh. The 2500 obviously last longer than the 2200 but not by much, maybe an hour. I think that battery life is relatively good considering all of the features that are used by this scanner. I normally leave the backlight on and have moderate activity and get 8 hours out of a set of 2500 mAh batteries. Without the backlight on at all I have gotten 12 hours from 2500 mAh's. I haven't had the chance to use the scanner on a digital system so battery life may decrease when digital decoding begins, again, I'll report on that in a couple of months.
The size of this scanner is one of its best features. Like the 246, the compact design is definitely a plus to those of us who want to take the scanner where ever we go. Though the scanner is small, that doesn't mean that the display is hard to see. The text used and size of the display makes it easy to see and has plenty of information on the screen. The screen displays your system you are monitoring, the group, and the user. Pressing FNC + 5 easily allows you to see the frequency that is being used which could not be done with the BC246T. Also displayed is the system quick key and group quick keys. Other info is also displayed if selected like priority, att, channel modulation, etc. Another feature I didn't see mentioned in the manual is an activity display on trunking systems. When pushing the volume knob down briefly during the monitoring of a trunked system, you'll see the volume displayed and above that is a line that displays trunking activity. You'll see marks on the line for every user that is talking on the system. It is a neat feature but is kind of useless to me.

BCD396T Backlight
The BCD396T has the Trunk Tracker IV Operation Follows unencrypted conversations on analog Motorola, Motorola Astro 25 (APCO 25), EDACS, EDACS SCAT, and LTR trunked radio systems, including systems in VHF, UHF, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, and 900 MHz bands. The scanner can scan both conventional and trunked systems at the same time. I like the addition of the 700 MHz trunking capability. More and more public safety agencies will be moving to 700 systems in the future and this scanner will be ready for them. Also not mentioned is the fact that this scanner will trunk the 380 to 400 range used by the U.S. Military. All in all, this scanner is the best hand held scanner ever made in my opinion. It is worth every penny. With most dealers charging from $519 to $550, it is a steal with all of the features that is included in this scanner. Uniden has done an excellent job with adding features and keeping prices reasonable. I would recommend this scanner to anyone serious about scanning. I believe this to be the ultimate scanner at this time. But as we know, like a computer, it will likely be replaced in a couple of years or out done by a competitor like GRE. We will have to wait and see.
Digital Sound Quality and Performance: I have been using my BCD396T on the Arkansas P25 digital system for over a year. I am pleased with the performance of the scanner on the system. I did have to adjust the audio settings as described in the manual. But after doing that, sound is as clear if not better than the old analog system. BCD396T performs great on this system. The scanner doesn’t miss any transmissions or cut them off during the transmission. I use the system hold time at 0 and have no problems whatsoever with the new system. I am glad I bought the BCD396T and I would highly recommend it to anyone that is interested.

396digi2.jpg 396digi3.jpg

BCD396T vs Pro-96

I had my first chance to listen to a Pro-96 and decided to do a quick comparison to the BCD396T. The BCD396T is mine; the Pro-96 is borrowed from a friend. Both are excellent digital scanners and should make anyone proud to own either one.
Before receiving the Pro-96, I was thinking that this would be some sort of HUGE brick type scanner. Big, heavy, and awkward to hold and operate. I was wrong. The Pro-96 isn't nearly as big as I had pictured, but is bigger than the BCD396T. Both seem to have about the same weight. The 96 is comfortable to hold and operates with ease (once the programming is done.) I really can't give a first impression of the Pro-96 without comparing it to the BCD396T.
Purchasing New. If purchasing either of these new, expect to pay $500 +. But keep in mind that the BCD396T comes with the free programming/control software, programming cable, rechargeable batteries, belt clip, antenna, AC adapter, BNC to SMA adapter, manual, and wrist strap. The Pro-96 comes with antenna, manual, belt clip, and 1 black and 1 yellow battery holder (no batteries included). One battery holder is for rechargeable and the other for regular alkaline batteries. The BCD396T simply has a switch inside the battery compartment to switch between alkaline and rechargeable. If you wanted the AC adapter, software, and programming cable for your Pro-96, you can expect to pay $50 to $60 more for those accessories. Keep in mind that the Pro-96 cannot trunktrack 700 MHz systems at this time, whereas the BCD396T can.
Antenna Type. The Pro-96 has a BNC type antenna connector versus the BCD396T's SMA adapter. I prefer the BNC on the 96 over the 396's SMA. But that is a personal preference. The BNC makes switching antennas quick and easy whereas the SMA is more cumbersome to me and I get frustrated trying to change antennas. The backlight on the BCD396T stands out, even in day light. Both scanners have bright backlights at night but the 396 has a super bright blue light that is cool, but also sometimes can be annoying in the vehicle. Almost too bright. I wish it were able to be dimmed on the 396. The Pro-96's light is a softer type light and easier on the eyes, especially in the dark.
Size, size, size. The 396 is the perfect size to me. I carry it around with me where ever I go; work, in the vehicle, to the store, etc. because it is so portable. The 96, though not too large, it is bigger than the 396 and having gotten used to the size of the 396, I don't think I would want the 96 as my primary do all scanner. But the 96 is much smaller than I anticipated. Only slightly larger than the Pro-97.
Audio: A lot of people will disagree with me, but I just can't tell much of a difference here in this area. Each scanner sounds the same to me on VHF-High analog, 800 analog, 800 digital and all other bands. This is a close tie. The AGC performs better on the 96, no doubt. But the audio quality and audio level is near equal on the systems I monitored. When AGC is on the pro-96 sounds like it is underwater to me. But it helps level the audio. I turned it off and could live with the very minor audio differences. The Pro-96's audio does get louder than the BCD396Ts.
Programming by hand. To me, the Pro-96 is somewhat difficult to program compared to the 396. This is talking about programming by hand only. Entering a frequency or setting up a Motorola Trunking system on the BCD396T is fairly simple and self explanatory because of the menu system it has. The 96 has a confusing array of buttons you have to push to get to programming the right mode, etc. I just find it easier to program the 396, but again this is preference on my part. Entering text on the 96 is a real pain. Having to press the corresponding key, then press another key to select the letter. Then if you want lower case you have to push another button. Too many buttons to push for my preference. When programming large systems it gets redundant and frustrating. Entering text on the 396 is easier simply by rotating the volume knob.
Software. Each has it's own programming software. Win96 software is an excellent programming software, and can "unlock" certain features of the Pro-96, like the Mil Air band. However the Pro-96 can not be computer controlled where the BCD396T can if that is something you are interested in. I don't use computer control so that would not affect my decision. The BCD396T has a couple of programming options. The free software from Uniden, UASD396. And ARC396 from butel.
Batteries. The Pro-96 uses 4 AA's and the BCD396T uses 3 AA's. Battery life on the 396 is good. The Pro-96 battery life was about equal.
Alpha (Text) Tags. The BCD396T allows up to 16 characters for text taggs or alpha tags. The Pro-96 only allows for 12. But, the Pro-96 displays the TGID/Frequency and the Text tag where the 396 either shows one or the other.
Memory. The Pro-96 has what is known as V-Folders. I didn't get a chance to use these but I can definitely see how they would be beneficial. You can choose from 11 V-Folders which are actually 11 pages of 500 channels of memory which gives you 5500 channels total on the scanner. You can only use 1 V-Folder at a time, but setting up various folders for different areas you may travel to could be a real benefit. The BCD396T has systems and groups. You have access to all 6000 channels without having to change folders on the scanner. I prefer the 6000 channels to the V-Folders myself.
Features. The BCD396T includes 6000 channels, 700 MHz trunking, Close Call, Fire Tone Out, Search with Scan, LTR Trunking, and several others. The Pro-96 features the V-Folders, working AGC.
Reception. Just a quick side by side comparison easily shows that the Pro-96 is better than the BCD396T in the reception area. The Pro-96 was picking up a wide range of signals from VHF-High to 800 MHz systems at various distances while the BCD396T would scan right on by the exact same systems and never stop using the same type antenna.
Problems? The BCD396T definitely has issues with its AGC (at the time of this review). It just doesn't work. The Pro-96's AGC shines, it works very well. The Pro-96 (older versions) had CPU problems. Versions 1.1 and 1.2 had some type of TGID problems and had to be sent in to be upgraded to the CPU 1.3. There is now a 1.4 upgrade but it is only available to the newer scanners and isn't supposed to be any noticeable difference to the user of 1.3 and 1.4 CPUs. To check you CPU version, simply press 3 during the welcome screen when you turn the scanner on. It will display the following or similar: CPU: F1.4DSP-APP: F1.2DSP-Voc: F1.0
Other items: I really like that the Pro-96 has independent squelch and volume knobs. Easily adjusted without having to push a combination of buttons. The 396 is a little awkward when trying to adjust the squelch on the go. And the 396's squelch doesn't seem to work. I have mine set to 1 or 15, I get the same result. The Pro-96's squelch seems to block out weaker signals or let them in if you adjust it. The 396 seems to be a little more top heavy and prone to falling over. The Pro-96 is very stable sitting on the desk. Both scanners have the Weather Alert Priority and SAME features. The BCD396T has a wider range of delay, alert, and hold options per channel.
Banks vs. Systems. Having only 50 channels per bank could really get frustrating on large systems or trying to include an entire county or parish on one bank. The Systems/Groups setup on the BCD396T is much more versatile. Having multiple trunking systems on the same scanner and not being limited to just 10, is definitely a plus for the 396. However, this is where the V-Folders step in and level the field. You could just program the most local agencies, then if traveling outside you normal area, simply pull up the programmed V-Folder. So this is just a preference type call here.
My Conclusion. Many people swear by the 96 and it's audio. The Pro-96 is a great scanner with cool features like the V-Folders. But for the money, if I had to buy only one scanner, I would have to go with the BCD396T. Simply because it has the most features, it comes with everything in the box and it will be continuously supported by Uniden with firmware upgrades as needed. If feature rich is what you are after, the BCD396T is for you. If sheer performance is your cup of tea, then I suggest the Pro-96.

Pro96Keypad.JPG Pro96Backlight.JPG

Pro-96 LCDClose.JPG AUT 0357.JPG

Radio Shack Pro-97

Let me start by saying the Pro-2055 and Pro-97 are my very first GRE Products. I have owned all Uniden scanners up to this point. The Pro-97 is basically same scanner as the Pro-2055 except the 97 is a handheld version. The Pro-97 scanner is an excellent buy at the $149.99 sale price. Be aware that the Pro-97 is not Rebanding supported. If you have a Motorola 800 MHz system in your area that is going to be rebanded, then you may want to look for another scanner. However, if your system isn't going to be rebanded, or you monitor VHF, UHF, LTR, or EDACS, you will be more than pleased with the scanner.
My first impression of the Pro-97 when it first arrived wasn't a good one. Looking at the scanner in the plastic blister pack, didn't give me the impression of a quality product. I like my scanners boxed up nice and neat like Uniden does it! The blister pack was very easy to open but it seems like a cheap way of doing things. I have heard that the Pro-97 now comes in a box. I open the package and the scanner is really light weight. The buttons have a nice feel, kind of a glossy feel/look to them. Very firm buttons that are nicely arranged. The front of the scanner is what I really like about it. The LCD, the colors used, it looks nice to me. The back of the case and belt clip seem very flimsy. Although I didn't buy the 97 to carry with me day to day, I would still like the 97 to have a good belt clip to attach to scanner stands and for minor belt transport.

Pro-97 Package Contents
In the package, all you get is the Pro-97 Scanner, antenna, 2 battery holders (one for rechargeables and one for alkaline), belt clip, manual and other literature and that's it! Like I said on the Pro-2055 review, I feel GRE/Radio Shack should include a computer programming cable but they don't so Ebay, Radio Shack or is where you have to get those to use with Win97 programming software. Also Uniden provides batteries and an AC adapter where Radio Shack does not. Maybe that is why RS can sale the Pro-97 for $149.99? As with the Pro-2055, programming by hand is a pain. It can be done, but entering text is very painful after several hundred frequencies. I cloned my 97 from the 2055 using a standard 1/8 to 1/8 mono cable. Cloning is very fast. It cloned in less than 1 or 2 minutes all 10 banks and SAME codes. The Pro-97 is by far a "hotter" receiver than the BCD396T, BC246T, BC250D, BC80XLT, and a few others I have used.

Pro-97 LCD: Scanning
The Pro-97 receives transmissions where the BCD396T just keeps on scanning. Not only does it receive those VHF-High transmissions, they are very clear (hardly any static). Actually I would compare it's sensitivity to the Icom R5, but with better audio and less static. I am impressed with the VHF-High and Civilian Air receive using only the stock antenna. I plugged in about 150 or so Civ Air freqs I have accumulated and when I open those banks, the scanner can't go a full round without receiving an Aircraft transmission. The nearest (fairly large) airport is 100 miles north of me (Little Rock, AR).The BCD396T is using a VHF-High band specific antenna and still can't receive the signals the 97 is pulling in. I have been told that if you want features, buy Uniden, if you want performance, buy GRE. I am starting to believe that statement using the Pro-97. Don't get me wrong, I love Uniden. In fact if I could only have one scanner, it would be the BCD396T but the 97/2055 scanners are very hot (sensitive)! But the drawback to the sensitivity is when you connect to an external antenna, like my Scantenna, it overloads the scanner whereas the above mentioned Uniden scanners don't overload easily. You can help this problem by activating the attenuator on the Pro-97 and Pro-2055. I connected this scanner to my mag mount Antennex VHF-High Band antenna and the scanner shines even more. Pulling in signals I didn't think I could receive on a Mag Mount. I have to say again, I am really impressed with this Pro-97. I am in a rural area with not a lot of interference, but man this thing is cool.

Pro-97 Keypad
Overall, I would put this scanner up against any analog scanner currently made in the performance area on stock antennas. The scanner is the hottest thing I have used here in rural Arkansas. It picks up better than any of the Uniden's I have owned which include the BC246T, BC80XLT, BC250D,and BCD396T. As well as some Uniden made Pro-2051 and Pro-2052 The 2052 was the closest in receive to the Pro-97/2055. Sure some of the Uniden's have cooler features like dynamic memory and a few others but the performance of the 97 is unmatched in my opinion.
The Pro-97 and Pro-2055 are neck and neck on the stock antennas. I guess they should be seeing how they are the same scanner. The Pro-97 seems to catch a little more interference but I suppose that is due to the plastic case versus the metal case of the 2055. If you want sheer performance on VHF-High band, the Pro-97 will get it done. I am impressed with it's receive capabilities.

Pro-97 vs. BCD396T
The backlight is great on the Pro-97. The LCD is nice and bright but not too bright. However when the backlight is off, in normal indoor lighting it can be very hard to see. The backlit keypad is a great addition as well. I love the way it looks in the dark. I really like that the Pro-97 displays my frequency and Alpha (text) tag at the same time. This is one thing I miss on the BCD396T, BR330T and BC246T. I like to see the frequency as well as the text.
The Audio on the Pro-97 is good. It can get very loud without distortion. Not as loud as the Pro-2055 but still plenty loud for normal use! Much better than the BC246T's audio. Very crisp audio on the Pro-97. Likely the best audio I have heard on a handheld scanner.
The signal stalker feature works, however you have to be within "range." You can't use signal stalker to pick up transmissions 20 miles away. However, if you use the feature as it was intended it works great. If you are within about 100 feet of the transmitting source (i.e. handheld or mobile radio) the scanner will pick up the transmission. It works very good if you happen up on an accident scene, fire scene, or other incident and are not familiar with the agencies working the incident. I have even heard reports that some have received overhead aircraft several thousand feet in the air, using the Signal Stalker function.

Pro-97 Top View
The SKYWARN feature is really neat. You can program Bank 9 channel 97, 98 and 99 with frequencies used in your local SKYWARN or weather net(s). Push and hold the WX button with the SKYWARN and the scanner jumps to Bank 9 Channel 97.
The CTCSS/DCS mode has to be on one or the other when searching for tones. You can't search for both at the same time, but this is minor because you simply press the mode button when you are on that frequency to change from CTCSS to DCS search. I love the fact that the CTCSS/DCS was added to this scanner. It is a very useful feature and should be included on every scanner built!
Trunking works very well on the Pro-97. I monitored a local electric company Motorola 800 MHz trunking system flawlessly. I also monitored an 800 MHz Motorola System 45 miles from me, albiet using the RS800 MHz antenna and some good monitoring conditions. The scanner has a feature for LTR Trunking that allows you to find the LCN's. I have not had a chance to use this feature but it is a great idea for those who don't know the LCN on their local LTR systems.

Pro-97 Backlight
The manual is written well enough. It could have been better, but you can usually figure out how to operate the functions of the scanner using the manual. I am used to Uniden scanners so some of the controls and functions I have to check the manual and what I am looking for is usually easy to find in the manual. You may have to read through the manual carefully and take programming step by step to get the hang of it.
I debated on which to get first, the Pro-97 or the BR330T. The BR330T has many more features over the 97 like dynamic memory, fire tone out, search with scan, and a few others. After owning both, I can say that the Pro-97 is the more sensitive scanner. But the BR330T has wider frequency coverage and several features that cannot be found on the Pro-97.
The Pro-97 has all the functional features you could use in a modern scanner:
  • Attenuator
  • Priority
  • 1000 channels
  • Custom Search
  • Preprogrammed Searches
  • SAME Weather Alerts
  • Weather Alert Priority
  • Backlight LCD and keypad
  • 16 character Alpha Tags
  • Computer programmable
  • Triple Trunking and a few more features.
Pro-97 In Service Thoughts:
While the Pro-97 is scanning, it displays the bank tag that you have assigned. But when stopped on an active channel the bank tag is not displayed. This is a little annoying. But that is where the CTCSS/DCS is displayed when on an active channel.

Pro-97 LCD Close up
One thing I like about the Pro-97 is if a bank is off, when you push the corresponding bank key to turn it on, it automatically starts scanning at that bank. For instance, the scanner is on bank 9 and you push 4 to turn on 4, the scanner goes from bank 9 to bank 4 which if you have the bank tagged will display the name of the bank. Signal stalker and Preprogrammed searches work the same way. If the group is off and you turn it on, it will display the search range that you just turned on. Pretty neat!
The Tune feature could be useful as well. You press "Tune" and you can manually enter any frequency (within the scanners range) and the scanner will go directly to that frequency. You can un-pause the scanner and it will begin a search from that point. Or you can press the up or down arrows and manually step through the frequencies. You can also be holding on a frequency that you have programmed into the scanner and press function then tune and go directly to the tune feature at the frequency you were holding on. This is yet another cool feature of this scanner.
I love how the Weather Alert Priority works. You assign your local NOAA weather frequency as your priority channel which is simple to do. You just press the Wx button and when the scanner stops on the active NOAA frequency press Function and then Pri and it is set. Then when you want to turn on Wx Alert Priority, simply turn on Priority. The scanner then checks for the 1050 Hz tone every 3 to 4 seconds. It works too! A few severe storms just rolled through here, I used the Wx Alert Priority on the 97 while using my other scanners to monitor other agencies and the 97 worked great. The 97 alerted me of a Tornado Warning for my county way before our tornado sirens were set off. I can see how some won't like this because it does tie up the Priority channel but for me, I really like it.

Pro-97 Search Screen
Another Weather feature I like is the SAME feature. Even while listening to the NOAA Weather radio, the SAME alert is still active. I have never heard my Uniden's do this. Usually you have to set it for SAME and not hear any audio until a Watch or Warning is activated. But on the 97 I was listening to NOAA and a Tornado Warning was issued for a neighboring county and it displayed "Tornado Warning" on the screen as well as set an audible alarm. I really like this! One thing that does bug me a little is if you are in SAME standby mode, you can't press Scan to scan your programmed channels. You have to press Function then Wx to go back to the Weather Scan mode, then press Scan to resume scanning.
The scanner uses 4 AA batteries. To me that is a little excessive but I suppose it helps with battery life. I use Energizer 2500 mAh rechargeable batteries. I haven't had a chance to give a good estimate of battery life and will report back here once I have made a good evaluation. But for a general idea, I have been using a set of 2500's at the time of this review. I got almost 12 hours out of one charge on a set of 2500's. This was with moderate traffic with backlight used about 6 hours out of the 12.

Pro-97 Signal Stalker Screen
The volume/squelch knobs being together bother some people but I like it. I thing it gives the scanner a cleaner look and it works well for me. I love the analog squelch and volume. I have been using the BCD396T that seem to have a more digital approach to squelch/volume. The squelch on the 97, you turn it when receiving a weak signal and you can actually adjust the squelch to a point where it actually blocks the signal or will receive the weaker signals. The 396 isn't like this (at this point). The 396 squelch is either fully open (nothing but static) or it is on and seems unadjustable to me.
I downloaded the Win97 Software. I was surprised at how easy this software is to navigate and operate. You can use the software free for 30 days. Mr. Don Starr, states on his site that you should use the software for the 30 day trial period to see if you like it. I am sure you will. It has all the functions you need plus many extras all in an easy to understand and navigate format. It reminds me a little of ARC software but the Win software definitely has it's own attributes! The software allows you to tweak things you couldn't without it. Like at what voltage the low battery beep begins. That is just cool. Also adjust the backlight time settings, and a few other tweaks. You can edit and adjust the 6 searches of the scanner including the limit search by adding Attenuator, and turning on/off certain functions as well as locking out channels. Same goes for the Signal Stalker function. Of course you can add and edit all 1000 of the scanners channels and all the Talk Group ID's. Win97 supports copy and paste, because I copied almost all of my information from my UASD396 program and pasted into Win97. You can do neat things like justify all the text tags either to the left, center, or right. Also you can check for duplicate frequencies. You can also have the software sort by alpha tags or frequency in the bank and on the Talk Groups. There is also a search function that searches for alpha tags, frequencies or talkgroups. And with Win97 you can import from the database. Of course Win97 also supports the Pro-2055. The Win97 software is a must have for either of these two scanners! It is well worth the $25.00 to keep your data well organized.If you have any questions about this scanner, software, or functions, please feel free to contact me.

Pro-97 SAME Weather LCD
I would recommend this scanner to someone looking for a good "receiver." No scanner is perfect (yet) and the Pro-97 would be close with dynamic memory but I love the performance of this scanner. The Pro-97 is my new work horse! The Pro-97 is a great bang for the buck, especially at the $149.99 sale price Radio Shack has been famous for. You can usually find a used Pro-97 for around $100. I give this scanner an 8 out of 10. I knocked off 2 points because of the programming, flimsy back of scanner, and flimsy belt clip. I mean, if you are going to make a handheld scanner, make it durable enough to be portable.

Pro-97 is hard to see with no backlight
All in all, this is one of the best analog scanners I have ever used.
Written: 04/06/06
Updated: 03/22/2007

Pro-2055 and Pro-97