Scan Cape Cod's Mini-Review
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Revision as of 10:11, 25 June 2007 by Mikeag
The Uniden BC996T had been talked about at length for a great deal of time before it became available to the end user. It has been touted as the "greatest thing since sliced bread" (or at least the greatest thing since the BCD396T) in the world of scanning receivers. Well, is it? The following is my "out of the box" review. As always, you will find my review non-technical in nature. I'm not an electronics whiz, simply an end user of many many scanners and receivers during the long course of my radio hobby, which started on the front porch of my babysitter's house when I was but 8 years old...and out of the corner of my eye spyed that portable radio that had more than just AM/FM on it....the rest is history. If I'm not technical enough for you, my apologies. If I'm too technical for you...maybe you need to find another hobby! . Anyone may feel free to copy or reproduce this review, just kindly give credit to its source when doing so. Thanks. Here we go...
Thanks to Jeff at the Hamstation, I was one of the first end users on the planet to receive a BCD996T; it arrived at my workplace on Saturday 5/27. Since then I've been running it through its paces and I'm now prepared to offer the below with the hopes that it might be of some small help to someone.
As usual, Uniden packs everything into the box quite well. The box says "Digital Scanners" on it, but unfortunately I only found one inside. Here's a picture of the box:
Within the box are two cardboard sections, one large that encompasses the radio, another small that holds the accessories. Both are well wrapped, taped shut, and securely hold their contents. The 147 page manual and accompanying paperwork/advertising is wrapped and sealed in plastic.
As stated, despite the box labeling, there is one BCD996T scanner, manual, 3 wire DC cable, serial port computer control/programming cable, wall wort power supply, accessory plug power supply, telescoping "back of set" antenna with BNC connector, DIN sleeve, DIN keys, mounting bracket, and mounting screws.
As I've been known to state elsewhere, it's always important to have an assistant on hand when breaking out a new scanner for the first time.
When I reviewed the 396T I had a Guinness as an "assistant"....the Guinness's came AFTER I got this one going.
The BCD996T is one SOLID radio. It could be a lethal weapon if the wife finds out you've bought it without prior "consultation". It weighs in at close to eight pounds. I was impressed with the weight, heft, and overall feel of this radio as soon as I got it in my hands. It is of a size with the Radio Shack PRO-2096, as shown via the below links.
As you'll notice in the last photo, the 996's display is larger but not quite as bright as the PRO-2096's. This is with both radios on their brightest amber settings. Advantage 996, given the combination of the larger display, option to turn it green as well, and the 16 character lines vs the 2096's 12 character capability. We'll talk more about the display and its colors down the review a bit. Incidentally, my wife has yet to strike me with a radio; she likes my hobby because it keeps me home at night. Your mileage may vary...I also pay the bills.
The volume and squelch knobs are "ratcheted", in other words, as they rotate they "click" from one "position" to the next. I've never been overly fond of this approach but this is irrelevant to the operation of the radio. These knobs also provide secondary functions as well, and I'd guess this is why they're ratched as they will better stay in place when pushed in. Volume when pushed cycles you through backlight intensity levels and colors. Off > green dim > green medium > green bright > "red" dim > red medium > red bright. Having this at your fingertips is a great addition. Pushing the squelch button cycles you through the 996T's close call options. OFF > CC DND (do not disturb) > CC PRI (priority). Being able to access these functions without having to drill down through the menu is a very nice addition. The large silver knob to the right is the scrolling knob, and provides multiple functions. When pushed, it activates the Function option which allows access to various options. When pushed and held for more than a second it allows function to remain on until it's pushed again. It scrolls through menu choices, systems, channels, etc. The knob has a solid feel to it. There are 19 keys available, the largest of which, SCAN/SEARCH and HOLD/RESUME "wrap around" the scroll knob. Keys are very responsive and respond with varying levels and types of "beeps" which can be changed or defeated in the menu. There is also a front mounted jack for computer control and programming. The location of this jack on the front is critical for anyone mounting this radio in-dash with the supplied DIN sleeve. Finally, there is an earphone jack on the lower right. Controls are laid out in a sensible and useable format. It's very easy to get used to their locations. The 996T feels good to operate, it is solid to the touch. In other words, there is no fear of breakage when putting your hands on it. Obviously it's a piece of electronic gear, and a somewhat expensive one, and should be treated with respect, but the bottom line is, it's rugged!
The rear panel consists of the female BNC antenna jack, a REC out jack, external speaker jack, DB9 serial connection for GPS device connectivity, and coaxial and molex DC power jacks.
Scott...enough of the aesthetics...how does the damned thing work?
One of my biggest issues with Uniden scanners has been audio quality, both analog and APCO-25 digital. Let's face it, quite frankly GRE has had the edge (IMHO) with both for a long time running. The BCD996T is not as loud as my PRO-2096. The audio does not have the level of bass that the 2096 does. I attached rubber feet to both the PRO-2096 and the BCD996T to elevate them off of the shelf and to allow audio to escape from beneath them, as they both have bottom firing speakers. The 2096 blows me out of the room with the audio at about 11 o'clock. I have to turn the 996T up to about 1 o'clock to achieve the same level of audio. I have also attended a large number of loud rock concerts, to include the Who and Aerosmith, and still tend to listen to music at a loud volume at my advanced age of 44, so your mileage in this regard may vary greatly. Where's my lighter?
In a mobile environment, the 2096 blasted fine at about 1-2 o'clock, mounted under the passenger side dash of my truck. The 996T in the same place requires a little more volume for comfortable listening. The suddenly warm weather on Cape Cod has resulted in me driving around with my window down also. This coincides with the 996T's arrival, of course, so this comparision may be slightly unfair to the new arrival. Bottom line is I can get away without using an external speaker with the 996T in both home and mobile environments, but the 996T doesn't crank as much as the 2096 does.
Audio clarity is very good on analog signals. The radio is very pleasant to listen to. Quality is not lost at low volume, I can crank the volume to just past 3 o'clock before it becomes unpleasant and distorted. Both FM and AM analog signals sound great. I have not tried broadcast band FM yet and really don't have a need or desire to do so. (As an aside there is a "FMB" mode to support the reception of such signals).
The biggie here of course is APCO-25 audio. How does it stack up? I ran the 996T out of the box in Auto P25 mode with AGC on. All of the P25 signals I can receive are conventional in nature and in the VHF-HI range primarily. I found that with the settings above, the AGC "attack time" still seemed to be a tad slow. Simply put, the first few words of the transmissions started loudly and then smoothed out. I began to wonder if the AGC tweak for the 396T as discussed in this thread would work with the 996T as well, as it had made a distinct difference in the performance of my 396T where P25 reception was concerned. With some help from UPMan and Kikito, the method to access this AGC tweak was discovered. Check this link for the procedure. In Auto Mode with AGC on the radio sounded overall good. After the tweak was completed the radio sounded GREAT. Sorry Uniden, but I have to keep using the PRO-2096 as the "standard" for consumer level P25 reception quality. The 996T without the tweak still doesn't (by my ears anyway) stack up to the quality of the PRO-2096. However, perform the tweak, and listen again. I think the BCD996T sounds every bit as good as the PRO-2096 with the tweak. It's just unfortunate that the tweak must be done before this occurs. I'm not overly afraid of pushing buttons but I'm sure some folks will hesitate to do so. Some folks may also find this unnecessary. I think the tweak makes a lot of difference. Thanks to Uniden for allowing us to access this "secret setting".
Bottom line: Despite the fact that it's not as loud as the 2096, two thumbs up for the audio quality, both analog and digital.
I have always found Uniden radios to have the edge in sensitivity over GRE's. The 996T seems to be a winner in this category as well. I have run it and the 2096 on the same antennas. The 996T flat out blows the 2096 away on VHF-HI (another issue to be discussed in an upcoming paragraph). It seems to me to be on a par with the 2096 in the UHF and 800 MHz bands, and on VHF-low band as well. There is absolutely nothing scientific about this conclusion, just being used to the various signals I hear from all over Southeastern New England. I think the 996 does as good a job as the 2096 everywhere, and most definitely at VHF-HI.
On VHF-HI, my PRO-2096 performs poorly when it's in my house connected to an external antenna. The front end of the 2096 is apparently very susceptible to overload on VHF-HI. I found that in order to hear any signals on that band I had to attenuate the channels. Not so with the BCD996T. It appears rock solid thus far with regards to overload. With the 2096 I would get blasted by pager interference on Marine CH 21 (157.050). I have yet to hear an unwanted signal on the 996T in any band. It also seems to hold up well as I drive past a cellular tower that is notorious for killing 800 MHz public safety signals.
I had an interesting issue pop up that I need to investigate more. The 996T stopped on Yarmouth Police, who operate on 855.2375 with a DPL of 445. I noticed a distinct buzzing and static-like noise that was on top of their voice transmission. After a while I began to wonder if this was being caused when Barnstable Police (who's transmit antenna is at the aforementioned "intermod alley" site) transmitted on their frequency of 855.2125, also with DPL 445. It appears to me that the strong transmission on .2125 is trashing the somewhat weaker tranmssion on .2375. This needs to be researched further, but is a concern if so. I have only noticed this while at home; mobile and at work it has not been an issue. When I programmed the radio with Uniden's UASD software, all of the modulation settings were on AUTO. According to the 996T's manual, AUTO for the 800 MHz band should be NFM, which if I'm correct should have a 6 KHz bandwidth. That said, I would not expect a signal 25 KHz away to be trashing the signal I was hearing on .2375. I have since gone into the channel manually and forced NFM. I'll have to report further on this when I have more time to listen from home. Other than this I have heard no issues with selectivity as of yet. I have some VHF-HI splinter channels programmed for the New Hampshire State Police, but Mother Nature hasn't been kind enough to provide a good band opening since I've had this radio, so I can't comment on VHF-HI in that regard yet.
Thanks to Uniden's free UASD software I was able to quickly program the 996T with files taken from my BCD396T. I still like the Butel software better and will no doubt purchase it when it's available. However, Uniden has come a LONG way from their early software options and now provide very useable software. It's a bit quirky to jump around in, but I can't imagine where I'd be if it wasn't available. I do a lot of programming and prefer the layout of the ARC software from Butel, but if you don't spend a lot of time programming your radios the Uniden software may be sufficient.
Features I Like
Audio Type - FINALLY! I can set the audio type to receive both analog and digital, analog only, or digital only. This is a great addition. When conditions are right I like to listen to APCO-25 from New Hampshire, which in its entirety is on VHF-HI. With the 396T, 2096, and any other digital scanner, I would also hear any analog traffic on the same frequency, primarily from Rhode Island. This of course detracts from the targeted listening but was a necessary evil in prior models. I can now set these channels to "Digital Only" and hear only APCO-25 traffic. Think of it almost as a "subaudible tone" setting for digital only. No more analog traffic, no more static or other unwanted signals...just the targeted station. Of course this can be used for analog only to lock out any unwanted APCO-25 traffic if you're trying to listen to an analog station. The ALL feature offers the best of both worlds. Hillsborough County Sheriff in New Hampshire uses mixed mode on their frequency of 155.520. The ALL setting affords listening to both analog and digital. This is a per-channel setting, which makes it a VERY effective feature. The UASD software allows for the programming of this feature, and I'm sure Butel's offering will as well. Manually, it is accessible by drilling down through the menu. Talkgroups on mixed mode systems can also be set up in this manner.
Close Call Do Not Disturb - Using Close Call while scanning with the 396T was somewhat annoying in that there was a break in the audio of a received signal every two seconds as CC searched for nearby signals. With Close Call DND activated, CC searching stops when the 996T lands on an active station in your scanlist. CC is activated only during scanning. While it still doesn't perform as well as a radio dedicated to close call searching, it offers "both worlds" while you're driving down the road and still offers a pretty good opportunity to snag new signals as you travel, without the audio interruptions to the signals you want to receive.
Display Backlight - It's nifty having the option of switching between green and "red", which I think is actually more of a deep amber color. Each color has three levels of intensity, and the backlight can be turned off altogether. I prefer the green backlight when at home, and the amber is easier on my eyes while driving at night.
Display Mode 2 - It's a pleasure to be able to once again easily see the frequency of the conventional channels I'm scanning, as well as the talkgroup number on trunked systems. I think this should actually be the main mode of the display, but Uniden calls it Mode 2. It's #1 in my book! Here are photos of what Mode 2 shows on the display, first for conventional, and then for trunked:
Nice addition, Uniden. Thank you.
Access to often used features - It's nice to be able to manipulate the backlight and close call settings by pressing the volume and squelch buttons respectively. Hats off to whoever thought of that one.
"Upside Down" - If for any reason you wish or need to set your BCD996T upside down and still want to read the display, drill down into the settings menu. You'll find an Upside Down option that when turned on inverts the display. What a neat idea!
Things I Don't Like
Ratched volume and squelch - It's just me, I know...I just like smoothly rotating volume and squelch knobs better. I'll get over it...I guess I'll have to, as firmware won't fix this one.
My Necessity to tweak AGC settings - Again, maybe it's just me, but mine sounds better after doing so. I'm very glad that I can, but the 2096 didn't need tweaking out of the box. Those of us that visit RR can figure out how to do this and make it sound better, but how about the folks that are buying them that DON'T visit this site...I mean there must be one or two, right?
Features Not Covered In This Review
I am not set up for using any of the GPS features of the BCD996T, nor was that the reason I purchased the scanner. I'm sure that GPS use with this radio will be a hot topic, and that someone will step forward to comment on its use. I can't provide any input at this time.
I have not yet tried any searching, other than close call, but I expect that the procedure and results will be similar to those of the BCD396T.
I have yet to program any weather alert information into the 996T, and as a result have not tried any of the alert methods.
I am using an under dash mounting method in my truck, so I can't comment on any DIN installation at this time.
I've no doubt made more than a few omissions during the course of writing this saga, but I hope this helps to get you started toward your decision. I am absolutely thrilled thus far with my BCD996T; I believe that at some point in the near future I'll consider it to be the finest scanner I have owned to date. It is so rich with features, and provides excellent performance for my scanning needs. Obvsiously Uniden has taken the lead with regards to listening to its customers and providing some of the most asked for features. It will be interesting to see what lies ahead for this radio with regards to future firmware updates and the ever questionable rebanding.
Great job, Uniden...I think you've just about nailed it this time. Again, my thanks to Jeff at The Hamstation for getting this radio to me so quickly.
Scan Cape Cod/Scan Massachusetts