Thinking its about time I started to use my SDR dongle and SDRSharp as a proper radio scanner instead of just randomly tuning around for signals, I downloaded and installed the Frequency Manager Plus Scanner Plugin.
Getting the add-on in and working wasn’t too much of a hassle, although it did initially throw up a ‘database not specified error’. Luckily this was an easy fix and without repeating what others have already wrote, you can find the solution to this little niggle in the comments on the scanner plugins download page in the link above.
Another common problem with the SDRSharp software and the available plugins is not having the correct version .net framework installed (currently 4.6), but if the program is running and you’ve set up the dongle, your more than half way there.
Setting up the Scanner Plugin
Getting frequencies saved is easy enough as this can be done once your listening to them. Saving them in relevant groups is a good idea and switching between groups is fast via a drop down list.
Once you’ve saved a bunch of stuff the excellent bulk editing makes for swift editing of the finer details. I started with all the simplex channels on the 144mhz ham band, mainly because there’s a fair amount of activity on this band in my area and it gave me plenty of scope to play with the plugin settings.
Fine Tuning the Scanner
The one aspect of the plugin that is a little maddening is the way it detects a signal. By stopping once it receives a transmission at a certain dB level, things are a little more complicated than just using a squelch break to stop on a channel.
This takes getting the hang of and doesn’t really work well over wide ranging frequencies (at least not for me). The noise floor on my setup between say 170mhz and 400mhz is vastly different, making the settings for the lower frequencies slightly problematic when used on the higher one (gave a lot of false positives).
This was solved by grouping all frequencies in a certain part of the spectrum together, then its simple to set the dB level and have the scanner running smoothly 🙂
The risk of shouting at the computer is worth it just for the extra control it gives (honestly). You can do away with the squelch all together and just set a min signal level in db, although this means your going to have audio while scanning (which is weird if your used to a silent scanner).
Scanner in Action
What is a little odd and takes some getting your head around if like me your used to physical radio scanners, is the fact that you don,t see the frequency change in the main window unless it actually stops on the channel.
This is made up for by an ever changing scroll list of the frequencies your scanner is zipping through displayed in the left hand panel. This also serves as an at a glance history of what the scanner has already stopped on.
There’s also a band limit function built into the scanner which allows you to scan between preset frequencies.
All in all it does have some good potential and once the issues with min signal/squelch are right on my end, I’m looking forward to creating a nice collection of groups for monitoring.
The ease at moving/editing frequencies is an advantage over a physical scanner and with the only storage limits being the available space on your computer, you can really go to town and create huge amounts of very specific groups.
There’s a few more options for ‘tweaking’ the way it all works that go beyond the settings available in the front panel and I’ll be having a bash at this over the coming weekend.