Scanners vary in price greatly from the standard handy with limited frequency range and modes to the full featured 1000 memory all mode wide band models.
When looking for a handheld scanner that isn’t going to break the bank its important to keep an eye on the features included and the frequency coverage. Some lower priced models will have gaps in this coverage but if its in a band you have no interest in then the scanner will work for you.
Along with coverage the scanner might be missing some modes of operation that you may want to use.
Here is a list of things to look for when buying a cheap handheld scanner.
Trunked Radio Systems
One feature that will usually not be included on a cheap scanner is trunked Radio tracking, this is a useful feature for listening to some types of communications.
Many counties now used a trunked radio system for emergency and local authority communications, in its most basic form trunked radio consists of a central computer which will route the signal from one transmitter to selected receivers. This allows many users on one system but easily route a specific message to a certain number of those receivers and excluding the rest.
The problem with this new system for the scanner enthusiast is that when the trunked control computer sends out its message to a handful of the available receivers it does so on a different frequency, this means that on a busy trunked network the transmissions are constantly changing channel.
Conventional Scanners vs Trunked
Conventional scanners operate by looking at individual frequency’s that are programed into the scanner and are not designed to work with trunked radio systems. It is essential that you understand that difference between the two types of scanners so you can make an informed choice about what you will be using a scanner for before you spend any money.
Used for listening to spot radio signals that do not switch to another channel when control by a computer system.
Will follow radio signals around trunked systems and receive spot radio signals
Cheaper scanners will sometimes not have a wide frequency range and may also have considerable gaps where it cannot receive at all.
Going over a scanners specifications before purchase is always a good idea making sure that any of the transmissions you are interested in are within the frequency range and not excluded by any of the gaps.
Receiving in FM will always be included as this is the most common mode for two way radio communications and if the scanner has an airband option you will be able to receive AM transmissions but sometimes this is restricted to airband frequency’s only and will not operate over the full range of the radio.
A cheap scanner is very unlikely to give a SSB (single sideband) receive option as this adds a lot more circuitry to the radio and along with it a higher price.
Understanding What you Want from Your Scanner
Knowing what you want to listen to on your scanner will make sure that you don’t by a set that falls very short of your needs or something that costs too much with features that you will never use.