Having owned more than a few radio scanners over my long term passion with the hobby its painfully obvious that there’s sometimes a huge difference in how well they work. This change in performance isn’t just between makes of radio and alter from one producers model to the next.
This does leave the person just starting out with radio scanners at a disadvantage when it comes to telling if the scanner they’ve spent money on is doing the job it should be.
Being introduced to radio scanners by a friend does tend to cut through a lot of problems as they’ve already worked bad from the good equipment but unlike the two way radio hobbies (CB, ham radio) scanner users can often be on their own.
The One Radio Scanner Dilemma
No matter how good it looks on paper having one scanner is like only even trying one type of food, you get used to it and there’s nothing to compare it to as a way of knowing how good it actually is.
The problem can be made even worse if the radio has been bought secondhand where the previous inexperienced user has attempted to “improve” the set by blindly messing around inside. Randomly poking around with a scanners circuitry will bring on a range of problems that don’t all end in a non functioning radio.
Best Way To Test
Though a home base setup does limit the chance to take a scanner to other areas its one of the best ways to test. Staying away from mobile signals and using only those that are stable and always there leaves less chance of error when deciding how your radio is receiving.
Even without a stack of expensive RF test equipment there are simple methods you can use to judge how good a receiver is.
I pick a signal that’s just about coming in on one scanner before trying to receive the signal on the other one. This method of going for a fringe signal while using the same antenna for both radios will usually highlight differences between them very quickly.
If you can do this over a range of frequencies from low VHF right through to the microwave bands your getting a good overall snapshot of performance.
Not Just About Performance
Each make of scanner has its own way of doing things with very different operating systems. Although the long term producers tend to stick to the same function layout making its easy to pick up and use their latest model this isn’t always the case. Additional functions layer more controls onto a radio and this can cause new owners a few hours with the scanner manual just to get up to speed.
As a newcomer to the hobby you’ll want something that’s going to give at least some immediate results without hours of frustration first.
If you don’t know someone with the scanner your looking at buying so you can give it a try there’s always the option of taking a trip to a dealer. Any seller worth their salt will be happy enough to go through the scanner with you, especially if there’s a possibility of closing a sale.
Ongoing Antenna Improvements
Unless you’ve opted to exclusively use a handheld scanner without doing a full setup at home the choice of antenna is limited. You can always look at the one fitted on the set to see if improvements can be made but in my experience these are only worth doing if the scanner is ultra wide band and you spend a lot of time of the lower VHF or HF frequencies, then switching to something like a longer whip antenna will work a treat.
For the home base scanner setup a wide band discone is a great starting point but as your interests broaden you could always add separate antennas that will work better at specific frequencies than a discone does.
Yagi antenna Courtesy of Wikipedia (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)