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Old 11-13-2009, 9:51 AM
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Question MaxTrac vs 2-meter ham rig: the bottom line

From a sensitivity standpoint alone, which is going to be the better performer? For the sake of comparison, let's consider all other differences equal. I'd really like to hear from someone who's compared both side-by-side.

I frequently see intermod rejection cited as a strength of the MaxTracs. I live and spend most of my time in rural areas where it's not an issue. Less intermod is better, of course, but that alone wouldn't be enough to sway my decision.

Sensitivity is the biggest concern for me. I want to be able to pull that distant detector or hear a train calling a signal as far as possible. If the MaxTracs are significantly superior, I'm willing to put up with the downsides like slow scan, programming hassles, etc. Not to mention that in most cases, the MaxTracs actually appear to be cheaper. (Prices on used 2-meter rigs are just stupid.)

I've been trying to make this decision for several weeks, and I just can't make up my mind. But I'm ready to do *something*.

I realize this is an old topic, but I'd like to just cut to the chase and hear direct user comparisons on a specific. Basically, the course of this thread is likely influence my decision.

Thanks.
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Old 11-13-2009, 12:19 PM
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I think the sensitivity of most 2m ham mobiles in the 160-162 MHz range is pretty close to that of a Maxtrac or other commercial radio.

Since intermod performance won't be an issue for you, I think the scanning functionality would be the next thing you'd need to think about...

For the most part, the scanning speed of the ham radios is quite a bit slower than the commercial ones, but with the Maxtrac you'd be limited to scanning 16 or fewer channels. Some other non-Motorola commercial radios will allow you to scan more than 16 channels with decent speed. Fortunately the scan speed of the newer ham radios is getting faster...
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Old 11-13-2009, 12:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KC9LQV View Post
From a sensitivity standpoint alone, which is going to be the better performer?
probably the MaxTrac, assuming it is tuned for 160-162Mhz. i owned a gm-300 verson of the maxtrac and LOVED it, side by side with an ic-2100h i liked the motorola better. better audio, better intermod rejection.

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Originally Posted by KC9LQV View Post
I frequently see intermod rejection cited as a strength of the MaxTracs. I live and spend most of my time in rural areas where it's not an issue. Less intermod is better, of course, but that alone wouldn't be enough to sway my decision.
my ic-2100h was no match for my gm-300 anywhere except for output power, the gm-300 was only 25watts. although 144-148Mhz, the 2100h was more sensitive, not sure about in the rail band, as i had no way to side by side compare, and did not listen to rail stuff

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Originally Posted by KC9LQV View Post
Sensitivity is the biggest concern for me. I want to be able to pull that distant detector or hear a train calling a signal as far as possible. If the MaxTracs are significantly superior, I'm willing to put up with the downsides like slow scan, programming hassles, etc. Not to mention that in most cases, the MaxTracs actually appear to be cheaper. (Prices on used 2-meter rigs are just stupid.)
Slow scan and no alphanumeric display, are the weak points for the Motorola, and you gotta remember about the mic hangup to scan issue, i think it can be set up to not need the hangup, been too long to remember. Is 16 channels enough? can you live with out alpha display?


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Originally Posted by KC9LQV View Post
I've been trying to make this decision for several weeks, and I just can't make up my mind. But I'm ready to do *something*.

I realize this is an old topic, but I'd like to just cut to the chase and hear direct user comparisons on a specific. Basically, the course of this thread is likely influence my decision.

Thanks.
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Old 11-13-2009, 1:12 PM
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Originally Posted by kayn1n32008 View Post
Slow scan and no alphanumeric display, are the weak points for the Motorola, and you gotta remember about the mic hangup to scan issue, i think it can be set up to not need the hangup, been too long to remember. Is 16 channels enough? can you live with out alpha display?
I'm not familiar with the "mic hangup issue", could you please elaborate?

For home use, 16 channels would indeed be enough, but I see 32 channel MaxTracs often enough and would probably choose one of those for a mobile rig.

Scan speed for me is not a major issue, as rarely scan more than 6-8 channels at a time. Unless I'm in a major city or near a junction, more often than not I simply monitor the road frequency of the line I am following.

An alpha display is not an issue at all. I don't use alpha codes on my VX-170, and most railroads do a pretty good job of IDing their transmissions in any case.

I do recall reading that the high-end MaxTracs can have an arbitrary 2-digit number assigned to display for each channel. If that's correct, I would have the radio programmed so each channel displayed its AAR number, rather than the arbitrary radio channel number. That would make changeovers pretty easy when the dispatcher says something along the lines of "jump over to 64 for an EC1".
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Old 11-13-2009, 2:29 PM
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I've encountered a lot of Maxtracs that have cruddy receive audio, distorted at lower volume levels. It's been prevalent enough that I don't use them anymore.

I really don't think that they're significantly more sensitive than a ham rig, and they have a lot of limitations that have been previously mentioned, not the least of which is the limited channel capacity.
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Old 11-13-2009, 2:55 PM
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Default Max Trac vs. 2-meter rig: the bottom line

KC9LQV, I use a Vertex-Standard VX900V keyboard model commercial grade transceiver for monitoring the AAR VHF bandplan frequencies (All 97 of them) from 160.215 MHz to 161.565 MHz. For all of the out of allocation band railroad frequencies, I use an Alinco DJX-10T portable scanning receiver. No scanner or scanning receiver can beat a commercial grade transceiver for comparison on all parameters except for maybe slow scan speed, however the VX-900 is one of the few Vertex units to tout "fast scan" & I can attest to that. Also, the Alinco doesn't support trunking which some of the railroads have moved some of their communications systems to. So if 800 MHz trunking is what you wish to include in your railroad monitoring repertoire, you should go with one of the newer "decent" trunking handheld scanners, I can't help you there as I don't do trunking at all. The VX-900 & it's predessesor, the VX-920 keyboard models are 512 channel units (Maybe a little overkill there, but better more then less) & a backlit 8 character LCD display that's reversible depending on your carrying position. This method is not for everybody, however it works for me.

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Last edited by FLRAILMAN; 11-13-2009 at 3:33 PM..
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Old 11-13-2009, 2:57 PM
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Quote:
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I'm not familiar with the "mic hangup issue", could you please elaborate?
When i had my gm-300 it would not scan unless i had the mic on its hanger. not a big deal, as i believe that it can be configured to scan with out the mic on the hanger, it should be a setting in the RSS. been too long since i owned a gm-300 so the memories are a little fuzzy, someone with a better working knowlege of the RSS would know better.
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Old 11-14-2009, 9:54 AM
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The MaxTrac 32 channel model can scan all 32 channels, every channel can have its own scan list which is not user programmable, as well as a radio-wide scan list, which is user programmable. The MaxTrac has three scan speed settings in the RSS as well, slow normal and fast. the faster it is, the more likely it is to skip over a weaker signal. The default is normal.

The mic hang up issue is solved either with an RJ45 jumper, hanging up the mic onto its metal clip, or disabling it in the RSS, which the maxtrac will do

Yes, the MaxTrac allows for any two digits to be the alias for a channel. The railroads used them so much because this was an option, so you can AAR alias them with no problem.

Poor audio from the speaker was/is typically the result of a bad speaker... the Maxtrac is a pretty old radio at this point. Either connected an external speaker or replacing the internal speaker will fix it.

-Josh
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Old 11-14-2009, 11:59 AM
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Quote:
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Poor audio from the speaker was/is typically the result of a bad speaker... the Maxtrac is a pretty old radio at this point. Either connected an external speaker or replacing the internal speaker will fix it.

-Josh
That's the first thing I've tried. I suspect some failure mode in the Audio PA, but haven't bothered to really dig into it. But out of a half dozen Maxtracs I have laying about, 4 of them have some degree of distortion on RX audio - not enough to say the radio is "broken", but enough to say "these things sound lousy" in comparison to everything else.
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Old 11-14-2009, 12:58 PM
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I would just add that you make sure that radio is programmed so it can't actually transmit on those bands....they wave the DHS flag all the time with rail fans around here. I wouldn't want to be the guy with a transmitter for rail frequencies in the car if it wasn't a transit vehicle.
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Old 11-14-2009, 5:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kayn1n32008 View Post
When i had my gm-300 it would not scan unless i had the mic on its hanger...
This is known at mic hang-up "pl/scan disable". Motorola (and others) use this for when a mic is pulled from the mic hang up bracket, the radio reverts to the selected channel, disables scan AND disables PL so the user can hear if there is any traffic on the channel before talking. This is an important feature when the radio is being used in a typical fleet or PS application.

A really quick fix for this is to just clip a METAL mic clip to the mic and leave it on there. The OLD mics used to have to see an actual ground at the button for this. Now days, if you look closely, there is a plastic insulator between the button and the metal plate on the back of the mic. By sliding it on a metal mic bracket, the bracket shorts the two and re-enables PL, as well as scan.
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Old 11-18-2009, 11:49 AM
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Thanks for all the feedback, folks. It's nice to be getting some real-world information on the Motorolas when used in a railfan environment.

The impression I'm getting is that the MaxTracs don't offer enough of a sensitivity improvement to warrant the additional costs and operational limitations. I think I'll just see if I can find a Yaesu 1802 or 2800 on closeout somewhere and stick with that.

I've been really happy with my VX-170, but I'm getting tired of juggling antennas and connectors and whatnot every time I get in or out of the truck. It's time for a more permanent solution.

Thanks again.
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Old 11-30-2009, 10:08 AM
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I know the commercial stuff is good, but when you move around or go on trips you are limited, thats why
I love my IC-2200H Icom. I have 2m, plus aircraft and railroad.
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Old 11-30-2009, 2:46 PM
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Originally Posted by zz0468 View Post
That's the first thing I've tried. I suspect some failure mode in the Audio PA, but haven't bothered to really dig into it. But out of a half dozen Maxtracs I have laying about, 4 of them have some degree of distortion on RX audio - not enough to say the radio is "broken", but enough to say "these things sound lousy" in comparison to everything else.
For some radios exhibeting this problem i found a rather odd fix. On the rf board tighten up all of the torx screws that secure the board to the chasis(all of them - even the ones under the shields). This is not for all of maxtracs(some have other issues) but it worked as a fix some of the time.
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Old 12-01-2009, 8:04 PM
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Originally Posted by kayn1n32008 View Post
When i had my gm-300 it would not scan unless i had the mic on its hanger. not a big deal.
Just get a little paperclip, and put it where the mic clip goes. That way, you can scan without hanging up the mic. And you won't even notice it.
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Old 12-05-2009, 10:52 PM
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What you will usually find is that commercial gear is more selective and rejects adjacent and image interference better than amateur gear. They may not be more sensitive however. Ham gear is often more sensitive but in return suffers from more adjacent channel and intermod interference, in the same vein as scanners.

I have had several commercial and ham rigs over the years and these generalities have been pretty much the rule. The most sensitive radio I have had was an Icom IC-2800 dual bander, it was useless however anywhere near a paging or taxi transmitter.

I have had great luck using a combination of my current ham rig (Kenwood TM-D700) that allows a V-V configuration along with my Moto CDM1250 and a couple scanners. If the area I am railfanning uses one or two channels and I am not using the Moto or Kenwood for anything else at the moment I leave them on the rail channels instead of scanning so I don't miss anything. I then use a BC-15 pretty much as a dedicated rail scanner to look for other channels than the mainline road channels.

I have had Maxtracs, GM300's, Spectra's, Syntors, CDM's as well as a couple other brand commercial rigs and none of them were as sensitive as the Icom or Kenwood dual banders. They did however suffer from much less trash in the city RF nightmare.

I have been pretty impressed with the current Kenwood commercial gear, a pretty good mix of features, capacity and performance for the buck.
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