Looking to purchase a new scanner. Hoping for suggestions that fit my lifestyle best.

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Sep 20, 2020
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Northern California
I am currently living fulltime RVing. I spend almost all of my time in small rural mountain towns (obviously I move around a lot but I do not often stay overnight anywhere I can not boondock). I am wanting to purchase a nicer quality scanner that will work well on the road as well as come in clear practically anywhere that I am that also picks up more than just a few channels and hopefully more than just main channels. I am open to antenna suggestions as well, etc. My budget is extremely flexible.
 

gmclam

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I am currently living fulltime RVing. I spend almost all of my time in small rural mountain towns (obviously I move around a lot but I do not often stay overnight anywhere I can not boondock).
I see you've listed yourself in northern California. That's an area I monitor quite a bit. If it was only rural areas, that's one thing; but I find I need to also hear Nevada or Oregon when I am near. And if you're near big cities such as Sacramento or the Bay Area, that's different too.

I am wanting to purchase a nicer quality scanner that will work well on the road
The key to good reception on the road is having a great antenna, designed for what you want to hear. BUT, there are places where radio reception is just horrible for the most part and not even the people you're trying to monitor have good reception.

as well as come in clear practically anywhere that I am
Funny. I was recently on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, spending time in rural Eastern Oregon. In the rural locations where I was, everything is analog VHF. Old school. But as I entered metro areas, the radio systems are digital and often crystal clear. The key is having a scanner that can receive all these different types of radio signals.

that also picks up more than just a few channels and hopefully more than just main channels.
My modern "old" scanners can scan about 1800 channels at once. The newer models use SD memory cards to hold the channels and can contain a database of the entire USA.

I am open to antenna suggestions as well, etc. My budget is extremely flexible.
Honestly, I don't travel with less than 3 different scanners, but that's me. One is analog, one is old school digital, and one is the SDS-100. In order to have the greatest flexibility of programming, ability to receive all the latest and greatest radio system, and have the ability to acheive that crystal clear reception; the SDS-100 (or SDS-200) is the way to go.

The other issue you're going to run into is programming. These newer models do provide a means for you to enter a zip code, and have the radio determine what's near you to monitor. You can set a radius in miles, and you can select different "service types" (police, aircraft, rail roads, etc) of interest. I have custom programmed mine, which gives me better control of what I am monitoring; but it's a never-ending job. The SDS(-100) uses Sentinel programming software, which is free.
 

ladn

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Modern scanners cover more than a few channels--they can have thousands!

As for transmissions that "come in clear practically anywhere...", that's more involved. It's a function of the scanner, antenna and feed cable as well as terrain and the actual topology of the system(s) you are trying to monitor. Reception can be challenging in the boondocks for both scanners and actual system users.

If you are looking for mobile units (as opposed to handheld), look at the Uniden 996P2 or Uniden SDS 200. The same radios are available as handhelds as Uniden 325P2 and SDS 100. Also look at the Uniden BCD436HP handheld.

You will also want an external antenna, probably mounted on the roof of your rig. There are lots of choices, but I'll recommend you use an NMO style through the roof mount (get Larsen, Laird or Pc-tel brands and avoid Tram or Browning). The Antenna Farm is a good place to shop for antennas, mounts and accessories. NMO mounts (when properly installed) are dependable and waterproof and they are pretty much the "standard" antenna mount in professional applications. You will also need good quality coax, routed away from noise sources.

The reason your antenna should be on the roof is because the roof acts as a ground plane for the antenna so that it can function efficiently and antenna height gives you greater range.

You will also need programming software. It's possible to program these scanners by punching in numbers, but it's mind-numbingly slow. Programming software makes things much easier, and you can even remotely control your scanner from a computer connected with a USB cable. Look at ProScan software. It's very comprehensive, well supported here on RR, and has great customer service.
 

vagrant

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Rather than type in a zip code, you can use a GPS that connects to the scanner and handles your location as you drive. As previously mentioned, you set your radius in miles and enjoy the audio as you go.
 

norcalscan

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Lots of good suggestions here. I'm going to drill a bit deeper. It depends on what you define as "Northern California" and/or your area of interest. For me, a BCT-15X analog scanner is the gold standard for analog rural NorCal reception. Cheap in price, and ears that can hear a whisper a hundred miles away (with an antenna of course). Easy to manually program/edit in the field, you can use FreeScan and ProScan for computer programming.

Your area of interest is what determines if you get the $175 analog BCT-15X or the $400-500 digital BCD0996/536 radios, or the new $600-700 SDS-100 or SDS-200. Placer County Sheriff and the I80 corridor is P25 VHF trunked. Also some National Parks are 50/50 P25, and some smaller national lands might be full P25. Forest Service is all analog here, with law enforcement dabbling in but not fully digital yet. Fish and Game, BLM, NDF, ODF, etc are all analog. State Parks up here is analog VHF/800, but there is a slow push for P25 700Mhz in some places. Basically the bulk of where you RV will likely be analog, but there will be bits of P25 invading the sanctity of our analog ruralness, and tiny increments over the next 5 years. Check The Database and see what there is around your favorite hangouts.

Now handheld or mobile/base? Do you want this while driving around up front, or while the awning is out, leg rest up, and ice chest open? A handheld covers both, but you'll have to unplug it from the front wiring (power and antenna) and move it to the lawn chair and potentially different power source and/or antenna. So think of those logistics.

Antennas - once rural, and especially in the forest, you won't hear much of anything with a rubber duck or small telescopic antenna. Vehicle mounted is best, but RV's tend to both be fiberglass, negating mag mounts, and tall, which means trees will likely eat anything sticking up more than 6" above deck. So you'll need to think of a mounting solution that can either be moved and protected from trees, and/or something that provides a ground plane. 1/4 wave antennas work best in more open land (valley's, plains etc) while 5/8 wave antennas have a steeper pattern to them that work great in canyons and mountains, but they are taller. If the bulk of your scanning is done under the awning or in the lounge chair, can I suggest a portable tripod and 1/4 wave antenna kit? I like to use speaker stands for tripods. Google TS88GB for a stand that goes up 9'. FullCompass is the primary vendor for that, around $65. Or you can get down into the $40-50 range for a pair of shorter 6' stands. (use the other one for a light, or a ham antenna.) Clamp on a PVC extension and even better. Then grab a mobile-to-base antenna mount, any of these, as well as an NMO wideband antenna that covers your favored band (VHF-Hi?) like the Laird B132S which you can even use and take off of the truck if a 5th wheel...or even an NMO tri-band scanner antenna. Now you have a field antenna setup for about $100-120, that can be moved and adjusted easily, withstands regular winds (heavy winds with a sandbag) and weather-proof so can be left outside overnight. Find a basic length of RG-58 coax to get from antenna to your radio, whether to the lawn chair or find a way to sneak it inside for listening indoors.

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Power - batteries in a handheld, or extend some 12VDC from the RV somewhere to your lawn chair...

And as far as zipcode or GPS scanning that others are mentioning. Those are great tools for travelling into unknown areas, but I'm not sure they'll accurately turn on your USFS, state/natl parks. Can others with experience here chime in? I'm curious myself.
 
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jonwienke

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GPS scanning works properly in the great majority of places. If you do find a database glitch, submit a correction to fix it.

For traveling, a SDS with GPS is the best option. The more traveling you do, the more likely you are to encounter simulcast, which only the SDS handles well. The 125's analog only, and doesn't do GPS, so its pretty useless as a travel scanner except as a secondary receiver programmed for analog-only stuff like MURS, GMRS, FRS, etc that doesn't change frequency within the U.S.
 

gmclam

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Lots of good suggestions here. I'm going to drill a bit deeper. It depends on what you define as "Northern California" and/or your area of interest.
Absolutely true. Some people consider anything north of Sacramento to be N Cal while others include Sacramento (or the Bay Area).

Placer County Sheriff and the I80 corridor is P25 VHF trunked.
But CHP is analog, and it depends on other agencies.

Also some National Parks are 50/50 P25
In northern California you have Lassen & Lava Beds. If you want to hear all you can, you'll need P25.

Forest Service is all analog here, with law enforcement dabbling in but not fully digital yet.
Most of USFS is analog around here, then you run into once incident where USFS law enforcement is P25.

Fish and Game, BLM, NDF, ODF, etc are all analog.
In California. But if you're near Nevada, for example, you might get better reception from their digital system. Oregon also has a "State Radio Project", wich is P25 mostly Phase II; but it depends on exactly where you are as to whether that's of interest.

State Parks up here is analog VHF/800, but there is a slow push for P25 700Mhz in some places.
Prarie City OHV, Lake Oroville are just two locations that are P25. While it might be a slow push, overnight channels change from analog to P25.

Antennas - once rural, and especially in the forest, you won't hear much of anything with a rubber duck or small telescopic antenna.
Totally agree unless you're camping on top of a mountain with no obstructions.
 

WB9YBM

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Niles, IL
I am currently living fulltime RVing. I spend almost all of my time in small rural mountain towns (obviously I move around a lot but I do not often stay overnight anywhere I can not boondock). I am wanting to purchase a nicer quality scanner that will work well on the road as well as come in clear practically anywhere that I am that also picks up more than just a few channels and hopefully more than just main channels. I am open to antenna suggestions as well, etc. My budget is extremely flexible.
Quite often I've seen people spend more $$$ & effort on antennas because it's the most important part of the system--even the best scanner won't hear if it's hooked to a lousy antenna, so I'd probably focus on that...
 

Eng74

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If you want a base/mobile and have the money, SDS 200 or 536HP. If you want hand held SDS-100 or 436HP. If you want to use GPS all 4 do that and also have zip code programming for easy programming if you do not want to program it yourself.
 

KE0DRS

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I’ve got family who are boondockers and knowing your situation I would recommend a database scanner hooked up to GPS. I’d recommend looking at a Homepatrol 2, BCD536HP, or the SDS200. This way no matter where you find yourself the scanner would be pretty capable of receiving the systems and you wouldn’t have to worry about programming while on the road.
 

KK4JUG

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GPS scanning works properly in the great majority of places. If you do find a database glitch, submit a correction to fix it.

For traveling, a SDS with GPS is the best option. The more traveling you do, the more likely you are to encounter simulcast, which only the SDS handles well. The 125's analog only, and doesn't do GPS, so its pretty useless as a travel scanner except as a secondary receiver programmed for analog-only stuff like MURS, GMRS, FRS, etc that doesn't change frequency within the U.S.
I'm retired and I travel quite a bit. First, I used a plain 436. Then I added Jon's rechargeable GPS to it. It was great. Next, I got an SDS100 and used the Uniden/GlobalSat configuration. Worked flawlessly but the extra wire was a bit of a hassle. I added Jon's internal GPS to it and it, too, works flawlessly. I just bought an SDS200 and I plan to go GPS when I install it.

If you travel, GPS is the only way to do it and since simulcast is so prevalent, the SDS scanners are the only way to go. They'll pick up just about everything you're allowed to listen to.
 
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