Best Radio Scanners of 2019: The ultimate guide

By using a radio scanner you can stay updated on the latest events which include daily news that could directly affect you such as the weather forecast or the traffic condition. These tools allow you to monitor a broad range of channels some of which can be used within a specified area and during a disaster in order to reach out for help or even answer a call for aid.

These scanners, commonly referred to as Police Scanners, come in both analogue and digital form however, the latter will offer an improved reception and it’ll give you access to more channels. Nowadays, everyone goes for the digital scanner but it’s important to understand how this piece of equipment works so you could choose the right one for you and benefit from it in every way possible.

 

What is a Radio Scanner?

In simple terms, the radio/police scanner gives you the ability to tap in on back and forth conversations that could be taking place between police officers, firefighters, or any emergency agencies that are geographically close to your location. As long as they’re using an unencrypted P25 you can listen to single channels and trunk systems.

That’s not all, they offer a better audio quality than the usual walkie talkie sets in addition to larger area coverage. As previously mentioned, most users are now preferring a digital scanner over the analogue but the second option cannot be scrambled whereas you can add an encryption to the first one.

By using the digital police scanner, you will be assigned a specific ID but this means that some governmental organizations can identify you and later on remotely disable your access if proven to be unauthorized.

 

Different types of Digital Police Scanners

Since this is the more commonly used form of radio scanners in today’s world, you should take the time to learn all about it before moving on to placing a purchase.

You can start by differentiating between the two common types but you should also consider the reason behind your purchase since it can help you know which one you actually need.


Mobile/Base scanner

This type can be fixed at home or in a car. You can definitely change its place but you won’t be able to use it while doing so.

Handheld scanner

No matter where you go, you can take this one with you since it’s portable. It’s quite similar to a walkie talkie in terms of shape and size but offers better features.

 

Are Police Scanners legal?

This question is pretty common because some people tend to believe that a “Police” scanner can only be used by specialized services or agencies but this is absolutely not the case. You can own and use one in a perfectly legal way inside the USA since all airwaves belong to the public.

However, it’s important to note that you should not in any way interfere with emergency responders by blocking a certain channel, especially during a crisis or a natural disaster. Keep in mind that you should consult a licensed attorney in case you want to learn more about the legality of usage of this equipment.

With that being said, here are some useful tips on how to avoid legal issues while using these products:

  • Do not eavesdrop on private cell phone or encrypted communications.
  • Do not listen to communications involving any criminal activity.
  • Do not tap in to police scanners while driving. (This is only applicable in some states in the USA)

 

Difference between phase 1 and phase 2 Radio Scanners

It goes without saying that analogue scanners came first and they use channels that are 25 KHz wide but in order to cope with the ever-increasing demand, the new digital radio scanners were presented in three different variations.

The first one, known as Digital Phase 1, used channels that are 12.5 KHz wide which increased the available channels by doubling them but it doesn’t stop there since more people means that additional channels are required. This lead to the introduction of Digital Phase 2 and Trunked scanners. The latter allows its users to access certain frequencies simultaneously thus creating a talkgroup allowing several individuals to communicate on a single channel.

 

Digital Phase 2 and Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA)

The point of the Digital Phase 2 was not to double the channels like its predecessor but it used to same 12.5 KHz bandwidth and added a technology known as TDMA which allowed users to have two different conversations on the same channel by literally sharing it.

 

Should I buy a Digital phase 1 or 2?

Most locations around the world today started using the Digital Phase 2. Even if you find out that the other option is more popular in your area, purchasing the Phase 2 is definitely the right choice since it’s the future of Radio Scanners unlike the outdated Phase 1.

Moreover, several other functionalities make the Phase 2 more sought after than its predecessor:

  • You’ll still be able to contact people who are using a Digital Phase 1.
  • The previously mentioned TDMA technology gives these scanners additional battery life.
  • Most users report that the phase 2 is easier to operate than the older versions.
  • You can access almost all of the channels, some of which used by governmental agencies like the police, aviation, and even NOAA.
  • Soon enough everyone will be transferring to phase 2 which means that if you still have the phase 1 you will slowly lose contact and not just with agencies but with other individuals in your area.

 

The most important features in a Digital Police Scanner

Just like every other product, an efficient radio scanner should include certain necessary functionalities.


Search and scan

As you know, you will be browsing through different channels which means that the search and scan speed is important in order to check out the highest number of frequencies in the fastest time. You can start with a scanning speed of 16/second but if you’ll be listening to more than 10 channels then you’ll require something faster.

You can also look for a feature called Search mode which allows you to tap in to frequencies that can’t be found in the usual databases. Moreover, the Service search functionality can be very useful when you’re trying to find frequencies that belong to emergency services.

Selectivity and sensitivity

High selectivity is really useful when you’re locating a specific frequency in an urban area. It might be difficult to find it because of the congestion but if you have the high selectivity option, you’ll be able to choose that station even if it has different channels surrounding it.

As for sensitivity, the lower the number the better! This will allow you to catch all kinds of transmissions, even the weakest ones. This can be very helpful if you’re far from civilization. In other words, when you’re packing your survival gear for a rural expedition, make sure you have a scanner with this feature.

Battery life

There’s no specific range for a battery life since it can hugely differ based on the quality of the batteries themselves. You should be able to use your scanner for a period of 6 to 8 hours. AA batteries are the usual choice but you can also go for something with a higher power.

Channels

If you want to tap in on a couple of agencies then a basic police scanner is enough since it offers 15 channels on average. If that’s not what you want then rest assured that other scanners offer a larger number of channels.

Range

The range you find written on the box is the best you can get since obstructions like buildings or trees can affect the signal. Don’t worry though, you can easily improve the built-in range by purchasing an antenna.

Lists and banks

Some scanners give you the opportunity to distribute and save your channels in order to access them in an easier way. For example, you can add all the channels reserved to emergency services in a single list.

Preloaded frequencies

While shopping, you might notice that certain radio scanners are already equipped with frequencies of a specific country or area. Make sure you buy the one you need since it makes everything a lot easier.

Storage capacity

If you’re looking to record the conversations then you’ll definitely need a scanner with a slot for an SD card. Audio files are generally small in size which is why you can go for the 2 GB card.

Software

The best way to learn about the software of a police scanner is to read online reviews when researching the product. You can find out which models are more user-friendly than others. In addition, you can learn which ones can be programmed through a computer. It’s important to note that no models are compatible with a Mac.

GPS compatibility

Most scanners include this feature but it’s more abundant in those with the Phase 2 criteria. This feature can help you identify available frequencies when you venture into a new zone.

Warranty

This is not specific for Radio scanners but it’s advised that you buy every product with a warranty. Usually, a scanner is covered for a 1-year period but some companies offer an extended warranty.

 

Additional useful features for a police scanner

Now that the necessary features have been discussed, you can still find other functionalities that can make the scanner more appealing and user-friendly.

Color and touch screen options

This is not a crucial feature but it can surely make your experience better and faster. The touch screen in particular can be very helpful but the products that include this option are usually more expensive that those that don’t.

Trunk tracking

You will only need this feature if the individual (or organization) you want to listen to uses a trunked radio system. Without it, you won’t be able to tap in to that frequency.

Computer control

With this option, you can link your scanner to the computer in order to customize it.

Automatic mode and step selection

Your scanner will automatically choose the best mode and step for the frequency you’re trying to set so you don’t do this manually every time.

Alpha tags

You can benefit from this feature since it displays the identifiers related to the channels you’re searching for.

Dynamic memory

This system gives you the ability to edit the size of the banks or lists on your scanner so they wouldn’t take up additional memory space.

 

Doomsday Preppers and Radio scanners

If you watched the hit reality television series Doomsday Preppers (We know you did!) then you probably noticed that almost everyone has invested in a radio scanner. It goes without saying that this piece of equipment is really useful on a normal day but it becomes mandatory in the case of a large-scale disaster.

 

Two-Way Signal reviews the best Digital Police Scanners

As you can see, there are several radio scanners listed at the top of this page. Read on to discover the detailed reviews of each one of them. You can always count on TWS to show you the best products on the market.

 

Whistler TRX-1 Handheld Digital Scanner Radio

One of the best scanners in terms of sensitivity and audio quality. The entire Whistler brand presents leading equipment in this industry. The TRX-1 can be easily set up and is relatively user-friendly. It has preloaded frequencies for Canada and the USA.


Pros of the Whistler TRX-1

  • High-quality sound: this scanner will produce clear audio even if the signal is weak.
  • High sensitivity: even the weakest of signals can be identified which makes it a perfect product for the countryside.
  • Feature-rich product: all the functionalities you’ll ever need in a radio scanner.
  • Seamless setup and update processes: activate it by simply inserting your zip code then update it. You can easily program it on any Windows PC.
  • Backlit LCD screen and keypad: this allows you to easily use the scanner even at night.
  • SKYWARN button: this will continuously update you on weather changes.
  • All-inclusive offer: you will receive the charging cable, the antenna, and two battery holders along with the scanner.

Cons of the Whistler TRX-1

This equipment demands special programming which means that you have to familiarize yourself with the process. This is the case for most scanners but you should expect a small challenge when trying to learn about every detail found in this device.

 

Whistler TRX-2 Desktop Digital Scanner

Similar to the TRX-1, this scanner is already equipped with Canada and USA frequencies but it also has a microSD card. The biggest difference found in the TRX-2 is that it’s not handheld.


Pros of the Whistler TRX-2

  • Compact design: a desktop scanner does not mean that it has a big size. This one in particular is relatively small which makes it easy to fit it in a car or on a bureau.
  • Smart Zip code programming: there is no need to purchase an additional programming software with the TRX-2 since you can easily set it up. All you have to do is customize your settings so you could access the channels you want.
  • Easy updating process: just use the internet to update the database. Make sure you use a Windows PC.
  • Mobile friendly: this scanner has a steady and firm built which prevents the control unit from slipping.
  • SKYWARN button: this will continuously update you on weather changes.

Cons of the Whistler TRX-2

The screen may offer high-quality display but its size remains relatively small compared to other scanners. Another negative point can be attributed to the missing sleep timer.

 

Whistler WS1065 Desktop Digital Scanner

Similar to the TRX-2, this scanner is desktop that is preloaded with the frequencies for Canada and USA. It contains specific functionalities that are found nowhere but in the WS1065.


Pros of the Whistler WS1065

  • Small size: even if it’s a base scanner, you can still easily fit it in a vehicle or on a desk.
  • Menu driven programming: this device has a Context Sensitive Help which provides assistance during the setup process by showing useful tooltips.
  • Scan list functionality: you can scan and group frequencies the way that suits you best.
  • Memory backup: scanned frequencies are saved for later use.
  • Digital AGC: low audio levels are quickly enhanced.
  • SKYWARN button: this will continuously update you on weather changes.

Cons of the Whistler WS1065

As previously mentioned, the programming process is specific to this device which means that you will have to consult the manual in order to learn the necessary settings and customizations.

 

Uniden BCD436HP HomePatrol Series Digital Handheld Scanner

One of leading brands in communication technologies, the Uniden produced this handheld model which soon became a popular choice among the users. The BCD436HP HomePatrol Series includes USA and Canada radio database.


Pros of the Uniden BCD436HP

  • Works well for all users: if you’re new to police scanners then you will definitely appreciate the user-friendly interface. Advanced users will also like this scanner since they will find several important features.
  • Extended battery life: the three AA batteries can give you up to 8 hours of continuous use.
  • TrunkTracker V: with this option, you can tap into numerous trunked systems.
  • Dynamic memory: manage the size of your banks and lists to save up space.
  • Close Call RF Capture: this technology allows you to automatically identify transmissions in close proximities.
  • S.A.M.E. weather notifications: constant weather alerts updates in your location.
  • Compatible with GPS and PCs: easily connect to a computer in order to update your software. You can also link up with a Uniden GPS system.
  • Accessories included: you will receive an antenna, a belt clip, a user manual, a set of batteries, a USB cable, an SMA to BNC adapter, and a wrist strap with this offer.

Cons of the Uniden BCD436HP

Don’t expect that you can start using this product directly since it requires some customization. It’s also important to note that a small quantity of devices have experience a low battery life.

 

Uniden BCD536HP HomePatrol Series Digital Phase 2 Base/Mobile Scanner

Contrary to the previous product, this is a base model but it does contain the frequencies of Canada and the USA. Compared to the BCD436HP, the BCD536HP is easy to setup and program and can be easily linked to a smartphone or tablet using the Uniden app.


Pros of the BCD536 HomePatrol Series

  • Recording and replay: you can playback recorded audio with this device.
  • Reliable mobile app: once you link your phone or tablet to this scanner, you’ll be able to access it no matter where you are.
  • Features for advanced users: this product can be easily used by novices but numerous features such as channel tagging, dynamic memory, and CTCSS/DCS rapid decoding (among others) make it attractive to experience users as well.
  • DC cable connection: this item is included because a USB power cable is not enough.
  • TrunkTracker V: with this option, you can tap into numerous trunked systems.
  • Close Call RF Capture: this technology allows you to automatically identify transmissions in close proximities.
  • S.A.M.E. weather notifications: constant weather alerts updates in your location.

Cons of the BCD536 HomePatrol Series

There’s nothing negative that could be said about this product but you should know that several units that were previously shipped had missing pixels on the screen. If informed, the company will probably replace your purchase.

 

Uniden SDS200 True I/Q TrunkTracker X Base/Mobile Scanner

This is also a base unit but it has distinctive features that allow it to stand out from other desktop scanners. The SDS200 includes all the advanced features and even more.


Pros of the Uniden SDS200

  • Special display: the screen found on the scanner offers a large and colorful image.
  • S.A.M.E. weather notifications: constant weather alerts updates in your location.
  • True I/Q TrunkTracker: you can access trunked systems with this feature.
  • Ethernet connectivity: directly link this scanner to the internet in order to customize its settings.
  • High decode performance: CTCSS/DCS/NAC/RAN/Color decoding.
  • Customizable scanning: select and arrange your own lists for faster usage.

Cons of the Uniden SDS200

This product may contain advanced and useful features that can’t be found in other devices but you should keep in mind that it’s relatively more expensive than the other models. If you’re on a budget, you can purchase a scanner that offers all the necessary functionalities with a cheaper price.

 

 

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