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Railfan Technology > Forget the Uniden SDS-100 for railfanning

Date: 09/08/21 13:55
Forget the Uniden SDS-100 for railfanning
Author: WW

A while back I wrote a review pretty critical of the Uniden SDS-100.  After using it and testing it for more time, I have the same conclusion, only even more harsh.  I seldom post such a harsh subject line about a radio for railfanning, but this is one of those times.  The Uniden SDS-100 is considered to be a "flagship" digital scanner in the radio community, and for listening to the various digital platforms common in the 800+ mHz bands, it lives up to its reputation.  Sadly, the SDS-100's performance in the VHF bands used by the railroads (and the UHF EOT and DPU frequencies) is just a big fat FAIL.  After doing some pretty exhausting testing--using various programming parameters and various antennas--the SDS-100 is just plain pretty "deaf" in the bands that railfans need to hear.  It's obvious that the SDS-100 was designed specifically to perform best up in the 800 mHz range.  To compound the bad performance for railfan use, the audio output in the VHF analog bands is poor quality that gets even worse at full volume--full volume itself being not that loud.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I did not buy the SDS-100 for railfanning, but for monitoring in the digital public service sector.  For that, it works well.

What is bringing the SDS-100 to the attention of railfans is, of course, that it can optionally be made NXDN-capable, but, sadly, there is no reason to believe that the radio will perform any better down in the railroad bands monitoring NXDN digital than it does in its poor performance on analog.  So, once again, my long-held suggestion for railfans wanting an NXDN-capable radio for railfanning is for them to look at one of the commercial radio offerings from Icom or Kenwood.

Finally, to give an example of just how awful the SDS-100 performs for railfanning, I have 6 portable radios running side-by-side as I write this--the Uniden SDS-100 portable digital scanner, Wouxun KG-UV6X commercial portable (which don't recommend for railfan use because of its clunky scan interface and keypad where the slightest touch on any key or control will knock the radio out of scan--and the keypad and controls can not be locked out if the radio is scanning), the Uniden BC-125AT scanner,  the Kenwood NX-200 NXDN commercial portable,  the Icom IC-F3161D NXDN commercial portable, and my old Kenwood TK-290 commercial analog portable.  All are set up for the test with comparable squelch settings.   All 6 have  VHF antennas for this test and all are listening to the same AAR analog channel.  With a strong signal (still probably 5 miles away from a remote base), all except the SDS-100 have very clear audio.  The SDS-100 audio is intermittent and audio quality is only fair, at best.  On a medium strength signal, all are still readable, except the SDS-100.  The SDS-100, with only an occasional opening of the squelch, sits there silent.  On weak signals, the Wouxun KG-UV6X and the Uniden BC-125AT struggle a bit more that the Kenwoods or the Icom to maintain readable audio; the Kenwoods and Icom do well--to be fair, the Kenwood NX-200 and Icom IC-F3161D do have extended range Laird EXH-160 antennas, which improves their performance just a bit.  The "old reliable" Kenwood TK-290 keeps up with the digitals running on analog, even though TK-290 is running a stock "stubby" 4.5" VHF antenna.  No surprise, the SDS-100 is completely deaf with the weak signals.  When it comes to RF interference rejection,the SDS-100 does fairly well, if only because the radio is so generally deaf in the VHF bands.  The Uniden BC-125AT does struggle some with interference, but does better than many scanners in this regard.  The Wouxun KG-UV6X does OK on interference rejection, but not nearly as good as the Kenwood and Icom NXDN radios.  The Kenwood TK-290 analog does very well on rejecting interference, but just a shade poorer than the newer design Kenwood and Icom NXDN radios.  When it comes to general ease of operation, the Uniden BC-125AT is easily the simplest to use of this bunch of radios.  The Wouxun KG-UV6X is relatively easy to use, but has some rather "obtuse" features.  I don't rate ease of us of the Icom and Kenwood commercial radios because their ease of use strictly depends on how their controls are initially set up when PC programmed.  And, yes, the SDS-100 is probably  the most difficult of all of them use if one is not an experienced radio user.

So there you have it--my take on portable radios with which I have experience--compared to the Uniden SDS-100 portable scanner. 

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/08/21 13:59 by WW.

Date: 09/08/21 14:14
Re: Forget the Uniden SDS-100 for railfanning
Author: Rathole

Thank you.  I enjoy reading your reviews on radio scanners! 

Date: 09/08/21 18:59
Re: Forget the Uniden SDS-100 for railfanning
Author: CNW8531

Thanks for the review.  A while back I was considering purchasing the SDS200 from Uniden.  But after reading how bad the SDS100 is, and assuming the 200 would be similarly bad, that purchase is now off the table.   You saved me several hundreds of dollars and a ton of disappointment!!

Date: 09/09/21 07:01
Re: Forget the Uniden SDS-100 for railfanning
Author: WW

To add just a couple of things:  I purchased my first Uniden scanner almost 35 years ago--one of the first programmable mobile scanners.  It was pretty revolutionary for its time, but was not a great performer.  A couple of years later, I purchased a Uniden portable scanner.  It had a similar interface as the mobile model.  I quickly tired of it, as its performance was just not very good.  Both radios died at young ages--a pretty common occurrence with Uniden radios.  The mobile failed twice--I sent it back to Uniden both times.  The first time they repaired it at a moderate charge; it died again about a year later--Uniden said the radio was unrepairable that second time.  About 2 years later, my Uniden portable failed.  I didn't bother to send that one in--I could tell that it cooked itself internally.

While I've looked at a lot of Uniden scanners since, the only one that I purchased prior to the SDS-100 was the BC-125AT.  As I've noted, for a scanner, the BC-125AT is a good performing radio  That said, several months ago, it tried to fry itself while charging rechargeable batteries in the radio, actually physically "bubbling" the case a little bit.  I repaired it myself--it's still working, but I no  longer EVER charge batteries in the radio.  To be sure, the BC-125AT will not physically last as long as a commercial or most amateur portable radios. So, expect it, and the SDS-100 to be a "throw-away" radio after a few years of use if they are used anywhere except sitting on a desk somewhere.  They are just not that physically robust.  By comparison, the Icom IC-F3161D, and the Kenwood NX-200 and TK-290 are very physically robust radios that will last for years with just a little bit of care.  My 3161, for example, is about a decade old and still going strong, as is my TK-290 at nearly two decades old.  Amortizing the cost of the radio over its expected physical life, the commercial Icom and Kenwood radios don't cost that much more over time than the Uniden scanners. (I suspect that my commercial radios will probably outlive me.  Of course, as the joke goes,  I'm getting old enough that I don't even buy green bananas, anymore.)

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