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Railfan Technology > The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - first review

Date: 03/26/24 15:24
The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - first review
Author: WW

This is an introduction and review of the relatively new Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner.  This scanner was announced some months ago, but is now becoming widely available.  The BCD160DN can be briefly described as a Uniden BC125AT with non-trunked NXDN and DMR capability.  It comes in the same physical package as the BC125AT, but a number of the secondary key functions are different.  The BCD160DN also costs about $100 more than the BC125AT.  So why might a railfan pick this radio over the BC125AT?  The next few paragraphs should answer that question.

To update some history of railroad radio—over a decade ago, the major U.S. railroads decided that a long-term goal was to convert their voice radio communications from analog to digital.  The digital platform that the railroads picked was NXDN digital—a proprietary digital protocol jointly developed by radio manufacturers Icom and Kenwood.  Any NXDN-capable radio produced by other radio manufacturers must be “licensed” through Icom and Kenwood, so the number of NXDN-capable radios of any type has been pretty limited.

Beginning immediately after the railroads adopted NXDN as the digital platform to be used by the major railroads, the major railroads began a massive program to replace old analog radio equipment with NXDN-capable radios.  Over 10 years ago, I visited the regional radio shop of one of the Class 1 railroads.  Already, they had stacks of remote base radios, mobile radios, and portable radios that were being deployed and/or installed on an aggressive schedule.  Back then, the target date for cutover to NXDN digital was around the 2018-2020 timeframe.  Later that was extended to 2022.  Well, it’s 2024 and very few railroads are currently using NXDN digital radio at all.  What happened?

The short answer is that Positive Train Control was government-mandated.  Essentially most all railroad communication resources were re-directed to build the PTC radio/data network.  Part of the PTC deployment also included digital data transmission capabilities within PTC that were likely originally destined for deployment in NXDN.  So, NXDN cutover was postponed for some indefinite period.  Will it happen?  It’s a fair question.  What most railfans don’t know is that nearly all of the major railroad radio network is NXDN-capable right now, and could be cut over from analog “en masse” at most any point when the railroads decide to do so.   The equipment is essentially all there.  Most of the major railroads have also licensed their radio systems for digital radio communications in addition to existing analog licensing.

Which brings us to the BCD160DN.  It is no secret that railfans are a major customer base for the analog BC125AT.  That said, if the railroads do convert to NXDN digital, the BC125AT essentially becomes obsolete for railfanning.  Anticipating such a day in the future is undoubtedly why Uniden built the BCD160DN.  There are really no other major users of NXDN—public service, commercial or amateur—that would warrant putting NXDN capability on a scanner.  (As a nod to those wishing to monitor non-trunking DMR radio systems, DMR capability is also included in the BCD160DN.)

So, what is the same and what is different about the BCD160DN compared to the BC125AT?  As noted before the BCD160DN comes in a physical package nearly identical to the BC125AT.  Most accessories for the BC125AT should also work for the BCD160DN.  Happily (and importantly) from my relatively brief testing of the BCD160DN, the BCD160DN performs essentially as well as the BC125AT in analog reception, which is to say very good for a non-commercial portable radio.  Though the BCD160DN has many more programmable features, the PC programming software for the BCD160DN is intuitively similar to the BC125AT (I don’t field program frequencies, etc. in either radio, so I can’t compare the two in field programming ease).  Users will find the basic buttons and keypad very similar on both radios, however, the secondary functions are different on the radios’ keypads.  Aside from the NXDN and DMR functions that are unique to the BCD160DN, the biggest difference is that the BC125AT has 10 banks of 50 memory channels (500 channels total) and the BCD160DN has 10 banks of 100 memory channels (1,000 channels total).  Finally, the BCD160DN comes with a standard antenna that is about 2 inches longer than the BC125AT’s antenna, but their performance is nearly identical.  Go figure.

One other noteworthy difference between the two radios that may be of interest to some is that the BCD160DN has some additional NOAA Weather Channel monitoring capabilities that make that part of the radio more customizable than the BC125AT’s weather monitoring capabilities.

If people are interested, I can give some programming tips and tricks for the BCD160DN to make use of its NXDN capabilities.  Over the next few weeks I should have some comparative field testing of both radios for things like overall performance, battery life, etc.
One other final note, Uniden also has introduced a mobile version of the BCD160DN, the BCD260DN.  I have no plans to acquire this radio, but it appears to program similarly to the BCD160DN.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 03/26/24 16:36 by WW.

Date: 03/26/24 21:10
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - first review
Author: mojaveflyer

Great review Wally! I have a BC-125AT and it's a good little radio. Adding the NXDN capability makes a great addition. I've sent this to my fellow Net Control guy for a ham radio net we run in the Denver and Colorado Springs for scanner users. Much of our conversations concern those who monitor public safety but I tend to cover aircraft and railroad monitoring. We meet on the 147.225 repeater in Denver, the 145.46 repeated in Boulder (that also overs the north Denver Metro area), and the 145.16 repeater in Colorado Springs. We meet at 8 pm local time every Sunday night.

James Nelson
Thornton, CO

Date: 03/26/24 21:43
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - first review
Author: TCnR

Thanks for the heads-up.

Date: 03/26/24 23:02
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - first review
Author: TheNavigator

Thank you for this review. Would be interested in any tips and tricks for the BCD160DN you've discovered (although I don't yet own one), as well as results of testing in the field.

Date: 03/27/24 07:45
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - first review
Author: WW

There are three things that I want to add to my review of the BCD160DN.  All three things are characteristics that the BCD160DN has in common with the BC125AT, and that is somewhat unfortunate.  Frist, battery life.  The battery life of the BCD160DN is pretty similar to the BC125AT, if not a bit less.  That means that a full day of railfanning may likely take 2 to 3 sets of rechargeable batteries, or likely 1-2 sets of regular AA alkaline batteries.  After nearly ruining my BC125AT several years ago when charging rechargeable batteries in the radio, due to defective charging circuitry in the radio, I don't recommend charging batteries in the BCD160DN radio, either, as it appears to use the same recharging circuitry found in the BC125AT.  Also, like the BC125AT, the BCD160DN can require up to 14 hours to recharge the batteries in the radio using the supplied USB cable. 

Second, audio output.  The audio output of the BCD160DN is identical to the BC125AT, relatively clean, but not especially loud.  Many amateur portable radios and nearly all commercial portable radios have louder audio than the BCD160DN.  You may have problems hearing the BCD160DN in loud environments.

Third, the plastic radio case.  As I noted in my review above, the plastic case of the BCD160DN is identical to that of the BC125AT.  It is likely, in my opinion, to easily be damaged (along with the radio's innards) in a drop onto a hard surface.  I STRONGLY recommend getting a leather case of the BCD160DN.  The case the I've used for years for the BC125AT is the leather case with belt swivel made by Caseguys.  It fits the BCD160DN (I've already confirmed that myself).  Right now, the ONLY place that I've found that sells it is Scannermaster and it is priced at $32.95.  Not cheap, but a worthwhile investment to protect a radio that costs quite a bit more than a BC125AT.

Does this mean that one should not buy the BCD160DN? No.  It is still, at this point, the most affordable way to get an NXDN-capable railfan portable radio and a radio that a current BC125AT user will be able to quickly master for railfan use.

One final note:  I purchased my BCD160DN through Amazon a couple of weeks ago.  Oddly enough, as of yesterday, it shows as "Currently unavailable.  We don't know when or if this item will be available again" on the Amazon website.  It also now shows as out of stock at Scannermaster.  For those who are interested, my BCD160DN shows being manufactured in Viet Nam.


Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 03/27/24 08:09 by WW.

Date: 03/27/24 22:25
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - first review
Author: mojaveflyer

FYI- I just checked and Amazon is showing this radio is available currently.

James Nelson
Thornton, CO

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