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Railfan Technology > The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - the follow up

Date: 04/08/24 16:57
The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - the follow up
Author: WW

This is a continuation of my review of the Uniden BCD160DN scanner.  For this part of the review, I did a real world side-by-side test of the BCD160DN and the older BC125AT scanners.  To be fair, I used two identical “unity” dual-band portable antennas.  These two antennas that I used are typical Chinese “knockoff” antennas.  The point was not to have the radios running the best available antenna, but rather to have both radios running the same model of antenna simultaneously.  My main concern was testing the selectivity and sensitivity of the radios side-by-side, without the antennas being a differing variable.  For the record, the antennas performed pretty close to the performance of the stock antennas of both radios.  As noted in the first part of my BCD160DN review, its stock antenna is a bit longer than the stock BC125AT antenna.

From my cursory side-by-side test of the two radios, the two radios performed very similarly to each other on the VHF analog/UHF train telemerty railroad channels.  That is actually a pleasant surprise as the other NXDN-capable and very expensive Uniden SDS100 portable scanner’s analog performance was a real dog.  I did briefly test the NXDN performance of the BCD160DN and it appears to decode NXDN just fine—my surmise is that it would perform similarly on NXDN compared to its analog performance.

So, compared to the BC125AT, with only two exceptions that I will discuss below,  the BCD160DN should perform very similarly.  Users familiar with the BC125AT should be able to master the BCD160DN’s operations pretty seamlessly.  A few keys have secondary functions that are a bit different, but follow the same basic “logic” of the BC125AT.
Now, to the two things about the BCD160DN that, compared to the BC125AT, I find to be a nuisance, one sort of minor and one major.  The difference that I find minor, but plenty irritating, about the BCD160DN is the backlight function.  Simply put, compared to the BC125AT, there isn’t a convenient setting for it, except to keep it on all the time, which, of course, is a battery drain.  I’m checking on a couple of workarounds and I may post on those later.  In my test, the backlight of the BC125AT was actually illuminated a bit longer than was the BCD160DN backlight.

More than just a minor nuisance, the second problem with the BCD160DN is battery life.  In portable two-way radio jargon, a typical radio duty cycle is called 90%-5%-5%, that is, 90% of the time the radio is on standby, 5% of the time it is receiving, and 5% of the time it is transmitting.  Under normal conditions, the battery life between recharges on a commercial portable radio battery is usually 8-14 hours.  For railfan use, with no transmitting, I assume a duty cycle of 90%-10%, that is 90% standby and 10% receiving.  Why 10% and not 5%?  Because a railfan is usually listening to both sides of a radio conversation.  My real world testing, conducted over a few days, approximated that 90%-10% duty cycle.  For this part of my test, I used the rechargeable batteries supplied with the BC160DN (nominally 2300 mAh), so that batteries would not be a variable between the two radios.   In my test, the radios were scanning the same channels, with volume and squelch settings set identically.  My testing showed that the BC125AT would run approximately 10 hours before needing recharging, while the BCD160DN would only run for about 6 hours before needing recharging (this in spite of the fact that the backlight was on a bit more often in the BC125AT).  In other words, the BCD160DN ran 40% less time than the BC125AT before the batteries must be recharged.  That is very significant.  Why?  The main reason is that the NXDN decoding circuitry is likely running continuously when the BCD160DN is turned on, and the circuitry takes power.  For the record, commercial NXDN-capable portable two-way radios generally also consume more power than their comparable analog-only counterparts.  So, if you are out railfanning all day with a BCD160DN, you will need to be carrying extra batteries.
Finally, there is one useful “goodie” that has made it over to the BCD160DN from the SDS100 that I find quite handy for UHF train telemetry channels.  It is possible to program a memory channel to emit a “beep” if something opens the squelch.  There are 9 differing “beep” sounds that can be programmed.  So, for the train telemetry channels, I programmed a different “beep” for each channel (EOTD, HOTD, DPU1, DPU2, DPU3, DPU4).  This is handy as one may miss hearing the digital audio “burp” of a train telemetry transmission, but the beep is audible and unique. 

So far, I like the BCD160DN, except for the battery life and the wonky backlight options.  Is it worth the about $100 price premium over the BC125AT?  If you already own a BC125AT, probably not, unless you just want to have NXDN capability in your hand now, rather than scrambling to get an NXDN-capable radio when and if the railroads start using NXDN heavily.  If you are looking to buy a scanner that you plan to keep for a long time, then the BCD160DN may be worth a hard look.  I did hear a rumor that the BCD160DN may actually be the eventual replacement for the BC125AT, and the BC125AT may be discontinued at some point—I have heard nothing official about that, though.

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 04/08/24 17:03 by WW.

Date: 04/08/24 18:31
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - the follow up
Author: Trainatic

Thank you for all the testing and information. I feel it's about time I upgrade- I'm still using an old yaesu vx-150.

Date: 04/09/24 07:08
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - the follow up
Author: WW

Though it won't tune the "splinter"  AAR channels (which few railroads currently use), the Yaesu VX-150 likely has a bit better sensitivity and selectivity than either the BC125AT or the BCD160DN.  I used a VX-150 and a VX-170 for years.  My VX-150 was a great portable radio, but it finally died a couple of years ago.  Oddly, the VX-170, which essentially used the same circuitry as the VX-150, but in a more user friendly package, did not perform as well as the VX-150.  I still have my VX-170, but just use it occasionally now for amateur radio stuff.  I keep it in my winter survival pack that I carry in my vehicle.

Date: 04/12/24 15:39
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - the follow up
Author: skyview

Nice reviews, very helpful as always.  One question, do the batteries charge through the USB-C.  If so how long, if you know.  Also, can it charge while its being used and on?  Curious, as if railfanning in a vehicle, one solution to the poor battery life is to plug back in and charge while in the car, if it does use USB-C for charging.


Date: 04/13/24 09:32
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - the follow up
Author: WW

^Here is what is probably the less than happy answer to your charging question.  The BCD160DN can charge the AA rechargeable batteries in the radio, just like the BC125AT is supposed to, using the USB cable, but I strongly discourage it.  First, as I've recounted before, I had a very bad experience with the BC125AT when charging AA rechargeables in the radio--the charging circuit malfunctioned, allowing the batteries to overcharge to the point that they got hot enough to start melting the case of the radio.  I smelled the hot radio, and saved it, but had I not been around, it very well could have started a fire. Second, the USB charging circuit will take up to 14 hours to charge the batteries.  There is a menu setting to set charge time at from 1-14 hours on the BCD160DN--don't be fooled, it doesn't mean that the radio can be "fast charged," the setting just tells the charger how long to run before shutting off.  Yes, the BCD160DN can be run off of an external power source using the USB cable, but I really don't recommend that, either--because I just don't trust that power/charging circuit in the radio.  Also, in common with most portable radios, powering the radio off of, say, a 12V outlet in the vehicle can introduce electronic interference into the radio that the radio's filtering can not overcome.  Filtering out RF interference from vehicle electricial systems when the system is connected to power a radio is such a problem that I even put inline RF noise filters on most all power supplies connecting to vehicle-mounted mobile radios.

EDIT: One thing that I forgot to mention--the USB cable supplied with the BCD160DN is likely about the same as the BC125AT USB cable.  The latter, in my experience, will NOT supply enough current to simultaneously run the radio and charge the batteries.  At best, it will just stop or slow the battery drain when the radio is turned on and the USB cable is plugged into the radio.  My best advice is just to carry extra batteries.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/13/24 15:53 by WW.

Date: 04/13/24 13:49
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - the follow up
Author: TheNavigator

Thank you for posting this follow-up. Very comprehensive and informative, as always.

Date: 04/14/24 13:23
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - the follow up
Author: ironmtn

I'll add my thanks also for these reviews. Very helpful.

I agree completely on not using the radio's internal charging feature. I did not have the near-meltdown with my predecessor analog model BC125AT but came close. On one recharging cycle I noticed that the radio was getting quite warm. I didn't like that, and just stopped the recharging. Never used that method again. And besides, as noted, it was exceptionally slow.

Ever since I just use standard AA batteries, either non-rechargeable, or some rechargeable ones that I have paired with an external recharger. Much faster, works fine, much less risk. Just remove the AA cells and put the new ones in a little carefully, as the contacts in the battery compartment are not particularly strong. But it only takes a few seconds extra care, and is well worth the slight extra effort.


Posted from Android

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/14/24 13:24 by ironmtn.

Date: 04/15/24 11:15
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - the follow up
Author: skyview

Thanks, thats helpful.

Any other suggestions for a NXDN portable radio.  Im good on my mobile, it has NXDN but its a handheld Im in need of?  Thinking that the SDS-100 is way overkill, though if its a more sensitive radio perhaps it is worthy of consideration, but costly.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/15/24 11:38 by skyview.

Date: 04/16/24 07:09
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - the follow up
Author: WW

As I noted earlier, the SDS100 has very poor performance on the analog VHF channels.  For a dual-band NXDN-capable portable radio  (VHF railroad voice channel, and UHF train telemetry reception), the BCD160DN is really the only game in town right now, unless one wants to spend $5K-$6K (that is not a mispritnt) for the high-end Lexus quality of NXDN portable multi-band radios, the EF Johnson  (owned by JVCKenwood) Viking VP-8000 multi-band, multi-digital protocol public service radio.  I've not seen one of these in the flesh, but people that I know who have used this radio (not railfans) say that the radio is a performance monster.  For the price, it ought to be.

As for a railfanning NXDN radio, I go back to my old single-band VHF favorites, the Icom IC-F3161D (or DT) or IC-F-3261D (or DT), or Kenwood NX-200 or NX210 commercial portable radios.  I've previously posted extensively about these radios and their mobile counterparts.  They are becoming more available on the used market, as both Icom and Kenwood have introduced newer models over the last few years.  Some of those newer models likely perform as well as the ones I just listed, but I have had no need to buy them because my 3161 and NX-200 just keep working fine.  My 3161 has had over a decade of hard use (and not just for railfanning) and it's still going strong.  My NX-200 is approaching 7 years old with no problems, either.

Here's a free piece of advice to Uniden:  build a version of the BCD160DN scanner with a decent hard plastic case, a standard belt swivel, with speaker output of 800-1000 mW of good quality audio, and a proprietary high-capacity (minimum 12-24 hrs. between recharges) securely attachable/detachable battery, and a 2-4 hour drop-in fast charger.  Raise the price of the radio $50-$75 over the standard BCD160DN and Uniden would have a near-perfect railfan portable radio.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/16/24 07:10 by WW.

Date: 04/18/24 09:27
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - the follow up
Author: mojaveflyer

I have a Whistler TRX-1 handheld and a TRX-2 mobile radio. Both will do NXDN modulation but as others have stated, the sensitivity on both radios is less than other radios. I've tried both radios and have found they have less satisfactory performance. I only carry the TRX-1 if I know I'll be somewhere where NXDN is in use. The only two places in Colorado I'm aware of is the Test Track east of Pueblo and the Cumbres & Toltect Scenic Railway. Lot of money for limited useage.

James Nelson
Thornton, CO

Date: 04/20/24 15:22
Re: The Uniden BCD160DN portable scanner - the follow up
Author: skyview

Thanks for update.  That was my fear, that the sensitivity just not that good.  I have a 3161 for non NXDN, but cannot put the NXDN module in, even sent to Icom but they have no idea how to fix, so would have to scrap and start over if I wish NXDN, with any of 4 you mentioned or something else.  Not a big issue at this point where Im at.

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