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Railfan Technology > Uniden BCD-160DN vs. BC-125AT vs. ?


Date: 04/27/24 10:34
Uniden BCD-160DN vs. BC-125AT vs. ?
Author: WW

I was finally able to get out and do some side-by-side testing of the Uniden BC-125AT and  BCD-160DN scanners to get a good comparison of the performance of both radios on the analog railroad bands, using identical antennas.  I even switched the antennas between the radios to make certain that there were no manufacturing differences between the two antennas.  One note about antennas—the stock Uniden antennas for either radio are poor performers in the VHF/UHF railroad bands.  This is not surprising—the stock Uniden antennas are designed to be “wide-band” antennas for receiving signals across a wide frequency range—which means that they perform only mediocre on all of them.  Any railfan using these scanners for railfanning should purchase a dual-band VHF/UHF antenna for these radios as a first step toward improving their performance.

Now, as to the results.  Here is the good news/bad news:  bad news first—despite costing about $100 more than the BC-125AT (that has 12-year-old technology in the receiver), the BCD-160DN does not perform as well as the BC-125AT at receiving weak analog signals.  The BCD-160DN is not an awful analog performer (unlike the very expensive NXDN-capable Uniden SDS-100 portable scanner, which is a complete dog in analog performance), but the BCD-160DN still performs a notch below the much older (and less expensive) non-NXDN-capable BC-125AT.  And, as I noted earlier, battery life between recharges on the BCD-160DN is relatively poor.  Good idea to carry at least one, if not two sets of batteries for day-long railfanning.  Now the good news:  I mentioned in a previous post that the BCD-160DN has a feature (lacking in the BC-125AT) that the radio can be programmed to emit differing “beeps” if the squelch is opened on a channel.  This is REALLY handy on the UHF train telemetry channels to let me know that there is a train in the vicinity.  Bottom line: if you don’t need NXDN for your railfanning, the BC-125AT is probably the better choice overall.

So, what about that “?” in the post title?  Well, life is full of surprises.  Suppose I told you that there is a sub-$40 Chinese radio that will perform almost as well if not a bit better than either the BC-125AT or the BCD-160DN on analog for railfanning.  Stunner?  Yes.

For the record, I’ve not been a fan of cheap Chinese radios, especially the Baofeng models popular with some railfans.  I’ve not found their performance to be impressive.  Part of the reason for this is that inexpensive Chinese radios use what is called “system on chip” (SOC) circuitry (also called “homodyne”) that is a single filter technology to filter out interference, while more expensive radios use better “heterodyne” filtering technology.  Just recently, though, I’ve been testing a radio that has become somewhat of a “darling” in the amateur radio community: the Quansheng UV-K5.  Part of its popularity stems from the fact that the radio’s firmware is easily modified by third parties to enhance both programming options and performance.  In my case,  I modified my Quansheng UV-K5 with the free egzumer UV-K5 firmware available online.  The UV-K5 has 199 memory channels, and can be programmed from the keypad or via the free and common Chirp programming software.  A standard (and common) Kenwood-two-prong Baofeng-compatible programming cable can used for computer programming.
 
So, how does the UV-K5 perform?  Amazingly well for a very inexpensive SOC radio.  Unlike most inexpensive Chinese radios, it has good scan speeds.  In sensitivity, it is as good as the BC-125AT and better than the BCD-160DN.  For my test, I used an aftermarket “stubby” antenna similar (but with a different mount) to the very effective stubby antenna that I use with my old Wouxun KG-UV6X.  The radio does pick up some “birdie” interference on the UHF band (not surprising for an SOC radio), but that is not too bad.  In a very RF-rich urban environment, it might struggle a bit.  Battery life is good—likely enough for 8-14 hours of use before recharging and, unlike the Unidens, the battery charges relatively quickly on the charger.  The radio is a bit smaller than the Unidens, and is an easy “grab-and-go” radio.  Audio quality is OK—one feature in the egzumer firmware is the ability to adjust the audio gain in the radio programming software to make the audio louder—though it will then distort a bit at full volume . . . but the radio is loud then.

The UV-K5 won’t likely be a “ruggedness” winner.  The volume knob is a bit flimsy, the keys might wear out over time,  but for under $40 as I write this (which includes a charger, earpiece, antenna, and radio), it’s not a major investment.  So, for a railfan on a tight budget, or to have a “throw-away” radio to keep in the pack or vehicle for railfanning, the UV-K5 might be a good choice.   At this time, the UV-K5 is the only inexpensive Chinese radio that I can recommend.  There are dozens of others out there sold under numerous brand names, but many of them have circuitry that is nearly identical if not completely identical to the Baofeng circuitry, which is not the best for railfan use.
 



Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 04/28/24 09:47 by WW.



Date: 04/28/24 07:40
Re: Uniden BCD-160DN vs. BC-125AT vs. ?
Author: skyview

Good info as always!!!



Date: 04/28/24 11:41
Re: Uniden BCD-160DN vs. BC-125AT vs. ?
Author: MoPac1

Thanks for thorough discussion!  at age 77 I am thinking about buying a scanner!

Charlie Rice

Charles Rice
Saint Louis, MO



Date: 05/08/24 11:10
Re: Uniden BCD-160DN vs. BC-125AT vs. ?
Author: WW

Furhter update on the BCD160DN and the Quansheng UV-K5.  In all candor, I have to say that the BCD160DN is a major disappointment.  After trying several different antennas, the BCD160DN's performance on the analog channels, while better than the much more expensive SDS-100, is just mediocre, at best.  Compared to the BC125AT, the BCD160DN is definitely considerably more "deaf" on the analog railroad channels, both VHF and UHF.  LIke the BC125AT, but considerably worse, the BCD160DN has poor battery life between recharges.  Its audio output is at the bottom end of the acceptable scale.  The BCD160DN's only real virtue for railfanning is that it is NXDN-capable--that's it.

Meanwhile, the Quansheng UV-K5, a $30+/- analog dual-band radio is exceptionally sensitive, has pretty good selectivity for an SOC radio, has good audio output, decent scanning speeds, and is easy to operate.  Physically, it's a bit smaller than the BC125AT or BCD160DN, yet has a much longer battery life (8 hrs.+ on my UV-K5) between recharges.  Plus, its included drop-in charger will recharge the battery relatively quickly.  I can't testify to the UV-K5's consistency in build quality, but if mine is indicative of the radio's performance, it rockets up to being a "best buy for the money" for railfanning.  My only major pet peeve about it and most any inexpensive Chinese radio is the cheap belt clip, with no real option for a carrying case with a "D-type" swivel belt mount.  All of that said, the little UV-K5 puts a smile on my face every time that I use it.

And, a quick preview of coming attractions.  I currently have a TIDRADIO TD-H3 on order--the TD-H3 is currently priced at about $39.  This radio has been getting rave reviews in the amateur/GMRS radio community.  I currently have a TIDRADIO TD-H8 that is a fairly decent radio.  I haven't recommended it for railfanning primarily because it has glacial scanning speeds.  It also underperforms the Quansheng UV-K5 in reception performance, but costs about double the price.  In its defense, the TD-H8 seems a bit more physically tough than the UV-K5.  I will review the TD-H3 after I get it in 1-3 weeks.



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