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Categories | Receivers: Scanners | Radio Shack PRO-96 Digital Trunking Scanner Help

Show all reviews of the Radio Shack PRO-96 Digital Trunking Scanner

You can write your own review of the Radio Shack PRO-96 Digital Trunking Scanner.

KE4RWS  Rating: 5/5 Jun 29, 2007 23:04  Send this review to a friend!
My Best Scanner Yet  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
The Radio Shack PRO-96 is my first true digital trunking scanner Iíve owned. I did have the Uniden BC785D for a few months but didnít have the optional digital card for it so I had no experience with any real digital scanners until now. I also currently own the PRO-95, which I must say is very close in design to the PRO-96. I know both are manufactured by GRE, and there are definitely some shared aspects of both models.

First, I have to say Iím very impressed with the PRO-96 in terms of its capabilities and the quality of this radio. Although I possess no official testing equipment, I can say from my own use of a vast array of scanners the PRO-96 is a fine piece of equipment and is a technological wonder when compared to scanners from just a few years ago.

With that said let me be the first to say Iím particularly fond of Ďlargerí portable radios, be it scanners or transceivers. I donít really care for all the new tiny dual band portables, scanners and the like. I want to know Iíve got something in my hand when Iím using one of these radio sets, and the PRO-96 is just the right size for my liking (I wouldnít want anything larger though). Some have commented they donít care for the PRO-96 because itís simply too big for them, and thereís absolutely nothing wrong with that. Itís merely a personal preference. I personally like bigger radioís with bigger keys, buttons and knobs. My amateur hand-heldís are comprised mainly of Motorola HT1000 and MTX series portables, which are the same size as the PRO-96 and are just the right size I prefer in a portable radio. Thatís just me.

Naturally I downloaded the recommended Win96 programming software to try it out and of course I loved it. I already had the programming cable, which I previously used on my PRO-95 and it works perfectly with the PRO-96 (serial port style). Although I was already familiar with Win95 software for my PRO-95, I did have a bit of a learning challenge with Win96, as the digital programming aspect made things somewhat different, not to mention having to learn just how the V-folders work (which I have to say is a really nice feature). And speaking of the V-folders feature, I found this particularly useful while out in the field and desiring to completely change the scanners profile without the aid of a computer. This would also be a life-saver if one encountered a critical error that required a hard-reset of the entire CPU. Since performing a hard-reset does NOT affect the V-folders, one could restore your favorite profile from the V-folders and be back in business within seconds (again, without the aid of a computer).

I found the backlighting of the keys/buttons and display to be excellent and is a huge improvement over the previous model, the PRO-95 (the 95 has a dim greenish backlight in the display and the keys have no backlighting at all). The PRO-96 Button layout appears to have logical placement and all controls are easily manipulated. Audio output is very adequate for a radio of this size, and I found digital transmissions to have particularly good audio quality vs. analog trunking systems. It should be noted if you desire to plug in an external speaker for improved audio performance youíll need to use an amplified speaker, as thereís not enough audio coming from the PRO-96 to really drive a typical external speaker. I tested my PRO-96 using a Radio Shack amplified speaker and it provides PLENTY of great audio output. Iíve always been a fan of the Shackís amplified speaker though. Canít say enough good things about this speaker.

Like most GRE-made scanners, the PRO-96 utilizes a triple-conversion receiver, which simply means less heterodynes and interference in general. Triple-up receiver design is a must for any wide banded radio if you want to minimize unwanted hash. I felt the receiver sensitivity is very good but this is based solely on stations I could hear in various bands. Keep in mind I possess NO testing equipment so my observations are based on how the PRO-96 compares to other receivers in my own inventory. Based on what others have documented using test equipment (posted in various places on the internet), it was obvious the 96 has a more sensitive receiver than the 95 if you compare the numbers alone, which is encouraging since this IS a $500 scanner.

Frequency coverage is very good on the PRO-96 but there are gaps you need to be aware of, which can be an issue depending on where you live and what you want to listen to. Stock PRO-96 ranges are 25-54, 108-174, 216-225, 406-512, 806-960 (minus cellular of course), and 1240-1300 MHz. Win96 has a selection that extends the frequency range of this model. This enables certain ranges but not all blocked out areas. Naturally, all US cellular telephone ranges are blocked but oddly enough so is 174-216 MHz. Although thereís really nothing there one would want to listen to (that Iím aware of in the US other than TV broadcasts in W-FM, which the PRO-96 is not capable of receiving), its feasible other countries would have activity there. Many other high-end scanners include this range so who knows why GRE left this range out of the PRO-96 (maybe at the request of RS). Once ĎExtended Frequenciesí is selected in Win96, the scannerís new received ranges are 17-174, 216-550, and 764-1300 MHz (minus cellular). Bear in mind sensitivity will be greatly affected in some ranges, as the PRO-96 was not originally designed to receive beyond certain areas, although some extended ranges receive very well. Sensitivity in these extended ranges is documented on the internet- simply search for PRO-96 and youíll locate lots of documented stuff on this model.

The battery life was decent, I felt. I tested my PRO-96 using a fresh set (4) of Duracell alkalineís and a set (4) of Duracell NiMH AA rechargeable batteries (rated at 2,000 mah). Just to make it more challenging I also ran the keypad/display backlighting the entire time I operated the scanner whether I needed it or not. The alkalineís provided roughly six (6) hours continuous run time while the NiMH rechargeableís provided at least four and a half (4.5) hours. This also included nearly continuous radio traffic (audio output) throughout the duration of the batteryís lives monitoring my local digital trunking system. Just like the PRO-95, the PRO96 will begin flashing ďLOW BATTĒ in the display once the battery level drops below a certain point, and will beep every 30 seconds or so as well. I personally found that you should be ready to replace the batteries fairly quickly once the Low Batt indicator starts flashing, as the remaining power doesnít last long once this starts, depending on the type of batteries being used. In fact, I noticed on a couple occasions while using rechargeable batteries and using the backlight, the Low Batt indicator didnít even come up. It merely started turning itself off and on. Unlike the PRO-95, the 96 has a menu setting in Win96 that lets you enter a preset voltage where the Low Batt message will begin flashing.

Another thing I really like about the PRO-96 is the continued use of a standard BNC antenna connector. Although many prefer other type connectors, Iím just a simple guy when it comes to scanner antenna connectors and I much prefer a regular olí BNC over anything else to accommodate quick and easy antenna change-overs when necessary. I have 3 basic antennas I use based on what Iím listening to, and this is where I love a good old fashioned BNC connector. Again though, thatís just me and is nothing more than personal preference. I did purchase the optional Radio Shack 800 MHz rubber duck antenna just to see if there was a noticeable difference between the stock antenna from the dedicated 800 MHz model. Most people say it improved their 800 reception while a select few say it did nothing. Just for the record, I noticed no noticeable difference and ended up returning the 800 MHz antenna and getting my $20 back. But like many have already said regarding this, your mileage may vary.

I can say the only thing I wish GRE had incorporated into the PRO-96 is LTR trunking ability. Thereís not much in the way of LTR where I live but in my travels I would use it often and I would have thought a $500 scanner that seems to have everything else would have had the ability to follow LTR. The PRO-96 does have user-upgradeable DSP firmware, which can be downloaded from the Radio Shack website and loaded into the scanner via the programming cable and your PC. This is an important feature because DSP is responsible for proper digital operation. This is only a DSP firmware upgrade however, NOT the CPU (some have confused the two).

The PRO-96 from Radio Shack is $499 with $399 being the sale price. Iíve seen them sell on eBay (used) for $225-$350. One thing in particular I think Radio Shack should really consider is providing the programming cable, power supply, rechargeable batteries, and maybe even programming software with the PRO-96. Although this is an exceptional scanner, the fact that it costs $500 plus tax tends to place it in the category of receivers where these Ďoptionsí should be included in the price. Unidenís BC396 comes with these items as standard and so should the PRO-96.

Overall Iím extremely pleased with my PRO-96 and plan on keeping it a very long time. This is a high-quality product with some great improvements over previous models, and its obvious GRE is listening to what people want in a scanner. No scanner will have absolutely everything we desire but I have to say Iím very impressed with this model and itís a pleasure to use every day. I understand the current offering from Uniden (the BC396) is also a highly rated model, but if youíre a GRE fan (or just prefer larger portable scanners with high quality), then the PRO-96 is for you. If the 96 is anything like the 95 I should get a lot of enjoyment from this radio and I can say I definitely recommend the Radio Shack PRO-96 digital trunking scanner.


Randy Evans
KE4RWS
 
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