Comparison of Airband Scanners

This is a comparison of the signal reception quality from three different airband radio scanners (108 - 137 MHz). The models are:


ICOM IC-A6 ($275)

Uniden Bearcat BC340CRS ($80)

RadioShack PRO-84 ($70)

Transceiver vs Scanner

The ICOM IC-A6 can receive and transmit (transceiver), and is made specifically to cover the aviation band. The Bearcat and RadioShack models are generic scanners that cover many different bands. These are receive-only. They are also a lot less expensive than the ICOM.

How the test was done

The three units were fed from the same external (roof mounted) antenna and were tuned to various AWOS, ASOS and ATIS transmissions in the area. The recordings were taken within a few minutes of each other, so atmospheric conditions were not a factor in their difference in signal quality. The squelch was turn off.

Conclusion

The reception was vastly better on the ICOM. Of course that is to be expected from a higher-priced unit, but my impression was that the performance significantly outran the price difference. This is probably due to the fact that the ICOM-A6 circuitry is optimized for the aviation band, whereas the other models had to make a compromise across many bands.

From a roof mount antenna (roughly 30 ft AGL) the ICOM unit can receive ground stations as far way as 40 NM. The other two models could not reliably receive stations that were 7 NM away, and many times could hear music from commercial broadcast stations bleeding through.

The ICOM unit can receive aircraft transmissions from much farther away, even as far away as 100 NM. The other models also do better with aircraft transmissions. But a quantitative comparison is hard to make because it is impossible to do repeated observations from the same aircraft transmission.

Recording Samples

StationDistanceICOMUnidenRadioShack
MGY ASOS2.5 NM EICOMBearcatRadioShack
MWO AWOS6.5 NM SWICOMBearcatRadioShack
I68 AWOS7.5 NM SICOMBearcatRadioShack
HAO ASOS17.5 NM SWICOMBearcatRadioShack
ISZ AWOS21 NM SICOMBearcatRadioShack
LUK ATIS30 NM SWICOMBearcatRadioShack
CVG ATIS37 NM SWICOMBearcatRadioShack
DAY ATIS19 NM NICOMBearcatRadioShack
ILN ATIS25 NM SEICOMBearcatRadioShack
I19 AWOS15 NM NEICOMBearcatRadioShack
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