I feel like I’ve done this before, but here’s my review of the RadioShack Pro-96 digital scanner: it would be alright if it were $150. At $400, it’s not worth the price. And it was once $500, if it’s not still.
Much of New Hampshire has gone to an APCO Project 25 digital voice (P25 / Motorola ASTRO) digital voice radio system. Only a handful of police scanners can decode the digital format, and those radios are super-expensive, like the Pro-96.
So first, the good. It can decode P25 more often than not. It does several trunking formats, including several Motorola formats, APCO digital trunking, and EDACS. Trunk-tracking seems to work well. It has pretty wide frequency coverage, and a backlit keypad. It supports assigning text to channel names.
So now, the bad. For one, it’s ungodly expensive.
For another, digital decode is really bad. I once owned a really old Motorola ASTRO Saber, which was something like 5 firmware versions behind the latest. Every firmware version brought significantly improved audio quality to digital voice decode. That radio left the Pro96 in the dust. My local police department has 300 Watts ERP from the highest point in town. I receive them DFQ, S9+. Periodically, the Pro96 just fails to decode them, playing the awful noises of IMBE through the speakers. Other times, it seems like it’s missing a lot of frames, causing awful high-pitched blips to come out the speaker in between words. Other times audio decode is spot-on. I see no rhyme or reason, but it drives me bonkers. (State Police run data, believed to be mobile data terminals, on the same frequency as their digital voice. The Pro96 really struggles with this, but I can’t really fault it for that so much.) Volume is really erratic, too. Turning the knob maybe a quarter of the way is way too loud much of the time. Turning it down just a hair makes it almost inaudible. Turning it up more makes it nominally louder than the “too loud” setting. I’ve read others complaining about this, too. Even though they claim there is, it seems that there’s no AGC on digital, either: some people come across much louder than others.
There’s a constant hiss coming out of the speaker. Not too loud, but I can hear it, so it’s annoying.
The volume control is notoriously bad. I’ve read a lot of people complaining about this, and now mine does it. Even cranked all the way, the volume is barely audible. People have disassembled their radios and found that it’s just a crappily-soldered connection. Pulling the antenna towards you often fixes the problem for a few minutes. The fix I’ve read is to take the radio apart and resolder it. Thanks, RadioShack, for making such a quality product.
As seems typical of most any radio, the interface is anything but easy-to-use. You get used to it, but it’s never something I’d consider intuitive. And as with most every scanner ever made, it feels hollow and cheaply-made, whereas a good ham radio or commercial two-way rig feels quite solid. It’s weird that the Pro96 manages to feel heavy and yet also feel hollow: one would expect a radio feeling that way to be light, but it’s not the case.
All in all, it works most of the time, but for the price they’re charging, it’s not worth the aggravation. While I’m delighted to be able to listen to local police once more, I really regret buying the Pro-96.