on 9 January 2014
The UBC125XLT is a great little scanner that delivered considerably more than I was expecting, having not owned an airband radio for 30 odd years. The manual can seem a bit opaque in places if you've never owned a scanner before, but in most respects setting it up is pretty simple and in operation it is exceptionally easy to use and packed with useful features.
The unit itself is well built and feels reassuringly robust, with crisp operation of the of the keys and scrolling knob. While you cant beat a decent pair of headphones for audio, the small speaker does a very credible job when the signal is strong. The digital display is easy to read, with good contrast and even backlighting.
In terms of advantage over cheaper units, apart from the 500 channels, probably the stand out feature is the alpha tagging (basically text description of what the frequency is on the LCD display) which is pretty much an essential - unless you have an encyclopaedic memory for frequencies you are going to get pretty confused without it.
Adding channels based on what a search of the chosen band has found is a matter of a couple of button presses and entering a tag via the scrolling knob. Entering a frequency manually is similarly simple, although doing so one frequency at a time for 500 channels would try the patience of the Buddha. A far better option is to swallow the 17 quid and buy the Butel* software (butel.nl) to add channels. With this installed on a PC, once you get past the "oh no, its got that Windows software-from-the-80s look", the software is very simple to use and comprehensive. In conjunction with the equally uninspiring MS Excel and a bit of copy and paste, you can fill the 500 channels in seconds from a suitably formatted list of frequencies. The beauty of this is that you can change the list on the scanning banks very rapidly to suit the locality you're visiting.
In addition to the "search" and "scan", the "Close Call" function is worth a mention. This picks up any strong transmissions within 2 or 3 miles on predetermined bands and (dependent on your settings) interrupts your current listening to inform you of a local signal. The signal can then be ignored, listened to using the "Hold" key and/or aded to the programmed list of frequencies. It works well, and is especially useful when you've just got the scanner to give you some easy access to local transmissions.
Beyond the feature mentioned, the UBC125XLT has plenty more features of which probably the more useful for me are custom search ranges and configurable search steps.
As to performance, while I cant offer personal comparison with anything recent, it seems to me to be excellent. I live on the second floor in East London, and listening with the included antenna from the middle of the flat in a room full of bits of metal and radio-unfriendly computer equipment, I can comfortably get reasonable to clear airband reception from aircraft up to about 35 miles away (just short of Clacton was the furthest clear one at about 45 miles), including Luton, Stansted and occasionally Gatwick traffic in addition to very clear Heathrow traffic, although most ATC transmission except London are too faint. However adding a 3rd party airband tuned antenna was a game changer, vastly improving the signals and clarity all round, and ATC is now clear including most regional approaches up to about 35 miles, with London crystal clear. The most astonishing improvement was in the distance airborne signals can be pulled in, with the best so far after only a few days an inbound transatlantic flight over the Bristol Channel 135 miles away, and I suspect there's more in it than that. After reading a few reviews I settled on the airband-specific Comet AB1230H over the Watson W-901, which was almost as well reviewed and 10 quid cheaper. A lot of people report excellent results from the wideband Diamond RH771 if you can avoid the fakes with which online shops - to my utter astonishment - abound.
In addition to my primary interest of civil airband, the scanner also covers military airband, CB, some Amateur Radio Bands and PMR (professionsl/private mobile radio).
The set comes with 2 rechargeable batteries, but its probably worth buying a couple more sets as it chews through them pretty rapidly, and although it will take alkline batteries, they dont deliver particularly good performance. The unit has a built in recharging facilty, but although it might be of use if you're out and about in a car, its very, very slow to charge compared to a standalone charger. You can use the included charger to run the scanner from mains power.
Overall, as a novice to modern scanners, the scanner seems to me to deliver very competently on its claims with a good range of features and what seems to be good performance. Prior to buying it, the price of scanners in general seemed to me to be expensive, but having used it for a couple of weeks, I'd amend that to suggest it actually represents fairly good value for money and an excellent reintroduction to radio for anyone who hasn't owned an airband or marine radio for a few years.
* Quite a few people report having trouble installing the driver software needed for the specific scanner. It's easy enough if you first download the seperate driver package from the Butel site (go to the page for the software for your scanner and click the "downloads" link and download both the software and the separate driver package) and:
- find the driver zip package on your hard drive and decompress it.
- Discard the US model drivers and put the UBC125XLT (EU model) folder somewhere accessible - I'd suggest your "My Documents folder for ease of navigation.
- Plug the radio into the USB and start the software, then choose your model (UBC125XLT (EU model)) from the dropdown menu.
- When Windows asks for driver software and suggests it will find it for you - it won't, so ignore it and instead choose (from memory) the "Browse to driver" option and navigate your way to the folder you previously unzipped. Then choose the "UBC125XLT (EU model)" folder and installation should start.
- The driver should then install fine (see caveat below about Windows objections**)
**I think this is an "unsigned driver", so you install at your own risk. If Windows or your antivirus software object or block the installation (or like my AV software it silently discards or quarantines the driver), either temporarily disable the AV software or click to assure the entirely unhelpful Windows Devil Nanny you really do know what you're doing, honest guv'nor.