Over the past 20 years the hobby of scanning has somewhat changed. The signals you can listen to on a scanner these days are less plentiful than they used to be thanks to a lot of communications going digital. Gone are the days of monitoring the police and most other emergency services and not forgetting the analogue mobile phone networks. In some respects the hobby has declined as the number of “in the clear” signals have decreased. A lot of scanner users these days own a radio to compliment another hobby such attending air shows. It is very likely that aircraft communications and marine radio traffic will stay in the clear for the foreseeable future. Some people might argue the need for an expensive scanner just to monitor a little air or marine traffic and many users are put off by the complexity of some scanners or simply the costs. Enter the TSC-100R!
The TSC-100R is the latest low cost scanner from TTi. If you’ve ever been put off buying a scanner because of the expense and you didn’t fancy buying a battered old radio off eBay with a dog-chewed antenna sprinkled with ten years worth of dust then this little set might be what you are after. At an average cost of around £75 you get a brand new scanner capable of monitoring Air and Marine traffic and a little PMR in the VHF high and low bands thrown in for good measure and it can even receive FM broadcast band stations for those times that there is nothing else on or you want to catch up with the news.
Size wise the TSC-100R is the exact same form factor as TTI’s TXL-446 PMR radio and that is because it shares the same casing design making it extremely compact and pocket sized. The build quality is also exactly the same as the TXL. The radio helps keep its size small by utilising AAA batteries and this is the first thing to note because you’ll need some immediately when the radio arrives because no batteries are supplied with the unit. The radio is capable of charging and using rechargeable batteries but no charging unit is supplied. This is an optional extra and again uses the same fast intelligent charge unit as the TXL-446. I didn’t have access to this for the review period so I just installed standard alkaline cells and the radio worked quite happily with these.
So, to summarise what you are getting for your money is a radio capable of the frequency range 66-88MHz (FM Only), 88-108 MHz (Wide FM broadcast band), 108-136 MHz (AM Only) and 136-174 MHz (FM Only). The transmission mode is automatically determined by the band selected and cannot be overridden. This really is not an important issue as all PMR services have now transferred to FM mode communications and in the VHF low band fire communications have switched to FM or moved over to the new digital system. One thing that is impressive with the TSC-100R is the range of frequency steps that the radio supports; it goes all the way from 5 KHz up to 500 KHz and has the all important 6.25 KHz and 8.33 KHz steps that are now in use on some air band frequencies. The unit also provides 200 memory channels for storing your favourite channels and some organisation is possible as these are divided into 10 banks each containing 20 channels so you can group marine, air and PMR logically. Due to the low cost of this unit it is not possible to manage the memory allocations using computer control and no port is provided for this purpose.
I must admit that I was quite impressed by contents of the box with this little radio as TTI thoughtfully provided an adapter so you can connect the radio to a different antenna if you wanted to improve performance or even a base antenna if using the radio at home. The socket on the radio is of the SMB type that is often found on amateur radio equipment but the adapter allows you to convert to the more common BNC style connector that many scanner antennas are supplied with.
The user manual supplied with the set is reasonable. It documents the operation of the scanner in a logical way and goes through the process of how to search the bands and store active frequencies, set steps and band limits etc and set certain preferences such as turning the keypad beep on or off and setting the LCD backlighting which, incidentally is quite effective in a pleasant amber colour. The main keys on the unit are also backlit for night time operation so this should be quite an easy unit to live with. Curiously in the user manual and booklet refers to a Bluetooth version of the radio called the TSC-100RBT. I understand that this unit is due out in the future for additional costs and should be able to connect up with standard Bluetooth hands free devices. The manual refers to pairing up the devices so I would guess this is an add-on module and the ability to do this is already in the firmware. The Bluetooth operation could be very useful for covert operation with the radio in your jacket pocket in cases where it is not advisable to flash a scanning radio around such as in a shopping centre!
Looking at the radio the controls are laid out in a clear and uncluttered manner but the first thing I noticed was the absence of a numeric keypad so this means that direct frequency entry is not possible and tuning to a desire frequency involves selecting the band and then rotating the VFO knob on the top right hand corner to get to the desired frequency. Whilst this may seem a bit of a chore it is easy to speed around the band if you press the “F” (function) button and rotate the VFO knob you can tune along in 1 MHz chunks. To have added a keypad to the unit would make the radio much larger so I guess you can’t complain. Curiously the largest two buttons on the front of the unit are to change the volume levels on the radio. I expected them to be an alternative to rotating the VFO for frequency selection but they are just there for volume adjustment. The two up and down keys on the left hand side of the radio adjust the squelch level in 10 preset increments. After getting over the “shock” of these buttons functioning differently to how I expected I soon became used to operating the radio. I must admit that I still keep wanting to press the arrow keys to move up or down frequency or start the radio scanning but I guess I’ll get used to it in the end. It would have been nice to reassign these keys with an alternate function as I don’t think that I will be constantly adjusting the squelch level so it seems a little odd that so much emphasis was given to this function.
Switching on the radio was an interesting challenge for me at first! I couldn’t see a power button anywhere but it turns out that the little red recessed button next to the antenna and VFO knob is not only a lock function but the master power button for the radio that needs to be held down for a couple of seconds to switch the unit on. It was easy enough to do but if you have large fingers you might struggle a little to push this down with the antenna in the way. It certainly means that it won’t get switched on by accident in a hurry!
The LCD display on the TSC-100R is clear enough with a good layout. The digits for frequency display are large and clear and the battery status is always displayed with a three segment battery icon. I found that even with brand new alkaline batteries in the unit the third segment soon dropped out and my battery was showing as two thirds full after just an hour of usage but it’s only a rough indication in any case. Along the bottom row of the screen the current mode, delay and frequency step is displayed along with channel and bank number if you are in memory scan mode. The radio also shows the power saving status which kicks in if no activity on the current channel is heard for a while. This cuts out the audio amplifier stage of the radio in order to converse battery power until a signal opens the squelch again. The LCD display also has a bar-type signal meter to represent incoming signal strength which is always handy to have even if not very accurate.
On the side of this radio there is also an “F” button that provides access to secondary functions on the front four main keys. These include MW (Memory Write), MR (Memory Recall), Skip and DW (Dual Watch). At this stage we can talk a little about the operation of this scanner. Selecting a frequency is easy enough; you simply press the square VFO button, press the “bank/band” key to cycle through the available frequency ranges and then rotate the VFO knob until you get to the desired frequency making sure you have set the step correctly. To store a frequency this is surprisingly straight forward. Simply hit the “F” key and then press “MW”, the radio will then automatically find the next available free memory space in the current bank. If you don’t want to accept this you can rotate the VFO knob to find another channel number and then to confirm that you want to store this you simply press “F” again and the “MW” button and the frequency is stored. If you wanted to store the frequency to a different bank number then you simply press the “Bank/Band” button whilst in memory write mode and rotate the VFO knob to select a storage area before confirming writing of the memory channel. This is a pretty straight forward system and whilst it sounds complex in writing it becomes second nature when using the scanner for a few hours.
To recall a channel or bank it is a similar procedure, simply make sure the radio is in VFO mode first, press the “F” button and then hit the “MR” key to recall the stored memories. Once this is done you can then hit the “scan” button to start the radio scanning through all the store channels in the bank or simply rotate the VFO to select one particular stored memory.
I soon found myself scanning around the air band frequencies quite easily without even looking at the user manual. I did find that I needed to make some fine adjustments to the scan delay time on the unit as it seemed to resume scanning too quickly after a transmission but this is easily taken care of by the “menu” key. On the menu there is an option for setting scan delay time as with most good scanners and you can also adjust other preferences such as keypad beep on or off, signal attenuator and backlighting. The scan and search speed of the TSC-100R seemed reasonable; I would guess it is around 20 channels per second. Not the fastest available but as good as you would expect in this class.
I found plenty of activity on the VHF air band range to keep myself happy whilst testing the scanner. The audio quality on AM was reasonable and the sensitivity of the scanner seemed about right for a radio of this class. I did find that due to the size of the scanner that the built in speaker was a little low in volume when outdoors but this is usually the case with such a small design. It is possible to connect a standard set of 3.5mm jack plug headphones to this unit if more discrete monitoring is required. A positive sign with the TSC-100R was the lack of pager signal breakthrough on the VHF air band. A lot of scanners suffer from front end overload in the VHF air ranges thanks to high power pager transmissions in the 153MHz band but I’m happy to report that this radio seemed to be above average and I only encountered mild pager breakthrough when operating the scanner in the town centre area so this is encouraging.
Living by the coast I also have some good marine band activity including the local coastguard stations so I thought this would be a good opportunity to hunt down some VHF marine traffic. The best frequencies to listen for activity on are channels 00, 16 and 67 so I programmed these into the TSC-100R and gave them a scan. The FM mode on the unit was pretty crisp and clear so all good in that respect too. The only slightly annoying thing was a “birdie” right on top of channel 00 (156.000 MHz). Birdies are internally generated noise from the circuitry inside a radio. All scanners have these at some frequency range but the key to engineering a good receiver circuit is to try to make sure these phantom signals occur outside of the operational frequency range but it was just unfortunate that this one was sitting right on top of the channel I wanted! That said I didn’t find too many of these on the radio but it’s just sods law that there will be one where you don’t want it. Hopefully this was just on the review model and not on all the production line.
As there was a lack of activity later in the afternoon I thought I would try the FM broadcast band and I was surprised how many stations the radio picked up during a scan in Wideband FM mode. Even the weaker FM stations were pulled in with pretty decent clarity. Of course the sound quality through the little speaker with music stations wouldn’t win any prizes but it’s adequate for catching up on the news or listening to a weather report when you are out on the hills or at the top of a mountain.
I did attempt to test the VHF low band capability of the TSC-100R but due to a lack of signals on the band I didn’t manage to receive anything of note from 66–88 MHz. Last year our local fire brigade switched to digital communications and they were the biggest user of the 71 MHz range which was always handy for testing receiver performance. In the UK the 66-88 MHz range is much underused. There are some Low band PMR repeaters but they are quite a distance from my home and I can only receive them with the roof top antenna. To be quite honest with the supplied antenna which appears to be optimised for air band usage you are very unlikely to hear much in the Low VHF area.
A dual watch facility is provided with this radio. This means you can monitor two channels at once for activity. Basically this operates like a cut down scan mode in that the radio quickly flicks between two named channels and continues to do so until a signal is received or you cancel the operation. This is handy if you don’t want to miss an important transmission. Maybe you could monitor your favourite air band channel but want to listen for emergency calls on the marine calling channel. This is a welcome feature in a budget radio.
On the whole I really like this radio for the price. Scanners have come down in price and for an entry level scanner this is ideal, especially if you are just thinking about starting off in the hobby or you have a real interest in air band traffic and maybe a little PMR or marine listening but you don’t want to spend on a fully blown DC to daylight scanner. The lack of UHF frequencies means there is no coverage of the military air band but if this had of been included the price would be substantially higher. The TSC-100R is easy to use, lightweight and could be taken almost anywhere. A generous amount of storage memory along with comprehensive frequency steps is a welcome bonus. The only thing I didn’t like too much is too much emphasis given to the squelch controls (up and down keys on the side of the radio) as I felt that these could have been put to better use for frequency selection or scanning modes but this is just a personal observation.
TTi have put together a reasonably priced, mid specification scanner that won’t break the bank and with Christmas around the corner I can imagine this radio ending up on quite a few wish lists!
Thanks once again to Murli at Sharman Multicom for the loan of the radio.