Dear normal blog readers (all 5 of you): this entry is for the radio scanner geeks. I won't be upset if you totally neglect to read this.
I applied my Smart Shopper Skills during the rash of Radio Shack closings to purchase a scanner (and a metric shit-ton of parts for projects). I wanted a P25 capable unit so my choice was between the Pro-651 handheld and the Pro-652 portable/mobile. I was going for the 651 due to its format but I didn't like the way the box sounded when I shook it, so I purchased the 652 at a pretty steep discount.
I've been scanning for years and really like the Bearcat 780s. They're sensitive, have 500 memory slots and take well to computer control, so that's my baseline. I purchased a Pro-96 to listen to P25 traffic but one day someone let the smoke out of it and I never got around to having it repaired.
The unit uses something called Object Oriented Programming, which, consequently, is a computer software term. As best I understand it, you input all of your frequencies and add them to scan lists, as opposed to segregating by bands, location, or memory limits (the old way that we all know and love). You can put each frequency into as many scan lists as you like. Same for searches, where you define a search (or pick from the built-in services) and assign it to as many scan lists as you like.
FIRE 1 SCAN 1.....
FIRE 2 SCAN 1.....
POLICE 1 SCAN 1.....
POLICE 2 SCAN 1.....
ARMY 1 SCAN 2.....
ARMY 2 SCAN 2.....
AIRPORT SCAN 12.....
MUNICIPAL SCAN .2....
In the above example, the left side has individual frequencies. On the right are the assignments for the scan lists. There are several thousand slots for frequencies, so you won't run short. FIRE 1 comes up in scan list 1. ARMY 1 is in SCAN 2. AIRPORT is in SCAN 1 and SCAN 2. When you turn on the scanner, it goes right into SCAN mode and you punch in the scan lists you want to hear. For instance, if you only want to hear fire, hit the 1 button. If you want to hear everything, hit 1 and 2. If you have more scan lists, you can toggle them on and off. By default, each frequency goes into SCAN 1 so you can listen to everything by just using SCAN 1. You can change this if you like. In fact, you can change an awful lot of things, which brings us to:
When I brought my new toy home, I had no software. This meant either I had to let it sit in its box or program it by hand. Seriously, which would you do? Can you say Repetitive Stress Injury? I knew you could. Programming manually is a combination of knowledge, dexterity, and the ability to work through the pain. I say dexterity because the flippin' volume knob is situated right next to the number pad, rendering it in the way half of the time.
I broke down two days later and purchased the RS kit with the scanner cable and trialware scanner control software (Butel). The cable is stereo 1/8" (like a headphone plug) to USB and plugs into the front of the box, right above the headphone jack (yes, a dedicated headphone jack). I was pretty disappointed that RS chose to include trial software, especially at the marked price of $24.95. I only purchased it because it was 90% off.
There isn't a lot of software available for the 652, at least via searches (use duckduckgo.com, which doesn't track you, unlike the major search engine). I fired up the Butel ARC500 software and (shock of shocks) it was not made for the 652. I chose the Pro-197 because I remember reading that the 652 was its successor. It actually worked, which surprised me. I have a version of their software for some other scanners and like it. There is no apparent way to tell how much this is going to cost because when you push the PURCHASE button, it takes you to radioreference.com , allows you to download a newer copy of the software, and wants you to sign up for an account before it tells you anything. This is crappy business, Butel. Radioreference is the place to go to for scanner information and frequencies for your area. You don't need an account to browse but you do need an account to enable features like downloading pre-programmed banks of local frequencies for your scanner. The Butel website has information on the software and gives the cost as US $39.95. They offer a free option but it requires signing up for some service that looks like it wants all of your information and your puppies. They do mention that it will operate the 651/652.
Ok, having downloaded the newer ARC500 version, it came up quickly and imported everything from the scanner upon the click of the mouse. There is also a Pro version, which goes for $69.95. On the comparison chart, it states that the regular version does not do logging but the Pro version does. In addition, the demo is time-limited to ten minutes. I'm sorry but with a device of this complexity, ten minutes is not long enough. Coupled with the lack of logging, I'm going to conveniently forget about this software.
The only option, as suggested by several discussion boards, is WIN500, by Starsoft. The downloadable version runs for thirty days, with no limit on the amount of use (Butel). Should you decide to purchase, the cost is $30, which is more than reasonable for what you get (including logging, Butel). The logging is very valuable, as it can tell you what the scanner received, in case you didn't notice it during the search or scan. There is also a recording function but it requires an additional 1/8" to 1/8" stereo cable and setup within Windows.
Before we go any further, let's talk about the MANUAL. As with most scanner manuals, it's less than clear and coherent (so if you're not coherent, don't try reading it). In fact, it's so hard to understand that there's a page for people who had a problem with the official manual. Go to Mark's Scanners and see the huge list of less-daunting manuals.
In spite of the work Mark did, I was still having some difficulty with trunking. The RS manual had actually disappeared into the post-nuclear blast that is my house (and good riddance). After starting WIN500, I got the trunking working in no time flat, without instructions. I now have three trunking systems set up and available by scan list. It is very important to mention that in both softwares, you can change the startup screen wording on the scanner. Of course we'll be tempted to use dirty words or advertise our favorite adult website, but I went for "This thing is pissing me off and making my brain hurt". The dog was amused. The wife didn't notice.
This is not a commercial for Starrsoft so I won't go through every function but if the scanner can do it manually, so can the software. And let's face it - if you're programming in hundreds or more frequencies, it's much easier to type them into your computer and upload them to the scanner. The Monitor mode brings up a display just like the scanner's, so you don't have to have the scanner right in front of you (provided you get a long enough cable).
One thing I found really interesting is a search I did between 30 and 46MHz. The band came BOOMING through, oblivious to squelch. It would stop on 31MHz. The next time, it would stop at 31.05. The next time it would stop at 32 and so on. I'm not saying this is the fault of the software - I just found it interesting.
I have no idea what the damn specs are - look them up yourself. I barely understand them anyway. Suffice it to say that the Pro-652 is a really good scanner. It's sensitive, holds thousands of objects, and is fast as hell. The fast part is the most useful part to me. I can scan and search at the same time without a serious performance hit. Regular old scanning is like lightning. It handles 700MHz, so rebanding shouldn't be an issue. Works just fine on P25. It will search for the type of modulation (AM, FM, NFM) and tones (CTCSS, DCS, NAC) by itself. There is no WFM option, which pisses me off.
It has a Signal Stalker function, which sounds borderline illegal. Each key has multiple functions, operated by the FUNCtion key. Scans and searches are fast. Setup is fast, unless you can't type. The volume control should have used a different taper pot, as the difference between listenable and TURN THAT THING DOWN is small and around 9:00. I haven't checked out how loud it will go because I like my hearing. It's pretty cool to have the software up while doing something else on the computer.
If I find more interesting stuff this unit can do, I'll update this.
IN THE END
If you're looking for a high performance scanner and want it NOW, buy a Pro-651 or 652 and purchase WIN500 to run it. Sorry that I didn't include cute pictures of my cat unboxing the scanner but I figured I'd actually concentrate on the functions, not the appearance. It's the kind of guy I am.
ATTENTION LINUX PEOPLE
Starrsoft gives some tips on using WIN500 under WINE but I couldn't make it install. Therefore, I am stuck using THAT operating system in a virtual machine. I tried Win7 under Virtualbox but it refused to see the USB ports, even with guest extensions. I built an XP machine under VMplayer and it worked perfectly. Since XP is no longer safe, I recommend turning off the network card.
The selection of linux scanner control software is approximately equal to the number of Kim Kardashians that can fit into a pair of size two jeans. I would dearly like to change this but the aforementioned dog has better programming skills than me. If anyone would like to collaborate, I would do all the Stupid Work and testing.
I have appealed to several software companies but let's face it - there's no profit in linux.